We’ll be the first to admit that this was a rough year for this list.
The difficulty therein was a good one: there are more board companies than ever, and a hefty chunk of them are killing it. How long this took is the biggest compliment we can give to those putting the time and effort and work into making boards we can be proud to stand on, hang up, hunt down, put on a wishlist or just know exist.
This year there were debatably less boring, predictable or dull boards released than ever. We saw less reliance on the edgy/shock and more emphasis on standing out amongst a heavily saturated landscape of hardgood options. We made note of the lack of trend-following that marred the 2016 landscape and saw more thought, nuance and chances being taken. Shit, even Sieben’s half-assery made for a potential wall-hanger.
A hearty salute from all RL corners to all corners of the globe – we saw you and you make us proud to devote so much time to appreciating this thing we obsess over.
Here are our favorites from 2017.
“If we have to have another board company, I’m glad it’s these guys.”
What the hell do you do when you start a brand in 2017? What can you bring to the table that isn’t already there? Why insert another company into the already oversaturated, shops-are-going-out-of-business landscape that is the present-day hardgoods industry? Well, we learned that you make some lowkey, rad, different, interesting shit that actually has meaning behind it and don’t try to blow it up. Love·Sick is a little company with big ideas that are doing it right in the graphics department.
24. Permanent Vacation
“These guys care way more than they let on. Can’t fool me.”
There’s this sense of “if we’re going to be forced to give a fuck about something besides skating, it may as well be the boards we make” going on here, as though screwing off needs to be taken very seriously. We can relate; that’s basically skateboarding in a nutshell. It may be a silly little piece of wood, but goddamnit we’re going to be intense as fuck about it. Covering the bases from line drawings to photo graphics and guest artists, PV spread the gospel this year and lived up to their name.
23. Sleep’s Sci-Art Series
“Less is a lot more. I bet they pined for weeks over the backgrounds.”
Sleep tends to be either quiet or flamboyant with their graphics, but found what their happy medium looks like in their late-year Sci-Art series. Clearly functioning best as a series rather than 5 individual decks, each board has a special nuance to it that provides it its own shine and life. The first-rate combination of symmetrical playtime and visualization, each board represents its facet in such a satisfyingly minimalist manner that belongs as much in a classroom as it does on your bedroom wall. You don’t have to fit any demographic to appreciate these ones.
“There’s a reason Habitat was so huge in the mid-00s, and these feel like that era again. I want to pop in Mosaic and wear brown cords and do nollie heels when I see these.”
The struggle’s been real over at Habitat the last few years, but they seem to have phoenixed their way out of whatever behind-the-scenes happenings to emerge with their best work in recent memory (the “Rebirth” board was right on the nose). From multiple Twin Peaks runs to Brian Delatorre’s photographer series that rivals the best of them, from Wenning to Bobby, and from old standards of the fowl to reptile variety, Habitat seems perfectly set back to their unique norm. Thoughtful, whimsical visuals backed by Joe Castrucci’s mind for simplicity that’s kept us fascinated since Photosynthesis.
21. Northern Co
“Do you think if I do a collage wall of Northern Co boards I’ll finally get respect from my dad?”
The outdoorsman motif, as noted last year, comes off pretty backhanded from most sources. Also as noted, Northern Co. are the real deal, and have maintained their tear as unimpeachable when it comes to their particular niche. Coming into your own is a strange, abstract concept, but if anyone did this year it was these guys. Already overly impressive on the board graphics end, Northern Co. just kept at it, and our crew that knows their way around chainsaws are as hyped as our metropolis-dwellers and even our southern hemisphere crew.
“Part of me keeps hoping Thiebaud is going to fuck up at some point. I don’t know why. I like the idea of fallibility.”
With a team that big and that many boards coming out, you’d think there’d be a dud in there somewhere, or at least some “meh” work, but nope. Across the board (sorry), Real continues to hit the nail on the head. Which is considerable, as they may be the only brand you can’t hate on – legitimately, anyway. Pretty tough to find anything valid to criticize, and easier than ever to find plenty to appreciate – so easy we got into a heated argument over which boards to use here. If you can get grown-ass adults with actual important shit going on yelling at each other over your board graphics, you get to be here.
