Post-Vans Propeller: Greg Hunt Talks Inspiration, Process & Critics
By Robert Brink
The Hundreds, June 2015
When Greg Hunt began filming on Vans Propeller, he was living in a one-bedroom apartment and single with “zero responsibilities.” Fast-forward almost six years and Greg has a wife, a baby and two dogs. Now that the dust has settled, he’s currently working on a special edition of Propeller for release in late 2015 and enjoying some much deserved down time. Curious as to what’s on his mind in a post-Propeller world; in the wake of the year’s biggest and most-anticipated skateboarding video, the press tour, as well as all the criticism that comes with it, I caught up with him for a little chat.
I’m hearing people say they enjoy the Propeller Raw Files more than the video itself. I experienced the same at Emerica when we released the Stay Gold B-Sides …
I was 17 when Rubbish Heap came out. It had no real soundtrack except random parts with Rodney Mullen and Jef Hartsel. I loved it and that’s why I did the Raw Files this way. But for people to say, “This is so much better than the video,” I don’t get that. Rowan’s part with that song and all the different angles—there’s an emotional thing built in when you watch. That doesn’t happen with raw footage. Raw footage is awesome and a great way to get all the extra stuff out there because people love it, but I’d take an edited video part over raw footage any day.
To me it’s an enhancer. Dollin’s raw stuff it blew me away, knowing what went into that part.
For sure. If anything, the feedback I get is, “Why wasn’t this in the video?” People might prefer it because it’s honest. It shows the real story of the slam and the make and that’s very telling of what these guys put into it. I wish I could’ve put a lot of that into the video, but you can’t. I could always do better, but you’re trying your best to include everything in the best possible way. Chima’s part had too much music, that’s why we added a little something at the end. I extended Daniel’s song just so I could fit more skating in there. It hard to condense four years of skateboarding into four minutes when you’re following the traditional formula for video parts.
I don’t think people realize how restraint plays just as important a role ...
Exactly. You can make a video that’s short and to the point and some people are gonna love it and others will feel like they were expecting more. If you make a video with longer parts and a lot of stuff in between, people are gonna say, “I just wanna see the skating!” You’re never gonna be able to make everybody happy; it’s just impossible. Some of my favorite moments in the video are only a couple seconds long. Like Anthony in front of the water main that explodes or Daniel standing on that mountain and the tram comes by.
It seems like you’ve done a ton of press for this video. Back in the day no one interviewed the filmmaker.
It’s weird that nowadays, so many people want to talk to the filmmakers. I understand that I’m the person steering the ship and ultimately responsible for all the final touches, but really I put myself in the back seat to what these guys want. And I’ve always been that way. I didn’t film everything. I didn’t conceptualize the video part; it’s them skateboarding. Half the time I wasn’t even there, or off just trying to find a good angle. When it’s all done, I’m working with the guys to put it together in a way that hopefully resonates with people. It’s trippy, but we’re in an era where people want to talk to you.
In addition to the expectations people have for the video to be amazing, it seems there’s a weird assumption that you, the creator, are trying to make an artistic statement, or should be.
I totally agree. People that really have a vision when they make a video—the way they want it to look and feel prior to even editing it, I think that’s amazing. When Fred Mortagne did éS Menikmati, that video was so different from anything anyone had ever seen. Looking back, that was a really artistically brave thing to do, especially for such a young kid who, at the time, didn’t really know anyone.
I didn’t have a creative group that was working on this; it was just me. I had a lot of things planned for in-between parts and the intro, but I simply didn’t have time. And when I started to see how it was coming together, I saw it was a very straightforward, no bullshit skateboarding video, for skateboarders. No narrative, nothing very conceptual, no acting. I thought, “You know what? This is actually pretty cool. Just straight up skating.” How can you not like Anthony Van Engelen or Rowan Zorilla or Daniel Lutheran or Gilbert Crockett? These guys are amazing to watch skate. I know that much.
I think people also don’t realize that the artist might actually have zero interest in pleasing anyone except the people involved in the project.
That’s exactly it. Some people take it too seriously. Really what it’s about is the skateboarding. And when I’m editing, I’m working primarily as a skateboarder. I feel like people look at these videos like it potentially could’ve been this or potentially could’ve been that. Of course it could, but it’s really about the skateboarding and this video, more than any that I’ve ever done, is what it is because of the guys in it. It’s their skateboarding. They were very involved in what went into the parts. I read one thing that said that Propeller wasn’t an honest representation of modern skateboarding. The guy who wrote that just doesn’t understand. He’s out of touch with modern skateboarding, because this is the most honest representation of these guys that I could have possibly made.
It’s just good skateboarding. I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece, but I would like to think, if you’re someone who loves skateboarding you’re going to sit through it at least once and enjoy a lot of it. If you, for some reason, can’t enjoy a lot of that video, then I don’t know what to tell you because I spent five years working on this thing and I still love watching Anthony’s and Rowan’s parts … because I’m a skateboarder.
What stands out as the most impressive or scary thing you saw go down?
Trujillo’s last trick was really impressive. That was fucking gnarly. I’ve skated with him enough to know that when I saw him up there, he was really freaked out. You can’t try it a bunch of times. It’s one of those things that once you commit to going down, you’re either gonna pull it or you’re gonna seriously fuck yourself up—really fuck yourself up.
Kyle Walker getting hit by a car too …
I was already editing at that point. But yeah, that was fucked up. I saw the footage and didn’t want to use it because it’s not even like, “Oooh.” It’s like, “Ugh!” When it happened, the guys texted me the footage off their camera screens and it seriously looks like he got killed. He’s running across the street, he’s lying on the ground, he’s screaming. Horrible. But I mean, fuck, Kyle tried his last trick in Atlanta for maybe two and a half hours. I don’t even know how his body made it through that. He tried it, couldn’t do it, sat down and was over it. Everyone was like, “Alright, you did it; you gave it your best.” And he was sitting there like, “You know what? Fuck it. I’m gonna try it again.” And I think that happened definitely once, if not twice before he landed it.
Have you ever backed somebody down because you were scared they’d get hurt?
I’ve never told anyone they should stop. There have definitely been times when I felt like, “This is a really bad idea.” These guys know their own limits. I don’t think anyone really wants to get killed. If anything, sometimes I’ll say, “Hey, man. Maybe we shouldn’t do this right now because it looks like if we do, we’re gonna go to jail. Let’s come back later or figure out some other way to do it.”
Back when you made the M83 “Echoes” video, you and I were talking about being Terrence Malick fans and such. How much do outside influences come into play as a skateboarding filmmaker?
The first year we were filming Propeller I was watching a lot of rock documentaries. This old Bowie documentary and a Rolling Stones documentary called Stones in Exile.
In my opinion, skateboarders are more like musicians than athletes. How they perform and how they create and promote skateboarding—how people love a certain skateboarder more than another. I love seeing a band recording in the studio and the moments where they’re not actually playing the music—sometimes more than when they are playing. I like seeing guys sitting in the rehearsal room on the couch talking shit, or even a guy alone sleeping in the corner of the studio. That, to me, is really revealing and really intriguing. That’s loosely what I went for in this video with a lot of the 16mm stuff.
How much of your work is inspired by things you see that you don’t like?
Almost all of it. That’s the approach I had when I skated, long before I started making videos. I would just look at what everyone was doing and try to do the opposite. Skateboarding can be frustrating because physically, you have so many limitations. Sometimes you just can’t do it. And it’s funny because now that I’m making these videos, I have other limitations: budgets, time and the ability to actually make something happen. I think when I’m watching or reading or just observing anything, something clicks in my brain like, “Well, I definitely never want to do that,” or, “That’s really cool; how can I do that, but differently?”
Being a skateboarder—at least the generation that I come from in skateboarding—the last thing you want to do is copy someone. When you’re at a spot and some guy is back tailing a ledge, you’re not gonna back tail the ledge. You want to do your own thing and I think that’s something that I definitely got from skateboarding and it bleeds into everything I do in life. I think that’s why skateboarders do a lot of really interesting things when they go on to do projects outside of skateboarding, or even within skateboarding.
As a filmmaker, is it advantageous that you were once a pro skater who’s filmed video parts?
I don’t think so. I skated in the mid-nineties in San Francisco. It was a lot different then. Most of these guys now trust me because of the videos I’ve done, not because of the skateboarding I’ve done. These guys, they are 18, 19, 20, and through making one video over five years, they change a lot. You realize the distractions, lack of motivation, and things that become hurdles for them. I definitely blew it in a lot of regards when I was young, so me acknowledging and using that to help people is what I use more than anything. Even if I don’t say it to someone directly, I might just say, “I know what this person’s going through; give him some space.”
Also, you’re not just the filmer or director or producer; you’re a mentor …
And it’s tough because everyone is so different. It’s not a fucking wrestling team; it’s a skateboarding team. I’m not always successful, but I try to be sensitive to each person’s energy and needs. You want everyone to be stoked, not miserable.
I can’t take all the credit. When these guys are all together it takes on its own life and I’m sort of there trying to make sure everyone’s up and in the van and doing my best to steer the day in the right direction where we can get as much done as possible.
