skate free: ben raybourn

This piece I worked on for Nike SB got posted the other day so I figured I'd share...

Easily one of my current faves, I got the opportunity to spend the day with Ben Raybourn a few weeks back and observe as he basically annihilated our fair city of Portland, Oregon.

Ben's the best and this was a lot of fun. Hope you enjoy. 


chrome ball interview #80: mike maldonado

 Chops sits down with the East Coast Powerhouse for conversation.

So I know you’re technically from West Chester but as a long-time Love Park local, it must’ve been pretty crazy for you to see that spot attain such a legendary status over the years. I mean, you were one of the first guys to ollie into the fountain back in the day, well before it went on to become one of skateboarding’s most beloved locales. 
Yeah, I remember the first time I ever went into the City to skate with my friends, we caught the bus to 69th Street then hopped on the L Train down to 15th Street. I was 14 years old. The way you pop out of the subway like that, we just couldn’t believe it. Love Park, City Hall, and the Federal Building all right at each other. Three amazing spots: boom, boom, boom. That was the mecca right there.

This was back when Love had bushes on all the ledges so there really wasn’t any getting up on them back then. You could really only boardslide the ends of stuff. But this was right around the time when noseslides had just come out so we was cool anyway. It was on from then.

The Love Gap stuff though is definitely crazy. Mugs be throwing some crazy shit down that thing but you gotta realize that skating is just skating. Like, I used to love skating the Love Gap. I’d skate it all the time, even without a camera. I just liked it. And my process with gaps was to always work myself up to things and see how I felt. Start out with an ollie and take it from there… frontside 180, backside 180, kickflip, 3-flip and so on. That’s how it worked for me. I was never claiming a trick before I got to the spot.

The difference now is people’s logic: if they think they’re going to fall skating a gap, it might as well be on the trick they want. So they’re just going for it, fuck it. That’s cool. Everybody’s got the way they work. To see these kids go to Love and see them just go for shit like that, it’s crazy. But at the same time, people probably thought I was crazy, too. That’s just how it is.

What’s the craziest thing you ever saw go down the gap?

Probably when Wenning fucking tried switch heelflipping that thing. I don’t know if he ever made it but back when the city was claiming they were about to tear the place down, he was there everyday, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day trying that thing. I remember his axles would be completely bent and sliding out this one time. The wheel would just be sticking straight up. But he was on it. I know he got that switch backside 180. Those two things right there were some of the sickest things I’ve seen. Just basic but not basic at all. Just amazing.

I was never there for when some of the crazier shit that went down, like Cole’s back 3 or Reynolds frontside flipping it in the leather jacket. I wish I could’ve seen those go down.

I know you came up in West Chester with what would become a pretty legendary crew with the likes of Bam and Dan Wolfe. How’d you first meet up with those guys?

We were all just some skaters out there in the suburbs.

I met Dan through a mutual friend of ours that I used to kick it with. I remember Dan was on some shit where he just loved skating. He’d always be trying to build the coolest shit to skate, even if he couldn’t skate it himself. Sometimes he’d build shit just to see other dudes skate it. So it was only a matter of time before he got a camera.

I was introduced to Bam by some fools I used to skate with back in the day because they were all from the next town over. One day, we went to this guy’s ramp and Bam was there. He was a little younger than us but the heads all saw how good he was. As we got older, you know how it is, people just started getting into different interests and dropping out of skating. Not too many people were always down to skate like Bam was so we just clicked like that. He ended up being like that little brother kinda thing. 

Photo: Gee

How did you two end up connecting with H-Street/Evol back then? Was that just through sponsor-me tapes?

Not sure if you remember these guys but I’d actually been riding for Toxic Skateboards for a little bit… just some grimy-ass people from New Jersey. I went with them to one of those tradeshows, just to try and hustle some shit and ended up talking to some of the boys from H-Street. I had a sponsor-me tape with me and they were into it.

I’ve always been down to bring my people with me so as soon as I got on, I started talking to them about Bam. My young bull kills it, you’re gonna love him! I ended up bringing him along with me this time I had to meet some H-Street heads up in Woodward and it all worked out.

You were actually on that team for a while (nollie front-foot doubleflips in Lick and killing “The Letter” in Back in Black) and even though some of the prestige had diminished, they still had a pretty solid team of up-and-comers at that point. Were you stoked on riding for them or did you see them more as a stepping stone?

Oh man, I was so fucking amped on H-Street. I did get on right after Plan B had started but that was still the Next Generation-era and all that. Even though they’d just lost whoever, it was still like, “Oh my god, H-Street!”

I was through the roof, man. I mean, I really started going for it after that, too… like I’d seriously be out there trying 10-kink handrails and shit. Just crazy shit and getting fucked up because I thought that’s what I had to do. I even remember Wolfe telling me, ““You gotta do this! You ride for H-Street now!”

As time went on, I began to realize it wasn’t the same H-Street anymore. It was starting to fizzle and when it changed to Evol, you could see it didn’t have the same oomph. That’s just how it was but I still appreciated everything they did for me. 

Photo: Gee

Even going back to that Back in Black part where you skated almost every Virtual Reality spot you could find, you’ve always gone out west for extended periods of time only to return home back to Philly. What has kept you East Coast for the majority of your career?

There’s something about it… I just like it better. (laughs)

It’s just crazy out here. Raw skateboarding. For us, it’s never been about doing a trick, going back and doing another trick, and then going back and doing another. We were all about being able to ride down the street with your friends and consistently do tricks on the way. Skating in the street from one side of town to the other, never sessioning a spot for longer than a half hour. Our fun was about having a good time between the spots, not just at the spot. You can’t really do that in Cali because it’s all so spread out. It’s like a half-hour drive to each spot!

So how did Toy Machine enter the picture?

I was out in Cali on an Evol trip but I wasn’t really feeling it. It was just feeling stale to me. I ended up meeting with Kalis one day and he could tell I was over it. He told me to send him and Jamie a tape and they’d see what was up with it. I ended up getting hurt for a few months after that but as soon as I got back on my board, I put all my focus on this tape I was going to send Jamie. I ended up skating with him a bit and it all worked out. He came out to Philly, linked up with Wolfe and it was wrap.

Granted Heavy Metal was a turning point for the brand but did you expect Welcome to Hell to blow up like it did? What was it like filming for that thing? Such an eclectic but amazing team… did you see this as your big opportunity?

