By Ryan Wynne
Uriah Brown is a bit different from his Whatcom Community College classmates. He makes time between working and school to make longboards — picture surfboards, but for pavement. Brown is also 21 and a self-proclaimed business geek. Combine the two and what do you get? A longboard entrepreneur.
But his entrepreneurial spirit didn’t come from longboards. Brown started his first business at 16, inspired by a certain Sudden Valley inhabitant.
Looking around his Sudden Valley neighborhood, Brown saw un-landscaped yards filled with forest. Trees towering above houses. Trees creating shade. Trees creating a perfect environment for moss to flourish, even on houses.
He looked deep into the layers of moss, saw a business opportunity and started what soon became a successful pressure washing business. But, Brown admits the success shouldn’t be attributed to his discovery of a niche market or his work ethic alone.
“People thought it was cute. That was part of the sales pitch,” Brown said.
When he wasn’t pressure washing or in school, Brown could often be found woodworking. He started woodworking with his girlfriend Emily’s father, Ted Scherrer of Fairhaven Woodworks. At the same time, a new kind of skateboard started to gain popularity in Bellingham. His Bellingham High School classmates started longboarding.
Armed with woodworking experience, Brown teamed up with Scherrer to make a longboard for Emily. It wasn’t exactly pretty, Brown said, but what came from that experimentation is.
Brown decided to keep at it because he saw, just like he had in the moss-covered homes, a niche market. This market was for craftsman longboards that focus on the natural beauty of wood rather than screen prints that usually adorn the bottom of boards.
Brown is in the process of getting that longboard business rolling. Essence Industries is in its second year and Brown said it has been a slow start, but he is confident business will pick up when the word starts to spread about the “best kept secret.”
The best way to spread the word, he said, is to get the boards in people’s hands. That’s because, like handcrafted furniture, people have greater appreciation for the natural beauty of the wood when they can experience it, Brown said.
“They have to go there and touch it and feel it and see the grain,” Brown said. “I think people that appreciate my boards appreciate the one-of-a-kind aspect a small maker can provide. They want a piece of functional art.”
That said, Brown said he prefers selling his boards via his website, essenceboards.com, because his boards don’t get beat up like they do when they become test-rides at stores. The website also gives customers more opportunity to customize their boards, matching their wood preferences to the board styles they want.
Brown’s boards range in price from $105 to $125, but the steeper price will soon go up to $150 because he keeps selling out of the corresponding model, which looks like a smaller version of the old-fashioned wood surfboards — the kind with a variety of brown planks running smoothly from end to end.
Brown said people will pay more for that type of quality, especially when they learn he makes the boards himself.
“There’s a certain attraction to a hand-made good,” Brown said.
Essence Boards can be found locally at Innate on N. State St. and Bellingham Kite Paddle Surf on Harbor Loop Drive. They can also be found at shops in Glacier, Gig Harbor, Tacoma and Kent, and at essenceboards.com.