By Keith Holland
Fifteen years ago on Maui, if you needed a repair on a surfboard, or sailboard, there were few options: you could do it yourself if you had the where with all, have a friend do it, or see if you could get someone who was a real glasser to do the repair.
The last option was probably the best for a repair that you wanted to look good and to last, but you had to either personally know the glasser, or you had to know someone who knew the glasser.
Beyond that, you had to provide said glasser with beer, weed, money or all of the above. It would still take days, weeks, or months to get your stick back, depending on a lot of variables (what kind of beer you provided, how good the weed was, was there surf, and how much cash you were going to shell out).
From Ding King to Design Guru
That all changed when Dutchman Mark Raaphorst opened Ding King’s in 1994. But not right away mind you. It took some time to get the word out.
Just because Mark managed to score a six month lease on a 10,000 square foot building that was part Dr. Frankenstein’s Laboratory, part burned out Bronx apartment building, and part Smithsonian Institute, didn’t mean people would find him. At first, all of Mark’s yard-sale quality tools sat idle.
But Mark offered something that the other resin-sniffing, beer-drinking, weed-smoking repair guys didn’t – a timetable. An honest to God ‘if you have it in by such and such a time, it will be done by such and such and time’ form.
Upon dropping off your board at Ding King’s, a doc was filled out, complete with a fixed price based on the repair, and a ‘done’ date. You got a copy, and Mark got a copy. If you came back on the ‘done’ date, amazingly enough, your board was ready.
No other kickbacks or sweeteners for the prompt service was required… those were optional and appreciated, but not required. Mark’s reputation for quality work done on time became the benchmark for reparation on watercraft of all sorts on Maui.
To understand why this is so, you need to go back in time to when Mark dropped out of school at the tender age of 14 and picked up a sanding block. It was in Scheveningen (try and pronounce that!), Holland, where he landed a gig as the glasser and sander for custom-made Brunotti Boards sailboards.
Mark learned the fine art of sanding by, as he calls it, “hacking away… I was horrible and could sand through four layers of glass with 220 grit paper.” But he’d sand all day, happily, and didn’t get fired. Time and desire were his teachers. Eventually, his skills improved.
Mark started to dream of living in Hawaii, and he wrote Craig Maisonville, another “here today gone to Maui” transplant to the islands. Maisonville was from Minnesota but quickly exhibited the squarest bottom turns yet seen among the windsufers at Hookipa; right up there with legends Malte Simmer, Mike Waltze and Robby Naish.
Craig was the original owner of Hi-Tech Sailboards on Maui. One day, the phone rings, it’s this 20ish-year-old guy with a Dutch accent asking for a job. Masonville was interested but told Mark he would actually have to come to Maui before getting hired.
Cabrinha’s tip leads to Angulo connection
In 1985, when the World Cup of Windsurfing came to Holland, Raaphorst had met Pete Cabrinha on the beach and asked him about Maui. Pete went on and on about how awesome it was and said, “You just got to go.” So Mark went and found the masters.
He first went to work for master shapers and innovators Jimmy Lewis and Mike Tinkler. Then he moved on to Genesis Glass works, where Roy Patterson and Johnny ‘V’ were finishing boards for Ed Angulo under the Angulo label. Mark’s dream was really to become a shaper, not a sander and finisher.
What Raaphorst really wanted to do was to take a board from foam block to fruition. So, he would go and watch Ed Angulo, Jimmy Lewis, Johnny ‘V’ and Southern California windsurf transplant Jay Laswell shape. Mark was also watching, and doing finish shapes for Richard Greene, another master technician in his own right.
Under Angulo, Mark transitioned from finish shaper to shaper. At first Ed could only stomach the budding shaper putting small Angulo logos on Mark’s personal boards… and only then if they were in low profile places. Soon enough the logos were ok’d to be placed bigger and bigger until Mark got Ed’s nod to glass down a full Angulo logo! Johnny and Mark were now the mainstay shapers, freeing Ed up to focus on the Angulo team riders and prototypes.
By 1993 Mark had some ‘rock fever,’ his shaper’s trigger finger was getting itchy for a change. Wanting to make sure the grass wasn’t greener somewhere else, he split from Maui on an around-the-world jaunt, checking out the Pacific Northwest, Scotland, Indonesia, Oz, New Zealand and other far away locales. Mark compared everywhere he went to Maui, though, and nothing seemed to be better. So back he came.
Trouble is, when Mark returned he couldn’t just grind his way into a shaping room and get work… so he took a job hanging drywall. Looking back, Mark says, “I hated it; I was just not cut out for it, but I didn’t know what else to do.” Fortunately, one fateful evening a friend suggested Mark open a ding repair. Mark took the advice, opening Ding King’s in 1994.
Ding King’s started to do some business after flyers on car windshields spread news of the new endeavor, and pretty soon word of mouth had Mark as the go to guy for repair.
Ding King’s was on a roll and business for Mark was very good. His shop was now THE place to go for repairs of all kinds, and he had a lock on most of the repair business from the booming Maui windsurf shop rental scene – blown out fin boxes, wind-slammed booms crunching rails and decks – those boards needed repairs all the time.
But Mark wasn’t satisfied. He was interested in mold making, wanting to know how to make things hollow and reduce their core weight. So he went to the mainland to learn how to mold parts for both the marine and aviation industries. These were high-tech, precision-driven industries from which Mark learned a tremendous amount. This was his start down the path to mold making.
