Does it actually matter?
(laughs) I know it all starts out as fun but there must’ve been a point where you realized what you were doing out in the streets had merit?
I was always just skating. It just so happens that I was street skating because there wasn’t much of a choice in San Francisco. We didn’t have ramps, we didn’t have pools… we had very little of anything, to be honest. It was basically out of necessity to skate street. It only became serious when I became pro. Then it became my job.
Was it difficult being publicly-identified as a street skater so early on? There really wasn’t much of a scene… Would you ever get shit from fellow skaters, telling you to stop wasting your time?
No, not really. When I first got on Powell, I think people on the team were a bit perturbed that there was going to be a pro “street skater”. They didn’t really understand it and might’ve felt a little threatened, I guess. But as far as my friends that I skated with all of the time, there was none of that. They all knew how it was… we skated everything.
It just so happened that this new way of marketing called “streetstyle” came into play. It became important to expand skateboarding to all of the other kids that didn’t have access to ramps and bowls. Letting them know that skating is acceptable to anyone that wants to walk outside and step on a board. It’s that same thing that grew Thrasher Magazine from the very beginning. More-DIY.
A top company from back in the day that has seemingly been buried in time: what was it like riding for Madrid? I know BK was on the team back then… did he have any role in hooking you up?
I was actually on before Bryce. I got hooked up with Madrid through Chuck Treece and Tom Groholski.
To be honest, I never really felt like I was on Madrid. It was always strange how I was treated… like they’d want me to send my boards back when I was done skating them. They tried to make it out like they were doing some kind of research with the boards but I think it was more about knowing that I wasn’t just selling them. But I’d only get 2 boards for I don’t know how many… forever months. It was always kind of odd. I never really felt like I was fully-on. Madrid was definitely more of a stepping stone but it was cool to say that I was on the team with Chuck and Tom.
Did you actually send boards back?
I don’t think I had the money to.
So how did you get on Powell? You mentioned there was some static about you joining initially… was there just no value put on what you were doing? Was it mostly seen as a novelty from the other dudes?
Yeah, that’s what I think. You have to remember that street skating wasn’t fully realized at this point. Nobody knew what it was about or where it was going.
Back then, you had all these vert skaters who were approaching street skating like it was vert. Even when you watch something like Savannah Slamma 3, which actually came much later, you still had Lester doing frontside slob 540s on a quarterpipe. Hell, Tony was doing McTwists! It was crazy.
We were still just trying to figure everything out. It was all still just developing. I had already adapted the ollie into everyday streetskating with Mark and Natas… ollieing up curbs, ollie grabs, all that. But you had all those other guys doing early grabs and fingerflips. Trying to do inverts on whatever they could.
Was there a particular person on Powell who served as an early supporter of you that helped all of the critics?
It was really just Stacy.
And I don’t think that I’d call them critics. I think they had this elite thing going and here I come along with this new thing that they didn’t quite understand. It was really just Stacy seeing how street skating was starting to come to the forefront. Stacy validated my whole deal.
That’s interesting because you didn’t always seem to fall in line with the squeaky clean Powell image. On top of being the “Street Urchin”, you were also the city kid in Free Beer…how did you deal with stuff like the Powell Manual and Stacy’s more forcible coaching techniques?
Yeah, everybody thought that the Bones Brigade waere all buddies and always hanging out together. It was completely the opposite. Everyone lived in completely different places. McGill lived in Florida, Lance and Tony lived down South… granted, Stevie lived in San Jose but that’s still very different than San Francisco.
Just by growing up in the old punk scene and being so submerged in the urban existence, I had a different approach to life in general than the rest of those guys. A lot of those other guys were pretty shelterd. Pretty square.
But having Stacy helping out with runs and stuff? That was great. Ultimately, I was just trying to please him. If he’s happy, cool. I have a job. That’s really what it came down to for me. I was totally open to his ideas and opinions.
Street contests was so much more improvisational than vert. Vert seemed like it had prerequisite tricks to do. Everybody had to do a lot of the same tricks and be judged on how well they all did those tricks. That’s how vert skating was so much more planned out. I used to skate vert all of the time... I even won a local contest once. But you had these runs where you did this, this and this… in street contests, you can cruise around and figure out what you’re going to do as you’re doing it. Finding a line that flows, that was always the hardest thing in contests.
How’d you go about filming for Future Primitive? There really wasn’t a “street part” template to look at back then and I’m sure the camera was a monster. What was that… a couple hours of filming?
