The Stoya Interview
Words: Robert Brink
Photos: Josh Friedberg
The first time I met Stoya for lunch in New York, she was wearing a dress she made herself and en route to her first aerial acrobatics class—trapezes, rings high up in the air and Cirqué de Soleil-type shit. Stoya is crafty. She’s eager to learn and try new things outside of her profession. You gotta admire someone who doesn’t just kick back and coast once they get their career going and make some money and a name for themselves.
Stoya also briefly worked at Philly’s legendary Sub Zero skate shop, where discovering alternate uses for griptape (i.e.: on the bottom of her stripper shoes) she prevented bodily harm and skateboarding totally played a vital role (sarcasm) in shaping her career as a model and adult actress.
I just read an article about how shrimp are high on Prozac because of all the medication humans flush into the ocean.
Oh my God.
Predators are killing them because they aren’t on point.
Fuck. That’s fucking ridiculous. And then we eat fish that come out of the ocean. What’s that doing to us?
I don’t know but that’s what I learned today.
That’s fucking wacky. I wonder if that happens with semen. If someone’s on a bunch of shit and you swallow their semen, what happens? Vaginal secretions too.
I’ll have to pay attention next time I perform.
You don’t wanna be fucking some crazy bitch and then putting up with her shit because you’re too doped up on second-hand Prozac.
Did we just stumble upon something?
I think we just created a really dark rom-com short film.
All full of apathy and lack of happy ending.
Some pathetic dude is all happy because he finally got laid …
Yeah, and then he’s walking around fucking addicted to the girl but its just science tricking him.
I read once that there’s a chemical release inside your body when you get off that results in a sexual addiction for some people.
Oxytoxin. There are a couple of chemical releases. There’s the happy chemicals like endorphins, but Oxytoxin is also released, which affects women more. It makes them feel all cuddly and family-oriented and maternal. It’s after the physical act of sex. That’s one of the reasons women start dating someone and having sex frequently with them, they build an emotional bond. It’s also why they get all baby happy.
Guys just wanna pass out.
I guess it makes people sleepy too.
So what were your days at Sub Zero like?
We are going deep into personal territory here—where no reporter has ever gone.
I graduated high school at 15. I did it in 10 months or something ridiculous because I was home schooling and breezed through it. I was too young to drive and didn’t want to sit in Delaware for two more years so I decided to move to Philadelphia and find an apartment and a job. When I got there I moved in with this guy who worked at Sub Zero. We lived above the sushi place next to Sub. It was after Shane had turned it into a motocross shop or whatever and then back to just skateboarding.
Only Shane and the guy I was dating worked there at the time. Shane’s girlfriend just had a baby, so sometimes he would be like, “Aaaah! Can you either watch the kid or the shop, for just an hour? Because if somebody doesn’t do one or the other, stuff’s just not gonna happen.”
I’m not so good with babies but gripping a skateboard isn’t rocket science, so I’d come down, watch the shop and ring things up whenever they needed help. It was really fun. I’d always stop in and hang out after work for a couple hours.
You were a surrogate employee.
Kind of. And, oh my God, there was this girl who lived upstairs. Gimme a second to remember her stage name … Valentina Vaughn. She was in Hustler and photographed by Tony Ward. Now that I’ve been in the adult industry, I know she’s done girl-girl scenes for astronomical rates. She’s the hottest girl in the entire world.
She’s bangin’. She used to come into the shop and get skate sneakers! Eventually I broke up with the dude and he moved. Because I was so young and Shane was in the middle of developing all these paternal, fatherly instincts, he would see me walk out of my apartment in a super skimpy tank top and come running down the street with a Sub shirt, like, “What are you doing? You can’t walk around here dressed like that! It’s not safe!”
Then, when I started go-go dancing, people would put their drinks on the stage, which is fine, but it would get wet from the condensation on the glasses. Stripper shoes have no traction, so it gets dangerous up there. One day on my way to work I got an idea, so I ran into Sub Zero, got a sheet of grip and gripped the bottom of my stripper shoes. It was one of the most epic moments of my life.
Did the other girls pick up on it?
No because they were like, “What’s griptape?” I tried to explain …
My next-door neighbor in high school used to stick my extra grip on the wall next to her bed. She’d file her nails on it while she was sitting on the phone all night.
It has so many uses! Chicks should hang out with skateboarders more often.
I noticed that people who interview you tend to latch on to you being a tech geek, making your own outfits and not living in Los Angeles—things different from the average porn star. Most porn interviews I see don’t say much of anything. The girls seem to play the role of the hot horny chick who only wants to please a man. Do you think by putting this other stuff about yourself out there that you’re offering something more than just being a “typical” porn star?
Having worked in the adult industry for a while now, I’ve learned many of the girls really do have other facets to their personality—hobbies and families and serious things they invest a lot of time and energy into. But many of the girls are playing a role. Actually, I consider some of them the best actresses in history because they play a role everyday. They play it in front of cameras and in behind-the-scenes interviews and on social media. It’s really admirable, but in this day and age where there is no privacy I just don’t have it in me to maintain a 24/7 persona like that. So I’m just myself. Fortunately people react to it in a favorable way.
Do you ever feel pressure to carry on the persona? I see you do it in your Fleshlight commercials, for example, but then I’ve also spent time with you …
Yeah but when you see things like the Fleshlight commercial, I’m trying to play the very surface stereotype of a porn star.
I feel like you’re parodying it.
I try so hard to do it right and give them what they want but there’s this giant river of sarcasm running underneath it.
I wondered if others picked up on it.
I get unsolicited opinions from strangers all the time and they can tell too. Like, “Oh that’s so cute. They tried to get her to act like a porn star.”
Do you think people appreciate that?
Well, there’s all this ironic entertainment now, like Will Ferrell movies and the entire hipster culture. America and a lot of the western world appreciate irony and self-parody. People should be able to laugh at themselves and do things like that. So it resonates with people. And again, I’m very lucky that the things I do work that way, otherwise I’d be screwed.
So you’re being yourself essentially…
Yes. When I first signed my contract with Digital Playground, I was like, “Okay, you guys have your brand, please let me know what you want me to be.” And they were like, “We like you just the way you are.” And I was like, “Okay, I’m just gonna be myself and run with it because it’s worked so far.”
Is it possible you might set a new standard that you don’t have to constantly be “in character” as an adult actress?
I don’t really know, but I feel like with celebrities being under constant surveillance and everybody having their social networks going on, what’s happening is that public figures have to be multi-dimensional people. And if you’re just portraying a one-faceted character, people aren’t gonna connect with that—or if they do they’ll get bored very quickly.
They’re just gonna see through it.
Yeah. If there’s no substance there, it doesn’t hold people’s attention. All those movies where there’s the plot and there’s the subplot and then there are all these references … a lot of times people don’t necessarily pick up on everything that’s being referenced, but they know there’s something deeper there and that’s what makes them connect with the product.
As time goes on, the audience gets savvier too.
Do you have a different kind of fan than the average porn star?
Oh gosh. Probably. Obviously there are the fans who love pretty girls who take their tops off. Then there are fans of Digital Playground’s product who follow me because of that. But aside from those, most of my fans are people who, over time, I’ve developed friendships with. We’ll email back and forth and discuss books. A couple I call on their birthday to be like, “Hey, what’s up?”
And I guess it’s probably because I’m into sci-fi and whatever else, so we get into these deep conversations and it’s like, “Dude, you are cool!”
One of the first times we wrote, you told me how Nine Inch Nails, one of my favorite bands, sampled Leviathan for a song. I knew there were tons of weird samples on The Downward Spiral but didn’t know they were from specific sci-fi films. Then I found them all on YouTube and I was stoked. That exchange could never have happened between Jenna Jameson and me 15 years ago when I had pictures of her on my wall.
Regardless of the whole porn thing and having a public persona, when I talk to people, I don’t want to talk about surface stuff. I wanna get in there and connect with them—have a real conversation.
How about the cliché, “She’s too hot or pretty to be a porn star. She could’ve been an actress or a model.” I hear it about Tera Patrick; I hear it about you. I feel it’s kind of a backhanded compliment.
Adult entertainment continues to be portrayed as something that’s not desirable as a career, but rather something you fall into or are forced into. People, in general, don’t know much about it. It’s not like everybody has a neighbor that’s a porn star, so they continue to perceive it as something very negative.
I think they mean it in a complimentary way, but it’s also like, really? I could not have been a model. I’m 5’6”. If you’re not 5’9” or taller, agencies throw your head shot in the garbage. It’s just a basic requirement that essentially has to do with sample sizes. So it’s like, “Oh that’s really sweet you think I should model, but you obviously have no idea what you’re talking about.”
It’s the same as when you go for an interview in corporate America. If you don’t have at least a Bachelor’s degree, they’re probably gonna chuck your resume.
If someone said to me, “Oh you’re too smart to be writing for skateboarding.” I’d be like; “I worked my ass off for this!”
Like, you could probably also be writing for Time Magazine. If the editor for Time was like, “Hey, Robert. You should submit an article because I think you’d be great for Time,” you’d be totally excited. But when it’s some random person, it’s like, “Awww.” Like, a pat-on-the-head-because-you-don’t-understand-the-world-you’re-talking-about situation.
