Crunch Time For The American Dream

By Steven Guisinger

Skateboarding started in the late 50s with roller-skate wheels nailed to a piece of wood. As it caught on, skateboards became available through toy stores, but the products weren’t very good¿the people making them weren’t the people riding them. Time passed, and skateboarders began making their own boards designed for their own needs. Sporting-goods chain stores balked when skateboarders looked to them as a way of distributing their products. You can imagine the difficulty skateboard companies faced with a quality product and no means to make it available to the general public.

Over time, with the help of skateboard magazines, small skateboard shops started popping up around the country. Shop owners were in it because they loved the sport¿there was never a gold mine in selling skateboards. They helped promote the sport by putting on contests and working with companies to have demos. Snowboard companies were also supported by these skate shops, since sporting-goods and ski chain stores would have nothing to do with them, either.

The ‘core shops struggled through many years, promoting the outcast sports that were widely banned or even illegal. Finally in 1997, after 40 years, California Governor Pete Wilson signed a bill limiting the liability incurred in maintaining public skateboard parks. And just as snowboarding has been pulled into the Winter Olympics, who do we see over our shoulders but the same big sporting-goods companies and their channels of distribution who wouldn’t help us when we needed it the most. Now, the business is about to be shifted into the hands of corporate money machines eager to capitalize on the growth we created.

The battle to legalize skateboarding finally appears to be won, and now large sporting-goods companies stand poised to enter the marketplace with no blood on their swords. They’ve introduced lines of skateboard shoes and snowboard gear, and some are also trying to legitimize themselves in the skateboard market by paying pro skaters to endorse them and by running commercials on network television that generate sympathy for the plight of these athletes.

So where were these sporting-goods companies when skateboarding was on the verge of extinction? They’ve only recently sponsored contests and riders, and have yet to push for public skateboard parks. It is flattering to see skateboarding and snowboarding being accepted as legitimate sports by large sporting-goods companies. We are also the biggest proponents of free enterprise¿it has allowed our businesses to thrive. But these markets were created by skateboarding and snowboarding companies who fought a long battle to gain recognition. We oppose the idea that large sporting-goods companies can buy their way into the market. They will not only steal the soul of a 25-year-old industry, but will have a significant effect on the current structure of our businesses.

Today, the skateboard and snowboard industries are made up of approximately 500 companies and a couple thousand specialty shops. There is a tight bond between skateboarders, snowboarders, and the manufacturers and specialty shops that developed over the years the industry was treated like an outcast. Many of these people don’t realize that the very existence of skateboard and snowboard companies and their ‘core shops is the result of large sporting-goods companies and their distribution channels that wanted nothing to do with our sports as we grew our industries.

In August 1997, Consolidated skateboards launched a campaign to keep sporting-goods companies from monopolizing the skateboard and snowboard markets. The first phase of this campaign emphasized the slogan, “Don’t Do It.” It was designed to discourage young skateboarders and snowboarders from supporting large sporting-goods companies now attempting to enter the market with welll-funded ad campaigns. The second phase of the campaign features the original theme with the additional slogan, “I Won’t.”

If you’re a skater, snowboarder, or earn a living by being involved in the skateboard and snowboard markets, and you let a ball-sport company waltz in and take over this industry because they’ve got the big bucks, you’re helping to destroy its soul. If your local skateboard or snowboard company is bought by some suit-and-tie who has never even stood on a board of any kind, and you’re still thinking about buying their products, Don’t Do It!

Steven Guisinger is founder and owner of Consolidated Skateboards.

Comments presented in Sounding Board are the opinions of the author, and not necessarily those of TransWorld Media. Opposing viewpoints are welcome. Write to: TransWorld SKATEboarding Business, 353 Airport Rd., Oceanside, CA 92054; or FAX to: (760) 722-0653.