chops and beach sit down in the cove for conversation.
First off, I gotta ask… there was a time for a solid decade where you seemed to be everyone’s go-to answer for the question of “skateboarding’s most underrated pro”. Why do you think that was and how did that make you feel? Did you personally feel this way?
Oh man, that’s a big question. I really don’t know.
Off the top of my head, I think it just came from not being seen so much by people. I never had that many pictures in the magazines and I’ve only had a handful of video parts over the years. But then people would see me around at a demo or something… maybe that’s where it came from.
I never really thought about it much… maybe people just didn’t like me. (laughs)
It does bring up the point that you’ve never really taken the typical “professional skater” route in your career, flying under the radar up here in Portland for the most part. Why was that?
Well, that’s where my immediate family lives. That’s where the girlfriend I had at the time wanted to live, too. All of that played into it a lot.
But to be honest, it just seemed like the whole process of how I went about my skating was different down in California than how it is living here in Oregon. It seemed like you always had to go to outdoor parks down there where as here in Portland, I could just go skate downtown. I am more comfortable up here for whatever reason. I can relax a bit more and skate.
What are your thoughts on playing the politics of skateboarding and how do you look upon pro skateboarding as a career? I imagine that's changed over the years, right?
It’s definitely changed as I’ve gotten older on many levels. I think that’s pretty typical though. One thing that’s come up over the years is having people say things to me like, “Wow, you’re still trying to do that?”
My immediate family is always wondering when I’m going to grow up and get a real job. But back in the day, it was just skating. Getting what footage we could get on the weekend with a friend of mine’s video camera, mostly just for fun. Strictly homie cam.
It wasn’t until later on, probably when I got on Birdhouse that these videos became more of a thing. That I needed to get them some footage… but even then, it was still friends. Like this one time when Sean Mortimer came up to film me a couple of days for Birdhouse… that was pretty cool! I got to miss school! Videos were becoming a thing but there still wasn’t a whole lot of pressure with it. Even when Tony would come up to stay and film, we’d just make it happen.
It wasn’t until I got older and more things came into play that it started to get really serious. When people really started to invest money in me, that’s when the real pressure came.
When I turned pro in ’93, it was just different then. It was more about having to be really awesome in order to get your board into shops. It was still underground and there weren’t any shops in malls yet so you had to always be out ripping. It was basically me trying do whatever I could, but being from Oregon, I’m not even sure if I understood what you really had to do or what California was really all about. I’m still not sure.
You’ve always been known for an incredible consistency, something that was especially rare in the 90s. Turning pro at age 15 with largely a contest background, you won Back to the City that year against some legendary competition. But it wasn’t long after that that you started shying away from contests… why was that?
I feel like I just got tired of them. Like you said, I’d done so many of them at a younger age… it was always a lot of pressure. And then with pro contests, there was that much more. It’s hard to like pressure. You can do well under it but it does have a tendency to ruin things for you.
How’d you first hook up with G&S as a little guy back in the day?
It came about through this little surf shop out of Beaverton called North Shore Surf and Sport. I don’t know why but they asked me to ride for this little team they were trying to do shortly after they opened. I was 12-years-old so it was cool. Whatever.
They gave me some shirts and sent me to this contest that I ended up winning. They were stoked and started talking to some guys at G&S about me. The shop was selling a lot of G&S stuff at the time and I also had a friend that rode for G&S Trucks who put in a good word for me so I ended up getting on.
The “happy little boy” from Footage, how did the company change for you once Blender and company left to do their Alien thing? Do you remember when that went down?
Yeah, those guys split pretty quickly after the Footage video came out. I remember when Chris Carter called to tell me. He goes, “Matt, we like you but you’re just a little bit too young for us right now.”
They sent me a t-shirt afterwards... still have it.
But yeah, the company definitely changed after that. I remember being shown around the factory when they first started flowing me. I had qualified for a big NSA contest at Linda Vista so I flew down and stopped by to check the place out. I was 12-years-old in this huge factory, getting all this cool stuff. But it seemed like shortly after when those dudes left to do Alien, that warehouse went bye-bye. It was crazy. I went from being inside this superfactory to staying on people’s couches the next time I came down.
