Jeffrey Vyain has earned his reputation as one of the most thoughtful and meticulous designers of longboards. Many of his products have extremely nuanced features and intelligent details that could only be dreamt up by an avid rider with roots in several skate disciplines. Since 2014, Jeff has been quite busy over at Pantheon, in addition to consistently cranking out innovative designs, most of the completes are still built by him at his farm in Colorado under the supervision of several very large dogs.
This month’s brand spotlight is on Pantheon and we try to get inside the mind of Jeffrey Vyain.
Jeff + Mr. Pickles
We’re going to jump right into what’s new over at Pantheon. We understand you are about to “roll out” something new. Why wheels after focusing on boards so long?
Let me start with the why. I’ve been wanting to develop a complete for so long now. I do love working with other brands and will continue to do so. That said, the key to Pantheon’s growth will largely be tied to our ability to sell completes to shops. Offering completes helps us gain access to more shops, and more shops means more eyeballs on our brand and more customers experiencing Pantheon Longboards.
Karmas are expected to ship in late September 2023.
So that leads us to wheels. If you know anything about our brand, you know this already: We don’t settle. It took us a long time to get to the point where we could develop our own wheels and have something novel to offer. Working with 88WheelCo was a solid attempt, but unfortunately that partnership fell through. The process provided plenty of opportunities for learning, and we built off of that. That and just skating and testing tons of gear for nearly two decades now. I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again. Nothing leads to good products like experience and critical discernment. You can know tons about manufacturing, but you also need to really understand the needs of the skater to develop good products. It helps to have an opinion founded in experience as a rider.
We built this wheel from the ground up. Rather, from the core out. Our core is larger, stronger, and lighter than other comparable cores. I know…big claims. But this is all testable. We derived inspiration straight from nature and ended up with a spiral core that more evenly spreads out forces while also removing material. We’re calling it the Nautilus core. Much like the nautilus shell can withstand the insane pressures of the deep sea, we wanted our core to survive Titus Lazare’s NYC skating. That’s no small task. We derived further inspiration from cars and decided to put a branded plate on the core with a vented front plate. Some straight 90’s JDM vibes.
As far as the wheel itself goes, it’s lighter weight, slimmer and also grippier than comparable wheels. And it’s fast, too! At 92mm, it weighs less than any 90mm or larger comparable wheel currently being made, so you’re going to get the acceleration of lighter weight wheels with greater roll speed and rolling efficiency than most others, since all the weight is on the outside of the diameter. Regarding the grip: some of this is the urethane, and some of this is the design. One thing we did with design is to reverse the pouring direction. Typical wheels are poured face down. If you’re discerning, you can physically see the smaller diameter on the outside of the wheel compared to the inside, but it’s certainly measurable with calipers for most wheels. To maximize grip, we flipped the pouring direction so that the outside of the wheel has a slightly larger diameter, pre-loading the more flexible outer edge to increase surface area and lip flex and create more grip out of less material.
Anything else new in development you’d like to tease?
We’re working on a truck, of course. Again, shooting for lightweight and precise. It’s a 149mm TKP. Working toward that complete! I won’t say much about it yet. We have a working prototype that needs some minor changes. The current prototype feels pretty awesome, though! Designing trucks was a trip! It took me nearly a year to even get a design I felt strongly about. I didn’t want to simply make a copycat truck.
Before you built your own boards you raced other people’s. Tell us about how you got started in the skate industry and how it ultimately led you to becoming a manufacturer of boards and now wheels?
I started street skating in middle school like a lot of kids did in the mid-90s. I loved skating but it also clashed a bit with other sports when I was twisting ankles every time I botched a kickflip, which was often. Ultimately, I went to college on a running scholarship and graduated with a degree in Music Business. My last year of college, I had emotionally had enough of overuse injuries from running and I re-found skateboarding in the form of a longboard. I loved pushing and I loved bombing the neighborhood hills around Belmont University in Nashville.
After college, I moved home to Indianapolis. I lived in the city and began distance skating and pumping down the local bike path called the Monon Trail. I remember I was dealing with a lot of frustration working unfulfilling, low paying jobs. I’d just take it out on the road and on myself. I pushed my heart out and at some point, I began timing myself, testing all sorts of pumping setups and working on technique and just trying to get faster and more efficient and pump and grip harder. I’d work on top speed. I’d work on sustaining speed. I was geeking out about records on pavedwave.org and how I was going to train to break them. I remember being fixated on the 3 minute mile. All of that focus and drive that I had developed through years of distance running was being applied to skateboarding for no reason except that I was enjoying every minute of it, and I just loved the feeling of constant improvement
Jeff Pre-Pantheon racing days
After a couple summers of this aimless behavior, I was introduced to Bustin Boards and saw this scene being built in NYC and was just so hyped and inspired by what was going on out there. I was watching all the Youtube videos, getting to know the people from afar. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to race. I wanted to skate and flow in traffic. So I moved to New York, I got a job working for 10 bucks an hour packing and shipping boards at Bustin. I was thankful to have that space. I skated my ass off, and less than a year into it, I had made a name for myself at Bustin as a knowledgeable resource for customers coming into the shop looking for ways to make their boards feel better, because I was a total dork about skating and had developed the knowledge to offer in the shop. Getting the angles right, getting the bushings right, getting the washers right. All in the name of maximizing wheel size while still getting turn and control. I was seeing a lot of opportunities at the time and just tried to fill gaps.
I got the opportunity to manage the Longboard Loft, a little side-shop in the Bustin Brooklyn shop that sold all the gear from all the reputable brands. I got really acquainted with everything, met a lot of people, and I also got the opportunity to race in the Adrenalina Marathon series. I won a few of those races and got a lot of prize money as winnings. I mean, it really changed my life at the time. I started eating better and moved into a real apartment and had a bit of a skatehouse going, with traveling skaters on the couch at any given moment.
Jeff sets up the first board he made himself at Longboard Loft 2011-ish.
A couple years in and it just became clear that the next move was to go out on my own. I was already designing an entire lineup, had managed customer service and was working in marketing. My job was moved to a new location. The prize money from racing was starting to run dry, and I wasn’t making enough money in skateboarding to actually sustain having a family. The skateboard business doesn’t make a lot of financial space for guys with families. If I wanted to work in skateboarding–and I really did–I was going to have to change the situation. Starting Pantheon was the obvious next step.
Tell us about the riders on Pantheon across all disciplines? How does their feedback get baked into products that hit the market?
I really do value feedback. Some boards have people’s names on them, so that sort of tells the story of those boards. I always work directly with riders on the pro stuff and get feedback every step of the way. This is especially important for the downhill products, because I don’t do a lot of downhill these days. I try to be the aesthetic engineer and find a way to make the rider’s desires come to life in a way that will both feel and look good. For distance boards, I’m mostly looking for suggestions and feedback from trusted riders, but I’m also able to rely on my personal opinion a lot more.
For a product like the wheels, I worked substantially with Adam Ornelles and pushed a lot of ideas his way and also received some awesome ideas from him as well. He actually came up with the concept of the name plate on the front of the core. A new product like the wheels really comes from a culmination of feedback from a lot of places. I’m always listening. I spoke earlier about trying to design a wheel that was tough enough for Titus, for example. And I also bounced some design concepts off of Gavin Conti, who is a trusted friend and very discerning skateboarder and customer. He’s hard to please, and I love that about him. Adam was feeding me ideas left and right, and I just had to sort through them all! And of course, my own experience as a skateboarder was the baseline for all of these design decisions.
Over the years, you’ve done countless things to refine your product line including moving your manufacturing abroad. To give us an example, how has an OG product like the Trip changed over the years in regards to subtle improvements or construction?
The Trip has gone through a lot of renditions. We’re now on our third mold design with this board and probably our 5th shape change. When I started Pantheon in 2014, I was all about 100% USA made. I believed it was right to support local jobs, and I believed it was going to make a superior product. I was stubborn about it.
An early Trip featuring all wood construction still on the road today.
Experience changed my mind. USA manufacturing changed, and it became harder and harder to get a good deck made. My first manufacturer went out of business. It felt like my 2nd manufacturer was on the verge. I saw the struggle of the workers who made our boards and probably had too-personal relationships with some of them, watching guys struggle to get paid or older women that really should’ve been retired sanding my boards and inhaling wood dust. It just doesn’t feel like manufacturing skateboards is a way for any American to make a living beyond poverty level. In 2017, I helped start up a manufacturer myself, and I experienced all this first hand. I wrote code and picked apart machines and absolutely killed it in the spray booth. Once again, I was working in skateboarding, and I was barely making enough money to survive, but I was loving doing it full-time again. I was working my tail off over there putting in 60-70 hour weeks while also trying to run Pantheon. It was probably a bit too much work for any one person, but I was down to try.
Close to a year in, I attempted to bring the Trip back into our lineup. It was historically one of our best sellers, and both the shop and Pantheon needed it. The shop needed boards to produce and Pantheon needed this board to sell. After unsuccessfully trying to press the new design for the Trip, which I just knew through experience that it should’ve been a better and a more easily press-able design, I finally called up my friend in China. The shop would have to take the back seat if it couldn’t do the job.
This guy in China was a true manufacturing guru, who worked alongside some of the greats in skateboard manufacturing, and whose factory was co-designed by one of the biggest names in skateboarding ever. I knew him personally, because I had stayed with him in his factory some years prior for a solid two weeks. I trusted him. I sent him my design and he sent me a perfect Trip a few weeks later.
A current Trip model featuring new graphic, fiberglass and other refinements
The first Trip sample from China was higher quality than I could make myself and far better than anyone had ever made for me prior. It had perfect glue lines. They were tighter than I had ever seen in any American manufacturer, including the boards I was making myself. It was pressed with resin and was more water and warp-proof. And it had griptape on it! I didn’t have a choice but to let them produce the board. Not if the quality of the product was the baseline. This was how we first moved some of the manufacturing to China, and then we moved the majority over there after I told the ownership of our shop that if things didn’t change over there and they weren’t willing to adjust their business model, I was going to have to leave. They took that as a resignation. Their business lasted for maybe another 6 months before they sold the machines and a ski company moved into the building.
And then in 2020, we started pressing everything with fiberglass, and the product got even stronger and even more warp-proof and even better performing. And during COVID, we moved to a new manufacturer–a shop that specializes in fiberglass work, whose baseline business is in watersports.
There are a lot of values that I get to bring to manufacturing. I love pushing our manufacturers. I love bringing out the best in them. I am demanding and discerning and I push the limits of wood bending. My manufacturers love me. Our current shop purchased a 4-axis CNC machine just so they could properly make our Supersonic deck. I remember after designing the Summit Series prototypes, my sales guy told me they had never made such beautiful boards before. That was before there was even a graphic! That sort of feedback from a manufacturer–people who make boards all day long–really gets me jazzed. I love that our manufacturers love making our products. I am certain that it results in better finished products, because I have done it and I know what it feels like to produce something you feel passionate about.
If you’ve attended a major skate event recently, you probably noticed quite a few Supersonic decks. Tell us Why do you think you think the LDP community loves this board so much? Care to tell us the story of how this board was conceived and brought into the world?
The Supersonic was a sort of ultimate distance board that I always knew I wanted to make but never felt a real draw toward making until the timing was right. It’s a super functional and simple board, and it provides a lot of options for riders while not making things overly complicated. I think there’s beauty in simplicity. But also, the lines look right. It’s a very pretty board, given the design constraints. It could be really ugly with all those angles, but it’s not.
Tons of Supersonics lined up at Ladiga 2023. Even an OG Trip.
Subsonic Skateboards is one of the first and one of the all-time greatest distance skateboard brands. I used to skate their gear and rode for Subsonic while I was working at Bustin. I was loyal to both brands, and at around the point at which I started designing products for Bustin, I approached Scott at Subsonic to make a me a board I could set records on, and we came up with a prototype board that employed the zero-degree rear mounting that now lives on the Supersonic. Unfortunately, that project fell through, as Bustin’s management never believed the board could succeed in the mass market. I disagreed, but it wasn’t my decision. Scott ended up employing this zero-mounting concept on future Subsonic Century decks, and after starting Pantheon, I never wanted to interfere with this design and negatively impact their business.
Unfortunately, Subsonic Skateboards finally closed its doors. I had been unimpressed by other comparable boards on the market, and this was finally the green-light for me to take a stab at this design concept. I worked with Adam and Titus on the specs. Titus had been riding a Century for years and I knew I had to create something great if he was ever going to want to shred this thing. Add in 10 more years of design experience from the time of the racing prototype I helped create and race on, and out popped a Supersonic. It’s an ode to the original but modernized with multi-dimensional curvature and designed with the degree of attention to detail that lets you run this board with huge wheels, no risers, and it still sits flat and bite free with the most popular and appropriate cast trucks on the market. Of course, a lot of the serious guys are running CNC-trucks and stuff, but the Supersonic, as a base platform to set up your own custom way, is pretty hard to beat. You can always adjust your angles, but it’s easy to keep this thing super low and it a great board even stock out of the box. The first samples that were made took 1-2-3 at the Broadway Bomb in NYC in 2022. Adam went on to win the Miami Ultraskate on the same deck. By Summer, nearly half the decks at Chief Ladiga in 2023 were Supersonics. It’s a truly awesome board for both its performance and simplicity, and I’m really thankful the community has taken to it. I believe the deck deserves the love, but of course it’s a two-way street. It’s as much about the people who choose to ride it as it is about the board itself.
LDP Think Tank - Eric, Titus, Adam, Daniel after Broadway Bomb
One of the golden moments in the sport is when you and Paul Kent broke the Marathon world record together. What was it like racing back then? Tell us about the events, atmosphere, equipment, vibe in that era for those that missed it.
There was a ton of energy behind distance skating for a while, but it was really just all coming from one direction. This small group of guys came in with some financial backing and just made some big events happen, and I was just lucky enough to be there at the right time. As far as what it was like, it was all very new to me, but it also felt very right. Athletes competing in large events with real stakes. I wish the industry got more behind the Adrenalina crew at the time. Skating can be protective of itself sometimes, to a fault. It certainly has changed a lot for the street skate industry, but it feels right to me that the absolute best athletes actually can earn a modest living from skating and be able to do it full time.
Aside from those big cash money Adrenalina marathon events, there was a solid underground scene full of outlaw events, and toward the end of that era spawned the Chief Ladiga Silver Comet Challenge, which has been revitalized and is ongoing now. Athletes were highly competitive with each other. The vibe was full of stoke and opportunity; it felt great to be a part of it. I still believe distance skating is the most accessible form of skateboarding, and it deserves to be a real sport. Biking really isn’t better; just different. I prefer the added balance element and the fact that my taint doesn’t ache.
I have a funny story about equipment that came up the other day, and it seems like maybe a quick story worth sharing. I won the first Adrenalina marathon on a top mount pumper–a custom Subsonic Pulse. Right before we all hit the start line, my friend Brian Davenport from Push Culture News comes up to me and asks me if I would like to race on these pink wheels. The owner of the company had reached out to him and asked him if he could get someone to race on them. I took one look at them, compared them to my Abec11 Big Zigs and thought they looked grippy and comfortable, and they’d fit right underneath my top mount no problem. I took them and raced on them for the win. Back in those days, a free set of wheels was gold. An opportunity was gold. And it led to me getting a pro model wheel out of it–the Atobe Wigglers. I don’t care what the gear is. When Paul and I set the marathon world record together, I was on my Atobe Wigglers and the softest, slowest 85mm Speed Vents ever made, the 75a blues. Paul was riding Orangatang 72mm Baluts. No distance rider would be caught dead on either of those sets of wheels nowadays. We set records on them that stood for 12 years. An insult to all this newer, faster urethane and trucks and gear.
What are some of your favorite current events in the skate scene? How are they different from the past?
Now that I am able to make skateboarding my full time job, my first priority was making it to Ultraskate. After having enough success to add another event to my season, I chose Broadway Bomb. After having enough success to add another event, I chose Chief Ladiga. That’s where I’m at right now. We also did a race here in Colorado that is sort of like an exhibition fun-skate sort of race which we call the Roaring Fork Challenge or something like that. I don’t even know if it has a name. Basically we just sleep in an AirBnB for 2 nights and skate 90+ miles on this gorgeous trail with a group during that middle day. I couldn’t organize it this year due to family stuff, so it didn’t happen, unfortunately. I’m sure we’ll kick that back up next year.
UltraSkate has pretty much stayed the same. It’s always been serious, and every year it seems like someone has a shot at a record and it just depends on the conditions of the day as to whether or not it will happen.
The other races feel maybe less serious? But maybe it just feels that way to me. I am mostly there to take part. It’s very easy to see how serious UltraSkate is from the sidelines, and I spend a good bit of time there on the sidelines watching. But it’s harder for me to gauge the other races. It felt more serious before, but I think it’s probably even more competitive now, but it’s just that all the guys at the top are great friends, and they don’t make it feel that serious. Come to think of it, that’s probably how it felt from the outside looking in at Paul and I.
Rivals can be buddies too.
The rivalry was very seriously competitive but in the end, Paul has always been one of my favorite people. In the case of the Adrenalina Marathon that we won together, we had skated our hearts out, and a late stage debacle with oncoming traffic sort of ruined the competitive aspect of the race. And so I let up the pressure a bit, and when Paul caught up after getting thwarted off of his board a couple miles back, we decided to finish together and split the prize money. To the degree that we also set a 12-year-standing world record, I think that just goes to show how hard we were competing against each other for the first 20+ miles. My guess is that that’s how an Adam/Titus/Daniel matchup feels today. They’re just even faster.
It’s hard not to notice some very similar products to yours on the market, some might even call them knock offs. How do you deal with that as a passionate business owner? What would you say to someone considering buying one?
I have really mixed emotions about this. On one hand, I think it’s important to have competition to grow the sport. On the other, a lot of care, experience, love, experimentation, risk taking, money, blood, etc goes into making products. Sometimes, it’ll take years for a product to hit. It can suck to have someone sucking your draft when you feel like you’re spending all your energy trying to lead the pack.
I really only get peeved when I see my specs get jacked years later by someone who I’ve never seen on a skateboard. It’s like, at that point, they’re just seeing that I’ve finally convinced the skate community that this idea is worth something. That whole process can be so difficult when you’re working on the fringes. I made the Trip for years before someone finally jacked the specs (they didn’t even come close to the curvature…good luck!). But when it did happen, it was by someone who I’ve never seen on a skateboard, before or since. If you’re going to make shit, grow the sport. Host events. Show up. I saw Subsonic Scott out there at Ultraskate for years. I see Mark G-Bomb out there. If some of these other companies were actually out here skating with us, I think it would make the products better.
And then…some people get it. Loaded is a great example. That new bracket deck they just made. That’s a truly novel product. Sure, it’s not a pumper and a lot of people are faulting it for what it’s not, but I also think it makes a lot of sense. It’s a bracket that fits 100mm+ wheels on 150mm trucks! How cool is that! I love what Loaded’s always been about. They don’t just feed on markets. They help build them. I have a real respect for that company and have for a long time.
As a manufacturer are you seeing more interest in LDP and other niche disciplines? Any predictions for the next 5 years?
I certainly think that LDP has begun to make more sense to more people. Kids have always seen the utility in skateboards around campus and stuff like that. But I’m seeing revitalized interest in men and women my age and sometimes way older who are seeing skateboarding as a means of fun exercise. As a way to get in shape and get healthy or just as a way to have some fun doing something real during free moments–something that might be missing in their lives in the office or in front of a screen. I spend a lot of time in front of a screen myself, and I totally identify with that. LDP is a great way to do this, and recently, I’ve been getting back into surfskate a little bit as well. I really need to re-surface my driveway, because I know I would be on a surfskate all the time if my driveway wasn’t so jacked up. But I love that you can literally do that in a driveway or in a parking lot. I was taking my kid to parkour class a bunch before he broke his arm earlier this summer, and I was surf skating a bunch. It was so nice to just drop him off for an hour and go out on a distance cruise, and when I’d get back, I’d grab the surfskate and rip the parking lot until they finished up.
Where do you see Pantheon in 5 years?
Ideally, we’ll be kind of on that next level, selling completes to shops with parts that we designed and manufactured. Hopefully it won’t just be me in a garage, but I do hope to continue working from my home/property. I love it here. And it would be great if it weren’t just me packing boards!
I just hope to be able to continue to do this and to continue to build new things and to continue to watch skateboarding grow–especially distance, because that’s something I can personally continue to be a part of until I get old. But it should all grow. It deserves it. Skateboarding is and always has been awesome.
Bonus Question: What was the most memorable skate session you’ve ever had? OR Bucketlist skate spot/trip?
Gosh, I can think of a handful. A great one that comes to mind was skating through Beijing, China with Duh Machado, Miguel Aldrete, and Joe Mazzone. We were just cruising through town, made our way down to Forbidden City from our hotel, which was probably about 8 miles through Beijing traffic. The traffic was just nuts, and then on the way back, we stopped and got some wicked food at a random restaurant that we found by smell. Trying to navigate the city in such a foreign space was a trip in itself, but the traffic was just so crazy and fun to be a part of. And people were loving it. I remember all 4 of us skitching off one of those motorized rickshaw taxis (a micro-car?). I think I grabbed onto the car, and then it was a line of 3 dudes behind me that grabbed onto me and each other. I looked in and waved at a woman who was in the back getting a ride. She was so surprised and then had the biggest smile on her face. What a trip! The gaps were so incredibly tight and you were squeezing between cars that were already just barely not hitting each other. Really it’s a lot like New York City, except you’re in China and the streets are wider and nobody pays any attention to stoplights. On a skateboard, you’re mostly keeping up and passing traffic. Bucketlist? Do it again!
Win a Set of Brand New Karma Wheels From Pantheon
You know the drill by now. Head over to Instagram and follow the directions on the post for your chance to win some Karma for your next skate adventure!
Pantheon is a partner of SkateIDSA.
Edit by Scott Zee.