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Danijel Stankovic – A real pro

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This interview has been a passion project we’ve wanted to do for a long time since Danijel Stankovic, aka Jugga, has become a dear friend over the years. He is one of the most fun people to hang with, he loves to chat, and he has so much to tell. He was one of the main guys setting up Nike SB in Europe and initiated numerous projects. He had a part in Pontus’s second video, rode for The National, founded his own hat company with Post Details, is involved in Eva skateboards, has close ties to CPH Open and Bryggeriets (or nearly anybody in European skateboarding), and is living in Malmö, one of the best cities for skateboarding in the world. His day job nowadays is Shinner, an app that he and two friends started to work on to create a new skateboard platform especially for the younger generation, like his son, who’s just in this exciting age where he lives and breathes skateboarding 24/7. Jugga, however, kind of never left that age and is still watching and reading everything. He cares so much about skateboarding and has more experience and inside knowledge than almost anyone. That’s why it made perfect sense to have his interview in the 50th issue and talk about the state of skateboarding. Mr. Stankovic, it’s an honor to finally have you in the mag.

Hey Danijel, this interview is about your view on some important developments and changes in skateboarding, so let’s begin with the so-called small skater-owned brands, which started a few years ago and nowadays pop up everywhere. What’s your take on the changed landscape?

25 years ago, I couldn’t make it in skateboarding out of Malmö. Pontus went to the States, same with Ali Boulala or Arto Saari; but in Europe, there was a big urge to create something ourselves. It felt like skateboarding was almost breaking out of a mold. Some people tried to do something for their scene, for their stores, and for the culture. They built a company and a team and went after their full vision. Skateboarding also became more accessible. That started the movement, a bit of that DIY culture, create your own, you know. Jérémie [Daclin] with Cliché, Blueprint, Nomad in Spain, Palace, Polar, Magenta, and Sweet/Sour, to mention a few. I remember when some friends found out that you could order boards from America through a Swedish distribution. It was like a miracle! We can make boards from PS Stix! Man, Paul Smith replied to my email! You ordered 200 boards and did a brand just to have boards for you and your friends for 13 Euros at the time. Lots of crews did it just to have their own boards with their own shape and graphic. But when we fast forward, you’ll see what’s still here. Even Martin and I started Post Details cause we really wanted to make a great fucking hat; because, at the time, people were using snapbacks or fitted Eras or whatever. Even Nike could not make a good fucking hat. How is that possible? I would encourage anybody to start something cause you’ll learn so much and never know where you will end up with it.

"Some years go by and you see LeBron James wearing the hat you made"

It’s a great feeling seeing your friends wearing your stuff; or some years go by and you see LeBron James wearing the hat you made [which happened with a Post hat, editor’s note]. Lev from Palace was hustling at the beginning and look at Palace today, holy shit! But we lost so many brands along the way. Starting it is one thing, but perseverance is another. Selling and production is a nightmare and it gets worse the more units you produce. A lot of people want to do it but don’t understand the hard work behind it. The world of skateboarding exists in a 20-year cycle. Today, everybody looks like they did in 1998. I’ve already seen it, I already wore ridiculously big pants. I’ve been to my girlfriend’s house and been bullied by her dad at dinner. If you look back, however, when people from World Industries or Plan B broke through and then Girl became something (or same with Cliché in Europe), what happened? It’s hard to invest in the next generation. Girl tried to do it with P-Rod, Jereme Rogers, and Sean Malto; but then, all the OGs were like, “What happened to Girl? It’s the worst now.” We have such a hate culture. The people I’ve looked up to said, “Girl became wack” after running skateboarding for 15 years. The generational shift is the hardest thing. I think what would’ve worked for Girl would’ve been if Rick Howard and Mike Carroll had been out in the van with the boys. There’s this old trick: elevation through association. It’s like a golden rule and it works. You put someone who nobody’s heard of next to some uber-pro and automatically everybody wants to know who the new guy is. And what’s even with the am and pro thing? They’re doing the same thing. Why do we need to label it?

