Big Shoes Small Boards


There are some queries that must be considered as the ultimate questions of the time. Is it really what it is? Do gentlemen really prefer brunettes? What is the sound of one hand clapping? Do Gs get to go to heaven? If you couldn’t see the sun rising off the shore of Thailand would you ride then if I wasn’t driving? Has We The Best Season returned? Are you new around here or something man?

In our current big-footwear era of skateboarding, one question goes like this: Do international shoe manufacturers prefer small board companies? You sort of wonder. As Palace and Adidas and Skate Mental and Nike respectively grow cuddlier in the process of producing product lines, fewer such efforts appear to invite the creative hive-minds powering the likes of Element, Flip, Plan B and Zoo York to apply their MS Paint sorcery to established shoe-wall sellers. Meanwhile, the fingerprints of publicly traded footwear conglomerates increasingly seem to smudge the smartphone screens of board-company team managers:

Jamie Thomas: we bent over backwards for trevor for years. all was good, but as we were working with him on his boards, we started hearing that Nike was encouraging him to ride for skate mental because supposedly it would help his situation at Nike; Even though his graphics were done and his pro board was scheduled to be released in 2 months, he hit me up and said thanks for everything, but I’m gonna ride for Skate Mental.

Mike Carroll: Remember with Karsten [Kleppan], when we put out the intro to Lakai video part and then a week later Karsten got on Nike? It’s just like, what the fuck. And then that (Nike) dude Kaspar hit up Sam [Lakai’s Team Manager] and was like, “I know that Karsten’s off of Lakai now, but we want to get him off of Element. We want to get him on a cool company, would you guys be down to sponsor him for Girl?” It’s like, are you that retarded?

Jenkem’s text-messaging theorist: Nike backing riders to ride for small board co’s or start up their own small start up’s to dilute the market with heaps of small brands so the main camps like crailtap, black box (now dwindle) can’t focus on their own shoe programs and have to put their time and resources into keeping their board co’s alive in an over saturated market. Leaving it to them, Cons and adidas which works perfectly because they all co-exist this way in every other sport.

Is ‘small board company’ the proper terminology tho? Of the current Nike skateboard team, about half (16/34) skate for what could be construed as a ‘small/startup’ board company. But it may be more instructive to examine multinational sporting gear manufacturers’ history when it comes to sponsoring dudes who skate for a board company that is affiliated with a ‘legacy’ skate shoe company. In 2007, Nike’s inaugural and unfairly maligned full-length ‘Nothing But the Truth’ included parts from six dudes (out of 22) whose deck sponsors also ran a competing shoe outfit. By the time 2011’s ‘SB Chronicles 1’ arrived, the number had declined to two out of eight; it was 2/7 for ‘Chronicles 2’ and Cory Kennedy was the only one in last year’s ‘Chronicles 3’. Of the 24 bros in ‘Away Days,’ one skates for a board company that also peddles shoes, and on the Converse skate team, it’s one of 13.

Why might a big giant shoe company like its skaters to promote smaller/newer/upstart board companies? The idea of Jenkem’s texting thinker has some logic to it, though the deck sponsor’s ‘marquee’ position as it relates to pros’ pocketbooks has long been on the wane relative to shoes, as former DNA Distribution ‘business guy’ Chris Carter pointed out five years ago. As far as resource drains go, at a time when Brian Wenning and Jereme Rogers are able to formulate heat-press ready artwork and online storefronts, while micro-brands such as Jim Greco’s Hammers and Jeremy Klein’s revived Hook-Ups are able to secure premium pricing on limited runs, the actual overhead of doing a board company could or should be relatively low, assuming that a generation of even top-drawer pros have become accustomed to slimmer signature-board paycheques.

Would encouraging pros away from board companies/distributorships that also run shoe companies make sense for the majors? The post-getting-on-Nike moves of Trevor Colden (Mystery –> Skate Mental) and Karsten Kleppan (Element –> Skate Mental) make you wonder, and of the current SB team, about one-third, from Paul Rodriguez to Koston/Guy to Gino Iannucci, have departed such board companies for startups with no affiliation over the years, for various reasons. A widening gap between the board sponsor and shoe sponsor as far as pay, travel capability and general influence would cement the shoe merchants’ first right of refusal when it comes to Instagram clips, tour edits and coveted under-deck sticker placement real estate, and enhance capabilities to promote uniform-like outfits readymade for sweeping up spilled popcorn after matinee showings of ‘Zootopia 2: Zoological Boogaloo.’

Or does all our convoluted and conspiracy-minded nail-gnawing overlook the razory principle of Occam, which in this case might be that upstart board companies are cooler now and, given board sponsors’ functional functions as image-drivers, asa shoe purveyour you’d want the dudes you sponsor to skate under a small company’s cooler halo? Would this suggest that international shoe enterprises are chipping away at some image-management role traditionally performed by agents, increasingly beloved of pro skaters thirsting for soda sponsorship dollaridoos, but a timeworn rival of sporting giants when contract negotiation time rolls around? Should sponsor-juggling skateboarders seek the council of Jay-Z, a wheelings-and-dealings man who has had a pro-model shoe for rapping, helped manage a team and wrangled deals for pro athletes, by signing up for his exclusive Tidal internet music streaming business? Could board companies take a page from shoe companies and start encouraging teamriders toward Tumblr- and BigCartel-empowered wheel groups? Does all this silly noise obscure the shadowy role of the premium-fit cotton t-shirt as the true and honest currency of the realm?

