Five years ago when James Fiore of Clearwater Foils first caught a glimpse of a foil board on Youtube he thought it was the coolest thing he’d ever seen. However, after some research, he (a high school student at the time) discovered that a regular foil board was way out of his price range … So he decided to build his own.
“That summer I researched on the internet how they were made and built a foil in my garage out of wood and fiberglass which is the only materials I knew,” Fiore tells ASN. “I’d grown up near a lake and had been around boats and wakeboarding all my life. I also loved designing cool stuff so thought I’d give it a try.”
James’ initial attempts weren’t very successful. His patient younger brother towed him behind their boat on Willett Pond, Massachusetts for three weeks and watched him continually fail to catch flight. However, through constant trial and error, eventually James got his design to work. “As soon as I got it to fly, I loved it. The feeling was incredible,” says Fiore.
After high school he went on to study English and Geology in college, and his DIY foil board went back into the garage. It might have stayed there if (after a few years) he hadn’t started kite boarding. Having seen the foils were also now being used with kites, he dusted off his prototype to give it a try.
“I was hooked straight away and after that first time I went straight back and kept trying to make each design better and better,” Fiore tells ASN. “I knew people were making kite foils with molds and carbon fiber, but that would take me too long to learn … and be too expensive. So I just kept using wood and fiberglassing them like a surfboard.”
With his garage filling up with a range of tested foils, fins and boards, he decided to see if he could clear some room by selling them on eBay. The interest was immediate and within a year he was getting positive feedback from the people who were using his designs.
Seeing a gap in the market he juggled his time at college (while working in a restaurant) with making the foil boards. “I could only build two a week max, and even then I was around the clock waiting for the epoxy to cure,” he recalls. “The materials were cheap, but the process was too time consuming.”
It was then that he hit on the idea of just selling the components as a DIY kit. Without the messy fiberglassing he could finish 20 units a week, still attend class and not get sacked from his gig waiting tables. He set up a website, made some instructional videos for Youtube and Instagram, and discovered that for many customers the self-construction aspect was a massive part of the appeal.
“People are really keen to get their hands dirty and build things themselves,” Fiore says. “Some had experience with making surfboards or boats, but for the majority this was the first time they had used fiberglass in their life.”
Fiore has since sent his kite, surfing and SUP foil kits to Alaska, Japan, Hawaii, Australia and Europe. However many other people contacted him saying they didn’t have the tools or the time to build their own, but still wanted his designs. In response, he recently added a ready-to-ride model that uses an aluminum frame.
“With that model you can buy it and ride it, but I wanted to keep it really affordable,” he says. “They cost around $500 which is still a lot of money, but I’m really proud to think it must be the most affordable kite foil on the market.”
He has now employed one other staff member and is putting all the money he has into the business.
“Ironically, now all my time is spent making the foils rather than riding them,” he laughs. “On those days when the wind is perfect for riding I’m usually stuck in the shop boxing orders. However the thing that keeps me going is that I am able to send these to other people and know they will get to enjoy what I’ve experienced. Hopefully I’m multiplying the sensation.”
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