Behind the art of Science Skateboards

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Chris Morgan‘s personal mission to bring something fresh to UK skateboarding started a long time ago and once Science Skateboards launched, it gave birth to a plethora of ideas and creativity that was welcomed by the UK scene.

Like any skateboard company, a lot of effort to make Science have its own identity, message and aesthetics didn’t come as a given, Chris alongside many other upcoming skate company owners out there put in many hours to create what you see today. It’s more than a hobby, it’s their entire existence so Russ Cowling took time to delve into the full story of how Science started right up to today’s Autumn drop of fresh boards and decks.

Watch this new video trailer before you delve into this and get the teas on…

Chris, where are you from and where do you currently reside?

I’m from Porthcawl, South Wales originally, but at the moment I live in a middle floor shanty hut in London.

What made you move to London?

I never had plans to live here, but I think it was something like 12 years ago that I was offered a job as a graphic designer for a music company, which for me at the time was a dream job, so I figured I’d take the opportunity and made the move. Now that I’m here it’s cool. Loads of positives and negatives like anywhere, but overall it’s a rad place in many ways. I’m stoked I took that job.

What was the scene back home like when you were growing up?

Pretty cool but really small compared to how it is now, times were different then. My hometown was more of a surfing town back in those days and had a pretty small skate scene too. There were twenty skaters or something at the most. The guys in the year above me at school were pretty sick and so were a few of my friends. We didn’t have a legit skate shop or anything, we just had a parent owned surf shop in town that would have a few skate related things in and a small toy shop that sold a few bits of overpriced product. We also had a petrol station on a caravan site that for some reason had a glass cabinet containing old school goods like G&S Yo Yo wheels and Fibreflex boards for sale, totally outdated stuff. We would gaze into that cabinet for ages though. Our nearest skate shop in the early days was Shmoo’s in Swansea.

During our early-mid teens we were all about building fly off ramps and mini ramps made from ‘borrowed’ wood, like most skaters from my generation. We had all clearly watched Public Domain way too many times.

One of those ramps that we constructed was a 10 foot wide, 8ft deathtrap vert ramp in my parents garden, which then became an even sketchier spine ramp. It was pretty much held together by hope, rain and dodgy nails. Quite a few of my mates had back garden mini’s during my teenage years, again, all sketchy deathtraps made from stolen wood. That was the thing to do back then, back garden mini’s. Unlucky for the neighbours!

Click the page to check out the new Science look book:

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Did you skate the famous Morfa ramp as documented in Over Ply Wood documentary?

We would get the 9am bus to Morfa stadium in Swansea on the weekends when that first opened. We’d jump the huge spiked fence first thing and skate all day. Skate the mini, watch the old guys skate vert and mess about on the shitty street course that they had. I’m pretty sure that’s where we first met other crews from other towns there as well. Like the original Bridgend crew, Port Talbot boys, Llanelli lads and so on. Chris Pulman would always be about in his blue van too, and from there we’d hook up with them from time to time and skate Bridgend, Port Talbot, Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and places. We would also head further afield to Bedminster, Pink Palace, Bath and Radlands on occasion as we grew older too. Loads of good times.

Chris pops a frontside no comply. Photo Shawn Whisenant.

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Plenty of teams rolled through there back then right?

Yeah. We saw loads of demos, comps and premieres back then. The original Bones Brigade tour at Morfa, Planet Earth, Plan B with Sheffey, Carroll and the rest, H Street Next Generation premiere in Cardiff, the Swatch tour with Sean Goff, and those guys in Newquay too, haha! Golden times.

How did Science come about? Was your plan to always be a board company?

I started planning this a long, long time ago but it wasn’t until 2006 that I decided to fully dedicate my time to it as I figured that I’d gained enough design experience and learnt about various printing processes, web design and so on. I had also built up a pretty focused work ethic through the constant heavy work load that I endured, and felt that I had fully thought everything through and made a solid plan. So the time felt right to take the plunge. I had actually started Science by putting the name to freelance design with my first flyer design job around 1993, then from there I started doing bits of clothing with the intention of becoming a board company when I had the funds to do so.

Wanting to have my own skateboard company and to create my own product is something that has always been with me since my early teen years. I used to sketch skateboard graphics, tee shirt designs, logo ideas and so on and send them off to companies when I was a young grom. I was really into that. Throughout that whole time I absorbed all the graphics and took a massive interest in everything that was coming out of skateboarding month after month over many years. As a result I became more inspired as time went on.

