MANSFIELD – Orie Rush and Michael Woolson were born 20 years apart and raised in different cities, but the brothers have plenty in common. Both are artists and creators with an entrepreneurial spirit.
In his hometown of Mansfield, Rush is best known for his visual art -- drawings, paintings, illustrations.
Woolson grew up in Mount Vernon and resides in Los Angeles. After a decade of acting, he began writing books and coaching actors like Evan Peters, Mila Kunis, Hailee Steinfeld and Anson Mount.
Over the past four years, Rush and Woolson have made a name for themselves in a different scene on the cutting edge of an emerging sport.
Onewheels are self-balancing electric skateboards with a single wheel in the middle. FlightFins attach to the fender to provide riders a foothold to leverage for jumping obstacles and performing new tricks.
“Being locked in, it's very much more like a snowboarding binding feeling where you have a little bit more control over the board, especially in turns," Rush said.
Since launching their LLC in 2018, the brothers have been awarded two patents and rolled out a full product line of fins, fenders and even custom wheels.
The birth of FlightFins
Onewheels have gained an enthusiastic following since the product launched in 2015. Rush grew up skateboarding and snowboarding, but said you don't need a background in board sports to enjoy a Onewheel.
“I've seen plenty of people hop on a Onewheel that have never skated, never snowboarded before and do great and I've seen snowboarders and skateboarders hop on it and have a really hard time with it," Rush said.
“With the Onewheel, you just hop on it and it goes. It does definitely get you some exercise. It exercises weird muscles you wouldn't think about in your legs. It's definitely more of a workout than you'd expect.”
Both Woolson and Rush were riding Onewheels by 2017, but they felt something was missing. Woolson thought adding a wedge to the back fender might make it easier to nudge up curbs. During a visit to Mansfield, he talked it over with Rush, who fashioned a prototype.
“I took a block of wood to the belt sander and shaved down really rudimentary fins just to see if it would actually work," Rush recalled.
After trying out a homemade fin on the back, they added one on the front and started testing jumps.
“We started to recognize that you could potentially jump in the air with them,” Woolson said. “Orie got on the skateboard and I turned on the camera and he jumped about a foot in the air and we were just amazed."
In the hours before Woolson caught a flight back to Los Angeles, he and Rush captured as much footage as possible. They tested nudges and jumps until the batteries on their Onewheels died.
Later, Woolson cut together the footage and posted it on YouTube. After seeing an enthusiastic response from the Onewheel community, they launched an online fundraising campaign and reached their goal in less than two days.
"We knew that it was a really game-changing product, but we had no idea that it was going to blow up in the way that it did,” Woolson said. “We were surprised that it funded that quickly. The community really supported us and that was the beginning of it all."
After developing a prototype, FlightFins partnered with a Minnesota-based manufacturer to begin production. They later partnered with Hoosier Racing Tire to release both slick and treaded tires for the pint and XR Onewheel models.
The company has grown to include a global customer base of more than 125 countries. Woolson said the company's focus has been on making great products rather than expansion. It's a strategy that's paying off well -- FlightFins' monthly gross revenue has increased 900 percent over the last three years.
But when you talk with Rush and Woolson, they don't tend to bring up figures. For them, it's a passion project and creative outlet.
“I’m always in the business of more fun," Rush said. “I'm not really interested in creating products just to make something. I want to make something that is useful. I like creating things that I love.
“This has been such a wonderful learning experience," he added. "In many ways, I love designing something for 3D printing as much as I do illustrating something. It’s just different forms of creativity.”
Once Onewheel releases its new GT model, the FlightFin originators will start creating a set of fins (and possibly custom tires) for the board.
Despite living on opposite ends of the country, the brothers continue to run FlightFins together. Both say running a business with family has made the experience even better.
"It's really been a passion project all along and it's helped me become closer to my brother, which is great,” Woolson said. “The best thing about all this is that I get to have a closer relationship with my brother."