From factory worker to factory owner, Jozef Bokovcak represents a true success story showcasing how hard work and innovation pay off. For 2016, the family-owned and operated company has curtailed its board line down to a whopping 43 options, including three new models. CrazyFly US wholesale manager, Brent Reagan, fills us in on what else we can expect from the brand.
CrazyFly has been steadily gaining ground in the US, but for those unfamiliar with the brand, what’s the story behind this Slovakia-based company?
The detailed story is even more interesting, but it’s really not your average brand building story at all. There were no investors or board of directors, and no capital coming out of another industry being dumped into the sport as a “passion hobby”. Slovakia was once part of Czechoslovakia, and in the early 1990s still had many manufacturing facilities left over from a previous communist era. Windsurfing was big in Europe, so European brands like North Sails took advantage of the already established factories in countries like Slovakia to make their windsurfing and sailing products.
The head of CrazyFly, Jozef Bukovcak, started as just a regular factory worker making boards and working more and more with carbon fiber and other synthetics. He worked his way up through the ranks of the factory as a young man, and when the owner was ready to move on, he offered the factory to Jozef who had been not only a loyal worker for many years at this point, but was clearly interested in improving designs, products and manufacturing techniques. About 15 years ago, the company started making kiteboards for European brands, and 11 years ago, they started their own brand, CrazyFly, which evolved to be the only brand they manufacture in their factory. CrazyFly is still a family-owned and operated company and at any given time, about half to two thirds of the employees are relatives of Jozef, including his wife and four sons.
Two years ago they built their own stand-alone factory from the ground up. CrazyFly twin tips, kite control bars and bindings are all produced in the factory. It also houses the offices for their global accounts, R&D, and Customer Service, and is filled with the latest in manufacturing technology including several types of synthetic fabrics for board production and testing along with CNC-cutting and sewing machines for production of pads, straps and other accessories.
Some of the other interesting facts about the story behind CrazyFly are that the previous facility was located practically at the base of a centuries-old castle on a hilltop, and the fact that the four sons grew up in a single bedroom of their parents’ two-bedroom apartment, which Jozef and his wife still occupy. The rest is a much longer story…
The flagship freeride kite in the CrazyFly lineup is the Sculp. What will riders find new in the 2016 Model?
Right off the bat the new D-2 (double) ripstop is very easy to see. Many high performance kites are now using this because the high density and double line gridding makes for a resistant-tearing strength for better durability, giving more stiffness to the fabric while still maintaining its light weight and elasticity. They also redesigned the shape of the kite just enough to not be a totally new and different kite, but still deliver more hangtime and low end power. The basic flat delta shape was maintained for its stability with progressive power, very easy relaunch and precision turning. One of the things that won’t be immediately obvious is the design of the material segments; at the areas around the wingtips, trailing edge and leading edge where Dacron and ripstop meet, the Dacron edges have been redesigned as rounded segments rather than sharp lines. The purpose of this is to evenly spread the load of these high tension areas more efficiently than what can be spread with hard angles. Between the new ripstop and redesigned fabric joints, the overall kite is 10% lighter, yet stronger than previous editions of the Sculp. Finally, it’s cool to know (though it won’t make you ride faster or jump higher) that the bright neon fabric colors CrazyFly is using for their 2016 lineup were developed exclusively for the brand.
What is the biggest difference between the Sculp and Tango line of kites and how do you recommend each model to potential riders?
This one is easy. With only three kite models, they each have their distinct targets, so a kiter doesn’t have to decide between very fine nuances of two models that have a ton of overlap. Although they have different shape and bridle designs, it truly comes down to this: ideally, the Tango is for a more experienced and aggressive freestyle or freeride kiter, or someone who likes to mix it up between freeriding and wave riding. If you want a kite that allows a simple change in the bridle to go from great drifting on a directional to great unhooked power on a twin tip, the Tango is your kite. If kiteloops are part of your basic riding vocabulary, along with power, pop and throwing down, the Tango also excels in these areas. However, in reality, the majority of us are twin tipping freeriders with simple goals of doing big, smooth jumps and transitions, so our basic vocabulary includes stability, consistency, smooth predictable handling, boosting and a great wind range. The rider with this in mind would appreciate the Sculp the most; it’s a kite they can go out and have a great time on and progress with, but not be unpleasantly surprised or disappointed by its performance.
The tagline on your 2016 Sick control bar is “simple and clean”. How have you balanced functional features that riders want while maintaining such a clean and uncomplicated design?
