We’re a decade out from the year that shook the industry to its core, but it seems like some similar pains are being felt lately.
A lot of board brands are struggling due to overstocked board walls, inflation, and bloated teams. After just a few years of being under new management, Dwindle Distribution has succumbed to that fate with most of their key people being fired or leaving. So far, the downfall has resulted in the death of Enjoi, Madness, and a few other brands that were once thriving under the Dwindle umbrella.
But we all know skaters are not the type to give up easily, which means there are some motivated heads that are picking up the rubble and attempting to raise these brands from the ashes.
Bill Weiss is one of those skaters, and is launching Opera under the newly formed Sidewalk Distribution, which will be home to a couple of other brands as well. Rather than just speculating about what these brands’ directions will be, we talked to Bill to find out what Opera and Sidewalk are aiming to be for the skate industry.
You’re involved in this new distribution company, Sidewalk, right? What is it and what companies are involved?
Slappy Trucks, Jacuzzi Unlimited and Opera Skateboards. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to build a new home for the Madness [Bill’s previous board brand] guys. I spoke with a lot of amazing people about different opportunities to make it happen. When the opportunity came about to work with Louie [Barletta], Bod [Boyle] and Steve [Douglas] to start a distribution, I knew this was the best group to work with. We are all friends and have also worked together for years.
Why’d you choose the name “Opera” for your new brand?
I’ve always liked the idea of what an opera represents. I love the fact that the literal definition of it is “a performance of one”. To me, that’s skateboarding in a nutshell. It’s just you, but you can have just as much fun by yourself or with a group. I think that all the stuff that comes from the idea of operas and the stage and the theatrics and storytelling, I was always moved by that, and the masquerade and the mischievous nature of what operas are about.
Is your first video going to only use opera tracks?
Do the riders need to know how to sing to get on?
Um, that could be possible… it would be worth giving it a shot. Break out some of the classics [laughs].
Can you talk about who will be on the team?
Clay Kreiner, Jack Fardell, Sam Beckett, Trey Wood, and Alex Perelson are the pros. Nick Papa, Jedd McKenzie and Jeff Rasp are the ams. We also have awesome flow riders Caroline Duerr, Hinano Kusaki, Ema, and George O’Neill.
What percent of your team can do a 900?
Shit, that’s a good question. I would say 20%. That’s a lot of twirling around. It’s crazy, some of the kids that have come up in recent times, the 900 is their go-to now, which is absurd.
“Some of the kids that have come up in recent times,
the 900 is their go-to now.”
How are you going to price your boards? Board prices are all over the place these days, which I think hasn’t been seen in skating before. Why is that?
From what I hear, there’s a shitload of excess inventory which seems to be forcing brands to put stuff on sale. For Opera, we are focused on truly making the best product we can — construction, shapes, recognizable product that stands out. As far as cost… That’s where Bod [Boyle] and Steve [Douglas] come in. We all bring something different to the table and focus on our strengths.
You used to work at Dwindle before all this and ran Madness Skateboards. What ended up happening with Dwindle from your perspective?
The back-end people were just spewing hot air permanently. It was all bullshit, the people did not care, or even try to care about or understand skateboarding. I felt like quitting so many different times, but I didn’t want to quit on my riders and on chasing the money that was owed to them. I did that for a long time… It got to the point where all I did was chase other people’s money from the second I woke up to the second I put my phone down and honestly, I got depressed. I almost resigned. I had it all typed up, but I was like, “I can’t quit. I got to keep going and push as hard as I can to get everyone’s money that’s owed.” I worked my ass off for that company for 20 fucking years, and a couple of days later they reached out and fired me with a phone call after all the years. No severance and none of the money they owed me. It was insane… I was with my kids and my family, and then I just made a simple Instagram post, and moments later the entire Madness team quit, and I can’t even put that into words.
Over the next few weeks, the level of support I got from my peers, friends and skaters globally meant the world to me. Seeing the riders leave a successful brand to support me felt like an important moment for skateboarding, and what that meant against these venture capitalist fuckheads who come into skateboarding and don’t care about or understand the culture.
“I just made a simple Instagram post, and moments later the entire Madness team quit.”
Did you ever try to save Madness before being let go?
