Interview with Ian Helfrich
Last updated on 2007-11-27
Ben: How did you first get into Super Soakers?
Ian: I got hooked on Super Soakers when I first laid my hands on the original Super Soaker 50 in 88 or 89. It was probably the Power Drencher when I first got it, but I remember it as the Super Soaker. It was a pretty cool idea. Water guns up to that point we're all pretty similar: little pump action deals or pistols with a cheap plastic trigger that left your finger pretty raw after an afternoon of fun. Motorized ones were pretty popular, but not that impressive. The 50 was different. It held a lot more water and shot much further than anything else out there. It just blew everything else away! The first day I had it, I was testing it out in the backyard. I wanted to see exactly how much I could pressurize the thing. God knows how many times I pumped it, but I was pretty beat by the time I was getting major resistance. I was working hard to get one last pump in when there was a tremendous bang and I was drenched. As my confusion cleared I realized the reservoir was gone, and was lodged in the middle of a bush halfway across the yard. I considered my self pretty lucky as it had been pointing at my face a few seconds ago. That left a good impression on my 15 year old brain. Incidentally, I think the next generation introduced the safety valves.
It was all downhill from there. My friends all got them, and I continued to get at least one or two every season. I have particularly fond memories of the 200. That to me was the first time Larami went out of there way to create an unnecessarily large water gun. It had a shoulder strap for gods sake. That was just insane for a water gun then. It was that mentality in Super Soakers that hooked me.
Ben: How many and which ones did you have back in Super Soaker Arsenal's time?
Ian: I did the Arsenal when I was in college, so lets see, I had two XP 150s, a 50, a 200, a 300, probably a half dozen or so small guns, and two Power Soakers. Maybe some other stuff as well, I'm honestly not sure. That was, oh man, 10 years ago.
Ben: What is your favorite water gun or Super Soaker?
Ian: Without a doubt, the XP 150. That gun is just the perfect combination of water output to capacity, ruggedness, and style. Best water gun ever.
Ben: In contrast, what's the worst Super Soaker in your opinion?
Ian: The worst Super Soakers in my opinion are the gimmick models. The MDS, Triple Blaster, stuff like that. These types of guns focused more on novelty than performance and suffered for it in my opinion. Of course, there are probably kids who loved this stuff too.
Ben: What motivated you to make the Super Soaker Arsenal?
The Arsenal came about due to an independent study I was doing in Web Design. This was back in 95 or 96, the awkward but enthusiastic adolescence of the internet. As part of the study I was going to complete three projects: a section of the web site for the school, a web site for a faculty member, and a website for myself. The first two were pretty clear cut subject matter, but I had no idea what to put on my own website. I was procrastinating in the computer lab one day, clicking around the web. I had just recently been ambushed by Super Soaker toting friends and decided to see what was out there about Super Soakers. I searched for a couple of hours but could not find anything about Super Soakers. That really surprised me. That's when I figured I could offer something unique to the internet and put up all all my random knowledge and thoughts about Super Soakers for other procrastinators to enjoy. So it was a combination of a need for college credits and the unique opportunity to fill a hole in the internet.
Ben: What were the early years of Super Soaker websites like?
Ian: Well, in the very early years there weren't any. Probably a year or so after I released the Arsenal I poked around again and was very surprised to find a handful of home grown websites, a lot of them using graphics I had worked up and images of my guns. One guy had just lifted all my text too! I am embarrassed to admit that I was fairly upset at this. I got over it pretty quick though, it really wasn't a big deal. Most of the sites had been put together by kids, and were pretty scattershot. Not that the Arsenal was a tightly designed masterpiece either. What really struck me was the enthusiasm. People really put a lot of time into them. It was apparent that the Arsenal had spoken to a large audience of like minded people. My anger at people using elements from the Arsenal quickly turned into pride that people really liked it and that it inspired them to expand Super Soakers little corner of the internet.
Ben: How did you get to write the Reservoir features for SS.com?
