Dec 2, 2011
Author: John Bryja
Trade Secrets: Wainman Hawaii
Lou Wainman is unquestionably the most influential kiteboarder of all time. During the late ’90s and the start of the last decade, he pioneered the wakestyle movement and has been at the cutting edge of the sport. In 2007, it came as no surprise to SBC Kiteboard magazine that a new brand was emerging with him as a partner. In just four short years, Wainman Hawaii has established itself as a core brand with a strong following around the world. SBC Kiteboard editor John Bryja caught up with cofounders Mike "Husky" and Lou Wainman to find out more about Wainman Hawaii and their vision for kiteboarding’s future.
The Mike Husky Interview
How did Wainman Hawaii come about?
Mike Husky Przeciechowski (R&D manager and general manager): It’s a long story, but it all started because of a passion for wind, Maui and friendship. Although Lou and I met in Paia partly because of kites, our bro-deal wasn’t based solely on Kiteboarding. We were studying reality and tried to invent ways to break into the system. Having ideas such as “robbing the bank in daylight, acting like it’s a joke, departing with a bag of cash and leaving the cashiers happy,” were a daily regular. At that time, Lou was on his own, not sponsored by anyone and not giving a damn about the past. For the first months of our housemate relationship, I didn’t know who he really was when it came to his pioneer endeavors in the kite industry, as he is a humble person and I’m a sports history ignoramus. Our attraction was based on hanging out and helping each other to survive in style. At that time, Paia was full of young, brave hearts from all around the world, grabbing the sweetest girls and biggest waves. Back in Europe, I had law degree waiting for me in a shelf, but from the perspective of the other side of the world, and seeing it through the beautiful Maui colours, it just had to wait. Within some time, I took those colours back to Europe with me and opened a large seasonal kite school at Hel Bay. But as the situation on Maui still wasn’t changing and Lou definitely needed a step up, I at least wanted to have him open a school on Maui as well. He offered me a partnership. In the end, everything was almost ready, but we realized we’d be missing good kites as none of the brands were producing anything normal. With a bit of irony, I would say: all you could choose between was a nine-strut bow kite in yellow or pink. Lack of good performance gear was definitely going to be a big problem, especially since our favourite low aspect C kites weren’t available (even used!) on eBay anymore. When we thought of it, it really sucked. At that time, Lou had already attempted starting a kite brand called Lou Wainman, but he closed that project. Since a budget for a school to buy gear, permits and storefront locations added up to almost five zeros, we figured out that going straight for the @$$ might be a better solution. As the project was looking exciting but big, we needed a third partner. I called Mark Tylicki, a kiter from Europe, good guy who was already involved in our adventures as his big travel agency was organizing all my crew trips. So it was three of us … and this is how Wainman Hawaii started.
What were the biggest challenges in the beginning?
Almost every step was a challenge. We had to build everything from ground zero. There was a lot of passion and pride, a great name to brand the product once it was ready, and some idea of what kind of gear we wanted to produce. But everything else just didn’t exist. Going from a thought to a result is a very long way. The key to success in whatever you do is to first have a wild dream. Then think about it a lot and arrange it with some constructive thoughts so things can align. Later give absolutely all you got to just make it happen. And when you jump from that cliff, make sure you move your arms quickly…. (or damn fast?)
How has Lou’s background in the sport influenced the company?
As mentioned before, his core image in the sport was the great marketing foundation that he brought to Wainman Hawaii (aside from himself). He is unquestionably the pioneer of the wakestyle movement, still being one of the first guys in the universe to ride upwind with a kite and a board before that. The company was aimed at being a core and “real” kite brand that had never existed before in this sport, resulting in a perfect match. As talented an athlete as he is, he always had a crazy, great style, but it’s not just acting the part to build the waterman’s image, it’s how he really is—very emotional, totally unpredictable and with a unique sense of humor; real. Being real definitely is our tune. Attitude-wise, the company is built by people who match that philosophy. When we laugh, we laugh hard, but when we have to fight, we fight hard as well.
In the first year Wainman Hawaii launched, your kites were without sizes on them, and each was given a name instead. We thought that was really core. How was that received?
I really appreciate you thought that. The reason why we named and marketed each size separately was simply so that each kite size of the Rabbit series was designed individually, and they are unique in slight but important details. From experience with flying other kites that are simply scaled up or down from the initial design, we knew that only some sizes within one range were flying fine and some were really bad. Not to mention that everything was different once you were switched the size, and the average rider would have to spend the first couple of minutes getting used to the kite. As the performance characteristics are an integral part of each kite, we knew we had to design each size separately in order to produce similar flying characteristics.
