Over the years, skateboarding’s most memorable & iconic figures have also been known to be incredibly enigmatic. In this fast-paced world of newly found social media standards and media alike, everything about your favorite skater is out there for you to know, and yet some unique characters manage to keep something for themselves.
Dennis Busenitz is one of those characters. Outside of the number of interviews he’s done, so little has been revealed about his preferences in footwear and beyond, making his mysterious allure that much more magnifying.
Dennis is now celebrating a decade with Adidas, and it’s with that special focus that we had to ask him about everything we’ve seen over the years. From speaking on having some reluctant feelings about joining Adidas initially, to the stress of having to come up with something exciting when asked to design a new pro model, Dennis finally lets us in on these past 10 years.
In prior interviews, you’ve credited Bryce Kanights as the first person to approach you to skate for the Adidas skate program. Do you know why he thought to ask you?
I don’t know why he thought of me, but yeah, he was in charge of setting up the new skate team. We were friends and we knew each other from when he lived in the city, and even though we really didn’t go skating together much, he just decided to try and recruit me. I don’t really know why, that’s something you’d have to ask him.
Did Bryce have to pitch it to you, to sell you on the idea? Or was it more like, “Well, Bryce says its cool, I’ll do it.”?
It definitely helped that Bryce was the one doing it. But yeah, he needed to do a little bit of convincing because at that time, Adidas wasn’t “in” skateboarding at all really, or at least not actively. When you thought about Adidas Skateboarding back then you thought about their first attempt back in the mid-90’s and it wasn’t that awesome of a memory. Now, when you think about it and those shoes, you can have a little laugh about it, but when I’d think about skating for that company then, it was a little weird. Bryce had to tell me, “Nah, it’s going to be rad” and “They’re going to do it right” and all that stuff. I talked to other people about it and they recommended it.
How much did the fact Gonz skated for them influence your decision?
Well, that’s great, of course, but that didn’t mean that the program was going to necessarily work [laughs]. Also, there was the whole thing back then of big shoe companies not being accepted and that whole stigma. The whole “bad corporations” are coming into skateboarding and all that hate, so to get past that was something too.
It seemed like you put some thought into this decision, so with all that back and forth, did anything tip the scale finally?
Just having people tell me it was a great opportunity.
Do you remember who else was involved in the skate program when you got on back in 2006? I remember that first 17 trick line clip Adidas put out…
Yeah, Lem was on, Tim [O’connor], Gonz, Nestor, and I wanna say maybe, Taylor Bingham. It was pretty small back then.
Do you have any memory of trying to get that line together? I remember you skating in those aqua blue Skate Gazelles, and you do a bs 50/50 on one of the ledges and break through a bottle or something like that…
Yeah, it took quite a while and everything. That bottle was already there, so we didn’t stage it too much. We smashed it, but then it took a couple tries to get it, so we put it back together. At the time we were doing it, we were like, “What the fuck are we doing? This is like a fucking production.” But when it came together, it was pretty fun, I guess.
After that clip, I think the Adidas Paris edit was the first official Adidas skate program video. Everyone in that is skating the Campus Vulc… you were skating those red and black ones. What did you think of the Campus Vulc back then?
That was just a good shoe. Those were the colors they made, so I skated in them. That shoe was awesome. I always thought those were better for skating than the regular Campus. At that point, there weren’t that many shoes from Adidas Skateboarding. They had the Skate Gazelle, a version of the shell toe which was a little bit too much, but I skated that Campus Vulc a lot. Then they gave me my own colorway and I skated it even more. It was a good shoe.
I remember those red Skate Gazelles because the year they came out happened to be a year that I lived in Tokyo, and I remember skating those all over Tokyo and people would come up to me be all “Oh! Those are the red Busenitz!” What do remember about those shoes? Did you pick the red colorway?
I actually did. I decided I wanted my shoe to be red, then Adidas did it and they put the “booze” and the “tits” on there. I always liked that feature. I thought it was pretty funny. It’s pretty funny that people would even recognize it because red Adidas shoes weren’t really that much of a stand-out, right?
