Passed Down From Father to Son: A Skateboard?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because dynasties come in many forms.
By Adrienne Samuels Gibbs
Some parents spend a lifetime trying to convince a child to follow in their footsteps, but not skateboarding godfather Steve Olson. The master skater and modern artist didn’t try to sell his son on the family business; instead, he took a hands-off approach.
Apparently, that approach paid off for both of them the day Alex came home and made an announcement: “Yo, I’m a skateboarder.”
Olson, a ’70s-era skate pioneer turned modern artist and one of the elder statesmen of the skateboarding industry, was “silently stoked.” And Alex Olson? Well, fast-forward 20 years and he is cementing his own legacy in the $5 billion skateboarding industry. He has his fashion line (Bianca Chandon), his skate brand (Call Me 917) and a Nike shoe partnership (the Nike SB x Call Me 917 “Country Club” collection), not to mention his own signature moves.
“I was silently like, ‘Oh, sweet!,’ ” says Steve, 55, who peppered his own skating career with less commercial projects: recording albums, dating movie stars and, more recently, launching a modern-art career. He’s even exhibited at the Venice Biennial.
Steve says his son’s interest helped reignite his own passion in the sport: “It was really great because I got back into skateboarding through the fact that my son was showing some involvement, and I don’t think it hurt that I was his dad.”
Alex Olson is now one of the industry’s biggest names and one of the only second-generation pro-skaters around. So did Alex look at his dad’s old tapes to perfect his moves? Not exactly.
“Skateboarding had evolved into a completely different sport,” says Alex, who was first sponsored in his early 20s before going pro in 2007. “What [Steve] did was not obsolete, but it was such the early beginnings of the sport,” he notes. He compares the difference between what he does, and what his father did, to the history of basketball.
“You have 1970s basketball and you have early 2000 basketball. The game obviously evolved and is much more advanced now,” he says.
And while Alex finds the word artist “cringey” and is reticent to call himself a designer, there’s no doubt that, like his father, he utilizes his creativity in his day-to-day life.
“I make stuff,” he admits, using a library of design books for inspiration, adding: “I don’t look at them like I should.” Still, his design (er, making stuff) plate is full: He’s working on new items for Bianca and Chandon and plans to expand designs there into knits and sweaters. He’s also introspective about why his clothing, in particular his shirts, sells out, courtesy of a T-shirt culture stoked by Instagram and Facebook.
“We see so much stuff on IG, it’s become one of those things where you see someone do it and the automatic response in your head is, I can do something better,” he says, downplaying the successful sales of his gear showcased on an Instagram account that boasts some 94,500 followers. “I’m part of the problem.”
Like Father, (Not) Like Son?
Steve Olson laughs when asked if there is a move that both father and son do the same. There isn’t. They’re not into figuring out who did it better, who did it first or who did it like the other. Their careers are complementary. There are no records to break. That’s not how they roll as a family unit.
“I never assumed. I just allowed,” Steve says. “He did it. He became a skateboarder and became a very good skateboarder. A lot of people say, ‘Oh yeah, you probably taught him everything.’ No. I just allowed him to do and be what he wanted.”
Adds Alex: “It was a pretty fun childhood. He’d rent movies that maybe weren’t appropriate for someone my age at the time. He would still show them to me. We’d always watch American Graffiti. He had art friends so we’d go to galleries and see stuff. He was like a big brother as well as a father.”
And while they might live on separate coasts — Alex overseeing his many enterprises from New York and Steve creating new artworks in Los Angeles and in Texas — they remain close. Ask them about their early years and they’ll repeat shared memories of Blockbuster video nights at home, snowboarding, skating and various nights working on art projects.
True, these homey scenes are hard to reconcile with the bad-boy image of Steve in his youth. But Steve says while he gave Alex his freedom, he was still adamant about teaching him to, basically, be good.
“We all know right from wrong, and I hopefully instilled some of those values and trusted that he would make choices that were not harmful to other people and were good for him.”
- Adrienne Samuels Gibbs, OZY Author Contact Adrienne Samuels Gibbs