Once Mark returned to Maui, word got out that he now knew mold making, and it seemed like every week someone came in to Ding King’s asking if Mark could make a mold for this or that. But Mark usually turned down the work because it was cost prohibitive, or because he wasn’t that into making ‘out of the industry’ stuff.
In walks Kapena Whitford
Kapena had the mold for, and was producing, OC-1s (one man outrigger canoes). He heard about what Mark was up to and wanted Mark to get involved with building the boats. Raaphorst felt like this was something he could relate to and enthusiastically agreed to team up with Kapena. It was at this point that Mark first put a paddle in his hand and quickly realized “I was horrible at paddling, particularly the OC-1s.”
From the recommendation of his future wife, Donna Badome, a paddler herself, Mark joined a six-man outrigger club where he learned how to hold a paddle and stroke efficiently. He took to paddling fiercely and, even though he didn’t have the time required to devote himself to the team full-time, became a promoter of the sport, telling anyone who would listen about the many benefits of six-man, four-man and one-man paddling.
After six months of working with Kapena building OC-1s, and deeply rooting himself within the realm of outrigger paddling, Mark bought the mold from Kapena, modified it, and to this day still produces some the finest locally built OC-1 and OC-4 boats you can find.
From outriggers to sup design
So how does this all fit in with sup? Well, Mark had seen some people doing standup on Maui around 2004. Mark comments on what he saw: “I thought it was the stupidest thing I’d ever seen. It just didn’t look cool, at all.”
But a close friend from his six-man team, Junya McGurn, told Mark to try it instead of judging it. So Mark borrowed Junya’s stuff and gave it a shot. The next day, Mark broke out the wall in his shaping room to accommodate larger blanks… Can you say ‘hooked’?
Mark immediately made a 12″8′ Clark foam glass wave board, which he describes as “dangerously heavy” and as his motivation for switching to styro and epoxy. At first Mark focused on standup wave boards, then on making standup wave boards with better glide ratios. He moved on to designing a more downwind-oriented standup wave board and incorporated many of the engineering ideas typical of sailboards and surfboards.
But, to Mark, the boards still didn’t really work. He played with rocker and tail width, length and volume, but it wasn’t until he thought about the OC-1’s ability to glide that the light went off in his head. Mark remembers the day, noting, “It wasn’t rocket science. Once I added it all up – catching a bump and riding it right or left, gliding, waterline, the ability to steer – it all kind of made sense to me.”
And that was basically the birth of the high-performance downwind standup board, complete with a user-friendly, out of the way, single rudder steering system.
In 2004, Mark’s first sup model was the 12’ KuNalu (in Hawaiian this translates to: Ku, meaning upright position, and Nalu, meaning wave). The KuNalu was an all-around board for both fun in the surf and speed heading downwind. Mark points out that the KaNalu sup was the first board to show up on the ‘modern’ scene with a handle, a mast track (so it could double as a windsurf board) and an integrated EVA deck pad.
The positive feedback on these innovations turned Mark’s ideas into standard items on most sup boards found on the market today. One innovation that really stands out is Mark’s Active Steering System (A.S.S. for short), which has been his intellectual property for the past four years.
The A.S.S. allows you to paddle on both sides despite a sidewind that would otherwise require you to paddle on the downwind side forever; the innovation has proven to be an unparalleled contribution to the industry. As a crucial component to maximizing both the performance and user-friendliness of standup boards, Mark says no other manufacturer has been able to match his A.S.S.
But it didn’t take long for Mark to decide it was time to remove the core weight of custom boards by making a mold. After countless prototypes, feedback from a number of Maui’s most respected watermen, and working closely with the Sandwich Island Composite (S.I.C.) production manager, Andre LeCouer, Mark started popping out some S.I.C. boards.
Soon, S.I.C. boards were winning every race they entered. Soon enough the guys finishing third and fourth took notice of the boards they were following. And in the most recent premier open ocean race in the world, the Molokai to Oahu crossing, Mark estimated that an unprecedented 70% of the competitors were on Sandwich Island Composite boards. Seventy percent!
Mark can’t help talking about the dichotomy of what he’s trying to accomplish now. How he sees length as both a friend and an enemy as it creates glide at low speeds while also creating resistance and drag when planing at higher speeds.
Next steps for
Raaphorst and S.I.C.?
Sandwich Island Composites has new ideas to help maximize the forward torque from paddling while at the same time minimizing the lateral torque inherent from the same stroke.
A design concept that minimizes ‘yaw,’ the twisting and swaying of a board due to paddling. Capturing what is currently wasted side-to-side energy might provide the winning edge, so Mark is also focusing on, and continuing to design and develop, more user-friendly, low profile, dependable steering mechanisms that enable you to direct your craft easily and accurately.
On the S.I.C. production side of things, the challenge is to switch from a wet lay-up to high-temp, prepreg-carbon autoclave construction. This construction system would achieve the highest possible fiber to resin content. The goal is to deliver the ultimate lightweight board, with no sacrifice in strength.
Now, Mark’s plans for Sandwich Island Composites include bringing all that open ocean technology to the other aspects of sup. He compares what he has accomplished in design and development to anti-lock brakes. Mark says, “Anti-lock brake technology came out of Formula One racing. At the time, no one knew if there would be any application for that technology in ‘regular’ cars. But today, thanks to Formula One, even my piece of crap pickup has anti lock brakes!”