chrome ball interview #110: steve olson

above the clouds with crazy monk.

So where have you been, Steve? Skateboarding has missed you!

Well, I left the skateboarding industry back in 2005 and since then, I’ve just been living life, man.  Maintaining and trying to pay the bills. I live with my girlfriend, Samantha, out here in California. Just a 41-year-old regular dude trying to stay healthy and survive.

I skate every day and I’m still out there making music, too. I have two albums out. Aside from skateboarding, music has probably been my biggest creative outlet. I feel like I’m constantly rhyming and freestyling. I honestly don’t even know why I do it, I’m just compelled to, I guess… kinda like skateboarding.

I also like to read a lot. Spirituality has always been an interest of mine and I’ve gotten deeper into that over the years, too. But yeah, that’s about it. Just trying to maintain in this crazy world like everybody else.

Talk a little about your current musical passion. How would you describe your sound?  

For me, an emcee is basically a poet. A wordsmith. But what is poetry but a creative expression of language. And beyond that, we all need to breathe in order to live. I feel like words are an extension of that. Reciting the written word aloud.

It’s just something that I like to do. I think almost every skater has busted a rhyme at some point, casually messing around. But for me, I found myself getting progressively more serious about it over the years.

Beat-wise, I like to use a lot of samples. It’s not so much like today’s hip-hop, which tends to sound really digital to me with lots of keyboards and synths. I’m more into that dirty, early 90’s New York sound in my production. That old-school boom bap.

Lyrically, I like to think that I’m on more of a spiritual/metaphysical tip. Almost on some anti-government, anti-oppression shit. Seeking freedom in your life. You could say that I’m trying to manifest my poetry through the avenue of hip-hop music… that’s what I’m trying to do anyway. (laughs)

Where does “Crazy Monk” come from?

I came up with “Crazy Monk” in the late 90s. I started rhyming seriously as an MC around '95 or so, not even fully realizing that I had embarked on a journey. I know it sounds funny but it’s almost like when you first start skating, it reaches a point where you realize that it’s no longer this thing you’re trying out, that you’re actually a “skater” now. It was kind of the same thing for me with music as I got more into it. I needed a name.

Crazy Monk comes from constantly trying to understand things in my life. My rhyming largely coincided with a spiritual awakening of sorts at the time, trying to take a more spiritual path. I liked the idea of a “monk” but also wanted to throw in the “crazy” aspect because I don’t feel like I fit into any type of box. I don’t follow any formal religion or system of rules.

You’ve always hinted at spirituality throughout your career with graphics and ads. What all does that entail for you present-day?

It’s all kind of wrapped into one now.

I actually just got back from Australia a few weeks ago where I performed at a conscious hip-hop festival in Melbourne. They brought me out to perform and while I was there, I also taught my first spiritual workshop. I did a little slideshow and then we got into some chanting exercises. Group spiritual exercises… I feel kinda funny saying that because it’s not like I’m better than anybody else. We’re all equals. I’m not gonna sit here and act like I know everything, not at all. But I do take spirituality seriously.

I got really interested in studying spiritual knowledge around the age of 18. I was as deep into that as I ever was into skating. You gotta remember that I moved down to San Diego and turned pro at 17, so it wasn’t too long after some pretty big life changes that I started looking deeper into things, spiritually. And since then, I’ve definitely evolved through several different phases with this stuff.

Not that I follow any religion. I am not a follower of any one teacher, guru or religion… but I’ve had many influences. I look within, in addition to my studies, and try to pray and mediate every single day.

From the outside, you always appeared to have more indie rock leanings earlier on in your career. How much of an influence did time in the van with MuskaBeatz and the Federalz have on you?

I think that skaters tend to listen to all types of music. Even before I moved down to California, I remember having Gangstarr, Tribe and De La Soul tapes. Throwing those on in-between some punk rock tapes while out skating a parking garage somewhere. It was all love.

But Muska did play a part in all this over the years. Even the first time I met him, back in ’95, he gave me the first Ol’ Dirty album on cassette. That blew me away. I’d never really heard Wu-Tang before so when he gave me that tape, I couldn’t stop listening to it. I remember listening to that before going out to skate and getting super hyped. Ollieing down a huge set of stairs with the ODB stuck in my head. All that was through Muska.

Have you two ever collaborated on anything?

I did hit him up at one point, trying to get on his album. But I don’t think I realized how many legendary MC’s were actually going to be on there. I remember seeing all the greats he had guesting when it finally came out, it blew me away… to be honest, I probably didn’t need to be on there. (laughs)

We did mess around and record something at his house one time but it never came out. But yeah, Muska’s beats were dope, man.

So was it your passion to create music that overtook your desire to skate? Is that why you retired?

Not really.

I guess you could call my leaving a "retirement" but there were a lot of factors that played into why I left. It wasn’t just about making music and it’s not like I was over skating, either. Like I said, I still skate every single day. I just don’t keep up with the industry like I used to… at all, really. But I still have so much love for skateboarding. I just reached a point where I knew that I didn’t have the same motivation anymore.

I have nothing but love for my old sponsors but things had changed so much in those last couple of years, with both Shorty’s and Creation. It seemed like every company I’ve ever been affiliated with starts out as a tight family, operating purely out of a love for skateboarding and fun. But every single time, it starts to feel like a money-making corporation after a while. Maybe that’s what it always was. I understand it’s a business. It’s a job and there was a lot of money involved, especially in the early 2000s. But that tight family vibe always seemed to suffer the most, which was honestly my favorite part of being a pro skateboarder. That was always my greatest source of inspiration.  

How’d you get on Foundation all the way up in Washington?

Well, I started skating in ’87 at the age of 11. But it wasn’t until I was 15 that I started making moves toward getting sponsored. I still remember when I asked my Dad to film me, he went out and came back with a huge VHS camera from Rent-A-Center.

We filmed every weekend for a month or two and I edited it all together with two VCRs. I even put some Dinosaur Jr on there. I sent my tape out to World Industries and Blind, trying to get on those teams because I thought they were so dope. And from there, I just started calling them all the time.

“I sent you guys my video, did you get it?”

It was always a woman who answered the phone.

“Yeah, we got your video but I don’t think they’ve watched it yet. We’ll get back to you.”

I think she might’ve been lying to me… that or she was just being nice, but regardless, I wasn’t catching on to what was really happening. I just kept calling on them over and over again until I finally gave up. (laughs)

Shortly after that, the New Deal team came to Tacoma on a tour. I remember my friends and I just ambushing them at the demo, super crazy. It’s funny because while we were so in awe of this big team being in our town, at the same time, we wanted to crush them. We ended up taking them to all our spots, just so we could try taking them out.

So yeah, I gave them my VHS tape on that visit and it honestly wasn’t too long after that when I sent my tape out to Foundation, too. I always thought they were cool and felt that maybe since they were a smaller company, they’d be more open to someone like me riding for them.

New Deal and Foundation both ended up calling me to ride for them the same week… well, New Deal wanted to put me on something they called their “B-Team”. It wasn’t their real team, I guess. But Foundation was super into it. I still remember the phone call from Tod.

“We love you, man. We want you on our team right now. We’re going to bring you out to Cali immediately, if you’re down.”

Boom. That’s how it happened.

Was it difficult having a California sponsor while living in Washington? Just asking because both your Cocktails and Super Conductor parts were relatively short. How would you go about being part of the team from so far away?

It was hard! I’d go down to California whenever I could but I was still so young. There weren’t any skate photographers in Washington back then either, so I’d just film with my friends all the time and send it in. But even that got hard after a while because most of my friends I skated with were quitting to form bands or just partying. It actually got to the point where I almost quit, too. I even called up Tod Swank and seriously started to cry over the phone to him.

“Tod, I’m over this. I’m gonna quit. I’m not on the team anymore. I’m done. It’s over.”

“Olson, you’re tripping. I’m gonna send you a fat package. You’re still on the team. You’re not gonna quit. I’m not trying to hear that.”

I was totally serious at the time but he wouldn’t even listen to me. And he was totally right. A couple days later, I’d completely forgotten about all that and was skating like a maniac again with this huge box Tod had sent me.

But I found myself getting hurt a lot in those early years, too. It’s almost like I was going too hard for them… jumping down a huge gap and breaking my foot in half. So I had to chill a lot while waiting for things to heal. It really was a blessing that Swank had my back like that.

Isn’t that treehouse in Cocktails actually your old bedroom?

Yeah, my Dad built that treehouse in our backyard and hooked it up. It was like a legit house with electricity and everything! Completely weatherproof! I lived out there for a while. 

Didn’t your dad also build pyramids around your house or something? Is that true?

Well, he built a pyramid in his bedroom and put a bed inside of it. That’s where he slept. He thought the shape of a pyramid created positive energy.

Your Dad sounds amazing. What was the Ingvar moniker you used in those early ads?

That’s just my middle name. It comes from my Dad’s side of the family. I’m pretty sure it’s Danish.

