How Social Media and Big Business have Affected Skateboarding
Over the past two decades, skateboarding has evolved and adapted into this 5 billion dollar behemoth of an industry. The roots of skateboarding began in southern California and haven’t really left. Now the sport has grown and expanded all over the world into dozens of countries covering multiple continents.Through the decades, starting in the 70’s skateboarding has experienced style changes, social swings and financial breakthroughs. Focusing on the last 20 years, I’ll give you my take on the history, what I’ve seen change and what I see coming in the future.
Skateboarding started out as a counterculture activity. Starting out in the 70’s, surfers took to skating as an activity the surfers could do to pass the time as they were waiting on the good waves.
Skateboarding has been one of those sports that was typically looked down upon as the skaters/surfers were a typically rougher crowd. Moving quietly skateboarding gained some regional traction as competitions started popping up and. Back in the day competitions were put together in parking lots commonly having very small and few obstacles. This type of skating is what you’d call freestyle riding. In additions to the freestyle riders you had your slalom and pool riders. As time went on into the 80’s, people started skating vert.. Vert skateboarding is the act of riding a skateboard on a skate ramp or other incline and involves the skateboarder transitioning from the horizontal plane to the vertical plane in order to perform skateboarding tricks. You will notice that a common theme with skateboarding that is styles don’t last forever, and the industry is ever changing. Just as freestyle skating went out of style vert skating did as well. After years of the vert competition circuit, things plateaued. At this point, there was no money to be made in skating. Companies couldn’t pay their riders and competitions weren’t driving revenue like they used to. The early Tony Hawk era was dead.
With the brief history lesson done we can now talk about the stage in which the industry is currently in. Street skating. After the blow-up of vert skating the industry was hurting badly. Skaters were done with big ramps and they went rouge and hit the streets. I believe this was in large a part due to the infrastructure needed with vert skating, as well and the skaters bringing it back to when they first started. Street skating is the most popular form of skating currently as it recently transitioned out of the tech era. Street skateboarding is a style of skateboarding that focuses on tricks and transitions found in public places. I will be focusing of the major changes that I’ve seen happen to this industry through my eyes, since I’ve known and payed attention. In order to have a full understanding I’ll need to mention how the companies and the skaters sponsors are set up. A professional skateboarder will have multiple sponsors and multiple companies that they ride for. For each individual part of your skateboard you will have individual sponsors. For example, you typically have an individual sponsor for your deck, trucks, wheels, bearings, griptape, hardware etc. In addition to the physical skateboard, you also have clothing and shoe sponsors. One thing to note is that your deck/shoe sponsors are the most important, as they will typically give you the most value compared to the other products necessary to do the job.
There is two sides to skaters, you have your classic “hardcore” skater that only supports skater-owned skate companies/skate shops. these types off skaters are the most likely to be skeptical of change. On the flip side you have your skaters that have accepted the change and have taken advantage of the opportunities that social media’s and big businesses present. Putting out content as a skater has changed drastically in the last 15 years. Pre-YouTube the only chance you’d get to see new footage or coverage was from magazines and team videos. Putting out a skate video or having a part in a skate video is a huge deal in a skater’s career. Typically teams will take anywhere from 3–7 years you release a movie — meaning in the span of a skater’s career they might only have 3 to 5 proper parts as a professional. Ever since YouTube, that idea of waiting 5 years to put out a part is out the window. You now have teams that focus on YouTube or Instagram that will put out short videos weekly in efforts to gain viewership.
Now that you have a slight understanding of the company’s/industry we can begin. This is the 3 biggest changes I’ve seen in skateboarding, and how social media and big businesses have been a part of it
Big corporations want a piece of the pie
As I mentioned earlier the skateboarding industry has had its ups and downs, but make no mistake the skateboarding industry is here to stay. Being a 5 billions dollar industry there has been huge recent opportunities for major companies like Nike, Adidas and New Balance to make serious money. Nike being the first major publicly traded company they jumped on the band wagon early, releasing their first skate shoe in 2002. Nike immediately offered large contracts to certain pro skaters as they tried to create a team. Nike is currently one of the more widely used skate shoes today. With big name pros like Paul Rodriguez, Eric Koston, Shane O’Neal and Ishod Weir, Nike has cemented their spot and in the industry. In addition to being the main sponsors of the pro contest circuit, they have also created one of the most widely wore skate shoes in the past 10 years. The Janoskis
Other notable big name corporations that have delved into skateboarding is New Balance and Converse. Starting with Converse All-stars, some skaters would argue that the Chuck Taylor’s have always been used for skating, but up until recent years Converse had not official had an affiliation with skateboarding. Just as Nike did, Converse now has their own skate shoe line as well at a pro team. Major shoe brands have had an easier barrier to entry into this industry because of the nature of the equipment you need to skate. To make a shoe skateable you don’t need much more than a flat bottom, good soles and a durable material. Adidas have also put their foot in the door with their own skate shoe line. Adidas has done a good job at keeping their style true, remastering a few classic older designs and fitting them for a skater. For example the Busenitz, which is very similar to the classic Samba’s.
