The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Realities of Modern Skateboard Industry Economics and Relationships
by Bud Stratford
It’s about 7pm on an a typically chilly and rainy Phoenix evening. I have a handful of big band and jazz CDs on a constant rotation in my stereo system. In my head, I’m replaying an argument that I had with Lew Ross over at Fickle Skateboards yesterday, over and over. The premise of my argument was this: Skate Shops Are (Generally) Dead Paradigms. It’s just not a widely accepted fact of life yet (but it will be, quite soon). The Skate Shop Paradigm will be replaced by a modernized Skateboard Media Paradigm that will totally replace the traditional skateboard shop, probably within five years (or so).
We’re already well on our way, as an industry, to doing just this; the New Media Paradigm just has to work out a few bugs, and the stage will be set for wholesale extinction.
And worst of all, the only people that will dislike this change will be the former skate shop owners, themselves, and a few skateboarding traditionalists. Everybody else will celebrate the change as being entirely overdue, and a major improvement over the “status quo”.
Including, and especially, me.
The 2008 Tour
I knew that skate shops were in dire trouble back in 2008, when I spent the summer visiting skate retailers all over the midwest. During the course of that tour, I discovered the following factoids:
– The Mall Skate Shop sucks ass as a valid retail paradigm. Pac Sun… which I perceived to be much more “mass fashion boutique”, and much less “core skate shop”… appeared impotent and doomed to survive in the marketplace (Pac Sun, just last week, finally declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy). The reason is quite simple, really: as a long-time skateboarder that has lived through and experienced several changes in our pastime, our culture, and our industry, I know full well that trends in skateboarding come far too fast and far too furious for any slow-moving, mega-corporate, bureaucratic chain of retail stores to effectively cope with in a timely and/or efficient manner. Pac Sun effectively proved this by turning turtle, thereby proving my very worst fears without any remaining doubt.
– Zumiez might be slightly better positioned than Pac Sun to survive in the marketplace… but, not much. Especially in light of having read Jeff Harbaugh’s dissertation of their recent 10K results. In those comments, there’s some vague talk about “trade areas” that were left conspicuously undefined, and not elaborated on. My read on that was that Zumiez understands full well that their future is very limited, unless they somehow revolutionize their retail paradigm. The unanswered question, as always, is exactly how they propose going about this. The answer, of course, seems to be that they don’t have the first fuckin’ idea on how this will all evolve. All they know is that, like Pac Sun, they are big, slow, bureaucratic, and stupid. Not a particularly good omen, given that a similarly engineered big, slow, bureaucratic, and stupid retailer just went bottoms up.
Zumiez, of course, has some very big fish to fry, even in the traditional retailer role. Their staff habitually sucks in terms of product knowledge and brand awareness; the very last person that you want to ask when it comes to understanding what a product is made of, where it was made, and how it works, is a fuckin’ Zumiez employee. That is just a known fact; Zumiez is where you go to get misinformation (or, outright disinformation)… not, the correct information. Jordan Richter has a YouTube link on his Facebook page that illustrates this perfectly, if not depressingly. It’s pretty good for a cynical laugh or two. But not if you’re Zumiez.
– Then, we have “The Core Skate Shop”. Which are the shops that we have all tried to help, and support, in any way possible. Unfortunately, this “help, and support” has largely fallen on deaf ears. Skateshops are handicapped by their own brands of arrogance and ignorance… a peculiarly American attitude and outlook on life… that says that because they are “The Core Cool Club”, then they are always unquestionably “right”. Even if they’re almost never correct.
The problem here is that, when I mystery shop “core” skate shops… I oftentimes find many of the same misinformed “facts” that I’ll typically find being barfed out of the egocentric salespeople’s mouths that I encounter all-too-regularly in your average Zumiez.
Put another way: The Core Skate Shop is sucking just as badly, blowing it just as hard, and doing it in almost the same exact ways, as Zumiez is. Except, we expect Zumiez to suck and blow. But we expect much, much more out of the core skate retailers.
And neither of them are delivering. Which is really too bad.
