chrome ball sits down with the wu for conversation.
Alright Rob, so are you pretty much over getting shit about your foam roller at this point?
I wouldn't say I’ve been getting any shit lately, but it just so happens that some kid did ask to see it the other day (laughs).
The only time I really caught grief was on Lakai trips. I was probably asking for it but you gotta do what you gotta do.
Can you even use that thing in public anymore?
I feel like that behind the scenes documentary thing made it seem like I was rolling around all over the place… like at fuckin’ supermarkets and football games. But I usually kept it pretty close to the van and hidden from the real world.
Have you gotten a new one yet?
I still have that dingy thing somewhere, but I rolled the life out of it. My old roommate’s girlfriend bought me a new one for Christmas a couple years back. Funny story: she had no idea about the whole story regarding the white one, she just thought I could use a new one. A few days afterward, my roommate showed her the DVD. Laughs for days… but I think she was a little bummed out cause she may have used the old one not knowing it was HIV positive. Poor thing.
Alright so how were you introduced to skateboarding and what was your first real board you had?
I was introduced to skateboarding around 1984. A friend of mine’s dad had a relic in his garage with clay wheels and roller skate trucks and we would just carve down the street in front of his house. My first complete was a Vision Gator mini with Thunder trucks, the ones with the skulls, and some OJ’s.
Who were some of your favorite pros growing up?
My favorite pros growing up… Tommy and the Bones Brigade were sick, but once I saw Shackle Me Not, it was all about Hensley. And Ray Simmons’ tuck knee over the ladder still makes me want to get a painter’s hat.
With the exception of a few locations, Maine is a pretty isolated place. And I imagine winter is a no-go. What was skating like there growing up?
It was cool, figuratively and literally. Portland wasn't that bad for skating, a lot of brick but there were a couple of gems.
Naw, the East Coast is weird. I didn't feel too isolated. You don't ever seem like you're too far from shit up there. I’d be in Boston skating most weekends. The East is rad like that. Just get on a bus and you're in a new city before you know it.
There weren't too many skaters in Maine but the ones we had were something else. Take Dan, for instance. And this guy Jamey also ripped real hard. The thing about growing up in a place like Maine is that you kind of want to see what else is out there so most take off.
So you knew Drehobl before he moved out to SF and gained Spiderman fame?
Yeah, he lived about 20 minutes outside Portland. He'd come pick me up and we’d go to the park then bring me home hours after my curfew. Dan’s always been an amazing skateboarder. There’s a polaroid of Dan ollieing off a semi somewhere. We’ll have to dig that up. It would be a great Krooked ad.
What's the deal with skate pros from Maine and smoking? Between you and Drehobl, I think you guys have cornered the market on that shit.
That's a tough one but I'll take a shot at it. I think the deal is… Alright, you know those old-timers that do everything with a smoke? They fish, weld, work on cars… when they’re playing catch with their kids, they’ll have a beer in one hand and a smoke dangling. Regular John Wayne-types. Well, they all come from Maine (laughs).
Tell me about your moving out to SF from Maine. Was this move for the sole purpose of “making it” in the skateboarding?
The “making it” part was a dream, but just getting there was equally good. Seemed like everyone had that dream of turning pro… shit, I just wanted to skate and be around others that skated and SF was the place to be. I was in a place where it didn't snow and everything was paved: heaven as far as I was concerned. I thought if sponsorship was going to happen, it would happen.
I didn't want to be the thirsty guy… “Hey! Check me out!”
What were your first impressions when you got out to SF?
My first impressions were little things... like “what the fuck is cilantro?”
I didn't really pay too much attention. I had skate blinders on (laughs). I knew I was in the right place though and I was just hyped to be away from home and skating. Typical 18-year-old shit.
Where would you typically skate?
Union Square, Black Rock, Brown Marble, and Embarko. Start at Union and end up at EMB nightly, but the city had and has so much to offer. I love skating the avenues. Skate everywhere.
