Steve Douglas Speaks
Steve Douglas has long been regarded as a visionary pillar of the global skateboarding movement. Firstly as one of the first wave of UK skaters to travel to the US and make his mark as a pro, then later as a business builder creating some of the brands that continue to shape the skateboarding landscape today, Steve continues to push his love of skating through a multitude of projects.
Amid what sounds like an interesting and busy time, I had this quick conversation to speak to Steve about his history, review some of the new projects Steve has been working on, his motivation and how he sees the future of skating during these rather turbulent times.
LEFT: Frontside Hurricane at Carson (SoCal), this is part of a sequence that my old teammate and friend from Madrid and Schmitt, Bryce Kanights shot of me. I learnt this trick on the extension of the Paige Mill ramp. I had only seen a picture of Mark doing it on a curb, and I had never ever tried it anywhere. I woke up one day and said if I will try and learn it today, I'll turn pro ( I was banned from skating am contests due to me being English, Yes, that is true). I did learn it that day, and I did turn pro. I also had a Tony Hawk "Beyond" article in TWS colour double spread; years later, Tony bought out a list of tricks he invented, and he put this trick as his! Another trick that was not fun to do, being completely honest. I would prefer to grind, slide or do ollies only if I could. Picture Bryce Kanights
RIGHT: Backside disaster Stevenage. This ramp was fun, I fractured my left wrist skating when I was 10, and its left me a grip that was never 100%, so I needed the rip grip and nose rail to get a good grip. Picture Mad Mike
Can you give us a little of your history for our younger readers?
I grew up in North West London close to Harrow.
You started skating here in the UK many years ago.
It was the Summer of 1976, very hot and dry. I was 9 years old.
What drew you to the wood and wheels?
I had seen skating on tv, and then someone had one at school but wouldn't let me ride it as I was the year below; I was frustrated. I was like, I'll show them, but it took ages for my mum to let me have one; she said it would be a 5-minute wonder, and she still laughs to this day.
What was skating like in that first wave?
Looking back, My first board was terrible, truly awful, but I loved it. I later added Red Kryptonics, and that changed that. I went from rattling around, hitting a small piece of sand, and landing on my face to rolling over rocks smooth and fast as hell. Those wheels were a game changer.
Harrow, late 70's I used to not like this picture at all, as I was not grinding. But, now, with the LSD on the wall and thinking back riding a Benjy Sablosky that friends airbrushed for me, it was one of a kind. I wish I still had it.
Who were your first skate crew growing up?
Just local skaters. My first skate friends were Stuart Frost and Jeff Maxwell in Pinner and Northwood Hills (Potter Street Banks). Then when skating died late 70s, I moved to Harrow to skate and found the dedicated H Boyz. Most are lifelong friends to this day.
Frontside Slider Harrow 81ish. Probably about a 6-inch slider. I only did them on one ramp in my career, Redding in NorCal. An awkward trick, much respect to the people that do them so well and easily, like Jimmy Wilkins, who does a 540 after one, haha. - Picture Steve Lilli
I'm sure you had some pretty fun times. What was your first experience of seeing a really good skater in person?
Jeremy Henderson was incredible and a real legend here and in the US, but another lesser-known skater that really influenced how I skated was Robbie Hunter.
You were among the first UK riders to go to the States and explore the possibilities of US sponsorship. How did that feel, and what was your first US experience like? Any funny stories about your first impressions and establishing yourself in the US? Did you go over with Bod?
I went one week into turning 17 (Bod came later). It took me five months to skate as well as I could before leaving. It was hard; ramps were massive or tiny and always in some backyard, and sessions were sometimes very small and intimate or big full snake sessions with amazing talent; you couldn't allow yourself to be intimidated. You had to get in there and fight and give your all. Getting around without a car or money was hard, so there was lots of downtime.
LEFT: Frontside 50/50 of the extension of Madrid ramp 1989, such a fun trick. This ramp was built by Tim Payne and was such a great ramp. I later skated this contest in St Peterburg, Florida, NSA pro, and it was an elbow, so I thought I would do the same off of the hip; I missed all the transition and landed on my shoulder in the flat, dislocating my shoulder for the first time. That night, in a sling and out of the contest, a huge fight started in the hotel lobby between a bunch of baseball players and us skaters. It didn't end up well for the baseball players; I got the nickname "Slugger". But I wasn't responsible for pushing anyone through the plate glass window. RIGHT: Smith Grind Stevenage . Check the New Deal Skates shirt. After this trip, we took the name from the shop in Harrow and started New Deal in the US and NDUK in the UK - Picture Mad Mike.
