Iain Hannay has been Ozone’s General Manager for a decade. His relationship with the brand first began after a chance meeting with a pair on a Mediterranean beach and grew from there.
He has always been enthralled by kites since ripping around his native Scotland’s muddy fields as a teenager. On moving to Spain in the early 2000’s with his kites strapped to his back, he began kitesurfing. His Ozone journey began after he tried a prototype Frenzy foil kite Robbie Whittall was testing on a French beach and never looked back.
His passion for all styles of kiting—kitesurfing, kitefoiling and snowkiting—and now wingfoiling, is found across the whole Ozone team. Barcelona-based, he sees his role as General Manager as harnessing that passion and creative drive to make products that inspire customers, distributors and dealers.
For Hannay, though, the company’s dedicated factory in Vietnam, Parapex, where all the brand’s products are made, is an equally important part of Ozone. Its expert and highly-committed staff offer Ozone and its customers a unique flexibility and nimbleness. That translates into the highest-quality products and little or no waste as everything is produced only to order—a boost for the planet.
A self-confessed motorbike nut and garage tinkerer, his great joy is sharing his passions with his wife and family, seeing them on the water or snow. He sees big similarities between bikes and kites. For him, both are the ultimate personal freedom tools and evoke a shared brotherhood.
How long have you worked at Ozone and how did it start?
I have been into kites since my mum made me a kite when I was 10 years old. Then, I flew Flexifoil kites in the late 1980s and 1990s, ripping round muddy fields in Scotland with my brother and friends. In 2001 I moved to Spain on my Suzuki Katana with my Flexifoils strapped to the back! As it was hot in Spain, I started kitesurfing with a Wipika FreeAir and in 2002 and I met Rob Whittall and Matt Taggart, Ozone Kites’ co-founders, on La Franqui beach, when I was there with my wife, Jill. Rob and Matt were there testing the first Frenzy snowkite protos and I was drawn to this new kind of kite design. It was the first de-powerable foil kite. I got talking to Rob and after he let me fly the prototype he introduced me to Matt as I wanted to buy one!
Jill bought me a 7m and 11m Frenzy in 2003 from Angel Lio, the Spanish paraglider and kite distributor.
In 2004 I started to work with Angel as a snowkite rider to push the sport in the Pyrenees. A year later I took over the kite distribution for Spain as Angel was more interested in paragliders than kites. In 2009 I became the UK and Germany representative, too, and was on the phone to Matt most weeks. By 2012 I was offered the job of the General Manager and have been running the company, along with our board of directors, since then. After many good years growing our team and sales, in 2020 I became an Ozone Kites’ shareholder, all from a chance meeting on the beach 18 years earlier.
Can you summarise the Ozone GM role?
My role is to create a team which can bring forward a plan for the development of products we are all passionate about, together with the finances necessary to make it all happen. This plan is agreed with the team and the other Ozone owners at the beginning of the year. Once we start the year, the plan usually has to remain quite dynamic. We have become experts in Plan B and Plan C after the Covid years of supply chain mayhem. The markets change quickly, too, and we need to be able to react to any big shifts in our customers needs. It is great to have a solid plan, but it is also amazing to work and trust everyone in the Ozone team.
One of my roles is also look after kitesurf, racing and snowkite sales and account management. Earlier this year we brought Hannes Burner on board full time to take over the management of wing sports.
Our team is split up all over the world, so I feel one of my roles is to stay in touch with everyone on a personal basis. This helps keep the team feeling stronger I hope.
You said elsewhere that your favourite equipment (aside from Ozone’s water sports gear) is all the bits and pieces in the Parapex factory Vietnam? What are they, and why?
I come from an engineering background and, for me, our factory in Vietnam is the hub of Ozone. It was set up by David Pilkington, Mike Cavanagh and Robbie Whittall in 1999. Everything that we design and make is shipped from there but the relation I have is way deeper than a production facility. The people that work in the factory are true stars in our daily work. We now have 10 buildings and 1000 workers there, making products for Ozone Paragliders, Ozone Kites and we also make the wingsuits for Squirrel. We work very closely with all departments on a daily basis from prototyping, material supply, shipping, production balance and quality control. My «favourite bits and pieces” would have to be the relationships with the people that we have built up in Vietnam and the warm welcome we get when we visit.
Ozone is unusual, perhaps unique, in producing for itself. What are the advantages for the company and the customer of that set up?
The factory has benefits for all people involved in Ozone, from our design team, distributors to the end customers.
The design team can send off designs to our specific prototype department and they can help sort out the production techniques to help us make the highest quality wings and kites. We then have the protos shipped to the places where we need to have them tested with a very quick turn around. Once our design team has a product ready for sign-off, we can release on our order system and we can start production straight away.
