Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Dan Overfield: Jekyll or Hyde?

One of my favorite skaters happens to be one of my friends. He’s rabid on his board and at work he is extremely serious and professional. He enters the race at 100% every time. That always makes me think he’s got a split personality, or to keep it simpler, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The more I think about it, the more I realize that skateboarding itself has more than one appearance and that matters because people tend to see what they want to see. 

Last weekend I went to a session at this guy’s house. He’s a good person, takes good care of his kids, works a lot, skates a lot, helps the community, and let’s total strangers like me into his backyard from time to time. When I first got there his son, maybe the kid is 8 or 9, was rolling in the pool and trying out his new trucks. The little guy can drop in, even in the deep end, but these were new trucks and he wanted to get the feel of it first. As he rolled down the waterfall from shallow to deep I saw that his face was full of that unabashed childhood enthusiasm. He was told to put on his elbow pads, and he didn’t, and he slammed… on his elbows. I saw it. I didn’t say anything because he was OK. The kid kept quiet because he’s a skater and didn’t want to lose the chance to ride again. 

 

That session featured a diverse range of people. There were kids milling about, drawing with chalk on the pavement, some guys in their 20’s, some sponsored skaters, and several elder skatesmenThere was even a woman skating. I’ve got little kids, another guy has kids that are finished with college, a couple guys brought their kids, and some guys skating were kids. We all skated for about 3 hours. 

We talked about upcoming skateboard plans including Colorado and “science fair’s spruce goose”. We talked about the kid’s first deep end drop in, we talked about gear, about camerasabout parks we like, and about work. I saw an eggplant, bonelessesfrontside invert, and people cheered for one guy’s first pass over the light in the deep end. I got cheered for little grinds and for clearing the steps a couple times. 

Throughout the session the owner’s kids would hit him up for this or that, a popsicle or more chalk, and he’d step back and handle it. It was a beautiful afternoon. 

Then I read the news and see drugs, hate, violence, and strife of every manner. I see Thrasher’s website and video clips and see the same things being leveraged to sell skateboards. I hear about refugees dying at sea and then I also hear about guys building a new skatepark in Addis Ababa. I hear about “skaters next door” and then I hear about people being “86’d” from a DIY spot for some imagined infraction of the code of conduct (which is published online, to a facebook group). I’ve skated a private spot in New Jersey where the owner thanked me for skating and gave me a commemorative deck to mark the occasion. I’ve also skated a private spot in Ohio where the owner, according to legend and my own eyes, has been known to punch his friends, hit on your girlfriend, and tell you (force you) to “empty my pockets” when you leave. 

I also just saw on Instagram, an incredibly rad photo of Jeff Jones along with a comment lamenting that, because he rode for the wrong company, there are so few photos of his skating today. 

There is a good thick amount of pure hell happening all across the world right now. Skateboarders have the power to extend value and goodness far beyond our own lives and scenes. Don’t let negative interpretations of skateboarding style, culture, and utility, often propagated by skaters ourselves, limit your potential to add value to your life and to your neck of the woods. Don’t cut people out because of their age, gender, skill level, gear, or views. Start with the common thread of the wooden toy and seek to find more connections. 

 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Impending Death of the Skateboard Retail Paradigm

The Impending Death of the Skateboard Retail Paradigm:

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Realities of Modern Skateboard Industry Economics and Relationships

by Bud Stratford

Friday, April 8th, 2016

 

It's about 7pm on an atypically 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... whichperceived 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 Zumiezunderstands 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 fuckinZumiez 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 Facebookpage 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 Survivors

 

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.

 

The Economics

 

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 yearsIncluding 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 OfSkateboarding 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 'oluber-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, budstratford@aol.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.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

This one, today...



With the shutdown of Fallen looming large (unless it's going to be rescued by another Distro), here's some food for thought I received in my message box... Stimulation...

And none of it affects how just plain old fun it is to ride that skateboard of yours. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Protecting the Things... By Bud Stratford

Protecting The Things That We Love:
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 indestructable. 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.
 
 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Tales from the Trenches: Dan Overfield

hey folks, Lew here. Our friend Dan Overfield sent this in and i thought a bunch of us would enjoy a day in the life... I know I did. 

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Tale From the Trenches: Dan Overfield. 