So we talked about those early parts being fairly short, what about your filming for Tentacles of Destruction? I feel like that’s the one where you really broke through.

That was after I’d moved down to California permanently so I guess I was a little more settled into things. I was actually living with Frank Hirata and a few others down in Encinitas. That was a great time.

But you’re right, that part really made my career up to that point. Even though it wasn’t super long either, there seemed to be a lot of tricks in there that people were feeling. Not to sound arrogant but I still think that wallride with the nollie heelflip out is dope. That still seems futuristic to me! (laughs)

Most of my part was filmed around Encinitas, close to where we were staying. We filmed for about a year on that one. I think I only took maybe one trip for my part. Leigh Petersen and I went up to San Francisco to skate Hubba Hideout. That spot was seriously the entire reason we went up there. Luckily, Foundation hooked up a filmer and photographer for us to meet. I remember we slept in his car for that whole trip, right out there on the street.

Tell me about this trip, because that Hubba footage has become pretty legendary.

I just remember driving straight to Hubba Hideout. That was our entire agenda. I got out of the car and immediately got a trick. That 180 nosegrind-switch backside shove-it out? That was right out of the car! I couldn’t believe it.

Unfortunately, right after that, I ended up getting hella broke off. I basically fell off the top of Hubba, straight to my knee. I couldn’t even walk afterwards. I thought I was done, dude… which bummed me out because there was so much more I wanted to get. I mean, we’d just gotten there!

But seriously, I had some kind of miraculous healing that night. Somehow, after sleeping in Leigh’s car that night, I woke up 100%. I swear to God. It was like some kind of miracle, like I had experienced some form of instantaneous divine healing from God. It’s one of the only times in my life that something happened I cannot explain. Because I definitely hurt my knee really bad, but when I woke up the next morning, my injured knee actually felt better than the other one.

So yeah, we went back to Hubba for the next two days and I was able to get almost everything I wanted there for Tentacles. I was super happy about it, because that’s pretty risky to drive all that way for a spot like that.

How’d you land on “Quicksand” for the song?

Oh, I was all about David Bowie. Leigh and I were both super into him at that time. I still remember listening to that album in Leigh’s car on that SF trip, rocking out. I thought that it only made sense to include it.

I gotta ask, it’s been long-held that at least some of those tricks down Hubba for Tentacles were done on psychedelics. Any truth to that?

Nah, no… Really!?! I’ve never heard that.

I’ve heard that for decades! Even Frank mentioned it when I talked to him.

No… not at all. Definitely not at Hubba. You’d die!

Because I know you and Frank did mess around with them a good bit back then.

No, I wasn’t on any type of psychedelics at Hubba Hideout. That’s so weird to hear… because I’m really proud of what I was able to get down that thing.

As far as drugs go, I did have a drug problem but it’s probably not what you think. I was the biggest stoner for years, man. Most people won’t even think that’s all that bad, because weed and skating go hand-in-hand in the culture and that’s all good. If that’s what people want to do, I don’t care. But I had a problem with weed and tobacco for a long time, smoking weed every day.

I’m proud to say that I’ve been free of all that stuff and completely sober since 2008.

But I do remember your Big Brother interview where you talked about taking acid quite often. And living with Frank, I know he seemed pretty sincere in trying to expand his mind and consciousness back then through various means. What was your thinking there?

My thing is that once I got old enough, like around 15 or so, I just wanted to take drugs. I never had any interest in them before that, I just wanted to skate. But after a while, hanging out with my friends who were all a bit older and into that, I wanted to see for myself.

I never wanted to skate on acid, we were just always out skating whenever we got the acid. I wanted to take acid and I was already out skating, what am I going to do? I guess I’m now going to skate on acid. But it really wasn’t anything. You’re so high, man. You’re definitely not going out to skate Hubba Hideout… more just sitting on a bench like, “Woah!”

But I would caution people about all that. People need to chill on the drugs. I’m so lucky to have gotten through all of that okay! I remember going to Seattle when I was younger. We’d drop acid and lurk the streets all night. That’s so dangerous! You gotta be careful with all that stuff. Be safe.

The Foundation team at this time couldn’t have been more random, what was the vibe like there? Did you guys get along well?

For the most part, both Foundation and Shorty’s were like a brotherhood, man. It was all love. Those dudes were all my best friends.

The thing is that when you’re on a team, you find yourself around these guys a lot. Traveling around on tour, going to contests and filming together, there will always be conflicts that arise. People will always butt heads sporadically in that type of scenario.

I’m not going to name any names, but I will say that on every team I’ve ever been on, there was always one guy that I never quite got along with. I don’t know if it was because I wasn’t being nice, but I don’t think it was. Whenever you have a bunch of young dudes together like that, there always has to be one guy who gets a bit too macho. Maybe even a bit too violent… possibly their egos got a bit too big.

But that was honestly minimal and you learn to work around it.

What’s your best tour story from the Foundation days?

There’s so many stories, man… There was that time where I went to Amsterdam and saw 20 UFOs. Ever heard that one before?

(laughs) Let’s hear it.  

We were over in Europe, hitting up all those different skate contests… Munster, Northampton and all that. And this is the year they had one in Switzerland, which is actually where this story starts out at.

So we’re all out there and it’s the day of the contest. I guess I woke up a little late that morning and found that everybody else was already over at the arena. So I skate over there. On my way, I tried to backside 180 this cone that was out in the middle of the street and ended up spraining my back somehow. I don’t even know how I did it, but it really hurt.

Needless to say, by the time I got to the arena, I really wasn’t feeling the contest. And I’ll admit that it’s kind of lame that I did this, but I just took off. I didn’t tell anybody, either. This is how much of a stoner I was: I was like, “Fuck this contest. My back hurts. I’m going on a solo mission to Amsterdam.” (laughs)

I go back to the hotel, grab my backpack and just disappear. The guys ended up getting so pissed about this because it was before cell phones, too. They had no way of getting in contact with me. But I went to the nearest station and caught a train to Amsterdam, which was like a 10 or 15-hour train ride.

So I finally get there and its Friday night. I quickly realize that I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m by myself and I can’t find a place to stay because I really didn’t think this through.

I end up spending the night on the streets, which was super scary. Amsterdam was so sketchy back then, way too crazy for me. But I knew I had to lurk the streets for a night and figure out a way to get back tomorrow... so I ended up buying hella weed. (laughs)

Somehow, I find this totally random vert ramp in the middle of a public park. So I climb up to the platform and chill there for the night.

At 3 or 4 in the morning, I’m laying on my back atop this vert ramp, looking at the stars, and I swear I started to see all these UFOs. I remember seeing this really bright star… and then it started to move! Suddenly, it breaks into three stars! And then, those same stars are now like 20 balls of light! Flying from one side of the sky to the other!

It’s not like I got dosed or anything. Because I was feeling totally normal before that. It doesn’t make sense to be hallucinating for 1 minute and then feel normal again. And I’ve read about this exact same phenomenon happening to other people, just like I saw. It all checks out. It really makes you wonder what all is going on out there.

I can’t even follow that up, man. But was it obvious being around a young Heath that he was about to become this legendary figure in skating?

Like, Heath Kirchart? Oh, he was always really good.

I remember living out in Washington for a brief stint after I’d turned pro, Heath came up and visited me. I remember he did a kickflip-frontside boardslide down a handrail that blew me away. This is back in '94 or so, way before people were really doing that. And he kept getting better as he got older.

He was always super straight-edge back then, too. Very anti-drug. Just 100% about skating at the time and I always liked that about him. I’m glad he never got sidetracked into partying too much.

What’s up with that dude now? Is he still pro? I haven’t heard anything from Heath in years!

He’s doing just fine, I’ll send you some links. But what about your own style? It seemed like your hair and glasses always made you stand out, even becoming fodder for ads with people dressing up like you. How’d you take all that?

Oh, it was all in good fun.

The first couple years of showing up in magazines, I was wearing the weirdest gear, but that was all stuff I’d find in thrift stores. Sure, I went through the super baggy stuff but after so many of my friends had quit skating to join bands, we all started rocking weird “grunge” gear. I guess I kinda brought that stuff with me into skateboarding. Being from the Pacific Northwest, I was definitely a product of that “alternative” subculture.

I still wear those thick black rim glasses. A lot of people wear them now but not so much back in the ‘90s. I still rocked them, though, I have them on right now actually.

My hair has always been really thick and curly. I think I get it from my partial Puerto Rican ancestry. It’s always been borderline afro curly. I never wanted to get a haircut so I’d always have this weird hair going on until I’d finally shave my head. It was like a cycle.  

But I was just being me, man. I’ve always been pretty far out there for my entire life. As humans, we all want to fit in but sometimes, you just gotta say, "Fuck it."

What about that Foundation ad claiming you suffered from paranoid schizophrenia? What was that all about?

(laughs) That was pure fiction. I actually created that ad.

