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A Fly On the Wall - Life Inside CrazyFly
He might be a mad keen kiter nowadays, but at the age of five, Juraj Bukovčák already had his very own custom made windsurf board.
So did all the Bukovčák brothers, but that’s bound to happen when your dad owns a wind and kiteboard production company, right? You’re raised surrounded by every element of the sport; from behind-the-scenes design and development, to out there in the wind, seeing previous prototypes literally come to life.
CrazyFly is a kiting brand loved by kiters around the world, and discreetly coveted by its competitors… And for good reason. Since 1992 this family owned, Slovakian company has built a solid reputation for designing and producing premium kiting products (boards, kites, bars, bindings, bags and apparel) that never sacrifice form and function for finance. The commitment to quality craftsmanship starts from the very top, with founder and father Jozef Bukovčák Senior.
CrazyFly - The Beginning
A super keen windsurfer, Jozef began making some of the first boards in Europe in the early 1990s, when the sport was really starting to take off. Word began to grow for the design and quality of his work.
Jozef circa 1999
Through some connections in the US, Jozef managed to strike a deal to produce boards for that market. A facility was established in Slovakia, with Jozef assuming the mantle as head of the shaping department. It employed around 300 people. By 1999 Jozef had decided to launch his own company, CrazyFly, a production facility providing high-end boards to windsurfing brands. These B2B clients soon began enquiring about kitesurfing boards, at the time an emerging sport, and Jozef saw an opportunity. Two years later, CrazyFly was producing kiting equipment exclusively for its own brand. It was the beginning of a business that would eventually encompass Jozef, his four sons, various in-laws and (no doubt) a new generation of Bukovčák budding kiters coming up the ranks!
CrazyFly Never Cuts Corners
These days Jozef is still very much involved in the business, as are all his sons.
CrazyFly father and sons.
He works full-time (although has plans to retire in three years when he turns 60) and maintains a hands-on role in the design and development of products. Having dedicated his professional life to making the best boards possible since 1992, his exceptional knowledge and skill are second-to-none. Jozef never cuts corners, an ethos that is diffused into every aspect of the business. Quality has always come first - working with only the very best materials available is paramount, regardless of cost. The market price is mitigated by the fact CrazyFly removes one essential link from the supply chain - they produce in-house.
This unwavering commitment to incredibly high standards, fastidious detail and a complete ownership of the product journey from cradle to consumer meant that CrazyFly could boldly go where few others in the industry dared. In 2019, the company announced an incredible three-year warranty on all kites and boards. The industry and market had always known this was a brand with impeccable design and development pedigree; the warranty now made that loud and clear.
Growing Up in the CrazyFly Family
So, now we have some background, what role does Juraj play in all of this? Sure, he might have spent most of his weekends in the wind (although a passion for ice-hockey took up an equal share of his spare time), but a career at CrazyFly was, surprisingly, not on his immediate radar. Instead, Juraj headed to Oxford to complete his education in marketing. As a university student, Juraj would work part-time for the family business, sharing his growing marketing knowledge with his father and helping where he could. He was soon offered a job in the UK, but Juraj declined and decided to return home and put his knowledge into practice at CrazyFly.
Success Requires Uniqueness - Introducing the CrazyFly Raptor Ltd
The Raptor Ltd owes its existence to Juraj and a particular class he took at university. The Lecturer was discussing how brands create exclusivities so as to differentiate themselves in the market, and to drive a spike in sales. The Pepsi Blue Soda was used as an example. It got Juraj thinking, and after class he took the idea back to the family. What about developing a truly exclusive board, limiting its production number, and badging it with Jozef’s signature? The concept appealed, and eventually the CrazyFly Raptor Ltd was produced.
In no time at all, its strict 100-unit production was sold, and a fever was ignited. It had been so phenomenally successful, CrazyFly had no choice but to respond to consumer demand and continue production. The following year 800 units were sold. Although sales for the Raptor Ltd have since been eclipsed by the CrazyFly Raptor Extreme (the iconic big air board designed with pro kiter Posito Martinez), it remains Juraj’s favourite CrazyFly product.
Developing New Products - How it Happens
CrazyFly never releases new products unless they are genuinely, truly new. Take the Sculp 2021 as an example. It might share the same name as it’s 2020 predecessor, but this is an entirely different beast thanks to the new hybrid delta bow direction and short, eight-point fixed bridle.
So, what has to happen in order to create something like the new Sculp 2021?
This process is led mostly by market demand, and then follows a series of steps:
Every day CrazyFly receives feedback from riders around the globe, and every single email is read and contemplated.
Designers begin to draw out the initial concept.
Thanks to modern technology, CrazyFly can metal 3D print prototypes fairly economically.
CrazyFly’s head tester, Ki Hwan, receives the prototype and takes it out for a trial. He provides feedback, which results in changes. This process can go back-and-forth three, sometimes even four times.
Once Ki Hwan is satisfied, some 10 to 20 prototypes are released to key riders, each of whom provides feedback.
A final prototype is developed, and then sent to select kitesurf shop owners who deliver their verdict.
Once the feedback is unanimously positive, the product is ready for production and eventually launch.
These key steps can take two, even three years.
Some behind-the-scenes CrazyFly team antics whilst on a shoot.
The Most Complicated Kiting Product to Create?
What’s your guess? If you said control bar, you’d be right. For such a small item, it is incredibly complex. It requires so many features; it must be strong, resilient in temperatures from zero to 80 degrees celsius (we’re all guilty of leaving our kit in the car on a hot summer’s day), 100% safe and yet maintain an achievable price point. Without question it’s the product that keeps CrazyFly’s engineers cerebrally stimulated!
The Stand-out Evolution for Kiting - Hydrofoil
The hydrofoil is definitely Juraj’s sweet spot. He loves what it has done for kiting in terms of making the sport accessible to so many, and in such diverse conditions. Whether it’s a light wind day or super gusty, the foil can handle things. The fact it smoothes an otherwise bumpy ride in choppy waters is a huge plus for the ageing rider - it makes kiting so much easier on the body.
The Best Place to Kitesurf In Slovakia
Juraj doesn’t hesitate - it’s the Danube River. Its spectacular scenery and fairly reliable conditions makes it mint for kiters. Although Slovakia’s kiting community is still formative, good conditions will see up to 100 riders along the River.
The World’s Best Place to Kitesurf
That nod to premium quality is all-pervasive at CrazyFly. It extends, of course, to Juraj’s marketing team and to the locations they choose for their annual photo shoots.
Those of you familiar with the brand will instantly recall some of the most incredible backdrops for their publicity photos. As head of marketing, Juraj is often on location, so his opinion on the world’s best kiting destination is something we’re keen to hear about. So, where is it?
Turks and Caicos, in the Caribbean. Juraj says it’s without question the most beautiful kiting destination in the world - clear water, sandy bottoms, stable winds (perfect for 9m - 10m kites), idyllic lagoons on flat water. Yes, it’s the stuff dreamy photo shoots are made of.
That said, obviously Juraj hasn’t quite made it to Northern Ireland…!