19. Blood Wizard
“Whoever decided Blood Wizard should adopt the sensibilities of the mid-’90s World camp is a fucking genius who deserves a million dollar bonus.”
We were lucky enough to witness several brands step far away from their comfort zones this year (shoutout to Zero), but none more so than Blood Wizard. Most series’ and one-offs came surprisingly, partially due to their off-brand imagery but mostly due to how immensely rad they were. For a company so pigeonholed to climb out and test new waters with such success is some icing on the cake, for sure. It was disheartening to see some brands call it quits this year, having never tried to meet their potential fanbase part-way… especially since the breath of fresh air that was BW’s 2017 output was so well able to maintain integrity and hype up those of us on the fence. For the record, BW released the best single graphic of 2016.
“If I saw someone with this board, I’d automatically assume they knew their shit in every facet of life.”
The fact that Anti-Hero can put out a board that gets anyone to say that is bonkers, considering their standard operating procedure. The One Eight continues their run as never satisfied with mediocre or boring imagery, somehow managing to stay raw as fuck while continuously refining their aesthetic as much as being indifferent toward it. Very few brands have been able to maintain relevance and warrant attention as long or as much as the good people at Anti-Hero have, all while retaining “enigma” status as their very own corner of skateboarding that you can’t get into.
“Dude, Welcome killed it. This was the first year I actually debated on skating a shaped board. I mean, I didn’t, but this is the first time I would’ve tried it. I really wanted to skate one of these.”
Not unlike Heroin below, Welcome’s known for producing a lot of fantastic work that’s a lot like the last bit of fantastic work they released. Don’t get us wrong, we’re all about doing whatever you want around here, but it is nice to have a stylistic variety to choose from. We like to see brands get more adventurous, and Welcome did just that in 2017 without sacrificing an ounce of their aesthetic (notice a trend?). We’d be remiss to not spend at least a sentence fawning over that Nora board, debatably the best graphic Welcome has ever released and arguably the single strongest offering of the year.
16. Heroin’s Cabin Chronicles series
“Any board that you also want a print or a shirt of – shit, even wallpaper – that’s something special. I want a full car decal.”
The problem with being really good at one thing is the inevitable predictability. Fos is a killer artist, but we know what to expect from Heroin. Lo and behold, they kicked the year off with a random-ass Cabin Chronicles collab that any brand would’ve been lucky to have in their catalog. Seriously, name a brand that wouldn’t fit. This could’ve been a Magenta series as much as Natural Koncepts or…DGK? Getting outside your comfort zone, especially when your fanbase has certain expectations, takes just as much (or more) balls than putting something “edgy” out. If there were better wall-hangers released this year, we couldn’t find them. Hell yeah, Fos.
15. Western Edition
“They improve drastically every year, but in the smallest, subtlest ways that you don’t even notice unless you want to see it. No wonder they’re so slept on.”
Perhaps the biggest underground threat (should people ever catch on) has long been found right under our noses, quietly creating masterpieces while we’re all worried about trends. A classic Bay Area style coupled with classic art and music influence across the spectrum has seen WE consistently putting out quality materials since the nineties. Why these guys have never made it to household name status is beyond us, and in 2017 they maintained their enviable style and color palette to continue a long and impressive legacy that’s truly never received its due shine.
“I can’t tell if Quasi is tripping or they’re just going over my head.”
Where Quasi was headed post-2016 was anyone’s guess. Maybe the least-predictable brand currently operating, there’s something fascinating about how in-their-own-bubble Quasi remains; no aesthetic seems out-of-the-question for this band of hermit rippers. Do any of these graphics have any meaning at all? Are they surrealist genius or a practical joke? Is the strange mixture of standard and atypical visuals part of some deeper conspiracy or just throwing darts at a board of random names of objects? Who knows? Who cares?
“These boards made me feel like I did when I was a little kid and would see Mad Circle or Rhythm boards on walls – just like, ‘hell yeah, skateboarding is the best’.”
… and anything else is irrelevant.
“This is some true head shit. Look at the love they got for each board. This isn’t to be cool – this is from the heart.”
