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This article was published 17/9/2016 (1428 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A handful of the world’s top wakeboarders did a demonstration on a pond south of the Perimeter Highway Friday.
That event was held one week after Surf Expo, the wakeboard industry’s largest trade show, in Orlando, Fla.
The riders made the trip to Winnipeg to show their support for a new cable wakeboard system called Konex Wake Parks, which was developed in Winnipeg by Daniel Kathan and his father, Alan.
Konex launched its website in July, made a splash at Surf Expo and then held the first demonstration Friday.
It’s the result of four years and about $1 million worth of their own cash and sweat equity.
'When the owners saw the technology, they were blown away. This is going to save them countless hours of maintenance and repairs and keep the systems up and running'‐ Daniel Kathan (right), with partner (and father) Alan Kathan
"There’s a lot going on," said Daniel Kathan, 25. "But we’re feeling good. We’ve had tremendous feedback from the market."
Surf Expo is where early adopters, wakeboard park owners and professional wakeboarders congregate.
"When the owners saw the technology, they were blown away," said Daniel. "This is going to save them countless hours of maintenance and repairs and keep the systems up and running."
It allows riders to jump higher and execute better tricks for a sport that’s on the short list for the 2020 Olympics and may make it in 2024.
Cable wakeboarding is an offshoot of boat-propelled wakeboarding in which the wakeboarder is attached to an overhead ski lift-type of cable that stretches across a body of water and connects to fixed towers. The cable pulls the wakeboarder to ramps where he executes tricks.
Daniel learned about the sport while working on the development of the largest wake park in the country, Adrenalin Adventures in Winnipeg. He learned the business from the bottom up, all the while becoming a highly ranked wakeboarder. Among other things, he saw the faults and limitations of current systems and thought he could make a better one.
He convinced his father, Alan, a retired Fisheries and Oceans Canada regional director who was in charge of building and maintaining 250 harbours and marinas in Central Canada, to become his partner.
"I was looking for something to do when I retired, and Daniel told me his idea a few years ago. It took me about a half a minute to realize it had real potential," Alan said.
After that, they designed and developed equipment that can be configured in 20-foot, 31-foot or 40-foot towers with 1,200 feet of cable that pulls wakeboarders up to 55 km/h.
The components will be made in Winnipeg. Konex will do the assembly.
Jeff Ryzner, the CEO of North Forge, the development agency that helps startups, has been working with the Kathans for three years.
"Working with entrepreneurs with deep domain knowledge and passion is an incredible experience," he said. "It’s the spirit of entrepreneurship. The ultimate question is: are you willing to bet on yourself. These guys have 100 per cent bet on themselves."
Ryzner believes it will not have been a reckless endeavour.
"I’m convinced this is going to be in wakeboard parks around the world in the years to come," Ryzner said. "This is the type of innovation that will take the sport into the Olympics."
As the owner of Adrenalin Adventures, Jason Rohs is a big supporter of what the Kathans are doing, but he’s also aware of the challenges they’ll face in the marketplace.
"I know that Dan has definitely got some passion behind it, and I’ve been supportive," Rohs said. "But there is lot of competition worldwide for these types of cable systems. The capital investment is pretty substantial, especially if you have an existing system."
At about $32,000, the Konex system is competitively priced in a market dominated by a few German companies. The trick will be to convince operators of wakeboard parks to switch to a better system.
"I’m my toughest critic, but the reaction from Surf Expo was great," said Daniel. "People are telling us they want to swap out systems they just bought for ours."
There are about 1,000 parks around the world. New parks are popping up at a 175 per cent year-over-year growth rate. Daniel thinks Konex has scared the competition. They’re confident they have a good shot at breaking into the market. The Kathans think they’ll be able to start shipping about 10 systems per month by the end of their first year in operation.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
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