The first few times I saw Oscar Loreto skate was at the Adaptive Action Sports X Games event in 2009 and 2010. Obviously, like most people would, I noticed he has no hands. But what I also noticed, was that he didn’t seem to care that it was an actual contest. He wasn’t gunning for a gold medal or anything, he was simply skating the course and having a good time.
As I got to know Oscar and we skated together more, I learned he was also missing half a leg, which blew my mind because he jumps down sets of stairs like it’s no big thing.
But you get over all that leg and hand stuff pretty quick and discover Oscar is down-to-earth and legit. He’s super mellow. He loves skateboarding and beer and film making. He’s not only an incredible ambassador for Adaptive Action Sports and amputees across the globe, but also an inspiration as a human being.
Skateboarding doesn’t need gold medals. But then again, if there are going to be gold medals in skateboarding, then Oscar deserves a few.
So what’s the word, Oscar?
Not much. I just left Element. They had a package waiting for me so I was driving back from Irvine.
How’d you end up getting hooked up with them?
Through Amy Purdy at Adaptive Action Sports. They sponsored her and she told ‘em about our team. I submitted my footy and then they started hooking it up.
Can you explain your physical condition to us?
The doctors call it a congenital birth defect. Basically, when I was still in the womb, the amniotic bands wrapped around my limbs and prevented development. So I came out with no fingers on my left hand and half a development of the thumb on my right.
And then you’re missing a foot too?
My left leg, below my knee. It’s not an amputation; I was just born like that.
At what point did you realize you were different than most kids and going to have a different kind of life?
Probably age 13 or 14. I realized I gotta do things the way I gotta do ‘em and sometimes it’ll work out and sometimes it won’t. From there I just learned to adjust.
What were some pivotal turning points in your life that made things easier for you?
I was pretty much an average kid. I’d always watch soccer games with my pops and I played for a little bit as a kid. But when skateboarding randomly fell into my lap was one of those moments. My cousin was doing it so I tried it and eventually kept going.
Then one time I saw an ad of Jon Comer doing a kickflip and his leg was coming off. That was the first time I’d ever seen anybody with one leg do anything that I really liked. I mean, I would go to the doctor’s office and see posters of a runner with one leg, so that kind of always inspired me, but seeing Comer in that ad was pretty tight.
Also, socially and in school, just learning to not care what other people think—to just worry about me and do my thing was a key thing.
One time in Tampa, Comer was opening beer bottles for us on his fake leg because we didn’t have a bottle opener. He’s the sickest.
I’ve skated with him a bunch. He’s awesome.
Did you have the same prosthetic foot before you skated as you do now?
No, I definitely had to change things up. They started me off with a foot that was made for everyday walking. Even running wasn’t a problem, but once I started skating and learning tricks I broke tons of prosthetic feet. The one I have now is finally perfect and doesn’t snap on tricks. There’s a spring inside—basically like bushings that mimic ankle movements. But it took years to figure that out.
And you have a prosthetic sponsor that helps develop those for you, right?
Yeah, they hook me up. I was gonna try to make a custom one but by the time I met them, they already designed one and I was the guinea pig.
Did you automatically start skating with your prosthetic foot forward? Evan Strong skates with his in back. Seems harder to get pop and board control that way.
I’m regular-footed and started that way right off the bat. I’ve talked Evan many times and it’s definitely is harder to get pop off your fake leg because you don’t have all those muscles down there to pop you. I didn’t learn switch for years because it felt weird with my fake leg back there—so I didn’t even try. Evan can skate tranny really well because he’s not doing that much popping.
Was there ever any consideration for prosthetic hands or is it easier without ‘em?
At this point it’s easier not to. My doctor hooked up this whole robotic hand and I was able to hold a drinking glass in one hand I still couldn’t do much with the other. I was too accustomed to using both hands to grab and do everything with.
Is it worse to lose your hands halfway through life, or be born without them?
Definitely weirder to lose them I think, because a drastic change like that would definitely fuck with you mentally.
Do you ever get to points of insane frustration because simple, everyday things take you way longer to do?
I’ve definitely gotten to that point lots of times. Trying to like, hang up a picture frame or something with a hammer and nail and all that bullshit. Or tying my shoelaces—I’d get so pissed off because it would take me 25 minutes. It would ruin the whole day. Like, I’d be late for school when I could’ve just tightened ‘em up and stuffed ‘em in my shoe instead of tying them. Little things like that, that people take for granted and do so easily.
What’s the harshest thing anyone’s ever done to you?
My tenth grade geography teacher was a dick. I don’t remember what he said verbatim but he was like, “What happened to you? What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be somewhere else?”
He was referring to the special ed. class. I didn’t expect that from an adult.
That’s gnarly. What do your hands have to do with …
My brain? Yeah, exactly. Sometimes people get weirded out. He didn’t even try to talk to me or anything.
So what’s the raddest thing anyone’s ever done?
My local shop used to be called Downey Skate and I submitted my sponsor-me tape and they called me back a week later like, “You’re on the team.” We started filming the next weekend. That was the raddest thing I’d ever experienced.
