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Old 01-30-2017, 04:29 PM #1
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Lightbulb Simon Stevens from Inception Designs - PbNation's First Industry Interview

Simon Stevens is known online, at events and through paintball products that are used the world over. He is simply one of the pillars of the paintball community. I've known Simon for quite some time, but he is one of those guys in paintball who can go by just his first name because he is so well known. However, Simon has also done so much, I don't think enough of us know just how involved Simon has been in paintball, so I wanted him to be the focus of our first Industry Interview.

Not only is Simon one of the smartest people in paintball, he's also one of the most down to earth and nicest people in the industry. He literally will take the time to explain any part of the technology, game or sport with virtually anyone. There's a reason he loses his voice by the end of events - he spends the entire time talking to anyone and everyone about paintball.

Inception is a newer paintball company, founded in 2013, but Simon's roots in paintball run much deeper. Inception is a true family company situated run with his wife Emilie Stevens. They are committed to designing and making parts here in the United States, which is doubly impressive since neither Simon nor his wife are originally from the States.




It was my pleasure to take some time to learn more about Simon, where he comes from and how he got into paintball:


What do you wish players and the industry did better?

Telling people who haven't played and reminding former players, just how much fun paintball actually is. That's what we should be drawing everyone else, that already plays, attention too also.

It was fun for me from the first moment I read about it, and it's still fun for me after 26 years of playing every way possible from Stock Class to Pro and after working in the industry for 17 years.

For a period of time paintball became about the paintball itself. It was about shooting them faster, selling more of them, making them harder so that players stayed in at fields longer so they could shoot more... it was more about the $$$ involved than the experience and game that we all fell in love with.

All the things that are wrong with paintball and the industry right now came from those two things, and not from focusing on the experience, and that the most important aspect of Paintball is making sure people have fun.

People don't have fun emptying their wallets just to play, they don't have fun getting shot with hard paint, they don't have fun getting shot multiple times from ramping guns. They don't come back to play again after those experiences. When they have fun they come back again, they tell other people, they bring people with them. We need the fun back in it at all levels. We work hard at Inception but we also try to make sure we take time for family and to enjoy ourselves.

Many of the products we are making now are not because they are the most financially lucrative, but because they are fun, both for us and especially for our customers.


Now that is the way to kick this off!

What do you do for a living?

Have fun making things I want and that I enjoy. I'm lucky that's in paintball. 100% of what I do and what my company does is paintball. I find it strange when people brag about how their companies do aerospace work, or military work, or medical work, oh and paintball. We are 100% paintball. That's our focus, it doesn't take a back seat to anything else. I'm an engineer and I've done military work, I've done aerospace, I've done automotive. Now it's all paintball. I truly love what I do and thoroughly enjoy myself doing it.



Simon in his personal machine shop.


17 years is a long time. Walk us through the different positions you have held in paintball.
Initially I was a tinkerer, then a patent licensee, then a contractor, later I moved to the US to becoming Director of R&D for National Paintball Supply, then Vice President of Engineering, Research and Development for KEE and then now as Owner of Inception Designs, a company I left KEE to start in February 2013 (almost exactly four years ago from when I am typing this).


When and where did you first play paintball?
October 20th 1991 at a paintball field in Kidderminster in England. It was my 16th birthday and I had been waiting two years to play for the first time after reading my first paintball magazine when I was 14. I saw the magazine after stopping in a store to hide from the rain on my way to high school.


LOL, I don't even remember what year I started and you know the day.

What was your first paintball gun?

A Lapco Spectre pump gun. Bought from Owen who now works for Badlands in Canada, but back then Owen used to work for WDP in Birmingham.


What drew you to play more?
I was hooked from the day I read a magazine and even more so from the first day I played. Two weeks after playing for the first time I bought my own gun, two weeks after that I joined my first team, The Survival Game Predators, and then a few weeks after that I played my first tournament. I had no clue what I was doing. I played against Simon Cole and shot him but it bounced. I remember not knowing if that counted or not. Nowadays I'd be sure to shoot him again just in case



Portrait of the engineer as a young man.


