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According to our website, "Best Kiteboarding is the largest and most dynamic brand in the kiteboarding market. In three short years the Company has progressed from infancy to being the number one supplier of kitesurfing equipment across the globe. Simply put, more kitesurfers enjoy kiting on our equipment than any other brand, and it makes us feel incredibly proud to be in that trusted position."
That's all well and good, but what does that really mean? How did Best Kiteboarding REALLY get started? How did it REALLY happen? The story, as it really happened, is far more interesting than a simple "it progressed from infancy" summation, and is very typical, given the three very different personalities involved:
Alex Shogren: The guy who funded the whole thing. Used to being able to get things done NOW. He doesn't understand that there is sometimes a process that needs to be followed, and that kites and bars just can't be made perfectly overnight. Correction: he understands it. He just doesn't accept it.
Jeff Biege: The guy who taught Alex how to kite. Free-spirited, down-to-earth. Calm and quiet surfer/musician-type.
Put these three together and you have one of the most interesting mixes you could possibly imagine.
The REAL Best Story
By Jeff Biege, as told to Stacey Fonas, as he sat across from her desk, eating his lunch one day
The story will start with me living in the Dominican, teaching kiteboarding, summer of 2002. I was living in Cabarete working for Marina Chang and Stefan at Kitexcite as an instructor.
Meeting Alex and teaching him to kite
One day, Scott Harwood, Alex Shogren, and Gavin Butler just showed up at the school. I don't know how Harwood found me ... someone must've told him I was there. I knew Harwood from when I worked at Tommy's Surf Shop in Lantana, Florida: he was one of the top five wakeboarders in the world. Harwood invented the Batwing (toeside raley with an indie grab).
Scott was the last person I expected to see. I was just sitting there at the school, when the three of them came moseying on up. "Biege! What's up! We wanna learn to kiteboard! These are my friends and we wanna take lessons!" That was the first time I met Alex and Gavin ... they were friend's of Harwood's, and they came to the DR to learn to kite.
So I gave the three of them lessons for the next three days. And, for the record, Alex Shogren is the only person I ever taught that rode the first day. He got right up and rode ... 2 miles out to sea! He was there arguing with me ... "Just gimme the board." He'd body-dragged maybe twice, and I didn't think he was ready. I thought he was going to get out there, not be able to do it, drop the kite, and get all frustrated, and I was pissed. But he kept telling me to give him the board, so I thought, "Fine, this will shut him up." So I gave him the board and said, "Go for it, dude."
So he gets the board, and gets up and starts riding! He goes for about 2 miles ... really far out! ... out to sea! He was so stoked he just kept on going, and didn't want to stop because he didn't know how to change direction. Finally, he tried to turn around, and dropped the kite. He was WAY out there ... really far. I was afraid he was going to miss the point and go to another island. He had to swim in. About an hour later, he comes walking back up the beach with all his stuff, and says, "That was fun."
How Brazil factors into it
So after 3 more days of lessons with the radio helmet, we were all at dinner, and Alex says, "Ok, so where's the best place on earth to kiteboard, where it's windy all the time?" He was all excited and gung ho. I said, "I don't know, I heard Brazil is good." And you know how Alex is ... let's do it NOW! Let's GO! He said, "Ok, we're going. And you're coming too. You're going to be my private instructor."
I left Cabarete (I'd only been there for a couple of months), and went back to Florida. We were in Florida for about 2 or 3 weeks, and then we left for Brazil ... it was me, Gavin, Alex, and a couple of other people. We had no idea where we were going, or what Brazil was about, so we went to Rio. Out at a bar one night, we met some guys that had just come back from Cumbuco, and they told us about it. The very next morning we flew up to Fortaleza. We had no idea where anything was. We just rented a truck, and found the Cauipe Lagoon. No one even knew Cauipe was there. There were no kites, nothing. We stayed there for 3 months. We filmed some video and gave it to George from Kiteflix, and then everyone started going there.
Alex gets frustrated because he can't get kites NOW
Right before I'd gone to Cabarete I got sponsored by F-One, and those are the kites Alex ended up riding because I was a team rider and could get a good deal. When we got back from Brazil, Alex was waiting on a couple of kites, and I kept trying to explain the manufacturing process and that sometimes you couldn't just get kites, but Alex was like, "F$^&k this ... I want kites!" I said, "Well, we could start our own company, and then you'd have kites anytime you wanted," but Alex said, "Dude, I'm retired. I don't have to work again. Why do I want to start a company?" I'd say, "Because then you'd always have gear." But Alex kept saying, "Nope, not doing that."
So we kept kiting, in Florida, in the Bahamas, and Alex still couldn't get his kites. He was pissed. But it wasn't just him ... everyone was having trouble getting gear. I kept watching Raphael, the US distributor for F-One in Miami, thinking, "There's got to be a better way ... I KNOW I could to this."
