December 22, 2020

The early days of the skateboard biz with Arbor Collective founder Bob Carlson [EP 252]

Arbor Collective just crossed the 25-year anniversary mark and I had the good fortune to sit down with founder Bob Carlson and talk about their history, the early days of skateboarding, and more.       Please give us a rating and…

Show Notes

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The early days of the skateboard biz with Arbor Collective founder Bob Carlson [EP 252]
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TOBP 252 | Skateboard Biz

 

Arbor Collective just crossed the 25-year anniversary mark and I had the good fortune to sit down with founder Bob Carlson and talk about their history, the early days of skateboarding, and more.

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Show Notes

Arbor Collective just crossed the 25-year anniversary mark and I had the good fortune to sit down with founder Bob Carlson and talk about their history, the early days of skateboarding, and more.

And we’re going to give away an Arbor Skateboard on the show this week. Listen to my convo with Arbor Collective Founder Bob Carlson! In celebration of Arbor’s 25th Anniversary, they are giving away an Arbor Skateboard to one lucky Outdoor Biz listener! The deadline to enter is January 22nd at noon Pacific time. The winner will be announced Monday, January 25th.

Show Notes

Introduction to skateboarding and snowboarding. When surfing sort of started growing in Southern California, one of the big scenes in LA was State Beach, Will Rogers State Beach, and in the seventies, a great single fin shaping tradition began there around a shop called Natural Progression. And a lot of great surfers came out of that era and that zone through the sixties and seventies from Mickey Munoz right on through shapers like Robbie Dick. And I kind of grew up in the middle of that, loving it, loving sort of just the whole outdoor life around the beach and surfing, and the culture and the people aspects of shape and art and color really captivated me. And probably I don’t know, it’s gotta be around the middle of elementary school I started skateboarding.

How did you meet Chris Jensen? I knew Chris in junior high. We became good friends in high school. And Chris was an amazing individual, you know, he woke up in the morning and the adventure started, he was always in the pursuit of fun. So he was that guy you wanted to be around because whatever he was doing was going to lead to good times. And he had a magnetic personality. He was a total charmer and he was just, he was a great friend. And we spent a lot of years traveling up the coast and down the coast. His family had a little piece of property on the beach North of Santa Barbara, that we used to camp out all the time. I still actually do. And so we were just good friends. Through that early part of life, a group of us went on a lot of adventures together that really kind of forms those lifelong friendships.

Hawaiian Koa Wood

The Sustainability Idea– I remember the trips up the 395 from Venice to Mammoth and talking about our business and what we were going to do next. And the idea of making snowboards came up. We could do koa top snowboards, no one was doing koa tops. No one was talking about sustainability at that time in snowboarding, everything was oriented towards the teenager, you know, bright, heavy graphics, big rock star athletes, and ambassadors. Fashion play baggy pants, really the focus on sort of urban culture. And as young environmentalists, but moving into our work lives, there was really not a lot out there for us. For people in this group of snowboarders that were going into their twenties and thirties and forties. And there was nothing oriented towards the non-teenage customer, the customer who was looking for a little ethos in their product or was looking for a different sense of style. That was cleaner, more craftsmanship oriented. And we, so we clearly knew that there was something to be had had there.

So, at some point I said to him, look dude, Go make one board, go make one snowboard. And if you can make one, I’ll be in. And he went out and he had a top sheet made and he went and found this guy, Michael Lish, who was running a little snowboard factory in the Valley. I’ll never forget the day he walked in the office and held it up and I was just like, okay, that’s life-changing now.

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The early days of the skateboard biz with Arbor Collective founder Bob Carlson

Episode 252 of The Outdoor Biz Podcast with Arbor Collective Founder, Bob Carlson, brought to you by CreativeLive. Start learning for free today with their amazing selection of on-air classes with over 1,500 curated classes in photography and video, money and life, craft and maker, art and design, and music and audio. There’s something for everyone. I’ve watched so many of their on-air broadcast for free or via class and own the content for life. Go to TheOutdoorBizPodcast.com/creativelive and start building creative skills from the world’s top experts today.

In November 2021, Arbor crossed the 25-year mark, and I have the good fortune to sit down and talk with the Founder, Bob Carlson, about this incredible milestone. Welcome to the show, Bob.

Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. It’s an honor.

Thank you. Good to talk to you. I love to catch up one of these days when you do come back up to go riding. We’re still in the lockdown phase. I’m sure it’ll pass though, as all things do. Let’s start off with when you began skateboarding and snowboarding.

I grew up in Southern California. I grew up in a place called the Santa Monica Canyon, which is tucked between Santa Monica and Palisades-Malibu. I was born in ’68. In the ‘70s, the Santa Monica Canyon was a real surf community. Today, it’s more of a hoity-toity zone. Back then, it was more working class. It was oriented to the beach. The culture that was there was a remnant of a day when Malibu wasn’t open.

People forget that PCH didn’t go through Malibu. The family that owned Malibu fought for years to keep their land not open to the public. That proposal to put a train and a road through there, I don’t think Malibu got open until the late ‘40s to early ‘50s timeframe. When surfing started growing in Southern California, one of the big scenes in LA was Will Rogers State Beach. In the ‘70s, there’s the great single fin, the shaping tradition there, around a shop called Natural Progression. A lot of great surfers came out of that era and that zone, through the ‘60s and ‘70s, from Mickey Munoz right on through shapers like Robbie Dick.

I grew up in the middle of that. I’m loving the whole outdoor life around the beach and surfing, the culture, and the people. Aspects of shape, art, and color captivated me. Around the middle of elementary school, I started skateboarding. I started skating on a Gordon Smith great little flex deck that I still fondly remember.

It was a time where the whole Dogtown and Z-Boys thing was happening down the street. We used to go skate to all the local schools, Paul Revere and Kenter Canyon. I was never a great skater but I was a kid who got the chance to see Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, and Jay Adams skating. They love the old footage of those guys skating in those schools and you always see these little kids in the background watching. I was looking at those kids.

I grew up in Fontana. We would come out there and do the same thing. I had one of the first fiberglass infinity decks.

I collect old skates. They’re such a testament to a great time in history.

Everybody did it. There were kids in the background. It wasn’t a handful of folks. Not everybody did sports, but everybody skated.

To me, it was freedom. Back in the day, this is before cellphones, cable TV, any kind of digital thing. Once you were, done with your chores or whatever, you were outside. If we weren’t at the beach, we were skating. Our mission in life back then was to talk our parents into taking us up to Kenter and Paul Revere to skate the banks.

We followed everything that those guys did. When Tony Alva invented the frontside air, it was monumental to us. I remember one of my favorite memories is walking. We used to go up to the Palisades and skate around, mess around, get away, and get in trouble. We were coming back down Chautauqua to walk down to the Canyon.

