chrome ball sits down with yorkatron for conversation.
First things first, are you still considered the official skateboarder of the hyphy movement?
Nah, that movement has kinda died out. I was happy about it at the time because it was a way for everyone to just go crazy and it was accepted. Fools weren’t trippin’ on you for having a good time and not trying to act all macho gangster. But whatever… that was more of a joke anyway. Now I’m a dad so I’m more part of the Yo Gabba Gabba movement.
(laughs) Alright, so these all need a starting point…. how were you introduced to skating and who were some of your favorite pros growing up?
I got introduced to skating when I was in 6th grade and I saw these skaters afterschool. I was dorking around, doing whatever little kids do when they’re trying to not go home right away and I saw these skaters come up with a launch ramp. They were pushing it on a board just like on Animal Chin. They were only high school kids but everything about them… they had like an aura around them. I watched them bring the ramp in and put it against the wall. They were doing wallrides over this drinking fountain. They had to have been pros, but I was so naïve at the time. I just didn’t know who they were but they had to be pros. Maybe Jim Thiebaud and those dudes…
Probably. There is that shot of TG doing that wallride over a water fountain in an old Powell ad… So what was your first “real” board you had?
I had a Vision Jinx because I liked the graphic. Everybody told me that Vision was good so I was like, “ok” and went off of the picture. I was a little dude… I wasn’t mature enough to think that a Tommy Guerrero board is the best street board out. I passed on that cause I wasn’t feelin’ the sword. Same thing with Natas’ board because it had a tiger on it or whatever. I was like “nah”. I got the Vision Jinx cause I thought that board just looked cool.
But when I started getting more into skateboarding and knowing the skaters, I obviously liked the street skaters. Tommy Guerrero, Natas, Jim Thiebaud… and all my local heroes in SF cause my first skate video I got for Christmas was Sick Boys.
Now most people first heard of you through your affiliation with the EMB crew. What was it about Embarcadero that really latched on to you? And what was your favorite thing to skate there?
Just the vibe man. I remember going to Embarcadero real early on… before it got blown out. Like when grabs and nosebonks were still in. Mike Vallely double kick days. I’d take the BART there everyday from the East Bay, doing my homework on the train. It was a 20 minute ride. I’d get there and see Kelch and Wing Ding with their shirts off, all sweaty doing backlip-5’s… it was incredible, man. There were no cameras. They weren’t doing it for money. I couldn’t believe it.
And just watching it go… skating there all the way to seeing Henry dominate it like in “Tim & Henry”. That was everyday. You’d see Henry and Carroll there and wonder what new tricks they were doing. It was just amazing… the whole place was amazing. The vibe was just incredible.
My favorite thing at Embarcadero to skate? It would always change but I’d say that it was mostly lines. Just doing lines was fun. Hitting one block then cruising and doing a flatground trick and keep on going.
Whats the first thing that comes to mind when hearing the name James Kelch?
Mentor. Big brother. One of my top-10 favorite skaters. Misunderstood… Just an amazing dude. Very blessed to know him. I’m very influenced by him. Even just by doing back lipslides to 5-0 grind, that’s all James Kelch and I do that trick all the time. That’s one of my favorite tricks right now.
He was just that guy, ya know? When he first met me, I had a camouflage hat on so he started calling me “Rambo” all the time.
“Hey Rambo, let me get a drink of your drink.”
“Hey Rambo, let me get a bite of your burger.” (laughs)
Now I’ve heard that harshest vibes at EMB were usually dealt by the youngest, littlest dudes… because they were untouchable to outsiders. Would you say that was true? Who was particularly vicious?
I think any young little dude is gonna be a little punk in any situation. Like the little kid smartass… and we were all smartasses. You go to Embarcadero and you’re gonna get a shitty nickname and clowned. If you can’t take it, then you’re not an Embarcadero dude. Every single dude there had thick skin. People would embarrass you. Dudes would get pants’d… that’s how it went. People would go there and be like, “Holy shit! These people are dissing the shit out of me for real!” But we were just acting like how we always acted.
But it wasn’t too crazy, though. I think Embarcadero has a more notorious rep than what it really was at the time. Yeah, drama did go down and I did see a lot of wild things in my life as a young man… like I’d never seen anyone get hit with a wrench and bleed like that before… or “Wow, I’ve never seen someone get knocked out before in real life.” Shit like that. Fight stuff that seems real gnarly as a little kid. But its not as notorious as its played up to be. Most of the time when someone got beat up from one of the real EMB dudes, they probably deserved it.
