Houstonian Tales: Mentality Skateboards
Photo: Bill Pennington
If I told you that I love Gonz, that I idolized Matt Hensley, and that I wished I had the smoothness of Ray Barbee; you probably wouldn’t know what I was talking about. But if I said this to Dan MacFarlane, he’d know exactly what I meant. MacFarlane owns and rides for Houston’s Mentality Skateboards and has done so since 2003. Keep in mind, Mentality isn’t a shop, it’s a company complete with amateur and professional riders including MacFarlane himself. A pro rider who’s ridden for heavy hitting companies like Formula One and Vision, MacFarlane is one of the most straight shooting and honest business men I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. He runs a company that’s steeped in the core of skateboarding’s roots while doing pretty much every aspect with an honest and completely different mentality from everyone else in his industry. Since we both come from the same era of skateboarding, when FPH sat down to chat with him; things quickly progressed into where skating began, where it went astray, and where it sits today.
I actually met MacFarlane at a We Were Wolves show he was at to support the band, as they gave him the instrumental music he used for his part in Mentality’s video, “Skateboarding Realms.” That video, which was funded solely by MacFarlane himself by selling rare skate goodies on ebay; has been called one of the most innovative skate vids going. It features pro skaters MacFarlane, and Leeds, UK pro Joe Moore; alongside amateur rider Tyler Kelly. “The idea behind the film was to incorporate spots no one knew about while using tricks we never saw in skateboarding videos,” MacFarlane explains. Aside from some of the insanely difficult tricks from MacFarlane, Moore’s part alone makes the video worth a purchase. This guy does more innovative and crazy tricks in three minutes than most skaters do in twenty.
Dan MacFarlane was born in Houston, and he grew up on the Southwest side of town a couple of blocks from Parker Pool. That won’t mean anything to most of you, but it’s where skateboarding legend John “Tex” Gibson used to skate. According to MacFarlane, “I’ve been skating since 1986 when I started with a Valterra board. At 11, I bought my first real deck, a Santa Cruz Slasher over at Southwest Schwinn. I’ve been skating nonstop ever since.” MacFarlane got his first sponsorship at 13 from Skatepark of Houston, and after breaking his ankle in 1992, he had to switch things up. “I was a vert skater, but when I came back, the world of skateboarding had completely changed” he says. And, for those of who remember, it had done more than just change. One of skateboarding’s many changes, the early nineties ushered in a new era where pro riders from the big three companies, Powell Peralta, Vision, and Santa Cruz all left and joined one company…Steve Rocco’s World Industries. As MacFarlane explains, “once Rocco stated that vert skating was dead, a lot of guys’ careers were over. The era of popsicle stick boards, tiny wheels, and street skating was in; and old school shapes and vert skating was out. Guys who weren’t even in their twenties became rich overnight and skateboarding was forever changed.” And he’s right in that sentiment. Since Rocco’s bizarre business tactics and theft of other team’s riders, the industry has become more about “stunt skaters” and greedy profit driven decisions, and less about the art of just skating. “In the mid nineties, I was living out in California and I got my first board sponsor from Formula One. That lead to my getting sponsored by Zorlac, and that’s when everything changed. As soon as the “Shut Up & Skate” era died, so did much of skateboarding,” he explains. “It was kind of great though. It felt like the sport was dying or dead, but because guys temporarily lost love for the California companies, skating went completely underground. I’d see pros skating alone without their tricks being documented, and I used to skate alone a lot back then,” recalls MacFarlane. In the next decade, his life would take a turn that’s kept him on a path of independence ever since.
“It sounds crazy, but I had a sponsorship with Vision, and I had just qualified as a pro for the Vans Triple Crown. I found out that Vision had licensed their brand to another company, and I was just sick of the corporate mentality, and I was just sick of the brands in skating; and I just left,” MacFarlane says. In 2003, he would start his own company, Mentality. Based on what he considered the mentality of skating was, the company got pretty big pretty quick with US and international distribution deals. “When I was with Acme, I learned a lot. I was 26, I’d seen so much change, and I just wanted to go my own path while keeping skating as pure and fun as possible,” he explains. And keeping it pure he has. One of the many things about the skateboard industry that most people don’t know about, is the wood. When I was a kid, no company would ever dream of having boards made anywhere else but in the United States. Since then, companies like World Industries and Globe brands make boards wherever the labor is the cheapest. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop with cheap labor. When I got my first Powell Peralta deck, it said on the top “7 Ply Maple.” Now the wood can come from anywhere and be of almost any quality. According to MacFarlane, “like how the music industry changed, so did the skateboard industry. Due to mass production in China and Mexico, the makers have a surplus of cheaply constructed and a cheaper made inventory of decks. That’s why you’ll see a skate shop push their decks over brands like ours and others. They have such a crazy high profit margin on those cheap decks, that it’s profit over a quality product.” MacFarlane says that Mentality has great connections in California that assure he gets the best hand picked woods to create the lightest and best constructed decks going. “We test every run before deciding on a selection. We mix that with using the best graphics people, the most innovative riders, and try to use the best from start to finish from the product to where it’s sold,” he explains.
Now, almost twelve years after Mentality started, MacFarlane does something every kid dreams of; he lives off of skateboarding. “When you’re an amateur, you get a sponsorship and you ride for the joy of skating. When you turn professional, you’re a brand that you can market whether it be just your name, your image, or a company that you own; but you get paid to skate. I try to incorporate the joy of when I was an amateur, with the branding of a professional,” MacFarlane says. With a sponsorship from Synopsis Bearings, two videos with the Woodward endorsed “Skateboarding Explained” and Mentality’s “Skateboarding Realms,” MacFarlane is looking to the future. “I want to foster new talent like our newest am, Ross Knowlton while building the brand, grabbing a new distribution company, and make another video. The beauty of being independent, is that we can sign new riders and release new products whenever we want. We keep everything as DIY and as punk rock as possible,” he says.
You can get your own Mentality decks at the company’s website, as well as both at Surfhouse and Carve here in Houston. “Skateboarding Realms” is available through the Google Play store, iTunes, and on DVD from amazon as well. MacFarlane is truly a guy who reps Houston every day from where he skates to how he runs his business. The man is like a skateboarding encyclopedia, who takes pride in his city and profession. Before we part, MacFarlane proudly boasts, “you know, skate legend Tom Boyle went to Bellaire High School, right?” Thus proving, that whether you skate or not, it’s always cool to meet someone who represents Houston in the best way possible…through hometown pride.