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THE HISTORY OF RRD

26/05/2021
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From humble beginnings in the late 80s, to one of the major windsurfing and watersport companies of today, John Carter learns about the history and rise of RRD from its founder Roberto Ricci.

This feature was first published in our January / February 2021 issue! To read more features like this first, Print and Digital subscriptions are available. Prices include delivery globally for 10 x issues a year!


BACKGROUND
John Carter – “Roberto Ricci has built his windsurf, fashion and watersports collections with a passion and quest for quality, elegant designs and the classic style you would expect of a brand with Italian heritage. It started back in 1989, when Roberto Ricci registered his own windsurfing brand, Roberto Ricci Designs, or RRD for short, which was largely influenced by his roots from Tuscany, Italy and his trips to Maui, Hawaii where the windsurf scene was exploding at the time.

Back in the early nineties, Roberto was competing on the PWA world tour but also took a keen interest in designing his own boards, hence the birth of the brand. ‘Year zero’ was 1994, when the first board collection was born and at the same time he launched his RRD fashion brand which turned up a notch in 1995 when he joined forces with Roberto Bardini, with a mission to design board shorts and t-shirts for those sharing a passion for watersports. After 26 years in the business, the credentials of RRD as an all-round watersports brand have been truly established. The 2021 stylish orange collection has certainly remained true to the identity of RRD with its ‘made in Italy’ philosophy and fuelled by the company’s continuous commitment to research and development. Rather than sitting back and letting others take over many of the roles within RRD, Roberto Ricci still plays a very hands-on approach to his collections, meticulously checking every detail of design and style before products are launched on to the market. This year’s RRD slogan is “It’s all ride!” which comes from the companies desire to make products that are both fashionable and functional to all watersports enthusiasts. RRD is all about that genuine Italian style and for Roberto, RRD is very much his passion as well as his business. I caught up with Roberto to hear a little more about how he has shaped the brand and his plans for the future.”

BEGINNINGS

Roberto Ricci – “First of all, I am very honoured to be part of the 400th edition of Windsurf, it is a privilege to be a part of this super important issue. I was obsessed with the ocean from the age of 7. I was fascinated by two divers, Jaques Mayol and Enzo Maiorca, who were pushing the boundaries at the time. I dreamed about diving and ocean life in general. I even used to hold my breath before classes at school. I bought my first windsurf board in 1981, I was 17. Windsurfing was the cool sport at the time. There was a windsurf school next to the pool in Tuscany where I worked. I got the idea in my head that when it was windy I could windsurf and when it was flat, I could go diving. I got hooked on windsurfing. It blew my mind. I was able to be independent on the water and see the ocean from different angles. I could explore and discover and my mind started to take off. My windsurfer was like my own little boat I could explore with.

I ended up working in a windsurf shop doing repairs. My father was a car body repairer and he taught me how to use resin and I could capitaliseon his expertise. I was young, full of motivation and started racing on the Italian circuit. I met a guy who had a beautiful custom board and soon was interested in making my own boards. I bumped into Paolo Cecchetti, who was one of the founders of Drops boards along with Mario Vinti and Fabrizio Marascia. I personally started shaping my own boards around 1984 at home in Tuscany. We learned the trade using Clark foam blanks, starting out by cutting our templates with paper, then modifying them into wood. We sawed the blanks with a hacksaw and then used a planer and sandpaper; it was all crafted with our own hands! We really made our own custom boards. It was a craft at the time. I was around twenty and the world was opening up in front of me.

MAUI
The first time I saved up any money I headed straight to Maui and that changed my life! I remember my friend Massimo, when we arrived in Maui, he held up the whole Aloha Airlines plane full of passengers while he got down on his knees and kissed the ground like the Pope! “Roberto, we have arrived in the promised land!” he said. That was the beginning of my Maui experience. Maui was the mecca of windsurfing and I was going twice a year in the spring and autumn.

