Featured in North 18.
Interview by @scienceversuslife
Photography by Zander Taketomo
Was your move from the West Coast to Philadelphia related to your studies?
I’d already been going to Philly, for around three months a year, before I moved. Every year I’d go out for two or three months, and then it came to the time where I decided I wanted to go to college, so I decided that Philly was a good place to go. For one, I knew the city really well and I wanted to skate there. I was thinking about where I could go to school and be productive as a skater at the same time, and I also wanted somewhere that was far enough away from home because I wanted to leave the Bay Area. I didn’t really want to go to San Francisco for college, even though that was what I’d been telling everyone. Or to LA, for that matter. I was expressly going there for school, but it was because I had such close ties with the city and had a lot of friends there, but I did say to myself that I wasn’t going there just for school. Temple University is a state school that’s close to town, a lot of the skaters go there and there’s that famous flatground spot where everybody used to meet, called Cecil B. Moore. I thought that if I did find myself thinking that school is a good decision, then after two years I’ll transfer to a better school, just to go to school and not do this balancing thing again. Or maybe I’d think that school wasn’t so promising, so I’d just stay there. But I did really enjoy going to school, and felt like I needed to keep doing it, so I applied to different schools and was accepted here in New York and in France. I was really on the fence between living in Lyon and living in New York City, but I ended up choosing New York, and so after two years in Philly I moved here specifically for school, at The New School. New York is a really good city for skating, but I didn’t think of it as such. I was really into Philly because it’s so centred, and it’s a little bit more static, I suppose? New York has so many moving pieces. There are a lot of different crews in different areas, but the skateparks draw people together, and the spots like Flushing out in Queens, and all the spots in Brooklyn, and on the Upper West Side, and definitely in Williamsburg. Have you spent time in New York?
In Brooklyn and Harlem, and I totally get what you mean about it having all these different moving parts working together. Now you said you moved there specifically for school, but you’re a professional skateboarder. There must have been an element of being closer to the industry in New York than in Lyon that informed that decision.
I really don’t think I was letting myself be influenced by that thought at the time. It’s like I was casting a veil over my own thinking. Basically I was trying to shut down one avenue of my life and the avenue of my decision making because I felt like it had had such a hold over me for so long that I didn’t want it to get in the way any more. I was really burnt out on skating... Or it wasn’t entirely that I was burnt out, just that I saw so much potential in other things, and was like, “Wow, maybe skateboarding—as amazing and as eye-opening as it’s been to me—is one of the things I’m going to regret as I’m older, that I let it have such a hold over me”. I ended up deciding not to go to Lyon because I felt like maybe I’d get lonely. The industry being in New York and not in Lyon is like another way of saying that I don’t have many friends out there. I guess it’s a little different, but that was, ultimately, why I decided not to go. There was also influence from my older brother, who asked which would open more doors for me, and give me more opportunity. Academically I would have to go a year back, and it would be completely in French, and at the time I thought I wanted to get a Masters in French, so that would have been really good, but it was a year back and I was already a little bit older than my peers.
It’s Literature you studied, right?
Yeah. For my first two years of school, when I was at Temple, I studied French—which means you study French literature basically. Then I realised I wasn’t really trying to do French, I was trying to do Literature, but just not in a closed-minded, nationalistic sense. Not nationalistic, but more that I didn’t want to just learn anglophone Literature, and I ended up doing Creative Writing and Literature, where I did my thesis on a French writer, Alain Robbe-Grillet. So it all came full circle, and everything I’d studied was a part of my culminating piece of work, so it worked out well.
You mentioned going out to Philly to stay before you moved there. It’s not necessarily known as the most welcoming of cities for out-of-town skateboarders, so do you think easing yourself in like that helped you get accepted?
