Craig Gertenbach is one of the main figures in the funboard market nowadays and his slogan is “addicted to ride”. Born in South Africa Craig sailed on the PWA Tour since 1992 in all disciplines and could place himself in the slalom discipline in the top 10. In 1995 the South African windsurfing Pro started to test boards for Fanatic. And still he tests all the prototypes all around the world. In 1999 he met Karin Haberstumpf on Maui, who already worked in the marketing of Fanatic in Germany. They both fell in love and Craig started to work as well not only on the water for Fanatic but also behind the office table in Germany. He became one important part of the Fanatic management, which was restructured in this time.
Together with his wife Karin and the shaper Sebastian Wenzel he seems to find the right balance to grow with Fanatic year by year. In 2008 Fanatic almost could take the PWA constructeurs title with its very strong windsurfing team. Craig gave us the chance to get a bit of an inside view on his work and his thoughts.
C7: When did you start to work on the brand Fanatic?
Craig: I started working for Fanatic as a Racer/tester in March 1995. Full time tester responsible for all products Fanatic/ART from 97-2000. Then marketing/product from 2000-2003 in the office. In spring 2004 I took over as brand Manager, in charge of sales, product, marketing and brand management.
C7: Did you work for other board companies before you started with Fanatic?
Craig: Yes, I started in 1987 to test for F2, learnt a lot from Klaus Walther and Werner Gnigler. Later for Neil Pryde testing on Maui. I worked with a lot of sail/board designers over the years.
C7: Where is the Fanatic headquarter located and how many people are working there?
Craig: Our operating office is in Munich. Our HQ in Molln, Austria. Here in Munich specifically for Fanatic is myself and my wife Karin, plus some support staff who work for all brands. Then our product engineer Juergen May, the guy with the most experience and years at Fanatic is working between Munich, Cobra and his home close to Frankfurt. Our graphic agency who are in Wiesbaden, Sebastian Wenzel our shaper in Portugal. Our Headquarter in Austria which handles all logistics, sales, distribution, finance, it, etc…. Quite a few people in the background support a relatively small “brand core” of myself and Karin.
C7: Which image do you want to produce with Fanatic?
Craig: For Sebastian and myself, the key has always been to focus on offering an easy to understand range with as little overlap as possible. Plus we want to inject as much performance into every shape, whether beginner board or 72L twinser. For us it has always been much more about producing the best shapes possible. Being market leader would be nice, but we´d prefer to have a smaller range with the best shapes…if we lead the market with that approach then great, if not, we are also happy and confidant that the right people appreciate out products. I think the image should be, that windsurfing never has to be boring, no matter what your level is, plus not being arrogant or fake in the marketing, that´s not our style.
C7: Do you see Fanatic growing since you and your wife Karin started to work on the project?
Craig: Well, in terms of image and high end product sales yes, we are really happy with the progress over the last 8 years, of course this is a team work not just from Karin and myself, but also our team as mentioned before, plus our riders like Klaas Voget, Victor Fernandez, Pieter Bijl etcetc…everyone is contributing to the brand and it´s success.
C7: I guess Fanatic is the most successful boardbrand in the Boards & More Pool. F2 and Mistral went on their own road. What are the secrets of Craig Gertenbach marketing the products?
Craig: I wish I was better in marketing to be honest! We just talk about the basics, like that our riders are fully involved and therefore helping us to improve the products. Plus I guess we have a more careful approach to bringing new products to the market, we always want to be 110% sure that they are really needed. I think our marketing approach is very long term oriented, since it is so product-linked, it takes a while for people to see past all the other fancy marketing that other brands do. Plus our team which has grown in strength from year to year, is showing itself to be the best long term investment we ever made.
C7: Do you find enough time for your family while working on the brand?
Craig: I try to but of course with all the traveling it is not so easy. Whenever possible we try to combine some testing trips with family holidays, since I anyway have so little time available. This usually works out quite well and to be honest, I don´t know any other way of working since 20 years, there is no clear “holiday/work” definition when you are working up to 20 weekends a year and traveling inbetween. Finding the balance is the tricky part, but I´m learning.
