The Inertia

Kai Lenny called it the “amplification of self-controlled gratification.” Jamie O’Brien and Blair Conklin are new fans of the Motowinch too. Called the first electric winch with 100 percent rider control, what is it, how does it work, and where will it pull action sports?

“I’ve used the Motowinch in fountains, rivers, wave pools, and at the beach,” says Blair Conklin. “I’ve ridden a snowboard in an ocean creek. I can see the tech getting used in every aspect of every action sport. It could be a game changer.” 

For the last 18 months, the surfer, skimboarder, and YouTuber has been putting what is labeled the world’s first electric winch through its paces.

Winches, both portable and fixed, were first developed by the wakeboarding and waterskiing communities around 20 years ago. Originally gas-powered, in the last decade the tech has improved. As they became lighter, stronger, more durable, and portable, winches have been co-opted by other action sports. There, however, has always been one glaring issue. 

“Traditionally, any winch had two people involved – the operator running the throttle and spooling device and the rider,” says Conklin, “So the rider is at the absolute mercy of the winch operator. The speed and acceleration that they think is best for you, often aren’t, especially with waves. With the Motowinch you control the speed and the slack. I use the analogy that it’s like a fishing line, where you are the fish being reeled into the beach by yourself.” 

That has been achieved through a handle that features a patented Wi-fi system connected to the winch that allows the rider to adjust the speed using an integrated thumb throttle lever. The manufacturer says speeds of up to 35 mph are possible.

Conklin isn’t the only one that has seen the possibilities of the tool. Jamie O’Brien has been using a two-man winch in his stunts for years (most famously in the Pipeline “lake” in front of his house)  and has also been getting creative with the Motowinch. Lenny, another noted trendsetter, has also been testing the tech. Motowinch’s somewhat masturbatory tagline is fitting: Pilot Your Pull. Lenny was performing 360 back flips on a foil, in a sport he called Flinching. 

Conklin, though, may have been the one that has pushed the envelope the most. He has towed a snowboard through a creek into an ocean and onto a wave (“which works surprisingly well; those sharp rails really dig into the water”), tackled the North Shore’s infamous Keiki shorebreak on a skimboard with Koa Smith (“what he called 3-to-4 foot Hawaiian, but what I’d call 6-to-8 feet Conklin”) and was the first to use it at Kalani Robb’s wave pool in Palm Springs (“it’s eye-popping what you can do when you hit an air section at 30 mph in a controlled environment”). He’s even used it to surf a river wave. 

On the beach, Conklin utilizes a 15-pound sand anchor which is enough to hold a grown adult hurtling himself at speed into a shorebreak. Away from the sand, it’s a case of fixing it to a tree using tie-downs or strapping it to rocks or fixtures. With the e-box, winch, and smart handle weighing in at around 45 pounds, he says it’s easy for a person to carry, and he has traveled with the system on a plane. 

As a skimboarder, he cites Motowinch’s main appeal is that he doesn’t have to run to generate speed. That has allowed him to ride much smaller boards, which are more maneuverable allowing for more powerful turns and bigger airs. You can imagine surfers towing themselves into big shorebreak barrels. Graviere in France is one wave that might lend itself to this new form of propulsion. 


Conklin also believes that in the next ten years, every wave park will have a similar style of winch setup. “The mind boggles just how big the best surfers will go when they hit purpose-made air sections over and over again and can control their own speed,” he says.  

Away from surfing, the possibilities across all action sports are huge. From snowskating, sledging, foiling, kitesurfing, to using it as a lift system on a ski slope. Skateboarders, skiers, and snowboarders will also be able to add uphill tricks to their kit, opening up a whole new world. 

The Motowinch isn’t cheap, coming in at five bucks short of five grand, but for the early adopters like Conklin and company, it seems money well spent. With electronic-powered speed under our own control, who knows where it could take us? 


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