Interview With Harfang Wheels’ Magician Yann Lhermitte
Harfang Wheels came onto the scene a few years back and started making an immediate impact. The idea of specific wheels for specific riding conditions was not new, and neither were grooved wheels for the rain. Harfang founder, Yann Lhermitte, really revolutionize the process of machining from something rather rudimentary to something much more specific and intentional. Adding CNC technology from his snow skate production, Yann was able to create patterns that mimic something more like a car tire vs simply parallel groves from a saw blade or a lathe and was able to provider riders with superior, intentional performance. This year, Yann has expanded the Harfang Wheel line up to not only machining wheels made by other brands, but to making his own Absolute wheel shape and urethane and machining it into the various patterns, shapes and contact patches to meet rider needs. Find out more about Yann and Harfang in our latest interview below and find out how to WIN some Harfang Wheels at the bottom of the page.
Hey Yann, thanks for the interview! Can you share some details with us? Full name, where you from, where you living? Your age?!!? :)
My name is Yann Lhermitte, I’m 37, originally from Annecy (French Alps) and moved to Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 2002. I fell in love with the people, the country, and I’m here to stay!
How long have you been riding skateboards and getting up to no good?
I tried traditional skateboarding as a kid but spent more time with crunches than riding and had to come to a conclusion that tricks were not for me. I found out about longboarding in 1998 and got hooked right away. My first race was at Top Challenge in 2005.
What got you started with skateboarding?
A couple friends got some complete pintails but I had no money to buy one so I built mine from plywood, some generic wheels and the widest skateboard trucks I could find. We went on a trip to Corsica that same summer on our longboards, great memories!
At first it was mainly for commuting, real thing started when I moved to Montreal and learnt to slide and bomb hills. Being at the right place at the right time with the right people, I ended up riding for Gravity, then Landyachtz since 2006. I miss my west coast family; I always have the best times there!
How long has Harfang been around? Were you making products before and it became a brand or all at once? How did it all start?
Harfang has been around since 2013, we’re still young. It happened pretty much all at the same time. Harfang is more than products and needed a brand to carry the values behind the concept: high quality, high performance, innovative and locally made products. The rain wheels idea was already there since 2012 but became reality only a year later when I got around the CNC, learned how to use it and most importantly figured out how to machine wheels. Harfang name and logo came in January 2013 for our first snowskate gathering in Montreal. We had leashes before but made our first snowskates in October 2013. Harfang (i.e. “harfang des neiges”) means “snowy owl” in French and is the symbolic bird for Quebec.
Is Harfang your Day Job or do you have regular (or irregular) employment as well?
Right now it’s my full time day job and trying to keep it this way but you never know what opportunities life may throw at you. Harfang is self funded, it sure isn’t easy everyday but I wouldn’t be doing it if it was. I’m proud to say Harfang started from nothing else than ideas and passion and is proof you don’t need banks, big investments and cheap labor to start your own business.
What have you learned as you built Harfang? Not just about making products, but being a skate brand?
I had to learn everything. I’m a geological engineer with a background in physics, chemistry and electronics and knew almost nothing about running a business and a brand. I went back to school to learn some and figured out the rest. Coming from an engineering background I found the skate industry to be quite a different world with its good and bad sides. The major thing that struck me was how difficult retailing is. For the rest, I pretty much knew what I was getting into and already decided not to do it for the money and to stay away from the drama. Whatever you do you have to keep it fun and stay true to your beliefs!
When did you decide to go from machining other wheels to creating your own wheels and machining them?
At first we all had our own wheel sponsors; there was no need. Then Harfang grew bigger and received more and more enquiries from shops. When we buy and prepare wheels for shops we have to respect the distribution channel the brands already have in place. Making our wheels allowed us to create our own and have more liberty to grow the brand with a team. We are now selling regular wheels, not only rain wheels. Don’t worry we’ll keep preparing other brands to.
