Flight Fins Co-Founders Michael Woolson & Orie Rush open up about business and family.
#1 OWP: Where do you guys live and how are you related?
Orie: I live in Ohio and Michael lives in Los Angeles and are stepbrothers, we have the same mother. I have been living in Ohio since I was about 5 years old but Michael has been trying to get me move out to Los Angeles now for some time.
#2 OWP: So, tell us how you got involved with Onewheel?
I’ve been an acting coach for over 20 years and one day I saw one of my acting students on Facebook riding a Onewheel on set of the movie called “Project Almanac”. It turns out Future Motion had visited the set to promote Onewheel. The minute I saw my student riding the board I was riveted! I was like “What is that? How does it work? Where can I get one?!” At that time, there was almost a 3-month waiting period to get one from Future Motion. Eventually I was able to find a new one listed on Ebay that I bought, which turned out to be board number 54 from their kickstarter campaign. I got my second board not long after that, and that board was serial number 156. So, I had two of their early boards. At that time, people were selling them way over retail price, a new one was selling for around $2000 and a used one was around $1750. Back in those days there was no way to be able to tell how many miles the board had because there wasn’t even a phone app! In the beginning there wasn’t even such a thing as a fender!
#3 OWP: Did you have any previous board sport experience before riding Onewheel?
Orie: I had started skating and snowboarding when I was around 13 which helped me transition into Onewheel. Onewheel feels to me like a good in-between of skateboarding and snowboarding and has helped me in both boardsports. The way you use your ankles and muscles when Onewheeling you don’t normally use in skating or snowboarding, so when I went back to skating and snowboarding, I felt like I learned quite a bit and was stronger!
The Process Begins
#4 OWP: How did you guys come up with the idea for Flight Fins?
Michael: Initially there was a friend of mine who could nudge curbs out here in Los Angeles, and he was trying to help me learn how to do it, but it seemed impossible. This was before any of us were using the groups on Facebook and nobody had really been seen doing nudges. Jeffrey Rosenzweig was one of the first guys who put out a video describing how to do it. I saw that he had put grip tape on the back of his fender to get leverage so that it was easier to do. This worked for me and it spawned my imagination to put something else on the fender for even more leverage. I thought to myself, somebody should put a ledge on the fender or something that you could put your foot underneath and that would make it even easier. So, I went on Amazon and started buying all these little knobs and things, none of which really were that great and so I put them in my desk as a ‘get to’ project that never happened. Months went by and then the unthinkable happened, my dad had a massive heart attack. That’s what really spawned this whole crazy thing. It was a situation where a bad thing turned into a good thing because my dad lived and Orie and I invented Flightfins all in one trip. So, when I went up to Ohio to visit my dad, I had brought my Onewheels with me, and Orie and I started talking about this whole fender wedge thing. Next thing you know we were in the workshop, like mad scientists, trying to carve this thing out of a piece of wood and everything kind of just snowballed from there. We started getting excited and so we put another piece of wood on the other side. This led to Oct 5, 2017 which was when Orie got on the board with the two pieces of wood bolted on the sides and said “hey film me and let’s see if this works” and then he jumped in the air about 6 inches. And we both just high fived and were like “WOW this is FRICKIN’ AWESOME!”
Orie: It was at night and I remember Michael shooting it in slow motion and when I first did it, I remember thinking “I think that worked” and when we looked at the footage in slow-motion, we were both like “AWW Damn!” Because it was higher than we both thought it was going to be and the fact you could jump the board was amazing. We weren’t sure with the sensor if it would even work and didn’t know if there was any possibility but we were pumped because coming from a snowboarding and skateboarding background that was sort of the thing the Onewheel couldn’t do at the time.
#5 OWP: How many prototypes did you guys go through before finalizing the Flight Fins design?
Orie: For the first prototype we just took some 4×4 pieces of wood and basically sculpted Flight Fins out of it and spray painted them black, the design didn’t really change all that much to be honest.
Michael: The day I was leaving back to Los Angeles we had like 2 hours before I had to go to the airport, so I spent that time filming Orie jumping up and over things until both boards ran out of battery. I remember asking Orie, “can you jump over this, can you jump over that?” And of course, at that point we had no technique so it was hit or miss but mostly successful.
