Transparency and authenticity are what can make or break a company these days. That is especially true about the products we’re putting into our bodies, and if you’re a performance-focused athlete, it becomes even more important.
So when some of the most recognized big-wave surfers on the north shore of Maui began gravitating to an unassuming juice shop before they headed out to surf a big swell, word spread quickly, with others from the surf community trickling in to try it out for themselves.
At the core of that small shop was Tugger Balcom, founder of what is today known as Sports Juice.
“The truth is, at that point I really didn’t know if people were going to like our stuff,” Balcom told GrindTV. “So we launched very softly and didn’t advertise or have any signs. But once some of the local crew started coming in, it was very special because we were the one spot in town that didn’t have a bunch of tourists hanging around.”
It was there on the north shore that Balcom spent several years researching and concocting recipes for world-renowned surfers and craftsmen who frequented the hidden gem location, including Mark Healey and Chris Christenson -- who are now officially on board with the brand.
Balcom knew that in order to muster the physical and mental stamina needed at Jaws, one of the most famous big-waves spots in the world, surfers needed to be hydrated and fueled with proper nourishment. Specifically, he identified extended breath holds as an imperative skill when navigating some of the heaviest waters.
After taking a free diving class himself, he realized that energy drinks high in sugar actually hinder performance. So he set out to create something that would support the body naturally.
That was the impetus for combining fresh pineapple juice and liquid chlorophyll, as well as ginger, cayenne and blue spirulina. These ingredients are what Balcom believes work together to play a role in supporting the circulatory system, which is key to keeping the body hydrated and fueled. This evolved into Sports Juice’s two main offerings: Hydration and Energy.
“I knew that most of the guys didn’t drink energy drinks on the big days,” Balcom said. “The common ingredients elevate your heart rate, causing you to consume more oxygen, which takes away from your breath hold.”
The physiology behind how long you can hold your breath is directly correlated to the how efficiently your red blood cells can exchange oxygen and CO2, Balcom explains.
The process could be compared to a city bus: red blood cells travel around the circulatory system picking up CO2 and dropping off O2. Blood vessels are the highway for those red blood cells, and if blood vessels are healthy and wide (vasodilation), the more open lanes on that highway. In addition, if the vessels are well-lubricated with hemoglobin, the faster the speed limit.
“We wondered if we could find a natural way to open your blood vessels to help maximize breath hold,” Balcom says. “We set out to create a drink that wouldn’t reduce your anaerobic capacity, and that just might extend it.”
The team got lucky -- many of the ingredients were in their own backyard, like pineapple, which contains high levels of bromelain -- otherwise know as “nature’s favorite anti-inflammatory,” Balcom adds.
Another ingredient they incorporated is chlorophyll, which is what plants use to convert sunlight into energy. It increases blood’s oxygen carrying capacity by promoting red blood cell production and is also structurally similar to hemoglobin, which research suggests assists in maintaining healthy blood.
“The notion was pretty simple - if we could open your circulatory system and lubricate it, optimizing the efficient exchange of oxygen and CO2, that would directly correlate to an ‘optimized’ breath hold,” Balcom explains to GrindTV.
Thanks to that humble café on Maui, Balcom had the chance to test these different ingredients firsthand during the 2015-2016 El Niño winter that saw Jaws break 30-plus times.
“With athletes, we started out with a lot of questions. But in those conversations, they started talking about other concerns, needs and performance issues. Over time, I realized that these guys are way more 4×4 than Ferrari,” says Balcom. “They’re flying all over the world, prepping gear and skis, jamming to remote locales and all the while, throwing themselves in to the heaviest conditions on Earth. And unlike other professional athletes, they don’t have nutritionists or assistants to organize their nutrition plan.”
When another recipe called “Blue Juice” -- which got its color from blue spirulina -- began receiving positive feedback, he knew they were on to something.
“We wanted to create steady levels of energy without really blasting your heart rate and creating the accompanying crash,” Balcom says. “We had already tapped into the circulatory system, so we went back in with that approach and figured out we could craft a really solid energy by combining those ingredients with cayenne and ginger to further boost your circulatory system.”
Over that time period, the two drinks -- Hydration and Energy -- were adopted by most of Balcom’s customers as their “go-to” on big swell days. The business was growing, and as a result, was faced with some growing pains, which included the question of how to increase the shelf-life of its raw, fresh juice.
In order to utilize a safer technology called HPP, Balcom realized he had to move -- there were no companies in Hawaii that provided access to the necessary processing equipment. Riding the momentum of a successful season, he made the leap and relocated to Los Angeles, California.
Balcom said he owes the continued success to athletes like Christenson, Healey and big-wave brothers Shaun and DK Walsh, who “guinea-pigged” Sports Juice from the beginning. “We’re very thankful for that,” he says.
He also credits the original location: “It’s such a global destination -- when there’s a swell, the best athletes from all corners of the globe fly in. We had guys from South Africa, Mexico and Australia sharing all these little secrets about their home country, the ingredients they use for performance and why. We were blessed to be on the north shore of Maui,” Balcom says.
Sports Juice is available for purchase at select locations in the Los Angeles area, as well as through a home delivery subscription in that region. For more information, visit SportingClub.pro
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