“Welcome to Germany!”
After a long day of traveling, I arrived on a train feeling a bit of a mess to find two very tall (I’m a bit petite – 5’4” tall if I really stretch) smiling German men greeting me. Within moments I’m hugged, my massive bags are taken from me, and I’m walking across town for my first rather sumptuous German vegan friendly meal and a solid German beer to revive me from my journey.
I’m in Würzburg, Germany, home of Strobel & Walter the makers of the Yogaboard. And it is Dominic (Strobel) and Patrick (Walter) who have come to greet me personally. Now whenever I write an article one would expect that there is a bit of awkwardness, a period of warmup where I get to know my subjects even if we have communicated before. But there is no hesitation, no awkward pauses and instead I find myself immediately drawn to these personable businessmen who are excited to share their story, and passionate about their company and product.
And what a story they have to tell.
The long version will have to wait for the book to come out. 😉
But the short version still sounds like a an old fashioned movie script; a tale of friendship and pride.
Both Dominic and Patrick grew up together in a town outside of Würzburg (where they currently live). Having known each other in Kindergaten, they stayed in touch through the years as they attended excellent colleges, obtained solid degrees, and traveled. And then came the Yogaboard project.
Originally two friends came up with the idea of building a balance product. However Dominic actually had the design and construction inspiration for the Yogaboard itself while he was living in South Africa. He also had the idea for the effect (multi-axis deflection) over the length thanks to his interest in surfing. Dominic knew he had come up with something special and wanted to create a business model that promoted German quality, innovation, healthy living, sustainable products, and ethical business practices. Working with his friend Patrick seemed a natural fit.
“We both have different talents,’ Dominic told me over dinner a few nights later. “So we discovered we are able to really complement one another and divide up the duties of CEO in a manner that allows us to do what is best for our company. We put our names on the company because we believed so strongly in what we were creating that we wanted vendors, clients, and those we partner with to know we stand behind every aspect of our products and business.”
Now the company itself did not start overnight. First Dominic and Patrick tested out the project with a Kickstarter campaign. This is actually where Jeff McSharry, President of Kulae first found out about the Yogaboard.
“About two weeks before one of the biggest sports trade show conferences – the ISPO Munich – our Director of Business Development sends me a link to the Yogaboard Kickstarter page. We thought this looked like an incredible product and reached out to the guys. We were thrilled when we finally met in person at the conference that they had won the award for best new product,’ Jeff said. “After spending time with both Patrick and Dominic we found them so ethical, personable, funny, and smart, we knew that they, and the Yogaboard, were a perfect fit for the Kulae community. That is why we were proud to become their first U.S. Distributor for their balance board.”
Ironically, despite living active lifestyles which included many sports, neither of the guys were yogis before starting the company. However midweek I find myself going with Patrick to take a class with Isabelle Blaich- one of the fabulous Yogaboard Ambassadors and the model for the original Yogaboard ads. Patrick is stoked about the class – even though we are not on a Yogaboard for it.
“Yoga really changed our lives,” he tells me as we warm up together. “Dominic and I were on very different career paths only a short time ago – working towards being partners in our respective companies, long days, and not a lot of time left for physical activities we love. Creating this company, we realized we both enjoyed yoga. And the practice taught us to be more mindful and in touch with what we wanted from our lives. So together we developed a business model that encourages us to do something we love and are passionate about sharing with others.”
And passionate these guys are! They invited me to attend the Düsseldorf Yoga World Expo. On Friday we piled into a van filled with Yogaboards and drove the four hours together chatting away the whole time.
“Wait until you see people interact with the Yogaboards,’ says Dominic. “They love playing on them.”
Now in the interest of full disclosure, by this point in my visit we have all become fast friends. I typically try to keep a semi professional distance from my subjects to allow a certain sense of neutrality to be maintained. But it is really hard to do so with these guys. Not only are they passionate about their business and product, but they are some of the most ethical businessmen I have ever met. And they truly believe in German quality, German pride, and German innovation. The Yogaboards are of German design, made with wood (beech) from a German forest, and produced in Germany about a half hour away from the corporate headquarters. And so it is with great surprise that the guys invite me to become a part of the team as a Yogaboard Ambassador.
“We’ve seen your work, and think you would be a great fit for our team,” says Patrick.
I am proud, flattered, and truly excited…which becomes even more so when I get to the convention.
Our booth is literally the most popular spot there. Patrick, Dominic, and I, along with two other wonderful Yogaboard supporters – Mona and Joy – are kept busy from opening to closing the whole weekend. People love the Yogaboards – not only for yoga, but for dance, fitness training, balance training, surf practice, and other ways to “play” as one enthusiast noted. I find myself doing salsa with dancers, practicing handstands, and teaching mini yoga sessions all at the booth. On Sunday, Mona and I rock a co-taught Yogaboard class and the energy from our students can be heard and felt throughout the whole venue.
“People really like to try out the Yogaboards,’ says Dominic. “That is why these conventions are so important to our business. Once they can see and touch the Yogaboards, they realize that the possibilities for how they can be used are endless.”
