In this edition of SUP Company Spotlight, InflatableBoarder.com caught up with Mike Harvey, co-owner of Badfish SUP. An avid paddler, former professional kayaker, and designer/builder of whitewater parks all over North America, Mike has a passion for bringing the joy of surfing to locations far from the ocean…
How were you initially introduced to the sport of stand up paddleboarding?
I was introduced to SUP in 2008 by Earl Richmond who is a good friend and former owner of CKS (Colorado Kayak Supply). He was an early adopter of SUP in our valley and basically dropped off a board on my porch and I got it right away. Zack was already shaping river surfing shortboards in his garage and as a kayaker who didn’t have a surf background SUP made instant sense to me…it was just kayaking on my feet. I knew the SUP could be the secret to me learning to surf. I asked Zack to make me a SUP version of the mutant fish shapes he was making for river surfing and apply what he’d been learning to a high volume board that I could paddle out of the eddy to a wave on my feet. That first board is what launched Zack and I partnership in Badfish.
What ignited the spark in you to get involved in the industry?
See above. I have been working as an engineer and project manager designing and building whitewater parks for almost 20 years. My interest in SUP and my work designing whitewater parks have been intimately connected. Once I discovered SUP I became really interested in designing whitewater features that would be fun to ride on a board. Zack was simultaneously putting his talents and creativity as a shaper to work designing boards and the two have grown up together. It has been fun to see it spread from our little scene here to other places around the Country and world.
How important have good employees been to your success?
Our Team is hugely important to our success. Everyone that works with us is a passionate paddler and super loyal to the brand. We try really hard to earn that loyalty. The people that work with us and ride for us are hugely responsible for our success. They are the best communicators and ambassadors of our products and because they are all so stoked to paddle they get around a lot and share that stoke with places we can’t get to very easily and with paddlers we don’t get to connect with regularly.
If you had a chance to start your company over again, what would you do differently?
We’ve made plenty of mistakes. I have some regrets on licensing our brand from the get go versus growing more slowly and organically from our homebase. However I wouldn’t do anything differently despite some of the pain we have endured because the brand is a in a great spot today and we learned from all those mistakes. You don’t know what you don’t know so its hard for me to say that we truly did anything “wrong”.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
We have failed on some designs that were too far ahead of the market. Paddleboarding in general is a new sport and Paddleboarding on rivers is even newer. The market hasn’t matured so we’ve had to circle back around to some designs and boards that meet the market at a wider cross section.
How many hours a day do you work on average, and what does your typical day look like?
When you own your own business you are basically always working. In this age when there are so many ways for customers to interact with us it’s hard to ever be off. That said I love to paddle, my son Miles loves to paddle and surf and I try to make time most days for getting out of the office and doing something fun. I don’t really have typical days which is what I love about my job. I run around, see dealers, fulfil orders, meet with Zack about a new board, go down to the river to test out a board and spend a lot of time sending emails. I also still work in whitewater park design and oversee my son’s online education and have a wife and a daughter…so yeah…my days are busy. In general at Badfish there are three owners (Luke Hopkins, Zack Hughes and myself). We aren’t all in the same place everyday so we use technology a lot to collaborate. One of the best tools for us has been a platform called Basecamp that allows us to work together on projects and stay organized.
What motivates you, and who has been your greatest inspiration?
I am motivated by a desire to be on the water, connect with people that love paddling and introduce new people to paddling. I have made basically every professional decision of my life based on wanting to be involved in paddlesports kayaking and now SUP and surfing. My greatest inspiration is my boss from whitewater design work Gary Lacy, the founder of Recreation Engineering and Planning. He has achieved incredible success as a maverick, pioneer in an industry that really didn’t exist before he started and still has more fun than anyone I know.
How do you define success?
Do what you love with people you love doing it with. I know that sounds cliché but I can’t think of anything more complicated.
What do you enjoy most about being involved in the SUP industry?
Its still very communal and feels small like whitewater kayaking always has felt, but I really think SUP has a really high ceiling for participation and while we may not be on the crazy growth curve of a few years ago there is still a lot of growth potential with intelligently designed product that really focuses on customer experience.
Where do you see the paddleboarding industry in 10 years? 20 years?
Everytime I glance at a celebrity magazine in the super market there’s a famous person stand up paddling. SUP has become ubiquitous in any form of marketing that is trying to convey a healthy lifestyle. It just feels to me like we are in the commodification phase of stand up paddling where large retailers and brands focused on big box channels are going to take over a large segment of the market. The challenge for brands like Badfish is to stay out in front and continue to create innovative products that help facilitate new adventures and experiences for customers.