Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Grads create skateboards out of ocean waste
He loved the conditions at Manly Beach, his favorite surf spot in suburban Sydney, but hated how polluted the water was with plastic.
It got the mechanical engineering major thinking: Could something be done with the many plastic bags, bottles and fishing nets he saw on a daily basis? His Australian roommate, Ben Kneppers, a Northeastern University graduate, and Kevin Ahearn, a friend from Lehigh, also were interested in the predicament of plastic pollution in oceans.
“We became obsessed with this idea: Why is there plastic everywhere?” said Stover, 28, who grew up in Rhode Island and graduated from Lehigh in 2007.
They started thinking about what the plastic could be recycled into, and their thoughts turned to skateboards, another of their hobbies in addition to surfing. Kneppers soon took a job in Chile and it was there they got the idea to focus on the recycling of nylon fishnets, an especially problematic pollutant in the fishing industry-heavy country.
“It enabled us to recycle these nets into a fun product,” said Ahearn, 28, who grew up on Long Island and also graduated from Lehigh in 2007.
That product is what they call The Minnow, a fish-shaped skateboard whose deck is made entirely of recycled fishing nets. The trio, who call their company Bureo, launched a Kickstarter campaign April 15 and has already raised almost $34,000, well surpassing the $25,000 goal.
Ahearn and Stover shared their company’s story Monday at Lehigh. Students during a 4 p.m. presentation asked a lot of questions, from how they got financing to how their skateboards ride.
Ahearn, who designed The Minnow, said it rides well. They decided to make it wider and sturdier than the average skateboard to appeal to older skateboarders. He said they’re proud of their design, which also includes a lock function not found on many skateboards so it can be chained to bicycle racks.
They received grant financing through both Kneppers’ alma mater and also the Chilean government’s Start-Up Chile program. Because of the latter grant, they had to set up their company in Chile, where Ahearn and Stover have been living for six months.
With the success of their Kickstarter effort, which runs through May 15 and will be used to fund an initial production run, they plan to spend the summer promoting their skateboards in California, where they see the greatest market potential. The boards retail for $135, or $60 for the deck alone.
They plan to keep production in Chile at least for the time being, as the Chilean seas are the source of the fishing nets they use. They hope to expand their company to other oceanside countries, as fishing net pollution is a worldwide problem.
“Fishing is a global industry,” Ahearn said.
Information from: The (Easton, Pa.) Express-Times, http://www.lehighvalleylive.com