The following conversation took place in February 2016. I was working on a piece about skateboarding and Los Angeles for a magazine called Oak Street that somehow morphed into a Vans 50th Anniversary piece with Tony Alva on the cover and this never saw the light of day.
When did you first come to Los Angeles?
I first moved from Florida to Huntington Beach when I was 18. We were mostly skating around Orange County and one day I went up to L.A. to skate with Jeremy Klein. We skated around Torrance and some random areas.
I was just a kid in New Jersey watching videos and reading mags, but in that era, it seemed L.A. wasn’t what it is now to skateboarding, it was more Orange County and San Diego. Would you say that’s accurate?
Definitely. At that time, it was 411 Video Magazine in Orange County, Thrasher up in SF and TransWorld down in San Diego. A lot of the shoe and board companies were based out of Orange County so naturally, skaters were just by where their sponsors and the photographers were.
I think Girl probably had a lot to do with putting L.A. back on the map as far as a skateboarding.
Before that there was Ban This—you know, Mariano, Gabriel, Rudy and Paulo—That was what I thought of as LA and those were the guys looked up to. Kareem was huge too.
What made you ultimately decide you needed to relocate to LA as a skater?
Me and Erik Ellington would come to L.A. to skate and party with people up there. And just the feeling of the skate spots and the excitement of being in the city and the nightlife and everything, then going back to Huntington Beach—both of us were just like, “We gotta move up there. It feels weird down here now.”
So we kind of gathered up a whole crew and everybody started moving up. All the Girl guys were up there. Guy … I lived on the same street as Keenan and Eric Pupeki and Gino. I’m not even sure whose house it was, but they all lived there.
The migration snowball effect … At what point do you realize L.A. is the place to base a brand? I do feel Baker has been a huge part of modern L.A. skateboarding as we know it.
We didn’t think about anything like that. Everybody moved up to L.A. At the time, Baker was out of Blitz in Huntington Beach, but Jay Strickland wanted to really represent Hollywood, so we had a mailbox in Hollywood where kids could write in letters and send in some money for stickers. We had our own Baker office up there. Everybody was just right there everyday.
You know what’s funny? There was a time when me, Ellington, Greco and some other Baker dudes were skating Sunset, Hollywood Blvd. and Highland. We skated Hollywood High everyday. We were partying on Sunset, all our apartments were right Sunset, always skated right there. So one day we skated down to Melrose, which is only four streets down, and we were like, in a foreign territory. It’s like a five-minute drive down the road but to us it was like, “We’re on Melrose right now? Whoa! Where are we?”
It’s almost mandatory for pros or kids coming up now—part of the formula. You have to come out to LA and make a name for yourself and do your thing. There are very few people who turn pro and are able to maintain a career without L.A. Occasionally you have a Westgate or a Dennis Busenitz or something, but it seems like Los Angeles is a huge part of a career path for somebody who wants to be a professional skater or even run a brand in skateboarding.
One hundred percent. This may sound crazy to some people, but to me this is important. When I watch Kareem and there are cars going by and he’s in the city and he looks fresh and the background looks different—the schoolyards look a certain way. If you see that and compare it to an Orange County backdrop, there’s no comparison. It’s got a better feeling about it.
It’s the same as the East Coast. It’s the same as why people like watching people skate in New York and Philly. It just looks good and that makes you wanna go there.
There’s an aesthetic and an essence to the L.A. streets that lends itself to the very nature of skateboarding: gritty and stuff.
And plus, for me, I worked my whole career with Atiba. And when he’s like, “I’m moving up to L.A.”, my thinking is, “I wanna be where it’s all happening.” Even at this age and point in my life, I think, “Could I live somewhere else? In the South or somewhere?” And I’m like, “No! Baker is in Hollywood. My skate friends are here. The spots are here. The photographers and my whole industry are here. Nope. This is it. This is where I’m at.”
Apart from everything you just said, which is a very career/industry-centric perspective, is L.A. “home” for you emotionally? Does it resonate with you?
I don’t really think about it like that. I don’t really think like, “This feels like home.” It’s just that after you’ve been somewhere for so long and things are just facts—like the weather, good food, my kids go to school here.
That’s just the reality and it’s a great place to be. Plus, I could drive one way and be at the beach or drive another hour the other way and be snowboarding or go on a hike to a waterfall 30 minutes away in some nature. It’s a pretty ideal place to be.
We mentioned Atiba, Guy, Gabe, Paulo, Rudy and Kareem, etc. … are there other people and brands in the last 30 years that you heavily associate with Los Angeles?
Menace, 100 percent. They’re full L.A. Brooklyn Projects skateshop. Girl/Chocolate is huge. Baker’s got guys from all around the world but we all ended up here so it’s hard for me to really speak about us being an L.A. company because I know Menace is an L.A. company and I know Chocolate is an L.A. company. I don’t think anybody from our team is even from L.A.
Vincent Alvarez! Stevie Perez and Vincent Alvarez! To me, that’s an extension of Menace and real L.A. skaters. When I think of them, that’s just pure L.A. And Kevin Bradley, all the Supreme kids—little troublemakers but ripping skaters that look fresh at the same time. The bad kids, you know?