There are many bars out there that really have some brilliant incorporated features. While not being overly complicated and unnecessary, it is always the challenge of a designer to include great ideas, stand out and keep costs from skyrocketing. Unfortunately, many of the “advancements” of some bars are specialized pieces meant to make them stand out from the crowd, but consumers commonly see this as something to make the bar cost even more. We have other ideas for the 2017 bar that will completely change the look and design of our current Sick Bar. However, the designer has always wanted it to be very light with the monocoque carbon construction, so adding on extra parts or more pieces which add clunkiness, weight or showiness just never fit the bill. The use of a standard cleat type of trim system reduces dangling parts and lets you see exactly what level of depower your kite is at and the simple swivel on top of the not-oversized chickeloop eliminates extra heavy parts above the trim system. For 2016, we changed the bar grip according to the demands of the riders. Nevertheless, we maintained simplicity in a very lightweight bar with light bar ends and a simple, small and lightweight trim system while keeping a standard safety flag-out bungee line on a center line for the most effective type of “kite-killing” safety. We’re very proud of the AFNOR safety certificate that the Sick Bar received, proving it is possible to make a light and simple bar that still works very well and is both efficient and safe.
CrazyFly manufactures their boards in Slovakia. How does that help the brand deliver on its quality and eco-friendly goals?
The fact that the boards are made in Slovakia may help CrazyFly more to evolve as a manufacturer and designer and with manufacturing costs rather than with their ability to deliver quality. They would be able to deliver high quality from almost any location, but it is extremely helpful that they’re located in Central Europe. They are able to choose the highest quality materials because there is so much great product that can be sourced right there in Europe.
On the environmental side, they had the new factory built with several more “green” qualities and manufacturing abilities, and constantly strive to maintain minimum waste and environmental impact. Featuring a special wood core, The Shox Green is still around for 2016. As far as I know, this is the only board out there designed and manufactured specifically in such a way that there is almost zero waste. If they didn’t own their own facility, they wouldn’t have the time or opportunity to take so much care and pride in their products.
At the top of your board line is the Elite. How has this board evolved over the last two years since its introduction and who is the natural rider for this board?
The natural rider is the freerider who has it all. It takes the right person wanting something so different and special, who can also afford it. Compared to your standard full carbon board (achieved by a lack of top and bottom sheets or extra layers of fiberglass), the vast majority of riders can appreciate this board because of its ultra lightweight, highly reactive full carbon layup and increased flex which make the Elite very smooth and soft in feeling while maintaining superb grip, upwind ability and pop abilities. It’s a dream ride for any freerider, but a reality for only a lucky few.
CrazyFly was working on a $1,400, board model for two to three years before it actually hit the market. There was a lot of work involved in deciding who the target market would be, which shape and materials it would be made of and what would be the “extras” or perks of owning this board. Once they had worked out a way to make it the lightest board on the market made with the best materials available, it become clear what the Elite was to be. Now in its third year of existence, the board hasn’t changed much besides having the inserts moved to accommodate the new Hexa Bindings. Lamborghini models don’t change every year and neither does the Elite. A specialty item like this requires special care, but when you’re buying a $1,400 or $1,500 board (as the cost is now for 2016), it’s good to know they got it right the first time.
For 2016 you have four surfboard shapes. Do all four boards use the same construction and how do you match these shapes to the style of rider or various surf conditions?
The boards are basically in two categories for construction: one provides the most solid durable construction, the other provides a mix between lighter weight and durability.
The first category includes the ATV and Classic. The construction difference here is that the bamboo layup is tip-to-tip, top-and-bottom and the boards use a heavier weight fiberglass on both the top and bottom. This fabrication gives these two boards a little more weight, but much greater durability against heel dings, hard landings or tumbles in the surf. The ATV, All Terrain Vehicle, as the name implies, was designed to excel in a multitude of conditions including small to big waves or even on flat water. The 5-fin boxes allow you to choose, according to conditions, between a thruster and quad setup, while the medium rocker planes early and generates speed with good grip. The ATV is ideal for a directional board beginner as well as a more advanced rider who really gets out in a wide variety of conditions, especially if you’re traveling a lot. The Classic was redesigned for 2016, but still sticks with the idea of being more like a traditional or “classic” surfboard shape. It’s got a thruster setup and more volume than last year, so it’s smoother and easier to ride, especially in side-shore, down-the-line, larger waves or on flat water in lighter winds. This board will be most appreciated by experienced surf riders, especially when in big wave conditions, although it doubles as a light wind board.
