From SNEEZE NO.15 spring 2012
This is Chad Muska’s first pro skateboard. Sixteen years before TMZ posted his faded Hollywood graffiti arrest, nine years before he fucked Paris Hilton, eight years before his unlicensed DJ album MuskaBeatz. The board is appropriately titled Hate.
Hate was made at Tum Yeto, a skateboard manufacturer for Toy Machine in San Diego, California, during the summer of 1995. Its graphic was screen printed by a skateboarder with an artist’s eye, someone who cared about skateboarding.
“Those were the lacquer ink days,” recalls Don Mills, a former screen printer at Tum Yeto. “The graphic had a white background and was, I think, the first four-color process screen print we tried of a photograph. The photo was blurry except for the fist, which was in focus so it looked okay without being perfectly registered.”
Four-color process is a method that uses four key colors of ink: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. When cyan, magenta and yellow are combined at full strength, the resulting secondary colors are red, green and blue. Registration is the method of correlating overlapping colors on one single image. Since a skateboard is not flat, exactly aligning the surface area of each silk-screen for each color hit of thick ink is difficult.
“The screens need to stretch a bit to accommodate for the concave, so perfect and consistent registration is not happening,” Mills says.
Hate’s magenta ink ran wide by a few millimeters on the left. The silk-screen had stretched a little too much.
Mills began printing skateboard graphics for Zorlac in 1989 in Miramar, California before switching to Tum Yeto in 1992. Pros never visited the in-house print shop to inspect his work, except occasionally for Ed Templeton, owner of Toy Machine and the artist responsible for creating the brand’s distinctive logos, ads and board designs.
“Ed would lurk sometimes if there was a special graphic or something with different separations but he normally sent stuff in,” Mills says. “The pros did not give a fuck or seem to even care.”
Hate’s graphic was created by Thomas Campbell, another California skater turned gallery-represented artist. Campbell was involved with the defining Beautiful Losers exhibition in 2004. From what Chad Muska remembers, it wasn’t something specifically made to be the graphic.
“Thomas just did it, like ‘Hey, check this out, what I made,’ and then Ed was like, ‘Oh, let’s put that on as the graphic,’” Muska says.
Campbell had shot the black-and-white photo of an unknown teenage Muska during a road trip to Las Vegas years earlier. Fist clenched, the word “HATE” is tattooed across Muska’s knuckles. The printed portrait was then placed behind plywood Campbell had shot with a shotgun, both then photographed together again to become the graphic.
“This idea that this actual art piece was created in order to make that graphic is just insane on its own,” Muska says. “I thought it was an amazing image that represented me.”
Muska’s time at Toy Machine was brief. The drama at the Welcome to Hell premiere at La Paloma theatre in the spring of 1996 shook the skateboarding world. Muska got injured while filming for the video. Stress and expectations erupted that night between Muska, Templeton and fellow Toy Machine pro Jamie Thomas, who would later be credited for making Welcome to Hell, one of the heaviest videos from that era.
When VHS copies of Welcome to Hell arrived at skate shops, Templeton placed a skull over Muska’s face in a group photo on the box sleeve, his name nowhere to be seen.
Pro for Toy Machine less than a year, only a handful of graphics intended for Muska got screened.
“He was not a strong seller for Toy,” Mills recalls. “We would do an initial run of 300 or 500, depending on rider and graphic, then a follow-up of 300, again depending on the rider and how strong the graphic was selling.”
Assuming Hate was a single run edition of 300, this particular Hate is a survivor and a testament to the greatness of screen printing — a process that hasn’t existed in skateboard manufacturing for more than ten years.
In 1999/2000 skater silk screeners started to get their pink slips. They were being replaced by a large, crude, expensive machine.
“It was the beginning of the Chinese shit,” Mills says.
“Everything was going to change,” adds Gregg Chapman, owner of family-operated Chapman Skateboards, a manufacturer/supplier/distributor in Long Island, New York. “Up until that point, the entry barrier to skateboarding was screen printing, nobody wanted to deal with it.”
Chapman recalls leaving his exhibitors booth at the 2000 Action Sports Retailer trade show in a rental car with fellow mentor and big-wig Paul Schmitt of PS Stix. In a warehouse somewhere near Los Angeles, they had an appointment to view a piece of equipment that had just landed in the States: the first-ever heat transfer machine. With it, a graphic could magically appear on a skateboard in minutes.
“I can’t describe the look on Paul’s face and the way I was feeling when we saw the machine,” Chapman says. “I’m thinking about how this is going to impact all the silk-screen shops.”
Back then, skateboard manufactures had partnerships with print shops. Printers had their own techniques and tricks, they put a lot of energy and time into developing screen-printing methods to look better than the next guy.
“There was so much secrecy about the technique of the curve screens or the swivel screens, it was always this big deal,” Chapman says.
With heat transfer machines, the dynamic had completely changed.