We had a post about your wheels just before the new year. Are they all available now? Who is riding them for 2016?
Yes they are available in shops and at www.harfangwheels.com! Freerides, Stage 2 and 3 are only available thru our website for now and a new softer durometer for the Absolute 73mm is coming soon!
The team : Niko Desamrais, Cassandra Duschenes, Pier-Olivier Desmarais, Per Pjäx Christner, Nicholas Andreas, Vincent Parenthèse, Francis Boileau, Raphael Therrien, Daniel Holdsworth, Kevin LeFrank and a few others not confirmed yet.
How did you come up with the concept for your wheels. Seems most brands make a wide range of styles and shapes and you make 1 and turn it into everything?
What if you could always ride that same wheel you love so much (urethane and core) and adapt it to your types of riding and terrains? What if you could choose the exact specifications for your freeride wheels? There’s no best wheel for any situation but there’s a best wheel for each situation. That’s what we’re providing by preparing one of the best wheels out there, the Harfang Absolute. More styles will be added progressively for even more choice.
Besides outsourcing and shaping wheels down from their larger form, have you ever considered pouring your own urethane in house to make wheels?
That would be the next logical step wouldn’t it? There’s so much more that can be done and improved.
Harfang makes it possible for wheels to have a longer life by turning them into reusable / rounded and resurfaced fun shapes. How do you feel about the general state of ‘disposable wheels’ and one and done boxes of scrubs out there?
There’s a real issue that goes beyond wheels. While our society should focus on consuming less, it seems to be the exact opposite. We all know we should change our ways of consuming but it also has to come from manufacturers, brands and shops. We decided to make our part and show we can reclaim your wheels down to the core. As a quick fix it would be great if we could gather all those scrubs, resurface them and send them to an organization like Skatistan.
Do you think there should be more local companies helping people reshape and resurface or is this something only you feel specialized to do? I guess what I am asking is, do you encourage the home user to find ways to use wheels to the core as a whole or is Harfang the only ‘certified’ place to safely reshape wheels?
If you know exactly what you are doing and are well equipped you should experiment with shapes and resurface your old wheels. They might not be perfect – that’s why we’re here – but you should use your wheels up to the core. Beware your safety and respiratory system if you go ahead! Wear eye protection and a mask. Otheriwse give them to someone else who will. Shipping both ways can get expensive for this kind of modification. I would love to see every shop with a resurfacing machine and have less waste as whole. I believe Flatspot in Vancouver is the only shop offering the service so far. Maybe you’ll find us soon at events with a custom machine.
How did you go about designing and prototyping your wheels? Did you think about that lifecycle and design the whole way through? How was the team involved?
The idea of a longboard wheel with threads is not new and many people tried their own home made version but we are the first who decided to put the resources and time to find a way to make it happen with performance in mind. It’s not a gimmick, it works and has been tested, improved and approved by many world class racers. Having a great team is key for prototyping. Theory is necessary and gets you started but there are so many variables, you need to test the wheels in real life for the final verdict. Regarding the lifecycle, since we’re tied with manufacturers the best we can do for now (other than resurfacing) is force acknowledgment of the value and work behind the product so people will want to get the most out of them. This is why it’s important to have good wheels to start with so you can justify resurfacing or reshaping them.
Harfang is more than products and needed a brand to carry the values behind the concept: high quality, high performance, innovative and locally made products.
Harfang really revolutionized rain grooves as a whole. There were a few brands making prefab rain wheels but most of us went at them with a saw blade or some ridiculousness. Is there a secret sauce to your method or is really just about design, testing, feedback, perfecting?
The secret sauce would be more in how we machine the wheels than how we design them; I was even told it was not possible. The original designs came from intuitions about what’s going to work and from adapting car tire treads concepts to longboard wheels specificities and restrictions. I thought a lot about it, created a few designs and we kept the best to be modified and perfected. Riders also have their own ideas and brainstorming with the team lead to great ideas and concepts.
