Coming down the path, Brantley Topham looks tall enough to be a new shooting guard for the Utah Jazz — until it becomes clear he’s standing on something.
That something, which looks like the skateboard version of a platform shoe, is Topham’s invention, the Gigboarder, which the 22-year-old Utahn hopes will create “a new culture of bringing music and skating together.”
The Gigboarder is a skateboard with a hidden compartment within the deck — big enough to carry a ukulele, or a change of clothes or a college student’s books. “It’s a backpack on wheels, I guess,” Topham said, though he prefers the term “skate utility vehicle.”
The first prototype, Topham said, could fit a soprano ukulele, but the latest version can carry either a soprano or concert-size instrument, with straps to hold the ukulele in place.
“A lot of the appeal of the ukulele is just being able to transport it wherever you go,” said Topham, who developed the Gigboarder with his father. "I have a bunch of friends who play, and I’m always meeting people when I’m going around who play.”
One professional ukulele player was impressed.
“I thought it was cool just to have a board with storage in it, in general,” said Andy Nufer, one-third of The Naked Waiters, a Provo-based rock trio that performs covers and original songs on ukuleles.
“If it can hold together and it’s sturdy, I think it’s super-handy and super cool,” Nufer said. “It’s one of those things that all your friends will want.”
Music on a ukulele “is always happy, for some reason,” Nufer said. “Even if you play something dark and minor, it’s kind of bright and joyful.” His band is in a studio this week recording original music, and the three plan to move to Oahu in December to soak up the Hawaiian culture where the ukulele got its start.
Ukuleles, Topham said, are easy to learn to play, and “just being able to have it wherever you go” makes one perfect for a skateboard-sized case. (He tried making one big enough to hold a guitar, but it was too ungainly.)
Topham said it’s always been his dream to own a business. As a kid growing up in Sandy, he knocked on doors to get customers for his lawn-mowing service, and he was active in the DECA club at Jordan High School, founding a student-run store. Topham, who will enroll in Utah Valley University next semester, said he visited Jordan High last month, and the DECA kids there will start selling Gigboarder merchandise in the student store.
Topham has taken prototypes of the Gigboarder to Southern California beaches and college campuses to get feedback. “The first reaction is usually, ‘That’s dope. What’s that?’” he said. “When I open it up, they’re just more astonished. ‘There’s a ukulele in there?’”
Some people — “the Goth skaters,” Topham said — have been drawn to the fact that the deck, being wider at one end than the other, looks like a coffin. He plans to offer a version in black, with a purple stripe.
“It’s actually, surprisingly, a selling point for people,” he said. “It wasn’t intentional to make it a coffin. It just sort of happened.”
Topham has launched a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter, to raise $5,000 for an initial run of between 50 and 100 skateboards. The deadline for the campaign is Dec. 1. As of this week, 22 backers have pledged $852 toward the campaign.
“It’s beyond just a new board,” Topham said. “It’s building your brand, building a lifestyle. … It’s more about enjoying the ride.”