C7: What are the 2009 highlights in the Fanatic range?
Craig: Definitely our Twinser waveboard line, getting great feedback on that, the results of Victor with 2/3 contests won this year on the same twinser board in onshore conditions don´t hurt! Plus our Freerace line the Ray, excellent reports and feedback, with people just enjoying to go fast, easily. Lots of other highlights, like our Falcon slalom, which have been dramatically improved in terms of ease of use and handling. Plenty of new technologies in the shapes which we did not change, with our Team Editions and LTD Edition Freeride lines.
C7: Fanatic boards get shaped by a computer. Is that the future in board production?
Craig: Yes, it´s for sure the future in R&D, to make the smallest possible changes, being able to isolate features, with big effects on the water. Plus the database of older shapes is essential, especially when making new styles of boards. Like our Ray Freerace board, was super “easy” to start from scratch, since we already have all the data from our Freeride and Slalom collections, we could easily blend features from both types of boards into one shape. We are playing with mm sometimes on rail shapes and rocker lines, but the results on the water are still amazingly big sometimes. But then you also need the right test team to figure this out and give the right feedback. Right now for example I was just skyping with Klaas about our 2010 wave testing he is doing in Chile…in 2 weeks we go to the next round of testing in South Africa…non stop R&D…
C7: Where do you see Fanatic in 2010?
Craig: Again, our approach is long term. We realize the market is tough, there is going to be a recession (already there) in Europe, so we will adapt our cost structure and sales to match this. We want to remain one of the top 3 brands, but will not over-produce just to claim to be a big brand. I would rather produce/sell a little less and not be forced to close products out, this just kills the market. We are confident to continue to be a leader and hope the industry is ready to work together on a few issues to clean up the market.
C7: Will we see a comeback of a Fanatic Formula- or a raceboard in the next years?
Craig: Formula I don´t think so, the market there is too small to support 3 or 4 brands, plus I think we are seeing more and more people keeping their boards for 2 or 3 seasons. So for sure I am more than happy to let the brands who are active there have at least some chance to pay their heavy R&D and team costs, by selling a reasonable amount. Raceboard pretty much the same, although I would say there is probably more chance of that than a FW board.
C7: You are a passionate Windsurfer and a former PWA sailor. You are still involved in board testing and we often see crazy shots of yourself ripping big waves in SA or blasting on Slalom gear. What do you think, could you still keep up with the top sailors in a PWA Slalom or Wave event?
Craig: Hehe, I think in waves, no chance at all, I still enjoy myself in good waves in Cape Town, but the level is so high now, I visit plenty of world cups and watch my team ripping next to me on the water. The sport has advanced so much these last 5 years, it makes me feel a bit old sometimes, but on the other hand is very inspiring and exactly what the sport needs. Old guys like me should stay in the office and in the background, let the new generation show the way! The Slalom is a little different, as you need so much experience, I still have pretty good board speed, but for sure there also the level is a lot higher in terms of finding the perfect fins, masts etc, I´m sure I could make the odd semi-final or so, but to be consistent over 9-15 rounds is very, very hard. No, I´m quite comfy going testing, enjoying my sailing and watching the PWA live ticker from the safety of my desk!
C7: What´s your favourite location to have a ride and which board model would you prefer to take out of your boardbag?
Craig: Good question – for sure I get the most excited to go wavesailing at home in Cape Town, at a good day with my friends in Big Bay, Melkbos or Cape Point, then with the smallest possible waveboard, probably a 69L NewWave. But I have to say, since I´m so used to testing everything from beginner boards to Freestyle, wave, slalom etc, I get almost as stoked by sailing at Lake Garda on a beginner board with my kids on the nose, shouting for more speed. I think windsurfing as a sport has so many sensations to offer, we just need to make more people aware of it, but I´m confident of a long future for the sport and also Fanatic.
Thanks for the interview!