Michael Brooke is a legend. This simply cannot be denied. You can cry, whine, squeal, and bitch all you want. But, deny? Deny, good chap, you cannot do.
But Michael is also a visionary. That’s another entirely undeniable truth. And ten years after meeting the guy, this simple factoid still astounds me. He’s basically the Marshall McLuhan of skateboarding. If you don’t know who Marshall McLuhan is, he’s the fellow that coined the phrase, “The Medium Is The Message”. Google it. You’ll see.
Michael’s mantra is no less significant, especially as far as skateboarding is concerned. Michael is, after all, the guy that simply (and sincerely ) believes that all skateboards are good skateboards. Everyone should ride a skateboard, and there should be a skateboard for everyone. This, of course, ran headlong against the views of our established industry, and a great many skaters themselves, who thought that certain forms of skateboarding were “stupid”, or “gay”. Michael basically built the critical-mass paradigm that attacked that “core” philosophy, and attacked it head-on.
“Everyone should ride a skateboard, and there should be a skateboard for everyone”. It’s now twenty years later. Take a good, long, hard look around. What do you see out there? Even his most ardent detractors make longboards, old-school boards, cruisers, slalom boards, freestyle boards… everything that they once hated and rallied against. That’s the landscape of Michael winning, right there. And everyone else wins as a result.
You have to remember something- something that most heads in and around this industry are far too quick to forget. Before Concrete Wave Magazine, there was no longboarding. It existed in the dark, dusty, and long-forgotten corners of skateboarding history. Yes, a few longboard brands were starting to make some quality longboarding product- and Michael gives them due credit in the interview below. But there was no longboarding scene, no longboarding community, and no longboarding movement. Concrete Wave Magazine changed all that, and changed it forever.
Magazines, back in 1998, gave movements something that they so desperately needed to survive, thrive, and prevail: a spotlight, and credibility. You know it’s true, you can’t deny it: once a counterculture has it’s own print magazine… especially if it’s a big, glossy, large-format magazine… then that counterculture immediately ceases to be “fringe”. It becomes solidified and legitimized… or, in the skater’s vernacular, “solid and legit”.
Concrete Wave was certainly not the first skateboard magazine. Nor was it the biggest, best, or most profitably pandering. What it was, however, was significant. It brought entire disciplines of skateboarding back from the virtual dead, and breathed life into them on a massive, global scale. It might have happened anyway… that’s completely debatable… but in any rate, Concrete Wave certainly sped up the inevitable, if nothing else. In the process, it made skateboarding far more diverse… socioeconomically, stylistically, and geographically… than it had ever been. Mr. Warren Bolster- Michael’s immediate inspiration and mentor- surely would have been proud.
In this interview, I sought to nail Michael down on the dirty details of where he, and the magazine, have been… and maybe far more importantly, where they are going in the future. Michael was kind enough to cede to my request. In laying out and editing the interview, I have decided to highlight key, pertinent points in yellow, for the benefit of the readers.
Do yourself a huge favor, and pay special attention to those. In those yellow bits, you will see quite clearly within the crystal ball of Michael’s psyche, and thus be able to predict the next twenty years of skateboard history.
And don’t even think of denying that, either. The man’s been right before. And I suspect he’ll be right again.
Left: Michael doing what he loves to do best, photo by Perry Mason. Right: Michael and Chris Koch.
What is the long-term prospectus for the mag, and the website?
My number one goal since I started this journey in 1995 (with the skategeezer homepage) is to create new skaters. My second goal has been to keep people IN skateboarding for as long as I can. I have always, and will always shine a different light on skateboarding. But in a nutshell, I sell skateboarding – that’s it. I am propaganda machine for skateboarding. Once we are clear on this, everything else I am about to explain to you will make sense.
You have to think of CW as being a memento to the next 10 years or so in skateboarding. I won’t say 20, because by that time I’ll be 64 (which is in 2028). By then, I’ll be too busy with Longboarding for Peace and my grandchildren, assuming I have some! I will still skate… but as Kenny Rogers says, “You gotta know when to fold ’em, and when to hold ‘em”. In 2028 (assuming the USA, Syria, Iran, Russia and North Korea haven’t blown the world to smithereens), I will happily fade into the background.
