Steve Douglas speaks for many skateboarders who grew up as pioneers for the sport during the 60s and 70s, when he says Kryptonics Wheels shaped the way his generation, and many thereafter, thought about skateboarding.
Douglas, the head of business development at Dwindle, has been instrumental in reviving the history and nostalgia behind that time period, first with the unveiling of heritage board brand Dusters California, and now with the re-launch of the 1970s iconic wheel brand, Kryptonics. Dwindle has taken over the license for the business and plans to recreate the same type of innovative movement around the Star Trac wheels that took place during their initial launch nearly four decades ago.
“The focus of the Dusters brand is to celebrate the history of skateboarding during the 60's and 70's,” explains Douglas. “The Kryptonics wheels were a game changer when it came to urethane and they were from the 70's, so it made perfect sense. Kryptonics’ name has to be one of the most iconic names in skateboarding, and we are stoked to be a part of it.”
The initial production run of wheels, which are scheduled to ship mid-November and hit retail for Holiday, have already pre-sold out with Dwindle’s retail accounts, and the company hopes to continue playing off that success. We caught up with Dusters Product and R&D Manager Eric Sentianin, Creative Director Nano Nobrega, and one of Kryptonic’s former team members Jack Smith to hear the details behind the iconic brand’s history, and where the future is headed.
Give us some backstory on the original Kryptonics wheels – when were they first launched, and what was their run like within the skate industry?
Jack Smith: The very first wheels were prototypes that were developed clandestinely by Jim Ford in 1976 without the knowledge of Krypto's management. He designed a wheel, then got a friend who worked in the machine shop to make a steel master. Then they rigged it so the doors wouldn't lock after work, snuck back in at night, made a mold from the master, and started pouring different formulas we found in the lab into the mold. Nobody knew about it but them. They made a lot of bad ones, but eventually came across this really soft and bouncy material. They came out white and were almost thrown in the trash because they seemed way too soft to work or even hold the bearings in place.
Just for fun, Jim put them on one of his boards just to try them out. At the time he had a few boards, one had Road Riders, one had Power Paws and one had Bennett Alligators. They all performed about the same. In the flat parking lot at Kryptonics, any of those wheels would glide about twenty feet before he had to push again. When Jim got on the wheels we made in the lab and went all the way across the parking lot, and out onto the street. That's not an exaggeration. They were so fast and quiet it didn't seem possible.
At the time there were some local slalom and downhill races in Boulder. Jim gave the wheels to a kid who rode laying down on his board. There were a lot of spectators at that race, including the VP of Kryptonics. The downhill race was about two blocks long. The guy riding those white wheels won the race by about a block. Nobody could believe it. The VP went up to the kid and asked him about the wheels. Jim forgot to tell him they were unauthorized. He told the VP where he got them, and Jim was busted.
He got in some trouble initially, but soon after told management how much he paid for a set of wheels at a local retailer, Kryptonics decided they would get into the business. They even gave Jim a title, something like Consumer Product Manager because all they produced were industrial parts for mining and computers. He soon moved from the factory to an office and started marketing and selling wheels. Jim was soon selling wheels to shops and distributors, designing all the wheels, producing ads, and skating almost every day either at the local park or on mountain roads.
Kryptonics started advertising in Skateboarder Magazine in 1976. The first ad was a small, black and white ad. These wheels drastically changed the functionality of skateboards. Kryptonics was the first company to offer wheels in color coded durometers, and to use millimeter sizing.
Kryptonics soon became the dominant wheel for all types of skateboarding, excelling on all types of terrain and winning more races than any other wheel brand. Top professional skateboarders such as Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva, Steve Alba, Micke Alba, David Hackett, Bobby Piercy, Tommy Ryan and many others were sponsored by Kryptonics. From the mid -1970s to the early 2000s, more professional and amateur riders raced and won on Kryptonics Reds than any other wheel.
The first ad was in 1976. It was a small, lame, black and white ad because I didn't have much of a budget. Jim was eventually given a larger budget to do color ads and the resulting ads were legendary and still remain some of the most respected and iconic ads in skateboarding history.
