Tomoko Oikawa, a business management student at SF State, sits on “3 up 3 down,” a famous staircase known for skateboarding in the SoMa district of downtown San Francisco. Her carefree and friendly disposition is shown through the way she laughs as she speaks, though one may mistake this for nervousness. Her skateboard is embezzled with a red rose on its grip tape, yet its wheels look as if they’ve been all over San Francisco’s SoMa West Skatepark, an interesting, yet appropriate accompaniment to Oikawa’s composure.
Oikawa works at a clinical salon treating children for head lice and goes to school full-time, but she works even harder and contrasts the male-dominated skateboarding community as the founder of the grip tape company, Tomo Grip.
Oikawa founded Tomo Grip in 2016 after she painted on her skateboards, which eventually led her to make grip tape stickers. These grip tape stickers gained mounting attention at skate parks, and Oikawa decided to paint full sheets of grip tape and sell them online.
To help her business grow, Oikawa would market her grip tape to social media influencers, which helped Tomo Grip’s number of followers on Instagram skyrocket.
“Social media is a blessing,” Oikawa said.
Arthur Giat, a well-known skateboarder in France who represents Tomo Grip, is one of the first social media influencers to support Oikawa’s company and has been skating with Tomo Grip for more than a year.
“I like the different design,” Giat said. “I like colored grip tape and being creative.”
Tomo Grip is now sold at FTC Barcelona, a famous skate shop in Spain known all over the globe.
Selling Tomo Grip at FTC Barcelona was one of Oikawa’s milestones for her company.
“After I got into FTC Barcelona, a lot of skate shops around the world have been hitting me up to carry my stuff,” Oikawa said.
When Oikawa isn’t abroad, she resides in San Bruno, where she hand paints every sheet of her grip tape as she receives orders. It became difficult for Oikawa to keep up with her company’s orders while attending school and working full-time. Balancing all three, Oikawa will not be able to graduate in four years as one would expect a college student to, but this doesn’t bother her.
“Something has to give, when you’re trying to balance all three things, you know what I mean?” Oikawa said.
Oikawa’s hard-working attitude pays off as Tomo Grip evolves as a company. Tomo Grip now has around 12,000 followers on Instagram.
Friend and former SF State student Jacob Moss is motivated by Oikawa’s hustle.
“It inspires me to get off my ass,” Moss said.
Oikawa has been skateboarding for four years after playing online games throughout high school. Skateboarding became an everyday hobby and has influenced her to travel elsewhere, and bring Tomo Grip with her. Oikawa went to the Tampa Am and Tampa Pro skateboarding competitions in Florida and has also traveled to Belgium and Paris.
“I don’t think I would be traveling if it wasn’t for skateboarding,” Oikawa said.
Oikawa plans to spread the word of Tomo Grip worldwide as she travels. Tomo Grip tape is currently manufactured and shipped from Oikawa’s house in San Bruno, but Oikawa hopes to file an LLC for her company, get Tomo Grip trademarked and find a manufacturer to print her grip tape.
“I’m kinda blown away,” Oikawa said. “I never thought I could get this far. It started off as a hobby. I just hand painted shit just for fun.”