By Jess Winans
Hemp skateboard startup moves to North Park
If you opened Dave Blanchard’s garage door, you wouldn’t find a car, bicycle or tool box.
Instead, you’d find a production studio where he handmakes his 100 percent biodegradable skateboard decks by pouring a plastic composite consisting of 80 percent hemp and 20 percent bio resin into a press.
Four years ago, Blanchard devised his hemp-based brainchild, Granny Smith Sports, while sitting at the dinner table with his stepfather, business partner and fellow skateboarder, Nick Griffith.
“I started doing research of things made out of hemp and I noticed a lot of companies were calling their skateboards hemp, but their ingredients were not 100 percent plant-based,” Griffith said.
Developing their plan, Griffith and Blanchard continued searching for hemp-plastic alternatives, lab tests or product-patents. When they couldn’t find the material needed to make the board, they decided to move on.
Blanchard shifted gears from skateboarding to producing music and moved to his current home in North Park. He opened a recording studio in his home — a project which ultimately failed due to financial issues.
“Luckily, the failure of the recording studio ended up working out for me in the long run,” Blanchard said.
Inspired by his environment, he began waiting tables at Cafe Sevilla in Downtown and continued brainstorming sustainable skateboard options.
Shortly after, Blanchard and Griffith stumbled across Arizona State research featuring a hemp-plastic white-water kayak prototype, published by engineer Greg Osusky.
The duo thought the plastic would be the perfect biodegradable channel to build the eco-friendly skateboards they were aiming for.
“I had built a hybrid hemp material for white-water kayaks,” Osusky said. “I made a kayak prototype that was one-third of the weight of a normal white-water kayak. By using hemp, I got weight savings of the composite but was able to make the durability of the plastic — all performance and little drawbacks of the weight.”
When Blanchard and Griffith pitched the hemp skateboard idea to him, Osusky — who grew up riding — liked the idea and hopped on board.
“They’re not doing it as a novelty, they get this could replace plastic and change the planet,” he continued.
Hemp, often associated with marijuana, is the fiber of the cannabis plant — sans tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC), the chemical compound responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects — and has been used for lotions, papers, granolas, ropes, stout fabrics, and other products as an international import.
But now, alongside the legalization of marijuana in states like California, industrial hemp is being produced domestically; this makes it easier for companies like Granny Smith to produce their hemp products.
“We just got to this point in our country where people are growing industrial hemp. A lot of hemp was previously coming from overseas,” Blanchard said. “Now all of our hemp is domestic, coming from the country, so [people who handle the hemp] are not messing with product.”
The boards are composed of the 100 percent biodegradable deck atop imported grip tape, bearings, trucks and wheels. Blanchard plans to continue producing them this way until a hemp-alternative for those parts is created.
For the first two years, the skateboards were made at Griffith’s home in Texas. Now all production, branding, outreach and sales will operate out of Blanchard’s North Park garage.
San Diego’s eco-friendly environment made the decision to transfer production easier for the environmentally conscious entrepreneur.
“We’re moving production over here to diversify the product,” Blanchard said. “It’s a California company so we really want the identity and the brand to be designed and sold and made in Southern California.”
When he’s not working on researching, developing and branding Granny Smith Sports, Blanchard is a real estate agent for Bankers Hill and spends his free time painting, surfing and of course, skateboarding.
“[Blanchard’s] work ethic is amazing. He doesn’t shy away from anything. It’s always work,” Griffith said. “When he’s out surfing he’s talking business, when he’s out with friends he’s talking business. It’s part of his passion, it’s part of him.”
The earth-friendly sporting company has a customer list based mainly in Colorado, New York City and California. Kristen Stewart, star of the “Twilight” film series, can also be found riding one.
“I thought the board was really new with the technology … I’m waiting for the long board,” said Nick Colantuoni, a long-time Granny Smith customer.
“When it comes to the company, just think about the possibility of replacing plastic,” he continued. “That’s everything. We can have a safe environment and change the future. That’s what has so much potential, it’s not just a skateboard.”
Granny Smith Sports has been featured by “The List,” Fox 5 News and Ministry of Hemp and Envirotextiles, as well as at a booth at the Colorado NoCo Hemp Expo earlier this month.
On April 22, Granny Smith Sports will be participating in the Cannabis Village festival on Earth Day in Balboa Park.
Cannabis Village will be a community event focused on showcasing the positive effects of the cannabis industry on San Diego, such as job creation and increased sustainability.
In addition to attending local festivals and expanding product knowledge through social media, Blanchard is considering partnering with local head-shops and dispensaries for collaboration.
“We’ve had inquiries from a dispensary in Arizona who wants custom skateboards,” Blanchard said. “That’s a little more of a technical order to fill, we would make the boards with their logo, but we would love to partner with local head shops or dispensaries. I see that as a really good business move.”
The two complete decks — “The Sprout” and “The Cane Top Barefoot Cruiser” — can be purchased online at grannysmithsports.com for $129 and $139, respectively. Individual decks, guitar picks and Granny Smith hoodies and T-shirts are also available on the website.
For more information or to purchase a Granny Smith product, visit grannysmithsports.com and follow them on Twitter and Instagram @grannysmithsports.
— Jess Winans is the editorial assistant of San Diego Community News Network, the parent company of San Diego Uptown News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.