Mike DeFord is the owner and founder of Skate Hard Idaho
History – I grew up in California, skating all the legendary spots like Upland, Back Door, Baldy, Del Mar, Skater Crater, etc. I was drawn to it right away, I am sort of a loner, skating allowed me to do what I wanted, my way. Life changed when I was 17 and I moved to Northern California and things changed, skating got a lot more serious. I was working early mornings and then would skate all day, driving all over the Bay and to Santa Cruz. In ’89 I started competing but I have a style that people hate so I always did really bad but I got noticed which then led to free product and team deals. Right as things were getting big I got run over by a fork lift and it destroyed my left knee, I was never supposed to walk normal again. I was off a board for almost three years and that time in skating changed so much, the cool new tricks were way beyond me and I have some limitations with my knee so some things, like a heel flip I just don’t bend that way. It was great to be skating again and I had drive to still be involved in skating so I decided that business was the best way of doing it.
In 1992 blank decks did not exist, so I started buying new Foundation decks, sanding the graphics off, painting them by hand and reselling them as my own brand. I was hustling, selling like 10 boards a week. I kept that going for a year thinking I was killing it and then I moved to Idaho which meant I did not have a source for decks anymore so it died. After a year in Idaho I took over a local skateshop named BlindSide and started a dirty DIY park on an abandonded concrete slab with sketchy ramps and “borrowed” pieces. Over time people brought more and more stuff, we had this horrible park that any kid today would laugh at but back then, any day of the week there would be 10-15 guys ripping. In 1995 my dad got brain cancer, I sold everything to help support him and be with him.
For the next 20 years I was still skating but not really, we’re talking like 4 or 5 times a year. I was married, had kids, all of that stuff, I sold out! I have worked as a marketing director and new business development manager in the auto aftermarket/racing industry. I have made companies billions of dollars, I have made huge impacts, received awards and all that. Work was my life then in 2014 I woke the fuck up, while I made stupid money and had all sorts of “things” I was not happy. I was always traveling, 40+ weeks a year, always on the go, it really sucked. I sat down with my amazing wife and kids one day and told them I wanted out, I wanted to be home, I wanted to have a life but it meant a big change in life as I was going to lose a lot of income.
Since then it has been a whirlwind, I still work as a marketing director in the automotive aftermarket but for a local company and without out the travel. It has allowed me to chase my skateboarding dreams of 35 years, to do really cool stuff, my way, the way I think it should be done.
OGRT: Thanks for talking the time to chat with us Mike. For those that don’t know, what is Skate Hard Idaho?
MDF: Skate Hard Idaho is a collection of a few things under one roof all with one mission; to build the skate scene in East Idaho. It started two years ago as a tiny mobile skate shop, selling a very core selection of product out of a mini van when we would session local parks. That then led to building an indoor mini, having events and contests. Everything kept snowballing into doing more things, last winter I approached the local roller skating rink about doing a skateboard night. We built the ramps and took them in, they charged skaters $5 for 2 and half hours. We had a great turn out every week but then we started getting shorted on time, having nights cancelled with no notice. I was doing all the marketing, all the work, all for my love of skating and wanting the locals to have a place to skate, they were just collecting the money and then screwing us. My wife, Hilary asked me one night what it would take to do all of this for real and open the park I had always wanted. We opened officially in March. We have a small, DIY indoor park and a shop carrying core brands that I believe in. We have thrown a few music shows for local bands and we also do an old school style zine under the Potato Bong name and a few other stupid things for fun. While it is a business, the focus is clearly not money, we only charge $2 to skate all day, our decks sell for only $48. I hate how chessy it sounds but it is more like a club house than a business.
OGRT: How does Skate Hard Idaho impact youth?
MDF: It is all about building the scene and supporting skaters. Be it a kid that has never stepped on a skateboard before or a ripper that has skated for a few years we are here to provide a place to skate, a place to grab product and to provide direction and support. We use local talent for the art on our decks, shirts, etc. and kick them 75% of the profit of the sale of those products. I have local skaters help layout the zine and help with our social media pages. And then have some of them help with our skate clinics and special needs activities. I am sorry to repeat what I have already said but this is all about building the scene.
OGRT: How about the “Old Guys”?
