Blowing Up Baker

Reynolds and company cultivate gutter-chic brand

“Most kids are smarter than people give them credit for.”¿J. Strickland

In one episode of the classic comedy show SCTV, there’s a skit where two hillbillies sit around blowing stuff up. “That blown up real good,” they chuckle after a massive explosion. If they were still around, right now they’d be looking at Baker Skateboards making the same comment.

If you’ve cracked open a skate mag lately or scored copy of Baker 2G, you’re aware of the Piss Drunx tornado that’s sweeping the industry. It’s hard to think of another company that charged so hard out of the gate. The team harasses people, breaks shit, skates damn well, and brags about drinking gallons and gallons of booze. A lot of distributors and shops refuse to carry their product¿naturally, the kids seem to love it. Whether you think their ideology is corroding the morals of the skate world or not is another argument, but nobody can deny that the company is quickly finding its niche.

J. Strickland is Baker’s team manager, coach, art director, filmer, editor, and de-facto leader. When asked how Baker managed to blow up like it has, his answer was short and simple: “People don’t listen to skaters. We do.”

Strickland still hits spots around L.A. on a regular basis, but he refers to himself as a “fat pile” when skating. His basic no-frills approach to marketing Baker stems from the fact that he keeps himself firmly lodged in the gutter, so to say, with his ear chafing the concrete. Like many skaters, he’s self-taught on the computer, and like many companies, he waits until the last minute to create his ads. “They never tell me when ads are due,” he says.

Strickland also came up with the idea to have an unmanned trade-show booth that was strewn with trash and fenced in so you couldn’t walk in if you wanted to. “Most kids are smarter than people give them credit for,” Strickland says when asked why he thinks kids are so obsessed with a bunch of drunk skaters who can throw down hammers, as opposed to clean-cut skaters who can throw down hammers. “We Baker don’t lie,” he says. “They the kids know Andrew goes to a bar and drinks. We talk about it, and kids can relate to that honesty.”

It’s not just honesty kids relate to; it’s also the personalities of the Baker team. They’re a ghetto Bones Brigade¿they don’t like contests, and they wear dirty, tight, shredded clothes that clash with the spiffy-clean jock image some skaters present. Their personalities are so huge that they are easily identifiable: Jim Greco, Jeff Lenoce, and Dustin Dollin are the punkers; Andrew Reynolds is the tortured owner; Knox is the brat; and J.’s the “fat pile,” as he puts it. The personality-stripped skater of the 1990s is gone, and skate fans seem to be demanding entertaining characters now. Baker has hit that nerve with a section of the skating public.

How long Baker’s success will last is anybody’s guess. The grassroots approach to skating will be hard to maintain, a problem even Strickland sees. His mail used to arrive through the slot in the door in a neat little pile, but now it fills a postal bulk box. “I read all the mail, and sometimes I’ll hook up the kids if they’re fans for life,” he says, adding that he sometimes mails kids photocopied pictures of the team chilling and goofing around.

Strickland seems to honestly care for his team¿just not their livers. He calls younger Baker riders “my kids” and talks to them about looking ahead and planning for long-term careers rather than the quick cash in. He’s not afraid to act as a de-facto agent when negotiating on their behalf with a shoe or clothing company.

But he’s hanging on hard to a ghetto dream. Even though Blitz distribution reports being besieged with orders for Baker product, he still maintains the Baker “office” on Hollywood’s Sunset Blvd. “Yeah, I have to share the bathroom with other offices, and crack heads sleep on the sttoop all the time,” he says. “But, I wanted to be far away from that corporation feel.”