By Nick Rohlman
Ben Peterson was introduced to skateboarding, like many others, by the series of Tony Hawk video games produced by Activision in the early 2000s.
More than a decade later, in 2015, Peterson founded Push Skateboards in Iowa City and placed his first order for a production run of skateboards.
He has produced decks featuring more than 15 different graphics created in collaboration with a group of local artists, graphic designers, and tattooists.
Push is still small. Peterson orders only around 20 boards at a time and sells them primarily to shops in Iowa, dealing with retailers in person and selling the boards out of the trunk of his car.
In addition to managing all ordering and sales for Push and working full-time as a financial analyst, Peterson finds the time to oversee a team of four skateboarders riding “on flow” for his brand, including organizing a recent trip to Denver to meet with skate shops in an effort to expand his sales.
The tightly knit world of skateboarding plays into Peterson’s vision for Push. By sponsoring local skaters and hosting events, he uses Push to enrich the community of skateboarders in Iowa.
When asked why he felt the need to start a brand in Iowa, Peterson said, “I wanted to give back to skateboarding just a little of what it’s given me, and Push is an outlet for that.”
Photos by Nick Rohlman for The Daily Iowan
Peterson writes out the bracket for the advanced division of the “Push Game of S.K.A.T.E.” at the Cedar Rapids Riverside Skate Park on Sunday May 20, 2018. S.K.A.T.E. is similar to the basketball game H.O.R.S.E. and is usually played between a small group of friends. The event was held in collaboration with Cedar Rapids skate shop Eduskate.
Former professional skateboarder and founder of Eduskate Nate Sherwood skates in his shop. Shops like Sherwood’s play an important role in Peterson’s business plan, as he prefers dealing with local businesses to selling online. Sherwood views Push as a key part of his inventory and likens Push to a local beer company. “It’s nice for me to have that option on the wall, like a microbrew. Every bar has Budweiser, you know. Nobody cares about Budweiser. How many bars have Exile or Cedar Ridge Bourbon? The same kind of rule applies to my retail.”
Skateboarders hang out at the Cedar Rapids Skate Park during the “Game of S.K.A.T.E.” The local community plays a large part in the culture of skateboarding. “Someone who skates in Iowa skates completely different then someone who’s going to skate in say New York or Los Angeles,” Sherwood said. “It has its own unique culture. It’s Midwest culture. Skateboarding is unique because it has these microclimates and because of those, I think there should be brands that cater to these microclimates. Just like how there’s labels for different music. Modest Mouse isn’t going to be on the same label as Metallica, they’re not even playing remotely the same sh*t you know. Why would they tour together? Their demographic is completely different. Imagine Modest Mouse opening for Metallica, how weird that would be. It’d be like putting chocolate syrup on your omelet: you can do it but it’s going be f**king weird.”
Sherwood makes change for regular customer Brandon “Tall Can” Meyer, who had purchased a pair of shoe inserts. Sherwood tries to remain conscious of the limited budgets of his core clientele and knows that small price differences can lose him a sale to online retailers. “I had a kid before where I had a set of bushings he wanted and I sell them for 12 bucks and he found them online for 11, he bought them there because he saved literally a dollar. I have to deal with very fickle people because I’m dealing predominantly with teenagers and people in their 20s, which is the gener-“skate”-tion of broke motherf**kers. A dollar will literally lose you a sale. A dollar. Which is less than a tip I leave for a bartender. For a drink. To me its comical to see that and I have to think about it, the dichotomy of it is very interesting.”
A skateboarder competes during the “Push Game of S.K.A.T.E.” The event drew a large crowd and received a positive reaction from local skateboarders. Brandon Meyer (not pictured) of Cedar Rapids said this was the most people he’s ever seen at the park.”I want to see more of that,” he said. Sponsoring competitions by providing product for winners and organizing collaborations with local shops is an important part of Peterson’s plan to use Push to enrich skateboarding in Iowa.
Push Skateboards founder Ben Peterson poses for a portrait on Friday, June 15, 2018. Peterson works with local artists to design boards and sells them in small batches to local skate shops out of the back of his car.
Push team member Leo Perenzuela skates at the Cedar Rapids skate park during the “Game of S.K.A.T.E.” Push sponsors four skateboarders “on flow,” meaning they receive free product and take part in video shoots. Peterson hopes to expand the team and eventually produce a full-length skate movie featuring the team.