Q & A with Northwest Riders

Jul 01, 2014


Northwest Riders is a premier clothing company in, well you guessed it, the Northwest. Northwest Riders was founded by fate when their t-shirts became the local craze at wakeboarding competitions. Today, Northwest Riders has expanded into motocross, kayaking, snowboarding, surfing and even their own wake school. Northwest Riders wake lessons are towed behind the Tige Z3. No matter who is coaching your lesson, you can count on their professionalism, their ability to take your riding to a new level, and their fun and laid back attitude.

1) What sparked your interest in buying a Tige for your business?

I've been around boats since I was a kid and have been teaching lessons and clinics for the past 10 years or so. At some point a few years ago, I met Brian Benson, the sales guy at Lynnwood Motoplex, the local Tige dealership, and he asked if I'd swing by the dealership to talk about our wakeboard lessons business. As soon as I walked into the dealership, a black and white RZ4 caught my eye and Brian and I ended up sitting in it and talking for about an hour. I walked in the door thinking I was completely fine with the boat we had at the time (it wasn't a Tige), but that RZ4 was so comfortable and cool looking that by the time I left all I could think about was how awesome it would be to sit in a boat that nice every day. Before I left the dealership, Brian asked if I wanted to go out and ride behind it sometime and we set up a demo the following week. After I drove the boat for an hour, I went straight home and put the boat we had at the time up for sale the same day. Within a month or so we had a brand new RZ2 which is still my favorite looking boat of all time and so much fun to drive and ride behind. Now we're in a 2013 Z3 and I've never been happier with a boat. Not only is it great for teaching lessons to both wakeboarders and surfers, but it's the perfect boat to bring my family and friends out on when I'm not teaching. I have been really impressed, not only by the boat, but the customer service at both Tige HQ and Lynnwood Motoplex who services the boat.

2) What type of lessons do you provide?

I typically have about 75% of my lessons booked for wakeboarding and 25% for surfing. Seattle has a lot of big businesses in the area, and a huge percentage of my clients work for Microsoft, Amazon, or Boeing and since a lot of them move around a lot, they're looking for a new way to spend their free time in a city that's pretty new to them. The overwhelming majority of them are learning to get up for the first time, so I'd say I probably teach about 750 - 1,000 people to get up on a board for the first time every summer.

3) What initiated a clothing company to start a wakeboard lessons business?

That's a question I get asked a lot. Northwest Riders started as a clothing company about 10 years ago. I started out selling shirts and hats out of the trunk of my car at wakeboard contests just to pay my way there. Then, we started branching out into other sports (surfing, snowboarding, skim boarding, etc) and selling our products in more and more stores. Now we sponsor athletes in 11 different action sports and sell our products thru about 40 dealers in the NW and a handful in Japan, along with online sales.

A group of my friends and I used to run a traveling wakeboard clinic tour all over the west coast where we'd teach lessons in different cities and visiting different dealers along the way to get them to start selling our brand. Now that we've gotten a little older and started having families, traveling for months at a time isn't as realistic, so once that started to die down I still craved time on the water. Now I keep the boat about 5 minutes from the office by bike and spend all winter working on the clothing company, and all summer teaching lessons. We call the lessons portion of the business a promotional tool for the clothing company, which it is, but really it's safe to say that it's just an excuse to spend summers out on the lake. Teaching lessons has turned into my favorite part of my job and a great way to mix up my schedule so I don't get burnt out in the office.

4) What do you enjoy most about teaching behind a Tige?

That's an easy one. During peak season, I realistically spend about 12 hours per day, 7 days per week behind the wheel of our Z3. We have the Z-Cline Captains Chair, which is more comfortable than the nicest recliner you've ever sat in. If you think about sitting in a chair for 12 hours per day, that seat alone has made my job 10 times better. Besides that, the boat is extremely fun and easy to drive and as someone who sucks at figuring out electronics, the Tige Touch System is incredibly easy and functional and makes my job easy.

For the customer, having such a customizable wake, especially for wakesurfing, makes all of my customers extremely happy. The Z3 has the perfect amount of room, and rarely does a customer not comment on how nice having so much freeboard on the boat is. I'm in the boat all day every day so appreciating all of the features for me is really easy. It's awesome to see how much customers notice the Tige difference after being on the boat for just an hour.

5) How have you seen wakeboarding and watersports change over the years?

