Different Stokes With Don Sandusky Of SUPSkate

Different Stokes With Don Sandusky Of SUPSkate

For our 8th brand spotlight we shine the light on SUPSkate a sibling of Hamboards. Over the past several years, it's been hard not to notice the explosive growth of the SSUP discipline. More and more people are using their arms in addition to their feet to achieve their flow on four wheels. One of the brands leading this charge is SUPSkate, offering an experience on land with a skateboard that is similar to what you might find on the water with a traditional stand up paddle board. As if this cross over of sports wasn't enough for you, the technology for top-notch skate poles actually comes from ice hockey. In this feature, we talk to the man behind the gear, Don Sandusky.


First and foremost, what is a “skate pole” and why should everyone try one?

A skate pole is a piece of equipment designed for a skateboarder to push themselves along with their upper body in addition to, or instead of, foot pushing.  The motion is somewhat like the stroke used paddling on a stand-up paddleboard in the water but in this case, you are pushing instead of pulling.  It’s a fantastic full-body workout that focuses on core and balance as it propels the rider on any size skateboard.  Long-distance endurance skaters love it as do fans who retired their longboards.  Keeping both feet on the board and pushing with a skate pole allows the rider to cruise with confidence without having to balance on one leg while pushing with the other.  It’s especially great for first time skateboarders.  

How did your background in sports equipment manufacturing ultimately bring you to the skate industry?

I am a problem solver, inventor, and sports enthusiast with 12 patents in materials science and sports technologies.  I’ve applied my design talents to golf, tennis, basketball, football, lacrosse, ice hockey, and skateboarding.  My background as a Mechanical Engineer, Ph.D. Polymer Physicist, NASA researcher and Dupont engineer led me first to Spalding where I invented the Spalding Neverflat basketball, arguably the single most successful product launch in Spalding’s history which is presently enshrined in the NBA Hall of Fame in Springfield MA.  After that, I built my own brand of soccer equipment and sold the company to New Balance.  Immediately afterward, Warrior Sports hired me on as the head of product for lacrosse, ice hockey, and soccer gear but by then I was way too independent to be a corporate guy anymore.  For two decades, I had studied and applied human physiology, mechanics, design, and materials science to sports gear.  Fate brought me to HAMBOARDS and shortly thereafter to ABC’s hit TV show Shark Tank, where I introduced Hamboards and the Street Sweeper “land paddle” to America’s pop culture zeitgeist.  It was my passion for Skate Poling that led me to start SUPSkate.                                                                          

The first skate brand on Sharktank? 

My lifetime love affair with all kinds of team and board sports - especially ice hockey – and my passion for gear design played a role in developing the “flex and whip” used in our unique Skate Poles which are a hybrid-amalgam of a paddleboard paddle and an ice hockey stick.  As gear nerds, through trial and error making too many prototypes, we sought feedback from some the world’s most accomplished athletes in SUP Racing (Connor Baxter), SUP Surfing (Mo Freitas) and LDP Skating (Andy Andras) and eventually our product was born.  Over the last 10 years, we’ve come up with what we believe are the most efficient skate poles.  Gear Nerds + world class athletes = the best sports gear.     

Rigorious testing goes into every SUPSkate product.

Your brand’s gear seems to be born “out of the water.” How much does surfing play a role in the company’s design ethos?

Using a pole to push a log raft along shallow riverbeds goes back to early human civilizations.  Punting along English channels has been around for a thousand years.  Surfing is a “naked” and pure board sport from which skateboarding and snowboarding evolved.  Paddleboarding came on hard and swept the world.  Fast forward to recent times, SUP Surfing, SUP Racing, and SUP Touring have become common.  So, skate poling clearly has roots in surfing, paddle boarding and skateboarding.  Surfers love skate poling because the moves mimic surfing and carving; and the trucks I designed for our HAMBOARDS pivot and glide. Hamboards are NOT afraid of you making a turn, so “send it”.  The idea of Hamboards and SUPskate here is to bring stoke for the days when access to the ocean, bay or rivers are not an option.  The skate poling gear is a lot more compact than surfing or paddleboarding- just throw it in your car and look for some sweet pavement.  

Who is your target customer?

