Interview by Jenkin Au
Words by Jenkin Au
Photography by Jenkin Au
Please tell us about yourself.
My name is Moses Itkonen – I am a former professional skateboarder. My friends and I started RDS back in ’86 – the Red Dragons. We just grew up skating together and made a career out of it. We started a business in ’96 – we opened our first store in North Vancouver. In 1998, we started our own distribution company and our own apparel.
How did RDS start, as far as the crew?
There was this indoor skatepark in Richmond called Richmond Skate Ranch – it was the only indoor skatepark so during the winter months, it was definitely the place to be. We were hell raisers and we just called ourselves the Red Dragons.
How did this transition into a business?
We just dropped the name tons and then we came up with a logo and scratched it around tons. We started hitting it up everywhere and it just made sense to turn it into a business. We were lucky that we were able to trademark it – it’s a fairly common symbol and you can see it all over the place. We even got to trademark it in Japan.
Please tell us about the Asian gang that you were making fun of that lead to the creation of the name.
I can’t even remember the name of the gang anymore. It was one of the gangs in the news, for sure.
The logo itself is a Chinese character for middle, or center. The logo came from a book and that’s where you adopted it from. If you didn’t see the symbol in the book, what do you think the logo would have been?
Who knows, right? We were the Red Dragons way before we saw the logo and we saw it, thought it was dope. Balance is something that I guess it means, and it’s something that’s necessary in skateboarding. It keeps you on a healthy path. It’s a lucky gambling sign, and it just has a bunch of different meanings. We were lucky that it came with a bunch of cool sayings – we just adopted it. For us, it probably just means to F.S.U., you know? That’s really what it means to us.
Branching off tat last bit, tell us about the motto of RDS.
Well, F.S.U. is one – it means to fuck shit up and it doesn’t have to be interpreted in a bad way. It’s standard mischief, but it could also refer to fucking shit up on the skateboard, or in life, it could mean that you’re not meek and sitting on the sidelines. Another one that we had when we were little assholes was T.F.A. – total fucking asshole. Once in a while, we still drop that, and that’s about it.
What were some of the best “jobs” that you’ve done or heard about someone do?
This one wasn’t me, but it required someone to take a fire extinguisher, the powder kind, and the person had to stick it in the mail slot of a liquor store and just empty it in there. To clean that up, that’s a lot of shit.
Being a Canadian company, the skate scene is not as supported here as it is in the States –
Supported in what way?
Well just different levels of support –
Well the industry is definitely smaller, but per capital, we have more skaters. For some reason, Canadians are just into it.
We do you find that financial support for skaters and sponsorships are more accessible in the States?
That’s definitely easier if you live in California, or if you have connections. Most of the people that make it end up making their way to California – that’s like the capital of it all.
Being a Canadian company, have you ever faced any kind of difficulties with being Canadian in the overall skating scene?
No, I don’t think so. It was definitely hard for us to be recognized, but that applies to everyone, too, I guess. Skating is like surfing – it just comes and goes when you find a good spot.
What was the first time that you received really big and legitimate support for RDS?
When we did tees, pros would rep them even though they had other sponsors – that was before we had a concrete piece of the brand and the image. That was what set it off. Pretty quickly, we were wholesaling our apparel. Obviously, there are struggles when you transition from a private label brand to a legitimate apparel brand. There is friction because some stores don’t want to support and things like that, but we overcame it very quickly. Dealing with Japanese and European distributers definitely helped catapult the business a little bit.
What was one of the biggest problems while bringing up the apparel brand?
It’s kind of funny, it’s a problem you wouldn’t expect. In Quebec, TSN is RDS. For a while, we just ran RDS on everything without even knowing. They sent a cease and desist letter to us because they had the trademarks for the logo two years before we even applied. We had to negotiate with them and we worked it out to where we can have the three letters but we always have to have our symbol with it, our OG logo. That’s when you know that you’ve gotten a bit bigger because there are corporate lawyers coming after you.
After making such a significant contribution to the skate community, what is next for RDS?
Good question. After we closed down our store, we knew that we wanted to make it in the U.S., business wise. We really want to penetrate that market. After Canada, our next biggest market is Germany. We want to do some more events in Canada, and we want to continue to support our skate team.
How has RDS changed your own personal outlook on life?
What it has definitely taught me, and it’s the same for skateboarding, is to stay focused and stay true to your roots – don’t fuck people over on your way up and just have an enjoyable life. If you’re a prick and you don’t focus, you’re miserable and probably not very wealthy. We just worked hard building our business and haters are always going to be out there. Pay them no mind.
What does it take to be a Red Dragon?
Well, back in the day, you had to do a lot of sweet jobs and FSU a lot. There’s not that many new ones, now. They’re getting boring these days.
What is HYPE?
Skateboarding is HYPE. That’s it. Skateboarding is the best thing. Kids are making a ridiculous amount of money skateboarding now – that’s definitely not something that was available when we were growing up.