An Interview With Shawn Arlauckas
By Michael Brooke
Shawn Arlauckas of East Coast Customs started in his garage a few years ago. Since then, the company has grown leaps and bounds. In profiling East Coast, we wanted to shine a spotlight on skateboard entrepreneurs who finding a niche and making their business work.
Shawn says that ECC is unique because they are a true custom board maker. Each and every board is handcrafted from start to finish. “Being a smaller shop we can really concentrate on giving our customers the utmost attention and really dial in their boards for their riding style and needs” explains Shawn.
At ECC they make all their own custom veneer in house from exotic wood. It is hand-selected from local vendors. They get to pick some amazing woods that really are one of a kind. “It’s extremely important to us to have the best looking and unique exotic wood out there” says Shawn. “If I don’t see something special I sway away from it and wait for it be outstanding.”
Each cut through the exotic wood grain changes so essentially every single board made is different. The dimensions and everything is exact but the flavor of the boards change with each piece of veneer. “We really concentrate on bringing our customers truly unique boards. There will never be two boards exactly alike.”
Shawn says that he doesn’t rush boards out the door. Each one takes time, and they put a lot of passion and love into each and every board. He says that when customers get their board he wants them to be wowed, totally stoked and surprised. “I don’t care who you are, the 12 year old kid who gets one for his birthday or the 65 year old looking to relive his youth, it’s that smile that they get when riding our boards. It’s about a great classic board with the old school feel and charm with today’s upgrades.”
It’s not easy starting up a skateboard company. “The tunnel doesn’t have any light at the end” says Shawn. “But over time you get a glimpse here and there and that keeps you 100% motivated.” Getting some key accounts really were the biggest milestones for ECC. About 8 months ago, they landed Eastern Skate Supply, which Shawn says was a huge stepping-stone.
“As we grow we are excited to have those guys on board with us.”
One of the first milestones for ECC was their first Surf Expo they did 3 years ago. “We didn’t know what to expect, didn’t know what we were doing at all had no budget or sales really at the time, but came away with such positive vibes.” Shawn recalls that people were really stoked about their boards and it confirmed they had a niche. “Concrete Wave actually highlighted us that year.” at the Expo, which was big for us
ECC just recently purchased a CNC machine which will help them with bigger orders and consistencies with their boards as well. “We don’t use the CNC on everyday basis but for larger orders it’s a real beast. Adding our Test Pilots was a great milestone also. To be able to have those guys and girls, riding our boards and torture testing them on a everyday basis, helped us with our designs and validity of our product.”
The company also works with two charities: the Children’s Hospital UPMC and the Share the Stoke Foundation.
As Shawn explains, he heard a touching story that really stuck with him. “Last spring, Zoe, one of my test pilots, designed a few graphics on her iPad at home. She showed them to me and that’s when we put the two together.” ECC sells t-shirts on their website, and for everyone that is sold they donate $10 back to the hospital’s Free Care Fund. This fund helps families out during tough times while their kids are sick. “Every year now, we will have new designs and do our best to get the word out to help these families.” Plans are in the works for a skateboard for UPMC as well in 2016.
The Share The Stoke Foundation came as a result of another ECC test pilot named Logan Kamen. He’s a 13-year-old-skater/surfer, who collected wetsuits for the foundation to give to kids worldwide. After seeing what they did Shawn felt it was a perfect fit for ECC. Kelly Kingston, the head of the foundation, teamed up with Firewire Surfboards to donate close to 100 boards a year to this cause. ECC stepped up and now match the surfboards with skateboards to help give the kids a stoke both on land and sea. “There’s nothing better than to see pics of the kids riding with huge smiles on the boards. We now offer on our website two boards. The proceeds we get from the sale are donated back to the foundation.” The Park Board and Logo was designed by Logan. “It’s great to see these younger kids step and get involved like the two kids we have on our team.”
I asked Shawn about his thoughts on the future. “We are in a niche market place. I see the middle and lower markets being completely saturated. There is a ton of boards for both areas, and the competition is crazy.” Shawn sees the consumer wanting more niche products, products made here in the USA, and more of a hands-on approach.
Shawn says he likes the look of his market, “the 25 to 65 year olds, who understand what goes into the handcrafted boards and wants that old school feel. They want a quality product that will last.” Shawn says they appreciate the work that goes into each board.
