INTRO: In an issue with a sub-plot focusing on generations, Aaron Hadlow tells us in his regular column about his recent transition from World Champion to getting more involved in the business of kiteboarding... and then gets as far from it as possible! Who can blame him?!
Product development is something that I have always loved and have been involved with from very early on in my career. I was lucky enough to help develop Flexifoil's first ever water kite as a young rider and I've now reached the point where my name and logo has become a sub brand of the company, featuring a collection of items.
In the past I was solely focused on turning my kite into a piece of kit fit to win World Championships with, but I didn't have any knowledge of the process of development. Major breakthroughs were constantly being integrated into the designs and that made it interesting, but nowadays I've found there is a lot more to it, which adds to the enjoyment even more.
Although technical changes are smaller now, my role has evolved to not only working and testing with aero designers, but using the resources at Flexifoil for the branding and marketing material on products, graphics, adverts, promotional items, POS, videos, etc. Refining each piece of equipment and seeing it worked in to the range is massively satisfying, but then also helping to create everything that needs to go around it and learning what it takes to actually get a kite to market is a really interesting and fun challenge.
Over the last few years I've learnt how the business operates. I have always loved progressing in kiteboarding, but my enjoyment of learning has now spread over into other interests, too. I have worked with many people and seen Flexifoil go through lots of changes over the years, but none have been more exciting than the relationship I've developed with Anthony Van Dort, son of Flexifoil's founder. To watch him put his business knowledge and skills to work and to be included on a deep enough level to learn from him has been fascinating. Working with the figures, equipment, brand image, perception and market share is a bit like the bug when I first started kiteboarding.
There have been times in the past that I've asked for budget for certain projects or for marketing, assuming it was entirely necessary and worth the investment. It often was and there can also be lots indirect benefits, but running the numbers now and simply seeing how many kites need to be sold before there is much financial gain to be seen is really interesting. I'm learning to look at things differently, and I have to say I never thought number crunching could be this interesting.
I recently returned to England from Cape Town and the spring-like conditions I was expecting hadn't yet arrived. I was stood on Worthing sea front wearing two hoodies and a snowboarding jacket and already thinking I needed to get away. I lasted six days before I booked a last minute flight to Boa Vista, Cape Verde, thinking the season may have kicked in by the time I got back.
I have been to the Cape Verde island of Sal, but was never totally convinced from a pure out-and-out freestyle point of view. I'd heard Boa Vista was one of the sandiest islands in the chain and after a little research, coinciding with a good forecast, I was sat on a flight towards hopefully continuing with what should be more good progress for my riding.
There are some places that I regularly visit, either for competitions or generally just for their good conditions and, although going to a place you know quite well can have its benefits, I really like to see and explore new parts of the world; especially when there are no obligations tied in, places to be or people to meet ? it's just me and the sport that I love.
I wouldn't change what I do for anything and I honestly have no complaints, but most of the time I'm away for a reason and to make sure that each trip is as productive as possible. If I wasn't there for a comp or demo, then I was making a video or shooting for photos. All that was a priority, but also time consuming. This was the first trip in a while that I was free to concentrate on my riding and nothing else. It was exactly what I needed!
When I was younger I loved to explore and whenever I went on trips with my parents I would always want to check all the beaches to find the best place in the area. Boa Vista is really underdeveloped, so there are only a couple of paved roads. The rest are all dirt tracks that you can just about follow in the general direction of the different beaches. Most days we explored the island in a 4x4 checking out new spots. It was exciting going to a place that is still relatively new to kiters. Sometimes we'd drive for ages thinking we were getting lost along the sand dunes only to soon stumble upon another amazing new spot.
It is surely most kitesurfers' dream to be the only one on the water at a remote one-of-a-kind spot with ideal conditions. I have been fortunate enough to experience in the past and I'm really happy to have done so again!