Alright, so. Ya know how at the beginning of every year, the president gives that address that basically sums up what happened last year, and what will happen in the coming 12 months, and everyone's watching Walking Dead and refreshing Instagram instead of paying attention? Ay, it's alright. I'm guilty of both, but what I think is a really interesting thought is the idea that perhaps skateboarding is deserving of such discussion. It's the beginning of the year (yes I know it's April, but, we're out here in the first quarter still, son, therefore it's the beginning), and one can only imagine that a lot of us are finally getting some sunlight and shedding that damn Zooey Deschanel complexion we've garnered since December in favor of a more Carhartt-like bronze (side note, much like Ghostface once claimed that the only person able to claim dressing as well as him was Slick Rick, the only person fuckin' with the grand exalted Schendelini, master of the pepperoni and grey hair, is one Evan Hutchings).
Same color as the pants, g
As much as many people eye roll at the inclusion of a Lil Wayne pro model shoe being made by a skate shoe company (term is loosely used) on skate shop walls (there has to be a shop out there desperate enough to put those on the wall), the fact is this: skateboarding is dividing into two halves.
What I mean by this is as follows : the "big" skateboard companies, hard goods or otherwise, are getting bigger. Nike SB seems to have no problem flying their first round draft picks all across the world and putting them up in 6-star hotels, adding to their roster yearly, and apparently enough money to make some skate shoes that no one in their right mind would buy. One can assume that the original incarnation of the Omar Salazar pro model, the Gino Iannucci favored Challenge Court, and even, to a lesser extent, the Veloce (The Mayor has a pair that he doesn't even wear) must have been a nice tax-write off for the multi-zillion dollar company. It doesn't matter if no one buys some of their shoes they put out, as they make damn near everything. Likewise with Adidas (someone on the three stripes design team must really dislike Silas, as all of his models look gross compared to the rest of their catalog), Supra, and some other companies. As far as hard goods companies go, it's strange to imagine Tony Hawk's company as an under-dog in the situation when around 15 years ago, everyone's first board was a Birdhouse. DLX seems to be one of the biggest companies in that field, and thank Gos those guys love skateboarding and "keep it real." But aside from the sporting goods companies, what else is there?
Not quite sure what I was expecting
There is a unnervingly long list of companies that are run out of major to "semi-major" distributions that "keep it real" whose contributions to skateboarding include sponsoring your favorite mid-90's hero's third run at a comeback, or who puts out fantastic videos, that I have come to the conclusion only exist in the sense that they are a front for drug cartels or money laundering organizations. They always end up having their catalogs posted on skateboard message boards, or are shared on Facebook and Instagram for likes and comments. The comments are always as follows:
"Haven't had a _____ board in a while. Totally am/was gonna/would/consider buy/buying one of those if they make it to the local shop / if they don't have any ____ boards / if they made that in an 8.25 / if they made it in a fun, wacky, antiqued fish shape (side note - pour some out for American Antique) / (apparently) if its not a red-top board / if only their wood didn't suck."
Pick and choose what to fill the blanks with. You know these companies exist, we've all said his before. It's ridiculous that Slap actually has this thing where people (read : a coalition) are supposed to band together to buy Board X the next chance they get in a grass roots attempt to keep Board X Company going.
It's really a collective circle jerk, but what on Slap isn't?
A lot of these companies can only coast by on their laurels, fair-weather 'support' groups (liking X-company /& X-Pro but constantly skating Y-Company Boards) and their core-points for so long. I'd love to be skating a east coast style hero board, or the more-core sister board company to Zumiez' hottest board company, or a "east coast powerhouse who skated to the same song twice in two different videos"' board, but I'm not going to fool myself. I either won't be, because board company A doesn't exist in this area, board company B barely existed at all for a few years there, and board company C has the absolute worst wood this side of Dwindle Distribution. Therefore, a lot of these companies that I've alluded to are very much in danger of shutting down, leaving us with the companies that stay afloat either because their boards are unanimously the shit (DLX) or because their over-hyped video offerings change skateboarding for better or worse (Crailtap, Kayo, NHS, etc). These companies are in danger, unless....
Yep. The company name was gonna be Costanza Skateboards. Patent-pending.
