6.22.2017

chrome ball interview #103: dan drehobl

Chops and Corpsey go out for a smoke. 


Thanks for doing this, Dan. We’ll start out with an easy one... do you still not skate in socks? When did you first notice that wearing socks while skating meant guaranteed slamming for you and when was the last time you actually tried wearing them during a session?

(laughs) I started wearing socks again about 15 years ago. I used to feel like I couldn't get the same boardfeel while wearing them but I just wear thinner shoes now. I'm pretty sure I started wearing socks when I left Emerica to skate for Vans. Now I just wear Chucks. 

So how long did you go without skating in socks? I mean, that can't smell too good, right? Was it just some kinda weird mental block in your head that got planted somehow?

I’m going to say that I went a solid 5 years without skating in socks. I would get swamp foot really bad, to where a film would form on the inside of my shoes… and yeah, the smell was horrendous.

I remember on this one trip, Duffy and I went on to Australia and I'd been skating sockless for a few weeks in the heat. I tried to dry out my shoes using a hotel hair dryer and the stench just permeated through the room for days. Pat was not stoked.

It was definitely just a mental block I had. Honestly, I believe just about everything with skating is mental. If you think you can do something, then all you have to do is do it… to a certain degree, anyway.


Another one I've heard, and although all evidence has been seemingly destroyed, word has it that you pushed mongo well into being a sponsored amateur? Any truth to that? And if so, what was the pivotal moment that made you change to regular? Was mongo just more accepted in Maine or something?

I grew up pushing mongo in Maine and continued doing so throughout the 6 months or so that I rode for Foundation in Southern California and then for probably about another year into living in SF, riding for Think. There's footage of me ollieing Wallenberg and skating around EMB while pushing mongo... though, I do remember seeing myself in that footage and thinking that it looked fucked.

It was right around this same time that people were beginning to push switch so I just started messing around with pushing differently. It kinda helped because I could push switch really fast after that. I guess it all worked out. (laughs)

Maybe it was more accepted in Maine but nobody ever really gave me shit about it anywhere else either.

I know you and Rob Welsh would skate together back in Maine. Did the two of you ever talk about moving out to California with dreams of “making it” in skateboarding? I know you were already on a few smaller companies around this time. 

I did know Rob back then but he was only 14-years-old. I was 18 so I kind of looked at him as a little kid. I didn't really hang out with him much.

I do remember one time when he asked my friend Jamie and I to give him a ride home from the skatepark. We told him that we would but only if he smoked pot on the ride there. I remember dropping him off at his house just super stoned. I could be kind of a dick back then. Sorry, Rob.

I just wanted to get out of Maine and see more of the world. I mean, I wanted to get picked up by someone, too, but really, I just wanted to get out and skate. I would see sunny California in videos and the mags and just wanted to ride all of the awesome shit I was seeing.

But I gotta say that when it comes to you and Welsh, you are two of tobacco’s finest in all of skateboarding. Is there some kind of unspoken thing with skaters from Maine and smoking?

Yeah, I don't know. I just picked that shit up at a young age and haven't been able to shake it.

I'm pretty sure Rob quit, though. I hope he has.

For the record: Is smoking cool? And how tired are you of getting asked about it?

I get short of breath and constantly have a shitty taste in my mouth. So no, smoking isn't cool. It sucks, really. It's a shitty bad habit.


You gotta admit though, it’s lent itself to some pretty cool ads and photos of you skating. But seeing stuff like that and being so closely associated with smoking, does it kinda bum you out since it is such a bad habit? Did you have any hand in the decision to use smoking almost as a marketing tool for you?

No, it’s never bummed me out. The way I look at it is that’s just me. I smoke and sometimes I smoke when I skate, so whatever. I’ve never really worried about it influencing younger skaters. The way I feel about it is that it's your own personal choice whether or not to smoke. And as far as using it for marketing, I’ve never really had any hand in that but I don’t really care one way or the other.

But you have had more than your fair share of classic photos with tricks done while smoking… everything from frontside inverts in pools to nosegrinds down Hubba Hideout. Does smoking while skating help you on some level? Is it a slight enough distraction with having a smoke in your mouth to make your trick? Ever been burnt while doing it?

I will say that sometimes smoking has helped me land tricks. If for nothing else, it has allowed me to stop and take a break before giving it another go. If I’m smoking in any particular photo then that trick probably took me a little while to land because I usually don’t light up a smoke right when I first start trying a trick.

But no, I’ve never seen it as a distraction and I’ve never burnt myself.


Getting kicked off Foundation via an ad in your amateur days… I asked Swank about it myself and he blames Beagle and possibly Jason Masse. Did those guys have it out for you or something? Have you ever talked to Tod about any of this and do you accept his apology?

I've talked to Tod about it and we're cool. I like Tod. I don't hold a grudge over some dumb shit that happened 25 years ago. I think I met Josh once when I was on the team but I really can't even remember now so I can't really hold it against him either. We didn't really know each other.

It all worked out in the end, though. We're all good.

Rumor has it that you got on Think by trying to 360 ollie the Gonz Gap… is that true? Did you ever make that? And did you skate the Gonz Gap often back then?

The 360 attempt might have helped but really what happened was that I met Bryce Kanights at his ramp, Studio 43. We started skating and shooting photos together and he started to tell people about me. One day, I was skating his ramp and I had flat spots. Greg Carroll just came up and gave me a set of wheels, asking me to ride for Think. That was it. I'm sure you've skated with flatspots before and know how bad it sucks so I really didn't have a choice.

Amazing.

I wouldn't say I skated the Gonz gap often but I would jump down it every now and then. I did get to skate it with Gonz back when he kickflipped it. That was insane. Definitely a good one to have in the old memory bank.

I never made the 360 though. My foot slipped off my tail and I tore my MCL so I never wanted to try it again. Then, once my knee got better, I tried to switch ollie it. I landed on one but zipped out and hit my head. That was pretty much it for me and that gap.


Were you down with all the rave-stuff that Think had going at the time? Were you hitting up a lot of raves with the crew back then and getting weird? Kinda hard to picture, honestly. 

I fucking hated that shit!

I was actually going out with this girl at the time and she had moved out to SF before me. When I finally got out to SF, she had made this total transformation. She looked fucking crazy! She had all this pink shit weaved into her hair and was dressing all weird with those goofy boy pants. I did go to a few raves with her and tried ecstasy and all that but it just wasn't my scene. I thought it was lame. But once I found out that she had cheated on me, I was completely over that shit. I broke up with her, never went to another rave again and started telling Think that they needed to chill out with the rave graphics. (laughs)

Nobody on the team was into that stuff at the time anyway.

What’s the story behind that photo of you with the Think stickers on your head at EMB?

Dude, there's no story to that. I'm just a fucking idiot and had a shaved head so I put stickers on it.


How were you treated by the “fresh” EMB kids back then? Already deemed “not progressive enough” by Swank, were you just another transplant t-dog at first?

I really don't know. I would see other people get vibed out but it never really happened to me. I guess I just got lucky. Maybe I picked out the right pair of goofy boy pants and was able to blend in.

As an all-terrain skater in the 90’s, did you ever feel boxed in-by trends and politics? Did you ever feel pressure to put out more street footage over tranny stuff for sheer marketability?

When I first got on Think and turned pro, I definitely felt this pressure in my head that I needed to start skating and dressing a certain way. You can watch my part in Think's Another Day on the Range video and see that I’m going through all that shit.

After a few months of that kinda pressure, I just started losing it. I would go skating, freak out and focus my board pretty much every day. It just got to the point where I had to make the decision, “Fuck this, I'm just going to skate how I want.”

There were definitely other skaters that influenced me in that direction, too. Sean Young and Matt Pailes come to mind. I also remember reading a Donger interview where he talked about not being into skating super tech, that he just wanted to skate fast and ollie over the world. That was good to see.

