AN EDINBURGH start-up aiming to make a big splash in the surfing world is closing in on a six-figure funding round ahead of launching its first product by next spring.
Founded by husband-and-wife team Alex and Sorcha O’Connor, Sealboards has developed a retractable hand paddle that gives board users 35 per cent more speed in the water, helping them catch more waves. The paddles, known as Sealblades, then automatically retract up the forearm, leaving the hands free to pop up and surf.
I was sceptical at the start and I thought that’s never going to work
Alex O’Connor came up with the concept ten years ago during a trip to Coldingham Bay in the Borders. It was his hobby project up until 2013, when the former tourism and IT professional decided to take on his sideline full-time.
“I was out surfing on the east coast of Scotland, and I was having a miserable day – not getting anywhere,” he said.
“I was really frustrated about going all the way down there and having nothing to do, with no waves or wind. I thought to myself that there must be a better way of doing this.”
The company has been supported to date by Scottish Enterprise, and earlier this year won £9,000 from the Scottish Edge fund. It is now looking to raise £500,000 through private investors and matched investment funding, and is more than half-way to meeting that target with a completion deadline of mid-October.
Some of the money will go towards renting an office, and recruiting an operations manager and a marketing assistant to support Sorcha, who left her senior marketing job at Standard Life in March. Further recruiting will focus on building up expertise in international distribution, as the business will be export-led.
Main markets will be the large surfing areas of North America and Australia, as well as the domestic market in the UK. There are an estimated 20 million surfers around the world.
Now in their ninth prototype, Sealblades have been refined following testing by both beginners and experienced surfers.
Neil Baxter, the former World Kayak Surf Champ who has designed many title-winning paddles, also contributed to development. He was introduced to the O’Connors through their business contacts about 18 months ago. “I was sceptical at the start and I thought that’s never going to work, that’s not what I do, it doesn’t look right,” Baxter said.
“But their original designs were completely different to the way they are now, and over this journey that I’ve had with them we have honed it down into something which pleases me as well to look at, and the way it performs.”
A commercial launch is planned in time for the start of next year’s surfing season in Europe.