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  • Writer's pictureChris Davies. Edited by Martin Galley

Vortica talks with RPM’s Simon Feasey

Updated: Jun 25, 2020

Vortica and RPM go way back. We’ve been involved with RPM since our inception, and we’ve used their discs since Chris started playing in 1989! Today’s blog post is a catch-up with our old mate, Simon Feasey.

Simon Feasey winning the 20th Paradise Plates
Simon Feasey winning the 20th Paradise Plates

Firstly, congratulations on making RPM an internationally significant disc golf brand. New Zealand is genuinely lucky!

Thanks. We’ve all worked very hard to date, and we aren’t stopping any time soon.

Simon, you’ve been throwing Frisbees forever, but you got very serious about it in 2005. What happened then?

The company was almost bankrupt, and myself and Woody rescued it with a small injection of capital, effectively taking it over, and sharing the ownership.

The company isn’t called RPM though, is it?

That’s right. We are Disc Golf Aotearoa Limited. RPM is our brand name.

How many shareholders does the company have?

We currently have five shareholders. Three of these are silent.

RPM is producing some great discs. Do you know how much of the NZ market you currently have?

That is very difficult to answer, because RPM doesn’t know how many discs Vortica or other companies are importing, for example. However, if we go by anecdotal evidence, then RPM might have around half the current market for golf discs in NZ.

Whatever the market share may be, we do know it has been rapidly climbing in recent years, and we’re very happy to see that happen.

What’s the most-sold RPM mould?

Piwakawaka – for sure. If you have played disc golf in NZ, then you own at least one Piwakawaka, and in the last five years alone we’ve made 10,000 of them. I don’t actually know exactly how many in total, though.

What’re the easiest, and most difficult discs to mould well?

They are all difficult to make well. It’s only a question of how difficult! But it’s certainly true that putters and mids are the least difficult. They’re more tolerant of mould temperature, pressure, and time in the mould.

High speed drivers are the most difficult, as Parting Line Height (PLH) creep after coming out of the mould is a critical factor in the production process. This means the disc can become much more, or much less stable as it cools and changes shape.

They’re also far less tolerant of mould-temperature and pressure so this becomes a major factor, as well.

What’s an average mould time?

The entire moulding process is around 90 seconds per disc. That means, at most, we’ll get 40 discs an hour from a machine. Seconds reduce the number of saleable discs, however.

Speaking of seconds, what’s your rejection rate like?

It’s too high. But every disc maker will tell you that, I think. We aim for 100% success in each run, but… it never works out like that. We perform very stringent quality control in order to keep the quality high in retail. We’d rather sacrifice short-term profit for long term customer satisfaction and retention, and further develop our reputation for high quality discs.

Is there any chance we’ll ever see Kahu XG and Kahu OS again?

Maybe. We initially thought we understood the factors which resulted in the extra glide of the XG, and the extreme stability of the OS, but unfortunately, we were... a little head of ourselves there, LOL. There is so much more to it. We have however created new discs with similar flight characteristics to replace them such as the Kotare for the OS

Kahu OS edge profile
Kahu OS edge profile

The XGs and OSs came from batches of BASF polymer which were a fraction harder and a tad more dense than is typical. BASF told us they were able to test individual batches and provide exact specifications for each batch, because in order to reproduce them again reliably, we’d need those specs.

Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any progress towards that goal at our supplier end, and so we are provided less information about each batch than we would ideally like to have. But, in the future, if we can get what we need from them, we’ll definitely produce a couple of Kahu variants for you guys.

What effect does a dome have in flight?

Not as much as I originally thought it did, in fact. It definitely does add lift without affecting stability too much. If you throw a domey disc into a headwind, it will climb more than a flat-top version of the same disc.

Any new moulds coming in 2020?

Well, we’ve already retooled the Kiwi at the start of this year, and that went very well. And of course the Kotari is out from last year, and we’re happy with that, too. We’ve put out a new mould every year for the last 5 years, and so you might see something new from us towards the end of 2020 – depending on the COVID-19 situation, of course.

What’re your thoughts about disc golf in a post-COVID world?

I think there’s some pent-up demand for discs building up world-wide right now. And there must be tens of thousands of people who have been locked-in with disc golfers who have done nothing but talk disc golf non-stop…

And disc golf is one of the sports which will open up again ahead of others, so we’re anticipating good things down the track – definitely.

What is the typical run size at RPM?

Between 1000 and 2000 discs.

What’s the sales split like: national to international?

It’s about 50/50 – which is great!

Scott Stokely is proudly wearing an RPM shirt in his recent YouTube videos. How do you know Scott?

I met him at my very first worlds, in 2000. Played some practice rounds with him and later we met again at the Beaver State Fling, and became friends. He’s a fan of NZ, and I hope we’ll see him here sometime soon.

In your opinion, what’s the best DGC you’ve ever played? And why?

Not so much a course, as a whole experience. The Japan Open has a great course designed on a beautiful ball golf course, with some world-class challenges. But it’s the way the tournament is run which makes it so great: The organisation, accommodation, food, events and the staff. They make you feel like proper world-class athletes, competing at the highest level.

