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THE boat park brand…

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail World AUS 12 Apr 15:00 PDT
Vaikobi sponsored 2023 Australian Wingfoil National Championship © Vaikobi

It's not a matter of just how cool it is, although that always helps. Rather, it is about how well it works, the old fit for purpose term, and more than ever, exactly how durable it is. The latter has a cost implication, and also a true green component. The brand is Vaikobi, and the big V just continues to be the darling of the OTB gang, and for very good reason.

Pat Langley, CEO and Founder of Vaikobi, is clear: "What we really want to do is become the number one dinghy brand. We're definitely even more than an up-and-coming brand now, and hot on the heels of the existing hierarchy."

"We're fast approaching up the ranks, and apart from seeing what people are wearing in the boat parks, I get to see this when I travel around seeing our global dealers and witnessing the market share that we're starting to get in store.

"It's good to be a bit different, but the gear always has to do its job. We're actually really strong here in our home (AUS) market, and a lot of that is due to our amazing dealer network and our market activation, not just our paddling heritage, and this is now what we're working on in the North American and European markets."

Pat continues, "Innovation is really important for differentiation, but having a brand that is cool and reflects how people want to feel when wearing our products is important. Obviously here the less bulky, highly flexible gear we originally made for paddling really sets us apart."

It was Vaikobi's original paddling and performance paddling background that demanded products that were designed for body temperature control and high movement. Imagine a paddler is making a double stroke 42 times a minute. The amount of rubbing that would occur is extreme, so ergonomics, fabrication and construction to maximise comfort had to be the cornerstones of the designs.

Without doubt, these are what went into Vaikobi's high performance sailing gear, and why the 'selling' happens in the boat parks when the very sailors who use them become advocates for the benefits they imbued the products with. Being a fave or go-to item is not about style in these environments, and the old 'picture tells a thousand words' adage is proven here, time and time again.

Vaikobi is out there giving a lot of clubs and classes the love, from the Antipodes to the UK and France, and the grassroots brand awareness it brings is as strong as the products themselves. A quick scan of the other end of town does reveal that even the SailGP Team USA are onto the Big V in a big way!

Good stories

Many French and Italian Olympic contenders are also well into the Vaikobi range (See the Italians in training in this Instagram video), but a recent story about two Israeli female sailors was more than enough to pique my curiosity.

The helm is Noya Baram and the crew is Saar Tamir, and they have been training with Nathan Wilmot in Sydney. They were 470 sailors who could not find males to sail with, so decided to go after the 49erFX. Never a simple transition, to be sure, but it was made all the more challenging by Israel not owning one of the required skiffs. So they came to Australia to train, with not a whole lot more than a dream, and a deep desire to succeed.

"They've literally only just got together in the last few months. They did have a little bit of time with the Australian Sailing Team girls before they departed for Europe. They're here for a while longer, just developing their boat set-up, boat handling, and all the fundamentals they need to be able to go and race at that level."

"We've supported them. They had to work pretty hard to fund themselves to move down here. They've borrowed as much gear as they can get to begin their training, and staying at a relative's house nearby to their base in Manly. These are often the kinds of people that we come and support because we love the underdog and they've got a great story.

"You can actually tell that these girls are really passionate. They're switched on and, give them a little bit of time and they'll be they'll be right up there. You can see they've got a lot of fire in them," stated Langley.

Whether at home, or abroad, junior or youth (and even just young at heart), all of the sailors not only love the gear, but also provide Vaikobi with great feedback, ideas and help drive the direction of the gear and the brand. A good symbiotic circle, in that sense. It is completely authentic.

Two things become evident. Yes, there's the authenticity, born out of the fact that all the staff are into all manner of water sports, but also, Vaikobi as a brand knows that a dinghy sailor might also foil, paddle or surf, and this is where their gear works so well crossing over all the different disciplines.

Pat and head designer Bart Milczarczyk were reunited about three and a half years ago, and the product development cycle immediately blossomed - a reflection of all the years they had spend working together way back when. "We both understand the sailor's needs, and he understands the market intimately, as well. The combination has been quite powerful, especially when you add in the kind of athletes we get to work with," said Langley.

"A really good example is this new hiker that we're developing (coming onto the market in July) that we've been working on with Brett Beyer, who needs no introduction as a 15 times Laser/ILCA Masters World Champion, amongst many other things. The innovation that's come out of that is terrific, but that particular product is a really good example of us working at our best."

Where's it at?

Vaikobi's sailing range has certainly expanded since the early days, and clearly is continuing to do so. At one time it might have been all about Vaikobi's brilliant PFDs, and now it seems the hot ticket are their boots.

