eric koston vs. the santa monica courthouse

The liberation of any skatespot should only be viewed as a positive thing. And when that spot is as historic and important as the Santa Monica Courthouse, who’s legendary ledges and stage have stood silent for far too long, this is a victory for all of skateboarding that should be celebrated.

Last September, I was fortunate enough to work with Eric Koston and crew on a little piece for Nike SB about this recently renovated and free-to-skate 90s mecca and what it means to skateboarding in 2014. With Slick Rick’s “Cuz It’s Wrong” steadily playing on repeat in my brain, I got to ask some questions (way too many for a 3-minute edit) and Frosty got to film some lines (his two stage clips are actually on my board). Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday afternoon.

Regardless of whoever, I’d love to see this trend continue whenever and wherever possible... even if it means me taking a shovel down to Venice Beach and digging up those damn tar pits myself.

This was fun.


chrome ball interview #77: jason dill

chops and dill sit down for conversation.

Phone Call October 8 6:05 PM
Upload October 10 1:06 PM

Instead of doing the usual transcribing/words-on-a-screen routine,
we decided to just upload the conversation with a FA montage looped behind it.

Hockey, Alien, New World Order, Postcards, Chloe, Gino. 

Note: FA Montage Had To Be Edited After Being Flagged Several Times.

Big Thanks to Dill, Kurt, Benny, Jake and Tara.



Junk Skating & Parallel Dreams

We sat down with Lance to do a commentary track on his Ban This part and ended up delving into "The Parallel" and "The Dream" as well. Enjoy.

Special thanks to Carples, Kurt, Rattray and Lance for taking the time.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1xLw0MuMbw

Index of parts... sans commentary.

Lance, Neil and O - Ban This

Girl - The Parallel

The Firm - The Dream



the gnarler

Mark Whiteley remembers Phil Shao

There’s a spot on Highway 101 way up in northern California, just south of Humboldt State, that might be my least favorite place on Earth, to the point that I try to forget it’s even there. Last week I was driving with my wife and kids down the coast from Portland to the Bay Area on a vacation roll and only a few minutes beforehand did I realize I was about to come upon it once again. It’s the spot where one of my best friends died in a car crash 16 years ago. His name was Phil Shao. Some of you might remember him.

Wait, wait, wait-- way too much of a bummer way to start this out! Phil would not approve. But it’s a heavy location for me and driving past it made me want to write this so I had to acknowledge it. Phil would also not approve that I started the last sentence with “But.” More on that later.

Let’s take it back a bit further. Sorry in advance, this is gonna be a long one.

In 1990, I started using my parents’ video camera to film the homies skating now and then. We were just like all the kids from that generation who were inspired by the H-Street videos, Rubbish Heap, etc. to pick up a camera and make our own video because it looked like we could. So I did. Dumb little edits from around our little town, but it was rad. In the early summer of ’92, I invested $99 into a screw-on fisheye lens that would fit the family video camera and it turned out to be the purchase that most changed the direction of my life. I put the lens on, called up my friend Nate and we filmed a whole new video part in a couple days (edited to Cypress Hill, a sure sign of the times). With that fisheye, I was suddenly an official filmer. I showed the edit of Nate to a few friends and people started to know I was into it.

Later that summer I was introduced to William Nguyen, who was a local am on Santa Cruz and trying to finish filming a part for their next video. This was the first time I was introduced as “a filmer” to anybody. He asked if I could help him finish his part and over the next few months he would come and pick me up to go filming around the Bay Area (I didn’t even have a license yet). In October of 1992, the video BPSW (aka Big Pants Small Wheels) came out, William had the last part and my footage of him was all over it, including first and last tricks. My name was in the credits. Having that under my belt gave me the confidence that I could really pursue being a filmer and so a couple weeks later, I was at my local shop with friends when I saw a guy I had seen around a couple times-- a guy who had been in the mags, a guy I knew was sponsored, “a guy named Phil” as Transworld had captioned him in a photo—and I introduced myself and said that if he ever needed to go film anything that I was around and would be happy to do it.  He was stoked and wrote his name and number in the October ’92 issue of SLAP and gave it to me. A couple days later, we went out skating and filming for the first time. From that day on for the next almost six years, I don’t think more than a couple weeks ever went by without us doing that same thing. We became fast friends and a new chapter of my life was up and running. 

Soon after, it was decided that Think was going to do a new video and so it worked out that we had a project to work on. We went after it. It was late ’92 into early ’93 and the prime time for flippity-floppity skating that we were all guilty of, but prior to my knowing him, Phil had been a tranny gnar dog, complete with long hair and tricks that were not in style in the early ‘90s (like laybacks; he had a mean one). Watching him meld those skills with more modern street skating was always a joy. He was so smooth on all-terrain and pretty untouchable at a mini ramp session. We went all over the Bay Area and skated with tons of new people, he got better and better, picked up a shoe sponsor, and come September ’93, Phil turned pro at the Back to the City contest (the one where Girl was unveiled). He killed it and took 3rd, right alongside Matt Beach who also turned pro at that contest and won it. Christian Hosoi congratulated Phil after the contest, telling him that he liked Phil’s style. I don't think I ever saw a bigger smile on anybody’s face then right there. 

We filmed on through the fall and towards the end of ’93, Think released Just Another Day on the Range featuring parts that I had helped film for with Dan Drehobl, Matt Pailes, Paul Zuanich, and the debut part for Phil. I had also started contributing footage to Thrasher and been asked to join the fledgling 411 earlier that year, so we had other outlets to keep being productive with after the Think project was done. We started in on his “Rookies” 411 part that would come out in October of ’94. It was during this time that Phil really started to come into his own. The early ‘90s switch-double-late-varial stuff was gone and Phil started putting his power, grace and speed to proper use. Faster, further, cleaner. The coping dancing was done, replaced with chest-high f/s flips and nosegrind pop-ins up the extension. And Greer. Nobody even came close at Greer. He did transfers in the bowls that have never been repeated to this day.  Not a lot of guys could do tailslide kickflip out on a ledge at one session and then go down the road and blast 10’ channel transfers at the next. Definitely not in the early ‘90s.