You are an engineer, where were you educated? What degree(s) did you earn?
I went to the same school William Shakespeare went to. Seriously. Then I moved south and went to the University of Sussex where I received a 2:1 honors degree in Mechanical Engineering and Business Management.


What got you into the paintball industry?
Everything was crap. I'd buy products and then break them the same day, or they wouldn't work right. So I started making my own parts. I still have the first thing I ever made (when I was 16) which was a grip to fit my paintball gun and move the tank to the bottom of the frame. Bottom lines had only just started to become available and I modified a mag vertical asa to fit the frame. It was/is rough as can be. I made it from sheets of aluminium that I cut by hand with a hacksaw and then filed down. The screws to hold it together came from my skateboard. After that I started making more things. I used to clean my Lapco Spectre and it looked so awesome, but then I put the hopper on top and it was this monstrosity. So I started to design a loader that wasn't and that was situated below the gun to reduce the target profile. That was the invention of force feed hoppers and over the next few years it developed further until in 1996 I filed for my first patent on it at 21 years old. Nearly 8 years later National Paintball Supply took a license on that patent. Then after a meeting with them where I was bored while waiting for Gino to be available I designed the Empire Intimidator, and it happened so well and went so fast that it kicked off a bunch of contract work for NPS. After some life changing things in the UK I eventually succumbed to them offering me a full time job and I left the UK to come and work in the USA as the Director of R&D for NPS. That's actually making a very long story as short as possible...



Simon's hopper system that predated the Warp feed. The Warp feed was later developed after Simon's discussions with AGD to make the above hopper fell through.


As a courtesy to you, I even kept the incorrect spelling of "aluminum."

What did you do for/with AirGun Designs?

Initially I almost went into business with Tom Kaye at AGD making my force feed hoppers, but it didn't work out (later on they went on to make the Warpfeed). I was young, naive, and had a lot to learn, but we stayed friends and when the guys at AGD Europe were looking into making the CNC Extreme gun bodies I worked with them to design what came to be known as the X-Mag. It was the first thing I did in paintball that really went into production and kicked me off down a path that has me where I am today.


I remember a friend who worked for Airgun Designs telling me about you and your "coffee can" hopper that went below the gun. He was excited for them to come to market.

For what are you best known for now in the paintball world?

Not sure. A lot of people know I've done quite a lot and made a few products, but I am not sure they can name them all, and many people would pick different products that are important to them. I think at this point I have something like 26+ patents and patent applications in the industry, and they cover everything from guns, goggles, loaders, to tank valves. (I actually just got another one in between starting writing these answers and finishing my edits, for the BT Slice).

The safety system on every co2 and compressed air valve was my invention and something I tested pretty heavily. That's probably the most important thing I ever did. Watching co2 tanks fly off into the field behind NPS while doing so was pretty fun. That one invention means it's almost impossible for someone to play paintball nowadays without using a product I have been involved in. They'd have to be using a 12g powered gun (of which I have made a few) and not be using any of the 7 goggle systems I have been responsible for, or any of the guns/barrels/hoppers I have made.


Posing with the girls of the NPPL and AGD
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Old 01-30-2017, 04:29 PM #2
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How tall are you?
Very. Typically I find that only short people know exactly how tall they are. Somewhere over 6'5"...



At a BBQ after playing some paintball in California. This is the weekend Simon decided to make Autococker parts at Inception.


The correct answer was "freakishly." I do know how tall I am to the quarter of an inch! But I've always felt short so you may be onto something...

What did you do for a living before you came to work in paintball?

Depending on what time you take my coming to work in paintball as... Just before I started full time in paintball I ran (and started) the UK subsidiary for a multinational CAD/CAM company. I used to demonstrate, sell and do consultancy in the CAD/CAM and manufacturing field. Before that I worked in Design and Concept in the Automotive industry, mainly making concept cars and aerodynamics models.


