+ Buyer Beware: Seconds, Reproductions, Fakes, Frauds and a few collecting myths
Karl Gao and the Chinese Powell Golden Dragon Corporation Decks
original welcome page from 2001
If you were collecting in the early 2000's, you may have noticed how there are sooooo many 1987 Iron Cross Tony Hawks, Street Style Rippers and such on eBay? Well, a lot of them came from the Chineese Powell Golden Dragon Corporation (named "Powell" but with weak links to the original company that will be explained later), however, this does not make them "fakes". Some of them do seem to exhibit variations from the "regular" versions, but these are the real deal.
So here is the story (or as close to it as AoS has been told)....During the late 80's, Powell was caught off guard for the shift in deck shapes. They had warehouses full of these older decks. To hedge any losses, Powell shipped/sold all of them over to their fledgling Chineese distributor (as well as selling several in the now famous "Powell Fire Sale"...some for as little as $4 each!). At that time, no one had the foresight to see that they would all be collectible one day. Now ,all these years later, it seems that several of those decks are making the long round trip back to the United States. These decks are legit, however, there does seem to be a large number of "seconds"....not unusual considering the amount of decks Powell was cranking out at the time to meet demand. Several (most?) are free of any defects at all. Bottom line....if you are a Powell collector, these were a great deal in comparison to finding/buying 80's era decks from other companies. Most of the stock of the "good finds" was bought up around 2000 or so by a collector/businessman with the idea that they would one day be valued again. In the early 2000's, you would see several auctions for Tony Hawk "Iron Cross" or Wellinder "Nordic Skull" decks with reserves set at around $225 or so. This is because this person bought the lot of them and can therefore set the price as they wish...pretty smart thinking I'd say. If you see these auctions (much more rare these days), you can trace the origin back to the same Chineese distributor. With a little searching (even on this site), you can find the link to the Chineese distributor's old web site. You used to be able to order direct!
Interestingly enough, Karl started the "collector" focused web site in 2001 as an off-shoot/sub-site of his main web site. However, the "regular" Chineese language version of the site was focused on sales within China....with much lower prices! (haha)The original "collectors" site link was: powellskateboards.8u8.com
This was mirrored in 2001 to serve the US collectors better/faster but was laster abandoned at: www.geocities.com/oldschoolpowell
Later, a faster site was created: www.huaban.net/antique/old.htm (the main, Chineese-language site also sold "Angel Boy" and Andy Macdonald brand decks as of 2006)
The original "old school" decks that Karl had for sale were (most had the late 80's "Ripper" top logo):
- Steve Caballero "7-Ply Vert Cab Dragon and Bats (1987) " $89 colors: Blue, white, black, green, silver (in 2008, price was $199)
- Steve Caballero "Extra Tough Street Cab Dragon and Bats " $79 colors: Blue, silver (in 2008, price was $159)
- Tony Hawk "Mini Hawk Skull and Iron Cross" $199 colors: white, yellow, silver, pink, green
- Tony Hawk "Full-sized Hawk Skull and Iron Cross" $139 colors: yellow, green, pink, silver, blue
- Tony Hawk "Signature" only listed in 2005 at $199 colors: black only
- Mike McGill "Skull and Snake" $199
- Tommy Guerrerro "Flaming Sword" $99
- Per Welinder "Nordic Skull" $99 (dragon top logo) colors: blue, white, red on black, black on red (in 2008, price was $399)
- Lance Mountain "Mountain Crest" $79 colors: pink, silver (in 2008, price was $399)
- Powell Team "Extra Tough (XT) Team Bug" $58 (dragon top logo) colors: silver, blue, black (in 2008, price dropped to $55)
- Powell Team "Extra Tough (XT) Ripper" $65 (dragon top logo)
- Powell Team "Ripper Freestyle" $79 (dragon top logo) colors: silver, blue, red, white
some of the first decks offered by Powell Golden Dragon online
Remember the "businessman" mentioned earlier who had the foresight to buy up a lot of the Powell Golden Dragon Corp/Chineese decks and flip them on eBay? Well, in 2002, he actually actually chimed in on one of the collector web site threads to shed just a little light on the situation:
I have never posted on this site and I really don't care for some of the postings left- like this one I'm responding to. I do look at it here and there when I'm surfin' around some of the sites (including this one and a few others) looking for updates to collections so I can admire old boards, however, I thought I would say something on Mr Gao's behalf since I think a bit of Karl.
