Graham Buksa is founder and owner of Rayne Longboards, a North Vancouver-based manufacturer of downhill racing skateboards.
When I grew up, I had friends that were into skateboarding but I never got into it. When I was 20, I got a longboard because I needed transportation to school and between classes on campus.
I took engineering in university and enrolled without having a good grasp of how much work I was signing up for. I simply wanted to build things. Design competitions allowed me to take sketches of things I wanted to build, develop them to samples and build business plans around them. These competitions put me on the edge of my comfort zone. They tested whether I actually had good ideas, whether I could articulate them to an audience and win them over.
I volunteered to get my hands dirty doing welding and fabrication work for the Autonomous Robotic Vehicle Project [AVRP] at the University of Alberta. Because of my earlier design-competition skills, I was made leader of this project for two years and managed the team of 40-plus students.
I was both in love with the experience my first board gave me, but disappointed in the performance. During university, I worked at a ski shop and was inspired by the technology in skis and snowboards, and decided to build a longboard using ski technology. Because I was fabricating bodywork for the ARVP project, I worked with the U of A Industrial Design program quite a bit.
When I started to build my own equipment to design a board, they provided a lot of advice and even helped make my first moulds. From there, I made boards in the basement of the engineering building using ARVP's equipment until moving my operation into the back of a garage I rented nearby.
The industrial design department saved me a ton of headaches and, after my first small production run, I packed up a truck and drove to 50 shops in Alberta and B.C. to do some market research. The trip to talk to actual buyers was the most important part of the process. They told me, "Your product doesn't meet our sales standards in these ways." I should have started there.
I started writing business plans for design competitions. Later, I wrote plans for ARVP and finally I took a business-plan class that I used to write the first draft for Rayne. My professor, Ted Heidrick, took me under his wing and encouraged me. He made sure our plan was rooted in reality.
With my first draft in hand, I continued to perfect it. I was lucky enough that all of the pieces fell into place. I met a supplier at the U of A during a career week seminar; a friend who saw me working on my business plan during exams gave a small investment; and my parents never said no. With their blessing, I was set. I never looked for another job and focused only on longboards.
The first obstacle was moving to Vancouver and finding acceptance in the burgeoning longboarding community. There was already a community fiercely loyal to another brand. I had to have a thick skin, develop my own longboarding skills to gain acceptance and then build new equipment that helped riders become better.
I had to learn how to ride a longboard really fast. In 2004, there was no YouTube to show you how, or even what downhill longboarding looked like. We had to figure it out on our own.
Rayne just turned 13. We've had such a good ride. Our boards have won the world championships multiple times. We have an almost zero-waste production facility in North Vancouver and ship boards globally and we innovated many of the longboard designs on the market. Those are some of my biggest business achievements. I'm really proud that I took the time to try compete in the World Cup before I got too old.
I don't ride as much as I used to, but I still compete, about two races a year. I just got back from a race in China which was pretty crazy: 10 per cent to 14 per cent grade, and cliffs on the other side of the hay bales. I love that there are still places out there to be explored.
As told to Brendan McAleer
This interview has been edited and condensed.