Kitesurfing Magazine catches up with WMFG founder, and Mystic North America distributor Matt Aiken.
Kitesurfing Magazine: You have been in the action sports and water sports industries since the late ’90s, and kiteboarding since the beginning. Are you surprised by the amount of innovation still going on?
Matt Aiken: I think you have to be pretty stoked with what’s going on in gear right now, the new possibilities that foiling has brought to the sport are truly incredible. And at the same time kites have taken a big step forward with really good specialized kites, like awesome wave kites, foil kites, big air-oriented kites, single-strut kites, etc, etc. It’s really an exciting time in kitesurfing.
What motivated you to start WMFG?
I wanted good deck pads for myself. It’s really that simple. I started looking for good pad material, found a supplier in the Far East, saw an opportunity to fill a real void in the market, and next thing you know I had a pad and pump brand.
How did Mystic and WMFG get together?
When WMFG was first starting I knew it wasn’t big enough to live off, so I wanted to find something else that would be a good fit with my WMFG work. A friend told me Mystic had ended their relationship with their distributor and was looking for someone new to run their business here, so I had some conversations with them. We worked out a deal where I run Mystic sales for North America and they run WMFG in Europe and internationally. It’s really great and I feel very fortunate to be working with them.
You’re well known for matching your board shorts with your kites. Now that you are running Mystic North America and doing WMFG do your personal pads and harness match as well?
Well of course WMFG pads look so good you can find a perfect match for what ever gear you’re using.
The hardshell Majestic X, despite being one of the highest priced harnesses on the market is a best seller. Why do you think the Majestic X has been so successful?
I’d have to start by saying there are a lot of faux hardshells being introduced onto the market. Pretty much every harness brand is rushing to get one out, but as far as I can tell there are only two real, legit hardshell-producing harness brands on the market. Mystic spent a ton of money developing their hardshell production process and came out with an absolutely awesome product that offers true hardshell feel and performance but is combined with Mystic’s high quality fit and finish. It also has Mystic’s new Clickerbar entry system. We’re killing it with this harness because the in store fit and comfort is really high and it works awesome on the water. The price issue is interesting; I think for a lot of years harness design was viewed as somewhat stagnant. Harnesses were viewed as somewhat interchangeable, costing around $200, and there wasn’t always a compelling reason to buy a new one. Ride Engine should be given credit for completely turning the market upside down and bringing to market a truly revolutionary product and establishing the market for the $400 plus harness. I think people have realized the harness is the one piece of gear they use every time they ride and can have a huge impact on their kitesurfing. We’re struggling to keep up demand with the Majestic X and have some dealers reporting that even at $429 it’s their best-selling Mystic harness.
With 27 harnesses in the lineup, what percentage of your sales are hardshell versus soft?
I had limited supply for 2017 so it’s not a huge number, but for 2018 we are offering a lower price point hardshell and two absolutely awesome women’s models. I would expect a minimum of 50 per cent of Mystic harness sales will be hardshells for 2018 and would expect that number to increase from there.
Is there still a consumer that a soft shell is ideally suited to?
Absolutely. The obvious reason is price. The Mystic hardshell is made in Europe in a facility that makes composite parts for the aerospace industry. It’s a really expensive process and the harness is never going to be cheap. We make some really good soft harnesses that hit a price level we can’t come close to with our hardshells. Having said that, our high end non-hardshell harnesses like the Legend and Warrior are still extremely popular and are still selling well and they are certainly not budget priced. One nuance to true hardshell harnesses is they do have to fit right. The harness is inherently hard so if the harness is sized too big, you can’t just tighten it down until it kind of works. The fit is a bit more technical, and as this style of harness is still new, there’s going to be lots of riders happy to stay with what they’re used to.
You have always been a big proponent of wind-specific wetsuits. What differentiates Mystic’s kite wetsuits from the typical suits found at surf shops?
Good kite-specific suits have Velcro straps to stop water from firing up your leg, and drains in the ankles to let any water that comes down the neck drain out. So no water-filled kankles, and that’s a real game-changer. There’s other things, like where seams are placed, strategically placed one sided (smooth skin) neoprene, etc. But the ankle feature is a big deal.
You quickly figured out a lot of details about deck pads that many brands didn’t seem to dial in on. Can you tell us about a few of them?
It’s not that complicated once you look at it, but I tested a lot of combinations of pad thickness and groove thickness to come up with the final specs for WMFG pads. It’s remarkable what a minor change to the pad pattern, thickness, or foam composition can make to the feel and performance of the pad. I think a lot of brands tend to just stick whatever pad they can buy cheap on their boards. It’s a real shame because the performance of the deck pad can truly make or break a board. It’s crazy how many production boards make it to market with their traction’s pattern literally 90 or 180 degrees wrong. One good trend I see is production boards shipping their boards naked and letting the customer fine tune what they want on their board.
You have always been heavily involved in the trade association. You initiated the AWSI rider, brand and shop of the year awards. What long term things do you think the industry could be doing better?
At a really simple level it’s really important that the brands and shops figure out the most effective way to see and buy new products. Right now there’s a lot of brands doing their own dealer product intro meetings. While I certainly know how effective it is to have buyers try the gear, the industry is really expecting an unsustainable amount of travel time by the shops. It’s fine if one or two brands are doing this, but if all the brands expect shops to take time out of their shops in high season and travel, the shops can’t do it all, and this isn’t going to work. Right now some brands are doing just dealer intros, some do the trade shows, and some do a bit of both. We need to find a solution that marries elements of both and gets as many brands and retailers together in one spot at the same time. This saves time and money and I think we all benefit.
What most excites you in the Mystic line for 2018?
For sure it’s our expanded hardshell collection with more colors and better availability of the Majestic X, the new, lower-priced Majestic hardshell, and the new insanely good looking women’s Gem hardshell harnesses in the Bruna and Jalou pro models.
What new projects does WMFG have in the works?
Board bags and fins soon, other fine products to follow.