Towards the end of summer ’94, I moved 45 minutes south to Santa Cruz to go to college but that just expanded our range. We started filming towards what would become his Damage part and that period is when he really hit his stride and started doing the things that he would become remembered for, trick-wise and also stylistically. Fast and loose ATV, pure style. The b/s 180 over the entire pyramid at Santa Rosa, stuff like that. I moved back home for the summer in ’95 and I remember those summer days that year so well. I was working part-time moving furniture, he was doing junior college summer school. We would all hang out at Paul and Phil’s place on sweltering days, hand-rolling cigarettes and blasting Stereolab until it cooled down so we could skate. He was just crushing it everywhere we went. We skated at night a lot that summer and it was so fun. The line that starts off his part in Damage was filmed at the San Jose Sharks stadium in the middle of the night. Those were the purest skate days, out in the streets doing it every day.  One of my favorite days from that summer was the one where he slammed on a bump to bar, which ended up in the opening to Damage. The footage looks terrible, like he hit his face on the rail, but in reality he was laughing before he hit the ground and lay there chuckling about such a stupid slam for quite some time. That’s just exactly how he was. 

The summer passed, I went back to Santa Cruz, and the year ended. 1995 had been great-- but 1996 was about to become probably my favorite skate year of all-time, and I gotta say that it was Phil’s best year. It was his peak. Damage came out and we went right into filming for Emerica’s Yellow video. Phil and Drehobl had been good friends for years but filming with both of them for that video at that time was unreal. They were so gnarly together, just the rawest twin destroyers crushing SF.  McKenney, too. Murder at China Banks. Dan and Phil had back-to-back parts in that video, sharing a song (“Kids From the Black Hole” and I gotta say sorry AVE but they had you beat by a solid decade with that one). I think it was his best part while he was alive and we filmed it all in a pretty short period—just shows you where his skating was at during that time. Effortless and gnarly. So relaxed, so casual—you can see it in the arms, the hands, the knees, his swerve, his push. Nobody like him. I filmed my favorite line of him that summer—it’s in the Yellow part, as well as his Dedication part after he passed. Kickflip up the curb straight into a wall ride, ollie a little bump, feeble grind pop-out on a ledge with wall at the end of it, 360 flip while riding away down the hill. That was my number one. We watched the footage of it right after and I remember him saying all goofy to me, “You’re the best filmer in town!” I’m always stoked when I remember that day.

One quick note here: I wasn’t there when he grinded the top bar at Miley unfortunately, but here’s a good one. I’ve written about it before, but it’s worth mentioning again. A week or two after he grinded it, we were out filming for Yellow in SF and he said he wanted to go back. That day, he got into and slid several tailslides on the top bar, same place where he grinded it. We lost the daylight and the camera batteries were cooked after a long day but he was real close. I don't think anybody ever did that one. Somebody should step to it for him.

Right after we wrapped filming for Yellow, as I had hoped and dreamed for years, I was invited on a summer tour. Phil told me it was happening and I quit my summer job at Whole Foods on the spot so I could get ready to go. To this day, of all the many trips around the world I have been on for skateboarding, that tour was the craziest of all. No team manager, 15 dudes in their own cars, a weird mash-up of companies involved, no photographer and just me filming, driving cross-country for weeks on end. We had some demo dates lined up but that was it. Each guy got $20 a day to live on. Hotels or people’s houses were whatever we found when we got there. It ruled. Phil, Paul, Drehobl, Pailes, Jesse Paez, Joe Sierro, Don Carey, Chad Fernandez  and Joel Price from Think; Justin Strubing and Hanzy Driscoll from Adrenaline; Brian Childers from Santa Cruz; and Chet Childress and Bob Reynolds from Creature. It came together like that because Bob Reynolds worked in the shipping warehouse of Think and Adrenaline while also riding for Creature out of NHS, which was in Santa Cruz where I knew all the SC guys, too. The kind of thing that would probably never happen today. Within minutes of leaving SF, it went off. A side window in Bob’s van shattered on the freeway and for the rest of the trip, it was covered with various pages out of porn mags taped together. We would skate the demo in Reno or wherever until late and then drive all night blasting Black Sabbath, trying to stay awake until we couldn’t anymore. We'd crash wherever we could find a place then get up and drive the rest of the way to Salt Lake, or Ft Collins, or Lincoln, or Cleveland, or upstate New York or New Hampshire or Boston or whatever was next on the list. So many crazy stories. Having to leave town fast because of somebody and an underage girl. The family of the kid who invited the whole lot of us to stay at their house, feed us and do our laundry... we promptly shaved their son’s head in a double Mohawk and several of the guys ran through the older sister. Breaking down in the middle of nowhere and relying on Paul to fix the engine. Watching insane sunrises after all-nighters in Phil’s car, blasting “Hole In The Sky” or the Morrissey tape that Gonz had made him. Impromptu gas station sessions. Endless hours, endless miles. And just incredible skating. Everybody skated and killed it at every stop. Fun, fun, fun. I turned 20 during the trip, somewhere in Massachusetts, and the journey became a 411 article in issue 20.

The trip ended, summer ended, we both went back to our respective colleges and just went about our business for awhile, skating together one place or another every couple weeks. I started working on a Skateworks shop video for the Strubing family that would bridge the gap between Santa Cruz and Bay Area and Phil had a part in that. I gave some rad SF stuff to Thrasher for another video (when it came time to get paid for it, I went in to Thrasher to collect a check. Jake said, “Who are you and why should we pay you anything? What did you film?” I told him it was footage of Phil, and he said immediately, “Alright, pay the kid”) but that summer of ’96 ended up being the last time we were really filming regularly for a project or two. But darn, it was a good one.

