In Bangplee, just a few minutes off the main Bangna-Trad highway and 5 meters from lake Taco, you will find a small facility with some forty people working quietly away. It’s not a big operation and the whole company comprises the staff, two office blocks and a workshop – headquarters of Natural Corporation. Small yes, but the world’s leading windsurfing equipment developer nevertheless.
Owner of the company is Norwegian Svein Rasmussen, who is to say the least a colourful character. At 43 with his fashionably neck long hair and colourful shirt, he doesn’t look like your average managing director. But then again he isn’t. He is also a major windsurfer with
dreams and ambitions, and great new ideas.
The company was founded in 1994, when Svein ended his professional surfing career.
“I came here with $10,000 which was everything I had to show for a whole life of professional windsurfing. And I was up against multi-million dollar companies who simply weren’t interested in changing their business manners. So I thought that this was my chance.” This is the short version of how he got started.
Today Svein’s company is made up of three subsidiaries: “Severne” which makes sails for windsurfers; “Airush”, which makes boards and kites for kite surfing; and the main company Starboard”, which makes windsurf boards.
“We are represented in 72 countries already,” Svein Rasmussen says proudly and adds with a smile.
“Perhaps there’s some small previous Russian state I don’t know about yet too,” he laughs.
A strange development
When Svein is asked to tell the story about his company, he prefers to start with the history of windsurfing.
“The whole arrival of the sport has a short but strange history.”
“It was invented in 1976 and by the mid-eighties it was by far the biggest water sport in the world. People started to make regulations for windsurfing as windsurfers were springing up everywhere,” he says with a smile, indicating that he was one of the surfers who sprung up
But then in the late eighties enthusiasm for the sport started to wane.
“The developers started making and aggressively promoting high wing gear – it just destroyed
the sport. It went terribly wrong. The sport became focused on high wind windsurfing and the pro’s. The companies also forgot about products and marketing towards Kids – forgetting to embrace the youngsters eager to windsurf.
“So many things in the industry were overlooked. The whole idea of windsurfing is that you can go anywhere and windsurf, but suddenly you couldn’t do it on lakes – only in places like Hawaii,” Svein remembers.
“But things are changing,” Svein says, flipping through a Starboard magazine to show several pages with pictures of kids windsurfing. He points out one particular picture.
“This girl is only 11 years old and she is the world champion in kite surfing. Only eleven year old,” he says, his tone emphasising how impressed he is. She is also sponsored by Real Madrid.
Quit School to windsurf
What made Svein’s company successful is that not only did they deliver a much-needed product, but it was also a product which managed to turn windsurfing back into a sport for everyone.
But the story about that success is also a story about a school kid from Norway, who discovered a very new and very interesting sport.
“I learned about windsurfing through my sister’s boyfriend, who was teaching it. Then suddenly I had no time to go to school anymore and I quit when I was 17,” Svein recalls.
“Then I went backpacking from when I was 17 until I was 31. I travelled the world windsurfing,” he explains and adds with a little smile.
“I also won a few world championships during that time.”
Actually his list of achievements on the windsurf board is quite long.
He won the Mistral Worlds in 1983, was a gold medal candidate at the 1984 Olympics and spent 10 years on the PWA circuit.
In 1991 he became the first rider to win all disciplines in the IFCA World Production-board Class.
But the record list isn’t what Svein Rasmussen’s wants to talk about because simply windsurfing is his passion, not winning.
“Windsurfing is a lifestyle. You travel around, enter contests and just enjoy windsurf and its energetic atmosphere all the time.”
Why not do it myself?
But in 1994 when Svein turned 31, he stopped backpacking after 14 years on the road.
“It was like constantly being on vacation which never ends and you never go home. At some points it gets too much,” he explains.
He had just finished a case study for one of his sponsors – a study about developing a new windsurfing brand.
“I thought, why not set it up myself?” he remembers. And that was it! He chose the spot in Bangplee in Thailand where the company headquarter still remain today. And he chose this spot for a simple reason.