Jugga Nosegring Felix Adler

Nosegrind | Photo: Felix Adler

I guess to prove yourself before you get the big money.

But this is where it all changed. Today, everybody has a camera in their hands. Everybody has a social channel. We had to prove ourselves to the company and the older team riders, film our sponsor me tapes, show up at the events, be a good dude – maybe you get in the van. Those lines, however, have been a bit erased. You can start a pro career after a very short time cause you have other outlets today. Now people are trying to go viral on TikTok or Insta and that’s where the industry has not adapted fully because they’re still thinking, “Oh yeah, they have to prove themselves.” The pace is way faster today, though, and sometimes the industry/brands are not keeping up.

You already mentioned Nike. Besides rising smaller brands, bigger brands also came into skateboarding over the last years. How did that add to skateboarding or how did it change it?

As in any industry, if it gets interesting, there will always be externals. That’s how the world works. What happened to this little thing called hip hop? In skateboarding, the big brands changed the geographical focus. It was very American before, and they brought a bit more money into it. In the early SB days, I always said, “If we do right by skateboarding, skateboarding will give back.” Looking on a grassroots level in Sweden, only WeSC put some money into skateboarding at that time. They funded the magazines, events, skate camps etc. And when those brands came in, it gave more opportunities for riders, for touring, and so on. I know how much went into building the industry. In Europe, it was WeSC, Carhartt, Cliché, and Blueprint, but all the spots were taken. When we started with SB here in Europe, we wanted to break this glass bubble and build up the local markets in comparison to before – where you had to send a sponsor me tape over the pond and then you get three pairs of shoes or every other hookup was through a local distributor or shop. After Basel stopped, the competition scene in Europe kind of disappeared, but then other things started to pop up: CPH Open, Shop Riot, adidas Copa, Nike Am Series – bigger branded events. There was, however, also the opportunity to call a brand and ask for some support/money to do a video premiere or whatever you had going on in the local scenes. People went there but didn’t really see who paid the bills… Before, we were the cousins from far away, but the big brands took the money and invested it in Europe to build it up. I always loved the way adidas had an international team where Chewy Cannon and Gunes Özdogan were on the same team as the US riders. Lucas Puig was able to have a pro shoe. Not sure if they all made the same money. That would be an interesting topic on its own, skate salaries. Even in Tampa back then, you were not allowed to enter if you were a European pro cause it didn’t count to be on some European brand. I also remember when Josef Scott and Phil Zwijsen were not allowed to enter the CPH Pro contest, which was run by Tampa at that time, because they were not considered “real pros.” We gotta keep in mind that, in the beginning, skateboarding was only roots, then it grew a trunk, and now it has branches. It’s so big today and you don’t need to follow every inch of it. Skateboarding became music, not just hip hop. There are all these genres of skateboarding. Take what you want, you don’t need to chew it all. You’re not gonna like everything and I think that’s okay.

"Even in Tampa back then, you were not allowed to enter if you were a European pro cause it didn’t count to be on some European brand"

Was there a long-term plan for Nike?

We had a five-year plan with a three-year rollout and a seasonal rollout. At the end, I was working on an 18-months production with collaboration partners, a nine-months pre-sale period to sell the next collection; and then you had the here and now, samples coming in cause you’re launching in three months. Sometimes I felt like I was in a time machine. In the beginning of SB, it was a lot of sales/forecasting, but it was pretty premature at the time. There were seven to eight people sitting around a table. Somebody held up a shoe and was asking, “Hey Jugga, how many of those will we sell in Sweden?” And I was like, “This one: 100. This one is a banger, we’ll do 1,000”. I just put my finger in the wind and then I had to sell it. Sometimes we fucked up with our forecasts, sometimes it was the other way around. Out of 26 Swedish skate shops, only three ordered Janoskis cause they did not believe in it although I tried to convince them. Two weeks later, they were all calling cause the shoes were sold out in the shops that had them and the ones that didn’t get them regretted not ordering…

Solo skateboard magazine Danijel Stankovic Backside Tailslide

Backside Tailslide | Photo: Nils Svensson

We did an online article about skate shops recently and I was surprised that it seems like even the shop owners agreed that shops are not really needed anymore, that their function as a cultural hub is obsolete. What do you think about the state of skate shops nowadays?

