Easily written off as a fleeting trend, cruisers make skateboarding accessible to a broad customer demographic – with real long-term potential. Here’s our 2017 Cruiser Trend Report by our Skateboard Editor, Dirk Vogel.
Everyone in our industry knows that the popularity of skateboarding moves in cycles. Major boom periods when everyone wants a piece of skateboarding – the mid-1970s, mid-1980s, and late 1990s – are followed by sudden drops. This poses two questions: First, why does this keep happening? And second, does it have to be that way?
The first answer is actually simple. Skateboarding, at least the kind geared around learning tricks and pushing personal boundaries, is far too difficult to keep mass consumers engaged. That’s basically why skateboarding never stays “mainstream hot” for more than two years. But does it have to be that way? No – the recent rise of cruisers has actually proven that this boom-and-bust cycle is not set in stone. If we look at cruisers as a permanent, accessible genre of skateboarding – where you don’t have to learn the latest tricks to have fun – they actually present a sustainable category that never gets “old”.
“I think the cruiser is the broadest market. Retailers should be able to show the customers these are the most approachable skates out there. Super easy to skate, not cumbersome to carry or take indoors and great for all ages,” said Ken Perkins, President/CEO Sunset Skateboard Co. With this in mind, the recent boom-and-bust in cruisers does not automatically imply that the category is “played out” until the next big surge arrives. The last few seasons saw cruisers switch gears into steady, long-term momentum, as confirmed by endemic cruiser brands in this 2017 Trend Report.
THE MARKET: LONG AND STEADY
Looking at the European market, we are still seeing the impact of market saturation and excess inventory. “The rapid growth of cruisers and longboards definitely started to plateau about 12-18 months ago,” said Bod Boyle, President at Dwindle (Dusters California), adding: “Too much inventory being pushed through a channel that plateaued has had a compounding factor this year. I would say that the EU has been affected by this far more than the rest of the world, with revenues down around 15%. The global numbers are stronger than this, so overall if we look at the international numbers, we would expect single-digit decline for this year.”
Upon closer inspection, current problems can be pinpointed to a specific market segment. “I think there are way more lower quality boards in the market now, particularly in Europe, where the market is saturated. Prices seem to be getting pushed down along with the quality,” says Kris O’Brien, Brand Director at OB Five. But now that the category is building long-term momentum, this strategy will not suffice. “While it’s tempting for some retailers to go for the cheapest price, for longevity, I think it’s about working with brands who can offer unique products – anyone can stick a graphic on a skateboard – and high quality at competitive price points and a decent margin for the retailer,” said Matt Wong, President of Product at Globe.
Speaking of price points and margins, the main rule is: You get what you pay for! While department store cruisers can be had for €40, authentic brands such as UK-based D Street report their pricing sweet spot for quality cruisers at €80. Cruisers packing elaborate materials and rarefied components sell well at around €150 for brands like Globe and GoldCoast, while brands such as Arbor, Sector 9, and Landyachtz are successfully selling above €220.
SHAPES: RETURN OF THE EIGHTIES
The weapon of choice for next season is a compact, snub-nosed cruiser at a total length around 28 to 30 inches with a pointed nose, bulbous mid-section up to 9 inches, short wheelbase, and a squared or “fish” tail. All major brands are pushing these responsive and versatile cruisers with the occasional twist – Sector 9 is big on trapezoidal nose shapes – in their new collections. Skinnier, retro-shaped cruisers under 28 inches – both plastic and wood – remain a staple for 2017, driven by customer demand for highly portable boards, especially among commuting students.
“Street cruisers and packable boards for surfing and carving the street make a new feeling and generate a new interest in cruising for the customers. That’s the trend that retailers need to understand because more and more people are looking for this feeling,” said Hoff Distribution’s Benoit Brecq who looks after Flying Wheels. Another hot trend to keep an eye on: Mid-1980s board shapes – up to 10 inches wide, short nose, wide kicktail, wheel wells(!) – are re-imaged as cruisers with soft wheels and wide trucks, as seen by Dusters California, GoldCoast, Miller Division, and Madrid Skateboards. “For our 40th Anniversary Reissue Cruisers we’ve opened up the vault to reissue a series of iconic Madrid decks from throughout the decades including pro models from Claus Grabke, Beau Brown, and Eddie Elguera. For the first time ever, we’re offering these OG decks setup as cruisers,” said Shane Maloney, Madrid Skateboards.