6:15AM - Cleveland - March 1, 2016

 

Sitting on my bed, trying to stretch away the searing back pain, between my shoulder blades, that, among other unavoidable things, silently wakes me, if I’ve slept this late, up. As I scratch my head I can hear the coffee grinder in the kitchen so I don’t need to turn around to know that she’s already up. 

Dressed, not for the day yet, but enough to stand in the kitchen without embarrassment, I head down the stairs carefully because I don’t want to hurt myself or step on any of the kid’s junk. On my way past a hall window I notice that the it is almost light outside. Forgetting all the other stuff in my life at this moment I smile, knowing that morning sessions are again on the horizon. 

 

6:30AM - Cleveland - March 1, 2016

 

One kid’s classroom has a peanut allergy, the other kid decided it is wrong (read - not tasty) to eat meat, and the third one is still asleep. I am making lunches, and breakfasts. Somehow, and I don’t mind, it has become my job. I could do it the night before but to be honest the nights are too busy to add more tasks.

 

I know their tastes and pack and prepare accordingly. For my oldest, I’ve elected to be vegetarian too. My main goal was to inspire her toward a diet of more than just bread and cheese but it doesn’t hurt that I’ve got a big skateboard trip (and another smaller one) on the horizon in the next couple months. A surprising outcome of my quest, which is only 2 weeks old so far, is that my daughter is sincerely proud of me. She literally beams with pride when I pass the bacon to the next person. That emotion and connection feel important as there really aren’t many people who are impressed with me on any level. And I’d really like to carve the new stairs in the pool at Breckenridge in May. 

 

7:15AM - Cleveland - March 1, 2016

 

Three cups of coffee done. Child #1 is out the door to the bus. Children #’s 2 and 3 are eating breakfast. Wife is showering. I try to move the cars to the street because the city is coming to snake our sewer line. I get one out before the city arrives. Toilets backed up into the basement last weekend, about two hours before Child #1’s 10th birthday party. I’m very lucky to have a plumber in the family or we’d be hurting. Not that he won’t charge us, but we will know that we aren’t getting fully robbed and he has a strong incentive to do the job correctly. I have had only bad experiences with contractors to date. I normally end up doing the work, for better or worse, myself. There are bricks, for example, on my garage to hold down the corners of the rolled roofing that I installed. Say what you want, I ran out of tar and it works. 

 

 

 

 

7:30AM - Cleveland - March 1, 2016

 

Children are, again, reminded to get dressed and brush their teeth. City is probing the yard, I am in the crawl space clearing a path to the sanitary cleanout in case the city needs to start the snake from inside the house. This involves moving tons of stored junk out of the way. I notice a 22oz bottle of bourbon aged imperial stout. I can’t wait to drink it even though I realize that it was stupidly expensive. If I hadn’t bought those beers, three of them, I could have a fresh set of bearings for the trip. As I move junk out of the way I am weighing the incredible taste of that beer against the speed of fresh Swiss bearings in the Rockies. I really don’t know what the best choice would have been. My thoughts drift to wheelbase lengths and the park in Gunnison...I can hear wheels zipping over tiles in my head. I cannot wait to get there. 

 

8:10AM - Cleveland - March 1, 2016

 

Walking Child #2 to her bus stop. We talk about the sewer guys and she asks if she’ll be able to use the toilet later today. “I don’t know” is all I can say. She looks worried.. I say, if not we will stay at Grandma’s. Momentarily uplifted she expresses joy at seeing their dog. I have to break her down again, Charlie is with her grandparents in Florida. This slows her down only momentarily and she responds to the news by telling me about a book at school that has a squirrel that flies an airplane. She can’t wait to read it. Seeing her bus approach, she hugs me, and runs to be first in line. I look at the other parents, contemplate small talk, decide against it, and just leave without speaking. We all know that there is weather and we all read the notice about the case of Whooping Cough at the school.  On the walk home I realize that it is not really that cold today and gears begin to turn. 

 

8:45AM - Cleveland - March 1, 2016. 

 

A City worker moves his truck from the driveway and so I jump to move my car (only got one of the two out before) into the road. Remembering the weather I hesitate. Should I load the cue into the car first? Yes, of course, I should. 