Growing up in Tacoma, we’d always be lurking around downtown and you’d constantly see mentally ill people out in the streets. Some were homeless and others were in a special care home nearby, but you’d always see them out, hella drugged up. I’d always trip out on them. Definitely sympathetic but also some admitted fascination there, too.

I was reading a lot of classical literature at the time, in addition to some Beat writers from the 50s and 60s. Different writers who were all a bit subversive in their time. I think that idea basically came about through all of that. I wanted to do something a little different than your typical skateboard ad.

“Yo Tod, let’s make an ad where I fall on the ground and have a fake seizure. I’ll rip my glasses off and you can take my photo. It’ll be dope.” (laughs)

I think it even says something about how I’d gone crazy but I couldn’t skate on the meds they were giving me, so I was refusing to take them? Pretty funny, man. But yeah, I just made all that up.

How’d that Big Brother cover come about? And what are your thoughts regarding that photo these days?

Oh, if someone asked me to do that now, I wouldn’t. Even though I’m not a Christian, I have respect for the Bible. I’m not trying to disrespect an entire system of beliefs like that. I’d never do that again.

That one was crazy in how it came about because I think Big Brother had asked someone else to do it before me and they refused. Somehow, that led to them asking me. The thing is that they never told me the concept beforehand. The photographer was just like, “Yo, Big Brother wants to give you a cover. Let’s go meet up with those dudes and see what they’re thinking.”

Of course, I wanted the cover of Big Brother. It was one of the top magazines back then. I was all about it.

So we head over to their offices and that’s when it dawned on me that while this photographer had hinted about it being something controversial, he’d never actually told me the idea. It was only after they got me there that they told me the premise.

I didn’t want to do it at first… but I’m surrounded by 10 dudes, pressuring me to do it.

“You gotta do it! It’ll be great!”

They start pulling out all of these Bibles, getting ready to light them on fire.

“We also have these red pajamas we want you to wear. And we’ll have to paint your face red!”

“What the hell!?! I’m not gonna do all that. That’s wack!”

But they kept at me, man. And it kept getting crazier and crazier. It’s actually pretty funny to look back on now.

“Nah, it’ll be cool! Here, hold this pitchfork!”

It was such a crazy position to be in because I honestly didn’t want to do it but I really wanted that cover. So eventually, I gave in.

I thought it was gonna be so wack… and it is wack, from a certain perspective. But I was so worried about wearing those pajamas and being painted red. But I gotta say, the way they lit it up with the angle of the photo, it actually looks pretty dope.

I do feel bad about it but it’s not like I’m cursed for all of eternity by having done it. I’m sure it’ll be all good.

You seemed to experience a huge jump of progression during the mid/late '90s. More rail-focused, bigger gaps, cleaner style. What all was going on with you at the time?

I was just getting more comfortable with living in California while also becoming confident with my place in the industry.

Riding for Foundation was great, but after a while, I did get in a bit of a funk. I wasn’t so hyped on the direction that it was heading. I felt like it had evolved into something different than what it was when I originally joined. The whole situation seemed different now, even with some of the people on the team. The energy wasn’t as good and I wasn’t feeling as inspired anymore.

Around the time of Rolling Thunder, I was basically depressed. The only saving factor for me back then was meeting Muska. That’s really when I started to hang out with him a lot and he definitely became a big influence on me, for sure. It’s really because of him that I started to skate rails more. He was basically the rail dude at the time.

I remember going out skating with Muska and Jamie Thomas and watching them change street skating forever with these giant rails almost every day. It really inspired me to do the same, just by watching their process.

Muska was one of my favorite skaters, but more than that, he was my good friend. We hung out a lot, in addition to skating together. But after all that went down with him and Toy Machine, I was seriously worried about him and his career. Ed was about to turn him pro and now he’s got nothing. But he made it happen. All of a sudden, he’s working on this Shorty’s thing that sounded amazing.

When Chad asked me to join the team, I honestly didn’t understand why. I thought it was supposed to be this elite team. But evidently, he thought I was dope enough to be on there. He totally believed in me. And by him asking me, I suddenly felt so much motivation again because I didn’t want to let him down. I think that’s really where all that progression was rooted. I wanted to bust. 

So you don’t really like your Rolling Thunder part? That’s kind of surprising to me...

I thought the video, as a whole, was dope. But I personally feel a little dip there in my part, coming after Tentacles with the Shorty’s stuff that was about to come.

What was that song you skated to?

I have no idea. I didn’t choose the music, which is one of the only times that somebody else ever chose my music. Maybe that’s why I’m not as hyped on it.

That was kind of the weird thing about that video, Foundation had brought in this dude who basically acted as the artistic director of Rolling Thunder. That’s where all the music and those little interviews came from.

Don’t get me wrong, I like it. But if you look at Tentacles with the type of skating I was doing and compare that to Fulfill the Dream a few years later, my style is totally different. I feel like Rolling Thunder was that transitional time in-between.

Were you consciously looking for a new board sponsor at the time?

I wasn’t looking at all! Muska’s offer came completely out of the blue. I was just gonna keep it going with Foundation. I don’t think I realized how unhappy I’d gotten with the situation there until after I got out of it.

Muska’s offer blew me away. But at the same time, I was still afraid to quit Foundation for an entirely new thing. Foundation was a big deal and I had loyalty there. I mean, if it wasn’t for Tod Swank, I would’ve never had a skate career. He gave me my chance.

But Shorty’s just felt right. I’d been a fan of Chad’s for so long… I actually tried to get him on Foundation super early on, too. I remember telling Tod about this kid that nobody had even heard of yet, but we should go ahead and turn him pro immediately because he was that good. I won’t name any names but there were a couple dudes who didn’t want him on.

“Oh, that dude!?! Nah, we don’t want him on the team.”

“What!?! You guys are tripping!”

Next thing you know, he’s blowing up!

Did you know that the rest of the Foundation riders were about to leave as well?

I had no idea. By that point, we were all pretty isolated from each other. We weren’t so close anymore. That team vibe was dying out.

So you hadn’t really had a part in a minute, prior to Fulfill the Dream. What all went into the making of that? Was there a different vibe with so much youthful energy going into this new brand?

I actually love that part because so much of it was filmed with the whole team together. We were all out there filming for it every day. It’s not like I had any leftover Foundation footage in there. We didn’t start filming for it until after Shorty’s had started, so the video didn’t come out for another two years.

But Shorty’s was such a tight-knit team. Tony Buyalos, the owner, would bring us all out to stay at his house in Santa Barbara for extended periods of time. He had this huge house with all these bunk beds. We were like soldiers, man. Filming became this constant thing that basically consumed our entire lives. Heading up to Tony’s house, going out on tour, going on road trips together… We’d even head out to contests just for an excuse to film in whatever city it was in.

Everyone at Shorty’s was 100% in what we were trying to accomplish, top-to-bottom. Even the owner would be out there with us. He was like another rider. So we went hard. 

It starts off your arms spread before trying that gigantic gap. What are you doing there?

That gap was kinda weird, man. It was actually one of those big metal storage containers that you see all the time on boats and trains. It was on top of this small hill, overlooking a parking lot. It was pretty high and the runway wasn’t very long either, maybe 20 feet.

Tony, the owner of Shorty’s, and I were up there for some reason. I don’t even really know why. But he’s the one who brought it up.

“Do you think that you could ollie off this thing down to the parking lot?”

“I don’t know, man.”

I’m sure I must’ve just smoked a giant joint but as soon I said that, I completely zoned out. I put my arms out for some reason and closed my eyes. Suddenly, I felt this huge rush of energy, like I was becoming one with the universe.

It’s weird because I’ve since learned about physical exercises that help bring energy into your body, like qigong and yoga. I didn’t realize back then that people who practice that basically utilize this same type of movement. The same type of body posturing and breathing. It’s crazy, because you feel so strong doing that. But I didn’t know any of that at the time. It’s like I tapped into a universal consciousness or something.

But yeah, I was up there doing that thing, when all of a sudden, I just threw down my board.

“Fuck it, man!”

I took one big push, tried to ollie it and bailed. It was pretty big… at least for me. I never made it.

It was Shorty’s idea to have that in there. I guess they felt it was an interesting enough clip to have as my intro. I collaborated pretty heavily on my edit and I don’t recall that ever being in there. I guess they added in a few extra things to the final edit but it’s all good. I thought it was cool.

What about “Mass Mind Control” and the Holy Mountain tank clip? Were those your ideas?

I’ve never liked the cops or trusted the government. I have a lot of reasons but simply by being a skater, you’re constantly being chased by those guys.

I wanted to throw in that Mass Mind Control text because I do believe that’s a real thing. There’s so many people in the world but we have all these systems trying to maintain control over you. The government thinks that control is necessary because there’s too many people in the world; they’re afraid of the ruckus people could bring. So they try their best to exercise control through various means, like money, for example.

