Iris Skateboards Story
Tucked away in the western fringes of San Francisco, where the city meets the sea, you’ll find the headquarters of Iris Skateboards. No sign. No phone number. No twitter handle. Just George Rocha hunched over a bandsaw in his garage, blasting garage rock, upcycling stacks of battered and forgotten skateboard decks into rideable works of art. “Sure you could hang these on your wall and be stoked,” says George. “But they ride as good as they look.”
He should know, he’s tested his creations on the streets of his Outer Sunset neighborhood, and even in the right-handed kidney shaped concrete bowl he and a bunch of friends built in his backyard.
George had seen the work of Japanese artist and skater Haroshi—wildly detailed figurative sculptures crafted entirely from old skateboard decks. Like most skaters, George had stacks of old boards collecting dust. On a whim he glued up a stack of old tails as his first canvas and fired up just about every power tool he had: sawzall, table saw, circular saw. Finally he found his grinder worked the best for task. Before he knew it, he had a pretty decent piece—a three dimensional heart for this girlfriend. It was close to Valentine’s Day. Cut the guy some slack.
Next he set out to make a fully functioning sculpture of a skateboard, made entirely of cast-off skateboard decks. He spent days working on the first truck alone. “This thing was really going to work,” says George. It soon occurred to him that he would have to tackle crafting the deck. So he glued up a pile of busted boards, sliced them up, and the result was a handful of colorful, planed, raw planks. That was the birth of Iris Skateboards.
George only uses unrideable boards. “The whole point is to take something that would have gone into a landfill and make it into something functional,” he says. “What better destiny for a broken skateboard than to continue being a skateboard.” He broke a lot of boards figuring out how to build a structurally sound, durable deck without compromising the aesthetics that first drew him in. Borrowing some techniques from surf board building, he arrived at the prototype Iris board. In a nod to his roots, he named it the Ripride, (Rhode Island Pride).
There’s a gentle nostalgia to the first generation of Iris boards and that’s no accident. The spare simplicity of Iris reflects the pure affection that filled George from that first moment he jumped on a board. “Because it’s still fun to just ride a board down the street,” he says. “Just to cruise really fast and carve.”
In 1980 a five-year-old George Rocha bombed the hill behind his grandparents’ house in Pawtucket Rhode Island on a green plastic 70s-era cruiser salvaged from a yard sale. “All you could do was stand on it and go,” says George. “The perfect board to learn on.”
Speed. Weightlessness. Freedom. Something clicked into place. He quickly graduated to a Veriflex Chaos, and soon after a hand-me-down Schmitt Stix Ripsaw—his first pro board. He tagged along with a pack of older kids, mastering his boneless, and skating around from parking lots to schoolyards. Back then, there were only a handful of tricks.
Come junior high George plopped down his savings on a Vision Gator and then a Santa Cruz Rob Roskopp and then a SMA Natas. He remembers every board he ever rode. He loved all of them. Well, maybe not that Vision Gator. Something about that one wasn’t quite right.
One day after flipping through a Thrasher magazine, George began tinkering in his driveway, trying to replicate the terrain seen in those pages. Soon he had an array of launch ramps, boxes, and quarter pipes. There wasn’t many other skateboarders around, but word got out, and soon kids from the next town over came to skate the Rocha driveway.
Soon he was volunteering to help anywhere a backyard ramp, contest or skatepark was being built, and from there he built a career of nearly two decades crafting wood and concrete parks all over the country. “Too many to count,” he says. Among the gifts he has offered the skating world: Thrasher’s Double Rock, the annual FTC pop-up in-store competition park, and a string of concrete gems during a dozen-year run with Breaking Ground Skateparks.
George is a skater’s skater. He has built his life around his passion for the sport and he knows he’s fortunate to be able to fully pursue that elemental bliss he first felt as a 5 year old. “Ever since I fell in love with skateboarding, it’s been on my mind,” says Rocha. “It still is today. I’m still that kid.”