“This market is a little different, than the kid market 10 to 18 as they appreciate the work that goes into each and every board instead of what graphics are on the boards.” Shawn also believes the market will be exploding on the girls side as well. “We have plans for 2016 to launch a girls only line specifically tailored to girls.” ECC have 6 girls on their team and Shawn sees it growing this year. “More and more girls are getting out there and standing shoulder to shoulder with the guys at the skate parks, or at the downhill events. It’s a very growing market for sure.”
Like all those who run their own business, Shawn does not work from 9 to 5. “I work around the clock, doing everything from marketing, building boards, running the finance, social media, advertising and designing. When I asked him about the best advice he could give budding entrepreneurs, he said always look ahead and figure out what could be a problem and fix it now, before it is a problem.
We spend a great deal of time interview pro riders and those who work in the industry. This feature gives you some insight into those folks who simply ride for the fun of it. No sponsorship deals…or worrying about backorders…just pure stoke.
Job Title: Geographical Information Systems (GIS) Coordinator
Integrated Cadastral Information Society
After completing a Geography Degree from the University of Victoria I went on to completing an Advanced Diploma in GIS. I have been working in the GIS Industry for over 15 years. I have worked for both Provincial Ministries and for a variety of consultant companies. I am currently working with a non-profit society the exchanges geospatial data between local & provincial governments, utility companies and First Nations in BC. I am an avid skater, father of two and an ambassador for Longboarder Labs in Victoria. I am also the organizer for the Victoria Greenskate Longboard Cruise.
Do you recall your first skateboards as a kid?
My first longboard was a “Reject” board from PD’s Hotshop back when It was located on Oak St. in Vancouver. I was in grade 3. My parents used to take us into PD’s to buy skateboard gear. I still remember the 99 cents paper hats with the shop logo on them. Skullskates is an institution.
I grew up in the 80’s and was fully immersed in street skating. In White Rock where I grew up skateboarding was a huge scene. I guess I never loss the stoke. While attending the University of Victoria in the 90’s I picked up my first longboard. It was an old Powell Peralta deck with a hula girl on the bottom. It was basically just a big skateboard, but it acted as my “gateway” longboard. Since then I have been collecting boards. I think my quiver is up to around 15 right now.
What are some of the comments you’ve received over the years?
With my work I have the opportunity to travel to both large urban centers and smaller rural municipalities. If possible I will always bring a longboard with me. It’s such a great way to explore a new town. Colleagues are often surprised when I tell them that I was out exploring their town via longboard.
When checking in to hotels in Vancouver it’s always funny to see the reaction of hotel staff when I check in wearing business attire and a few minutes later I leave to go longboarding.
I often get comments from colleagues that they used to skateboard growing up. I have actually got a few of them into longboarding after taking a 20-30 year hiatus from standing on a board.
It looks like your kids is are also into skateboarding.
Yes, I encourage both my kids to get out on my longboards. We have such a great variety of longboards we are always switching trucks and wheels around and dialing in set ups. We live less than a kilometer away from their school so they often longboard to school. As well a lot of the neighborhood kids come by and use the longboards. It make for a super fun and sometimes terrifying session.
What other activities do you do?
When I am not out longboarding I enjoy Standup Paddle Boarding, Mountain Biking, Lego, coaching soccer, urban Bike & Beers and disc golf.
Jack Smith has a unique skate history and currently presides over the Morro Bay Skateboard Museum. No matter what era you are from, Jack has much to share with the skate world.
Jack, can you please give people a little bit of background on who you are and some of things you’ve been a part of with respect to skateboarding?
My dad made my first skateboard in 1964 when we were living in Texas, I rode it for a month or two, with clay wheels, it just wasn’t that much fun. The day after I graduated high school in 1974 I found a 1960s clay-wheeled Hobie in my friends backyard and started skating again. About a month later a friend introduced us to Cadillac Wheels, and I haven’t stopped skating since then. My first contest was the 1975 Bahne-Cadillac/Del Mar Nationals.
In 1976, I and two friends became the first people to skateboard across America. I tied for second in the skatecar division at the 1978 Signal Hill World Downhill Championships. During the early 1980s I was the Advertising Director at Action Now magazine. In the summer of 1984 Paul Dunn, Gary Fluitt, Bob Denike and myself skateboarded across America in 26 days.