Yeah, I was just at that point where I was really starting to come into my own. I was 19-years-old and felt like I had everything to prove to the world. People around my way were telling me how I wasn’t going to make shit out of myself and me being the knucklehead I am, that was all the motivation I needed. Fuck it, I’m going to try and be the best at what I do.  I went hard at it.

It’s weird because I expected it to have the impact it did but it was still surprising. I hoped it would have that kind of result but it actually went way farther than I could’ve ever imagined. The fact that it still gets mentioned in interviews and magazines and shit, that’s enough for me. Even though my name never really gets brought up in those things, the fact that I made it in a video like that… shit, I did something right.

We filmed for something like a year for that thing but the time just flew. It was so much fun and we were so into it. It got to the point where our mindset was that even if we didn’t get a trick, maybe we’ll get a good slam out of trying it and that was good, too.

Where did the “the East Coast Powerhouse” bit come from? I imagine you still get called on the daily, right?

That was just Jamie. I remember sitting there, working on those little introductions to everybody’s parts and mine just came out. I remember he just looks over and says, “Oh, I have something for your part. ‘Mike Maldonado, East Coast Powerhouse.’ How’s that?”

“Alright. Yeah, if that’s what you think of me, I’m down with that. That works.”

It was cool. I’d be walking around town and kids would come up and say it. That’s what’s up! But nowadays, it can feel a little weird, to be honest. I’m a little older now and you who you are but with a name like that, you gotta imagine dudes looking at you like, “Powerhouse? Who the fuck do you think you are?!”

It does get a little weird sometimes but fuck it. 

Photo: Gee

So you know I’m going to have to ask about that bench ollie… was that something you’d done before or was that a one and done thing for the cameras? I ask that because the First Division ad is a different outfit than in your Toy footy.

Yeah, I was actually trying a frontside 180 on the day I did the First Division one but we got kicked out. That day was more about just getting the photo and what we could while we there. I never got that frontside 180 though.

The one in the Toy Machine video just happened. We were skating and I’d filmed a line when I started looking at it. I wasn’t even really thinking about trying it until Rick Oyola said something like, “Woah, that would be impossible!”

I don’t think he meant it like I couldn’t do it or anything, just that it would be really fucking hard to do. But hearing that, like I said earlier, I was filming for this thing and as a young bull trying to prove myself, it made me want to do it. And I did.

They had to be tripping.

(pause) Hell, I was even tripping. It was fucking great! To this day, that was probably one of my favorite things I ever did.

I liked that it that was kinda like how we talked about earlier with the skating from spot-to-spot. Adapting. Like, if there was a bike in the way that usually wasn’t there, you just fucking ollie over it. You’re not going to stop me from getting where I’m going. I’m gonna ride along and do what I do. That’s kinda what I liked about it. Fuck it, I’m gonna jump over this huge wall now.

But yeah, I surprised the shit out of myself with that one. 

What about that 50-50 to step ender? How do you even go about trying that, knowing you’re probably gonna eat it at the end?

That one was almost the same kinda thing. We went to UPenn and that was the very first spot we went to. I didn’t go there with any type of plans to grind that thing. Bam was talking about it and I think he’d been skating there a few days before with some people. But it was another one of those things where people were talking about how hard it would be, which made me start thinking to myself that maybe I could do it.

Of course, Bam starts telling me how Ricky had once again said that it was impossible and that nobody could ever do it. To this day, I don’t really know if Rick actually said that or if it was Bam just fucking with me… he was known to do that. Just saying shit to start things up.

But I had not idea what to do about those fucking stairs at the end. I honestly just went at it like fuck it, we’ll see what happens and cross that bridge when I get to it. If I get to the bottom, I’ll work something out. If not, we’ll get some good slams.

Looking back on it now, how big an influence do you feel Jamie had on your part in particular?

Yeah, he was definitely a motivator, for sure. He’s the type of dude who can get you to do things you really don’t want to. I have to imagine that just about anybody who has ever ridden for his companies will tell you that he sometimes pushes it too far but it’s not like he’s sitting back there, wanting you to get hurt for some footage. Sometimes you kinda have to make people do some things they don’t necessarily want to do in order use all of their capabilities.

Basically he was trying to motivate and excite us by letting you know that this was going to be THE video. We were trying to building something great in skateboarding and it’s up to you if you want to do it. 

Photo: Gee

Were you surprised when Muska broke out like he did at the premiere? Were you with him at all that night before the big blow-up?

Muska leaving, you could see it coming. He and Jamie had their own little beef already and it was inevitable. You have to remember, we were all still young folks at this point. You want to be the rockstar, the head honcho, and you could see these guys battling already with their parts. It all kinda started with that long, curved rail in L.A.

Yeah, Muska had actually done that first when Adam McNatt went and did it for the Evol video, knowing that the Evol video was going to come out before ours did. Muska was pissed about that one, for sure. That’s probably what lit the first to begin with. Muska wanted to be the first to do that rail and he was but now, McNatt beat him to the video. He blamed that on Jamie for taking too long.

So now we’re at the premiere and Muska is already pissed when we find out the video is late getting to the theatre, which is normal but he’s now pissed about that, too. Fuck this, fuck that. The Evol premiere had a keg, ours doesn’t… He obviously felt that it was his big day to shine but he basically ended up getting pissed about everything and kicked himself off the team. I think he was looking to quit. He wanted to take his footage and go elsewhere with it, which was probably the best decision he ever made.

Who knows? It could’ve blown Toy Machine up! Look at Shorty’s! But at the same time, look at Shorty’s now. It’s nothing. Toy Machine has had its ups-and-downs but it’s still here. Still a dope-ass company.

Ricky Oyola’s name has already come up a couple times, did he and his crew ever give you grief for riding for the West Coast-based Toy Machine? How come you never pursued Zoo or Illuminati?

It’s weird because right before I got on Toy, those cats actually gave me the option to help hook me up with their teams. Matt Reason wanted me to ride for Adrenaline and Rick wanted me on Zoo. It was cool and I took it for what it was. I didn’t shit on any of them. I just felt Toy Machine was a better fit for me.

But no, they never gave me any grief about being on Toy, surprisingly.  

Were you down with Ed’s art direction for Toy? I’m a huge fan but not everyone is hyped on having their board say “diarrhea face” on it.
Aw man, have you heard that story!? Oh my god. Yeah, that was like my fourth or fifth graphic and I was definitely swoll over that one. I was so pissed that I was really thinking about quitting the team over it!

