0 item(s)  |  $0.00  |  View Cart

By: Kyle DuVall

Kristian Svitak’s journey in skateboarding reads like a cross section of the last 30 years of skate culture. In ’88, he was a squeebed out kid on a Per Welinder street board joining the influx of post-Bones Brigade Midwestern groms who found themselves searching for Animal Chin on whatever bits of scabby concrete they could find. In the middle of the 90’s, he was part of an underground movement in street skating that set aside high-tech for speed, aggression and style. In the 2000’s, as part of the “Label Kills” era Black Label team, he wasn’t just part of the changes in skating, he was helping to engineer them. His skating added momentum to trends that eventually resulted in the wide-open, anything goes atmosphere of today’s skate culture.

Svitak 1989

Now, at age 40, Svitak is part of another seismic shift in skating: the demographic shift. Svitak shows no signs of coasting on a legacy. He’s charging and filming and pushing himself however he can, finding his place in a world where veteran shredders, for the first time in the history of skating, are having more than just a behind-the-scenes impact.

“I want to rip as hard as I can and do as many things that I’ve got in my head as I can before I physically can’t,” Svitak asserts. “There’s going to come a day when I’m going to say: ‘It would be awesome to do that, but I’m 55 years old, or I’m 60, and I can’t’.”

Svitak: 40

Charging and putting his skating out into the world is still very much a part of Svitak’s identity as a skater, and age has only intensified his sense of self motivation.

“For a couple years in my mid 30’s I had this spell where I didn’t film at all, I just went out and skated for fun. That was fine with me but I found myself just thinking: ‘I’m not done’ I feel like as I’ve gotten older, I’m a better skateboarder now than when I was younger. I’ve learned so many new things, what I’ve lost a little bit is that ability to jump down big handrails, but I’ll still jump down a rail… The thing is I’m more up for skating in other areas, it’s like I feel more skilled in more things. It’s really interesting.”

“I’ve still got sponsors. Filming is my job. I want to represent them the best I can, but I’m not filming because I force myself. It’s for me, for my skateboarding. Filming really gets the best out of me, it gets me to really push myself to progress and do things that I think about and want to happen. That’s how I’ve always thought about it even way back before I was sponsored.”

Doing things for his own reasons has worked out pretty good for Svitak so far, even in times when “his own thing” wasn’t fashionable.

“I was 18 years old when the early 90’s came in, and I tried really hard to keep up with the Nollie Flips and Switch Tricks. I was learning it all because it was new and exciting, but it came to a point where I just thought: I don’t feel comfortable. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the tricks, I just didn’t like doing them, they didn’t feel good. I remember around 1994 just thinking to myself: This just doesn’t feel good, I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to get sponsored, and that’s okay. I’m going to skate the way I want to skate.”

In that era, ditching the tricks everyone else was fighting for actually put Svitak way ahead of the curve, and positioned him to have a big impact in the era to come.

“Skating the way I wanted happened to be skating fast, Ollieing big things, going hard at handrails. I liked blending old tricks from the 80’s in with what I was doing, and lo and behold, the ironic thing about it all is that that is the kind of stuff that got me sponsored.”

The outcast soon found himself unintentionally representing one of skating’s stylistic trends. “This was when the whole phrase of “Hesh” was being thrown around. People over the years have said: ‘Oh you’re Hesh dude!’ I’m like: ‘What the fuck is Hesh?’. I’ve never even thought of that. I’m just some skate rat. I wear flannels because I grew up in Cleveland and it was cold and I was punk rock. I wore a trucker hat because I have a huge head.”

Svitak eventually wound up on Black Label, an ideal fit for a young skater who not only had a reverence for his skate elders, but also actively paid homage to them with his own skating.

Label Era Frontside Feeble. Photo: Matt Mecaro.

Label Era Frontside Feeble. Photo: Matt Mecaro.

“I was never one of those kids who wrote off the old pros, or wrote off history,” Svitak recalls. “I remember telling people ‘I’m going to ride for Black Label! John Lucero! Jeff Grosso!’ and they’d be like: ‘What? Who?’ People can go around all day and say ‘We were always down’. Bullshit. I remember when you dudes didn’t give a shit. I always hated that in the 90’s. I remember my friend being like: Why is Label giving all these old dudes boards? I would get so defensive about it, ‘I’m here because of these guys’.”

The ethos of the Black Label team created an atmosphere where Svitak and his teammates, Mike Vallely, and Jason Adams, could make a pretty powerful statement about the state of skateboarding in what has become known as the “Label Kills” era.

