chrome ball interview #96: alphonzo rawls

chops sits down with alf for some conversation.

So someone told me that you were actually one of the kids in the background when Tony Hawk ollied the fence at Del Mar for Animal Chin? Is that true?

That is correct! That’s me standing there with a couple friends of mine. Yes, technically, I'm in Animal Chin. (laughs)

What makes it more awesome is that we weren’t even supposed to be in there. We were still too young to have memberships so we’d actually snuck in there that day. We used to do that all the time. Basically how it worked was if you were under 16, in order to skate Del Mar, you had to get someone to drive you out to Fallbrook and get insurance through the Boy Scouts office there. But Fallbrook was like an hour and a half away… my mom wasn’t having it. So instead, I’d just take the bus down to Del Mar and sneak in with my buddies, hoping to get in as long of a session as possible before getting kicked out.

That day, in particular, was great because not only were we able to skate and watch a contest, we also got a front row seat of Tony ollieing that fence! We got to be in Animal Chin because of that! I mean, I was already Powelled-out before but I went crazy after that! (laughs)

It had to be an amazing experience growing up around such a legendary park like Del Mar. That’s about as heavy of a scene as it gets.

Oh yeah, even though I was sneaking around and getting kicked out all of the time, Del Mar was super inspiring to me. You can’t ask for a better introduction to skateboarding culture. Being able to see the dudes from the magazines in-person, doing all of the latest tricks. It was incredible.

As little dudes, who did your crew see as the “nice” pros and who were the ones you steered clear of?

Honestly, nobody was ever flat-out mean to us. Even as kids growing up doing classic kid stuff, you can always tell who you should probably stay away from, regardless of if they’re pro or not.

But as far as the “nice” pros from back then, Billy Ruff immediately comes to mind. He always took the time to talk and hand out stickers. I was always blown away by how nice Tony Hawk was, too. I mean, the guy was pretty much the man at the time and here we are, a bunch of little kids, but he was always friendly.

Actually, as I got a little older and met Tony again on more than just a fan level, right off the bat, he let me borrow his car. I’d only gotten to really meet him just a few days prior when he invited me over to skate his ramp. My car battery ended up dying while I was there so he just let me borrow his car. He didn’t even care but I was blown away. The guy barely knew me! Not only was I starstruck that he’s Tony Hawk, why in the world would it be okay for me to take his emerald blue Honda Civic hatchback!?! But there I was, out cruising the streets in Tony’s car.

What was in the stereo?

A Pixies tape. Of course, those are the details you remember.

I know McGill’s came later but I’ve always been fascinated by that place as it really was this amazing epicenter of transitional progression, even while that style of skating’s popularity was on the decline.

McGill’s was my whole world, man. I was there as it opened on the first day and was there literally everyday from open-to-close for the first 3 months. But honestly, skateboarding was so small at that point that I didn’t have anywhere else to skate transition anyway.

It was an exciting time because street skating was really coming into it’s own. Suddenly, we had all this new street stuff changing the way we skated ramps. While vert used to be the inspiration for most early street tricks, it was now becoming the other way around. McGill’s was actually the perfect place for all of this because not only could you take streets tricks to his mini-ramps with all the spines and hips, you could then adapt it to vert when you felt ready. It was perfect. I feel like McGill’s played a large part in establishing this new way of thinking about tricks.

...just make sure to wear your wrist guards. McGill checked that religiously. (laughs)

Was your getting sponsored just an extension of skating there everyday? Was H-Street your first sponsor?

Well, I was actually supposed to get on Powell-Peralta first. McGill would always tell me how they’d been hearing all of this stuff about me... Stacy was supposed to come down and check me out but he never ended up making it.

I was also supposed to get on Dogtown at one point, too. Paul De Jesus approached me about it and the TM even made the trip this time, too. I was supposedly on the team but I never got any boards or anything from them. 

Danny was actually the one who opened up the doors for me at H-Street. He brought me up a few times and apparently, they were already interested. Luckily for me, they took those necessary next steps and the deal got finalized literally the day after the San Diego Shackle Me Not premiere.

Just as they were starting to blow up.

And I gotta mention that, along with my Chin bgp’s, you can also see me make my unofficial H-Street debut in the background of Shackle Me Not, too. While Magnusson’s doing a fakie rock on the mini at McGill’s, I’m doing a 540 over the spine. Some more well-timed cameos on my part!

Damn, Animal Chin and Shackle Me Not are two classics!

What can I say? I get around, baby!

Amazing. So talk a little about your first project in the actual foreground with Hokus Pokus. How did you go about getting your own part with such a large team?

That just came from a whole lot of filming. You basically had to earn your own part during the filming process. But if you had what it took, it would happen for you. It all depended on your footage. A lot of people just didn’t want to put in the effort. Luckily for me, I was motivated. I knew enough to realize how big of a deal these videos could be.

I also gotta give credit to Mike Ternasky for being such a motivator. He was almost like a father-figure to those of us who didn’t exactly have the best environment at home. Looking back on it, we were basically like a bunch of little kids out there trying to impress our Dad. But he’d find cool ways to rewards us for things. A couple hundred bucks for making something within so many tries… and yes, dinners at Benihana’s.

So “dinner at Benihana’s” was an actual real thing?

Yes, it was. There was actually a Benihana’s not too far from the H-Street team house.
Mike definitely loved using the reward system.

Do you remember any clips you got specifically because of the reward promised?

I honestly don’t because I didn’t need that. My big motivation back then was always the premiere. I’d never been to a video premiere before and could only imagine what that energy must be like with everyone watching your stuff. That’s what kept me fired up. I wanted to do my best and show that I belonged on H-Street.

If you look closely at my board in that older footage, you can often see where I’d use sticker paper to write trick lists of what I wanted to film that day. I remember writing them out the night before and sticking it down close to the rails so once I got to the park the next day, I could start rattling them off. Checking them off as I went. I used to love seeing how many checks I could get in one session.

Did you get a lot of that H-Street “nerd” stuff back then?

Definitely in my travels. I think there were some people who didn’t like how H-Street seemed to have blown up overnight. The kids and fans of skateboarding always liked us but there was definitely an undercurrent of anti-H-Street within the industry. Older pros would always give us crap… the Dogtown guys, specifically, weren’t too fond of us.

I remember during the awards ceremony after an Arizona contest one year, I heard a couple dudes at the Dogtown table say something slick about H-Street. I was still an aggro young kid at the time who probably didn’t know any better so, of course, I decide to step up.

“What the fuck!?! Fuck you guys! You wanna talk some shit!?!”

This is basically to their whole team. It never went any further than that but it’s funny to look back on now, especially since I almost rode for them at one point. They definitely weren’t intimidated by me but I think it did show that I wasn’t gonna take that kinda shit. But incidents like that made it clear that it actually wasn’t all good for us out there. That not everybody was so impressed by us.

Didn’t you get in a fight during an H-Street demo at Embarcadero once?

I did. I was 14 and on one of my very first tours. One of the stops was at Embarcadero and I ended up getting into a little scuffle with some guy who was probably 20-years-old.

Long story short, I got punched in the face. It actually wasn’t much of a scuffle. He was with a big crew and I knew my place. I wasn’t a local while, apparently, this guy was kinda like the bully of the area. He was a bigger guy than most skaters so I think he liked taking advantage of that.

I always heard your board hit his girlfriend’s ankle.

Nah, that didn’t happen. We were skating the 7 as he and his crew sat at the bottom. I don’t even think he skated really… just a kid looking for trouble. There might’ve been some of that H-Street beef mixed in there as well, I’m not sure. I was just a 14-year-old kid, new to traveling with skateboarding.

On a brighter note, describe the day-to-day in one of skateboarding’s most notorious residences, the legendary H-Street house. And while I know where this is probably gonna go: what’s your favorite memory from your time there?