I remember we were on a Europe trip and Ed’s showing us all the graphics he’s working on. He gets to that Diarrhea-Face Poser guy graphic and I just can’t hold myself back. I straight-up tell him, “Don’t you put my fucking name on that, dude! I swear I’ll quit!”

“Alright, Mike. No problem. Whatever.”

Sure enough, it came out. I was so vexed.

“What the fuck does that have to do with anything, man!”

Evidently Satva had ran into this dude while he was out skating one day and took his photo. That’s actually his board in the graphic. But yeah, that was Satva’s shit! It had nothing to do with me, man! And now Ed’s got “Diarrhea-Face Poser” on there, too!?! What the fuck!?! I don’t want that on my board.

Man, I was so pissed about that. I didn’t even save one of those as a collectable. Straight-up, fuck that shit!

I gotta admit, I loved that board!

Yeah, everyone else loved it! Trying to tell me it’s cool… fuck that!

Photo: Gee

We talked about Muska leaving but what did it mean for Toy when Jamie dipped? Obviously things weren’t as disciplined but was that for better or for worse? It was basically you and your crew running things after that, right?

Yeah, and in that respect, it was terrible! That was probably one of the downfalls of the entire thing. You had all these people who thought they knew shit and wanted everything. Everybody thinking they were rockstars cause they got a little bit of money and fame. It was a mess.

At the time, Jamie quitting to ride for Zero felt like a stab in the back. There was a feeling of betrayal there because we had all been repping Zero so hard the whole time it was coming out. It was only supposed to be his clothing company and that was it. Not boards. He had his own team he wanted to use for boards and he made it clear that he was going to stay on Toy Machine. He was going to keep Toy Machine and Zero separate.

So when he told us that he was quitting to ride for Zero, we were pissed. We’d been out there helping promote his shit because he’d done so much for us and now he’s gonna quit? Fucking hell, man. I mean, we wanted to be happy for him and hope this new thing of his would prosper… but it just didn’t totally sit right with us.

Photos: Gee

There is a clear difference in the overall vibe of Jump Off a Building.

That was more of an open project for all of us to just get it done. Just filming and skating, we didn’t really have a director or anything. It was up to us to push each other, which we did, but Jamie just had a bit more direction with us during Welcome to Hell. He knew what we needed to do, what spots we needed to go to and who needed tricks. It was a lot different.

The company itself kinda took a shitter at that point. We were all too fucking stubborn. A bunch of knuckleheads wanting everything.

Did you get the sense that the team was about to implode like it did or was it more of a momentum thing? Like one person leaves then another and so on?

Well, Kerry left first for Habitat. I don’t know how the hell he got that offer but that was a big blow. It definitely felt like he had broken the whole crew up and we were pretty fucked up over that one. That’s when things really started to spiral out. You could tell that certain people were already on their way and it started to feel like it was going downhill. The reason I left was a little different though.

Bam and Tod Swank had been having some serious problems over the ownership of the CKY video. I was siding more with Bam in the thing because he was my homie and that ended up being kind of a bad thing for me. I basically quit because I thought he was getting fucked over but I didn’t know that he already had a plan in the works for what he was doing next. Bam was already quitting but had thought it through a little more. I didn’t know this. I didn’t have a plan when I quit, I was just trying to stand up for him. It was stupid and I kinda ended up shooting myself in the foot for doing so.

Baker was in the near future and was definitely something to contemplate but that wasn’t for a little while yet. They were still getting everything together at that point. Baker didn’t happen for another six months after I had quit. 

Photo: Gee

So you had no plan at all when you left? I know you were unsponsored there for a minute but I always presumed you and Bam had something in the mix that must’ve fallen through.

Not at all. It was an instant decision I made while caught up in the moment.

What had happened was that things had gotten so bad between Bam and Tod that Bam wasn’t even allowed to call Tum Yeto anymore. He’d been calling so much about contracts or whatever that they had actually banned him from calling. He had to go through Ed directly to even get boards.

So Bam calls me up to bitch about everything and I can’t even believe it. Fuck that, I’ll see about this myself. I end up calling them pretending to be Bam and I hear it firsthand, “No, we’re not allowed to talk to you.”

“Fuck that. You tell those motherfuckers that you just lost one. I’m not Bam, this is Mike Maldonado and I was calling to see what was up with all this. Y’all fucked up. I quit.”

Like I said, I was just caught up in the moment… and right after that, I came to the realization of what the fuck am I doing? I just wasn’t thinking, man. Young and stubborn. Ed was like my big brother. I should’ve just listened to him and stayed where I was. None of the teams I rode for ever felt the same after that. They were cool but Toy Machine was a family.

I kept thinking how Bam was my homie… where’s my homie now? Where’s all the people I was fighting for? Nobody’s out there fighting for me. That’s life, I guess. That’s what you gotta learn when you grow up, if you grow up. 

How come you never did the CKY thing? 

It just wasn’t me. When it started, I was always down for helping Bam out if there was something he wanted to do. I thought it was funny at the time, too. But once it got big, that shit just got too drawn out. For a while, they were even giving me shit for going out filming skating instead of filming their stuff. That shit wasn’t my scene.

There were times when I’d be at Bam’s while they were filming for Viva La Bam and I’d have to tell’ em to get those cameras out of my face, that I wasn’t going to be doing that kinda shit for them. Don’t film me. I’m not signing some fucking form. I don’t give a fuck about being on TV.

How did you get down with the Baker crew? It definitely seemed like an unusual pairing but the contrast was so sick.

Baker came about from living at the Warner spot with Erik Ellington. That was the whole crew right there. Drew lived down the street and everybody kinda started staying together.

I’m not really sure how it all came together because at one point, a little bit before Baker, those dudes were talking about doing a different company with Adrian Lopez and a few other guys. I remember those dudes talking about that all the time. Coming over to my crib, going upstairs and locking the door to talk about shit. J, Drew, Adrian and a couple other heads locking themselves inside rooms in our apartment. They just didn’t want word getting out.

That one never happened but I guess that’s where it all started with Erik and the whole Baker thing. I actually remember Erik bringing it up to me, thinking I would be a good addition to the team, which is funny since he didn’t even end up going through with it at first. For whatever reason, he stayed on Zero. So the dude that asked me to ride for the company didn’t even end up riding for them. 