The thing about putting out street footage over tranny footage, it wasn't really like that back then because there wasn't much tranny around to put out footage on. I was living in SF and just skating the city. If there was tranny around, I'd skate it but there just wasn’t any.


You talked about wanting to move out to sunny California to skate awesome shit, San Francisco was mecca back then. How did the spots measure up in real life versus your perceptions from those magazines? Were there any spots, in particular, that you looked forward to skating, only to find that you hated them in reality? And how did the hills treat you as a Maine native?

San Francisco turned out to be even better than I'd ever imagined. I love that city. 

I remember always wanting to skate China Banks and Ft. Miley and ended up loving those spots. And honestly, I didn’t even know about spots like EMB until I got out there, which made it all even better. 

The hills treated me great, man. I loved skating those things. I definitely got my share of road rashes but that’s just part of it all. I wish I could still live there and skate all that shit but life moves on.

I brought it up earlier but how’d that frontside nosegrind down Hubba happen? That’s definitely a spot that seems way easier to skate in-theory than in-person. I remember that nosegrind being a particularly heavy trick at the time... And there’s two angles of that photo too, right?

Honestly, I barely even remember doing that nosegrind down Hubba. (laughs)

The photos look amazing, though!

I actually just found out about Theo’s angle the other day on Instagram, I never even knew he shot a photo. It does look good, though.

Bryce's Angle

Where’d the name Spiderman Dan come from? 

When I first came out to California, I ended up staying with Dave Bergthold for a little while and got to skate the Blockhead ramp. One night, we were all hanging out and someone bet me $40 to eat this huge spider… so I ate it. It was actually in the credits of one of the Blockhead videos.

A couple years later, the Back to the City contest was going on and everyone was skating EMB. I'm pretty sure it was the same time that I tried to 360 the Gonz. But Oscar Jordan was there and he knew the story so he started yelling "Spiderman Dan". I guess it just caught on.

I always hated that nickname.


But how does that compare to Corpsey or Cancer Dan? Is there one you actually prefer? I always liked Corpsey… but I guess just regular “Dan” also works.

I just really hated “Spiderman Dan” for some reason. I don't even really know why. “Cancer Dan” was pretty good at first but after having a friend die from cancer, it just wasn’t funny anymore. I’ve always been fine with Corpsey but I’d rather just be Dan.

Fair enough. So for future generations, what’s the Dan Drehobl secret to skating tight transitions? You always make it look so easy! Is it a weight distribution thing or just saying “fuck it” and plowing through or what?

That’s confidential information. I’m sorry but I can’t tell you the secret.

(laughs) Well, how’d that Ft. Miley feeble grind on the middle bar go down then? You weren't really seeing many tricks like that at the time. Was that a battle to pull off? Such a classic ad. 

I would skate Miley a couple times per week back then and was just learning a bunch of shit at the time. As well as I can remember, I’m pretty sure that it took a few sessions to figure out to how to skate the tight hip. You have to kinda jam into it and then ollie late. China Banks is a similar feeling. 

Fort Miley is actually where I learned how to lock onto a round bar. I don't really remember who shot it or how long it took. I probably thought it was cool that I did a new trick but it wasn't really a big deal.

I remember Cardiel had already ollied over the corner of it by then. I was also trying to frontside 180 over it when I started hitting my nose so I did a little noseslide to fakie on it, too, which was cool. But within a year after that, Phil ollied over it to frontside grind and that was it. He took the cake with that one.


What about the boardslide to fakie over the bench at China Banks for your Damaged ender? That was mind-blowing at the time.

That one took a while, like several hours. Then I had to go back again to shoot a photo of it with Bryce. But soon after that, I started riding a shorter wheelbase so I couldn't jam it back in anymore. Then Tim McKinney somehow lipslid the top of it with a short wheelbase anyways... I still don't know how the hell he managed to do that.

Of all the stuff you’ve thrown out at China, what are you’re most proud of? Some of those blindside grabs over the bench had to be gruesome, right? And is there anything you’ve tried over the years but weren’t able to get?

I would have to say that boardslide fakie over the bench would probably be it for me. Because after a while, I figured out how to get those blindslide tricks to where they really weren’t that hard to do anymore. 

I will say that there were a bunch of other tricks that I’ve almost done there over the years. I’ve gone back to try them several times but I don’t even want to say what they are because I never landed them. I don’t want it to seem like I’m talking out of my ass.


(laughs) But talk a little more about that Damaged part. Was that part specifically like your first “serious” video project? Because there seemed to be much more of a conscious effort with that project to really showcase your skating with that one.

Well, Think had put out that video Another Day on the Range a few years before that and everyone on the team just hated it. Nobody on the team had any input with it and we all talked so much shit about it that the guys basically said, “Fine, make the next one on your own then.”

So we did. We filmed for about a year on Damaged. We mostly just used each other’s shitty Hi-8 cameras and then Phil Shao, Paul Zuanich and I edited it all together. I like it. I think it's probably a little long but I can say that I'm proud of what we did there. The quality looks like shit now but we could only work with what we had at the time.

How much importance have you placed on video parts throughout your career? Do you enjoy filming and all that comes with it? Like, do you ever make trick lists or sit in on editing?

I've always looked at video parts like they're pretty much everything to being a pro skater. Most of the time, I do like filming. Sometimes it sucks but that's usually when I tell them just to cut it if I can't do it that day.

I've written down lists before, on occasion, but they never seem to work out. And I do like taking part in the editing but haven't really had an opportunity to since Krooked Kronicles.

If you had to choose one of your video parts as a personal favorite, which one would it be?

I'll say I'm most proud of my Transworld part, Free Your Mind. That was a good time in my life. I was having a lot of fun and it was good working with Jason Hernandez and Jon Holland.


Did working on a Transworld video represent a bit of a change for you compared to prior Think projects? 

Yeah, it felt a lot more official because you’re filming with these guys who are known for putting out the best videos. 

I had just gotten on Krooked at the time and I already knew that we were going to be working on a video soon when those guys asked me to film for the Transworld video. I honestly wasn’t sure if I even had two parts in me within that short of a timeframe but I pulled it off... which probably has a little to do with why I was so blown out by the time I was done with Kronicles.

But at least you got to show off your acting chops. How did you like making your thespian debut with TNT in the cab? Classic shit, man. Was that just an hour or so, screwing around in the car?

Yeah, we did all that in a day or two, I’ve always hated having to do any type of acting stuff but I gotta admit that it turned out pretty good.


For sure. One thing I noticed during my research for this is a curious running theme throughout your career of always having slam clips in your parts? Why is that?

Slamming is just a part of skating. If skating were really easy, then it wouldn't be as much fun.

Right, but that can be said by everyone who skates, yet most people choose not to have slam footage in there. You’ve had slam clips in all of your parts since the Think days! Do editors just like watching you hurt yourself or something? Do you get a kick out of watching yourself eat shit and personally like putting those clips in there?

I’ve actually made a conscious choice to include them in some videos. I’ve also chosen sketchier landings over clean ones before, too. That kinda stuff just seems more real to me. Like that clip where Sheffey lands the double kink boardslide one-footed in the Life video? That shit is better than a clean make in my book any day. You’ll always remember that clip.

Very true. So how do you go about choosing songs for parts then? Wesley Willis, GG, Billy Joel… always amazing.

I just like a lot of different music and have occasionally put some thought into what song to use, which helps.

(laughs) What is your favorite Phil Shao memory?

I'm not even going to go there.

There's really nothing I could say that would even begin to explain or describe him to someone who never met him. If you ever got the privilege to meet or skate with him then you know. You got to witness his light. If you didn't then you missed it. That's it.


But do you think Phil ever got the proper due for his skating? I feel like, had he come up in skating at any other time, he’d have SOTY honors and million dollar endorsement deals. The grind at Miley is just one of his many legendary feats but unfortunately, the trends favored slow flatground and 50-50s on little flatbars at the time.

