Imagine if Jah got a commission on all the Supernaut, IPath, and Satori goods sold?

What if heaven received royalties from Zero and Manna on every Jesus, Virgin Mary, and cross graphic released? Does the Devil own stock in World Industries and 151?

Since the earliest days of the sport, the influence of religion and spirituality has been present in skateboarding. From the number of moms who freaked out in the late 80s upon realizing that Natas Kaupas’ first name spelled backward is “Satan,” and countless ads and graphics that have both promoted and insulted all types of spirituality to numerous professionals who outwardly choose to express their faith and spiritual beliefs-religion is a seemingly common fixture in skateboard marketing.

With skateboarding’s evolution into a larger industry, the lines between professionals sharing some sort of personal beliefs with others and expressing themselves through religion seem to get blurred by marketing, a rider’s image, advertising, and the almighty dollar.

Dave Carnie is editor in chief of Big Brother magazine. “Religion is probably the most controversial subject humans have to deal with,” he says. “Since it purports to be the sentry at the gates between life and death-and we all know controversy sells.

“Obviously it’s going to be a subject people are going to play off of no matter what their agenda.”

Graphics

In the span of a year, Zero released peaceful, positive graphics of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, a Christian cross, and Bob Marley alongside images of Osama Bin Laden, skulls, blood, knives, demons, pentagrams, and the phrase “Zero or Die.”

Over the last few years, Zero has thrust itself in the “religious spotlight,” so to speak, and when asked how they felt about the seemingly contradictory graphics and the intentions behind them, other skaters had mixed reactions.

Unbelievers professional teamrider Scott Bourne knows Jamie Thomas has an immense influence in skating, so why shouldn’t he use that to spread the message he believes is the truth? Bourne explains, “The problem comes more from those guys who don’t decide what goes on their board-then you come up with this big corporate skateboard mess we are in now, where it all becomes about sales.

“The church sells itself on a far grander scale than any of these skateboarding companies or people could ever think of,” he continues.

Sean Cliver is the former editor of Big Brother and current art director at Blitz Distribution. He chalks it up to aesthetics: “Let’s face it, skulls and pentagrams just look fucking cool. A white dude with a beard and sandals just ain’t gonna get the kiddies hot to drop their quarters on him.”

Matt Rodriguez, pro rider for Supernaut skateboards, feels many people in Western society already have negative views of Christianity, but it isn’t the fault of the religion itself. Instead, it’s the fault of those who poorly represent it. “Zero may put it out there that Christianity is cool, punkish, or dark, and that’s fine because that’s how they want to perpetuate it, but some kids might get discouraged by that.

“Sometimes, if the first impressions people get are wrong, they won’t search any further past that impression to find the truth,” he says.

Black Label pro Salman Agah references the Bible, which includes stories of sex, sodomy, murder, love, faith, hope, and a multitude of other things. “The message seems pretty clear to me, but I guess any message can be mixed up,” he says.

Carnie is a tad more skeptic: “I can’t speak for Jamie or what he’s thinking, but there’s a large disparity in the philosophy of someone who will preach the word of God to a crowd of young skaters after a demo and then use dark, negative imagery like skulls and pentagrams to sell his products.

“But then, Christians have always been fascinated with death and evil,” he says. “They wear their god nailed to a cross around their necks. Christians are morbid motherfuckers

Jamie Thomas, henchman of Zero skateboards, feels kids are exposed to these positive and negative expressions everywhere they turn: “As far as Zero goes, in order for me to have the freedom to express my personal beliefs and opinions, the other teamriders have to also have the same right no matter how adverse or different they are to mine, which is why I could have a cross on my board and another pro could have a pentagram or Satan on his.”

Graphics are perhaps the first thing people think of when the words “religion” and “skateboarding” are used in the same sentence.

Bourne admits some of his favorite graphics include the 101 Natas board with the pentagram; the Santa Cruz Jason Jessee “Mother Mary;” the Blind Jason Lee with the Bible, gun, and beer; and the World Industries Randy Colvin Dianetics board. “All of these decks were amazing because they were an extension of the rider whose name was on the board,” he says. “When you looked at a rider’s board, you knew something about him or the way his mind was working.” Bourne’s most recent model on Unbelievers features a Jesus graphic.

