A job is like kryptonite to a skateboarder. A normal schedule, conceding to authority figures, responsibility — these bare minimum characteristics of employment are pretty unappealing. Many skaters’ job histories involve quitting abruptly or getting fired hungover. It’s not exactly an activity that promotes “growing up,” at least in the traditional sense.
One of the most commonly asked questions by people on the outside looking into New York skateboarding is “How do you afford to live there?” San Francisco might’ve just knocked us off for highest cost-of-living in America, but surviving here still costs a lot, especially if you’re intent on staying for more than a summer or two. A bit has been written on jobs in skateboarding; there’s less information out there on what type of jobs most skateboarders actually have. For as long as many of my friends have been above adult working age (post-“slumming it out to avoid any semblance of responsibility”-age), a sizable portion of them have worked for set companies.
This may come as a surprise, but a set company makes sets. The background of most ads or commercials you see is fake. Say a fashion company wants to do a photo shoot with a bunch of babes. Some creative director will scream at a bunch of people with MFAs to sketch out a concept for the backdrop. That concept gets given to a set-design company, who in New York, will potentially give it to a responsible skateboarder who they employ, who then, delegates work out to a team of maybe less-responsible-but-still-responsible-enough skateboarders to build out and deliver to the client.
Chances are, when you flip through some magazine and see a Victoria’s Secret or Ralph Lauren ad, the entire background was built by skateboarders you see in videos on the internet. See, it ain’t only Olson and Rieder — skaters come into fashion on all levels fam.
Photo via Dave Dowd
After years of hearing about this industry that employs at least a few people in every skate crew throughout the city (“can’t skate for three weeks, I’m on a job”), it made sense to shine a light on it. We asked Lurker Lou, a decade-plus-long set-builder / C.E.O. of Iron Claw Skates, Fred Gall, a freelance refugee in the set-building industry / Governor of New Jersey, and Paul Coots, a project manager at Ready Set who’s been able to help many skaters keep money in their pocket — about why the hell every skater works for a set-design company.