"We identified that people loved lightweight performance boots, but they really didn't like the lack of durability they experienced. So we came up with boots that not only do all the performance things you need, but actually last for the period of time that the consumer expects them to. Particularly in this day and age of sustainability, this is a really high priority for us as a brand."

Given the heritage, it is of no surprise that Vaikobi's wetsuits are also a fave, with comfort being one of the key hallmarks. There'll be trapeze harnesses, gloves, hikers, and we've got our new 'The Edge' padded shorts that are great for hard deck/gunwale sailors, all of which will form the next part of the growth for the brand, especially in terms of product categories/offering.

Interestingly and ironically, this is atypical of Vaikobi, who have never been known to sit around on their behinds. This is a brand that stands by the adage; enough is never really enough.

"The good thing about working here is that everyone has some level of water sports involvement, whether that's sailing, surfing, foiling, or paddling, even all of the above. It goes from amateur to Olympian, as well. The interesting thing is that there's a whole lot of gear in between the high performance paddling, and high performance specialty sailing products. There really are a lot of products in between that you need for all water sports, and we've got a really big range in that space."

"If you think about every sailor now, they don't just sail, they'll paddle, they'll wing foil, they will surf, a bit of everything, you know," said Langley reflecting on a comment we made earlier about diverse interests. "Going for a wing seems to be something all the Australian Sailing Team seem to do on their afternoons off for fun, after a day of two-boat testing.

"Our range of products is all designed to cross over many different water sport facets, because it's what we at Vaikobi like to do. Everyone is broadening their skills, and just doing so much more now. As a brand, you've got to adapt to that. I love all of this, even though I may have been born about 30 years too early, it would seem. The evolution of sailing is so exciting!" said Langley.

Leave the beach

Well, we are about sailing, after all, and two classes that are very Vaikobi-centric are the 18 and 16 foot skiffs, as well as 29er and 49er for that matter. To say nothing of F50 and SailGP Team USA.

"We enjoy it, and we follow it ourselves. We know all the people, and a lot of them are our sailing friends in those classes. The skiff culture is so iconic and important here in Australia. We do a lot with the 29er class here in Australia (see this Instagram video), and it is about trying to focus on the element of sailing where you can see the growth and you can see the participation skyrocketing."

"Take Joel Beashel (current Australian 29er National Champion helm) as an example. He was able to foil when he was about 12. He and Logan Radford (crew on their 29er) are the next best young up-and-coming sailors going around. They're the future, those guys, and they're just all about sailing fast. They're sort of people that we really like to partner with.

"We also work with Australia's best 29er combination, Sienna Brown and Darcy Robbins, as well as New Zealand's top 29er Team Sean and Rohan Kensington. All of these sailors have a great future in the sport."

"Another good one is the OD Wally Windsurfers. This class has obviously reincarnated itself, is very well managed by Nick Bez, and they're running events where people there are having a great time both on and off the water. It's all about fun. It is one of our most important sponsorships, both here in Australia, and also France. The number of sailors they get to their World Championships is phenomenal."

Showing the breadth of the interests, and product range, Langley spoke of the SailGP Team USA: "We're the official supplier, and provide all their on-water technical sailing gear, particularly their suits and tops, and products like that."

"They're providing us with fantastic feedback. Equally, because SailGP is a big on sustainability, they've been extremely helpful in us developing our own sustainability projects for our business.

"The European and UK part of our business is really important for us. We're very active with a lot of classes and sailors in those markets, and that's helping us with our retail partners up there, and activating the brand for them in those regions."

"If I look at all the gear that I've got in my garage for the things that I like to do, effectively it forms the basis of our product range and future development. It's the fun part of our job, and we really enjoy it. We actually love what we do and we make stuff that we like to use on the water."

Equal Opportunity

Importantly, female participation is not only happening for Vaikobi out on the water. Something like 65% of the Vaikobi workforce are female, so they are very much living the theory every day. A couple of Aussie guys, a Frenchman, a Canadian Olympian and an Australian Male Ironman Champion who works in the warehouse are organised by the remainder of the all-female team, which also includes another two female Olympians!

In all seriousness, though, you do get the impression that the company exists to allow its members to hit the water, and 100% of the Vaikobi team do just that. Live it and breathe it is the topic of conversation at work every day. "We are always talking and following what's going on. It's a pretty cool way to exist.

"You need to have motivation aside from just the business goals. You want see your product get out there, because you're so passionate about it."

So whether you're a speed demon, interested parent, market observer, or casual windsurfer, it has been a long time since V was for Victory. It still is, it's just that the boat park will definitely see it known as the Big V by anyone involved in just about any water sport.

OK. There it is. There is so much more on the group's websites for you. Simply use the search field, or 'edition' pull-down menu up the top on the right of the masthead to find it all. Please enjoy your yachting, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into!

John Curnow
Editor, Sail World AUS

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