Can this Vancouver company reinvent watersports?

Swmbrd hit the market just in time for summer.

Swmbrd hit the market just in time for summer 

Brothers Matt, Justin and Gareth Schroenn grew up in the surfing town of Durban, South Africa and were a little disappointed when they came to Vancouver and found a lack of waves.  

“We started paddleboarding and kayaking, and we love those things,” says Matt Schroenn. “But for us, we always wanted to actually, physically be in the water.” Schroenn and his brothers lived in tiny West End apartments and didn’t have space for larger boards. So, about eight years ago, they started tinkering with the idea of designing something small and light that you can swim on.  

“We headed off to Home Depot, turned our apartments into workshops and started carving,” Schroenn recalls with a laugh. “We had no experience, we were making fibreglass moulds in our baking bowls.” 

The three brothers—a bar manager, a chef and a landscaper—tried over a dozen prototypes before landing on one they thought would work, so they wrote and paid for 49 provisional patents that cover the product over a large portion of the world.  

Next up was an appearance on Dragons Den. The product—which has since rebranded from Zambezi Board to Swmbrd—won a $200,000 investment for 20 percent of the company from Michael Wekerle.  

“Reality is different than TV,” says Schroenn. “We go backstage and they want to do an audit on us. An audit? We have no financials—we have receipts from Home Depot in a shoebox in the corner of a bedroom.” Eventually, the trio received some angel investment from a slew of junior mining executives and became listed on the CSE a year ago.  

The boards, made in France, are 3’2 and 8.7 lbs and have been used by lifeguards to monitor Ironman competitions in Athens.  

“Most watersports are surf-centric, even paddleboarding is,” says Schroenn. “But most of the major market is actually in flatwater. Most people don’t surf—the equipment is big and heavy and it doesn’t appeal to the larger demographic, including kids.” 

The main component of Swmbrd, says Schroenn, is actually just swimming: “It’s a full-body workout. The board isn’t flat, your core and legs are constantly engaged. But unlike with swimming, you go into the water and you can actually talk to your buddy or look at the beautiful scenery.” 

The boards just became available to the public and are selling for $575 a pop. Asked how much he has on the line with this, Schroenn doesn’t hesitate. “Just my whole life. But we invented it for us, and I think there’s millions and millions of people just like me.”