Didn’t take long, did it? Less than three months after DNA Distribution confirmed their deal to be bought out by snowboard behemoth Burton, Arto Saari, who signed on with Burton’s clothing company Analog only a year or so ago, jumped to Alien Workshop, and any day now the press release presses will release another press release about him “officially” joining Burton’s hiking, er, lifestyle, errr, skate shoe company Gravis (unless they did this already and I missed it, totally possible). It’s interesting to watch the corporations at work as they take different parts of skateboarding and put them together in new, ostensibly more profitable configurations. Hallelujah holla back, etc.
Setting aside 10 years of Rowley bro-ness and whatever company loyalty counts for in 2008, it’s hard to fault Arto. The El Toro days are behind him, SOTY trophy in hand, place in history assured, and now he can kick back to spend time with his vintage scooters and mobile saunas. As far as skating, for the last few years he’s been in a more contemplative place, or whatever it’s called when you get old and have knee problems and spend most of your time skating ditches. At this point getting a call from Jake Burton, a Wall Street-ready snowboard mogul who wants to build his foray into skating around you and your ideas, it probably sounds pretty good. Those rumors about Jeremy Fox selling Flip to some Billabong-esque conglomerate keep coming up, so what the fuck, right?
Either way Arto’s enjoying the benefits of that big Burton wallet. Fuck, I would too, I guess. From the jump it looks like Burton inserting their poster boy into their new skate acquisition, a la Dr. Dre putting the Game into G-Unit. But you know the Alien guys are probably jumping up and down over the Arto move as well, and it might even have been their idea, which is really too bad because it’s the type of thing that could kill the company.
Since around 2000 Alien Workshop’s Johnny-and-Ed duo of Carter and Hill have developed a taste for the power move. Before that they dabbled a little bit—Jason Dill was long established from his 101 days, but after 23 he was farming his hair, skating DC flow and finding himself. Putting on Danny Way after Plan B folded the first time might count, if it wasn’t such an oddball matchup and if Way would’ve contributed more than a handful of tricks over the better part of a decade. I always wondered how much they paid him. Even when Habitat started their big acquisitions were Kerry Getz, during the Toy Machine exodus, and Tim O’Connor, at that point still known more for his skating than his mouth. It’s not like they were wooing Peter Smolik away from Shorty’s or something similarly earth-shaking.
But Alien’s strength is really its farm team, finding kids who would turn into fairly iconoclastic skaters way before anybody else figured it out. Around the same time they put Jason Dill on they also got Anthony Van Engelen from 23, and not long after they signed up a couple East Coast kids called Brian Wenning and Anthony Pappalardo—who together would put out three of the top five parts in Photosynthesis. Later they got Floridian troublemakers Danny Renaud and Ryan Nix, along with Canadian malcontent Ted DeGros, and more recently Alex Carolino, Grant Taylor, Steve Durante, Jake Johnson and Kevin Terpening. And they’re good at finding overlooked am kids like Danny Garcia, Silas Baxter Neal and Guru Khalsa.
Whether it has to do with DNA’s Midwest HQ or the influence of the rest of the team or Carter and Hill’s general weirdness, all those kids developed into great skaters who were interesting to watch. Some of the pros they signed up clicked with the whole Alien/Habitat motif pretty clearly, like Janoski’s soft-shoe tech and Salazar’s balls-out speed, but other times the team moves ranged from perplexing to inexplicable. Danny Way was an early indicator here, but the addition of Steve Berra and Heath Kirchart in 2002 came way out of left field. Kirchart’s status as a shadowy rail virtuoso made him a logical guy to add, but then there was Berra, whose Hollywood pretentiousness and plain vanilla gap/ledge skating didn’t add much to the equation except sweet backside flips and a name that was already over the hill. Even without the much-ballyhooed fake spots in his DVS part, the skating was boring as fuck.
These were two big California pros though, and in the years that followed DNA would sign up marquee names like Colin McKay, Mike Taylor and Stevie Williams (briefly), and hot shoe ams like Dylan Rieder and Omar Salazar. Then there were all the pros they chased unsuccessfully, like Leo Romero, Darrell Stanton and Devine Calloway.
It always struck me as bizarre. Why would a company that’s so good at finding new talent and bringing on dudes that weren’t getting much shine elsewhere waste its time throwing its hat in the ring with every big-name pro whose contract is up? Do Carter and Hill, now about 20 years after starting the company, still feel like they have to prove something to Southern California? Like a Midwestern inferiority complex? Do they think it sells more boards to sign up a big-name pro rather than the kids they brought up from obscurity? Maybe it does. But wasn’t the whole idea of Alien based on weirdness and conspiracy mythology and grainy film footage and comic-strip ads where kids turned into moths? I.E., not what everyone else was doing? What’s the point?