Although many sneakerheads may recognize him as Spencer from NORT/Recon, or, merely that guy from NORT/Recon, there is much more to Spencer Fujimoto than meets the eye. One of the youngest Skaters to go pro nearly 20 years ago, Spencer Fujimoto has seen Skate go from its humble beginnings to its most recent large boom. An avid sneakerhead as well, Spencer sat down with KATC not only for a KATC Feature, but also, for A Penny as well. Continue reading to learn more about Spencer Fujimoto and his thoughts on how Skate companies can better reach and tailor to the Skate market.
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KATC: When did you first start skating?
Spencer Fujimoto: I started skateboarding in 1986. I had a Rob Roscop 4 with some Slimeball Wheels and some Independent trucks. That was my first real board and I had that for probably about a year. Steve Caballero was my hero, my idol, so I had a bunch of Cabs as well. I ended up getting to meet him and skate at the San Jose Warehouse. I got sponsored by Santa Cruz in 1989.
KATC: How old were you at this time?
SF: In 89 I was 12. I was sponsored when I was 12. From there I went to World Industries in my teenage years. I turned pro at 18 for a smaller company that me and my friends were doing. It was called Profile. It was Henry Sanchez, Carl Watson, Stevie Williams and myself. We all lived together. It was me Stevie and our two AMs, we lived in San Francisco. We bugged out, got into trouble, and got into growing up.
KATC: You also landed in several videos back then, like the “Love Child”.
SF: For “Love Child”, the funny thing was, Skateboarding was at a low, but, the owner of the company knew exactly what he was doing. It was all about marketing and presentation, and how we were perceived. We were these little kid Superstars. We were staying in the nicest hotels in the city. That’s how I got turned onto expensive restaurants, and expensive things. Just being on World and being exposed to that.
KATC: What initially made you want to get into Skating?
SF: I started skating because I saw Back to the Future. I saw that movie and I wanted a Skateboard. I became a street skater. I like skating cities. I don’t like doing handrails, I can do some of them. My limit is 12 stairs. I couldn’t go over that, but really, why would you want to? Stunt stuff is not my thing, I am more of a technical/finesse skater.
KATC: What was the skate scene like back then for the skaters who have finally come into their own in recent years?
SF: It was pre-Bling. It was before skaters were really getting dough. There was like two of them back then. A lot of those heads that I named are now doing very well for themselves. Skateboarding has gotten into a bigger audience, but, the people that are actually participating, I think are shrinking.
KATC: What was skating like in the “Pre-Bling” era of Skate culture?
SF: The Skateboard culture was…Grimey Skateboard culture. We were doing everything we were doing to stay alive, to look fresh and to play the part to keep our image up.
KATC: What year would you say was the turning point for Skate culture?
SF: 2000-2001. It became gigantic. It seemed like there was an outside marketing push. You couldn’t have a commercial or a music video without a Skater in it. It didn’t matter what they were doing or how corny it looked, if you had the Skater in there it was “hip”. Around that time, Skating went mainstream.
KATC: Would you say that your generation helped make today’s success possible?
SF: When I started skating we had those stupid donkey boards with no nose, just a gigantic fish tail, which was tough [to work with] being a 10 year old Asian kid coming up. Now they have mini boards, long noses…all of that was a very slow progression. That took like at least five or six years to get it to a point where the board was kind of like what a board is shaped like now. Then another two years of tweaking that. It took about 7 years to get the boards looking right. In ’92-’93 the board started looking more like what a modern skateboard looks like.
KATC: So even the skateboard “technology” had to catch up to what you guys were doing…
SF: It was about the tricks. We were trying to do these tricks and we needed the right boards to do it. We needed the right boards. We needed the right wheels. We were all so small. We were setting these trends, but not on purpose. The free clothes were way to big, but we were rocking it anyway. A large shirt that was hanging to our knees, that’s what we rocked. It turned into the goofy boy style. All that cutting the jeans stuff, the first person I ever saw do that was Guy Mariano. That was around the same time I saw the first rounded tail. People were laughing at it. The rounded tail was Mark Gonzalez. People were laughing at it, like that’s not going to work. The next month, everyone had the round tail. Skateboarders always set trends. The chain wallet, that was Matt Hensley. Matt Hensley had the chain wallet and everyone had the chain wallet in like ’90. That was a Skate thing, the chain wallet, because of Matt Hensley. In ’86 when I started Skating, it was Steve Caballero and his suspenders off his shoulders, just hanging down, kind of punk style. Now you got Stevie in the jerseys and the doo rag.
