chrome ball interview #78: ryan fabry

 chops and ryan blow some bubbles.

So let’s start this thing off with a little background, Ryan. I know you came up out of Las Vegas but aren’t you originally from Minnesota? Is that where you started skating?

Yup, exactly. I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and was there all the way until I was 17-years-old.

Do you feel your ATV-brand of skateboarding came from growing up in that type of climate? Some pretty harsh winters to deal with in Vertisota.

(laughs) Yeah, that’s what the Minnesota environment created. You’d be street skating as hard as possible all summer long in downtown Minneapolis but once it started to get cold, you had to move indoors. The thing was, there was no such thing as an indoor street course back then. It was vert or possibly a mini ramp but that was it. That’s one thing that was weird about skating everything back then because I’d have vert influences who were almost completely different from my street influences.

All that stuff attracted me, though. Just like in Powell videos, the Bones Brigade would be out skating street and end up at a vert ramp. That’s where it came from for me and it was in my blood.

But you’re right, there often was a strict separation between street guys and vert dudes. I have to imagine people tripping out on you being able to skate both so well. Did you feel people often tried to pigeonhole you into a certain terrain during your career?

There were times where I’d be out skating street and head over to a ramp only to get vibed. The vert dudes would be vibing me for being a “street skater”... which was always weird. But that didn’t matter. It usually went away after a few runs.

What was cool back then was that it could go in any direction. I remember filming for the A1-Meats video… it was anything goes. Whatever there was to film me skating on, that was cool. Mini-ramp? Cool. A parking garage? Let’s go. You want to skate vert!? Sure!

It became so different after that because the demographic switched. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing how advanced street skating got but it’s almost like skating got a bit of tunnel vision. It was only street skating for a while. You had to be in this one exact format or it was hit the road, Jack.

What led you out to Las Vegas?

That was purely because my family moved here. I was still considered a minor so I had to go where my family went. This is where we ended up.But I was lucky to be on Planet Earth because that meant I already had a ton of ties out here through H-Street.

I always figured Lotti got you on Planet Earth after moving. You were already on back in Minnesota? How’d you swing that?

Yeah, that came about through this skate camp back in Wisconsin called Lake Owen. It was under the Woodward umbrella.

Yeah, it had the hardwood floors.

Exactly. Ken Park, the old vert guy, used to sorta run that camp and I ended up getting a job there one summer as a counselor. Not sure if you remember but Ken was actually partners with Chris Miller when Planet Earth first started. He became my link to the company and started flowing me stuff.

The problem was, being in Minnesota, I was often lost in the mix being so far away from California. It wasn’t like I was really sponsored. Dude would send a few boards every now and then but he’d never answer my phone calls. I felt pretty ignored.

It all started to pick up once I got out to Las Vegas. That’s when things started to come together.

Did you have much interaction with the more legendary street pros on those H-Street teams at the time? The squad was so big, was it difficult breaking through with that crew?

I remember some of my first trips to San Diego and being able to go to the H-Street house. Skating was so cool back then. Seeing guys like Donger, John Reeves, Chris Livingston and Sal Barbier… they all had these very recognizable looks, almost like characters out of a comic book. Like you couldn’t mistake someone like Donger for anybody else. It just shined through. Nowadays, you can go to any skatepark and the most ripping kid is wearing a Potsie button-upshirt with a pocket protector and some flooded jeans but back then, you’d walk into a room with those guys and feel like you were in the presence of superstars!

But there was a sense of competition though, for sure. You had to prove yourself. I remember my first time at the H-Street House, they all took me down the street to what was called School W.

The one with the fence people ollied over.

Yup, I remember going there with those dudes and it was almost like my little initiation to see if I could hang or not. Ollieing the fence was the big test to prove yourself. It was like if you could do that, you basically passed step one. You might be able to be down with us. 

A1 Meats’ Dancing In the Dirt is what gave the world a proper introduction to your skating. How long was that filming… maybe 3 days? Were you hyped on how it came out?

It really was a short time to film. I think they came to Las Vegas for a long weekend and that’s when the majority of filming went down. I did film a little bit after that in San Diego but that was it. In those days, you just hooked up with a person for a couple days and that was it. That was your part.

But yeah, I like how it turned out. It was a good mix of everything: a lot of street skating but with some mini-ramp and vert stuff as well. I was really happy that it all got to be in there like that.

The only real drawback was A1 Meats being on the brink of going out of business at that time. The video barely got released. I never even owned a copy.

Not to be on your nuts but your part was super ahead of everybody else in that thing… 360 flips down huge gaps and stairs when most could barely fling them on flat, kickflip nosegrinds on proper ledges and then a McTwist on vert?! This was 1991!

Thanks, man. Honestly, that kickflip nosegrind was a pivotal moment for me. It was the first day I ever met Matt Hensley. He had come along for the session and you can barely see him in the background but he’s sitting on a powerbox when I made that trick. The thing was, I had never even made that trick before. I’d messed around with it but never thought that it could actually happen. I just tried it that day because Matt was there and I figured I could at least pretend like I could do it. But then on the first or second try, it just happened. I couldn’t even believe it but Matt saw it go down and went back to Mike Ternasky to tell him to really hook me up.

Before that, I was just some small amateur dude on Planet Earth. All of a sudden, I’m on H-Street instead of Planet Earth and I’m getting hand-delivered packages from Tony Magnusson with more skateboards and gear than I’d ever seen in my life. And it was all due to Matt Hensley seeing that kickflip nosegrind… regardless to whether that A1 Meats video came out or not.

It all comes down to timing and being in the right place. You can be the baddest dude in the world but if the right people aren’t seeing it, it won’t work out.

That time instantly solidified you as one of the 90’s first super ams. Were other pros tripping on you?

