When you think of the word “stickers”, what does it mean to you? For me personally stickers were my gateway drug into skateboard culture, a small way of satisfying my addiction that came packed with a massive punch. Back then, they were as valuable as pound notes were to a six year old, it’s probably no different for many of you reading this article right now.
They sat behind glass counters, glistening in the light saying “buy me, buy me!” At school they were a must-have. Everyone used to check out each others new skate stickers from the weekend at first break. There were only 5 of us in our year who actually skated back then. Most other kids thought we were dicks in the 80’s due to our obsession with skateboarding and punk rock; we felt completely ostricised at the time. Skateboarding was considered uncool but the more creative kids could see that our stickers had appeal. They were intrigued, like us, by the garish colourways and the bold designs, mostly drawn by Jim Phillips. At the time Jim was regarded as the master of all skateboard graphics, whose work was made famous worldwide for companies such as Santa Cruz, Independent Trucks, Bullet’s, OJ Wheels and many more.
Hanging out in skate shops at the weekend was essential. For us, popping into ‘Mud Machine’ in Croydon to sit at the counter for hours on end, glaring at the ‘drugs’ that were glowing in colour was part of the weekly drill. We would session Fairfields, the Norwich Union bank and then skate as fast as possible to that shop to feed our addiction. Lakai and Blueprint’s Danny Brady grew up in the seaside town of Blackpool as a kid and shares the same experience a generation later:
“Stickers are an essential part of skateboarding. When I was a kid they were always so sought after, even the crappy logo stickers were quickly hoovered up at the end of a demo or product toss, but then there were the special stickers; the ones they had in the skate shop behind the counter. I remember fiending for a Flip sticker, the one with the genie lamp. The best part of this is when I finally owned it, the biggest problem was trying to decide which possesion I owned deserved to have it plastered on it! I still love finding a good sticker, but these days I tend to only use the crappy logo stickers as the extra incentive from photo’s. Helps me pay the bills! Haha!”
Danny is not alone when reminiscing the days when free skate stuff didn’t arrive in a sealed box by a courier with his name on it. Manchester’s Joe Gavin still enjoys ripping open his allocation of freebies sent by Etnies and The Harmony to find stickers laying at the bottom of the box awaiting keen fingertips.
“I love stickers! Stickers are the cheapest thing you can buy in a skate shop. To a kid with a quid in his pocket, they’re the thing he can buy and still feel like he’s repping that company hard. I used to be this kid at one point. Back in the day, most ads in mags had a line at the bottom: ‘send address for free stickers’. I was keen and used to clean up pretty good. Now I get packages with packs of cool stickers in, the kid in me is still pretty damn hyped on them. Especially Spitfire! Haha!”
There’s much more to stickers than just the lure of them sitting behind a counter though. They can also come in handy for all sorts of experiences that need instant assistance. Speaking to Chris ‘Avi’ Atherton in Accrington this week, he had a different take when describing his own feelings towards our favourite gummed paper:
“Skateboarding stickers are many things. They are art, money, trade, history, repair tape, first aid, advertising, a means of making explosives and sometimes even treasure. Although others held them in high regard, I found practical uses for all my stickers, rendering my stickerbox pretty weak. Good quality stickers smell nice and the art of sticker stretching has been completely lost.”
That may be the case for Avi, but how many others held on to their stickers without peeling and stretching them whatsoever? There must be reams and reams of unpeeled gems in skate shoe boxes, under beds and stored in cupboards all over the country. What will happen to them? Will they just get aired once every summer when your old skate pals come to visit with their kids on sticks? Will they be used in another retrospective exhibition or gathering of like minded skate nerds like most of us generally are? Whatever the reason, they will be cherished and celebrated more than most other objects and that is what makes stickers so special.
Heroin and Emerica‘s Casper Brooker confirms this when speaking to us this week: “Go to a competition and if there’s stickers going about, kids go insane. It doesn’t just happen with kids, the old Rad Dad’s go mental for old Santa Cruz stickers! I find that in itself, so rad!” Casper has also grown into skateboarding addicted to stickers from an early age, to the extent where not having them in his presence brings a feeling of disatisfaction. “Anyone who knows me really well knows that I find it super hard to ride boards with out any stickers on. As odd as it sounds, I find stickers a huge part of skateboarding. For example you don’t get basketball players going crazy over stickers do you? Using stickers can almost make the board personal to you too. It’s almost like you get to design your own board as well as reppin’ companies. It’s a win, win situation.”
Winning stickers is part of the entire phenomenon. How many times in your life have you lept in for a sticker? Are you the type of skateboarder who looks on from the sidelines watching them flutter into the pit at a demo, or are you the undaunted type who would be smack in the middle of that sticker toss, ready to fend off anyone for a freebie?
Every year when we throw skate jams, I personally get so excited about the product toss. It’s the main event. When the stickers cascade into the pit, the frenzy that develops reflects the desperation to feed the addiction. As a kid going to my first ever skate event, I learned the hard way. I learned as a 13 year old that you had to get amongst it and battle with grown men to get a sticker as well as other kids the same age. To this day when we roll out a product toss, unfortunately I still have to make grown men feel embarressed in the middle of the melee as they push teenagers aside to grab some free stuff. I guess this will never change.
