‘Float in Paradise’
A father-son business making a big splash got its start at Lake Panorama.
Mike Hayden and his son, Austin, created ParadisePad, a foam water raft designed for water enthusiasts in 2011. Seven years later, the company is a world-class operation with thousands of boaters choosing to float in paradise.
“It’s been quite a ride,” said Austin, 25, a West Des Moines Valley high school graduate who earned a scholarship to play soccer at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri.
Austin was a college student, spending a summer day on Lake Panorama with family and friends when he spotted a large floating piece of foam.
“We pulled into Party Cove and we all saw this party pad,” Austin said of the bright colored raft keeping people afloat behind a boat.
Austin swam over to check it out, wondering how he could get one.
“We climbed on it and thought it was a cool thing,” Austin said. “But it didn’t seem to hold up my friends all that well.”
Intrigued, Austin wondered if there might be a better product out there, so along with his Dad, he began researching.
Mike Hayden, a 30-year manufacturing representative, put a team of engineers together, mostly his friends and family, and began sizing up the competition.
“We got samples of competitors and brought them to the engineers,” Mike said, noting professionals at IBM, a technology company, Boeing Commerical Aircraft, and Proctor & Gamble, a consumer goods corporation.
Mike asked them to share their opinions on what they would do different with the foam pads.
What they came up with was an American made, two-ply, thermally bonded water pad that the Haydens have manufactured in the Midwest. A 10-foot tether cord they designed is longer than most of their competitors, they say. It allows safe distance from a boat and can be easily tied to a dock.
The pads come in a variety of sizes and range in weight from 30 to 35 pounds. The pads hold between 900 and 3,000 pounds, depending on the size and range in price from $300 to $700 per pad.
ParadisePads have a rip-stop membrane in-between layers of foam that make it one of the best in the industry, Mike said.
“Some of the differences is the Kevlar in there, it’s a strong, tear-resistant membrane,” Mike said comparing the high-strength material used in their product to others.
He adds, “The stainless steel tether doesn’t pull out like the plastic ones frequently do.”
The Haydens sold their first ParadisePads right off their dock at Lake Panorama.
“That first summer people would come up and say, ‘Are you the guys with the pads?,’” Austin said. “We’d tell them we’d be right back, walk up the hill and bring one down.”
They started contacting marinas, including local Coulter’s Panorama Marine, who agreed to sell their floating pads. The business plan includes wholesale only to marinas and boat dealers.
“We’re trying to grow our business like the Internet never happened because if things like Amazon keep happening, what’s going to happen to the brick and mortar of the United States?” Mike said.
ParadisePad is now available in 40 states and also distributed in Europe. They were featured in Great Lakes Scuttlebutt Magazine as America’s premium foam water pad. They are the official water pad for Aquapalooza, a multi-location boating festival, and also the official pad of Rugged Maniac, an annual obstacle course race, otherwise known as a mud run hosted in multiple cities across the United States.
ParadisePad products are for water buffs of all ages.
“I thought I wanted this for my friends, to get away from parents on the boat,” Austin said. “But the adults are the ones who buy them, so they also enjoy their time on the water.”
The Haydens say they’ve witnessed a young child who is scared of the water given a safe and sturdy place to play on a ParadisePad.
“We had a family in Indiana with a cousin in a wheel chair and they were able to get him in the water and lay him on the pad, so that was really cool,” Austin said.
A few of the pads have been purchased by fire departments for thin ice rescue.
ParadisePad continues to develop new products, including inflatable rafts and inflatable paddle boards.
“What people are finding out it’s amazing how well they hold up,” Mike said of the pads that inflate in minutes to a rigid and sturdy floating dock platform and deflate in minutes to easily stow in boat compartments.
A 61-year-old family friend of the Haydens doesn’t have a boat, but enjoys her inflatable paddle board at Gray’s Lake and the Raccoon River.
“We understand the pads are big and large and not for everybody, so that’s opened our eyes to get into some other water toys,” said Mike, who over a year ago left his full-time job to focus more on their growing ParadisePad business.
The father-son pair say they’ve enjoyed building the business together.
“Every year we have gotten better,” said Mike, who believes if you aren’t up at 5 a.m. and working until 10 p.m. you aren’t working hard enough.
“I was born in ‘92 and am hands on technology, a little different than him,” Austin smiled.
They continue to compliment each other.
They attend a lot of boat shows in January, February and March to promote their products and even attend a few shows in April and May.
“We’re trying to get everybody to place their orders now and then let us know when they want to receive product,” Mike said. “Every year we’ve gotten better at preparing inventory levels and having things ready.”
The Haydens have entertained some ideas of giving back through raffles and community events. They held a raffle that raised over $600 for the Lake Panorama Ski Team last August. They provided several pads and inflatables during the Cy-Hawk football rival event at the lake’s Boulder Beach in September.
“Every year we give donations and we try to give money back to the area,” Mike said.
They have experienced several different lakes, finding every family boats differently, while promoting their business.
Some of their favorites include Beaver Lake in northwest Arkansas, Lake Lanier in Georgia and Lake Viking in Missouri.
“It’s a beautiful lake that reminds me of Lake Panorama,” Mike said of the northern Missouri water.
Mike and Colette Hayden moved their family, including daughter Alison, who is completing her doctorate of nursing at the University of Iowa, and Austin, from Wisconsin to West Des Moines 28 years ago. Wanting to purchase some lake property at the time, they looked at Sun Valley Lake in Ellston, roughly 75 miles from Des Moines, and Diamondhead Lake, northwest of Dexter, before purchasing a lot on Burchfield Cove at Lake Panorama. They own a condo on Karen Drive, and have been busy remodeling their new home on the lake’s west side in recent months. Many locals know it as the home with the two-story metal dock built into a rock wall.
“We fell in love with the lake here,” Mike said.