Knowing Polar Skate Co.’s summer delivery was incoming got the cogs turning and we figured that finding out what Pontus Alv has been up to is long overdue. In the coming months we will be doing the same with others to see what’s transpiring with some of our favourite companies. ‘Catch Up’ articles will be just that, an alternative to more traditionally framed interviews. We are stoked that Pontus is the first one talking about his esteemed board company, Polar Skate Co., the Big Boy phenomenon and his anticipated footwear brand, Last Resort AB.
A Pontus Alv original takes place of a portrait. Interview by Jacob Sawyer. Artwork and photos by Pontus Alv unless credited.
As always, Pontus Alv has been up to a lot. Relocating, recovering, building a house, running Polar logistics on a daily basis alongside throwing a shoe company into the mix.
He’s happiest when projects fill the horizon. Polar drops arrive quarterly, each time evolved, improved and expanded so we went into the creative process behind them. We talked about the cult status his Polar Big Boy pants have achieved and his mission to solve the eternal trouser issues we experience. Finally, curious to learn about his new shoe venture, Last Resort AB here you can find out all about that.
It’s always a pleasure to check in with this master of the arts, I hope you enjoy catching up with him too.
“I bought a house here that I’m rebuilding, basically. It’s hot as hell, nicer weather all year round, palm trees…”
Pontus, it’s been a while, we just wanted to check in, what’s going on with you?
One year ago I moved to Porto, Portugal. I bought a house here that I’m rebuilding, basically. It’s hot as hell, nicer weather all year round, palm trees… Then I’m close to my production, a lot of Polar stuff is made here.
It’s nice to be close to that and have a daily check in. It’s easy. If there’s a problem I just go up there or they come down. They show me the problem and we solve it instead of shipping stuff back and forth to Sweden.
Yeah, there’s always something in production. We do four collections a year so there will always be some kind of issue each time. Something wrong with a fabric or a print or they ordered the wrong thing. There’s always something but that’s the daily work.
Living down here, in August 2018, I fucked my ACL skating a ramp so I’ve been out. I had a surgery that November but now, after a year and seven months, it’s starting to feel quite okay. It will never be the same as it was but it’s starting to be at least okay enough to bomb some hills, do little ollies and some easy things.
That’s the first time anything like that has happened to you right?
Yeah, in my career as a skater. I mean, I retired as a pro a few years ago but I never had any ACL or knee surgeries. I hit my head one time and got some stitches but nothing that put me out of skating for that long. I’m blessed for having a long career, being able to skate injury-free for over 30 years.
“When you get older you just appreciate rolling. Pushing, little manuals and ollies, it’s enough.”
How’s getting back to full strength going?
I’ve been rolling about.
I’ve been so busy but about a month ago I fucked my toe up too. I was laying on my sofa and got up to go to the beach. I just kicked my toe straight into the leg of a chair. It was really bad, I think I broke the toe because it was completely blue and swollen. That was four or five weeks ago. If you break your toe you can’t do anything about it, it just has to self heal.
Before that, when I was skating, I wouldn’t say it was skating full on but I was doing bits and bobs, enough to have fun. I’m not stressing about it because I just turned 40. I’m not stressing because I have to have a career going or film a video part, I’m just enjoying it.
Down here it’s nice. You’ve got the hills, you can take the cruiser board and do some hill bombs. When you get older you just appreciate rolling. Pushing, little manuals and ollies, it’s enough.
artwork by Pontus Alv / above: Ron Chatman artwork peeking through a cruiser gripjob.
How have Covid-19 measures affected you personally living out there?
In Portugal it has been quite mellow. When Europe shut down, they also shut it down here. It was empty on the streets and stuff. I was still working construction on the house with some restrictions but, down here, it’s been not too bad. Same as everywhere, people are wearing masks 24-7, keeping their distance, keeping their hands clean and so on. In Portugal, it’s still going on, it’s not over but it’s been pretty easy as far as people being infected and people dying. I think it’s 1500 deaths here in total so a low rate but Italy and Spain got hit hard. I guess in Sweden it’s not the best either.