On top of that, the smaller kites needed to be bombproof with a special heavy cloth frame in the canopy to survive serious wipeouts. At the same time, the bigger kites in the series needed to be very light and generally fly much faster than the wind for which they are designed. Once it was conceived, it was natural for us to call them with different names and paint different faces, especially as we were already referring to them with the nicknames that later became their final names.
What sort of impact have Lou’s close relationships with some of the sport’s early pioneers, like Franz Olry, had on Wainman Hawaii?
Kitesurfing makes the world a small place as traveling through continents in the search of the good spots makes you meet many inspiring people. There is definitely some magic in meeting passionate and good guys, whoever they are. We are glad to have a team of some of those inspiring pioneers, athletes, shapers and designers under our flag. Franz is kind of a European Lou: a great innovator of the young sport who threw the first Kiteloops and was the first twin-tip promoter in Europe. Definitely a great mix to have those two friends in one team. Bertrand, being one of the first core riders in the world, became a very active sport ambassador and surf haunter. Niccolo is great young rider with heaps of character, unbelievable talent and brave heart. And Sean Ordonez, the waterman legend, board sculptor, a man with a gift of creation. Apart from those most known guys, Wainman Hawaii is proud to cooperate with many individuals with immense wisdom and skills. In some sense, all kitesurfers are pioneers, and the colder, darker and less windy their local spot is, the more core and pioneering they are. In reality, surfing with a kite is still a very niche sport, and there is still a lot of promotion needed around the world to make sure kitesurfing is not banned anywhere. So although at Wainman Hawaii, we have lots of respect for “back in the day” stories, but in everyday jobs we focus on today and tomorrow. We are content when our team is working together and everything is moving forward. Even if that’s only a quarter of an inch per day, it is still constant progress, and that is what is needed and respected the most.
Tell us a little about the R&D process.
Our R&D ranges from ideas in our heads to kiting and design studios. Therefore, we are riding a lot and testing the physical solutions in real conditions. We naturally test all our design concepts in the spots of Hawaii, but we also travel a lot to ride the gear and study its performance elsewhere. We often visit Cape Town, Indo and some flatwater laboratories in Europe. Conversely, we spend a great deal of time in offices or shaping rooms. This is where the concepts that first sprout in heads are later blooming and being developed further. The concepts are put into the files so actual fruit (prototypes) can be built by our solid production department. In the various stages of development, there is teamwork between different members and company cells. That’s where the progress is needed mostly, and where all the input is appreciated and deeply respected.
What does Wainman Hawaii do differently to set it apart from the other brands in the sport?
To be honest, we don’t do things just to set ourselves apart. We do things that we think are right, when we think it is right to do them. As an aimed result, kiters should be happy with what we provide them. Amongst those things important to us, for various reasons, we decided it right to not assign model years to our products. At first glance, this would appear a major difference to someone who looks at the sports scene from a wider perspective.
What gear are you most excited about for 2012?
Haha. I’m very excited that in 2012 we’ll still be riding great boards and kites! And I hope that no one fears this date or any other date, nor spaceships. Lol. To celebrate the world’s survival, we are planning the premiere of the second generation of Rabbits very soon, still within The Year Of The Rabbit. The gang will be wearing new jackets, their flying skills will be amped up in order to be even better, and their faces repainted to attract even more innocent citizens. The bar will be redesigned so more riders can fit in the gang, while those core and primal ones will still appreciate its simplicity.
What would surprise people most about running a kite brand?
Hmm… I guess many things could surprise and believe it or not - not too often but sometimes you still ride just for fun again. lol... But as far as some “trade secret” - it’s not quite a simple thing to design and produce the gear that in the end seems that super simple. It actually takes lots of time and effort of many people to accomplish that. Ironically the simplier concept you have the harder it might be to finalize it. And so: the never ending computer design sessions, permanent tele communication with bros in every time zone, long @$$ flights with 12 hours jetlags and all the other joys of the 21st centuries business jungle — instead of turquoise waters and vanilla skies - bank transfers, phone calls, stock lists, currency rates, payrolls and hard business negotiations with big corporations… But who said its gonna be easy… Of course you do find juice to do it, as you are blessed and thankful for all those Rabbit smiles that have been given to you so far. Big Mahalo for that to You, The Global Rabbit Gang!!!