Inside the Brand with Tom Hyser
At Rollerblade®, we only work with the best people in the sport. Either they have an outstanding background knowledge of the industry or they are professionals with a history in the sport. Some, like Tom Hyser, have both. Tom is an OG from the early 1990s, and, together with a handful of skaters, brought street skating where it is today. Tom visited Winterclash in Eindhoven in February and we had a chat about his role with Rollerblade®. Please enjoy: Inside the Brand with Tom Hyser: Product Marketing Manager - USA.
Q. Tom you are part of the inline scene for quite some years now. Can you tell us how you got involved in skating?
A. I grew up just outside Atlanta, Georgia in Roswell. I was a very active kid and started skateboarding when I was 10 years old. My brother’s friend had skateboard, and I loved the feeling of rolling on it. At the same time, I started roller-skating. I loved going to the roller-rink with all my friends and my older brothers. We were there every week, twice a week. It was great. I started off speed skating with my older brother, Steve. The feeling of rolling has always captivated me. In 1989 my dad got a new job and in July we moved to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. I was skateboarding around my new neighborhood and I saw this kid on Rollerblade® Lightning skates with his hockey stick. I asked him what was up with the local ice hockey team. He told me to get some inline skates and he and his buddies would teach me how to play hockey on inline skates. For my birthday that month I got my first pair of skates, the Rollerblade® Zetra 303’s. I hit my dad up for Lightning 608’s and he said, “You’ll use those things three times and forget about them.” He couldn’t have been more wrong. My family only lasted eight months in Wisconsin. It’s really cold there half the year. So we moved back to Georgia. When I got back I got Andy Kruse and my buddy, Matt Kubis, on inline skates. Atlanta had a really rad scene back then. I worked and skated for the local skate shop called Go With the Flow. I got sponsored by Rollerblade® and Hyper Wheels when I rode for Go With The Flow. Jamie Thomas, Mark Jones, Sean Young, Devin Patterson were sponsored amateur skateboarders for Go With The Flow skate shop. These guys where super inspiring to me. They were the first dudes to charge big rails and handle massive gaps on skateboards. They paved the way for us in a way. There was zero hate from skateboarders back then. During this time I was still skateboarding half the time. I’d go to skate spots with my skates and skateboard. This was before Thrasher Magazine and others started the hate campaign against inline skating. Jamie Thomas, Sean Young, and Devin Patterson moved to San Fransisco in 1993 to follow their dreams. This inspired Andy Kruse, Nate Garrision, Frankie Loscavio, and I to try and do the same thing. We went out to try out for the Taco Bell NISS pro tour right out of high school in 1994. Andy and I qualified for the NISS pro tour and quickly got sponsored by K2 skates. That’s what started the whole thing. Since the sponsorship with the shop Go With the Flow my journey in this sport has continued in some pretty incredible ways. Every time I’m back in town I swing by the shop to visit.
Q. You have seen a lot of the world during your career as a pro skater in the 1990s and on. How did this influence your view on skating?
A. I’ve been so blessed to travel the world. Because of skating, I have friends in so many great places all over the world. I can pretty much travel anywhere in the world and hit up friends and have a place to stay. The coolest part of skating is traveling and experiencing different scenes. I get to hang out with skaters of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities. When it comes down to it though, we are all just skaters, and that is so rad. We can just hang and learn from one another. It keeps me young, connected, and inspired.
Q. You are always very passionate about pushing the sport with innovation. Please give us some insight in your most memorable hard goods.
A. I really enjoy making new products that make the experience of skating better. I’m always building up new stuff to test out. This Frankenstein method of creation I use started in my early years of skating. The first skates were not made to grind, so we had to modify them. I remember chopping up a street hockey stick to make grind plates for my buddy and I. We would wax up curbs and do what we called pressure slides on them. I went to art school after high school in 1994. Matt Lacross from K2 hit me up pretty soon after I started classes. Mark Shays ran the ASA pro tour back then and he told Matt that I had cool ideas for skate designs. K2 was in the market to make a skate designed specifically for aggressive skating. I was in the right place at the right time. We made the K2 Fatty: this skate changed the game. A lot of the elements of that skate can still be seen in skate design today: one piece soul/frames, convex h-blocks, rockerable frame spacers, etc. My work with Fiziks suspension frames was also a really amazing project. From Fiziks I learned a great deal about business and the complexities of making something truly outside the box of normal design. Unfortunately my next project, Epoch frames, never made it to the market due to a complicated partnership situation. Again, another product that taught me more about business and patience. Lesson learned: it’s worth it to wait for the right people to partner with in business. Don’t rush these relationships because you are excited about the product you created. I have a lot of cool ideas for urban skates, aggressive skates, parts, etc. Basically my mind is dreaming of this stuff all the time. I have the honor and privilege to work at Rollerblade® where they allow and encourage me play with skates all the time.