I sometimes have this fear that skateboarding will be my last stop. That skateboarding might not want me anymore as I age. Does that ever worry you?
I think that’s something that everyone thinks about, especially if you’re working in skateboarding as a filmer or photographer or writer or whatever—even a shoe designer. I like having other things to work on because it brings a little bit of balance to my life, but I know for a fact that if I completely remove myself from skateboarding there’s a huge part of me that’s missing. It’s been 30 years of my life. If anything, my phobia is working in skateboarding because I have to. I never want to resent skateboarding. I only want be involved in skateboarding because I love skateboarding. I never want to be in a position where I’m in skateboarding because I need the paycheck or because I’ve got nowhere else to go. That really freaks me out.
Chris Cole Talks Motivation 2, Therapy, and Life Under a Microscope
By Robert Brink
The Hundreds, June 2015
Chris Cole is one of the best skateboarders on the planet. He’s also taken more shit than most skaters on the planet—from his peers, from the skateboard community, from the Internet. In a culture where image and playing it “cool” are often more important than your actual ability on a skateboard, not many pro skaters have had to prove themselves to the extent that Cole has. To the point of second-hand embarrassment at times, Motivation 2: The Chris Cole Story pulls you into the center of his struggle.
Directed by Adam Lough, Motivation 2 (iTunes, June 23) is the story of an East Coast underdog who made his way to the top, battling self-discovery, industry politics and the void of a father he never knew along the way. The following is a conversation with a man who’s been put through the ringer and become one of the most comfortable-in-his-own-skin people I’ve ever met.
Your wife was telling me you did some brain mapping and it’s been determined you’re a superhero …
It’s called Neurotopia. I lack attention and a lot of different things but it turns out I have a super-fast reaction time in my brain and I have impulse control. Basically, my brain processes the information that comes through my eyes really, really quickly. And then my reaction as to what to do with that information is above par.
That’s obviously super advantageous, not only for learning tricks but also avoiding chaos and damage.
Yes. That’s actually a really important part of the whole thing. In Danny Way’s documentary, Travis Pastrana says that Danny’s not fearless; he’s just really good at assessing risk. And it’s so important.
Is it challenging being under the microscope for a year to film a documentary?
Yeah, you have to let somebody in pretty deeply. But the hardest part was really figuring out what needs to be told versus what is me trying to give you 100 percent of what happened. I’m very nostalgic and want to take you down each road and tell you why certain people and stories are so important to me. But you don’t need every story from my life; you just need the ones that matter.
What gets stirred up emotionally in the process?
The only thing that’s ever really a tough subject is talking about the fact that I didn’t have a father. And then watching my mother and my brother talk about it. I can talk about my life skating and the stories that go along with that—even tough stories, because that’s a path that I’ve chosen. But when you have to talk about feelings and things from when you were too young to control—that’s when it’s difficult.
How about knowing somebody’s out there interviewing your mom and brother discussing these difficult subjects?
I didn’t know that’s how it was gonna be. But when I saw the footage, what I did think about was that my mother and brother aren’t on camera much, or ever. So I was conscious of how hard it would be for them. I talked to everybody about that. They were like, “I don’t know if I did well.” And I’m like, “I’m sure you did fine.”
I feel like a project like this would bring me closer to my family. There’s stuff that comes out in these interviews that I wouldn’t necessarily bring up to them.
Totally. You don’t just walk up and say, “Tell me about this painful memory.” When I see their commentary and see them on camera, it brings a magnifying glass over the fact that I don’t live there and I’m losing valuable days I could be spending with my family. It makes me wish I were closer to them. But I love hearing their take on how things were.
As I get older, I’m reaching out to members of my family asking them about things, just through this process of trying to understand myself. Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis.
No, it makes sense. Skateboarding keeps us like Peter Pan for a very long time. We play; we go out with our friends; we have recess all the time. It’s not that you’re getting old; it’s just that now you’re maturing and inquisitive. You’re really not always sure who your parents are because their job isn’t to be your homeboy; their job is to prepare you for the world and prevent you from becoming an asshole. Certain parents take that job really seriously and leave themselves shrouded in mystery to get that job done.
In the time this documentary was being made, you won the Street League Championship in 2013, but you didn’t even make the finals in 2014. You quit Zero, which you co-owned, and did the free agent thing for a while. Then you got on Plan B. It seems you inadvertently added the task of a documentary during one of the busiest transitional stages of your life and career …
Yeah, and the funniest part is that none of that stuff is really in the film. It shows primarily what got me here rather than what I’m doing here. Because what got me here is what you can’t Google. You can’t find my sponsor-me tape anywhere, for example. And that’s where this documentary really comes in.
I’ve always admired that you’re the first to admit you aren’t “cool.” And some of this film almost painful to watch—the bad outfits, people making fun of you behind your back. At a point you said, “I’m still figuring out the script.” Does that lack of script come from your father being absent, to a degree?
Yes. You’re essentially learning from scratch. There are a billion things you miss out on when your dad is gone. For example, there’s the right way to measure and cut wood. The correct way to use tools or change oil in your car. How you carry yourself when speaking to other people—people of authority, people that are older. You miss all that shit.
Did you realize at the time you were riding for them, that Jamie Thomas and Rodney Mullen were both becoming very paternal for you?
I didn’t realize it actually. My wife pointed it out. It wasn’t a conscious thing. But tough decisions came up—times I had to disappoint them. With Rodney, I wanted to ride for Zero and I had to quit enjoi. It was really difficult to make that call. Then disappointing Jamie when I had to leave Fallen. Making those calls is like disappointing your dad.
People say, “Skateboarding saved my life.” Often times it literally got them off the streets or away from drugs. But for some, it’s because it gives you the family you didn’t have. I realize now that, aside from skateboarding, this bagel bakery I worked at for eight years was my family to a degree—my coming of age. They took me to my first bar. They taught me how to dress a wound when I cut half my finger off. They gave me a work ethic. They took me to my first strip club. Some of my co-workers there even died.
That’s super true. Like being on the road with people on a skate tour: the guy you always room with or the position you have in the van; the dude that rallies the troops at the skate spot to move on. Those roles, when you start young, they define who you are for a very long time until you choose the next role in your life.
In the film, Stevie Williams says you were “Weird but good—definitely weird.” Bam Margera and Jamie Thomas added similar commentary. Are you watching these interviews about the younger you and thinking, “Wow, maybe I was weirder than I thought!”
I’ve self-reflected and looked at it a whole bunch of different ways. I knew how they felt back then, but I never heard any of them ever say it. I thought it was rad that they finally came out and said it, because skateboarding used to be pretty goddamn rough around the edges. But now, since everyone’s all so connected and polished, people usually bite their tongues. So it was cool to hear them say, “This dude was kooking’ it.”
The film gets into the brutally honest sit-downs you got from Jamie Thomas. The unwritten “rules” of skateboarding, your wardrobe, you fishing for compliments—all these things are part of being a kid. You’re not trying to be arrogant; you’re just excited and trying to connect with people. At some point you cross this line from being an excited kid who’s trying to share yourself with your idols to being someone who’s a kook and talks too much. To me there’s something sad about that transition into adulthood and “professionalism.”
I didn’t really think about it that way, but yeah, that’s probably what hurt the most. Here I am just being me and I’m told, “Hey, you can be you, but be you behind closed doors with your close friends only.” That was terrible for me. At that age you’re a teenager; you’re an idiot but it’s a good thing because if you’re cool as a cucumber then, are you gonna be cool as a cucumber when you’re older? I feel like everybody goes through some crappy wacky phase in their teens. Like they need to do that in order to not be 25 and watching 8 Mile once a day, convinced that they’re gonna be the rapping scientist or something. I wanna make sure that kids know that it’s all right to be a dork.
How did that hazing from all the skaters back then not cripple you? Some of what happened to me still affects me to this day.
It’s still one of the most crippling things that we have as grown ups. It’s something that affects you as a human being in general, regardless of age. If you don’t have your defenses up and someone hurts you, it will still crush you as if you were a little kid. It’s definitely still affecting me for sure. It always will.
There’s nothing more true than the fact that most of the people who were the coolest in late grade school, high school and college are the most boring, average adults I’ve ever met in my life.
Or they’re in jail. All the cool football star dudes; all the baseball players; those super rad dudes that were getting invited to all the parties, they’re hitting the same spots in the same town they grew up in. The same bars, they’re going to the same Phillies game with the same homeboy that was their wingman in high school. The only thing that’s changed is that they’re fatter and they have a kid and they probably married one of the girls from high school that they weren’t dating at the time, but somehow linked up at with at the local bar. That’s what’s going down. And then the dude that was picked on for being smart, he’s got a solid scenario. He’s doing something cool.
But I’m not scared to go to a therapist. I sing that praise to everybody. A lot of dudes won’t do marriage counseling; they won’t do individual counseling; they won’t go see a therapist because in their mind that’s admitting you’re broken. Even a person who doesn’t need it at all still benefits from going to see a therapist.
The first time I walked into therapy, I had to coach myself through the door. By the end I felt completely relieved. It was the best hour of my life in a long time.
