Dakine of Art

Kevin Young’s creations are rumored to have mysterious sources.

AN “UNSUNG HERO” OF WINDSURFING can be found tinkering away at the Dakine factory in Hood River. KEVIN YOUNG would never think himself to be a hero, but for all those around him, a hero is the exact first word out of their mouths. Besides overcoming cancer, Kevin came to Hood River in the quest for wind. He took a low-paying job as a stock boy in the basement. Eight years later, he is credited to be the force behind the biggest selling harness  in the world. Talking to him, you would never know that he is also the inventor of the Core Contour Footstraps, an anatomical concept to keep your feet connected to the board. TO those working at Dakine,  Kevin Young is their biggest success story of all time.

AMERICAN WINDSURFER: I’ve been told you’re credited as the guy who gave the harnesses a face lift?

KEVIN YOUNG: Well you have to understand two things. First of all, DaKine is very much a team R & D department. No one person is entirely responsible for anything. I am fortunate enough to work with some amazingly talented people. Lone Keopaseuth is a remarkably gifted construction expert. Virtually anything I can dream up he can reproduce on the sewing machine. Furthermore, I have always felt like I am standing on the shoulder of giants here. Rob Kaplan’s experience with windsurfing and accessories extends back to the very beginning. He was standing on the beach with Robbie Nash as a child and thinking about the very same problems that we wrestle with today. However, if I was to take any credit for anything I would have to say that I have changed the way people think about the inside of their harness. That interface between their body and the harness itself. I think DaKine has raised the bar considerably in terms of the way harnesses fit and the expectations that sailors have. There simply is no grippier harness in the world then the Thermo Form harness. It has made a waist harness a very viable option for a lot of people who never could use one before. Simply because it would constantly move around on their body.

AW: Give me the Thermo Form story.

KY: Well we were analyzing every aspect of the harness, we broke every aspect of what a harness does down into pieces. Examined the physics related to all of those things. The pole, the fit of the dispersion load, and taking element by element we realized that one of the weakest points was the inside of the harness, and how it made contact with the body. And how it made contact with the many body styles out there. It seemed to us at the time that the only way to truly define and [searching for a word] . . . the only way to make the inside of the harness constant, reliable and adjustable to a number of body styles was to actually dial in the shape of the inside. So we sat down with modeling clay and with shapable foam and literally sculpted the inside and came up with the configuration that fits the leanest person out there, right up to the average guy with a good set of love handles. It works for both quite well.


AW: How did you come to be working here?

KY: My back ground from the standpoint of design or engineering is completely non-academic. I have a masters in sociology which do little for my job here at DaKine other than the ability to listen very carefully to the needs of people out there. However, I moved to Hood River like many other people searching for high wind and found my way into DaKine. I have to say my grandfather and father were both engineers and designers and a fair amount of it must have rubbed off because I jumped right into this department and had little trouble finding a niche for myself here. I am proud of the success that I have had and even prouder to be a part of DaKine.

AW: They didn’t tell me what a company man you are. [chuckling] What is your title here?

KY: [laughing] I am officially Product Manager for windsurfing and kite products. However if I was to be known as anything, I would say I would prefer to be known as a designer or creative consultant. That is really what my love is. Taken care of numbers and fax and figures is not my thing, design is really what I like to do. Moreover, I enjoy helping sailors get beyond certain limitations related to equipment.


AW: Was it your idea to bring plastic?

KY: I can’t really say that it was my idea, it was something we collectively decided we would go in. I was fortunate enough to be handed the project, and the Thermo Form harness was actually my first solo flight here at DaKine, as far as harness design is concerned and as far as design control is concerned. Prior to that I was basically mentored or apprenticing under Rob and Eric and a number of other people that have been here for a long time.

AW: What’s next? What is the future evolution of the harness?

KY: I think there is a lot, a lot left to be done. I think the future is really exciting, I think we are a going to begin using some biomechanical devices in our harness.

AW: What do you mean by that?

KY: Well I do not want to tip my hand too much but there are certain aspects of harness that have yet to be controlled. Most sailors are aware of the fact that a hook lift or spreader bar lift is problematic both for seat harnesses and for waist harnesses. The need for sliding bars and so forth has never been properly addressed. Harnesses can still go further in terms of customizing to individual body types and styles and all of these areas we are going to push the envelope. We have got preliminary designs for auto-adjusting lumbar and other advanced ideas that I don’t want to get into now. [Laughing].

AW: You know your competitors paid me a lot of money to come here to interview you. I hope you don’t disappoint them.

KY: [laughing] There is a lot of talent out there. I’ve long admired some of the work done by our competitors and I always make an attempt to go in a different direction. I very much appreciate challenges out there. If somebody comes up with something that is superior I would enjoy the challenge of trying to do one better, and take it a step further.

