The history of F-ONE is intrinsically linked to the journey of Raphaël and Sophie Salles. Built from passion, intuition, trust and innovation, the company reflects an everlasting love story between Raphaël and the sea, and the adventures of a close-knit family.
Raphaël’s blood has probably always been half seawater. A child of two keen sailors, he grew up near Montpellier in southern France, and probably spent more time on the water than on land throughout his entire childhood.
In 1976 at the age of 13, he took up windsurfing. And as they say, the rest is history. By 1981, his professional career had taken off and he quickly became one of the best windsurfers of his generation. Sophie had already entered his life by then, unknowingly signing up for the wildest ride of her own life.
A trip to Hawaii in the mid-1980s marked a turning point in Raphaël’s professional career.
He had come for the wind, but found the waves.
Bold, agile, and highly competitive
He was immediately hooked and enjoyed immediate success in these events.
Raphaël was one of the first French athletes to participate in the World Cup series, competing against the likes of Robby Naish. At the time, his sail number was F-1, which stood for his country and his world ranking.
He was undoubtedly part of the glorious years of windsurfing, back when competitions attracted thousandsnof spectators and were broadcasted live on television. But by the early 1990s, he realized he wasn’t as motivated as before to stay on the professional tour.
His passion for the sport was still very much alive, but he wanted to express it in a different way. Always inquisitive, he had already been spending hours roaming around R&D workshops, brainstorming ways to design the best windsurfing board possible.
So when came the time to retire, he already knew what he wanted to do next.
“I wanted to work in the R&D department of any company but there were no jobs available. So, instead of waiting around, I just decided to start my own company!”
At first, F-ONE focused on windsurfing boards, but the market was already more than saturated. These first years were difficult, as Raphaël and Sophie had to navigate both this new venture and the brutal transition out of a professional sport’s career. Neither of them knew how to manage a business, use a computer, or even write an invoice.
In 1994 F-ONE, a nod to his sail number, saw the light of day in the spare room of his and Sophie’s small home in Grabels, a small town north of Montpellier.
“They started from zero, put their heads down and kept working.”
From the very beginning and still to this day, Raphaël always relied on instinct and never on business plans. While Sophie was the self-proclaimed back office, he spent most of his time out on the water, his mind constantly reeling with ideas on what the “next big thing” could be. Back then, kiteboarding was still in its infancy, and he naturally couldn’t resist giving it a try. After only a few sessions, he could already tell that this blossoming sport had huge potential. In 1997, F-ONE unveiled its first kitesurfing board, the red 215. The company became the only one to offer such a board on the market worldwide.
It left everyone speechless
It left everyone speechless, and Raphaël and Sophie struggled to keep up with the demand. They often resorted to scavenging for discarded cardboard boxes outside shops so they could ship their own boards.
Around the world
As Raphaël traveled around the world to demonstrate what kiteboarding was all about, he started to build a network and to establish trustworthy, long-standing relationships with shops and local retailers. Most of them are still relevant and active today.
By then, Raphaël and Sophie were also parents of two children, Julien and Camille. Raising a family in a house overflowing with boxes quickly became impossible. They moved the business out of their home and into a proper office space loaned by Raphaël’s father south of Montpellier, closer to the Mediterranean Sea. After years of plugging away by themselves, they finally could hire their first employee to help with logistical and administrative tasks. The beginnings were arduous financially and morally, but they were tenacious. Passionate, fiery, and perceptive, he remained uncompromising in the pursuit of innovation. Unflustered, organized, and meticulous, she fully trusted and supported her husband’s vision. “Between us, we developed a strength that few people can imagine,” Sophie said. “We are stubborn, we go for it, and we don’t give up.” Independent yet complementary both professionally and personally, they were ultimately the perfect pair in and out of the office: “In a way, she makes up for all my shortcomings and I for hers,” Raphaël added.