My working for Larami was a direct result of the Super Soaker Arsenal. I think it was the winter of 98, I was ski-bumming at Sunday River, a resort in Bethel, Maine. The Arsenal had been infrequently updated since it had been created, and I don't think I had touched it in months. Old timers who remember the site may recall "More Content Coming" declarations which were never fulfilled. Sorry. So here I am, an accomplished ski bum with a half derelict website about water guns. The phone rang one day and suddenly I was speaking with Jeff Zimmerman, VP of Laramai toys! Apparently, he, and pretty much the entire office were fans of the Arsenal! I was incredibly flattered. They were impressed with the accuracy of my reviews and wanted to ship me the upcoming line so I could check them out for them. I was welcome to write reviews for the Arsenal about them, they just wanted to talk to me first about what I thought of them. I could not believe my luck. Of course I said yes, and a couple weeks later I got 3 or 4 boxes loaded with Super Soakers! It was awesome. A friend of mine happened to be visiting that day and got some pictures of me cracking them open. I'll see if I can locate any of those. That weekend, my roommates and I had a huge water fight in our backyard. It was February, and around 35 degrees as I recall.
Before Jeff contacted me, my friend Jerry and I had been discussing starting up a web design business. He had the idea that we make a proposal to Larami for us to do the official Super Soaker website. We made a pitch to Larami and got the job. Pretty soon after that we were working on SuperSoaker.com. I did a lot of the design and coding and wrote all of the copy. A couple of years later, I got out of the webdesign business, but continued to work for SS.com writing the copy and writing the Reservoir. We had come up with the Reservoir idea for Larami. They wanted to add content other than advertising copy to the site. The Reservoir captured a lot of the character from the Arsenal and hopefully spoke to the same audience. I wasn't as able to be critical in my reviews, but they were a lot of fun to do.
Ben: Do you have any water fight tips or strategies that were particularly successful to share as well?
Ian: Have fun is the best tip, after that, remember to refill your tank after you charge up. Soaking people in the crotch is funny.
Ben: Were there any features you wanted to add to the Arsenal but never did?
Ian: Nothing in particular stands out. I always had plans for adding more reviews and tactics, revamping the site, stuff like that but I never really got around to it.
Ben: Which parts of the Super Soaker website other than the Reservoir did you do?
Ian: I actually wrote all of the copy (text) for the first few years of SS.com as well. All the text on the site was written by me. Not sure exactly how that happened, as I had no real copy writing experience. I guess Larami just expected us to take care of it, so we did! It was pretty fun actually, we got all of the promotional stuff in the winter. I went through all of that and wrote the copy based off of the copy in the promotional brochures and the info provided for the guns.
I also did a lot of the coding and some of the graphic design.
Writing the Reservoir was a lot more fun as I could get more personal and more in depth about the guns. It also made me come up with the terms Squirtage and Soakage. Larami actually trademarked these if you didn't know, I thought that was pretty cool. You still see Soakage pop up on SS boxes from time to time, which I think is pretty cool. I remember lurking on forums when I was writing the Reservoir and seeing lots of discussion about my methods, and the perhaps overly generous reviews. this would be interesting to discuss I think.
Ben: Did you get to make any suggestions about the Super Soaker line while you worked for Larami? Or did you ever have any neat ideas that you wish were made?
Ian: I actually had a prototype made to my specifications! I had been talking with Jeff about the new CPS guns. This was 2000 I think, after the CPS 1000 was released. I mentioned to him that it would be cool to see the power and capacity of the 1000 fitted with a standard nozzle. I figured the smaller nozzle would still have a ton of power and soaking power, but would last forever. He put one together for me! It was awesome, that thing just shot and shot and shot. If you kept pumping while you were shooting, you could almost maintain a full power shot through a lot of the tank. It was kind of like a CPS 150. Unfortunately, I have no idea where it is now. I was moving a lot around then and it has disappeared on me. I hope somebody has it somewhere!
Ben: Thank you for taking some of your own time to have an interview with us Ian.