5.13.2016

chrome ball interview #91: chris senn

chris and chops sit down for some conversation.


Something I learned recently that suprised me is that you always really aspired to be a tattoo artist. That a skateboarding career is something that happened in the meantime. Is that really the case?

It’s hard for me to answer that because they’re both things that I always wanted to do. They’ve always kinda been the same thing in my mind but getting paid to skateboard did change things. I was always doing art but I think I would’ve gotten into tattooing and art as a full-on thing earlier if getting paid to skateboard wouldn’t have gotten in the way. Whatever. I’m sure everyone has something like that in their lives.

Do you feel that not being necessarily “all-in” on your dream and maintaining other passions shaped your career to an extent?

Yeah, for sure. It was never about making money off skateboarding for me. At some point, I realized my situation and went about it the best I could but it was hard for me to think of skateboarding in that way. I feel like all that shit ruined it. To be honest, I tried to fight the business of skateboarding as long as I could. I’m sure that had an effect on my career in some way. I’m fine with that though.

But while I do remember you doing some graphics over the years, you never really marketed yourself as a “skate artist” either. Is this something you largely kept to yourself?

I never wanted to do that to myself. I didn’t want to take away from the art that guys like Gonz, Neil Blender and Lance had done. Those are the guys who really influenced me to be who I was. I feel like as I got older and went about art more seriously… taking formal art training and studying art history, I started to see the big picture of what art really is.

For me, it didn’t feel right to use my name as a skateboarder to push my art. I know that I could’ve done it that way but that felt like the easy way. Not to take away from dudes who do go about it like that. Some of those guys do super awesome stuff, it’s just not my way. 


So I think the first time that most of us heard of you was in Powell 8 where you seemed to blast out of nowhere. How long were you on the team before filming 8 and were you sponsored prior to Powell?

I got on Powell at the end of 1990 and the video came out right as I was graduating high school in the spring of 91, so yeah, it was pretty quick.

The whole thing came out of nowhere. I’d gone to one of those Quartermaster contests at the Powell Skate Zone and was just skating around during practice. I didn’t even know who Todd Hasting was at the time and had no idea he’d been the team manager of the real deal Bones Brigade for years. But he basically pulls me into his office right there beside the skatepark and asks me if I wanted to ride for Powell out of the blue. I tried to be all cool and downplay it a little but in my head, I’m fucking freaking out. I agreed, of course, and he took down my address.

I remember going back to tell my friends about it and they didn’t believe me at first. I got my first box the next week and I remember taking it to school to show everyone, like “Dude! Look at all this shit!”

Everyone was tripping out on all the bearings and shit. It didn’t even seem real.

It’s funny because we watched the premiere of Propaganda the day I got on Powell and I had no idea that I was about to be in the next one.


Were you immediately thrown into the 8 mix?

Not at first but I figured that if I hung around Powell as much as I could, shit might start to happen… and that’s basically how it went down. Jeff Toland was also on Powell at the time and we just started going to the Warehouse constantly. We pretty much lived there for a while. But it worked.

I started filming a lot with Frankie Hill and Kit Erickson around Santa Barbara. That footage got handed over to Stacy and this other filmer for Powell, Rob, and pretty soon, I was in 8. Rob came out to Grass Valley for a couple days and filmed me on his rollerblades. He was so rad, man. That’s how he filmed all that shit, man… all on his rollerblades. At first you’d see him and be like, “What the fuck!?!” but after a while, you got used to it and realized what he was doing was pretty awesome.

I’d talk with Stacy on the phone about shit but Rob was the one who filmed and edited it all. That was before everything split up. After that, it was mostly just Frankie and I filming each other.

Looking back on that part, do you think you were ready for spotlight at that point? You were pretty green, man.

I know what you’re saying but I was just a kid, man. I was only 18-years-old at the time. But I was fucking hyped on it. Looking back on it now, it’s like looking at some high school video your friends made. In some ways, it doesn’t even seem like a Powell video. All my friends are in it as well as all the stuff we skated back then… a lot of that shit isn’t there anymore. I like it for more for those reasons now.


Gotta ask, why did you stay in Grass Valley again for your next part in Celebraty Tropical Fish? Didn’t you want to get out to better spots elsewhere?

Oh, Grass Valley is amazing! There’s so many skatespots there that people don’t even know about. Seriously, tons of empty pools and DIY stuff. There’s a huge skate culture there and a rich punk rock scene, too. I really liked it there, probably because not a lot of people knew about it. Plus, that’s where I grew up so I already knew everybody.

But in my opinion, I don’t think it was until the last half of that Celebraty part where you destroy the Skate Zone that your talent was really showcased. Wasn’t that whole bit filmed in one day?

Yeah, that second part was Stacy’s idea and it was all filmed in 2 hours. Like I said, I’d skate that park pretty much everyday, usually with Frankie. Stacy basically felt that we didn’t have enough stuff. He’d always see us out there in the park doing this and that, we might as well try to film it. We banged that out pretty quick because that half was essentially the stuff I’d always do. Stacy edited the new stuff into what I already had and it turned out good. That place was so much fun, I think that’s what shows in the footage.

What’s the deal with that weird “Hi, I’m Christopher Ray Senn” ending? So funny.

(laughs) I still don’t know! He asked me to say my name and I said it, now it’s at the end of my part. It’s haunted me ever since.  


What was it like as a teamrider to go through such a rapid decline with Powell? What was once the biggest company in skateboarding being reduced to almost rubble in just a few years by Rocco and the new “cool” kids…

You gotta remember that when I got on Powell, the team still had those legendary dudes! Tony, McGill, Lance and Cab were all still on there. I honestly didn’t know how the fuck I fit in with those guys! I was not worthy! But then, everything split apart. Not just for Powell, the whole skate industry was splitting apart.

Yeah, there were all these different companies but we all still hung-out together. We all knew each other pretty well. There weren’t as many skaters and definitely not as much money back then.

Honestly, it was kind of exciting. The whole industry was changing so fast that if your team fell apart, fuck it, just go ride for somebody else. Even though I rode for Powell and appreciated all they did for me, it was still kinda cool to watch it all disintegrate. It was actually rad to be there and watch this big empire of skateboarding collapse.

The Rocco stuff was just a joke to us. Like I said, we were all friends. We all hung out with the dudes who rode for Rocco. We all knew what was going on.

Again, it was exciting and fun to watch. I mean, Steve’s walking around, offering people brand new cars to quit their board sponsor and ride for him. It was easy to see he was just as corrupt as everybody else. People liked to make out what Rocco was doing to be this big deal but it really wasn’t. In reality, it’s just a skateboard company.

Honestly, I don’t think most of us gave a shit. We were just trying to skate and get better.


Who came up with that classic Cliver cop graphic for you first board?

That graphic came from going up to Sean’s office one day. He was talking to me as I just kinda stood there, looking around, and noticed this drawing of a guy playing hockey.

“Oh, that could look cool as a cop!”

If you look at it, you can kinda see how that same character could be drawn on ice skates with a hockey stick in his hand. I have no idea what it was for and I have no idea why I thought of it as a cop but I did. I thought it could look cool. It wasn’t a big serious choice. We were just throwing out ideas. I figured if Cliver was down to draw something for me, let’s do it! That’s sick! He can do whatever he wants!

So yeah, he ended up redrawing it for me as a cop and making it work. 

You’ve definitely always done your own thing… even when your style wasn’t exactly seen as “on trend”. Did you ever get any pressure to change your style of skating or even wardrobe back then to something more marketable?

Right, right… but no, I never got pressured for any of that. Of course, people want you to wear the shit they’re selling but it wasn’t like I had a stylist or anything like that. Definitely not. It blows my mind that’s even a thing. (laughs)

When you talk about trends, its kinda funny because while I was definitely more of a street skater back then, I always wanted to be a vert skater. I always wanted to skate pools. I’d try to skate that stuff back then but I just wasn’t that good at it. I didn’t really learn how to skate bowls and stuff until I was 25 or so… years after I’d turned pro. I turned pro for skating street, which is what was big at the time, but you gotta remember that people were saying how vert was dead back then… that was actually what I really wanted to be! I wanted to skate vert! I didn’t give a shit.


Do you feel like you played more of the trend game earlier on in your career? Granted skateboarding was in a weird place but Chaos and Hot Batch have clips that seem almost like a different dude.

But everyone was doing that stuff. I guess part of me wanted to show that I could do that stuff, too. Pressure flips down stairs and shit. Yeah, I was doing all that but that was also when I was starting to want to skate more like Wade Speyer, John Cardiel and Andy Roy. I wanted to skate shit that was more dangerous. Going fast. It might’ve not been the most technical thing but it was way more fun. 