It’s just the way the world is going, you know? Everything going on in America: racism, climate change and climate problems. The global leaders not being leaders. We’re all hoping for another world but at the moment we have Trump, Bolsonaro in Brazil, and other leaders, giving no direction. Not saying, “Let’s clean this planet up. Let’s try and be nice to each other and make this a nice lovable place.”
Instead we have full on power, capitalism going out of control. It’s not a nice direction where our planet is heading and I think every human is feeling quite anxious about the situation. It’s a sad place right now. I hope America get a new president in America. I doubt they will do much but I hope somewhere on the planet, some part of the world starts pushing in another direction.
“I’ll continue to do what I do no matter what, as a big business or a small business, because I love doing what I do”
I hope so too. How has the lockdown affected Polar?
We’ve been standing strong, the business is solid. I can’t talk for anyone else but we have a very good, functional web store and logistics centre. We have been having strong web sales during the crisis and we’re doing fine as a company.
I was a little stressed there for a minute when shit started to be shut down and no-one really knew where we were heading. Right now, things are opening up again, the wheels have go to keep spinning. I’m not the person who is going to stress over it.
I’ll continue to do what I do no matter what, as a big business or a small business, because I love doing what I do. If I had to downsize the company then you need to move with the times, that’s not a problem for me. It would mean telling the team we need to do less tours or cut some salaries and tighten up the system. But so far we haven’t needed to do anything, we are maintaining everything as always and it’s been fine.
the Polar ‘Notebook’ hood alongside a Dane Brady ‘Out Of Service’ board
The Notebook hood with drawings from your sketchbook on is in the new summer collection. Is it still just as nice having that added canvas for your work?
You have boards, t-shirts, longsleeves and hoodies and they’re the things you throw prints, logos or artwork on, really. It’s a fun creative output.
A board graphic can be any kind of artwork, all kinds of weird shit goes on a board. But when you put it on clothing, not everything works well. It’s tricky, I think. Doing good prints on t-shirts and hoodies is very difficult. I find it quite challenging to design.
“I don’t ever have a clear plan, I just kind of freestyle.”
How does that affect the creative process? Is it constantly fluent or do you ever hit a kind of “writers block” due to deadlines?
Well, we do four drops a year so we know, for instance, having finished the winter drop with catalogues that there will be a break. I work with Tynan Kerr, Jacob [Ovgren] and this new guy, Isaiah Kennedy – who did Shin’s graphic with the surfer, and sometimes the team contribute.
All year, we’re talking about graphics and ideas. Sometimes the rider will come up with some artwork or the rider has a friend. Nick Boserio’s wife is doing some stuff, for instance. I try to collect the materials from everyone, talking with the riders and listening. Most of the time, they don’t have clear ideas, sometimes they do and if not I’m just trying to put stuff together from the archives.
I’ll show them mock ups and see what they’re into. I know what the riders like. Hjalte [Halberg] always wants a centre graphic with lots of empty space. Clean nose, clean tail. Oski [Oskar Rozenberg] wants full graphics, all over the board. I’ve worked with the guys for so long now that I know what they’re into.
I work with the artists and sometimes I do stuff myself. I’ll go into my photo and family archives. I’ll mess around with stuff, I don’t ever have a clear plan, I just kind of freestyle. It’s a jam. Like a session, basically. If it’s time for a new collection, usually it takes two to three weeks to put it all together and I just jam with what I have around me at that time.
early workings for the ‘Notebook’ graphic. art: Pontus Alv
“It’s quite an open canvas, a platform where all the team can contribute their visions”
Working in bursts.
Yeah, just go in and charge it. There’s obviously a style to it but it’s not that planned out.
Sometimes we do specific things. A rider says “I want to have an old school graphic” – Hjalte’s ‘Beast Mode’ board with the skull and fire. I’ll try to find an artist who can do that kind of style. I have a lot of ideas, I would love to have a certain style for a rider but it’s hard to find someone to execute it and read your mind. This is my vision, you explain it and someone else draws your vision.
That happens, sometimes riders have an artist they want to work with. It’s quite an open canvas, a platform where all the team can contribute their visions and ideas. That’s the way I like it to be, it’s their pro model. I never print a board a rider doesn’t like. I always check in and see if they are cool with it or not.