The first time I emailed ol' Gap Bones (George) himself about Karl was about 18 months ago. I asked George- with a bit of concern as I am a Powell collector- if Karl was legit. George promptly emailed back and I quote, "yes, Karl is legit, and it seems he has quite a few of my old decks". I'd give you George's email so you could ask but then he'd be a bit upset with me- but this is for real!
Having said that- and since I do think a bit of the Golden businessman Karl Gao- the prince of modern Powell collecting as I usually refer to him- you should rest easy in picking up a board from him.
I know of one of the other older collectors that called me on the phone the other day and stated that he thought Karl was a fraud- and I suspect this is where the rumors on Karl's rep have come from (or from just newer collectors that can't believe he's for real- either way- he's for real and he's a pretty nice guy! Good Luck with the Powell collecting!
original main page from 2001...check out that menu on the left!
the original 2001 site even listed buyers... some OG collectors in that list!
check out that shipping from 2001 !
That was fairly good to explain the older decks from there, but around 2002 at the same time, collectors begin to notice some "odd" early 1990's Powell decks popping up on the market. Where did they come from? What was "off" about these? I think it's time we re-visit an old friend......China's Powell Golden Dragon Corporation!
First, the discussion really needs to start with the man behind it all... the man who played a big part in bringing skateboarding to China and inspiring many kids there to first get into skateboarding... this man is Chineese businessman, Karl Gao. Karl and his influence is mentioend quote a bit in the book Cultural Autonomy: Frictions and Connections (starting around page 265, "Global Networks, Dead-Stock Powell Boards, and the Early History of Skateboarding in China").
During the 1980's and early 1990's, Powell Peralta was one of the biggest companies in skateboarding (if not the top one). It is no secret that George Powell is a smart and shrewd businessman. While others had avoided outsourcing production, George had already put plans into motion in the late 1980's that included China. George had plans for limited production in China, but moreso to help grow and nuture the Chineese market. Introducing millions of young Chineese to skateboarding seemed like a profitable venture! However, George needed someone in China to work with. George found and hired a fellow Stanford graduate, Karl Gao (Gao Yuan in Chineese) to begin bringing his vision to reality. Karl was not a skateboarder, but Karl was a well trained/educated businessman with the inside connections into the Chineese market that George needed.
Karl Gao found a location and officially set up shop in April 1990 as Powell Golden Dragon Corporation. To help kickstart the new business, Powell sent Gao one shipping container full of product sometime in early 1991. Actually, it was "dead stock" or factory "seconds"(defects) that Powell could no longer sell in the US (keep in mind, this is when double kick and more generic shaped decks became popular so all the "old" decks sat on shelves). According to Gao, most of the boards he received at this time were all produced from 1985 to 1988. To the Chineese market, however, this was all brand new. From that one shipping container, Karl created a blossoming skate culture throughout China. He even had some of the Bones Brigade come visit and tour!
George Powell had remained fairly "hands off" with Powell Golden Dragon Corporation. Bigger changes were in store, though, that would further strain this "long distance relationship". With the outbreak of the Gulf War and recession in the United States, Powell pretty much pulled up stakes in China and left Karl and Powell Golden Dragon Corporation on it's own to survive. Over the next several years, Karl was basically living off the money he had made from that first container. He was able to convince the head of the government's sports department to show several skateboarding videos ("Gleaming the Cube", "Ban This", etc.) and continue to help market skateboarding. He had limited success in selling skateboards in local department stores at a very slim margin (often little more than covering the wholesale cost plus import fees). However, collecting the money he was making was not always easy due to the intricacies of the Chineese market (for example, you can not collect money until the product is sold). This led Karl to focus selling products strictly online...which is how many US collectors came to find Powell Golden Dragon Corporation in the early 2000's. Rumors have it that Karl convinced Powell to send over one more shipping container of "dead stock" around 1994....which is where the second part of our story gets really interesting....In 2005, Powell Peralta had re-formed, and they also re-launched Powell Golden Dragon as an entry level/price point brand in the United States.