Phil continued to kill it into ’97 but wasn’t working towards anything part-wise so there isn’t a lot of my footage from around then—but there are a few good ones, like him crushing the bank to barrier down on the Embarcadero in SF and his f/s pivot on the tight tranny wall we called "Trash Banks" in Palo Alto (18” of tranny, three feet of vert, just impossible). Then, at some point in ’97, he was down in So Cal and shooting photos when he really messed up his knee. He did his ACL and maybe his MCL, too... I’m not positive. But it really set him back. He had to get surgery and was on crutches for a long time. It was during this down time that he started spending more time at High Speed—home of Thrasher and SLAP. He’d obviously always been tight with the crew via friendships and sponsorships but it was mutually agreed upon that while he was hurt, he should be around Thrasher and help with writing and editing, given his education and knowledge in general. So Phil would go in most days, ride the exercise bike in Jake’s office to rehab his knee and work at the mag. I remember how stoked he was when he went to pick up Daewon at the airport to bring him to the photo shoot that would become the “Hesh vs Fresh” cover with Wade. After a while of this, it was decided that after he recovered, he would do another strong video part or two and then transition into being the new editor at Thrasher. Jake had been wanting to pass the torch at the time and there was nobody better than Phil to take it. So, in some alternate future that never happened, Phil would have been the editor at Thrasher at the same time I would become the editor at SLAP. 

Another thing that came up around then and never got to happen was that Phil was going to have a company of his own through Think. It got pretty far along, narrowed down to a couple potential names and a list of guys who were either going to ride for it or Phil talked to about riding for it. The name was either going to be Dump Truck or TNT. There were even some graphic ideas getting put down on paper. The names I remember being involved were Phil, Paul Zuanich, Tim Upson, Tim McKenney and Mike Matilainen. Some other folks that were interested or talked to about it were Karma Tsocheff, Jerry Hsu and Colt Cannon. Anyhow, it’s too bad that never came to life, it could have been a good one with Phil at the helm.

So anyhow, Phil continued going to school, working at the mag and rehabbing for awhile. In early ’98, he started skating again, getting back into the groove. He was skating pools and ledges and building his strength back up, but I seem to recall he got slightly hurt again somewhere in there and it was slow going for a while. But it was coming. I was just about to graduate from college and Phil told me that there had been some talks about bringing in an assistant editor at SLAP to help Dawes run it and that he and Paul, who was also working at High Speed, had brought my name up. With all the friends and connections I had made in the NorCal industry over the years, it sounded like a lot of people were backing it. Paul and Phil started pushing hard for it but it was slow getting anything going until one day, Phil and I were out skating at a local park when a very young Tony Vitello needed a ride home. Phil and I dropped him off and went around the back to say hello to Fausto, who was sitting poolside. Phil introduced me, saying “This is the guy I’ve been telling you about for SLAP.” Fausto told me I should come by the office the next day to talk, so I did. My “interview” was about three minutes long (including Fausto asking me if I was a hippie) and then I was offered the job as Managing Editor at SLAP, which had long been my favorite magazine and even played a part in Phil and I becoming friends with him passing his number to me in the back of an issue. I kinda couldn’t believe it. We decided I would start in a couple weeks as I was just about to go on a road trip with friends, so I did that and then started working at High Speed on Monday, August 10th, 1998. I was 21 and just six weeks out of college. Phil pretty much got me the job.

11 days later, on a Friday evening after work, Phil and Diego Bucchieri (who had been staying with Paul and Phil, skating and learning to speak English at their house) met up with me on a hill bomb session for a couple of hours. Those two were just about to leave on a road trip up to Oregon with some of the Thrasher guys, so we decided to have a session before they hit the road. We mashed all over Potrero Hill, flying around and stopping for a beer. I was riding a big cruiser board and going faster than them half the time... I remember really distinctly coming down the east side of 18th near De Haro and passing Phil mid-block, looking back and him having this huge smile on his face, stoked that I was going faster than him. Makes me smile every time I think of it.

Our session ended and I went to drop them off at Greg Carroll’s place to get ready to leave. We said our goodbyes, see you in a couple days, and parted ways. For some unknown reason, I stopped and watched Phil and Diego walk down the block away from me, west on 23rd towards the Mission. The sun was setting behind them and it was a pretty summer evening in SF. It was the last time I ever saw Phil.

They headed out on the road and the next day made it as far north as Arcata, CA. There’s some footage of him skating that night, on a little mini ramp in barn of some sort. He was still on the mend but skating well. Arcata is home to Humboldt State University, and there was some local party they were invited to. As I understand it, they stayed at the party pretty late, past midnight, and Phil decided to catch a ride back to where they were staying with a girl at the party, a student who was moving back to the dorms. She had been drinking. On the freeway just south of the exit for Humboldt State, she either fell asleep or passed out and went off the road into the ditch that ran alongside the freeway. The crash was pretty bad. The report that I saw after the fact said that when the police got to the scene, the girl was not badly injured but was out of it and said that nobody else was with her in the vehicle. Because of that statement and because she was in the process of moving and her clothing and things were strewn all over the inside of the car,  nobody knew that Phil was also in the vehicle at first. When the police did find him, he was gone. There’s no way to know whether or not he died instantly or if there might have been time to do something. I like to think it was instant, and I know he would have preferred it that way.

The girl who’d been driving did a little time in jail but Phil’s family did not press hard charges. I believe she spent a lot more time speaking to people about drunk driving. And I’m sure she lives with it every day. I never learned her name or anything about her. I never wanted to. 

Oh and wait-- did I mention that he passed on my birthday? Yup. So I have that one with me forever. Tony Vitello’s, too. I believe that word got round about what had happened that evening but nobody wanted to call and tell me since it was my birthday. I found out the next morning at work when all the guys who should have been on the trip with him were in the office not looking too well. Jake told me the news. I was in a daze. I remember walking down to leave the office when in walked Diego. He still barely spoke any English. We just looked at each other and gave each other a big hug. (In recent years I have had the pleasure of being employed by the same company as Diego and we still always sign off our emails with “Un abrazo.”) Later I thought about how insane it must have been for him: in a foreign country he barely knew, hardly any English, staying with somebody who died. His whole world must have seemed gone. Anyhow, I started driving home. The Beatles song “Two Of Us” came on and I cried the entire way home. I went straight to Mike Matilainen's house. He was barely moving. He’d been through a lot the last couple years. He was the one who told me nobody had wanted to call me about it on my birthday, and that he was sorry I found out like I did. I don’t remember anything else from that day. The next day I went back to work and it was deadline. I had to write his obituary that day to get it done in time for the issue. Hadn’t I just been skating with him a couple days before? It didn’t seem real.

