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Crossfire Visits the Sole Tech Labs

August 11th, 2009 by Crossfire

Photos and words by Joe Moynihan

I find myself three hours into a cross-Atlantic flight, mindlessly eating vacuum-packed sludge while I watch Drew’s section from This Is Skateboarding for the nine thousandth time and doing everything I can to avoid eye-contact with the strangely terrifying person I have had the misfortune of being sat next to.

It is at this moment I realise that the flight attendant is in fact Gok Wan, had he lived on Californian breakfast burritos throughout his entire life and actually didn’t know how to look good naked, at all. He even had that horrible accent. ‘Coffee Sir?’ I shudder to recall, even now. In terror, I mistakenly look at the person sitting next to me and discover what can only be Dibble’s long-lost twin brother. Shit the bed and sleep in it, no wonder I was scared (I kid, I kid). None the less, I named him Dobble. I couldn’t help but wonder though: Is this flight filled with doppelgangers a cryptic omen of what is to come? Well, kind of.

Wait, what? So here’s what this account is about. Our skateboarding brothers at Sole Tech (Etnies, éS, Emerica, Altamont) kindly invited us skateboarding media-types from around the globe to stop lurking in our respective countries and come and hang out at their labs in Orange County, CA to get an insight into the ever-progressing System G2 heel cushion and E-Suede, have a skate in the super Etnies Training Facility and get a sneak preview of some of the shoes dropping later this year. Sounds too good to be true, right?

For a while, as I looked over to Dobble to check if he was asleep so I could have a piss without talking to him, I thought it was. But after twenty-six hours of battling through snow, customs (are you SERIOUS, America?), terrible in-flight movies and vicious lookalikes I ended up in Pierre’s Marina Lofts ready for three days of non-stop skateboarding. Here’s how this epic sausage-fest went down.

Saturday

The Euros arrive first, before things really kick off (in more ways than one). Our wonderful host, James Appleby from Sole Tech Europe greets us with one of the countless cans of Blue Ribbon (imagine Coors Light, but lighter) and shows us around our home for the weekend. Pierre knows how to fucking LIVE. Yet despite these fairly spectacular distractions, it’s only a short amount of time before we all nerd out and start showing each other our magazines, scene videos and exchange some stories from where we’re all from. We are skateboarders after all; contrary to mainstream belief, we’re the friendliest neeks out there. Give us a beer and a laptop and there’s no stopping us.

The Euro-pad (unsurprisingly the smaller of the lofts, and even more unsurprisingly the cleaner of the two at the end of the trip) was shared by Fred Demard from France’s Soma Magazine, Angel Sanz from Uno reppin’ Barcelona, Holger Von Krosigk from Germany’s Place Magazine, the Italian Davide Biondani and the Dutch Love-Machine, Jeroen Smeets on behalf of Reload Magazine. Straight-up the raddest roommates an awkward Essex lad from Wales could ask for; and all as passionate about this ridiculous wooden thing on wheels that has dictated our entire lives, and brought us all together for this trip. Planes, delicious Blue Beet cuisine and early blogging don’t half take it out of you mind. Get the sleep in while you bloody well can.

Sunday

The day begins with James having fun pretending to be a photography tutor guiding us around Newport Beach while we all have fun pretending (badly) not to be tourists. Those cameras permanently attached to our faces weren’t fooling anyone, and there I was wearing nothing but a flimsy t-shirt during California’s ‘terrible weather’ period. James looks at me and grumbles, ‘you’re so obviously British‘. Outed!

Back at the lofts, it’s time for the arrival of the American press dudes. Without so much as a ‘Hey, what’s up?’, Etnies Marketing Head Honcho and part-time lunatic, Ashton Maxfield barges into Euro-Pad sporting nothing more than shades and a killer tache, picks up a chair and throws it out the window as if it had dissed said killer tache and spat in his face. The broken chair is then assembled into a pile and set alight; less than ten minutes later Holger runs outside and throws a mean frontside flip over the small inferno. The weekend has landed.

After geeking out over the staggering awesomeness of Mindfield for the rest of the afternoon, Pierre André and Don Brown, the masterminds behind Sole Tech and freestyle legends, introduce themselves and take us on a cruise in Newport Harbour. Meeting people of such status is often unnerving, but can of Blue Ribbon in hand and a ridiculous leather chair made of skateboards to laugh at, talking to the two is just like standing on a mini-ramp platform, chatting about nothing and happily sharing the unmatched atmosphere that is generated by skateboarding. If you want people to look after your feet when shralping, these are the guys are who you go for. Additionally, if you want people to throw a BBQ with an impromptu food-fight, these are also the dudes to see. Check out the footage courtesy of the Skateboard Mag’s three-trick extraordinaire and generally super-rad broseph, Paul ‘Animal’ Chan. Messy…

Monday

There are two perfect remedies for a monster Blue Ribbon hangover. Coffee, and -apparently- Bloody Marys. At least, this was what was on offer after shaking hands with The Boss and The Other Boss at the Sole Tech Institute. I’m not even kidding. Bloody Marys work a treat too! They go down damn fine with some tasty new shoes too, which is after all what we were all here to see this morning, after Don arrives fresh from the slammer that is. Pro tip: if you find yourself being accosted by the police who are yelling “What are you doing?! Do you want to be arrested?!” while drunkenly trying to drive some unknown dude’s boat down Newport Blvd at three in the morning, do not, whatever you do, reply with “HELL YEAH!”

