Adam Johnson - Interview PT 3 | Blader Union

Adam Johnson - Photo by Shawn Engler

If you haven't had a chance to read the two previous parts of our in-depth interview with Adam, please click the buttons below. In our final part of our series, we get a chance to talk about the creation of the VxVII, Customer Direct, Champagne, and what's next for his projects, companies, and life. 

(T-Travis) Speaking of things you believe in, you are now on your second skate with Valo. There was the ABVX and now there is the VxVII, the Vibralux skate. Before we get in depth on the new Vibralux skate, the first one you did was an Alex signature pro model and this new one seems to be a Vibralux specific project. Can you talk a bit about the idea behind the original ABVX?

(A-Adam) The Broskow Vibralux one, Alex and Jon worked exclusively with that. Vibralux didn’t help Jon design it, Alex did. Alex owns 50% of Vibralux, so that was Alex working with Jon to make a private label skate that was also his namesake. He received the same royalties as if it were just a signature skate, but it promoted brand awareness for Vibralux on another level.

The idea to put Vibralux behind it, as I saw it, was to create that kind of collaboration where you’re exposing Valo people to Vibralux and Vibralux people to Valo. This was a good opportunity as a company to start down the path of collaborating with other brands. So we wanted to use that skate as a way to approach different brands outside of skating. We could say “hey, as a brand Vibralux has collaborated successfully with this skate manufacturer”  when approaching a watch manufacturer, or a sunglass manufacturer, or an energy drink company. Collaborations outside of rollerblading would work to leverage our social following, and those of our riders, to expose brands to a niche group and vice versa, exposing skating and our culture to the social media following and customer base of an outside brand.

(T) So was the second skate also designed by you and Alex?

(A) That one was designed by Alex and Jon as well.

(T) So why not release them as the ABVX2?

(A) This is where all this confusion comes in with the Vibralux VxVII. It’s my understanding that Alex had developed a follow up Vibralux skate with Jon before he started skating the V13’s.  So these prototypes had been sitting at Jon’s for over 4 years. I originally talked with Alex about buying out the skates to sell directly to customers, and fulfill the vision of the second collaboration skate. I misinterpreted one of our conversations where he said he wouldn’t want to skate them, and I understood it as he didn’t want his name associated with them even though they should technically be the ABVX2. Alex designed them, he worked with Jon on it, it’s his skate and I blew the naming out of confusion.


Prototypes VxVII's - #000


(T) Why are you releasing them at the same time as so many other Valo skates? The Thee Strange whites just got a limited run release, Alex’s new V13 just came out, and the SK2’s are out as well. This is on top of the JJ Hemp rerelease and the Bone White V13’s. It feels like Valo has 6 skates out at the same time, and now you’re selling in a saturated market.

(A) When we started discussions about the VxVII’s the SK2’s weren’t really coming down the pipeline yet. After we made the decision that we were gonna buy the entire lot of skates, this made the SK2s necessary to make sure shops worldwide would have a skin skate to sell.  So it’s less about wanting to come in to a saturated market with an additional skate as it is having to saturate the market to keep shops from getting upset.  It’s funny to me that with all the USD, Razors, Remz, K2, and Rollerblade skates available to shops out that anyone would be upset about one style of skate not being able to be stocked, after all as you pointed out these shops still have Thee Strange whites, and Hemps that they could be running out on discount..  If we want to talk about watered down, there are 24 some odd USD skates floating around the market between 2016 and 2017, so the last thing I want to hear through the rumor mill is that us making 500 pairs of skates is going to hurt Valo’s sales or hurt shops.  You can miss me with that garbage.  Also, how you gonna release 24 styles of skates in two years and cut my friends salaries? The fuck outta here.  We need to change the subject before this gets too real and I get jumped at Winterclash.

(T) Where do you feel like this fits you into the bigger picture overall?

(A) I’ve been doing sales through Straightjacket since 2001, and for the past 16 years my shop list has just shrunk continuously. The idea that next year there is going to be more skate shops is not real, and there will likely be fewer. Sales are fewer every year, skate shops are fewer every year.

