Venture invented the modern street truck.

I was watching TV the other day and am ashamed to say that I paused on one of those wrestling programs. I’m not sure if my brain slowed down and my channel-changing finger stopped twitching because of the girls running around in leather outfits or because I didn’t want to miss the always-stimulating smash-somebody-over-the-head-with-a-folding-chair routine. Regardless, I was sucked in. Double checking to make sure my roommates weren’t home, I then placed my autographed copy of The Complete Works Of Plato by my side so I could switch off the wrestling and pretend I was reading some highbrow ink if they showed up.

It was a brutal match. Two muscleheads in spandex beat the crap out of each other. Over the ropes, kicks to the groins, knee slaps to the nose, flipping jump kicks,they did it all. It was an exciting match. The obvious winner slammed the other in the head and pinned him. It was over. But suddenly, on the late two count, a manager leaped into the ring and sucker-punched the wrestler who had almost tasted victory. Then they all went at it, exchanging cartoon punches and kicks until a hillbilly-looking guy wearing overalls came running down the aisle and knocked all of them down with a devastating dropkick.

I should have been working instead of burning brain cells watching grown men hit each other. The editor of this magazine had assigned me a story on Venture trucks, and I was already late. But I quickly realized that I was working. Watching wrestling qualifies as research because, as everybody knows, wrestlers are metaphors for truck companies.

Slip back to the 80s (bypass the XXXL T-shirts and size-40 jeans), throw Independent, Tracker, and Gullwing into the ring, and you have your wrestling match,the most popular truck companies in the world punching it out for the top spot. But just as with the televised match, as you went deeper into the decade, another challenger came running down the aisle to dropkick the competition. And while Venture doesn’t wear overalls, it did (and still do) deliver a devastating blow that shook up the truck market.

Right Place, Right Time, Right Truck

The truck gods smiled down on the small truck company called Venture and threw them a bone. Eric Swenson and Fausto Vitello, the man behind Independent, had been working on an inexpensive truck that would be plain and simple (no anodized colors) but have the design qualities of a higher-priced truck. At the same time, skating was evolving at mutant speed, freestyle and vertical skating smashed together, and out of the big bang came street skating. While the established brands offered your standard-sized freestyle truck and vert truck, street skaters hungered for boards and trucks that met their needs. Venture released its first truck right when this all went down and became known for producing the first “street” truck. The simpler truck with a rougher appearance perfectly mirrored street-skating’s attitude. “Right from the get-go, we geared toward the street team,” says Keith Cochrane, an original teamrider who became co-owner and team manager a few months after Venture started. He also heads up domestic and international sales and continues to oversee development.

Venture charged out of the gate harder than any other truck company had before.”It did better than anybody expected,” Cochrane continues. “When it first started it was meant to be a low-end truck, a cheap truck,something affordable for kids.”

Venture started so underground that the company didn’t even advertise. “It was a side project,” says Cochrane. “At first it had no thrust behind it, no advertising,just an economical truck.” But even a lack of marketing couldn’t stop the kids from noticing. Venture scored a major coup when Mark Gonzales decided to ride for them. It’s a big deal when arguably the most popular street skater in theorld is riding for a pricepoint truck company. If Venture’s street reputation wasn’t locked in yet, Gonz’s first Venture ad,when the company did finally start advertising,cemented it.

Venture’s success was a by-product of listening to and feeling what the new breed of skaters wanted, and going with it rather than trying to second-guess the market. “Venture just sort of fell into the street category by osmosis,” says Cochrane. “It wasn’t like it was really targeted.”

Even though Venture’s first rider was Eddie Reategui, a vert skater, the team quickly bulked up with some of the elite street skaters of the day: Jason Lee, Mark Gonzales, Ray Barbee, Sean Sheffey, and Mike Vallely. These riders were major forces in shaping street skating, and they gave the company a gritty street legitimacy that other polished truck companies couldn’t easily downgrade to.

Steve Rocco was initially in charge of Venture’s promotions, and when the company finally did start advertising a few months after its launch, he dragged the chaotic atmosphere of street skating into Venture’s marketing. He derailed from the traditional approach and created innovative ads like the infamous “Win a day skating with Gonz” contest.

