By Melinda Collins
It looks much like a tricycle attached to a triangle sail. But as the Blokart celebrates 10 years of manufacture, its popularity is showing no signs of abating. The brainchild of Kiwi inventor Paul Beckett has long since exceeded expectations, with the global marketplace screaming out for more.
The wind-powered, hair-raising toy, more commonly known as a land yacht, has soared in popularity since its inception, now being sold in Europe, Britain, the Middle East, South Africa, the US, Australia and its New Zealand birthplace.
By the end of the year, the company is set to reach another milestone – selling 10,000 Blokarts in 27 countries. During the past decade, a steady 1000 Blokarts a year have been sold.
Bay of Plenty inventor Paul Beckett completed the first Blokart prototype in 1999 and took over an old airport hangar in Tauranga to begin making them commercially.
Within two months he had built 17 Blokarts and launched them at the New Zealand Boat Show in 2000. He sold them all with orders for 750 more within the year.
“It did inspire the imagination of people and it has become a way of life for the blokart enthusiasts here and overseas,” Beckett says.
Very soon his son Matt Beckett joined him on his spirited journey, and after taking over the day to day running of the company, is the managing director of the commercial enterprise.
Cornering the market
The Becketts realised the market for the Blokart would be quite different than that of the traditional ‘big boy toys’.
“After a while, we realised we couldn’t fill the K-Marts or surf shops with the blokarts. They had a market of their own,” Paul Beckett says.
“They attracted certain types of people who have some mongrel in them – yachties, windsurfers and guys coming out of motorcycling, motor racing and extreme sports who could no longer get any insurance.”
Matt Beckett says while this was an initial setback, his father’s foresight prevented it from affecting what was to become a global success. “In the initial stages, it was really about getting people to accept something different. Sailing on land had been around for some time, but commercially this was far from anything that had been done.
“One of the best moves my father took from the start was to focus on building a sport around the Blokart. As a product on its own it risked becoming a fad which faded out within a few years. We have and continue to put a lot of effort into supporting the sport side of it. While competitive users only account for 10-20 percent of customers, they’re the best advocate and generate massive amounts of exposure.”
That exposure has culminated in huge international attention and a new global sport – Blokart racing.
Portability and speed are big factors in its popularity, especially with adrenalin junkies looking for new thrills. The tiny land yacht, which can be folded down into a lightweight, suitcase sized bag, can reach speeds of up to 100 km/hour during a race.
Blokart expeditions have crossed the Gobi Desert, a March 2011 crossing of the Atacama Desert in Chile is in planning and 2008 saw the Blokart feature on the Emmy-award winning reality TV series The Amazing Race.
The 90-Mile Beach Blast is held on New Zealand’s most northern stretch of coastline. International events include the Australian Open, the US Ivanpah Blokart Open and Rally, and the Ice Blokart Championships in Lithuania. The 2010 Blokart World Championships, only the second time the event has run, will be held in Belgium from 13-17 October.
Made in New Zealand
All Blokarts continue to be assembled at the original Parton Road workshop at Papamoa Beach, in the western Bay of Plenty. The steel chassis for the Blokart are made in Taiwan, but many parts originate from around the central North Island – the masts and fibreglass fittings come from Rotorua and the wheels are sent from Wanganui and Hamilton.
Matt Beckett says the most critical components are sourced from as close as possible to ensure quality. “We need to be certain for ourselves that what we send out if perfect everytime.”
Blokart International has also developed different versions of the Blokart to suit climates in other countries, including a redesign using skates instead of wheels, that was introduced to the Eastern European markets for use in ice sailing – a popular national sport in the some areas.
The company has recently developed a new ‘water’ version of the Blokart called Katalyst, a small catamaran that whips along at speeds up to 18 knots with a mast just under six metres in height and a sail stretched eight metres high.
This puts the Becketts in a prime position to garner advice from. “It’s a fairly common rhetoric – that it’s not going to be easy but if you believe in it, give it a shot. Get good advice and good people around you,” Matt Beckett says.
“Know what you want and where you’re going before you get too far down the track.”