The art of skateboarding: the 20 best skate logos
It’s no secret that I started skateboarding in the early 60’s. Actually, my whole life has been in and out of skateboarding since I was 5 years old. I was pro at 15, editor for a skate magazine at 18, skate publisher at 20, owner of a skate company at 30, mastermind of a skate blog at 50 and was still doing skateboarding contests at 58. Skateboarding is my first love (and surfing the 2nd) and is still in half of my DNA.
But I recently ventured into copywriting, marketing and graphic design and I owe my writing skills to hundreds of interviews, and articles for skate magazines, books, and blogs.
Ironically, I started graphic design just because I wanted to illustrate my skate articles, no more. But suddenly, I got caught in a whirlwind of Adobe apps, and I became better at moving my mouse across layers of graphics than moving my feet over layers of Canadian Maple.
During the heyday of isTia.Tv, a subdomain of my skate blog was dedicated to skate and art… I actually called it “skart“… The skart section was on a subdomain on purpose: it’s difficult to find it if you don’t know it exists.
Over its 70-year existence, skateboarding has been overly mainstreamed and its culture stolen, so I wanted to preserve our art…
It’s only months after I got the idea for this new company that it became clear I could use my skills to help skateboarding with graphic designs or internet marketing…
Skateboarding is a genuine counterculture. It goes against everything a regular brand should do to thrive. However, we still live in a market where without sales nothing exists. So, skate brands must follow some similar branding tactics as every other company if they want to survive more than a couple of months.
Like a traditional business, a skateboarding company must create a separate identity through the design of a logo that bonds with the skaters and instantly communicates recognizable information about their brand and the authenticity of their products.
Even if the target is the counterculture, the logo must appeal to that small niche market, based on skateboarders and adolescents all over the world.
Could you imagine a world without the iconic Powell Peralta Ripper or Santa Cruz Screaming Hand or the Anti Hero Eagle or any of a dozen other graphics that represent our skateboarding soul? Not having those is a dreadful thought.
So, we owe big time to those graphic designers of the past, Vernon Courtlandt Johnson, Ron Cameron, Jim Philps or Marc McKee and can’t wait to see what the future has in stock for us…
In this article, I review what I consider the best 20 skate logo of all times. There are much much more than 20 skateboard brands in the US, so most skate companies are being shunned out of this article and some of you won’t agree with me.
That’s OK, I can live with that…
Unlike on my other blog, this article is not about skateboarding, but about logo creation, design, branding, and counterculture…The history of those 20 icons shows us why it is rarely easy to draw a good logo. Most of the times a good logo is the byproduct of sweat and tears and those stories below show how difficult it is to create one that stands the test of time (whatever type of logo). You need a good idea, a story, a concept to start with and you have to spend countless days and weeks glued to the drawing board.
A good logo designer has to live with rejections: sometimes you need to show it to decision makers not once but multiple times, because the original idea behind the logo is not fully understood (read the Thrasher or the H-Street stories).
Other times, you have to redraw it over six month (read The Ripper story) before the sketch becomes a logo and later on an icon for generations to come.
Creativity, accepting rejection, and patience are the best virtues of graphic designers.
So, let’s get started…
Skateboarding wasn’t a matter of money, it was a matter of lifestyle.
20. Zero skateboards logo
From Disney pictures to skateboarding fame…
OK, to be honest: by itself, this logo should not be on that list because its design is rather cliché.
Actually, the graphic of the skull logo is nearly identical to the skull seen on the shirt worn by Sid in the 1995 animated film Toy Story, which is normal since it’s not a secret anymore that’s where the logo originated from.
The OG skull was suposed to be for a one-time t-shirt, not Zero’s main logo. But since people seemed to like it because it was so different than what was out there at the time, Zero decided to keep it. In the early 2000’s, the blood version of the same logo was created.One thing that probably helped Zero was that In 1996, The Smashing Pumpkins went on an extended world tour to support the album “Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness”. Billy Corgan’s iconic look during this period was a newly shaved head, silver pants and a longsleeve black shirt with the word “ZERO” printed on it. Corgan was rarely spotted on stage without the black Zero shirt in this era. But the shirts stopped being produced and once Billy sported the iconic shirt they became super rare as millions of Pumpkinheads ran out to get matching Zero shirts and hoodies.
Zero is an important skate company, and the OG Skull logo has now reached cult status. Founded by the amazing Jamie Thomas back in 1996, for more than 2 decades, the Zero Skateboard army has been at the forefront of advancements in oversized rail and gap annihilation. For kids of that generation, this is the ‘Skull & Sword’ of their generation and JT has built a formidable and respectable team and brand from the ground up.