Yeah, but back then not that many people were skating red shoes. Red shoes are a little more prominent now. I mean, Kalis would skate red shoes then, but it wasn’t like today with hyper colors and whatnot. Everyone liked to be a little more low key then.
Yeah. I don’t know. I didn’t really put that much thought into it. I just thought that red would be cool, so I went for that. I wore it for quite some time, but after awhile you can’t wear red shoes all the time. It gets to be a little much [laughs]. I liked that shoe a lot, the Skate Gazelle was a pretty great shoe.
It was totally a great one. It was a cupsole, but the sole was nice and thin for the time. The heel lock was good too.
And it had those side straps on the tongue that help keep the tongue there. That was a nice feature, but that might just be our nostalgia. They might not actually be that great…
So then maybe a year or so after your colorway of the Skate Gazelle came your colorway of the Campus Vulc. Was that still the original “good” version of the Campus Vulc? Do you remember when it got beefy?
It was the Campus Vulc that I liked. Adidas wanted me to do a colorway and I chose black and white because that’s just what I wanted to skate. I don’t know if that colorway was even available at that time. Adidas would try to spice up the Campus Vulc with some kind of color, but I always wanted the boring black and white. I think I only had that for one or two seasons. I think after that shoe I got my pro shoe.
You skated the Campus Vulc through the Adidas Mexico and Adidas Japan edits, and then skated it through most of Diagonal. I think you skated it in all of those. It wasn’t until halfway through your Diagonal part, where the music changes, that you skated in the Busenitz Pro… on that spot with the banks and the stairs in Europe.
Yeah, it sounds like you might know more than I do [laughs]. The first thing I remember of my pro shoe is getting a sample in Barcelona and then skating Sants in them. That was the first time I remember skating it. I think that’s the time when I ollie’d that bench that ended up in Diagonal. That’s when I remember skating my shoe for the first time.
Around that time Adidas also put out the Busenitz Pro Model edit. The video of you going through the process of designing the shoe with one of the Adidas designers.
We went through all the stuff we had already talked about in designing the shoe, but this time on camera. It was kind of awkward [laughs], but it was accurate of how it went down and how we communicated together, me and the designers. I don’t know if I ever actually watched that video [laughs].
There’s a lot in that video. It goes into the whole narrative of how you were inspired by the Copa Mundial and all that. How did you really get involved in the design? Did they give you access to a warehouse of all Adidas’ shoes? How does it even work when Adidas says “You’re going to get a shoe”?
I didn’t get access to a warehouse, but I did go up to Portland and Adidas had shoes lying around based on what I had told them about my ideas. It included a sample of the Copa Mundial because everyone knows the Copa Mundial. I played soccer when I was a kid and I wore that shoe. I always liked how soccer shoes were really snug and your foot was just in there, locked in. I thought it would be cool to make a skate shoe like that. I had that idea before Adidas, and when Adidas told me they wanted to give me a shoe, I figured that was the perfect chance to make that idea happen. Yea, I guess that’s how it came about. Working with Danny Kinley, he got it and made it happen. I remember a little bit of hesitation and people not being really sure about it. I guess it was a little different at that time.
Shoes were getting pretty stale at the time, with all the vulcs, and then Adidas released your shoe and it was like “this is really different.” It’s a cupsole with a soccer theme…people tried it do it before, but not like this. Was that a concern? Like “what are skaters going to think about skating a soccer-inspired shoe…”
Yeah, it was a concern. It was definitely a concern. Towards the end of it, I was really second guessing it, but at that point, it was pretty much done. I just kind of looked at it as “whatever, it’s a shoe that I wanted to skate.” So, even if it just lasted for one season it would have been fine with me. I’m just stoked that people liked it and that it’s still around. It was different, but it’s not like it was a crazy freak shoe. It didn’t stick out like it was that crazy.
Did it take any convincing to get you actually involved in the design process?