That’s kinda hard to answer because in skateboarding, things usually go two ways: either you become instant best friends with your peers on that same level or they all became jealous enemies and try to keep this motherfucker out of here. Luckily, I felt like it went the friendship way for me.

So you weren’t close to Ternasky prior?

I’d never even met Mike Ternsaky before that.

It’s funny because around the same time that A1 Meats video came out, I was hanging out with Jordan Richter a lot and he was actually trying to get me on World Industries. So not only was Matt Hensley talking to Mike about me, he’s also hearing that Jordan is trying to steal me for World Industries. I remember it seemed like all of a sudden, Mike just grabbed hold of me to stake his claim. “He’s with us, that ain’t happening.”

I always figured Ternasky strategically kept you out of Now N Later for the Plan B defection but I guess you weren’t even an option for Plan B until after A1 Meats.

Yeah, it all came from Hensley being there that day as well as being pretty tight with Danny Way. We hung out a lot at that time. When it came time to start pulling people for Plan B, it was those two guys who threw my name out there and brought me along.

But I actually did go out to film with Lotti for Now N Later at one point. He was filming with Daniel Harold Sturt who basically punked me out of the video. Here I am in awe of going out to film with Lotti when this guy I’d never met before starts yelling at me!

“Listen here, you little fucker. I’m not here to wipe your nose or take you around to where ever. If you want something filmed, you fucking tell me, alright? But honestly, I don’t really give a fuck about you.”

What the fuck is this guy’s problem! I was just a young kid getting threatened by some big adult! Fuck him! This guy’s a dick! It honestly freaked me out to the point where I didn’t even care about filming anymore. He intimidated me out of even trying! (laughs)

So how did you originally hear about the plan to leave H-Street?

It actually started out when I got a call from who I think was Tony Magnusson, basically warning me about Mike. That Mike was trying to do something and that he was asking people to leave the company but it was all bullshit. Don’t listen to him, everything was good.

It was such a weird call to get at the time that I didn’t even understand what it was all about.

“Ummm… Ok… well, whatever. I haven’t talked to anybody but I’ll keep an eye out.”

But after that, I started to hear these little rumors about Plan B from a few different people. I knew there was a Back to the City contest coming up in San Francisco and that Mike Ternasky and a few of the others who were supposed to be in this new company were going to be there.

I knew I had to get up there, not even to be in the contest but just to be present. At the time, Ken Park was trying to make another new company… not sure if you remember but it was called 1 More Skateboard Company.

Jason Carney, right?

Yup, Jason Carney was the main dude but it started off as Ken wanting me to be the main dude. He already had graphics drawn up for my pro board and everything. I was down for it but as soon as I heard that I was even a possibility for this new thing, I started to think differently.

It’s terrible but I basically used Ken Park to fly me up to San Francisco and check out the contest as a way to talk to Mike Ternasky. That’s when we sealed the deal where Mike said, “If you’re down, we want you.”

I wasn’t about to let that one pass me by.

Wasn’t Carney also an option for Plan B though? Anybody else you remember possibly being in the mix? Kanten Russell?

There were a lot of people on the drawing board and there were a few close ones, for sure. It was really loose, though. Basically everyone would be sitting at this big table and Mike Ternasky would throw out names that could go just as quickly as it came.

That’s kind of the thing: someone’s name could be thrown into the hat for two seconds before getting taken out but in the meantime, some bystander has already left the room and spread the rumor without knowing that person was no longer an option or ever really was.

But yeah, Jason Carney was a close call. Kanten Russell was actually thrown out by that filmer David Schlossbach. He was a huge Kanten Russell fan and tried to promote him for the team but it never really made it that far. A lot of people will say that the whole team rose up against Kanten but it wasn’t really like that.

So that rumor where the team had to recreate Kanten’s video in Questionable in order to keep him off the team wasn’t true?

(laughs) Yeah, I heard something similar to that as well but no, that’s not true. That’s just people coming up with extraordinary sounding stuff.

What were those early days of Plan B like? Was there any sense of camaraderie within the team?

Yeah, it was awesome, man. We had Christmas parties and shit.

I do remember there being a bit of a split with Mike Carroll being in San Francisco. It was always like Mikey and Rick up North. They’d come down to visit and at the time, Mike must’ve really despised Southern California. Back then, Mike had a bit of a reputation for having an ego and being a bit of an asshole but we were all so young. Everyone was cool as shit.

I was living with Sean Sheffey in Poway, California at what was basically a flop house with different pro skaters coming and going. It’s funny to look back on now because all these kids would be so excited to see Sheffey and I skate… just because we were on Plan B, we got treated with such respect but in reality, we were living in a $500-a-month apartment with no furniture. Here’s this dream team of skateboarders that people look up to and we were really just living like scumbags with hardly any money. I think Sean had a bed but the rest of us were sleeping on the floor.

Do you recall getting any flack from other skaters who weren’t down with the idea of a “super team”? I know several World and Blind riders quit because of Rocco’s Plan B acquisition.

Yeah, a lot of people were bummed on it and I’ve never really been able to figure out why. At the time, there was a little rivalry where if you rode for World, you hated H-Street and vice-versa. I know Jason Lee and Gonz had their little gripes against Ternasky where they thought he was like a “skateboard coach” or something. I will say that Mike did do some goofy shit at times. I remember him timing Tony Magnusson’s runs with a stopwatch once. “Try to get three more tricks into that :45 second run!”

That kinda stuff was easy to look at a little crazy. I know Gonz was supposed to have a trick in the Contests and Demos section of Questionable but he called up Mike personally to have him take it out. He didn’t want to be in Mike’s video.