Phil had been doing a lot of story writing for Thrasher around that time and he was working on one about skating pools right before he passed. I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life but I have one from the first week I was working at SLAP, just before he passed. I was pretty tired from the mental stress of figuring out a new job and working full time in an office for the first time, when Phil told me he had a nearby pool lined up for an evening session... just me and him, I didn’t go because I was tired.  It’s the only time I ever said no to going skating with him. The article had gone to press before he passed and right after he passed, it came out. In it he wrote about the fact that I didn’t go with him and he skated the pool alone. He referred to the character of Little Fidel in the story, but it was me (I was into wearing this little black beanie and I had a crappy beard going). In the light of him being gone and there being nothing I could do to change missing that session with him, I was devastated reading that. That feeling, and having to write the obituary for him in my first issue, knowing that he had lined the job up for me—it was almost too much and I thought about not going back to the mag. I quickly came to the realization that there was probably nothing that would disappoint him more than me walking away from what we had set up, walking away from the opportunity to do something great. So I went back and put my heart and soul into SLAP for almost 13 years after that. I put his initials (PAS) first in the staff “thanks” section every single month. I owed him a lot. I loved him a lot. I missed him a lot. Still do. Thinking back on it, he was the older guy in our crew and he seemed so grown up—but he was only 24 when he died. 24. He was still a kid. He packed tons into those years, living more fully than many who live much longer, but there was a lot he never had the chance to experience. I get bummed when I think about all the great things that have happened in my life since then that he didn’t get to be part of and that’s when I miss him the most. But that’s rare. Mostly I just think of the best times together.

What I remember most fondly about Phil wasn’t the skating, it was his personality. He was so funny, and nice, and a dick, and sarcastic, and smart, and an idiot and the raddest to hang out with. He was brutally honest. No ego, ever. But mainly, he was so fun. Looking at his footage for the subtleties of him as a person, you can see it come through. Big goofy smiles in the middle of lines or after slams, weird little comments you can barely hear under the music (“Hey, I made it!,” “Whoa, around the world!,” “I’m, like, the gnarler!”, etc.). He loved Mozart as much as he loved ACDC. He skated to Weird Al in a contest and laughed so hard at the lyrics that he couldn’t land anything. He graduated from UC Berkeley (English Lit major; you don’t start a sentence with “But” from above) at the peak of his skating career and hardly anybody knew he was even going to college at the same time because he was crushing it so hard. He was the total package that a skater could ever dream to be, and he was as great a person as I have ever known. I think he sent me a postcard from just about every trip he ever went on. That kind of guy.

But the skating… well, that speaks for itself. Like Gonz before him, like Cardiel with him, like Grant after him, he slayed everything with power, creativity and unique style. It says a lot when Julien Stranger puts you in an ad for a company you didn’t even ride for and says “The straight up best skater I knew” out of respect. But he deserved it, for damn sure.

All hail Phil Shao! One of the best to ever do it. More importantly, my friend. 

Never Forget.


chrome ball interview #76: todd congelliere

 Chops and Cubby go out for Icees. 

Introduction by Jeremy Klein
The first time I heard about Todd C, I was at Beryl School and some kids were talking about this guy doing all kinds of tricks on ramps that no one had ever done before. But then I didn’t hear about him for a few years after that until one day when I met him while taking product at World Industries. 

Somehow, we instantly became friends. Our love of horror movies and candy was enough, but then there was skating, too. 

I would be at his house everyday and he had a vert ramp there but it wasn't being skated. We would just go street skating. He'd talk about a trick that he wanted to do on vert, try it on a curb, and then instantly know how to do it on a 12-foot ramp the next day. It was incredible and really rad for me personally to see street-type tricks taken to vert like that... 

Not to mention, he was one of the few vert dudes to wear pants. 

Todd is one the best skaters of all-time. 

Jeremy Klein's Unseen Todd C Street Footage. So sick.

So Todd, this is almost cliché now but you really are seen as one of the first vert riders to have an obvious street influence in your tricks. Let’s face it, bigspin back 5-0s to fakie are a totally different animal compared to the almighty McTwist. Was this street direction a conscious decision on your part or was that just kinda how it worked out?

I think that approach was more of just how things naturally worked out for me back then. I was hanging out with mostly street skaters anyway. There weren’t very many people who were still riding vert at that point. Basically by the time I turned pro, in order to actually go skating with anybody, I had to go street skating.

The thing was that I didn’t enjoy street skating as much. And by skating street with people like Jeremy Klein, it also made it clear that I wasn’t very good at it.

I think I had more of a creative bone to pick. I was trying to bring something new to vert skating and I was using things that were accessible to me. I was seeing all of these new tricks going down on street and nobody had even thought to try them on vert yet.

So I started messing around with a few and once I actually pulled something off, I knew I should probably keep going in this direction. It was cool trying different things and making stuff up. Combining different tricks. It was all so much fun.

It actually got to a point where I was probably starting to take it too far. I remember coming up with this thing I called “the Congellarial”, which was an Indy Fastplant to Nosepick. It was a total joke trick that I used to do on curbs but I found myself doing them on vert… which was probably the dumbest thing ever. Once I actually did one, I felt so stupid. I mean I knew that nobody else had ever done it before but there was probably a reason for that. The whole thing was a total embarrassment and I definitely didn’t want word getting out about that one... but looking back on it, it really was just an example of that fun sense of creativity.

I realize street skating was still in its infancy back then but it was still so much more accessible than the lumber-intensive route of backyard ramps, right?

