Industry: Baptiste Caulonque’s shred moxie and Endless Surf
Baptiste Caulonque is a core surfer who slipped into the surf industry during the heyday of the Big Three. He helped anchor Rip Curl in Europe and navigate the trappings inherent in European business. Where in America the industry can be as simple as wholesale profit margins, the Euro game is like an extended chess match. Baptiste knows how to play the long game.
In each of my conversations with him either related his work with the Paris wave pool or some general surf park development, I’ve found him open and unafraid to point out faults in both technologies or fly-by-night developers. In short, he’s the go-to person when you want an undressed, honest opinion about various goings-on in the space.
Baptiste has a unique insight into the wave pool space, having been on the development side and now the technology side. We sat down for a proper exploration of this character and his new role as Endless Surf Chief Commercial Officer.
You have an extensive background in surf. What have been some of your roles in the surf industry?
Right out of college I worked for big firms holding various finance, consulting and M&A positions at places like Danone and PricewaterhouseCoopers. A great experience and learning opportunity but I was growing bored. So, at the age of 33, I stepped into the surf industry for tons of reasons. I wanted to join a medium-size business, I wanted to combine passion (I’ve surfed since I was 5, following my dad’s steps, even if it does not really show…) and work; plus my wife and I wanted to move out of Paris (our sons were 2 and 4 then) and I was born in the Basque Country. All this made it the time to make the switch.
I met with key Execs at Rip Curl, Fred Basse, Olivier Cantet and Michael Daly, over a year (which is long when excitement is at a climax…) and eventually started at Rip Curl Europe in Hossegor, France, in 2006 where I first managed operations then went on a general manager role until 2012.
After that, I had my own consulting shop for a few years on surf, sports and lifestyle business improvement. I worked for a short while with Shaun Tomson on surf park business models using Wavegarden’s first tech “the lagoon” which they walked away from shortly after. So, I’ve known the basics of the business model for surf parks since 2013. This led, during Summer 2017 and through business networks, to work with LinkCity on the Paris surf park.
How did you make the transition to wave pool-focused work?
You have to keep in mind that in 2017 the surf park industry and man-made wave technologies were at a super early stage. You had to do some serious digging work to come across suppliers, information, operators etc… It felt like investigative work sometimes. Wavegarden was pretty much the only dedicated player out there with a comprehensive business offer. Starting 2018 though, new parks, new techs and businesses building a track record started to pop up here and there. Working on the La Vague Grand Paris surf park, I was lucky to get the full support from LinkCity to perform that digging work which enabled me to meet with so many people and businesses shaping that new industry. That’s how I came across Whitewater West and MR-ProFun which turned out to be La Vague Grand Paris’ strategic partners.
The more I came across and worked with new people, the more contacts and consulting opportunities came to me in Europe, Asia and the Americas. I eventually become part of the development team of Los Vientos in the Dominican Republic following a surf trip and discussions with Ryder Thomas owner of Pegasus Lodges and leader of the Los Vientos project.
What will you be doing with Endless Surf in your new role?
I met Geoff Chutter and Paul towards the back end of 2019 when La Vague Grand Paris was about to make a tech choice and Endless Surf was building momentum. Working with Clément Ginestet, Endless Surf’s mastermind, Geoff, Paul (aka “The Chutters”) and the rest of the crew to design the product to the exact needs of our surf park was a thrill. I had my ideas of the best possible surf experience, Clément had the wave-making and software expertise and “The Chutters” brought in their pneumatics savoir-faire, their master planning teams etc… I loved it. So we shared functional improvement around Endless Surf and some advice and insights to help build on the launch of the product to the market. That’s how we got to work even more together. So early April this year when Paul asked if I wanted to join Whitewater to lead the global Endless Surf business development it took no time to accept. Very similar to 2006 when it made so make so much sense to join Rip Curl, it made just as much sense to join Whitewater and I move to Vancouver this September.
My role is to grow our business with the sales team (existing and future), starting with Andrew Thatcher, who has been doing an amazing job since Endless Surf was launched, as well as the other components of Whitewater; its R&D, marketing team, architecture, sales operations etc…
What are some of the challenges you will face?
The biggest challenge is to scale our offer and our organization fast enough to deliver the service of our expectations to clients and prospects to match their speed to market. This industry and appetite for surf parks is so strong that keeping up with the number of incoming calls is by far the biggest challenge. Every project is unique (is it in a country with a surf culture? Is it by the coastline? Is it surf-centric or part of a mixed-use development?) so it takes some time to work with our clients on their business model, the relevant master plan and eventually the most appropriate size of Endless Surf to implement. It is a fantastic journey that requires a lot of time with each client to help maximize the potential of their venue. Plus, this process requires us to involve and coordinate a full WhiteWater team (our architects and master planners, our engineering team, our project managers, and Vantage technology etc…) for work sessions with our client’s team.
Some may have questioned Endless Surf as the most recent product to the market, and without a pool up and running as a step challenge to win customers. But the pedigree of WhiteWater, the quality of the team, our proven pneumatic technology and expertise have spoken to developers – this is a team you can trust. Looking at our ongoing sales discussions in Australasia, the Americas and Europe and most recently signed deals with “MUC” in Munich, Germany, and “Parkwood” in Brisbane, Australia, proves Endless Surf is a serious solution with features and flexibility that answers venue’s needs best.
Fast forward 10 years. What does the surfing landscape look like?
My biggest concern is that I’ll have to add another foot and five liters to my boards….
For the surfing landscape, I think surf parks will bring the sport and lifestyle to a much bigger audience and, most probably, take the performance to another level. This should benefit to every component of the surf scene; surfers, surfboard, apparel and accessories brands, schools, clubs and institutions governing the sport.
I am hoping though that the likes of WSL and ISA will embrace this and reach out to us, technology companies and clients/operators to build events and tours to ensure that the sport of surfing remains #1 regardless of riding waves in pools or out there in the ocean. The pool breaks will join the beach breaks, point breaks and reef breaks in the ocean as available playing fields that offer different but complementary surf experiences, and more surfing is always better!