The second construction category was designed with strapless riding and tricks in mind. It features the bamboo veneer, only under the center and tail end tip of the board where the rider stands, and only on the topside of the board. In addition, the board uses lighter weight fiberglass on the top and bottom compared to the ATV/Classic construction. This dramatically reduces the weight in the Strapless and Strike boards and makes them ideal for catching bigger airs and sticking to a “traditional” surfing style.
The Strapless was designed with more volume to really excel at strapless riding for new school freestyle and big air tricks. It features a thruster setup for snappy turns and works the best in small to medium surf. Despite its name, the Strapless actually does come with straps. It works as a great board for people learning directional riding in light winds on flat water or small to medium wave conditions. The Strike is similar but the truncated nose gives more power to turns because of the reduced swing weight without the long nose. It also features a 5-fin setup to choose between thruster and quad depending on conditions, but is equally ideal for strapless airs and tricks. The wider center and straighter outline give the Strike more precise control so it’s also great for lighter wind, learning with straps and traveling.
Is there anything else you would like to add or a specific product you would like to discuss?
I’d be crazy not to mention the new Hexa Bindings, the first major change in CrazyFly’s pad/strap system since 2010. The last several years they’ve had a very comfortable double-EVA footpad with heel and instep contours and pronounced right angle toe ridges for excellent grip. The strap was a standard asymmetrical Velcro strap that allowed adjustability from either side with good comfort and was compatible with almost any board, depending on the pad used with it. This has been a great system, but the pad was made for a setup of screw inserts in the board with the old industry standard of 6 .” spacing between inserts on either side of the pad, with left side inserts staggered from right side inserts rather than being all in a straight line. The recent trend has been to have a strap and pad system that work together exclusively (bindings), that are compatible to a 6” insert spacing between left and right sides of pads and whose inserts are inline rather than staggered, so that they are also compatible with standard wakeboarding boots. In the last few years as more brands have gone to a 6” spacing, the CrazyFly pad/strap system has become less compatible with other brands (though the pads could be notched out to fit a 6” spacing). For 2016, the Hexa Bindings pad/strap system is made to work on inline inserts set at a 6” spacing between left side and right side inserts. Following the current trend, this makes them compatible with most brands, but where the Hexas are different is in their adjustability. You have six directions of adjustability (hence the name Hexa): fore and aft (more towards toeside or more towards heelside), yaw adjustments (changes angles from right to left) and height (strap can be adjusted vertically up and down the pad to accommodate small feet or even 7mm thick booties). We’re very excited to see this new update because it just allows so many more adjustment options and instant compatibility with other brands than before. It also means that the 2016 CrazyFly decks are now more compatible with other brands of bindings, so there’s a standard deck/fins/handle only price now which we didn’t offer before.
I must also quickly mention the three totally new board models for 2016 and a couple of important changes in the lineup. I’ve already mentioned the new truncated surfboard model, the Strike, which gives the option for a smaller board with less swing weight, a new and very popular trend in kitesurfing. This year, for the twin tips, CrazyFly did away with five models; the Pro Tour, Nuke, Girls Pro, Shox Custom and Allround Double are gone for 2016, but they’ve and added two new. They have also changed up the sizing on the Shox Green by adding a 140×42, and the Bulldozer by adding a 143×43. This gives larger size options on popular models for lighter winds.
The first new board, the Addict, is getting a ton of hype because of the amazing new 3D shaping and what it does for crossover ability. It basically took the great freestyle aspects of the Pro Tour and the more wakestyle specific aspects of the Nuke and Bulldozer boards and combined them into one freestyle/wakestyle crossover board with an aggressive rocker but with 90Åã tip channels and the new edge control track for ultimate grip and tracking for load-n-pop tricks or finless riding.
The second new board is the Cruiser Double. This is the new tandem board that replaces the Allround Double. The Allround Double was a smaller board at 145×46. In addition to the Cruiser Double having more surface area, the shaping means a longer, straighter reverse-elliptical rail and asymmetrical fin setup which together, translate to insanely easy planing and upwind ability. This will help any tandem ride where you’re pushing extra weight. There aren’t many tandem boards on the market, so this is a fun one to have in the lineup.
CrazyFly has a new bag lineup for 2016 as well. This includes new graphic designs to match the 2016 kite bags, a redesigned wheeled surf roller bag and new bag types like the wheeled duffle, airline roller and two sizes of backpacks.
Finally, the light wind specific Cruze kite model is adding a new size to the lineup, so it is now available in 15m, 17m and 19m sizes. I think that about sums it all up for CrazyFly 2016.