chrome ball interview #95: jason adams

Chops and Kid on the Lost Highway. 

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

(laughs) I guess it still makes sense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo: humphries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo: morford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo: rodent

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

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

I just felt fortunate to even be around those guys.

photo: yelland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Missing Children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh… okay. Whatever.”

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

“Okay, cool!”

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

“Well, where you do want to skate?”

“I like to skate Gunderson, I guess.”

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

“Ummm… well, I did this last time?”

“Yeah!?! Do it again!”

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

photo: yelland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo: kanights

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

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

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

What was the breaking point?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo: dawes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was wrong with Sonic?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo: kanights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How’d that freeway boardslide ender go down?

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo: brook

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ok, no problem.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He couldn’t believe it. A total fluke.

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

The next day?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did Enjoi enter the picture?

I probably sparked that one.

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

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

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

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

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

sequence: whiteley

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

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

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

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

No, it was fucking horrible. (laughs)

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

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

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

photo: whiteley

It sounds like you prefer Label Kills to Bag of Suck

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

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

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

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

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

photo: humphries

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, not really.

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

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

Into the sunset.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s how it happened.  

photo: swift

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

I wasn’t thinking long-term at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, man.

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

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

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

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

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


chrome ball interview #94: ryan hickey

chops sits down with the king of new york

As a native of Brooklyn and long-time staple of the City, how would you describe skateboarding in New York?

That’s a hard one because skateboarding is always changing and it’s a lot different now than it was when I was young. We didn’t have skateparks or nothing like that. The City was way sketchier back then. A lot more raw. We were basically a bunch of delinquents coming together from all different boroughs. Skateboarding was all we had. All the skaters in my crew had family problems, which is probably why we bonded like we did.

Skateboarding is just a totally different experience here. For one, you gotta deal with being limited in the winter so many months out of the year. I mean, I remember being out in zero degree weather with gloves on and three pairs of pants. When you’re young, as long as the ground is dry, you’re out there… and for us, we’d be out there sometimes when it wasn’t dry. We’d go skate a train station if we had to. That’s how it was.

We didn’t have “skate fashion” in New York back then either. We just dressed how we did in the neighborhood. You might’ve worn a Powell shirt or something but that was it. You couldn’t really get that stuff because there were hardly any skateshops.

It’s just a different type of energy.

With all the tourism and transplants, I imagine you constantly meeting “New Yorkers” claiming the City after only moving here a year or two ago, right? Would these kids have lasted back in the day?

No way. People actually tried to do that back in the day and they couldn’t hang. People would come out from Cali and want to skate with us but they’d get too scared. Our energy was too nuts. It’s not that we were out doing things to people, we just weren’t your typical skaters. Our attitudes and how we dressed, we were different. My crew was a bunch of street kids from the hood, we just happened to ride skateboards. We were always on that hood mentality: constantly looking over our shoulders, waiting for something to happen.

I always say that you have to be born in New York to be from New York. You other guys, you just live here now. Brooklyn’s the mecca of that. Everybody always moves out to Brooklyn when they first come here and they always try to claim that’s where they’re from.

“No, no, no… where are you really from?”

I can tell by your accent. You’re living in Brooklyn, but you’re from Ohio or something. You’re not fooling me.

What’s your sketchiest experience growing up here? It’s hard to imagine but did a young Ryan Hickey ever get his board stolen back in the day?

Nah, I never got my board stolen. We always rolled pretty deep and if somebody messed with any of us, we all just attacked. Boards just started swingin’. It wasn’t even a question.

I’ve had guns pulled on me growing up. I got robbed a couple times at gunpoint in Brooklyn when I was younger. As far as skateboarding goes, I know one time Hamilton and I had a guy pull a gun on us down on the Lower East Side. We were skating through and I happen to look over my shoulder and there’s some dude, down on one knee, aiming at us. Just like that. I don’t even know why, we just got outta there. But like I was saying, that same block is like the suburbs now. Didn’t used to be that way.

Honestly, we tried to stay away from trouble. There was always stuff happening around us because of how we came up but we got into skating to stay away from all that. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the hood.

You used to hang out a lot at Jeremy Henderson’s loft. What was that scene like? I’ve always been fascinated by that place.

Jeremy was older and we all kinda looked up to him. He’s like the godfather of New York skateboarding. He was cool, man. He was an artist and always had famous models hanging out. He was like a rockstar but because we had skating in common, we’d always hang out with him. It was crazy. You’d go over to his place and you never knew what you were gonna get. It was always unannounced. Mark Gonzales would be staying there sometimes or you’d knock on the door and Natas is there. This was back in, like, ’89 when that shit wasn’t common in New York.

