We are very excited to sit down with Jeff Vyain the owner and innovator of Pantheon Longboards to discuss the ups and downs of being a longboard company. Jeff has been skating since he was a kid, got into both downhill and freeride and now makes his own boards for everyone to shred. He offers a wide range of experience and we appreciate him giving us some time to pick his brain. Remember to follow Pantheon as their 2019 line up is just around the corner.
So what got you into skateboarding and what lead you to start making your own boards?
I’ve been skateboarding since I was a kid. I don’t remember the name of my first board, but it was some green dipped thing with a black, pink, and white graphic that was totally flat except for a kick tail, and one of those plastic kick guards on the bottom. I actually can’t believe people used to ride flat boards like that, and do it well, but I did, and I tried to myself for a little while. Then I got an Alien Workshop in 6th grade and skated street off and on for years. My parents weren’t really into it (this has since changed) — always wanted me to do more conventional sports because I was athletic, and they felt like I could get a scholarship with it. They were right, and I did.
I started skating heavily again my last year of college after I finally quit running track and cross country. Just couldn’t stand putting in so much effort and spending so much time injured. Like running when you feel great is fun. I can count the amount of times that happened between a hand or two. Running when you’re challenging yourself, even if you feel like ass, that can be challenging and rewarding. But running when you’re injured just sucks. Like you don’t get un-injured when you’re running more. Funny how I’m saying this about running and not skateboarding, because if I skate nowadays, when my body is jacked up, I feel better. This was back in 2006, and I’ve been skating pretty much ever since but really decided around 2009 that I was going to treat it seriously. Essentially I’ve always loved pushing my body, and I started pushing a board in Indiana on the bike trails basically with the same physical effort as I used to use when running, only it felt way better and I spent way less time being hurt. And I got super into pumping and just carving lines and accelerating on the bike path for as far as I felt like going, which was usually pretty damn far. I was really in love with it.
I realized at this point that other people were also pushing and racing each other, and I started thinking about it all the time and training. About how I was just doing this naturally, because it was fun and I wanted to go fast, and I bet myself that I could keep up and race these dudes in New York who were really blowing up skateboarding, at least in my world. I was inspired. I ended up moving to NYC mostly because I wanted to race, honestly, and I got a job working for Bustin Boards in the shipping department, and it kind of just took off from there. I helped start Longboard Loft and ran that shop for a bit. Eventually I got into hills. I got into slalom a bit. Eventually I was building. And then after a while, I really longed for more meaning in what I was doing. I wanted a way to speak to the world through the products I was designing, and that led to me starting Pantheon. Sorry, that was a bit of a long story, but I guess it was a long path from starting skateboarding all the way to starting Pantheon! Hard to make short in my head.
I know Pantheon has had some pretty big ups and downs over the last couple of years but could you share with us some of those pinnacle moments that made Pantheon?
Nothing in particular has made Pantheon. It has been a grind. What makes Pantheon is a result of continuous efforts and searching for improvement and other people believing in it, giving it energy. Taking feedback from riders all over the world, both on the team and just those who choose to partake in the feedback process. All of that makes Pantheon. Eddie Kihm makes Pantheon when he flows out some awesome conceptual manifestation (art).
My wife Maribeth makes it when she pushes out orders, gets on my ass about things I need to handle, and supports our family so heavily day in and day out. Eric Bourgeois makes it with constant feedback and bouncing of ideas, constant skateboarding and content creation. Chase Hiller makes it with community building, traveling and inspiring me and other skateboarders all over the world. We are a team. I think the pinnacle moments happen every time we make leaps forward. Chase JUST did a standup toeside pendy on his pro model. Apparently someone did it before, but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen one on video, and knowing how his heelside standup pendies have improved and taken to the North Carolina hills, thinking about his potential and control truly just gets me super stoked and excited. Eric just broke a prototype board, and I’m really glad he did because forcing that deck to fail is the only way we can know that we need to improve it. My wife and I just installed a washer and dryer. Somehow we own a washer and dryer. Adulting is funny. Eddie just made just an intensely beautiful graphic for the Quest deck. We are doing our taxes. Haha, nothing can be taken for granted.
How many board shops are you currently working with to make your decks and why did you choose to work with them?
I’m not 100% sure about the number of shops. I should do a better job on CRM and have data for you. It’s not that many. The shops that are still here are generally really good ones. I’m working on being a better salesman. I’d rather someone else be one. That could be a full time job. I have a full time job already.
Should we expect anymore new boards outside the updated Trip, Gaia and the teased Pantheon x Drang deck for 2019?
Yes. Gaia will be released soon. Quest and Nexus are coming. I’ll always want to make more creations. These are ones I felt like would have true impact for sure. I’ve got other designs I really like on paper. Money and boards kinda grow on trees I guess, but you know, it takes processing. I doubt everything I want to do will all be done this year.
Seems like the carbon boards were significantly more successful in 2018 than the regular wood construction, why do you think that is? Also are we going to be seeing any changes to the construction in 2019?
The wood ones warped way too often. I didn’t want to make warped boards. Probably.
Besides you, who keeps Pantheon on its feet?
I think I explained it above fairly well. Eddie, Maribeth, Chase, Eric, everybody that supports our brand to their friends or offers feedback… and then the Universe provides!
Everyone knows Chase Hiller as the face of the Pantheon team, but who are some other riders we should keep our eyes open for?
I think Andy Atchinson is going to be super competitive in downhill this year and I feel like his personality really fuels the spirit. Eric Bourgeois offers so much feedback and thoughtfulness and has killer style. And he owns a local company, Boujee Boardshop, which is stoking out the scene hosting meetups, building a sick local team, and slangin’ wheels. Tony Cafiso is ripping hard, always pressuring me to bring back the Rami deck, which ended up turning into the Sacrifice. He just dropped a really mean edit of him skating this ridiculous patchy run in California. I feel like Nic Rayner is really stepping up as well. We got him on a Seed slalom board recently, and it’s like a switch was flipped. I think he found his thing.
If Rob Burns decides to come back hard, he’ll come back hard. He’s back in the pavement again, though, after maybe three quarters of a year in Thailand. I thought he was going to live there forever, I swear. Good for him if he loves it, you know, and I think he did haha, but he’s back in Hong Kong now. I can’t imagine anything you see from him not being super sick though. I skated with him for the first time back on this little 15, maybe 25-mph full tuck hill, at a slide jam. He had to have been 14 years old. I saw him shredding there and knew then how special his style and personality was. Like actually to the point where I was nervous to ask him to skate for Pantheon. Like it was too soon. We were brand new and tiny (even smaller) and he was so young, and I thought he deserved better if he was going to be a sponsored rider. Eventually I sacked up and I guess he’s been happy to work with me and be my friend haha. I am thankful for that. He’s a rad dude. Still so young, but he probably was born woke.
I really value our distance team as well. It’s a whole different type of team situation. It revolves way less around content, generally, and way more just about people I connect with and skate with, and generally guys who choose to compete. Kyle Yan has been a staple with us for so long. He’s always the guy who shows me a deck’s strong and weak points. He’s come out to Colorado a couple time recently and it’s been really great skating with him and connecting with him. He kicked my ass last year at the No Name Outlaw. Eric Palmer visited us recently. There was snow everywhere and we didn’t get to skate, but he was the first guy to ever break 300 miles in the Ultra Skate on a Pantheon board, and second to do it ever. Joe Mazzone moved to Colorado more recently and actually I feel like he can help change the game for distance. He is SUCH a content creator, and now he’s here in beautiful Colorado trails. I get to skate with him pretty often. He moved to Colorado and a couple weeks later he was skating Vail Pass with me. He’s a total adventurer and pushes me even further in that. And he just broke 300 miles in the Ultra! I’m so stoked he’s here. And who else is here is Harrison Tucker! He’s up in Boulder playing a lot of music, biking way too much, and makes it out to skate when I organize properly. We can all push each other here together, and I think that makes us quite a team 🙂
What are your current go to setups for downhill and LDP?
Right now I have an Embryo set up. I was on a Gaia recently and a Seed before that. I gave the Seed to a local in exchange for dog sitting, so that’s gone currently, but I miss it. I gave the Gaia to Eric. It was a prototype with a lightweight core. Glad I gave it to him because I don’t think I would have broken it. I have never broken a deck. Even when I skated street as a kid. Literally never unless it was run over. I have soft feet I guess. So Embryo right now but I’ll get back on a Seed this season for a pure DH setup. It’s the deck I stay up on the most, and that’s important to me as a man with responsibilities.
