In skateboarding there are friends and the there are friends and the latter are the guys that will stop skating if you break a kingpin and help out. Nick Zorlac is one of those lads – someone who will go out of his way to accomodate you even though he may have just met you.
Death Skateboards may have an image of destruction, punk rock and annihilistic crusade but deep down the fire burns from a warm heart and the guys on the team have adopted that from the boss.
Death started whilst he was working at a distribution company who forced burn out on him and left him for dead. From there Nick has quietly stuck his fingers up at the people who used him, got on with his life and won. He may be a practicing vampire who loves 80’s music and he may drive for 2 days flat to skate a bank to wall, but he is one of the best out there so we thought we would drop him a line and see what g’wan in the world of Death, a company that has managed to arguably become the most dedicated skate team in the UK.
How long has Death been going now? When did you start out?
Death started in 1998. So it will be a ‘Decade of Distraction’ in 2008 next year. I can’t believe it, time flies.
What made you start Death?
One thing was that I was being a bit self indulgent, I wanted a board that said ‘Death’ on it! Mainstream media loved pronouncing that skateboarding was ‘Dead’ after the late 70’s boom, and after getting sick of people reiterating this year after year in different ways when they see you skating, I thought fuck it we must represent Death then. Also it was a protest vote against companies that were springing up that were started by non skaters with the sole purpose of making money. Suits sitting around trying to think of non offensive names and concepts that everyone would like. Instead of having a cool idea or vision of what they wanted to do they were just trying to find a commercially successful formula.
To me, that is not what a skate co. is all about. With Death I wanted to do something that was a reflection of I liked, and what skating was to me. It started as a very limited thing, I didn’t actually really have plans to sell the boards commercially. I did some stickers and tees for myself and some friends. I thought kids would hate it. I put a sticker on my mate Hemm’s shop door (Then it was called Big Worms, now its called Motel 6). A couple of weeks later he was all ‘kids keep asking for those Death boards, when will they be ready?’ This was echoed by a lot of shops all round the country. So I went with it.
Did you ever think it would last the time it has so far?
I used to have a drinking problem. If you’d have asked me when I started Death what I would be doing in 9 years, to be honest I’d have been surprised to still be about myself, let alone my company.
Who was the first pro rider?
Cates. He wrote some bollocks or other on my griptape one time when I set a board up, so I jokingly said I was going to do a board with ‘Cates is a Cunt’ on it to get him back. Then I was winding him up one day that they were nearly ready. He believed me, but strangely seemed quite stoked on it. So I went ahead and got some done. They sold out so I did him another board that had felt material on the graphics and you got these massive joke sunglasses with it too. And then I just carried on bringing out Cates Pro models and people kept buying them. All cos he wrote on my griptape, ha ha.
Have you always used the same wood manufacturer?
No. I work with a number of different woodshops simultaneously. Ones I consider the finest in the world by the way, and I’ve been around for a while. I find certain strengths from each manufacturer more suitable for specific models in our range dependant on what we are looking for in each one. This means that whatever my riders like in terms of weight, concave, responsiveness etc etc there is always something for them within our range of boards. Generally the pro boards are a bit longer wheelbase and deeper concave than the team boards. We have good relationships with all our manufacturers, which is important to get our boards exactly how we want them. I don’t skimp on cost, I’d rather make less margin but have the highest possible quality boards. If I wasn’t happy riding my own boards then what would be the point?
For people that ride your boards but would never know, where are they made and what is the process?
The best wood, the best glue, years of experience and a sprinkle of magic dust. I could tell you more but then I’d have to kill you.
How many models have you released now to date?
Some of our obsolete boards are on our website in the ‘past products’ section. I’ve lost count. But it’s not as many as you might think, because some of our graphics run for years. I don’t like withdrawing a graphic when I still like it, and people are still asking for it. Some of our first graphics are still going strong today.
You like to use holograms and silver on your boards, do these make the boards more expensive to manufacture?