How was it skating these famous spots that you used to only see in magazines back in Maine?
It was rad. I got to skate ‘em all while also getting to see great skateboarding firsthand. There’s so much history around every corner. It’s nuts. For instance, next time you get a chance to go to EMB, walk around and you'll see kind of where the C-Block was just by all the axle dents in the bricks.
Now I’m not sure many people realize this but you didn’t really get things in motion career-wise until a little late in the game… your early twenties, right?
I turned pro for Mad Circle in ‘98, but didn't really make any money till Aesthetics.
How were those initial years in SF as a struggling am?
It was cool, I was living life. I was on my own, working and skating.
How would you support yourself?
I worked at a grocery store in the produce department till my boss had to let me go. He gave me the choice of either going on tour with Mad Circle and losing my job or staying and keeping it. Kind of a no-brainer.
After I came back from that tour, I worked at a liquor store. Got paid under the table and at the end of my shift, I got a free 40oz.
Not bad. What would you say that was your worst job?
Shit, I couldn't say I've ever had a bad job. I liked ‘em all. I never minded working. It seems like work sucks if you have nothing to look forward to, but working at the liquor store, I always knew I had a 40 waiting for me at the end of the day (laughs)
Now was Mad Circle your first sponsor or were there some hook-ups before them?
Mad Circle was the one that put me on the map. Before that, Donny Barley got me on with the guys at Gullwing. I know: weird. Living in SF and riding Gullwings, goddamn. But in my virgin mind, Hensley rode Street Shadows… so what's the big deal? I didn't know.
How did you get on the Circle? That was a pretty elite squad back in the day.
Bobby Puleo. I was skating Union Square one night and he came up and asked me if I wanted to ride for the team. I remember the day like it was yesterday. There was no sponsor-me tape or any of that, I guess he just liked what he saw. Since then, I've hung on to one of Bob’s boards that came in my first box.
That’s really cool. So your 5flavors part was one of the stand-out sections of that video and really got people talking. Were you still working a day-job while filming? Do you feel your initial struggle upon reaching SF gave you a little extra fire and motivation when filming?
I don't think I felt that much pressure filming for 5flavors, I just remember that if I got a trick, I would bring it to Justin. Before I knew it, the video was done… probably 5 or 6 months after I got on.
I think your first video part has the least pressure of all. You kinda just do what you've been doing. First parts usually just come together like that. There’s no “I do too many of this or that trick.” You just film everything.
One of the heaviest tricks to ever go down at this legendary spot was your switch tre flip over the Brooklyn Banks wall. How’d that one end up going down? Were you there on tour there or something?
I was staying at Scott’s apartment in New York for about a month and we'd either start the day at the Banks or end up there. That’s just how it was back then. It was like a skate hub and we were always there. I remember toying around with it for a little while and Reda came up to me and asked me if I wanted to shoot it. I think I might have known days prior that I wanted to try it just from being there so much, but it wasn't one of those things where I made a special trip to do it. It kinda just happened. I was happy… and I think that was probably the only trick I got that trip. I think Huf filmed it. Shit was so bro-cam back then. The good ol’ days: hi-8 video, film sequences, and zero pressure.
Did you know Mad Circle was gonna cut it so short after the video came out?
I didn't have any idea. I remember there being talks about breaking away from Giant, but no talk of the band breaking up for good.
How’d Aesthetics enter into the mix?
Aesthetics was me getting hooked up with Sal through Scott to ride for Elwood. I had a ton of respect for Sal and wanted to skate under his wing. He was someone I thought was doing things the right way, for himself and not for the masses. He doesn't think about what the kids are going to want, he makes shit that he would use or wear himself. Soon after Elwood, Sal and I that went on a trip to Arizona where we just hit it off. After that, it was me sleeping on Sal’s floor and skating LA with everyone. Great skate rat times.
Now your Ryde or Die part was a real banger. Actually that whole video is just amazing. How’d that one come about? It still seems so fresh 10 years later.
