Not Quite Bootlegs

Back in the day, we didn't have internet so you couldn't just pop online like you can now and check out the latest offerings of skateshops from Venice Beach to Europe -- and it was the same for punk albums and the like as well. (I remember how big of a deal it was to head to a large city and make your way over to the head shops and finally have fingertip access to punk albums, shirts, banners, etc. Finding a Dead Kennedy's album was a feat unto itself. Maybe in a way that helped us appreciate things more, but I'm sure glad this isn't an issue anymore.)

As for decks, you either had to go through the (rather inconvenient) lengths of getting a money order and mail ordering boards out of the adverts in the skate mags or you had to trek into your local skateshop. The latter sounds easy enough but the problem is not everyone had a local skateshop. If you lived in a large city, none of this was much of an issue of course, but if you didn't you either had to take those efforts, wait for a trip to the city, or like so many, you had to compromise and head into your local K-Mart or whatever other similar store and buy some non-pro board.

Usually that meant Variflex. Variflex was my own first board -- a board I'd end up stripping down and painting like a pink Cab Chinese Dragon.  Variflex mostly put out generic type boards, though it's worth noting that they did have a couple of pro boards, namely the Lance Mountain and the John Lucero models (both highly prized today):


Variflex actually had a few other graphics that have started to gain some collectable interest these days and perhaps I'll do another post on that soon.

At any rate, going back to our conundrum, if you couldn't get the pro board you wanted, you might have to settle for something similar. I'm not really speaking here of bootlegs, which are usually classed such because they either purely imitation boards that clearly and directly copied the graphic of a pro model, or they took significant elements of the same. Here are a few examples of some bootlegs:

Left: Via Art of Skateboarding, a bootleg of the Denny Riordon "People in My Head" model put out by Kryptonics and, later, Toxic.  Middle: A bootleg of Mike Vallely's "Barnyard" issued by World Industries. Right: Here's one of those examples where it is a copy on the one hand and its not on another. It includes elements of both the Rob Roskopp Target 3 issued by Santa Cruz, and the Powell Peralta "Bones Ripper." It actually works pretty well.
If that's what we are not talking about, what are we? What I am speaking about here is not direct copying so much as stylistic similarities that, given the reasonably close parallels, would make one be more hard pressed to make the case that they weren't purposeful emulations of popular pro boards than that they were. Check out the similarities:

The Gator photo from Sean Cliver's Disposable blog.
On either side of the 1984 version of the Vision Mark "Gator" Rogowski board are Variflex boards that were released in 1988. The Variflex "Chaos" and "Twisted" models. If the spiral graphic wasn't enough of a similarity, the Variflex Twisted even adopts the same kind of font and placement that Vision used for Gator's name.  The Chaos spiral is a bit more reminiscent of the spiral in the 1988 Gator.

One more from another maker:


To the left is, of course, Steve Caballero's "Chinese Dragon" that was first released in 1986, and on the right is the Valterra "Dragon" deck that was released in 1987. Even the color scheme is close -- at least for this Cab colorway. Of course Valterra's biggest claim to fame was "Marty McFly's" use of their "Splatter" deck in the film, Back to the Future.


It's easy to get down on the non-pro board makers of course but for many kids in those days, these were their first boards; boards that they'd eventually graduate from and into the pro models, but boards where they got their first taste of the joy of skateboarding.
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