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Skateboarding News

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The death of innovation

Duane Peters, Jesse Martinez, Lee Bender, Mike Vincent, Ray Underhill, Jim Muir, Andy Kessler, Johnny Romano, Tod Swank, Watson Laminates, Jim Fitzpatrick, Kahuna Creations, FibreFlex, Tum Yeto , Jim Fitzpatrick interview, JFitz, Thrasher, Lance Mountain, Stacy Peralta
Look Ma’, Ain’t they vote for me now?
It first started with education: the infamous “No Child Left behind” law that George Bush advocated in 2001 turned the US into a statistic nightmare as Chinese kids topped the charts, outperforming US kids and raising concern that the U.S. isn’t prepared to succeed in the global economy. The catastrophic NCLB reduced effective instruction and student learning because the states lowered achievement goals and motivated teachers to "teach to the test" leaving actual knowledge and critical thinking out of the game.

Then right after the long awaited (and needed) health reform was signed into law, politicians started to question its legality and repealed the law. Budgets for Fast Trains in California, New England, Florida are being repealed, refused or returned. Bioenergy (and Biofuel from Brazil) is under attack with a nasty tariff. Bioengineering, DNA and therapeutic cloning (the harvesting in stem cells that can be used to study human development and to treat disease) is banned in the US by arrogant politicians…

A couple of days ago, the same politicians have taken another step toward repealing new Federal Communications Commission rules (called “Net Neutrality”) that prohibit phone and cable companies from interfering with Internet traffic on their broadband networks and aim to prevent them from becoming online gatekeepers. Additionally, the “Net Neutrality” would have prohibited broadband providers from favoring or discriminating against Internet content and services, including online calling and Web video services that could compete with their core phone and cable operations. Read this post fast, you might be running out of time before they pull the plugs…

Now, after Japan (one of the world's most proficient engineering powers) was hit with a terrible magnitude 9 earthquake on March 11, and the devastating tsunamis which followed critically damaged the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, 150 miles north of Tokyo, politicians started to cry wolf and threaten to shut down any talks they had about the future of nuclear power in the US.

Duane Peters, Jesse Martinez, Lee Bender, Mike Vincent, Ray Underhill, Jim Muir, Andy Kessler, Johnny Romano, Tod Swank, Watson Laminates, Jim Fitzpatrick, Kahuna Creations, FibreFlex, Tum Yeto , Jim Fitzpatrick interview, JFitz, Thrasher, Lance Mountain, Stacy Peralta
Organizers of the first Skateboarding Hall of Fame ceremony turned to
Watson Laminates to create custom boards for inductees Tony Hawk,
Danny Way, Tony Alva and Bruce Logan. Then again in 2010 with Stacy...
So, after we got rid of Education, Fast Trains, Universal Health Care, Net Neutrality, Bioenergy, Bioengineering, and Nuclear Plants, why don’t we just let the politicians scratch innovation once for all; return to the Middle Ages and let Him rule the US? The end is close anyway…

Unfortunately, innovation is what makes us compete against the others and improves our processes, quality, products, bottom line and standard of living. It actually not only improves our standards of living in the US but worldwide. The more advanced other countries are, the more we can sell them our products and enrich ourselves. Take innovation out of the equation and you end up in a backward country, where money, jobs and eventually people flee out to seek better environment.

Under pressure, people and companies will try to do their best to avoid innovation. Like most companies in the skateboard industry they won’t spend on innovation but will go abroad and manufacture in China, because it is cheaper. True, Skateboarding has been a boom or bust venture from the beginning (see Jim Fitzpatrick interview Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV) and the fear of driving the price of the boards beyond the reach of most skaters pushed suppliers to slash soaring manufacturing costs by going in China.

There are three paybacks. First, the jobs that were in the US have now shifted elsewhere. Second, the artistry, knowledge and craftsmanship (such as sophisticated silkscreen techniques) of early artisans have been wiped out and the know-how and innovation (let alone profits) has shifted from the US to China.
Duane Peters, Jesse Martinez, Lee Bender, Mike Vincent, Ray Underhill, Jim Muir, Andy Kessler, Johnny Romano, Tod Swank, Watson Laminates, Jim Fitzpatrick, Kahuna Creations, FibreFlex, Tum Yeto , Jim Fitzpatrick interview, JFitz, Thrasher, Lance Mountain, Stacy Peralta
Artistry, knowledge, know-how and craftsmanship of early
skateboard artisans have almost been wiped out
Third, as an incredible reversal of fortune, costs of making skateboards in China are now soaring because the Chinese government is applying rules against overtime and without overtime, factory workers are now enjoying the same paycheck at home, leaving factories empty ended… This, in turn, drives the cost of the skateboards… up… It’s a wonderful world, right?

Fortunately, there is at least one factory in the US that manufactures skateboards at home: Watson Laminates.