In 2007 we did the AAS skate tour and we got comped so much stuff. It was tight. That, and just the skate culture in general—the good vibes that everybody else brings.
So tell us more about Adaptive Action Sports.
Adaptive Action Sports is a non-profit that is trying to spread awareness and get more people who have disabilities involved in action sports. Amy Purdy is a snowboarder who founded AAS with Daniel Gale. I met them back in ‘05.
They recently voted me on to the board of directors and we’re trying to launch the LA chapter this summer. LA is a mecca for skateboarding and we’re hoping to get more people involved because there’s definitely a bunch of skaters out there with prosthetics.
We’re at a good place right now. I see nothing but progress. Element and Vans are backing us so the skaters are able to get some free stuff and we also get different donations here and there.
How can other people help AAS? By visiting our website. There’s a a donation tab. We apply for grants but they are hard to get. So it’s usually easier to get businesses and people to donate.
We got a grant from Balance Bar one year and did a road trip, which was dope. This year I’m trying to draft a proposal and approach RV companies and see if they would donate an RV for a summer tour.
Can AAS use support as far as prosthetic companies and skate companies donating product?
Yeah, definitely. It kind of varies with prosthetics though. For example, this one kid, Chris Gentry doesn’t use a prosthetic leg —he skates on his stump, which is a whole different game.
I get pretty hooked up with my prosthetics by Scope. I hear stories of kids in Texas or out east that get hooked up here and there, but it’s harder for them. Sometimes companies will hook a kid up who doesn’t have insurance because they are in it for the love of helping people. Others are more strict and go by the books and they’ll deny the kid.
I would love to see more companies helping out because I don’t think they know too much about this realm yet. But those who know us, they know that we’re just real skaters doing what we love and it spreads in a very positive way.
Obviously Aaron Fotheringham is gnarly—doing Mega Ramp double backflips and front flips … but who else is really killing it?
Evan Strong is gnarly. Rob Nelson … he introduced me to pool riding. There are a few guys that used to be on Adaptive back in the day and fell off because of an injury or just stopped skating. A guy named Chase and a guy named Gary Moore were pretty gnarly. I’ve seen YouTube videos of kids that skate with crutches who are pretty sick. We are trying to get Italo Romano out to California this year too.
You have a bachelor’s degree, right?
Yeah, in film and electronic arts. I want to do action sports stuff, maybe develop a show that will end up on Fuel or be a filmer for a skate company like Ty Evans does. Working on feature films, like a Spiderman movie, would be dope too.
Have you ever had any internships or lucky breaks where you’ve been on a set or met anyone?
A bunch of big names came through school and we were able to work on their sets. I interned for a television station in Commerce and I worked for a studio in Burbank. The show I worked on for three-and-a-half years was a home shopping art auction—like QVC. It got canceled.
I freelance right now. I shoot whatever I can get my hands on—weddings, music videos. I eventually hope to land a studio job at Fox or something.
Who are some of your favorite skate filmers and videos?
Definitely TransWorld. Jon Holland and all their videos are up there for sure. Growing up, I liked the simplicity of the skate videos like Zero’s Thrill Of It All and the Toy Machine videos. Just short and sweet—straight skating was always dope.
Yeah Right! was the first one I was stoked on with the graphics and the movie magic trickery. From there, with Spike Jonze leading the way, things developed and other people began integrating techniques from actual film making, like dolly shots and stuff. I like Fully Flared and I like that magnetic liquid stuff in Mind Field.
Is there an etiquette to shaking your hand? Should one go for the knucks or a shake, even though they are really grabbing your wrist and arm?
I don’t know. It gets kind of weird. I don’t judge people on it. I think the people that shake my hand but still keep eye contact are normal and seem more open-minded. But some people are surprised, like, “Oh sorry, I didn’t know.”
I don’t really have a preference. If they put out a fist I’ll bump the knucks. But a high five or an actual handshake is normal to me too. The weirdest is when they shake my hand but grab almost up to my elbow. I’m like, “Okay, thanks buddy.”
That’s what I mean … it can get weird.
It definitely can.
Who’s helped and inspired you the most?
I’d have to say my mom and my sis. My dad bounced when I was a kid so I only knew him for a little bit, but it was my family just telling me, “Yeah you’re different but it doesn’t mean you still can’t do things and excel in life.” With that instilled in me pretty young it just helped me and always made me think of the dopeness that can come out of any situation.
Patinando con los Muertos:
Converse's Day of the Dead Tour
Words: Rob Brink The Skateboard Mag, June 2011
Steve Luther is a proud Mexican man and the Brand Manager of Converse Skateboarding.
He had a simple idea: Plan a skateboarding trip around the Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos.
But when the worlds of skateboarding, foreign culture and the deceased collide, “simple” quickly becomes “complex” and a myriad of events occur. Some expected, some fun, some frightening—but all worth telling stories about.
