With Malmo gripped by the pangs of winter, we managed to catch Pontus Alv with enough free time to answer some of our questions. This true original still operates with the DIY ethic which spawned our culture, ‘making it happen’ is certainly what he has done. We’re happy we were able to make this interview happen, enjoy…
Words and interview by Jacob Sawyer. Pontus floating. PH: Nils Svensson
What’s been going on in Sweden?
It’s just been Winter, been really cold and shitty and i’ve been travelling a bit, I went to LA, I went to Berlin and I went to Warsaw in Poland and I went to Stockholm the other day, I’ve just been working tons on getting all this shit together. Production, new products, distribution building up a intl. network and infrastructure…. Other than that it’s been WInter, you know? Skating the park, hanging with my lady, going to the bar and doing fuck all apart from working tons and skating a bit in-between. Trying to Kill time, it won´t die.
You’ve always got projects on the boil what’s the newest one?
The main thing this year is to work on and finish our first video. I wouldn´t call it a full length video but a longer version of a promo. A 25 min powerhouse DVD with the team with some cool extra material. Perhaps release it with a small art book… We see what happens when we are there. So we got a pretty busy tour / filming schedule this year…. Other than the video we will just keep doing what we do trying to create some rad shit for the people.
Photo-Jesus Has Herpes
You’re motivated in a similar vein to people like Ricky Oyola, Mike Manzoori and even someone like Jamie Thomas. People who get things done, create and ultimately do their own thing. Does other people’s relative laziness baffle or annoy you?
Yes and no. If I have to work with it, work with people and deal with it yeah it can annoy me. If I see skaters, team riders being lazy or I have to deal with other people and they’re not on point with what they do it’s annoying. I don’t care how other people are, they can do what they want but as soon as I have to be involved with it I find it frustrating because I get things done and like to be on point. I wouldn’t call myself a workaholic but something similar. If I say we’re going to do something then we will do it, I don’t just talk. I like actions, they speak louder than words. I don’t really care what people do but if they’re going to work with me they should be ready to be motivated, positive and get things going. I like to do shit and I like to see shit getting done.
Pontus with some attention to detail. PH: Nils Svensson
You rightfully received some awards at the Bright trade show. How did it feel to take over to some extent after a short period existing as a company? That’s a big impact…
Well we haven’t even been around for two years and we’re already brand of the year. Of course Palace got it the first time. I think people see Palace and Polar as a new kind of energy, a new wind coming into an industry which has been pretty stale. It’s been going in the same direction for many years, I think there’s a big need for skater owned/run companies. Everything is becoming more and more corporate in a street league direction, people going for the big sales, the big numbers.
I think the industry has been missing the connection to the streets, the people, the skaters. That’s where companies like us, Palace and Magenta fill that big gap between the crazy American California industry way of thinking and what’s going on on the streets. I think people have become tired with what’s going on and that’s where we come in. We understand that gap and we can master it, we all still skate, hang around in the streets and are very much connected to the skate scene. We still love pure, raw skating and I think that’s the key to our connection with skaters around the globe which is why we have the big support we have.
Can we expect more Palace collaborative projects in the future? That tie is a strong one right now, it’s good to see…
That first thing was just a tour. As far as a Polar/Palace collaboration my doors are always open for those guys, I think they feel the same way about us. It’s hard because they are blowing up as a brand and have so much shit going on all the time with different projects. It’s getting harder for us to do things like that because we too now are really busy. If it happens, it happens. We can join roads down the line, if we can we will do it, that would be great. I’d love to see it happen, tours, trips or products because I have a good time hanging out with Lev and the team. When they came here it really felt like…I wouldn’t say one team but two crews getting on together really well.
It feels like we’re on the same page, we like the same kind of shit, the skating we’re into but they also have a different direction to ours which is good because we don’t want to be a copy of something else. There are so many brands out there. Palace created their own type of world and image which I love but even though we are into that we have to go down our own road. People need to see that it’s original and not just a copy of another brand, it’s important that what comes across is obviously your own thing. You can see how many videos that came out in the last six months which are so similar to Palace be it the VHS footage or a grimy copy. It’s so typical…”those guys are doing great lets copy it and try and be like them”. It just doesn’t work, at least not for me.
