It’s yet another perfect afternoon in Los Angeles, and Torey Pudwill is not skateboarding. Instead, he’s standing in the back room of his store on La Brea Avenue, crutches in hand, holding court with a cadre of five employees. Surrounded by desks, Pudwill, bedecked in a blue tie-dye hoodie and a backwards baseball cap, his eyes glassy, offers feedback on some print-outs. It’s a quick exchange, and it ends with something to the effect of, “Cool.”
After stepping into the main area of the retail space, he starts to talk business.
“These are my companies,” he says. “I want to run my companies. I don’t want other people running my shit. I want to know what’s going on.”
Pudwill is referring to Grizzly Griptape, an accessories brand he founded when he was only 12 years old. At the time, it was little more than a cut-out of a bear on his griptape; today, its logo is slapped on the boards of more than 80 pros and ams and across a full line of clothes, and graces the front of the store in which he’s standing—the brand’s flagship on La Brea. He’s also talking about Diamond Footwear, the company he helped formalize as a skate brand earlier this year.
Representing these companies—as in skateboarding on and in their products in front of some kind of camera—is crucial to their growth. But because Pudwill can’t do that at the moment, he’s presiding over them, overseeing each aspect of their development.
“When the brand is focused around you a little bit, you kind of need to be around,” he says. “With Grizzly, I have all these ideas and concepts. I want to come in here, and I want to make them come to life. So now what I’m doing and what I’ve learned is that I really gotta be hands-on. I gotta be everywhere at once.”
“Everywhere” includes Street League Skateboarding, skating’s highest-profile contest series. The first of its events for 2016, the Pro Open, takes place on May 21 in Barcelona. Combined, its four stops offer more than $1 million in prize money, and each promises skaters exposure to a television audience of millions.
Right now, though, Pudwill isn’t skateboarding. He slammed on his right knee, putting him out of commission indefinitely, in January—hence the crutches. Because of that, he won’t be competing in Barcelona, and his attendance at the remaining Street League contests hinges on one question: When will Pudwill skate again?
Pudwill grew up in Simi Valley, Calif, 30 miles north of Los Angeles. He started skating in the late ‘90s, at a time when the X Games was the closest thing skateboarding had to a summer-long televised contest series with a real purse at stake. At 12, he was discovered by Chad Muska, who put him on Shorty’s, one of the biggest board brands of the day. Two years later, he was traveling to Barcelona on filming trips with DVS. And by 18, with his technical, powerful, precise style fully developed, he had a signature deck on Almost Skateboards, a company that counts Rodney Mullen and Daewon Song among its founding riders.
Today, Pudwill, 26, skates for Plan B, a team he joined in 2010. It’s been almost a year and a half since True, the company’s last full-length video, was released. Pudwill ended that film with a part that included a barrage of ledge combos and a backside 360 flip over a street gap, putting him on the short list for Thrasher’s Skater of the Year—by almost any estimate, the only award that matters in skateboarding.
A little more than a year later, Pudwill was in Miami, on a skate trip, when he tried to ollie up a double-set—a set of three stairs followed by another set of two. The trick sidelined him instantly.
“I was cooking at it as fast as I could,” Pudwill says, recalling his slam. “I got up it, and I was like, ‘Oh, man, I got this.’ And then, next try, ollied up it again after trying it for 20, 30 minutes. I landed it, and I was just sliding out, and my back leg slipped off the board, and I sat back on my knee, and it just bent all the way, and it just popped. I felt it pop.”
That pop, it turns out, was the feeling of his meniscus tearing. Pudwill’s next order of business was a trip to the hospital, followed by a flight home and, finally, an MRI. Based on his doctor’s assessment, going under the knife was the only move.
“The next day I was in pre-op. The day after that, got the surgery,” Pudwill says.
The procedure was risky. There were two options, he explains: remove his meniscus entirely or try to repair it, guaranteeing a longer recovery time. “[The doctor] was like, ‘There’s no way I’m gonna just leave this dude with no meniscus with the rest of his career [ahead of him],” Pudwill says. “He took those drastic measures and cut my knee open and just stitched that fucker up.”
Before the surgery, Pudwill’s doctor estimated that he would be back on board in four to six weeks. That initial prognosis turned into three to four months. Then, finally, four to six months. “And then I saw him after that. I was like, ‘When can I skate for real, man?’ He was like, ‘We’ll talk about that.’”
