Windsports equipment has always trended on the technical side of the spectrum, and these days, we are hearing the word ‘innovation’ buzzing through every facet of our sport. In the midst of an era where humankind is using modern technology to reshape society, innovation is the holy grail of survival, and many companies, including kiteboarding brands, are asking the hard questions of how to build a continuous innovation pipeline.
One of the greatest reboot experiments in our industry is happening in a quiet commercial zone off the side of Hana Highway in Central Maui, just five minutes from the infamous Kite Beach. What might be considered the biggest top-down disruption in kiteboarding, in 2020, Cabrinha secured its independence from its Hong Kong-based windsports holding company, putting Pete Cabrinha and entrepreneur and long-time Cabrinha athlete Jon Modica in the driver’s seat. With its new ownership rooted in a culture of watermen, Cabrinha has set into motion a series of moves that brought key development personnel back to Maui, while resetting its core values and recharging its design and development team. With fresh recruits and an increased allocation of resources, Cabrinha has dubbed its augmented design program the ‘Cab Design Works’ and tasked its staff with the lofty goal of designing for the convergence of wind and hydrofoil-based watersports.
According to Brand Manager, David Hastilow, Cab Design Works (CDW) is a melding of new and old faces with unrestricted access to design and development resources. Having worked his way through almost every division of the company, Dave has followed Cabrinha around the world and back to Maui and knows the development process better than anyone else. From his perspective, “We are a collective of engineers, designers, world champions and key industry people, all working collaboratively to move the needle in design, engineering and material development.” The man in charge of wielding that needle is Product Development Manager Lars Moltrup. Having started as an apprentice sweeping the floors of a tool injection and stamping manufacturer in Denmark at the age of fifteen, Lars attended design school and eventually landed in the windsports industry in 2010. As part of Lars’ Cabrinha tour of duty, he’s been stationed in Maui, Australia, Hong Kong and now finds himself back on Maui with a wealth of insight on every tier of Cabrinha’s manufacturing and supply chain. Having brought his wife and two young sons back to Maui, Lars considers his full circle good fortune and describes the new engineering department as one of the most qualified and progressive design teams in the entire watersports industry.
With designers like Brodie Sutherland, who’s probably the youngest designer in the industry, and hand-picked engineers like Cape Town-based Dean Freedberg and British Columbia’s John Bais, Cab Design Works has a diverse roster of technical talent. According to start-up veteran Dean Freedberg, “A technical design process, in its basic structure is fairly generic, but what really sets a team apart are the team dynamics and the way in which the design process is approached. I believe the new CDW team has an amazing dynamic filled with a combination of fresh, excited members and more experienced, established staff.” One of the biggest additions to the CDW program is the reintegration of designer Pat Goodman, who is returning from a three-year stint at North Actionsports Group. According to Lars Moltrup, “Pat is coming back to a re-energized group on an upwards trajectory, where his experience and capabilities as a designer will play a key role alongside the rest of the team.”
Innovation is as much about creative talent as it is directing the agenda of the product development process. Lars sets the team’s tone with the new premise, “If someone has a wild idea, we encourage them to pitch it, design it and test it.” Experimentation is the freedom to use time and resources to test theories and build prototypes. Having experienced both the old and new Cabrinha, Brodie explains how the new ownership model ensures that everyone on the team is passionate about watersports. “Since we all ride at quite a high level,” he explains, “we know exactly what is going on in the market.” Sometimes that freedom to experiment helps solve existing problems and sometimes these side-projects identify new problems to which the solution brings benefits to customers. The CDW concept allows its design team to move nimbly in the market and respond rapidly to product and industry trends. “When I started at Cabrinha this was not the case, but with the change in ownership, I can say that we are able to move significantly more quickly,” says Brodie.
Right now, some of the biggest advancements in the market are happening in material development with brands introducing fabrics like Aluula, Ho’okipa and Penta into the kite market. As the Cab Design Works team has experimented with materials that introduce lower weight and new stiffness properties, they are being careful to protect their customers’ expectations of quality and longevity. According to Brodie, “We have lots in the works in the lightweight category but we want to make sure what we release is up to our high standards.” One of the biggest advantages of the Cab Design Works organization is the strategic combination of local design and fabrication skills that is supported by internationally distributed engineering talent and Cabrinha’s longstanding manufacturing relationships.
In the past, the validation of iterative and landmark improvements have been handled entirely by Cabrinha’s top athletes and in-house product testing team, but this last year, the CDW program has also entered into collaboration with research scientists at Norway’s SINTEF facility and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. With the use of a large cavitation tunnel and other simulators, the researchers conduct hydrodynamic tests on Cabrinha’s foil wings which informs the design process and allows each iteration of the design to be numerically validated. The partnership with CDW helps the SINTEF team understand the applicable challenges of foils in real life while ascertaining the accuracy of numerical simulations with actual product behaviors. This partnership is incredibly valuable for understanding the performance of the Fusion system and brings a new level of theoretical and practical knowledge to Cabrinha’s hydrofoil program.
While Cab Design Works dreamers are sketching out the future of high-performance kiting, engineer John Bais is quick to acknowledge that innovation impact is not just focused on a single dimension of high-end users. New developments are just as important when directed at broadening the market. “Looking back, every new advancement has lowered the barriers for more people to enjoy windsports in a larger range of conditions.” John points out Cabrinha’s landmark role in releasing the first high depower bow kites and highlights the obvious importance of newer kites that have wider wind ranges and quick release systems that have greatly improved the safety of all riders. Foils have opened the door to lower winds and created cross-sport pollination with the introduction of winging and prone surfing, yet the future of new discoveries in the foil space remains wide open.
Three years ago, the Cabrinha brand was at an inflection point. Operating as a division within a large windsports holding company, Cabrinha’s talented design staff often struggled against its corporate-minded ownership. With the company now solely in the hands of career kitesurfers and watermen, Cabrinha is doubling down on years of innovation. By creating a lean innovation pipeline within the new Cab Design Works department, the Maui-based brand is setting up for a big new chapter in kiteboarding and watersports history.
This article was featured in our winter 2022 issue, Vol. 18, No. 4. To read more, click here.
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