From the moment he rolled onto the pro scene five years ago, Chad Muska has had as much to do with the progressive image of skateboarding as any of his peers, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more valuable product endorsee than Muska¿just ask any of the brands he’s touched: Shorty’s, TSA, éS, Toy Machine, Fury, and now Circa Footwear. But in the heavily trodden skate-shoe market, is it possible to step up with a new shoe brand solely carried upon heavily marketed shoulders of a mere professional skateboarder?

Ideally, yes¿it is both possible and preferred.

The nay-sayers, however, are quick to point out that this is a mixed marriage of sorts; Muska’s new skate-shoe start-up is not a skate-only venture. Chad’s partner in Circa Footwear is Four Star Distribution¿the umbrella under which Forum Snowboards, Special Blend Outerwear, and Four Square Outerwear sit¿a potential no-no in the world of the skateboard purist. But F.S.D.’s snow interests are a non-issue as far as Chad’s concerned. “I wouldn’t just go and jump into any mainstream corporate company,” Chad calmly states. “I felt that Four Star Distribution was one of the more ‘core companies¿all of their backgrounds are in skateboarding, all their distributors and reps are already skate-related, and everybody down there skates. I don’t even follow snowboarding, to tell you the truth, but I’d heard of Four Square and all their brands. Out of all the snowboard companies, I think they’re the rawest. But seriously, I haven’t caught any grief from being involved with them.”

If Chad did catch any grief, it might have stemmed from questions about his separation from Sole Technology, makers of Etnies, Emerica, and éS (the latter of which saw the effect of Chad’s Midas touch in one of its most successful shoes ever, the Chad Muska Pro Model). Why would any pro skater walk away from the support and success of a well-known and seemingly well-oiled business partnership? “I was just ready to get some new stuff out there and do things that I thought were going to make better skate shoes,” says Chad. “There’re a lot of good shoes out there, but some aren’t as smooth as I think they could be. I also really wanted to be a part of something that I had more control over¿get something going on for myself, get some other homies involved with it, and work hard on making dope skateboarding shoes.”

Good answer, but one we’ve heard before¿echoing softly from the cubicle-filled offices of all the other skate-shoe cobblers. What about them? What about the competition? Chad eases into the subject like the seasoned vet he’s labored to become: “We don’t really want to compete against anybody, we just want to do what we think is right¿hopefully people are going to like ‘em and people are going to wear ‘em. We want to keep Circa Footwear a ‘core skate company and make skateboarding shoes. We’re not trying to blow it all up and be mainstream or anything like that. We just want it to be in the skateboarding world, get it out there, and have people wear it¿all skaters, that’s who it’s for.”

After talking to “The Muska,” you get the idea that he’s not just a well-coached athlete spouting some party line. He truly believes in himself and doesn’t speak as a phenom with a definite article before his nickname, rather as a savvy but down-to-earth businessman¿his confidence built during his self-imposed placement on the industry’s front line. “I came into skateboarding knowing nothing about business,” Chad explains. “I’ve always felt that I wanted to know what’s going on behind the scenes at the companies. I’ve gotten more involved than a lot of other pros out there, by going into companies all the time, seeing how they’re run, and seeing them go through all their problems. I’ve learned so much about business by being just involved in this industry.”

Knowing all he knows and all he’s seen, Chad has a lot of theories about brands and hhow to make things new and fresh. Not surprisingly, it ain’t all about skateboarding and shoes. One idea, for example, has to do with the name behind the notion. “We brainstormed a bunch of different names, but Circa was the one that kind of stuck in all our heads.” Chad remembers. “It’s timeless, it’ll last forever. It’s something new and everlasting. It could be Circa ’99, Circa 2000, Circa 2001. It’s always Circa, you know?” Yeah, now we know. But other than the designation, there can’t really be that many revolutionary ideas behind the world’s next skate shoe company, right?

Wrong.

Cue Muska: “As I bring team riders in, I want each individual to do their own thing through this company. That’s what’s different about Circa. Each person will have a say on their own little line of the stuff they want to represent them.”

Wow. So with all the skater-level delegation and division of labor, what’s left for the unshaven face behind Circa Footwear? “There’s going to be a limited edition release of my shoe in ’99, so we got that going,” Muska says. “And right now I look at everything, design ads, do shoe design, clothing design, logos¿everything that could be involved in a company except for sales.

“Oh, yeah!” he blurts, almost as an afterthought. “I skateboard, too.”

Chad laughs, “I guess we’re putting a lot of work into this. Sometimes it cuts into skateboarding time, but I try to balance it out. No matter what, you’ve got to have balance in your life. It’s a lot of work, but someone’s got to do it.”

Sounds like a job for a phenomenon. Muska¿Circa now.