Yeah they do. But they are limited runs so its not a big deal.
I read on the internet that if you scrape off and smoke the silver graphics on your Death boards, they can sustain a high as powerful as crack in a pipe? Is this true?
You ‘read on the internet’ did you?? I wondered why you keep asking me for the silver graphic boards.
Why do you think people choose Death over another UK or US brand?
You would have to ask them.
Who designs your graphics?
With the longstanding team boards, I have an idea in my mind of what I want and Jaybone translates my ideas in to something on a computer that we can use. With the pro boards, a few different people have done graphics. Like Fos, Chris Bourke from Spine, Kyle Green, Toby Walker, Mark Ward, Alex Duke, and Jaybone. Sometimes my ideas again, sometimes the pros, and frequently 100% down to the artist. Thanks!
Was there ever a rider who submitted the worst artwork ever to you for his board graphic?
Nothing bad, Art is subjective. Ha ha.
What is your fave Death board graphic to date?
The original skull. It was the start of it all, still does good today, never fails to provoke some kind of reaction and I’ve never got bored of it.
Which current pro would you love to see on Death if you could steal one?
I’m not into stealing pros. But I can tell you this – my favourite skater of all time is John Cardiel. I thought I knew what skateboarding was. Then Cardiel visited Harrow. Seeing him skate redefined my perception of skateboarding. Pedal to the metal is an understatement. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Cardiel footage is gold dust.
Which old school pro skater ever would you have loved to have seen ride Death and why?
I always thought Grosso was sick. Well I still do. Big airs, massive loud lein to tails and bodyjars, solid tweaked and stalled inverts, the longest boardslides in pools. Always facing adversity. Finally learning Mctwists at around 30 years old. And I always thought his interviews in Thrasher, Transworld and RAD were the best. He gave away so much in those interviews. Brutally and refreshingly honest. Also, Jeff Phillips (RIP), Duane Peters, Alan Petersen if you can call him old school, Ben Schroeder.. I could go on and on.
Will we see any girls sponsored by Death in the future?
I’ll never say never.
You love the internet don’t you big boy?
I don’t mind it. It has its downsides though. It keeps you connected with what’s going on, yet isolated at the same time cos you are staring at a screen instead of interacting with other humans. It’s a time vampire I know that much.
Do you feel as though you have to come out sometimes and put things right much in the same way that Jamie Thomas has done recently in a recent online interview?
If people don’t like our graphics or anything else about us then that’s fine. I never expected or would even want everyone to like us. But a couple of times I have had to go on there to set things straight when people have got facts wrong. I’m not into telling people what to think, but they should at least be using the real facts to be making their own minds up. And yes I have had to confront people because I have thought they were out of order. Same as I would confront someone if they were being out of line in the street, in a skatepark or in a pub. I don’t see the difference although a lot of people seem to get a bit carried away when they get behind a keyboard and think that it somehow doesn’t count.
What is the difference between the skaters of old (pre internet) and now?
When I was a kid, we used to study every magazine word for word, and watch videos until they wore out. Now, skating is everywhere. On the internet, on TV, new cheap or free dvds every month, there are more magazines too. So I think kids have access to a lot more skateboarding media than we did. This is a good thing for them, but I think that maybe we appreciated what we had more. Also I think in general we made more of an effort to go to comps and demos, you would get a large chunk of the UK’s skateboarding population under one roof which was sick. But none of this matters, times change. As long as people keep rollin’, having fun and don’t get cliquey then it’s all good.
Do you think that the skateboard industry is taking the web more seriously now as opposed to 3 years ago?
Of course. Its not just mags and vids anymore. The power of the internet is huge. It does seem that the skate industry has been a bit slow to catch on to this. Including me. But I have trouble just getting through my emails let alone, I get thousands of the buggers.
You are crocked right now right? Explain what happened and where it’s going.