Our distributors are directly connected to the factory by our proprietary Order System. We manufacture all products to order, on a first-come, first-served basis and not by batches. There is no need to make pre-production orders and no need to take a guess on how the market will be in six months time when the pre-orders might arrive. We are focussed on keeping our production times as low as possible, usually between 20 and 40 days, unless we have a large product release (or an international pandemic). I like to tell our dealers that if we have a windy year, then we will make only small kites and vice versa if the season is not so windy. Our system means we produce all our different models at the same. Some models like the Enduro, Edge, Catalyst and Wasp are big volume sellers and some kites like the R1 V4, Reo or Zephyr are for more specific customers. But the production times for all models are the same.
Our customers benefit from knowing Ozone will not have big end of season sales. This helps keep prices of second hand kites high. So, making the investment in buying an Ozone should be easier. We do not over produce, which means a lot less waste, and no undesirable shipping of over stock.
Ozone seems to have grown more ambitious of late, offering more new lines and variations, and expanding into new areas. As a product and customer-focused brand, what prompted this new drive?
We are a product-focussed brand, but we are driven by our passions too. The passion that one of the team members may have will drive our product development as much as the passion and needs of our customers. When we decided to get into twin-tips and hydrofoils in the last years, our goal was to learn how to make them first and then create a plan to bring them to market. The process of setting up the factory for these new products was an amazing learning experience, combined with problem solving and team building it involved. At the end of the factory set up process, we now have some amazing products to add to our line up. We can control the quality and production rate ourselves which benefits our customers massively.
With the climate crisis getting ever-more attention, what is Ozone doing to minimise the effects of its production processes and its products?
Producing to order is the biggest part of not wasting materials and shipping unsold products round the world. With our own factory, we are trying to make sure that what we produce will be sold and not sat in stock or on a container ship. We are a light and flexible company with no big HQ and have always had the ability to work from home. The factory has solar panels installed, LED lighting and direct drive sewing machines, which are very efficient.
In the same vein, Ozone is an extremely international company with staff, distributors and customers worldwide, what are the challenges and rewards of that?
The biggest challenges are the different time zones! Someone is always either alert or tired when we are in our calls. We usually have people who are 12 hours apart in time.
I’m told you’re a “tech geek”, never happier dreaming up and helping create new products, and equally excited when new versions or protos arrive for testing. Where does that passion come from?
I am not so involved in the product side of things, but I do really enjoy opening the prototype boxes and seeing what the design team has made. I suppose this comes from my garage tinkering passion. The garage at home is my happy place.
What are your favourite pieces of Ozone equipment? I think it began with kites and they’re still your biggest passion. Why? I’m told you’re always first on the water as soon as it’s windy.
We are involved in so many sports it is hard to say which kite is my favourite. In strong winds and waves it has to be the Reo or the Edge 9m . . . or a foil with a 6m Alpha . . . or a 4m Wasp . . . or a 5m Subzero on the snow! Anything and everything that harnesses that invisible force of the wind really! I get my quiet times when I am flying kites, it is hypnotic, demanding and mediative at the same time.
You have been involved in kiting and wing sports from the early days. Has the evolution surprised you in any way and where you see it going in future?
Hydrofoiling has been a revelation and also our 5th line snowkite safety has been key for my main passion, I now feel 100 percent safe in the strong mountain winds.
As a family man, sharing those passions with your children seems to be a big part of your life. What do you cherish most doing with your family? What are you favourite spots?
We had an amazing family holiday in Mauritius one year when both my boys and Jill were all riding in the lagoon for the first time all together. I stood on the beach in amazement and gingerly launched my own kite. It was around 10 years of teaching all coming together in that moment. We have also had some insane trips to the Hardangervidda Plateau in Norway. If you can spend some time at Bjorn Kaupang’s place in Haugastol, you won’t regret it.
I’m also told you are a motorbike nut. Is that one of the things you do to mix it up a bit and take a mental break from the water sports world? What are the others?
I have been into bikes since being a kid too. Kites and bikes are the ultimate personal freedom tools. Travelling by motorcycle is the only way to really see places, feel the elements and also meet people. There is a motorcycle brotherhood that you don’t get when you drive cars. I see a lot of similarities in the bike and kite industry. There are so many passion-driven, small bike shops with great customer bases. The bike salesman usually has oil under his fingernails and will understand your real needs. I can talk about bikes for hours. I am passionate about fixing and making things too, I used to upset my young children when they would ask for a trumpet or an X-Box and I would go to the garage to try and make them one before buying them one. They soon learned to ask their mother around birthdays and Christmases.