We looked over this fence and we’d heard about this radical cement halfpipe with no transition, no flat spot at the bottom. It’s totally unskatable. This guy is skating it, absolutely destroying it. We realize it’s Tony Alva. We sat there and watched him skate for an hour. We probably went back ten times to see if we could see him again, but he was never there.

A couple of years ago, I was at an event he was at and I asked him about it. He totally remembered it. He remembered the guy who owned it. Dad was in the construction business and built the halfpipe for him, and how hot a whack it was but how much he loved it because it was so hard to skate. That place and time influenced my life and my thinking on the whole outdoor and action sports world. It got me oriented the way I am around my personal pursuits.

Get on an adventure, take chances, and make mistakes in ways that wouldn’t kill you.

It was a different world back then. It shaped a lot of us in different ways. How did you meet Chris Jensen?

Chris and I were friends. I knew Chris in junior high. We became good friends in high school. Chris was an amazing individual. He woke up in the morning and the adventure started. He was always in the pursuit of fun. He was that guy you wanted to be around because whatever he was doing was going to lead to good times. He had a magnetic personality. He was a total charmer. He was a great friend.

We spent a lot of years traveling up the coast and down the coast. His family had a little piece of property on the beach, North of Santa Barbara, that we used to camp out all the time, and I still do. We were good friends through that early part of life. A group of us went on a lot of adventures together that forms those lifelong friendships. Mostly around surf.

All around activity, surf, skate, camping, snowboarding, and skiing.

Road trips.

It seems like the kids don’t form those bonds with that neighborhood posse, if you will. I had the same thing. There are about 5 or 6 of us that are still, to this day, good buddies. We get together and hang out, not as frequently as we used to. These days, kids are on the go a bunch. There are a lot more things to do these days, too. It was a different world back then.

It breaks my heart. With our kids, we are constantly battling the balance between indoor and outdoor activities. We want them outside. We got a rope swing in our backyard. Treehouses and trails are on this hillside that most people wouldn’t use. To me, it’s a little adventure. When you grow up like we did in the ‘70s, it was a safer time. Maybe it wasn’t, but it sure seemed like it. Certainly, the culture was more trusting. My rule was I had to be home by dinner.

Everybody had to be home when the streetlights came on. “Get home.”

That allowed it for a lot of getting out there, getting on an adventure, taking chances, and making mistakes in ways that wouldn’t kill you.

You banged up, but you wouldn’t die. We burned the candle at both ends, up early and home late every day.

We used to go sewer sliding. There’s this legendary spot in the Santa Monica Canyon where you’d crawl into the sewer. We call it sewer sliding, but it was just the gutter. We crawl into this sewer at the top of the Chautauqua, and it was like a waterslide all the way down to the creek at the Santa Monica Canyon. It was full-on. It’s funny, a few years ago and I was with the thing he wanted to know about. He’s like, “Were you one of those Canyon rats that sewer sliding?” I was like, “Absolutely. That was a huge part of making me into a formidable young man.” We would squeeze dish soap down it so we would go super fast. We’d bring flashlights and go and change. I don’t think that stuff happens anymore.

It’s too busy and too much traffic and various things. It’s crazy. Good times. What inspired you to launch a business? Were there other entrepreneurs in your family?

My dad was a bit of an entrepreneur. He carved his own path in Hollywood. He was a stuntman, a hand model, and actor. He found his own way to survive not being famous but being a working professional. I came from a family of people who hustle. My folks broke up early in life and that certainly drove me to skateboarding. Mom and dad were working. I had a ton of free time, so I was out skating as much as I could, but it certainly made me individualistic at the core.

The business ties back to Chris and I being from that first-generation kid that learned about the environment in school and on TV, Jacques Cousteau of Wild Kingdom. The concept of the environment and the problems of the environment had moved off the protest field into the schools and into the media. If you grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, you’re starting to become aware of the problems.

I ended up going to the University of Colorado and got myself a snowboard as soon as I got there. It was a place where those initial thinking and beliefs on the environment formulated into my academic experience. I wasn’t a great student. I was a C student on tests. Maybe a better student on the papers that I wrote. When you have the opportunity to pick what you want to write about and what you want to study, for me, it was the environment.

TOBP 252 | Skateboard Biz
Skateboard Biz: The idea behind Coalition was to introduce forest products to the world with sustainable sources of wood.

 

If you’re into the outdoors, surf, skate, snow, camping, hiking, or whatever it is, you’re constantly reinforced with the need to protect the playground. When I got out of college, the first thing I wanted to do was put a backpack on and see the world. I was doing tracks in Nepal through India and Thailand. I tracked in Tasmania and New Zealand. I budget-traveled around the world.

On my way back to Colorado, which is where I was going to spend the rest of my life because all I wanted to do at this time was go snowboarding as much as possible. I went to Southern California to see my folks on the way home and ran into Chris Jensen. We were out drinking beers one night and he started telling me what he was up to. Turns out he’s dating this girl in Hawaii, and her dad has this huge piece of land on Maui. It was 700 acres. He is restoring it with this eventual goal of donating it to the Holly Auckland National Park, which eventually was donated to. How we got that land and why he owned the land is a long and interesting story. Maybe for another podcast.

We’ll do another episode.

His friend worked for the state and forestry and what he was doing was trying to eliminate indigenous species. Island ecosystems are so threatened by introduced plants and animals because they haven’t developed defense mechanisms. Hawaii is overrun with feral pigs that came when the Polynesians came. Goats and cattle came with Westerners. Plants like strawberries and guava were introduced as ornamentals for people’s gardens.

All of that has taken over these co-wood forests in Hawaii, koa being their major large part wood. It stopped them from regenerating. He was trying to eliminate those plants and animals, and he was replanting areas that had been mowed over by the animals that were grazing. He was selling the lumber locally to fund the project. He thought Chris was the guy to take that operation and bring that sustainable wood to at least a national market.

Believe it or not, he was helicopter-logging the standing dead or the windfall trees. He’s milling those in Maui and selling those to artisans around Hawaii. Those people who work with wood will recognize the term Hawaiian koa. It’s this beautiful, colorful tropical wood that is known in the crafts world, furniture manufacturers, and guitar and ukulele manufacturers. All sorts of artisans love to work with koa and it has gotten increasingly rare as the forests have been protected or damaged beyond repair.

He was doing well and he thought that he could do more with this source of environmentally friendly wood if he could take it to the mainland. Being a local boy, he didn’t have anybody over there and he chose Chris Jensen. Chris, of course, is like, “Yeah, so I get to come to Hawaii and help with this helicopter harvesting and surf. Of course, I’m going to do it.”

