Following a solid stint as a pro skater in late ’90s San Francisco, Pontus Alv returned to his hometown of Malmö, Sweden and began making strange films that were somehow just as exciting as the big-budget skate videos coming from the USA, but with more umbrellas, wallrides, and penises.
Throughout this time, he was a driving force behind the DIY spot renaissance in Malmö, which helped put the city on the map as an international skate destination, as well as usher in a new era of fast, creative skating that unashamedly took its style cues from the ’80s and ’90s.
In 2011, Pontus began his own skateboard company, Polar, which has since led the charge in redefining the skate industry into the more independent, international and interesting amorphous cloud it is today. In 2020, together with his old friend and fellow skater Sami, Pontus launched his own shoe company, Last Resort AB. With nods to the glory days and a refusal to bow to corporate vibes, Pontus is once again presenting his own uncompromising vision of how things should be. On the eve of the launch of Last Resort’s second, Covid-delayed drop of shoes in the EU and USA, I had a chat with him over a scratchy connection from his new home in Portugal.
I’ve been enjoying watching your house come together, Pontus.
Yeah, it hasn’t been easy. I moved here to Portugal and I was thinking I would do some renovations, but I wasn’t thinking it would be to this scale. It’s like okay, I want to move this wall. But then this floor is fucked, so okay, new floor. But then why not open up this space here? And in the end there’s nothing left. It’s a case of pulling it all down and then restarting. So yeah, maybe I got carried away. But it’s getting there. It’s been one of the most complicated things I’ve done in my life.
Really, after all the things you’ve done?
Running a skateboard company or a shoe company, that’s peanuts compared to this. This is completely crazy.
It must have some parallels. It seems like you are slowly taking apart and building your own version of everything in skateboarding, too.
Yeah, I guess. I never built a house, but I’m not afraid of it. I have people doing it, but I’m there, I’m involved with every single step. It’s kind of the same with any kind of design. If you really want to design a t-shirt, you have to study the cut, the thickness of the thread, what kind of knitting techniques, the shrinkage, the washing and dyeing process, sewing and so on. You spend time and you decide on all these things. Of course, with more experience, you have an advantage; and maybe that’s the problem with this house. I’ve never built a house, so the next house I build, I will be more prepared. But you just have to get in there. You learn by doing.
You seem like a really decisive guy.
Well, I have a very precise idea of what I like. Like with shoes, I know exactly how I want it to fit, exactly how I want it to look on my foot and how it should feel. It’s in my heart, in my DNA. I’ve tried so many brands, I’ve worked on things with Nike and Converse and I was never quite happy with it. Also, we change a lot. You could be really into these pants or this board shape, then you get tired of it and try something new. You change your perspective on things, which is okay, I think. We have to develop.
So with Last Resort AB, you and Sami started talking one day and the whole thing came together quite quickly?
Yes, he already had his thing going on, making shoes here in Portugal. I was sitting at a beach bar chatting with him on DM. I basically said if you can bring me a vulcanised shoe under 100 dollars, I’m in. He was like, cool, okay – he was kind of fishing as well, you know, he wanted a partner or a person who could help bring it to a global scale. But it was really spontaneous, old friends just catching up and talking about shoes. Almost like it was meant to be, you know? Within a month he had talked to his designer friend in Stockholm who knew an amazing factory in Vietnam, and then we did a design, which was already there in my head; I just had to print it out from the brain. Four or five weeks later, they flew down here and presented the first sample and it looked fucking great. We were all like, holy shit, this is actually really good, you know? From that first DM chat until releasing into stores was basically one year.
That’s amazingly quick.
