Published in North 10.
You started Slap under High Speed when you were still working for Thrasher, is that right?
I worked at Thrasher as a darkroom tech, developing film and printing, because that's how it was back then–no digi, no nothing. It was actually their idea to start a new magazine. Kinda like if you're Girl and you're like, "Fuck it, let's start another company.” So they wanted to start another skateboard magazine and I think they realized that Thrasher was getting old and stale. By '91 they were still putting Christian and Ice T on the cover. No offence to Christian, but they should have been putting Gonz and Jason Lee and Mike Carroll on the cover, but they weren't. I was the youngest dude that worked at Thrasher, and I rode for Dog Town, and I skated every single day–skated to work and I skated home from work–and I skated Embarcadero every day too, so they were like, "Let's get Lance to do it". That's Slap in a nutshell. I didn't even come up with the name, they already had it. They were like, "Yeah, we're gonna call it Slap.” Why? "It's the noise the tail makes when you do a Lien-to-tail..." I'm like, "Don't you think that defeats the purpose?! Taking a vert trick, and vert is fucking dead right now. You want to start a magazine that's new and you're naming it after the sound a vert trick makes? It makes no sense". Haha! It is what it is.
It wasn't always easy to walk around Glasgow with a shirt that says 'Slap' on it. I mean, somebody's going to slap you soon enough for that.
Haha! That's England in a nutshell right there.
Oh, even better! My grandfather is from Edinburgh. My mom's last name is McCallum. I've always wanted to go back, that's one of the few countries I've not been to, I've never been to Scotland.
It's not that good really. It's like anywhere else, but colder and wetter.
Well, it's easy for you to say because you live there. It's like people saying they’d love to go to LA, but for me it's old news. It would still be awesome to go and see Scotland. You guys have got so much more history and architecture and everything, you know?
I guess it could be alright in that way, yeah. Going back to what you were saying about skating every day... In the intro to the second issue of Slap you say, "We're skaters first and magazine nerds second". At some point that must have changed, right?
It never did! I can only speak for myself, but I skated ten times more than anything I did with the mag. I missed so many photos because we'd go to spots and I would just be skating. That was just an excuse for me to skate everywhere around the world. The magazine was obviously what paid for me to do what I wanted to do, but I skated more than I designed, wrote or even shot photos. I think as I get older, photography is my priority, because it's what I do. I have kids, and I gotta eat and pay the bills. I'm not a pro skater. Pretty much the entire time I was at Slap, skating was the main thing, ahead of everything I did. I wouldn't want to tell my bosses that, because they would be like, "Fuck, you better do some work", but I got my work done. My work was skating. We shot, we skated, we talked about it. That's what we did.
I think that shows in Slap more than any other magazine. Over here, it was much easier to relate to East Coast skating, and Slap–despite being firmly based in California–had such an East Coast rawness to it. You grew up in Maryland, right?
Yeah, Maryland and DC. I grew up skating in my basement when it was snowing outside. Or digging the snow out of my driveway just so I could skate a five foot radius. Trust me, I've been there, I know, you do whatever you gotta do. I think that's most of the world though, other than California and Australia. The rest of the world has to suffer through climate changes and wet weather. I'm not saying it makes us better skaters, I don't mean that at all, but I think it makes us a little more resilient. We probably don't complain about stuff as much. If we can just have it semi-dry and semi-warm, we're happy!
Was that a mentality you consciously brought to Slap, or did it just come through in it naturally?
Deliberate? I wouldn't give myself that much credit to say I planned it. But I'm from the East Coast, so that's the way I looked at everything. The first thing I thought about when I started Slap was like, "Rad, I get to go back to the East Coast and show all the rad skating that's out there", because Transworld and Thrasher never got it right. They never saw all the good stuff that came out of anywhere other than California. That was my take on it. I finally get to show how the rest of the world looks, other than California. The late eighties and the beginning of the nineties, that's all you ever saw. You rarely saw anything from Europe unless it was from a contest. There would be an East Coast article every eight months, so I was like, “Let's show the East Coast every issue.” Easier said than done though.
Slap did 'non-skate' covers (and covers with all four wheels on the ground) quite a lot better than Thrasher. Was it a hard decision to start doing that? Did it matter to you (or High Speed) that people might not immediately realise it was a skateboard magazine?
A great photo is a great photo, and there were never any guidelines as to what made a cover. But it was always something that caught my eye: who was in the photo, colours, motion, what type of font I was into at the time, what was on the other skate mags that month... I just wanted Slap covers to stand out from the rest.
How did the transition from film to digital affect what you do? Does it make a difference how many tries somebody gets before costing the photographer loads of money?
