Ever been in business with a spouse? How about a sibling? How about three siblings, all brothers? Daunting as that sounds, it is a successful business recipe employed by the Brothers Schroenn (Justin 56, Matthew and Gareth, 49) as they attempt to transform the world’s aquatic recreational market.
The trio is inventor/creators of SWMBRD – a revolutionary new hybrid that is so distinct its patented characteristics essentially position it as a new “sport” as much as a new “board.”
Growing up in Durban, South Africa, a world-renowned surf capital, the brothers always had a passion for the water, particularly swimming. Upon immigrating to Canada, they embraced more traditional Canadian water sports such as kayaking and stand-up paddle and spent many a Vancouver summer day exploring the coastline from English Bay to Kitsilano.
Still, swimming was what they loved. Justin became so enthused with kayaking that he purchased his own nine-foot kayak and wheely system to transport it home. After a day on the water, he would tow his kayak up the steep West End Vancouver hills, cram it into the elevator and drag it into his one-bedroom apartment, where it became the dominant piece of artwork on the wall.
SWMBRD started at a traffic light in Port Moody, British Columbia, when Justin turned to his brother Matthew and blurted out the words, “What if we invented a board that people could really swim on?”
Their idea was to design a board that would combine their love of paddleboarding and kayaking with their constant desire to swim; a board that would enable you to travel and explore long distances but kept you on the surface of the water; a board that would allow you go as fast or as slow as you like; a board that would allow your whole body to be empowered and aquatic. Finally, a board that was small and light and was practical for an urban lifestyle.
Little did the brothers know that this “Eureka” moment would lead them down a six-year road of obsession that would ultimately culminate in their founding of a compelling new sport and a brand new way that people relate to the water.
But with no board-shaping experience, how would they even begin?
Competition among brothers becomes an asset when everyone rows in the same direction, sharing a vision, the workload and, especially, the debts – the latter of which grew quickly.
First Justin’s apartment, then Matthew’s, were turned into workshops, and the men built their dreams off their credit cards while working their “day jobs.” They could not afford even the most basic modern aerodynamic design tools such as a wind tunnel, but desperation is, after all, the mother of invention.
They made their local hardware manager rich as they manually bore through hundreds of pounds of hard foam, carving and sanding, testing, adjusting, testing, shaving a bit more, testing again, smoothing out yet more, and more …
But like Michelangelo’s David was hewn from a block of granite, the trio produced their first prototype from Styrofoam after 18 months of blisters and 13 design iterations.
Much like an airplane cutting through the air, the (hydrostatic) stability of a boat (or board) is a precise balance of weight and buoyancy. If not completely in sync, the Boat Don’t Float. The Schroenn’s aren’t engineers, but the brothers possessed the same resolve as the Wright Brothers; they understood they were exploring uncharted territory and just kept going.
It all came together one cold wintry day in an outside pool when, with a 3mm wetsuit on, the first board was successfully tested. Although not perfect, they were getting close: They made final key adjustments to the volume and displacement of the keel – a defining departure from a flat board – which allowed for hairpin turns, dives and manoeuvrability.
From this point, the brothers produced four variants, all slightly different. They then began demonstrating (and filming) the boards in various environments, from beaches to rivers and lakes of all sorts.
Knowing that the ultimate cost of the board would trickle down to the consumer, the brothers always remained cost-conscious. Fortunately, and ironically, their technology proved to be less expensive and even produced better quality boards.
SWMBRD, foregoing traditional fibreglass, utilizes a thermoforming process that involves stretching and manipulating a thermoplastic sheet, which is softened and stretched across a single mould making for a lighter, cleaner board.
To prove that their technology would work, the brothers returned to their local hardware store to buy sheets of MDF wood and cedar two-by-fours. They then spent the next several months in Gareth’s apartment sanding, sawing, gluing …
After completing the mould, they contacted Mark Walsh at Walsh Plastics in Burnaby and pulled the very first plastic hull off of their hand-made mould.
Their angel investors then stepped in and financed the first professionally made mould, which was used to produce the first 16 pre-production boards. Burnaby’s Brookes Paddle Gear then produced the neoprene pads that would cover the upper surface of the board.
The brothers took their boards to Hawaii to test them in the resort environments, then to Greece where Lifeguard Hellas, the largest lifeguard team in Greece, used them to monitor triathlons. The result was rave reviews from everyone involved.
The brothers are now ready for the next step, taking SWMBRD to the people.
The brothers have finally received the financing required to enter into an Other Equipment manufacturer (OEM ) agreement with the largest producer of aquatic board sport products in Europe.
SWMBRD is gearing up for their first production run and is looking forward to building a fun and exciting new board sport and lifestyle brand.
The company’s website is up and was recently listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange under the symbol “SWIM.”
| By Pat Beechinor
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