From the start I had a good person to talk to, a filmer my age, Ant Travis, who loved to film and loved meeting new people, so that was a good friend to have, and my enthusiasm for all things East Coast put me in a good position with the older guys. Like, “Look at this kid from Cali, he only watches East Coast footage! We’ll bring him to the spots because he’ll appreciate it. Let’s bring him over to that spot in West Philly, that little bank to ledge that nobody but Jimmy McDonald has skated”, and I would just look at it and go, “Oh my God. Jimmy McDonald is the best”, and we’d leave. The people I was going around with got a kick out of that, out of somebody deferential, respectful, who was also trying to do his own thing. These days I do come up against a bit of resistance when I have things planned. I’m not going to name any names but when I go to a city with a filmer, say Chris Mulhern, and maybe somebody else I’m skating with, when we go to a spot and skate and even if we’re super nice to the locals, and even if we know people there who we skate with, it’s happened twice now that later on I’ve heard that people were bummed that we came through, or they’re saying that their spot’s getting too hot now. So now it’s different. From an outsider’s perspective I’m not just an innocent kid, it’s all, “Oh, he’s a pro skater, he’s just using our spot”.
I actually asked Mike Blabac about this, but I want to know your take on it. There was some shit-talking on Slap about your adidas ad at Love, and how supposedly Kalis had an issue with you skating the same obstacle, the barrier off the ledge, in a shoe ad as he did for a DC ad.
So he [Kalis] posted a photo on Instagram when he saw it, with a laughing emoji, saying, “C’mon guys”. I was really bummed, I was worried I’d insulted him so I laid low for a second, read some comments and he said he had no beef with me and he’s down for me. And he’s helped me out a lot. He just thought adidas was making a bad call by doing a shoe campaign which included the orange barrier off that ledge at that specific part of Love Park. One of his DC pro shoes had that gap to noseblunt slide in the ad, which was so similar. It was also my choice, so I feel he let me off easy on that. I wasn’t even thinking about that trick, and I’m really sensitive to ABDs and things of that category. I definitely felt bad but I didn’t think of it at the moment. It just never occurred to me and I felt that he should have been criticising me and not the company, so he let me off easy for that one.
Were you still in Philly when Love got shut down for the last time?
I wasn’t, I was doing a semester abroad, in France. I had been pretty recently before I left. It shut down in February 2016, and I had taken a flight to Paris on the 17th of January for my semester starting on the 25th, so there was really no way I could get back, even for a weekend. Which is pretty lame.
Was it though? Were you sitting in France wishing you could have one last skate there?
It wasn’t a visceral feeling like that, it was maybe more symbolic that it was a bummer I wasn’t there to see it off. I wasn’t feeling deep feelings. I saw it coming and I had already moved away, so for me in my life, it was almost like it had already passed.
What’s your favourite place that you’ve visited, for skateboarding or otherwise?
I love going to France. Maybe it’s more of a mental thing because I love speaking the language and interacting with the culture, and I don’t necessarily love Paris all that much, although there’s so much history there and walking around the city is very fun. I just like being in France. Recently I went to Montpellier with my friend Jazz. We went to Paris and took the train down to the South of France, down to Montpellier, and then back to Paris because he had an art installation job there, so I followed him. That experience of seeing a bit of Paris, being on the train and seeing the countryside and then discovering a new city... That’s my favourite thing. I find Paris pretty difficult for skating.
You’ve definitely been affected by injury and illness. Did you need to learn to skate from scratch after your appendix problems?
I wouldn’t say I had to learn to skate from scratch, but there were times when I couldn’t skate at all. I didn’t have any muscles. I just watched footage of me 50-50ing a curb. Two tries. And after two tries, I’m just floored, just sent to the ground by nothing. I get into the 50, and it doesn’t quite grind enough, and I take a step off the board but my leg can’t hold me up and I immediately fall to the ground. It’s a pretty gentle fall but it’s almost like there’s some CGI and they’ve green-screened out somebody pushing me off my board. I can’t remember when it was that I started skating again, but I know I was cruising around, just trying to do little ollies here and there. That was in the December, just before Christmas, then I went on my first skate trip over Spring Break, so probably late March, to Spain, and I got a good trick there, so it must have been pretty soon. Two or three months recovery.
You turned pro just as you started college. That’s pretty rad of Habitat to do that, and to have the faith in you that you’re still going to produce for them alongside a full-time education. Was there ever any doubt around that?