Yeah, it would’ve been great if he’d made more money for all that he did but if he hadn’t died, he would have had all that shit. As far as the little world that I was living in, myself and everyone I knew… we all knew he was the best.

The thing about Phil was that he was just starting to hit his stride when he passed away.

Was there ever talk of you being on his company at some point, Dump Truck?

No, I was helping him with it a little but that was his thing. I was going to continue riding for Think… I might have even suggested that name but I'm not sure. I remember telling him to just call it whatever, that it didn't really matter. Whatever he called it was going to work out once he built the image around it.

Talk a little bit about the filming of Dedication? When during the filming of this video did we lose Phil and when was it decided that the video would be in his honor? How did that affect what looked to be an already intense project? 

I forget exactly how far along we were but I'm pretty sure that we were done filming when he died. I don't think we even had a choice but to dedicate it to him. It was our lives and that last part of his was his life and that was that.


Well said. Moving on, what inspired your tail stall-to-handrail phase? How did you even get started doing that? 

I was living in this house that had a stoop and I'd always try to drop in from higher and higher on the steps until I could do it from the top. 

There was a house just down the street and while the steps were the same, it also had this perfect little low handrail. So I started fucking around a little, trying to tail ollie up onto it and it just kinda went from there. It was always fun to do.

Later on, my friend Isaac randomly moved into that house and it became a full-on skate house for years. It might still be a skate house… I have no idea.

How did Krooked enter the picture? And was there ever any talk of you riding for any other Deluxe companies before that, like Anti-Hero possibly?

Mark asked me about Krooked early on and it really ended up happening. I couldn't be happier.

But no, there has never been any talk of me riding for Anti-Hero.


But in riding for Krooked, you did “cross 3rd Street” from Think to Deluxe, two of the biggest things going in the San Francisco skate scene at the time. I know this move was contemplated by many but you were the first… which had to be gnarly, right? How difficult was that, politically speaking?

Well, when Mark asked me to ride for what would become Krooked, I didn't think that it was really an option. But after Phil died, Think just wasn’t the same anymore. I’d gotten quite frustrated with Think after 10 years of butting heads with the guys. I’d gone to too many team meetings so I quit. I was honestly about to go to do something else when the Illuminati pulled some strings and that was that. I had crossed 3rd Street.

What was the "something else"?

Sorry, I can't talk about that. 

But how do you go about projects like Gnar Gnar, Naughty and Krook3d? What are the expectations of you and the rest of the team for these videos? Obviously ripping footage but is it more a fun/art piece for you guys versus a “serious” video? Or am I full of shit?

Those are all just the products of Mark’s brain. Mark's the music maker and we're just the dreamer of the dreams. We just go along with it and try to have some fun.

What about Krooked Kronicles? That had to be a bit of a different undertaking for you guys, right? I do love your part in that one, though. You brought up being a little burnt towards the end of that one, having followed your Transworld part so closely. Were you pleased with the part? It's honestly one of my favorites. 

Yeah, Krooked Kronicles was definitely more of a project where it was like, “You guys have a year to film, we're going on these trips, yada yada yada”.

I like that part but I was going through some shit at the time and that’s all I see when I watch it. I put a lot of pressure on myself with that video and I was drinking way too much. You can watch that part and see the alcohol taking its toll on me. I gain like 20 pounds from beginning to end.

Who’s idea was it to skate to Forever in Blue Jeans? Incredible!

That was all me. I went through a heavy Neil Diamond phase that year.


What’s your best Mark Gonzales story?

Mark’s amazing. He’s just one of those truly gifted people. He was always my favorite skater growing up so maybe I’ve always been a little reserved around him? I don’t know. But everything that dude does, it’s just Mark.

I’ll tell you this story…. Back when I was skating the Gonz gap with him the day he kickflipped it, everyone else would climb up the ledge to get back up to the top of it but he would run and jump, putting his foot on the edge of a trash can and then jump off that up to the top of the ledge. I remember one time, his foot slipped and went into the can. Anyone else would’ve just eaten shit but he pulled his foot back up and put it back on the edge again before jumping up to the top, like it was nothing. My friend Greg and I just looked each other, like, “Holy shit, did you just see that?”

He’s just an enigma. Skateboarding would not be the same without him, to say the least.

Corpsey definitely went through quite a transformation around this time… what were the series of events that led to your diagnosis of having Type 1 Diabetes? Crazy shit, man.

Back about 5 years ago, I quit drinking. I started losing a lot of weight but I just attributed it to the not drinking. I lost 30 pounds within a few months and towards the end, I started weighing myself and I was losing a pound every day. I was also pissing about 20 or 30 times a day, too. And I was constantly thirsty.

I went to Hawaii to get married and while talking to a friend about my symptoms, she insisted that I go see a doctor. So the day before our wedding, I go to see a doctor and was diagnosed with Type 1 "Juvenile Diabetes" at the age of 40. I'm pretty sure I had it for about 8 years prior… but that's a whole other story.

Basically, I had been feeling like crap and just never had any energy for years. The symptoms and timeline all work out. When kids get Type 1 Diabetes, it’s like bam! They’re completely diabetic. But for adults, it’s much more gradual. They go through a period called the “honeymoon phase” where they’re just slightly diabetic, which tends to last about 10 years or so. My “honeymoon phase” lasted about 2 years after my diagnosis and about 8 years before my diagnosis.  I was just always really sick... never feeling quite right until I was finally diagnosed and put on insulin.


Were you affected at all by Lewis Marnell’s diabetes-related passing? That had to be startling to you on some level. Did you know he also suffered from your same affliction?

I didn't really know Lewis that well but it really sucks that he passed away. From what I know, he passed away as a result of having low blood sugar. I had another friend of mine who died after years of neglecting his diabetes from having elevated blood sugar....

Having diabetes is like trying to hold a manual through life. Too much either way will take you out. So yeah, it affects me. It's actually scary as shit. But I just tell myself that it could be worse and manage my shit from day-to-day.

When did the "air-to-rafter hang" turn into a serious component in your trick repertoire and have you ever bummed any ramp owners out with potential roof damage?

Dude, I seriously don't know where that one came from. But no, I don't think I've ever bummed anyone out with that... other then maybe people just thinking that trick is lame.

(laughs) What's your favorite trick? And what’s one trick that you wish you do better? 

Just a good ollie.

For both answers?

When someone scoops it just right and makes it look so effortless…

Magic. I gotta say one clip that always stands out for me is your Go For Broke switch heel over the 3rd and Army Pipe. I think that’s the only clip of you ever doing that trick! How did that even happen?

I've always been able to do those but I just don't really have the patience to learn any other flip tricks, let alone film them. Whenever I try to film anything with flips, I always end up saying, “Fuck this!” after 2 or 3 tries. That one just happened to work out.


I know it was a “wacky board” challenge but how did you come up with the idea of using an assault rifle for KOTR 2003? Was that an actual working gun or what? How’d you go about building it and how impossible was that thing to skate? Super sick photo though…

That was all Jason Pharis' idea. It was just a plastic toy gun.

A crazy story about that one is when we were leaving the store where we'd bought the toy gun at, we were playing around with it in the parking lot and ended up getting surrounded by cops with their guns drawn! There are people who argue that white privilege doesn't exist but I gotta think that if we weren't white, there’s a good chance that we'd all gotten shot.

But back to the board, we ended up cutting the plastic gun in half and then cutting a skateboard to where it would fit inside it on top before taping and gluing it all back together and mounting trucks to it. It was really long and skinny… and felt pretty heavy, actually. It took me a couple of tries to land that air, though. I remember the first time that I landed on one, it cracked the tail so we had to try taping it all back together again. I ended up landing it with the tail scraping on the ground for the final photo.

That King of the Road trip was really fun but I don't think I'd want to do it again. You gotta go non-stop on that thing. It was fun once, though.  