No, I was into it. I was just like “I want to have a soccer based shoe.” The only thing I needed convincing was having it be a cupsole and not a vulcanized shoe. I really wanted it to be a vulcanized shoe, but there were people like Matt Irving that told me that every shoe is a vulcanized shoe, so you should do a cupsole just to do something different. So, I was like, “Ok, I like vulcanized, but let’s do a cupsole.” That was one of the features that made it stand out to you, right?
Yeah, that was the first cupsole I had skated in years. But what about the tongue on the Busenitz Pro? That was certainly unique at the time.
I think it was even longer in the first sample and they didn’t have the cutting it off feature. That was an addition on later samples. That was also Matt Irving’s idea. That was the biggest change that we did. The sample was pretty on point since the beginning. Oh, and the sample toe was a little too tight and the way Danny corrected that was by taking out a little bit of the sole, so that’s why it’s thinner in the front. Other than that, I don’t remember any other big improvements.
That video also features the classic quote “I like my shit boring.”
Still true [laughs].
With the Busenitz Pro, there’s been an insane number of colorways. There’s been one or two questionable ones, but they’ve been pretty good since the beginning. Do you sign off on those? Or is it just Adidas pumping them out? Do you ever tell them, “I need this colorway!”
They keep me involved in the colorways and some of them are a little too much for me, personally, and they’ve made it clear to me that there are people out there that like different colors than me. I have to be ok with that. That’s why I sign off on those colorways that are a little bit questionable, so whatever, someone out there is stoked on them. Just because I like my shit boring doesn’t mean I have to push that on everybody else. On top of that, it’s not like they take away my nice boring colors that I want to wear and replace them with something…they are just in addition to those. That’s why I’m ok with that.
In talking about colorways over the years, Adidas is highlighting some of the better known colorways from your ten years on the team. What are some of your favorite colorways?
I like the first ones, the Munich colorway, with the gold stripes just because I think I have the best memories of skating that one. It was an exciting time. That’s the color the samples were…and that was my first pro shoe with any company. When I see that colorway I always get a little extra stoked. The one with the gum sole is one of my favorites just because I have a superstition that gum soles are grippier. It’s horseshit, but…
[Laughs] For some reason I can never skate shoes with black soles. In my head they seem slippery, which they’re probably not…
Nah, the scientists in the lab say they are just as grippy.
What do they know? They’re not out skating in it.
They’re not out in the streets [laughs].
I don’t know how much you watch skate videos but for me, they are the ultimate stress reliever. Are there any skate videos you’re always watching?
I like watching the videos I grew up with and showing those to my kids. We have skate video parties sometimes, with Mouse and Ban This. They love the Eric Koston Charlie Chaplin skit…
My kids love to do little weird dances to the Guy Mariano song…
[Laughs] I don’t really think of that one as a dance song. Most of the time, skate videos get me hyped. Sometimes lately, it gets to be too much. It’s incredible how gnarly they are now…
Do the shoes guys are wearing in videos ever trigger any memories? Like does seeing Carroll skate in some white half cabs trigger anything for you?
Koston’s first shoe was a pretty iconic video from when I studied videos religiously. When he backside noseblunts Hubba Hideout, that was a pretty iconic shoe moment. Then there’s the DC Lynx and Brian Wenning and that whole time…
Does it get you psyched to see the other Adidas guys skating in your shoe? For example, there’s the Adidas x Palace edit where both Benny and Chewy are skating your shoe…
Yeah, it’s rad when people like your shoes and want to skate them. It definitely stokes me out. You want to have a shoe that people like, and people like it, so it’s rad.
So in 2013, the Busenitz Vulc came out. Based on what you said before, were you just sitting on your hands waiting for the vulc version to come out?
No, that was Adidas’ call. I wasn’t pushing for it or anything. They knew that I would like that…that I still like vulc shoes. The original shoe was still doing well, so they just wanted to spice it up a bit with the vulc. At least that’s how I remember it.
