If you told me several years ago that Welcome Skateboards was going to be a successful board brand in 2016 I would have laughed at you. With graphics that look like they were taken out of a goth’s highschool notebook, a team of kids that were virtually unknown, and decks that come in all kinds of random shapes, there wasn’t another brand that looked anything like it at the time. But that’s exactly why it worked.
It was 2010, right before the explosion of the “indie board brands” – before 3D, Bianca Chandon, Pizza, Politic, Program, Frog… Welcome wasn’t well-known, but it was silently chipping away at many skateboarders’ stubborn hearts. Soon enough, Welcome started having ads in Thrasher, a United Nations at The Berrics, and every skatepark I visited had a least one Welcome inspired skateboarder – the guy with the messy griptape, loose trucks, rails, and a “weird shape”.
Wanting to know more about what makes the brand tick, I hit up the darkman behind it, Jason Celaya, to talk to him about where Welcome came from, why half their team recently left, and the best spells to cast on dicks.
I know you are really into supernatural and occult imagery. Have you ever tried to summon spirits or cast spells?
As a little kid I would concentrate on things happening if you want to call that a spell. I am a big believer in believing in yourself. Personal power! Take a look at Welcome; there is no reason for us to even be known to anyone beyond my immediate group of friends. I started this at the height of board companies marketing “bigger is better.” It wasn’t cool to be a small brand or to be different, which is acceptable now. I was laughed at and told I was crazy. I am a complete nobody! No industry connections, no pro friends, barely an artist, and I was making boards that no one was riding seriously at the time. However, I believed it and then manifested it.
As far as the occult stuff, I just think it is entertaining and intriguing. I think it’s especially delicious how it upsets religious folks whose beliefs are just as unfounded and silly. Appreciate your loved ones and every day you are given. Just be good to people, I don’t need poorly constructed fairy tales to do that.
I think as humans we haven’t yet tapped into our full potential power, mentally or physically. I am really excited about the evolution of humans. I can only image what life will be like in 50 years from now.
The thing I love so much about skateboarding is the constant evolution and making the impossible possible. Pure magic.
As a little kid you would concentrate on things happening… What do you mean? Could you concentrate on your dick and make it bigger? Or are you talking more about “The Secret”?
More like the “The Secret”! I saw that movie and it is unintentionally random and hilarious. The dick thing doesn’t work (I know this as well as you do). My brother was murdered when I was a kid, and I focused on the worst possible things happening to the guys who did it. A slow and painful disease ensued years later for the main culprit that coincidentally killed him on the same day of my brother’s death. The other has lived such a worthless life that he would have been better off killing himself.
Have you ever tried to summon or use magic powers in the bedroom?
Unfortunately for everyone involved, I have not. I did use my mind powers to make my wife marry me. I loved her from the moment I saw her and she was completely out of my league. Sorry love, I should be using more of my powers to make you happy instead of on this company!
Do you have any advice for someone who doesn’t last as long in the sack as they would like?
Well, funny enough, my friend Noel was telling me recently about his close friend who huffs refrigerated cow’s blood, sleeps with a dead bird under his bed, and is a “never nude”. This individual also suffers from premature ejaculation. So at very worst we know that none of those things work too well. Maybe start with some positive thinking techniques first before going down that road?
Seems like everyone started to produce non-popsicle boards after you guys proved there was a market for it. Once everyone has their own non-popsicle board line too, how will you stand out and differentiate yourself?
We make 38 different proprietary shapes, and what is more important than the shape is the leverage that we design on each board. The mold we use, and where we drill on each mold is the magic. Do all popsicles ride the same? Of course not. We are a step beyond almost everyone with that because I am nerdy about how stuff rides and performs. This is what our riders skate and love, we aren’t trying to capture some demographic. I’m pretty sure we spend more time and energy on our boards than any other known brand. We are not picking shapes out of a manufacture’s catalog. The idea here is making something fucking great and always better than the season before it. If kids don’t care to know the difference then I don’t want to be around them anyway.
”I’m pretty sure we spend more time and energy on our boards than any other known brand.”
I draw my own artwork, and I don’t draw for anyone else, so I think that is something that differentiates us as well. More importantly, I approach the art direction of the company as expression and not as graphic design that is designed to sell. Our team approach has always been different, our social media interaction, etc… The list really could go on and on. I think other companies have more of a differentiation issue than us. There are quite a few new companies that all look the exactly the same. I am already seeing shops making their boards look just as good, and using the same blanks. I think other companies should be more worried about if we were to start making popsicles.
You said you started the brand in 2009 with $2000. Can you tell me what your situation was prior to this?
I had a normal 9-5 job working in the subsea cable business and just skating. I would look at the state of where skateboarding was going: The most popular brands were strictly marketing brands. NASCAR looking logo boards, price point, less color veneers, pro boards that have nothing to do with what the pro rides, no top graphics, drilled wrong, etc… I didn’t want to buy anything that was available. Kids had been brainwashed to buy the board from the brand whose video they liked the most. The video is not going to fucking help you skate any better! So yeah, I wanted to make better skateboards that also happen to be interesting to look at and make you feel like X-mas morning every time you set one up.
In terms of art, I had drawn in high school, but I just winged it with a Sharpie to get us started. Maybe that is why people like my art, because I don’t know what I am doing.
