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John Lamb, Published September 01 2013

Veteran Fargo skateboarder makes custom boards from scrap

FARGO – When Tom Kemmer’s car broke down recently, he opted to ride his skateboard one night to get a bite to eat downtown.

He was stopped on the way by a police officer and warned that there is an ordinance against skateboards in downtown Fargo, particularly on the sidewalks.

Kemmer assured the officer that at age 37, his days of ripping it up on the streets were behind him.

Besides, Kemmer’s board is too beautiful to beat up.

For the past four years, the Fargo man has been making skateboards. This past winter he devoted more of his spare time to the craft, and over the past eight months, he’s built about 30 decks, lovingly assembling each one out of richly detailed hardwoods.

His Kemmco Cruisers have caught the eye of skaters attracted to the aesthetics of the materials and designs.

A skater for about 25 years, Kemmer started building after helping his mother clean up a lake resort. When she gave him an old Western water ski, he marveled at the rich hardwood and how similar the construction was to a skateboard. He cut it down to size, refinished it, added wheels, took it for a ride and fell in love. While he still reuses some old water skis, he’s also taken to recycling from construction jobs he’s worked, salvaging strips and scraps of discarded hardwood.

His website, www.kemmcocruisers.bigcartel.com, shows a number of decks and offers descriptions on the products. One features a deck made of oak and Asian walnut, the latter salvaged hardwood flooring.

The “weirdo wood,” as he calls it, is always a favorite.

“The fancy-pants ones are the ones everyone wants,” he says.

He takes some custom orders, pointing out how one client wanted bocote, a Central American zebra-striped wood sometimes used in guitars, as strips in his skateboard.

His boards sell for between $60 and $100 through his site, though he’s also sold through This Skate & Snow, located at 625 1st Ave. N., Fargo. He’s also hoping to get decks into the Unglued craft store downtown.

When Scott Dahms’ garage burnt down earlier this year, the loss was doubled by the fact that a collection of assorted old wood he’d been saving for a project burned up in the blaze.

Not all was lost, and Dahms salvaged some aged redwood that Kemmer built into a deck.

“It’s not only a kick-ass board, it’s very sentimental,” Dahms said last week of his new Kemmco board. “It’s a piece of art. And they ride really great. It’s like being a kid again.”

One of Kemmer’s influences is the vintage 1960s Hobie skateboards.

“People like the uniqueness to it,” Kemmer says when asked what people like about his boards.

A craftsman himself, Dahms appreciates the design of Kemmer’s creations.

“They’re awesome,” the 40-year-old says. “It reminds me why I started skating.”

“That’s the coolest thing about it, when someone comes to get one, they’re hyped. It makes you want to build more,” Kemmer explains.

There’s just one problem with building something so beautiful.

“Nobody wants to ride them because they’re too pretty, and that’s a funny word to associate with skateboarding,” Kemmer says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533