The Descent challenge and the newsletter/email that you send out seem to encourage a participatory feeling – is this intentional?
Yeah man, I wanted to start a company that was inclusive rather than exclusive, something that you’d connect with because you feel a part of something real rather than just something, or a lifestyle, that you simply aspire to. I like to think of the fans of Descent as ‘descendants’ rather than followers. There are a lot of cerebral skaters out there though and there’s very little out there for those guys as far as content or philosophy. A lot of skaters write to me and ask for opinions or to say thanks for something I’ve written or to tell me they agree with it or have taken something from it. I really like this interaction with other skaters. It feels natural because I’m not ramming this stuff down anyone’s throat.
The newsletter/email is interesting in that it almost reworks the idea of being a follower on Facebook or Instagram where you just passively scroll through a feed.
You’re right about the mostly passive nature of those other media. They’re uncomplicated on the whole: entertaining but rarely challenging. The same goes for something like Tumblr. Aesthetically stimulating but very little else… With the email-outs I just wanted to say things, real things and opinions that might inspire or support skaters with a similar or fledgling point of view. The topics I talk about aren’t everyone’s cup of tea though; I’m more than appreciative of that. Not everyone thinks about this stuff or even cares to, so I’d feel weird imposing that on people without their permission. Most of us are bombarded with information every day, nearly all of it is in regard to consumerism, products, marketing and mostly shallow stuff you could easily survive without, nothing to inspire anything other than purchases; basically spam to a greater or lesser degree. The other thing about this information is that you’re often tricked or mislead into opting into receiving it. I figured that: 1: I could write something not solely to do with commercialism that might be understood as being genuine and 2: if people needed to subscribe to it then I’d only have to talk to people interested in what I had to say. If they’re not into it, they can unsubscribe at any time. The last thing I want to do is to pander to the masses. That’s why I started skateboarding in the first place: to escape the masses of society, the cattle. Descent is about making something genuine first and making a living second. As long as it funds its own growth, makes rad products and supports the riders that need it then it’s doing what it should.
Do you follow any print-based skate publications? (I remember going to school and geeking-out over Document features).
I really like content that makes me laugh or makes me think. Big Brother was rad. Andy Horsley’s Sidewalk photo captions were rad. Jenkem is usually rad. If Lev Tanju wrote a book, that would be rad. Boil the ocean is a favourite: pure literary masturbation with on-point obscure references and in-depth analysis. Dude is a legend… Most of what I wrote for Sidewalk over the years came a across as a little bit ‘preachy’ to me. The sentiment was fine it’s just I was aware that people who weren’t necessarily receptive to that stuff would be judging me when that kind of content really wasn’t meant for them. Magazines got a lot more mainstream as skateboarding got more mainstream. I guess you have to if you’re chasing advertising fees. Doco was sick though. I really wish that was still around. We need both mainstream and niche magazines but our industry and the way people digest media can only support one on that scale I guess… I’m really stoked on the mags we have now though. Grey, North, Free: all looking rad… As far as the actual format goes, it’s bound to evolve as technology changes. I don’t really think format is that important as long as the content is strong. A good song is just as good on tape, vinyl, DVD or MP3. Words or music or ideas transcend the format they’re presented on. That’s what makes them so special. They’re not ‘things’.
Slate, oak, and leather all feature in some way in your aesthetic. Is there an implied emphasis on tactility? Or am I over-reading this?
Not at all sir! They’re all ‘real’ materials, real things with texture, weight and hardness. I think skateboarders have a lot of intrinsic skills and abilities including awareness of textures and materials, as well as an appreciation of aesthetics, often down to almost microscopic levels haha! Part of being a skateboarder is exploiting your environment so it’s no wonder we are consciously or subconsciously analyzing it constantly.
How do leather goods fit in to your product drops?
I think I wanted to include something that I’d physically made with my own hands. Simple as that really. I could never make a skateboard to the level of quality I get from Dwindle, I could never make or screen a t-shirt to the level I would expect if I were to buy it myself. I do however have the skill to source and produce hardware and apparel to those standards and I have really high standards for that stuff. Everything is made as if I was going to buy it with my own hard-earned cash. I was pretty discerning about product as a kid and this was heightened when I worked in stores, production and for that time as a pro skateboarder. When you’re younger and skating a lot and getting through a ton of hardware, you need it to be the best it can possibly be for the price you are able to pay. The leather wallets, wristbands, phone case, belts and bags are all things that bring an actual piece of personal workmanship to Descent. Everything is hand stitched, no machines. It’s time consuming but I get a real satisfaction out of producing something from nothing that someone out there might really get a lot of use out of. They might even want to try to make something for themselves…
The Descent logo appears on a t-shirt in your part from Live From Antarctica. Where does this logo originate from?
