Ian Urtnowski Interview: The Waterman Behind the URT Brand
by Michelle MichalakSeptember 02, 2015
Ian and his crew recently hosted the URT Womp on Coronado Island in San Diego.An action packed full of Bodysurfing, Handplane, and King of The Island competitions.competitions. Slyde couldn't wait to to find out more about the dude behind all the URT stoke.
When & How Did the URT Brand come about?
The URT Brand came about from my time as a Beach Lifeguard in Coronado. In the Winter we get a lot of time to ponder. I had just graduated with an accounting degree and I realized I paid a lot of money to know what I didn't want to do. So I guess it was priceless.
Instead of jumping into a cubicle career I took a 6 month trip to New Zealand and found my head out there and put together the framework for URT. My last name is Urtnowski, but at the beach as a lifeguard I'm known as just URT. When I was surfing on my break a sea lion popped up next to me and yelled my name. The light bulb went off and a company was born.
I wanted to be a clothing company for the true ocean user, not just someone who looks at the beach as a giant tanning salon.
I put a 6 month tide chart on the inside of each shirt so that the shirt wearer can flip over the hem and see the highs and lows. The tide is the unifying language of all oceanic activities; from paddleboaring, spearfishing, bodysurfing, fishing, surfing, etc. I've been identifying the ocean's language and translating it for a customer base with a high Ocean IQ. These are shirts only the amphibious would understand.
How do you see the future of URT evolving?
The future of URT seems to evolve every day. Every day it seems new doors, new directions to open up. It can be a struggle to keep it all organized and ship up right. As of right now, I see URT evolving into a lifestyle brand.
I just got into t-shirts because it was a cheap entry cost, the idea of the brand is much bigger. I want to cater to the true ocean users. We have begun to get into accessories by adding Polarized sunglasses and watches to the lineup. We will be doing a full cut and sew line this coming Summer and are in talks of introducing a drink line of Coffee Beans and hopefully our own craft beer. The ocean is bottomless, there are so many possibilities and that's what makes this exciting.
Where do you see the bodysurfing/handboarding industry heading?
The bodysurfing and handplane industry has exploded since I started the company nearly 5 years ago. I had to explain to everyone what the word WOMP meant, but now it is synonymous with Bodysurfing. I think with the overcrowding of the lineup with surfers and kooks people have turned to a more simple way to capture their stoke.
There is no more pure way to do that other than bodysurfing. You're not riding the wave, you are the wave. I see the industry promoting a lifestyle that is similar to the simplified mentality that bodysurfing preaches.
URT has always thrown some unique and Cutting Edge events...Wavehouse Bodysurfing Competition, Beach Hole Digging Competition etc.
What 5 elements do you find are key in organizing an event?
Volunteers: Good luck doing an event without them. Make a list of everyone that can help you and keep them happy. Feed them, hydrate them, make them smile.
Passion: Organizing an event of something that you are passionate about makes the whole thing easier.
Plan: This is our 5th year with event experience. You should have seen us the first year. No clue. Now we know to start planing months in advance. Also, when the event is over remember to meet up with your people and debrief. What went well? What could be improved?
Give the people what they want: Free food and refreshments, a good event shirt, a great charity to work alongside with. Never let your sign ups feel like they're getting ripped off. It's not about the money, its about the community.
Adapt: You need to leave yourself room to adapt. This year Poseidon didn't help us out at all. We had to add the idea of "Kind of the Island" where the heats would start on a 10 x 10 floating platform, instead of a traditional beach start. When the heat started with an airhorn blast, the last contestant left standing on the platform received +3 points added to their wave score. When the surf isn't good you need to bump up the entertainment factor.
You recently host the URT Bodysurfing Competition on Coronado Aug 16th. What were 4 Standout Moments from the event?
As the organizer my standout moments will be a lot more different than a spectator or competitor role.
1. My original volunteer who was supposed to help me get the Platform for the King of the Island ended up going for it at a wedding the night before. Long story short I had to track it down, blow it up, and transport it up there with only 2 minutes to spare before the first heat. Seeing it out there floating proudly was pretty big for me.
2. Seeing the first heat start on the platform with no injuries made me relax a little bit and seeing everyone's smiling faces as they came in from the heat reminded me the surf height was unimportant.
3. Taking a moment to stand back and turn around and look at the crowd that has gathered really helps put things into perspective.
4. Seeing the All Ladies final heat "Queen of the Island" battle was pretty priceless. It had the whole beaches attention.
If you could have any 3 "celebrities" at the next URT event, Who would you invite and Why?
1. Seal. The kissed by the rose guy. I thought that would have been pretty slam dunk advertising.
2. Mark Cunningham. Biggest name in bodysurfing today and former winner of URT WOMP 2013. His energy is palpable.
3. Mark Healy: The guy kind of does it all, really really well. Well rounded waterman who validates anything he touches.
Michelle's diploma reads BA Psychology with a minor in English, and her license plate reads #CaliforniaDreaming4Life. She begin her career in the NYC fashion industry working with fashion and internet pioneer, Bluefly.com However, due the constant "nagging" of her entrepreneurial spirit, her crush on surfing, and hardcore love for the ocean, she chosen to call San Diego home for the past 10 years. On the west coast she 's chased waves & enlightenment working alongside "Gurus" in the online marketing & personal development industries. It in May 2012 she found her true Zen & Stoke, and joined the Slyde Handboards Team.