AIMING to make waves in the world of skateboarding, a small start-up company in the seaside village of Ballybunion has created an eco-friendly skateboard out of bamboo and hemp.
“We have developed the world’s first all grass, sustainable, high-performance skateboard” says Grasshopper Skateboard founderd Barry Liston explaining that the 95% of skateboards are made from maple and that skateboard manufacturing is the number one global cause of maple deforestation.
Since setting up Ireland’s first skateboard manufacturing operation in 2014, Mr Liston has taken on one full time and two part-time employees and developed sales to seven retail outlets in Ireland and one distributor in the UK.
He’s preparing to launch a new Grasshopper Skateboards website in April and to develop sales in the UK while also discussing the possibility of a partnership arrangement with a US company.
A skateboarder with a degree in furniture technology and design, Mr Liston came up with the idea of a sustainable skateboard when asked to develop a solution to a problem while doing a Masters degree at Edinburgh University in 2012.
Encouraged by the response to his environmentally friendly skateboard, he signed up for the New Frontiers start-up programme in Tralee in 2014 and set up operations at a small retrofitted joinery close to the beach in Ballybunion.
Having created a full range, which includes short-board street skateboards, long boards and mini cruisers, Mr Liston entered and won the Kerry Best New Startup award in the Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur competition in October 2014 netting prize money of €20,000.
Selling first to Surf and Sail in Tralee, Grasshopper got a significant sales boost from an appearance on the Late Late Show Enterprise and Innovation Showcase in January last year. Securing €50,000 in Competitive Start funding from Enterprise Ireland in the summer helped with development.
Participating in the Access Silicone Valley programme in the US in October gave Mr Liston an opportunity to visit skateboard manufacturers and gain valuable insight into the world’s largest skateboard market.
“I travelled from San Francisco to San Diego and had meetings with three of the world’s top five skateboard companies,’’ he says. “No other company is doing a grass skateboard — it qualifies as grass if it grows back when it is cut down,’’ he adds.
Already using social media to publicise his company, Mr Liston is now preparing to launch an e-commerce website in April which will include customizable boards. Grasshopper now offers full skateboards costing between €90 and €260 but Mr Liston expects the biggest seller to be decks — parts of the skateboard which have to be replaced regularly, which the company offers for a cost of between €50 and €150.
The goal is to sell to all the main skateboard retailers in Ireland and the UK by 2017. For this, the company needs funding and will be launching a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter later in the year.
“The world-wide skateboard market is worth €4.8bn and is growing — it is estimated that there are now 40m skateboard users. The largest market in Europe is Germany, followed by the UK and Spain.”
He says the advantages of Grasshopper boards go beyond being environmentally friendly — they are 20% stronger, 10% lighter and 9% more flexible.
“Being lighter gets users higher off the ground and being more flexible gives them a better pop for spins, tricks and flips.”
In the future, the company plans to develop a wide range of sustainable products, including surfboards and wakeboards, as well as skis and hurleys.
It is currently working on a new version of the Grasshopper skateboard in preparation for a launch in six months.
Ballybunion, Co Kerry
Barry Liston. Staff: Two