RENTON-BORN Nin Truong started skateboarding in middle school. At that point, the sport was in one of its periodic booms, spawning art on skateboards, clothing, record sleeves, and MTV. The art matched skating's soundtrack of hardcore, thrash, and hip-hop and varied from gonzo cartooning or anarchic logos to caricatures and graffiti. "Graffiti was my thing," laughs Truong. "I was a skateboarding tagger."
Today, at 29, he is a landscape architect (he's employed full time by Nakano Associates) who also teaches at the University of Washington. But art and skateboarding have remained a passion for Truong, so he is the art director for Seattle start-up Manik Skateboards.
Since last Christmas, Manik has sold almost 1,000 decks (at $55 apiece retail), each of which boasts one of four Truong designs. They are ghostly, cool-toned screen prints of Seattle views, from under the monorail to the cranes of Harbor Island. These boards are remarkable not just for flying off the shelves but because their graphics go against skating's design conventions, most of which are based around links to specific skate stars or bands, post- heavy-metal "outlaw" graphics, or a hot-and-slick style of cartooning. Truong's skeletal lines and muted textures are a far cry from the loud, shiny, high-gloss aesthetic of main-stream decks.
Says Truong, "There have always been great skaters from here, and they've always had an influence on the sport. But Seattle's never been really put on the skateboarding map—not by a merchandise line or by a team or by video. Now we have better skate parks; we have competitions that attract the big-league stars. We need to show our regional pride."
Truong admires the history of skateboarding art but decided to divert from its protocols in order to reflect local culture. "Even the four skaters we sponsor got behind the concept for our graphics," he says. "They all have egos, but they don't need their names on a board."
Right now Manik is only a part-time job for the three friends who run it (Truong, Marshall Reid, 29, and Eric Greene, 27). Although they have a business plan, they haven't yet secured a distributor. Nor have they started selling boards from their Web site. Their stock is trucked around by volunteers and sold in local stores.
Nonetheless, Manik has received e-mail orders from across the country, as well as from Japan, Canada, the U.K., and Mexico. A fresh run of decks are being pressed to meet the orders. These will carry Truong's icons (such as Georgetown's Hat 'N Boots gas station) to skate sites such as London's Meanwhile Gardens and the Bourges vert ramp in France. Truong only laments that the Twin Teepees restaurant was leveled before Manik had the chance to pay it homage with a board.
A new street-skating video, Urban Rubble, featuring Manik's team of skaters, will be screened at the Showbox on Wed., April 17 at 7 p.m.