Retailers Of Note: Modern Skate And Surf
George Leichtweis owns a 6,000-square-foot shop in Royal Oak on Woodard Avenue and another shop in East Lansing near Michigan State University. He also owns 4.5 acres of land in Royal Oak with a 60,000-square-foot indoor skatepark and a 3,000-square-foot shop.
East Lansing and Royal Oak, Michigan
Profile By Shelby Stanger
It’s hard to imagine a core skate shop that sells performance skate decks alongside $1,000 figure ice skates and surfboards built for riding waves on a lake.
Michigan’s Modern Skate and Surf isn’t your average core shop.
George Leichtweis started Modern Skate in 1989 after a summer trip to visit friends in Venice Beach, California. The Michigan native played hockey growing up and was blown away by how much fun he had roller-skating along the Venice Boardwalk.
“It took me three days to even rent the skates because I thought it was a sport for sissies,” says Leichtweis. “I ended up skating twenty miles one day and saw all sorts of girls in bikinis. I even saw Jim Brown, the football player, on roller skates.” Leichtweis had so much fun rollerskating, in fact, that he changed his mind about the sport and decided to immediately bring the sun and surf lifestyle back to Michigan.
A few months later, in September 1979, Leichtweis opened the first Modern Skate in Royal Oak, Michigan. That shop was only 800 square feet and only carried roller skates and skateboards.
At the time, Michigan’s outdoor roller-skating scene was blowing up and already had more than 35 indoor rinks in the state.
About a year later, Leichtweis met Scott Olson at a trade show selling “things that looked like hockey skates with wheels,” says Leichtweis. With that meeting, Modern Skate became the third dealer in the U.S. to carry the original Rollerblades. That first year, Leichtweis outfitted the local East Lansing hockey team with Rollerblades and the team became so fit they went 45 and three, and won their state championship.
Leichtweis has hundreds of skate stories—from roller-skates to ice skates to skateboards. In the mid-Eighties, after the movie Back to the Future first released, skateboarding blew up in Michigan. Leichtweis actually built the largest vert ramp in 1987: a 50-foot wide vert ramp that attracted tops pros like Tony Hawk and more than 5,000 fans just to watch a live demo in his parking lot. This was well before the X Games, ESPN and Fuel TV.
“People remember the event as if it was Woodstock,” says Leichtweis.
Today, Leichtweis owns a 6,000-square-foot shop in Royal Oak on Woodard Avenue and another shop in East Lansing near Michigan State University. He also owns 4.5 acres of land in Royal Oak with a 60,000-square-foot indoor skatepark and a 3,000-square-foot shop.
Leichtweis has also helped build twelve public skateparks in Michigan and has personally hosted every kind of national skate competition, from the Gatorade Free Flow Tour to National Go Skateboard Day, the National Scooter Championships and even the Inline Skate and Rollerskate championships.
“I don't care how you have fun or what you skate on, as long as you are having fun,” he says.
It’s that attitude that has made Modern Skate and Surf so successful.
The company carries mostly hardgoods; mainly skateboards. They also carry wakeboards, snowboards, some inline skates, and $1,000 ice-skates and $1,000 roller-skates. The only clothes and shoes they carry are mainly from snowboarding and skateboarding brands. Each shop is product driven with carpeted floors, no fancy displays, and memorabilia showcasing iconic skates from back in the day.
They also carry special surfboards designed to surf the Great Lakes. In 1985, when surfing became more mainstream, Leichtweis carried brands like Jimmy Z, Gotcha and Op, and so extended his Modern Skate sign to say “and Surf” at the end of it. The name “Modern Skate and Surf,” stuck ever since.
Besides superior products, an enthusiastic staff, and stories that could keep any ear burning for days, Leichtweis prides his business on giving back and sharing skating (no matter what the equipment) with customers of all ages. The shop supports a local skate team with riders all the way from Ohio and beyond. They also support dozens of contests and parties every year.
“I don't hate on any sport, so I support all industries I sell, and all the people who skate, no matter how they choose to skate,” says Leichtweis. “They are all good people, and I just love seeing my customers have fun. That’s where I get my energy.”
Leichtweis has so much energy that he has big plans for the 4.5-acre park he owns in Royal Oak. “This winter I am building a snowboard hill with a rainbow rail and some steps and rails. And next year, I plan to have a Standup Paddle pond with cable wakeboarding,” he adds. “If they can do it at the trade show, I can do it in my backyard.”
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