Sensing the tide was about to turn, Raphaël went all in on kiteboarding. The brand’s motto even became “All we do is kiteboarding.” As F-ONE continued expanding its boards’ range, he also wanted to give kite design a try. Back then, the only existing design for the C-Shaped inflatable kite was patented, and F-ONE did not have enough money to license it.
First, RAM-air kites
So, he first focused on RAM-air kites and quickly understood their huge performance potential. By 1999, the ATK was released, followed by the STARTER a year later
After two years, funds finally sufficed to license the patent, and the MACH1 was eventually launched
And the TT
In parallel, the twin tips revolution had already started, and F-ONE unveiled its first board of the kind: the TT.
Always guided by the wind, Raphaël had found his life purpose. Then and still now, everything he has ever imagined, designed, tried, and ultimately sold, was to bring as much thrill and bliss on the water as possible. He never wavered on his high standards or on the quality of his products, no matter how long or how many prototypes it took.
“I have three passions in life: to be on the water, to develop new products, and to share it all with everyone,”
In 2001, F-ONE moved to slightly bigger offices and hired its first sales manager and order picker. Sophie ran a tight ship and never overspent. What little profit happened was automatically reinvested into the company. Both admitted the early 2000s were maybe the riskiest and hardest years. They had made their way into the industry thanks to the red 215, but the bigger brands were catching up, competing fiercely with more funds and a bigger reputation.
The F-ONE team stayed small for a few years and continued to live intensely, guided by Raphaël’s intuition and thirst for development and innovation. Indeed, it appeared he always knew which way the wind would blow next, literally, and figuratively. Relentless and perfectionist, the pride and satisfaction of designing and creating a high-quality, gratifying product always came before anything else. He rarely second-guessed his decisions, even though it sometimes left his own wife dubious. Occasionally, every rival company would go a different direction, but he stood his ground. Like an eerie sixth sense, he seemed to always perceive what would work in the long-term and what wouldn’t.
From the SK8 to the TRAX, the MACH HW to the TRIBAL, F-ONE continued to innovate, to bring new technologies to the table, and to fiercely maintain its independence and identity.
From the outset, Raphaël and Sophie wanted to build a brand for the long term, and to remain a fully independent, family-owned business, no matter what it took. Through the highs and lows, there was never any question of stopping or reconsidering this strategy.
2008 was perhaps one of the most significant years in F-ONE’s history. Kiteboarding saw a new revolution with the launch of the BANDIT, a Delta C-Shape design that changed the way people thought about the sport. From beginner to pro rider, this was a kite that could suit everyone. F-ONE truly turned a corner and sold more BANDIT than any other kite in its first year. This kite took the market by storm, sales doubled, and most importantly, people were thrilled. Simultaneously, Raphaël banked on making people dream and inspiring them to try kiteboarding. F-ONE started to travel the world in search of idyllic spots to make movies with its riders’ team.
Raphaël banked on making people dream
and inspiring them to try kiteboarding.
He never wavered on his high standards or on the quality of his products, no matter how long or how many prototypes it took. Taking place in Madagascar, ADDIKT was the first big film trip and became one of the most popular kiteboarding films of its time. Finally, it seemed, the humble beginnings were far behind. Years passed and the company kept growing.
In 2012, F-ONE moved to its current office building, still south of Montpellier and only a 10-minute drive from the sea. On windy days, Raphaël and his testing team are nowhere to be seen, enjoying the wind and ideal conditions to try out their latest prototypes. He easily admits he has a hard time staying in the office for more than a few days in a row, as his entire being simply needs to be out on the water.
In 2012, MANERA also saw the light of day, which would eventually become a brand of high-quality water sports equipment and accessories.
Every year, Raphaël continued to improve on and expand the F-ONE range. Simultaneously, hydrofoils were gaining in popularity, making their way to the public and out of the yachting and shipbuilding world.
First kite foil collection
Naturally, he knew he had to be at the forefront of this discipline. After spending three years working on designs and ideas, F-ONE released its first kite foil collection in 2015.
