At the beginning of his video In Search Of The Miraculous, Pontus Alv films himself sitting with the corpse of his grandfather.
This is, so far as I know, an NBD (never been done) in skateboarding. He could have gone and tried to kickflip El Toro, he could have done a wallride, but instead he chose to contemplate death. It was a strange choice and a bold one, and I think in the end, the sort of thing that he will be remembered for in skate history. That Pontus Alv was not just a skateboarder, but a strange, tenacious and romantic human, whose vision helped shape an entire movement. As the head of the ever-expanding Polar skateboards, Pontus continues to lead skateboarding’s underground, guiding his followers with an able mind and some of the quickest feet in Europe.
Most Americans overlook Euro skaters, we don’t really pay as much attention to them as much as we should, besides a couple of the “superstars”. Why do you think that is?
I think that’s a very American way of seeing it. Looking at the history of skateboarding – It all started in California. Everything was ruled and controlled by American media, companies, and magazines. If you were going to be important in the skateboard world, you had to be in America. That’s how it was for me as a kid. There weren’t any options, people all around the world were looking at America. If you weren’t there, you were nothing.
I think that way of thinking is still there, but it’s changing. It’s changing really fast. This is the first time in many years that people are looking overseas to Europe. People are looking at new shit, different shit. It’s so different than the California way of skating and California movie-making stuff. Scenes from all over the world are popping up – The Japanese scene is putting out amazing work, the Australian Passport crew, and the east coast is killing it. I feel like it’s kind of separating from America, it’s kind of floating away. Europe, Japan, Australia are all connecting with our own shit and it is competing very hard with the California way of skating. I see it very clear, but I’m not gonna send any warning or anything. A lot of companies are wondering why they’re not killing it anymore, but you know there’s new shit out there basically. Now there’s not just a single skater coming from Europe anymore, it’s a whole team, a whole brand and with the force of the internet the world gets really small.
You’ve done some unconventional board graphics, like the deck with your father’s artwork on it. Why did you feel like you needed to do that board and why do think kids would be into something like that?
I mean the reason you start a company is to be able to do whatever the fuck you want basically. That’s the main point. Of course, when a company grows bigger you know what is going to be the classic stuff, what is gonna sell well, and the stuff that isn’t. But you can’t base a company on just numbers and figures and doing things like that. My grandfather and father were two strong characters and sources of inspiration, they gave me a lot. They are both dead, but they left a great archive of artwork and photography and paintings. I like doing stuff that is personal, I always ask my riders if there’s something from their family or from their history. Family archive, photos, films, artwork… It’s sick if the boards are personal. I like when graphics means something for the riders.
It’s so important to keep doing these things, we can’t only produce stuff that is based on profit and sales. Of course, I know tons of people ask for a logo board and simple clean shit. I know that shit will sell tons but that’s not what we are about. To me it’s important to highlight artwork and graphics, and sometimes put out graphics that you know maybe are a bit strange, different, personal, or just weird but that’s what shapes this company. That’s the whole point. We are not driven by money, we are doing this for the passion and love. And of course when the company grows bigger you do have to do some business moves. You gotta have your “money cows”, so to say, to finance the fun.
”Sometimes the market doesn’t know what they want till you give it to them”
I wanna do oldschool fingerless leather gloves. I personally love skating with them, and it’s protection. That’s like a product that people might think, like, it’s a little bit gay or homosexual or whatever. But it’s like fuck, I wanna do that shit, I’ll make it and even if I just sell five of them and lose 1000 euro, I don’t give a fuck. But most of the time it works out. Sometimes the market doesn’t know what they want till you give it to them.
Did your father pass away when you were young?
Yeah I was ten.
It seems like that had a really big effect on you, like it became a source of drive and motivation. Would you say that’s true?
I mean yeah, you know, my father got sick, and I had to take care of him when I was a kid, until he died. I was living side by side with him until he passed away. As a young kid, taking care of your father, watching life go, it confirmed that life is not forever. We all know we’re going to die, but we don’t necessarily want to think about it. It’s the same thing in In Search Of The Miraculous, at the beginning of the video I am sitting with my grandfather, but you know, he’s dead. I’m sitting there with him, just to face death, just to feel the feeling. Death is not something dangerous, it’s a natural part of life. And we’re all gonna be there, so get used to it. That’s kind of why I sat there, watching him, this dead corpse, just saying goodbye to him, becoming friends with death. It makes life less scary.
”I sat there, watching him, this dead corpse, just saying goodbye to him, becoming friends with death. It makes life less scary.”
