Well, my parents moved around so much. I lived in Michigan, in between Detroit and Ann Arbor until I was about 3 or 4. We moved to Columbus Ohio and then my Dad found a job in the Southern Ohio area. I pretty much lived in Chesapeake, Ohio for 14 years.
I started skating in the summer between 7th and 8th grade in the mid 80's,.My first board was one I jacked from a friend until he hunted me down to get it back. After that, I convinced my pops to order me a cheap one from ValSurf or something... it was a semi-generic board but I was stoked. After he saw me riding that 24-7, he took me to a skateshop in Gallipolis, Ohio and got me a Vision Punkskulls complete with GullWings and yellow Rat Bones. I wanted the Gonz complete but it was too much loot. We were poor so I was happy with what I got. My next board was an Alva Fred Smith, and it just kept going from there.
My first skateshoes were Vans hi's black with blue skull and bones pattern on them. Crucial.
How did you get hooked up with sponsors back in the very Cali-centered skate world of the pre-internet late 80s / early 90s? Getting sponsors must’ve been twice as hard back then when transmitting from the middle of nowhere (Ohio)…
Like I said, I was poor and had no money for skate product so I would send sponsor-me tapes when I was really young to try and get hooked up. I didn't care what it was, I just wanted free stuff so I could skate all the time and not have to pay for it. I had some obscure sponsors send me stuff, like Joe Johnson and Kevin Staab's Electric Ocean clothing company, Kryptonics wheels, Triple X skateboards (Brand X), Gouge Clothing etc. I remember Mike Carroll and Brian Lotti being in my town for a demo and I was hanging out with them, skating this parking lot. They were asking why I skated the boards I was skating and I just told them because it was free and free is all I could afford.
I got hooked up with G&S because... well I don't really remember… I sent tapes in and I knew Chris Carter was from the area. Dyrdek and Heintzman weren't far away so they decided to hook a brother up. I had to be one of the first kids to send Etnies tapes right when they very first started. Pierre Andre liked me and sponsored me very early on. After I turned 16, I was getting hooked-up by meeting people that happened to come to Ohio for demos. I would drive all over Ohio to go see pros skate and skate with them. Greg Carroll saw me at a demo and hooked me up with Venture who I stayed with from then on.
I went to go skate with Matt Hensley in this demo and he was there with this guy Ned Hadden. After the demo, Ned came up to me and was telling me I ripped and that I should skate for Assault, his new company. He brought Matt over to convince me so I thought to myself, "If Matt Hensley says I should skate for this company then I'm going to do it." It really wasn't the best decision but I didn't know anything about it… all I knew was Hensley was someone I looked up to and Ned was his friend so I did it.
I remember both you and Aly Moore seemed like the real heavies for Assault. Ned Hadden was the company’s big pro but like you said, the only thing I remember about him was that he was friends with Matt Hensley… I don’t think I ever saw him skate. What was the story behind that guy?
Assault had some decent skaters, we did a little East Coast tour and had fun. Aly was mostly the artist doing all the artwork.
Ned was a strange cat. I skated with him a little bit. He was always down for skateboarding and hooking kids up. Being from the midwest, I heard about Ned through coverage of Hensley and then met him at a demo. I didn't really know much about him but he wanted to sponsor me and seemed like a nice dude.
It's funny because at the time, Alien and Assault were in the same building as Cow Skates in Dayton. I would have been on Alien earlier but they didn't want to piss off Jimmy George, the owner of Cow Skates and part owner of Assault who was letting them rent the back end of his warehouse. They didn't steal me from Assault. I actually lived with Chris Carter while they were filming Memory Screen and used to see the edits and how Mike Hill made it when I was chilling at the crib. I was always with those guys skating and whatnot, it was strange because I was on Assault but I was really an Alien guy. I should've had a Memory Screen part... sucks the "business" side of it kept me from being on Alien earlier.
The atmosphere was dope, I used to hang and skate with Neil Blender a lot, who was really a huge influence on the whole early vibe of Alien. To me, he was Alien Workshop. I met him early on when he came to my little town in Ohio when I was on G&S Trucks, he came and filmed me for the G&S video Footage when I was like 15/16 years old. I have tons of respect for that dude.
Going back a little to the G&S Footage video… in retrospect, this can easily be seen as the jumping-off point for Alien. Was it pretty well-known that those guys were gonna leave after that video was done?
Honestly, I don't know, I was only like 16-years-old when that video came out. I can't even remember but yeah, I think they were getting sick of G&S and all the people involved and just wanted to do their own thing. Mike Hill was the art director for G&S at the time and I think he just wanted to do his own thing with Blender, most artists are like that. I know Carter and Hill hated the Cali scene and most of the people out there involved in it.