I think they’re needed and hope they will never be replaced. Look at Al Carrer Skate Shop and how they use the power of a little community they built with a skate school. Owner Leandro says, “They have a job to do,” but is it being open nine-to-five and serving the community with products? I can get served online any time. But for me, the role of a skate shop hasn’t changed. It’s about fostering your community and doing something locally. And you need to foster this through a new generation – same as with the brands. How do you get the new audience into your door? It shouldn’t be only raffles where they can flip a shoe for five times the money. It’s shallow and you build something on a trend. You should try to make your scene the best scene in the world. I understand, however, the struggle for stores. Especially with COVID, the change to online came. They had to prioritize it, otherwise they would’ve gone bankrupt. Look at what happened around 2006 to 2010 when skate shops turned into boutiques and everything looked like a sterilized hospital with white walls and chrome. It went through these different phases. It’s a natural evolution because, don’t forget, with every year, your consumer base grows one year older. You need to serve the youth but also keep the OGs. Look at Mackey, I still ride for Lost Art to this day, and they lost their old retail space cause it didn’t work out. However, he switched it all up and he’s above a pub/pizzeria now and there’s a buzzer, and if he’s there, he’ll open. You almost feel like you’re in a secret club. That’s a unique thing. What will be other future concepts? Today a skate shop is more closed than open. Maybe combine it with other stuff? Share rent, maybe a gallery that opens when the shop is closed; or put a coffee machine in there and sell cheap coffee. You don’t need to make money with the coffee, but I would be in there all day then. Civilist has their own beer. If you sit there on a sunny day with the crew, it’s probably the best bench in the world. But the hardest thing is to please everyone and still stay true to what you do. If I look at my son, Stapelbäddsparken has replaced the shop as their hangout spot. In Malmö, the parks became the hubs or, in winter, Bryggeriet.

"It’s the same thing with the Olympics. People were saying they take care of it, but how much did you take care of it? It looks like fucking shit! Congratulations."

In Malmö, besides the Bryggeriets skateboard school, you also have Gustav Edén working for the city to implement skateboarding. Skateboarding has grown up and gets more and more institutionalized. How do you see that?

It’s two-sided and I want to be diplomatic and thankful because I appreciate all of this. We’re so spoiled. Even if you have a great indoor, people will complain because we’re so opinionated and tend to hate on what we love the most. It’s cooler to say something is wack than to say to somebody that he did great. But I can’t lie in this interview, Svampen, for example, is not for me. Nike bought those blocks for another spot and then they got moved to Svampen. I liked the spot far better before when it was just a sculpture and not a fabricated street plaza, it was just pure. If you ask Tom [Botwid] though, it’s his church, he goes there every day. For him, it’s an official street spot and I encourage that, too. It’s just not my branch. Also, it’s insane to have a friend who works at the city council for skate integration. If it’s fun in your city, you might survive the moped and dating age, the clubbing, the drugs, and keep skateboarding. If you’re skating the same pallet with an iron on it for 15 years, you might be over it or not. I want to thank everybody who is part of it, helping to make Malmö skate-friendly, it’s unreal. A downside might be that if you as a local want to make a project on your own, you might still have to go through the city and follow their rules and then your initial idea might not fit into this process. If I organize something at Svampen and don’t have a permit, there are some beers and food, and Gustav’s boss comes by, Gustav probably has a supermaaaandag. It’s the same worry John [Dahlquist] had for Bryggeriet to get it right. It’s the same thing with the Olympics. People were saying they take care of it, but how much did you take care of it? It looks like fucking shit! Congratulations. Am I against skateboarding in the Olympics? No, I’m against how you fucking portrayed it. But it enables people in countries we cannot even spell or people who don’t live the pro life to try it out cause they get on a team. That’s grassroots, too. I’m also sure there’s a lot of shit going on out there cause there’s opportunistic people grabbing that Olympic torch. I don’t want to go into those politics though.