What brought you here to the US?
Paintball. NPS made me an offer I couldn't refuse at the time to come and be their Director of Research and Development. That was at the end of 2003.


And you chose to stay with Empire when National Paintball merged with PMI and became KEE Action Sports?
I was promoted from Director of R&D to Vice President of Engineering, Research and Development.


Why did you split off from KEE to form Inception Designs?
Because I wasn't happy. It was time to move on and control my own destiny.


What’s been the most rewarding part of setting off on your own?
Being in control of my own destiny. Seriously. We get to follow our dreams and do what we feel is right. We don't fight battles because of numbers, we don't fight with people that have no understanding of the industry or the niche we love to be a part of, we just do what we believe in.


Who else works for Inception Designs?
Not as many people as we would like. We are growing and adding to the team. We are really excited about what the next 12 months will allow us to bring to the table. My wife works with me running the business, doing sales and accounting and keeping me in check (at least a little).



Simon and Emilie Stevens together. Yes, that is a halo around her head.


Speaking of Emilie, how did you meet your lovely wife?
Through paintball. Remember the story about working with AirGun Designs? Well the apartment I used to stay in when I went to help them work on the X-Mag, ended up being the apartment my future wife lived in when she went to work for NPS Europe. (Which actually came into existence after I recommended Jackie and John Sosta as being good people to represent NPS in Europe). Only problem was I had moved to America before my wife to be, moved to England. I met her on and off at different events for 5 years before realizing we could make a long distance relationship work and that she was the one.


What paintball products have you designed?
I used to keep a list with all the specific product names, but I lost that years ago. Making a list now would probably be pretty boring. I was lucky to be working with NPS and then KEE in their hay day so almost all of their hard goods from 2003 until 2013 (and actually still now) have had my involvement in some way or another.


What took the most time/effort?
Loaders are actually the hardest thing to design well. Then goggles, then guns. People are stunned when I tell them guns are the easiest, but it's always been that way for me. My first ever goggles, the E-Vents and Vents line, took a lot of work and thought, and the result when seeing the first teams face off in them was absolutely awesome.



Simon with prototype Events. He made a model of his own head to help develop the goggles.


What did you NOT design but you wish you’d thought of first?
Hmm, tough one. I was just getting started when the semi automatic guns were first made and then the Autococker came about. At first, as an engineer, I was 100% a mag guy and didn't understand the excitement of the Autococker. Then I built my first one from parts (after being told I was crazy to even attempt doing so) and I remember doing it vividly on my living room coffee table. Now I love the fact I am able to do more with the platform, and even though my current involvement with them was not my original intention when starting Inception Designs, and in fact it has probably set my original business model back by 3-4 years, I am just having way too much fun with them in every aspect and love being involved with them and the community. The fact that Bud Orr has been so supportive in what we are doing with them has just been the icing on the cake.


What did you work on that never made it to market but should have or would have been revolutionary?
Under the gun loading systems when I first invented them. It took me 12 years to persuade everyone else at NPS/KEE to let me do it (including prototypes I was field testing in 2005 ish) and then when it finally got to happen with the Defender I was leaving the company just as we started field testing. Imagine that tech over a decade earlier?



Shooting the eVolt.


You have an amazing collection of paintball gear including lots of first of their kind markers. What gems from it would you like to tell us about?
Not sure where to start. I had a rule when I first started working with NPS that I got to keep the first of every gun design I made. I have the first production X-mag too. I have the first of every Intimidator I ever designed apart from the Russian Legion. I have the first production Axe. I also have some really important guns from paintball's history. Like the first EVER gun with a break beam "eye."


Care to tell is about the computers and software you design products on?
We use multiple systems for design and for cnc programming. The best part is the three 24" monitors I have and that I run out of space on...


