Interview Andrew Cannon Photo
Andrew Cannon with Eric Dressen

Let’s meet Andrew Cannon, Brand Manager of Santa Cruz Skateboards

march 13, 2021

Former pro skater, Andrew Cannon is the brand manager of Santa Cruz Skateboards, one of the oldest skateboard company still running, it was created in 1973. We sat down with him to learn more about his job and talk about the heritage of the brand, skateboard marketing, managing a team, the Blind Bags and more.
What is your daily life as a brand manager?
Daily life is kind of crazy, it’s perfect for me. I always say I have a puppy brain because I’m just sort of all over the place, I get really excited about this and I get really excited about that. So my job’s really cool because with Santa Cruz’s brand, it’s got multiple things going on. We’ve got obviously the core skateboarding team, then we do skate completes, we do cruisers and longboards, we do licensing stuff, we have reissues, we’ve got all of our apparel business. We’ve got so many different parts to Santa Cruz, so I oversee everything and I’m a huge product nerd. I’m definitely super hands on with the product stuff and depending on the day sometimes we’re out filming those. It just depends overall but my day is lots of zoom meetings, lots of discussing what we’ve got coming out. We’ve got an amazing team of people working on Santa Cruz that all are really entrenched in what we’re doing. They all believe in sort of the marketing vision and the brand vision, where we’re going and what our brand is but also what our brand isn’t, which is really cool.
Santa Cruz is one of the oldest skateboard company, what do you do to remain true to the old generation of skaters while attract the new one?
I think everything’s a balance and what’s really interesting and really cool is that Santa Cruz has been through everything. It started in the 70s, so it’s been through every single bit of skateboarding. I actually find that to be really advantageous for us, whereas some brands sort of cater to a specific skater, but Santa Cruz to people is such a uniquely personal brand. If you got into it in the 80s, it’s maybe ripping vert skating, Jeff Kendall, Grosso, and stuff like that. If you got into it in the early 2000s, you’d be like Emmanuel Guzman. Then it was the European era with Out There… and Alex Carolino, Alex Moul, Stacy Lowery. It’s crazy how many people have been involved with Santa Cruz and because of that, it makes the brand this really special and unique thing where I truly believe that, as a skateboard company, you should have a super diverse team, socially diverse but also skate diverse. I grew up in the Zero era, so for me Misled Youth and stuff like that is like, “Oh my god”. But from a brand standpoint, I think it’s so important to make sure you don’t show up to the same spot and be like, “You gonna backflip this or am I gonna backflip this?”. It’s super important to have that diversification. The fact that we’ve got Erick Winkowski and Tom Asta on the same team, they both have a huge mutual respect for one another and enjoy skating together, to me that’s very cool. I think that we have to stay true to who we are, staying true to who we are is this really unique thing because the brand is so many things.
Interview Andrew Cannon Quote 1
Interview Andrew Cannon Quote 1 Mobile
Does the brand’s legacy and diversity give you more freedom?
The heritage of the brand is just this amazing thing that we have people instantly go, “Oh Santa Cruz, I know that brand, it’s been around forever”. I think that truthfully a lot of it is just making those decisions and saying, “You know what, we’re gonna go, this is the direction we’re going”. Any brand can do it, I don’t think it matters if you’re a heritage brand or if you’re a brand that’s more new like Frog or something like that. It’s just more about having a direction and being interested in continuing to pursue that.
Skateboarding is a cool and fun activity, and at the same time, skaters can be a bit conservative and not very welcoming toward outsiders, like big corporate brands or with the Olympics for example, what’s your take on that?
