Bringing Artistic Wakesurf Boards to Wisconsin
Andrew and Jen Aslesen of Jackpine Wakesurf create and manufacture wakesurf boards in the Madison area. The business formed out of two of Andrew’s passions: clean water and building watercraft. “In high school, I built a cedar strip canoe and finished it with fiberglass and epoxy,” he says. “The supply store also sold surfboard supplies, and since I’m interested in board sports, I thought, I should build a surfboard when I’m done with this canoe. But then, I thought, I’d never use it in Wisconsin, so I shelved the idea and forgot about it for a long time.”
15 years later, in 2016, Andrew’s day job was helping water utilities protect drinking water supplies. He spent a lot of time thinking about the places in the world that don’t have clean, safe drinking water, wondering how he could utilize his schooling and skills to help people in those areas. He thought about traveling abroad, but it was cost-prohibitive. He considered taking the money he might have spent on travel and sending it to a developing country, but he knew the amount of good that would do would be limited. Then he landed on an idea he thought might meet his goals: starting a business that could help fund clean drinking water projects. As his idea percolated, Andrew and Jen started wakesurfing and became immersed in their new passion. “After a year of wakesurfing, I wanted a better wakesurf board, and I remembered back to when I wanted to build a surfboard,” Andrew says. “I thought, why not build my own?
After some research, he confirmed that he absolutely could build his own wakesurf board. “Other small wakesurf companies were building boards and making a viable business out of it,” he says. “It’s a unique product you can make in the U.S., and that got me going. I started building boards and decided to donate ten percent of the profits to clean drinking water projects.” Jackpine Wakesurf officially launched in 2016 and found its first dealer in 2017. Andrew and Jen researched organizations to donate to that aligned with their values. “We’ve always donated ten percent of our profits, split between Charity: Water and Waves for Water,” Jen says. “100% of their funds go to water. Waves for Water was started by surfers who provide filters for clean drinking water.”
Jackpine Wakesurf employs Andrew and Jen, with contracts with artists who provide graphic design for the boards (dealers sell boards with stock graphics). For more of a bespoke product, customers can order custom boards with specific artwork, like a lake depth map or a beloved pet’s image. “It’s functional artwork,” Jen says. “People hang their boards on the wall, ride them, and return them to their spaces.” Sales grew steadily, even during the pandemic, at which point, Jen reduced her design work to work on Jackpine part-time, then increased her role to full-time. After the pandemic, the pair found themselves at a crossroads: Should they keep Jackpine as a side hustle or scale up and reach more of the market? “We wanted to take it to the next level, but felt like we could use some help,” says Jen.
That’s when they connected with the SBDC, and in the fall of 2022, Jen participated in the SBDC’s Entrepreneurial Training Program. “We thought it would be a great fit,” says Jen. “We were more established than some of the businesses in the group, and we were super eager to pull everything together for a clear vision of Jackpine. We had the knowledge of the past six years, so we were excited to get rolling on it.” Jen appreciated the ability to organize her thoughts, plans, and findings in a workbook for the course and enjoyed sharing her experiences with fellow entrepreneurs and getting their perspectives. She’s followed up with several of her newfound connections to meet and exchange ideas. “It was awesome,” she says. “We received clear training on the subject matter each week, and the instructors took time to answer our questions. We’re all big dreamers and need that reassurance and encouragement.” ETP participants get access to additional resources at the Wisconsin School of Business, like librarian Peggy Smith’s ability to gather data to support their business planning. “Peggy is amazing,” Jen says. “We’re such a niche product and market, and she helped me find ways to gather data. I met with her at her office at the library, and it was very, very helpful. I still use the tools she showed us.”
[Through the SBDC’s Accounting & Projections Clinic], “Anne [Inman] and [intern] Jackson [Damkot] gave us the confidence to put resources into Jackpine to reach more of the market. I had a lot of data and numbers but didn’t know how to organize them to set attainable goals. Now, we know what things look like financially if we reach the sales goals they’ve given us.” ~Jen Aslesen
Jen’s experience with the SBDC was so positive that she followed up ETP with the SBDC’s Accounting and Projections Clinic last spring, where business consultant Anne Inman and intern Jackson Damkot worked with her to build projections to boost Jackpine from side hustle to a scalable business.
“Anne and Jackson gave us the confidence to put resources into Jackpine to reach more of the market,” Jen says. “I had a lot of data and numbers but didn’t know how to organize them to set attainable goals. Now, we know what things look like financially if we reach the sales goals they’ve given us.”
To scale, the Aslesens will need to raise some capital, and Andrew says the work Anne and Jackson did for Jackpine helped him and Jen put together the tools they’ll need to go to banks and request funding. “They helped us organize those things we’ll need when we go to ask for funds,” Andrew says. “They suggested going for a line of credit through a bank, especially with the seasonal nature of our product, so that’s what we’re planning to do–talk to local banks and find out who’s got the best line of credit that fits with what we need.” They also plan to continue to work with the SBDC.
Jen attended the Digital Marketing and Social Media Conference in May 2023 and learned about ways to use social media and SEO to get the word out about Jackpine. “Our marketing is word of mouth, our favorite method, and social media–we have some influencers who promote our product,” Jen says. “We’re big relationship people, so we do booths at water sports events and demo days.”
Jen says the water sports community is a tight-knit group of people who love the outdoors and want to keep water sports going generation after generation. They’re also enthusiastic about supporting small local businesses like Jackpine. She adds that wakesurfing is a sport for any body type, so it’s appealing to new enthusiasts, too. In fact, the Aslesens’ daughters have begun competing in wakeboarding tournaments, so they spend a lot of time on the Madison lakes and lakes around Wisconsin.
Jackpine Wakesurf now has dealers in Sacramento, CA, and Okoboji, IA, as well as several in Wisconsin. They hope to add one new dealer every year. Long-term, Jen and Andrew hope to have a space for the company so they can increase production and hire some staff. “I think it would be so much fun to become a really great employer, create a fantastic environment for people to work in, and give back to our community,” Jen says. “It would be nice to have a space, so we can do those kinds of things. We feel like we need the space before we can do a lot of things to grow.”
One such element of growth relates to freshwater surfing. A longtime artist partner, Vik Wilen, of Thunder Bay, Ontario, requested ten standard size surfboards from Andrew for an art gallery event in December 2023. “She can digitally create her work, send it to us, and then Andrew glasses those prints into the boards,” Jen says. “Great Lakes surfing is growing there.”
There’s a possibility Jackpine will begin making surfboards. “We plan to keep scaling and getting bigger, focusing more on higher-margin direct to consumer sales,” Andrew says. “We’re getting those through SEO, social media, marketing–and stuff we haven’t necessarily had the time to do yet.” The Aslesens are putting new programs in place this winter, so they can test numerous initiatives this summer and see what works. The one thing that is guaranteed to stay the same is their dedication to clean water. “We’re forever going to donate the 10% and see how big an impact we can make over time,” Jen says.