It all started back in the 1940s and ’50s, when surfers in California sought a way to ride even when the waves were flat. They found a creative solution by disassembling roller skates and attaching the wheels to planks of wood – and just like that, the skateboard was born.
Jake Eshelman, the founder of Side Project Skateboards, was first inspired by the history of skateboarding culture through his father-in-law, who “surfed” the streets in Texas in the ’60s.
“When he was growing up, Houston was totally green. But then the city started paving the bayous to prevent flooding,” Jake explains. “When they did that, it was a huge opportunity for young skateboarders. They had a place to go ride where there weren’t a lot of cars. They would skateboard barefoot back then through all different parts of the city. The boards were really narrow, so they wrapped their heels around one side and gripped with their toes on the other side. They were of hardier stock than skateboarders today.”
The stories of nascent skateboarding culture inspired Eshelman to create handmade, vintage-inspired boards for today’s skaters.
“One night I just took some of our wood scraps, milled them down and ended up making a skateboard,” he recalls. “I took that first board for a ride in a parking lot behind our studio; it was a really cool feeling – very empowering.”
When people learned that Jake could make skateboards, friends and acquaintances started asking for boards of their own. After a few months, he launched Side Project Skateboards with a collection of 18 boards. Fueled by the do-it-yourself handiwork of original skaters, Jake works hard to make each of his boards with reclaimed wood and as many American-made products as possible. Sturdy and stylish, Side Project Skateboards sells boards that hold up for years and look like they could serve as pieces of art on a living room wall.
“The grassroots aspects of the movement inspired me,” he says. “These kids were empowered enough to go make something, and that really struck me. That is a beautiful idea, and I wanted to jump on that in my own way.”
Jake’s way is one of dedication and passion for crafting skateboards. He starts by scouring Houston for the perfect wood scraps, taking into account the figure, grain and color of each piece. Then he mills the wood, putting pieces together by hand and finishing them with varnish. When the varnish dries, he adds hardware before photographing the board and adding it to the website. The entire process takes about seven hours from start to finish.
“This whole endeavor is a one-man operation, from the design to sourcing materials to making boards, photography and website design. So it’s very much a labor of love,” says Jake. “I am really passionate about this – there’s more invested in this than an entrepreneurial endeavor.”
The detailed work that Jake pours into every skateboard has recently gained the attention of other companies, like Grungy Gentleman in New York. Side Project Skateboards has participated in two collaborative collections, and Jake anticipates that two more will be available this year.
“I think the sensibility sets Side Project Skateboards part. What I mean by that is the interest I have in the vintage skateboards and the DIY process – but also in terms of design in quality and craftsmanship. The vast majority of skateboards on the market right now are mass-produced. Even if they are well-made, they are still made a factory. And I really like that hands-on approach to it much better.”