Making Waves

Three friends’ quest to end ocean pollution
By Samantha Fischer

Along the northern shores of Chile, in a fishing community called Coquimbo, a recycling initiative led by three Amer­icans has changed the game of cleaning up our oceans’ plastic pollutants.

The trio started Chile’s first fishing net collection and recycling program, Net Positiva, in an effort to end plastic pollution. By giving fishermen the option to easily dispose of their discarded plastic fishing nets, the entrepreneurial gang was able to source raw materials for their new startup company, Bureo Skateboards. In the coming months, plans have been made to expand Net Positiva south to a larger location in Concepción, and another coastal fishing community near Santiago.

“The accumulation of material has just been growing, and the response [to our effort] has been really positive,” said co-founder of Bureo Skateboards Ben Kneppers. “The deeper thing is that we’re starting to see the fishing syndi­cates get behind this, and they’re starting to see how good it is to have this material managed in a more sound way.”

In the Native Chilean language Mapuche, the term bureo means “the waves.” Kneppers, along with fellow co-founders David Stover and Kevin Ahearn, hope to make a considerable amount of waves when it comes to seeing a change in our oceans’ problem with plastic pollution.

“From the beginning, we wanted to be a self-sustaining operation,” Ben said. “[We wanted] something where we could not only stand on our two feet, but something scalable so we could allow it to grow and we could hopefully, in our minds, grow this effort to eliminate waste once and for all, while also supporting the communities that we were working with.”

With backgrounds in mechanical engineering and various levels of busi­ness training, consulting, and design, the team came together through their love and passion for the ocean environ­ment, as well as action sports like skate­boarding and surfing. After seeing the effects of plastic pollution firsthand, the guys decided it was time to do something about it.

“I was traveling a lot and doing a lot of research on the situation when it came to the environment in Chile and Latin America,” Ben said. “When I would go surfing on the weekends, I was seeing that they weren’t alone from this global problem of plastic pollution. It was something David, Kevin, and myself have always been really passionate about.”

Ben relocated from the United States to Santiago, Chile after accepting a job offer in 2012 for sustainability consulting, but after raising concerns about this global problem, the guys quit their day jobs and David and Kevin set out to join Ben in Chile to get proactive about ocean cleanup.

“David being my former roommate in Sydney, Australia and Kevin passing through Sydney on his surf tour, we all connected there and recognized that we were passionate about doing something a bit more than just our consulting jobs,” Ben said.

Each skateboard Bureo makes, a model called “The Minnow,” uses 30 square feet of fishing net. Because plastic pollution makes up roughly 10 percent of global pollution in our oceans, this project makes for a highly sustainable and valuable product not only to skate­board consumers, but also to everyone on earth.

“When we looked into it, the first thing we thought was ‘Why don’t we create a better infrastructure than what already exists to manage waste in coastal communities in Chile?’” Ben said. “I was on the ground here looking at the problem, and seeing how limited the infrastructure was. Of course there was little to no recycling. The thing that was great was that I could relay the idea to David where he could really run with it and see the actual feasibility of making a business out of this.”

Through a Kickstarter campaign, the team has raised enough funds to get the first large scale production of skate­boards going in Chile, with further plans to have the boards completely assem­bled in the United States and shipped to buyers by August. Look for Kneppers, Stover, and Ahearn this summer as they lead a grassroots initiative in California. They plan to take part in beach cleanups and connect with local organizations to spread awareness of ocean pollution.

“A lot of the people we worked with didn’t know there was a problem; they didn’t even understand the concept of recycling, and now we’re getting there,” Ben said. “There was no value or respect for this material, but by transforming it into a thing of value, now people have a positive product they can connect with in a really fun way.”

Find out how to support Bureo and get your own “Minnow” by visiting bureoskateboards.com.