19 H Street four-arrowed logo
How the H-Street logo is loosely related to the UK flag…
H-Street was born with a specific purpose in mind; to embody the soul of skateboarding and to represent the original idea.
The brand was started by Tony Magnusson and Mike Ternasky. H-Street quickly became one of skateboarding’s largest and most popular brands through it’s groundbreaking videos and riders.
In 1988, Italian skater- artist Francesco Albertini came to California with a lot of designs for Vision, Schmitt Stix, and Sims. He also designed boards for Kevin Stabb and Powell but those designs never came through. One day at lance Mountain’s private ramp, he met Tony Mag at the time when H-Street was still called Magnusson Designs and told him he would like to make design for him.
Eight months after, H-Street was born. But it was’nt until a couple of years after that that Francesco took a number of trips back and forth between his home in Rome and the H-Street HQ in San Diego. Once at T-Mag’s house, he spoke for a good long time before showing the logo he had just designed.
The shape came out as he was thinking about something “street related”, like a sign or else. He figured that H-Street also might stand for “each street”, like if you are in a cross road and could go in any direction.
But Francesco insisted and both talked about was how skateboarding is a worldwide and universal sign of peace and friendship. Back then, if you saw someone that skated, regardless of where they are from, who they are or what language they spoke, you had an instant connection.
Eventually, T-Mag liked the idea of a four-arrowed logo that represents skateboarding as a universal and expanding cultural phenomena.
In the end, everything Francesco had said about the logo would come true. Nowadays, the H-Street Mark Logo is one of the most recognizable icons in the skate industry.It stands for;
- Skate Everything.
- Skateboarding Lives Forever.
- Skateboarders Bringing Peace and Friendship to the World through Skateboarding.
The Mark Logo ancient origin is based on the H-street Patron Saint Andrew, who was martyred on a “Crux Decussate”, also known as a “Saltire Cross” and generally known as St. Andrews Cross.
H-Street. Only The Faithful.
Skateboarding is not a crime.
18. Skull Skates logo
Skull Skates started in April of 1978 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. The original company was called Great North Country Skateboards and used a black and white Yin and Yang symbol as its logo, in a similar way as the T&C logo – a skate brand that started in Pearl City Hawaii in 1971. Shortly after, the name was changed to G.N.C. Skates, Peter Dudommun redesigned the new logo now known as Skull Skates. The original version of the logo included the letters G.N.C. on the left side of the logo; however, skaters looked at the design and immediately called it Skull Skates.
It was then that it was decided to drop the G.N.C. and go with Skull. The very first version of the skull used in the logo was cut out of grip tape on a skate deck. It was this method that gave the skull it’s hard jagged lines. It only took about five minutes to cut out the design.
Of course, being from 1978, this logo predates the Skull And Sword logo and might look a little bit outdated by now, but that what’s making the logo a piece of history and a part of the skateboarding DNA. At the time, everybody loved it so much that we would make a stencil out of it and spray painted it all over town. We all loved Skull back then for being authentic, and Skull Skates was the original DIY mosh pit explosion.
In the 80’s, Skull relocated to Van Nuys, a suburb of Los Angeles and associated itself with some of the best around: Steve Olson, David Hackett, Christian Hosoi, Mondo, The Godoy Brothers, Tod Swank, Duane Peters, Jonny Ray, Skatemaster Tate, Gang Green, The Vandals, Social Distortion, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to name a few. At one point, the “Hosoi Hammerhead” skate deck was available in three sizes and about twenty different fluorescent and pastel color combinations.
When God decided to make skateboarding, he said: -Let there be Jay Adams.-”
17 Element Skateboard LogoElement Skateboards is one of the most famous skateboard & surfwear manufacturers, producing the finest quality of skateboards for years.
The company, established in 1992 in California, started with many problems, but gradually became famous all over the world.
Mike Vallely, Ray Barbee, Vanessa Torres, Bam Margera, Chad Muska, Bucky Lasek, Chad Tim Tim, Darrel Stanton, Jeremy Wray, Brent Atchley, and Michael Mackrodt come together to form a skateboarding team for Element Skateboarding.
The Element logo is very elegant and easy to understand. It represents great strength, success and motivates people to promote a safe and protected environment. The logo consists of two circles contained in a square box. The inner circle comprises of a tree. The logo represents their sole motif that is to safeguard the environment.
The colors used in the logo -white and red- represent strength, harmony, and success.
The font used in the Element logo is based on Avant Garde Gothic and complements the overall design very well.