The core shops that survive… and trust me, it will only be the very best of the core skate shops that survive the impending onslaught… will share some common attributes. To illustrate my points, I’m going to use an example: Mike Hirsch over at SoCal Skateshop (www.socalskateshop.com). Because in most ways… if not, in all ways… he is the leader in the skateboard retail sector, right now. He is so far ahead of everyone else, it’s hopelessly pathetic.
First: SoCal is both a brick-and-mortar, and an online shop. That’s key. The B&M aspect gives him a visible, tangible storefront, and instant credibility. But the online shop delivers the whole worldwide marketplace, quite literally, to his doorstep.
Mike knows his shit. He knows every single product that he sells, and he knows them intimately. Probably because he skates, and has skated for eons. It is a cold day in hell when I trust any shop owner, anywhere, to give me detailed, correct, and useful information on the newest products. But I trust Mike implicitly, and my trust in him is absolute. He has never steered me wrong. Ever.
Mike is kind, humble, and helpful. He takes calls. He’ll chat. He’s funny. He’s a swell chap. His customer service is impeccable. Even his staff is really, really good; they know their stuff, too. It’s impressive. Because it’s so rare these days.
Mike carries everything. Everything that matters, at least. He has a great eye for brands and products, and has discriminating tastes in what he puts on his wall. He carries a million brands, and goes ridiculously deep in every one of those brands; his inventory overhead must be absolutely astronomical. And he always has the hottest stuff. So much so that every time I call the guy, it sets me back an easy $500 or so. Because like any skater, I want it all. And Mike has it all. Which is great for Mike. But not so great for my checking account or my credit cards.
Lastly… to bring this full circle… Mike not only has the perfect blend of B&M and online presence… he also has the perfect blend of “modern” and “traditional”. Sure, I can order my stuff online, score free shipping, and have it on my front porch a couple days later. Or I can call him up “The Old-Fashioned Way”, and toss him my hard-earned cash over the phone (which is how I prefer to do it). It’s really nice to not only still have the “traditional” option available… but to have Hershey nail that option out of the ballpark so well, and so consistently.
So long as I continue to skate and wear stuff out… and as long as Hershey and his crew do such an outstanding job of running their program over there… I’ll be a SoCal customer.
Probably, for life.
The Mission: To Out-Hershey, Hershey
In order to build a skateshop paradigm on par with SoCal, you would have to devise a strategic plan to basically “Out-Hershey, Hershey”. But that would take a lot of time and energy, and a whole lotta money.
I don’t know the history of SoCal that intimately. But, I could make a solid bet that I have a pretty good idea. I would guess that it started quite small, with just a small handful of really great brands, and built itself up… on a foundation of excellent customer service… over the course of maybe ten years or so, until it grew into the powerhouse retailer that SoCal is today. In order to duplicate that sort of success in a much more immediate time frame, I would guess that the “Initial Cost Of Entry” into that market, today, might be on the order of a quarter mil or so. And even that might be a really ambitious number.
The only retailer that even comes close to having that kind of cash on hand, ironically enough, is Zumiez.
But, they can’t do it. Not under their current business structure, at least. Because while Hershey might very well have himself a pretty spectacular pain in the ass managing a small crew of employees in one storefront (with an effective, competent, and user-friendly online presence)… Zumiez would find it nay impossible to get that same level of customer service out of a staff of thousands of shitheaded teenagers, dispersed worldwide in hundreds of mall stores, with a much smaller (although arguably, much more “mainstream”) product selection, and a much less user-friendly online site. While most skaters have too few resources to build a skate shop that can Out-Hershey Hershey, Zumiez almost has too many resources to do it well, and to do it competently.
Most importantly: I seriously doubt that anyone in the Zumiez organization has the years of experience, as an everyday skateboard enthusiast, that Hershey has under his belt. And understanding your market, in this market, is everything.
I’d bet that this is true, because the results speak for themselves. If anyone in that organization actually skated, then the organization would surely be a hell of a lot better than it is today.
There’s another huge problem at work here, that bodes horribly for the skate retailer. Any skate retailer.