I don’t know if my view is a popular view on that, but skateboarding isn’t mine, skateboarding is ours. If somebody can connect to skateboarding and do something cool for skateboarding or with skateboarding, then I have respect for that. If somebody comes in and thinks that, “Hey, we’re a big corporate company and we’re going to take over skateboarding”, that’s fine. You can have those feelings. I just think that it’s not mine to be the conservative person. I love skateboarding but at the same time I have a kid who’s a few doors down who’s 16 years old, and it’s just as much his as it is mine. I just work in it and I’m very thankful for that. But if he’s not out buying skateboards then I don’t have a job. I think that there’s a lot of gatekeeper mentality in a lot of things and I’m very uninterested in that because the gatekeeper mentality has made me feel uncomfortable in so many parts of my life, whether it’s music or it’s skateboarding or whatever, because I’ve never been a “cool person”. So from that standpoint, I’ve always just been like, “Yeah, I don’t care, the proofs in the pudding kind of thing”. Anyway, I’m very welcoming to that stuff because I think that it’s going to bring in super smart people, you have to employ skateboarders in some capacity if you want to do that, but also, I’m interested in challenging the status quo. If there was a brand that came in and said, “Hey, we’re gonna make better skateboards than the skateboards you were making”, I’d be like, “Oh shit okay, I want to know more”. So I think it’s cool because it continues to level up the progression of product.
There’s an ocean of skateboarding content today, with social media, on YouTube or on other platforms, what is your strategy to stand out?
I think there’s multiple tiers to it. You’ve got your classic skateboarding content, like video parts, and we’ve worked through Thrasher to put a lot of that stuff out. Obviously, Thrasher is great, they put out a lot of great content. I think you just said it well, there’s this ocean of content and I look at YouTube as like, “Thrasher is over here, and most people are doing stuff through Thrasher, and people are doing stuff through the Berrics too, but you have YouTube over here that’s this wide open universe”. So we’re definitely leaning more towards doing a lot of YouTube stuff based off the fact that there’s so much audience there, and there’s also such an opportunity. You have all the brands that are all fighting for those eyes on Thrasher, but then you’ve got Braille, you’ve got Andy Schrock, they are over here, and they have a ton of eyes. And they’re not fighting for those eyes on Thrasher, they’re fighting for all the eyes on YouTube and that’s a larger consumer base, not a different consumer because there’s skateboarders there too. But there’s also people that are just interested in watching content or personalities or whatever. So I want to be this middle ground with Santa Cruz between those two. I want to make sure that our skateboarding content remains core from the standpoint of like, “It’s good skateboarding”. Even when we do the product videos, we goof around and we have fun but we’re not like, “Hey, let’s try to 360 flip an icicle or something like that”. I’m not knocking that content [Braille or Andy Schrock], I’m just saying that for us, it’s about good skateboarding content in general. But we’re trying to also bring in those personalities because we know more than ever, everything’s about being human. Especially throughout this pandemic, people are searching for kind of connections. And I think that right now if you can be approachable and if you can be someone that you can talk to, it just makes things a lot easier to sink your teeth into.
Interview Andrew Cannon Blind Bags
The Natas Blind Bags released in 2021
Santa Cruz has been releasing Blind Bags for a few years now, with Natas graphics recently. I think it’s a smart way to mix fun and marketing purposes at the same time. Are you behind all of this?
I would say we are behind all of this. The Blind Bag idea actually came from our art director, his name’s Tyler Emanuel. He’s super smart, phenomenal, just a brilliant mind kind of guy. He has two kids that are a little bit older than mine and so his daughter was weighing in the blind bags and he was like, “Dude I think we should do this with skateboards” and we were like, “That actually is such an incredible idea”. Again, so much of it is we, because we can think of an idea and be like, “Oh we’re gonna do that but we’ve got a hard good development center that we then work with that works with our factories, we’ve got our creative department, our sales team…”. Trying to explain to people that you’re going to buy a blind bag and open it and get a skateboard, I remember how excited I was about the meeting but also how at first people were like, “Dude, I don’t know if this is going to work”, we were like, “No, no, it’s going to work, I promise you”.
[Laughs] Was it too much for Skateboarding?
People just get nervous, you try to do something that’s different and ask people to sell a different way, it definitely scares people. I think a big part of it is with Santa Cruz, whether it’s YouTube or product like the Blind Bag stuff, our whole thing is, “Why not? Why not try it?”. If it actually makes sense and we’re not going to totally screw ourselves in some capacity, why not try it, that’s what life’s about. You never lose if you learn. If you learn from it, it’s always a win.