Could that have been Wade’s influence after he joined Powell?  

Oh yeah, Wade was a huge influence. He pushed me so hard, man. Constantly. Not only was he an amazing street skater, which I don’t think people realize, but he could skate fucking anything. We’d be on tour together and no matter where we were, he’d be ripping. I wanted to be like that, too.

Did you have much interaction with Cardiel growing up? Isn’t he from Grass Valley, too?

Yeah, he grew up in the next town over. John is a little bit younger than me but with how skating is, we’d always be running into each other. When we were teenagers, we hung out in different crews and would honestly butt heads a little over stupid shit… chicks or whatever dumb shit that seems important when you’re young. But we got through all of that as we got older. He and I were always next to each other as we grew up skating, for sure. He’s probably had more influence on me than anybody.


So what made you finally leave Powell? And what made you go with Channel 1?

Basically, Powell was going down. They broke the news to all of us riders that they couldn’t pay us anymore.

“Well, fuck… I gotta go then. Later.”

I’ve always been tight with Mark Oblow, who was Acme team manager at the time. I was skating a lot with Bo Ikeda back then so, of course, Mark’s going to try stealing me from Powell. I just didn’t want to ride for Acme… but I was interested in what Marty was doing with Channel 1. I thought all that stuff was pretty sick.

I was on Channel 1 for a little while but what I didn’t really take into consideration before joining the team was that Marty and all the riders were down in Southern California. The guys and the company were all super awesome, I just wasn’t there. It felt a bit distant, especially when I was used to always being at Powell. We did that video and everything, which was cool, but I did end up leaving eventually to start Adrenalin in San Francisco.

We’ve mentioned a few video projects already and while your parts were always solid, you really made a name for yourself in the contest circuit. How seriously did you take all that stuff?

Honestly, we didn’t get paid much to skate back then so I did take contests pretty seriously. If you were only making $1000 bucks a month from your sponsors, you’re gonna be hyped to win $5000 at a contest. That’s why I took it seriously. I need that money, I want to fucking win. You can call me a “contest skater” or whatever, fuck you! I got 5 Grand! (laughs)

I wasn’t trying to prove anything. Contests don’t really prove anything. I just wanted the money. Plus, if you can go to a contest and win, that also means you basically don’t have to deal with any sponsor bullshit either. You can just take your money and dip out. Since you just won the contest, it pretty much guarantees that they’re going to send you to the next one so your travel is set. Just show up again in two months and make some more money. Later! 

I always felt I had an edge because most people never seemed to realize that. They were too busy trying to be fucking cool. They were so worried about what other people thought of them. They’d go out there and try their flip tricks and not make any of them. Ok, well, I’ll just stay on my board then. There you go, I win.


Would those same guys talk shit on you for winning… at the expense of being “cool”?

They never talked shit to my face but I’m sure they probably did behind my back. But fuck ‘em, man. Who cares? And honestly, the guys who were doing well in contests were never the ones talking shit. They knew what was up. Koston could’ve won any contest he wanted to, it just depended on his mood. If he was in the mood to win, he won. If he felt like going out to try some crazy shit he wanted to pull, he’d do that instead. There were about 10 of us where the likelihood of winning was higher so I imagine we took contests a bit more seriously than others who didn’t see the money as such of a real thing.

But I remember people definitely talking shit when you beat Sheffey at Shut Up and Skate that year…

Oh yeah, people were pissed! (laughs)

But whatever, there’s always people who want someone else to win. That’s how it goes. I mean, yeah it would’ve been cool if Sheffey won but at the same time, winning a contest is pretty rad for me personally as well. So shit, what can you do? (laughs)

I was always tight with Sean and he was cool with it. That’s the thing, everyone gets bummed except the people doing it. If someone beat me in a contest, I thought that was rad. But haters will always talk shit. The people actually doing it don’t really care.

But yeah, everyone was bummed. Fuck it, I was stoked. Fuck yeah! (laughs)


Koston says that you give him the finger in the middle of your winning Tampa Pro run in 1996. Is that true?

Probably. We always used to fuck around with each other like that. I don’t remember the exact situation on that particular run but that kinda stuff usually came from doing a trick he said I couldn’t. Something like that.

Eric and I are friends so it was more from a place of fucking around. It wasn’t such a serious thing.

Speaking of contests, what about Earl Parker’s notorious “CSG” Big Brother article? How did you both take that at the time?

(laughs) Nah, we knew all those Big Brother guys. We thought the article was funny, dude.

I remember skating the Powell Warehouse one day right after that article had come out when their photographer came down. It did seem like they were trying to build the whole thing up a little more than it actually was. They were wanting me to take some crazy photos as a reply. They spray painted some shit on my griptape, trying to make it look like I was really pissed. They really wanted to hype it up but I didn’t care. She didn’t care either. It was funny to us.


I’ve found out through these interviews that Rocco definitely had his eye on you for a few projects. Were you ever officially approached by World?

Yeah, Rodney approached me once. He asked me and Donny Barley if we’d be interested in doing something with them. I’m not totally sure on the details, possibly doing a company through them. Donny had been talking to them and was kinda hyped on it but I wasn’t. I just remember quickly telling him “No, thanks” and that was it. Nothing ever transpired out of all of it.

It’s not that I wasn’t down with what they were trying to do. Steve was always cool to me. I just didn’t have the time to do it. I had so much other stuff going on. I didn’t want to get involved in all that shit. The last thing I ever wanted to do was end up running a skateboard company.

But you did! You basically did Adrenalin twice!

Yeah, but we didn’t do shit, dude! We just made a couple boards and were kicking it. It’s not like I was calling people up, trying to make sales! The first time we had Think running a lot of it. The second time was basically Chapman helping us out… but “Yeah, it’s my company.”


How did Adrenalin come about anyway? Was that something the guys at Think came up with?

It’s kinda weird how it worked out. I’d known Jaya when I was really young. He actually lived in Grass Valley right when I was starting to skate but then he moved away. It wasn’t until years later, when we were both sponsored, that we reconnected at a contest.

“Oh… Jaya?”

“Chris?”

“No shit!”

We became friends again through all of that. And then, somehow, we both ended up moving to San Francisco around the same time, unbeknownst to each other. It was on from then.

I was still on Channel 1 at the time. I ended up going out one night with Don Fisher from Think for a couple beers when he brought it up out of the blue. He said Jaya and I had come up with the guys over at Think and Fausto to start a company with. They talked to each of us individually before we all met up. Jaya and I were already close and it sounded like something cool to work on so we did it. 


How did that work? Were you and Jaya more responsible for the team and artwork while Think did the distribution?

I don’t want to talk bad about those guys because I respect Greg and Keith a lot but I do feel like they were more or less leading us on. We never really had control over the company. We kinda did… but it was really them. We had some input with riders and graphic stuff but it always seemed like they had the final decision.

Mike Giant was doing the majority of the graphics and obviously he’s fucking awesome. We weren’t about ready to tell him no with all that he was offering up. No way.

I was able to do some graphics but honestly, the Think guys would shut down a lot of my stuff. It’s interesting because I’d show them some stuff I was working on and they’d be like, “No way.” But then Fausto would end up seeing it and he’d always be on my side. He’d let me push shit through that otherwise wouldn’t have.

“You guys are fucking retarded. You guys need to be doing this kind of shit. This is what people are doing now.”

We just wanted to do our own thing. We didn’t want to copy anyone. We wanted our shit to be a little more raw… we weren’t even thinking of it as a brand. For us, it was just skateboarding. We didn’t necessarily want all the frills.


What’s the story behind that classic Bryce photo of you blasting the downhill ollie out of that driveway in SF?

Yeah, I know the one. I think Coco Santiago actually had a photo there first.

Bryce is the one who actually took me there that day. He and I used to shoot a lot together back then. Bryce always had a ton of spots in his little Rolodex. He’d always be showing me stuff like, “Look at this one! Or how about this one?”

Honestly, that photo wasn’t that big of a deal at the time. We just went over there and took a couple ollie photos. Cool, I guess. But it’s funny because that’s the photo I see the most. It’s just an ollie. Of all the shit I did, all the shit I almost killed myself over, all I had to do was an ollie going downhill. That’s the photo that still lives on. Just an ollie and I would’ve been good.


Something curious I found in my research… I went back and read your TWS interview from 95 with my man, Arthur?

(laughs) Yeah, we did that with Tobin.