So finally Alex said, "Ok, get me some numbers." I started calling everyone I knew in the industry, trying to get information from Raphael, without letting him know what I was doing. I called up one of the factories, and got some really rough numbers about how much it cost to make kites.
The day it really happened, we were ate Boynton Public Beach, standing by the trash cans. I pulled out a wadded-up piece of paper from my pocket that had numbers on it about how much it cost to make a kite. Alex looked at it and said, "Ohhhhhh (in a scratching-his-head kind of way), you can make some money doing this." This was after four months of me prodding him, and him saying, "No, I don't want to work."
But this is the most important part. When Alex saw the numbers, the reason he made the decision to say "Let's do it" is because he thought we could make enough money to continue to travel and kite all the time and that everything would be paid for. He didn't want to spend any of his own money, he just wanted to make enough so that he could keep kiting for free. That was his motivation for starting Best Kiteboarding: so that he could keep kiting and traveling, forever, for free!
That's the day it started. We started playing pool, and it was a done deal.
Then Alex, Gavin and I went to Cabarete again. It was June 2003, and I had to go down to judge the PKRA World Cup. At that point, we'd applied for the LLC, but it wasn't official yet, and we were waiting to see if the company could be formed. The day before the competition, we got email confirmation that we were a legit company, and that the LLC was formed, and immediately, in typical Alex-fashion, he started wanting everything done NOW. "Okay. We need to find a kite designer, and a graphics guy. NOW." I said, "Alex, we can't do it now. I have to judge the event." Alex said, "NO! F$^&K the contest. We need to find a designer NOW!"
So I went to Mauricio, the head of the PKRA, and Jon Dodds, who was a judge. and told him that I couldn't be a judge, and they were furious. Mauricio said "NO! You cannot do this!" with his accent. They were pissed, but Jon kind of knew what the situation and he was cool. Jon was a team rider for EH at the time, and kept saying how good his EH Freestyle kite was, so the next day I went and talked to him, and rode his kite. Alex saw me riding the kite and said, "Dude, those kites are sick," and I said, "Well, the guy who designs them lives here. Want me to go talk to him?"
Alex said, "No! We're going to get the Gaastra guy." The Gaastra guy was also in the DR at the time, and those kites were very in right then. So Alex went to talk to the Gaastra guy, and Jon got me an appointment with Peter, so I went to talk to Peter. Peter was very cool. I don't think he believed what I was saying, or that we were serious, but he was very cool. I told him my partner wanted to meet him, and he said ok.
So I went back to Alex, but Alex said, "No! I don't want to meet that guy. We're going to get the Gaastra guy." I said, "Just come and meet him," but he didn't want to until I made him fly the Freestyle kite, which he ended up thinking was the shit. He met Peter and they agreed on an alliance.
Assembling the rest of the players
When we came back from the DR, we stole JeffG (Jeff Gansneder, Head of Sales) from Tommy's. When I left my job at Tommy's, Jeff was the guy they brought in to replace me. When Jeff took over the job, the shop went OFF. It went from $400K in sales to a million ... Jeff was just ON it. Jeff was the guy who got me my first kite actually, and when I'd told Jeff I was starting a kiting company, he said, "Well, when you do, remember me."
So I brought JeffG, and also Thomas (R&D). I'd known Thomas's girlfriend Marcie since she was five, and when I went down to the DR to teach, she came down with me and worked at the kiteschool. Thomas went to the DR for a two-week vacation, met Marcie, and somehow ended up back in the States with her.
Sue came to do Customer Service and Nick came to work in the warehouse.
So, we formed in June 03, and worked all winter out of Alex's living room. Alex's idea was to hire all hot chicks to work at the company, so he put a vague ad in the paper (something like "New Sport Company, looking for graphic designer, accountant, promotional help, etc"), and then he'd interview the girls in his living room, which is where we worked. They'd come in, Alex would say, "Okay, put on your swimsuit," and they had to walk around Alex's living room in front of me and Alex. So we might've had a call girl working there in the beginning, maybe a stripper, hahaha.
As far as graphics were concerned, Alex had used a fish in the logos for his 2 prior companies, and no matter what, he wanted a fish in the logo. That's what he told the graphic designer, and the graphic designer came up with the flying fish. For our first graphics, we spread a kite on the kitchen table, made a fish stencil and spray-painted it on.
On February 9th, 2004, we opened for business at our original Delray Beach location ... with NOTHING in inventory! We were completely empty. Until the stuff started coming in from the factory. But I don't think we should tell people that. They might get mad.
And that's pretty much the story of how Best Kiteboarding came to be.