Steve Van Doren

ChristianHosoi-SteveVanDoren-PhotoByDanLevy

STEVE VAN DOREN

Interview by JIM MURPHY
Photos by DAN LEVY and DAVE DUNCAN,
TED TERREBONNE, 
SCOTT PERRYMAN, MARK SULLIVAN,
BRYAN STAHEL and TERRI CRAFT

Steve Van Doren is one of the hardest working and most dedicated men in skateboarding! If you go to a Vans event, Steve is working the grill and coordinating with the crew to make sure everyone is having a good time. The hardcore work ethic of the Van Doren family started in Boston and flourished in California with a vision of making quality, functional shoes. Since 1966, Vans has been the go-to shoe for skateboarders and, with the entourage of rippers they sponsor, Vans has created a skate family legacy with no end in sight. From their innovative skateparks to the Vans Pool Party and the Vans Park Series, Steve and his crew have proven time and again that they are leading the way to keeping skateboarding fun. Through the last five decades, Steve has always had skateboarders’ backs and stayed true to his roots. Alva, Caballero, Hosoi – the list goes on of legends that Vans continues to sponsor. This respect for history and vision for the future is who Steve Van Doren is. Thanks, Steve, for keeping it punk!

Steve Van Doren on the Warped Tour in 1999. Photo © Scott Perryman

Hey Steve! How are you? 

I’m good, good, good…

Okay. Let’s start it off. Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and raised up there until I was eight years old. Chopper Dave in New York calls me a Masshole. [Laughs] You know the guys from New York hate the guys from Boston. Those are my roots. I still have relatives in Boston. When I was 8 years old, my dad moved our whole family out to Costa Mesa, California.

What year was that?

1964.

Why did you guys move out to California?

My dad worked for a shoe company called Randolph Rubber Company for 20 years, from when he was 16 to 36, in Boston. That’s where he learned how to make shoes. They were on the East Coast and had a factory in Garden Grove. At that time, the West Coast factory was losing about a million dollars a month, so my dad, my uncle Jim, and Gordy Lee, all flew out to California and worked for six months without their families to improve the factory output and profits. After six months, all the families came out and my dad had turned the business around. He worked for that factory for about a year in California, and then he had a disagreement with the owner, after he presented an idea to help increase business profits. He wanted to create retail stores to sell directly to the consumer. When the owner turned down his idea, my dad left that company, as did my uncle, Jim, and Gordon Lee. An old family friend of my dad’s from Japan, Serge D’Elia, sent my dad a plane ticket and a letter and told him to come over to Japan. My dad flew over and told him his idea and Serge said he’d help by putting money into the company and that’s how the four partners started. It was Jim, Gordy and my dad, and Serge was the silent partner, who invested the money. In those days, my dad was 40% owner and Serge was 40% owner and my uncle, Jim, and Gordy were each 10% owners. They built a factory and the Van Doren Rubber Company opened up on March 16, 1966, making shoes onsite and selling them directly to consumers.

It sounds like that other company was losing a ton of money. What made your dad think that they could have an impact?

Well, that company was losing money because they didn’t have any idea how to make shoes efficiently. My dad straightened that factory out and they were actually making more profit than the East Coast factory that had been in business for 20 years. They were the third largest shoe company in the United States. My dad said the most they ever made was 20 cents on a pair of shoes in those days. My dad saw that the only people making money were the retailers, so my dad said, “Why don’t I make my own shoes and sell them myself and pass that savings on to my customers?” He didn’t know how he was going to advertise, so he said, “I better make the sole twice as thick and I better use pure crepe rubber soles so they wear for a long time.” He used #10 duck fabric backed to 220 drill lining and he used nylon thread. Everything about the shoe was going to be superior to anything else that was in business in those days. My dad had to make a better shoe and his model was, “Tell a friend about Vans.” He figured if somebody liked the shoe, they were going to tell three people. If somebody didn’t like the shoe quality or the customer service, they would tell seven people. He had to do a lot more things better. When he first started, he knew that nobody was going to know his shoes. On the East Coast, they called them sneakers. Out here, in California, they called them tennis shoes, so they called them Vans tennis shoes. The first store was called the House of Vans. We had a flying V logo for the first year and then it went to Van Doren. In ‘76, we changed it from Van Doren to Vans and added “Off The Wall.”

