Broneah makes TC top Midwest kiteboarding destination
TRAVERSE CITY – They're young, tanned, and pony-tailed-a couple of go-getting brothers from Old Mission Peninsula who've single-handedly put Traverse City on the shortlist of top kiteboarding destinations in the world.
If you've never heard of kiteboarding, you're not alone. Twenty years ago nobody heard of snowboarding either. Kiteboarding is a little bit like wakeboarding but instead of a boat for power, you use a specially designed kite to harness the wind. It's the newest in extreme water sports where the best of the best are pulling down at least $80,000 per year in contest winnings and endorsements. In 2004, TIME Magazine called kiteboarding the fastest growing sport for the new millennium; yet, kiteboarding is still so new most computer spell-checkers will flag the term as a non-word.
Without borrowing a penny from anybody and with very little equipment, self-described "broke-ass college students" Matt and Keegan Myers, ages 27 and 25 respectively, launched Broneah Kiteboarding basically out of their van in 2002.
Says Matt, "We began by just going to the beach kiteboarding and people were interested and asked, 'Where can I learn to do this?' And we would look at each other and say, 'Well, we can teach you.'
"I had recently graduated from Michigan State University," he continues, "after a year of independent study traveling the islands in the South Pacific looking at the impact of tourism on native cultures and the environment."
What Matt saw hanging out in the sun-hard at work doing research, of course-on the islands of French Polynesia, Bora Bora, New Zealand, Hawaii, Australia, and Samoa was the birth of a new and eco-friendly sport. He watched locals having fun ripping across the water and leaping 10 to 30 feet in the air. Then he gave kiteboarding a try and found he was a natural. Same for Keegan who soon followed his older brother on a little island-hopping fact finding mission himself. From there it was a small leap to taking what they'd learned back to the beach-loving tourist folk who frequent T.C. every summer.
Now Broneah Kiteboarding is the only such business in the Midwest totally devoted to kiteboarding. And, according to Matt, there are only two other kiteboarding-only business in all of North America that can match their annual level of sales and lessons given to newcomers to the sport.
How do they do it? In a business that essentially sells knowledge (learning how to kiteboard), overhead costs are pretty low. According to Matt, there are no rentals in kiteboarding. At least for now, it's not like renting a pair of skis or snowboard for the day. The gear-board, foot straps, bar-line, wetsuit, and kite-can run anywhere from $500 to $2,000. With a two-day Broneah learning camp in Traverse City, Matt and Keegan can get you started for $499; afterward, they can hook you up with gear no matter what your budget.
Add to this the Myers brothers work ethic-according to Matt "24/7 since the beginning without ever letting money guide our direction"-and the fact that very few places in the world have the conditions (miles of shoreline, windy points and peninsulas) that make northern Michigan so ideal for kiteboarding, and it's really no wonder Broneah Kiteboarding has never been in the red.
Which brings up the question: Who's into kiteboarding these days?
"Our core demographic is people ages 35 to 50," says Matt. "They are people who spend most of their time working indoors, but they have some disposable income, are in relatively good shape, and are looking for a little excitement and adventure."
The Myers brothers now divide their time between their kiteboarding instructional camps held in Puerto Rico (March through May) and their headquarters in Traverse City (June through September).
"We really only draw about five percent of our business from Traverse City," says Matt. Seems most of Broneah's clientele find out about them on-line at www.broneah.com or via their full-page glossy advertisements in Kiteboarding magazine. Matt and Keegan are the "instructional editors" for the magazine and have written over 100 articles since 2003.
"We draw a lot of business from Detroit, Chicago, Toledo, Indianapolis, and Cleveland," says Matt. "These are people who come to Traverse City just to learn how to kiteboard. A lot of them are coming here for the first time and are always blown away by the beauty of the place."
These days the Myers Brothers have a shop (opened in 2003) downtown right next to the Traverse City Visitors Bureau. Their sponsor list reads like a who's-who of major players in the sport: Liquid Force, Body Glove, Dakine, among them; local advertising sponsors like EverywhereUGO (formerly Johnny Advertising, owned by Matt and Keegan's father); and even mainstream corporate sponsors like Sprint.
"When we got Sprint on board that really surprised a lot of people in the [kiteboarding] industry," says Matt, adding that it took a
lot of work meeting the right people before the deal went through. Now Sprint's logo can be seen on Broneah advertise-ments, the vans used to ferry students and gear, and even up on their kites that naturally draw a lot of eyes anywhere Broneah is holding class.
"We've also added a new adventure camp this coming year," says Matt. "A six-day package of kiteboarding, whitewater rafting, and mountain trekking in Patagonia, Argentina, from December through February. It's just amazing down there-like Traverse City with mountains."
"Amazing" is a reoccurring word in Matt's lexicon.
"Keegan and I were just talking down in Puerto Rico this winter about how far we've come. It just keeps getting bigger and our business keeps expanding."
Or in other words, sounds like Broneah Kiteboarding is only just beginning to catch some really big air. BN