Skateboarding news never really comes much bigger than last week’s announcement that brand figureheads and long time platonic life partners Anthony Van Englen and Jason Dill had seemingly amicably decided to part ways with their long-time home, the sovereign sect of Alien Workshop.
Team hopping in skateboarding is generally speaking far from big news. People regularly move from brand to brand and sponsorship deal to sponsorship deal, but in some cases a skater can be so closely linked to a particular company, so associated with its heritage and its development into what it is recognised as today that it is genuinely inconceivable that they would ever leave, and this announcement from Ave & Dill is most certainly one of those instances that has entirely blindsided the skateboarding community as a whole, or at least the members of the skateboarding fraternity that enjoy endlessly obsessing over this side of the industry.
The workshop, like all great and long established skateboarding institutions, has gone through various phases and changes in the brand’s identity, but the last few years since the releases of their phenomenal 2007 full-length “Mindfield” has been one of transition both public and behind the scenes. Through the discussion that surrounded Jason Dill’s now infamous up-river/down-river discussion of the Workshop team that first reared its head in Ave/Dill acolyte and noted dreamboat Dylan Rieder’s Epicly Later’d only to be further discussed and seemingly put to bed in the Josh Kalis edition of the same series, we were offered an uncommonly frank discussion about the Dynamics within a team that we would only usually be exposed to through second and third hand mutterings or in a guise sugar-coated in the extreme, and that’s only if we get exposed to it at all.
The truly fascinating thing about the aesthetic shifts and team changes that swirl around the most recent incarnation of the Workshop is that from the outside looking in, the changing complexion of the brand seemed to be brought on by the powers that be with Ave and Dill specifically in mind. As potent as their influence has been over the last few decades, the increased level of control over the brand Ave and Dill had been granted after recent the shake ups in the brands ownership was no secret.
A few years ago the Workshop was acquired by Burton, the well-known snowboard manufacturers, much to the chagrin of a considerable proportion of the skateboard community who felt that the outside influence would inevitably damage the singular aesthetic so associated with the workshop from its humble Ohio based inception, far removed from either skateboard industry hubs on the west or east coast. Pre-Burton, independent ownership and the creative freedom that goes hand in hand with it was one of the things that would first spring to mind when considering what made the workshop stand out in contrast with other brands to have gained a similar success.
Of late the Alien Workshop story has taken a turn bordering on the fairytale as long-term rider Rob Dyrdek, an Ohio native that has been part of the roster since his teens, bought out Burton’s shares. Dyrdek’s success off the back of his involvement in MTV’s Rob and Big and Ridiculousness has led him to be one of the most recognisable names within the industry to those outside of it. Dyrdek himself makes no apologies for his role within skateboarding and popular culture as a whole and, having taken over ownership at the Workshop, Dyrdek went public stating that he had no intention of cheapening the brand’s established image in pursuit of a quick buck, even going on to say that he was for all intents and purposes leaving the creative reigns of the workshop firmly in the hands of you guessed it, Ave and Dill.
This at first seemed a remarkably respectable and sensible move from Dyrdek. Since the departure of Josh Kalis to DGK and widely reviled Steve Berra the Workshop was essentially “Ave & Dill skate co.” they seemed to take on joint role of brand ambassadors and banner pros. Though on paper they were not the “owners”, the Workshop seemed to be their baby and this was apparent in the way they spoke about it. In particular Dill, who made no bones about his views that it was undoubtedly the best brand in the industry going as far to say its unfair on other brands the level of quality apparent on the Alien team, appealing in particular to the presence of Dylan Rieder and former skater of the year, all terrain savant and arguably best skater in the world at the moment Grant Taylor.
And he kind of had a point: they have a skater to appeal to all tastes one only has to look at their jaw dropping team montage in the Transworld cinematographer’s project to be struck by their diversity and gnarliness that is close to the incomparable. So why make any sort of move at all if they had such a degree of creative control at a brand that has done so much for them, not least of all stood by both Ave and Dill during their much publicised battles with substance abuse and the associated long stretches without coverage that goes hand in hand with neglecting the board in favour of the pipe.
Josh Kalis, long-time team-mate of both who felt muscled out of the fold at the Workshop as it distanced itself from the hip-hop aesthetic he figureheaded, has already come out to publicly criticise Ave and Dill’s departure. Kalis has a point too. Considering the hoops the people behind the Workshop jumped through in terms of losing loyal team riders like Kalis in order to stay true to a vision installed for Ave & Dill’s benefit, it could be viewed as perhaps a touch ungrateful or unfair of them to turn their backs on the brand and the situation only gets more problematic when you consider the extremely healthy possibility of other team riders following them over to their new venture (one would expect Dylan Rieder will be joining them shortly enough) or other Workshop pros being eager to leave the brand which may well end up somewhat adrift without its co-captains
Already message board rumblings of Grant Taylor moving onto other things, potentially out of the San Francisco’s DLX camp. Considering how long everyone involved in this has been working together it seems a little unlikely we will every get a frank discussion of these goings on from the principle players but as it stands this is the most fragile the position of the workshop as a one of skateboarding’s leading brands has looked in recent memory.