It was six months Maui and six months the rest of the world. I was sustaining my living through shaping boards. I wanted to travel, develop my own boards and do my own thing, so I quit Drops and started going it alone. Cesare Cantagalli was a good friend at the time and was a big influence and help. Doug Hunt rented me a space in the Cannery in Maui and I was really into learning how to shape boards to suit Cesare’s style. At the same time, I was windsurfing professionally myself. I qualified through the PBA racing trials in Maui in 1987. I was never the best racer, but I was part of it, and learning all the tricks of the trade with the top sailors in the world. This is how I learned to improve the designs for my boards. The world cup was my university! I quit my real studies at home in Italy because I preferred my university on the beach. My real desk is a beach desk! It was a natural spontaneous choice which helped me get to where I am today!

The year I really started the brand was 1989. I felt like I had to go my own way. I started out calling it H2O designs. My friend Mickey Eskimo eventually persuaded me to change the name to RRD. He liked the way my name sounded and from that point on I my life was all about the ‘R’s and the ‘D’s. My name was to become my trademark. I was not really sure about using my own name, but my friends persuaded me. At that time anything was possible. I really started to think about the future of my own brand. My passion would be my job. It was a dream come true. That is still what I am doing today. Designing something, go test it, improve it! That is my ticket. I love my job. I am very happy that I decided to choose my life path this way.

1993 MILESTONE MOMENT
In 1993 there was a huge fire in my factory in Italy. I was making boards for guys like Brian Talma and Robby Seeger. I remember it was the 13th of December 1993. I was out to dinner and one of the ovens that was curing my boards caught fire and set light to the factory. It was a nightmare, but in the end, it somehow turned into a positive event. I had nothing, no insurance and the equivalent of about €2000 in the bank. It made me take the whole company a lot more seriously. I had to stop being a beach bum and make it happen. I felt that there was something special to be done in the world of windsurfing and I wanted to make the best possible boards in production. I put together all my experience and this was a milestone moment when I decided to be more serious about my company RRD.
ANDERS BRINGDAL 
Right after the fire, I had a phone call from a friend, Manu Bertin, who also was the trainer of Anders Bringdal, one of the best racers in the world at the time. Out of the ashes, I could still smell the smoke of the burnt factory, but I had this opportunity to shape for a world-class rider. I made my first set of boards for him for the world cup in Almanarre, France. I made him custom boards as he was racing for Copello at the time. We really got into a good relationship and at the end of the year I told Anders that this was the time for me to start making production boards. It was the time to do it. I told Anders I would sponsor him and promised to give him all the money I could possibly borrow from the bank. I said let’s go for it. I signed a three-year deal with Anders for the first time. He went off to New Caledonia to race with one of my boards. I had made something different, a crazy 3.0m long raceboard with a daggerboard in the middle. It was a design that my father helped me develop. We won the event! RRD was on the cover of all the magazines. It was the first event, the first time I sponsored a rider and RRD had risen out of the dust into the stars! You can imagine there was a lot of hype. It was a huge breakthough. We came from out of the blue and it was straight
in your face. That is how we started off; it was really a great milestone moment.

FIRST COLLECTION

From there, I stepped things up and made our first line of windsurfing boards. I presented that collection at the Munich ISPO in 1994; it was a range of four boards. It was the RRD year zero collection. That is pretty much how it all started off. We slowly started finding distributors around the world and then basically started the foundations of the company. Of course, in the beginning you have a lot of passion and enthusiasm for your company, as I still am honestly. But at that time the energy was huge. Anything was possible. It is a beautiful thing when a new idea starts to happen. I felt like I was surrounded by a magic gold aura at the time.

It was a very positive vibe. The next rider I sponsored was Finian Maynard. I loved his approach of being technical, talented and crazy at coming up with ideas. I also sponsored Josh Angulo who was an inspirational wave rider at the time and still is. It was myself, Anders, Josh and Finian, and we all had a desire to express ourselves through the brand. After that other riders came along. Our board designs, graphics and colours were very unique; we brought custom boards to the public. The next step was to move to Cobra. The current CTO of Cobra, my friend Olivier Schnerb, called me and invited me to see Cobra and its potential for custom/production boards. I was also good friends with Svein Rasmussen at the time and still am. Svein told me that things were happening in the Far East and that I needed to check it out. He stayed in Bangkok and of course started Starboard and did his own thing. He was one of the guys that pushed me to see the potential of Cobra. That is how RRD started to grow.

