Shawn Tseng: Token Ninja

Shawn is a massive lurker and a behind the scenes stoke ninja. He tells us about the scene in Florida and about his role in some of the industries’ biggest brands.Noms by Michael ChenHey Shawn, where are you from?
I was born and raised in Miami, FL and I still live here today!
You’ve never been away?
Well, after high school, I continued my education at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL where I resided for a few years. It was not till last year, after I graduated, that I decided to return home. I’ve traveled and visited through most of the USA, and overseas to Taiwan and China. Hoping to see more places soon!
When did you start skating?
I think I started skating seriously in my first year of college. I dabbled in street skating in middle school but became a competitive swimmer through high school. Injuring myself became a concern, so I stopped for some time to pursue that sport. Once I arrived in college, I realized riding my bike was not practical, and riding a wet bike (it rains frequently here in Florida) was no fun. I purchased a really terrible longboard and started commuting to and from class. After about a year of that I discovered downhill skateboarding (which is ironic in Florida).
What got you into it?
My cousin did some skating in the 1980’s. He had an old Vision Gator board with Gullwing Trucks and Vision wheels. He really got me interested in it. I’m sure Tony Hawk Pro Skater on the Playstation probably had something to do with it too  haha.
How does one discover DH in Florida?
Well as most people know, Florida is pretty darn flat (certain places in South Florida are actually below sea level). I remember my first “downhill” experience was having the courage to longboard down one of my University’s parking garages. It was a bumpy ride, full of expansion joints, cars, and it was all right hand turns. I survived that first attempt and caught the bug. A few other fellow skaters on campus decided we would meet up every night and ‘bomb’ garages. We did this for quite a few months and were hungry for more elevation.
After getting in contact with some older skaters in the area, Michael Peck aka ‘Speedo’ and Keith Hollien of Radikal trucks, both Florida natives, we were introduced to the city of Clermont. From then on, we made frequent trips there on the weekends and skated the hills there.
What did you call your gang?
We went through a few names, but the one that has stuck is the Orlando Bombsquad. The group itself was started by myself and my friend Sheldon Jacobson. We ran that group till we both graduated, and we’ve now passed it down to the next generation.  I guess you can say we’ve become ‘OG’ because of this.
Many other groups have sprouted out in the area but OBS is the original Central Florida longboarding group…at least in this generation.
MLC Group by Me
What’s special about the city of Clermont?
The city of Clermont is one of the few places in Florida with real hills. Sugarloaf Mountain (ironic name I know) is a 50+ mph hill. It is a straight shot onto a street and the pavement was horrible. A fall on that hill would be like running a cheese grater on yourself.
It has since become somewhat of a Mecca for Florida skaters. People come from all over to improve their skills and to experience down”hill”. The annual King of Clermont race, which would now be on it’s 4th year, is held here as well. It is one of the few closed-road, legal events that are run in the state.
How did skating change for you after graduation?
A little unfortunate, but skating has become less of a priority these days. With me working full-time and helping to run a business, time is short, and injuries are not something to look forward to at the office. I still manage to get some skating in from time to time but not nearly enough (as my gut is starting to show).
What did you ride in the early days?
Haha, people will get a kick out of this. My first board was a Gravity Skateboards 35” Diamondtail with Original S8 trucks (what was I thinking right?). After a while, I got rid of it and bought myself a Rayne Timeline (the version with Jesus holding a boombox). I had that setup with some Randal 150mm and 3DM Avalons. Definitely a huge upgrade (I did miss having a kicktail though).
My first downhill board was a Rayne Nemesis. I had originally wanted a Demonseed but thankfully they were out of stock because that board would have been WAY too big for me! I had the Nemesis setup with some Randal 180mm (42/42) and some Abec 11 Lime BigZigs 80a.
My current setup is a Comet Grease Hammer on Caliber Precision trucks, and whatever Volante wheels the day calls for!
What sort of skating do you enjoy?