16 Toy Machine Logo Design
Many skate companies design a simple, abstract image for their logo. In that sense, Toy Machine goes against the current by having a monster! It has now reached icon status in the industry. Not only does the monster tie in loosely to the name, but the beast is frightening enough to be edgy and cool. The all lower case, rounded writing gives a friendly, informal image that makes the image more fun than scary, creating a balanced design that can be seen on skateboards everywhere.
15. Shut Skates
I still remember in 1986, when Shut Skateboards was only a couple of people (Rodney Smith and Bruno Musso) and were manufactured in the basement of a huge building on Mott street. I was distributing skateboard all over Europe at the time and to purchase the boards, I had to take an elevator down to the 6th level downstairs, walk through a poorly lit alley, go through a heavily protected door and into what looked like a small cavern with a single wood press and lots of uncut laminated seven-ply maple wood skateboard blanks everywhere covered with white wood dust under a bleak light. The place was totally punk…
At the time, skateboarding was more antisocial than ever, and Shut was the subculture of the skate punk movement. Because I kinda had a surfer look, It took me some time to convince the pair that I was part of the move and that I was as legit as them until they agreed to sell me –cash only!– a couple of dozen of decks wholesale that I imported to France.
You can’t make anything more authentic than that…
The Shut crest logo was originally designed by Eli Morgan Gesner when he was 14 years old. (He later founded ZOO YORK from an old warehouse in New York’s Meatpacking District.) Shut is the first legitimate company from New York, at the time when there was probably no more than 100 skaters in the Big Apple. So Big Respect to the original band and good luck to the re-invented Shut brand. The team was historically very different from the west-coast idiosyncrasy and the graphics conveniently matched the NYC landscape.
At a time when skateboarding was all about California, Shut proved that you could create a company far away from the surf and sand of SoCal California by focusing on the local characteristic.
I Skate, Therefore I Am
14. Girl Skateboards
I know what you’re thinking: This is an icon from the women’s restroom. And maybe you’re right, but taking something from mainstream and redefining it within skateboarding is harder than it sounds. But if you are a skater when you see this, you’re not thinking about women, you’re thinking about Eric Koston and Guy Mariano.
Despite the distinctly feminine name, Girl does not make skateboarding products for women. Girls’name refers to the fact that the original Girl skateboards were splashed with images of attractive and scantily clad women.
The image that makes up the logo is the classic girl image seen on bathroom doors everywhere, giving the logo a recognizable and slightly dirty brand that is absolutely counterculture in the same idea of World Industries and Blind.
Of course, the logo is not always printed in this feminine mint green, this nonetheless is an attractive and appropriate color for the company.
13. Vans “Off the Wall”
Vans never made skateboards but they did make the original skateboard shoe and that’s good enough for me.
The original logo, which appeared on the very first pairs of shoes manufactured by Vans, only had the name of the company inside a rectangle. There was no “Off the wall” text because the brand was not yet selling skate shoes.
The next logo was created in the 1970sby Mark Van Doren a 13 years old boy, who simply was the son of James Van Doren, one of the founder of Van’s. The design also existed in the form of a stencil, which was to be painted on Mark’s skateboards. Afterwards, it appeared on the heel tab of the Style 95 shoe, which was one of the first models manufactured by the company.’
The famous “Off the wall” logo was made official in March 18th, 1976. Its most exciting visual detail is the stylized “√….” shape of the emblem that look like a mathematical square root. Also, it was the first time when the “Off the wall” catchphrase -coming from pool riders skaters of SoCal – was applied to the logotype.
Since then, all vulcanized skate shoes carried the red and white logo on the heel of the shoes. The skaters were allowed to customize their shoes in any color. Vans put the Off the Wall Logo on all the crazy wild colored shoes as they were developed (such as the slip-ons) and eventually the checkerboard shoes that came after “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” came out in 1982. Vans was a little bit different and edgy and Off the Wall stuck as a corporate logo.
The current Vans logo includes the name of the company inside a red rectangular shape, below which the “Off the wall“ motto is placed.
The solid, bold all-cap typeface featured in the Vans logo is a modified version of Helvetica, a very popular font created in the middle of the previous century, extensively used for printing and commercial purposes in the 1970s and even now.
Van’s color scheme has not been consistent throughout the company’s history. The shoes manufactured in the 1960s featured white tag with the blue wordmark, while the van-shaped logo brought about a lively shade of red. Having used a black-and-white logo for a short period, Vans switched to the more eye-catching red-and-white scheme. The current version also included black for the motto.
Skateboarding doesn’t make you a skateboarder; not being able to stop skateboarding makes you a skateboarder.
12. Santa Monica Airlines
For all the guys who were 15 in the 80’s, Natas Kaupas was the guy who propelled the brand into the spotlight and gave it importance, but many other riders used the boards: remember Jay Adams (R.I.P.), Julien Stranger and Jim Thiebaud?
