Adam Anton: Kiteboarding in Antigua with Tona
Tona is a kiteboarding company that was recently launched in Antigua by longtime friends and kiteboarders, Adam Anton and Dereck Camacho. While this company is small by industry standards, they are looking to make their mark by developing high end kiteboarding equipment, with a little island style twist.
Co-founder Adam Anton spoke to Adrenaline Sun about Tona.
How did you decide to start up Tona?
It all started with a meeting that Dereck and myself had in 2007. Dereck used to live in Antigua back in the 90s and we knew each other from hanging around Fitches Creek windsurfing and wake boarding. Since then he’s been shaping surfboards, windsurf boards and eventually got into shaping kite boards when the sport was born. He would occasionally visit Antigua from his home in Florida and hang out with us at Jabberwock Beach where our local kite school is.
One year, I got an email from him saying he was coming to Antigua and wanted to sit and talk about an idea he had to start our own company. He felt that we had all the right ingredients to make it happen, and with the island vibe we have down here, he thought we’d have something special to offer, something different to the other brands in the industry. And that was basically how it started. It’s been about 4 years of work since that meeting. A few dozen prototypes, thousands of emails, hundreds of skype calls and numerous plane rides back and forth, and here we are.
What lifestyle does Tona represent?
You could say we represent the beach culture in the Caribbean, but I don’t want to limit it to just that. There is definitely an overall island vibe to the company and thats what we want to preserve, weather it’s in the water or on land.
Where did the name Tona come from?
Tona is actually a Carib word that means ‘water’. We thought it fitting as all of us involved in Tona are from the Caribbean, and well… the water part goes without saying
Tell me about your boards.
So far, we have one kiteboard model, The Pop. We don’t make custom boards, although Dereck -who is the genius behind the design- started out doing custom boards under his own brand, DC Boardz. Our boards are manufactured in China at the Ronix factory. We work directly with Herb O’Brien (founder of O’Brien Skiis, Hyperlite Wakeboards, Ronix Wakeboards) to develop our boards.
We launched with only one kiteboard this year for a couple reasons. First, we are a grassroots company, we are doing it from the ground up, with no outside investment, so we had to start small. Second, we want to put a lot of Research & Development (R&D) into our boards, testing and tweaking them until we have a really great product. So we are now in the process of developing another board for 2013, and the testing process is rigorous. Some brands launch with a wide board range, but it’s difficult to put that many boards through the R&D process, so they end up putting out one or two good boards, and the rest are cookie cutter shapes just to take up shelf space. We want to avoid that and make sure every board we release is top notch.
What is the board development process at Tona?
First, we come up with an idea of what we want out of a board. In the case of the Pop, we got a lot of feedback from our forum members at Kite Scoop. Once we have an idea of what we want, we start shaping bottom designs and outlines that we think will give us the feel we are looking for. Dereck makes a few prototypes based on our concept, each being a little different from the other, then myself and our local kite crew will test them and give Dereck the feedback. We tell him what we like and dislike about it, and he goes back to the shaping room to make adjustments (whether it’s on the flex or the bottom contours) and we continue that process until we have a prototype that we are all happy with.
Once we’re satisfied with one design, we send it to the factory in China to make a mold, and they send us back a few samples for us to test, also with slight differences so we can choose the best one. The reason we have to test those boards as well is because there is a noticeable difference between a custom prototype and a factory made board. With a custom board you use a foam core, and you have the ability to shape the rails to however you want them, whereas with a production board it’s a wood core and you are limited to what you can do with the rails. So we test different flex patterns and core thickness with the production boards until we get one that is as close as possible to the feel of the custom prototype. When we have that nailed down, I get to work on the graphics, send them over to the factory and they make a few samples with our graphic templates. If all goes well and the screens line up and colors look good, then we’re ready to start a production line of that board.
From start to finish, it can take 6 months or more to get a production board ready to hit the stores. It all depends on how long the R&D process takes, sometimes you get lucky with a shape, other times you go back and forth a dozen times. Communicating with China and shipping prototypes can also be a challenge. But once the development stages on a particular board is complete, it takes about six weeks from placing an order until you have a shipment ready to hit the stores.
What about the kites and harnesses, do you make those as well?
No, we don’t make any other kite equipment as yet. It’s something we are definitely have in our crosshairs, but for now we are focused on developing great kiteboards.
What other accessories does Tona make?
Yes, we do sell t-shirts, and are in the process of making some new designs for 2013, as well as some other cool apparel which you will have to wait to see
Does Tona sponsor any riders?
Right now we sponsor one very talented young man from Antigua by the name of Jake Kelsick. He is already well known in the industry for his smoothe style, which seems to be a common trend with the Antiguan riders. We are hoping to expand our team for 2013 and continue to do that over the next few years until we have a solid crew of kiteboarders. You can find pictures of Jake on our website or Facebook page, or pretty much anything Tona related.
Earlier, you mentioned your forum Kite Scoop, can you give me some details?
Yes. I am the one who runs Kite Scoop. My buddy Andre Phillip is also a partner and he’s our pro kiteboarder. I built the site and do all the graphics and Shabier Kirchner does the videos for us.
Do you guys have any branches anywhere else in the world?
We have UK and European disributors who are pushing our boards overseas, and we’re working on a North American rep program which we hope will help spread some Tona love across the US and Canada. We will continue to expand as our brand and product line continues to grow.
Describe the Antiguan kite boarding Scene in 1 word.
Motivated. I think this word suits our crew because we have always been motivated to ride, build obstacles, shoot videos and keep spreading the vibe. We never stop.
We have considered hosting competitions in Antigua, it’s still something that we would love to do. Unfortunately, it’s something that requires a lot of time and preperation and we have been pretty focused on getting Tona up and running, so the competition plans have been taking a back seat for the past few years. As for a regional tour, that would be great to see, although I’m not sure that kiteboarding is popular enough in the Caribbean to host something of that size just yet. I’d like to see if we could pull off one locally first.
Would you ever expand into any other kind of action sport enterprise aside from water sports?
Absolutely! We already have ideas for branching into skateboarding. We have not focused much effort in that direction as yet, but we do have a young and upcoming skater by the name of Alessandro Sorgente riding Tona skate decks in Florida. He is an amazing park rider and is showing some serious potential, doing well in competitions and charging vert ramps and pools with the best in the business. My love for board sports started with skateboards as a child and I’ve always been obsessed with it, so expanding into the skate world is something that definitely holds my interests.
What are the future plans for Tona?
At the moment, we’re working on growing the brand and expanding our product line carefully. Our number one goal is to make products that people love, so we put a lot of stress on research and development. We just want to make good boards and get people stoked on riding them, so thats what we’re focused on at the moment. We want to see steady growth over the next couple of years, not by flooding the market with products, but by putting a lot of time into R&D and making sure we develop quality products that people will be excited about. I think once we stick to that plan our future will be bright.
Additional photos by Lance Koudele and Andre Phillip