P.D. / Skull Skates"I like the idea of skating for myself, not for someone else."
Portrait by Jeff Cole
But it sounds like business for you guys was good.
Well,that depends on what your attitude is towards good business. If I get through a year and I draw my little wage, and my suppliers, coworkers and landlord gets paid, and the company breaks even… to me I consider that a good year.
Did you ever want to be a pro skater?
No, because I found my outlet really early on. I know and have known a lot of pro skaters and I completely respect what they mean to the industry and what the industry means to them, but I like the idea of skating for myself, not for someone else. If you’re a pro skater obviously skating for yourself got you to that level to where you can be a professional but then you’re getting pay checks and getting endorsements so like it or not you’re skating for other people. You’re skating for filmmakers and cameramen, and for your sponsors. I didn’t ever really want to do that.
How did you end up moving to LA?
It’s funny talking to you about this, because pretty much all of these moves really come down to my brother. As he became more involved in the show business world he realized LA was where he needed to be. It was the same with the skateboarding industry. At that point, if you wanted to be taken serious on a kind of a global scale you pretty much had to have a Southern California address.
Was LA a major change?
Honestly, it wasn’t that different. It was more like we just happened to be there. We were still just trying to design and produce skate stuff and sell it and hopefully turn a bit of a profit. By and large it was just another day:I'dfinish my list of stuff that needed to get done plus ride to that empty pool that the kid left directions for and if there’s time after that and a bit of light go hit that ramp too.
It still was a different scene, right?
We were meeting all sorts of people who were famous or important, not only in the skateboard industry but also in show business. We ended up working with people like Christian Hosoi and Duane Peters and Steve Olson. We made boards for bands like Social Distortion, Vandals, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and GangGreen. While I consider them partly to be great business opportunities, it was more like just these great life opportunities, to be able to meet these interesting people and collaborate with them to put out a product.
So you ended up making some larger runs of decks?
Massive to us. We were still a small player—10,000 to 15,000 of a model was pretty huge to us. Some of the larger companies were doing quadruple that but for us it was huge.
How did you guys differentiate yourselves from your competitors?
You’ve got to remember that LA in the 80’s was pretty crazy with feathered hair and fluorescant colors. Everything was pretty wild and wacky but I remember our slogan at that time was “function before fashion.” It’s actually a takeoff on Howard Hughes who said “form follows function” when he made the Spruce Goose, which was actually a laminated wooden plane. We didn’t consider it so much a marketing thing as just a statement to tell people what we were doing, but of course it ended up doing both.
You left LA back for Vancouver in the late 80’s, when Vert Skateboarding kind of crashed.
The word crash would be appropriate as applied to the industry side of skateboarding. People didn’t stop skateboarding but the way that they skateboarded changed dramatically. The result of that basically was a lot of manufacturers and distributors had a lot of product that was not suitable for this newer style of skateboarding.
But you weren’t as affected by it.
Not really. That’s the nice thing about being a little company. You can do a little run of stuff and try it out and if it doesn’t work it’s not going to sink your company. So if I make 30 pieces of a board and everybody hates it, I can stay in business. If I make 30,000 of them and nobody likes it I’m done. The other good thing about our operation is that we are not only a manufacturer and a brand, but also deal directly with the people that use our products. You’re constantly getting input from the people that ride your stuff. Whether or not they’re giving it directly to you or you’re just paying attention and you’re hearing things or seeing things.
I saw that in the late 80’s your Vancouver store was near Seylynn Bowl. That’s a great spot.
Seylynn Bowl is actually the oldest public skateboard park in Canada. It was built in 1978. We did a nice little event this summer where we hit up a bunch of photographers and ended up with 35 years’ worth of imagery. We had photos of the thing under construction, the first day it was open, right up to today. We had some of the original designers and makers of the park there being introduced to these kids that have localized the place for decades. I’m pretty sure it was the first time the people responsible for this public park got a deeper understanding as to just what impact it’s had on people’s lives.
I used to go to Seylyn Hall when I was growing up in Vancouver. It was an amazing all-ages spot.
Yeah, that was great. In my mind all-ages shows are such an important thing. If somebody is not of age to drink, they should still be able to see live music. We actually ran an all-ages club for 13 months in downtown Vancouver that achieved the same kinda goal.
What was it called?
It was called the Nappy Dugout. It was a sketchy sort of spot across the street from Luvaffair with a back door entrance. But it was cool, we didn’t sell booze and we didn’t let booze in. The only way we got any dough was by charging kids six bucks to get in the door. All kinds of great bands played there. SNFU Shows were great. Green Day played there in front of 200 people. Crazy as it seems now, the hip hop and skate communities were separate at the time. The Dugout is the spot were everyone met for the first time.
I read one of the things that carried Skull Skates through the 90’s was snowboarding.
Yeah. We were the first Burton dealer in Canada in 1981 andwere producing our own boards from 1983 until 1998. It was like a 15-year run.
The way it broke down was like this: The first five years were just educating people. “This is a snowboard, you ride it on the snow, it’s like a surfboard, it’s like a skateboard, here’s the kind of boots you need and this board would be a good size for you.” Then the middle five years was great. People knew what snowboards are, there weren’t many people making snowboards, and we could make a bit of dough from them. Awesome. Then the last five years we were basically just trying to fend off competitors because the word was out. By that last season we essentially tied up every penny we had into making our run of snowboards for that year. Because there was just such a glut of product in the marketplace we just managed break even. As much as I love snowboarding, I realized we couldn’t do this anymore.
You’ve been offered to be bought out before. What’s stopped you?
What is that going to achieve for us at the end of the day? It’s just going to dilute our brand and maybe add some money in the bank account. What good does that do? We like to play hard and work hard around here. I’m down with working. I’ve been working seven days a week since I was a kid, you know.
So you can be a capitalist and still do your thing in an independent way.
Capitalism can work without ruthlessness. Doing your little hustle and making your living… there’s nothing wrong with that. But you don’t have to be greedy and always want more than what you have at the present moment. I think a lot of the decisions that get made in this company are pivoted on those ideas, you know. In skateboarding a lot of things that were cool get blown out and not cool anymore so they’re done. I don’t know how to do anything else, and so I want to do this as long as I’m doing something.