Photos by Asia Morris.
Justin LaRose gives used and broken skateboards a second life by transforming the damaged decks into tools (and sometimes furniture) out of a tiny garage-turned workspace behind his Long Beach apartment.
Recycling used skateboards is not a new endeavor in the world of upcycling, from phone cases to shelves to tabletops, while artists like Haroshi have made a name for themselves working with the already-processed materials to create unique and elaborate sculptures. LaRose recycles the used boards into tools to be used again, and again and again. His purpose is focused equally on the objects’ utility as it is on aesthetics and well, it’s very inherently Long Beach.
LaRose moved to this seaside city 13 years ago on a whim, seeking new streets on which to skate and discover. He grew up skateboarding in Massachusetts, starting at the young age of 10, and flew the coop once he decided he “just wanted to go wherever was next.” He landed a barista gig at Portfolio Coffeehouse, starting his Long Beach life surrounded by its skate scene and coffee connoisseurs.
Pictured here are all of the tampers I currently have available. The top is one side and below is the other side of the same tamper. So nuts they’re made from recycled skateboards that were ripping around LA. Check out the etsy shop, link in bio. #wood #woodworking #woodporn #woodturning #skateboard #madefromskateboards #recycledskateboards #upcycle #barista #coffee #coffeeshop #espresso #espressomachine #craft #handmade #etsy #previouslyskated
The stripes in his pieces come from the thin slices of wood, also called veneers, that are pressed together to make the deck of the skateboard. Oftentimes the veneers are dyed a certain color for aesthetic reasons, another inspiration for LaRose. The art and design involved in producing the boards before they’re used, while the entire process of making a board is a fascination for this particular woodworker. After he obtains the used boards, LaRose laminates the recycled pieces into a block, set to be worked down into smaller pieces.
“First it was a tree, then it was a skateboard,” he said. “And all the processes that go from tree to skateboard are nuts. It went through a mill, it went all over the world and then it got to a place, somebody made it into a board and then somebody skated it. Somebody skated the hell out of it so hard that it broke. And then I got it and from there the process begins again of it being transformed into a new thing. And I just think that’s crazy.”
The craftsman, who has worked a number of odd jobs, including refinishing antique furniture, making cabinets and constructing trade show displays for a sports company, knew a bit about the practice, but had to learn everything else on the fly. LaRose’s motivation to start JL Crafted began a few years ago when his mother passed away.
“It was a couple years ago at this point, but it got me really sad and thinking about things because she was a single mom that raised me and it was seriously—she was my spine and that’s how I had the confidence to move out here,” he said. “She would always inspire me to do things, or if I had like a hunch to do something she would be like, ‘Do it.’”
So he made a pendant for his wife and an espresso tamper next, and that was that. “You know, it wasn’t until I found this that I was able to break out of the mold of being handed blueprints by everybody else—to build things for everybody else,” said LaRose.
It only takes one used deck to make four or five of LaRose’s espresso tampers, depending on the deck’s size. That’s five baristas holding in their hand what may seem like just a uniquely-made tool, but, to the blasé beholder, contains a helluva lot more history than they could probably imagine. LaRose would like you to consider that the tampers, knife handles and cutting boards he painstakingly fashions were once “skating bowls and doing flip tricks down stairs.”
“To be able to take what was considered trash and meant for a landfill and transform it into new items is super motivating and crazy to me, and I’m psyched to be able to put this out there,” said LaRose.
When asked if he’s always been a crafty individual, he said no, but admitted that skating eventually develops in the participant a certain way of thinking, saying, “It kind of teaches you how to look at things a little bit different. A curb becomes a great time, all of a sudden. Or even just like the stretch of a parking lot can be a good time.”
LaRose works by commission and sells his pieces online through Etsy, using his business name JL Crafted. He currently works as a roaster and makes time for the woodwork whenever he can. Ideally, the local would love to open up a storefront and workshop in Long Beach, but for now it’s all about growing the business and maintaining his presence online, where he’s received nothing but support and encouragement from a quickly growing community of admirers.
“Honestly, I’ve never really known what I wanted to do,” said LaRose. “I just liked skating and I had a billion jobs that did this and that[…], I dropped out of college, all sorts of stuff. I just really got fuckin’ stoked on this once I found it. It was just a spark that ignited the Hindenberg. It just went up and I’m just trying to freakin’ ride this flamin’ freakin’ beast through the sky.”
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