Engineer throws self, family into boomerang business
Springfield, Mass. (AP) - He hasn't quit his day job yet, but a Springfield engineer is hoping to grow his grass-roots boomerang business. Jeffrey LeBeau, an engineer who started Big Daddy Boomerangs about a year ago, has involved his whole family in his business, with his three sons testing out his new designs and his wife, Kari LeBeau, painting designs on them.
Jeffrey LeBeau said he first discovered boomerangs, the curved-shaped lightweight devices that return to the thrower if thrown just right, when he was a teenager. He was in a science museum in Canada when he discovered a book on making boomerangs in the gift shop.
"I started dabbling in it, making some cross stick-type boomerangs," he said. "I got them to work, and shared them with my friends at that time."
He then didn't pick up a boomerang for years, until he was married with three boys, and wanted to share his love for boomerangs with his children.
"My kids (ages 11, 12 and 14) called me 'Big Daddy' growing up, so that's how I got the name for the business," LeBeau said. "They are my product testers. They'll help me design different shapes and colors. It's a family business."
The boys and their mother paint the wooden boomerangs after LeBeau carves them and tests them.
"The kids help out with some new ideas for shapes," he said.
Kari LeBeau helps with painting. Big Daddy will create custom paint designs by request for customers.
Kari, whose passion is pottery, said she doesn't love boomerangs quite as much as her husband does, but she enjoys contributing to the artistic aspect of the boomerangs he produces.
"I love painting and being a part of that process," she said. "And he is a great role model for our boys. With every fair, with every order, with every minute he spends in his 'boom shop,' he shows our children it's never too late to chase your passions."
LeBeau's sport wooden boomerang is made out of Baltic birch plywood. He said it's a good material for beginner boomerangs, rather than competition level boomerangs, which he hasn't attempted yet.
"I really want to introduce people to the sport," he said. "Teaching them that they really work - that's part of the excitement."
LeBeau said a boomerang can be made out of almost any shape.
"The key is to have proper ratios of width to length for the wing, he said. "(There's also) the thickness of the wing and the air foil shape. There is a lot of science to it. "
He said there's a lot of trial and error.
"I've had a bunch that don't work," he said. "I either abandon it or I re-tool it. But for the models that do work, which give me results I'm happy with, I make a template of. I use power tools, but they're all hand shaped, unique and different."
In addition to Big Daddy's wooden boomerangs, LeBeau created a boomerang that folds up and fits in a pocket.
"I came up with the idea because I wanted portability," he said. "I had a different product line with plastic and I can't put it in my pocket. I wanted some to carry with me while I'm out hiking, at the beach or at the park."
He envisions the three-wing Pocket Boom as a popular, new, backyard game.
"Instead of playing Frisbee or lawn darts, let's play Pocket Boom," he said. "You have an instant game ready to go, and you don't have to worry about this thing breaking."
LeBeau has a patent pending on the Pocket Boom. He buys the plastic from Delaware and a company from Agawam laser cuts it for him. LeBeau and his wife do the post-processing of the wings. He said he tries to use only materials from the U.S.A.
Throwing a boomerang takes practice and skill, but LeBeau said he can teach anyone to throw one. He said kids as young as 5 or 6 can successfully throw the Pocket Boom, and kids 10 or 11 can handle the wooden boomerangs.
"You do need a little athletic ability," he said. "If you can throw a baseball or softball, you can do it. Boomerang is more of a finesse sport than a muscle sport. It takes practice."
How a thrower holds the boomerang, the way they throw it and the direction and speed of the wind are all factors in a boomerang's performance.
For now, LeBeau is marketing through his website, bdbooms.com, on Facebook and Twitter, and word of mouth. He's also attending craft and market fairs. He said he has attended nine such fairs in the past year. People seem to love the pocket boomerangs.
"I've sold close to 240 Pocket Booms, so I know there's traction there, which prompted me to pursue my passion," he said.
Eventually, he hopes to see his products in independently owned toy shops, and hopefully, sporting goods stores.
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