Back to the Future?
MMark Castlow’s company, Dragonfly Boats LLC, is a premium quality skiff and micro skiff manufacturing company based out of Vero Beach, Florida. From Mark’s desk, drafting table and pencil sketches drawn on napkins during lunch, several new and innovative one-off products have come to market. His newest innovation is a redesign of the wildly popular Stand Up Paddle board (SUP).
SUP boards are so popular that no less than three print magazines are devoted exclusively to a following that stretches from lake-fronts in Kansas to the Tasman Sea in New Zealand and beyond. At any resort beach location in South Florida there’s day long instruction available and no shortage of sign-ups. You can readily rent SUP’s at some beaches just as you can an umbrella.
Here’s why SUP boards are the rage
They’re ten times easier to mount and stand on than a surf board because of built in stability. That, along with the exercise factor are huge selling points. With regard to the exercise factor, your outdoors – not stuck in a storefront gym that never seems to lose its foul odors. Last but not least, SUP board users aren’t 20 year old kids with six-pack stomachs, gymnasts, pro surfers or a workout rats with muscles in their ears. I’ve seen a fit 70 year old on one as well as a 7 or 8 year old with a pair of pooches on one. Jimbo Meador, one of Mark’s partners is an Alabama shrimping business magnate (oft tied to the source of Winston Groom’s fictional character Forrest Gump, but not the dumb part), is an avid Dragonfly SUP board devotee and deep into his 50’s. When he’s not on the road or at the shop in Florida, he’s at home in Alabama waiting for sun-up so he and his trusty dog can hit Mobile Bay on his “board” and fly fish for tailing reds.
NOTE: Mark, Jimbo, Jimmy Buffet and the Alabama Nature Conservancy along with hundreds of selfless volunteers became deeply committed to righting the damage done to the waters and animals of the Gulf of Mexico by British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon Spill. Also, Dragonfly developed a special shallow water skiff for the folks who actually rescued animals and birds in their shallow water environments – coated with oil.
The Dragonfly version of a SUP board goes far beyond the limited technology used to build a modern day SUP boards. Mark and Jimbo married technologies – using the design and build techniques of skiff, kayak and with those Mark developed years ago in surf board design and construction. The result, a Dragonfly SUP board that’s on steroids. The design goals were met; improve on stability, create a keep dry deck (drainage), add features that make fishing and hunting from a “board” as accommodating as possible and make bow entry soft so as not to spook fish. The Dragonfly SUP board is able to take you where no boat could ever go.
Today’s ordinary SUP boards are merely over-sized surf boards selling for anywhere from $400 to $1,200. The cheap ones are, of course, made in China and are nothing more than a solid piece of styrene foam molded into the shape of an over sized surf board and coated with a protective finish that has the look of a finished product. Don’t waste your money on this big box store “special” – it won’t last. Instead, purchase a few of the SUP board magazines and start reading, go to shops that specialize in SUP and surf boards and ask questions – better yet, sign up for group or individual lessons. If you just simply demand high quality, versatility and better stability then look into a Dragonfly SUP board.
An interveiw with Mark Castlow, president of Dragonfly Boats LLC and partner Jimbo Meador
FLM.com: What are the standout features of the Dragonfly Stand Up versus conventional SUP boards?
JM: Greatly increased stability, a unique drainage system that keeps the deck dry by ably shedding water – all water runs out the back. We designed a soft entry system that does not slap the water and spook fish and we developed a long, shallow fin as opposed to the long, deep penetrating shark-like fin common to all conventional SUP boards. With the soft entry design bow and unique fin, you’ll track straight and get into water that’s only a few inches deep. We also have a clip on system (fanny pack) for the paddle so when its time to cast a line, you’re paddle is not in the way and won’t get lost when a big tarpon starts dragging you around. We added a few other options designed to aid an angler or paddle boarder: a tie down stripping basket, a cooler-seat, built in water-tight compartment for your wallet and cell phone, and we have a bungee cord tie down system for the front deck.
FLM.com: Is there anything a paddler / angler should beware of?
MC: Yes, the coast Guard wants Stand Up Paddle boarders to have a life jacket “on board” and we suggest that if you’re going to face heavy current that you wear a leash. Other than that, it’s just blast off and have a hoot of a good time.
FLM.com: The fit and finish on this Dragonfly Stand Up (we were looking a the 13-foot, 6-inch model pictured) looks like your skiffs. Are we looking at the same kind of maintenance?
MC: Not at all, just soap and water will do it all.
FLM.com: Is there anything tricky about hauling it around?
MC: Well, it only weighs 42-pounds so it’s light enough for just about anyone to lift and walk with. Most folks just strap it down on the top of their cars, but it would be easier if there was a roof rack with good tie-downs. If you have a pick-up truck, a rack would be prefect, but if there’s no rack just put it in the bed and you’re good to go.
FLMcom: Does the Dragonfly Stand Up come in other lengths?
JM: Yes, we make a 10-foot SUP board as well.
FLM.com: What does it cost?
MC: The 13-foot, 6-inch foot model is about $2,200 and the 10-foot version is less.
FLM.com: From order to finished, how long does it take to build.
MC: Even though we’ve gotten pretty busy, we’ve improved our production techniques and we’re still able to be out the door in four weeks.
SIDEBAR: Mark Castlow was born with an overload of creative chromosomes. He’s always innovating – ready to try something that hasn’t been done before or completely rethink an existing product, make it better or create a completely new product out of it. Mark, a Florida native, has been close to all things that happen on the water since he could walk to the ocean. Summer days and school boy weekends were spent surfing from sunup to sundown.
Mark’s venture into the business world was guided by his passion and started as a youthful and enthusiastic entrepreneur-surfboard shop owner and builder of Atlantis surfboards. Mark, at an early age, became fascinated with the technologies that went into surfboards and then skiff construction and he learned all there was to know and became an industry expert.
After shedding the surfing operation, Mark teamed up with the legendary Florida boat builder Hewes-Maverick-Pathfinder (MHP) boats. There, he spearheaded a management transformation. They embraced technology and new designs. Sales moved forward, production time improved and call-backs dropped out of sight. They became the undisputed shallow water skiff leader. Then Mark sold out and signed a no-compete agreement that kept him on the shelf for five years.
NOTE: Bob Hewes is credited with building the first modern flats boat in the 1950s, born out of a bonefishing trip with legendary fly angler Lefty Kreh. He influenced an entire genre of angling, specifically how people approach skinny water light tackle sight fishing from a boat.