A lot of people wonder what happened to Snakeboard. There are many versions of the story out there, although not many really look into the details, or tell anything factual at all.
What Brings YOU Here?
There’s usually only three reasons for anyone to be looking into this, and they’re all good ones.
Whatever reasons you came here to read this article, I’m glad you found it, and I hope you’ll find some value in reading it. There’s a lot of interesting background information here, not many people have seen or heard about before.
You could be an original snakeboarder looking for info on snakeboards, and found us here. If so, welcome back man, a lot’s changed. Let me bring you up to scratch on a few things.
Maybe you’re a pivotboard or streetboard rider, and you want to find out a more about the history of this sport, and the company that started it all. I can definitely help you find out some useful information about the history of snakeboard.
You could be brand new to all of this, and never heard of the original company Snakeboard, and the inventors behind it.
I’ll be adding a complete history of Snakeboard article, but for the purposes of this article, for that don’t know about Snakeboard, let me fill you in, but first, a little about who I am, and how I came to know all this stuff.
I’m Rick Lowe, aka ‘Tricklowe’, a former pro snakeboard / streetboard rider.
I started riding Snakeboards at the first ever world championships in 1994, and started skating pro within one year. I rode on the international pro circuit from 1995 -2005, when I moved to California, USA.
I’ve been an active part of the scene for 22 years today, and love this sport for all the opportunities it’s ever given me. I have a lot of lifelong friends, that I would never have met if it hadn’t been for this sport, and we’re one big arguing, disagreeing, skating, altogether awesome family.
There’s information out there about what happened to Snakeboard. To be honest, most of it is hearsay, guess work, or second-hand information passed down from one rider to another.
Most of the information out there is made up, guessed, or drastically changed from reality.
I think it’s time to set the record straight, so everyone knows what actually happened, from somebody close enough to all involved, that actually did the research to inform you.
By the end of this article, you’ll have an understanding of Snakeboard, and what happened to them.
For those that don’t know about Snakeboard, I’ll fill you in…
The Creation of Snakeboard
In 1989, two college students from Johannesburg, South Africa (James Fisher & Oliver McLoed-Smith) took two halves of a roller skate, some pieces of plywood, and a metal bar, and connected them together.
They figured out how to make the thing move, and bingo… …they had invented not only a completely new type of board, but had actually invented a new method of generating motion.
James Fisher says the ultimate breakthrough moment, was the discovery of being able to go uphill without taking your feet off the board.
James and Oliver didn’t even know what a patent was, but a chance sighting from a neighbor involved in patent law, told them they needed to, right away, before anyone else sees it.
They patented their idea, the invention blew up overnight, went global, and led them to fame and fortune.
The Snakeboard won the Popular Science Worldwide Product of the Year in 1992.
The first ever sport rider for Snakeboard was Ashley Morgan, who was the son of one of James Fisher’s staff.
In 1994, Snakeboard was an international company with distributors in many countries.
The first ever World Snakeboard Championships were held in the island of Guernsey, part of the British Isles, where I grew up, first saw the Snakeboard, and met James Fisher for the first time.
Snakeboard continued to grow at a REALLY FAST PACE. Snakeboard was huge.
We had huge international events, and travelled on tours, etc. It was an amazing time, and tricks were progressing at an insane pace.
In 1995, James & Oliver sold their patents to their company, Snakeboard International, and then listed on the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM).
In 1997, we had a World Championships in Universal Studios, Florida. I was one of the 30 riders that was lucky enough to qualify to go. Things were just getting bigger and better.
Losing their Baby
James and Oliver were convinced by the market makers that they needed a prestigious board of directors, whom unfortunately, didn’t understand the product at all.
Fisher explained in this article in Entrepreneur Mag South Africa;
“At the end of the day Oliver and I owned 51% of the company but we had no control over it. We handed everything over. Amongst other things we wanted to target the sports market and they felt it was more a cheap toy product to drive volume and revenue without consolidating the product, brand and integrity. The spirit we created wasn’t carried through and our stock price fell quite dramatically. Essentially, we lost our baby.”
