James Bettauer loves tennis. But finding the time and a place to play isn’t always easy when you’re living a nomadic life as a professional hockey player in Germany.
So the 27-year-old Port Moody native reached back into his childhood to find a way to scratch his itch to play tennis anytime, any place. And now he’s hoping his Backpack Tennis invention will help set him up for a business career when his hockey days are done.
Bettauer, who played minor hockey in Port Coquitlam and Port Moody, parlayed his junior career with the Penticton Vees of the BC Hockey League and the Chilliwack Bruins of the Western Hockey League into a series of two-year contracts with first division teams in Germany, from Hamburg to Augsburg to Straubing. In the fall, he’ll begin a new stint with Krefeld Pinguine.
But tennis runs in Bettauer’s blood.
His uncle, Robert, is a former professional player and national coach who guided Canada’s tennis teams at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona and Seoul, South Korea, as well as served as a commentator on televised matches. And Bettauer has fond memories of long summer afternoons exchanging volleys with his cousin in Penticton.
But court time wasn’t always readily available in the busy vacation community, so Bettauer and his cousin dipped into his uncle’s bag of coaching tools he often used to help new players familiarize themselves with the game, or to make due with limited space. The small, portable net could be set up anywhere, and the lightweight kid-size racquets and high-density foam ball provided a scaled-down facsimile of a full-sized match.
Plus, it was a heck of a lot of fun, Bettauer said, recalling impromptu tournaments with friends that provided plenty of smiles and laughter.
Those fond memories stuck with Bettauer as he embarked upon his professional hockey career in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga. He started fiddling with the design and engineering for a portable net that could be deployed on any surface in under two minutes. He experimented with various types of ball and foam densities to find the right combination that would provide spirited play at a smaller scale.
His guinea pigs for product research were often his teammates, as they’d use his latest iteration of portable tennis to warm up in the arena corridors before practices.
Development continued during Bettauer’s off seasons back in British Columbia, where he’d tote his game to the beach or parks for matches with his buddies or his girlfriend, a part-time tennis coach at the Port Moody rec centre.
About a year ago, Bettauer decided to turn his portable adaptation of tennis into an actual product that could be used as a gentle introduction to the game or provide a ready solution to overbooked facilities.
Without the benefit of business education, other than watching his father run a pet store when he was growing up, Bettauer canvassed manufacturers for the portable net and oversized foam ball, secured bulk pricing for the racquets and sourced the small plastic cones that can be used to delineate lines. He then stuffed all the components into a nylon sling bag that could be easily carried over the shoulders and packed it around as he and his girlfriend travelled around Europe during breaks in the hockey schedule. They played impromptu matches below the Eiffel Tower, in front of Mont St. Michel, in the gardens of a German castle, and on the boardwalk of a Croatian lake.
“We fell in love with the portability,” Bettauer said. “You can just start playing. It’s a great addition to the day.”
Bettauer is officially launching Backpack Tennis for singles and doubles matches today on the crowdfunding website, kickstarter.com. And on July 7 he’ll introduce the game publicly with a day-long tournament on Trasolini Field behind the Port Moody rec centre to benefit KidSport.
Bettauer said the charity is important to him as it helped his family cover some of his hockey expenses when he was growing up.
“I really wanted to start the company with a purpose,” he said.
And if Backpack Tennis is a hit, Bettauer’s ready to ride it to his next career.
“I’m kinda taking this as my business degree,” he said. “I’m teaching myself by actually doing something.”
• For more information about Backpack Tennis and the charity launch tournament, as well as a link to the Kickstarter page, go to www.backpacktennis.com