In the late 70s and 1980s, Dallas was home to skateboarding’s punkest company: Zorlac. Jeff Newton started Zorlac Skateboards in Dallas in 1976, the same year — appropriately — that punk rock was making waves on both sides of the Atlantic. The early art and advertisements of Zorlac are creepy and classic; some of the best examples are presented in this photo essay of this punk-era Dallas institution.
Newton’s Dallas company was poised for success when skating’s popularity rebounded by the mid-1980s from a late 70s lull: He had the help of bands like the Big Boys and even Metallica, and enlisted the unique psychedelic-doomy-gothic-stoner-punk-rock artistic talents of Brian Schroeder, aka Pushead, himself the frontman of Septic Death and a music critic for Thrasher Magazine (and thus sort of an inside man for the brand).
The early business addresses for the company bounced around between Camelot Dr., Indian Trail, and S. Ervay in the Dallas area. Newton was known to work out of a two car garage. By the late 1980s the HQ for the company was in San Diego, California, and then a PO Box at La Jolla, California — and just as many people in the mainstream thought punk had died by the late 1980s, so a lot of folks wondered if Zorlac had run its course. The company’s last moment of glory was perhaps its Zero Hero video from 1991, before small wheels, big pants (courtesy of Fuct Jeans and others) and companies like Plan B, Real, World Industries, and Alien Workshop took over the sport. (Or, depending on who you ask, “helped it evolve.”)
Zorlac was always a cult skateboard company, and it fit Dallas to a tee; in the 70s and 80s Dallas was still a haven of misfits and weirdos, JFK conspiranoids, and entities like the Church of the Subgenius. (It was not yet synonymous with yuppie transplants attracted by the real estate boom and burgeoning telecom/technology sector, endless suburban sprawl, and “nice” cookie cutter bedroom communities on the outskirts of the city, although that was a big part of the cultural evolution that was indeed occurring throughout the 1980s).
Even before Pushead came on board as Zorlac’s chief artist, the graphics were creepy, bleak, spooky, or downright confrontational. “FUCK YOU, WE’RE FROM TEXAS” a famous Zorlac shirt announced; the equally-famous “Shut Up and Skate” shirt featured a likeness of the Church of the Subgenius’ JR “Bob” Dobbs himself (or someone that looked a lot like him). “Skate Tough or Go Home” was another Zorlac catchphrase emblazoned on ubiquitous stickers and tshirts, also below.
It may have been Zorlac’s fascination with all things dark and creepy that made the brand a little too intense and/or threatening for your average 80s skater, many of whom came from mainstream suburban backgrounds, or were inspired by the ever-so-wholesome Michael J. Fox and his skateboarding scene in Back to the Future. Most preferred the golden boy/good guy looks and attitude of Powell Perralta’s Tony Hawk and his relatively family friendly band of merry compatriots in the Bones Brigade. Zorlac’s attitude toward skateboarding was “intimidating by design,” as their ads proclaimed (see below). And except perhaps for Skull Skates, Zorlac did seem like the scariest and most antisocial skate company out there — the bad boys in the pack, keeping true to the punk roots and spirit of counterculture that had carried skateboarding through its darker days.
By the late 1980s, Zorlac had relocated to southern California and the “Satanic Panic” movement had also set in, and it can’t be overestimated how much of Tipper Gore’s PMRC attack against extreme music also bled over into attacks on “Satanic” imagery in skateboarding, too. Natas Kaupas’ deck was only one such deck design that aroused controversy with parents, who preferred to think of skateboarding as a childrens’ sport. In the 1990s, skateboarding imagery would lose a lot of its underground punk zine look and would showcase a very clean, “corporate” style (sometimes ironically) and the aesthetics past 1994 or so often seemed more influenced by the burgeoning rave and techno scenes than anything rooted in metal or hardcore punk. (Check out this nearly-unrecognizable Zorlac ad from the 1990s.)
This photo essay is a celebration of Zorlac from 1976 until 1991, when its imagery resonated with the excitement of punk rock, crossover thrash, and speed metal. Most of the imagery below is from Zorlac’s Dallas days, with some graphics thrown in after the move to So. Cal. thrown in for good measure (even then, Zorlac retained a 214 area code business phone). Enjoy.
So what happened to Zorlac? In the 1990s the brand saw a decline as skateboarding’s culture changed — becoming less punk- and thrash-metal oriented — and a major shakeup of companies occurred, eliminating several of the companies that had been primary movers and shakers in the previous decade.
In the 2000s there was an attempt to revive and reinvigorate the brand, but that met with ugly legal complications, excruciatingly detailed here.
There are great reminiscences of Zorlac here.
All words above copyright 2016 Oliver Sheppard. All rights reserved.