People also have this thing where they grow up feeling like they need to get straight out of high school into the best college they can, graduate with the highest GPA they can, meet some nice girl or boy, work in corporate America, live in the suburbs, start breeding and then restart the whole process with their children. It’s more important to do whatever makes you happy. Whatever you feel passionate about, do it. And especially in things like porn or skateboarding—anything that relies on your appearance or the condition your body is in—there’s gonna be a cap on that. After 30 or so you probably can’t do it much anymore, but you can do things that are related to it, or you can move into something else entirely different. Pretty much everyone I know that’s 50 or 60 has had at least two careers. They did something until they were 30 or 35 and then went back to get an education and do another thing.
It seems like people often do what they really wanted to do all along in the second half of their lives which is a shame. It’s good it gets done but people shouldn’t have to wait ‘til they retire to go on their dream vacation or try a new career path.
Or sometimes they do what they really wanna do and then they decide that they really wanna do something else. I think the decade between 20 and 30, you’re in the best shape to really get out there and struggle if you have to suffer for what you’re passionate about to be able to do it.
By Robert Brink
Photos: Skin Phillips & Sem Rubio Be Street Magazine, Winter 2015
Salvador Dali is allegedly quoted as saying, “I don’t do drugs; I am drugs.”
Well, Mark Gonzales is kind of just like that.
Mark doesn’t just ride a skateboard—he is skateboarding.
Gonz doesn’t just make art. He is art.
And like any great art, he is open to interpretation. He is not for everyone to love or comprehend. You discover something different each time you see him. Sometimes he’s quite simple, other times he’s quite complex—illegible even. He is thought provoking and thought leading. He is entertaining and inspiring. He often seems incomplete, over-the-top or ever changing. You can watch him over and over and over. He’s indifferent to how you feel about him. Sometimes it takes years for you to catch on to something he did way back in the day. Sometimes you might even dislike a part of him, but you always come back around, unconditionally, because the rest of what he does is too damn good.
Often times, when we are in the presence of great art, we feel envious. We wish we had the talent or the guts or the vision to go for it like the artist in front of us did—to make so many others feel some sort of way. And with The Gonz it’s no different. It’s near impossible not to wish we could all be on a similar, seemingly endless pursuit of skateboarding, art and fun. And because we can’t, we watch and we listen and we live vicariously through him, like you’re about to do right now …
I heard that Donald Trump owns some of your art, is that true? The thought that a potential president owns your art seems interesting.
A lot of people ask me about him. I guess people know that he likes art and is interested in some of the stuff I do. I can’t control who buys my art and I don’t have too much to say about it. I signed up to vote and I don’t really even vote.
Does it feel different if somebody famous owns a piece of your art, as opposed to a regular ol’ skate rat?
It’s strange. I equate it to being a skater and the circumstances of enjoyment in skating. For example, sometimes you find a skate spot that’s really good and you’re enjoying it by yourself or maybe with a couple friends. You have a great time and then you go back to that same spot the next day and it’s gone.
When I started to do art, I realized that it’s fleeting—always changing and going. A lot of times, in the moment, I can do a fun drawing for a kid, that I’m not planning to be important. And someone else could pay me money to do a drawing for them, and it’s something that might be very small and not have the same magic or depth to it as the one I did for the kid. So it’s very difficult to explain. Some kids might have a masterpiece that I doodled for them really quickly and someone else might have one that I spent a lot of time on.
Have you ever had a preference as to who owns your art? Or feel that skateboarders might understand, relate, or should own your art more than other people?
I’m getting recognized for my art now, and some people are doing art that is similar to my art now. But I’ve been inspired by other people as well. I never set out to have a specific type of art. Originally the prices of the materials didn’t matter. I would pick up material that was pretty much free. I did paper bag art because the paper bags were free. Every time I went to the market I would say, “Do you mind if I take a few bags?” And they’d say, “Sure, go ahead.” And those bags would be what I’d use to make the art on. I’d cut them up and spread them out and make long drawings on them. I would find the easiest and most economical way to have stuff to make art on. Eventually people would say, “Look, Mark, I want to support you. Do you want to do it like that? Let me buy you supplies!” But again, it’s fleeting. I can do something right away that becomes important and then something I spend time on can be unimportant. Sometimes people would give me supplies to make art with, but I wouldn’t be able to make something that relayed what I was feeling. It didn’t seem to work.
You can’t always channel whatever energy might be expected of you …
Exactly. I’m not a graffiti artist. I don’t do art on walls and stuff. But I think that the connection between the people that do actual graffiti art and skateboarding, it’s all self-gratifying. They’re not searching for fame. It’s something they do to channel an energy or something like that. They don’t want to go off into an area where what they do with that energy is bad or gets them into trouble, so they do it with graffiti. I know a lot of skaters that did graffiti and all these years I never really associated the two, but just recently I’ve been thinking about it. They do it because it can be anonymous. No one has to know who it is. If you’re super talented at something, sometimes it may be a burden to you, you know?
Do you ever feel that way? Like your art or your skateboarding or the status you’ve achieved with them over the years is a burden?
I don’t know. I’m looking out at New York City as I’m speaking with you and that’s just what I’m thinking about. I’m surprised sometimes, when I see someone who has a talent that I never knew they had. Like suddenly I see them playing piano and I’m like, “Woah!” And they are kinda like, “Yeah, I can do that but I don’t do it much.”
Sometimes it’s sad to not see someone do it if they have the talent.
Yes. And then when they do it they surprise you.
Are Gonz the artist and Gonz the skateboarder the same person? Or do you have to switch modes or brains to do one or the other?
I’m 48 years old. It’s difficult sometimes. Sometimes I have to refrain. If I see someone with a skateboard I can’t just go and skateboard with them right then because I have to do things that pertain to my life as a 48-year-old. The times when I do get to skateboard … boy, it is so fun and I do enjoy it.
You can see art in so many different things, but it’s an artist that sees a way to express it or channel it so that people realize that and see the beauty in it—see things from a different perspective and be like, “Wow, okay that’s awesome!” So I think it’s the same brain really, but just on different mediums. One is like a performance art. I can’t say that skating is completely performance art because it’s driven by competition sometimes. But if I see someone doing something difficult, I want to see how I could make it even more difficult or put more flair into it.
Having more friends that are artists now, I’ve started to realize that they don’t like sports or they don’t like competition. As children they shied away from that and got into art. So a lot of artists are people that don’t like competition.
I discovered skateboarding when I was 12 and it was such a relief. I quit soccer and baseball because I was tired of having coaches yell at me. I just wanted to do my own thing and not have to worry about losing or feeling like I wasn’t as good as other kids.
Yeah, and I think that’s why a lot of kids choose skating as an individual sport. You can be how you want to be. Like everything though, it gets competitive. Like figure skating. Look what happened with those champions taking each other out many years ago. People go to crazy lengths to be number one or to succeed or beat someone else. I mean that’s when it goes the bad way. There’s also the good way, where competition builds creativity and makes people interested in something.
Or even to just make people try harder.
I’m asking because I’m a writer. But sometimes I have a job in an office doing marketing all day and want to come home and write afterwards, but I can’t always just write. My brain doesn’t switch from “office guy” to “writer guy” very easily. So I sometimes need a couple days of not working, and then my brain transitions into the more creative brain and I can focus and write without being stressed or distracted about my job.
I like the way that sounds. I’ve tried to just go from skating to art and do art, but as I’m getting more successful in the art world it cuts into my skating time and I also want to skate more. But I’m getting old and my body doesn’t handle is as well as it used to anyway.
Over the last 25 years you’re always seen riding different kinds of skateboards. Most kids ride what we consider a “regular” board throughout their entire skate career—the standard eight-inch popsicle stick shape. Basically the same trucks and wheels for years with only a few millimeters in variation. Do you feel that people limit their experiences and their expression by always riding the same exact board skating the same exact skatepark over and over?
My influences were guys like Ray Bones, the whole Sims team, the Variflex team. All those older guys rode boards that were nowhere even close to the boards I ride now. I think I’m trapped in between the late ‘70s and the early ‘80s with the board shape I like. Right in that era, that’s when I liked skating the most.
I do animations a lot now. Sometimes I’ll have an idea of a trick I want to animate, and I come to the point where I get to decide what board I want to draw in. But if I’m gonna go skating I only have the board that I have at the time so that’s what I use.
I set up a board recently for my son and it has a huge nose. And he doesn’t need a huge nose; he doesn’t need a wider wheelbase. If you’re a taller person you kinda want a longer wheelbase so your feet can be further apart so you don’t feel like you’re riding on roller-skates. But he’s small and younger. One day I wanted to skate but I didn’t have my board, only had the board that I made for him. So when I was riding his board with the massive nose on it and I realized it was perfect for doing a nosepick, I did a lot of nosepicks that day. Sometimes, no matter what I want, the board I’m on determines what I’m going to end up doing anyways.
A lot of these guys like Jim Greco and Alex Olson; they’re making shapes now from boards that influenced them in the ‘90s. Board shapes that Jason Lee and Rodney Mullen skated just before the popsicle started to come in to style.
I feel it has to do with the time skateboarding really hit you in your heart and you fell in love with it. That’s what sticks with you the most as the best era. For me it was right before and during the early Rocco World Industries, Blind, 101, Plan B, Planet Earth, Life, New Deal era. It was the end of H-Street and the beginning of those brands. I loved that era. Hensley, Ocean Howell, the smaller kicked noses, the Airwalk shoes …
As much as I kinda had a disliking for H-Street, their boards looked good. And they were jumping on stuff really quickly. The way they were able to put out their stuff quicker, and the way it looked different and how they were able to come out with their videos—it was hot! I think Rocco saw that while he was working for Vision and wanted to do the same thing, “What these guys are doing, I’m gonna do it too”.