Ramps were just more fun. There’s something about transitions that I liked. Not even pool skating, it was wood transitions, specifically. I can’t even explain it but I’m sure tons of other people know what I’m talking about. There was no fear at all for me with Masonite and 2x4s. If I was going to try something on a handrail, that was a totally different experience. The fear was there. I knew something bad was going to happen. But I was comfortable and fearless on wooden transitions.

I skated street when I was younger but it was totally different compared to what it became. Back then, my friends and I would just roll down a hill on our asses and try to push each other over. We called it “Bash ‘em” and the guy who made it to the bottom without getting toppled over was declared the winner. That’s what street skating was to me.

When it started to evolve in those early Word Industries days, I thought it was so amazing but I already felt like I was too far behind. I’d be out there watching Jeremy or Mark Gonzales do these awesome things but I thought it was too late for me to learn. Even though I was only 16-years-old. There was just something in me that felt so awkward whenever I would really try to skate street. It didn’t speak to me the way vert did.

Was there ever a particular instance where you learned a trick on a 10-foot halfpipe that you couldn’t do on a curb?

I’d usually try them on my mini-ramp first but yes, a few things did go down like that.

It’s hard for me to remember trick names now but one trick that I definitely took that approach with were those “toothpick grinds”…

Fakie nosegrinds.

Yeah, I learned those on my mini-ramp and then on vert after not being able to initially do them on curbs.

I actually remember trying to do fakie 360 shove-its into those things on curbs and overshooting into fakie nose manuals… for about 5 seconds, I thought that it would be a good idea to try those on vert with the fakie nose manual part on the deck of the ramp! (laughs)

That was just a dumb idea. It’s probably not impossible, but at the time, I sure thought it was. But that turned into me trying to grind the coping instead of manualing and I even pulled off a couple of those. That’s definitely from a street idea.

“Oh, I can try this on vert and it will be much easier and way more fun!”

We talk about all these groundbreaking early tech tricks you were trying but your Liberty counterpart was a true old school great. Was Mike Smith a big influence on your skating growing up?

The thing with Mike Smith was that he was local. He lived in Hermosa and I lived in Torrance. I’d always see him in magazines and all of a sudden, he’s coming over to my ramp and we’re skating together. He played music, too, so he was right up my alley. So yeah, he was a big influence in that regard.

Correct me if I’m wrong but weren’t you on Powell for a little bit prior to Liberty?

They were doing a “B-Team” kind of deal and I was trying to get on that for a bit. Chris Borst was trying to get me on there. It was one of those things where he kept promising to get me on but whenever I’d go stay with him in Bakersfield, he’d be with his girl and I’d feel super awkward and stupid. He’d be in there with a lady and I’m hanging around, trying to get on a skate team.

There actually was a session that I went to with some of the Powell dudes. I was gonna skate and hopefully get sponsored that day… until a young Danny Way showed up.

(laughs) Of all the people!

Yeah, he dropped in and immediately everyone there was like, “This kid is amazing!”

Here’s this wonderchild who’s like the second coming of Hawk and they’re not even looking in my general direction. I might as well not even been up there. Half of me couldn’t even believe all the shit this kid was doing while the other half was like, “Fuck you! Why are you doing this to me!?! Holy shit!”

It all worked out for the best, though. I grew to love Liberty way more than I ever did Powell, even though Liberty wasn’t anywhere near as successful. I always felt like Liberty was where I belonged.

How’d you end up riding for Liberty?

Liberty was presented to me by Mike Smith shortly after that session as, “Hey, if you’re not gonna be riding for this Powell thing, ride for me!”

That’s just how Mike works.

“Hey, you ride for me now. Okay? Cool. Here’s a board.”

It never felt official or anything. I was honestly never sure if I was really even sponsored half of the time. Even when I turned pro for him and had a board out, I still didn’t feel like I was really pro. It really wasn’t until I started getting into contests that it felt legit. I still don’t know how he got around to signing the entry forms for me but he did.

But sponsorship just worked naturally for me with Mike. I was never going to be Danny Way so I’m going to do this thing with my friend. In retrospect, I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I should’ve until it was almost over.

What was the structure and inner workings like at Liberty? Was it just you and Mike?

(laughs) The structure of Liberty was that there was no structure whatsoever. It was a hair-brained idea at first and the next think we knew, it was really happening.

It was just me and him but we had distribution through World so that got us some promotion and a bit of the spotlight. My board was selling pretty well there for a while but then it got to the point where people stopped buying vert pros’ boards almost completely.

Was Rocco’s involvement just distribution? Did you have much interaction with him?

Rocco actually hated Liberty. It was this crazy situation. Mike and Steve had been friends for a long time but Rocco didn’t respect Mike whatsoever. That was obvious. I remember not being able to figure out why Mike would go talk to this dude everyday just to get abused like he did.

It eventually led to one day where Rocco tried to talk to me that same way and I flipped out on him. I’m not even sure what I said to him… I probably just told him to fuck off. But I didn’t care. I wasn’t friends with him the way Mike was and I wasn’t going to take that. I could sense he walked on eggshells around me after that day, being overly nice.

But yeah, Liberty was the red-headed stepchild of World Industries. Every time we would go in there, Mike would tell him about this idea… which most were admittedly pretty crazy, but Rocco would just laugh at him. He had this weird fucking laugh, too.

“You’ve got to be kidding me! Hey everybody, come in and listen to this stupid thing Mike wants to do! You gotta hear this!”

It was so embarrassing and terrible. All he had to do was be cool. We were selling boards and he was making money off of us. But Mike thought Rocco was our golden ticket or something so he put up with it. He’d already been putting up with it for years anyway.

It’s not that I didn’t respect Rocco, especially in retrospect with all he was able to do with that company. There was just some inner stuff there that was hard to swallow.

Liberty definitely had some amazing ads back in the day, though. Any personal favorites?

I always liked the one where we were fighting on top of that hill. Not really because of it being a stand-out but because it was an actual real-life situation. Mike and I would always get into these weird wrestling matches over ideas for the company. Not totally hurtful but we’d definitely get physical about shit. But those photos aren’t staged. That is actually us fighting and rolling down a hill. 

