The bulletproof skateboard
As far as strange emails go, Griffin Burke's is most definitely up there as one of the strangest we've ever received. Griffin is a 19-year-old student from Newport Beach, California who owns a company called Turtle Boards that manufacture a bulletproof skateboard designed to be used as a shield in the event of an active school shooting situation.
Our conversation with Griffin began with a press release extolling the virtues of the bulletproof skateboard, which also included a bunch of alarming statistics regarding the number of school shooting incidents in the USA.
To give you an idea, here's a little excerpt:
19-YEAR-OLD COLLEGE STUDENT CREATES BULLETPROOF SKATEBOARD THAT STUDENTS CAN USE TO DEFEND THEMSELVES IN A SCHOOL SHOOTING
It even stops a .44 Magnum Handgun.
There have been 270 school shootings in America since 2013. That is an average of one school shooting per week. There is a growing level of fear that schools are the next soft target for terrorist attacks.
Turtle Boards are the only bulletproof skateboards that can be used as a shield in a school shooting. The proprietary technology has been extensively tested by firearm experts and law enforcement. “I was extremely impressed the skateboard stopped multiple full metal jacket (FMJ) and jacketed hollow-point (JHP) rounds using a 9 mm, .38, .45, .357 and even a .44 Magnum with no penetration," said Mark Anderson, Range Manager of FT3 Tactical in Stanton, CA.
“I was looking for a way that students could defend themselves and regain a sense of control," said Griffin Burke, creator of Turtle Boards. "Experts agree that 'run and hide' just doesn’t work anymore because an active shooter will continue until stopped."
Despite sounding somewhat outlandish to us Brits, we were intrigued and felt compelled to find out more about Turtle Boards and the story behind Griffin's project. Upon speaking further, it became clear that Griffin is a very polite and even-mannered young Californian whose sincerity about the necessity for his bulletproof skateboard product is unquestionable.
Regardless of your perspective on the need for something as seemingly drastic as a bulletproof skateboard, we think you'll agree that Griffin's motivations are pure and that, as frightening as it is to say this, his business model will probably be fairly successful, in the USA at the very least.
So, without further ado, read on and find out a little more about the 19-year-old behind the world's first bulletproof skateboard for yourselves.
Is there a back story to this project that predates this particular product Griffin? Have you been involved in making skateboards previous to this project?
No, this is my first skateboard project. I decided to create the board after a discussion with my college roommate about school shootings since there was a shooting at a college campus just a few miles from our school. That's pretty much the back story to the idea.
I'm assuming that you being a skateboarder yourself figures in the genesis of this idea somewhere, right?
Yeah of course. Living in Newport Beach, California we all skateboard on the boardwalk and ride our boards to school. It's an everyday thing for nearly everyone that I know.
Without meaning to sound patronising Griffin, this is an impressive undertaking for a 19-year-old, particularly taking into account the materials you're using and the engineering aspects that must be involved in creating anything bullet-proof, let alone a bullet proof skateboard. Do you have a background in weapons related engineering or something?
No. I extensively researched the issue of dispersing the energy from a bullet. A lot of people thought it couldn’t be done because most bulletproof materials are over 2 inches thick. The Turtle Board deck is just 12.7 mm thick and weighs less than 1.8 kg.
The numbers in your press release are pretty sobering, especially to someone in the UK where thankfully school shootings are virtually non-existent. It's hard to put myself into the mindset of a parent who is actively concerned about this on a daily basis but, if as your press release says, there's an average of one school shooting per week in the USA currently, I guess it is a genuine fear. What prompted you to take this somewhat novel approach to that problem?
I was at college when there was a school shooting at the University of California Los Angeles, which is just 11 miles away. My roommate and I were a little freaked out and discussed strategies for staying safe in the event of an active shooter situation. I told my roommate, “It’s too bad your skateboard isn’t bullet proof because you always have it with you and it would make a great shield." That gave me the idea. Not long after I started working on the prototype a teacher and a student were killed in San Bernardino, which is close to where I live.