After the Busenitz Vulc came out, there was long stretch where you were almost skating that shoe exclusively…
The vulcs came out when the ADV shoe came out, right?
Yeah, that Busenitz Euro Lines video came out in 2013 and introduced them both.
That was 2013?
Yeah, that’s what the date on the video said. I don’t know when you actually filmed that thing.
I don’t know either, but that seems like awfully long time ago. We’re nearing 2017…
[Laughs] So yeah, the Busenitz Vulc came out and then we didn’t see you skating the Busenitz Pro much anymore. Was that marketing? Or was it that you just loved skating the vulc once it finally came out?
I loved skating the vulc when it came out. When it came out I had been skating the other shoe for three to four years of only wearing the Busenitz Pro, so I was just excited to switch it up a little bit. Adidas doesn’t tell me what shoe I have to skate in. They let me skate in whatever shoe I want and fucking hell, they give me three shoes, so I have a lot to pick from [laughs].
Do you have any memories from the 2013 Euro Lines video?
That was a really fun trip because it was an excuse to drag my whole family out to Europe and Adidas made it happen. It was just mellow. We were basically traveling all over the place and then we’d go out skating a couple hours a day, while the rest of the time I could just hang out with my family. Torsten Frank filmed it all and he is super mellow to work with. We skated a lot of really cool spots, and there was no point to the whole trip other than get footage, so there was no pressure. It wasn’t like a full on skate trip with like, fifty dudes barging spots. We had a lot of fun skating. The video came out good I guess, and I have a lot of fond memories of that trip.
There’s a lot of people that still watch that video. It was one of the first videos where you see some of those Copenhagen spots that everyone skates in that contest now. Like, the one with those white wavy banks…
Those weird iceberg white pyramid thingies in a basketball court?
Yes, exactly. When you get to a spot like that, how long does it take you to get to where you’re like, “Ok, I can do some stuff here”?
I’m usually just pretty excited and spazz out for awhile, then that’s that. Since I’m getting older I try to focus my energy on something, so after I’ve jumped around and had fun, I try to pick one thing and try to do that instead of dispersing my energy all over the place. Then if I get something, I’ll let myself play again [laughs].
That video has a lot of long lines in it. How many of your lines are planned out and how many are just a result of you telling Torsten he can film you now?
I think it just came about naturally. We’d just go to a spot and skate it, and a line would come together and then we’d try to get it. That’s how the whole thing with the title Euro Lines came together. We didn’t go out there with the plan of filming a bunch of lines. At the end of the trip Torsten was like, we should probably get some single tricks. We got what we got and they just named it Euro Lines.
In both Euro Lines and the Real Pushing San Francisco videos, you skate that Busenitz Vulc Samba colorway a lot, was that a favorite at the time?
Yea, I liked that one because it had a gum sole.
Oh yea, there it is. I should have remembered, gum soles. Speaking of gum soles, do you remember your EA Skate Skate Gazelle? That had such a good gum sole.
[Laughs hard, catching breath] That one had my avatar on the bottom.
I was gonna gloss over that part… I just wanted to talk about the cool clear gum sole on that one.
It was a good shoe, except for my avatar on the bottom. Shit [laughs].
Speaking of details like that, I remember someone on the Slap Forums (i.e. Eranka) took apart the Busenitz ADV and it had secret messages in it. It said “Gary Headlock Forever” and “No Bozos” underneath a layer inside the sole.
That was Danny Kinley. That wasn’t my personal message, but I got a kick out of that. Apparently, shoe companies take apart each other’s shoes to look at them and see what’s going on and it was them fucking with each other…just having a laugh. I don’t know what I would put in there.
