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From the Ground Up: Interview with Slingshot’s Amery Bernard

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From the Ground Up

How Amery Bernard Became Slingshot’s Kite Designer

By Paul Lang

Sporting dreadlocks and a goatee, Amery Bernard blends in with the typical kiteboarders on the beach, but when he looks at a kite, he sees all the details the rest of us miss. Amery’s path to becoming Slingshot’s Kite Designer was not a typical one – if there even is such a thing in this industry.

Photo Paul Lang

Originally hired by Slingshot as a sales rep, Amery slowly became more and more involved in the R&D process until his role evolved into doing R&D full time. “Amery puts more time in on our products than anyone,” said Tony Logosz, Slingshot’s Chief Designer. “He works all hours of the day and never complains. That’s why we nicknamed him AM-PM. He helps me look at the whole picture and focus on what’s next in the industry. I can trust him to focus on the all details of each product, do all the background work, water testing, everything. We’re all Swiss Army knives here, but Amery is really willing to contribute in any way he can.”

When asked about Amery’s lack of formal training as a designer, Tony said, “What we do is closer to black magic than aerodynamics and physics. We’re similar in the fact that our education has been in the trenches. We’ve both learned from instinct and experiences on the water. He’s paid his dues for sure.”

During the 2011 La Ventana Classic and KiteXpo, we were able to sit down with Amery to talk about his evolution from rep to designer and his philosophy on the kite design process.

A lot of people, especially college students, have asked me how kite designers become designers. What was the path that you took to become a designer?

Yea, we probably get a request every other month for an internship from college students that just want to do something in the industry. My path was very atypical. I was hired as a sales rep to start off with.  At the time, the kites were kind of less than par on performance, so I just started tinkering with the kites and working with the R&D team. It was mostly bridling. I just played with the bridles and tweaked them. Through tweaking and testing, I was able to come up with something a lot better, so I became a little more involved in the R&D process. The next kite we came out with was the Turbo 2 and that became a good kite for us. I was still doing both sales and R&D at the time, but since then it’s migrated to more and more R&D until now I’m at the point where I’m doing R&D full time.

How do you and Tony Logosz split the design duties?

It’s pretty collaborative. On some projects, Tony will do more work and on others I’ll do more. He’s the Chief Designer, so he oversees everything from the kites to the kiteboards and wakeboards. My focus is kites, so I’ll do most of the grunt work, taking them out, testing them, tying string, changing bridles, and also working a lot with the files. Tony oversees and approves what I do. He tells me, “Nah, that’s no good” or “That’s good.”

Photo Paul Lang

 

What’s your process of designing a new kite?

First of all, it starts with listening to what the market is asking for. From there, you work off of what you know. So you take last year’s design and then add the modifications that you think will get the results for what the market wants. That’s the safe typical route for a project. At the same time, we always add in a few out-of-the-box concepts. Sometimes those will hit and sometimes they’ll miss. Say for instance we’re going to start a new kite model. Typically we’ll make around a dozen different prototypes of a nine meter, all with different shapes, outlines, and profiles. From there, we’ll pick a winner if there is one and keep on refining that. Once we’re to the point that something is good and we’re getting good feedback from the people we test with, then we’ll make a full size run and individually fine tune every size.

Photo Paul Lang

How long does the process take?

The process is ongoing all the time. On the good side it may take three months. On the longer side, it may take six to nine. Our kites are to the point that we’re making smaller refinements, so it’s on the shorter side, which allows us to spend more time on the out-of-the-box ideas. Hopefully that will allow us to come up with something new and innovative.

When do you decide if a design or concept is worth further development or not?

It really comes down to the timeline of the project. We have certain dates we want to release kites by, so that kind of drives our decision making in how hard to pursue a project. Usually we’re pursuing a few ideas at the same time, because there is time between the prototype rounds. You can have plan A and concentrate on that, but plan B might be different and slightly iffy, but you keep that running in case it might beat plan A. You can run a few different ideas at the same time and see which one wins.

Photo Paul Lang

 

A few days ago you put up a new race version of the Rally. What are you looking at when you see a new prototype kite in the air?

The first thing I look at is how it’s holding its structure in the air. Structure and stability are the two most important parts of the kite. You don’t want a kite that’s going to deform when it’s overpowered and you want something stable so it doesn’t fall out of the sky for the consumer. It’s getting interesting now though, because there are a lot of different disciplines. For example, you might have something for racing for dedicated racers. It might not be the most stable and friendly kite for everyday riding, but it could provide a big advantage to someone who is an experienced kite flyer and knows how to handle kites. In general though, the stable, friendly kites are the ones that will end up being the best.

