By @. Skunkworks featured. Creating the most robust, high-performance soft surfboards and stand-up paddleboards in the world while minimising our impact on the environment.
Describe the company – the elevator pitch …
I own Alive Surf School in Portrush, my biggest expense each year is the replacement of soft surfboards due to the poor quality of products available. After speaking with peers around the world I confirmed this to be a global problem with huge financial and environmental costs. 2.5 years ago my brother Chris and I decided to solve the problem. We realised that the main reason surfboards fell apart was due to the use of adhesives and poor quality materials – we needed to eliminate both. We have developed a patent-pending heat-bonding technology that completely eliminates adhesives and introduced brand-new materials to the market place. Our board is also the only soft surfboard in the world that is 100% recyclable. We have grown to a team of four and are in the process of signing off on a £500,000 investment that will allow us to buy new machinery, move to a larger factory, employ four new members of staff and launch our product in October this year.
— Skunkworks Surf Co. (@skunkworkssurf) February 9, 2016
How are you different?
We are different because we have developed our product from the perspective of the end user. As the owner of a surf school I am all too aware of the many flaws that exist in current boards, through every step of r & d we have stuck to our promise to solve each and every one of these. We have developed a patent-pending heat bonding technology, this means when the materials in our boards are bonded they are done so at a molecular level, in effect they become one piece. Our competitors boards are glued together, glue hates everything involved in surfing – the heat, the cold, the salt water and being dragged around, this is why current boards fall apart so easily.
The other massive thing that makes us different is our patience, we have been working full time now for 2.5 years on these boards, that is a long time! We could have easily gone to China, like 95% of soft boards out there, and got a quick fix but we wanted to make sure we did things properly – that is why we manufacture our boards in-house, in Northern Ireland.
— Skunkworks Surf Co. (@skunkworkssurf) January 28, 2016
Why will the company / product do well?
Firstly, our product will be a success and it solves genuine problems, six of them to be exact. Our price point is extremely competitive and we are in control of everything so we do not have to rely on a manufacturer based 1000’s miles away. We can be instantly reactive to any changes we want to make or anyway we see a chance to improve our product as everything is in-house.
Secondly, our team is fantastic – currently we work with Thomas and Steve who have endured a really tough time, often without pay, but come to work everyday laughing and smiling. We all believe so much in what we are doing and everyone see’s the light at the end of the tunnel, our team is remarkable. Once we secure our investment four new team members are joining, the best part is they are people we already know who excel at what they do and are all really cool people – we are going to be a unique business where hopefully everyone will be truly happy!!
— Skunkworks Surf Co. (@skunkworkssurf) February 16, 2016
Where are you based?
We are all from Portrush on the North Coast and our factory is in Coleraine, about ten minutes drive away. Our new factory which will will move into in June is in Coleraine too but is 15,000 sq ft right on the river Bann – we can take a paddle board from the production line and launch it 30 seconds later!
When was the company launched?
We began our journey in October 2014 when Chris and I were in my garage gluing all my boards together and Chris declared ‘there must be a better way to make these!’
— INVENT (@InventNI) April 7, 2016
What have been your biggest wins to date?
We have had a lot;
1. Successfully getting ‘proof of concept’ funding that allowed us to make our initial prototype and then set up our factory to see if our idea had legs.
2. Joining forces with Northern Ireland Science Park, Northern Regional College, Queens University and Invest NI – the expertise, help, advice and financial support of all of these people has been what keeps us going. We owe everything to these guys.
3. Pitching live to Richard Branson in London in 2015 ‘Pitch to Rich’, we came second our of 897 businesses across the UK
4. Winning ‘INVENT 2015’ in the engineering category as well as best pitch in the entire competition
5. Meeting our investors, a wonderful couple from Northern Ireland who really believe in us and our business and are willing to back us. Clarendon fund management have matched their investment with the backing of Invest NI – this will change everything for us.
What type of people (market segment) are you trying to attract to your product?
While our obvious market is surf schools we have had huge interest from paddle board schools, activity centres and the individual surfer/paddleboarder. We will initially launch four boards in our range and each appeals to a different sector.
6′ board – this is a shorter board, ideal for both children and the advanced surfer who is looking for a fun but high-performing board to surf in smaller/summer waves.
8′ – The 8′ is every surf school’s bread and butter but is also very appealing to families.
SUP – The paddleboard has a huge audience, paddleboarding is now viewed as a larger sport than surfing as it can be accessed in any inland waterway such as rivers and lakes. The problem with current SUP’s is they are huge, expensive and fragile – ours is smaller in size, less expensive and if it blows off your roof rack you can just pick it up and strap it on again without worry!
Cross-over – The crossover is exactly what it sounds like, a cross between a surfboard and a paddle board. We have had more interest in this board that any other, it allows surf schools to have a board that people can surf and if the waves disappear everyone can go paddle boarding! It is also really attractive to the individual and families. We have done something special with this one 🙂
— Skunkworks Surf Co. (@skunkworkssurf) February 24, 2016
Tell us about your team?
Our team is everything, absolutely everything. The chance for my brother Chris and I to work together is obviously special. Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of times we want to throw each other out the window but these are massively outweighed by hugs and high-fives as cheesy as that sounds! Thomas and Steve are maybe the two most genuine, understanding men I have ever met – true gentlemen to the core and without them SkunkWorks would be a distant memory.
The four new people who are joining us are in the same bracket – we have known them all for years – last week Chris organised a bbq for everyone to meet each other and you would have believed everyone had known each other from childhood. Sam summed it up best when she said ‘I can’t believe we are going to be working somewhere that nobody is a dick!’
What are you long term plans for your product / company?
We aim to make the most robust surfboards and standup paddle boards in the world while having minimum impact on our environment. We want to become a leader in the global surfing industry.
We will continually focus on r&d to improve our current product range as well as adding new products to it, there are many ideas brewing up here on the North Coast.
We will grow to become a major employer in an area that desperately needs it and will employ people from all backgrounds – we will set the standard for inclusive employment.
What are your favourite tech gadgets?
This sounds crazy but I really hate technology ha ha!! I found myself about a year ago ignoring my daughter as I was reading Facebook, when I caught myself I realised I needed to change. I have quit social media on a personal level (obviously it is still hugely important to the business) and I am trying to work out how I can live my life without a mobile phone but I am failing on that one. My laptop stays at work now in the evenings and the weekends. If I had to pick a gadget though I would probably say I am most impressed by drone technology because of the huge possibilities it has but I have never flown one and probably never will! Saying that we will need them for our videos so any awesome drone pilots please get in touch!
What tech gadgets do you wish you could use to help you?
Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked?
Only that we want to show off what we are doing so if anyone ever wants to come and visit us please get in touch an come for a tour!
How do people get in touch with you?
fb – Skunkworks Surf Co