Here’s the problem:
When I started skating in 1989, decks cost about $55, retail. With grip.
Today, it’s 2016. And how much does the average deck retail for, today…? Oh, about $55. With grip.
Now, I don’t want to beat on a dead horse here. But the facts are simple and straightforward. Inflation happens. Even in the skateboard industry. The costs of manufacturing everything has gone up in the last thirty years. Including skateboards.
And the retail price of everything has gone up. Except skateboards.
Now, it doesn’t take a NASA rocket scientist to tell us that this is just a little bit fucked. What happened…?
Well, nobody raised retail prices, for one. Even though I (cough, cough) have been advocating for “Sensible MSRP’s” for maybe eight years or so now.
In the last thirty years, skateboards have gotten… well, shittier. Skateboards used to be American made, and lasted a really, really long time.
Now they’re largely made overseas somewhere… although nobody knows where, exactly, because there’s also no “Country Of Origin” stickers on most current skateboards… and the average skateboard lasts weeks, at best. And minutes, at worst.
Why would the market ever pay more money, for crappier skateboards…? Answer: they won’t. They’re not stupid, for pete’s sakes.
So, the only way that the industry can pay more to make skateboards, while the market pays less for them (when adjusted for inflation), is simple: cut out the middlemen. Including distributors. Which has been happening for quite some time now….
And retailers. Which is happening as we speak.
The New Paradigms
Given that most core shops, along with the entirety of Zumiez, will ultimately fail… the question becomes, what will replace them? The answers are: The (Few) Retail Survivors, Skateboard Clubs, The Brands Themselves, and The Media.
All of these things exist right now, of course. They’ll just evolve slightly to bear some aspect of the burdens that traditional, core skate shops shoulder, today.
Traditionally, skate shops functioned primarily as the showroom for the industry’s latest and greatest products. This was before the internet was invented, of course: now, the internet can do that same function better, faster, and easier. A function that Mike’s SoCal does in exactly this way, and does infinitely better than almost any B&M that I see around these days. Mike has gone to great lengths, as I mentioned earlier, to carry damn near everything [relevant and cool] under the sun. And the fact that his site offers multiple-perspective photos of every single product they carry takes so much of the “guesswork” out of understanding what, exactly, you’re buying. The detailed product dimensions and descriptions functionally fill in whatever remaining knowledge gaps that the pictures don’t illustrate on their own… a nice touch that even the traditional B&M often can’t (or won’t) effectively compete with. Those sorts of customer-friendly features will hasten the success of The Survivors, and the demise of The Failures.
The traditional skate shop has also fulfilled a number of secondary, less tangible functions throughout skate history. One being, to be an “all-inclusive clubhouse” that acts as the glue, the advocate, and the inspiration for the local skateboarding scene. Problem is, these “all-inclusive clubhouses” have devolved, since the heydays of the 1980’s, into divisive and alienating clubhouses for some elitist skateboarding “cool clubs” that have grown a bit too big for their britches. This, I think, describes most of today’s “core skate shops”, for better or for worse (mostly, for worse). I even have a perfect example of this: Rise Skate Shop in Indianapolis, Indiana, under the reign of Buddy Best. A shop that I was never really “cool enough” to step in to, let alone shop at. Now, this might be a giant misinterpretation on my part. Maybe Buddy was a really friendly, welcoming bloke the whole ten years that I lived there, and I just never realized it. I might even be the asshole in the equation here. Problem is, I’m still the customer. And as the customer in the equation, I never really felt comfortable shopping there at all. Not the Indianapolis location, at least (although the Bloomington location was supercool, and I did shop there a bit). All I felt, was that I was the un-cool outsider that really should be shopping elsewhere. So, I did; I shopped at SoCal, where Hershey made me feel not only right at home… but, totally appreciated too. And that’s why Hershey regularly got my $500 skateboard orders, and Buddy Best didn’t.