Downhill was always something I enjoyed. Down here in Miami, we have the Miami Longboard Crew, currently run by my good friends and lovely couple, Ben Arcia and Cordelia Welch. Miami probably has the best skateable garages in the country (Houston riders might disagree). Garages are lined up every block, with each being multiple stories tall and all different. We usually session these garages weekly if not more. Definitely a fun time, with some being challenging to ride, and will give you a good workout (Texas guys know haha).
Who are Ben and Cordelia?
Ben is a Miami native who went to college at UConn.  I skated with him in the past before he returned home for grad school.  Once he returned, we became really great friends (I see him and Cordelia on a weekly basis). Cordelia is a Massachusetts native. She met Ben up in UConn, and moved to Miami with him. They were both students at the University of Miami. Ben graduated last year, and Cordelia just this December! Congrats you guys!
How does the terrain shape the riders?
This is a great question. As garage racers, we are good at taking lines, and maintaining maximum grip. Going fast is something we have to get used to haha. There are definitely some quick garages here, but going fast on an open road, is a different feeling. We suffer a bit in the freeriding department due to the fact that sliding on concrete is not the best way to go. But there have been small hills or bridges being discovered with pavement that riders have been taking advantage of.  Clermont trips are also common as people will take weekend trips up there to enjoy real hills and improve their skills.  Variety is the spice of life.
Ben and Prescott MLC 1 by Me
How is speed on a hill different from in a garage?
Well, 40 in a garage is damn near impossible haha. It might feel fast but it really isn’t. Everything is closer to you whether it be walls, cars, or other riders. So there is an illusion of going fast, but I think the max we’ve hit in one of the garages here is close to 25 mph.
On a hill, you can see off into the distance, and realise just how far up you are (especially on one of those straight hills where you can see the bottom). The extra wind, noise, and pavement also are a huge difference as those are things you won’t experience in an enclosed parking garage.
Oh and of course, garages have elevators, while hills do not haha.  I think everyone wishes there were elevators on hills.
What’s your role in the community?
I think due to my role in the skate industry, I’ve become one of the ‘adults’. Whether this be organizing events like the King of Kona, and King of Clermont, or doing mini events, it is something I enjoy. It’s a nice getaway for me to be able to do something else that is not my regular full-time job. Of course, I also keep an eye on OBS and MLC to see how people are doing (and hopefully behaving).  I’m like a caring uncle now haha.
Who’s idea was the first KoC?
Wes Foster. He’s a Tampa, FL area native who was one of the few we would meet up with on our trips out to Clermont.  He was truly OG. Not much older than us, but was a skilled skater. He decided to hold an outlaw race in the summer of 2009. We had around 40 competitors come race and only after the first run down the hill, we were promptly asked to leave the property. The backup hill was known as “Bump Turn”, and it was there that Brent Dubendorff aka Dubes became the first King of Clermont.
Wes and his girlfriend Stacy have since moved out west to Utah. We all wish them well.
KoC 3 by Me
How did the event grow in the 2nd and 3rd years?
We skipped a year for the event since Wes left, but in 2011 myself and Cameron Frazier of Rayne Longboards (also a South Florida native) decided to try for a sanctioned, closed road event. We managed to secure a private road and the race has been run there since. For 2011, there were roughly 200 people in attendance and we had around 400 I believe for the KoC 2012.  2011 was a one day event, and 2012 was a 2 day event.
What significance is it to the Floridians?
The King of Clermont has become a “must attend” event for Floridians. The race course is not hard. It is not a difficult road to skate. Because of this, young skaters can experience safe racing conditions in a controlled environment, and skilled racers would challenge each other making the race more interesting. It gives people a chance to experience competing without having to spend a substantial amount of money for traveling. In the end, it is about getting everyone together for a fun weekend.
What was your favourite year?
I’d say last year was definitely my favorite (2012) because Cameron and I started to realize what this event had become. Most of the racers from 2011 were from within the state, but in 2012 racers from all over were in attendance. The King that year was Jose Guzman of Rayne Longboards, by the way of Puerto Rico. We had Canadians there, Brazilians, Californians, and skaters from all over the South East who made the drive down.  It was quite the spectacle and it was a fun time for everyone.