On Feb 10th I busted my arm at the top and displaced my shoulder. Fucking nightmare. Wasn’t even doing anything, just a freak slam. Rolling backwards, something stopped my board, I fell backwards into the transition and SNAP. It’s a big bone so it took ages to heal but I’m getting stronger by the day.
Being a man that skates as much as he can fit into a week, how have you coped being on the sidelines?
By working a lot. It’s the longest time I’ve had off my board for more than 20 years, It’s not been fun. But what can you do? It makes you realize how much you take being able bodied for granted. I used to be like ‘fuck I do too many frontside airs’. Now I’m all ‘I wish I could go out and do a frontside air!’
Does it look likely that you will be sessioning the summer of 2007?
I hope so, the cast is off, and I’ve started physio.
Where would your first spot visit be?
Probably the ramp in our garden. We found some ply in a skip so we’re going to fix it up nice. But anywhere and anything really..
Where is the best spot you have ever skated?
Don’t have a single best spot really. It was really fun at Snoz’s creation ‘The Ripped’ just before I got hurt. I have a lot good memories from Southbank, Marseilles, the old Uxbridge mini ramp (where we held Herricks wedding reception!), St. Albans and Harrow Skatepark.
You also run the Power Distribution Company with various brands on board such as Consolidated, Heroin etc it must be hard running this kind of job with so many shops closing down in the UK?
It’s pretty gnarly at the moment with people buying stuff and doing well with it but trying not to pay. It goes in cycles though. You have to survive the bad times to enjoy the good times. It’s a miracle, but somehow we have done so far. Our brands are super strong which helps. So many people give up so easily. I did two jobs for over 4 years when I started Power (Distribution) to fund it. Some people want to make money and not even get their hands dirty. And then when they discover its not that easy they just walk away from the mess they have made leaving other people to pick up the pieces. That is the worst part of being a Distributor.
How could life be easier for distributors and the industry if shops changed one main thing from their operation? What would it be?
It’s not up to me to tell people how to run their business. But it would help if people paid their bills on time and took responsibility for what they have committed to.
Could skater owned shops do more for the scene?
Some do more than their fair share, some don’t.
Which one UK SOS shop is your favourite to deal with and why?
There are loads. Support your local skateshop!
Is it true that Consolidated are going to issue a rollerblade boot?! Ha!
Yeah, and pigs fly. Actually, if it was in the form of some elaborate piss take, you never know. They once did an advert once promoting Consolidated Cowboy boots that didn’t exist if I remember rightly. Consolidated are good for democracy in skateboarding and their ads are wild. The first Consolidated video is one of my faves of all time.
I heard they are stoked on Ben Raemers who is filming a part for their up coming DVD?
Yeah, Ben rips. I hope he goes pro on Consolidated one day. They are stoked on Olly Tyreman the other UK Con rider too, and he will have stuff in the new DVD as well. I think its going to be called ‘Going Bananas‘.
What did they make of your visit this year to Con HQ?
They hated us. Ha ha, nah I don’t know I think they thought we were mad cos we insisted on getting Mexican food every day, for every meal! We had the best time. I’m stoked they are distributing Death stuff for me in America and other countries cos I totally trust them. I had some bad times in the past with someone else who distributed Death in the U.S for us.
Is America starting to get used to seeing Death Skateboards now with the introduction of new team riders?
It’s hard to tell. Melcher and Zarosh are so rad. To have them as my US riders, and have adverts in Thrasher is the best thing. I never imagined things would go this far. Who knows what will happen..
Will you be taking on any more US riders?
If the right rider appears, then yes. I’m not in a rush though.
What are your thoughts on what the International Association of Skateboard Companies are saying regarding the shop board situation? Do shop boards kill the industry somewhat?
