The Bureo Boys: Making Waves By Redefining the Skateboard

Three guys who love surfing, skating and saving the oceans kickflip their careers to make a difference

Innovation + Products + Stories We're Obsessed With
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July 6, 2014
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There’s no way around it: We’re grappling with some big environmental problems, including the health of our oceans. But the guys at Bureo want to give you a reason for optimism amid all the depressing news. We all can do something, they believe, and what they’re doing is building a better skateboard.

 

“We want people to know that there are solutions,” Bureo co-founder Ben Kneppers says. “A lot of it is a pretty dark, grim view of the oceans, and it is the reality – there are some major concerns for what’s facing the oceans. But we’re trying to add some color to that and some hope.”

“These types of products and this type of thinking is what we see as the way forward. We want to make people aware and make a shift in the way they’re living.”

A shift toward sustainability on a high-style, eco-conscious skateboard? We’re in. Let’s ride.

Pushing off

 
The story Bureo begins in Australia. Ben was Down Under for his job as a sustainability and environmental impact consultant. He started rooming with another guy from the U.S. Northeast, David Stover, who worked in finance. The two became fast friends.
Kevin Ahearn, a friend of David’s from Lehigh University, came to visit, and the three dudes connected over their shared interests in the ocean, the environment, surfing and skateboarding. Typical beach bums, right?

Wrong.

The guys stayed friends even after Ben accepted a new position at a nonprofit in Chile. It was there that he started taking a harder look at an issue that had been nagging at him for a while: waste and the oceans.

“It’s something we’d always found, traveling around the world and going to beaches, and seeing it everywhere – this consistent problem of plastic pollution in our oceans and coastal environments,” Ben says. “The two things that really connected were that there was a lack of understanding that this is a real issue. And in less developed areas, it wasn’t a high priority.”

The guys wanted to do something about it. They set out to form a company to not only create sustainable, eco-conscious products, but also draw attention to the problem of plastics in the sea.

Their talents and experience formed a perfect combination: Ben knows sustainability and engineering, David is the finance guy, and Kevin is a mechanical engineer with experience in product design.

The Big Jump

 
Let’s stop here for a minute, DesignGood-ers. Changing career paths can be a tough choice at any age. But for three guys on the edge of their elusive Dream Jobs, it was downright scary. These skater dudes, though, knew it was just the right thing to do.

“I was starting to work with some of the big names I’d always dreamed of working with, and it wasn’t feeling as rewarding as I’d hoped,” Ben says. “We wanted to create real change and provide a ripple effect for the industry around us – to show them and prove to them that there are better ways to do things.”

A little boost from outside helped ease the anxiety. Two super admirable sources, the IDEA program at Northeastern University and Start-Up Chile, granted Bureo seed money.

Amount of net recycled per board

Getting Rolling

 
The guys researched and explored their ideas for a year, but there was one thing they just couldn’t quite get past:

“The one thing we kept getting hung up on was ‘Why are people doing this?’” Ben said. “Living in Australia, we’d see people jump on a plane to see these beaches firsthand, but then leave their waste behind and get on with their lives.”

Then the guys, who credit Kevin specifically, had their “aha” moment.

“We knew we had to create a product that would answer a solution but would also interest the consumer, because without that we wouldn’t be able to support the program,” Ben says. And they knew they needed an unlimited supply of the material to make a quality product.

So, they decided, why not use fishnet, a plastic that makes up 10 percent of the ocean’s plastic pollution and also just happens to be extremely durable and recyclable.

And the skateboard idea? We can attribute that to some of their dude-ness. But they also saw a gap in the market, and realized that there was potential for a new product design that would be really interesting for consumers.

“We had to transform the material into a higher-value product, and the way that we hopefully did so is by making a great product,” Kevin says. “It’s a really fun skateboard, it’s really well made and it’s got features that no one else has. Those are the features that we want to stand behind. That’s all based on design.”

Cruising On

 
After a successful Kickstarter campaign (which was a DesignGood favorite), the skateboards are now in their first production run and are available for pre-order on their website. The boards are made in Chile, and Bureo created the country’s first fishnet collection and recycling program to provide materials.

The dudes are proud of their accomplishments so far, but they’re just getting started – both with Bureo Skateboards and with helping to change the way people think about the ocean, the environment and their use of plastics.

“Creating value in the waste and showing the fishing communities that it can be upcycled into something else was a huge goal in the project, and is something we’ve seen on a small scale now,” David says. “We’re hoping that as we grow we can connect with other organizations and expand our footprint. We’ve gotten a great initial response, but we don’t want this to be a one-off project. Our goal is to create a sustainable program where we can have a lasting impact in theses communities.”

How to help:

 
Want to help save the oceans, or maybe try a new sport on for size? Consider your use of plastic, to start, and then spread the word about Bureo Skateboards. The oceans will thank you.

Need some excitement in your life? Ben of Bureo Skateboards recommends Morning Glass by Mike Doyle – the book that helped him get through (and almost persuaded him to drop out of) college. “I was in engineering school in Boston, and reading about this guy who was only doing what excited him in life,” Ben says. “I learned from it that you have to work hard but make sure you’re working hard at the things you’re really passionate about and that you love to do. That’s the way you can make this your life.”

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