Why didn’t it happen this year?
Cameron and I had started working on this event 6 months in advance. A couple of weeks before the event, we find out that someone had broken onto the property (after we repeatedly asked for people not to) and caused some trouble. We were denied use of the property. After some pleading, and even a petition signed by over a thousand people (thank you everyone!) we got the ‘OK’.  Some new terms and legal issues came into play, and time was running out. People had to book their flights and we were still not 100% if we can run an event on what was 1/5 of our original budget. In the end, it would have been difficult to do, and we scrambled to come up with a backup plan.
Thanks to Andrew Mercado of Gullwing Truck Co., we were able to secure Kona Skatepark in Jacksonville, FL for 3 full days. The owners were gracious enough to allow 200 skaters to camp and skate the park all weekend long, and for that, we are forever grateful to the Ramos family for their generosity and hospitality.
What is Kona?
Kona Skatepark is located in Jacksonville, FL. It is the longest continuously running skatepark at the moment. It is also probably the most longboard friendly skatepark in existence. Needless to say, the Snake Run saw more action than any else in the park.
How was the weekend?
One word: EPIC! It was pretty much a stress free weekend. We had mini events going on such as Snake Run races and big air, but for the most part, it was just one big skate celebration with people able to ride whatever they wanted to ride in the park.  Skaters were able to skate all day and night if they wanted to. I remember seeing a few night owls skating the Snake Run at 4 am. With their registration fee, we provided food, a place to camp, and of course beer (if you were old enough).
Me and Cam
What was the highlight for you?
Seeing everyone happy, and knowing that we averted disaster. I saw skaters young and old, pool skaters, longboarders, park skaters, come together for just a great weekend.  No drama, conflict, just a stress free weekend.
I’ll be honest.  That weekend was almost just another weekend. There was almost no event. Cameron worked night and day to save this event, and its incredible to see someone put as much dedication as he has into this event. I will always remember this guy as a hard worker who really cares about our community. Thanks Cam for your hard work! It was indeed one of the best weekends I have ever had.
This event was probably one of the best things to happen to skateboarding/longboarding in recent years. A weekend where people can basically do whatever they want!
How long will the world have to wait for another huge Kona jam?
Give us a year, and you shall have another! This backup event has become a whole other monster itself. It proved that you don’t need hills to have a longboard event, and that longboarders can adapt. People are calling for another, and I think it is only right that we continue both the King of Kona and King of Clermont events into the future.
Comet Hall of History by Me
What is the future of both events?
Hopefully we can continue to do both! So far both events have a great reputation, and as long as we have good, hard working people organizing and running the event, I don’t see any reason for it not to happen. The Florida community needs it, and look forward to it. After Kona, we’ve caught the attention of skaters outside of the state, and they’ve already talked about attending next year.
Favourite moment?
That would have to be seeing Brian Bishop of Original Skateboards launch himself out of the bowl and making that transfer into the freestyle area.  His Christ Air was also pretty darn epic and has become an internet meme haha.
The whole event itself was a favorite moment. I got to see friends that I don’t usually get to see, some of which I haven’t seen in years, drink, converse, and skate with them. It was all very memorable for me, and I wish every weekend was like that!
When did you first get behind the scenes in the industry?
Around 4 years ago, I was searching for a job in the industry. My friend Sheldon was working for Rayne Longboards at the time (he’s now with Wefunk skateboards) and I thought it’d be fun to find a job as well. After doing quite a bit of searching, I landed on a little skateboard company called Comet Skateboards. I became a sales representative for them, and I do a lot of social media, and PR work for them on the side.
How does one get a job in the industry?
The truth is I was very lucky. This is literally what happened:
I was on Facebook. Yes, Facebook. I had added ‘Comet Skateboards’ as a friend and was once again dreaming about THAT job, and there he was, Comet, online, chat enabled.
So I messaged him asking if there were any positions opened, gave him an overview of what I can bring to the company, and how I can help, etc.  Comet said ok, let’s talk on the phone and we’ll discuss more.