That interview is so funny, man. The real story behind that thing is that he basically took an interview from Rolling Stone Magazine with some gay poet and copied it word for word. That’s where those questions came from.

Yeah, there’s all these questions about living a bisexual lifestyle and poetry… but it’s hard to tell how serious it all is because none of it really makes any sense.

(laughs) Totally!

Basically what happened was that we were all sitting in Tobin’s apartment one night and all of the photos for the article were shot. We were trying to think of an interesting way to do the interview but none of us had any good ideas. By that point, I was so sick of doing fucking interviews, man. All of a sudden, Tobin starts pointing at this Rolling Stone Magazine he’d been looking at.

“What if we just copy an interview from in here?”

“Yeah! Let’s do it!”

So we’re laughing about it the whole time. I honestly thought he was joking but sure enough, the interview comes out a couple months later. (laughs)

Nobody knew that’s what we had done for a long time… but everyone I knew freaked the fuck out at the time. You gotta remember that kinda shit was a bigger deal back then. I just blamed it on Tobin. I thought it was hilarious.

The best thing from that whole experience is not too long after it came out, I did a live interview on the first X Games. I guess the people who ran X Games must’ve read that interview and believed the whole thing so they ended up asking me those exact same questions on national television. They had no idea what the fuck they were even talking about and I had to field everything with a straight face. It was amazing, dude.


Did you have kids at demos asking you about being bisexual and writing poetry?

Yeah, my son Anakin even asked me about it one time.

Tobin was trying to sneak in some of that crazy Big Brother-type of shit into Transworld. Honestly, I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks about me and I still think it’s funny as shit that we were even able to pull that off.

So I’m sorry if I’m missing it but were you ever on the cover of Thrasher?

No, I’ve never been on the cover of Thrasher. Never.

I knew they didn’t put you on the cover when you won SOTY in 1996, which I always thought was weird.

Right!?! I’m the only Skater of the Year who didn’t get the cover when they won. I mean, I won your magazine’s big award and I don’t even get the cover of the issue? I didn’t know why it was that way but it’s not like I’m going to refuse it. You ‘d have to ask Jake. Honestly, I’ve never asked why. Skater of the Year wasn’t that big of a deal back then but I do think it’s weird. The cover ended up being Ron Whaley doing an air over the corner of a car. Ok, whatever. (laughs)

Do you still have the trophy?

Yeah, my Dad has the trophy. And I will say that winning SOTY definitely had an effect on board sales, even back then. It definitely helped out Adrenalin at the time.


What ultimately happened with Adrenalin that first time out?

Basically we had just turned Justin Strubing and Hanzy Driscoll pro and we were trying to get Think to pay them more money. We were also trying to get Mike Manzoori on the team to skate and hopefully make a video for us. It’s not like Jaya and I were looking for more money on our end, we just wanted to make sure the team was taken care of. 

Unfortunately, Think refused so all of us riders basically told them that if they didn’t pay those guys more money, we were going to quit. I guess they didn’t believe us and tried to check us on it by still not agreeing, so we quit. By that point, the whole thing felt pointless anyway. Think wasn’t going to let us do the company the way we wanted to. 

Such a shame because that initial Adrenalin team was amazing.

Oh yeah, we were killing it and I know the business end was killing it as well. I probably shouldn’t be saying this but fuck it, I was friends with the sales guy so we knew exactly what our numbers were. It was clear they were ripping us off so getting more money for the dudes shouldn’t have been a big deal.

In the end, Jaya was the one who went in to talk with Fausto about keeping the name, allowing Jaya and the dudes to keep it going.


How’d Matt Reason get into the mix all the way from the east coast? Didn’t you guys turn him pro?

Yeah, Matt was amazing. That was back when all of the Philly guys were starting to come out to the City. Matt, Serge, Ricky and Fred… all those dudes. They had a new thing going. They were all riding bigger wheels. Everyone else was riding tiny wheels and these Philly dudes were all riding 60s! We couldn’t believe it.

I think it was Ricky Oyola that brought up Matt to me. I used to skate with Ricky a lot back then and he just told me one day, “Dude, you gotta talk to Matt. He’s sick.”

Not too long after that, Matt came out to the City with Ricky and ended up staying at Jaya’s house and then with me for a while. It was clear that he had to be on the team. Besides obviously Salman, Matt was one of the first guys to really start skating switch legit. Skating fast, too. Matt was the shit.

It’s hard to believe that both Matt and Jaya are gone, man.


How did Toy Machine come about?

I was always good friends with Ed and Deanna. I hung out with them a lot during the Adrenalin days and Ed would always bring up Toy Machine as an option. I decided to take him up on it.

To be honest, after things with Adrenalin and Think went south, I was actually going to ride for Flip. They didn’t have any Americans on the team yet and Jeremy really wanted me to ride for them. I was seriously just about to make it happen when Ed brought up Toy Machine again. Like I said, Ed and I were really close and I’d rather ride for my friend so the Flip thing never worked out. I still kick myself in the ass over that but shit happens.


On a quasi-related note, you were on TSA during that golden era of Penny and Muska at this time. I gotta ask about any potential tour stories coming out of that van…

Oh yeah, TSA was the shit. So many stories, man. Not only did we have Chad and Tom but also guys like Quy Nguyen and Skip Pronier. We were just destroying, man. Skating our best and partying the hardest.

Probably the thing that stands out most in my mind about Chad and Tom back then is how much they could drink and still skate so good. It was amazing. Not only would they be doing all this amazing shit on their boards, we also knew how drunk and whatever else they were as they were doing it.

I remember being in Tokyo with those dudes. We’d wake up and hit Denny’s in the morning for breakfast and Chad and Tim are ordering whiskey and pancakes. I mean, I used to drink a bit but it was at night like a normal person. These guys are getting fucking hammered, dude… and we just woke up! But they’d still go out and skate so good. Tom was seriously doing shit back then that people still aren’t really doing…. crooked grinding 20-stair rails and shit for fun. He was incredible.  

So you gotta talk about your Jump Off A Building part. It was so good to see you come out with a solid part like that after a few years.

Thanks. Yeah, filming Jump Off A Building was fun. That was back when I was still living in San Francisco. Jon Minor was living at my house back then as well so we were always out filming together. That definitely helped out that part a lot. I think that was around a good six months of filming for that one.


What about that ender clip with the hill bomb?

That hill bomb clip came about as an accident. We were trying to film the ollie over that bush and I just decided to keep going. I didn’t even know Jon was behind me for a while actually until I turned around to see him following me. That was rad.

I like how that part came out but honestly, I didn’t take it very seriously. I was never into making videos. I never really took the time to think about a part and what it all takes to put something like that together. I’d just go out skating and hopefully someone was filming it. That’s what I’d do for a while and then someone would put it all together. I never even looked at that stuff until it was done. I just wanted to skate.

We’ve all heard Ed’s tearful admission of guilt regarding your Toy dismissal… what’s your take on it?

I still haven’t watched it and I’m not going to watch it… that fuckin’ pussy, dude. (laughs)

I’m mostly kidding but he fucking blew it, man. He fucking blew it. That’s what it’s really about. Bam and Kerry basically punked him. I knew exactly what those dudes were doing because they had told me! They were going to quit. Sure, Ed was trying to get a bunch of money together to try and keep them but they were gone, dude.

The thing is that I straight-up told Ed exactly what was happening the day he decided he was going to kick me off because I didn’t catch my kickflips good enough or whatever. I told him that no matter what he was trying to do to save them, those guys were going to leave. I even told him who they were going to ride for but Ed didn’t believe me. He said he has to let me go. 

“Alright, dude.”

Of course, he calls me back the next day after those guys quit, asking me to ride for him again.

“No, you blew it. I don’t trust you anymore. I thought we were closer than that.”


You told him that you would’ve ridden for Toy Machine for free…. is that true?

(laughs) Honestly, me saying that was more of a way to stick the knife in there deeper… that dumbass. I never rode for Ed because of the money. That’s really what I was trying to say with that.

That whole situation broke my heart, man. I always looked up to Ed and respected him, even before I got sponsored. His wife and I are good friends and they knew my kids. I always felt that our relationship was more than just me riding for him. So when all this happened, it crushed me. I couldn’t believe it.

Why the decision to return to Adrenalin?

I guess I can share all this shit now because it doesn’t matter: I was actually approached by Black Label after Toy Machine and I feel that I probably should’ve there at that point but I was so fucking bitter over what had happened with Ed. Fuck this. Why even bother? I’m just going to do my own thing.

