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It Was All A Dream—Get To Know FURI Sport Co-Founder & CEO Erick Mathelier

FURI Sport co-founder and CEO Erick Mathelier is known to his friends as "Picky Brands", and a person who moves to his own beat. (He isn’t saying all this btw; we are.) So we thought it might be fun to get to know him through a kind of “stream of consciousness,” connect-the-dots style of interview. In the first of two “chapters” we will learn about his roots, both inside and outside of tennis.  

He was born in Brooklyn, baby. “I’m from an area in Brooklyn, NY, called 'East Flatbush.' I grew up in a predominantly Caribbean neighborhood. Haitians, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Puerto Ricans, etc. Definitely ethnic; very Caribbean. It was working-class, for sure. Everyone was just working really hard to create a better life for themselves and their kids.”

Li pele Kreyol tres bien (He speaks creole perfectly) My family’s from Haiti. I’m first-generation Haitian-American. My mother moved to Brooklyn from Haiti in 1969.”

He recently turned 40. “Really? We have to talk about that?”

Shocker: his first sports obsession wasn’t tennis. “I didn’t like tennis when I was younger. I don’t really know why. I guess I thought it was a boring, sissy sport? For me, it was all about baseball. And then basketball. Baseball and basketball, yup.”

In circa late 80s NYC, racial tensions caused a shift in his focus from b-ball to tennis. Yusef Hawkins was a 16yr old teenager who was gunned down in a predominantly Italian-American working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn. NYC was charged-up, lots of racial tension. “I was one of two black players on an otherwise all-white baseball team in Sheepshead, Brooklyn, and my family wasn’t ultimately comfortable with that. I was forced to quit the team. I get it now; but back then, I felt like I was being punished for something I didn’t do. I was an active kid, and I needed a sport. So for whatever reason I was like, ‘You know what? Let me try tennis.’”

He used that big brick of a book called The Yellow Pages to find his first tennis club. “When I told my mother I wanted to play tennis, she said, ‘If you’re really interested, grab The Yellow Pages and find a place.’ Even though I was only 10 at the time, my mom didn’t baby me, that’s for sure.”  

His first racket was a Spalding. “It was red. Spalding isn’t even in tennis anymore. They might still be in basketball, but they’ve long since exited tennis.”

It wasn’t exactly love at first forehand. “It took awhile for me to really get into tennis. At first, it was  just something I did once a week, not something I instantly loved. But there was a group of kids at Prospect Park Tennis Center all around the same age. Everyone would just hang out, and then play tennis whenever a court would free up. For those few years, Prospect Park Tennis Center became our second home. I’m friends with some of those guys still to this day. We’re talking life-long relationships, over 25 years.”  

He struggled with mechanics early on. “I had to find the right grip - that was confusing for a while. Back then, the biggest stars used an Eastern forehand. My forehand was my strength, but my backhand was a work in progress.’

Speaking of power forehands, Andre Agassi was an early fave. “He was the rebel. Remember his Nike commercials? All that definitely rubbed off on me. Maybe not the mullet, though…”

At 13, he had something of a tennis epiphany. “I was taking my once-a-week lessons with Todd Snyder, a teaching pro at the club, and when I told my mom I wanted to get better, she said, ‘Let’s go talk to Todd.’ His advice was pretty simple: ‘Take more lessons. Play more matches.` That summer, I started tennis camp for the first time.”

The chance to travel outside the U.S. for the first time lit a major fire under him. “The best juniors at Prospect—a lot of them were ranked - went to Bermuda every summer to play a tournament, and I wasn’t good enough to make that team. So I set a goal of making it the following summer, and I did. In fact, I got ‘Most Improved.’ That was great. I was 14, and it was my first time on a plane.”

And then it was on to his High School team. “I graduated from Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens. We didn’t have actual tennis courts. It was white paint on asphalt, and it turned those bright yellow balls a lovely shade of black. I’ll never forget that; that’s why we’ve created a signature product that we will be releasing soon. Gotta remember your roots, right?” 

     WORDS: Dana Wood
     PICTURES: Stefen Pompee