No one should be able to control who you are or what you do, other than yourself. And ultimately, you are in control of whatever it is that frees you. No one is policing you 24-hours a day. If you want to be free in your life, the door is right there. It’s open. But only you can walk through it.

On the totally opposite end of the spectrum, what about the post-Hubba dummy toss?

I can’t remember who came up with that but I’d gotten that clip where I jump over the end there, we just wanted to have some fun with it. We found this weird dummy that was like a stuffed animal but with a human head and we put weird hair on it like mine. I have no idea where we got this thing but we ended up dressing it in my clothes and throwing it off a roof. It was pretty funny, though, to watch a dummy dressed like you being thrown off a building. That was fun.

Quasi-related, I suppose, what’s the story behind that boardslide off the roof?

That was only a block away from my house in Pacific Beach. I remember looking at that thing for years until one day, I was skating around with Sean Sheffey and Kien Lieu and we happened to go by it. I brought it up to those guys, kind of in-passing, and they started making fun of me.

“Aw man, you’re not gonna do that. No way.”

That actually motivated me even more. So I went up there and gave it a try. But here I am, on the roof of this building, when this super gung-ho cop comes speeding up out of nowhere. I guess the people inside called the police on me. This guy pulls up hella crazy, jumps out and starts yelling at me. But I think once I explained to him what I was trying to do, he actually got kinda hyped on it. I could tell he really wanted to see me do it but couldn’t because of his job. He still had to kick us out.

They ended up knobbing that rail right afterwards, super quick. So I ended up having to go on a super ninja mission, getting up at 4 in the morning to deknob it with a bunch of tools. Thomas Campbell met me back at my house, right as the sun was coming up, and we walked back over to get the photo.

It didn’t take very long to do. I’m pretty sure that I did it twice that morning because something happened during the first time I made it. I definitely remember being pretty pissed about having to do it again.

So the video comes out, Muska becomes the biggest thing in skateboarding and Shorty’s goes through the roof. How was this explosion of success from the inside?

It was definitely crazy but I feel like I’d been around long enough by then that I could handle it. I had enough experience in the industry. Because I’ll be honest, I’ve never really thought I was so awesome. It always kinda felt weird that people knew who I was. I’m no one special. So I think that mentality really helped me out when I found myself in a situation like Shorty’s, with how big it got. I was able to take the time to realize how blessed I was to be part of it.

Chad is one of my best friends, even to this day. He’s a genuine guy and I got mad love for him. He obviously got the most attention, but he took it in stride. To see him get mobbed all the time, regardless of whether we were at a demo or just out skating, he was great about it. He was always cool to kids and that can be rare with people in that position. I’ve seen him stand on top of cars to avoid getting crushed, like over in Europe… not like that was the norm. Sure, people would get hyped but those instances were pretty rare. Skaters are typically more chill than that.

How do you think Shorty’s was affected by this sudden rush of success? Did you see people starting to change?

Money and fame can definitely go to someone’s head. I’m sure that I’ve been guilty of that on some level. But I think most of the team held it together.

There were a couple of dudes that started to let it feed into their egos a little too much. You could see them starting to become little egomaniacs, doing stupid stuff. Getting hella drunk and acting ridiculous, thinking that the world owed them something. You can’t act like that. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you’re better than anybody else.

Shorty’s was such an extreme set of circumstances, at least when it came to skateboarding. I don’t know if some people were ready for that type of success. They might’ve still acted like that anyway.

What all was going on with the team during Guilty? And what are your thoughts on that project?   

Guilty is a dope video. I really like my part in that one, too. That video was a great time, back when the team was all still super close.

I’ve heard people say that video didn’t quite live up to their expectations. I remember when it came out, people were trying to hate on it. And while I don’t think that it was as well-received as Fulfill the Dream, I feel like that would’ve been almost impossible to do, ya know? Fulfill the Dream was on another level.

I mean, I gotta say that my last trick in that part is one of hardest tricks I ever did. That super crazy double-kink in Chicago? That was a battle. It was a 5-flat-5 with another little kink at the end… and I don’t know if you can tell in the footage but that straight part wasn’t even straight. That was bent, too, like someone hit it with a sledgehammer or something. Pretty squirrely.

I got broke off trying that thing but I kept after it and landed it clean. That’s what skateboarding is. I remember I was listening to Wu-Tang 36 Chambers when I did it, too. I was hyped.

Where was that giant roll-in at?

Oh, that was back when Shorty’s had a little skatepark inside their warehouse. It was so dope, man. Right outside of LA and we all had keys to go in there whenever we wanted.

That was actually the roll-in for the park, but I noticed that right behind it was the roof of a little office they had in there. So I just started going off that roof into the roll-in. It was definitely sketchy but yeah, that was a good day. 

That was all one day?

Yeah, all my tricks off that roof into the roll-in was one day. Just having fun.

Incredible. So what made you start running those one-color sweatsuits shortly after Guilty?

(laughs) That’s kind of a weird story.

Around 2000, for about a year or so, I became a disciple of this spiritual teacher in China. This is when I pretty much learned how to mediate, by following the teachings of this guy and the Falun Gong tradition. These are exercises you’re supposed to do in order to achieve enlightenment. It was a huge movement over in China with millions of followers where the guy basically had to go underground because of the government feeling threatened by him.

I’ve since disassociated myself from the group but there is a tradition within the Falun Gong where you wear all one color. Different monks wear different colors, like all-red, all-yellow or all-orange. I remember reading that in a book somewhere and because I was so into at the time, I figured I’d rock an all-yellow sweat suit, too. I didn’t even care. That was for only about a year, though.

I still remember going to Slam City Jam that year and wearing completely neon orange from head-to-toe. People thought I was out of my mind. They were looking at me like I was an alien or something. I remember the only person who thought it was cool was Mark Gonzales. (laughs)

So were things just not the same anymore after Guilty? Why leave Shorty’s and why Creation?

Well, we started filming Guilty right after Fulfill the Dream came out, so it was a lot of those same vibes but even more so as everyone was really happy experiencing all that success. It was after Guilty, for me, that I felt the energy within the team starting to change. Things felt increasingly more fragmented and, honestly, more like a job. So I left.

In retrospect, I’ll admit that I’ve made some hella bad decisions, business-wise. I even remember when Vans hit me up about possibly giving me a pro shoe. But for some reason, I went with Kastel over Vans. Money-wise, that’s a bad decision! I obviously should’ve went with Vans, but at the time, the team manager of Kastel was a good friend of mine. My decision was based more on that personal relationship than anything else.  

Most of the sponsorship changes I made throughout my career were primarily about wanting to work with friends. I’m actually very lucky to have been involved with so many successful companies back then because I was in outer space at the time. I just never had that hunger for money or success, which is why I never became a successful businessman in skateboarding. Of course, there are times where I wish I would’ve transitioned over to that side of the industry but that’s not me. I’m happy with how it turned out.

So yeah, I left Shorty’s for Creation because, again, I was good friends with the owner. I was already on Satori Wheels, which was part of it, and I liked the energy there. Both Satori and Creation were on a pretty dope spiritually-conscious tip, which I was all about, too. It was pretty much towards the end of my career anyway but I’m glad I got a chance to be a part of all that. Those were some dope little companies.

So you were just over the professional side of skateboarding?

Looking back on it, I definitely feel like I could’ve kept going if I wanted to. I just didn’t have that inspiration anymore. It really didn’t even seem like an option at the time. Like I said, it really wasn’t one particular thing, more like several things all coming together. Things weren’t really going well with my sponsors at that point, either. When I left in 2005, I felt like things were bad with almost every sponsor I had.

What do you mean “bad”?

There was a lot of stuff going on, personal stuff that I probably shouldn’t get into. But in my mind, I truly thought that I was done, and once you start thinking that, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It was a weird situation to be in because nobody could really understand what I was going through. But something clicked inside of me and just like that, I didn’t want to do it anymore. It’s like, I believe in destiny. There are things that we are supposed to do. My heart told me that professional skateboarding was no longer going to be my life’s path. That I was done with the skateboarding industry and that I needed to divert onto another course. So that’s what I did.

It was one of the biggest decisions of my life but I don’t regret it at all. Some people will understand that and some people won’t. That’s fine. My life is great.

I gotta say that if skateboarding would’ve forgotten me after 2005, I would’ve been cool with that. I kind of expected that, actually. But to this day, people still hit me up about my time in skateboarding and I’m so thankful for that. It really does mean a lot to me that people still care.

Looking back on everything, what would you say is the proudest moment of your skate career and what is your biggest regret?

I’m honestly proud that I even got to be a pro skater. It’s such an amazing opportunity that I was given. So many people have to work a job they hate, just to scrape by. I got to do something for the first half of my life that I love! I got paid to skate! Yeah, it can be hard work but I was already doing it for years for free…. I don’t even know if “proud” is the right word, more like “thankful”.

And I’m sure I could dig up some regrets, like the Vans thing or whatever, but in my heart, I don’t have any. I’m good.