Kristian, Jason and Mike. 2001: Alaska. Photo: Miki Vuchovich

Kristian, Jason and Mike. 2001: Alaska. Photo: Miki Vuchovich

“I still get e-mails about that video, Its the one people always want to talk about. It’s had a big impact over the years. Lucero had real foresight about pushing things in the videos. Guys would be like: Don’t put that in the video…. And he’d say: ‘No, that’s cool, leave it in’. It was very important at that time, we were just coming out of the 90’s… What people saw in that “Label Kills” video is straight up what was going through my head in the 90’s.”

Svitak’s attitude about skateboarding and life in general made it inevitable that he would branch out on his own, and when he created 1031 skateboards in 2006, he found himself, once again, ahead of skateboarding’s trend curve just by doing what came naturally.

“I started my brand in 2006 when it was not cool to do a little brand,” Svitak recollects. “I remember when I started 1031 people asked ‘Who are you out of?’ I would say: ‘No one.’ It’s just me and my buddy doing it out of a garage. They would look at me like I was an asshole. If you were not out of Deluxe or Tum Yeto or NHS, you weren’t shit.”

Along the way, Svitak also started Regulator Distribution and co-founded Landshark Wheels. As Landshark became more successful, and independent board brands began to flood the deck market, Svitak found himself on the wrong side of the small company gold rush.

“There’s a million board brands right now. Board brands are like toilet paper. Now, wood shops make boards for anybody. Anybody can have a board company.”

“Going into 2015 I just knew something had to change with 1031. It was such a life drainer… I loved it but It was taking away time from my daughter, and taking away time from Landshark, which was doing really well.”

Watching what his friend and mentor Mike Vallely was doing with Street Plant eventually helped influence the fate of 1031.

“The first skateboard video I ever saw was Public Domain. When the guy with the shaved head, fingerless leather gloves and with the two different colored shoes came on skating New York City and Washington DC… I didn’t even know who he was but I was like: ‘That’s who I relate to, right there’. When the Barnyard double kick came out I actually took two of those skateboard keychains they used to make and I cut them in half with a saw and then took the 2 tail ends and taped them together so I had a double kick.”

Admiration developed into friendship once Vallely and Svitak became colleagues, and even when the business of skateboarding threw curveballs at their mutual endeavors, Svitak and Vallely have remained friends and allies.

Kristian and Mike. Dortmund, Germany / 2000.

Kristian and Mike. Dortmund, Germany / 2000.

“Mike’s always had my back over the years and I’ve always had his. When Mike was talking to me about expanding Street Plant, what was literally going through my head at that moment was what a strain 1031 was becoming. I had been doing it for nine years and put everything I had in it. I cared about it dearly, but he was telling me about Street Plant and I’m telling him: ‘Mike this sounds so good’. He never asked me to stop doing 1031. He just said: ‘Do what you need to do, I just want you to be a part of Street Plant in whatever capacity makes you feel comfortable. The next day we skated and I was like: ‘You know what Mike, this is just what I needed. I need to stop 1031, this just makes so much sense to me.’ What a great reason to get back together with my friend and do something.”

So Street Plant picked up its first rider, not with intense contract negotiations, back room deals, or piles of cash, but with a skate session between two old friends. In fact, Street Plant wasn’t even looking to recruit riders.

“Everything with Street Plant is very organic, there is no plan to make a team, if people come along, Mike might put them on, but this all goes back to Mike and I being good friends for so many years.”

With that sort of motivation, it hardly matters to Svitak whether Street Plant becomes ‘The Next Big Thing’, or just one more project in a string of inspiring projects he has been a part of.

“I give credit to Mike for always trying things. Just because something doesn’t work out, that doesn’t mean shit. There’s a lot of people who just don’t try shit in their life, then they ridicule other people because they try something and it didn’t work out. It always makes me think of that Minor Threat song… You know, ‘What the fuck have you done?’

Kristian, Emily, Paul and Mike. Photo: Rob Wallace.

Kristian, Emily, Paul and Mike. Photo: Rob Wallace.

“Fail, fail, fail until something works. You try things, you go for shit. It’s just like skateboarding. Go for the trick over and over until you get it and, you know what? Sometimes you don’t get it, but you tried.”

“The companies that he started and ended, I don’t see them as failures, the things he fucking went for… As a fan and a friend of Mike’s, I feel like what Mike is doing with Street Plant is the best thing he’s ever done.”

Kyle DuVall has been writing about skateboarding almost as long as he has been skateboarding.