Totally. It’s like, you can play guitar. You can be self-taught. You can get good. But take guitar lessons and you’ll get there a lot faster. Therapy is your guitar lesson—your life lesson. When you leave, even if you can’t implement everything that was said to you, that knowledge went into your brain. And if you find it once or twice over time, that’s better than if you didn’t go.
What do you hope people watching the story of your life get out of it?
I want them to feel motivated to go out and live their dream. Everybody has a passion and the opportunity to change their lives. If you’re really great at math and you’re being groomed to be an accountant by your parents or whatever, but your real passion is tennis, you can be someone who plays tennis for a living. Maybe you won’t be a professional tennis player, but I want you to go for it because you can always fall back into a secondary dream. You could be a tennis instructor, for example, instead of just being like, “I guess I’ll just be an accountant.” Or you can be an accountant for the racquet company. You can work in the industry that you love. We need you.
I was sponsored but was never gonna be pro. So the next best thing was to be a writer in skateboarding …
And that’s the thing. I feel like for a lot of people, that’s not something that comes as normal; they don’t think of that. It’s basically like, “I’m not good enough to be a professional skater; I’m screwed.” And they just bail. And that’s not how it works. You could be a photographer; you could be a videographer; you could be a team manager. You travel the world with us, you get stamps on your passport with us and you’re in the van. You’re living that life. It’s a great life.
I’ve seen the stuff you guys have to deal with on the business end of things. Or watching you guys juggle the things at a big contest: press stuff, obligations. I’m like, “Why does he have to do this right before he jumps down a four-block?” Sometimes just sitting there shooting photos seems way better.
Dude, totally. We’re stressing out about our line, stressing out about a couple bad contests in a row. These sponsors expect a lot. It’s pretty crazy and people are like, “Oh stop complaining, the rest of us have it like this.” I get that all the time.
If somebody thinks that, they don’t understand that level of skating. Or haven’t skated at all. It’s hard to switch mindsets from being the celebrity skater guy to trying a trick down a gnarly fucking rail in front of an arena full of people.
That’s beautifully stated because that is the biggest issue in my entire life. It’s not juggling like, “I don’t have any time” as much as it’s juggling going from this brain to that brain and it’s a different dude each time. When I’m planning my contest run you can’t hit me with, “Hey can you look at this credit card statement, make sure that everything’s charged by you?”
I watch you guys switching back and forth at these events. I just can’t believe it because I know you’re worrying about your legs locking up, but you don’t want to turn a kid down for an autograph or a person for an interview.
Well, it’s funny because it’s the “mo’ money mo’ problems” thing. The bigger your sponsors get and the better you’re compensated, the more obligations you have. When all these kids are like, “I wanna make it to Street League one day! I wanna be like this dude and be sponsored by that company.” You might wanna be careful what you wish for because I’ll tell you what—Mikey Taylor or P-Rod or myself—we’re doing a lot more than the average Joe. We wear a whole bunch of different hats all the time.
Actually, I’m gonna go on a tirade right now:
When the “core” dudes try to clown, and I’m sure you’ve fucking heard it—it’s a defense mechanism—they say stuff like, “It’s just skateboarding, man.” Implying that you’re taking it too seriously.
A. You’re telling me what skateboarding is? Get the fuck out of my face. And B, Street League is a contest with a lot of money on the line and this is actually what I do for a living. This is my job. I love the hell out of skating; I love it more than anyone. But it’s not “Just skating, maaaaan.” That’s throwing what I love and what I’ve dedicated my life to, into some hobby that you kind of fuck around with. They love to throw that one around.
I know plenty of those people. I feel like that comes from a place of, I don’t know if “jealousy” is the word?
It’s a good word.
By Robert Brink
Photos: Skin Phillips & Sem Rubio Be Street Magazine, Winter 2015
Salvador Dali is allegedly quoted as saying, “I don’t do drugs; I am drugs.”
Well, Mark Gonzales is kind of just like that.
Mark doesn’t just ride a skateboard—he is skateboarding.
Gonz doesn’t just make art. He is art.
And like any great art, he is open to interpretation. He is not for everyone to love or comprehend. You discover something different each time you see him. Sometimes he’s quite simple, other times he’s quite complex—illegible even. He is thought provoking and thought leading. He is entertaining and inspiring. He often seems incomplete, over-the-top or ever changing. You can watch him over and over and over. He’s indifferent to how you feel about him. Sometimes it takes years for you to catch on to something he did way back in the day. Sometimes you might even dislike a part of him, but you always come back around, unconditionally, because the rest of what he does is too damn good.
Often times, when we are in the presence of great art, we feel envious. We wish we had the talent or the guts or the vision to go for it like the artist in front of us did—to make so many others feel some sort of way. And with The Gonz it’s no different. It’s near impossible not to wish we could all be on a similar, seemingly endless pursuit of skateboarding, art and fun. And because we can’t, we watch and we listen and we live vicariously through him, like you’re about to do right now …
I heard that Donald Trump owns some of your art, is that true? The thought that a potential president owns your art seems interesting.
A lot of people ask me about him. I guess people know that he likes art and is interested in some of the stuff I do. I can’t control who buys my art and I don’t have too much to say about it. I signed up to vote and I don’t really even vote.
Does it feel different if somebody famous owns a piece of your art, as opposed to a regular ol’ skate rat?
It’s strange. I equate it to being a skater and the circumstances of enjoyment in skating. For example, sometimes you find a skate spot that’s really good and you’re enjoying it by yourself or maybe with a couple friends. You have a great time and then you go back to that same spot the next day and it’s gone.
When I started to do art, I realized that it’s fleeting—always changing and going. A lot of times, in the moment, I can do a fun drawing for a kid, that I’m not planning to be important. And someone else could pay me money to do a drawing for them, and it’s something that might be very small and not have the same magic or depth to it as the one I did for the kid. So it’s very difficult to explain. Some kids might have a masterpiece that I doodled for them really quickly and someone else might have one that I spent a lot of time on.
Have you ever had a preference as to who owns your art? Or feel that skateboarders might understand, relate, or should own your art more than other people?
I’m getting recognized for my art now, and some people are doing art that is similar to my art now. But I’ve been inspired by other people as well. I never set out to have a specific type of art. Originally the prices of the materials didn’t matter. I would pick up material that was pretty much free. I did paper bag art because the paper bags were free. Every time I went to the market I would say, “Do you mind if I take a few bags?” And they’d say, “Sure, go ahead.” And those bags would be what I’d use to make the art on. I’d cut them up and spread them out and make long drawings on them. I would find the easiest and most economical way to have stuff to make art on. Eventually people would say, “Look, Mark, I want to support you. Do you want to do it like that? Let me buy you supplies!” But again, it’s fleeting. I can do something right away that becomes important and then something I spend time on can be unimportant. Sometimes people would give me supplies to make art with, but I wouldn’t be able to make something that relayed what I was feeling. It didn’t seem to work.
You can’t always channel whatever energy might be expected of you …
Exactly. I’m not a graffiti artist. I don’t do art on walls and stuff. But I think that the connection between the people that do actual graffiti art and skateboarding, it’s all self-gratifying. They’re not searching for fame. It’s something they do to channel an energy or something like that. They don’t want to go off into an area where what they do with that energy is bad or gets them into trouble, so they do it with graffiti. I know a lot of skaters that did graffiti and all these years I never really associated the two, but just recently I’ve been thinking about it. They do it because it can be anonymous. No one has to know who it is. If you’re super talented at something, sometimes it may be a burden to you, you know?
Do you ever feel that way? Like your art or your skateboarding or the status you’ve achieved with them over the years is a burden?
I don’t know. I’m looking out at New York City as I’m speaking with you and that’s just what I’m thinking about. I’m surprised sometimes, when I see someone who has a talent that I never knew they had. Like suddenly I see them playing piano and I’m like, “Woah!” And they are kinda like, “Yeah, I can do that but I don’t do it much.”
Sometimes it’s sad to not see someone do it if they have the talent.
Yes. And then when they do it they surprise you.
Are Gonz the artist and Gonz the skateboarder the same person? Or do you have to switch modes or brains to do one or the other?
I’m 48 years old. It’s difficult sometimes. Sometimes I have to refrain. If I see someone with a skateboard I can’t just go and skateboard with them right then because I have to do things that pertain to my life as a 48-year-old. The times when I do get to skateboard … boy, it is so fun and I do enjoy it.
You can see art in so many different things, but it’s an artist that sees a way to express it or channel it so that people realize that and see the beauty in it—see things from a different perspective and be like, “Wow, okay that’s awesome!” So I think it’s the same brain really, but just on different mediums. One is like a performance art. I can’t say that skating is completely performance art because it’s driven by competition sometimes. But if I see someone doing something difficult, I want to see how I could make it even more difficult or put more flair into it.
Having more friends that are artists now, I’ve started to realize that they don’t like sports or they don’t like competition. As children they shied away from that and got into art. So a lot of artists are people that don’t like competition.
I discovered skateboarding when I was 12 and it was such a relief. I quit soccer and baseball because I was tired of having coaches yell at me. I just wanted to do my own thing and not have to worry about losing or feeling like I wasn’t as good as other kids.