There were those who actually thought it was ruining skateboarding, that Plan B was turning it into a football game. But none of that stuff ever really effected me any. This whole thing was my introduction to sponsored skateboard life. I was too in awe of everything to realize if it actually was good or bad.

Did you have much interaction with Rocco?

I did. The first official tour I ever went on was Plan B with World Industries for the summer. Rocco and Ternasky each drove a van and that was my first introduction to Steve. And I will say that any rumor you’ve heard about him is true, no matter how hard it seems to believe.

This was Rocco in his heyday of shopping sprees and throwing money around. $500 to do a trick. $100 to put your bare ass up against a window. If he had $200,000, he was spending $200,000. That’s how he was, laughing like a little kid in a candy store. He’s obviously a brilliant man but he enjoyed it all and went for it.

Do you have a best Rocco story from that tour? And how did he jive with the way Ternasky managed your team?

There is a bunch of stuff that is too fucked-up to talk about because of other people being involved so I can’t really share the best ones. But Rocco went for it so hard, man. He was always the ringleader of everything. Going out to buy a bunch of pies so we could drive around in the middle of the night and throw them at innocent people… like that clip of Colin doing it in the video. Shit like that happened all the time. Blowing up all the fireworks in a hotel lobby. He was the mastermind. But it all felt okay because it was like your Dad telling you to do it. Go ahead, it’s okay.

I don’t know if you ever heard these stories but Rocco was definitely down to buy hookers for the team. I won’t name any names but if you had a good day of skating or did well at a demo, you could get a hooker that night. I mean, I wasn’t even 18 yet and this is the type of thing I’m experiencing. I couldn’t believe it.

Mike was against all that shit. “Woah, woah… we need to reel this in!”

I remember he’d come to our room in the morning and there’d be 40oz bottles and whatever else lying around. He’d try to pinpoint it on people. Who did this? Who did that? It was always followed by a stern talking to where we’d all feel ashamed about everything. We didn’t want to let Mike down. Even though Steve said it was fine, most of us still had that moral obligation where we knew we had to behave better than that.

So after breaking out with your A1 meats footage and now being part of this highly-anticipated video, did you feel any pressure with filming Questionable?

I didn’t feel pressure but I honestly wasn’t so happy with how my Questionable part came out. At the same time, I had a bad experience in life outside of skateboarding after somebody slipped acid in my beer while on a camping trip in Minnesota. I ended up having this crazy bad acid trip where I basically thought I was losing my mind. It fucked me all up and I honestly didn’t really talk about it for years out of fear that doing so could make it happen again.

So I’m going through this thing where I’m afraid of simply living altogether while at the same time trying to get Plan B thing off the ground.

Not the best foundation for a solid video part.

Not at all. I just wasn’t on top of my game.

The thing with that part… remember when you brought up feeling pigeonholed into skating a certain way? Mike did push street skating in my part, for sure. I would’ve preferred it to be like my A1 Meats part where I’m skating all kinds of different stuff again. And it was to a degree, everyone had their parts and there was the Mini Ramp part.

Some of your best clips were actually in that mini ramp part instead of your main part! But everything was so street-focused by that point.

The whole thing with Questionable is that it felt very structured. You know in school when you have to write an outline for a report? The production felt regimented where you had Subsection A with tricks 1,2 and 3 before moving on to Subsection B with those tricks. I just don’t work like that.

Was “Bubbles” your song choice?

Bad Brains was my choice but I still don’t know how I wound up with “Don’t Blow No Bubbles”. That’s a strange one. I still love Bad Brains to this day but I swear I had a different song of theirs I was pushing for. “Bubbles” is where I ended up. Whatever.

On an amateur squad of only three people with the third being Colin McKay, were you aware of what Pat Duffy was putting down at the time?

I did to a degree but not everything. Pat Duffy was such a badass, man. He was finishing up high school in San Francisco at the time but he came down to San Diego for a weekend and ended up doing a bunch of stuff for his part. The double-kink handrail, the backside 50-50 on the bank to rail where he ollies back in and then that 50-50 down that super long straight rail… like 23 stairs. He did all that shit in one weekend. Pat actually did that long 50-50 twice after Matt Hensley asked him to do it again after he missed seeing it the first time. Pat did it twice in a row.  

I was in Las Vegas at the time but I remember Jake Rosenberg showing me the footage when I came back, like “Check out where Pat’s part is at.”

Oh man. Like, what can you even do after you see all that shit? Holy shit!

I know that footy was probably meant to motivate but didn’t that fuck with your confidence? That’s nothing on you, I’m sure the rest of the team had to be tripping as well, right? He’s the other “street” am, a complete unknown, and he’s filming one of the best video parts ever!

Fuck yeah! We were all tripping! I don’t remember anyone saying anything specifically but it was obvious! We were just like… fuck! You could just tell. The dude was out of control! I can’t even put into words or an emotion what it was like for us dudes following Pat Duffy in that video. He was the only dude who could do that shit! The backside smith down the handrail through the kink!? You could maybe find somebody else willing to TRY it. But nobody had that shit. Pat Duffy was the only motherfucker and nobody knew who he even was!

I still don’t think anybody has been able to repeat how Pat came out like that.

Did you know Matt Hensley was planning on retiring?

Yeah, even early on with Plan B, he had made it clear that he was done. I don’t remember the exact trick but someone had done a kickflip to something to kickflip out and Matt just looked up and said, “I don’t even want to have to do that.”

It didn’t look fun to him or appealing. He didn’t want to have to try that 6,000 times, he just wanted to skate. In the most respectful way, he said it just wasn’t his skateboarding anymore.

