Tom Hyser is a 45-year-old inline skater, creator, and innovator living in Huntsville, Alabama. Tom has been involved in the inline skating industry since the early 1990s as a professional skater, skate shop owner, and skate designer. Today he is the product and marketing manager for Rollerblade International.
Air at the Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Photo by Erin Hyser.
Over the years, you have worked on several skate projects that helped match skaters’ needs. How are you using your knowledge past and present on this project?
My experience has helped when we decide how to design things—for example, the h-block, which is an essential part of a skate designed to grind. Also, things like liners, shell flex, etc. Having experience in this stuff helps us design skates that most people want. I’ve realized you can’t please everyone, but you can please most. That’s the goal. If we make a skate that 90% of people want, we’ve designed the correct skate.
What input has the Rollerblade team had on the project?
The team has had a lot to do with it. We have video chats, emails, and phone calls throughout the process. Whenever I travel with the team, I take notes. We’ve used 3D printing to make prototypes; we send those around to the selected test group and make changes according to the team’s feedback. 3D printing is great; you can risk a crazy idea and test it. Sometimes things don’t work out, and you realize that quickly with 3D printing. Kyle Sola and I designed a 100% concept skate a few years back called the Warlock. We learned a lot about H-blocks’ height with a large split between the 2nd and 3rd wheels.
Kyle Solá and Tom Hyser on train in Switzerland
There have been some photos showing a new soul plate and shots of the team skating them. Will we see more of the skate soon?
Yes, we will show more of the skate as we finalize parts. We just finalized the soul plates after making several revisions. The soul plate is one of the most important parts of a skate designed for grinding. We made sure the soul plate was the best in the industry. I’m super pleased with how it turned out. We had great feedback from our fans and team riders.
Will the new soul plate work on the solo?
Yes, it will.
Prototypes. Photo by Dominik Wagner.
There are a lot more technical options in manufacturing available every year. What new tech is being used for this skate?
As I said, 3D printing has been a huge part of this process. Also, the programs we use to design the parts make it easier than ever. Kyle Sola and I have been working together for years on ideas and different projects for Rollerblade. Kyle is super talented on Solidworks. Kyle understands my input; we are both skaters and long time friends. I can send him screenshots from Google Sketchup or just a sketch, and he does the magic on Solidworks. Sometimes he has an idea and sends me screenshots. We go back and forth until we decide to move to the next step. We can get 3D views of parts before we 3D print them, so fewer mistakes are made and less time and money are wasted.
What is your favorite Rollerblade aggressive skate and why?
My favorite was the Tarmac CE. I rode for Rollerblade when I was 15-years-old, and they sent me three pairs of those skates, and I was so hyped. That boot fit everyone, it was durable, and it had a simple classic look. Chris Edwards was one of my idols, so to get his pro skate was insane. I also really like the Dirk skate. The Dirk boots looked great, fit well, and had some great design elements.
What skates have you been involved in designing?
There have been a lot of them over the years. All the K2 Fatty skates when I worked there from 1995-1999. When I owned Skatepile.com, I gave design feedback to every skate company we sold. I would see how skates were failing through our customers; then, I would call people like Matthias from USD and let him know what was working and what was not. They had their own design guys, but sometimes they listened to the feedback. We sold everything in those days. For RB, I helped design the Solo and Fusion skates. We had some design restrictions on that project, but overall it turned out good. I designed the Blank frame 100% with input from Robert Guerrero and David Sizemore. They wanted a durable frame for anti-rocker skating. That frame turned out great. People love it. It’s definitely one of the best anti-rocker frames on the market to this day.
(left) New soul plate. (right) Blank anti-rocker frame.
What goes into designing a skate and what is the process like?
