By Sydney Goldberg
Photo: Russ Sakuri
Click, click, click. Selfish, Selfish, Selfish. Selfish on every page, every blog, and in every magazine. Just when everyone thought professional skateboarder Jereme Rogers was long gone doing some rap shindig or guest starring on the Bad Girls Club TV show, he decides to create Selfish Skateboards. Um okay, hold up.
Newsflash: the hype isn’t focused on Rogers’ retirement or comeback anymore but who’s ON Selfish. Each member’s story will reveal why the Selfish Skateboards team is so hot right now!
Dan Saindon the Builder
Photo: Alexandre Mercier
“I knew that if I had the right pro, I could build a brand that would be an international brand,” said brand manager Dan Saindon.
Five years ago, he began working in the skateboarding industry as the Control Skateboards MFG sales manager. The company is a leader in skateboard manufacturing and the first Canadian skateboard manufacture.
Control offered him a gateway into the creative world of skateboarding through marketing. His brand collaborated with EA Games, Mobb Deep, Onyx, and Vivid Entertainment. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for worldwide appeal. He considered “not selling in the U.S. a failure,” said Saindon.
He already had a quality product; the missing factor was the face of the company. Saindon set his eyes on Rogers when he was transitioning between Girl and Plan B Skateboards in 2007, but nothing came of Saindon’s vision until Rogers’ retirement.
Seven months ago, the two became business partners when they formed Selfish Skateboards. “He had it on his board, and I had it to build,” said Saindon. “It was a good match.” Control became the brand’s manufacturer and Rogers its muse.
29-year-old Saindon describes himself as the do-it-all guy. He arranges the marketing, sales, distribution, trips, and graphics. “The roll I fill in is the 20-year-old, the guy involved doing 40, 60, 80 hours,” said Saindon. When your brand starts out, overhead costs shouldn’t be too high.
But Selfish Skateboards’ quality is high. In a world dictated by the three words “Made in China,” their process takes out the middleman. Selfish produces each 100% hard rock Canadian maple deck in Canada. Most brands use another formula: Canadian wood is shipped to the Chinese manufacturer, which are then sent to the U.S. To cut down shipping expenses, these skateboard companies place semi-annual orders, rather than Selfish’s monthly orders of a few hundred boards.
“Like a piece of wood you find on the beach, its been there forever,” said Saindon. It’s really brittle. If the wood is fresh you get boards that last longer.
Aside from product and image, a successful brand needs a niche market or do they? “You got to take care of everybody, as if they’re the biggest company out there,” said Saindon. Smaller markets like Thailand and Venezuela start by purchasing a small amount of boards; that number becomes 1000, and soon your product is their top brand. Cater to each country. American skateboarders might want an 8.5″ deck, whereas the Japanese prefer a 7.62″.
When Selfish Skateboards Professional Skateboarder Aquil Brathwaite and Rogers came back from the 2010 Singapore Mettle Games, they wowed Saindon with a story. A young boy followed them around, and asked “How did Selfish become so big, so quick?” Saindon marveled at the brand’s speedy recognition in this foreign country.
In addition to consumer loyalty, he doesn’t burn distributor bridges. Selfish’s American distributors are Eastern Skateboard Supply, Ocean Avenue Skateboard Distribution, and South Shore Distributing. “I keep Eastern informed on who emailed me to get the brand, so they can get the sale, even though I can make a little bit more money selling it direct,” said Saindon. He recommends choosing them wisely because you cannot flip-flop around. Finding a solid distributor is important because retailers buy merchandise from them.
Retailers sell the decks to customers. Customer support creates a number one brand, and “If you don’t believe you can be number one, it isn’t even worth playing the game,” said the Builder.
Jereme Rogers the Entrepreneur
“I’m still gonna keep doing this music, but I guess one thing these people want to see is numbers,” said CEO and pro rider Jereme Rogers. “They respect numbers, so you want to see me make some money? I’ll make some money again, if that will make you open this door, so I can walk through it again.”