I remember one time, we were all chillin’ and some dude took his board and threw it at some pigeons and killed one… so we went over there and punched him in the face. That’s just how it went down. That was stupid of the guy and we let him know. But you had to do some stupid stuff like that to get in trouble.
As far as little kids causing trouble, Karl Watson would get you. He was like the Kelch of the kids, man. I can definitely say that. He was like the junior mafia don… spitballs, talking shit… he’d just make you so frustrated. He was the master of pushing those little buttons. Don’t ever sit shotgun in the car with him in the back or he will pull your seatbelt the whole drive.
Now I remember for the longest time, it seemed like you only got editorial coverage. Like I’d see you in Thrasher or Slap… but I was never sure who your board sponsors were. I know you were on Real early on and you spent sometime over at World, but the first time I remember you having ads and stuff was for Stereo. What went on with you and Stereo? Didn’t you have some beefs over boards or concave or something? I’m sure these complaints were legitimate back then but how much do you think your young age came into play on both sides as far as how you acted and how you were treated?
Yeah, it definitely went both ways but I think it was just growing on both of our parts. I was young and upset about the details of the boards. I was out at the time seeing all these pros… looking at Mike Carroll and his Plan B board. I knew what a good shape was.
With the Deluxe concave at the time, the tail was steeper than the nose. Back then, their pros were Coco Santiago and these dudes that didn’t really skate all that technical to care. They could just throw a board together and go kill a mini-ramp. Coco probably didn’t even really care about it at all, he was just gnarly like that. But someone like me, who skated the way I skated, was caring because every little thing mattered doing all these technical little tricks.
This is why everyone cares so much about shapes now. Companies will listen now where as back then, it was just a little different. Now if you ask them to take an inch off, they will. At the time, I was like “Come on guys, lets get our act together! Let’s get this nose steeper than the tail! Let’s make a new shape!” But I was super immature and talking yang on it which I shouldn’t have been… and I guess they were like, “Well, forget this little dude. We don’t need this trouble. We can get another skater.” And they let me rock.
I think things could’ve been better, like they could’ve listened to me more or they could’ve sat me down and told me not to speak to people like that. Told me this is a business with grown-ups and educated me a little on how to act. But I was the stress case that would focus boards all the time.
Now that I’m older, I realize how I acted all stemmed from personal stuff going on… like my father being on drugs and whatnot. But that’s another thing about Embarcadero, we all had dysfunctional families so we all went there as a group. That’s why we were tight. We all had a story at home.
Trouble at home does seem to be the running theme with so many EMB kids.
Totally, man. I mean EMB: Every Man’s Bummin'. There was so much shit going down. It wasn’t just happy, for sure.
Well after all this, you got on Chocolate and things really started to click for you. How did you end up getting hooked up over there?
When I got the phone call from Stereo finally kicking me off, I was already talking to Rick. I was already skating with the Girl and Chocolate guys and they were giving me product. Its funny cause for months after Stereo, I’m getting packages from Chocolate but I’m not sure I’m actually riding for them. I’m hoping I am. And all those dudes used to always joke around with me… like “Oh, we’re going on tour this summer. Too bad you’re not going, York. We’ll write you though.” I wasn’t sure what was going on.
I guess Rick had told everyone that I was on but for them not to say anything to me… just to make me sweat. Just to mess with me. So I was out there at Embarcadero trying really hard on my skateboard to get over and Sheffey and Jovontae are just messing with me. “Tour is gonna be sick. We’ll tell you all about it, York.” …until they finally told me, “Yeah, you’re going on tour, dummy. Pack your bags and let’s go.” And that was it.
So you were on Chocolate the whole time they were just fucking with you?
Pretty much, yeah. They knew the whole time. I would talk to Rick and he would give me little hints… like telling me about the Chocolate POW skit months before I was even technically on. I thought he was joking! And the next thing I know, I’m filming it with Spike.
I know you had some clips in Goldfish and in the FTC joints… but Paco was actually your first full video part, several years into your career. Was there any pressure involved with filming your first part after being out there for so long or were you hyped to finally be able to get seen for once?
So hyped. I didn’t care about what people were thinking cause I was just going out and doing the tricks that I did and enjoying myself. I didn’t feel that I had to do particular moves. Yeah, I would stress out and throw my board if I didn’t land stuff but it wasn’t from the pressure of the masses seeing me be up-to-date, it was more cause I wanted to land the trick.
All of my video parts, I had fun. I tried to be realistic so if you saw me, it wouldn’t be a letdown. I’ve seen video parts then seen the dude skate in real life and been like “Wow, he’s a video skater. He don’t really do that stuff for real.”
