top of page

The ASM Interview: Wes Horbatuk Talks Shark Tank, Drifties, and a New Era in Men's Boardshorts

An innovative wetsuit-lined boardshort that you can not only get barreled in; it keeps your warm and prevents chafing so you can stay in the water longer. Photo courtesy Driftline

I’ve always called it the "in between season": the time of year when it’s too warm to wear a wetsuit but still too chilly for just boardshorts

Depending on where you live, this may be spring, early summer, or even late summer, so you do what you can.

You sweat it out in a thick wetsuit even though you’ve been looking forward to shedding it all winter ...

... or you try to catch as many waves in boardshorts as you can to stay warm. 

In some ways, surf gear can often seem stale — every year, it’s the same wetsuit or the same wetsuit top, just different colors and iterations. 

Wouldn't it be great if there was a new and innovative surf product that could help during this in between season that we all experience? 

This is exactly what Wes Horbatuck thought. In an entrepreneurial spirit, the Rhode Island native who transplanted to California set out to find a way to shed a wetsuit while staying warm during this in between season.

But not only that: in an effort to create something that keeps you in the water doing what you love longer, he wanted the product to also be comfortable — and prevent chafing. 

The result: Drifties

Drifties are swanky-wetsuit lined boardshorts, and the reviews are unanimous: once you try a pair of these, it’s hard to go back to normal boardshorts — or even a wetsuit.

We talked with Wes about the origins the Driftline brand, why he didn't accept a $150,000 cash offer on Shark Tank, and how the company has created a new era of technical and affordable boardshorts not for not just surfers, but for all watermen alike. — Cash Lambert

ASM: Tell us about the aha! moment for Drifties and the Driftline brand.

Would you believe us if we told you there's a half mil of neoprene that adds warmth and comfort in this photo? It's true. Photo courtesy Driftline

Wes Horbatuck: After growing up in Rhode Island, I lived in New York City and surfed the Rockaways a bunch where I had no choice but to wear a wetsuit. Then, I moved to San Diego, and was looking forward to that in between season where I could surf without one, because I just don’t like the thickness and heaviness, and since I'm tall and lanky, they never fit me right. I also never understood why other surfers wore wetsuits for so long when it warmed up.

After surfing Pacific Beach with my buddy Greg Orfe, I said ‘dude there has to be a better way’ and that's when it donned on me ... Why not is there just a wetsuit under boardshorts?

I went home, cut up an old 3/2 wetsuit — I have no swearing experience — and stitched it into my boardies at the waistline so it was hiding under my boardshorts. There may have been some duct tape invovled too. After that, I went back to the ocean and jumped in.

Immediately, I couldn't feel the cold water on my thighs. That's when I realized I had found something ... that was the aha! moment.

Where did the name "Drifties" originate? 

Driftline stores a half mil of neoprene underneath the outer shell of boardshorts. Photo courtesy Driftline

The idea of product was one aspect, and there were two other things may the company happen.

Greg Orfe, the co-founder, has been my best friend since college. He moved to San Diego with me, and he was in the water kayaking every day, and I was surfing. I told him the idea, and he was like 'dude, that's sick!' At the time, he was in graduate school for graphic design, and as part of his program, he had to build a company from the ground up. He told me that everyone else in his program was conceptualizing a brewery or a coffee house, and he thought about doing a boardshort company.

We were driving up the PCH one day talking about this potential company and product, and just south of Trestles, I could see the ocean and surfers drifting in the lineups.

I thought about this concept of surfers not minding drifting down the beach because they're wearing our product — a wetsuit lined boardshort — and staying warm, which will allow them to stay in the water for longer ... that's how Driftline came to be.

There's a lot of funding options out there for new businesses. Why did you decide to take your idea to Shark Tank?

Driftline had been around for about 2 years, and at every street festival or surf and paddle competition we went to, people would come up to us and say the love the idea, and that we should go on Shark Tank. A few years ago, Shark Tank was hot, all the rage.

I was hestitant, because it seemed a bit kooky, but at that same time, we were realizing we were bigger than surfing: a wetsuit-lined boardshort also had an impact for kayakers, wakeboarders, and middle America at the lake.

We had a friend who had been on the show who nominated us. Realistically, I would have never applied, but since we we got the email saying 'we would like you to apply', and since people been telling us to go on the show, we decided to go for it, and after a long year of paperwork and video interviews, we got accepted.

Talk about the experience on Shark Tank. What was it like behind the scenes?

Driftline founders Wes and Greg took their company where few surf brands have been — under the bright lights of Shark Tank — and received exposure from coast to coast. Photo courtesy Driftline

The experience is authentic. That was the really cool part ... what you see on the show is what it is.

There's no scripts, no redos, it’s live.

You have allotted time with Sharks, if you mess up, its your fault. Because of that, you might not also air.

So just because you talked to them in front of the camera doesn't mean your pitch will actually air. You not only have to make a good business pitch; you also have to make good TV.

Looking back, are you glad you “stuck to your guns” as Mark Cuban said and didn’t accept any offer that multiple sharks offered you?

I personally am. We never wanted or needed funding — Greg and I have bootstrapped this company ourselves. To this day, we haven't taken outside funding.

With Shark Tank, we just wanted to expose as many people to the concept as possible.

By not taking one of the offers, we bet on ourselves. And I'm really glad we did.

Talk to us about the $89 price point. In an industry where clothes and boardshorts can be expensive, this seems incredibly reasonable.

