New team rider Lillian Barou bombing a sick winding road in Pyrenees.
Everything we do, we create for a single purpose – to provide better quality and especially to develop. Nothing can describe what we feel, from being vastly pissed off when something is not working despite the large amount of work, to the huge joy when one of the ideas being developed eventually succeeds. A constant struggle, though exhaustive, gives us a lot of satisfaction. Even if the solution will not go live, it gives a different perspective on the problem and the knowledge, by which we can further develop.
Seemingly simple thing as a longboard, whose production consists of several seemingly easy steps: preparation of materials, laminating, pressing, cutting, and finish, can cause many problems. Just as one swallow does not make a summer, to produce one board is not the same as to release the serial production. I remember as it was today, how we enjoyed having created the first series of boards – 5 items. FIVE ITEMS – seems like nothing, but it gave us a glimpse of what we must pay attention to and how long way we still have ahead.
Every change we introduce, we test the best we can. We make sure that the perfect solution at first glance will not have adverse effects on the product quality or it will not be impossible to use in mass production. Therefore, we frequently face a choice – new and possibly better or good and verified solutions. Although it’s sometimes hard to notice, our product constantly changes. Some of the solutions will not be visible to the end customer, but we can assure you with a clear conscience that our boards get better every year.
One of the best examples of recently introduced innovations is the new milling cutter, which we use to cut our boards. Most skateboarders does not have to think about it, however, a cutter is very important if we take into account the production process. Looking for a suitable tool, taking into consideration all the guidelines it must satisfy, among others vitality, appropriate diameter and working length, geometry of the workpiece, it creates us quite a problem to solve. In fact, only recently we found suitable tool that meets all requirements. The road to achieve this was long and winding, starting from consultation with various manufacturers, through tests of cutters in operating conditions, checking the quality of the edges, up to the comparison of lifespan. And all these steps were repeated at least 15 times. In the end, we reached our goals by finding a tool that best fits our needs. But this is not the end of work. What if there is another solution which will have better performance, or will work faster? For this reason, we must never stop seeking and constantly strive to develop.
And this is only one of the stages of production. We constantly try to be open to future improvement and explore new materials, to make users the most satisfied. When designing each collection we collect all the information on existing solutions. On the basis of these data, together with our riders, we develop a new collection for next year. However, to ensure that the next collection meets expectations, we need one more thing – feedback from users. It is thanks to conversation with you and your opinions that we receive from different sides (private conversation, facebook or board registration forms), we obtain the foundation to create new quality. It is because of you, we know our strengths and bad sides. We want to thank you for that and we hope that you will continue with us our fight for progress.
“Wise criticism enlightens, stupid quenches.”3
Imagine the perfect beginning of the season, a day off, a beautiful weather, cool spots and even cooler friends. And such a great day is spoiled by… no money for refuelling your car. What would you do then? Would you give up or seek a solution to your problem?
We’d like to organise for you an ideal weekend in Izdebki, from 8th-10th July. This year we’re meeting on the 4th edition of Izdebki Camp 2016 – Release the kraken. More info coming soon. Cu!
Hi, I’m Łukasz. I was born in Ełk , which is famous for its beautiful surroundings with lakes. By the age of 21, I had been living with my parents and I obviously attended school. I have always enjoyed adrenaline-rush sports. When I was 11, I used to ride BMX quite a lot and it became my passion till 2009. After that, so when I was 15, I replaced a bike with a longboard. Hardly anyone knew what longboard is and people actually looked at me like at some kind of weirdo. Anyway, I went on riding longboard and started to develop skills, new tricks and slides. Then in 2010 came the first competition (Doping in Warsaw), where I met many people who shared the same hobby as mine.
After all these longboard-related events I started to think that it must be a great feeling to be the best rider. And I felt like becoming one. I devoted lots of time to learning new things and I spent any savings on new wheels or boards. There were more competitions I took part in and in which I actually was placed quite high. So years were passing, my skills getting better and better, but the life in Masuria, hills or mountain-deprived region, started to be a bit boring.
The thing is, I had to drive 500 km or so (one way) in order to take part in any competition or even to train and practise on a more challenging route. It was irritating, because my passion to longboard grew stronger, but I had less opportunities. I finished 4-year-technical school and then got a job. Eight hours by the injection molding machine that ejected the same parts every 20 seconds – what a fascinating and thrilling activity, right? 🙂 So a few months later, in November, we decided together with my fiancée Asia that something had to be done. We didn’t want this dull work in Ełk till the end of our lives. The outcome of our discussion was pretty interesting – we got married on 23rd May 2015 and the following week we left our families and moved to Nowy Sącz.
We managed to save some money during the winter and decided to have holidays of a lifetime! We participated in most longboard events in Poland, also had a chance to join some in the Czech Republic and Slovenia. If we had been in Ełk, we wouldn’t have had a chance to participate in so many events. Why have we chosen Nowy Sącz? Alternative Longboard team moved here in 2014 – they’re our good friends who help us whenever we need them.