Were you going after any particular sports?

No. In the first years, we were just trying to get anybody to try our shoes. We would just do anything that nobody else would do. If you wanted to wear a nine on one foot and a size six on the other, we sold you one shoe in a size nine and one in a size six. If you wanted a wide or a narrow shoe, we sold you wides and narrows. If you wanted to have pink in the front and checkerboard on the back, we would do that. We’d change the colors up and charge 50 cents more for a custom-made shoe. The first style we ever created, Style 44, cost $4.49, which is now known as the Authentic. We were just grinding it out, trying to get one customer at a time, for those first eight years. In the mid ‘70s, we found out that Tony Alva and the Dogtown guys were coming into our stores. Tony would wear out one shoe by doing his verts on walls and would come into the store and just want to buy a left shoe, and he just paid $3.50 for it. All of a sudden, the Dogtown guys started skating in pools and found that they wanted a little bit more comfort, so we padded the back of our Authentic and put an outside heel cover on it for added protection and material reinforcement. We dropped a red heel label that said “Off the Wall” and the Era, our first skate shoe, was born. It came in navy blue and red and navy blue. We started sending shoes to guys like Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, Jerry Valdez and Brad Bowman. Then I hired Everett Rosecrans in 1977. Everett was our first skate manager and we bought him a van. By that time, we had the number one skate shoe because we came out with the Old Skool shoe in 1977 with the Sidestripe. My dad called it the jazz shoe because it had a jazz stripe. My dad doodled a lot and he marked up the side of the shoe, calling it the jazz stripe. By ‘77, Nike had started and we didn’t know who they were too much, but they had a swoosh. Adidas came out in ‘68 and they had stripes. My dad said that we needed something on the shoe, so he came up with our Sidestripe in ‘77. From there, we did a Mid Top and then the Sk8-Hi came out.

Steve Caballero and Pennywise rock the Vans Warped Tour in 1999. Photo © Stahel

Was it skateboarders telling you that they needed a shoe with a higher top?

Exactly. They told us they liked the basic lace-up, but it would wear out quick, so they needed something that was like the Old Skool with leather at the front and leather at the back, but also kept their ankles protected when boards would fly out from under them.

It was beefy enough to take the abuse.

Yep. We guaranteed our shoes 100%, so if something came apart on the skaters, because they’d skate so hard, we’d replace the shoe.

What was the impact on Vans once skateboarding started to blow up and concrete parks were getting built? How big did you guys get, at that point?

Well, in those days, shoes were still $10 or $15. We grew in the ‘70s and early ‘80s and we started doing custom-made shoes with all of these new styles. BMXers and skaters would get them in all the different colors, so every four or five months, we would change the colors. We’d start off with navy blue and red and then it was brown and beige or blue and gold. We had all the different color combinations and then we started custom making them. We didn’t feel a big impact, but we were always growing. It went from zero to 50 in the first four years. In the ‘80s, Fast Times at Ridgemont High came out with the Checkerboard Slip-On and that’s when we hit big growth. There was constant growth from ‘76 to ‘82 and then, in ‘82, boom! It was a big spike. We were heading up towards $65,000,000.

The Combi at Vans Skatepark at the Block in Orange, CA. Photo © Dave Duncan

In the ‘80s, skateboarding was fading and parks were gone. Where were you guys when things started to take a nosedive?