Shooting film or digi has nothing to do with the skating! As for me, we were scanning film in the mid '90s, turning film into digital files, no different than shooting digi. Sure, there’s an aesthetic difference between film and digi, but that’s a matter of taste.
How big have the changes in skateboarding been for photographers over the last few years? Rather than going out to a session, photographers are flying off to meet one dude at one spot to do one trick.
I don't think it's good or bad, it's just the evolution. The changing times. Back then, even though that makes me sound really old, we were all friends and we all skated - I just happened to be the skater with the camera. And there were no filmers! I had ten years of shooting photos and never had anyone with a video camera around me. Which is amazing, because everybody always asks me, "Dude, where's the footage of that photo you shot?!" There is no footage. There was no video camera. That's what made photography so rad, because it was a mystery. All you saw was a still. You didn't know anything else around it. Now there's footage of every single trick printed in a magazine. I don't think it's bad though, it's just different. I mean skating now is so fucking gnarly. Jeez man, skating now is incredible. I'm not really one to say, "Back in the day it was so good, and today it's totally different". I mean yeah, today is different, but not in a bad way.
I'm thinking about something like Jaws going to Lyon recently. Like, that was the best 15 seconds on Instagram for a whole couple of days, and then that's it.
You know what's funny, is that I have the original photo of when we stayed at that hotel. It was me, Reynolds, Boulala, Tosh... I don't know, maybe Templeton was with us? Whatever, those were the Piss Drunx days and Boulala and Reynolds were wacked out of their heads, naked in my hotel room, jumping up and down watching Sex Pistols videos. I'm not even kidding, I walked in my room and Ali's jumping up and down on my bed screaming "I need heroin!" and he fucking darts out the room, naked, running down the hallway of the hotel screaming "I need heroin!", and then I get a phone call from Huf, in the States, telling me that Keenan just died. That was the day. July 5th, the day after Independence Day. The next morning we went out, and just a couple blocks down is that weird double set Hubba, where Andrew ollied the double set and I think Rowley ollied out to grind the Hubba. So after that we went back to the hotel, and that's when Boulala found those stairs. I have photos from up above, from the hotel, of him looking at those stairs for the very first time. I remember him saying, "I can ollie it", and we're all just looking at him like, "Dude, for one thing you're high as a kite, and even if you weren't, you're not ollieing that, you're gonna kill yourself". But that was then, and nowadays, if I'd never seen those stairs and I went there with Jaws, I would be like, "Yeah, you can do it". Because things change. Fucking Jaws, man! The kid's made out of rubber. It's incredible.
His wheel got ripped off! Ripped straight off the bearings! I mean, fuck, if that happens, you should probably be starting to worry.
He's gonna be hurting when he gets older, man.
What do you think about skateboard media being so temporary just now?
I think back then there were only a few places to see skating, so it was a little more precious. Now, there's probably more skating on Instagram in one day than there were videos during the entire eighties and nineties. Think about that for a second! So I think, because we're so inundated with it and there's so much of it, we become a little numb to all of it. It's like the movie Star Wars, right? Star Wars was super hyped and everybody was waiting for it. It was amazing, the biggest-selling movie ever, but guess what? After eight months of hype, it was out for a few weeks they made their billions and now it's gone. It's the same with Jaws, or anybody–you see all these incredible things, but ten seconds later, there's another incredible thing–I don't think that's a bad thing either. If I was 15 right now, I'd want to see all the skating that I could.
Who is it hard to take a bad photograph of?
Dill has always been my good luck charm. For years it seemed like every time we got together we always got a good photo that we could print. You can't really shoot a bad photo of fuckin' Kenny Anderson, can you? Has there ever been a bad photo of Gonz? Or Huf? Everything Huf does is super photogenic. It always just looks good. Alan Petersen. I shot a ton with Van Engelen and he always looks good on a board. Or Guy! Or Koston, or Carroll. There's just some people that look good on a board. That's what you're supposed to look like on a skateboard. And there's some people that are sohorrific to me, with the worst fucking style, who should never have touched a skateboard in their lives.
There must be people who you've been obliged to shoot, who just stink.
Well, yes and no. There's been people who I've gone out of my way to shoot because someone asked me, but for the most part I've been pretty lucky, I've just shot the people that I wanted to shoot or I shot my friends. I don't want to mention any names, because I don't want any beef, but there are some people that I just fucking hate, and they're just horrible-looking on a skateboard and have no reason to be sponsored let alone pro. Style really does matter. That's the only thing that matters. I'd rather see Alex Olson do two tricks because it looks right than see some other people do a billion tricks.
