To hear some people talk, you’d think that blank skateboards are the cadavers of this industry. Critics say that without a graphic, a skateboard lacks soul, it has no spark behind the eyes. They argue that blank boards have no personality. To the more vivified members of the anti-blank brigade, blanks are worse than mere cadavers, they seem to represent the brain-eating zombies of the Living Dead movies¿monsters that undercut the rest of the living, breathing, and healthy industry, and suck the marrow out of it; they’ve come to rip skateboarding’s cranial cap off and suck out its brains as it twitches in a spasm of death convulsions. Well, that might be putting it a bit strongly, I admit¿but just a bit. After hearing anti-blank proponents argue, some began to sound like a lynch mob running for the rope.

The pro-blank brigaders profess to pass the savings of a non-graphic board directly on to the skater, and popular brand names like Powell claim they’re squeezing the non-brand-name blanks out. In a recent TransWorld SKATEboarding Business poll, U.S. skateboard retailers attributed 22 percent of their total deck sales to blanks. Some companies claim they want that money to go to companies that invest in skateboarding’s future¿the name brands that support teams.

Whatever side of the fence you stand on, the most influential voices in this argument have cast their vote: skate shops like blanks. They handle blanks much as they do graphic boards, by carrying a variety of different companies: Beer City, Consolidated, Inhouse, Madrid, Powell, and Zorlac, to name a few.

Blanks have also nudged up into the lower ranks of name association as well. Five or ten years ago a blank was a generic shape, a generic concave (“generic” often translating into “crappy”), and shops usually only carried one or two shapes. As a serious skater you didn’t ride a blank¿it was like eating generic peanut butter instead of the one with a colorful smiling squirrel on it that just doesn’t taste as good.

At first you might have ridden a blank, especially if you lost the fight at the skate shop with Mom, who didn’t understand the concept of company names, pro skaters, and graphics. So your first¿and perhaps second (but no more after that)¿board may have been a blank because it didn’t matter at that point in time, you didn’t know what was the proper deck to get, and you hadn’t latched onto a favorite skater yet. You weren’t familiar with what the “in” brand was at that time.

But blank decks always had a few steady subscribers; they were usually very weird and did odd things like drool out the sides of their mouths or complained about the secret testing the government performed under their houses. But if you continued skating and read the magazines, you most likely didn’t continue along the blank path.

So what’s different in the late 90s? Well, Powell for one. Powell is dominating the blank market like a bear pounding on a squirrel. One of Powell’s goals is to wipe clear that line in the dirt that separates blanks from full-graphic boards.

Powell is the first of the big name-brand companies in skateboarding’s history to aggressively court, and they hope overtake, the blank market. Powell wants to keep the blank dollars in the industry rather than watch them being siphoned out by no-name wood shops.

George Powell says he has always studied the market and kept up-to-date with surveys and trends. A mere three years ago he was vehemently opposed to blanks; he wanted to find a way to rid the market of those evil seven-plies. But he soon discovered blanks are more deeply rooted than a plantar wart and seem here to stay. He could handle that¿it was the manufacturers of these blanks that he had problems with. Blanks have notoriously been just that: blank. No identity, no assurance of quality, no one to complain to when they delaminated or broke. And anne could make them¿skateboard experience or not. In many cases, any old wood shop would easily whip together a shape, press some wood, and sell directly to shops. Some shops have even carried blanks manufactured in someone’s garage.

Quality is a topic that continues to pop up whenever blanks are discussed. Most of the well-known skateboard companies that manufacture blank decks claim they make the best boards. They’re also quick to offer a crash course in physics, wood density, and intricate skateboard manufacturing equipment that only an engineer could comprehend. But a general complaint from companies, whether they are for or against blanks, is the presumed poor quality of no-name blank decks.

In 1996, Powell decided blanks were a viable part of the industry, that they should be manufactured with the same quality control invested in graphic brand-name boards, and those dollars should circulate back into the industry. “I looked at the market and went, ‘Damn, 25 and in some cases 50 percent of the skateboard market is blank boards,’” says George Powell. “And it’s all being had by some wood shop that doesn’t advertise in the magazines, doesn’t have a team, doesn’t support the industry¿doesn’t do anything at all.”

