I don’t have all the answers. I know I may sound like I do, and I may even feel like I do from time to time. But really, I don’t. The very best assets that I’ve ever had, have been my off-the-cuff, gut reactions to things. And given my hopelessly atrocious dating record as of late, even those off-the-cuff, gut reactions can be pretty damned questionable at times, bordering on seriously stupid.
Here’s what I do know, though. And I suspect most skaters, as well as most of our industry, will agree with this sentiment. Interpersonal relationships still matter. Face time still counts for something. Consumers still like to meet pro and amateur skaters, and industry players, movers, and shakers. They still like to put their hands on neat new products. Shop owners still like to talk, in person, with other retailers about emerging retail trends and challenges. There’s still a shared experience there to be savored, all across our industry, and across our consumer/customer base. So in that regard, trade shows can (and do) still matter. When they’re done right, and done well. Of course.
But here’s that big ‘ol list of sheep shit that nobody wants. Nobody wants excruciatingly big-buck, budget-breaking blowfests organized by some fucking opportunistic outsider that doesn’t give two flying shits about our pastime. Nobody wants fluffy, fast-cash irrelevance. Nobody wants the overpowering opulence and obvious grandstanding of the Long Beach Convention Center. Nobody wants to see only the big-dollar, corporate brands than can afford such an over-the-top, self-pandering presence. Nobody wants to see your tasteless bling that was borrowed, brokered, swindled, and stolen off the backs of little kids.
That’s why ASR failed. And that’s why Agenda is following so thoroughly in ASR’s footsteps.
I didn’t go to Agenda. It’s true. Why should I? Why should I spend six hours, and a few hundred bucks, driving to Los Angeles in the middle of the goddamned night to go see a bunch of self-stroking sales blowhards touting brands that have long been hopelessly irrelevant to our industry, and to the skaters themselves? If they’re not dead yet, well, it won’t be all that long until they are. Their days are numbered; the Titanic is already taking on water. I say, let the fuckers sink. We’ll be better off for it. The only thing I really missed out on, ironically enough, was staying on The Queen Mary. That’s the only real draw for me in Long Beach. That, and seeing Danny Creadon over at the Factory 13 workshop. He’s truly inspiring; far more inspiring then the grand total of soulless sales twats in that fucking convention center, that much I can personally assure you of. But I can always go to Long Beach to do that sort of stuff.
The trade show itself, though, is best avoided. Too much of a pain in the ass. That’s my critique of the show. And that’s why I didn’t bother to go.
Danny Creadon of Factory 13 Skateboards, photo by the author, circa 2010.
Jeff Harbaugh, Michael Brooke, most of the industry… these guys are all pretty confused right now. “What’s going to happen next?!”, they’re all wondering aloud to everyone within earshot. Well, I don’t know for sure. But I do have a pretty good idea. As always, the future is already unfolding right at our feet. All we have to do, is look around our toes a bit. Poke around the grass roots of skateboarding, and see what’s growing amongst the weeds. That’s always been the best harbinger of where things are headed. And it still holds true, to this very day.
There is a movement afoot to, on one hand, take skateboarding back. And yet, at the very same time, to spread it farther and wider than this silly and stupid notion of “core skateboarding” would ever accept, let alone support. The basic premise here is to put skaters (and skater-owned companies) in charge of the ship, and steer it in the right direction for all the right reasons. Everything that is happening in skateboarding today, is happening because of that very basic premise.
Those are the roots, the very beginnings of it all. The grass only grows greener from there.
Jamie Thomas had it right. “Skateboarding is at a crossroads”; and thus, we had The Crossroads Show. A brilliant move! If only he had kept it up, he might have gone places with that. He might well have become one of the most important people in all of skateboarding; the opportunity was right there, well within reach. Alas, events sometimes pass us right on by. But it was a germination point that gave the start to the movement. And that humble little movement has been spawning a new sort of “trade show” for the last, oh, five years now?
I know the trend intimately well, because I attend these sorts of things all the time.