Yeah, it was like half a day. It was basically me taking a crew out to film what I grew up doing. These are the hills that I grew up skating and I’m going to do what I do and you’re going to film it. That’s how it came to be.
Back then, it wasn’t necessarily about getting tricks. It was more about that particular moment in time and what you were doing at that specific location. Here’s this drop-off, I do this off of that drop-off. It wasn’t like we were going to sit there and try a bunch of times. I might try something a few times and move on. That was how it was.
It is, without question, a monumental part but other than the intro and the Sacto contest, you were barely in Future Primitive. Were you a bit surprised to be one of the main dudes cast in Animal Chin? It was a huge move for you but you had to be a bit worried about the reaction, right?
Nah, it never even occurred to me. It really didn’t. We were just doing what we were doing. Stacy wanted to do this project and we all thought it was totally corny but it was part of our job. That’s how it was. We got to travel and have all of these experiences but doing these types of projects was part of it, too.
How much of that dialogue was improvised by you guys in Chin? Looking back on it now, was Orb just going straight off the cuff in that scene? So incredible. I mean, “Nancy Chin the manicurist” is amazing.
Most of it was improvised… but yeah, Orb was all off the head. Totally. There’s actually more outtakes that are just fucking hilarious. I was watching some of them lately and cracking up. He really is the best. He’s just this super sharp, sarcastic motherfucker so that type of shit rolls off his tongue. I still remember us all trying not to laugh. Just hilarious.
What’s the one line from Chin that really drives you nuts?
You sat out of the “nightmare air/comb your hair” scene so you obviously had a breaking point. What was your opinion on all the interludes and overproduction that would become so prevalent in the videos afterwards… like the Greater Gutter Open and that Scooter Race? Did it ever just become too much for you?
Yeah, that was the one scene that was it for me. I was asked to do so much corny stuff with all these corny lines… I couldn’t do it anymore. Stacy was pissed but I was not going to do that one. That’s why I’m just laying on the bed.
Honestly, I wish I would’ve done it now. I guess I was too cool for school on that one. But I had already done all of the other stuff that he had asked me.
It was hard because we were not actors and we never set out to be actors. Here we are being asked to do all of these things on camera, totally being put on the spot. You have to say something a certain a way… or ‘emote’! You’re punching it wrong!
Whaaaat? It was difficult.
But with the later videos, I was never really part of that stuff. Geography had a lot to do with it as well but I was never asked to be flown down to be part of the skits and stuff afterwards. It seemed like they’d always end up picking either Lance or some amateurs... mostly because they were kind of, in a way, forced to do it.
I was in San Francisco. They had to come up to me and I‘d usually film my parts in a day… which usually led to a rushed sort of situation. You found yourself not really having much of a say in how things were filmed.
“That was fine!”
“Actually it was kinda sketchy. I’d like to do it over again.”
“Oh, its fine.”
I was about to ask about your overall view towards filming, especially back then. Always being so focused on the hills, did you often find yourself frustrated with your parts since that type of footage can be quite difficult to capture and translate?
Oh yeah, for sure.
My footage for that last part in Ban This, the guy filming me was actually on rollerskates. Rollerskates! …which is fine, I guess. Nobody else could handle going on that fast on the hills while filming. Very few people. What they should’ve done is gotten another skater to do it but there just wasn’t enough time. So yeah, it was a little frustrating.
Something that came up in Guy’s Epicly Later’ds was Stacy possibly throttling younger riders parts as to not outshine the more established pros? Did you ever get a sense of that going down?
You mean like editing amateur’s parts to where they’re not as strong as the pro’s parts? Oh, I totally believe it. Amateurs coming up are always better than the pros. It’s just the truth. But that’s a business decision on Stacy’s part. If I’m selling these guys boards, I can’t make my amateurs look better than my pros! That wouldn’t make any sense. I have to sell these boards and amateurs don’t have products, that’s why they’re amateurs!
So yeah, I definitely see it. I’m probably one of them. Shit… I can’t do what Guy and those dudes do. Even back then. (laughs)
What about your take on Stacy’s fancier “Powell Magic” editing choices?
I actually like some of the fancy stuff Stacy used to interject in there… at the same time, I think it’s also good to go back and show the trick as the trick. But Stacy was looking at it in a different light. He saw it more as filmmaking and that’s how he approached it.
It’s completely different now but everything is contextual. People totally rip shit apart nowadays. Analyzing every little detail.
So where did the classic TG dagger came from? Such an iconic graphic, how did this concept originate from?
