For as long as he can remember, Riley Richters has been fascinated with how things work.
The Grade 12 student in Nanaimo school district’s Career Technical Centre program started dissecting his toys to see what was inside when he was about four years old, starting with his Thomas the Tank engine.
“I just remember taking things apart to see what would happen,” said Richters. “From there it just kind of grew.”
Building his own things was the next step. In elementary school, he worked on a range of projects, from remote-controlled boats to a zipline across his backyard.
His father, John Richters, an aviation maintenance engineer, allowed his son the freedom to learn by trial and error, even when he thought his son’s method of doing something would not work.
“Everything he does, I never said, ‘Don’t do it,’” said John.
Richters got into designing skateboards and other types of boards – he’s a longboarder, surfer, windsurfer, skier and snowboarder – when the street in front of his Lantzville house was paved about four years ago.
His first skateboard was made from a piece of Cedar siding off the side of the house and while it wasn’t perfect, Richters kept at it, honing his techniques and including elaborate art designs – he’s also a talented artist.
He began longboard racing on his own creations, then some friends saw his designs and began ordering boards. Richters has sold nearly a dozen so far.
“It pays for little things on the side,” he said.
Other projects include putting a windsurf sail on a skateboard, turning a windsurf board into an outrigger canoe of sorts with a sail, and building his own paddleboard.
“Any tool, if I haven’t learned it yet, I can figure it out by just watching,” he said.
Richters loves a challenge – and seeing if he can improve upon existing designs. Right now, he’s building a new rudder for an old dinghy that has seen better days.
“It’s a good feeling at the end, when you get it worked out,” said Richters. “I like to push it a lot. I know what will happen now if I take things apart. I’m not really scared to go there.”
Richters is one of two youth nominated for the Mid-Island Science Technology and Innovation Council’s youth innovator award this year, along with Trevor Harder of Port McNeill. The awards ceremony takes place Nov. 2.
Ken Holland, Richter’s shop teacher for the past several years, said his protégé has all the traits needed to be a good innovator.
“He’s got the drive to try things that are new and he’s not afraid of failing,” he said. “He doesn’t do just the bare minimum. He wants to be challenged, he doesn’t just take the easy pathway.”
Richters will finish high school with his first level of training to become an electrician, thanks to the district’s Career Technical Program, which allows students to earn high school credits while taking trades and technical courses at Vancouver Island University.
The CTC pays the tuition costs and students still attend their graduation ceremony and prom. The difference is they have up to a year of university paid for and finished before they even graduate.
“You’re double dipping in a way,” said Holland.
For Richters, who learns by doing, the regular high school classroom did not appeal.
He plans to become an electrician and perhaps open up his own company. Studying other trades such as welding might also be in the works.
Richters’s goal is to have his own workshop one day, where he will continue to create and innovate.