When you think of Dubai, snowboarding isn’t generally one of the first associations that comes to mind, unless it’s about indoor novelty riding in one of the hottest regions on earth. What does come to mind is a massively exploding international trade hub, one of the world’s fastest growing economies, advanced manufacturing, and the birthplace of nearly all of the world’s wake and kite boards.
John Colvin and George Cant, who cut their teeth at Option Snowboards and the Elan Snowboard Factory are hoping to also make snowboards synonymous with Dubai, at least within the industry, with the launch of SWS Snowboard Production, a partnership with Solico, an established manufacturing company there that turns out those aforementioned wake and kite boards.
We caught up with Colvin via email in Dubai to learn more about the new venture.
Congrats on launching SWS Snowboard Production. First off, why Dubai?
Thanks Mike. We are excited about it. Why Dubai? Dubai is amazing! It is a great place to visit to begin with. It’s an extremely modern and Westernized city with over 200 Nationalities living there. This makes it very easy to visit. Ninety percent of the population of Dubai are ex-pats. I think I see more US Muscle Cars in Dubai than I do when I travel the States.
What advantages does that location give you economically and logistically?
One large economic benefit that we have there is the ability to sell to our partners in either U.S. dollars or in euros. The local currency is pegged with the U.S. dollar so there is never any negotiations over the euro to USD exchange rate. We purchase the majority of our materials from Europe so dealing with our partners in euros is also no problem. Logistically Dubai is the home of the World’s largest and most technologically advanced port. The port is located 6.3 miles from our production. This makes getting materials and shipping product almost effortless. By 2015 the world’s largest airport will be located only 12.4 miles from our Production. It’s currently operational and huge, but by the time it is finished it will be the world’s largest. Dubai is very much a central hub for so much travel today. It’s very easy to get there and both the international airports are almost within the city.
What does SWS stand for?
Solico Winter Sport.
Tell us a bit about Solico, your facility there, your equipment, and its capabilities on the production front.
Solico Composites is a company that has been around since 1966. It is part of the Solico Group of Companies. It was founded in Dubai by the Nouhra Family and is still privately owned by them. The Group has various businesses including trade, manufacturing, contracting, and investments. We fall under the manufacturing of course. There is a 236,000-plus square foot manufacturing area there that houses aluminum production, boat building production, a full steel workshop, an industrial water storage tank production, and of course the composite production that currently has been building wake and kite boards for a decade plus. Solico Water Sport is the largest builder of water sports boards in the industry, having produced over 90 percent of all the wakeboards produced last season.
The factory is legit. They build everything in house from the presses to the silkscreen frames. They do anything that can be done with composites. Hand Lay Up, Resin Transfer Moulding, Cold Press Moulding, Hot Press Moulding (SMC & GMT), High Pressure PU Injection, and Vacuum Thermo Forming. There is likely more but we are still learning about all they do. The only thing they haven’t had readily on hand to build solid snowboards was a grinding line and a base die-cut machine. I’m pleased to say that while we were there last week finishing a few sample boards all of these machines rolled in and are now being installed. It was like Christmas in Dubai, even if it was 77º F.
Fill us in on what’s gone down since you left Elan. Who are you working with on this and how did you lock this location down?
As my time at Elan was coming to an end I began talking to my good friend George Cant about us doing something together. We were thinking about starting a sourcing company of some sort. George and I have worked together in some capacity since 2000. We started at Option Snowboards with him as board engineer and me as creative director.