For someone not born in the USA, you have a strong commitment to making things here. How about the machines you make parts on?
We use HAAS CNC machines. We have an ST20SSY lathe with live tooling, a Y and a C axis (so it does milling as well as turning). Then we have two VF2's. One with a 5 axis trunnion that we do all of our gun bodies on to allow us to make the extreme designs we do in one shot, and then another with a 4th axis tombstone on that we use to make our grip frames and other parts on.


What paintball patents do you own?
Personally, just two. My original ones on force feed loaders. All the rest were from when I was at NPS/KEE and are now owned by GI Sportz after they bought up KEE. I'd need to check exactly how many have reached grant now but it increased again a week or two ago as just recently the ones for the BT Slice and Empire Defender were granted so my patent count went up.


What advice do you have for people who want to design paintball gear someday?
Commitment and perseverance are the most important things. 95% of the work in any project is in what you think is the last 5% of the project.



Simon Explaining to Bud Orr how an Autococker works.


Who is the best person or company you have ever worked with in paintball and why?
I'm the kind of person that would rather make friends than enemies and I've enjoyed working with so many brands and companies in paintball. I really miss the guys that I used to work with at Empire. We had a small but great crew and put out so many great products. Now I absolutely love the companies that get behind what we are doing at Inception. It's not been easy getting people to support a start up and new brand, so to everyone that has we are truly grateful. It helped us grow significantly in 2016 and we are staged for a huge 2017 if everything goes to plan (or even close to it).


Who is the worst person or company you have worked with in paintball? And why if you want…
I left KEE because of them. Enough said about that.
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Old 01-30-2017, 04:30 PM #3
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Do you have any major hobbies?
Fishing and cars used to be... although since we started Inception the sports car went away to have the RV that we take to events, and the last time I went off shore fishing is a distant memory. I genuinely enjoy what I do, so it's not unusual to find me relaxing and designing the next thing I want for fun. Which then invariably becomes an Inception product.



Sometimes the best way to stop is with your face.


What’s your favorite current TV show?
I don't get to watch a lot of TV, but have been enjoying some series like Black Sails, The Black List, The 100 lately.


What’s your favorite movie quote and from what movie?
Super Troopers has way too many awesome quotes. "Oh this little guy? I wouldn't worry about this little guy."


How has paintball impacted your life in a positive way?
I can't even say all the ways. It genuinely saved my life at one point when I was young and suffering from depression. It gave me a direction and something to work towards that focused my life. It brought me my wife and that led to my daughter. It's allowed me to travel the world and make friends from all walks of life in so many countries. It's provided me a decent living and life. I get to work hard and enjoy every day of it.


Can you list all of the teams you’ve ever played with in order and the country they are based in?

Survival Game Predators, UK
Fake ID, UK
Mayhem Tigers UK

I also guested with a bunch of teams around Europe and the USA including:
Warpig Factory USA
Fallen Angels (Mardis Gras 2003 I think) USA
Diablo VIP (Europe)
European Union (for playing World Cup)
Ignition USA
Texas Storm USA



Simon with Bill and Dawn Mills of Warpig.com


What was your first competitive team? What league did you play? When?
SGP (Survival Game Predators), we played all around the UK including the first Hyperball tournament ever.


What was your first major/national tournament (and year)?
My first National Tournament was Toulouse 1997 with the Mayhem Tigers. It was the first event the Supair bunkers were used at.


What event meant the most to you? Win, lose or draw.
Playing World Cup and making it to the finals of our division with the European Union (in 2002 I think) was intense. Any finals game at World Cup always is. Winning the first UWL Event I played at World Cup with the PbNation guys was a blast also.



Simon with the PbNation Modsquad after winning the World Cup UWL 5-man. #wonworldcup


What was your breakout moment in paintball? What first put you on the map or made you realize paintball was more than a passing hobby?
The X-Mag first really put me on the map in the industry, but traveling and playing with the Mayhem Tigers was really important to me at the time.