It was really spontaneous and natural. Four of us joined forces: Daniel was Sami’s partner before and then me and Mike are partners in Polar. So Mike and Daniel handle all the sales and logistics, all the lawyer stuff and paperwork; you know, all the serious stuff. Me and Sami do all the creative and design, all the marketing. And of course the factory, I’ve never been so impressed and amazed by a factory, and how fast they do things over there. It’s insane. I do a drawing on a piece of paper and in ten days I have a sample in my hand, just from a sketch. That’s why this project is so fun, because all the partners are so into it and on it.It’s cool that it’s such a simple shoe, like how you can judge a chef by their plain omelette. There’s a lot of intricacy to something so simple.
If I tell you: hit the city and buy a skate shoe that’s all black—yes, you can have a Vans shoe or maybe a Jack Purcell, but there will always be a little tag or something annoying. All the shoes are so full of things because we’ve been brainwashed that we need that side profile. What’s your sign, your logo, you know? That’s always been the whole sneaker thing; but no, I don’t want that. I’m not claiming it’s some super unique idea, but it is quite rare to find a clean, plain-looking shoe, with minimal branding and precise little details on the shoelaces. Our logos are there but they don’t overtake the design of the whole shoe.
The more important side are all the little things. The little bit higher foxing tape, the colour of the foxing tape, the feel of the suede, the stitching, the weight of the shoe. And in the end, it’s actually the performance. It’s super simple, but we have had tons of people getting back to us to say it’s so fucking comfy.
That’s what it comes down to, like you said. It’s a fine line of how much salt and pepper you put on your omelette. Enough board feel, but the comfort doesn’t suffer. How it fits on your foot. That was all down to the fine-tuning of all the fabrics and the pattern, that’s the art of making a shoe.
The way you’ve promoted the company is different to other shoe brands, too. The team seems to be made up of people of all ages, chosen for their personality as much as their skating. Was that on purpose?
Of course, there are many sides to this story. When I got the call saying they had the purchase order ready for the first drop, it was in the middle of the Covid breakout in Europe that was about to shut down the stores and the entire market. But I said okay, fuck it, let’s do it, it will work out somehow. We didn’t know if we would be able to deliver the shoes on time, or if the stores would even want them. And then there was the question of how we would make a team. It’s very difficult now that I can’t travel because the best way to build a team and get things going is to hit the road and do a little trip together. We have a lot of people hitting us up and they seem cool and interesting, but I don’t know them. I don’t want to put someone on the team that I don’t personally know or haven’t met. I don’t want to get to know them via Facetime.
Another side, of course, was I cannot offer people much money. We just started this company with one model, we don’t have a massive investment company behind us. So even if I wanted to throw down 50 or 100 thousand on one of the bigger names in the industry, it wouldn’t be interesting. It would be just another one of those companies fighting over the new Lucas Puig or Mariano contract or whatever. It just becomes football. It becomes something that people don’t want, and I don’t want it.
If you ride for a company it’s important to get paid, but it shouldn’t be the first motivation. You should ride for the company because you genuinely like it. You love the design, you love the idea, you love that it’s independent skater-owned. And you love the team. That was the first thing I said: I want to have a team of weirdos, a bunch of creative personalities. That is more important than if they can do a bigspin flip bluntslide down a 20-stair rail or whatever.
The guys I want to put on are basically my friends. Ludvig, Jean Louis, Nick Rios, Chris Milic; people who are creative and they are great friends of mine. They’re cool people, I want to be around them. I want Last Resort to be small and grow organically; I don’t want to throw money at everyone I like and buy them out from their contracts. It’s not the style, it’s not what I want to be about. And also it’s more fun to give new riders a chance, you know? Take a guy like Ludvig. He’s a cool character; I like him, and it would be sick if he could become a face of the brand and grow with it. Starting from zero is cool.
As an outsider, the perception of the brand starting from zero makes it more relatable.
Also one of our slogans is ‘plain and simple shoes for the people’. I want people to feel like it’s our thing. It’s a skater’s brand, it’s a skate company, and it’s okay, everyone can skate the shoes, you know? I don’t necessarily need to have a very strict team. I want to flow people shoes and give filmmakers shoes. I want the people who are making our culture to wear the shoes, not only the riders. They’re just as important.
