Long Beach skateboard company helps plant forests in Africa

The Rad Black Kids creates minimalist skateboards, donates portion of proceeds to nonprofits


Courtesy of The Rad Black Kids

The underside of a skateboard by The Rad Black Kids.

Skateboarding isn’t often associated with professionalism and environmentalism, but one Long Beach business is looking to change that.

The Rad Black Kids is designing sleek, aesthetically appealing skateboards that are appropriate everywhere, and planting a tree for each one sold.

Founder Thulani Ngazimbi discovered his affinity for snowboarding, and later skateboarding after moving from Zimbabwe to a small town in Idaho.

“I got into snowboarding pretty fast and it was kind of a godsend in a way because there’s nothing to do in Idaho over the winter,” Ngazimbi said. “And so it kind of repelled seasonal affective disorder, and then summer came around and the buddies I had when I was snowboarding would longboard during the summer because Idaho is very hilly. So I got into longboarding that way.”

Ngazimbi had been making technical architecture drawings since he was 14 years old, and had the necessary transferable skills to design his own longboard when he could not afford one as a college student double majoring in architecture and marketing, a suggestion made by his girlfriend at the time.

“When I started longboarding I just couldn’t afford a longboard,” Ngazimbi told the Signal Tribune. “The girl I was with at the time said to me, ‘Hey, why don’t you just build one?’ And so I just thought about it for a second and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know how to use a compass, I know how to use a ruler.’ And so she actually got one from her house in California, brought it back to Idaho, and all I did to my first board is I just took that board apart, and I just reworked the deck because it was eaten out on every side. It was from like 1996 and this is about 2008. And I just rebuilt that board, and I found these trucks that were good trucks. I was researching trucks at the time. And then from there I just started riding that board, and that board rode super smoothly. So people would ask me, ‘Where’d you get that board? It looks really different.’ Because I did something pretty unique to the tail and the tips. And then I just told them that I reworked it. The first few customers I got were actually people just asking me to build them a board and they’ll pay me for it.”

After moving to New York to continue his education, Ngazimbi took a break from building longboards for about five years, but during that time learned about ethically responsible brands he would emulate when starting his own business.

The Rad Black Kids currently gives a portion of the proceeds from each skateboard and article of clothing sold to the nonprofit Trees for the Future, which works with local communities to plant trees in Africa.

“Toms was really influential,” Ngazimbi said of the shoe brand known for its humanitarian work. “I graduated as valedictorian of my class when I finished my masters in New York, and at that time was running the community service center on campus. So, when I gave that speech, I spoke a lot about Toms because at the time, the idea of the marketplace’s mission of creating an auxiliary function of the money that people spend on a product, and giving some of it away, was important enough that when I saw that I thought to myself, ‘You know I could create something that could do that.’ It started off with a sustainable angle because my master’s is actually in Energy and Environmental Management. I decided for every board that I would sell, I would donate proceeds for a tree to be planted in Africa.”

It was also during Ngazimbi’s time in New York that he realized school administrators viewed skateboards as unprofessional.

“My assistantship was running the community service center, but I used to skate around on campus. And skateboards usually have some graphic on the bottom. Skate culture is not necessarily New York, let alone Long Island culture. So the dean would always walk into my office and be like, ‘what’s on the bottom of your board today?’ Kind of passive aggressively letting me know that the graphic wasn’t really something that was acceptable within that environment.”

This was the foundation behind Ngazimbi wanting to design minimalistic longboards that wouldn’t seem out of place in professional spaces.

“I wanted to create a board that a professional person can ride around with, and not be ashamed to accessorize with it.”

After moving to California, Ngazimbi established The Rad Black Kids with it’s goal of promoting sustainability and professionalism.

But after Zimbabwe was hit by a typhoon, Ngazimbi decided to start expanding the list of nonprofits that The Rad Black Kids would support.

“It wiped out all the roads, which made it hard for doctors to get to people. There was a cholera outbreak, so more people died from cholera than people died from the typhoon,” Ngazimbi told the Signal Tribune. “That was the first program where I decided to step outside of just tree planting to have proceeds of the products going directly to Doctors Without Borders, going to this, going to that.”

Recently, The Rad Black Kids donated half the proceeds made for three days to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, which is currently battling the devastating fires happening in Australia.

The brand models its skateboards after the simple yet attractive designs of women’s purses, providing all black and wood finished boards that have only a small brand name on bottom rather than a large colorful graphic design.

“Androgyny has always been a big part of my life. I don’t necessarily think that clothes are good things to identify someone’s gender with. So I thought to myself, ‘What if we create a board where someone can feel like it’s as luxurious as a woman’s purse,’ because when you look at a lot of women’s purses, there’s a minimalism that goes into a woman’s purse that’s really aesthetically pleasing.”

Skateboards released by the Rad Black Kids include the Chieftain, which comes in a weather protected matte black, 32 inch by 8 inch deck, with the brand name located near the back wheel in small gold lettering, among many others.

via theradblackkids.com
The Chieftain Skateboard from The Rad Black Kids official website

Ngazimbi told the Signal Tribune that in order to increase the sustainability and creative freedom of the brand, The Rad Black Kids will start rolling out new merchandise in limited release drops, rather than having products be made to order, with the first one scheduled for early February.

“It really pains me to see people making product for the sake of making product,” Ngazimbi told the Signal Tribune. “I saw a lot of this last year at trade shows. Someone would have a company — people I looked up to in the industry– doing really cool stuff, but the emphasis wasn’t on the stuff, the emphasis was on the sales. Some of them would give me their products and I couldn’t wear them, because it just wasn’t well constructed stuff. I got to a point where I was like, ‘I could be adding to this noise.’ So this fundamental guilt turned into a situation where I said ‘Why don’t I price myself a little higher and feel the freedom to make the things that I actually just want to wear?’ That’s where the limited drops came from.”

Visit The Rad Black Kids official website here.