The Why Behind Carver Skateboards

Updated: February 27, 2023 | Archive

Originally published in Concrete Wave Magazine Vol.10 No.5 (Spring 2012)


When I was 8 years old, my family moved to Hawaii from upstate New York. My father worked for Pan Am airlines, so we moved every year or so, and this was just another of the brief stops along our circuit. Home was a little bungalow in Kailua Bay, on the windward side of Oahu. The single garage out front was a dark and musty shack full of junk and a workbench with some old tools, and it was there that I found the parts to make my first skateboard. Amidst the Bustello coffee cans full of rusted nuts and bolts and screws and the cobweb-covered boxes of old junk, I found a stenciled wooden NO TRESSPASSING sign and a steel-wheeled roller skate.

With an awl and a flathead screwdriver I attached the rusty trucks to the sign with wood screws from the coffee cans. The trucks barely turned, though, so I tried to loosen the kingpin. It had a super-wide, shallow flathead screw head at the top that threaded directly into the baseplate. In perhaps a foreshadowing of what would later become my life’s work, I wrestled with the adjustment of that kingpin in an attempt to improve performance, and while I held the board down with one hand and twisted on the screwdriver with the other, the screwdriver slipped off the shallow slot and I stabbed myself in the hand.

We often hear about gifted people starting their craft as children, in a way that almost seems predestined. They seem to just know from the start that they were meant to do that thing. But is that looking at it backwards? What if it’s just that if you stick with something long enough, you have the time to attain true expertise? Author Malcolm Gladwell says it takes about 10,000 hours of diligent practice to attain real mastery at something. His research shows that “masters” are often just people who hit the 10K hour mark early in life. But what of the rest of us, who’ve not been so stupendous? Maybe we did know better as kids, unencumbered with too much logic and flush with enthusiasm, but we took a few turns along the way. I wonder if any of those hours are still transferable later in life


My family moved to Rio de Janeiro, a vast beachside city surrounded by low-lying mountains, providing perfect beaches and lots of hills to skate. We lived near the base of Corcovado Mountain, so a skateboard was the perfect way to cruise down the hill to the bus stop half a mile down. It took several crowded buses to get to my best friend Angus’s house so we could meet up with another friend, Richard, and skate around the hills of Larangeiras. I rode a garage-made, solid mahogany wedge-tail deck that had AC/DC burned on the bottom with a soldering iron, mounted with a pair of Bennett Pros and blue Kryptonics.

We’d “catch cars” by lurking on the corner at the bottom of the hill and grabbing on to a bumper, a door handle or whatever and stealing a ride up the hill. Sometimes people would speed up to see if we’d let go, which made it more fun, but pretty stupid too, and then we’d carve back down and do it again. I think back to how dangerous it was and I shudder; when we “caught buses” the driver would often try to shake us off like we were flies on his back, swerving his way up the hill and nearly grazing parked cars.

It got super-sketchy as the bus drivers escalated their maneuvers, so we started “catching blind,” where we rode directly behind the bus so they couldn’t see us. One day Richard’s skateboard fell into in a new sinkhole in the middle of the road while we were hitching a ride up for our first run of the day. It happened so fast he just hung on to the bumper for a few seconds, literally sliding on the bottoms of his shoes.

They got hot really fast, so he kind of rolled onto his back, still holding on to the bumper, and now sliding on the back pockets of his Wranglers. I shouted for him to let go, but he just stubbornly hung on, and stared at me until his ass got so scorched he finally did let go. He slid to a stop, jumped up and grabbed at his ass like he was a cartoon character trying to outrun the heat. Searching for the answer to why we do something is like pulling a loose thread at the edge of our philosophical fabric, slowly unraveling it until there is only a pile of threads with no decipherable meaning. Deconstructing our reason for acting digs at the core of our humanity.

We act for both selfish and altruistic reasons, for survival and enjoyment, for challenge and reward. What’s so difficult is that no one reason answers the question fully.


I was an industrial designer living and working in a small converted storefront on Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice. It was a tiny place, but it was cheap and near the Breakwater, a dirty little surf spot of occasional quality. My best friend Greg was an accomplished artist and surfer, which meant he also had the freedom to pursue crazy ideas and the skills to make them happen.

He had just bought a cheap foreclosed house 200 yards from mine. It stayed empty for several years while he worked on it, so we played ping-pong in the living room and skated to the kitchen and back. Like living a second childhood, we surfed and skated and got a heavy game of pong going. But mostly we wanted to surf our skateboards, and we thought we could do better than what we could find at skate shops, so our central pursuit became making the perfect surfskate.


We were manufacturing a really solid truck, the first dual-axis model, and taking full advantage of that fact by surfing all over the streets of Venice, Santa Monica and Mar Vista. Our local favorite was always Marine Street in SM, though. It was the steepest hill nearby, and it had great banks lining both sides for two blocks. And if you hang around a place long enough you begin to notice things. One of those things was the “gate tube.” We were waiting at the top of the hill one afternoon, catching our breath and waiting for the car cycle to clear, when we noticed the automatic parking gate for the corner apartment building open slowly, arching out over the sidewalk as it hinged upward. After the car drove out, the gate stayed open for about 8 seconds and then started to pivot back down, and as it did it made a wave-like tube of steel.

If you timed it just right you could drop in from the top and cut into the driveway just as the gate started closing. And if you hung back a little more at first, it would close overhead so you had to crouch super-low to make it out. The bottom turn into the sidewalk was tight too, due to a tree right at the corner, so if you made it through you were rewarded with a 20-foot bank to carve up, take a snap at the top and spit out at the bottom.


I’ve been thinking a lot about my history with skateboarding in the search for this answer to Why, and the idea of an Evolution of Why begins to emerge.

Doesn’t our motivation evolve from day to day, year to year? If it might have started as a fun way to live, has it now grown to include other reasons, like a sense of responsibility for the lives of our crew, our distributors, our riders? These days I’m lucky to do what I love, every day, with cool collaborators, and spread good fun to riders worldwide. The letters of stoke we get every week truly spur me on. I am satisfied, and it feels ungracious to demand an answer to a question that ultimately would not change any of it one bit. So, instead of trying to pin down this ever-evolving, context-dependent, multifaceted answer to Why, I choose a much simpler question: Why Not? What could possibly be the legitimate purpose of strapping a skateboard to a surfboard and taking it down a hill? How can one justify such an action with a straight face?

So after all is said and done, maybe a short answer to the deceptively simple three-letter question “Why” might be found in another equally small, equally mysterious three-letter word: Fun. All of this pondering has made me hungry, and I can’t stop thinking about the ceviche truck on Rose Avenue. The tart, limey juice and chopped fish with Cholula on a tostada sound like just the right thing to eat on this spring day. I grab a board with my new favorite CX truck set and head out the door. I push down the sidewalk, dip down a curb cut to the street and around the corner to the alley, where there’s a 200-footlong little bank providing the perfect incline for a fast pumping line complete with a few roundhouses. The air feels cool on my forehead as I session it a few more times.

Then I take a left down a two-block-long stretch of brand new asphalt, and the hiss of urethane underfoot feels like velvet. I push harder to get some speed coming into a series of driveway banks connected by a narrow sidewalk. I pump up each one, snap at the top, ride down the incline and bottom turn into the sidewalk, pumping into the next bank. Everywhere I look the streets are perfect for surfskating, and I plan the ride back while I sit on my board, eating in the sun.

Neil Carver

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