Who would say no to that?

By the time I showed up idealistic and having seen a bit of the world, on my way back to the mountains, Chris started telling me the story and seeing if I wanted to be involved. Chris could sell ice to the Eskimos. He’s that guy. It wasn’t a hard sale. He’s like, “It’s an environmentally friendly wood.” I don’t think Chris was using the word sustainable.

That wasn’t a lexicon in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

We were talking about sustainability in our first catalog in ‘95. It’s certainly something that came from my exposure to environmentalism at school. When he started talking about environmentally friendly wood where we’re not building any roads or helicopter lumbering, only dead trees, no green trees, and money is going back. It certainly appealed to the environmentalist inside of me. The idea of going to Hawaii and surfing and building my own business around the environment is something I knew I would always do, but all of a sudden, here it is, I’m going to get a job and it’s falling in my lap. It sounds romantic and amazing.

I dropped everything. I ended up posting up at my parent’s house, and we started this little business. I didn’t get back to Colorado for a year to gather my things because we jumped in with both feet. We started this little company called Coalition. The idea behind Coalition was to introduce the forest products world to sustainable sources of wood, at least that was the plan. We launched with this sustainable source of Hawaiian koa and failed right out of the starting gates.

Were you selling it to artists as wood for making other products at the time?

We had started trying to sell the lumber. You can imagine when you’re heli-logging, it’s more expensive than dragging stuff out of forest bulldozers. No one was going to pay what we were selling the wood for because it was way too expensive. We got laughed out of these meetings. Some of that had happened before I showed up, so we decided to start veneering it. When you veneer a log, you’re slicing it.

It’s interesting because when you soak the log, you soften it, then you slice it like cheese. When you pass it sawblade through something, that sawdust is the byproduct that reduces the usable wood. It’s a great way of stretching resources. You get 100% of a log-in sheet veneer. If you’re thinking about a rare resource or you’re thinking about the planet, stretching resources is important.

Everybody needs to think about protecting the environment.

You don’t want to waste anything.

By veneering it, we were stretching the resource. Veneer is a wood product that a lot of people use to make faces and do different products. We started selling veneer. We could be a little bit more competitive, but we still were expensive compared to other co-veneerers that were out there. I remember trying to tell people about the fact that this was environmentally friendly. This is the early ‘90s. People were talking about sustainability, and these are some good old boys. They’re like, “I got sustaina-what? You want me to pay what?”

Ultimately, we realized that we had to keep bringing the materials down the product lifecycle so that we could catch up and be competitive. We started making door skins and picture frame moldings that we were selling back to a company in Hawaii called Pictures Plus and in other small picture frame manufacturing businesses. We were doing crown moldings and door skins. We even had a little line of furniture. We started clawing our way to a little bit of success. We were kids. We were in our early twenties, but we were taking it seriously.

You still had to go surf, skate, and drink beer.

We were in Mexico surfing all the time. We were up in Bear and Mammoth snowboarding all the time. These folks had a little condo up in Mammoth and we were up there working and riding as much as we possibly can. When you start working, you can’t always chase every storm, swell, or powder day. When you’re going to ride the groomers, you slow down a little bit and you enjoy the ride a little. You enjoy that trip a little bit.

I remember the trips of the 395 from Venice to Mammoth and talking about our business and what we were going to do next. The idea of making snowboards came up. We could do wood-top snowboards. No one was doing wood tops. No one’s talking about sustainability. At that time in snowboarding, everything was oriented towards the teenager. Bright heavy graphics, big rock star athletes and capacitors, fashion play, baggy pants. The focus is on urban culture.

As too young environmentalists but moving into our work lives, there was not a lot out there for people in this group of snowboarders that were going into their 20s, 30s, and even 40s. There was nothing oriented towards the non-teenage customer, the customer who was looking for a little ethos in their product or a different sense of style that was cleaner, more craftsmanship oriented. We clearly knew that there was something to have there but I was resistant, to be honest, because Chris was the dreamer and I was the doer. A good business need both. He’s coming up with some of the crazy ideas and I was executing on the ones that seem viable and, on my bandwidth, it was full.

I’m sure you guys are burning on both ends because none of that stuff is easy.

We were having a blast. I fondly remember those days. I try to duplicate them whenever I can. At some point, I said to him, “Go make one snowboard. If you can make one, I’ll be in.” He had a top sheet made and he went found this guy, Michael Lish, who was running a little snowboard factory in the valley, Yama Snowboards. Michael Lish is still out there somewhere. He lives somewhere on the 395. He used to be a big mono boarder.

He made one board. I’ll never forget the day he walked into the office and held it up. I was like, “That’s life-changing.” This has got to be somewhere in mid to late ‘94. It was beautiful and it was so different than everything else out there. I knew that the beautiful Hawaiian koa top sheet was sustainable. It had no plastic on top, so it was reduced the use of plastic with sustainably sourced woods. The environmentalist, entrepreneur, and snowboarder in me were all at the same time jumping up and down and screaming.

The guys that you ran with and did all your activities with, you must have had other friends that were concerned about the environment. Did you know you had a bit of a customer base at that time?

Environmentalism is an interesting thing. One of the problems with it is that it tends to be socioeconomically or upscale. I had two hard-working parents. I was lucky enough to have enough of a life that I could think about things like that. God bless Whole Foods, they do a wonderful job with the things that they sell, making them locally grown and sustainable, but it’s expensive.

If you’re not part of the 1% or 2%, you can’t afford to shop there, so you can’t participate paid in that effort to help with the production of food and drink, lessening the impact that the production has on the planet. At Arbor, we’ve had a $300 snowboard forever. For us, it’s about making sure that everybody who walks in the door can participate in what we’re doing at Arbor. Not everybody that I ran with was into it, but enough people.

You know you had a few folks.

In those people that have got it, they love the classic woody vibe, surf vibe, craftsmanship, quality, look, feel, how different it was, and the sustainable story. It certainly resonated with enough of my friends, where I felt that we had something. We ended up in March of ‘95, waking up at probably 3:00 AM getting in the car and driving out to Vegas to the SIA show, and sneaking in. We snuck in the door and walked to the show with the board.

TOBP 252 | Skateboard Biz
Skateboard Biz: Arbor Collective was the first action sports brand founded to focus on sustainability and to give back.

 

Every year that I go to a trade show, I see those two young kids walking the trade show with their snowboard that they’ve made and how they’re going to change the industry. My heart goes out to them because I was that kid. We walked around the trade show in ‘95. This was a time when the ski industry was still wearing suits. Snowboarding was regulated to this little side room where the party was happening. Chris and I locked in there in t-shirts, jeans, and Vans, and found our tribe. It was a complete raging party.

