Spring 2000 Action Sports Retailer Trade Expo

Danny Wainwright gives ASR some pop!

Where Are We?

The Long Beach Spring Action Sports Retailer Trade Expo is always a little odd. One of skateboarding’s two major trade shows of the year, it occurs over three days in early February–in the midst of our industry’s traditional downtime. In contrast, the San Diego show in September falls between the busy summer and holiday seasons. Long Beach also has a bit of a split personality: a mad assortment of beach and skate mega-booths fill the main hall, while ASR newcomers, the street course, and vert ramp sit in the adjacent sports arena.

At Long Beach there’s also the feeling that everybody’s just coming out of hibernation–yawning and stretching in preparation for the impending summer. The Spring Action Sports Retailer Trade Expo is the skateboard industry’s annual wake-up call, kickstarting the new year with products and parties aplenty.

The San Diego ASR show usually has a lot going on as well, and it’s generally pretty tough to differentiate between the two; with six-month intervals, tracing the evolution of the skateboard industry is subtle from show to show. Most of the time, the changes between February and September are incremental, and if the fall shows weren’t in San Diego, one would be hard-pressed to tell them apart from season to season, year to year.

Why Are We Here?

As skateboarding evolves, and its products are refined toward that perfect harmony of performance, weight, and durability, there is less room for substantive change. Graphics, colorways, and shapes are constantly updated and give the skateboard culture some of its brilliance, but the materials, molds, and patterns remain virtually the same. So the directions expressed in most lines on display at the Spring 2000 Action Sports Retailer Trade Expo collectively take us another step down the path of predictable reliability (fine-tuned manufacturing) and marketing savvy (popular colors and bigger, better teams). “It seemed like there’s not a whole lot of new stuff out there,” says AWH Distributing Manager Dave Harris. AWH displays at East Coast shows like ASR in Atlantic City, New Jersey, but Harris and staff walk the West Coast shows to visit their suppliers. “It’s important to have a presence there, to see people and have that personal connection with the different manufacturers and the different people associated with the show. I kind of wonder sometimes if it’s absolutely necessary, because I can just see the new stuff in the catalogs. But we’ll be going to them ASR shows in the future.”

A few brands were noticeably absent at Long Beach. After floating his booth on a yacht outside the Fall ’99 show, Tum Yeto Owner Tod Swank announced that he wouldn’t be at ASR in the spring. “I admire that,” says Harris. “It costs a lot of money to do those shows, for the booths and all that setup. For the hardgoods companies that are established with distributors, it’s probably not very necessary for a lot of them to be there.”

Swank explains, “We didn’t go because over the past few years we noticed decreasing orders and fewer new accounts happening at the show. We have people calling us for new accounts all the time, whereas at the show, it was minimal.”

Focusing on his end consumer, Swank decided his money would be better spent on public events rather than trade-only shows. “We’ve done Invert ’99 and these little public shows,” he says. “The kids were going crazy, and our booth was packed. I don’t need to convince the shop owners or the distributors to buy the products. I want to convince the kids–then the shop owners and the distributors will catch on to that. They’re gonna buy it because the kids want it, not because I told them they should buy it.”

Where Do We Grow From Here?

Despite the continued growth of the skateboard-product market, the juggernauts of the hardgoods and softgoods/footwear hemispheres are leaving little room for newcomers, and no room for mistakes. Everyone seems to have a plan and a direction, and any of the larger shoe and deck companies could easily fill the average shop with their product alone, most of them offering multiple brands in one catalog. “When you solidify yourself as a distributor, you’ve got to have it all,” says CEO Frank Messman of Dwindle Distribution, whose new Tensor truck has been shipping since December. “In the past, we were satisfied with just buying trucks from NorCal and a few other places, and over time it just didn’t make sense. You really need to make your own product and distribute it directly. And we’re doing that across the board. Essential to survival is to have a complete package.”

Retailers have also diversified. The modern “board shop” carries everything from skateboards and wetsuits to snowboard wax, not to mention clothing and shoes. “We get everyone from the eight-year-old skateboard kid looking for a new deck or bearings to the 25-year-old college grad looking for a nice sweater for his first day on the job,” says Jannio Hidalgo of Axis Boardshop in Fountain Valley, California. “We try to keep everybody happy.”

The urge to visit one booth, place one massive order of decks, wheels, trucks, clothing, and shoes, then spend the rest of the weekend on the beach must be tempting for some buyers. Luckily, the weather in Long Beach was less than California-esque; spending the weekend inside the convention center was made more tolerable by scattered showers and gusty winds outdoors. “I was there Saturday and Monday, and I had an appointment every hour on the hour from nine to five,” says Hidalgo. “I didn’t even get a chance to see the street course. I hate going there just for business, but all in all I love the show. It’s good to see people you haven’t seen in a while, and catch all the new stuff coming out that you’ve been hearing about.”

