chops sits down with the forbinator for conversation.
Introduction by Chris Hall
My earliest memories of Reese come from Pulaski Park. He would come down there with his homie Dickie and he’d have the worst set-up ever but still be ripping. Mismatched wheels with flat spots all over them and an old chipped up board. I remember he’d wear untied white trash Reebok running shoes with the soft soles and still skate better than most of us down there. He had a very powerful, distinct style that made you just want to sit back and watch. Element was lucky to have him on their team.
Alright, Reese, so I don’t know how much of this you want to get into but I do think we should get this out of the way, I know you are now over 3 years sober. Congratulations. Good to hear, man. Not sure how much people know about your backstory on this side of things or to the extent you’d like to talk about it but what was your inspiration to get clean?
Oh man… you’re going right in. I love it. I didn’t know if you were going to start out with Washington D.C. or ollieing stuff or what but you go with this one. That’s cool. I’ll be as honest and as forthcoming as I can possibly be.
Alright, so honestly, I didn’t really have an inspiration to get clean, it just sort of happened upon me. It basically came in the form of an exhausting run that chipped away at me for the longest time. It was something that I always had to carry around with me until I finally got fed up with it and admitted that I couldn’t beat it myself. I always felt I could somehow control it before. I had to admit I was defeated.
It’s crazy though because when you first came out, you always seemed so clean cut and fit. I remember a time when you were talking about being pro for two years and before planning on joining the Navy SEALS. And it seemed quasi-believable! When did things start to get out of control for you?
There’s so many ways to dive into this subject. I’m not sure if I have the words to properly explain every facet of this because I honestly had a lot of fun drinking my whole life. I had fun for a very long time until it stopped working. The problem was that I kept going, which led into other things.
There’s a lot of sensitivity around talking about the subject of drinking, in general… because yeah, its fun and you’re hanging out with your friends. It’s all good. I had a very long career in skateboarding and was able to travel all around the world with my bros and have a really good time doing it. My real problems came about when I started to develop this private, secretive relationship with a lot of the stuff I was starting to use outside of that party situation.
We’ve all heard these same kind of tales from pros like Guy and AVE battling addictions. Why do think skateboarders in general are so predisposed to this type of thing? Too much free time on your hands? The skate/party lifestyle?
I cannot speak for those people you mentioned or for anyone else because everyone is different. But for myself, it was just a long grind. Why are people so predisposed to that type of behavior? It’s hard to say.
Personally, getting into that stuff was essentially the same draw that threw me into skateboarding. Part of the initial attraction I had for skateboarding was that sense of rebellion and not caring. Doing whatever you wanted to do, whenever you wanted to do it. I’m not comparing skateboarding to substance abuse because they are two different things entirely, but how skateboarding happened to me was that my mother brought me a skateboard and it just became this thing that I did. My life eventually became this thing where what mattered most to me was my relationship with my skateboard. It’s crazy how much of that same type of thing would happen to me again.
I think the lifestyle had a bit to do with it. I’m not pointing the finger at skateboarding for all the things I did in my personal life but the reality is whenever you fall into a type of lifestyle that allows such fame, cash and juice, there’s a responsibility that comes along with it. If you’re not taking care of things in the way you should be or if you haven’t aligned yourself with people you can trust and who will call you on your shit, you are left to your own devices. I didn’t have anyone to really be accountable to so it just became, in a sense, taking. And that worked for a really long time… again, until it didn’t.
Well said, Reese. And congrats once again. Switching up speeds and going back a little bit, you’re known for skating DC but in reality, you mostly came up in the Maryland suburbs, right? How did you get introduced to the Pulaski scene back in the day that would eventually become so synonymous with your early career?
Yeah, I grew up skating in suburban Maryland, man. Bethesda, Maryland. That was my scene. And yeah, it’s pretty rural… it’s basically woods. The stuff I grew up skating was like a curb, a parking block and maybe a crusty-ass wooden bench. But that’s basically where I stayed and skated for years. I rarely ventured into the city because, for some reason, it never occurred to me. It honestly never dawned on me that I could go to other places with my skateboard and skate, too. It wasn’t until I went into the city with my friend Dickie that I realized it was even possible to catch a bus to the Metro and take that in.
I remember just popping out of the Metro, inside the city for the first time was so crazy to me. The whole thing was so exciting… to be in a city and skating with all of these different kids who came in from other areas, too. All gathering in one space for the same thing, I loved it. And it was such a great place to skate.
That was obviously an earlier, friendlier-era of Pulaski. When did you start to realize what was going down in Pulaski was really starting to blow up on a global scale? That it was more than just a local scene going on there?