Agah admits to being a fan of the 101 Natas “Pope on a Rope” graphic as well as the Gabriel Rodriguez Jesus graphic. “One of my graphics that Kevin Ancell did in the early 90s had killing, stealing, and destroying on the bottom of it. Lots of shops rejected it because of its graphic content. But all products that are made for sale are for the purpose of cashing in regardless of make, model, or graphic. When I used religious or biblical graphics on boards, the graphics just so happened to be more personal. I didn’t turn pro in the generic series-graphic era. I wanted to share a personal side of me with whoever was interested in buying my board.”

According to Thomas, when he told the salespeople at Zero he was making a board with a cross on it, they told him it wasn’t a very good idea because “Christianity wasn’t cool and never had been.” They felt it would hurt Jamie’s image.

“I did it against their suggestion,” Jamie says. “My cross board, with John 3:16 in the background, has been my best-selling pro-model board ever. It’s been seen more than any of my boards have, which means the message was delivered.

“It’s a way to share the message of hope to people, like myself, who used to not have any. God knows where my heart is and where my money goes. In other words, I can’t really dwell on why someone else thinks I made the board.”

Riders And Companies

Over the years there have been plenty of professional skaters and companies who are known for being outspoken about religion, spirituality, and faith. The mission statement on Manna’s Web site reads: “Manna Skateboards exists to be a ‘light’ in the world by meeting the needs of others through prayer, friendships, and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and by providing quality, God-inspired skateboard products.” Pros like Lennie Kirk and Sean Mandoli were known for their religious beliefs in addition to their amazing skating. Conversely, some companies adhere to a particular religion, but don’t flaunt it. The Firm team has been dubbed a “God Squad,” but they don’t use religious icons in their ads or on their boards.

Supernaut is generally considered a “Rastafarian” company, which doesn’t bother Matt Rodriguez in the least. “Supernaut is based on the personality of the riders. It’s fine if people think we are the ‘Rasta company’ and give off ‘Earth vibes,’ or whatever. Nowadays it seems that most companies are like, ‘This is the theme, and it doesn’t matter what you are into.’”

Bourne says, “It seems to me that Rastafari is something that people get into long after they become stoners. In America we come from a large Christian upbringing with a strong message against drugs. What could be better than to smoke a little pot, feel good, and then find out it’s okay with the ‘Creator.’ I’m not trying to insult the Rastafari religion or say that it’s based around drug use, but merely stating that its marketability is definitely high inside a circle of skaters, as well as showing how it could be the backlash of the Christian-American upbringing.”

A Shop Perspective

So what do the shops think? After all, the shops choose which graphics they want to carry. They’re the ones selling the boards to the impressionable kids, so they should have their say.

Nick Kuzmak, manager of Rutherford, New Jersey’s Out of Bounds, feels responsible for the board graphics he carries: “We try to keep our store family-oriented. I’ll be more prone to carry graphics that don’t offend 99 percent of my customers.”

Aaron Costa, owner of Rochester, New York’s Krudco, doesn’t share this sentiment: “I am not here to make the parents happy. Skateboarding has always been about being a rebel and rocking whatever you want.”

Kuzmak feels that religious icons aren’t what sell the skateboards: “To our customers, religion isn’t an issue. All they’re concerned about is who did what on what ledge in town. Unless Jesus shows up and blows the spot up, I don’t think your average thirteen year old is concerned. If it’s an image or gimmick to sell boards, they failed.”

But where Kuzmak sees failure, Costa sees success. In fact, Krudco’s best-selling religious deck is the Jamie Thomas cross deck: “If a graphic is selling really well, why would they stop making it? The Jamie Thomas cross is a perfect example, along with all that devil-man crap.”

Sharing

Just why do so many skaters who subscribe to a religion feel the need to express this in their graphics, ads, interviews, or video parts? Do we need their beliefs “pushed” on us, so to speak? Perhaps it’s no different than the skater who is interested in sports or music putting out graphics of NBA logos or guitars on their models, or a lover of rap use a Wu-Tang Clan song in their video part.

“I guess if I believed in something to a fanatical degree I might want to spread the word as well,” says Cliver. “But I don’t. In the end it’s just detrimental to your image should you finally come down off your ideological high and have to listen to your random followers cry, ‘Heathen!’ at the top of their prepubescent lungs. Keep the church and state separate, or at least the thought that it is.”

Salman offers a counter perspective: “If some stranger came up to me and asked me if I had debt, and I told him that I did, and he told me that he would clear my debt and that I’m free of it, I would be filled with joy and free of my burden. I would naturally tell everyone. So it is with Christ. Christians who share their faith do so out of humility and charity.”