I remember making the final eight at Del Mar, the only am contest that was going on while I was there for six months, and I called Bod and told him my lines, and he laughed. Del Mar was not easy to skate unless you were a local, and people ripped that thing, I struggled, but I was stoked to make the finals. When I returned to the UK in the spring of 85 after six months on home turf, I excelled; I had seen what was possible. I was back for six months, then when I turned 18, I never came back to live in the UK.
Half cab - feeble fakie, Raging Waters lip trick contest, not the funnest trick to do, in fact very awkward, but it was about progression…(the downside of being a pro, doing shit that's was sometimes not fun)
I got 4th, my best result as a pro, no sleep the night before; I nearly never made it to the finals. I was happy people said I should have placed higher. That's way better to me than, you didn't deserve to place that high. A few years back Jimmy Wilkins posted part of my contest ride on his Instagram… a highlight of my career! Picture by the mighty O (RIP)
Were you given a hard time for leaving the UK?
Yes, indeed. I heard, "We are not English anymore. We don't count" The truth was, I felt what we were doing was more important. Being in the US rather than staying behind, I hoped we would inspire others to follow us, and I know it did.
Regular Hurricane, Back home in England in 89, Stevenage. I love England, and being back is always special. I am riding my first pro board for Schmitt Stix, beer label, family coat of arms, brewed in Harrow and imported from Crystal Palace. This is my favourite pro model for all those reasons, and yes, a RAD sticker! Picture Mad Mike.
Most skaters are pretty resourceful and have had to make ends meet when pursuing their dreams of skating. What things were you doing when you were in the States to make it work? Any fun stories?
My brother sent me a letter I wrote to him, where I apologised for not writing, but I didn't have the 18 cents for postage. When I met my now wife, I had 23 cents to my name. We sold skate equipment and worked "under the table" at skate shops; it wasn't easy. I couch-surfed for four or so years without my own place, and it took 7 years to get my first car.
You rode for a few companies during your time as a pro. Can you give me a rundown of your journey and the companies you rode for?
Rolling Stock was a UK shop in the North of England; in 83 when I won the Euro championship in Sweden under 16 (there were like 5 skaters, haha), I got sponsored by Madrid ( I became pen pals with my new teammate Jeff Kendall we are still close today) in 85 I went to Schmitt got on Indy, Vans and Quiksilver, then in 90 we started New Deal, and I retired after my car accident in 91.
RIGHT: Backside ollie pop at Paige Mill (NorCal), one of my favourite spots to skate. It was always hard to know if you could skate, which looking back, made it more special. I love the trees and the shade, and the sessions were perfect. So you waited all day, sorted a potential ride and waited and hoped it was on. Boy, you were excited, and you made it count. If you got a no, you were bumming, so skating the curbs in San Jose was the only skating of the day. LEFT: Gonz made this from this image.
I read about that in your "Not just another cup of Tea" interview, which mentions your skating coming to an abrupt halt due to that car accident! It's quite common for skaters to struggle with the slow decline in ability as we age, but to have it end in this way must have been a tough thing to deal with. How did you cope with it all, and what advice can you give skaters today regarding the finite nature of skating?
Enjoy every moment, and don't ever take it for granted, it was tough, and it saddens me to type this today. I was in my prime when it all ended; I came to terms with it immediately as I was so lucky to be alive and not kill anyone. I am lucky, but it was a massive loss; honestly, it gets harder now. I was skating regularly 2-3 times a week (at dawn, usually by myself) till about eight years ago, and I slammed. I was out for almost 18 months, then I broke my foot, getting fit again (not even sure how), and that took another 16 months out. When I say skating, I was doing 5% of what I used to do. After my accident, my body was never the same. My balance was screwed up. Now I push around, and the goal is to do what Billy Smith (70/80's Scottish legend that lives in Dallas) says "Don't lift your front wheels, just go fast" problem is when I push too hard, I pull my groin. WTF!
What were your methods for ensuring you had something to move to after skating?
I was already heavily in the work mode, so it was an easy transition. I knew I had to do this in 87 when I was out for 6 months with knee surgery; that was the first realisation that things would end one day. Looking back, I was lucky for that bad experience right as I turned pro.
You have been a huge proponent of skating over the years, built many skate businesses and been involved in building and promoting skating. Can you discuss some of your proudest moments and achievements?
I have been very lucky, I am going fast, but I am going to take some time on this one to think… ok?
Being part of the first wave of skate-owned brands but also changing global distributions to be skater run with New Deal in 1990, many of these distributors are still in business 30 years later!