How did Liberty end up with a section in Rubbish Heap? Was that just a couple days with Spike?

That was about two hours with Spike. At least my part was. Mike shot his footage separately at another ramp and I filmed on my ramp so it’s basically two parts put together.

I don’t know how Liberty got in that video. It had to be Mike’s idea and he must’ve begged to get in there. I thought it’d be cool but I honestly didn’t think the video would be a big as it got. It was definitely good exposure, even if they spelled my name wrong. That was probably on purpose.

I know you were close with Jeremy Klein around this time. Any good stories come to mind from hanging out with that dude? Crank calls, perhaps?

Jeremy and I definitely did our share of crank phone calls back then. Our lives basically revolved around skateboarding, buying candy, and crank phone calls.

We crank called Gator once but I don’t even know if we should talk about that one cause it’s pretty sketchy…

Come on!

Okay, fuck it.

This is back when we used to go down to San Diego a lot and stay with friends. There was this one weekend where we went over to Tony Hawk’s house to skate his ramp and it happened to be during this weird point where Gator was going to possibly ride for Liberty.


Yeah, it was weird. Actually, there was a point where Mike was trying to get both Gator and Josh Swindell to ride for Liberty. They both fell through, obviously.

Talent scouting!

Yeah, so this is back from before we found out that Gator wasn’t going to be riding for us. We didn’t know really what was going on with him at this point, but we ended up seeing him at Tony’s ramp. We weren’t the best of friends but I knew him well enough to go up and talk to him.

“Hey, are you going to ride for Liberty?”

“No, I skate for Jesus now.”

“Is that like a new company or something?”

(laughs) I guess it didn’t fully register what he said or maybe I thought he was joking but I honestly didn’t really know what he was talking about. He definitely took what I said as an insult, though. He started putting me down for the music I listen to… even though he used to listen to punk rock as well.

“You better ride for Jesus, too! You’re heading down a bad path!”

He’s obviously offended and at this point, I just want to get away from the guy.

“Okay, Gator. Let’s just skate, man.”

So it turns out to be the most super awkward session you can ever imagine. But all I can think about the whole time is that I totally know who our next victim will be when we go crank calling later on that night.

A few hours later, we go to crank call Gator but we end up getting his machine. I remember his outgoing message saying all this stuff about, “I can’t come to the phone right now. Praise the Lord, blah, blah blah…”

Whatever. The thing beeps and Jeremy and I, almost in unison, put on these evil-type voices:

“Hey Gator, this is Satan. I know what you’ve done!”

Keep in mind that we are saying this completely out of nowhere. We dumbfucks had no idea what was going on with him at the time… we had no idea he was about to go turn himself in for murder.

Oh my god.

No clue! I mean, why was he even skating!? He had just killed someone!

My memory is a little vague but I really think he turned himself in the next day. Jeremy thinks it was a little longer but regardless, it was so crazy. When I heard the news, I freaked the fuck out. Here we had left that message, totally not knowing about what was going on!

I’m even on this little expose that Hard Copy did about the whole thing! It has this voiceover like, “He was the world’s most rad skater with his entire life ahead of him…” while its showing all this classic Gator stuff.  

“And then one day…” and there’s a shot of me bailing!

I couldn’t believe it! How could I be connected this close? It freaked Jeremy and I out. We didn’t crank call anybody for a few days after that. We just hid and played video games.

Do you think your message is what made him turn himself in?

(laughs) Nah, I doubt it. But who knows! I’ve heard so many things… but that would be pretty fucking hilarious! If that kinda thing could ever be hilarious.

Absolutely insane. So moving on, how did the Icee Bear become your graphic alter-ego? Were you just in need of a rip-off graphic and that one fit?

It probably started out like that but I did used to always drink those. The place down the street had an Icee machine and I always loved that graphic on the cup.

I think it had something to do with a deadline. Everything would always sneak up on me. Mike’s like that where he’ll just come up and say, “Hey man, you’re pro now.”

“Oh, okay… Really? Shit!”

“Yeah, you gotta do a model. Get your graphics going. Let’s go!”

This would always be followed by Mike saying on the very next day, “Dude, it’s deadline. Where are your graphics?”

He’d never tell me about things until the very last minute and I’d always have to think of something real quick. I remember I originally wanted to use the sleepwalking bear that was on all those Travelodge commercials but that somehow ended up turning into the Icee Bear.

Such a classic board.

Yeah, I liked how it came out. Mark McKee always did great stuff. He always exaggerated everything you gave him with these really thick lines to where those rip-off things almost became like their own thing. They were so great. I mean, that first model was just a complete rip-off of the cup but by the time that second mug shot one came out, I remember thinking, “Hey, we’re not being total plagiarists! We’re only 90% plagiarists this time!”

The third one was Icee as the Rocco devil, right? How’d he take that with your guys’ relationship?

That was me being spiteful after our little blow-up or whatever. I heard he got pissed off about that graphic. He never said anything to me, though.

I remember my biggest concern was that I didn’t want him to take it as a form of flattery. I mean, he described himself as the devil so this was actually playing into his whole deal. But it worked, I liked it and he got pissed off.

How were you treated by the old vert guard as a new school pro for a Rocco affiliate? I imagine you got plenty of vibing, right? Anybody stand out as a real asshole?

Actually not at all and I totally expected that. Maybe being down with Mike Smith helped me through all of that. I always looked up to dudes like Jeff Grosso, Ben Schroeder and Jason Jessee and I ended up getting along with them really well.

I think it might’ve been my third or fourth pro contest and I hadn’t really met any of those guys yet but I remember them calling me out to the parking lot. I go out there and they’re all blasting my first FYP demo cassette out of their car. I was so stoked on that.

But yeah, I really felt like those dudes had my back. I was at this skate camp one time with Ben Schroeder really early on when I slammed on a trick and actually knocked myself out on the flatbottom. Blood was coming out of my nose and I just laid there unconscious.

While I was out, I remember having this dream where Tony Magnusson is skating around my body. I’m lying there in the middle of the flatbottom and he’s skating around me in a circle, doing grinds.

