Tucked away in the western fringes of San Francisco, where the city meets the sea, you’ll find the headquarters of Iris Skateboards. No sign. No phone number. No twitter handle. Just George Rocha hunched over a bandsaw in his garage, blasting garage rock, upcycling stacks of battered and forgotten skateboard decks into rideable works of art. “Sure you could hang these on your wall and be stoked,” says George. “But they ride as good as they look.”
He should know, he’s tested his creations on the streets of his Outer Sunset neighborhood, and even in the right-handed kidney shaped concrete bowl he and a bunch of friends built in his backyard.
George had seen the work of Japanese artist and skater Haroshi—wildly detailed figurative sculptures crafted entirely from old skateboard decks. Like most skaters, George had stacks of old boards collecting dust. On a whim he glued up a stack of old tails as his first canvas and fired up just about every power tool he had: sawzall, table saw, circular saw. Finally he found his grinder worked the best for task. Before he knew it, he had a pretty decent piece—a three dimensional heart for this girlfriend. It was close to Valentine’s Day. Cut the guy some slack.
Next he set out to make a fully functioning sculpture of a skateboard, made entirely of cast-off skateboard decks. He spent days working on the first truck alone. “This thing was really going to work,” says George. It soon occurred to him that he would have to tackle crafting the deck. So he glued up a pile of busted boards, sliced them up, and the result was a handful of colorful, planed, raw planks. That was the birth of Iris Skateboards.
George only uses unrideable boards. “The whole point is to take something that would have gone into a landfill and make it into something functional,” he says. “What better destiny for a broken skateboard than to continue being a skateboard.” He broke a lot of boards figuring out how to build a structurally sound, durable deck without compromising the aesthetics that first drew him in. Borrowing some techniques from surf board building, he arrived at the prototype Iris board. In a nod to his roots, he named it the Ripride, (Rhode Island Pride).
There’s a gentle nostalgia to the first generation of Iris boards and that’s no accident. The spare simplicity of Iris reflects the pure affection that filled George from that first moment he jumped on a board. “Because it’s still fun to just ride a board down the street,” he says. “Just to cruise really fast and carve.”