Teacher Profile: Beau Trifiro, Open Source Skateboards

 Beau Trifiro styling on his open source skateboard

Beau Trifiro styling on his open source skateboard

Beau Trifiro is the brains and operations behind Open Source Skateboards in San Diego. Using his passion for skateboarding and engineering, Beau has created a unique program with focus on STEAM education. Beau is doing everything right and I was extremely excited to sit down and have a talk with him.

Beau Trifiro is the brains and operations behind Open Source Skateboards in San Diego. Using his passion for skateboarding and engineering, Beau has created a unique program with focus on STEAM education. Beau is doing everything right and I was extremely excited to sit down and have a talk with him.

 Open source student Danny cutting out a custom board to his liking.  

Open source student Danny cutting out a custom board to his liking.  

Hey Beau, how's it going? Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Hey Jonathan, things seem to be going well! I hope the same for you. A little about myself… I grew up on Long Island in New York and started skating about 16 years ago. I graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2012. After working full time in engineering for a couple years, I moved to San Diego and created a project called Open Source Skateboards, which is currently my main focus.

Open Source Skateboards seems pretty rad. How did you get this program started?

Thanks! I’ll do my best to keep this story brief. I started building boards when I moved to San Diego in the summer of 2014, mainly to solve my own problem – as a skater, I just wanted a truly symmetrical skateboard that was made from responsibly sourced materials, branded in a way I could connect with. I found that many brands lacked the information defining the shape of their boards; I decided that my brand would share all the shape info, so that we, as skaters, could better track the relationship between design and performance (hence the name, “open source”). 

Seeing how easy it was to make boards with the Roarockit kits, I figured I’d try to do some board building workshops at local makerspaces in the spring of 2015. No one signed up for the first three workshops I tried to hold, haha. In the fall, I pitched a STEAM-infused board building program to a couple of organizations, and I was given the opportunity to run them!  And, that’s roughly how this all started.

 Open Source using the Thin Air Press in the classroom 

Open Source using the Thin Air Press in the classroom 

Getting started is the hardest part. How did you find out about Roarockit and how do you implement our Thin Air Press into your classroom? 

I found out about Roarockit while researching board building on the Silverfish Longboarding forums. That site taught me tons about building, and the reviews about Roarockit and their direct involvement in the board building community stood out. After a failed attempt at making my own hydraulic press and mold and seeing how easy it seemed to prototype shapes with Roarockit technology, I decided to give their method a shot – and the results were amazing.

In my programs, students use the Thin Air Press to make their own custom skateboards. The pressing is part of a curriculum that combines hands-on learning with applied technical theory. Students don’t just build their own boards – they also learn CAD (Computer Aided Design) and apply math like trigonometry and algebra. Without Roarockit’s technology, it would be a lot more difficult to make such a personalized and professional quality board.

OpenSource(skateboards); overview of the process of pressing a skateboard using the Roarockit method and Thin Air Press.

STEM and STEAM programs are a pretty new thing down in the USA. Can you tell me about them?  How do others get involved with STEM and STEAM programs?

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) and STEAM (same acronym, with A for Art) programs are popular right now. They’re meant to encourage students to pursue careers in those areas, since there is a need for more workers in those fields. Only 17% of high school seniors are both interested in STEM and proficient in math. I prefer to add the “A” in STEM, because the art is the part (to me) that makes the technical stuff personal, exciting, and interesting.

Others can get involved with STEM/STEAM programs in a variety of ways. Students (and parents) can propose packaged programs like the Open Source Skateboards program to their school’s administration as after school programs, summer camps, or even electives. Teachers can find a variety of programs online or through local makerspaces, and even create their own if they have the resources. And anyone else can participate in great hands-on programs at their local makerspaces or find projects by browsing their interests online, at sites like instructables.com. (A makerspace is a shared community workspace that has a variety of tools available for their members to use.)

What's your favorite success story working with the kids? Are they stoked on making boards?

Oh, that’s a tough question. I’m lucky to have had such great students. And, yes, they totally get stoked. I taught a couple of middle school summer programs at a school with a laser cutter, and the students engraved their own designs. They were so sick! I couldn’t believe how good they were coming out, and the kids were truly excited. In another summer program I ran, the students were allowed to ride their boards onsite the last day – this one was with high school students, and there were definitely lots of smiles and laughter going around. 

A local news channel even did a short story about that program: Every program has its own fun success stories.

You seem like a huge fan of math and science. What basic principles and lessons do children walk away with from building skateboards?  

The main idea I try to get across to the students is that math and science are tools, just like the saws, TAP bags, and sandpaper. Imagine taking a class on drilling where you just drill into things all class. You’d learn about different bits, materials, drills – but, at the end of the day, you just have a bunch of stuff with holes in it. I think there’s a reason a class like that doesn’t exist (at least that I’m aware of). Yet, that’s sort of how lots of math and science classes are taught – you do lots of practice problems and talk about theory, but rarely see use it to create something meaningful. In my programs, we don’t do math and science just for “practice” – we actually use it to create our boards.

That might look like using the quadratic equation and trigonometry in the mold making process, or working in a coordinate system to map out the geometry of a skateboard in CAD. The details of what principles we apply depends on the age of the class. Not all students will enjoy the real technical stuff, but I do hope they all get at least a little bit more curious about something.

I noticed you made a skateboard with layers of denim. What inspired you to do this crazy experiment? Any other crazy ideas in the works?

Haha, yes, I made two of them. In the first board, the denim actually served a purpose – it served as a backing for strips of maple veneer scraps that couldn’t be glued up alone. The second board was full size and was more done for show. As for the inspiration, honestly, I had a bunch of jeans in my closet I had to get rid of because they were torn beyond repair, and I’m constantly looking for more sustainable skateboard materials, so I figured, why not give it a shot? The denim boards are still in R&D, but I plan on making them available/for sale soon. And yes, there are definitely more ideas in the works…

 

Not only are you an educator but you're also a kick ass freestyle skater. When do you have time to practice? What's your favorite trick?

Ha, thank you. My current schedule is flexible, so I try to make time to skate in the mornings and weekends. Usually I’m able to skate about 3 days a week for 1-2 hours per session. And a reason I got into freestyle is simply because I could maximize my skating time – I don’t need to drive to a skatepark or a hill. It’s very minimalist, which I like.

My favorite trick has to be ¾ kickflip to primoride. Skating to me has always been about pushing the limits of what I’m capable of. When I first saw Rodney Mullen do a primo slide trick many years ago, my mind was blown away by both the incredible precision and wild creativity of the trick. I’m not a natural athlete and skating is no exception; I have to work hard to make progress. To me, that trick is the epitome of what skating is about – imagination and determination.

Thanks for your time. Any last words for the viewers back home?

Go create something. It doesn’t have to be a skateboard. It doesn’t have to succeed or even make sense.  Just have fun (and be safe, of course).

Thanks so much for this opportunity and thank you for being part of such a rad organization.