Alright Ryan, so we have to address the elephant in the room here… I don’t know how much you want to get into things here and I respect your privacy but I ask because Sheffey has gone on record to me saying that it was all a misunderstanding. I’ve even seen a recent photo of him with his arm around you. What’s your side of this story that has become one of the more notorious stories in skateboarding?

It’s hard to put in the right words due to respecting Sean’s privacy. I saw that interview and I appreciate and respect how Sean addressed it. I’m not going to get into the full details out of respect for Sean and his family but to make a long story short, obviously something went down there.

At the time, it was the Sheffeys and myself who were the main people living in that apartment in Poway. Things had got to a point where Sean had moved out to the beach and I remained at the apartment. Basically, things ended up the way they do with partying and shit like that. I’m not blaming anything or making any excuses but I do believe the lifestyle did help lead things a certain way.

I’ve seen where Sean said that it was all a big misunderstanding and things got out of control and then went on to compliment me as being a great skateboarder. I appreciate that. It was a fucked-up situation, fucked-up circumstances. Things should not have gone down the way that they did but it did. It’s not the first time in history that this has happened to good friends and it’s not going to be the last time but it is always a fucked-up thing when it does occur.

You brought up that photo. For years, I was unsure what was going to happen the next time I saw Sean but fortunately, enough time had passed. I actually thought he was going to probably kill me but he approached me and squashed the whole deal.

Did it ever get physical between you and Sean back then?

There was not what I would call a fight. There was what I would call a beatdown.

You can’t get in a fight with Sean Sheffey, especially 20 years ago when he was in his prime! It was like approaching Mike Tyson!

That’s what happens when you’re on my end of the deal. That’s what happens to you.

Obviously Sheffey and the bodily harm he could inflict is one thing but did you also realize you were playing with your entire skateboarding career as well?

It just wasn’t there in my sight. I just wasn’t thinking, man.

So is that why you got kicked off Plan B?

Basically so. I had gone back to Las Vegas and I remember Mike calling me in the kindest way, basically saying there was no way it could work out. There needed to be some time there. He offered to help me get on another team, which I appreciated but declined. I was just going to see what happened on my own.

But there must’ve been a ton of board companies interested in you, right?

It was strange because while there were a lot of offers, none of them felt like the right thing. Nothing really felt like home to me. My divorce with Plan B basically felt like the end for me. It just felt like it was over.  

How’d you end up on Birdhouse? I gotta say, the Slacker graphic was top-shelf.

That’s a weird one. I can’t even really remember how it went down... it doesn’t even sound real. There must’ve been some kind of misunderstanding. But there was this guy that I’d known for years who was now working for Birdhouse that we all called “Birdhouse Tom”. He was always throwing out Birdhouse as an option, saying that Tony was down to get me on the team but I really wasn’t sure. I just kept saying things like, “Okay, maybe. We’ll see.”

Nothing committal. What happened next was this one time when we were at a movie rental store, he picks up this movie box with that picture on the cover and says,  “Check this out! This kinda looks like you! That would be a badass board graphic, huh?”

I just agreed with him like, “Yeah, that would be a cool board. Yeah, whatever.”

I didn’t even think this could happen but through a few light conversations and saying I liked that idea as a graphic, not necessarily for MY graphic, I ended up with a pro model on Birdhouse! I was never even officially on the team! I was actually trying to get on Toy Machine at the exact same time that Birdhouse board came out. I still don’t know how that happened.

It seemed like you did go through Birdhouse, Toy Machine and Evol all pretty quickly. What was going on there? None of them felt right?

Toy Machine was pretty cool but by the time I got there, drinking and drugs had really taken its toll and had become the major focus of life. All that stuff started at a young age and just advanced as I got older. The life of a skateboarder, you have zero responsibilities and nothing but time. Skate when you want. Wake up whenever you want. Do whatever… Drink as much and do as much drugs as you want.

That’s just where my head was at. Skating was still going good. Ed was happy with shit. The thing was that Ed was having budget problems though his first financial backing with Brad Dorfman from Vision. Toy Machine was struggling so it came down to Ed needing to cut everything back, including some of my pay.

I felt that if he was going to cut my pay that I’d just quit the team. In all honesty, I was actually bluffing but it backfired. He just let me go… which sucked. But at that point, I couldn’t really backpedal like I was joking or something.

Evol actually wasn’t until like a year or so later. By that point, I had just given up. Fuck it. This shit isn’t really panning out for me but I’ll take some free boards if I can. I got on Evol though Chris Hensley, Matt’s brother who was Team Manager at the time. Evidently, Tony Mag was still pretty mad about me leaving for Plan B back in the day but was willing to squash it and look past it for a second chance. He was also working things out with Mike to become friends again before he passed.

Honestly, though, it was just a big waste of time. Even though I was skating, there was still too much partying on my end. All I wanted to do was collect whatever money I could and have a free lifestyle.

Do you feel like the Sheffey incident stained your reputation for the rest of your career?

Well, even now after 23 years, it’s still the first question anyone wants to ask me. Most people are either too scared to ask or are trying to find some kind of way to lead up to that subject. It got to a point where it didn’t matter what I was doing, people only wanted to hear about why I got kicked off Plan B. The skateboarding didn’t matter anymore.

I see videos of mine on YouTube and there’s some 16-year-old kids making comments about something that happened before they were even alive. It’s crazy. 

So what are you doing now, Ryan? I know you’re working in construction. And I still see some footage every now and then and you’re obviously still ripping.

As far as the industry goes, even though I could still probably pull off that lifestyle where I’m out couch-surfing, selling boards and drinking beer, I’m just so fucking over that shit, man. Waking up and heading down to the park to sell a set of wheels, not knowing if I’m going to be able to eat a sandwich that day? No way, man.