Bella Rakha, in Oratia. Many broken hearts on this hole.
Bella Rakha, in Oratia. Many broken hearts on this hole.

How does your private course, Bella Rakha, stack up against that course?

Bella Rakha is in my top-five courses. But it necessarily doesn’t have the length of many top championship courses. However, it does have some very technical challenges, and I’m constantly tweaking the design to improve it.

Speaking of Bella Rakha, some changes during the lock-in?

Yes! We’ve had Swiss friends Melanie and Reto have worked hard installing new tees and new benches. Plus, I’ve rejigged hole 14, down the hill, into a Par 4. It's now called "Lockdown by Mrs. J"

Where’s RPM’s biggest market, currently?

Apart from NZ, it’s definitely the USA. Infinite discs are one of our main partners over there. We just got an order for 6,500 discs from them so US customers should expect to see some awesome kiwi plastic in your local DG stores soon.

How many people is RPM sponsoring currently?

In 2020 we have 48 sponsored players and RPM ambassadors around the world.

There’s a list of international distributors of RPM, yeah? Where is it?

On the web site. I think it’s fairly up to date.

How many basket designs have you executed to date?

If we just count the production designs, and ignore the very first thing we made, which wasn’t an independent design, then there have been seven different production versions of basket hardware.

How many production chain arrangements have there been on RPM baskets?

A lot. I hate to think how many experimental and prototypes we’ve made. We’re always experimenting, trying to make improvements, and to understand what affect each change has.

RPM Discmate portable; probably the world's best portable basket!
RPM Discmate portable; probably the world's best portable basket!

If we include the recent necklace upgrade, then I think it’s 10 production chain variants, and probably 20 serious experimental sets.

The newest variant we call the “Royal Necklace” and it’s a great mod/upgrade for the DiscMate portable. It greatly reduces centre-pole spit-outs, and increases the already great catching ability for ace-runs and high putts, too.

Can people buy this Royal Necklace upgrade for their existing DiscMates?

Yes. It’s $39.95 retail. It takes about 5 minutes to install. It’s definitely worth it!

How’s the over-all quality of the Chinese-made DiscMate? Are you happy with it? Are there any improvements or refinements to come?

We’re very proud of the DiscMate. Our manufacturing partner is terrific to work with, and they’re doing a fantastic job on every single one of them. We’ve never had one returned, (apart from some stickers that were applied upside down!) which is a tribute not just to the quality of manufacture, but also to the packaging, which is very robust. We spent a lot of time on that aspect of the production design, because we want every DiscMate to arrive at your door in perfect condition.

We’re always tweaking things, and our Chinese partners have shown a great capacity to work with us on improvements and slight alterations as we refined the process and the design ahead of the first production run. So yeah, we’re confident you’ll continue to see additional improvements as time goes by.

And we always want to make available the latest chain upgrades to existing owners, provided they are backwards compatible with their particular basket.

DiscMate's stainless grub screws
DiscMate's stainless grub screws

The hex-head grub-screws which solidify the DiscMate are a master-stroke. Whose idea was that?

I’ve always wanted to have grub screws for that reason. But up until recently, the cost of adding them was prohibitive. I’m very happy with how they work. It gives the DiscMate a solidity of both feeling and sound. Bits of the basket don’t rock around like you see so often on portable baskets. And we use stainless grub-screws so they won’t bind up over time, and cause problems.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about creating a new mould. Can you tell us, if a prototype mould works as you expected, and goes in for PDGA certification, and then into production – how much does that whole process cost, and how long does it take?

For our production process, it’s about $10,000 and 3 to 6 months. But those numbers will vary greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer. If you have internal control over all aspects of design and prototype mould development, then it’s possible to go from a drawing to a PDGA approved golf disc in less than a month. But RPM is still relatively small, and so we have to schedule every part of the process, and it takes a bit longer.

I’ve often said the easiest way to make a small fortune in the disc golf business, is to simply start out with a large fortune, and wait for a while. Is RPM profitable now?

Profitable depends on how you assign the value of unpaid work, as you know. The directors don’t pay themselves, and we return all profits to the business in order to grow the business. We’ve always done that, and it will continue that way for a while yet.

Vortica will be in the same situation, I think. (Editors Note: We are)

We are both lucky to be in a situation where we can invest our time and energy into disc golf without a financial reward. We don’t do it for money, we do it because we love it, don’t we?

We sure do! What’s the future for RPM?

Well, we don’t have a grand five-year master plan if that’s what you mean. We’re fully focused on organically growing RPM by concentrating on making high-quality discs, which look great, feel good in your hand, and fly well on the course.

We’re exporting baskets now too – so we’re dedicated to that side of the business. And just like Vortica, we’re always on the look-out for a new disc golf course to design!

Simon putting at Paradise
Simon putting at Paradise

Amen, to that! Simon, thank you so much for your time today. It’s always a pleasure talking to you, and Vortica wants to wish RPM every success in the future.

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