No, definitely not. They have a very laid back view of things at Habitat. There’s Brennan Conroy and Joe Castrucci, and I think Brennan looked at it like, “You’ve earned it, you’ve skated a lot and really hard, so here’s your pro board. Do what you want with it”. I don’t know if they really thought it was a risky decision, that I might not follow up with them because I was going to school, but on the other hand, it’s a pretty wonderful thing for adidas to have hung around.They who are so much more in the commercial world, where the guys have to explain things to the higher-ups who don’t skate. Jascha Muller always had my back and he’s always been so supportive, saying, “Do things how they make sense to you”, during those big conversations when I was explaining how I was feeling about skateboarding and about skateboarding taking a lot out of my life, kind of. He’d say, “Live life in the way that you know and in the way that you’re curious and excited about it, and do what you love, but don’t forget about skating!” He was always pushing me to come back to skating. And also Skin Phillips, who was just being put on as a team manager then. I remember we were walking to the Transworld awards where I would win Readers’ Choice, and Year’s Best Rookie, I think, and he was saying to me, intensely, “Don’t blow it kid. I know you’re going to school, but I’ve seen so many people have what you have and just blow it!” I found that a little intense and was all, “Oh come on, just let me do my thing!”
How did you first get on adidas? Did you know anybody other than Silas at the time?
I think Silas put in a good word for me. I don’t think I knew anybody else who was on at the time... Dennis, Mark Gonzales, Lem... Lem I met after I got on. Nestor I didn’t know so well. So yeah, I think it was just Silas. I was with Habitat footwear and I think I wanted to leave. I can’t remember if there was a fork in the road, if they were saying they wanted me to turn pro for Habitat shoes. Maybe that’s right, now that I say it... No. I turned am for Habitat because of that. They said they’d put me on the team, but they were really pushing their shoes at the time, so in order to go am I had to ride for the shoes as well. I left Habitat shoes a year and a half before turning pro.
So Joe was cool about putting your name on a board even if you’re not wearing their shoes?
Yeah. I had told Joe I was going to ride for adidas so long before, and he understood. It was understood that they would have to give me some good persuasive arguments to ride for the shoes; it wasn’t of my own accord. I wasn’t like, “Please, I’ve always loved it!” He was a little bit bummed but he understood, and still kept me on the team. It wasn’t like quitting the shoes meant I had to quit the whole thing. I feel like I wanted so badly to have legitimate, separate sponsors, because I would consider having two different sponsors for your boards and your shoes a legitimate thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if I quit Habitat shoes before I was getting any adidas. That’s what I did when I quit Powell, they wanted to turn me am when I was 16 and I said, “You know, I don’t think I want to do it, I think I just want to look for another sponsor, but thanks so much”, and we left on good terms. For six weeks I just skated random boards, and then Josh Kalis got me a box of Alien boards. And from there I got on Habitat.
How did it go from adidas giving you shoes to getting a pro shoe?
I got on in 2012, and they were giving me shoes so Jascha and I would always talk about the shoes, and about how much I like them. I was skating a ton, putting out a lot of footage and winning some awards and when I turned pro Jascha said there was talk of maybe one day me having a shoe. He presented the idea to me, and I was excited, but at the same time I wanted to quit skating. Haha! There was a moment where I looked at having a pro shoe as this devilishly tantalising reason to not leave skateboarding. Which shows the extent to which I was over it... We have to at some point come to the present where I’m excited to skate and I love skating again! Haha! But back then, that was how I felt. At the time I just really wanted stark lines in my life, and clear transitions in my life to try to make the story of my life make sense. “Skateboarded ‘til this point. Stopped skateboarding. Went to school from this point. Got a job as a professor or an academic of some sort at this point...” I think that’s just a useful way of looking at life. You would prefer things to be less complicated and vague and nebulous than they are, but that’s how things come about. One thing leads to another, and you’re doing this and doing that and you don’t quite know what you’re doing and it all ends up in disarray because you’ve been unconsciously pushing towards this thing that you love. That’s how it’s been. Now I’ve graduated from school and I’m skating all the time but I continue to do school things and keep in contact with all those people. My life has many threads right now...