What are the spots that you think of when you think of Los Angeles? I know you mentioned Hollywood High.
Santa Monica Courthouse, Hollywood High, Lockwood. What else is there?
Well now there’s J. Kwon.
Yeah, J. Kwon’s huge. Wilshire. All up and down Wilshire there are so many spots. And just low picnic table schoolyards. I think of a lot of tables.
Venice with the two little squares sand pits with the rounded double-sided curbs. That, to me, was huge. The Tim Gavin part where he just killed those curbs.
I’ve been watching a lot of Kareem footage lately and I swear… he filmed entire parts in L.A. then had a line at Serra in San Diego and it was weird. Like, “What the hell are you doing way down there?”
Wasn’t one of Dylan’s parts all in L.A. around his neighborhood?
I think it was that Gravis part. There’s certain guys like Muska, Jim and Dylan, I’ve noticed, they hit spots that you see from the car. It’s so sick. It’s like somebody did graffiti. If Neck did a big piece where everybody could see it, you know? You’re driving down Sunset and you’re like, “Oh! That’s the thing that Muska hit! That’s the thing that Jim ollied!” That, to me, is always really cool.
Actually, I never thought of it that way. Like it’s been tagged. That’s pretty sick.
Yeah Dylan hit so many things like that. He grinded that whole flatbar, really long and then went down really quick like a rail. Right on Sunset. Skateboarder cover.
As much awesomeness as we’ve been talking about LA, I feel like it’s also one of those cities that gets so much hate.
I hear die-hard L.A. people like, “Fuck New York!” It goes both ways.
If you come from a city like Philly or New York, where you can just step out of your house and jump on your board and skate everywhere and meet up with people, I get it. You can’t really do that here. It’s too spread out. We could never be like, “Let’s go hit Lockwood or let’s go hit Downtown” on our board. We’d have to hop in the car and drive. And then there’s traffic. If you’re on the road at the wrong time you’ll be stuck in traffic. But I’ve been on tour all over the world; if we’re in Maryland, there’s bad traffic; if you’re in Virginia somewhere, there’s bad traffic; if you’re in Florida somewhere, there’s bad traffic. It’s everywhere. People love to complain about it but I’ve been jammed up in the Tri-State area like, “Dude, this is the worst!” But what else bad is there really to say about it?
I think the whole Hollywood thing. Celebrity, fame, status, money, V.I.P. culture. I think that perception turns a lot of people off.
Yeah, I’m sure there’s a lot of that going on. I’m so far detached from anything like that. I don’t know anything except the skateboarding world and what time soccer practice is after school.
As a professional skateboarder and a business owner, what does Los Angeles mean to you?
It’s a place where you can come and pretty much be yourself and not really get judged, I’d say. And the same reason people come out here to be an actor or a musician or whatever, is the same reason skateboarders are coming out here. They wanna follow their dream and do this thing so it’s like you can’t really be mad at a rapper or a musician or an actor or an artist for coming out here.
This is where the studios are. This is where the big art shows are. This is where the fashion is. To me it’s a place people wanna come and follow their dream and try to do something good for themselves. Some people might make it all the way and some people might not, but I think it’s better than staying put wherever you are and not trying—at least they are taking that chance.
Los Angeles contributed to you achieving your dreams too…
Definitely. I feel like if we wouldn’t have come up here and met who we met up here and had our company based out of here, it wouldn’t have had the same feeling and energy it has. And I wouldn’t have been the skateboarder or the person I am today. I like it here and L.A. is what you make it.
If you wanna go get caught up in who’s who and nightlife and cocaine and fancy cars and whatever, it won’t be the best thing. But if you want to be focused and meet people who can help you achieve what you want, those people are here too. There are a lot of really good people out here.
Just thought of being in L.A. and discovering young skaters like Theotis and Antwuan way back …
Yep! They are both from L.A.
How about the ravenous L.A fan base Baker has. Like those video premieres are insane.
I always tripped out and I noticed right away … the Wassup Rocker kids loved us! They embraced Baker so much, we were like, “Dude, we fuck with LA hard! They got our back up here!”
I think it has something to do with punk rock music and these kids just gravitated towards what we were doing and the whole look of it. I don’t exactly know what it is, but I was like, “Shouldn’t you guys be riding like, Girl and Chocolate boards?” But they weren’t. It was all Baker.
As long as I’ve been around, I have such a strong connection in my mind between Baker and Los Angeles and I think a lot of it has to do with those kids. Like dude, the Bake and Destroy premiere when the kids broke down the doors. I was sitting in my seat watching the video and suddenly, the theater is getting flooded with kids and I’m like, “Oh my god, this is insane. I’m gonna get trampled.” Then there were riots outside.
Yeah, that never happened to us before and that was just a free giveaway promo video too. For Baker 3 they were sleeping in tents down the block!
What?! Damn L.A. kids love their Baker! There’s some sort of essence that you guys tapped into for sure.
Definitely. I can’t explain it though. It’s so cool. That’s why we’re here to stay and represent.