With the size of energy drink brands in skateboarding today — from sponsoring contests and putting on music festivals to getting crowd favorites to rock their cringy-ass logos — you may have wondered why a skateboarder has never made their own energy drink company to shamelessly cash in on the action.
Well, it turns out one skateboarder already tried to get a slice of the lucrative energy drink market, but it didn’t exactly work out.
Salman Agah, former Real pro and owner of Pizzanista! pizzerias, used to have his own skateboarding-inspired energy drink in the early 2000s. It was of course called Skaterade and it of course is no longer around today.
We had vague memories of seeing the drink in some skate shops growing up, but we never knew the full story behind its birth or death. So we called up Salman to get all the details firsthand.
Where did the idea for Skaterade come from?
I was joking one day with Alan Peters, a ‘90s pro, and the idea of using a type of thirst quenching beverage with pain reliever or anti-inflammatory [in it] sounded like a great idea for skaters. Like all skaters, we would skate six or eight hours a day, and it took a toll on your body.
Around the year 2000 I hooked up with Richard Mulder and he said, hey, let’s do this Skaterade. Another friend, Thomas, came up with some original ideas for artwork. The original logo was a drop of liquid with a cross in it to symbolize that there was some sort of medical something or other. We weren’t going to put Advil in it necessarily, but the idea was that there would be something healthy about it and some benefits to consuming it.
So it was different than Gatorade, it was planned to be more medicinal.
Yeah, it was much different than Gatorade. But Richard thought it was a bit daunting, in terms of all the research and development to figure out what it would take to make it. Then it was cost prohibitive to get into the industry. He backed out early on, but he connected to us an old friend, Scott Weber. Scott was super enthusiastic about the idea and we created the Skaterade energy drink with him. We decided to move into that direction because energy drinks were still a new category. Red Bull was obviously gaining a lot of traction with what they were doing in the bars, mixing their drink with vodka, so we jumped on that bandwagon.
With a beverage, you could open it up and go anywhere. We wouldn’t be locked into just being in skate shops, we could move skateboarding to grocery stores and convenience stores and gas stations and all that. I’ve always thought I would have my own company and build my own brand, I just didn’t want to have an actual skateboard company that made boards or wheels or trucks.
It’s very hard for traditional skate brands to offer any real support to riders. A skateboard company can’t do much for the skaters anymore. So our thought was, as this thing grows, we’re going to be able to give back to the skateboarders and the skateboarding community in a really authentic way.
“It’s very hard for traditional skate brands to offer any real support to riders.”
What kinds of things did you want to give back to skateboarding?
We didn’t want to be a supplemental compensation for skaters, we wanted to move into a premiere [level] in terms of compensation so we could support the guys who we thought were moving the needle. We also thought about things like health insurance and we wanted to produce events that would very much communicate the skateboarding that we grew up doing.
The other thing is supporting other people’s causes within skating, things like Skate Wild or Elemental Awareness or the Harold Hunter Foundation. Some of the support systems or philanthropic ideas in skating, it would’ve been cool to be in a position to bolster those efforts and put some funding behind them and make a difference in the lives of underprivileged kids.
So once you had the idea to start an energy drink brand, how did you get it off the ground?
We hooked up with Shepard Fairey [Artist / Founder of OBEY] because he was immersed in the punk rock scene and skateboarding and hip-hop, and we loved the revolutionary iconography of his art. Then we did some research to see how we could get a formulation done. So we found a company that could essentially reverse engineer any beverage on the market. We took beverages that we liked and submitted them to this company and we started to test formulations.
Which beverages did you base the Skaterade samples on?
I don’t remember all the things I gave them at the time, but I recall using Red Bull as a base to start from. We liked Red Bull as a product but we weren’t crazy about the flavor and the aftertaste and some of that stuff, so we did some tweaking on it.
How does that process work? Do they just send you samples to taste and tell them which ones you like?
Yeah, that’s exactly how it worked. We would get cans in the mail. After we had a formulation we had to find a place to actually make it for us. At the time, the minimum run to make cans for a beverage was 10,000 cases. So that’s 240,000 cans.
240,000 cans, that’s a lot, right?
I think so [laughs]. When you don’t have distribution and you don’t even know where you’re going to put this stuff yet, that was a big commitment. We didn’t have a warehouse.
After we were in production we went to three different distributors. We went to AWH in Chicago, Eastern Skate Supply, and Giant [Distribution]. We told them that to be our distributor they had to take a container of drinks. All three of them went and picked it up. So we essentially sold all of that product within a week. They all had 53-foot truck loads of Skaterade shipped to their warehouses. Our initial distribution strategy was to get it into skate shops nationwide, and we chose those distributors because they had the network to sell to the different skate shops.
When Skaterade launched in 2003, were any chain stores carrying it?
Active [Ride Shop] picked up Skaterade and we had a cooler in every Active store in southern California. They went as far as putting our logo on their vans that they used to drive around to events.
We started having people ride for us, I remember we had a really sick ad with Corey Duffel, because we were running ads in Thrasher.
Which other skaters rode for Skaterade?
I really wanted Jim Greco on the team but we couldn’t afford him. We did other stuff too. The team was not all skateboarders. We did a mixtape with Xzibit. Scott produced it with Strong Arm Steady, all these iconic people like Planet Asia and Krondon rapped on this mixtape. We were trying to reach out in different ways and be creative with how we communicated the brand. I wanna say Stevie Williams was another person we were working with.
That would’ve been amazing if Stevie Williams and Corey Duffel were on the same team.
Yeah, considering their history.
Was Skaterade ever profitable?