Right on. You’re in a pretty good position right now where you can actually choose what great thing you want to do. It’s not like you’re some burnt out dude looking for a job washing dishes when all he’s ever done is skate, and it shows how much you actually enjoy putting out footage and getting coverage when you could easily be doing some other amazing thing instead.
True. Awesome. That’s a good way of looking at it. Thank you.
To what extent do you, a skateboarder, actually design a shoe?
adidas sent out two members of the design team to Philadelphia, and we had lunch, and spoke about all my favourite shoes, and spoke about my influences. Then we went around downtown Philly to all the different shoe stores and talked about all the different elements and aspects of shoes. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted: open toecap, distinctive lines, a distinctive architecture that wasn’t functional but just gave it a decorative aspect without being overly tech, and I wanted it to be cupsole. From there, the designers opened up different conversations and things fell into place and influenced the rest of the parts to follow. I had so much say in it, even down to the texture on the sole, and the way that there is no padding on the sole, in the shoe structure itself, it’s all in the insole, which is a huge thick thing. I feel like that was a contemporary thing that we were able to do because the insole technology now is so much better than it was ten years ago.
That big soft rubbery blue thing really does feel nice. The slim versions are out now too, but if the first one was the perfect shoe that you could think up, was it weird doing it again and changing it?
Those changes were all mine and Scott Johnson’s. Scott Johnson definitely led the way in those discussions, but he was articulating things that I was feeling. All throughout the designing of the first shoe, and the conversations for the second, I felt, “Man, I wish this was ten years ago and my 14 year-old self, who was such a shoe nerd, could come to the fore and tell them exactly what to do with it”, because now I’ve let these things slip away and they’re not so important to me any more. After wearing the first shoe for a while, I was thinking it was a little bit floppy. After you break it in, on the toe it would form waves, and that was because there were three separate panels on the toe. Now it’s hard to figure out which idea was mine and which was Scott’s, but I’m pretty sure that from the beginning we knew we had to make it one panel, and keep those lines but make them just decorative. Stitches, that even if they blow out, are not going to affect the panel itself. So now, as the shoe gets older it still keeps its shape, which is, you know... Beautiful. There was this thing at the back of the shoe, where if you wore it for a long time the inner heel would kinda disintegrate and it would look like you were walking with a weird limp, like your ankle would go in at the back. Walking around New York I’d see people wearing my shoe and it had just been worn into the ground, and the inner heel is demolished. So they’re just walking with sideways feet, and I’m thinking, “No way. This can’t be my shoe”.
“I’m responsible for this, I need to do something.”
Exactly. So I told Scott about this, and he said that it might be because there’s not enough structure. The first shoe has mesh in quite a bit of the inner upper, it goes from suede to mesh, and the new shoe has only suede.
The new shoe has mesh on the outside, and the first one didn’t.
Yeah. We switched those two things around to keep the breathability, but we wanted the mesh out of the heel so that it would have better structure and stand up more. We also narrowed it down; we narrowed down the u-throat, the lace things, which gives a new structure to the shoe. Those were the main things I wanted to address, and I felt that the heel was slipping a bit, so I told Scott and he said that maybe we had to raise the padding a bit so it catches your heel more. But I think the new slimness of the shoe fixes that problem. Scott suggested moving the main stitch, the separation between panels, moving that back from the ollie box to get it out of the way. From there we just spruced it up, and those decisions were all Scott’s. The sprucing. There’s a little detail, the place where the stripes go towards the laces, there’s a bit of a raised patch of suede and as you follow that raised patch down it all of a sudden goes flush into the shoe, in this cool mixture of flushedness and raisedness. Haha!
Alright, I’m glad I was able to find this again... It’s a comment from a thread about you on Slap that I want you to comment on. Some dude says, “Each part he puts out is different, which is really impressive. Most dudes just do the same tricks, just different spots in every part. He almost seems bored with skating. He can do it all”.
Ha... That’s cool. That’s a wonderful comment. I feel like that’s definitely something I am very concious of. For every part, I don’t want to repeat a trick, and then I don’t want to repeat the mood in the next part. But it’s easy for me to do that because I have so many different options; I skate in a lot of different places. Maybe I just think more about video parts than your average team rider. There are people out there that produce fucking amazing parts, so I’m not saying I’m doing anything completely original but it’s just that some people are thrown around on trips, like on adidas trips, and their footage comes out here, and maybe a homie video comes out there, and there are differences of textures... A lot of people are influenced by LA skating as well... I don’t know. I’m too flattered by the question to think of how to answer!
