What Happens When You Don't Own Shit?

Two recent podcasts got me thinking about the idea of “equity” in both communities and this thing called “skateboarding” that we often refer to as a religion. The first was Kara Swisher’s interview with Killer Mike for Sway and the second was Talkin’ Schmidt’s interview with Salman Agah.

Killer Mike and Salman Agah are entrepreneurs. Agah comes from an immigrant family who owned a bakery and cafe in San José. Partially raised by his grandparents, Killer Mike’s childhood rooted in the power of community and neighborhood equity as he explains in his Sway interview, mostly crediting his grandmother for that insight. Both Killer Mike and Salman echo the importance of people in a community having true equity in that community.

For Killer Mike, it’s about Black-owned business—even Black-owned Banks—and for Agah, it’s skateboarding’s lack of ownership of itself. He cites the example (and I’m paraphrasing) that many skaters are happy to take a corporate check and leave core brands behind, which, in his opinion, obviously hurts those core brands financially but allows corporations to control skating. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it raises the question of what skating looks like in 2021 when the Summer Olympics are set to happen, and what impact it has globally on skateboarding if more core brands were represented and not corporations. That concept alone is interesting if you see it through this lens:

Skater X wins a Gold Medal or whatever the fuck.

Skater X becomes a household name.

Skater X now has more value than ever to their sponsors, specifically the corporate ones.

Skater X also has an existing contract which may inhibit the payday you’d assume, in fact, Skater X might not even have pro model products with their name on them to monetize, therefore, the Olympics and the amplification of this event won’t immediately translate into any financial gain, though it will over time, it certainly does little for skateboarding as a whole.

Skater X may be elevated but there’s nothing in place to do anything with that status. I mean fuck, Skater X might not even have a manager so while the Olympics might drum up interest in skating, it might not translate into growth or progress in the way that it should.

So is this a big deal?

Yes, no, probably, maybe, definitely maybe, and who gives a shit are all acceptable answers. That’s because most skateboarders, even the most successful, have no equity in skateboarding. They are not shareholders, we cannot invest in our favorite brands on the stock market, we have no input on product, we have no visibility into the economics of it, on a base level, the average skater has no input on the parks being built around them or what they see in skate media.

In a sense, no one is a homeowner in skateboarding and everyone is paying rent, waiting to see what their next lease looks like. That’s true of pros and that’s true of average folks. The closest to ownership we have been investing in local brands and shops or supporting Patreon-funded media.

Oddly enough, it’s the corporate brands that offer the most equity in that they create jobs, fund initiatives, and also, provide entrepreneurial opportunities on the secondary market via platforms such as StockX and eBay. The flipping market is the closest you have to stocks in skateboarding, where you can buy relatively low and sell high, which is why it’s impossible to buy Dunk SBs or most Supreme drops, due to savvy bot-users who own the shop clicks when the clock ticks “live.”

One other model is using corporate money to fund core brands. The results of this action are spotty as hardgoods, specifically, skateboards have the lowest profit margins and people don’t want more wheel or truck companies, so it rarely proves to be anything but a boutique industry. Apparel is the most lucrative but as expendable income becomes sparse and collaboration money dwindles, there’s a real possibility that apparel will prove to be less profitable going forward, especially since the Olympics will most likely not offer a spike to brands such as Dime, Helas, or Bronze56K as they aren’t mainstream brands nor do they aspire to be—at least in my estimation.

If you make or consume anything—even if you don’t own a brand—think about where your dollar goes as a skateboarder. For example, there are many print shops, silkscreening companies, non-skate boutiques or even restaurants owned and operated by people with ties to skating. If you run a brand, follow the example of Coda Skateboards who strive to have everything from their boards to apparel to even collabs with coffee companies stay in the skate economy.

However, there is a space for skateboarding to be more active about taking equity in itself and as mentioned before, that starts on the shop level but the larger opportunity is opening up new categories. This doesn’t mean reinventing skateboarding but rather, changing messaging and catering to how it’s changing.

