August 14, 2016
By Robert Brink
I drink a lot of tea while I work. Green tea usually. In case you didn’t know, tea is a diuretic. That means it makes you pee. And when you drink as much tea as me, you pee A LOT.
Above the urinal in the men’s bathroom at The Hundreds headquarters (my new workplace), hangs a framed photo of Asa Akira. She’s wearing a black, custom “Adam Bomb” The Hundreds bikini top; the bottoms are pulled down and wrapped around her red six-inch stilettos, ready to trip her up at any second. Her hand is covering her crotch, even though it seems like she’d rather I see it all. Her hair is long and black and flipped over the right half of her face. The eye shadow around her left eye is dark and overdone and exactly what you’d expect from a porn star. This is a good thing.
And with my dick in my hand, while countless cups of green tea stream out of it, I’m three inches from her and she’s staring right at me—her mouth agape and her lips gooped in some sort of pinkish gloss.
Five to six times a day, in these two-minute increments, all I can do is think about fucking Asa Akira. And I’ll say with 100 percent certainty, that, not only would this notion NOT creep her out, but she’d absolutely love it. It’s part of her charm.
And it’s this charm that has, more so than most adult film stars, thrust (pun intended) Asa into mainstream pop culture—from penning her autobiography Insatiable: Porn A Love Story, to her DVDASA Podcast with David Choe, to her recent reality web series, “Hobbies With Asa Akira” with The Hundreds, you’d be hard-pressed (pun intended) to find anyone somewhat hip who doesn’t know Asa’s name.
Oh, and she loves skateboarders. So you might have a shot …
So tell me about your phone phobia.
I really hate talking on the phone. I’m just always dreading that it’s gonna be someone I don’t wanna talk to. But when they don’t leave a voicemail I’m like, “Oh my God, who was that? Maybe I won a bunch of money and now I lost my chance!”
I get completely anxious when my phone rings or I have to make a call. When we were kids we sat on the phone all night long.
Every chance I had. I can’t even imagine doing that now. Even when my friends call, I press “ignore” and then I’m like, “Let’s just text.”
Do you have other neuroses?
Yeah, but one of them is that I can’t talk about it.
Like Fight Club?
Yeah (laughs). I’m a pretty neurotic person.
Does the world seem particularly terrible to you lately? Like, I’m driving to work and thinking about the drought and ISIS and Baltimore.
It’s horrible. Everything. And I don’t know if every generation has felt that way or if the world is actually getting worse. That’s why I feel like it’s too late for me to take acid anymore. My mindset is way too negative now. I went to Six Flags the other day and left knowing that would be my last time on a roller coaster. I used to love them—the scarier the better. And now, like, why would I put myself in that position?
Like when you hear about the Croc Hunter or some bungee jumper dying.
It’s the dumbest way to die because you put yourself there.
I was listening to an NPR interview with you from last year and it turned into that typical “What went wrong in your childhood” thing. Do you find it bizarre that so many interviews with porn stars go in that direction?
Definitely. When I wrote Insatiable I did a lot more mainstream media rather than porn interviews, and, for the most part, I think the interviewers walked away disappointed that I wasn’t some tragic story. I think they were rooting against me. In the book I talk about how I had this happy childhood. I didn’t have any traumatic experiences. And they seemed to come into the interview already doubting that and trying to catch me slipping—wanting me to accidentally say I was raped when I was three or something.
Trying to trip you up with questions like “If you had a daughter would you let her do porn?”
Questions like that don’t really come from a place of curiosity. It says more about them than about me. I think they’re uncomfortable with the fact that I’m so comfortable with my sexuality. It just bothers them. A lot of people need to justify it to themselves with something horrible.
What’s upsetting to you about the porn industry?
Here’s the thing: I didn’t grow up watching porn or knowing anything about porn. In my mind, porn stars were these really glamorous people. It’s not like I followed the careers of girls before me and then came out here and found out they were horrible people. To me the fantasy was coming out here, doing porn, being successful and having people jerking off to me. In that sense, it’s even more than I could’ve hoped for. But I was definitely shocked to learn that fluffers don’t even exist.