What’s All The Commotion About?

With so much R&D and refinement in skateboard products over the last two decades, innovations have become gradual and incremental. The really new developments in skateboarding often occur outside the booths and meeting rooms. In fact, they usually occur outside of the trade show. But this show was different in that respect.

Back in December the fertile minds over at Element Skateboards conceived a publicity stunt (literally) that would secure the brand a place in modern skatelore. After years of being asked by forward-thinking fans at demos all over the world, “How high can you ollie?” they talked their team’s premier vaulter, Reese Forbes, into calling out the rest of professional skateboardingdom to see who’s got the mad pop. “At the time I was watching a lot of wrestling on TV and getting a big kick out of it,” says Element’s Johnny Schillereff. “I was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if Reese challenged the whole world to the highest ollie?’ Like, ‘I dare you to ollie as high as me,’ but not be too serious about it–more like a fun thing.”

Forbes put his reputation on the line and agreed to host the Reese Forbes Ollie Challenge, which took place on Sunday beside the street course in the convention center’s sports arena. “I had a lot of people telling me it was a bad idea, and that I was crazy,” says Schillereff. “But the ollie is the most basic thing in skateboarding. And if it wasn’t for the ollie, skateboarding wouldn’t be on the level it’s at.”

The concept behind the Reese Forbes Ollie Challenge was simple: invite professional skateboarders to participate in a contest to see who can ollie the highest. Of the fifteen skaters who entered, the five highest qualifiers in Saturday’s prelims joined Forbes on Sunday for the final event. “What we were hoping to accomplish was to just have some fun,” says Schillereff. “I think guys like Danny Wainwright, Kien Donger Lieu, and Reese deserve some credit. Just like the highest air on vert, I feel like the ollie is not recognized enough in skateboarding. It’s almost like it’s been forgotten because of all the other te
ch tricks and things that are going on.”

The obstacle, a concrete traffic barricade, was fitted with steel guides, into which one-inch aluminum bars were stacked. Competitors would push up to the barricade and attempt to launch over the precariously stacked aluminum bars. If they were so much as nicked, the hollow rods would crash to the ground in a horrendous clanking cascade.

On Sunday the barricade and runway were lined by hundreds of raving lunatics, which on one hand encouraged the competitors, and on the other intimidated them. All of Sunday’s finalists–Forbes, Rob Gonzalez, Stacy Lowery, Jake Stewart, Wainwright, and Brian Young–have strong ollie reputations, and this event was the first time they were given a chance to live up to expectations.

For such short notice, the contest was remarkably well-planned and -executed. Ads and promotional materials were produced and distributed via magazines and mail, and if Forbes’ overt claim as the ollie contender wasn’t enough, Element put 10,000 dollars on the table for the winner. As the final event got going, and the height approached 40 inches, the six competitors were no longer making it first try. They were given five attempts at each height, and toward the end that became pivotal as the riders grew increasingly tired, and the barricade became taller. It was a contest of stamina as much as anything else.

“The pressure was really, really intense,” says Forbes. “And I know people expected a lot out of me. So that was kind of hard, trying to live up to that. I progressively got more tired as it got higher–I would have rather done it backward. But I loved the response afterward because everyone left really psyched.”

In the end it came down to Forbes, heir-apparent of the as-yet unheld title, and Wainwright, who came out from rainy, gusty Bristol, England and apparently felt at home enough to out-vault Long Beach locals Lowery and Gonzalez, passing the 44-inch mark along with Forbes. After five attempts each, they both missed the 45-inch mark, so the top bar was replaced with a half-inch rod. Wainwright made it, and Forbes came close. But close don’t count in this game.

There’s no shame finishing second in a contest like this, and when it came down to the final two competitors, Quiksilver announced that it had 5,000 dollars for the runner-up. While the crowd mobbed the two of them with equal congratulations, Forbes signed the contest check from Element and presented it to Wainwright, achiever of the world-record highest ollie at 3.7 feet (1.13 meters). “On a good day you can snap higher things than that,” says Wainwright. “It got so draining. It takes so much energy out of you–after five or six tries, you’re dead.”

What Are We Looking At?

