The Birth of a Skateboard Class

By Topher Paterno, Topher@Pazzoverde.com 

I have been a maker all my life. I was the second youngest of nine children and by the time I got the toys or the things in the garage they usually had to be tinkered with to get things rolling. That’s where I got my start building things. Now that I am an adult, and a professional furniture maker/artist, I still prefer to make the toys I play with, which is how my skateboard building class got its start.

 Topher and his son show off their extra-large board.

Topher and his son show off their extra-large board.

I’ve been skateboarding since I was a little kid. When I moved to Venice Beach, CA, in my twenties, skateboarding wasn’t just for fun—it was also one of my main modes of transportation. Now that I’m an “adult” living in Burleith with a wife and a son, my passion for skateboarding has not diminished one single bit.

In fact, when my son (who is now five) expressed interest in learning how to skate, my professional life as a “maker” and my personal love of skateboarding collided. I was going to make an extra-large board, for both of us to ride together! I took it one step further, I was going to teach other people how to make their own skateboards. It was a great success.

When my students first come to class, I ask them to consider the main use for their boards. Are they going on long downhill runs, are they skating ramps, or are they just beginners? In any case, their board will be made using a series of thin laminates (or veneers) of wood set up in a stack, alternating the grain, then pressed into, or onto, a mold.

 Students set up their veneers into the vacuum bag press for bent laminations. Photos by topher paterno.

Students set up their veneers into the vacuum bag press for bent laminations. Photos by topher paterno.

Once they’ve settled on the purpose of the board, that’s when the fun begins. In my class, students learn the skills it takes to plan out a project. They learn proper shaping technique by shaping their own mold for the veneer press. (There is some supervised power tool use.) And then it’s time to make and apply the custom graphics to the skate deck! That’s everyone’s favorite part. One student made his an homage to his favorite football team, the Miami Dolphins. Another student made his a reference to his favorite decade: the 80s.

 students' Designs come to life with custom graphics and custom  grip tape application.

students' Designs come to life with custom graphics and custom  grip tape application.

I have found this class makes a great gift for your teen, or those in our lives who sometimes act like teens! It is a fun way to learn by doing. I love teaching this class, and students love taking it. The pride and joy I see when students ride off on their boards is of immeasurable worth.

Classes are four sessions long with each session running approximately three hours each (9 am–noon and 1–4 pm). I offer them on weekends all year round at my shop/studio at 52 O Street NW. I also teach a weekly evening class (also four sessions) for adult professionals.

And if you’re not into skateboarding, I teach other classes out of the studio that revolve around furniture making and turning "trash into treasure."

Topher Paterno teaches in the interior design department at the Corcoran School at George Washington University. He holds an MFA in furniture design from the Rhode Island School of Design and is a LEED Green Associate.