I wanted to be honest. This is my level. Yeah, my toe dragged. Yeah, that wasn’t high. Yeah, it was kinda sketchy. Yeah, I didn’t slide that far… But there it is. When you see me skate, I’ll probably land another one like that and you’ll be able to identify with it.
A few soundtrack questions real quick… I’ve always heard this but never knew if it was true, was that Ron Allen on the track for your Mouse section?
Definitely. Yeah, it was this group F.S.C. and Ron Allen when he went by Intelligence. They basically produced the track for me. That’s who I kicked it with that whole time during the Mouse video. I skated with all the skaters but when I went home to the East Bay, they were all my homies.
Who’s idea was it for you to skate to “Straight Out of Low Cash” in Chocolate Tour? Such a good way to start that video out…
Oh, that was me! Me all day! I brought that song to Rick and he didn’t even know what it was. He thought it was Ice Cube and told me there was too much cussing in it. I had to tell him that it was comedy… that it was out of CB-4 and it was making fun of gangster rap. I had to point out that the lyrics go “I’ll fuck your sister, I’ll fuck your cat.” C’mon man, what gangster is gonna fuck your cat?
(laughs) I always thought your Mouse part was incredible. The best lines. This was around the time Pier 7 started to get big. Always wondered between Pier 7 and EMB, which spot you preferred?
Both spots were amazing but I would still say Embarcadero. When I was at the Pier, I felt like I was obligated to be doing all that cause I was pro then and I had to be skating. During the EMB days, I just wanted to be there. At EMB, if it was kind of a rainy day, I would still take the BART out there just on the hope for the chance that I could skate. I’d go and there would be people there kicking it with the same thought I had.
I think Embarcadero was just that shit. It was just so fun.
Being down at these legendary spots on the daily, you saw a lot of non-locals come in and out. Who was one outsider that stands out as someone that just showed up and killed it?
I remember when Josh Kalis came through the Pier… hat to the side, camouflage pants days. He murdered that place, man. Everyone was loving it. That dude would come through and do all that stuff fast. If you check the footage, he wasn’t all that sweaty. He’d just bang it out and be like “alright then.” Josh was always gnarly like that.
Wildest moment you can recollect involving one Mr. Sean Sheffey?
Let me think… Shef is so rad and he does have a lot of rad stories but some of them are crazy cause it really wasn’t Sean, it was Substance Sean, ya know? Sean drunk. Sean doing whatever and anybody in that condition would be crazy. Sean off of that stuff is the sweetest, raddest dude. Real caring.
Alright, so one time I remember we were in Vancouver for a contest. We were all at a party the night before and there was this girl with a cowboy hat and blue wig on… Sean just went up to her and took it off her head and put it on. Wore it the whole night. Pretty much just stole it from her and she didn’t say nothing cause Sean was lookin’ so crazy... and that was her gear.
He went to the contest the next day with all that stuff still on and I remember there were these different booths and stuff. Sean went to the Razor booth there and told them to give him a scooter for his son. So next thing we knew, it was Rick McCrank’s run and all of a sudden, Sean just rolls in on a ramp, riding a Razor with that blue wig and a cowboy hat on. And this ramp was steep too! But just seeing Sean on this scooter with his feet together, Sean looking all huge. It was the sketchiest thing in the world… but he made it! Of course he did. He’s the master of those types of situations. You give Sean a sketchy situation, he will make it look raw and then get out of it scott-free. I think he even threw a tree at Rick or something. There were these potted trees in there and I think Sean threw a tree at Rick while he was ollieing a hip. It was crazy. It all ended up good though. Sean apologized for it and they were both laughing about it.
I remember one other time where we were waiting to go see a Wu-Tang show and we’re in line. Next thing we know, this door flies open and Sean comes busting out with all these other dudes… its the Sunz of Man from Wu-Tang’s crew and Sean is trying to fight all of them! And they were scared of him, dude. I see Sean pull a windshield wiper off a parked car that was there…he actually tried three different cars until he finally got one off. And he was like “Come on!” with this windshield wiper in his hand. They were shook. All five of the Sunz of Man were shook. And that’s when we stopped listening to those dudes from that point on cause they were scared when Sean wanted to fight you guys so we don’t believe you anymore. That was a crazy one.
That’s not the one where he grabbed the mic off Method Man?
Nah, that’s a whole different time. That was at that MTV thing. I don’t even know what happened with that.
Aw man, I also remember one other time when we were in Canada, Tyra Banks was out there. I wasn’t there but I heard he was at the club dancing with Tyra and then he saw her again the next day at this other thing and he was like “She’s stalking me!”
Favorite Keenan Milton memory?