I mean, it was basically your typical skate house but on a grand scale. We were all so young back then. H-Street paid for it all and just about every rider we ever had came through at some point. There were the people who actually lived there, like Sal in the big bedroom with his Mustang in the garage, but there was always people coming and going. Everyone from Jeremy Allyn to Donger to Cookiehead Jenkins.

Obviously, my favorite memories from the H-Street house have to do with the now-notorious area resident, Katie. Of course! For those who don’t know, let’s just say that she was fairly promiscuous, she liked to do the team favors and that she came around quite often. It was pretty nuts, actually.

Some people might not know this but the old pro Dave Andrecht used to work at H-Street. He actually lived at the house for a little bit, too, with a room upstairs that was pretty much off-limits back then.

Well, I remember Katie was over to the house one day and the team was having their usual way with her. It must’ve been Bill Weiss’ turn because he ended up sneaking off with her up to Andrecht’s room. Obviously, he knew he wasn’t supposed to be in there but Bill went for it anyway. Next thing we know, Andrecht comes walking into the house not 10 minutes after they’d just gone up there. He starts walking up the stairs towards his room as we all sit there, looking at each other like, “Oh my God!”

We just know that he’s about to walk in on those two screwing around on his bed and its about to get crazy. But he walks in there… and we don’t hear anything. We’re expecting to hear screaming at any second but it’s totally silent. 5 whole minutes go by and finally, Dave just walks out like nothing. We’re all freaking out but trying to stay calm. What the hell is going on in there!?!

Apparently, they were in his closet! Dave didn’t even know. I still don’t even think he knows. There he was, steps away from them naked doing their thing and he had no idea.

The whole Katie thing is crazy, dude. I mean, a team van pulls up to School W and one or two dudes stay behind while everyone else goes skating? I still trip on this. She was such a soft-spoken, mellow girl but she was down for whatever. She’d just handle it.

You gotta wonder where she is now and if she’s aware of her notoriety…

I actually heard through the years that she was related to Orson Welles somehow and inherited a bunch of money. Pretty crazy.

Well, on a completely different subject: didn’t you name the “Big Spin”?

I did! Lotti made it up but I named it. I happened to be there one day as he was shooting a sequence of it behind Linda Vista Skatepark. He was looking for something to call it in the caption. His name was so similar to “lotto” or “lottery” that I put 2 and 2 together. There was a popular lottery game at the time that you’d see around called “Big Spin” so I put it out there and it just stuck. The rest is history.

What was the story behind that pool ollie in the Not the New H-Street Video with the lady freaking out?

That was at a hotel in Houston. We were down there for the Shut Up and Skate contest one year. We’d heard that Gonz had ollied it a few years prior and, for whatever reason, Magnusson was egging me on the whole time to ollie it, too. We ended up having an early flight out that year so I just went out and tried it real quick before heading to the airport. Keep in mind, it’s 5am. Obviously, you’re not supposed to be skating in that greasy pool area, let alone that early in the morning while the rest of the hotel is trying to sleep.

But yeah, as you can see, I bailed it. The lady who worked at the hotel was definitely playing it up to the camera with the yelling. She was actually really nice about it.

I went back again the next year for the same contest and tried it again…. and bailed it again! Same exact thing happened. We had to get the board out and dry it off real quick. I ended up making it on the 3rd or 4th try.  The best thing about that is the guys playing cards beside the pool in that clip. They couldn’t have cared less about any of it, they just didn’t want me disturbing their game. I always thought that was funny.

Did you see Plan B coming at all?

I knew it was coming because I was one of the first people Ternasky presented the idea to. I remember him telling me one day, “I haven’t told anybody about this but I’m thinking of breaking off from the team and taking you, Danny and a few other riders with me.”

So yeah, I knew. I actually thought I was going to be a part of it. What ended up happening is that I went on tour with John Sonner to New York and back in his Geo Storm. It just so happened that at this same time, they were having the big meetings about forming the team. So I come back and not only do I hear about some of our most incredible riders leaving for this new thing, but also, now I’m not part of it.

It was bittersweet. Although I would’ve loved to been on Plan B, I was okay with staying on H-Street… even though we all knew that losing those guys was not going to be good for the brand. I had a good relationship with Tony Mag at the time and I will say that my staying definitely made me a bigger fish in a now much smaller pond.

I do think had I gotten on Plan B, it would’ve served as a motivator for me to do more with my career. I’ll admit that some of the wind was knocked out of my sails after all that happened.

Sponsor-wise, were you looking around after those guys left?

I actually felt content on sticking with Mag. He had a much greater appreciation for his team after all that. I always knew that if I had any problems, I could leave but there was no reason for me to at that point. So I was loyal in return.

You definitely proved your role on the squad shortly afterwads with your Next Generation part.

To be honest with you, I always get my video parts confused. If you don’t mind, let me look that one up real quick. Hold on.


Oh, it’s a Thrasher Classic! Alright! And there’s me jumping over the pool! Okay….

That had to be a turbulent project to work on with the company going through such a drastic change midway through, right?

Yeah, filming for Next Generation was kinda tricky. We’d already filmed so much it when all of a sudden, a lot of our best guys leave to go start this other brand that’s supposedly setting this new bar for the industry. It was a setback at the time but we knew that we had to still make this thing live up to all of the hype that had been built up prior to Plan B. We were still an elite team, despite those guys leaving, so we went back at it. It ended up being a couple of years in total with how everything worked out.

I definitely felt more pressure on my end. I quickly became a key player on the team, not only with all of the new talent they’d gotten but also as one of the few remaining links to the original H-Street legacy. I knew I had to step it up for the sake of the company’s new position in the industry. We did have younger talent, like Koston, but he was still so new to the industry. No one knew what all he was capable of yet.

It did seem like you and Koston fed off each other for that one.

We realized that we were gonna be two bigger elements for it. We felt like it was up to us to keep the brand alive.

But yeah, we were absolutely feeding off each other at that time. We were living together and skating everyday. He was young, hungry and already incredible. I was out there trying to do my thing, too. 

That was just the nature of the situation.

Were you able to recognize Eric’s talent early on? Was there a specific moment when he did something where in your mind, he became “Koston”?

Koston and I were actually born in the same hospital in Thailand, like a year apart. Crazy, right?

With Eric, you could just tell he had something exceptional from the start. The rate that tricks came to him, it was like it was all just too fucking easy. I remember being in parking lots for hours trying some crazy flatground flip. He’d just roll up and do it first try, goofing around. Sometimes he’d even throw it out of a manual trick… that’s when it really hurt. (laughs)

Stuff like that happened all the time, even on transition. There was nothing he couldn’t do. Mini-ramps, handrails, manny pads… the dude had no kryptonite. Luckily, I was able to witness it early on so I could sit back and watch it all go down while everyone else was just figuring it out.

Which brings us to my personal favorite in your bgp trilogy, your Egyptian style roll-by at Miley in his classic Falling Down part. Always loved that.

(laughs) You know how it goes: completely spontaneous. Skating together and trying to film. You’re skating back to try something again when your friend makes his trick. It’s too late to get out of the camera’s way so you might as well do something funny as you roll by. Here we are talking about it 20 years later.

That’s the same San Francisco trip that he switch 360 flipped the EMB 7.

But how does one go about trying a caballerial backfoot flip on vert? How long does that take to land?

I actually remember seeing Eric try that on a little quarterpipe. I guess it must’ve been floating around in my head until I decided to try it on vert one day, out of the blue. I wasn’t even planning on trying it that day but gave it a few shots anyway. Just winging it.

The funny thing is that it didn’t even take all that long. I think I got it under 10 tries. How I was with tricks back then, if something even felt remotely close, I’d try to stomp it and hope for the best. You can definitely tell by the sketchy landing on that one, for sure. But that’s the only time I ever even tried it. 

It’s weird you brought that up because I’ve been thinking about that trick a lot lately. It’d be sick to go back and do it cleaner after all these years.

