The art of bodysurfing has been recorded to go back as far as 1769, when Captain Cook, the explorer who found the island of New Zealand and countless others, first glided through the waves of Fiji.
As the sport’s influence spread from the islands of Polynesia to any wealthy area with active waters, the affluent turned bodysurfing into a tropical vacation pass time. However, the introduction of the surfboard threatened the existence of bodysurfing. Gradually, the surfboard dominated the water sports landscapes.
Although loyalists to body surfers have remained true, surfing has been a dominant force in the water sports market. However, bodysurfing is making a resurgence in a new variation: handboarding.
Handboarding, just like its namesake, involves the rider using their hand as a guide through waves. Steve Watts, the founder of Slyde Handboards, grew up on the beaches of South Africa and found his free time consumed in the water. The idea for a handboard was just something Watts devised so that he could make his body surfing a little more interesting.
“We had a lot of time to amuse ourselves and find creative ways to ride waves,” Watts said, “We would use everything and anything to enhance our body surfing experience from frisbees to flip flops. As I went into my teens and picked up stand up surfing, we would tear open old surfboard to use the foam to shape little handboards, which worked way better than a flip flop.”
Handboarding is an extension of bodysurfing, and they share all the same elements of body control. The experience of a handboard in the water is similar to a surfboard in that they both yield control to the wave, but the feeling and the execution could not be anymore more opposite.
When asked to compare the experiences, Watts commented: “the best I can do to compare them is to say that handboarding you are completely immersed and connected to the water, it almost feels like you are one with the wave. Whereas, with surfing, as the French say, it is a dance with the wave. Both have a very meditative feel, when you are riding there is nothing else that exists but you and the wave it’s an incredible feeling.”
As both a surfer and handboarder himself, Watts considers handboarding much more efficient than surfing, and it is not as susceptible to letting the rider fall idle waiting for waves. Surfing is considerably more difficult than handboarding; surfing teachers would tell anyone that surfing requires a larger investment of time, but the handboarding learning curve is much more inviting.
The greatest quality of a product like Slyde is that anybody can hook it up and be comfortable on it. Too often, we see products that look incredible at first, but they cannot succeed because of the amount of effort that must be put forth to use it.
Watts himself considers handboarding much easier to its standing counterpart: “Handboarding is incredibly easy to learn compared to surfing. With a very basic understanding of waves, a beginner can advance really quickly.” This makes Slyde flexible for its market. Rather than only catering to skilled consumers, it can reach interested novices with little issue.
Even though the handboards are novice-friendly, reaching the prospective consumer base is exceptionally difficult because of a lack of awareness. Since handboarding is such a fresh commodity, informing potential consumers about the product and the lifestyle has proved quite a challenge for Watts.
“The greatest gift starting Slyde has given me is watching and hearing from others how we have added so much positivity to their lives. From Chris, one of our ambassadors who was able to overcome his fear of the ocean after a horrific accident, to a young dad in England who became a superhero to his kids when they watched him shred a wave. In small ways, we have made a difference in their lives, and that is really rewarding feeling.”
Another obstacle Watts faced was how to begin his company. Watts realized that he wanted to spend the rest of his life working with the handboards, but he had neither the resources nor the knowledge of how to approach handboards as a career.
Most entrepreneurs face challenges like this when developing a product: do I have any idea of what I am getting myself into?
Sometimes, the key to gaining understanding is to simply expose yourself to the industry. Get out into the world and look for how your product can be incorporated into your market’s daily life.
While he was in his 20s, Watts traveled the world and found surfers doing the same things he attempted back in with trays and frisbees. However, the brand for handboarding was widely unrecognized. Surprised that nobody has yet taken advantage of the handboard concept, Watts took his completed design to California and began making boards in his friend’s garage.
Being an entrepreneur sometimes requires you to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. So often, business owners decide to just pay others to make something they don’t feel like dealing with, but handling matters yourself is a good way to ensure that you’re invested in the company. It’s also a great way to save money.
The market for sports equipment makes it enticing for brands to branch out into other fields and pose as an “unauthentic” brand. Slyde prides itself on its simple goal to remain true to itself and the joys of handboarding to the world.
If an entrepreneur truly wants to make an impact in an industry, they must know what the brand will be and who they want to reach. Slyde has dedicated its whole mission to enjoying the beach lifestyle, and they have aligned themselves perfectly as a brand that ocean lovers should know.
Slyde’s success is not because of one decision: they are engraved in a rich surfing culture, their owner has poured his entire being into the product, the product is easy to use, and they stay true to their brand.