I have never talked about this, and maybe controversially, the "blank board" article we did in TWS almost 20 years ago was extremely stressful, but I believe it worked. If you believe in something, you have to follow your heart even though you may take some lumps. To me, it was the end of professional Skateboarding, and I felt someone had to do something.
Being a part of RAD mag, I was the American correspondent and having my own page, I used to fax the latest news over to TLB on the day the mag went to print, UK, Australia, NZ, South Africa and all the places RAD was sold got the latest team, tricks, brand updates and contest results way before the US mags that had longer lead times, this speed would help when we later launched 411vm.
Starting 411VM for many reasons, but mainly, I say that because I believe 411 stopped the need to live in California to make it as a pro, that's huge. California has been great to me, but I also have lost out on a lot by being here and not with my UK family and friends. Now people can live where they want and have a pro career. I believe 411 helped change that.
It must be good to see Skateboarding being more of an international activity these days, with brands like Polar and Palace sitting in prominence with some of the more established US brands.
Yes, it is. Skateboarding grew up in California, but now it's truly global; the US companies had it their own way for a long, long time, and because manufacturing is now global, the pricing is way more in line, that's good for the skaters around the World. Undoubtedly, this has grown Skateboarding, which makes me happy.
How do you see skating over the next decade in terms of influence?
I think it's going to maintain the amazing trajectory, truly Global and diverse in skating, brands and terrain. It's all going on, whatever you want to do, it's going on, and you don't feel intimidated like you did in the mid-'90s for riding a wide board or riding bigger wheels that actually roll; just go express yourself and have fun.
You've already got a couple of companies on the go, Rolling Thunder and 1976. Why the diversified approach? What do they do specifically?
76 is more of a traditional core distributor. We sell to the UK.
Rolling Thunder is a company that makes and license completes for the 1st timers to the whole World, I ran the complete program at Dwindle from 2004 to 2016, and I realised how important this category is as my son was learning to skate. That category is a gateway for a life of Skateboarding if done well and a potential dead end if done badly. Every day skateboarding turns off potential lifelong skaters due to a bad experience. That skater could have been the next Tom Penny! To me, it's one skater at a time. It starts with the first experience, and the price is a HUGE factor for many first boards. We try to give new customers a good experience for their ability level at a price that works for the parents. After all, it could be a 5-minute wonder.
You are clearly passionate about skating and involved in many skate-related projects focused on spreading the skate word. Can you discuss these projects you are working on and your motivations for them? I am especially interested in Make Life Skate Life. It looks like a great project.
I am humbled to be a part of it. What they do is amazing. Getting on a board changed my life. The parks MLSL build are doing the same all over the developing World. MLSL is building a foundation for the next generation, which needs to include the business side (Distribution /Shops) to help the scene fully develop. This is happening in India, where they built the first park 10 years ago, now they have over 20 parks, and shops are popping up. Check out @Holystoked. MLSL, to me it's the best non-profit in the World. I just wish I had more time to give. Please check out the website and spread the word, and if you are able, please donate to the next park in Tunis, Tunisia, planned for November
You have an event coming up in August. London Calling! is a celebration of that first wave of 70's skaters of which you are one. What prompted the event, and what can we expect to see from the 4 days of celebrations?
True, I skated in the 70s, but I was grom I was looking up to these guys.
For the last 20 or so years, when I returned to the UK, we'd meet at different pubs in London; they always go too quick.
Right before Covid started, Nick from Slick Willies called me and said Slicks are turning 50's, and I wanted to see if you could reach out to the old 70's crew and get some quotes. I was happy to reconnect with the guys on my walls as a kid, so I did that. My original note said what would be amazing would be a '70s reunion…. Then Covid happened.
Skins 40th, Matt Hensley rules what is he doing with this company FFS, Fun fact Yogi went to the same school as me, Pinner Wood. I remembered him 20 years later as he looked exactly the same (he must have been 5 or 6). I remember sticking up for him as he was being bullied. Yogi remembers me as the bully. WTF. I hope he's pulling my leg as I was always in trouble for beating up the bullies. I hate bullies.
Last year I was back in London over the summer and arranged our yearly get-together at Borough Market. Don Brown, who moved to the US from Brighton 2 months before me, said he would like to join up, and I said, "Great" We had a great day. At the end of the night, Eric Hayto's mate Dave came up to me, and I had never met him before, said thanks for arranging this and that he had SUCH a great time meeting everyone. I am thinking, wow, imagine if we could get all the 70's guys here; what would he say then? The next morning I was like, one night is not enough. We need to make a weekend of this…. and it's grown into London Calling.
