How a story with broken surfboard evolved into a business

It’s a mistake we have all made when surfing. The waves are pumping and you rush to the beach while doing a mental checklist that you have everything:

Surfboard? Tick, 
Wetsuit & towel? Tick,
Wax?....^&%%^$ Damm it!

A fellow Surfpreneur, Martim Dornellas from Van Der Waal, has an amazing alternative to wax. We asked him a few questions about how Van Der Waal came to existence, some lessons learnt during growing into new sales channels, and working with WSL surfers (!)


How did you come with the product idea?

I broke my board in Carcavelos and ordered a new one from Lisbon Crooks.

I was so excited with the new board, a yellow retro fish, that I started to explain Afonso an idea that I had some time ago: the wax would get the board all dirty and would hide the whole design 😢, and how cool it would be to have an alternative to that...  

Afonso said that he had a material that was able to turn into a grip, and that it was transparent. At that point we started to try the material on my board,  just as a personal solution to solve my problem.

But the enthusiasm of friends with my board led us to think that this could be a business 💰, and then we started to look at the product from a different side, collecting more professional feedback, and so Van der Waal was born.

So far none of us had any experience in the surf industry or even with surf communities in Portugal.

After we started to do some tests with existing materials we went for a search for different materials, different shapes, and so on. In our case the most complicated part was finding a balance between traction and not being too aggressive to the feet or wetsuits.


What are your main distribution channels?

80% of our business is done online (B2C) and to the whole world. We work with a single distributor for The Netherlands and with a few local stores in other countries, although we are starting to have more distribution business contacts.

About the countries we sell most, there is no rule: we started by selling a lot in Portugal, then Spain, USA and UK, until six months ago we have been selling a lot in France, Belgium ... we are still learning and trying to understand this sales movement.

It's almost like a wave... we never know where it will be the next sales spot, but when it happens, a lot of worth of mouth occurs and we start selling regularly on that spot.

A curious fact is that we sell a lot more on Sundays than any other day of the week ... probably because someone spotted Van der Waal on any board and decides to buy.


What is the most difficult part about distribution?

Our biggest problem with distribution are the margins, which takes away a big part of our business profit.


What are your plans for the next product?

We have just released an special edition of van der Waal that smells like wax, but it's just for fun and to celebrate 1 year since our first sale. But we are testing new materials to increase the grip of the product without damaging wetsuit or skin.

As soon as the new product is ready we have to decide whether to do a replacement of the current one (creating a 2.0 version of it) or keep both, to different targets... it will depend on the new product behaviour.

We will have the opportunity to be in Ericeira Surfpreneurs Camp to discuss and exchange ideas about it with SurfEars 😀


Why did you choose Squarespace as an e-commerce platform?

We have a product that needed to be explained. What I think is that Shopify has a more aggressive, more hard-selling way to work.

When we launched the website I made beta versions on both platforms, with the same content, and the truth is that Squarespace allowed us to design the pages according to the messages we wanted to pass, while Shopify was a pure online store, where pages like About us or detailed info about the product are just header, plain text and image.

So, despite Squarespace is not so sales-oriented, as it works as a full online store, we decided to go with Squarespace.


If you could start again, what would you differently?

Although we can not complain about anything, we have done 2 mistakes: In December I decided to test WooCommerce and Wordpress as a platform for the store and we realized that those 2 or 3 seconds that the site took longer to load cost us a lot of sales.

And a peculiar situation, which cost us just a few tears of frustration: Last year we were invited to offer Van der Waal to all WSL athletes in Peniche.

Full of goodwill, and because more than publicity we really wanted their sincere feedback, we put custom letters to everyone in front of the box, explaining that.

More frustrating then receiving no feedback at all, was to see photos and videos on all social networks, with all top athletes, where our product appeared behind, covered with a white sheet (that was our letter).