It’s great that Santa Cruz does this kind of operations because it pushes the boundaries of how a skateboard brand can communicate.
Skateboarding is fun, that’s something that I feel get lost sometimes, especially with companies where there’s a lot of gnarly video parts and a lot of stuff really serious. Man, skateboarding is so fun. Before the Blind Bags and the Natas came out, I saw tons of stuff being posted online, people wanted to share, “Look at this eBay stuff”, and you know what, that’s all fine and good. But every time somebody sent me a video or a picture of them just set up an artist board, doing a trick or like, “I can’t wait to ride this”, that’s what got me excited because we definitely make that stuff for collectors, we want people to be excited about it, we want people to enjoy the experience of opening a bag and being like, “Wow this is super fun”. We are a skateboard company, and we make skateboards to ride, and I understand that the shape on that board is totally wild, but we definitely want them to be able to put it on a wall so you can be like, “That just looks awesome”, and it makes you feel something. I got fired up more so than seeing thousands of dollars stuff being sold for thousands of dollars.
How do you decide who gets more boards within your pro team, does it depend on skater’s popularity or previous sales?
It’s a mix, most of the time you look at sales and you look at popularity. At one point I had a really cool conversation with Bob Denike, the CEO of NHS, early on with Erick Winkowski, he was selling a lot of boards and it was really cool. So we would have maybe two Winkowski boards in the line or maybe three. Bob pulled me aside and was like, “Hey, just so you know, this is okay”. He basically explained that when Tom Knox was in his prime back in the day, he had more boards in the line than anyone else.
Interview Andrew Cannon Quote 2
Interview Andrew Cannon Quote 2 Mobile
As a Brand Manager, you’re in charge of turning someone pro, isn’t it too difficult to make such a decision?
Sometimes it sucks because sometimes you do have to let people down and say, “Hey, we don’t have space for you to turn pro”. A lot of that stuff comes from the shops asking about it, “Are we seeing it?”. We are seeing it in YouTube comments, and we are seeing it in Instagram. But at the same time, we are now in a position where we started doing this Minions thing about three years ago, the goal with that was we wanted to have sort of a track to turn pro for Santa Cruz. You find these kids that are ripping and they’re young and they’ve got talent and they’ve got spunk and they’re nice. You build them up and they come in and then they turn pro. A while ago, there was a formula, you get a cover, you have a video part, you do x-y-z, but that’s all out the window. What’s interesting is when Erick Winkowski turned pro, it literally was because everyone was just like, “Why is this guy not pro?”. So we turned him pro, and he sold a ton of boards. He didn’t have a pro video part that came out with it because I personally think that formula is cool, but it is a bit broken because I don’t think it is necessarily about it.
And because of social media?
Yeah because of social media and because people can make decisions. A video part is not the only thing anymore that stacks you up, and I’m not saying that social media is the only thing either. I’m saying that it’s an all-around thing, “What’s on social media? What’s on YouTube? What’s on Thrasher? What trips are you going on?”. I feel like there’s so much more opportunity that it’s far more than just a video part. So honestly, what we do now is we turn somebody pro and then we wait a little bit to put out their pro part. Maurio McMcoy and Jereme Knibbs just had their pro parts come out and that was way longer than normal. I wouldn’t want to wait a whole year again but we kind of dealt with the pandemic. But normally, you turn someone pro, you give them a month or two months, and then you put their part out because now you know it. It’s like someone turns pro and you see whatever clip it is that’s just posted over and over again, that being awesome and that’s enough, that’s the pro announcement. “Okay, now what’s next? Video part”, people now share this video part, so I think that spreading that out makes a huge difference.
Do you have a guideline for your team on how to interact on social media, with dos and don’ts?
