Why and How Entrepreneur Nick Leason Launched an Electric Flying Surfboard Company
When Nick Leason was young, he dreamed about being able to fly like his favorite superhero, Superman. Over the years, his passion and fascination with flight grew. In college, Nick saw someone using a foil for kitesurfing and, in his words, “fell in love.” Inspired, he then tried foiling and was instantly hooked. For Leason, nothing compared to the sensation of connecting to nature by flying over water, carving smooth, bottomless turns.
At 24, Nick had an engineering degree in aerodynamics under his belt, and a vision: bringing the sensation and freedom of flying to all kinds of people—not only those who live the extreme sports lifestyle, but also those who don’t. He set himself the impressive challenge of building a hydrofoil that worked flawlessly. In 2009, together with his father, Nick opened a foil shop in Puerto Rico. He assembled a team of accomplished shapers, engineers, and artists, equipped the space with state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment, and named the new company Lift.
A Higher Goal: The eFoil
Initially, Lift built and sold hand-crafted hydrofoils for surfing, kitesurfing, and stand-up paddleboarding. Creating these buoyant boards requires acute attention to detail. “At first glance, you’d think it’s a simple toy,” Nick explains, “But the foil demands precision and balance to work properly.”
As time went on, Nick wanted to push things even further by building a foil board with a motor and a Bluetooth controller, so the rider could fly in any body of water, no matter the wave conditions or their athletic ability. The team got to work, starting by strapping an electric motor to their foils. “My team and I pretty much duct-taped pieces together. It took some tweaking, but eventually, we got our first ride of about 50 feet,” Nick reflects.
But what Nick and his team thought would be a year-long project to bring the eFoil to life in 2015 ended up taking years of innovation, perseverance, and grit to perfect. First, the Lift team had to create a battery that could propel the eFoil over water for many miles in rugged conditions. Batteries can be dangerous when not properly designed and integrated into a system. Much like those found in commercial aircraft, the design and construction of Lift’s battery had to be reliable and safe. The next challenge was the hand controller. A Bluetooth, wireless, waterproof, buoyant hand controller didn’t exist yet, so the team had to design, build, and test one, and then integrate it with the foil’s machinery. On top of all that were the myriad other components, like a motor and software, that needed to be conceived and meticulously constructed (not to mention, there was no similar existing product on the market to reference).
In August 2016, Nick and the Lift team were fully committed to getting the eFoil to market when an electrical fire burned their 4000 square foot factory in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico to the ground. Luckily no one was injured, but it was a huge loss for Lift and their custom stand-up paddleboard factory, MHL Custom. And yet, looking back, Nick now believes the fire was actually a blessing in disguise. The custom boards Lift had been producing were undoubtedly beautiful, but had consumed a lot of the team’s time. Nick chose to shut down MHL Custom and concentrate 100% of his efforts on rebuilding Lift and perfecting the eFoil, and the team got back to work in a new facility.
Lift was still pushing hard in September 2017 when Category 5 Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, sending the island into chaos. Forced to temporarily relocate to the United States, Nick kept in touch with his team on the island, as they all continued to forge ahead.
After much perseverance and innovative thinking, Nick’s dream—to bring the experience of flight within reach—is now an inspiring reality. In 2018, after nearly a decade and many iterations, Lift took flight and started shipping eFoils to customers around the world. With facilities in California and China in addition to its home base in Puerto Rico, Lift is a proud leader in the ever-growing foiling industry. As of early 2019, it’s nearing 1,000 eFoils shipped, and this number grows and grows.
But things aren’t stopping there for Nick Leason and the Lift team. “We now know a thing or two about electric propulsion and watercraft,” Nick says. “I have some wild ideas to work on that will take years, but we’ll do it. Here we go again…”