I recently got into watching videos from Gifted Hater on YouTube. I’ve tried a few of these skateboarding YouTube channels and honestly none of them really chimed with me, but Gifted Hater has a great way of explaining stuff that I just find very entertaining. I had sort of peaced out on keeping up with the skateboarding industry (especially on the US side) but it’s easy to keep up when you have this dude Joa just breaking it down.
The subject that got me interested in his videos was this ongoing beef surrounding Illegal Civ. Illegal Civ is a board company run by Mikey Alfred, a dude I had never heard of until I heard about this drama surrounding his company. Gifted Hater has made loads of videos that are critical of Alfred and his way of operating. There’s a ton of red flags over his personality throughout the evidence presented on Gifted Hater’s channel, so I’m not going to analyse an analysis of Illegal Civ and the many social faux pas that Mikey Alfred has been involved in. Go watch those videos and then come back.
What Illegal Civ has highlighted for me (and truth be told I was aware of this back in 2018) was the strange dynamic that skateboard companies have with their team riders and the larger skateboarding public. There’s a depressing attitude of “ownership” in skateboarding around minors who essentially love to skate and are taken advantage of by fully grown adults who should know better, often dressed up in the wrapper of “I’m just looking out for these kids like a big brother”.
Let’s cut the bullshit: If you run a skateboarding company, and you are flowing products to skaters, you are doing so because your team riders bring legitimacy to your company and raise your profile. They represent you, and no amount of hiding behind strange older sibling behaviour is going to hide that. Just be honest about it, you need these kids to rep you and help you sell boards. They are working to advertise your company, so treat them with some respect.
When this all goes wrong, we get bizarre beef played out in public on social media with companies calling kids out like a jealous ex. Mikey Alfred told a kid on his team that he wanted $700k to hand over his footage after the kid quit Illegal Civ. I sit here seeing skate companies throw hissy fits after their former team riders get picked up by bigger, more prestigious brands all the time. It’s a depressing moment of realising skateboarding is still immature at heart, and it shows.
Skateboarding owes you nothing. Life owes you nothing. You can’t expect people to line up around the block and hand over cash just because you got some boards printed. Skateboarding is a tough as fuck business to succeed in, and now more than ever it is over-populated with people who think their super rad underground brand is just as good as the next. Social Media has populated every scene with tons of board companies flowing product out to anyone half decent with a substantial follower count.
What do you offer that’s unique and interesting? If you can’t answer that question, should you even be asking people to buy your products? These are questions that have haunted me any time I even consider selling boards. Seeing my logo on a board isn’t enough of a motivation to make me want to enter that market. Why are you even toying with making boards if there is the slightest chance that you get lost in the noise and it doesn’t take off? And when it all goes wrong, are you going to deal with it like an actual owner and operator of a business, or are you going to have a meltdown like Mikey Alfred or Steve Berra?
Mikey Alfred likes to talk shit about people like Spike Jonze, but I’m gonna be honest with you, that tells you all you need to know. Jonze was around the scene way before Mikey Alfred. He earned his stripes with the community through legit hard work and a stable body of skateboard films. He put in the effort to create a brand that holds respect with people at the heart of the scene. He moved onto bigger success outside of skateboarding. Alfred fails to match up to these accomplishments and then paints Jonze as someone he “doesn’t fuck with”. Rather than up his game to match Jonze, or make Illegal Civ as respectable as Girl, he has to tear Spike down to his level.
There’s an unhealthy obsession with some elements of the skateboard community seeing others as competition to be destroyed, talented skaters as pawns in a larger battle, skate scenes as battlegrounds to be drawn. People like to talk about skateboarding as being “intimidating” or “counter cultural”. The reason it is that way is to ostracise the kind of people who would weaponize skateboarding footage in a weird personal vendetta against another skateboarder.
Any time you pull these characters up on their behaviour, then you are “hating” or “not representing what skateboarding is about”. But it’s absolutely fine for these people to behave in such toxic, horrible ways to other skateboarders, because in their eyes what they are doing is pure and more legitimate. Constructive discussion of the issues in skateboarding and the negative impact people have on our community is healthy. None of us are above criticism. I’ve had my share of it over the 20 years I’ve ran this blog, and accepting it, working with it and learning from it makes you grow.
A lot of these thoughts cemented my view of The Terrible Company, and honestly it made me glad I had just stuck to running this thing as a dumb blog about my mates. I don’t have the attention span or mental load to navigate the social minefield that accompanies running a skateboard company, and that’s fine. I’m happy making low budget videos and writing lengthy blog posts about stuff I find interesting.
Drawing these lines over who can and can’t use footage or treating your riders like property – it’s weird and stupid. Not everyone has the privilege to run a board company and create products that can make a difference in skateboarding, so if you do find yourself in such a position, you have a responsibility to set a good example of what skateboarding is all about. If you can’t do that then maybe you need to look deeper at why you chose to run a board company, and whether you are contributing something healthy to something you claim to love.