Co-creator Paul Curnutte with his SUP Hipster paddle board carrier. Courtesy photo.

Everyone should be as lucky as I am, to have a next-door neighbor like Jeremy Katz. Need a lounge chair assembled? Need heavy cat litter bins carried from car to garage? Need someone to fix the washing machine door’s broken hinges? Jeremy’s your man. If he doesn’t know how, he’ll learn on YouTube. That’s how he recently built a standing raised bed to grow vegetables in his front yard. We’ve been co-leaders of our condominium Homeowners Association for more years than I can count.

I’ve envied his “adrenaline” sports trips: surfing, kite surfing, foil surfing, Stand Up Paddle Boarding, snowboarding, mountain biking, and more. Turns out many of those trips were for R&D, because over the past five years, Jeremy has been busy inventing a completely new product, and launching a one-of-a-kind business that’s beginning to show some returns.

The SUP Hipster

Aside from getting a degree in Business Administration from USC, what did Jeremy know about inventing a new product?

“I looked for a book on ‘How to start a never-before-discovered product for paddle boarding’ but the store didn’t have one. So we learned everything we needed about design, sourcing materials, manufacturers, shipping, marketing, trademarking, patenting all while funding everything out of own pocket.”

The SUP Hipster is a carrying device for Stand Up Paddle Boards (aka SUP). Sounds simple right? But it’s an outside-the-box idea conceived at the beach with his former college roommate and now business partner, Paul Curnutte. They’ve been paddle boarding together for about 10 years.

Jeremy explains, “Paddle boards by nature are big, they have to float a person, so they’re usually about 10-12 feet long, 2.5 feet wide, usually not super heavy but bulky and awkward. Carrying them to and from the beach has always been a hassle. There are handles in them, paired with big straps that wrap around the board, attach to a shoulder strap that you put over your arm. When you start to walk, it slides off your shoulder and the board falls. It’s a nightmare.

“Paul and I were at San Onofre beach with my rescue dog Townes, who’d grab his favorite toy, a stuffed hedgehog named Caldwell, and charge down to the water ahead of us. We’re struggling with our boards, and Paul looks at me and says, ‘Man how come he can find a way to carry his toy and we can’t?’ And we thought, let’s figure this out.”

DESIGN ON THE FLY

After years of trial-and-error tinkering, (“Neither one of us is a mechanical engineer,” he chuckled), Jeremy and Paul created The SUP Hipster, a belt with a padded hook that supports the board from below, not from the shoulder. You wear it around your waist and hips and leave it on while you’re in the water SUP’ing (Jeremy says that’s what paddle boarders call it).

“We went to Home Depot, bought a bunch of Velcro, supplies, nylon strap, trying to figure out the best way to carry this, and we started playing around with ways to attach it to a waist belt. One day Paul said, ‘Hey, there’s a hook that attaches a surfboard to a bicycle,’ so we jerry-rigged a J-hook, basically duct taped it to a piece of nylon, set the board in it, then walked around the backyard, and thought we might be onto something!”

Of course, it’s not as simple as that. “There were all kinds of angles and bends so when you set the board in it, it’s braced and doesn’t fall over. It took years but apparently, we did something right because we’re patented in the US, Mexico, Canada and pending in Europe. We took the ‘utility’ patent, based on the function of what it does; no one can design or make a waist belt with some kind of hook or platform to carry a board, because that serves the same utility as ours.”

COVID AND THE SPORT

Stand Up Paddle Boarding, according to its trade industry association, is the fastest growing water sport in the world. Jeremy says, “Over 600,000 boards were sold last year. Averaged over ten years, that’s more than 5 million boards just in the US. That’s a lot of people who need something to carry their board with!”

The pandemic created an opportunity. “People can’t go to the gym, but they can be socially distant paddle boarding on a lake, river or ocean. We had an uptick—July was the first month we completely sold out of inventory (1000 units), and the first time the business is directly funding its next round, for inventory and for the new model we’re working on (launching Spring 2021). But as far as investment goes, the patent alone cost $50,000, so we’re a long way from replenishing our so-called retirement funds.”

FOR THE DOGS

A veteran dog rescuer, Jeremy registered the business name, Townes & Co/, in honor of the dog who inspired it. “We are dog lovers. At the end of the year, we donate a percentage of our sales to dog rescues and shelters throughout Baja and certain areas in L.A. where most help is needed.”

As soon as the next batch of inventory arrives, the SUP Hipster will be available for direct sale at www.thesuphipster.com, and on Amazon US and UK. New products, like an attachable gear bag and a personal flotation device, are being developed.

“The journey so far,” Jeremy says, “has been pretty fun. We’re not officially making a living, but someday we hope to be.”

Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.