But that used to be a thing back in the day right?
No! I asked Nina Hartley and she said no. Fluffers were never a thing.
Nina Hartley’s still kinda hot.
She really is. There’s something about her that’s so incredibly sexual. It’s like the molecules of her being are all just vibrating on this sexual level. It’s crazy. And it’s impossible to not wanna fuck her.
She’s the person you wish you get accidentally caught jerking off by instead of your mom or your brother who’s just gonna embarrass you.
She would say the exact right thing at that moment. She’s just amazing.
How did “Hobbies with Asa Akira” with The Hundreds come about?
I’ve known Bobby Hundreds for a while and we did an interview when my book came out last year. A couple weeks later, he texted me like, “Hey, what do you think of doing a video series?” And I was like, “Ok, let’s do it!” not knowing any of the details or anything. We had a meeting where everyone pitched ideas and we decided on hobbies because I’m such a homebody. I genuinely don’t have a hobby. My favorite thing in the world is to read and watch movies. House arrest would be paradise for me.
I agree. I just wanna be home in Laguna Beach.
I feel like people are constantly asking me, “What do you like to do outside of porn?” and I’m like, “Nothing.”
But also, when you have careers like ours that you love and you are doing awesome shit like writing books and filming shows, you don’t necessarily need a hobby.
I love that you just said that. I think I’ve always felt that way and I’ve never been able to put it into words. It’s funny because people will often describe me as a workaholic but I’m really not. I just love my job so much that I want to do it all the time. If I were working a 9-5 job I’d do the bare minimum—complaining the whole time, trying to take long lunches. I wouldn’t be a “workaholic.” We’re really lucky in that way. I try to remind myself of that all the time.
What hobby did you enjoy the most?
I really enjoyed taxidermy, which is weird because it’s not something I would’ve imagined I’d enjoy. But I don’t see myself doing that on weekends. And crocheting I got super into. After we finished filming that episode I bought a bunch of yarn and everything I needed to crochet, but the only thing I can make is a rectangle or a square. And you can only make so many scarves before it’s like, “Either I’m gonna take this to the next level or I’m gonna quit.”
I also really enjoyed boxing because I like anything that is exercise without me thinking its exercise.
How much of your life is devoted to staying physically fit so you look good on camera?
Like, the whole thing (laughs). In some form, I’m thinking about my weight 85 percent of the day. Whether it’s because I’m hungry or need to be tan to look skinnier. It’s what I have to do to be able to have sex for a living and make money doing what I love. When I think of it like that, it’s not such a big price to pay. But it sucks. I’m always hungry. I’m never satisfied with the way my body looks. And the thing I’m most looking forward to when I retire is getting fat.
I read that Lisa Ann is the most popular porn star in the world. As someone considered “older” in your industry, is it comforting to know a woman older than you is that popular and there’s time left, rather than some 19-year-old coming in and putting you out of work?
It’s definitely more comforting than if that weren’t the case, but I’m not completely at ease either. People ask what I’m gonna do after porn and I don’t know. I wish I could do this forever, but what if I decide to have a family? I guess I don’t feel totally secure. Like what if MILFs are really in right now but in five years they’re not? I still feel my age haunting me, but it’s more comforting than if there were no such thing as a MILF category.
Like if it was cut off at 27?
Oh my god. I’d already be over it.
In skateboarding most people are done pretty young too. The two industries are very parallel.
I totally agree. They’re both kind of on the outskirts of society while still having one foot in the mainstream. It’s kind of frowned upon, right?
The mainstream often takes what it wants from our industries to benefit, but then doesn’t really accept it. When they want skaters in a McDonald’s commercial, it’s cool, but then it’s illegal for me to skate down the street to buy groceries.
And there’s also something super damaging about being treated like a star too young. You guys even more so because skateboarding starts super young. But even with porn, 18 is too young. If you go from your parents’ house to being treated like a star and making thousands of dollars a day, how can you possibly be a normal person? You have no shot.
