Standing in the middle of her garage-turned-workspace overflowing with boxes, artwork and recent inventions, Palo Alto Senior High School freshman Katherine Thomsen balances her handmade electric skateboard against her knee as she points out the metal box containing the complex engine she built herself. Her helmet, its color barely discernible under a mountain of stickers, lies nearby, always within arm’s reach.
Although many teenagers would love the idea of having their own electric skateboard to ride to school, not many would be up for the enormous task of assembling one from scratch. That is, except for teens like Thomsen.
One of a kind
Thomsen is not your typical teen. She is an inventor, artist, surfer, traveler, soccer player, unicycler, skateboarder, Snapple bottle cap collector, lock-picker and more. Her interests constantly changing, Thomsen can not be constrained to a single hobby and is always curious to explore and try more.
The remains of her past experiences can be seen scattered across her room. A syringe mechanism hangs by her closet door, which turns the light on whenever the door opens, and posters from Spain are tacked over her bed.
However, it is the most intriguing piece of furniture in her room that holds all of Thomsen’s past and current hobbies, inner thoughts, experiences and creations: handmade shelves, which were once an old dresser. Among the books, jars of snapple bottle caps, lock-picking materials, mini condiment packages and spray paint art filling her shelves, the most important aspect of Thomsen’s life lies in a simple green folder overflowing with sketches and detailed diagrams of mechanical inventions she came up with over the years, such as her electric skateboard.s
An inventor on wheels
Ever since she was little, Thomsen says she has been fascinated by the way things work and the intricacies of machines, which fueled the desire to invent things of her own.
“My parents didn’t let me, [but] I wanted to take our microwave apart,” she says.
A couple of designs that have come to life are her syringe mechanism operating her closet lights and her electric longboard that she built last summer, one of her more time-consuming inventions.
“My parents didn’t let me, [but] I wanted to take our microwave apart.”
— Katherine Thomsen, freshman
Thomsen has always been most attracted to all things wheeled, her electric longboard an addition to her fixie bicycle, unicycle, worn out from years of riding it to school and across the Golden Gate Bridge and a variety of skateboards.
“I pretty much just like anything that has wheels that I can ride around,” she says.
Thomsen was inspired to build her electric longboard after learning of their high price, diving headfirst into the expansive online electric skateboarding community, determined to create one of her own.
“I knew nothing about it … electrical stuff and coding,” she says. “So I did a lot of research. I watched videos [and] I read.”
After hours of in-depth research, many trips to the hardware store, which Thomsen says is one of her favorite places to be, and a couple of mishaps along the way, Thomsen finally completed her strenuous project.
The future is Kat
With her first year of high school in full throttle, Thomsen’s schedule has transformed from weekly Tuesday after-school surfing in Santa Cruz to soccer and schoolwork almost every day of the week, allowing her much less time to dabble in her creative interests. Yet she is not ready to give up on her interests and still tries to find time to surf and brainstorm on the weekends.
Despite Thomsen’s fascination with mechanics, she says she has had trouble relaying her passion to her friends, who don’t share her interest in building. She explains her love of going to her local hardware store, but says her friends weren’t as excited by the outing.
“They didn’t love it as much so I couldn’t stay for that long,” Thomsen says, describing one visit to the hardware store with her friends. “They wanted ice cream.”
As of now, Thomsen says she is unsure of her future plans. Despite encouragement to become an engineer due to her appreciation of math, she says she doesn’t want a static job.
“I mean, I’m sure there are some … engineers that do that but when I think of engineer, it is straightforward,” Thomsen says. “I want something more free, a little more creative.”