That’s so funny to hear it put that way but its true. All of a sudden, I started seeing people I knew with photos in the magazines skating at Pulaski. I mean, there was already Sheffey and Chris Hall with some coverage there but when Pulaski started popping up in 411 all the time… that was like our Bible at the time. That was when it became obvious that it was really becoming something. If you made it into the opener of 411 back then, that was a big deal. And that started happening more and more.
It’s inevitable that when a spot blows up, the tourists will flock. And unfortunately for them, Pulaski locals were well-known for regulating pretty heavy once the spotlight started shining a little too bright on that spot.
Yeah, people got jumped. Either one guy jumping on another dude or multiple people jumping a guy. I’m not going to mention any names but I will admit that I was part of that on more than a few occasions in my younger years.
But I have to say that once D.C. skaters became known for that type of thing, it almost seemed like it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It was like once that sort of thing got in somebody’s head, that there was a chance they could get jumped by coming down to Pulaski, it was almost like that thinking guaranteed them to start acting in away that would make that sort of thing happen to them. That they’d almost make themselves get jumped in a way.
It didn’t happen everytime but it happened enough.
How did Goodtimes Skateboards come into the picture for you? That little-seen promo part of yours is incredible!
I had just graduated from high school, barely, and was working at a deli. I was still skating downtown all the time and I just had the most busted gear. My board was all worn out and my gear was totally busted. I remember just starting to think about things and not really liking how it all was starting to play out.
I figured I could keep on working at this deli, which was barely even a job anyway, or I could make one last serious go at skating. I knew I was coming towards the end of really being able to skate because I had to start supporting myself. I knew I was going to have to get a different job since this deli thing wasn’t enough and a new job wasn’t going to mix so well with skating. It just wasn’t going to work. I knew that I needed to get a sponsor to keep it going. I mean, Chris Hall had hooked me up with free product before but I needed to get on a team in order to keep going.
I got on Goodtimes shortly after that through a friend of mine, Joe Pino. We’d go skating downtown a lot together and he ended up telling the owner about me. That’s how I got my first box. I was riding Goodtimes boards after that. A friend of mine who also rode for Goodtimes, Andrew, ended up sending some of my footage out to Califonia and things progressed from there.
You were an interesting case because so many people talked about you very highly in interviews before you really started getting a lot of coverage. Like that Nicotine ad, “You don’t know him now but you will.” Did that kinda freak you out? Did that put any extra pressure on you at the time?
No, not really. When that stuff started to come out, that was really the start of blowing my head up. I really started to think I was cool after that. At the time, just to be included in the company of Andy, Chris and Pep, that was enough for me right there. Definitely.
Well, the first thing I ever saw of you was that backside kickflip over the White Ledge at Pulaski, which definitely lived up to the hype. Such a sick photo… But was that something you had done before or what? I just ask because you look so casual doing it in those jogging shoes you used to rock. What’s going on there? And why did you run Reeboks so hard back in the day?
Honestly, I only skated Reeboks back then because I could get them for cheap at Pay Less. Those shoes were basically the only ones I could afford. That’s the only reason I had those on. (laughs)
But no, I had never done that before. It was cool because all the locals at Pulaski were there that night, all gathered around me. That sort of thing used to happen all the time actually and it was one of my favorite things about skating there. Someone would always be doing something and we’d all gather around them to watch and cheer them on, if need be. It was like we were all in it together. I miss that about Pulaski.
You got on Element pretty much right before Andy and Pepe left to start Capital. How did things work out like that? I always wondered why you never went to Capital as well…
I never went to Capital because Element started to pay me. That’s basically it. I would’ve probably gone to Capital any other time but Element just seemed like more of a solid deal. I had already taken a trip out to Cali to meet the team and the owner. It felt more stable to me at that point in my career.
I knew those guys weren’t happy with Element and they were planning on leaving to start their own thing. They were promised ownership of this new company… although I’m not sure how much that happened, if at all. I really doubt that it did. Obviously, Capital didn’t stick around for too long so looking back on it, I know I made the right choice.
Were you close to Pepe at all back then? Any good stories stick out about that dude?
I just miss that dude. He was so awesome. The first trip I ever took out of the country was with him and Andy in 1994. I was still amateur at the time but I was so excited to be traveling… I remember slam dancing with him in Germany, which is funny to look back on. Slam dancing with Pepe Martinez in some weird German club, down in the basement.
I don’t have any stories about him really. I just remember how he used to go out shopping all the time, purchasing all these expensive jeans and shoes. I never saw anybody spend money like that before. $300 pair of jeans? That was Pep. Whatever he wanted to buy, whenever he wanted to buy it.
So how did you get involved with Dan Wolfe and filming for Eastern Exposure 3? And how serious did you take filming for that project? Did you have any idea when you were filming that it was going to go on to become this landmark East Coast video?
Of course not. I had no idea.
It’s funny because I don’t really remember the first time I met Dan back in the day. There was so much going on at the time. But I know he was always around filming clips of everybody. That’s all he was doing when I first met him, just collecting clips. I met him at Reading once and filmed some stuff before he came out to D.C. and we started filming more stuff there… took a trip to Philly, too.
He was just so into filming that it kinda rubbed off on me and got me sparked. But I definitely took it serious because I could tell how passionate he was about it. I knew the video was really going to be great because of how serious he was.
How did it come about you getting a part versus being another montage guy?
I’m putting words in his mouth but reflecting back on it, I think it came about because I had already collected a good amount of footage early on. He saw what he was collecting and who had a good foundation of footage to work with and went from there… but I don’t know for sure. Ricky and Donny both had a ton of footage so I imagine that was his thought process.
Who’s idea was it to skate to the Talking Heads? Such a classic song choice.
I can’t remember where that Talking Heads song came from… and I can’t believe that I don’t remember. Let me think…
I know that I first shot over a Fleetwood Mac song that I wanted to use and Dan was like, “Hell no.”
Really? What Fleetwood Mac song?
“You Make Lovin’ Fun”- the Bill and Hillary Clinton campaign song. Just kidding. It was “Dreams”.
But he shot that down immediately. After that, we just started firing songs back and forth at each other and I think he came up with the Talking Heads.
Did you share the same militant East Coast values as some of the other Underachievers heads back then? Did you at least see where they were coming from? Would you ever get any static or pressure because you rode for Element instead of Zoo or Capital or whatever?
The thing is that Ricky had such a huge influence on the way so many people thought… especially the people that really hung around him. I realize I’m single-handedly picking him out for this but he really had the fever and yes, I did catch a little bit of that static.
I just didn’t share that point of view. I never had that same fever as the party over there did. I had been to California and made friends with people out there. I knew at the end of the day, it was all just skateboarding. I didn’t want to get caught up in all that stuff with those guys.
I was proud to come from the East Coast and skate for a West Coast company because I always felt that was more difficult to do. Yes, we were isolated out on the East Coast at the time, so to make it out of there and actually get recognition for what you were doing was a much harder feat at the time.
One thing you always hear from East Coast dudes moving west is how small everything is… like the picnic tables, for example. Did you experience that same thing once you moved out there? I mean, you moved out there and immediately started ollieing halfway UP Wallenberg to manual. Nobody had done anything close to that up to that point.
I’ve heard people from the East Coast say that but for me, it wasn’t as much about things being small but more about how smooth everything is. The run-ups and set-ups are so much better out here. With the exception of Pulaski and Love Park, there really aren’t too many places on the East Coast that are just perfect places to ride your skateboard.
I remember coming out and not being able to believe the schools everyone skated. How you could go in there and skate all day with no hassles, have a great day and go home. No conflicts. It was unbelievable.
It seemed like you were really on a tear there for a while after moving out west… specifically once you went up to SF.
Well, what happened was that I’d moved out to Costa Mesa and was actually having a hard time getting used to skating out there. Having to jump in a car all the time seemed so strange to me. But then I ended up blowing my knee out, so that took me out for a little bit.
I was still injured when we moved up to San Francisco, so once I finally recouped my knee, I was beyond stoked to go out and skate SF.
Honestly, I was just happy at that point. Happy to be healthy and back on my board. I was hanging out a lot with the Deluxe guys as well, skating the park and just having fun. It was a good time.
Was part of that motivation trying to make a big statement after being injured? Because you got two covers pretty quickly there.
Well, my sponsors were going to drop me. I really had to make a comeback after my knee injury. I had just moved out to be closer to my sponsors but after my injury, I was in a bit of trouble there. I knew I had to get more coverage and really try to do the thing. Luckily, things worked out and nobody dropped me.
What was your process like with tailsliding the Cardiel ledge? Did you go there specifically to try it or did it just kinda happen one day? That had to be some scary shit, right?
I remember talking to Pete Thompson around that time and he had mentioned that Dave Swift, editor of Transworld back then, said if someone got a photo doing something down the Cardiel ledge, he’d give them the cover. That was pretty much my motivation to head over there. I’d been looking at it anyway… I’d always wanted to try something down it.
I can’t say for sure but I feel like I had to go back twice for that one. But I know I didn’t have that many tries on it. I didn’t eat shit on it too bad… I didn’t die (laughs).
I still think Cardiel ripped that ledge the hardest but whenever I landed my trick on it, I was happy. I just remember being like, “Let’s get out of here.”
Did that fakie ollie for the Thrasher cover come pretty quick, too?
I was with Dill and few others that day and we were all skating that thing. I remember Dill did a caballerial over it, which was amazing. But yeah, the fakie ollie came fairly easily over it.
I also backside flipped it that day. I got a sequence of it but I could never film it… I always wanted to. I went back a few times to try and get it but never could.
You know I’m going to bring it up… what about the Reese Forbes Ollie Challenge? Looking back on it, would you have set that up differently? Just asking because nobody that’s ever had their name on a “challenge” in skateboarding has ever won it. You took that very well with how it all went down but what was going on in your head?
(laughs) I just wanted a glass of water.
What was going on in my head? It was nerve-racking! It was high-pressure. There were all these antics going on around me… I mean Tim O’Connor’s standing there in his underwear! It was high drama, high intensity. These loud metal bars are getting constantly knocked down. It was crazy! But the contest went down the way it had to happen and the best man won on that day.
It’s funny because in the beginning, it was supposed to be this fun little thing. It was originally thrown out there rather lightly but it ended up gaining all this momentum. Suddenly, it was like, “Oh shit!”
The ball was rolling and there was no turning back. I remember thinking to myself, “Hey, what a minute! I thought this was a joke!?”
But honestly, people asking me about coming in 2nd at that ollie contest over the years has to be one of the most irritating things for me… just because it’s something that I’ve heard over and over again. And it’s funny because the person who brings it up always seems to act like they’re the first person to ever think of asking me about that.
“Does it bother you coming in 2nd for that ollie contest?”
“No, I was actually trying to get 2nd the whole time! That’s exactly how I wanted it to work out!” (laughs)
“No, I was actually trying to get 2nd the whole time! That’s exactly how I wanted it to work out!” (laughs)
So funny. Talk a little about those doubles runs with Huf while filming for Closure. That stuff looked like so much fun. Was that just you guys going around and trying to find the absolute biggest stuff possible to skate?
That was fun, man. I always liked skating with Huf because we tend to skate the same stuff. But yeah, Dan called me up one day and said he wanted to go film some doubles with Keith and I so we went for it. It was Dan’s idea. What you saw there was us just cruising around the city with friends, having fun. We were all skating together at the time so some of our friends were able to get in the mix as well. Everyone got clips. That type of situation made the filming so much easier. Not so much pressure.
I liked filming with Dan because he always liked the more obscure stuff about skating that is really cool. The trick only seemed semi-important.
Be honest, who had the higher ollie, you or Huf?
I don’t know, man. Probably him.
That would be amazing! (laughs) So how did Rasa Libre come about for you? How would you describe the overall direction and purpose you guys were trying to take with that project?
Rasa Libre came about as I had ridden for Element for many years and that was beginning to close. I had become friends with Matt Field over the years and we were skating a lot together at the time. Deluxe had been talking to Matt about doing a new company and it felt like a good thing for me to be involved in as well. Matt wanted the vibe of the company to really reflect the freedom one has on their skateboard. I remember he came up with the name one day with Micke Reyes… two words to represent the freedom to do whatever you want. Combine that with the vibe of 70’s rock and I think that whole thing came across pretty clearly in all our ads and things.
I know it was largely Matt’s project but how large of a role did you have in the overall direction of Rasa Libre? Perhaps with the team and whatnot?
Yeah, I think I played a large part in Rasa Libre. We all had a part in it, to be honest. It all happened so fast back then. Matt and I both chose the guys for the team together… Dylan, Nate, Omar and the crew. It was all pretty organic how that all went down.
Rasa, especially the Deluxe-era, is one of those companies people love to pine over. Do you feel like that company was ahead of its time? Possibly to a fault?
Yeah, I feel that to an extent. But longevity with a skateboard company is such a difficult thing. You try to cover all the bets you could ever make and it still might not work out.
I think Michael Leon’s art direction was really ahead of its time. He has such an interesting outlook that really did well coupled with the different players involved: Deluxe’s distribution, Matt’s creativity and the amazing riders we had on the team.
But I think we missed the mark as far as conveying the real inspiration of the brand. Michael left probably a year into it and I think that switchover so early on created a hiccup that we’d continue to feel on and on. Don’t get me wrong: so much of it was awesome but I feel it was also kinda mixed in some areas as well.
It has to feel good seeing that legacy live on with Omar and Dylan out there doing their thing, right?
Of course. I’m so proud of those guys. Even back then, Dylan and Omar both encompass everything that I want to see in a skateboarder and that’s why we wanted them on the team. They’re great people off their skateboards and just straight raw talent on their boards. Just awesome people.