It actually originated from a photo that MoFo had taken of an old hot-rod. He was helping me with the first graphic and it was originally supposed to be a street rod. The photo was of the center of the grill, which came up and had a V8 on the top. Because it was a fish-eye photo, with the way the center of the grill came up, the top part resembled would become the knife handle. It just went from there. The centerpiece that shot down the middle of the grill became the blade and the V8 became the top of the handle. Ancell was really the one to create the sword out of it and from there, it went to Cort.
Just to make it more Powell-y?
Yeah, and I totally understand. They had a very iconic style and it all needed to be cohesive. It makes total sense.
Always wondered about your involvement with the Sick Boyz project. Did you get any flack from Stacy and George for being in that?
Nah, I never really got any flack from Powell about that one because it really wasn’t even on the radar. It was such a tiny thing compared to the massive Powell empire that it didn’t even matter to them. Maybe they understood that it helped perpetuate me to some degree… Powell only did one video a year so I’m sure Sick Boyz helped in that respect. But Sick Boyz was just about going out with your friends and skating. It just happened to be documented.
That had to be more fun than the Powell stuff, right? With no rollerskates this time.
Oh yeah, totally. And it was done over a period of time, too. Not just all in a day. Going skating with your friends, going on different trips and so forth. It’s basically the same thing that happens now.
You go out and make these goofy little videos and it just becomes a moment in time. It’s documented. It’s as simple as that.
When did you first start to consider leaving Powell? Was Deluxe just too good of an opportunity to pass up? Was there ever talk about amongst the crew back then of starting your own companies… you were really the first to leave the fold.
Yeah, I left right before Rodney. Jim and I had always talked about wanting to do something together. Powell had all of these young guys coming up and they were starting to put me on the backburner. I knew that.
I knew it was time to leave after one of those San Francisco contests where the TM came up to me and said that he had heard that I wasn’t skating anymore. Supposedly I was getting into all this gnarly shit like smoking crack and stuff.
I ended up getting second place. Yup, not skating.
I talked to Jim about leaving shortly after that. Fausto and Eric Swenson were taking about it and I knew those guys all of my skating life. I was tight with those guys and Jeff Klindt, too. Jim and I were tight as well so it just made sense. Fausto had known Stacy for a long time and he knew what was going on. He knew my lifespan on Powell was running out. Very limited.
I always wanted to stick around skating and be a skater. I had this opportunity to be part of something… it just made sense.
Stacy understood but he was definitely bummed. Though I actually don’t know if he really thought about it enough at the time and what all was going on.
Yeah, the whole thing was about to tank. Had anybody else talked about it at that point?
I honestly don’t remember anything that was said to that extent where it really seemed serious. There was always shit-talking but I don’t ever remember anybody talking about quitting. Nobody from the main crew. It was serious bread and butter. I went from making 80 grand a year to $26,000. It was really hard. I had to get another roommate because I had bills to pay but it was something I wanted to do. My longevity was shrinking with Powell and I didn’t know much longer I had left. Maybe another year? Who knows? Jump ship.
I know Powell released that ad shortly thereafter dissing small companies… did you take that personally at the time?
I don’t know if I took it personally but I did know that they were wrong.
It’s funny because Thiebaud was just having a conversation with George Powell the other day and George’s mentality is still wanting that Big 5 again. He wants it to go back to those big companies. It was easier, it was better and it made more sense. Now you have everyone wanting a piece of the pie… well, yeah! We want part of your pie. We want a little slice for ourselves. What did you do? You wanted that whole fucking pie and didn’t want to share with the skaters that got you there. You don’t want to share? Guess what? The skaters are going to split and get some of that fucking pie. It’s that simple. Stacy did it. He left Gordan and Smith to start Powell-Peralta! Same thing.
Describe those early days of Real. Were you involved in the back-end at the start or were you guys just on as skaters? I know you mentioned the harsh change financially…did you ever regret leaving?
The way it started was we began working half-days at DLX. I would come in and start laying out my graphics on the copy machine, doing whatever was necessary for a half-day then go skating.
Stacy says that thing in the documentary about how he wanted to set-up these small companies for each of the riders, orbiting companies on Powell but still having part of it with each of us still able to do our own thing. I never knew that. If I would’ve had that opportunity, I would’ve never left. I never heard anything like that, not even remotely.
But I don’t ever remember regretting it. We got to do whatever we wanted to do. Fausto and Eric left us alone and we were able to do a lot of things that shook up the industry at a time when it was really needed. You had Rocco doing it and us doing it in our own way. People were still doing demos like dog-and-pony shows where everyone had to just sit there and watch… we started including everyone in our demos, all skating together. We wanted everyone to have some fun, have some conversations and just hangout. Things like when we sold 6 wheels for the price of four so 2 buddies could buy 2 sets and help out a friend with another set. People in the industry were pissed about that! You weren’t supposed do that!