Like I said, Jaya had kept it going the whole time I was at Toy Machine so by the time that was all over, he was pretty much over taking responsibility for everything. So I decided to do it. I had time, fuck it. That’s when it really got going again with the both of us and Chapman.

Adrenalin was definitely more fun the second time. We had control. It was ours and nobody could tell us what to do with it. We never made a penny but it was awesome. It was cool to finally do it the way we wanted to. It was never about the money anyway.


Your This Is Skateboarding part is a classic and what I always felt to be your most complete part. Did you approach that one any differently? More seriously, perhaps?

That one was about 2 years, which is probably the longest I ever worked on a part. I think the difficulty with me and video parts came from filming with people I didn’t know. I hate filming anyway, so it’s even worse when I have to deal with people I don’t click with. This is Skateboarding worked because it was with John Minor again and Mike Manzoori. Those are two of my best friends who I ‘d known for years. Both of them rode for Adrenalin. They’re the best. We have a strong relationship and work well together. I think that’s why the part turned out so good.

You’ve always seemed like more of an in-person kind of skater… demos and contests, which I suppose can be makes things difficult for a long-term “career”.

Yeah, I just don’t like to plan shit out. If it takes more than 5 tries, I’m over it. I’m not trying to get all pissed off at a trick. My theory is that if I’m getting pissed off at something, why am I doing it? I want to have fun when I’m skating. Sometimes things flow, sometimes they don’t.


By that same line of thinking, Adrenalin just got to be too much after a while?

It got to the point where if we were to keep it going, I’d have to become this full-on businessman running the show… which I could’ve easily seen happening but I just wasn’t interested in that. Minor and Manzoori had their own filming thing going at that point. Everyone seemed to be going in different directions.

I was already thinking about stopping Adrenalin when Element approached me to ride for them. Yeah, fuck it. We’re done. I’m moving to Hawaii. 

How much guidance do you place in Anakin’s career? How odd is it basically seeing yourself come up in skateboarding all over again? I know you guys are both on Blood Wizard.

Well, Anakin’s super involved with Blood Wizard. I just like to support them because they’re my friends. I did some graphics for them but that’s about it. It’s nothing serious.

I know what you’re saying about me and Anakin goes but it’s totally different now. I don’t even know how much help I could be. Sometimes he’ll ask for advice and then I’ll give it to him but I’ve never tried to push him with skating in any way. I’m sure I’ve had some influence on him as he’s basically had to watch me skate his entire life but no, I’ve never tried to coach him.

We’re actually going to Europe this summer. He’s going to Marseille and then we’re hitting up Prague, which will be the first pro contest he’s ever entered… I think I’m gonna to try to beat him. (laughs)

“Your Dad beat you, bro! What the fuck!?!” (laughs)


That would be insane.

Nah, I can’t beat him. He’s gnarly, man. I don’t even like watching him skate anymore.

It scares you?

Yeah, it really does! He’s pretty nuts! I don’t like watching him at all. It’s weird because I’ll be like, “Put a helmet on!” (laughs)


So as we close this out, even as a SOTY with countless contest wins, do you feel your skating ever got its proper due? Does part of you think that you possibly came up at the wrong time in skateboarding? I think it could be easily argued that had you come up a few years later, your ATV skills and contest wins could’ve led to some very lucrative contracts.

But the whole idea for me was to not be part of what was going on. I think regardless of the year, I would’ve tried to find a way to not be part of it. I grew up skating with real crazy punk rocker dudes. They taught me everything I know. So I always have that in the back of my head. I just don’t care what people think, whether they like it or not. That was never why I was doing it.  

Thanks for taking the time, Chris.

4.06.2016

chrome ball interview #90: chris "sarge" carter

Chops and Sarge discuss the Sovereign Sect and beyond. 


Alright Sarge, give us some pre-Alien background here to get things started. I know you’re originally from the Ohio Valley and spent some time as a TM over at Tracker back in the day…

Well, I was born and raised in Barboursville, West Virginia and went to college at Marshall University, which, as you know, is about 10 miles down the road in Huntington, West Virginia.

That’s correct. My alma mater as well.

I still can’t believe that.

But yeah, in 1979, a skatepark opened up in the area named Falcon. I remember hearing about it and going immediately to check it out. I didn’t even own a proper skateboard at the time, I had to rent one when I got there. But I went skating and met a bunch of people who I quickly became friends with.

I’d met Bryan Ridgeway at the park and stayed in touch with him through the years after the park closed. He actually ended up building a vert ramp in Huntington and I built one at my house in Barboursville so we had that in common. We both went to Marshall together and then he moved out to California to work for Tracker. He was always telling me to come visit, which I did for the summer of ’85 and got a part-time job in the Tracker shop building trucks.

I graduated from college a couple years later and Bryan offered me an Assistant Team Manager job at Tracker. I figured that I’d get to skate, travel and hang out with all of my skateboarding heroes so I quickly loaded up my Honda Accord and off I went.

Carter and Kalis, 1998

How did G&S enter the picture?

Mike Hill basically talked Larry Gordon into it. Mike was originally from Dayton and I’d known him for years. He owned a vert ramp in his backyard, too. There was a contest series called MESS back in the early 80’s that would make stops at people’s ramps throughout the area so we would always see each other that way. We stayed in touch and knowing that a handful of us from the Midwest had moved out to California, he decided to give it a try as well.

Mike ended up getting a job printing decks at G&S and then got promoted to the graphic design department for skateboarding.  From there, he was able to talk Larry into hiring me under the condition that we were going to make a video and keep the skate program strong.  That was the beginning of G&S Footage. Our whole goal was to build up the team and work on this video. It was exciting but at the same time, G&S was kinda falling apart. Chris Miller had quit and we were worried that Neil was about to leave, too. Because of that, we began to build a really strong amateur team.  


Was the AWS plan already underway while Footage was still in production? In hindsight, the future Alien guys’ parts do seem a bit more artsier/Alien-esque than the rest.

I think you’re reading into that a little bit but Mike and I were definitely closer to the dudes who eventually left. We spent the most time with those guys and therefore, filmed them the most. The Neil stuff came from him jumping in the van with us on a trip back East. He decided to come along for the ride. We stayed in Ohio for a few days and then over to West Virginia for a day or so. That’s where all the Falcon footage came from.

We probably talked about a company on that trip, but more as a “what if” kinda thing. Nothing too serious. We just didn’t like California. We didn’t make a lot of money and here we are living in expensive North County. It’s hard growing up in the Midwest and moving out there when you’re young and struggling. The skating was awesome but it just wasn’t like back home.

We have to get into Blender’s part a little more. How was that even made? Did you guys set out to make more of a documentary-style piece with him? Was he at all concerned with expectations and tricks?

A lot of his part was filmed on that trip I was just talking about. Because it was only Mike and I with Neil in a van driving cross-country, he got more and more comfortable with us filming him. He’d only be hanging out and being himself but we couldn’t help but film it. He’s super funny and animated when you get to know him.

Mike did most of the filming. Luckily, Neil trusted us that we wouldn’t do anything with the footage he’d be bummed on. It was incredible to capture him doing all this stuff. He didn’t care what people thought of him or the part. There was stuff that he’d want to do but he never seemed too worried about getting this or that. It was more about him being Neil. He was already this beloved figure but I think people were even more stoked on him after that part came out.

"Summer of 1990: Did a 30-Day, 10-Country tour of Europe all by train with Claar, Heintzman, Florian Bohm, Sean Miller and our Euro riders at local stops." 

Were you around for his infamous graphic critique?

Oh yeah, that was in PA while we were filming Sean Miller. We were actually trying to get to New York but the weather was bad. If you listen, you might be able to hear me talking on a phone in the background. But yeah, that was all Neil going off the cuff, hanging out and being himself while we figured out where we were going next. He did stuff like that a lot and if you didn’t capture it, it was gone.  

Did you guys feel any boundaries creatively within a religious G&S that could’ve possibly led to the Alien split?

I know what you’re saying but those boundaries were honestly more self-imposed by us. We never wanted to do anything they’d consider disrespectful or blasphemous because they were such good people. Larry, his wife and the entire staff treated us like family.

We just wanted to do our own thing. We had so many ideas with what we wanted to do and how to do it. I’d seen how both Tracker and G&S were ran, I thought I could really do it. Both Mike and I had college degrees. We didn’t have much money but figured it could work out if we applied ourselves.

There were all these bad signs regarding G&S. It didn’t look like it was gonna make it… which was honestly our biggest concern. We might as well go back home, away from the industry chit-chat, and try doing our own thing against all odds. We were homesick anyway.