MATERIALS: ELEVATED STATUS SYMBOLS
This season’s mantra – You get what you pay for! – clearly dominates in material choices. While plastic boards are trending down, wooden cruisers are up. “This year has been great for our wooden cruiser business, we are up almost 20% on last year,” said Lowri Holness at D Street, pointing out that, Cherry, Rosewood and Walnut skins not only look fantastic but give the retailer a new story.” Across the board, elaborate wood panelling and finishes are elevating cruisers into bespoke status symbols and conversation pieces. “Our Revival Series features boards made from reclaimed wood sources. It’s about offering something to our customers that is more than your standard board,” says Nate Schumacher at Landyachtz. It’s all a matter of target group, said Luke Petty at Osprey: “Brightly coloured plastic cruisers are very popular amongst younger children as they offer an easily portable and very durable first skateboard, whilst older riders also enjoy plastic cruisers, but are often more attracted to a more understated retro look.” GoldCoast ham things up with a new printing technology that boasts clear grip tape that allows both sides of the deck to stand loud and proud.
At the end of the day, customers appreciate the extra value added by upscale finishes and materials. “If you pick up a Dusters board, the fit/finishes, small details in graphic application processes, different wood species, new types of wood finishes, ink applications, and printing processes really makes our boards stand out from the rest of the pack,” says Dusters California Creative Director, Nano Nobrega. Globe is upping the ante this season with inlays from denim (!) and coconut fibres that do more than look cool, explains Matt Wong: “Coconuts are a readily available material, the husk requires minimal processing, and they come from self-sustaining crops. The natural coconut fibres found on these boards allow us to use less maple wood, netting really unique textural aesthetic and simultaneously reducing our eco-footprint.”
TECHNOLOGY: BRANDED QUALITY
Another area in which customers get what they pay for is the overall quality of boards and components. Needless to say, in a business where almost 99% of boards sold are completes, cruisers from actual skate companies wipe the floor with what’s on shelves at Toys “R” US and Wal-Mart. “DSM that manufactures many core skateboard brands in addition to Dusters has developed propriety manufacturing processes that are continuously improving the functionality of our boards through mould, pressing, and material development,” said Nano at Dusters California. “Quality of components is important as customers are increasingly looking for brand name trucks and wheels,” said Shane at Madrid. Sector 9’s Andreas Maurmeir sees this as a sign of evolution: “Three years ago the cruisers were designed to ride from point A to B, now they are designed to ride from point A to B while hitting every feature along the way.”
Consequently, all “serious” cruiser brands provide quality trucks and wheels that keep up with performance requirements. Responding to the “street surf” trend, Flying Wheels introduced two new trucks, the Capitol and the Cutback truck, “made for people who search that ultimate surfing sensation, they turn great, pump easily and offer that wave riding feeling everybody seeks.” Pablo Ribera at HLC Distribution in Spain is on the same page: “The surf skate stuff its going super strong. We have our last product YOW (Your Own Wave), the best surf skate in the market right now, and also another surf skate series in our Long Island Boards range.”
In search of smoother rides, wheels are trending towards super soft, 1980s-style asymmetrical shapes above 60mm diameter and 50mm wide. For another hot trend, glow in the dark treatments include Sector 9’s Lumithane wheels and the re-designed Beamer Wheels from LED-powered cruiser company Sunset. “Beamers feature opaque urethane that still lets the LED shine through. We have seen to many knock-offs of our patented LED skate core so we wanted to develop a new look to differentiate our self in the market,” said Ken Perkins. New technology also makes entire boards light up, for instance at Penny: “Our Casper skateboard is perfect for the darker evenings and they really do hold their charge,” sys Liz Reynolds, European Trade Marketing Manager.
OUTLOOK: THE NEXT CHAPTER
Looking forward, cruisers remain a growth category with continued brand investment. “The cruiser segment will definitely play a big role in the composition of the future lines,” said Christian Siebrecht at Arbor Skateboards. Ultimately, it’s up to skate retailers to grow the culture in the long run, said Nate Schumacher at Landyachtz: “There’s still a healthy scene but shops must start putting on small cruises encouraging people to come out, meet other skaters and cruise together from the shop. A healthy shop has a healthy community behind it and fostering that community is more important than ever!”