Blank boards and shop boards rarely support pros, magazines or the industry in general. It’s a downward spiral for skateboarding. But I’m not going to tell people what to do either. I just put out stuff that I like, and support my riders and customers as best as I know how. Some people must like quality and attention to detail of our products and graphics etc to like Death enough to pay the little bit extra rather than buying a blank board. Personally I can’t stand blank boards. I think they are boring, meaningless, and a step backwards. When there is no branding, or professional endorsement, a product has nothing to prove or live up to. And there is seemingly not much to choose between one blank and the next. So people are tempted to just go for the cheapest.
In turn some manufactures feel the need to offer cheaper blanks to be competitive. Corners are cut. Cheaper materials and techniques are used in manufacturing. And you can end up with something that is a pig to skate as well as boring to look at. If blanks help kids to afford to keep skating then you have to take this in to account. But when we were young kids we’d buy a second hand pro deck over a blank any day. And then when we got a bit older and earning a bit we’d spend days looking at shapes and graphics.. planning and saving up for the deck we figured was the one for us. Nothing else would do! I think that pro board graphics and shapes are an important part of the magic that makes skateboarding the best.
Is Death registered as a UK Skate Company with the IASC?
No. No one from there has approached me. Rightly or wrongly I feel under the radar of that kind of organization. I feel pretty isolated from that kind of thing. Maybe because I am based in London not California.
Do you think it is necessary?
I don’t know the answers. I’m still that kid with the skateboard; I don’t feel like I’m ‘Industry’.
Do you think that the skate industry should have some sort of governing force?
It has always had one. Skateboarders! We choose what we buy.
Rumours floating around the internet mention that the only reason that the IASC have set up their ‘club’ is because US brands no longer dominate the sales of skate shops in Europe due to their own homegrown industries – do you think this is true?
That does make sense. Skateboarding has definitely decentralized, and it must be difficult for companies that used to dominate worldwide to lose a lot of their market share. Nothing lasts forever though.
Does this body have a right to tell other countries skate companies that they should not be stocked in skate shops if they are not members?
It sounds complicated. I always thought skateboarding was about breaking rules, not making them. I don’t think shops will take kindly to being told they can’t stock their best selling brands!
Does this affect Death Skateboards in any way?
Not at the moment. Time will tell.
What is the most fun thing about running a skateboard company?
Getting ideas and turning them in to reality (which I am addicted to). Riding and putting out products that I’m happy with. Giving shops products that do good for them and they make decent margins on. Stoking riders out and helping them to push their skating. The process of making videos and adverts. Traveling. Pulling surprise moves, like having Ricky Oyola on the last ‘Big Push‘ tour. Working with some really cool people. Not being part of the 9-5 world. Living a life that if I wrote about it in a book, people would think was fiction. Being involved in skateboarding full time.
And the downside?
People who you help out but in return stab you in the back. Shops that sell and make money on your stuff but don’t want to pay for it. Accounting and paperwork. Timewasters. Long hours. Responsibility. Stress. Finding out what certain people are really like after years of thinking they were the best.
You guys seem to support the UK scene quite a lot sending riders to demo’s etc how important is this?
There is nothing like seeing your favorite riders tearing up a spot. Hopefully our riders have inspired some skaters somewhere along the line.
Tell us about the Relentless energy drink hook up? Is this a continuation of what Eastpak have done with Death riders over the last few years?
Eastpak have helped us get to some amazing places over the years, e.g Goa. Relentless are doing the same. We also get a load of drinks to keep us energized to skate and go on missions to find insane terrain! It’s cool as well because they are putting in to skateboarding but not taking out, i.e they don’t sell anything that skater owned companies sell. Well I don’t know of any skater owned drinks companies anyway!
How do you pick your riders as you seem to have doubled the size of your team over the last 12 months!?
In their own way, each of my riders represents the essence of skateboarding to me. It’s never been about being ‘the best’, which is a concept a lot of people have trouble with. Same as some people will never understand starting a company which you think has little or no chance of ever being popular or actually making any money.
How did Melcher get hooked up on Death, as it seemed to be a surprise to most?