For now, Pudwill is focused on the rigorous rehabilitation routine he began in February. He has four training sessions a week, two of which take place at a Santa Monica, Calif., rehab center owned by Red Bull, another one of his sponsors.
The day after his meeting at the Grizzly store, he’s in Santa Monica, working with Marco Milano, one of his physical therapists. The facility is massive, housing a complete gym and several very expensive-looking machines designed to return athletes to top form. This is Pudwill’s first day on one crutch instead of two. If all goes according to plan, in a couple of weeks, he’ll be walking without an aid.
With that goal in mind, Pudwill stoically lies on a therapy table as Milano bends his knee.
“That feels normal,” Pudwill says.
Then the therapist pushes his joint too far.
Milano proceeds to massage his knee with a metal instrument resembling a flat microphone. It’s connected to a machine that will transfer energy, by way of radio waves, to Pudwill’s body, accelerating the healing process.
“The body goes through this naturally,” Milano explains. “We’re just trying to speed it up.”
“This shit is next-level,” Pudwill says.
After administering his radio-wave massage, Milano stretches Pudwill’s leg. They then spend some time strengthening his knee on an exercise bike. In all, the routine takes about two and a half hours.
For someone who this past March missed Tampa Pro, skateboarding’s longest-running street contest, and will sit out the first Street League event of the year, Pudwill appears unfazed. But this isn’t the first time he’s contended with a serious injury. In July 2011, he underwent surgery after tearing his deep deltoid ligament while filming for his “Torey Pudwill’s Big Bang!” video part. His front foot came off the nose of his board, leading to a severe ankle roll.
“An injury like this, it’s always kind of a blessing in disguise,” he says, “because you get hurt, you take a couple of months off, you rehab it real strong, and then you come back just skating harder and stronger than you ever have before in your life.”
Pudwill expects to be skating by mid-July. Street League’s second event, in Munich, takes place on July 2; its third, in Newark, N.J., happens on August 28. It will hold its final event in, the SLS Super Crown World Championship, in Los Angeles on October 2.
“Street League, man, I’m stoked,” Pudwill says. “I’m gonna make it this year, and it’s gonna be a good year.
Along with his rehabilitation, the future of Diamond Footwear weighs heavily on Pudwill. The brand launched in January 2016, less than a week after he announced that he was leaving DVS after 10 years with the company. During that time, DVS went through many iterations, with its ownership changing and team shrinking. Only two of the of the 12 riders Pudwill called teammates in 2005 remain with the brand today.
Nonetheless, Pudwill hadn’t planned on quitting until he got a call from Nick Tershay, the founder of Diamond Supply Co. Despite making shoes since 2010, its footwear division wasn’t supported by an official team or program. Tershay sought to change that; he wanted to launch a new line, and he wanted Pudwill to be a part of it.
“I told him, ‘I’m down, but I’m already loyal to where I’m at right now, and to do something like that, we’d really have to be doing it together,’” Pudwill says.
In addition to riding for the new division, Pudwill helped assemble the Diamond Footwear team, recruiting veteran pro Brandon Biebel to join him. (Nick Tucker, the team’s third pro, was on board before the program launched). He also has equity in the company. So when he says, “I’m running this shit,” there’s a literalness to his words.
But there’s also an irony to them. From November 2011 until January 2016, Diamond actually distributed Grizzly, taking it from a griptape label (a project Pudwill says “was never, ever meant to be brought up as a brand”) to a complete line of soft goods.
“Before that, we were just hustling stuff for a whole year—just scattered,” Pudwill says.
Diamond’s support made things official. “We used all that money to buy our trademarks. So we were fully legit.”
Early this year, with the licensing agreement over, Pudwill and his partner, Sean Apgar, quietly took Grizzly independent.
“We wanted to do the things that represented Grizzly,” Pudwill says. “Being a part of Diamond, that was awesome. Just being able to start there, and being able to grow and come up. That was our plan, but we didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.”
After his physical therapy session concludes, Pudwill drives to the Diamond warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. He examines his new signature shoe, the Torey, which will serve as one of Diamond Footwear’s first three releases. With a few weeks to go until it ships, he’s smiling.
“Getting a shoe at Diamond felt really good because I know that they’ve been making quality footwear for years already,” Pudwill says. “Just being able to do something new and fresh, and knowing that Diamond is a company that’s by skateboarders. It’s a core skate shoe brand. There’s no corporate stuff going into it.”
