If up to now I’ve discussed materials and companies that produce them, today I’m going to change a bit the perspective. Today I’m going to talk about skateboarding. I know is not a traditional product, but I got curious yesterday watching them jumping around about what kind of materials can withstand such treatment. It also exemplifies one of the most innovative markets in the materials world, leisure sports.
If you still can’t see my point, then think about skiing, surfing, windsurfing or snowboarding.
And I don’t mean only the boards themselves, there is also all the market generated by accessories like protective equipment, things like helmets, kneepads, elbow pads, etc. It’s a big market, it’s growing and a substantial part of it is added value products. It’s also a good place to test materials and judge their performance.
I guess there aren’t that many material’s experts that know much about the fascinating world of skating, so I’ll start with a quick introduction. the main parts of a skate are the deck, wheels, trucks and bearings. All of them illustrated in the picture below, courtesy of BD skateshop, a shop based in Zamora, Spain, that sells both blank and branded skateboards.
The key aspects of a skateboard are:
Longer decks provide less control and more speed. Wider decks give more control but they also reduce the handling and the ability to perform turns. Dimensions of decks vary between 19-21 width and 83-89 length. Wheels can vary from 50 to 60 mm diameter. There are even bigger wheels for those skateboarding practices that need higher speeds. Although for the untrained eye all may look similar, skateboards are fine tuned to the user preferences. The selection criteria for the skateboard depend greatly on the type of skateboarding the user is going to do: urban skating, tricks or just as a cheap form of transportation.
The deck is generally produced with laminated maple wood. The most common number of layers seems to be 7 and in most cases epoxy resin links them together. Water based adhesives can be used, but apparently they make the deck heavier, which is a big disadvantage. The deck can also be made with carbon or glass fibre reinforced plastic or metals that make the deck lighter, but their use is marginal. You can see how a skateboard is made in this video: Rekiem skateboard how to make a board from jeremy hugues on Vimeo.
Wheels are made of polyurethane. I’ve read that larger wheels have a two-layer composition, whit an inner layer harder than polyurethane, but I haven’t been able to find which material it is. Trucks join the deck with the wheels and in most cases is an alloy of aluminium. Bearings are usually made with iron, but silicon nitride is also used.
Born in the cities, the skate movement is very involved in environmental issues. For this reason several manufacturers of skateboards are trying to transform their products to respect the environment more. The table below show some examples of this, some of which I’ll explain in more detail.
I’m particularly interested in Comet and Let’s EVO cases, since both have developed projects with companies specialised in new materials. Let’s Evo is a Brazilian venture where Evo Skateboards has joined forces with Fibra Design Sustentável. It’s an open platform to develop an skateboard with sustainable materials. It develops the design in collaboration with skaters over the internet. Anyone can help either sending favourite deck dimensions and style or sending art for the bottom of the deck. The platform used by this group is no other than a blog, which I recommend to those that can understand a bit of Portuguese, you’ll find that the designers are quite interested in materials. This cooperative way to achieve a project helps to create interest in the product while promoting the involvement of users outside the company.
- Bioplac, conglomerated of waste from the palm heart cultivation
- Bananaplac, from banana cultivation waste
- Laminated organic bamboo
Comet Skateboards is totally dedicated to the production of sustainable products. Just as Let’s EVO, it has the back up of specialised materials company, in this case e2e Materials. Decks are still 7 layer laminated materials, but instead of just using maple wood and oil based adhesives, Comets uses some innovative materials.
Comets substitutes the inner layer, that gives strength and flexibility, with bamboo. The next two layers (top and bottom) are formed with a triaxial hemp fabric, so a natural fibre composite. The linking resin is derived from soy.
Skateboarding is just an example of the many urban or extreme sports that have developed in part thanks to the new materials that make it easier to practice them safely and at reasonable prices. The tough life of a skateboard makes it a perfect test lab for new materials, so I encourage material producers to take an interest in it and try to improve existing solutions. I’m sure skaters would be happy.