New Jack: Jake Johnson
Words: Rob Brink
The Skateboard Mag, December 2009
Admit it. You like Animal Collective now. Why? ‘Cuz Jake Johnson’s part in Mind Field is amazing. Jake is to Animal Collective what Duffy is to Primus... what Mariano is to the Jackson Five… and so on. It’s the stuff legends (or future legends) are made of.
Don’t worry. You aren’t the only person who wasn’t into the band before the video came out. Millions of others listen to it now while they skate and get just as stoked as you... wishing they could be cruising around NYC on a skateboard. Jake actually needs no introduction, so enough of this… let’s just get on to knowing the kid behind the most breakthrough video part of the 2009.
So you were just in Rotterdam for the am contest?
Yeah, my first contest. It was pretty nerve racking. It’s funny… there are European doubles of American skaters and they look just the same… like the European Lutzka.
Is there a Euro Cole?
Not yet. European Jamie Thomas needs to get a hold of one of those kids and then there’d be a good European Chris Cole. But there’s some gnarly dudes for sure. It was pretty wild.
What’s changed for you, post-Mind Field? Do people recognize you more or expect more from your skating?
The most strenuous part was probably before Mind Field and getting on Workshop. It’s been strange having that much exposure around the world. But more so, it’s just made better opportunities for me.
So you’re into the all travel?
I’m getting better at it. I broke down on a couple of trips. But that’s what I mean about things being more intense before the video. I just had no idea what to expect.
Maybe its better that you started your career with the pressure of Mind Field… the hardest might be behind you already.
Yeah, but any filming is stressful in it’s own way.
Are you working on a Gravis video now?
Yeah, Greg Hunt is doing a video with Gravis. I’ve been pretty psyched.
Alien has a deep history, but Gravis is newer and you can help mold it. Is it exciting to be part of something new that you can contribute to?
That’s the reason I wanted to ride for them. I’ve looked up to Arto my whole life. To have an opportunity to start something new with him and Dylan is pretty cool. Making shoes is something I’ve always wanted to do. My feet are beat up from all these vulcanized shoes. I’ve got plantar fasciitis… liquid buildup in my fascia between the skin and the tendon that stretches across your foot. It’s like gnarly heel bruises that come and go as they please depending on how many stairs I’m jumping down. I have to massage them out and shit. I’m just trying to eat right and make sure I’m supporting my feet and shit… wearing good cupsoles again.
Tim O’Connor said of you: “Jake’s shoes are choked out. He ties his laces so tight but I’m backing it for ankle support”
I didn’t know he was taking notice. But I’ve needed the ankle support since my ankle got sprained.
He notices everything. Have you ever skated Dylan’s shoe? That thing’s gotten so much attention and hate.
I tried them on and they were really comfortable. I didn't skate them though. Light as a feather and you can impossible ten feet high. Goddamn… Dylan can fucking skate good in those things.
Did you move to New York for the skating opportunity or to escape your hometown?
It was a combination of the two. I got accepted to Penn State in my junior year of high school. But that was the year that I met Greg Chapman and reunited with some of my old friends in New York. I ended up filming some footage and Greg saw it, wanted to get me boards and was willing to pay my health insurance if I moved to New York to work on their video. So obviously I was psyched. I got school to hook me up with some online classes my senior year. So I finished that up, got my diploma and moved to New York.
Who from Alien found you and helped get you on?
Jason Dill introduced himself to me, introduced me to Chad [Alien team manager] and got me started. But Joe Castrucci sent me my first box because Tim told him about me. Thanks Tim. Thanks Jason.
How do you view the education you’ve gotten in the world you’re in now versus what you would’ve learned at Penn State?
No matter what situation you’re in you can choose to learn, be involved and take what you can from it. But for me the most important thing is being passionate about what you do so you don’t take anything for granted and are thankful. If I was at school I would’ve learned differently, but traveling the world and being able to organize yourself and your time and meeting people… it’s something you can’t compare a college education to. I feel like it helps you see so much more of what’s actually going on.
Anyone can sit through a college program and learn the same information, but not everyone is gonna learn what you know.
No way. The best choice I ever made was deciding to live in New York. I’m so fucking thankful.
Tim told me about some circuit board you play with.
Radio Shack has this circuit board electronic learning kit and I thought it was kind of cool. It teaches you basic electronics. I read a few of the lessons and pretty much haven’t touched it since. I guess that’s one thing I’m not doing ‘cuz I’m not in school… sitting down with a book and learning. But you can make a button light up or you can make numbers appear. It’s funny because Andy Henry [Nike SB team manager] was at my apartment and saw it and starts rifling off all this stuff. I guess he went to school for electronics.
He just busted some moves.
He schooled me on the circuit board. I was psyched.
I heard you eat really fast.
Yeah, I can eat a lot. I fully recognized that when I was in Amsterdam and went to this falafel place three times in a row and got three monster falafels. I’ve really never had a falafel that I was down for, but for some reason these got me psyched. I’m not a pig though.
When I was your age I would eat a whole pizza. Now I can only eat two or three slices.
Eating a lot is tight. You get to shit a lot too. Everybody loves that.
Shitting is always fun. It’s a sport.
It’s interesting studying something that comes out of your body.
What’s something that bothers you about the skateboarding industry?
People are taking skateboarding so seriously because too much money is involved. It’s become about what we can produce, how fast and how many people can see it. People don’t take as much time to just enjoy it. It’s not that people aren’t enjoying skateboarding; it’s just that because of the Internet, the speed of things is so gnarly.
I think people are over-thinking and over-analyzing skateboarding lately. It’s not biology or some shit.
Exactly, it’s becoming more formulated. Everything just seems so planned and you can tell that you’re being sold skateboarding from so many directions.
I was told to ask you about Matt Reason and Lenny Kirk.
I’m gonna find those guys one day. They’re legendary. If I could be around in any era, I’d be skating around in Philly with those guys. I don’t know either of them personally but I look up to them.
Do you think you’d be able to hang with the huge setups they were riding back then? 60 mms and prototype boards that were 34 or 35 inches?
I think I’d be down. I ride a pretty long board. Have you ever skated a board that was uncut?
No, but when I was young my dad would buy me uncut boards for Christmas we would trace pro shapes that we liked and go cut ‘em out in wood shop.
Where did you get those from?
Shops used to sell them. We’re talking 1990. So you actually skated an uncut board? It seems so dangerous. The shiners would suck.
Yeah. Last month in DC this kid had one. No grip on it and he was doing switch tres.
We were playing games of S.K.A.T.E. in front of the White House with Billy Rohan announcing. The dude who was skating the uncut board was killing it. I think he won the game of S.K.A.T.E. he was in. It was a weird little event that Billy planned for some government thing. We got permits and there were cops escorting us. It was for skateboard awareness in Washington or something.
Billy Rohan is a skate activist. Building spots and shit.
A skactivist for sure. He’s doing a great job. I’m definitely enjoying the bounty. Been skating at 12th and A all summer for sure. I’ve probably said “for sure” a hundred thousand times during this interview.
Nah, but I usually edit out that kind of stuff out.
Yeah, we talked as long as a high school couple… like, two hours.
Damn, I forgot about those phone calls.
Yeah, those were kind of the worst.