Unabomber Skateboards have one of the best UK skate logo’s ever designed for a sticker; the infamous winged hands. Vans team, rider Joshua Young who used to fly the flag for the Bomber remembers his first sticker toss. “I was about 14 or 15 and it was a massive Flip demo and product toss in Leeds. I wasn’t ever daft enough to fight or dive for a sticker though. I remember that a kid at Kelvin Grove in Bristol dived onto a sticker that was thrown out on the Vans “Are We There Yet’ trip. He had a board, backpack and freebies in hand when he dived on to his chest for that sticker!”
Etnies rider and Kill City am Caradog Emanuel is another skater who wasn’t down for the scrap. The Welshman who is always up for a laugh said: “I was always too scared to get involved man, because they always looked to gnarly for me. I remember at one demo there was a 4ft x 1ft Globe sticker being thrown out, and I was sitting about 10ft away from the product toss. I saw this rolled up sticker get hurled into the air and it was heading straight for this one kid, who was stood there in awe just waiting for this sticker to fall into his hands. As he jumped for it, this other kid just leapt over his head and snatched it straight out of his hands! As it turns out they were mates!” That says it all really. When you have to have a sticker, it doesn’t matter who is your way, you are just going to take it!
Death Skateboards’ rider Steak had the best story this week from various conversations about fighting for stickers: “Sticker tosses are so special because everyone has been there. When you’re on top of a ramp throwing what looks like a bunch of litter to some stray, savage looking kids at the flatbottom, you remember how badly you wanted one when you were down there! Parents and onlookers look at you like you’re crazy, and for those few seconds, you kinda are! You’ll do whatever it takes, use violence if neccessary, climb on top of the biggest kid there to get higher up, even rip a prosthetic limb off someone to use as a weapon so you can get some stickers to slap all over your board, pencil case and bedroom door!”
“The craziest toss I ever saw was at a Death demo at Revolution Skatepark in Broadstairs. We were chucking stickers out from the top of a flatbank and the kids were going mental! Literally fist fights breaking out, wrestling to get these stickers! There were ripped shirts, bloody noses, the lot! As it was coming to the grand finale, we pulled out some of the really big Death skull stickers. The ones that will cover pretty much you’re whole board and the kids looked ready to kill! Sensing that a kid was going to get hurt, Dan Monk settled the situation by announcing: ‘whoever kicks the most crap out of Dibble wins a big sticker’, and then threw him off the quarter pipe like a Christian to the lions! Needless to say, kids were stoked, Dibble was half dead and fun was had by all!”
So why the big article on stickers this month? It seems that every week there’s an art show in London about skateboarding, photography, film, shoes, books etc and we love it, but nobody ever does anything with the fundamental, most basic form of skateboard culture which is the good old skate sticker. So this month, we decided to invite 12 London based illustrators to design deadly, toxic, nuclear mutated stickers as part of the TOXIC WASTERS art show curated by Matthew Bromley.this show can be found at this years Crossfire Halloween Massacre in association with Vans.
The wonderful graphic work of Paul Parker, Mr Gauky, Kyle Platts, Sam Taylor, French, Stu Smith, Fos, Craig Scott, Dan Singer, Paddy Jones and Thomas Slater will be hanging on the walls in projected on others at the party. From today, you can pre-order limited edition sticker packs that have been hand cut here in our office and printed by our friends at Lovenskate. These one off, collectors series sticker packs are limited to 100 only, for just £10. Visit www.crossfirestore.bigcartel.com to pre-order now before they are all snapped up.
We will leave you with a quote from Heroin and Landscape Skateboards head honcho Fos who has contributed art to the show.
“You don’t even need to ask anyone what they’re doing on Halloween, cos if you’re in London then you’re going the Crossfire Halloween party. Kinda goes without saying really. It’s become such an institution over here. I guess it took over from where the Night of the Living Dead jams left off.”
“I had some stickers with me at Stockwell one time and asked this guy if he wanted some. and he said something like: ‘I’m 23, don’t you think I’m a bit old for stickers?’ I was like: ‘What are you talking about, I’m 32 and not too old for stickers, stickers are rad!’ Then he saw them and immediately retracted his statement and was then asking me for them.’Cos at the end of the day everyone loves stickers. It’s yet another part of this popular culture we all live in that was born from skateboarding. Who had the coolest stickers first? Skateboarders did. We had Jason Jessee Neptune stickers on our school books when all the other kids were still running Panini football stickers of Ian Rush, Kevin Keegan and shit. Now every company makes stickers, they’re a global commodity.”
“I still love stickers, that’s why I agreed to be in this show. It’s not another “Design a one off board for this show”, yawn, been done a million times mate, but ‘Design a Sticker’, with a Toxic waste theme to boot? An area that I’m very familiar with of course! Stickers rule!”
There are probably thousands of stories from stickers over the years. If you have one, leave it in the comments at the end of this article and share yours with everyone. Tickets for the Crossfire Halloween Massacre in association with Vans and Front Mag can be picked up at the shop at Slam City Skates over the counter or online from their store.
Watch our recent Day in the Life video features on the artists involved and look out for more in the coming weeks.
Mr Gauky here:
Paul Parker (who designed the wonderful Massacre flyer this year) here.
Craig Questions and Fos.