Skate Poling has universal appeal with skateboarders and athletes of all ages: fitness aficionados who want to try something new, beginner skaters who lack confidence, recreational enthusiasts, endurance skaters, “that guy” with the Sector 9 longboard gathering dust in his garage because he thinks his skating days are long gone!  Anyone who wants to feel that sensation of gliding along, carving and flowing is our target customer. I’ve found that our older clients, pushing off on a skateboard, ain’t gonna happen; they’re not sure about their balance and they’re afraid to fall.  The pole takes care of both those worries.  For younger and beginner clients, the pole is kind of like “training wheels” or “ski poles” which give them an extra point of contact while dealing with shaky balance.  

Using a skatepole helps new skaters young and old gain confidence and stability.


SUPSkate is a sibling brand of Hamboards. Why did you feel it was necessary to create this line? How does it differ from the products offered to the rest of the market?

The two brands speak to different audiences, so each needs its own voice.  Hamboards is a niche longboard skateboard with insane board lean which is designed by longboard surfers, for longboard surfers.  Hamboards are very specific and require advanced rail-to-rail balance.  Our Street Sweeper skate poles were “training wheels” for Hamboards.  After a while, we realized that A) they weren’t paddles, but were poles and B) riders wanted the poles to ride the skateboards they already owned, not necessarily with Hamboards.  We didn’t invent Skate Poling we just made good gear and brought it to the world.  Years ago, the “kooks” made do-it-yourself poles using broom sticks with a racquet ball on the end. Previously, other “land paddle” gear has been clunky at best, wonky at worst and maybe even a bit gimmicky.  We designed professional sports gear that enhances the skateboarding experience.  The difference is obvious to sports equipment professionals and athletes.  

What is your top offering these days? Top sellers?

All our poles are crazy-light and powerful.  Our best seller, by far, is the Street Sweeper pole which offers mid-flex and adjustability.  The Street Sweeper is well paired with the SUP SURFING style of carving/cruising.  Our second seller is the Race (stiff-flex) adjustable pole.  The RACE is for chargers who are making distance/speed, like SUP RACERS.  Both come in multiple sizes because the length of the lower pole is sized to the riders height. 

 The one we sell the least of, but is by far the best skate pole we make is the one-piece SUPSkate Custom pole.  The Custom has the most efficient balance of lightweight, strength, flex, and durability.  Because it’s cut to size for a fixed length, the rider needs to know how long they want it and create their own bespoke pole. If you want the very best, this is it, but you have to “earn-up” to it with experience. 

We have three interchangeable tips, Poi Pounder (most durable), Poi Mini (best performance) and Sk8 (best for wet conditions). 

We also sell an adjustable aluminum telescoping pole for beginners and are launching a brand new Junior Street Sweeper for hard-charging “tweenagers” in Summer ‘24. 

Different options of skate poles and tips appeal to riders of varying height, weight and ability. 

Anything new coming down the pipe we should be watching out for?

We’ve never commercialized a single product with the SUPskate brand that hasn’t been battle tested at the 24-hour Miami Ultraskate.  This year, in 2024, three team riders rode prototype SUPSkate Endurance skateboards equipped with a new version of our HST 2.0 front truck that makes pumping much improved.  The feedback was really encouraging, and we’ll be launching the new gear in Summer 2024. We also have several other products in various stages of development. R&D is in our DNA, so we always have something in the works. That’s what makes my job so fun.  

Perhaps most importantly, in summer ’24 we’re launching a new stand-alone website for SUPSkate as a curated place for learning, sharing, connecting, communicating, and perhaps our own virtual competition series.  


What are some of the challenges for a company trying to build awareness for a new product category such as yours?

Momentum…. Convincing someone to try something completely brand new is harder than convincing someone to try something like what they’ve already done.  That’s why we lean so heavily into analogies with longboard skating, paddle boarding, SUP racing and SUP surfing.  “Oh, that’s like doing this, but different, or but on the road”.  But at the end of the day, skate poling is going to be its own thing and will be optimized for and by the participants.  

Sport…. Our partnership with the IDSA is important.  The virtual and in-person competitive events, with rules and reporting discipline, are enabling to facilitate the competitive sport.  

Trial… We need people to try it to see if they like it.  Demo events are priceless so there’s significant effort needed to get out there, where the people are, and let them try it.   