I called up Comet, who was in fact Jason Salfi, and we talked for a good half hour.  After that, Jason went ahead and hired me on the spot, and that is pretty much it. Was I lucky? Incredibly.
I have to give credit to Jason who knew little about me.  He just trusted a total stranger with a lot of product, and let me run with it. I think I made an impact and helped the company.  We’ve grown a lot since I first started.
I think my approach was a good one. I wasn’t overly stoked. Wasn’t pushy. I laid it out there and showed what I could offer a company. Be professional, but not uptight or prude. Be casual, but not too relaxed. I believe by doing these things, I’ve not only succeeded in acquiring a job, but also have managed to keep said job and perform well.
How many years have you been with Comet?
We are at 4 years and counting!
Byron Ithaca by Me
What did you bring to the table?
It’s funny, but I had very little experience in sales. I think as a person, I carry myself pretty well, and I had a good understanding of business, and was motivated, I quickly learned how to make sales, and really boost our numbers up. I don’t have actual sales numbers (ask Salfi for that haha) but I think I did pretty well. Through the years, I’ve helped improve our customer service, PR, social media, and involvement on the infamous silverfishlongboarding.com (I’m still on there today haha).
How is Comet different from other companies?
Comet Skateboards is literally the greenest skateboard company out there. We make all of our boards in house at our manufacturing facility up in Ithaca, NY. We source regionally, using FSC certified hardwoods, and we use formaldehyde-free glues. These material might be green, but they are not weak. We make really hiqh quality, CNC precision cut skateboards that are long lasting and durable.
Comet is a privately owned business, and is very involved in their local community, and around the country. I am always stoked to work with them and be involved within the company.
How has your role in the company evolved over time?
I’ve taken a step back from the sales role as we have McLovin from Toronto (no that’s not his real name) who works our sales department now. I still do some sales on the side, but my primary focus is now public relations. Chances are if you had any questions, concerns, or complaints, you have had to deal with me haha.
I’ve also developed a relationship with a lot of our riders, often making sure they get what they need and making sure they are happy. We are a family in the end, not just a team, and everyone is treated well, or scolded when we misbehave (yes I have been scolded before haha).
You’re McLovin your new role right now?
I do enjoy it. I have a job outside of the skate industry now so the amount of time committed to working skate related things has been reduced. Everyone knows that I am always working though. I still constantly check-in with Jason, to make sure I am up to date with upcoming releases, changes, etc.  Sometimes people see me up at 2 am working on skate-related stuff.  I need a vacation haha.
Campus Skate by Mike Cunningham
What other things do you do in the industry?
2 years after starting my work with Comet, I met Andrew Mercado at Surf Expo in Orlando, FL. After hanging out for a weekend, he called me up a few days later and asked if I wanted to be part of a new truck company called Gunmetal. I have a ton of respect for the guy, and I did not hesitate to accept his offer.
After some time, there was a falling out within the Gunmetal project (we will not go into that. Much respect for both parties), and another company was formed.  That company is Caliber Truck Co.  Andrew eventually left to run Gullwing Truck Co., so it was me and Brandon Stewart trying to start up a new truck company. Needless to say, I think we’ve done well.
What is a Caliber truck?
We wanted to make something unique. A high performance longboard truck that is highly versatile, minimalist, durable, and precise (as precise as cast molds can provide). We tested these trucks for almost a year I think. In the end we came up with a great product, and I think it shows.
KoC by Me
What was your role in starting Caliber?
Originally I was brought on board to do sales. Being able to sell a new product is key for new companies to survive, especially in the first year.
When the split happened, I think it became a little more than just sales. Me and Brandon would have serious discussions in the direction that the company was going in, and I don’t boast about it, but there was a chance this whole project was going to fall through and not happen, and I think I convinced Brandon to go through with it. There was almost no Caliber Truck Co.! It was definitely a tough time, and we made a gamble, or rather, I made a gamble with Brandon’s money haha, and things worked out well. Honestly, it has been a blur.  But it was definitely a stressful but exciting time.