And the writers? 😉
Yes, the people at the magazines, the people designing the shapes of the boards we ride, and so on. Those people are rad. Have some shoes, you know? Skate them, enjoy them. It doesn’t have to be this super-elite team. Jean-Louis Huhta, his son Vincent is an amazing skater. Vincent is on Nike, but his father is rocking my shoes, and it’s cool because he’s a character. I like when the older guys can shine. I like to watch people grow up. It’s okay if you’re 50 years old. You can still ride a skateboard and you can still create energy and inspiration for a lot of people, even if you’re not the top rider with the latest tricks. I appreciate that in our culture. Now we have people at 50 and 60 skating. It’s a new genre of skateboarding. Where is the limit? I swear to god, Tony Hawk at 65 will do a 540, and that will be fucking epic.
Yeah! Do you want to talk about anything else?
It’s a really strange time in skateboarding right now because of the Covid situation where all the Wall Street companies are under a lot of pressure from the investors and the owners. Obviously, there are a lot of contracts up and lots of people getting fired, people are stressed over their big contracts. Companies are closing down accounts and the skate stores are tripping. It’s such weird timing with us starting out our own shoe brand. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to mean moving forward. I don’t know what the big companies are planning to do with skateboarding. We’ll see, but we are all in for the skate stores and the little guys. It’s an interesting time, a time of change.
So, what’s next?
The new value in the world today is mystique. Not knowing, not sharing, not being out there. The Dane Brady example – you go off social media and it’s like you’re dead. What happened to this guy? He doesn’t exist! People ask me several times a week if he is alive. That’s the thing today: limiting information. The information you get should be high quality.
And it’s that restraint again.
Look at how many skate clips are out there every day, it’s just fucking killing our whole culture. It’s too big, too many videos, too many things. It’s not healthy; we’re flooded with information. That’s why I wait to put out something until it means something. When I grew up there were three or four years between videos. It’s not interesting to watch a video every year because nothing has changed. Guy Mariano was a little kid in Video Days, then you saw little things here and there and the next time you saw a full part from him was in Mouse. Holy shit! That makes sense to me, because you see progress. He grew up, he became taller, he changed his style. He became mature. It’s a little bit like how you see with Oski and those guys. He was a little kid, and you follow his progress over the company’s history.
Your stuff, the Atlantic Drift series, the John Wilson clip that came out recently. We’re all waiting for these things, and everyone can feel that they’re a level above.
Yeah, but why are you waiting for a new Polar video? Maybe it’s because you haven’t seen anything of it for a while. How can you miss something if you have it on tap? If I put out Polar in Paris and Polar in New York, Summer days in Copenhagen with the Polar team three times a year, you would not be excited to see anything from us. The guys are putting stuff out on Instagram and little snippets here and there, but you’re waiting for the full show.
So much time and money that goes into every video. To get those epic clips and those epic sessions, that magic only happens sometimes. If you go on a trip, maybe you only use three clips from that trip, if you’re lucky. You wait for those magic moments, because that’s what you’re trying to collect. You just don’t know when they’re going to happen. You just have to keep going out together skating, collecting those special moments. And in the end, you present them together and you get that epic experience and it’s worth all that energy and time. My problem is: where do you put it out?
That’s the negative side of the digital format. Everyone can put something out there and even if it’s really good, like that Johnny clip or that Fucking Awesome promo, it just comes and you don’t have the same respect because back in the day you went to the skate shop and you had to pay 20 bucks for it. You held it in your hand and you put it in a machine, and you played it over and over again. It’s a different feeling.
Every week there’s another sick thing to click on, then it’s just gone. Years and years of hard work, thousands of hours. And it’s just like, yeah, that was sick. Some stuff you go back and watch again, but where is it sitting? Where does all this magic sit? On a server somewhere.
A huge thanks to Pontus and Sami for the chat and all the cool images. Last Resort AB is available from good skate shops worldwide.