Was there a particular memory that triggered your fascination?

I remember a favourite company at the time had sent me a huge package of stickers, posters, catalogues and a personal letter encouraging me to keep at it after I had sent some designs in. This was when I was about 13 or 14. I remember I had a broken arm and worked on those designs. It was my first bone break from skating a door leaned up against a bench in my back garden. I think that personal letter of encouragement, whether they meant it or not, as well as getting a big package of free stuff (even though it was just promotional freebies) might have been the thing that got me hooked on wanting to design graphics for skateboarding. I was so stoked. Words of encouragement to a young person can make all the difference right?

Sam Taylor hucks a fs ollie for Reece Leung’s lens.

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Science seemed to be one of the first British skater run brands to re introduce the ‘one off’ style graphics favoured more in the 90s. Was this always your plan?

Yeah true, it does actually take more work to make a consistent board series made up of completely unrelated graphics. When I first started the company, it wasn’t so common to put as much work into graphics, I recall. I felt graphics were actually regressing towards the very end of the 90’s-early 2000’s when skateboarding seemed to start to become more ‘business’ like. Skateboarding started to feel like it was losing something on the soulful side whilst gaining in other areas. Not to say that there wasn’t people doing good soulful things, because they clearly were, but generally, a lot of the companies product artwork that I had always admired felt like it had started to weaken, it just didn’t connect for me and felt rushed or half arsed at times.

More logo based graphics you mean?

Yeah, it seemed to become more about pushing logos into skaters brains, churning out vibeless, vector dullness and logo based repetitiveness with no representation or connection to the skaters personality graphically. Lots of artwork saying nothing aesthetically or conceptually. World Industries and Blind for example were producing some of the best, memorable artwork in the early 90s in many people’s eyes, but that all changed towards the end of the decade and the start of the 2000s. It became more about short shelf life and faster turnaround. I personally felt the soul was fading, things were becoming more homogenised and stuntman like; skateboarding was starting to move a lot faster, although of course, there were still some companies releasing great stuff.

Thankfully in the past few years it seems to have become more typical to see memorable graphics again that feel like legit skateboard artwork and not some graphic slapped onto a piece of wood as a means to an end. I felt there was a gap for an art focused British skateboard company at the time, no one seemed to be doing that here although there were a few companies doing some nice graphics. Deck series were more your standard series of related board graphics back then I guess. It seemed like it was meant to be for me and would be the perfect outlet to combine all of my interests that I’ve had since an early age.

There seems to be a lot of thought behind the graphics. I know you do some of the graphics yourself, but a lot are designed by friends or people associated with Science. Again, was this intentional?

A hell of a lot of thought and work goes into everything, maybe too much. Haha! But i’m that kinda guy so it works for me. I love skateboarding and that’s the bottom line so I care about it greatly and want to contribute more to the soulful side rather than going down the company by numbers route. That’s been my direction since ordering the first boards in 2006. I wanted to do something that was for like-minded skateboarders, the skateboarders that see through the hype and appreciate something more art orientated.

Every series is made up of graphics by myself and guest artists. A lot of the graphics have been designed by friends that I’ve made along the way, but also by a few that I have never met, whose work I admire. Generally, I will work with the artist on ideas and layouts, bouncing it back and forth until we get it right, but there are times when the artist has total free reign to work on what they want to. It just depends on how it goes. Usually I will get the graphics print ready and solid before having the series made.

It’s way more fun than designing them all yourself right?

I could just design the graphics myself I guess, but I think it’s far more rewarding and interesting to bring other styles into the mix which contribute to the overall flavour of the company, a flavour that I couldn’t create on my own. Things have been quite organic in that respect. The connections have been made through skating and through naturally becoming friends rather than becoming friends with them because of what they can offer my company. Fuck that.

If you grew up with 90s brands are there any influences that you can recall?

I started skating during the pure times back in 1985 when I was 11, and now at this stage in my life I have deep rooted values that are pretty old school. I wanted to take a traditional approach but combine it with the now, to avoid being a 90s throwback company. This wasn’t really being done at the time, although saying that, Rasa Libre comes to mind. Graphically and vibe wise they had it spot on. They were ahead of their time in a way. My tastes have always been pretty underground, I hope that shows through the direction of the company.

