The Return Of The Pig?

In the late 1970s they stampeded the skateboard world and crushed the tiny twigs that everybody rode under their hoofs. They were so fat and ugly they were tagged “pigs,” but these oversized decks allowed skating to progress to the next level, from carving and basic airs to tricks like inverts and ollies. By the mid 80s the oinkers were a standard ten-by-30 inches (the odd one wider), and had begun mutating into weird shapes like Hammerheads, fishtails, and occasionally phallic shapes. For the most part, skaters could ride one shape on banks, mini ramps, and vert.

But the 90s brought us embarrassingly baggy pants and T-shirts, and skate sticks seemed to shrink as clothing sizes grew. Street skaters demanded a board that could flip like a blender blade, and the pig moved like a wet Presto log. Boards shrank to an anemic seven inches wide. A few companies continued making pigs, but for the most part they were MIA. Skateboarding suffered a lull in popularity in the early 90s, and most older skaters left the scene to tuck in their shirts, comb their hair, get a job, and make some kiddies.

A decade later, skateparks are popping up all over the place, and these same skaters have kids who want to shred. Dad is kicking down the cash to buy himself a board at the skate shop, instead of just one for little Johnny. For many old skaters, bonding with their kid means rolling around the skatepark together, not tossing a baseball back and forth in the backyard.

These parents, or older dudes getting back into skating, are used to a chunkier, less squirrelly seven-ply (sometimes eight-ply) deck under their feet. They don’t want a freestyle board, they want a rock-solid piece of lumber to cart their extra girth around. “It seems that there has been a growing group of older skateboarders who got back into it (skating),” says Tod Swank, partner and distributor of Deathbox, a new company he started with old-school legends Doug “Pineapple” Saladino, David Hackett, and Mike Folmer. “And then there’re just people who never stopped, and it’s inspiring other people-young and older.”

Deathbox, like Beer City, Wounded Knee, Black Label, Powell, Alva, Dogtown, The Firm, SCUM, and several micro brands, makes distinctively non-street-skating big boards. Most companies include or even specialize in smaller street boards, but their larger “old-school” shapes are given special attention, and such companies have acknowledged the importance of catering to this growing niche market. Some of these new big boards, like Bob Burnquist’s model on The Firm, are larger versions of smaller models, while others have wider noses and square tails characteristic of boards in the 80s. The main difference between street boards and pigs, though, is the wheelbase-often fifteen or more inches between the trucks, compared to the fourteen-inch standard on street decks.

Beer City, which sponsors old-school legend Duane Peters, draws inspiration from designs of the early 80s. The company is starting to make decks with wheel wells and routered rails. “We’re also in the middle of developing a brand-new pool shape,” says Owner Mike Beer. “It’s going to be called the Shark Nose, with a pointed nose, (and) we’re going to give it a distinctive shape, as well-kind of like a mix of the shapes of the 80s with the new concave and technology of 2002.”

Wounded Knee also recognized the need for shapes that weren’t being mass produced. “We started our company back in 1998 with the sole purpose of making bigger wheelbase and wider boards with shapes distinguishing the nose from the tail,” says Co-owner Jim Murphy. “We needed boards for ourselves and our friends.”

With the massive amounts of skateparks being built, older skaters are coming out of the woodwork. Some of these parks, designed by old-school skaters themselves, are bringing banks and bowls to areas for the first time in decades. As long as skateboarding keeps growing, the demand for boards that are designed for carvingill continue to grow. “We get asked for pool boards-not much, but it’s there,” says Tony Aimone of Midwest distributor AWH Sales. “I know some shops buy them just for fun or novelty, but others have customers who strictly ride those types of boards.”

For the first time, skateboarding must meet the needs of not only different types of skating, but also different eras of skating. It’s not a matter of street and vert skating, now there’s also old-school/pool-rider skating. It was common in the 80s, as street skating developed, to have separate boards for street and vert applications. For some, that trend is coming back. There’s always been a sturdy segment of pool skaters like Steve Alba, Tony Alva, Dave Reul, and others, but this wave of recyclers is different-they don’t necessarily want to ride pools, they just want to ride what’s comfortable to them. For many of them, that means something similar to the last board they rode. Do you need a seven-inch nose if you can’t or don’t want to nollie hardflip a double-set? “More and more bowls are being poured,” says Dogtown Skateboards Owner Jim Muir. “Any time you go to a park with bowls, you’ll see a 25-year-old guy who wants to ride. They can’t ride seven-and-a-half-inch boards.”

Selling The Pigs

Though there’s clearly a market for the pigs, how do you sell to people who don’t care what color some street-skating dandy’s shoes are? Or how low they allow their pants to sag? Do these skaters even read skate mags? Do pro names nudge them in any direction? Swank offers Deathbox’s marketing philosophy: “First of all, we have lots of skulls-lots and lots of skulls. And then some pink stuff. It will be great! Umm – Hackett is working with everyone on all the graphics and the look and feel. There’s some logo/team decks and some ‘retired’ pro decks. All these guys skate. Everyone has come up with their own shape and art-some different and unique stuff. Look out, eBay!”

The pig customer is almost the polar opposite of the young skater, and is motivated more by shape and brand name than graphics. “They look for shape and size,” says Shawn Fles of O-Zone skate shop in Oceanside, California. He points out that Powell’s big boards sell best at his shop, and attributes it to their brand recognition. For a lot of the skaters who are getting back into skating, a Powell board is the last one they rode back in the 80s.

The Future Of Pigs

The problem with pigs is that such a small segment of today’s skaters want to ride them. True, the numbers are growing, but at a slow rate. Also, most of these skaters aren’t skating every day after school-they’re riding a few times a month, if that. There will always be the more ‘core dudes, but on average, the riders of the pig don’t go through equipment as quickly as younger skaters.

“Over the last twelve years the industry has been focused on only one style of skating,” Murphy of Wounded Knee explains. “When in truth there have been many styles of skating all along that haven’t been supported, limiting the consumers to one view of what skating is. The market will grow as more older skaters get back into skating because of the emergence of new skateparks. Whether the younger generation will give bigger boards a chance is yet to be seen.”

It will be interesting to see if the documentary film Dogtown and Z Boys, which chronicles modern skateboarding’s origins in the 1970s and is set to hit theaters across the country this spring, brings a surge of older skaters out of the closet. There appears to be more and more flashback contests lately-a recent freestyle contest and another slalom contest have older skaters buzzing. Instead of following the confines and “rules” of magazines and videos as to what type of skating is cool or acceptable, they’re looking into the past and being reminded of what made skating fun for them.

Even Swank, who’s on a first name basis with the top skaters of the past twenty years, recognizes that the pig market is taking him back to when he was a wide-eyed kid. “Jay Adams called me up one day,” he answered when I asked him if rumors were true that the great one was involved with Deathbox. “I never met Jay back in the day. I had seen him several times in awe, from a distance. So he called me and left a message. I was freaked. I mean, it’s not every day Jay Adams calls you. I called him back after I got my nerve up. He was really cool. We just sat there and talked about the weather and movies and shit.” pig market is taking him back to when he was a wide-eyed kid. “Jay Adams called me up one day,” he answered when I asked him if rumors were true that the great one was involved with Deathbox. “I never met Jay back in the day. I had seen him several times in awe, from a distance. So he called me and left a message. I was freaked. I mean, it’s not every day Jay Adams calls you. I called him back after I got my nerve up. He was really cool. We just sat there and talked about the weather and movies and shit.”