Inside Job: Fred van Haren

Fred van Haren

Bataleon, Oslo

Photos: Ed Blomfield

So far this year we’ve visited the giants of the snowboard world, finding out what it’s like to work for companies such as Burton in Vermont, or Oakley in California. But what’s it like working for the little guy? How do you compete when you don’t have an owner with pockets deeper than Jordan’s cleavage? Step forward Fred van Haren.

What’s your job title?
General Manager. I guess with this title I can score girls easier! Haha!

What’s your day-to-day work consist of?
Our snowboard brand is a super small company, so ‘General Manager’ means that I have about 10 different functions: strategy, finance, budget, production, product development, logistics, packing and shipping boards, cleaning the warehouse, drinking beer, skating the office miniramp, driving my motorbike, shipping boards, collecting money, booking ads with magazines, managing the sales, building the order forms, drinking another beer, wearing a tie to speak to the bank, dropping the tie and packing boards…

Where is the Bataleon HQ?
Our HQ is in Oslo and our operational centre is based in Belgium.

Where do most of the office team come from?
Some from Norway, some from Holland, some from France, some from Belgium, some from Sweden, some from the US… Shit! That makes it sound like a lot of people, but ‘some’ normally means ‘one’! Haha!

How many people work there?
There are seven of us at Bataleon. It’s a huge multinational company.

Who’s the biggest character?
Me of course! What a question! No, as we’re so small, everybody is super important. I guess we’re all characters.

What does it take to get a job in your team?
Well, first we need to grow and sell more boards, then we might be able to hire some cool new guys (or girls of course).

Who’s idea was the triple base thing? How did it come about?
In the late 90s a guy called Jorgen Karlsen studied the riding properties of the snowboard. He noticed that a conventional flat board would change its shape when going through a curve – the torsional forces basically twisted the board, leaving it with a smaller angle to the ground at the tip and tail, and a bigger angle in the middle. Jorgen used this idea to create a new kind of snowboard, where each part of the base was already angled like the natural shape of a board in motion. The base is basically split into three parts – so the left side is shaped for turning left, the middle part of the base is shaped for going straight, and the right side is shaped for turning right. It proved to offer an advantage in carves and transitions, with fewer chances of edge-catch and a faster ride. Basically, a way smoother riding experience!

Is it easy to get a patent on that kind of idea?
It’s easy, yes! But also super expensive. The Triple Base Technology was patented in 1998, and received patent grants in 2003.

How do you get the money to start a new snowboard company when there are so many established guys out there?
We’re completely independent. Jorgen Karlsen is the 100% owner of Bataleon, so it was up to him to fund it.

The Triple Base concept really seems to have impressed people, and for such a young brand Bataleon have exploded onto the industry. How do you avoid being a flash in the pan? Do you have a long term plan to build the brand?
We’ve got the best boards, how can we be a flash in the pan?! Haha. Seriously though, we don’t just play on our technology. Bataleon argues that our boards are easier to ride, so the message is that we’re allowing everybody to have more fun on the snow. While all the other brands are competing with big name pros and big money, we just tell everyone to smile and go riding! We wanna keep the original spirit of snowboarding alive.

Do you have your own factory?
Not at all. We’re proud to work with GST in Austria, probably the best snowboard manufacturer on the planet.

Are you planning to diversify into other products? It must be hard to follow up a revolutionary idea like Triple Base with a regular pair of bindings or boots.
We’ve tried to produce some bindings but this was not really a success, so we’ve decided to concentrate our efforts on what we do best: boards… For other products we’ve started doing some collaborations, like this year we worked with Celsius on some smiley boots…

How do your graphics reflect the identity of the brand?
Just have a look the new range – the smile really reflects our spirit. When you see a Bataleon board in a shop or on the slopes, the idea is that you can immediately identify it as Bataleon.

When selecting your team, do you have to consider the markets you’re targeting, or the brand image you’re trying to create? Or do you just look for the sickest riders full stop?
All the riders we have on the team match the spirit of the brand. We can’t hire big names and we don’t wanna do it that way, but they’re all really sick and stylish riders who you’ll see more and more of. They are also dedicated to Bataleon because we take good care of them – we don’t have many riders on the team but we try to treat them as part of the family.

What do you all do to let your hair down? Any favourite bars for instance?
No coprendo. We never drink any alcohol. He he he…

What stands Bataleon apart from the rest of the industry?
We smile because it’s snowboarding… And remember, B is for Bataleon!

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