Sometimes it’s hard, there will be conversations where a rider says they don’t like a graphic. I’ll be like, “How can you not like this? This is epic?” But they’ll say “I’m not into it” then we’ll talk more and we’ll adapt it.
It’s like a battle sometimes. A graphic will get straight up denied and you’re like, “Fine, cool, that goes in the bin.” I have a lot of those outtakes which, for whatever, reason didn’t make the cut. It’s normal. I’m so used to it now if something is denied, I’ll change the name and try it with another rider.
“What’s up? You’re into this? Okay, cool.”
Smoke coloured Polar Big Boy Cord pants in sugacane position courtesy of Oski at Pig Barrier DIY. ph: Nils Svensson
The Big Boy has become one of our best selling trousers. I’m stoked when I see local kids wearing them.
I don’t know what happened with those damn Big Boy jeans! The first time I released them, I think three years ago, stores were making fun of me. Not me but the pants, like, “Is this is a joke?”
Back then, they weren’t selling at all. We had a pre order of 100 pairs and now we can’t keep them in stock, it’s insane. I don’t know what happened but sometime towards the end of 2010… Heitor [Da Silva], Ville [Wester], Jamie [Platt] and Tiago [Lemos] were wearing them. Also Kyle Wilson and Myles Shankie. The list is long. It became a “thing”.
When you see Tiago skating in them, he’s one of the best skaters in the world and he’s rocking those pants – he makes them look fucking sick. Heitor and those guys, Oski of course as well, it all helps.
Now, it’s become like a cult. It’s almost like it’s own brand. People are addicted to them, asking me every day, “When are there new colourways? When are you re-releasing these?” They are great pants but the demand for them is insane which is cool. I think it’s amazing.
Oski introduces the Red Black Big Boy jeans to TBS. Photo: Nils Svensson
You brought a new generation a slice of our childhood.
Skateboarding is a movement, it’s like dancing. I wouldn’t compare it to fashion but you’re always talking about how the fabric falls or flows. If you have an okay style and you wear tight pants, your style will be very visible. But if you have an okay style and put some baggy clothes on, it kind of makes you flow better, you just look better.
I always believed skateboarding looks better in baggy clothes. It doesn’t have to be extremely baggy but semi-loose to very loose, that kind of category.
It’s a tougher gig when you’re a small man.
Yeah, it’s got to be in proportion to your height. You can’t have super baggy pants if you’re super short, you need to balance it.
That whole tight Dickies program a few years ago… About 2010, the rolled up chino program with the tight, skinny pants – it just doesn’t look good no matter what. Doesn’t look good for skating, doesn’t look good for any male human body on the planet. When I see regular dudes wearing super tight pants it just looks quite disgusting to be honest, it’s quite nasty.
They’re just not flattering for the male body, we don’t have these beautiful legs we want to show off with these tight pants, just not a good look.
The shrimp turned shark in Big Boy jeans.
“I have put a lot of love and heart and thought into those pants.”
Is making trousers a hard thing to get right? They’re the hardest thing to buy, for sure.
Yes and no. I started making pants a long time ago. The main thing is that all skaters, for all time, have had an issue with pants.
I was skating for Carhartt and other brands – whatever brand it was, I could never find good pants. It was a struggle to find anything that felt good. Especially on a hot day. Right now, it’s like 30 degrees here and I don’t like skating in shorts. That’s why I made the Surf Pants. It’s a lightweight pant, very breathable and loose, lots of airflow. You can skate in the Surf Pants on a hot day.
All skaters had and have pant issues and it’s the worst thing. It’s such an important part of your equipment. You’ve got to move, if you have pants like sticky jeans, you’re sweaty and the crotch is too short, it’s disgusting. I hate it.
Skate ruined. You can’t move how you want to.
It’s the worst, it fucks up your whole session. Bad shoes, bad pants, or a shitty set up. Equipment is important and as skaters, we know how important it is to have the right gear. Something which works, feels right and looks good. the performance needs to be there.
No matter what, I have put a lot of love and heart and thought into those pants. It’s interesting because you have all the different body types, skinny, tall guy, fatter legs, more of a butt and thighs – one fit won’t work for all but it’s a challenge to design pants for different body types. It’s nice to hear the feedback when different skaters or riders tell me they love the pants.