We had all kinds of idealistic plans over the years… many of which fell to the wayside due to pragmatic reasons. Like doing boards out of recycled paper. A lot of things we wanted to do even though some of them never came to fruition. But at least we got to try and make those decisions for ourselves.
As a street pioneer, how you did view the rise of that new school street wave of the early-90s? Super slow, super tech. Did you ever go out and try to learn that stuff or did it just not translate for you as fun?
The last shit I learned was impossibles. I never got around to 360 flips. But all the kickflip stuff, Jim and I used to go to Golden Gate Park on Sundays back in the Powell days when they closed the park and do flatground tricks. I think we had 10+ variations of kickflips, do them all in a line. Go on tour with Rodney and he’d show us stuff and it would go that much farther. It was on and on. So we were doing shitloads of different flip tricks… the difference was that I wasn’t doing them just standing there. We were pushing, trying to do them as fast as we could and in lines.
That was just the evolution of skateboarding. We felt like we were in line with it for the most part but the evolution was really just freestyle being adapted to bigger stuff. Our thing was that you couldn’t go too small on the wheels or you’d be switching out your wheels every other day. Skating the City, you just couldn’t do the smaller wheels. They wore out so fast. It’s just a different approach to skating.
I think that people are way more accepting and receptive to different types of skating now than they were at that time. If you didn’t have the look and tech ability of that time, you were essentially a t-dog. So much more is accepted now.
Coming from SF, what was your relationship like with the EMB crew? I know you used to skate there a lot back in day… when did it become clear that this new wave of kids was really changing shit down there? Often a harsh environment, how did they treat you and Jim? Sponsoring Kelch must’ve helped…
The thing with me is that I also knew the majority of those kids growing up as little guys. Jovontae Turner used to come in to the skateshop that Phelps and I used to work at. Mike Carroll did, too. I got nothing but respect from those guys. They all regarded me as the local hero. I remember going down to Embarcadero with Jim and just watching it all happen right in front of us. Holy crap.
When did you feel that it was time for you to step aside and retire your board? Was there a specific occurrence or did it have more to do with the pressures of running things at Real? Your Real Video part was still top-shelf!
It really came from Jim wanting to do it. I didn’t want to do it and I don’t think that I was ready for it. I was still skating a lot and it was still so much of my identity as well. Jim is the incredible thinking-working machine and he’s built for that. I’m not. I’m built for being out and doing things. So retiring was really hard for me.
Back then, we had limited resources… financially and otherwise. So at the time, it seemed to make sense to have only x-amount of boards that you can sell. Where we were totally short-sighted was that my board was still the highest-selling board on Real. Fausto thought my retiring was a dumb move. He didn’t agree with it at all. But I felt the pressure and wanted to do it together with Jim.
I think I still had a couple of years left in me though. I regretted doing it.
I think I still had a couple of years left in me though. I regretted doing it.
On top of all your musical output, I know you seemed to get really involved in the production and editing many mid-90s Deluxe video projects. Was this something you really enjoyed doing or was this basically out of necessity? I noticed you haven’t really done much with that stuff as of late, which I find disappointing.
Yeah, I enjoyed doing all that stuff. It was really something that I could sink my teeth into. It was something that really made sense to me because it was on more of a creative level. It involved a creative approach instead of just fucking business, which I’m not good at anyway.
I loved going out to film and then coming back to edit the videos. Coming up with visual concepts. But again, there came a point in time when things started shifting and you had to start hiring videographers. When the look to everything all became this different thing and you started falling in line to conform with the Jonses, I never agreed with any of that stuff.
That’s what was so rad about Stereo when it first started up. That first video was way more creative and interesting than the rest and that’s why it will stand the test of time. Other videos were based on tricks… which is cool but then its not. There is room for all of it and that’s what so many people had forgotten at a certain point in time. A lot of the creativity was sucked out of it. It should all be one in the same.
Like the Forties Amigos video. I always loved the look and feel of this one. What all went into the making of that one? Obviously it was never going to be the box office sensation… what were you going for with that project? Like A Visual Sound, was it a reaction to that overtech shit by just throwing out an old-fashioned brodown?