You gotta have zero expectations and goals to keep that kind of lifestyle up and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I lived that way for years. I needed to enter the world somewhere. Unfortunately with skateboarding, you can get so used to partying and all that free time that you’re fucked when it comes to the real world. Luckily, I was able to figure things out and now have a solid career as a Journeyman Glazier. I make more money in a week than I ever did in a month skateboarding. I’m not bragging and I’m not complaining, I’m just saying that if I never was able to bite the bullet and find a way to make it, I’d be in trouble. I figured if I was going to work a job, I at least wanted it to be a good job and earn more than minimum wage doing it.

Through all of this, I learned life was actually good. I quit drinking and drugs many years ago. Being completely clean, I’ve found a new appreciation for life while still being able to love things like skateboarding. I love doing it, I love watching it… seeing all the things that go down, its unbelievable.

Good to hear, man. And I can’t thank you enough for doing this, Ryan. Anything you’d like to add?

Beyond anything, I always want to spread the message that if people are struggling with drugs and alcohol… if they think they have a problem, looking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of good judgement.

I might seem like I got some sort of unfair shake in skateboarding, I entered it as fast as I left it, but I left with my life. There have been a lot of pro skateboarders that didn’t escape with their sanity or their lives. Being able to enjoy life is what it’s all about. It’s not the end when skateboarding is over just like it’s not the end if you develop a drug or alcohol problem, there’s always an option.

special thanks to rob sissi and ryan for taking the time... and the honesty. 


eric koston vs. the santa monica courthouse

The liberation of any skatespot should only be viewed as a positive thing. And when that spot is as historic and important as the Santa Monica Courthouse, who’s legendary ledges and stage have stood silent for far too long, this is a victory for all of skateboarding that should be celebrated.

Last September, I was fortunate enough to work with Eric Koston and crew on a little piece for Nike SB about this recently renovated and free-to-skate 90s mecca and what it means to skateboarding in 2014. With Slick Rick’s “Cuz It’s Wrong” steadily playing on repeat in my brain, I got to ask some questions (way too many for a 3-minute edit) and Frosty got to film some lines (his two stage clips are actually on my board). Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday afternoon.

Regardless of whoever, I’d love to see this trend continue whenever and wherever possible... even if it means me taking a shovel down to Venice Beach and digging up those damn tar pits myself.

This was fun.


chrome ball interview #77: jason dill

chops and dill sit down for conversation.

Phone Call October 8 6:05 PM
Upload October 10 1:06 PM

Instead of doing the usual transcribing/words-on-a-screen routine,
we decided to just upload the conversation with a FA montage looped behind it.

Hockey, Alien, New World Order, Postcards, Chloe, Gino. 

Note: FA Montage Had To Be Edited After Being Flagged Several Times.

Big Thanks to Dill, Kurt, Benny, Jake and Tara.



Junk Skating & Parallel Dreams

We sat down with Lance to do a commentary track on his Ban This part and ended up delving into "The Parallel" and "The Dream" as well. Enjoy.

Special thanks to Carples, Kurt, Rattray and Lance for taking the time.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1xLw0MuMbw

Index of parts... sans commentary.

Lance, Neil and O - Ban This

Girl - The Parallel

The Firm - The Dream



the gnarler

Mark Whiteley remembers Phil Shao

There’s a spot on Highway 101 way up in northern California, just south of Humboldt State, that might be my least favorite place on Earth, to the point that I try to forget it’s even there. Last week I was driving with my wife and kids down the coast from Portland to the Bay Area on a vacation roll and only a few minutes beforehand did I realize I was about to come upon it once again. It’s the spot where one of my best friends died in a car crash 16 years ago. His name was Phil Shao. Some of you might remember him.

Wait, wait, wait-- way too much of a bummer way to start this out! Phil would not approve. But it’s a heavy location for me and driving past it made me want to write this so I had to acknowledge it. Phil would also not approve that I started the last sentence with “But.” More on that later.

Let’s take it back a bit further. Sorry in advance, this is gonna be a long one.

In 1990, I started using my parents’ video camera to film the homies skating now and then. We were just like all the kids from that generation who were inspired by the H-Street videos, Rubbish Heap, etc. to pick up a camera and make our own video because it looked like we could. So I did. Dumb little edits from around our little town, but it was rad. In the early summer of ’92, I invested $99 into a screw-on fisheye lens that would fit the family video camera and it turned out to be the purchase that most changed the direction of my life. I put the lens on, called up my friend Nate and we filmed a whole new video part in a couple days (edited to Cypress Hill, a sure sign of the times). With that fisheye, I was suddenly an official filmer. I showed the edit of Nate to a few friends and people started to know I was into it.

Later that summer I was introduced to William Nguyen, who was a local am on Santa Cruz and trying to finish filming a part for their next video. This was the first time I was introduced as “a filmer” to anybody. He asked if I could help him finish his part and over the next few months he would come and pick me up to go filming around the Bay Area (I didn’t even have a license yet). In October of 1992, the video BPSW (aka Big Pants Small Wheels) came out, William had the last part and my footage of him was all over it, including first and last tricks. My name was in the credits. Having that under my belt gave me the confidence that I could really pursue being a filmer and so a couple weeks later, I was at my local shop with friends when I saw a guy I had seen around a couple times-- a guy who had been in the mags, a guy I knew was sponsored, “a guy named Phil” as Transworld had captioned him in a photo—and I introduced myself and said that if he ever needed to go film anything that I was around and would be happy to do it.  He was stoked and wrote his name and number in the October ’92 issue of SLAP and gave it to me. A couple days later, we went out skating and filming for the first time. From that day on for the next almost six years, I don’t think more than a couple weeks ever went by without us doing that same thing. We became fast friends and a new chapter of my life was up and running. 

