QS1 Behind the Boards: Chapman Skateboards

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Chapman has been producing skateboards for over two decades. This makes them the longest-standing northeastern skateboard company, in addition to one of the few remaining places where you can produce a deck that comes with a “Made in the U.S.A.” emblem. Their Deer Park, NY headquarters doubles as something of an east coast skateboard museum. Everything from the first Zoo decks, Supreme artist series boards that resell for thousands of dollars, to one-offs that were never mass-produced line their walls. If someone started a skate company on the east coast these past twenty years, they probably dealt with Chapman.

We asked Gregg Chapman, one of the company’s founders, to take us on a tour through the building, and share the stories behind a select few of his favorite boards.

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The Entrance

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Andy Kessler and I painted the background for this board, and screenprinted it together here on Long Island. It’s a slave ship printed on an upside down American flag, so it gets a rise out of a lot of people who see it. It was for a set of ten boards that made up a larger piece for an art show, which was maybe two years before Andy passed.

Everyone would get mad at me over the years because I wouldn’t throw this old print table away. I’d always say, “This is the table that built our business.” All of my friends sweated over this table silkscreening boards by hand. Direct screenprinting decks was our entry to manufacturing skateboards. A lot of guys could make skateboards, but not a lot of guys wanted to deal with the challenges of screening a 3D object. Every board we made touched this table and all the ink colors tell that story, so its only fitting that it’s the first thing you see when you walk into our showroom. Andy’s board is a great example of the unique work that was done here.

Tampa Winners

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These were from around when we first really started pushing Chapman with a pro team, running ads in magazine and filming hard for videos. After Billy Rohan got on in 1997, the rule of thumb became, “If you’re not better than Billy, you can’t get on.”

We were down in Tampa for the AM contest in 2000. Billy had his new Honda CRV with big rims, blasting Wu-Tang and the back filled with beers. We were young and it was a pretty wild time. Danny [Gonzales] won best trick in street and Mathias [Ringstrom] won first place in vert. We had first place in two events, so people were starting to take notice. These were the boards they skated in the contest and I’m glad I held onto them to help remember that special moment.

It’s a shame that we couldn’t keep the team together longer. Danny got the cover of Slap and the Reason part had just come out. He was getting a lot of offers, and the money was understandably too hard to pass up.

The amazing thing about Danny’s Reason part was that he only filmed for six days. He was injured when he first got on and slowly made his way back. I remember him filming with Transworld for three days, then going to Japan for a tour, and then filming for three when he got back before he got injured again.

Other than Chris Senn, I’ve never witnessed anyone that skated so naturally in my life. There were over 100 kids skating this street course and Danny started messing around. Within a matter of 15 minutes, everyone stopped to watch him. It went from total chaos to one person flowing alone. The people that were running the event started to screw down long sticks on the transitions to shut it down, but Danny just kept skating. He would just ollie over the stick, do the trick and then ollie it again on the way down.

Andy’s Zappa Board

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If I could only hold onto one board, it would be Andy’s. You can see how many people Andy touched when he passed and we all still miss him so much. Everyday when I come to work, I sit with him and his board. This one is special because we made it together, skated it together, he painted it and even cared enough about it to fix the chip on the nose with a surfboard resin repair kit.

Years ago, Christian Strength put together the “Beautiful Losers” exhibit and I lent him a bunch of decks. I couldn’t make it to the opening, and I remember Danny Supa calling me saying how everyone was tripping on the two Futura Gangemmi decks I had lent the show. I never got those two back. Those two had a bunch of different colors swirled in the screen and came out super good. I’m still bummed that those two are MIA, but if something happened to Andy’s board I don’t think I would be able to get over it. I already lost him.

Ricky

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I remember Ben from Zoo York saying something along the lines of “We have a good idea for the Zoo York 20th anniversary tees. Please send Brian your favorite fifty deck graphics from the last 20 years.” I said no problem, but it would take me awhile. Ten days later, after digging through all my old shit, I found what I was looking for: the films for the first Zoo York board ever.

While I was rummaging through everything, I coincidentally found the films for Ricky’s hydrant graphic, alongside these two hand painted Kaws films that were supposed to become skateboards, but never did.

Ricky was the guy that stood up and asked “Why should we have to leave here to make it in skateboarding if we grew up here?” Most of our friends went west to get paid and be closer to the mags, but he stayed home. Ricky suffered for it financially, but his legacy in skateboarding is forever valuable. I can’t tell you how many hydrant decks we made coming up, but it was definitely a lot, and I owe everything to Ricky. Holding the original films in my hands brought me back, and I’m really stoked that we were able to reissue the deck last year and get Ricky some money. Better late then never.

Performance Tips

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In the late nineties, I was introduced to Becket Colon through Mathias Ringstrom, as they were both from Sweden. Becket came up with an idea of integrating a space-age plastic into the tips of skateboards. He had already gone to Cali with the idea, but there were no takers. It was only an idea on paper; there was no physical board to prove that it was better. As soon as I heard the idea, I offered to help develop it into a real deck.

With a new deck, only a small area of your board contacts the ground, which focuses more energy and creates more pop. As the tip wears out and that area of contact grows, the energy is dispersed over a bigger area causing less pop. We studied it more, and saw that when you’re skating a worn out board, you constantly have to adjust how you do tricks. If you’re sponsored and ride new decks all the time, you don’t notice it as much. The idea was that if you put this special plastic at the tips of the board, it will keep the contact point small and the pop big. I remember Billy skating them and saying how it felt like you were skating marble everywhere you went. He coined the tag line “marble pop.”

