Local resident Jason Smith started Grip Gum in 2001. Since then the Breckenridge based company has grown to supply skateboarders worldwide with its product—rubber bars used to clean grip tape, the sandpaper-like stuff on a skateboard’s surface that helps feet grip deck. If there’s dust in your grip tape, it’s easy to slip—but clean it off with Grip Gum and you’ll be stomping your tricks in no time. Here’s what Smith had to say:
What is Grip Gum?
Grip Gum is for cleaning the dirt and dust off your skateboard grip tape. People use it daily, or whenever they think they have something in their grip tape, which depending on what state you live in or where you skate, could be fairly often.
So it’s a Breckenridge-based company?
Yes. I got here in 1996 and started the company in 2001. It’s always been a Breckenridge company. Although the product is manufactured in Sri Lanka and the boxes are printed in Denver, the company is based in Breckenridge. Because Grip Gum is made of natural rubber it’s not even available on this continent. There are no rubber tree plants in the United States, therefore there’s no way to have domestic Grip Gum.
How did you come up with the idea?
We had been using the same rubber to clean our boards, but I got the idea to make it into a business when I was traveling in San Diego with a buddy of mine who worked for Transworld Skateboarding. He had never heard of it before but he thought it was the coolest thing in the world; it led me to think that most people hadn’t seen it.
Grip Gum was the first idea I had that didn’t require a tremendous amount of money to get started. I started by ordering 1,000 bars that I had to cut in half, and then I ordered 2,500 boxes.
How did the first year of business go?
It was long and tedious. I drove all over the state of Colorado going to skate shops trying to sell five or ten at a time. It took a year to sell the first 1,000.
From the very start the local skate shops carried Grip Gum before the big distributors. The Big Hit, The Underground, Mountain Wave (back when they used to carry skateboard products), The Grind in Silverthorne, Meta Skateboards in Boulder—they all were behind me.
What is business like now?
Now I gross about $50,000 in sales a year. You can get Grip Gum from almost any distributor in the United States—Eastern Skateboard Supply, Zumiez, CCS, South Shore, AWH. I have sold almost 100,000 bars of Grip Gum since I started. The average order is 500 to 1,000 bars and I box them myself.
People said the company would never fly, that Grip Gum would never sell. I think that after 11 years I proved them wrong, with it being carried in every Zumiez across the country. I sell overseas as well—in Europe, South America, Australia, and New Zealand, for example. Although Grip Gum has not been extraordinarily profitable for me, it’s been really cool to be part of the skateboard industry. Going to New York City or Hawaii and seeing Grip Gum on the counter in the local skate shop is just amazing.
What was the hardest hurdle to overcome?
The hardest part was getting in with the first distributor. I spent many hours on the phone and sending out samples. Once I got in one, I got in many. The first was Eastern Skateboard Supply. At first the owner, Reggie Barnes, was reluctant, but after he used it—now he won’t go skating without it. He and his son take Grip Gum everywhere they go.
What can others learn from your example?
I think the most important thing for people to realize is that this was not my first invention; it was the first one that was profitable. It required less than $10,000 in start-up money. I’ve had half a dozen other ideas that I didn’t get to work—like skate knee pads, skate wrenches, motorcycle parts, and snowboard bindings.
How has the industry changed?
I found out later that someone else tried to market a similar product 15 years before without luck—but the industry is so much bigger and there are so many more skaters now. Skateboarding used to die out and come back every 10 or 20 years, but since the 90’s it’s never taken another lull, with the advent of the X Games and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It didn’t used to be cool to be a skateboarder…and now everybody wants to be a skater or at least look like one.
Tell me a little about your skateboarding past.
I’m from Michigan and Pennsylvania. I grew up skating when I was just a little kid on a KD40 plastic skateboard. I used to sit on it when I was four years old and go down wheelchair ramps and sidewalks with my knees hanging out on the sides. In the 80’s we started riding ramps and doing street tricks. The Bones Brigade was a big influence.
It’s crazy to still be skating. It just so happens that Gregg Davis, my best friend who I grew up skating with, lives in Summit County too. I plan to go skating with him after this interview. We were 12 when first skated together.
What do you think of Breck’s skate scene?
Breck’s skate scene has always been rad. There are lots of older skaters riding concrete. The Breckenridge skate park was not there when we first got here, but there were always skaters. We used to go to the Big Fish skate park on CR 450 behind 7-11 run by Jake Miller; the ramp is now in Scottie Hodgson’s basement.
I was in my first professional bowl contest at Breck and got to skate with Omar Hassan, Chris Senn, and Lance Mountain. The entire town turned out and I got some huge cheers. It was great because there were several locals in the contest.
Grip Gum has sponsored the local Breckenridge bowl contest the last two years.
Tell me a little about your life outside of skating.
I majored in ceramic engineering, a specialized form of materials engineering, at Georgia Tech. Then I moved out here to snowboard just like so many other people. I used to compete in the amateur snowboarding contests. Other things I like to do are riding motorcycles—I used to race motorcycles—and skydiving. I’m also the proud father of a 16-month-old skater.
Tell me about Grip Gum’s YouTube popularity.
It’s the coolest thing. I felt honored a couple of years ago when I found no less than a dozen Grip Gum videos on YouTube made by kids, from reviews to satires. The funniest is the Bob&Dob video.
Where can you get Grip Gum in Breck?
You can get Grip Gum at The Big Hit, The Underground, or MOB skate shop. It costs $8.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Go skating. Have fun. That’s what it’s all about.
To learn more about Grip Gum, go to www.gripgum.com.
-Photos in this piece are by Erica Marciniec and Gregg Davis.