What piqued your initial interest in designing your product(s)? I have always been obsessed with going fast. My love of skateboarding and longboarding started more on the actual skating side of things rather than on the fabricating side, but there was a moment when the actual application and the fabrication came together. When I was growing up, I got to witness my father work on all types of projects, including carpentry and woodworking. He had a workshop full of tools and scrap wood where I could lose myself for hours building things including some very simple plywood ramps and skateboards. It was at that time that my initial interest was born.
What principles do you use when designing? Functionality first. Since many of the longboards I build are going to be used competitively, I always want to make sure the rider will be able to push the board to its limits and further. Innovative design simply for the sake of being innovative isn’t going to work if the board does not do what the rider needs it to do. It’s the intersection of innovation and functionality where I try to focus my efforts.
I think that same concept of a unique energy that formed part of my design values came from the street art and writers I was lucky enough to see firsthand.
Who and/or what influence your design style? How would you describe your design aesthetics and values? Some of my biggest design influences come from the worlds of fashion, music, photography, and street art. I have been a big fan of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren and the work they did in defining the aesthetic that would come to be identified with punk. The visual storytelling that David Bowie created around himself, especially during the Ziggy Stardust era, continues to inspire me as well.
The photography of Glenn Friedman documenting the early days of hardcore punk and skateboarding is one of the fundamental building blocks for how the skate culture came to be defined. He captured such a visceral energy in a unique time that probably will not ever be duplicated and I think it’s impossible for anyone whose work involves skating not to be at least indirectly influenced by Glenn’s work.
I think that same concept of a unique energy that formed part of my design values came from the street art and writers I was lucky enough to see firsthand. I grew up a short train ride out from New York City, and most of my weekends in high school were spent in the city attending life drawing or design classes at the School of Visual Arts. I was introduced to graffiti writers, comic book artists, designers, and other amazing creative people from across the city. All of these people and influences have really come together to create my perspective.
What comes first for you, the design materials or the design concept? In most cases the concept is going to be my starting point. Once I know what I’m designing and who the user is going to be, I start to consider the materials. Of course, there are times where I will start with a material I am interested in experimenting with and I’ll try to work up a concept for that medium.
Could you describe the process of creating a piece – from conception to finish? The creative process as well as material selection and labor process, too? Every board design starts in a physical sketchbook. It is at this point where I will consider the end use of the board — whether it is a dedicated downhill racing model, a freeride model, or a more traditional cruiser. By defining the end use, I’ll be able to focus the design down to features that will be beneficial to the board. I will consider concave, wheelbase options, a goal weight, rough shape, and profile on paper before I physically get started.
Once I have a general concept on paper, I will proceed right into mold making. I do all of our prototyping in-house using an air press. This allows me to almost sketch the board out in three dimensions by shaping foam into a mold to form a board against. I do the mold shaping by hand using handsaws, files, and rasps. This is a more traditional approach as most of the industry has taken this part of the process to CAD. I just feel that it’s a more direct connection to the process to do this step by hand. This is where you see the shape take form with each pass of the rasp.
Once the mold is defined, the process moves to pressing. This step consists of bonding together the veneer layers, typically maple, under pressure to form an uncut blank. To accomplish this, the individual veneers have uniform amounts of adhesive applied. Then the stacked layers are placed in the air press and are kept under vacuum for approximately seven to nine hours in order to properly bond.
After the pressed layers are removed from the press, I begin the process of taking the design on paper and applying it to the board. I accomplish this by hand, using straight edges, compasses, and pencil. This is also a step that most of the industry has automated by using CNC machines to run off the CAD design. CNC machines have been steadily gaining widespread popularity in many industries. This has also given birth to maintenance services like parts badger cnc services and benefited many others in the industry. I have kept a more traditional approach since I draw a lot of my inspiration from the art of surfboard shaping where hand shaping continues to be practiced.
Following the shape being drawn onto the wood, I will move into the cutting and shaping phase. The initial cuts on our prototypes are typically done with a handheld jigsaw. I will then move over to sanding. This is where the fine detail work begins to take shape. If I need to remove material for wheel wells, I will typically use a handheld belt sander to do the rough work starting with a 50 grit sandpaper. Then I will proceed to a palm sander to smooth out those areas working my way from an 80 grit to a 120. This is also the time where I will round off the edges of the board. It’s a personal and aesthetic choice as far as using sanders for these steps rather than a handheld router. I think the feel and appearance of sanded wheel wells is more organic and smooth than a router.
Following these steps the prototype will have the mounting holes drilled and be sealed using a water based spar varnish.
What is your favorite tool, and why? My favorite tool has to be my handheld belt sander. The amount of time it takes to sand a board to completion means I probably spend more time using it than any other tool. I also like it because it isn’t thought of as a precision type instrument, but with enough practice and patience you can use it to do a lot of detail work.
Describe a piece you’ve created that you are most proud of. What was special about it? One board I recently created is called the Circle. It was just meant to be a simple cruiser type longboard. It lacks a lot of the features that go with a more focused downhill competition model, but that was the point. I just wanted to create a board that could do a bit of everything but not be pigeonholed as a specialist deck. The more I brainstormed out the concept and sketched, the more excited I became because it was just so pure in its functionality. The design featured a narrowed kicktail which I had not previously done on a board. The feature worked so well in both reducing weight and width that I am now using it on one of our downhill racing boards as well.
Describe the commissioning process. What are the best and worst aspects about doing commissions? If a rider would like to commission a custom board from me, the first thing I do is gather as much information about that rider as possible. I have a questionnaire I send them asking questions about their weight, shoe size, stance lengths when on a board, whether they push regular or goofy footed as well as what their overall concept is. In many cases I will also ask them to provide photos or video of them skating so I can see how they place their feet and weight. Once they have provided this information, we will discuss materials they would like to use as well as the cost for the process. The best part of the commission process is that a rider’s requests may open up new possibilities that I may not have previously considered as far as materials or shaping. This can also be the worst part as there are cases where the rider’s request may contain certain design features that when combined do not work as they would have individually.
What advice you would give to aspiring makers like yourself? Do not be afraid to try new things. There are certain things you may be told are simply industry standard and that can’t be changed. Never be afraid to ask why. Do not be scared to do something radically different.
What is one thing that the creative/design community can do in Indianapolis to help grow an audience for custom or handcrafted work? I think the maker community in Indianapolis is wonderful at being mutually supportive. The environment in RUCKUS is one that allows me to collaborate and learn everyday with talented artists I would not have gotten the opportunity to encounter otherwise. The makerspace phenomenon is a great step in not only encouraging this type of collaboration, but also to get these artists in the public eye. Having these spaces in areas where people feel welcome to stop as they walk by is an essential part to growing an audience.
Dream commission/client? David Tennant simply because I am a huge Dr. Who nerd and I have so many ideas for a TARDIS themed board. So I guess we could also include any of the actors who played the Doctor in this.
What makes your work different from anyone else’s? The amount of work done by hand versus done by machines is one of the major differences with my work. Each board is an individual piece rather than one of a thousand run off an assembly line.
What’s your most rewarding memory in your business? Back in the spring, I attended Indiana University Longboarding Club Slide Jam at the Dam. This event was held in Bloomington and attracts longboarders from across the Midwest. As I was walking around the event site, I counted ten individual riders who were riding decks that I made. I had previously been at events where there might be one or two riders on my boards, but this was the first time I had seen so many in one place. I am hardly ever rendered speechless but there were a few moments where I was unable to say a thing.
The makerspace phenomenon is a great step … to get these artists in the public eye. Having these spaces in areas where people feel welcome to stop as they walk by is an essential part to growing an audience.