It's another busy day for Nick Teodori, and the space heater's just pitiful. Back from the printer, where he's picked up the tickets for Roll Film — his film festival showcasing a half-century of documentaries about the All-American sport of skateboarding— he's blowing on his hands, shaking off the cold. Burrowing into his freezing garage, glancing at shelves full of skateboards, Teodori sets about folding, tagging and bagging his signature Scumco & Sons jackets.
Skateboard construction? Apparel design? "I've got no credentials," Teodori says genially. Nevertheless, he finds himself ensconced in a wildly successful skateboard-apparel business run out of a Polish Hill apartment.
The son and grandson of South Hills coal-miners-cum-real-estate-developers, Teodori freely admits that when he was growing up, calling him a "slacker" might have set the bar too high. "But I knew about skateboards," he says.
He fell — literally — early and hard for the rough-and-tumble world of skateboarding: By age 10, he was riding around his parents' garage. The day he rode down a Peters Township hill, he recalls, "I totally got hooked."
Teodori spent the better part of next quarter-century as a callow, thrill-seeking youth — taking to the streets, learning tricks of the trade, jumping and flipping and avoiding death. "You have to be determined," he says. "You have to force dexterity into your legs and your feet. It definitely is a matter of mindset."
His travels took him as far as San Francisco — all those impossible hills, all that gorgeous bay — and life was "pretty amazing."
It was also pretty dangerous, and Teodori has the scars to show for it. He's survived broken bones in his arms, toes, tail, even face. One time, he gouged a hole in his leg all the way to the bone. "That's part of skateboarding," he says with a shrug.
Into his 30s, long past the time when many 'boarders hang up their wheels, he kept at it — boarding, always boarding. But he could feel his skills ebbing, the board riding him more than the other way around. And on a Midwest road trip with his business partner Ben Smith, he was flipping through a skateboard mag, seeing ads for board manufacturers. Teodori said, "Hey, why don't we do this?"
After scraping together $500, he made some designs that looked like hand-drawn comic art. Preferring more durable seven-piece maple veneer boards, which promise maximum ride, the duo took the specs to Penn's Wood, an Oil City deck-pressing plant. Voila! Scumco & Sons was born.
The etymology of the Scumco name is far too arcane to discuss. Suffice it to say that, like seemingly everything else in the skateboarding netherworld, it resides deep inside multiple layers of in-jokes. "It's tongue-in-cheek," Teodori grins. "Self-deprecating."
Everything they do is designed to deflate, nothing more than their Shinola boards. Named for the long-defunct shoe polish, and inspired by the oft-repeated line that "you don't know shit from Shinola," the boards give off the solid stench of barnyard by-product when scratched (which inevitably happens, skateboards having an average active life of something under a month). The adolescent humor is perfect for the post-pubescent world of boarding.
"There's a lot of irony in skateboarding," Teodori says. "There's a lot of not taking anything very seriously. Including yourself."
Teodori and Smith started locally, taking their wares to South Side board shop One Up. In just two years, they've cobbled together an impressive network of sales outlets. Scumco now sells in major skateboard shops coast-to-coast — from DLX in San Francisco to Skate Park in Tampa — with international ports of call as far as Sweden and England, Guam and Japan. For a collaboration in Taipei, Scumco is fabricating shirts and boards, depicting machine-gun hefting soldiers clad in heavy padded coats, hoisting clenched fists. It's classic Chinese Communist imagery, all with a "Made In Merica [sic]" label.
With sales word-of-mouth stratospheric, business is up tenfold. Scumco's comic, ironic images — loony-looking cigarette smokers, LSD-popping Pirate pitcher Dock Ellis — play on such premier woods as maple, ebony, gum, eucalyptus, redwood and Carpathian elm burl. It's all striking, quality stuff, from design through manufacture.
"I'm surprised at how well it's going," Teodori says. "People in the skateboard community like what we're doing. They can see we spend a lot of time on what we make. Our boards are creative. Interesting." He stops to smile. "They make you think."