25 Years of Black Label
Black Label Skateboards founder and owner John Lucero started skating in the mid-1970s, got his first sponsor with a good word from Neil Blender, and turned pro in 1984. Growing up in skateboarding, Lucero says he felt like a kid in a candy store, always drawn to something new, and his list of sponsors included G&S, Variflex, Zorlac, Madrid, Santa Cruz and Schmitt Stix. Along the way he worked in the art departments at Madrid and Vision, drawing pro graphics for himself and others while absorbing details about the business. By 1988, he was ready to go solo, and Lucero Ltd. was born.
This year, Lucero celebrates 25 years of heading up his own skateboard company, from the early days of Lucero Ltd. (with inaugural riders Riky Barnes, Tony Chiala and Skip Ponier) to the rebrand as Black Label, whose long list of team elites includes John Cardiel, Ben Schroeder, Mike Vallely, Salman Agah, Matt Hensley, Jason Adams, Duane Peters, Jeff Grosso, Steve Olson, Ray "Bones" Rodriguez, Omar Hassan and many others.
To catch up on some backstory, XGames.com sat down with Lucero at his home in Huntington Beach, Calif.
XGames.com: From grom to pro to company owner -- how'd that happen?
Lucero: Even when I was young, I had imaginary skateboard companies. I had ideas for graphics. I drew things, and would make little fake companies.
And I used to imagine the announcer at the Hester series and the Gold Cup series calling my name to drop into the pool. I wasn't even good enough to be there, but as a kid, I played skateboarding. I wasn't a tough kid. I didn't come from a bad neighborhood. I didn't come from a bad family. There was dinner on the table every night. I went to school every day. But skateboarding was so rad, that's all I thought about, all I cared about. I couldn't help but make believe that I was Steve Olson or Duane Peters or Brad Bowman or Ray "Bones" Rodriguez. As silly as that sounds, that's all I wanted to do. I played skateboarding all day. It was awesome.
And later on, where I come from in the 80s, we were influenced by so many rad things that it felt rad and natural to want to design your own products and have all these rad ideas.
Tell us about your leap from idea to reality.
I started the company kinda on a whim. I had my third graphic coming up with Schmitt Stix but it wasn't working out, so I decided to start my own company. I really didn't know what I was doing. I didn't plan anything. I just thought, "OK, let's do it!" I had a group of friends: Riky Barnes, Skip Pronier and Tony Chiala. They became my team. We just went for it blindly. It was just me, in my garage, with my friends, having fun with it. And skaters responded to it and backed it up.
All of sudden the demand is there, and we had to learn everything on the fly. How to ship UPS on the fly. How to find out where all the skate shops are. I put an ad in the mags with my home phone number on it. The shops are calling me at home, and I had all the stuff in my garage.
When did the elephant logo come in?
When I started Lucero Ltd., I needed a logo. And I looked up at the wall of my apartment at a painting of an elephant that I bought at a thrift store. The only reason I had bought it in the first place was because I thought it was funny. It was a 1960s style print of a painting of an elephant sniffing a flower. Very psychedelic-looking. So I'm with Riky Barnes and Tony Chiala and we're drinking beer, and I look up at the wall and say, "That's our logo!" And that's where it came from. Just a couple of good friends, some good times, just laughing. "We're going with that guy! The elephant!"
Riky Barnes has a special place in the history, right?
Riky Barnes would probably be the meaning of Black Label. He lives on a couch. He skates and surfs all day and listens to Fang. A pair of Levi's, a T-shirt, a buzzed haircut, and a pair of Vans. That's all you need. That's all he ever needed. And one package of Top Ramen a day. Riky Barnes was that kid. He wasn't the best skater. He wasn't a superstar. But he oozed so much style. He was just a real skater from the streets of Huntington Beach.
How about the name switch to Black Label?
After about a year and half as Lucero Ltd., I started feeling that I just wanted to be in the background. I didn't want it to be all about me. So in 1990, we were up in Canada at the first mini-ramp contest in Vancouver, with Jeff Grosso, Duane Peters, a bunch of friends, just partying. We ran to the liquor store to get beer and the first thing we see when we open the door is Black Label beer. We started grabbing cases of Black Label and taking them back to our hotel room. And I'm looking at the can and I'm thinking, "I love this beer!" It's got all the right colors -- red, black, white, and gold. We were having a great time. And it was that night. I'm like, "I'm gonna change the name to Black Label!" We thought that was funny. When we got back home, I checked into it. Back then there was no Internet, no web police. Nothing that said I couldn't do it. We weren't in the same business as Black Label beer. We weren't in the same business as Black Label bacon. We're Black Label Skateboards! So we went for it.
And the team?
I was able to get Grosso to come on board with me. We were best friends. He was like my little brother, and he liked what I was doing. Ben Schroeder had come aboard. And, with Riky Barnes, we had the first Black Label team. It just took off from there.
These days, aside from the legends list, you've got Chris Troy, Adam Alfaro, Peter Watkins, a handful of ams, including Tyler Mumma and Riley Stevens.
It reminds me of the beginning. They're all these young guys from this area, skating hard, partying hard, having a good time, trying to make it happen. Just gearing up for the next wave.