A few things you should know about Bud Stratford. He’s known to have gulped over 10 Cokes a day. He smokes clove cigarettes. And Bud loves skateboarding and has done so for over 30 years. He also is a prolific writer and influential thinker within skateboarding. He’s been part of CW for over a decade and he’s been known to kick my ass on more than one occasion. I am proud to call him a friend always look forward to what unleashes to the world.
This interview features all of Bud’s artwork. It’s also over 3,000 words. God bless digital media!
For more of Bud’s work, spend a few hours over at Everything Skateboarding. You’ll be glad you did.
What motivates you to write about skateboarding and explore things that most wouldn’t touch?
I’m not sure that’s entirely true. I’m not sure that I’m writing about things that people wouldn’t touch. Quite the opposite, I think, is true: I’m writing about things that most people are actually talking about, and talking about a lot, right now. They’re not saying these things publicly… and that’s probably the only real difference between me, and them. But, they are definitely talking about them privately.
So, the real question is probably, “Why are you talking about these things, publicly?” Here’s why: people ultimately need to hear about these things. They need to be brought to the surface sooner or later, and aired out. They need to be discussed. Problems need to be solved, and paradigms need to be put right. For everybody’s benefit. It’s just part of the progress-process at work. If we can’t define, articulate, debate, and propose solutions to pertinent problems, we’ll never get anywhere in life. And nobody in their right mind wants that.
If I can put the conversation on the table, and add a few neat, new, and novel ideas into the mix? Then I’ve done some small part to help move that process forward. Or, maybe it’s just because I’m a dick. There are a lot of industry dudes that would probably agree with that one. They might be right. Maybe I am.
With all the moves to online, what are your visions for the brick and mortar skateshop?
I have a lot of hope for the long-term future of retail, but I can see that the short term is going to be really, really rough road for them. A lot of it is for this simple reason: a lot of them just aren’t doing their damned jobs all that well.
I just came off an extensive summer tour, where I spent a lot of time “mystery shopping” skate shops. I would go in, not as a magazine editor (I was working for Concrete Wave at the time), and not as an “industry guy”… but just as an average, anonymous skater, or an everyday customer. And I would experience those shops in their truest and rawest form
I spent a lot of my summer being shocked and dismayed by what I saw and experienced. It kinda sucked.
Skate shops, by and large, see things like the internet, Amazon, Zumiez, Tilly’s, brands that sell direct-to-consumer, and other core skate shops, as threats. That’s precisely where they’re misguided. They are not threats; they are alternatives. That’s the key distinction that everybody’s missing here.
Thirty years ago, if your local shop sucked… what were you gonna do? You had to shop there anyway, you didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. There weren’t really alternatives… and if there were, they were huge pains in the asses. Sending away a money order for a skateboard, and then waiting a month to get it? That was really, really inconvenient. You know the struggle, Mike. We’ve both lived it.
Nowadays, consumers actually have a whole horde of viable, enjoyable, and convenient alternatives. And they are slowly abandoning the shops that are doing a bad job. It’s not rocket science or anything. It’s just common sense.
But if the shops did their jobs right, and did them well… then why would we need alternatives? Why would the customers abandon a great local shop? The answer is simple: we wouldn’t. We’d all shop at the local shop, and we’d all be really, really happy to do it. That’s the plain truth that most shops, for whatever misguided reasons, simply refuse to accept. They blame everyone else for their woes, but they almost never point the finger at themselves. The alternatives are not to blame; they did not create the problem. They merely offered a solution. The shops, themselves, created the sucky-shop problem. And only the shops, themselves, can fix it.
In my world, shops are supposed to be the front line of skateboard promotion. They’re supposed to be putting on grassroots events, showcasing skateboarding, getting people excited, inviting them into our pastime, and acting as the fun-loving experts and the advocates for their local scenes. Their goal should be to put anybody and everybody on a skateboard, regardless of color, gender, background, ability… whatever, none of that matters. Just enable, inspire, and enlighten the customers- all of them. And then, they’re supposed to be organizing that skating community, and inspiring them to do greater-good sorts of things… like, fighting for public skateparks. That involves a lot of outreach, and a lot of cultivating a cohesive community. But at the end of the day, that’s their job. That’s what they signed up for.
They’re not doing those things anymore… if they ever did them in the first place. And that’s why they’re failing. That’s why customers are seeking out the alternatives. And that’s why the alternatives are winning.
Once they get back to doing those things, I think they’ll survive and thrive. Because nobody else… outside of a local skateboard club… is really in the position to do them. The alternatives are not the perfect paradigm; the local skate shop is. But only when they aren’t sucking at life. Which too many of them are doing right now.
