‘A Canvas For the Psyche’ — The Politics of Griptape in Skateboarding

Intro + Interviews by Frozen in Carbonite
Illustrations by Requiem For A Screen

I’ll never forget the wildest grip job I ever saw.

At the local park, this dude had clear grip with a collage of pornographic photos underneath. This raised a few questions. First, where the hell does one still buy physical pornographic magazines?

Next, the why. Did this particular pastiche of photography stoke him out like nothing else? Were these women his muses, like a current-day version of those paintings on WWII bombers and shit?

Maybe he needed to look at naked ladies 24/7.

ANYWAY, you may have noticed a plethora of new griptape brands sprouting up in the past year. Griptape is the one skateboard component we are in contact with (visual and/or tactile) almost 100% of the time. Just like Narcissus stared into his reflection until he died or turned into a flower or whatever, we stare at our griptape until the deck eventually dies — either broken or devoid of pop. It also functions as a canvas onto which one can project one’s psyche: the serenity of plain black, an inside joke, or a call to arms.

Skaters reserve some of their most hardcore gear opinions for this seemingly innocuous piece of sandpaper. With all this in mind, we present the The Politics of Griptape.

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Shane Heyl – Shake Junt

What made you want to start a griptape brand?

It wasn’t like I went into this saying: “I’m going to start a griptape company.” Shake Junt wasn’t a company; it was a video with my homies and the Baker guys. From there, it snowballed into a crew, and the crew was called Shake Junt.

Baker Boys Distribution had opened, I got my shit together and was like “I can turn this into a company. Why not an accessory brand that makes griptape, bolts and bearings? That way I can have all these different crews under one roof.”

How do you do product development?

Straight up hittin the streets, and if it fits, it fits. If not, let’s adjust, and make it better.

What makes your griptape brand different from all the others?

There’s just something special when you look down at the green-and-yellow O.G. sprayed logo. It just hits different; you might start stacking clips.

“Your ollies gotta be grippin’, your kickflips gotta be flickin’, and the glue gots to be stickin.'”

How did you go about picking the team?

It started off with Baker and Deathwish. If you rode for those companies, you kinda rode for Shake Junt if you wanted to. There’s never really been someone that got on Baker or Deathwish that didn’t get on Shake Junt.

Then, we started to grow out of that. If somebody brings somebody to the table like, “Hey, you should check out my friend” — okay cool let’s do that. For example, when I met Jamie Foy, we got to know each other, and then he introduced me to his best friend Zion Wright. And then they’re like, “Oh, check out my friend John Dilo and Ish Cepeda and my other friend Tyson Peterson.” I was like “Damn, you guys are a sick crew, and you all have known each other since you were kids? All y’all should be on Shake Junt, that way your whole crew can be part of this.” Not everybody’s gonna ride for New Balance, Deathwish or Spitfire, so it’s like this is that home that you guys can all be a part of.

What was your griptape brand before you started this company?

Whatever blank grip they had. I knew if it was too flimsy, I didn’t like it. If it chipped off the sides, I didn’t like it. If the grip disappeared in a week — I lived in Philly for a while — if that shit comes off in the cold weather, I ain’t rockin’ it.

What are the criteria for a quality sheet of grip?

Your ollies gotta be grippin’, your kickflips gotta be flickin’, and the glue gots to be stickin’.

Do you have any OCDs when you grip your board, like a strip of the top ply showing on the right or left?

Yeah, so when I grew up, that was a thing. I would see it from the people I looked up to. Like if you rocked it on the right, that was east coast, and if you rocked it on the left, that was a west coast thing. I used to rep that little teeny bit off my nose on the left because I was from L.A. But then now, with the big Shake Junt logo, I have to have it facing you, so when I look down at my grip, it’s upside down.

Let’s say we’re out having fun, you take a photo, I do a little switch heelflip, that Shake Junt logo is gonna be facing you. You’re gonna be able to read it — not me. No matter if I’m going fakie, switch, regular, nollie: it’s always gonna be upside down, I’m not gonna read it. But if you’re looking at me when I’m standing on my board, you’re gonna read “Shake Junt.”

Brian Brown – Pepper Griptape

Brian is a former pro skateboarder who does sales for Mesa Distribution, which carries Pepper Grip.

What was the genesis of Pepper Griptape?

Pepper came out of Mesa Distribution, which is Ace Trucks and Uma boards. I think they just wanted to do another high-quality product. The whole building is really product-based and trying to make the best shit. I got hired to do team manager stuff and some other things over here.

How do you do product development?

We have our own factory that makes grip, and it’s made in the same place that makes Ace Trucks. Everything’s controlled by us: Joey Tershay, Shrewgy — longtime skate industry guy — Joey Pulsifer, Justin Reynolds, there’s a couple other heads in the building. Everyone in the building skates and is a product geek. When it came to grip, everyone has a really strong opinion. A lot of sampling and going back to the drawing board to get it right.

