By Bruce Claflin | firstname.lastname@example.org
When one thinks about the American spirit, one inevitably thinks about freedom. Most boaters would say they never feel so free as they do with the sun on their face and the wind in their hair. Certainly this feeling is not unique to the boating community. Just ask the motorcyclist, the convertible owner, or the snow skier to name just a few. Without a doubt, it is precisely that feeling that draws us into many of the activities we enjoy. That feeling of freedom is a powerful draw to the world of boating, but the American spirit embodies much more than that. It’s about initiative, innovation, a ‘can do’ attitude, and the ability to overcome and persevere despite long odds. For Mike Swanson, a Lake Minnetonka native and long- time powerboat racer, it’s a way of life — in boat racing, and in his marine services business.
THE WAY UP
Each of us are shaped by our environment growing up. What we experience, what we learn, and what we overcome, all add up to a sum that equals who we are. For Swanson, things were not always easy. Mike spent much of his time finding ways to support himself. There were construction sites that needed cleaning up, and of course on the lake, there were docks to be put in each year and docks to be taken out. ‘Swannie’, as most folks know him, has done a little of everything and he’s developed many useful skills along the way. After graduating from Mound High School in 1986, he worked on crab boats in Alaska for several seasons, and even tried motorcycle racing in the early ‘90s. Through those experiences Mike became pretty handy with a wrench, but after a couple of seasons of racing motorcycles, Mike lost his sponsorship and his life took another slight turn, back to the water. So, what does one do when one dream ends? We asked Mike that very question and he told us, “I bought a cigarette boat.”
A VIOLENT SPORT
That introduction to speed on the water has led Mike on a path that has earned him several new titles. Titles like boat builder, driver, throttleman, even World Record Holder. In 2012, he started on a quest to build a boat capable of breaking the world speed record in the 30’ v-bottom class. That year, Mike acquired a 1981 Python and together with the Tonka Boyz Offshore Racing Team, they began an extensive rebuild. Always innovating, they added twin 1000 HP motors placed in a rare reverse stagger configuration. The reverse stagger allowed them to put the most horsepower in the available space. Then they fully customized the interior. In 2014, the team traveled to Lake of the Ozarks, MO. For the Annual LOTO Shootout. Without the benefit of the seemingly endless budgets that support some teams, Mike and the Tonka Boyz team shattered the existing mark of 79 mph and set new World Record at 109 mph. Since setting that mark, Mike has created new friendships and new alliances. His abilities have been recognized in wider spheres and his most recent racing has been in higher classes of the sport. Simply stated, that means the boats are getting bigger and faster. For the uninitiated, there is much more that goes into Offshore Powerboat Racing other than just power and speed. It is an incredibly violent ride most days, due in part to the speed but also due to other factors such as rough water, wakes from other boats, and the constant presence of spray, dampening one’s vision. It takes equal amounts of driving skill and controlled throttle to navigate a course successfully. Wrecks are commonplace.
Injuries, and even death are real possibilities. Mike has never wrecked, a testament to his ability and the skills of his throttleman. Racing has taken Mike all over the world, from Lake of the Ozarks to Doha, Qatar but most days you can still find him in Spring Park, tending to his marine services company.
USING WHAT YOU ACQUIRE
There is a lot to be said for using the knowledge you acquire along the way, as we all know that experience is the best teacher. Since his early days working on, and servicing local docks, Mike has picked up some pretty useful information. Information he and his wife Ashley have used every day in establishing Flagship Marine Company, the local service business they’ve built in Spring Park. The business is a marine manufacturing, sales, and service business that specializes in the design, engineering, service, and repair of commercial and residential waterfront dock systems. What started as a one man dock installation and removal business 30 years ago has grown into a comprehensive marine business offering new and used dock sales, boat lift sales, dock and boatlift repair, custom boathouse canopy design and fabrication, boat storage, and boat brokerage. Mike won’t expand his business at the expense of service or attention to detail, he’s expanding it by using the experience he’s gained over the years. Mike’s made a habit of eliminating the problems of traditional dock installation, and replacing them with the advantages of new technology in steel cutting, robotic welding, and corrosion prevention. He seeks innovation and puts it to use for his customers, even his very first customer who he still works for today some thirty years later.