As designer Rob Whittall jokingly points out, new companies are often formed by a pissed-off band of disgruntled employees or more specifically in Ozone’s case, a team of semi-disgruntled employees who passionately believe they have a better vision for the sport.
Quitting their paragliding jobs in 1998, Rob along with David Pilkington and Mike Cavanagh started Ozone Paragliding and quickly became one of the most innovative brands in that industry. Like all the other Ozone founders, Rob got his start in paragliding at an early age. Having grown up in Leeds in the UK, he recalls his dad purchasing him hang gliding lessons to keep him away from the dangers of dirt bikes. Rob gravitated towards hang gliding competition, eventually nabbing British titles and then a world championship. In air sports, competing, testing and product development are tied hand in hand. As Rob likes to say, “If you put a monkey on the shoulders of a computer designer for long enough he will eventually pick it up.”Putting Rob’s healthy dose of self-deprecation aside, his design team’s evolution from paragliding to full-fledged kite company is a study in meticulous product development. In Ozone’s first two years as a paragliding company, the Britain-based team produced a 4-line traction kite, dubbed the ‘Little Devil’ designed for those high-wind days when paragliding wasn’t feasible. With paragliding testing located in the south of France, Rob’s earliest explorations into the local mountains with his kite proved promising. Rob describes himself as the type of person looking for the next thing, and the moment he strapped on some skis and experimented with Ozone’s first power kite in the mountains of Col du Lautaret, Rob was enthralled. Snowkiting in its earliest form may have lacked mass sports appeal but for Rob and his partners, it was a dynamic experience with the kite pulling them up hills as they sent massive airs and carved through big fields of powder. Rob’s first experience with kiting on water happened in the middle of Spain. Fellow paragliding competitor Matt Taggart took Rob to a reservoir and connected him to a 2-line kite. He recalls the closed-cell foil needing about 25 knots to be powered but at 26 knots you were already overpowered. With the narrow range, he just got dragged downwind, followed by a long walk back for another go. To this day he’s not sure what compelled him to keep going, but he wanted more… To read the rest of the article, become a subscriber of Tkb Magazine.