Social media and the personalities that have emerged
YouTube and Instagram have completely changed the game for skateboarding. As I mentioned earlier, there used to be a time where you wouldn’t see any new footage for months and in some cases years. Nowadays you can expect individual teams to put out short videos on a monthly basis, if not more frequently. As well as teams putting out short videos, most skaters will have their own channels that they use to put out personal content though. From personal research and excessive viewing, the more personality you show in your skate videos the better they do on YouTube and Instagram. The most impressive example I have of this would be a skate company out of Cincinnati Ohio, called Revive skateboards.
Andy Schrock is a co-owner and face of Revive skateboards. He has just under 1.5 million subscribers, and has been putting out daily videos for years now. Under Andy is his team of roughly 12 skaters that all have their own successful channels. By breaking the mold and putting out daily content, this team has saturated feeds and proven that content is key. Currently Andy alone has more subscribers than Thrasher Magazine, which is the most widely respected skateboarding media medium.
To put things in perspective, Thrasher is the holy grail of skateboarding, and has been pumping out magazines for the last 36 years. In the eyes of most skater, Thrasher can do no wrong. There have been another successful skateboarding related YouTube channels, but they have always lacked personality. The people at Revive have made skateboarding videos more light-hearted. They do a good job at not taking themselves too seriously, which appeals to a younger demographic that might just be getting into the sport.
In reaction to the recent popularity of Revive skateboarders, team managers have told team skaters to copy Revive and pump out the content.
In addition to YouTube heavy skaters, you also have your skaters that use Instagram, and use it religiously. The same principles that apply to YouTube, they also work for Instagram.
There are certain skaters that do daily stories and have attracted huge audiences. The benefit to having a large following is sponsors and companies will try to market to you, as they recognize the value that comes with a attentive audience. There are plenty of content creators that will receive free product just because have a large following and the chance that they will do a product review. Also Instagram live is a big hit, as lots of skaters will do a Q and A style discussion to create a back and forth dialogue. Tagging is also a hugely benefiting skateboarding as you can easily link to different accounts. The skaters that come to mind as far as killing the Instagram game would be Chris Joslin and Ishod Wair. Chris Joslin was the OG legend of Instagram stories as he was the first skater pumping out minutes of crazy park footage daily. Ishod is also killing the game — Ishod shows a little bit of his personal life as well as his skate-life to his followers on a daily basis.
Instagram has turned into a breeding ground for skate footage. With phones being able to shoot in 4k quality, the picture is comparable to nicer film cameras. With lens attachments that you can clip on your phone, it allows you to have the stereotypical skate footage look with the wide slightly distorted fisheye lens effect.
Skateboarding is everywhere
Skateboarding is a global sport, sending people all over the world to participate in tours, demos, contests and meet-ups. Places like Brazil, Barcelona and even China have adopted the sport and are helping grow it to what it is today. You’ve got big name influencers like Luan Olivera, Jeff Rowley and Shane O’near that have pathed the way for professional skaters that were born outside of the United States. Tour circuits like the Dew tour and X-Games have done a good job at growing the sport and exposing what is going on in the industry.
In 2005, Danny Way (legendary vert skater) hit a jump that flew him over the great wall of China.. I remember the hype clearly as major broadcasting stations showed it live. China even took a mandatory pause to watch this record breaking event go down. This big ramp style of skating is quite the spectator event as you can’t imagine the height, speed and air time that they reach. It was events like these that gave a glimpse to the world of how skaters are pushing the limits.
Mountain Dew is another example of large corporations using the sport as an opportunity for exposure. Your “hardcore” skaters think that big businesses coming in and making money off the sport is wrong, and that it is selling out for a skater industry to give into it. Again, there are two schools of thought here. In my opinion the more people that see skateboarding and support it the better. I’m not to concerned with who wants to put money into it as long as there is a positive effect that helps inspire young kids. If anything the big companies coming in taking over acts like a life jackets keeping the sport from every going bankrupt.
Another huge excitement/controversy that was recently announcement was the introduction of skateboarding being in Olympic games the 2020. As you could imagine, there was a lot a controversy to whether a sport like skateboarding is worthy of being in the Olympic games. Controversy aside, that is a major testament to the growth and the respect that the sport is getting around the world. I think it was about time personally. Snowboarding and bmx bike racing is in the games, and I think its only fair that skating gets its chance. I truly believe that this sport will continue to grow and has the potential to be accepted by everybody. All signs are pointing in the right direction, and with the help of social medias and major companies supporting the sport, the sky’s the limit.
I believe in skateboarding and I believe in the process it takes to become a skater. No one was ever good the first time they stepped on a board. What skateboarding has taught me was how to be persistent. Learning how to skateboard teaches you to accept failure. I’ve tried certain tricks hundreds of times and still not been able to land them. I’ve also had situations where I’ve figured it out and now I’m an expert at that trick. If you were to ever tell me I’d be an expert at a trick I had failed at hundreds of time, I would have called you crazy. The amount of satisfaction you get from landing a trick makes it all worth it. I’ve broken bones, had concussion and gotten stitches from the damn sport, and you still can’t get me to give it up.
My name is Robert Mazza and I’m a skateboarder at heart. I’ve been skating since I was 7 years old and I’ve never once thought about giving it up. I’ll be that dad one day, and I’ll still always have a skateboard around. I’m currently a senior in college and will be graduating this May with a marketing degree. I have multiple other passions, but I’m proud to say that skateboarding has been around since day one. This is my take on the industry and what has happened in the last 15 years. Enjoy!
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