He had Vallely; he had Mullen; he had Jesse Martinez, and then he did his thing. Then Mike Ternasky from H-Street, realized that Rocco was doing his thing, but better, so he said, “I need to get with him!” So then they worked together on Plan B. You can go on and on with the history. I’m sure in the future they’ll have skateboard manufacturing theory; studying the theory behind what happened over time.
Like I said earlier, a lot of the ways the products are made nowadays has to do with the competitive spirit. The desire to be better changed the actual products that were being manufactured. I remember trying to explain to Fausto Vitello, the guy that was making the trucks back then, and to Brad Dorfman, the guy that made the Vision boards back then, that I needed the trucks to have the holes closer together because just moving the holes and the nuts back further helped for the noseslides and to not grind the bolts down. Then I told them, “Brad promises to make the boards to fit these trucks if you do your trucks to fit like this” and vice versa.
And it worked! Holy shit. That’s amazing because it’s two different products that have to coincide, but those manufacturers weren’t affiliated at all.
Yeah, and it wasn’t research and development by the manufacturers, it was the professional skateboarders that were competing and using the products that had a hand in changing it. People were skating non-stop. It was crazy! Danny Sargent, Julian Stranger … all those guys up north were doing those noseslides. Tom Knox too. You can’t pinpoint it to one person or one company. Jim Muir’s Dogtown riders … they needed their bolts moved back, to not get messed up from the tricks they were doing, too.
In the eras that you came up in, there were guys like Neil Blender, Lance Mountain, Garry Scott-Davis … the older generations seem to have had more skaters who were into art. Kids these days just kind of skate and focus on skating, and the art isn’t as much of a part of it as it was back then. Do you feel it’s something that’s been lost over the years?
I’ve saw Lance do something I thought was so genius. I couldn’t believe it. You know how you wear out your kneepads from doing knee slides when you bail a trick, right? He figured out a way to make his own replaceable caps. To me that was awesome because it taught kids to copy what he did and make things they needed for themselves. So then when we needed copers on our trucks, I don’t know who first showed me this. On the shopping carts at super markets, they’d rip off the plastic part of the handle and that would fit perfectly on the truck. That was art in itself. And that was Lance Mountain. That’s what pushed people to figure out things to use alternatively that won’t cost you money. Neil Blender … his little sketches and stuff were just amazing. And the way they dressed back then, it was really a culture.
Nowadays you don’t see many kids who take the time to draw on their grip before they go skateboarding. The grip comes with a huge colorful logo on it now.
It isn’t like it was back then. But it can change, you know? People can see things and see reasons why they need to put something there. You need to put something that’s going to inspire you as you try these tricks. You gotta have something to aim for and you gotta have something that gives you aim. I remember one time Thrasher had a competition at the Pipeline skatepark in Upland. But it got rained out. And during the time they had everyone there, since they couldn’t have the competition, they held a drawing event. Christian Hosoi did art, Caballero did art and it all came out in the mag. I remember looking at the artwork with my best skate buddy Pauly, checking all of them out. It was so cool because it made it also seem like they were just normal people too, you know?
That’s rad! I never heard that story or anything like it before, I was up last night reading and watching dozens and dozens of interviews with you, and a lot of them portray you as a guy sitting around doing art or skateboarding all day long and barely anything else.
Well you know, sometimes I gotta learn how to appreciate the people that support me and the people I have around me. It’s hard to do. You gotta learn to tell them you love them and thank them for helping you because no one person can succeed without the people that believe in them or help them. I’m very grateful and happy that I have that time to myself to be able to do the things that I do. And I’m having fun, but at the same time I’m being cautious and not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings or anything. Sometimes being expressive can be that way. I’m trying to be cautious with what I do while trying to benefit as many and hurting as few as possible.
You have a life that so many other people wish they could have. You’re skateboarding and drawing all day. A lot of people don’t have the balls to make the sacrifices and take the risks necessary to do that. In your case dropping out of school very young and so on.
Yeah, but there are a lot of things that schools teach that I haven’t learned and that I’m still learning. It’s difficult for me a lot of the time, being creative, or being known for being so creative, it’s not that easy. There’s no easy formula to achieving some type of job where it seems like it’s fun because sometimes it’s not fun. Sometimes I mix the wrong color and go to put it on and I have to scrap it, start all over again, and take a different approach. I’ve made things and they’re not durable or don’t work right.
The problem with being creative is that sometimes creativity has a lot to do with you and who you are and sometimes when you make an attempt at being creative you might see a part of yourself that you don’t really want to see or you don’t want to share with other people. It might be ugly, and sometimes that makes it hard for people because they want to be creative.
I read this quote from you: “It’s hard to say what I feel.” Do you feel like people understand you? Are you what people consider “normal”? There are people that feel misunderstood their whole lives and it’s hard for them.
You know how a dog hates the noise of a skateboard and they jump or they cringe or bark? Sometimes when two people cross paths, one person can make the other person jump or cringe. I think sometimes, not purposely, I make people cringe. I don’t mean to. I’ve had older women tell me to keep away from them sometimes, ha ha.
Talk a little about the new adidas skateboarding video that you’re involved in.
It’s amazing watching these younger kids. It’s so crazy to watch! It seems like they’re having the time of their life; they’re really going for it. I’ve been going on filming trips with them for the last year and it’s been a lot of fun. Watching the younger guys skate, sometimes I’m supposed to be skating too, but they are so good that other times I’m just filming them with my iPad.
While we were in Barcelona, Nakel Smith nollie flipped on my board and it’s 11 inches wide and 42 inches long. He pulled a nollie flip down 4 stairs on that and it was insane.
With the big trucks and everything?
Yeah with 215s, man. 11 inches wide! He just busted it on my board like nothing and I was like “Wow”. These kids are insane. They could ride whatever I ride and just dominate.
Is skateboarding still the same for you now as when you first fell in love with it?
It is actually! Just as satisfying.
You’re a very youthful person. Has becoming a father brought you to a place where you have another outlet to be youthful? Do you see the world any differently and get to feel younger again?
It’s actually the opposite. I have to not set a bad example. I don’t know why I’m childish but I have to cut my childish behavior when I’m around my kid! Honestly, I know it sounds funny, but the things that I enjoy doing sometimes, if my child does them at school she’ll get in trouble so I have to be cautious about the kind of things I do around her. I have to curb my childishness, but I watch her having fun too!
In the past you’ve spoken about seeing something like high-heeled shoes and it makes you want to draw them. That is so pure and simple. There are so many forms of art where writers or painters need to come up with an elaborate concept and story and multiple meanings or hidden meanings for their work. Do you think that something is lost by making art so complicated?
I think sometimes people want something simple and other times people give it great meaning, even though that person’s intent might be something simple.
It fascinates me because it’s such a different brain than mine. I would never look at a shoe and write about the shoe and nothing but the shoe. It’s an endearing quality to your art and your skateboarding: it seems so simple and pure, not over-thought.
There’s snow right now here in New York. I have these adidas boots, and they have a gum sole, like Clarks or whatever. Not made for skateboarding but they’re great for the snow and they keep my feet warm and everything. I was out walking and happened to be carrying my board as the snow was starting to melt, so I thought, “I’m going to go skate because these shoes are feeling so good. I want to ride in them!”
First, I was riding on the flat and really enjoying the shoes with the board and everything. So then I went out to the Bay Ridge skatepark in Brooklyn and dug out the bowl to skate and I had the best session ever! So the weather being bad ended up being a plus. It took me about an hour and a half to dig out the bowl, and I only skated for probably twenty minutes. Some other kids showed up and it ended up being a good time! I ended up falling and it was fun.
Words: Rob Brink Monster Children, Fall 2015
In a 1999 interview for TransWorld Skateboarding, Neil Blender was asked what he felt his biggest contribution to skateboarding was. His reply: “I don’t even know. I just skated … did my part.”
Twelve years later, Neil’s good friend, Lance Mountain, was quoted saying, “Neil was one of the first guys to draw his own graphics. He was the first one to give tricks different names. He was our ringleader. Neil’s myth is more hidden and harder to find, but there would be no Mark Gonzales without Neil Blender.”
Regarding Neil Blender’s impact on skateboarding, there’s quite a disparity between those two statements, yet both are quite sincere. Lance might be communicating what Neil is too humble to say, or would never think to say. But aside from his actual skateboarding, the beauty of Neil Blender has always been the Zen purity and childlike innocence by which he seems to perceive and regurgitate skateboarding, as well as his understated, unintentional genius—both creatively and as an observer of human behavior.
Characters like Neil are so very rare in modern day skateboarding, and that’s exactly why the people who witnessed them firsthand, like our guest editor Jason Lee, hold them in such high regard. Neil’s place in skateboarding is not unlike that of Mitochondrial Eve … he’s a common ancestor that has somehow and some way, affected us all.
Your Instagram has some old surfing and BMX photos. Did skateboarding feel closer to, and more inspired by them back in the 80s? When I was a kid in New Jersey in 86/87, all the BMXers and skaters hung out together.
BMX and skateboarding were kinda the same back then. We would ride our bikes to pools or Moonpark (Sadlands) with a skateboard on our handlebars. We’d end up taking runs on the bike just to see what it was like. It was super fun. Surfing was a little further away for me back then. When I got a car, I started skimboarding because I’d seen it in Action Now. That’s probably the funnest out of all of them.
