- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
In 1977 they launched their design company, Concept II. "Our plan," says Pete, "was to keep a notebook of product ideas, and when we came up with a good one to develop it and see if we could market it, as we did with the Back Magic."
After failing to win a pairs slot on the '76 Olympic rowing team—that row on San Francisco Bay served to make Pete a fanatical oarsman, too—the brothers set up shop in the Green Mountain ambience of Morrisville. With $6,000 from North Face royalties and savings, they made a down payment on the Lowe farm on Route 100. On Nov. 8, 1976, they began fixing up the old red barn as a work space for their pet project: the construction of a synthetic racing oar. From their Stanford days they had noted that while racing shells were developing, oars weren't. Says Dick: "By the mid-'70s, boatbuilders were building shells with composites of carbon fiber, which is light but incredibly stiff, and fiber glass and other synthetics, but the oar remained this wooden accessory that no one was paying any attention to and that hadn't really changed in a hundred years. Our thought was why not take the same technology being used in boats and make what we felt would be the super oar."
After six months of trial and error, the Dreissigackers made their first prototypes—nearly going broke in the process. In the summer of 1977, they drove around the Northeast in Dick's decrepit VW Beetle, showing their oar to rowers and coaches. Yale coach Tony Johnson was smitten immediately.
"One thing I liked right off," says Johnson, "was that the brothers' oar, at seven pounds, was two pounds lighter than a wooden oar, which meant that an eight would carry 16 pounds less weight. It's also balanced differently—there's less weight in the hands—which means an oarsman doesn't have to push down so hard to get the blade out of the water on the release, and thus he's doing less work over a period of time. In a boat race, that's important."
The '78 Eastern Sprints, in which Yale, using Dreissigackers, beat wooden-winged Harvard, was one of those timely occurrences that marketing types pray for. To this day, neither the brothers, Johnson nor Harvard coach Harry Parker attributes Yale's win to the oars. Says Johnson, "We could've won in a bathtub that day." Parker adds, "And besides, we did beat them [ Yale] a couple weeks later in the Harvard-Yale Race, which is over a longer course." Nonetheless, after Yale's victory, orders for The Oar That Helped Beat Harvard began materializing in Concept II's mailbox. From hopes of selling 100 oars a year, the brothers now find themselves selling 150 to 200 a month.
Over the years the Dreissigacker oar has undergone minor modifications; today it consists of a sandwich blade of molded plastic foam (for lightness), carbon fiber (for strength and stiffness) and fiber glass (for durability); a shaft of fiber glass and carbon fiber; a basswood handle and plastic sleeves and collars (against which the oars rest in their locks). Four men work five days a week making, on average, 10 sweeps and four sculls a day.
In 1981, the brothers invented the natural sequel to their oar—a sophisticated yet simple rowing machine called the Concept II Rowing Ergometer. Priced at $595, it consists of a sliding seat and a handle/drive chain/flywheel mechanism that simulates the momentum of a rowing shell. Already the brothers have sold 4,000 of the machines, which have spawned a series of indoor regattas around the country, most notably the Crash-B Sprints held at Harvard in February. Crash-B stands for Charles River Association of Sculling Has-Beens, the rowing club that sponsors the regatta, and this year 300 contestants raced 20 at a time on separate machines to see who could do a five-mile piece the fastest.
Also staying in one place while going very fast are the Dreissigackers, Wilbur and Orville, welcome two more to the brotherhood.