When did it become apparent to you that vert’s popularity was waning? Did that consciously affect how you conducted your career? Did you ever find yourself purposefully skating street more or possibly shying away from that new McTwist variation?

Well, vert’s demise quickly became apparent because all the ramps started disappearing. It became more and more difficult actually finding places to even do it at. 

My thing is that I never limited myself as a “vert” or “street” skater. I always skated whatever was available to me. I’m just a fan of skateboarding and honestly, I was getting more into street skating at that time anyway. That’s where my inspiration was.

I still skated transition when and where I could but I was always cognizant of what was going on. Not that this inspired me to skate a certain way but let’s be honest: at the end of the day, you want to keep your job. Kids weren’t buying Tony Hawk boards at this point, they were buying the latest street guy’s board instead. You always kept that in the back of your mind.

I didn’t realize that you drew so many of your H-Street graphics back then. It seemed that rip-off stuff you did sold pretty well.

Yeah, Pillsbury Doughboy, the Energizer Bunny and a few other un-notables. That stuff was all me. 
Danny’s Little Engine That Could and Magnusson’s remix graphic where the big cross is holding the kid for some reason… I’ll own up to those, too. I’ll admit it. Horrible. (laughs)

Oddly enough, H-Street was very receptive to my graphic ideas. I look back on them now and still can’t believe some of the stuff they let me put on their boards. They had to have been able to find better artists!

But I always loved that about H-Street. It was like the ultimate DIY-brand, which I think kids were able to pick up on. Things didn’t have to be perfect and that’s what made it cool. But if you compare our boards to the amazing graphics that were coming out of Powell or Santa Cruz around that time, we looked crazy! It must’ve looked like Cheyne Magnusson was in the back drawing that stuff for us.

Nope, it was me!

So what ultimately did happen between you and H-Street?

The final straw had to do with… I probably shouldn’t mention his name here. Aw, fuck it. It’s been so long ago and we’re cool now anyway. Do you remember Brian Barber? He was a pro for Evol at the time? Well, he was also working in the shipping department and from what I understand, he was jealous and upset that I was getting paid the most out of everybody on the team.  

But you were easily their most popular pro at the time!

There was nobody left! I was the only one really selling any boards, I thought I had a fair deal! But Brian evidently thought otherwise and brought it up with Tony.

“You’re paying Alf way too much while you’re giving the rest of us all pay cuts. You should cut his pay more instead of ours.”

As you can imagine, I wasn’t too psyched when I found out that someone else was speaking on behalf of my livelihood. So I made a special trip out there and socked him up a little bit. Mag didn’t really appreciate this. He wanted to go about it in a more professional manor instead of me beating the guy up at this house. So because of that, Mag and I ended up having it out, which led to a mutual parting of ways.

I somehow ended up on Bitch Skateboards.

Yeah, nobody saw that one coming. How’d that happen?

I just so happened to get contacted by Sal Rocco at the precise moment I left H-Street. He not only offered me a position to ride for Bitch but to also do some art for them. I knew that his plan was to start a company in retaliation of Girl but that was never my objective working there. They are my friends… but unfortunately, I had just lost my board sponsor. As of that exact moment, I no longer had my main source of income. I didn’t know what else to do.

The funny thing about Bitch is that I always wanted to ride for a World company. I always liked what World did and had always ridden their boards, sanded down and painted. I was down with literally everything else they had going on there. The offer just had to be for Bitch.

The way I figured it, with my situation, unless Girl or anybody else was gonna make me an offer, Bitch was the best opportunity I had going at the time. I tried shopping around but nobody else had anything to say.

I can’t imagine the day-to-day dealings you must’ve had as an employee of Sal Rocco.

I don’t know how much you know about Sal Rocco but he’s a wild man. I’m not even sure if he’s still alive. He’d go on these crazy drug binges for weeks at a time… and he’s technically my boss! Anything he could get his hands on, he was down and he was gone. He’d just disappear. Imagine trying to get anything done with a guy like that? Let alone trying to hunt down your paycheck, which I had to do a few times. The whole thing was very difficult.

Were the Girl dudes pissed at you?

I imagine the guys at Girl could’ve been but I was sure to make the effort and reach out from the beginning. I was very upfront with Eric about my intentions. I saw it as my opportunity to stay in the industry, that simple. It was something that I had to do. My intentions were never to diss Girl and I was never responsible for any of the Girl diss graphics they came out with.

So you didn’t draw those dick boards they came out with?

Nah, that was all before my time and I’d never have done that anyway.

Their beef was their beef. I honestly wanted to take the whole thing in a different direction, like an update to my Energizer Bunny graphic. It was taking a job that was necessary for me to do at that time. I was there to maintain my role as a professional skateboarder. It was either that or… I don’t even know what. Skateboarding was all I knew and I was scared. Bitch was the only opportunity I had.

How did Natural come about? Was that your company?

Natural was actually Danny Mayer’s company through Select Distribution, which was Brad Dorfman and Vision. Dorfman and Mayer started Natural together.

I didn’t know that was through Vision…

Yeah, Natural wasn’t exactly the best company in the history of skateboarding but we had a lot of fun. A team consisting of a bunch of “vert guys” in 1994 probably wasn’t the smartest business move but we had a good stretch.

Danny Mayer is the one who got Jason Rogers and I involved and I’m proud to say that I got Bucky Lasek on shortly thereafter. It was definitely a case of the homie looking out for the homie because Bucky wasn’t even really skating at that time. He was working for UPS at the time but he was my dude. He’s obviously an amazing skateboarder but he was in a rough spot with vert being in the condition it was in. I knew what he was going through so I hit him up to try and do the damn thing together. I feel like after he got on, that’s when he really started getting motivated again and things took off for him. It’s good to see him still going today.

So, of course, we gotta talk about those crazy Droors ads you were in with the underwear and obviously, the titty suck. Were those your ideas? Did you know that girl?

The girl who’s breast that belongs to is actually Tim Brauch’s sister. She was really cool.

All that came from spoofing high-end fashion advertisements. The skateboarding industry was super influenced by all that at the time. If you go back and look at a lot of ads from that time period, so many of them are based off of CK1 and Tommy Hilfiger ads. Droors was really into it, which is basically where both of those came from, playing with that.

The whole thing came from Ken Block wanting to do something that riffed on the United Colors of Beneton.

“What’s more United Colors than my black face sucking on a white boob?” (laughs)

Of course, he was all over it. We asked Tim’s sister and she got what we were trying to do. The rest is history. Little did I know that decades later, the internet would make it so anytime anyone googles my name, that image immediately pops up. Great. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to explain that one over the years.

I can’t wait until my kids see it. (laughs)

You were always a solid street skater but it was kinda surprising to see you start skating huge rails all of a sudden. How did that quick evolution take place? Are big rails and vert similar frames of mind?

You know what? You nailed it. You’re absolutely right.

A handrail is just like the coping of a vert ramp… at least in my mind anyway. I think a lot of vert skaters feel the same way. If you can 50-50 or lipslide a vert ramp, it’s the exact same thing on a handrail. I think that was the only way I was able to connect with handrails initially.

It also stems from my not being the most patient skateboarder in the world. I’m not going to try flipping-in/flipping-out for 3 weeks. I’d much rather show up somewhere and either make what I want or leave myself at the rail. My style definitely became more balls than brains after a while. (laughs)

I just don’t think that I was as afraid of the pain as others were… Vert ramps are pretty big, too.

But I remember you doing stuff down the Carlsbad Gap rail! There’s no way that thing was fun.

Yeah, I 50’d and lipslid it. But I’m not gonna lie to you: skating rails was never fun. There’s a lot of anxiety there. When you’re planning something like that, you might not even be able to sleep the night before. You don’t know what the fuck is gonna happen. You could end up lying at the bottom of that thing. That stuff takes so much mental preparation.

How’d you get into designing shoes?

