Denver — Former U.S. Navy pilot Michael Maloney wasn’t a big skateboard fan when he was a kid. Growing up in Ft. Collins, Colorado, he remembers screwing roller-skate wheels into pieces of wood because he couldn’t afford to buy a board. Today the former F-14 Tomcat pilot and graduate of the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School makes top of the line longboards.
Maloney, 52, is the CEO of KOTA Longboard and he makes high-quality handcrafted boards. KOTA stands for Knights of the Air. The longboards’ styles and names come from historic military airplanes flown by the “Knights of the Air’ during World War I. The “Knights of the Air” took to the skies with unsafe airplanes but kept their chivalry, honor, integrity and courage while pushing the limits of their aircrafts.
“When we started KOTA Longboards we thought what better thing can we do than to try to return the concepts of honor, integrity and courage and the spirit of them to being mainstream and cool,” Maloney said.
Before longboards, Maloney was a United Airlines pilot and also the CEO of a clean coal technology company. He lost his last job during the financial crisis and like many, had to reinvent himself. “Like many of us I’m in my early 50′s and had a very successful career and had a job where I thought I was closing in on retirement. I ended up unemployed in a pretty tough economy. I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
Maloney launched KOTA Longboards in May 2012. What attracted Maloney to the longboard, originally started in Hawaii by surfers, was also his love for woodwork — something he says is very relaxing. Also, as an avid skier and snowboarder, Maloney wanted to create a similar experience to snowboarding and skiing.
The look of the boards are very important for Maloney. Each board is handcrafted and designed with with he calls a “timeless vintage” look. The designs are an inspiration of surfboards and military aviation history.
“When I look back, everything that I had done in my life had prepared me to start KOTA Longboards,” he said. “We looked at the market and we thought there was great opportunity to expand the demographic of people that would adopt longboarding as a part of their action and adventure sport regiment and also the women who had been almost ignored by the skateboard community. We saw a good opportunity to become an innovator and leader in the longboard community.”
A unique feature of Maloney’s longboards are the KOTA grip finish. Typical grip tape boards can scratch and damage your shoes and can be rough on the hands. KOTA developed a clear, gloss grip finish that eliminated grip tape and providing a smooth, durable and easy to clean surface.
Maloney said hiring veterans was his plan from the moment he launched the company. Following tours in Iraq and Somalia, Maloney left active duty and served as a reserve Intelligence Analyst in the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). While at ONI, he was responsible for analysis of geopolitics, economic policies, military strategies and various threat platforms.
“All of us that served in the military come out of that experience understanding what is like to have implicit trust, faith and confidence in the men and women next to you,” said Maloney. “I said, ‘We need to build the entire culture and DNA of the company around that principle. We needed to look back in our family and hire veterans.’ … I am so grateful to them and without them I’m not sure if I could have done it.”
One of those veterans is former Army Ranger Jeremy Brummond from the 75th Regiment 1st Battalion. He was deployed twice to Iraq and once in Afghanistan after serving 3 years in the Army. Brummond is now in charge of manufacturing the longboards.
“Once I saw how involved KOTA is with veterans and active duty military, it seemed like a great opportunity,” he said. “I come with a smile and leave with a smile every day; it feels like I’m doing something for fun.”
The company’s involvement with veterans also attracted former U.S. Navy SEAL Ryan Everett.
“I told Mike I wanted to do something where I could give back to the community. Within the military community you have a lot of people that doesn’t live between boundaries of what can and can’t be done, Mike allows me to do that and he sees the value in us,” he recalled.
In addition, KOTA offers a 10% discount to active duty, veterans and retired service personnel on all purchases. KOTA also donates $10 dollars of each sell to the Underwater Demolition Teams, (UDT), SEAL Association, a non-profit veteran support group for Navy veterans.
Since all board can be personalized, Maloney enjoys the fact that each one has a story behind it.
“The greatest satisfaction for me is when you see somebody that you don’t even know riding one of our longboards down the street and they’re smiling from ear to ear and somebody stops them and ask where did you get that and they pick up their board and they say let me tell you about this board because there’s a story here, there’s a community here,” he said.
Second Tour is an ABC News digital series profiling the lives of military veterans who are doing unique things in the civilian world. For more stories, click here.
ABC News’ video editor Arthur Niemynski contributed to this report.