If anything, I wish I could’ve done more for everyone who helped me out, like Tod Swank and Tony at Shorty’s. Those people who put me on their teams and believed in me. If there was any way I could’ve done more to repay them for all they did for me, that would be cool. But I did my best. It was all real from my heart and soul.

So what’s next on your life’s path, Steve?

I’m just gonna keep on with my music. That’s really what I enjoy most these days. I have several new projects I’m working on in addition to a book that I’ve had in the works for a while now. Be sure to check out Crazy Monk on Bandcamp to give it a listen and email me if you’re interested at all in booking or physical CDs. I hope you like it. Peace. 

thanks to T. Campbell, Skately and Crazy Monk for taking the time. 


chrome ball interview #109: frank hirata

it's a wonderful life. 

While in actuality the quickest of blips, Small Room Skateboards remains one of skateboarding’s most beloved underdogs. How’d you get hooked up with those guys?

Yeah, Small Room was my first board sponsor. The factory was actually located in the town I grew up in, Los Osos, California.  We were all close friends so the company kinda felt like it was everybody’s deal. Small Room was Louis Carlton and Tony Buyalos, who ended up starting Shorty’s a few years later. Those guys had actually been doing another brand just before that called, Eppic.

That’s right! They had a few heavies on that squad, too. Sal and Markovich, I believe.

Exactly. But yeah, after Eppic fizzled, Small Room was their next project.

The original CCS was located in the area, too. So it became this thing where all my friends would start out skating for the CCS Shop Team and then end up on Small Room. Just from where everything was in this small little area and we were all so tight, that basically became the program.

I always imagined Small Room being run out of a garage or something.  

Louis and Tony actually had their own warehouse going at the time. They had it pretty well put together. They were deep into screen printing and would screen all of the boards right there. All of that rad stuff they did back then was made in-house, which was always cool to see. They were very well-organized, especially for a microbrand.

That’s so rad that you not only got to ride for such an amazing company but that it was such a close-knit operation right there in your hometown.

Oh, we were hyped on Small Room. We sincerely wanted to do everything we possibly could for that brand. And it was a pretty unique experience, for sure. Like, if we were ever needed anything, we just stopped by the warehouse on our way home and got it. No big deal. Just pick up whatever you need. It was right in town and we were stopping by there all the time anyway.

It felt like it belonged to all of us, that we were all in it together.

“What a deal. I wrecked my truck but I got a new skateboard.” Is that ad a true story?  

Yeah, that really happened. I was on my way to high school my junior year and really did wreck my truck. I was bummed but figured we might as well make an ad out of it. So yeah, I basically conceived that while sitting in class that day. After school, I went over to the warehouse and talked to Louis. He was pretty stoked on it, too. Next thing you know, we have an ad.

Small Room was cool because ideas could just come from anywhere, even from wrecking my truck. It’s crazy to think that was an ad. But the brand was just so fun, nothing serious. 

It had to be difficult leaving that but how did Powell enter the picture? Had Small Room just run its course?

Well, Powell was located in Santa Barbara, just a bit down the road. As far as the skateboard industry goes, with so much being in Los Angeles and San Diego, Powell still seemed pretty local.

I’d been going down there for a while and was starting to place well in their Quartermaster Cup series. I actually ended up winning two of them. The second time I won, Powell’s Team Manager Todd Hastings asked me to ride for them. I was obviously flattered by the offer but I was so hyped on Small Room at the time, I had to decline.

photo: jake the janitor

That’s pretty admirable as Powell was enormous at this time.

But Small Room was solid at the time, too. They were still growing and a lot of the riders were out there doing things. It felt like we were gaining momentum and about to really start making some moves.

The thing is that I’m still constantly going down to Powell to compete in these contests. As an amateur, especially back then, that’s what you were supposed to do. So finally, Stacy asks me to ride for him personally, which is pretty crazy. I mean, it’s Stacy Peralta. It’s kind of hard to say no to the man himself. He’s the dude! I grew up watching this guy’s videos. So that sealed the deal for me. It just seemed like too great of an opportunity.

But it was a hard transition to make. I honestly still feel bad about leaving Small Room back then but it was a consequence of having to make big decisions at age 17.

Was Small Room pissed?

Yeah, they were pretty upset. I mean, it’s not like we all stopped hanging out together suddenly. But Louis was pissed. He’d spent a lot of energy on my being on Small Room, on top of just hanging out together all the time. I think Tony understood, though. He was about to go do his own thing with Shorty’s anyway. But it was still hard.

You did join Powell at an interesting time with Rocco waging war and Stacy almost out the door. Could you sense any trouble brewing at all?

Looking back on it, you’re totally right. But at the time, Powell still felt unstoppable. They’d just put out a hot video, Ban This, and things were looking great. None of us knew about Stacy leaving yet… something like that still seemed like it could never happen. And while Rocco was gaining momentum, he didn’t feel like a real threat just yet.

But that’s how it all played out within 6 months of my joining the team, which was crazy to see. It wasn’t too long after I came over to Powell that I started to wonder if I’d made the right decision.

Was there a specific event that happened to make you start wondering?

Everything was great through Propaganda. That was still a great video, and more importantly, it was still all being done by Stacy. It still felt like the Bones Brigade…  I had a part in there that I thought had turned out well. Things were looking good.

It was only after the video had come out that we all Iearned about Stacy’s leaving Powell. That was the turning point for me, because in my mind, he was the guy! He’s the one who initially got me on the team and we’d actually gotten pretty close very quickly.

Powell just didn’t feel the same after Stacy left. And if I’m feeling that way after only being there a short while, I can only imagine how the rest of the guys felt.

Also, as an amateur on the team, it was starting to get really messy. There were just so many of us at the time, all vying for position to hopefully go pro one day. Nobody really knew what was going on. No one was giving us any information and at that time, Powell was stacked with a ton of amateurs who were ready to go pro. Are they turning Pat Brennan pro next? Or Chris Senn? Colin McKay? Adam McNatt? Gabriel Rodriguez? The question was if we were going to turn pro for Powell or have to go somewhere else? What exactly is going on here? 

All future legends. But your debut in Propaganda made a lot of noise at the time, too. It had to be pretty stressful to film a Powell debut at that point, right? Was that on 16mm or video?

We knocked all that out in two days, man! And yeah, it was on 16mm. Stacy arranged it all and had his filmer come up to work with me. Frankie Hill came along for a few sessions, too.

By that point, I was aware of the legendary Powell Handbook, even though I’ve never actually seen one, but I knew these guys were coming up to film. I knew I had to step up my t-shirt game! I actually remember being kinda worried about having fresh enough clothes to wear. (laughs)

I was always stoked on those celebratory rollaways in your part, waving those hands in the air!

(laughs) That was one time, man!

(laughs) No way! There’s definitely a few in there. Were you just having a good day skating? Regardless, I always thought it was cool to see.

It was this weird mix of being super nervous and fired up! Those were all my spots so I knew what I could get there. We weren’t getting kicked out either so it was almost like going to a ramp or something. It was entirely on to me to get all my tricks as good as I knew I could get them… all in-front of this big camera.

The only celebratory roll-away I remember is when I did a 360 shove-it over a hip. That stoked me out because I’d been trying it for a long time. They just didn’t edit quick enough and yes, the fists clearly went up. But I was only 17 at the time, man. I was stoked.

So rad. But your next part in 8 with Paul and Frankie almost looks like a completely different company. Was Stacy already out the door by then or was it supposed to look “lo-fi” on purpose?

Yeah, it was supposed to look like that. The idea was to have it look more like how H-Street was making videos at the time. Lots of bro-cam video stuff, a little more raw than what Powell would typically put out. The problem was that our part came at the end of the video, after everything else’s before it that looked exactly like how Powell typically did things. So our part looked kinda out of place.

Then they gave us that song. Oh, man. “Brown is Down”.

Yeah, what was that!?!

(laughs) I have no idea what that was all about. We were so bummed on that, man. We had no idea that was going to be in there…but then all of a sudden, what is this? Yeah, we’re all brown but why is this in our part? Why are we skating to this song? What does this even mean?

But that 3-flip tail grab and all the mini stuff was amazing.

We all worked really hard on that video but 8 felt like a letdown to me, personally. I just thought that my Propaganda part looked so much better. It looked like how Powell videos were supposed to look, not Powell wanting to look like H-Street.

It was a collective part, too. I was totally down to share a part with Paul and Frankie, but at the same time, it did feel like a message that I probably wasn’t going to be turning pro for Powell. I had my own part in the previous video, now I’m in a shared part? I guess that means I’m probably not at the top of their list to be getting a board anytime soon. I felt like something had taken a turn.

Were you actively looking to go pro at the time?

Going pro was something I thought about a lot back then. That’s what I wanted. But the simple truth was that there were way too many other ams on Powell who were better than me. Once I came to that realization, the whole thing changed in my mind.

So you started looking around because of 8?