The logo came from a doodle I used to do from a young age. At the time that was video filmed I had a model out with a similar design called ‘the descent into madness’. That mark has come to mean a lot of things to me but mostly it represents a descent of society or of feeling. Being aware of the descent or decline enables you to work away from it. Descent as a brand is meant to be a bastion of individuality and thought and appreciation of the unique. Pretty much the exact opposite of what some corporations are trying to impose on skateboarding. The things they impose, like leagues and competitions and winners, they’re not doing to help skateboarding, they’re doing it because it focuses and therefore minimizes their marketing spend. They also focus on spectators as well as participants. That doesn’t sound like a legit reason to make a decision from a skateboarders point of view I reckon. I couldn’t care less who’s watching if they’re not actually a skateboarder.
In a Pixels interview you describe the niche group you are appealing to. You situate it as being neither trendy nor tech, would you be able to elaborate on this a bit?
I guess trendy is one thing: it’s people following a trend. The clue is in the question to some extent. If you’re following a trend you’re innately behind and not truly expressing yourself. Technical skateboarding is something that I am into. I can only do it to a certain level but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating it. I’ve found other ways to express myself. As much as I’d love to be able to do every flatground trick ledge combo it‘s way more appealing to me to do something unique (and way easier haha!). I see so many technically gifted skaters that spend so much time honing their skills that they never get to think outside of the box and actually invent something. Technical ability really shines when it’s coupled with inventiveness. You can also go a really long way on inventiveness alone and it’s definitely easier to be individual than purely ‘good’ within skateboarding.
I think Descent is supposed to be inspiring to guys that don’t feel like they can find anything out there that they want to be part of. Like the 1% of skaters out there that feel like no other brands are speaking to them. They can be part of this group of under-serviced skater and hopefully be inspired to purely be themselves. Descent is representative of that strength I guess…
Now that the level of skateboarding is so high amongst most kids how do you go about choosing a team to represent a brand?
It’s funny how people say that. I sometimes wonder if the skill level is just the same as it was in the past (relative to the tricks around at the time) and that just the number of participants has increased. The percentage of naturals seems about the same to me. It’s still quite rare.
I think the level of skating has improved on the whole but that’s thanks to skaters for showing us what’s possible.
Team riders? Well, on the whole they’re nerds like me, and that’s a term of endearment. They’re good lads with something different that they bring to the table. It’s early days, I want them to grow.
What is the Bobby Puleo challenge?
Do you have any plans for how the company will develop in 2015?
Well, I really do want to have a pro or two on the team. I’m not in a rush but I genuinely want to be able to pay someone to ride for this thing. The whole company is there to help the riders to flourish and progress and to support them in their skating to whatever level they want to reach. All the things a skateboard company should be. I’m not really actively seeking riders too much, I figure if I can build this into something genuinely rad, they’ll come to me. A kind of ‘build it and they will come’ kind of thing. I’d love to get a video out or maybe just individual parts. Basically, however each rider wants to be represented. There’s a freedom to it which is refreshing I think.
As someone who does a lot of no complies in video parts how do you feel about the current popularity of the no comply?
Haha. I think it just goes around in cycles. When I first started skating I was hyped to ride off a curb, then Ollie, then Ollie back up that curb. The very first trick I saw in a video and thought “I have to learn that!!!” was a no comply after seeing Ray Barbee in ‘Public Domain’. I went out that night and forced myself to learn it and it’s stuck with me from then on through thick and thin. I’m pretty sure I was the only guy doing no complies in 1992 that’s for sure hahaha!
I think it’s just a really satisfying trick. Despite its relative ease, you can relish the feeling of it. The pop the catch, the bolts landing (hopefully!)
I’m hyped to see no complies while they’re popular and I’ll be just as hyped to see them when they become unpopular once again.
For a link to the email-outs: