Lasting Effect: Independent Truck Co.
Lasting Effect: Independent Truck Co.

While skateboard decks provide the diverse graphics that make up an interesting board wall at a skateshop, it’s the raw silver components inside the glass case that make up the backbone of a skateboard set-up. Trucks are the unsung heroes, taking the most abuse for the longest amount of time. They also provide the means to turn effectively and grind the variety of surfaces found in skateparks and the urban environment. For 40 years, the Northern California-based Independent Truck Company has manufactured the most distinct, dependable and top performing skateboard trucks on the market. While the brand’s logo and long-standing reputation are a huge part of its appeal, what it all comes down to is offering the best product. Independent continues to set the standard by which all other skateboard trucks are measured. The following interview with their Brand Manager, Keith Wilson, sheds more light on an iconic company that is a permanent fixture in skateboard culture.

How did Independent Trucks first come about?

The four founders were Richard Novak and Jay Shuirman, who owned NHS, and Fausto Vitello and Eric Swenson — mechanics who owned a small metal shop and foundry called Ermico Enterprises. The four originally met at a Los Angeles downhill skateboard race in 1977. Novak and Shuirman were there with their Santa Cruz skateboards and Road Rider wheels while Vitello and Swenson showed up with their Stroker truck — an elaborate automobile-style suspension design. Novak and Shuirman had also been working on a suspension truck for downhill racing at their Santa Cruz locale based on a different design. Realizing their common interests, the four spent the following months meeting up to work and party together. NHS had the money, distribution, and marketing but had no way to properly engineer the trucks, and Ermico had the ability and the drive to make the truck. They burst on the scene at a Newark, California, Hester Pro-Bowl Series contest on May 23rd, 1978, with a truck that would change skateboarding forever.

What did the first Independent truck offer that wasn’t available anywhere else?

At the time, the only two skateboard trucks were Tracker and Bennett. Tracker was durable, adjustable and had a modern kingpin [the bolt that holds the truck components together], but it didn’t turn. The Bennett truck turned well, but it had a roller skate style kingpin setup and a plastic baseplate, which broke. The theory was to take the best of both worlds: a truck that was durable, could be adjusted and turned really well. The suspension truck being tested was extremely successful in racing, but with the emergence of bowl riding and all the skateparks that were being built at that time, they ended up developing a fixed axle design that became the Stage 1.

How did Independent get its name out there at the beginning?

In 1978, Independent’s founders were at every event passing out stickers. Also at the time, a lot of the pro riders had to pay for their equipment, similar to surfing, so they started giving Indy trucks out for free to the top guys at the events. As soon as they got on them, they loved the trucks so much because they performed way better.

All of a sudden almost every pro was riding for Indy; people were quitting Tracker and riding Indy at the same contest they met the founders at. They had a keen sense of grassroots promotion and this gritty feel to the way they approached it. They would literally take a pro rider’s board, and be like, “Hey, you wanna try them? Let’s set ‘em up for you.” They would basically run a pit crew out of the trunk of their car. Putting boards back together with Indys, handing them back to the guys, and they were winning the contest. In some of the photos you could see the Tracker stickers on their boards, but they were riding Indys. Skateboarding and skateboard equipment were evolving so quickly. Within months, skateboards went from seven inches wide to 10 inches wide, and trucks had to get bigger. Independent was able to adapt quickly, sometimes coming out with new sizes every few months.

Herschel Supply for Independent Truck Co. / SHOP THE LATEST COLLECTION
Herschel Supply for Independent Truck Co. / SHOP THE LATEST COLLECTION
How much have the trucks and other components changed, or stayed the same, over the past 40 years?

The geometry, pivot design, and kingpin configuration are essentially the same. They have gotten stronger with each new Stage, and in recent years we’ve figured out how to make them lighter, with hollow axles or titanium axles and hollow kingpins. For the Stage 5, developed in 1986, Independent came out with the dual-wing design called the hollow body, which was much more durable and lighter. So I think overall the geometry hasn’t changed that much, but the componentry has evolved.

“When Indy came out, it was kind of raw, unbridled and unexpected.”

How has Independent developed such a large and lasting following?

It starts with the trucks, but it’s also our brand. Independent arrived when skateboarding was kind of soft. It was run by surf companies and toy companies, so when Indy came out, it was kind of raw, unbridled and unexpected. It was kind of punk when punk was just starting to hit; there was sort of an anti-establishment mantra that lead the brand.

Why are skateboarders so fiercely loyal about what trucks they ride over any of the other parts they use?

I think it’s the most important component. It’s also the most durable part of a set-up; the component that you stay with the longest. Unless you’re grinding pool coping every day, your trucks are going to last you a year or two, maybe even longer. It’s the feel, too. It’s the turn. People that skate Indys want a truck that performs, that’s durable and dependable. That’s what we’ve provided for all these years.

*As seen in Issue 08 (Spring/Summer 2017) of The Journal — a complimentary Herschel Supply print publication that celebrates design and travel.

Introduction and Interview by Jeff Thorburn
Images © Built to Grind – 25 Years of Hardcore Skateboarding, 2004, NHS, Inc.

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