FASHION

RRD was always associated with fashion. My mum had a shirt factory next to my father’s car repair workshop. As soon as I started to make boards, I already had a complementary collection of clothing next to it. I figured, if people want to buy a custom board then they would be proud to buy a board short or t-shirt from the same brand. The first line of boards had three t-shirts and two pairs of board shorts. We are a company that engages with our market both in fashion and in watersports. Fashion greatly surpassed the equipment business about six years ago, and now is the biggest part of RRD. We are still growing consistently. We started off as beachwear and then it was my dream to have a winter collection. My heart and soul are in the ocean, so I didn’t want to do snowboard mountain wear, I don’t belong to the mountains. We first of all started branching out into wetsuits, which turned out to be the missing link with our fashion brand around six years ago. We had the idea to use neoprene in winter jackets. That was a big tipping point. We presented our collection at a large fashion show in Florence at the biggest fashion exhibition in Europe and it was a huge success. We are now quite an important fashion company in the real fashion world in Italy and we are slowly expanding around the world. We don’t only produce beachwear, but have also entered into luxury outerwear. Our outerwear has the background of a sports company that interprets classic cuts with a sporty and modern approach.

ON TOP

I am still the CEO of Ricci International and personally take care of every single product that goes out the door of the watersports company. Every item has been tested or completely supervised from A-Z by me. I manage the company every single day and my heart and soul is still into board making. Of course, I am also very busy doing the fashion side of the business, but luckily, I have incredibly good partners who help with this. That is how I developed the fashion side of the company. It is a great complimentary work and the two sides of the companies go well together.RRD

WATERSPORTS

We also have developed the brand into other watersports, which was a natural evolution. When kitesurfing came along that also blew my mind. I started kitesurfing in 1996 and also made a collection of boards in 1997, as well as our first collection of kites in 1999. We were the third brand worldwide to make inflatable kites. SUP was also a natural progression. SUP is a bicycle for the water, the gondola of the ocean. Mickey Eskimo helped me see the light with the idea that SUP could be a big thing. I jumped into the SUP market and our first collection was also highly successful. Again, this was an organic spontaneous development. I also saw SUP as a way to help people get into other watersports, so in my mind was the idea that if people would take up SUP, maybe a few per cent would take up windsurfing or kitesurfing.

I want to express my personality through all of my products, and that is why everything is under the umbrella of the name RRD. We approach
watersports with a very open mind. We have so much soul in the brand already. We have amazing designs, classic style, awesome performance and we are not just about windsurfing or kitesurfing alone. This is my way of looking at things, my message, my story. I want to tell my story to the people and what is behind this little 7-year-old kid that dreamed about Jaques Mayol diving underwater. That is why I keep doing everything in RRD under one umbrella.

SAILS

We started making sails around 2003. At that time, I was working with Tomas Persson from Simmer Style, who also helped us with our first kites in 1999. I started with just sails for entry level clients to go together with the Evolution boards. After that we designed the first Vogue wave sail. It was a very colourful sail with a huge screen print on top. It was vastly different at the time. When John Skye came along that was the big game changer. He was a team rider for RRD for many years. Apart from his phenomenal skills on a windsurfer, he was exceptionally good at giving feedback about our products. I loved his approach to designs and we work together very well, sharing the same visions. Anything is possible. We work hard, we are open-minded and we are very determined and what I respect most is the humble approach of John to his work. John is now our product manager and designer for all the windsurfing hardware and sails. I admire how he works. He was an amazing sailor and now he is a respected designer by everybody in the business. He knows what he is talking about. I am happy to have had him as a team rider and now as head of design and products. The growth of the sails has been particularly good over the past five or six years, largely thanks to teamwork with all the riders and the work of John Skye.FOILING
Foiling has changed the way many people think about riding the ocean.

