BIRLING THE FLOOD


By Adam Wawrzynczak

There have never been more brands in skateboarding as there are right now. This is far from an earth-shattering revelation, but what does it mean for skateshops and the world of skateboarding in general? As it turns out, the answer isn’t very straight forward.

On one hand, it’s an indication that skateboarding has expanded past the confines of its Californian roots. The various flavours of skateboarding in different parts of the world—be it CanadaFrance, or even Japan—are standing up on their own and prospering instead of being relegated to a 411 section. It’s clear now that moving operations to California isn’t 100% necessary for success. The once-unappreciated aspects of “foreign” skateboarding (e.g. the UK’s Cobblestone) are now being celebrated, as they should be.

On the other hand, it’s not such great news. For every wicked new brand in skateboarding, there exist a hundred more that are mediocre. This brand saturation is one of several distractions that dilute what’s real in skateboarding. The parallel universe of awful YouTube skate brands is another distraction, as is the concept of electric skateboards, but I digress… The reality is that anyone can start a skateboard brand. In fact, anyone can start a successful skate brand by employing “low hanging fruit” tactics such as lazy logo rip offs or, even lazier, by simply making “support local” your raison d’être. It’s rad when a local brand happens to be cool, but their proximity to your city/town has nothing to do with that equation. You can be an idiot and run a local business. It happens all the time. 

Spotting a mediocre skate brand is in fact quite easy. Their lack of direction/substance is made obvious with a constant shift in their aesthetic. They also rarely have any reasoning behind their graphics. This creates confusion. Worst of all, mediocre brands usually last only a year or two, temporarily redirecting funds which may have gone to more substantial brands that deserve support. A lot of brands owned by former (or current) pros fall into this category. This tends to act as a strong smoke screen. The phrase “Because “X” pro owns it!” is never a good enough answer to the question : “Why is that company sick?”.

Birling team rider Andrew Manion setting up a fresh Skateboard Cafe deck.

Let’s look again at the glass-half-full perspective: the flood of half-assed brands doesn’t negate the fact that awesome skate brands exist and that cool, new ones are coming up all the time. All that this brand surplus means is that some careful sifting is required to pick out the gems. For this reason, the curation of brands in skateboard shops has never been more important. It’s the sacred duty of a skateboard shop to make statements with their choices of brands to carry. There are so many brands out there that go above and beyond with profound messages or unique graphicsColonialism Skateboards, for instance, achieves both. The Regina-based company’s founder, Micheal Langan, is using skateboards as a means to communicate “complex and untelling aspects of Indigenous Canadian history and culture” through truly stunning graphics. Each deck comes complete with a detailed, well-written message either on a printout inside the wrapping or online. Colonialism Skateboards has depth and a clear message to communicate. Micheal is planting seeds that spark important conversations about settler colonialism in skateshops. How inspiring!

Colonialism Skateboards is a truly exceptional example; however, simply putting a little care into a graphic’s theme and vision is one way for a brand to make a meaningful impact on the industry. Consistency within a brand’s collection allows them to communicate who they are and what they stand for. A brand stands out when they take the time to develop a unique look/feel and keep this in mind for all of their gear. As a case in point, you can spot a Polar shirt from a mile away because of the success of their consistent branding since day one. Brands also stand apart when they choose superior quality and ethical sourcing for their materials. Actions speak louder than words and if a brand’s choice of clothing material is obviously cheap, they probably didn’t make it past the first google search page for “t-shirt printing”. SnackMorning BellEvisenCarpet and Skateboard Cafe are all additional examples of cool brands that are doing great stuff! They are all utilizing consistent branding, paired with quality materials, and depth to present their own unique take on skateboarding. These are the qualities skateshop owners need to be on the look out for. Shops should be stocking their shelves with gear that they believe in while educating their local skate community about why these brands deserve support. 

Andrew Manion and Birling co-owner Adam Wawrzynczak. Pittsburgh, 2019.

That said, it’s also important to note that just because a shop doesn’t carry a particular brand, doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t support them. A board rack at a shop has a finite amount of room, and some brands could use a spotlight more than others. Some awesome brands have all the exposure that they need from mall-chain stores and others don’t. In this saturated skateboard economy, skateboard shops can make a real difference. Through conversations with brands and customers, a solid skateshop should be capable of helping you navigate the flood of new skate brands. If done well, this model of conversation and curation will help us keep a positive, glass-half-full perspective on the influx of new brands. And, as many of us know all too well, a positive outlook is something all skateboarders could use more of.

See and read more from Adam and the Birling crew here.

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