And then I’m on either the Trip or Nexus primarily for my push decks. I rode a carbon Quest, but it’s really what a Carbon Nexus is for me, and I don’t have a big preference between the two. I just want to ride up and down Lookout. So the Quest is going to Joe so that we can ride fast stuff together. I don’t want him getting bounced off his board on a Trip, even though he seems super fine on it. It’s just that mountain passes aren’t the same as foothills. I ride the Ember a lot when I ride with my family, because my wife prefers the Trip with the RKP trucks. Usually I keep the Ember in my car always, just because it’s so small and easy to take with you somewhere. But lately, I’ve been driving around with my whole quiver in my trunk haha. That way, when the opportunity arises to skate, I’m ready, even if it’s a spontaneous outing.
You’ve shared on the Pantheon Blog information about your boards to how longboarding helped with your ACL problems, are you planning to continue your blog and if so what are you hoping to write about in the future?
Yea, I write when I get inspired to write. I’ve been trying to force myself to do it more often. Sometimes it’s like a glimmer of inspiration and it gets pushed out into the world, and then I’ll work it out over time. I’ve been starting to go back over some old blogs. I think I’d like to continue to work on them to make them better periodically, and then just write new stuff when I feel like it’s appropriate. I would prefer if the blogs had real value over just writing all the time.
I feel like you have a unique experience within our skate community being a father and board maker, so how has being a father affect you as a skater? Are you hoping your son takes up skateboarding as well?
Mostly I just have a lot more work to do, so as a skater, I skate less. It’s hard in ways, having responsibilities. I try to be a good dad and try to balance that with improving my business on top of working a full time job as a machinist. I’m trying to find better work and make more money. Labor isn’t paid enough here, not as a machinist, to make a real living–not enough to be a Dad. It’s crazy. So I’ve been trying to find a full time job that will pay more WHILE I’ve been trying to grow Pantheon, often battling with the feeling that I really just want to get up this hill and look out over the Pantheon horizon. If we have a good year this year, it might happen.
Then I try to do what I love sometimes, and I try to incorporate my Son with that so that I can give him the love and attention that he deserves and needs. Oh and I have a wife, too! Lately, I’ve been trying to take them both rock climbing, and we are going to get out skiing and snowboarding once or twice this season. We spend a lot of time in dryer seasons hiking and actually started skating this year just a little bit. Before that he had been on a scooter. I don’t have a pride issue with that. I say if he likes riding a scooter, he should do it. But turns out he likes riding a board, too. So this year he skated for the first time for real, though I mostly pushed him and he just coasted. We are working on pushing. Always best to have a wide foundation, I think, so it didn’t bother me at all that he was learning balance and activity enjoyment on a scooter or spending time at the local ninja gym, and I certainly like that he enjoys rock climbing, because I like it a lot too. This is all good stuff.
So as far as my skating goes, it leaves some to be desired. Mostly, I want to skate more often, but I do make the good stuff count. The days when I get to hit Lookout with the boys or every once in a while skate a larger hill, those are great days. The days I get to skate up and down Lookout Mountain with Joe, or actually even Chase and Andy came up with us a few weeks back, those are great days. The days I make it to a Boujee Boardshop Meetup or local event, those are great ones. The days I skate with the old man crew here in Denver or we get a bigger push event together, and the days I get to skate with my family–that’s my skateboarding life, and I value it so much. One of these days I’m going to quit my day job, work while my son is at school, and hit a local skate with him, be it down a mountain or across the valley, I’m sure of it. No pressure, though.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
Thanks to everybody who recommends our products to their friends or provides feedback to our company in any productive form. This thing has been so grass roots and I really feel like it is Truth. That really means so much to me, that it gets to be that. Like we do our best job. We really do some awesome things. And we make mistakes sometimes. But I really don’t think it’s art if you are just driving forward. Straight lines are so boring. I’m really into curves. I didn’t start my own brand immediately before a longboard recession for nothing.