Following a successful Kickstarter campaign that more than doubled their fundraising goal, three friends, including Montauk surfer Kevin Ahearn, are moving forward with a business venture aimed at keeping plastic out of the ocean and uplifting impoverished communities in Chile.
Named Bureo, the company makes skateboards out of recycled fishing nets, before the nets end up in a landfill, or worse, dumped at sea. It takes an average of 30-square-feet of net to make one board, so every purchase makes a big difference.
Ahearn, a native of East Hampton, is working with two like-minded men who also grew up in coastal communities with a love of surfing, David Stover on Block Island, and Ben Kneppers on Cape Cod. Ahearn moved to California to work for Boeing, and Kneppers and Stover went to work in Australia. But they all just recently returned from Chile, where they have been setting up Bureo’s supply chain.
Kneppers, who has his master’s degree in sustainability, had previously gone to work in South America for Fundación Chile. “It’s like a forward thinking government entity that lets them explore new options in the environmental space and what they can be doing to preserve their country,” Ahearn explains. He, Kneppers and Stover got talking about what they could do together in Chile.
Ahean says they thought, “Myself with a background in engineering, Dave with a background in finance, and Ben with a background in sustainability, we should be able to come up with something viable. Kind of take a step away from our regular career day job type things, and do something that we’re a little more passionate about.”
And Chile is also a good environment for entrepreneurs right now, he says. An accelerator program called Start-Up Chile, which is funded by the government, encourages businesses to come there, and makes it easy. “You receive a grant from the government, a one-year work visa, and you have an apartment and a place to work from.”
Kneppers became aware of the extent of the plastic pollution problem on the coast of Chile while working with the World Wildlife Fund. Worldwide, derelict fishing gear makes up more than 10 percent of plastic pollution, according to Ahearn.
“There’s very little infrastructure in place for them to dispose of their plastics,” he says of Chile. “Outside of the city, there’s almost no recycling available, which includes these fishing nets that we’re working with, which are some of the most hazardous material and the most difficult for them to manage.”
The dragging nets are massive, a couple tons each, Ahearn says. While they get repaired, after being in use for a time they must be replaced. The old nets are often dumped in a wooded area or let loose in the ocean, to avoid paying hefty disposal fees to private landfills.
“The nets themselves, when they become lost at sea or cut at sea, it’s very easy for them to entrap marine wildlife—seals, dolphins,” he says. And once the animals come in contact with the nets, the result is nearly always fatal.
From a product design standpoint, targeting these nets gives Bureo a uniform source of plastic. “The nets that we’re recycling right now, the material is Nylon 6, which is extremely durable, extremely easy to recycle,” Ahearn says. “It’s a highly engineered material, which is just great for us to work with.”
They named their first board, which is shaped like a fish, Minnow. The name of the company, Bureo, is the indigenous Chilean word for “waves.” “We chose the word to pay respects to the country that gave us the opportunity to create this business there and help them with their waste, but also at the same time we chose it because a wave starts in the ocean with a small change in wind and with enough time and energy you get a big wave,” Ahearn says. “We’re starting with a small change in an ocean of plastic, and with enough time and energy in this, we’ll create a bigger change in the way people perceive plastic.”
Bureo’s business plan calls for making 3,000 skateboards this year. For those who missed the KickStarter deadline, pre-orders have begun at bureoskateboards.com. Decks alone are $60 and full skateboards start at $145.