 

9:25AM - Cleveland - March 1, 2016

 

Dressed for work I quickly sign the younger two up for Spring Soccer and repack my lunch while Child #3 puts on his shoes and jacket. My wife packed my lunch but hasn’t fully accepted my new veggie lifestyle. Cannot blame her, few things would, when applied to me, make less sense than my sudden conversion to a plant based diet. I reheat some coffee, grab the girl scout permission forms that have to be hand delivered, and escort my son to the car. I chat with the city to see if they need to get into the house or not. They do not. I cleaned out the crawlspace for nothing. 

 

 

 

9:45AM - Cleveland - March 1, 2016

 

Child #3 is at school, Children  #’s 2 and 3 are registered for soccer, girl scout forms are delivered and I am heading to the skatepark, not the office. I drive there with some hesitation in my heart. It has been a while (winter) since I’ve skated the pool. I’ve skated, but not much and not downtown for at least a month or so. Our pool is regarded, generally, as being somewhat burly and it is but if you ride with respect it offers great pleasure. I convince myself to play it by ear. I tell myself I don’t have to “really” skate. Just a few runs in the flow bowl to stretch out, sweep off some dust from my trucks. I promise myself that I won’t even break a sweat. 

 

10:15AM - Cleveland - March 1, 2016. 

 

Its a beautiful spring day at the park. I am alone, there isn’t sun glare, and the park isn’t littered. I roll up to the flow bowl and notice some debris, some cigarette butts and some bits of mulch. Also looks like someone had a little bum fire due to the ashes and dirty socks at the base of the cradle. I can work with that, so I drop in. It feels good. I do hit some mulch so I stop and clean it out. I notice a large toenail near the ashes and figure that must be why the socks got left behind. 

 

10:30AM - Cleveland - March 1, 2016. 

 

Blood is flowing good. I really like my wheels. They are really hard and make excellent screech sounds. I really like my skateboard too, I’ve  got 169’s and they are so stable and yet turn so easily. Only negative now is that while inspecting the actual pool I notice a few tags here and there. I take a run in the pool. I had promised myself not to, thinking that to do so would be unsafe, but I have to ignore that. Someone sauced the coping and it looks, I don’t know, almost sexually enticing. I must hear a grind. I need to feel that jolt in my feet. I drop in and get a few grinds, my first in the pool in a while. It feels brand new, almost like I’ve never ridden it. The only difference between today and last year when it was actually new is that I now know that I am able to drop in. On those first few days when it was now I was really not sure. I take this as a sign of progress. I am stoked now, and mad at the stupid graffiti. 

 

10:45AM - Cleveland - March 1, 2016. 

 

I stole, from work, a can of industrial strength graffiti removal spray. It kicks the ass of that junk sold at Lowe’s. I get it from the car and hit the tags with a good coat. Back to the pool. I take another run and frontside grind in the shallow. This is hard for me and its been a while. Here is why I skateboard: My 43 year old carcass, that gets sore from 6 hours of sleep, now feels weightless, agile, and spry. I’m just my thoughts now. The only time I feel anything is when I grind or hear my wheels bark. This morning’s first shallow end grinder took me from the mundane, the routine, and the safe. In that instant I was a child. I felt no pain. My mind was not dulled or stressed about work, whooping cough, and sewer pipes but intensely focused on that white coping block and all I could hear, in the midst of an awake and busy city, was my truck clicking across the grout seams. I set the wheels down and humped down the waterfall with confidence and speed that took me to a nice deep end cruncher. I took another run, this time dropping into the deep end and I managed to catch a grind on every wall until, maybe after 6 walls, I popped out remembering my work pants and how my wife just chastised me for recently tearing the ass out of a very nice new pair. 

 

11:15AM - Cleveland - March 1, 2016

 

I’ve arrived at work, Vans are still on. Nothing else in my day can give me the release or freedom I’ve just experienced. There won’t be another point in my day where my body will, painlessly and aggressively, strive to hurl itself toward anything. I will take the elevator at work and hit the couch at home. Other things do matter and I can’t imagine going without them but the value of this simple 30 minute session cannot be expressed. I did slam too, in the parking lot as I was going to the car to leave. I hit a rock while poised for an ollie. A total swan dive to the asphalt, I loved it, and I did not tear my pants.