Basically, we were a $60,000,000-$65,000,000 company. My dad had retired and, unfortunately, we went into Chapter 11 in ‘84. My dad had a lot of integrity and he paid 100 cents on the dollar. A lot of people in Chapter 11 never get out because the lawyers’ fees are so much and they make a deal with the bank and all the people they owe money to and they only pay back 10 or 20 cents on the dollar. My dad said, “Nope. I’ll pay you 100 cents on the dollar and it will take me three years to do it, but I’ll give everybody their money back.” That’s what we did. In ‘87, my dad paid all the money back and he was paying cash for every bill that he got. If somebody gave him a five percent discount for paying cash, he took it, and the money started coming back in. Then the investors came in and offered my dad $75,000,000 to buy his company. He was doing about $45 or $50 million then and we were out of Chapter 11. The first thing I did was to hire Everett Rosecrans back after I had to let him go during the bankruptcy. Everett had gone to work with Vision with Brad Dorfman for 2 1/2 years and the first thing I wanted to do, when we got out of trouble, was hire Everett back. Then it was like, “Let’s go back and get our guys and get them more shoes.” That’s when we began that long process. In ‘88, a new company acquired us and we grew over the next 10 or 12 years to be about a $300,000,000 company. It didn’t happen overnight. It took a long time. It took decades.

At that point, in the late ‘80s, Caballero had his first skate shoe, right?

Yep. Stevie came out with the first high top Cab in 1988. A year and a half later, it was the Half Cab.

What made you think to come out with a shoe for a pro skater?

Well, Stacy Peralta was the first person to be paid to wear our shoes in ‘77. We paid him $300 a week. In ‘88, we were out of trouble and we paid all our debt back. We had to get back to marketing, so we could start growing the company. The first thing that we did was sign on Steve Caballero and we worked with him to design his first signature shoe. Steve was very much involved with all of his shoes. It’s the same thing with Geoff Rowley and Anthony Van Engelen. They are all very involved with the design of their shoes. We lost our way a little bit in the ‘90s, when the factory went away from Orange County over to China. After ‘94, the new company that bought us decided they didn’t want to manufacture shoes in America, so they sent it overseas.

Vans Warped Tour 1997. Photo © Terri Craft

How did that feel for you?

It sucked. Kristy came home and told my wife that I was not feeling good that day because they closed the factory down. I was kind of pissed off, so I just went home that day. We made great shoes and we made them here. What happened was that, from ‘94 to ‘99, they forgot all about what our roots were. Everybody, like DC, was making puffy shoes. All of our designers were like, “Oh, this is great. We get to design these shoes and they’ll make them overseas, and we don’t have limitations.” When you look at the Half-Cab versus one of our deck shoes, the biggest limitations are that there are a hell of a lot more steps. There is leather and 18 parts versus seven parts. There is a lot more stitching too. If we wanted to make an endless amount of shoes, we couldn’t. I remember we were making 1,250 pair a day of the Half-Cabs and then it got to 1,500 and then it got to 2,000. Today, if we need 30,000 pair, we order them and we get them. In those days, stitching was a very hard craft and it took time to get people to learn how to do that at a fast pace. We always had limitations, so we could only make so many of them. We could make plenty of the Authentics, style 44s, but the Sidestripe models were a little harder to make than just the regular shoes. Those took more time and had limitations on them, so we had to deal with that. All of a sudden, from ‘94 to ‘99, the designers and everybody else were doing all of these cold cure shoes with cupsoles because that’s what the times were. They forgot about our roots. In ‘98, I blew up at the staff meeting and I told everybody that they were full of crap. If you put up a wall and put everybody’s shoe brand up on the wall, you couldn’t tell a Vans shoe from any of the other brands because they went away from our design DNA. Everything was puffy shoes. We were trying to come up with different shoes for guys like Tom Boyle and Mike Carroll, and they were fine shoes, but it wasn’t us. It wasn’t our roots. They didn’t have our waffle sole. It was a cupsole. I actually screamed at everybody at the meeting. I said, “Hey guys, when my dad left the company and we sold the company, and four years later, they moved the factory away, we were making six million pairs of shoes a year. Today, we’re making 1 million pair of vulcanized shoes and seven million pair of these shoes that do not look like Vans shoes. It’s not us. It’s not our roots. We’re full of shit.” Then Geoff Rowley wanted a vulcanized shoe with the same fit and the same sole and we came up with Geoff’s first shoe. Again, we went back to the skater to remind us what we were all about. When we did that, they heard the message and we went back to making vulcanized shoes and we turned the whole concept around for Vans and went back to our roots. From there to now, it’s been a steady growth.