I heard that you are a CPA. How did you make the switch from that world to the kiteboarding industry?

Actually I’m not certified. I took the test a few times and missed it by just a few points every time. You’re supposed to study for three to six months before, but I wouldn’t start studying until the week before. If I would have studied for two weeks, I’d probably be certified. My degree is in accounting and I went to work for a CPA firm after college. I was doing that for about two and a half years, and I was looking at my managers wondering if that was for me. I saw all the time they put in. It consumed their lives and I didn’t think I could live that way. I kept my head down and was good at what I did, but they saw that I had no interest in progressing or moving up the ladder, so I was laid off. From there I went to work for a surf shop, All Surf Industry. I did kite lessons and eventually helped manage the shop. From there, Slingshot found me and hired me for the Northwest Sales Rep position. The good thing about the accounting degree I have is that there is a lot of information and tracking involved in the testing and development, so that’s been kind of an asset for me. Tony’s the mad scientist. He’s got great ideas and he’s a real free thinker, but when it comes to organizing the project and making sure everything is consistent from round to round, then I step in and help him out a lot with that.

Photo Paul Lang

I also heard that you are a musician.

Yea, I was in a band for like seven years. I was in an island reggae band. Everyone was from Hawaii, and yea, it was great. I kind of started playing music late. Everyone in Hawaii grows up playing the ukulele at some point, but I never really got into music until college. My goal was just to play for a crowd that had come to see me. That was supposed to be it, and that would have made me happy, but then I hooked up with some other guys and we started this little project. That turned into some small gigs here and there. Eventually, we had a Monday night gig in Vancouver, Washington, and you wouldn’t believe it until you saw it, but at its peak, we’d have like a good 300 person crowd on a Monday night. It was a good time.

You have a background in two completely different worlds, an accounting/numbers based one and a music/creative world. Do you feel the design process is a creative process or a numbers and science based process?

Fortunately, with that kind of background, it fits in perfectly with what I do, because it’s just as much an art as a science. You do have to be creative in the sense that you have to come up with new ideas and new performance goals, but at the same time you need to keep track of all the specs. The specs are super important. The whole music and accounting thing, the art and creativity mixed with the analytical side of things, it kind of meshes back in forth. Sometimes it’s split 50-50 and sometimes it leans one way or the other, but you just have to roll with whatever the project requires.

Photo Paul Lang

What are some of the ideas you are working on now?

Right now we’re just kind of going through our cycle. We just came out with the Turbine, our light wind kite, so I’ve been working on that a lot. Now, we’re rolling in to next year’s Rally. We’re going to refine that some more. We’ve also got the next year’s RPM and Key — basically, we’re just going through the product line to refine everything we have. We’re still working on some new ideas, which I’d love to delve into right now, but those are kind of in our pocket right now.

What kind of feedback are you looking for from riders who fly your kites?

The best kind of feedback is comparative. Whoever we get to ride the kite, we always know their background like how long they’ve been riding, what kites they’re used to, and what conditions they usually ride in. From that, we have a point of reference to base their feedback off of, because it’s really relative depending on what you’re used to. Usually we get people we know and have worked with in the past like our regional and international team riders. Once we get it to a certain point where we think it’s satisfying them, then we run the gamut and get it into anybody’s hands we can.

Do you ride kites from other companies as part of the design process?

Yea, definitely, for sure we do. If I wasn’t doing that, I wouldn’t be doing my job. We keep our eye on what other companies are doing and the direction they’re taking. Now we seem to be at a point of slow growth with innovation, but if something does gain traction with the competition, then yea, we’ll take a close look at it and get as much information as we can. We’ll try to get our hands on the kite and fly it, but we’re never really spying on guys and taking photos. We’ve got too much work as it is to play that game.

As a designer, what are the first things you are looking at when you fly a new kite, either one of your own designs or one from another company?

The first things I’ll look at are stability, relaunch, and range. I’m surprised to find that a lot of the kites, in my opinion, they’re kind of poor on relaunch. We try to focus on that and make sure it’s really easy for the consumer because that’s a big part of being satisfied with your gear in our opinion. After that it comes down to safety systems, bar configuration, and the finish on everything.

What do you have to say to people who want to work in the kiteboarding industry? Is there such a thing as a typical path to become a kite designer?

I think it really comes down to who you know. If you want to go that route, then you really have to start building relationships with people in the industry. You want to be a good rider and know what you’re talking about and have experience flying a lot of different brands and models. If you’re good with a computer, you can learn all the CAD stuff relatively easily. It just comes down to building relationships with people in the industry and seeing if they need help. I’m sure a lot of companies could use help, so if you’re willing to take the time and do the intern thing, I’m sure a lot of companies would be able to work something out.

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