He emailed me and asked to ride for us! I was as surprised as anyone. I think he had been asking Niall from Kingpin about us, and Niall encouraged him to get in contact. I’m glad he did. His footage on ‘Better Than Life‘ is going to be mental.
When you first saw Richie Jackson’s part in the Escape From Boredom DVD, did you have to grab your crotch to believe what you were seeing?
I was so stoked. I love that section. The first time I saw Richie I knew he had some unique shit going on but was really not prepared for that section turning up!
I heard he was almost stolen from your team last year at a US trade show, how would you feel if that was possible?
Shit happens. If a rider gets some crazy deal that would be really good for them then I’d totally understand if they left. In fact in certain cases I’d encourage them. But what I would say as well is that there are some companies who may be committed to a rider whilst they are at their peak of popularity or when they are the new thing, but then will drop them as soon as they are no longer a money maker. I don’t think like that, Death is a very stable and long term home for our riders. And now we have worldwide distribution, if a pros boards are demanded in whatever country, we now have a channel to get them there.
Will the US and OZ connections ever be flown over for a full tour in the UK?
Bloody hell that would be expensive. But yeah it would be sick.. I need to think about a way of making it happen!
How do you personally Escape from Boredom?
By skating, watching skating or doing something else to do with skating! Of course I am in to other stuff. But skating has consistently been there for me, and always held my attention.
Death seems to have a fantastic amount of energy and fun as an identity compared to other UK skate companies; do you think that other UK teams are too serious about their steez?
Nah, people should do what they want and how they want. It’s good that there is different approaches and styles.
Dan Cates’ interview in Document Magazine this year was definitely one to read. Deep down are you proud to have such a good bunch of riders on the team?
Yeah it’s a good crew. We have a lot of fun times. I like the diversity of skating we have. My riders feel part of something too; it’s not just about getting given boards or whatever. Hence the Death tats.
Who gives you the most grief?
It changes. Everyone has bad days/weeks/months! They always snap out of it though. Cundall has turned over a new leaf recently and is skating really good, shooting loads of photos and filming tons.
Which rider gets through the most boards in a month?
Probably Boots. But he does some gnarly stuff though, and eats loads of fried chicken and 5 trifles every time he goes out so it’s no surprise really!
We have seen the trailer for the new DVD scheduled for November called Better Than Life, tell us what you have planned for it?
Ground breaking (literally!) full sections from our new pros Patrick Melcher and Zarosh. And of course the inimitable Richie Jackson, Mark Nicolson, Dan Cates, Rob Smith, Horsey, Carl ‘Potter’ Wilson, Boots, and many more. Insane Terrain worldwide, tricks you have definitely never seen before, fast times, good times, you know what we like. As far from the 9-5 world as we can get. All the shit that makes skating Better than (normal) life!
Are there surprises in store?
Where have you filmed so far?
UK, Australia, USA, Israel, Sweden, Bulgaria, Spain, France, India and more places that I can’t think of right now.
Is Nicholson behind the project?
Yeah, Nicolson is so good at video stuff. Amazing skater too. Toby Batchelor helps me out with video stuff as well, and there are loads of contributors too.
Are there plans for Death Skateboards summer tour this year?
Document magazines ‘Big Push‘ takes up most of my tour budget. It’s worth it though. We’re going a bit mad on this years one, should be even crazier than the last two. Don’t miss that issue!
What are the 3 key things people need in their lives to survive?
What 3 tunes can you not leave the house without for a road trip?
More like 30,000 tunes with the advent of the Ipod! Although some older guys are not at one with recent technology.. Herrick quote from a recent road trip ‘No way, is all the music we have been listening to today come out of that little white box?’ as he nods towards my iPod.
I must say I’ve listened to Devo the whole time I’ve been doing road trips, that’s always been on the play list.
Any thanks, shouts & links?
Thanks to…well you know who you are! Full list will be on the vid.
Our website is www.Deathskateboards.com