Wheels are arguably the most important part of your skateboard.
Okay, the trucks and board are pretty crucial, too. Then there are the bearings, bolts and griptape. Shit. Anyway, inspired by wheel companies of yesteryear and spurred on by the great product drought of 2020, Mark ‘Fos’ Foster has expanded his Heroin Skateboards empire to launch Snot Wheels. I spoke to the Lancashire-raised ripper about the genius new brand, which he is running from a shipping container in his LA backyard.
How has the last year been for you?
Well, I haven’t been able to get out to skate very much at all. Members of our family have compromised immune systems, so for their sake, the responsible thing to do is complete lockdown, as much as we can. We get groceries delivered, we don’t go out to stores; we’ve been taking it really, really seriously. Thankfully, none of us have it and we’re all still here.
Well done. It’s coming up to a year, now.
We really have been locked down for the past year. I work from home anyway; this is my office where I do all the Heroin graphics and all that stuff. The only thing I miss is skateboarding. In normal times, I go to the skatepark every single day, but I haven’t been able to do that. There are people there who don’t wear masks and everyone’s there drinking and hanging out. Dude, I can’t be there.
I’m interested in how the pandemic has affected your business, as well. I see your egg-shaped boards are hot property.
Yeah, it’s unbelievable.
I’m not sure if it’s connected, but the rise of skaters hitting curbs for socially isolated sessions, and people getting back into skating and being a bit more adventurous with their set-ups might have fed demand for your stuff.
I think everything’s connected, really. We put out our first egg in 2016; (Daniel) Shimizu asked me to do it for his pro board. It was based on an old Mike Carroll shape, and when I skated it I realised it didn’t really work. The wheelbase was way too short; the whole thing was about 31 1/2 or maybe even shorter – way too short. But the shape had potential, it was fun but it needed tweaking. So I put that template onto a more modern one as far as wheelbase and nose and tail length goes… this is all really nerdy stuff.
Oh, it’s great.
Anyway, it turned out at about 9 1/8 inches wide, and that was the sweet spot. That is the perfect egg board. Everything we’ve been doing is fun variations on that shape. We go bigger, we go a bit smaller. We’re just trying to keep putting fun stuff out that is really functional, and people have really gravitated towards it.
I read somewhere that you were sceptical at first, but now you mainly ride that shape.
I really like straight rails and a fat, round tail. So I thought I’d just set one up to see if it worked, because, you know, it’s not my cup of tea. But then I rode five in a row. I learned nollie heels three years ago at 44 years old. I did it first try, on the egg board.
Holy shit! I can imagine the tapered ends make it easier to flip, but it has that extra real estate in the middle so you feel more comfortable.
Exactly. It tapers perfectly at the nose and tail. It’s a 9 1/8 board, but over the trucks is 8.6. So where you kick your board off to do a flip is a bit slimmer. It really works.
I remember seeing Heroin boards around the turn of the century. How long have you been doing the brand for?
Wow. So what inspired you to start Snot?
It’s been at the back of my mind for a while. I really like what other wheel companies do; I respect them and I don’t want to take away anything from anybody else. But it seemed shops were struggling to get product last year, and I have had Heroin wheels made at this really good factory here in the US for years now. I reached out to the factory to get some more made, and they were like, sure, but it will deliver in March. This was in September last year, so I was like, whoa, okay, and got everything rolling. But it was Dead Dave who really inspired Snot, because I was trying to get him on some other wheel program. I was like ‘This guy rules, check him out’, and no one got back to me about it. So I thought maybe I should do our own wheel thing, and that would be super fun. Then Jake Snelling got on board, and there’s a couple of other people coming up, so it’s a fun little thing and it will hopefully help the shops who aren’t able to get stuff from the bigger people in the meantime.
You’ve approached marketing in a pretty cool way by sending out a bunch of postcards directly to shops.