All that started through Kastel, remember them? They were getting ready to launch their brand and asked me to design my own signature shoe, which sounded a million times better than any other shoe deal I might’ve had going on at the time so, yes, I’ll take that.

I started drawing a bunch of different shoes that I had floating around in my head and ended up with, like, 12 different designs. Being such a fan of footwear and fashion, I couldn’t decide on just one. But Kastel was so impressed that not only did I get my signature shoes, I also got four other designs into the line as well.

Needless to say, I quickly became fascinated with the footwear process and realized that this was something I could really get into beyond skateboarding. With all the graphic design work I was already doing, footwear design seemed like the obvious next step for me. I was all in.

Not too long after that, Duffs was looking for someone to take charge of their direction and I was able to slide on in. That’s where I went from drawing stuff I thought was cool to developing a real understanding of the process.  I started focusing on utilizing different materials, like denim, in addition to the overall functionality of a shoe. I was starting to go on development travels to factories overseas... basically that position at Duffs was their investing in my education of design.

Things kept progressing from there, building up my design portfolio with a few other brands in the industry. This was all until a couple of years ago when Everybody Skates started to take off. Footwear design remains close to my heart but has had to take more of a backseat these days.

Weren’t you doing fine art portrait stuff of pros prior to Everybody Skates? Was Everybody Skates a side project at first that required a priority shift after it started to catch on?

You noticed that, huh? Yeah, I had to reprioritize there.

I actually launched both projects at the same time but you’re right, my main focus was originally the portrait stuff. A lot of people thought they were paintings but I actually made them on Illustrator and would then sell them as prints and canvases with the pro’s permission. The idea was to someday evolve them into more like a baseball card/sticker format.

The thing is that I kept getting more and more positive feedback on the Everybody Skates images. I wasn’t even looking to start a brand with that stuff, I was more or less just amusing myself on social media. In the beginning, it was basically the images I’d text back and forth with my friends… calling Vinny Ponte a fat bastard, stuff like that. Combining images from pop culture with skateboarding. But I’d post this stuff and every other comment seemed like people asking for shirts.

My problem is that I was stuck in my ways. After designing footwear for 17 years, making t-shirts didn’t seemed like much… another t-shirt brand, big whoop.

Eventually I gave it a go, figuring I’d make a quick run to supply this demand and be done with it. I didn’t realize that in doing so, I was actually creating a bigger buzz. Next thing I know, Supreme is calling to stock my shirts. Basically every retail store wants to be like Supreme, so once I got in there, I had all of these other shops calling, too. It got to the point where I would’ve been a fool to not take it more seriously.

I will admit that one reason why I was so hesitant initially is that I didn’t know how far I could take this stuff from a copyright standpoint. It's not like I know anybody from the Michael Jackson estate.

Are you just producing small batches that are long gone by the time a Cease and Desist comes?

Honestly, there hasn’t been too much of that. At first, I wasn’t doing the volume to warrant those types of conversations anyway. But as I’ve gotten more visibility, I’ve tried to be smart and expand the brand into other areas that aren’t so dependent on celebrity likeness.

For example, I’ve always liked the tiny embroideries that Polo does. But instead of being a logo, what about using the embroidery to tell the story in a small space? So I started applying some of the images I’d already been using on t-shirts as tiny embroideries and found that several of them really worked. And these embroideries also allowed me to start expanding into hats and whatever else… places where I couldn’t run huge graphics.

I’m hyped that people have responded so well because I can now do things more anonymously. I just need to be creative with the medium in order to tell the story. It’s more about allowing people to draw whatever conclusions they want from a design without being so overt. Like, that’s not necessarily Michael Jackson. That heavier-set gentleman in my design doing a kickflip over a giant key could remind you of DJ Kahleed but that would be a coincidence, ya know? (laughs)

Of course. Morrissey’s back smith, Madonna’s Madonna… what’s your process like with this stuff? Are you still just amusing yourself?

Yeah, I still just go with what’s funny to me. I’m not trying to hit a demographic or cash in on a trend.  There will never be an Everybody Skates collabo with Dora the Explorer. It has to be true to my sense of humor.

A lot of my stuff comes from people making extreme expressions or holding their body in a certain way. There has to be something being conveyed that makes a specific trick come to mind and work. And there has to be an artistic element there. I’m never just gonna slap a celebrity’s head on a skateboarder’s body. That’s too easy.

Congrats on all your success, Alf. It’s been quite a trip. So as we wrap this up, what’s next for you? What other projects do you have currently swirling around in your head? I just saw the Plan B Guest Model that you have in the works and it looks amazing. 

Right now, I’m just trying to build off the momentum I’ve somehow been able to build with Everybody Skates. It’s getting a lot of attention and feels good. I just did my first trade show and a Grizzly commercial... I never expected any of this. I’m even skating more these days than I have in years because I’m so inspired.

It’s funny because with all of this stuff we’ve talked about, the whole thing basically came down to wanting to do cool things for as long as I could get away with it. But with everything that’s been going on in the last few years, I’m starting to feel like this is just the beginning.

big thanks to alf for taking the time. 


chrome ball interview #95: jason adams

Chops and Kid on the Lost Highway. 

You once compared your skate career to a cult film that bombed on its release but has steadily grown in popularity over the years since. I love this comparison but can you explain a little more what you meant by that? Do you still feel this way?

(laughs) I guess it still makes sense.

I just meant that I was not the blockbuster hit when I first came out, for sure. At the time, punk rock was definitely not the most popular thing going in skateboarding but somehow, I’ve always had enough of a following in the underground to make it… punk rockers and just people who are into weird shit. These are my people.

If there’s one thing I can say about my fans over the years, it’s that they’ve always been the type who are kinda nerdy about everything. The dudes who were, like, really into Star Trek back in high school… which is cool, because honestly, I’m one of them. I’m a nerd, too. I love that shit.

I just never got the cool hip-hop kids that get laid all the time. Those kids have never been my supporters. Oh well. (laughs)

One thing that’s always stood out about Jason Adams is your unique trick selection. How much does style and fun come into play with your tricks versus technicality and trend?

It’s basically all stuff I want to do. It’s always been a mixture of what I like with a little of what was going on at the time. This was a conscious decision I made early on to try and do.  

Looking back on everything, I think the main difference for me is that I never looked at pro skateboarding as a competition. It just wasn’t like that for me. I always saw it more as a vehicle to express my point of view, which is probably how I was able to get into art later on as well.

I’ve basically been trying to never let go of the skateboarding I was introduced to when I was young. To me, skateboarding will always be Santa Cruz Skateboards in the ‘80s. I never wanted to leave that time.

photo: humphries

But if you look at your parts from 10-15 years ago: no complies, wallies, slappies and footplants… hell, even toecaps, all of which are now considered “cool” when maybe they weren’t so much at the time.

I will tell you that they definitely were not considered cool at the time. (laughs)

Do you feel like you were ahead of your time with this stuff or possibly so behind that you got lapped? (laughs)

I don’t know if I can say that I was doing anything “ahead of my time” or whatever. I don’t think I have the skill to hang with all of the stuff that’s going on now but if there is something I did that lent itself to all that, that’s cool. These kids doing wallie 50-50s down huge hubbas? I wish I could do that but it’s cool watching somebody else get it. To be able to watch skateboarding that relates to me and have it be looked upon favorably is awesome.

I’ll admit that I got a kick out of going completely upstream. I’m proud to say that I did have that extra bit of “fuck you” in me, even within the world of “fuck you” that is skateboarding. (laughs)

Granted it was the early 90s but it was shocking when I first found myself working in the skateboarding industry. I quickly realized the whole thing was exactly like the one thing I was fighting against: high school. This circle of people was just like high school all over again with their fucking cliques and bullshit. It seriously bummed me out.