I’ve always wanted to make longboards. There were nights when I used to sit in a basement gluing plywood, which surely looked pretty much amateurish, but I enjoyed it anyway. I hoped that one day I’d have a chance to work with Alternative guys and guess what – it did happen:) After the biggest trip (Kozakov + KNK) I got down to work. I can now honestly say that my dreams came true. I live in the area with mountains, there are countless challenging routes around here and I make longboards. Sorry, THE BEST longboards in the whole wide world:D However, I haven’t finished setting new goals yet, I’m going to achieve them step by step. And my adventure here, in a new place, has actually just started.
Boards displayed in longboard shops, used by our friends or the ones we’ve ridden ourselves – they all must have been somehow produced. Active longboard users tend to talk about the whole production process, what it looked like, who and how made it. Unfortunately, limited possibilities of getting first-hand information as well as insufficient objective information have contributed to the creation of some myths and legends about the board production.
It seems that there’s lots of information available on this topic – after all, almost each manufacturer releases the material about production, yet after thorough analysis it turns out to be just a general overview of the whole process, without going into details. These videos almost entirely leave out a very important thing – machines that make the whole production process possible. As a person with 6-year experience in longboard creating, who started off with “garage production” of just a few boards within one season and ended up with much bigger scale of production, I’d like to share this experience with you. I’m not going to write about the process itself, in which unique way boards are pressed or how the materials are being selected. You can find lots of information about it online. What I’d like to tell you about is the construction of the machines dedicated for longboard production and also overall experience with manufacturing the product – longboard.j.
CHEAPER IS NOT ALWAYS WORSE
The longboard sector in Poland, Europe or even in the US is comparatively smaller than any other sector such as automotive or household appliances industry or for instance food industry. New businesses, which produce longboards themselves, very often have a tight budget (it was also the same in my case). Rapid technological progress and constant changes in preferences regarding the graphics/shape do not make things easy. To give you an example: a battery manufacturing plant can invest hundreds of thousands zlotys in professional production and assembly lines equipped with ready-to-use tools and production surveillance and there is no problem at all. There’s capital for investment, the product doesn’t have to change for a long time, so why not?
Nowadays fewer longboard companies can afford the luxury of having no novelties for upcoming season. There are many latest technological developments, so you need to be flexible. Another problem is money, which I already mentioned before. So what’s the solution? We can blow the whole thing off and use just the simplest production techniques actually turning it into advantage – handmade, which has recently become extremely popular. The second solution is to broaden your knowledge and go for automation, meaning building the machines on your own. It takes time and surely requires lots of work, but it pays off. The results are much better and cheaper in the long terms. All the machines in our workshop have been either built from scratch for producing longboards or rebuilt from ready cheaper machinery available on the market.
Automation in our company is present in possibly biggest number of stages, it reduces the risk of manufacturing defects, ensures better quality of the product and simply makes the work easier and faster. How did it work in practice? Actually very good. It does not differ much from professional and pricey solutions, which doesn’t mean there are no problems at all. Breakdowns always happen, and here we observe another advantage of our solution – you can fix things on your own. One can say that this requires specialist knowledge, which is true. I’ve lost count how many hours I’ve spent learning programming, mechanics, evaluating strength and rigidity of the structure, electronics etc. I’ve spent so much time analyzing the already-existing solutions as well as testing new concepts. There was something that helped me a lot with it – Open Source projects.
OPEN SOURCE NOT ONLY FOR GEEKS
Open source community is very large. We can find 3D design software, CNC programming software, programs for electronics or machines design or the ones for calculating. There are numerous driver projects for automation available. The community working in a particular project is very helpful. After all, these are the people who had similar problems and understand the principle of helping each other. It is quite surprising how much it can help small businesses in their development. Open source worked out for me and I try to be involved in the projects that helped me. The additional benefit is that it saves money – you don’t have to pay for programs’ license (which, in fact, can sometimes cost a lot). And what we get for free, measures up to the quality and professionalism of the competition.
Like I’ve mentioned before, longboard manufacturing industry in Europe is really small. Difficulties with implementing new solutions and modernizing the existing technologies – you need to deal with these problems on your own. There’s no space for “just another day in the office”. There are new challenges coming every day and new problems that require original approach. At first it seems interesting and engaging, but after a while it turns out to be quite tiring. What’s really important is your mental attitude – never give up. It might seem obvious and trivial, but I don’t mean that you should do the same things repeatedly and expect different results. When we test a new solution, sometimes it might take 30 costly attempts (in terms of money and time) to get what we want. It’s not always easy to treat the results stand-offishly and draw the right conclusions. “Never give up” relates to the attitude of constantly searching for bigger or smaller innovations, treating the existing solutions with reserve and naturally persistence in the actions we undertake.
IS IT WORK ONLY?