Q. You’ve had several groundbreaking projects in your career. In 2008 you started working at Rollerblade®. How has your experience been working for the brand that started it all?
A. I’ve wanted to work for Rollerblade® since I was 15 when I started skating. I mean, they are the brand that started it all. I always knew that I wanted help them make better skate products and work in marketing as well. So, after closing Skatepile.com I put 100% of my effort into working with Rollerblade®, USA. I wanted to work with them to redirect the image of inline skating. Rollerblade® is the biggest inline skate brand, and we have a responsibility to shape how this sport is seen to the rest of the world. I take a lot of pride in this aspect of the business. Sometimes I get ahead of myself and have to be patient. Sometimes my ideas are not possible due to market demands or other business realities. Rollerblade® is a big company that sells skates around the world, there are a lot of moving parts that effect discussions, progressions, and final outcomes. I’ve learned a great deal while working at Rollerblade®, USA. They have supported me in design and marketing, and helped me grow in my business skills. I’m thankful for their continued dedication. The entire worldwide team at Rollerblade® are good people who demonstrate respect, initiative, cooperation, patience and dedication. Ultimately, that’s what is important to me in the long run.
Q. Most of the people in the skating scene know you as a street skater. One of your main focuses is on developing street skates. Give us some insight on this part of your career with Rollerbade®.
A. I grew up street skating in Atlanta and always dreamed of working for Rollerblade® someday. After Skatepile.com shut its doors I honed in on making that dream a reality. After some really great conversations with the leadership team in 2007 I got my chance to work at Rollerblade®, USA. I was doing street team management, and I got to be a part of the Solo/Fusion skate development. Originally we were going to do a 100% new aggressive skate but aggressive skating was in a sharp, continuous decline. Ultimately it was decided to modify the Swindler molds to make the Solo/Fusion skate. The Urban skate market was growing rapidly, so the Solo skate became the skate that could do it all. In some ways it was a success. We learned a lot working on the Solo/Fusion skate. I have ideas on how to make some very innovative street and urban skates. We can always make better skates and that’s what we strive to do everyday.
Q. What other roles do you represent at Rollerblade® as a professional?
A. I wear all sorts of hats here: Marketing management, team and key influencer management, product management, product development, product testing, and more. We are a small team so we all work closely on a variety of stuff that makes this brand happen. I work closely with the skaters to make sure they are set to do what they want. I also listen to their input on the products and do my best to implement their ideas into the products. I work a lot on the brand image. Part of branding is deciding which athletes we will work with and how they look in photos and videos. My day can range from helping design a catalog, to deciding on what events to support, to product testing at a skatepark, to traveling to Europe for various meeting and events, etc. Let’s just say, I’m never bored.
Q. What can you say about the near future? Are there any groundbreaking goods releasing which you are hyped on?
A. I couldn’t be happier with the Hydrogen wheels we are making at Rollerblade®. These wheels are really good. I mean game changing. Good wheels are crucial for skating to be an excellent experience. I’m also very excited for the 2018 collection. We have some cool skates coming out. Yann did a good job with our product team. I’m looking forward to testing these new skates as we near the final development stages.
Q. Thanks for your time and keep up doing your thing. Any parting words?
A. I love to skate. I mean it. I love everything about this sport. From street skating to marathon racing. From Urban cruising the in the streets of New York with friends to recreational cruising the park with my lady. From teaching kids to skate ramps at local skate camps to learning new speed skating tips from Jorge Botero. Skating is my passion. Designing products and creating marketing imagery that convey that passion to others, while also making their skating experience enjoyable, is so fulfilling. Thanks to Rollerblade®, USA for providing me with my dream job. Thanks to all my friends and family for the endless support over all these years. I’m truly blessed by all of the experiences I’ve had and all the friends I have made through my involvement in this sport.