Longboard startup races for funding

Mike Maloney shows off one of his company's longboards. Photos by George Demopoulos.

Mike Maloney shows off one of his company’s longboards. Photos by George Demopoulos.

Call it a dogfight against time.

RiNo longboard manufacturer Knights of the Air (KOTA) has less than three weeks left to hit its target of $56,000 on Kickstarter. If KOTA doesn’t land the full amount, it won’t get any of the pledged funds, according to Kickstarter’s rules.

Former Navy fighter pilot Mike Maloney, who started the company in 2012, said the funds will buy new equipment that will bring his boards a cleaner look and a smoother ride.

“We can get to cash-flow positive once we get that machine. That’s why funding this Kickstarter campaign is so critical,” Maloney said. “There’s three weeks left – there’s time, but it’s going to be a fight for every contribution.”

Since launching on June 1, KOTA’s Kickstarter has raised just over $6,000.

Heather Cleveland works on a board.

Heather Cleveland works on a board.

The new equipment is a milling machine to attach KOTA boards’ trucks – the part that connects the deck to the wheels – to the bottom of the deck. Maloney makes his boards out of maple grown in Wisconsin.

Traditionally, trucks are attached to decks by screws through the top, but Maloney is designing what he said is a revolutionary new truck design, which will also eliminate cracking around the screws.

“It’s a noticeably more stable ride than any of the other decks we have,” he said. “If we can buy our machine and make this our stock board, next year we can move on and develop this truck system.”

The piece of equipment itself costs $6,000, but the machine will need to be customized – hence the extra $50,000.

The investment is worth it, Maloney said. It can take half an hour to shape and sand a board manually, a process the machine will reduce to 90 seconds.

Maloney said KOTA’s style, performance and customer base sets it apart from other longboard companies. The boards are covered in a clear grip finish rather than traditional grip tape. That keeps the board’s topsheet art visible.

And Maloney said his product is designed to carve like a snowboard.

KOTA designed a board for the Alpine Skiing World Championships in Vail (middle) signed by pro skier Lindsey Vonn.

KOTA designed a board for the Alpine Skiing World Championships in Vail (middle) signed by pro skier Lindsey Vonn.

“Our demographic is over 30. We’re not selling to a market that wants to bomb Lookout Mountain,” he said. “We build these for carving – lane surfing. We are selling to people who want to have an athletic, safe, outdoor experience.”

To help raise brand awareness among his target demographic, Maloney has expanded KOTA’s product line to include clothing. Introduced with the Kickstarter campaign, the clothing line includes items enticing both to outdoorsy-types, like fleece and jackets, and to the casual city-slicker – satchel bags and shorts.

“The way I look at it is, what dollars am I competing for?” Maloney said. “Those are dollars that would usually be spent on a pair of tele skis or a mountain bike or a GoPro.”

Maloney founded KOTA in his garage in 2012. He moved the company into its 3,000-square-foot facility in RiNo in 2013. He has eight employees.

Before designing longboards, Maloney worked for 12 years as an F-14 pilot and intelligence officer before becoming a commercial pilot for United Airlines. It was his time as an aviator that that inspired KOTA’s name and branding.

“The name Knights of the Air stands for and remembers the chivalric code from medieval times – honor, courage, integrity, esprit de corps and trust,” he said. “That was also the defining culture of fighter aviation starting in World War I.”

Read More:

Building a better longboard, Men’s Journal
Grant-winning longboard company riding sports lifestyle wave, Denver Post

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