The importance of this event can’t be understated: the ollie, the cornerstone of modern skateboarding, has never had so much public focus; this single-discipline contest proved to be exciting and suspenseful, and will undoubtedly be co-opted into this year’s television events, giving the competition-hungry public yet another serving of canned skateboarding (and the winner another ten grand!); the Reese Forbes Ollie Challenge follows the vert highest air as one more non-judged contest event, where the result is objectively measurable; it took place in the very same arena where Tony Alva set the world record in 1977 for the longest barrel jump (nineteen barrels, jumping from skateboard to skateboard); the competitors of the Reese Forbes Ollie Challenge have effectively revised the hand gesture used to measure one’s “manliness” by skating up to the barricade and aligning the top bar with a corresponding point on their torsos before attempting to ollie it–the traditional karate chop to the lower thigh has been replaced with a salute from the lower chest area approximating Wainwright’s 44.5-inch leap into history.

Trade shows are important events for a business like this. Nowhere else can you get such a panoramic snapshot of the industry and the products it offers. If you look closely enough, you can often also catch a glimpse of something really momentous, like the moment it takes someone to click his tail, clear an object, and land. Such instances can help you decide which lines to carry, or just give you a reprieve from it all: pure skateboarding can happen anywhere it wants to.

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New Ideas
Innovations are keeping things interesting.

By Eric Sentianin

The ASR Trade Expo not only provides an arena for distributors, manufacturers, and retailers to gather and discuss new products and current trends, but it’s also a platform to debut new companies and innovative ideas. The first ASR show of 2000 was no exception. Some new brands were born in both the shoe and hardgoods sectors. We also saw the introduction of new and inventive ideas for our seemingly changeless skateboards.

This year’s Spring ASR Trade Expo brought about the usual sensory overload of products. Amidst all the chaos, though, emerged a few new companies trying to set themselves apart from the rest. Dayton, Ohio’s DNA Distribution, suppliers of brands we’ve become familiar with (Alien Workshop and Reflex Bearings), has launched its first new deck brand in ten years, Habitat. For Spring and Summer 2000, Habitat offers two deck series, the Co Exist series and the Postage series (each constructed with Habitat’s proprietary 7-ply Skylite Construction), along with a limited edition Original Seal team deck. Each deck series is available in a team model as well as pro models for Tim O’Connor, Fred Gall, and Kerry Getz. To complement the board line, Habitat has also launched two wheel series, a modest line of clothing consisting of pants, T-shirts, and some basic accessories including hats, beanies, and a backpack.

Lakai Limited Footwear, distributed by Podium Distribution, was also introduced in Long Beach. Lakai is currently offering five models: Worthy, Clay, Cohort, Howard, and Carroll. Each model, designed for comfort and durability, is available in three color schemes and features heel-cushioning systems, shock-absorbing insoles, and reinforced ollie areas.

Also launched at the first ASR Trade Show of 2000 was the Pyro Shoe System. Distributed by Think, Pyro offers eight skate-specific styles including the Temple, Shaolin, Sumo, Veith II, Pyre, Firestarter, Burner, and Dynamite. Pyro Shoes should be in ‘core skate shops by Spring 2000.

The creative think tank at Globe Shoes has identified a niche in the women’s shoe market and has launched a new brand dubbed Gallaz. The new line of women-specific active wear will be available to retailers for Summer 2000. Gallaz has also recently brought on professional skater Jamie Reyes and pro surfer Layne Beachley (ASP World Championship Tour title holder) to assist in the design and development of future Gallaz products. Currently the line includes three sandals (Rule, Refer, and the sandal/shoe Parameter) and six shoe models (Reason, Direct, Lift, Essential, Progress, and Final).

Girl Distribution has finally lived up to its name and launched Ruby, a woman’s clothing line consisting of casual twill, denim, and cotton pieces–nine in all–including a bikini.

Along with adding new colorways to existing models, Axion Footwear has released new pro-model shoes for Brian Anderson, Caine Gayle, Rune Glifberg, and Kareem Campbell, as well as unveiling the Combat, Downtown, Uptown, and Effect to complement their sport-specific line. Axion has also designed four straight-out running-shoe models, Alpha, Alta, Apex, and Summit for the Axion Sport line, a division of Axion Footwear.

Some common threads linked most of the major shoe manufacturers in Long Beach. Besides the similar colorways in blacks, navys, and grays, look for kid-sized shoes available from brands like DC, Globe, Etnies, Emerica, DVS and Hawk Footwear.

The marketing department at Atlas Distribution has decided to brand a new line of kids and mens shoes after its best-know
n team rider. The Hawk Footwear line will feature two basic models (Delta and Alpha) and three technically advanced models (Pegasus, Newton, and Tony Hawk Pro V.3) in three colorways. To complement the new line Hawk Footwear will also have a modest line of softgoods including hats, T-shirts, and sweatshirts. The line will be available to retailers for Summer 2000.