Do you follow the new Workshop?
Oh yeah. Two of my best friends ride for Alien Workshop, Brandon Nguyen and Joey Guevara, and Miguel Valle who is also one of my best friends films for them. I think he might be getting a guest board soon because he’s such a talented skater. In the beginning of me skateboarding, Alien Workshop grew to be my favourite company. I was all, “I’m not going to ride for Powell any more, I’m going to do everything I can to ride for Alien Workshop!” And to be honest I was really bummed when Brennon Conroy hit me up and asked if I wanted to ride for Habitat instead. Definitely a better career choice for me, but I always wanted to ride for Alien. I was so depressed when they went out of business and Mind Field is the best video I’ve ever seen. When they came back, that was a weird thing to do. It played with my emotions a lot. But it makes sense because Mike Hill is doing it, still, and he’s been there from the beginning, so it’s still got this authenticity to it, but with a new crew of guys I think it confused everyone, and I was definitely party to that confusion. But then that passed, and my best friends ride for it, and I back it one hundred percent. Frankie Spears rides for them too, and we were out skating yesterday, and I was critiquing his graphic.
What’s his graphic?
It’s a kind of little kid graphic. I said that the reason that Alien is such a cool and unique company is also the reason I don’t like it, in that it appeals to 12 year-old first time skaters who see an alien on a board and just decide they want that one, and it also appeals to grown dudes who’ve seen Photosynthesis and know the history of the company. Sometimes you see a graphic, that, on the surface, only looks like it could be appealing to a toddler. And that was long before Frankie was riding for them, but I love the graphics the majority of the time.
It’s a quandary, man. I love Alien Workshop buy I just couldn’t wear a shirt with the Alien head logo on it, or any of that ‘Believe’ stuff or whatever... It’s not horrible, it’s not Darkstar, but I wish there was less of that stuff. We get it.
Do you think skateboarding looks back too much? With rebooted companies, so many reissued boards and companies like Welcome with shaped boards?
I think it’s always going to be a valid commercial endeavour, because you’ve already got the audience, the demographic, who—if you do it right—will buy your boards. I think that’s par for the course in modern capitalism. Walking around New York, it’s exactly the same. You go into a ‘50s diner and they play ‘50s music and wear ‘50s outfits. You just time travel all over the city so it makes sense that you can walk into a skate shop and buy a Welcome board and time-travel back to the ‘80s.
What was the first skateboard magazine you saw that really stood out?
I think I was ready for skating the second I got my first magazine. I was so into it before then, and then my cousin, who had already taught me how to ollie on grass, sent me a Transworld from, I think 2002, with Paul Rodriguez on the cover.
Do you mind how your coverage appears? Photographers can be bummed that what would have been a cover in the past needs to get uploaded to Insta straight away now; does it matter to you?
I definitely get bummed about that. It’s not so much of a concious thing, but I feel like I used to have things run so much more, and now it’s like if I get an adidas photo on the shoot, somehow it goes to an intermural campaign used to show what the shoe is doing and then the photo is never used so I post it on Instagram. Just yesterday I was shooting a sequence with Zander, and I was thinking to myself, “Is this worth it? Nobody uses sequences”. Maybe there are just fewer opportunities these days. Or maybe I just need to have more print projects in the works.
What’s your favourite trick in Eastern Exposure 3?
That’s a hard one. I haven’t seen it in a while. It’d have to be something from Ricky’s part, that’s kinda standard. Maybe his frontside salad at Love. That’s a fun one to imitate. He starts in a 5.0 with his tail down, then he points his nose towards the camera into a salad.
What’s the best thing you’ve seen go down at Love?
