Quick Take:

Santa Cruz-based Future Motion issued a formal recall for its Onewheel electric skateboards after four people died while riding the popular single-wheel device. The recall comes nearly a year after the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission first began raising safety concerns about the skateboard. Future Motion has insisted its skateboards don’t have faulty components and blamed rider error for accidents, but said it will issue a software update for most of its models.

Less than a year after Santa Cruz-based Future Motion Inc. publicly criticized the federal government’s safety warnings over its Onewheel electric skateboards following four deaths — and refused the feds’ request to stop all sales of the skateboards — Future Motion last week formally recalled all Onewheel products due to those same safety concerns.

In cooperation with the four-person U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Future Motion issued the recall Friday for all six of its Onewheel models. The recall affects 300,000 of the single-wheel, self-balancing electric skateboards sold since January 2014.

“The skateboards can stop balancing the rider if the boards’ limits are exceeded, posing a crash hazard that can result in serious injury or death,” Future Motion wrote in its recall announcement. “Rider safety is our top priority. … This is why we also strongly encourage all riders to always wear a helmet and other protective gear while riding.”

Details surrounding the four deaths the CPSC attributed to the Onewheel skateboards between 2019 and 2021 are meager; however, the commission said that riders were not wearing helmets in three of the deaths.

In a statement shared with Lookout, Future Motion CEO and Onewheel inventor Kyle Doerksen said the skateboards are comparable to bicycles in terms of safety, but that the CPSC’s focus on Onewheels was because of the scrutiny newer, less-familiar technologies tend to receive.

“There’s always an element of risk when you’re moving through the world at speed, and people need to be OK with that or choose not to use this type of product. Helmets are so important to use with any product like ours,” Doerksen said via email. “Onewheels do not have faulty components and they do not suddenly shut off due to any fault of the product.”

Future Motion said in its announcement that the recall was the “culmination of months of work with the CPSC.”

The recall is a voluntary one, and asks all riders to stop using Onewheel. However, the CPSC acknowledges that rather than requesting the devices be returned to the manufacturer, the company is instead releasing a software update that will alert riders when they reach conditions that could lead to a crash.

The software update will be available through the Onewheel app, but at staggered timelines for different models. CPSC said the update will be available for Onewheel GT models within a week, and the update for the Pint X, Pint and XR models will be available within six weeks. The safety updates will not be available for the Original and Plus models, and owners of those early models are urged to stop using their Onewheels, but will qualify for a $100 credit toward the purchase of a newer model, which ranges from $1,050 to $2,200.

Future Motion's Onewheel Pint.
Future Motion’s Onewheel Pint. Credit: Via Future Motion Inc.

The federal commission has been eyeing Onewheels since last year. In November, the CPSC highlighted safety concerns with the skateboards because the boards can abruptly stop and eject riders. However, Future Motion disagreed with the concerns at the time, referring to them as “unjustified and alarmist claims,” and said it saw “no reason for riders to stop using their boards.” The company refused to issue a recall in the face of the CPSC’s concerns.

At the time, CPSC Commissioner Richard Trumka said the company was disregarding the government’s guidance.

“Immediately stop using all Onewheel electric skateboards — they are not worth dying for,” Trumka said in a November 2022 statement. “CPSC asked Future Motion to stop selling the Onewheel and to advise its customers to not use the product. The company refused. Future Motion is unwilling to take appropriate action to fix a product hazard that has killed people.”

In a letter to the editor from November 2022, a reader of the Santa Cruz Sentinel described their “painful” lesson while riding their Onewheel.

“I was already a reasonably skilled rider using my Onewheel according to manufacturer instructions, on a smooth road on a clear day, wearing all manner of protective gear,” Elise Atkins wrote. “But there was nothing I could do to avert the sudden malfunction of the board, causing it to nosedive into the ground and me to fly off it, landing on my head, chest and outstretched arms. … How is it OK for a company to pretend their device is safe when used properly, when the consequences of normal, responsible use can be serious injury or death?”

Future Motion said it felt the concerns were derived from riders not using the boards correctly, not board or technology errors.

“Sure, there’s technology [in our boards], and some think it should magically eliminate any chance of a rider falling,” Future Motion said in a Nov. 16 statement. “But there are simply some hazards that come with any sport, and that can be managed by wearing safety gear and being smart about how, when, and where we ride based on our skill level.”

Yet at some point the company’s interpretation of the concerns changed. As part of the recall, Future Motion is releasing a software update for its newer models that will alert riders with a buzz “when experiencing certain situations that can result in a crash … and help riders further recognize that the board’s ability to balance may soon be exceeded so that they can lean back and slow down to avoid crashing.”

Doerksen praised his team for developing the safety alert technology that can be installed in four of the six Onewheel models through a firmware (a type of software) update.

“The requirement to use the term ‘recall’ for this type of announcement with the CPSC has caused some public confusion because most riders think of it as a firmware update rather than a recall when you send the product back to the manufacturer,” Doerksen said.

“Over the last year, we have continued to work with the CPSC on ways to enhance safety and the overall experience for Onewheel riders. … The haptic buzz safety feature took a huge amount of work to create and wasn’t yet developed when the CPSC issued its statement last year.

“We’re proud to have innovated an exciting new safety feature that is the core of last week’s recall and has allowed us to turn the page on this chapter.”

At Covewater Paddle Surf shop, manager Eric Minozzi remains a big fan of the boards and said he disagreed with the federal government’s findings, similarly attributing any safety concerns to how people ride the board, rather than a glitch in the board itself. Minozzi called the recall “bad for the community, the brand, and its users.”

“There are a lot more deadly accidents on bike rides … this is nothing extreme or dangerous,” Minozzi said. He admitted he was confused about a retailer’s role on a recall, as his shop has received no notification about having to pull the product off the shelves. He plans to continue selling the Onewheel products and said he will not hide the recall from potential buyers.

Future Motion was founded in 2013 and has been based in Santa Cruz since 2015. The Onewheel originally started as a Kickstarter campaign in 2014, and the skateboards are assembled on the Westside.

Over the past decade, Christopher Neely has built a diverse journalism résumé, spanning from the East Coast to Texas and, most recently, California’s Central Coast.Chris reported from Capitol Hill...