Up close with Founders Søren Engholm and Maj-Britt Klok
Date: 21 Jan 2020
It’s been a while since we last met but at the same time it feels like you guys have been in the swimrun scene forever. I think we first met back in 2013 when participating in Utö swimrun for the first time. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you found each other as race partners and business partners?
We were working in the same gym as spinning instructors and was both training for longdistance triathlon, but was looking for some new adventures and endurance races – and was becoming a bit fed up with the urban surroundings we were training and racing in back then. In December 2012 we read about ÖTILLÖ in the book ‘The World’s Toughest Endurance Challenges’, and was immediately fascinated by the concept of swimrun. We signed up for Utö in 2013, and have been racing 32 races in 15 countries together since that first race. Being kind of a gear freak and a graduate teacher in design and craft I (Maj-Britt) came up with the design-idea for our first product which we called ‘the pull belt’ – a combined belt, pull buoy and elastic cord – for the simple reason, that we needed this product for ourselves.
Over the years we have seen a lot of tailored SWIMRUNNERS™ products entering the swimrun market ranging from pull buoy, paddles, first aid kits, safety buoys and goggles. Was that a conscious decision?
Yes, we both felt that a lot of the existing products on the market were mostly suitable for swimmers or runners but not so much for swimrunners so we started re-designing existing products to suit swimrun conditions. In swimrun you need to carry everything with you on the runs so things have to be extremely functional, light-weight and durable to withstand the multiple entry and exists during training and racing. One of our main vision has from the beginning been to make it easier, especially for beginners in the sport, to find the right products and try this amazing sport.
You guys are a very small outfit so what’s it like to survive in a niche market like swimrun?
Well, as with everything the start has not been easy but by now most swimrunners in the world know where to find us. Most of our customers keep coming back which is a sign that we are on the right track. For sure, it’s not easy to compete with the big boys but we have one big advantage and that is that we can act very fast to changing market conditions such as rule changes, new race locations or specific client or event based requests. In 2019 we choose to move our production from the Far East to Denmark, both for less environmental impact and technical knowhow. For some products it’s not worthwhile to compete with big brands so in those cases we often look for collaboration initiatives that work for both parties.
I heard you guys do a lot for the swimrun community and even have partnership agreements with coaching outfits like Envol and Primal Coaching? Can you tell us a bit more about that? Yes, we all have a common incentive to grow the sport of swimrun and lower the threshold for people to try it out. So in a way it makes sense that we sponsor some of their training events and athletes with basic swimrun gear. In return we get honest one-to-one feedback that helps us to further improve our product line. It also gives us some marketing visibility in key swimrun events.
If you look back in the days where you started and then fast forward to 2020 what do you see were the biggest changes and what do you think will be ahead of us in terms of swimrun equipment design?
Without a doubt the product that has seen the biggest changes over the last few years is definitely pull buoy design. Swimrun wetsuits have gone thinner and thinner and pullbuoy’s have gone bigger and bigger. Up to the point that some event organisers have put some size restrictions in their race rules for maximum pull buoy size. In the future, new product designs will be driven mostly by rule changes but since there is no global federation for swimrun it’s still a pioneering sport where individual experimenting of swimrun equipment is part of the fun! As far as we’re concerned that’s the true spirit of swimrun and hopefully it stays like that for the coming years.
Tell us what races are you going to do in 2020 so that we can meet-up in person again?
In 2020 we are going to race in Catalina Swimrun, 1000Lakes and Malta Swimrun. Beside these races we will have weekly training events in Denmark during the summer, and our own race Fladbro Swimrun in june. Hopefully there will also be time and opportunity to travel to some races in Scandinavia too – we are very impressionable and can in no time convince each other that we have to race a certain race – but it is also a great way to meet up with swimrun friends.
Thanks for this interview and for the effort of putting all (current) Finnish swimrun events on your website’s global swimrun calendar. Maybe we can find some time to come down to Denmark this year to join your swimrun event. That would be cool!