Do you feel skateboarding is as inspired, creatively, as it used to be? I wonder if it’s too much about the tricks or the careers of the skaters these days—more athletic than having an emphasis on creativity and style.
I don’t think about it. It’s just progressing the way it goes. People are trying crazy stunts and stuff, but it’s still the same really. Style is the final result in whatever you are doing. What it takes to get something done. Walking across the street, driving a car, whatever—style is always involved in the outcome. Hosoi has great style. So does Lance. Big gaps are rad if you want to split your head open. Handrails are gnarly too. I don’t even know what the question was now. Skateboarding is great. Much like other activities, it gives you time to work stuff out.
As someone who so many people reference as an influence to their skating, I’m wondering who your influences were.
Anyone who was doing stuff that looked fun. Darrell Miller, Ray Bones, Lance Mountain—people I skated with.
What was it like for you being inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame this year and, in general, knowing you have influenced so many people who came after you in skateboarding? Jason Lee being an example, as it inspired this interview.
It’s weird to go up in front of a bunch of people to accept an award but I am stoked to be a part of those names: Tony Alva and Stacey Peralta just to name a few. That’s cool. I remember Jason Lee. He and the Gonz were always into funny stuff. Then I didn’t see him for a long time; maybe I still haven’t seen him in like, 20 years.
Who do you enjoy in skateboarding today and what bums you out?
I like seeing Alex Perelson ride. He’s amazing. Chris and Zach Miller; Lance has a very powerful frontside invert. Lance was a huge inspiration to me—super fun to skate with. We rode his ramp for years.
The thing that bums me out with skating is where they put parks. There’s never any trees. They think they need to clear them out and then start digging bowls. There are a few places that look fun but they are in Oregon. Cradles are dumb too.
Thinking back to your infamous Tempe, Arizona contest run in 1986, what prompted such an unconventional approach? Did you have any clue it would resonate like it did?
Tempe was really hot, temperature-wise. I remember thinking how lame it was that we were having a contest out in that parking lot. The whole thing seemed like a waste. I remember thinking, “I don’t even want to skate.” I found a little can of spray paint in my car. I had cargo shorts on so I put it in the pocket and thought, “I’ll just draw at some point. That’s something you do when you find paint out at street spots.” Then Chris Cook did a crazy wallride through it and smeared a little. I was stoked he reacted with that.
Fred Gall: Professional skateboarder; guardian angel.
Words: Robert Brink
Photo & Video: Dave Smith ESPN.com June 2012.
“When I was a kid my uncle Johnny was a fireman,” says Habitat pro and X Games Real Street 2012 contender, Fred Gall. “He used to take me to the firehouse and I wanted to be a fireman too. I dunno why. I have an instinct to … well, I guess I just don’t wanna see people die or get hurt.”
It was approximately 3 AM on February 28 when Fred saw a building across the street from his hotel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia engulfed in flames when he decided to check it out.
“I was out there filming for my Real Street part with Dave Smith and Andrew Patillo,” Gall explains. “I wanted to get some crazy footage that no one else is gonna have—to have my part be different. So we skate down the street and it turns out to be a monastery. And this is a serious fire—a blazing inferno.
“At first, we had our digital cameras, like, ‘Film me doing a no comply in front of this fire.’ Kinda laughing about it. Then I realized that on the second and third floors there were monks trapped on the balcony and no one was doing anything about it—people were just staring.’
“Something about Freddy,” says longtime friend Dave Smith, “is that he’s seriously like an angel cast to Earth to guard the misfortunate. Somehow or another, these people always tend to be within Freddy’s vision. He could be at his worst and then into his best in a matter of seconds. At the Cambodian airport, a lady forgot her passport at the counter and he ran full steam through the airport to return it.”
“So I scaled the side of the building next to the burning one,” explains Gall. “And up top there are these long bamboo sticks that just happened to be the right length, so I made a bridge. The monks were scared to cross because it was so ghetto-rigged. Basically, you took two steps on the bamboo and someone would grab your hand and pull you in. But I got two monks down then went inside and shit is blowing up, it’s hot as hell and monks are just standing in the pitch black. I don’t know if it was for their religion or what. One was just throwing buckets of water on the flames but it wasn’t doing shit.”
“We tried to make it a little more serious to them,” says Smith, “Like, ‘Hey you gotta, get out of here.’ It seemed like they didn’t know what to do or where to go. Maybe they couldn’t see or were in shock but no one seemed scared about what was going on but the potential for disaster was right in their face.”
“I found a bucket and I put it on my head because shit was falling all over the place,” Gall continues, “and I’m screaming, ‘Where’s the women and children?’ But there are no women and children because it’s a monk monastery [laughing]. I was just in hero mode— just trying to save lives, dude. And Dave had made his way up and he’s like, ‘we gotta get outta here!’
“I walked into the stairway and it was engulfed in embers and smoke,” says Smith. “The only way to see was with the flash on my camera. That’s when I noticed all the monks just standing around, not knowing where to go because they couldn’t see anything.”
“I got down before Freddy,” Smith continues, “and I looked up and he’s crossing the bridge he made and helping three or four monks over to the safer building.”
“So after we make it down,” Gall continues, “the fire department shows up, puts out the fire and straight-up leaves. The fire engine number was 666. Not even kidding. Then I just went back to the hotel and had a beer. Like, ‘Wow that was fucking crazy.’”
“He gets pretty emotional after stuff like that,” explains Smith. “We got back to the hotel and he was in tears. He gets emotionally involved because he really cares.”
“Halfway back to the hotel,” says Smith, “Fred realized that he didn’t have his board. We went back to get it and sure enough this monk was standing there with it waiting for Fred. They all thanked him dearly. They were very honored that an American went for it like that.”
Throughout the years, Fred has been notorious for a lifestyle some might consider “sinful” or “wrong” or whatever the word might be. I asked him if he ever considered that his good karma for the times he has saved lives (yes there are many) balances out the bad karma that might send him straight to hell one day.
“I’ve definitely thought like that,” Gall replies, “but I would say I’ve definitely done more good than bad. Some people don’t believe in karma but I believe if you help someone, good things will come to you. And I’m really going for this Real Street thing—I wanna win something. I tried really hard. I busted my ass today getting footage. There are gnarly dudes in this contest but the way we’re going to edit it, I think we have a chance. I hope people are stoked.”
Contenders: Kevin Terpening
Words: Robert Brink The Skateboard Mag, May 2010
In the beginning of Markus Wyndham’s segment in H-Street’s Hokus Pokus, a narrator says, “This is Markus. You do not know him now, but you will someday.” At which point Markus proceeds to pop shuv-it 5-0 grind down a small rail. That was 1989.
Today, in 2010, there’s not a lot to say about Kevin Terpening. Not due to lack of talent or personality, but simply because he’s at that point in his skateboarding career where people are just gonna have to see for themselves. He’s the sleeper. The quiet, yet strangely quirky and mysterious fellow who, when all is said and done and he’s gone on his way, you think, “Damn, Kevin is fucking rad! People are gonna love this dude!”
This is K-Terps. You do not know him now, but you will someday …
I hear there’s some life drama going on?
Yea. I woke up and my old roommate called yelling at me. I didn’t pay the bills and his power and water got shut off. We had to scrounge some money up, so I’m kind of stressing.
At least you don’t live there anymore.
I feel bad for them because it’s my fault. I knew it was going to happen. I’m just an idiot.
Have you ever checked your credit score?
Fuck no! It would be fucked because I had a credit card once and a taxi driver stole it. He went and spent $2,000 on it.
Do you have a checking account?
Yeah, but there’s no money in it because it’s all going to the $1,200 DWP bill. I went in all sad like, “I only have half the money. How about I just pay you half.” Trying to negotiate but they weren’t having it, so I told ‘em I’d be back soon.
Was this the same house where you had no toilet paper and you used the paper from your shoes?
Yeah. There was always a bunch of empty shoeboxes lying around, you know? We ran out of toilet paper and started using that shit, but then our toilet got clogged a bunch of times.
Is the good paper the piece that’s wrapped around the shoe or the part that’s crumpled inside the shoe?
The better part is what’s inside the shoes.
Oh. It’s softer?
Yeah, it doesn’t hurt. You know the other shit is like, wax paper. It’s all fucked up. You don’t want to try to wipe your ass with it. It depends on the shoe, though. Sometimes they have actual paper and sometimes it’s like tissue paper.
Like cheap toilet paper versus the expensive kind?
Exactly. It’s like the toilet paper in the stall in the gas station or at your high school.
You live in Scuba’s garage now?
Yeah. It’s pretty tight. We put up drywall and insulated the walls and I got a whole setup in there now. It’s pretty legit. I mean, it’s still in a garage, but it’s pretty tight.
Do you still owe him rent money?
It sucks. I just owe him one month right now and then maybe like, some bills. But I don’t have any money right now.
Have you tried to barter with him?
Like, “I’ll just mow the yard or plant some fucking flowers, you know, be the pool boy and shit.” We were talking about that but then it all just fell apart. Now I have to pay a bunch of rent money. It’s fucked up.
Ok pool boy … are you still working at Huf?
Yeah. I work there a few days a week. Just sit there and hang out with my friends.
Who are you riding for?
Alien Workshop flow. éS flow. Shit, I feel like I’m at Tampa Am right now. Val Surf skate shop in North Hollywood and Spitfire.
