August 18, 2014

Bureo Skateboards Helps Turn the Tide on Plastic Pollution

Thankfully, more and more industries are beginning to make sustainable practices standard practice. Even sports brands — which have historically trended toward new, manmade materials to improve performance no matter what the environmental cost — are now turning a new, eco-friendlier leaf. Athletic consumers are on the same page, caring just as much about saving the earth as they do about setting a personal record. It all adds up to companies like Bureo — whose Minnow skateboards are made from recycled fishing nets— getting to innovate and thrive, while making our blue planet a little greener.

The Bureo bunch (Kevin, Ben, and David) catch air by the beach.

Zipcar chatted with founders David Stover, Ben Kneppers, and Kevin Ahearn about their passion for sustainability and just how a bunch of surfers built an ingenious skateboard — with help from Chilean fishermen.

Zipcar: How did you come up with the idea for Bureo and the Minnow?

Ben: We’re originally from the Northeast, but we first connected in Australia. I was living and working as an environmental consultant in Sydney, Dave was in finance, and Kevin was working for Boeing’s Defense and Space department, and we bonded over the ocean, environment, and action sports. We were all hitting the five–year mark in our careers and we all had the desire to be doing something on our own.

As worldly travelers who love the ocean, we’d all seen the rampant plastic pollution and wanted to do something about it. I was accepted to Start-Up Chile in Santiago. We saw an opportunity in the real life challenge to explore the problem that we are really passionate about.

Taking the eco-friendly Minnow for a hilly cruise in California.Taking the eco-friendly Minnow for a hilly cruise in California.

How did you approach the issue?

Ben: When you get to the Chilean coast, there is very little recycling of the plastic waste from the fishing industry, and the fishermen really didn’t know it was an issue. So we thought, why not make a positive product out of this waste? So we started the Net Positiva recycling program.   

Kevin, with his background, is really focused on the quality. He went to the Northeast and tested the different kinds of fishing nets, and they found out that they could develop a skateboard from the recycled plastic. We started the Kickstarter, then in April, we made our first 3,000 boards and now are bringing them to market. 

Where does the name Bureo come from?

David: “Bureo” is a native Chilean word that means “waves.” We chose it to recognize the people of Chile, but it also represents that just as a wave starts as a small ripple in the ocean, we are starting a change in plastic pollution.

Bureo's founders aren't just avid surfers — they're also partners with several oceanic conservation groups.Bureo's founders aren't just avid surfers — they're also partners with several oceanic conservation groups.

Were you already avid skateboarders?

David: We are all skaters and surfers. I grew up surfing and when there wasn’t any waves, we would skate. It’s also a mode of transportation. We enjoy riding our board!

What’s the skateboarding culture like? Is innovation fast, slow? Do you stand out?

David: There are a couple of subsectors of skateboarding. Some skaters are all about skills and tricks. Our board is a cruiser board, with lower skills required, so it attracts surfers. Surfers and skaters are very environmentally friendly people; they also like to have fun and give back to the company that they cherish.

Part of our mission is to inspire consumers with a fun and exciting premium product, and to push the market into sustainable design.

What about sustainability inspired you?

David: There are a couple of elements. From a recycling perspective, we were inspired to do this work by Take 3and the Surfrider Foundation, who are an ocean conservation and beach clean-up organization. Patagonia developed a wetsuit from sustainable material and that was really inspiring to us. Indosole puts recycled rubber in their shoes. We are definitely seeing a turn in the industry where companies are developing more sustainable material.    

Showing off the Minnow's hand-painted (but durable), fish-scaled finish.Showing off the Minnow's hand-painted (but durable), fish-scaled finish.

How did the prototyping and design process go?

Kevin: We took the boards we had been riding and said, “This is our chance to make the changes we want to make.” We looked at our demographic, 16- to 28-year-old guys, and decided on a unique locking board. Now, when you go to beach, our locking feature lets you secure your board somewhere safe, like a bike, while you enjoy yourself.

We decided to 3D-print the boards. When we had a prototype, we asked key people in the industry to provide us feedback, then tweaked the design to where it is now. Our focus was to bring a very good product to market. All of the components are the most sustainable and environmentally friendly ones you can get.              

How do you work with the locals to gather the materials? How did you determine what materials would work to begin with?

David: There are tons of these large, heavy black nets and through trials and technology, we figured out they could be turned into a high-quality skateboard. Our recycling effort, Net Positiva, helps organize the collection and processing of the nets.

We have partnered with a lot of local organizations to show that positive changes (and products) can be made. We are a for-profit organization that gives back to the local programs and recycling efforts that have been started.

How did the Kickstarter experience work?

Ben: We were blown away by the response we got on Kickstarter; we were able to raise more than double our goal. We ultimately raised nearly $65,000. We can now use those additional funds to expand our collection and recycling program faster than we had originally planned.

How has your interaction been with communities in general? Have you been traveling to skate shops, showing demos, trying things out?

Ben: The response from the communities has been great. We like to give someone a ride on the board without telling them much more. Then when they come back we tell them what it's made of and the story behind it. It has been really fun to see how excited they get about it.

Right now we are setting out on a beach clean-up campaign across the coast of California. Along the way we will be sharing our story, and connecting with local organizations on several coastal clean ups. We have linked up with 5Gyres Institute to assist in their Plastic Beach Project, for which we will be conducting research during our campaign. Additionally, we have teamed up with our friends at the Save the Waves Coalition and Surfrider, who share a similar vision to clean and conserve coastlines around the world.  Our events will occur during July-September, with dates posted to our website and social media.

Those fishnets aren’t decoration; they’re harmful marine waste products that are salvaged from the ocean and made into Bureo’s skateboards.Those fishnets aren’t decoration; they’re harmful marine waste products that are salvaged from the ocean and made into Bureo’s skateboards.

What’s next for Bureo? Other materials, designs, or products?

Ben: We hope that our first skateboard makes people more aware of this growing problem of plastic pollution and that there’s more we can do about it. If we prove there is a market for using these kinds of materials, then the bigger impact will be for the larger companies to respond and make use of these materials in Chile, as well as other countries. 

In order to make a real impact on this source of waste, we want Bureo to continue innovating more positive products. We have some pretty bold early stage plans for new products, but we want to prove the market response with our first board and then take it from there.