How Hamboards Went From Upstart to Cult Hit

Hamboards, an upstart company that turned skateboard design on its head, started in 2006 because Pete Hamborg, 55, wanted to teach his five tow‑headed sons how to surf. Since then, the Huntington Beach family has made the brand a cult hit. They’ve built a custom board for Justin Bieber and won financing on ABC’s “Shark Tank” because the boards evoke the easy beach lifestyle of O.C.

Peter Hamborg, with sons Gus, left, and Chapman

Tell us about that first board.
So we made this big dumb skateboard to help my sons learn to surf, but it wouldn’t turn. Then Mom (Kathy Hamborg) ran over it in the driveway, and suddenly it carved turns almost exactly like a surfboard. We figured out why this happened and made more, one for each of us, painted them like ’50s and ’60s surfboards, and to our surprise,  people wanted to buy them from us.

Why is the Hamboard long?
To get the true feel of surfing, the deck design needs to be much longer and wider than a normal skateboard or a longboard skateboard (see Page 41). With a few critical tweaks, we produced the flowy, driving, carving turns characteristic of surfing.

Hamboards is a family venture; how does this affect the business?
We try extra hard to involve all the boys in coming up with a new design or tweaking an old one. The same goes for new websites, images, catalogs, or social media campaigns.

Who does what?
I handle administration, customer service, brand building, and I am chief slack picker-upper. Gus, 28, does board, T-shirt, and hat design, social media, website, video production; Anders, 26, assembles and ships the boards and assists with design;  Chapman, 23 and a classically trained artist, does design and color pattern; Jachin, 22 and a national champion surfer, focuses on performance; Moses, 20, studies art in Florence, Italy. When he’s home, he helps with assembly, shipping, color, and pattern. And my wife, Kathy, 57, handles support and encouragement.

Limited-edition, backpack-sized Biscuit boards ($155 to $175) are Hamboard’s newest shape.

Your Hamboards are like works of art.
Two sons clearly had an early connection with art. So when we came up with the idea of the big Hamboard skateboard (the Classic, $525), I very intentionally aimed our designs for the intersection of surf, skate, and art. And despite feeling a bit awkward when all the cool brands were doing skulls, dragons, and boobs, we realized that … our designs are on target.

How long did it take to get the design right?
Years. Having five sons giving constant input was a live-in design-feedback consortium at the dinner table. “Hey Dad, we should change this … pass the ketchup.” We first completed the design in 1997 and didn’t make it a business until 2006. Our design wasn’t even close until we had carefully made six or seven of them by hand.

What’s your aesthetic?
It speaks of wholesomeness and simplicity and craftsmanship. Every board gets signed and numbered.

Limited-edition, backpack-sized Biscuit boards ($155 to $175) are Hamboard’s newest shape.

We hear Hamboards are in a museum.
The Röhsska Museum in Sweden was doing a year-long exhibition on skateboard design. One of the curators ran across our online videos, asked for samples, and suddenly we were part of the program.

Did you get any resistance from the skater community?
Skateboarding—and its community—has a lot of identity, so what we were doing was seen as a kind of bizarre adulteration of their core sport. So
at times we got significant pushback.

How did you resolve it?
Our response always was, “I respect what you’re doing.” Getting a wheeled piece of wood to feel like surfing when you rode it is how the sport began. Hamboards has taken it back to the roots. As time has passed, the skating community has embraced us.

As Hamboards’ appeal grows internationally, what’s next?
The boys are starting families, and some are graduating college or art school. We plan to stay rooted in Huntington Beach, surf, lifeguard, make beautiful art, love each other, and, as it says on my business card, “change the world—one really big skateboard at a time.”

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