Santa Monica Airlines, or better say, SMA was started by Skip Engblom -the godfather of the Z-Boys- in 1978 out of the back of he & Jeff Ho’s Zephyr surf shop. Skip was a gifted surfboard shaper and originally shaped all of Santa Monica Airlines’ skateboards by hand. In 1988, Skip convinced and helped Steve Rocco to start SMA Rocco Division which later became World Industries. Around 1989, Skip moved Santa Monica Airlines to NHS where it got overhauled and shortened its name to SMA. NHS eventually pulled the plug on SMA around 1993, at which point most the team got absorbed into other NHS brands.
Today, SMA is still in business and offers amazing hand stained wood decks in a variety of shapes and sizes.
It came to represent a smaller company that broke through to compete with the heavy hitters. SMA is one of those logos that just demands respect for the history, the team, the quality and the company it represents.
More than 30 years after its creation, the Santa Monica Airlines logo is still flying over the empty pools of SoCal, or at The Cove, under the boards of Bennett Harada and Jesse Martinez…
11. Vision Street Wear
Born in 1976 by sucking its extreme creativity from the authentic skate scene of the year, Vision Street Wear was the hegemon of its time by sponsoring some of the most talented skaters of the time, including Mark Gonzales, Lance Mountain, Tas Pappas, Duane Peters and Mark Rogowski. If you know a little about the skate history, you know all those guys were nothing but completely crazy. With Gator being the craziest of all… First in a positive way, and eventually in a very negative way…
Vision is one of those logos that spawned a generation of knock-offs because of how synonymous it became to the skateboarding counterculture from the 80’s.
Vision Street Wear re-created skate and street style to its own character with the use of bold, in your face graphics on its skate decks, t-shirts, and sneakers. The use of bright and fluorescent colors together with hypnotic patterns are unmistakingly synonymous with the brand.
The Psycho Stick, Aggressor, and Gator Pro Model remain some of the most loved and well-respected symbols of innovative design throughout the tapestry of social skateboarding more than 40 years later.
Unfortunately, there was nothing, particularly counterculture about the logo. It is actually very mainstream but what it represented was much more important than how it looked visually: the brand was hugely authentic in the 80’s.
Unfortunately, it’s the name itself “streetwear” that eventually bought Vision down. Streetwear was a visionary concept 40 years ago, but nowadays, no true skater want to wear mainstream street clothing. Vision is still commercially huge but is mainly sold to wannabe skaters and their girlfriends in mainstream sanitized malls all over the US…
10. Powell Peralta Triple-P Logo
The start of “The Powell Corporation” in 1976 was a very small, naive and risky endeavor. George Powell had a small factory where he was living for the first few months when they moved from Pacific Palisades to Santa Barbara. George brother-in-law, Vernon Courtlandt Johnson (aka VCJ) was his first employee. But it was Michael Burridge who designed the original triple P logo, the Powell logo, Quicksilver logo, and Bones logo.· Michael also did the first ads that featured studio shots of the products and Tom Sims skating.
The Powell “bug,” a/k/a “Triple-P” logo from the late 70s is the first top logo to really matter in terms of popular “graphics.” It came in two forms, one with just “Powell” in the center of the logo, the other reading “Brite-Lite.” Note: Early production runs of Alan Gelfand’s “Ollie/Tank” pro model do exist with the “Powell” top logo and, consequently, should be valued accordingly.
Given the importance of Powell-Peralta in the skateboarding industry, this article could probably cover 10 of their logos and half of the article would be done. From a scholarly standpoint, the Triple-P logo is everything a logo should be: compact with some movement, immediately identifiable, equally powerful at all sizes, just playful enough to not feel corporate, but fun enough to fit well into the identity they forged as a skateboard company
To be honest, I’m a bit fuzzy on this particular time period, but for all intents and purposes, the first top logo to really matter in terms of the popular “graphic” boards is the Powell “bug,” a/k/a “Triple-P” logo from the late 70s. Came in two forms, I think, one with just “Powell” in the center of the logo, the other reading “Brite-Lite.” Note: Early production runs of Alan Gelfand’s “Ollie/Tank” pro model do exist with the “Powell” top logo and, consequently, should be valued accordingly.
I think the Olympics needs skateboarding much more than skateboarding needs the Olympics.
9. Santa Cruz Dot Logo
The Santa Cruz Dot is the official trademarked logo of Santa Cruz Skateboards and is probably the most prominent iconic image ever to come out of Santa Cruz County. It’s bigger than skateboards, and it’s even more significant than Santa Cruz, too.
