Brand Backstory: Cloud9

With a roster of top-level team rider names that many from a surf background will recognize, there’s no question that Cloud9 are a brand that enjoy a good reputation for the quality and performance levels of their foil gear. Co-founder Chris Gutzeit (below right, with business partner and co-founder Kent Hardley on the left) talks us through where it all began, and where things are heading for the brand now…


So how did you guys first meet, and at what point did you decide to start up a business together?

Kent Hardley and I first met at the beach in Ventura, California back in 2001 through our mutual love of kitesurfing. That was the start of our friendship and in 2016, like many others out there across the world, we saw Kai Lenny doing something that literally blew our minds! Kai was like some kind of alien god from another planet defying the laws of physics as he flew and hovered over the sea. Our first thought was: SOLD! Where do we sign up? We were both into kitefoiling in the surf at the time and figured we already had an edge with our foil experience and background. Boy, were we wrong! We mounted kitefoils to our 8’0 SUPs with no knowledge or instruction of what we were doing, and off we went. I remember my first time trying to fly… Kent almost immediately ripped the foil out of his board and mine was only fueled by the fear of the foil as it kept trying to kill me! I remember coming home and writing my experience down in my calendar that this might not be for me with a sad face next to it. Out of necessity we decided to start building our own foils because nobody had them and they weren’t available anywhere. Soon after that we built a successful prototype and decided to create a business of our own.

Was it Cloud9 right from the beginning?

In 2016 Pelican Surffoils was born. Kent is from a design, engineering background and owns his own granite marble fabrication company so he knew how to successfully run a business. I had contacts and sources in manufacturing overseas through a prior business I was involved in that made carbon fiber products. I also had numerous contacts in the surf, SUP, wind, and kite industries from my love of water sports. We combined our expertise and resources, and off we went! Our first order was 200 units and right about that time we received a Cease and Desist letter from a kayak company that also made SUP boards. They considered a foil an infringement on their name since a foil could be added to a SUP as an accessory. So rather than fight it with lawyers we decided to change the name to Cloud9 and rebrand our inventory.

You guys were obviously into SUP foiling real early. Tell us about those first fumbling experiments and the equipment at that point? 

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We converted our 8’0 SUPs by glassing in double fin boxes for the base plate but had no idea about reinforcing the foam, so those ripped out right away. Our friend Earle Alldredge was also involved in this painful learning process. We were the first three guys to foil in our area, maybe even in all of California. Earle lost his kitefoil when the boxes ripped out of his board and it sank to the bottom of the ocean never to be seen again. That was a $1500 bad day. From that painful mistake we started tying a piece of kite line around the base of the mast and connecting it to the leash plug so if your foil did break off at least it was hanging on by a thread. Once we figured out that our kitefoils were just too small to create enough lift at slow speed we started designing our own wings. We scrounged what we could for masts and fuselages from Liquid Force, since they were already in production with building kitefoils. Gary Siskar, a long-time friend, was the brand manager for LF. He helped us out with the parts we needed to complete our first foils. We used their aluminum masts, collars and fuselages with our wings. Once we got rolling along, we ended up working with LF as an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) customer and bought everything we needed to make a complete foil package. This really saved us a lot of time and money! We even ended up designing their Impulse wing which is actually our S24 wing design and their factory built those wings for us too. 

What’s the harshest crash you can recall when starting? 

I remember cracking my ribs pretty good on the rail of my SUP when I was frothing too hard in the beginning. I’ve had a couple of other incidents since then. The latest one was right when the quarantine started and the board cracked me in the teeth. I had three teeth pushed back into my lower jaw and ended up with seven stitches in my face. Luckily I got my teeth pushed back into place and was back in the water two days later. Kent has dodged the bullet thus far. I think he once got a scratch across his nose when his paddle smacked him in the face and that was from paddling. I don’t think he was even on foil yet.

Pro surfer and foiler Lakey Peterson living her best life… Photo: SaltyBrother.com

Kent at his local spot in the early days… Photo: Jean Paul Photography

When was the tipping point into you starting to develop your own foils?

This happened soon after we almost killed ourselves. It was about three days after we figured out that our kitefoils didn’t have enough lift at such slow speeds.

Tell us about your development process. From what we’ve heard you guys have this down to a fine art… 

We are pretty stoked with our process. We actually 3D print all of our prototypes. I even have friends who have passed down their first wings that we made to friends and they are still being used today. Not bad for a wing that we made four years ago. We basically 3D print our design and then vacuum bag carbon around the wing. It’s taken us four years to dial this in and the prototypes we make are rock solid and built to last. Once we have the wing designed on the computer it takes about four days to complete. What’s nice about this is we don’t waste a lot of time and money into producing molds on something that might not work. We actually have created a more responsible and less wasteful approach to building prototypes. The only bummer about building wings like this is when they don’t work. Then it’s just another wall hanger to help us remember where we came from and where we are going.

What is the benchmark foil in your system? 

I would have to say our new line of foils, the F Series, is definitely changing the way we used to think about foils. The wings have become a lot more efficient which allows you to ride a much smaller wing. By increasing the speed and efficiency of the wing we have gained more lift out of a much smaller area. Our most popular wing right now has got to be the F28. At a projected area of 918cm2, or 149 square inches, this wing delivers quite a punch. It can easily handle someone at 200lbs and pumps and carries speed easily. It’s highly responsive and turns on a dime. We are very proud of what we have brought to the sport of foiling with our innovative ‘think outside the box’ design. 