I thought that was a good idea until I was about 45 in. I’ve done about 120 so far and I got three new ones this morning that I need to do. I mailed them two days ago so I imagine they’ll start showing up in the stores today or tomorrow.
It’s a cool way to launch a brand.
Yeah, everybody does an email out or whatever, but I thought it was better to have something to hold like a postcard in these stores. And that way, my product is already in the store, because they have a postcard and they might stick it on the wall, and people can be like ‘what’s that logo?’
Ah, clever. I always loved wheel ads in the magazines as a kid, they were so cool. Speed Wheels, Toxic… were you into them as well?
I love them all. One of my ideas for the first ad for Snot was to put ‘This is a homage to Speed Wheels, Toxic, Gizmos, all those old wheels.’ A1 Meats, Cockroach… a lot of wheel companies that aren’t around anymore.
Putting a bit of colour and humour back into the undercarriage of the skateboard is a good idea.
You know, I think Formula Fours are fantastic and that’s all I’ve ridden for the past two years, but I feel like the thing missing is the humour. Everything seems really serious. Spitfire, Bones and OJ, they’re all very serious about their formulas, and it’s like, where is the goofiness?
The first video I ever saw was Speed Freaks.
Yes! That video is so good. I spoke to some of the riders and they said they had, like, six hours to film their part for that.
I don’t know how far you want to go down this homage track, but you could make a video like that for Snot.
Well, I think we could get a whole part out of Jake Snelling at Stockwell in six hours, for definite.
It seems that way. The rest of the world might know him from Blokes, correct?
Love it, yeah. That was the best thing that happened in skateboarding that year.
The name Snot is great. Did you have a cold when you were brainstorming for a name?
I don’t know, I was playing around with a few names in my sketchbook, but that was the name I kept coming back to.
It’s fantastic. It’s double-barrelled as well, which is great.
Oh yeah. Me and the UK distributor have been back and forth about that, like ‘Snot bad, is it?
It also harks back to one of my favourite books as a kid, Fungus the Bogeyman.
That was a good one, wasn’t it? Maybe he should get a pro wheel.
I wonder if he’s contactable. Maybe stick your head down a manhole.
We might have to reach out to his agent.
So the first run of wheels will be available in March?
Yeah, and it’s all American-made; I need to stress that. They make the good stuff. I got a shipping container put into my backyard as my warehouse and I’m going to pack all the orders and ship everything from there personally. I’m the shipping department.
Do you like doing that stuff?
Yeah! I worked at Slam City Skates for a long time as the Sales Manager. I shipped all the boxes and did all that stuff. The reason this isn’t going through Baker Boys Distribution (Heroin Skateboards’ distribution) is the margins for making money on wheels is very small. The boards are doing great, but I have to start out doing Snot from home to make it worth doing financially.
Right, it’s a tough game.
The first time I ever made wheels, I was super nervous about it. This was in the year 2000 and the minimums you had to hit to get a decent price were insane – I had to order at least ten thousand wheels. It was huge for a little company out of Britain. I was so nervous; it was all the money I had in the world, like twenty grand. So I walked into the bank in torn-up jeans with patches all over them, a mesh hat and my skateboard and they’re like, ‘What do you want?’ and I told them I wanted to make a wire transfer for twenty thousand dollars. They were like, ‘Oh, come this way sir!’ It was hilarious.
‘Can I park your skateboard, sir?’
Exactly. ‘Coffee, water? Clean your bearings?’
And you got through those ten thousand wheels okay?
Yeah, in a few months. It was great.
Speaking of your patched up jeans, are they still in action?
They still are.
How long have they been going?
Almost as long as the board brand. Maybe 15 years?
They’ve always been cool but they’re extremely on-trend right now. Have you noticed?
Well, you know, a lot of people bite my style.
The world has sort of refashioned itself in your image.
Rightly so, too.
Thanks to Fos for chatting to us. Follow Snot wheels on Instagram!