Orie: In fact, there was a moment of dismay because I was trying to jump up this curb and the board kept disengaging and we were like “ahhh man”, I don’t know if this is going to work. So, we kept on testing and then I started leaning back slightly and was able to keep the board engaged. It started working and we were like “oh wait a minute this can work; we can do this!” We continued getting more shots and we got a decent amount of footage in that short amount of time and threw up that video on YouTube to see what the reaction would be.
Michael: People in the beginning thought it was a trick or voodoo magic; they didn’t understand what we had done because in the video the first prototypes we made were super small and you couldn’t tell there was anything there.
Orie: The first two prototypes were made from wood blocks and were basically bolted onto the board. And that’s when we contacted a guy out in LA.
#6 OWP: What was the timeline between initial idea for Flight Fins, going into mass production, and the first sale?
Michael: Yeah, what happened after that was, I realized we needed to manufacturer these things, if that was even possible, and so I called around because I had no idea where to even start. The only other person I knew who had a product was my friend Greg (who makes The Silver Handle) and of course it was nothing like what we had created. So, then I called around and I found a guy who ran a little 3D print shop in Santa Monica who was willing to take on the project. Knowing what we know now, we realize what he was charging us was a really good price, even though back then it was still a lot of money to us especially since we didn’t even know if anything would come of this. So, he then made the first 3-D print set of them, which is the same process we do now, only Orie now does it, as we bought our own 3D printer. Orie had gone to school for art and animation and knew how to animate and sculpt but he didn’t know how to do it in CAD, he learned that later and then was soon able to create the flight fender. We knew it was a cool idea, but we didn’t know if the community would embrace it or not. We then created about 4 prototypes of rubber Flight Fins, and once I had them in hand, I would try them out and then mail them to Orie to try. Meanwhile, everyone we knew was trying to come up with the perfect name for these “foot lifts” We went through a hilarious list of names, ones like, floatfins, wave handles, hop handles, ledge plates, jump handles, ollie wedges, ollie handles, leap handles, jump fins, jump wings, vault plates, ollie fins, foot fins, air hooks, air handles, air fins and even gnar hooks, all before finally deciding Flight Fins.
Orie: It was around October when I went out there and had a chance to go to the 3D print shop. We talked it over with the owner and were able to put the final touches on them.
Michael: So to recap, timeline was, Oct 5, 2017 we jumped with the board for the first time, we then had the Kickstarter in December, and started shipping in February of 2018.
Orie: At that time, we knew nothing about manufacturing whatsoever, so it was a constant learning process.
Michael: Despite some challenges, quite surprisingly, things seemed synchronistic, one thing after another kept falling right into place. And when we finally got a good design with the 3-D printing we thought “we’re set”! But then we realized how much more difficult it was to get an injection mold made. I asked the guy who we were working with for 3D printing “hey can you help me with the injection mold?” and he was like “Dude, I have no idea; I wouldn’t even know where to start”. And so that was the beginning of another whole learning curve of how to do this, and how much more this was going to cost. That’s when we decided to do a Kickstarter. Because at that time it was the least amount of risk and we’d know for sure if the community would embrace the idea or not.
Orie: And that was also around the time when we had Bodhi Harrison come out to LA to do Flight Fins testing as we thought he was the right person to go full send with these things. Getting his feedback to see if we needed to tweak anything or if he even liked them was a crucial moment for us. We are so grateful to him for testing out our new product and from the get-go he started doing things with them we couldn’t imagine; he was immediately doing impressive tricks.
Michael: He got on the board and his first jump was a 180 on the sidewalk! He didn’t land it but he got really close and I was like “Whoa, here we go!” and then him and Orie began clearing 3 ft gaps and that’s when we created the Kickstarter video with them jumping together. And at that time, I myself still really couldn’t jump that well, I could hop a couple of inches, but it was still a learning curve for me and I spent most of my time on the business of getting them to the community. It was a couple of months before I started to jump curbs and eventually, I could do 180’ as well. I still remember the moment I jumped a water bottle at the playground with my kid, I landed it and was hooting and hollering around with excitement and all of these kids were looking at me like I was a crazy person.
Orie: Bodhi’s testing really cemented the idea Flight Fins needed to go into production.
Michael: Even then, we weren’t even sure what was going to happen with this Kickstarter. We had no idea we’d reach our goal, much less in the first day! Orie and I were just in disbelief, orders were coming in so fast that we literally had tears in our eyes! We were like “OMG; this is real now!”
#7 OWP: Any specific business challenges that you struggled with early on?