Adam Richards got it right. Every spring, here in Phoenix, he hosts his annual SkaterCon event. This year, it will be on March 3rd. I fully expect that Harbaugh and Brooke will make the time to come and check it out in person, if they’re so curious about “what the future holds”. Because the future is happening right here, and right now. It’s been happening every single spring for the last few years. And it’s not the event’s fault if you haven’t noticed the grass growing under your feet. That’s your bad, buddies. Get on that shit, or keep on missing out.
You choose. Choose wisely.
This is the overview of last weekend’s Skatercon, held at Paradise Valley Skatepark in the northern suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. Paradise Valley has it all: a full street course; three bowls of varying heights and sizes; a huge parking lot (part of which hosted the “vendor’s section”, seen to the right); ample “green” areas (complete with grills and picnic benches); skate legends (in the form of Steve Steadham, Bill Danforth, Dennis Martinez, Jesse Martinez, Steve Caballero, and Christian Hosoi, among many others); bands (and very loud bands, at that); and most importantly, everyone’s invited, and everybody’s welcome to join in the shenanigans. This year, somebody even wrangled up and restored the old Bare Cover Demo ramp, and brought it along for the kiddies to kill themselves on. Skatercon is serious fun for everybody. Agenda looks like a weak-ass shit-show by comparison. Photo by Jessie Pena.
The problem is not a lack of ideas, energy, initiative, or motivation on the part of event organizers. It’s a lack of awareness from the media, the analysts, and the greater industry at large. They’re just fucking clueless. So get off your goddamned couch, fly your asses to Phoenix, and sleep on my couch for a few days. Do it the way any real skater worth their shit would do it: dirtbag style. I’m a pretty good host, and a whole buncha fun times; you know it’s true. I’ll show you the future pretty quickly, pal, if you really wanna see it that bad. It happens right here, in my back yard, every fucking spring.
Skatercon is not the only one. They’re out there, happening all over the world. And they will continue to happen, grow, and propagate. Already, there are a few more Skatercon-like events being organized around the country.
These events all share a common template. The industry is always invited, of course, in typical trade-show fashion. But booth space is actually affordable (booth space at Skatercon was a whopping $100), and focused not on big-budget one-upmanship… but rather, on the humble, friendly people behind the ideas. They’re mellow, low-key, inviting, all-inclusive, and intimate events, these ‘trade shows”. The way it should be. The way it should have always been, really.
The retailers and the public are all invited. That’s a big key, right there. Everyone gets the same stoke and the same info, at the same sitting, so everyone’s on the same page. The kids go into the shops asking for all these brand-new, upstart brands… and the shops know exactly what the kids are talking about, because they saw them at the show, too.
It’s seamless, and it’s fucking genius.
There’s something here for anyone and everyone. There we go with that “inclusion” thing again that Mikey (Brooke, over at The Wave) is always talking up. Street skating. Bowlriding; SkaterCon is held at Paradise Valley Skatepark, the perfect venue for such a thing. Longboarding. Cruising. The whole smorgasbord, coexisting without rivalries or silly boundaries… what a concept. Agenda could have learned a thing or two from Adam Richards (or Michael Brooke); too bad they never did. There are also food trucks, BBQs, contests, demos, movie premieres, bands, legendary skaters and industry heads; you name the kind of fun you like, and it’s probably at SkaterCon, just waiting to be had. Adam’s a skater, of course. So naturally enough, he knows how to have, and host, a really grand time.
This is the ground-level view of last weekend’s Skatercon, held at Paradise Valley Skatepark in the northern suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. Note that there are kids, parents, older skaters, girls, women, boys, men, retailers, skate legends, industry reps, and brand owners, all mixing it up in the crowd, on a relatively low-key, even footing. This is “community building” at it’s best. Skateboarding needs that more than ever.
Agenda actually embodies the opposite of community-building; it somehow manages to be community-divisive at it’s core, by excluding wide swaths of our community from their hallowed halls. Not cool, not clean, and definitely not happening.