The thing that doesn’t drop significantly every year is skaters. There are still quite a few skaters out there.  It's now just about taking the base and seeing if we can give them something that they want and doing it direct to increase margins. This way we can pay our riders more, get out of debt as a brand, and we can take the profit off skate sales #350 through 500 and create a new skate video, create new outerwear, or create new jeans. This release is a Hail Mary to kickstart these ideas. If it fails, it just fails and you’ll see videos on Youtube from us. If it’s successful and opens up every single door and every possibility that would be incredible. This is our last chance to make a giant mistake or have a giant success story. We hope this catapults Vibralux, Valo, Dead, and all the people associated with this release hopefully to the next step.  Who knows where it goes after that.  Can you imagine a situation where we were able to make pricepoint skates and sell them direct to customers without the markup of a middleman?  The people who aren’t actively buying these $295 pairs of boots could probably afford to come in for $140 - 160 and selling customer direct you could offer a higher quality price point skate by going direct.  I don’t know about you, but I would be more likely to skate in some new blades than I would some beat up, uncomfortable skates.  

We had over 50 submissions to win free skates for holidays, and there are people who skate beat up skates because they can’t afford new blades.  I’m starting to think it isn’t a lack of passion for skating that is hurting sales, rather a lack of business model that can deliver affordable quality gear.  This is about positioning ourselves against the decline of the wholesale market and how we can effectively turn our fans into customers so we can continue creating content we all enjoy and unique products.  


Adam Johnson - Photo by Shawn Engler


(T) At this point, the skates have shipped to both Europe and the US and are available full release. You also had an option to buy the skates months before they were skates to ship. How many skates did you guys manage to sell with your prebooking process?

(A) 9%. Before the first of the year the goal is to sell 120 skates. If I can do that, then I will have paid off our debt to Valo. Then I’ll only be on the hook for the money we’ve personally invested into the skates. So at 120 we won’t have broken even, but at that point I don’t owe anybody outside myself and Alex and the royalties were going to pay our riders. I’d be in a much more comfortable place where I’m not freaking out or worried.

I’m pleasantly optimistic. I don’t need to make the money back on these skates instantly, that's why I said if I can sell through those first few pairs of skates I’m going to feel really good going into this next spring. They are beautiful skates. People are going to start seeing people skating them and think “Oh shit, I want those”. I’ve had a lot of people tell me they might not be able to buy them now and some of their biggest regrets are when they can’t buy a skate that’s available in limited quantities and they go to get it later and they just don’t exist. I feel like we have that working for us.

(T) Just personally speaking to how nice the skate looks, I physically cannot ride a Valo PU skate, it doesn’t fit my foot no matter what way I try. This is the first skate I’ve ever purchased a that will only be a display piece for myself. I’m excited to have it on display for friends and family to come check out. Its phenomenal, and one of the best looking skates I’ve ever seen.

(A) Thank you. We really appreciate that. Before we move on to Champagne I just want to stress what we are trying to do with the customer direct skate sales. This is a costly experiment for us to see where the industry can head and how we as a community can support the people throwing themselves down sets of stairs.  If this works, and is a viable business model it doesn’t mean shops will have to close up, or companies shouldn’t sell their goods through shops.  Shops will always be important because they carry EVERYTHING a person needs to skate.  What it will prove is that small to medium size brands SHOULD take some chances and release risky things direct to customers or collaborate with other brands to make exclusive products so that they can maximize their profits or lower the retail cost and maximize their reach.  Vibralux is trying to keep moving forward, make dope products again, create the videos people love watching, and pay the people who deserve money.  We are creating products through collaboration as a bridge to start approaching other manufacturers in the US to see about working with an inline skating brand and growing our reach outside of skating. Simple.

(T) Simple enough. Champagne, the Dead video. Talk to me about that project.

(A) The Dead video made me never want to make another full length skate video ever again and make another video….simultaneously. Heading into making the Dead video we only had a rough idea that David was going to end up living in Copenhagen sooner than later and pretty soon we would all be stuck working jobs. David had yet to be married and everything he was doing was headed towards starting a career and starting a life with Sophie in Copenhagen. We all understood that inline skating is still on that downward tick financially for skaters, especially professional skaters as far as that being a career option. When we started filming Alex and Chris didn’t have jobs, and with David moving overseas soon this was a now or never, do or don’t kind of situations.


