Photos: MIKE BLABAC, LARS GANGE, CARL HYNDMAN, KEN BLOCK, NATE CHRISTENSEN WORDS: BASEM WASEF
DC’S MASTER OF ALL TRADES
1990 was a curious year for Hip-Hop. While “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” was serving up easily digestible, saccharine bites of urban attitude, Tupac Shakur was cutting his teeth touring with Digital Underground as a roadie and dancer. It was during this crucial moment in Hip-Hop history—one year before N.W.A.’s ground breaking sophomore effort became the first hardcore rap album to hit no. 1—when Compton’s culture began to infiltrate mainstream America. Meanwhile, a Caucasian skateboarder by the name of Ken Block, influenced by the burgeoning Hip-Hop scene and infused with a personal fixation on action sports, sought to single-handedly combine his passion for urban music with skateboarding culture and start a clothing company.
When he met fellow skater Damon Way at Palomar College, his motivation solidified. The two had a passion for snowboarding, skating, and style. They used their T-shirt silk screening class to start a company called “Eight Ball.” The name referred to a simple formula. As Block defined it, “Young adults with no money = cheap beer.”
Though the name suggests an appreciation for booze-inspired numbness to the outside world, Block and Way were intuitively in touch with their surroundings and the cultural zeitgeist of the moment. In fact, they were so in tune with skateboarding trends that Eightball developed a cult following in spite of the fickle nature of trend-driven, boutique clothing companies. Afraid of falling into the all-style-no-substance trap, the company produced the first ever “snow jean” in 1992, which used water-resistant nylon to withstand the rigors of snowboarding.
By that time, Block and Way had formed the spinoff company Droors (which was a play on the word “drawers”), and they used the company’s fledgling skateboarding team to flaunt their street-savvy style. With Colin McKay and Danny Way (Damon’s younger brother) as unpaid team members, DC found the perfect way to broadcast their homegrown aesthetic. Though their marketing methods were unscientific, the buzz was strong and the company’s cutting edge designs, along with the team’s charismatic energy, paved the way for more spinoff ventures. In 1993, Blunt magazine, which featured rapper Del tha Funkee Homosapien on its first cover, was born. The company also expanded into snowboard manufacturing, launching the Type A brand.
As their business ventures grew, so did the duo’s interest in creating a shoe. Like basketball or running, shoes were an essential component of the skateboarding world, and it seemed inevitable that market share could be claimed from companies like Vans. Dub Outerwear (no relation to the magazine) was created in 1994 as Eightball phased out. Introducing, innovating design details such as hand gaiters built into its snowboarding jackets, Dub continued the company’s trend of marrying street-smart style with functional design.
Blunt was sold to a company that was resold to Larry Flynt Publications, and it eventually folded. “They eliminated the publication because they intended it to be a tame ‘ski’ type of magazine,” explained Block. “Blunt just wasn’t that.” Freed creatively from the distraction of running a publication, but now armed with more publishing and marketing knowledge, Block and Way could now focus on their core idea: producing a skate shoe.
Based on a contraction of “Droors Clothing,” DC Shoes was formed as a style statement that incorporated practical construction based on firsthand skating experience. By outfitting their skate team in the distinctive kicks, DC used professional skateboarding as a venue in which the product could be showboated to its target audience. As the skateboarding team grew so did its exposure; by 1996, it had doubled, and in 1997, DC’s Super Tour assaulted Stockholm, Amsterdam and Frankfurt with its unmistakable style.
Once again bursting with aggressive growth, DC dug into yet another market: snowboarding boots. The DC line included the “Serum,” “Cortex” and “Lupine,” which debuted in 1998 with the newly created DC Snowboarding team. In the winter of that year, the company’s first ever catalogue was published as well. In addition to skating and snowboarding, DC also formed a surfing and a motocross team. Block described the lure of those sports, explaining that, “…individual sports are more approachable and possibly more enjoyable than traditional team or stick-and-ball sports. They also push athletes’ limits more than team sports do. Because both [co-founder] Damon and I grew up here in Southern California doing these sports, it was very natural for us to do a business that manufactures and markets shoes for these activities.”
In order to focus more effectively on the daunting task of catering to several sports, Block and Way sold Dub and Droors, choosing to concentrate on DC instead. “Once DC started taking off, we decided to sell off the other brands to World Industries magnate Steve Rocco so we could focus just on DC ”, Block says. “Looking back, it was one of the best decisions of our lives.” As the focus narrowed yet again, the innovations kept coming; Danny Way engineered the first Super Ramp, on which he set a world record for the highest air, and DC introduced PAL AB2000, a hybrid of polyurethane-coated leather that has the flexibility of leather and the durability of rubber.