Soon after, it was decided that Think was going to do a new video and so it worked out that we had a project to work on. We went after it. It was late ’92 into early ’93 and the prime time for flippity-floppity skating that we were all guilty of, but prior to my knowing him, Phil had been a tranny gnar dog, complete with long hair and tricks that were not in style in the early ‘90s (like laybacks; he had a mean one). Watching him meld those skills with more modern street skating was always a joy. He was so smooth on all-terrain and pretty untouchable at a mini ramp session. We went all over the Bay Area and skated with tons of new people, he got better and better, picked up a shoe sponsor, and come September ’93, Phil turned pro at the Back to the City contest (the one where Girl was unveiled). He killed it and took 3rd, right alongside Matt Beach who also turned pro at that contest and won it. Christian Hosoi congratulated Phil after the contest, telling him that he liked Phil’s style. I don't think I ever saw a bigger smile on anybody’s face then right there. 

We filmed on through the fall and towards the end of ’93, Think released Just Another Day on the Range featuring parts that I had helped film for with Dan Drehobl, Matt Pailes, Paul Zuanich, and the debut part for Phil. I had also started contributing footage to Thrasher and been asked to join the fledgling 411 earlier that year, so we had other outlets to keep being productive with after the Think project was done. We started in on his “Rookies” 411 part that would come out in October of ’94. It was during this time that Phil really started to come into his own. The early ‘90s switch-double-late-varial stuff was gone and Phil started putting his power, grace and speed to proper use. Faster, further, cleaner. The coping dancing was done, replaced with chest-high f/s flips and nosegrind pop-ins up the extension. And Greer. Nobody even came close at Greer. He did transfers in the bowls that have never been repeated to this day.  Not a lot of guys could do tailslide kickflip out on a ledge at one session and then go down the road and blast 10’ channel transfers at the next. Definitely not in the early ‘90s.

Towards the end of summer ’94, I moved 45 minutes south to Santa Cruz to go to college but that just expanded our range. We started filming towards what would become his Damage part and that period is when he really hit his stride and started doing the things that he would become remembered for, trick-wise and also stylistically. Fast and loose ATV, pure style. The b/s 180 over the entire pyramid at Santa Rosa, stuff like that. I moved back home for the summer in ’95 and I remember those summer days that year so well. I was working part-time moving furniture, he was doing junior college summer school. We would all hang out at Paul and Phil’s place on sweltering days, hand-rolling cigarettes and blasting Stereolab until it cooled down so we could skate. He was just crushing it everywhere we went. We skated at night a lot that summer and it was so fun. The line that starts off his part in Damage was filmed at the San Jose Sharks stadium in the middle of the night. Those were the purest skate days, out in the streets doing it every day.  One of my favorite days from that summer was the one where he slammed on a bump to bar, which ended up in the opening to Damage. The footage looks terrible, like he hit his face on the rail, but in reality he was laughing before he hit the ground and lay there chuckling about such a stupid slam for quite some time. That’s just exactly how he was. 

The summer passed, I went back to Santa Cruz, and the year ended. 1995 had been great-- but 1996 was about to become probably my favorite skate year of all-time, and I gotta say that it was Phil’s best year. It was his peak. Damage came out and we went right into filming for Emerica’s Yellow video. Phil and Drehobl had been good friends for years but filming with both of them for that video at that time was unreal. They were so gnarly together, just the rawest twin destroyers crushing SF.  McKenney, too. Murder at China Banks. Dan and Phil had back-to-back parts in that video, sharing a song (“Kids From the Black Hole” and I gotta say sorry AVE but they had you beat by a solid decade with that one). I think it was his best part while he was alive and we filmed it all in a pretty short period—just shows you where his skating was at during that time. Effortless and gnarly. So relaxed, so casual—you can see it in the arms, the hands, the knees, his swerve, his push. Nobody like him. I filmed my favorite line of him that summer—it’s in the Yellow part, as well as his Dedication part after he passed. Kickflip up the curb straight into a wall ride, ollie a little bump, feeble grind pop-out on a ledge with wall at the end of it, 360 flip while riding away down the hill. That was my number one. We watched the footage of it right after and I remember him saying all goofy to me, “You’re the best filmer in town!” I’m always stoked when I remember that day.

One quick note here: I wasn’t there when he grinded the top bar at Miley unfortunately, but here’s a good one. I’ve written about it before, but it’s worth mentioning again. A week or two after he grinded it, we were out filming for Yellow in SF and he said he wanted to go back. That day, he got into and slid several tailslides on the top bar, same place where he grinded it. We lost the daylight and the camera batteries were cooked after a long day but he was real close. I don't think anybody ever did that one. Somebody should step to it for him.