“I think that’s my proudest contribution, clothing-wise, to the skate world.”
I’ll often find something which works and then they stop being side.
That’s also the thing: to stick with it. I stuck with the Big Boys for years. Even when they weren’t selling. I liked them, my riders liked them so I kept them in the collection no matter what. Now they’ve been kind of booming for the last year which is cool. Even if they weren’t booming, I’d stick with them.
Sometimes you’ve got to stick with things, do what you like and then the world will catch up. Or it won’t. I believe that if you do stuff that you like, sooner or later people will get it.
Clothing-wise, what are you proudest of mastering through Polar’s evolution?
The pants, for sure. It was a huge problem for skaters and we all had that issue of finding good pants to skate in. It was a struggle for the whole skate community so I think that’s my proudest contribution, clothing-wise, to the skate world.
It’s cool, back in the day when everyone was wearing Blind and New Deal jeans it didn’t matter what board or clothing sponsor you had. You were like, “Those are the ones I want.” They were the ones which worked. It’s cool with pants because people will just wear it. Even Tiago, who has sponsors, we send him pants and he’s, like, “Fuck it, these are the best ones”.
There’s no big logo on the pants, you can see the little dude on the pocket and see the blue label on the back if you look closely. If you know, you know. But people recognise the pants by the cut and the fit which is cool. You have everyone from Eric Koston to Andrew Reynolds rocking stuff. Good pants solve problems and I happily give them away to some people. Some people get discount codes when they order. Then we have pro skaters ordering five pairs on the web store, full price. It’s nice.
Pontus making sense of The timeline for 2018’s We Blew It at Some Point.
Anything you’re excited about on the horizon for Polar, that you want to talk about?
We’re working on a new video and have been stacking footage for a long time. That’s gonna be very exciting, it’s always fun when it’s time.
It takes time with my videos. We could put out stuff every three months. A Paris tour or whatever, here and there, but I prefer to do it where we work on things, collect material. It takes time to get those iconic, timeless clips where you’re like, “Damn, that session was epic.” Where you see the footage and you can feel that energy. For the guys, it’s nice to have this project where it’s the time period of the last three years and it’s the best of those three years. It’s all collected and put together.
Every video is a chapter, like a video photograph of that time period. I think it’s important that people feel there’s an evolution from the last video to this one. People can see it in Oski, he has grown from being a little kid in the first promo to being what he is today. It’s a cool journey for the fans of a brand or a team to watch a kid grow up within a company. Like Kader [Sylla] on Baker and so on, you get to follow their development through the videos and the company. For us, watching H-Street videos or Plan B videos as they came out, watching how guys developed and took it further, the fine tuning of their art.
That’s going to be cool, we have some new guys on the team like Ville [Wester], Jamie [Platt] and Shin [Sanbongi]. Some guys who haven’t been in the last video. Shin was in the last video [We blew it at some point] actually but Jamie is new. Everybody is out skating every day, filming and having fun. One day it will be time to sit down and start putting it all together.
“It’s important that people feel there’s an evolution from the last video to this one”
Time to lock yourself in the bunker.
Normally for me it means six or seven months in front of the computer, working on it and making sure it works as one piece.
That’s the hard thing. I’ve got all of these years of material and I have to put it together so it makes sense and has a flow and a vibe to it. It’s going to form naturally, it’s going to happen. I’m not stressing. I think we live in a time where there is too much digital content and everybody puts out too much stuff. Skateboarding needs to not put out skateboarding because people are tiring of watching it.
Instagram, every day, is flooded with skate clips; daily clips on Thrasher… It’s cool that there is stuff, and the possibility, but I don’t think it’s healthy. I kind of stopped following and watching things because I don’t find it that interesting any more.
It can be overwhelming.
Yeah. Even if you see something really good your brain is so full. You need to step away from it to be able to come back and enjoy it. To very selectively pick a few projects. That daily consumption of clips and videos, your daily dose of Instagram is about enough, all you can handle.
Last Resort AB boxes will be on skate shop shelves soon…
Now you have added a shoe company into the mix. What’s happening with Last Resort AB?