After I left Option and moved from Canada to Austria to work with the Elan Factory we were lucky enough to be able to secure George as the exclusive board engineer for the Elan Factory. George did some great work for us while we were both working with the Elan Factory. He designed the entire Arbor collection from the ground up after they switched their production to Elan. The System Design he incorporated into the Arbor Draft was very well received by testers and consumers. That same system now makes up a huge portion of the Arbor Collection. He also designed the entire Bataleon collection as it is today. He took their TBT Technology to new levels with specific TBT designs for various riding styles. He has done so much great work for this industry. I wouldn’t do this with anyone other than George Cant. How the location came about is almost too romantic to talk about without sounding too gay. The CEO of the Sports division of Solico, Rainier Nouhra, is an avid snowboarder. Has been all his life. He has always known he wanted to build snowboards at Solico. So much so that when Pale in Austria went out of business years ago he bought a bunch of the old base grinding machines. He asked a friend one day if he knew anyone that might be able to help him set up a snowboard factory. This friend knew Grant Wellington, the original founder of Option Snowboards. He asked Grant if he had any ideas and Grant turned him on to George and I. The reason I say it is so damn romantic is that the company that George and I wanted to start had the acronym SWS. For real! We had business cards printed and all. We arrived in Dubai for our first meeting, handed the card over and Rainier just looked at us as if it was a joke. He must have thought we were the world’s biggest ass kissers. The logo on those cards is now the logo being used for the Production.
Do you have any accounts locked in yet?
And they are?
They asked that I keep it under wraps until they release it…
When will you have production up and running and what kind of capacity will you have?
We are ready now actually. We can build snowboards today. We have built a few boards there to bring to SIA for people to have a look at if they wish. These boards were built using very raw technologies and for what we used they look great. Today we have all the new machines in house for base diecutting and base grinding, etc. So yeah, were good to go immediately. Regarding capacity, we are not setting out to be the world’s largest snowboard factory at all. Our goals include a select small number of partners with whom we can build solid long term relationships.
Will you be able to produce boards for next season, or is this a ’14/15 play?
We are able to accept a purchase order now and deliver on schedule for the 13-14 Winter season. Well actually we were but we have committed that slot to someone already and our focus will be 100% on delivering great boards on time for them.
What have been some of the most interesting differences and lessons in changing from doing business in Austria to Dubai?
The fact that there are no more exchange rate negotiations is real sweet. The euro productions give up so much profit with the flux in the euro to USD conversion. For US brands to be able to produce in Europe they need some help with the currency game. I’m happy not to have to deal with that at all. Another bonus for SWS and Dubai is that the world’s largest indoor Snow Dome is 20 minutes from our factory. It’s also one of only two in the world that produces real snow. Google it, it’s techy. This gives us year round prototype testing abilities. When brands are needing to test protos it is generally during months that Austria has no or crap snow. You can go to a Glacier but it’s pretty unpredictable. The Dome in Dubai is amazing for this. We tested our boards there last week and it’s more than enough for that. Funny enough, the guy that builds and controls the park features at the Dome is a sick rider who has lived in all the typical board bum spots in the US and Canada. He’s great friends with a bunch of pro shreds. I think we made a good friend. Look him up if you ever go, his name is Rich. Another thing about Dubai is that there is so much to do outside of the factory. The place is like Las Vegas, without the gambling. It’s just a fun place to visit. Great nightlife, amazing restaurants, super friendly people. Surprisingly it’s a pretty affordable place to hang out. I can see Product Managers bringing there families along for a combined work / vacation trip. It’s really a great city. My kids will be stoked being there for sure.
What’s your elevator pitch to brands on why they should work with SWS?
The focus of SWS is directed 100% to building high performance product. We want to work with a small number of brands and deliver on every promise we make. We want to be super exclusive for our partners. George and I cut our teeth with Option Snowboards who had their own factory in Vancouver. It was super basic and raw but we know there were incredible snowboards coming out of that factory. We then moved on to work with the most technologically advanced factory in the business, Elan, and continued to build some of the industries best product. What we see happening with SWS is a marriage of those two worlds. The presses that George has designed are so next level. All the knowledge from George’s experience combined with everything the Solico Engineers have built over the last decades is coming together and what is coming out is revolutionary for snowboard press design.
We are just stoked to get to SIA and start building this thing. We are super confident of what we will achieve with SWS. The people there, the factory employees, they are amazing and so motivated to build solid boards. It will be a pleasure to work with this attitude. If anyone is interested in learning more about SWS they can shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.