Skins 40th, all three of us are arranging London Calling (Bod and Don Brown), and none of us have grown up, but yes, grown older. This was 20 years ago! Skin is older than us! Note: I like Beer, and Heineken is my least favorite!
If you are interested in the early days of UK Skateboarding, check out London Calling August 18th-20th.
You've mentioned The UK is a pretty influential part of the global skate movement. What is it that makes the UK skate scene so solid?
I personally think it's the best and most influential skate scene outside of California, but it's because the 70's skaters laid the foundation. I don't think it would be as influential if it wasn't for them. TLB has to be one of the most underrated individuals in global Skateboarding. He is a UK skate treasure and needs more recognition, he has done so much for skating and me personally and even planted the seed of 411.
Ask any skater to make a list; since the 70s of the UK's best skaters, mags, photographers, skate spots, brands, and shops, I missed out videos, zines and distributors over the decades.. and outside of California, where else has THAT depth?
There have been some big changes in the skate landscape over the last few months. Can you offer thoughts on what is happening and why this is all occurring?
I don't think non-skaters with no passion for Skateboarding should be involved in skateboard companies.
I suppose the finances weigh too heavily in the equation for these guys, and it's hard for them to appreciate our motivation sitting above just money. I imagine you have often come up against this mindset over the years. Don Brown used to call them The HTC (High Trouser Club). Obviously, the business side must be viable, but what is your approach when balancing both worlds? Do you think your passion has kept you holding on when others (less passionate) might have bailed?
In every skate business I have been involved with, yes, it's the business of Skateboarding, just like skateboarding itself. It's not easy. Most people I grew up with and have worked with over the decades aren't doing it for the money. They do it because they want to be involved and love it. For example, I have NEVER heard Paul Schmitt (my partner in Giant and 411/On Video) say anything about making money or comment about doing xxx to make money. I used to call 411 a non-profit in the early years… 411 wasn't started to make money. It was to do something good for skateboarding in a time when Skateboarding was limiting itself (94); we wanted to show what was going on, and if you didn't like it, kick back with your remote and fast forward.
I love skateboarding for the passion and the people that also love it. We have loads of great people who truly care about Skateboarding and the riders. Skateboards truly have saved my life.
Again, I don't think non-skaters with no passion for Skateboarding should be involved in skateboard companies.
It seems ironic, as I have never seen as many skaters, parks and as much interest in skating, but store closures are on the rise, and brands are struggling.
There is nothing wrong with Skateboarding, but the recent Covid boom and over-saturation of products has hurt everyone; when you have over-supply for the current demand, prices and margins fall as people are forced to dump. The last 18 months have been the toughest of my 33 years in the skate industry, and I think many would say the same.
Having been through the cycle many times, is it just a perfect storm or another cycle?
A perfect storm made the industry cycle way more extreme; delivery and logistics amplified the problem and made it global.
What are the challenges facing skating over the next few years?
Digesting the massive amounts of old stock, then once that has gone, the new higher pricing will be the norm…I think it will be difficult to manufacture any skate product in North America and make it work globally, with a few notable exceptions.
The last Olympics was a weird one for skating. It got loads of attention, and the international hype pushed many people to seek out and start skateboarding, especially girls. But simultaneously, it was a bit of a bump. What are your thoughts on how the Olympics impacted skateboarding?
I saw little to no impact outside of a few countries; the coverage in the US was not the best by any means, and I am not sure how it was in the UK. I was surprised I thought it would really help the World's developing regions at least, but no. It's early days; seeing what goes on in Paris next year and then LA in 28 will be interesting.
I know you geared up for the Olympics by ensuring good completes were available for kids entering the game. It must have been a strange time with all the unexpected shenanigans?
It was, the demands of Covid were so extreme, most of the global distributors had completely empty shelves, so almost everyone over-ordered. I am talking about distributors ordering all brands, even ones they never thought they would ever order from again and within all hard goods categories. This strained manufacturing pushed up shipping charges, and then everyone delivered late!
This resulted in a massive global overstock, which meant cash was/is tight, then compounded with many distributors and manufacturers taking on extra storage, some in a big way, but it's getting better every day. You can't rush, you need the patience to limp through this (easier said than done), and I hope everyone that loves and respects skating can.
How have you found the last few years?
Extremely challenging, uncomfortable and unhealthy.
Moving on to more positive subjects...
... you're putting this new exciting project together called Sidewalk Distribution. And you're doing it with some of the heads from Dwindle,
I was at Dwindle for 12 years, and I have to say I have the best crew I have ever worked with. I know exactly who I am getting myself involved with. Sometimes you think you know, but you end up finding you don't. None of that here.