Dan Tomlinson – kick flip into double bank. Photo Rich West.

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What is it that makes Science stand out amongst such a flooded market place?

I feel that the difference between our guest artist boards and other companies guest artist boards is that some other companies need guest artists because their owners aren’t creative types themselves, so it’s the only option for them. I’ve seen many guest artist graphics that look like artwork slapped on a skateboard rather than a skateboard graphic that feels like it belongs to that company. I always try to be heavily involved without taking over and steer the graphic so that it fits in with the vibe whilst still maintaining the artists style and personality. I think giving the artist solid direction makes all the difference.

I also run this single handedly taking care of all the roles myself. I don’t outsource the photography, design work, repro, web design and programming, editing, filming, planning like most companies. I’m the guy unloading literally a ton of weight on my own during board deliveries, packing and sending out the online orders, finding suppliers, keeping all the social media things up to date, emptying bins, doing the accounts, everything and anything. Whatever. Of course there are contributions from photographers, filmers, and the guest artists too, but pretty much most of the time it’s just me on my own.

Joe Sivell crook pop over. Photo Chris Morgan.

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What’s your link with San Francisco?

Well my fiance lives there and my link with SF all stems from her really. Over the years I have met some rad people out there and made some good friends. I’ve been there so many times that it feels quite homely to me now which is a strange feeling considering i’ve never lived there. I’m eternally grateful to DLX for always taking care of me and making me feel welcome whilst i’m there, without the coolness they’ve shown I probably wouldn’t have the skateboarding friends that I have out there and the rad skateboarding experiences that I’ve had.

How does the scene in SF compare to London?

Both London and SF have large amounts of people who live and breathe skateboarding, so that’s no different. Skateboarding at root level is the same wherever you go, we all know it’s about switching off from life’s bullshit and enjoying the pleasant sensations and sessions with friends.

Predominantly the city doesn’t feel as fast paced and self-centred as London can be. SF seem to be stuck in a traditional 90’s style bubble although gentrification through Google and other tech companies moving in to the city have pushed daily living prices up and caused a knock on effect forcing the not so wealthy out. It’s an expensive city, more expensive than London at times. That’s kind of changing things out there as artists and skaters generally aren’t the richest of people. The people that give SF it’s colour and vibe are the people who are being pushed out. Same with around here in Hackney. Gentrification is a bitch. Yuppies in, poor people out.

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Most big cities have many varied scenes, London for example, has many factions. What’s the vibe like pushing down the street over there, are other skaters likely to say hello?

On the whole, SF people are very friendly and helpful and the skaters are down to take you skating and hang out, much like London, much like any city I guess. I’ve found people there to be super welcoming to visitors. Lots of good vibes, good weather, good food and good people in SF, I really like it there. Of course there are exceptions too. SF has idiots and haters just like everywhere, vibes change depending where you happen to be in the city but on the whole I feel SF is a lot more mellow, supportive of independent businesses and more friendly compared to London. Although there are some real crazies out there, depending on what area you find yourself in, especially the homeless, and of course, there’s some real sketchy areas that you probably shouldn’t really be in late at night on your own. The homeless people in SF are next level compared to London!

Skaters get abused in London by piss-takers constantly, always have done…

In London the general public sometimes like to make a point of walking right into you on purpose to start up some bullshit after they’ve made the decision to make you the target for their bad day at work. They see you’re having fun and that angers them. In SF, people apologise for getting in your way if you’re skating down the ‘sidewalk’. You can be skating a spot and people will stop, smile and show interest, even when the spot is their house! Haha!

People also smile a lot more in SF. I often see people walking down the street solo with a beaming smile. This hits home every time I get back to London to see the scowling, stressed faces everywhere. SF doesn’t feel as fast paced and stressful to me like it does here. I feel that SF people tolerate skateboarding a lot more than in London, it feels accepted and more understood by the general public out there, you don’t feel like you’re a nuisance most of the time. SF has such a strong skate history too, everyone needs to go there.

Pete Buckley takes a switch heel. Photo Chris Morgan.

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What skate videos influenced you as a kid and is there anything now that you’re stoked on?