That’s fucked, man. But talk a little about your part in Baker2G? You definitely pulled out some shit on that one we’d never really seen from you before, was there a bit of a new spark there?

Yeah, there were a couple things in there that I was super psyched on but then there was some stuff in there that was just me skating.

I think a lot of my problems after Jump Off A Building came from just living in L.A. as I had never really intended to live there. It was never my plan to move to Cali. It just so happened that Erik was moving out of Elissa’s spot and he needed a roommate. Shit was kinda stale out in West Chester and I didn’t want to leave him hanging so I just did it. But living out in Cali was so unproductive for me. I could never really get into a rhythm. Not having a car for so long and having to depend on other people…. Add to that getting caught up in that lifestyle of chilling and partying, it gets you.

So what ended up happening to you and Baker? Why’d you switch over to their rival, Bootleg?

Things were just getting sour at Baker for me. The whole beef between Baker and Bootleg had started getting in-between the riders and it sucked. I knew all of the Bootleg dudes. I skated with Eldridge and the Team Manager all the time. Those were my homies. I lived with Elissa. Just about the whole damn Bootleg team were friends of mine, which started to become this thing with me and the Baker dudes. They started shitting on me.

I remember I was about to go on a trip to SF with Elissa to meet up with some dudes up there. But since it was technically a Bootleg trip, Baker started tripping on me.

“Oh, you want to ride for Bootleg now?”

Everything just spiraled out from there. I guess I wasn’t selling enough boards but they also weren’t being upfront about certain things with me.

I actually went to have a sit-down with those dudes to try and squash things. To start things over fresh. But the whole time, it just felt like one of those situations where someone wants to break-up but they don’t know how. That’s how it felt.

“You know, you gotta think about life after skateboarding… We’d definitely love for you to take a team manager position in the future.”

What the fuck? Look, if you want me to quit so you can turn Spanky pro, I’ll do that. I love skateboarding and I love this company. I only want to see shit be furthered. If I’m hindering that, let me know and I’ll fall back. If I’m not taking care of business, I’m taking up space.

They seemed so relieved to hear me say that, which kinda fucked me up. I didn’t like how quick they were to spring on that. Not even letting me work on things for a minute. It was just, “You would do that?”

How that went down, I started to rethink the whole thing. That we were never really cool like that. It was business relationship.

But I cannot talk shit on them cats. Drew gave me a fucking Cadillac El Dorado. A ’99 emerald green Cadillac El Dorado… he just gave it to me. I cannot complain about what he did for me because that was one of the illest shits ever. Maybe he saw what was coming and tried to give me a car to motivate me. I don’t know. 

Why did it turn so confrontational between those two companies?

Honestly, I don’t really know for certain. I just go off of what I’ve been able to piece together from everyone and what I got out of it was that it wasn’t even so much Drew as it was a few other dudes. The main sticking point was the fact that kids weren’t able to decipher the difference between the two companies. Art directors make way more fucking money than the pros do and these guys were pissed that J was basically getting paid twice to make the same graphics for both companies. They felt like what they were paying him to make graphics, he was making the same amount or more at Bootleg and kids still can’t tell them apart. They were hurt he was making all this dough and it was getting in Drew’s ear.

Things just got to a point where Drew had to do something about it so he cut J and that’s when shit got bitter. But it sucked because the whole thing when it started was Baker Bootleg. That’s was it was. It was always to be those two companies. 

Looking back on it now, things probably started to turn early on when mugs wanted to put money into Bootleg and J refused, wanting to keep things separate. Keep Baker and Bootleg the same, but separate. That’s what really put a monkey wrench in the whole thing because it seemed like to those guys that this dude was out to fuck ‘em over. It just grew from there. 

Photo: Gee

Why didn’t Bootleg make it? Plenty of momentum, a ton of solid ams on the come up and a solid video, why did it fizzle like it did?

It just did. I don’t really know why. I’ve heard all kinds of different shit but I never really got it straight from the horse’s mouth. I guess the company just wasn’t doing all that great. Or maybe it was but other shit was being put onto it to where it didn’t look like it was doing all that great. I’m not really sure.

I know at one point, I heard something about how they had to cut everybody’s pay, that they could only pay us royalties or something. I think J just didn’t even want to go through all that. He felt like if they couldn’t really pay his people what they deserve or what they’d been getting, fuck it. If it was going to be like that then there was no real point in having a company.

Photo: Gee

While you've continued to pop up basically whenever you want over the years with different sponsors, it does seem you've purposefully dipped out of the spotlight a bit. Are you just over the industry shenanigans?

I am, but at the same time, I don’t think many people understand what’s been going on with me. I’ve talked to a few different people about riding for different companies over the years and they’re all like, “Yeah, man. We’ll hook you up but let’s see what you got first!”

You gotta understand, man, I’m not 16-years-old anymore. I don’t live with a bunch of filmers and shit. I’m not just sweating $300 to cover my portion of the rent, I have a fucking mortgage. I got dogs to take care of from where I used to breed them. I mean... I either have to get a job or stay on my grind to make sure shit is paid for. I don’t think people get it and it’s the people who own these companies that should really get it. They don’t want to hook this dude up and then have him burn us like everybody else.

You have to hook me up so I can show you shit. You need to help me get out of this position so I can skate and show you some shit. I can skate, obviously, but as things are right now, I can’t go out 4 or 5 hours a day… and that’s nothing out of any skater’s day. I love skating but I can’t do just that. I gotta grind to make sure shit’s taken care of. 

Photo: Strickland

So what’s up with your new board on Terror of Planet X? Definitely good to see a board out there with your name on it.  

That’s my homie right there. My young bull I was hooking up with boards back in the day, now he’s wanting to do his own shit and it’s cool as fuck. Cool ass graphics. Almost like he doesn’t even need a team, like the next Hook-Ups or something.

Terror of Planet X is definitely a mouthful but it does have a ring to it. Once he showed me all of these ideas he had planned out around it though, I know it’s gonna work out fine. It’s honestly just like having Stricks back on the program.

There’s a lot we’re still working on but it’s dope. Right now we’re only doing small seasonal runs of shit. Keeping it real small. It’s just my homie doing all this. He didn’t get some type of big-ass loan or anything, he’s just hustling his ass off. Just like me. On the grind… I gotta respect him for that. 