A lot of the bigger names involved in Snakeboard at the time (myself included) were a little frustrated with snakeboard wanting to make the board too much like a toy.
James Fisher was always at the World Championships. He talked to us and listened to our rider feedback, but it always felt like his hands were tied. The above statement explains a lot.
The last time I met James, was at the last Snakeboard World Championships, in Universal Studios, Orlando. We discussed board designs, and James seemed excited to hear our input, but definitely seemed unable to make many changes, which confused me at the time.
Around the time of the, 1997 World Snakeboard Championships in Orlando, or shortly after, it seems that snakeboard had some problems from some distributors rejecting orders on delivery.
Different sources indicate this to be either an Argentinian distributor, or Snakeboard Germany, or both. I specifically remember this happening with Snakeboard Germany, and have confirmed that with several people. The Argentina deal is as yet unconfirmed, but came from an extremely reliable source that was very close to Snakeboard USA.
It appeared they were somewhat unhappy with the quality or appearance of the then highly anticipated, but doomed, never-to-be-released, Spluge Snakeboard.
This left Snakeboard USA, the largest distributor, and head of the distribution network of Snakeboards, out a lot of money.
The Doomed Snakeboard – The Spluge
There was a lot of frustration with the riders at the chinese manufacture of the boards, board designs weren’t keeping up with the tricks we were developing, and often looked cheap, or toy-like, which we hated.
Boards weren’t ever quite what we needed, and it always felt like we were just using whatever Snakeboard were giving us, instead of what we really needed to ride. We often argued that snakeboard needed to license out the brand, and allow other companies to produce boards, but that never happened.
The Merger that Killed it all
With a drop in stock price and sales due to misguidance from a board of directors that didn’t understand the culture of their product, and a loss caused by the south American & German importers, in 1998, James Fisher bought MV Sports and Leisure Group, in a reverse merger in the UK.
This move enabled Snakeboard to diversify it’s portfolio of products, increase the shareholder price, and then allow James to bow out. A good exit strategy by any standards.
This was a great move for James, and the intelligent thing to do, I highly respect his decisions in this process as a businessman, however, MV Sports & Leisure Group had absolutely no interest in Snakeboard.
Companies wanting to list on the stock market will often merge with another company already listed, instead of going through an expensive IPO process. It was a win for James Fisher, and a win for MV Sports & Leisure Group, also, but a tragic loss for the sport of Snakeboarding.
When MV Sports & Leisure Group did the reverse merger with Snakeboard International, they acquired all the Snakeboard patents, simply sat on top of them. They had absolutely no interest in these assets. Snakeboard (the company) was over, and snakeboarding (the sport) was Left for Dead (pardon the pun guys).
When approached by riders wanting to start snakeboard companies, they refused to allow any other companies to license the product and make boards.
MV Sports could have let companies manufacture boards under license, and made money doing so, but had no interest.
Their reason? “We’re a toy company, we have no interest in sports.” Thanks guys.
The Underground Resistance
If this sport was ever going to die, it would’ve done so right then and there, but we weren’t going to take that.
From there, the scene since went underground, and has been kept alive by the skaters involved in it.
Sergi Nicolas – Top Pivotboard Rider – Frontside Nose Grab
There’s been an evolution in board design, too. Boards now look a lot more like actual boards, are made of wood instead of Zytel, and are called streetboards or pivotboards, in a move away from, and to avoid confusion with, the branding from Snakeboard.
The patents have all but expired. Myself, and a group of insanely dedicated skaters worldwide, now operate as one huge family, working together to elevate, and grow this small garage industry back into the sport it once was.
Thank you for joining us on this awesome adventure, you’ve arrived at the dawn of a new day.
Welcome to the new era. One I like to call ‘The Third Wave’.
See you out there.