What do you get by rolling together a slab of North American maple, keyboard strokes and some shapely graphic art, all splashed with the water color of ripping Third Coast swells? Break out the boards with Michigan surfer Josh Weston, who doubles as a skateboard design entrepreneur and web creative. For sure, this dual careerist sports rose-colored shades – and a couple of extra hands.
Weston, 28, grew up in the countryside near Erie, Pennsylvania, where he "was just huge into the beach and surfing and I started surfing the Great Lakes and riding skateboards and stuff."
Undeterred by Erie's "horrible" breakers, he catches Lake Michigan whitecaps now (hint: head north of Ludington for 10-foot crests). "Leland was great!" he raves about a recent trip. "They were distinct waist-high waves and they actually had some guts behind [them], they had some speed so you could actually catch and ride it for a little bit and there wasn't crazy wind on top."
No, this dude of the Lake Michigan dunes doesn't have sand in his head. Hawaii or Cali it's not, but buffeting the Great Lakes in the foul weather surf season gets proper respect these days, not least from The Today Show and The New York Times.
Knock on wood
Outside of shrink-wrapping in 6-mm neoprene, Weston's always done turns as an artist. A recent transplant to Mason and a lifelong dabbler in oil painting, acrylics – and, especially, ink – Weston moved to Florida to ply the Atlantic surf while earning his BFA in graphic arts from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. His first job out of college landed him up in the mitten, designing print advertising for Spartan Chassis in Charlotte. But lacking a good body of waves close to the office, he met surfing's close cousin – bowl skating. It wasn't long before he started decking out skateboard decks. After working with a Texas client for two years, last November he debuted Einfach Skate at the Detroit Urban Craft Fair.
Einfach!? ...Yeah, that's right. The German word pairs with Weston's heritage. Of its many definitions, he says, "The ones I pick up on it for are simple and home-spun, a homemade type of thing, because I put this together in my garage and I just want to keep it simple." People like the edginess of the name, which as he puts it, sounds "dangerously close to 'I'm fucked!' " - a common squawk heard 'round the skate park.
The Einfach creative process goes like this: "I do a lot of hand drawing, scanning it in; hand painting the swatch, scanning it in; throwing down some watercolor, scanning it in; then starting to piece these images together, layer them up in Photoshop and work until I get a design that I like. Then we're ready to print, ready to roll!" he announces. Weston guesses his proprietary artwork decorates 300 decks by now.
Until he devises a way to make wheels, it's just decks for sale now at $35 to $50 apiece. Initially the Detroit boards sold well, but the tide has since turned to vintage pinup girl designs. Others include the Einfach Ganesh – a curvy rendering of the Hindu elephant god – and a fresh jumpy catch of homemade sushi.
Most people purchase from existing stock and while he'd like more custom work, profitability is an issue. He needs to charge more for those orders, he figures. "I'm still working through a lot of those kinks."
Business stems mainly from shows, such as the Green Street Fair in Plymouth and the Fucking Awesome Fest at the Magic Stick. He'll be at the Detroit Urban Craft Fair again this month and the Holiday Baar Bazaar at the Majestic Theater in December. His six- and four-year old daughters, fledgling boarders themselves, are his sales assistants.
The metro area, with packs of skaters and new venues like the Riley Skate Park in Farmington Hills is a concrete market for his product. Other potential lies with the outdoor park in the works for Ann Arbor. Weston donated a deck that was auctioned off at a very successful recent fundraiser hosted by the Ann Arbor Skate Park Action Committee at the Vault of Midnight comic shop. He'd like to be more involved with the effort by designing and selling decks for the committee, but having dual careers crimps his time as of late.
"Yeah, I've been invited to a few of the planning meetings," he says, "but I haven't been able to make it yet, due to my work schedule. One of these days I'm going to get out to one of their committee meetings."