Yeah, and I think that’s why a lot of kids choose skating as an individual sport. You can be how you want to be. Like everything though, it gets competitive. Like figure skating. Look what happened with those champions taking each other out many years ago. People go to crazy lengths to be number one or to succeed or beat someone else. I mean that’s when it goes the bad way. There’s also the good way, where competition builds creativity and makes people interested in something.
Or even to just make people try harder.
I’m asking because I’m a writer. But sometimes I have a job in an office doing marketing all day and want to come home and write afterwards, but I can’t always just write. My brain doesn’t switch from “office guy” to “writer guy” very easily. So I sometimes need a couple days of not working, and then my brain transitions into the more creative brain and I can focus and write without being stressed or distracted about my job.
I like the way that sounds. I’ve tried to just go from skating to art and do art, but as I’m getting more successful in the art world it cuts into my skating time and I also want to skate more. But I’m getting old and my body doesn’t handle is as well as it used to anyway.
Over the last 25 years you’re always seen riding different kinds of skateboards. Most kids ride what we consider a “regular” board throughout their entire skate career—the standard eight-inch popsicle stick shape. Basically the same trucks and wheels for years with only a few millimeters in variation. Do you feel that people limit their experiences and their expression by always riding the same exact board skating the same exact skatepark over and over?
My influences were guys like Ray Bones, the whole Sims team, the Variflex team. All those older guys rode boards that were nowhere even close to the boards I ride now. I think I’m trapped in between the late ‘70s and the early ‘80s with the board shape I like. Right in that era, that’s when I liked skating the most.
I do animations a lot now. Sometimes I’ll have an idea of a trick I want to animate, and I come to the point where I get to decide what board I want to draw in. But if I’m gonna go skating I only have the board that I have at the time so that’s what I use.
I set up a board recently for my son and it has a huge nose. And he doesn’t need a huge nose; he doesn’t need a wider wheelbase. If you’re a taller person you kinda want a longer wheelbase so your feet can be further apart so you don’t feel like you’re riding on roller-skates. But he’s small and younger. One day I wanted to skate but I didn’t have my board, only had the board that I made for him. So when I was riding his board with the massive nose on it and I realized it was perfect for doing a nosepick, I did a lot of nosepicks that day. Sometimes, no matter what I want, the board I’m on determines what I’m going to end up doing anyways.
A lot of these guys like Jim Greco and Alex Olson; they’re making shapes now from boards that influenced them in the ‘90s. Board shapes that Jason Lee and Rodney Mullen skated just before the popsicle started to come in to style.
I feel it has to do with the time skateboarding really hit you in your heart and you fell in love with it. That’s what sticks with you the most as the best era. For me it was right before and during the early Rocco World Industries, Blind, 101, Plan B, Planet Earth, Life, New Deal era. It was the end of H-Street and the beginning of those brands. I loved that era. Hensley, Ocean Howell, the smaller kicked noses, the Airwalk shoes …
As much as I kinda had a disliking for H-Street, their boards looked good. And they were jumping on stuff really quickly. The way they were able to put out their stuff quicker, and the way it looked different and how they were able to come out with their videos—it was hot! I think Rocco saw that while he was working for Vision and wanted to do the same thing, “What these guys are doing, I’m gonna do it too”.
He had Vallely; he had Mullen; he had Jesse Martinez, and then he did his thing. Then Mike Ternasky from H-Street, realized that Rocco was doing his thing, but better, so he said, “I need to get with him!” So then they worked together on Plan B. You can go on and on with the history. I’m sure in the future they’ll have skateboard manufacturing theory; studying the theory behind what happened over time.
Like I said earlier, a lot of the ways the products are made nowadays has to do with the competitive spirit. The desire to be better changed the actual products that were being manufactured. I remember trying to explain to Fausto Vitello, the guy that was making the trucks back then, and to Brad Dorfman, the guy that made the Vision boards back then, that I needed the trucks to have the holes closer together because just moving the holes and the nuts back further helped for the noseslides and to not grind the bolts down. Then I told them, “Brad promises to make the boards to fit these trucks if you do your trucks to fit like this” and vice versa.
And it worked! Holy shit. That’s amazing because it’s two different products that have to coincide, but those manufacturers weren’t affiliated at all.
Yeah, and it wasn’t research and development by the manufacturers, it was the professional skateboarders that were competing and using the products that had a hand in changing it. People were skating non-stop. It was crazy! Danny Sargent, Julian Stranger … all those guys up north were doing those noseslides. Tom Knox too. You can’t pinpoint it to one person or one company. Jim Muir’s Dogtown riders … they needed their bolts moved back, to not get messed up from the tricks they were doing, too.
In the eras that you came up in, there were guys like Neil Blender, Lance Mountain, Garry Scott-Davis … the older generations seem to have had more skaters who were into art. Kids these days just kind of skate and focus on skating, and the art isn’t as much of a part of it as it was back then. Do you feel it’s something that’s been lost over the years?
I’ve saw Lance do something I thought was so genius. I couldn’t believe it. You know how you wear out your kneepads from doing knee slides when you bail a trick, right? He figured out a way to make his own replaceable caps. To me that was awesome because it taught kids to copy what he did and make things they needed for themselves. So then when we needed copers on our trucks, I don’t know who first showed me this. On the shopping carts at super markets, they’d rip off the plastic part of the handle and that would fit perfectly on the truck. That was art in itself. And that was Lance Mountain. That’s what pushed people to figure out things to use alternatively that won’t cost you money. Neil Blender … his little sketches and stuff were just amazing. And the way they dressed back then, it was really a culture.
Nowadays you don’t see many kids who take the time to draw on their grip before they go skateboarding. The grip comes with a huge colorful logo on it now.
It isn’t like it was back then. But it can change, you know? People can see things and see reasons why they need to put something there. You need to put something that’s going to inspire you as you try these tricks. You gotta have something to aim for and you gotta have something that gives you aim. I remember one time Thrasher had a competition at the Pipeline skatepark in Upland. But it got rained out. And during the time they had everyone there, since they couldn’t have the competition, they held a drawing event. Christian Hosoi did art, Caballero did art and it all came out in the mag. I remember looking at the artwork with my best skate buddy Pauly, checking all of them out. It was so cool because it made it also seem like they were just normal people too, you know?
That’s rad! I never heard that story or anything like it before, I was up last night reading and watching dozens and dozens of interviews with you, and a lot of them portray you as a guy sitting around doing art or skateboarding all day long and barely anything else.
Well you know, sometimes I gotta learn how to appreciate the people that support me and the people I have around me. It’s hard to do. You gotta learn to tell them you love them and thank them for helping you because no one person can succeed without the people that believe in them or help them. I’m very grateful and happy that I have that time to myself to be able to do the things that I do. And I’m having fun, but at the same time I’m being cautious and not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings or anything. Sometimes being expressive can be that way. I’m trying to be cautious with what I do while trying to benefit as many and hurting as few as possible.
You have a life that so many other people wish they could have. You’re skateboarding and drawing all day. A lot of people don’t have the balls to make the sacrifices and take the risks necessary to do that. In your case dropping out of school very young and so on.
Yeah, but there are a lot of things that schools teach that I haven’t learned and that I’m still learning. It’s difficult for me a lot of the time, being creative, or being known for being so creative, it’s not that easy. There’s no easy formula to achieving some type of job where it seems like it’s fun because sometimes it’s not fun. Sometimes I mix the wrong color and go to put it on and I have to scrap it, start all over again, and take a different approach. I’ve made things and they’re not durable or don’t work right.
The problem with being creative is that sometimes creativity has a lot to do with you and who you are and sometimes when you make an attempt at being creative you might see a part of yourself that you don’t really want to see or you don’t want to share with other people. It might be ugly, and sometimes that makes it hard for people because they want to be creative.
I read this quote from you: “It’s hard to say what I feel.” Do you feel like people understand you? Are you what people consider “normal”? There are people that feel misunderstood their whole lives and it’s hard for them.
You know how a dog hates the noise of a skateboard and they jump or they cringe or bark? Sometimes when two people cross paths, one person can make the other person jump or cringe. I think sometimes, not purposely, I make people cringe. I don’t mean to. I’ve had older women tell me to keep away from them sometimes, ha ha.
Talk a little about the new adidas skateboarding video that you’re involved in.
It’s amazing watching these younger kids. It’s so crazy to watch! It seems like they’re having the time of their life; they’re really going for it. I’ve been going on filming trips with them for the last year and it’s been a lot of fun. Watching the younger guys skate, sometimes I’m supposed to be skating too, but they are so good that other times I’m just filming them with my iPad.
While we were in Barcelona, Nakel Smith nollie flipped on my board and it’s 11 inches wide and 42 inches long. He pulled a nollie flip down 4 stairs on that and it was insane.
With the big trucks and everything?
Yeah with 215s, man. 11 inches wide! He just busted it on my board like nothing and I was like “Wow”. These kids are insane. They could ride whatever I ride and just dominate.
Is skateboarding still the same for you now as when you first fell in love with it?
It is actually! Just as satisfying.
You’re a very youthful person. Has becoming a father brought you to a place where you have another outlet to be youthful? Do you see the world any differently and get to feel younger again?