Champagne, Alex Broskow, David Sizemore, Adam Johnson, Chris Farmer - Photo by Shawn Engler


So we jumped into this project and in my head for whatever reason I thought I’d be making the Dead video. This is what I do. I drive around the country and film people and make the video. I was really excited to work with David because he has a fantastic eye and he’s a great editor and I thought we’d make a great video together. We got about halfway through filming and David expressed his interest in making the video himself. At this point he had already made the Nashville edit. I have tremendous respect for David’s editing and everything he brought to that video. It was just sad to not make a skate video I was  fully invested in. Part of it was cathartic not having to have the vision or implement any of it and just deferring to David, but there was a part of me that missed being able to carry out my vision.

So we ended up with Champagne, which was David’s first full length video. It turned out great, but my name is on the video and I feel like I really didn’t do anything. I joke about it and when people say “aw man, you did great”, honestly, I drove and executed David’s vision as the second camera. I did do a little more than that, but that's how it will forever feel to me. At a certain point I just turned my brain off and let David use me as a tool instead of bring any kind of active idea to a shoot or being the guy jumping out of the car with the camera rolling. Champagne is 110% David’s vision.

Part of me regrets being part of such a big project and not being proactive enough or being vocal enough to put my own stamp on it. At the same time, part of me feels like that’s how it needed to be for it to work well. I can see a completely different vision for the video based on the footage we had and maybe someday I’ll do a Champagne driver’s cut for youtube.

(T) Its interesting to me because there was something about Champagne I couldn’t put my finger on for the longest time. I think it's what you were saying about using yourself as a vessel versus having creative input into it. There is something special that comes along with your videos. I’ve noticed this from all the way back with the first NRD and KFC videos to the most recent VODs you dropped. There is a distinct way you film and a structure that comes along with your videos, and that just didn’t exist in Champagne. I love David’s work, his eye for composition and editing are great, but there was just something off about the whole video. I feel like your persona shined through really well in the book you guys made. Shawn Engler did an amazing job behind the lens, but the captions are more of what I expected from the video. I don’t wanna clown on David at all with any of this, but I feel like Champagne could of been even better with you more involved.

(A) Thank you. Just to be clear, Shawn wrote all those captions. He was sitting at his fiance’s bar drinking when he sent us off the first caption and said “hey, this is what I’m thinking for the captions, is that fine?” We have a very structured brand identity, the way we caption things fits our brand voice, the lowercase, etc, but Shawn has been a sweet angel baby to us. He comes out and shoots things for free and all he ever asks in return is that we print the photos he shoots. Giving Shawn the chance to write the captions and take part in the design for the book with Nick was the least we could do.

Those captions are reflective of what our tours were. Not all the stories are true, but the book is what it was like whenever Shawn was in the car and those captions embody the insanity that Shawn brings with him. Whenever Shawn was in Champagne, it took things from a skate trip to another level of fun. He is the wildcard that made being on tour extra enjoyable. Even if we didn’t accomplish anything in an entire day, just having Shawn there to crack wise about how we're not getting shit done or to make everyone feel better about not having a great day was a blessing. To have him express his voice and take on the tour was very interesting. The book is all Shawn, the video is all David, and...I got nothin’.

(T) You were the car. Haha

(A) I was the car, I was camera two, and I was the guy who made sure the book and the video came together in the end which is fine, there’s just that little nagging sensation in the back of my head of “what if” that will forever be there unless I make another project.


#NobodyCares - Photo by Adam Johnson


(T) So now what is on the horizon? You’ve got the best looking skate on the market, a great video and book, great urethane, what else can we pick your brain for?

(A) It’s no regrets in 2018. I just bought a one way ticket to Spain. I have no idea what I’m doing other than trying to sell skates, make a part with Enanoh and Tien, go to Winterclash, work with Alex on some new shit, I’ve got a project brewing with someone else I can’t talk about yet, and just work on new things for Dead and Vibralux. I’m also starting a #nobodycares vlog, that dives into skating on a little deeper level, explains the behind the scenes, offers insights, etc. Trying to rejuvenate a greater level of excitement within myself that hopefully will rub off onto others. Bfree and JC have been a big inspiration on that end. Doing things because they are make sense, not because they make money.