“It’s funny with skaters, it wasn’t even like they were down. It was, ‘Send me some grip first and I’ll see.'”

What makes your griptape brand different from all the others?

We did these alphanumeric die-cut grip packs that are super cool. The grip itself is our own formula — it’s really grippy and has a good flick release. As far as the grit and all that stuff, we didn’t really put that out, but it’s an exclusive formula to Pepper because we’re manufacturing it ourselves. To put another sheet of black griptape out, it has to be really good to compete.

How did you go about picking the team?

It’s been in the works before I started working here. Evan Smith was an original guy, Deedz was on pretty early, Shin [Sanbongi]. When I came on board to do T.M. stuff, I hit up people that we were hyped on.

It’s funny with skaters, it wasn’t even like they were down. It was, “Send me some grip first and I’ll see,” because they’re so picky. I reached out to Andrew [Allen] and to Jordan [Trahan] and it snowballed. We tried to pick people who I didn’t think had grip sponsors. I think a couple of dudes might have quit other companies, but it definitely wasn’t a big grab, like “Oh, we gotta get the craziest team.”

What was your preferred brand before this?

Growing up, I feel like I wouldn’t even know what grip brands were; it was whatever the shop had, as long as it didn’t have anything on it. Probably Jessup for the most part.

It’s really rad to see how many griptape brands there are now. It’s not like a board company where it has to be such a specific squad. It’s a lot of dudes starting smaller grip brands, and they can have all their buddies involved.

What are the criteria for a quality sheet of grip?

Grippy, but it has to release. I don’t like when you go to do a kickflip and your foot stays on the board. It can’t be peeling off your board in the cold weather. That was always a big pet peeve. I think perforated grip is kinda the standard at this point. Keep it really simple.

Charles Rivard – Classic Grip

What made you want to start a griptape brand?

I’ve always thought about creative things to do outside of skating within skating, whether it was with captions, graphics, songs to use, this and that. I worked for Dime for a while, and I wanted to do more stuff with my friends, keep traveling, and do something with my sense of humor.

How does your sense of humor influence the brand?

I grew up around comedians. My dad was a comedian manager, and so before I was into basketball or skateboarding, I was behind the curtains watching. It came natural from seeing my dad and his friends laughing on the phone all day and making a business out of nothing, observing the world and giving their takes on it.

How do you do product development?

One of the first things I did was put myself in debt for about $15,000. I was doing factory scouting where griptape was from, because I’d been skating for a long time, but I didn’t know much about griptape.

The ugliest part of skating is griptape. When you work at a skate shop and you see parents buying [boards] for their kids, they’re like “We don’t want that.” No, no, you need it, you know? I didn’t know much, other than that there were two brands, or others that had a bunch of colorful stencils printed on them and stuff.

I scouted the factory — I got a Chinese visa and I went there with two friends. I got to meet this lady; she’s over seventy years old. She makes about 80 percent of the world’s griptape other than Jessup. The funny thing about this is that we asked the translators if anyone else had been there, and no one took the trip to the factory. That was the first thing we did before selling anything. I thought it was a valid idea to go to mainland China, talk through a translator, and see if it would work. It’s been pretty nice ever since.

“One of the first things I did was put myself in debt for about $15,000.”

What makes your griptape brand different from all the others?

When I went to that factory, I saw everyone’s project for the next two years. If they ever come there, no one can look at my shit. Just taking the 21-hour trip, dealing with all the borders and visas, going to the source, and smoking cigarettes and drinking tea with the owner kinda speaks for itself.

Never had I ever thought I would have ended up doing this. Griptape jokes: the world needs that, I think.

How did you go about picking the team?

It all started with my friend Bob [LaSalle], who’s an awesome skateboarder and way better at working. He got a U.S. visa to work for Vans and do all this awesome stuff. Coming from where we’re from, not many people get to move to California for work. He was in the process of doing that, and he’s been to Asia a bunch before. To us, it was funny that he was going to be the first pro. He also was part of the trip.

Through visiting New York and traveling with my friends, it eventually got Zered on board and now Will [Marshall]. It’s super small, but it’s a goal of nerdy-ass skaters to travel with some of your best friends and skateboard heroes.

What was your brand before you started this company?

I definitely used to be a Mob nerd on skate trips. Jessup makes my Shelltoes break in way faster. I can kickflip right out the skateshop, but it wears out too quick. When I skate Mob, my Shelltoes are too grippy fresh out the skateshop, but it gets better and it lasts longer. I was trying to do something between.

What are the criteria for a quality sheet of grip?