How about those early 1990 Powell boards that have been showing up again in recent years on eBay and often selling for well over $1,000? This is a bit of a different story. Recently a 1990's Chris Senn popped up on eBay that I do not have in my collection. I contacted the seller and started a dialogue with him about the board. It was a 1992 "Kennedy" board, and during the conversation, he told me it was a "mini with new school mounting". Uhmmmm what?!?!? In 1992, Powell used old school mounting, and in 1993, they used the 6 hole pattern with both old and new school. Late 1993, they switched completely to the "new school" truck mounting arrangement. This got me thinking (more like a fear overcame me!)... I have 5 boards that were China Powell early 1990 boards.. a Eric Rick "Painter", Senn "Star Wars", Lance Conklin "Necro", Cab "British Bikes" and a team "Wart Boy". I immediately went and looked at each of them. To my shock and disappointment, they were all new school mounting. "Great....now what do I do?", I thought. So I started looking into these to find out the real story behind these boards.
Team "Gingerbread" deck
Chris Senn "Kennedy"
Eric Ricks "Paradise Painter"
Are they authentic Powell boards? Yes!!! Are they production run boards?....er uh... sadly... no. Powell made them, and Powell slapped the "old" graphic slicks on newer 1994-ish decks (lots of wood laying around during one of the lowest times in skateboarding! haha) for Karl to sell in China. No one had planned for the internet then and online sales...let alone the whole "collecting" world. Weird to think about now, but very true then, and especially true for a communist (and not very progressive at the time) country like China.
The boards in question would have old school mounting or at least the 6 hole mounting patterns. Back then shapes, and graphics were nearly changing overnight. I am sure that led to overstock of slick skins. China Powell received these boards from Powell in 94 or 95 and that is verified by Karl Gao himself. This would make perfect sense because the wood on these boards seem to be from that time. Basically from the info I have gathered, Powell had a surplus of 1992-ish skins. In 1994 or 1995, they found the perfect way to use them. They slapped them on current production boards and sent them over to China to Karl and Powell Golden Dragon Corp, kind of like the World Industry "classic" boards minus the whole China thing.
some images from collectors
Heres a list of the boards that are verified as part of the "left over" slicks:
- Chris Senn "Star Wars"
- Chris Senn "Kennedy"
- Eric Ricks "Paradise Painter"
- Frankie Hill "Ginger Bread Man"
- Lance Conklin "Necro"
- Steve Caballero "British Bikes"
- Wade Speyer "Clowns"
- Powell Team "Fox & Poker"
- Powell Team "Gingerbread Man"
- Powell Team "Lips"
- Powell Team "Wart Boy"
correct, original Chris Senn "Star Wars" with 6 hole pattern
With that said, I am sure any of the 1992/93 Powell colored slicks could have been used on wrong era wood. Heres the best way to spot them... None have top logos and all will be drilled for new school only. Parts of the graphic may be missing since the original board was larger than the wood they are on now. If they are on a cruiser board, yes, that pretty much is a red flag (haha).
I would like to thank Eric Ricks for first calling these out for not being legit, and Karl Gao for being straight up on what year he got these. So enjoy these boards these boards for what they are... an authentic Powell "classic" or "reskin". Chances are these are the only way you will be able to find that board that brings back memories of your childhood.
main page from 2005...notice how it was now a antiques site as Powell Golden Dragon was the new US brand
the web site menu from 2005
the web site menu from 2006
the web site menu from 2008
2005 site listing for 1993 longboard (note hold pattern)
from the 2005 site... Hawk deck for cheap!
team "Fox" deck listed as a New Find in 2005
the 2005 site even offered a nice warning for collectors of the Cab Dragon and Bats decks (haha)
the 2005 listings for early 90s decks (ie. what was still available then)
And as always, buyer beware! Check pictures on eBay very closely. Blemished decks or factory seconds are very difficult to spot. Before bidding, always check via the "Advanced Search" option, the seller's past history and feedback. Look for anything in the history that may look sketchy (i.e. using another user id to bid on their own items....yes, it happens....or listing the same deck every number of days). My best advice is to deal only with collectors you trust!