Virginia is a diverse state with so many niche cultures that anyone visiting might find it overwhelming. One such niche that has remained prevalent over the years is skate culture. Despite seeing its fair share of both disdain and criticism, the relatively new sport has been shown to bridge the gap between kids of different colors and backgrounds with grip tape—ultimately bringing an appreciation for the culture as a whole. Cam spoke with Skate Supply’s wearer of all hats, Trey Hill, to chat about the surprising effects of COVID-19, the evolution of skate culture, and the importance of community.
So, how have you been throughout the craziness that is 2020? How has COVID-19 affected the way your business operates?
Believe it or not man, we’re doing fantastic. Once exercise was deemed “okay,” and you could go outside in small groups or even by yourself, [we] [saw] a huge uptick in sales of skateboard products. A lot of people went back to skating again after not skating for a while or wanted to pick up a board for the first time.
The problem that I don’t think anybody predicted is that the supply chain was going to dry up, so right now, what we’re all facing is more and more manufacturers having their production times delayed. You’ve got the wood suppliers, the people that press boards, then the graphics that get screen printed, and eventually, it makes it to a shop. Now, all of that is taking much longer than anyone would have ever thought. This is happening just as the demand is also becoming huge. It’s not just the skateboard goods that suffered but manufacturers for apparel and sneaker brands too. March through May was rough, but some things are starting to get back to normal. Personally, ordering a product is like buying Supreme—if you see it, you need to buy it right now.
You mentioned that there are a lot of new people picking up boards these days.
Skate shops are becoming community staples in more neighborhoods like bike
shops and the post office. How have you seen skate culture change since you
first started skating?
It’s changed for sure, but that’s with everything, right? Everything’s going to change in the world as we progress as a society, and if you don’t adapt to change . . . you’re going to get left behind. When I started skating in 2003 after getting my first board for Christmas, it was really hard to find a skate shop that didn’t “cool guy” you and chastise you for being new. So when I got into the position to run Skate Supply, my entire idea was to change that culture. For the average Joe that doesn’t have a clue, it only takes one bad experience to just hang it up. You could go to the skate park all you want but are you going to fit in? If you don’t know how to treat people with respect, you’re not going to make it anymore. What’s to stop somebody from going to buy a skateboard on Amazon, so they don’t have to deal with your “cool guy” attitude? So it’s definitely changed, but I think it’s changing for the better for shops like my own and others who are adopting more of a service aspect.
I respect that; I might not be afraid to pick up skating now. So, tell me about the Skate Supply video that just dropped? It’s been a while since I watched a skate video like this, but they always give me And 1 mixtape vibes.
The skate video is such a pillar of the skateboarding culture. For a long time, even in the early 2000s, when I got started, you were waiting [for] years to find out where skateboarding had progressed. . . . [W]e didn’t even know [about tricks] unless you were reading a magazine and saw the photos that a trick had gone down. Even then, you still haven’t actually seen it done until the video came out. It [was] the biggest marketing vehicle to support your brand and showcase what your team offers, [along with] the image you [were] going for . . . it [was] kind of a snapshot of the era you [were] in.
I grew up waiting six years for the LaKai “Fully Flared” video to come up and watch it break skateboarding. I watched dudes go from tight pants and wristbands to corduroys after that video dropped. You were watching an era change, and now, . . . there is no “era” anymore. It’s kind of like the wild wild West. You got Instagram where these kids can post every new trick they land in real-time. You can go to the skate park and land your latest trick that no one has ever done and post it that minute—that’s really progressed skating to this new point.
As far as the Skate Supply video, when I got the opportunity to run the shop, and hand-select guys [I] sponsor and support, I thought, ‘What better way to show off the guys I’d selected than to showcase their abilities.’ Little did I know that filming, editing, [and] traveling was going to create this much work. It’s also hard to get ten friends to do anything together with jobs, girlfriends, etc. It [the video] still comes off with a family vibe, and that’s what I was going for because that best describes our group. For instance, our youngest team riders, brothers Tyler and Colby, joined the team when they were 8 and 11 (or 12), respectively, and now Colby just turned 18. I’m literally watching these guys grow up, and it’s pretty awesome to have a solid group of people that you can rely on and support as well.
How did you get started with Skate Supply, and to what would you attribute the success your team has had up until this point?
I think it’s funny because as a skater you kind of dream of working in a skate shop even if you’re just a lowly sales associate. I’d ended up getting a job at a local surf & skate chain, and I’d worked up to becoming a key holder at the location. While I was on vacation with some friends, the store was robbed, and when I returned, they terminated me on the spot. I thought that was the worst thing that could have happened, I was baffled that I’d just lost my job. . . . What I didn’t know was that they pressed charges against me, so my family and I ha[d] to lawyer up. I remember my mom saying, ‘People go to jail for things they didn’t do all the time.’ We beat the case, of course, because I didn’t do it, and they had no evidence nor proof, but we still had to get a lawyer, which cost thousands of dollars.
Around this time, a buddy of mine was working at Skate Supply, and he was on his way out, [so] I ended up taking his place. [I]t was rough. At times, for four days straight, no one would come through the door. The store was understocked for boards, and other products were dated, it looked like it was in shambles. After my first few months there, I asked the owners if they could give me a little bit of money to play with because I thought we could turn it around if I started buying the right product. At the time, I never stopped skating . . . I’m still in the skate scene . . . I know what the kids are into, but now I had this opportunity to be the buyer and manager of this store. I’ve always been into photography, and I’ve always been into product. I was a huge Nike fan back in the day, so product is a big thing to me, whether it’s just a Nike SB Dunk or even just a limited-edition skateboard. I’ve always been a collector of things, so I was excited when I got the opportunity to start shooting photos of the product that [was] in the store and whatever events we were doing.
Then a skate park opened down the street at the Chesapeake City Park, and that really helped because a lot of the kids in the area were coming to us for the product. I could immediately see them use it and ask them how it was. It was like research and development. I was selling you the product and seeing you at the skate park and asking how it was, not to gain your respect or friendship, but I genuinely wanted to know if it was a good product because I didn’t want to buy it again if they didn’t like it. Actually, one of my best friends told himself that he would never come back to the store because of how they treated him in years prior, but he gave it one last shop, and it happened to be me in the store. I saw him at the park later and asked him how the product was and from there built a friendship.
It’s really the community aspect; I can’t do this without the support of everyone. Anybody that I’ve ever hired, anybody that buys a bearing, even when they come in and don’t buy anything at all . . . it all goes hand in hand because this communal hub can’t operate without them. I can buy all the stuff for the shop that I like, but if the community doesn’t like it, what do they care?
I wouldn’t have it any other way. I wake up every morning stoked that I get to see kids walk out with a smile when they get their first board or even just getting a product that somebody wants, and they couldn’t find it online. All of that stuff keeps me wanting to skateboard until it’s not fun anymore.