STORY BY MARGOT ZALKIND
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY Concept2
Not long after I moved to Vermont, I began to realize what being in Vermont meant.
Not just cows and quiet, syrup and lots of trees, but an embrace of community. And accessibility. I could ask a neighbor for a jump start on my snow-covered car. I could call the Governor and ask for advice. I had a cocoon of help and support and kindness.
As we considered this series - about people who thrive, grow, and succeed in Vermont - we knew the stories are not just about business or money, but a love story. The interweaving of a person with an idea, a mission, and how Vermont plays such a vital role in the process.
Rowing has a mystique, a grace. It is also a healthy, bucolic way to cross the water. Rowing grows in popularity every year - on lakes, rivers, ponds, and even oceans. And indoor rowing machines are used as a measurable fitness tool in gyms everywhere.
Almost guaranteed, every rower knows the name Concept2.
Pete and Dick rowing. 2015 Founders Dick and Peter continue to innovate and personally test each product. Here they are heading out for an early morning oar-testing session in their 1984 wooden Stämpfli pair on Big Hosmer Pond, Craftsbury, Vermont.
Why? Because Concept2 oars are the oar of choice, and the company’s indoor rowing machines are the gold standard.
And where are they made? Vermont.
Concept2 began in 1976 when Dick and Peter Dreissigacker (brothers and rowers) - fresh from Olympic training - started making composite racing oars.
They loved rowing, and as engineers studying at Stanford, identified a need and a challenge: Can we make oars lighter? Can we make crews faster?
They decided to take on the twelve-foot long traditional wooden oar and use their skills to bring technology into the mix. Using carbon fiber and fiberglass in their kitchen, the brothers developed the first viable, affordable composite racing oar. The use of composite material technology had not yet been applied to oars (or at least not successfully). Wooden oars weighed about 15 pounds, their new oar was light-weight (about 5 pounds) and durable.
Peter explains, “In 1976, we were just a couple of young rower-engineers with an idea of how we might build a better oar. Today, we’re amazed at how we’ve grown – serving rowers and fitness centers around the world, while also working hard to become part of the fabric of our local community.”
Dick reminisces, “It was the mid 70’s, we left California, and we wandered across
the U.S., considering where to go. We didn’t need to be at a rowing hub. More
important to us was how we wanted to live. And what we could afford. We didn’t want to be in a city. We wanted to put in a garden, ski, live in a place that felt good. We had skied Mt. Mansfield in Stowe as children and loved it here, so we came to Vermont out of nostalgia, as well as a lifestyle choice. Everything that brought us to Vermont is why we stayed here and are glad we did. Vermont symbolizes quality of life, as well as quality of product. We believe in the ethos of Vermont, in making products that will last. Our integrity
matters to us.”
So, the two brothers moved into an old farm complex on Route 100 in Morrisville, Vermont.
Despite their early success, Peter and Dick do not ever pause to rest on their laurels. They work constantly to create new and exciting rowing gear and equipment.
In 1981, stirred by the need to continue rowing despite Vermont winters, Peter and Dick looked to make a practical indoor rowing machine. With a sliding seat and wooden handle, this device replicates the movement in a boat. No strength was lost while a rower was off the water.
Friends of Rowing History wrote: “Just as Henry Ford produced cars efficiently, economically and for the greater public use, the Dreissigacker brothers have done the same with their rowing machines for the rowing, health club and home markets. The design has gone through continuous improvements and is one of the most dependable and cost-effective exercise machines developed since the bicycle. It is
certainly a major factor in the explosion of interest in rowing as an exercise with the general public.”
The machines are shipped world-wide and are in thousands of boathouses, health and fitness clubs everywhere. Many thousands who have never stepped in a boat are indoor rowing devotees.
In June 2009, Concept2 took this idea further. Rowing machines were created to retain strength off-season. Why not, similarly, create a piece of equipment to retain Nordic ski strength when there is no snow? Concept2 introducing the SkiErg, a ski ergometer that helps build strength and endurance specific to Nordic skiing. The SkiErg provides aerobic and strength training, even when there is no snow or you’re not near a trail. You don’t even need to know how to ski.
Another innovation: In 1991, they came out with a new, faster blade design, the asymmetrical “hatchet” oar blades. These oars improved performance and became so popular so quickly that by the 1992 Olympics, most crews were using them. This was a groundbreaking change.
The Company Grew and Grew…
Early on, rowers Bari Lane and Judy Geer joined the brothers in the business. Bari married Pete, and Judy married Dick. Bari handled customer service, sales, accounting, and HR. She organized the business and handled shipping.
Judy initially handled programming. She now works on marketing and communications. (Judy is, herself, a former National Team and Olympic rower. She coached at Dartmouth and also has a Master’s Degree in Engineering.)
Now celebrating their 45th anniversary, Concept2 moved into a sprawling building years ago, having outgrown the original barn. They now employ more than 100 people, some of them have been with them for more than 25 years.
Indoor Rowing Events
Because so many rowers and fitness buffs were training with intensity, indoor
It all started in Boston.
Initially, C.R.A.S.H.-Bs (the “Charles River All-Star Has-Beens”) were a group of
1976-1980 U.S. Olympic and World Team athletes who rowed on the Charles River in Boston. To break up the monotony of winter training, they created an indoor rowing regatta of about twenty rowers in Harvard’s boathouse. Within a few years, C.R.A.S.H.-B grew into the annual
International World Indoor Rowing
Championships. About 2,000+ come from all over the world to compete in the event each year in Boston, all on Concept2 equipment. Similar events now take place all over the world.
Competing can be terrifying and intense and exhilarating all at the same time.
Every muscle is on fire, begging you to stop, your lungs burning. The Concept2 owners know this intensity first hand – and they bring that knowledge to their
company, their product development,
and to all their interactions.
The Vermont Ethos
From the start, Concept2 believed in
supporting their community, in helping their neighbors. There is a kindness and generosity to the Concept2 team, with their calloused hands and very warm hearts. “It is important to us to be an integral part of our community,” Judy shares. “Many of our employees volunteer as coaches- soccer, running, cross country skiing, basketball, track....and yes, rowing. We help with the local United Way’s annual firewood project - cutting and splitting firewood for those in need. And with Green-Up Day. We serve on local Fire
Departments and Rescue squads, and many of us have been on local School Boards, and other non-profit boards.”
Another prime example of their community support is their work with the Craftsbury Outdoor Center.
For years, Craftsbury Sculling Center (in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont) has been THE place to go to learn to scull or perfect your skill. Today, the center trains future Olympians as well as novice master rowers.
Perhaps Judy summarizes it best:
“I didn’t initially make a decision to be here, but I love being here. I am so lucky to be in a place I love, doing what I love to do. I have everything I could ever want: Strong history, surrounded by nature and good neighbors. My work is challenging and good for people. Our kids are all here now. They are here because they love it, too. They’re native Vermonters. They left for a short while, but they are all back in Vermont. They’re not planning to go anywhere. Why would they? I can’t imagine being anyplace else.”
Life and work and family and community. The happy balance we all strive for.
How to do it?