Innovative ideas were stirring things up in the hardgoods department, specifically decks. Flip Skateboards has come up with New Wave Construction, a unique deck-manufacturing process that uses corrugated stiffening ribs on the deck surfaces for strength, stiffness, and reducing the contact area to facilitate sliding. Expedition One has been making improvements to their Inerlock Advanced System. The inserts have been retooled to reduce stress cracks and thread stripping. This unique mounting system, which was developed through a patent-pending laminating process, provides strength and durability to Inerlock decks because the top two plies are not drilled through. Inerlock construction is now available on select pro models as well as the original Inerlock team decks.

Probably one of the most innovative features for skate decks seen in a while is the Performance Tip system, currently only available on the Danny Gonzalez pro model from Chapman Skateboards. The tips are manufactured out of space-age engineering materials to provide a longer lasting, more consistent pop in your board. Through some basic principles of physics, the idea behind the design is to provide a smaller area of impact for an ollie which translates into a greater amount of energy transferred to the board. A Performance Tip deck will retail for approximately 65 dollars, and the replacement tips will come in at about $3.50 retail.

This show even saw the rebirth of some vintage deck graphics. Shorty’s has released the new Muska pro model in Christian Hosoi’s old Kamikaze graphics. Even the Pontus Alv deck from Arcade Skateboards mimics the classic Alva stripe graphic.

One of the most noticeable trends for trucks are the various colored hangers and baseplate combinations available. Fury, Royal, Unit, Thunder, Tracker, Venture and Tensor are all offered in assorted colors. Tensor, the new truck designed by Rodney Mullen and distributed by Dwindle, even went as far as offering different colored slider/pivot cups and bushings. Royal, the new truck from Girl Distribution, incorporates unique color schemes in red, black, yellow, army, and silver. It shouldn’t be a problem color coordinating your deck anymore.

Ricta Wheel Dynamics, exclusively distributed by NHS, is a dual-durometer wheel that has a unique embossed lettering on the side wall. The line includes one team wheel, plus one for each of Ricta’s seven pros. Every pro wheel is a different size and features a distinctive colored inner core with the pro’s name molded around the outside of the core.

Rolling around NHS you also will find something interesting from the Road Rider brand, the Millennium Series. This new dual-durometer wheel is made with a clear 78A urethane outer tire and a visible four-color printed core. The Millennium Series is available in three sizes: 56, 65, and 71mm.

Here’s a little something that some skate shops might find interesting. Syndrome Distribution has a Shop Box available that includes mounting hardware, kingpins, bushings, washers, riser pads, and more to help organize that ever-useful and overcrowded work bench. It even has a component price list attached for easy reference.

A noticeable trend consistent throughout the skateboard industry is the emergence of extensive accessory lines available to retailers. Just about every major brand from every major distributor has expanded their lines to include a broad range of softgoods including cut-and-sew pieces and functional packs, and hardgoods including custom griptape, bearings, and mounting hardware. If anything, the ASR Trade Expo makes it more difficult to decide which brands and products to carry in your shop–which is a good problem to have.

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Trade Show Freebies
Companies entice visitors with giveaways.

By Eric Sentianin

Besides the endless hand shakes, conversations, product-line viewings, and shop talk, the staff here at SKATE Biz actually looked forward to visiting company booths to see what sort of giveaways they might have.

With our first appointment at Sole Technology came several freebies. The moment we laid eyes on the Emerica Beverage Helmet, we were inspired to catalog this show’s best door prizes. The helmet was given the Alpha Sigma Rager Award, followed closely by Most Useful, which went to Etnies for its Waterproof Business Card Holder.

Blitz Distribution walked away with the most honors–they probably also had the most free stuff: the Desk Accessory Award for the Blitz Distribution Flip-Up Calculator (that’s sitting on my desk right now), the Unisex Award for the Flip Terry Cloth Bathrobe, the Not In My Eye! Award for the Hook-Ups Laser Pointer, and finally the Ultimate Hook-Up Award for the Clear-Case Sony PlayStation embossed with “Blitz” and all of its brands’ logos. One-hundred twenty-five of them went to “key” individuals. Are you “key?” Apparently we’re not.

And to wrap up our awards ceremony, we gave Globe the Trade Show Navigation Tool Award for their handy Compass Key Chain–I’m not sure if we could have made it through the labyrinth of a show without it. Last but not least, the We’re-Not-Sure-What-Category Award goes to the Girl Distribution Potpourri Satchel: Ruby Knife, Four Star Clothing Scissors, and Chocolate Lighter. Thanks for all the free stuff, most of it has been quite useful.