Right after we wrapped filming for Yellow, as I had hoped and dreamed for years, I was invited on a summer tour. Phil told me it was happening and I quit my summer job at Whole Foods on the spot so I could get ready to go. To this day, of all the many trips around the world I have been on for skateboarding, that tour was the craziest of all. No team manager, 15 dudes in their own cars, a weird mash-up of companies involved, no photographer and just me filming, driving cross-country for weeks on end. We had some demo dates lined up but that was it. Each guy got $20 a day to live on. Hotels or people’s houses were whatever we found when we got there. It ruled. Phil, Paul, Drehobl, Pailes, Jesse Paez, Joe Sierro, Don Carey, Chad Fernandez  and Joel Price from Think; Justin Strubing and Hanzy Driscoll from Adrenaline; Brian Childers from Santa Cruz; and Chet Childress and Bob Reynolds from Creature. It came together like that because Bob Reynolds worked in the shipping warehouse of Think and Adrenaline while also riding for Creature out of NHS, which was in Santa Cruz where I knew all the SC guys, too. The kind of thing that would probably never happen today. Within minutes of leaving SF, it went off. A side window in Bob’s van shattered on the freeway and for the rest of the trip, it was covered with various pages out of porn mags taped together. We would skate the demo in Reno or wherever until late and then drive all night blasting Black Sabbath, trying to stay awake until we couldn’t anymore. We'd crash wherever we could find a place then get up and drive the rest of the way to Salt Lake, or Ft Collins, or Lincoln, or Cleveland, or upstate New York or New Hampshire or Boston or whatever was next on the list. So many crazy stories. Having to leave town fast because of somebody and an underage girl. The family of the kid who invited the whole lot of us to stay at their house, feed us and do our laundry... we promptly shaved their son’s head in a double Mohawk and several of the guys ran through the older sister. Breaking down in the middle of nowhere and relying on Paul to fix the engine. Watching insane sunrises after all-nighters in Phil’s car, blasting “Hole In The Sky” or the Morrissey tape that Gonz had made him. Impromptu gas station sessions. Endless hours, endless miles. And just incredible skating. Everybody skated and killed it at every stop. Fun, fun, fun. I turned 20 during the trip, somewhere in Massachusetts, and the journey became a 411 article in issue 20.

The trip ended, summer ended, we both went back to our respective colleges and just went about our business for awhile, skating together one place or another every couple weeks. I started working on a Skateworks shop video for the Strubing family that would bridge the gap between Santa Cruz and Bay Area and Phil had a part in that. I gave some rad SF stuff to Thrasher for another video (when it came time to get paid for it, I went in to Thrasher to collect a check. Jake said, “Who are you and why should we pay you anything? What did you film?” I told him it was footage of Phil, and he said immediately, “Alright, pay the kid”) but that summer of ’96 ended up being the last time we were really filming regularly for a project or two. But darn, it was a good one.

Phil continued to kill it into ’97 but wasn’t working towards anything part-wise so there isn’t a lot of my footage from around then—but there are a few good ones, like him crushing the bank to barrier down on the Embarcadero in SF and his f/s pivot on the tight tranny wall we called "Trash Banks" in Palo Alto (18” of tranny, three feet of vert, just impossible). Then, at some point in ’97, he was down in So Cal and shooting photos when he really messed up his knee. He did his ACL and maybe his MCL, too... I’m not positive. But it really set him back. He had to get surgery and was on crutches for a long time. It was during this down time that he started spending more time at High Speed—home of Thrasher and SLAP. He’d obviously always been tight with the crew via friendships and sponsorships but it was mutually agreed upon that while he was hurt, he should be around Thrasher and help with writing and editing, given his education and knowledge in general. So Phil would go in most days, ride the exercise bike in Jake’s office to rehab his knee and work at the mag. I remember how stoked he was when he went to pick up Daewon at the airport to bring him to the photo shoot that would become the “Hesh vs Fresh” cover with Wade. After a while of this, it was decided that after he recovered, he would do another strong video part or two and then transition into being the new editor at Thrasher. Jake had been wanting to pass the torch at the time and there was nobody better than Phil to take it. So, in some alternate future that never happened, Phil would have been the editor at Thrasher at the same time I would become the editor at SLAP. 

Another thing that came up around then and never got to happen was that Phil was going to have a company of his own through Think. It got pretty far along, narrowed down to a couple potential names and a list of guys who were either going to ride for it or Phil talked to about riding for it. The name was either going to be Dump Truck or TNT. There were even some graphic ideas getting put down on paper. The names I remember being involved were Phil, Paul Zuanich, Tim Upson, Tim McKenney and Mike Matilainen. Some other folks that were interested or talked to about it were Karma Tsocheff, Jerry Hsu and Colt Cannon. Anyhow, it’s too bad that never came to life, it could have been a good one with Phil at the helm.

So anyhow, Phil continued going to school, working at the mag and rehabbing for awhile. In early ’98, he started skating again, getting back into the groove. He was skating pools and ledges and building his strength back up, but I seem to recall he got slightly hurt again somewhere in there and it was slow going for a while. But it was coming. I was just about to graduate from college and Phil told me that there had been some talks about bringing in an assistant editor at SLAP to help Dawes run it and that he and Paul, who was also working at High Speed, had brought my name up. With all the friends and connections I had made in the NorCal industry over the years, it sounded like a lot of people were backing it. Paul and Phil started pushing hard for it but it was slow getting anything going until one day, Phil and I were out skating at a local park when a very young Tony Vitello needed a ride home. Phil and I dropped him off and went around the back to say hello to Fausto, who was sitting poolside. Phil introduced me, saying “This is the guy I’ve been telling you about for SLAP.” Fausto told me I should come by the office the next day to talk, so I did. My “interview” was about three minutes long (including Fausto asking me if I was a hippie) and then I was offered the job as Managing Editor at SLAP, which had long been my favorite magazine and even played a part in Phil and I becoming friends with him passing his number to me in the back of an issue. I kinda couldn’t believe it. We decided I would start in a couple weeks as I was just about to go on a road trip with friends, so I did that and then started working at High Speed on Monday, August 10th, 1998. I was 21 and just six weeks out of college. Phil pretty much got me the job.

11 days later, on a Friday evening after work, Phil and Diego Bucchieri (who had been staying with Paul and Phil, skating and learning to speak English at their house) met up with me on a hill bomb session for a couple of hours. Those two were just about to leave on a road trip up to Oregon with some of the Thrasher guys, so we decided to have a session before they hit the road. We mashed all over Potrero Hill, flying around and stopping for a beer. I was riding a big cruiser board and going faster than them half the time... I remember really distinctly coming down the east side of 18th near De Haro and passing Phil mid-block, looking back and him having this huge smile on his face, stoked that I was going faster than him. Makes me smile every time I think of it.