But, I also had a very friendly, supportive skateboard club on my side. That was Bart Kelley’s Old Indy Skaters. When I think of “The Face Of Skateboarding in Indianapolis”, I don’t ever think of Buddy Best. I think of Bart Kelley. A guy that always organized the sessions, sent us the Wednesday e-mail orders to show up the following Saturday… it wasn’t really ever an option to “show up” or not. “Showing up” was, at the very kindest, “strongly recommended”. He also “advised” (read: ordered) us to bring “the essentials” to the sesh: beer money if it was a private bowl, brooms and shovels if it was a ditch, directions if it was a private spot way out in the boonies, et cetera. If we were building a DIY, or helping someone revamp their backyard ramp, we all brought Cokes, water, tools, ideas, muscle, and a “Git ‘Er Done” attitude to the job. Bart made skateboarding seem like a grand ‘ol, uber-fun adventure at all times.
And best of all, anyone and everyone was invited. Regardless of their gender, experience, tastes, or ability. Even if they were decidedly “un-cool”… Bart always had a way of making everyone feel like they were “cool”. Buddy Best could never compete with that. Ever.
The traditional skate retailers also served as advocates for building public skateparks. That prize goes to Bart and The Club, again. Today, the remnants of The Old Indy Skaters are still battling to refurbish Major Taylor Skatepark, and getting new skateparks built… and winning on both fronts. I still follow The Guys on Facebook, so I’m very aware of what’s going on back home. Even if I am 1700 miles away.
The Industry, of course, has every intention and ability to do their own distribution and retail. This should just be a known fact by now; the infrastructure is already largely built to do exactly that. Hello, NHS Fun Factory…? Yeah. That’s one of the pathways to the future. As are comprehensive MSRP’s (you guys didn’t think I forgot that one, did you…?!), and tighter relationships between the manufacturers, and the few retailers that remain. The Industry, of course, is biased as hell to serve their own self-aggrandizing agendas; independent retail will be the counterbalance to that egocentric eccentricity that The Industry so regularly displays.
Lastly, the traditional skate shop served as a midwife between The Industry, and The Market. But, that responsibility also fell to The Media as well. The Media runs the ads, showcases the new products, interviews the pro skaters, and covers the events that The Industry produces. In a world where the core retailer is failing on all of these fronts, The Media is well positioned to pick up the slack. Especially in its position as another unbiased advocate and/or adversary of The Industry that will aid and abet independent and impartial retailers.
Of course, The Media will have to grow a bit to cover the demands; there will be new demands for quality photographers, journalists… true journalists, not the “faux journalists” that The Skateboard Media currently employs… filmers, consumer advocates, product testers, engineers, historians, and storytellers. And these people will cover every facet of a dynamic, diversified industry and a skateboard market that encompasses a dozen (or so) discreet disciplines; a whole spectrum of hybrid disciplines; hundreds of independent, autonomous brands; and thousands of personalities with stories to tell, and experiences to archive for posterity. The role of The Media is already, pretty big. But it’s poised to get much, much bigger, while also experiencing it’s own brand of consolidation and contraction. Let’s be real: nobody has the disposable time anymore to read ten magazines a month, and five hundred websites a day. A few powerhouses still remain to be built.
The question is, who will build them…? You? Or, me…?
The Eulogy of The Skate Retailer
Like I said at the beginning of this article, the future looks bright for everyone involved, minus the retailers that are bound to fail. I suspect that the smarter and more adaptable distributors that fail… and that will almost certainly be, all distributors… and the smarter and more adaptable retailers that will also fail, will more than likely all make successful transitions to either being skateboard brands, or skateboard media. Or maybe they will pioneer “private, pay-to-play” skateboard clubs (that might have a secondary retail function)… or maybe they’ll re-create the private skateboard park paradigm in some new, profitable, and sustainable way. One way or another, they will find some other niche to fill, somewhere.
The appeal of having a lifelong home and career in our beloved industry is just too strong to ignore. Where there is a will, a little creativity, and a lot of determination to succeed, there is a way.
That much, you can bank on. Best regards, as always… -B.
Bud Stratford can be reached at any time at his e-mail, email@example.com. But like most fellows these days, he’s probably much easier to reach on Facebook, where you can even opt to be his “friend”. But only if you’re “uncool enough”.