"This ad sums up the daily struggle for mankind."

But with all due respect, G&S had to be bummed on you guys taking so many of their riders, right?

Yeah, there was a terrible sense of guilt for doing that but like I said, I truly didn’t believe their long-term business health was good. And with the exception of Neil and Steve, we were the ones who originally found each of those dudes for G&S.  We were all very close. Mike and I felt like we at least had to extend the invitation. It was their decision to stay or quit. 

Did anybody say no to the initial migration? Mark Heintzman? Willy Santos?

Basically once Footage came out, Mark was selling too many decks for us to possibly be able to produce and ship.   He was making a ton of money. I had to be honest with him that we couldn’t match that. I know he wanted to be with Rob and Alien but he was truly better staying with G&S at the time.

Willy was actually on the original team. He was on Alien Workshop. It was a done deal. Somehow the new team manager of G&S found out and bought Willy a moped that enticed him into staying. True story. It probably worked out for the best because Willy started killing it after that and went on to have quite the prolific career. Plus, G&S was located literally miles from Willy’s house… I felt like he’d be happiest riding for a CA-based brand.

He seemed skeptical of us having a legit chance of success.  I mean, we were trying to go back to Ohio! To Willy’s credit, everyone thought we were crazy. Nobody got what we were trying to do and nobody thought it was going to work.

Point being: buying that moped was a wise investment for those guys. I couldn’t buy him a moped.

"First Workshop Location. McCook Ave, Dayton; plywood walls and doors, plastic sheeting ceiling. All DIY."

Are there any specific inspirations that played a role in the initial Alien Workshop concept?

Certainly Behold a Pale Horse was a huge part of it. I also had this friend who was really into conspiracy theories. He had a bulletin board back in the day before websites. He was always printing stuff out and sending it to us. Mike was fascinated by it all and would always take it deeper.

There was also that punk rock ethos of the 1980s with spreading messages about resisting authority, thinking freely and doing what you want. We felt compelled to speak on certain things but didn’t necessarily want to spell it all out for everyone. We wanted to let them interpret things their own way. We weren’t preaching, we were merely suggesting. We wanted to get people thinking and were willing to take chances.   

It would be appropriate to interview Mike to get his views on all of that. He was really the creative force behind it all.  We discussed nearly everything and sometimes disagreed but I think there’s balance in opposing viewpoints as long as there’s a common goal.
                          
Let’s clear up some long-standing Alien rumors: Was Alien Workshop always going to be the name? Is Alien just Neil backwards? And is the logo is really a distorted Denny’s sign?

We met at a Denny’s once when we were trying to figure everything out… just because there happened to be one midway between Orange County and North County. Denny’s was where we discussed the formation with Neil and Rob. We tried thinking of names there but had nothing to do with the logo.

We struggled for a while to think of a name but once “Alien Workshop” came up, we knew we had it. There was never any other name. Again, it came from that crazy friend of mine who’d told us how the Stealth Bomber was actually built in alien workshops using alien technology. I remember explaining it to those guys and as soon as I said the words, they all lit up. That was the name. You also have to remember that Dayton is where Wright-Patt Air Force Base was as well, to take the irony one step further.

But Alien being Neil backwards had nothing to do with it. It wasn’t like the Lien Air.


What was Blender’s role within AWS? Partner? Inspiration?

Neil was a massive inspiration. His ideas on things, his photography and videography skills and his musicianship… even down to his music choices becoming a huge influence on everybody. And, of course, the way he skated.

We just really liked Neil and wanted him to be part of the company. He did so many board graphics for us… the Notebook Series, the Pitre Olives and Dyrdek Fazer Guy come to mind immediately. 

The thing with Neil is that he was never an invested partner. We wanted him to, for sure, but he wasn’t interested. He was all too aware of how risky it was and honestly, he was proven right for the first 2 years or so. Here we start this company and skateboarding almost completely dies right afterwards. I definitely thought about him as I was picking up a Sunday paper to find a part-time job in order to eat and pay rent. It was bad, man. Knowing that I left a stable job and the opportunity to work in skateboarding somewhere else in California if necessary, was always in the back of my mind as we struggled. At times, I was crippled with self-doubt. 


How did those early ad concepts come about? No skating anywhere… and I honestly don’t even know what that first ad is.

I don’t think there was a hard-fast rule to not show any skating. The idea was more about not wanting our ads to be just another photo of a trick with our logo in the corner. We were so tired of that. Mike wanted to do something a bit more thought-provoking.

That first ad is actually a paper mache doll that Neil had built and painted. That photo is the reflection of it. We were toying around and experimenting. The latin quote fit in there and we were so stoked. We thought it was the coolest thing ever. It was all a collective effort.


Did you guys really believe in all these conspiracies? I always heard stories about how Alien was stockpiling and burying gold…?

We believed it. Mike definitely did, for sure, and converted me into being a believer.   It was so clear to us how many untruths we were being told. At our age, we were supposed to believe what was being taught, despite being able to see all the inconsistencies and the corruption. The greed.

The company wouldn’t have worked if we didn’t truly believe. You couldn’t fake it or it would’ve looked like some shitty t-shirt brand.

We did prepare. We did buy gold but we never buried it. We bought farmland and generators. We bought guns and ammo.  We made sure that we had our own water wells that couldn’t be tainted. We tried to set ourselves up to be self-sustaining the best we could. We figured better to be safe than sorry. We talked about it often and felt like something could and would happen inevitably.  Here we are now, all these years later, and there are tv shows about this very same thing, “prepping.” Who would’ve thought?


Talk about how Memory Screen was made. Was it always intended to be skating + art? How long did all that take?

We started Alien in October of 1990 and the video came out in August 1991. We started going on filming trips pretty much immediately after leaving G&S. We didn’t really have much money and had to buy a camera so we didn’t have a way to edit back then. We had to rent an editing deck. At first, we rented it for a week and, me being the money guy, I really had to push to hopefully get it all done during that time because we couldn’t afford to rent that thing for another week. We still had to buy tapes and make boxes.

Unfortunately, it still wasn’t done so we had to use a credit card for another week’s rental. We got it finished and duplicated locally here in Cincinnati. It all happened pretty fast.

But yeah, two weeks of pretty much round’ the clock editing.

Is it true that only the “Lil Ethnic Song” bit got finished that first week and the entire rest of the video was edited during the second?

Yes, that’s true. Neil had introduced us to J and we were so honored he’d given us this song, we wanted to make it as good as possible. It was important to start the video off that way.

I remember giant stacks of tapes and having to go through the entire thing, looking for that one moment with the right image. This was before computers. No files, no mouse. Just back-to-back edits, all on video. It was mechanical and ridiculous. One finished minute could take hours and was ruined if you needed to change anything, which we did a lot.


What was the initial reaction to Memory Screen from both the riders and the public-at-large?  It was definitely an unexpected way of presenting a skate video.

I think Rob and Duane knew what to expect but some of the other guys were clearly not happy. You can probably figure out who. Everybody has a different vision of how they see their video part and unless they sit in during the editing, the results are never going to match their expectations. We didn’t let anybody sit in with the Memory Screen editing process and generally didn’t encourage that for any of our videos as it tended to make things too complicated.

You either loved Memory Screen or hated it but it definitely was never ignored. It got people’s attention and we sold a lot of videos. It got the name out and allowed us to start building. A lot of skateboarding purists looked at it like, “What the fuck!?!” but it let us to turn our younger riders pro and sell their product. Luckily, they believed in what we were doing and stayed with us.

Understand that this was the era of quick edit, trick-to-trick videos that had little to no other content.  Skateboarding is peculiar in the sense that everyone is expected to do the same things at the same time to be considered “cool” or “current” no matter how lame or even nonfunctional it may be.  Case in point: the 38mm wheel with size 2XL pant-era. 


As a team manager, how was it dealing with Scott Conklin and Bo Turner?

I just remember going down to St. Pete to film and it being so much different than I had imagined. I always thought of coastal Florida as being all fun but these guys skated in some really rough areas. Not where they lived, but where they skated was not at all the friendliest of neighborhoods. I think this is why those guys were the way they were. Skateboarding wasn’t widely accepted by anybody back then, especially in those sketchier areas and coming up like that can have a certain influence on you.

I honestly couldn’t tell you how many fight stories I have involving those guys. Bo, Scott and Lance in an altercation with Chris Gentry at a party in Houston one night... I can’t even remember them all.

Scott was always a nice kid. I never really saw his wild side. Honestly, I never saw Bo or Scott actually start a fight but they definitely didn’t take any shit from anybody. But Scott wasn’t that hard to deal with as a team manager at all.