MDF: Haha… I am an “old guy”, all my friends are “old guys”, I took some heat as we were opening because what we built is not your modern skate shop and some of the stuff in the park is “old”. There is a lot of attitude here, a lot of old school vibe. Hell I have copers for your trucks in the display case, sell a ton of rails and have a selection of old school, fatty, shaped decks. The park has some old guy elements; a super fast concrete curb and we just finished a banked section that skates like a ditch. We painted the curb out front and have casual slappy sessions. I am not preaching about how the old days were so great to the groms but if your 35+ old and want to talk old war stories, skate the ditch, play Skate or Die on our Nintendo in the shop, you’re my best friend.
OGRT: Since this just dropped, what do you make of skateboarding in the 2020 Olympics?
MDF: You really want me to get on the soap box? I hate it! On a business and personal level. Me, personally skating is all about being who you want to be, doing what you want, your way. The Olympics will not allow that to happen, everyone wearing a uniform, riding the same stuff, etc. and that brings me to the business side. This is all a money grab! Yes skating was going to be in the Olympics no matter, the issue came down to who was going to be in charge of it. There is so much money to be made that parties are suing each other over who gets to be in charge. People do not sue each other unless there is cash to be made.
So here is what is comes down to now, every skater in the Olympics skating for each country will all have to wear Brand A shoes, Brand B pants, Brand C shirt, ride Brand D deck and so on. Number 1 that is NOT skateboarding! It is all about money, the guys willing to pay will get the shoe deal and then will make “Olympic Skate Shoes”. So for the true heart of skateboarding, the smaller core companies it leaves/pushes them off.
Now the worst part of this is the skater that wants to be on the team. Johnny wants to ride for the USA team but is already sponsored and getting flow from a company. If there is a competing brand as a team sponsor then Johnny has to leave his sponsor in order to ride for the Olympic team. And that is BS!
OGRT: What other skate related things do you have in the works?
MDF: Development of the Skate Hard Team and progressing the brands we sell. We do not sell the big corporate stuff, we sell real skate, skater owned brands that are in it for the passion. With that said a lot of the brands, Red Rum, Would Shop, Solitaire, etc. do not have a marketing budget so skaters don’t know of them and people buy stuff they know. I sponsor some local riders through Skate Hard Idaho and then hook them up with flow from those companies. The end result is locals getting stoked on a brand because they see that brand supporting a local rider.
Since opening I have seen the struggles in the industry first hand for the guys that matter; the core shop owner and the small brands. Using the knowledge and experience from my real job I have put a new business plan together that will change things big time.
I also have a video series that is being worked on, the concept has already been given the green light by a skate media company but time is the issue. Between my real job and Skate Hard Idaho I am pulling 18 hour days now, have only had one day off since February. The videos are a very hands on project so it gets worked on here and there, it is like everything else we do, for fun so there is no pressure other than I am sure someone will come up with the same idea before I get it launched and snake me.
OGRT: What’s next for Skate Hard Idaho?
MDF: I brought it up before, the struggle of the core skate shop and the core brands so let’s dive into it. As a shop owner getting the small brands is tough, the big distribution companies do not stock them so you have to go direct. As a small business that is tough, to manage 40+ accounts and the brand, they have it rough too. They are craftsman, artists, etc. they do not always have the best business practices so the end result is people pissed off at one another which then often ends up in rants and craziness happening on social media channels, people take sides and BAM your business can be finished just like that, in an instant!
What I am working on is a distribution side of the business where retail shops like mine could order product from one source and get all of these small manufacturing brands. Basically a one stop, wholesale stop for all of us small guys. Through that we would do marketing so that the skaters become familiar with the brands and product which in turn drives sales through the shops. My real job is a marketing director/new business development manager, I take those same practices to our skate stuff. There is no reason that a shop the size of mine, that sells 45-60 decks a month is selling more core brands like Red Rum, Solitaire, Lake, Would Shop, etc. it happens because I market those brands, I sponsor local skaters with those brands so that other skaters see them. The end result is these small brands, owned and run by guys just like me are outselling the huge companies. Like the rest of Skate Hard Idaho it is about building skateboarding! This is all about my love and passion, not about money.
OGRT: Alright Mike…time to let ‘em know!
MDF: Old Guys Rip Too!
If you are ever in the Southeast Idaho area be sure to swing by Skate Hard Idaho’s indoor park and shop. You can find them on the web at http://www.skatehardidaho.com