There were also times when we wouldn’t even be allowed in… who knows what was going on those days. You can only imagine.

I have to imagine being in the Henderson mix that you were on Shut back in the day, right?

I was on Shut at one point but it was a little later. The problem was that they put me on the team without ever actually telling me they did! At least not officially, I didn’t even know! So I went to get on Nimbus, not even knowing that I was actually already on Shut… man, those dudes hated me for years because of that! Hated me!

Even when Zoo York started years later, they still didn’t want to put me on at first because of that… but I ended up being their first pro.

So you were around to see early Zoo York come to fruition?

Yeah, myself and Ivan Perez were the first two on Zoo York, period. We used to meet at Rodney’s apartment with Dan Zimmer about once a month to work on ideas and check on the progress of things. I was helping get the team together and working on shapes, too. It was rough in the beginning, man.

I actually rode for another company, 777, while I rode for Zoo back then just so I could have boards. That’s how bad it was… and those boards were horrible. I remember having to make Rodney recut those 777 boards with his jigsaw into better street shapes.

But yeah, Zoo York took a long time to get rolling. We just didn’t have the money. Plus, we were working with Chapman while he was starting to build his brand, too. So we had to deal with his issues on top of our own because those were our boards.

What was the thinking behind turning you pro when they did? Because you were still pretty underground at the time, at least outside New York.

Yeah, but at the same time, I was at my peak in the City. I started skating in ’85 and never quit. Skating was all I did. I even dropped out of school to skate, so by that time in New York, I was ahead of most people. It was just a matter of getting me out there more.

Originally, Ivan was supposed to be the first pro for Zoo but he and Rodney had a falling out. So Rodney turned me pro instead. Just like that. My board came out and then it was Barker and Ricky’s…. I didn’t stay on much longer after that.

I remember my first time taking notice of you was your Zoo ad frontside flipping the Brooklyn Banks Wall. Was there ever video footage of that?

I filmed that thing a couple of times but it was always with the wrong filmer. Either they hoarded the footage or didn’t film it good. I used to do that one all the time actually. I threw switch flips and 180 flips over the wall, too, but I don’t think I ever filmed any of those.

I just wasn’t big on filming, man. That was always my problem with just about every company I rode for. I think I only had maybe aminute of footage all put together. I hated it, man. I only wanted to film when I wanted to, where I wanted to and how I wanted it done. Of course, it hardly ever worked out like that and it drove me nuts. But I’m stubborn. I wanted to do it how I wanted to do it.

One problem is that we never really had filmers in New York in those early days. It was usually just us filming each other with the camera, which is never any good. You go out and bust your ass only for the footage to come out all shitty with your feet cut off. Plus, it was always some situation where there was a bunch of us all trying to film at once. It’s too chaotic.

Plus, I always wanted to film in the City but all of our spots were in Midtown back then and security guards would be on you instantly. You could barely even skate there, let alone film.

I just found filming to be too frustrating, which because of that, basically turned me off from being a professional skateboarder. That’s when it felt like a job, and the fact is, I wasn’t making enough money to be killing myself like that.

But you had plenty of photos.

I had no problems with shooting photos, as long as I wasn’t injured. The thing was I was going through constant ankle injuries back then, too. One after another and I didn’t have any insurance to get the proper treatment.

But shooting photos could get weird. Like, I remember meeting up with a photographer once and he straight-up told me, “Where do you want to go skate? Because I’m only interested in shooting stuff like what Jamie Thomas would do.”

What!?! I’m not Jamie Thomas. I’m not gonna throw myself down a gigantic handrail in order to get on the cover of a magazine. That’s not what skating is to me. Let’s just go out and see what we get. I always felt like skating was supposed to be natural and unpredictable. I don’t want to plan shit out all day…. Like, meet at this spot and this time, I’m gonna grind this rail at this time. Nah, that’s not how I skated.

Why’d you leave Zoo just as things were starting to happen?

It was all about money. I was going through some family issues at the time and I needed to pay the rent. I was only getting about $400 a month from Zoo back then and you can’t survive off that. I know that Rodney would’ve paid me better eventually when he was more capable, my thing is that he just wasn’t honest about it. I feel like there a lot of lies being told and promises were being made only as a way of keeping me around.