All in the name – Don Brown is a Don.

First up are Etnies, and a cheeky look into the gorgeous Black Label collaboration that serves as Kyle Leeper’s new pro model. The Perro is a great shoe in itself, boasting the new Kevlar fabric addition to the System G2 Cushioning Gel. Kevlar is the same material used in bullet-proof vests, and protect your heels as if they were guarding the President through the not-so-blue states. On top of that, you have some gnarly Black Label graphic that keeps style looking tight, whilst obviously not slacking on substance. Be hyped because the shoe has dropped alongside the new Black Label video. Oh, there’s also a Thunder Collab to get hyped on – did I mention in the photoblog that the tag is a riser pad? Well, it is, and come on, how cool is that?

éS are next, and Bobby Worrest is summoned to the stage to speak a little about his debut shoe. The hangover may have got the better of him and Bobby’s conclusion on these bad boys is “yeah, they’re good. I like them.” Similar to Cardiff’s loveable Pirate Man, Bobby is an all-round nice guy, and has a soft-spot for Rambo. ‘First Blood‘ is the name of his shoe and you know what? They’re pretty damn good, and I bloody like them. A lot. I’m wearing them right now as I type this very sentence. Aesthetically simple, technologically awesome. The Sole Tech lab geeks are skaters too remember. They know what we want.

The Boss, coffee in hand, is up next and delivers a cool, calm and straight-to-the-point speech on why his new Cruiser shoes are boss, why Altamont’s Fall line-up is boss and why working for Soletech is boss. After a short video of Drew being Drew, he takes a sip of coffee and poignantly remarks how he ‘just wants to work with skaters’, with a nod towards Pierre and everyone in the room feeling some wonderful bromance. If it wasn’t for the upcoming visit to the TF, I’d have whacked my laptop out and posted in the Stoked thread on Sidewalk before BDF could say edit my post and imply that I am a gaylord. We all love the bromance.

Just before invading the mind-blowing awesomeness of the Etnies Training Facility (or Etnies TF if you want to abbreviate things and therefore resemble someone who is cool and abbreviates things) we had some more traditional Californian cuisine, courtesy of Mexico, that tastes delicious but does unspeakable things to a European stomach. In this interim, a couple of us now dicky-tummied Euros had the pleasure of speaking with Rob Carlos, a designer from Etnies Plus. Etnies Plus are already known for making some bad ass collabs with killer artists, and we were happy to hear of a future collaboration with So-Me of Ed Banger Records. I don’t know about you, but I’m hyped.

I won’t go into too much detail about the incredible TF, as any footage of the place speaks for itself. But let me just tell you that journalist types can shred too! Holger tore the place apart with style and the other French Fred got buck-wild on the mini. Animal Chan and I rinsed our three tricks for four hours and then sat back and happily watched as Malto, Bledsoe, Worrest and Mikey Taylor showed us all up. Check the brief interview I had with Mikey to hear his recollection on the GNARLIEST slam / collision I have ever seen. Ridiculous. Click here for an interview with him from this trip.

Before we hit the bars, we had an in-depth tour into the STI Lab (imagine what The Berrics might have looked like if it were designed by Steve Berra and Dexter; as in the loveable, animated, four-eyed, ginger genius, not the serial killer played by Michael Hall). Inside the labs were a lot of things, that a lot of us honestly had no understanding of whatsoever. Apart from ESPN’s Josh Brooks, who came out of his shell and revealed himself to be a secret physics nerd: so big ups to him, his knowledge of forces and his awesome RUN DMC style Obama tee. The tour itself was a fantastic insight into how these things we throw on our feet and slowly ruin are put together; just check out the pictures and peep the relentless testing each shoe is subjected to before it is deemed safe and worthy of making your feet look and feel a lot nicer.

And it was in that lab that I came to realise the significance of those doppelgangers that plagued my journey out here. It’s all to do with repetition and difference, something that Sole Tech has nailed. Steve Neale is a known bunty man (as anyone who has studied film will back me up on), but he did spearhead this particular theory on how things are constantly improved by repeating elements that work, and playing with them ever so slightly to make something new and great. Sole Tech are doing just that. System G2 was great, but adding the Kevlar and creating G2 Platinum is perfect evidence of making something great, well, greater. The same can be applied to E-Suede. Look at the comparison of suede and e-suede after 2500 rotations in the KICKFLIP MACHINE (!) to see what I’m getting at.

Unfortunately the same praise cannot be said about American Airlines, as I sit back in my chair on my flight back to London and continue to get offered disgusting coffee by an even shittier Gok Wan variation… all the while trying not to make eye-contact with what appears to be someone I will later name ‘Dubble’.

Did you know that when throwing yourself down the London Bridge ten, more often than not you exert around 18-times body weight straight onto your heel or toes?

Eternal props to all the dudes at Sole Tech for bringing us media-heads together and showing us all how these things on our feet and body we often take for granted is so generously made for us without asking for anything in return other than your support. Extra thanks to James for being a rad host, and all the safe-as-fuck dudes I had the pleasure of meeting out there. And big up skateboarding, for being the greatest fucking thing in the world.

If you enjoyed this feature, click here with an interview from back in February 2006 with Pierre André Senizergues.

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