If football is a game of inches, skateboarding’s an art of millimeters. Trucks, board dimensions, wheel measurements, all come down to slight differences, and, real or imagined, the details matter. Throughout his skateboarding career, video production, artwork, and his brands Polar and Last Resort AB, the latter of which he co-founded with designer Sami Tolppi, Pontus Alv’s career has been defined by careful curation and synergy with skateboarding’s history. He’s a rare creative who can wax nostalgically about what inspired him in his salad days skateboarding with as much reverence as talking about skateboarding’s present and future.
Everything Pontus does has a purpose, from clothing design to the shapes, designs, and dimensions of Polar’s skateboards — even the flair has function.
Throughout our conversation, Pontus was able to address what it means to be a “skater-owned” footwear brand in a 360-degree sense. Every insight, anecdote, and learning speaks to his pursuit of making the best possible thing — whether it's a shoe, skateboard, or video — for skateboarding. With Last Resort AB, he’s bringing his vision to the footwear space, and like all of his creative endeavours, the execution is as unexpected as it is purposeful.
Going into starting Last Resort AB you knew a lot more than the average person about the technical and production details of a shoe, so how did you approach building a brand from the ground up, knowing all the limitations?
My partner in design, Sami, was doing capsule sneakers in Portugal—pricey, fashion sneakers. Sami mentioned he had a friend in Stockholm named Erik Schedin who was making shoes. He had an art school project about 15 years ago, where he wanted to make a vulcanized, slim shoe. So he went into researching the factories, went to Asia, and ended up in Vietnam where he found this small, cool crew there. They had much lower minimums than other factories but also offered good materials, a nice factory, nice people. I looked at what it would cost to open up the molds and the investment and it was a really good deal, so I thought, ‘I’ll take that bet.’
We did the first shoe, the VM001, which was a very straightforward idea. We got the first sample based on some rough sketches—a fit sample—and we said, ‘Jesus, this thing looks really fucking great!’ It took a while to get everything right and then we launched right as the first lockdowns due to the Pandemic hit but we thought, ‘Fuck it, we’re doing this.’
We worked really hard on the fit, the proportions, the height of the tape. We’ve been in this for two years and we’re still learning. We’re taking so many more steps than other brands are doing. We’re taking it to the extreme. Normally when you test a shoe, you put it on a machine and have it take 50,000 steps. We always double what we do, so we make it take 100,000 steps so we can try to make the vulcanized process as strong as possible.
Can you talk about the sole design for the shoes?
We wanted a logo on there but the most important thing was to design the tread so that stones and pebbles can’t get stuck in them. That’s a big thing in Scandinavia in the winter when they salt the streets, and after the winter, the sidewalks are full of rock salt and pebbles that can get stuck in your shoe. Then you start skating and it scratches your grip tape and you’re bummed, so we designed the pattern to be quite open.
What about materials?
I wouldn’t say that the suede we use is unbreakable but it really, really lasts. We actually have an issue now that the upper of the shoe outlasts the bottom because it’s so strong. Because we’re using 100% natural rubber, we’re trying to change the compound so it lasts longer but still feels and grips the same. The other big thing is changing the insole. Personally, I like it but listening to the skate community, people are after something with a little more support.
I wanted to ask about that. There are so many YouTube accounts that wear test shoes and so much feedback you can get from social media. It seems like it could be a powerful tool, do you watch any of that stuff?
Of course, Gifted Hater is a great YouTuber and skater. Shout out of him, I love the guy, he’s super hilarious in many ways. At first, he was buying the shoes on his own so now we give him shoes. We’re never asking him to do any reviews — we don’t pay anything — we just like what he does and he likes what we do. And he’s honest. He mentioned that he rips out the insole on the shoes to replace them and you listen to other skaters who are doing the same thing because so many skaters are obsessed with insoles. They only ride certain insoles no matter what shoe they buy. So that’s a big discussion: should the insole be taped/glued or loose? I personally like it glued because it makes everything tighter and more compact. We’re experimenting with a light glue that can be easily removed.
I watch all that stuff though and talk to those people. It’s my name, in a sense, and my responsibility, so I want to give the skateboard community the best product I can. If they aren’t happy, I need to go back to the drawing table. The bottom line is that people seem to really love the shoes — the fit, the style, the quality — they just mentioned that they wished the insole had a little more support. They aren’t hating at all. So, OK, let’s fine-tune the details. We’re still a young company.
You have a big name in the industry. You could have started the brand and released a Pontus pro model. Why did you decide to not do that out of the gate?
As a skateboarder, I officially retired four or five years ago. I took my name off a board. I still have Klez, my alter ego—boards and sometimes my signature appears on an art board but I’m not promoting myself as a pro anymore. Lately, with Last Resort AB, I’ve been really into skating again and shooting photos. I also had a really bad knee injury I had to come back from. I think people are hyped that I’m back skating and being involved and you see the owner being around — that’s the perfect balance for me. I don’t really want to have a pro shoe or board unless I’m producing video parts and produce. I don’t wanna milk my gig. Out with the old, in with the new.
Down the line, I want to release pro shoes but right no we’re now working on the CM001 which is the cupsole model. We’ll expand to six silhouettes and keep it small. I don’t want to expand to have too many models and start putting out these freaky things. How can something become a classic? Because it’s there, it’s been there, and it’s not going anywhere.
There are skater-owned brands that have lasted decades but their model has always seemed to go as mainstream or big as possible. How does that differ to your approach?
We want to make a few shoes that we’re really proud of and then we want to stick with them. What you see is what you get. I want to make the shoes bigger than skateboarding. I want it to become a classic shoe. You can skate in it, it looks great, but you can also wear them to a wedding or to work. There are no logos, it’s a clean simple, silhouette. That’s the idea.
It’s also a very personal thing because coming from filming skateboarding, I’m so fucking sick and tired of seeing big logos. You have a fisheye and you’re filming the skaters, and in all the footage you have that logo in your face. I want to watch footage and see the skating not this thing in my face. Every shoe brand needs that logo on the side of the shoe — you're a shoe company, you need that thing there. The first thing I said was, ‘Let’s make a shoe company, without that thing there.’ Obviously, there have been other brands that have done something similar or just had a tag. It’s not completely original but it’s a statement by not having that big side “thing.”
Other than the cupsole, what’s next for Last Resort AB?
We’re working on a Last Resort AB video slowly and building the team. The team is really set now and solid. They’re out there filming so that’s going to hopefully drop this year—about a 10-minute piece. We’re also working on the new Polar full-length. We’re editing it right now.