Oh gosh… I have too many of them.
Playing Mortal Kombat with him and whoever lost had to do 10 push-ups. Man, I was so sore at the end of that day. I never won. He’d be that dude, talking on the phone and beating my ass. He’d take the worst player and I’d have the best one… he’s on the phone not even caring and still killing me. Those moments were so dope.
I just remember him breaking down skateboarding to me. He changed my whole skating. All my skating is from Keenan now. I used to just skate off of feel. Like I would just go and try a noseslide… oh that’s how you do it? Cool. There wasn’t any technique to it. Not like put your foot here and lean this way. I would just slap it in there and go. Oh that didn’t work? Try it a different way.
Keenan taught me how to lean back, put your foot here, shift your weight this way… he was very technical and that tripped me out. He was so good that he was able to take that technical way and break it down to me. Like a nollie backside flip, I remember him saying, “I swear York, just stick your butt out.” I was like “what?” And he said “stick your butt out when you do it. Just try one.” Sure enough I tried it and it worked. So anyone out there trying backside nollie flips, stick your butt out when you do it and it’ll do it. I don’t know how Keenan knew that but that dude could do anything.
Now I don’t know how much you want to get into this… but what happened with Chocolate? That was a real shocker.
Oh yeah, that was a total shocker. I was just at a shit point in my life. I had this girlfriend and we weren’t really having too good of a time being together. She was cheating on me and embarrassing me. I was drinking a lot… and being a bad drunk at that. My knee was messed up and I just couldn’t get over this hump from my physical rehabilitation. My leg was strong and I could bend it and pop off of it but my lateral movement was done… and skateboarding is all lateral.
Yeah, I remember that from the Hot Chocolate video.
Right. And that video was after my surgery.
During Yeah Right, if you look at my shoes, I’m a year behind because I was on the couch waiting for everyone else to finish their parts. Thank God I was able to produce as much footage as I did to be in there. I would’ve had a Marc Johnson part if I wouldn’t have busted my knee. I was on the couch for 14 months. Chillin’ on crutches. I called it “Skate Jail”. I think a lot of that depression made me start drinking.
I lost sponsors due to that injury and my time off, which meant I lost money. My car got repo’d. Real life stuff. But there’s always rent… and my life is starting to fall apart. I had to move out. I moved away from my girl and moved in with Chris Roberts and Robbie McKinley and I’m the worst roommate in the world. I’m going through hell. I’m drinking. I don’t feel like anybody understands me. I’m a bad drunk when I’m upset. I’m a fun drunk when its all good but if I get bad, I’m bad. And that was where I was at. I wasn’t rehabbing. I wasn’t skating. I wasn’t caring. I was loud and I was disrespectful to those dudes. I was just the complete opposite of who I really am.
They were bummed and they felt that they had to just let this dude rock. They just couldn’t support where I was going. I was getting random sponsors... like anybody that would fuck with me, I would just take it. Before I’d be like, “nah, I’m cool. $200 isn’t gonna make or break me.” But at this point, I was just on everything. Like whatever, just hook me up. Save me! I was just thinking with my head in a fog.
That’s what I’m assuming where it came from. It wasn’t about my skateboard abilities. They never said that I couldn’t skate at the pro level or anything like that anymore. It was just like nobody had my back supporting me being that way. No one felt an intervention was needed or anything. They had their own problems. And I respect that. If I had a dude like that on Turf, I wouldn’t want him on either.
So you guys are on good terms now…
Oh, we’ve been on good terms. I’m still great friends with all those dudes. I’ve never spoken down on any of them. I will always thank them and be grateful. I take responsibility for what I did. And I suffered the consequences for it, ya know?
When I lost Girl and Chocolate, everyone else gave up on me too. That was a hard two years getting out of that. No one liked me anymore. My sponsors figured since I got kicked off Chocolate, they didn’t like me then either. All my sponsors that I was on were riding the Chocolate wave. Not really messing with me but messing with the idea that I could have their product in a Chocolate ad. So as soon as I didn’t have that opportunity for them anymore, they all let me go too. Crazy politics man.
Damn, I never even thought of it that way…
Yeah, the politics is crazy. But you know… if you play monopoly, sometimes you gotta go to jail. You can’t always land on Boardwalk.
So after Chocolate, what made you decide to start an entirely new company? I’m sure you must have had plenty of offers from existing teams…
Not really, man. Everyone kinda saw me as damaged goods.
What happened was, I called Stevie Williams and that’s been my friend for a long time. Since before he was even on Chocolate… I’m talking Profile days. But I called him up to see if he maybe had a spot on DGK for me and he told me “Honestly, York… I wouldn’t want to sponsor you. I’d want you to start up your own thing. I see you as a leader.”
