Italy Profile

(PQ 1: “In the beginning we had to look for customers-now we have to decide who to sell our stuff to.”-Fabio Rafaelli)

(PQ 2: “”It’s important we don’t burn our image selling everything to everyone.”-Fabio Rafaelli)

What do Gucci, Michelangelo, Lucky Luciano, and pizza have in common? They all spawned from a boot-shaped peninsula the size of Arizona, yet have found themselves deeply integrated in American popular culture. Being a country of strong independent style with a rich culture that America’s affluent population can only imitate, it’s no surprise that Italy has a self-sustaining skate scene that has been on a steady climb for the past several years.

In The Beginning

Following skateboarding’s early-90s boom, Italy’s skate scene received a dramatic kick in the shins in 1994, when influential skateboarding publications like XXX and Skate And Snowboarding finally closed up. Similar to the pattern in America, Italy’s skate scene experienced a lull for the next several years. A few small companies scraped by, holding on and waiting for another wave of energy to be pumped into the industry. In 1997, writer Luca Basilico and photographer Ale Formenti started a free-press magazine called Wimpy Wasted Time, which lasted until 2001. After that, Basilico contacted the editor of an already-established snowboard magazine and created 6:00AM skateboard culture magazine. Publications like 6:00AM and Freestyler and a growing group of independent companies and shops help keep the pulse of Italian skateboarding going today.

An Independent Scene

Like most countries with quickly rising scenes, Italy is becoming less and less dependent on American brands by supporting endemic companies. Turin’s Fabio Raffaeli is the CEO of two such companies-Eblood Clothing and D.Mon Shoes, the first all-Italian skate-shoe company.

Raffaeli began his entrepreneurship in 1998, when skateboarding in Italy was just breaking out of its slump. Although he had a rough start, Raffaeli persevered, using his companies to promote independent skateboarding in Italy and his personal beliefs, as well: “My purpose was to create an alternative to American brands that were way too expensive back then for the average kid. Plus, I wanted to push my concept through my designs related to veganism, critical thinking, and drug-free living.”

Skate-shop Owner Alessandro Marras, of Dreamstore in Bistoia, carries an equal amount of Italian brands as he does American. When Dreamstore first opened five years ago, Marras carried a wide variety of American brands. “This was a mistake because I was too spread out. I had everything from Planet Earth to Spitfire, and the kids just weren’t buying it.” Marras finds that having a more focused selection helps: “My customers come to my store knowing they can find a certain brand, like Broke (clothing), because I carry a lot of their stuff.” He also admitted that the cost difference steered people away from the U.S. brands.

Arrigo Bernardi is the president of Cooping Ramps, a cooperative skatepark design company in Lignano Sabbiadoro, a city outside of Venice. When asked why he started his company in 1999, he says, “Because of the tragic lack of ramps and skateboard facilities in Italy.” Cooping Ramps’ intention is simply to provide the skaters of Italy with enough places to go, but its ultimate goal is the betterment of skateboarding in Italy: “The mission is to build as many ramps as possible and finally to make our part in the development of skateboarding in Italy.”

Similarly, Basilico’s ultimate goal with 6:00AM is to educate the younger skaters and promote independent thinking. “Our mag subtitle is ‘Skateboard Culture Magazine.’ We don’t want to put it just on tricks-we’re trying to valorize the culture that’s behind the sport. Hopefully, kids out there will be able to pick up inspiration from experienced skaters and their lives and develop their own personality in an indendent way.”

Who’s Skating?

Like in America, the skaters in Italy have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of skateparks-and it’s a good thing, too, considering the rough walkways and cobblestone streets. Bernardi explains, “Street is quite more popular than ramps, but having a kind of ancient architecture makes it not so easy to street skate around Italian towns.” The challenges of skating street combined with the increase in the number of skateboarders provoke a great demand for skate facilities. “Since the beginning, we have built 25 ramps and skateparks in Italy,” states Bernardi. “The need of skateboarding facilities is high.”

Raffaeli agrees: “A lot of skaters grew up skating curbs and ledges. Now there’re parks, especially public ones popping all over.”