In the world of skateboarding, SCS is a venerable brand name, one of the innovators of the sport when it exploded in the 1970s. But the logo itself has taken on a life of its own, beyond the world of skate rats.
It’s become a badge of pride for anyone living in Santa Cruz, or even just visiting Santa Cruz.
Jim Phillips developed the first SCS logo in 1978, creating by hand the distinctive slanted typeface, in which the A’s in “Santa Cruz” are closed triangles. He added a second color as a drop shadow, and the logo became the dominant brand image of the up-and-coming company. The lettering of the logo remains nearly unchanged today.
The final part of the distinctive logo was the giant red ball, known at NHS as the “dot,” behind the lettering. That was the brainchild of Jay Shuirman, said Phillips.
“Jay was really into graphics, and he looked at the linear design, which we were using for stickers, and he put it on the wall, sat back, looked at it and said, I see a big red dot.’ ”
And there it was, what today is known as the “classic dot,” the yellow type outlined and shadowed in black in front of a big red circle.
But it’s his simple Santa Cruz dot logo that endures as the company’s primary calling card around the world.
The logo itself has proven to be endlessly adaptable, emerging in an infinite number of contrasting colors. There’s also the image of the “Santa Cruz” on fire “the flame dot”, in front of a crescent moon “the moon dot”, even in Japanese lettering “the Japanese dot”.
8. Alva Skates Logo
Even after 40 years, Skateboarding Magazine still rank Tony Alva 8th in its list of the “30 Most Influential skateboarders” of all time. So, it’s tough to separate the history of Tony Alva and the importance of the Alva name in the logo.
Alva first joined the Zephyr Skateboard team with Jay Adams and Stacy Peralta. Considered an originator of vertical skating Alva is one of the first skateboarders to successfully pull a Frontside Air at the Dog Bowl in 1977. That moment, captured by the lens of photographer Glen E. Friedman, is considered by most to be the birth of vert skateboarding.
Astonishly, In 1977, at the age of 19, Alva turned down all the major skate distributors to form his own company, called Alva Skates. It was the first company ever run and owned by a genuine skateboarder.
Later on, Eric Monson and Raul Vega collaborated on the amazing Alva Skates’ ad campaign during the heyday of Tony’s professional skateboarding career in the late 1970’s. Eric designed the original Alva logo and T.A. and Pete Zhender allowed Eric to create the ads with Wynn Miller and submit them to the magazines without any approval. The 19 ads in 16 months Eric created for Alva Skates were way ahead of its time and definitely broke the mold for skateboard advertising which brought a fashion and style sensibility to the forefront.
With Alva, the logo is about attitude and Alva Skate was seen as one of the most badass skate companies of the 70’s. The design of all those ads still looks great today.
7. Thrasher Magazine
How a font initially relegated to local hot-dog street vendors found its way onto the greatest skateboarding magazine ever…
Banco, the typeface used by Thrasher magazine is actually French and was designed by Roger Excoffon for the Fonderie Olive (in Marseilles) in 1951.
Roger Excoffon designed several well-known fonts during his tenure at the Fonderie. Especially Mistral, Antique Olive and Banco, a bold typeface featuring an all-caps, slightly slanted alphabet, whose appearance rivaled those of a confident hand sketching letters with a flat brush.
Excoffon did not compose a matching lower-case alphabet for Banco, leaving the type impactful and resonant.
At first, the type had a lot of success, being used in part by Air France Airlines, but the type was considered a bit generic and inexpensive and was rapidly considered retrograde.
The font fell into desuetude and was relegated to the windows of fromagers, convenience stores and bookshops across Europe.
Later on, the font was translated in Cyrillic and was extensively being used to hawk goods in hot-dog stands or grocery stores in Russia.
When Modernism started, much of Excoffon’s work was forgotten.But, the font regained attention in 1974 due to its extensive use on Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Natty Dread album sleeve. Natty Dread is a spiritually charged political and social statement album and is well known for including the hit “No, Woman no cry.” At the time, Banco became broadly associated with Reggae music and the Caribbean.
After the type found its place on reggae record sleeves and dub-plates throughout the ’70s, it started to gather dust in vinyl-bins as reggae slowly died after the death of its mentor (Bob Marley, duh). But in 1981, Fausto Vitello, Eric Swenson and Kevin Thatcher’s launched Thrasher Magazine using Banco; especially because it was associated with Caribbean lifestyle and reggae, a style of music that was familiar to the magazine’s founders and to the spirit of the publication.
Eventually, Thrasher was established as the bible of the skate counterculture.
As a result, the “reggae” roots of the type were erased and it became the main font of the skate culture.