Paul Stanley, Banderas shots, a magical business card, parades, place settings for the dead, machine guns, Paco and a golden pistol—different tales and perspectives from different skateboarders—all on the same tour.
Learn the language and don’t forget to wash your face, gringo.
“There was this Mexican girl that Steve Luther knew—she’s a professional makeup artist who came along with us on the trip and painted our faces for a few of the cities we went to. It would take like 30 minutes per person each day. Pat was painted as The Joker for Day of the Dead and he did a hardflip backside tailslide off a shootout ledge in the makeup. It was amazing. I was the dude from KISS with the star on his eye. The girl did my makeup perfect. Nick’s face was all crazy too. They glued flower petals and all this tight, crazy stuff to his face.
“Some of the Mexican people were pretty weirded out on the face paint. They would stop and watch or just look at you when you were getting something from the store like, ‘Damn, this dude’s crazy.’ But for the most part, everyone was into it.”
“It was kind of weird sweating and not being able to touch your face, though. The makeup would run down your face and dry up and get super annoying. One day I just washed it off because I was so over it.
“For Day of the Dead, the Mexican people are celebrating the death of all their loved ones and shit, except it’s more happy than in America—it’s not like they’re sad. They think it’s a good thing.
“What I hear is they make all this bomb food and set up plates in front of empty chairs at their dinner tables for all the lost loved ones. They set up a whole meal for like, no one. Just for the lost souls or something like that. I thought that was pretty interesting, but we didn’t experience that first hand. That would’ve been cool though, man. I thought it was a waste when I initially heard of it, but when they broke down the reasons for it, I was like, ‘alright, that’s completely cool and understandable.’
“I think Americans often view death as a negative thing, and it’s not really. It’s completely natural. Everyone’s gonna do it. It’s just all a matter of time and what you pretty much wanna do before that happens is up to you, you know what I’m saying? And then after you pass away your spirit will always live on. When you are alive, your mind and body are here on Earth with your spirit, but when you die, your mind and body are gone but your spirit lives on. So I feel it’s completely natural. It’s sick, man. I wish I lived out there.”
“Just being out in Mexico and getting a little more in touch with their culture during the Day of the Dead celebration provided a little more of a storyline to the whole trip, so that was really cool. But even though it was a more culturally based tour concept, we still had to go out there and skate and try to film and get photos every day. I’ve never been on a tour in another country other than it being for a contest or something so I ended up having a lot of fun on this one.
“The Banderas shots are fucking great. You line up three … let’s see … it’s just like lemon or lime juice in the first shot, then the next one’s pretty much straight tequila. And the third one is like a tomato juice mixture or whatever. So you take the lemon shot first and then tequila shot and then the tomato juice all in a row. It fucking tasted great and just goes down so easy. That was a good experience for sure.”
“I think the cultural side of a trip like this is something the older guys like myself and Kenny were more into than some of the younger guys were. A few of them were like, ‘I don’t really know what we’re doing. Let’s go skating!’
“Me and Kenny were like, ‘We want to go take photos.’ Nick was all about it too.
“And I think back to when I was younger, being like, ‘What the fuck is this? I wanna skate!’ But the older you get, the more you start appreciating other elements of a skate trip too.
“When I was younger, going on trips to Barcelona and shit, I wish I went to museums and took time to look at the amazing architecture. I didn’t really do that stuff back then. But if I were to go back there now, I would fully manage my time better and take advantage of where I was and go check shit out when I wasn’t skating.
“Being older, you grasp onto that kind of stuff and appreciate it a little bit more. I think that’s one of the best things about going on skate trips—not only the skating, but seeing amazing places, eating amazing food and taking in the culture. Now that I’m older, I definitely see it and appreciate it more than I ever would’ve.”
“We went to the presidential palace in Puebla for a press conference because Steve was getting an award. It was pretty rad. He’s helping out with a skatepark being built there and doing a few other things I believe. So they give him a card to hold on to, like a special business card from someone pretty high up in Mexico, like the mayor or something.
“Later on we were rushing to get to a spot before sundown and our driver was just blazing through everything. He barged through a red light and there just happened to be a cop right there. Of course he pulls us over and is so pissed. He looks through the window and Luther jumps forward from the back seat, shows the cops the card and they end up telling us to hurry up and get to the spot before sundown. All Steve did was flash the card and say a couple words to him. It was crazy.
“The Day of the Dead parade was insane too. We got there kind of late and everyone was positioned along the streets to watch. I wedged my way through the crowd because we wanted to film something during the parade. And it was right before the parade started and I was like, ‘I’m gonna throw my board down and see what the cops say.’ I just wanted to skate like ten feet. But the cops didn’t say anything, so the filmer, Mark, went down to the end into the street and waited for me.
“I started skating down in the middle of this weird cobblestone street, and as I started, all the people on the sides started screaming for me. It was almost like they thought the parade was starting with me. It was like the Super Bowl or something when they do the wave in the crowd. As I passed by the people they got louder and louder. And by the time I made it to the camera, everyone was screaming. People were high fiving me and taking photos of me. It was so cool. Even though I just rigged my way in there, I felt like I was part of that celebration.
