The world of skating is constantly changing. Trends come and go with the desires and whims of the participants, or lack there-of. The Corona Virus sure has hit the reset button for us on a few levels. Some of them maybe not all the way understood, even know as I attempt to cope and figure out the next moves.
In raw numbers last year was a banger. We had several years of stock that we had built up after continual reinvestment back into the shop. Even then we were decimated with the majority of the brands we had grown in the store not able to build fast enough, or get who ever was building for the them to get it to them or us in a timely fashion. Stock issues aside folks seemed to be coming to the sport in droves. In my mind we were at the beginning of another 10 year upswing in the community. New people, combined with the folks that stuck around from the previous 3 year cycle, meant that when contests could come back we should have banger attendance. In my mind I could see the standout new riders pushing the veterans, while the new new work hard guys would be stoked and cause this super charging of talent if you will.
There were a few indicators that maybe that wouldn’t play out. I chalked it up initially to cautiousness of the peoples. I mean we have spent the past 9 years plus figuring out the recipe for engagement and community stoke levels. 2020 we launched our YouTube show, called Stoke Chow, where we talked about upcoming events, reviewed the previous months Stoke Clips from Instagram, and did an interview with a local. That was a huge step. Our website definitely helped us out, and that was also further refined and filled up. We had a pretty active community despite the Corona virus, and then in 2021 we actually realized the other part of our journey and started pressing our own boards. Things were lined up. Even the winter seemed to give away with spirits higher than previous years with less challenges.
We launched 2021, and product was flowing. Stoke Clinics took a few months with weather delays to get rolling, but attendance was solid. Then we put on our first contest, Kessler Community Session. Basically a replacement for King of Kessler, around 15 people showed for that if I remember correctly, which currently is the high point in attendance.
This is where the shift is. The almost starting back over, building the community up again. Maybe it’s the making of a community where they don’t want contests as much as dedicated style sessions. The older generation, folks that have been around for longer than 3 years are almost nonexistent. The pandemic didn’t bring them further in, it dispersed them to the wind. So now the majority of the people regularly skating have been doing so less than a year. A pretty high amount of the regular Friday night folks seem to be settled older people. Kids at home, and real jobs and the like. Rad dudes just at the beginnings of figuring out how to carve, and push. How to slide, and ride have been the major talking points.
I was really hoping that once the contests got back in line it would bring the dudes back, but no dudes are to be found. It isn’t even that no one comes. Boards & Swords had about 5 riders, with lots of family attending. That was a lot of fun. People we haven’t had a major chance to get to know, so it was great to talk and hang with everyone then. However, there still wasn’t enough people to do the grand idea of the weekend. The Kendama scavenger hunt, progression challenge, or even the distance part was a big no go. We still played kendama, we still skated, but it wasn’t a contest. Once again, it was more like a dedicated session with camping more than traditional “contest.”
Our signature slide jam, the one that pulls all the big free ride dudes from all over had barely enough people to have a contest. By registration we only had 7 people. The spectators outnumbered the contestants by almost a 3 to one ratio. We had a couple heavy hitters, most notable were the Oak Boys crew that was new for last years Gooseneck Gala, but had a year of Stoke Clinics and practice, bolstered by some really amazing raw talent, that delivered to them the majority of the categories.
All fresh faces. The majority of people right at a year of riding, while the experienced folks the old heads of our 10 year old community have drifted away. Garages are way blown, especially now that downtown is being developed to the extent that it is. I know there are new riders all over the city. We sold so many boards to all over that I know people are out there, I just haven’t figured out how to bring everyone together.
Maybe that is the shift. People have that pandemic mindset of only sticking with their circle. A lot of people bought their first set ups that way too. It was a group of three or four friends all coming in together. Who most likely skated together, who really don’t need us to give them a reason to skate. They have found it on their own.
I don’t know how much progress can be achieved in this way. From a bigger community aspect, people need to come together, but we have a pretty traumatic event that has engrained the stay apart for safety thought. I know there are outlaw races the elite pro’s are going to, not here, elsewhere.
So there it is. Back to the start, but now we have this social conditioning to overcome. Companies who were bountiful in their product and communication have drawn back inside themselves. Some I haven’t heard from since the pandemic started. Some have stopped sending product to us, or any shops. Direct to consumer has been the move. Some who we talked to often, now have us on waiting lists, priorities to the bigger retailers, the industry insiders, and everyone it seems who isn’t us. Small, passionate, driven doesn’t matter. Especially if we can’t bring in riders to our events. Those companies will use that as just another reason to not deal with us.
Even with the addition of our own boards and products to the mix, which some companies have expressed concern over, doesn’t seem to spark the desire to team up like it was 2019, or 2012 for that matter.
I am not complaining, I am systematically listing these factors and observations in a vain attempt to reckon out the next steps. Weave these different materials together in some way to make a cohesive network for progression of not only our community but longboarding in general. Maybe then the big companies will remember what shops are for, our role in this world, or service to our communities of fresh never exposed to the industry norms. How do we serve them? We know what difficulties a new rider faces, we have helped people progress for close to a decade now. How are we to bring people together that have had “stay apart” drilled into their heads at every turn?
I don’t have the answers. I at least know that.
Asking these questions. Observing, listening, hoping that maybe we can be the answer to come of these.
Oh, and work really hard on not taking it personally. People move on. I hope those we served at least are better from their interactions with us. Hopefully we served them properly, and they just grew up and on to find their purpose, maybe we had a hand in helping that along. I miss those dudes. I hope they are doing well. Maybe if they come back, and we have worked really hard the community will be better and stronger. Listen, observe, and serve is about my only tactics right now.