Summer goods come to Long Beach in February.
Short of describing subtle innovations in individual products, it’s difficult to point to exactly what’s new about skateboarding at any given time. But newness is the one perpetual characteristic of skateboarding-the sport and business-and the biannual West Coast Action Sports Retailer Trade Expos are the best place to see the business side of that newness on parade.
The trade shows are a curious mix of cultures and characters, companies and carnival acts. They present the best and the very worst of skateboarding and other unassociated action-sports companies. In fact, there’re usually plenty of companies displaying that couldn’t qualify as action-anything at all. But it’s all there to take, leave, sift through, or whatever. Longtime skateboard companies have complained over the years that a skate-only show would better serve our industry. But no one’s come up with a viable alternative yet, and with many skate-company booths growing each show, few have demonstrated their willingness to leave ASR.
Except in size and shape, skateboard products haven’t changed significantly in the past twenty years. Skateboarders have pretty much stuck with seven-ply concave maple decks, urethane wheels, and aluminum trucks, and jeans and T-shirts have remained our staple fashion. But skateboard companies have managed to consistently rejuvenate interest in these staple products and draw record numbers of attendees to events like ASR. Time and again we manage to impress even our jaded selves.
The very divisiveness that forces us to rely on an outside agency to organize our trade shows is the same independent spirit that directs each company in its own unique direction. It’s what makes a walk through the ASR skateboarding section a different experience at every show. With much to cover in just three days, here’s a taste of what the skateboard section of the Spring ASR Trade Expo included:
Dwindle Distribution has launched its new business Web site (dwindle.com), a controlled-access resource for its field reps and clients that includes information on new products, pre-booking, and team tour dates, among other functions. Tensor is now shipping its new Hi truck, a beefier, wider-turning version of the original Tensor Lo. And a new Dwindle brand, Blacktop Griptape, will soon be launched as a high-quality pricepoint griptape brand.
Giant Distribution has been expanding every which way. Element’s Twig line of kids’ boards now includes two logo models and three pro shapes. The CKY2K video is now available on DVD with twenty minutes of extra footage, and Giant will be the international distributor for Europe’s Puzzle video magazine. Speed Metal has released signature bearings for Mike Vallely and Reese Forbes. The Jamie Thomas-endorsed Monster Truck brand launched with lots of fanfare. And Black Label’s John Lucero is behind Giant’s new wheel project, Revolution.
NHS R&D guru Tim Piumarta has been playing with his new board-crushing computerized guillotine to fine-tune Santa Cruz’s Powerply, Powerply XS, Pinnerply, and Everslick constructions. But one of the more interesting developments in hardgoods is Santa Cruz’s Powerlite deck, a prototype it selectively showed at ASR. Powerlite is a six-ply layup with a sheet of kevlar over the top. The custom-molded and keenly packaged Ricta wheel line now includes non-core models. And the Krux 3 is slightly lighter than its predecessors with an enlarged cavity in the hanger.
While a couple of its employees were detained and ticketed for trespassing in the convention center, Tum Yeto occupied a non-ASR pub across the street where dealers and distributors came to relax and check out the latest from Foundation, Toy Machine, Zero, Pig, and Smooth Operator. Toy Machine has expanded more deeply into softgoods, and Foundation has continued to add large-sized decks and longboards to its line of street shapes and sizes. Tum Yeto now also has its owntruck brand, Ruckus, that is endorsed by Kris Markovich.
DNA Distribution debuted the Anti-Lock Bearing System by Reflex. While most alternative bearing products have lately been smaller than the standard 608, ABS bearings fit into normal wheels but have larger bore diameters. Once the bearings are installed in a wheel, a pair of T-shaped sleeves and a spacer are inserted into the bearings, and the whole assembly is then slid onto the axle. The sleeves and spacer ensure proper bearing alignment and keep them from being pinched by overtightened axle nuts-definitely the most interesting bearing concept in a while.
The video lounge at the Blitz Distribution booths (yes, there were two) featured a trailer for the upcoming Birdhouse film, which will include much of the footage from Tony Hawk’s now-infamous Murietta ramp gap (the upcoming Adio video is also supposed to include some of the footage). Bordering an aisle on both sides, the Blitz installations were still apparently too small-or maybe just too posh-for Baker. The absent rebels mounted a few decks and a banner to the wall, and fenced off its glass-strewn and unmanned booth for the entireweekend.
If Girl Distribution isn’t inundating the market with countless SKUs of decks and wheels, it has perfected the art of focusing its hardgoods lines and showcasing its products and team via ads, the Internet, and catalogs. Case in point-Wallride, a catalog that takes the form of a perfect-bound magazine. If Girl hasn’t added loads of logo decks to its board lines, it has continued to evolve its style, completed the hardgoods triangle with Royal trucks, expanded more deeply into clothing under the Girl, Chocolate, Ruby, and Fourstar brands, and accessorized to the hilt: new from Fourstar is a down/polyfill sleeping bag.