Yeah, I liked the way that video turned out. I feel like everyone on the team got to put their two cents in. Aesthetics really felt like the team was in charge and I think it kinda showed: go on a trip and come back with a hangover and no photos (laughs). Naw, it was fun. We just did our thing.
I’m not really sure how long we filmed for. I remember Clyde had been getting footage and wanted to get a part out. I remember stressing out a little, but I was skating a shitload at this time and just thought it would work out. I was getting paid to skate so I didn't have to work. I remember wanting to go Boston to film a trick, probably first time I asked to go somewhere to do something… though I think I also probably needed a flight back East to hang out with Joey and see the folks, too (laughs).
So when did you first start going down to the Pier? It’s so closely attributed to you but was that even your favorite spot to skate in SF? Or just the most convenient?
I started going to the Pier when I was living with Brad Johnson. I would go down there sometimes but not to the extent I did later when Jason Wussler and Henry Sanchez moved in with us. It was a daily thing. Real simple. We'd wake up and someone would yell “SKATE!” and then either pile into Brad’s CRX, skate to Market and Church and take the train to Embarcadero or just skate the whole way down. I was probably in the best shape of my life… other than the fact that we drank heavily every night. I think that’s why we skated the whole way sometimes: to sweat it all out.
The Pier wasn't my favorite spot though. I way preferred Union Square but you couldn't skate there ‘til night and by about 9pm, we were usually just about finishing twelvers. The Pier just ended up being real convenient. 3rd and Army always seemed so dead where the Pier had life. There were girls to look at, Reds Burgers was down the way and it was all real close to the ballpark.
Who is one person that stands out in your mind as somebody that really killed the Pier back in the day?
It was always something else to watch Lavar skate but I really can’t say because everyone left a little mark. Seemed like everyone stood out.
What was a common out-of-towner mistake at the Pier? And who was an out-of-towner that you thought really put it down?
I feel like the Pier was known as a manual spot to a lot of out-of-towners so you really never saw them skate too many of the ledges. But I would have to say the out-of-town title would have to go to JB Gillet. Boy oh boy! A master of his trade. And he would hit everything.
One thing that I was never clear on is the whole Zoo acquisition of Aesthetics... how'd that go down? And how was it riding for Zoo? It definitely seemed a bit awkward for everyone. Were you essentially just waiting out the contract in order to go somewhere else?
That whole Zoo thing was weird right from the get-go. I think how all that went down was Sal and Palmar owned Aesthetics together and they couldn't see eye to eye. Palmar didn't want to give up the brand unless he was bought out for some large amount of money… I'm not sure how it all went down, you would have to ask him, but he basically took the team over to the rhino and we all got 2-year contracts. Sal took off about halfway through cause I think the higher-ups got to him. This meant the tight-knit team didn't have the glue, Sal, to stick together anymore. Its a real shame but I really liked getting to hang with Zared, Pang, Reda, Donny, Kenny… all the guys. And Harold, God rest his soul.
One of my favorite stories is about the reverse sweep the Red Sox pulled on the Yankees. It just so happened that we were on a Zoo tour at the time. I should have known right from the start I couldn't do a New York company being the New England kid (laughs). But yeah, the Yankees were ahead in the series and it was just non-stop torment from those guys. Fucking non-stop. I remember it started to get real tense in the bus from game 4 on as Boston started coming back. But the Sox pulled off the unthinkable! I remember just goin’ nuts and I fuckin’ shit you not, Reda and Harold pull the classic "I don't even like baseball". I couldn’t believe those guys. It was amazing. All the shit I was receiving for them to pull that out. Fuckin’ guys (laughs) ...some good times for sure.
So what led you to Santa Cruz? I didn’t see that coming at all. Didn’t seem like you rode for them very long before hopping over to Expedition.