Big thanks to Ryan Gee, Angel from Planet X, Rob from Pusher and Mike for taking the time.


chrome ball interview #79: gino iannucci

chops and gino sit down for conversation. 

So why a sponsorship change at this stage in your career, Gino? And why FA?

A really good question. I even ask myself that sometimes, being at this point in my life and stage of my career. It was really a mix of a few different things. It’s not that I was unhappy with Girl and Chocolate. Not that at all. It had more to do with feeling like the years have been flying by but I’m still doing the same thing I have been with the same people. I felt the need for a change to stir things up a bit in my brain and hopefully on my board.

Fair enough.

When I heard initially that Jason and Anthony were doing this new company, I was immediately psyched. I was happy for them. Happy for Jason’s success. I’ve been good friends with him for a long time and it was nice seeing him do his own thing.

It wasn’t until I finally saw the Supreme video a few months after it came out that I was able to see what they were about… the young guys and the overall vibe they were putting out. It really attracted me. It was interesting because the rawness of the video reminded me of the old days. Just being out there skating. I liked that it all seemed a little different than what was going on elsewhere and I love how those kids are so into doing their own thing. How unconcerned they are with whatever else is going on.

It’s refreshing. I feel like skateboarding needed all of these new little companies. Before that, skateboarding was getting kind of boring to me. Uninspiring. Seeing those guys start a company along with these younger kids out there doing their thing… how they’re going about doing it interested me immediately.

Like I said, it was nothing on Girl or Chocolate’s part that was bumming me out. But a lot of it came from wanting to make myself feel like I wasn’t stealing everytime I came out to California. I needed some change.

Credit: Mementophoto

So this isn’t something you’d been contemplating for a while? It’s all just so surprising because you’d been engrained in Chocolate for so long, through so many ups and down.

I never thought I would ever leave Chocolate. I was going to skate for Chocolate until either the day they dropped me or I just quitting skating altogether. I grew up with Girl and Chocolate and I love those guys.

With FA and what Jason and Anthony are doing, it came down to everything in my gut and in my heart. Wanting to be part of something new, something fresh.

Leaving had to be a difficult call to make… after almost 20 years, that’s almost comparable to a divorce at this point.  I know there’s a lot of excitement and uncertainty there but probably a fair amount of guilt as well, right?

I’ll be honest, I went into a really dark place after I left and it took me a good month to get out of it. I won’t get too deep into it but it was definitely a depression of sorts. It was not a good time. Not to mention with the 20-year anniversary stuff going on and everything else… the timing of it was just horrible.

I don’t know why all this had to happen now. I ran into Dill one day at Supreme while I was out filming this thing with Federico. None of this was planned. It just came about naturally while all these anniversary events and things happened to be going on. Being part of those events, going to galleries in LA and New York and talking to people about Chocolate and the history there… it’s been really hard. It’s still hard. I still think about those guys everyday but I gotta keep my head up and remain positive. Change is good. I’m not expecting this to be some miracle in my skating where I’m going out there like I’m 25-years-old again but I do have a new state of mind these days that feels good.

I’ll be brief but I don’t think I handled leaving the best way I possibly could’ve. I’m not proud of that. But it was so difficult, I didn’t know what else to do. I had some good talks with Jason and Anthony about how they felt leaving Alien. They understood where I was at and were patient... especially since I was asked by Rick to hold off for a bit until after those anniversary events, which I was more than happy to do. I had too much respect than to just break out like that. 

Was there ever talk of Chocolate possibly taking your board away?

No, there was never talk of that.

There was a point in time, if I remember correctly, when I had a talk with Megan and was told my pay would be cut due to the way I was living. That was during all my legal drama and I was showing no signs of change. They looked at it as enabling me to continue being a dickhead.

With that said, when it got pretty bad for me, they were the first ones there to scoop me up and check me into a 30-day. Me being me, I called them up 3 days later to come get me because I had left. You can call that a slap in the face but like they always say, nothing will stop a person until they are ready to stop. I wasn't at that point.

How was your experience filming Pretty Sweet? I know you were said to have filmed a whole part but a sizeable chunk ended up going to Brick Harbor?

Yeah, I definitely had more footage for Pretty Sweet but I guess it wasn’t up to the standard that was being done by the other guys on the team. I’ll cosign that. That’s true. The filming probably wasn’t as on-point either. I wasn’t really filming with Ty or Federico.

But I was blown away by Pretty Sweet. I honestly didn’t know much about how the video was going down until I saw it in New York but I understood why so much of my footage wasn’t used. I think it would’ve stood out for the wrong reasons.

I will say there was a realization there that kinda put things into perspective for me. I was trying to get footage for it and while I knew that it probably wouldn’t be a full-part in the video, I at least wanted to come through with some stuff. That video was kind of a wake-up call for me as to where things were at now.

But then once I saw Cherry and what was going on in that video as opposed to Pretty Sweet, my perspective switched up again. It all doesn’t have to be Pretty Sweet all the time. You don’t have to worry as much about the filming and whether you’re keeping up with the type of skating that incredible skaters like Guy are doing.

I found myself battling this feeling that I didn’t even fit in anymore because the type of skating those guys were doing was so amazing. The younger guys, too. I guess that’s why Rick didn’t put himself in the video… because maybe he felt like he didn’t fit in either. I was bummed about that.

We all were.

Exactly. We just want to see Rick skate. You want to see footage of him skate because he’s an amazing skater. 

But that’s what people have been saying about you! I mean, I understand holding yourself to a higher standard, and on top of that, you have to deal with skateboarding holding you, in particular, to an even higher ideal as this style icon but does the pressure of being “Gino” ever jam things up in your head? Just like it possibly did to Rick in Pretty Sweet?

It definitely jams things up in my head at times because I do hear that sort of thing a lot. I mean, when I was younger with those 101 videos and the early Chocolate videos, I was only concerned with the tricks I was doing. Making sure that I was coming through and on-point.  I felt confident in what I was doing.

The “style” thing wasn’t a concern back then. It was about skating and doing good shit. All of a sudden, you start hearing so much about style that you start to feel like you’re getting love for the wrong reasons.

“Oh, I would rather see him push…” That doesn’t make me happy. It’s flattering but I’d rather get love for the actual skating. I’m sure there are kids out there who are looking at me like, “So? What’s he doing? He’s not skating.”

