By Sean Mortimer

Marc Johnson laughs.

It’s not a nervous laugh, or a loud confident chuckle, or a wasted just-out-of-acting-class punk-rock one.

On the contrary, it seems triggered by the wariness of being involved in some article on the “business” of his company, enjoi skateboards.

He’s a good sport about it, but his shoulder-shrugging and eye-rolling at “promoting the company” is apparent. I’ve noticed as skateboarding blows up, some used-to-be-mellow industry dudes have become uptight when you talk about their companies, thinking about how every word that leaves their lips will affect their bottom dollar.

Maybe it’s the right approach when the zeros start lining up at the end of checks and you have to run your company like a major business, but you’d swear some of them forgot that skateboarding, the activity that connects us, flows from having fun.

Yanking The Ripcord

Two years ago, Marc wasn’t having fun with his sponsor, A-Team. But he’d gotten so used to not having fun that he’d become used to it without realizing it. On an Emerica tour in Australia he was shocked to see some of his friends who own companies, like Ed Templeton of Toy Machine, plastering their boards with their board company’s stickers. “They were so into their sponsors,” he remembers, clearly awed. “They put their hearts into it.”

For years he’d spray-painted over his pro model’s graphics, which he usually hated and had no input into making them something he dug. He never wore their shirts, and the thought of putting an A-Team sticker on his board never even drifted near him. Templeton’s dedication was a stinging satori. “I was over what wasn’t going on with A-Team. We had no input in clothing design, ad layouts, graphics. It was definitely unfocused.”

There wasn’t even a point person for Marc to call to tell he was bailing, he was unaware who even ran the show anymore. He ended up calling Rodney Mullen by default to tell him he was over the A-Team. Rodney wasn’t surprised. “Everybody else was quitting,” Marc says. The only thing on his mind was walking through the exit door. Besides touring for a week or two, his interaction with anything A-Team was minimal. “All I did was skate and check the mail.”

enjoi Work

Rodney suggested starting a company with him at Dwindle, telling Marc, “I’d love to be a part of it.” While Marc had a strong visual idea of how his company would look, he hadn’t thought any further. “The way the boards and ads would look was set in my mind. The visual identity of a brand really speaks to people,” he says. He batted around a few ideas, and investigated who else he could do the company with. In the summer of 2000 he came back to Rodney, inviting him to skate for the new team and agreeing to hitch it up to Dwindle’s wagon-train.

Marc had a few ideas for names, such as Love Skateboarding. But once the copyright lawyers got back to him, the list shrank considerably. He settled on enjoi, because that’s what he did on his board. Remembering the bad taste A-Team left in his mouth, he set about gathering a team that would reflect what he thought about skating, not what he thought about marketing. He wanted everybody on the team to be friends and share similar feelings for skating. If everybody was on the same page in what skateboarding meant to them, then at least in theory everybody would be happy with the direction of the company. “Everyone on the team is good friends,” he says.

Marc dived in deep, going almost overnight from a top pro with no heavy worries to being bum-rushed with responsibility. Around the same time he lit the fuse for enjoi, he also had a son. One of these life-changing events could easily overflow the dam, but combined, the two meant that Marc would constantly have bucket in hand to bail water. He liked it, though, saying that it gave him less downtime to focus on the skateboard industry crap that bugged him. “It can get overwhelming.” Marc says. “I used to have a lot of downme. Now, I have no time.”

Marc wanted control of everything and was willing to take a self-taught crash course in laying out ads, designing graphics, and figuring out other “business” crap. “It was weird, when I decided to start (my company) I wanted to be a skater and do graphics, but it became more. I became the guy who decides on budgets and what magazines to advertise in.” he says.

Marc’s definitely not comfortable with leaving any creative aspect of his company in somebody else’s hand. He’s hired a single assistant, Judson Bryan, an art-department dude, but nothing happens unless it goes through the Marc Johnson line of defense. As the saying goes: once bitten twice shy. “I won’t let anybody else near that stuff. I don’t trust them. It’s 100-percent hands-on. I don’t trust anybody’s vision or lack of vision.”