So right off the bat, I got my kicks doing exactly what everyone else was not doing. It could be a bit of insecurity and lack of confidence on my part, I don’t know. I just think I like to say “fuck you” no matter what. I really get a kick out of it.

photo: morford

How much pressure did you receive from sponsors to skate or dress a certain way?

A little bit but not too bad. Back then, it was mainly all about your board sponsor and I always aligned myself with people who understood what I was trying to do. I’d often take less money in order to work with people I was comfortable with. But with that in mind, even early on, I’d still do some of my wallride shit and people would laugh at it.

“Those aren’t even real tricks, dude.”

I wouldn’t say it was easy for me over the years but I did always feel like I had some respect. I think people dug what I was trying to do, they just didn’t necessarily want to work with me.

“Yeah, it’s awesome… but it ain’t that awesome.”

Sponsors were one thing but getting coverage in magazines was way harder. Magazines were probably the most trend-driven out of anything in the industry at that time. To this day, Thomas Campbell tells the story of sending photos he shot of Tim Brauch and I into Transworld.

“What the fuck is this? We want handrails and green grass.”

Everything had to be clean concrete, handrails and green grass on the side. That was Transworld’s thing in the 90’s, which is pretty limited. Magazine coverage represented the biggest challenge for me.

photo: rodent

You mentioned your love of 80’s Santa Cruz, you were right in that mix growing up in San Jose. How was coming up in such a heavy scene as a grom? SJ doesn’t fuck around.

It was great because even though I was young, I knew enough to mind my Ps and Qs. There definitely were a lot of Santa Cruz team guys here with Corey and Kendall doing the Warehouse. That brought in a lot of people, for sure. But I grew up in a neighborhood where hazing was still a thing. You learned real quick how to act if you wanted to hang. I never got the brunt of anything because I knew the rules. If you went to a mini-ramp and older dudes were there, you probably weren’t gonna be able to skate. And if you did make the cut that day, don’t get in anybody’s way or you’re gonna get screamed at and someone’s probably gonna throw your board over the fence. That’s just how it was.

I just felt fortunate to even be around those guys.

photo: yelland

But after growing up around these guys, many of which you now consider close friends, do you think these relationships have played into the self-deprecating view of your own 25+ year career? That those guys are the “pros” and you’re still just “The Kid”?

I remember going to a NSA Regional contest at the San Jose Skatepark and JJ Rogers was there, rolling around. He was fucking hammered… and it’s, like, noon. He had this black hair dye in his hair from the night before and from where he’d been sweating, it’s all running down his face. He wasn’t wearing a shirt either, so all this black is running down his chest, too. He didn’t care. I thought he was out of his mind until I looked over at his crew and quickly realized that they were all like that, too. I thought they might’ve all been satanic or something. It kinda freaked me out but at the same time, I was so stoked on them.

It wasn’t long after that when I actually started getting to know those dudes. I was fresh out of high school so I was skating the skatepark during the day, which is big for those older guys. Even though I was the new “street kid”, they realized that I liked punk so they liked me right off the bat. While everybody else wanted to be the Beastie Boys, I wore Black Flag shirts and had purple hair. I also think Tim and I made it quite clear that we wanted to wave the San Jose flag and carry on the tradition, which stoked them out. So yeah, it wasn’t a long time between being terrified by them and becoming their friend.

But yes, you’re absolutely right about those grown-ass men influencing my views over the years, 100%. Corey and those guys are actually the ones who gave me the nickname. They started referring to me as “The Kid” on a trip one time and it just stuck. And I’ve always been way more influenced by what was going on skating-wise in San Jose than I was by the rest of the world. Transworld? Thrasher? Whatever. My whole world was right here.

There was just so much attitude back then. That’s really what this place was all about.  Slapping curbs, bashing coping, making noise, being fucking punk and spitting on your friends. It was the best, man. Skate hard, get drunk, be retarded and do it all over again tomorrow.

You started making a name for yourself as a Think OG. What were those early days like at such a small operation?

I was on Santa Cruz first but things weren’t really working out there. Because I was also on Venture at the time, Greg Carroll hooked me up on Think. Not a lot of people know this but when Think first started, it was through Dogtown. It was literally Think t-shirt screens on blank Dogtown boards. Those were actually the first Think boards.

Back then, the team was just amateurs: Shawn Mandoli, Karl Watson, Nick Lockman, Sam Smyth…

The Missing Children.

Exactly, the Missing Children and me. Ronnie got on shortly after that. It’s funny because it seems like I was on Think for such a long time but it was only maybe a year and a half. I turned pro and 6 months later, I left.

We were all so young, though. I didn’t have a clue about what was going on. Even when I turned pro, all I knew is that meant I wouldn’t have to work at my Dad’s heating and air-conditioning company. That’s how I looked at it.

I just wanted skate everyday, smoke weed and try to make out with chicks. At 17, that’s your mode.

What about your debut in Partners in Crime? That had to be fun. What was that, a couple weeks?

That part was total fun. It was in the beginning of the video era so you could get away with fun still. But again, I was just clueless.

“Hey, this dude Jake is gonna come and film you.”

“Oh… okay. Whatever.”

All of sudden, Jake Rosenberg’s around filming me. No big deal. I’m just gonna go out and do everything I did the day before, only someone is filming it now. You skated the same spots and did your same go-to tricks before moving on to the ones you had to try a little harder on. That’s how it was. There was no thought put into “video parts” back then. Definitely no pressure or coaching. You just go skating with a filmer and after a while, they tell you the video is done.

“Okay, cool!”

I remember the first time Tobin Yelland hit me up to go take photos, I didn’t even know what that meant. Photos? What do I do?

“Well, where you do want to skate?”

“I like to skate Gunderson, I guess.”

“Ok, let’s go there! What do you want to shoot there?”

“Ummm… well, I did this last time?”

“Yeah!?! Do it again!”

I had no idea what I was doing but I ended up getting 3 photos in the mag from that one day.

photo: yelland

But did you really feel like you were ready for being pro?

Fuck no! Not only wasn’t I ready, I didn’t deserve a goddamn thing! I think I’d had maybe 2 photos in a magazine by that point? But they turned me pro and the machine went into action. Here’s a Venture ad, here’s a couple Think ads… Lance Dawes is gonna give you a Slap interview. They had the connections to line shit up.

I had no idea what being a “professional skateboarder” meant. I didn’t know about work ethic other than just wanting to skate good. I’d do whatever they asked but I didn’t take it seriously. In my mind, because skateboarding was so dead at the time, being pro was nothing. I figured that it was always going to be small and I just didn’t give a fuck. I was planning on a 3-year career, at most. I figured I could party for 3 years or so and it’d be fun.

What were your thoughts on Think becoming the “rave” company? Because at the same time, you had Bad Religion graphics!

Yeah, I wanted my first board to be a straight rip-off but Keith had his own way of doing graphics so it became “influenced” by Bad Religion. Ironically, I showed up that day to get my picture taken wearing a Black Label t-shirt and they made me change it.

“Why are you fucking wearing that again!?!”

I was just hyped on skateboarding and at the time, I was into Black Label and Alien Workshop.

By that same point, those guys were really getting into rave stuff. Keith and Greg were all about it… which is one of the big reasons why I bailed. I just thought it was so lame.

You also have to remember that we weren’t making a ton of money off board sales back then, especially for a smaller company like Think. You’d get a check one month for $100 bucks. You get another one the next month for $180 bucks. It didn’t matter, I was living with my parents anyway. But when I got the opportunity to ride for SMA and get a whole $500 monthly guarantee? Fuck yeah! (laughs)

photo: kanights

We still don’t see the typical Jason Adams trick selection at this point though. It’s still a bit trend-driven, right?

I was young, man. I was out skating with my friends and basically just trying to do what all I saw going on around me. Trying what everybody else thought was cool. I hadn’t really found my way yet but I could already tell that I was going to need a different approach. I was skating around Mike Carroll and Henry Sanchez a lot in San Francisco back then and it was laughable. Just look at those guys! What the hell am I even doing out here!?!

