THE RISE OF INDEPENDENT BOARD COMPANIES AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO US

courtesy of: polar skateboards

courtesy of: polar skateboards

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?

pontus alv, the man behind polar skateboards / photo: rich gilligan

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.

unconventional board graphics from magenta skateboards / courtesy of: seasons skateshop

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.


Words: Rich Kaminski
Special Thanks: Pontus Alv & Rich Gilligan
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Comments

  1. caphei:

    Fucking awesome to see stuff from my homeland in here, much love

  2. Pontus is an inspiration for all skaters. Do it yourself!

  3. Young poosy clot:
  4. Hung Lo:

    I wish my local shop carried all of these brands so I could support the company and the shop at the same time.

  5. When:

    The fact that a lot of those guys, Pontus included, skate for corporate shoe companies is disturbing. When you understand why skater owned is important then why are you giving away the keys of the zoo to much bigger animals ?

    • durrrrrrrrrrrrr:

      daaaamn got ‘em

    • Rza:

      Shoe companies, skater owned and corporate alike have the ability to sell to a much wider market than skaters alone as most of the world wears shoes. Board companies are more limited in sales to the general public except when it comes to clothing and accessories. If a skater/company owner can take a sponsorship from a corporate sponsor and use their support and resources rather than just line their own pockets with it then fuck it. We all wore Converse, Nike, Adidas ect. in the 80′s and 90′s before they invested into skateboarding so why shouldn’t a guy like Pontus be able to utilise them now? Why does this disturb you?

      • Grump Old Troll:

        I personally agree with When.
        Rza, I think your tune would be different if the corporate sponsor was an energy drink or some headphone company.
        Also, with your logic, the keys to the zoo remain is the hands of the corporate monsters, since Pontus must rely on them to fund his company. If their bottom line dictates that they need to cut back, they will. You see, the suits don`t give a fuck about dyi spots, no complies, VX footage, wallies, art work or anything else all the hipsters are loving these days. They care about money, and they are gleefully taking it, probably amazed at how fucking gullible all these sheep are.
        It is wierd to me that shoe companies that bought there way into skateboarding seem to get more respect than shoe companies that have been labeled sell outs for trying to expand their markets.
        I think there are some serious double standards applied by a lot of trend followers.
        Money from Nike, Converse, Adidas is all good, but not money from energy drinks or Street League. Whatever…everything can be justified anyways.
        How many whack board companies even exist anyways? And all these little ones are doomed to bought out if they are successful, or fade away if they are not.

        • tbhipreferhd:

          That last line (from Grump Old Troll) was especially depressing, just due to how true it is. Look at Steve Rocco/World Industries.

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