“The funny thing about the makeup, as annoying as it is, you kind of just forget it’s there, which I have a funny story about:
“There were some drunken antics with Nick and Jeff at the hotel and the security guards weren’t having it. So things got out of hand and they end up tying down Jeff and Nick.
“I was the only one who could kind of speak Spanish to security because Luther was in his room sleeping.
“So Nick’s getting carried out by the security and I go running out there, talking to them in my bad Spanish, just saying as much as I know. And things are slowly coming back to me. I was like, proud of myself for remembering a little bit of Spanish, but I just kept saying, ‘Sorry. I understand why you’re roughing him up. He’s been drinking all day at your bar. You guys fed him the alcohol. He’s a good kid.’
“Nick was just getting manhandled. They had him out front, cheeks pushed up against a stucco wall, just putting all their weight on him and I’m trying to talk, in my bad Spanish, to a guy who didn’t understand a lick of English.
“Basically, we found out the cops were coming no matter what. So I’m sitting there freaking out. We’re in Mexico during this time of drug wars and stuff and I’m picturing Nick going to jail. I’m the only one who can do anything and I’m so nervous.
“Then the hotel manager comes out and says, ‘You need to get a hold of Paco,’ who is the Converse guy in Mexico. ‘He’s the only guy who can go pick him up.’
“Now the cops show up and right away they grab me and shove me back. They didn’t even wanna hear my voice. Then Nick gets thrown into the back of a truck and they just take off. I’m just like, ‘Holy shit dude’ as he gets carted away in the back of a truck to a Mexican jail on this cold night.
“It took a while to find Paco and get everything going. We jumped in the van and head towards the jail. We see these orange cones, so we pull through them and onto this little dirt road. I’m looking out the windshield trying to focus on what was going on because it was kind of dark. All of a sudden I notice a machine gun pointed right at us. And I’m like, ‘Hey, there’s a gun pointed at us … wait there’s two.’
“And I see two machine guns pointed at us and as our headlights shine on the third guy, he’s got this golden pistol. Not even a normal gun, just this two-foot-long golden pistol. And he points it straight at us. And here’s the part about forgetting about how your face is painted:
“I’m wearing all black and my face is painted in this weird, Shogun warrior-slash-Mexican-style Day of the Dead thing. We’re in a white tinted tour van, and the golden pistol guy looks in the car and I’m just like, ‘Hey what’s going on?’
“Paco looks at me like, ‘Dude get in the back!’ And the guy comes up to Paco’s window with the gun pointed at him and Paco jumps out. They have all the guns pointed at him and he explains it all.
“They told Paco they thought we were like, some drug cartel coming in to do something gnarly because of the white tinted van and my painted face. So I think we were just seconds away from getting shot up if it wasn’t for Paco talking to them.
‘They made me get in the back of the van and told us where to go to find Nick and he just comes out of the jail screaming, all psyched, and jumps on Paco’s back like a piggyback ride—just so stoked to be free. I’ve never seen him be that thankful. It was rad.
“He was just getting smacked around in there. I guess they were like, ‘Hey what’s your name?’
“And he would answer, ‘Nicholas.’ And they would just smack him in the face.
“‘What’s your last name?’
“And different guys would just come up and ask him questions and then smack him. He was only in jail a couple hours, but for him not knowing we were coming, it was probably an eternity. Me personally, I’d just start freaking out. Maybe that’s why he was so hyped, jumping on Paco’s back and stuff.
“So I get back to the hotel lobby and I’m telling the bartender the stories, all straight-faced, and I get a glance of my reflection in a mirror with the makeup on and I’m like ‘What the fuck, man?’
TJ Rogers' Tall Tale
Words: Robert Brink SBC Spring 2011
TJ Rogers has already blown it. At 19, he’s already got a reputation for having a shitty, cocky attitude. He films with his iPod headphones on while listening to crappy music that isn’t The Smiths or ‘Lil Wayne. His clothes are still too big. In his defense, they used to be Grant Patterson big, but have since reduced in size.
TJ allegedly has long-running beefs with a couple other up-and-coming Canadian skateboarders. One of the first Google search results for his name is a clip of TJ face planting into a pile of mulch. He has a Sheckler-esque “Rogers” back tatt between his shoulders. He has initials for a first name and the same last name as the infamous Jereme; aaaaaaand, are you ready for this ... he’s from Whitby, Ontario.
Stop right now. Just close the mag and log on to your favorite forum or twerpy little blog and get your jollies by talking shit on TJ.
I’m being facetious. Basically, everything I heard about TJ before I interviewed him made me assume I was about to embark on an interview with the quintessential Caucasian Canadian skateboarder.
Although, I suppose getting one of those stereotypical ghetto gown, fake-diamond-earring-in-both-ears wearing kids from up there would be the perfect foray into my first-ever feature in a Canadian mag.