The whole Santa Cruz thing came about when the Zoo contract was up. I had been talking to Jake, the team manager over there and it was right around the time they were hitting their 30-year anniversary. They were bringing the older gods back into the picture and it sounded like something I wanted to be part of. Hell, I’m going to be skating with Jason Jessee! Piff, how could one resist! Sounded awesome.
Only thing was while there was talk of bring Joey along, that never came about. So one thing led to another and thanks to social networks and whatnot, our home was over at Expedition. Jake understood the move was a way better thing for me and I got to be back with Joey on a team that was skater-run. I was hyped. I'm super happy with how it all turned out. Expedition is an amazing brand and its got all the great qualities that Mad Circle and Aesthetics had. Couldn't be happier.
Good to hear. But were you ever able get to skate with Jason Jessee or any of those dudes before you left?
The whole Santa Cruz thing flew by so quickly that I never got a chance to go on tour with those dudes or any of that. I did get to do a photo shoot with Jason though. Dude brought a pistol grip shotgun (laughs).
Well, now that it’s all been said and done with Fully Flared, are you happy with the outcome? Was it worth the epic struggle to get that thing made?
Yeah, I was siked on the video. Everyone really did a hell of a job. Only thing is that I wish I had my own song and my own segment. But I was in a part with two great individuals, Jeff and Scott, so I can’t really be that bummed. Just to be part of such an amazing brand as Lakai… c'mon, is there really another shoe brand out there that competes? Seriously.
Who has your favorite part in the video?
I don't really have a one favorite part but I do have favorite tricks people did, like Marc's nollie mctwist. Guy did that lipslide around the corner and came out 270, I got to see that in-person. Absolutely amazing.
Having a bad day skating obviously sucks… but how bad is it having a shit day on one of those Lakai trips when you’re skating around so many legendary dudes?
Not bad at all. I got to see amazing skating and hang around a great group of guys. A bad day on one of those trips is if you have to take a shit behind a dumpster and use your sock for toilet paper (laughs).
Who came up with the nickname Wu-Welsh?
That all started when I was living with Satva Leung. I can thank him for that one. That came from him busting my balls about a pair of Wu-Tang jeans I wore on a daily basis. I remember we'd go skate and he started to pick up on the fact I wore these things all the time. He'd be like "ah, wu-tang pants", than later just “wu-tang”. Soon after that, other people would hear him sayin’ it and it started to stick.
He rode for this company called Vanilla, and he was an Asian DJ so my feeble attempt at a comeback was "Vanilla Rice". That one never took off. I think people thought it was a little racey (laughs). It wasn’t that, it was just a little fuckin’ ball bustin’.
(laughs) And when was the last time you broke out the gold fronts?
I haven't popped those things in for a while. I think I tried ‘em on not to long ago and my teeth have shifted or something. They just didn't fit right. I’m going to have to get some new ones. I think when I do, I’ll tame them down just a tad though. Maybe just bottoms this time.
What’s the most integral part of a tour van station?
Van life's a free for all. I usually try to get a seat near a window that really opens so I can smoke. Something like shotgun, (laughs). As far as other shit, I’d say some snacks and something to piss in. Nothing worse than being that guy that needs to pull over every 20 minutes.
On the flipside, What would you say is a common rookie tour van faux-pas?
That’s a tough one. I'm going to have to go with porn. Seems like that one gets broken a lot, even by vets. Porn makes the van shrink… bunch of dudes in a box with the walls closing in. Its like c'mon dudes… its not like you can rub one out. But I have also fallen victim to an occasional mag here and there. I swear halfway through the damn thing, you want to kill something. (laughs)
So what’s up next, Welsh? I know you had a couple of tricks in that latest Kenny Hoyle joint. anything in the works?
Yeah for sure, we just started filming for a video.
Are we gonna be able to see a full part this time?
I'm planning on it.
Awesome. Alright, that’s all I have. Anything you’d like to add? Any parting words of wisdom you wish to bestow on future generations?
"Free advice is worth what you pay for it." -Doug Welsh, my father.
special thanks to rob, matt daughters, robert brink, kayo and lakai.