KATC: Skaters have been setting trends for decades. Now it has come to a point where a lot of bigger brands are now finally realizing this and are trying to reach out and get to this market. In your opinion, how strong have their efforts been in reaching Skaters?
SF: I think some are doing better than others. It’s about the reach out. It’s about giving back. What are you actually doing for Skateboarding? Not necessarily Skateboarders, but for Skateboarding Culture as a whole. It’s a lifestyle. For a Corporation X to come in and say “Ok we make skate shoes”. Ok well, where is your team? I always used to preach, how do you have professional products with no team? You have to have a team. If you don’t have a team, that’s the first part where you messed up. If you don’t sponsor contests, if you don’t run ads in Skateboard magazines, all of those things keep the gears greased. DC Shoes, they built a skatepark in Ohio, wow. That’s a core skate company…We started small, but we are going to take over the world.
KATC: So you feel that companies that are trying to reach the Skate market should focus more on the people and uplifiting and helping the culture rather than focusing on the actual product?
SF: As long as you have a good product that is usable and looks half-way decent…yeah. Focus on your team, it’s about who’s endorsing you. If you want to come into the game, the first way to start is with a top team. You better get your budget right and buy up some good dudes.
KATC: There has been a recent explosion in Skate sneakers. Working at one of the top sneaker shops in the country and being a former pro Skater, a penny for your thoughts, how do you think sneaker companies, especially the bigger sneaker companies, could improve their Skate footwear?
SF: Its about testing and development, which is done through your team. Big companies need to use their samples, don’t just keep them in the sale room and try to sell them to these skate shops because they are going to laugh at you because no one has them on. You don’t see it in the magazine, you don’t see it on the street, no one skates in it, you don’t see in in the Skatepark, you don’t see in in the video…why would anyone want to buy it? Who is endorsing it? What’s the story? There is no story except for a corporation trying to get some money out of Skateboarding? Skateboarding isn’t about making money. It’s about the love. That’s the whole thing. That’s how the big companies within Skateboarding got big, they were for the love. I’m the president [of a skate company], do I buy a new car or do I give my Pros a raise? I’m going to give my Pros a raise, they are going to skate twice as hard, my company is going to sell twice as much and I’ll get my new car in six months. If you don’t give back to your Pros, or give back to your team, they are going to quit and go get a better deal. What are you going to do when your team is gone? It’s about having a strong backbone.
KATC: Do you have any suggestions for improving the actual skate footwear “technology”?
SF: There can be some improvement. With padding and support. Lighter materials, materials that are stronger, threads that don’t break, laces that don’t break. An actual “technology” where it’s the forefront, that’s all kind of novel. A skateboard shoe is very basic. A padded shoe. All Skate shoes look the same. It’s all recycled. It’s just how do you put it together and make it your own. Good skate shoes to me are very simple, padding in the right places. It can be a low, 3/4 or high. It’s the shape of the sole, the grip of the bottom.
KATC: Are there any specific styles that you would prefer to skate?
SF: Yeah, if you guys are a big corporation and you have all of these retro shoes go through them and bring the skate team in there. Have them look at all of these catalogues of old sneakers. Have them try them on. It’s all about the ankle. The first thing I do is see if my ankle is going to roll in it. The faster it rolls over, the faster I take it off my foot. It doesn’t just have to be a Dunk. They look cool, but there are better shoes that they could pick that are more functional for Skateboarding. I would love to see more retro whatevers in the SB line, or even in the Adidas Skate line. Or even a Clyde Puma with a fat tongue to skate in. I mean a Clyde with a fat tongue…that would be amazing.