But back to the idea of a memento. Think of the magazine as a keepsake. Before circuses shut down, you’d be able to get a program. The idea of having something tangible in your life (as opposed to digital) only appeals to a select few. But those select few drive the other 95%.
If you wind up in CW, it’s special Why? Because print is scarce. Scarcity is a precious resource. Print needs to be relevant, and that’s what we’re doing. How we are doing this is something I will share with you in a moment.
No matter what happens, 2028 will mark 33 years spreading a message. 33 years is a long time in publishing. Most folks don’t know this, but I had a website on skateboarding since 1995. So bowing out in 2028 seems like the right plan.
When I first started publishing, there was a mystery as to other types of skateboarding. Rails and ledges ruled the day. There was a handful of companies making unique skate products. These include: Sector 9, Seismic, Gravity, Randal, and Dregs. Just getting some attention was key, and it was brutal because not one magazine in skateboarding would acknowledge there was something other than street and transition/vert.
Shops would always say to me, “We don’t carry longboards because there is no demand. And the reason there is no demand is because the kids don’t see them advertised in the magazines”. This is why I created a magazine called International Longboarder in 1999. After this, it was a natural step to Concrete Wave.
We didn’t just document the change in skateboarding, we were part of the movement of change. Our magazines and DVD’s got people’s attention. Now that other types of skateboarding is on people’s radar, the question is how do you build demand?
There are over 1.8 million magazines and DVD’s floating around out there that have my name on them. I was happy to give it all away. Sure, we have some subscribers, and we did go into Barnes and Noble (along with a few other stores), but the vast majority of my work was given away for free. The ONLY WAY I could have spread this message was to have the financial backing of my advertisers.
I am proud of my track record and know that at on any given day, someone, somewhere is picking up a CW Mag, and absorbing information that they might not know about.
ONE CRUCIAL THING
A number of people who thought skateboarding had to be one thing (STREET), were soon manufacturing and marketing the very thing they had railed against a few years yearly. Now these people trash longboarding, and sell the product off for pennies on the dollar. Once the money comes back, however, they’ll be there extracting the most for the least. Those people will find a very different publication than the past.
So everyone knows that print is evolving. We’ve changed too. We used to print 20,000 copies at the height. We used to have 116 pages. “Used to” is not about the future, but the fact is that most advertisers have moved a lot of their budgets to digital. They make their own videos and have their own media empires.
A few companies have come up with their own publications. Good for them. But they are not independent. In the final analysis, their goal is to sell their particular brand of skateboards. My goal is to sell skateboarding, and to present unusual stories that you won’t find anywhere. Since we print these stories, they can never be deleted.
We’ve created a new website, and it will take time for it to evolve. Will we get money from digital? Absolutely. But it will take time. I spent a lot of energy trying to figure out what I wanted to do with digital. Now I have a team in place, we’re seeding things.
So, we adjusted. We’ve made the mag smaller – and I’d like to think more special.
It’s also been brought down to 2,500 copies. Now it’s a collectable.
You will be able to subscribe to the magazine, and get it at select shops.
But- and this is crucial for everyone to understand – the magazine is not what you think it is.
What I mean by this, is that there are actually easter eggs inside the magazine. There are hidden and secret messages.
You will have to take the time to find them. And because my magazine is scarce, it becomes a bit more mysterious. And mystery and the joy of discovery is something that sucks people in.
How do I know this? Simple. I hired the right people who have a totally different perspective than me.
Take Ninja Master Lou. NML has a deep love for skateboarding and burying easter eggs inside magazines. I also have Sean P. handling digital. Like NML, he’s 33 and merges a love of skateboarding with technical prowess. I am getting the hell out of the way, and letting these folks do their job.
What changes for each are on the immediate horizon?
We have made the magazine and web look different. We are combining events WITH the magazine. And I am incorporating some of the work I’ve done with Longboarding for Peace to triangulate things. Skateboarding + social action = powerful messages.