So Is Freedumb Airlines officially laid to rest? What happened with the resurrection?

Nothing's official. It just kinda ran out of gas..

I've always wondered if Freedumb was always supposed to be the name or if there were any potential other names? Because you always had the best taglines for that project: Assholes of High Society, Shit Sandwich… I have to imagine the contenders for the brand name being just as excellent.

I really wanted to call it Loathing. I wrote down a list of names and showed it to Fausto and he picked Freedumb. I even remember asking him specifically, “Are you sure you don’t like Loathing?”

“No, it’s going to be Freedumb.”

What are typical sources of inspiration for your artwork? Like, where do the ideas for  things like “asshead” and “pisscat” even come from? 

Just go outside and watch some people and you should be able to see where Asshead came from. 

Pisscat came from a cat that I had with undiagnosed diabetes. He would just moan all the time so I drew a picture of myself pissing on him instead of actually doing it. Poor Bubba.


I was always a fan of “Angel Love”

Yeah, we didn’t sell too many of those.

Any thoughts on taking your art a little more seriously? I’ve always enjoyed it more than a lot of other stuff I see making the rounds. Ever thought about doing a show or possibly a book? I’d personally love to see it. Why not?

I try not to take anything too seriously. I’ve been in a few group shows here and there. The last one I was in, I just drew a bunch of skateboarding dicks. 

I love it. Just like the Enjoi series you did!

Right. But I was working on a children’s book a few years ago... it was an alphabet of animals having sex. I only had like four animals to go and I set it aside. Maybe I’ll try to get back to finishing that soon.

Sounds like just what the world needs! Alright Dan, so as we start to wrap this up… what’s next? Anything in the works for you coming up, skating or otherwise?

Actually I've been working on changing my bowl around. It used to have 8 1/4 and 5 1/2 feet walls and I'm changing it so that it’s almost all 7 feet tall with one 8 1/2 foot extension corner. The way it's been set up doesn't really skate like a bowl as much as just two two criss-crossing ramps and I’ve just started to feel like I've done all I can do on it as it is. Hopefully this way will feel more like a big mini ramp... where as before, it felt like a little vert ramp, if that makes sense.

Hopefully I like the way it turns out and if so, I'll probably film another edit on it over the next year or so. We'll see.


Sounds rad. In addition to that, I’ve actually heard there is possibly a new Krooked video in the works? Any truth to that?

Yeah, it actually should be out any day now. I didn’t have a lot of luck filming for it. Deluxe’s filmer lives in LA and after a few failed attempts at having him come film me, I just stopped bugging him. But I got some tricks in there that I’m pretty happy with.

It’ll be good to see some new footage, for sure. Anything you’d like to add to this? Any thank you’s that you want to throw out there or possibly some words of wisdom from the man we call Corpsey?

Just thanks a million to anyone who has ever helped me out… and also thanks to anyone who's ever been a dick to me, too. We're all just humans. It's amazing we've made it this far.

Thanks to Whiteley, Rattray and Dan for taking the time. 

6.04.2017

chrome ball interview #102: tony hawk

Chops sits down with the Icon. 


So I’m going to selfishly start out at my own introduction to skateboarding: Animal Chin. Much has been said about this project but one thing that’s consistently brought up by everyone present is you seemingly coming into your own during filming at the Chin Ramp. I realize you’d been at the forefront for a while by then with no shortage of contest wins but do you personally feel your skating had gone up a level during this period?

(laughs) I’ve heard those guys say that but it’s kinda hard for me to think that way personally. I do feel like, at that point, I was coming into my own in the sense of being able to skate other terrain. I remember people saying that I had some crazy unfair advantage at the Del Mar contests because they thought that was the only place I knew how to skate. It’s funny to think about that now but I will say because of that, I made a conscious effort to break out of Del Mar and start skating other places. Leaving my comfort zone to learn how to skate not only other pools but new terrain, in general.

At the same time, I’d also been on this progressive trip for so many years. Thinking up and learning all of these different tricks. It just so happened that the Chin Ramp proved to be the perfect venue. It was a state-of-the-art ramp that was just so much bigger than anything we’d ever ridden before. Its size really gave us the freedom to explore. Personally, it allowed me to try things that I was still only considering as well as the tricks I’d only made a few times prior, like a 720.

For me, Animal Chin was the beginning of the true video part. There were obviously skate videos before Chin but they were all filmed in such a short timeframe. And because you had such limited time, you only went after the tricks that you were confident you could get. You didn’t want to waste time.

Back then, Stacy would come down to Del Mar and we’d only shoot for 5 hours or so. That was it. That was my entire part. And you better hope you’re having a good day or you’re in trouble. So, in that respect, those early parts really weren’t that much different than contest runs. You were still in that same type of mode.

There was enough time at the Chin Ramp for us to try harder tricks. We were going to be filming at this ramp for several days, we no longer had to rush. And while a couple of days filming now seems like a quick turnaround, it was a luxury at the time! You could go out and attempt something over and over again… like how videos ended up being. I feel like this is where a lot of that thinking began. There were tricks I made in Chin that took a little longer than what Stacy was typically used to filming, but in the end, it was worth it. We had the time and the space, let’s open this up a little bit.

The Chin Ramp represented the perfect storm of all this stuff coming together.


With so much of your public persona established by Stecyk and Stacy, how comfortable were you with Powell’s marketing of “Tony Hawk” over the years? Was there anything you ever outright refused to do?

I trusted Stacy and Craig’s instincts. I knew that they weren’t going to put me in something so far removed to where it wouldn’t fit into the Powell aesthetic and skateboarding, in general.

The only time I was relatively uncomfortable was an ad we did where I was painting inside an empty swimming pool. It wasn’t the concept I had problems with but more to do with me painting Stacy’s actual pool in his apartment complex with absolutely no permission for me to do so whatsoever. The landlord was known for dropping by on any given day, which made the photo shoot nerve-racking because if he happened to stop by, I’m the guy in the pool, surrounded by a bunch of paint, with my name written on the wall. I was only 14 years-old at the time, I thought I was gonna get in big trouble!


Did you guys drain it, too?

No, it was already drained because they were resurfacing it or something. We didn’t go that far but I think knowing that it would be drained is where Stacy got the idea to make the most of it.

But yeah, I remember getting in there and being so nervous… asking over and over if we’d gotten the shot yet. And, of course, the second we got it and began spraying the paint off, the landlord comes walking in. He only saw a few of the marks remaining and didn’t seem too bothered by it. Luckily, he didn’t see how much paint we’d actually used just minutes before.


But with regard to the videos, it seemed as though each project got increasingly more grandiose as Stacy got deeper into tv production, possibly in conflict with the actual skateboarding for top priority. Was there ever a point, possibly after Shackle Me Not, where the team tried steering Stacy away from these bigger productions into a more grounded skateboarding approach?

Well, as much as Stacy wanted to control the quality of videos, we were still bringing in footage that we shot ourselves and he’d still allow it in the final edit… reluctantly.

“Really? This dark deathlens footage? It looks so bad!”

“Yeah, but look at the trick! It’s never been done!”

So those videos weren’t all about being these big productions. Skating was always the most important thing but I know what you’re saying.

You have to remember that the Powell team got so large after a while, there was no way that Stacy could possibly film all of the riders. And it wasn’t just him anymore either. By that time, I’d bought a video camera for myself and we also had Steve Sherman shooting as well. And we were still being ourselves. It’s not that we had to steer Stacy in any direction.

It got to the point with Celebraty Tropical Fish that Stacy let me edit our own shared part entirely. He didn’t have any control over our part at all. I had my own editing equipment so it was all up to us, doing things the way we wanted.



Right, but you gotta admit that the videos leading up to Tropical Fish were increasingly over-the-top. Was the team worried at all by H-Street’s trick porn while you guys were out filming the Greater Gutter Open?