Triples jam session at Pool Party 2007. Photo © Dan Levy

That’s great! We love that product. That’s the best grip for a skateboard.

Yeah. We went wrong in ‘84 too because, in ‘82 and ‘83, my uncle was trying to make athletic shoes and that was not our M.O. We had to stop that and we went into Chapter 11 and got rid of all that. In the mid ‘90s, skating went down and everyone came up with these new puffy shoes and everyone was excited about them and we were following the trend instead of leading the trend. Then we had to get back and wake up again in ‘99. For the last 16 years, we’ve been pumping out excellent shoes. Now there is a lot more technology inside the shoes for comfort too. We have the Vans Pro Classics and the Vans Pro Skate shoes with all kinds of great technology inside. They are lightweight shoes and there is all kinds of durability and things built in. That’s really helped the shoes feel a lot better. Stick with the waffle soles and get the grip.

In the late ‘90s, the Vans Skateparks came about. What was the story with that?

It was a great time. Our company let me start doing things like the Vans Warped Tour in ‘96. Kevin Lyman wanted to have a concert and I wanted to have skate competitions, so we matched together and we invested some money.

Rancid 1998 Warped Tour. Photo © Mark Sullivan

What was it that you saw in the Warped Tour that relates to Vans?

Walter, our president at the time, met with Kevin and then got me involved. At that time, we were only really known in the Sun Belt: Florida, Texas, Arizona and California. We had good accounts in all of those states but, in all of the other states, we weren’t known. Kevin was saying he wanted to take the Warped Tour to all 50 states. I said, “I’m in, but I would like to have vert and street skate competitions too.” So we did. The street competitions were hard because every day we were in a different area and it wasn’t always perfect ground, but we made it work. We had a contest with 50 stops here in America, 12 stops in Europe, eight stops in Australia and two stops in New Zealand. I had 75 guys each year for ten years that we flew in and we had a street competition as well as a vert competition. That’s where I found Pierre-Luc Gagnon, Giorgio Zattoni, Brent Kronmueller and Bastien Salabanzi. We’d sign them to a contract for a year and pay for them to go to our contests. There weren’t any skateparks anywhere, so 18 years ago, they let us build the Block. It was a big investment and then they went crazy. The Block was great, but then we did nine other parks. It was great at the time, but over three years the malls saw that and said, “We want to charge you three times the rent.” We couldn’t afford that because it was a skatepark that was meant to be a safe place for kids to skate. Also, by us doing these parks, laws were passed stating if you signed a waiver, you could skate at your own risk, just like going to play football or basketball at high school. You were doing it at your own risk, so if anyone got hurt, no one was going to get sued. That opened up the doors for skateparks to be built around the country. Over the three or four years that we put the parks in, all of a sudden, there were 400-500 free skateparks. We decided, in 2003, to close down eight of the parks and we kept the Block. We are more targeted in the product and events we sponsor now. In 2016, we introduced the Vans Park Series, a contest series with a total prize purse in excess of half a million dollars, for the best park riders in the world.

What has the response been from the locations you are doing these events? Are the locals stoked or what?

They love it. For the one in Malmo, we paid for the park, and it’s going to stay there forever, so Malmo got a new park. We build the park at the U.S. Open in Huntington Beach and it’s there for three weeks and we spend a quarter of a million dollars to build it and, after the contest, they bust it up and I cry. I keep telling the mayor, “Can’t we just leave it for six months and see how the kids like it?” One year, I hope I’ll get the pleasure of having them say yes. In the meantime, we love doing the event and it’s very unique. It’s not vert. It’s not street. It’s not just bowl. It’s park. For the young kids, this is what they do and this is what they like. They grew up skating parks for the last five or ten years and they enjoy it immensely.

Carje, Duncan and RCMC building the Combi in 1998. Photo © Dave Duncan

Let’s talk about the Pool Party. I remember the first contests were such a new phenomenon. For all of us that grew up in skateparks in the ‘70s, to see that come back and see Cab ripping was so good. Did you foresee how much that event would blow up?

