Pieter Schouten and Mike Simonian, two design students attending the Art Center College of Design in Vevey, Switzerland, might describe their pairing as roommates in 1993 as serendipity. Both snowboarders, and Mike a surfer since the age of 15, they became friends. One idea in particular emerged: A board that would perform like a snowboard, but on asphalt. They found that on a skateboard, a rider could only lean over a few degrees and then the bushings would give resistance in a turn. The two inventors sought a solution that would give a rider the ability to execute more extreme angles while carving without resistance, offering fluid transitions edge to edge. In 1994, Simonian asked Schouten to spend time developing their ideas in Simonian's native California.
Schouten came up with a concept for a two-wheeled board with two curved axles with one wheel on each and springs on either side. The theory was that wheels would slide along the arced axles as you lean the board to carve. These "arced axles" became one of the key elements of the new board design. The two then figured out how to make the board turn. They theorized that by mounting the axles at opposing angles, the wheels would go in a straight line when they were at the top of the arc and that when the wheels slid to either end of the arc, they would have a curved relationship that would result in a turn. The "angled axles" would be a second key element of the new board design. The first prototype was produced in Simonian's parents' garage on El Arco Drive in Whittier, California. This location became the namesake of the "El Arco Axles".
That summer, Schouten and Simonian finally discovered the missing element for the overall design. They had theorized that by spreading multiple wheels along the curved axle, the wheels would always be at the right place at the right time and best of all, other than the spinning wheels, the board would have no moving parts. And the geometry of the wheels would ultimately make the board carve. The arced axles allowed the board to lean at extreme angles and the angled mounting points created an adjustable turning radius. The multiple wheels rolled smoothly throughout the full transition of each turn and carved effortlessly down the hill in flowing S-curves. With prototypes in tow, the boards were first tested by skateboarders but without a lot of success. In the mid 90's most skateboarders were all about doing tricks without a great deal of rolling. The inherent benefit for a fluid downhill ride with smooth edge-to-edge transitions was still unknown. However, by watching a variety of riders test out the new product, there emerged a rider who took to the sport more like a surfboard than a skateboard. It was soon discovered that this new breed of asphalt surfing had the potential to cross over between the riding styles of surf, skate and snowboarding sports. Recognizing "flow" as the common thread amongst the riding styles of surf, skate and snowboarding sports, the name "Flowboard" was coined.
The next four years proved challenging. Numerous companies were approached including Powell Skateboards, Morey Boogie Board, pro-skater Rodney Mullen and various other manufacturers. Even relationships with several unlikely candidates such as Nike, Rollerblade and Mattel were explored. But the timing wasn't right and discussions went nowhere as the flowboard turned out to be yet another fad. The two finished their respective college careers and again, by chance, both found themselves in the same city - this time, San Francisco. The year was 1998 and once again they began to tinker with the board. Instead of El Arco Drive, the streets of San Francisco became the new testing ground and the two began experimenting with longer and faster board designs, specifically for downhill racing. Even with all the modifications they tried they were ultimately unsuccessful in creating a suitable snowboard simulator as the basic design was limited to the carving aspect of snowboarding, totally disregarding the lateral motion capabilities of a snowboard. However, with the good fortune of meeting entrepreneur Phil Wessells, together with the original two inventors, Flowlab LLC was formed in 1999. The team turned its energies toward manufacturing and production and by the year 2000, the very first Flowboards were being shipped.
Because of its original and unique design, the Flowboard started to appear in many national magazines and a lively message board on the web site ensued. Exposure was helping to drive new riders to the sport, including two of the first "team riders" Mike Richardson and Kevin Krause, both from San Francisco. The two best friends had split the cost of their first board, which at the time was around $275. Within three days they each had to have their own board and they were riding the hills of San Francisco like a ski resort and using the Muni buses and trains as their lift back up the hill. Today, both continue to be avid riders but also help to lead the marketing and promotional efforts for Flowlab including placement of the Flowboard in such high exposure events as the X-Games and shops such as k-mart. Through their passionate grassroots efforts, more and more riders started taking to the hills along the California coastline. With the power of the Internet as well as several dedicated international distributors, communities of this new breed of asphalt surfer began to appear in Korea, Australia and Europe. Also at that time, improvements in the boards continued including graphics and an expanded three-board lineup was introduced.
In 2003, Mike Kern, then the company's largest distributor, purchased the company and a new headquarters in Long Beach, California was established. Under Mike's leadership, the number of retail outlets in the U.S. increased including specialty skate, surf and snow shops and national/regional sporting goods retailers such as Big 5 and Chick's Sporting Goods. In 2005, Flowlab signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Kryptonics, a leader in the skate wheel industry since 1965, to further expand its presence in general sporting goods channels. Today it is estimated that there are approximately 50,000 riders and growing exponentially each year. The company continues to lead its marketing efforts through aggressive and innovative initiatives including this summer's "Go with the Flow" Tour. Canvassing the California marketplace, the tour features a 40' bus that will converge on a mix of active lifestyle venues, retail settings and special events including the ESPN X-Games August 4–7, 2005. The sport's first "Flowboarder X" Competitions are also planned for later this season, 2005.
The flowboard is designed using the DeepCarve system, which enables a 45 degree turn ability, like a surf/snowboard, rather than the standard 25 degrees on a skateboard, while remaining stable.
A flowboard usually puts pressure on just 2 wheels on the board, rather than 4. This more focused weight distribution requires slightly more effort into keeping the board moving. For this reason, it is often ideal to ride it on downhill slopes.