“I came by here after my last contest in 1994 and at that time there was a small factory manufacturing windsurf-boards. Actually it was only 500 meters from here,” he points out through the window.
The turning point for Svein’s company came in 1998 when they introduced the “Go” board, which changed the whole industry. That ‘revolution’ was caused by a single change to already established
“We made the board a lot wider,” Svein states as if it was the simplest thing in the world.
“It gives better stability, better acceleration, better speed in light winds and provides better pointing capability. The stability makes it easier to learn for beginners, you can learn in 60 minutes now,” he adds.
“That board set the standard – today most boards look like that – the only thing we did was to understand the importance of width at an early stage,” Svein says.
That understanding made the company world leader in 2002, a position they still retain. But strangely enough, the latest move they made to retain that position is quite the opposite of what took them there in 2002 – now they go for narrow and ultra long boards, up to almost 5 meters length.
“Basically it is about enjoying windsurfing in light winds. When we make the board longer, more narrow and partly round , it makes it faster and more exciting in sub planing conditions,” he xplains and adds:
“Today 80% of the wind in 80 % of the world is under 10 knots, and this is the exciting 80% territory our new boards will excel in.”
When asked how Svein saw that there was potential in going into the windsurfing business, his answer is rather abstract.
“I don’t really know – you just start to work in one direction – you know there is something there, but you can’t see it clearly. Then as you move, you start to see the bigger picture – see that you really can do something. But it took a few years for me to see,” he finishes with a smile.
“At the time I started the company all the existing companies said that the last thing the industry needed was a new brand. But in the end we proved that what it really needed was in fact a completely new brand,” he adds.
Strength through weaknesses
Svein Rasmussen has a simple philosophy on how to run the company. It evolves around strengths and weaknesses.
“If you look at the sport (windsurfing) as a company. It has strengths and weaknesses. The way I see it, in every weakness there is great potential for improvement and if you improve it, you will have a better company or sport.”
“A perfect example. In windsurfing there were in many countries no kids, no schools and no products for kids. This wasn’t a weakness, but an opportunity.”
“Normally people do what they are good at, but if you point out weaknesses and work with them, then you get better overall,” he explains and lean forward as he emphasises:
“There is one rule. You are no better than your product. That is why most our efforts are directed towards development, instead of as many others do, just concentrating on marketing old ideas,” he underlines.
And if you want to make the best product, having the best people doesn’t hurt!
“This” – Svein points at a picture of man in the Starboard development team – “is Jim Drake, do you know him?” he asks rhetorically.
“He still holds the record for designing the fastest plane in the World, the X 15. Svein Rasmussen continues.
There is now a faster plane built – a X43 Scram jet – but it has only flown unmanned, so Jim Drake still holds the record for 39 years, so he must be a good man for development of fast boards.
“He also designed the fuselage (body) for the first cruise missiles. You have probably seen the TV clips where they approached their targets during the Golf War with cameras attached . That invention isn’t something he is so proud of, and told me once I asked him a little about his background,” Svein explains, and finally adds as if were it the most natural thing in the World.
“He also invented a thing called windsurfing.”
Thrill not yet gone
Even though Svein has quit backpacking and is no longer competing, he still uses every chance to hit the waters.
“Look, I always keep an eye open,” he says showing his cell phone, where he has received an answer from a friend saying that he doesn’t believe that the wind will be good enough for windsurfing today.
“If the wind is good we go – and every weekend we go,” the managing director of the world’s leading windsurfing company says and he leaves no doubt, if there is any wind he will abandon his MD’s chair as soon as humanly possible. Windsurfing is after all for some – a lifestyle!
Windsurfing in Thailand
If Svein Rasmussen was to recommend a place to surf or learn surfing a name comes quickly to mind and he recommends Amara Windsurfing, located in Pattaya/Jomtien.
“It is run by Amara Wichithong, a friendly Thai woman who is the Thai champion since 20 years. If I have to recommend just one place that has to be it,” Svein says.
If you are interested visit: www.windsurfing-thailand.com