Skateboarding cannot exist without skateboards. You can skate in non-skate shoes, skate in places that aren't designed for skateboarding, and wear clothing from non-skate brands while skating, but you can't roll from point A to point B without a deck under your feet. There's no skateboarding without a board.
Given the financial ebb and flow the industry has seen over the last two decades, it's quite interesting that skateboard decks have maintained the same price they were in the early nineties. With inflation, $50 in 1990 is the equivalent of $80 today, so after 20-some years of X Games, video games and energy drinks, why hasn't the price of a deck changed?
A little research was needed, so I asked a few trusted sources in the industry for their two cents. All of the shops interviewed cited the same reason for pricing not changing: competition. "We have four Zumiez in the Kansas City area; they actually put one of our shops out of business," said Nick Owen, one of the owners of Escapist Skate Shop in Kansas City, Missouri. "They have this $80 complete and that's kind of what they do, and we just don't do that. It's ridiculous to try and charge $80 for a deck."
Additionally, a Google search for "skateboard deck" found team decks from Stereo, Deathwish, Toy Machine and Anti Hero all available under $40. Zumiez.com had a Blind complete for $45. Between mall shops and online retailers, the competition factor can not be underestimated.
Offering shop decks at a lower price allows shops to cater to broke skate rats who go through boards quickly, but it further insulates the price of a pro deck from going up. "It's $38 with tax for a shop board, so I don't think anybody can justify more than that every two weeks. Some people it's every week," said Dave Waite, manager at 35th Ave Skate Shop in Federal Way, Washington. When asked about what would happen if he raised the price of a pro deck beyond his $49.95 standard, he said "I guess they would probably just have to go along with it because there's not a whole lot out here, but we would definitely lose some business to the Zumiez Mini Logo pile for sure. Even a couple dollars was a big deal to some people; the difference between $35 and $40 plus tax was enough to send them someone somewhere else."
Pricing on decks has stayed stagnant in skateboarding beyond retail. "As far as our price points, nothing has changed," said Gregg Chapman, president and founder of Chapman Skateboards. Chapman, who has pressed decks for brands from Adrenalin to Zoo York, is still charging the same wholesale prices for decks as when he opened in 1991. With the price of maple veneers and the cost of doing business on Long Island rising, he partnered with a wood shop in Maine, a place he called "the last frontier for skateboard manufacturing in America to have a chance," to stay competitive. While other US wood shops like Pennswood and South Central are still in business, some of the biggest name wood shops like Generator and PS Stix have moved manufacturing from Southern California to northern Mexico. "Mexico is kind of that sweet spot in skateboarding," Chapman said. "You have a lot of the older southern California experience and equipment with a competitive labor rate and better logistics."
Costs of labor and supplies aside, Chapman cited the introduction of heat transferred graphics as the biggest milestone in skateboard manufacturing and a major factor as to why decks are priced the way they are today. "Everybody could make a skateboard, but who wanted to deal with printing on a 3D surface with silk screens?" he said. In the late nineties, Chapman's friend Woody Kou introduced heat transfer technology to pro decks for Dwindle Distribution. With that technology, previously used exclusively for boards you would find in a toy store, a wood shop could apply graphics with a fraction of the time and manpower it took to screen print them. "That eliminates a huge entry barrier to skateboarding… Now that you don't have pioneering, passionate skateboarders controlling or driving the business," Chapman said, "Anybody that wants to invest can do what we were doing as a labor of love."
Kou later used heat transfer technology to broker a partnership between Dwindle and a Chinese factory, making Dwindle the first vertically integrated skateboard company. Producing it's own decks meant Dwindle could sell a deck for the same price but make more money off of it. That money went into marketing; building better teams and running more ads. Dwindle's factory was the only US skate company making decks in China, but that did not last long. "They brought the trade secrets to China, set it up and it was exclusive," Chapman said, "but then two blocks away there's a mirror-image of that same building that has that technology, but doesn't have the exclusivity that the original partnership was made through." Chinese decks were no longer Dwindle's key to success; they became an alternative for any company hoping to save money. "Over the next few years, the writing was on the wall for some of these other brands," Chapman said, "If you're going to keep up with World and lead the market, they need a bit more marketing budget and maybe [going overseas] something they could do."
"It's kind of sad these days that hardgoods are something you hang on the wall but they don't bring you a lot of money," said Broderick Gumpright, one of the owners of Orchard Skate Shop in Boston, Massachusetts, "We do a good hardgoods business but the margins on a shoe or a t-shirt are much better". Gumpright sells boards pro boards at Orchard for $44.99 and $49.99, a reflection of wholesale costs, he said, and not markup.
At 35th Ave, Dave Waite has a handful of boards above $50. "If it's a shaped board I've noticed people, if it's five or ten dollars more, they won't flinch," he said. Limited edition and reissue boards fall into the same category for him as well: "An older guy is like 'Oh cool, I don't mind spending $55 or $60', so there are those exceptions. I'll use Fucking Awesome as an example, we charge $55 for their boards and no one has said anything. In some ways it is pushing the pricing."
Exceptions for special boards aside, don't expect the price of a deck to go up any time soon. "Unless the entire industry as a whole and all skate shops say 'We're gonna go up', no one wants to be that guy," Owen said. "No one wants to stick their neck out and say 'Oh, we're going to raise prices but no one else is'. That, I think, just how it's always been". With CCS being phased out and it's parent company selling skate apparel next to football cleats in Eastbay, we're seeing skateboarding monetized among the same lines as mainstream sports. The same way that a football is cheap and the rest of the gear is expensive, decks are bait to get you into into the door of a skateshop and buy something else. The only problem is that you can't put trucks on a skate brand hoodie and slappy a curb. "The skateboard is an essential part of skateboarding," Gumpright said. "I think it's more essential than a shoe or a teeshirt, it's a more direct connection to skateboarding."