The first model is going to be released in September. Basically, my friend Sami – my old skater friend from Stockholm, he was working in a more corporate world. Back in the day he worked for WeSC then he got into freelancing and designing for big companies. He started his own little thing. Sneakers made in Portugal, more expensive stuff. We got chatting about shoes. I’ve always been interested in making shoes, it’s something I thought about for many years. I was randomly sitting in my beach bar chatting to him on Instagram DM. I told him that if he could make me a vulcanised shoe that cost under €100 I’d be interested.
He called some connections and told me he had a factory with small minimums, at a great price, run by nice people. We drew up the first model and within two months we had a sample which was already a very good direction. The best thing about it is we can produce very small minimums so there’s no pressure. When I approached other factories back in the day, minimums were 6000 pairs, or 3000 per colour. Big minimums when you’re starting a new thing. With this, we can make low quantities, no pressure. It’s very nice to be able to make some shoes and have a small team and start playing around with what you can do as a shoe company.
Early sketches for Last Resort AB. “AB” Stands for “Aktie Bolag” which means “stock company” in Swedish.
There’s also the political side of things. I’m not going to hate on Nike or Converse or adidas. They treat riders well and so on. I have my personal things with them and I’m to going to go into details but I believe a shoe company needs to exist that is like Polar or Palace, the generation shift which occurred with companies in the industry. We saw it happen with Polar, Palace and FA and Hockey. We still have some of the old ones going strong which is great, hats off to the DLX guys and Girl/Chocolate.
I’m not here to destroy anyones business I’m just here to do my thing and express my creativity. At the end of the day I think it’s cool to have it there, not everyone will fit into the Nike program or the Converse program and it’s cool to have riders who can have a shoe sponsor which is a smaller thing and we can do fun stuff and see how it goes.
Attention to the finest details, the Last Resort AB VM001
There’s also the political side of things. I’m not going to hate on Nike, Converse or adidas. They treat riders well and so on. I have my personal things with them but I believe a shoe company needs to exist that’s like Polar or Palace; the generational shift which occurred in the industry. We saw it happen with Polar, Palace and Fucking Awesome and Hockey. We still have some of the old ones going strong which is great, hats off to the DLX guys [Real, Anti-Hero, Krooked] and Girl and Chocolate.
I’m not here to destroy anyone’s business, I’m here to do my thing and express my creativity. I think it’s cool to have it there, not everyone will fit into the Nike or Converse program. It’s cool to have riders who can have a shoe sponsor which is smaller.
Bottom line, the product has to be fucking great. That’s what I’ve been focusing on, making a great shoe. The concept is very simple. Personally, I don’t want to look down on my feet and see a Swoosh, stripes, a star or any of that. People like Nike, adidas and Converse and that’s cool. It’s just not for me. It’s very hard in the market to find a shoe that doesn’t have something on the side. All the shoes have to be very plain and simple, almost like blank shoes with very minimal branding. That’s the angle and direction. There’s a hole in the market if you just want to have a plain black and white shoe. It’s hard to find a nice fitting skate shoe that doesn’t have a bunch of stuff on it. That’s my take on it.
A Glimpse at Pontus’ Last Resort Photoshop files. Below: sole unit details for Last Resort.
Of course I have a lot of ideas for it. In the same way you express yourself with a board company or a clothing company. You can play with the marketing side, have pro model shoes and so on. First, it’s about releasing that first shoe and getting that into the market. Hopefully skaters will be into it. I think they’re great and I’m a very picky dude. I believe in them and like them. Hopefully people want to feel like there is a skater owned shoe company. It doesn’t have to be this big, Wall Street operation.
It’s a political thing and I think there is room and time now for a skater owned shoe brand to come out. People are doing it, State Footwear and so on. But if you don’t try it, you don’t know. I believe I can contribute something to the skate shoe game and if not, hey, I tried. That’s all you’ve got to do.
A whole new learning journey.
Yeah and it’s fun. A new challenge. Creatively you can get stuck doing the collections and the boards. It’s nice to have another format, the shoe thing, to work with, deal with and learn about. The whole insole business, what shapes, shoe laces, suede qualities, canvas qualities and so on. Then, of course, designing it. It’s another creative outlet and instrument to play with and learn how to master.