The skateboard Industry and consumer reaction to the ad campaign was great, even garnering some awards at the annual Skateboarder Magazine banquet for best ad and best ad campaign. More importantly though, it created sales for the company that were hard to keep up with from a production standpoint.
Why do you think now is the ideal time to revive this brand?
Steve Douglas: Retro is cool to the consumers young and old and the brand name means so much to the people that skated back then. There are many people still involved in skateboarding industry that remember the wheels—Krytonics were a household name in the 70's. On top of that there are some wheel brands out there currently that have really taken their influence (shapes) from these, these wheels where incredibly influential and continue to be relevant to today's skaters needs.
Eric Sentianin: There a couple major differences between the original Kryptonics Star Trac wheels and the 2014 Kryptonics Star Trac. First of all, the originals used a steel washer on the outside bearing seat as a core. The idea of a core, even in 1978, was novel but wheel design has developed immensely since then. We have integrated a modern plastic core design that will significantly increase the rebound properties of the wheel, as well as reducing the overall weight of the wheel. This core design will be most noticeable on the softest 78A durometer red wheels. Typically soft-durometer wheels can feel slow and sluggish without a core. Basically, during the rolling motion the wheel becomes distorted and energy is dissipated away from the wheel holding back forward momentum slowing the wheel down. The plastic core of a wheel helps the wheel keep its shape therefore reducing the amount of energy lost (rebound) and propelling the wheel forward.
Another major difference is that the development of urethane formulas since the 70s has become much more specialized to include additives that improve specific characteristics of wheels. This increased development is also seen in the quality of the raw materials as well as the higher quality controls during the manufacturing processing of the urethane. Although, this may not seem like much of a difference but these improved quality controls allow us to produce the wheels with a much higher level of consistency from batch to batch. This means that the end user can expect the same high quality urethane each time they purchase a new set of wheels.
The beauty of the Kryptonics Star Trac wheel is that it was really well designed from the start. From its rounded lip to help initiate slides, to the location of the bearing seat for control, and the progressive thickness from the bearing seat to the outer lip, most of the downhill or drifting wheels on the market now borrowed many of the design features from the Kryptonics Star Trac wheel. So, for us to take the optimal design of the Star Trac and incorporate modern design and manufacturing techniques became an easy decision to once again release the Star Trac wheel on to the market.
Are there any product changes from the original line up?
SD: Yes. The original wheels were red 78a, Blue 86a, and the green were 91a. We have, after doing some research, decided to change this up to make them geared more for today’s market. So the red will remain 78a, the blue will now be 82a and the greens will be 86a.We are also offering another new size. in the old days they were only available in 3 sizes 60mm 65mm and 70mm we are adding a 75mm wheel.
In the recent past Kryptonics made less expensive price point wheels, The Cruise and Route . Will these be coming back also?
SD: Yes they will be and with new shapes, graphics and sizes but the focus for us in marketing is the high End Star Trac wheels.
In the 80's the wheels came with some amazing packaging in a tube. Will the wheels come like that this time?
SD: No we thought about it, and we decided against it we found out that that packaging hurt sales back in the day because you could not see the wheels. Also many shops take wheels out of the packaging so we have added a simple header car with a peel off decal and a thumbnail of the original ads.
On the Dusters side of the business, how did you end up creating the partnership with the Doors and how do you hope to evolve that moving forward?
SD: The partnership with The Doors management came through a long time relationship we have with Jeremy Kove. His background in licensing enabled us to reach out to some compelling properties and put together great partnerships that really make sense for the Dusters brand. Evolving this, comes down to making compelling product that supports both Dusters and the partner brand. We have a few projects locked in with scheduled releases out to 2015 and beyond. We are pretty specific in what we are looking for— it has to be the right fit. Essentially we are looking to run a few projects like this each year. At this time, we have the Doors partnership rolling out, a Jimi Hendrix project that dropped in August, and a program with the iconic Farah Fawcett which looks amazing. Beyond these projects, you will have to wait and see. More news towards the end of this year.
Why did you decide to target the women’s audience with your Cindy Whitehead/GRO collaboration?