I guess that with skateboards being a ubiquitous item for young people in the States it does make sense to choose it as a multi-purpose shield in the event of a school shooting incident - where there other reasons why you decided to pick a skateboard to provide the vehicle for this technology?
I was discussing the issue of school shootings with my roommate and a skateboard seemed to be the best solution because you always have it with you riding to school, or to and from classes. It’s the perfect size and weight for a shield, and because it’s clear, you can see the situation in front of you. The skateboard also allows you to ride away faster than you can run.
Turtle Boards claim to have the same level of protection as your regular bank (Level 3) - could you explain what that means in terms of it being resistant to bullets please?
Bullet proof ratings established by Underwriters Laboratory extend to level 8. Levels 1 to 3 bulletproof glass is typically used at businesses like banks and convenience stores. Most of all the banks here in California have bulletproof glass to protect the tellers. Turtle Boards is rated at a Level 3, which is a rating based on the product being able to stop 3 rounds from a .44 magnum.
How do you see the board being used in an active shooter situation?
You would grip the trucks with your hands and use it as a shield protecting your head, heart and your lungs.
Have you much interest in this project in a commercial sense yet? If so, from where?
We have heard from several retailers who really like the idea that you can customize the board by putting stickers or logos between the clear panels.
At the risk of asking too personal a question - do you have a personal connection to the issue of school shootings that inspired you to create this product?
It was really just about being a freshman in college a short distance from UCLA where a shooting had occurred a few months prior. It was a topic on everyone’s mind and it really inspired me to be proactive.
Can the turtle board still operate as a regular skateboard too? Is that the intention?
The skateboard feels like you are surfing the streets. It has just the right flexibility. We added shock pads and risers to prevent wheel bite. Even though it looks like it would be slick, there is enough grip even without grip tape to perform tricks. It’s the perfect board for riding to and from school. And, being able to see right through the board is very cool, especially at night with the lighted wheels.
How and where have you tested the product? Under what kind of conditions I mean?
I first developed several prototypes that were tested by an active member of law enforcement here in California using a 9 mm and .22 caliber firearm. We then started extensively testing the board against various caliber handguns. These tests were conducted in a tactical range by a firearms expert. We tested the board against a 9 mm, .38, .45, as well as, a .357 and .44 magnum. The skateboard is made of level 3 bulletproof material capable of stopping multiple shots from a .44 magnum. Bullet proof ratings established by Underwriters Laboratory extend to level 8, but according to one bulletproof glass company, levels 1 to 3 are typical used at businesses like banks and convenience stores.
As a Brit I have to ask this one really, despite the obvious differences in culture as it relates to firearms - doesn't it seem like an acceptance of the inevitability of school shootings to produce and sell this kind of a product? Would active campaigning against gun ownership be as relevant to this particular phenomenon? Or is that just British naivete on my behalf?
School shootings have sadly become the new normal in the States. Lawmakers are at an impasse when it comes to any sort of progressive gun legislation. In the meantime, I created this product as a way to give students a sense of control over the situation: “If a school shooting goes down, at least I have my board with me."
Is this anxiety something that your average school student over in the States undergoes on a daily basis would you say? Schools have metal detectors and whatnot on the doors right? Is this defensive measure the natural next step from that?
Students here in the States think about school shootings all the time. The anxiety is heightened every time it’s reported. Most schools in the States do not have metal detectors, only in the most urban areas. Schools have started posting safety videos on how to respond to an active shooter situation, but the advice given to defend yourself is to throw school books at the shooter. That doesn’t seem like good advice. Here is a video of a school district in Orange County, California, that recommends using your skateboard to strike a shooter (at 7:54).
Do you see there being a market for this product outside of the States?
Yes. First, the skateboarding culture is rapidly growing outside the States. Our skateboards fit in with this since the design comes from the old school boards from the days when they use to ride in empty pools. With regards to the protective features of our board, teachers in the United Kingdom are now being trained on how to respond to these types of situations so potentially this product has application anywhere.
Where can people go to find out more about what Turtle Boards do?
For more information, visit kickstarter.com and search for “bulletproof skateboard."
You can also click the link here: Turtle Boards
We also ship the board internationally.
All photos courtesy of Turtle Boards