But at the same time, I also get pissed off because it has become this thing where every time there’s a video project coming out, people started talking about a full-video part from me. I’m 41-years-old. When does that stop? When do people stop expecting a full-video part? Most probably already have at this point actually, but for Pretty Sweet, I kept hearing about this full-part I might have. I was already in my late 30’s by then, my body is not the same as it was when I was younger. I have injuries.

There are just so many things that make it difficult for a full video-part. Inspiration is a big part of it and that’s not always there. It’s a mix of things: you get tense, you get bummed, sometimes you just don’t care. Sometimes I’m at a spot and if I don’t look on-point, I start to worry that whoever else is there will be disappointed in me. A lot of things get in the fucking way of skating.

It’s this weird thing where I’m totally appreciative of this pressure while being annoyed at the same time, if that makes sense. I need to get on it enough to get where I don’t give a shit about the worrying anymore. 

Guy once said that if it wasn’t for Keenan, the Girl crew might have never gotten to know you due to your quiet nature. Do you feel his passing was a factor, along with your own personal struggles, that helped push you underground?

I just never felt fully comfortable around those guys. That’s just the way I am. I’ve only really been comfortable around the guys I grew up around back in New York. I guess that’s why I’d always head back there to skate and hang out, to be around those guys.

Being in LA, it was just different. I never felt a close bond with those guys. I liked the dudes. It was cool, we hung out and partied but it was a bit superficial.

Honestly, I don’t know how I’ve dealt with Keenan’s passing. I will say that it was something I saw coming. With how things were going, I knew that it was going to happen and I wasn’t surprised when it did. Not to say that it wasn’t tragic when it did happen but I could see something like that was coming.

But yeah, if it wasn’t for how outgoing Keenan was, things would’ve been different. As his roommate, when there was a ton of people hanging out at the house, they probably wouldn’t have been there half of the time if he wasn’t there. And to be honest with you, I would’ve been content with that. (laughs)

I don’t know if it pushed me more underground or not. I really don’t know how I’ve dealt with everything. I still trip out on it occasionally. I loved Keenan and loved being around him. I know it’s affecting me on different levels, for sure.  

What would you say is your fondest Keenan memory?

For whatever reason, when I think of the good times with Keenan, I always think about he’d come stay at my house on Long Island when we were young. I remember how every time before he left, we’d end up wrestling each other. Trying to beat the shit out of each other… but not in a bad way. We’d totally be laughing the entire time. Just two kids having fun. For some reason, we’d do that every time, right before he left to go back to the city.

It reminds me of our relationship, how I felt about him and hopefully how he felt about me. Just close friends. He didn’t want to leave and I didn’t want him to leave but fuck that, let’s get this going. I’m gonna wrap you up right now with the headlocks and shit. That’s the kind of shit I remember. 

Coming up with Keenan, Huf and Keefe, I’ve always wondered how come you never got on Fun along with those dudes? I know you sent sponsor-me tapes… why Black Label? And did you send tapes to any other companies back then?

You know, that’s something I’ve never even thought about until now that you mention it.

I didn’t look at companies the same back then. I didn’t look at them in the way of who would I like to ride for, which one was more my stee. I didn’t really give a shit who I got product from.

It was more about knowing Lucero. He was a big-time pro… fuck it, I’ll send a video. I don’t know what attracted me to them. Maybe I saw a Max Evans ad or even a Dill ad. Not sure. I just sent them a video and it’s all history from there.

Funny thing is, I remember being at an amateur contest in Bricktown, New Jersey and Dyrdek asking me if I was interested in riding for Alien. This was right when I got on Black Label and I didn’t want to leave them so quickly like that. I was hyped Dyrdek was down to sponsor me because I respected him a lot back then but I wanted to stick with the Label. I don’t know if I ever told Lucero that. 

But yeah, Black Label was the only board company I ever sent a tape to. Them and Gullwing! I got on Gullwing somehow and was actually riding those for a while. 

Crazy! So you were getting steady coverage until blowing up an issue of Thrasher with not only a switch flip down the Hubba 6 but also a back heel down the Gonz Gap. How did that go down? Did you know both those heavy photos were gonna drop in the same issue like that?

I don’t think so. I was young and na├»ve. You just try shit and sometimes it goes down. That day happened and it was a good day. I didn’t really know that back heel was going to come out as a Thunder ad or that they were going to be in the same mag. I was just happy to be skating and getting photos. I definitely didn’t know it was going to be a “career starter” or anything. I didn’t think of things like that.

But you still don’t feel like you really made that back heel? Was that your first time at EMB?

Yeah, that was my first trip to SF but no, I’m still not happy with that one. You can see it! I land it, roll for a bit but I’m off-center on the board and then jump off.

People tell me all the time that I’m crazy for thinking that but as a skater, I like to think we try to be perfectionists.  I recall going through the same thing filming tricks for 101 videos. Landing them and not being psyched on how things looked in the footage. If it didn’t look the way I wanted it to, I’d try it again. Most people do this. I just didn’t get the chance that day to try it again like I would’ve liked to. But I definitely didn’t do it the way I wanted to. Whatever, it is what it is.

But yeah, all that stuff was the same day. It was the day I was leaving to go back to New York and was just killing time before going to the airport. It was myself, Liversedge and Keenan and we decided to go down to EMB. I remember Jaime Thomas and Matt Pailes were there. We started fucking around on the 7 with some tricks and ended up over at Hubba. That’s when the switch flip went down. Gabe was there and got the photo. After that, we went back over to EMB and got up on the Gonz to check it out… it was like, “Fuck this, let me try something.”

That was one of the scariest things I’d ever done, at least back then. The runway was so sketchy, man. It’s so skinny and it’s all the way up top and to the left… if you hit a rock or fly off the side, you were done. It was a pretty sketchy gap, too, at least for the time. 

What was the story behind that mysterious David Schlossbach company that was going to be under Rocco with you, Lotti and Dill?

Yeah, that was an interesting one. Jason and Jeremy Wray were involved because something had happened with Color. I don’t know if it had fell through or what but I remember being introduced to Dave Schlossbach back then through those guys. Dave and Lotti had this idea to start something and were looking for riders.

We were down. I remember Jason and I started filming with Dave everyday for a promo video. He’d pick us up and head out to all these spots I’d seen in videos. The big spots that everyone skates. We’d just go and try shit that hadn’t been done there before.

