CULTURE
Ollies & Ounces: Pro Skateboarding’s Burgeoning Love Affair with Legal Weed
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No strangers to getting stoned, professional skateboarders are taking full advantage of legalization in California, signing on with 420-friendly sponsors and starting their own cannabis businesses.
Published on October 15, 2018

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Since the late 1980s, you can count the advancements in skateboard equipment on one hand and still have a couple fingers leftover. Boards are typically constructed with seven plies of pressed maple, wheels are molded from performance urethane, and skate bearings are still made of the same steel rollers found in $2 fidget spinners. So when industry heavyweights like Venture, Thunder, and Independent began debuting trucks (the metal-turning apparatus connecting the deck to the wheels) with hollow axles and bolts, creating hardware that was both stronger and lighter than previous models, skaters immediately packed the carved-out titanium trucks with weed and started smoking

That is to say, skateboarders do not like change, but they love weed.

Cannabis has been an integral part of skateboarding culture long before either offered a viable career path or were even remotely “professional.” In the 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, Tony Alva and the rest of the groundbreaking Zephyr skate team recall cannabis use as a daily indulgence in the backyard pools and slalom hills of the burgeoning 1970s skate scene. As ramps grew taller and the sport progressed, Christian Hosoi, the ‘80s high-flying halfpipe rockstar, took time before every competition to roll up and get stoned with his dad. Hell, even Tony Hawk, Mr. 900 himself, has come clean about his occasional cannabis use. No matter the era, skateboarding’s biggest names have always embraced the sweet leaf. 

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Tommy Sandoval blasts a frontside flip on Weedmaps latest tour

Under prohibition, skaters have openly flaunted their relationship with pot through sophomoric and sometimes-innovative design aesthetics. While street skating’s delinquent image led to innumerable board graphics sporting red-eyes and t-shirts emblazoned with pot leaves, skateboarders also reimagined the industry’s famously puffy footwear to incorporate the perfect stash spot for dime bags. And once hollow axle trucks became the norm, skate-shop-turned-fashion-darling Supreme debuted a functional skate tool that conveniently doubled as a discreet pipe. Outside of novelty engineering, branded paraphernalia, and cartoonish clothing, however, the skate world has historically shied away from any explicit relationships or direct partnerships with the plant itself. 

But now that cannabis legalization has taken hold across the country, and in the skate industry’s home state of California in particular, skateboarding has formally opened its doors to pot and vice versa, turning a decades-old countercultural love affair into a burgeoning form of business synergy.

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Tommy Sandoval knocks out a frontside 50-50 on the front of a truck while Weedmaps captures all the angles

Through branding and sponsorship deals with licensed California cannabis companies and ancillary businesses — plus their own entrepreneurial forays into legal weed — professional skateboarders have emerged as some of the most salient spokesmen in the Golden State’s legal landscape. Similar to the marijuana industry itself, skateboarding has so far been able to straddle the worlds of counterculture authenticity and growing mainstream interest. And in an advertising era reliant on social media influencers but marred by bots, paid followers, and unstable engagement, pro skaters are unicorns who can command the attention of hundreds of thousands of like-minded, real-life fans every time they step on a board or post a selfie.

For cannabis businesses looking to convey an image of attention-grabbing active energy and spirit without relying on the industry’s traditional rapper, comedian and model brand ambassadors, the options for viable influencers are still limited. Circumventing institutional league barriers in conventional sports, ganjapreneurs have targeted athletes from niche sports like long distance ultrarunning and professional skiing to represent their product. But while those sports are practiced by a small number of people and watched by even fewer, recent estimates suggest that there are over 6 million skateboarders in the U.S. alone — not to mention all the multinational sportswear and energy drink brands putting in overtime to turn pro skaters into household names

Unlike traditional sports like football, basketball, and baseball, where cannabis sits on the banned substance list of nearly every professional league, skateboarding isn’t governed by any all-encompassing body. While the X-Games, Street League, and impending Olympics are the only skating that winds up on TV, professional skateboarding is facilitated almost exclusively through individual endorsement deals and not competition. There is no NFL, NBA, or MLB equivalent in skateboarding, and so as long as a board company is willing to print a skater’s name on a deck and pay them every month, they are considered a pro. Without an official league pressing bi-monthly drug tests, and therefore no risk of athletes getting suspended, skateboarders are free to promote their own pot use without waiting for a call from a concerned commissioner. As a result, skaters are ideal ambassadors for a nascent marijuana industry that’s still trying to break into America’s mainstream. 

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Zach Harris
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Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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