In 1985, I organized the first skateboard summer camp in America and later that same year I was hired as the Advertising Manager at Transworld Skateboarding Magazine. I was the promotions and team manager for Kryptonics from 1987 to 1993. I skateboarded across the country again in 2003 and 2013. Adrian Pina and myself Published the Skateboarder’s Journal Magazine in 2011-2012. My wife, Cathy, and I founded the Morro Bay Skateboard Museum in 2012.
Of all the things you’ve done in skateboarding, what are you most proud of?
Actually there are two. The first is “Skateboarding Across America on Board for Lowe Syndrome” push across America in. We did the push to raise awareness and research funds for Lowe Syndrome, a very rare genetic syndrome that my son, Jack Marshall Smith, was born with in 1988. He passed away in May of 2003. Scott Kam, Nick Krest and Josh Maready took a month out of their lives to make the push with me; I will never forget their sacrifice.
The second would be skateboarding across America with my son, Dylan, in 2013 during the “Skateboarding Across America to End Alzheimer’s” push. We did the push in honor of my father who.died from Alzheimer’s. Other members of the team were Marc Juvinall, Melanie Leilani Castro, Colleen Pellech and my wife, Cathy.
Tell us about the Morro Bay Skate Museum – what are some of the reactions people have when they see the exhibit?
We get a wide variety of responses, sometimes we hear people say in a sarcastic way “what, a skateboard museum?” as they are walking through the door, then they end up staying for an hour and thoroughly enjoying themselves and saying, “thank you so much, I never knew skateboarding had such a rich and interesting history” as they leave. We have people get teary-eyed while visiting the museum; it takes them back to a much simpler, yet exciting time of their life.
If I talk to a visitor long enough we always seem to come up with a connection, be it a skate spot, a mutual skate friend, or maybe that we happened to share the same first board.
Everyone leaves the museum smiling!
We are lucky to have great relationships with folks such as Todd Huber, Daniel Perkins, Dennis Allgeier, Stephen Pizzo and Greg Hagewood who have either loaned or donated skateboards to the museum. We also have visitors to the museum who loan us skateboards. In fact, it just happened today when a guy brought in a 1960s Tuk n Roller!
What are some of the things you’ve been doing with Kryptonics Wheels?
Oh man, it was a dream when Steve Douglas asked me to become involved with the Kryptonics rebirth project. I have been involved in wheel testing, finding Ambassadors and team riders, handling a lot of the social media, writing text for ads and catalogs. My current project is putting together a coffee table book about the history of Kryptonics.
You and I have had a number of discussions about skate culture. What gives immense joy and what bugs the crap out of you?
I love when I see young people being drawn to skateboarding for the sheer enjoyment of riding a skateboard, the feeling of freedom it gives them. We must all strive to remember that we started skateboarding because it is fun.
What bugs the crap out of me? Skateboarding prides itself in being open minded and progressive, when in reality it can be just the opposite, especially the skateboarding media. There are so many ways to have fun on a skateboard, but according to the mainstream skateboarding media, the only two types of skateboarding that exist are street and vert. I also have grown tired of the “skateboarders are rebels” myth…your grandparents did it, cities are building multi-million dollar parks for skateboarders…you are not rebels.
What is it about skateboarding that most people outside of skateboarding can’t really understand?
The immense joy we receive from rolling around on piece of wood, two trucks and four wheels. It’s kind of funny, where I live there are a lot of older surfers, men and women from 50 to 70 plus years of age. People think it’s so cool that someone is still surfing at that age, yet so many people look at me like I’m nuts when I tell them my wife and I are still skateboarding in our late 50s.
I remember people telling me in 1974 when I 17, that I was too old to skateboard. I would respond, “I’ll be doing this when I’m 40”, I truly didn’t know if I would, but it sounded good and shut them up. Well 40 is in the rearview mirror and I’m still skating, with no plans to stop.
Skateboarding and the Olympics…Can of worms..or just a natural progression?