The logo is based on the wordmark. It features the word “Thrasher” in a bold, slightly slanted font. There’re stylized flames of fire above the upper parts of the letters. Under the wordmark, there’s the word “Magazine” in capital letters of smaller size.
The logo exists in more than one variation. On top of the “burning” emblem, which is often seen on the brand’s merch, there’s a calmer version without any signs of “fire,” which is typically used for the website and on the magazine cover. It can be given in several colors, for instance, black, white, and red.
The regular version of the Thrasher logo features a flaming combination of yellow, orange, black, and red. As the wordmark is often placed on clothes, other versions are also possible (neon green and blue, for instance).
Spitfire was founded in 1987, and is part of the Deluxe Distribution network, along with brands such as Krooked, Anti Hero Skateboards, and Real. Spitfire is mostly famous for its wheels, but it also makes skateboard bearings, tools, griptape, clothing, stickers and accessories such as bags and wallets.
The original bighead logo was created by Kevin Ancell and to this day remains one of skateboarding’s most iconic logos. The logo conveys a sense of wildness and excitement with the eyes and the teeth. The black outline with the red fill really stand out and make the logo look intense.
Aside from how recognizable it has become, the best thing about Spitfire’s logo is how malleable it is. Kevin Ancell’s creation can accommodate seemingly infinite design permutations from an American flag backdrop to more sinister motifs. While a Sean Malto graphic might show the logo dripping with barbecue sauce and sporting a chef’s hat, Mike Mo’s wheel will show the Firehead dipped in Joker face paint. It would be hard to make such an iconic logo look bad.
Kind of tough, kind of simple, it’s another logo that’s successfully recognized outside of skateboarding and with good reason.
Girl is not a 4 letter word
5. Powell Peralta Rat Bones Logo
Death to invaders
The Rat-N-Crossbones logo was born because of the decaying environment around the infamous Venice pier, previously a hub of entertainment, now burnt down into the ocean; where a gang of surfers and skaters claimed loose ownership and ran feral through the post-apocalyptic landscape.
This design is brought to you by the innovative Craig Stecyk A.K.A. C.R. Stecyk III, the co-founder of the Zephyr surf team and a seminal creative force in the Dogtown surf and skate scene. Stecyk worked as a creative director for Powell-Peralta skateboards during their 1980’s era of domination. In addition to creating well-known iconographies like Powell-Peralta’s “Rat Bones” logo and the Thrasher “Skate & Destroy” typography, Stecyk was also pretty much involved in the highly influential Bones Brigade skateboard videos.
Stecyk had actually stopped spraying it by the time Powell-Peralta rose to prominence in the early 1980s. But the markings remained in the back of Stacy’s mind. Stecyk was art directing the brand with Stacy when he suggested using it as a pattern for new wheels and boards. Stecyk merely shrugged and mumbled an “OK” before moving onto something else.
That mumble allowed Powell-Peralta to raise that image high and it has become arguably the most famous symbol in skateboarding. Nixon watches released a Rat Bones watch (only available in skate shops) and celebrated the activation at KCDC in Brooklyn, New York. Stecyk created custom painted Powell Peralta decks with laser-cut components to create a 3-D version of his historic graphics.”
Simple lines, great shape and you could spray paint it on a wall in under 40 seconds with a little bit of practice. This icon is brilliant and was one of those designed when skateboarding culture didn’t take itself too seriously.
4. Dogtown Cross Logo
The Dogtown cross is one of the most powerful symbols of skateboarding. Craig Stecyk spray-painted it on a wall and then took a picture of it which he used in one of his Skateboarder’s articles when Dogtown already had the nickname, but it took an old Z-Boy, Wes Humpston to bring the design to the world.
At the time, Wes Humpston was making Dogtown Skates with Jim Muir, “made by Dogtowners for Dogtowners.”
At first, the logo was only three letters – “DTS.” Then there was a mention in the magazine by Stecyk. Jay’s mom, Felane, also did a newspaper, so they took out an ad. People started shooting them letters with checks to get the boards. Muir and Wes started making boards in my backyard.
They were all in a car, going to the pool, Jim Muir asked Stacy Peralta to drive. Stacy drove, Stecyk was up front, and Muir and Wes were in the back. Wes had written DTS on Muir’s board for that session. They were all talking to Stecyk on the way out there. Wes said, “Is it cool if we call them Dogtown Skates?” Stecyk said, “Go for it.”
Not only it was the beginning of DTS, but the beginning of the DTS cross logo.
Wes started to work on the design. He twisted it around, took the cross and put the banner at the bottom and made it everything that it was. Later, he made all these logos with dragons and waves. It was something that just kept evolving.
