Business Spotlight: “Kill Devil Skates” – The Art of Reclaimed Hardwood

The History behind Kill Devil Skates:

I grew up as suburban child in Virginia Beach, Virginia. In the late 70’s I was hooked on watching the guys from Dogtown and Bones Brigade in the 80’s and spent my weekends at Mt.Trashmore Skate Park watching the local pros, who were considered rock stars to a impressive 13year old. I tried skating ramps like all the rest of the kids, and to be honest, I was never really any good and was just a little uncoordinated at doing kick flips and oillies. After a real bad fall on the big ramp, I hung it up. And that was the end of my skating career. Shortly after about 16, I started to migrate to the Oceanfront where I meet friends with surfboards, and yet again I was hooked. I spent every dime I earned trying to get to the beach every day from my house 7 miles away. I eventually moved to the beach when I graduated high school and surfed almost every day till I had to go to work. One year I landed a job with a friend who taught me to install flooring, in which a year later I began my own flooring business and learned to run a small business which back then, did very well for itself. I had another good friend who had moved to The Outer Banks of North Carolina to work at a boat builders shop. My friend was building the most beautiful sports fishing yachts you had ever seen. The work that went into these boats was beyond belief to me. I was so taken by their work and those that worked with him at the boat shop that I filled out a application the same day and went home and shut down my flooring business and packed up everything and moved to The Outer Banks. I accepted a position that paid $2000.00 less per month than my flooring business made, but I spent 2 years learning and sucking up everything being taught to me like a sponge. I got to learn how to use glues, epoxies, do laminations in a form and build custom presses and think outside the box to achieve a one of a kind piece to fit in this $4 million dollar yacht we were building.

Every morning Id wake up and drive to work and see sunrises you only see in photos of far-away lands. On the way home I would hit the surf and wash off all the sawdust and fiberglass and surf the best breaks till the sun lit up the sky like fire almost every night as the sun set over the sound. It was while I was in my last few months of working at the boat shop I started to take home scrap hardwood and decided to build a coffin shaped skateboard after not being able to find one with a coffin shape anywhere. I sold the coffin deck just two weeks after finishing it to a guy who offered me $275 for the board and hardware. Shortly after I quit the boat shop and a few months later I moved back to Virginia Beach and reopened my flooring business. I still had the itch to build and create with wood and all this knowledge I had obtained. One day I was installing new carpet at my neighbors house, and had removed some old vintage red shag carpet from a bedroom and decided to use it to build a new coffin shaped longboard and inlay it on the top of the deck so the backing was flush with the top of the deck.I road it down to the East Coast Surfing Championships which was going on that weekend and is always a locals party. I had so many comments and questions about the board that even a few pro skaters who were in town for the event even came up and told me how cool the skateboard was.


A few months went by and I bought a Australian Cattle Dog from a breeder a few hours away and the little guy had so much energy to burn off every day, that I started taking him out skating with me to pull me around the neighborhood. We were two skating fools me and that dog and he reignited my passion for skating. I found the stoke in longboarding that I could not find in trick skating.

Blue Dogg and I went everywhere together skating from the beach to the mountains until he reached two years old and developed hip issues and we to lay off him pulling me all the time. I decided that it would be fun to build my own skateboards and start a little collection. I really knew nothing about the proper way to build skateboards. Over the next year I spent all my extra time doing research on how other people made boards by watching you tube videos and searching for resources other builders had posted on the internet. I can’t afford a education at a school, so I decided to educate myself. I notice that every board builder was building the same 3 things: 1. A laminated plywood board. 2. A heat printed graphic. 3. Grip tape. So rite there I decided I was going to start by addressing those 3 problems. 1. I will use Hardwood. 2. I will carve my graphics. 3. I will use beach sand to grip my decks. I went and visited the local board makers and spent some time touring their shops and asking questions. The one question I asked the most was “If you could give me the one piece of advise about the skateboard business, what would it be?” The most frequent answer I got was “Just quit now and save yourself the time and money.” I was confused by this. It was not what wanted to hear. After asking them to explain, I got “The market is flooded. unless you can buy wood at a truckload price, sit on it till you can produce a product, and sell it low enough to get them out the door, and make just enough to order more wood to do it all over again.”I then asked them to hold on and I went to my truck and pulled out three decks and put them on the table in front of them. As they reached down and ran their fingers over my decks and felt the carving, I asked them again, “So what advise do you have for me now?…” their reply was… “Keep doing what you are doing cause this is awesome!”.So I found the local lumber yards that had hardwood I could use, and the woods also came with a big price tag. After opening a Facebook page for Kill Devil Skates named after the town I lived in The Outer Banks, Kill Devil Hills. I started to take a few orders and realized that the price of the wood was going to shut me down quickly, but the look was just to amazing not to build. One day I was at a flooring job and noticed a hardwood flooring installer throwing away Mahogany hardwood .I jumped into the dumpster to get it out and took it home to work with it and see what i could build. It got me thinking about all the wood that the boat shop threw in the trash and I decided it was worth a try to talk to companies who used the woods I was after, and see if I could reclaim the woods before they ended up in a landfill. It is always important to talk to someone the who owns the wood, before you just pull up and start picking out anything.

Most companies are very receptive to me after I explain what I am doing with their trash. I have had a few people tell me to get lost. But when you have a passion for creating with your hands, you will find a way. I built my decks for four years out of a garage just to keep overhead down so I can keep the cost of my boards down as low as I can. In the beginning of 2013 I moved my operations into a warehouse where I can make all the noise I want till the butt crack of dawn. I still run a flooring business every morning and make the rounds to collect wood after my jobs everyday and head back to the shop to work on my longboards every night. My friends complain that they rarely ever see me anymore, but they all know and support what I am trying to achieve. I’m currently branching out and building other things with this reclaimed woods like Last week I finished my very first Alaia Style Longboard Surfboard w/ matching Kill Devil Skates Longboard Skateboard . As well, this week I will be introducing Handplanes (hand sized surfboards that strap on your hands for body surfing). Every one of the decks I make is a one of a kind. We start with the different species cut to different widths and lengths and different grain patterns. Next the customer can pick out the shape that the longboard will be. And if they need help, we have over 30 different premade shapes to choose from. Along with the shape we offer the customer the ability to carve a picture into there deck where its airbrushed with color and backfilled flush with crystal clear epoxy to keep the carving nice and fresh. after finishing the decks are gripped with beach sand for a permanent grip.About 25-30 hours go into each KDS creation. It is a labor of love that has milked me for every last dime just to get to this point in my skateboard building career. I never expect to recoup the over $25,000 I’ve invested to build these boards, but I smile a little bigger everyday as I watch what I have built grow from a pile of trash thru it stages, and onward to become someone’s treasured possession. Some people think my boards are overkill in quality, but as a person who fights with my OCD everyday over what is perfect to me, and how can I make it better. I will tell you that Its the WOW factor that I’m trying to achieve. its only then am I satisfied.

Kill Devil Skates
Capt.Jessie McClenny
[email protected]

Tags: , , , Categories: Posted: April 23, 2013

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