Shoes and the soul of skateboarding

i'm realizing that it is a good thing that i was not able to fulfill my dream of opening a skate shop until i was in my late 30's.  At this age i have more confidence in my ideals and more so in my ability to live a successful life while maintaining those ideals.  Hell, it's worked for 37 years so i must have found some balance there. With the lack of experience that comes with the energy of our youth it is quite easy to  accidentally do as much harm as good when we make a stand for our ideas.  With the mileage of age it's far to easy to loosen up or even ignore our ideals.

Skateboarding is currently going through that period where it is no longer in it's youth but not quite grown up yet (may it never really grow up).  There is currently a defining struggle going on in skateboarding that will  effect the very soul of it for the future of the art and all of us are in control of which way it will go.

Way back in the early 80's when dinosaurs walked the Earth and telephones had cords, a good friend of mine bought me a Nike skateboarding shirt.  It was electric blue with a glow in the dark neon green skater ollieing (i have never tried to spell that before). You see, at that time there weren't really skate specific shoes yet (with the exception of Vans slip-ons) and quite a few skateboarders were attracted to the comfort of the Nike high tops.  Nike saw that there was money to be made and started making skate themed t-shirts to capitalize on this.

Eventually skate shoe companies started to sprout up like Airwalk (Osiris is destined to your same fate) and Vision Street Wear. Quite a great progression. Skateboard companies were moving out of just the hardware side and were getting into the apparel businesses as well. Then of course skateboarding collapsed a few years later (industry wise at least).  The non-skate companies like Nike and others withdrew completely as revenue abilities decreased and the skate companies left followed a plethora of different paths navigating this new state of skateboarding.

Skateboarding did not go away, nor will it ever.  Skaters are the cockroaches of the counter culture and art world.  We adapt. We evolve, sometimes before your very eyes.  No ramps?  Fine, that handrail looks pretty neat.  Skate-stop the handrail?  OK, we've got this tiny piece of asphalt.  Let's create 20 different ways to flick the board... by next week it will be up to 40... week after that we'll be doing them onto the only ledge you haven't skate-stopped in town.  Oh, and we'll do it in pants big enough to fit our whole family into.  Everyone wearing baggy pants?  Well then, let's wear jeans so tight our balls ache just because... fuck you! Skinny jeans at Old Navy?  Chinos it is.

Skateboarding is incredible in it's progress.  Once skaters started up businesses that constant push forward came with it.  Sneakers with features specific for skating, clothing with not just our diverse aesthetics but with cuts and materials better suited for our needs.  Style, function, and a culture all rolling into one.  i remember as a kid finding a Blind beanie.  i loved that thing so much i wore it year-round (yes even summer) just because it meant i was wearing a skateboarding hat and not some Bruins or other sports team hat. i was waving my flag and showing what tribe i belonged to when i was wearing that hat.  As i was bagging groceries i had to dress 'their' way but when i got home i threw on my pants with the word VISION down the leg.

As these skate companies grew and multiplied an industry got to the point where those who loved skateboarding could start to make livings off of it.  How much so has ebbed and flowed over the years with both feasts and famines.   During good times the likes of Adidas, Converse, Reebok, etc come in to make money and end up putting some skate-owned business out of business.  Then during lean times they pull out and the remaining skate companies are left to pull us all out of the ashes.

We've all had history teachers/coaches (same thing right?) tell us something about "knowing our history" and whatever about "repeating it".  Well, we as skateboarders have to look at our history.  With the unprecedented success of skateboard themed video games, the X Games, Street League, etc skateboarding has become bigger and more stable than ever before.  Right on cue the big boys moved more heavily into the industry.  They push more money at our heroes like Mountain and The Gonz to try and establish some credibility for their divisions.  Then they pull on some of our shining stars with money and technology that skate owned companies just can't compete with.

Just as before and just as what's occurred in soccer and hockey, these companies with deep pockets and far reaches come in and slowly the core companies native to the activity start to fall.  So now we are seeing companies like Nike (easily argued as originators of shipping production overseas - something now unfortunately common), Adidas, and most recently New Balance coming in and having a huge effect on the look, feel, and operations of skateboarding.

Who do you want driving the van? i want the driver who's going the same place i want to go.  Otherwise you can't complain when you get driven somewhere you didn't want to go and no means of getting home.

We as skateboarders have an incredible say in what happens to skateboarding but we have to CHOOSE to exert that power.  Every time you make a purchase you are choosing who you support.  Are you supporting companies that support skateboarding culture?  Are you supporting skater owned and operated companies? If we all act based on looks and what's hot, and fail to look at how these things are going to impact our culture then we truly deserve whatever we end up with (i don't care how beautiful her smile is, if she's got a dick it's a deal breaker).

In the 90's Airwalk wanted to build on their huge skate sneaker success and started moving heavily into the non-skate and lifestyle shoe markets.  Skaters felt betrayed and sold out and stopped buying Airwalk skate shoes.  Once their initial boom in the sneaker market waned they suddenly realized they no longer had their skate base to fall back on.  Now they're a discount shoe company in wally world.  The skate world stood it's ground and Airwalk is no longer a player in skateboarding despite having helped create the skate shoe industry and making some of the most iconic shoes in it's history (i know lace savers looked goofy but they did EXACTLY what the claimed to and it was great).

Do we want to allow skateboarding to become just another sport or do we want to keep the culture in skateboarding?  Skateboarding is growing up and right now is when we decide what it's going to do now that it's out of school (old and new).  Do we stand together and stand with our skate companies blazing a path together or do we turn it all over to the "real world" and hop in the back seat?

-tom