MagWorld Mag World










Boarders without Borders

Two Canuck magazines grind their niche in skater culture


By Michael William Melanson

Some guy skateboarding

Skateboarding’s association with rebellious attitudes and counter-culture has kept the sport from earning more than the occasional glance from television producers, leaving skateboard magazines to provide the pulse for an ever-expanding community.

The top sellers,  Skateboarder Magazine, Thrasher Skateboard Magazine and Transworld Skateboarding Magazine, all originated in the United States. They’ve helped to expand skateboarding across the continent and into other countries such as Australia, England and New Zealand. However, the skate magazine market is not completely dominated by American publications.

SBC Skateboard Magazine (SBCSM) and Concrete Wave are two Canadian skateboarding publications, published five times a year, each with a different focus.

First published in 1998, SBC Skateboard Magazine brings homegrown coverage of the Canadian street skating scene to enthusiasts across the country. The magazine is one of eight extreme sports-related publications that make up SBC Media, founded by world-class windsurfer Steve Jarrett. SBCSM is printed five times a year at roughly 200 pages per issue.
SBCSM’s strength lies in its high quality photos and editorials about the Canadian street skating scene says associate publisher Brian Peech. He admits that some refer to SBCSM as the “Canadian Transworld”, but he takes the reference as a compliment. “It means that our quality is up there, because Transworld is considered the bible of skate magazines,” explains Peech. “At the same time I think we have a little more colourful package, and we’re more entertaining.”

Peech started out shooting photos for the first issue of SBCSM and landed an office position about three years later. After 2003, Peech spent a few years in California working for Skateboarder Magazine before returning to SBCSM in 2007.

Peech says that the magazine’s paid circulation of 50,000 and its continued success across Canada have a lot to do with the readers themselves. “The support we get from Canadians is huge; whereas I don’t think the same heartstrings are pulled when someone picks up a Transworld and it’s filled with people they’ve never met, spots they’ve never seen and never skated,” Peech says. “I think it’s just a more intimate feel and the support we’ve had has been phenomenal.”

Amateur skateboarder Matt Smith agrees. “I prefer SBCSM for sure. Transworld’s all right. I used to read it a lot, but it’s got so many ads and bullshit in it now, it’s like an Ikea catalogue for skaters.” He says SBCSM covers successful Canadian skaters, which is inspirational for amateurs like himself. “It just gives you that feeling like you’re not isolated up here in a snowbank. You can make it big, too, if you’ve got the heart.”

Peech says, “SBCSM caters to the widest audience in Canada. We’ll have a lot of stuff for the newcomer, and we’ll have some stuff for the O.Gs,” he adds, refering to original gangsters. “We keep a good balance between those two groups. Our main mission is to deliver the best possible photos of the best skateboarders in Canada, and I think that alone appeals to everybody.”

“Information is free. So if you’re going to compete with free, you damn well better have a good product.”

Concrete Wave was first released in the United States in 2002 and for the last year and a half has held steady at roughly 100 pages. Many skaters are dedicated to other styles, such as longboarding, freestyle skating, slalom, and vert skating, yet many of these styles aren’t covered by mainstream publications. Fortunately for the man behind Concrete Wave, this deficiency created a niche within a niche. Editor, publisher, and self-described skate geezer Michael Brooke admits it’s crazy to try and compete with publications like Thrasher or Transworld in the new-school street skating market. Instead, he employs what he calls a “flanking strategy.”

“I made [Concrete Wave] super-clean so young parents would be okay with their children reading it. I made it super core, so that people who respect the act of skateboarding would enjoy it, and I made it about the act of skateboarding and all that entails,” explains Brooke. His strategy shines a spotlight on things most other skate magazines leave out.

“If they don’t cover longboarding, I’ll cover longboarding. If they don’t cover kooky guys with crazy ideas, I’ll cover crazy ideas,” says Brooke, a skater for 33 years. “If they don’t want to cover slalom and older guys and women, then I’ll cover that . . . I can run a story, like I did in this last issue, which is eight pages about skateboarding and the environment. But you’re not going to find that in Transworld because that’s not what they’re about.”

While SBCSM sells the majority of its magazines on this side of the border, Concrete Wave releases only 1,000 of its roughly 20,000 copies here in Canada. Brooke makes most of his sales in the United States. 
“Skateboarding is a much bigger sport in California, Texas, North Carolina and I’m not going to fight it,” Brooke explains.

At the same time, Brooke is dedicated to keeping a strict 60/40 content to advertisement ratio in his magazine.  Brooke says this allows him to impress upon his advertisers that he will accept only advertisements for reputable skateboarding goods, and space in the magazine fills up fast.
Magazine coverage plays a major role in launching the careers of professional skateboarders, allowing them to take their passion and turn it into their livelihood. Both Brooke and Peech concur that this symbiotic relationship has flourished between skateboarding and its niche publications since the 1960s.

Neither are worried about being the little guys on the block.

“I say it’s better to be a ball bearing than a beach ball. A ball bearing is small, lethal, and it leaves an impression, rather than being big fluffy and colourful, and gets bashed around by the wind,” says Brooke, who believes this approach is crucial in an age when individuals can find almost anything for free on the Internet. “Information is free. So if you’re going to compete with free, you damn well better have a good product.”