What has been your key to longevity and success in the industry?
I still love it. I think in part because paintball is more than just the game for me. A huge part is the invention and making stuff, how many industries can you be involved with so much of it's development over such a short a time? Another huge part is the playing. I still get the adrenaline rush and sleepless nights before going to play. And probably the most important part is the people. I can genuinely go to events and have just as great a time from getting to see and hang out with my extended family.


What do you regret in paintball?
Not being in a position to start my own company sooner, and not realizing I was so unhappy and leaving KEE sooner. It's been tough, and it was a hard decision at the time, but I am so glad I did it.


What do you wish you knew when you started out in paintball?
That some aspect of the arms race would be bad for paintball. Some aspects have been great (breech sensors and forcefeed hoppers) but ramping guns, and overshooting and electronic gun cheats are something that hurt the industry as much as others at the time thought they would help.


What is sentimental to you in paintball? Why? (gear, teams, players, mentor…)
I'm not a very sentimental person. There are people I am very grateful to and that I feel I will always owe.


Is there any piece of gear you would rather not play without?
Gloves and a head wrap (after goggles first obviously).


Do you have any superstitions about playing?
Nope.


What’s a piece of paintball equipment you’d like to use but you can’t?
Some of my older guns. Now that I make my own products it's unlikely you will ever see me play with some of the older guns I used to use before I made my own stuff. I am often testing something new and there's no better way to know if it's working as it should than to use it myself. My T2 is a great example of that. It's an awesome pump gun that was built for me personally by Rod and Mel from CCM and it's one of only two guns I have bought in probably the last 15+ years (the other was a CCM also) . I'll never use it again as I have my own pumps now that are my go to guns.



Playing pump in Huntington Beach at the NPPL.


What do you expect (or hope) to see change in paintball in the next 5 years?
More people realizing what's important. Less of the industry fighting itself. More of the industry working together. More companies being run by people that actually care about the game and sport. People playing and having fun and getting others to play with them.


What do we need to do better in paintball?
Stop selling and using hard paint. Stop posting up pictures of people covered in welts and bragging about it. More making sure everyone is enjoying themselves and having a good time, especially the new players.


What can the average person do to improve paintball?
Shop wisely with their $$$. It does matter how you spend your money and where. If you want to support certain companies or stores do so, if you don't, take your money elsewhere. Talk to your local field or store and tell them the products you want them to sell you and which companies you want to buy from.



If you are a paintball dealer, store or field, make sure you attend the Paintball Extravaganza to see Simon!


What players or people do you owe the most to?
Hmm, another hard one. I have many friends who's value are beyond words and who I will know for the rest of my life, even those that were a big part of paintball but have moved on. I miss them and don't get to see everyone as much as I like but the value of those people and friendships are huge to me. People from my early days when I was a teenage inventor struggling to get anyone in the industry to take me seriously were very influential. Adrian Saunders from the UK was one of the first people to take me seriously when I was doing my first paintball inventions and would provide me with paint to help do my testing. John Rice from WDP fame as well. Before I could even drive I would take my skateboard and the train to go and see him to talk paintball and he would take me seriously and listen to me. Gino Postorivo and the NPS crew for licensing my patents and then giving me the opportunity to come to the USA and work in the industry.


Anything you want to say or people you want to thank to close?
All of the Inception Designs customers and supporters. Even doing the simple things like sharing our social media or getting involved with helping others in our PbNation forum helps us. Using our products and telling other people about them is huge for us as a small Company. Many people still haven't heard of Inception Designs or aren't familiar with the large, and ever expanding range of products we offer.



This was actually the friendlier of the two sign offs...
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Old 01-30-2017, 04:47 PM #4
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Simon is truly the "Da Vinci" of Paintball, we all owe him a great debt for guiding modern design and development to give us the fantastic products we all use today.

Great interview!
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Old 01-30-2017, 04:55 PM #5
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nice interview John

if anyone happens to be at an event when the Inception booth is present do not hesitate to stop by and at least say hi

one of the friendliest guys ever
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Old 01-30-2017, 05:10 PM #6
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Great Interview.