Our session ended and I went to drop them off at Greg Carroll’s place to get ready to leave. We said our goodbyes, see you in a couple days, and parted ways. For some unknown reason, I stopped and watched Phil and Diego walk down the block away from me, west on 23rd towards the Mission. The sun was setting behind them and it was a pretty summer evening in SF. It was the last time I ever saw Phil.

They headed out on the road and the next day made it as far north as Arcata, CA. There’s some footage of him skating that night, on a little mini ramp in barn of some sort. He was still on the mend but skating well. Arcata is home to Humboldt State University, and there was some local party they were invited to. As I understand it, they stayed at the party pretty late, past midnight, and Phil decided to catch a ride back to where they were staying with a girl at the party, a student who was moving back to the dorms. She had been drinking. On the freeway just south of the exit for Humboldt State, she either fell asleep or passed out and went off the road into the ditch that ran alongside the freeway. The crash was pretty bad. The report that I saw after the fact said that when the police got to the scene, the girl was not badly injured but was out of it and said that nobody else was with her in the vehicle. Because of that statement and because she was in the process of moving and her clothing and things were strewn all over the inside of the car,  nobody knew that Phil was also in the vehicle at first. When the police did find him, he was gone. There’s no way to know whether or not he died instantly or if there might have been time to do something. I like to think it was instant, and I know he would have preferred it that way.

The girl who’d been driving did a little time in jail but Phil’s family did not press hard charges. I believe she spent a lot more time speaking to people about drunk driving. And I’m sure she lives with it every day. I never learned her name or anything about her. I never wanted to. 

Oh and wait-- did I mention that he passed on my birthday? Yup. So I have that one with me forever. Tony Vitello’s, too. I believe that word got round about what had happened that evening but nobody wanted to call and tell me since it was my birthday. I found out the next morning at work when all the guys who should have been on the trip with him were in the office not looking too well. Jake told me the news. I was in a daze. I remember walking down to leave the office when in walked Diego. He still barely spoke any English. We just looked at each other and gave each other a big hug. (In recent years I have had the pleasure of being employed by the same company as Diego and we still always sign off our emails with “Un abrazo.”) Later I thought about how insane it must have been for him: in a foreign country he barely knew, hardly any English, staying with somebody who died. His whole world must have seemed gone. Anyhow, I started driving home. The Beatles song “Two Of Us” came on and I cried the entire way home. I went straight to Mike Matilainen's house. He was barely moving. He’d been through a lot the last couple years. He was the one who told me nobody had wanted to call me about it on my birthday, and that he was sorry I found out like I did. I don’t remember anything else from that day. The next day I went back to work and it was deadline. I had to write his obituary that day to get it done in time for the issue. Hadn’t I just been skating with him a couple days before? It didn’t seem real.

Phil had been doing a lot of story writing for Thrasher around that time and he was working on one about skating pools right before he passed. I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life but I have one from the first week I was working at SLAP, just before he passed. I was pretty tired from the mental stress of figuring out a new job and working full time in an office for the first time, when Phil told me he had a nearby pool lined up for an evening session... just me and him, I didn’t go because I was tired.  It’s the only time I ever said no to going skating with him. The article had gone to press before he passed and right after he passed, it came out. In it he wrote about the fact that I didn’t go with him and he skated the pool alone. He referred to the character of Little Fidel in the story, but it was me (I was into wearing this little black beanie and I had a crappy beard going). In the light of him being gone and there being nothing I could do to change missing that session with him, I was devastated reading that. That feeling, and having to write the obituary for him in my first issue, knowing that he had lined the job up for me—it was almost too much and I thought about not going back to the mag. I quickly came to the realization that there was probably nothing that would disappoint him more than me walking away from what we had set up, walking away from the opportunity to do something great. So I went back and put my heart and soul into SLAP for almost 13 years after that. I put his initials (PAS) first in the staff “thanks” section every single month. I owed him a lot. I loved him a lot. I missed him a lot. Still do. Thinking back on it, he was the older guy in our crew and he seemed so grown up—but he was only 24 when he died. 24. He was still a kid. He packed tons into those years, living more fully than many who live much longer, but there was a lot he never had the chance to experience. I get bummed when I think about all the great things that have happened in my life since then that he didn’t get to be part of and that’s when I miss him the most. But that’s rare. Mostly I just think of the best times together.

What I remember most fondly about Phil wasn’t the skating, it was his personality. He was so funny, and nice, and a dick, and sarcastic, and smart, and an idiot and the raddest to hang out with. He was brutally honest. No ego, ever. But mainly, he was so fun. Looking at his footage for the subtleties of him as a person, you can see it come through. Big goofy smiles in the middle of lines or after slams, weird little comments you can barely hear under the music (“Hey, I made it!,” “Whoa, around the world!,” “I’m, like, the gnarler!”, etc.). He loved Mozart as much as he loved ACDC. He skated to Weird Al in a contest and laughed so hard at the lyrics that he couldn’t land anything. He graduated from UC Berkeley (English Lit major; you don’t start a sentence with “But” from above) at the peak of his skating career and hardly anybody knew he was even going to college at the same time because he was crushing it so hard. He was the total package that a skater could ever dream to be, and he was as great a person as I have ever known. I think he sent me a postcard from just about every trip he ever went on. That kind of guy.

But the skating… well, that speaks for itself. Like Gonz before him, like Cardiel with him, like Grant after him, he slayed everything with power, creativity and unique style. It says a lot when Julien Stranger puts you in an ad for a company you didn’t even ride for and says “The straight up best skater I knew” out of respect. But he deserved it, for damn sure.

All hail Phil Shao! One of the best to ever do it. More importantly, my friend. 

Never Forget.