Last June, Rogers officially retired from skateboarding to pursue a rap career. This choice cost him fans, friends, and respect in the industry. All he wanted was to follow his passion, not half-ass his job as a professional skateboarder.
“It was beautiful because it made me breach all of my contracts,” said Rogers. “It made me go back to rock bottom, so I can rebuild, recreate, and climb again.”
One year later, Rogers created Selfish, a statement of his independence. “I like that that name carries a negative connotation,” said Rogers. “I’m someone that they’d maybe associate with being selfish.” If you put yourself first, then you will be a better person to others.
Rogers compared his philosophy to pouring drops into a bucket. If you pour your own drops into the bucket until it overflows, then it will pour on to everybody else. When you spread your love too thin, it amounts to nothing.
Through this company, he plans to manipulate the business system to satisfy team riders like himself. Riders are the face of a brand, so they are entitled to more than a “peace fee.” Rogers defined that term as an endorsement payment that is enough to keep athletes content and quiet. They deserve to not only feel important but also be important.
“This world is naturally governed by people’s personal interest, so if we can’t entertain their personal interest, then they’re not going to entertain ours,” said Rogers.
The earth is filled with plenty of talented skateboarders, but why try to lure them off of other brands? Rogers is slowly building the team, so he can utilize each rider in advertisements, videos, tours, demos, and contests.
“No matter where you sell them [the Selfish team] on God’s green earth, they are going to wind up on top, even if it takes a little while,” said Rogers.
He encourages them to pursue their goals, so they have something to fall back on. It is common for athletes to injure themselves and be out of the game for six months.
“I think we all need to create little empires along the way, for when one falls down we still have something to stand on,” said Rogers.
Recently, he had a taste of rejection. Surf/skate retailer Zumiez initially refused to pick up Selfish for two reasons; Zumiez has 400 stores in the U.S., which means they would practically be developing the brand. Plus, Zumiez would assume the risk of Selfish failing.
“It was definitely an inspirational point to have been turned down by someone, but say it’s gonna take a year before you can deal with us,” said Rogers. “Then they come back only a month later.”
He figured the retailer wants to keep up with “The World’s Largest Skateboard Shop” CCS, another supporter. After Zumiez and distributor Eastern Skateboard Supply got Selfish, there was a chain reaction. Now he can say to any retailer, “Do you want to carry the brand or not? Everyone else is.”
Retailers and distributors were hesitant to purchase the boards because he’s controversial. They didn’t understand why Rogers thought he could make a comeback after sacrificing his success.
“I’m still standing with my chest out, and I’m still proud to be me,” said the Entrepreneur.
Kyle Nicholson the Jetsetter
Photo: Andrew Garrett
“I got boards to skate,” said am rider Kyle Nicholson. “I’m alive and living. I’m happy. They can talk all the shit they want.”
There was confusion surrounding Nicholson’s flow resignation on Habitat Skateboards. In the ESPN Action Sports article “Austyn Gillette and Getz on Habitat’s ‘Origin’,” journalist Chris Nieratko asked, “How come Kyle Nicholson didn’t get on Habitat and he ended up on Selfish?” Professional skateboarder Kerry Getz implied that Nicholson did not get enough exposure for his talent. Nicholson said that it was not about the lack of recognition on Habitat, but which direction the brand was heading.
“When you’re on flow you’re not really a part of the company; they just hook you up,” said Nicholson. “Your like a prospect for the company. I just feel I didn’t really fit into that team, fit into their mold.”
Brian Wenning took the 21-year-old under his wings by snagging him a spot on Selfish. They first met when Nicholson was 13 years old skating the ABC Ledges in Staten Island, N.Y. He stopped at the grocery store to grab a water bottle. Nicholson was behind Wenning in the checkout line, and he offered to pay for the hydration. Ever since then, Nicholson knew Wenning would never steer him down the wrong path.
“Wenning’s definitely a brother,” said Nicholson. “He’s always been looking out for me and my career with the best interest. It’s sick. He’s a fucking legend. Definitely looked up to that dude when I was a kid, and now he’s trying to help me out.”