Basically what happened, it was the summer they were filming Kids in the City. I was actually supposed to be in Kids but I ended up going on this crazy tour with Deluxe through Metropolitan. Dune was all about hanging out in New York at the time and decided he’d rather do that than go on tour so he just gives me his plane ticket. Deluxe didn’t even know. I just show up. I’d always wanted to go on a big tour like that so I jump at the chance. I didn’t really think Kids was going to be anything at the time anyway.

So once I get back from tour that same summer, I’m out skating Astor Place when Dune shows up with Jason Lee. We’re skating around and Jason is complimenting me, saying that I’m one of the best he’s ever seen or whatever. So after a while, we go sit down and I start bitching about Zoo when Jason flat-out asks me if I want to ride for Stereo. I didn’t even believe him at first but he was serious. I wasn’t sure, though. When you live in New York, quitting Zoo is a serious move.

A few weeks go by and I go to Zoo York to pick up my check. This is something Rodney used to do to me all the time that drove me crazy: I used to be at the Zoo offices literally everyday but whenever it came time to pick up my check, he’d always say “Oh, I mailed it to you.”

What!?! Why would you mail me my check when you know I come here everyday!?! And on top of that, I didn’t have a bank account back then. I didn’t even have an I.D.! Just give me cash, man!

But he tells me this and I know I’m never gonna see this check. It’s gonna be “lost” or something. So I raise hell.

Finally, Rodney’s like, “Okay, okay… I’m gonna send you over to Adam’s house.”

Adam was Zoo York’s backer early on. The guy’s loaded. Cool, I’ll have my girlfriend drive me over to pick it up and it’ll be all good.

So Adam ends up coming down and he hands me an envelope sealed in all this fuckin’ tape. I mean, it’s crazy. It’s gonna take me an hour to open up this fuckin’ thing with all this tape. So we take off and I finally get the thing open: there’s supposed to be $800 dollars in there but there’s only $400. I’m done. I go home and immediately call Dune.

“Put me on!”

Dune wants to put me on right away but realizes there’s gonna be a problem because he and Rod had grown up together. They were very close. How’s he going to take me away from Zoo for his own company? At the same time, Real was wanting me to ride for them, too, but I wasn’t feeling them. Stereo seemed a little more unique and I liked what they were doing. Plus, they just weren’t as crowded. Real’s always had way too many people on it. 

So yeah, this is now the second time I have beef with Rodney. He’d just gotten over that shit with me and Nimbus and now he’s back to not talking to me again. Not even a “hello” at the Banks.

“What’s up, Rodney?”

“Don’t talk to me.”

Whoa! Alright… It was really awkward for a while.

I don’t think he talked to Dune for years because of that.

Weren’t you asked to ride for 101, too?

Yeah, Jason Dill ended up calling me at my parents’ house shortly after the Newburgh contest and asked if I was interested in riding for them. I didn’t even know the dude at the time. I don’t know how he got my number but I guess he’d seen me skating during practice at that contest. Newburgh was kinda like my training spot during the winter so I had that place down. Never bailing anything. And I was extra hyped that day because I wanted to show all those Cali dudes that New York skaters were good, too. So I was just out there killing it. 

I don’t know why I didn’t choose 101. I always loved Natas and was psyched on 101. Gino was already on there… I think Kareem was looking at me for possibly Menace, too.

I just think by that point, I’d already gone out to SF a few times and liked the scene out there. It’s a lot like New York where you can just jump on your board in the morning and cruse around from spot to spot. Plus, I was already on Metropolitan and Deluxe was out there. So I chose Stereo, which I regret now.  

Was it difficult getting into the Stereo mix, post-Visual Sound?

Going from Metropolitan to actually being on Stereo, I knew right away I’d made a mistake. I just didn’t fit in with those guys. My first trip out to Deluxe after joining Stereo just felt weird. I felt all this pressure. I remember going through the warehouse, picking out some stuff and they kept trying to push these pants on me.

“Nah, man… those pants are too tight. I can’t skate in those things.”

It felt like they were trying to change the way I dressed, to look more like one of their guys… like how Dune and Ethan were dressing at the time. I’m not dissing them but that was their thing. I always have to be me and I’m not changing for anybody. So right away, because of little things like that, I felt like I didn’t belong. I knew it wasn’t going to last long.

They never wanted to just go out and skate. Everyday was filming. Everyday was a photographer. When I was in San Francisco, I was out early with Gabe everyday. After a week of that, I was so bummed, man. I’d try to sit on the sidelines and barely skate because I just didn’t want to deal with all that.

