Hagerstown native Evan Patronik makes surfboards, paddleboards in landlocked state

January 11, 2013|By BETH ROWLAND | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Evan Patronik is a 2003 graduate of St. Maria Goretti. He has been in Colorado since July, working with Carve Industries, a custom wooden surf board manufacturer.
Submitted photo

Colorado is a popular place, known for gorgeous mountain vistas, rugged terrain, winter sports and the like. It is not usually considered a place for surfers to catch a wave.

That's what makes so unusual Evan Patronik's decision to help found a company making wooden surfboards and stand-up paddleboards in Lyons, Colo., just outside Boulder.

But then Patronik's long been an unusual and a quirky kind of guy.

And nontraditional challenges don't faze Patronik in the least.

The Hagerstown native has an undergraduate and master's degree from the University of Maryland in fire protection engineering. He has also worked as a cart boy at Sam's Club in Hagerstown, bussed tables at Nick's Airport Inn, designed websites at High Rock, was a substitute teacher at St. Maria Goretti (where he graduated in 2003), clerked at Longmeadow Liquors and served as a volunteer firefighter in Funkstown.

After his college graduation, Patronik worked as an engineer in the fire protection industry. He's also ridden a bike 2,800 miles from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Key West, Fla., to raise money for the Search Dog Foundation and worked around and crewed on sailboats in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

It was in the Virginia Islands where he got to know Ryan and Jamison Witbeck, boat-building brothers from Vermont, who had combined their love of surfing and their knowledge and passion of building wooden boats to create Carve Industries, a custom wooden surf board manufacturer.

After four years of working in the Virgin Islands where the brothers Witbeck also had large boatbuilding and sailing charter businesses, they decided in the summer of 2011 to split off the wooden surfboard business and move it to Lyons.

In July 2012, Patronik joined the team in Colorado to oversee logistics, marketing, research and development, with the official title of head of strategic development, R&D and marketing.

Why Colorado? Patronik explains using the fish pond analogy: "In California we'd be one of 1,000-plus surfboard shapers; even as wooden board builders, we'd still be swallowed in the sea that is the surfboard industry. Little fish, big pond. In Colorado, we're pretty much The surfboard shapers. We may stick out like stupid-looking sore thumbs, but at least we're sticking out. Big fish, little pond."

Location is key, at least when it comes to making the boards.

 "Our boards are made of wood and we live and work where we're surrounded by soaring mountains full of trees, so it feels like an appropriate match," Patronik said.

And, he points out, catching a wave in Colorado is doable.

"We've got plenty of surfable river waves here in Colorado, and, especially now that stand-up paddleboarding is mainstream," he said, "we have the entire inland market to work with."

Stand-up paddleboarding is related to surfing in that both use a board, but a paddleboard doesn't need waves because it uses a long paddle to maneuver.

Colorado is also noted for being a state ahead of the pack when it comes to environmental concerns, and that fits another part of Carve Industries' mission.

"We want to break the mold of disposable consumerism by providing surfers with high-performance, beautiful, long lasting alternatives to the petroleum-based industry standard," he said.

Most surfboards, he said, are made of foam and foam-related products and last only two to seven years by the industry's own records. In a world of 17 million surfers, that can be a lot of disposable product with a relatively short life expectancy.

Wooden surfboards from Carve Industries, Patronik claims, will last from 50 to 75 years.

"Wood is the wonder fiber," he said, "and the natural beauty of wood is a plus."

Up until recently, though, making the wooden boards was a slow process, and the company made only 30 or so boards a year, all custom-ordered. So, the team made the decision to expand from a "humble, porous" shack as Patronik calls it, to a 2,000 square foot shop in order to increase production, which will lead to more affordable boards.

But that also requires additional equipment and the ability to buy some supplies in bulk. With the upgrades, though, Patronik said they can build a board in two to three hours, instead of the two to four days currently required.

Raising capital for new ventures is problematic in the best of times and these are definitely not the best of times, economy-wise. So the team turned to Kickstarter, the web-based company that raises funds for creative projects though so-called "crowd-funding." Simply put, through Kickstarter, investors financially back projects in exchange for a tangible reward or one-of-a-kind experience, like a personal note of thanks, custom T-shirts, or products from the initial production run, in this case, a wooden surfboard. No money is returned to investors; the money contributed is more like a donation.

But beyond that, Kickstarter investors enjoy the knowledge that they have helped a worthy cause or business that might not fit into a traditional business model. That gives project developers flexibility to pay more attention to good works than to balance sheets. The appeal for investing in Carve Industries was enumerated in its Kickstarter application: Making wooden surf and stand-up paddleboards an affordable alternative to bring about positive social and environmental change.

And it's worked: in its 30-day Kickstarter campaign, Carve Industries not only met its stated goal of $30,000, it exceeded it by another $935.

Looks like Patronik is riding the wave.

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