Confucius said: ” Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. That’s absolutely true, but these days are not always nice and enjoyable as I said earlier. However, when I sum it up, after all the adversities, it’s not that bad. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. What gives the biggest satisfaction in longboard making is the satisfaction of Alternative longboard users, seeing the riders enjoying our boards. It’s all about changing the small world around you for better. It’s about providing possibly best products at a reasonable price, which undoubtedly makes up for all the difficulties we encounter.
2 Weeks of work At KNK 2015 Photo by Erwin Boekee
Terence said: “So many men, so many opinions: to each his own way”. If we did a survey “What is longboard for you?”, I suppose most of the people would have no idea what we ask about. People who have some kind of knowledge about it would say it’s a board used to move about. For some it would be a hobby, way of spending your free time or simply a toy.
It is safe to say I’ve gone through all these stages. I could even add some more.
Stage one – passion
At the end of primary school I started riding a skateboard. My first ollie, skateboarding in the backyard, first magazines (copies of “Ślizg”, popular at that time monthly magazine, have been lost somewhere, but I do have till this day “Info magazine”), first hand-made obstacles, cupboards covered with stickers of favourite brands and trips to nearby towns to enjoy riding in different spots. I still remember those days, the good vibes it brings back, countless hours spent on a skateboard.
Years were passing by and I had less time for skateboarding, but the longest break came after I finished my studies. Studying, parties, no skate spots around – that made me and skateboard part ways. Two years later there was a great come back. One of my friends said: “Man, there’s a cool way to rock the town” and he showed me a video about longboard. Different trucks, bigger wheels – I was already hooked.
I was working in Gdańsk, and one day on a beach I had a chance to ride that board. I wanted to get that particular model so badly I “tormented” guys from longboardshop.pl asking them for 2 weeks about it, which was not available at that time. Later on I was back in Warsaw for studies, quickly got to longboardshop for a board, and a minute later I ended up with my own new Lush Samba longboard with Cult and Sabra wheels. First impression after riding it was…weird. I just couldn’t feel the board with no kicktail. But after some time, it was such a pleasure to ride it – a feeling similar to the one when I snowboard, and which is my second board-love. My first competition I took part in was with that longboard. I remember I couldn’t even slide and I tore off the sole of a shoe that wasn’t even mine. But anyway I felt again the thrill and fun from youthful years.
Longboard doping 2011 fot. Zuzanna Nowacka
Stage two – fun
I met Michał during one of the snowboard contests. We chatted a bit and it turned out he managed to produce some Vertical Lamination technology boards (by the way, that’s where our company’s name comes from – alternative for plywood boards). I was also thinking about making my own board. I exchanged some emails with Michał and two weeks later there I was – in his studio flat, where he lived with Sylwia, his girlfriend at that time. I was genuinely surprised how you can stuff longboard press machine and a compressor in one small room. So our first board was made in such conditions. Pride, thrill, admiration – these are just a few words that best describe what I felt then.
Later on I was over the hump. Phew, what am I saying. The going actually was getting rough. Relocating to Kętrzyn, building the first press machine and a plotter, first prototypes that were reasonably good, over 100 boards thrown in the bin – just to learn the whole process. At that time we made about 15 boards that were suited for riding. A week in Kętrzyn was one of the worst weeks in my life. We felt constantly under pressure, things were getting broken and seemed like nothing was going our way. At that time there was another guy who joined us, Peter. He was in charge or preparing board models and graphics.
After 2-3 months we realized that it was not to be done if we lived in different places. Then we decided to go back to Warsaw. Finding the most suitable workplace wasn’t as easy as we thought. At last! There we found it! 75 square metres, close to Galeria Mokotow – corporate centre, and us – three hobos. I would go to the workshop by tram, totally laid back, looking at others in suits, so tensed up. That place, our workplace, was our asylum, the place where we could fulfill our passions and had so much fun. When I was telling people that I make boards, nobody treated it seriously.” It’s just fun, start doing something useful and profitable, get a proper job – pull yourself together.”
Profile of our first board which we made. Photo by Michal Milewicz
Stage three – work
Boards have been with me for about 16 years now. I ride a longboard, skateboard and snowboard. I surfed a few times and tried kite-surfing, wake-surfing, wakeskating and skimboarding. I’ve been making boards for 6 years now and from 2 years it has become my fulltime job.
If you ask me now what longboard for me means, I’m going to find it hard giving one simple answer. I’d start with self-fulfilment, something that gives me satisfaction and something I can play with. Longboard for me means places I like and I enjoy coming back to. People whom I meet and I wouldn’t have met if it hadn’t been for boards. Trips that give exhilarating experiences. Longboard is a stream of extreme happiness, but also denials, sadness and bitterness. It’s a struggle. It’s a place where every day something new and unexpected awaits.
Longboard is what you let it to be. And what is it for you?
Here you can find our thoughts (please do not expect much;) ), trick tips, relations from trips, ideas and many more. Follow us on our microblog.