Bud only appreciates the uncool in all of us.
My motivations for writing about skateboarding, and writing about it the way that I do.
by Bud Stratford
I started skateboarding way back in the 1980s. It doesn’t seem that long ago, really. But every so often, some kid somewhere will ask me how long I’ve been skating; when I slowly realize that the answer is in the neighborhood of about 35 years or so (give or take), I begin to realize that 35 years is a really, really long time to be doing anything at all. Let alone, skateboarding.
Skateboarding in those early days was a pretty magical place. When I say “skateboarding”, by the way, I realize that there’s two very distinct ways that “skateboarding” can be defined. On one hand, there’s the “Purist Definition of Skateboarding” that says that skateboarding is the act of physically getting on a skateboard, and riding it around… and, nothing more than that. Then, there’s also the “Big Picture Definition of Skateboarding” that says that “skateboarding” also includes everything that surrounds and supports our pastime… including the industry (the manufacturers, the distributors, and the retailers), the media, the worldwide community of skaters, the culture, the artists, you and me… everything. The great thing about skateboarding in the 1980’s was that, regardless of how you defined it… skateboarding was pretty much the best thing ever. It was, in retrospect, “The Golden Age”.
And it’s been all downhill, ever since…
In the 1980’s, the industry looked vastly different then it does today. There were only a few established “brands”, supported by just a few manufacturers that made… on the whole of it… really great, quality products, almost exclusively here in the USA. Skateboards lasted a really, really long time, and the quality controls were excellent. Broken decks were a rarity; if you actually managed to break a deck, it was a real accomplishment. “Flatspotting” hadn’t even been defined yet (because it never really happened)… and as far as trucks went, it was just taken for granted that they were absolutely indestructible. You’d have to grind all the way through the hangars, and halfway through the axle, before you ever had to worry about breaking those damn clumps of aluminum and steel. And axles never slipped, because we used spacers between the bearings (I preferred steel spacers, because they were entirely uncrushable), and skateboards generally… well… worked.
Skateboarding back then, was pretty small. We perceived it as being “huge”, of course; skateboarding in 1988 and 1989 was all over the “mass media”, and there was corporate money involved, even in those days. But in hindsight, it was nothing at all like it is today.
That “smallness” dictated that skateboarding, almost by definition, was strictly “subculture” in nature. Skateboarding existed far out on the peripheral fringes of society, relatively unnoticed and uncared for by “The Masses”. Being “outsiders” that were largely left alone, and left to our own devices… that meant that we could pretty much do anything we wanted, whenever we wanted, and with very few consequences. That allowed for a huge amount of creativity and spontaneity within our little subculture. And we maximized the possibilities that unfettered freedom provided to us.
One perk of that freedom, was that pro skaters were allowed to be themselves. Now, in hindsight, this is a bit of a fallacy and a misnomer; even in those days, “pro skaters” (for the most part) had very limited input as far as their shapes, graphics, and image were concerned. A lot of it was marketed, contrived, designed, and heavily promoted by the manufacturers, as we learned later. But, some companies were a bit more progressive in this regard… G&S, Vision, and Schmitt Stix come immediately to mind… and some of the skaters on those teams took full advantage of the opportunity to take almost total control of their art direction, image, and marketing. And thus, we ended up with a long list of legendary skater-artists like Chris Miller, Neil Blender, Mark Gonzales, and John Lucero, just to name a few. Guys that were “professional skateboarders” in every imaginable sense of the word. Professional skateboarders that we still revere, to this day.
Likewise, the skateboard media was left largely free to run amok, unhindered by the constraints of mass popularity, mass marketing, and mass censorship. Journalists, writers, photographers, and spokespeople were given free reign to say whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and however they wanted… so long as the pages were full, the advertising sold, and the content was interesting and engaging enough to move magazines. Mofo, for example, has told countless stories about not even knowing what the fuck he was doing over at Thrasher in those early years; it was all very fly-by-night, and learn-as-you-go. Magazines were privately owned by industry magnates… not, corporate publishing houses. So in reality, the skateboard industry ultimately had no one to answer to but themselves.