The kind of people that we were drawn to, we were home. We met a ton of people and showed the product to a bunch of people our one board. We got such good feedback that later that month in November, we were prototyping through that period of time and we incorporated and launched Arbor in November of ‘95. We called it Arbor because it’s the Latin word for tree. We had a customer called Arbor Veneers that we were selling koa veneer to. I thought that was a cool name. We’ve poached that name and thought that it was a good name for our snowboard company because trees were the resource by which we were getting this, the wood that was making us stand out and be different.

We decided early on that we were going to take a portion of our proceeds to plant koa trees in Hawaii, so we’ve been doing it since ‘95. When we launched, we were definitely the first action sports brand founded to focus on sustainability to give back. I say that now, and it sounds like we were such innovators, but we were so far off the cutting edge. Somebody call it the bleeding edge to me. We made every mistake in the book. Frankly, in the ‘90s when everybody was so radical, we were out there talking about this team or that team or this rock star athlete, big graphics, and big fashion. We were out there talking about sustainability and wood tops. It wasn’t as cool to the industry.

It sucks on your head. You launched in ’95. When did it begin to take off? You guys hit the ground running, I know.

Nobody in their right mind would have started a snowboard brand in ’95. There were 300 snowboard brands. With the third wave of snowboarding, everybody had jumped in. It was a hugely growing activity but way more product was being produced and there were way too many brands. At that first SIA, there was something like 200 brands. If you counted the global brands, there were 300 brands in snowboarding, making snowboards at that time.

We were so different that we cut through a lot of that noise. There were no websites. You only sold at retail. At a time when most of our retailers are carrying twenty boards, we made the cut. We helped diversify this range of snowboards and. As different as we were, with that kind of a layout, there was a place. Benny Pellegrino, who for years bought for a shop called Milosport out of Utah, once told me, “You guys are so alien. You’re aliens in the snowboard.” That’s how different we seemed.

In ’95, it was a whole different world. I was at Eagle Creek then, and the internet wasn’t a thing. I’m trying to convince people it was a thing in what we were doing. You go to those trade shows, and the snowboarding group was still rough and tumble ragamuffin kids out there.

SIA combined with OR. We did that show. That was my first real exposure to the outdoor world. It was important for our brand. We should talk about that. I wrote about the need for Arbor to be in the outdoor world because the outdoor industry had embraced environmentalism earlier than the action sports industry, probably because of the leadership of Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia.

They drove that bus.

The first snowboard I ever gave away was to Yvon Chouinard. He was my business hero. I wanted Arbor to be so much like Patagonia. A lot of what we model the brand around was what Patagonia was doing. In the mid to late ‘90s, we did okay. We started building the business, and we made a ton of mistakes. In our first trade show, we sold 1,000 boards, and we had no ability to make those boards.

“Could you make them?”

We took a huge deposit from a Japanese distributor. We spent that deposit in trying to build our little teeny factory that we had opened into something that could scale up. We could not scale up. Midway through the production year, I had to tell the Japanese distributor, “We spent all his money, and we made 50 boards.” I had to go quickly and find a factory partner. We ended up partnering with Creed Snowboards down in San Diego. I lived at the factory for the next few months. We made 400 boards and saved the brand barely.

That happened a few times.

We started a different type of business where we focused on innovation and design, and moved away from manufacturing, and found better manufacturing partners.

You build sustainability into the manufacturing process, too, right?

Failure forces you to rethink how you do things.

100%. Reduced use to plastic and we started insisting that the poplar we were using in our course was farm-grown. We worked with a company called Bo Woods, Paul Sethi and we’re using farm-grown, non-forest-based poplar, sustainable wood tops, no plastic top sheets, and we went from there. Our first skateboards, which we were prototyping right from the start, were snowboards we bolted a one buy on, put some big old tracker trucks, and would go bomb this local hill called Temescal Canyon late at night.

We were making our boards figuring it out as we went. We couldn’t throw them away because it’s not in your soul to toss something so beautiful and sustainable. The edge wasn’t glued in right. We started cutting them into shapes and having fun cutting out little surf shapes. Those first boards are good for bombing hills at late night, but not much else.

Eventually, by ’97, we’re using sustainably sourced maple. We launched our first skateboards later that year, which was always part of the plan. By 2000, the snowboard industry, which was our leading product and how we were building wherever, was consolidating. Those same shops were carrying twenty brands. We’re sometimes carrying as few as 5 or 6. We weren’t always making the cut. We were outsiders. We weren’t pro-riders. We hadn’t been reps, so we never worked with another brand. We did little about the hardest snowboarding.

The business side of the outdoor sports retail started to catch up with all the brands in about 95 to 2,000. That’s when things started to get a little more business-polished, put on the brands. If people are looking at their numbers and brands not making it, then they’re not going to make the cut.

At the same time, at least in action sports, the shop kid had a tremendous amount of influence on the buy. The buyers who are also influenced by what was cool in snowboarding were interested in brands that were making the media. You have the athletes that could get those video parts. We’re doing big, innovative graphics. We’re connecting to larger street culture.

Even though we knew we had an audience and we were selling products between us and our customer, co-retailer, especially retailer that wasn’t getting Arbor and couldn’t afford to have this outside of the box niche brands, we didn’t see ourselves as a niche. We thought that it was something that everybody needed to think about.

Protect the environment.

It appeared to be outside, not part of what was core to snowboarding. We were getting laughed at. We were called hippies. I couldn’t have been anything farther from hippies. We were snowboarders, the guys that grew up skating and surfing, and love snowboarding, and environmentalists, but people didn’t get it. We took a lot of punches and there’s a lot of chuckling when it came to the Arbor brand that wasn’t cool.

How did you change that?

That’s paying a price, more debt, and inventory that wasn’t selling. If the inventory level is going up, there’s a lot of sleepless nights. By 2000, 2001, we had a couple of conversations about closing the doors again. There were 50 brands left at that point. We’d seen 250 brands go away. A lot of those brands had brought in investors. They had brought in people that were oriented around money, making money.

That was a big thing going on then.

A couple of companies had gone public and then had to go on public. At one point, I sat down and pulled back from the business a little bit. I wrote a write-up on what we were doing right and what we were doing wrong. I asked a bunch of questions and I realized that what we didn’t know was a lot. We were the classic entrepreneurs. We started a business because we were good at one thing or we do one thing, which is wood. We didn’t know that the other twelve things you need to know to have a successful business. We didn’t know much about marketing.

Frankly, we hadn’t built any bridges to the heart of snowboarding. We had stayed outsiders. We enjoyed our outsider approach. That’s what allowed us to think outside the box. In a tighter, smaller consolidating industry, that outside-of-the-box presentation left us in a place where we’re not growing and succeeding.