When I come to, I’d been carried off to my room and everyone’s now having this big meeting about how they all want to fuck up Tony Mag. Supposedly, when I was passed out, he was up on the platform complaining about me being hurt.

“Why doesn’t this kid move!?! My muscles are getting sore!”

As it turns out, he really was skating around me while I was knocked out. I guess he didn’t want his muscles getting cold.

Dick move.

Even now, I still think about what an asshole move that was. What if he bailed and shot his board into my head? I’m lying there completely unconscious.  

But yeah, this was early on, way before I might’ve deserved any sort of respect from those dudes but they had my back anyway. To this day, I still love those guys.

Always wondered as your career progressed, what kept you on Liberty? I have to imagine you got plenty of offers to go elsewhere, right?

Yeah, I got some offers but I guess I stayed with Liberty out of loyalty.  I liked Mike personally and I loved the company. I loved what it meant. Plus, I was always holding out because I thought things were gonna get better; both with Liberty and vert skating. I thought there was about to be this big vert explosion again... a lot of crazy dreams, I guess.

Do any of those offers stand out from back then?

Yeah, there were a few. Vision was interested at one point. Think wanted me to ride for them, too. Powell actually started talking to me again as well but I wasn’t interested in that anymore. Kinda stupid but it was basically out of pride since they wouldn’t give me the time of day back when I was right in front of them.

No Birdhouse?

I think by the time Birdhouse started, I was kinda over it. Jeremy would talk to me about it from time to time but I felt like we were better where we were at. Jeremy and I even talked about doing our own company at one point.

That would’ve been amazing.

Yeah, we talked about it but it never really got that far… basically just a pipe dream from some guys on a sugar high. It didn’t have a name or anything… mostly just, “That would be cool!”

But I don’t like playing the “what if” game. Starting a company back then just wasn’t feasible for us.

The stuff of legend: Didn’t you piss your pants in a pro contest run once?

Yes, I did. (laughs)

That was actually the same contest I mentioned before where those dudes were out front blasting the music. Those guys were so cool to do that and then I go out on the ramp and do that crap… they probably thought twice about playing my tape after that.

The thing about that day was, that contest was on my very last day of high school. I was just super stoked on everything! I remember thinking to myself throughout the whole day, “At 3 o’clock, my life starts!”

After school, I talk my friend into riding up to Visalia with me for the contest and we end up getting into this crazy car crash where we do a 540 on the freeway, rolling backwards full-speed into a ditch. It was so crazy but somehow, not only were we okay but the car was also perfectly fine! Not even a flat tire! So now we’re extra stoked! Not only is this the first day of my life, I also didn’t die in a wreck when I probably should’ve! The car’s okay… I’m gonna piss my pants in my run now!


That was my logic. I’m not exactly proud of that.

Too funny. So talk a bit about the Liberty Horror video. What all went into the making of that one? Was that Liberty’s big move to really go for it?

Liberty Horror was pretty much my own project. I had help from Spike and Jeremy but it was pretty much me. Basically, I love horror movies and I love skate videos so Horror was my attempt to combine them.

One thing about that video was that I had to literally sneak into World to use their editing equipment and hope Rocco didn’t walk into the room. It was a big deal if he caught me in there.

“Hey, you can’t be editing that movie here!”

I didn’t care, though. Let him catch me! I’m trying to promote our company to make him money! But people were really worried about him finding me in there.

“You don’t understand. He’s gonna get mad. He doesn’t want Liberty stuff in here!”

There was some strange thing going on between Rocco and Mike at the time. All of a sudden, Rocco didn’t want any Liberty stuff at World. It was weird.

But Mike really wanted to do a video. By then, Liberty was already pretty late in the game of putting out videos but we had to have a video to keep the company going.

“Okay then, well, instead of hiring someone and shelling out money for them to make it, why don’t I just make it?”

Anytime you could save Mike Smith money, he’d do it. So I basically took over the video early on. Horror was all my ideas. Mike never seemed that into it anyway. There were actually times I felt like he didn’t even want me to do it.

The mandatory thing for Liberty Horror was that it had to have more street skating in it than vert skating. Mike was obsessed with Liberty having street skaters at that point. I remember going to Mike’s house so he could check out footage and all he’d say is, “That’s not street skating. That’s you skating a ramp. Get some street skating in there.”

“Well… how about this guy getting killed? That’s cool, right?”

“Yeah, that’s awesome!”

(laughs) Did you do all the special effects yourself? The severed head looked amazing!

Yeah, that was the craziest thing ever. That was when I knew Mike was onboard for the video. Once he saw that scene, he was actually excited.

I forget where we got that head from, we must’ve had some kind of connection. But I remember walking into this room and it was full of different body parts lying around for movies. Severed hands, severed feet… all this stuff. We look around and in the corner, there’s this head. Mike just starts screaming, “Oh my God! This is you!” 

I don’t know how it happened but there was this severed head that looked exactly like me… if I got my head cut off. And I still think that particular scene is actually scary. We proved a point with that one.

What’s the story on Fred Brown?

I forget what the title was but Mike had this Hawaiian book with this character in it by the name of Fred Brown. I remember him bringing it up to me one day and he was so excited.

 “Look! We have an entire book full of graphics right here!”

“Well, we can’t do a ton of boards like this… maybe one.”

I’m telling you, it was such a struggle for us to get a street skater to help the sinking Liberty vert dinosaur company. We felt like we needed a street skater so bad but it just wasn’t working out. Fred Brown was Mike’s amazing idea to solve all those problems.

“This is Fred Brown from the Philippines! He’ll be our new street pro! Nobody will know who he is but we’ll say he’s really good! You can ask Jeremy to film a part with a wig on! He can be this amazing street skater but he’s a total mystery!”

I didn’t see it at the time but Fred Brown was one of Mike’s best ideas. It really is genius. And not only was Mike excited about now having a street pro, he was also stoked on not having to pay him.

“No $2 a board! He’s not real!”