The media, for the most part, embraced… I dare say, “promoted”… diversity of thought and action in skateboarding. The magazines routinely covered all disciplines of skateboarding, as a force of habit. Everything from vert, to street, to mini ramps, to backyard pools, to skateparks (when they existed), to ditches, to freestyle, to slalom was covered; in 1989, both TransWORLD and Thrasher even ran luge articles, introducing what would become “street luge” to skaters all over the world. So no matter what you were into, you were still being educated and enlightened about everything else along the way. Whether you wanted to be educated or enlightened, or not.
If and when the “mainstream skateboard media” did become “too corporately controlled”… we had no idea whatsoever that we were only seeing the very tip of the eventual iceberg, in this regard… skateboarding responded with “‘zines”, which were truly independent media in every sense of the word. Even then, a small army of ‘zinemakers ultimately infiltrated the “mainstream skateboard media” over at TransWORLD and Thrasher, and kept the “major magazines” fundamentally independent and unrestrained in nature for many, many years. And everyone that made ‘zines, collected and read everyone else’s ‘zines. It was open-minded information and inspiration exchange of the highest order. Leave it to skateboarders to devise such an inspiring, engaging, and influential mini-media paradigm.
When you empower skaters to run amok and create things of their own design, you will always be pleasantly surprised by what they can accomplish. That much, I can guarantee.
When I look at the “skateboarding” of today… it’s sad to realize that, in almost every single way imaginable, it’s pretty much the exact opposite of what it once was. “Mainstreaming” truly has invaded our pastime, prevailed, dominated, and then bastardized almost every single premise and principle that our beloved culture once represented.
The mass-manufactured “products” of today suck ass; decks break in a day (or less), as do trucks, and wheels flatspot at the slightest hint of a powerslide. Everything that isn’t made in China is made in Mexico… or at best, it’s “made in America” with Chinese and Mexican-sourced components. Nothing is labeled to enlighten the consumer to any of these realities (even though the industry and the consumer base has been discussing this for eons now), so everyone just goes with it, not really knowing (or even caring) what, exactly, is under their feet. Pro skaters themselves seem to be empty, mindless shells of what they once were, either unable or unwilling to put creative, challenging ideas or ideals out into the public realm, while being more than happy to let the mass marketers dictate their images, their art direction, the shapes they ride, their fashion sense, and their talking points. The media is likewise corporately-controlled and heavily “thought-censored” to the point of being reduced to pandering puppets for the mass-money-making machine. Every discipline in skateboarding has fifteen magazines at hand to cover it, but there exists no magazine anywhere (outside of my own) that is willing to push boundaries, cover everything, and educate and entertain their readership with any real diversity of thought and perspective. And then we bemoan the entire world when “the kids”… the skateboarders that we’re presumably “working for” over here… have no diversity of thought or perspective of their own.
The reality is that we have sold ourselves out to the lowest bidder. We put short-term profits, over long-term gain. And in doing so, we… ourselves… have become the very agents of our own death and demise.
The reason that I bother to write at all, is because I feel some weird, abstract, but noble sense of duty to protect the “brand” of skateboarding that I discovered, when I was a kid. Skateboarding can’t suck everywhere, all the time; somewhere, in some deep, dark corner of the universe, we need to defend, support, and perpetuate the ideals that once made skateboarding such a rich, colorful, and empowering experience. Somewhere, we need an American craftsman… preferably, one that skates… pushing the possibilities of skateboard design, construction, and manufacturing. Somewhere, we need trucks that grind for life, and wheels that roll fast and don’t flatspot. Somewhere, we need independent voices pushing for diversity of opinion, perspective, and action. Somewhere, we need a shoe company that is responsive to the needs of skaters… which basically means that we need Steve Van Doren to kick around for another 50 years. And somewhere, we need skaters that are willing to step out of the herd, and keep skateboarding controversial, individual, engaging, and purposeful. Because if there’s no individual freedom or empowering purpose to fight for, then what’s the fucking point of it all…? Isn’t “individual freedom” the “empowering purpose” that skateboarding is supposed to be all about in the first place…?
