Entrepreneurs want people to spread their (kite)wings
NEW LONDON - Will Tuthill and Charlie Meading realize most people don't know what a Kitewing is - but they insist that's going to change as more people learn about a sport that allows them to take flight for short bursts.
"It's a great winter sport, and New Hampshire is a great place to introduce a new winter sport, and to grow a business in general," said Tuthill, who is partners with Meading and an investor in the Kitewing business.
The three men bought the business two years ago. A manufacturing company called OY Kitewing Sports AB of Espoo, Finland, has been selling the 10-foot-wide skiing, skating or sliding "power source" for 25 years.
According to the company's website, kitewing.com, "'The wing,' as it is called, is a personal power supply that is used on any low friction surface." It is made of lightweight Dacron or monofilm.
On a windy day, Tuthill said he can use the wing to ski on a frozen lake at 50 miles an hour or more.
"It's a very unique toy," said Meading, saying he's sold 35 or so wings in the two years since they bought the company.
Kitewings are fairly well-known in Europe, where skaters and skiers use them in cold months, and some people use them to travel in the deserts of the world, but they aren't known much in North America, Tuthill said.
The sport caught the attention of NBC Sports, which visited Lake Sunapee a few years ago and produced a 2 1/2-minute segment in which it described Kitewing as a mix between kite surfing and wind surfing with roots in the late 1980s. Video footage featured people using the wings on snow, ice, sand and asphalt in warm and cold seasons.
"I used to have flying dreams, and then I'd wake up and wish I was a bird. These wings are as close as it gets to flying. It's just awesome," Kitewing snow rider Dickey Saltonstall told NBC in the video. (Search "Kitewing on Sunapee" at YouTube.com.)
There are economic challenges doing business in Finland, though, and the three new owners of Kitewing Sports are eager to move the manufacturing plant and sales departments from Finland to New Hampshire.
In actual practice, they are storing the materials and equipment used in making the wings in a friend's barn in New London, and they sell them online. Meading says he may end up being the entire manufacturing department.
"I may just make them myself," he said.
Meading said the company hasn't fully moved to the state or introduced Kitewings on any area lakes yet. But they hope to be making and selling a lot in the Granite State by next December. Though some people use them in summer months on sand, they are primarily for winter use.
"It's like buying a one-time ski ticket," Meader said. "We have all these beautiful lakes that nobody uses all winter."
"It's basically a miniature hang glider that sets up in five minutes," Tuthill said.
A small Kitewing costs about $750. A full-sized wing runs about $1,000, and there are customized versions that cost as much as $10,000, he said.