I had to mature a bit and gain some confidence first before I could go out and try doing my own thing. To be known for me. I honestly didn’t even have the skills at that point to really do what I wanted to either.

What was the breaking point?

It came around the time I got on SMA. Greg Carroll had taken me under his wing with Think at such a young age that I don’t think I ever had much of a voice there. I got on SMA as a pro, which gave me more of a say in things.

I was still trying to keep up at this point. Varial late flips and switch backside 180 heelflips… so funny. But I remember going out skating one day and coming home so frustrated. I had a really bad temper back then and on this particular day, I had two hissy fits, broken my board again and wanted to shoot myself in the face. I was so mad… until I just broke. I just didn’t care anymore. I decided from then on out, I was going to do whatever the fuck I wanted to do. I don’t care about flipping my board anymore. I want to go fast, I want to do big ollies and I want to have fun.

At this point, I wasn’t that great of a mini-ramp skater but I was trying to learn transition behind the scenes. I always loved Tom Knox and Eric Dressen and they could skate everything. I wanted to be like that, too. Transition’s not “cool” right now or whatever but fuck it. I’m going to teach myself how to skate that way, which definitely took a while for me but I loved doing it.

Luckily, I got on SMA as I was starting to hang around Tim Brauch everyday. Skating with him is how I really learned to skate everything so much better.

Those Wonder Twin graphics were a highpoint for SMA at this time.

Yeah, SMA was fun because we could do whatever we wanted. There were no rules. Everyone had just left the company so they just threw together a pro team to fill the hole and turned us loose. A Descendents graphic? A Sex Pistols graphic? Fucking cool! They loved it!

It was our idea to start marketing us together. We lived together and skated everyday together so it made sense. I think the Wonder Twins graphic specifically with the boards fitting together and everything was Tim’s idea. I remember us telling SMA about it and they loved it. Those boards did pretty well for us back then.

photo: dawes

You’ve called the years during your Creature and Scarecrow tenure a “dark time” for you. What do you mean by that?

Skating for Russ wasn’t the problem. I was just partying too hard. I’d just moved downtown and was starting to meet a lot of the older San Jose guys, like Corey O’Brien and Reeps. My usual crew were all in relationships at the time so these older dudes took me under their wing. I just wanted to get wasted and they had the whole downtown scene on lockdown. I wasn’t even of age yet but I could still go party with them through a bro deal and the backdoor.

It wasn’t all bad but I definitely started drinking way too much, which began to get in the way of my skating. And anytime you’re drinking for days on end, it will result in depression, big time, which is exactly what happened. It could get dark.

Looking back on things now, I realized that I wasn’t ready to have turned pro when I did. I was intimidated by everything without really wanting to admit it to myself. I was running away from it. I had no idea what I was doing or what was gonna happen to me… Fuck it, I’m just gonna party.

It was a depressing way to live because I knew I wasn’t giving it my all.

On a lighter note, how was skating with Simon Woodstock on Sonic as his crazy costume antics started to takeoff? I imagine it being pretty rad at first…

Ok, first off, the whole Sonic thing was a mess. Even though it was the O’Briens and San Jose, it was just a mess.

I’ve known Simon Woodstock forever. My first sponsor was Simon’s shop, Winchester Skateshop, and yeah, he was still a clown and all that but he was also a really fucking good skateboarder.

Even when he first started doing all that clown shit, it was rad. When he showed up at the Back to the City contest with a skimboard, I thought it was one of the best things to ever happen. I loved it because he was just taking the piss out of the whole thing. Showing up at the Quartermaster cup with the carpet board? So cool. It was punk, man. Crazy carpet shorts with a huge crazy chain wallet and pink hair… he was a punker back then. And he had cool moves, too! That skimboard stuff was awesome!

It just got out of control. It got to a point where he wasn’t even skating anymore. He was just laying around in bed, thinking of wacky ideas. He’s a market genius but he just got too fucking crazy. His ideas were always amazing but he could never take himself out of the equation. He always took things too far.

What was wrong with Sonic?

It’s nothing against those dudes, it just wasn’t a good time for the company and I never felt like I fit in there.

I was looking for a new board sponsor because Scarecrow didn’t feel the same anymore after the change of ownership. I was skeptical from the beginning but again, with the O’Briens and San Jose, I just went with it.

The main reason I got on Sonic was because it was at NHS. With Tim on Santa Cruz and Chet on Creature, I just wanted to be in the van with the homies. That was good enough for me. Simon was really pressuring me to do it, too.

I instantly regretted it. Sonic was like the red-headed stepchild at NHS since they didn’t truly own it. I didn’t understand that going in. I also didn’t realize beforehand that Simon just wanted me around as his sidekick to make it look like he skated a lot. He was only doing gag advertising at this point.

The fact is that they couldn’t sell enough product with the percentage they were getting to actually pay people. After a while, I just opted to walk with no hard feelings. I kinda floated around for a while after that.

What about the “Suburban Cowboy” ad with the frontside boardslide in full cowboy gear? Was that a make?

Yeah, that’s a make. The best thing about that one is Vans sent those cowboy boots to China in order have waffle soles put in for me. They actually glued waffle soles to the bottom of these boots I found in a thrift store. I wish I still had those things.

Honestly, that ad felt like me once again giving a bit of the middle finger.

“Oh, punk’s cool now? Well, now I’m into country music. Fuck you!” (laughs)

How would you describe the Beautiful Men’s Club and why do you think it appealed to so many people?

I have no idea why it appealed to people the way it did. Maybe because it was a cool logo and people liked doing the salute? I don’t know. It’s crazy because it grew out of a joke. Salman called someone a “beautiful man”… now we’re all beautiful men. A bunch of people with no jobs and way too much time on their hands. We kinda wanted to do something but it’s not like we actually wanted to work at it… so we end up putting all this time, energy and creativity into drinking instead. (laughs)

It was all very loose. Anybody could be in it because who cares? Ed Templeton was in it and he didn’t even drink. Tim and I just did the salute everywhere we went and people liked it so we’d put them on, too.

We realized it was getting crazy when we started going places and noticing these strange local chapters. We went to Japan and found one that had made its own shirts and stickers. We had all these guys giving us the salute. Same thing happened in Germany and Australia.

“Who are these guys? What the fuck!?!”

I think the majority of it came from Tim traveling so much. He was so friendly and people just loved him. Wherever he went, he just wanted to hang out and make friends. It stoked people out. I’ll still go to far-off places that I’ve never been to, years after Tim had been there, and not only are people giving me the salute, they also have Tim Brauch tattoos. He touched so many people.

photo: kanights

All these years later, how do reflect on your friendship with Tim?

To be honest, I don’t know how to answer that. It’s been so long.

We were so tight. He was one of my very best friends and it was like losing a family member for me. All I know is when he died, I knew everything was going to be different from then on out. He had that much of an impact on my life and our scene.

To me, the BMC died with Tim. It was all over after that. People around here will still try to keep it going. I’ll be nice about it and give my little salute when the time is right but I’m always thinking “You’re dumb” in the back of my mind.

Everyone knows he was the nicest guy, I want people to know how great of a skateboarder he was. People are so used to seeing skating in videos a certain way but Tim skated that way everyday. He didn’t go into “filming a part” mode or whatever. He just raged. 

He went for it everyday… with skating and partying. He might’ve looked like Captain America but that motherfucker partied. I couldn’t keep up with the dude. He’d rage, wake up in a good mood and go rip while I’m under the car in cold sweats.

I know that right before he died, he was getting flack from his sponsors because they didn’t know how to market him. Everyone knew what a rad dude he was but no one knew how to sell him. Etnies loved him and knew he deserved to be on their signature program, they just didn’t know how to make it work.

It’s a shame because in the weeks before his death, his mode was: “Alright, you want a fucking video part? I’ll give you a fucking video part.”