Several years ago, Tod Swank, Watson Laminates’ boss decided he would go against the trend. The former pro skater was selling his own brands of boards manufactured by San Diego-based Watson Laminates, one of the first of the "old school" manufacturers to move into laminated products from boards carved out of solid pieces of wood. When former owner Charlie Watson decided to retire, he sold his business to Tod Swank. "Some people couldn't believe I might buy an American manufacturer at a time when the industry was moving to China or Mexico. It was like thinking about buying an American car factory," said Swank, still sounding as though he, too, didn't quite believe it. "But I studied it. I spent weeks here to see if we could make it work."

Duane Peters, Jesse Martinez, Lee Bender, Mike Vincent, Ray Underhill, Jim Muir, Andy Kessler, Johnny Romano, Tod Swank, Watson Laminates, Jim Fitzpatrick, Kahuna Creations, FibreFlex, Tum Yeto , Jim Fitzpatrick interview, JFitz, Thrasher, Lance Mountain, Stacy Peralta
Are we innovating enough?  Watson Laminates a company that can
rapidly retools itself.
Things were not easy: from 30 cross-trained employees who could fill in wherever they were needed, the workforce soared to about 75 employees in 2000. Now the firm (pun intended) has dwindled (pun intended) to about 13 employees and five outside representatives. But Swank said the company still sponsors 40 professional skateboarders and Watson Laminates continues to employ 20 to 30 workers, depending on the season.

Boards for Kahuna Creations, FibreFlex and several other clients, including Swank's other business, Tum Yeto Inc., which sells its own exclusive brands of skateboards, board components, clothing and shoes to skate shops and online and coming out of this place.

The secret of this skateboard company? Innovation. Swank said he quickly started to see in Watson Laminates a company that could rapidly retools itself to process more lucrative special orders without losing any of its traditional sources of business.

You know what? If we want to have the best engineers for the future, creating boards with even more flex, pop and strength, then we need people to be educated. We need fast train to replace outdated aviation companies (and inquisitive TSA) to efficiently and quickly move people and products from one place to another. We need universal health care so our pros can be treated with pride and not rely on fundraising, benefits or auctions. Having skateboarders like Mike Rogers (with Grind For Life) investing their life for a noble cause is simply wonderful. Add Ryan Sheckler (Skateboard Deck For Charity), Tony Hawk (Tony Hawk Foundation) and other charities like Benton County Skateboarding Alliance, Skateistan, Skaters for Public Skateparks, Actions REALized site, Marginal Way Skatepark, Above Coping, Board Rescue and you have a vast array of skateboarders helping others in need, which is simply wonderful and shows a lot regarding the spirit of skateboarding. But it is a shame for the country that some of our best individual (and not charities) skateboarders like Duane Peters (steph infection), Jesse Martinez (beat up at Venice skatepark), Lee Bender (multiple sclerosis), Mike Vincent (hit by a car), Ray Underhill (brain tumor), Jim Muir (paralysis after a surfing accident), Andy Kessler R.I.P. (bitten by a bug), Johnny Romano R.I.P. (blood cancer) and scores of others need to appeal to the faltering generosity of the public by having multiple benefit or auctions to pay for their mounting insurance bills… We need net neutrality so broadband distributors can’t slow down the traffic of unwanted (read competitor) websites. Do you really want to have Thrasher, The Berrics, Concrete Disciples, Fuel.TV, YouTube or Skate Daily web sites grinding to a screeching halt because the message they rely does not please mainstream media? Remember, we are the pariah of society… And we need nuclear power to replace expensive, obsolete and polluting sources of energy like coal and fossil fuels. A country like Brazil happily surfs the Bossa Nova of efficient energy, it is the strongest innovator of Bioenergy and produces biofuel that is banned in the US.
Belgium, Ukraine, Switzerland, Finland have more than 40% of electricity produced by nuclear power and France has almost 80% of its electricity coming from nuclear power (where it is a non issue) while the US lags at less than 20% of its electricity coming from nuclear sources (20 countries are doing better). The politicians that are in the way of innovation are all conformist in their 60’s and 70’s, sometimes 80’s. What do they know about today? Frankly, they don’t care about the future generations. All they care is investing as little as possible so they look like they have awesome expense records and cheap accounting books. All they care about is being reelected tomorrow even if that’s detrimental to innovation and future.

Send the politicians a strong signal: tell them that we don’t want them to step on a skateboard to get votes because they look sooo stoopid! Tell them that we need innovation, that we had enough with their silly games and oust them!

Read more about the story of Watson Laminates by going to LA Times website.

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posted by Xavier Lannes @ Wednesday, March 16, 2011 




1 Comments:
Anonymous Victorville Sam said...

a bunch of bills that tell private businesses(individuals) how to operate creates innovation?
until the boondoggle of a healthcare bill came about I could actually afford insurance, people choose to spend their their money on things deemed more important....

March 16, 2011 at 7:15 PM  




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