Up until this summer I have been working both the full-time job and Welcome. Now that it’s just Welcome, it doesn’t seem like any less work, it’s probably more now because I do the stuff I should have been doing before.
How do you feel about your newest pro rider, Ryan Lay getting kicked off of HUF because they didn’t consider Welcome legit enough at the time?
I was bummed initially because I figured HUF, being a “skater owned” brand, would be hyped on us. I am sure there is more to the situation, and everything is fine, so whatever. They look after 3 guys on the team currently, so maybe they have changed their minds about it. Skate drama is too ridiculous to spend time worrying about. There are bigger problems as a species to worry about. You have to be a pretty privileged person to sit around and be worried about skate politics.
Why have you waited so long to turn people pro?
First off, the thing that is different with us is we didn’t start with well-known pros from other companies like every other known brand out there. In the past we had a team entirely made up of dudes that didn’t have a sponsor other than their mom. Not even a rep or shop flow.
I have been paying my guys (along with travel budget) for years, the same as what DLXSF is paying some of their pros riding for 3 of their brands combined. Since no one had ever heard of my guys before, and they had no other support from other brands, what would have been the use in putting their name on a board? I was the only one in this industry willing to take a chance on them. If you turn someone pro in that situation they aren’t even a legitimate professional skater in the eyes of the rest of the industry, or in the eyes of the consumer. Experience from the one pro we had in the past proved that. It always hurt us sales-wise when we put his name on a board. People may have been into the graphic, but they didn’t want a board with a guy’s name on it that they’ve never heard of. That doesn’t help us or them.
I think you should at least have another sponsor that pays you, or at very worst claims you on their team. What good is being “pro” if you cannot make a living at skateboarding? This isn’t the 1980s where you are selling 20,000 boards a month… It’s more like 150-200, which after cost and overhead doesn’t allow much for anyone to make a living off of, including us.
That said, we finally have guys in place that do have other stuff going on where they can be true pro skaters. Jordan Sanchez and Ryan Lay are turning pro now and hopefully 2 more by the end of the year. It’s pretty exciting to finally be at a point where we can make this happen and have it matter.
”In the past we had a team entirely made up of dudes that didn’t have a sponsor other than their mom.”
I noticed Mango, Jesse Alba and others are absent from the Welcome team page. Why did so many members of your team leave so suddenly over the last couple of months?
Over the last year and a half we added guys like Ryan Lay, Jordan Sanchez, Aaron Goure, Will Blaty and Ryan Townley. I think their talent level and work ethic inadvertently put pressure on others to keep up. I didn’t kick any one off, but a bunch bowed out over the last year. It didn’t effect us at all on the company side, but it was a shame they didn’t stick it out. I think they are happy, and we are happy with what we are doing. We have some new guys that we are announcing early this year that we might not have been able to get if we still had some of the other guys. I am fucking hyped on the team we have put together and the stuff we have planned for this year.
I’ve heard rumors that Welcome has been outselling traditional board brands in certain states. Is this true? Has this not brought you a lot of income to at least step away from your 9-5 sooner than you did?
I have heard that too, and it is true. But you answered your own question in a way. Certain states and areas… in core shops. That is fucking cunt hair compared to the “traditional” brands that sell in every large chain along with having a mature international distribution. We haven’t gotten full coverage of the US yet, and our international presence is tiny in comparison to even some of the new brands that have industry connections.
In addition, we are buying the infrastructure needed to be a real company. Warehouse space, racks, desks, forklift, and competent employees, which need to be paid before I am ever paid. Add in rider salaries, utilities, and a crazy shipping bill each month from UPS – which if you don’t pay they cut you off! Anything with expensive inventory that requires a lot of space and has low margins is obviously not a great money making business. So now that I’ve been full time for the last few months, I make a fraction of what I did at my other job along with now having to figure out health insurance.
Thankfully Welcome has always been about making something great and creating change in how people think. I am paid well in that regard. However, I am definitely thankful I have another career to fall back on if this doesn’t work.
Are the Welcome headquarters still in Arizona? Is that where you want to stay?
Ha! We have always been in California. This is probably one of those things about not knowing how things work. California skaters are cheaper to sponsor, less travel, easy access to magazines, cheaper shipping, etc… However, I have always been a bigger fan of skaters from other areas. Just as the awful things I have gone through personally have helped shape my artwork, growing up in an area where skateboarding takes more effort because of weather, or lack of spots, creates a more artistic skater. Maybe they have more time to think up stuff whilst the weather is shit or something.
”Whether you like the actual brand or not, we represent the idea that anyone
(a nobody) can change things if they are willing to take action and make the necessary sacrifices”
Most skateboard brands are started by a pro, an ex-pro, or an industry person. Welcome seems like the first major successful brand that is started by neither. You have no ties within the industry and have never skated professionally. Did this make you feel insecure at first?
In regards to insecurities, it actually made me feel really confident because I didn’t have any rules on how I need to operate or go about things. I could always just do whatever I thought would get me hyped if I was the guy buying it – which was easy to do since it was my own money and not a loan or investor. I think I have a huge advantage of living a life with so much other influences and experiences to draw from. I have never really thought about how it makes me feel, but when I come across people who hate me or Welcome I always think to myself how sad they are.
Whether you like the actual brand or not, we represent the idea that anyone (a nobody) can change things if they are willing to take action and make the necessary sacrifices. We are the “Ratatouille” of skateboarding “Anyone can cook”! Although I did have timing on my side.