AW: I do not see anybody else doing Thermo Form harnesses, is this patented?
KY: It is not patented, it is just a process that is so complicated. I think most manufacturers are steering clear of it. The Thermo Form harness is done exclusively in Hood River. It is done exclusively in Hood River because we need to follow the process very carefully. Each harness goes through two thermal processes, each harness is stitched in a circular fashion that is never laid flat once it’s been shaped. In fact, it is impossible to flatten out a Thermo Form harness. However, producing them all here in Hood River makes it possible for us to send them all over the world knowing full well that people are going to receive absolutely perfect units every time. We are very proud of the Thermo Form and very proud of our product staff downstairs who treats these things like baby’s and looks after each one like it was being made especially for somebody.

AW: How many do you make a year?

KY: Again I am not great with numbers but I believe our yearly product is in the range of five thousand units.

AW: Do you find that there is a big difference between kite sailing harness and a Thermo Form windsurfing harness?

KY: Well kite harnesses, in general, have some fundamental differences. The pull, as you might imagine, is somewhat different than windsurfing, but the most important difference between kiting and windsurfing is the fantastic power involved in kiting. It way exceeds anything windsurfer’s experience on a regular basis, even harness launches. However, our involvement with kite harnesses is going to make for better windsurfing harnesses, because building equipment for kiters that last, and the things we learn from doing so will come right back into windsurfing and make our product even better. As it stands I think the Thermo Form harness, though it’s certainly one of the most expensive harnesses on the market is one of the best values. If a person takes care of it, it can easily last for ten years and still be just as crispy and perfect as it was the day it was purchased. You just can not say that about the old style foam harness that basically anyone could stitch up in their garage.

AW: I see a lot of different colors. Are they all different models or just different packaging?

KY: We are doing two basic molded harnesses, one is the Thermo Form, and one is the Nexus. The Nexus is sort of the baby brother of the Thermo Form. It is meant to attract those people for whom the Thermo Form was a little too rigid, a little too stiff. The Nexus is a lot softer harness, it doesn’t have a vinyl outer cover. So it works a lot better for body styles that the thermo wasn’t compatible with. DaKine is fortunate in that we offer a very large range of harnesses. When it is all said and done you could easily make fifty styles of harnesses to cover the wide range of bodies out there. We are lucky to do two distinctly different women’s harnesses. Not to mention that all of our harnesses are, non-sex-specific, they can be worn by everyone. We also dedicate two specific harnesses for women, which is just a drop in the bucket as far as women are concerned. We do our best to work around problems that are specific to women. The reason for the depth of our harness line is simply to offer options. I also recommend that customers not only try all of our harness types but try all harnesses out there. Knowing full well that many of them will come back to DaKine. It is really important to achieve good fit from your harness and be happy with it. It has a lot to do with your comfort and enjoyment on the water.

AW: What about those people that still like a seat harness? Do you have an answer for them?

KY: Waist harnesses have enjoyed an immense popularity over the last five years. A lot of that has do to the fact that the vast majority of professionals and advanced riders wear waist harnesses. People see them in magazines and inspire to have the same sort of look, the same sort of experience. The fact is that seat harnesses, still have a very important role in windsurfing and in kiting. I personally wear a seat harness and always have. I enjoy a waist harness in really light wind, but when it gets down and dirty you can’t get me out of my seat harness, I am a seat harness all the way. Part of the appeal of a waist harness is vanity, there is no question about it. Even professionals during photo shoots will often take their seat harnesses off and put on a waist harness for the sake of a good butt shot. We have never stopped developing seat harnesses. We have a seat harness know called the Fusion. Which incorporates our power belt system and is probably the highest and most advanced seat harness out there. It offers a fit that is absolutely remarkable and it is completely and totally appropriate for windsurfing and for kiting. A number of guys are racing in it. A number of guys are competing professionally in kite with that harness.


AW: What do you think makes DaKine different from all of your competitors?

KY: Probably the biggest difference has been our power belt system. It is something that DaKine pioneered, it has been copied to one extent or another by virtually everyone else. Most people do not really understand what the power belt is all about. It has a lot more to do with the function of the harness, then it does just getting a snug fit. Very simply what most people don’t realize is the incredible changes that your body goes through when you are involved in an athletic endeavor, be it kiting or windsurfing. Your waistline will expand and contract when measured with a tape measure as much as four to six inches. Just reaching upward, and elongating you are getting much skinner and doing maneuvers where your knees are coming closer to your chest, your waistline is expanding considerable. The DaKine power belt is a completely free system. Able to expand and contract with breathing, expand and contract with maneuvers, and allows you a snug fit regardless of what your body is doing at any moment in time. Without that sort of system the second your body changes its basic shape, especially if it is elongating and gets skinnier, upward goes the harness. That is the whole point of our power belt system which constantly monitor the shape of your midsection and to stay in contact with it. It has made a gigantic difference. Most of your imitators don’t get that concept, they’re not imitating it correctly.

AW: Well, I’m here to tell them how to do it right [laughing]

KY: Imitation is the highest form of flattery. DaKine tries very hard not to imitate, not to borrow concepts, but we certainly don’t hold it against people. As long we’re in the lead and others are following, then we’re perfectly happy.

by John Chao

Publisher / Editor is a former photojournalist for GEO, National Geographic and Time-Life Magazines