Our industry has every right to be quite concerned about this, and our industry should- in turn- do anything and everything they can to help these shops out. They should be mentoring and advising the shops, to help them build better and more sustainable businesses. We’ve taken a shop under our wing as a pilot program to see how well it can work, and it turns out that it works really, really well. It benefits the shop, it benefits the brands, it benefits the customers… and it’s not too much work, really. It’s surprisingly simple to do, and pretty easy. And it’s fun. But it helps the shop so much to know that somebody has their back, if they need… well, anything, really.
We’re doing it because we recognize that once we lose a critical mass of skate shops… and mark my words on this one, Mike… we’re gonna see a skateboarding Armageddon like you’ve never seen. Skate scenes will die on the vine, everywhere. It’s already well under way, and we all know it. But nobody has made that simple connection just yet. Good shops, good scenes. Great shops, great scenes. No shops? No scenes. No scenes? No grassroots skateboarding excitement and engagement. No excitement and engagement? No skateboarding. It’s that simple. And that’s what I saw over and over again on tour this summer.
That dream of owning and operating an independent skate shop… that’s timeless. I think that the Millennial generation will start opening up shops, and doing it the way it’s supposed to be done. They’ll get it right. And if the industry had any brains in their heads, they’d actively encourage, aid, and abet that. And they will, eventually. It’s just a matter of time.
You travel extensively – what is about the open road and exploring that excites you?
Discovering neat new things. That’s about 99% of the answer. Every day is a great day for a grand adventure, isn’t it…? So, go have an adventure! Learn something. Live life. Love the journey, and savor the experiences. Cherish the memories, and die with a smile on your face. Fuck yeah. That’s pretty much it, right there.
Truly a personal question – you don’t have children – but if you did how would you raise them to love skateboarding?
I’d tell them that I gave them life, and that I could just as easily take it away. Nah, just kidding… kinda. I honestly don’t know. My goddaughter skates; her mom just told me last week that she still has the first skateboard I ever gave her. Hopefully, she rides it from time to time. As long as she loves life, then that’s fine. That’s the important part. Everything else is just everything else. Life’s too short to sweat the small stuff. Skateboarding is a means to the ends, not the ends themselves. The ends should be happiness, fun, fulfillment, contentment. If she gets that some other way, with some other pastime, then that’s perfectly a-ok with me.
The decision to reactivate the Everything Skateboarding website is something that I know many people are anticipating. What should people expect? What are your key goals?
I’m not sure how to answer that. They should probably expect to see a lot of words, photos, and art, because that’s what’s in there. A couple videos. Lots of bright, vibrant colors set against a black background. A few neat ideas, and a lot of humor. It’s pretty entertaining. Especially if you enjoy reading. Then, it’s probably solidly awesome. Avid readers that love intellectual challenges and a good laugh will love it.
For me, it’s basically an art-and-empowerment project. It’s an exercise of creating something exemplary… I hope, at least… out of extraordinarily limited means. It’s a creative outlet that has the potential to engage, inspire, and empower others to follow suit, and exercise their own creativity. If that’s all I ever do? Then I’ll be more than happy.
It’s not just me, though. Obviously, this is ultimately a collective effort. Therefore, I could never take all the credit, although I’m more than happy to take all of the blame. Everything Skateboarding is the net result of the combined efforts of the entire staff. They all played a really big role in it, and they did a fantastically good job with everything. I’m just the ringleader of the good vibe tribe. But without the tribe, I’d be nada, zip, zero. So, thanks everybody. I love you all.
What have been some of the most surprising things you’ve learned over the years as it relates to skate drama?
That there is such a thing as “skate drama”…? That continually surprises me. How astronomically huge some egos can be. How incredibly greedy some people can be. How painfully shortsighted and conservative our self-appointed “leaders” can be. Skateboarding is a big, happy, dysfunctional family. It should really be far more loving than it actually is.
I have my fair share of adversaries and enemies in this industry, for sure. I am absolutely not the pinnacle of perfection over here. But anyone who knows me at all… even if it’s just in passing… knows this about me: I am fucking cool. That doesn’t mean that I’m “a cool guy”- far from it. That’s not what I mean.
What I mean is that, even if you are my worst enemy on the whole planet… I’m still that guy that’ll pat you on the back, and buy you a beer when we cross paths. I’ll still give you genuine props if you do something really great that I’m stoked on. If you need a hand, I’ll probably be the guy standing there, ready and willing to give ya a hug and a bit of help. I’m not “cool”, per se… but I am pretty respectful and sincerely fair to my fellow human. Even if I fundamentally disagree with you, I’m still pretty good times.
Sadly, that brand of cool is not particularly popular anymore. Kinda sucks, but whatever. Be the change you seek in the world. Cool is a universal language. If you’re cool to people, they’ll usually be cool to you in return. Truer words have never been spoken, buddy. If everybody embraced that simple philosophy, the world would be in a far better place than it is.
Is the fact that skateboarding still remains accessible one of its greatest strengths, or one of its greatest weaknesses? I mean, if it was as big as the NHL or NBA, would it have the same meaning ? After all, you can pretty much anything you want to be in skateboarding. Whereas out of 30,000 Ontario hockey players, only 15 played more than one season [as a pro].