Some days, you just want to skate.

Did you consider moving out to SF for your career like most East Coasters were doing at the time?

Nah, I’d just go and stay out there for a month or two. Deluxe was constantly pressuring me to move out there but no way. All my friends are in New York and I was always real selective about who I skated with. I’m staying here.

How seriously did you take a career in skateboarding? You brought up not making much money and New York definitely isn’t cheap…

I honestly didn’t take it that serious, man. That’s something I regret but I feel like I didn’t have any real type of guidance. My family was fucked up. The guys who really made it in New York all came from good families. They had support. They had someone to fall back on if they couldn’t make the rent.

I’m cool with Huf and all them, we’re family, but I never considered them to be New York pros. They’re from New York but they turned pro out in Cali. They moved out there. We stayed here. We’re the ones who put New York on the map. It was only after we made it here that those guys moved back. But they couldn’t hang! The crew was too nuts. All those guys had to leave again!

Huf moved back and lived with me for like a year in Sunset Park, he had to move out! He was constantly complaining to me about the other roommates. You gotta stand up for yourself, man. I don’t have a lock on my door and still nobody goes into my shit because they know I’m not having it. Finally, Joey Alvarez stole his box one day. He was sitting on the steps when UPS came up and he signed for it. Huf never saw it. He was out after that.

Were you able to recognize when the East Coast started to gain momentum within the industry, even becoming “trendy” for a minute in the mid-90s?

Definitely. I feel like that was the main reason I got on Stereo. They wanted an East Coast guy. The way we skated and the tricks we tended to do…  skating fast. Tech tricks with pop. That was our thing. If you couldn’t pop it, you didn’t do it.

We stood out because of that and made every company out there start looking for their own East Coast guy. That’s how a lot of people I knew got put on.

How did you get the nickname “The Gun”?

I don’t really know how that happened but it started around the Stereo days. I think Mike Hernandez might’ve coined that one but honestly, nobody in my crew ever called me that. I feel like that was just an advertising gimmick to try and sell boards.

Speaking of marketing, how did your East Coast brethren take Dune’s utilization of the “Stereo East” slogan? I know Ricky, in particular, seemed to take offense. What was your philosophy on all that coast stuff?

Yeah, they started that “Stereo East” thing after I got on, too. I think they were trying to tie Metropolitan closer together with Stereo. That was another one of their advertising things.

Ricky took that shit personal and it was none of his business. That “Coast” shit he was on didn’t even matter to me. We were all skaters! Who cares?

The thing is when I was on Zoo York, I was number one. Ricky was never number one. He was only able to become number one because I left. I’m even one of the people that helped get him on the team. Honestly, I always thought he was good but he was never anything special. He had no pop. He had some tricks but he was a jock, man. Whatever. He was good but he wasn’t Fred Gall.

But I loved that Metropolitan stuff.  It was more of a city thing and they had such a sick team. Everyone who was sick from the East Coast was on Metropolitan. The problem was that it got too big! It was supposed to remain small and just be a sister company to Spitfire but it wound up outselling those guys. People were tired of all that skulls and flames shit. Even the guys who rode for Spitfire started riding Metropolitan. It was never supposed to do that so they got rid of it.

I was actually in Supreme one day when I heard Metropolitan was gone. Some kid walked in and told me. I couldn’t believe it! Nobody even called me! This is how I find out? So I call up Deluxe right away to find out what’s going on, thinking I could hopefully get on Spitfire or something, and they basically tell me that I’m not on Stereo anymore either.

Just like that?

Just like that.

Those guys knew I’d be pissed and that I wasn’t going to go easy so they made Micke do it. He was the tough guy in San Francisco. He basically started threatening me on the phone but I wasn’t afraid of him. I flat-out told him that.

“Yo, I’m not scared of you. I deal with tough guys like you all the time. Where I come from, you guys are a dime-a-dozen. What are you gonna do? Fly out to New York and beat me up? It’s not happening, bro.”

So yeah, I didn’t leave on good terms. We’re all cool now but we didn’t speak for a long time. When I rode for Capital after all that, we hated each other. We’d go to Tampa and vibe those guys hard. Like, I remember throwing shit off the balcony at Ethan Fowler while he was swimming in the pool one night. Freddie and I are all wasted, 4 stories up, throwing chairs at him.  Just terrible the shit we used to do.

How did all that Supreme stuff come together?