Nicholson has a habit of sleeping in, so Wenning woke up early just to make sure he was up for his Montreal flight. Last October, Nicholson competed at the Vans sponsored Empire Backyard Party in Brossard, Quebec, Canada. There he encountered the “best ramp I’ve skated in my life,” said Nicholson. He ranked 13 out of 34 skateboarders, so the city’s first snow didn’t bog him down.
His previous international excursion didn’t end well. At 17, he planned and paid for a three-week trip to southern France. Three days before his travel, he fell down a set of stairs.
“I was trying to walk through the airport with a broken tailbone,” said Nicholson. “It was the worst mission ever.”
His next Selfish Skateboards mission is to Japan. This bench warmer is now the young gun. This company’s tours work as a forum to expose and progress its team.
Nicholson’s skateboard journeys help him develop as a man. Around his hometown of Reading, Pa., “You have to deal with the cold,” said Nicholson. “You got to deal with the cracks, rough grounds, shitty spots, and shitty people.” Many people he went to high school with wanted children after graduation. Selfish offered him a way out, a way to make skateboarding his long-term profession. Despite criticism amongst the skateboard community, he knows they’ll come around.
“As soon as people start skating the boards, I’m sure the people that are hating on it, their minds will change at least a little bit,” said the Jetsetter. “If they don’t, they’re just fucking blowing it.”
Brian Wenning the Legend
Photo: Hunter R. Baker
“I’ll put five tricks up on Transworld‘s website, and it will have 300 comments in a week,” said pro rider Brian Wenning. “Then, they’ll put up somebody else’s thing, and it will have five comments. He [Rogers] knows I’ll cause controversy.”
Wenning was uncertain about his future in skateboarding until Rogers approached him about the sponsorship. With a self-proclaimed three more years of pro status left in him, he realized this was an opportunity to end his career with a bang and mentor his protégé, Nicholson, to the top.
“Nobody knows the skill the kid has,” said Wenning. “He’s insane. He doesn’t think before he does stuff. He won’t check out the landing. He won’t check out the run up. He’ll just charge at something.”
Some sound advice Wenning gave Nicholson was be proactive; don’t listen to all the mumbo jumbo people say. If you fall for their broken promises, don’t be surprised when you’re 30 years old sleeping on your homie’s couch because you have no money to get your own place.
“Habitat had him on flow for about seven, eight years, and I told the kid straight up they’re not putting you on,” said Wenning.
He was already pro for two years at 21. The ups and downs of the skateboarding industry tainted his perspective, and he felt pressured to rush into business situations that cost him prior relationships.
“I like rolling at a smooth pace,” said Wenning. “I don’t want to rush anymore. I rushed quitting Habitat to go on Plan B, and then I was unhappy over there. They kind of made me hate skateboarding for awhile.”
His bitterness toward the industry is no secret, but Selfish’s all-for-one and one-for-all mentality lets Wenning’s voice be heard. With a smaller team, every decision is a group consensus.
“I would just lay in the background and not have anything to do with board graphics or people who got on the team with prior companies,” said Wenning. “I’d say I don’t want that guy on the team, and they’d put him on the team anyway.”
He had access to the graphic designers in charge of the second Selfish catalog, so Wenning gave his input this time around. He is developing a clothing line called Digital Boys Club with urban couture brand Moral Fabrix; this line will showcase a mellower version of his Sex, Hood, Skate, and Videotape personality. Portraits of Wenning shooting guns are more suited for a lifestyle brand, than a skateboard company. Skateboarding welcomes shenanigans, but he said it is better to stick with skating clips. He plans to put recent Love Park footage on the Selfish website.
“Some people want you to talk about yourself,” said Wenning. “They want you to tell everybody everything bad that you’ve done in your career, so then it’s all out on the table.”
The music industry is the only place he thinks this self-cleansing method works, but he is dabbling with the idea. Fans eat up a musician’s downfall, and then love to forgive celebrities when they clean up their act. Skateboarders care about hammers, not apologies. He is getting paid to skateboard, so he wants his Selfish experience focused on that aspect of his profession.
