Jason Salfi, 34, is the co-founder of Comet Skateboards, which distributes a line of stylish skateboards made from bio-friendly materials such as carbon fiber, sustainably harvested bamboo, FSC certified maple, and water-based glues and paints. The boards are manufactured in a solar-powered facility in San Francisco that reduces carbon emissions by about 25,000 pounds each year. While skateboarding is the sixth most popular sport in the nation and third most popular in the 6 to 18 year old age group, traditional skateboards and skateboard parks are not sustainable. By next year, all Comet skateboards will be certified “cradle-to-cradle,” a designation indicating that the company takes responsibility not only for where the materials to make the boards come from and how they’re made, but also how they can be disposed of. Comet has dedicated itself to investing in the local community and along with Oakland High School visual arts teacher Keith “K-Dub” Williams and pro-skater Karl Watson, produces the annual Hood Games, Oakland’s version of the X-Games. Williams’ students design artwork for Comet skateboards, which are sold at Oakland High School and at the Hood Games. We’ll meet Jason at the solar powered skateboard factory in San Francisco and see how the boards are made. Then we’ll meet arts teacher K Dub Williams and his art class students who are producing artwork for the Comet boards. We’ll watch the kids performing amazing stunts at a local skate park that will be performed at the Hood Games.
How did you become in touch with the Sundance Channel in order to take part in Big Ideas for a Small Planet?
I think that I was referred to them by Simran Sethi and they called to see what we were up to and liked what they heard.
What made you decide to start creating skateboards that were bio-friendly?
We never said we want to be the â€œgreenest company”, we just want to make the best boards possible. For us that includes making a minimal impact on the forest, the air, the water, etc. From day one we have used FSC woods, water coatings, and inks… We feel like these are the best materials available. After all we are making things for young conscious people, if we offer them a product that compromises their future, what good are we to them.
What’s been the most challenging situation you’ve encountered with your company?
Almost going bankrupt a few times. Any small business is a serious challenge, persistence and creatively will always trump tough times. My biggest challenge is focusing on taking care of myself and chilling with my beautiful daughter Lucia and wife Kadie.
Do you find yourself more cautious now when buying products? Do you find yourself looking for products that are bio-friendly?
Not really I try to buy the nastiest stuff I can find. Just kidding. We do our best. We need more choices for sure. If you are going to start a business – do it clean and you will succeed!
Where did the name Comet Skateboards come from?
The sky, a crazy old wooden roller coaster, hmmm… comets are said to have delivered material essential to life as we know it on this planet, one comet could easily end it. I don’t know really maybe it was a dream. Follow your dreams.
Some people might question if bio-friendly boards would be as sturdy as regular skateboards, how do you address those questions?
We have worked with everything from carbon fiber to Elmers’ glue. We mastered aerospace composites to see what they have to offer. Our goal when making that choice, was to create high performance eco-intelligent materials that could replace petroleum based resins for â€œterrestrial applicationsâ€. We don’t compromise performance for anything. When we offer something bio friendly, it is going to be amazing. Some Bio products got a bad rap because of good intention and poor execution early on. If you use materials properly one can achieve great things but first you must have that intention.
I read that your factory is solar-powered; does this have any effect on production?
No effect. We still get power from conventional sources too. We have a long way to go until we are 100% clean energy. Any way not everyone can afford to buy solar panels. Take a look at groups like www.energyaction.net. They are a huge network of youth pressuring municipalities, and campuses for broad sweeping energy reform. Clean energy will only make an impact when it is everywhere.
It seems that bio-friendly and organic products are becoming more and more popular with consumers, do you think this is something that we will continue to see rise in popularity in the years ahead?
Yes, especially as young designers have more options to use eco-intelligent materials and farmers see the advantages to being organic. It will eventually become life as we know it and if companies are on the other side – breaking the circle of life instead of nurturing it – they will feel the impact on their bottom line.
Sadly, there are a lot of people that aren’t concerned with the condition of our environment, how do you approach those people and convince them that this is an important issue?
We just sell them good skateboards and forget the rhetoric. In general though… Give them time. There are innovators and there are the rest. The majority of people are generally late to adopt â€œnew technologiesâ€ unless it is easy. The wave of consciousness is cresting and as it does we have to create good options for mainstream people to integrate into their everyday lives. Designers and Companies still have their work cut out for them to meet the demand when it comes. There is a lot of demand for eco-intelligent products that is unmet. As people in the know, with respect to the environment and social justice, we just have to be cool under pressure, lead by example, and meet people where they are.
What are the future plans for Comet Skateboards?
Become better at what we do. Buy Local first. And regional manufacturing pods.
Interview By: Emma Loggins