Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"Under Fire", Five Years Later


Five years ago this week, the International Association of Skateboard Companies (IASC) released their now-infamous "Under Fire" report at the [now defunct] annual ASR trade show. You might remember it: It was the "initiative" that basically told kids that if they bought blanks (or shop decks), then they were committing some sort of cardinal sin against the skateboarding world...? Yeah, that's the one. Five Years Later, I decided it was high time to revisit "Under Fire", and to see where the skateboarding industry... and, IASC... are at, today.


This is the cover of the "Under Fire" report. For some strange reason, many of us in the media had a good six-month (or-so) head's up that this thing was coming out. Apparently, some of the biggest enemies that IASC will ever have, also happen to be members of IASC themselves... because us "media guys" had some really, really excellent sources with all sorts of crazy-ass "insider information" to share with us. Some of it was pretty damned funny, too. I do remember hearing something about a scheme that included having all of the IASC member brands putting some sort of "Professional Skateboard League" holograms on all "branded" skateboard decks(?!). Just so everybody would know, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are indeed supporting "professionally approved skateboard products" when they buy a pro skateboard deck. As if the big-ass pro name splashed all over pro decks these days just isn't enough of a clue...

As bad as "Under Fire" was... in hindsight, I suppose that it really could've been much, much worse. Although at the time, that was pretty hard to imagine.

Even stranger: I personally recieved my copy (in the picture) from IASC's Executive Director (at the time), John Bernards, himself. I'm betting that, to this day, he probably regrets making that jughead move. How'd I even get into ASR, you ask...!? Oh, ummmm... well... I snuck in, incognito. That's the funny thing about "trade shows": The most important person in the whole damned industry... that is, the average kid that actually buys skateboards, and supports this industry with their hard-earned dollars... never seem to be invited to these things. Which means that the most valuable player in "the industry" doesn't even have a seat at the table, or a voice in the "dialog". Which has never made the slightest bit of sense to me. But, hey: At least I got in, right...?!

I've saved my copy over the years, just to remind myself that whatever "success" I might achieve, or how over-inflated my precious ego may become... no matter what, there are still things that only total fucking douchebags do.

Telling kids that they're somehow "evil" for buying the wrong skateboard being chief among them. Of course.

Kids: No matter what anybody tells you (even me)... the bottom line is that your life is still your life. And ultimately, you should do whatever you wanna do with it. The only person that you should ever have to answer to, is yourself. And never, ever, ever let anybody (even me) tell you any differently.


By far, the most "toxic" part of the report was the Dwindle ad that said, "make a statement" at the top, followed by a sentence that said "every time you purchase a blank deck you are saying:"... followed by a laundry-list of complete bullshit that you're supposedly "saying", whenever you buy a blank deck.

Now, I pointed out to IASC early on, that when kids buy blank skateboards... they're generally saying something along the lines of, "Dude! I totally wish I could afford a pro board... but, I just can't right now". Or, "If I don't buy a blank, I probably won't be able to skate at all for quite some time". Or sometimes even, "Skateboard companies are greedy assholes, so I'd much rather support nothing".

But, two things that I've never, ever heard anybody say... ever... is that "I buy blank skateboards, because I love rollerblades" (seventh one down, on the left), or "I buy blank skateboards, because I drink my own pee" (third one down, on the right).

As a kid that came from a single-parent household (read: poor) that actually had to buy a blank from time to time, just to be able to skate... I found this awfully offensive. Since then, I've basically boycotted IASC, and all of their member companies. And I've encouraged a whole lotta heads to do the same thing.


I always did love the "industry should be run by frat boys" quip. Shit, dude: I thought that IASC was run by "frat boys"...! What the...?

The strangest thing about it all, though, was that IASC never really said all that much, publicly, about any of this. Their main talking point was that all they were doing, was "creating a dialog" about the plight of those under-paid, and under-appreciated pro skateboarders that were suffering and starving at the hands of "The Evil Blank-Buyers". The fact that they pissed off an entire army of kids around the world, seemed to escape them entirely. Or maybe, they just didn't care...?

I, for one, have always thought that an apology might have been the appropriate thing to offer to all of those kids. Something that said, "Hey, look, we totally meant well... but man, we also completely fucked up the translation. We're really, really sorry about that". That would have been really cool, and sort of noble and kind of them to do.

Five years later, I'm still waiting...


"I donate to the nazi regime"...?! Guys. You can't be serious...

