I’m swooping down a Hyde Park street on what looks like a hovering surfboard, not a drop of water in sight and no sandy beach on the horizon. (Note: This story was reported before events were canceled and before city of Austin orders to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic.)
I lean forward and the blue board beneath my feet speeds up; I tip my body back and it slows. I lean left and carve a turn as smooth as butter. My hair blows in my face, and I hold my arms out, ready to grab inventor/artist/attorney Patrick Fagerberg, who is running alongside, ready to catch me if I launch myself into the asphalt.
I’ve just taken my first ride on a RodaSurf board.
“It’s like a magic carpet,” Fagerberg says, panting a little.
It’s true, and Fagerberg should know. He’s experienced more than a sprinkling of magic — some of it good, some of it bad — in his life.
Fagerberg was working as a criminal defense attorney when he was hit by a falling camera boom at an Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark concert at Stubbs during South by Southwest in 2011. He suffered a head injury that caused language and memory problems, forcing him to quit practicing law. In the following years, he had several brushes with the law, including an arrest for assaulting a motorist who sped past his house.
The left-brain injury, however, also seemed to trigger a new creative talent. Until then, Fagerberg “couldn’t draw a stick figure,” but after taking an art therapy class during his recovery, he became an obsessive — and talented — painter. Today his large, swirling abstract works fetch up to $15,000 each. He’s also back to practicing law. And now the creativity spurt seems to have spilled over into the world of small electric vehicles.
“I got a scooter and thought, ‘That’s cool,’” Fagerberg says, “Then I got a Onewheel (a sort of electric skateboard) and thought, ‘This is super cool.’ But it still wasn’t quite right for me.”
He bought a cheap surfboard from Walmart and then went to work in a shelter in his backyard, cutting holes in the board, reinforcing it with aluminum and mounting it on a Onewheel. The device, he mused, would provide a broader, more stable platform, one that he could share alongside his young son, Phoenix, who is now almost 4. He rigged something together and began cruising city streets on it, Phoenix standing in front of him, tucked snugly between his arms.
That’s when Starr Long, 50, a video game developer and longtime collaborator of entrepreneur Richard Garriott, took notice. He’d met Fagerberg briefly while walking his dog on the street where they both live. When he spotted his neighbor whizzing past on the unconventional contraption, he flagged him down and asked him what it was.
Long, who had experience in crowdfunding, was mesmerized. He offered to help if Fagerberg ever wanted to get serious about the product. A few hours later, Fagerberg and his son knocked on Starr’s door, and Phoenix asked Long, “Will you help my daddy make his company?”
Long knew nothing about making sports equipment but jumped in anyway. He and Fagerberg enlisted the help of an engineer and created several prototypes. Instead of using a Walmart surfboard, they teamed with Austin-based TukTuk Boards to create a Fiberglas board that snaps and locks onto a Onewheel.
So far they’ve funded the effort privately. Eventually, the founders of the company hope to produce fully-integrated electric surfboards and other merchandise, as well as a video game.
“Right now we’re building up interest and buzz, and looking for investors so we can get into the production phase,” Long says.
Fagerberg, 50, got into skateboarding in the 1980s, when he lived in Malibu, Calif. He didn’t surf much but was drawn to the freedom a skateboard offered.
“For me, it was always speed, and the motion is something I think we need, that sense of movement,” Fagerberg says.
The RodaSurf, he says, fulfills that need.
I wobbled when I first climbed aboard during my recent test drive, but once I got my bearings I could suddenly fly low over the landscape, sidewalk cracks scrolling rapidly beneath my feet. Top speeds reach 25 mph, although I haven’t gone that fast — yet.
“We wanted to give people the joy of surfing their neighborhoods with a street board that actually captures that unique feeling of riding waves,” Fagerberg says.
It also provides a good workout.
“It’s like snowboarding and wakeboarding and surfing and uses your quads, calves and core,” Long says. “(It’s like) after a day at the slopes or a few hours of wakeboarding, you get that nice throb in your rear leg where you’re putting all your weight.”
I wondered if the board could be used as a commuter vehicle, but the co-founders say the RodaSurf is less about transportation and more about fun.
“There’s the practical thing; we’re the impractical side of it,” Long says. “We’re about catching a wave and surfing down the street. This is about sheer exhilaration, art and the sport of it.”