As a consumer we can make choices, and our choices can speak volumes about the kinds of things we wish to support. Most of us if given the opportunity would want to spend our money in a way that not only will give us the best value but will be good for our interests, our country and the world as a whole. If we are not educated as to what we are supporting by giving our dollars to a specific person or company, we may end up reaping unfortunate consequences upon all those things that we hold dear. So if you feel the way I do, that I want my money to help the people in my community and not someplace all the way around the world then I want to be informed as to what I am doing when I spend my dollars. When it comes to skateboarding, something I hold very dear, I most definitely want to be sure that the money I spend goes to keeping my sport healthy and vital. I want to keep the product diverse and make sure the people who have chosen to make their living by making skateboards can keep their families fed. I also want to be sure that the quality of the product I am buying is assured and that through the making of my skateboard I haven't harmed the environment or any of the people who made it.
"The true cost of what you buy isn't always what's on the price tag"Our marketplace has become a place of contradiction. We can buy cheaply produced product sold in giant box stores like WalMart, or we can buy a quality handmade product that has been produced by a skilled craftsperson who cares about what they are making. Stores like WalMart have flooded our homes with mass produced product from overseas due to globalization and it's no different with skateboards, but what you need to understand is the true cost of what you buy isn't always what's on the price tag. What might seem like a good value may indeed cost more than you may know about.
Countries such as China and India where most of our cheap goods are produced have almost no environmental or labor controls. Meaning buying a skateboard that was made in a massive factory overseas probably not only was harmful to the environment but was exploitive of the people who made it. As the product is moved on and sold in a huge corporate chain store the exploitation continues with our own citizens and communities. For this article, I'll focus mainly on the impact to skateboarding. However if you want to learn more about Globalization and WalMart I can suggest that you watch Robert Greenwald's documentary "WalMart, the High Cost of Low Price."
Basically the whole argument can be summed up with these words "Good skateboards aren't cheap and cheap skateboards aren't good." I do understand that money doesn't grown on trees and it may be hard to justify spending over a hundred dollars on a quality setup for someone who's just starting out in skateboarding. An experienced skater will know the difference between a quality board and one that's cheaply made, but the beginning skater or even someone buying a skateboard for a beginning skater is out in the cold. With no previous experience to speak of and no one to explain the difference, they are left to the explanation on the packaging or the salesperson at the sporting goods or chain outlet store. Both of which I'm sure will tell you what a great product it is. But is it? Let's talk about the quality controls at the factory. With no oversight from someone who cares about the quality of the product are they cutting corners? Switching the hardwood that skateboards should be made of with cheaper woods? Are they cutting the curing time making boards that will de-laminate and become unusable in a small amount of time? Is saving a little money initially for a board that will breakdown quicker and not perform properly, or worse yet, be unsafe to ride really a savings or does it just end costing more in the long run?
"It killed the sport before and it can do it again"And what about the impact of the flood of inferior cheap product on the skateboarding industry and the sport in general? The skateboard industry spends millions on promoting the sport, through contests, professional teams of skilled riders, magazines, video's, etc. Without the industry setting the standard and progression of the sport it would languish and die much like it did in the 70's. Most American skateboard companies are founded and staffed by people who have made skateboarding their lives and are dedicated to keeping it healthy and strong. However that is not always the case. There are some American companies who have their boards pressed overseas at no value to the consumer. They are sometimes the most expensive product on the market and the consumer is none the wiser. What these unscrupulous manufacturers are overlooking is that undercutting the competition helps no one in the long run and hurts the industry as a whole. No one wins when new riders stop coming into the sport because they're having bad experiences due to unsafe and poorly performing product, it killed the sport before and it can do it again.
So what's the answer you might ask? Support your local skateshop, any skateshop staffed and run by skaters will take great care in making sure that you get a board that is right for your size and skill level. They have an interest in making sure that you leave their shop happy and safe, as a satisfied customer is a return customer. Not to mention that you are putting your money back into your local economy making your hometown and your skate scene a better place to be. Also if you can, do some research and find out if a company you wish to support uses American made boards and has a philosophy that you can feel good about giving your money to. You might find out that spending a few extra dollars for a board that's going to last longer and perform better may actually be cheaper in the long run and make skateboarding more rewarding and not something that's going to get thrown into the garbage or the back of the closet. In closing I can only urge you the consumer to spend your money and hence your voice in an informed way that's going to make your experience great and the world in general a better place to be.
Chris Stevens is the founder of Oldschoolskateboarding.