In short, I was ready to expect the expected—then I dug a little deeper:
“One thing I know for sure,” says Blind Team Manager, Bill Weiss, “is that TJ is the only person I’ve seen make a trick [switch frontside 180] at El Toro and the first words out of his mouth were, ‘Are there any other spots we can hit before it gets dark?’
“That about sums TJ up in a nutshell,” Weiss continues.
In skateboarding, people are always griping about “honesty” and “being real.” They bitch and moan and demand it from ams, pros and media.
You want honesty? You want real?
There’s not a person on this planet under the age of 19, or any age for that matter, who doesn’t kook themselves on a daily basis.
Dare we put the future of “hating” in jeopardy, but it’s called “life” and we’re all guilty of living it.
“It’s a part of growing up,” TJ says of his laundry list of “faux pas.” “For some people it just sticks with you and people talk about it.
“Weiss actually hit me up,” TJ continues,“ and was like, ‘Yeah man, it’s probably better that you don’t wear headphones when you skate—just so people don’t hate on you for it.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t really understand what you mean but I know I eventually will so I’ll just do what you say.’”
Pretty admirable, considering not many 19-year-olds are willing to take orders from anyone, much less comply with something they don’t understand.
“I called TJ out a while back because I was looking out for his future,” says long-time friend Cephas Benson. “The kid is extremely talented, but to go places in skating you need to be more then just amazing at skating—you gotta have a good attitude too.
“He was pretty much a little shit. He still kind of is but he mellowed out a bit,” Benson says, laughing.
“TJ was just too cocky and in-your-face as a kid. We got sent to Calgary together to skate in the DC Nationals one year and it was his first time flying, so his dad asked me to take care of him. We roomed together and I sorta took him under my wing and got know him. He's been like a little brother ever since.”
“I like getting advice from people,” says TJ. “It’s good to learn new things, especially in this industry. I’ve had a lot of hate growing up. You don’t want everyone hating on you. You wanna to be someone who everyone can be like, ‘no one hates on him.’”
TJ has lived three times the life of most kids his age, having already survived battles with drug abusing parents, poverty, life in a foster home, a deadbeat mom and an accident with a table saw which resulted in his father losing some fingers and then losing their house…
“I lived in that house my whole life,” TJ says. “My dad built half of it. He re-constructed the whole thing—put skylights in, built a pool and a hot tub—he did everything in it. I’ve always wanted to buy that house back. So that’s my goal.”
TJ and his father are tight. So tight, in fact that TJ gives him mild cardiac arrests with prank calls every once in a while.
“Dude it was the funniest thing ever,” TJ says. “It was me, Chris Ortiz and Jared Lucas [Bones wheels TM]. We’re skating at this set in Cali and I call him, like, ‘Dad … dad, I’m in fucking jail, dude. You have to talk to the cops!’
“And he’s starting to flip. So I throw Jared the phone, it’s in the air and Jared’s like, ‘No, what are you doing? I don’t know what to say.’
“So he gets the phone and he’s just like, ‘Yeah this is Orange County Police calling. We have your son in custody.’
“And my dad’s like, ‘What did he do? What did he do?’
“Then Jared just cracked. And we all just started laughing.
“And my dad’s like, ‘I’m gonna fucking rip your head off, you little shit. You fucking cocksucker! I’m gonna kill you!’ Just so bummed, but so stoked that I wasn’t in jail. It was actually one of the epicest things ever so funny.
“My dad’s definitely been through a lot,” says TJ. I gotta give him a break sometimes, but I also always gotta help keep him in line. I don’t want him to do anything bad again. I want him to be happy. As for myself, I’ve seen a lot of heavy drugs. I just know that’s not my scene. It’s not where I want to be in life so I always just try to keep to that mindset.”
But TJ is no stranger to caretaking. He wasn’t a typical foster home fuck-up. Instead, he ended up helping the foster parents and looking after the other kids.
“I was the best one out of them all,” TJ says. “I was the oldest in the group home so they kind of had me to show them the way. If all the kids were being bad or if they mouthed off to the parents or anything, I’d snap. It’s pretty hard and definitely respectable for the parents to take in those kids just off the street, you know? So you gotta try to be nice to them.”
Ironically, considering her absence later in his life, TJ’s first board was a gift from his mother when he was nine years old.
“Skating was the only thing that took everything bad away,” TJ says. “I didn’t have to really deal with anything. There was definitely an upside that I had a hobby and something that I loved doing to fall back on everyday.”
A decade later, TJ has landed himself a grip of sponsors and is in California for a while, escaping the harsh Canadian winter.
“I just came out to Cali to skate, film and hope for the best,” he says. “I always have mixed emotions about moving here. My plan is to become a professional skateboarder and try to make something out of it, but it’s all about just focusing, practicing everyday, trying as hard as I can and hoping my skating will do the talking for me. But until I have money or unless my sponsors help me a bit, I just can’t do it.”
Might be worth the spend, considering the last time TJ showed up in California he switch 180 ollied El Toro.
“I’ve always wanted to go there and skate it like every little kid who sees it in videos does,” TJ says.