We had team riders, free riders, big mountain guys, backcountry writers, guys like John Griber, Jason Schutz, and Kenny Perkins. People that could get us the imagery and help us innovate for our customer, which at that point was a real free ride customer. The industry was focused around freestyle, park riding, spark and street, and a super core youth-oriented presentation of snowboarding. We couldn’t even get to our customers because we weren’t cool in the freestyle-oriented part of it.

All the mountains were putting in parks. I remember I would put that park in right around then.

TOBP 252 | Skateboard Biz
Skateboard Biz: Through humility, we became better people and a better business.

 

Mind you, when Chris and I started, we were up in Bear all the time. We launched the brand with twin tips. Within six months, we had added directional freeride boards because when people saw our boards, they said, “This customer is free ride. This customer is riding the backcountry. This country is running big mountains.”

It happened that Chris and I were starting to do more of that. I remember we went and bought snowshoes. We had these matching snowshoes. He would go into the backcountry, learning backcountry safety and riding and starting to seek out powder. It was in line with the evolution of our riding. We never stopped making twin tips, but the biggest part of our business became free ride at that point. We didn’t have athletes that connected at all.

What do you do to flip the script?

I had to turn the pyramid upside down. I had to get myself out of the way, sit at the bottom of the discussion, and make sure we stuck to sustainability and craftsmanship, and bring in people who can help us build bridges to the hardest snowboarding. That started with bringing in team riders. We thought we didn’t need to have team riders. We’re going to build a brand around the product. Turns out our product was so different. We needed team riders more than brands that were built around team riders because we needed advocates for a different story and a different perspective on snowboards and skateboards.

We had brought in people to help us build a bridge in conversation with the heart of snowboarding. We went out, and we’ve hired Mike Bassett, Rob Kingwill, Morgan Lafond, and we built what we refer to today as our first endemic team. We also started bringing in a couple of kids from snowboard shops. Eventually, that led to kids from the media and ultimately people from other companies. We started improving the management team. We brought in artists and started adding art and color to our boards in a way that was balanced well with the wood top sheets, artists and also team riders that were concerned about the environment.

We built what we call today the Arbor Collective. We went from being the Arbor to being the Arbor Collective. What that refers to is all the people that are at the table in the discussion around the development of our products and our marketing, how we tell our story, and how we communicate with the culture of snowboarding. I had to because there’s nothing like failure to make you rethink how you’re doing things, almost losing the money of people who believed in you.

Good on you for recognizing that though, and enabling the change. How many times do you and I know brands and businesses that didn’t recognize it or recognize it and stuck to their guns to go the other way and they’re gone? It takes a smart person to step back and say, “We got to flip the script.”

I’m never copping with being a smart person. Failure is so important in people’s lives. When you’re a parent, you don’t want to protect your kids from failure. It’s so important. Failure forced me to rethink how we were doing things. Failure forced me to get my ego out of the way. Failure forced me to recognize that we didn’t know anything about marketing and connecting with the core culture of snowboarding, which we relied upon to help our story get told to the end-user.

We were the kind of people that could connect with that culture. We were part of that culture but we never had, on behalf of Arbor, made that effort. By bringing in people who knew more about the subtleties about what was cool, I’m starting to listen and build a collective of people. Some were woodworkers and athletes. They came from different places, all of who snowboarded, but we ended up making Arbor more resonance and more relevant. I learned so much from guys like Mike Bassett and Rob Kingwill. It changed how we talked about our product and how we added color and art to our products. It did not at all change the original mission. We were still and doing even more around sustainability and the craft, which leads to durability.

Those guys helped you turn it into a true business. You’re delivering what the customer wants.

We start growing again. In the new century, our sales picked back up and we got back on track.

We’re going to take a little break to announce a giveaway. To celebrate Arbor’s 25th-year anniversary, they’re going to give away an Arbor skateboard to one lucky Outdoor Biz follower. Go to TheOutdoorBizPodcast.com/arbor and enter to win. The contest runs through noon on January 22nd, 2021 and the winner will be announced Monday, January 25th.

When did you launch the retail stores? You had one probably right out of the gate. Everybody sells out of their shop, but when did you get into traditional retail?

That’s an interesting story. It’s not something that was necessarily planned. We started growing, and we had added skateboard. Skateboard started taking off. We started doing apparel. We were the early adopters of organic cotton. We were the first to introduce bamboo into a snowboard core. We were the first to do a bamboo top sheet. Bamboo is an amazing material. Of all the woody plants out there, it is the most renewable and most sustainable to grow.

I was up in San Francisco at this guy’s office, and he threw me a bar towel. He said, “What do you think that is?” I wasn’t paying attention. I said, “A bar towel. It says Carlsberg right on it.” He said, “That’s bamboo.” I was like, “What do you mean it’s bamboo? It can’t be bamboo.” He’s like, “That’s made from the cellulose of bamboo, and it spun into a fiber.” I learned a lot about it, and we were the first to bring bamboo t-shirts into the apparel market.

Every time you grow, you have to come up with more money to manage that growth.

Things were going good, and we were sticking to our theme. Over time, what Arbor became was a broader brand. We used to say, “If you can’t do it between Venice and Mammoth, it’s not Arbor.” All of those trips, the 395, increasingly became a huge part of the journey. The Alabama Hills camping, stopping at some crazy saloon, and going up to the bristlecone pines. We’re exploring the 395 and everything it has to offer.

The gear you have on that trip so that you can stop and skate a canyon, some spot, and some ditch. You can land in Mammoth with some snow on the ground. Everything we were doing, we wanted to add to and bring sustainability to. Our skateboard program was going good and we were outgrowing our warehouse. We had been making our skateboards at the Sector 9 factory in San Diego for several years. We started there in 2000 and by 2007, they were exploding as well. They were the first mover in that, and then lifestyle skateboarding.

We’d gotten close with these guys. Steve Lake and Dennis Telfer, the two founders, had bought a building across the street and expanded their production. As I was going, “We can’t continue to run out of our little Venice warehouse. We’re growing and our debt is too much.” Growth is this weird thing when you’re a small business. It can kill you because every time you grow, you have to come up with more money to manage that growth. It’s all extended into terms.

We were struggling with growth. The idea of opening a warehouse somewhere that was bigger and we could service this new, wider range of products was nerve-wracking, to say the least. I built this factory, got it done, looked at it, and said, “I built that up more than I can chew.” We were both whining to each other and started talking about how we could partner. We ended coming up with this plan where we would partner on a global distribution model. He became our exclusive global distributor and oversaw production and sales for over skateboards.