A career focused on his past, present, and future achievements do not include fighting for a shoe sponsor. “I’m not gonna answer to somebody, and have them be like ‘Send me a sponsor tape,'” said Wenning. “I’ll be like ‘Man why don’t you look at the past 11 years of what I’ve done.'” With Selfish, Gold Wheels, and close friends like Stefan Janoski and Fred Gall giving him boards to skate, wheels to ride, and putting shoes on his feet, he’s not too worried.
He’s worried about his next bangin’ video part. When asked if that’s the footage Nieratko is anxiously awaiting, Wenning joked, “I think that the world’s waiting for it.”
“I read in Thrasher Magazine, Brian Wenning on Selfish,” said the Legend. “It says the only thing selfish about that is making us wait for a video part.”
Aquil Brathwaite the Hometown Hero
Photo: Jayson Fox
“If you weren’t a skateboarder, I didn’t hangout with you,” said pro rider Aquil Brathwaite.
From 12 to 16 years old, Skater Island in Middletown, R.I. was his training ground. He sacrificed a personal life for his present day achievements. Because of that “selfishness,” now he can provide decks for his hometown friends in the 401 crew.
Rogers was one of the kids Brathwaite did hangout with. When he was 11, everyday Rogers came into town with his brother to skateboard at the park. The two have been best friends for over 10 years.
During the 2010 Salt Lake City Dew Tour stop, Rogers showed interest in Brathwaite joining Selfish. He spoke with Saindon two weeks later, and a week and a half afterwards left to Singapore. Brathwaite even moved in with Rogers for three years, when he lived in Los Angeles, Calif.
“A lot of the times he’s way more level-headed, and I’m flying off the hinge,” said Brathwaite.
They share a dynamic relationship because of their contrasting personalities. One time they made a Jamba Juice run in Hollywood. Rogers parked his car in the lot, while Brathwaite sat waiting for him to pickup the drinks. A man backed his car into Rogers’ Aston Martin vehicle. While Brathwaite flipped out, Rogers stayed calm and told him it was no big deal.
Their characters complement one another, which made it natural for Rogers to invite him on the team. “It’s one of the smarter things for him to do because he knows I’m going to be able to produce for him and the brand,” said Brathwaite. “I scratch your back. You scratch mine.”
For four years, he resided in L.A. to pursue a skateboarding vocation and did not come back to Rhode Island until last December. It is common for someone trying to make it in this field to live in California for at least a few years. Zered Bassett was the only professional skateboarder Brathwaite could recall that became famous without leaving New York.
The Selfish team consists of all east coast skateboarders. This demographic creates a “gritty street brand, not one of those polished, weird companies where everyone looks the same,” said Brathwaite.
He moved back home because they built, Greenside, an indoor skatepark in Middletown, R.I. Brathwaite claims this relocation has progressed his skating; It enables him to focus on the sport and spend time with friends and family.
What’s their Christmas present? The “twist” or “twizzler” trick he invented, which is a fakie 360 to backside lipslide to frontside 270 out. “Two broken boards, three sets of wheels, and a pair of trucks later, we’re still trying,” said Brathwaite.
Lately, he received phone calls from colleagues surprised by Selfish’s instantaneous success. Brathwaite advises them to pay attention and follow the brand’s blueprint.
“Skateboarding is kind of like being Paris Hilton, where there’s no such thing as bad press,” said Brathwaite. People’s gossip creates a domino effect in the industry. He compared the skateboard community to “high school girls ” because it’s a popularity contest. You can’t always win. There’s nothing for Brathwaite to defend because the product and team speak for themselves.
“You can’t be mad at anyone for going after a dream because America was built on dreams,” said the Hometown Hero. “You can’t have a closed mind. You have to realize that other people’s destinies are not yours.”
Sydney Goldberg is a senior at Indiana University studying Journalism, Studio Art, and Art History. Twitter me ♥