Side Project Skateboards (SPS) is a growing brand and a name that is starting to get some well-deserved recognition, becoming a finalist in Martha Stewart's American Made award. The man behind the brand is Jake Eshelman, a hardworking, creative entrepreneur who has a knack for quality and hand made goods. SPS features vintage-style skateboards that are hand-crafted (by Jake himself) in Houston, Texas. The boards make a nice display piece for your wall, but provide an even better experience when you stick the wheels to the pavement. Riding around town on one of these bad boys is where the real fun is at!
Last week I was able to catch up with Jake to learn more about his roots, how he began SPS and what drives him as an entrepreneur. Check out the interview below and make sure to connect with Jake on social media too! (links at bottom of the post)
Jake: My pleasure. For our purposes here, I’m the founder and sole craftsman behind Side Project Skateboards. In broader terms, I view myself as somewhat of an insatiable creative who dabbles… a lot. I’m into everything. It’s kind of ridiculous.
As for the second part of your question, I was born in raised in Virginia but it’s become very clear over the last six years that I’m a Texan. There’s no escaping it.
Kirk: You make your boards in Houston...I've never been, but I've heard it's amazing. What does a dream day look like roaming around the city?
Jake: It is amazing. I absolutely love it. When you go, keep in mind that Houston is huge. I’d concentrate mostly on the Montrose and Museum District neighborhoods myself, but each area has its own distinct character. There’s something there for everybody, no matter what you’re into. For me though, I would start out with a cappuccino at Blacksmith to ease into the day. From there, I’m always a fan of visiting the Menil Collection—specifically the Cy Twombly Gallery and the Rothko Chapel, which are both incredible cultural assets specific to Houston. If I had time to kill, I’d also head up to Reserve Supply Co. in The Heights to talk skateboards and quality denim. Odds are though, that my fiancée and I would be working in the studio for the vast majority of the day on our respective projects, and we would reward ourselves by going out to Pondicheri or Hugo’s for dinner—or Uchi. It’s all incredible.
Kirk: How did you get into making skateboards?
Jake: It was actually thanks to my future father-in-law. Out of undergrad, I started working for him as a fine carpenter (which was interesting given that I graduated with a degree in obscure literature and had absolutely no woodworking experience). Long story short, he was an incredible mentor who taught me everything I know. Anyway, one of the things we first bonded over was our love for skateboarding. He started as a kid back in the 60’s before skateboarding was even a thing. I was really interested in the stories he told me about what it was like skating back then when kids made their own boards in the garage using their dad’s power tools. There was something really beautiful about that idea for me—something very empowering that I wanted to tap into, so I decided to make my own. Suffice it to say, it worked out extremely well and I launched SPS a couple months later.
Kirk: I know these are vintage style boards, but the real question is, can you do a kickflip?
Jake: Absolutely. These boards are meant to be beautiful, but they are also incredibly solid and are built to perform. I’m always pleased to hear when someone just decides to display one of my boards, but they’re missing out on part of the overall experience because they are so fun to ride.
Kirk: Always interested in what influences someone in the way they design and do business...what or who are your biggest influences?
Jake: I find inspiration in so many different areas that it’s hard to pinpoint one that stands out. Probably the most pertinent though is what I’ve discovered or seen from other artisanal makers—specifically in quality menswear. I’m a huge fan of the work by designers like Daniel Torjman (of 18 Waits) or makers like Barrett Alley in particular. Following their respective work not only inspired me to pursue my creative interests, but also gave me a strange sort of permission to take that leap of faith and be true to myself and my vision for SPS. And on the flipside, I also find a great deal of inspiration in visual art, music, literature, etc. There’s just something about the creative impulse or the creative moment that I find extremely compelling—and contagious for that matter.
Kirk: The board designs are fresh and clean. What kind of wood do you use?
Jake: That all depends on what’s available. The vast majority of Side Project Skateboards are built from found woods that I recover myself, so those materials tend to dictate the aesthetic direction of each board. There’s an interesting sort of limitation in this process because you have a set amount of options to work with instead of having to grapple with a white canvas so to speak. But the beauty of this process is that you never really know what grain patterns or specific hues you’ll unearth when you recover a piece of wood. As for specific species, the most common species are Maple, Cherry and Walnut, but I’ve also repurposed Australian Lacewood, Afircan Kingswood, Brazilian Rosewood, Afican Ebony, and a variety of other exotics.
Kirk: What's next in the line-up for Side Project? More boards or something brand new?
Jake: There are definitely more boards in the works! This fall, I’m launching a new collection featuring some amazing new wood species. I actually have most of the spring collection made as well. I’m really excited for the spring series because rather than relying on different wood species to add color to the boards, I’ve been experimenting with custom homemade stains made from natural materials. I can’t release too many details yet but it’s something fresh, so I’m very excited to debut the series. As for other products, there are some things I’m pursuing as we speak that I’m hoping will be available in the coming months. For now, these products are at least somewhat loosely related to skateboarding, but I do have my eye on expanding the product range beyond that realm.
Kirk: Switching to style, what is one item you think every guy needs to have?
Jake: A well-fitted shirt. No doubt. I’ve been very lucky to have crossed paths with Hamilton Shirts at a relatively young age and I can’t emphasize how much of a difference it makes when you invest in your wardrobe rather than just assemble it. I’m of the opinion that style matters in that it’s your opportunity to communicate to the world who you are and what you value—and a custom fit shirt speaks volumes.
Kirk: Do you prefer suiting up or going casual?
Jake: Casual, but put together. Outside of the studio, my go to outfit is my pair of Tellason’s (or Baldwin’s depending on how hot it is) and a Hamilton shirt. That said, I love a good excuse to throw on a suit every now and then, but those opportunities are usually limited to weddings and funerals.
Kirk: Thanks again for taking time to talk with us! We will leave you with one last question. What has been your favorite aspect of running your own business, and what advice do you have for aspiring craftsman and entrepreneurs?
Jake: Again, it’s been my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
I’d have to say that my favorite part of this whole thing is going out on a limb, trying something new, and watching people respond favorably to it. It’s been really reaffirming and I think it has been an invaluable life lesson about how important it is to pursue your interests when you have the chance. Life is far too short to be unhappy or unfulfilled. As for advice, it’s so important to be passionate about your work and to believe in what you’re doing, because people will pick up on and respond to it.
Photos courtesy of Side Project Skateboards.