I'm the one that took Blender to Falcon. That's when he was in Ohio to film me and I wanted to take him to that place in WV and trip him out. If you look in Footage, I'm the guy in the background when he's skating. No specific stories, but Neil is an amazing artist, musician, skater, and person. He's funny as hell to be around and he influenced skateboarding more than anyone else along with Gonz... especially when it comes to the art, lifestyle, and graphics. So many people wanted and still want to be an original person like him but it's contrived. If you are not like that you never will be. Skating with him was fun and inspiring. Even when he wasn't skating that much, he'd get on a board and I'd be captivated… not many people can do that.
Honestly, to tell specific stories about him would just ruin it. He's not the type of person to really like that shit with people talking about him and fanning out over him. I will say this though: all the people out there that think they are original, you aren't. Neil is. He sells his paintings on eBay and I suggest you try to buy one, just type in Heated Wheel and they should come up. I just talked to him recently and he's not skating much, mostly surfing and skimboarding but he picks up the board every now and then.
I always heard that Mark Heintzman was supposed to join Workshop but never did. Any truth to that?
Mark was friends with all those guys too and being a Dayton guy, you would have thought so but I don't know. I think he was doing good and getting decent money on G&S at the time compared to how small Alien was in the beginning. He had a house to pay for and the early Alien checks wouldn't have cut it. He's a great dude, I lived with him for a while too... which is strange because when I was a kid, we didn't like each other but we eventually became really good friends. I really don't know though. That's something you'd have to ask Carter and Hill.
The move was inevitable but when did John Drake finally set up a residence in California? What was that final thing that made you go and uproot from Ohio?
Well, Dyrdek and I used to drive out to Cali and stay for a while so we could skate. A couple times we would stay with Dave Swift, one of the nicest guys in skateboarding. One of those times, his girlfriend and now wife had some friends, these 3 girls that were about to get an apartment. One of them being Tim Brauch's sister, Kristy, and they were looking for roommates. We got hooked up with them and Dyrdek and I decided that when we got back home to Ohio, we would pack up our stuff and move out to SD and in with them. I think this was early 1992. So that's what we did.
It was a natural thing to do if you skated and wanted good weather year round with the possibility of getting any coverage. We were the only pros on the team to move out there and Alien needed that to grow and become a more popular company. Plus we needed it too because there were no photographers in Ohio. It's not exactly the mecca for skateboarding.
Speaking of Kristy and Tim Brauch: R.I.P. Tim. You couldn't have ever met a nicer person than that guy.
Dyrdek seemed inseparable for years… what do you think of the whole Rob & Big/Fantasy Factory phenomenon? Do you ever get tired of telling people you are Dyrdek’s pre-Big Black roommate?
Rob's the same person he was when he was 14, so he's just doing his thing. He's always been very business minded and looked at skating in that fashion, which was smart because look where he is now. He's never changed, he didn't just turn into what you see. I never looked at skating that way and one way isn't better than the other, we both just stayed true to who we are.
He's in control of his own situation, it's not like some business kook that doesn't skate is standing over him controlling him. I think anyone that knows about skateboarding knows I was Rob's pre-Big Black roommate so I don't really feel the need to tell anyone. Fantasy Factory is actually pretty funny and looks like a fun place to skate and hang out. I'm glad it's him rather than someone else… I mean look at Sheckler's teen drama show, it's just mad corny.
I never really felt underrated amongst other pros and that's really all I cared about. Kareem and I used to chill and skate so I was glad he thought that. I was never an attention hog or was on any kind of gimmick. I could have taken photos everyday if I wanted and been in the magazines 5 times each issue, I was close with the photogs, but that's not what I wanted. I consciously made the decision to keep my shit underground and do shit on my own terms. I remember opening up Transworld and Willy Santos was in there like 20 times and it was just overkill. Willy was a friend but that is not what I wanted for me. I wasn't feeling that, which in the long run was probably a bad decision, but I would be sick of myself. I don't like the spotlight. I just wanted to skate and be left alone most of the time. My biggest mistake was probably not putting more footie out there but it is what it is. I feel I got the respect from my peers and that's really what mattered to me.
Most underrated skater of the 90's, hmmm... that is a hard question because usually most of the people I hung out with knew that these people were really good. I'm going to just say my homies Ronnie Bertino and Scott Conklin off the top of my head. Two good friends that deserved more than they got. Also another homie that everyone needs to still pay homage to is Sean Sheffey. Loved that guy on and off a skateboard. I have some good stories about Shef, haha. I guess it all depends on who you talk to, who is in the know. I don't know what the average person in Nebraska thinks about whoever or who was popular to them but all pro skateboarders know who has a good style or who is just really good... even though that person may not get as much coverage or whatever, be pushed by companies in tons of ads and whatnot.