Other clientele are collectors and hipsters-sans-wheels swooping in purely for the art factor, he observes. "I would say most of my boards now don't even get ridden. They just get hung up on a wall or put in an office, displayed somewhere. I've gotta be okay with that too because I was first an artist before I was a skateboarder."
The November and December show season means significant time spent on new designs and running boards. He won't reveal much about the transfer process, other than "it takes hard-to-get equipment that is pretty fun to work with." 'Nuff said. Caught up in the whir of production, he doesn't account for his hours on Einfach activities. "I don't know, I never track it exactly," he says, but show prep means pulling down seven P.M. to two A.M. shifts.
Then he's up and at it again, this time for his day job at MS&L Digital, the award-winning Ann Arbor branch of MS&L Worldwide, a global design and social media strategy firm. Weston has been employed with the firm's design group for nearly two years, and as far as he's concerned, "I think I've got the best job of my life so far."
While he still does some print pieces, it's mostly web work – lots of widget web applications and user interface design, Flash gaming, and 3-D videos for large clients such as GM, Procter & Gamble, and other prominent Fortune 500 firms. "They bring me cool and interesting stuff. The work is varied and the clients are good," he says.
Does that skater bold influence his screen work, or vice versa? "I'd say being able to design for skateboards has kept me fresher with the web design because I get to try crazy things on the side. You know, it's like, 'Boom, expand, what do you like, what's your style?' Print that out, and people respond to that. Okay, how can I get this to convert into a website that people are responding to?" he poses energetically. "A lot of the stuff I design, I want you to almost be able to touch with your eyes. I use a lot of textures, a lot of lines, and a lot of handmade elements." His relish for the ad world pops in his personal blog, Rashystreakers.
Call it a feedback loop, with the skating community just another example. "I'm not very tricky," he admits. "I would say at this age, surviving is my best trick." Anyone over 25 is oldish, but age discrimination is out of style. Help abounds, and unlike the get-outta-here nose-thumbing "localism" of surfer beaches, skater camaraderie is soothing to shaky legs. And with more recent quality concrete parks to choose from, unfazed Boomer/Gen-X skate geezers are coming out of retirement.
All work and no play sounds hazardous to the mind of even extremist dual jobbers. Come summertime, Weston bombs and carves up Riley Skate Park's bowls twice a week astride his personal-made It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia – themed black and yellow deck with Thunder lows trucks on 52-mm zero wheels and quarter-inch risers.
"I have a very sharp, sort of aggressive style. I'll go up and I'll almost kick turn my carves," he yaks. "I haven't seen anybody else ride it like that there." When snow fills the bowls, he rides at the Royal Oak Skate Park and longboards (cruising or downhilling on a 3-to-5 foot long skateboard) at a Lansing parking garage.
Other hours are devoted to indie web design projects – and to a board of another kind. For several years, he's been working up a game themed around smuggling in late 1700s France and England. It's caught the interest of a board game company, he says, so "We'll see if something happens with that."
With all the markets he's catering to, truth be told, it's nice to take a breather and put others' wishes aside sometimes. "I spend so much time in the professional world designing for a client, that when I go to design a skateboard and do what I want to do, I have to say, 'Okay, no one else is going to see this, I just do this for what I like,' " he elaborates. "And believe it or not, that gets challenging after a while, when you're buried in a world where everything you do is subjected to the feedback and criticism of many other people. So, I guess it's not being beaten down by the world that pays me."
Weston's future looks far from flat – but does he see good tidings? "You know what, I have no idea," he says, laughing. "All I can say is that over the span of the rest of my career I remain employed in one form or another."
There's no crystal ball here, but it's safe to say this artist will never get bored with his boards.
Tanya Muzumdar is a freelance writer, regular
contributor to Concentrate and Assistant Editor at Metromode. Her
previous article was The String's The Thing
.Josh Weston Appears in All Photos
All Photos by Dave Lewinski
Dave Lewinski is Concentrate's Managing Photographer. The only decks he knows about are vinyl.
Enjoy this story? Sign up
for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.