20years ago, Flysurfer and its brother company, Skywalk Paragliders, was founded by six friends whose professional experiences across the existing paragliding industry merged with the growing sport of kiteboarding. Armin Harich brought Flysurfer to the table and Manfred Kistler, Arne Wehrlin and Thomas Allertseder combined their paragliding expertise to form a synergy of design and manufacturing that exists within the international kitesurfing brand today. According to Manfred, “The friendship that connected us and the thirst for innovation was our drive,” and since then, the self-financed company has brought some of the biggest innovations to the foil kite evolution.
Looking back at the beginning, Armin Harich recalls his first tradeshow in 2000 at the BOOT Expo in Düsseldorf, Germany. Having received their initial round of production kites just 24 hours before the event, they planned to sell the first Flysurfer foil kites at the show. On day one, the team discovered that their new kiteboarding customers couldn’t figure out how to connect the kites to the bar. Armin recalls staying up all night in the exhibition hall rigging the bar and lines to the kites, and in the following days, they successfully sold 200 ‘ready-to-fly kites.’
Before the days of kite-specific CAD programs, the prototypes were hand-built in the workshop by crawling on the floor and arranging one-to-one scale paper patterns with curve templates. The prototypes were built in-house and the production kites were produced in China. In the years that followed, Flysurfer launched tube kites to compete in the broader kiteboarding market, but remained committed to the innovation of ‘soft kites.’ In hindsight, Armin says, “Despite all the counter-arguments, the foil kite system has become the market leader in some areas,” which is most evident with the advances that have been made in the racing sector, the single-skin Peak kites for snowkiting and the widespread acceptance of the Soul foil kite at beaches around the world.
Reminiscing about all the adventures, Manfred recalls one testing trip to Tenerife in which their fully packed car was broken into and gutted mere hours before their departure. Upon returning from a quick swim in the ocean, and standing in just their swim trunks, the team discovered everything was gone, including their equipment, clothes, airplane tickets and most importantly, their passports. With no small amount of luck, a personal contact at the airline listened to their story and walked them through security and onto the tarmac where they boarded their plane. Manfred will never forget the visual of his Flysurfer coworkers walking through the arrivals hall of Munich’s Franz Josef Airport in the dead of winter wearing shorts and t-shirts without a shred of luggage.
One of the most important lessons learned over the years (aside from where not to park your car in Tenerife) has been the importance of passionate employees and creating a culture that thrives on working together. “The people are the heart of the company,” Manfred notes. The founders credit designer Benni Boelli with the creation of the landmark Soul foil kite which brought universal ease of use and groundbreaking versatility to the mainstream kite market as well as cutting edge innovations in race kite hardware that has put the Flysurfer logo at the forefront of Olympic racing. Flysurfer’s inflatable division has thrived under the design work of Maxi Kühnhauser with newcomer Luke McGillewie recently joining the team. Top-notch athletes like Florian Gruber, Daniela Moroz, Théo de Ramecourt and Olly Bridge have broken barriers and won landmark races under the Flysurfer moniker. With 20 years of passion, experience and adventure under their belts, Flysurfer’s founders are now focused on building a culture of equally passionate kiteboarders to thrive in the coming decades.
This article was featured in our winter 2022 issue, Vol. 18, No. 4. To read more, click here.
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