Probably the early to mid 90’s videos more so than the current stuff. Santa Cruz Speed Freaks was my first skate video. I also grew up loving Forties Amigo’s, Spirit of the Blitz, Tincan Folklore, Non Fiction, Mixtape, Memory Screen, Skypager, Eastern Exposure, Now and Later, early Bones Brigade videos up to say, Celebrity Tropical Fish. All the H-Street vids, Blind Video Days, Tim and Gavin’s promotional video, World Industries, 101, Chocolate and all those types of classics. I think my first experience of a British video was the shittiest copy of a Smell of Death jam at Southbank. That was an eye opener for a young lad from a quiet seaside town but watching that was just so raw, it was amazing!

I grew up in an era without internet, a proper skateshop, skate mags and scene in my town, so finding anything skate related was like finding something from another planet. Regardless of how cheesy it was, or how bad condition the copy of the video tape was, the stoke was next level. I wonder if kids still get that feeling today from skating as things are so over saturated these days? I hope so.

Dan Beall – back tail. Photo Greg Somerset.

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Filming is also a passion of yours and I know you’ve been working hard for the past few years on the Science video, when will we finally see it?

It’s well overdue that’s for sure. I’m trying my best to get this done but we all have daily responsibilities to deal with so at times different schedules can clash. The bottom line is that I don’t want to be bringing out a half finished, bland soulless kinda video just to get something out there. It needs to feel complete first. I’m sitting on a lot of clips and have more than enough footage to make more than one video right now, but quality control matters. It’ll be worth it in the end to be able to put out something solid.

A collective effort is always needed for such big tasks, I guess you’ve seen people come and go?

Yeah. Along the way we’ve lost skaters who were close to finishing up their sections or that just haven’t really put in much effort, but that’s just part of running a company. It sucks to lose people especially when you’re an independent and you have a good relationship with them, but that’s life, it happens. Everyone needs to do what feels right. Having to start things again with new skaters takes a while for them to catch up with the others as it’s never a fast process. I’ve put so much time, money and effort into this. It’s the bane of my life right now but rad to see it develop over time too.

Ben Cruickshank – elusive crook. Photo Chris Morgan.

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Who is in the current line up?

Right now we’re a team of 8 consisting of Joe Sivell, Dan Tomlinson, Dan Beall, James Coyle, Sam Taylor, Albert Gesswein, Pete Buckley and the elusive Ben Cruickshank. Everyone on the team has their own way of skating that all melts together to bring a flavour rather than having a team of guys who all kind of skate the same. Everyone’s cool and I like them as friends, even though they can be super slack at times. I would prefer to have a team of friends rather than a team of random unrelated people chosen purely because of their skill, it makes for better vibes.

Give us a small insight into what will be in it.

The video will be about half an hour long. All street, sections from everyone on the team, a shared guest section and also a San Francisco friends section. We have been working on this a long time, but please don’t expect a full on hammer time Pretty Sweet style glossy video. We’re not really about that, this is just a raw, from the heart, kinda video, I want like minded skaters to be able to relate to it and for it to get their skate juices flowing. Not a stuntman video. This has always been my direction with it, even before this style became the popular thing. We’re trying to represent ourselves and bring out a video that shows solid and varied street skating that has the right flavour, doing our own thing and trying to create something honest that reflects the team and the company.

Grab a first look at the new Science long sleeves:

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Why do you think that smaller, skater-run brands are more popular again right now?

Because I feel that skateboarders know skateboarding in a way that only a skateboarder knows. We have the love for what we do, and that shows in our output. It’s more grassroots and pure and the smaller companies have more freedom I guess. We have nobody to answer to or anyone pulling our strings. I feel the people who do the best stuff are the people who actually skate everyday and don’t play the ‘skater owned company’ record when they don’t really skate, these are the guys who are in tune with what’s going on as they are out there amongst it every day. Owning a skateboard, hanging about and watching skateboarding for a couple of hours on the weekends does not really make you a skater owned board company does it? Proof is in the pudding right? You can tell if someone is a skater owned company as soon as they step on their board. Bambi legs always give it away. Thankfully, there are some strong, legit, skater owned brands out there right now and they all have soul and are on the streets regularly. You can feel it in their output, and that’s sick.

What advice would you give someone starting a brand?

