Can a skateboard help save the ocean?You might be surprised
The country of Chile has a singular problem, and three enterprising young men are doing their part to help solve it. The problem is that used and abandoned nylon fish nets sink to the bottom of the ocean and create environmental havoc. It’s been an issue for years, but David Stover, who grew up on Block Island, and two friends, have founded a company called Bureo Skateboards that will make skateboards out of recycled fish net materials.
The project began when the group received a grant from an entrepreneurial program called Start-Up Chile. The group is now based in Santiago and creating the prototypes of the skateboards. Bureo is also in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign that will help fund the first run of boards this summer. (See the page at www.kickstarter.com and search for Bureo Skateboards.) Their funding goal was $25,000 and, just 15 days into the project, they have exceeded $43,000. The campaign is active until May 15.
The nylon waste is “a huge problem for Chile,” said Stover during a stopover on the island this past week. “They have a massive volume of waste and it’s expensive to get rid of. They have to take it to a landfill, and it’s hard for them to manage this.”
Stover said the first step was creating collection points for the used fishnets. They signed agreements with local fishing associations, which recognized the need to address the waste, and received some funding from the Marine Conservation Action Fund, a program sponsored by the New England Aquarium, to begin the collection. “We take it away for no cost,” said Stover.
They have so far collected about two tons of nylon waste and are currently partnering with a manufacturer in Santiago where they can store the material. It takes about 30 square feet of nylon fishnet to create one skateboard.
“This has been a burden for them for so long that they are receptive to this idea of recycling, which is new to them — the idea of reusing waste and creating new materials is a kind of new idea, but Chile is an advanced economy and receptive to new ideas,” said Stover.
Stover, who had an internship with island resident Chris Warfel during high school, said that growing up on Block Island helped shape his view of the world. “Just growing up here and being aware of conservation and what we do here on the island,” he said. “It gave us an appreciation for the ocean.” Stover said his parents, Mary and Monty Stover, have been “tremendously supportive and are a big reason why I have had the opportunity to work on this project.” He also said his nine years at the Block Island Sport Shop, owned by Jim and Marion Ortel, was when he learned about the outdoor sporting industry.
His two partners are Ben Kneppers, a close friend who has a master’s degree in sustainability, and Kevin Ahearn, a designer who once worked at Boeing. Stover’s visit to the island is but a brief sojourn. The three have been raising awareness of their projects at such places as Harvard, MIT, NYU and Columbia during the past several months, and spent Earth Day (April 22) at Union Square in New York City. They had a screening of a documentary about Bureo Boards at a place called Pilgrim Surf Shop in New York City, which is owned by Chris Gentile, who summered on Block Island as a kid.
In May, the group is headed to California to raise even more awareness and also participate in beach cleanups.
On the tour this summer they are looking to partner with the 5 Gyres Institute, which studies the effects of plastic pollution on the oceans, and with Save the Waves, a non-profit focused on protecting coastal areas. “We’re speaking with both groups now,” said Stover. They will be back in Chile in October.
Stover said the launch of Bureo Boards has more than met his expectations. “I think we’ve gotten a great response so far. We’ve spent a year waiting to see how the market would respond and it’s been overwhelming,” he said. “We hope to keep the momentum going. It’s more than just a skateboard project.”