For the last several years I’ve worked at Color Magazine as a copy editor and regular contributor to this skateboard culture publication out of Vancouver. The issues are concept-oriented and include fashion, music and art along with all the skateboarding stuff. There isn’t really any other predominantly skateboard-oriented magazine out there that has such an original design and breadth in content. I just finished an article on pro skateboarders-turned-designers for our upcoming fashion issue (Fall 2009), but here’s an older article I did on Flip skateboards and it’s ability to scout out young talent.
LIKE KIDS IN THE CANDY STORE
Flip ams get ballistic (Color 6.3 – Spring 2008)
words by rhianon bader
Quito, Ecuador, is far, far away from the epicentre of the skateboarding industry. The downtown streets are always packed with assorted vendors, bumpin’ salsa music, heinously decorated buses and gringo tourists like myself. There are not many skateboarders, and the street spots are fun in a run-down, security-guards-with-machine-guns sort of a way. There is, however, a pretty fun skatepark called Parque Carolina… This is where I first saw Flip’s newest pro, 18-year-old David Gonzales, skate a few years back. He was probably 12 or 13 at the time, visiting Ecuador from neighbouring Colombia on a skate trip with some older compatriots. A crew of us went skating around the city, and it was quickly obvious that Gonzales was oozing ridiculous talent that you could spot a mile (or a continent?) away. I wasn’t really that surprised to learn he was getting stuff from Flip, but I remember thinking “how the hell did they find this kid?”
And that’s what has really set Flip apart from other companies over the years. While others are looking at the kids that are already skating in the big am contests or getting published in national/international magazines, Flip has always had a keen eye scanning the globe for skaters with not-so-hidden potential in sometimes-hidden places.
While some Flip riders like Mark Appleyard, Lance Mountain and Bob Burnquist were converts from other big companies, the company has a notable knack for uncovering massive skateboarding potential in kids hailing from Europe, Australia, Canada and Latin America.
Co-owners Jeremy Fox, Ian Deacon and Geoff Rowley are all involved in selecting new ams, but it’s also the Flip riders that take part in the constant search for new talent, essentially serving as “the eyes and ears of Flip,” says Rowley. Ali Boulala (France), Arto Saari (Finland), Shane Cross (Australia) and Gonzalez were all young-buck ams that Flip introduced to the world, blowing many a mind. However, other promising young skaters like Andrew Gordon (Canada), Bastien Salabanzi (France) and Danny Cerezini (Brazil) ended up parting ways with Flip (some disappearing from the skate world entirely).
Rowley believes a successful skateboarding career comes down to finding a balance between the constant outside pressure to progress and maintaining one’s love for skating. “The difference is in how an individual looks at it: whether they feel they are progressing due to company pressure or to pressure they have put on themselves,” says Rowley. “Long term [the balance] is a hard one to maintain and very few individuals within the industry make it, let alone at Flip! But I will say that if a professional skater wants to remain just that for a long period of time, he must do it for himself, nobody else.”
The need for Flip riders to have personal drive is a key aspect of what they expect of their pros and ams alike. For instance, when asked how Flip decides whether to let an am go or turn them pro, Flip team manager Harry Bastard says the motivation to push oneself and stay stoked on skating is crucial, “If you don’t have the love or drive there is no point turning them pro, is there?”
Featuring some of the best street and vert skaters, from unknowns to legends, over the years Flip has engineered and maintained perhaps the most diverse, international and, basically, gnarliest team in skateboarding. The range of talent displayed in 2002’s Sorry, and 2003’s Really Sorry pretty much prove this. The upcoming summer 2008 release of Extremely Sorry will let Flip’s current up-and-comers knock a couple more socks off.
Unsurprisingly, the current batch of ams live up to the Flip tradition: they’re young (no Man Ams), versatile and hard working. Shredders Curren Caples, 12, and Louie Lopez, 13, are California boys (Oxnard and Hawthorne, respectively), and newest am Luan de Oliveira, 17, emerged a virtual unknown from Porto Alegre, Brazil, only to win 2007’s Goofy Vs. Regular contest.
Caples has an insane bowl in his backyard (You Tube it, you’ll be jealous), Lopez is the laid back G of the crew and supposedly has some of the coolest parents around, and de Oliveira is an energetic, skate-obsessed kid with “some damn quick footwork to boot.” The ams all fit together on the Flip team due to similar goals and skills that set them apart from the masses, helping to make the company the success that it is. According to Rowley, getting a spot on the team comes down to “a strangely unique combination of talent, personality and willpower to succeed. That can come in many forms: Louie is quietly driven, Curren is more vocal, Luan is happy-go-lucky.”
Flip photographer Ryan Allan has spent many a day out with the team and says that what stands out is how each kid has their own distinct style that reflects where and what they grew up skating. At the same time, it all comes down to a common passion that overrides any concerns about money or photos that older dudes have. After finishing an all day photo/filming session they’ll still go skate the park.
“The little dudes haven’t figured out about girls, weed, money, etc…” says Allan, “So they are eager to go out and skate all the time. It’s pretty pinnacle to be around that as a photographer.”
Indeed, there’s a lot of other stuff that comes along with pursuing skateboarding as a career. Although, as Allan jokes, “the real world” of minimum wage labour is a lot nastier and backbreaking than anything a skateboarding career can serve up, it’s obvious that there is a darker side to which amateur skateboarders tend to get drawn in. Bastard says that a lot of ams don’t realize how far they can go with skating if they stay focused. “The instant fun factor of drugs and alcohol is a very easy route to get stuck on. I’m here to make [the ams] aware of what they have and what they can have,” he says.
Rowley also thinks it’s important to be aware of what young skaters are exposed to once they get involved with skating, and recognized how important it is to “filter out the unimportant things.” He says he uses any opportunity to support the ams and let them know he’s been through it.
Rowley was himself a young gun riding for Flip when the already veteran British skateboard company changed its name from Deathbox in 1994 and crossed the pond to California. The Flip team at the time was Tom Penny, Rune Glifberg Andy Scott, and him, who all made the move to America along with the company. This immersion into the hub of the skate industry was a crucial point in the history of one of the most influential and largest skateboard companies, but it also gave Rowley experiences that many young, ambitious ams can relate to.
“I lived and breathed skating. When the chance came to move to the States I screamed at it and flew on the first flight with Jeremy [Fox] and Ian [Deacon]…” says Rowley. “The reality of that transition was very hard, I left my friends behind and a city that until leaving I never realized how much was a part of me – Ed Templeton helped me a lot with feeling good about myself and feeling like I had a place, big thanks to him.”
Over the years Rowley’s also realized that in the end, kids are still kids – no matter how good at skating they are – and the guidance of parents plays a big role in keeping ams on track. “[Flip is] more like the big brother, and skateboarding is like taking them into a candy store full of good and bad things – having parents around at this time is a good thing. Especially ones like Louie’s parents,” he says. Regardless, the ‘bad things’ don’t seem to be an issue when it comes to Caples, Lopez and de Oliveira.
With the Extremely Sorry DVD coming out this summer, everyone will no doubt be talking about these three in no time. As Allan points out, being young and absurdly talented isn’t always as easy to deal with as you’d think. Their Flip parts may even change the mentality a bit in the skate world towards young ams. “Everyone hates on little dudes right now,” says Allan, “For some reason, little kids get a bad rap. I guess you have to be older, bitter and barely skate to get some love.”