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Chapman debuted the performance tip decks at a tradeshow around 1999 to a polarizing response. Some pros said, “You’re going to mess up royalties because the boards will last longer.” Paul Schmitt is a good friend of mine and asked to have lunch with me. At the time, he was the biggest skateboard manufacturer in the world. I was thinking maybe this will be my big break. Chapman wasn’t big enough to change the market, but if Paul got on board, maybe the other big five companies would too. However, at some point over that lunch, Becket said something like “If you don’t do this with us, you’ll be out of business in two years.” Cue the crash noise. I was kicking him under the table, thinking “You can’t tell the king he’s going to be out on the street.”

The reality was that the market was too good at that time, and the innovation may have been too big of a leap to digest. It was a patented technology, and I still believe that this was something that could have been a real entry point to the market — one that could have protected all U.S. manufacturers from the offshore trend that soon followed and killed us. Hindsight is 20/20, and in fairness to Becket, he’s a genius, but it’s rare that someone can possess every attribute. He out-thought everyone, but got in his own way making the business deal.

Front & Center

Our latest space has this tall, narrow area that would be difficult to use for storage, so we decided to hang a bunch of boards there. Keeping them tucked away in boxes isn’t the point. I wanted to share them.

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My friend Mike Brogan was working with us over the summer and overheard me talking about the wall. He asked if he could film me putting the boards up and edit a piece for his reel. It was a time-lapse, so I had to hang the entire wall in one day. Towards the last third, my arm was cramping from screwing them in. When we finished, I was cleaning up and stepped back to take a look at the wall. I realized that the series Larry Clark did for Supreme — the most risqué deck on the entire wall — is pretty much dead center for every mother who brings her kids here to see. I just shook my head thinking “Hey, it’s skateboarding, I love it and I’m not going to edit or water it down.” At the end of the day, I have to thank James at Supreme for pushing the envelope letting me be part of what he’s created, even if it gets me in a little trouble.

18 Comments

  1. I never heard of those plastic tip boards before. I want to ride one of those, and see what it’s like.

  2. It’s funny but over the last few years the stories of companies that are still “Made in the USA” are becoming our modern history and American folklore.It makes me think of Robert Frank’s, The Americans photographs. A shame we have had to outsource so much. Skateboarding has had a huge impact on our culture and in particular my life. Chapman skateboards was some cool East Coast shit when I was young (I was/am in California) and its amazing to me that they are still thriving. We could all use a lesson in what it means to buy small American made companies.

  3. Quartersnacks taught me more from this article than I would’ve learned doing my school work right now.

  4. The only envelope being pushed by supreme is the one across to the bank teller..a heat transfer image of tits on a deck is not pushing the envelope,how about contributing something more than self promotion and elitist bullshit..and if its true that F.A. is funded by supreme then why are all those decks made in mexico?Paul shit took American tradition and craftsmanship across the sea and down to mexico…CHAPMAN makes great,solid,quality decks that companies like 3D and FUCKING AWESOME should support.

  5. “The only envelope being pushed by supreme is the one across to the bank teller”

    except for the money they pay Chapman to make the skateboards for them, which Chapman then uses to pay the American workers who mold/press/shape/screen/distribute those boards. That’s doing a lot more than “self promotion and elitist bullshit.”

  6. Great interview.

    I stumbled on those “space age” plastic [Nylon] tipped boards while looking through Google Patents last month! Beckett Colon is selling them http://www.prosk8.se/. I wondered immediately if anyone had ever tried to introduce them idea here. The “Who Killed The Electric Car?” of skateboarding.

  7. Learn your geography Matthew. You can walk to Mexico from California or Texas. You don’t need to sail the seven seas to make a board

  8. Children are so impressionable..first off addressing mr fake name speaking about geography..when I said “across the sea AND down to Mexico” obviously you did not understand what the Word “and” means…maybe I should of said “as well as”..but I feel like you still would of been confused..so across the sea means CHINA..following?..down to MEXICO means less wood shops in Southern California and opening wood shops in Mexico…and you said it PERFECTLY with that last zinger you got me with..you really hit the nail on the head..”you DON’T need to sail the seven seas to make a board”

    To guy that didn’t leave his name..sorry I don’t know how else to address you…
    If you tried to find actual Supreme decks on the their website for a minute you had to go into the accessories section..that’s what they are in the top dogs eyes…accessories…but don’t worry someone came along and told them about it..now they have a section called SKATE..it’s listed below accessories on the BOTTOM..LAST.

    YES..the business they give chapman is great…but you know what would be really great? To donate .01% of the sales in the week of a spring release to the wood shop for a paint room…strengthen the roots of the tree,not just pick the fruit.

  9. Chapman has produced to highest quality and rawest skateboards and skateboarders on the east coast (and entire country) over the past 2 decades. They keep it true to essence of skateboarding. This article has gotten me incredibly hyped. Please bring us more about Chapman. These fools ain’t no trend!

  10. Cool read. Chapman is the truth. Larry Clark is a herb….so is anyone on the Supreme jock. Dill and his 35yr old up the river wanna be New Yorker schtick should move back to California. He should take Strobeck, the Gonz and all of Brooklyn with him. Peace to the gods.

  11. And THAT is why Last Try Skateboards are made by Chapman. Absolutely amazing people that have a top notch facility and care about skateboarding. There’s no other company like them.


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