Skateboard trucks are usually thought of as a mechanical device¿a fairly simple contraption, maybe, but expected to perform precisely and last a good long time while subjected to the demanding forces of the nimble skateboarder. We are in the midst of a truck revolution¿a period of time when the number of truck companies currently in existence has that familiar déjà vu of the skate-shoe explosion still upon us. In this era of technological improvements, you’d suppose this skate-truck revolution would be all about a new super-material or a design breakthrough¿or perhaps some sort of miniaturization, like what we’ve seen with computers and cellular phones. There have been breakthroughs and improvements in skateboard-truck technology, but this revolution is all about people and ideas, not co-opting the material used for the heat-shingles on the space shuttle.
In early 1993, a man we’ll call Mr. Virgo entered the picture¿with money in the bank, investors at his disposal, and a long and colorful history in the skate industry, Virgo felt it was time to step back from the limelight and instead back some new blood with a fresh idea. He’d heard a lot of good things about Rob Dyrdek, and thought maybe the young Ohioan’s integrity and ideas were a sign of the changes in store for skateboarding. So Mr. Virgo made Rob an offer: “How’d you like to start a skateboard-truck company?”
Rob Dyrdek’s idea for a new type of truck company started with a couple basics: he envisioned the Orion logo, then he came up with a name. He wanted something clean and recognizable, something that skaters would be proud to wear on T-shirts. Rather than being born of technological advances, if anything Orion Trucks came from Rob wanting a truck company with a small, tight team¿the opposite of what was happening in skateboarding at the time. Rob approached friends and fellow pro-skaters Kareem Campbell and Eric Koston, and asked them to join him in creating this new company. “It’s an opportunity for us to become more involved,” he told them, “to be in a truck company, not just ride for it.” They agreed.
* * *
I arranged to meet with Rob and Orion Production Manager Kevin Bergthold at the company warehouse early one afternoon. The day of our meeting was cold and rainy¿I came in through the back door, and passed the rows of men at machines, sparks flying as they ground trucks. After turning through a maze of corridors, I found myself in the office of Kevin Bergthold. A congenial young man, he offered me a cup of hot tea and told me all he thought I should know about Orion from his standpoint. “All the rest you really need to get from Rob,” he explained.
“You know, Orion was really at the forefront of the new truck-company wave about four years ago,” Kevin continued. “Rob was there from the beginning. I’ve also been there almost since the beginning, but only in a production capacity.
“It was clear from the start they wanted a different product¿the trucks were lower to fit the boards being used at that time. In the early 90s, it changed to smaller boards with tiny wheels, remember.”
And how hard is it to start a new truck company from scratch?
Kevin laughs. “There is so much tooling and machinery, and just everything about running a business … you’ve got to have capital to buy things, custom tooling¿it’s a big project. And you can make samples, but once you’ve made a mold, you’re stuck.”
He explained the basics of an Orion truck: two separate aluminum parts, and steel parts that hold it together¿baseplate, hanger, axle, kingpin, and also the urethane grommets that really make it turn. Kevin feels the four years of Orion’s existence have only improved the trucks: “They’re more polished now¿you can see a big difference.” It’s also worth noting that although Orion didn’t make the first-ever colored trucks, they did art the current powder-coat trend when they originally came out.
Even after four years, Orion is still perceived as a new company¿which Kevin finds funny. Maybe it’s just the age relative to longtimers like Indy, Gullwing, and Tracker, but the new-kid tag is actually to the company’s advantage. They’ve had some time to work out the bugs true newcomers are only beginning to address.
It’s at this point that Rob Dyrdek enters the room, a little wet from the rain, and full from breakfast, or lunch, or whatever you want to call it. A pro for Alien Workshop at sixteen, Rob moved to California at eighteen. When he received the offer to start a new truck company in 1993, Rob was still only nineteen years old. He quickly began to enact his original plan by gathering a small, close-knit team of top skateboarders for the Orion team. As he sits at the table, Rob is coiled tight with energy, his words are careful and articulate, yet he doesn’t sway just to please his audience¿he’ll follow through with what he believes in.
“Before Orion,” he says, “there was never a truck company with a small, really good team. Truck companies would sponsor anyone and give trucks to everyone.”
Granted, there were only about five truck companies at the time. “But now look,” says Rob, “all the new truck companies have small teams. There’s a great attraction for a tight team.” The first Orion roster was Rob, Kareem Campbell, Eric Koston, Steve Berra, Ronnie Bertino, Kris Markovich, and Tom Penny¿which is pretty much the current team, with the addition of Josh Kalis.
“Orion is basically me, Kareem, and Koston’s first project that was business as well as skateboarding,” explains Rob. “And we were so young! To do the ads I’d come down to TransWorld, stand behind the artist guy at the computer, and tell him what to do. Kareem would also come down every now and then and help me out. I’d try to sketch the logos out¿very makeshift! Eventually we’d get it done, but it was makeshift, and we wanted it to be done right. Now I oversee the majority of the creative side; I’m learning how to do a lot myself so it’s not going through so many hands.”
Another first for Orion is the matter of ownership¿Rob, Kareem, and Koston own a piece; each has an interest in the company. All the other team riders are in a position to grow with Orion. “Remember,” warns Rob, “we were all really young and unfocused when we started. Ninety-eight is just the beginning.”
Rob sheds a little light on the state of skateboarding when he started Orion: “Skateboarding had already changed to tighter teams. The board companies had moved into that¿it just took a lot longer for trucks to do it because it’s a more expensive process. Instead of sponsoring any- and everyone, and the riders just being a piece of a giant puzzle, as a rider you’re proud to be part of an organization with a limited number of skilled members.”
Rob was hardly unconcerned about technical matters, though. His goal was a solid, lower truck with good turning ability. “Trucks are so basic,” he says, “but our biggest problem over the years was the bushings¿they were too gooey, and they were this boring black color. We struggled and ended up with a great-looking clear bushing, and you don’t have to wait two weeks for them to be broken in¿you can skate ’em fine the first night. In the truck business, when something’s wrong, it can take so long to make it right.”
The skateboarding public is much more used to identifying riders by their board sponsors and those teams. With all this emphasis shifting to truck teams, is there any chance riders will be more closely associated with them instead? How much of a “team” is the Orion team?
“We’re responsible above and beyond to our board and shoe companies still,” says Rob. “We can only travel so much, and film so much for the videos we’re already involved in and committed to. We’d like to do stuff like that for Orion¿maybe in the off-season of normal travel. People would like to see an Orion tour, but that’s for the future.”
Back when Orion began, the plan was for the small team to have more benefits and better pay than other truck teams. Rob, Kareem, and Koston want other riders to look at Orion and think, “I’d way rather ride for them.”
As Rob sees it, a truck company’s graphics and creative side are easy to have influence over, “but in trucks, it boils down to the quality of the product more than anything¿that’s why Independent sells so well. They don’t try to have the gnarliest team, they’ve just had a solid truck for so long.
“This is what we want to build for the future: the best team and the most superior product. You need the one-two punch. All the best companies in skateboarding have it.”
Rob is interrupted by a call on his cell phone. “Yes,” he murmurs into the mouthpiece, “she’s still here, but we’re just wrapping it up.”
Standing, I take my cue.
“Can you find your way out okay?” Rob asks me, covering the phone’s mouthpiece.
“No problem,” I say on my way out of the office. I can hear from the pounding on the roof that the heavens have let loose with another downpour; the warehouse is now empty and nearly dark. I use the glinting metal of Orion trucks piled in endless rows of baskets to guide me to the door, much as ancient seagoing navigators used the constellations for guidance.