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Sunday, October 17, 2021

How an 11-year-old Manhattan Beacher built an app to make it easier to try out new surfboards

Jake Sawalich spent much of the coronavirus taking up new hobbies: playing the electric guitar, coding and surfing.

But the latter two took him from hobby to businessman – only at the age of 11. They launched an app, Surf Exchange, earlier this year that allows surfers to rent surfboards from each other. The app essentially created a community marketplace for surfers.

Believing in how much progress he had made on the waves in just one month, the Manhattan Beach resident spent $600 of his self-collected bucks on a brand new surfboard he realized he had made, he said. were not fit for their skill level, he said.

“I felt it was worth it for how much work I was putting in, but I didn’t like it,” Sawalich said of an expensive board. “I totally thought I was up for it.”

Savalich said that he and his father, who had also bought more surfboards than he used, had accumulated seven boards when they realized it was time to do something about it.

“I didn’t want people to fall into the same hole I fell into,” Savalich said.

So he combined his newfound skills in sports and technology and began working on Surf Exchange, realizing that it was easier for beginners to try out different boards.

“I really want to make people’s lives more convenient in the world of surfing,” Sawalich said.

But his passion for the app came from his mother looking for a way to swap distractions with education.

“Jake was addicted to video games at an early age,” said his mother, Trevi Savalich. “I was in a hurry to curb it; I put him in a coding class to develop the game.”

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Creating virtual realities behind the scenes cut short Savalich’s gameplay time, the youngster said, and sparked a renewed interest.

“It’s probably been the best year for me,” Jake Savalich said of his new venture.

The pandemic hit by starting in-person classes, her mother said, but she stumbled upon a virtual coding program with BYJU’s FutureSchool.

FutureSchool’s live mentors, formerly called WhiteHat Junior, teach math and coding online for grades one through eight. Saalich’s mentor helped him develop Surf Exchange.

Savalich was one of 12 kids selected this year for the event’s Silicon Valley App Challenge, which requires budding entrepreneurs to present their products to a venture capitalist or investor.

The young mogul said investor Savalich presented himself to be a surfer, further validating the app’s future demand in the surf community. Savalich said that most people in his own community told him he had the same issues he had when starting out in the sport.

On top of beginners, Saalich said, the Surf Exchange is good for travelers who don’t want to haul around their boards and pros who want to try out the latest models.

Right now, Surf Exchange is on Google Play, Sawalich said. But he said he hopes to get it on the Apple App Store once a professional developer is found to help them iron out all the kinks.

“I think we definitely woke up with something in Jake,” his mother said. “He’s definitely an entrepreneur.”

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