3. Santa Cruz Screaming Hand Logo
In 1985, in a small art studio on the Eastside of Santa Cruz, CA, Jim Phillips was creating images that unbeknownst to him would affect generations of artists and skateboarders to come. Of all of the iconic imagery that Jim has created; the Screaming Hand logo has stood the test of time.
More than 30 years after its design, the Screaming Hand remains an unmistakable symbol of youth and skateboard culture. This logo was designed by Jim Phillips back in the early 80s. It, too, is an image that solidly represents that era of skateboarding. I think people were drawn to it because it was creepy and whimsical at the same time. From the overall shape to the concept and original color scheme, it’s brilliant in its simplicity and interesting enough to have been tattooed onto countless thousands of skaters and non-skaters alike.
“I’m often asked where I got the idea for the Screaming Hand… like I had a store where I could get images. Sometimes an idea just pops in my mind, and I’ve trained myself to be receptive. Screaming Hand dates back to high school where I liked to spend my time drawing epic surfing and skateboard pictures and give them to my friends. In typical surf scenes, I would draw a big wave and a goofy surfer with sight gags like circling shark fins or a clenched hand sticking out of the water like a drowning guy. That intrigued me after I saw a drowned guy at the beach, snot coming out of his nose after some men tried to revive him, the first dead person I ever saw. Stuck in my mind, I drew the clenched hand on my book covers and notepads. Fast forward, and NHS is forming a wheel line and asked for a logo for Speed Wheels. As I sat at my drawing table and clenched my left hand, I penciled a sketch, thinking about how powerful the hand is, how artists have used it in gestures to express emotion. Then I thought about it being even more expressive if it had a mouth right on the palm, and how much more if it was screaming! I got pretty worked up and knew my drawing would make a cool logo, though it took some time to talk the manager into it. We made stickers and T-shirts, and soon the Screaming Hand proved itself as a powerful icon that certainly earned in its own way.”
Jim Phillips (Quote from Juxtapoz Mag)
The screaming blue hand is more indicative of the wild, neo-psychedelic style of Phillips’s art than the logos are. His imaginative, cartoonishly exaggerated and often monstrous designs — a critical part of the NHS imprint today — are available in his books: “The Skateboard Art of Jim Phillips” and “The Surf, Skate and Rock Art of Jim Phillips,” published by Schiffer Books.
I consider skateboarding an art form, a lifestyle and a sport.
2. Powell Peralta The Ripper Logo
When it was created by Vernon Courtland Johnson in 1978, It took six months for the skull breaking ripper to evolve from a draft into a full fledge logo. The ripper was purposely derived from the Skull and Sword logo, which had been drawn for Ray Rodriguez, the year before.
When Court started to develop the Skull and Sword, he began with only a scribble on the back of a matchbook he received from Ray.
The Skull and Sword logo was to be Court’s graphic and would need a conscious departure from his original fine line “Rapidigraph crosshatch” style so it could be silkscreened. Because Court was learning to use MC Escher’s unique shading style and had to apply it to a skull, he asked to purchase a skeleton to draw from.
When designing the Skull and Sword, Court was just attempting to create a powerful graphic that would please both Ray and the skaters of the 1970s. When he succeeded beyond all expectations, the Powell team wondered what made the Skull and Sword so popular?
Later on, George Powell said that “Court had unwittingly produced or tied into a Jungian archetype, and it struck people on a subconscious level, meaning many things to many people. Like overcoming the worry of death, the power of the warrior, eternal life, conflict, or death.”
Later on, most Christians conservative would deem it satanic and launched a boycott campaign for all Powell products.
So with this initial good results and George’s half-baked analysis in mind, Court was on a path to discover another iteration of the human skull that would open comparable pathways into the spirit of our occasions and endear itself to skaters.
During brainstorming sessions, Court proposed to draw a new logo with a skull popping throughout a wall. It sounded great to George, so he encouraged him to develop it.
When VCJ created the ripper, he hit two problems:
– The first was the actual ripped background. It evolved from a broken wall to fabric folded back in shreds, to one stretched tight between the hands and skull to create each the tension between the background and the skeleton and the frozen moment in time produced by this static position.
– The second was the eyes. Court drew a dozen different sets of eyes looking for the one that was not so dark or whimsical, but just light enough to place a smile on your face of horror.
The Ripper was initially designed for a Bones T-shirt, but it became so popular that Powell used it on a variety of decks, T-shirts, catalogs, stickers, Bones Brigade Video introductions, Powell-Peralta shipping boxes, and even Powell-Peralta pant labels.