Professional skateboarder Giorgio Zattoni opened Marianna HC, his second skatepark, this past May. Located just five minutes from his first skatepark in Mezzano, the new park includes a sixteen-foot vert ramp with a 26-foot roll-in. Zattoni’s parks host the only vert ramps in Italy. “I wanted to give everyone a chance to skate and have fun and provide a place for me, my brother, and kids to hang out,” explains Zattoni. “It’s also something I’ve been dreaming of for a long time, to have a big ramp to skate.”

Andrea Martinez, founder of skatecoffee.com, an e-zine based out of Rome, revealed that the Web site was originally started as a tool to find out how many skaters there were in Rome after observing the significant growth. “We didn’t have a skatepark,” Martinez explains, “so we wanted to count them and go to a councilman and say, ‘See how many we are, will you build a skatepark for us?” Skatecoffee.com evolved into an online magazine while attempting to fill in the gaps left by the other skateboarding magazines. “Other magazines covered mostly the north of Italy and always showed pictures of the same skaters, so I thought skaters in Rome needed a place to show off and see their pictures and places to skate.”

The Power Of The Euro

In the past, Italy’s economy had suffered-the lira was much weaker than the U.S. dollar. But even with the adoption of the euro in 1999, their economy hasn’t necessarily stabilized. In fact, the euro caused Italy’s cost of living to skyrocket. Rafaelli says, “After the euro currency took over, I think prices of all goods have increased around 50 percent. That’s crazy, but it’s a reality.”

Skateboards are no exception, making it difficult for the local skateboarders to stay equipped with product, or even to patronize local companies. Bernardi explains: “It’s quite expensive. A complete skateboard costs around 200 euros; to rent a flat costs about 500 euros a month. A basic worker gets about 700 euros a month, and skate shoes cost around 100 to 150 euros.”

This jump in price has even driven Italian skateboarders to seek out less-expensive alternatives, sacrificing quality for affordability. Rafaelli explains that Italian skateboarders have the same big-box alternatives that skaters in the U.S. have.

“That’s why younger kids prefer spending 59 euros to buy a fake deck at the local sports center.” Marras agrees that younger kids may not be able to afford a real skateboard, but he doesn’t feel that these “fake” skateboards are a significant threat to the ‘core market. “A lot of the younger kids cannot afford to spend or their parents won’t buy them a 200-euro skateboard. But they can buy a blank setup at 150 to 160 euros.”

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news for Italian skateboard entrepreneurs. With skateboarding’s popularity increasing across Europe, many Italian companies are seeing prosperity. “The market exploded,” explains Rafaelli. “In the beginning we had to look for customers-now we have to decide who to sell our stuff to.”

Marras has opened a second branch of Dreamstore this summer in Sesto Florentino, and a third is in the works. This increase in business is not only a testimonial to Italy’s steadily growing skateboard presence, it also illustrates how skateboarding in Europe is coming together-thanks in part to international trade shows. Rafaelli adds, “Right now we are selling to Japan, Belgium, Holland, England, Germany, and Austria, and we are getting ready for our first ispo next February in Munich, Germany.”

Despite the evident prosperity, the importance of credibility and integrity for the longevity and success of a skateboarding brand is understood across all borders. “Skateboarding is a very cyclic market, and now in Italy we have finally reached the highest peak over here,” says Rafaelli. “It’s important we don’t burn our image selling everything to everyone. A good segment is what guarantees long life to any radical brand.”

With magazines, companies, and an ever-increasing number of skateboarders, Italy is leaving its boot prints all over skateboarding’s global map. A nascent scene that’s only now beginning to branch out to the rest of Europe, Italy is sure to produce some of the world’s next great skaters.

s is not only a testimonial to Italy’s steadily growing skateboard presence, it also illustrates how skateboarding in Europe is coming together-thanks in part to international trade shows. Rafaelli adds, “Right now we are selling to Japan, Belgium, Holland, England, Germany, and Austria, and we are getting ready for our first ispo next February in Munich, Germany.”

Despite the evident prosperity, the importance of credibility and integrity for the longevity and success of a skateboarding brand is understood across all borders. “Skateboarding is a very cyclic market, and now in Italy we have finally reached the highest peak over here,” says Rafaelli. “It’s important we don’t burn our image selling everything to everyone. A good segment is what guarantees long life to any radical brand.”

With magazines, companies, and an ever-increasing number of skateboarders, Italy is leaving its boot prints all over skateboarding’s global map. A nascent scene that’s only now beginning to branch out to the rest of Europe, Italy is sure to produce some of the world’s next great skaters.