*Note: DC is considered affiliated with Plan B for our simple-minded purposes here

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7 Responses to “Big Shoes Small Boards”

  1. matson Says:

    perhaps the small board companies are the Zoe Barnes to Nike’s Francis Underwood; feeling like they’re successfully advancing their own agenda and climbing while unwittingly advancing Nike’s own.

  2. Hard to say no to more money Says:

    I think there’s a number of reasons why all of the aforementioned has been going on.

    Nike wanting their riders on cool companies seems like it has to do with a couple things. A) the people that market Nike SB aren’t idiots. They know what ‘cool’ is, and the majority of them skate. It isn’t hard to know that Mystery is wack, and Skate Mental is a tad cooler (a very small tad these days as it’s just turned into a bland roster of Nike riders with some graphics that are getting worse and worse + Dan Plunket), or that Element is corny, and Girl (just barely) holds a certain image thanks to the riders they have been able to hold onto. B) It definitely is easier to have a rider on a ‘cool’ company, because the majority of them ARE small, and because of their size, aren’t demanding a ton of their riders time due to the lack of budget to do anything with them anyways in terms of traveling and filming. Therefore Nike can have them doing whatever they want whenever they want. Not to mention Nike is paying for half of these small brands to go on their trips anyways.

    Adidas doesn’t seem to really give a shit about their riders’ board brands at all, they just seem to be trying to catch up to the number of pros that Nike has. Enjoi, Element, Organika, DGK, Habitat, etc. Adidas has plenty of riders who’s board companies are dwindling in terms of ‘cool’ these days.

    As far as pros quitting, plenty of pros have quit major long term companies for reasons besides Nike telling them they should. Nike definitely tells their riders what they think they should do (i.e. Karsten to SM, Trevor to SM) but 40 year old pros seem bored. They seem sick of doing the same thing for 15 years the same way anyone would. It’s fun to look down at something new, and most people don’t understand that because they have the freedom of choice their whole lives to ride whatever board they want. Anything is hard to keep cool for 20 years, so when Girl and Chocolate are turning 20, Habitat is turning 16, and Toy and Foundation is turning 40 or something they aren’t able to stay as fresh and cool anymore because kids want the newest shit. I would love to see how bored kids are of Quasi and FA in 20 years, and see them re-screening the AVE baby photo graphic for old times to try and get sales up.

    At Nike, Adidas, and Vans there are for sure meetings going down trying to get rid of the small shoe brands, but I don’t think Nike needs to even focus on trying to get rid of the Toy Machine Skateboards, Plan B’s, and Girl’s because skateboard companies are doing it to themselves. We live in an age where everybody and their mom can start a company at the click of a button. T shirt companies, pin companies, street wear companies, hat companies, sock companies, etc. It’s easy now. Go through a Playboy from 1972 and get your new Bianca Chandon graphic, your doomsayers logo, and punch in a google search for your newest Quasi board. Everyone can use photoshop. Everyone can edit a video. You need a thousand bucks and an instagram and access to a pro skater with 15k followers and your brand is going. So now every kid in every town has a board brand, and the newest company with some relevant (at the time) pros is going to be selling the best at the skateshop. Right now the only one in the deck industry who is really making any money is the skateboard manufacturers. There’s like 5, which is crazy to think that Nike hasn’t bought one of them, and started secretly pressing all of Anti Hero’s boards without them even knowing.

    It’s sad, but hopefully the best brands stick around, and companies like Emerica get to keep making shoes.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I ride huf.

  4. Michael Twardowski Says:

    “Hard to say no to more money” nailed it.
    So did this article.

    There’s a definitely a strategy to Nike’s moves. By routing their riders to smaller, less taxing board brands who may or may not tour or produce ads with skate photos (lifestyle) they’ve created relevant pros without sacrificing the amount of control they wield over their exposure. They can outfit them head-to-toe in their wears and have first choice of footage and photos. Tours and demos can incorporate the whole team because of their constant availability and the financial crutch Nike offers them for their slowly degrading lives. This is primarily a youth market though and because of that its open to wild fluctuations and possible nosedives. As people have stated before, if skateboarding goes belly up Nike is going to make a clean break and the riders will abandoned.

    With this being said I still like the shoes and I think their well made. As an adult with a mortgage and bills I can emphasize with top-level pros who are continuously throwing themselves into harms way.

  5. Russel Lupin Says:


    I think you mean empathise.

  6. Nathanial Falto Says:

    Hi you have a greate site It was very easy to post good job

  7. Footage Chasms, The Ultimate Answer, And An Alternate Quartersnacks Ballot | boil the ocean Says:

    […] of skateboarding’s controlling constellations over the past decade, aided by Instagram, canny corporations and the proliferation of screenprint brands, helped throw doors open to any number of comers, […]

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