And the skate industry is crazy because there’s such a focus on alleviating anything from your mind other than performing on your skateboard. People book your flights, hand you cash on trips, send you clothes and you party.
Wow. Like all you have to do is skate?
Yeah, a lot of skaters don’t pay their taxes, they’ve never written a check. There are basic life skills that are handled for them starting so young.
It’s not their fault that they grow up to be a man-child. How would they know any better?
Have you personally noticed the skateboarding and streetwear cultures being particularly drawn to porn?
Yeah, for sure. I don’t think anyone in the skate or porn industry is attracted to what’s considered the norm. I think we like being outcasts and we’re drawn to things that are supposed to be bad or dangerous or unconventional. Comedians too. There’s a lot of intermingling between the comedy and porn scenes.
Is there anything particularly surprising or different about filming a porno movie compared to filming a reality series like “Hobbies”?
The main thing for me, it probably will sound really silly to you, is that with porn I can’t eat the night before. That comes with so much anxiety for me.
Is that a body image thing or an anal/cleanliness thing?
It’s a body thing. My body’s built for anal. I can eat all day long and I’m fine as long as I clean out and do my little ritual. But even if I’m just doing a blowjob scene I’ll will watch what I’m eating because I don’t want my stomach to bloat out. I’m pretty convinced that everyone in porn has body dysmorphia.
Given that so many women dislike or won’t try anal, how does that become your specialty?
I’ll tell you what the secret is, because my first time I didn’t enjoy it and didn’t do it again for five years. The trick is to do it about 20 times in like, a month. Don’t space it out too much and then it becomes enjoyable. But for those 20 times, it hurts like a bitch. You just have to know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
That’s what I tell people about eating oysters and sushi.
Or olives! So true. And then one day you’re craving it. It’s just like that.
We are opening up the world for men who want anal and women who wanna enjoy it.
I think the reason men want anal so badly is because we resist so much.
It’s the final frontier. Chicks always ask, “Why do guys want anal?” I think it’s that we just want to know you’re willing to please us.
I think so too. I can’t imagine that the asshole actually feels better around the penis than the vagina. I refuse to believe that.
It doesn’t. It feels like I’m doing something wrong. Maybe it’s Catholic guilt, but it feels like I’m hurting the girl and I want to just go back to the regular thing. There’s probably a lot of girl advice for skateboarders coming out of this interview, inadvertently.
Ugh! Skateboarders are the worst! Us girls love you guys so much and you never give us the time of day. I remember being a teenager growing up in NYC, I spent countless hours watching boys skateboard. And like, they totally didn’t give a shit that I was sitting there for four hours waiting to finally get to hang out.
Skating might be the only thing I’ve ever experienced that trumped the desire to get laid.
I think all skaters are like that. That’s the appeal though. That’s why girls love skaters, I would imagine. The unattainable factor.
So you have an Instagram account just for selfies.
This is my third or fourth time on Instagram because they keep kicking me off. And I’m not even posting anything crazy at all.
Suicide Girls are probably more racy.
Yeah, exactly. So I set up three accounts anticipating getting kicked off again. In the meantime I was like, “I can’t make all the accounts the same.” I feel really conflicted about selfies because as a principle I’m against them. I feel like it’s everything that’s wrong with the world in a way.
I feel the same. We sound old.
But I can’t stop taking them and wanting to share them.
Has there ever been a situation that made you say; “I can’t believe my career has taken me here”?
Writing the book was a lot like that. I love to write and read. When I was little I wanted to be a writer. I’ve always journaled. I’m certainly not a good enough writer to only be a writer. I would not have gotten the book deal had I not done porn. The whole process—even speaking to a literary agent, I was like, “Holy shit. I can’t believe my life right now!” And I think it was like that for my parents too. Writing the book justified a lot of things for them. It makes them a little less mad about the porn—something good came out of it in their eyes.
In order for you to get a book deal there had to have been a tipping point where you had mainstream appeal, right?