“I feel responsible to be a positive role model, and for me, that means sharing the good news of our savior,” says Thomas. “So through my boards and my message, I try and take a little shine off of me and put it on things that will last forever. But people with strong beliefs who aren’t afraid to put them out there are always going to be persecuted by someone.”

When asked if he felt religion was “fashion,” Thomas replied, “Fashion is fashion, and the truth is the truth. On the other hand, you can fashionably know and display the truth.” Perhaps this is a pseudo-modern approach to the seven deadly sins, of which vanity is one … and fashion, is inarguably a facet of vanity.

As politically correct as it is to say, it’s all an argument with no “right, moral” or “wrong, immoral” answer. Who is to dictate what is good or evil, and what do those terms really mean anyway? For every valid point there is an equally valid counterpoint. It’s the “chicken and the egg.” It’s “Who’s on first?” Can’t we simply accept and try to understand what others believe and express, while believing and expressing what we feel as well?

Shouldn’t we be skating instead of worrying about all this anyway?drug use, but merely stating that its marketability is definitely high inside a circle of skaters, as well as showing how it could be the backlash of the Christian-American upbringing.”

A Shop Perspective

So what do the shops think? After all, the shops choose which graphics they want to carry. They’re the ones selling the boards to the impressionable kids, so they should have their say.

Nick Kuzmak, manager of Rutherford, New Jersey’s Out of Bounds, feels responsible for the board graphics he carries: “We try to keep our store family-oriented. I’ll be more prone to carry graphics that don’t offend 99 percent of my customers.”

Aaron Costa, owner of Rochester, New York’s Krudco, doesn’t share this sentiment: “I am not here to make the parents happy. Skateboarding has always been about being a rebel and rocking whatever you want.”

Kuzmak feels that religious icons aren’t what sell the skateboards: “To our customers, religion isn’t an issue. All they’re concerned about is who did what on what ledge in town. Unless Jesus shows up and blows the spot up, I don’t think your average thirteen year old is concerned. If it’s an image or gimmick to sell boards, they failed.”

But where Kuzmak sees failure, Costa sees success. In fact, Krudco’s best-selling religious deck is the Jamie Thomas cross deck: “If a graphic is selling really well, why would they stop making it? The Jamie Thomas cross is a perfect example, along with all that devil-man crap.”

Sharing

Just why do so many skaters who subscribe to a religion feel the need to express this in their graphics, ads, interviews, or video parts? Do we need their beliefs “pushed” on us, so to speak? Perhaps it’s no different than the skater who is interested in sports or music putting out graphics of NBA logos or guitars on their models, or a lover of rap use a Wu-Tang Clan song in their video part.

“I guess if I believed in something to a fanatical degree I might want to spread the word as well,” says Cliver. “But I don’t. In the end it’s just detrimental to your image should you finally come down off your ideological high and have to listen to your random followers cry, ‘Heathen!’ at the top of their prepubescent lungs. Keep the church and state separate, or at least the thought that it is.”

Salman offers a counter perspective: “If some stranger came up to me and asked me if I had debt, and I told him that I did, and he told me that he would clear my debt and that I’m free of it, I would be filled with joy and free of my burden. I would naturally tell everyone. So it is with Christ. Christians who share their faith do so out of humility and charity.”

“I feel responsible to be a positive role model, and for me, that means sharing the good news of our savior,” says Thomas. “So through my boards and my message, I try and take a little shine off of me and put it on things that will last forever. But people with strong beliefs who aren’t afraid to put them out there are always going to be persecuted by someone.”

When asked if he felt religion was “fashion,” Thomas replied, “Fashion is fashion, and the truth is the truth. On the other hand, you can fashionably know and display the truth.” Perhaps this is a pseudo-modern approach to the seven deadly sins, of which vanity is one … and fashion, is inarguably a facet of vanity.

As politically correct as it is to say, it’s all an argument with no “right, moral” or “wrong, immoral” answer. Who is to dictate what is good or evil, and what do those terms really mean anyway? For every valid point there is an equally valid counterpoint. It’s the “chicken and the egg.” It’s “Who’s on first?” Can’t we simply accept and try to understand what others believe and express, while believing and expressing what we feel as well?

Shouldn’t we be skating instead of worrying about all this anyway?