It’s actually the opposite. I have to not set a bad example. I don’t know why I’m childish but I have to cut my childish behavior when I’m around my kid! Honestly, I know it sounds funny, but the things that I enjoy doing sometimes, if my child does them at school she’ll get in trouble so I have to be cautious about the kind of things I do around her. I have to curb my childishness, but I watch her having fun too!
In the past you’ve spoken about seeing something like high-heeled shoes and it makes you want to draw them. That is so pure and simple. There are so many forms of art where writers or painters need to come up with an elaborate concept and story and multiple meanings or hidden meanings for their work. Do you think that something is lost by making art so complicated?
I think sometimes people want something simple and other times people give it great meaning, even though that person’s intent might be something simple.
It fascinates me because it’s such a different brain than mine. I would never look at a shoe and write about the shoe and nothing but the shoe. It’s an endearing quality to your art and your skateboarding: it seems so simple and pure, not over-thought.
There’s snow right now here in New York. I have these adidas boots, and they have a gum sole, like Clarks or whatever. Not made for skateboarding but they’re great for the snow and they keep my feet warm and everything. I was out walking and happened to be carrying my board as the snow was starting to melt, so I thought, “I’m going to go skate because these shoes are feeling so good. I want to ride in them!”
First, I was riding on the flat and really enjoying the shoes with the board and everything. So then I went out to the Bay Ridge skatepark in Brooklyn and dug out the bowl to skate and I had the best session ever! So the weather being bad ended up being a plus. It took me about an hour and a half to dig out the bowl, and I only skated for probably twenty minutes. Some other kids showed up and it ended up being a good time! I ended up falling and it was fun.
Words: Rob Brink Monster Children, Fall 2015
In a 1999 interview for TransWorld Skateboarding, Neil Blender was asked what he felt his biggest contribution to skateboarding was. His reply: “I don’t even know. I just skated … did my part.”
Twelve years later, Neil’s good friend, Lance Mountain, was quoted saying, “Neil was one of the first guys to draw his own graphics. He was the first one to give tricks different names. He was our ringleader. Neil’s myth is more hidden and harder to find, but there would be no Mark Gonzales without Neil Blender.”
Regarding Neil Blender’s impact on skateboarding, there’s quite a disparity between those two statements, yet both are quite sincere. Lance might be communicating what Neil is too humble to say, or would never think to say. But aside from his actual skateboarding, the beauty of Neil Blender has always been the Zen purity and childlike innocence by which he seems to perceive and regurgitate skateboarding, as well as his understated, unintentional genius—both creatively and as an observer of human behavior.
Characters like Neil are so very rare in modern day skateboarding, and that’s exactly why the people who witnessed them firsthand, like our guest editor Jason Lee, hold them in such high regard. Neil’s place in skateboarding is not unlike that of Mitochondrial Eve … he’s a common ancestor that has somehow and some way, affected us all.
Your Instagram has some old surfing and BMX photos. Did skateboarding feel closer to, and more inspired by them back in the 80s? When I was a kid in New Jersey in 86/87, all the BMXers and skaters hung out together.
BMX and skateboarding were kinda the same back then. We would ride our bikes to pools or Moonpark (Sadlands) with a skateboard on our handlebars. We’d end up taking runs on the bike just to see what it was like. It was super fun. Surfing was a little further away for me back then. When I got a car, I started skimboarding because I’d seen it in Action Now. That’s probably the funnest out of all of them.
Do you feel skateboarding is as inspired, creatively, as it used to be? I wonder if it’s too much about the tricks or the careers of the skaters these days—more athletic than having an emphasis on creativity and style.
I don’t think about it. It’s just progressing the way it goes. People are trying crazy stunts and stuff, but it’s still the same really. Style is the final result in whatever you are doing. What it takes to get something done. Walking across the street, driving a car, whatever—style is always involved in the outcome. Hosoi has great style. So does Lance. Big gaps are rad if you want to split your head open. Handrails are gnarly too. I don’t even know what the question was now. Skateboarding is great. Much like other activities, it gives you time to work stuff out.
As someone who so many people reference as an influence to their skating, I’m wondering who your influences were.
Anyone who was doing stuff that looked fun. Darrell Miller, Ray Bones, Lance Mountain—people I skated with.
What was it like for you being inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame this year and, in general, knowing you have influenced so many people who came after you in skateboarding? Jason Lee being an example, as it inspired this interview.
It’s weird to go up in front of a bunch of people to accept an award but I am stoked to be a part of those names: Tony Alva and Stacey Peralta just to name a few. That’s cool. I remember Jason Lee. He and the Gonz were always into funny stuff. Then I didn’t see him for a long time; maybe I still haven’t seen him in like, 20 years.
Who do you enjoy in skateboarding today and what bums you out?
I like seeing Alex Perelson ride. He’s amazing. Chris and Zach Miller; Lance has a very powerful frontside invert. Lance was a huge inspiration to me—super fun to skate with. We rode his ramp for years.
The thing that bums me out with skating is where they put parks. There’s never any trees. They think they need to clear them out and then start digging bowls. There are a few places that look fun but they are in Oregon. Cradles are dumb too.
Thinking back to your infamous Tempe, Arizona contest run in 1986, what prompted such an unconventional approach? Did you have any clue it would resonate like it did?
Tempe was really hot, temperature-wise. I remember thinking how lame it was that we were having a contest out in that parking lot. The whole thing seemed like a waste. I remember thinking, “I don’t even want to skate.” I found a little can of spray paint in my car. I had cargo shorts on so I put it in the pocket and thought, “I’ll just draw at some point. That’s something you do when you find paint out at street spots.” Then Chris Cook did a crazy wallride through it and smeared a little. I was stoked he reacted with that.
Fred Gall: Professional skateboarder; guardian angel.
Words: Robert Brink
Photo & Video: Dave Smith ESPN.com June 2012.
“When I was a kid my uncle Johnny was a fireman,” says Habitat pro and X Games Real Street 2012 contender, Fred Gall. “He used to take me to the firehouse and I wanted to be a fireman too. I dunno why. I have an instinct to … well, I guess I just don’t wanna see people die or get hurt.”
It was approximately 3 AM on February 28 when Fred saw a building across the street from his hotel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia engulfed in flames when he decided to check it out.
“I was out there filming for my Real Street part with Dave Smith and Andrew Patillo,” Gall explains. “I wanted to get some crazy footage that no one else is gonna have—to have my part be different. So we skate down the street and it turns out to be a monastery. And this is a serious fire—a blazing inferno.
“At first, we had our digital cameras, like, ‘Film me doing a no comply in front of this fire.’ Kinda laughing about it. Then I realized that on the second and third floors there were monks trapped on the balcony and no one was doing anything about it—people were just staring.’
“Something about Freddy,” says longtime friend Dave Smith, “is that he’s seriously like an angel cast to Earth to guard the misfortunate. Somehow or another, these people always tend to be within Freddy’s vision. He could be at his worst and then into his best in a matter of seconds. At the Cambodian airport, a lady forgot her passport at the counter and he ran full steam through the airport to return it.”
“So I scaled the side of the building next to the burning one,” explains Gall. “And up top there are these long bamboo sticks that just happened to be the right length, so I made a bridge. The monks were scared to cross because it was so ghetto-rigged. Basically, you took two steps on the bamboo and someone would grab your hand and pull you in. But I got two monks down then went inside and shit is blowing up, it’s hot as hell and monks are just standing in the pitch black. I don’t know if it was for their religion or what. One was just throwing buckets of water on the flames but it wasn’t doing shit.”
“We tried to make it a little more serious to them,” says Smith, “Like, ‘Hey you gotta, get out of here.’ It seemed like they didn’t know what to do or where to go. Maybe they couldn’t see or were in shock but no one seemed scared about what was going on but the potential for disaster was right in their face.”
“I found a bucket and I put it on my head because shit was falling all over the place,” Gall continues, “and I’m screaming, ‘Where’s the women and children?’ But there are no women and children because it’s a monk monastery [laughing]. I was just in hero mode— just trying to save lives, dude. And Dave had made his way up and he’s like, ‘we gotta get outta here!’
“I walked into the stairway and it was engulfed in embers and smoke,” says Smith. “The only way to see was with the flash on my camera. That’s when I noticed all the monks just standing around, not knowing where to go because they couldn’t see anything.”
“I got down before Freddy,” Smith continues, “and I looked up and he’s crossing the bridge he made and helping three or four monks over to the safer building.”
“So after we make it down,” Gall continues, “the fire department shows up, puts out the fire and straight-up leaves. The fire engine number was 666. Not even kidding. Then I just went back to the hotel and had a beer. Like, ‘Wow that was fucking crazy.’”
“He gets pretty emotional after stuff like that,” explains Smith. “We got back to the hotel and he was in tears. He gets emotionally involved because he really cares.”
“Halfway back to the hotel,” says Smith, “Fred realized that he didn’t have his board. We went back to get it and sure enough this monk was standing there with it waiting for Fred. They all thanked him dearly. They were very honored that an American went for it like that.”
Throughout the years, Fred has been notorious for a lifestyle some might consider “sinful” or “wrong” or whatever the word might be. I asked him if he ever considered that his good karma for the times he has saved lives (yes there are many) balances out the bad karma that might send him straight to hell one day.