We oversaw the marketing, product development, art development, branding development and kept those components of the business in our office in Venice. We expanded our collective model to now include our distribution and manufacturing partners. People who come from the surf, skate, snow world who are dedicated, who could add to the conversation. Steve used to say, “Bob Carlson opens up my catalog, so he knows how to be different, where everybody else opens up our catalog to rip us off.” The truth was I was never looking at their catalog. We were just doing our thing.

Arbor and Sector 9 fit well together. We were a good one-two punch. We separated the brands at sales and marketing and product development, but behind that, we came together, saved a lot of money, built this little house of brands around skateboarding, and expanded our collective. It was the right thing for that program at that time.

A couple of years later, I eventually did the same thing with a company called Motion Sports with our snowboard program, and then put our program into a third partnership. When we talk about the collective, it’s about these three partners that I work with that are big global businesses, competitive, and provide the customer service and business performance that people expect. At Arbor, each of those three people has their marketing and product development people working under my guidance with the art department, the brand team.

All being the small lab for the business that allows us to keep it close to our customer, connected to our original mission around sustainability, craftsmanship, and the performance and durability that stems from that. Also, focused on what we need to do to continue to innovate and stay authentic. Frankly, it’s allowed us to avoid having a big VC company or a big financial firm partnered in this business and telling us what we need to do. Focusing exclusively on making money rather than what’s important to us, which is making rad products sustainably.

That collective model is smart. Have you seen that somewhere?

I had never seen it somewhere. I get people to chuckle when they hear this because you walk into Arbor in Venice any day, and there are people drawing paychecks from four different companies, in my three partners. It is the ultimate sharing model. We share responsibilities and the revenues around the Arbor brand.

It’s super smart and creative. I love it.

It allows us to be big and small at the same time. That’s been our secret. We don’t get distracted in Venice around credit checking or logistics or warehousing or production issue, or sourcing issues. We leave that up to our partners and they do it well. They do it globally. It allows us to stand toe to toe with the biggest brands out there.

The beauty is you can maintain a commitment to your core values and the things that you started the whole brand on.

We’re still skating and snowboarding all the time. We’re still talking about sustainability. We’re talking about a great product, innovative product, great graphics, great art, great art stories, and working with artists and athletes that are environmentalists. That conversation around the collective happens at the highest level with all of those people in Venice at the laboratory for the brand. It all stems from walking away from your ego and walking away frankly from your need to make all the money if you’re willing to share some of the money with good people. Today, those three partners are all privately held companies that are interested in living an outdoor life.

We eventually moved everything out of that Venice warehouse, and we had this empty space, which we threw a few good parties and events. We realized it was time for us to open a store, and that was also a momentous thing for us because when we opened the store and put that creative laboratory around a store, it connected the most important part of the innovators at the collective to their customers. When your ADD kicks in at Arbor, and you can’t stare at your screen any longer, you go down and you sell snowboard, talk about snowboarding and skateboarding.

TOBP 252 | Skateboard Biz
Skateboard Biz: Sort what you’ve accomplished over the years and where you want to go from there.

 

Every single day, except for COVID, we are immersed in the conversation about what customers want from the products, what they’re looking for, and what questions they have. If you want to stay connected to your customer and what’s evolving, keep your innovators within earshot of the conversation with customers. That was a great lucky stroke for the brand. We had this space and we decided to try our hands at retail. I didn’t want to.

That’s a scary move. There’s a lot of things that can go south at retail.

I had started a business not knowing anything about the business, so I was gun-shy about doing it again. I did that several times before we became retailers. I talked to ET, Spyder, and Val Surf. I wanted them to come in and maybe collab on a space. They ran it, and all of them said, “No, Bob. You need to open an RV store.” “I would love to. This is a great location.” I can’t thank them enough. We did, and we learned how to become good retailers, and that’s made us a better brand.

Over the years, unfortunately, especially in California, snow and skate surf shops have closed and we filled a few holes. We opened a store in Tahoe and now we have a store in San Diego. It’s neat because, at the head of the brand, there’s this small laboratory for development, branding, marketing, and product development. It goes out to our three partners that sell it around the world but through the same distribution channels. All three parties used the same reps and often the same distributors.

In each category, sales is in different places to a degree. There are shops that carry over our products but not everyone. I always looked at our tradeshow booth and said, “It’s so good to see everything together.” At our retail stores, you can come in, and you can see all of the Arbor products, how they work together, how the themes of sustainability, natural materials, craftsmanship, performance, durability, all run through all those products, and then tied together.

You guys have released your first Hawaiian koa top snowboard since 2008.

This is our 25th anniversary.

Tell us about that.

I did a bunch of stuff. They’ve got me digging through the archives. We’re doing some founder’s archives and social media posts, which are cool. At this point, I’m letting it all hang out. We’re at a point where we can laugh at ourselves and laugh at the mistakes we’ve made. At Arbor, we innovated and we did a lot of stuff first, but I don’t want to talk about that without talking about the mistakes we made. We were not brilliant. We got lucky. We stuck to our guns and we worked hard. We made a lot of mistakes.

Through that humility, we became better people and a better business. Through that humility, we can talk about the innovations in the first that we created. I want to do that with these archives. I want to show some of the goofier marketing, some of the rad design efforts. I’m about to post our first SIA tradeshow booth to rebuild a piece of Hawaiian koa for us and in Vegas. It was awful.

I lost my cofounder a few years ago. He had a foot in the wood products world and he was still sourcing sustainable koa logs and selling them to different people for veneer. I went out and found the last two logs that he had sourced before he passed away. We veneered them and we made the first koa top snowboards and the first koa top skateboards since 2008. It’s a recognition of the old days, the original material. We still are planting. Our giveback efforts are still in Hawaii, which is something we should probably touch on, our returning roots program.

Chris and in his wild dreams and his idea that we could make a business around helicopter lumbering Hawaiian koa, surfing, snowboarding, and making a living around environmentalism. The snowboard is out, and the skateboard will be out. It’s cool to be offering koa top sheets again in our skate and snowboard line for the first time since 2008.

The documentary you released, Crossing The Grain, that talks a little bit about that.

The documentary will be out in January 2021. We released our first trailer. That is Crossing The Grain. It’s about the foundation coming out. It’s the first action sports brand founded to focus on sustainability. The first amateur sports brand to make a commitment of proceeds of sales to giving back to the environment, then all the things we did in between.

That’ll be fun to watch. I can’t wait for that.

Walk away from your ego and from your need to make all the money.