“I went there in ’09 and wanted to do it but pussied out. In February I went back with my homey and a camera and I landed on it, kicked out and slipped out a couple times. On my seventh try I really fucked up my ankles. I couldn’t walk for a week. I went back a week later and did it second try with a photographer and filmers there.”
“Obviously one of the more naturally talented kids out there,” Elliot Heintzman, Circa Canada team manager. “He has a lot of drive to skate every day, even if he’s hurt. He’s super ambitious, which can come off as annoying sometimes, but at the same time he’s really honest and humble.”
Word is spreading to people who have yet to meet TJ too.
“I haven’t really gotten to shoot with him yet, but I know he’s gnarly and always wants to go skate” says Shad Lambert, Kr3w’s marketing coordinator and photographer. “I feel bad because he came to Cali and I was in the middle of finishing up catalogs. Dude was trying to skate every day and night—just a pure skate junkie.”
Jared Lucas sites TJ’s improvement in ability and style between his first and second sponsor-me tapes to Bones as one of the most impressive he’s ever seen. Not to say TJ didn’t always have it in him, but more that there were external elements holding him back all along.
“It all happened almost at once,” says TJ. “I left the foster home and went right to Slam City Jam and that’s when I started getting sponsored by Circa and stuff. My skating improved because I wasn’t locked up in a house doing homework or chores or this or that because I’m in a foster home. It’s really restrictive and it really sucked. So when I got out of there, I just fucking went loose—went all buck wild and shit. I’d say tenth grade … that’s when I sprouted. I grew a bit and started skating more tech.”
From that point on, TJ was on a mission. Of course, intermingled with the skating was all that stuff mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this piece. But, if you think about it, TJ is still here, still ripping and still being supported by a bunch of legit sponsors—people who believe in him.
Safe to say that worst is far behind him. If he could be guilty of all that “kooking” and still be where he is now, his skating has spoken for itself and the only place to go for him is up.
“I try to always look up and stay positive with anything I do—because I’ve been to hell and back, basically,” he says.
“Anything that I do now is just happy and definitely better than what I used to do. When you start getting recognized they’re gonna talk about all the worst things just to call you out. Then, if you keep at it, they’ll start being nicer and it all just all starts to come around. So hopefully it does for me too. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I definitely have a lot going on in my life so I always keep it positive, not a negative.”
Oh, and remember that house TJ used to live in? The one they lost after his dad got hurt?
“My uncle owns that house now so it’s sick to have it in the family still! TJ exclaims.
“Man, that house is like a five story house. It’s so ballin’. It’s definitely sick to have something like that to look back on memories. I’ve had a lot of bad memories—more bad than good, but I try to always hold onto the good one, and I have a lot of good memories in that house.”
“TJ just loves skating. He has a gift,” Weiss concludes.” He is not worried about what people think of his ear buds as he is to busy pushing skating forward and having fun, so from me he gets a permanent pass on skating while wearing headphones.”
It's rare that a kid from New Jersey blows up like Ishod Wair has. Don't hold me to this, because I suck at math, but it probably only happens like, once per decade.
In the best way possible, Ishod is a skate rat with skateboarding on the brain 110 percent of the time. Which probably explains why he didn’t know when he officially got on Real and postpones late night filming missions because he forgets to clip his toenails.
Easily forgivable offenses when you consider the reward is a bonkers part in Real’s Since Day One from one of the most notable ams of the last couple of years.
He's a kid you wish you could skate like. He’s a kid you wish you could skate as much as. Talking to him makes you realize you sweat the small stuff way too much. He even has a cookie sponsor. Curb your jealousy for the time being and enjoy a brief moment in time with Ishod Wair.
Hey Ishod, how long have you been on Real?
I started getting flow right after Tampa Am, like two and a half years ago. I was there passing out my DVD. I guess I skated well and they liked my footage and I officially got on last April. But I didn’t know that ‘til yesterday. I thought I got on when my first ad came out a few months ago. I just found out that I’ve been on for a year rather than for three months.
What? Weird. So then how did getting on Nike happen?
Same as with Real. I gave them my DVD at Tampa Am that year.
So one day you’re some skate rat from Jersey and all of a sudden you’re out here in Cali on Real and Nike and kids want your autograph and you win Phoenix Am and Maloof and everyone’s waiting to see your video part …
It’s crazy. Sometimes when I think about it too much I get dizzy. You know how you’re sitting down for a long time and then you stand up, and you get light-headed? I didn’t think it would come this quick at all.
It usually doesn’t.
It’s just shocking. I can’t even put it into words.
And you ride for Anthony’s Cookies?
Yeah. It’s a cookie store in San Francisco on Valencia and 24th. I like cookies and I’d always talk about how good they were. So Darin [Real Team Manager] happened to know the owner and got me sponsored by ‘em.
If I’m in SF and go to Anthony’s Cookies, what cookie should I get?
The cookies n’ cream cookie.
Done deal. Do they send you packages?
They don’t send me boxes but Darin will randomly go there and send a box to my house, which is awesome.