“It was really like toy technology,” Chapman says. “Something from Taiwan was going to come over to California and impact skateboard manufacturing.”
With the push of a button.
Goodbye sweaty, physical, tedious hard work. Goodbye gnarly inks, too.
“Whoever has one of these machines is unlocked in that sense, one of the key rooms; they’ve unlocked one of the big hurdles of producing the skateboards.”
Applying a heat transfer sheet to a skateboard takes minutes and involves one person to operate the machine. Peel off the plastic protector like a sticker, place the transfer sheet on the board top down and feed it through the machine’s hot iron roller.
An assembly-line operation with so many cycles per hour, if the transfer sheet is flawed, no stress, you don’t bond it to the skateboard, you throw it away.
“When we were direct screen printing, you put all those man hours into a wooden board all the way through finish,” Chapman says. “You’d see a lot more boards with slightly imperfect graphics going through, or getting the nod, versus getting kicked out, because when you kick out that bad graphic, you’re throwing away so many man hours.”
With the skateboard industry growing and growing, China was ready to take it.
“You have these big companies like a World [Industries], like a Girl [Skateboards] that are just marketing companies, they are already competitive and have market share. Now they’re getting even more money for a board, and they have even more momentum,” Chapman says. “That’s where you saw this big shift from the other companies — if we don’t do something fast, we’re going to lose more market share to the companies that went offshore.”
It got real cutthroat quickly.
“You’d watch the price of the transfer go from being somewhat more in line with direct screen printing, to a little bit better to finally one person under-cutting the next,” Chapman says. “Now you’re starting to get phone calls solicited directly from the factory with broken English.”
“Everyone is on Chinese boards and they either don’t care or don’t give a shit because the graphic is cool,” chimes Mills.
“Nowadays it’s just illustrated — you know, some graphic design kid creating all these graphics on Illustrator,” Muska says.
Skilled hyper-critical designers upload Chapman their color-separated, high-res files. Chapman forwards to his printer connect in China.
“It’s still silk-screening, that’s the other kind of misconception of the heat transfer, and what it is,” Chapman says.
There’s a releasing agent in the system of the heat transfer that lets go of the heavy solvent-based inks when heated.
“Instead of you fighting with the 3D of a skateboard and printing on a curve surface, you’re able to print the entire image on something glass-smooth and get really good registration,” Chapman says.
Tighter registration, higher resolutions, foil options, photo-real images, heat transfers provide boundless graphic possibilities.
“When we started direct screen printing it was forty-five line screens, we thought we were cool, like ‘Wow, look at that half tone, it looks great,’” Chapman says. “Now fast forward so many years you’re looking at 151, which is pretty intense.”
Hate’s half-tone dots are easy to spot at 45 line screens. Four layers of lacquer later, you can feel the hard ink on the board and still see the sheen. After all this time of being exposed to air and temperatures, the graphic has kept its pop.
“You can have silk-screened boards for years and years and years, and you might scratch it and whatnot, but the heat transfer seems to flake off eventually, you know what I mean,” Muska says.
“I do see some of the heat transfer boards expanding and contracting and they start to get a little crack in them and everything like that, but there are some that don’t,” Chapman says. “There’s so much chemistry going on that I think you’re going to have inconsistent results of which ones are holding up over time or not.”
“Heat transfer boards are just made for quicker turn-around and not meant to be saved, they’re just meant to be skated,” Muska says.
Skated and destroyed. You can’t blame skate companies for using heat transfers.
Now everyone has the sense to hang their heat-transfer-graphic boards as collectibles. Ironically, hardly anyone had the foresight to collect all of the best screen printed boards from the 80s and 90s.
Hate was purchased on eBay for $319.97.
After Toy Machine, Muska flipped to Shorty’s. Quickly, he and his signature shadow graphic trended huge for many years, selling strong through the industry-wide transition.
“Probably at least a five-year span on that graphic, at least, I would say,” Muska says. “I referenced back to the 80s, when you walked into a shop, you looked up and you knew the graphic that represented the pro that you identified with.”
Chad Muska is still pro, only now for Element.
“People like cycling through new graphics every season just to come up with something new, instead of branding something with the pro, making an iconic image that stands with the pro,” Muska adds. “They convinced themselves through sales reps that in order to sell more product, you need to create a new graphic every time.”
Heat transfer machines stay on (provided they don’t break down), Adobe Illustrator never quits (provided it doesn’t crash) and Hate still shines (no matter what).
“When there are boundaries, imperfections, it’s art,” Chapman says. “Everyone had somebody’s finger print in the ink, the ink was kinda bleeding off this edge, this color didn’t match the last run because the guy mixed it by hand.”
Chapman ended up buying the first-ever heat transfer machine. It still sits on his warehouse floor, in operation, but with little resemblance to its original self due do years of wear, servicing and makeshift replacement parts.
“We made boards, it’s hard to explain — you should have seen what we were doing when we were doing it.” ♠