It was the mid-1980s - A young pro skateboarder was garnering attention with a unique dance-oriented approach to the flatland freestyle discipline, based on near-continuous pumping. While his routines turned heads, his trucks needed to turn better. So he dove deep down the rabbit hole of design and engineering to produce the gear he wanted to ride himself. This drive ultimately led the skater, Dan Gesmer, to found Seismic Skate Systems. Based in Boulder since 1995, Seismic is now one of the oldest and most respected brands in longboarding, offering a wide range of advanced products in every component category – including the wheels used to set virtually every speed and distance world record on the books. True to form as a force for good in the skateboarding universe, Seismic is also a supporter of The IDSA. We had a little chat with Dan to get the perspective from a manufacturer who has been skating himself over 40 years.
Tell us the story about how you discovered skating and how it led to the creation of Seismic?
In the spring of 1976, I was a very uncool 12-year-old Jewish kid in conservative Rockford, Illinois: asthmatic, nervous, brainy and short, with parents who meant well but could get pretty uptight about a lot of things back then. But that spring, one of the cool kids in the neighborhood, Kurt Jaenicke, returned from a family trip to Southern California. One afternoon he glided past my house on his new skateboard, and my life changed forever.
I scraped up my elbow on the first trip down the big hill in front of my house. But I got up and did it again. Despite no obvious signs of natural talent, I grew addicted to the magical feeling of effortless gliding on four urethane wheels. As for so many others of my generation, it was also a welcome escape from familial and cultural dysfunction. Cementing the deal were the issues of SkateBoarder magazine that Kurt lent me, filled with fantastic images of a faraway skateboard culture and unattainable gear.
I remember a particular moment in the summer of 1977, at age 13, when I stared deeply at the Tracker trucks on my Bruce Logan model Logan Earth Ski board, utterly fascinated and perplexed by their inner workings. Little could I then imagine that someday I would work to engineer and manufacture trucks a generation beyond. I like to think of that moment as an omen or even a premonition of things to come.Dan doing a G-Turn on Beinecke Plaza at Yale University, where he studied
philosophy and psychology in the middle-1980s.
Back then flatland freestyle was one of the most prominent disciplines, and the one that most appealed to me. After about five years of practicing it in the accepted way, in the early 1980s I began to feel a calling to try to develop a more classically artistic approach, based on pumping through routines. This was not a casual notion; at age 19 I felt as though a very serious mission had been assigned to me by something greater than myself.
My motivation, or drive if you will, was and remains: to facilitate a better, deeper experience of pure carving for skateboarders everywhere. Not for the sake of profit (though I did and do hope to maintain a decent lifestyle), but for its own sake, for the principle itself, for the joy of flow-motion and the higher stoke of all.
“Driven to innovate” is a slogan I came up with in the early 2000s because, simply put, I’m relentlessly compelled to push things forward. In fact, in 1992 I chose the name “Seismic” itself because I’m committed to continually shaking up the skateboard market with products that deliver breakthrough performance characteristics.
Seismic is working as hard and as fast as possible to develop skate technologies that we think are two or more generations ahead of the pack. It’s difficult work – sometimes requiring years of careful thought, research, prototyping, and testing before something is ready to release. I’ve even got mechanical engineering professors on speed-dial for when we need to dig extra-deep on the science. But we love what we do.
Right now your newest products are the Tailwind and Megawatt wheels and the Defcon bushings. Tell us about those…
We engineered the 83mm Tailwind and the 90mm Megawatt for advanced performance in multiple overlapping categories: LDP, Downhill, cruising, and ESK8. Both wheels feature our proprietary Defcon urethane formula. Seismic wheels in Defcon urethane have been used to set virtually every speed and distance world record on the books, so it’s not hyperbole to call Defcon the fastest urethane in history.
Left to right: 90mm Megawatt, 85mm Speed Vent, 83mm Tailwind
The Tailwind and the Megawatt are poured over our most advanced hubs – the Fusion (used for our Alpha race wheels, too) and the big new Turbine. These two hubs are cleverly sculpted to not just save weight, but also to route the urethane’s flex energy in ways that significantly optimize speed and carving performance.
For some years we’ve had a strong intuition that Defcon’s remarkable properties would make for better bushings. We’re confident the recent product roll-out corroborates those intuitions. Defcon bushings provide a larger compression range with a smoother, more linear resistance profile; deeper, truer, more fluid steering with less lateral hanger slop; and highly-energetic yet smooth and controlled return-to-center.
Defcon barrel bushings, one of Seismic's latest offerings
The first release is strictly barrel shapes, in 0.65-inch and 0.75-inch heights, with precisely-dimensioned outer diameter and kingpin bore. We’ll follow up later this year with cones in multiple heights, as well as shorter 0.60-inch barrels. (Admittedly we misjudged by not offering that height at the outset.)
