Despite recent turbulence, the wakeboarding market continues to grow – especially the demand for impact vests, which are vital for all segments of this sport. And work in other disciplines as well. Retail Buyer’s Guide by Anna Langer.
With everything going on, the last two years have been a roller coaster for everyone. Challenging manufacturing timelines, material shortages and logistical issues, which can be countered with strategical planning as O’Neill report. This is paired with high demand as Hyperlite state, Liquid Force recorded one of their best years so far and Soöruz also mention high pre–orders.
Most brands’ products are created as crossovers, catering for all disciplines of wakeboarding. “We put our best design first, and push it across every market. If it floats and protects, it works on all bodies of water and in all wakeboard riding scenarios.” says Jeff McKee from Slingshot Wake. With Europe being a cable heavy market, most inspiration comes from here. “As Liquid Force has enjoyed success in the cable market, we look to this market for colour trends and features. The cable/park market definitely has more of a street/skate vibe to it compared to the boat market and tends to lead the overall design, colour pallets, etc,” says Marketing Director Aaron Grace. O’Neill state that park and boat are their strongest growth areas with a slight resurgence in boat use. Jobe on the other hand “cater to the boating market in general, from families who have fun on a towable, to wakeboarders who want to send it” says William Doornekamp, Brand Manager.
Soöruz also mention the uprising of foil, especially Wingfoil as promising for the impact vest market and Liquid Force agree with seeing increased growth here.
New here is a completely white jacket by Trever Maur from Hyperlite and an earth tone colour palette by Liquid Force. In general designs are clean and simple. Soöruz keep their design technical and elegant with a touch of punk/rock design for some pieces, Jet Pilot favour strong style lines with fits that are comfortable, safe and unique to their brand and Slingshot state that “simplicity is key when it comes to jacket design and styling. Function is first, and after that the rest is up to the individual.”
Another trend is “Mix ‘n Match”, as sported by Jobe: “If you buy a wakeboard in the shop, you need to be able to buy a matching vest as well. This goes for all our products because we see that this works.” O’Neill also use many colours, prints and materials from their wetsuit line-up to merchandise throughout the impact vest category.
Yet function is the most important: “First and foremost comes performance at O’Neill so finding the perfect combination of fit and protection whilst using the lightest materials available, is often what dictates the style of each vest.” Jobe agree that “people want to feel safe and regulations are making this mandatory for multiple occasions.” Hence brands aim “to find that sweet spot where flexibility and performance / protection all work together without sacrificing movement or comfort” muses Jetpilot.
Hyperlite increased the foam content for all Impact Jackets in their line: “Not only does this increase the buoyancy of the jacket, it also provides more protection in case of gnarly wipeouts or folding on a feature” and Liquid Force also trend toward more protective foam: “Our challenge is to use thicker foam but not at the cost of flexibility and comfort.”
O’Brien on the other have a different approach: lifejackets, since after a bad crash, most people like to float effortlessly in the water. “They flex and move with the rider, provide padding in the places that need protection, and keep you safer on the water than a standard impact vest.”
In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. “The end-user’s choice of vest is purely based on THEIR preference not on the occasion they use it for,” finds William from Jobe Sports. He adds that: “you hear that a lot don’t even always think this through and just buy what they feel has a nice fit.” Since there are so many different preferences through boat, park, surf and skate, it’s just a case of offering everything to everyone find O’Neill.
Liquid Force highlight the Spector Vest with plastic amour panels for cable riders and their exclusive Bio-Spine pattern for more shoulder space to flex. Soöruz introduce the FIFTY jacket especially for Wingfoil and Wakeboard: “We developed a special system allowing our customers to hook the wing in order to relieve some pressure from the arms to ride longer without restriction and avoid injuries” explains Product Engineer Marin Mauriac.
Jetpilot feature 360 Stretch Neoprene, Flex-Lite Ultra Neoprene and bevelled edge buoyancy foam. O’Neill highlight their unique Nytrolite Foam that is lighter and provides more protection for its size compared to regular foams. Most life jackets from O’Brien incorporate BioLite, an eco-friendly alternative to traditional neoprene.