The concept of an East Coast pro skateboarder was not only uncommon in 1993, it was an extreme exception. Then living in Boston, Massachusetts, Hopps Skateboards founder Jahmal Williams turned pro for Ed Templeton’s Toy Machine and was immediately encouraged by Templeton to create his first board graphic.
Williams hand-painted a single lowercase letter “j” and followed it up with an expressive self-portrait for a subsequent board. The latter was particularly striking at the time, where many companies were repurposing existing pop culture for graphics. Williams’ painting looked more like a character from Miles Davis’ On the Corner album cover with a slight graffiti influence.
As the first pro skater from Boston, Williams’ merits were milestones in skateboarding, but more importantly, the two graphics and his quietly charismatic approach birthed an aesthetic that’s carried into his brand today. After a move to Miami, Florida in the early '00s, he felt skateboarding was losing its spark.
“I basically severed ties with all my sponsors — I was just frustrated with the relationship and the tendency sponsors have to try to tell skaters how they should skate and what they should be doing, based on the latest trends or whatever,” says Williams.
“I remember having a conversation with Lance Mountain one time on an adidas tour. He told me you have to find the place in your heart where skating is and protect it from the business industry side of things. When I got to New York, I thought I was entering my last years of skating, so I figured I’d be better off making my own boards just to support my own skate habit and feed the creative drive and entrepreneurial spirit that was inside me.”
Hopps was born in 2007, with Williams functioning as the brand’s creative engine. It was a vessel for his ideas: be it video, product, print, or photography. Eschewing the modern trend many skate brands employ by constantly changing or evolving their brand logo, Hopps maintains a single lock-up on the majority of its product. The graphics themselves are often simple and iconic, cast against white or solid backgrounds. It all feels very curatorial, almost as if Hopps is an art gallery presenting ideas in their pure form.
Like any skateboarding brand in the digital age, the video medium has become the visual identity people connect with. For Hopps, it’s another platform to explore. Rather than releasing full-length or long-form video projects, Hopps’ content is often commercial length and feels more like snippets of nostalgia – surreal moments that evoke the feeling of skateboarding as much as a bit of déjà vu in that you’re reliving a moment.
“I've always wanted to make a longer video that was more like a TV series,” says Williams. “I’ve just never been able to really fully commit to making it, whether it’s creative resources, monetary resources… so that’s why the videos tend to be shorter. But if you cram all those edits together, it’s like a TV program. I watched a lot of TV growing up. I grew up on PBS, Saturday morning cartoons, cartoons after school, movies… I was in a time period in the ‘70s when cartoons were really cool and creative. I got really inspired by that.”
With longtime Hoppster and New York stalwart Keith Denley recently turning pro, Williams explains the process and personal weight of creating the debut graphic: “Everyone loves Keith, so I knew I wanted to have something that really hit home and a soft spot for everyone and really captured his personality. I'm surrounded by children's books and or watching cartoons all the time with my kids. I found something that really stuck out and asked him to send me a recent portrait so I could make a caricature of it. He sent this new picture and he had a different haircut and glasses than I had remembered and initially drew, so I went at it slowly until it started to look like him. I knew it was working when it really hit this warm spot and then I sent it to him.”
Nearly 15 years into Hopps’ timeline, the brand continues to grow, the ideas build free-form but with deep intention. A recent basketball-centric capsule collaboration with Quartersnacks adds another signpost to the Hopps story and epitomizes how Williams not only allows things to happen at the right time but also, with the right people and creative situations.
“Over the years I noticed Quartersnacks and Kosta [Satchek] would write about my video parts and I was stoked that this younger person I didn’t know appreciated my skating,” he says about working with Quartersnacks on their recent collab. “I made the decision to turn Keith [Denley] pro this year and it [a collaboration] felt right. I mentioned the idea to Kosta and he said Keith really liked playing basketball in his youth so it seemed fitting to roll with that theme. It was hard to put all the pieces and ingredients together but everything seemed to fall in place.”
“Enjoy the ride and keep it moving.” After nearly 15 years Hopps continues to honor their mission statement, with Williams’ rhythm and intuition leading the direction of things to come. Jazz music and culture is a constant reference in the brand’s heritage—the balance of intuition and improvisation.
“You really have to be aware of timing and how things fit together, you know?” he says. “It's just like telling a great joke. Your timings got to be on point.”
You can cop the new Hopps collection with Quarter Snacks here.