What are the biggest challenges for a skateboard equipment manufacturer in 2023?
The pandemic created both opportunities and challenges for all outdoor sports industries. Starting in the spring and summer of 2020, skateboard sales went through the roof – since skating is a COVID-safe solo outdoor activity. To keep up, most brands placed giant orders with their factory vendors during the second half of 2020 and the first half of 2021. The factories couldn’t deliver quickly – they were hit hard with materials shortages and price increases; staffing issues (workers both sick and afraid to come to work); and in some cases government-mandated shutdowns. Numerous factories completely imploded, unable to weather the multi-pronged storm.
By the time the more durable factories were able to ship the large brand orders (sometimes a full 12 months later), the pandemic sales boom had already leveled down. Prices had increased, too. So in late 2021 through middle 2022 most skate brands, including Seismic, received far more inventory than they needed, often billed at prices significantly higher than when the orders were placed. Worldwide, the skate industry is now significantly overstocked, rich in inventory but in many cases cash-poor.
Seismic is managing this strain, but unfortunately it’s probably too much for some brands to endure.
As for the manufacturing resources that crashed during the pandemic… It was a months-long process for us to research and vet new high-end vendors for a few of our products. But we’re happy to report that we’ve re-grouped with new factories that are even better than the previous suppliers.
What aspects of skateboarding still get you excited after being in business for over 30 years?
Many outsiders consider skateboards to be fairly simple toys. But the opportunities to advance product design, materials, and engineering are quite vast. I’ll remain excited to grapple with these challenges until my working days come to an end… in my late 80s or mid-90s. That’s the plan, at least.
Our team riders always help charge up my stoke levels, too – they’re the ones
pushing both prototypes and products to the limit, and helping us understand what we can and need to do better. Over the decades we’ve been blessed to
sponsor some of the world’s best in many different disciplines. In this forum, I’m
happy to mention LDP champ Joe Mazzone and top pro DH racer Aaron
Hampshire, who is technically Seismic’s Marketing Coordinator but actually wears as many hats as I do. He’s indispensable.
What can we look forward to from Seismic in the next couple of years? What’s on your roadmap?
Our long-term ambition is to radically advance the engineering and performance paradigm for every single component of modern skateboards, in as many sub-disciplines as possible. The most challenging engineering projects we’re currently eyeing include: decks that are significantly lighter yet durable and affordable; and trucks with next-level steering and control features. Of course we’re always working on multiple new wheel designs, and some new bushing options are coming later this year as well. Within a handful of months we’ll re- launch our bearing and board lines, and we’ll also have fresh stock of our Aeon RKP trucks with some notable refinements.
Seismic's lineup of world-record-setting speed and distance wheels: 78mm Blast Waves hold the mile record at 3:22; 80.5mm LDP Alphas hold the 24-hour team
relay mark of 372 miles; 83mm Tailwinds set the fastest standup slide at 73.34mph; 85mm Speed Vents boast the 24-hour solo distance record of 313.9
miles AND the top speed marks for both standup and luge at 91.17mph &;
Bonus Question: What was the most memorable skate session you’ve ever had?
That would have to be the time I visited with Russ Howell in the early 1980s, when I was checking out colleges in California for a possible transfer. Russ was a World Champion flatland freestyle skateboarder in the mid-1970s and my childhood hero. We had been corresponding by Old-Timey letter and phone since I was 13.
Russ picked me up from the LA Airport, and I spent a handful of days hanging out at the place in Long Beach that he shared with his Mom. I slept on the floor of his bedroom, like a little kid on a sleepover. By now Russ is in his 70s, but I think he’ll be 12 years old at heart, forever.
Dan with his childhood skate hero Russ Howell, right after giving the speech introducing Russ at the 2017 Skateboarding Hall of Fame induction ceremony in LA.
At that time, in the spring of 1982, Russ was still in peak form – maybe even better than he was at the height of the 1970s freestyle era. I was amazed at the quickness of his end-overs and rolling footwork. His spins on both one and two feet were otherworldly, and his control over both one and two boards while rolling a handstand has probably never been equaled. I’ve never seen as much raw speed and power on a skateboard before or since – and mind you I competed against the likes of Rodney Mullen in the late 1980s.
Russ captained a powerhouse team of freestyle champions in the late 1970s, and many of those skaters joined us on one or two occasions during that visit. I was completely blown away by their talents and inspired to progress my own skills, humble though they were in comparison.
A Very Special Seismic Giveaway
But wait, there's more enter to win this special prize pack on Instagram courtsey of Seismic Skate Systems by 4/8. Click on the image below and follow the instructions on the Insta post. Good luck.
Edit by Scott Zee
Seismic Skate Systems is a Partner of The IDSA