Handboard Makes Bank in The Shark Tank
Body surfing has traditionally been considered the ultimate pursuit for the surfing purist. Mastered by Mark Cunningham and recommended by Rasta it’s the wave-riding experience that supposedly delivers the most authentic connection to the ocean’s energy – throw on a pair of flippers and it becomes the next best thing to being a dolphin. However, the recent windfall for husband and wife team Angela and Steve Watts suggests that a little body-bashing can also be good business.
When Angela and Steve rolled on to the set of the US version of the Shark Tank in boardies and thongs while clutching one of their ‘Slyde’ hand board designs, they were sure to temper their expectations. They’d already been knocked back once on the show, which challenges celebrities and zillionaires to invest in the ideas of aspiring entrepreneurs. Things played out a little differently second time round. Inspired by the easy entry pass into the life aquatic, Ashton Kutcher and Mark Cuban threw down $200 000 of their own coin for a 25% of the company. Now that should make all you garage board shapers out there a little jealous.
Quick synopsis on these two guys: Actor, model, investor and Demi Moore’s former boy-toy, Ashton Kutcher, partnered with part time basketball team owner and full time kook, Mark Cuban. What these two guys have in common is a willingness to invest in small businesses within the sports industry.
For Slyde founders, Angela and Steve, Ashton and Mark’s decision to take a vested interest in the company meant they could finally make their passion a fully functional business. For Slyde ambassadors, sponsored athletes and photographers it meant that the brand they had thrown their heart into had in the parlance of making it in America ‘Blown Up’.
I first met Angela and Steve Watts when I was just beginning my transition from Nebraska farm kid to a wanna-be professional surf photographer back in 2013. I couldn’t surf like the rest of my mates, so when it was time to meet the couple I grabbed my go-pro and became the group photographer.
I’d never seen one of these hand boards in person. The design and concept of the boards were unique, but could they perform better than simply using your hand? Just as I tossed my camera on the tripod, I got my answer. These boards flat out flew through the barrel. I bought my first Slyde hand board that day.
Back then Slyde was nowhere near the top of the leader board in the body surfing market. Operating out of a small Venice Beach shop Steve and Angela struggled with overheads and sent mail orders out from their apartment.
Over the course of three years, Slyde grew from a few boards and a handful of riders to over ten different board designs and twenty riders. Eventually the company struggled to keep up with the growing amount of orders from body surfers around the world. Who’d have ever thought you could make a living as a hand board company?
“Its been the customer’s word of mouth that has helped it grow from the very beginning,” suggests co-founder Angela Watts. “Our focus has always been to create the best hand boards on the market and to always innovate to be better. This keeps us the leader in the market.”
After Steve popped the ‘Will you marry me?’ question, the couple decided to use most of their wedding funds to keep the company afloat. Money was still tight and shipping hand boards out of their apartment wasn’t what they had in mind for a honeymoon. After their first failed attempt on the Shark Tank, the couple was running out of ideas about how to grow the business.
Now thanks to the influx of cash from Kutcher and Cuban there will be no more packaging piled ceiling high at home or credit card bills with ominous rates of return. Steve and Angela’s aim will be to spread the word about how much fun body-surfing can be and make their brand synonymous with handboarding around the world.