By Kim Constantinesco
Former professional tennis player and current Shark Wheel COO Zack Fleishman is not only big on being the master of his own clock, but on being the one behind the wheel, too.
As a former No. 11 ranked U.S. tennis pro, Fleishman, 35, has stepped on the center court of every major tennis tournament from the U.S. Open to Wimbledon. He was at the peak of his career in 2007 before a major mountain bike accident — due to a popped tire — derailed him from his passion and livelihood.
In part, that’s what led him to Shark Wheel — an Orange County based company that has literally reinvented the wheel, to make skateboarding safer.
With one wheel ending his athletic career and another leading him to a new thriving business career, Fleishman has aced life’s ‘full circle’, at least to this point.
From team to single
At 2 years old, Fleishman was able to throw a basketball into a 10-foot hoop. His athletic prowess surprised everyone in the family. With the exception of his father, who played tournament ping pong every once in a while, no one else in the family played sports.
At 8 years old, Fleishman played soccer, baseball, basketball, and tennis every weekend in his hometown of Santa Monica, CA. By 12, his parents made him choose one sport to focus on because playing four was too much for the family’s schedule. Even though his “best” sport was soccer, Fleishman decided to stick with tennis.
“I hated the feeling of playing poorly and the team wins, or playing great and the team loses,” Fleishman said about the sports he dropped. “I felt a loss of control in that I didn’t have a say in what happened, except for when I was on the tennis court. I had always been drawn to that 1-on-1 battle. I also liked it because it had no time limit. I could always come back. I loved the fact that it was the only sport where coaching isn’t allowed. You have to figure out everything for yourself.”
Fleishman played a year of college tennis at UCLA, where he helped the school to a No. 1 ranking in the country. Then he turned pro, where he won seven singles titles, defeating Fernando González, who was No. 6 in the world, along the way. In 2007, when Fleishman was No. 11 in the country, he was also No. 127 in the world.
He was in control, and moving his way up, until something unexpected took him down.
Hanging up the racquet
Doing some January cross-training with another tennis pro in 2008, Fleishman and his pal took to the hills of southern California on their mountain bikes.
While Fleishman had spent much time on his road bike, it was his first time on a mountain bike. Riding at a good pace, his tire popped and he flew over his handlebars with his arms extended. He dislocated his left shoulder upon landing.
“The worst part was I had to bike back up to the top of the mountain,” Fleishman said. “It took an hour-and-a-half because my shoulder kept popping in and out. That was actually worse than the fall itself.”
Two surgeries and six screws later, Fleishman was able to compete again successfully for about two months. Then he tore the same shoulder and had to hang up his racquet.
Although he had to resign from the tour, Fleishman continued to contribute to the tennis community. He coached some of the top junior players in the country for three years. In fact, one of his students just reached No. 1 in the country in the women’s college rankings.
“It was really fun for me to give my students what I didn’t have with tennis growing up, knowledge wise,” Fleishman said.
Because his family couldn’t give him formal tennis instructions at a young age, that gave Fleishman a distinct advantage in coaching.
“It helped my teaching career tremendously because I learned how to do everything wrong,” Fleishman said. “Instead of being 8 years old and being perfect, I hit the ball every conceivable way, so I can really understand every student’s need because I’ve been down the road of every single one of them.”
A passion for science
On the pro tennis circuit, Fleishman wasn’t just some young athlete with competition on his brain all the time.
“I was and still continue to be obsessed with physics and cosmology,” Fleishman said. “Science is my passion. I love science”
While traveling, Fleishman’s trainer noticed that his athlete constantly read science magazines.
In 2010, the trainer introduced Fleishman to one of his clients — David M. Patrick, the inventor of the Shark Wheel.
“He said, ‘One of my clients that I train made a major scientific discovery — the kind of discovery that will put you on the cover of Time Magazine.’ He knew I would understand it and appreciate it because it was my passion.”
The Shark Wheel is a cross between a cube and a sphere that gives the wheel more grip, and allows it to rotate faster.
“Our No. 1 advantage is how the wheels go over rough terrain,” Fleishman said. “We’re immersed in the skateboarding market, and on a normal wheel, if you hit a rock, you fall. Skaters constantly have to scan the ground for any potential objects that could trip up their wheels. A normal wheel has a flat face to it, like a steamroller, so anytime it hits a pebble, it has to go over it, and that’s where the lack of safety is. Our shape moves like a snake, so it doesn’t actually go over every object; it kicks objects left and right as it moves. It’s absolutely a much safer wheel.”
Fleishman was hungry to be part of something so revolutionary and innovative, and with Patrick having run two wildly successful businesses in banking and in software development before inventing the Shark Wheel, Fleishman wanted to jump on the opportunity to bring Patrick’s ideas and products to the market. It was an ideal partnership.
The first Shark Wheel ever built was for a bicycle, but Patrick quickly found out that the wheel didn’t work because it didn’t like to “lean.”
“Anything with 3-4 wheels, we have a distinct performance advantage, but anything with wheels that are in line like a motorcycle or a bike, they don’t work on,” Fleishman said.
Shark Wheel has won multiple international competitions, and they have pro skaters contacting them all the time for shipments of their high performance wheels.
“I look at business as playing another sport,” Fleishman said. “It’s how my brain works. I always think about my competitors trying to outwork me, and trying to out-think me. I do the best I can to have a competitive mindset, and do everything in my power to try and move things forward.”
Together, Fleishman and Patrick are moving Shark Wheel forward at a rapid rate. They’ll appear on the season finale of Shark Tank on May 15th, where they will attempt to gain financial backing as well as exposure and admiration from viewers.
“I’ve never used the word ‘surreal’ in my life, but it was the most surreal experience,” Fleishman said of going on the hit T.V. show. “I can’t even describe it. I’ve walked onto the center court at the U.S. Open, and I’ve walked onto the center court at Wimbledon. I thought that would prepare me for a moment like Shark Tank, but it was still just a night and day difference. It was really a whirlwind of an experience.”
Ultimately, The Shark Wheel team will be trying to convince the Shark Tank team that “the impossible can happen.”
“I would like to inspire people and show them that seemingly impossible tasks are just one thought away,” Fleishman said.
Or one reinvented wheel away. Maybe “impossible” really is just an opinion.