We just did our 13th contest and the park has been there for 19 years. Why did it take so many years for us to get it going? Where the hell was my head? It just shows that bowls weren’t in. The old guys liked it, but it had to evolve. It had to go from vert to the bowls. It had to go from the old guys growing up to the young people wanting to get inside of a bowl like the old days. It took six years, until we woke up and said, “Let’s have a competition here.”

I remember. Over the last ten years, everything just blew up and these young kids are just taking over.

Yep. Skateparks went in all over the country and they had these little bowls and then, all of a sudden, here’s this bigger bowl. They were coming out there at five and seven and nine years old and then they were 15 and, all of a sudden, they’re ripping.

Hell yeah. Let’s talk about the Boston skatepark you built. Being from the East Coast, I know that they had been talking about that park and trying to get it built for a lot of years.

It took 15 years to get that park. Four years ago, we heard about it and I went to our parent company and said, “Hey guys, you own Lee Jeans, Wrangler Jeans, Northface and Timberland and you run commercials during the Super Bowl and spend $2,000,000 on 30 second ads. You know what? I want a million and a half bucks. Boston is where I’m from and Boston needs a skatepark. They need $1,500,000 to finish it. The park will be there for 25 years, not 30 seconds. They need it and we should do it.” We didn’t say it had to be a Vans Skatepark because it was the Lynch family that put money in 10 years earlier, so it’s called the Lynch Family Skatepark. I said, “Okay, great. When we build it, I want to make sure it has some checkerboard and it’s constructed right.” They asked for my suggestions and I suggested Joe from California Skateparks and he did a great job.

What are Vans plans in the future to utilize that skatepark?

I want to start off with an amateur event for street and bowl. Eventually, I’d like to bring a pro event there. Each year I’d like to do an amateur event.

Can you explain to people about the Huntington Beach Skatepark? It’s a Vans park, but it’s free.

It’s the same thing. We’re in Surf City, U.S.A., which is what they call Huntington Beach. I want it to be called Skateboard City, U.S.A. Huntington Beach did not have a skatepark. They used to have a shitty little skatepark on the side of Huntington Beach High School and they tore it down. I was like, “This is our backyard. Let’s do something here.”

Steve Van Doren And The Vans Skate Team At Vans Propeller Premiere. Photo © Dan Levy

Does it have to be staffed since it’s free?

It doesn’t have to be, but we staff it. We staffed the park at the Block and we watch the kids, so the parents know it’s good. The parents can drop their kids off and they don’t have to worry about drugs being around there or beer drinking or anything like that. We staff it just to make sure that it’s done right. Our partners are happy too. One of our customers, Jack’s, has a store up there.

Do you see it happening more within the industry where big conglomerates are coming in and trying to take a piece of the market share and then they split?

Yeah. I feel bad for the smaller guys because that’s who they’re taking the shares from. We take care of our guys like family. Omar Hassan has been with us for over 30 years. Cab, Hosoi, Alva and Grosso have all been with us for a long time. Curren Caples has been with us since he was a little guy. We just try to show the guys that if you’re with us, you’re with us for a long time. We’re not just going to pay you the big bucks for three years and then you’re gone. We treat them like family. We run girls events and amateur events. We help sponsor things like C.A.S.L. and Sonja Catalano. We do things with Gary Ream with Woodward. If someone is having an event, we try to help out as much as we can. We appreciate who you are and where you’ve been and what your roots are. I tell the company, “Yeah, we’re a big corporation, but we’re still going to act like we are the Van Doren family company. That’s the way we’re going to be.” If they don’t want to do that, then I won’t be there anymore.

Jim Murphy over the O.G. combi coping in 1999. Photo © Scott Perryman

That’s so sick. Keep it hardcore. Speaking of hardcore, you have two House of Vans, one in New York City and one in London. How did that concept come about?