"I'd rather watch Gino push".
Yeah, Gino. I'd rather see Gino or Oster or Jason Lee push than half the people out there. Or some fucking trog grind a pool. It's just like, "Dude, you gotta stop. Pick up rollerblading or something. Don't be a skateboarder. You're insulting my senses". Hahaha!
Is it harder now for the industry, or for a sponsor, to cover up who's an asshole? In the past, something like Danny Gonzalez telling everybody that he's the new Gonz, and...
Well you know, the thing with Danny, he wasn't necessarily an asshole, his ego just got in the way and he didn't know how to keep his mouth shut. I wouldn't say Danny was an asshole, he was just kind of naive. As the story goes, he was in FTC one day and Mark Gonzales walked in, and he's like, "Hey, isn't that funny - you're the old Gonz and I'm the new Gonz". For one, being a skateboarder's about being humble. I don't care what anybody says, especially today where everybody wants to brand themselves, but it's about being humble. And two, there's the god of street skating, quite possibly the greatest skateboarder ever, and you're gonna say that you're basically the new version of him and tell him that to his face and you don't think there's something wrong with that?! You're nuts. You're not an asshole, you're just nuts. Hahaha! The funny thing is, Danny Gonzalez is an amazing skater. I mean holy shit, he is incredible.
I think that we, as skateboarders, are just naturally against things in general anyway. When we started, it was because we didn't want to play soccer, or go out looking for a fight or whatever. We were against things.
I think it's still like that for most kids. But I think the other side is when people get into skateboarding to make money and be sponsored, but I think we see that these days, because people can actually do that. We're conscious of thinking that kids get into it for the wrong reasons, but 90% of people that get into skating get into it for the same reasons that you and me did. Because they found it, and it was fun, and it wasn't playing soccer and it wasn't just being a fucking dickhead and you could do it yourself. There's always gonna be that. I love that about skating. Music's the same too. When you get into music and you sit in your room with your buddies and you find your own things to listen to and it's great. It's the best thing ever.
Yeah. We don't all have Nyjah's mum to coach us.
Nyjah's mom was like the best part of Nyjah. His dad was kind of a dickhead. In hindsight, I don't know what to think of Nyjah. I've known him since he was a kid, and he really is a good dude. He means well, and he had a really weird upbringing. His dad was the ultimate skate coach, 'cause his dad grew up with Chris Senn and Cardiel, and he skated. Maybe because he didn't make it, he pushed his kid, which seems really weird to us. But then again, look at Nyjah now! He's fucking insane on a skateboard, and he's actually a pretty good dude. He could be Danny Gonzalez, and he's not. He's livin' OK! I tell you what man, if I could skate like Nyjah, I would in a heartbeat. Imagine what it would feel like to 5.0 grind a 90 stair handrail?! Holy fuck, that'd be great!
Fuck, I'd probably even wear Asphalt Yacht Club gear if it meant I could do that. I heard Nyjah's dad was trying to sell off a load of old footage of him. Like some footage he's been holding hostage. Do you know anything about that?
Yeah. We went to Australia with Element when he was a little kid, and his dad wouldn't let the Element filmers film Nyjah.He filmed him, that way he could sell the footage to Element. Which is really crazy. But you can't blame Nyjah for that, Nyjah was just a little kid, he didn't know. What are you gonna do, hate your dad when you're a little kid? Nyjah got a bad rap because of all that, and it's not his fault. Now he's a grown man and he's doing his own shit, and good for him.
While we're on the subject of shit talking; Slap still very much exists online. Do you spend much time looking at the forum?
I've looked at the forum maybe twice. I never look at it. It started back when I was already in LA, and I'm pretty tech savvy–I mean I've been working with computers since '93–but I just never paid attention to it, but then it started getting big, and everyone talking about it. Like Josh Kalis and Jamie Thomas on the forum beefing with people, or Berra or whatever, and I'd heard about it, but I don't care. It just sounded retarded to me. It's amazing that it's still up and running and that people love talking shit on it. That's great, I have have no problems with it, but that's just not me. I don't care about it.
Kalis is a good dude on it man, if he gets called out or whatever, he'll step up to it.
Oh, Kalis is a great guy. He is a good dude.
Have you ever had cause to focus a camera?