How did you get hooked up with Alien? Obviously being from Ohio …
When I was living there, my friend Scott got stuff from them and we skated together all the time. We made a video and then somehow they started hooking me up. I was psyched because in Ohio that’s a really big deal. It’s pretty sick to get hooked up from a company like Alien that you actually like.
Tell me about the Jet Black Crayon music video you’re in. I love it.
Me and Greg Hunt did it. Tommy Guerrero’s band had a new album come out and he picked 10 or so people all over the world to make a video for one of the songs. You could do whatever you wanted. I called off work for a few days and Greg would pick me up super early and we’d just go around skating shit on that thing. It was super fun and turned out pretty cool.
You can’t tell it’s a new video at all.
Yeah. It looks like it could’ve been an actual VHS from back in the day. We watched old videos and got ideas from them. Greg definitely knew what he was doing.
Does anyone still call you Grandpa Terps?
There were people who called me that?
Yeah. It’s your nickname.
Oh. I guess I’ve been called that. I used to be crabby but I’m not that bad anymore.
And you like sitting on stoops doing nothing?
Stoop Life! The old house we lived in had a nice little porch that we called “the stoop.” We would just sit there and drink beers all day so it kind of turned into the Stoop Life. There’s something about it … I’m backing it.
Do you have any awesome final statements to make?
Yeah. I just want everyone to stop waxing the fucking ledges so much. Because today at Marsh Park, straight out of the car, I tried to do a manual trick on the top of the box and the whole entire top was waxed and I ate shit. My fucking hip is all fucked up now because I tried to do a manual. Whatever.
And now you don’t even have a stoop to sit on with your broken hip.
I know. What the fuck? But I do have power and water so I’m psyched.
Words: Robert Brink Thrasher, September 2011
Trevor Colden has been in your face lately. It’s his time to be. He’s 17, really good at skateboarding and under the wings of Jamie Thomas, Chris Cole and Heath Kirchart. You can try to deny him or make fun of his beanie or whatever you want. But the reality is, when dudes like those three step up and back a kid you never heard of, it’s inevitable—we, collectively, have been offered the opportunity to witness a next-generation ripper and his skateboarding come to fruition.
So how's the response been to your Emerica welcome clip?
Dude, people seem so psyched on it. I was super blown away. I didn't even know I was coming out with it until a few days before. I texted Miner asking if he needed footage because I’m filming for a legit Emerica part and he told me that my welcome thing was coming out and I was like, “Whaaaaat?”
How soon after did the shit talking follow?
I saw a couple comments on Hella Clips, but I don't give a shit. Sometimes it gets super harsh, but it definitely wasn't as much as I thought it would be. The only one I really heard about was after my Mystery part … that I'm a “Tom Asta clone.”
Because you wear a beanie and have long hair …
I guess. And the other one was, “The kid showers with his beanie on.”
Well that’s funny. It’s your lucky beanie, huh?
Dude, it WAS my lucky beanie. I lost it in Philly. I’m gonna get another one.
Can it still be a lucky beanie if it’s a new one of the same kind?
I hope so. I'm gonna wear it regardless.
How long did that triple set hardflip take?
The one where I eat shit in the video was the first time I went there. I got like six tries before we got kicked out.
So me and Mike Gilbert, the Black Box filmer, kept going every weekend after that and kept getting kicked out before we even got out of the car. I was kinda over it at that point but we went back a month later with Rhino and a couple other guys and it took me four tries. I was super excited.
What is it like having the entire Emerica team waiting for you to land a nollie crooks?
Oh man, I was nervous as hell. I thought I wasn't even gonna make it because there’s this huge crack and you need to pop like six inches earlier than normal and everyone’s just down there looking at you. I was like, “Damn, I better land this.”
Did you finish high school?
Nah. My family moved around a lot and it just got really complicated. I tried getting home schooled in eight grade but that didn't work out so I just started skating a shit ton and thank the lord it worked out.
Give me a quick timeline as to how you got to where you are now with your sponsors and living at Black Box.
My first legit sponsor was DC flow from a rep in Virginia Beach. Then I started getting Toy Machine boards from Mike Sinclair. At the time, the economy was super bad and they could only send me like, a board a month.
I met this Powell guy at a contest I won and he sent me a box with five boards in it. I was freaking out because I never got five boards in a box before. So I told Sinclair I was gonna ride for Powell and thanked him for everything. I went to California like a month later and stayed in Huntington Beach for a week. On the last day I was just like, “Dude, I’ve got nothing going for me back in Virginia, I’m staying here.”
The Powell TM was down so I called my mom. She wasn’t happy, but she understood where I was coming from. Maybe eight months later I sent my footage to Black Box and they were down to put me on Mystery, give me a place to live in San Diego and help me out with a little bit of money, so that’s how I started living at Black Box.
Is that when you began filming your Color Theory part?
Yea. Like a month after I got on. I was on Altamont flow and would always go up to Sole Tech. I started skating with Marquis Preston a bit and we talked about it and I sent in my footage. I got on Emerica flow in September—right after they finished Stay Gold.
Marquis told me your nickname is Carlos.
[Laughs] Those dudes call me that. They would always fuck with me because they thought I was Mexican. It used to piss me off, so of course they kept doing it. I was like, “Fuck you guys. I'm Hawaiian, Indian and white!”
Do you know you got on Emerica faster than anyone?
Dude, they told me that. I was so blown away—like in shock. My head was exploding. I remember they were telling me how Collin Provost was on the flow team for like four years. And I was like, “What the fuck, dude? He’s so good, so how the hell did I get on so quick?”
You wanna tell us the Cheesecake Factory story?
Oh my God. Yea, it was such a surprise.
So we went to the Cheesecake Factory after a long-ass day of skating in Denver for the Thrasher Skatepark Roundup. We all just got done eating and I was just chilling at the table and I see this guy bringing out this huge, awesome cheesecake with onion rings on the side. It looked like a birthday cake, so I just thought it was someone’s birthday. But the dude kept looking at me and I was just like, “What’s up man? That’s not mine. I think it’s probably for a dude at the other end of the table.”
And he just kept looking at me and sat it down in front of me. It said, “Welcome to the Emerica team Trevor Colden.” And I just … dude, I couldn't even talk for like ten minutes. Everyone was just clapping and stuff.
Dude, it was fucking awesome.
What was up with the onion rings?
Because I eat onion rings and fries all day. Like, wherever I go.
But you’re a vegetarian, right?
I used to eat fast food all the time and get these bad stomach pains. I got to the point where I just stopped eating meat and I felt better and liked it that way.
I thought it was a ploy to kiss up to Ed Templeton and get on the team.
And what’s with you and the chips?
I eat chips at every single gas station we go to. I try to eat as many chips as I possibly can.
But not candy?
I don't really eat that much sweet stuff. I eat chips mostly.
I’d say chips are more like a meal than candy is. Heath is managing your finances, huh?
Yeah, he's like a dad to me. I have my own bank account, but its under his name so if I overdraft I go straight into his account.
Watch out, he can cut you off!
Yeah, he probably could. He's the best dude ever. One time my debit card just kept fucking up and getting declined. I was going from state to state on a trip and at this one gas station they took my credit card and cut it up. I freaked out and called Heath, like, “Dude, I am so sorry. I think I just overdrafted. I don't know what the fuck happened.”
He was like, “Don't even worry about it. It’s your money,” and sorted everything out. I still had money in my account. I was just hitting too many gas stations and they thought it was fraud.
He told me all your charges are for chips at gas stations and never exceed $10.
Yeah, I never get a real meal.
What’s you're ideal gas station meal?
Two bags of spicy nacho Doritos and two Gatorades. Then I’m good for about an hour and I do it all over again.
You don't even get those pre-made cheese sandwiches or anything?
Nah those things are like five bucks!
When I was like 13, out skating all day and night, this one 7-11 by my house had two hot dogs, chips and a large drink for two bucks.
Dude holy shit!
I was killing it.
Best deal ever!
So how’s Heath as a second dad?
Dude, he's the best, I swear to God. I used to hear rumors that he was super strict, but he's the nicest dude I’ve ever met. I love going on trips with him because whenever we do a demo he's skating and fucking killing it.
Earlier you mentioned a new Emerica part …
A couple of the guys are filming full parts and Miner wants me to film one as well. I have a whole bunch of extra footage that didn't get used in my Mystery part and I'm gonna hit LA as much as possible so we can get it done.
Dude, I heard you re-grip your boards.
[Laughs] Yeah I used to re-grip my board every two sessions or so because I felt like there wasn't enough grip on it.
Once you ruin it in your head like that, you’re done.
If you think about it wrong, it’s just done. You gotta switch it.
Do you have a girl?
Should we also put out an announcement to get you a lady?
Nah. I don't want a girlfriend, but I definitely need to start hooking up with girls.
Don't worry, a couple more demos and it’ll happen.
So one day you’re a regular kid in Virginia and suddenly you’re living in Cali at Black Box next to a TF, on all these sick teams and making some loot from skateboarding …
It all just seriously came out of nowhere. It really did. I’m just so thankful and super excited.
(Almost) Everyone Loves Lowry
Words: Robert Brink SBC, Fall 2011
“This is probably so boring,” says Kevin Lowry, halfway through our interview.
“Well, the Internet likes you and we’re having fun,” I say encouragingly, “so nothing else really matters does it?”
“True I guess, ” he replies.