Community…. There are lots of different fun things to do.  We need to help cultivate conversations, with and between individuals, to encourage them to try our sport and ride as a pack.  We invest heavily in community which provides shared stoke.  

 SUPSkate is very confident that if you try you'll buy. Look out for their demo events across the world at reknown events like Ultraskate.

One of your tactics seems to be recruiting top SUP athletes from the water to land. How do traditional SUP people perceive your product offering?

Paddleboarders have been enthusiastic about skate poling as a proxy for being on the water or as cross-training.  That works for lots of people who can’t go paddleboarding as often as they would like.  If the weather or proximity don’t work out for water paddleboarding on any given day, skate poling is an option to get a similar workout and experience.  Ultimately, these athletes just love to ride any board, anywhere, anytime.  It’s all good.  

Why “pole” and not “paddle?”

We’re discussing the “generic term” for the sports gear, not the brand, so people are going to call it what they want.  Literally, this device is a flexible tapered pole, not a cylindrical tube with a flat blade (paddle).  The stroke is more of a “pole vault push” than a “reach, plunge, pull” paddle stroke.  The analogous motion is more like punting or canoe poling, than like paddling.  And to settle the debate, we conducted a statistically significant survey of people who had never seen this activity, and the two descriptive words with overwhelming distinction were skateboard and pole.  The participants did not choose between word options, they typed-in their own words to describe the activity reacting to photos of riders demonstrating the activity.  I, personally, prefer skate paddling, but I can’t argue with the data…. Most newcomers call this skate poling and they call the      device a skate pole.  No sense arguing about it, so we embraced the data and changed our lingo.  

Tell us about your onsite marketing activations and partnerships with retailers.

We have a mobile demo van which rolls-in to parking lots, surf shops, SUP shops and outdoor gear outfitters to let their customers demo the gear.  It’s always fun.  People are amazed at how easy it is to start and how fun it is to carve-up the pavement.  This is by far the most fun part of the gig.  If a shop gets behind our gear, we set them up with demos, drop shipping and encourage them to do organized demo events.  It works.   Find us on  our website and @SUPSKATESPORTS on Instagram and on Facebook.  The SUPSKATE USA Facebook Group is a great portal to build our community and we are launching a video series of “secret spots” with bitchin’ locations to ride around the world.          

Tell us about your virtual sprint series collaboration with Adventure Sports in Miami.

We’re particularly happy that starting in March 2024, Adventure Sports (Miami) has added a skate poling category to their regular virtual competitions, in addition to paddleboarding, kite boarding and foiling.  The inaugural competition has been a great success and we’re looking forward to more, and we’re learning about how to facilitate other retailers’ ambitions for the same.  Virtual competitions are wonderful for giving athletes a chance to compete, from their own locations.  

Tell us about your participation in ongoing IDSA events esp, UK Ultraskate and Dutch Ultraskate. 

We’ve been participating in, sponsoring, and promoting the skate pole category for several years.  Since the Miami, UK, and Dutch Ultras have added the category we’ve supported them with category prizes and demo gear.  We’re tentatively planning a demo event at the 2024 24 hour UK Ultraskate.  The IDSA and the event coordinators have been inclusive, generous, and actively encouraging us, every step of the way.  

Andrew Andras during one of his World Record Breaking Ultraskates using SUPSkate gear.


Team SUPSkate at MIami Ultraskate 2024


What’s your view on the future of the skate poling sport and how can the IDSA help?

We believe that skate poling will someday achieve status as its own competitive sport with a distance/sprint (race) category and a freestyle category.  But most importantly once skate poling becomes a real “sport” it can also become a more widely accepted recreational activity.  Let’s face it, learning to ride a bike and trying skateboarding are a rite of passage for many kids.  We believe that adding a pole to your first time trying to skateboard will become common.  Some will try it and move on, but others will keep riding skateboards, either with or without the pole.  The IDSA provides a critical essential role in the distance/spring (race) style of competition by providing the regulations for the sport and building the athletic community.  Further, the IDSA encourages virtual competitions and in-person events which feed the athletes ambitions.  I look forward to a continued partnership with the IDSA, and suspect that the next decade will result in substantially increased participation.  Thank you to the IDSA.  


Live your brand. Don's new tattoo.


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