The marriage of skateboarding and jazz/hip-hop culture has been potent and strong for decades, yet the brands that embody that connection tend to either fly grossly under the radar forever or blow up to the point of an overall disconnect. In collecting contributor input, we couldn’t help but notice the name “Quartet” came up a lot. A lot. Does everyone magically happen to feel the same way about one brand? Do we all actually agree on something? There’s little to suggest Quartet wouldn’t make this list, other than the humble size of their small operation that’s doing it big whether or not anyone knows. Paying homage to greats isn’t anything new, but putting the level of care in that these guys do puts them at whatever level surpasses “connoisseur”.
“I don’t even know where to start. Every board should be up there. You could pick any of them and they’ll all be perfect.”
The idea of region-only releases isn’t anything new, but the difficulty factor in obtaining Pass~Port goods not-specifically-U.S.-released creates something of a special experience for the completists among our primary camp. Analyzing the potential factors that go into why certain boards aren’t just a click away had us really keeping an eye on these guys, wondering why the hell no one’s ever thought to do a lot of these ideas and salivating over the surprising amount of boards we’ll probably never see in person.
10. Carpet Co
“Do we just do a separate list of ‘best Carpet graphics of 2017’? Of course they should be on there, but how do you quantify them?”
The fact that these are all handmade, different, extremely limited and that no amount of money or page refreshing will up your chances of getting that one makes it tough to lump these guys in with everyone else. Their method of running a board company is more akin to how Daewon looks at stumps than how most of us look at… anything – just operating on a different level the rest of us can’t relate to. Even with all that aside, the amount of thought that goes into these small runs is palpable, preserving a seldom-seen-in-skateboarding’s-larger-canon history and providing a perspective so authentic that it’s undeniable.
“If the world was fair, these guys would be the trendsetters. How the hell are these not in every shop?”
A small Colorado brand with big ideas, Null has consistently stepped their game up over the years and have conceptually surpassed most brands with far more exposure. Eye-catching color choices and headache-inducing detail keep us on our toes, unpredictable output keeping us excited for each drop and wondering if a road trip is in order. It’s patently unfair these guys have released the work they have for the years they have and this is probably the first time you’re seeing them.
8. Scumco & Sons
“I have a feeling there’s more going on here than gimmicks. There’s a level of sarcasm not seen since the early Skate Mental days and an air of ‘I bet Dave Carnie approves’ happening.”
It seemed like this was a year to really hone in on what your strengths are. S & S are historically best at creating boards you want to take a closer look at once you’ve seen part of it, and there’s not much to say that was a fluke. They’re the ones you see the small thumbnail of and immediately have to click to enlarge; the half-graphic hidden behind the next board on the wall that you have to see, just to satisfy your urge. Taking that strength in yet another direction in 2017, S & S tried their hand in the tongue-in-cheek gimmick department, to overwhelming success as far as we’re concerned. Between a “Must Be 18+” scratcher, KT’s removable Stormtrooper mask and a board that literally attracts dirt, whatever may have been less than obviously stunning visually was overshadowed by a seasoned and knowing levity, as though they happened to notice how overly serious skateboarding tends to be these days but didn’t want to go the cartoony route. Bonus points for the top graphics.
“Somebody should thank these guys for putting a momentary stop to fucking the game up for everyone else. They need time to catch up.”
Nick and Paul’s post-Blueprint brainchild has been home to some seriously mind-boggling graphics, on multiple layers. Their dimensional work and attempts to see just how much you can do on the bottom of a piece of wood are other-level. In the past, not unlike Carpet, it’s almost been wrong to compare them to everyone else. Nonetheless, we’ve “holy fuck”‘ed over these guys’ stuff all year, and if you can get us to do that over and over, you’ve earned this spot. Despite finding themselves in more “normal” mediums in 2017, no one else has done it like Isle.
6. Theories Of Atlantis
“One of these days Theories is going to be at the point Tum-Yeto or Crailtap was in the late ’90s. They’re gonna run shit. And we’ll all be cool with it because they did it the right way.”