Apparently, the guy who started it used to sit in that old diner at Astor Place and watch us skate at night. He wanted to start a skateshop and hit up Chappy to help him out, who I also knew. They got together with Pookie and Matt McGrath and started Supreme. I think the original team was me, Justin, Peter Bici, Mike Hernandez and Jones Keefe. It went on from there.

Was it weird being used in so many “NY Lifestyle” type ads for Metropolitan and Supreme back then?

I didn’t mind it. I actually got a couple of modeling offers after all that. It was around the same time that Peter Bici was getting on all that. I wasn’t that interested but he jumped on it. I just wanted to skate.

I always loved Ari’s stuff but didn’t part of you want a skate photo instead of just standing around? I realize that’s what made them stand out but still...

Oh, I would’ve rather had a skate photo, for sure. But Ari was different. He shot a few skate photos but that wasn’t his style. He shot with Leicas, man. No light meters, no flashes, none of that crap. But he was our photographer in New York at the time. Who else was gonna shoot an ad for us back then? We didn’t really have anybody else. 

How did you guys start meeting up with Ari anyway? He was an old Warhol head, right?  

I met Ari through Jeremy Henderson back in the day. He’s the one who hooked it up. The first time I ever went out with him was the day we shot that frontside flip ad. He started hanging out with us after that.

If you look in the back of that photo, you’ll see some bikes and one of those is Ari’s. He used to ride around town on this Mary Poppins’ bike, man. It was this funny old school bike with a basket on the front and everything, Pee Wee Herman-style.

But he was cool. He’d just be riding around with us, hanging in the back so you’d forget he was there. That’s when he’d start shooting photos. That’s why those photos are so cool because they’re real. It’s us hanging out like we normally would. Nothing is set up.

Were you guys sketched out at first by him?

Nah, I was honestly more sketched out by Larry Clark. That dude was a straight pedophile or something. I don’t know what was going on with that guy.

You weren’t down with Larry?

All I know is that I wasn’t going over to his apartment like some other people were. Nah, that guy was weird. Some of the stuff he’d say? Weird.

Like what?

Just stuff that made you think he was a pedophile. I’m not trying to diss Larry at all. I’m just saying that when I was a younger, I wasn’t about to go over to that dude’s apartment.  No, not doing it. If you were drinking and pass out… nope.

I know you were on tour during filming but what did you think of Kids when you finally saw it?

It was weird seeing my friends in a movie but it was cool. I’ll admit that I do have some resentment, though, because my skate crew went to shit after that thing came out. Justin was always on some hang out shit after that. Hamilton Harris used to be super good but he fell off after that movie, too.

Those guys hung out for 6 months and probably fell back 2 years in progression. I remember getting so mad at them. Skateboarding is something you have to do everyday to be good at. You’re training your body. Muscle memory is constant and you have to be on top of it. You hang out too much, you fall behind.

I had to start changing things around after that to keep going. The old crew was starting to party too much and drugs started coming into play. It all went to shit after that. I had to start finding new people to skate with who I never felt all that comfortable around. That’s kinda what made me start giving up a little.

What about the A Love Supreme video that you were in for Supreme? I personally love that one but I know some of the riders weren’t feeling it at the time.

I’ll be honest, I hated that video. I felt like Thomas Campbell was always too busy trying to film artsy stuff. I wanted to film skating. And when we did film skating, it was all of us out together at once. You can’t film like that. It’s gotta be an individual thing, especially if you want to put together lines and stuff like that. Everyone’s going crazy and getting in each other’s way. It just doesn’t work.

What about those two lines for Eastern Exposure 3? You gotta like those, right?

But that’s exactly what I’m talking about: spontaneous. That was one night and it wasn’t even planned. I just bumped into those dudes. Dan was out filming with someone and I was feeling it. The whole thing was real quick. We just went to a couple grimy spots that I used to skate and that was it. Banged them out.

What’s the secret to a good frontside flip?

You gotta do the whole 180 in the air. When you catch the flip, the 180 has to already be there. I don’t like it when you catch in the air and then turn the rest of the way. Or the pivot thing? Nah, that’s not right.

So how’d Capital enter the picture? That seemed like a perfect fit.

After I got kicked off Stereo, I called up Chris Keefe and got on Capital the same day. He called up Andy Stone about me and he said, “Hell yeah! Put that dude on!”

Capital was great, man. I loved that company and felt like I fit right in. It was a lot of fun. We’d go on tour and all the riders worked real well together. Real smooth. Too bad the owner was shady.