Natural progression that should have happened a long time ago. It’s funny to see the “leaders” of skateboarding battling to see who will represent skateboarding’s involvement in the Olympics, just a few years back some of these same folks were against skateboarding becoming an Olympic sport. How skateboarding being in the Olympics will affect the joy one has when riding a skateboard is completely beyond me. I remember when snowboarding became an Olympic event, some people were saying it would kill snowboarding…guess what folks? Snowboarding is still here and it’s still just as fun as it always has been!
I know the museum has a gofund me campaign happening right now. Can you please explain it in detail?
Our goal with this fund raising effort is to raise enough money to keep the museum open daily throughout the winter months of 2015. That amount is $20,000. Due to the cyclical nature of tourism, we have fewer visitors during the winter months making it difficult to meet expenses, such as rent, utilities and insurance. The money we raise will allow us to meet these expenses as well as expand the museum’s collection of historical skateboarding memorabilia and to offer new and exciting exhibits. You can check out our GoFundMe page here.
What’s the one “holy grail” piece that you haven’t yet got for your museum? How are you going to acquire it?
I would like to have a complete collection of SkateBoarder Magazine, including the first four from the 1960s. I have Volume 1 #1 from the 1960s, as well as most of the issues from the 1970s and early 1980s, thanks mainly to Stacy Peralta who donated a huge collection of magazines to the museum last year.
How to get the rest of them? Ebay and stack of cash! Or perhaps we’ll get lucky and some generous collector will donate or loan us the ones we don’t have
What are some of your plans for 2016?
Keep the museum open! Finish the Kryptonics coffee table book and possibly one more push across America to celebrate the 40th anniversary of my first push in 1976.
Jack asked me 5 questions (which is part of the deal)
What influenced you to start Longboarder Magazine?
I had finished up work on my book The Concrete Wave and I decide that I wanted to continue to write about skateboarding. So, I dived right in.
Why did you change the name and content to Concrete Wave?
I had a partner with International Longboarder and decided that I wanted to run things on my own. These things happen….anyway, I felt that Concrete Wave could cover more ground and the focus on all types of terrain and riders would make for a truly special magazine.
Tell me about the philosophy of Longboarding for Peace.
It is a movement of peace, balance and justice powered by Longboarders. It is NOT a charity. We harness the power of skaters to create a better world. We do gun buy backs, promote blood donation (via our blood bank your karma program) and teach people about injustice by shedding some light on the wrongfully convicted. We also do workshops on balance around the world.
How do you feel about skateboarding being an Olympic sport?
I would love to see MEASURABLE skateboarding categories in the Olympics and not just vert and street. Slalom and downhill are perfect for the Olympics. But I sense it’s going to take some time for that to happen. I sense that the politics and in-fighting and all the other Olympic nonsense is creeping into the skate world as things get moving for Tokyo 2020. I am disheartened somewhat, but realize that it’s all par for the course. I hope that it benefits independent skate shops and skate brands…
Do your children skate?
Yes, well, my two sons do. My daughter not so much. But the boys love all types of skateboarding. The eldest started with me at 6 months and Sparky was on board at 3 months. Start ’em young!
The folks at Loaded and Orangatang have come up with their fair share of very different marketing over the years. We wanted to find out a little more about this. So, we reached out to Brian Dolan of their marketing department.
Loaded’s advertising is unique – extraordinarily so. But what I like most about it is the humor.
Brian Dolen: We utilize the platform of print advertising to have fun, flex our creativity and challenge the viewers. If we open a new path of exploration,spark a weird web search or simply create a WTF moment we have done our job. I’m old enough to have not had the internet in my teens, so my escape was through books and magazines. The good pages felt like they were from another dimension. That’s how I want our ads to feel. I think we are pretty deliberate in what we put into the world.
Would you say it’s more difficult to create humorous ads than more traditional non-humorous ads?
We have a loose mandate to not show skating in our ads, for no other reason than to have more fun and create a longer lasting impression. If humor is achieved that’s just a bonus.
What¹s the longest you¹ve bashed an idea around?
I have a folder on my desktop called “GENERAL RADNESS” it’s a library of references I’ve culled, scans made decades ago and photos I’ve taken over the years. This is where the bashing around happens. There are some concepts in there I’ve been trying to find an outlet for a long time.
Does longboarding need more humor?
Skateboarding has always been a gateway to art, music, fashion, travel and culture at large. I think as creators we have a responsibility to nudge our community to grow in all ways.
