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Ocean Elements 2018

Mixing Work and Play: We speak to Alpine Elements MD James Hardiman

by Mark Jardine 10 Nov 2017 12:00 GMT 10 November 2017

We spoke to James Hardiman, the Managing Director and founder of Alpine Elements and Ocean Elements, about his life in business, the overlaps between his work and play, his own sailing and the Solo Wolf Rock Race he took part in this year.

Mark Jardine: How did you initially start Alpine Elements?

James Hardiman: I was 20 years old at university and decided I didn't want to use my engineering degree anymore and wanted to do more ski seasons, and this was a good way to continue my skiing. I spent the final year at Uni searching through ski magazines and phoning chalet operators, as there was no real internet at the time, asking if they'd rent a chalet. After a very fraught two years trying to find a chalet, I finally found one and we were up and away in business! I just about managed to get 120 or so guests in my first year and it was hard work all the way... now are we doing in excess 28,000 each year.

Mark: You've expanded from there – initially from snowboarding, into skiing and then into sailing with Ocean Elements. This was combining two sports that you loved, but how did that come about initially?

James: Alpine Elements started to embrace the ski market and was growing nicely, and then in 2002 I realised that we needed a summer programme, and the natural route for us was summer holidays in the French Alps. With a growing team, a growing business and growing needs, I quickly realised that we needed a beach element for our Summer programme to really make things fly, and that was when I mixed in my love of sailing in with the business.

Mark: You now have three Beach Clubs. How has the 2017 season been for you?

James: It's been very good this year. We've had some challenges with the economic problems in Greece but now things are sorted it's been really positive. A record year for bookings, lots of guests coming back and loving what we are doing... which is very much a programme run by sailors from the top down - and not a board of VCs from London!

Mark: You've also extended into the Flotilla side as well - how did that start?

James: We started up a Beach Club product because hotels and hospitality is what we do, and I have a strong background in dinghy sailing, I also knew some brilliant RYA coaches so it was a great opportunity. Yacht sailing and racing has always been a big passion of mine, and because I've been very successful so far at mixing my passions of snowboarding and skiing with my business life - the obvious thought was, 'What can we do with yachts?' Our Stay-Sail holidays are the most popular because our Beach Club in Vassiliki is our flagship product. So for the first week our guests go do some water sports and relaxing at the hotel and then yacht sailing in the second week... guests like it because it breaks up the holiday and ensures family and kids gets some variety.

Mark: This brings me on to your personal passions in sport. You've been a competitive snowboarder and sailor since an early age - two very complimentary sports. Recently you've been taking part in a lot of singlehanded yachting events, such as the AZAB and Solo Fastnet Race, but this year you took part in the 350 nautical mile Wolf Rock Race, which proved to be quite a challenge; how did it go?

James: It was very challenging. In part because it was actually a 480 mile race, beating both ways. The wind literally followed us around the mark at Wolf Rock. We set off in 25 knots+ and whenever you leave the Solent in a big-wind race, (with some nights at sea), then it's quite an emotional and physical battle. For me, and I think a lot of sailors, it's more emotional, but once you're out there and battling with the elements it's surprising how adaptable you are and how much of a beating you can take.

Mark: How do you switch mindsets, from running the business during the week to competing in an offshore race where sleep has to be grabbed in 10 minute stints?

James: Any week preceding a race I get the pre-race jitters, which I used to get as a kid playing rugby, so they're quite familiar to me. My mind is half in work and half out on the water, and the preparation is always stressful, but once you've pushed off from the dock the stress leaves you and you just get on with it!

Mark: How did the race go?

James: I did ok. I finished third which I was really pleased with as it was a battle from beginning to end, and not to get some sort of result after such a battle would have been a shame. I was effectively match racing Rupert (Holmes) from Plymouth outbound and all the way back to the finish which in itself a great challenge because Rupert's seriously good sailor and I'm glad he kept me on my toes - that's probably why I got such a good result!! Oh and because I finally got my autopilot properly figured out!

Mark: You've been competitive in sport throughout your life – did you find that competitive nature useful when starting up Alpine Elements and Ocean Elements?

James: Very much so. I used to compete at snowboarding, more at a local level, and yes, I'm by nature a very competitive person, so I can't stand it when someone else is doing something better than us. It pushes my team and me to achieve more. Were all quite young-ish, focused and energetic and that's what makes Alpine and Ocean Elements successful.

In fact it's funny but whenever I club race dinghies back at home in Instow some of the other sailors comment at how seriously I take it! Hah, but I guess that's just my character!

Mark: And doing all this sport has led to a bit of wear and tear on your own body at the moment, leading to a few months out. What's happened?

James: As you can see my arm is in a sling and I had an operation to my rotator cuff, which was initially a snowboarding injury but has been exacerbated by my sailing since, and I'm out of action sailing-wise certainly until next April.

Mark: Once you've recovered, do you have plans for the 2018 season on the water?

James: Yes, next year I'll do as much of the SORC (solo offshore) series as I can - as you can imagine I'll probably hit it with vengeance. I may also have to learn a new boat which will need more setup and time training water. The big one for me is the Solo Fastnet which I'll start preparing for as soon as my arm is out of the sling. And on the dinghy-front then I'll do as much club racing with NDYC as time allows, including the Blaze Nationals which is on the cards for June 2018 (I've yet to sail the Blaze!)... Oh, and I've got to fit in learning to foil, because we will be taking it to our Beach clubs next summer and I feel I need to know how!

Mark: Best of luck with the recovery and wishing you well for your 2018, both in business and racing.

James: Thanks Mark!

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