But that’s what killed Capital, right? Dude had a gambling problem?

Yeah, that’s what I heard.

Talk about that cover of High Times? How’d that go down?

I kinda knew this guy who worked for them and he put me on. A bunch of us met up with him down at the Banks. Dude just wanted an ollie photo so I had that, of course. I’d skated the Banks since the 80’s. My thing was that I used to ollie different there. Everyone used to go in-between the planter and the pole but I always went behind the pole. I knew I had that shit.

Personally, that cover was sweet because I knew Ricky was talking a lot of shit about me at the time. I remember him always saying fuck skateboarding magazines, that his dream was to be on the cover of High Times.

Well… take that, asshole. (laughs)

Talk about the appropriately titled Infamous project. A short-lived company with an amazing team that imploded after one of skateboarding’s most notorious 2-demo tours.

My involvement with Infamous basically came about because the owner of Capital had heard a rumor that I was trying to get back on Zoo and kicked me off.

On the last Capital tour, we had a lot of problems with money because the owner was gambling. We’d get to demos and our money just wouldn’t be there so we’d have to figure shit out as we went. We’re staying in these gross hotels. It was crazy.

I think the Zoo stuff started after Capital had sent me out a box of the wrong boards. I’m very particular about riding my board because that’s the shape I want. I didn’t like anybody else’s shape on the team back then. So I traded the boards for some Zoo boards because I liked the pop. So yes, I’m out there riding Zoo boards. To make matters worse, one night while I’m arguing with this asshole photographer, I say something along the lines of, “Whatever, I’ll just get back on Zoo.”

I don’t know if that photographer said something or what but after the tour was over, I get back to New York and the owner calls me up. He basically tells me he can’t take the risk of making my board next season if I’m going to quit… even though it’s selling the most.

I wasn’t trying to get back on Zoo. That shit wasn’t true. The problem was that he asked Rodney about that rumor and he confirmed it, probably as a way of getting back at me for shit. That’s how Rodney was and because of that, I get kicked off Capital.

So now I’m calling up Rodney, demanding to be put back on Zoo, especially since he’d said all that shit to get me kicked off. But he denies everything. Then he goes on to tell me that he couldn’t put me on because he just put on Vinny Ponte. I couldn’t believe it! Are you crazy!?! I mean, Vinny was good but he’s a freakin’ millionaire! Kick him off and put me on! The guy’s loaded, he can start his own company!

…It also didn’t stop them from using my footage in Mixtape, either. Yeah, it was only one trick but I didn’t film it for that.

So shortly after that, Mike Hernandez and Ben Liversedge hit me up about this guy they know who wants to start a company and give us a part of it. I knew it sounded too good to be true but I go meet with them anyway. As soon as I sit down, I immediately start thinking to myself that this will never work out… but I fall for it anyway. I couldn’t resist that “part of the company” bullshit.

Infamous was just one nightmare after another. The products were horrible, all those guys did was lie, they were always changing my board graphics… I always wanted to have input on my graphics because I felt they were a representation of who I was. I was very particular about graphics but those guys were always fucking with them. The whole shit was horrible.

The Infamous tour, the one in the video, that was nuts but that’s not what ended everything. A lot of guys got kicked off after that but the company was still going. The shit really went down at this contest in Jersey not too long after that.

Matt Bell and I were super wasted, walking around the night of the contest and Matt ended up stealing some cameras. I’ve never really spoken about this but how it happened was that we walked into this hotel room where Dune and a couple of dudes were playing dice. This is back when we were vibing him. So just to be a dick, I start blasting my radio and making fun of him.

We end up leaving to go walk around some more and when we walk back by their room later, we notice that the door’s open. We look in and the place is empty.

Matt goes, “Oh shit, there’s the camera!”

It was the first really expensive Sony camera, a 3-chipper or whatever. Honestly, the only reason why we wanted to steal it was because we thought it belonged to Deluxe, stealing it was our way of saying fuck you. Turns out that the camera belonged to Vans, who were actually the ones backing Infamous back then. So yeah, we fucked that up.

We walked out to the end of this pier and threw it in the water. We didn’t even check but evidently there was footage in there and apparently it was of Gonz. Fuck, man. That just made it so much worse. So yeah, the Gonz footage is destroyed, the camera’s gone and it wasn’t even Deluxe’s to begin with… fuckin’ great.

