Joe Surf: It's been a sweet ride on the Hamboard

Surely you've seen those blond kids riding them down along the strand in Huntington. Kind of like a surfboard, but not a surfboard. Kind of like a skateboard, but not a skateboard.

Maybe "skurfboard" would have been appropriate, but not as far as Pete Hamborg was concerned. This oversized skateboard in the shape of a surfboard was as much about family as anything, so the appropriate name was easy.

Hamboard.

Hamboards are all about the Hamborgs and Huntington. Skateboarding has been around awhile, but the Hamboard takes street surfing to a new level.

There's the "Classic," which is 6 feet, 6 inches long, and the "Fish," which is 4 feet, 5 inches long. And there is the "Pescadito," which more closely resembles the size of a skateboard, only wider.

You ride on land, but you feel like you're in the water.

The Classic "feels amazingly like riding a longboard," Hamborg said. "It has a flow and a carve to it." The Fish "feels like a retro Fish out in the water. It has that great rail to rail, tail-blowing feel to it."

Hamborg has his shop in Huntington, and he sells the Hamboards all over the world from his website — hamboards.com — or in retail stores like Huntington Surf and Sport. But only this year, Hamborg says, has the business started to make a legitimate profit, after first coming up with the idea back in 2000.

It's been anything but the smooth ride from the business side of things. Then again, it wasn't his intention to make it a money-making venture, at least not initially.

"We came up with the idea as a family," said Hamborg, who along with wife Kathy are raising five sons: Gus, 23, Anders, 21, Chapman 19, Jachin, 17, and Moses, 15. "It was when the kids were real small. I got sick of pushing the stroller to the park and so I wanted to make, initially, a really big skateboard that I could plop my kids down on and ride 'em to the park.

"Eventually, it turned into a thing where I could teach these guys the beginning basics of surfing with it."

That's when Hamborg, a fireman with the Orange County Fire Department, started trying to figure out ways to improve his invention.

"As we were playing with it, we ran across a new type of skateboard truck that was just coming out on the market called 'torsion' trucks," he said. "It turned so much, the regular, typical, skateboard-park type of mainstream skateboarders didn't like it. But suddenly we realized, wow, we can get this great big board to turn, and not only that, it feels amazingly like surfing. So it was an interesting process to produce."

Nowadays, the torsion trucks, the high-end wheels made by another Huntington Beach company, Abec 11, and the high-quality bamboo boards make the Hamboard a premium product. But back then, production meant just making seven Hamboards: one each for Pete, Kathy and the five boys.

"Then it ended up that the neighbor wanted one, and his brother wanted one, and then the guy down the street wanted one, and before long, we had the beginnings of a business," Hamborg said. "We realized we needed to start looking at it from a different standpoint."

So at this point, you might assume the Hamborgs just opened their business and sold the boards like hot cakes, moved to Newport Coast and lived happily ever after.

Not exactly.

"There was a lot of hemming and hawing and delaying and reticence that went on until we finally did it in 2006," Hamborg said. "I knew that if we really did engage it, it would have a really big impact on our life. And I also knew it would require levels of financial commitment I had to make sure we were ready for. I had no misconceptions that the road to starting up a small business is easy, no matter how good the product is."

But beyond the business aspect of such an endeavor, Hamborg wrestled with the idea of letting others in on his secret.

"It was a special family thing that a dad and a mom and their kids got to do together," Hamborg said. "And it was ours. It had a unique, family 'specialness' to it, and we had to make the decision: Are we going to share this with the rest of the world?"

Ultimately, the answer was yes, and part of the reason was that Hamborg knew as his boys got older, they would learn the business and learn the responsibilities that come along with running a business.

Slowly but surely, the boys are taking over the business, and Hamborg has maintained his job as a fireman, now at the Costa Mesa station at John Wayne Airport working in the crash unit handling emergencies on the runway and medical emergencies in the terminal.

Hamboards are selling much better now, struggling through and surviving the economic downturn that hit soon after the Hamborgs committed to starting the business in 2006.

"(A bad economy) has a tendency to let the air out of a $500-plus skateboard market," Hamborg joked. "We were fortunate it was at the point when we were going to move the business out of the garage, and luckily we held back. We had seen some really solid sales numbers and saw the market expand to the east coast and Europe and all of a sudden it was, 'Woah, wait a minute.' Shops weren't answering their phone, so we just stayed in the garage and hunkered down."

They went through a period of selling maybe two or three boards a month to where they are now, selling two or three a day — at a cost ranging from $275 to $699. Just a couple weeks ago they sold a Hamboard to actor Matthew McConaughey.

"People are getting the idea they can get the feel and vibe of surfing whether they're in Fort Worth or Brussels," Hamborg said. "We're sending out a little bit of Huntington Beach to all those places."

JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at joe@juvecreative.com.

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