Do your research, build your skills first, get some solid work experience under your belt and realise that it’s a million times harder than you expect it to be. It’s not just about getting boards made and going skating, which a lot of people seem to think that it is. I think it’s important to be sure you’re not treading on another companies’ toes by taking your inspiration from them, when the UK is really just a small island with too many homegrown and overseas companies as it is. Find your own voice. Be focused, work hard, be sure you have something of worth to offer skateboarding and be different. Avoid tramline ideas.

How does a skater owned company survive?

Don’t expect to get rich from selling boards; for me it’s about keeping the soul intact. I am lucky to have soaked up a lot of skateboarding’s change and growth since I started in ’85. I’ve seen a lot of the major changes that skateboarding has gone through in those years. I also remember how it was first hand from a skateboarder point of view. I’ve never been an industry person, or a shmoozer so all my experiences have been purely outside of that scene, I have always been just a regular skateboarder. If you’re just starting a company just to make your own boards and sell them to your mates then ask yourself what is the point? That’s only damaging to the companies that work hard and see the bigger picture which keeps skateboarding alive.

One more thing, don’t ask other companies for their suppliers’ contact details. I get this regularly and it sucks every time. It just makes things awkward. Do what I did, put the time in and do your research. Learn and find your own way without cutting out the work and having it put on a plate for you.

I have to ask, but what’s the link between you and the helmet rule at Southsea skatepark?!

Haha! It wasn’t me! Well, actually it was. Years ago when I lived in Southampton I was asked to skate at an Addict Jam in Southsea skatepark. I drove down there with a car full of my housemates at the time, they didn’t skate but they wanted to hang out. They all sat up on the rows of seating there and to keep themselves entertained they decided to drop acid and drink loads of beers whilst the jam was going! All was going fine until I tried a backside nollie flip on flat, landed 90 degrees, and fell backwards. I managed to ram my skull so hard into the edge of the 100% red metal grind box just as I thought I was about to hit the floor. Buckets of blood poured out of my head and that was the end of the jam for everyone. Sorry about that. So yup, basically from that day forward, everyone had to wear helmets at Southsea. Sorry guys!

The drive to the hospital was something else, as we had a car full of drunken mates tripping on acid whilst I’m half concussed trying to find a hospital in a town that I wasn’t too familiar with, that was great fun!

New coach jackets. Artwork by Chris Morgan and Steven Harrington.

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What’s next for Science Skateboards?

The most immediate thing right now is to get this video finished and out there. We’re super close to wrapping up filming for it but it’s hard to put a date on it as we’re pretty much down to last tricks and definitely not trying to use any filler just to get it out there. We’ll be organising premieres for it when the time is right. I’m really looking forward to it. We’ll also be starting work on a company feature for Wax Feather magazine in Singapore real soon for their next issue. Really stoked on that as they’re doing something really sick.

Speaking to Pete (Buckley) the other day, he tells me that he’s working on an edit out in Japan with a filmer there. I’m also going to chill a bit, as I’ve buried myself in work since I broke my leg back in June and could do with a breather now that I’m starting to be able to skate again! It feels like I’ve missed the whole of summer.

Will be working on developing the clothing side of things too, with the introduction of caps, coach jackets and a larger selection of designs in this new release. I hope that the skater owned shops and skaters will continue to support us and help us do more things. I’ve stepped up the quality of the clothing and introduced finishing such as patches, labels and tags. I’m pretty stoked on how it’s all looking in this drop.

I’m also down for doing more trips with the lads and work on gaining more magazine exposure. A few of the guys have been working on Haunts and things so that’s something to look forward to as well. Always stuff to be getting on with.

Any final words…

It’s always about putting your heart into it and creating the best stuff that you can and never about the money. I mean, if I was getting paid by the hour, I’d be a millionaire right now, but really, I just work all the time because I love skateboarding. I love soulful things, creative work, especially skateboard graphics. It’s always rad to see something that starts as an idea developed and worked on til it becomes a finished product.

Head to the Science website to check out the new decks and clothing.

Brand new Science decks with graphics L-R from Sergej Vutuc, Shawn Whisenant and Chris Morgan, all come in 8, 8.125, 8.25, 8.38 and 8.5 sizes.

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Enjoy the latest Science mixtape:

Science Skateboards Mixtape 3 by Science Skateboards on Mixcloud

Get some of Albert’s life: