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Maintain your cool with Vaikobi: We speak to founder Pat Langley

by Mark Jardine 13 Aug 2019 00:00 PDT
Manly Surf n Slide 16ft Skiff Australian Champions © Michael Chittenden

We spoke to Pat Langley of Vaikobi, the performance clothing company which started off by designing and manufacturing kit for the ocean paddle sport market, more recently branching into sailing apparel.

Mark Jardine: How did you start Vaikobi originally?

Pat Langley: We started primarily due to seeing a need within the paddle sport market, more specifically the ocean paddle sport market, where there really wasn't a great amount of technical gear, equipment or apparel available for these paddlers to get out and do their sport in a comfortable way, and ultimately enjoy their sport.

A lot of people in paddle sport were wearing clothing from different sports, basically adapting it into what worked for them, so we saw an opening in the market there and with my background - having been involved in watersports and technical apparel - we saw a great opportunity to start.

We started in Australia where we're based, and over the past six and a half years we've managed to develop the market considerably and discovered a number of different disciplines within paddling, starting to penetrate into each of these disciplines as time has gone on, evolving our range.

Mark: So Vaikobi has very much had an organic development, starting in a niche sector and expanding from that as your reputation spread?

Pat: Exactly right, that's completely been our business strategy. We put on our training wheels first, got all our systems set up and put our processes in place in tandem with brand development and marketing. We've been pretty lean, funding this business ourselves from the beginning, which has forced us to be very disciplined with how we've run Vaikobi. It's given us a really good platform for where we are now taking the brand.

Mark: Watersports clothing has to work in extremely demanding environments. What do you see as the factors which are necessary for technical watersports apparel?

Pat: That's a good question as it varies so much depending on what the user is doing. The functionalities for different people doing different sports in different climates vary. Ultimately, and the big thing which we focus on, is body temperature control - if your body temperature is kept at the right level then you'll perform better - so that is our primary focus. Second is comfort and being able to do whatever activity you want to do as freely and easily as possible. These are the mainstays of what we try to achieve whenever we design a new product.

Whenever we design something new, we talk to the user, work out what the problems are and ask questions as to how it could be different to improve it.

Mark: Tell us a bit about your own sailing background?

Pat: I grew up sailing dinghy classes like Manly Juniors, Flying Elevens, Lasers and 420's on Pittwater, just north of Sydney. From there, I progressed to the successful Youth Development program at the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club where we were given some amazing opportunities to race internationally do all sorts of racing from Match Racing to One Design and Offshore racing. Being on that program was really was like being at a university for yacht racing and has produced some of Australia's best sailors, designers, engineers, boat builders, sail makers and sailing industry legends.

From there I have been super fortunate to have had so many opportunities to race everything from Etchells, Match Racing, Farr 40s, Mini Maxis, TP52s and probably everything in. Sailing has really been a major part of my life and is something that I plan to keep doing forever.

Mark: Vaikobi has now expanded from the paddle market to sailing. Who did you work with to ensure you were designing the right kit for the job?

Pat: We didn't start Vaikobi with the intention of going straight into the sailing market, but as sailing is a strong passion of mine, it was certainly on our radar. There was a demand from people who we know in sailing who had already started wearing our paddle gear, sailing. They were telling us that they liked many of the existing features of our gear and from there we thought we were on to something, so we started to evolve clothing which was more specific for sailors' needs.

In Australia we've been working with a number of 16ft Skiff and 18ft Skiff sailors as well as a strong of junior sailors in O'pen Skiffs, Optis, Lasers, 29ers and 49ers who are out on the water a lot - quite often out four or five times a week - and who have been great to work with as we get some serious testing time on a product. Internationally we've got a group of professional sailors who wear our gear, specifically the Bliksem M32 Team with their full professional group of America's Cup sailors on board, who have given us some top-end feedback on our products.

Mark: I remember many years ago using a kayaking buoyancy aid in a trapeze boat due to its high cut - something which is now the norm in dinghy buoyancy aid design. Do you find that crossover of designs for other watersport disciplines leads to innovation?

Pat: Absolutely. Funnily enough we designed our sailing PFD (Personal Flotation Device) for the sail market and the paddle market has embraced that particular product as well! We're learning that at times we need to let the market decide as to how a product will be used. We're of course designing products with the user in mind, but the crossover is quite noticeable.

Mark: With all active watersports, freedom of movement is key. Do you find the materials you use to be one of the most important factors in this?

Pat: We've honed in on a hybrid of fabrications which essentially allows your body to maintain a temperature which is comfortable, but as your body temperature increases it allows heat to escape. Paddle sports is an interesting one as you're above the water but still getting wet and it's a work-out. If you're out on the water for an hour, the first ten minutes your body will be warming up, but from then on you'll be looking to shed heat. Sailing is going the same way with new dinghy designs and sailing techniques often requiring a high level of effort.

Mark: The sailing range is currently in its infancy. What are your aims for the next 12 to 18 months?

Pat: We're taking a long-term approach to this as we know what our core strengths are and what we're capable of. Initially we want to focus on our local markets, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, as it's more accessible for us on a day-to-day basis, and then concentrate on our main international markets. We took this approach with the paddle market and grew internationally very quickly.

Mark: It's never easy building a business, so are you managing to get any time on the water yourself?

Pat: That's an interesting one! I'm at that age where I've got young kids, a growing business and so my sailing, particularly over the six to seven years, has been really difficult to keep up, hence why I have started paddling surfski's to keep connected to the ocean!

Recently I've managed to get back into sailing with a bit of local club racing and last summer we bought a Tasar which I am teaching the kids to sail in, so that has all been great fun!

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