I am not going to lie to you. I cannot ride a longboard. I never learned, and I am terrified of falling off. Maybe learning to ride a bike late at the age of 10 played into that. I lived at a house with a steep driveway next to a busy road, making practicing at home difficult. Don’t worry about me now, like they always say, “once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget.” I wonder if the same is true on longboards. The only problem is that I never learned.
I stood on the board, wheels ready to ride, stomach uneasy. Even without motion, my balance was shot, it didn’t feel natural. My close friend Jesse Andres, a long-time rider was there to help me out. He showed me where to place my feet on the board, what the different riding styles are, and how to get from standing somewhat confidently on the board to moving. After a few tries, some falling involved, I was able to do it. Granted it was on flat ground and only about four car lengths long, but I did it. I could effectively say I can ride a longboard.
Anyone who lives in Corvallis or walks onto campus can see the number of longboards zooming and cruising down Jefferson, the MU Quad or to the library. They are everywhere and convenient to pick up and take to and from class. Jesse told me that there are eight million long boarders in the US, with a high concentration of five to six million of them being on the West Coast.
Jesse Andres is a business and entrepreneur student at OSU with a dream that is coming true, creating his own business called “The Brake Boys.” He is creating a brake system for longboards that can fit on any board. Other longboard brakes on the market require users to drill a hole in their board which can damage the board long term or destroy them while riding. It’s like a ticking time bomb. On top of that not all brakes fit every board, as they come in different shapes, sizes and materials.
There are other ways to brake when riding, especially downhill. They might not be favored or loved. But they are ways to stop. The most common way is to “brake” when downhill is to jump off your board. Which is unsafe and doesn’t stop your board from moving. The other way is to use your foot as a brake pad, creating friction between the sole of your shoes and the pavement. This technique requires a ton of balance. Not to mention that your shoes get shredded in the process, making longboarding less desirable as a mode of transportation.
“Once a month I see someone run into someone or fall off into the bushes trying to brake on campus.”
I had a chance to sit down with Jesse and ask him how a college student, just like me and millions around the world can start their own business and get an idea to an actual product. I have known Jesse for about 10 years as we went to the same middle school and played on a variety of sports teams growing up. As much as I knew about him already, I learned more interesting things about him than I had those previous ten years. Starting “The Brake Boys” began how anything spectacular starts, with failure.
Starting off college as a mechanical engineer, he knew it wouldn’t be an easy path. But he didn’t expect to basically fail out of engineering school, forcing him to start back at square one. After 3 years of engineering classes he entered the summer before his senior year with a decision to make. What the hell was he going to study? That summer he took a medley of classes to try to find out what he enjoyed. “It was like I went back to Freshman year” Jesse said. That’s when he found his calling, BA 260: Intro to Entrepreneurship.
This class was formatted in a way that it is a term long competition. Groups form, coming up with not just an idea, but something that you can create a business around. The first homework assignment was to go home and list fifty ideas that can solve a problem that you see every day. Jesse said “no one is going to buy a product that doesn’t help them. Coming up with that list was really hard, I came up with a lot of stupid ideas. Like a zipper.” He laughed but then his face lit up. “The only idea that could work on my list was a longboard brake.”
He came back to his group the next class to pitch them his idea and his business. It didn’t take much to convince them, as he told me that the other three members in his group were just there for the credits and didn’t care too much about the project. For Jesse, this was the emergence of The Brake Boys.
No one cared about the class but Jesse, meaning he did most of the work. He didn’t mind, he found something that he was passionate about. On the final day of class, the competition came to an end, although his team didn’t win he got a good grade on his presentation. After class multiple classmates told Jesse that they enjoyed his idea. The rest of his group members didn’t want to continue working on “The Brake Boys” leaving Jesse alone.
I had the chance to watch Jesse on a sunny Sunday afternoon as he created one of his prototypes in his backyard. He told me before I came over that he used what is called Green Sand Casting to create his prototypes. To sum it up, you fill a wooden box with a mixture of clay and sand with a model of the prototype to create a mold once the sand and clay mixture hardens. You can then remove the model and pour melted aluminum into the mold until it hardens thus, creating the prototype.
When I got to Jesse’s house I walked around back to his “work area” and saw a small concrete patch surrounded by a field of grass. On the concrete is where he melts the metal with a kiln furnace he got from Amazon hooked up to a tank of gasoline. The area was smaller than my bathroom. Talk about a fire hazard. Moving past that, I was incredibly impressed by his work ethic. The ground was scattered with previous prototypes, the sand mixture and his hand made boxes for the casting process. As I watched him for hours that day, it was inspiring to see.
The process starts with placing the model for the mold in the box and covering it with talcum powder, keeping the sand from sticking to it. Then comes the tedious work of filling the box with sand. This part might seem simple but after a couple of inches of sand, the sand needed to be pounded down to be compacted enough to stay solid, keeping the shape of the mold. I sat in a chair a couple of feet away as Jesse took a two by four piece of wood and carefully packed the sand. I must have watched him make four molds. I was stunned by the amount of effort and care he took on this simple step. He was meticulous in each of his actions. If this was me I would have given up, but Jesse was different. He was growing his business, perfecting his prototype.
“I wake up sore the next morning after doing this shit” he said after finishing a mold. He smiles at me and I break my silent staring with laughter. Knowing Jesse for a long time, he was always the outgoing type of guy. He is loud, in a good way, always making sure you know he is there, and let me tell you, you want him there. But as I watched him create his prototype, even after some failures, he was calm, collected, cautious not to make a mistake. His hands and the two by four were his tools. No matter how dirty, cut up, or a little burned they got, he kept pursuing his goal. I left without seeing a finished product due to some casting difficulties and Jesse finding the best way to make each product. He says it’s “all trial and error” keeping his contagious smile as he held a failed prototype. I did leave with a nice sunburn on the back of my neck, not bad.
Without a word, I could see how much he cared about The Brake Boys by his actions. The precision and calculated actions he took; setting the mold, packing the sand, and pouring the metal. He has even got an offer from local skate shop, Uprising Skate Shop, that they would sell his product once he finalizes a final design. It’s no wonder that he has won 2,750 dollars from competitions.
The next day I was walking down Jefferson as a long boarder zipped right by me. I could remember the feeling of riding on a board. Defying what I was used to, walking everywhere, using my own two legs. I don’t know how exhilarating it might be and having the wind blowing in my face adding to the moment. As the boarder went out of view, I did know one thing about riding down Jefferson. That I would fall.