Prior to our phone call, all I knew about Kevin was that he’s a 23-year-old Calgary resident and a skateboarder. Existing interviews and weeks of reaching out to his friends and teammates produced very little intel, so I resorted to the world’s most reliable source of factual information (insert facetiousness here)—the messageboards.
And they didn’t let me down one bit.
Dozens and dozens of threads with mentions of Kevin and some devoted entirely to him. Oddest of all—no one really talked shit on him. Is that even possible?
When your skateboarding is as relatable as Kevin’s … sure it is.
Cruising the streets and hitting everything along the way, making use of your surroundings, regardless of how crappy or obscure they may be (à la Oyola, Puleo, Barley, Busenitz, Fowler, Gonz and so on) is understandable and attainable for the average skateboarder, who, although most likely respectful of the ability of say, Danny Way, Torey Pudwill, Figgy or Daewon Song, has trouble processing their levels of gnar.
As admirable and impressive as they are, quadruple ledge combos, manual 900s, big five blocks, Mega Ramps and 21-stair rails aren’t on most skaters’ daily agendas.
Kevin Lowry is a normal kid, just like you. He lives in the middle of nowhere, just like you. He works a regular job, just like you. He might never be a big time pro driving a Benz to a private indoor TF in Southern California, just like you. He struggles with simple things, like trying to quit smoking, just like you. He isn’t jumping down El Toro, just like you aren’t. And because he’s just like you, well … that’s exactly why you like him.
“Kevin uses his mind with his skating,” says his friend Russ Milligan. “He's not trying to go to the new ledge in town and brainstorm what trick is left to do on it. He has a good eye for spots, a good trick selection and he skates really fast. That's what makes anything he comes out with so fresh.”
“I like to stay close to the ground,” Kevin says, only half joking. “I’m trying to take after Paul Shier. I still wanna be skating when I’m 36.
“I just always liked skating in back alleys and stuff,” he continues. “I’ve never seen someone backside flip a 14 in Cali—so that never really computed with me. I never really thought I would ever do or try that. Watching Torey Pudwill’s new Big Bang part, for example, doesn’t compute with me because I’d never try a kickflip back tail 360 flip out. I can’t even do frontside bigspins. I can barely switch heel. Fuck it.
“But watching something like Penal Code and realizing, ‘Oh, he 50-50’d the curb … ’ it makes sense to me. It’s not out of my realm. It’s more down-to-earth. You don’t have to go to those spots in the videos to 50-50 the curb; you can just skate like that wherever you want.
“What I find with skating,” Kevin continues, “is that if you just do what feels good it’s usually pretty spot on. There’s no way a fucking front foot flip feels good. You know … where you donkey kick the board? There’s just no way that feels nice, so why would you do it?”
But sometimes a trick feels a little too good. We’ve all been there. A while back Kevin was there too. He went through a pretty intense back smith phase. In fact, he had so many photos back smiths come out, that he performed a self-intervention.
“I banned myself from that trick and now I can barely land one anymore,” Kevin laments.
“I used to skate for éS and my team manager would bug me about it like, ‘Another back smith, eh?’ And I’d be like, ‘Fuck.’
“It’s fucked because I’d go skating with a photographer and they’d always be like, ‘you should back smith it.’ Then other times I’d get coaxed into doing tricks that I didn’t wanna do … not because I don’t like the trick but because I just had a back smith photo three months ago and I need to do something different.”
But no one else seems to be complaining. Hell, 10 years from now, Kevin might be one of those people we can watch back smith all day long. Kinda like a Reynolds frontside flip, a Kalis tre flip or a Malto front crook.
Lowry’s “Internet darling” status primarily consists of anonymous skate rats gushing over his video parts, pronouncing him “Calgary’s best skateboarder” or bitching about the fact that Kevin’s yet to be officially added to the Blueprint roster—many seemingly outraged that Tilt Mode’s Jon Nguyen was granted a slot first. This sort of backing might be flattering for many, the way a young schoolgirl might secretly enjoy seeing two boys fight over her, but not so much for Kevin.
“That is so awkward,” Kevin admits. “It’s like, ‘Man, Jon’s welcome ad and video come out and people are bringing me up in the comments.’
“I’ve never met Jon but Nestor [Judkins] and all those dudes tell me he’s the best and I’m sure he is. But it’s such a ‘fuck you’ to him.
“I’ve been skating for Blueprint for four years. I don’t know how long he’s been on there, maybe a year or something, but the guy’s the fucking best. He’s out there in Cali skating with Shier all the time and he’s fucking way better than me. I’m out of sight, out of mind. I’m some dude in Canadian videos that no one sees. He’s got sick full parts in Tilt Mode. People know who he is and that matters these days. I’m nothing but psyched for him. He’s fucking dope.”
Obviously Kevin’s humble tendencies are part of his charm, but for the people who don’t know him—why this devotion? Where does all the Lowry love come from?
“I’m paying ‘em all off,” Kevin laughs. “I’m giving up blowies.
“No, honestly, I don’t know. When I see my name pop up on the Internet, I cringe. I’m just waiting to read, ‘This guy has a small dick and he’s the biggest asshole and his push sucks and he can’t skate switch and this and this … ’
“Like, who are these Internet bandits? I’ve seen a few cool things on there but most of the shit is retarded. Like, ‘what’s your favorite truck?’ Why do people even post this shit?
“Give it a couple months and I’ll do something wrong,” Kevin foreshadows. “‘Yeah, we can no longer forgive Kevin for that for that fucking neon green t-shirt he’s wearing in line number four.’”
As cliché as it sounds, and as you may have noticed from the aforementioned back smith intervention and the Jon Nguyen incident, Kevin’s definitely his own worst critic and “constantly making mistakes.”
“I’m blowing it a lot,” Kevin admits. “You name it, man. I quit smoking cigarettes for two years and recently went to Portugal and started again. What the hell was I thinking? I quit drinking and smoking weed eight years ago because I was pretty bad when I was young—now I’m completely clean, so I don’t know why I would ever start smoking again.”
“Pretty bad” might be an understatement. Kevin took a liking to marijuana at age eight and began selling it at 10.
“I was drinking, smoking a ton of weed, doing mushrooms and skating all the time. I couldn’t afford boards or anything so I would sell weed to buy boards. But pretty soon I was skating less and less, then got arrested with weed on me a few times.”
Then, at age 15, Kevin got arrested again, for the last time. He had a half-pound of weed and three grand in cash on him when it happened. Because of his prior offenses, the court gave him the option for rehab, jail or a foster home.
“The thing is,” Kevin explains, “my parents never smoked weed, so they had no idea what the hell was going on, other than that they kept finding tons of weed and tons of cash. I was like, ‘Well, I’ll go to rehab because I’ll get there, show everyone that I’m clean, get out, be inconspicuous, still smoke weed and go on with my life.’
“But once I was in rehab I realized that there’s more to life than smoking and selling weed and harming people and my family. So I got sober. Withdrawals were pretty shitty. Not being able to see my family for weeks and not being able to skate was shitty. Being monitored day and night was shitty. I was in there for 10 months and when I got out I was so happy to be clean. Everything in my day was so simple now. I couldn’t even kickflip but I had nothing to do with my time, so that’s when I really started skating.
And at age 16, Kevin moved to Calgary and started skating non-stop.
Fast-forward eight years and Calgary is still home. But is that the most strategic move for a fledgling skateboarding career? Especially when the bulk of the industry is in Southern California and you ride for a British board brand?
“Dude, I have a new part coming out with them online and I don’t know anything about it,” Kevin says, “ I don’t know when it’s coming out, if it’s done … and I know it’s not a personal thing. Shier lives in LA and he’s so busy. But yeah, I would say my biggest fear is just not being present with the Blueprint dudes. I just spent five weeks in England with them, and being there, you feel a lot more a part of everything. If I could be am for Blueprint, get a check, skate and go on trips, I would be ecstatic. I don’t have any other passions in life and I’ve poured a lot into skateboarding. Life’s pretty short, so for me to just throw in the towel and not even try to go further is kind of silly. I’m not out there trying to make a mil. I know Nick [Jensen] and all those Blueprint dudes and they’re not rich. They don’t make that much money off Blueprint or even Lakai. They’re not in it for the money. That’s not why they started skating and I like that. I picture myself working a job come age 35 or whatever anyway. I know that. I’m not stupid.”
Kevin currently works at his local skate shop, The Source. Luckily, they allow him to come and go when he needs to skate and travel with his sponsors, a blessing compared to a past janitorial position he held or hunting for oil in swamps with crackheads …
“The worst job I ever had though,” Kevin explains, “was working at Seismic. It’s a company that finds oil in the ground. You put studs in the ground and carry huge cables through swamps and stuff. Then you shoot electricity into the ground through the cables to find the oil. The money is okay but you live in a tent or a hotel. You never get to leave, you work 12-hour days and all the guys out there are just like, ‘When I get paid, I’m gonna buy so much crack.’ They’re high-class crackheads that work their ass off for two weeks, make two grand and then spend it all on crack.
“There were times I was skating in downtown Calgary and a crackhead would come up to me like, “What’s up? I know you! We work together!”
“And I’m like, ‘Who the fuck … Oh my god, you look so shitty.’”
“I only held that job for a couple weeks until I realized I’m way to weak to carry cables all day. I didn’t have that ‘crack strength.’”
“Kevin is a good kid,” says George Cutright, Adidas team manager. “I’ve only been on one trip with him but he was the most responsible of the whole crew—barely drinking, going to bed at a reasonable hour and killing every spot. He’s got tons of pop.”