I’d like to see that brand of skateboarding kick around for a while, so that the lost and wayward kids of the world… and sadly, today’s world is cultivating a vast army of lost and wayward kids… can discover the same “skateboarding” that I discovered, when I was a kid. So that they can find the same sense of purpose and belonging that I found in skateboarding. And maybe… if I’m lucky… one of those kids thirty-five years from now will pick up a keyboard, peck out a crafty little think-piece, and brutally defend the very things that I’m brutally defending, right now. And the whole cycle will begin anew.
So, yeah. That pretty much explains why I’m such an asshole. Sorry about that. I’ll try my bestest to do even worse in the future, thank you very much.
By Ian Whyte – firstname.lastname@example.org
“Dad, you said we were going to be on the road at the crack of dawn,” my nine-year old son Kaiam squeaked from the Subaru’s backseat. “This is before the crack of dawn!”
Driving I-84 up the Columbia River Gorge into a midnight (well, 5 AM, technically) blue sky underlined by a dark pink horizon, I had to admit he was right. It was early.
We were already a long way from our Seattle home which we’d driven from the day before, stopping for the night at our friends’ place in the Gorge. We had another 150 miles to go before we would reach Pine Nursery Park, site of the first annual Bend Beatdown distance skateboard races. Ours wouldn’t be the longest home-to-start-line trek, though; the inaugural Beatdown would draw riders from all corners of the country.
I was stoked. When I gave Kaiam a longboard for his birthday in the fall of 2014, I’d picked one up for myself, too, thinking we’d figure them out together – modern boards looked like a lot more fun than the 15-inch pine plank from which I’d regularly tumbled a few decades before. Little did I know that the 14-15 winter would be so dry that the local skiing season never really happened.
So instead of skiing I found myself riding my Omen Mini-Sugar 2.0 all the time and loving it, bumping and carving my way up the learning curve until I started timing my 14-mile round trips to Shoreline and back on the InterUrban trail, which by a gift of the skateboard gods was just up the road from our house. Sometimes Kaiam would come, but at some point I claimed the sport for myself; this kind of riding demanded strength, endurance, and balance and, especially in the context of my primitive skills, it generated adrenaline in attention-riveting quantities. I was hooked.
Late that summer, the Centennial Sk8 Festival appeared on the horizon. I made my way out to Arlington, Washington and entered the half-marathon. In the parking lot, I met friendly fellow post-adolescent rider Phil Priestly. Phil and I rode that race; later that winter he would share the news of the Beatdown. I pumped up my workouts and counted down the days… And now the Beatdown was just a couple of hours down the desert on US 97.
I gotta say, the race really lived up to its name. The 1.3 mile course had turns that the Arlington race didn’t, and I never really did get my bilateral regular-to-fakey switches working efficiently. Smooth Phil dusted me in both races, and I got lapped by the IDSA’s best towards the end of the 10K. It could have been worse, though: I left my board a few times, but I never hit the asphalt, and I traded 50+ age-group wins in the two races with local rider Tracy Beaupre.
It was great to connect with the IDSA, too. After Arlington, I had followed a link to the 2015 standings, and seeing my name in them fired up my competitive juices, without even knowing much about who was behind the competition. So it was great to have a sense of the warm, generous, deeply committed spirit that drives the organization.
It’s interesting to me how deep the desire to compete runs in my blood, although it runs parallel with the conviction that, these days, that desire is more about motivating me to get out and have a great journey than it is about winning. The goal of winning is ephemeral; it’s the journey it creates that really matters.
Waxing philosophical further, I have to say that the best thing about the Beatdown was the kids. There were a bunch of them out, and if you look at the results you’ll see a lot of family names repeated. I know my kid had a blast in the 5K and the shorter kids-only race that went off between the 5k and the 10k. Of course, they were all there for the awards and the ample schwagfest in the welcome shade of the park gazebo after the racing was done. Top-to-bottom, young-to-old, everyone contributed to an inclusive, festive denouement and a great event. We’ll be back!