Bo, on the other hand, was someone who I really worried about. He was continually pushing the boundaries. He was always getting into fights and seemed to enjoy it a little more. I remember him ending up in a mess of trouble after pulling a shotgun on some kid, as the story goes. Yeah, I was definitely worried about Bo for a while there but he turned out just fine; he has a solid job, married with kids and is doing well. Scott’s doing great, too.

"Fred, Dill and AVE in NYC. Speaks for itself."

Give us your best Fred Gall story. Kalis recommended the State Trooper story from Tennessee.

Oh, that’s a good one. Good one, Kalis.

We were on a filming trip for Photosynthesis, a bunch of us packed into this RV, and I’d been having a lot of trouble with Freddy. Repeated trouble. It got to the point where I basically told him if he fucked up one more time, I was sending him home. He just kept on getting beer and smuggling it into the RV for the long drives when he wasn’t supposed to. I’d be up front trying to drive this fucking RV and he’s in the back with Dill and Ave doing God knows what. Kalis was there, Ryan Gee was along for the ride… there were way too many fucking people on this thing, sneaking on contraband unbeknownst to me… unless they were smoking weed, obviously. I didn’t mind weed as long as it wasn’t in a moving car. It’s simply part of their lifestyle and had no ill effects on them whatsoever.  Drinking, on the other hand, creates nothing but trouble.  Always.

We stop at this store somewhere down in Tennessee because someone needed to get underwear or something… and Freddy just disappears. He can be really slippery like that.

“Yo, I’m gonna go over to the store, yo!” and he’s gone.

So I’m sitting in this RV with all these kids and who knows what all they’ve brought on to this thing. I look around and see a Tennessee State Trooper come rolling in the parking lot with Freddy in the back.  

“We’re fucked,” I think to myself.  “What now?”

The cop gets out of the car with Freddy and immediately starts shouting at us in his southern accent. Evidently he had picked Freddy up as he was crossing 4 lanes of traffic with a suitcase of beer in his hand.

“Who’s in charge here?”

“Me.”

“Are you the Dad?”

So I start going into the situation and it’s really hard explaining to the police why I have a RV full of way too many underage kids, none of whom are related to me, and we’re all in Tennessee for some reason… or why Freddy’s now trying to bring back a case of beer for everybody. The cop is standing there grilling me with questions and here’s Freddy trying to do this move where he stands in-between us with his back to the cop, whispering things at me... like the cop isn’t going to be able to see any of this or figure it out. It looks so sketchy and ridiculous but he just keeps on doing it!

“What the fuck are you doing!?! What is this hi-jinx?”

He’s trying to communicate to me the fake name that he’d given the officer and I can’t decipher what the fuck he’s trying to tell me.  All the while, here’s a State Trooper trying to make sense of it all.

So now I’m sure Freddy and I are going to jail. We all probably should’ve gone to jail but the cop ended up being cool and only made us throw the beer away. Luckily, Freddy didn’t have anything else on him and was released back into my custody somehow. But wow, I could’ve killed him. Everyone else was laughing their asses off.

You could easily write a book about Freddy. There are so many good stories. Despite his penchant for wild partying literally anywhere in the world, he’s always been a good-hearted and polite kid. He’d come stay with me in Ohio for weeks at a time and was never a problem. He might be up at 4am cooking food and smoking blunts but that’s about it. Alcohol can typically be the catalyst for his trouble but he’s always a great kid to be around, not to mention an amazing skater and living legend.


How do you even begin to wrap your head around a situation like Lennie Kirk?

Like all our guys, I really care about Lennie. I tried very hard to help him and I really thought I could until I began to realize the full scope of his illness. It was very hard because he is so bi-polar. He could be the coolest, nicest kid in the world. He’d do whatever you asked him to and never argue. But he started getting in more and more trouble, always having to call me to bail him out or lend him money. He was always broke… he didn’t make much money as an amateur and was living hand-to-mouth in SF, struggling to get by. He did start doing better when he turned pro but with the illness and the injury, he became increasingly erratic, emotional and often difficult to deal with.

Where do you unfortunately have to cut the line? Were you ever worried that you were enabling or potentially exploiting him?

I felt I was careful to not enable him in any of this. I always tried steering him away from partying or doing drugs, even before the injury, because I could tell it didn’t work for him. Generally, that’s when he’d get into trouble.

I never felt like we exploited him because we didn’t force him to do anything. All that religious stuff in Timecode was what he wanted in there. He got a camera, shot it all himself and sent it in to us. It just came in the mail one day.

The breaking point came on a demo tour we went on shortly after Timecode came out. He was completely out of control, doing so many things that just couldn’t be tolerated. For example, I remember going to Woodward Skate Camp for a demo… they didn’t even want us there in the first place because of our team’s reputation. But after begging this guy to let us in, we do a demo that goes great and the kids are stoked. So afterwards, I’m heading back to the parking lot and there’s Lennie with our guitar amp and a microphone, preaching to all of these kids. He’s screaming about fire and brimstone and talking down on people because of his religion. Being very offensive. I literally grab the mic from him and he starts yelling at me! It was ugly, man. He’s calling me the devil in front of all these people. A bad scene.

After the tour was over, I had to break it down to him, like, “I tried really hard but this just isn’t going to work. Unfortunately, this is where I’m at.” It was hard because I’d never kicked anybody off for disciplinary issues before. It was usually for non-skating or a retirement-type of thing.

I did talk to his Mom as a way to hopefully get him some help. I really wanted her to understand the complexity of his issues but she basically just started preaching to me, blaming the devil. She was dead-set that the source was spiritual and demonic in nature. It wasn’t something she felt could be treated or approached scientifically. This was all face-to-face, too.


Lennie claims in his interview to have “healed” you at some point. Do you recall anything like that?

I’m the king of calling bullshit on anybody’s unlikely claims but yes, the faith healing story is true. I’m certainly not a subscriber to fundamentalist religious beliefs but I’m not altogether unspiritual either.

I was having a lot of neck and back pain at the time and kept telling Lennie about it because he was actually staying with us at the time.

“Sarge, let me try something, man. You gotta believe in me and give it a shot. I can help you with the will of God.”

Fuck it, I’d been in pain for a week or so at that point and I’m down to try anything for relief. Ok.

So he stands over me and rubs some sort of oil on my hands. He’s begins to hold one of my hands while putting his other hand on my head in a very confident and procedural way. He starts reciting long passages of prayers that got more intense as he went. It built into this sort of peak that left me grinning a bit, wondering how these types of things could possibly do any good at all. He then asks me to repeat a few things along with him, stomping his foot a couple times as he picked up the verbal pace. He finally steps back, and I’m not even kidding in the slightest, the pain was gone. Instantly and completely.

I was shocked. Totally tripping out. He was so proud, convinced that his doing that would instantly turn me into a devout Christian. Not so but I do feel there’s something to it. To this day, I can’t explain it and have never revisited the process.

"Freddy, Tim, Getz and Wenning, 2003." Ph: O'Meally

Incredible, man. So how did Habitat come about?

Habitat basically came from hiring Joe Castrucci. We’d put an ad out for a videographer/team guy to work with us for Photosynthesis, which obviously turned out amazing. Joe filmed a lot of that and edited it along with Mike. I honestly couldn’t tell you which one of our videos is my favorite but I can still watch Photosynthesis today and be stoked. So much of that came from Joe.

Over the course of working on the video, it started to feel like the Alien roster was so huge. Joe was starting to be in the mix more on the company side of things and obviously had a lot of talents in addition to the video stuff. He ended up coming to us with this very in-depth concept for a brand. He had all types of planning and execution ideas and it just made sense. Everyone else had multiple brands. Girl had their Chocolate, Alien could have their Habitat. It was different enough from Alien to where they could both work. Joe just ran with it.

A lot of the Alien guys never really gave it much respect, especially when it started. I think it was more about competitive jealousy than anything else. They didn’t want to see us divide our team and focus energy or attention away from them.  It was admittedly a big shift.

Joe’s done a great job with Habitat over the years and has really proven both himself and the concept… even though I know many of those same riders would still never admit it.


One theory is that the creation of Habitat bummed out Rob and Josh, eventually leading to the creation of Seek. Any truth to that?

No, that wasn’t the case. Habitat was Joe’s company through us. It wasn’t a rider’s vision or project. But I will say there was a very serious rivalry in Philadelphia at the time between Josh and just about the entire Habitat team. That was interesting.

I know Josh referred to them as “Habi-wack”.