While their newly formed BMX team drew the likes of Dave Mirra, the DC skate squad grew more notorious as Stevie Williams became a part of the action. And though distinctive style was always important in image-conscious action sports circles, so was practicality, resulting in innovations like DC’s patented air bladder system for snowboarding boots, which eliminates heel lift and increases comfort.
Other noteworthy DC design advances include silicone gel “toe jam” pads and Heat Factory foot warmers. Because Block always placed value in obsessive research and development, he fed his passion for creating the best products by purchasing twenty-two acres of mountain property in Park City, UT which became Mountain Lab. Serving as a research and development center, resort, and satellite office, Mtn. Lab proved that DC was serious about snowboarding. “We have focus groups there and invite key retailers to ride our product so they can see for themselves what DC snow product is all about,” said Block, adding that it is “the only one-of-a-kind, private snowboard park in the entire world.”
Featuring obstacles, including 18 rails and boxes, s-rails, c-bows, and ups-and-downs, boarders can access the mountain with a 700 foot long rope tow. Explaining the monumental expense of building his dream snowboarding world, Block said, “in simplest terms, my love of snowboarding and being in the mountains were the reasons I built the Mtn. Lab. Beyond that, it just makes plain sense for myself and DC to have a place to stay in the mountains and test products; you can’t make a better product without testing!” Block’s toys illustrate the intersection of his business and personal life. At Mtn. Lab, for instance, ordinary
snowmobiles just will not do, so five of its Yamahas have been modified by Utah-based Mountain. Performance, Inc., under strict direction from DC, in order to maximize their applicability to snowboarding. Each of the SX Viper Mountain snowmobiles boast over $5,000 worth of upgrades, and are referred to as “shred sleds.” Although the stock snowmobiles offer strong climbing ability and capable suspension systems, the shred sleds’ track has been increased by 11 inches to 156, producing even more climbing power. A transfer enhancement kit reduces overall weight and biases balance towards the rear, aiding maneuverability in deep powder conditions. In addition to various chassis enhancements and a heavy duty clutch, the 700cc engines are souped up with triple pipes coated in aluminum ceramic for additional cooling, and a new engine head produces higher compression and boosts horsepower from 150 to 180. Block cruises downtown Park City in what he considers the ultimate winter mountain vehicle: a tricked out 2002 Mercedes-Benz G500. Sitting on 22s clad with all-weather tires, his full-time four wheel drive G-Wagen features two TV monitors, a Playstation 2 system, and, of course, a roof-mounted snowboard rack. When Block is in the mood for warmer weather, he enjoys his hometown of Encinitas, Calif. from the driver’s seat of a G-Wagen even more tricked out than his Park City ride. Outfitted by Pacific Coast Motoring, his west coast G500 rolls on color-coded 22” GFG wheels with chrome lips and 305mm-width 40-series tires. Upgraded brake calipers are painted red, and all marker lights are upgraded to Mercedes-Benz red Euro specs. Interior amenities include an Alpine A/V system with an integrated switching station, two widescreen headrest monitors, and a widescreen visor monitor. The DVD/CD and Playstation 2 units are flush-mounted in the backseat step-up area, while a hand built fiberglass molded, 10” Kicker subwoofer enclosure gleams in factory tech type Mercedes-Benz paint. Leaving no detail untouched, the paint on the 5-channel Alpine amp was removed, and the unit polished to a pristine chrome finish. In keeping with his Hip-Hop fascination, Block has added to his collection of G-Wagens with the urban car of the moment, a Bentley Continental GT. His lightly
2004 Impreza WRX STi Group N Rally Car
JDM STi 4-cylinder, 2.0 liter boxer engine
IHI twin scroll turbo (w/ Group N mandated 32mm restrictor)
Competition ECU – fully programmable, with Anti-Lag and Launch Control
5-speed dog engagement w/ electronic controlled center differential
Adjustable RS&SP Shock Absorbers
11.4” ventilated discs with 4-pot calipers front and 11.4” discs with 2 pot calipers rear
Stainless steel 2.5 inch, quick change
WHEELS & TIRES
Speedline 2118 , 15” X 7” (gravel wheel) ∑ Michelin Rally Tires
Aluminum skid plate
Carbon Kevlar underfloor protection
Rear suspension guards
TIG welded Group N homologated roll cage
Recaro SPG ProRacer
PIAA HID driving lights, w/Carbon light pod
STi Roof vent
Anti-glare coated dashboard
Carbon door panels
Coralba C-Giant Rally Odometer
Onboard Fire System