“I’ve definitely thought like that,” Gall replies, “but I would say I’ve definitely done more good than bad. Some people don’t believe in karma but I believe if you help someone, good things will come to you. And I’m really going for this Real Street thing—I wanna win something. I tried really hard. I busted my ass today getting footage. There are gnarly dudes in this contest but the way we’re going to edit it, I think we have a chance. I hope people are stoked.”
Contenders: Kevin Terpening
Words: Robert Brink The Skateboard Mag, May 2010
In the beginning of Markus Wyndham’s segment in H-Street’s Hokus Pokus, a narrator says, “This is Markus. You do not know him now, but you will someday.” At which point Markus proceeds to pop shuv-it 5-0 grind down a small rail. That was 1989.
Today, in 2010, there’s not a lot to say about Kevin Terpening. Not due to lack of talent or personality, but simply because he’s at that point in his skateboarding career where people are just gonna have to see for themselves. He’s the sleeper. The quiet, yet strangely quirky and mysterious fellow who, when all is said and done and he’s gone on his way, you think, “Damn, Kevin is fucking rad! People are gonna love this dude!”
This is K-Terps. You do not know him now, but you will someday …
I hear there’s some life drama going on?
Yea. I woke up and my old roommate called yelling at me. I didn’t pay the bills and his power and water got shut off. We had to scrounge some money up, so I’m kind of stressing.
At least you don’t live there anymore.
I feel bad for them because it’s my fault. I knew it was going to happen. I’m just an idiot.
Have you ever checked your credit score?
Fuck no! It would be fucked because I had a credit card once and a taxi driver stole it. He went and spent $2000 on it.
Do you have a checking account?
Yeah, but there’s no money in it because it’s all going to the $1,200 DWP bill. I went in all sad like, “I only have half the money. How about I just pay you half.” Trying to negotiate but they weren’t having it, so I told ‘em I’d be back soon.
Was this the same house where you had no toilet paper and you used the paper from your éS shoes?
Yeah. There was always a bunch of empty shoeboxes lying around, you know? We ran out of toilet paper and started using that shit, but then our toilet got clogged a bunch of times.
Is the good paper the piece that’s wrapped around the shoe or the part that’s crumpled inside the shoe?
The better part is what’s inside the shoes.
Oh. It’s softer?
Yeah, it doesn’t hurt. You know the other shit is like, wax paper. It’s all fucked up. You don’t want to try to wipe your ass with it. It depends on the shoe, though. Sometimes they have actual paper and sometimes it’s like tissue paper.
Like cheap toilet paper versus the expensive kind?
Exactly. It’s like the toilet paper in the stall in the gas station or at your high school.
You live in Scuba’s garage now?
Yeah. It’s pretty tight. We put up drywall and insulated the walls and I got a whole setup in there now. It’s pretty legit. I mean, it’s still in a garage, but it’s pretty tight.
Do you still owe him rent money?
It sucks. I just owe him one month right now and then maybe like, some bills. But I don’t have any money right now.
Have you tried to barter with him?
Like, “I’ll just mow the yard or plant some fucking flowers, you know, be the pool boy and shit.” We were talking about that but then it all just fell apart. Now I have to pay a bunch of rent money. It’s fucked up.
Ok pool boy … are you still working at Huf?
Yeah. I work there a few days a week. Just sit there and hang out with my friends.
Who are you riding for?
Alien Workshop flow. éS flow. Shit, I feel like I’m at Tampa Am right now. Val Surf skate shop in North Hollywood and Spitfire.
How did you get hooked up with Alien? Obviously being from Ohio …
When I was living there, my friend Scott got stuff from them and we skated together all the time. We made a video and then somehow they started hooking me up. I was psyched because in Ohio that’s a really big deal. It’s pretty sick to get hooked up from a company like Alien that you actually like.
Tell me about the Jet Black Crayon music video you’re in. I love it.
Me and Greg Hunt did it. Tommy Guerrero’s band had a new album come out and he picked 10 or so people all over the world to make a video for one of the songs. You could do whatever you wanted. I called off work for a few days and Greg would pick me up super early and we’d just go around skating shit on that thing. It was super fun and turned out pretty cool.
You can’t tell it’s a new video at all.
Yeah. It looks like it could’ve been an actual VHS from back in the day. We watched old videos and got ideas from them. Greg definitely knew what he was doing.
Does anyone still call you Grandpa Terps?
There were people who called me that?
Yeah. It’s your nickname.
Oh. I guess I’ve been called that. I used to be crabby but I’m not that bad anymore.
And you like sitting on stoops doing nothing?
Stoop Life! The old house we lived in had a nice little porch that we called “the stoop.” We would just sit there and drink beers all day so it kind of turned into the Stoop Life. There’s something about it … I’m backing it.
Do you have any awesome final statements to make?
Yeah. I just want everyone to stop waxing the fucking ledges so much. Because today at Marsh Park, straight out of the car, I tried to do a manual trick on the top of the box and the whole entire top was waxed and I ate shit. My fucking hip is all fucked up now because I tried to do a manual. Whatever.
And now you don’t even have a stoop to sit on with your broken hip.
I know. What the fuck? But I do have power and water so I’m psyched.
(Almost) Everyone Loves Lowry
Words: Robert Brink SBC, Fall 2011
“This is probably so boring,” says Kevin Lowry, halfway through our interview.
“Well, the Internet likes you and we’re having fun,” I say encouragingly, “so nothing else really matters does it?”
“True I guess, ” he replies.
Prior to our phone call, all I knew about Kevin was that he’s a 23-year-old Calgary resident and a skateboarder. Existing interviews and weeks of reaching out to his friends and teammates produced very little intel, so I resorted to the world’s most reliable source of factual information (insert facetiousness here)—the messageboards.
And they didn’t let me down one bit.
Dozens and dozens of threads with mentions of Kevin and some devoted entirely to him. Oddest of all—no one really talked shit on him. Is that even possible?
When your skateboarding is as relatable as Kevin’s … sure it is.
Cruising the streets and hitting everything along the way, making use of your surroundings, regardless of how crappy or obscure they may be (à la Oyola, Puleo, Barley, Busenitz, Fowler, Gonz and so on) is understandable and attainable for the average skateboarder, who, although most likely respectful of the ability of say, Danny Way, Torey Pudwill, Figgy or Daewon Song, has trouble processing their levels of gnar.
As admirable and impressive as they are, quadruple ledge combos, manual 900s, big five blocks, Mega Ramps and 21-stair rails aren’t on most skaters’ daily agendas.
Kevin Lowry is a normal kid, just like you. He lives in the middle of nowhere, just like you. He works a regular job, just like you. He might never be a big time pro driving a Benz to a private indoor TF in Southern California, just like you. He struggles with simple things, like trying to quit smoking, just like you. He isn’t jumping down El Toro, just like you aren’t. And because he’s just like you, well … that’s exactly why you like him.
“Kevin uses his mind with his skating,” says his friend Russ Milligan. “He's not trying to go to the new ledge in town and brainstorm what trick is left to do on it. He has a good eye for spots, a good trick selection and he skates really fast. That's what makes anything he comes out with so fresh.”
“I like to stay close to the ground,” Kevin says, only half joking. “I’m trying to take after Paul Shier. I still wanna be skating when I’m 36.
“I just always liked skating in back alleys and stuff,” he continues. “I’ve never seen someone backside flip a 14 in Cali—so that never really computed with me. I never really thought I would ever do or try that. Watching Torey Pudwill’s new Big Bang part, for example, doesn’t compute with me because I’d never try a kickflip back tail 360 flip out. I can’t even do frontside bigspins. I can barely switch heel. Fuck it.
“But watching something like Penal Code and realizing, ‘Oh, he 50-50’d the curb … ’ it makes sense to me. It’s not out of my realm. It’s more down-to-earth. You don’t have to go to those spots in the videos to 50-50 the curb; you can just skate like that wherever you want.
“What I find with skating,” Kevin continues, “is that if you just do what feels good it’s usually pretty spot on. There’s no way a fucking front foot flip feels good. You know … where you donkey kick the board? There’s just no way that feels nice, so why would you do it?”
But sometimes a trick feels a little too good. We’ve all been there. A while back Kevin was there too. He went through a pretty intense back smith phase. In fact, he had so many photos back smiths come out, that he performed a self-intervention.
“I banned myself from that trick and now I can barely land one anymore,” Kevin laments.
“I used to skate for éS and my team manager would bug me about it like, ‘Another back smith, eh?’ And I’d be like, ‘Fuck.’
“It’s fucked because I’d go skating with a photographer and they’d always be like, ‘you should back smith it.’ Then other times I’d get coaxed into doing tricks that I didn’t wanna do … not because I don’t like the trick but because I just had a back smith photo three months ago and I need to do something different.”
But no one else seems to be complaining. Hell, 10 years from now, Kevin might be one of those people we can watch back smith all day long. Kinda like a Reynolds frontside flip, a Kalis tre flip or a Malto front crook.