Yeah, I got to hear a lot of stuff like that but, like I said, I think it had more to do with competitive rivalries between young skaters. Kalis was on top of his game but then you had Wenning and Kerry coming up, pushing each other so hard. It was amazing to watch them continually raise the bar. Footage would come back and it was insane. I mean, Pappalardo switch ollies the fountain, Wenning switch backside 180’s it right afterwards. The lines that would come from that place were incredible. It was an amazing scene but those dudes were pretty cutthroat with each other as well.


Anyone of note almost on either Alien or Habitat over the years?

There was always talk of dudes as possible riders. Someone would get stoked on a dude and try to put him out there as an option. It’s hard to remember all of those conversations.  I usually let them simmer. A new rider was a serious commitment so I never liked to rush into it. Keeping everyone happy and motivated is always a serious challenge in the world of skateboarding.

Brian Anderson was supposed to be on the original Habitat with Kerry but he bailed at the last minute. I had talked to him about everything and he was going to do it but then didn’t. Kerry almost bailed as well but we were able to keep him. I really wanted both of those guys… Ed Templeton was bummed. Understandably so.

Alien’s a bit harder to think of because we pretty much got everyone we wanted.

Wasn't Jacob Rupp supposed to ride for Habitat at some point? I always heard Josh put the squash on that. And what about Kyle Leeper?

Yes, Rupp and Leeper were both potential Habitat skaters later on. Castrucci and the team would’ve made the decision before bringing me in for approval and pay concerns. Not really sure why neither worked out but since that was for Habitat, Kalis wouldn’t have had much input either way.


What was your philosophy on “stealing” riders?

Habitat would’ve probably been the only time where someone could possibly see us as stealing riders but I’d heard that both Brian and Kerry were bummed at Toy Machine and wanted to ride for somebody else. We just threw out the option.

I never searched out for riders to take. We never intentionally went after anybody by offering more money. Generally how it happens is that you end up hearing from a rider that so-and-so is bummed for whatever reason. It usually happens on a trip together. From there, interest in Alien will be put out there and the riders will discuss it amongst themselves before calling me about it as a serious option. 

If a dude wants to quit, he’s gonna quit. There’s nothing you can really do about it. When Josh quit for DGK, I tried my best to prevent it but there was no stopping him. Same thing with Danny quitting to start Plan B back up. Once their mind is made up, they’re gone. Top level skaters don’t just call up and quit overnight; they’ve already spent a lot of time working out their new deal long before I get the “I’m quitting” call.  You just have to deal with it. Sell off as many of their boards as you can, which is always a big problem, and accept the blow to you and your company’s ego.

This is not Chris Carter. 

Your big screen debut… kinda, how did Dill’s Photosynthesis intro come about?

Dill is just so eccentric. I always used to have to call him in order to make sure he was doing what he was supposed to and push him for the video. Just constantly repeating myself, “You gotta film!”

This one day I called him and happened to have a tape recorder with me. I had to record it. There were days that he’d blow my mind with how ridiculous he was being. I really turned it up a notch on him and he had no idea it was being recorded. I purposefully kept saying things that I knew would get him even more animated. The whole thing was totally unplanned and unscripted... “the curtains” and all that, I was just making it up. He was dead serious, though. Some of his quotes in there are unbelievable… Dill is a great friend and a truly amazing person in so many aspects. 

Joe and Mike found the photo of that real douchey 70’s guy wearing the suit that was supposed to be me. At first, I couldn’t get over how lame that photo was but it made sense. It’s the perfect image for that guy who calls up riders to push them into doing whatever. Unfortunately, I’ve met too many people over the years who really think that’s me.

Like I said, I can’t pick a favorite Alien video but I do think Dill’s Photosynthesis part is probably the epitome of an Alien Workshop video part in every way.


Something that came up on the site was Pat Corcoran making negative comments about his Alien days, saying that he’d been inaccurately pigeonholed as “the rail kid” through the editing of Photosynthesis. Thoughts?

Wow, I don’t know what to say. This is the first I’ve ever heard of this. I’m sorry he feels that way. I’m sure Joe and Mike used the best footage they had. There’s a lot that goes into selecting footage for an edit. It’s not always just the quality of tricks. There are a million other things to consider.

It’s too bad he feels that way, though. That was never our intention.

What were your thoughts on seeing Dill on the Osbournes? What effect did you see it having on him and his board sales?

Honestly, you can’t really tell the effect something like that has unless you specifically market the premise. We never did that. I don’t know about sales but I do think it generally served to make Dill this larger-than-life personality. I mean, who else but Dill could end up living with Ozzy? How does that even happen? But there he is, hanging out in the living room with him, somehow all captured for an MTV show. That’s just Dill.


Describe the brief existence of Seek. How it came about and why it ultimately failed?  

Seek was supposed to be mostly Rob’s thing, giving him more of a stake and a cause to keep going. It was something different from Alien for he and Josh to head up and be a big part of.

Some people liked Seek, some people didn’t. I thought it was able to do some great things, making a go of it with a more international team. I thought Flo and Alex were amazing. Unfortunately, the business went bad pretty quickly… and when things start to turn the other direction in skateboarding, it goes fast. The resources for a third board brand just weren’t there. It was extremely taxing. We had to look at the whole thing honestly and realize that it was too much.

Colin felt like Seek was cursed from the get-go after Stevie bailed.

Stevie was gonna do it, man. I talked to him myself. He was already on Reflex and I had a good relationship with him. We had plenty of good phone conversations. I liked him… still do. I think he just got such massive pressure from Chocolate that he felt he had to stay… although it wasn’t that long afterward that DGK started. I always wondered if he already knew about that opportunity and if that weighed in on his decision.

You could be right.

He definitely wanted a lot of money to ride for us but we were willing to work with him in order to put together a super amazing team.  It just didn’t work out. It was hard on the guys because expectations were so high. It had a huge impact on Seek but we just had to move forward. We didn’t want to lament it but I was admittedly pissed and disappointed.  


I want to preface this by saying I’m a huge Mike Hill fan… but what happened with Don Pendleton and Alien? Those boards were incredible.

It was about creative control. Mike wanted to do all things related to Alien Workshop graphic design. I’m still friends with Don. He’s an amazing guy and has gone on to have a phenomenally successful career. It wasn’t an ugly break-up of any sorts, it was just one of those things. It didn’t work out long-term.

We talked about not marketing the Dill/Osbournes but what about the Mini-Horse and Meaty boards? Obviously a big commercial opportunity but at the same time, I’m sure it bummed some riders out.

Yeah, they were bummed but it was a necessary evil to grow and take advantage of that opportunity. We wanted greater exposure, becoming more of a “brand” than a “skate brand”. We were trying to build an additional customer base using that medium and it did work. We sold an awful lot of decks to Dyrdek fans that hopefully got a lot of kids into skateboarding. That was always my thought behind it.


Fair enough. So looking back now, was the Burton buy-out the right move? Would you do it again?

Yes, I would totally do that over again. It wasn’t a mistake at all. I don’t think people ever really knew enough about Burton to have a fair opinion.

Our buy-out deal was done in 2008. If you look at the next 5 years economically, there was a gnarly global recession that hit. The buy-out probably saved us. We weren’t going to grow organically anymore. We were just going to keep on doing the same hardgoods business with our limited customer base. Burton created and executed great plans for our brands and taught me personally so much about business. It was a great learning experience. 

The only negative thing about the buy-out was that they needed to divest from us 4 years later. They just had too many brands and their business was hurting. That’s why they had to pull the plug on Gravis, Analog, Special Blend and Forum. It was taking away too much focus from the Burton brand. Add to that, Jake Burton was experiencing health issues. It was one thing after another.

Things were going well.  We were developing Habitat Footwear and all our companies were growing. We had a partner in Burton with global manufacturing, sales and distribution. The resources were amazing. But by the same token that made us have to sell Alien to them, now things were starting to look bad for Burton. It was a downward spiral for action sports, in general.


What was the process like with hiring an established director like Greg Hunt for Mind Field with the enormous legacy Alien videos have?

When we started Mind Field, we didn’t have an in-house filmer at the time. I wasn’t out with the riders as much anymore and we needed someone to lead the process. Someone to get in the van to make sure these guys were getting stuff done as well as hiring other filmers to work with and coordinating everything into one cohesive piece. Honestly, at this point, we weren’t able to do that at the level we knew it needed to be at.

