I had an opportunity to attend the ASR Trade Expo, September 5-7, 1997, at the San Diego Convention Center. ASR stands for Active Sports Retailers, an organization serving the interests of surf, skateboard, and snowboard shops. The show featured roughly 500 companies, about half of which were new to the industry, and over 4000 attendees came from all over the globe.
Industry News. The skateboard industry is on the upswing. The popularity of the X-Games, driven by large corporate sponsorships, along with the construction of new skateparks has helped the sport blossom in past couple of years. The majority of skateboard shop owners say that business is up over last year, and industry experts expect the upward trend to continue for the next two years before leveling off. Traditionally, the skateboard industry has been a roller coaster of ups and downs in terms of sales, but experts predict that the current upswing and subsequent leveling will add much needed stability to the industry.
The X-games have brought new popularity to the sport, and the proliferation of new skateparks has drastically expanded not just the number of skaters, but their skill levels as well. The new parks run the gamut from a handful of ramps at the local YMCA to all-concrete parks with bowls, snakeruns, and pools. All have given skateboarding a much needed shot in the arm.
Skateboard shop owners say that most of their customers are male between the ages of 14 and 18, but they also see a lot of 10- to 14-year-olds, who often have more to spend on a new stick than the older kids. They are also starting to see more female skaters coming into the sport. In areas like California and Florida, longboards are popular especially among surfers looking for something to ride when the waves are flat.
There's Joy in Longboard-ville. Of the hundred or so companys offering skateboards, about 30-40% had at least one or two models of longboard. Most were the standard 40" cruiser and 48" downhill models, but a good number had decks going well over the four-foot mark, with some topping out at 60". While standard shapes still rule the day, a fair number were obviously snowboard influenced or were going superwide with wheel cutouts going clear through the deck to ensure that wheels can't rub. A few even sported concave rails to maximize turning leverage. Hardwood ply laminates are still the most prevalent materials, but others featured fiberglass, fiberglass and wood core, fiberglass with foam core (superlight), and solid oak (heavy enough to put new cracks in the sidewalk) construction.
With so many types to choose from, they all tended to blend together, especially on a convention center carpeted floor where there was nowhere to ride them. Standouts were the Flexdecks, better spring than you'd expect from a noncambered board, the Gravity Hyper- and Mini-Carves--with optional digital speedometer, and the Phat Cruize Boards, superwide and incredibly turnable. More good news for longboarders is lots of different makes of 70-mm plus wheels, maxing out with Xtreme XT Xross Terrain on/off-road (112 mm) and S/S street (99.5 mm) rubber wheels and Karma's Pro Downhills (90 mm) available in 82A and 78A urethane. Somewhat dwarfed by the other more impressive displays, EXP introduced new trucks designed specifically for longboards, roughly two inches wider than the widest Trackers and Indies.
New Hybrids. One of the most interesting things at the entire show was the Freebord--no, that's not a typo. A true snowboard/skateboard hybrid, Freebord goes way beyond adopting snowboard shape. It truly rides like a snowboard. The secret is its two extra wheels mounted directly behind and in front of the oversized front and back trucks. The two middle wheels stick up slightly higher than the outside ones, and they pivot 360 degrees. What this means is that you are always riding on the middle wheels. If the board is facing forward, you are riding on the middle wheels and either the right or left wheels, like riding a rail in snowboarding. But you can also throw it into a controlled slide directly sideways down the hill, riding solely on the inside wheels. Very, very cool.
The Snakeboard is not really all that new, but I had never seen one ridden until this weekend in the skateboard demo area at San Diego Street Scene music festival, held the same days of ASR. The Snakeboard is a cross between a skateboard and roller skates. The front and back trucks pivot around a stiff rod, allowing it to be ridden sort of like skates by kicking back and forth on the front trucks.
Rumor Mill. It looks like Standup Downhill may be added to next year's X-Games, to augment the popular Street Luge. There's also a possibility that slalom may be added in the coming years. If so, it will probably be Giant Slalom, high speed, spectacular spills, no close cone stuff.
Good news for San Diego skaters. There are plans in the works for a new skatepark in Carlsbad, calling for a 25,000-square-foot park, all concrete.
Other News A new book is being written on the history of skateboarding. For more information, check out Michael Brooke's Skategeezer Home Page.
Click for more information on skateboard companies or hybrid products.
Nose Wheelie, except where noted otherwise, was written and created by Chris Sturhann.
Copyright © 1997 Chris Sturhann