Mike Hernandez ended up throwing me under the bus to save himself. Not trying to be a dick here, just telling the truth: I never wanted him on Zoo or Infamous. Rodney only put him on Zoo because they were friends. I never felt like he deserved to be pro.

But after all that, I was done. I moved upstate and lived by myself like a hermit for a couple years.

When did Supreme come back into the picture?

I actually worked there for a couple years prior to moving upstate.  Whenever I came back, I started working at SSurplus around the corner. I knew that I could get a job back at Supreme if I wanted to, I knew the owner was wondering why I was working for his competition but honestly, I wasn’t really trying to work. The SSurplus job was a cakewalk. The shop was super tiny and I could run it all by myself… which meant I could show up hung over and sleep in the back with the door locked. I’d put up a sign on the door that said, “Be back in 5 minutes” and be asleep in there. If I happened to hear someone knocking, I’d walk out with a big pile of t-shirts. All good.

I did that for a couple years until I got my girlfriend pregnant, so I had to start looking for a real job. Supreme hooked it up.

I know you were there for a while but it seemed like you managed the NY store when it was at the height of launch insanity.

Everything was pretty cool at Supreme until the sneaker thing took off. That’s when the frickin’ assholes started coming out of the woodwork with lines around the block. I had to deal with all that and it was insane. And when the reselling of sneakers became a big thing and those dudes couldn’t get’em… oh my god.

Honestly, we were the ones doing that reselling shit. We saw what people were starting to do with a couple pairs… fuck that, we can do that shit ourselves.

The way we came up on it was when someone came in right before the launch of some sneakers. There were 4 of us working and they offered us $20,000 cash, that’s $5,000 each, just to let them buy these things early. And it’s not like we gave them the sneakers either, they bought them at retail. We were hyped but then we quickly realized that if he wasn’t sweating paying us the $20 grand, how much money is this guy really making? So then we started doing it. 

You were known for ruling that place with an iron fist but do you think you often got a bad rap? Granted, you were quick with the boot and the ban but with how chaotic everything was, I’m not sure there was any other way.

I just wasn’t having it, man! A lot of people were assholes and I just wasn’t having it. We had a system but people would just get crazy! The line would be acting nuts so you know what? Fuck you! You’re not coming in and don’t ever come back here again.

A lot of that shit started with Nick Tershay. I mean, I was always good friends with his brother but I didn’t even know who the fuck Nick was. I didn’t know he was “the Diamond dude” or whatever. I don’t care. I remember him coming into the shop one day and asking if we sell griptape.

“Yeah, of course.“

“Ok then, can I get some grip?”

No problem, I go over and cut the grip.

“5 bucks.”

He just looks at me in shock. It’s true that most of the pro skaters that would come in, if I knew who they were, I wouldn’t charge them. But I didn’t know who this dude was. He’s not a pro skater.

“$5 bucks.”

So he finally gives me the money… but he’s still just standing there, looking at me.

Finally, I’m just like, “What’s up!?!”

“Can you grip it for me?”

I just look at him.

“Do you know how to skate?”


“Then grip that shit yourself!” and I walked off.

So after that, Nick went on some website and badmouthed me. Talking about how I didn’t want to grip his board. No, I didn’t. He still doesn’t like me to this day. Whatever.

I actually did that shit to a lot of people but that was my thing. I’d never let anybody grip my board. To me, that was personal. We’d only grip boards for Moms or if we saw some little kid in the corner struggling, screwing it up. That’s the only time I’d ever grip another skater’s board but I always made sure to teach them as I was doing it. That’s how I was brought up in the skateshop: show them once and then they’re on their own.

It’s a pretty standard unwritten rule, not just at Supreme.

Right!?! Here’s the thing, I was always cool with people but if they disrespected me, that was it. I wasn’t holding back. My temper was insane back then and if I lost it, something was gonna happen. We had to keep that place in check.

You gotta understand that we were under a lot of pressure. The owner could call up at any moment and start cursing you out because honestly, he was paying us a lot of money to work there. I was making almost $70 grand, plus commission. To work at a skateshop? Nobody was making money like that!

Anybody ever try to steal shit while you worked there?

One time we were hanging out in the back and this guy came in and snatched some shit. I almost fuckin’ caught him, too. I chased that motherfucker for 10 blocks in February wearing a t-shirt… but he got away. He grabbed two $400 sweatshirts and ran out the door. That’s probably the only time.

As the legend goes, didn’t you headbutt a kid once?