As fascinating as the questions surrounding what lead the two of them to leave such a seemingly comfortable situation is, the speculation surrounding what their next move will be is equally as captivating. The immediate impulse would be to assume that both Ave & Dill are going to be sticking together most likely to start their own company. After all, why would they choose to leave the workshop, somewhere they seem to have the final word in terms of the creative control over the brand only to take position on a team where they are simply pros in the traditional sense, this seems all the less likely when you consider that both men are most likely approaching the tail end of their careers.
It probably would be reasonable speculation to suggest that their parts in the upcoming Greg Hunt van’s video will be their last full length pro parts. These realities have not prevented seasoned Internet based industry speculators floating a number of potential alternative options, some apparently more likely than others. There has been mutterings of both figures heading a new legit board brand under the umbrella of hypebeast streetwear heavy weights Supreme. This hypothesis is far from inconceivable when you consider the degree to which the both of them have been repping the brand of late and their involvement in the mysterious Supreme video that is currently in the works at the hands of long time Dill collaborator and all-round videographic visionary “Fat” Bill Strobeck. This theory has boundless potential if it dodges supreme’s current “swag’d out” trappings in favour of the 90s golden age of before supreme was cool/when supreme was the coolest shit ever. Similar mutterings of a new brand of their own emerging under VF corp. (the people behind Vans) have also been floated and seems the most likely in this skate scribe’s humble opinion, but what do I know?
Of all the hearsay the hypothesis with the most compelling evidence while simultaneously being the most ridiculous sounding on paper is the theory that both (or at least Dill) are winging their way over to the emergent London brand that has captured the attention of the industry over the last few years, Palace skateboards. It would seem that surely Palace don’t have the requisite financial means to pay two big name American pros or at least not yet anyway. Though a recent interview with mastermind and crowned prince of Palace Lev Tanju has got tongues wagging and chins thoroughly stroked.
When asked which pros he’d like to introduce into the Palace roster in an ideal world, Tanju responded “All the people that are gonna ride for us in the next 2 years. I’m not even joking either.” And when asked if he’d care to elaborate simply responded “Few people I have looked up to growing up. BIG DAWGS!!”. Now, considering that the two latest/upcoming additions to Palace are Danny Brady and Benny Fairfax, granted two of the biggest name English pros worldwide, they are far from the sort of “BIG DAWGS” that a gentleman of Lev’s age would have looked up to in his youth one can’t help but wonder who he is eluding to. Especially considering the interview in question here was released sometime prior to the announcement of the workshop departure. The palace speculation was got the tumblr-obssesed branch of skateboarding all in a lather, the collision of the two bastions of hipster skating colliding, Palace and Jason Dill, is enough to blow the bucket hat off many a carefully tended to hairstyle. A recent photo of dill in the presence of a palace t-shirt has driven this the Palace speculation to fever pitch.
If there is any truth to these rumors then we really are living in a strange time for skateboarding. The notion of any skaters of Ave& Dill’s renown going to a small, let alone English brand would have been previously unheard of. Though the very fact it is being discussed to degree it has been is telling of the way the industry is going, the level of pull that small brands have managed to create through setting themselves apart from big brands as opposed to attempting to emulate them is an almost entirely new phenomenon. Though, the move if it were to go ahead is somewhat problematic to obsessives like myself. It would almost cheapen Palace as a brand to turn to established American pros.
It could be understood as a move from Palace’s origins, drifting away from the individuality and otherness that first made them to so pointedly stand apart from the rest of the industry and that’s not even considering the light it would put Dill in, it would be as if he is an aging pro turning to the most happening brand of the moment in order to remain relevant and I’m sorry but it pains me to think of my beloved Dill that way. I’m still getting over his appearance on the Osbournes and we can at least use the “cocaine’s a hell of a drug” defense on that one.
Regardless of how thing’s pan out the departure from the Workshop is undoubtedly the most shocking news within the industry of late that I can care to think of. I don’t think there was anybody who woke up the day the news broke with even an inkling that Dill and Ave would ever leave Alien let alone so soon. It’s strange tides on the good ship skateboarding and no matter how these things pan out in the end one can’t help but feel there will be plenty to discuss.