Right now, skateboarding is going through a number of changes.
The fact that it embraces a wide range of skaters and skate styles is something that bodes well for the future.
The Cloverdale freestyle event has become an annual affair and this 5th edition was filled with a huge amount of stoke.
It took place over the May 20th weekend and over 50 competitors from fourteen countries got together to take things up a notch.
I was at the event a few years ago and I can attest to the fact that the level of skating has improved greatly.
What inspired me more, however, was the camaraderie displayed in Cloverdale. Freestylers may be small in number, but their passion is mighty.
As I was arriving, the thirteen year-old phenom Isamu Yamamoto was being filmed for an upcoming potential segment on a major TV show.
Although there is a temptation to tell you which show, I think the surprise is worth keeping. So, yes, there was local media coverage, but something bigger is afoot.
What was almost equally intriguing was to watch 24 year-old self-proclaimed “language nerd” Ryan Brynelson translate the entire interview in Japanese.
That’s the great thing about freestylers. They have a remarkable ability to engage in both sides of their brain!
The show is produced by Monty Little and Kevin Harris. Monty has over four decades of experience in putting on skate events and his ability to juggle several dozen things at once is quite mesmerizing. Kevin is a legendary freestyler and member of the Bones Brigade.
Their commitment to spreading the word of freestyle is unrivalled. Thanks to their incredibly hard work, the event comes together beautifully. AJ Kohn is one of the hardest working MC’s and competitors you’ll ever encounter.
The Cloverdale Fair is a huge supporter of the event and entire pavilion is set aside to run the contest. It would be great to have it outdoors, but with the fickle weather, it’s probably a good idea that there is a roof. Unfortunately, the surface is quite slippery, making many tricks even more of a challenge.
Along with a huge number of talented pros and ams, there are some exceptionally interesting people who come out for the event. Veteran photographer Jim Goodrich has been taking photos of the event since it started five years ago.
Russ Howell, who at age 26 got a ‘Who’s Hot’ in SkateBoarder Magazine in 1975 is one of the key supporters of the event. He paved the way for many in the skate world. He was one of the first pros and travelled the world sharing the stoke. He’s also a heck of an amazing skater at age sixty something….
Speaking of age, the most unusual thing about the contest is that it ranges from 13 to 56. Judging by the crowd’s reaction, they enjoyed watching it all, no matter how complex it looked.
The Brazilians were out in full-force this year and made quite a splash.
All freestylers were delighted by the appearance of Per Welinder. Back in the mid-eighties, Per bridged the gap between freestyle and street. He also was Michael J. Fox’s stunt double in “Back to the Future.”
For many, it might seem inconceivable to realize that freestylers are a huge part of the foundation of skateboarding. Just take a peek at this list: Steve Rocco (World Industries), Pierre Andre (Etnies), Don Brown (Etnies), Rodney Mullen (no intro needed) and Reggie Barnes (the biggest skateboard distributor in the world). I could go on and on, but freestylers have made and continue to make an impact on skateboarding.
Thirty years ago, the skate world had a number of freestyle contests (that took place during street and even vert contests!) What was crucial is that skaters saw a variety of skateboarding, just like they had in the 1970s.
Now, most events are in silos. Wouldn’t it be great to have a major street contest at a downhill event? Or even a slalom event at street contest? Certainly, bringing a freestyler to the Berrics game of skate would be an eye-opener for many!
As I kept watching the riders, one thing kept running through my mind: “these guys don’t stop.” Practice sessions? Of course. Lunch time? Yes. While the contest is going? Indeed. In fact, there wasn’t really a moment where the Freestylers stopped skating. Well, maybe to eat.
It all added up to a truly wonderful weekend of skateboarding. You just never know what the next spark will launch the next generation of skaters. My sense it just might come from the world of freestyle.
For all the results and videos, visit www.theworldroundup.com or click the image below:
Dan Bourqui (our photographer for the latest issue) just shot a new video from the Vans Pool Party