By age 50, Mike Maloney had flown F-14s as a fighter pilot in Desert Storm, trained commercial pilots for United Airlines, become the CEO of an energy company, and then been fired. He found himself unemployed, nowhere near retirement, and in need of his next moneymaking idea, which would become KOTA Longboards.
It came to him while watching some kids ride their longboards in the streets of his neighborhood.
“I started researching the longboard/skateboard market, and what I found shocked me,” says Maloney. With a demographic mostly made up of males 9-24, longboards were begging to break into the world of action sports. All it took was some cunning engineering to equip them for more than coasting along the beach.
An avid skier living in Colorado, Maloney knew that the key would be designing a longboard with a camber, a bow built into the body of the board that helps it make rapid precision movements at high speeds. “When you step on that ski and you compress that camber, it puts a tremendous amount of tension and pressure on the core of that ski,” he says. “It allows you not only the energy to set and hold an edge, but to spring and rapidly reverse your turn and set the other edge.”
The same concept would apply to carving with control for his KOTA boards. He named the company after the Knights of the Air, the moniker used for the earliest fighter pilots in World War I.
In 2011, Maloney began making his boards in his garage, creating the art himself, handing boards out to local riders in the street, and using their feedback to enhance the design.
KOTA longboards offer a smooth yet maneuverable ride, and they stand out because their art is on the top of the board. The grip on longboards typically comes from high-grit black sandpaper with an adhesive backing. Searching for a better way to catch the attention of the action sports market, Maloney called up a chemist buddy and asked if it was possible to make a clear finish with lots of grip. The chemist laughed at first and told Maloney that was often a result of a mistake made in the lab.
Combined with the camber, this clear finish was exactly what Maloney needed to make the boards unique. “There is no particulate, no glass beads, no silica, nothing like that,” Maloney says of the finish. “It is truly clear, and it is very, very grippy. And it has no pores, so nothing sticks to it.” A good scrubbing with multi-purpose cleaner will remove any grime.
The boards will increase in price starting in 2015, but they are available now for $314. And although he first envisioned his longboards for young skaters, he says that since launching the company in June 2012, he has seen the demographic expand to include men of all ages, including many his age.
“We’re all having kids later in life,” he says. “It’s not that we’re fighting getting old, it’s that we’re not old. We can still do these things, and we want to remain relevant to our kids. I laughingly tell people the Viagra and Cialis adds do not define my generation.”