Art of Board founder Rich Moorhead takes his art from the skateboard to the boardroom
When most people see a broken skateboard deck, they just see trash.
But put a broken deck in front of Rich Moorhead, and he sees art. It’s a special gift artists have – the ability to see transformation, rearrange reality and tell us the stories of the things we often overlook.
For example, take the inlaid tile tabletop Rich and I sat at during a Friday afternoon in April. A few months ago, these tiles were part of a skateboard deck that was bombing down a hill or kick-flipping over a curb.
Now, they are arranged in a colorful fashion (what Moorhead calls “balanced random”) to make a tabletop at Miscreation Brewing Co. in Moorhead’s hometown of Hanover. (On one of the tiles, Moorhead has carved the names of his children – Genny, Lily and Scott.)
Or, take Moorhead himself, once a corporate salesman looking to find an outlet for his interest in skateboarding and now the founder of Art of Board – an international art and lifestyle brand.
Those kinds of changes don’t happen with a simple snap of the fingers. They take years of work, planning, innovation, inspiration and a little bit of serendipity.
Moorhead and I sat in the corner of the upper level of Miscreation, overlooking his 48-square-foot mosaic installation made of tile from recycled skateboards that greets customers with splashes of color as they enter. He tells me how a simple basement tile-making operation became an international brand.
Setting the wheels in motion
Moorhead grew up in Pittsburgh, one of five children whose father was a branch manager for Pella windows and doors. He played traditional team sports like baseball and football as a teen, but he found peace of mind cruising the streets alone on his skateboard.
Skateboarding became an outlet for his creative expression. It’s a strong sense of competition that came from playing sports – along with his creative independence and a DIY mentality – that put Moorhead in the position to create a uniquely innovative product.
But, without Moorhead’s parents, Art of Board probably wouldn’t exist. For Moorhead, giving broken skateboards a new life as functional art wasn’t about following a “green” trend.
“I just grew up not being allowed to waste,” he says. “My parents came from a generation where you didn’t waste things. I just followed in their footsteps of like, ‘Why are you going to throw this away? I can make something out of this.’”
“My parents came from a generation where you didn’t waste things. I just followed in their footsteps of like, ‘Why are you going to throw this away? I can make something out of this.’”
After years in corporate sales, Moorhead felt the urge to pursue a side venture. Seeing a need for a local skate shop, Moorhead set about researching the skateboarding industry and surveying regional shops to determine what made a successful shop.
For a number of reasons, Moorhead’s plan to open a local skate shop didn’t come to fruition. But he had an “aha” moment when he saw a pile of broken skateboard decks at his nephew’s house.
When Moorhead inquired about the decks, his nephew replied that he was planning on trashing them. Recalling the vast amount of broken decks bound for landfills that accumulated at the shops he’d visited he saw an opportunity to solve the industry’s epidemic of unused broken decks.
On the grind
Moorhead began tinkering away in his basement, coming up with functional pieces like tables and picture frames, all made from repurposed decks and other recycled materials. He took a few of his designs to some of the skate shops he’d visited and showed the owners what he’d come up with. They all told him the same thing: “Rich, I like the direction you’re going. You can have all of our decks.”
His first concept that really took off was a collection of mirrors with frames made from tiles of broken decks. Moorhead set up a booth with his mirrors at the Hanover Dutch Festival – a local craft event. He sold out of everything.
Nightly, Moorhead worked away in his basement, shutting off the saw promptly at 8:30 p.m. when his children made their way to bed. One night, he brought up a collection of tiles and arranged them in front of his wife. She was impressed, and Moorhead knew he was on to something. After years on a skateboard, Moorhead came up with a new trick – you could call it the “180 broken-deck tile switch.”
Getting on board
A stroke of good luck occurred when a Pittsburgh-based newspaper ran a small story on Moorhead and his mirrors. A woman read the story and passed it along to her daughter, who thought a mirror would make a perfect anniversary gift for her husband, Bruce – an avid skater.
Since Moorhead was planning a trip to visit his parents in Pittsburgh, he was more than happy to hand-deliver the mirror. “I was stunned,” says Bruce Boul. “It was one of the most authentic art pieces I’d ever seen.”
For Boul – a copywriter – the piece spoke to him. “The used board tile’s scratches and scrapes told me a story,” he says. “It was alive, vibrant and made a very bold statement. I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of this business.”
Intrigued, Boul offered to aid Moorhead’s efforts with his PR and copywriting skills free of charge. And Moorhead, who knows the importance of building a team of dedicated, passionate people, told him to hop on board. Boul, who harbored a lifelong dream of moving to California, set out for the West Coast, bringing Art of Board with him.
Putting the pieces together
Moorhead and Boul put together a program called I Ride I Recycle – an initiative that not only generates the raw material they need, but raises money for skateboarding charities like the Tony Hawk Foundation (to which they’ve contributed about $30,000) and Grind For Life.
I Ride I Recycle caused a groundswell of interest among the skateboarding community and soon Element – an influential skateboarding brand – and the International Association of Skateboard Companies (IASC) came on board and championed the movement even further. Soon, boxes were in place where skaters could deposit their broken decks in shops across the country.
With Boul at the helm of Art of Board’s West Coast operations, a small but dedicated team began to fall into place, fitting together like the colorful tiles in one of Moorhead’s mosaics. At an event for Quiksilver, Mimi Knoop – a pro skateboarder and five-time X Games champion (and, as it turns out, a graphic designer) saw the very same table that Moorhead and I shared at Miscreation and asked how she could be a part of the team. Knoop gave Art of Board a presence and street cred with female skaters – the industry’s fastest growing demographic.
Moorhead is quick to credit the efforts of his group. “Quite honestly, none of this would’ve happened without the efforts of my team on the West Coast,” he says. “You can’t do it alone.”
From what started as a small project in Moorhead’s basement, Art of Board has grown to become an international brand that bridges the gap from skateboard culture to interior design. With upcoming installations at Los Angeles International Airport and Virgin Airlines; a budding client roster including Element, Google, California Pizza Kitchen, Macy’s and Monster Energy; a new ceramic tile line; and a line of apparel and sunglasses; Art of Board is poised to take its business into the stratosphere.
But, for a guy who started a hip, innovative, international brand, Moorhead remains a humble, down-to-earth sort of guy. He still works in his shop, with walls lined with shelves stacked full of broken boards. He lays out tiles for new projects and listens to music (Depeche Mode and The Smiths are among his favorites). “When I put on Sigur Ros, I know I have an hour left,” he says.
After a couple beers at Miscreation, Moorhead takes me over to his shop just a few blocks away.
“It’s not in the exact condition I’d like for you to see it,” he says. Even in the middle of important deadlines for projects for Element and California Pizza Kitchen, Moorhead is taking time to build a prop for his daughter’s school production of Sunset Boulevard. It’s an old-style film projector made (of course) from all recycled materials. The projector’s handle is made from an old skateboard wheel. “You know I had to give a nod to skateboarding,” Moorhead says.
By the numbers: Moorhead’s Miscreation mosaic
• 48 – square feet
• 1,000 – skate tiles used
• 80 – brands represented
• 45 – decks could be made from the total amount of board material
• 3 – people worked on the installation
• 28 – man hours to complete the installation
• 0 – dollars charged to Miscreation Brewing Co. Moorhead so loves the idea of revitalizing downtown Hanover that he was eager to install the piece to Miscreation free of charge.