I’m guilty of not trying as hard as I used to. I talked with Alex about this on our trip across America filming for Don Broskow. It used to be we’d get to a skate spot and I’d have a rub brick or I’d have a camera out and start filming shit. Now I’m just sitting there, sometimes I don’t even get out of the car. I’m not trying to push anyone to do things that they aren’t into. I don’t pay them enough to do shit they don’t wanna do. If you don’t want it, I’m not going to be the guy who’s pushing you to do it.

Part of me regrets that attitude. Rather than pushing someone, I should be there to talk them through it. “Yes this is worth doing, obviously this is worth doing.” I’m trying to strike that balance. Even if we don’t make a new full length video, I want to be an advocate for showcasing how sick inline skating really is. I wanna be that person who speaks positively about skating but in a way that also reflects the current state of the industry and inline skating. There are problems, but if we ignore the problems they will never go away, but if we treat them like they are unsolvable, no one is going to care.

(T) This has been a super insightful time we’ve got to spend here Adam. It just seems like more and more in this industry, people just wanna hear these stories. It feels like now more than ever, people are looking to places like Blader Union, and TruSpin, and Vibralux for what that next path forward is. Any quick insight you can give to someone looking for those answers?

(A) Strive to remind people of why they like to skate. If no one reading this buys skates, that’s fine. I want you to remember you started skating for a reason, and you should put your skates on and go skate. Lets try to get people who already skate or used to skate to skate more. Maybe through things like the 30 day blade challenge or promoting skating awareness on our social networks people will remember the fun of skating. If you are going to complain about something in skating in 2018 you need to offer a solution, or just shut up and skate please.

I love what BFree is doing promoting skating as a lifestyle, doing it everyday even if it’s just at the park, and being a positive person. Some people want to strip it down and talk shit because they think it’s corney or dumb or he shouldn’t be doing it. Fuck them, nobody cares. That’s what the #NobodyCares thing is to me. It’s just realizing  that nobody cares and you might as well just do it, do whatever makes you happy and spread joy. The haters are gonna hate, and the people who like it will watch. If you aren’t into its just swipe left. You can unfollow if it bothers you that much. People need to be taking chances, not only companies, but all of us and how we interact with the world. Nobody is too cool simply because they are good at inline skating. If making daily VLOGs has an ability to make one person skate more it’s worth making.


Adam Johnson - Photo by Shawn Engler


That's the cool thing about using your voice. For the longest time I was frustrated to the point that I just didn’t wanna use my voice. I feel like a lot of people got that way. They felt jaded, they felt inline skating owed them something so they weren’t going to give back to it. I never felt that skating owed me anything, it GAVE me everything, but I got tired of talking about skating. That was a huge mistake for me, along with becoming passive in regards to what I was creating. So 2018 is about fixing the mistakes of the past and making the future work for all of us.

With that said, we should all go skate. Let's be the best people we can be and try to be happy. If skating doesn’t make you happy, then don’t skate. If watching that guy skate doesn’t make you happy, you don’t have to watch him skate. If buying VODs doesn’t make you happy, then don’t buy VODs. No one is being forced to do anything, it’s almost 2018.

This concludes our conversation with Adam Johnson. Support people like Adam out there making a difference. For the last 16+ years, his name has been near the front of the pack as one of the people near the top of the inline skating industry. His projects show that, through every frame, every detail of his products, and the passion and drive he still possesses. Support skating any way that you can. If you can afford to buy some wheels, some clothes, or even some skates, take a stop over at Straightjacket Distribution using the button below and do so. 

A massive thank you to Adam for taking the time to connect with us, and being so candid with our conversation. If you want to know more from him directly, use the contact form on his site, or the link on the bottom of our page. Be on the lookout for more work in the future from him and his friends. We can't wait to see what 2018 looks like. - Travis | Blader Union