SD: With almost no female skateboarding competitions in 2012, not much has changed since the 70s. The younger generation are asking for more female boarder coverage, especially with the particular boom of cruiser boards, so we thought, why aren’t we giving to them? Why are we not promoting women skaters all this time and especially right now when the demand is so high and it’s the right thing to do? Skateboarding belongs to everyone!
Then after a casual afternoon hangout with Concrete Wave magazine editor Michael Brooke, 70s female pro skater Cindy Whitehead, and Dusters creative director Nano Nobrega, we decided that this would be a perfect fit to raise attention to our female riders.
Besides the collaboration, design and development of the product with Cindy, we also thought we could encourage other girls to join Cindy and other women in skateboarding, so we partnered up with Longboarding for Peace and GRO (Girls Riders Organization). We want to do our part to promote such collaborations and raise funds to inspire, educate, and support girls in action sports.
Why did you see the need for this type of product at retail, and what are your plans within the women’s market in the future?
Nano Nobrega: The actual lack of coverage and product that appeals to women is one of the main reasons. The trend of cruisers and longboards are bringing more and more female riders to the sport. We hope it’s only a matter of time before every brand sees this new demand in skateboarding and begins to focus on developing specific products to cater to the looks and ride-ability of ladies.
Dusters has been extremely successful with its collaborations now, so the plan is to keep working with iconic women from the 60’s and 70’s. Partnering this with the extensive knowledge of our engineers, designers, and having our own world class manufacturing facility will help us continue to develop top quality skateboards that help every female skater have fun the first time they step on a Dusters cruiser.
Back to the latest announcement with Kryptonics–what does initial distribution for the brand look like and what direction is it headed as the brand gets back on people’s radar?
In the US, Kryptonics wheels will only be available through Dwindle Distribution and Eastern Skateboard Supply, and Ocean Avenue. As far as direction, it’s all retro. We are focused on the history of the brand and the iconic ads. Kryptonics had in my opinion the most iconic ads in the history of skateboarding, way before their time.
What are the opportunities and obstacles you see within the wheel category, and what is Kryptonics’ strategy for the next six to twelve months keeping these factors in mind?
SD: This is a great question. First the obstacles. Kryptonics has entry-level, completes that are in the major sporting goods chains. We have nothing to do with that, we are fully in control of the urethane formulas, shapes and anything to do with wheels. The wheels will only be sold into skate shops.
Now, for the opportunities:
We have a soft launch of Kryptonicswheels.com and the focus will only be on the wheels and showing the rich heritage of the brand. We are also be on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/
Having the ability to put these on certain Dusters completes will add value. Having a deck brand Dusters, with a truck brand Slant, and a Wheel company is the perfect combo.
Taking our sourcing and development capabilities and truly focusing on R+D is a pretty exciting opportunity. We have the ability to develop great product in the months/years ahead.
Category specific brands enable us to really focus. Being able to develop, market and sell wheels by themselves will bring some exciting developments. no matter what board you ride you can ride Kryptonics this is a massive opportunity.
The ability to educate the new customer to a truly iconic wheel brand from the 70's that maybe there parents rode.
The old guys (like me) will really enjoy reliving the past and learning new things about our industry. Concrete Wave Michael Brooke was "frothing at the mouth" when he read the 2 interviews we did with D.David Morin and Jim Ford, look out for a major article in Concrete wave in their Nov issue. It's a great part of skateboarding heritage and we are happy to be able to bring back this and push it into the future.
We will also be releasing other interviews which people will enjoy. If the market wants we could add new colors/ Durometers and sizes, but there is no rush to do that. We already have something new and exciting in the works. But more of that next year…
Any closing comments?
SD: Kryptonics Wheels were a game changer, and to many of us, the name is very important in the history of skateboarding. Many of the older, influential people in this industry remember that. The shops and distributors that sold them definitely remember them with smiles on their faces. Now we get to bring them back and tell the stories from back in the day from the guys who were part of it. Dusters has a lot of young and old skaters that probably don't know about the Kryptonics brand. On the other side there are plenty of old skaters that know Kryptonics but don't know about the Dusters brand, and we think this is a match made in heaven.