Turn east off the 101 highway off a main road in Encinitas. Drive about a mile, and turn left. You’ll pull up in front of a side-by-side duplex with a small garage in the back. Welcome to the home, albeit temporarily, of Bamboo Skateboards.
The door is open, and I poke my head in. Mark Olson, the President of the skateboard division of the company shakes my hand. He uses air quotes when saying he is the president. He’s tall, blond and wearing a Bamboo Skateboards t-shirt. Then he introduces me to Sean, their primary graphic designer and artist. He was working on a painting to be turned into a graphic for a new cruiser skateboard series at the eat-in counter separating the kitchen from the living room.
We are standing in Mark’s kitchen and the home office. Previously B.S. was based out of warehouse space in Oceanside shared with original parent company Bamboo Buddy fencing company. Through a sliding glass door is a board-building station where Mark handles the assembly of all the complete boards that get sent out. Behind the house, a single car garage houses inventory, a computer and packaging.
Bamboo Skateboards is going through big changes. Originally they manufactured bamboo boards to sell to other brands. Changes in the skate & action-sports marketplace forced them to retool their business plan and start anew marrying their wholesale business with direct to consumer opportunities. They moved out of their O-side space, streamlined operations, and are launching a new artist-driven brand. Platform Skateboards will feature cruisers and longboards. The line-up of boards will feature artists both local & world renown. They have an ambitious vision of regular product launches not just annually but eventually monthly featuring boards that look good in the streets or on the wall.
Sean shared some of the paintings he is using to create graphics for the new brand. In the same way that Bamboo Skateboards has had to adapt, the animal subjects in his board graphics have as well. The designs show animals who have evolved to adapt to the continually growing human influence on nature. For now there is a deer with gas pumps growing out it’s antlers, a lizard foraging through McDonald’s trash, an elephant with a gas mask and the squirrel, he is working on, will be snacking on the bottle caps it foraged. Pretty deep stuff and incredible artwork to help launch this new brand. Another artist is working on a Mayan culture inspired series of longboards.
I watch as Sean goes back and forth using white & black sharpies to draw lines in or out on top of the paint he has already laid on canvas. The Sharpie is one of the great artist tools of our time. Each painting takes 15 plus hours. He then takes a high quality photo and imports it into the computer where he combines other art elements, hand drawn typography & background graphics to create the finished image. There is an interesting correlation between the creation of this work using both tradition art and modern computer graphics programs, and the subjects of the art themselves.
While Sean works, Mark gives me a quick tour. We talk bamboo as a resource, how the company ensures they work with environmentally responsible companies to source & build their boards and other ways they work to reduce the impact of their boards without losing performance. They make hybrid boards that reduces the need of Maple by roughly 50-75% per board. They also reuse as much as possible. They use shredded documents to pack shipping boxes, reuse packaging, source their product from the location & work to design other products that reuse any bi-products of the bamboo manufacturing process. It’s all pretty badass.
Mark: It started from a guy named Ron Stebenne, who has a long history in action sports starting back in the 80s when he toured the world with a BMX team. Ron was also a youth pastor for my business partner and knew we were working with bamboo. We researched it and tested many products along the way.
SoCal Sessions: How & why does bamboo make for a better deck?
Mark: The elasticity of bamboo is greater than maple making it able to have that flex to create more pop in the board. Thus allowing for higher ollies and the ability to do more tricks. The density of Bamboo is also greater than maple, it’s more comparable to Hickory Pecon wood, which makes it more durable. Bamboo fibers are very small, and in turn, make it harder to shave off. This helps reduce razor tail on our boards as well. These are all performance difference, of course using mostly bamboo in our boards we
SoCal Sessions: Where does the bamboo come from & where are the decks manufactured?
Mark: We source all our bamboo from China and have it made right next to the managed forest where it is harvested. We use a certain species of bamboo that grows in abundance in China. This also allows us to save on shipping fuel. We work with bamboo science centers in China to continue to improve and invent ways to use bamboo as a building resource.
SoCal Sessions: As a company of self-proclaimed “Social Entrepreneurs” what do you consider your social responsibilities as a company?
Mark: We’ve worked with many community organizations, non-profits (Grind for Life), festivals (Sweet Life Festival), local events (ReRip, Cardiff Surf Classic, Iron Mike), schools (High Tech High School, Oasis Skate School), etc. We’ve also done our 100 for 1 program with outreach organizations such as Bridge to Skate. Oasis Skate School in Toronto we have been working with for years and this year we will be choosing a student’s art work to make into a graphic for our brand.
SoCal Sessions: You’ve just launched some new products, including a wheel designed by local artist Eric Walters. Does B.S. have any other products coming out? Have you looked into more socially responsible component materials?
Mark: Yes we’re launching three new graphics over the next month or so. We’re also in the works of creating a new brand that is artist driven. We will be working with local artists and also professional artists. This is something we’ve been working on for a year or two now and plan to launch to the public this summer.
We have used corn bases wheels in the past, however our supplier stopped using the material and we are looking to switch to a new supplier this summer that has soy based wheels.
SoCal Sessions: Where do you see the skate market going in terms of creative environmental solutions? For the first time the mainstream is starting to see “caring about the environment” as cool. How will that affect the skate marketplace?
Mark: Since, 2010 we’ve seen many more sustainable skate companies come out, however the performance aspect is still the number one concern on customers minds. There are more companies looking to find a niche to enter the marketplace in. This still remains an easy to enter market but tough to survive.
SoCal Sessions: You’ve got some cool, So-Cal flavored designs on your boards. Do you have an in-house creative team or do you hire local artists like you did with the new wheels?
Mark: We work closely with our in-house creative company, Vivo-Creative, more specifically Sean Marshall. We also have just brought on another creative company, CPDC (aka Chris Prosser) to help with brand development of our new brand launching this summer. The wheels were designed by Eric Walters, who was an intern with us this past summer and so you can count him as in-house.
SoCal Sessions: Is a Bamboo Skateboards team in the works?
Mark: We’ve had a team in the past, however we’ve moved to more of an ambassador level with our partners. We have skateboarders, photographers & videographers we work with on developing our content. Our group or community in the future will be our artists we work with. We hope to help promote these artists as we develop our new brand this year.
SoCal Sessions: Why should skaters ditch their current boards and consider switching to bamboo?
Mark: We have a variety of boards to choose from and they are all at affordable prices. We have many customers that once they skate our boards they never want to go back to just maple again. People that have our longboards and cruisers talk about how they get stopped all the time asking where to find a board like that with the unique shapes and designs we have. With all this said we are also a small business that is doing our part to help be more conscious about what we use to make products in the world these days.
A bamboo board provides an opportunity to support both skate and environmentalism without losing that smooth cruise you get on a traditional board. For those of us who’ve become more concerned about the environment and sustainable design as we become wizened skaters it is an unexpected and opportunity to do so.
It is hard to imagine a home-based company being global, but Bamboo Skateboards ships wholesale and retail to skate lovers all over the world. While I was there they were putting together an order bound for Finland. And yet, they are a SoCal local company at heart, active in our communities, and a great example of entrepreneurial spirit manifesting itself in unique spaces. They are likely moving back into space in Oceanside, but for now the home office in Encinitas is working out.
We’re looking forward to more exciting things from Bamboo Skateboards, and soon Platform Skateboards. In the meantime, how many other badass global corporations are being operated in one of our SoCal neighbor’s garage?