Steve Van Doren Talks About The Vans US Open and Van Doren Invitational
Last year's inaugural Van Doren Invitational received rave reviews from skaters and the BMX crowd, and was even listed as one of the best contests of 2013 by the editors of Transworld Skateboarding.
We got the chance to catch up with Steve himself, while he and his daughter Kristy were working on-site at the Vans US Open on Wednesday. Van Doren was living up to his reputation as the ultimate ambassador, getting ready to man the grill and greet Vans' biggest fans in person.
Let's get to the serious stuff first, how many hot dogs get grilled at this event?
Over nine days we do about 15,000 hot dogs, and 2,500 sliders. Every day is like 1,400 to 1,500 hot dogs, and on certain days I do sliders. They're really good, because I get those Hawaian buns, the real small, square ones. Everybody who comes to an event always looks up at those big white tents and thinks, "those are VIP, I can't get up there," so I wanted to make it feel like they're at home.
[Van Doren mans the grill himself every day from 12:00 to 2:00pm.]
Last year's Van Doren Invitational was popular with both the skate and BMX worlds, what do you think really made it stand out?
After ten years of doing the Vans Pool Party we learned that having cement is the best thing. We wanted to spend the extra money so we could have it, just to elevate the skating and BMX riding, so the feel is right. When you've got the Pacific Ocean on one side and a bowl that replicates Marseille, it's just a win win.
What changes have been made to the bowl this year?
It's pretty much the same deal. We added an extension in one place, and another higher extension in another. Then we changed the two bowls to be more of a diamond shape. They're gonna use the whole bowl for speed a lot more than they did last year. We got great artists to come in and do their thing again. They were painting for three days out there in the hot sun, really did a sensational job. The whole inspiration still comes the Marseille bowl event that John Cardiel and different guys told me about over the years.
[Bowl construction is handled by California Skateparks. Estimated construction costs are about $250,000. In addition to the main skate and BMX contests, the bowl hosts a women's skate event, shop contest, and "Industry Day" during its two-and-a-half-week lifespan.]
How "hands on" are you with The Van Doren Invitational?
My daughter Kristy is really in charge of making the whole event happen. My main focus is on those two hours in the middle of the day, just saying hi to all the customers and all of our friends. We give away somewhere around 15,000 things a day, between wallets, bandanas, hats, lanyards, and umbrellas. So my hands-on time is really focused on those two hours out there. I also love getting up and watching the surf, skate, and BMX competitions live.
We're really pushing the family element. We've had two movie nights that went great. We worked with a local business to give away 600 gelatos and popped popcorn for almost 800 people.
On the industry side, we have custom Van Doren Invitational guitars that we made for Jack's, as well as HSS, who really help us a lot. They're great partners selling all of our merchandise out there.
What's special about this location to you?
This is our roots. The US Open is in our backyard.
In 1964 my Dad moved from Boston to California. He was working for a shoe company in Boston and they had a division out here that they needed to straighten out because it was losing money. That company had a grass hut right next to the Huntington Beach Pier where they were selling basic shoes.
My Dad met Duke [Kahanamoku] there during a surf event. We have family footage where I'm 8 or 9 years old, with Duke, Fred Hemmings, Corky Carroll, and Butch Van Artsdalen. They're all on the beach. My Dad took one of the blue Hawaiian shirts that they were all wearing, went back to the factory, made a pair of shoes out of it, and brought them back to Duke the next day.
My Dad left the company he was working for about a month-and-a-half after that surfing event to start his own company, thinking, "I can do these custom-made shoes." That was right here 50 years ago. They built a factory and started Vans in 1966. My Dad's still alive and I send pictures back to him from this event.