It is only fair to point out that while a majority of blank manufacturers don’t support the industry, there are some brand-name companies who, like Powell, make full-graphic boards, advertise in magazines, have teams, and also offer blank boards.

Powell’s strategy is to come out with two different levels of decks. They don’t carry “blanks”¿they call them “Mini Logos.” These boards actually do have a small logo on the bottom, and come packaged like their full-graphic boards. If anything, Mini Logos are sort of a hybrid between graphic boards and blanks, and now Powell offers its pro shapes in the Mini Logo scheme. Despite all of that, Powell has priced these boards to take on the generic blanks, pitting his brand-name Mini Logos against the generic boards.

So, like that old Tom and Jerry cartoon where Tom joins the Three Mouseketeers in the end, George Powell reasons that if you can’t beat them, join them¿take over the blank market, and give skaters a quality deck from a company they are familiar with. According to skate shops on each side of the Pacific (especially in foreign markets where imported skateboards are outrageously expensive) George’s plan is coming to fruition¿Powell Mini Logos by far outsell all other blank boards.

Victor Vasquez at Val Surf in Southern California says that with blanks, the Powell name makes the difference: “Kids like to have that name brand there.” Val Surf sells Powell Mini Logos for $29.95, whereas a full-graphic deck sells for $49.95. Mini Logos are not a hard sell if the consumer isn’t too picky, or if a parent is paying for the board.

In Richmond, B.C., Canada, The Boarding House sells three different brands of blanks: Powell, Zorlac, and Beer City. John Remondo, The Boarding House’s owner and manager, said Powell is the easiest sell because they “actually advertise in the magazines.” With Mini Logos, kids are already aware of what they want before they enter the store, while unadvertised blanks depend on the luck of the draw.

Remondo has witnessed the blank market mimic the full-graphic market. With the three blank brands he carries, each comes in at least eight shapes, and each company uses a different concave. He has customers that prefer Beer City blanks, or Zorlac, or Powell because of the particular design properties of each brand. Remondo goes deep into blanks because he, like other foreign skate shops, has to contend with steep import duties and currency values. In Canada, a full-graphic deck sells for 79 dollars (Canadian), while a blank goes for 45 dollars (Canadian).

Such price disparities are leading more and more skaters, particularly in foreign markets, to buy blanks. Completes offer the easiest sell¿if a parent can come in and see a skateboard with everything they need at a significantly cheaper price, that’s money in the bank for the shops. Some skaters are stretching their dollars between blanks and graphic decks, rotating to a blank every other month or so. A big consumer of blanks are the Second Coming skaters who dropped skating for a few years and want to get back into it. Less concerned about trends, they scoop up the cheaper blanks. With brand names entering the blank market, it seems that the only real difference between their blanks and full-graphic decks is the ink and price.

This is where integrity comes into the equation and begins doing gymnastics all over the industry. Richard Novak, owner of NHS Inc. (makers of Bullet, Creature, Independent, Krux, OJs, Road Rider, Santa Cruz, and Santa Cruz Classics), was there at the beginning of organized skateboarding in the early 70s. A little-known fact concerning the skateboards you buy and sell: the price didn’t come about in any fluky, lackadaisical way. Novak was one of the creators of the first precision-bearing wheel, the Road Rider 2, and had at that time worked out a carefully designed pricing structure adopted by the fledgling industry. According to Novak, this wasn’t implemented just to make them rich (though some of them did, for a while, make out pretty well), but it took into account the margins necessary to support a team of skaters, put on demos, advertise, invest in research and development, and provide for other needs they felt were necessary in supporting and advancing skateboarding and the skateboard industry.

But that was the 70s, and in this business the 70s are most famous for the dramatic boom and gory death of skateboarding¿a cycle that would repeat itself ten years later. While the skateboard industry resurrected itself in the early 80s and companies slowly staggered to their feet, equipment prices hardly changed. Taken together, inflation, wage increases, and rising overhead and material expenses all managed to shrink profits like Dad doing the laundry. Novak estimates that his margins shrink two to three percent each year because skateboard prices have remained constant.