The company didn’t end up working out. We needed another rider and tried to get Markovich but he wasn’t interested. Then Lotti broke out for his reasons and it was done. This was actually around the same time all the Girl guys left World and Plan B and Dave thought he could maybe get Jason and I on 101. I even remember him asking me about it.

“What!? Natas? Are you kidding me? Of course, I’m down!”

Natas was into it so it worked out. But honestly, I did feel a little weird about getting on the team when I did. I felt like I was being a bit of a replacement for these amazing skaters. I wasn’t sure how people were going to take to me but in the end, I didn’t give a shit. It’s fucking Natas, I’m down and that’s it.

The footage that we were stacking for the promo ended up being used for Snuff

Natas has talked about bouncing ideas off riders and Dill has spoken about helping him edit the 20 Shot intro… did you ever contribute like that to the company? Were you down with the artsier side of 101?

I was completely into it. 101 was amazing. I was always psyched on the graphic ideas they came up for me and I always loved the fact that I could bring them ideas. I think half of the boards I had on 101 were my ideas for the graphics. I loved that stuff. And, of course, whatever was done that I didn’t do was incredible. I was down for all of it.

I have to ask about that “Lifestyle He Is Accustomed To” ad because it’s literally the reason I started this website. How’d that one come about? Was that one of your ideas or Natas’ and what is it in reference to?

That was Natas. I don’t even know why we did that ad, he just thought it would be cool and I was down for it, too. It wasn’t in reference to Black Label or anything. But it was cool burning $20 bills to light cigarettes because in reality, that’s really what it ended up being like. Just taking any check I got and blowing it. Taking it right to the Beverly Center and getting new Clarks. Making sure that I was going out that night with a new set-up. 

Photo: Natas

Which 101 video project would you say is your favorite? And how were those parts to create as far as overall process and productivity? That was 3 straight years of classics!

As far as the skating goes, I really like Trilogy. I’m proud of how that one came out. I like 20 Shot as well, even though it wasn’t that big of a part but just because of the time and where our heads were at with skating and everything.

Like you were saying earlier with Jason, I never got to work directly with Natas while editing but I did get to help edit my Trilogy part with Soc. It felt good because I really had control over it. Start it here, end it there. Make sure there was this much time before the trick so you can see the skating prior, making sure there’s enough time after the landing so you can see the ride away. You want to get a better idea of how that person really skates, not just the trick. That was important to me.

But those didn’t even feel like projects at the time. It’s not like now where you’re constantly working on this video that’s coming out in four years and you have to film with so-and-so every time you go out. It was nothing like that.  It was more like putting out another video with all the stuff we’d been doing.

During those days, we were always out filming, whether there was a video coming out or not. There was no soul skating at that point. We were young and thirsty to do what we thought were really good tricks on our board. We wanted to do our thing. Call up Soc and he’d be there… next thing you know, you had a bunch of footage so when it was time to put out a video, you were good. It was so much simpler back then. 

Photo: Kosick

Who’s idea was it to put that quote in front of your Trilogy part? Was that just part of the Ghostface mix you used or was that put there intentionally?

Its funny, the guy who did that mix actually just walked into the office. But no, the quote was my idea. Obviously, I’ve always been a big Wu fan and they always had the cool quotes from movies and kung-fu flicks before songs. Well, I wanted my own quote. I wanted to find one that fit how I felt about skating and put it in front of my part. I can’t remember what movie we found it in but we happened to dig it up one day at Dennis’ apartment. It was perfect. I wanted it to be my own statement because that’s how I felt at the time and still do. Everyone has their own style.

I know Dill got kicked off for stealing but how did 101 end? Were you leaving because 101 was dissolving or did 101 dissolve because you left?

Dill did get kicked off but it was Natas leaving that made me decide to leave. That’s when it was over.

I kinda knew that Chocolate was down for me already, Keenan had already mentioned it. So it was always in the back of my mind and, of course, I was super psyched. I grew up admiring those guys. So basically once Natas left, I was out. You could say he set the pick. 

You mentioned earlier about how you never really felt comfortable with the whole Girl/Chocolate crew. Do you feel this initial discomfort effected your filming of Chocolate Tour?

I think the reality of it is that I’ve never felt comfortable with myself, period. That’s what I’ve come to learn as I’ve gotten older. When you’re young, you think it has to do with being around these guys and it’s kind of uncomfortable because you hold them in such high regard, but as you get older, you start to really break yourself down and how you are as a person. I think I’ve just always been a quiet person, never too social besides those initial friends I grew up with.

So… which one was Chocolate Tour again?

The GZA “Publicity” instrumental and Gino’s Skatepark…

Oh yeah, I get Hot Chocolate and Chocolate Tour mixed up… and honestly, I tend to forget about that Chocolate Tour one. But no, I thought that part came out cool. I was happy with the skating. 

Were you into doing all the skits and stuff? Chocolate videos always seem to have some kind of premise to work with.

At first, I’d never done anything like that before so I thought it was interesting to do. The first time I ever did anything like that was with Spike for a commercial that was supposed to run in Japan. Just a random commercial, no skating involved. It was me, Keenan and Ben Sanchez with a couple of chicks in a car driving around LA. It was a full-on production, which was a little weird and uncomfortable, but it was all so new to me that it was still exciting.

I didn’t feel comfortable with the acting on Chocolate Tour at all. Not at all. I didn’t like having the spotlight on me like that… people screaming “action”, it didn’t feel natural and I didn’t take to it very well.

It’s not that I wanted it to be a regular skate video without the skits, either. By that point, Spike had already put out a movie and it was cool to see how he works and how the whole movie thing goes. I just wasn’t into the camera being on me as much back then. 

How do you define the word “style”?

The first thing that comes to mind is that style comes naturally. It’s nothing forced. You see a lot of people out there faking their style and you can always tell. They’ll land their trick and end up doing something with their arms or whatever and you can tell it’s completely exaggerated.

Everyone has their own way they skate when they’re really going for shit, when they’re not really concerned with how they look after they land the trick. That’s when you can really see it.

There’s so many different things that can come across in your style. The way you grew up, what you were exposed to, music, your natural agility… all those factors are involved when it comes to style.

What about your trick selection? You have your classic staples like back tails and such but are there instances where you’ve purposefully tried to be different? Fakie varial kickflips still stand out as yours but you were also pushing backside 360 ollies, 360 shoves and no complies when nobody else was.