Carhartt have supported you for a long time, do you feel that having a company like that support you and your various projects over the years gave you the confidence to start your own thing and know it would work?
Carhartt supported a lot of my early videos, trips, materials and so on and still to this day still support whatever I chose to do. Our relationship has always been a give and take situation. They gave me some budgets to work with, it’s never been any crazy money but their help and resources have made certain things possible. I paid for a lot of things myself too. The most important thing with Carhartt is they never tried to change me or tell me what to do, they just let me be me and understood what I wanted to do and supported it which is why they are such a cool company.
I think the videos more than anything gave me the confidence to do my own thing. I’d been thinking about it forever, after the second video I made my website, my blog and received loads of emails from fans. That more than anything made me realize that those videos had a huge impact on skateboarders from around the World. When I realised there was a big following for what I was doing and people out there were thirsty for something else it gave me the confidence to say “fuck it” and start my own thing.
Next level nollie. PH: Jesper Nilsson
What other companies out there do you think are doing something with the right amount of integrity? Do you feel that void is where you guys come in?
Of course I have always respected Alien Workshop, it’s had it’s ups and downs and it’s been around for twenty years. They have managed to put out some really sick banging edits in between everything and some really dope graphics, they have really cool ideas. I like it, not all of it but parts of it. It’s such a big company and they still keep it pretty legit. The Deluxe thing is pretty sick, Krooked and Anti-Hero. I’m not really into the new Girl and Chocolate, the whole Pretty Sweet thing but I still respect them both as brands for what they have done and where they have come from. As far as new companies doing interesting shit of course Palace, Magenta, they’re doing their own thing and have a niche. They’re pushing their own thing, their own ideas. I feel there’s not much else out there to be honest, there’s the Passport brand, I don’t know much about it but have seen some sick skating from their team. I respect 5Boro, they’re cool guys. It feels like there are five to ten companies out there doing good shit and I don’t like that. I like it when there is good shit out there, it motivates other people to do good shit. It’s good to have competition, it’s good to be kicked in the balls. I want to see an edit from a company that makes me say ” Damn mother fucker that was good! I need to get my shit together!” That’s the kind of feeling I want, it motivates me, I want to be up in that game. You aren’t competing with them but It makes skateboarding sick, you see a company with a good team putting sick shit out, good graphics, it keeps skateboarding interesting, that’s what we love about it. Companies are so scared these days, somebody brings a new company out who are doing something appealing they see it as competition and want to kill them, I’m the other way around! Sick companies are what I love, kill the fucking stinking ones instead!
Is that why you wear a gas mask in that video?
(laughs) Nah, that was an old thing!
Since it’s inception Polar has had a great deal of output, is this something you think is the most important and wish to maintain?
So far we have put out two solid edits within a year. Every six to eight months I think it’s important to put some decent shit out there. I prefer to put out less that’s good quality than be associated with anything weak and put out a clip every week. Of course there are some small clips dropping but it’s not really us doing it, it’s kids, friends of the team putting stuff out. The next thing is the movie, I would rather put out less stuff that’s good than a bunch of junk. It’s really aggressive because you have to be on it every day, advertising, getting your stuff in the magazines, getting the guys in there, interviews and whatnot. You have to be producing stuff all the time…
Is the graphic side of it all something you still find exciting?
Yes and no. I feel like when you do something and produce it you like it that week and then two weeks later you may be into some other shit. It’s nice getting the new stuff in. When I / we started we spent so much time on a graphic because we had the time to do it but now there’s just so much work to do so maybe we are not so picky about what goes out this end. Before I’d spend months on a graphic because I wanted to get it just right. We still spend a lot of time on it, don’t get me wrong but it’s centered around a deadline with another one three months down the line. Graphics are really hard cause sometimes you spend a day on a deck and it just turns out sick and sometimes three months and it comes out so so. It is like any other artwork the final result is what counts, if it is banging it is banging….But somehow you become part of the whole industry where it’s just products going in and out like machinery which is sad, which I don’t much like about it but that is the way it is to some extent. Sometimes it’s hard to be a creative giant that constantly puts good shit out all the time.