I tried to buy Madness from them many times, but they didn’t hear it and they kept saying, “No, no, no.” I already saw them destroying it in front of my own eyes the way it was going.
At the end of the day, skateboarding is just a number to them. They don’t understand all the lineage and stories and past that were created. It’s all nameless faces, it’s numbers. They don’t associate with the heart and soul of it, so you get what you get. When you’re working with those types of people, don’t be surprised.
What would you say is different about Sidewalk compared to Dwindle?
What we were trying to figure out how to do is how to build a distribution 100% for skateboarders for the future of skateboarding and the riders and everybody involved that comes in—whether that’s a filmer, artist, photographer—and building a nice home for everyone. It’s all fresh and pure energy. All the brands that are coming out with us are completely different in their own right but they all have true hearts. Just starting there is the key ingredient. You’ve got three totally different styles pushing in a positive direction.
Hasn’t this been done before? Dwindle started as all skater run too, it’s just the same cycle over again?
Not with us. This is our opportunity to do right by skateboarding in what we believe in.
“I grew up in an era even when I was pro where I never looked at it as a career path.”
Do you think the middle class of pro skating is kinda dead? It seems like many pros can’t make a living off of just skating. Does that factor into anything when creating another new brand?
That song has always been the same. I think like in everything else, in skateboarding, there’s the 1% that make a shit ton of money. Then there’s a step down that makes pretty decent money. Then there’s a big step down that get to skate and travel.
And then there’s the group that makes $300 bucks a month and are chasing a dream that is against their best interest. If you make $300 a month and have to travel to contests all over the world and you get 111th place at all of them, then you might have to revisit your dream.
But at the same time, I grew up in an era even when I was pro where I never looked at it as a career path. I never thought I’d do this for money. Sure, we got paid money but we just followed the sessions and skated and that was it. I think that those things dictate themselves.
What was the most you made a month from skating at your peak?
I think between seven sponsors, I might have towed in a hefty $2,300 bucks a month at my peak. I was feeling it then [laughs]. I felt like I was at the top, but that’s nothing now.
If Rob Dyrdek wanted to join your distro, would you guys let him?
He would have to come forth with one of his greatest ideas. He seems to be good at ideas, so I would say I would most certainly listen to Rob’s pitch.
Would you ever consider taking on a freestyle brand?
That’d be tough man [laughs]. It’s crazy because freestyling is almost like you don’t even see it anymore but it’s there. There’s kids that freestyle and have fucking pushed it and have integrated into more traditional skating. Obviously the first that comes to mind is Andy Anderson.
I think in this day and age, someone probably could do a successful freestyle brand. There’s really a lane for anything.
I think skateboarders have opened up a tremendous amount in the last few years, and I think that skateboarding has now offered a space for anyone to do whatever style of skateboarding they want to do with open arms.
As someone who skated in the 90s when it was more of a closed and cliquey community, do you ever miss the past when skating was more exclusive?
I look at it like, that open arms space is there now, but there are always going to be cliques of people that hate on everything. Skateboarders definitely can be very insecure even though they portray a very secure attitude. Certain people are so insecure and wanna make sure that everything is ok with the cool crowd that they live in that world. It’s a dangerous place for them to go because some of them can’t get off of it and get stuck reading comments about themselves.
“I’m all for talking shit as long as there’s humor in it.”
Do you think Jake Phelps passing was the end for some of that old guard or purist mentality within skating?
He spoke how he felt. Harsh and loud at times, but in any walk of skateboarding there needs to be different voices and it’s kind of the point like, if you don’t like it then who gives a shit. If it’s your thing, then cool. I’ve never felt any reason to care about what someone else thinks when it comes to skating. And I’m all for talking shit as long as there’s humor in it. If someone wants to make fun of me, by all means my ears are open, and when it’s done right, it’s music to my ears, but if people are just trying to be mean to people for no reason, I’m not down with that.
What is Opera’s message and how do you hope for it to resonate with the world?
I hope people enjoy the effort we put into detail with our products. I believe we make some of the most interesting boards ever made. We have a great skate team with their hearts in the right place that love and push skateboarding to new limits all while enjoying the ride so it’s my honor to bust my ass for them to create a great home for everyone.
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