Olive Skateboards: Twenty Years on Deck

By Michelle Ferguson September 11, 2017

Off Highway 16 near Spruce Grove, under blue prairie skies and amid grain silos and corn fields, Randy Jespersen has built a state of the art manufacturing plant, capable of churning out a hundred skateboards in a little less than 24 hours.

Concrete conceals the once-slatted floors, but from the outside, the headquarters of Olive Skateboards blends in with its surroundings. In a former life, the squat, greying building housed calves from the family dairy. Today, with cow pens still located on either side, the shop is barely distinguished by the initials carved into its door.

"I grew up feeding cows and calves in this building," says Jespersen, founder and owner of Olive Skateboards, which has been selling skateboards and snowboards across North America since 1993. "I hated every minute of it."

Summer is a busy time for Olive. The two-man team, Jespersen and fellow Spruce Grove native Geoff Kramer, will be shipping snowboards to retailers within the month and are balancing a large custom deck order with prototyping for next year's line of snow products.

Jespersen started skateboarding in the late '70s. A product of surf-culture, the action sport was just coming into its own, growing in popularity with the invention of the ollie — a trick in which rider and board leap into the air without the use of the rider's hands — and the advent of the Z-boys skateboarding competition team in California. But it's another action sport to which Olive owes its origin story.

With winter shutting down Edmonton's skate scene for half of the year, Jespersen also began snowboarding. He excelled at the young sport and was picked up to ride professionally, until a knee injury ended his career.

“I didn’t really want to stop competing, but after having reconstruction on my knees, the longevity of your career is questionable. It worked out,” he says nonchalantly.

While riding, his sponsors would ask him and other team members for input on their products. Rather than give his ideas away, Jespersen and a friend decided to run with them and start their own snowboard company.

“My love is for taking the equipment and making it do something that it probably wasn’t built to do.”

Ryan Jespersen

There was a disconnect between riders and the industry at the time. While riders wanted to mimic skateboarding, snowboard manufacturers, set in their tooling, continued to produce surf-inspired directional boards. The asymmetrical shape of these early snowboards made riding switch — in the opposite stance than usual — off jumps or rails virtually impossible.

"We were taking existing boards and re-shaping them," says Jespersen of his pro days.

The first boards Olive designed were the flexible, twin-tipped and symmetrical products that now dominate the market.

"It wasn’t long that everything switched over to that,” says Jespersen.

From 1993 to 1998, Olive operated solely as a snowboard manufacturing company. Burnt out after a few large runs, Jespersen switched his focus to skateboards. Though both products undergo a similar manufacturing process, skateboards are simpler to build — even more so now that Jespersen has managed to automate most of the process.

Over the past decade, the self-taught machinist has rigged up a system capable of turning a laminated stack of Canadian maple veneers into a skateboard deck within 12 to 15 minutes.

“My love is for taking the equipment and making it do something that it probably wasn’t built to do,” says Jespersen, who grew up watching his father and grandfather fix things around the farm.

Now, Olive produces thousands of quality skate and snowboards per year and has expanded to also create snowskates. Olive products are available through many retail shops in Edmonton, and online. But this weekend, you can also join Olive at their Slack Market in Michael Phair Park (10124 104 Street).

A celebration of skate-art, the event runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday Sept. 9, as part of activities leading up to this year's FISE World Edmonton competition happening Sept. 15-17 in Hawrelak Park.

Meet local artists Hamburger hands, Kid Pixel and Keil Hunka, sharpie your own blank deck or enter the graphic contest for the chance to win your own drawing on a custom one-off skateboard. Entertainment will include DJ Joses Martin, a live street art demonstration by Jordan Ernst (Graffiti Salad), who will also provide street art lessons to children in the afternoon, a colouring contest for children 12 and under, and demonstrations by FISE Flatland BMX riders.

Saturday is also the last chance to snag a decal from the FISE World Edmonton street team. The social media contest ends Sunday night.

For more information on how you can compete at FISE World Edmonton, or find out more about attending the free event, click here. To read about three young girls who are entering the skateboarding competition at FISE for a second year in a row, click here.

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