We talked about environmentalism wasn’t cool. We take a good laugh at ourselves, and we talk about some of the ups and downs, some of the drama, how we built the collective model, and how people are what saved and made this brand thrive, the people that have been part of it along the way. Ultimately, we get to what we’ve accomplished over the years and where we want to go from here. It’s called Crossing The Grain, and it’ll be out in January 2021. I’m looking forward to it. Chris was the charmer. Chris was the better-looking, better-athlete guy. He was supposed to be out in front of the brand. I was the doer, but life throws you curveballs. They’ve got me on camera telling some of these stories. They’ve got me doing this podcast.

You’re a natural. You’re doing a good job at it. Having been there, you get the ethos across, and you get all the ideas across, too. You do a good job at it, so don’t shy away from that.

I’ve always been a good storyteller.

It’s all this, telling stories.

Doing the movie got me tuned up on the narrative and the history. I’m having fun doing it.

Normally at this point, I go into some standard questions about advice and things, but I want to shift gears a little bit because we’ve talked a couple of times about how environmentalism wasn’t cool. I feel like environmentalism still isn’t cool. I wonder if you have any thoughts you have on how we can continue to drive that narrative because we’re still chewing up the world. At some point, we’ve got to reverse that and chew it up less as opposed to more. What are your thoughts on that? I know this is out of the blue left field, but it’s spitballing that.

Environmentalism is tough. Sustainability is a difficult road to walk on. We learned early on that if you want to be successful in that first business and environmental products, you’re going to have to make your price points the same as the non-environmental products. People will pay more for something that is sustainably produced. You’ve got to make them have the same quality and performance, if not better if you’re going to be talking about sustainability.

We realized a long time ago that sustainability is the tiebreaker. The values of the products better be there. The price point, quality, durability, style, story, vibe, and overall product better competes at every level, if not higher than then everything else out there. When you tell a sustainability story, you can usually win the argument. The product problem is along the way, it’s harder to make the margin the standard margin. You’re using more expensive materials and more expensive to source and produce.

If you want to be producing things more sustainably, you have to be willing to work on lower margins. You have to know why you’re doing it. You have to believe in it. Over the years, I’ve seen people try and give up because it is not the path to maximum profits. There’s usually some profit-oriented guy behind the brand that insists that it’s done that way.

It’s not always about the profits. You have to make money, but you don’t have to make that much money. You can get by with a little bit less.

Money comes. Patagonia is a great example of a hugely successful business that is making plenty of money and doing right by the planet. They’ve got a successful price point, and they’ve been able to position themselves at a higher price. Along the way, it was the fact that they were private, in my opinion, and didn’t have to show the ups and downs, maybe some down years or some flatter years.

They didn’t have to show their margin because of the private nature of the business. They could make those choices. They didn’t have to play in a public market and show that their margin maybe wasn’t as much as a competitor because they were doing right by the planet. They were doing it because they believed in it at their core from their foundation on up.

That’s a nice thing about being private, and you’re a part of sustainability. Ultimately, what I saw is there was this period where people were talking about going green. It was so fake. It was so plastic. Chris and I took so many hits around sustainability that we continued to put the information out there, but we stopped hitting people over the head with it. It was not something that the core of snowboarding thought was cool in the ‘90s.

We decided we were going to keep doing it because this is who we were. There’s no point in us doing it if we weren’t going to build the brand around sustainability. We never stopped telling the story but we stopped hitting people over the head. We got to this period of 2012, 2013, and 2014. Somewhere in there, going green was the thing and it was a marketing ploy for so many companies. It was so fake, and it went away because people realized that is not the path to growth and higher profits. Certainly, higher returns because of the cost of doing it. Now, we’re in a new place. A lot of the action sports and outdoor industry are embracing it in an authentic way.

More and more of them.

TOBP 252 | Skateboard Biz
Skateboard Biz: Patagonia is a great example of a hugely successful business making plenty of money and doing right by the planet.

 

You look at Burton, Jones, and some of the skateboard brands, those companies are doing it from a serious place of authenticity, from a personal place and a crystal-clear understanding of what we’re protecting. When we’re protecting the planet, we’re protecting our playground. We need snow to snowboard. We need clean air to skate, we need clean water to go out and surf, and everything we do in between the camping and the outdoors that we’re drawn to. I feel like the sustainability you’re seeing in the larger outdoor world today is authentic.

We’ve reached a critical mass where Chris and I had to build, innovate, and create some of the materials that we’re using, but now you can buy an off-the-shelf organic cotton blend. A lot of the processes that we’ve invented to make wood and bamboo snowboard top sheets possible, which we never patented because we wanted people to pick up on natural fibers, are now more readily available. A lot of our competitors have wooden bamboo top boards. We’re stoked to see it. We’re in a good place, and I would say that we’re not there yet.

We watched the market go from Gen X to Millennials. We were in that Gen X world, and we thought we would get more adoption out of Gen X, but we didn’t. When we turned that corner and flipped the brand on its head, and brought everybody to the table, another thing happened. Our customers, the athletes, new employees, and the artists a lot of them are Millennials, and our customers are Millennials.

Millennials were so much more tuned up on the environment than Gen X-ers. Gen Z coming down the pipeline, they won’t consider your brand worth identifying with if you’re not making an effort around sustainability. The market is going to demand it, so those last corners that are not embracing it at some levels are going to be forced to come up with an effort. Honestly, the bigger dealers are going to demand that you’re making an effort, certainly big guys like REI are today.

They had an announcement. It is shifting gears, and it is moving towards a more sustainable industry.

The power of consumers is going to move it in the right direction. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can make the perfect environmental product. The future is about taking steps and allowing yourself to take steps to a more perfectly sustainable product. We only use bioresin, bioplastics, or recycled plastics in our boards, but they’re still plastic.

Bioplastic has the same chemistry that plastic is made from, and it has a much-reduced carbon footprint. You’re getting that chemistry out of living plants. They’re not plants that have been dead for a million years that you have to drill out of the ground and transport around the world to process at a high-cost and high-carbon cost. Bioplastics are a good solution, but they still don’t biodegrade. I love our skateboards because they’re made with wood and wood glue. When you’re done skating, you can take the trucks off and recycle them, cut the deck up, bury your backyard, and it will absolutely biodegrade locally. That doesn’t happen with snowboards.

My dream is over the next couple of years, I would like to have a snowboard that is biodegradable in your backyard. It’s been passed through users, and the last guy finally kills it or the last girl kills it, they can cut it up and bury it in the backyard. This concept of brown compostable products where you send them back in doubling their carbon footprint to a factory where they’re bathed in a toxic solution and their components come apart so they can then be recycled or composted is not the solution.

We’re not making the perfect snowboard yet despite the fact that all the metals are recyclable, all the wood sustainably sourced, all the plastics are bioplastic, and the waxes are environmentally friendly. We’ve got to work towards getting there. For the industry to move in that direction, you’ve got to be okay with it. You’ve got to be okay with taking steps towards that brighter future. That thinking allows people to make a move and move towards a more sustainable line of products and feel good about it.