One of my all-time favorite styles who just up and vanished, where is Nate Jones nowadays?
Where is Mike Jones? (laughs) I don’t know about Nate. I think I saw him on Facebook or something not too long ago. I need to get a hold of him. I think he had a kid and plays music in San Francisco. I’m not entirely sure.
So what ended up happening with that initial run of Rasa at Deluxe? Why did that company just implode like that and all of a sudden, you’re an OG on the newly-formed Skate Mental squad?
Shit… that’s a good question. But I wouldn’t say that it imploded, it was more like a gradual dissipation.
I honestly don’t recall anything really dramatic happening. We had an office in San Francisco and we were working on Rasa stuff. Matt was doing IPath, too. We had the art direction switched over and we were all skating a lot. Everything was good but looking back on it, I think what happened had more to do with us trying to wear all these different hats. Trying to do all this stuff while still trying to skate as well. It just didn’t work.
Something I’ve found over the course of my career is that it’s a very difficult thing to be a jack of all trades. To pull everything off is pretty much an impossibility for me. There are some people that can do it but I am not one of those people. I definitely gave it a good try, though.
I was skating a lot with Brad Staba at the time. He was running Skate Mental already but it was still just little t-shirt company. We started talking about things one day and he brought up that he’d been thinking about expanding Skate Mental into a board company and that he wanted me to ride for it. That I could just go back to skating and Brad could run the business end of it. It was really that easy. And now it is what it is today. He did all that. That really is his brainchild.
I always loved your Johnny Cash-fueled part in Nike’s first foray into skate videos, Nothing But the Truth. That had to be a unique experience, right?
I have to say it was a lot of fun because we got to travel around all over the world to make it. But honestly, if you’re asking for my perspective on my part, I think my part sucked. The song is awesome but I really don’t like that part.
Why is that?
I just wish I would’ve done more. At that time, I was not able to do all that I would’ve liked to for it. Obviously I’m my own worse critic but looking back on it, I do feel that I should’ve just concentrated more on it. Skated more, tried more, contributed more… at that time, there were a lot of things going on in my personal life and I couldn’t fulfill all of the responsibilities that I had. That part got slid to the back… which is unfortunate. That’s something I regret.
But as far as that project and Nike was concerned, it was awesome. It was really cool being able to tour around all over the world with the video for premieres. It was really insane. Just going from Brazil to Moscow, London and New York like that in something like a week and a half… just for this video. That was really cool.
That’s the sort of thing I really miss now: being flown across the globe for something essentially quite small in the grand scale of things and having 5 days of leisurely free time. Just exploring cities, kicking your feet up and hanging out at a café. The level of what you had to do and deal with was so small. After being home for two years now and not traveling anywhere, I appreciate that stuff a lot more now.
That and free Jaguars. So talk a little about the Stacks project with former Rasa art dude Michael Leon? It seemed super promising but I never really saw much beyond that initial run. Is that still going?
Stacks is kind of on-hold right now. He’s currently working for Levi’s and I’m down here working for an internet company, doing some other things besides skateboarding, so we’re not really doing anything with Stacks currently.
I’m not even skating right now anyway. Just kinda taking a break from it.
Understandable. But looking back on things, do you trip out on the legendary status Pulaski has achieved over the years? A legacy you helped build?
I think that legacy was already built by the time I got there but it’s a trip that it has achieved the fame and status it has. It’s kinda weird for me but there really has been so many awesome guys that have come out of Freedom/Pulaski.
To this day, I’ve never found ground as good as that anywhere else in the world. I love that spot and I really miss it… There’s just something about it, man. Amazing.
So I once asked Ricky Oyola to name any other skater that he would want to skate like and he said your name. I’ve actually heard more than a few people say the same thing over the years. So let’s now turn the tables and ask you the same question, who would you want to skate like?
I’d want to skate like Ricky Oyola. I really would. That’s really flattering.
There’s so many people to call out like that, though. Cards, Alan Petersen... Wade Speyer. But that’s really nice for him to have said that.
Alright Papa Reese, last question: if you could give one piece of advice to any young kids out there just now getting started in the skateboard industry game, what would it be?
(laughs) Oh man… I don’t even know. Skateboarding is so different now. It’s such a big thing.
I’d probably tell them that if skating is really what they want to pursue, getting sponsored and everything, to just concentrate on that one thing. If I could do everything all over again, that’s what I would do different: focus on the skating. Do that one thing and the other stuff will come later.
special thanks to hunter muraira, mark goldman, chris hall and reese for taking the time.