The video for your latest gloves (V7) features sausages, eggs, bloody beach balls and bananas (and that¹s just in the first minute). Can you take us inside what was behind some of the ideas that we see presented?
The Glove Video was an exercise in color and studio production. The goal was to shoot simple movements as if they were photographs. We borrowed from surrealist imagery and made it our own with the bright colors and random juxtapositions, but mostly we just wanted to make Dandoy wear lipstick and put Ethan in a gimp suit.
Has there been any ad or video that you created that garnered feedback that surprised you?
I am always in awe of how many people leave such passionate comments on our videos! It’s especially great that we have such an amazing community that cares what we make and appreciates the effort that goes into everything from the produdcts to the videos.
Back in July of this year, my son and I had the opportunity to ride the brand new Velosolutions track in Brooklyn, New York. The track is absolutely a blast to ride and we spent a few hours soaking in the great vibe. A quick pump around the track will leave even the most experienced skater’s heart pounding. It is perfect for short boarders, longboarders and anything else with wheels.
Our contact for the park demo was Alon Karpman. It was Alon, along with his business partner Joner Strauss who worked tirelessly to get the project built. We wanted to get a better understanding of what Velosolutions and get a sense of where things are headed.
Right off the bat, Alon tells me the response has been phenomenal to the pump track. “It’s better than we could have hoped. We have seen more than 1,000 visitors per month, with the number growing as the word is spreading. We are constantly amazed at how both new and experienced riders get a thrill out of riding.”
Alon says there are some exciting new builds coming in 2016. The first being in Leavenworth, Washington. “It will be the first paved track in the US featuring a head-to-head design. We are really stoked about that one” he says with a smile. The company is hoping to announce a few additional builds after this.
In addition to the Velosolutions track, Alon and Joner set up an association. Alon explains that because the pumptracks lend themselves to a new experience for short and longboarders, they set up a new racing league along with after school programming aimed at taking advantage of the tracks. “Our Miami location now has over 40 kids enrolled in the after school program.” Their goal is to set up programming and races at each location to serve the community and host world-class events.
When I asked Alon about his favorite memory from this year, he was quick to explain something that took place at the track. As he explains, “the magic in a Velosolutions track is that anyone on any set of wheels can ride on it. And because everyone is riding the same direction, there is more of a feeling of community that develops.” For riders, this means you don’t have people getting in each others way. Alon says that riders start to recognize how the technique they are using to pump their board can be applied to riding something else on the track.
For Alon, the best memory he has is the day he not only saw bikers and skateboarders on the track getting along, but actually trying each others’ rides for the first time. “To witness a die hard biker and skater switch out their rides and not switch back for the rest of the day, fuelled by pure stoke, was something I never thought I would see. I think these tracks will bring a lot of new people to the sport.”
I first met Alon about four years ago in Brooklyn. He wound up moving to Florida, and with the construction of the Velosolutions track in Brooklyn, now finds himself back where he started. I wondered what he liked about both places. “Well, you can’t take the Brooklyn out of the boy! I moved to Florida a few years ago for a more well-balanced family life. I have two small kids and want them to still be able to ride around during the winter months.” Alon says the best thing about Florida is the weather. But he readily admits that nothing beats the energy of NYC. “It’s the capital of the world,” he exclaims. Alon said to keep an eye out for news on the Brooklyn park in the winter. “On a good day when it snows, we are planning to pack it down and test out how it will ride with snow skates and fat tire bikes.”
When it comes to predicting where things will be in ten years, Alon and Jonathan have a vision. “One way to see it is that there is now such a thing as a longboard park! We hope to see cities get turned on to this and start building.” Alon encourages skaters who wish to have a Velosolutions track built in their neighborhood to reach out to their local city or county commission. “They are the ones that decide on projects and are happy to serve the needs of the community. Get motivated, get a group of people, reach out to your commissioners and tell them that you want a Velosolutions pump track!” We couldn’t agree more.
Sadly, we are a nine hour drive from the park, so it’s going to be some time before we’ll be able to ride it again. But the skaters and bikers (and yes, even scooter kids) of NYC have got themselves a truly special track. When it comes to what he’s been able to give to the community of riders in NYC, Alon is truly humble “I’m just grateful that I was given the opportunity to add to the city landscape and offer something unique.”