Oh yeah. I threw my camera into the San Francisco Bay once, because it jammed. I pulled it apart and ruined the roll of film and I was just pissed and I threw my camera in the Bay. I was over it. I drove over my camera once, by accident. I was in Canada. I put my camera bag down, and I opened the trunk, and I was talking, and I closed the trunk, and I got in the car and put it in reverse and I heard this noise. And I'd forgot to put the bag in the trunk, so I drove over it. Hahaha! Fucking destroyed it all. I've had three camera bags stolen. Two in SF. One with Carl Shipman! We were skating, and I put my bag down–it was the holidays, it was Thanksgiving and there wasn't a person in sight–I skated maybe ten feet away from it, turned around and it was gone. Me and Carl skated around the block and we couldn't find one person in a car, on a bike or anything. I had a rental car broken into parked right outside Supreme in New York. I went around the corner to get a slice at Ray's Pizza and when I came back the trunk was jimmied open and they'd stolen my camera bag.
Have you ever been held up for a camera? Mike Manzoori was robbed at gunpoint for a video camera once.
I heard that, yeah. I think Leo Romero and Ortiz got jumped too. I've been held up before, but not for my camera. There's a gang in SF called the Norteños, this big Mexican gang. I was actually walking to a bar to meet Natas and Mark Oblow and these two kids walked up on me and one kid pulled his shirt up, and he had a gun. He was like, "Gimme all your money" and I told him, "I don't have any money, I've got nothing". So I ran into the street, in front of a bus, and almost got hit, and I ran around the side of the bus and up to a red light. I pulled open the back door of some car that was at the red light, and jumped in these people's car, and the kid ran up behind me and opened the back door. He had his gun in his hand, and he dropped his gun. Right as he dropped his gun the car took off, and the girl driving the car was screaming at me. I was just, "Get me out of here!", and they drove me to the bar to meet the guys. Then the cops came, and they took me down to the station to identify the kid, but I didn't even look at his face. I just wanted out of there. The cop told me, "For the Norteños initiation, they have to hold somebody up and if they don't get money they shoot them. So you're really lucky". That was in SF, at 25th and Mission, back in the day. I think there's still gnarly parts of SF. I don't live there anymore, it's so yuppified, but 24th Street and Mission? That's still pretty fuckin' hard.
Have you ever used your camera as a weapon?
Hmm... With my camera? No. I've hit people with my board before. Not with my camera. We were in Vancouver, me and the entire Girl team and whoever, skating a spot at night, and some dudes and their girlfriends were walking through where everyone was skating. I think Mike York maybe bumped into them, and the dude just turned round and sucker punched Mike. Mike came and got us, and he's like, "Yo, these guys just punched me", so we ran after them, and... Oh yeah. It was actually kinda gnarly. Both the dudes just got beat down. Jeez. I mean everybody was swinging boards at these guys. They were just on the ground in a pile of blood. I think one of the girls took a board to the face. That shit used to happen at Embarcadero all the time. There were tons of fights because people would just walk through and talk shit about the skaters, like Kelch and Shelby [Woods] and all those dudes, and they would just have no mercy. They'd walk up to people and just cold clock 'em right out.
That's the impression of Embarcadero and the EMB that I had anyway. Don't fuck with Kelch.
Well you would and you wouldn't. You know what though? I always thought James was the nicest of all of them. Like if you skated, and you went up and just said "Yo" to him, he was the nicest dude in the world and he had your back. It didn't matter where you were from or what you looked like, he was the nicest of all of them. But, if you pissed everybody off, or you were a dick to another one of the guys, James would be the first to stand up for him. James would be the first to fight, and I think that's why he got that rep, but James was a fuckin' teddy bear. He was the nicest one of them all.
Shit, that's great to know.
Yeah! He still is too. He's fucking great.
What was the best photo you didn't get, either because you fucked up or your camera fucked up?
When the Gulf War started, there were huge protests and riots in SF, and I was just in the middle of it with my camera. At this one intersection, all these people were sitting on the ground, surrounded by SWAT teams, and they started a fire, and they put an Amercian flag in the fire. It was burning, and a big chunk of the flag went up in the air, on fire. So you had this wall of cops, people on the ground, and then a big chunk of flag on fire floating through the air. And I'm watching all of this as I'm putting a new roll of film in my camera. As I watched it I said to myself, "There's my Pulitzer...", and it was gone. That was it. Remember Mathias Ringstrom?
The Swedish Osiris vert guy.
