Luckily, when I started skating I was pretty tall. I never had to wallow in the mini-board mire that skateboarding’s largest demographic does. For the most part, making a mini meant shortening the wheelbase of a board made in a regular, full-size mold. This is like making a size-six shoe by taking a size thirteen and cutting out the middle. It’s not going to fit too well. Concaves get whacked or lost almost completely, and upturned noses start too late or too soon, depending on where the board is shortened.
Take a typical “mini” board and put it next to a full-size. They don’t look like they came from the same era. Most mini boards’ concaves and upturns are stuck in the late 80s. Perhaps the thinking is that the mini consumer is just starting skating, and by the time they grow into a big board they’ll be experienced enough to notice the subtle, but important, differences.
But this new generation of kids is different. With all the hormones in the milk they drink, hundreds of videos they watch, and virtual-reality skating they do on gaming consoles, these half- pints are kicking butt right out of the gate. In skateboarding’s history there has never been as large a mass of skilled mini shredders who are still learning how to tie their Emericas while busting tricks pros did in the 1990s. The problem is that a lot of the time they’re doing it on boards that don’t fit and often don’t have the fine-tuning of a bigger board. “Where is true size and proportion at?” Paul Schmitt asks. “It’s unfortunate–kids are hampered by the product, not helped by it.”
Schmitt–who seems happiest stuffing the joy of skating into physics equations, hoping the answer is a product that increases the sport’s fun–has set his sights on building the perfect mini. But there are still some stumpers that leave him scratching a bald spot in his head.
He’s been busy testing samples, asking questions, and hustling back into his lab. He took a big step forward when he and Billy Pepper, who stands at five feet, two inches and weighs 125 pounds, sparked up a conversation about his size, and how he was riding a board that fit a person a foot taller. Like most pros, he knew little about boards except the cookie-cutter width, wheelbase, and length. In a way, it’s funny and indicative of skateboarding’s attitude that professionals generally aren’t knowledgeable about all the factors that affect their various boards’ performances. Pepper wondered why a snowboard- or mountain-bike-shop salesperson will fit equipment to the customer’s size, but the skate industry doesn’t.
“I challenged him to open his mind and try a new board,” Schmitt recalls. “I scaled down the (his) shape he had ridden for the past five years. I reduced the wheelbase by one inch–to thirteen inches–and pressed some thinner boards out of a mold I had proportionately scaled down a few months prior for the new (Element) Twigs boards.”
Pepper was psyched. The new board was ten-percent lighter than an Element Featherlight board and had the proper amount of concave and upturn on the tail and nose. If you looked at the board from a distance, it appeared to be perfectly scaled. It was only once you got close that you could tell it was smaller, Schmitt says, “After some refinements, Billy settled on a 12 3/4-inch wheelbase that allowed him the proper leverage to feel comfortable with his board.”
Leverage is a word Schmitt uses a lot when talking about proportionately scaling down boards. The image of using a long stick to move a big rock continuously popped into my head, but when you stop and think about it, you realize it’s one of the most important factors in a board–and surprise–few skaters talk about it.
That’s where the headaches begin for Schmitt. He may understand how to design a custom board after he’s calculated height, stance, and weight, but he can’t do that for every customer. How do you educate the most important link between the customer and the product–the salespersson?
Schmitt recalls answering a parent’s question about what board to buy her small son by recommending an Element Twig. He carefully explained why the smaller size would work better. She showed up later with a full-size pro board, saying that the salesperson talked her out of the Twig because her son would “outgrow it.”
Parents, who at least play a part in kids’ purchases, are often clueless and rely on a salesperson to educate them. But most shop workers are older skaters who–A–don’t have a variety of mini molds to choose from and–B–don’t think about mini boards too much because most manufacturers don’t.
And there’s no standard sizing chart. This is a huge and important hurdle skaters and shops are tripping over. The snowboard industry handles this a few different ways. Dan Cronin, a salesperson at Hansen’s Board Room in Encinitas, California, sells skateboards and snowboards. He attends about ten one-hour snowboard clinics a year given by company reps who break down each new snowboard. They explain what size rider it’s made for and how its construction will react to that snowboarder’s weight. Each board also comes with a “cheat sheet” that has information on what size shredder the board is made for. The customer can check out the cheat sheet and also work with a salesperson.
The marketing of pros is a lot stronger in skating than snowboarding. Cronin says that small kids don’t usually ride pro-model snowboards because they don’t generally come in small sizes. Unlike skating, he says the size of snowboards makes it obvious what model is too big for a mini shredder.
How do you raise function over fashion in a sport where how low you hang your pants is dictated by the pros? Schmitt hooked another small skater, a little kid, up with a board that fit. The kid loved it. A few months later he was back to riding a huge Jamie Thomas because that’s his hero. Until the pros and their companies educate the mini consumer, they’ll want to ride what their idols ride.
This is the information age, though, and if kids can understand that a better fit equals better fun, they may gobble up all of Schmitt’s talk about leverage, and decide that it’s better to skate like your favorite pro than merely rock the same graphic as him. Schmitt admits to being accused of blinding skaters with science, but this is also the guy who came out with that funky-looking Chris Miller deck in the late 80s. Remember that tweaked-looking Schmitt Stix thing? It had a pointy nose that was almost as long as its tail. Looked like the guy cutting the decks had problems with staying between the lines. Six months later most pros were riding board with long noses, and it became one of the most important evolutions in skateboarding. Schmitt made a product, the pros caught on, and they influenced the skaters of the world.
Maybe they don’t want anybody to catch on. This may be a master plan of the older dudes, now that I think about it. A conspiracy of a grand scale. Perhaps all these pros and old guys running board companies are aware that a generation of grade-schoolers are nipping at their heels and decided to handicap the little buggers. If they can pull off advanced tricks while being hobbled by oversized decks, imagine what they?d get away with on a proportionate board!