Innovation Afloat: NEXT Boatworks Founder Shares Their Coastal Rowing Voyage

Innovation Afloat: NEXT Boatworks Founder Shares Their Coastal Rowing Voyage

Innovation Afloat: NEXT Boatworks Founder Shares Their Coastal Rowing Voyage

Imagine the vast expanse of open waters, the rhythmic sound of oars pulling a boat through waves, and the thrill of navigating across powerful currents. That’s the world of coastal rowing, a once-niche activity that will soon be in the spotlight, with a debut at the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

As more people seek on-water recreation opportunities, rowing visionaries and Co-founders of NEXT Boatworks, Dennis Loebs and Ben Booth, are redefining the rowing experience with boat designs that are faster, more seaworthy and more accessible for all levels. Their models’ unique features will not only help Olympic athletes compete at the highest level but will likely spark a rowing revolution for all those who love the outdoors.

Founder Inspiration

Dennis Loebs grew up around the water and all forms of small watercraft including sailing dinghies, runabouts, SUPs, and kayaks. “I’ve been attached to coastal water from a very young age. I can’t even remember how young I was when I learned to swim in a Long Island bay. I began water skiing at the age of five and have been dinghy sailing since the age of eight, and so on.” 

While rowing tugged on the periphery of his interest for a long time, he never took the dive. It seemed “a bit too esoteric.” In 2015, Dennis’s wife Sinead, herself a lifelong water and sports addict, told him about a new class of “coastal” rowboats coming onto the scene, primarily in Europe. The couple had been “erging” on indoor rowing machines for years, and Sinead had recently begun informal flatwater rowing lessons. Their interest piqued, they took the plunge by importing a half-dozen coastal boats from Europe.

“It was fun–we loved being able to row in any conditions, but the boats weren’t particularly well-designed or well-constructed. So it was really a mixed experience. My ‘build a better mousetrap’ brain was immediately activated.” Dennis shares.

“The small businesses that I’ve (co)founded all sprung from solving my own pain points and problems, and/or filling a market void, then building a better mousetrap.” These ventures included co-founding Loebs + Gordon Poolcraft which specializes in installation of bespoke concrete vessels; Blue Square Consulting provided intensively detailed design services in the water feature market; and Loebs + Gordon Poolcare provides maintenance for those vessels. Leadership was also in the cards for Dennis–he was CEO or President of each of his previous ventures. 

NEXT Boatworks

Bringing coastal rowing boats to the States and experiencing firsthand the problems with current designs got Dennis problem-solving, and led to his first meeting with co-founder Ben Booth.

Former Olympic rower Jim Dietz and Ben tried out the European coastal boats that Dennis and Sinead imported. “When Ben and I met, we began talking about boats, of course.” The two quickly discovered that they had identified the same design shortcomings. Ben also shared that for several years he had been designing and building his own boat solutions in his backyard. 

“By the time I met him in 2015, Ben had already had a few prototypes built, tested, and raced. He had won races in them–primarily long distance races like the 20 mile New England legend Blackburn Challenge. Ben had won his division three years in a row in a NEXT prototype at that point, and continues to win in NEXT production boats and prototypes as recently as last year. He was solving his own pain with these boats. Ben and I made the decision to build a better mousetrap together.”

Ben’s motivation was simple: “With a demanding set of requirements for what I wanted in a boat, I could not find anything on the market that suited me. So I started building the boats that I dreamed of.”

Ben rows year-round in an offshore reef break for fun and fitness, and the all-conditions NEXT boats reflect that breeding. Dennis notes that, in contrast, most current coastal boats are made by companies that specialize in flatwater boats designed for straight-line performance on flat water. As a consequence, “other coastal boats don’t perform well in true coastal conditions that can include everything from harbor chop to breaking surf, swells, cross winds, you name it,”

Dennis explains.

With Ben’s experience, fresh eyes and a “blank slate” approach, Ben and Dennis went to work. “We threw out everything that everybody else was doing in this space and just said, let’s start with a blank sheet of paper.” They utilized Ben’s battle-tested coastal-specific hull design, and built the first NEXT Boatworks model, The Prophet. “We designed it the way we thought it ought to be, given the rules in place for this class of boat governed by world rowing.”

To date, forty-five Prophets have been sold, but with a $12,500 price tag reflecting the bespoke build, Ben and Dennis set to work on their next design that will be brought to market at a more accessible price. The result is the NEXT Remedy, already successfully prototyped, and scheduled for overseas production in 2024Q1. This first composite version is planned to carry a very competitive sub-$6,000 price. And Ben and Dennis plan to offer a rotomolded version of the Remedy as well, intended for the sub-$4,000 entry-level market.

Technical Imperatives

Dennis and Ben aimed to address a prevalent issue of leaking in coastal boats when designing the Prophet. Unlike competitors’ boats that may remain leak-free for a limited time, the Prophet offers a lasting solution to leakage. 

Additionally, NEXT Boatworks model features a novel fin concept for easy removal, preventing breakage on the beach. The tapered stern, also unique to the Prophet, appeals to all rowers by reducing wetted surface area and turbulence, and providing enhanced glide. The boat’s distinctive design, including side drains, also allows for better handling in open water, coastal conditions with improved surfing control. 

With the announcement of the 2028 Olympic Beach Sprint event, NEXT Boatworks anticipates increased demand, emphasizing the Prophet’s speed, surf-handling ability, and stability, making it a game-changer for both racers and recreational users seeking a fun and safe experience.

The Rowing Revolution

Dennis and Ben’s vision goes beyond creating a coastal boat made for competitive athletes. They see a world where rowing evolves much like mountain biking.  “For a while, it was just a bunch of wild riders in California on trails.” It began with a modified road bike with bigger tires and garage-built suspension. Now, there are so many bike adaptations for all types of experiences, terrain, and price points, that people of all ages and abilities are participating in mountain biking.

Dennis and Ben see that same evolution happening in rowing. “We envision a world where people of all levels are using our watercraft for rowing. Whether it is recreational users of all ages, high school rowers competing in coastal sprint events, or the Olympic athletes that will be competing in 2028.” 

And Dennis, Ben and NEXT Boatworks are leading that charge by designing boats that are approachable and allow people to row anywhere, anytime. “The fact is, NEXT Boatworks crafts are going to be more accessible; they will eventually outsell skinny flatwater boats, and be usable by people of all abilities.”

Dennis adds, “If coastal rowing is to flatwater rowing in the same way mountain biking is to road cycling, then our growth has no bounds. The innovation, segmentation, and growth in MTB has been phenomenal. In fact, globally, non-road bikes now outsell road bikes! Ben and I have the same vision for rowing: we’re just now scratching the surface of what’s possible.”

 

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