Yeah. So we're at a ramp, I think it was me and Brian Howard and maybe Max Schaaf. I knew Mathias, but not very well, and he came up to me and was like, "I would like to shoot a photo. Would you like to shoot a photo of me?". And of course, like I was saying before, we're all pretty humble, so when that happens you're just like, "Oh dude, fuck you..." And he was like "I am going to do a front foot impossible Lien grab on the vert ramp". I'm like, "Yeah, OK. I'll shoot it. Whatever". So I picked a spot down on the ground, so I'm shooting upwards, and he tries the trick once and he bails, and he stares at me the whole time he's bailing. He walks over to me and he's like, "No. I really don't think you're shooting it at the right angle. I think you should shoot it over here". I just looked at him, like, "You're telling me how to shoot the photo?" "Yes. I think it would look better here." So I went over there, and he did it maybe 15 times. Not once did I ever put film in the camera. It was like, "Yeah, go ahead and do it. Fuck you". Hahahaha! Are you kidding? You're going to tell me how to shoot? Max was just laughing because he knew it was torturing me.
What's the story behind Mike Carroll's Photoshopped-out FTC sticker on the cover of Slap?
Oh jeez. There's no controversy. Look, we're at FTC. We're playing around, and Mike's setting up a board. Kent [Uyehara] says, "Put an FTC sticker on your board and I'll give you photo incentive". Right? I'm like, "Yo, Kent! If I get him on the cover, and he's got the sticker, I want some money". Kent's like "Yeah!", but it was a joke. So we went out and shot the photo, and it wasn't even for a cover. But a month later I'm laying it out for the cover and I'm like, "I gotta take the sticker out, because if I don't, it's gonna look blatantly like I'm being paid to put people on the cover". There were always rumours that Thrasher and Transworld did that, and I'm not fucking doing that. That's why I scraped it off in Photoshop. That story has been around forever, and people think it was on purpose, but that's the story. And I never got a dime. I never took any money from anybody to put someone on the cover. That's all bullshit. I know a few times nowadays people have got paid to put people on the cover, but I think it's just different now, with all the corporate sponsors and everything. Like if Red Bull says, "Put our guy on the cover and we'll advertise for 12 months", what are you gonna do? Say no? But back then, no.
Rad. You actually took it out to be more moral, more real.
Yeah. And the thing is, if we'd never had that conversation, I would have never taken it out, it would just be a sticker. Like I wouldn't care what sticker he has on there. But it was the fact that if I didn't take it out it would look like I was being paid to put him on the cover. And I can't have that.
Did Mike or Kent care when the mag came out?
They didn't care. You think Mike pays attention to a sticker? He couldn't care less. It was like two months later, and Kent had forgotten all about it. Hahaha! It didn't even become an issue until 15 years later when someone mentioned it. There's no conspiracy to it.
You were racing cars for a while. Are you still involved with Bean Bandits?
Bean Bandits are the second oldest racing team in America, started in '49 by a guy named Joaquin Arnett. He's passed away, but they raced in Bonneville on the salt flats. They were drag racers too. It's just a really old crew of racers, and it got restarted by Julio Hernandez and Fabian Valdez about 10 or 15 years ago to kind of revive the tradition. It's just really a crew of friends, and we all go work on cars and race.
I wondered if it felt strange going through photos you've shot of friends who have since passed away, but I guess it must be pretty good to know you're keeping them alive and showing them to another generation via your photographs. I don't know if this is even a question, but I wanted to know how that is for you. Maybe it's nobody's business.
Photographs keep the dead alive.
Who is harder to shoot? Skateboarders or A-list movie stars?
Skateboard photographers are the greatest photographers in the world- whether they know it or not. I guarantee 90 percent of the photogs in the world would not be able to shoot skating. A-listers don’t get hurt or chased by cops to have their photos taken.
How did the Huf x Slap collaboration come about?
I had nothing to do with that. I think Keith wanted to do something with Slap, and got in touch with High Speed Productions, with Tony Vitello, and they worked out a deal. They told me they were going to do something, but I had no idea what they were doing until I saw it on Instagram like everybody else. Haha! But me and Keith are doing something that comes out soon; I have a couple photos on t-shirts. They just had a big party for the Slap/Huf thing last Thursday in New York and they included me with a bunch of photos. I guess people equate me with Slap, but Slap's not just me. We've gotta mention Mark Whiteley and Joe Brook. Those guys were the second wave of Slap and they did as much, if not more, than I did. I'm thankful to Keith that they involved me in the party with Slap, but Slap was a whole bunch of us. I would never take credit alone for Slap- It was a lot of people.
Are you going to do a book? Either of your own work, or some Big Brother-style 'best of' the mag? Or, I dunno, a novel. Just any kind of book.
A Best of Slap book could be rad, but that’s out of my hands. I’m working on a project now that will be tons of my outtakes and never-before-seen photos. I have it narrowed down to 2,000 images so I still have a ways to go in the editing stage. I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s done.
Thanks to Neil Macdonald for the interview and to Lance for the rad photos.