You moving out west to live the dream?
I like it here in New Jersey. I don’t think I’m gonna move any time soon. I feel like I’d be productive out west but my friends are over here and I still skate as much as I would be skating out there, it’s just that over there the spots are cooler.
When I moved out west, I was surprised how common it is to be a skater in Cali compared to back home in Jersey.
Yeah, I realize that so much. Everybody has skate shoes and knows about skating in some way. In New Jersey it’s all mainstream sports like baseball and football and basketball. But over here it’s really normal to be a skateboarder. I just see so many people skating down the street all the time.
I was one of like, five skateboarders in my whole high school.
Yeah, in my town it was like five, too … [starts screaming] Oh my fucking god! That was scary! Oh my god!
What just happened?
Dude, the biggest swarm of bees was just over me, dude. It was like, the whole entire backyard. I thought they were gonna attack me. I was so scared. Oh my god!
Is there a hive around? Are you okay?
Dude, I don’t even know, dude. That was insane. It was a hundred, maybe thousands of bees. There were so many. It was the biggest swarm. I was walking along the edge of the backyard and I just hear “bzzzzzzzzzz” and then I look up and maybe five feet above my head there’s the biggest cloud of bees.
I’m seriously like, so confused.
Have you ever been stung before?
When I was younger I stepped on one once. And it stung the bottom of my foot. I got stung by wasps a couple times. That sucks because it just hurts so long. They are like, toxic or something.
How about your nickname, “tails”?
Oh my god. I hate that, dude.
I think Pete Eldridge or someone said I was following him around the skatepark once. I wasn’t. I was in the skatepark first and I was just doing the same line that everybody does in that skatepark, always. He didn’t realize so he was like, “This kid keeps following me.”
Someone was telling me you’re hard on yourself despite being super consistent.
I’ve always liked to do things over and over. When I started skating I would always try to do a trick as many times as I could so I can do it always—so my mind knows I can do that.
If I fall or if I’m having a bad day I can tell right away. And it just pisses me off because I know in my head I can do it, but it’s just not clicking for some reason.
What’s your go-to when you get to a big set or rail? What helps you know if you’re gonna have a good day or not?
It changes. Usually it’s a tre flip, switch flip or kickflip. But sometimes it’s a hardflip or frontside flip. I randomly won’t be able to kickflip at all and then I’ll be able to hardflip good. And in two weeks I’ll be able to kickflip and I can’t hardflip anything. It’s crazy.
Do you ever get mistaken for anyone else?
Dude, I saw Theotis the other day, he got super tall.
Well the first time I saw him, he’s a lot taller from then to now—or from now to then —whatever.
Tell me the story about not being able to skate a rail in Philly because your toenails were too long.
That happens a lot. Sometimes I forget to cut my toenails for a while. It sounds kind of gross. They won’t even be that long but it’s just the way my toenails are. If they get too long, they hit my shoe. If I’m skating the whole day it’ll start to hurt pretty bad. It’s not like they’re even that long but after I cut ‘em it just feels so much better.
But yeah, that was at this bump to rail and my toes were hurting me. Lately I’ve been real good with cutting my toenails because I know when they’re too long now. But back then, we were just skating and at the end of the day my toes were just so sore. I was like, “Dude, I can’t skate unless I cut my toenails.” So I had to go find a place that sold toenail clippers.
Probably better off to make sure your toes don’t hurt or your mind isn’t distracted while jumping down big stuff, right?
Sometimes I think about the worst-case scenarios … but that doesn’t bother me for some reason. I think about hitting my face and go like, “Okay, I don’t think this is gonna happen.” Usually the likelihood of that actually happening is really low so it helps me block it out.
What was one of the most embarrassing moments of your life?
I used to wear big shirts and I peed on my shirt in school a whole bunch of times. My shirt falls over my penis and I just pee on my shirt. I used the dryer to fix it up so no one really sees it. I dry it up.
Did you wring the shirt out over the urinal after you peed it?
Yeah and then I air dry it. No one ever finds out about that because I dry it out with the hand dryer.
You’re resourceful for sure. So you were in that van that got hit by the train, right?
Oh yeah, that was pretty crazy. I was in there but I didn’t see that happen.
The whole day sucked. It was raining and it sucked and we’re just waiting to get back to Double Rock because that’s where we’re staying. So we’re two blocks away and we really didn’t know where we were going so we’re listening to the GPS and the train system was kind of new. I guess the GPS didn’t know about the train so it told us to make a left where we couldn’t make a left. Then the train hit us.
Dude. Getting hit by a train, that’s like the one thing you worry about your whole life. Having a car stall out on the train tracks or something.
Yeah, dude. It wasn’t going that fast but it was really gnarly. It could’ve been worse, luckily no one died or anything.
Were you on the side of the van where the train hit?
Yeah, but I was in the back and the train hit in the front. It was really loud. The windows busted out and crashed so loud and then glass was everywhere, followed by screeching and then a train was halfway in the van window. It was insane. I don’t remember how long it was, but we got dragged by the train for a bit.
