by steven watts February 24, 2017

We found the questions asked by Business2Community to be some of the most thought provoking questions yet, and couldn't help but share. 

The edited published version of this article can be found on HERE Thanks to B2C.
1) Body surfing has been around for as long as humans have played, but where did you get the idea from surfing with a board in your hands?

The idea for Slyde evolved from when I was young. I grew up in South Africa, where we spent a lot of time down on our local beach. My mom would take us down there all day.  I think mostly to let us run off the energy my brother and I had, and for her to get some peace and quiet, so that we terrorized the beach instead of destroying the house.

We had a lot of time to amuse ourselves and find creative ways to ride waves. 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. My holidays were almost exclusively spent at the beach, so we got pretty good at handboarding.

I remember pretty clearly when I was 16 thinking this is what I want to do with my life. At the time I didn't know quite how that would evolve or work out but I knew I wanted to do it. In my 20s I went traveling around the world and as it turns out I met a lot of surfers from across the globe, that grew up doing the same things we did with frisbees and fast food trays. However, there was never a recognizable brand attached to this sport. Although, so many people knew about it, loved it, and had so many happy memories doing it.

It seemed inevitable that someone would start a business based on it. But, no one did and so after finishing product design at university, I moved to Venice California, met Russell while teaching surfing and we started Slyde Handboards in his garage.    

2) Whenever I see your Slyde boards, surfing is the first thing that comes to mind. How would you compare the experiences between surfing and handboarding?

This is a great question and really difficult to answer, as they are so alike yet so very different. It all comes down to a feeling that is a really difficult to quantify in words.

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.

I have been surfing since I was very young and I traveled around the world surfing and handboarding and I love both. I have found in the past few years I have been handboarding a lot more than surfing because I find in any given surf session I will get upward of four times the amount of waves handboarding than I do surfing.

We live in Orange County in California and it can get very crowded with a lot of surfers and people out in the water. With a handboard you are almost incognito out there and instead of competing for waves, I find I have the pick of waves instead. As you can surf waves surfers can’t or don’t, and as you get more skilled you are able to drop into waves faster than most surfers are able to do which allows you to catch more.  

3) Your Slyde Handboards offer a refreshing and innovative variation of surfing. Surfing can be quite a difficult sport to pick up for most, with classes, lessons and painful experiences necessary for being able to surf. How difficult would you describe the process for learning how to use a handboard?

Thank you. I started the company on the the pure belief  that if I loved it and was having so much fun others would too. Surfing is really difficult to learn, you get better the more you do it but I don't think you truly ever master it or at least I haven't yet.

Handboarding is incredibly easy to learn compared to surfing. With a very basic understanding of waves a beginner can advance really quickly. The great thing about handboarding is it’s an easy way to get into more ocean sports and it teaches you very quickly how to judge and catch a wave and have fun doing it without the fear of knocking yourself out on a big board. I used to teach surfing in Santa Monica and the kids who started off handboarding and bodysurfing would always progress quicker.

At Slyde, we believe in being water people in doing everything that is fun in the ocean from surfing and standup paddling to handboarding, they are all interconnected and the more you practice one the better you become at understanding the other, and the ocean.

The great thing about handboarding is that even though it is easy to pick up. You can also take it to the next level like some of the guys in Hawaii,who are riding Pipeline and pulling some awesome tricks on some big waves.   

4) Trying something as outlandish as handboarding can be intimidating for people. How do you plan to attract consumers that have never tried this sport?

Since we started back in 2010 education has been the biggest challenge we have faced. Apart from core surfers, not many people had really heard of handboarding much less tried it.

Fortunately, we have a very visual and exciting sport that is done in some of the most beautiful places in the world. so it is very easy to create engaging videos and images  that people can't help but be mesmerized by. Also we have taken a lot of time to create helpful and engaging content on our how to page, that really helps beginner to understand the sport.

Above all though our most important asset we have built is our engaged ambassador and rider program, the program allows people who love the sport to really be a part of spreading handboarding and the  awareness of the sport, while being involved in a community bigger than themselves.

We are fortunate we live in a time where It is easier than ever before to reach a large segment of customers that may be interested in our lifestyle and product through a network of social media. Being on Shark Tank was also a huge boost to be able to tell our story to a lot of people in a very short space of time.    

5) Even though they are completely different methods for use, how would you compare the learning curve between surfboards and handboards?

As I mentioned above surfing does have a long steep learning curve and any surfer will tell you it's takes a lifetime to get anywhere near a mastering it. Surfing is the ultimate lesson in enjoying the journey and not the destination. At this point I have been doing it most of my life and I still get put in my place by the ocean.

Handboarding on the other hand has a far easier learning curve to getting to a point where you would feel confident in your riding ability. It’s not uncommon for someone who has never used one to pick it up the same day and really understand how to ride a wave. I think mostly because a big board in the ocean is very difficult to maneuver and can be quite intimidating for a beginner. The smaller board gives a beginner the confidence to ride a wave without the fear of getting hurt.   

6) For most sports products, your company has to really buy into the product as a lifestyle. This all comes with branding and content. How has your company sold the lifestyle and the brand of the handboard?

Handboarding and Slyde is about having fun in the ocean, nothing more nothing less. That's why our mission is to Ride Smile and Have Fun, and we live the stoke.  All of our content is authentic because it's what we believe in and it's at the very core of who we are. I started Slyde because I love to do it, the ocean makes me happy and riding waves is something I hope to be doing until I can't swim any more.

As Slyde evolved it has become a platform for a community to share and enjoy what they do. We just happen to make the products they can use to express their love for the ocean and its spreading, and spreading fast as more people get to try it.

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.

7) Maintaining your brand is everything, but how do you maintain your “surfer lifestyle” while attracting more consumers?

We don't try to be anything other than what we are.  We love what we do, we live the surf lifestyle  and we all love having fun in the ocean, I can't think of any other reason we would we put up with the cost of living in California, it's definitely not because we love the traffic. I think our authenticity and love for what we do, attracts people who want the same thing.

I would say it's almost impossible for me to be anything else, this is what I always knew I would do, and everything in my live up till now has lead to the creation of Slyde. Without the ocean in my life I slowly start to wither away.  I love coming to work each day, I would be truly be lost without it.       

steven watts
steven watts

Growing up in South Africa, Steve spent his youth dreaming of far off places. After spending eight years extensively traveling to many of the great surf destinations of the world getting dengue fever, having a near death experience from a falling coconut in mexico, Surviving a 15 foot drop on a handboard on a Nias bomb, jumping from every rock he could find without adequate health insurance. and comprehensively debunking the myth there are no waves in Thailand, even if they are small. He decided it was time for a a degree. Steve Graduated from Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design in London with a degree in product design. He missed his graduation to go surfing in Californian, found a kindred spirit with Venice and never left


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