I’ll be honest, we were still on the Powell gravy train at that point. We were just going with it, for the most part. I wasn’t trying to disrupt our approach to making skate videos. I mean, it had obviously worked so far!

The most important thing to me was wanting to shoot on my own timeline. By that point, I had my own ramps at my house and if I felt like shooting something, I wanted to go out at that moment and shoot it. I didn’t want to wait for Stacy to come down. That was my biggest concern back then, which had more to do with convenience than rebellion.

But I never thought the videos got too big… and skateboarding was always the top priority, obviously. It’s just that skate videos were still evolving at the time.

A dominant figure of the contest age, when did you start to realize the power of videos?

I actually wanted to believe in the power of video before it came to fruition. I always took them seriously and tried to get my best stuff.



Care to elaborate? Like, what do you feel is your best part from the Powell days?

I put the most effort into Ban This. That’s when I really started to make a conscious effort towards a “part”. There were tricks that I’d planned specifically for that video, stuff that I’d intentionally kept under the radar.

I filmed that with Stacy at my house for three days. I remember him lighting up my ramps and the hillside for shooting… I was so serious about everything. I had made the decision that this to be my opus, so to speak. This was going to be everything that I wanted to put out there. And by the end of it, I was happy with the part. I thought it came out really good and I got a lot of new stuff in there.


Isn’t your ender a 540 ollie on vert... in 1989?

But as progressive as you could call the tricks I was doing, it became clear that a video part didn’t matter as much as another contest win. I’m not saying that video parts didn’t have any impact because they certainly did, but at the end of the day, people were still looking in magazines to check what place you got. For whatever reason, contests just meant more to people at the time.

Something that came to light in Guy’s Epicly Later’d, were you aware of Stacy throttling am coverage in favor of more merchandised pros?

No, I wasn’t privy to that but I wouldn’t dispute that it could’ve happened. It does make sense Stacy possibly doing that. I mean, those guys were on a whole ‘nother trajectory to outshine everyone so I get where he’s coming from. Let’s face it, we’re not talking about a couple of regular ams with those guys. (laughs)

With Powell being as big and popular as it was, there was just so much talent. If anything, I was trying to hype the guys up. Like, I remember Bucky coming out to my house for a week and doing 10 nbd’s over the course of his stay! That got me excited! I felt like I was part of the process! Granted, I wasn’t the one doing the tricks but I felt like we were all exploring and progressing together. It was amazing to see him doing stuff that had only existed in our imagination seconds before.

I would’ve never told Stacy not to use footage… in fact, I was often the one making sure it was in there.



Along these similar lines, how real versus played up in the media was the feud between you and Danny Way?

I think it was definitely exaggerated. It’s funny because I’d see Danny, we’d skate together and everything would be fine. But after the fact, I’d hear something negative about it.

From my perspective, it always seemed like it was the people surrounding him who were more outspoken. Like, I remember going to a skateshop once where I ran into one of his bros who, out of nowhere, said something like, “Yo, Danny beat you!”

“Huh!?!”

Stuff like that actually happened. (laughs)

It was like we were rival gangs in The Warriors or something. It was really strange. And I gotta admit that some of my friends probably got a little mixed up in it as well.

Didn’t it all start with a game of SKATE?

Yeah, there was an event going on at McGill’s and a bunch of us were there playing a game of SKATE. I was just kinda going along with it, not really thinking about strategy or anything... just kinda doing it. Danny ended up winning and, for whatever reason, that really seemed to resonate across the hardcore skate industry. That’s when people really started to jump on this supposed rivalry.




I realize the both of you were quite young at this point but there were reports of you prank calling his house and referring to him as a “Xerox Machine”?

I honestly don’t recall the “Xerox Machine” thing but Ken Park was actually the one who prank called his house. I do remember that one. I think Danny’s stepdad thought it was me on the phone but it was really Ken Park. For some reason, I remember Ken actually thinking that he was doing me a favor by prank calling Danny’s house. I’m not sure why. I never would’ve wanted Ken to do something like that. But things did get weird between Danny and I after that.

The thing is, I’ve tried to get Danny on Birdhouse a few times over the years. Danny and Colin were on the top of my list to get for the team when we first started the company. Obviously I had no idea about Plan B at the time but I came back and revisited it again with Danny during the The End-era as well. Plan B was shutting down and we were looking to get as stellar of a team as possible, especially with this big video coming up. We wanted our own Plan B-style elite team for The End and Danny would’ve been awesome to have, for sure.  



How would you compare the nature of this “rivalry” to the one with Hosoi a few years earlier? 

What went down between Hosoi and I was a little different. He and I were always friends, even throughout that whole situation. But whatever that was between us really seemed to divide people. I remember it leading to these huge arguments between fans that went beyond us as people. It became this thing where who you supported symbolized if you liked “tricks” or “style”. He and I represented opposite ends of the spectrum and that was it. You had to choose one or the other. Through our individual successes, we somehow divided fans of skateboarding… which was strange.

But I was as big of a fan of Christian as anyone. Of course! I wanted to do airs like Hosoi! That’s the goal! I just couldn’t skate like that. (laughs)

The thing with Danny is that he was ushering in a whole new movement. Danny Way is where street met vert with very technical tricks. Kickflip stuff, varial stuff, disaster stuff… tricks that my generation hadn’t explored and honestly, I’m not sure if we were even capable of doing so. But with Danny and I, it was no longer “style” versus “tech”, it was “tech” versus “ultra-tech”. (laughs)

To this day, I don’t see our “rivalry” being so much based in reality as more just perceived by others. If anything, I think the basis behind this entire thing basically came from people’s perceptions.

“Danny is the new school… and you’re old now. That’s what’s happening to you. Sorry.” (laughs)


What was your creative process with figuring out all of these new tricks to explore in the 80s and 90s? I mean, you were going “opposite-footed” well before there was even a name for it.

That’s the thing, it’s not like we were trying to go “switch”, we were just trying to reverse a trick. Back then, we were constantly thinking about going the other way of whatever trick we’d just done because doing so represented another avenue of progression to explore. There were times where I actually remember watching videos backwards, just to come up with new ideas. Everything was so wide open.

As an example, I remember watching a video of a pivot and starting to think about all of the different ways to get in and out of it. Like, what if I went up fakie, got into a pivot and then came back in fakie? So I did that for Ban This… and it scared the shit out of me. (laughs)

But that’s how I went about trying new tricks. Or thinking about how gay twists had become a staple; what about frontside gay twists? Let’s go out and try one! Which is how those came to be.

We were constantly building on top of tricks by either turning a different way or combining different tricks. Like, a varial McTwist. We’d been doing varials and varial gay twists, let’s figure it out! That’s one’s still hard, though. (laughs)


You’ve said that once you saw the McTwist, you knew it would be the next big thing. Were there any other tricks you saw where you felt the same way about but were mistaken? Strange rabbit holes of innovation that, in the end, just weren’t worth it?

All of the stuff to tail. There was a time where we were trying to slap our tail on the way in from literally every trick we could think of. That stuff was never going to last… but we were serious about it! That was an entire movement for a year or two.

The funny thing is that on vert, nobody really hits their tail. It became more about someone just making the effort to do so. That became enough. Maybe you made a little bit of noise coming in and that was cool. But the irony is that going to tail totally slows you down. On mini-ramp, it’s awesome but it just doesn’t resonate on vert.


When did street skating go beyond novelty and transportation in your eyes?

It went beyond novelty for me when I saw Mark and Natas doing handrails. I feel that was the sea change in terms of opening up the possibilities of the urban landscape. Before then, you’d see slappies on curbs or maybe someone jumping down some stairs but nothing too big or technical. But once I saw the handrail, I just remember thinking to myself, “Holy shit, this changes everything.”

I jumped into street skating because I loved it. It was all-new terrain and it was exciting. Just seeing what Mark and Natas were coming up with was incredible to witness.