Why the name Sidewalk, with its link to the mag,
It wasn't our first choice. It wasn't even our 3rd choice. Try agreeing on a name, then try trademarking it. What a nightmare. So Bod and Louie were talking it over. I believe it was "Jump Ramp Distribution"; this wasn't approved. They said we can't do names of tricks ( Crail tap), so what about concrete, coping, Sidewalk?….. Sidewalk!…. so after many conversations about the name and the mag, Bod and myself got on Zoom with Ben and Horsley and told them the dilemma. We asked if they were ok with it, and they were fine with it. Thanks, Lads. We told them this is the name of the distribution co based in the US, and there will be no Sidewalk UK.
I like it when names have a meaning. New deal came about when we were at Schmitt Stix, and under Vision we needed a "new deal", The 411 title came from the US number to call for information. Underworld Element was Andy's name, Mad Circle was Justin's, and Destructo was Gary Parkin's… so I can't comment on those. On Video was Johnny and Kirk Dianda.
I named 76 because it was the year I started skating. Rolling Thunder out of respect because the talent there was incredible for the time, and now Sidewalk. For many, Sidewalk was their starting point. I don't think many appreciate Sidewalk Mags' legacy. It was so instrumental globally. In many places, Sidewalk was more distributed than Thrasher and TWS. I am proud of the name for those reasons, and it obviously opens up the doors for some historical projects down the line if everyone agrees.
How and when did you all decide to team up and create a new entity?
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity, right?….. Bod resigned in October; I hit him up immediately. He was mentally exhausted after 18 years and needed time off. When Bill was fired in January, those 2 started speaking, and then Louie quit in Feb and was hell-bent on starting Jacuzzi. He hit me up to see if I wanted to be involved, so we all started talking, and here we are now.
That is a potent team!
Yes, indeed, the planets aligned. The industry needs new. I saw that with helping Mike Sinclair with Slappy trucks. Slappy has joined Sidewalk, which we are really excited about. Slappy has been doing great in North America. The UK is one of the only international countries to have them so far, that will soon change. We plan to make Slappy available around the World.
Are you planning on working from manufacturing all the way through, or will it be just brand building and distribution?
We certainly don't want to start manufacturing; we will work with the premier factories. We will be brand building and distribution. That's enough.
I'd like to know what your approach will be?
A new distribution house, new brands and having some fun while helping to grow skateboarding globally and professionally. One of my goals is to help Make Life Skate Life as much as possible. Hopefully, Sidewalk can help once it's up and running.
Check out Make Life Skate Life Here https://www.instagram.com/makelifeskatelife
Did you guys feel like you had a common idea and goal, see an opportunity, or is it survival tactics?
As I said earlier, the market has been stale because of the sheer volume of old stock; key people were available, and the planets aligned. We all knew we could work together and shared the same vision and love of Skateboarding. It was now, or everyone goes their own ways. It felt right. We will see, as Douglas MacArthur said, "There is no security in this life, only opportunity."
You've always had a good relationship and fondly talked about Paul Schmitt. Are you going to work with PS Stix (their wood is the best!)?
Love Paul, he gave me a huge opportunity, and I am thankful for that. We hope to work on some special projects with PS Stix, all of us involved in Sidewalk, like the historical part of Skateboarding. So one example where it could make sense to work with Paul (that we have already talked about) is the New Deal re-issue on PS Stix wood instead of Chop Chop, which we did first, But that's down the line.
What are your plans regarding the wood / Manufacture?
Bill's (Opera)new brand will be in the same direction as his last one and made at the same factory. They are the only ones capable of making those boards at that price. It's also how they ship; they make global distribution easy, and we need all the help we can with a limited crew. This will not be easy; we all know this, but as skateboarders, you have to try. One of my favourite quotes is, "The biggest gap in the world is from I should of, to I did" Well, we are dropping in.
Madness pushed the edge when it came to playing what was possible when making boards. Their finishes, shapes and general attention to detail were unique. Is this something you guys want to continue? It was refreshing.
I was out of Dwindle when Madness started, and I sat there and admired and was blown away by the quality. Not only as samples but also to actually produce and deliver on a global level. We plan on building off that, which is very exciting to me. Wait till you see Bill's new brand Opera….I think it's a step up from where they were before.
New Projects out of Sidewalk Distribution from Bill Weiss @operaskateboards and Louis Barletta @jacuzziunlimited
What are the plans for Sidewalks rollout?
We'll have limited products available in August globally. Boards are already in production and will be available in the UK from 76 Distribution. More brands when we get up to speed, we want to hook up with the right brands that want our help. We want to be part of the movement, but it has to be the right fit. We need to move quickly but not rush.