In today's inflated boardshort market, Drifties remain affordable. Photo courtesy Driftline

I think true watermen understand the value and the price point. A pair of wetsuit shorts are $50-$60 bucks. Along with that, a normal pair of boardshorts will cost $70. I recently saw a pair of Outerknown boardshorts that were even $120.

So at a basic level, wanted to marry the two price points, and $100 seems like a reasonable price for these two meshed together.

Also, we want consumers to buy into the brand, not just a high end technical boardshort. We want to create an entry level price point for watermen to buy into our concept and test our products.

Yeah, this price ate at our margin, and we could have made more money. But our repeat customer rate is high, and I would take that over someone buying a pair of boardshorts priced higher and never returning again.

That being said, we do offer $110 and $120 boardshorts based on the quality of the neoprene, it being eco friendly, and other factors.

At the core, we want to offer a product that let someone test it out at an affordable price. 

How are Drifties able to prevent chafing?

With Drifties, you can say goodbye to chafing. Photo courtesy Driftline

I’m a tall lanky guy, and like many others, I've expirenced my share of chafing. Since I'm tall and lanky, with the way I sit on a surfboard, my shorts hike up and I get owned.

That's not fun to deal with, especially if you just transitioned out of wetsuits into boardshorts for the summer. Or, even worse, if you go on a surf trip and get wrecked with chafing day 1, you might be in trouble for the rest of the trip.

Our goal was to create super soft neoprene that prevents both of these scenarios and more. 

I’m no experts on physics of chafing, but I can tell you when I wear wetsuit, I don’t chafe. If that can translate to the inside of my shorts — this was our thesis — I would assume it wouldn’t chafe as well. By using a quality neoprene, this thesis has proven true.

How are Drifites able to provide a bit of warmth for those in between seasons? 

While other products may stay stagnant, Driftline is constantly refining their product for the better. Photo courtesy Driftline

I had to do research on neoprene works. Wetsuits are two outer layers of fabric sandwiching the neoprene on inside, so the whole wetsuit layer isn’t all neoprene. 

When I was looking at that inner liner, I was used to surfing in a 4/3 and a 3/2, so our first sample was a 3/2. But it hindered mobility.

I was wondering how thin I could get neoprene wise while still preventing the cold. 1 mil was warm, but still not flexible enough, and that's when I landed on a half mil.

It prevents that cold walkout where you have to jump to hop over a wave to avoid getting hit in the crotch with cold water.

Since Drifties are made from neoprene, how tight of a fit are they?

Even the inner mesh is stylish, don't ya think? Photo courtesy Driftline

It's fits snug like a wetsuit. It's also a heavier boardshort because it has that extra shell, but it's not suffocating.

It's leaning more towards the hybrid workout short, like Spandex but neoprene format.

There’s no question that Drifties are made for surfers. Talk to us about the cross over with other water sports.

Whether you're kayking, kitesurfing, or hanging on the lake, Drifties can keep you warm — and prevent chafing. Photo courtesy Driftline

It applies for kayakers, kiteboarders, or anyone who is looking to stay out of a wetsuit during warm months but still needing a bit of warmth.

We also found that people in lake life, whether they're in the midwest or even Tahoe, don't want to wear wetsuits in the summer time.

If you’re going to be in and out of the water — which is a proven way to get chafing — Drifties will provide a barrier of entry so you don't, for example, have to put a wetsuit on and off when you're on the boat during the summer.

The designs of the boardshorts are rad. What’s your inspiration with the design? 

So stylish that your girlfriend or wife will love the look too. Photo courtesy Driftline

With the design, we are inspired by the environment in which we live. For example, we have a new color dropping soon that looks just like the color of the sand at my local beach break.

Greg also takes inspiration from our athletes in Hawaii, Australia, San Diego, and Florida to build out some incredible mood boards that results in a clean and minimal style that watermen will be willing to wear all day long.

What’s the future of Drifites? 

A warmer, more comfortable, and non-chafing future. Photo courtesy Driftline

Our goal was to get the patent for a wetsuit lined boardshort, and then innovate underneath that. We're on our 5th iteration of Drifties. We've upgraded seams, the velco, and added ventilation holes so when bodysurfers hit the water it doesn’t air bubble up.

At this point, we're looking to expand. We're working on grom sizes now that young boys can wear, even if they're doing something like junior lifeguards.

We're also looking towards women. I'm a big prone paddler, and at every prone paddler event, I'm swarmed by women asking why we haven't made something for them.

I always tell them I'm not delusional enough to think I can design women's clothing. I need a female to do that.

But we've recently been working with a local designer to help us design a technical apparel for females, and I'm really excited about that.

Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs in this space either looking to get their business off the ground or sustain their business?

Not only are Drifties affordable; they're high tech, allowing you to surf as high performance as you want. Photo courtesy Driftline

You know when you're surfing at a spot with multiple breaks, and you see a wave breaking a hundred feet away — and your spot is flat? So you paddle over there, and once you get in the right spot, you look at where you just came from, and that spot is breaking while the spot you're sitting in is now flat.

Don't chase where it's breaking. Instead, follow your own intuition, even if it means sitting and waiting during a long lull.

I've had so many people tell me to do this or that with the brand, and I've chased a few empty lineups — ancillary products that weren't right for the brand and didn't sell.

So I've stuck with the core of what I want to do and the brand, and it's worked out better than I could have ever hoped for.


bottom of page