So how does a Canadian kid in the prairies of Calgary fall into the arms of a British company like Blueprint anyway?
“I went to London on a skate trip and met Tuukka Korhonen, Nick Jensen and Danny Brady,” says Kevin. “I was like, ‘Damn, these dudes are sick and this company is sick!’
“So I was starting to get halfway decent at skating and my friend was like, ‘Yeah that distributor just got Blueprint. You should try and get on there through them.’
“And I was like, ‘I don’t think I’m good enough to get free boards.’
“He was like, ‘No, seriously, go for it.’ So I did and couple months later I got some boards from the distributor and I just ran with it. It was so fucked up too because I was trying to contact Blueprint to be like, ‘Yo, thank you for the boards’ and stuff like that but the guy at the distributor was like, ‘We don’t have an email address for them ... blah, blah, blah.’
“So I just emailed info@Blueprint.com and was like, ‘Look, what’s up? I just wanna say hello and thanks for the boards.’ And I finally got a reply, which was cool. Then I went to England with a photographer from SBC and we did a Blueprint article for the mag. I stayed in touch with them all, went to Spain a couple times and skated with Chewy Cannon, who rode for them at the time, a lot.
Then Blueprint went out of business. I didn’t know Shier at the time so I didn’t really talk to him or anyone about it, And then one day I got an email from him like, ‘Hey what’s up? We’re still gonna do Blueprint. Would you still be into it?’
“Everyone on the team is so nice. I’m just so psyched that I’m even affiliated with them. Lost and Found has always been my favorite video of all time. I’ve met a lot of pros and I just find that with these dudes, hanging out and skating is so natural. It’s not like you’re in a van and they’re all wearing headphones and stuff—pretending to be friends because they have to be. It is a business at the end of the day but it is real proper and all those guys hang out all the time—not because they can all kickflip really well, but because they’re actually friends. I think that’s real important and I relate to them really well.”
Ironically, despite all the love Kevin gets in skateboardland, many people outside our bubble who cross paths with him don’t immediately share the sentiment.
“One time, a few years ago,” says friend Jeff Thorburn, “a group of us, including Kevin, went out to skate the Warped Tour ramp in Calgary. Somewhere near the entrance, we had a bit of a run-in with security. Kevin hadn't said anything, but it turns out the guard just caught his eye and said to him, ‘What the fuck is that look all about?’
“I have huge eyebrows and my eyes are always half closed,” explains Kevin, “so I guess everyone always thinks that I’m really pissed off. And I’m totally not. When I was a bit younger I remember hanging out with Jeff’s friend Kelsey one day and we were talking about the worst stuff. I’m pretty opinionated so I guess I was hating a lot—I was on my period that day. And Kelsey, who I didn’t really know back then but I know now, was telling Jeff, ‘Who’s your friend that doesn’t like anything? I bumped into him and he looked all pissed off. He doesn’t like mustard, doesn’t like frontside flips, doesn’t like anything …’”
“Another funny incident, Kevin continues, was a while back when I got a job with my ex-girlfriend and I had just shaved my head. For the first few days no one there would talk to me and I had no idea why. She later told me that everyone was scared of me and thought I was about to snap. I guess I just looked mad.”
I dunno what it is. I’m just sitting there with my coffee and doing my thing. I’m really calm. I don’t really like anyone to bother me so I’m so confused at how I can come off like that. If I don’t have anything to say, I don’t talk, but I guess that makes a lot of people think you are mad.
“You have angry eyebrows,” I reply.
“Yeah,” Kevin says. “You should definitely put something about that in the interview. It’ll make it a little less boring.”
Allen Ying is a Brooklyn-based skateboarder and photographer who discovered skateboarding at age 11. At 15, he borrowed a friend’s camera to take some pictures …
“At the time I was looking at skate mags a lot and was really impressed with the quality of the photos in them,” Ying says. “This was probably ’98 or ’99, when Philly was in TransWorld all the time. Seeing that stuff in the magazines kind of sold me on the idea of shooting skate photos.”
Shortly after came a leg fracture. With his newfound free time, Allen’s began shooting more. Then, at age 18, came the move to Manhattan to attend F.I.T. for a degree in photography.
Fast-forward to July of 2011. The entire skate community was introduced to the concept of Allen’s new baby, 43 magazine. And for the next month, we watched and donated in suspense as he, with the help of Kickstarter.com, attempted to raise a minimum of $20,000 to get the mag up and running.
305 backers and $23,583 later, on August 29, 2011—the mission was accomplished.
First off, congratulations on getting 43 funded.
Had you tried traditional funding for 43 before Kickstarter?
Yeah. I pursued all the advertisers. I spent a month in California visiting all the companies. I never knew this, but people plan their entire year’s budgets two months before the year even starts. It’s crazy. So I was coming in March trying to do something for mid-year and their entire budgets for the rest of the year had already been planned.
We got a couple advertisers in there but it wasn’t enough to put out an issue. I almost gave up, then decided to give Kickstarter a chance. That was a mission in itself, but it all worked out.
Before something like Kickstarter, if you wanted to start a business, you’d have to take out a big loan or find an investor, which, for one thing, who do you start asking? And the other thing is, what are they gonna want out of it?
Kickstarter lets you keep your vision and do it the way you want to. You don’t have to return the money, you just have to pay a percentage to them when you get funded and offer a reward or incentive for anyone donating.
Going into it, did you think you’d get the $20,000? It’s all or nothing funding, right?
Yes. If you don’t reach $20,000, you get nothing. I kept going back and forth in my mind. Some days I’d be like, “I don’t even know if this’ll work.” And other days, “No, this will work. People are gonna be psyched.”
People donated pretty generously it seems.
I’m pretty sure the majority put in $25 to have the first issue mailed to them. I think that’s pretty rad. it’s not just pre-ordering, it’s a donation with a pre-order. There were some prints were for sale as well so those got bigger donations.
So why a print magazine right now? Seems a bit risky.
I think it’s probably more important now than when there were too many magazines. Not to talk shit and not just referring to skateboarding, but there are so many magazines that are just terrible—they just shouldn’t even be around. And everyone looks at them anyway. But the ones that should be around should be a little more worth your while—worth keeping and having something decent to look at.
As far as I’ve seen, skateboard magazines play a huge role in the culture. It’s changing so much and a lot of the real essence that makes it awesome is kind of slipping away, skateboarding is so amazing, so to me, skateboarding deserves something better.
I think 43 is special. The minute you look at it and hold it you realize it’s more than just a monthly skate mag with the hot rider on the cover, the tour article, whatever dude with an interview inside because he’s promoting whatever video he’s in or just turned pro.
Yeah, that was just the media kit. A little 28-page thing we sent out with the photos we had available at the time. I really love those photos. There were only 200 of those media kits printed. About 100 were mailed out and the rest I gave to people that I need to show 43 to. Hopefully the copies that I sent out have an impact.
Reading the skate forums and stuff, it seems so many kids don’t even get magazines these days. Someone will scan a cover or interview and post it and kids will be like, “Oh sick, maybe I’ll go and buy that issue!”
Pondering buying an issue of a skate mag, versus having a subscription or definitely buying it, to me, is crazy. In my world you were supposed to have a subscription to every skateboard mag or somehow get it at the shop every month. Seeing this change was when I really began accepting the decline of print.
Yeah, it’s definitely sad. That’s a big part of why 43 is a free magazine. It’ll be there at the shop and you’ll see it and hopefully get a copy.
Mike Anderson’s recent interview in TransWorld was talking about how kids don’t have that experience of going to the shop and getting the local history from the older dudes and stuff anymore. It’s sad. And maybe that’s part of the problem.
I noticed a lot of skate footage in the Kickstarter clip. Is there going to be a digital component to 43?
My plan is to just focus on the print element and the gallery shows. So instead of a digital component, there’s an in-person component.
There’s definitely gonna be a website to let people know what’s going on, but it won’t be like a skate magazine’s website where they post about other stuff all over the Internet. It’s the kind of thing that I’m not just gonna force myself to do because that’s what other people are doing. I hate going to a site and seeing 20 things to flip through since the last time I was there. It’s like, “I’m not coming back here because I can’t keep up!”
You have on “old soul” mentality. You use film instead of digital; you started a print mag in 2011 …
[Laughs] Maybe. Obviously I use a computer for many things. A lot of things I see happening don’t really make sense, but everybody’s into it because it’s the new hot thing. But if you stop to look at it you’re like, “Wait a minute … this kind of sucks.”
To me, being on a computer all the time sucks. Computers are supposed to make everyone’s lives easier, but now most people are sitting in front of a computer all day in an office. In terms of life, that seems like a terrible way to exist.
Even in making this magazine—I’m not out shooting photos all the time like I used to be and it kind of sucks. Staring at a computer screen isn’t that dope.
Who inspires you in skateboarding photography?
Back in the day, Ryan Gee and Atiba really stood out to me. Probably because I only had access to TransWorld and they were covering so much of Philly. All that medium format film in those days—the 35mm and the square fisheye. I don’t know if I knew at the time that that’s what made it look so sick, but that’s what I think back to now. Like Wenning’s switch back 180 cover.
Does your affinity for that sort of thing lend itself to the very square nature of 43?
Yeah, that’s kind of a factor. I’m really into Mike O’Meally, Dave Chami, and Brian Gaberman. I miss when those guys were shooting film. But they’re doing a decent job with digital. It’s a new thing to get used to and I think it’s actually harder to have digital look as magical as film. Film is what made a lot of those photographers special for me.