And what are some of those possibilities? I’m glad you asked:
The name of the board itself was inspired by how easily this balance board lends itself to a variety of yoga practices. One morning I find myself testing out the Yogaboard with an entire home practice of meditative Kripalu style yoga from warmup to savasana without ever leaving the Yogaboard space.
Being a bit hyperactive, I love how doing a traditional practice on the Yogaboard inspires me to slow down my flow and really focus on the breath. I can’t “cheat” the asanas by flowing faster or sloppily because I will fall off the board (which is less than an inch off the ground). My inhales and exhales become slower and more controlled, and by the end of my session, I end up in one of the most relaxed meditative states that I have had since getting on the road several months ago.
SUP TRAINING AND YOGA
Several years ago I attended a Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP) Yoga workshop at Kripalu in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The night before we took our paddle boards out on the lake, the workshop leaders brought in the boards, set them on top of pillows on the floor, and had us practice our balance so we would be prepared when we felt waves and movement on the water.
The problem was that the boards kept slipping off the pillows and I kept sliding off the board itself as a result.
I mentioned this experience to Patrick as we were setting up at the convention. He explained that the Yogaboard’s construction solves that problem as the bottom is curved and created from MDF (medium density fiberboard) so there aren’t any safety issues of moving parts to interrupt your training.
“Our clients who lead SUP retreats love the Yogaboards because it allows them to hold training classes even in the winter when it is too cold for them to get out on the water,’ explains Patrick. “And for those who lead SUP Yoga classes, this is another tool for them to use with their members for year-round strength training and conditioning.”
A convention member at the Düsseldorf Yogaworld Expo chimes in “I like the fact that I get to try SUP yoga without getting wet,” she laughs. “It makes me feel a little more confident that I will be able to do it out on the water this summer!”
Without regular physical activity, our strength, balance, and endurance conditioning will all decline with age according to a study done on participants age 30-90+ as published in the Journals of Gerontology in April 2017 (https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/article-abstract/72/4/572/2629941/Physical-Performance-Across-the-Adult-Life-Span).
However this decline does not have to happen if we have access to a regular practice of physical activity. The Yogaboard is not only a great tool for people who want to practice simple balance postures to increase their stability, but has also become a resource for doctors and physical therapists who want to help patients rehabilitate and increase their mobility.
“We’ve been talking with athletes, physical therapists, and fitness enthusiasts who are all developing ways to use the Yogaboard as part of a regular balance training regimen and as a tool for physical therapy,” says Dominic. “They like the fact that its curved design, solid construction, and ability to be used on a variety of surfaces safely, make it a useful option for them to develop trainings and programs for themselves and patients.”
I’m heading off to Costa Rica soon, and learning to surf is on my MUST DO list. So it is with great interest that I discuss with a convention member who surfs the world, the possibilities for how I can use the Yogaboard to help me with my training and preparation.
“When you are out on the water, you cannot control the variables – the height of the waves, when they will come, how frequently they appear, the temperature of the water, who else is around you, etc. So for newbie surfers this can be intimidating because you really need to concentrate on practicing moves for muscle memory …like pop-ups,” she explains earnestly.
Patrick chimes in “Yes, so our surf coaches love that the Yogaboard’s natural motion allows them to teach their beginners some basic moves, and build strength and conditioning outside of the water so that they can feel more confident in the water when the waves come.”
Suddenly I am really happy that my Yogaboard is coming with me to Costa Rica!
The practices above only detail a small fraction of the uses for the Yogaboard. On the way back to Würzburg, Dominic and Patrick explain that they receive feedback daily from clients as to how they like using their Yogaboards at home, with students in their studios, or in therapy offices.
“We love the ideas people come up with daily, and are now working to creating an online community where our Yogaboard family can share suggestions, best practices, tips, and the fun they are having across the world’ says Dominic.
Patrick continues “We knew we had something special to share with this product, but people have really embraced the concept and taken it the next level. We’re thrilled to grow our resources, product line, and community to expand our company in a way that continues to promote mindful and healthy living across the world.”
As I sit back and enjoy the German countryside, I realize that I’m excited to see how Strobel & Walter will grow this community of fitness enthusiasts as well. And I’m thrilled to be along for the ride.
Attention Kulae community
Kulae has partnered with Yogaboard as their first American distributor and we LOVE spreading the word about the Yogaboard. So if you have one, have tried one at one of the fitness/yoga shows, or tested one out in a class, we want to hear from you! Send us your pictures so we can post on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Author Bio – Samantha Eve Kennedy
Samantha Eve Kennedy is our resident traveling yogi! A 200 hour Kripalu certified yoga teacher, lifestyle blogger, clothing and yoga model, and freelance writer from Southern California who now travels the world inspiring people to a life of joy on and off the mat, and the Yogaboard! This whole foods vegan also creates delicious plant-centric meals to fuel her body for yoga, dancing, running, hiking, and kayaking.The founder of SamanthaEveYoga.com, connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.