I was just thinking how much I missed Matty Marshall's interviews he did for the PBA podcast. We need more content like this and that!
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Old 01-30-2017, 05:36 PM #7
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Great stuff, looking forward to his 2017 product announcements!
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Old 01-30-2017, 05:57 PM #8
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Old 01-30-2017, 06:09 PM #9
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Very nice article.
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Old 01-30-2017, 06:27 PM #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John View Post
What do you wish players and the industry did better?

For a period of time paintball became about the paintball itself. It was about shooting them faster, selling more of them, making them harder so that players stayed in at fields longer so they could shoot more... it was more about the $$$ involved than the experience and game that we all fell in love with.

All the things that are wrong with paintball and the industry right now came from those two things, and not from focusing on the experience, and that the most important aspect of Paintball is making sure people have fun.

People don't have fun emptying their wallets just to play, they don't have fun getting shot with hard paint, they don't have fun getting shot multiple times from ramping guns. They don't come back to play again after those experiences. When they have fun they come back again, they tell other people, they bring people with them. We need the fun back in it at all levels. We work hard at Inception but we also try to make sure we take time for family and to enjoy ourselves.

Many of the products we are making now are not because they are the most financially lucrative, but because they are fun, both for us and especially for our customers.
Hope others in the industry didn't skip over this part......

as always simon looking forward to seeing whats next. Keep up the innovation.
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Old 01-30-2017, 06:46 PM #11
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Old 01-30-2017, 06:52 PM #12
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Huh, never knew so much about the guy. Great stuff.

#simonforprez
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Old 01-30-2017, 06:54 PM #13
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2017 is sounding bad for my bank account. but a great interview. I loved the original vents mask.
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Old 01-30-2017, 06:56 PM #14
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Great interview. Looking foward to working with Simon maybe learning a few things in a couple of weeks.
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Old 01-30-2017, 07:10 PM #15
miguelcont96
MadMan Paintball
 
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Join Date: Feb 2015
Location: Santiago, Dom Rep
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I loved the busy homepage the last few days! Just freaking awesome.
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Old 01-30-2017, 07:14 PM #16
Rebel4x4kid
Team Carnage
 
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Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: Alabama
 has been a member for 10 years
 plays in the NXL
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Excellent, loved this read. Can't wait to see more of these types of interviews!
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Old 01-30-2017, 07:17 PM #17
Calculon The Great
 
 
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Location: Montreal, Canada
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Great interview. Made me reminisce about my old paintball days.

I got some parts from him before Xmas for my Sniper. My only regret? Not ordering sooner.
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Old 01-30-2017, 07:27 PM #18
ftpbeeker
 
 
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Join Date: Jun 2014
Location: Jacksonville fl
ftpbeeker plays in the APPA beginner division
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ftpbeeker owns a Planet Eclipse CSR
Love Simon and the work he does.
His inception Ripper Axe my son has.... well I brag about it in a lot of my posts.... is ungodly smooth and accurate (Stella system baybee) its f'ing witchcraft I tell you!
I always let kids at the fields try the Stella barrels we have and I am seeing more and more show up.
My son and I stalk him at World Cup and he still takes the time to chat with a idiot like me.
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Old 01-30-2017, 07:28 PM #19
wgp73
Awaiting Email Confirmation
 
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Old 01-30-2017, 07:43 PM #20
stygshore
Big Evil made me do it!
 
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Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: Michigan
stygshore is a founding member
 has been a member for 10 years
stygshore is playing at Living Legends VII
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Met Simon through a friend that knew him from back in the AGD Event days. Never met a nicer guy, and everyone I have introduced to him at Legends comments how genuine he is ( after saying "Wow he is tall!" )

His products are all top notch, an insane amount of thought goes into the smallest details, and he really does care about this sport.

Styg


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Old 01-30-2017, 07:46 PM #21
petedaddy
Mission Accomplished!
 
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Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Dirty Jerz
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Simon, I can't believe you didn't mention me once....
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