Everything gelled like a masterpiece of ghetto art. Because Venture didn’t have as much to lose as larger companies like Tracker, Indy, or Gullwing, it could take more chances. Venture adjusted to the mercurial street market much more quickly than the big boys by mimicking street skating,gritty and cheap with an evolving sense of identity. Rocco and the team built up that personality until Venture became known as the street truck. By then there was hardly anything but street skating going on. Freestyle went the way of the hula hoop, and vert terrain at skateparks all over the world was becoming increasingly rare.

Coming out with the right image at the right time is one thing, climbing to the top of the truck mountain and staying there is another. Cochrane understood that to cement Venture’s place in the market, he had to stick his ear to the ground, more specifically to the famous ledges of San Francisco’s Embarcadero, the street skating center of the universe during the early 90s. Street skaters had started riding boards that barely qualified as twigs, with wheels so small they were practically handled with tweezers. Because of the new micro equipment, a newer lower-profile truck was needed. Not just another cheaper truck, or one that turned differently, but a completely original design,the higher-profile trucks simply sucked when you stuck them on a skinny board with tiny wheels. “The market changed,” says Cochrane. “When things change in skateboarding, it happens overnight.”

Zen And The Art Of Truck Design

With the need for a truck that would fit the smaller equipment for street skaters, Cochrane and Swenson got busy with designs. They didn’t run to MIT for a physics professor, though. Instead they took the Bedrock approach and started making crude models themselves. Was it unscientific? “Totally,” Cochrane laughs. “We worked with a lot of Bondo and clay.” They approached the design of the truck with skateboarding as a whole in mind, rather than from a sterile geometric perspective.

It took them a few months to perfect a lower-profile truck that would work. “It’s really hard to make the geometry right when you pull it all in,” Cochrane says. “To keep the truck function so it can turn and keep it low was a difficult challenge.”

But they did it, and in 1992 Venture released the Featherlight, the first low-profile truck specifically aimed at the street-skating market. “When that hit the market it went crazy,” Cochrane says with a laugh. “It was what everybody wanted. Jovontae Turner and all the old street kids at Embarcadero said, ‘Hey, man, we want a lower truck, we’re riding smaller wheels.’”

Throughout all of Venture’s five major design changes, onething has stayed consistent,the way the company designs and tests the experimental trucks. “We do everything ourselves,” says Cochrane. “We work on patterns, get the look we want, get the geometry, make some tests, see if it works, and go from there.”

It can take anywhere from a few months to a year to get it right. Every version is tested by Cochrane himself, and he won’t be hurried. “We wait until we have all of our ducks in line before we release it,” he says. “You go from pattern to molds,it takes a while. We do permanent molds. It’s an expensive process to do, especially in the United States. We make all our own trucks here in San Francisco.”

Indy’s Little Brother?

One of the reasons Venture has been able to maintain a high-quality truck at a cheaper price is that it shares the foundry that Independent started. Even though it’s expensive to design and cast trucks, Venture had a bit of a head start, drawing from Vitello’s experience with Indy. But they are, Cochrane stresses, completely different companies. “I don’t work for Independent,” he states when asked about the connections between the two companies. But by sharing a foundry with Indy, Venture benefits from the quality-control system established by Independent,from the design and casting of the trucks all the way to the shipping. Cochrane credits much of Venture’s success to this tight system: “We don’t have delivery hiccups,we deliver every day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year.”

Along with the shared foundry comes a sense of brotherly competition between Venture and Indy. According to the TransWorld SKATEboarding Business Retailer Surveys, which have tracked popular brands since 1996, Venture has maintained a consistent second place in the truck market,impressive considering their humble roots. Independent has consistently captured first place. Cochrane seems to have no ill will toward Indy, and constantly gives them respect, but his competitive side flares up when talk turns to who really owns the number-one spot. “I always see stuff in TransWorld Business and everywhere about Independent being number one, but it’s kind of a farce,” he says. “Call Reggie Barnes at Eastern Skateboard Supply, South Shore, ASAP Distribution in Germany, and all the biggest distributors in the world,Venture is number one. I know how many trucks they make in the foundry,they make more Ventures than anything else.”

