Paul Schmitt has a bright-yellow tape measure. I mean really bright. You can’t miss the thing. It’s perpetually clipped to his front pocket like a piece of jewelry, advertising his character like a fancy cell phone or tricked-out beeper the homies flash around to impress. But it’s not meant to impress, in fact, people occasionally make fun of it. The truth is, he wears it like you’d wear a watch. That’s what separates Schmitt from the rest of us – he actually needs a tape measure. And we should all be grateful to that little yellow tape measure, because it’s helped the progression of skateboarding for more than 22 years.
At the age of five, when most kids are trying to figure out how to turn the TV on, Schmitt was operating a drill press. At age twelve, he constructed an entire stage set for the local college theater by himself. Even though Schmitt was a construction nut, he skated with even more enthusiasm. He soon joined his two passions and began making homemade rails, which he sold out of his house. Then he built a primitive mold for laminating decks. For weight, he’d parked his mother’s Mercury Cougar on top of the mold to press the decks together.
By age fourteen Schmitt was incorporated, selling his goods across the country, and had converted his bedroom into an operations plant. He screened stickers, made rails, and (having built a new mold for pressing skateboard decks that didn’t require the Cougar) pressed boards beside his bed. It only took four hours to laminate the decks, so he’d set his alarm clock for 3:00 a.m. and press a second batch of boards before he had to go to school.
Today, Schmitt owns and operates P.S. Stix. His wife and daughter won’t let him set up shop in their home, so he’s filled a massive warehouse with over a million dollars worth of machines geared to making the best skateboard products in the world.
“I just want to give skaters that kid-in-a-candy-store feel about skating,” Schmitt says of his devotion to innovation. Talk to him for any length of time, and you’ll notice the “candy store” phrase popping up ad nauseum. He doesn’t want skaters to muse over skateboard politics, or know everything about the industry – he wants them to step on his magical decks and skate. Pure and simple.
Stocking the candy store, on the other hand, is a helluva lot of work. But Schmitt seems to get off on it. He loves experimenting with boards. If he were broke and living in the streets, he wouldn’t be spending his money on rot-gut wine, he’d be begging for change so he could hit Home Depot. Since the day he first parked his mother’s Cougar on top of his molds, Schmitt has been going full throttle, trying to improve the quality and longevity of skateboard equipment. But he doesn’t always hit the mark. He’s the first to admit this, and can accept “failure” without locking himself in the bathroom and crying.
He’s created weird-looking grommets that worked well, but their looks scared skaters off. He manufactured the ultimate skateboard with a urethane bumper and a foam core – you couldn’t kill this thing. Peter Sullivan (who rode for Schmitt at the time he produced the “bumper boards”) repeatedly rammed one into a cement wall, but the board never even dented. “I liked them,” Schmitt reflects on the bumper boards, “but the pros who rode for me at the time wouldn’t go near them.”
Skaters today are different, and he realizes that. “I’m a generation behind skating now. I have to listen to what skaters like Kris Markovich want, because times have changed. I have to work side by side with them.” He and Markovich spent months perfecting the Element Featherlight boards. They tested over 100 decks before they were both satisfied with the thinness and the strength.
It wasn’t always like this. “In the 80s, skaters would try anything – they were much more open to new ideas,” Schmitt remembers. And it’s a good thing for us all, because skating would be a lot different if they weren’t open-minded.
Chriss Miller’s name appeared on the ugliest board ever made. At least that’s what most people thought at the time. It was skinny and shaped like a banana, with a nose like a malnourished kicktail. Sound familiar? Every skateboard manufactured today is merely a fuller and rounder offspring of that board. Schmitt revolutionized skateboarding by being the first to treat the nose like a kicktail.
He’s made tons of wacky and ingenious stuff. As part owner and the man behind the manufacturing for New Deal and Element (he also helps with Black Label’s boards) Schmitt’s got his hands fuller than ever before. But with all his innovations, he’s most proud of the fact that, at age 35, he still enjoys skateboarding. “I’m still a part of skateboarding, and I’m still happy. I love it. It can be hard to be in skateboarding for this long and still have fun at it. Out of everything I’ve worked on, keeping my love for skating is what I’m proudest of.”