Michael: Yeah, we had some along the way for sure. When we did the FlightFender we needed an injection mold and that one in particular was very complicated and super expensive, so we did a preorder with the community through PayPal. At a certain point, the money was supposed to be transferred through PayPal to our bank, but nothing happened. To our surprise, after weeks of calling PayPal they finally responded in an email that they weren’t convinced we were a legitimate business and it was on us to prove to them we were trustworthy to receive the money. Specifically, they would need to hear from satisfied customers that they had received the products and were happy. We explained to them that the money raised was for the injection mold and we were clear to the community that we needed the money to manufacture that product. We kept asking them how were we supposed to have happy customers if we couldn’t manufacture the product? Unfortunately, PayPal wouldn’t budge. After several frustrating conversations with them we seriously considered giving the money back to our supporters and scrapping the whole idea. After much deliberation though we decided to take the risk and pay for the mold out of pocket, trusting that it would all work out. Thankfully, it did and after a couple of tense months of waiting, PayPal finally transferred the funds to us. We were glad we pushed through and feel super grateful that the community trusted us and was patient during that difficult process.
#8 OWP: Tell us about your experiences at FloatLife Fest and your favorite moments.
Orie: For me it’s been rare for me to see a community spring up so fast and so strong gathered around Onewheel, especially from a group of people that only knew each other from an online community who were already so close and tight knit. The events were so cool, being out in the woods on these electric boards and seeing people fly down these trails was amazing! I think what surprised me most was how strong the community was, it was quite surreal to me.
Michael: Yeah! Anytime you can spend time with family is wonderful, but when you incorporate the Onewheel it becomes even more special. The fact we got to also host these events with competitions like the long jump, high jump, as well as tricks with the fins and then were able to give back by giving out awards and prizes was really special. We really appreciate what great care Justyn Thompson takes in planning this event, truly a monumental task. Thank you, Justyn!
Orie: The Flight Fins long jump was really another moment where it was so much fun and crazy to see someone jump 13ft on a Onewheel!
Michael: Seeing Isaac Kosloskey almost clear 13 ft at this year’s FLF 3, passing Andrew Stroh’s Flight Fins record from the year before at FLF2, was epic. Of course, Andrew couldn’t break his record this year due to his injury, but we’re looking forward to seeing him come back and try to recapture the record. One of the highlights at FLF 3 for me was watching Kyle Hanson drop off the Flight Fins van.
Orie: Kyle seems like he is always having so much fun on the board, he loves to try new things and his style is loose and incredibly fluid. Even when he bails, he does it in a stylish way, even if he’s just rolling on the ground.
Michael: The word that comes to my mind about Kyle’s style is “creative”, he comes up with fun ideas and then just tries them. Also, watching some of the final slalom races at this year’s Float Life Fest was pretty inspiring, a real nail biter.
#9 OWP: Do you see Onewheel as a sport and where does it go from here?
Orie: Oh yeah absolutely, the racing has gotten to that level where it’s becoming very entertaining to watch, even for people that are not familiar with Onewheel. I’ve mention to people to go on YouTube to check some of the races out and once they watched they were like, “Whoa, I didn’t know it was like that!” So, I think the bar will just continue to keep rising in regards to where the sport will go, but it is hard to say because it is such a unique board, it’s not like skateboarding or snowboarding so I think it’ll create its own niche as far as sport goes. I believe it will continue to grow in the tricks people are doing, the racing aspect such as the dual slalom, I think that was a great format for Onewheel.
Michael: Yeah, I think it has a lot of potential and we’re so early in the game still. Onewheel has so much potential to become a pro sport as well as an extreme sport. It just depends on where Future Motion improves the boards from here.
Orie: I agree, because it’s such a reliable board compared to other e-boards, I think a lot will have to do with that. With snowboarding or skateboarding you don’t have to worry about the board failing, it has more to do with you as a rider than anything else. But with Onewheel it’s a bit unique and different because it is an electronic board which requires the rider to rely on it functioning properly so the sport can continue. It’s kind of like race car driving where the driver must rely on the machine to be functioning correctly in order for the driver to drive at their best and perform.
#10 OWP: Have you ever been hurt riding Onewheel?