I called Eastern Skateboard Supply’s sales department and spoke with Hunter Davis, who said that Indy and Venture are generally neck and neck for the top spot.

And Now?

For the past few years, Venture has been in a comfortable position that could easily make them sluggish and lazy. The company controls a massive amount of the market, which can be dangerous because it’s easy to lose market share when you have a sure thing, instead of taking chances with innovations. If you look back a decade or two, you’ll see many examples of companies that once defined innovation, only to turn into conservative machines afraid to make risky moves once they grew popular. But Cochrane says he maintains his openness to skaters’ suggestions, rather than trying to dictate what they want. “We’re in a youth market,” he says, “and things change every day. My team knows what they want. They have more to offer than most people think. Unless you keep your ear and nose to the street, things will pass you by. I still skate,Greg Carroll still skates, my team manager still skates. We’re all out there.”

Venture isn’t ready to be caught unaware,it’s still trying to pin the other guy. Cochrane and gang have never lost that underdog feel and remain alert, always scanning, ready for some new hillbilly truck company to come running out of nowhere to ambush them.

enture’s five major design changes, onething has stayed consistent,the way the company designs and tests the experimental trucks. “We do everything ourselves,” says Cochrane. “We work on patterns, get the look we want, get the geometry, make some tests, see if it works, and go from there.”

It can take anywhere from a few months to a year to get it right. Every version is tested by Cochrane himself, and he won’t be hurried. “We wait until we have all of our ducks in line before we release it,” he says. “You go from pattern to molds,it takes a while. We do permanent molds. It’s an expensive process to do, especially in the United States. We make all our own trucks here in San Francisco.”

Indy’s Little Brother?

One of the reasons Venture has been able to maintain a high-quality truck at a cheaper price is that it shares the foundry that Independent started. Even though it’s expensive to design and cast trucks, Venture had a bit of a head start, drawing from Vitello’s experience with Indy. But they are, Cochrane stresses, completely different companies. “I don’t work for Independent,” he states when asked about the connections between the two companies. But by sharing a foundry with Indy, Venture benefits from the quality-control system established by Independent,from the design and casting of the trucks all the way to the shipping. Cochrane credits much of Venture’s success to this tight system: “We don’t have delivery hiccups,we deliver every day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year.”

Along with the shared foundry comes a sense of brotherly competition between Venture and Indy. According to the TransWorld SKATEboarding Business Retailer Surveys, which have tracked popular brands since 1996, Venture has maintained a consistent second place in the truck market,impressive considering their humble roots. Independent has consistently captured first place. Cochrane seems to have no ill will toward Indy, and constantly gives them respect, but his competitive side flares up when talk turns to who really owns the number-one spot. “I always see stuff in TransWorld Business and everywhere about Independent being number one, but it’s kind of a farce,” he says. “Call Reggie Barnes at Eastern Skateboard Supply, South Shore, ASAP Distribution in Germany, and all the biggest distributors in the world,Venture is number one. I know how many trucks they make in the foundry,they make more Ventures than anything else.”

I called Eastern Skateboard Supply’s sales department and spoke with Hunter Davis, who said that Indy and Venture are generally neck and neck for the top spot.

And Now?

For the past few years, Venture has been in a comfortable position that could easily make them sluggish and lazy. The company controls a massive amount of the market, which can be dangerous because it’s easy to lose market share when you have a sure thing, instead of taking chances with innovations. If you look back a decade or two, you’ll see many examples of companies that once defined innovation, only to turn into conservative machines afraid to make risky moves once they grew popular. But Cochrane says he maintains his openness to skaters’ suggestions, rather than trying to dictate what they want. “We’re in a youth market,” he says, “and things change every day. My team knows what they want. They have more to offer than most people think. Unless you keep your ear and nose to the street, things will pass you by. I still skate,Greg Carroll still skates, my team manager still skates. We’re all out there.”

Venture isn’t ready to be caught unaware,it’s still trying to pin the other guy. Cochrane and gang have never lost that underdog feel and remain alert, always scanning, ready for some new hillbilly truck company to come running out of nowhere to ambush them.