Local Company Ocean Rodeo Goes Against the Flow
Two champion windsurfers not only pioneered the sport of kiteboarding, they went on to create a company that is known around the world for its performance-oriented drysuits and kiteboarding equipment. And it’s all centred here in Victoria.
Above photo: Richard Myerscough (left) and Ross Harrington, founders of Ocean Rodeo.
Back in 1977, anyone watching Richard Myerscough and Ross Harrington at Elk Lake on a blustery winter day would have had no idea what the two young boys were doing. Balancing on boards and using homemade sails, the pair raced on the lake’s choppy waters. As it turns out, they were windsurfing — something practically no one else was doing on Vancouver Island.
The pair met as kids and became friends because of their mutual love for watersports. Harrington taught Myerscough how windsurfing was done.
They loved the sport, but it was such early days for it that innovation was a necessity.
“Ross and I both grew up with a lack of equipment as youth, so we’d make and design things ourselves,” says Myerscough, who was making his own wetsuits even before he became a teenager. Harrington, meanwhile, was making his own sails, and he built his first hang-glider when he was just 10 years old.
To say Myerscough and Harrington popularized windsurfing on the Island is an understatement. In fact, they made the then-obscure sport visible to locals and put the Island on the map as a place that produced windsurfing athletes. Both went on to compete at a high level. Harrington won various Canadian and American titles, like the Canadian Lightweight Racing title and West Coast US Freestyle and Slalom titles. Myerscough represented Canada in windsurfing at the 1987 Pan American Games and the 1988 Olympic Games, where he placed 12th.
Exploring New Waters
When their racing days were over, Myerscough and Harrington entered the business world. But, as with their sporting interests, their business pursuits were anything but traditional. Harrington made windsurfing sails for Windsure, a Vancouver-based company, before founding his own sail brand, Venturi Designs, in the late 1980s. In 1992 Myerscough cofounded Whites Manufacturing Ltd., a local drysuit manufacturer (now owned by Aqua Lung, one of the largest watersport companies in the world).
By the late 90s, they were eyeing a brand-new sport: kiteboarding. At the time, hardly anyone else was doing it, so the pair effectively became worldwide kiteboarding pioneers. But finding the right gear to do the new sport they loved so much was an issue, and once again, necessity drove them to make their own equipment.
In 2001, the duo merged their sporting and entrepreneurial interests together and Ocean Rodeo, an offshoot of Whites, was born.
Innovation and Invention
The Ocean Rodeo HQ is decidedly nondescript, operating out of a small house in Saanich, just off the Galloping Goose Trail. Most passersby would have no idea of the innovation happening inside. Drysuits crowd a coat rack at the office’s front door, and downstairs is the design hub where the company’s cutting-edge products come to life. Both men, in their 50s, fit and with an energetic enthusiasm — and who are still athletes at heart — test these products themselves in the cold, extreme water conditions around Vancouver Island. The company isn’t afraid to do things a little differently, and this is something that has propelled its international-level success.
Myerscough says Ocean Rodeo was just the fourth company in the world to make and sell kiteboarding equipment. While it isn’t the biggest kiteboarding company in the market, it is a world leader in innovation and intellectual property (IP). According to Harrington, Ocean Rodeo has more IP than anyone else in the industry, largely because, unlike other kiteboarding companies, Ocean Rodeo is not interested in being a trendy fashion brand.
“We’re not afraid of being safety-interested,” says Harrington. “For so many of the brands out there, it’s about the cool factor. But when we started kiteboarding, there was roughly a fatality a week. As the industry has matured, people [working in the industry] are becoming a lot more aware of safety and they have to play the catch-up game to get to where we have already been.”