I was blown away. He gave me Troy Morgan’s phone number over at Kayo and told me to call him. My mouth was open. I couldn’t believe it. But I didn’t think I was ready… It actually took me 3 or 4 months before I made the call. I had to build myself up.
Troy supported it… it wasn’t Kayo but he made sure that we got boards and graphics and t-shirts. Nothing financial, he just gave me the proper phone numbers or went out of his way to take care of things I needed. He made sure I was okay. The whole Kayo corp… I got nothing but love for those guys. I support them 110%.
I initially got hooked up with this guy Rob who had the name Turf and we became partners… and I’m gonna put it in a nice way, he bit off more than he could chew and he had to just step away. I don’t really want to go there but I ended up having to go to different places and trying to find some new people. These people would come in and support it, then fall out. I kept losing partners but through these experiences, I’d get more contacts until finally came across Shawn Biega. He invested in us and here we are.
And now its Turf Global.
Yeah, we changed the name to give a little bit of new identity to it. To let people know that its not that old Turf skateboards. In truth, Turf boards is already legally taken by some dirtboard company in the 90’s that made blow-up wheels so you can skate in the dirt. They still own the name.
I forgot all about that shit!
Yeah, the legal stuff. The un-fun side of skateboarding they don’t tell you about. The real stuff. (laughs)
(laughs) I’m a big fan of Some Dude. What’s the backstory behind that kid? He rips!
(sarcastic tone) He’s that guy on the team that we have. We need a rad skater. We’re very corporate so we just need that guy. He doesn’t even have a name to us. But he kills it. He’s just some dude….
(laughs) I’m being sarcastic right now but thats how certain companies treat people. I’ve been treated that way. Back when I wasn’t being selective and I had those random sponsors, they just treated me like I was just some dude. You’re just a skater. They tell you to just go skate and whatever. They don’t care. So we were kinda poking fun at that.
Also it’s a way for guys to have fun with it. Skateboarding is so serious right now. Some Dude allows us to put Larry in the Some Dude gear. Just make it whoever. That’s how we wanted to make it. Like who is this guy? Goofy, regular, black, white… Its fun.
Like we asked Justin Strubing to do a trick in it, he ended up filming this whole ender part in the stuff. He ended up doing like 20 tricks in this gear. It was amazing. Hopefully, we’ll get Some Dude on the vert ramp in the new video. We got a bunch of new stuff for the video coming out. Its gonna be dope.
A lot of us are really hoping for a Lavar McBride comeback in the new video. How’s he skating these days?
Aw man, you’re gonna hate me!
Lavar is doing his own thing now, man. He’s no longer on the Turf anymore. His focus is just in a different place now. He’s focused on different things as he’s gotten older. He still rips and he’s an amazing skater and I love his skating. I’m a fan and a friend from wayback. But what Turf has to offer and what Lavar is trying to do are just different things so we had to part ways. In a good way though.
I don’t know what he’s doing now… I hear he’s gonna have an Epicly Later’d so I’m looking forward to that. I’m not hating on him or anything. We’ve got some footage of him and I’m not gonna hold it, I’ll give it to him. He’s got some amazing stuff.
So many classic spots in Frisco over the years… EMB, Pier 7, Black Rock, Brown Marble, etc. Which one would you most like to be resurrected/liberated?
I’d love for someone to bring back the Brown Marble benches that were around the corner from Embarcadero. That place was amazing. Even before they put the planters on top of the square benches, when you could just skate the square benches… like Rick Ibaseta-New Deal days. Greg Carroll days. If that spot was here now… oh my god. Those benches were the perfect height. Never chunked-up. We would skate Embarcadero and do all the slide tricks but if we wanted to grind, we’d go over there. You couldn’t really grind on the ledges at Embarcadero… they just got too round and rough.
I’ve actually just recently gotten used to wax here in L.A. It’s a different day now, man. You don’t know how hard it was for me to adjust to these slippery ass ledges everybody got. I remember back when Greg Carroll used to get mad at you for waxing shit. Now every kid has a shitload of wax in their pocket. They stick once and they wax everything instead of just taking another push. I always have to tell kids to use nature’s wax: two more pushes. You’re going too slow.
(laughs). Alright Mike, that’s all I got. Anything you’d like to add? Any more words of wisdom from Yorkatron the Don?
Just keep an open mind. Do your thing and have fun. Know that someone else is always gonna be bummed on what you’re doing, so you can’t take too much to heart.
special thanks to mike, shawn biega, the turf global and robert pumphrey.