COLUMBIA FALLS – When Brendan Rohan started his skate-ramp design company 15 years ago, he was printing traceable half-pipe blueprint plans for his skater pals, running the DIY operation out of a cramped loft apartment in Whitefish and working alongside his girlfriend, a cat and an antiquated printer.
“It smelled like ammonia,” recalls Ryan Brown, an accomplished skateboarder and longtime friend to Rohan. “He’s come a long, long way.”
Today, Rohan ships his wares internationally, sending the custom designs, ramp kits and specialized materials to customers who use them to build backyard half-pipes, small-town skate parks and X-Game style competition ramps.
The digs at Skate Ramp Parts, a sprawling warehouse in Columbia Falls, are decidedly more capacious, his girlfriend is now his wife, and a robotic arm traces and cuts the ramp components with computer-programmed precision.
“It’s baby steps,” Rohan said. “When we started building ramps in the mid-80s we’d grab a jig saw, a circular saw, some plywood and just go for it.”
On a recent morning at the headquarters of Skate Ramp Parts, three pallets of material sat on the warehouse floor ready to be shipped, one to New Jersey, another to Mexico and the third to Istanbul, Turkey.
In addition to shipping the design plans, kits and structural components for backyard half-pipes, Rohan is one of just five distributors who peddles a ramp-surfacing material manufactured by Richlite, a 70-year-old company that originally distributed the weatherproof sheeting for commercial kitchen surfacing and cutting boards. It has since been adapted for use on skateboard ramps and parks, including the vertical “Megaramp” employed in competitions at the X Games, and was re-branded as Skatelite.
This summer, the company is flying Rohan to its anniversary party on the San Juan Islands, and the Megaramp will be on hand for demonstrations by pro skateboarders.
In keeping with the repurposed material’s original use, Rohan also hews the scraps into custom-design cutting boards, as well as cribbage boards featuring the logos of a business, or even the shape of a state or region. Gift shops on Nantucket Island, for example, sell Rohan’s Nantucket Island-shaped gaming board to eager tourists.
But skateboarding is his foremost passion and he smiles to think of father-and-son duos assembling his ramps and half-pipes in backyards throughout the world. Skate Ramp Parts is also a boon to the lumber industry because, to assemble the kits, customers must spend around $1,000 on 2×6 boards.
A 10-foot half-pipe built using Rohan’s materials – including a partial kit and scores of Skatelite Pro – was featured in the July 2010 issue of Thrasher magazine. A trio of pro skaters rode the ramp in Maui, and gave it positive reviews.
“The half-pipe had classic ‘80s transitions, but was about twice as wide as ramps were back then. Perfect for catching air but not having to fully pad up.”
Rohan said the review captured the aim of Skate Ramp Parts, which is to have fun without injury.
“The idea is to have fun, not to die. It’s not for Tony Hawk,” he said, referring to the professional skateboarder.
He recently sent 60 sheets of Drumlite Grade A – another type of Skatelite material costing $129 per sheet – for use on a demo ramp that pro-biker Pat Casey rode for a high-end video produced by Monster Energy Drink.
The bulk of Rohan’s business comes from selling the Skatelite material, but he also pours his time and energy into creating 30-page instructional booklets to help customers assemble the custom ramps, each of which requires its own unique set of illustrations and explanations.
Even though Rohan hires temporary help, he does most of the work himself.
“He is extremely hands-on and thorough,” Brown said. “He’s doing all of the shipping, receiving, design and production. It’s always been that way and he’s just one dude. He’s been sustaining that work ethic for 15 years.”
Rohan and Brown were instrumental in raising the funds to build the Dave Olseth Memorial Skatepark, a 15,000-square-foot park in Whitefish.
“He was so dedicated to getting that park built just out of his love of skateboarding and the community,” Brown said. “The company was growing so much and he was dedicating all of this time to philanthropy.”
The trajectory of Rohan’s career – from building ramps out of painted plywood as a teenager, to designing do-it-yourself traceable template plans, to offering cut-out kits for bowls and skate ramps – has made him an authority on the finer points of skate-ramp building.
“All of the little things that I’ve learned over time have helped me dial it in,” he said. “I’m still just winging it, but it’s a lot of fun.”
To order materials and see photos of Rohan’s ramps, visit him online at www.SkateRampParts.com
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