Lowry’s “Internet darling” status primarily consists of anonymous skate rats gushing over his video parts, pronouncing him “Calgary’s best skateboarder” or bitching about the fact that Kevin’s yet to be officially added to the Blueprint roster—many seemingly outraged that Tilt Mode’s Jon Nguyen was granted a slot first. This sort of backing might be flattering for many, the way a young schoolgirl might secretly enjoy seeing two boys fight over her, but not so much for Kevin.
“That is so awkward,” Kevin admits. “It’s like, ‘Man, Jon’s welcome ad and video come out and people are bringing me up in the comments.’
“I’ve never met Jon but Nestor [Judkins] and all those dudes tell me he’s the best and I’m sure he is. But it’s such a ‘fuck you’ to him.
“I’ve been skating for Blueprint for four years. I don’t know how long he’s been on there, maybe a year or something, but the guy’s the fucking best. He’s out there in Cali skating with Shier all the time and he’s fucking way better than me. I’m out of sight, out of mind. I’m some dude in Canadian videos that no one sees. He’s got sick full parts in Tilt Mode. People know who he is and that matters these days. I’m nothing but psyched for him. He’s fucking dope.”
Obviously Kevin’s humble tendencies are part of his charm, but for the people who don’t know him—why this devotion? Where does all the Lowry love come from?
“I’m paying ‘em all off,” Kevin laughs. “I’m giving up blowies.
“No, honestly, I don’t know. When I see my name pop up on the Internet, I cringe. I’m just waiting to read, ‘This guy has a small dick and he’s the biggest asshole and his push sucks and he can’t skate switch and this and this … ’
“Like, who are these Internet bandits? I’ve seen a few cool things on there but most of the shit is retarded. Like, ‘what’s your favorite truck?’ Why do people even post this shit?
“Give it a couple months and I’ll do something wrong,” Kevin foreshadows. “‘Yeah, we can no longer forgive Kevin for that for that fucking neon green t-shirt he’s wearing in line number four.’”
As cliché as it sounds, and as you may have noticed from the aforementioned back smith intervention and the Jon Nguyen incident, Kevin’s definitely his own worst critic and “constantly making mistakes.”
“I’m blowing it a lot,” Kevin admits. “You name it, man. I quit smoking cigarettes for two years and recently went to Portugal and started again. What the hell was I thinking? I quit drinking and smoking weed eight years ago because I was pretty bad when I was young—now I’m completely clean, so I don’t know why I would ever start smoking again.”
“Pretty bad” might be an understatement. Kevin took a liking to marijuana at age eight and began selling it at 10.
“I was drinking, smoking a ton of weed, doing mushrooms and skating all the time. I couldn’t afford boards or anything so I would sell weed to buy boards. But pretty soon I was skating less and less, then got arrested with weed on me a few times.”
Then, at age 15, Kevin got arrested again, for the last time. He had a half-pound of weed and three grand in cash on him when it happened. Because of his prior offenses, the court gave him the option for rehab, jail or a foster home.
“The thing is,” Kevin explains, “my parents never smoked weed, so they had no idea what the hell was going on, other than that they kept finding tons of weed and tons of cash. I was like, ‘Well, I’ll go to rehab because I’ll get there, show everyone that I’m clean, get out, be inconspicuous, still smoke weed and go on with my life.’
“But once I was in rehab I realized that there’s more to life than smoking and selling weed and harming people and my family. So I got sober. Withdrawals were pretty shitty. Not being able to see my family for weeks and not being able to skate was shitty. Being monitored day and night was shitty. I was in there for 10 months and when I got out I was so happy to be clean. Everything in my day was so simple now. I couldn’t even kickflip but I had nothing to do with my time, so that’s when I really started skating.
And at age 16, Kevin moved to Calgary and started skating non-stop.
Fast-forward eight years and Calgary is still home. But is that the most strategic move for a fledgling skateboarding career? Especially when the bulk of the industry is in Southern California and you ride for a British board brand?
“Dude, I have a new part coming out with them online and I don’t know anything about it,” Kevin says, “ I don’t know when it’s coming out, if it’s done … and I know it’s not a personal thing. Shier lives in LA and he’s so busy. But yeah, I would say my biggest fear is just not being present with the Blueprint dudes. I just spent five weeks in England with them, and being there, you feel a lot more a part of everything. If I could be am for Blueprint, get a check, skate and go on trips, I would be ecstatic. I don’t have any other passions in life and I’ve poured a lot into skateboarding. Life’s pretty short, so for me to just throw in the towel and not even try to go further is kind of silly. I’m not out there trying to make a mil. I know Nick [Jensen] and all those Blueprint dudes and they’re not rich. They don’t make that much money off Blueprint or even Lakai. They’re not in it for the money. That’s not why they started skating and I like that. I picture myself working a job come age 35 or whatever anyway. I know that. I’m not stupid.”
Kevin currently works at his local skate shop, The Source. Luckily, they allow him to come and go when he needs to skate and travel with his sponsors, a blessing compared to a past janitorial position he held or hunting for oil in swamps with crackheads …
“The worst job I ever had though,” Kevin explains, “was working at Seismic. It’s a company that finds oil in the ground. You put studs in the ground and carry huge cables through swamps and stuff. Then you shoot electricity into the ground through the cables to find the oil. The money is okay but you live in a tent or a hotel. You never get to leave, you work 12-hour days and all the guys out there are just like, ‘When I get paid, I’m gonna buy so much crack.’ They’re high-class crackheads that work their ass off for two weeks, make two grand and then spend it all on crack.
“There were times I was skating in downtown Calgary and a crackhead would come up to me like, “What’s up? I know you! We work together!”
“And I’m like, ‘Who the fuck … Oh my god, you look so shitty.’”
“I only held that job for a couple weeks until I realized I’m way to weak to carry cables all day. I didn’t have that ‘crack strength.’”
“Kevin is a good kid,” says George Cutright, Adidas team manager. “I’ve only been on one trip with him but he was the most responsible of the whole crew—barely drinking, going to bed at a reasonable hour and killing every spot. He’s got tons of pop.”
So how does a Canadian kid in the prairies of Calgary fall into the arms of a British company like Blueprint anyway?
“I went to London on a skate trip and met Tuukka Korhonen, Nick Jensen and Danny Brady,” says Kevin. “I was like, ‘Damn, these dudes are sick and this company is sick!’
“So I was starting to get halfway decent at skating and my friend was like, ‘Yeah that distributor just got Blueprint. You should try and get on there through them.’
“And I was like, ‘I don’t think I’m good enough to get free boards.’
“He was like, ‘No, seriously, go for it.’ So I did and couple months later I got some boards from the distributor and I just ran with it. It was so fucked up too because I was trying to contact Blueprint to be like, ‘Yo, thank you for the boards’ and stuff like that but the guy at the distributor was like, ‘We don’t have an email address for them ... blah, blah, blah.’
“So I just emailed info@Blueprint.com and was like, ‘Look, what’s up? I just wanna say hello and thanks for the boards.’ And I finally got a reply, which was cool. Then I went to England with a photographer from SBC and we did a Blueprint article for the mag. I stayed in touch with them all, went to Spain a couple times and skated with Chewy Cannon, who rode for them at the time, a lot.
Then Blueprint went out of business. I didn’t know Shier at the time so I didn’t really talk to him or anyone about it, And then one day I got an email from him like, ‘Hey what’s up? We’re still gonna do Blueprint. Would you still be into it?’
“Everyone on the team is so nice. I’m just so psyched that I’m even affiliated with them. Lost and Found has always been my favorite video of all time. I’ve met a lot of pros and I just find that with these dudes, hanging out and skating is so natural. It’s not like you’re in a van and they’re all wearing headphones and stuff—pretending to be friends because they have to be. It is a business at the end of the day but it is real proper and all those guys hang out all the time—not because they can all kickflip really well, but because they’re actually friends. I think that’s real important and I relate to them really well.”
Ironically, despite all the love Kevin gets in skateboardland, many people outside our bubble who cross paths with him don’t immediately share the sentiment.
“One time, a few years ago,” says friend Jeff Thorburn, “a group of us, including Kevin, went out to skate the Warped Tour ramp in Calgary. Somewhere near the entrance, we had a bit of a run-in with security. Kevin hadn't said anything, but it turns out the guard just caught his eye and said to him, ‘What the fuck is that look all about?’
“I have huge eyebrows and my eyes are always half closed,” explains Kevin, “so I guess everyone always thinks that I’m really pissed off. And I’m totally not. When I was a bit younger I remember hanging out with Jeff’s friend Kelsey one day and we were talking about the worst stuff. I’m pretty opinionated so I guess I was hating a lot—I was on my period that day. And Kelsey, who I didn’t really know back then but I know now, was telling Jeff, ‘Who’s your friend that doesn’t like anything? I bumped into him and he looked all pissed off. He doesn’t like mustard, doesn’t like frontside flips, doesn’t like anything …’”
“Another funny incident, Kevin continues, was a while back when I got a job with my ex-girlfriend and I had just shaved my head. For the first few days no one there would talk to me and I had no idea why. She later told me that everyone was scared of me and thought I was about to snap. I guess I just looked mad.”
I dunno what it is. I’m just sitting there with my coffee and doing my thing. I’m really calm. I don’t really like anyone to bother me so I’m so confused at how I can come off like that. If I don’t have anything to say, I don’t talk, but I guess that makes a lot of people think you are mad.