Unfortunately, after I rolled each of my ankles twice over the course of a two-week tour, I had to come to grips with the fact that it just wasn’t my forte. Street skating wasn’t going to usher me into some next level of skating and honestly, if I kept on trying to do it, I wasn’t going to survive. I’m not going to be able to keep my career up because I’m going to be hurt all of the time. And it’s not like I was pushing the limits or anything. I wasn’t bringing anything new to the table.

“Oh, look, there’s Tony doing the seven-stair handrail… just for the sake of showing that he can.”

I realized that I could be doing more worthwhile things elsewhere.


But your appreciation and support for street was clear. Even down to your taking cues from things like Rodney’s fingerflip to Guy’s ledge tech. What are some other specific street tricks you remember seeing someone do and taking to vert?

That’s a good question because at first, it was vert tricks being adapted to street. Somewhere along the lines, it switched. But even something as basic as crooked grinds, that was something that had to be brought back to vert.

I mean, recently I started doing those frontside grinds and popping over to switch crooked grinds. People were doing those on curbs in the 90s.

Brian Lotti.

Exactly. Even the shove-to to grind stuff… shove-it to lipslide. There was a little bit of that stuff on vert back then but it really wasn’t explored.

You did that in Bones Brigade Video Show.

Right, but it had to be taken out to the streets to evolve into technical stuff being done on ledges. It was only then where I started thinking more about the possibilities on vert. So there was an effort there of bringing it back to vert once it had been further developed.


I know there’s been some nerdy controversy surrounding the origins of the stalefish but did you ever hear about Gonz specifically trying to keep you from learning about his trying noseblunts back then? Is it common for people to purposefully keep trick ideas from you?

(laughs) I’ve never heard that! And I most definitely learned noseblunts after seeing Mark do one! I guess it worked. That’s hilarious.  

But yeah, that kinda thing would happen. One time where I could tell that something was definitely being kept from me was when Mike McGill learned McTwists in Sweden. There just happened to be a Del Mar contest a week or two afterwards. I was kept totally in the dark but could tell something was going on. People were talking about something. Occasionally, I’d hear whispering.

“Yeah, yeah… I heard he does them four-feet out.”

I’d hear a little bit of something and look their way but as soon as they realized I could hear them…

“Alright, shhhh…. Stop talking.”

This actually happened to me several times over the course of the week before the contest. I just remember wondering to myself what the fuck was going on!?! (laughs)

And then he did it.

And then he did it.

But it’s so funny to think that people evidently thought that I could magically learn McTwists in a day or two, just by hearing about it. That they were so simple. Hardly.


Did you struggle learning them?

Oh, McTwists drove me crazy. I tried them passionately for at least two months afterwards until finally figuring them out.

Kids today have no idea how enormous that trick was. Did you feel extra pressure as “Tony Hawk” to learn it?

It was more self-imposed with that one. I just wanted to learn it for myself. It was the new thing. And at its core, the McTwist was completely different and incredible. Nobody had ever even tried something like that before. It took vert to a new level.

I was obsessed with the McTwist after it happened. 


Do you typically learn a trick on street, then mini-ramp before taking it to vert?

No, because the techniques for vert, especially for flipping your board, are totally different. It’s not that learning it on street necessarily gives you an advantage on vert. It might give you a little more confidence, but that’s about it. I just take it straight to vert.

Even the technique of getting air on vert is different. It’s such a specific skill. That’s why you always see street guys struggling with basic airs on vert and landing on the bottom. They’re trying to snap their tails like on a mini-ramp and that’s not how you approach vert skating.

When did the harsh realization set in for you that vert was in trouble?

Well, it’s not like there was some great epiphany. All the signs were there. All of the parks were closing and there were less and less vert ramps to skate. This wasn’t so much a sign of vert’s popularity declining but skateboarding’s, in general. But once the parks closed, that meant that there were obviously less skaters being introduced to vert. Anyone that wanted to skate had to take to the streets because that’s what was available.

For me, the most obvious sign was that my income was drying up. Suddenly, I couldn’t keep my ramp in shape. I couldn’t afford to resurface it because honestly, I could barely afford my house back then, let alone my ramp. It was rough. I remember going up to my ramp and just watching it rot, knowing that there was nothing that I could do about it.



Harsh. Did you have any idea that Powell’s MeMeMe ad would set off such a firestorm with Rocco?

Not at all! I considered it more of a commentary on skating, in general. I didn’t see it as a targeted insult at Rocco… even though looking back on it, it obviously was.

Honestly, once I saw that Ray and Lance were in it, too, I trusted their instincts enough to just go along with it. I didn’t think about the message that deeply or what the potential repercussions could’ve been with those Blind boards and everything, which were hilarious.

But all three of you left not too long afterwards.  

You’re right. Lance and I actually discussed doing our own companies not long after that. I don’t think it was necessarily because of that ad, just something that we’d each thought of individually. Sensing our own mortality and coming to terms with the potential courses of our careers. Are we going to try staying relevant for the rest of our lives? Or are we going to try moving into more behind-the-scenes roles around what we truly love?



How’d you go about getting Birdhouse together? Was there anybody you tried to get but couldn’t?

I definitely tried to get Colin and Bucky early on. I was skating with those two a lot back then and thought they were really ushering in a whole new era of vert skating.

It’s funny because when I first set out to get the Birdhouse team together, the pros I had in mind were Willy, Bucky, Colin and Jeremy Klein. I thought that Bucky and Colin would be in, for sure. I figured Willy was a maybe, as he’d just turned pro at G&S. And while I wanted Jeremy, he was living the life of luxury on the most successful company in the industry at the time and there was no way he’d leave. But I loved him so much that I basically extended to him what I considered to be a “courtesy invite”... I never thought I’d actually get him.

The irony of all this is that Jeremy was the first one to say yes. And while Willy was difficult to untangle from G&S, I got him, too. The only ones I didn’t get were the riders I felt most positive about. Bucky didn’t want to leave the comforts of Powell and Colin was already set to go to Plan B. Shows what I know. (laughs)



Was your sponsoring Heath, Beach and Reynolds a result of Stacy’s influence to invest in young talent? It obviously paid off.

Oh yeah, for sure.

Andrew and Beach were byproducts of G&S. In addition to Willy, we also got G&S’ old team manager, Tom Drake. He’s the one who initially presented me those two as G&S most promising young talent. I remember heading down to a Shut Up and Skate amateur event to check them out and being totally blown away. They were both so awesome and unique. I had to have them. (laughs)

I definitely learned from Stacy the importance of recognizing talent early on and fostering strengths in skaters. That’s really how you build your company, by establishing and investing in long-term relationships.

Oddly enough, we found Heath through a sponsor-me tape he’d sent in. I still remember sitting down to watch his tape and thinking to myself, “Who the fuck is this kid? He’s doing double-kink rails and jumping down stairs at spots we know! Spots that aren’t far from here! How come we’ve never heard of him?”

He was living right in our backyard in Orange County! I still don’t understand how we never crossed paths with him or even heard someone mention his name before. He just came out of nowhere!

But Jeremy and I went out to meet him and he was just this little kid... I remember he’d drawn little Birdhouse logos on his shoes with a pen. But he was obviously an amazing talent and was only going to get better, which he definitely did.

Early Birdhouse saw you seemingly stepping back from the spotlight a little, at least on vert… only to explode with a massive comeback of sorts a few years later. What happened?

I think there was a misperception around this time that since I started Birdhouse, I’d retired. But I was always skating and learning new stuff. Skating has always been my outlet and I’ve never quit.

I tried to showcase that through the early Birdhouse videos but looking back on it now, we were probably a little too eager about videos back then. We probably made too many of them within a short period of time, which might’ve diluted their quality.


But around 1994, you were once again blowing doors on vert. I even recall a “Don’t Call it a Comeback” ad specifically addressing this. Is this where you consciously decided to buck trend and just do you?