It was social media 100 percent. My literary agent, Mark Gerald, works with David Choe, who I do a podcast with. He follows me on Twitter and called me one day like, “I really like your Twitter and I feel like you could write a book. Let’s explore what we can do.” I was so excited that as soon as we got off the phone I wrote an essay and sent it to him. He loved it and then I wrote four more. We used those chapters as a book proposal and it just went from there.
That’s amazing. That crossover thing, maybe 1 percent of 1 percent of porn stars get there. Was Jenna the first?
I think Jenna’s the first and in a lot of ways she’s the only. I wouldn’t consider myself a crossover star at all. I’ve done things and crossed over a couple times but, I mean, Jenna Jameson had an E! True Hollywood Story. Neil Strauss wrote her book.
She’s a full-blown celebrity.
Oh for sure. She’s a household name.
Ok well, we’re both gonna have an anxiety attack if we stay on the phone any longer.
(Laughs) That was a really fun interview. You asked me so many things I’ve never been asked.
Well that’s the ultimate compliment. You cool with us doing a bonus “Hobbies” episode with bloopers and B-roll after the series ends?
Yeah I’m always down for whatever.
That’s the best thing a man could ever hear from a woman.
(Laughs) I’m down for whatever … including anal.
August 14, 2016
The Stoya Interview
Words: Robert Brink
Photos: Josh Friedberg
The first time I met Stoya for lunch in New York, she was wearing a dress she made herself and en route to her first aerial acrobatics class—trapezes, rings high up in the air and Cirqué de Soleil-type shit. Stoya is crafty. She’s eager to learn and try new things outside of her profession. You gotta admire someone who doesn’t just kick back and coast once they get their career going and make some money and a name for themselves.
Stoya also briefly worked at Philly’s legendary Sub Zero skate shop, where discovering alternate uses for griptape (i.e.: on the bottom of her stripper shoes) she prevented bodily harm and skateboarding totally played a vital role (sarcasm) in shaping her career as a model and adult actress.
I just read an article about how shrimp are high on Prozac because of all the medication humans flush into the ocean.
Oh my God.
Predators are killing them because they aren’t on point.
Fuck. That’s fucking ridiculous. And then we eat fish that come out of the ocean. What’s that doing to us?
I don’t know but that’s what I learned today.
That’s fucking wacky. I wonder if that happens with semen. If someone’s on a bunch of shit and you swallow their semen, what happens? Vaginal secretions too.
I’ll have to pay attention next time I perform.
You don’t wanna be fucking some crazy bitch and then putting up with her shit because you’re too doped up on second-hand Prozac.
Did we just stumble upon something?
I think we just created a really dark rom-com short film.
All full of apathy and lack of happy ending.
Some pathetic dude is all happy because he finally got laid …
Yeah, and then he’s walking around fucking addicted to the girl but its just science tricking him.
I read once that there’s a chemical release inside your body when you get off that results in a sexual addiction for some people.
Oxytoxin. There are a couple of chemical releases. There’s the happy chemicals like endorphins, but Oxytoxin is also released, which affects women more. It makes them feel all cuddly and family-oriented and maternal. It’s after the physical act of sex. That’s one of the reasons women start dating someone and having sex frequently with them, they build an emotional bond. It’s also why they get all baby happy.
Guys just wanna pass out.
I guess it makes people sleepy too.
So what were your days at Sub Zero like?
We are going deep into personal territory here—where no reporter has ever gone.
I graduated high school at 15. I did it in 10 months or something ridiculous because I was home schooling and breezed through it. I was too young to drive and didn’t want to sit in Delaware for two more years so I decided to move to Philadelphia and find an apartment and a job. When I got there I moved in with this guy who worked at Sub Zero. We lived above the sushi place next to Sub. It was after Shane had turned it into a motocross shop or whatever and then back to just skateboarding.
Only Shane and the guy I was dating worked there at the time. Shane’s girlfriend just had a baby, so sometimes he would be like, “Aaaah! Can you either watch the kid or the shop, for just an hour? Because if somebody doesn’t do one or the other, stuff’s just not gonna happen.”