Aside from your core brand team, who is on the ‘groove crew’, who is riding your rain and all terrain machined wheels in their own sponsored brands?
I’m might steal the name “Groove Crew” : Emily Pross, Aaron Hampshire, Dexter Manning, Charles Ouimet, Douglas Dalua, Maxim Garant Rousseau, LP Déry, Francis Côté Tremblay, Tim Koch, Kolby Parks… we also made rain wheels and had inputs from Tamara Prader, Patrick Switzer, Kevin Reimer (his own design works great), Ben Dubreuil, Brandon Desjarlais, John Barnett, Javier Tato, Aleix Gallimo, Matt Kienzle, Adbil Mahdzan, Jonas Richter… some of the other riders who got some of our rain wheels are Zak Maytum, Spencer Smith, Pete Connelly, Kyle Wester, David Dean…
Note: Emily Pross has joined Harfang Wheels!
Groove Crew is all yours buddy! Ha Ha… Do you typically stock rain wheels from a variety of brands for riders and shops or is it best if they request something?
There are so many brands and models it would be hard to stock them all. We’re focusing more on our own wheels right now but popular models will be back in stock. At anytime you can send your own wheels for any modification. Another option if you’re on the east coast is to drop your wheels at an event and get them back at the next one.
What else is good with Harfang? You make more than wheels right?
Yes, snowskates and all kind of accessories! It’s so much fun in the winter! The community has the same vibes as the early days of longboarding. Everybody knows everybody, you high five any new snowskater you meet on the slopes, this is quite exciting times. Every skateboarder should give it a try, we’re looking for talents!
I pretty much knew what I was getting into and already decided not to do it for the money and to stay away from the drama. Whatever you do you have to keep it fun and stay true to your beliefs!
Why is snow skating so popular over there in Quebec and Ontario? Really seems to just be hitting BC…
Between the cold and crappy roads, skateboarding in Ontario/Quebec is just pain in the winter. We need something else to take a break and if you don’t ski/snowboard – or don’t have the money – snowskating is the answer. We have small mountains and if you’re a good rider you might get bored quickly while you’ll never get bored snowskating. On the other hand you guys on the west coast have decent temperatures to keep skateboarding year around and big mountains where you can’t get bored. There are less reasons and opportunities for riders to give it a try but it’s just a matter of time. Snowskating would be more popular in general if it wasn’t for the early models fails. It gave snowskates a bad reputation – with good reasons- to any snowboarder who tried them, they were toys. Another reason is distance, it was easier to start building a community in Quebec and Ontario with events and demos but with LY Snow now in BC I’m sure it will grow very fast. Once you try, you never go back.
Do you find that the snow and skate complement each other well or can one distract from the other?
They are perfect complement to each other. Skateboarding makes you a better snowskater and vice versa. Snowskating gives you a better balance as you’re riding on uneven ground, you can practice tricks you’d never dare on concrete. Even better, you can ride the same shape on your skateboard and your snowskate to make one with it year around.
Any events you are stoked on and supporting or will be attending? I remember a push event last year that looked great.
Yes, we’ll be touring and supporting events on the east coast all summer! For Quebec, DRAS (run by Fast FredD) is back and will be offering cheap races to all levels thru the summer. Team rider Pier-Olivier Desmarais will be running the North Hatley DH race and the World Speed Record competition. Harfang will be back with the Montreal Push Race. Let’s not forget Killingon (IDF WC) and Central Mass not that far from us.
What else is good for 2016? What should we be watching out for?
In a few words: more snowskates, more wheels, more fun projets, a lot more media and a board bag.
Stoked to see that bag for sure! Thanks again for taking the time to chat with me. anything we missed? Shout outs? Call outs? Words of wisdom?
A big shout out to everybody believing in Harfang and to the whole team joining me on this adventure. Shout out to the shops already supporting Harfang and to the future ones! Big thank you to you guys at SkateSlate for the opportunity!