Yeah, and looking back on it, I wasn’t the only one either. A lot of riders left at this time. Competition had picked up on all of the uncertainty that had arisen at Powell after Stacy left. Brands saw their opportunity to snatch up some talent and went for it.

That’s when I got in contact with my old friend, Russ Pope. He was aware of my considering leaving Powell and knew of some potential over at NHS, that Rob Roskopp was going to be starting Sims back up. Word was sent back to me that if I wanted to go up and check things out, that there might be an opportunity to turn pro. So that’s what I did.

It was always rumored that you were also an early option for Plan B at this time.

I did have a lot of friends over at World over the years. As for Plan B, I was skating with Danny Way a lot back then. He might’ve brought it up to me at one point but it always felt like a pipe dream. I think I might’ve wore a Plan B hat once but that’s about as far as it went. (laughs)

I don’t think that I’d made enough of a name for myself to where the other riders would’ve considered me a viable option for such an elite team. I think it was Mike Carroll who told Danny that I just wasn’t good enough for Plan B, which did sting a bit at the time. Still so young and sensitive, the last thing anyone wants is to be rejected. But I think after that, I started choosing a bit of a different path when it came to looking at sponsors.

What was Sims 2.0 like to ride for?  

It’s funny to look back on because it was just me and Andy Roy as the only two pros at the time. We were still so young, too. Andy hadn’t quite reached full Andy-mode yet but we still had a lot of fun.

To me, it was just another opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. NHS was super cool and turning pro was a dream come true. Plus, Russ being involved was comforting as well.

So what happened? That relaunch didn’t seem to last very long.

Yeah, Sims was pretty short-lived. Andy and I were travelling around a bit to promote it but the brand just never seemed to pick up much momentum. 

At the time, SMA felt like the more progressive NHS brand. This was back when Steve Keenan was still running things with Karma and Alan Petersen, which was cool. So when Keenan asked me to ride for him, I was stoked… not realizing that what he was actually talking about was a whole new brand he was starting. He was, in reality, asking me to ride for Consolidated, which blew me away. Unfortunately, leaving again felt too risky at the time. I’d just come over to NHS and turned pro. Even though Andy ended up going, there was just too much going on for me at the time.

So when those guys bailed, SMA was basically wide open. After Consolidated, the thinking was that SMA still had value worth saving versus trying to keep Sims afloat, so most of us transitioned over to SMA at that point. Sims was basically one video and that was it. It just never seemed to catch on.

How was saucer-era SMA like from the inside? I loved your Numero Tres part but it still seems pretty slept on. Had the brand just run out of steam by that point?

We had a nice little run when all of us first got over there. Everything seemed fresh with this new team on a brand that was already so established. SMA wasn’t the uphill battle that Sims was. Personally, I was always stoked on the vibe of that second SMA direction we were going into, like Debunker. I just don’t think we stuck with that long enough.

With Numero Tres, here came another different vibe with completely different skaters. I think people just got lost in all of it, which is unfortunate because the team was sick. It just wasn’t as edgy as other things that were going on at the time.

I think it was a mixture of running out of gas in addition to just how skateboarding was at the time. Everyone was looking for whatever was fresh and new, which made things hard for SMA as a legacy company. There was just so much history there, you couldn’t help but feel you were only filling someone else’s shoes. It didn’t feel like we were creating anything new, more like just keeping something alive.

So how did you land on Foundation?

SMA was having some trouble. And since I had just moved down to San Diego, NHS was starting to feel pretty far away. I was in a new hub now and other brands must’ve picked up on that because I was starting to get some phone calls from people, seeing if I’d be interested in riding for somebody else.

Like who?

It kinda started with a call from Dave Bergthold, asking me to ride for Blockhead. I was interested… but then a few days later, I got a call from Swank.

“Hey Frank, I like how you skate. Want to come down to the office tomorrow and check out Foundation?”

“Yes, absolutely.”

I always thought Foundation was sick. Progressive for the time and exactly what I was looking for. A company that was moving in a forward direction, where I could pay my rent and was super cool.  

It always looked like Foundation was having the best time in those early years, even reportedly filming for Super Conductor inside Disneyland on shrooms. Is that really how it went down?

(laughs) Yeah, it definitely went down like that. I pretty much instigated that whole ‘shrooms thing. That little intro was filmed on my birthday and I thought I might be able to add to the fun. It was actually a great bonding experience for us. I think it solidified our camaraderie, setting up a firm base to do everything else that you have to do together as a team, like filming and going on tours.

I gotta say that skating for Foundation was probably the proudest time of my career.

So many classic graphics from this era. How much input did you have and what are some of your favorites?

Foundation graphics were almost always inspired by Tod. He would have the vision, which meant that graphics only tended to be presented to us over the years, like “Check this out!”

Our graphics were definitely more organized than most other brands back then. And because they were usually coming from Tod, they all had the same type of feel.

I was a little affected by this at first, because I’d had so much control over my graphics at SMA. I thought that pro models were supposed to be representative of what that rider was into at the time. I thought that was a normal part of the graphic process. So I remember right as I got on, I came into Foundation pretty hot with all of these ideas. Tod was cool about it but ultimately rejected them to do his thing. It was kind of a bummer at first but it actually ended up making things easier for me as I could trust there was a captain steering the ship. The brand was more consistent this way. 

I really liked my first board for Foundation that Yogi, an artist at Tum Yeto, did… a white, orange and blue abstract of a vagina. I remember going on my first tour with the team and it seemed like everyone was riding that deck. That was a really good feeling of support.

Curious George was sweet. I also had a sick Buddah graphic, too. Cleon Petersen, Leigh’s brother, did it during his stint at Tum Yeto. He was able to illustrate Buddah playing a Flying V electric guitar. Then Tod and I came up with the idea of me recording some electric guitar on a little 4-track and putting a tape in with the boards. It was cool to be able to get creative with the process like that.

“It’s a Wonderful Life.” Talk about your Tentacles of Destruction part, which was basically a short film. Did you really direct all that stuff? The Stallion Alert?

(laughs) I still love the Stallion Alert. That was a surprise, actually. That was my friend, John, who was a pro biker. I just happened to have some footage of him during a session. When that popped up, I was so stoked.

But yeah, that part was my vision, for the most part. I remember writing down, trick-for-trick, how I wanted it all to go with all the intermittent clips and everything. It was awesome because it had been a while since I felt like I had some creative input.  

The title came from the Failure song I was using. It just happened to coincide with the overall vibe I was going for. At the time, I was feeling the effects of consumerism as a theme and was trying to illustrate through symbolism what I felt like America was going through… like the ants running around, chasing money. There was just such a fixation on “success”.

Thrasher actually voted that part as one of the best of the year, which was cool, and I felt like I was on the right path at that point.

In hindsight, I think that letting other people direct how they see you and your skateboarding does help keep things more consistent throughout your career. Something I’ve learned over the years is that being so sporadic, almost impulsive, with some of these creative visions can be challenging in the long-term.

But it did help you stick out at the time. And while I know this is a pretty random clip for you, what about that gigantic fakie inward heel in there? That thing has been burnt in my brain for decades now.

Yeah, that was at an early Vancouver contest. Steve Olson and I were really into inward varial heels at the time. I’d been skating a lot of bank stuff and that time, in particular, was probably the pinnacle of my pop. For whatever reason, I could pop stuff super high back then without even really thinking about it. I don’t know if it was because of all the psychedelics we were on but we were pretty tuned in to stuff like that back then, trying to expand our minds.

But yeah, that one came out pretty good, just randomly. I don’t think I’ve done another one of those since.

Tentacles also sees “The Frank Stairs” coming in hard with the opener fakie heel as well as that fakie shove. What was that spot? And why did you shrug rolling away like that?

(laughs) “The Frank Stairs.”

That’s the Rancho Bueno Vista High stairs, which was kind of our go-to back then for trying tricks down something really big.

I honestly don’t know why I shrugged like that afterwards. Again, this was in my strange psychedelic madness phase. Whether I was battling something in my brain or possibly just making a joke of it, I’m not sure. But the fakie shove-it did come way too easy. With those stairs, you only tried something if you felt you could possibly roll-away from it right away, within the first three tries. I guess that one just felt a little too easy, like I was getting away with something.

It keeps coming up with the psychedelics, what all was going on with you at this time? You definitely seem to be going in a different direction here than in years past… artsier, more thoughtful.

I was trying to go a little more inward, figuring out who I was as a person. I feel like I’d always been such a product of outside influence prior to that. I’d gotten a fair amount of attention skateboarding, which was enough for a while, until I suddenly began to feel insecure about who I really was. Growing up in that era with some success, it was a bit of a challenge finding myself in all of that.

I was living with Steve Olson and friends down in Encinitas. We were all sponsored so it was all pretty mellow and relaxed. We just got really into trying to expand ourselves. Reading a lot and getting creative. I was trying new modes of diet, new modes of thought. Just trying to gain control over who I really was at my core.