I don't think there's any diehard wakeboarders out there that haven't noticed the huge change in boats over just the last couple of years. Wakeboard wakes have gotten massive, and the boats have gotten even bigger. I went from a 21 foot boat to the 22' RZ2, and then to a 23' Z3, and each time I can't imagine every wanting a bigger boat. But now I see the ASR and I've got to admit that I really want one. The bigger the boat, the more friends you can invite onboard and the bigger the wake you're going to get. It's crazy to see how much technology is going into boats now too, not only with touch screens and sound systems, but with so much attention being put into hull designs that are focused on surfing wakes. I spend wintertime surfing out at the ocean, so having a great wave to surf on during the summer months has added so much fun to boating.

I think the biggest change in watersports has easily been the increase in popularity of wakesurfing. Lake Washington, where I teach, is a big and very crowded lake that gets extremely choppy on evenings and weekends. Being able to have the boat knock that chop out of the way while you're surfing lets us enjoy a lot more hours on the lake actually playing behind the boat rather than just going for a cruise on a rough day. It's so much more of a social activity than wakeboarding since its slower speeds and a little less noisy without the wind in your face, that surfing with a bigger group in the boat has turned into a really popular way for people to spend the day.

6) How does the Washington winter affect your business / lake time?

Anyone from the NW will tell you that you really have to love the different seasons to enjoy living here. My time on the lake is limited to roughly June 1st thru September 15th, so it's a fairly short season. I used to ride year-round and can remember wakeboarding in the snow a few times with temperatures in the 20's. I guess as I've gotten older, I've turned into a bit of a wimp, so I'm not as diehard as I used to be. However, I did get super into surfing about 7 or 8 years ago, and the best waves here in the NW come in the winter time.

Our clothing brand is a year-round business, with both the summer and especially the holiday season being our busiest time of the year for that. Basically I spend Summer on the lake, Fall recovering from Summer and getting clothing orders shipped for Winter, Winter getting out of town and going someplace warm for as long as I can (I've driven and surfed the entire Baja peninsula 3 times and am going back this winter), and Spring prepping for Summer. Just when I'm getting bored of one thing, it's time to move on to the next thing, so it's a great way of not burning out on any part of the business. I love it.

7) You guys cover a lot of ground when it comes to sports. What inspired you to take on so many areas of business?

I think a lot of that also comes down to the very distinct seasons that you see here in the Northwest. There's so much crossover between sports around here since there's not many things you can do year-round based on weather. Pretty much everyone that wakeboards spends their winters snowboarding or riding snowmobiles (or both). A lot of people that kiteboard spend the less windy times of the year riding mountain bikes or doing something else. As our clothing company has grown, we've been approached by a lot of riders that want to see us get involved in what they do, so getting involved in more and more sports has become kind of a natural progression. I got my start in wakeboarding and since then have gotten really passionate about surfing, but it's been really cool to be able to contribute to the growth of events in tons of other sports. Mountain Bike races are now one of my favorite events to go to and I love the people in that community. Flatland Skimboarding got its start here in the NW and we've been working with the company that really pioneered it, DB Skimboards, for a long time and they've turned into great friends of ours. Snowboarding is huge around here and there are so many mountains and so much terrain it's insane. We even got approached by Rob Primo, a really cool Formula Drift driver (watch him here), and have gotten the chance to get out on the track to go drifting with him which was unbelievable. It's cool to be able to get more than just diehard wakeboarders out on the Tige, as a lot of our business comes from people that are really into other sports but want to try wakeboarding or wakesurfing for the first time.

When it really comes down to it, our business is built on our interests and passions, which are always changing and evolving, so naturally that's what our business has done too. It's fun to get into something new and figure out a way to grow the business in that direction. Recently we started a business on a different part of Lake Washington (separate from Northwest Riders) where we rent boats, PWC's, SUP's, and Kayaks. Our Tige will be down there on the weekends, although it's the only boat that we send a driver out with as I'm too paranoid to let a stranger drive my baby!

8) Will you use your Z3 for dinner or a cocktail cruise?

After a long day of teaching lessons, I'm generally ready to take a break from towing riders, but I'm never ready to be done in the boat. I love taking clients out for dinner or cocktail cruises around the lake. Lake Washington is pretty big and there are a ton of cool bays with insane houses on the water, like Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Steve Balmer. There's even a house with 3 story glass windows that if you look closely enough there's a real full-size skeleton of a T-rex hanging above the living room furniture. It's fun to see people's reactions to seeing their city from the water; it's definitely a different perspective.

In my free time during the summer, when I have it, my wife and I love nothing more than to take the boat out with some friends and our dog and either just anchor to have dinner and drinks, or take a cruise around the lake after an afternoon of wakesurfing. It never gets old!

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