One morning about two or three weeks ago, I did what every person in our omnipresent social media day-and-age does when he wakes up: I mindlessly scrolled through my Instagram feed. In between the occasional “artsy” photo of food or baby animals or whatever Snoop Dogg shared from the night before (usually something weed and/or travel related), I noticed something interesting.
You see, I made the wise choice to follow Pontus Alv [the founder of Polar Skateboards] on his personal/company account (@polarskateco) and witnessed in reverse his drunken celebration after he and Polar won several awards at the BRIGHT European skateboard awards show. Not long after this, I came across a video from The Skateboard Mag in celebration of Pontus’s “Guest Ed” article in their 108th issue. Transworld even featured another article by Pontus focusing on the (re)emergence of DIY spots in skating (Vol. 31/Feb. 2013). This is the second Pontus-focused article within the span of a year by Transworld, the other printed in Vol. 30/June 2012 and written by none other than the always insightful John Rattray.
Other small companies have received similar attention as well. In 2011, The High Five received The Skateboard Mag’s “Year’s Best Brand” award. Magenta and Palace have been regularly pumping out videos of their travels that have been going over well. Thrasher premiered Roger’s video on their site and then blew minds with Welcome skateboards weird-gnar filled All City Showdown submission.
Lately, it appears that smaller board companies, some of whom have never bought an ad in an American magazine, are receiving large amounts of attention by the shakers and movers in the skateboarding world. I am honestly surprised at the amount of exposure these brands have received from the bigger magazines. I mean, Transworld has an annual article detailing what we can expect from Street League! Why the fuck would they put Pontus in there?
After thinking about this for a while, I finally realized why I get excited about this exposure and, more importantly, what this exposure means to skateboarding more generally. The magazine coverage I’ve detailed above shows that skaters are still capable of seeing skateboarding in a more traditional light: away from boxed in and repetitive contests, away from multi-million dollar contracts and winnings, away from Mountain Dew commercials and Target sponsorships.
These companies, and the variety of smaller companies all over the world, provide a glimpse into skateboarding in its pure form and the importance it has in that state. These companies were organized by people that realized that skating was missing something. That it was moving towards a greedy center and away from the simple things that make skating worthwhile: sculpting a scene with other people who care, or pushing switch really fast with loose trucks, or high speed wallrides in smiley/sad face dress shoes. They took matters into their own hands and founded companies that place these messages at the forefront. This coverage is refreshing to see because it means that a lot of people believe that this message is important and needs to be shared with the subculture at large.
In fact, now might be the most important time to spread this message. Skateboarding is currently in a weird position. As the “big three” corporate companies (maybe “big four” now that New Balance has thrown their hat in the ring) continue to wrest wall space from skater-owned shoe companies, there is a comfort in knowing that a group of skaters can come together with nothing more than some decks and a point of view that they believe in and still be supported.
Someone I spoke to once described the beauty of supporting skater-owned companies as making sure that, “the animals run the zoo” and nowhere is this more important than board companies. Which successful board companies can you name that do not have at least one well-respected skater involved behind the scenes? These smaller companies reinforce what is arguably the most sacred realm of the skateboard industry and maybe even the subculture in general. Board companies decide which skaters receive a significant amount of recognition. They decide who is deserving of the “pro skater” identity, enforcing an idea that skaters and only skaters have the right to choose who deserve that title and best represent skateboarding on a sponsored or professional level.
The emergence of small board companies illustrates a trend of skaters taking initiative and pushing back against outside companies. We are telling these groups that regardless of whom they support or how many people are on their flow teams, only skaters can be trusted with the most important sphere of skating and we’ll do our best to ensure that we continue to run it.
Finally, Pontus believes in the ability of skating to bring people together and contribute to people’s lives and communities. He believes that skating should be fun and “out there” before it should be boxed in and standardized. He believes in the importance of reappropriating forgotten space and utilizing it in a positive, constructive manner—moving forward and learning when the time comes. And the success that Pontus and Polar have achieved has come with him standing up and thinking about skateboarding as an action that has implications in people’s lives.
Skateboarding forces people to reevaluate their surroundings and their lives, understanding them in new ways. When bigger companies, regardless of what they make or who owns them, become repetitive and rely on merely copying one another, the subculture and its participants suffer for it. That’s why it’s important that Polar, Magenta, Welcome, Palace, and numerous other companies have not shied away from making waves in skateboarding.
Josh Stewart recalled that the first time he met Pontus, Pontus told him that skateboarding did not need overproduced videos like One Step Beyond, fully aware that he was speaking to the mastermind behind the Adio video. And more than just talk a big game, he backed it up by self-producing and releasing two videos that really can only be described as avant-garde. Magenta has released a series of boards paying homage to different surrealist and (post)modern artists. Welcome’s oddly shaped boards outnumber the modern popsicle shapes in every catalog they release. Palace’s boards depict dictators and images of tribal societies, and let’s not forget the controversy of mainly white guys skating in a video with a potentially racial epithet in the title with any N.W.A. songs conspicuously absent.
All of these actions defy the cookie-cutter formulae at place in board graphics and skate videos. Because few other companies move in this direction, it must be a dangerous business model. If it wasn’t, more companies would be willing to take these risks. All of these brands should be failing or maligned, but that’s not the case. They are lauded for their daring—and rightfully so. These brands are forcing skaters to step out of their comfort zones and take real risks with their products and output.
Because of these companies, skateboarding is becoming challenging again. These brands are forcing people to think about the companies they support and what they represent both inside the skateboarding world and outside of it. They are telling skaters that what they ride says as much about their point of view and their idea of skating as the skaters they like or the photos they hang on their walls.
Under these influences, skateboarding as a culture should no longer be seen as passive and thoughtless. We should not simply watch and forget the daily dose of online videos, go to the same boring skatepark to learn the next logical trick, buy whatever gear is needed regardless of what the company does or does not stand for. These brands, knowingly or not, are saying that skateboarding has changed all of our lives and it’s about time we start treating it with the respect and thought it deserves.