Juston Tucker, design director of Diamond Footwear, first worked with Pudwill as a designer at DVS about five years ago. “Torey’s really hands-on,” Tucker says. “He’ll call me on the weekends, and we’ll talk for 30 minutes, an hour just about marketing strategies and what we can do different in the skate landscape.”
For Jeron Wilson, co-owner of Diamond and longtime professional skateboarder himself, a dedicated skate shoe line felt like a logical next step for the brand. “We’ve been making lifestyle shoes for quite some time now,” he says. “It got to that point where we were just like, ‘Dude, I think we can do this.’”
After bringing on Tucker as something of an ambassador, the company approached Pudwill.
“It started to flourish from there,” Wilson says. “Torey’s pretty much taken over the reins, and we’re off to the races.”
Pudwill sees his roles with Diamond Footwear and Grizzly as part of the evolution of his career.
“I gotta learn a lot more about business,” he says. “I gotta take it in my own hands. I gotta be a man. I gotta grow up.”
Grizzly is going through growing pains of its own. At the moment, the space in the back of its store—the one where Pudwill was holding court a day earlier—houses its wholesale operation. But the company is fast approaching a point where it needs a warehouse, not only for its own products, but for those of the brands it distributes, including Wayward Wheels, Andrew Brophy’s company.
“I know growth is good,” Pudwill says. But it comes with caveats. “Financially, things are tough. It’s hard to get big spaces, big warehouses, and all that. It takes time, but we need it. We’re working so hard. We’re getting so much development going on. You need space for that. You need more room.”
Pudwill is far from the first skater to encounter these obstacles. Skateboarding has long fostered a culture of entrepreneurship, encouraging pros to take ownership of their careers by controlling their own images and launching their own brands. The notion of a 26-year-old without formal business training steering multiple companies and employing his peers is impressive, but hardly far-fetched. For most, it’s an opportunity to channel their vision of skating into a brand, sometimes as the last chapter of a lengthy pro run. Others transition more gradually into this second career act, moving into managerial and creative roles with sponsors that continue to produce their pro models, cementing their legends further.
Barring a catastrophic injury, Pudwill will not soon fade as a skater. Nonetheless, he’s continuing to immerse himself in business through the companies he rides for. At the beginning of the year, he added an ownership stake in Plan B to his portfolio.
“Danny Way and Colin McKay just [gave] me a gift of their company, and now it’s my company,” he says. “And now it’s like, we gotta make moves, guys. We’re out here. Skateboarding, it’s a business. We ain’t out here just for fun and games. There’s just skater Torey, and then there’s business Pudz.”
Skater Torey is set to contribute a minute of existing footage to the X Games Real Street contest. The section goes live on May 4. “I want this one to live on the shelf as my next video part,” he says. “I’m out there filming a minute of the best shit that I’ve ever filmed in my life.” And when he starts skating again, he’ll resume work on clips for the Berrics and “Flat Bar Frenzy,” a project sponsored by Red Bull.
“Curved rails, bump-to-bars, rainbow rails, normal flat bars, neck-high flat bars—everything,” he says. “That one’s dope. I’m traveling all around the world to get that done—the best flat bar spots that the world has to offer me.”
At the moment, however, Pudwill is skating none of the above, though not for lack of wanting to. But that’s OK with him. The other aspects of his life—his brands, his rehab—can take precedence. Business Pudz will temporarily eclipse Skater Torey.
“I don’t really have much experience other than just skateboarding for the last 20 years. Everything that I’m doing, I try to do from what I’ve seen before. I think now is the time where I’ve seen a lot and I’ve been through a lot, and now I can flip that and apply it to starting new brands and trying to start stuff to give other skaters new opportunities for their careers.”
He has this year and next mapped out already.
“The stuff we start next year is gonna be the biggest that I’ve ever worked on in skateboarding,” he says. “We’re trying to bring something new. We’re trying to bring skateboarding back.”
When Pudwill finally does get back on board, his day-to-day may change, but his commitment to the burgeoning empire he’s built will not.
“I’m focused on filming three video parts at one time, trying to really overwork myself, traveling the world,” he says. “And I love it. I would never give it up for any job or anything. But I realized that Grizzly and now Diamond, those are my passions, too, just like skateboarding. So if I put all of my energy into that as well, I know that it’s just gonna be worthwhile in the end. It gets stressful, but I’m trying to learn, and I want to do this.”