Iconoclast Jason Dill Is Returning Skateboarding to Its Obscenely Awesome Roots
Words: Robert Brink / Playboy, October 2016
In 2009, pro skateboarder Jason Dill had to call 911 on himself. He was throwing up blood all over his New York City apartment and suffering from a gastric hemorrhage. The Jameson, Vicodin and Percocet cocktails had finally taken their toll.
“I didn’t think I’d even survive,” says Dill, who now stars on the Netflix series Love. “When I’m on the set, I’m quiet as a mouse. I’m just so blown away and thankful I’m there. And the last thing I ever wanted was the responsibility of owning a company that people expect more from—because owning a company is a pain in the ass.”
In 2013, after kicking the pills and spending more time on his board, Dill ditched his longtime sponsor, Alien Workshop—one of the most popular skateboarding companies ever—and walked away from a partial-ownership offer to co-found board brand Fucking Awesome, an extension of his self-funded apparel side project.
In doing so, Dill dumped a bucket of ice on the once-countercultural world of skateboarding, which in the previous 17 years had devolved into a G-rated parody of itself to appease moms and malls, and woke it the fuck up. The exodus of Alien’s riders to Fucking Awesome was swift. It’s now one of the top-selling and most knocked-off companies in boards and streetwear, despite its provocative graphics, null social media presence and label that prevents mass retail saturation.
When Fucking Awesome launched as a skateboard brand in 2013, it wasn’t uncommon to hear industry folk say, “They’re never going to make it. They’ll never get into mall shops with that name.”
You see where their brains went immediately? That’s what’s wrong with the industry—all this bullshit people talk. I’m sorry because some of them are my friends, but with their two-and-a-half car garage and two and a half kids in their suburb of Portland, of course they’re not going to be like, “Let’s go nuts!” They’d lose their fucking jobs. Luckily, I’m not fighting to keep my two and a half kids in the latest expensive daycare. I don’t give a fuck. No family, no car and no mortgage payments means I just shoot this shit out of my fucking soul.
Die-hards have criticized the skateboarding industry for pandering to the mainstream so much and becoming so non-offensive that a word like “fucking” seems shocking. That’s what’s so scary. If it were 1993, no one would bat an eye. You disrupted the entire industry.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased that things were disrupted, because I am. I most certainly wasn’t aiming for Alien Workshop to almost go out of business, because after being with them for 15 years, quitting was emotionally insane. But going into skate shops these days, looking at the wall and seeing other board brands trying really hard is great, because none of them were trying this hard before and I know that’s a direct result of FA. Anyone who thinks that statement is over the top, go ahead and think that but you can also eat my butt, because it’s the truth. I see people bite us over and over again and it’s ridiculous because they don’t even realize everything they bite. That forces me to go make something else that’s out of their realm because I know they won’t think of it. And then they bite that, too.
When I visit skate shops like Uprise in Chicago, Seasons in Albany, Orchard in Boston or Exit in Philadelphia, owners tell me that I helped bring skate shops back. They feel FA brought the kids and excitement back because new kids started coming in only asking for FA. Shit like that is such a big compliment that I feel funny saying it back to you.
After you were hospitalized in 2009, you kind of disappeared from skateboarding. In your own mind, did you ever imagine owning a respected company like FA?
No. It’s totally fucking insane. That’s why when I’m on the set of Love I take it all in. I’m just so fucking blown away. I didn’t think I’d survive. I really didn’t. I never wanted my own company. Wanna know why? Because it’s a fucking pain in the ass! When people expect more, they expect it fucking tomorrow. If you came out with some shit yesterday, they wanna see the new shit next week. It’s just ridiculous day in and day out, but I suppose it’s like having a kid. I take care of it. I love it. I can’t let it go to a community college, you know? I gotta raise it right. [laughs]Skateboarding is a trend-oriented sport. Things are hot for a year or three and then they’re not. We’ve all seen the shelf life some skate brands have.
I’m now past my third year of FA. I’m proud of what we’ve done. If you are a company making stuff, you need to have it in the back of your head that, hey, I might have to kill this thing one day for the greater good so it doesn’t look like a bunch of bullshit. Imagine if Mark Gonzales got to end his skate company, Blind. How would we look at it today? Imagine if Mark had made some deal with Steve Rocco, the owner of his distributor early on, like, “I’ll totally do this, but when I think it’s time that this is done, I get to put out an ad that says, ‘It’s done. We killed it. It’s over. Thank you.’” I feel a lot of people think when you start a company, you just ride it until someone comes along and buys you. That’s not the fucking case here. I’d rather it die than look bad.
Killed at the peak.
Yeah, like Michael Jordan did, until he played baseball and came back and played for the fucking Wizards. It was like, c’mon, dude! I know I didn’t invent this way of thinking, but I feel it serves me best.
You also star on Judd Apatow’s hit Netflix series, Love. How did that come about?
About a year and a half ago I was in Los Angeles and saw my friend [TV writer] Lesley Arfin on the street. She was like, “Hey, I’m making this television show with my boyfriend and we think you’d be good in it.” I was at point when I really needed everything to be completely spot-on with FA—production and all that bullshit—so I was like, “I’m not really into it. That sounds crazy. I don’t think I have time.” She told me, “I knew you’d say that, but it’s Judd Apatow and it’s guaranteed two seasons for Netflix. Will you audition?”
And I fucking did. Before I knew it they were asking me to come to Sony Pictures and do a reading in front of Judd. I was so fucking nervous. It was wild because I’m not an actor.
The second season’s done now and I’m happy to be on it. Everyone was really nice. All of them knowing I wasn’t an actor coming into it was just super cool because I’d do a scene with a stand-up comedian and they’d be like, “Dude you’re doing good.” I’m like, “Really? All right. Good.”