These days, IASC is but a shell of its former self. Bernards is long gone. IASC "initiatives" are few and far between. Shop decks (the other "target" of the "Under Fire" report) are an even bigger chunk of the market now, than they were back then. Longboarding has taken over as the "most popular" form of skateboarding, while virtually no "longboard" companies at all are IASC members. And lastly... whereas "blanks" were considered an "easy" target, because they "don't support skateboarders, and/or skateboarding"... five years later, IASC's biggest, current threat... by far... are those 10,000,000 small, skater-owned companies that are popping up like weeds, all over the place. And unlike "blank companies", those companies are actually run by skaters, that do contribute an awful lot to skateboarding. And those companies, almost to a man, despise IASC, and all that it stands for.

Even worse: There is movement happening, amongst these companies, to start their own "trade organization". To take on IASC toe-to-toe, and to do legitimately cool things for skateboarding. Many of these companies are taking the "initiative" on their own, and coming up with some super-creative stuff. We even have a "trade show" coming up in April, that is as far removed from the stale, old "ASR model" as you could possibly get.

It gets even worse, guys: There's more than one of these "DIY Trade Shows" in the works. I think that's awesome...! Let skaters run the trade shows, the way that skaters want to see them run. By, and for, skaters! Oh, my gawd. What a concept.

In short: The future of skateboarding is actually starting to look pretty damn bright. But not so much, if you're IASC.


A lot of people credit me, personally, as "The guy that brought down Under Fire". But honestly, this is a huge misnomer. I'm not comfortable with that description one damn bit. It's honestly giving a whole lotta credit, where credit is in no way due. Yeah, sure: I did write some pretty snappy "think pieces" (that's code, by the way, for "sufferably long-winded diatribes") about the whole shebang. But as we all know, "think pieces" don't go over particularly well amongst skateboarders.

But, "funny" sure as hell does...! Enter Neal Boyd, and his classicly-hysterical "spoof" website, titled "A World Without CEOS". It, too, is now long gone... forever lost to the fast-moving sands of internet history. But if anybody, anywhere deserves any "credit" at all for "killing" Under Fire, it's probably Neal.

I'd add: Along with the 50-gazillion everyday kids, that also thought that the whole "initiative" was total bullshit...

But in my life... even though I did practically nothing at all to advance the cause (outside of lending one more voice to the chorus of pissed-off voices)... it was still a pretty pivotal moment. One thing that I realized, is that this "initiative" was a carefully orchestrated effort between IASC, TransWorld Business, and Trans World Skateboarding (all of their logos are on the cover, as you can plainly see in the first photo of the article).

Before "Under Fire", I had never questioned the ethics, and the integrity of the skateboard media. But, I sure as hell started to after "Under Fire" came out. The fact the the media heads didn't somehow stand up for the average kid (aka,"their readers") ultimately inspired me to help create the Everything Skateboarding that we all love to hate, today. Just to even up those odds a little bit, right...?

Maybe most importantly: It pressured me to take a closer look at who, and what, I'm supporting, whenever I'm buying any kind of skateboard product. Who is this company...? What do they stand for...? Who owns it...? Where is this product made...? Are they IASC members...? And, finally... can I really trust these dudes to do what's right for skateboarding?

It's a hard lesson to learn... but in this industry, you can never be too careful. I learned that one from Under Fire, too.


This is one of Paul Schmitt's Q&A's in "Under Fire". In hindsight, I think that the question- and, the answer- speak volumes. First of all, the damned question doesn't even make any sense. "What would happen to the industry if there were no hardgoods skate companies"...?! Well, I guess there'd be nobody making skate hardgoods...?(?!)

I think they meant to say, "branded hardgoods skate companies". But, whatever.

Anyway... five years later, what's happened to IASC, and their member companies...? Under the guiding hand of IASC, their member hardgoods companies have lost their "core", slipped into being a "commodity product", and are largely sold in big-box stores (like Zumiez) that pump no promotion into the market, leading to a pretty un-excited customer. Exactly what "The Professor" professed. Simply amazing.

Now, compare that to your typical small, non-IASC company. Those brands are still hella "core", and are making some pretty unique products, that are still largely sold at independent retailers, that give their blood, sweat, and tears to make skateboarding a better place for everybody... which leads to quite a few happy kids.

I'm sorry, but why are we lining up to join IASC again...? To be a part of epic fails like this...?

So, IASC. My five-year-anniversary question is pretty simple: How'd that "dialog" end up workin' out for ya...?!