And then came blanks. They’ve been there all along but have only become a force in the last few years. Novak dislikes blanks because they tug at already strained margins. Yes, he agrees, a company can make money selling blanks at a reduced cost, but not enough to support the industry in a way that it’s accustomed to. Another way to express Novak’s opinion is the old parable: don’t crap in your own nest¿or something like that.

Novak is standing behind his word, too. NHS’s wood shop is perfectly capable of producing thousands of blanks a month, and Novak has been advised that, from a financial standpoint, pumping out some blanks would bring in the dinero. But, he says, “Why destroy the industry? You’re going to have some fat guy like me sitting with a cigar, pushing 100,000 decks to Sport Mart or someplace because I can make a nickel a deck.”

Looking into the future, Novak thinks that skate shops are unthinkingly “messing in their nests” as well. If blanks continue to enjoy their current popularity, he contends manufacturing will eventually price itself out of the U.S. and head offshore to countries like China. If this happens, it’ll resemble the snowboard market: you can now buy a decent beginner’s complete snowboard at massive chain stores that order high quantities at reduced prices ‘core retail shops can’t compete with.

Powell answers that concern by supporting a team of skaters, doing demos, and (George hopes) creating a demand for a quality blank. Other companies that deal with blanks, like Beer City and Consolidated, also sponsor their own teams. Time will tell if this experiment will survive. Because Powell’s Mini Logo boards are a fairly recent innovation, there are many peoplletes offer the easiest sell¿if a parent can come in and see a skateboard with everything they need at a significantly cheaper price, that’s money in the bank for the shops. Some skaters are stretching their dollars between blanks and graphic decks, rotating to a blank every other month or so. A big consumer of blanks are the Second Coming skaters who dropped skating for a few years and want to get back into it. Less concerned about trends, they scoop up the cheaper blanks. With brand names entering the blank market, it seems that the only real difference between their blanks and full-graphic decks is the ink and price.

This is where integrity comes into the equation and begins doing gymnastics all over the industry. Richard Novak, owner of NHS Inc. (makers of Bullet, Creature, Independent, Krux, OJs, Road Rider, Santa Cruz, and Santa Cruz Classics), was there at the beginning of organized skateboarding in the early 70s. A little-known fact concerning the skateboards you buy and sell: the price didn’t come about in any fluky, lackadaisical way. Novak was one of the creators of the first precision-bearing wheel, the Road Rider 2, and had at that time worked out a carefully designed pricing structure adopted by the fledgling industry. According to Novak, this wasn’t implemented just to make them rich (though some of them did, for a while, make out pretty well), but it took into account the margins necessary to support a team of skaters, put on demos, advertise, invest in research and development, and provide for other needs they felt were necessary in supporting and advancing skateboarding and the skateboard industry.

But that was the 70s, and in this business the 70s are most famous for the dramatic boom and gory death of skateboarding¿a cycle that would repeat itself ten years later. While the skateboard industry resurrected itself in the early 80s and companies slowly staggered to their feet, equipment prices hardly changed. Taken together, inflation, wage increases, and rising overhead and material expenses all managed to shrink profits like Dad doing the laundry. Novak estimates that his margins shrink two to three percent each year because skateboard prices have remained constant.

And then came blanks. They’ve been there all along but have only become a force in the last few years. Novak dislikes blanks because they tug at already strained margins. Yes, he agrees, a company can make money selling blanks at a reduced cost, but not enough to support the industry in a way that it’s accustomed to. Another way to express Novak’s opinion is the old parable: don’t crap in your own nest¿or something like that.

Novak is standing behind his word, too. NHS’s wood shop is perfectly capable of producing thousands of blanks a month, and Novak has been advised that, from a financial standpoint, pumping out some blanks would bring in the dinero. But, he says, “Why destroy the industry? You’re going to have some fat guy like me sitting with a cigar, pushing 100,000 decks to Sport Mart or someplace because I can make a nickel a deck.”

Looking into the future, Novak thinks that skate shops are unthinkingly “messing in their nests” as well. If blanks continue to enjoy their current popularity, he contends manufacturing will eventually price itself out of the U.S. and head offshore to countries like China. If this happens, it’ll resemble the snowboard market: you can now buy a decent beginner’s complete snowboard at massive chain stores that order high quantities at reduced prices ‘core retail shops can’t compete with.

