It was a typical sunny California day back in 1977 when Dale Smith was preparing for his slalom run against an all-star who had traveled from Japan for the contest. Smith never reached the finish line–not on his board, at least. He may have bounced past it after clipping the edge of a cone mid-race and doing his imitation of a gymnast with no depth perception. His face, his shoulders, his arms, his legs–you name it, and it skipped off the ground at one time or another during Smith’s slam. He was so wrecked, his wounds so gory, that Bruce Logan said afterward it looked as if he had sausages tied to his body. From then on he hasn’t been able to shake the nickname: Sausage Man. Is it any wonder that a decade later he began developing his own brand of safety equipment?
Smith started making recaps for the popular Rector brand of kneepads in 1984. The recaps were innovative in that they featured an extended section below the knee that also protected the pad. They sold well, and he branched off into designing kneepads. He rented a sewing machine and taught himself how to sew different types of stitches and cut proper patterns. Smith also dissected every kneepad on the market to see what they were using for materials. He found a foam that he felt had better memory–after impact it would rebound back to its original thickness. Smith also experimented with materials like neoprene when most pads were using elastic, which could stretch out.
By 1989 he had a successful design and was producing handmade pads for the likes of Tony Hawk and Joe Johnson, among other top vert pros.
But Smith had been tinkering with other safety equipment at the same time. After recaps he designed and sold shoelace protectors, fingerless thumb gloves (the thumb was full and the rest of the fingers were cut off halfway), and a neoprene horseshoe sleeve that was worn under the kneepad and had extra padding around the kneecap.
The problem with the kneepads, even though at the time most vert pros considered them among the best for skating, was that they retailed for 80 to 90 bucks. By the time Smith had them produced in large quantities (he’d contracted the work out), it was the early 1990s, about the time the world decided skating wasn?t too cool anymore. What skaters were left weren’t riding ramps, either–they hit the street with no pads and size 40 pants. Smith’s timing couldn’t have been worse.
He put the pad manufacturing into hibernation for a few years to cut costs, but this is a guy who stuck with skating through the first mass depression at the end of the 1970s.
Smith started skating in the 1960s on clay wheels and bounced around on a variety of teams before becoming famous as a Hobie rider. When he stopped competing, he helped design products for the company and trained the amateur team in the late 70s. He eventually hooked up with Eddie Elguera and worked with him when Elguera switched teams to Variflex. Smith thought up the frontside rock and roll and instructed Eddie how to do it. “It was just like breaking down how to walk or run,” he says. “I had taught the amateur team how to do handstands and one-footed wheelies by breaking the maneuver down into steps, so I knew how to teach skaters.”
With his rich background in skating, Smith still loves being involved with the sport. He iced a deal with Vision skateboards in the mid 90s, and now his full line of knee, elbow, and helmet gear is distributed by Select Distribution. The famous Smith kneepads are now available in three different styles and prices, and the only Smith innovation that didn’t survive was the shoelace protector–not a bad track record.