In between, you need to do some okay ones, some good ones and then some really good ones. I wish we could only do the super good ones but it’s impossible to keep it up at that level. I still think compared to a lot of brands our graphics still stand out and have a lot of work put into them. I could just do logo boards in two hundred colour ways and put them out at a shitty price, shitty quality, fuck up the market and the culture. There are so many brands out there like that and they can seriously fuck off, they can go and fucking die! We don’t need that shit in skateboarding, we don’t need that shit in our culture. Skateboarding for me is about competing on an artistic level, on a cultural level, on a video level, a team level etc that’s skateboard culture. Competing just on a price level & big numbers with bullshit graphics, bullshit everything, that’s just not what I think skateboarding should be about. I’m sick of people buying a shit load of containers of blanks from China, putting a mini logo on them and putting them out there for 25 Euros. It’s just sad you know? I hate it! I still think skateboarders want to see sick edits from sick skateboarders, enjoy good artwork on decks & other cool projects etc but if less and less people support it it’s all going to die we’ll just have price point logo decks all over the place, no teams, no pro skaters,no videos, no artwork. All that stuff I love about skateboarding…
Original Pontus Alv artwork
In Search Of The Miraculous was a land mark video. Do you feel that your style as a cinematographer has developed even more since then? Can we expect your next video to be even more of an epic production?
I don’t see myself as a cinematographer or a film maker really. It’s just something i like doing, I think now the problem is that making films is really time consuming and it also costs a lot of money. If I followed some of the ideas I have for movie making it would take a lot of time and cost some money and some investments. I want to progress and develop it of course. I think the edits I have put out for Polar have still been top notch as far as filming and so on. I always try to do my very best on all levels, put out new edits and try and make them different, that’s the whole point of it. Make videos that make skateboarders want to go and skate and do shit.
Why is there no weed left in Malmo?
There is plenty of weed around here!
I heard Chewy smoked it all…
(laughs) Yeah he smoked tons! I love Chewy! Smoking weed here is different, in major cities it’s pretty accessible. Over here you have to plan and structure your smoking, you’ve got to be a little bit organised here if you’re gonna be a stoner and maybe that’s not Chewy’s best skill. Sorry Chewy, I really tried.
Can we talk a little bit about Mad Circle Five Flavours? That is seriously one of my favourite videos of all time and also one of my favourite teams. How was that time for you? It seems you were part of something that was a really closed book to someone on the outside looking in…
Being on Mad Circle is a very long story but i’ll keep it short. When I came on the team, Justin (Girard) was doing all the stuff that i’m doing now, art direction, graphics and also skating and being part of the team manager side of things. He was a one man show and it was great but I totally understand where he was coming from. He got burnt out, the company grew bigger, work grew bigger and the money didn’t really. He got ripped off from Giant and shit became pretty messed up. Of course when you have have a boss who was the sickest type of guy, skating and loving it to being bitter and that love turning to hate it’s messed up. Towards the end, Five flavours and after Five flavours it was just to a point where it was so sad. Justin was so depressed by it all and bummed out on skating. He hated the whole business side of it. His love in life turned to hate and that’s why he shut it down.
He had problems with Giant, they stole money from Mad Circle. He owned fifty percent and Paul Schmitt and Steve Douglas twenty five each and they basically took money from Mad Circle because we were the best selling brand to invest into Element and New Deal which were not doing so well at the time. He found out and wanted to sue, he wanted his share out to start up a new company up with FTC. That was the whole plan, Giant told him to fuck himself, of course he was bummed out so he quit and left the whole thing over night and disappeared from skateboarding. However it was a great thing, a great time to be a part of with Bobby Puleo, Rob Welsh, Karl Watson, Scott Johnston, Cairo Foster came on the team and Justin, all the guys, it was sick!
The Mad Circle squad shot by Mike Blabac
Being in SF at that time, an epic time in skateboarding, just being a part of that whole era was amazing! But then sad at the end so it went from being amazing to fucking hell basically. FTC is doing a new thing about it which is going to be sick. Justin’s going to do a small re-issue Mad Circle line with a couple of t-shirts, boards and they’re going to do a small documentary with Justin and the team. They’re going to get all the guys together to talk about it. They’re working on it which is pretty sick!
Pontus on the streets of San Francisco. Mad Circle ad from the archives
Who did you encounter on your time out in California with raw talent that really stood out at the time?