I’m not so good with babies but gripping a skateboard isn’t rocket science, so I’d come down, watch the shop and ring things up whenever they needed help. It was really fun. I’d always stop in and hang out after work for a couple hours.
You were a surrogate employee.
Kind of. And, oh my God, there was this girl who lived upstairs. Gimme a second to remember her stage name … Valentina Vaughn. She was in Hustler and photographed by Tony Ward. Now that I’ve been in the adult industry, I know she’s done girl-girl scenes for astronomical rates. She’s the hottest girl in the entire world.
She’s bangin’. She used to come into the shop and get skate sneakers! Eventually I broke up with the dude and he moved. Because I was so young and Shane was in the middle of developing all these paternal, fatherly instincts, he would see me walk out of my apartment in a super skimpy tank top and come running down the street with a Sub shirt, like, “What are you doing? You can’t walk around here dressed like that! It’s not safe!”
Then, when I started go-go dancing, people would put their drinks on the stage, which is fine, but it would get wet from the condensation on the glasses. Stripper shoes have no traction, so it gets dangerous up there. One day on my way to work I got an idea, so I ran into Sub Zero, got a sheet of grip and gripped the bottom of my stripper shoes. It was one of the most epic moments of my life.
Did the other girls pick up on it?
No because they were like, “What’s griptape?” I tried to explain …
My next-door neighbor in high school used to stick my extra grip on the wall next to her bed. She’d file her nails on it while she was sitting on the phone all night.
It has so many uses! Chicks should hang out with skateboarders more often.
I noticed that people who interview you tend to latch on to you being a tech geek, making your own outfits and not living in Los Angeles—things different from the average porn star. Most porn interviews I see don’t say much of anything. The girls seem to play the role of the hot horny chick who only wants to please a man. Do you think by putting this other stuff about yourself out there that you’re offering something more than just being a “typical” porn star?
Having worked in the adult industry for a while now, I’ve learned many of the girls really do have other facets to their personality—hobbies and families and serious things they invest a lot of time and energy into. But many of the girls are playing a role. Actually, I consider some of them the best actresses in history because they play a role everyday. They play it in front of cameras and in behind-the-scenes interviews and on social media. It’s really admirable, but in this day and age where there is no privacy I just don’t have it in me to maintain a 24/7 persona like that. So I’m just myself. Fortunately people react to it in a favorable way.
Do you ever feel pressure to carry on the persona? I see you do it in your Fleshlight commercials, for example, but then I’ve also spent time with you …
Yeah but when you see things like the Fleshlight commercial, I’m trying to play the very surface stereotype of a porn star.
I feel like you’re parodying it.
I try so hard to do it right and give them what they want but there’s this giant river of sarcasm running underneath it.
I wondered if others picked up on it.
I get unsolicited opinions from strangers all the time and they can tell too. Like, “Oh that’s so cute. They tried to get her to act like a porn star.”
Do you think people appreciate that?
Well, there’s all this ironic entertainment now, like Will Ferrell movies and the entire hipster culture. America and a lot of the western world appreciate irony and self-parody. People should be able to laugh at themselves and do things like that. So it resonates with people. And again, I’m very lucky that the things I do work that way, otherwise I’d be screwed.
So you’re being yourself essentially…
Yes. When I first signed my contract with Digital Playground, I was like, “Okay, you guys have your brand, please let me know what you want me to be.” And they were like, “We like you just the way you are.” And I was like, “Okay, I’m just gonna be myself and run with it because it’s worked so far.”
Is it possible you might set a new standard that you don’t have to constantly be “in character” as an adult actress?
I don’t really know, but I feel like with celebrities being under constant surveillance and everybody having their social networks going on, what’s happening is that public figures have to be multi-dimensional people. And if you’re just portraying a one-faceted character, people aren’t gonna connect with that—or if they do they’ll get bored very quickly.
They’re just gonna see through it.