House of Vans are the best ever. Doug Palladini, who is our General Manager of North American, had an idea for a clubhouse where you could do anything you want. He came up with the idea and he found a building. We said, “We’re going to have skating, music, art and anything that celebrates street culture inside this building.” We have a great stage area and a beautiful street course, so all through the winter there’s a dry place for the locals to skate. We have great music events there all summer and we have great art events there too. We also opened a location in London under the Old Vic Tunnels. It’s in an awesome area. Apple and Nike both wanted to get in that area. We came in and said, “We don’t want to charge for anything. When you come in and sign up, it’s a 10-pound donation and then you can skate anytime you want. We built a bowl area and a street area and we have a theatre and a restaurant. We have a stage area that holds about 800 people, so a couple of thousand people can be in there. There are five tunnels cut in half and it’s about 35,000 square feet right under Waterloo Station. It’s right by Big Ben. It’s an awesome event space.

Steve Van Doren with Pool Party tee in 2010. Photo © Terrebonne

How many kids are skating there, Steve?

The number is 66, because that’s when we started, 1966, so 66 kids can come in and session at one time. They have a place to come skate and it’s free and it’s indoors and the parents can have a beer or some food over at the restaurant area. It really took it to the next level. We just opened in Chicago too. We’ve done pop-ups in Brazil, Korea, Shanghai and Mexico City, where it’s just there for a week or two.

You guys are constantly giving back to skateboarding. It’s incredible. That’s what it’s all about. 

That’s right. If you go to our meetings, they always start with skate. You can do anything else after that, but skate is where it starts. These are our roots and this is who adopted us and, as long as I’ve been there, I’ve stayed loyal to skateboarders. We have to do everything we can for skateboarding to make sure it stays around.

You have surfing and snowboarding too. Do you ever feel like you thinned it out too much or do you enjoy involving as many people as you can?

No. Those sports are crossover for skaters and are sports that are core to our heritage. We have the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, which is hosted at the best surfing location in the world, the North Shore. We do a global snowboarding series called the High Standard. We focus on creating products and hosting events that keep the progression of these sports going. It’s an honor to be able to bring platforms like this to fans all over the world.

ChristianHosoi-SteveVanDoren-PhotoByDanLevy The combi pool resurrection at the vans skatepark at the Block has given birth to endless rad sessions for all generations to come together and rip! Christian Hosoi blasting a judo over the man with the Vans plan, Steve Van Doren. Photo © Dan Levy

Some people may say that Vans is a huge corporation, but you get it and you get skateboarders and you get people. The old school way is always going to be the way to do it. No one can argue that.

Well, my boss called and said, “They’re having a function in Compton on Saturday. It’s a volunteer day for people to help a school there get painted.” I didn’t call up seven people and send them up there. I called my nephew and grabbed the motorhome and went up there. At seven o’clock, we were there setting up and all these kids showed up to paint the school. It was awesome. I brought waters, munchies, t-shirts and hats and gave them out to the people and thanked them for donating their time. We’re just saying, “Hey, we agree with this. We are here to help.”

There are not a lot of people doing that in this world, let alone in the skateboarding industry.

No, especially on the executive level. It makes me laugh. It’s all smoke and mirrors and bullshit. Haul your ass out on the Warped Tour for 21 years and then come talk to me.

Where do you get that old school work ethic? Is that from Boston?

Yep. I have a three year old grandson and I’m going to teach him that before I die, that’s for sure. Some people say, “What’s going to happen in the next 50 years?” I say, “Well, I hope my grandson will grow up to be a good person and he can continue on so that he’s around 50 years from now to say the same things I’m saying.”

Kristy Van Doren and her Dad Steve. Photo © Dan Levy

What’s it like having your daughter, Kristy, work with you at Vans?