Where is Caliber in the game now?
Caliber was voted the favorite downhill truck in 2012 by fans via the Concrete Wave Magazine Reader’s Choice Awards just two years after we were established. I think that’s a pretty awesome achievement. Since then we have continued to grow our truck line by adding a precision CNC version for those looking for top notch performance.
We’ve also expanded the Blood Orange line of products. Initially it was just a bushing company to compliment the trucks, but it has since become more of an accessory company. We now offer a new ultra high rebound bushing line, downhill gloves, grip tape, and other goods which I cannot reveal just yet.
Another project we did was Volante Wheel Co. It was a project thought up by Brandon during his visit to Ithaca. Jason and Brandon decided to start a wheel company, and after a few months, we released the Volante Checkers wheels. The Checkers were a Comet wheel for years but they were discontinued a while ago. Jason brought out the mold, and we worked on the urethane, and ended up with an awesome all around wheel.  Currently we have 3 models out now:  The Checkers, Serrata, and the Morgan (Liam Morgan’s promodel wheels).
We strive to make high performing products, and will continue to do so into the future.
Will you reveal something for a bacon bribe?
You know… my friend Ben cooked a dank bacon wrapped beef tenderloin last night. I think I’m pretty good on bacon for the time being.
Clermont by Jon Breshnahan
What’s the relationship between Comet, Volante and Caliber?
The acronym ‘CVC’ has been thrown around a lot. People think Comet owns Caliber, or vice versa, and that is simply not true.  Caliber and Comet are separate companies. Volante was a collaboration between the two companies, and in terms of business, that is the only real connection.
We also share quite a few team riders including Blake Smith, Jesse Breiman, and Liam Morgan. It really is pure coincidence that I ended up working for these two awesome companies  but I couldn’t be happier!
Are Volante wheels any different from the rest on the market?
Indeed. The Checkers are a modern wheel in a classic shape, and we developed a high performance urethane that provided grip, and a nice slide. Some would say it is buttery or sugary, but regardless, people love them.
The Serrata are a high performance race wheel using the same proprietary urethane that is in the Checkers. It has a vented core providing fast acceleration and has a lot of urethane that adds weight, which makes them a fast wheel. They grip a ton when brand new, but once broken in, you will get a nice slide out of them.
The Morgans are Liam Morgan’s pro model wheel.  It uses our urethane formula but at an 80a durometer (the Serrata and Checker are both 82a). It is a high performance freeriding/downhill wheel that comes stone ground, therefore, slideable right out of the package. It is almost centerset, offset by only 1.0mm. It is one of the best wheels I have ever had the opportunity to ride and Liam did a great job in developing them.
I’d interview Liam if I were you for more info haha. I’m sure he has more insight on the development of both the Serrata and Morgan. We tested those wheels for almost a year before we decided on a shape, core, and urethane formula.  All in all, we have a solid lineup of wheels with more coming.
How do you choose riders to represent the brands?
We look at the individual and what he/she brings to the table, whether it be skills, personality, or style. The first rider we ever brought on board for Caliber was Liam Morgan. It’s safe to say that kid has style, skill, and personality. Underneath all that though,  he is a kid who I’ve seen mature from a little shit, to just a turd haha. In all seriousness, we couldn’t ask for a better ambassador for Comet, Volante, Caliber and Blood Orange. He’s a great kid. He continues to skate at a high level (even after breaking his femur), and he is extremely loyal. It doesn’t get better than him, and I’m stoked that he’s part of this and one of the homies!

Is loyalty hard to find in the industry?
I think its 50/50 especially when money is involved. Guys are looking to travel more and needing more funds. Usually, someone offers them a deal with more money, and they move to that company. It happens all the time and will probably continue with how the industry is growing.
Liam has been around Comet and Caliber for years. I remember when he was that little blonde kid chopping his Voodoo XL into what would become the Voodoo Doll. He’s made mistakes along the way of course, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s gotten offers from other companies. But that’s part of growing up as a person and as a sponsored athlete. He’s a model team rider, and as long as he continues to be treated right, I don’t see him going anywhere for a while. He has become a big part of our family here at both Comet and Caliber.