Orie: Yes! Minor stuff, but the most painful one I can remember and might be the number cause of a nose-dive being a combination of drinking too many beers and trying to impress bystanders who are like whoa, that’s so cool and inspires a feeling of going fast for them. I was riding around in Mansfield and going uphill when I tried to floor it in front of some people and went down hard. Then suddenly, the vibe changes from “really cool” to “really painful” at once. I didn’t break anything, just had some bad road rash and my shoulder hurt pretty bad for a week or so. That was the worse nosedive I experienced.
Michael: When I first started riding, I jumped off the board and ran it out but stubbed my toe pretty bad. One time I was riding late at night running an errand to the drugstore and didn’t see a pothole in the road and fell down and face planted onto the pavement, but mostly for the past couple of years it’s been all good, just a couple of scrapes here and there nothing major. Sometimes I think to myself “I can’t believe I’m riding this magic carpet, hurdling me through space by this computer that can, at any moment, have an issue” but surprisingly, I’ve never had one fail on me, even after riding for 5 years and over 10,000 miles.
#11 OWP: What type of protective gear do you use when riding?
Orie: If I know I’m going to be jumping things or racing and trying to go fast then I’ll gear up totally, but if I’m just riding on an errand or something like that where I’m just doing some easy riding I usually will forego most pads but I do try to helmet up when I can and wrist guards are truly an essential piece of equipment because that’s usually the first point of contact with the ground when you fall.
Michael: I almost always ride with a helmet and wrist guards. When I’m going like super-fast on trails, I’ll wear my g-form hip guards for extra protection.
#12 OWP: Anything new from Flight Fins coming soon?
Orie: Most definitely, we recently launched flight fin extenders because people were asking for a wider stance. We’re also waiting for Future Motion to announce a new board and see if there will be any design changes we’ll have to address.
Michael: We have a big surprise in store next month for the community that we’re excited about and look forward to sharing soon.
#13 OWP: If you could improve the next version of Onewheel, talk with the community, or tell Future Motion something, what would it be?
Orie: I think swappable batteries would be a good direction to go as most people have mentioned before but it all depends how much Future Motion is listening to the community. If FM would allow for some kind of push back control so a rider could tune it more for racing, that could be something interesting.
Michael: I also think the community has done a great job with improving the ruggedness of the parts and creating new products, but FM is in a difficult position with not wanting to take on problems that are caused by things that were not their product’s fault. I think they are riding a fine line of trying to please the community but at the same time trying to protect their business, and that can be very challenging at times. I agree with Orie about the swappable batteries, I have also suggested to Future Motion directly that perhaps they could do an Easter Egg to where it unlocks the possibility of faster speed after a couple hundred miles. I think that would really be fun for people who are experienced riders.
Orie: It’s kind of like real-world achievement hunting, like in a video game where players strive to unlock as much as they can, but in this case the rider has an incentive to ride as much as possible in order to gain experience and unlock these special features.
#14 OWP: What do you appreciate most about the Onewheel community?
Michael: I’ve always been a private person and have kept to myself and only hung out with my close friends, so when I started riding Onewheel and began going on group rides it forced me to get past my own shyness and connect more to other people. For me it was a real game changer because I feel like Onewheel helped me open up to people whom I didn’t know very well. Also, the community itself inspires me to create and connect, that’s really the big thing for me. I want to create as many cool things for the community and make the Onewheel experience better and better. Most of the people in the community are kind and generous which in-turn inspires me to be kind and generous.
Orie: Yeah, I agree with Michael. I think one of the main things for me is the community is so inclusive and that Onewheel feels so accepting of newcomers and riding styles. Whereas sometimes in the skate and snowboarding community that is not always the case.
Michael: Even my relationship with Orie has changed. We were always very close but creating this business together has helped us become even closer as brothers. We speak almost every other day and it is really a beautiful thing. Taking a bad situation, like my father’s heart attack and having it turn into this adventure with my brother has really been the gift of this whole thing.
Orie: Shortly before Flight Fins happened, I had someone ask me if I had any siblings and I would pretty much say “I’m an only child, but I do have a brother who lives out in LA, whom I do see a couple of times a year.” I always wanted and thought it would have been cool to have had a closer experience growing up with Michael but then all of this happened and, like Michael said, now we talk almost every day and always have something fun to discuss. We get to see each other more regularly and go to events with one another. It’s really become this bonding experience that I truly value and didn’t see coming.
#15 OWP: This has been awesome, thank you for doing this with us!
Michael: Well, thank you for everything you do with the Pro group and beyond, we always appreciate it.
Orie: Yeah, we really do!
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