Oliver Barton, John Bradford and Zander Taketomo are holding it down with medium format film. That extra thought process really helps a lot of photographers’ work and gives it a more magical feel and does the skateboarding more justice.
So is it harder to have your work stand out with digital than it is with film?
Probably. I don’t know. I try to not shoot digital anymore. I think it’s just a different thing; it’s learning it differently. I’m really impressed with all the European skate photographers. Generally speaking, I feel like European photos and magazines kind of make a lot of the American skate photographers look embarrassing. I look at their stuff and I suddenly don’t even like my stuff anymore, [laughs]. That’s why I hit them up to be part of 43.
There’s a strong eco-focus to how 43 is produced, correct?
It’s been this personal venture of mine—paying attention to things and making little life changes here and there to help the environment. So I was like, “Fuck, am I really gonna produce and pay for and redirect money towards this many thousands of pounds of paper?”
To me it’s kind of obvious to be conscious about and it’s another thing that hopefully shows that thought was put into 43. I’m pretty sure most of the people working at other magazines don’t really have the option to make those changes. They’d probably have to battle with some bureaucracy to do it. And there’s a certain amount of research that it took to figure out a lot of this stuff.
When can we expect issue #1?
I’m aiming for mid-October.
How do we get a copy? The local skate shop?
Yeah. It’s bi-monthly and going to about 500 shops across the U.S. and anybody who can’t find it can always write in and ask for a copy.
So you got this initial $20,000 to start 43, but what about maintaining down the line without another huge lump sum?
I don’t expect it not to be a challenge at this point. Everything worthwhile seems to be a challenge. But yeah, the $20,000 is to print a limited edition run of the first issue. I would have loved to do a lot more copies and everything but I think the $20,000 might be just enough to kick start the whole thing for the rest of the year or longer.
It’s funny you mentioned the “media risk” before, because in the art and fashion and photography worlds, I keep seeing new publications that are a lot more refined and people are super into it. And it’s sick. It’s not like you’re looking at W magazine or something full of ads. There are way thicker mags that seem fairly independent and people are paying $20 a copy for them, which is ridiculous. So I don’t know what part is a risk. It’s not like I’m the only one making an indie magazine in the world.
I’m referring to the shift from print to digital content. I think the gut reaction to seeing someone start a print mag right now is like, “Whoa! That’s sketchy.” We all have a special place in our hearts for print mags and we all want them to stick around, but there’s a reality to it as well and much of the industry is struggling.
That’s another reason 43 has to be extra good. To me, when somebody does something to please an audience or do what the audience wants … that’s a backwards approach to doing something. I think it makes a lot more sense to do what you believe in and what you can influence people with as opposed to just giving people what they want.
What are you up to, Ricky?
I’m at Starbucks. Just got some tea.
What kind of tea?
Orange chai something? I don’t know. I forgot.
I don’t drink coffee, only tea. So now I instantly like you.
I just wanted to come over here and get on the Internet because I don’t have it at my house.
Speaking of the Internet, your Facebook page lists your occupation as “private investor … ”
My homey’s trying to make some t-shirts and wheels and stuff so I’m gonna help him. It’s called “Take That.”
I saw the video part you did for them—pretty sick. So you loaned him some money?
You're a good friend. I noticed you’re way more popular on Facebook than Twitter.
I think I like Facebook more. I communicate more on Facebook. I don’t really communicate that much on Twitter.
Twitter is annoying.
Yeah. I’m about to delete my account.
What about all 500 of your followers? They might suffer without you.
They’ll have to follow somebody else.
You lived in a house that got foreclosed?
Yeah. It was a big skate house in downtown Long Beach. I guess our landlord wasn’t paying the mortgage. He didn’t even tell us about any of that. Then one of the housing people came by and was like, “Yeah, your landlord hasn’t been paying the mortgage so this house is about to be sold to the bank.”
And we were just like, “Damn.”
We got three months free rent until we had to be out, though. It was tight! But I miss it. It was cool with just a bunch of homies living there. Now I’m living with my parents at the moment.
I just saw the Will.i.am video you’re in.
I liked when Will is a black sperm.
Yeah and he comes out as a baby.
It was a cool video concept. I already knew they were gonna put his face over mine but I didn’t know it was gonna look like that. But I don’t know about that song. It’s crazy.
Then you slam doing a fakie manual on flat.
Oh yeah, I was falling on purpose. It came out sick though.
I heard you’re really into Auto-Tune music.
I’m not even sure what Auto-Tune is.
It’s the crappy robot voice in all the rap and dance songs nowadays.
Oh really? I didn’t even know that, but I’m not really into it.
How’d you get the nickname "Pretty Ricky?"
I have no clue. I think Paul Sharpe gave me that name. I was out at Phoenix Am in ‘08 and they suddenly announced me as “Pretty Ricky” before my runs. Once that happened they just started calling me “Pretty Ricky” all the time. It just stuck. I hate that name and they know it.
It’s usually never good when you get a nickname.
Yeah, I don’t like nicknames.
If you had to give yourself a nickname, what would it be?
Probably just Rick.
Can you tell the readers how to ball out on a budget?
Ball on a budget? Okay … first, if you don’t got an EBT card, go down to the county office, get one of those and stack up on some groceries. Make your own food and save you some money, rather than going out for fast food.
Also, just try to come up on beer from the homies. Get fucked up before you go out for sure.
Pre-gaming is cheaper.
Way cheaper. A lot of people can’t afford $15 drinks at the bar. I suggest you buy your own shit at the store.
You know how people get drunk and open up a bit? Like, I’m super scared to be on a dance floor at a club, but when I get hammered I start dancing and I look horrible.
I get more talkative with girls. I’m not shy or nothing, but once I have some drinks, I feel like I got more game with the ladies. I feel more smooth with it. I know a lot of people get more amped, but I just get more calm I think.
Why do you always go for white girls?
I’m not trying to just go for white girls, but I’m down for ‘em. I just think they’re more fun. I’m down for whatever. As long as they look good and are cool.
Jart is your first official board sponsor, right? You were a flow guy for a while before that?
Yeah, I was on Almost flow for about three years and nothing was really happening with that, so Jart was a good opportunity for me.
What’s it like nowadays being an am and trying to fully make a job out of skateboarding?
It’s really hard. I think it’s mostly about connects—the people you’re involved with. You need the skills too, but I think it’s just more about who you know. Just like with anything—like trying to get a good job or trying to make it in music, anything—you just gotta have that connect.
I just try to stay more focused on the skating rather than being in people’s faces too much. Sometimes I wanna just call my friends and skate. But when you start getting a little money, you gotta make sure you’re producing as much footage and photos as you can.
Photo by Big Rob
Did you know you have to go redo your switch flip at Hollywood High now that we saw how many times Andrew Reynolds landed his varial heel to avoid the gate?
[Laughs] I don’t know, man. I think I should probably just take it as is. I got beat up pretty bad before I landed it. That ground hurts. It’s really rough.
After the third try my heels really started hurting. They were taking a beating.
I actually got it pretty quick—like seven or eight tries. When I finally landed it, I was like, “Fuck this. I’m taking this one.” It was just a relief. I’ve thought about a few times, too, like, “I wish I didn’t run into the gate,” but the other tries took a lot out of me.
Was it more of a scary thing or just more difficult?
You know, my friend Derrick Wilson was skating it with me. He got the nollie heel that day. So it was cool to have somebody skate it with me. You’re just more amped, like, “Yeah, let’s get this shit!”
It was less worrying and being scared and more just cool to have a friend to skate it with me.
Your friend Dave Ashley told me you’re into the Boyz II Men look. Like fake glasses and cardigans?
Boyz II Men? Wow. That boy’s crazy. I’ve worn a cardigan before but never fake glasses. I’m about to bust someone up when I get over to The Armory. Talking hella shit.
He probably said that to me just to mess with you. Actually, a couple people told me your style reminds them of Jovontae Turner.
I’ve actually heard that before. I seen his part in Mouse. He’s dope.
You should look up his part in Love Child. Love Child?
Yes. It’s an old World Industries video. His part is incredible.
I don’t think I’ve seen that. I’m gonna have to check it out. Is it on YouTube?
Yeah. He has a mean big flip in Questionable too.
Does he still skate?
I think he’s into fixies. I don’t know much about him, other than that I wish he didn’t retire from skateboarding.
Yeah, I wish everybody would just keep skating.
What else are you working on these days?
Trying to collect some HD footage because Bones is coming out with an am video.
Oh sick. You love the word “swag,” huh?
Oh yeah. Me and my homies always fuck around with it. We’ll be like, “swag, swag, swag” all the time. We just say “swag” to everything, but we don’t really say it seriously.
It’s funny how many people actually do say “swag” in a serious manner. If you look on Twitter or Facebook, everything’s swagged the fuck out.
I know. I just think it’s funny because everybody says it. If I’m getting off the phone with somebody, I’ll say, “swag” and I’ll be out.
Have you ever heard that Lil B Ellen DeGeneres song? They’re just like “swag, swag, swag, swag” every three seconds.
Swag, swag, swag! Yeah, Lil B is crazy, man. All his videos are super funny. You gotta check out “Suck My Dick, Ho.” He’s like, just straight up walking around the mall chilling and all he’s saying is, “Suck my dick, ho. Suck my dick, ho. Swag, swag, swag.”
I’m so checking that out right now.
Yeah, it’s some super ignorant shit.