We were on our way. Richard Mulder got us this account with a gas station chain called G&M Oil. They own a couple hundred gas stations in SoCal. At the time we didn’t have a distributor to get all the product to them, and when you get an account, you need to have a team of people to service it. These retailers have very specific guidelines for when the product has to be there, when it’s gonna be on the shelf, a percentage of sell through that you have to have by a certain date. They’re monitoring all this stuff. So I said to my buddy Copeland, we have to get Skaterade to 120 gas stations. I had a cargo van we wrapped with all the Skaterade graphics, so we started loading up the van and sending Copeland out. That what he did to help us get the products outside of skate shops.
It sounds like things were on the right track. Why isn’t the brand around anymore?
Well, there was another thing that I thought was going to be really beneficial but actually worked against us. I was really into racing motocross and a buddy of mine invited me to a race in Sacramento. There was an agent there, I can’t remember his name but everyone called him Hollywood, and he was tripping out on Skaterade because he had a direct connection to Hansen’s [the beverage company that owns Monster Energy]. He told me, “Hey man, I would really like a case of this because I think I could help you get distribution.” I thought it was amazing, so he took it to Hansen’s.
Not even a month later, Monster came out with a new drink and they had basically plagiarized all of our writing and verbiage on the can. They started this thing called the Monster Army, which was based on our website, because we had the Skaterade Army. I remember going to a meeting at Monster, because I had a friend who worked there at the time. I went by an executive’s office and right on the shelf were Skaterade cans. They were just sitting there as a reference. So that was a big blow to us, because had we gotten that distribution, we would’ve been sailing.
So Monster kind of ripped off your branding and messaging to skaters…
Yeah, absolutely. Without a doubt. At the same time, we started having some issues with legal. We had filed for a trademark and on the very last day that our registration was under scrutiny, Stokely Van Camp, which is the company that owned Gatorade, had filed a formal opposition to the registration of our trademark. They perceived that there could be confusion between Skaterade and Gatorade and that somehow we would be riding on Gatorade’s coattails. So we had to hire an attorney for that discourse with Gatorade’s legal department.
I’m sure battling Gatorade’s legal department is tricky.
Well, yeah, it was tricky, and expensive [laughs]. We were a young company and we didn’t have the resources to put up that fight. That was one of the nails in the coffin, so to speak.
So did you guys reach a settlement with Gatorade eventually?
I don’t even think it got there. We had another thing happen with an investor. So the Monster thing was a setback, the thing with Gatorade was a setback, and this thing with the investor was another set back. At that point we didn’t have the capital to move in any direction. And we hadn’t sold through enough product to place another order or sell another container of drinks to our distributors.
If the brand had kept growing and gotten big, would you treat your riders like Monster does by making them wear head-to-toe Skaterade gear?
I don’t think we’d be into directing the riders like that. I think we would come up with a more interesting or authentic way to have our team riders represent Skaterade. Red Bull and Monster are not skate brands, they are beverage brands that target specific activities and sports, and it’s just a different way of doing everything.
I think Red Bull is a neat company, personally. I have a lot of respect for their approach. Out of all the companies out there, they invest a tremendous amount of time, effort, energy, and resources into the people that they work with. And they produce their own events. They don’t just stick their logo on other people’s events like Monster does.
So you wouldn’t have Skaterade girls in bikinis, like how Monster has the Monster Energy girls?
No, we wouldn’t be doing anything like that. It’s not interesting.
You wouldn’t require riders to drink a certain amount of Skaterade either?
Well, I don’t think that any of the guys that ride for them drink it. I know for a fact in the motocross world when you see a guy drinking out of a Monster or Red Bull can, it’s water. They actually just package water in the cans so when the guys are done and they’re on the podium they’re pounding water, but it looks like they’re pounding a Red Bull or Monster. It actually says “water” right on the can in fine print.
Even though I’m not a fan of Monster, they support people that skate that are rad. I get sick of seeing that logo on everything and I’m astounded when I see it on people that I would think would have greater integrity, but I don’t look down on someone or a brand for taking that handout, I guess I would call it. I wouldn’t do it. I would rather starve.
“I would rather starve. I don’t want to be associated with that.”
You would never endorse or skate for Monster?
Yeah. I would rather starve. I don’t want to be associated with that. I couldn’t in good faith and integrity support a brand I could care less about.
I had opportunities to do things in that way that I turned down in the early ‘90s. Vans, to me, was a stretch at the time. In the early ‘90s, Vans was not the Vans it is today. When I was there, I was dealing with some Swedish lady who wanted to take me to Melrose to look at designs to incorporate into Vans shoes. I was working with all these people who had no interest or connection at all with skateboarding.
If you look at their ads from the early ‘90s, every single ad has a skater wearing Half Cabs, but they’re advertising some other shoe in the ad. That’s how clueless they were about their communication. It was embarrassing to be riding for Vans at the time. The people who ride for Vans now are enjoying the Vans that actually got its head out of its ass and hired people who actually skate to work in the departments that oversee skateboarding.
Were there any other barriers that kept Skaterade from growing?
Skateboarding is really progressive, but when it comes to early adopting, it’s really conservative. We faced some of that. There was a little bit of hesitation and resistance with Skaterade. It’s like an inherent lack of trust. Skaterade was going to take time to be adopted.
Eventually though, you could have had fans like the Monster Energy Kid. You ever seen him?
Oh yeah, I’ve seen that kid. I’ve seen him around LA.
What do you think about someone that young getting a huge logo tattooed on their chest?
I don’t know, I have dumb tattoos too, but nothing like that. It’s not the first time I’ve seen that, and it’s pretty astounding that someone would actually put that on their body. But people have their thing.
I heard Rob Dyrdek’s Monster back tattoo was fake.
I have no idea. I imagine it was a stunt.