A former windsurf teacher, Martin Jandke moved to Thailand from Germany when he was fresh out of university. Fast forward 21 years, he now lives in Khaolak where he has founded a beautiful family, a successful board factory, a popular surf shop, and a watersport board brand SUNOVA which has gained world status as one of the fastest SUP race brands on the market, a fact highlighted with the imperial performances of Noïc Garioud and Elena Prokhorova in September at the ICF SUP World Championships in Hungary. Today with Martin’s help we are trying to grasp what constitutes the DNA of the brand SUNOVA.
Hi Martin Jandke, what’s the Sunova story? Who are the people behind the brand?
SUNOVA surfboards was created by Bert Burger, Shaper of the Year 2007 and 1 of the 2 founders of FireWire Surfboards. Bert’s is a surfer and an inventor and his goal was and is never to accept anything just because its always like this. Back in the days already being a big guy weighing 100kg and an awesome surfing competitor, he would be lucky if he got more than 3 months out of a standard PU (ed. polyurethane) board. So he said that’s not it, there must be a better way. There was: it was a balsa sandwich, parabolic rail EPS/epoxy surfboard. Very similar to the way we now make our surfboards, and similar to what FireWire was based on. Those boards would weigh less and last 10-20 times as long. And the rest I guess is another story.
After Bert resigned from FireWire for which he had spent time in Thailand where he set up their factory, he decided to continue his own brand SUNOVA again, rather than FireWire and he loved Thailand so that was it. Within the next two years, he met Klaus Christian Mueller and myself, who both worked at Cobra International for the last 5-8 years and we decided to start The Board Factory Co., Ltd. together.
Before The Board Factory, Klaus was one of the LEAN Manufacturing experts in Cobra who introduced the Toyota Production System into the Surfboard factory.
I was the Business Unit Leader of the X-Sports Division in Cobra, responsible for approximately 145 boards a day and around 300 employees. I was actively involved in the invention of the technology and boards that lead to the NSP brand which was developed right there and then, to become one of the biggest surfing brands ever.
Cobra is probably the largest surfboards manufacturer on earth and both Klaus and I wanted something smaller and dreamt of creating our own brand. That’s when meeting Bert felt like perfection, almost destiny, as he was looking for a factory and efficiency, and we were able to cut corners on the brand and share a great history.
One of the most important decisions we took together was to re-locate the factory from the Bangkok area to quiet Khaolak where there are amazing waves and perfect surfing opportunities, right behind the factory.
The ICF SUP WORLDS were probably the highlights of the year for SUNOVA on the racing scene? What did you make of the results?
Actually, due to Covid, the race season was very reduced. Many of our SUP racers were not able to travel freely. We were hoping for instance that Noïc Garioud would replicate his massive Eurotour domination like in 2020, but the ICF was our goal. On top of that we worked hard with the Russian team who help a lot on the advanced shape and showed it over there. Elena Prokhorova killed with 2 medals and world title, and so did Noic with 3 medals, 2 gold and 1 silver, Susanne Lier with 3 gold in the 40+ women’s division and Martin Teichmann with 2 bronze medals in the 40+ Men’s division.
The Sunova Faast won gold in both Men’s and the Women’s in Hungary what can you say about this particular board?
The Flatwater Faast has always been one of the fastest boards in flat water. However, our team riders said that it’s still super stable. That meant we played around some more and when a race board is too stable it can be narrower and that means it will be faster. Which is what we did. So half of the results were achieved by being stable and the rest were using the new narrower version. These 2 were both so good, that we kept them both in the 2022 range and called the normal one the Flatwater Faast Pro and the new one the Flatwater Faast Elite.
It’d be very wrong to portrait SUNOVA as a SUP race-only brand though. What other sports and disciplines are you involved in and what are the growing trends and new challenges? What are your absolute best-sellers?
Obviously SUNOVA’s main heritage is surfboards. But sometimes the world isn’t ready for a particular product or technology, or the other way around. It’s sad when the rest of the boards sports can’t get it… The surfboards have quite a different look and feel to conventional disposable boards. They last much longer and usually perform better. SUNOVA and The Board Factory consider themselves as a technology-focused company. And since we have always had great feedback and an amazing customer base there, we wanted to build our business around these technologies and move and reach out to all the board sports in the world.
Starting with SUP, and especially with the high-end performance surfing side of it, we moved to all other sports. And the tech seemed perfect for all of them. Kiteboards, windsurfboards and lastly Foil boards. Later we also used the leftover wood veneer material from the SUP boards for skateboards and they have been a hit ever since.
Raceboards was another one of the boards that was super special for us, because we considered it as a big challenge to take on. We did not just want to make and sell boards. Our goal was to create the best boards on the market, which can win any race and with which riders wanted to compete with. With Kelly Margetts and Marcus Tardrew as team leaders and designers, we did just that.
The last results in Hungary showed exactly what we have consistently shown throughout the 5 years since we made the first SUNOVA SUP race board. We have some of the fastest boards on the market.
SUP superstar James Casey is a very early foil convert to the point that he was able to develop his own brand under the SUNOVA umbrella. Can you describe this collaboration to us?
Yes, this is something we love doing. We think that there are a lot of amazing guys and riders out there who, after years of racing and active competition, will have to find regular jobs and cry. So we developed this idea where we partner with a rider and use his image together with our technology and our brand, and together create a mini new brand that for SUNOVA is like a sideboard range and for a rider like Jimmy, is a jumping pod to his own new brand with a possible future in this industry.
We did the same with Sean Poynter and there a lot more coming.
Can you describe your headquarter installations? How does being based in Thailand impact your business?
Thailand is really firstly our home. Not just the place we live in, the country where we definitely all want to live in. While being German or Australian means we grew up on the other side of the world, we gladly traded our lives, places and cultures for this life and Thailand and we wouldn’t trade it against anything else. The Thai culture and people, in particular, are so amazing it’s not difficult to understand that.
Where can one buy a Sunova board? What’s your world coverage like? Do you also sell online?
We have done great the last 10 years to spread the SUNOVA craze and our amazing philosophy about performances, technology, quality and service. We have never actively done a lot of marketing, because since the beginning we always sold more boards than what we can produce. This is still like that and we want to keep it that way. Our goal is NOT to sell the most boards. In fact, most of our customers gladly wait some time to get what they dreamed for. Most of them know as much as we do of their next product and almost everyone does not just walk in a shop and gets sold a board. They want a SUNOVA.
Our biggest markets are Australia, North America, Germany, Spain, France, Switzerland and Thailand. However, if you counted all Europe as one country that would now be our largest market.
The great news is that new customers are constantly hearing about us and we still have a little capacity left in our factory.
TotalSUP: Thank you Martin Jandke. All the best to Sunova in 2022 and see you hopefully in Khaolak, Thailand soon!
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