Greg just happened to come out to Ohio one time while filming the DC Video. I was obviously a huge fan of Greg and his work, so I started asking him about what his plans were after the DC stuff was done. We needed Mind Field to be the best video we’d ever made, to go beyond what we’d already done in terms of quality and presentation. We knew Greg was more than capable so I asked if he’d be into it. He said he’d think about it and ended up calling me a month later to see if I was really serious about my offer. I was.

I never worried about any creative clash. Greg is obviously very talented. I was actually more worried about getting it done on-time and on-budget. The music that the dudes chose was a motherfucker to get licensed!

"Following Mind Field's release, we were honored to win most of the awards.
I was most proud of Best Video and Team.
Greg Hunt, Hill and the entire team made what I consider to be one of the greatest skate videos ever."

How serious did you take Heath’s retirement at the time? Is that a common one for riders to throw out every so often?

Yeah, the “retirement” thing comes along every now and then with dudes but Heath does not bullshit. He is not a bag of wind. I’ll admit that I didn’t totally believe him when he first mentioned it and I told him that. He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t buying it. We ended up talking about it a while longer and by the end of the conversation, I knew he was for real. He’s so gnarly and driven about his video parts, he basically has to thrash himself over and over again to achieve that caliber of skating. It’s not easy.

When it was finally time, I did try to talk him out of quitting one last time.

“Nope. I’m quitting. I’m done.”

That was it.


We talked about team dynamic earlier... Berra and Dill obviously weren’t the best of friends on the squad. How did that all play out? And what happened between Berra and AWS?

Oh, man… that’s a bad one. I don’t want to “no comment” something but this is gonna have to be one. Sorry, I don’t want to air this publicly.  Clearly there’s no love lost between them. I will leave it at that….

Had to ask. We also talked about Kalis’ departure a bit ago. Did you guys really kill that Alien Abduction board that DGK put out shortly thereafter? Was that taken as a diss?

Yes, I killed it. I took that board as a diss and sent a cease-and-desist letter. I still have a copy of it. They used our logo, our intellectual property, and I didn’t like it. There was no need for it. I was already bummed out about Kalis leaving and then to do that on top of it? When you have trademarked property, you’re supposed to protect… let’s leave the legal mumbo-jumbo out of it. I was pissed. I didn’t like it so I sent them a letter.

Alien Workshop would’ve never done that to anybody. We were disappointed that he left but we had no beef with DGK. Why are you going to do that to us?


Was Dill and AVE’s leaving discussed prior? Was there ever an option for Dill to have more creative control or possibly a sister company?

It was never discussed. Dill never expressed any desire like that to me. We only talked about how he wanted Alien to be as rad as it could possibly be. His vision of the company was very strong. Their quitting still bothers me to this day. It was really hard for me.

I never thought they’d quit and start their own company. I didn’t think Anthony or Jason were interested in that. I knew that Jason had been frustrated with things but when he called to quit, it got very heated and did not end well. Jason and I were such good friends. He was like a son and a brother. It got very emotional for me. I was angry but he was just over it. He was quitting and that was it.

It was civil when I talked to Anthony. He talked about wanting to work with future generations of kids the same way we had worked with him. He framed it in a way that made more sense to me, that I could understand.

I knew Dylan was only a matter of time.


Did FA kill Alien 1.0? Did you think the company could survive such a momentum shift?

I think it would’ve been a challenge but I feel we could’ve. But once Grant quit shortly after, that’s when it got much more difficult. Now you’re talking a legacy departure of two dudes synonymous with the brand as well as the youngest, gnarliest kid who we’d been flowing decks to since he was 10-years-old.

We had very few people quit in the company’s history and when it did happen, it was normally for a big reason. Even when Josh went with DGK, they really took care of him. That was actually a great deal for Josh and his future. Even though I was upset, I understood why. But I never thought Anthony or Jason would want to leave and then when Grant quit, he told me point blank that it was because those guys had left. He thought of them as the fiber of the team and everything about Alien had changed in his mind now that those guys had gone. But once Grant quit, it wasn’t hard to see that everything was coming undone.

It was no secret that things were sketchy with our then-business partners. There are no secrets in skateboarding. There were holes in the ship and people knew. We tried to stay the course and keep our integrity but our riders didn’t like these backers we were involved with. Things were going in a bad direction quickly.

"DNA Staff & AWS Team, circa 2011. Shot at the Boulder Ave Warehouse by Brook."

How did Alien Workshop 1.0 actually end? It just seemed to spring up on social media one day. There was never an announcement and it seemed like some of the riders didn’t even know.

We’d been trying to make things work with this company that had invested in us. After Burton was gone, Rob had bought us back and these other guys came into the picture, investing in the company through Rob. It was a solid idea and could’ve worked really well. However, the fundamental problem was that they had gone too big, too quick. Simply stated, they ran out of money.

I ended up getting an email one day telling me that I didn’t have a job anymore. I’d been laid off. I knew things were sketchy and had reached a critical point but they assured me they were raising additional capital.

Just like that?

Just like that. Everybody else on the staff received an email, too. That was it. That’s how it ended, in this most unlikely fashion.

Like I said, things were sketchy but this company was trying to hold the course and raise some money to finance everything. It was their responsibility. I mean, this was a publicly-traded company in Canada that held several brands on top of retail stores. They had to be careful with what they talked about. We didn’t have full visibility. There were signs but they were optimistic. It just didn’t work. Suddenly, they were out of money and had to pull the plug. Boom. It was a total mess after that.

There was never an announcement because we felt everyone knew. There wasn’t much to talk about and I didn’t want to talk about it anyway. We were devastated. 

"Me and Rob: His first expensive whip. Circa early 90's, San Diego." Ph: Hill

How do you react when people blame Dyrdek for the downfall?

I don’t blame Rob at all. It’s not his fault. I blame the partners that he got involved with but Rob only had good intentions. He checked out everything and did his due diligence. It just didn’t work out.

That’s really about all I can say about that. Don’t blame Rob.  He loves Alien Workshop. He bought the company from Burton and invested a lot of time and money into the brands. 

I’d like to add that Rob spent a lot of money to get total control of the brands back in the wake of the last partnership fallout, too. He regained control of the intellectual property and generously gave the brands back to Mike, Joe and I while taking himself out of the picture completely. In a way, it has all gone full circle.

I know it’s Mike’s deal but do you have any emotional link to the “new” Alien Workshop?

It will always be part of my DNA, no pun intended. I think Mike’s doing great work there. It feels like Alien Workshop. I like what I see but for me, it’s more about the team, the staff, the incredible network of dealers and distributors that were such loyal supporters, all the skateboarders around the world who supported us and, last but not least, the physical location; the warehouse in Dayton, OH with our ramps, our staff and the inventory. All of those things together are what made it Alien Workshop for me.

I don’t have anything to do with the new team so I obviously don’t have the same connection and satisfaction. From Rob and Duane to Tyler Bledsoe and Grant Taylor; I knew these guys and cared about them. I don’t know these new kids but I still love the brand and always will.


So what are you doing now, Chris?

I’m licensing and selling stuff for Reflex right now. Nothing too stressful, though. I live life a lot slower these days. I unexpectedly had heart surgery in August of 2014.

Jesus.

Yeah, 3 months after I lost my job, I was out exercising one day and started feeling like I couldn’t breathe. It happened again a few days later and my friend convinced me to go to the hospital, even though I didn’t really want to. Turns out that I had a 90% blockage and they had to perform surgery immediately.

I’m probably lucky that things happened the way they did with the demise of the company because there’s a good chance that I might’ve keeled over right there at my desk. I wouldn’t have taken the time to recognize the symptoms. I would’ve just told myself that I was alright and got another cup of coffee.

My life was really fast for a long time but I had to reset after the surgery. When you come face-to-face with your mortality, your priorities change. I neglected a lot of shit for 23 years that I’m still trying to catch up on. I have a wife and daughter to think about.

For the first 6 months after my surgery, I could basically only go to rehab and rest. I was just so tired. Winter came quick. I found myself just sitting around, trying to make sense of it all. It was a rough year.

Special Memory Screen showing in Brooklyn with Chris and Duane Pitre, 2014. 

You can say that again.

I like to jokingly tell people that I was literally heartbroken over the company going belly up.

Looking back, having to deal with some pretty tough people and all the trappings of managing a business…  all of that stress did take its toll on me. We were so careful with everything because we felt such a huge responsibility to our riders and supporters. We didn’t want to disappoint so we overthought everything. I just cared so much… probably too much. We just wanted it to be the best skateboard company possible.  To me it always was and always will be Limitless by design.

thanks to Kalis, Whiteley, Bird, Aes and Chris for taking the time.