Totally. I tried showing the way that I enjoyed and perceived skating with that video. It was much more about the love of skateboarding and why I ride a skateboard. It’s those moments where you’re hanging out with your friends skating and everything is right with the world. But all you’re doing is cruising down the street. It doesn’t matter. You’re with your buddies and everything is fucking great.
That was something that I wanted to show in this video and also how I wanted Forties to be perceived… as something that is much more about the reason for skating than actual tricks. But it was such a different approach at the time.
It probably took a couple of months to film Amigos. Just from having to get people together and stuff, but there was no rush to do it. There were no deadlines or any other reason to do it other than just to do it. Whenever people were around like that… “Hey, let’s go film!”
It was pretty relaxed.
I wish someone would put something out like that now. Wasn’t there going to be a second incarnation of Forties? Stedy?
Yeah, there was. I actually had samples made and everything was moving forward but the money wasn’t budgeted for it. We wanted to get some more riders, more contemporary riders and push it. But there was just no budget.
At the time, there was 10 times the amount of money being put into Spitfire cut-and-sew and that stuff wasn’t even being marketed. Nobody even knew it existed and here I am trying to do this small clothing label called “Stedy”.
Something that you definitely have to keep in mind as well is that making clothing sucks. There’s really nothing gratifying about it. 70% of the time, something goes wrong and with a limited budget, it’s hard to compete in the retail world.
I get people wanting to do Forties collaborations all of the time now but I’m not quite sure it can be done the way I want it done. It's either make it San Francisco for quality or make it in Japan and then it becomes $200 for a pair of pants. But the stuff is so simplistic that it doesn’t make sense.
If it’s ever the right time and for the right reason… if it all falls into place, I’d do it. But it’s an awful lot of work for very little return.
What’s the most challenging aspect of doing art direction for Krooked? How hands-on with everything is Mark?
Mark is completely 100% hands-off. I just get the art from him and take it from there. But it’s hard, man. Sometimes it’s like trying to get a photo of a unicorn or trying to turn coal into a diamond. It’s not easy, man.
I’m always trying to get Mark, wherever he is, to send in art… especially art that is cohesive, which can be extremely difficult. But what art that I get, I try to make sense out of. It’s great that I’m not a total computer monkey with it. I get to do all the layouts for ads and every now and then, a guest board, but I’m completely off a computer which is great. Computers fuck up my hand with carpel tunnel bullshit. Fuck that. I know my reason for existing is not to color Mark’s art. That’s the truth.
But Mark is hands-off. That’s the way he wants it. He just sends us the stuff and asks us to do whatever we think is right. And that’s great. That’s a great way to do it in that you trust the people doing it and they can just get it done. If he were to actually be there with us and direct the company, it would not work because that is not his strength. His strength lies in his art and his myth. It’s in his talent and his history and that’s where it should be.
From street plants to pressure flips and all the fluctuating pant sizes within… what do you think has been the worst trend in street skating over the years?
That’s a hard call but I gotta say that trend with the puffy tongues. What the fuck was that? Stuffing socks under the tongue of your shoes? What!?!
I don’t have any idea what that was even for? Was it for function? I don’t know how that even spread like that! But at the same time, I have to say that I do think it’s rad when someone can just see some gear and totally be like, “Well, I’m going to do that, too.” (laughs)
I remember Jovontae Turner telling me that he had seen Julien Stranger at the skateshop when he was just a kid. Julien was redrilling his truck holes so he’d have more nose and Jovontae didn’t even know why he was doing it but he did the same thing. Julien’s doing it, I better do it, too. I don’t even know why.
Classic. All-time favorite SF skatespot?
It's gotta be the 9th Avenue Run. It’s just a series of hills that was in Future Primitive. But as far as an actual spot, I’d say Fort Miley. It’s always the spot that comes to mind. Or China (Banks)… But it’s definitely just the hills.
Last question, and this is something I’ve always wondered: What is behind your fascination with “Chicken”?
I have Tourette’s. That’s all. But just a touch… I just have a touch of Tourette’s, man. Don’t hold me accountable.
Perfect. Alright, Tommy, that’s all I have. Anything you’d like to add before we bring this thing to a close?
I always say this but it’s true: I’m just super grateful for all of the support that I’ve received and continue to receive from skaters over the years. It’s extremely humbling that people even give a shit about me or the bullshit that I’ve done. Without that support, I’d be pushing a shopping cart and appearing on a fucking Frank Gerwer Instagram post. So I’m grateful.
special thanks to Jim Thiebaud, Damon Thorley, Deluxe and TG for taking the time.
special thanks to Jim Thiebaud, Damon Thorley, Deluxe and TG for taking the time.