The history of skateboarding is littered with so many lame motorized skateboard concepts mocked by core skaters that we usually don't even bother to notice as new inventions pop up. But as the Kickstarter campaign for a new concept from Boosted Boards climbs towards the half-million dollar mark this week, we thought we'd take a closer look and catch up with Matthew Tran, one of the engineers and company co-founders behind what's being billed as "the lightest electric vehicle in history."
ESPN.com: Okay, first things first: we've seen a lot of kooky gas and electric motors strapped to skateboards before. Why do you think your concept is getting a different kind of response?
Matthew Tran: We definitely are very aware of all the weird, kooky, techie skateboard products that have come out over the years with heavy, off-the-shelf motors, and it's something we've been very conscious of as we've been developing our product. The technology that we're using wasn't really possible earlier, but there have been a lot of advances in brushless electric motors and this is really a completely different concept. What we've done is taken the same kind of technology that's going into electric cars like Tesla and Prius and adapted it at a much smaller size. In our most recent prototypes we're only adding four pounds to the weight of a traditional longboard setup, so it's not some big unwieldy thing like those boards of the past. And from the very beginning we've been developing our product with the longboard community, because we're skateboarders and surfers and snowboarders ourselves and we wanted to build something people would actually want to be seen riding.
Have you been surprised by the response to the Kickstarter campaign? You surpassed your initial $100,000 ask on the first day and are now rapidly approaching $500,000.
We're definitely super happy with all the response and especially with making our $100,000 goal in the first day. Not to be cocky or anything, but we had a feeling it was going to be a big hit just based on all the positive feedback we'd gotten from our prototypes and demos before going to Kickstarter. Partly I think it's because we're not just introducing a new motorized longboard, we're also completely rethinking electric vehicles. This is a longboard, but it's also an electric vehicle with a lot of power and minimal weight, so it has a broader appeal.
In your promotional materials you talk about "the last mile" problem of public transit, this notion that the walk to the bus or subway station can be a barrier to people using public transportation.
A lot of our friends, when they'd move here to San Francisco, would end up selling their cars because traffic and parking are such a hassle and it's cheaper and easier to get around by public transit or walking or bicycles or using Zip Cars or whatever. We see this as better than all those options because you can easily carry it into a taxi or onto a train or bus and into your office. It's a lot more compact than the other options, and because you're not pedaling or pushing you're not working up a sweat going into work. The skateboard is a pretty efficient solution to the last mile problem on its own, and we've made it even more efficient. And if the lithium ion battery is completely dead it takes just two hours to fully charge: you can plug it right into your laptop.
How well do the boards actually ride? The videos you've put together are impressive. You can carve on them just like a regular longboard – we've partnered with Loaded Longboards and the setup we're using right now is a Loaded Vanguard deck with Bear Grizzly 852s, Otang 80A In Heats, and Jehu bearings – and because of the twin brushless motors you can even carve going uphill. You control the speed and braking with a Bluetooth handset control, but otherwise it rides like a regular skateboard. And when they're not powered you can still push them just like a regular longboard, with minimal drag. That was a major problem with previous motorized skateboards: the battery would die and you'd be stuck carrying the thing. We wanted this to look and feel like our longboards we'd ridden before. We enhanced it with a lightweight power train motor to go up hills and for commuting, but you'll still be able to do all the sliding and tricks and carving and everything we love about skateboarding.
What are you going to do with all that Kickstarter cash?
We see vehicles like ours as being the future of transportation and maybe even the future of motorsports as our society moves away from larger gas engines. This first product is a board with a super-compact electric power train motor, and we see a lot of opportunities and potential there for future products. It's an exciting time for us, and we can't wait to see what people do with these boards once they have them under their feet.