What started out as a way to support big wave surfers on Hawaii’s North Shore has evolved into a much larger business for Sporting Club Sports Juice.
Founder Tugger Balcom originally brought the concept to life with a group of likeminded surfers and craftsman. He wanted the business to reflect surfing clubs of the 1950’s and ’60s, where everyone brings ideas to the table and innovative projects come to life through face-to-face conversations that might not otherwise exist in today’s mobile-obsessed culture.
“When we opened the Paia café, we decided to name it Sporting Club of the Pacific and treat it like a physical clubhouse showcasing all the gear and formulating juice recipes to meet their performance needs,” Balcom said.
When DK Walsh of Skullbase Water Safety came into Sporting Club’s cafe dehydrated and low on nourishment from many days running safety at Jaws contests, Balcom stumbled onto a larger purpose for Sporting Club.
He put together a cooler of juices for Walsh on the days leading up to the next big swell, designed specifically to nourish and provide mental and physical energy — elements that many can attest are hard to come by in fast-paced, high-stress daily life situations, let alone in massive surf conditions. Hence, Sports Juice and its delivery service was built and began flourishing with a highly engaged audience of performance-focused watermen in the region.
“Hydration is where all of this began,” Balcom explained. “I knew that most of the guys didn’t drink energy drinks on the big days and once I took a few free-diving courses, I figured out why. The common ingredients elevate your heart rate, causing you to consume more oxygen and take away from your breath hold.”
The juice he was producing did just the opposite: the mixture of fresh pineapple and liquid chlorophyll optimized the exchange of oxygen and Co2 — something Balcom believes directly correlates with more efficient breath holds for big wave surfers who run the risk of being held down by some of the heaviest water out there.
But Balcom’s model had flaws that he continued to seek the answers to: namely, how to solve the one-use plastic container issue (the use of glass mason jars on the open ocean proved incompatible in early trials), and how to increase the shelf-life of the raw, fresh juice the company was producing.
The only answer was to move the business to the mainland, where more resources were readily available. About a year ago, Sporting Club officially relocated to Santa Monica, California, where they’ve recreated the same vibe as their original space, but have much more room for growth.
“The move to the mainland was our only option to utilize a safer technology called HPP,” Balcom said. “There are no companies that provide access to this processing equipment in Hawaii.”
He adds, “Santa Monica is pretty central to the Southern California region we wanted to test and we have lots of friends in the area. This has changed the entire dynamic of our business from product to presentation. In a lot of ways, we're playing with the big boys now, so we're excited to be here, buckled down.”
The move is also helping the company rethink its distribution strategy. While the subscription and delivery model helped put them on the map in Maui, Balcom says for ultimate longevity, Sports Juice needs to be on the shelves at likeminded stores.
Not only will it make the product “shelf-stable,” but solutions like powdered ingredients — a route the company is looking to include in the future — could help reduce the use of energy and materials in the production and storage process. These are all ideas that the company is rallying behind to become more sustainable.
Ultimately, Balcom wants to position the brand at a much broader level to tell a cause-based story around protecting our oceans and solving the plastic pollution problem. By teaming up with its community of likeminded watermen, like Greg Long and his work with Parley for the Oceans, Sports Juice already has a stake in the ground in this space.
“I think there is a huge opportunity in the CPG space to tell a really cool brand story and build a community,” Balcom said. “I think it is important to have a cause and the biggest opportunity in Sports Juice is to create a model to tell that story.”
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