In late 2018, Raphaël received the first wing design from Robert Graham, F-ONE’s kite and wing’s designer since 2012. A few months later and with his first prototype in his boardbag, he was finally able to test it in Cabo Verde. The minute he did, he was convinced he needed to fully commit to this new sport. In July 2019, F-ONE was amongst the first to commercialize a wing, the SWING.
«Much like the BANDIT a decade earlier, the SWING marked another turning point in the company’s history. »
With the release of the STRIKE a few months later, F-ONE quickly became an active leader in the growth of wing foiling and all its related gear.
Always down-to-earth, Raphaël and Sophie know they are lucky to have been part of the glory days of so many watersports. Nowadays, F-ONE is not all kiteboarding anymore, continuously offering new products and innovations across many different disciplines like foil, surf foil, wing foil, and of course kiteboarding. Over the years, Sophie has smoothly steered the business through the good and bad times. While her husband focuses on the products and technologies, she takes care of everything else, from finances to human resources to administrative work.
«Knowing that Sophie has always been there has brought me a lot of freedom and peace of mind to fully focus on R&D,” Raphaël said. “There would be no F-ONE without her.»
With a lot of gratefulness, Raphaël and Sophie look ahead to what the future will bring. Day after day, they revel in the opportunity and chance to now transmit their universe to their son Julien, who is as passionate, driven, and competitive as them. However, it wasn’t always meant to be. Naturally, Julien got a taste for water sports very early on, his father teaching him the ropes of kiteboarding as soon as possible. While he enjoyed it, he much preferred mountain biking, a sport he intensely practiced for nearly a decade.
It wasn’t always meant to be
Naturally, Julien got a taste for water sports very early on, his father teaching him the ropes of kiteboarding as soon as possible.
Finding his own way
Many expected him to eventually take over the family business and to follow in his dad’s footsteps. But at the time, he wanted nothing to do with F-ONE nor with being “the boss’ son.”
At 18, he left home for university. Slowly, he realized he was losing interest for mountain biking and was being further drawn back to the water. He even found himself an internship in the surfing industry on the French Basque country. Upon coming back to Montpellier, he searched for work, unsuccessfully so, but a temporary position was open in F-ONE’s communication department. He ultimately caved, arguing it was only to build his resume up a little bit before heading out somewhere else. Famous last words. One thing leading to another, Julien felt at home in the family business. He took over MANERA in 2014, which was only offering boardbags at the time.
Sophie told him, “You will never have enough work with this brand,” a sentence he likes to remind her of occasionally.
Through MANERA, he could still implement his own vision and commercial strategy without feeling the pressure of the expectations. The company took off. In the summer of 2022, he took on more responsibility and also became F-ONE’s Brand Manager.
Julien and Raphaël work in partnership. Just like his dad, Julien loves to spend as much time as possible on the water. At times, it seems the tables have turned, with Julien now teaching his father the ropes of some of the rapidly growing sports like downwind foiling. While they sometimes argue over decisions and diverging opinions, they both try to find a middle ground. Julien knows his father is a visionary, and has learned over the years to hold his tongue and trust him. On his side, Raphaël recognizes that his son brings a different perspective and breath of fresh air to the company, as well as a burning passion for foiling. “The most important thing I learned from my dad is that you must be hard to keep up with,” Julien said. “You also have to stay open-minded, and always test out and try anything new before closing the door on it.”
At the end of the day, the Salles wouldn’t do anything differently or have it any other way. Raphaël’s uncanny hunches and Sophie’s unfaltering support took them on the adventure of a lifetime, and still drives them every single day. The journey has been intense, but incredibly rewarding. F-ONE has been, and always will be, more than just a business.
“The success of F-ONE fully comes from the mental strength and courage of my parents,” Julien said.
“They struggled for a long time, never gave up, and persevered thanks to their passion. It’s very impressive and motivating. I hope to follow in their footsteps and make them proud.” The company still has many beautiful and long years ahead to continue writing its history and making its mark on water sports. The future is bright for F-ONE and will certainly be filled with a new dynamic and ethos, all while undoubtedly staying true to the mission and values that have steered it for the last decades.