Solo skateboard magazine danijel stankovic crooked grind

Crooked Grind | Photo: Nils Svensson

I still think everything about the Olympics is a fucking shit show, but the one thing I have to give them is that they at least helped the progression of women’s skateboarding. You also observed that firsthand with Sarah [Meurle]. How did you see the process?

Madeleine Uggla is one of my favorite female skateboarders of all time. She still skates. In 1993, she was skating in the same parking garage as me. Her brother skated and she followed him, but I’m sure she had a hard time. Then it took ten years till Sarah Meurle came up and I was blown away by how she skated and did some tricks. I tried to be a good big brother and take her under my wings, even tried to get her on SB in 2008, but they were unfortunately not ready for it. Finally, she got recognized by Nike in 2013. The whole skateboard culture is about 60 years old, you have to give them their time now to build something on their own. They were on their island, which is so wrong. Let’s build a bridge so they have the opportunity to go over if they want. And once you get more and more people over the bridge, that’s when you can start working together. Now there are some heavy hitting female or non-binary skaters out there that do a great job influencing the next generation that the industry did not do. Why wasn’t there a girl on Girl skateboards until Breana Geering? Now everybody is opening up their doors. When Sarah finally was on Nike, she was part of the Gizmo video and we did a premiere tour through every European key city because I was so proud of this project. And I have to give credit to Melanie Strong, the biggest boss that ever walked into Nike SB. When there was no budget, she walked the line and paid for Gizmo with her company credit card. Everybody was nervous. “Uh, will it be on level?” Level to what? You can’t compare it to Paul Rodriguez. It’s gonna be great cause it’s them. It’s a new rock ’n’ roll band and they have great songs.

You’re thinking about the new generation a lot, plus you’re doing Shinner. What do you think about how we will consume skateboarding in the future?

That’s very tricky. I hope there will be a digital place for this. We’re trying to build something that can capture a lot of it, so you have one place for everything. That might be a bold dream, but we’re trying to do it right. If we’re looking at our track record in skateboarding, we’re not listening enough to the youth. If you listen enough, you might get those answers and they might not be the answers you want. Today, skateboarding seems very individualistic, they might be, like, “my channel, my voice, my Insta…” But it’s also a collective, you need to take different roles in your crew. Someone will pick up a video camera, someone will pick up a photo camera; who’s gonna do a brand, who’s gonna get sponsored? I don’t know where they’re going, but I know where they’re not going. They’re not going where we were. They’re not looking back, there’s no rear view mirror. How can we help them ahead? Talking about mediums, I think some will be sacrificed for others. Why have a three-wheeled bike if you can have a two-wheeled bike? The unicycle was only a trend. I also heard that vinyl outsold CDs last year. Look what’s happening around us and you might be prepared better for what’s coming ahead of you. We saw how Instagram was ignored at the beginning. Look at it now, it’s where everybody goes if you’re over 20. And now we’re ignoring TikTok. Everybody is still cringing, but I’m like, “You don’t want to talk to the youth, are you crazy? Are you waiting that they’ll come back to Insta?” If a brand decides not to be on TikTok, cool, but how do you reach a 12-year-old then? I don’t want to wait for anything, I want to create something that has a purpose in two years. I know sometimes you put journalistic work into an article and it doesn’t pay off and then you repost a clip and it gets tons of engagement, but it’s different engagement. Let’s not give up photography and let’s not give up journalism and bringing stories to life, but how can we do all of that in the new formats, platforms, and fast pace? The internet is heaven and hell at the same time, it brought us to where we are. Back in the days, there was a huge delay till you could see a video or magazine that was released in the US. Nowadays, the accessibility is unreal, embrace it.

Solo skateboard magazine danijel stankovic Backside Smithgrind Polegrind

Backside Smith Polegrind | Photo: Nils Svensson

And final questions, what’s next for you and your skateboarding?

I had my retirement Mouse board on National, drawn by my son, which I’m so stoked on. I haven’t retired from skateboarding, however. I’m hungrier and skate more than ever. I’m still hunting for tricks and thank you for giving me a purpose to go out and chase these photos.

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