Most of the time, the process starts with a budget. From there, you make prioritized decisions based on what the product needs to do. Next, go to market strategy, which is how you will release the product to the market. Then you begin sketches, 2D drawings in Illustrator/photoshop, followed by 3D design, 3D printing testing, maybe back to more sketches, 3D design, and 3D print testing. Once the 3D printed designs are dialed in you, make pre-production samples, making sure things work in a finalized form. In re-production, you test all the different sizes, and once that is dialed, you are doing the final production. Somewhere towards the end of the process, you dial in graphics and box designs. That’s the general method. Sometimes the design process goes back to the start of the process if testing goes bad. It’s important to be super organized and have a method, or you end up wasting time and money.
How will this skate be different from previous Rollerblade aggressive skates?
We have the best team possible behind it. I’ve been working directly with Kyle Sola. Kyle is a ripping skater and industrial designer. Ronnie Kuliecza is the international product manager; he’s worked at RB for a long time and has tons of experience. Ronnie has an eagle eye for the details. Small details can make or break a skate. The International Brand Director Jeremy Stonier is backing us. He is the big boss of RB; he knows how important a good street skate is for the RB brand. Stephen Charrier is our International Sales and Marketing Manager; he has 25+ years in the game of selling skates. Sven Boekhorst has skated every RB aggressive skate since day one. His input is gold. Sami Raimann has worked for RB for over 30 years in Europe. He’s got good ideas on how to sell creatively and market products. Our crew is stacked with experience.
We also have had an open timeline. The product will come out when the product is dialed enough to come out. We’re not following the traditional timeline or development procedure. The first production will be super limited on purpose; this way, we can make changes before making all the sizes. We’ve involved our fans on Instagram. We are posting images of the skates and collecting feedback to make sure we make something our customers can feel involved in. Sometimes a pro skater wants one thing in particular; if the general public is echoing that feedback, you know you are headed in the right direction.
(left) Tom with Robert Guerrero, Andy Kruse and Jon Julio at Winterclash 2020 (right) In Spain, photo by Ben Brillante
Why did you decide to create a whole new aggressive skate?
Rollerblade invented the category, and we decided we needed to create something really kick-ass and continue to be the foundation of the sport. All the skating categories are important to us, and we were due for a new product in this segment. We started with the Solo last because that skate fits so well and performs really well; it just needs some fundamental adjustments and parts redesigned.
How long does the process take for a skate to be designed, sampled, and then finally released?
A short timeline is a year; normally, a typical skate is on a two-year plan. It depends on how much testing you decide to do. For a skate designed to grind, you want to build a lot of time for testing, you need time to wear things out and truly stress tests the parts. We have a tight and experienced crew on this project to move quickly and make changes; it’s ideal.
Will this skate replace the New Jack, or will both skates be available for sale?
This skate will replace the NJ skates. It’s going to be superior, and there was no point in making the NJ skates anymore. We wanted to make something that works well and is simple and clean. Personally, I’m not into putting a skin over a shell. It’s extra weight and adds to the complexity of manufacturing.
Skating through Manhattan, New York City.
Who is currently pro for Rollerblade on the aggressive side?
Sean Keane, Cameron Talbott, Maxime Genoud, Jeremy Suarez. We just picked up Philip Moore and Caleb Smith, who shreds everything from street/park to skating ultra distances. Sven Boekhorst says he is retired, but I ignore that; he is still one of the best in the world at 40 years old. The squad is super well rounded, and I think that’s important. They’re all at different phases in their skating life.
Are multidisciplinary skaters, like Caleb Smith, the future of sponsored riders?
Caleb represents the Rollerblade brand because he skates everything, and we make every kind of skate. I’m not sure what other brands are thinking, honestly. I think people fool themselves if they think the general public doesn’t lump all types of inline skaters into one bucket. That’s why all the aspects of the sport need to look good. That’s my job, and I take that seriously. The team at Rollerblade makes all the aspects of the sport look appealing. We work collectively to grow the sport and make it look good. I’m lucky to work with others with years of experience from sales, product, and marketing backgrounds. No other brand can match our experience. We have new leadership, and the brand is progressing fast.
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