Bear Walker Skate Shop: Ride the Art
By Jeff Alexander
A longtime fixture in the West Coast, skate culture finally exploded into the mainstream in the ‘90s thanks to names like Tony Hawk. As the mainstream adopted the fashion, a new generation of aspiring skaters cropped up in suburbs across America. Custom skateboard builder Bear Walker embraced skating after falling in love with surfing in his native South Carolina. Walker crossed over and slowly worked to break into the competitive and insular skateboard industry, ultimately launching Bear Walker Skate Shop in 2016. Producing innovative designs merged with his passion for pop culture, Walker proved to the most passionate skaters that his designs are indeed ‘functional art.’
“There was a huge learning curve when I began. Many, if not all, skate decks use maple because it’s strong and durable but the inner layers are made of cheaper, filler materials. My decks are all maple and I also use a patent-pending wood grid design for grip that requires no grip tape. It’s actually cheaper in the long run,” said Walker.
“I was basically broke when I started this. I think the combination of my work ethic, being stubborn, and of course luck has really gotten me to where I am."
A Clemson alumni, Walker studied graphic design and credits this experience for inspiring him to further explore his growing passion for crafting skate decks.
“One of my class projects for design was making graphics for a skateboard. I was also doing some woodworking and once I finished it, I was hooked! I didn’t see it as more than a hobby at that time but people started asking me about making more decks,” reflected Walker.
Faced with challenges at every turn, from his South Carolina background being scoffed at to others claiming there was no way he could go up against such a long-established industry, Walker used the criticism as motivation to start his first skate deck company, Locomotiv Customs in 2013. The company folded, due to what Walker said were “Bad decisions and bad business deals.” Undeterred, Walker returned only three years later and launched Bear Walker Skate Shop in his new place of residence; Alabama.
“Feedback has been great! Things took off naturally after I made a design for my local comic shop, Covert Comics. It was a design of Justice League and after it was posted on Instagram, the actor Jason Momoa, who played Aqua Man asked me back in 2017 if I would be interested in making a deck for him. It was really flattering,” said Walker.
Actor Jason Momoa with his custom Aquaman deck
Walker proudly stated his growing skills have him completing decks more efficiently but without sacrificing quality. His new approach has allowed him to revisit other key components in skateboards, such as wheels.
“What used to take like 10-12 hours I can do quicker and better and I have elevated the quality. I’ve focused a lot on wheels over the years; there’s a lot that goes into them. You have softer wheels for cruising and harder ones for half pipes. Smaller wheels are used for tricks while larger ones are for comfort. I use my own brand of wheels I created, Hyberium Wheels, 65mm. I round the edges to initiate slides and turns and stone ground the surfaces for a firmer grip,” he said.
Walker remains confident in his abilities to craft top-notch boards but is quick to remind himself all it took to achieve and grow his business.
“I was basically broke when I started this. I think the combination of my work ethic, being stubborn, and of course luck has really gotten me to where I am. When I began, I really had no idea the daily costs involved with running a business. Looking back, I would say to someone wanting to start a business that perhaps a trade school is a better option than a traditional, 4-year school.”
Looking ahead, Walker ambitiously stated he wants his brand to be “Synonymous with high-end art, unique product lines and quality craftsmanship; Not just a guy who makes skateboards.”