Unless they downsize. In the past few years, new companies have been popping up like the flowers outside your window right now (Polar, 3D, Fucking Awesome, Alex Olson's company [Kinda refuse to type Bianca Chandon tbh ; it will be referred to in this post As AOCKRTBC], Politic, Magenta, etc etc). This right here is why skateboarding is awesome. A friend of mine and myself were brainstorming about starting a board company ourselves, recently. The reason we ultimately decided to scrap the idea was simple : there are so many rad little companies started exactly the way we planned on starting it by like minded individuals that truly love skateboarding and want to give back to it as much as possible, by attempting to fill a void that arguably may or may not be there in terms of board graphics and image and videos ; There are so many companies I decided we simply respected too much, especially local companies, that we didn't want to take money out of their pocket by putting it into ours.
The reason the companies I listed above are so damn rad is because you can feel the love in the product. You can feel the good vibes emanating out. A lot of the people who own these companies, especially some of the really small ones, local ones, and newly minted ones actually have to work a real job in order to support themselves and their family. They don't cut corners on their shoes or on their wood, because they invasion thief target market as people like them. These companies definitely were created with speaking to themselves, to a degree. For example; when me and my friend were thinking about our company, we were less concerned with our boards selling out immediately to little kids (don't get me wrong, the kids are the future, and their parents money is really what keeps the industry afloat), but mainly, we wanted to make a product that we would be stoked on ourselves (obviously trying to think about these things without a bias was difficult. The brainstorming sessions often ended with several long-winded pats on our back because we were so proud of ourselves... Psyche), and that's what these companies do.
Companies like Magenta, Politic, Palace, Polar, AOCKRTBC, Traffic, etcetera stay afloat because they make a relatively small amount of boards. This means a few things:
1 - they can actually focus on their graphics.
This is because paying freelance/company artists (however small their premium is) for making, say, 25-40 boards (in the case of something like a Crailtap or DLX company) quickly adds up. Also, the bane of many wall board collectors' existence, the logo-board, is consistently more popular than a pro model board (side note : one thing I always thought was cool that Crailtap did was NEVER make logo boards, with the exception of their 20th anniversary one-off boards. This ensures that anyone buying a Crailtap board is also putting some money into one of their pros' pockets... Their boards and graphics are still ass, of course). Logo boards are often carry-overs, often featuring iconic graphics, and carry a higher profit margin for the company, due to not having to pay for a professional endorsement. Also, when a company, for example, Politic, puts out a new catalog and each pro gets 2/3 boards (this is fact, there are a few one-offs and one series graphic), this means that the artists designing these boards for the professionals usually create work that is much more in-depth, for lack of a better word. My most recent wall-board pick up, the Durante Purple Tape, for example, would be a VERY quick graphic to make in Photoshop/Illustrator/whatever ... But it's so sick because Durante wouldn't get that graphic unless he's a big enough fan of Wu-Tang to delve into their solo artist work and the designer wouldn't have made the graphic unless he himself loved Only Built For Cuban Linx and understands what "The Purple Tape" means to a lot of people. This is much more effective in standing out (read: "speaking to") to a potential customer than a company that makes 5/10/15 boards for the certain hot pro, and essentially making ass-graphics that no one will remember in a month and a half. Who will be in their 40's, reminiscing about that one Mike Mo board with the Girl logo on it, as opposed to reminiscing about, say, the Zach Lyons Magenta board with the Minor Threat nod?
2 - they have a smaller distribution (in a good way)
Not flooding the market is important. Skateboarders have always, at least in my perspective, been about not being the same as the dude next to you. For example, I feel like if a few dudes in your crew are running the Janoski's hard core, many would be less inclined to picking up a pair of said boat shoes. The fact that many smaller companies are in such high demand is because many people know that they will be getting a quality product, as well as cool guy points (if you're the only dude at the spot with a Traffic, you might as well be the mayor himself). When my friend and I were tallying up costs for getting boards made, we imagined getting boards made through a reliable, solid distribution company, which would significantly shrink our profits... But we knew that if we ordered the right number, we wouldn't have too much stock or too little stock, which would hopefully create a demand. When these companies' stock sells out (literally emptying their supply, not the negative term), that profit right there goes to their riders, graphic guys, and making the next runs, not necessarily to a marketing guy/team manager/staff filmer/staff photographer/web guy/web clip editor/social media manager/etc.
Skateboarding is so rad. it's rad because I believe we will be seeing a strange shift in the industry very similar to the economy today. The bigger companies will continue to expand as they have the large distribution to mall stores/over seas/money to pay people not to work a real job/etc, but so will the smaller companies, for the exact opposite reasons. The companies whose owner is the graphic guy, the web guy, the filmer, the artist, and the investor will thrive, because these companies are in it more for the love of doing something extra for a hobby they love, and are funding it with their own money made from working a 9-5.
I love all of you.
"See you in the streets." - Adam Howard