Ok, I got into some shit with a kid in the line one day and yeah, I gave him a little headbutt.

It was sneaker thing. We start selling sneakers at 10 in the morning when we open and there would already be a line around the block. We close the shop at 7. That shit could just get so crazy, we could do $150,000 in sales on one day and it’s almost all in cash. I gotta count that shit! If we close at 7, I’m lucky to be getting out of there at 9! I’m not staying til 11 to count all that.

So it hits 7 o’clock this one evening and the line is still around the block. We’re trying to close so I just gotta go out there.

“Yo guys, go home. We’re closed.”

This kid starts getting belligerent with me.

“Well, I work at the Mac store and when we release Macs, we stay there til when the last blah, blah, blah…”

“This ain’t the fucking Mac Store! I don’t work for fuckin’ Mac! I work here! This is Supreme. Get outta here! We’re closed!”

But this kid starts getting stupid. He gets in my face screaming… so I give him a headbutt to the nose. He grabbed his face and ran away. That was it. I never saw him again. I swore that I was gonna get fired when I came in the next day but nothing ever happened.

Another time, I choked some kid from behind the counter because he started mouthing off to me. I had to let him know. When I grew up, I never mouthed off to the older dudes in my hood because I knew they’d slap the shit of you. So when this kid was mouthing off, I had to keep telling him, for real, that just because I’m a grown-ass man doesn’t mean that I won’t come out from behind the counter and do something. But he just kept fuckin’ needling me so I lunged across the counter and grabbed him by the throat. I got him by his adam’s apple and just remember squeezing him. He gets this look on his face like he thought he was gonna die. I had to let him go.

His mother called the next day to the shop, wanting to speak to the manager. Luckily, that was me. I played it off.

That was the thing, nobody had a connection to the office at the time. I’d see the owner maybe 3 times a year, even though his office was only 2 blocks away. I think he was too scared to walk over. He knew there was crazy shit going on but he didn’t want to see it. He could hear about it, he just didn’t want to see it. The money was coming in, insane amounts of money. The guy was getting rich.

It started to change after that.

What happened that you stopped working there?

I got into a car accident and hurt my back. I couldn’t even walk for a while after that. That’s when the owner tells me that he didn’t need me to work there anymore and basically paid me to leave. 

I feel like he used a lot of us to build up his brand and then threw us away. Using people’s talent and street credit because they didn’t have it. Even after I’d stopped working for him, he opens a store in London with pictures of me all over the walls. Making sneakers with Vans that have my image on them. I don’t make any money off that. I know he says he bought the photos off Ari so he can do whatever he wants with them but c’mon, that’s not right. I got kids. I gotta make money. I work.

I was just about to say that with both Zoo York and Supreme, you were at ground zero for two brands that really exploded in popularity.

I do feel like I’m one of the people who made Supreme what it is today and I don’t feel like I got anything out of it. The guy’s probably worth half a billion dollars and I’m broke. (laughs) 

I feel like the guys who helped start it are owed something. They have so much money, man. There’s only a couple of us. When he told me he that he didn’t want me to work there anymore, he should’ve given me like $10 million dollars or something. That amount of money wouldn’t have even affected him.

As we wrap this thing up, while you've definitely had some classic photos over the years, with less than a minute of total footage over the years, it's not like you never had the most accessible of careers.  Why do you think your skating still has this cult following 20 years later?

Honestly, I don’t know. I guess my skating just stood out. Like I said, I did skate real fast and aggressive, especially for the time.

I actually have a bunch of footage from the Stereo days that no one has ever seen. I still have the Hi-8 tape. I don’t even know what’s on it or if it still works. I remember that we were working on a video at the time I got canned and I was able to get all of my footage back. Maybe I’ll put that out someday.

I’m down if you are. But do you feel like you got your proper due in skateboarding? Did the industry blow it when it came to Ryan Hickey?

I don’t know, man. I know I could’ve done more. I think I actually had the potential to be one of those top dogs but I underestimated my own abilities… and once I realized what I had, it was too late. Maybe at the time when people wanted me to move to California, I might’ve been around a lot longer had I done that. I think I might’ve stood by my crew a little too long at a certain point, that a few people might’ve been holding me back.

But there's no way of knowing that shit. I did everything I could for myself. The industry is such a weird thing. It's all so fake, man. So many kooks and so many empty promises. I just wanted to skate. Unfortunately, there's so much more bullshit to it than that.

Thanks to Quartersnacks, Ray Mate and Ryan for taking the time.