He was just getting started. He was going to triple-kink rails and it was on. He was determined. The day that he died, he 50-50’d a good size flat handrail and kickflipped out. People weren’t really doing that at the time. He was really starting to drop some shit but nobody got to see all that was possible for him.

Did Tim’s passing help fuel your Label Kills part?

After Tim died, a lot of shit happened. First off, I met my now-wife at the first Tim’s Skate Jam and she ended up getting pregnant ASAP. That was crazy.

I also got on Black Label at this time, which was amazing. I’d been without a sponsor for a little while and I honestly thought I was done. It didn’t seem like anyone wanted to sponsor me anymore. I was going back and forth about Lucero because while I always loved the company but I wasn’t sure. I’d always been able to make a living from skateboarding. Pay my rent and bills and feed myself. But at the time, Black Label was out of Lucero’s garage and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get by like that. I just had to say fuck it. I’m done anyway so I’ve really got nothing to lose. Let’s do this.

Next thing I know, Lucero starts talking about wanting to do a video. Right away, I’m down. This is something I really wanted to go for because I realize this might be my last chance. It’s time to not be such a drunken retard, get my act together and actually try to film a real video part. To do something I could be proud of.

Luckily for me, skateboarding was growing and Black Label was about to explode. It was all amazing timing.

It was a serious part to drop after not seeing much of you for a minute.

Yeah but I can’t take full credit here. Lucero had the vision. Not that Russ didn’t support me but Lucero was always so hyped on my wacky ideas. He knew how to let me go about doing whatever I wanted while still being able to put it all together and package it well.

At the same time, I also knew enough that I was going to have to incorporate things that were going on in skateboarding at the time into my part. I realized that if I wasn’t able to hop on a handrail, nobody was going to take any of this other stuff seriously. I was gonna have to go terrify myself a few times. Granted, whenever I ended up pulling off some kind of stunt without killing myself, it felt awesome. But I am not a thrill seeker at all. I know some guys love it but I'm not that dude.

How’d that freeway boardslide ender go down?

The thing with that one is that it’s literally on the expressway. You have to wait for traffic as cars fly past. Its super rough, too.

I remember a buddy of mine brought me there to check it out and I thought that I’d need rails in order to do it. I went out and got some before actually going to try it but I couldn’t do it. Because the inside edge is so sharp, it would burn this little streaks into the rails. Once you got on it again, you’d start falling right into these rail ruts. I think I went back twice but couldn’t get it.

What happened was one day, Joe Brook came into town with a crew of dudes. I ended up going out with them and the whole time I’m thinking to myself, “Do I really want to try this thing again today?”

But I brought it up and actually ended up making it that day. I finally made it because I’d shot through the rails. They just came off! I’d burnt all the way through them and that’s when I realized that I didn’t need them. The rails were what was fucking me up.

The problem now was that I didn’t film it. There wasn’t a filmer there that day and John really wants me to do it again for the video.

I dreaded going back again because it was such a struggle but it was much easier without rails… and I’m still milking that one to this day! (laughs)

photo: brook

What about your short-lived Six Gun project? How was it born and what ultimately happened there?

Well, if you know Lucero at all, he is not a businessman by any means. He’s obviously a creative genius but as far as having any type of business strategy, he’s not your guy.

I started conceptualizing Six Gun on my own out of boredom. I was at home 3 days a week with a newborn on top of just hurting my ankle so I was feeling pretty cooped up.

The Six Gun concept just popped in my head one day and, kinda like the BMC, felt like a good way to satisfy my creative drive to make stuff. Zines, t-shirts, stencils… all just for fun. So I start messing around and John really seemed to like it. He’d always ask about the logo and want to play around with it… putting it in my graphics and stuff.

I remember for one catalog, he ended up asking me to come up with a series of boards using my Xeroxed art pieces as graphics. Of course, I was down but I could tell that maybe he’d already decided on some sort of branch-off thing. He didn’t come out and say this but I could see where it was going. He started beating around the bush about how well things were going. Black Label had just blown up and there was a need to expand. But he was totally cryptic about everything so it was hard to be sure about anything.

It comes time for the next catalog and he wants more pieces for graphics. When I bring them in, he thinks we should also do a logo board that says, “Six Gun”.

“Ok, no problem.”

So I go and make it that night, bringing it in the next day. It’s now one day before the catalog is due.

“Hey, why don’t you call your buddy Chet?  Let’s do Six Gun!”

He gets this look on his face. I love it because it’s the same look he always gets when he’s hyped where his eyes gets real big.

“It’ll just be, like, your thing! It will still be Black Label for now but slowly end up being its own thing!”

“Fucking cool! That’s what I’ve always wanted!”

So I go home and immediately call Chet. Before I even bring anything up, he starts going off on 151.

“Fuck 151, man. I’m so over these motherfuckers! I was just about to call you, man. I know its probably not gonna happen but could I possibly ride for Black Label?”

“Well, that’s actually the reason I’m calling you right now.”

He couldn’t believe it. A total fluke.

So basically John told me that day to go home and call Chet. We had this much money to do shit and here’s our timeline. If Chet was down to do it, I was to come in tomorrow morning with a board graphic for him.

The next day?

Yeah, I had to stay up all night trying to make something for Chet. It was crazy.

But that’s how Six Gun came to be. No agreement of any kind. No plan. Nothing. And other than that initial offering, it took months and months to get the ball rolling past that. I remember hitting up John constantly like, “Hey, we kinda need to figure out something here considering I’m supposed to be doing this now.”

We were finally able to figure some shit out and get to work on it but as Six Gun began to grow, I noticed John trying to reel it back in. It was like he wanted to do it but he also loved having me on Black Label, too. It put me in a weird position and I didn’t have the communication skills to really deal with it.

At some point, I just started to have a different vision. I didn’t really like it being Black Label with a cowboy hat. I started having ideas that didn’t quite go along with how John saw it playing out. Chet was going crazy, too. I don’t even think the dude sleeps. He just lays in bed all night worrying and there’s only so many times you can tell him to chill the fuck out.

I was the one who pulled the plug. It just wasn’t working out. I also started to realize that I was finally in the spot I’d always wanted to be in. I had all of these sponsors and was making money to support my family. People were calling me everyday, wanting stuff. I felt like a true pro skater! Maybe I should just enjoy being in this position for the first time ever instead of dealing with Six Gun.

I regretted shutting it down for a long time but I know it was destined to fail under those circumstances. Fuck it. I’m fine with it being a cool little flash-in-the-pan type of thing.

How did Enjoi enter the picture?

I probably sparked that one.

From living a bit of the good life, starting with Six Gun and then on to trips where it’d often fall on me to act as team manager, I felt like I was working really hard. I was fine with handling things and kinda liked being the team captain, but as Black Label began to slow down, they had to start cutting money. John saw my leaving at the time as being about money but it wasn’t. I just felt like I was involved in so many aspects… but when it came time for paycuts, I got the same percentage cut as all the other riders. I took that to heart. I felt like at the end of the day, despite all the graphics I was doing and the team manager stuff, I was just another rider.

Looking back on it, I was being a sensitive little bitch but it did feel like a big deal at the time. Again, not having good communication skills really came into play.

But overall, I could feel that I was less motivated. I hung out with Enjoi all the time anyway. That’s who I skated with. I even filmed with the Enjoi filmer, not the Black Label filmer, ya know? That was my crew. So, once again, getting a kick out of doing something unexpected, I quit Black Label.

Wasn’t Justin Strubing also in the Enjoi mix with you?

He was. It was between him and I for the spot. I think he was already in the mix and then I hit up Matt Evs, basically fucking everything up for Strubing. Sorry, Justin.

sequence: whiteley

Did you feel like you had as much freedom with Enjoi as you did on Black Label?

I didn’t have as much freedom when it came to graphics but I could still do whatever I wanted with everything else.