Yeah. If there’s no substance there, it doesn’t hold people’s attention. All those movies where there’s the plot and there’s the subplot and then there are all these references … a lot of times people don’t necessarily pick up on everything that’s being referenced, but they know there’s something deeper there and that’s what makes them connect with the product.
As time goes on, the audience gets savvier too.
Do you have a different kind of fan than the average porn star?
Oh gosh. Probably. Obviously there are the fans who love pretty girls who take their tops off. Then there are fans of Digital Playground’s product who follow me because of that. But aside from those, most of my fans are people who, over time, I’ve developed friendships with. We’ll email back and forth and discuss books. A couple I call on their birthday to be like, “Hey, what’s up?”
And I guess it’s probably because I’m into sci-fi and whatever else, so we get into these deep conversations and it’s like, “Dude, you are cool!”
One of the first times we wrote, you told me how Nine Inch Nails, one of my favorite bands, sampled Leviathan for a song. I knew there were tons of weird samples on The Downward Spiral but didn’t know they were from specific sci-fi films. Then I found them all on YouTube and I was stoked. That exchange could never have happened between Jenna Jameson and me 15 years ago when I had pictures of her on my wall.
Regardless of the whole porn thing and having a public persona, when I talk to people, I don’t want to talk about surface stuff. I wanna get in there and connect with them—have a real conversation.
How about the cliché, “She’s too hot or pretty to be a porn star. She could’ve been an actress or a model.” I hear it about Tera Patrick; I hear it about you. I feel it’s kind of a backhanded compliment.
Adult entertainment continues to be portrayed as something that’s not desirable as a career, but rather something you fall into or are forced into. People, in general, don’t know much about it. It’s not like everybody has a neighbor that’s a porn star, so they continue to perceive it as something very negative.
I think they mean it in a complimentary way, but it’s also like, really? I could not have been a model. I’m 5’6”. If you’re not 5’9” or taller, agencies throw your head shot in the garbage. It’s just a basic requirement that essentially has to do with sample sizes. So it’s like, “Oh that’s really sweet you think I should model, but you obviously have no idea what you’re talking about.”
It’s the same as when you go for an interview in corporate America. If you don’t have at least a Bachelor’s degree, they’re probably gonna chuck your resume.
If someone said to me, “Oh you’re too smart to be writing for skateboarding.” I’d be like; “I worked my ass off for this!”
Like, you could probably also be writing for Time Magazine. If the editor for Time was like, “Hey, Robert. You should submit an article because I think you’d be great for Time,” you’d be totally excited. But when it’s some random person, it’s like, “Awww.” Like, a pat-on-the-head-because-you-don’t-understand-the-world-you’re-talking-about situation.
People also have this thing where they grow up feeling like they need to get straight out of high school into the best college they can, graduate with the highest GPA they can, meet some nice girl or boy, work in corporate America, live in the suburbs, start breeding and then restart the whole process with their children. It’s more important to do whatever makes you happy. Whatever you feel passionate about, do it. And especially in things like porn or skateboarding—anything that relies on your appearance or the condition your body is in—there’s gonna be a cap on that. After 30 or so you probably can’t do it much anymore, but you can do things that are related to it, or you can move into something else entirely different. Pretty much everyone I know that’s 50 or 60 has had at least two careers. They did something until they were 30 or 35 and then went back to get an education and do another thing.
It seems like people often do what they really wanted to do all along in the second half of their lives which is a shame. It’s good it gets done but people shouldn’t have to wait ‘til they retire to go on their dream vacation or try a new career path.
Or sometimes they do what they really wanna do and then they decide that they really wanna do something else. I think the decade between 20 and 30, you’re in the best shape to really get out there and struggle if you have to suffer for what you’re passionate about to be able to do it.
August 14, 2016
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.
August 5, 2016
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.
June 13, 2016
This is awesomely ridiculous ... and makes me super proud in the weirdest of ways. Weekend Buzz is now a weekly class/web feature that teaches English to Japanese skaters, courtesy of TransWorld Skateboarding Japan!