2019 PHOTO ANNUAL | Inside – Lee & Eric Elliott (Ambush/Buywake)
Alliance: Last fall our industry lost one of the greatest leaders we’ve ever had, the man who put BuyWake on the map, Chuck Morrow. Chuck was not only your leader but your stepfather. What kind of impact did Chuck have on the business and you personally, and what do you do daily to honor Chuck?
Eric Elliott: Chuck’s impact on our business and on my life is immeasurable. He was the co-founder, owner, and intrepid leader of the business from the beginning all the way through his passing, for 20 of our 21 years in business. His stamp is on everything … and we continue to ask “What would Chuck do?” with every challenge and opportunity. From a personal standpoint, he taught me everything I know about what it means to be a man, how to seek what I want and ensure that I get it, how to act properly. Nearly every value that I possess was instilled in me by Chuck. This is where I miss him the most. I feel like almost everything I do now is to honor him and his legacy.
Lee Elliott: Buywake is Chuck’s brainchild. Yeah, Eric and I have worked in the business for over twenty years, but Chuck was the visionary that recognized that specialty retail online was viable a decade before anyone else. Chuck was the risk taker and the entrepreneur that took the leaps in life that most people only talk about. Chuck was the relentless innovator that was always looking for ways to improve. Our outlook on business, our entrepreneurial spirits, and our dedication to serving our supporters were all shaped by his actions.
This may sound overly-sentimental, but we have a huge canvas print of Chuck hanging in our office that everyone signed at his funeral. Everyday I walk up to it and give it a big fist bump. Everyday I want him to know how appreciative I am of everything he has done for our industry, our company, our team, and our customers. Essentially, I’m giving him daily props for the stage he set for me and Eric, and the acumen he instilled in us to build on his legacy. All we want to do is make him proud. I hope we are making that happen.
A: Chuck was always a very forward thinker when it came to the wake industry. What were some of the ideas that he really pushed and that you guys still implement today?
EE: Chuck had a few memorable maxims that will always guide me:
- Our ideas are only as good as our willingness to implement them.
- This is the way we’ve always done it is never a valid reason.
- The only things you can control are what you say and what you do.
What’s interesting to me are all the little ways that Chuck changed and influenced the industry. For example, Chuck helped develop the cardboard backing that wakeboards are affixed to inside their shipping box. Being the first wakeboarding-specific online retailer, Chuck got tired of wakeboards getting damaged in shipping … so he came up with the idea and worked with Hyperlite to have them package their boards that way. Now, that’s the standard.
Many people also don’t know that he worked closely with Paul O’Brien to come up with the Ronix brand name, as well as many of the names of the products in the Ronix line.
LE: Our entire business is built on ideas that Chuck pushed. Most of the groundbreaking ideas he came up with are more or less proprietary info that we like to keep in house. But, the thing he will be most remembered for was his deep relationships with everyone in the industry. He wanted to make sure that what we were doing was more than just business. He loved working alongside everyone and helping push this industry forward. He did it for the benefit of the industry … BuyWake included. He thrived on talking with everyone, picking their brains, and taking the prevailing wisdom of the wake industry and developing his own inventive concepts from those ideas. But, what made him so forward thinking is that he always looked inward and tried to figure out a way to do things better. He even evaluated successful things and worked to improve them. He was never satisfied or complacent and it showed.
A: How have things changed over the past year?
EE: What has mainly changed is that Lee and I have been unleashed to fully run the company on our own. Of course, we were always heavily involved in the direction of the company, as well as the day-to-days, but now everything is entirely up to us. Whether we realized it or not, Chuck had been grooming us for that day for a long time, we just didn’t think that it would come so suddenly, but … when it did, we were ready and vaulted into action. We’ve seen some serious successes since taking the wheel, and that has been reaffirming.
LE: In the first weeks following Chuck’s passing, our main goal was to work through everyone’s emotions as the whole team here felt a tremendous loss. Eric and I assured them that, not only would BuyWake survive Chuck’s passing, but we would thrive. Everyone here is so vested in BuyWake, that we all came together to ensure that we would flourish in the face of adversity. Now, we are charting a new course. We are building the company in our image while still paying homage to Chuck’s legacy. We set some pretty lofty objectives for 2019 and beyond that even Chuck would think are bold. So, in effect, even though everything is different without Chuck, the constant pursuit of improvement really hasn’t changed.
A: Chuck was inducted into the Wakeboarding Hall of Fame at the 2018 Surf Expo. What did that mean to you to be there and accept for him?
EE: It was the ultimate honor for the whole immediate family to be there. Lee gave a brilliant acceptance speech. Now that Chuck is in the Hall his legacy will live on forever in the wakeboarding pantheon.
LE: To me, it was validation that everything he worked so hard for until the day he died was recognized, respected, and appreciated by the wake community. Chuck aimed for greatness everyday and it was an awesome honor that the WHOF acknowledged that and awarded him for it. We always say “Chuck Forever”. It’s rad that the WHOF did too. Not only that, sharing a stage with Parks, Randall, and the rest of the inductees was pretty incredible too. I am so proud that he is considered to be one of the greatest personas in the history of wakeboarding.
A: Buywake has always been one step ahead when it comes to the online retail. What are you guys doing to keep things fresh now going into your 22nd season?