It also motivates you, we all need death to wake up in the morning. Without it, life doesn’t make sense. Imagine if you had eternal life? It would be bullshit. That’s what makes life worth living. Like now you are young, you are beautiful, make the most out of it. Ten years from now I’ll be 44. I might be a bit fat and not so attractive, so I have to make shit happen now, I have to live life now. The last thing I want is to be lying on my death bed and thinking, shit, I missed out. I want to live there and know that I did what I could to fulfill my potential… Just knowing that I had a lot of great friends, that I created some great works, that I experienced a lot of great things in life, saw the world and so on…
I agree, death is helpful to provide context to what you’re doing.
You know life is there, it’s in front of all you all the time. You need to realize that, if you want it, you have to grab it. You can’t just sit there and wait around for your dreams to appear. Start working and bust your ass off. And then maybe it’ll come to you. I mean there’s no guarantees but unless you try, you don’t know. Maybe the dream doesn’t work out. You couldn’t be a Hollywood movie star, shit, you couldn’t be a rock star… but fuck it, you tried it. Maybe you learn something and you find another way. By doing so you live life.
You always talk about only supporting skater owned companies but you left Emerica several years ago and are supported by companies that were born outside of skating. Is that not a bit hypocritical?
The core and leaders of our industry / culture in my opinion have always been based on what skateboard companies do and create. It all starts there then the rest comes after that. Shoe deals, clothing deals and what not, they join and support the movement of the core. The core usually doesn’t make enough money to be 100% independent and support their people to do skateboarding fulltime. You get on a dope board brand then you normally get dope shoe & clothing deals that pay the bills. This isn’t any secret in the industry. But normally if you ride for a shitty board brand nobody in the industry wants to get near you. I experienced it myself, when I was on Mad Circle aka the hot shit, everybody is your friend. When I was on Arcade Skateboards, nobody gave a fuck about me. Hard reality check, but that’s the way it is. Your skating doesn’t mean shit if you aren’t on a good spicy brand that presents your skating in a jazzy way.
”If you ride for a shitty board brand nobody in the industry wants to get near you”
So, I have support from Carhartt WIP (not a skater owned brand but nobody ever seems to care). They have supported my ideas and visions for 12 years. Emerica supported me for 10 years but towards the end of our relationship it did not work out. I am very thankful for the support that Emerica gave me over the years. Regarding Converse I have always been a fan of their shoes. They are just dope – Jack P, One Star classic – cool shit! The people I work with understand my visions and ideas and are down to support to make them happen. I will never let a brand control me or tell me what to do. The deal from my side is very clear and my visions need support. But my mission remains the same: do cool shit for skateboarding.
Without a basic paycheck from Carhartt and Converse, which covers my rent and puts food on the table, Polar Skate Co. would never have been what it is. Without them I would have needed to have a job on the side. I think it is important that a skateboard company is run by skaters and that’s it.
When you were on Emerica, you said in another interview that they didn’t really include you in the US squad and that they didn’t push you. Why do you think that is?
That’s the reason why I quit. I left cause I did not feel like I was riding for the real team in the USA. I was just a dude in Europe and not much was happening for us. It’s about having a platform to express yourself as a skater. And having a sponsor that backs you up and builds you up as a skater, promotes you with your own ideas. We always felt as if we were just some Euro Trash, over in Europe holed away in distributions or some fucking Euro program. It’s always like you’re on the C team, you can only get some shit edit in the DVD bonus Euro section. We were just like fuck that, let’s just do our own shit. And we did. Now we’re competing with them, which is interesting.
I’m not saying all the companies but I think that a lot of the California companies are shaking at the moment. They are shaking because skateboarding is no longer based in LA, OC, or any other parts of that little clique. It’s a global culture and happening all over the world. And If you wanna sell products all over the world, you have to be supportive and be active all over the world. You have to have a global approach with your marketing and with your team. We have riders all over Europe, we’re supporting people in Japan. You gotta be active and do shit. You can’t just be in LA, and expect to have global marketing. It doesn’t work anymore, those days are over. I’m sorry to say it, but I mean, wake up.
”Just because you are good on a skateboard doesn’t mean you can be a fucking asshole”
Do you think American skaters have a difference in attitude?
Nah, I always have had a good vibe with people, back in the SF days, and now, I always feel welcomed in the skate scenes. But of course there’s assholes everywhere in the world…Assholes are just assholes. I try not to be one, even if sometimes people might think I am one, but I’m just kind of a shy person. When I get surrounded by a lot of new people I get kind of nervous. I think if you are nice, people should be nice back but that’s not always the case. They probably will learn someday that it’s not worth being an asshole and being a superstar or a dick. It doesn’t lead you anywhere in life. Sometimes when skaters get attention, they think they are the hot shit and get some attitude problems. I think that’s really funny, that skaters think that what they do on a skateboard gives them a free card to do whatever they want. What you do on a skateboard is great but who are you as a person? Just because you are good on a skateboard doesn’t mean you can be a fucking asshole.
Do you live your life by any religion or higher power or anything like that?