Here are some current new examples:

Glue Skateboards: Formed by Leo Baker, Cher Strauberry, and Stephen Ostrowski Glue’s entire existence is to create a new, comfortable community space as per their recent Thrasher interview.

There Skateboards: The hardgoods extension of Jeffrey Cheung’s groundbreaking work with Unity, including a recent full-part announcing Marbie Miller’s pro status. As with Glue, it’s a much-needed expansion of representation in skateboarding.

Vehicle Skateboards: While details are still vague, Vehicle’s model has been to seek alternate, sustainable ways to produce skateboards without sacrificing quality or feel. By owning their production, they can not only make higher profit margins but they present a solution to board shortages. Also, they offer another US-Based woodshop.

Last Resort AB: Pontus Alv’s ideas of a skater-owned shoe brand isn’t a new model but its transparent marketing is. Alv’s been vocal about offering an alternative to corporate brands and rethinking a skate shoe as non-branded equipment with a soul.

Old Friends: A fitness and wellness company spearheaded by Walker Ryan, that provides equipment and lessons for rehab and conditioning for skateboarders, lead by a medical professional who also skates.

SLMBR PARTY: Created by Vanessa Torres and Kim Woozy, SLMBR PARTY is inspired by their community of friends, skateboarders, artists, creators, and leaders. More than product, they’re committed to elevating ideas and providing a new platform for those who lack representation.

Outside of the product space, we can cite Unity and Skate Like a Girl as the most successful examples of energizing, growing, and amplifying community and because they’re true DIY movements. Still, there’s no one solution to equity because skateboarding itself is so vast. Because it’s grown to be so large, we often forget that Rob Dyrdek started Street League and it’s perhaps the most successful ownership model in skateboarding in the contest space but there’s yet to be anything to drive the community of skateboarding—the art, media, video, building, mentoring, and everything else—into a sustainable model.

So where does that leave us? The simple answer is to use your dollar wisely the hard one is rethinking models and how they foster skateboarding. Let me detail an example:

Most of us access skate videos via YouTube or Thrasher and neither platform allows the creators to monetize easily because YouTube needs extremely high view counts which skate videos generally don’t generate. Thrasher is often pay-to-play or free-exposure which is not a negative at all but hardly a marketplace for videographers. Some videos are pay to view on Vimeo but it’s a small fraction.

YouTube does offer subscription models for channels. Would you pay $3.99 per month to have unlimited access to a videographer, brand, or crew’s entire growing archive? Or could there be a micro-Spotify for skate videos owned by skateboarding where royalties are paid via streaming? I dunno, we’re cheap and want everything for free but if that was the only place to see something it could work. If one could curate their content and stream and pay a monthly subscription to have exclusive access to skate media it could be a disruptive model. Please note, this concept is not what Erik Bragg and ETN tried to launch because that was a channel with content, not an archive of video or streaming model.

Expanding on that, let’s take this service/marketplace idea further. Currently, we shop through Instagram, brand websites, shop websites or online stores such as CCS. So what if there was a single curated market place for skateboarding such as Bandcamp?

Think of video, merch, art, and products living on a page with the following loose model as an example:

Uploading music(products) to Bandcamp is free, and the company takes a 15% cut of sales made from their website (in addition to payment processing fees), which drops to 10% after an artist's sales surpass $5000.

So, a brand as small as Carpet or as large as Primitive could have its devoted page, distribute as they see fit, and have true access to sales data. Conversely, users can follow pages/brands and get special offers, early access, unlimited streaming to video, perks, whatever, in one platform that allows transparency.

Of course, we’re skateboarding so just as we can argue that there’s a massive difference between a 53mm wheel and a 52, the superiority of wood, or that there should only be one truck company cos other trucks don’t turn, we’ll also be able to poke holes in this idea as we should, they’re just ideas but once we shift perspectives and start thinking about equity, the arguments have to take some form of logic not just opinion… maybe that’s a start.