Introduction & Interview by Kevin Chow
Photography by Sukeats Chee & Wheel Love Shop
Please introduce yourself (name, age) and tell us how long youve been skating.
Sukeats, 32 years old, skating since 1993. I co-own and run Wheel Love Skateshop here in Malaysia.
How did you first get started into skating?
My dad was trying to get me off the computer and head outdoors, he suggested rollerblades, I resisted the first couple of times, thought they were gay. Fast-forward 19 years later, here I am, still blading and trying to make a living with it.
What inspired you to want to get involved into the industry and open a retail location?
My partner Yeng and I started skating together when we were kids. At the back of our minds, we always wanted to do something with skating but were always hesitant about quitting our day jobs and taking that plunge. We pussyfooted for a few years with blading projects on the side organizing street competitions, running a Malaysian rollerblading message board, silk screening our own t-shirts etc. On the eve of our 29th birthday year, we told ourselves Its now or never. If we waited any longer, we wouldnt have the balls to risk our careers with a skateshop. We knew we wanted a skateshop that was more than just a place to buy skates. We wanted a place where skaters could hang out, chill before heading out to skate and have some skate obstacles out in front. Our shop role models were Go Sports Skateshop in Singapore and Ignition in Europe.
Where did you come up with the name for the shop?
We wanted a name that was easy to understand and pronounce. No hidden messages, no unnecessarily avant-garde cleverness. We love our wheels. Easy.
You carry all rolling products: skateboards, scooters, rollerblades, fingerboards, and longboards. Is there anything in the shop that doesnt have wheels?
The harsh reality is that a pure rollerblading only skateshop would be very tough in Malaysia. The numbers just arent there. Even worse if we wanted to carry only aggressive skates. In order to support blading, we had to include other wheeled sports. You may think we compromised but we think differently. We grew up with very limited support from the local skateshop. There just werent enough bladers to make it happen. We were always the underdogs. When we did find a shop with blades, we were of course extremely happy. That experience influenced the way we run our shop. We aim to help as many developing and new scenes as possible. We were one of the first to support the longboarders and have started promoting Roller Derby, scooters and other sports that normally dont get the attention of your regular skateshop. Introducing and supporting new scenes is not easy and a little bit risky, but by doing so we get the diehard support of the scene early on, which pays off nicely when the sport finally explodes.
Why the big variety, why not focus just on rollerblading?
Like a parent in a big family, you try not to have favorites. But in this case, it rollerblading. We support it any chance we get. The inner blader in us loves it when we manage to get someone planning to start skateboarding to instead give rolling a try.
Being based in Asia, how long would you say the rollerblading scene has been alive in your city/country/part of the world?
The scene has always been around. There have been the ups and downs, like everywhere else, but the die-hard rollers keep it going. Having the Asian X Games has definitely helped. You can hate on ESPN all you want, but its thanks to them that we have what we have today, especially in Asia. Many Asian rollers would credit the Asian X Games for introducing rolling to them.
Who are your shop riders?
Weve gone with a mixed bag of riders. We have the hammer throwers, the new kids, the old dogs and behind the scenes guys. Nik Suhaily is Malaysias rollerblading wonder kid, he rides for USD Malaysia and constantly places top in the local contest circuits. Chong Hooi is on Xsjado Malaysia, he travels constantly and balances a full time job and skating and should be a role model to any post 30-year-old blader out there. We also get support from our flow riders, Fidzi and Ben who both work for the shop in the day and skate hard in the night.
What makes a successful skateshop?
Listening. It is a cliché, but its true, you got to listen to your customers. Hear them out, get in the gear they want and not let your personal judgment get in the way. Im 32 years old, what I like may not necessarily reflect the tastes of the 13 year old grommet. So Ive got to keep my ears open. Also, youve got to support your local scene, organize competitions, party sessions, video screenings etc. Show them love and youll get it in return.
Youre very active with FB and Instagram. Why is social media important for shops these days?
Its amazing what we can do with our Facebook page. We can get sell, promote, and get feedback everything! I sometimes think that we can run the shop through Facebook alone! Without the website or physical shop. There is a flipside; its a 24-hour job. Managing our social media outlets is a non-stop job. But it pays to take care of your customers online. Youll also be surprised at the low expectations a lot of people have when it comes to dealing with brand Facebook pages and twitters. Theyre surprised to even get a reply! So when you get back to them almost immediately, this isnt hard if youve got a smart phone, its easy pickings.
Give us a tour through your shop.
Were located in Subang Jaya, a suburb 1 hour away from Kuala Lumpur, the capital city. We didnt want a typical mall based shop. We wanted a place where we could skate at, where kids could chill out and hang. We converted the ledges in front of the shop into a home brewed Ghetto park where kids can try our their new purchases as soon as possible. Inside, weve kept things low key with recycled pallets, upcycled second hand furniture and display racks.
Youve got quite a unique setup, skateshop, tattoo studio and photography studio. Can you tell us how you found the space and came up with the collaboration?
Above my shop is my wife Lyndas tattoo parlour (www.tattoomepink) and above that, our friends Julian and Carols photography studio (www.reddbullets.com). Around us are other like-minded businesses weve got a fixed gear themed café down the road, DJ schools nearby and other independent boutiques. The idea was is to promote Subang Jaya as a destination shopping location. We are trying to wean Malaysians off the malls and get them onto the streets. Also, its a great way to cross pollinate customers.
What do you think will help get more kids on blades?
In a Malaysian/Asian context, its price. 1 Malaysian ringgit = 3.2 US dollars. A pair of low-end aggressive blades costs about a third of the average Malaysians monthly household income. Just from that you know blades arent going to be at the top of many household budgets. In contrast, a basic skateboard setup is about a third of that. Its not even about which is cooler or more fun, it is about which can I afford? and blades are definitely losing out at the moment. On our end, we try to bring down the cost of the low-end skates as low as possibly to get them hooked and get some new blood. We also help our customers re-sell their second hand blades so someone new can try them out without spending full price.
Where will blading be in 5 years? Wheel Love?
Dont think theres going to be an exponential growth. The good news is that it is slowly gaining momentum. Since weve opened our doors, weve seen a lot of new faces in the skate parks. So we know were doing something right.
To the Malaysian blade boys who have stuck with the scene through its tough times, spreading the word and getting more wheels under more feet.