So, what happened with the Busenitz ADV? You skated it a lot in that Euro Lines video, and Suciu was skating that shoe a lot. I always liked that shoe and it didn’t blow out…
It lasted for a long time. I skated it a lot, and then I just stopped and started skating the vulc for no particular reason other than it was the shoe I wanted to skate. It just wasn’t doing that well I think because it was one of the more expensive shoes in the shop. So, Adidas decided to pull it, so it just ended. A lot of the guys on the team liked to skate it, and it seemed like it was starting to pick up again, but yea…that shoe was more of Danny’s creation than anything. With my first shoe, I had an idea to bring to the shoe- where with the ADV I didn’t have any ideas and he came up with.
If you were to get another shoe, is there anything you’d say to Adidas that you have to have for it? Your shoes all seem to have at least a similar toe shape, or decorative toe stitching on the Pro and Vulc…is there anything that you’d really want to do?
We’re working on stuff. I don’t know if I want to spoil the surprise. Is there anything that I have to have? No, I could skate the shoes that I have until I am done skating.
So, Away Days… you’re skating the Busenitz Vulc for most of that part. Then, there’s the Japan footage and the TWS feature “Deadline Away” where you went to Japan on a filming trip with Silas. In that, you’re skating a shoe that looks like a Samba. Are those actual Sambas? Are they a skate version?
Those are the shoes that I didn’t want to spoil the surprise, but fuck it, I was skating them in Away Days [laughs].
You can blame Adidas for that.
Damn Adidas. Put that in there for sure… damn, Adidas. Fuck, I don’t know what’s going on anymore. Adidas wanted to give me another shoe and I was digging for ideas. It’s increasingly difficult to come up with a shoe that stands out and is not gross. I was just looking at skate shoes in the Adidas skate line and there are no skate shoes with the anchor toe, or a T-toe. There’s no shoe in the Adidas skate line that has a T-toe, so I wanted to try and get something. I guess it’s just a Samba bite, but I wanted something with the T-toe. Adidas tried some samples that didn’t come out the way I wanted them, but then the second version they ended up just putting a T-toe on my vulc shoe. I love that shoe and it comes out pretty soon. The first samples of the Samba Vulc that I got were the ones I took on the Japan trip. I like them a lot. They turned out really nice.
People are going to be excited to see that one.
I hope so. I was told that there’s never been a successful anchor toe in skateboarding, but I feel like Adidas can work around how that Samba toe is an iconic Adidas look.
It’s a nice break from the monotonous one-piece toe caps everyone is doing.
Yeah, and I’m just happy to take the classic look in a new way. It’s only new because it was neglected in the skate world.
Looking back at the last ten years, is there any one thing that you can attribute to the success of the Busenitz Pro and the Busenitz Vulc?
I don’t think I have a nice answer, and I don’t think anyone does. If anyone knew, then they’d just do it over and over again. Whenever people try to tell me why it was a success, I tell them they don’t know what they are talking about. There’s just so many things, so many variables that can go wrong. It’s not all luck, but that’s a big part of it. Who knows… I just approach it as “What do I like, and what do I want to skate?” If it works, it works… if not, what the fuck else am I supposed to do. That makes sense, right?
Total sense. What are your Top Five skate shoes of all time, from any brand? In no particular order.
The ES Accel. The ES Koston. Vans Half Cab. Vans Rowley, the first one. I only have one left, shit, better make it good. This might be a weird one, but I liked skating it when I was a kid—the Jeremy Wray Dukes shoe. Jeremy Wray wore it and he ripped, and I had fun wearing it pretending to be Jeremy Wray.
I definitely remember wearing shoes and pretending to be whomever shoes they were.
Yeah, you try to emulate your favorite dude at the time.
So you’re pretending to climb up some giant towers and ollie between them…
Yea [laughs]. I’m probably missing some shoes that I liked, but those are what come to mind.
What about your top three favorite models and colorways of your shoes? I know it’s hard to talk about yourself…
Yeah, it’s hard because I have to talk about myself and there’s quite a few of them. I guess, the first colorway of the Busenitz Pro and the Vulc, so that’s two of them. I’ll also take those red Skate Gazelles since that was my first shoe.
I appreciate you talking shoes with me for the past hour.
It’s been fun. Thanks for making it fun.