The first graphic I ever had was the Nash Executioner, green dragon on a mountain of skulls against a white dipped board. I don’t think I had a second choice, it was ’88 or ’89 and after weeks of begging, my mom and I found a few rows of them at the end of an aisle in Toy’R’us. My second graphic was the Nash switch stance, I was a few years older and my mom and I found it at the end of an aisle, in a cardboard display, at a Sports Authority, it was a dull graphic with some exciting lettering, dark wood and black splashed image, it made use of blank space, nothing awful, just nothing exciting, the board was what mattered to me at that age, I just wanted something that wasn’t shaped like a goldfish cracker.
My first real board was a Think Logo, some fancy black lettering with blue shading and a cream background, red top ply with a tramp stamp. The shop worker said Think is what I wanted, and my options were the logo deck and (maybe a Drehobl model? maybe not) of two cartoon/comic style bunnies fucking, being ten and with my mom, she laughed and said something like, “Well, you know where my vote goes, and I’m the one paying.”
Graphics started as something that was my only option. It took a few decks and skate shop visits to start speaking up a little. CCS catalogs were gazed at as much as the magazines(Thrasher and Big Brother were coming in the mail, sometimes I could talk my mom into letting me snag Transworld from the grocery store), Shoe deals were usually what I used CCS for as a kid, I got all ten-something pairs of Duffs Stromboli from CCS when they were on sale.
But the deck section, it was like getting that Transworld business issue, but two or three times a year, then like twelve times a year, along with three or four other guys. But the graphics!
Seeing pages and pages of graphics before the internet is what it has become. That was the source, scrolling through, who has what. You could see graphics you’d never see anywhere else, no local shop is getting the entire series or every run from every company, you would sit there and daydream about some graphics with your trucks on it, fantasizing about how wheel bite and slide marks would look by the time it was toast or broke.
Being an East Coast grommet in the mid-nineties, I had some World Industries decks, never had a Wet Willy or Flameboy, but I definitely had some Devil graphics, and one Devil slick, where he sat on a throne. I picked a few Birdhouse decks too, the penguin Willy Santos, the Jeremy Klien Richard Scarry graphic. The series of Monster movie drive in looking motherfuckers! I wanted those so much, only ever saw them in CCS.
I had a lot of Zoo York graphics over the years, even in my early days, there were a good amount, and they’ve had a lot of incredible graphics and random amazing series, along with their standard logo/tag graphics, having those under my feet always made me feel legit, helping out my own coast and being a part of that community. (Plus, Chapman wood is just the best quality out there.)
On that note, Alien was always one of the most desired brands. That definitive alien stencil looking design, Castrucci, Pendleton, that classic Alien and the development of their graphics from those roots always meant something when it was gripped and burning under your feet.
SF had a huge impact on the east coast, like it was meant to be up in Maine, traded with Miami. I always thought it was funny if you told some skater who didn’t know any better, that San Francisco was on the east coast and Miami was west, they’d totally buy it, maybe even argue against it. Either way, I had a lot of Think decks too, always hunted them down. At times, they had the same kind of vibe as Zoo, just a perfect opposite coast representation that was totally their own thing. Think was so sick! They always came out with solid graphics I was into.
I was also huge into Maple, because of their team, I didn’t really care about the maple leaf graphics, Dave Mayhew, Jerry Hsu, Marco Johnson, come on, take my allowance! I had a lot of cornball maple leaf graphics, that was my Wet Willy, the Maple Leaf man. Being an Indian Jones ripoff, getting drunk with a tree, I had some Maple logos too, and I think two Indian Jones ripoffs, back when a deck ended up looking like an oldschool shape four months later before you get a new one.
Logos were an easy go to when you wanted to rep a company. Maybe they had a sick ad in the most recent magazine, or some skater they sponsor just became a new favorite, I bought my first Chocolate, a logo, after I found out Scott Johnston was from the DC area.
I can’t forget to mention Zero or Shorty’s when it came to logo graphics I bought up. Even that standard Muska Silhouette with all its tail colors for different sizes, I went orange, the 7.5 I believe. The Smolik dice throwing graphic?! I ended up skating two. I had a few solid Zero logos, the Vine one with red lettering, one of the Gothic fonts, I skated 7.5’s for a long time, before that, I was an 8.5 guy, those were my Zero days.
Toy Machine was another go to. They always had great graphics, solid colors. I still love a lot of their standard logo decks that are more graphic than logo. Toy Machine will forever be solid in the graphic department as long as Ed Templeton is around.
You can sit around and ramble for hours about graphics, the long list of incredible and highly respected graphic artists, when it comes down to what you want in the moment, I don’t know, for me, sometimes it’s about the colors, you just want something bright flipping under feet, something orange, something red, other times you want something dark. Sometimes I specifically want a blank, or I’ll want a sticker placement I have in my head and the graphic doesn’t matter. You can have a sticker stack growing and have great plans, just waiting for “the deck” that fits the sticker layout. Sometimes you’re just going to head into the shop and see what looks good, maybe you don’t question it beyond that point, just something that looks sick.
You go in looking for the board to call to you, or you see a post online about some new deck your shop got in and you need it. Sometimes you want the solid message, the fuck you, the be chill, the whatever you feel like saying and burning through with that board you know is their beneath you, representing you and what you’re experiencing.
It can also just be a fucking deck, some bullshit nothing that is under your feet, wherever you can get something that’s decent, use and abuse will make the graphic insignificant anyway.
Due to inferior product being tossed around so much, I ended up only buying Chapman made wood, endless graphics of all kinds, it was a thing of beauty. Every color scheme, every form of graphic out, the companies they made wood for, had to offer. Unfortunately for my feet and physiology, I work best with their standard shape in a 7.75, so graphic options were limited by companies who were pushing that size.
Once I worked through the 7.75 offerings, some more than once- Also, the New York Skateboards orange Monk deck was a fun one to ride, a happy looking monk holding a pretzel under your feet will ensure a good attitude, same with their hotdog deck.
I would grab some blank decks every now and then, have a nice collection of stickers to paint them with. Then I bought some spray paint, bought only blanks and started doing my own graphics with acrylics and paint pens, I’ve been addicted ever since. It doesn’t even matter if I care that much or have much of an idea going into the graphic, it’s just so much fun, it adds this new layer to skating, just one more part to indulge in.
Graphics are always going to matter, even when you don’t want one at all. It’s part of your mood and energy, maybe you find a place where it doesn’t matter, like whether or not you care about the color of your wheels, or whether or not your griptape has a graphic or logo. I think for most, if not nearly everybody, graphics matter. Sometimes you want nostalgia, sometimes a board just sucks you in, a company and vibe consumes you, there’s so much to a graphic, it makes the company as much as the team choices.
PS – there was Anthony Correa Traffic graphic, rooftop with a bird or two flying off, that board was choice.