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Freeline Skates Takes Board Sport Fans on the Next Ride

Skater, surfer, snowboarder and self-proclaimed adrenaline junky Ryan Farrelly attributes the conception of his company Freeline Skates Inc. to his need for the “next ride.”

The 29-year-old from the San Francisco Bay Area was living there during his early 20s, surfing in the morning and skating the hills at night.

“I made a contraption, attaching skate apparatuses to the board, and I realized I didn’t even need the board,” Farrelly said. “The wheels are turned to the side so your form is more like that of snowboarding. Two sets of two wheels, in a line.”

The dual, independent skates are connected only by the body of the rider, who maintains a sideways stance.

Maintaining the contraption as his best-kept secret for months, Farrelly and his trusted friend and fellow skater Jason Galoob pooled their money to begin performing patent searches.

“There was nothing else out there like it,” Farrelly said. “We started talking to patent lawyers, consultants , we pretty much learned the business from talking to people.”

Jason Galoob’s father, David, former chief financial officer of San Francisco-based Galoob Toys, which he grew into a $250 million company during a 30-year period before it was purchased by Rhode Island-based Hasbro in 1998, helped his son develop a business plan.

“We were looking for smart money rather than any money offered, so in the beginning there was zero budget,” Farrelly said. “We scraped every penny together. Jason sold his car. We were willing to sacrifice everything.”

Efforts paid off for the partners when they raised enough money to finish engineering the product and it finally hit the market in September 2005.

Going to production would require more investors, but Farrelly and Galoob agreed that keeping the product hush-hush in the industry was still necessary.

“Probably the best move I ever made was finally to get my dad (Fred) involved,” Farrelly said. “For years I didn’t want to, but we were new businessmen, and as a professional business consultant, he stepped in and really tightened things up.”

Fred Farrelly has held executive positions at the Jacksonville, Fla., food broker Kelley-Clarke, and served on advisory boards for more than 30 companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Colgate-Palmolive Co. and Newman’s Own Inc. Fred Farrelly and David Galoob both sit on the Freeline Skates board of directors.

Also on the board is Dennis Chateauneuf, currently chief operating officer at Reef Point Systems Inc., with a 25-year career working with startups and large companies raising venture capital. Farrelly has provided consulting services to Chateauneuf’s East Coast venture capital committee in the past, Farrelly said.

Renee Tuzee, 43, joined Freeline this summer as the company’s chief executive officer.

Before joining Freeline, Tuzee was vice president of marketing for New York City-based Piaggio USA Inc., where she helped to relaunch Vespa Scooters in the United States. She also served in dealer promotions for Bombardier Inc., marketing Sea-Doo watercraft and Ski-Doo snowmobiles.

“That’s why our team is so special,” Tuzee said. “Ryan and Jason are riders and connect, of course, with our customer. Sales Manager Dave McIntyre and I are a bit older, so the four of us together have senior executive management and a raw sense of what our younger customers want from us.”

McIntyre, who came on board at Freeline in December of 2006, agrees that the younger generation’s input is critical to good marketing.

“If you respect your consumer and keep lines of communication open, you’ll sell the product. When I need to choose a graphic, I’ll go down to SeaSide, a pretty active surfing beach, and ask the kids for some help,” McIntyre said.

New company headquarters are set to open in Carlsbad this fall from the current San Diego location, and Tuzee said she expects steady growth.

“Freeline is still a startup, but I can tell you that since Dave and I joined in March, we have significantly increased our distribution both in the U.S. and internationally,” Tuzee said. “We now have five full-time employees and nine team riders.”

Freeline founders Farrelly and Galoob say that while they’re excited that the activity is catching on, they would never want riders to stop surfing or skateboarding as a result.

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