Meet Your Maker: Ben Mackay Of Penny Skateboards

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posted by James Willmott

 

Innovative. Passionate. Dedicated. Three simple words to describe the life of Mr Ben Mackay of Penny Skateboards. After ditching school, the young entrepreneur started pressing his own timber skateboards out of his parent’s garage before eventually finding a niche in the market to bring skateboarding back to its roots and the world of fun.

Reminiscing on a skateboard he had as a child, Mackay put his head down and got to work and after a year of testing prototypes, finally found what he was looking for. The life of the small, flexible boards we know as Penny Skateboards was born, took over the world and never looked back.

We caught up with Ben to talk a typical day at Penny HQ, how the company came to life and discuss the exciting new longboard collection to recently hit shelves around the world.

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Ben, thanks for chatting!
Thanks for having me!

What’s your role at Penny?
My role is probably best described as new product design and innovation.

Where are you based?
We have recently moved in to a purpose built facility in sunny Loganholme QLD, which is quite a bit different from my humbling beginnings when I started out in my parents garage.

Describe your workspace…
My woodshop is my workspace which is packed full of old skateboards & skateboarding history, my dads old woodworking machinery, uncut blanks and skateboard template designs & some unfinished motorcycles that one day I’ll get to.

Walk us through a typical day at Penny HQ?
Its really quiet and there’s generally a sense of calm productivity throughout the building. Then I’ll come through and mess it all up and typically get everyone frazzled, haha. But seriously, there is always loads of fun or something cool is going down, either a new business collaboration opportunity or walking through our creative department and seeing the latest campaign or photo-shoot that’s about to launch. And if you step out of line, you will soon know about it by being showered with NERF bullets from every angle. Drop and roll!

Other than working hard, what are the perks of working at such a cool place?
There’s nothing more satisfying than hearing our staff having the opportunity to travel to new places or events that they might not have had in previous roles. Recently our brand managers went to LA for AGENDA’s trade show and also saw a Lakers game live at the Staple Center, so I think that’s pretty awesome. We also assign a Compassion sponsor child per staff member so they have the opportunity to see change in other children’s lives that are less fortunate than ourselves.

Describe the Penny team in 3 words…
Passionate, Fun & Focused.

Where did the original idea come from for a small, flexible, plastic skateboard? Were you looking to get back in touch with skateboarding’s old school style and bring it through to present day?
I had started pressing timber skateboards in my parents garage in 1999 and would drive up and down the coast selling my first skate brand, Seven Skateboards. Watching performance skateboarding progressing, I could see a massive gap in what professional skateboarders were doing, to what I was seeing at a local level. I really wanted to bring back what skateboarding was for me, which was more around pure fun. At the same time, I became the Australian distributor of Z-Flex and started selling cruiser styled completes through the same channel which quickly became a successful business model. I started servicing a long list of retail stores and could see that skateboarding was turning full circle and old was new again. I remembered my Dad had bought me my first plastic skateboard at 5 years old and I knew this little plastic skateboard had to come back. So I started designing and prototyping this until I had all the components together which took over 12 months to do. When it came time to brand my project, my sisters name is Penny so I named it after her! Since our launch in 2010, we have been trying to keep up with production globally. It’s a good problem to have I suppose…

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Tell us about the design process and how your original drawings eventually ended up turning into prototypes, and nowadays, a proper skate product?
One major challenge is when you have a visual picture or image in your head to project those thoughts into a physically live working model. This was a lot harder in 2009 than today. We now have in-house 3D printers that can give us working size 1:1 models which saves us months of back and forth with CNC machining saving not costs but time as well.

You’ve also released a brand new longboard collection and they are amazing. What inspired this decision to break away from the smaller boards?
Thank you! Personally I love riding different boards because they all ride so uniquely. My 22” is fast responsive and downright scary sometimes haha. Where as the 27” gives you a little more board under your feet and rides completely different with more flexibility & control. And with the new 36” Longboard I wanted a bigger board that had the capability to be a cruising longboard, perfect for carving up the sidewalks or have the capacity to handle & perform at the top end with speed and accuracy. You can see that with our choice of components that are assembled on it. I see the addition of the longboard as a perfect extension to the Penny family!

Explain to us how Penny boards are so flexible? What materials are used?
Great question. It is not only the ridiculous attention to detail on the design of our Penny boards but also the secret plastic formula we use, combined with the pre and post production tweaks we do to make our Penny boards flex and ride like no other. Herbs and spices.

Other than the deck, how did you find the right trucks, bearings and wheels to best suit the boards?
Before I had the 22” fully designed I had a certain truck in mind that originally came off a roller skate. I liked the way it looked, however it was terrible to ride. I had to re-bore the kingpin which adjusted the angle of the hanger making it prefect. Once I opened new moulds with this modification it rode just how I wanted it. Bearings and wheels always come down to quality raw materials and not cutting corners in production, investing in super high quality tooling which helps with consistency through to end product.

What elements did you want to achieve in the longboards that others just do not offer?
With a passion to ride a larger board and having the perfect platform in the Penny brand, I wanted this board to ride like nothing else on the market. When carving on our longboard, because of its unique flexibility, its flex and memory in the plastic releases you back into another carve position which generates speed… I’m stoked with the outcome!

What board will we catch you on?
Haha that really depends on where I’m going and how I want to get there.

What differentiates Penny from other skate brands?
Yes we make amazing products and are extremely passionate about detail and quality but every brand sells that dream. In my opinion, I feel choosing and riding a Penny is a way of life. Skateboarders look at the world through a different lens and see things that others do not. Penny seems to have broken down the boundaries of what skateboarding was and opened the way for everyone to have fun on a skateboard again.

Give us a brief history of Ben Mackay.
Brisbane born, grew up skating and surfing from a young age. Flunked school and got a job at age 15. Started making skateboards 1999 while everyone told me I was crazy for doing so. I was concreting by day, skateboard manufacturer by night. 2009 design phase for Penny, 2010 launched Penny in Australia and Penny went crazy! The end.

What do you get up to outside of Penny?
Nothing I love skateboarding. Jokes. I have a loving and supportive wife & growing family 3 boys and another on the way, life’s pretty boring…

What’s next for Penny?
You’ll have to wait and see!

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