We are headed that way. We’ve come a long way. Guys like you and Yvon leading the charge, good on you.

You won’t hear me put myself in his company. He’s an icon to me.

He’s an icon to all of us but you’re doing a good job, so keep it up.

Thank you. I appreciate that.

Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks wanting to get into the business, whether it’s a manufacturing business?

Do an internship at a company that you admire. Offer your services and learn. We would have been a faster-growing company if I had gone out and not learned everything the hard way and failed every time. If you had gone out and maybe done an internship or got a job somewhere, it will help you orient yourself around all the things you’re going to need to do to start a company. Having said that, don’t focus too much on the failures that may lie ahead for you because they will teach you some important lessons, and you’ve got to go for it and believe at some point.

You have to be okay with taking steps towards a brighter future.

Ask questions and be willing to hear advice from people, especially around finances. The idea of cashflow is a difficult thing for people to get their heads around. It was for me. I was naturally oriented to the P&L. If you don’t understand your balance sheet and if you don’t understand a cashflow statement, it’s difficult to keep a business healthy. Seek help on those things.

That’s good advice. The internship is a great one.

It’s getting harder for companies to do internships because of some of the changes to employment law. If you can find one, take it to see behind the curtain to help you understand your vision. Honestly, you’ve got to love what you do. You’ve got to believe in what you do. You can’t change an industry if you don’t lead from a place of total authenticity. You can’t come at it unless you’re coming at it with a passion that is personal. From that, you can get out there and offer something unique, different, special, and worthy of shelf space.

I can’t imagine that a lot of brands today are starting with a website. They’re not starting with a wholesale effort. That’s a mistake. Brands that don’t understand that their retailers are their partners, and honor that they are showrooming their products, and don’t understand that touch and feel is the way to create a connection to consumers that is authentic. I don’t want to overuse that word. It’s tangible. You can’t do that unless you’re working with retailers and selling to them in a way where they make money and are successful with your brand.

We are big advocates for our retail partners and how important they are to telling our story and letting people come in and experience the product. I don’t believe that retail is going away. The Amazon aspect of the world of retail and the COVID shutdowns are making retailers better. The retail experiences out there are going to get better and more compelling, like cultural hubs, clubhouses for activities, places where you can connect with people who know more than you and can advise you. You can shoot the crap about products, places, and people. They’re more important maybe than they ever were in a world where we’re closed off from a lot of the things we used to do to keep the sanity of the outdoors.

You’re right, the Amazon type model will continue to exist for some of the commodity type stuff. For equipment and clothing and certain tools and things, you have to get there and physically see it and touch it and maybe even use it for a bit. That’ll change.

The stores that are going to survive are the ones that recognize their cultural impact. There are stores that blow my mind today with how welcoming and interactive they are. Today, people’s bandwidth and attention span are short. Thanks to our media. I’m constantly amazed how many people come in the door on their way to go snowboarding or skateboarding. They make the decision to go ride in the morning, and they’re trying to work hard to get out of the door on time to beat the traffic. They’re heading up to the mountains, and they’re rolling through and buying a new board.

The internet can’t compete with that speed which, is interesting. I advise people to know that the retailer is your friend. I’m sure that new brands need to start with a direct-to-consumer business, but don’t forego the power of the retail partner to make your brand real for people and tangible, treat them as a partner, and care about the money that they make. Also, the success that they have around your product because then they’ll care more about your brand and your business, and they’ll tell your story. If you’re a startup, they’ll help you launch and help you get the exposure that you need.

That’s good advice. A couple of personal questions for you. Do you have any daily routines you used to keep your sanity?

I ride my bike. I bike to work every day. We have a retail store, so I’m allowed to be working at my office, thank God. My wife is thankful as well. We have an environment that’s distant. I am on my bike and I need that. I need to be doing something physical before I wake my brain up and turn it away from work. I was skating for a while, and I still skate around my neighborhood.

If you surf, skate, or snowboard, there’s something about the turn that creates sanity. There’s something about the physical feeling of a deep curve that goes right to some part of my brain that lights me up and makes me feel healthy and good. I need to make a few turns. I’m not commuting to work on my skateboard. In Venice, that became a little hair raising. I’m on my bike, but I’m still skating around town. I was hooked on it for a while because I was walking, talking on my phone, and working. I got tired of doing that. I wanted to unplug, so I hopped on my bike. I’m getting out and riding as much as possible.

Good for you. You’re still living the life. That’s awesome.

I’ve got kids now too, and they’re part of your snowboarding, surfing, skateboarding that you don’t plan for when you’re younger but experience, that is hugely meaningful for my snowboarding, for example. That is teaching my kids how to ride, riding with them, and watching them get lit up around making the same turns.

We have to connect when you get back up to Mammoth. I don’t ride, but I can watch or take pictures or something.

We’ll hang out and have a beer.

TOBP 252 | Skateboard Biz
Skateboard Biz: You can’t change an industry if you don’t lead from a place of total authenticity.

 

We can do that too. How about books? Do you have any favorite books or books that you give as gifts?

I’m a big Tolkien guy. The way he wrote his books and his descriptions of the world, I see the larger outdoor world and the power and majesty of the outdoors. I turned my kid on to those. That’s what sprang to mind. I probably read The Lord of the Rings 4 or 5 times. It’s a book that I carried around the Annapurna Circuit with me up into the Annapurna Sanctuary, so it’s imprinted on my DNA.

That’s a good one. As we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to say or ask of our audience?

I want to thank the people who have supported us through the years, the good times and bad. You are part of the collective. Your support allows us to do right with Arbor by the planet by snowboarding, skating, and everything that happens in between all the good times we seek out in between. You’re an inspiration. The feedback we get from our customers and from our dealers helps keep us real.

That’s a big thing that I don’t get a chance to do enough. Come see us in Venice. If you come into Venice, feel free to ask for me. If I’m there, I’ll come down and say hello and tell you about what we’re doing. We’re open about it. We are in this great situation where we have the ability to connect with our partners, who are the people who ride our boards ultimately.

Where can people find you if they want to follow up? Do they go on the website?

ArborCollective.com. @ArborSkateboards on Instagram, @ArborSnowboards, and @ArborCollective if you want to see the wider program, including apparel and footwear on Instagram. I’m @Arbor_BC on Instagram.

It’s been great talking to you. One of these days, we’ll connect down there up here or something. It’ll be good to see you.

I’d love to have you down. It would be good to see you again. Thanks. This has been a real honor. I appreciate you giving me a chance to get romantic about the history of Arbor.

It’s been a great story. Thanks for coming on.

Thanks. Cheers.

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