No matter how many ideas I would like to bring to the table, at the end of the day, everyone’s so picky. When it comes down to griptape, it will always be personal preference. It’s a little detail that’s really important and super personal. From my personal experience, that’s how people feel about it: they don’t care, but they care. Unless they get paid for it.

“Griptape jokes: the world needs that, I think.”

What are your goals for Classic?

Being able to have a platform to bring my own ideas to the table for others to see and enjoy, purchase or whatever. When you’re an underdog, it’s kinda dope. When it’s a bigger thing, people are expecting a lot more, and you can’t really do what you want. I just like to use my brain and make my friends laugh. If I can travel on top of that — that’s all I care about.

Do you have any OCDs when you grip your board?

I like to keep my front truck grip with three bolts. Because I’m goofy, I always leave the upper right hole gripped. It shows me where my nose is. It would happen sometimes where someone would poke the hole, and I have to add a bolt; it kinda fucks me up.

Steve Chalme — Miles Griptape

Steve runs Miles Griptape and is a longtime team manager for Nike SB.

What made you want to start a griptape brand?

It started out with myself, Grant Taylor, Ishod, Guy, Eric, and Shane on some trips. I wa like “we should do something.” I didn’t think there was a really cool griptape company, in my opinion. I always liked black griptape and I don’t like graphics, cut-outs, and all that shit.

It really came together on a road trip through Idaho and Montana, sitting in the van, and spitballing ideas. There’s not much pressure for these guys to ride for a griptape company. I wanted to make something rad with skateboarders that are my friends and also some of my favorite skaters. We’re all part of it.

When we were ready to get it going, I was like “I gotta not just put Nike people on,” which is awesome because there are all these other skaters that I never get to really work with. Everyone we asked was down; we got lucky.

How did you go about picking the team?

I wanted to have people I want to go on trips with. Louie is one of the best skaters ever. I didn’t really know Tom Knox too well, but I’ve always been a fan. Then Mike Anderson, he’s been my friend for like 20 years. Aiden, I was always a fan of Aiden. I figure he’s gonna need a lot of grip because he’s always riding through dirt, you know? And then Rowan, obviously.

Oh yeah — Nik Stain’s on because he’s fucking awesome. He’s a crazy griptape nerd. He analyzes it and is a freak about grip. I sent it to him as soon as we got it made, he rode it and was like “Dude, it’s amazing, I need to keep riding this.”

There are so many people I’d love to add, but I want to have that feeling back when I was first involved in the skate industry where the whole team had to be down to add someone to it.

“There’s not much pressure for these guys to ride for a griptape company. I wanted to make something rad with skateboarders that are my friends.”

What makes your griptape different?

There’s a handful of factories that make griptape, and they make it for most people — similar to board companies. We got some leads on the one that made the best stuff. They sent us three or four different things, and we started asking – I don’t want to give away our shit – if they could change a couple things. They did that three or four times for us, I gave it to Ishod, and he’s like “Dude, it’s the best griptape I’ve ever had.” Alright, I think we got it.

I got my partner — he does all the creative stuff like the box with the little window and the top sheet on it. We use recycled backing paper and environmentally friendly ink on the back. The little emergency razor is there in case you’re in a pinch and need a blade. Also, a big thing was it performing in extreme temperatures. We had it tested in a New York winter and it didn’t peel off the board.

What was your brand before you started this company?

I probably had Mob and sanded it down a little at first. But, then it would go out quicker. Honestly, I just didn’t want anything on it. Black Magic was pretty cool back in the day too.

Seeing graphic griptape always made me feel that a lot of these skaters are getting used so much by griptape companies because it’s a giant logo on the top, and most of them probably don’t get paid. I’d say it’s as visible as a skateboard graphic or more. I thought it looked silly: your board’s spinning around, and there’s colors on both sides.

What are the criteria for a quality sheet of grip?

You know that new board or new shoe feeling when you can’t do a kickflip? Just trying to not have that right away, and also not that slippery-ass feeling a week later. That was the goal: to make the grip last as long as the skateboard lasts. Also, you can’t have those little lines between the perforation holes.

Do you have any OCDs when you grip your board?

For me, all I want to do is not have air bubbles. That’s why I gotta have perforations. I heard Brandon Biebel invented the perforations in griptape. I heard he told Nick [Diamond] to do that, and they did it first. Then, I think it got taken by the whole skate industry.

Robert Jessup

How did Jessup get started?

We’ve been around 66 years. My grandfather started Jessup in 1956. We were not making griptape for skateboards at that time; we were making leather for baseball gloves. My grandfather started us making leather, and then we started making more safety tapes.

What other industries do you service?

It would really be the safety industry, and some of our product gets printed for graphics and things like that. But skateboarding is by far the funnest part of our business. My brother and I own the business, and it definitely is our focus.

