Portable watercraft inventor hopes to ride youth wave

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Rick Barrett/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sunday, October 13, 2013

WHITEWATER--A former executive from the computer technology field has developed a personal watercraft small enough to fit in a car but powerful enough to satisfy the cravings of adrenaline junkies.

Named the Bomboard Urban Jet Ski, it comes in four snap-together pods that weigh a combined 140 pounds.

The Bomboard is powered by a four-stroke engine capable of pushing the water sled to speeds of up to 40 mph, according to inventor and company president John West.

West is trying to raise money to launch Bomboard production from a prototype he's developed at the company's office in Whitewater. The machines would be sold through a direct marketing business with online sales aimed at young adults.

West estimates it will take $1.5 million to launch the product and up to $5 million for other expenses including working capital for growth.

The company will bypass traditional power sports dealerships by using the Internet and social media for sales and marketing, salespeople paid by commission and local repair depots, according to West.

It's a business model tailored to the Internet-based buying habits of men and women ages 18 to 34 who live in urban areas, know what they want and don't care much whether the product comes from a local dealership.

"YouTube is where this will become famous. The first video showing a kid bomboarding the sewers of New York will go viral," West said.

At $3,495, the price is aimed at young adults, according to West, who says the company is aiming for sales of 30,000 units a year when it reaches the third full year of business.

"We will start slowly to make sure everything works right, and then we will ramp things up," he said. Production will be in Whitewater and sales will start seven months after the initial $1.5 million in funding, he said.
Restless in retirement

West, a Chicago native and graduate of what's now Carroll University, spent decades in the machine-tool technology field and says he raised $26 million in venture capital for a company he founded. That company, Cimlinc Inc., had $35 million in sales and 280 employees two years after it was started.

A Bomboard company partner, Anders Stubkjaer, was the chief financial officer of S&S Cycle, a motorcycle engine manufacturer in Viola. Other management team members include a former chief engineer for Harley-Davidson Inc. and a former Cisco Systems Inc. executive who managed a $650 million sales territory.

West says he has worked with engineering firms and other companies to create multiple Bomboard prototypes. He was semi-retired but became restless and wanted to create something fun.

"I have always been into anything with an engine," West said, adding that he's owned a succession of personal watercraft over the years and always favored the the original Kawasaki Jet Ski, where the rider stood up and had to keep the machine balanced.

"It took a little bit of skill to ride those machines. That's what was neat about them," he said.

Over time, the water sports industry drifted away from stand-up personal watercraft and moved toward larger machines where the rider sits down.

"They went bigger and bigger, more and more upscale. But now everybody in the power sports industry is bemoaning the fact that their customer base is aging and the demographics are going against them. I think we need to develop products that are attractive to the newer generation," West said.
Transport-friendly design

The modular design of the Bomboard makes it easier to transport, without a trailer, and is aimed at people who use their car to reach the water.

The water sled disassembles into four pieces, including an 85-pound center pod that houses the engine, electronics and steering mechanism. Two outside sponsons, which help control the craft when turning, are filled with foam.

If one of the pods developed a leak, the Bombard still wouldn't sink, West said.

The machine has a 250cc, fuel-injected engine that produces 34 horsepower. It was designed by a company in Switzerland that makes engines for personal watercraft, motorcycles and go-karts.

Bomboard will be competing with some huge, well-established personal-watercraft makers including Kawasaki, Polaris and Sea-Doo.

The $3,495 price seems high when someone could buy a new Sea-Doo Spark for $4,995, said Charles Plueddeman, a Fond du Lac-based writer for Boats.com.

The 85-pound center pod seems heavy for someone to lift into their car, Plueddeman said.

West says he has the manufacturing rights to the engine, and that he hopes to use a consortium of local companies to build Bomboard components.

"We are just getting geared up to talk with companies about this. We have the powertrain and hulls figured out, so it's time to figure out the next step to get us into production," he said.

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