With a vision that loks well beyond its plywood and polyurethane foundations, Aotearoa Board Company (ABC) has grown to become one of New Zealand’s most revered street culture brands. Incorporating a proud ’90s skate aesthetic, a healthy dose of down-to-earth NZ attitude and nod to golden-era Hip-Hop, ABC represents the emerging breed of the country’s skaters, musicians and artists.
ACCLAIM caught up with New Zealand skating icon and ABC founder Chey Ataria to have a chat about the company, the new Zealand skate scene and where the company is headed next.
What year was the company started and who was involved?
The original idea started maybe ten years ago, it was some wild idea I had. I used to skate for a couple of companies. One was Boom Skateboards and, around that time, like ten years ago, they were pretty big and doing some cool stuff. It kind of got to the point where I just decided I wanted to break off and do my own thing, it wasn’t really happening for me there.
Some good buddies of mine had started a clothing company called Huffer, and they gave me inspiration to do my own thing. So maybe ten years ago it started and I was doing it with minimal cash. I had this big plan but I didn’t have the funding to get it, so I had minimal cash and just some good ideas.
We just mucked around with it from there, did that for a couple of years and decided I had to get a proper job because I was having a kid. So that kind of reality set in, you have to make money, you know? So I kind of had to put it to the side. I put it to the side for about four years.
So before that, were you printing a couple of boards and stuff for yourself?
Well we were kind of just experimenting. I didn’t really have any insight into the whole manufacturing process. So it was pretty basic, we started off with stickers and then T-shirts, and from there we ended up connecting with a New Zealand skateboard maker and we started doing some boards.
So they were all printed?
Yeah they were screen-printed, it was all kind of pretty legit. We got into a little bit of cut and sew before we stopped. People were into it, but there was just a lack of cash (behind it) and
when you’re at a small company you’re always the last dude to get paid as well.
So if you’ve got minimal cash-flow, you know you’re trying to get it going, but you can’t pay for your next lot of stuff ‘cause the shops haven’t paid you. It’s pretty tough, but it’s a good learning experience.
What direction did you want take the company? Had you seen things at Boom that you wanted to mould into your own company?
Boom was doing really well, but it was just getting to that point where it didn’t feel like the right thing. I felt like I was giving ideas to the company…it was good, they were taking it on board but it was them. They actually started this other company called Strobe, which was kind of an off-division. I was doing that stuff for a while, helping those guys out and then they kind of lost momentum.
Did you feel like you had more of your own ideas that you wanted to pursue?
I just kind of thought I could do this myself, you know? There’s heaps of other politics in there but I don’t wanna get into that. So yeah, I just decided to split off. It was after going to the States and Japan and stuff, and just thinking, “Man I want to create something of my own and take it to those places”. I had a vision and hopefully one day it’s going to happen.
So at this point of time was it just you or was there anyone else involved?
There was a guy called Bernard Foo, who’s a pretty legit skateboarder. He was a part of it back in the day. We kinda had a few stops and starts, he had to get boards and stuff so he split and it was just me. Then I started a team with some other close friends of mine – a guy called Secombe Watene, who’s pretty prominent in the New Zealand skateboard scene; and then this kid James Wright, who’s like a mega child prodigy; and then another guy called Cliffy Reece, who’s based in Wellington. It was a pretty cool, solid team. We did a video and that was pretty legit.
What was that called?
Freedom Movement. It was going pretty well and then it just fell apart because of a lack of funds and I had to get a proper job.
How long have you been riding for?
I’ve been skateboarding maybe 20 years, maybe a little bit more. So I’ve been skateboarding for a while. I was sponsored by Boom and then Strobe and then I went to XEN.
Were you on the Deuce video or the New Beginning?
It was the New Beginning. I was kind of playing around with the idea of the company back then too. I was doing boards but still riding for XEN, and then I came to the point where I split from there. So yeah, kind of travelled around a bit skating – spent a bit of time in Sydney and Australia.
Who’s riding for the team now and whom do you think is killing it in New Zealand?
