Leah Rife

Inspiration can come from the strangest places. But dogs … in space? That’s where young entrepreneur Leah Rife found the idea for a logo to sell her hand-painted skateboards.

“I was actually in an astronomy class while I was deciding I wanted to make it into a company,” says Rife, a student at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, Colo. “The lecture was about Laika, the first space dog, and her adventure out in space. I was so interested in that, how they could send a dog up there. So, I kind of started sketching in class while I was listening and made the logo of the dog with the space helmet.”

Falling into the skateboard business

Considering that superheroes and zombies are among the most popular themes for her skateboards today, the idea of a space dog is not that strange at all. And while Laika Skate Co. has grown from offering skateboards to T-shirts, dog accessories, decals and helmets, it’s also helping launch other young, aspiring artists.

Rife, who’s studying graphic design and video production, provides peers with a way to sell their art and get used to the business environment. “I just market mostly around colleges or high schools,” she explains. “If they show interest like,

‘I want to be able to paint skateboards,’ or ‘I want to know how to market things like that,’ then I teach them. They can use my company to test the waters and make sure they like it.”

Rife fell into this unusual business by accident. “I wanted to learn how to skateboard,” she remembers. “I’m not very balanced, so I didn’t want to go buy an expensive skateboard. I found one in my parents’ garage that was old and blank. I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to paint this before I skate on it just so it looks cooler at the park, and maybe people won’t make fun of me as much if I have a cool board.’

“Then I had an instructor who’s a skateboarder, and he said, ‘You can’t skate on that because you’re going to ruin the graphic, and it’s such a strong graphic.’

So I was like, ‘OK, I’ll save this one, and I’ll paint a new one to skate on.’ I just kept going, and I never really learned to be good at skateboarding,” she laughs. “So I just sell them, and I’ll sponsor skateboarders who are good and just admire them.”

Marketing her company and SkillsUSA

Laika Skate Co. can be found on Face-book, and most of Rife’s marketing is by word of mouth. “People just spread the word: ‘There’s this girl who does hand-painted skateboards, and she’ll do anything you want on there,’ ” she adds.

Most of her sales are by Internet or the telephone. Prices start at $50, but Rife says an instructor was once offered $700 for a painted skateboard she’d given him that had a Doctor Who theme.

“I like to be reasonably priced, because if college students come and say, ‘I really want to get this for my sister or for myself,’ then I’ll be like, ‘Well, I can work with your budget so you can afford to get it.’ ”

Between classes and her business, she is staying busy this year as SkillsUSA’s college/postsecondary president.

“It’s really helped me develop as a person and overcome the challenges that I face,” says Rife, who’d like to move into advertising for major league baseball. “SkillsUSA has always been there with somebody to help me, whether with personal employment goals or educational goals.”

It’s in her blood, says her mother, Julie, who’s also her SkillsUSA chapter advisor. Both of Rife’s parents were state officers in career and technical organizations.

The family has grown to include a white German shepherd with pointy ears just like the dog on Rife’s business logo.

“I named her Laika and taught her how to skateboard as a puppy,” she says. “She’ll get on there and take off. It’s really cool to see. But now, she has to do it on the long board instead of an actual skateboard just because she’s so big.”