Where in California are you based, and how’s the surf foil scene out there?

We are based out of Ventura, California where we have an office for all of our R&D and building of prototypes. It’s conveniently located at Kent’s other business site which allows us access to CNC machines, water jets, and other cool tools for the job.

The foil scene is definitely growing and we have a solid community in our area with a good mix of SUP, prone, kite and wing foilers. Wing foiling has really gained a lot of growth this year. We had a good run of wind wing days over the summer and it was super fun to see everyone get excited about this new sport! Now we wait patiently for winter to bring us some desperately needed surf. 

Paul Cooper. A true powerhouse on a foil. Photos: Jerrett Lau

You have a solid team – who are the key players and where do they ride? 

We have an awesome team of riders/ambassadors that all offer and serve a unique purpose to the success and growth of our brand. Here are a few names you might recognize:

Paul Cooper / @flew_da_coop – Oahu. Powerful lip smashing style and at 200lbs he’s able to showcase our products for their efficiency and durability.

Chad Kalima / @hawaiianalldatime – Big Island. Chad was held back by his equipment but I could see he was a diamond in the rough with his explosive style and lightning fast rail to rail turns. It has been a pleasure to watch him grow into the ripper he is today, and the best part is he just keeps getting better! 

Jesse Evans / @born_to_fly_kauai – Kauai. Jesse likes to fly under the radar, he has a very powerful style and lets his riding speak for itself. When he does produce content, it’s always jaw-droppingly good! We’re stoked to have him representing us on the island of Kauai.

Gerry Lopez / @gerrylopezsurfboards – Baja, Mexico. Gerry needs no introduction, he’s a legend and a great guy! Who wouldn’t want Gerry Lopez riding their foils? We are beyond stoked to have him flying with us. 

Rob Machado / @rob_machado – Southern California. Another surf legend that needs no introduction. Rob is recognized as one of surfing’s most iconic figures and has always been known for his smooth-flowing, zen-like style. I can’t wait to see what Rob contributes to the sport of foiling but I’m sure it will be nothing short of amazing!

Eric Geiselman / @ericgeiselman – Florida. Professional Surfer and probably the most diverse and talented surfer I have ever seen. Eric is always pushing the limits no matter what he rides! Can’t wait to see more of him on our new foils. I’m sure it will be very exciting to watch.

Lakey Peterson / @lakeypeterson – Australia, California. A WSL professional surfer, Lakey is currently one of the world’s top ranked female surfers on the world tour. She and her husband Thomas are now flying high on Cloud9 anytime they get a chance to fly in between swells. I’m excited to see Lakey’s skills and knowledge of surfing translate over to foiling! 

Edo Tanas / @whoedo – Italy, Hong Kong, Oahu. Edo is a very talented windsurfer and is amazing to watch on the wind wing. He was very instrumental in helping us with the design of our new wind wings. His knowledge and experience was greatly appreciated and I look forward to seeing him ripping it up once they come out!

Karl Muggeridge / @cloud9surffoilsinternational – Australia. Karl is based out of Australia and handles all of our international orders, Australian team, and works directly with the factories for us. He has been very instrumental in the forward momentum of our brand. 

Rob Machado, a man who’s never been afraid to mix up his watercraft options. Photo: Kevin Lukens

Chris testing the goods back in the early days. Photo: Kent Hardley

How did you get Kai Lenny involved and has any of his input fed back to the production level?

Kai has family from Santa Barbara, and we have a lot of mutual friends here. We usually get a chance to catch up whenever he passes through town for a visit. If we’re lucky we even go for a foil at one of our local breaks so he can test out what we’ve been creating. Kai has always been super supportive and given us feedback on our foils over the years. I can’t say there is one thing that stands out from his input into our designs, but I can say we wouldn’t be here making foils if it wasn’t for him showing us what is possible on a foil. 

Where do you see the biggest growth and development right now? 

It’s been pretty steady growth in the surf side of foiling but lately there’s definitely a surge in the wing foil market. What foiling has done for surf, SUP, kite, wind and wake now we are seeing those same customers expanding their foil quivers and embracing wing foiling. 

Complete the sentence: True foiling nirvana can be found in…

Two-foot mushy waves. 

What’s next on the blackboard for Cloud9? 

We’re excited about our new line of wind wings that are about to launch. They will probably be available before this comes out. We worked hard on producing something that would complement the quality and efficiency of our foils. We didn’t just rush into this and slap our logo on someone else’s design. We wanted to come out with a product that was well thought out and had the performance characteristics we were looking for in a wing. We are pretty stoked on what we’re bringing to the table. Sizes: 6m, 5m, 4.2m, 3.5m. We also have a beautiful line of surf, SUP, and wing boards that we had designed by legendary Oahu surfboard shaper and long-time friend, Blane Chambers. We are currently working on having these boards built at our factory and you can also get them custom built in Hawaii by Blane himself. 

In regards to foils, we are creating something new but I would rather not say at this time. It’s too soon to announce but let’s just say if you’re stoked on what we have come out with up until now then you might possibly lose your shit with what’s coming next! 

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