With a million different brands popping up and consuming the skate world, its nearly impossible to keep up with every single one. The Friend Ship, based out of Milwaukee, WI, has built an impressive following while also shining a light on a relatively unknown skate scene. We chatted with founder Tim Olson to find out more about his beloved Milwaukee and what it takes to make a unique mark in the industry.
Alright, Tim - why don’t you tell us where you’re from originally and when did you first begin life as as a skateboarder?
I was born here in Milwaukee. Been here most of my life, with the exception of a few years in Madison, Wisconsin and a year in Tampa. My life as a skateboarder began in 1986. This kid Neal was skateboarding outside of our middle school. I was a freestyle BMX kid. You know, like flatground crap, and he hippy jumped my bike. I was tripping out and that was it. Neal and I became good friends after that and grew up skating together. We are still good friends to this day, some 30 years later. Pretty crazy.
What was the first skate video you ever saw? What other videos did you grow up on?
I think I saw the Bones Brigade Video Show in passing at some kid’s house, but Animal Chin was the first one that I really remember having an impact on me. After that, it was the H-Street videos and then, of course, Video Days and Questionable. But I think of all videos of all time, Eastern Exposure 3 really influenced me the most. Barley, Reese and Ricky were the best, and that kind of skating really resonated with me. I was never really good at flipping my board, so wallies and smith grinds and all that was what I wanted to do. These days I don’t watch much. Maybe just the “must see” types of videos like Propeller and Away Days. There’s just too much to keep up with.
Outside of Greg Lutzka having grown up there, I know very little about the Milwaukee skate scene. How would you describe your scene? What outside scenes/videos resonate the best with skateboarding in Milwaukee?
The scene is strong. Lots of skaters. Pretty cliquey, but what city isn’t? There’s a few really good dudes, too. We have a great d.i.y. and a few good parks here. Of course winter sucks, but there’s some indoor spots and parks to hit up. Summer in Milwaukee is the best, though. More skateboarders need to come through and check it out. As far as other scenes/videos, I’d say any scene that has to deal with winter, the crusty spots winter creates and the blazing hot summers, those would be the scenes that would resonate with Milwaukee.
Also - have you ever met the Lutzka? Was he able to turn left at all?
Yeah, totally met Lutz. Went to his house in California. Had some shots of Cuervo. Dude is really nice. Some wacky sponsors, but if some of those people came knocking at my door, I’d do the same thing.
How did The Friend Ship start? Who all runs the company’s day to day operations and who makes up the team currently? Are you doing The Friend Ship full time?
Oh man. The Friend Ship started as an idea for a sister company to Roger. The money wasn’t there, so the idea got scrapped. Thankfully, instagram came along and saved the idea. I posted a photo of some graphics or something and David Ritchie (owner of Surprise skateboards) saw it and said “why don’t we just do it?” So we did. And here we are. I run the day to day and David does all the production when it’s time for that. He also deals with all the shipping and team boxes, too. I give a lot of dudes boards. I’m not sure if we have a “team”, it’s more of just a bunch of guys that should probably be getting boards for one reason or another. I give free skateboards to Dan Corrigan, Cyril Palmer, Chris Harris, T.J. Bohach, Nick Sommer, Ben Hess, Chris Luhring, Ethan Sontag, Chris Botsch, John Benton, Sergio Santoro, John McGuire, Sean Hanley and Travis Harrison. We also have a pro. Jimmy Carlin. He’s the best dude.
You seem to be constantly filming the team, updating the instagram, pushing new product - when do you find time to skate? How often do you get to go skating for fun?
It’s tough. If I want to skate, I have to leave the camera in the car. Most of my personal skating happens at our d.i.y. If we are at a fun curb spot or something, I’ll make it a point to push around for a while. But now my focus is filming these dudes and getting the spotlight on them as much as I can or as much as they want. It’s kind of like having a kid, you stop living for yourself and start living to take care of it. That’s how having a skateboard company feels, too. I want it to grow, be good and have people like it as much as I do. Which is a lot.
With so many brands popping up, what inspired you to start your own? What separates The Friend Ship from other brands in the industry?
Anyone that decides to start a skateboard company now-a-days is absolutely nuts. There’s so many brands and differentiating yourself from them all is tricky. It’s super easy to fall into the trends and be influenced by all this rad stuff coming out, so I try super hard not to pay attention. I also try to keep things light and mostly positive. There’s so much bad shit in the world, why would anyone want to add more?
Where did the name come from?
That’s kind of a long story. I guess it was just coming to realize that no matter what, your skateboard is always there when you need it. After everyone else is gone, it’s still there.
One thing I really like about your brand is how varied the team is with their skating, I mean some of those dudes are really out there - What do you look for when you’re thinking about flowing somebody boards or considering putting them on the team?
This is a good question. There’s so many variables in skating these days. Everyone skates so differently. I guess when you’re trying to promote your company, you look for guys that you think would be a good fit and would help sell skateboards. It seems like people want to see something different these days, and pretty much every dude I give boards to has something different to offer. Also, you have to be a nice person. That’s almost as important as how good or bad or different you are at skating. All of the guys I give boards to have something special about them. They aren’t trick robots out to one up anyone or win the big tournament.