Here’s proof: Get A Gun, Get A Skateboard
(Btw, we’ve exchanged over 1,000 guns for skateboards thanks to the generosity of our advertisers.)
This year, CW will be at the following events-creating a buzz and handing out copies of the magazine:
1. Earth Day – April 22
2. Go Skateboarding Day – June 21
3. Day of Balance – July 25 (Magic of Balance day)
4. International Day of Peace – September 21 (Roll For Peace)
5. International Wrongful Conviction Day – October 2 (Push For Justice)
These events bring in both skaters, and non-skaters. It is that combo that creates new customers. It is going to be very interesting to see longboarders mingling with tens of thousands of people in NYC this Earth Day.
Where are the current readership numbers?
We are at 2,500 copies. The response to the new format has been exactly as Ninja Master Lu predicted.
As advertisers start to understand what we’re creating, we anticipate a return.
As for the website, we just launched in February but the numbers are very promising. Much better than what we had before.
Ask me again in 6 months.
How are they trending?
Things are moving up. But it will take time.
How do you plan to grow that metric over the next 1-5 years?
We will continue to refine our work with the magazine and website and work in the area of video.
How are you reaching out to new skate shops, and new readers?
Besides the 5 events I mentioned, we are making a targeted effort to bring people into the distribution mix who really care about the message of inclusion.
We used to give the magazine to hundreds of skateshops. We’ve decided to work more closely with those shops that really want to be part of what we’re doing, and that message is about the joy of skateboarding. We are not using our magazine to exclude and marginalize fellow skaters. That road just leads to heartache and depression.
So, rather than a push strategy, we’re aiming for a pull strategy. We will work with shops who have their hearts in the right place. We will support mom and pop shops, and there are no plans whatsoever to work with chain stores. The magazine is not available on Amazon. If people do find a subscription on Amazon, we’ll shut it down immediately. If any shop wants to be part of what we’re doing, we welcome them. Slowly and methodically, we’ll build this whole ecosystem to a place where those with soul and heart and a true love for skateboarding will be rewarded for their efforts.
What are the current ad rates for each? Are there package deals available?
Based on the circulation of 2500 it is $500 for full page ad ; $300 for half page ad; and $50 for your logo on the back cover (we have a maximum number of spots for this ad space).
As we increase circulation to 5,000 and then 10,000, rates will increase.
And yes, there are package deals that incorporate a web ad too.
How are you cultivating new writers, artists, and photographers to curate better content for the mag?
The mag is at 36 pages and if and when the time is right, I’ll move it to 52. When it was 116 at the height, we had the luxury of doing 10 to 16 page stories. We also filled our Noteworthy section with dozens of companies. Now, most of that is on the web. So, as people discover the Easter eggs and mystery contained within the publication, I fully anticipate that artists and writers and photographers will be intrigued. We will be at four issues a year, and 52 pages seems to be about the right amount. Again, most folks just don’t have the time or energy to read anything in print these days, so what we publish must be relevant.
Will CW remain a largely longboard-focused mag, or will it re-embrace the “everything skateboarding” mission that it originally started with?
We were originally International Longboarder. I co-founded this magazine with a chap named Tom Browne. Tom and I ran that mag for 3 years. In September 2002, I launched CW mag by myself. I wanted to differentiate myself from ILB, so the focus was mostly on nostalgia, vert and pool skating. There was, of course, freestyle and longboarding and slalom in there too. But as longboarding became more popular, most of our advertisers wanted to see more longboard stories. We rode that train for many years, but we never forgot to put stories in the mag that covered all types of skateboarding. We never lost the spark of “everything skateboarding.” Now, as the mantra of “everything skateboarding” is everywhere, we have positioned the magazine to embrace it all in a vastly different way than other publications. Skate Slate is taking on more types of skateboarding, and that pushes the message forward.
Life on planet earth is going to get more complex. People will need the immediate joy that skateboarding provides. I’ll be here along with my staff and contributors to document it all and ensure that people are stoked on skateboarding on the platform of their choice – whether that platform is print, or digital.
Enough words. I’m going skating today!