These new brands… they aren’t waiting for SkaterCon though. They are hustling, and they are hitting it hard. First Friday in Phoenix sees a few brands turn out, every single month, without fail. Why wait for people to go to the skate shop? Why not just go where the people actually are, right now, tonight? The same goes for demos and contests; these upstart brands are always there, too, under their tents, interacting with the crowd. I was just at the DC/Cowtown Union Hills Classic a few weekends ago… and again, every upstart brand in the Phoenix Metro was there, and well represented. Talking to kids, checking out the skating, doing a little bit of skating themselves, and generally being the scene. Every event I go to, they’re there. Whether they’re “skateboard events” or not… they’re still there, nonetheless.
These brands aren’t afraid to chuck the “core credibility” out the window, in order to gain something far more valuable: consumer credibility. They just want to engage and interact with people on a one-on-one level, and share all kinds of skateboarding with everybody. Skaters and non-skaters alike; the silly titles don’t really impress these guys (and gals) all that much. Everyone’s a potential skater, and that’s more than good enough for them. So, that’s how they approach the market: as a giant opportunity to get everyone and anyone on a skateboard. If that makes them somehow less “core”? Well then, fuck the haters. Haters are gonna hate, anyway. But haters are rarely successful. And all these upstart brands want, is a tiny taste of success.
So you can take all your haterade, and shove it straight up your ass. This New Generation of brands just doesn’t give a flying fuck about any of it.
The best thing about these brands, is that they are everywhere. Growing like weeds, so to speak. AZPX. Arizona Laminates. Dead Canary. Taffy. Nemesis. Flo. Phoenix Skateboards. Dead Pawn. Apache. Good Shit Board Company. Lagoon. Rattlecan Garage. White Wave. Shado. Gator Skins. Lifestyle. The Phoenix Metro alone must boast at least a dozen brands by now. There might well be another dozen I haven’t even heard of yet; that wouldn’t surprise me one bit. And they are out there, in force. They are literally everywhere; you couldn’t escape them if you wanted to. But trust me on this one: they are the coolest folks in the world, so you wouldn’t want to escape them. Best buncha brands you’ll ever meet. No foolin’.
And even weirder: they all get along. They’re friendly competitors that actually support each other to some greater or lesser degree. Mostly, greater. They pitch in to support all these little grassroots events… everything from street-skating contests to mini-ramp jams to longboard cruises… and make them bigger, better, more exciting, and far more successful than had they all gone it alone, and inhabited their own tiny little insignificant islands. Strength in numbers, people. They know it well. Too bad BRA and IASC still haven’t figured it out just yet. So close, fellas. So close.
These brands aren’t aiming to be multi-zillionaires anytime soon. That’s the best part. That slow, sustainable growth philosophy allows them to still be a little bit selfless, and be a lot more giving then any of the IASC contingent could ever dream of being. Again: for all the right reasons. For the love of freedom, fun, and adventure. Not the endless, slutty quest for mere dollars and cents over self-determination and sense. Michael [Brooke] said it best: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”. There’s a side of me that sincerely hopes that this new generation of skateboard brands never loses that fresh innocence, or that pure simplicity in their approaches. I know it’s a lot to ask, and it might be hopelessly naïve of me to dream so big… but in the very worst case, at least I can enjoy it for however long it lasts. Life is pretty damned good right now, and the memories are well worth being right here, and right now to watch it all unfold.
So, no, I didn’t go to Agenda. I had far better things to do. I’m watching new paradigms being architected, right in front of my very eyes, by intelligent, enthusiastic, energetic, innovative, and intrepid groundbreakers of a million upstart little skate brands. Sure, the fluffy folks at Agenda can spout off a whole buncha marketing fuckboy bullshit, and some of it just might end up selling to some senseless sucker somewhere. But they’ll never be able to say that they’re architecting a brand new set of promotional paradigms, and say it with a straight face.
Good riddance, Agenda. You won’t be missed.