Polish SUP brand Uone has been making waves for a while now on the Polish watersport market. With a devoted SUP community built around the brand, Uone hype is strong and its exclusively inflatable boards are among the most citied, mentioned and used gear across the country. TotalSUP caught up with the Founder, Hubert Tobis, to chat about his start-up SUP journey, Uonebrand and putting Poland on the global stand-up paddleboarding map with the upcomingICF SUP World Championships held in Gdynia this September.
Hi Hubert, welcome to TotalSUP! Could you tell us more about the UONE brand?
Uone is a premium Polish stand-up paddleboarding and watersport brand with a long term board warranty and expert customer support. We’re specialising in inflatable boards exclusively and are focused on safety, user-friendliness, sustainability and circular economy. From 2022 there’s no plastic involved in packing and shipping and also from 2019 we’ve been providing repair services, for other SUP brands too, getting those damaged boards back on the water rather than landfill.
I started the Uone brand as a complete rookie at 22 with a little bit of seed money from my dad and his business partner who also supported me with some legal and accounting guidance. Apart from that initial support and coming up together with the brand’s name, I didn’t know anyone who could teach me the ropes of building a watersport brand. I also came to the whole thing from a different discipline – judo – but I guess that perseverance that I learnt through the sport allowed me to keep going and growing my business, one step at a time.
Early days: Uone Founder, Hubert Tobis, taking the podium at the Open SUP Championships in Poznan, Poland
Back in 2016/2017 the sport of stand-up paddleboarding did not really exist in Poland so ahead of the SUP era, we took a leap, we dived in at the deep end and had to quickly not only learn how to swim but stay afloat too. Those early SUP stories reflect it best when people on the beach thought that we were walking on water and were then stunned to see the boards being deflated. They just couldn’t believe that inflatable boards could be that rigid and manageable. In a nutshell, back in 2016/2017 only several dozen people had any SUP knowledge.
Photo courtesy of Uone
There is a unique story behind the Uone logo…
The name Uone comes from the elite Polish light cavalry units therefore the image of a knight on a horse with a sabre. We wanted the name to be short, catchy and easily recognised both in Poland and abroad. It’s a combination of letters that can be easily read as uone and as the said cavalry unit. There’s also a cool story about my dad who was called „an uhlan” when he was younger as he was often seen horse riding with an abundant moustache and a hat similar to those worn by uhlans.
What was it like to start a SUP brand from scratch?
My dad’s support was the key factor in the first phase of building the brand and keeping it afloat between 2016-2019. It’s thanks to him, that Uone sailed out into wide waters and paradoxically has hit a massive growth and consumer success in 2021 which allowed us to keep the whole company afloat at the time when the whole world struggled with COVID-19 pandemic.
The early years were all about learning business management, securing those first client meetings with my dad who also shared his entrepreneurial experience with me and you know, everyday fight to get new customers. The launch of the brand also coincided with me graduating from business school at Poznan University of Economics. It wasn’t until 2018 that we really started growing, you know climbing up… With the peak still up for grabs…
2019/2021 years were pure hustling, building the brand and other products with Uone logo that at the time I only anticipated would be successful. But soon we began acquiring more fans and people interested in collaborating with us, who saw the potential in the poznan uhlan! It’s been many sleepless nights, new ideas put into the brand and new people entering a new chapter of our company! Who would’ve thought that in less than four years, this venture would have grown from one rookie, young guy, into a team of six, stoked about the future and upcoming SUP seasons!
Photo courtesy of Uone
Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the SUP industry experienced both new challenges and opportunities. Could you share your take on it?
I believe that the whole COVID-19 situation has actually boosted the SUP industry, especially its recreational side. Because people couldn’t travel due to COVID restrictions they actually spent their travel budgets on some cool stuff in their own countries including fulfilling that dream of having their own paddleboards, which could then be taken on holidays. There’s always a silver lining which was the huge boom witnessed by the SUP industry, but also challenges caused by COVID-19 crisis such as delivery delays, the carbon crisis in China where majority of iSUPs is being manufactured, high costs of transport and the currency fluctuations.
Photo courtesy of Uone
What is the SUP scene like in Poland?
The Uone SUP family in Poland consists of more than 100 watersport centres (also mobile) located near hotels and wakeparks that hire our boards and gear. We have several dozen of brand ambassadors and SUP instructors who are using our boards across the country, sharing Uone stoke and passion for the sport of stand-up paddleboarding as an awesome way to spend time outdoors.
We’re building a SUP community around our brand that’s made out of great people and hire centres promoting Uone and keep inspiring further development. What’s interesting is that 5 years ago we started from nothing when it comes to hire centres or people that collaborated with us, we had 8 boards in the warehouse. Now we sell around 3000 boards during a SUP season and our brand is present in over 100 places where you can paddle on Uone boards.
What type of SUP models are there in the UONE quiver?
In our portfolio we have exclusively inflatable boards. It was a conscious decision from the start to focus on this particular niche so that all investment would be dedicated to the development process, accelerating growth and refining products without splitting the budget between manufacturing iSUPs and rigid boards.
Due to high demand, we also offer a budget line called SUPer with two sizes available on 10’6” and 11’6”.
Photo courtesy of Uone
We’ve all heard the exciting news about Poland hosting the 2022 ICF Worlds in Gdynia in September…
This is a big event for the entire Polish SUP scene. Thanks to a renowned and established position of the Polish Canoe Federation in the world, Poland has been selected as the host of this prestigious event. I hope that we will be able to show the famous Polish hospitality and as a SUP family create a truly friendly atmosphere allowing us to deliver one of the best World Champs!
Photo courtesy of Uone
This event is important to me also on a personal level. Since 2019 I have been involved in promoting the sport of stand-up paddleboarding through Polish SUP Associationwhere I serve as Vice-President. Therefore, I’m also a member of the organising committeefor the upcoming ICF World Championships in Gdynia. As always, time is tight as I’m not only running my own business but I’m also expecting a baby, so I’m doing what I can to support the committee in organising this phenomenal event and finding sponsors.
What’s in the pipeline for UONE?
We’re looking to continue to grow and establish Uone as the leading brand on the Polish SUP market by dropping new, exciting lines and developing new distribution channels.
We care about sustainability and social responsibility and through our eco packaging we completely dropped plastic and switched to repurposed waste paper which our boards and accessories will be wrapped in.
We would like the 2022 to be the year where we enter international SUP markets so if you’re a creative, driven person and would like to become a part of our „uhlan” SUP family, get in touch and let’s collaborate!
Photo courtesy of Uone
Thank you for your time Hubert and good luck with the new SUP season and ICF Worlds!
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