Jet Skis, the Original “Bomber”, and the Blue Jeans of EyewearJune 24 2019 0
Jet Skis, the Original “Bomber”, and the Blue Jeans of Eyewear
An interview with Bomber Eyewear founder Tommy “the Bomber” Bonacci
For most business owners, ending the day with a jet ski ride might sound like a vacation fantasy. But for Tommy Bonacci, that’s just part of the routine.
We sat down with the founder of Bomber Eyewear to talk about his career as a racer, his plans for the business, and the big moments that have led him to where he is today.
“I remember how much I used to dream about becoming a professional motocross racer one day,” he says. “That dream came true in the form of jet ski racing, and I knew it from the moment I was first introduced to jet skis by one of my motocross friends. The rest is history.”
Tommy’s career as a professional racer took off in the early 90s. Tommy has been a professional jet ski racer and adventure sports enthusiast from a very young age, winning six World Championships since 1992. In 1993, he won his first National competition in Virginia Beach.
“It was pretty amazing for me to beat some of the guys I looked up to as I climbed the ranks to the top of the sport,” he says. “Plus, the fact that it was a surf race made it even cooler for me, being a surfer/motocross guy myself. Winning in such conditions proves it’s not just your machine or equipment that puts you up top, it really is a lot more finesse and timing in surf to flow and keep your speed at a good pace in the waves.”
Tommy’s skills drew attention from the media, and his impressive performances lived up to the nickname he’s had since he was a child -- Tommy “the Bomber” Bonacci.
“I was a pyro when I was young, I just loved to play with fire,” Tommy explains. “One day I took a stick, threw it in a can of gas, lit the tip of it on fire and was just waving it around like a sword, you know, just being a kid playing around. Well, I accidentally lit our palm tree on fire and it ended up burning our neighbors’ roof. After that, some of my friends and family started calling me ‘the bomber’.”
It helped that Tommy shared his nickname with professional motocross racer Mark “the Bomber” Barnett.
“I kinda like the ring of that,” Tommy says. “When you’re winning and getting good results in, the media and announcers start making up nicknames for you, and to tell you the truth I wasn’t too fond of what they were coming up with (‘Tom terrific’, ‘the Italian stallion’, ‘the big bonach’). At that point I just decided, if you need to give me a nickname, then call me ‘the Bomber’.”
Like many professional athletes, he struggled to find efficient sports gear that kept up with his intense lifestyle -- in particular, protective eyewear that wouldn’t break, cost a fortune, or get lost in the waves. In 1997, Tommy founded Bomber Eyewear: the first fashionable, inexpensive, durable, patented safety eyewear line that also floats in the water.
“I call Bomber Eyewear the ‘blue jeans’ of eyewear,” Tommy says. “When you’re ready to work, thrash, or play hard, in or out of the water, everyone needs a pair of these things.”
The idea for Bomber Eyewear came from Tommy’s time on construction job sites.
“I was in construction before I was a racer, and I used to take on several other construction jobs to make a living,” he says. “In 1991, my race team manager, knowing I was handy with tools, put me on R&D projects to help fabricate and develop our race boats for each up-and-coming season.”
During one off-season, Tommy accepted a gig with a contractor friend, helping out with tile work. Grinding concrete is dangerous, so the contractor gave him some safety glasses.
“They were horrible,” Tommy says. “I told my friend that I would bring my own safety glasses the next day.”
Using foam padding from one of his jetskis and the frames provided by one of his sponsors, Tommy built his own safety glasses out of an expensive pair of glasses and a set of clear lenses, which he wore to the job site the next day.
“On that day alone, I got about fifty compliments on the safety shades I had created,” he says. “That made me realize that I needed to come up with some cool, stylish, and affordable safety glasses for people to work in, as obviously the [sponsored] glasses were way too expensive.
Fashion-forward, durable, and inexpensive, these sunglasses are the perfect accessories for athletes, water sports enthusiasts, fabricators, construction guys, and people who want their shades to keep up with their lifestyles. Turns out, that the foam padding makes the glasses super comfy for hours of wear AND makes them float in the water. Tommy patented the idea and after more than twenty years in business, Bomber Eyewear has become a top contender in both the safety glass and sunglass worlds.
“It makes me super stoked when someone who’s never heard about us or seen our shades, picks up a pair for the first time and says, ‘What an awesome idea! Whoever came up with this?’
“Just like in the racing world when you look at who’s fast and winning races, there’s a lot of competition in the business world as well,” he continues. “So you gotta look at the competition, the consumer needs, as well as the needs that are missing and try to fill in those blanks and improve the product to meet demands as fast as possible.”
So what’s next on the horizon for Bomber Eyewear?
“My goal is to really take Bomber to the next level,” Tommy says. “I want to be known as one of the best and most innovative performance glasses out there that don’t break the bank.”
Like many business owners, Tommy hopes his success inspires the next generation of entrepreneurs. “Be true to what you believe in,” he says, when asked what advice he’d give to someone just starting out in the business world. “Be prepared for a long, constant journey of reinventing yourself, your ideas and processes. Know that you can always be better so put your head down and keep working it forward.”