The lives of fishermen working the waters off Chile’s rugged coastline and those of three American skaters may at first glance appear to have very little in common. But take a closer look at the skateboards under the feet of three specific stateside skaters and one can see the direct connection to the men who ride out into the Pacific on their beat-up panga boats.
The three skaters/surfers – Ben Kneppers, Kevin Ahearn and David Stover – created Bureo skateboards, a company that molds their entrepreneurial ambition with their hopes to clean up plastic pollution in the oceans by turning discarded fishing nets found along Chile’s almost 4,000 miles of coastline into recycled cruiser skateboards.
"We wanted to create an inspiring and exciting product to encourage others to re-think their use of plastic and help find solutions for our oceans," Stover told Fox News Latino in an email.
At first the three weren’t sure what they could do to put together their passions for business and environmentalism, but Chile, with its growing economy and famed surf scene – not to mention the fact that Kneppers was working there at the time – appeared to be the perfect place for them to launch something. And that’s when they realized that the answer to their conundrum was rolling right under their feet: a skateboard.
"Faced with a multitude of plastic debris, we became intrigued with fishnet waste, highly durable materials that is a massive source of plastic pollution in our oceans, which Ben [Kneppers] found had yet to be directly addressed in Chile," Stover said. "From there, we spent several months in a plastic engineering lab to study the fishnet materials, and develop a recycled formula for our skateboards."
While the development of the boards may have been easy once the ball was rolling, convincing the wary Chilean fishermen was another issue for the so-called "Tres Gringos Locos." Many were skeptical that their old fishing nets could be turned into something other than just trash in the ocean and others weren’t sure what they would get out of giving the three American their nets in the first place.
The team’s research, however, found that other countries around the globe were providing fishermen with designated drop-off points for old nets in an effort to cut back on ocean pollution.
Copying these initiatives, the three created earlier this year Net Positiva, which is Chile’s first fishnet collection and recycling program that provides the fishing community with disposal bins and pays the fishermen a commodity price per kilogram for turning in their old nets. The effect of the program has led to additional income for the fishermen and the incentive to make sure these nets are not ending up in the open sea.
"Over the first year, we were able to show the fishermen the boards and gain a real following for our program," Stover said. "This led to increased participation from the fisherman, and a buy in to our mission."
To pay homage to the company's Chilean roots, the three chose the name Bureo, which means "the waves" in Chile’s indigenous Mapuche language.
Despite the company's nascent stage right now, Stover said that Bureo has already received an overwhelming response from both the skateboard and surf industries in the U.S. and support from some of the outdoor industries biggest brands. Bureo earned a seed investment from clothing company Patagonia through its $20 Million & Change fund, which invests in start-up businesses that focus on solutions to the environmental crisis, and has also raised more than $64,000 on the fundraising website Kickstarter to get their company floating.
"Bureo is not your typical startup – they’ve invented an incredible recycling program by rallying the fishing industry in Chile to turn plastic ocean waste into a great product," Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said in a press release. "We’re investing in Bureo’s vision to scale their business to a global level and make a serious dent in the amount of plastic that gets thrown away in our oceans."
Like any good business people, however, Stover and crew aren’t placated with just selling their boards – known as the minnow – but instead are working to expand their line of skateboards and looking for new regions of the world where they can expand their Net Positiva model.
"People have been really stoked on our program and the boards," he said. "I think we have opened some eyes for sure, and brought a new level of sourcing sustainable materials to the skate industry. I hope that we continue to contribute to the sustainability movement that is taking hold, and keep pushing the envelope with our designs and ideas."