EE: I don’t want to give away any of our secrets, but we’re definitely going to keep pushing hard. In the processes, we’re going to stay truer to ourselves and our core principles than we ever have. We were the original wakeboard-only shop while these other actors either didn’t exist or were selling wakeboards secondarily to skis, tubes, and bullshit … and we’ll do whatever it takes to stay on top. And, be looking for our new sites to drop in Q1 2019. We’ve been working on our technology and, once the new sites are live, we’ll be continually rolling out new features in the months that follow. Everyone knows us as a wake and skate specialty retailer and we certainly are that, but the bigger picture is that we’re a true technology company.
LE: We have a full site relaunch going down in 2019. The new site will have an updated look and new features that focus on the customer experience. Basically, our goal is to stay true to our BuyWake brand while eliminating friction and giving the customer the capabilities they want and demand. We have a bunch of other things cooking too, but like Eric said, we are keeping those closer to the vest.
A: The longtime storefront of Ambush went completely online this past year. What brought about that change and what was that transition like?
EE: We are always trying to stay one step ahead. We’re always reinventing ourselves. We’re always staying relevant. We’ve been full digital with BuyWake.com since 2001, when e-commerce was just a baby. We went omnichannel with Ambush in 2011 when we took AmbushBoardCo.com from an info site to a full on-board sports shopping experience. Funny, people think we just went online when we closed the shop, but that’s not true. We went full digital this past year because in 2016 and 2017 the writing was on the wall that our space was going to, more or less, go full digital. That, and the retail landscape in Atlanta was seemingly in full transition with no indication as to which way was up. The decision made too much sense, and we stand by the decision. But, ever since we’ve been thirsting to get back into physical retail. We recently announced our BuyWake co-op with WaterSports Central, a longtime ally in Atlanta, particularly given our Nautique connection. We now operate BuyWake.com retail locations within their Nautique dealerships – with shops in Buford, GA, Lake Rabun, GA, and Seneca, SC … with more locations in the mix soon. We are also in the process of fully reimagining the Ambush brand … and a new brick and mortar location is part of that vision, but it has to make sense.
LE: Eric said it best, but that doesn’t mean the decision was an easy one. We spent decades cultivating the local wake and skate scenes. We had a lot of emotional equity tied in to that shop, as did our supporters. Those individuals in the wake and skate scenes were all dear friends and our team of employees were like family. But, you have to be able to make the tough decisions, especially when the decisions are obvious. Aside from the people part of the equation, the transition was smooth. We had already been online for over 15 years, so we built that part of our business to where it made sense for us to go all online. We still have a deep passion for brick and mortar retail though, and are looking at ways to re-emerge in that space in a new, energized way. But, we are being patient, know exactly what we want to do, and aren’t going to settle.
A: Even without a storefront, you guys are still very much involved with the skate/wake community around Atlanta. Are there plans for any events coming up this next season?
EE: At the time that we were winding down the Ambush storefront it was our vision to have the world’s first “local digital” brand. A critical element is being very active in skate and wake communities in Atlanta through events and “good deeds.” We partnered up on a couple of huge events in the past year, including the Red Bull Drop In and the OuterSpace Project. We’re working on something big with Georgia State University for 2019 in addition to a solid slate of events for both the wake and skate communities.
LE: The most important thing for your scene is to be impactful. We support events that are meaningful to the local community and help build on our culture. For wake, we provide all of the prizes for each stop of the Georgia Wake Series, help the Valdosta crew with Yardsale, contribute to Brah Fest, volunteer with Wake for Warriors, support the WHOF, raise money for B4BC, and do our best to be pillars of our local community. Plus, we try and get on the water with our customers and supporters as much as we can. In the skate community, we partner up with Greg Mike for his OuterSpace Project as well as other unique activations, raise money and host events for our local skatepark, and are currently working on three major events for 2019 with Vans, Red Bull, and Volcom, respectively. We also contribute what we can in terms of time and money to Swift-Cantrell Park Foundation, The Davis Direction, Bartow Advocates for Children, College Skateboarding Educational Foundation, and Prader-Willi Syndrome Association USA. Everything we do with those charities involve a skate or wake element.
A: Everyone knows the Ambush/Buywake team is stacked. With contest killers like Harley Clifford to rail slayers like Quinn Silvernale, you guys team up with some pretty influential riders. Any plans in the future to expand the roster?
EE: We just added Anna Nikstad, Jake Ramsdell, and Travis Doran. I think we’re good for now, but we’re always open to bringing on new riders. Our main thing is aligning ourselves with the most unique and influential riders in the game … and we’ve done that throughout our history. We like to foster true relationships with our team and help them at least as much as they help us. It’s more of a family thing than anything else. And I’m hyped that these riders want to be associated with us and be a part of what we’ve been building for all these years.
LE: I want to take the time here to give a big shout out to our team. Thank you so much for representing and being part of the BuyWake fam. You are the real inspiration. You are the true revolutionaries that are keeping wakeboarding interesting and moving forward. None of us – manufacturers, retailers, and publications alike – could be doing what we’re doing without you. Everything comes from your talent, creativity, and willingness to get wrecked in the name of progression. Much respect.
A: Chuck was definitely one of those larger than life personalities who made an impact on everyone that he came into contact with. Can you leave us with some of his words to live by?
EE: Success or failure, when it all comes down … it’s what you do next that matters most. That’s the truth.