Joseph Whaanga, he’s pretty mega. He’s kind of been ripping for a while now, he’s mid-to-late-20s but still killing it, still jumping down big gaps and he’s mega consistent. This other kid Toby Locke, who’s pretty sick too – just dope steez and real cool tricks. Just doing crazy shit but does it with a really good style.
So ledges and stuff?
Yeah he’s a ledge skater, and pretty much just kills it. And another kid Mohamed Farhad, who’s this Indonesian kid – he’s been out here for ten or so years – yeah, he’s amazing too, he’s got mad pop and flip tricks.
Yeah I don’t know too many Indo skaters. Did you meet him when he came over?
Yeah he’d been here and I think he just hooked up with a bunch of kids that skated, and then kinda got into it. I’d always heard about him in the scene, ‘this kid was killing it out in such and such’, and then they built this skate-park in the middle of the city and it was kind of like the spot everyone went to hang. I got to see him skate and he was definitely one of the first picks when I re-launched ABC.
So are there any guys you flow gear to or anything like that?
Yeah there’s a bunch of dudes. There are quite a few guys that are always hitting me up that want to ride for us. There’s Gregg Timms, who’s a South Island legend; Josh Kalis, he’s super dope; another guy James Wright, who was originally on back in the day, we flow him stuff. And a couple of other small town kids, we do little shop deals with them, it helps out with us and helps them. There are a few other guys I’ve got in mind too, but I just wanna make sure we can supply them a good deal. But
it’s cool when the top dudes are coming to you.
So in the New Zealand skate scene your company is pretty established?
Yeah I think we’re pretty much the most legit one out there right now aye. So we wanna try do that over in Aussie too. So we’re gonna try get over there.
I was going to ask you, did you have any intentions to spread overseas?
Yeah definitely Japan and Australia are the two places we want to try and get into, hopefully this year actually. We’ve got two options: we might do a distribution deal out there or we might just have an agent. So we’ve got a couple of people who are keen and we’re just trying to figure the plan out first. But it’s definitely on the cards and in the next six months we want to be doing some business out there. Hopefully do some tours and just get out there.
You’ve done heaps of sick collaborations with Lakai, DVS, Raekwon and Beatnuts, how’d you hook all that up?
The DVS and Lakai stuff was through the owners. I meet them when they first started the company, they’d been going for about a year or two. I was buddies with a guy who was a friend of theirs, and he started doing the distribution in New Zealand. I was in the States at the same time and we got to go to where DVS started and it was pretty much the size of this place, if not smaller. And then by being in contact with them, I got on an international deal where they were giving me money and I was skating for them. So I kind of had that connection there, and it made it a bit easier when the time came to it. We just hit them up and it was pretty easy.
Raekwon and all that stuff, we got in touch with a promoter who brings the guys into the country. The first one was Ghostface and I just went to him and hit him up. It was all real last minute, it was pretty much a day or two before he was about to play – I think he’d just arrived here about two days prior. I had the idea and I was trying to get at the guy to make some merch or do something with him, and it kind of just connected. I got the go ahead, it was on a Saturday and I had to try and print the tee’s with the gig on that night. So it was real last minute, but so stoked it happened. That was the initial connection and now whenever he has got a dude that comes into town he just gives me a yell and says, “Hey, do you want to do something with this guy?”
What did Ghostface and that think of it?
He was pretty cool. He was down.
Who does the main designs for the company? Is that you or do you outsource that?
It started off as mainly me, but now we’ve got a few graphic designers for the art. Feed, they hook me up prints and stuff. But mainly just one guy called Glen Smith, who’s based in Mount Maunganui, who does 80 per cent of the graphics. I muck around with a few bits and pieces, and then we’ve got a couple of other dudes that submit stuff, but I’m always getting hit up from dudes wanting to put forward their art. It’s cool, we can kind of pick and choose.
You’ve started doing the ABC TV stuff pretty regularly, who’s filming that and are there any plans for a new video?