I wasn’t there for any of the really crazy tricks down the gap. When somebody goes to the gap, there’s all this gravity... “Oh, he’s gonna do a trick down the gap!” And he starts trying it, and it’s almost like I fuckin’ hope he doesn’t land it, for some reason. It feels put on or something. Even when I was doing the varial heel, it was just this thing that I had to do; it was out of character for me, and I felt it. I’d never skated anything that big, it wasn’t my thing and it was just that I had to do a trick down the gap. To watch Dylan Sourbeer at Love, to watch him come up, was the coolest thing for me. He was an unsung hero at the time. Even seeing him do a proper trick was this great joy. Like, “What the fuck?! How does no one know about this guy?!” Even if he does a long backside nosegrind, pop out, which has been done a million times, but when you see him do it you feel privy to some kind of secret. When he nearly back three’d the bump-to-can, the way he was doing it and everything, and how he came so close... That was pretty amazing to watch. That’s my favourite thing. Dylan Sourbeer.
What have you got lined up for the rest of the year?
For the rest of the year? Just a lot of skate trips, some contests... I’m trying to put out, maybe, an independent video part. I’ve been kind of annoyed with song rights on my part and on the part of others too. Man, YouTube’s lame these days. YouTube and Thrasher, and adidas can’t have my video parts on the site longer than two years, so these parts are just gone, or they’re going. They have to find some solution, but I’m not sure if that’s their number one priority. For instance, my intro to adidas part is not on the internet, which is so lame. So I’m trying to do an independent part so we can bypass the rights to the song. It’d be hard to do, with not being supported by adidas, but I’ve spoken to some people and they’ve been excited. I just don’t know if it’s going to fully pan out. It’s difficult to put out so many parts and to believe in them without marking them with some song that you’ve really felt, “This is it, this is what I have to skate to”, you know? That’s how I’ve always thought about video parts, ever since I was ten and dreaming about having my own part when Shorty’s sent me a box of boards. All, “I’m gonna have a part in the video! What song am I going to skate to?!”
I think every ten year-old knows what their graphic is going to be and what song they’re going to skate to! Did you get to pick your song in Away Days?
No. That was a bummer because I was supposed to skate to this song that I thought would have made a lot of sense at the time. It was a Peter Bjorn and John song that said, “And the question is, was I more alive then than I am now? I happily have to disagree, I laugh more often now, I cry more often now, I am more me”. The song worked first of all, and then listening to the lyrics you’re like, “Oh shit, hell yeah!” But that was a really difficult video part for me to film because half the time I wasn’t stoked at all on skating, I just wanted to go to school. That was filmed through the first two years of school, which was my most intense period of school. So I was supposed to skate to that song, and it seemed like, up until the premiere, that it was going to happen and then at the premiere I’m sitting there and there’s another song on. I knew the song, it’s Beach House and I love Beach House, but I’d already skated to them and I felt that this song was not as triumphant, it was mellow, and I was so bummed. Especially because I was watching it in LA with 500 people or something. I felt like they should have told me something before going into the premiere, but maybe they had so many other things going on that they forgot, or maybe they thought it’d be better if I just saw it. It was my buddy Justin Albert that selected the song, and he knew how much I liked Beach House, so he was really bummed that I didn’t like it. But I had to be honest. He put out my most recent part, for the second shoe, and that song worked out perfectly for us becausewe were discussing songs and then he suggested that one [Montana by Youth Lagoon], which is one of my favouritesongs of the last few years but I didn’t think it’d work for skating at all so I didn’t suggest it. That was wonderful. We’re working forward now, post the Away Days bummer-session!
Anything’s better than the shit on Thrasher videos.
Yeah. And then Instagram. I feel a sort of responsibility now with my song choices, because the majority of skate edits on Instagram are set to contemporary rap music. Not that I have anything against that, I’m just against all forms of hegemony. Haha! I want to show the range of music you can skate to. Rap is the default choice at the moment, so much so that it seems people don’t realise it is a choice and that it signifies something other than, “I know what’s cool right now”. A song adds a huge layer of meaning to a skate part. I have a sphere of influence, however small, and I want to use that to show that you can fuckin’ listen to different music if you want! Since North is out of Scotland I feel like we should somehow get a shout out to Belle & Sebastian. They’re my favourite band; hopefully one day I’ll skate to a song by them.