Steve Van Doren, son of founder Paul Van Doren, keeps the name and brand on the minds of millions across the world by combining music, action sports and creative artistic collaborations. As the driving force behind the brands success, Steve has set in motion events such as the Vans Warped tour, Vancouver’s famed Skateboarding event Slam City Jam and of course the Van Doren Invitational series. We managed to catch him for a chat before it all went down.
Tell us about the Van Doren Invitational?
We started this last year in Vancouver and for the last three years down in Huntington Beach California and am so honoured that they are using my family name for the Vans Van Doren invitational. My dad started the company in 1966, the shoe boxes in those days used to say Van Doren, and they say Vans today. The Van Doren invitational is a bowl skating competition, Hastings has a great bowl, Vancouver has great skate scene, and that is the perfect match. We’ve got 16 guys ready to skate their hearts out, great talent for the semi-finals and finals and it brings the whole community together. Back in the 90’s I helped sponsored the Vancouver’s Slam City Jam and for 10 years and I saw the passion for skateboarding in Vancouver so I am excited to be out here last year and next year for the Van Doren invitational because people love skateboarding in Vancouver.
Where did the skate Jam competition idea format come from?
It’s always great because one guy might just fall on one trick but get right back up and somebody else is in there. A jam format gives somebody enough time to really show what they can do, it’s tiring but the jam format is one of the best.
It is somewhat designed with a spectator in mind too?
It is, you are not just watching one thing, you are seeing different things at different times, hitting different areas, showing their best.
Do you have any top picks to win?
No, well you know, the money is going to go to somebody really, really good but you know I hope Curren Caples is feeling good, he is one of our riders and I know that all the guys that are in the finals the top 6 from last year’s semi-finals, they are going to be tough to beat.
What is next for the Van Doren invitational? Any plans to expand or change the format in the future?
There is for the Van Doren invitational. We are hoping to take it from Vancouver, over to Europe in April and will be doing a Van Doren Invitational there on the beach in Italy, we are going to be going to Brazil, China and we are going to go to a few other locations in the world. All together there are going to be 3 finalists that will be going to the finals in the States.
Let’s get to shoes. What sets Vans apart from all the other shoe brands out there?
Well the nice thing that we do have is heritage, we’ve got at least 49 years’ behind us. There are great brands like converse who have 100, but we’ve been into skate, surf, snowboard, BMX since the very beginning and a lot of heritage is with that. Traditional sports we are not, we are actions sports, that is where we get the off the wall spirit, we have creative people expressing themselves in art, in music, in skating surfing also, and street culture. I think we win when we get to the teenagers that want to be teenagers doesn’t matter if you are in your 30’s or 50’s. We’ve crossed generations with Vans being around for 40 years, dads, sons, daughters, there kids are wearing our shoes. It’s not rocket science – $65 shoe made out of canvas you can wash in the washing machine, that is good quality, comfortable, and fashion we get through different artists and collaborations that we do with prints on the shoes. #1 shoe style in 1966 (style 44) is still the top seller today.
In your opinion who embodies the essence of the Vans brand?
If we go to the actor, Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemount High, or somebody like Ben Harper who is a great musician – he loves Vans – he loves skating and stuff. There are a lot of different people, I have baseball players calling me up like Jered Weaver from the Angels wanted me to make his wedding shoes. There are a lot of different people that reach out, from different designers all the way to a collaboration we are doing today with Disney – all the Disney characters so we can sell them all over the world and it’s been fantastic.
What would you say is your greatest accomplishment within the skateboarding industry?
That’s an easy question. I don’t know how but I was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Skateboarding about a month and a half ago. I was never striving to do that because that is for skateboarders, I don’t skateboard but I love skateboarding, I love skateboarders, I support them. It doesn’t matter if its Geoff Rowley or Bob Burquist. I support all skateboarders. Street, bowl, vert, Rodney Mullen and his freestyle influence, all the way to the super mega ramps with the young kids today. I was inducted about a month and a half ago, it was a big honour. I had my family and friends there and I take that to heart.
What is something that very few people know about you?
Growing up I didn’t want to do anything else but work for my dad. I tried to go to College right after High School and I would come back after school and say “Dad, the professors aren’t talking the way that you talk,” so I didn’t really care about that [college], so I just followed my dreams. My dad sold the company and I continued on the last 25 years. I guess if I was full of baloney I wouldn’t be around Vans anymore. I have a passion for it. I have a 38 year old daughter who has been at it longer than I have. I started at 10 and she started when I dragged her around at 2 years old. She’s been around the world and has been out of college the last 17 years, I am really proud of her and what she has accomplished. My sister is still VP of Vans like I am. There are about 5 Van Doren’s that are heavily involved with Vans. And I love horses, my dad raised and raced horses for the race track so I love spending time at there
Any Vans horse shoes in the wings?
No, but we are going to have a horse in the Kentucky Derby someday, that’s our dream but, my grandfather on my mom’s side was a blacksmith so he shoe’d horses 2 pairs at a time! (laughter) 49 years in the shoe business, but I’ve been lucky, this year I turn 60 and will have been married 40 years and worked for Vans for 50 years. With all my friends and family that I work with, you love what you do, you don’t have to work a day of your life.
What are few things you like to do when you are in Vancouver?
Kobe Japanese steak house, taking my whole team there tonight. Every time I come here I go there. I’ve started off a few vacations that start off in Vancouver heading to Alaska. Ten years with Slam City Jam staying at the Delta Suites. I’ve been to a few street fairs, Waterfront is awesome. I love Australia but the city sights here are wonderful. If I was going to move from Southern California it would be Sydney Australia or Vancouver.
Photos: Allison Kuhl