Oh, it’s a total strength. Look at me, dude! I’m ginormously huge, way too damn fat, painfully uncoordinated, and just dumber than a doorknob. I shouldn’t even be a skater, for pete’s sakes. I should have been a football playing goon or something; I hear that kind of crap all the time. But, what was I doing this morning? Chatting to Jim Goodrich, one of my childhood heroes. Can you believe that shit?! I can’t! I seriously have to pinch myself all the time, like I’m convinced I’m living a daydream or something. The fact that I get to call Jim up, hear him answer the phone, and do some friendly chatting just blows my brains away.
And here’s the best part: any kid in the world can be me. Seriously, I’m not even kidding. Any fat, stuttering, nerdy kid that has a whole bunch of passion, that can write a long-winded essay, tell a funny story, draw a sketchy cartoon, and take a really bad photo with a cheap-ass camera, can do exactly what I do… maybe even do it far better than I could ever do it. And they can live my lifestyle, and be super happy with life. Skateboarding is absolutely amazing like that.
That’s why it sucks in so many amazing people: because amazing people like being in the company of other amazing people, doing really amazing things. No other pastime is so empoweringly democratic, and so uniquely inspiring, encouraging, and enabling. That’s a total credit to skateboarding. We’re really lucky to be a part of it. I know I sure am.
We talk a lot about inclusion and community within skateboarding, and yet there remains some significant divisions. Will we ever see a clear path out of these issues?
Yes. Yes, we will. Once we put our egos, our self-interests, our ignorance, and our misguided perceptions aside, we’ll figure it all out. What’s the point of keeping skateboarding our protected little secret? I’ll say it again: there should be a skateboard for everybody, and everybody should ride a skateboard. Even if it’s just once in your life… can you say that you’ve really lived, until you’ve ridden a skateboard at least once? No, you can’t. And everybody knows it. It’s such an effective conduit of pure joyfulness, why wouldn’t we share that with everybody? Do we really want the rest of the world to live in misery forever? And who would want the rest of the world to be miserable, anyway? That doesn’t make any damned sense to me at all. And I can’t see how that would make any sense to anyone else, either.
What company in your opinion is doing a great job to support the grassroots?
Nothing really springs to mind here. I mean, the advertisers that I work with at Everything Skateboarding should definitely get some props; they’re clearly supporting a grassroots movement in a really big way. The brands that support our events, the brands that send in articles and photos… yeah. In my world, there are brands that are making major contributions to the cause. And a lot of the local brands around Phoenix are very activist; they’re doing a lot for skating here in the valley.
Unfortunately, I can’t speak much about what goes on outside of my world. That wouldn’t be fair to anybody.
Have you found any company that is monumentally hypocritical within skateboarding? Describe the hypocrisy.
The last time I dealt with “monumental hypocrisy” was when IASC did that Blank Initiative. That still stands out as one of the stupidest things they’ve ever done.
I think what we really deal with in this industry is lack of leadership, lack of vision, or lack of initiative. There are a lot of followers in our business, but very few standouts that are willing and able to push the limits, and try new things. Which is so ironic, because skateboarding itself is all about pushing limits and trying new things. But there’s a huge chasm between skateboarding itself, and the industry that supports it. Skateboarding is very libertine by nature, while the industry tends to be rather stoic and conservative. It’s an odd juxtaposition, isn’t it? But that’s money at work. Money wrecks everything, eventually.
Back in the early 80’s skaters railed against Reagan. Are politics acceptable within skateboarding now?
I think so. I don’t think they were ever unacceptable. It’s just super hard to revolt too hard against guys like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. They really were super friendly fellows, weren’t they…? Agree or disagree with their policies, they were still pretty likable. At least you had a little bit of respect for their innate coolness. Comrade Cheetoh, on the other hand, is the ultimate poster boy for unrestrained douchebaggery. Even if he did everything right, he’d still be a dick. That fact that he manages to screw damn near everything up just makes it that much worse.
People are still revolting, of course. They’re just a little quieter about it. They’re withdrawing from power paradigms, and creating their own universes. Not unlike Tom Wolfe’s study of statuspheres. They’re dropping out of the two-party political system… it still amazes me that Americans, of all people, still tolerate being forced to choose from two unreasonably awful choices every four years, for our highest elected office… and taking a far more active hand in governing themselves. It’s Henry David Thoreau’s ultimate dream come true: people dropping out of the system en masse, and being the true masters of their own destinies. That’s going to be Trump’s ultimate legacy: he’s going to be the guy that made government look hopelessly laughable and irrevocably irrelevant in our lives, because he was such a f’n boob.
At the end of the day, he has somehow single-handedly managed to forever tarnish the position of the Presidency. And good riddance. Nobody should have ever been endowed with that kind of power over other people in the first damned place.
Thanks for your time, Bud. That’s 3,000+ words.