SF at the time, all the classic guys skating. Rob Welsh when he came out he was really sick and also Bobby (Puleo) at that time. Who else was ripping? All the FTC guys, Huf, Carrol. Back then it was like everybody was ripping, so many people in the City and shit went down every day. Cairo Foster at that time he was really killing it all over the City. I can’t say one guy was standing out more than another it was just tons of rippers connected in one City. Lennie Kirk for example, there were so many good people around. I can’t say one person blew my mind, the whole atmosphere blew my mind!
Did that time out there influence your path right down to where you are at now or have your experiences in Europe and travelling with there as a base since made more of an impact?
I definitely think Mad Circle is my foundation in skateboarding life, Justin really taught me about seeing shit differently and trying to do things differently. That was his whole approach with Mad Circle. At it’s time it was far ahead of everyone else, artwork, motion graphics, all types of dope shit. I think Justin was my first big mentor to point out a lot of things. I see Polar as being the exam! My whole twenty five years of being a skateboarder. I try to connect everything, late eighties, through the Nineties through to 2000. Being on Cliche, the late Eighties, The Blind video, World Industries, everything. I went through so many generations of skateboarding. I try to look back at my history and that’s where I find the inspiration to do the things I do now. I lived through a lot of it and I try to re-create those feelings for the coming generations.
A child like sense of wonder?
Yeah you know, the feeling you had when you first saw the H-street videos or Video Days or when you saw those graphics back then how stoked you were. as a kid. All those kick ass feelings you had when you were a kid watching all that stuff, that whole world was amazing to me and that’s what i’m trying to re-create with Polar. Collect my childhood memories and re-package them and do it in our own way and style but i’m not going to deny being inspired by the late Eighties to mid Nineties. For me it was the greatest time in skateboarding that had the biggest impact on me on all levels. I’m stoked I have that with me and I lived through it. I think you can see that in Polar, feel a little bit of that time in it.
You recently went to NY? How was that?
New York man! It’s the best place on earth basically. I love being there, I love skating there and the skate scene there, everything about it is sick, the way it looks, the whole City. Just hanging out there, the whole energy, the vibe, it’s inspiration on all levels. Skating, cultural level, artistic level. If I could I would live there, if I could get a Visa and live there and survive there I would move there for sure. New York is fun if you have a good set up there, a lot of people go there and live out in the suburbs then work six days a week, two jobs with no free time. You have to have a good plan to go there and not end up doing that. You need money to survive because it’s really expensive, rent and transportation and so on but who knows? Maybe one day we can move Polar headquarters over there and run it from New York. That would be epic!
Can we expect a Polar en masse London visit?
Yeah, my last visit wasn’t the best one. I love skating in London but its hard, it’s really tough. The main problem with London is the bloody transportation, I live in a fucking village so I’m so used to having everything five minutes from my house. I love and hate London, there’s so much sick stuff to skate there, it looks great, there’s a great atmosphere but it’s also a really harsh place. A lot of people, a lot of transportation. It’s hard to be productive there and get shit done. You go to one spot max two spots per day and if that doesn’t work out then that’s it, you’re fucked. We definitely want to come back though for sure, I’ll give it another shot. I had some great sessions there and some bad ones, we’ll come back, it’s not so far away. We were talking a little bit about doing a UK tour. Palace are really busy but I’d love to do a Polar Palace thing around the UK, LEV let´s do that….
Pontus on the streets of San Francisco. Mad Circle ad from the archives
Pontus tailslides a mosaic for the lens of Nils Svensson
Nice! Any last words?
My last words would be keep skateboarding rad and hopefully we can see more improvements out there. Basically-Skateboarders! We own skateboarding you know? The companies don’t own it, the industry doesn’t own it. Skateboarders together, we can make a change, we can. Skateboarding doesn’t have to be bull shit. We can create a rad scene together and I feel like we’re already doing it. Hopefully more brands and people will join us and we can get a really strong, sick thing going on which we can all enjoy and feed off.
I personally wanna thank all the skaters out there supporting us, all the shops, our distributors, our warehouse workers, the magazines & skate media, all the team riders & flow riders around the world, the Polar Art department for kicking ass and finally anyone else out there that made this happen.
Stay Inspired, ALV.
Thanks to Pontus for taking time out for this interview. For more Pontus Alv and Polar related reading check Pontus Alv Interview 2014, and Catch Up with Pontus Alv 2020. Shop here for Polar Skateboards.