Josh Stewart’s distribution company has been making one-offs for a while and, much like his other visual work, we’d rather wait for one really good one than get a few pretty good ones. “Quality over quantity” (another trend here) seems to be the mantra over at Theories (who just celebrated their 10 year anniversary), and despite stocking some of the most beloved and undeniably sick brands and products in existence, their own boards take the cake this year. Not bad for a brand that didn’t sell a single shirt their first merch outing.
“It’s only a matter of time before some American brand co-opts this. That’s how good these boards are – an otherwise respectable company will stoop to the level of appropriating them just to get stacks. And then probably claim some bullshit like ‘my great-great grandmother’s best friend was Japanese and I grew up with this and blah blah blah you’re an asshole’.”
We wouldn’t claim for a second to be fully aware of Japanese skate culture, but we keep tabs as best we can. What we do know painfully well is a solid board graphic, and the level of detail on these boards, mixed with a color palette more akin to East Coast, USA had us willing to pay some pretty obscene shipping costs (you don’t wanna know). The bad news: it’s tough to see these in person and want to even allow the plastic to be removed. The good news for all: these boards exist. The better news for us: you can get them in the US now. “Quality over quantity” is a cultural standard we could use a little more of over here.
4. Dead End
“‘Last Breakfast’. Goddamnit. I’d love to meet the lying sack of shit who says they didn’t get murderously jealous they didn’t think of that.”
Finding that magical combination of heritage and modern touch while maintaining a classic feel that’s right at home on any board wall and under anyone’s feet is something that every brand on this list found to some degree, but none more so than Dead End. Graphics that could have been standouts anytime in the last 30 years (perhaps not coincidentally, it’s their 30th anniversary this year) is Dead End’s specialty, complete with a Marc McKee sensibility, a Sean Cliver attitude and a Julien Stranger mindset. It’s impossible to not have an opinion about everything they release, the feels ranging from eyebrow-raising to “how the fuck did no one think of that before?” to “hell yeah, that’s sick”.
“Remember that dude who was complaining about collecting boards because they’re limited and then the board gets rereleased and it’s less limited and Cliver’s supposedly taking advantage of people like him and all that bullshit? Fuck that dude. Fucking deck collectors. If you only buy it because it’s limited, go fucking kill yourself. You want a 1,000 words on people like that? I’ll give you two.”
This year the Cliver camp elected to bring in more guest artists and branch out into a broader stylistic range. The results created something of a different vibe, but the fact remains that Sean is the master and has used a lot of experience to build Paisley up to make as big a splash as possible. While their work wasn’t as overtly blatant or dark as 2017’s run, Paisley now has a bigger arsenal (Todd Bratrud, anyone? Mike Daher?) and appeal, slyly creating boards that will go down in history in the same category as those the old dudes in “Skaters Over X Age” forums fawn over.
2. Coda’s Carl Jung Dream series
“Those are UNREAL. Ha! I guess that makes sense because they’re… Fuck me.”
Pat Smith’s brand is no stranger to incredibly detailed and almost annoyingly smart conceptual work (especially for a brand that is, for all intents and purposes, pretty scummy). Pick a Coda graphic at random and it’s indispensable, but this year’s Dream series was so strong that they found their way into numerous RL text convos of the “holy fuck, did you see the new Coda boards?” variety. It’s been a minute since we collectively fanned out so hard, and that’s a priceless thing. A collective props for the ill-fated Pitcrew board, as well (RIP).
1. The Killing Floor
“It’s not like it’s some crazy, complex formula. Do what you think is cool and have some kind of goal there. If people would stop trying to do some hot shit and just do what’s best for them and their strengths – and not pay attention to the peanut gallery that is the skateboarder who spends more time on message boards than on a skateboard – this list would be impossible to make because everything that came out would be amazing.”
The degree to which TKF has grown – both in fandom and output quality – over the last few years is inspiring… but it comes with a lot. How do you best serve the people and art and ideas and skating that got you to household-name status? You do what you’ve always done: let the work speak for itself. In fact, sometimes literally make sure it speaks for itself. The amount of respect and credit TKF gives you as a consumer is almost Kubrickian, as though they actually appreciate skateboarders more than cool points. Imagine that.
Props to everyone making the world a better place through board walls. We saw you and back it. Thank you.