Would you go out skating a lot on acid?

It was mostly shrooms, but definitely not. At least, not me.

Olson might attest to something different. When he went to Hubba and did all those tricks in Tentacles? He might have a different take on all that.

He was on shrooms for all that?

Yeah, I’m pretty sure. He was just on a different level than the rest of us back then, way ahead of his time.

But it was around this time that you gave your now-notorious Thrasher interview, an article that’s been cited for getting you banned from the magazine. How did this happen? What’s your side of the story?

It’s actually a convoluted story with a few different phases. But yes, it seems like this interview got me banned from Thrasher.

So I get a pro interview for Thrasher back in ’96, which was super cool. I was staying up in the woods of Northern California at the time, just for a change of pace. I was still skating a lot, but also still in that mode of self-development. Thrasher hits me up and I go down to SF for a few weeks to shoot with Lance Delgart. It all seemed to go really well.

The interview comes out and its pretty well-received. You can tell that I’m in a different headspace but I thought it was cool at the time. I was still married to my first wife back then and she’d done a painting of me for it. It’s not your typical skateboard magazine interview, dealing more with life stuff instead of skateboarding, but I don’t think there was anything out of the norm or detrimental in there.

Years later, at a contest down in El Segundo, Jake comes up and wants to catch up with me. This was way after the interview had come out but I hadn’t really seen him in a while. So in-between everything else, he asks how I liked the interview. I will admit that I was a little bit upset about the interview because it did seem like some of the context was altered slightly. So I let him know.

“Dude, you cut some things out that I really wanted to say. I’m not stoked on it.”

Admittedly, I was not in the best place to be saying anything like that and I’m sure it pissed him off. In hindsight, I should’ve just been grateful for getting an interview at all instead of being a jerk about it.

The thing is that you’re not going to be a dick to Jake Phelps without there being any repercussions. But it’s interesting that it took years for him to have his moment where he was really able to drive it home. So yeah, I got banned.

Fast-forward to 2009, I get a call from Dayne Brummet.

“Hey, did you see that you got banned from Thrasher?”


There was this crazy video on the Thrasher site of Phelps really going after me. It had literally been years since that all went down or even since I’d last seen Jake, but he was really driving it home.

At that point in my career, I was at the very tail end of any type of viability as a pro. I didn’t really feel like anything I’d been doing for a while was making any sort of difference, so I just took this as my cue to exit. That was the last nail in the coffin, for sure.

Thrasher was planning on doing a week of videos about people who had got banned from the magazine and yours was the first one, right? But for whatever reason, the rest of them never came out and yours got deleted shortly thereafter.

Yeah, it was called 5 Days of Hate. It totally came out of the blue, but he cited my interview as the reason for getting banned. I remember he called me a “faggot”… which, why would you even say that word? I was pretty appalled by that.

He did mention that I was making “shitty skateparks” at the time, which I think was his motivation behind the piece. To clarify that a little bit, I was working for a design-only firm back then that had worked on some parks. But we only designed these parks, we didn’t actually build them. Our process was to hold public workshops to get the local skaters involved, so every one of the parks I had a hand in was designed and approved by the locals of that town.

The problem was that my involvement was for the design only, not the build. So if budgets got cut and half of the park got chopped off or if a town went with the lowest bidder to build everything, that wasn’t my fault. We had no hand in that. But because I was the only recognizable face in the process, I got most of the blame.

I definitely want to let you say your piece in all the park stuff, but I’m still trying wrap my head around this ban. Were you actually banned the whole time leading up to that video or…

No, because I was still in Thrasher several times after my interview had come out. I don’t think I was officially banned until that video came out. Like I said, I think it was really about the skatepark stuff and he just used that interview as an excuse, 15 years later.

But the crazy thing is that I heard Phelps actually got fired shortly afterwards, that he’d gotten in trouble for saying things. This was right after that 5 Days of Hate video had come out and then deleted… so, of course, with the timing of everything, people automatically presumed that I somehow got Jake Phelps fired, making matters worse. I had nothing to do with any of this.

So I actually emailed Thrasher on my own accord, like, “Hey, I just wanted to write and say that I don’t think Jake should be fired, if this was actually a result of my segment. He’s just saying what he feels, which is what he should be doing. He’s the mascot of the mag. To fire him because of this segment is ridiculous.”

Thrasher wrote me back with a question about Small Room, I guess to verify if it was really me. And soon after that, he was reinstated. I’m still not entirely sure what that was all about, but that was my experience. Pretty weird.

Well, moving on… the Foundation team during this era seemingly couldn’t be more random, and with no shortage of personalities in there. Did you guys get along well?

Actually, the team got along really well.

I think as time went on, Berra and Heath became more business-savvy as far as how they envisioned their careers. Those two were definitely thinking ahead in terms of what the team meant and what was happening with the company. They knew how to play the game and I think that shows with what they’ve gone on to do.

I think that Beagle, Steve Olson and myself were just happy being skateboarders. For us, I don’t think that it ever really went beyond being happy in the moment and trying to keep that going.

Was it pretty obvious being around a young Heath that he was going to become this legendary figure?

Oh yeah, even as a little kid, everything Heath did was just better. Cleaner than everybody else. More pop. He was going to be tall but still had a great style, which made him unique. His choice in tricks and how comfortable he was with himself already… he just wasn’t afraid. Just this little kid out there skating gaps and rails that hardly anybody else would step to. And he never stopped.

What’s your best tour memory from those days?

My fondest memory is probably one from a tour we did back in ’95. On this particular tour, our team manager had lost a bunch of money. We’d found one of those little gambling spots on the road and he’d got taken for quite a bit. So, for whatever reason, we all decide that Heath will be the bank for all of us going forward. He was only 15 at the time but he seemed like the best man for the job. So here, take our money. (laughs)

So we’re in Memphis, checking out the city, when I walk into a pawnshop and see this amazing Les Paul. It was pretty expensive but I might as well give it a shot…

“Hey Heath, can I borrow $700 bucks?”

“Yeah, okay… sure.”

Somehow, he had $700 bucks to loan me! I’m not even sure if it was actually his money but I’m stoked to be able to get this amazing guitar! We’ll figure the rest of it out later.

Those first couple tours on Foundation were incredible. It was basically a dream come true. No supervision, rolling from spot-to-spot in our own van. Drinking, doing things we shouldn’t have been doing… everything we thought a tour should be. The kids were always hyped on us being there. It was like we were in a band or something.

What were your thoughts on the Barbarians at the Gate project?

We loved it when it came out but it did seem like this weird thing. All of a sudden, Heath and Josh were out doing this video that nobody else knew about. It didn’t really make sense how it was all going down with meeting up with Rocco and using his rig.

But Rocco and Tod were always tight like that. Swank was always learning from Rocco, on many levels. Even during their supposed beef and the Richard Mulder thing, I’m still not sure about all that to this day. We were all a little suspicious about it possibly being a marketing ploy, just because of how those guys were.

Never thought of it that way but now that you mention it, it does make sense. Moving on to Rolling Thunder, was that the first kickflip backside 5-0 down a rail?

I think so. That was actually the second time I did it that day. Steve Olson had been hitting that rail a bunch so I figured I’d go with him, too. I’d been working on kickflip 5-0s a lot, getting them consistent on ledges. Why not try one down a rail?

I have to say that the first one I made was money. It was pretty much perfect. But you know how you always want to look at something after you make it? Well, after reviewing the footage, we ended up recording over it. So I had to do it again.

The second one isn’t as good. There’s a little toe drag in there. Kind of a bummer but still good enough to use at the time.

Where was that marble bank spot you skated in your part? And what was your thought process with that? Not too many people were doing stuff into banks like that at the time.

That was actually the train station in London that got bombed! That spot isn’t there anymore, which is kinda sad.

It was just a quick little stop on tour. We only skated it for a couple of minutes because you got kicked out so fast. But I was able to get those two tricks. For some reason, I was really into the whole “slow roll-up to sketchy bank” thing for a while. That and the Point Lloma spot were always a lot of fun. More of a challenge, I guess.

So why did everyone leave Foundation after Rolling Thunder came out?

It was crazy, man. I just got a call from Beagle one day.

“Hey, dude, everybody just quit.”

“What do you mean everybody just quit!?!”

“Yeah, Berra and Heath are gone. And Olson went to Shorty’s. It’s just you and me now.”

I had no idea! Those are some pretty heavy blows to the company! And it immediately felt different. I quickly realized that so much of my riding for Foundation had to do with the team. And now that they’re all gone, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to ride for Foundation anymore either.

It just so happened that these opportunities all presented themselves at the same time. Shorty’s was starting to make boards while Birdhouse was gearing up for their new video. It was all pretty smart on those guys’ part. Like I said, they’d figured it out. Start out here, hop over for a new video and begin a new career phase on that brand to keep it going. Stay fresh.