The Ripper became so synonymous with Bones, The Bones Brigade, and Powell-Peralta, that it was to parody Powell-Peralta by Blind and Shorty’s, throughout the marketing wars of the late 1980s. Because then, many artists have also found The Ripper’s gestalt of use in promoting many other brands and cultural icons. It is one of the most ripped-off graphics in the skateboarding and has even made its way out of the skateboard business into the society as a symbol of the skate business or youth culture.
Independent has the ultimate icon in skateboarding.
1. Independent Iron Cross Logo
How a Nazi symbol became the best skateboarding logo ever…
One of Jim Philips first job in skateboarding was to design what would become the legendary Road Rider logo. So, when Jay Shuirman decided to create “Independent” and what would become the best skateboarding truck ever, he asked Jim to design the logo to launch the brand.
Jim started to work on a lot of different sketches but none were really appealing. So he decided to use a skateboarding genesis icon, the surfer cross that embodied the surf culture of the 50’s. The cross had been designed by Ed Roth as a form of rebellion against society and since surfing was becoming more and more mainstream, the cross left its appeal after the 60’s.
Since skateboarding was the new rebel sport, Jim thought it was time to recycle the cross.
“And here comes skateboarding, surfing’s ugly little cousin!
Unfortunately, that cross was also widely used in Nazi Germany. Moreover, the cross was modified in 1940 to include a swastika in the center. The Cross was a military decoration for the Nazi and it was recognized worldwide as a symbol of hatred towards the Jews.
So, when Jay Shuirman and Rich Novak saw the logo, they immediately said: “No way! This is too Nazi…”.
But Jim believed that the symbol was really the embodiment of the new truck. So he made historical research and found that; if the cross had been culturally appropriated by the Nazi; it also had a 2000+ year flamboyant history.
The cross was first used in ancient Greece, it was an icon on shield and knights armor during the Dark Ages and by the Crusaders, and was prominently designed on Christopher Columbus sails when he discovered America.
But even with this new information, Jay and Rich were totally unmoved.
What was about to become the biggest icon of skateboarding had been killed twice, so far.
But Jim was not done because something extraordinary happened one night and the following day he came back with what he thought was a killer argument in favor of its creation.
During the meeting, he pulled out a Time Magazine that he had read the night before featuring the Pope on a world tour. The Pope’s hat and his robe’s lapels were covered with rows and rows of the infamous Iron Cross.
And that’s how the Independent logo was born…
Regardless of how you feel about the iron cross, Independent logo has come to represent skateboarding, skateboarders, and quality.
Independent’s founders thought it was iconic and strong, which is the image they wanted to give their burgeoning company. The rounded nature of the logo makes it a little less threatening, while also resembling a skateboard wheel. Because the Independent cross has been the symbol of the company for more than four decades, it’s easy to call this logo design a success and there is no doubt in my mind that the INdependent logo should be the #1 on my list…
Stinger is a brand that I made up for fun just for this post. The name is coming from Surfer Ben Aipa who designed a special surfboard -called a stinger- for Buttons Kaluhiokalani and Larry Bertlemann whose radical manoeuvers were later adapted to skateboarding by the Z-Boys. The stinger was popular in the 70’s, especially because it was the fastest, quickest-turning small-wave machine around.
The stinger logo is based on a stylised Eagle to represent a hegemon power who has total control over its environment. Some may think it embodies the American Eagle. I’d like to think it’s the California Bald Eagle because it has been close to extinction several times but is still here thanks to a tiny group of believers… Like skateboarding…
I love symmetry and cleanliness, so the logo is totally symmetrical and sharp. The pointed edges evoke multiple stings as an emphasis on the name and materialize dreadfulness.
The eagle also characterizes skateboarding aerial manoeuvers, as in “the sky is the limit.”
Obviously, the eagle double tail is a reminder that the original surfboard stinger had a (parallel) double tail.
The logo also reveals a big V, for victory suggesting that, in the end, skateboarders will prevail. The right wing with the F-shape is a reminder of another skate brand.
Finally, the 2 bombs coming from the double F act a warning message for skateboarding non-believers.
The logo is essentialist on purpose. As-is, the logo conveys a lot of meaning and if reduced, it still can be understood in social media accounts and smartphones.
The black color makes the design look bleak and downtrodden, as in “no future.”
The whole intention of the logo is this message: “we are skateboarders, we are dangerous and fuck-you.”
The message is very much a reminder of the 80’s but the design belongs to the roaring 20’s because of its Art Deco aesthetic… But I’m talking about 2020, when AI will come to take all our jobs.
If I were to fine-tune the logo, I would slightly slant the eagle to show a soaring movement.
About the author:
Xavier Lannes is a long time skateboarder and certified Digital Marketing Professional.