Foiling gives us a completely different perspective on our riding. Now we have wings! Now our boards can lift out of the water and we have that crazy beautiful feeling of being on a magic carpet out of the water. The fact that you can apply foiling to virtually every watersports discipline is also amazing. It is like a new undiscovered world evolving. Who knows where we will be in ten years’ time? Foiling brings all the watersports together under the same roof. With one foil you can do it all, from our universal foil range you can learn on it how to windsurf, kite, SUP and surf. The same wing, same fuselage and same mast. We have a huge collection of foil toys coming out in 2021. I am fully hooked on it and so are all of my team. Everybody in the company is foiling, foiling, foiling! We don’t have much wind in Tuscany, but we can foil every day! It is simply crazy how good it is. I feel like a little kid again. I think foiling is the best thing that could happen to watersports.

ORANGE

We are not just about one colour. It is about the colour of the sparkle, the colour of the idea, the colour of the passion. We use white, we use grey, we use black, which are all neutral colours and then we use orange as the bright light. That is our standout colour between the neutral colours, it gives us a real brand identity. We are using these specific colours as a choice because I hate to see parts of a board which fade in the sun. That is why our EVA deck pads are mostly white, grey or black. They are the only colours that do not fade in the sun. Those three colours are the base of our boards. Remember all windsurfing products are out there in the sun. The fourth colour, the orange, gives us some light to go with those neutral colours. It is a great complimentary sparkle and you can use different amounts to make any board or sail very interesting. Orange is perfect and has a little bit of fluorescent and can make any of our products look interesting. You may not like it, but a lot of people love it! I think it is a good choice.

THE FUTURE

We are in a good place with RRD. There are a lot of great watersports brands out there, but there are still possibilities for a small brand like mine to grow to a larger scale by keeping its roots deep inside the artisanal way we produce our products. We still have every single prototype coming out of our own factory, be it foils, boards or kites. Every product comes out of our design centre, aside from wetsuits and harnesses. Everything else is designed in-house, which gives us an edge. It also gives us trust and credibility in the market. This is where we can make those little details in every product extra special and I can keep an eye on every detail.

I would like to do this job for the next thirty years or as long as I am alive. I love working in my company and making these products come to the market and the people. It is such a great satisfaction. It would be great to make money and sell the brand to potential investors, but in the end, what would I do. I have my passion already. I foil, kite and windsurf as part of my job and my life. Just like Svein and Robby, it is our heart and soul. We all still do the sports. What really drives the industry forward is the passion and the heart and soul that goes into it. Thanks to social media you can really see which companies have the passion and what they are really about. If you are credible, passionate and true to your heart, then you can never go wrong. I think the image and future of RRD is very bright. Combining watersports with fashion gives us huge possibilities. We are proud to bringthe ocean to the fashion world. The potential of RRD is huge.

My heart and soul are in watersports. What else can I do? The other day I was trying new Firemoves with our marketing manager Matteo out there on the water. I had been foiling all week. But foiling does not give you that feeling when you are fully powered up on your 6.7m! It was balls to the wall twenty knots and we were having a blast. We were flying at 30 knots of speed across the water, downwind reaching. What a pleasure it was! Every particle of my body was just happy! Windsurfing is the mother of all watersports for me. My passion started with windsurfing and I still love it. Windsurfing is the best. I really love it!

THE RRD FAMILY

Today we are a big family. We are 65 people around the world living out of RRD between clothing and equipment. The team riders, managers and special contractors, I call them a big family because any time I have the possibility I will sit down and speak to each one of them. Anyone can sit at my table for dinner. When we meet for business meetings, I always want them to be a part of my dream. I have the desire to express myself. RRD is a company that allows you to express yourself. That is something that I never get tired of. It is not a company where you just come in and get your salary. Of course, we all get paid, we have to make a living. If you are keen to express yourself, passionate and talented about what you want to do, we can find spacefor your passion in the RRD company. The company was invented and created with passion. So, it is best driven along with more passion. I tell everybody in the company, bring your ideas, try to dream big, go forward and don’t limit yourself. Not everybody is creative, but if you have ‘the sparkle’, then you can express yourself in RRD. This is why I call it the RRD family! We are put together with one thing… heart! The difference between a company and a family is that you run a company with your head but you can never make a family without your heart. I just hope that maybe a new kid that reads this interview will be attracted to the water. That is what it is all about. That is my ultimate goal. To bring more people to the water and to help them discover the beauty of the ocean.”

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