American Made Profile | August 2, 2015
In the early stages of my interview with Tracy Davison-Hadsall, lead production builder for KOTA Longboards, the conversation takes a curious turn. “So,’ I query, ‘I guess that you had some prior experience which qualified you to take on the position.” She laughs quietly before answering. “Well actually, no. I think Michael just had a feeling about me. After I came in to help him out for a while, he ended up asking me.
The man she is referring to, founder and owner Michael Maloney, has been using that kind of keen instinct for much of his life, and it appears to have served him well. First he was active in the Navy as an F-14 fighter pilot. Then as a commercial pilot and instructor for United. A few high-profile corporate positions helped to round out his career experiences. Armed with the benefit of all these opportunities, Michael has now set his sights on pursuing his own enterprise. The real question is, why something as unconventional as a skateboard company?
When talking with Michael, you get the impression that he’s a man that thinks things through. With degrees in engineering and finance, his mind just tends to function like that. “I remember being in a local skate shop,’ Michael explains. ‘I came across a handmade wooden longboard, and really appreciated the concept. Here in Colorado, the environment is pretty conducive to outdoor activities, and longboarding was gaining more momentum all the time. I had done some research, and found out what a growth industry the action sport field had become. I was thinking of starting a business in that direction. It wasn’t too long after that, when I was talking with a friend. He mentioned that he’d made some longboard skateboards for his kids. That’s when it hit me. It was a really odd moment. I suddenly saw the name of the company, the mark, the style of the boards, the future of the company all laid out like a road going off into the distance.”
The vision was brief, but continued to remain in his mind. Michael decided to work on framing the dimensions of the idea. He studied all of the existing board manufacturers, the materials they used, their building process and designs. With no practical experience in constructing boards, Michael set up a shop in his garage, and began learning the techniques for building his own boards.
One of the objectives of Michael’s plan was to design boards that clearly stood out from the rest. The elements of distinction he envisioned stemmed from his strong sense of pride and allegiance to his country, and the military under which he had served. He began by christening his new company with a name that paid homage to the courage and daring exhibited during a significant period in aviation history. KOTA is an acronym for “Knights of the Air,” a title given to the first pilots to fly rudimentary aircraft into battle during WWI. Michael adopted the title to represent the spirit of his boards.
Michael has always maintained a consistent regard for his fellow brothers in arms. Through his contacts in the military, he knew that there was an enormous demand for recreational therapy. The state of returning servicemen morale was a growing concern. He was surprised to learn that skateboarding was actually one of the highest recommended activities for meeting that need. Michael decided to make up some trial boards, featuring the insignias of various regiment divisions. The idea received a supportive reaction from the military community. Michael realized that his intuition had once again served him well.
He moved his operations into a combination factory and retail space in the River North Art District in Denver in February 2013. Arranged in colorful, orderly rows along the walls of the facility is a vast array of unique deck art and board designs. They serve to represent a definitive testimony to the longevity of Michael’s insightful vision. Each finished board reflects the quality results of a painstaking, skillful technique. No two are ever built with an intention to match the other. According to the steadily-growing number of people who own them, their ride is as exceptional as their appearance.
Every component, from the hand-selected Wisconsin Hard Rock Maple of the deck itself, to the wheels, trucks, bearings and risers, is American made. Michael assures me that this will always remain the standard by which his boards are constructed despite whatever difficulties that may create. “If someone tells me that it’s not feasible to consistently build a product containing all American parts, then I consider it a challenge to prove them dead wrong.”
In the short 22 month period since Michael went into operation, his business has done nothing but expand. The genuine integrity and superior performance of his longboard brand has gathered a steady momentum. Through it all, the sincerity of Michael’s mission remains uncompromised. In meeting his goal to honor the memory of the Knights of the Air, he has also succeeded in revitalizing the import of their legacy. I asked Michael how he viewed his new found success. “Nothing gives me more satisfaction than seeing the joy on a customer’s face, first when they pick their board, then again when they start riding it. Someone once asked me about entrepreneurial passion, how impressed they were with my passion for longboards. I thought that was a bit odd, as my passion at KOTA goes beyond longboards. My overwhelming passion is to add value to people’s lives.”
What else is happening at KOTA Longboards?
In response to a growing interest from women who want to learn to ride, KOTA Longboards recently formed an all-female skate team, which holds regular instruction clinics. In addition, they have introduced an exclusive line of boards designed especially for women.
There are several distinguished veterans who volunteer their time and skills in the regular production of KOTA Longboards, including a Lieutenant Commander, a Marine Captain and a Navy Seal.
Tracy Davison-Hadsall, the lead production builder, has worked previously as an OB/GYN, as well as a corporate administrator. Not exactly qualifications you’d need for building custom longboards, but Michael believes in her, and she does an amazing job!
Credits // Author: Jack Conaway Photos Provided By: Kota Longboards