What does 2013 hold for Mr Tseng?
I’ve actually been working on a project with Caliber for a few months now that has to do with my full-time job haha. I will not reveal that yet, as everyone will find out soon enough. I’m again, very fortunate that my job has somehow tied into my skate jobs.
Other than work, I’m hoping to make my way back out to California and Ithaca to see my two skate families.  I rarely get to see them, and I look forward to being reunited with them very soon.
Hell, maybe I’ll try to make it out to one of the Maryhill Freerides haha.  It has been somewhat of a dream for me to skate that road.
When are you going to sign some EUROPEANS?
When they stop foot braking.
Come to Kozakov, bring your best beer mug. You’re going down!
I’ll make sure we’ll send James Kelly out there for that haha. Is he even old enough to drink yet? Damn I’m getting old haha.
Did I mention we have James riding for us now?
Was that your doing?
Not at all. I don’t know all the secrets haha. I found out probably 2 months ago and I’ve been keeping that secret till we announced it. I’m sure as a native NorCal resident, our NorCal riders did some convincing, and our family oriented team was appealing to him. We also make very good products, as I’m sure James wants no less but the best for when he’s touring the world. He is one of the most influential skaters in the last few years, and we are extremely stoked to have him representing a NorCal company!
SoBe Bomb 1 by Me
What do you do when you’re not skating?
I have a wonderful girlfriend of 4 years. I’m not sure how she manages to deal with my shit, but we’re still going strong hehe. I also have two wonderful Shiba Inu dogs (my girls!) who provide me with happiness, chewed up objects, and poop. I love them to death, and there’s nothing better than coming home to two wagging tails after a long day at work.
Other hobbies include photography, fishing (when I have the time), and blowing stuff up with guns! I’m from the South after all!
 Pick 3 numbers between 1-40!
2, 4, 25.
2 – Would you rather have a hook for a hand or a wheel for a foot ?
Definitely the wheel! I need my hands haha.
4 – Who is the best person you’ve seen skating.
That’s a tough one.  All riders bring a unique style, and set of skills to the table.
From my own team though, I’d say Eric Jensen for his versatility, Liam Morgan for his fearlessness, and Byron Essert (rides for Blood Orange) for his incredibly smooth NorCal style.
26- What kind of films do you like?
I love movies. I’m very open to any type of film, but the ones I am drawn to the most are documentaries, thrillers, and action films. I’m a closet Starwars nerd so I guess science fiction/fiction is in there as well.  I have the original series on VHS haha. Wait didn’t I say 25?
It’s been really fun talking to you token ninja, live long and prosper?
Err not really a Star Trek guy but thank you! It has been a fun few hours of me not working and answering your questions haha. Oh and may the force be with you? This is getting too nerdy…
Any thank yous?
Gotta thank my girlfriend for putting up with my shit. My dogs for still loving me even though I leave the two of them at home all day ( if only I could bring them to work). My family for always being there for me and supporting me through the years.
Also need to thank my industry peers:
I have to thank Jason Salfi for giving me the opportunity and trusting me to help make Comet Skateboards successful. It really helped me build a good reputation in this industry (I hope it’s good?).
Thank you to Andrew Mercado for again, going out on a limb, and bringing me on board to help start an awesome truck company. Much respect brotha’.
Thank you Brandon Stewart for letting me stay with the truck company haha. You trusted me as a professional, and treat me like family even during those hard times when things were uncertain. I think we did alright buddy.
Marcus Bandy. You sir, are a professional and an incredibly good skater. Thank you for giving me an outlet to expose the Florida skate scene. Wheelbase Magazine is rad! Stoked to have finally met you, and I hope to continue writing literature in the future!
And last but not least, I have to thank my friends, both those who are skaters or in the industry, and those friends who don’t even skate but nonetheless, support me 100% no matter the situation.
I am truly lucky I have such a great support system. I am so fortunate in being able to continue working with such great companies, being part of the scene, and grow with this awesome community.
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