Words and Photos by Daniel Fedkenheuer
Working at a skate shop in Southern California is an experience that truly makes a person realize how much of an epicenter the area is for skateboarding and longboarding. The amount of figures in the industry that flock to Los Angeles and the surrounding counties is only surpassed in number by the thousands of skateboarders and longboarders that take over the streets, parks and garages. Immersed in this land, it’s easy to forget that there’s a whole world of skateboarding and longboarding that exists far beyond the bounds of blue skies and palm tree-lined streets. However, when my co-worker, Christian Teplitzsky, returned from a Euro trip with a fresh dancer longboard dubbed the ‘Ostrich’ in hand, I was reminded of just how expansive the skate world actually is.
After gawking over one of the most elaborate sets of top and bottom ply graphics I’ve ever seen and running my hands along a set of colorful urethane-infused tips, I reached out to Szymon Śmiałek, owner of Alternative Longboards, and posed him with a few questions on how he was able to craft such a beautiful board. Between the historical ruins and the mountains surrounding the southern city of Nowy Sącz, Poland, Śmiałek gave me the inside scoop.
The story behind the growth of Alternative Longboards is one rooted in a daunting trial and error process, whereby Śmiałek and his team exhausted countless resources to find the right combination. Initially plagued by the frustration of not being able to forecast problems the team was further beset with the challenge of finding efficient ways to solve and circumvent future conflicts from arising.
While their initial run alone required figures upwards of 100 decks and 4,000 sheets of graphics, the numbers go up from there. In fact, since their inception, they’ve spent over 1,200 hours creating the right molds for their diverse lineup of shapes. In they end, they devised a system that requires a cutting mold and a pair of press molds to get their wood ready for a refined, four-step grinding process. Nevertheless, the team still claims they go through up to 40 prototypes of each new board before it is released.
What this extensive research and development process goes to show is the emphasis that the Alternative crew puts into their craftsmanship, despite releasing ten distinctly unique boards in each series. To Śmiałek, the immersive approach of crafting these boards in a small-scale manufacturing environment is important because as he says,
“Making the boards with your hands gives you the opportunity to create something new; to learn how to work with different materials and introduce new ideas.”
However, the name of the game for Alternative Longboards has been and continues to be providing a strong point of differentiation at a modest price. Figuring out the optimal levels of weight and durability for these boards is also factored into this search for a justified price point. Nevertheless, Alternative faces these challenges in a more aggressive manner than many other board manufacturers currently do. Learning from their past but keeping their eyes on the future, Śmiałek asserted, “When you look at the past and check our previous collection, you’ll find a lot of differences, but we aren’t afraid to try a new solution! Next season we are going to release new collection, so expect something dope.”
Though the back end of the operation is enough of a story on its own, the graphics on these decks add the final layer to a board that’s as visually appealing as it is technically sound. For each new series of boards that Alternative releases, they take a unique approach to curate a meaningful aesthetic in a interconnected way. As Śmiałek commented on the brand’s art direction he said,
“Graphics are one of the most important things, because it creates the soul of board, and helps owner to express oneself. Each year we are looking for the artist who will create something special. We spend a lot of time on Behance/Instagram to find that person who has their own style which fits our taste. We create one big graphic and split it to each board to connect the whole collection. All boards are different, but something must connect it. For us, this thing is a graphic.”
With artistic and manufacturing-related ends of the operation thoroughly covered, the only piece left in the puzzle for Alternative Longboards is scaling and distributing their product globally. Understandably, they’re making quick work of figuring this out too. The team already has an established following across Europe and Asia while team riders like recent RedBull ‘No Paws Down’ winner, Patrick Lombardi, have been holding them down in the streets. This makes the earlier-mentioned skateboarding mecca of America one of the next places for Alternative Longboards to cross off their list in an effort to get their boards out to every continent. “It makes us proud, when somebody from another country asks for our boards, because it shows that we’ve done a good job,” Śmiałek added.