We did that channel just to do little instalments every couple of weeks. So far it has been two guys (filming), Colin Evans who was based in the South Island but he was up in Auckland, so he filmed a little bit. But the last guy was Kezza, from Palmerston North, he filmed the last two clips. Since then, we’ve been approached by this online TV channel, and they want to do a specific ABC TV which is based around skateboarding and street culture, so we’re just trying to line that up now.
Are there companies, music, film or artwork that influence the direction ABC is going?
The golden days for me, when I started skateboarding, were around the ‘90s. So I guess I draw a lot of inspiration from that era, within skateboarding and the music and stuff. Hip-hop, Wu-Tang and all those kind of guys; that was the golden age for me and I still reference that. So I guess it’s a bit of that and we try and put a bit of a New Zealand flavour in it, ‘cause you gotta do that. Old Wu-Tang, Nas, those sort of styles. I draw a bit of inspiration from that era but you’ve got to have a bit of an eye on the trends as well. So you can have a pinch of this and a little bit of that, and hopefully come up with something cool.
So the guys that are riding for you, do they all have the same kind of aesthetic?
Yeah they’re all pretty hip-hop, quite urban (laughs). They all like that sort of stuff, so it’s all around about that vibe. They all like hip-hop, so it’s pretty hip-hop based.
How’s the NZ skate scene growing? When I was down south, every little town I went to there was a skate-park.
Definitely in winter time it dies off a little bit, ‘cause it’s a pretty wet country – it rains quite a bit up north, and it’s real cold down south. I guess in the summer it picks up again, all the older guys get back into it. It’s not going to fade away, it’ll just always be there. It might kind of pick up but I don’t think it’s ever going to die out like it did a while back. And that’s the good thing about New Zealand, there are always skate-parks in every town and there’s always new ones coming. So whenever they do a park, usually skateboarding will be buzzing in that area for the next couple of years. So the more parks they build, the better it is for skateboarding.
Have you got any words of wisdom for anybody that’s looking to start a company in New Zealand or the wider community?
Just do it. Usually if you’ve got the passion to do it man, you’ll just go through those struggles – cause it’s not easy – but if it’s you’re passionate, then you’re doing it without the returns anyway. Hopefully somewhere down the track you’ll reap those benefits.
Just make sure it’s something you want to do, and you’re really into it and just go for it.
And don’t give up. Hopefully one day it will all pay off.
What’s the hardest part about your job?
The hardest part would probably be allocating my time to each job. Usually I’ll start something and the next thing will be there, and I haven’t quite finished the last thing. So time management is probably my weakness. I could write down a list of shit that I should be doing right now (laughs). I think one thing for me is trying to get one thing done before starting the next, or just like hammer it through. Otherwise you’ve got all these projects, maybe five or six things that are not finished and you’re trying to do them all.
And what’s the best part about your job?
Just creating stuff aye. Seeing shit that you’ve done, people rocking it or people amping or stoked on something that you’ve done. That Raekwon stuff, when I did that and I told my team, they were just over the moon. They were so stoked. You know if you can create that feeling for most stuff that you do, then people feel part of it.
I think that kind of shit appeals to skaters, but it also appeals to the wider hip-hop community as well.
We’re definitely a skate thing and we’re never gonna hide that fact, but we want to be a little bit broader just ‘cause the New Zealand skate scene – it’s good, it’s big, but it’s pretty narrow. So we try and hit that street dude and that hip-hop guy, so it brings it out a little bit more for more people to be a part of it.
So you’ve got that in the back of your mind when you’re designing your clothes as well?
Yeah, it’s all kind of skate influences from that ‘90s vibe, but we’re trying to appeal to everyone. We try and have a slightly wider scope that we tap into, just within New Zealand because it’s such a small place. There’s like 4 million people.
What can we expect from ABC in the future?
The clothing range is just going to expand more. Each season that rolls out we throw in a few more bits and pieces. Slowly building the range and that.
Shout-outs to ACCLAIM magazine and you for coming in. And just to Huffer, they’ve sort of been a big part of the re-launch and they’ve helped me, so it’s good to have a solid company behind you
To check out ABC online, follow the link here.