That video part was kinda crazy because Jeremy didn’t really go full-throttle in it. He was just doing normal shit. Mike was expecting his full Jeremy Klein shit but in a wig. It didn’t work out that way.

Still one of my favorites. But speaking of full-throttle, how did that Union video part go down? Were you just taking the piss out of street skating?

Is that the one where I’m trying the noseslide-tailslide?


That was just how it was edited. The way it worked out with those Santa Cruz wheel videos, they always wanted you to do street. They knew I did both… even though I usually just went for comedy with street stuff.

Basically, I couldn’t pull that trick. I was really trying and I’d done it before but I just couldn’t get it that day and was being goofy. The thing was, I knew street was more popular by that time but I didn’t care. I honestly tried a few times to talk them out of having any street footage of me in there at all but they really wanted it.

I remember filming with this guy who I’d just met that day and telling him from the start, “This is going to be easy for you because I’m not going to do much. It’s not going to be impressive.”

I reiterated this over the course of the day but he’d always reply like, “No, this is working out great. Just keep skating!”

“How is this working out great? I can’t pull anything!”

Next thing I know, the video comes out and I’m just like, “Oh, so that’s what he meant by ‘working out great.’”

Honestly, I was starting to get a little bitter about the popularity of street skating over vert by this point, too.

You weren’t one of those vert guys considering a street transfer for the sake of career?

I never thought for one minute that anybody might take me seriously skating street. And honestly, if it would’ve came down to that, I told myself that I was going to quit because to me, it was the equivalent of selling out. I know that’s stupid but that’s the way I felt about it. I saw a bunch of skaters trying it all of a sudden and I thought they were sell-outs.

“What are you doing? Just wait it out. Still have fun!”

I love skating vert and that’s why I was sponsored and had a pro model. I’m okay at it. I’m not good with street at all. It’s fun that’s not who I am.

So what happened with you and Liberty? How did you end up on Milk?

It really comes back to trying to find a street skater for Liberty. Vert skaters’ boards just weren’t selling and without a street skater, Liberty wasn’t going to succeed.

Mike ended up finding this kid out in East LA, I honestly can’t remember his name, but at the time, I sorta felt like he dumped me for this kid. I remember they’d gone somewhere on a skate trip together, maybe to a contest or something, but they didn’t say anything to me about it. Shortly after that, Mike just stopped returning my phone calls. It was never really talked about but all of a sudden, I felt like I was out. It was so confusing.

It hurt though because I was loyal to him that entire time and now he’s doing something else and not calling me back. Betrayal is a strong word but that’s how I felt. I could see how this was going so I quit and went to Milk, something I hated doing but I felt there was still some life left in me.

Mike and I still talk to this day but it got a little weird back then.

Milk was weird. It didn’t feel right and I always felt totally out of place. At first, it was going to be alright because both Ron Chatman and Hosoi were going to be on the team. That sounded pretty good. It was Chatty who actually got me on there. But for whatever reason, the company didn’t end up getting started for a while and the next thing I know, Hosoi is no longer involved and Ron had gone to another company. I was fucking pissed. The owner was super cool but when my board finally came out, it just felt wrong.

The whole scenario turned me off from skateboarding. I hated going on trips with those guys and I just didn’t like being around it anymore. At the same time, my parents lost their house, which also meant that my ramp had to be torn down. The writing was on the wall.

I went on this European trip where I was supposed to do 12 demos and 3 contests; I didn’t do any of them. The guy I was with had sold all of my pro boards that I was supposed to be selling for tour support and was refusing to give me any of the money... that was it. I just bailed.

“I’m done. Don’t worry about paying me. I don’t really have to do this.”

Everyone was trying to hustle so much back then, especially vert skaters. It was like rats fighting over a piece of cheese. It was sad. Not being professional anymore wasn’t a sad thing for me at all. It would’ve been sadder had I kept on trying to do it. I can still skate and that’s all I care about. I had more fun skating before all this other stuff started anyway.

Do you think if you had a different sponsor at the time, you would’ve had the proper support to stay with skateboarding?

It probably would’ve made a difference. I was fine not being on Liberty anymore but I wasn’t okay being on a team that I wasn’t comfortable on and still not making money.

It’s hard to answer because at the same time, it could’ve made it worse. I used to see these guys that I really respected at contests and they always seemed to be whining about money but they were making way more than I ever was. They just sounded like a bunch of spoiled brats. Here they’re complaining about making over 100 grand a year and they’re skateboarding for a living. I felt embarrassed about the whole thing: embarrassed for them for complaining like that and embarrassed for myself for making so little in comparison. It was all so strange.

The whole situation seemed like a sign telling me to go on with my life.

Have to wonder, did any of your experience on the business side of things with Liberty inform your future role with Recess Records?

Oh yeah, for sure. I definitely put out records the same way Mike put out boards. I know exactly how much effort is involved to get a release out just like how he knew what it took to put a board out.

Everything is hands-on. I remember going with Mike over to the artist’s house and taking art over to the printer before hitting up Screaming Squeegees for boards. He did everything. And there was never a release date, it was whenever the manufacturer was done with the stuff.

That is a big reason why I never sweated being paid by Mike as I saw that I was learning how to do business… even though he is definitely a weird guy to learn business economics from, there were lessons there to learn. He didn’t want certain people to touch Liberty and I’m the same way with Recess. It’s like you only want certain people handling your baby, even if it’s slower or you look like a big flake.

Well put. So wrapping this up, does it trip you out on how many people still bring up your skating after all these years?

Definitely. I honestly didn’t think anybody really appreciated it that much as it was happening, let alone all this time later. I think there’s been a type of renaissance with a lot of people but for me, I can’t really explain it. I always figured you had to have some type of clout to get that status. But it’s cool. I like hearing people talk about doing certain tricks back then. That’s always good to hear.

…But no one has ever done a Congellariel still to this day!

(laughs) We’re gonna have to run a Trick Tip for it in this.

I’d break my back trying to do that stupid thing.

Big thanks to Jeremy Klein for the intro and footy 
...and to Todd for taking the time.