December 02, 2015
The Steamboat Incub(o)ater
Peter Hall arrived in Steamboat in 2006 when "ski instructor" emerged as a talent discerned in a vocational test. Mountain town living meant partaking of the assorted activities of the area funded by "work" as a ski instructor and Spanish teacher in the Steamboat Mountain School.
Five years later, the very snow he'd ski on in the winter became the basis for a business that, since opening in 2011, has doubled annually. How? By a singular focus on the company mantra: "Design. Adventure. Better."
"I'd ruined some surf boards in the whitewater of the Yampa and discovered there were no high end river paddle boards or paddles," he said, so Hall launched Hala Sports, a specialized component of the fast-growing river boarding segment of paddleboards. "Our niche is the inflatable board in the white water space," said the 32-year old. "River boarding is relatively known in Colorado, but it's just beginning everywhere else."
Hall tested his friends on boards, most of whom were all too eager to take their shot at the Yampa, one of Colorado's epic rivers. "The early prototype was huge for stability and durability, and while we've cut down on the size, we will still do big boards. Reducing the weight is not idea - a lighter bike is more expensive bike, but a lighter paddleboard for the river is cheaper," he noted.
Refining design and materials at home soon led to the life of a riverboard roadie to ply his wares at river festivals throughout the west. Orders flowed in (pun intended) and Hala took off.
"Steamboat was very conducive to my deciding to pursue Hala. I could see SmartWool, Point6, Moots, Honey Stinger, Big Agnes, Kent Erickson, and high end ski manufacturers and ski pole companies," said Hall. "Steamboat is great for inspiration with lots of enthusiasts for brainstorming and product testing and I could see what others achieved here. Peter Duke's guidance ... in particular was great."
Hala has expanded its line of river paddleboards from two to 11, has improved on a rocker shape (akin to today's high performance alpine skis) for better responsiveness, patented a specially designed "butter knife" paddle and has four more patents pending (watch for what Hall calls "inflatable carbon technology"). "I'm looking for stronger material that is less rigid," he said. An investment in a 3-D printer has aided product development. Among the more interesting innovations is a retractable fin that's spring loaded so it retracts if it hits a rock.
...The focus remains on product development. He manufactures in several places in Asia and the U.S. and enjoys sales throughout the U.S. and a dozen countries. Hall sees the big ocean-based paddleboard companies eyeing his niche. "Our biggest challenge is the bigger companies with better buying power, so we continually improve our quality. Moots sells an $8000 dollar mountain bike, and their success shows there's a market for quality." Hall backs up that quality with a three year warranty unmatched in the industry, and the company has a promotional video to show how resilient the boards are.
Hall says some of the bigger water sports companies are "adopting" some of his innovations, and he realized the possibility of a bigger player removing Hala from the competitive arena with a buy-out.
Hall's partner is his wife Anna, and together they've launched their latest growth prospect, their 8-month old daughter Stella. Work days are still long, but now he can pop on home for a quick cuddle during the day. Ah, the joys of small town living.
Article written by Jim Felton for Mountain Town Magazine.