The name remains synonymous with skateboarding in the Sacramento area. Blockhead Skateboards emerged from Roseville in 1985, a small local company entering the competitive, often crash-and-burn skateboard industry during an era dominated by a handful of large companies. But Blockhead rolled along, landed national distribution and helped launch the careers of key skateboard pros.
Blockhead boards were also sought for their distinct graphic style, a fusion of influences that included psychedelic poster art from the 1960s, the cut-and-paste ethos of punk rock band fliers and a cartoonish humor best decoded by skaters.
Now, three decades after its founding, Blockhead Skateboards will be given a proper retrospective treatment Friday, May 6, at The Brickhouse Gallery & Art Complex in Oak Park. The show includes classic decks and photos from Blockhead in the mid-1980s and beyond, plus original art, ad layouts and much more. The event mirrors an overall resurgence in interest for vintage skateboards, which tend to be purchased more as art pieces than a mode of transportation or means of shredding a local ramp.
“I figured it was now or never,” said Blockhead founder Dave Bergthold, in a phone call from Southern California. “Sometimes I think I’m more in the art business than the skateboard business. They get put on walls rather than ridden. Blockhead is full-time right now.”
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Back in the mid-1980s, skateboarding was more of an underground endeavor, well before the times of soda company-sponsored skaters and ESPN’s “X Games” on TV. The industry then was dominated by a few key companies, including Powell-Peralta, Santa Cruz and Vision.
Bergthold, who attended Oakmont High School and Sierra College, launched Blockhead in his parents’ Roseville garage. He’d originally eyed a career as an architect, but the idea of being chained to a desk bummed him out. Bergthold was meant to skate and create boards.
Dave Bergthold used funds he earned from delivering pizza to start Blockhead.
“I was passionate, and skateboarding was all I could think about,” said Bergthold. “The name (Blockhead) came from Charlie Brown. To me he was the underdog and he represented how I saw skateboarders were perceived. They try and kick the football and someone pulls it away from them. You were the outcast.”
Blockhead assembled a team that included Sam Cunningham and Ron Cameron, two of the Sacramento area’s best skaters. Cameron, who was also a gifted visual artist, also began pitching in on Blockhead’s graphics with Bergthold and later became the company’s lead designer.
The visual designs on the bottom of a skateboard were an especially important part of the company’s identity. Powell-Peralta boasted its signature skull-and-bones graphic, and the rising sun motif from Christian Hosoi’s Sims board remains an icon of 1980s-era skateboarding.
Cameron took a somewhat more streetwise approach to his design. Unlike the bolder-than-thou graphics of skulls and other creatures popular at the time, Cameron’s influences came from graffiti and psychedelic poster art, all packaged in a punk rock spirit of irreverence. One of Blockhead’s classic designs included the phrase “Nothing is Cool” with a crew of cartoon skaters looking their most blasé.
“I wanted to have the graphics mean something and have skaters go, ‘Whoa, what is that?’ ” said Cameron. “Back in the 1980s, you could not look the same as everyone else. It had to be totally pure. Sometimes I would go street-skating and pop up my board, and think, ‘What do I want to see? What would pedestrians want to see?’ ”
Blockhead was truly a skater-made company.
Blockhead ultimately grew from its garage origins to a company that in 1988 was licensed by Tracker Trucks. The company then shifted its operations base to the San Diego area and continued to flourish, selling upward of 3,000 boards per month. Blockhead sponsored riders who would become leading skateboard names including Rick Howard, who would later co-own the influential company Girl Skateboards, Omar Hasaanand Jeremy Wray.
But as skateboarding’s popularity dimmed by the mid-1990s, Blockhead was done. Bergthold would start a new skateboard company, Invisible, and also branched into video production. Cameron continued his work in graphic design and became a founding partner and art director of RVCA clothing.
Blockhead was rekindled briefly for its 20th anniversary in 2005 by reissuing a few classic boards. Now, as the company revels in its 30th anniversary, it is again the full-time focus for Bergthold and offers a variety of classic and modern boards on its website.
The company threw a reunion party in November at Oceanside’s Link Soul Gallery, but no Blockhead celebrations would be complete without a return to its Sacramento-area roots. The Brickhouse Gallery show will spotlight more than 75 boards and a pop-up shop that will sell a limited-edition run of Sam Cunningham decks and T-shirts. An official after-party is set for 7:30 p.m. at Cafe Colonial (3520 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento) with plenty of punk rock and more merch from Blockhead.
“Blockhead was truly a skater-made company,” said Cameron. “I didn’t even realize what we had, but we put it out in the world, and people picked up on the vibe. I think we brought back the fun and communicated that somehow. We made a little dent in the world of skateboarding.”
Blockhead Skateboards ‘Back to Sac’ art show
What: A collection of classic skateboard decks, photos, original graphics and more from a signature Sacramento-area skateboard company
When: 5-9 p.m. Friday, May 6
Where: The Brickhouse Gallery & Art Complex, 2837 36th St., Sacramento