It’s the best. It’s family. I have my back covered for my whole life. I started when I was ten and she started when she was born. At ten years old, she was traveling around Europe with me, carrying bikes and boards. When she graduated from college, she wanted to work with the company and she’s done a great job. She’s my backbone. I’ve had a couple of heart procedures and I wouldn’t be able to do the things I do if it wasn’t for her. She does a great job and I have a great team. My buddy, Bob, has been with me for 38 years, and my other buddy, Al Vano, has been with me for 23 years. Alfredo, in the operations area, has been with me for 26 years and there are so many more that make Vans the best place to work. In my area, we have a lot of people that know how to do things and activate. It’s just a matter of having good people around you. There’s a lazy way, there’s a new way, and then there’s the way we do it. As long as I’m around, and my daughter is around, we’ll keep the passion going. She’s in charge of the whole U.S. Open. She’s run that for the last few years and she does a great job. I was asked to be on the board of directors in Huntington Beach for the Visitors Bureau. I said, “I’d love to, but I’m traveling all the time.” My daughter is on there and she does a great job. She gets to work with all the people in Huntington Beach and makes sure that event goes off perfectly and it’s welcoming for everybody.

Propeller World Premiere. Photo © Dan Levy

Nice! Congratulations on that full length Vans skate movie too.

Oh man, was that a ball! We got to go around the world with that. That was 49 years in the making. Hello! For years, they went out and filmed. They had six digit budgets for ten years, but they just never put it together, so we put a stake in the ground. The guys skating and the director and all the guys that put that thing together did such an awesome job. For me to be able to see that in eight different countries around the world, it was awesome. That was the best trip ever.

Greg Hunt really knows what he’s doing.

Greg is awesome. Yep.

Jeff Grosso at Vans Pool Party 2013. Photo © Dan Levy

What do you think about Grosso and The Love Letters To Skateboarding?

The Loveletters are going on and we have had Grosso do internet stuff for the Pool Party too. He’s great.

You’ve got to love Grosso.

He’s like a dinosaur. He’s never going to die. He just keeps moving on. He’s the best. I have to tell you a quick story. Two years ago, in November, we had our sales teams come in from all over North America, and, Fara, our marketing leader, wanted to open up with history, so I got my dad to come in. No one had seen my dad in 25 years and Kristy took him up on stage and asked him questions and he told stories for like ten minutes. Then we had athletes come up to tell their Vans story. Tony Alva and Joel Tudor told their “Vans Story” and then, after Joel, it was Jeff Grosso. Jeff gets up there and just puts the place on fire. He defines what it means to be “Off The Wall.” He is Vans. I knew I had to follow Grosso and I knew it was going to be a challenge, so I had this plan that nobody knew about. I went to a local high school and got a 100-person marching band and I came out in my shoe car from the side of the stage with a marching band from Diamond Bar High School, wailing and going nuts behind me. There were 100 people dancing and shucking and jiving. They had the tuba and the whole thing and there were 100 kids just going wild. That’s the kind of entrance I had to make to follow Grosso. [Laughs] Grosso talked about keeping it to the roots and it was great. As Tony finished the last words of our brand campaign, the lights came on and the confetti guns came up. I gave my daughter, Kristy, $5,000 in twenties, fifties, tens and fives and she came out with eight of the guys she works with and they all had handfuls of money and they just started tossing it. Everybody saw the confetti and then, all of a sudden, everyone started yelling, “That’s money!” My dad came out of there with a $5 bill. We let it rain money – it was fun. You gotta have fun, you know?

Oh yeah! Steve, you’re just having so much fun, man.

That’s one of our values when we talk about the company. Be authentic and have fun, otherwise, it’s just a job.

What is your Duty Now For The Future, Steve? Where do you see Vans going?

What’s nice is that the world is becoming smaller, while the world is growing. China is doing very well for us with the stores they are putting in. We’ve been doing pop-up House of Vans over there. South America is the biggest opportunity because we got our distributorship back from Brazil and Chile. We have the resources to get enough shoes for the customers on an even flow. South America is a big opportunity and Europe is always growing too. We’re growing there as well as in Mexico, Canada and the USA. I think, in the next five to ten years, we will see really good growth. There are a lot of shoes that people are buying, so if we keep doing things right and caring about the people and the sports like we do, then we are going to do well.

 

FOR THE REST OF THE STORY, ORDER ISSUE #75 AT THE JUICE SHOP…

The combi pool resurrection at the vans skatepark at the Block has given birth to endless rad sessions for all generations to come together and rip! Christian Hosoi blasting a judo over the man with the Vans plan, Steve Van Doren. Photo © Dan Levy

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