The weirdest part for me was feeling a little suffocated at times. San Jose is such a tight community and I was always used to being the lone wolf. Once I got on Enjoi, all of a sudden, I was in the middle of everything that was going on here.

But I imagine that making Bag of Suck easier to film with so many other SJ kids around, right?

No, it was fucking horrible. (laughs)

I think it was actually harder because it was so convenient. So up-close-and-personal. Honestly, the whole situation was great and I’ve never been taken care of better… which made it hard for me! I got paid well. I had insurance. They took care of everything for me but it was almost too much! I think I actually like being mistreated better! It gives me motivation and something to work against! They were too nice!

My problem is that I’ve always been a glass half-empty kinda guy. I’ve always been way too hard on myself. I felt I was already “old” in skateboarding by this point, even though I’d just been able to have my highlight part at age 27 somehow.

After the Label Kills, I felt like I kinda went into a lull, motivation-wise. I was still out there skating hard, I just never felt like I was doing enough. I was putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself because my wife was pregnant again. I was doubting myself.  I should’ve realized that I was struggling with things and stepped back to come up with some different ideas instead of trying to push through it.

photo: whiteley

It sounds like you prefer Label Kills to Bag of Suck

I wouldn’t say that. I like them both equally but for different reasons. I will say that I think Bag of Suck is where my age started coming in to play.

There’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and I think it’s especially true with skateboarding: you only remember your best days. Whenever you’re going out to try and recreate those “best” moments, you only remember the good from before. You always seem to forget those previous struggle days where nothing went right. That also means you become all too aware of struggle days you’re currently having and you start to doubt yourself. There was a lot of that with me and Bag of Suck.

With the success of those two parts specifically, I remember a lot of people saying that they were finally starting to “get you”. Why do you think that was?

I just think the timing was right and those parts were delivered in a way that worked. I think a lot of people were bored with what was going on. Like, I loved Zero when it first came out… but it just kept going in that same direction and I think it maybe started to feel a bit stale to people. Then Label Kills comes out and all of a sudden, there’s me doing all types of wallrides and weird shit. People could appreciate it.

I also think you gain more respect within the industry when people are buying your stuff. People start to wonder why Black Label is selling so many boards and they see this video. It’s almost like those sales vouch for doing weird shit.

photo: humphries

Do you think your art also served in this capacity? Maybe further contextualizing your voice?

I do think the art helps. I can’t talk about all skateboarders but when it comes down to it, skating is a point of view. You’re going to love the Gonz anyway but you’re gonna love him more because of his art. It’s all one. You can’t have one without the other.

One of the most memorable ads for me growing up was with Jason Jessee. I don’t even remember what he was doing skate-wise but there was a picture of him leaning against his truck and there’s a catholic candle with an Elvis tapestry. I thought that was so cool. That’s when I realized that I liked skaters who had a bit more. I feel like most guys from that era did. That’s what is interesting. It’s not about what tricks you’re working on. Who cares what you think is “wack” and how cool you are for “getting blunted and shit”. You gotta have something to say!

Enjoi is riding high, it’s San Jose and things are going well for you there. Why go back to Black Label?

Because I’m a fucking idiot! Haven’t you figured this out yet? (laughs)

Wasn’t there a possibility of another solo company, like Six Gun?

No, not really.

I never had any intentions of leaving Enjoi. The problem was Matt having such a bad time with Dwindle. Matt is a good friend of mine and to see him that unhappy made me unhappy. By that point, he’d either quit or threatened to quit multiple times. Matt was a genius with Enjoi and I always felt that if he left, the company was done. It wouldn’t even be worth it to continue without him.

It got to the point where he told us all that he was going to quit for good.  We ended up having a big meeting where all the riders got together and it really seemed like the whole thing was a wrap. My whole thing was that we’d just won Team of the Year, we’d just put out this amazing video and we’re kinda on top right now… fuck it, let’s just quit. How rad would that be? (laughs)

Into the sunset.

Right? I’m a genius, obviously. And totally not afraid to put my family at risk at any time. (laughs)

The weird thing about riding for Enjoi back then is that while the team was always solid and loyal, everyone hated Dwindle… even though they treated us really good. It was a strange dynamic and the exact opposite of that at Black Label. There, we were all for John. We love Black Label and we’re all down for the cause. It’s a total underdog scenario where we’re not really making any money but let’s still go out and crush this demo because we’re proud of who we are.

So yeah, I come out of that meeting thinking Matt was done for sure and Enjoi is finished. It’s all over… or so I thought. I leave to drive down to San Diego by myself for a tradeshow and I had no idea what I’m going to do but I better start figuring it out. So as I’m driving, John calls.

“Kid! What’s up! Let’s go to the bar!”

Fuck it, I’m in no hurry. I head over to Huntington Beach to meet up with John, which is basically like hooking up with an ex-girlfriend or something. But you have to remember: I’m still thinking Enjoi is done. That’s what we decided. What am I going to do? I’ve seriously had people all over the world give me the finger, saying that I ruined their lives by quitting Black Label. And I gotta admit that my name does look good on a Black Label board… plus, I missed being involved with graphics.  

All of this is spinning around in my head while I sit at this bar with John when he turns around to me and says, “Fucking ride for the Label, dude!”

That’s how it happened.  

photo: swift

But what about Elephant? I know you and Mike were friends but did you go into that thinking long-term with his sponsor track record?

I wasn’t thinking long-term at all.

After the economy crashed, I wasn’t making enough money from my sponsors to live so I just said fuck it and quit everything. In my mind, my time in the sponsored skate world was over. I pretty much broke down. I was done trying to fight for my position. The ride lasted longer than I’d expected anyway, it was time for me to move on. I was still down to roll, I just didn’t want the eye on me anymore.

The thing is: you just can’t walk away from skateboarding. All of a sudden, Svitak hits me up about wanting to make me a board for 1031. He’s my friend. If that helps him out, rad. Nothing serious.

But I started seeing what Mike was doing with these Elephant videos he was putting out. Man, it hyped me up! At the time, I was starting to feel pretty blah about what was going on in skateboarding but those Elephant videos really got me excited.

I ended up tweeting something about looking for a job, just kinda joking around. Mike calls me 15 minutes later. I was honest and told him that while I like the idea of making little videos through Elephant, I needed to know that I could do whatever I wanted to do or it wasn’t going to work. He was down.

Unfortunately, Elephant imploded not too long after that. It came down to ownership and butting heads… they sold Elephant to Vision and that was the end. Mike split so I split. They actually tried to have me take it over but that just didn’t sit right.

What’s cool is that regardless of whatever was going on, John would always let me know that Black Label was there if I needed them. He’d never pressure me about anything, just hinting at stuff, like, “You know, third times the charm!”

Just seeing your board on the shelf the other day as part of Black Label again made me feel all fuzzy inside.

Thanks, man.

Going back to Black Label at this point feels kinda like that old athlete returning to his home team to retire. I’m not done, but if I can help John out in the slightest way, that’s the least I can do. I told him that, straight up. I don’t want any money and I don’t expect anything. Just know that I’m down.

He looks at me and goes, “Fuck yeah, let’s do it.”

I love it. So as we wrap this up, have you thought at all about a potential legacy? With you “returning home” after all this, what kind of influence would you like to think you’ve had? 

I don't know, man. I do think about that kinda stuff sometimes but honestly, it’d just be cool not to be forgotten. I don’t really know where I stand but I can tell you that whenever people tell me that I may have inspired them in some way, I enjoy that the most out of this whole thing. It makes this 43-year-old limping man smile. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve somehow been able to give people the vegetarian dish on the menu. I’m sure its somewhat of an ego boost but to be able to stoke out anybody is fucking awesome. Inspiring people not to give up or helping them realize that there are no rules when it comes to skateboarding. I love that.

Special thanks to Marky Whiteley and Jason for taking the time.