Local company delivers hot product

NW Staff

Two Northern Michigan University entrepreneurs with a mutual passion for outdoor extreme sports decided to take their interest to the next level. Senior Darren Young and NMU alumnus Brian Emigh co-founded Presque Isle Longboards in January, 2008.

Presque Isle Longboards sells uniquely designed longboards in stores around Michigan and online, many of which are hand-painted by local artists and stray from the traditional style and design of modern longboards. A longboard is a longer, sturdier version of a typical skateboard. While skateboards usually have rounded ends and are used for tricks, longboards often have rounded front ends and a tapering point at the back, making them more suitable for cruising down hills and transportation.

“We started out modestly, making boards for friends and acquaintances,” Emigh said.

Young and Emigh’s business got a boost when they won first prize in Northern’s College of Business inaugural New Business Venture Competition. The contest awarded them $4,000 to put toward their company. Both said the prize money was just what they needed.

“After we won the contest and the prize money, it really took off from there.”

The New Business Venture Competition is a contest through Northern’s College of Business in which students submit a plan to start a new business and compete for $10,000 in cash prizes. Applicants initially submit an executive summary of what their concept is and what they hope to accomplish. From there the pool is narrowed down to five finalists who move on to submit a whole business plan to a panel of five judges.

Robert Lion, Assistant Dean of the College of Business, said that he thinks Young and Emigh took appropriate advantage of a good opportunity.

“Our sustainability in our future lies with our ability to identify new markets and create new opportunities,” Lion said. “Darren and Brian did a great job of that last year. They’re serving both local interest in the area, but they’re also getting out there and starting to provide products for the market outside of the area.”

Now, a year later, Emigh has graduated and Young is a senior. Presque Isle Longboards is still in business and continues to expand as they have sold nearly 400 boards. Prices for a blank deck complete with trucks and wheels start at $125, while completed custom art boards range from $165 to $250.

Initially, Young and Emigh sold boards and apparel sporting their company logo to friends and family. Today, their boards and apparel can be found in Marquette and around Michigan at Ground Zero on Washington Street and The Compound ski shop on Division Street, as well as in skate and surf shops in Escanaba, Gladstone and Grand Rapids.

Emigh said a 2005 motorcycle accident initially sparked his interest in longboarding.

“I rotated my ankle 180 degrees and after that I really couldn’t skateboard on a regular short deck anymore and I needed something wider and more stable,” Emigh said. “I really got into it once my dog Babu started pulling me around town on my board. I wanted a unique board that was longer and wider than most and I really liked to work with wood, so I tried my hand at building a couple longboards for myself and friends.”

Emigh added that Young, a close friend and fellow longboarding enthusiast, thought the idea for a company was great, but some graphics were needed. Young contacted local artists that he knew to start painting finished blanks.

“We started to get tons of positive feedback, so we just kept running with it,” Emigh said.

Compared to name brand longboard companies like Sector Nine, Arbor and Gravity, Young and Emigh’s company is still rather small. Emigh said they have reinvested every penny they made into all the necessary tools and a fully renovated heated garage at Emigh’s new house.

The boards are hand-crafted by Emigh and Young and then hand-painted by friends and local artists, many of which are art and design majors at NMU. The duo said in addition to their boards being hand-crafted and painted, there is a combination of things that set their company apart from others.

First, the original board shapes and designs stray from the traditional formats used by larger companies. Rather than the conventional round-tipped boards, Young and Emigh use different shapes and designs for the noses and tails. Secondly, instead of using black grip tape on the top of the deck like the majority of skateboards have, Young and Emigh use a clear lacquer coating and sprinkle sand from the beaches of Lake Superior to create a gripping surface for the rider. This also allows the finished wood grain to be visible from the top of the board.

Brandon Croney, owner and operator of The Compound said that he admires their original designs.

“In skateboarding or longboarding, like anything else, there is already such a flood of companies that you have to ask yourself, ‘What is going to set you apart?'” Croney said.

Presque Isle Longboards is the only longboard company Croney sells and he has been carrying them since opening his doors in October of 2008. He added that the name catches the eye of many people passing by his store, particularly locals.

“Having the boards in my shop has really continued the buzz of longboarding and it is always a conversation starter in the store,” Croney said. “I think the locals do want to support a local company and just the name Presque Isle Longboards triggers an interest with them because it is obviously rooted in Marquette. I’ve even had people in their 50s come in and talk about their boards.”

Aside from the original designs and methods put forth, and the local inspiration, both said what really makes their company special is the personalizing factor.

“We have developed a small niche in Marquette for those who want a personalized board, whether it’s their name on the bottom, or a piece of art,” Emigh said. “We hope to further promote the sport by creating custom boards that will better our customer’s riding experience.”

Ground Zero employee Jess Niemi said that there has been a spike in longboard sales over the past few years and it is good to have a local company appealing to the college market.

“A lot of riders want machine-cut boards made at the factory, but I’ve had numerous people come in looking to buy a locally made board,” Niemi said. “A lot of people think it’s cool that local artists paint all of their (Presque Isle Longboards) boards, and they like the fact that it is original to Marquette.”

Niemi added that he has sold six of Young and Emigh’s boards so far.

Young and Emigh said they have not only focused on making custom boards, but they have also put effort toward getting the longboarding scene involved with the local community as well as other areas in the Midwest.

Young served as a judge in a big air snowboarding competition in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he and Emigh gave away a board for the second prize winner. Both said the artistic side of the boards has been showcased in art shows throughout the Midwest and around Marquette as well. Young and Emigh have donated custom painted boards to The Doghouse Pub, Jean Kay’s Pasties, the Marquette Humane Society and Gladstone Skatepark, each sporting the business’s logo in a creative way. The two are also planning a tour around the Midwest this summer in an attempt to get more skate and snow shops to carry their boards.

As for the future of Presque Isle Longboards, Young said that “the sky is the limit.”

“Our company has grown fast with a lot of positive support from the community and from friends who have offered a helping hand,” Young said. “Longboarding is a fast growing sport and we need to keep up.”

Presque Isle Longboards can be purchased at the aforementioned locations or by visiting their Web site at www.presquelongboards.com.