Boarding pass

Snowboarding has an unexpected downside: rubbish.

Half a million snowboards have been sold in Austria since snowboarding emerged in the 1990s, and mountains of old or broken boards are growing on Austrian dumpsites – creating around two million tonnes of waste, say Ruffboards’ founders.

Melanie Ruff and her partner Simone Melda founded Ruffboards to end this throwaway culture. By transforming used snowboards into high-quality longboards, they conserve valuable commodities and avoid more trash: selling only 500 ruffboards could reduce the amount of waste by one and a half tons, say the founders. Since starting in 2014 they’ve sold over 200 longboards and have been appointed the year’s best Austrian Social Startup by Ben & Jerry’s.

Reusing old material is not their only aim: Ruff and Melda also want to help people on the fringes of society, as the upcycling is done by former prisoners who have little opportunity on the regular job market. Like 51-year-old Herbert.

"I am a born-and-bred Viennese and my family have lived here for three generations. From my first wife I have a son and a daughter, although they don’t want to see me. It’s for a reason: I am a former prisoner.

In July I’m going to start as a full-time employee at Ruffboards. The company transforms used snowboards into high-class longboards to avoid garbage. Their credo is: material and people deserve a second chance. People like me.

We met at a Viennese organization called Neustart (New Start) about a year ago. The girls got in touch with Neustart because they were looking for skilled but deprived people to fabricate the longboards.

Under the umbrella of Neustart I began to craft boards for the company part-time. I cut the snowboards into shape and grind them roughly. I refine the contours and install the rolls. It takes me between four and five hours to produce one board. The girls are pleased with the job I`m doing, so they decided to hire me.

On my first day in prison I thought, ‘how will I get through this?’ I was locked in a cell of eight square metres with a condemned double murderer for 23 hours a day. What most surprised me about jail? I guess that I met regular people. Just like you and me.

“Ruffboards transform used snowboards into high-class longboards to avoid garbage. Their credo is: material, and people, deserve a second chance.”

As a trained locksmith, I love to work with machines and new products such as wood. I am happy to create something other people will have a lot of fun with. Above all, I like the environmental approach Ruffboards takes. We even utilise the board-leftovers by creating belt buckles. We want to achieve zero waste solutions.

I am an active person, I can’t watch TV all day. I need to be doing something. Creating those longboards gives me the opportunity to return a little bit of what I have already taken from nature. It is a job with a mission. But it’s not only about the environment. People that are tossed on the scrap heap get new hope, too.

Take me. Someone at my age and with my history has a tough time to find a job. I was only detained for nine months, but that is enough time to have a black spot on your résumé. I am lucky that I received a second chance.

There are not many ex-convicts that have their own apartments or jobs. Most stay in boarding houses that remind you of life in prison.

I think everyone can make a mistake. I have learned my lesson, I wouldn’t do it again. Fortunately at Ruffboards, they don’t care about my past. They treat me like a human being. If I was an entrepreneur I would do the same. Employ people with a criminal record I would try to trust.

With rising demand, the girls can hire more people. I hope I will work there for a long time. Maybe that will change other things for me too.

Last time I saw my children was before prison. It hurts my heart but I have to live with it. But I don’t give up hope. They are my children. In honour of my daughter I have developed a board that will be produced soon. She knows the edition is called after her. The name is Steffi."