Bringing a loaded gun to a contest when we were 18. Beating the shit out of numerous people. Jumping out of a window and smashing Kristy Brauch's Integra and messing up her sunroof. Destroying people's houses. Intimidating people. There are a million things, most are just a blur. Lots of really crazy things I can't even tell you about because they would sound made up.
Many see Timecode as the least “Alien Workshoppy” of the Alien videos. Was there a conscious effort to move away a bit from the early aesthetic and come with more of a straight-forward approach? How long did you film for Timecode?
At that point, I don't even know what was going on back in Ohio. I think Hill was just busy and didn't have the time and energy to put the creative juices into it. Dyrdek and I used to film like crazy and had some really good footage. We always begged the Workshop to put out our footie ala “Tim & Henry” because we were the only ones filming on the team. We had tons of sick shit but the footie never got used and they never wanted to put it out like that. By the time it rolled around to film for Timecode, I just wasn't filming very much. All my footie in Timecode is pretty much random whatevs, and never represented my skateboarding. I don't even think I flipped my board in that part. Now I look back and I wish I would have put forth some effort to film. I was skating but the camera never got broke out.
Talk a little about Lennie Kirk. What was the early buzz around Alien as he started gathering clips for his legendary part? What was he like back then? Were you able to witness his personality transformations firsthand?
His video part was good but back then, I didn't really fan out on my friends' parts. I didn't think about it too much. To me, anyone on Alien could have had that legendary part but he just put forth the effort to film and make it happen. What can I say... I don't really know what happened in the end with him and Alien. He just turned kind of psycho and demanding… just a religious freak. I think Carter had enough and let him go. After that, we lost touch but I still got love for him and all the old Alien guys.
Josh Kalis has mentioned several times in interviews that his joining the Sovereign Sect started out as a joke at the old Alien house. When did this joke become serious?
Carter called me during that time and gave me the axe. On one hand, I was ok with it because I didn't know if I'd be able to really skate 100% again... but on the other hand, I felt he could have given me some time to get my knee straight and see what happened.
It's all good though. The only thing I wish is that they would hire some of their ex-skaters to work for them. They have never hired one of us for a TM or the art department or anything... maybe Burton will make it happen. I'm sure Conklin, Thomas Morgan, or others would love to do that. I know Thomas is skating again better than ever and who's better to represent your company than someone who was pro for you and knows skateboarding and the company inside and out? Someone that knows the industry and all the people in it? It only makes sense. It's what most companies do.
I never wanted to really skate for anyone else so I just decided to go to college and skate for myself.
Alien started out as a more artistic endeavor with what I thought were some core beliefs and ways to do things. It happens with a lot of great things... that once the public latches on to it and it keeps getting bigger, things totally change whether you like it or not. It doesn't always happen this way, but 90% of the time, money changes people into being just businessmen looking to make more money. Money is great but when you compromise your art to make more money, the brand just gets watered down. Alien is still a dope company because of it's past, but it's not the same. It's much more corporate style, but when compared with every company in the industry, I'll still take Alien, Girl, and Krooked over pretty much everyone.
Yeah I saw Mindfield. Greg Hunt did an amazing job and I liked everyone's part for different reasons. Tyler Bledsoe and Mikey Taylor's were probably my favorite though.
Yeah I still shred it up when I can. My body hasn't held up that great but I have fun and can still do the damn thang. I have always kept up with skating, it will always be a huge part of me.
All-time favorite video part? Favorite board graphic? Any ads or articles that stick out in your mind?
My all-time fave video part would be any old part from Gonz, Blender, or Natas. Ads or articles, again anything with Gonz, Blender, or Natas. The rest are just a blur. Favorite board graphic would be the first Vision Gonz board, most of Gonz graphics actually... the Blender coffee break, faces, or his other one with the center graphic of a male figure holding a dog. My fave board graphics of mine were usually done by Blender, some by Hill. Blender's pro spotlight in Transworld was the best one ever.
There were lots of skaters pro and friends alike that influenced me, it was usually a combination of their personality and who they were along with their skateboarding skills. All of them will always hold a certain place in my mind and will never be forgotten. The greatest thing about being a pro or sponsored is being able to travel and meet so many great skateboarders. Anyone who I have ever met, skated with, or hung out with... everyone touches your life in different ways and it's a joy to look back on all the experiences I've had. Thanks everyone.
Anything else you want to add?
Thanks to Christopher Lusher at the HillbillyMag for getting me back into photography. Jason Searcy, I still know you cheated. Kelly Bird, thanks for sending me Lakai's still. Tony Heitz and Don Pendleton, thanks for the interview shouts, here's yours back. All my friends in Ohio, California, Florida, Canada, and North Carolina, and everywhere else… keep skating, stay up and don't let the man bring you down.