Speaking of crazy, what’s the craziest thing you’ve seen done on a skateboard?
I can’t say it’s the craziest thing, but I can say that every time I see Tom Asta skate, it is insane. All those tricks that you see him do and all the lines and all the tricks he does in his parts, he does ‘em so easy. I’ve seen him nollie heel front crook a good portion of a box in one try. He’ll go up and do it so many times.
He’s one of those guys that’s better than most people know.
Exactly. He’s so good in footage, but you don’t realize how easy he does all that stuff until you see him in real life.
Is there anyone else coming up that we should know about?
My boy Ed Duff is good. He’s really good. He’s gnarly. Edward Duff from Doylestown, PA. He’s gnarly.
Ishod's toenail incident, as told by Dan Wolfe:
On a filming trip to Philly in August 2010, we end up at the bump to flat rail in the Italian Market that Anthony Pappalardo front boarded in 2001. Ishod wants to skate it so we set up the generator, the lights, get three video cameras going and Gabe sets up a few flashes as well. We even have a little metal sign for the weird crack just before the bump set up for him. Then Ishod mumbles something.
"What?" Someone in our crew asks.
Then Ishod speaks up: "My toes hurt, I think my toenails are too long."
Someone else asks, "Are you serious?"
Turns out there's a discount store on the corner where you start the approach to hit the spot so, Gabe says, "Go in there and see if they have nail clippers."
Ishod answers, "I don't have any money."
Someone gives him a dollar, either me or Darin—I forget. And there's an old Chinese guy out front sweeping because they are closing down but they let Ishod in and they have nail clippers. So after the purchase, Ishod sits on the curb, takes off his shoes and socks and cuts his toenails. Once the shoes and socks are back on, he takes a few ride-ups to the rail and then proceeds to rip it a new asshole:
Boardslide, boardslide fakie, backside 50/50, backside smith and backside lipslide ... each trick two or three times to boot. Weirdo.
Storefront: NJ 4
Words: Rob Brink The Skateboard Mag, May 2011
Chris Nieratko and Steve Lenardo had been waiting for something to open up in Princeton, NJ for over three years when an existing skate shop closed its doors in early 2010. Simply put, they jumped on the vacancy and NJ 4 Skate Shop was born.
“We’d never open in a town with another skate shop,” Nieratko says. “There are far too few mom and pop stores making it these days. It’s a small skate community out here. We wouldn’t want to hurt anyone's business or bum people out.”
Life long friends, Steve and Chris always open stores in the towns they used spend their youth skating in.
“We grew up skating Sayreville (NJ 1),” says Nieratko. “As we got older we'd take buses to New Brunswick (NJ 2). Every skater from Jersey from our generation started their NYC sessions at the Lackawanna ledges in Hoboken (NJ 3). Princeton was another great college town filled with spots that we used to hit.”
But taking over an existing business, like the shop in Princeton, can be a double-edged sword.
“You have an existing customer base that loves the old store,” says Nieratko. “But there are also those who may not have liked the vibe or products and you have to work extra hard to let them know that this is a different shop now—owned and operated by skateboarders.”
And “skater owned and operated” is an integral part of NJ … Nieratko doesn’t hesitate to stand up for independent skateboard shops like his own.
“The skateboarding industry is losing touch with its roots, where the top pros come from and where traveling pros go to first to find spots while they’re visiting. Nocturnal in Philly, MIA in Miami, FTC in SF, Cal Skate in Portland, Escapist in Kansas City, Faith in Alabama, Familia in Minneapolis, Stratosphere in Atlanta, Pit Crew in Frederick and so many others are the shops giving us our Maltos, Gilleys and Matt Millers. Hell, Stratosphere’s Thomas Taylor literally produced one of the sickest skaters ever.
“There’s a lot of people putting themselves in financial ruin because they love skateboarding,” Nieratko continues. “Even with four doors, my partner Steve and I still need to work day jobs to provide for our families. Our goal with NJ was never to get rich. It was, and always will be, to do positive things for skateboarding in New Jersey.
Nieratko believes that small shops humanize the consumer. Everyone that works in an NJ store also skates for the team. The kids coming in to shop or hang out need not wonder if the employees skate because it’s obvious that they do.
“The skaters that come to NJ aren’t dollar signs in torn shoes to us,” says Nieratko. “They have names and jobs and families. As we get to know them and their interests we can let them know, the minute they walk in the door, that we just got an order of Krooked decks, Leo Romero’s new shoe or whatever they’re into. Whereas some kook at the mall who doesn’t skate or know which way your truck goes on is going to try and sell you Grind Kings with dollar bills printed on them because the commission is higher. Five minutes after you leave a big chain store you cease to exist.”
And, speaking of existing, one of the most common questions Chris and Steve get is if they will ever open a shop outside of NJ.
“I love that question,” Nieratko replies. “We get it all the time but the name doesn’t exactly lend itself to being anywhere else. But I would like to open one in NYC so we can stop joking that New York’s Finest skate shop is in New Jersey.”