The Old Man & the Skateboard
Nostalgia can be pretty potent stuff when it’s deployed in service of a consumer product. Few things can rival the glossed perfection of a fond memory, which means that any ad successfully tagging the good times that once rolled onto any present day product is likely to do pretty well. Memories and feelings are some strong juju – and our near communal desire to reach back in time even for hints of the emotional purity and honest desires we once had can be limitless. Why ever else would I still have a thing for long-legged brunettes wearing royal purple workout leggings? It has to spring from past memories (Sears catalog, circa 1982). And when you figure we (now) older dudes probably have more cash than we did back then, advertisers would be flipping nuts not to try and exploit it somehow. In fact, this is probably why I have a nearly three and a half foot long skateboard made out of vertically laminated hardwood resting beside my desk. Perhaps I should explain.
As a kid, being raised in the seventies meant I was touched by the skateboard revolution that was thrashing past the barriers of its Southern California origins. Here I was, a pale, landlocked Canadian of the frozen north picturing myself as some rebellious, long haired, skater boy riding the walls of empty swimming pools in Venice Beach. With every pore I knew it was cool – and I had to find some way to participate. Once again, Sears catalog came to my rescue. There it was, photographed lovingly and begging for purchase – an original kickboard skateboard featuring a green plastic deck with SCAMP embossed across the front and clear yellow wheels sporting SUPERGRIP SPORT FUN in stiff, white type. It was awesome. It was cool. It was $30 bucks plus tax and shipping. I had to have it. My parents approved but only if I raised the money myself, and truthfully, I never worked harder. The day that battered box finally arrived at the parcel depot was one of the fondest memories I still possess. I can still remember the smell and even the feel of the board as I slid the packing material to one side. Spinning the wheels I immediately imagined myself hanging with the supercool guys of the skate mags. I’m not ashamed to say that I slept with that board for way more than a few nights.
Now that’s a memory. That’s nostalgia through and through, and that’s why when I spotted a longboard skateboard for sale at Costco I wanted it with all my heart – logic played no part, which is why it sits beside my desk. I’d never really ride the damn thing of course. I’m old now and terrified of a head injury. And the best thing about nostalgia is that when you do it right it doesn’t lead to many brain traumas.
So when I caught a recent commercial/film made by the shoe company Vans I experienced the very same flash-flood of memories dragging me back in time again. Vans were THE shoe for riding skateboards, and the ethos, the mission of the company – to let the rebel rebel – was about as pure a motivation as there ever was to buy something. Somewhere along the way I had forgotten about Vans. This film aimed to bring it all back.
As a piece, the commercial (and it is still a commercial) is perfect. It re-grafts the original heart, soul and family history that once stood behind Vans back onto the product. It’s warm and fuzzy and all consuming as we follow a denim clad little kid decked out in helmet and pads as he circles his neighborhood like a lost boy while a member of the famous Vans Van Doren clan reminisces narrator-style about what once was as he walks through a now abandoned factory. It’s called “Since ‘66” and was directed by a guy named Eliot Rausch. It tells the story of Vans' beginnings and how, over the years the company has affected both the family behind it and the lives of those it has touched, flipping between various skate, BMX and surf legends.
When asked, Rausch explained that Vans came to him wanting a short film that would showcase the essence of their brand, distill it down into something that would really grab people. He did, and it does. You cannot watch this film and not come away with a genuine warmth toward the Vans brand, and that’s saying something when as a company they don’t even make their shoes in Southern Cal anymore. Like most, they’re all done overseas to keep manufacturing costs low so the necessary design and promotion costs can be covered. But they still have a few Van Doren’s on the payroll, and apparently they still sponsor rebels. And they’re even building a free skatepark. Is Vans a direct line to my youth?
Absolutely the ad hits all the right notes – you almost feel like it’s your duty as a grown up to buy some Vans for the little skater guy inside you. Maybe you can get back some of what you lost growing up, who knows?
Still, for all of the nostalgia and feelings such an ad triggers the most pure part of it all is the memory itself. Trying to touch it by purchasing a pair of shoes might work but then again, it might not. I don’t know. Maybe something else is in order. I think I’m gonna go find a picture of that SCAMP skateboard I loved so freakin’ much and get the dang thing framed up really well. I can hang it beside my Costco longboard. Somehow that speaks to my soul in a way a new pair of Vans never could.