I don’t believe in any official religion, I’m not Christian, there’s no specific god that I pray to, but I do believe in some type of Karma. I try to live honestly and try to do the right thing. And if I don’t do so, if I lie or fuck people over, I think that shit comes back to you somehow. Sometimes I get bad feelings if I kill an insect, you know? It’s fucked up. But at the same time I also eat fucking meat, so yeah, it doesn’t make any sense.
But I’ve had experiences, like through filmmaking, where I’ve felt like I’m connected to a higher power. When you’re sitting for 6 or 7 months, 10 hours a day, on a project and you’re moving frame by frame working on a small sequence of like 2 seconds, sometimes it’s almost like how people explain meditating, how people meditate for days and weeks and months. I’ve had similar experiences of feeling connected, where I’m so deep into editing that I start to feel something inside of me, I feel some kind of energy. I can’t explain it. I’m not afraid of it. That’s something I’m really open to, letting that feeling into me. I’m not afraid of some power coming into my body and telling me what to do, or listening to those energies.
Do you find that alcohol, weed or any substances help you skate better or be more creative?
I mean, I love drinking. I love smoking weed. I just started smoking again because of Aaron Herrington, you know he’s American, he likes to smoke. I started smoking again because I had so much stress from the company so it was just a way for me to relax in the evenings, after work, smoke a joint and zone out a bit. I’m not a heavy stoner or anything. It’s a little bit stupid but that’s how it is at the moment. As far as being creative or skating, sober or just a little bit of drinking can sometimes help, but not if you’re trying to film. I prefer to be sharp, like super on point.
What do you think the skate industry is gonna look like in the next five years or so?
I think it’s gonna be becoming more global. Skateboarding is gonna be more like bubbles. Different scenes, more bubbles that are more locally connected with brands and skaters. Some bubbles will talk to each other, and hang out and do shit but I don’t think there will just be this one little bubble in LA, controlling the world. Maybe I’m wrong. Of course there will be more commercial involvement in skateboarding, which to me is the biggest gift. Thank you Monster, thank you Street League, and thank you all for that. It only makes the underground grow stronger. A lot of people are converting the other way, it’s a present for all of us.
Yeah, I think you need both types of skating to keep it exciting.
Exactly. It’s just great. The more they push Olympics kind of thinking into skateboarding, ESPN, and Street League, more people will be like fuck this shit, and look to the other side of that coin. There are people like us, Palace, Magenta, Welcome skateboards, Hopps, all the Theories of Atlantis brands, all these brands popping up doing their shit. It’s awesome. There’s always the scary thought though too. What happens when we grow bigger, and it’s the same thing? I’m so aware of all that. Look back to the history of skateboarding. You know there was Girl which broke away from Rocco, and Rocco was the one who broke away from Powell, H-Street and all those guys. It’s a really scary thing to grow bigger and lose what you want to be.
Yeah, I imagine having a brand for that long is really tough. Girl just had their 20 year anniversary, that’s crazy.
Yeah. I mean, shit gets old. Even with how great all your stuff still is, people are like, “Yeah we know this stuff.” Once you’re so established in one kind of field, it’s hard to change. I think a lot of those guys would like to take out the VX-1000 and go film something in LA and fuck around. But it’s so against their whole policy and history. I just feel like if Mike Carroll and Koston went out and filmed a VX edit, people would think it’d be weird. It’d be such a contrast to Pretty Sweet, the road they went down. You become a prisoner of your own ideas. That’s why it’s so important to not lock yourself up in one corner, in one field. You have to be doing variations, new shit, different things all the time. So people can’t identify you with just one single piece. That’s the trick I believe for long term interest in what you are doing.
Have you ever been called an egomaniac before?
Ahhh. Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t mind if someone says I have a big ego. I just have very very strong visions of what I want to do, how I want them to be done and how I see it, and I’m not the kind of guy who wants to let those visions down to please someone else. I don’t know if that’s having a vision or having an ego. Some people understand like, let Pontus do his thing and it’s gonna be something that people hopefully like. But I’m not a guy who is gonna please others, I do it my way or otherwise I don’t do shit. Otherwise I don’t function.
Okay thanks man, really appreciate it. I think that’s about it.
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February 17, 2014 2:16 pm
This is an excellent interview, thanks guys
February 17, 2014 2:23 pm
Hands down my favourite skater, such an inspiration
February 17, 2014 2:24 pm
Another great one Ian, I love these interviews more than anything. Keep doing what you’re doing man, we’re behind you all the way.
February 17, 2014 3:00 pm
Damn thanks for the support – will keep them coming – got 1 or 2 other ones I’m working on now that I think you will like.
February 17, 2014 2:37 pm
Sounds like this dude is just really bummed on LA haha! But Polar is sick nonetheless, cool interview