The need for speed: Mike Maloney's journey from fighter jets to longboards

Eric Dehm
March 08, 2019 - 12:57 pm
Mike Maloney former Navy fighter pilot and founder of KOTA Longboards

Photos courtesy Mike Maloney

Following a career spent roaring across the skies in the F-14 Tomcat, Navy vet Mike Maloney settled in Colorado. One day, while on the University of Denver campus, Maloney was struck by how many students were using an alternate mode of transportation to zip from class to class.

The co-eds were riding longboards, essentially an elongated skateboard, and Maloney was first struck by how effortlessly they seemed to coast along the sidewalks and streets. He noticed a design flaw on each board, regardless of which brand it was.

KOTA longboards founder Navy veteran Mike Maloney on one of his boards
Photo courtesy Mike Maloney

"What I noticed was that they all sagged and almost hit the ground," Maloney recalls. "Somewhere in my past I've got an engineering degree, and I said 'y'know that really kind of bugs me. Why is nobody cambering these boards?' It's such a simple engineering mechanism."

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Cambering, for us non-engineers, is adding an upward arch that makes a longboard flatten out instead of sagging when a rider steps on. Eventually, someone did start cambering longboards, and his name was Mike Maloney. The former fighter pilot is the founder of  KOTA Longboards, a company selling high-end handmade longboards.

Mike Maloney Navy fighter pilot founder of KOTA Longboards shapes a board
Photo courtesy Mike Maloney

KOTA is short for Knights Of The Air, a term that harkens back to Maloney's military career and is also tied to the sense of freedom he says you feel on a longboard. While the cockpit of a fighter jet used to be his happy place, Maloney now finds himself most at peace when he's gliding along on a board. 

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"You get in a rhythm and you can just go forever," Maloney says. "All of a sudden you just feel all that stress shedding off your body. It's just something about the rhythm and being outside, being in an athletic environment, getting some adrenaline going and all that stress just tends to melt away."

Retired Navy fighter pilot Mike Maloney founder of KOTA Longboards
Photo courtesy Mike Maloney

Along with the name of the brand, there's also a military connection with dozens of boards with military artwork. The designs cover each branch of service and even specific units and military occupations. While Maloney says that the typical assumption is that he offers those designs because of his service, it's actually based on demand.

"The reason why there's so many military designs is not because, necessarily that I was in the military," Maloney explains. "It's a comfortable space for me, but we have so many veterans and active duty military that will call us up and say 'hey man, do you have a Marine Corps board or a Marine Raiders board, or do you have a special forces board, and can you put my unit on it' and all that. It's amazing the interactions that we have."

KOTA Longboards offers military designs and custom ordered skateboards
Photo courtesy Mike Maloney

They're interactions Maloney hopes to see even more of as longboarding catches on both with the general population and his fellow vets. 

You can hear the full interview with Mike Maloney below. 

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