I don’t feel like I’m the kind of person who really thinks outside the box and I think my trick selection proves that. I’m a pretty simple skater. I used to get a little more technical when I was younger. But usually, my tricks just come from feeling good. If they felt good, they looked good and I trusted that. It comes across. It’s as simple as that.

360 shove-its always felt good to me so why wouldn’t I do them? It’s the same thing with those fakie shove-it flips. I remember the first time I really started doing those was at the Adams bump in LA near USC. You knew you just had to stay confident in how it felt. 

So what’s one trick that feels terrible to you?

Oh man… tre flips. (laughs)

Bullshit! You have a good tre flip! That one in 20 Shot at Black Rock!?!

Nah, I never had them like that. Never over something or down anything. Never consistently. There would maybe be a day here or there where I would have them lovely on flatground but then they’d be gone. I could never hold on to a good tre flip.

That’s probably the worst trick for me. I fucking can’t stand them. (laughs)
Photo: Blabac

Talk a little about the making of your Yeah Right! part and filming back on Long Island, away from LA. And why Guns N Roses? Such a good choice but definitely not expected… getting your Long Island Iroc on.

(laughs) Italian retard out cruising…

So good.

Yeah Right! worked out because I had just moved back to New York and met up with an old friend. I was bummed on LA and over how I was partying a lot. My friend Brad, who ended up filming most of that part, had a tattoo shop with a little mini-ramp and some props and we just started skating together a lot there. Just having fun.

At the time, I was more about wanting to be at peace with myself than concerned about skating. But we’d just go skate and it slowly turned into that zone of wanting to film.  We started going to spots that I’d known from when I was younger and got into a rhythm. Things started to happen. Knowing that the video was coming out, I was sparked and wanted to come through. The motivation was there… I can’t explain really why. I think Brad helped me out with motivation with his even knowing by just having fun. We started getting clips and it turned out being pretty good.

As far as the song goes, I had some ideas but it was Mike Carroll that actually brought that song up to me. I remember we were at Ty’s house at the time editing and he threw it out there. It just so happened that I was listening to the Guns a lot at the time and when he brought it up, it just made sense. Fuck yeah, I’m down for Guns!

Photo: Reda

It pretty much went straight into Hot Chocolate right after that…

Honestly, I didn’t really like that part that much.

During the filming for Yeah Right! I was really motivated and psyched on things. I was skating a lot and ended up being pretty happy with how my part came out. It was afterwards, when watching the video as a whole, that I started to notice a change in skating. That maybe for the first time, I was falling behind. I didn’t feel like I was really pushing the envelope anymore. People were really progressing at that point. I began to feel that my skating was starting to look basic, a little more than usual.

I felt it even more so with Hot Chocolate.

Photo: Colen

I know you were going through some legal stuff at the time but what was the story behind that WESC tour of Long Island? That’s a tough watch, man.

Oh God. I do and I don’t regret that one. It was at that time where I was going through a lot of personal shit. Tripping on skating and my future... just about life, in general. I was in a bad place upstairs.

I always feel like I want to be truthful about everything but maybe I was a little bit too honest with that one. Stopping by the rehab I went to… what are you thinking, dude? But whatever, it’s a part of my past and I was being honest. I was just in a bad place so I figured I’d take them out to the lighthouse, a place that I still love to this day. I thought it would be nice but to get into all that stuff, I’m not too happy about.

Describe your relationship with Guy Mariano. You two seemed to share a mutual respect that was always cool to see. I know he spoke very publicly about trying to motivate you into putting out a part like his Fully Flared comeback. How do you feel his comeback affected your outlook on your own career and people's expectations of your output?

Like I said earlier, there was a lot of time spent partying back in the day but we were never really close back then. No offense but none of us were, at least that's the way I saw it. Just superficial party/skate friends.

Things changed a bit when Guy got out of rehab and started skating everyday. At the time, I was trying as well but still a little up-and-down. With him being through what he gone through and my understanding of that, I felt we had a cool friendship. We spoke a lot about those topics and whatever else besides skating… normal shit!  We skated a lot and it felt good. I felt we were finally getting to be real friends.

As time went on, there started to be some distance. He was doing great, onward and upward, but for me, the conductor couldn't get me off that fucking roller coaster. I look at it as someone growing, moving on and flourishing while the other stayed stagnant in the funk. It's only a matter of time until they drift apart and rightfully so. I moved back to Long Island and then getting caught up with the legal drama, I just drifted away and became distant with him and everyone.

As far as his comeback and its effect on me, it was a trip. First of all, I was pushed back after he put out that Fully Flared part. If I heard anything about myself possibly returning like that, I’d laugh and be bummed at the same time. There's only one Guy and I never put myself on his level. No comparison.

I would see his production and bug out, wondering how he does it. He keeps coming harder and harder… which would make me question myself and where I stood. Then reality sets back in and I remember that there's only one Guy Mariano. Special. A great skateboarder.

Anyway, let’s turn the page, I'm just going to continue doing me with no comparison to what anyone else is doing. No format so lets roll! 

Fucking Awesome!

So with the new sponsor and a renewed interest, what are you hoping to achieve?

It’s mainly just a change of mind. I feel happy to be part of something that I believe in.

As far as footage, I’m just going to continue what I’ve been doing. When I feel inspired to film something, I will. If not, then I won’t. I’ll be skating, though. You’ll be seeing me out there. It feels good. It always feels good.

In Hot Chocolate, you said, “Hopefully I’ve left a positive impact on skateboarding… I don’t know.” Are you happy with your career to this point? Is there anything you would’ve done differently?

That’s a good question. Yes, I am happy just for the simple fact that I’ve been able to do this for this long. I never would’ve thought that I’d still be skating on the professional level at age 41. Still feeling good with the desire to skate and how good it still feels. It actually feels better at times now than when I was younger because I was so obsessed with learning tricks back then. I remember ending up crying at the World Park sometimes. Now it’s more of an appreciation of being on your board and how it feels. Appreciating the stuff you can do. It’s just a different mindstate.

Overall, I can’t regret anything. I’ve always done what I wanted to do and luckily, I’ve been able to be me for this long without really trying to conform. I’ve never had to follow a certain type of format as far as being a professional skater. Just being myself, for better or worse. Being the type of person I am, I can only do me and that’s it. 

thanks to dill, fa, mighty healthy and gino for taking the time.