But he’s far from being a company dictator. No greasy parted hair or stubby mustaches on him. He demands input from his team, and they’re apparently happy to give it to him. He’ll discuss ads with riders before he starts laying them out. For enjoi, graphics are an extension of the rider’s personalities and beliefs, not a canvas that represents the company’s graphic artist more than anybody else. “It doesn’t seem that skateboard teams are always about the team anymore. I wanted enjoi to be us. I want it to be very personal,” he says. “This is who we are.”

Love them or hate them, the ads pop in contrast to a magazine stuffed with skate and product shots. Stark images, often roughly cut out and pasted on a royal-blue background accompanied by a generally hilarious short blurb of self-deprecating words provoke a reaction. “I saw what was going on in the magazines,” Marc says, “everything blurs into everything. I wanted things to be lighthearted but intelligent. I could care less if people don’t ‘get it.’” Ads can easily appear reactionary compared to pimped-out ads pumping skaters up as megastars posing like hip-hop or punk heroes.

enjoi ads crack on themselves constantly and often use tweaked unprofessional-looking images. A recent ad “celebrated” Rodney Mullen winning the TWS Readers’ choice award for best street skater. “Sorry about ‘No Show’ Mullen not being at the awards ceremony. His leather jacket wasn’t back from the cleaners and he lost his shades, bro.” Three odd-looking kids, one wearing a Rodney Mullen is my daddy T-shirt, while another one sports a this is such a photoshopped enjoi shirt stare blankly out from the ad. In the corner it reads, enjoi. Life is not a beach.

Taking a page from the great team managers like Stacy Peralta of The Bones Brigade, Marc wants to do more than skate with his team. “If those guys need some kind of help, I’m there,” he says. He’s called up other sponsors to work out deals or problems. If there’s a trip an enjoi rider wants to go on, Marc will often help out.

A huge part of enjoi’s success seems to come from Marc’s position as a popular skater. He doesn’t look at his company as a way to make a living, and this gives him a massive amount of freedom. Marc looks at enjoi through eyes focused on projecting his and his team’s feelings about skating. “I don’t care if I make any money (off enjoi),” he says. “Dwindle has been good about leaving me alone. I wouldn’t be able to do this if Rodney didn’t have faith in me.” There’s no hardcore business filter to run his ideas through. If he thinks something looks dumb, he simply doesn’t do it and receives no flak about viral marketing or other theories. An example: “I’m not going to put the Web site on the ads. I don’t care.”

No Blahs

When I called Marc to talk about this article one evening, he was fighting with his printer, playing tug-of-war with a piece of jammed paper, and figuring out some upcoming graphics. He says it’s becoming easier to delegate responsibilities to himself. This night, for instance, he was in graphic mode and wasn’t pissed because he couldn’t go skating. But, he admitted, later that night he might be in skate mode and not want to think about art. Then he’d drop what he was doing and go skate.

At times, listening to Marc talk about enjoi, he made it sound a lot like an art project. He plans for enjoi to be around a long time, that is, if everything remains focused and continues to project his team’s feelings and attitudes about skating. But he did mention that if the company started to seriously sour, he’d bury it without any qualms.

For now, nothing seems to be pointing in that direction.

Marc Johnson is happy with the eleven skaters on the team. Only one rider has been removed, when everybody realized his place on the team had been a mistake.

Johnson seems to enjoy exhausting himself by doing something that he believes in, rather than just bitching about the problems in the industry. He asks, “When you’re done skating, do you want to look back on your career as a big blah?”, he admitted, later that night he might be in skate mode and not want to think about art. Then he’d drop what he was doing and go skate.

At times, listening to Marc talk about enjoi, he made it sound a lot like an art project. He plans for enjoi to be around a long time, that is, if everything remains focused and continues to project his team’s feelings and attitudes about skating. But he did mention that if the company started to seriously sour, he’d bury it without any qualms.

For now, nothing seems to be pointing in that direction.

Marc Johnson is happy with the eleven skaters on the team. Only one rider has been removed, when everybody realized his place on the team had been a mistake.

Johnson seems to enjoy exhausting himself by doing something that he believes in, rather than just bitching about the problems in the industry. He asks, “When you’re done skating, do you want to look back on your career as a big blah?”