I did stay on Foundation for a little while after that. We got some new guys and I tried to vibe with them, I just couldn’t help but feel like I was the leftover guy from the previous era. Beagle was also getting more involved with Pig Wheels, not so much being pro at that point. It just wasn’t the same.

I'd found out that Maple was interested in me. Ed Dominic, the TM at the time, called me up to ask if I wanted to ride for them. I was immediately stoked because I thought that I was gonna be on the same team as Marc Johnson. That would be sick! I didn't realize that Marc had just quit, which is why they were even talking to me at all. His was the open slot on the team. That was kind of a bummer but I felt like I needed a change, too. 

In hindsight, I do regret moving around so much in my career. I wish I would’ve stuck around somewhere to focus on developing a brand for the long haul. I guess I just saw other pros jumping around and thought that was the way to do it. Ultimately, I don’t think that worked for me. Ever since leaving Small Room, I was off and running, when I should’ve taken more of an approach like Dyrdek’s and stayed put.

Is it true that you were bummed on being part of Big Brother’s Yellow Issue? And why did you start using “Garcia” at this point?

No, I wasn’t bummed on that at all. I’m half-Japanese so it wasn’t a big deal. I always loved Big Brother.

Garcia came from making a hybrid of our last names during my first marriage. That was my wife’s last name. I never meant to throw anybody off, I just wasn’t thinking about consistency back then when it came to my image. I think if I would’ve paid more attention in that capacity, my career could’ve definitely benefitted from it. I just didn’t look at skateboarding like that.

Talk about your time on Sheep. Life of Leisure was amazing but weren’t you supposed to have a shoe for them? Did that ever come out?

Sheep was an awesome idea. A great team with solid backing, it had everything going for it at the time. And being interested in veganism at the time, having a shoe option I could support really felt good.

But yeah, I was supposed to have a shoe on Sheep. It actually looked a lot like a Trekker, kind of a hybrid hiking boot scenario. I designed the whole thing. Everything was pretty much ready to go when a similar shoe came out on another Sole Tech brand, which was a little confusing. This other shoe was basically the design I had come up with for my signature shoe… but now it’s out as something else on this other brand? What’s going on here?

Suddenly, my shoe was no longer slated for release. It kept getting moved around until it finally got lost in the shuffle. This was back when so much depended on your board sponsor, that was the big indicator of how marketable someone was. After I left Foundation, I don’t think they felt I had enough weight to support selling a shoe, so it all dissolved after that.

I never knew that Physics Wheels was your project with Hosse.

Yeah, Marc used to do A-1 Meats through Tracker. Around 1996 or so, he wanted to start a new wheel company and approached me about organizing a team and possibly adding some direction to their designs, which were not your typical wheels.

Yeah, what was the thinking with those crazy shapes?

I guess they could be seen as a little gimmicky but we were sincere in trying to improve how skateboard wheels were designed. We were trying to progress the thinking behind the engineering there. Playing around with different things, like shapes, to improve their performance. So yeah, they did look a little weird but we gave them a shot.

You guys were able to keep Physics going for a while, though. And that video was amazing. Manzoori, Miner, Matt Reason…

Yeah, that was a neat video but it also led to the end of the brand, unfortunately.

Dream Reality was similar to what I’d been trying to do with my Foundation parts, using video as a creative outlet. By now, I had a little more experience and having creative guys like Miner and Manzoori involved, I feel like we were able to take it somewhere special. Those guys’ talent, even that early on, was obvious and it was really their filmmaking techniques that brought the project to life.

But like everything else we did for Physics, we went way over-budget. Too many 2-page magazine spreads and now a big video? Things just got too difficult to keep going.

How hard was it selling Matt Reason’s 63mm signature wheel in 1997?

His choice in wheel size couldn’t have been more off-market at the time but we actually did sell a bunch. I never expected for them to sell as well as they did. He just had a strong enough following to where his fans were willing to give some pretty big wheels a shot. 

How was filming for Transworld’s Sixth Sense after working on these smaller, more abstract videos?

Sixth Sense was a lot of fun, man. Transworld would organize these big trips to go on with everybody else in the video, it almost felt like we were on some new team. Heading out to Arizona with awesome skateboarders like Kenny Anderson and Brad Staba, it was really cool.

This was still early in Ty’s career but it was great filming with him. He was still just “Cool Ty at Transworld” at this point, working really hard to create a name for himself. But it was wonderful. Super mellow guy you could trust to always make you look better than you actually were. I feel like he gave everyone a nice little push with that one.

Your frontside 360 ollie ender in Oceanside is a monster.

Yeah, that was Oceanside High. That bump was really sweet and kind of a hotspot at the time. I’d just gotten on Planet Earth from Maple and wanted to give those guys something good. Frontside 360 ollies were always one of those tricks I had in the bag. Not too long before that, Grant had shot a sequence of me 360 ollieing over a rail into a bank. It felt really cool and looked good, why not take it a little further? Thankfully Swift was willing to literally lie in the gutter to shoot the sequence. I was always stoked on that one.  

This is around when you started getting involved with Purkiss-Rose Skateparks, right? Did you see this as a transition out of pro skateboarding?

That’s just how the timing worked out. I’d gone to a meeting about what would become the Vista Skatepark and they just happened to be the design firm. My buddies and I contributed to the design workshops and being a skateboarder, I obviously really enjoyed doing it. Afterwards, they hit me up about possibly becoming a pro consultant who could step in to help shape their designs correctly. Things just went from there.

I wasn’t looking at it as a career, though. I didn’t really have any knowledge of drafting at that point, so I ended up taking a few college classes in order to hopefully get some chops. I did a few more design workshops with them after that and we just got on a roll.

So what happened? Again, give us your side.

Like I said, we just weren’t a design-build firm. That was the problem. Not that all our parks came out bad, it’s just that once our design was done, the city did whatever they wanted to with it. When you hire a sub-par contractor for the lowest bid, and they’re out there trying to build a mega skatepark that they don’t understand, it’s not a good situation. But with how the process is, once we finalized the design, our visibility to the actual site was limited. Often times, we wouldn’t even see these things until the grand opening… which could be shocking.

“Uh… that entire section is missing. What happened?”

“Oh, we ran out of money so we chopped that part off.”

Design-build firms are a staple these days. This is why.

And the recognizable guy who’d been pro for 20 years was easiest to blame.  

Yeah, that was the hardest thing to stomach. If my name’s attached to a park, I obviously want it to be the best it can be. The last thing I want is a crappy skatepark.

People just didn’t how the process worked. They thought that since I designed it, this must be what I wanted. I was only trying to help skateboarders have some input in designing a park they could enjoy. I didn’t want to bum anybody out. I was bummed, too! And then the industry heard about it all and evidently starts to think that I’m purposefully there trying to ruin skateparks…  I was really hard to go through, man.

It’s honestly a big reason why I wanted to do this interview, just to get my side of the story out there. People can still think whatever you want, I just want to be heard.

Definitely, man. So what are you doing now, Frank? Skating much?

Yeah, skating a bit.  My daughter Kalliope is 5 and my son Zennen is 3, both are into skating so I’ve been taking them up to Eureka to skate, which is about 60 miles north from here.  We live in rural Humboldt County so there’s nothing really to skate around here, which is a shame.  I’m actually getting a mini ramp built for our community park at the moment, which is phase 1.  After that, hopefully we can get a concrete park, too. I just had so many opportunities growing up. The kids around here don’t so I’d like to see something positive happen for them.  

Creatively, music remains my one angle where I continue to develop. I have a two-piece going with a drummer, Trent Sanders. We’re called Dreams on Fire. It’s been a lot of fun designing a sound together. It’s definitely where we want to be.

Great to hear, man. Last question, and for the record, are you really the inspiration behind Bart Simpson?

Aw man, that’s the last question!?!

No, that whole thing is a mess. I actually said that in a Transworld interview where the whole piece was a bunch of bogus claims, the premise being that the closing statement of the interview was supposed to say, “Don’t believe everything you read.”

Well, unfortunately, that last part got chopped. So people had no way of knowing that it was supposed to be a collection of tall tales. And, for whatever reason, people really latched onto this Bart Simpson thing. It’s been everywhere, published as truth. I even remember Dave Duncan announcing it at a contest during one of my runs!

No man, that’s not true!

I can’t believe they chopped the most important part!

Yeah, of all the things, right?

photo: t-muck

Well, thanks for taking the time to do this, Frank. I hope we’ve been able to finally put some things to rest. Anything you’d like to add?

Thanks for the opportunity!  I’d like to thank all the people who supported me over the years, my long list of sponsors and my best friends growing up.  Garth Biedenger, Manny Cothran, Ryan Swiebert, Ray Arebalo, Dirk Rago, Chris Watkins, the Pontius brothers (Matt and Chris), Tony Buyalos, Louis Carlton, Russ Pope, Mike Janeway, Erik Hatch and Jason Phaelen.  My wife Danielle Parker and my awesome kids, Kalliope and Zennen!

I deeply appreciate you all!