Hugh Davis set out to make a better-performing pickleball paddle for his buddies, but he never expected to make a business out of it.
Davis, CEO and co-founder of Revolin Sports, makes vibration-dampening pickleball paddles using plant-based fibers. Pickleball is a recreational sport similar to tennis but utilizes a non-threaded racket and a plastic ball, and is played on a smaller court with a shorter net.
Davis started playing pickleball in 2014, when he was a student at West Ottawa High School.
“I fell deeply in love with pickleball and the community,” he says.
As Davis went off to college at the University of Michigan, the growth of pickleball continued, moving from driveway games to full-fledged professional tournaments. While playing recreationally, Davis became the “paddle repair guy,” and was consistently frustrated with the durability of paddles on the market.
At Michigan, Davis participated in the lauded Supermileage program, where students compete to build long-distance and energy-efficient vehicles.
“There was this obsession with pickleball and this newfound obsession with materials and high-tech manufacturing,” he says of applying the Supermileage philosophy to the sport. While at Michigan, he learned about the large amount of waste that is ingrained in the manufacturing industry.
“There’s room to improve this process of creating composite sporting goods, composite materials at large, and make them more sustainable,” he says.
During breaks from school, he started using plant-based fiber materials to create pickleball paddles. His sister helped him in their parents’ garage and, together, they created 70-plus iterations of the paddle.
“I can immediately take a prototype and hit it 100 times against the wall and immediately know (if it will be successful).”
Davis thought making and repairing paddles could be a “side hustle” to cover the cost of materials. All that changed two years ago, when he was at a paddleball court doing a paddle photoshoot for Revolin’s Facebook page.
Sophie Vanden Bosch, the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Revolin Sports, was friends with Davis and was there helping with the photoshoot.
While taking photos, a pickleball player walked up to them and asked if he could play with the paddle. After a few swings, he pulled out a $100 bill and asked Davis how much it cost.
“I said, ‘I guess $100 then.’”
Davis talked more with his “first customer” about how plant-based fibers offer three times more dampening than fiberglass products. “It was starting to become a business,” Davis says. “It’s not only an immediate need for players looking for a sustainable option but players also suffering from tennis elbow.”
Vanden Bosch stepped in to help Davis streamline the message and simplify the technical explanation of the benefits of the paddle.
“I kind of forced myself into becoming the marketing person,” Vanden Bosch says. “(Davis) is a true inventor and visionary in engineering.”
With a team in place, a product solution, and a willing base of customers, the only thing Revolin Sports needed to do was launch. However, the weight of the paddle was an issue for players and for scaling profitably.
“It was dialing in on that one aspect that was exhausting,” Vanden Bosch says.
After a full year of product development and finding a manufacturer, Revolin Sports had its first official product launch in September 2020 — and immediately sold out.
“It motivated us and kept us going,” she says.
In the past year, Revolin Sports has been getting paddles into players' hands via its ambassador program. Through in-person discussions and events, like the Beer City Open, Davis and Vanden Bosch have showcased the product while getting immediate customer feedback.
“We’ve found so much success when people hear our story and try our product,” Vanden Bosch says.
From Alaska to Middletown, Ohio, Revolin Sports customers are helping spread the message of their eco-friendly product while growing the game. Pickleball grew 21.3% between 2019 and 2020, making it the fastest-growing sport in America.
“It’s crazy the impact of having a few passionate people in one area. It’s grassroots, it builds up. We’re grateful for everyone on our team,” Vanden Bosch says.
For Davis and Vanden Bosch, it’s the stories of customers achieving their goals and gaining confidence because of their paddles that keep them motivated. Their team at Revolin has grown to seven employees, giving the co-founders more responsibility and impact on their business decisions.
“For three years, it was just me and my sister building cool stuff in my garage,” Davis says. “It was all a dream of what it could be, and now we’re in it.”
Both Davis and Vanden Bosch still find time to get on the court two or three days a week and are working to compete at the highest level of the sport.
“For me, talking about pickleball and playing pickleball are two different things,” Vanden Bosch says. “We’re still pushing ourselves and growing as players.”
The name Revolin Sports comes from the goal to revolutionize the process of manufacturing sporting goods while reveling in the moment of the game.
“We’re driving to create more sustainable products,” Davis says. “We’re making a long-term impact.”
While the sport of pickleball continues to evolve, expect Revolin to be there right alongside it at a pickleball court near you.
Visit the Revolin Sports website to learn more about their products. If you’re interested in playing pickleball, some local options include Moran Park. The Holland city park has courts specially made for the sport. Other pickleball courts are at Allendale Community Park, at 6676 Lake Michigan Drive; Spring Lake Central Park, at 17298 Railroad Ave. in Spring Lake; and Whitehall Township Park, at 7644 Durham Road in Whitehall.