It will take time. I’m not saying everything will be perfect, first drop. I believe it’s 98% or 99% perfect but we will get feedback, learn from it and develop. Same with the board company. My first boards weren’t great but they worked. You start something and you learn from it. There’s a big support, I think the timing is good too.
“It’s important for them to have the power to say, “In my store, I want to have these kinds of shoes” … Not force it on people.”
Politically, bigger shoe brands and stores set the rules for the accounts. You have to order all the shoes, they have a collection and you have to take it even if you don’t want certain styles. This can work for stores and it’s nice for them to have some support but it’s important for them to have the power to say, “In my store, I want to have these kinds of shoes. These are the shoes that I like, that I want to buy and that I want to have on my wall.” Not force it on people. That’s how some companies operate and I think there is room for an alternative approach. One which will work with the skate shops, listen to them and try to collaborate on how we can develop. Maybe I’m wrong, I just know some stores are having trouble living up to their accounts, having rules set for them and I’m not sure if that’s so cool.
“Right now, there’s room for something else with the way the world looks, one foot in fashion.”
Right now, there’s room for something else with the way the world looks, one foot in fashion. I want to make shoes that look good on and off the board which work for anyone. This, I think, was a problem for the skate shoe brands making that transition from skate to lifestyle, becoming that brand. Nike, adidas or Converse they have a history in streetwear. Everyone can rock a pair of Blazers, Gazelles or Chuck Taylor’s. It’s such a cultural platform for them.
To sum it up: yes, I’m starting a shoe company with a friend, we’re making some vulcanised shoes, working on a bunch of cool shit and hopefully skaters are going to be into it. A skater owned shoe brand that can hopefully be an alternative to the other big things going on out there. Something for the stores, the riders and the skate community. Time will tell if we are doing a good job or not. I’m definitely giving it a shot and I think the time to do it is now.
An overview of the VM001, the first Last Resort AB shoe.
Are vegan shoes going to be part of the Last Resort line?
We will be making canvas shoes which count as vegan shoes. I don’t think anything is involved in the rubber from the animal world, it’s a synthetic material.
We have definitely had a demand and requests for it. Canvas shoes will be that option. It’s cool that when we said we were releasing shoes, people asked if there would be high tops and if there would be vegan shoes.
Back to the Sheep days
Yeah, it’s sick.
Oski blasting over Ville Wester’s smith at his local park, Stapelbäddsparken. ph: Nils Svensson
Will there be any UK trips in the not so distant future?
The Covid-19 situation meant all tours were set back. We’re only just starting to talk about it again. I’m trying to fly less and plan less trips, not sending the guys around left and right. Do less trips but do them really well just for the climate change factor. Not that it’s going to help that much but I’m definitely thinking about it if we can avoid global trips, back and forth, all around the world. Having the guys film and work locally and then try to all meet one or twice a year, max. Keep it a bit more low key with that side of things.
Doing things right.
Yeah, doing things right, working with the stores. Having Mike [Halls, owner of Keen Distribution] my partner on board. He’s been there forever now and he’s doing an amazing job working with the retailers, stores and distributions. You know the way he works with Slam and all of you guys. Trying to have the right people in the right places, understanding the situation and how we can help each other, how we can help the stores to grow and how we can help in hard times and in good times. Collaborating and being a good long term partner with stores and everyone. Stores are just as important as the brands. Without the stores we can’t sell the products and the kids can’t get it. Stores make the community, the scene, they are the hub of each city and we want to make sure everyone is supplied and well treated.
Thanks for your time, Pontus. Do you have a message for the masses?
Don’t pollute the planet. Be nice to each other no matter what skin colour you have, how you look, your sexuality or religion. Just be nice to people and be nice to the planet. Try to be positive, the planet is heading in a dark direction and we humans have to change it on a day to day level. It’s important on a daily level just to be nice to the next man.
Skate more, try to have fun. Love more, hate less and be fucking blessed that we are here still. Try to cut down your pollutions. Drive less, skate more. Fly less, cycle more. Eat more vegetarian food. Buy vintage or high quality garments. Recycle what you can and support local production.
peace out from Pontus
Thanks again to Pontus for his time and for sending over his artwork and peaks at Last Resort for this interview. Make sure you get those Big Boy jeans while they’re still in stock!