Powell answers that concern by supporting a team of skaters, doing demos, and (George hopes) creating a demand for a quality blank. Other companies that deal with blanks, like Beer City and Consolidated, also sponsor their own teams. Time will tell if this experiment will survive. Because Powell’s Mini Logo boards are a fairly recent innovation, there are many people in the industry waiting to see if this program will be able to support itself in the long run. George Powell doesn’t seem too worried, and points out that his Mini Logo boards sales are double that of Powell’s graphic boards.

Even though the skateboard industry primarily markets to the U.S. consumer, a deciding factor in the future of blanks may hinge on foreign sales. In the 80s, Novak says he used to have up to 80 percent of the market in Europe, but thanks to blanks he’s now lucky to have ten percent. “In Europe there is not a brand board on the streets in the towns we went into,” says Novak. “Blank boards¿is it cool for that to be in the marketplace? My answer is absolutely not. It doesn’t do anybody any good except the guy who’s pressing the wood. In the long run you’re gonna lose, because there’s nothing there. There’s not enough margin.”

In Australia, John Hurren of JHS Distribution sells heaps of Powell Mini Logo decks. Full-graphic skateboard decks can cost upward of 130 Australian dollars, and a Powell Mini Logo sells for roughly 70 Australian dollars; you can get three Mini Logo decks for the price of two full-graphic decks. “If blanks weren’t available,” says Hurren of the Australian market, “there’d be a lot less skating.”

In the end it seems to all come down to integrity, and whoever sticks their hands in that malleable concept seems to come back with very different results. Should we support the time-honored (and proven) price structure that supports the industry? Or should we give the skater on the street a no-frills quality deck and a lower price?

The majority of skateboard companies’ attitudes toward blanks are sort of like a vegetarian’s to a butcher shop, while skate shops and a significant percentage of skaters seem perfectly happy with the lower-priced¿and in some cases lower-quality¿boards. But as skaters continue to identify with the many talented and diverse pros and companies now putting their names on skateboards, there will always be a desire to put that graphic under their feet. That’s one thing generic blanks will never have going for them¿no spark behind the eye, no soul …

But then again, a friend of mine once worked at a mortuary in Texas, and you wouldn’t believe the stuff people wanted to do with the cadavers there. They even offered him money.

eople in the industry waiting to see if this program will be able to support itself in the long run. George Powell doesn’t seem too worried, and points out that his Mini Logo boards sales are double that of Powell’s graphic boards.

Even though the skateboard industry primarily markets to the U.S. consumer, a deciding factor in the future of blanks may hinge on foreign sales. In the 80s, Novak says he used to have up to 80 percent of the market in Europe, but thanks to blanks he’s now lucky to have ten percent. “In Europe there is not a brand board on the streets in the towns we went into,” says Novak. “Blank boards¿is it cool for that to be in the marketplace? My answer is absolutely not. It doesn’t do anybody any good except the guy who’s pressing the wood. In the long run you’re gonna lose, because there’s nothing there. There’s not enough margin.”

In Australia, John Hurren of JHS Distribution sells heaps of Powell Mini Logo decks. Full-graphic skateboard decks can cost upward of 130 Australian dollars, and a Powell Mini Logo sells for roughly 70 Australian dollars; you can get three Mini Logo decks for the price of two full-graphic decks. “If blanks weren’t available,” says Hurren of the Australian market, “there’d be a lot less skating.”

In the end it seems to all come down to integrity, and whoever sticks their hands in that malleable concept seems to come back with very different results. Should we support the time-honored (and proven) price structure that supports the industry? Or should we give the skater on the street a no-frills quality deck and a lower price?

The majority of skateboard companies’ attitudes toward blanks are sort of like a vegetarrian’s to a butcher shop, while skate shops and a significant percentage of skaters seem perfectly happy with the lower-priced¿and in some cases lower-quality¿boards. But as skaters continue to identify with the many talented and diverse pros and companies now putting their names on skateboards, there will always be a desire to put that graphic under their feet. That’s one thing generic blanks will never have going for them¿no spark behind the eye, no soul …

But then again, a friend of mine once worked at a mortuary in Texas, and you wouldn’t believe the stuff people wanted to do with the cadavers there. They even offered him money.