You’re absolutely right. That’s when I came to the realization that if I was going to continue with my skate career, I had to focus on, frankly, what I excel at. I’m good at vert skating. It’s largely what had gotten me to this place in my career and there’s nothing wrong with that.

So yes, it was around 1994 where, after years of trying different things and rolling my ankles repeatedly, I made the decision to stick to what I know. I don’t want to call it my “comfort zone” but why wouldn’t I go with what I’m good at? Where I know how to fall! (laughs)


Which took longer: the switch 540 or the kickflip mctwist? And which one was more terrifying?

I had way scarier slams on switch 540s. It’s just such a different trick. I remember being in mid-air sometimes and completely forgetting which way I was supposed to be spinning. That’s when you panic and usually end up on your back.

The kickflip 540 took much more effort, though. That was several months of just dabbling around at first. Not even trying it. Finally, I got serious enough and it just so happened to be on a night in Tampa where all of the vert skaters had converged at one spot. Like I said, actual vert ramps were so scarce by then that all of us coming together on a decent ramp like that was super inspiring. I knew that it was time for me to do it.  


How did your The End part come together? Did you intend it to be another opus, like Ban This? And where did the bullring idea come from?

Knowing the enormity of what we were trying to accomplish with the caliber of riders we had at the time, I definitely wanted to step it up and make something representative not only of how far I’d come in skateboarding but also the fact that I was still here. So yeah, I wanted to get everything in there. The loop and even a 900 if I could get one… that part never worked out, though.

The bullring was Mouse’s idea. He and Jeremy were the creative forces behind the interludes… Steve kinda did his own thing but it was largely Mouse and Jeremy. I was into the bullring idea, though. I thought it could be fun.

I’m pretty sure we built the ramp and filmed everything there in a week and a half.


How did you get pitched the idea for Heath and Jeremy’s epic jump ramp part? And did any concepts not make the cut?

They just went for it, man. They didn’t have to seek my creative approval for anything, it just had to be within budget. I wasn’t trying to have control. If the guys were hyped, I was hyped. And the jump ramp stuff was amazing! Even when it got a little naughty, that’s what they wanted to do. I wasn’t going to stifle their creativity.

I don’t think that any ideas ever got nixed. Possibly if they were too expensive or we didn’t have enough time to do it but that would’ve been it. 

The biggest problem with The End was trying to adhere to a timeline. Things kept on getting pushed out. It finally got to a point where we just had to set a date for the premiere and that was it. No turning back.

Being at the theatre on the night of the premiere… it was seriously the first time that I’d brought a flask somewhere. But everything was so late. We didn’t get started until hours after we were supposed to. I remember being an hour late and Mouse hadn’t even shown up yet with the final edit. Needless to say, the masses were getting restless and I was getting nervous! It's a packed house! So I call him on his home number… and he answers! This means that he hasn’t even left his house yet, which is an hour away!

“Where are you!?!”

“Oh man… this thing keeps on freezing up on me. Every time I go to output the video, it shuts down.”

So not only does he have to drive an hour to Orange County, we now have to add another hour on top of that so he can output the final master to tape! We’re going to be at least three hours late… and that’s if it even works!

People are already going crazy and we’re not even close to starting… and, of course, everyone is looking to me. I’m the only one who can really answer for anything. So I just keep stalling. That’s all I can do. We have Crackhead Bob there from the Stern Show and he’s sitting there, waiting. I’ve bummed out Crackhead Bob. It was terrible. Total chaos. Everywhere I turn, people are just screaming at me. So I went and locked myself in the bathroom for a while to hide. Just me and that flask. (laughs)


One of the more infamous urban legends, was there any truth to that rumor of Steve Berra’s tearful reaction to your smokey indulgence during the early days of Birdhouse?

I guess it happened while we were on a tour back then. I think Jeremy’s the one who told me about that, much later. God forbid I smoke pot once in the middle of some crazy six-week tour! (laughs)

What was the thought behind not including all of the Birdhouse team in Pro Skater 1? Do you feel that affected team morale at all?

I don’t think it did. I had a heart-to-heart with the guys and made clear my thinking that I wanted the game to represent skateboarding as a whole, with all its different styles and characters. Putting the entire Birdhouse team in the game just felt too self-serving. I knew I had a bigger responsibility to the skate industry to come out with something that covered more ground. As proud of the team as I was, I felt that there were other skaters that deserved the recognition, too.



Fair enough. So how did Baker come about? Crazy to think back to Baker Bootleg coming out that those dudes would eventually become your boss.

(laughs) It’s so amazing to think about it that way.

Baker came about fairly organically through Andrew. He brought up to me that he was looking to do more of his own thing with this crew that he’d been skating with. Per and I were already doing Hook-Ups by then and something like Baker made total sense. So we were totally down to help. We’d done it before and knew the right ways of going about fostering a team. It was an exciting opportunity that we obviously wanted to keep in our building… Not that we felt we were owed anything by them. Not at all. It’s just that there was already a relationship and we were all comfortable with each other. I just wanted to help Andrew succeed.

Baker would have a much different direction than what Birdhouse could’ve ever done. Much more raw… and I get that. I mean, just calling the company “Baker”! He’s promoting weed straight out the gate before he even had his team together!

But how comfortable were you with everything that Baker was doing at the time? Even Andrew has expressed some regret about this period and you had million-dollar endorsements deals to think of. 

For the most part, I let them do their thing… and I say this about all of the brands, I never want to stifle their creativity. I will say that I didn’t like some of the more misogynistic things that were done. Heath and Jeremy’s part with the porn stars in The End, for example. There have been a few times over the years where I felt that we were better than that, that we shouldn’t be treating women this way. But again, this is what the riders wanted to do.

As far as Baker goes, I wanted to support Andrew and his vision. The things he believed in. I wasn’t about to step-in like, “Hey guys, you can’t get that wasted…” even though there probably was cause for concern at times. But that was their thing. The Baker House and the Piss Drunx were very much about no authority. It was crazy! To this day, I still can’t believe that there was anything actually left functional in that home. But that was their thing and I trusted them. 


Granted you’d been trying it since 1989 but did you expect the 900 to have the cultural impact it did? Was it a matter of right place, right time with nationally-televised coverage?  

Oh, I had no idea that it would become this gigantic thing that so many people would latch onto. Not at all. It had just become one of those things where I had tried it so many times throughout the years. I never would’ve guessed that would’ve been the day I made it.

You’re right in that I’d been trying it since 1989 but I don’t really consider those “real” attempts. I wasn’t holding onto my board through the whole spin or even getting the spin around regularly.

It wasn’t until around ’94 that I really started trying it in earnest. Where I would set out to shoot it on video or with a photographer. That’s how close it felt, to the point of, “Okay, this is the one. This is gonna happen.”

But it never did. By the ’99 X-Games, I’d exhausted every possible effort and technique that I had. I’d always try it in Best Trick Contests over the years… Jesus, they had “The 900 Challenge” at ASR the year before. Revisionists don’t really like to admit that stuff happened. (laughs)

But we were all trying 900s back then in actual competition as well as Best Trick Contests. I remember a Warp Tour in Maryland where all I did was try 900s. Seriously, the entire time... until I couldn’t move.

So when it came time for the X-Games, I obviously went in knowing that it was the most widely-watched competition going. They’d brought up the idea of having a Best Trick Contest, which I personally thought was a terrible idea for television. If you’ve ever been to one, it’s just people bailing over and over again. But they went for it anyway.

My goal that day was the varial 720. I’d only made it twice before and it was the best trick I knew I could do. I did get one trick in before that, a 360 varial gay twist, as more of a safety. I’d been in enough of those things to know I needed something on the board. So I did that and then ended up landing the varial 720 about halfway through the event. After that, I thought I was done. That was my best trick. But I had all of this time left… I figured that the next trick I wanted to do in my lifetime is a 900. I might as well start trying it.

