Earned Stripes: Daewon Song & Marc Johnson Speak Out

WORDS BY STUART GOMEZ

 

Last week's announcement that Marc Johnson and Daewon Song have joined adidas Skateboarding caught many off guard. Here are two of the most accomplished and inventive skaters in history, largely responsible for a progressive renaissance in skateboarding that has inspired new approaches and new philosophies over a period of decades. The word "legend" doesn't even come close. Now they've quit their "core" shoe sponsors and gone "corporate"? Say it ain't so.

The Skateboard Mag caught up with the veteran / new recruits in New York on Saturday, following the announcement made at the world premiere for Away Days just two days before.

 

 

Marc Johnson & Daewon Song, New York, NY  5/14/16

 

It seems like every skater, hater and fan-boy has something to say about the move, with mostly some variation on the dismissive line "money talks"; two of the most respected skaters in the game were labeled sell outs in an instant. Bystanders cited previous interviews (Marc has a history of being outspoken, making it easy for cherry picking comments), pointing out errors in continuity—generally, shit talking by know-it-alls who knew nothing substantial. The backlash was swift, but seemed negative for the sake of negativity; as if there was a quota on pessimism for the week.

 

Daewon expected a form of backlash. He has been on DVS since 1996 and has stayed with the company through a change of ownership and the requisite highs and lows. (Both Daewon and Marc continue to ride for Matix, the apparel brand that they've been with since the very beginning.) The expectation in the skate community was that Daewon should be essentially DVS for life. "I did devote myself for almost twenty years," Daewon says, "Just dedicated to a company that ending up doing less and less. I was hoping to maintain them and they just started doing more and more cuts."

 

Being identified so strongly with a brand for such a long period, it's as if the stink of betrayal becomes more pronounced with each passing year spent at the company. Both Marc and Daewon were clocking fifteen, nineteen years with Lakai and DVS, respectively. That's dedication, but they weren't seen as loyal. The perception that Marc and Daewon had sold out was impossible to avoid in this day and age—trolls have itchy thumbs—but Daewon chose to defuse the avalanche of nasty comments by personally responding to each of his fans on Insta. (This professional move has worked wonders. His heartfelt response to an F-bomb ridden comment was met with an instant about face: "I had no idea. Thanks for the kind reply and I wish you 24 more years of ripping!")

 

 

From Daewon's perspective, he's stuck with DVS through bad periods, even when people advised him to quit. Unsurprisingly, Daewon received offers to move to other brands over the years: "I'm like, 'Hell no, I'm gonna dedicate [myself] to it." When the new owners took over, things changed. "We were just in limbo. I didn't know anybody there any more, these [new] guys didn't even know what they wanted to do."

 

The move to adidas was a necessary step in Daewon's personal evolution. Daewon says, "This transition is important for me to take in order for me to stay inspired and kinda move on to the next chapter in my life. It's important for ME."

 

adidas Skateboarding's program excels in drilling down, focusing on smaller projects (Away Days is the first full-length, after all), cultivating and promoting talent in a way that raises the level of quality; adidas projects are easy to spot, they're visually beautiful and gracefully edited. Acquiring Marc and Daewon is less a power move and more of a posterity move. "[With adidas], I've already lined up so many different projects to film for and I have more of a creative outlet to do more," Daewon says.

 

 

Daewon Song, ROUND THREE (Almost c.2004)

 

Marc Johnson, FULLY FLARED (Lakai c.2007)

 

 

When it comes to Marc's reasons for leaving Lakai (and joining adidas, which now has the highest percentage of "Marks" per capita), he plainly isn't concerned with the backlash. The understanding is that people will come to their own conclusions, with the simplest explanation being overwhelmingly popular (the ubiquitous "money talks" popping up on the message boards) and so rudimentary that it highlights how truly ignorant the commentators are. "You know what? Don't make a judgment until you really understand the facts about why somebody would leave a company they were with for fifteen-twenty years," Marc says. "Maybe do a little digging. 'Cause it's a good thing."

 

Daewon offers some clarity for those averse to digging, an illustration to help keep the haters in check: "People don't know what was happening internally… It's like being in a relationship with a girl. 'Oh, I see her all the time. She's so nice, she's so sweet.' Yeah, but you don't know the real her."

 

Marc agrees, "Yup."

 

Daewon: "When you wind up breaking up, they think you're crazy. They're getting the exterior of her, they're not getting what's really inside."

 

The girlfriend-from-hell analogy rings true for Marc, and he gets a little more specific. "At some point the bullshit wears thin. You've got ideas, and when you outrun the company and you've got all these ideas and the company can't keep up? It's ridiculous," Marc says. "You just talk to somebody who's willing to do these projects, [someone] who is progressive."

 

And at a certain point in a skater's career, the freedom to create and move the needle creatively by working on new projects becomes a right, not a privilege. In both Marc's and Daewon's cases, their tenure is far and above what is expected in the industry. (Marc says, about Daewon: "This is the most prolific skateboarder of all time, sitting right next to me." And Daewon, about Marc: "I could say that about you, though.") Two of our greatest may have been taken for granted, but their move is a reminder that brand loyalty is a two-way street. Before passing judgment on anyone's decisions, maybe you should try walking a mile in their shoes.