“We don’t change our formula; we come up with new products.”

How did you get into making griptape specifically for skateboarding?

Back in the eighties, my brother and I were both skating, and in those days everybody was gluing sandpaper down or shit like that. We were already making some anti-slip tape, so we started tweaking the tape we were making in our factory and sampling friends and people in the industry. They were like “Man, this shit’s better than anything else out there.”

It turns out that we were using silica carbide, which makes it more grippy, when everyone else was using aluminum oxide. So we partnered with a lot of top skate companies to verify our findings and started working with some pros to give us feedback. Essentially, after a little bit of development, we came up with the original Jessup griptape, and that was born in the mid-eighties.

How else do you do product development?

It starts with science, but it’s really testing with our pros. We have over 100 pros and AMs on our team, and we’re constantly sampling them — tweaking new product to get their feedback. That’s how we came up with the Ultra Grip and the NBD [sustainable griptape].

How has the formula changed over the years?

The original Jessup formula has never changed. It’s kinda like Coke; the secret formula is locked up in a vault. We don’t change our formula; we come up with new products. The Ultra was designed for a segment of the market where people wanted things that were more grippy, and the NBD really came out of a lot of skaters wanting a product that didn’t tear up their shoes as much, and they also wanted something better for the environment. We’re using pre-consumer recycled content to create a grip that’s truly sustainable. Essentially, it’s ground-up shoes, so it’s shoe on shoe. No one’s ever done it before.

What makes your griptape brand different from all the others?

We are the only domestic manufacturer of griptape. We don’t substitute materials; we do nothing to diminish quality. We’re really proud of that.

“It’s kinda like Coke; the secret formula is locked up in a vault.”

What’s your take on all the new griptape brands that have sprung up over the past couple years?

It’s good for the industry. We don’t mind competition — we actually manufacture for a lot of other brands. Without getting specific about who I manufacture for, a lot of those brands come to us for our expertise, and we’ll make products for them.

Do you manufacture colored griptape? What’s the most popular color?

We manufacture a lot of colored griptape. Black is by far number one, obviously. When you go beyond black, white is our number one selling color, but that gets skewed because a lot of that is purchased by brands that want to print graphics. If you pull that out of it, we’re seeing a lot of fluorescents.

But when the day’s done, it’s a lot of black. You just can’t sacrifice the performance of good old silica carbide black griptape. To make a color, you need to have a clear or white grit, so that’s aluminum oxide. Silica carbide is a black grit, and it’s the most abrasive and the sharpest. But it only comes in black, so it’s really hard to take a black grit and make it clear, white or something else.

What are the criteria for a quality sheet of grip?

We design our product so that it’s rigid enough to easily apply but not so soft that it crumples. I think what’s really important is a product that allows some reposition-ability as you get the sheet down. The adhesive bonds quickly. It needs to trim clean, and the grip needs to look great. It’s gotta be a consistent pattern: no voids, no flaking, no grit coming off. I see a lot of competitors’ stuff, and you can just snap it; it’s like dandruff.

Do you skate the grip yourself?

I’m getting a little older, but I’ll cruise all over — I’m on a board right now as we’re talking. My younger brother still skates a lot. My son and his son are both skaters as well, so they’re constantly ripping. My son’s heading over to Pood’s [park in Encinitas, California] right now.

Why do you think skaters are so obsessed with griptape?

I think it’s really the connection to the board, right? That’s where your feet hit the board, and that connection is critical.

Previously: The Politics of Pants

Related: Our friend Claire Alleaume wrote a great grip piece for Jenkem back in October 2020.

10 Comments

  1. Shredtown grip. East coast champs. See for yourself on Instagram @shredtown89

  2. I can’t think of one thing that makes me turn around to avoid any sort of striking up a conversation more than that shake junt logo.

  3. Loved this piece; thank you!
    I finally have an answer to why clear/colored grip is always subpar.

  4. It’s interesting Shane is so transparent about the branding being visible when people skate it ansd then Steve saying he feels like skaters get used by grip brands and mostly don’t get paid.

    When I watched Wade’s part in the Primitive vid, I couldn’t help but assume he was getting $ to have Shake Junt on the grip in every single one of his clips. No way a grown man is doing that without catching a check no?

  5. Lol I did the call me 917 $80 for two boards deal last year and they sent me two sheets of Shake Junt with them. One was blank and one was the classic graphic. I was not stoked

  6. I hear you’re a nice guy, but just say you hate Shake Junt and move on. No one cares. Why do so many skaters try to sound like philanthropists when they’re starting companies??

    Just say you want a cut of the pie too, it ain’t that deep.

  7. Silica Carbide is $20 for a 5lbs bag. Shoe companies need to make Silica Carbide shoes and faze grip tape out. Like what Uber did to Taxi.


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