I had no intention of even trying it that day but I did and kept getting closer and closer. Things were coming together. The ramp was really good and I was starting to figure out how to land. All of the other times that I’d landed, I was leaning too far forward. The one time that I really had what I thought was a make was at the Plan B Ramp when I put one down but was leaning too far forward. I fell into the flat and broke my rib.

After that happened, I really didn’t know how else to try it. But as I was trying them at X-Games, I figured out that if I shifted my weight as I was coming around, I wouldn’t break my rib again. As I started to land on the wall, I decided right there that I was either going to make it or get taken away in an ambulance. That was my mindset.

I didn’t care if it was after time or didn’t count. I didn’t care if it was on tv. I was just hyped on the crowd and the support from my peers. I just wanted to make it.

It really was an incredible moment for me.



Have you had any interaction with Tas Pappas since his doc came out?

No, the closest we’ve come to any type of resolution was after I posted a video of a line I did on Instagram. This was maybe a year or two ago. But he commented on it. Something like, “Gotta give respect…” which was nice. I mean, I’ve received death threats from people in Australia because of things he’s said so…

Really?

There was literally a dude who was stalking me on Facebook that would leave comments like, “I’m going to kill you and your whole family. Don’t you dare set foot in Australia ever again.”

So yeah, shit got crazy.



Jesus. Well, another source of recent controversy has been Tim Von Werne’s dismissal from Birdhouse, possibly because of his sexuality? Care to comment?

Let me try to explain this.

This is back when I was doing guest editor issues of Skateboarder Magazine. I knew that Tim was gay and figured that it could be an amazing article to have him come out to the industry in the magazine. This is right around when we were gearing up to start doing The End.

We’d talked to Tim about doing the piece and while he was a little hesitant, he was down. So we do the article where he essentially comes out and we’re in the process of putting it in a future issue of the magazine… I just don’t think I realized the gravity of the article in terms of someone’s life experience and being gay.

I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus here but our team manager at the time, you might be able to figure out who that was, found out about the article and freaked out. He calls me up and says, “What the fuck are you doing!?!”

“I’m doing an interesting article about a skater who happens to be gay.”

“If you do that, I’m going to quit and take the whole team with me.”

Basically, he began threatening to steal my team because of this article. In hindsight, I don’t think that it would’ve actually happened, but at the time, it was a pretty heavy threat for me as a company owner. I had put so much of my resources into the team and we had all these plans around this big video we were about to start working on… I had to make the executive decision to kill the article.

You can call that selfish if you want but it felt like a very real threat to me at the time. And while it was an interesting article, I didn’t realize the weight of the situation. While I obviously support the cause, I wasn’t sure if I was the right person to be championing gay rights in skating… if that makes sense. I underestimated how it would resonate within the industry or how it would affect Tim. He’s the one who I really feel the worst for in all of this.

But I did call Tim and tell him straight-up what was happening. He wasn’t surprised by any of it.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought was going to happen. I was trying to warn you about all of this when the article was first brought up.”

He was super cool about it. I guess I just didn’t listen in the beginning. But after all that, he obviously didn’t want to be on the same team with someone who possibly felt so homophobic about the whole thing… which is another bummer, because I feel like other riders get some of the blame in this when it really was the actions of this one person.



I appreciate the honesty, Tony. Onto sunnier topics, what would you say has been your personal favorite part over the years?

Probably the one I did around 2012. I don’t even think it had a name but for me, it was my way of showing that I’m still passionate about skateboarding. Because I feel like during the years prior to that, I was getting criticized by people who thought I was only interested in making money… that I’d lost the best intentions for skating, which was never the case.

I feel like that part really showed people, “Holy shit, he still skates! He’s been at it this whole time!”

I loved the doubles part with Andy Mac a few years back. Such a unique concept. How did that come about and how did you go about choosing cameos?

That part came from doing doubles events with Andy over the years. Those doubles routines were always fun but also a lot of work. But it’s just something that naturally comes up over the course of trying different things, where you begin to think up more and more spectacular ideas, if only allowed more chances to try. Trying difficult tricks over and over again doesn’t really work in a demo or competition scenario but is perfect for a video, let’s give it a shot.

So we start filming and every once in a while, somebody would drop by my ramp to check things out. That’s where the concept of cameos really came from. Just by having different people coming through for the Ride Channel, we started to get ideas of how cool it would be to shoot something with them as well. Maybe this person had a totally different style or trick selection? That makes it even better! So after that realization, the doors were wide open. We started pursuing cameos after that. 

Neil Blender was one of the first I actively tried to get. He’s such a pioneer of modern skating and I’ve always respected him so much… Plus, I knew he’d be one of the hardest to get so I figured I’d need as much time as possible. But we got him. We set up a day to do it at Lance’s and even got Ben Raybourn there as well, which was cool to see.

I will say that the hardest one to get, by far, was Rodney.


How did the handplant-on-handplant Skateboard Mag cover happen? That’s beyond sketchy, man.  

(laughs) That came out a little before the part. We’d made another smaller doubles video together earlier for the X-Games. It wasn’t nearly of the scope of Sync, which is probably something that eventually led to that part. But yeah, the handplant-on-handplant was in that video… although it wasn’t done exactly how we wanted it to be. It wasn’t stalled out like it should’ve been but we did do it. And yes, it was super scary.

But after we did it for that video, Andy kept talking about how we needed to get a photo of it. It was actually fairly spontaneous and done so quickly during the filming that no one was really there to shoot a good photo of it. But andy was all about it. I vividly remember him calling about it several times.

“Hey, we gotta shoot that handplant thing, man. It will be such a great photo. We gotta do it.”

I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to do it again. I actively started avoiding him because of it. Not picking up his calls, sending him straight to voicemail… to where it finally got to the point where Andy’s last message says, “Look, I know it’s scary. That’s why we have to document it the best we can.”

He was right. I finally called him back and agreed to do it, but only if Atiba shot it. Luckily, he was down. We set up a day and made it happen.

It’s seriously so fucking scary, though. Because when you go up for a handplant, all you have to gauge your position by is where the coping is. But when you’re doing a handplant on someone’s board, you’re basically waiting for the board to show up and hopefully be in the right place. A couple of times, I missed his board completely and dropped to his hip… so there’s a few photos where I’m doing a handplant on his hip.

But at this point in your career, what keeps pushing you? What drives you to keep putting out new parts? And will you be in the new Birdhouse video?

My motivation is that I’m still capable. I still have ideas. They’re not super risky spins or big airs but I still have the skill to do new stuff, even if it’s a little more focused on lip tricks these days. But that’s my outlet for creativity.

As far as the new Birdhouse video goes, yes, I do have some footage for it. I actually shot some stuff for it last week. I have at least as much as everyone else, if not more. So yeah, I’m pretty excited about it. We'll see. 



Can’t wait to see what you come up with, Tony. So a couple quick ones as we wrap this up… Ponytail or McSqueeb?

(laughs) McSqueeb always!

Gleaming the Cube or Police Academy 4?

Oh man, Gleaming the Cube simply because I was only a stunt double in Police Academy 4. I had a starring role in Gleaming the Cube so I have to go with that one. Absolutely.

I ended up getting fired on Police Academy because I was too tall. I didn’t look enough like David Spade so they had to bring in Chris Miller.

Proudest moment of your career?

Probably being featured on the Simpsons.

Really?

Just because it’s such a measure of pop culture. To be featured as a main character in my own voice was a huge validation of my life that I never thought I’d get.


With everything you’ve accomplished over the years, what would you like your legacy to be? What would you most like to be remembered for in skateboarding and beyond?

That’s a hard one.

My pride says that I want to be remembered as an innovative skater that really pushed the progression of skateboarding tricks forward… but in a more lofty sense, I’m proud to have been a catalyst for skateboarding becoming more accepted. And not only accepted by people but recognized for all that skateboarding culture truly is. I think at the end of the day, that’s more important.

Thanks so much, Tony.