You Can’t Beat ’Em, So You Might As Well Join ’Em (I Did)
In 1987, an eight-year-old Jason Ho was utterly entranced by a fresh phenomenon: the Skateboard Gang. Designed by Mattel, the Skateboard Gang play set featured a bad-ass collective of posable action figures designed to shred the gnarliest of surfaces, with their own incredibly catchy theme song.
The Gang’s all here
Discovering The Skateboard Gang
I first encountered a Skateboard Gang Member (that’s what they’re called in the ad, I swear) at my buddy Damon’s birthday party back home in Edina, Minnesota. I’m guessing he was turning about eight or nine. The toys had been on the shelves for a year, but they were brand-new to me.
The particular figure Damon received that year was a dog wearing sunglasses while riding a skateboard, evocatively dubbed “Wipeout Top Dog.” I could not have gotten a cooler introduction to the Skateboard Gang world. Each action figure arrived in its own plastic packaging, which boasted an illustration of that specific character and a trademark slogan on the back of the package offering insights into their unique worldviews.
The Top D.O.G. On Wheels!
Wipeout Top Dog’s slogan reads as follows:
He’s the top D.O.G. on wheelz cuz he’s Diggin’ On Gravity! Wipeout is one crazy K-9 — totally neat and ready to scratch up the streets! We’re talkin’ bow-wow mania time!
I didn’t know what the heck bow-wow mania time meant in 1987. Were they talking about… rabies? Probably not… but possibly so? Regardless, what mattered was this: Wipeout Top Dog had his own cool, sort of inscrutable lexicon, and lived to shred. That’s a level on which I could (and still can) relate.
To me, skate culture symbolizes marching to the beat of your own drum, counterculture, rebellion, rolling through suburbia as a lone wolf. Gangs and clubs in movies have always fascinated me as topics. I dig the idea of a brotherhood of characters who might not always get along, but they’ve got each other’s backs no matter what.
Notice the “Made in Hong Kong” at the bottom
The Skateboard Gang’s mash-up of skate culture with a cool kid-friendly gang a la Goonies or The Monster Squad felt like it was made directly for me. I was all-in as soon as I made the acquaintance of Wipeout Top Dog.
The memory of that particular action figure stuck with me for decades until I discovered it on eBay a few years back. As a matter of fact, I found most of the Skateboard Gang crew. I couldn’t just have Wipeout Top Dog without his team, so I bought everything immediately. This now-adult fan developed a deeper appreciation for just what drew him to the Skateboard Gang in the first place:
3 Things About the Skateboard Gang I Dig
The Packaging: The cardboard backing is branded with a bright, macaroni-and-cheese orange/yellow color scheme. It’s a warm and inviting presentation that draws you in and stands out at your local Toys ‘R’ Us.
The Fonts: The logoing for “Skateboard Gang” mixes a bold sans-serif font (“SKATEBOARD”) with a more cursive style (“Gang”), in big, purple block lettering. You’d think the purple fonts would clash with the orange/yellow backing, but in fact the font compliments the product’s overall packaging.
Unique Illustrations: Each package sports a hand-drawn illustration of the character it contains. There isn’t simply a generic background used for everyone. That level of care really connects with you as a kid.
These illustrations make me want to draw again
Skateboards continue to function as a visual motif in my own directing work now. I recently created a short film, “Pizza Dude”, about the worst (but coolest) pizza delivery guy in Venice. He rides a skateboard. Looking back on the spot now (and I swear this wasn’t even a conscious thing at the time), it’s pretty clear that the Skateboard Gang had a major aesthetic influence. The “PIZZA DUDE” logo, the devil-may-care flippancy of our protagonist, even the harsh yellow-and-red color scheme of the packaging, it’s all in there.
So if you’re itching for camaraderie and friendship with like-minded brethren, why not dust off those ol’ wheels, slap on a fresh sheet of grip tape and roll on out with the Skateboard Gang?
Check out the video for Pizza Dude below.