Skateboard-clothing lines have been growing like mad, and conceptual styling has evolved into collections that are mix-and-matchable. The Ambiguous Summer 2001 line, for example, includes many pieces in red, blue, and yellow primary-color schemes.
Shorty’s has stepped up to the softgoods plate with a line of cut-and-sew items that includes seven pants. Designed by Shorty’s founder Tony Buyalos and teamrider Brandon Turner, the Shorty’s clothing line includes traditional jeans and cargoes, convertible nylon pants, and stash pockets galore. Shorty’s is also set to release its much-anticipated big-budget thriller, Guilty.
One of the more dynamic sectors of the skateboard market, skate shoes have been a focus for buyers at ASR for some time. Pre-booking is always crucial to having stock when its needed, and the lines have gotten so vast that careful planning is just as important-particularly with new and unproven lines.
This show marked the debut of Savier, a Portland-based skate-shoe brand that attracted a lot of attention when word spread that it’s backed by Nike and privy to the shoe-giant’s technology. The debut line met everyone’s high-tech expectations, and the lightweight models on display had a distinct running-shoe look.
With a lot of buzz and anxiety surrounding the Vans-sponsored film, Dogtown And Z-Boys, the company has been pushing its old-school line of shoes. Led by the Geoff Rowley model, the vulcanized Classics line features Vans’ timeless styles of low- and high-tops, including the Half Cab midtop. Vans is also limiting the distribution of some of its ‘core shoes to skate shops only.
Since launching last year, Genetic has grown its line to five shoes, including the Bucky Lasek pro model. All Genetic shoes feature EVA insoles and are distributed to ‘core shops only.
Once a dominant skate-shoe brand, Airwalk receded from the skateboard market in the early 90s. Under new owners Tare 7, though, the company has been making inroads with new styles like the Jesse Paez pro model, which features an air heel in a PU midsole. Like Vans, Airwalk has also been getting back to its roots-the Tribute and Legend shoes are based on the original Airwalk Jason Lee and Tony Hawk pro models from t
he early 90s.
Circa has been expanding its line to include a broader range of pricepoints. On the high end are the Muska CM902s and Thomas JT801s. The company’s marquee pros also represent its broad line of softgoods, which includes everything from the Thomas-inspired denim-and-cotton pieces to the Muska-influenced mesh-and-nylon styles.
Etnies has been expanding its line of kids’ shoes. All five models are based on existing styles from the regular Etnies line, including the Vallely pro shoe. Subtle changes in technical features and styling make the kids’ models more affordable than their adult-sized originals. Some, like Velcro straps on the Lo-Cut V, just make them more kid-like.
Also getting in on the shoe tip, World Industries introduced a line of Wet Willy- and Flame Boy-emblazoned shoes for kids and adults in sizes two through twelve.
After a couple years in the wilderness, DuFFs presented an inspired line at ASR that includes twelve new styles. Head Designer Alfonso Rawls has been busy creating clean designs for the new Moses Itkonen and Bunker models, and developing the BoneSaver dimpled-PU insole that’s featured in all DuFFs shoes.
Reef has been restaffing its design and marketing departments in the past year, and came to ASR with a refreshed line for Fall 2001. New technical features include dual air bags and multi-density rubber outsoles, and skate models will also be distinguished from the broader Reef line by the skate-specific “ee” logo.
Globe and Gallaz have been producing lines of skate-specific footwear for the past few years that incorporate some serious technical features, which seems to reflect the nature of their skate teams. The Globe line features seven different cushioning schemes, while the Gallaz line has six. Check out the new Globe Chad Fernandez pro model or the vibrant colorways and Ventilated Ollie Protection System on the Globe Transporter.
In the past couple years, DVS has been busy building a pro team to be reckoned with. It’s also developed some new concepts in skate-shoe cushioning, most notably the Drop In Midsole-a PU footbed that combines the insole and midsole, and includes an airbag in the heel. The DVS kids line grows to five models with the addition of the Daewon Song and Sean Sheffey kids’ models.
DC Shoe Co. has been redefining its line of footwear by turning inward-literally designing its new models from the inside out. Case in point is the A.V.E. Anthony Van Engelen pro shoe, which was built to his specifications for a narrower profile than is usually associated with DC shoes and unique construction features like a neoprene sockliner and adjustable heel strap. DC scored a PR coup with its Solution model, a laceless shoe that features a single Velcro-strap fastener. If it isn’t immediately embraced by the market, it may point toward things to come, as skaters don’t seem to use the laces on their shoes. DC also introduced two women’s skate-specific shoes and now boasts five kids’ shoes based on successful adult-sized models.
On the other end of the footwear spectrum, the Clarks-inspired I-Path line has grown from four shoes three years ago to ten. Teamrider Matt Field and Owner Brian Krauss colaborate to design I-Path’s skateable casual shoes, and the brand has maintained a unique niche in the skate-shoe market.