“You have angry eyebrows,” I reply.
“Yeah,” Kevin says. “You should definitely put something about that in the interview. It’ll make it a little less boring.”
Joe Brook By Joe Brook and éS Footwear
Words: Robert Brink SBC, Fall 2011
To celebrate the release of the éS / Joe Brook Square 2 colorway, a new photo book, showcasing the many years of éS and Brook’s friendship and work together, has been pressed.
There’s not a lot to say that Mark Whiteley didn’t handle in his introduction to the book, however, something needs to coax you to actually go get it so you can read that Whiteley intro, so here it goes:
Limited in quantity, but certainly worth the quest to acquire, “Joe Brook” is a collection of photos that, almost more than any other collection of skateboarding photos to date, accurately represents life on the road as part of a skateboard trip and life on the streets as a skateboarder—raw, unpolished, grimy, frustrating, beautiful, scary, bewildering, liberating and fun.
If you’ve been there, then you know. One look at any of these photos brings you right back. Whether it’s a dead bird similar to one you’ve ollied over while cursing the streets, or the random pedestrians who ask to try your board or inquire about how high you can ollie.
It could be a sideline view of a trick about to be landed, the collaborative tour van stench of cigarettes, beer, weed, musty carpet, street grime, sweat, dudes and body odor or the over-it-ness of your homie who’s sitting on the ground having a smoke next to his focused board after he didn’t get his trick. Regardless of the visual, Brook’s images effortlessly and unpretentiously capture the essence of it all.
Color, black and white. Portraits, action. Nature, city. Bangers, dorkin’. Life, death. Rain, shine. War, peace. Shoes, Joe Brook, skateboarding. Yeah, that’s what this book is all about—skateboarding.
Words: Robert Brink Thrasher, September 2011
Trevor Colden has been in your face lately. It’s his time to be. He’s 17, really good at skateboarding and under the wings of Jamie Thomas, Chris Cole and Heath Kirchart. You can try to deny him or make fun of his beanie or whatever you want. But the reality is, when dudes like those three step up and back a kid you never heard of, it’s inevitable—we, collectively, have been offered the opportunity to witness a next-generation ripper and his skateboarding come to fruition.
So how's the response been to your Emerica welcome clip?
Dude, people seem so psyched on it. I was super blown away. I didn't even know I was coming out with it until a few days before. I texted Miner asking if he needed footage because I’m filming for a legit Emerica part and he told me that my welcome thing was coming out and I was like, “Whaaaaat?”
How soon after did the shit talking follow?
I saw a couple comments on Hella Clips, but I don't give a shit. Sometimes it gets super harsh, but it definitely wasn't as much as I thought it would be. The only one I really heard about was after my Mystery part … that I'm a “Tom Asta clone.”
Because you wear a beanie and have long hair …
I guess. And the other one was, “The kid showers with his beanie on.”
Well that’s funny. It’s your lucky beanie, huh?
Dude, it WAS my lucky beanie. I lost it in Philly. I’m gonna get another one.
Can it still be a lucky beanie if it’s a new one of the same kind?
I hope so. I'm gonna wear it regardless.
How long did that triple set hardflip take?
The one where I eat shit in the video was the first time I went there. I got like six tries before we got kicked out.
So me and Mike Gilbert, the Black Box filmer, kept going every weekend after that and kept getting kicked out before we even got out of the car. I was kinda over it at that point but we went back a month later with Rhino and a couple other guys and it took me four tries. I was super excited.
What is it like having the entire Emerica team waiting for you to land a nollie crooks?
Oh man, I was nervous as hell. I thought I wasn't even gonna make it because there’s this huge crack and you need to pop like six inches earlier than normal and everyone’s just down there looking at you. I was like, “Damn, I better land this.”
Did you finish high school?
Nah. My family moved around a lot and it just got really complicated. I tried getting home schooled in eight grade but that didn't work out so I just started skating a shit ton and thank the lord it worked out.
Give me a quick timeline as to how you got to where you are now with your sponsors and living at Black Box.
My first legit sponsor was DC flow from a rep in Virginia Beach. Then I started getting Toy Machine boards from Mike Sinclair. At the time, the economy was super bad and they could only send me like, a board a month.
I met this Powell guy at a contest I won and he sent me a box with five boards in it. I was freaking out because I never got five boards in a box before. So I told Sinclair I was gonna ride for Powell and thanked him for everything. I went to California like a month later and stayed in Huntington Beach for a week. On the last day I was just like, “Dude, I’ve got nothing going for me back in Virginia, I’m staying here.”
The Powell TM was down so I called my mom. She wasn’t happy, but she understood where I was coming from. Maybe eight months later I sent my footage to Black Box and they were down to put me on Mystery, give me a place to live in San Diego and help me out with a little bit of money, so that’s how I started living at Black Box.
Is that when you began filming your Color Theory part?
Yea. Like a month after I got on. I was on Altamont flow and would always go up to Sole Tech. I started skating with Marquis Preston a bit and we talked about it and I sent in my footage. I got on Emerica flow in September—right after they finished Stay Gold.
Marquis told me your nickname is Carlos.
[Laughs] Those dudes call me that. They would always fuck with me because they thought I was Mexican. It used to piss me off, so of course they kept doing it. I was like, “Fuck you guys. I'm Hawaiian, Indian and white!”
Do you know you got on Emerica faster than anyone?
Dude, they told me that. I was so blown away—like in shock. My head was exploding. I remember they were telling me how Collin Provost was on the flow team for like four years. And I was like, “What the fuck, dude? He’s so good, so how the hell did I get on so quick?”
You wanna tell us the Cheesecake Factory story?
Oh my God. Yea, it was such a surprise.
So we went to the Cheesecake Factory after a long-ass day of skating in Denver for the Thrasher Skatepark Roundup. We all just got done eating and I was just chilling at the table and I see this guy bringing out this huge, awesome cheesecake with onion rings on the side. It looked like a birthday cake, so I just thought it was someone’s birthday. But the dude kept looking at me and I was just like, “What’s up man? That’s not mine. I think it’s probably for a dude at the other end of the table.”
And he just kept looking at me and sat it down in front of me. It said, “Welcome to the Emerica team Trevor Colden.” And I just … dude, I couldn't even talk for like ten minutes. Everyone was just clapping and stuff.
Dude, it was fucking awesome.
What was up with the onion rings?
Because I eat onion rings and fries all day. Like, wherever I go.
But you’re a vegetarian, right?
I used to eat fast food all the time and get these bad stomach pains. I got to the point where I just stopped eating meat and I felt better and liked it that way.
I thought it was a ploy to kiss up to Ed Templeton and get on the team.
And what’s with you and the chips?
I eat chips at every single gas station we go to. I try to eat as many chips as I possibly can.
But not candy?
I don't really eat that much sweet stuff. I eat chips mostly.
I’d say chips are more like a meal than candy is. Heath is managing your finances, huh?
Yeah, he's like a dad to me. I have my own bank account, but its under his name so if I overdraft I go straight into his account.
Watch out, he can cut you off!
Yeah, he probably could. He's the best dude ever. One time my debit card just kept fucking up and getting declined. I was going from state to state on a trip and at this one gas station they took my credit card and cut it up. I freaked out and called Heath, like, “Dude, I am so sorry. I think I just overdrafted. I don't know what the fuck happened.”
He was like, “Don't even worry about it. It’s your money,” and sorted everything out. I still had money in my account. I was just hitting too many gas stations and they thought it was fraud.
He told me all your charges are for chips at gas stations and never exceed $10.
Yeah, I never get a real meal.
What’s you're ideal gas station meal?
Two bags of spicy nacho Doritos and two Gatorades. Then I’m good for about an hour and I do it all over again.
You don't even get those pre-made cheese sandwiches or anything?
Nah those things are like five bucks!
When I was like 13, out skating all day and night, this one 7-11 by my house had two hot dogs, chips and a large drink for two bucks.
Dude holy shit!
I was killing it.
Best deal ever!
So how’s Heath as a second dad?
Dude, he's the best, I swear to God. I used to hear rumors that he was super strict, but he's the nicest dude I’ve ever met. I love going on trips with him because whenever we do a demo he's skating and fucking killing it.
Earlier you mentioned a new Emerica part …
A couple of the guys are filming full parts and Miner wants me to film one as well. I have a whole bunch of extra footage that didn't get used in my Mystery part and I'm gonna hit LA as much as possible so we can get it done.
Dude, I heard you re-grip your boards.
[Laughs] Yeah I used to re-grip my board every two sessions or so because I felt like there wasn't enough grip on it.
Once you ruin it in your head like that, you’re done.
If you think about it wrong, it’s just done. You gotta switch it.
Do you have a girl?
Should we also put out an announcement to get you a lady?
Nah. I don't want a girlfriend, but I definitely need to start hooking up with girls.
Don't worry, a couple more demos and it’ll happen.
So one day you’re a regular kid in Virginia and suddenly you’re living in Cali at Black Box next to a TF, on all these sick teams and making some loot from skateboarding …
It all just seriously came out of nowhere. It really did. I’m just so thankful and super excited.