How did Jimmy Carlin end up with you guys after Enjoi?
Jimmy was referred to us by a good friend. He just seemed to fit with what we are doing over here.
Ok let’s talk about our boy Chris Botsch - I mean he’s been out there for less than a year and it seems like he’s taken your instagram account by storm. How did you meet Chris? Do you know if he’s lost his virginity yet? What’s something you feel that people should know about Cbotsch?
I met Chris at the d.i.y. He was stunting about and looked like he was having a good time, so I hit him up to go skate. Little did I know he lives 4 blocks from me so we ended up skating together a bunch. I’m not sure which virginity you’re referring to, but maybe? He has a girlfriend, so probably? I never assume anything. Anyway, he’s a footage machine, so of course he’s going to be all over our gram. Dude has a pretty crazy bag of tricks, too. If there’s one thing people should know about Chris, it’s that he loves Massachusetts. Lots of hometown pride.
On a scale from Jim Greco to the Gonz, how mobbed is Cbotsch’s kickflip?
If Gonz and Greco had a kid, and that kid grew up to kickflip, Chris would be that kid.
You two are apparently filming a part...when can we expect this part to drop? What’s filming a part with Cbotsch like? How badly do you hate his green hair?
He always has that green hair covered up with some hat, so I only kinda love it. I don’t think we are filming a part. Everything he does goes straight to the gram. But filming with him is great. He’s always trying something new. Did you see the fakie Titanic? Wow.
When it comes to filming a part in general, do you ever push people try different things or do you just let them film what they want? Do you ever suggest tricks or spots for certain people you’re filming?
I’m all about letting the dudes do what they like. Sometimes, I will suggest an idea or a spot if I think it’s within their abilities or it fits their personality. But I like to lets the dudes express themselves. I have been known to skoach to the point of being annoying though.
Let’s talk about Wisconsin for a minute. Give me your favorite Wisconsin brewed beers.
Coors light, Coors light and Coors light.
In your opinion, who are the top three skateboarders from Wisconsin?
So many good dudes came out of Wisconsin. Best 3? Currently? Hmm. Max Murphy is amazing. He’s always been so good. I know it may seem biased, but Ben Hess is gnarly. I’d say him even if he didn’t skate for me. And who else? Uh, I’m just gonna say some random dude that I never heard of is the best. There’s always one of those.
Have you ever been to the Wisconsin Dells? Why are there so many waterparks?
Yeah, I’ve been there! It’s incredibly dumb and awesome. A giant tourist trap. If you’re ever in Wisconsin, you have to go. It’s a moral imperative. And why so many waterparks? Because they rule, that’s why.
How important is cheese in your everyday life?
I’d give it a medium priority level. If I’m eating a burger, it goes to defcon 5.
Ok, back to skateboarding stuff. What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting their own brand? What are the pro’s and cons of running your own company?
Don’t. Or just wait until we all disappear first. There needs to be a huge industry purge soon. It’s just too much. I’ve predicted that if trends continue, that by 2020, every skateboarder will own their own company, thus collapsing the infrastructure of the skate industry and the only companies left standing will be hardware and wax companies. So maybe start a wax company?
The good things about owning a company far outweigh the bad. You get free boards, you can put whatever you want on the bottom of a board, you don’t have to punch a clock, everyday is Saturday and you are doing what you love. The bad? Having art block, jealous people, kicking riders off the team, sponsor me DM’s, hassling riders for photos and footage and sometimes doing what you love makes you hate what you love a little. But that doesn’t last long.
How do you feel about the state of skateboarding today? What would you like to see more of/tired of seeing so much of?
Skateboarding is great. It always has been and always will be. I’d like to see more companies getting along and doing things together. Less pointless beefs and segregation. I’d like to see more kids out there inventing new ways to skate and pushing the envelope of what is possible. Trends come and go, but as long as there’s a board under their feet, it really doesn’t matter what kind of hat they are wearing or if they are skating a curb or a mega ramp.
Where do you see the Friend Ship in the near future? Is there a full length video in the works? A Thrasher feature maybe? How do you plan on growing the brand in the next couple of years?
We haven’t made plans for a video. No features. Just skating, making skateboards and hopefully doing things right and pushing the brand in the right direction. It’s a slow process, but anything worthwhile takes time and patience to grow. I love skateboarding with all of my heart and I’d like to contribute something good and positive to our world.
Thank you’s/Shout Out’s?
Sure. First and foremost, thanks to David Ritchie for making dreams come true. A huge thanks to Steve Green with everything at the beginning. Thanks to all the shops and distributors worldwide that have carried us. You guys rule. Anyone that took a chance on us and bought a board from one of those shops; thank you. All the artists and companies that have contributed to us or that we have worked with; thank you. Thanks to all the followers on Instagram. Your likes are appreciated. Thanks to Nate and Trina Joski for housing me while I’m out in L.A. To all my team dudes; I love you guys. Thanks for being you. And last but not least, thanks to my better half; Cara Corder, for being there always.