We do team meetings every year, we talk about, “Here’s the dos and don’ts”. We just explain social media is like a high five, so if someone reaches out to you, they’re basically high-fiving you, and if you don’t reach back to them, it’s the same as not high-fiving someone back. Some of the skaters are getting crazy amounts of messages, so you can’t expect to get back to everybody. But at the same time it does make a big difference, that’s part of the human element. So we don’t have a ton of stuff like yes or no, but we will call people if we’re like, “You might want to chill out on how much you’re partying on your social media”. We’ve seen a big change in all of that, there was definitely a long while where everyone wants to just post themselves smoking weed or whatever. It’s still a thing for sure but I just think people have their fake Instagram where they do that with their friends, and then they have more of their “public figure” Instagram.
Interview Andrew Cannon Maurio McCoy Product Challenge
Maurio McCoy and Andrew Cannon shooting a Product Challenge video
So how do you see the evolution of skateboarding?
Honestly, I just see it continuing to get more and more awesome. First and foremost, I’m super stoked that there’s more women in skateboarding, it’s really cool because you hear about in Asia, it’s so much more of a new sport overall, if it’s sport but whatever. Skateboarding is so much more new that they don’t look at it like, “Oh it’s the boys club, no it’s skateboarding, and men do it, women do it”. I think that’s far more of a hurdle that we have to deal with in the United States and in Europe. I think that the more women in skateboarding is fantastic and I think that more people in skateboarding is fantastic. It doesn’t have anything to do with the financial gain from it. I’m 35 years old, I started skateboarding when I was 11 and I grew up in Pennsylvania, so everything in my life is because of skateboarding. I live where I live because of skateboarding, I met my wife not through skateboarding, but I wouldn’t have been out here if it wasn’t for skateboarding. Skateboarding has always been my constant through my life for the last 24 years. I just want people to be able to find that and if people don’t have that with skateboarding, that’s totally okay, but everything that I do is because I hope that somebody else can find it and it can help them get through life because life is weird and life is difficult. So more women in skateboarding, that’s f***king awesome, more members of the queer community in skateboarding, that’s f***king awesome. I think that a big part of it too is that there’s so much opportunity for good conversation and change and stuff like that through skating.
You mentioned skateboarding being a little conservative and it definitely is for a long time, it was like, “Yeah, you could definitely be a skateboarder if you wear these clothes, listen to this music, like these videos”. Kids now and younger adults in their early 20s, they’re running this and they’re wearing whatever the f*** they want, and they’re listening to whatever music, and they’re doing what they want, and it’s so cool. I just feel like skateboarding is so much more open and special now, and I know everyone looks fondly back on when they grew up, and I definitely do, but it’s so cool right now. You can just be a skater in any kind and it’s so special, and you can find a community in it. I think that’s the most important thing to me is that you can find communities in all these different aspects. I’m a vegan so I talk with vegan dads. I literally talk with vegan dads all the time about vegan skate shoes, and most of them are still into hardcore or punk or whatever, and it’s really cool. You can find these little communities now more than ever and you can be whoever you want to be and it’s great.
What’s next for Santa Cruz?
We’re gonna keep building our YouTube presence and we’re trying to let people in. Our goal with all the YouTube stuff is that not everybody’s gonna get to see a Santa Cruz demo, not everyone’s gonna get to get in the van, but through YouTube we can be like, “Get in the van and hang out with the team and see what it’s like to be on a session”. You’ll see Kevin Braun foam rolling and you’ll see everyone playing skate and talking shit. To me, that’s really special because when the time does come that hopefully Santa Cruz can come to your town, it’s not just like “Oh hi Kevin Braun, you’ve got a great kickflip crook”, it’s like, “Dude, man, Kevin, I can’t believe you love Frank Zappa, I love that album too”. Then all of a sudden it breaks down these barriers and now it’s just so much easier to connect with people around the world. So I would say that for us our goal is to help build and forge connections between skaters, but also just to keep making fun content and keep putting out great products and trying to meet the needs of skateboarders worldwide the best we can.
And when Jake Wooten is going to be pro?
I don’t know, what do you think? You think he should be pro?
Definitely! [Jake Wooten turned pro the day after recording this interview and that’s awesome.]
Check out the Santa Cruz YouTube channel and Andrew Cannon’s Instagram.