It definitely lost its vibe and was pretty much a bummer after that. I loved those guys, though. We had a sick team with Willy Santos and Andrew being on there, but it just never really recovered after Alien.
What was your relationship like with Andrew back in the day? With you guys being the little dudes on the squad, was there a sense of competition between you two or was it more of camaraderie? And how did that progress over the years through Birdhouse and beyond?
For me, it was a competitive friendship. I always looked forward to hanging out with Andrew. He’d let me stay at his house down in Florida and we’d watch Beavis and Butthead. I’m sure there was a little bit of competition in there but it was never a bummer.
We were close there for a few years but I haven’t really talked to him since I left Birdhouse. That was my fault, though. I wasn’t talking to Ocean or any of those guys. That’s my bad.
I do remember trying to talk to Andrew once at a Tampa contest in ‘98 or so but I felt he didn’t really want to talk to me. That’s okay. Whatever. Sometimes I wouldn’t even want to talk to me so I can’t blame anybody else for not wanting to.
So did you get on Birdhouse? Was that through Willy or Andrew?
I remember Tony flying down to see me at the NSA AM Finals in ’91 when they were getting ready to start Birdhouse… basically under the condition that if he liked me, he was going to put me on. That’s a weird way to put it, I guess, but that’s how it was.
I remember being so nervous. Not only did I want off And but, at the same time, this was Tony Hawk! I hadn’t really met that many pros yet and here’s a guy that I grew up watching. I just remember him videoing me all around the course. It was so fun. I was trying so hard to land every trick because it was Tony Hawk. I was freaking out.
But anyway, he liked me and I got on.
I could be wrong but wasn’t supertech Birdhouse board flipper Brent Marks also from the Pacific Northwest? What was it like skating with that dude? Could he just rifle off tricks like triple kickflip noseslides first try?
Yeah, Brent was from Longview and he could definitely do some of that stuff first try. He was a trip. He could do 360 double kickflips to noseslide on little ledges every time.
I actually asked him once if he could just do it regular with one flip and he could, but he really had to battle it. It was easier for him to go double and triple with things. He just had that stuff down. Triple heelflips to manual! I can’t even heelflip once to manual and here he is going crazy. I saw him do a 720 quadruple flip once off 3 or 4 stairs. He was so much fun to skate with.
With Jeremy Klein, a young Heath Kirchart and the ladies’ man Ocean Howell in the mix, I have to imagine those Birdhouse tours really being something else. Any stories stand out from back then?
Oh, Ocean didn’t even have to try.
I remember this one time… and I don’t even know if he’d want me to tell this but here it goes. There were these two girls that were following us around on this tour. They would follow our van in their car. Anyway, Ocean ended up riding in their car and having sex with them on the way to demos. He’d have sex with one while the other drove. They’d always pass our van while they were having sex so we’d all be looking at them like, “Woah, Ocean’s the man!”
It was funny because he didn’t even shower back then and he’d wear the same shorts everyday but here he is having sex with these girls.
And after those girls left, he found this other super hot girl. She was so hot… and she sipped sizzurp! All the way back then, she was sipping on sizzurp!
Now this was back in the day when everyone slept in the same room… 8 people in a room, mattress on the ground and someone gets the box springs. Ocean ended up making a little bed in the closet and just doing this girl in there all night. And she was so loud! We’re just sitting there listening to them in this sweaty room. I was 14… I couldn’t believe it.
Incredible. So while you’d been on the scene for a minute up to this point, your real breakthrough came in your Untitled part. Turning pro afterwards, did you have any idea that part was really going to jumpstart your career like it did? Was there any sense that your skating had matured a bit since those earlier, younger parts?
I think I just started getting more strength in my legs. Getting a little taller, a little manlier. I think I had just skated so much growing up that it was only a matter of getting some force behind my skating. It became easier to kickflip over stuff. It’s not like I was trying to skate any different, it just so happened that I was starting to stomp things out.
I was pretty happy with that part. That was about a year of skating. You always wish that you had more… especially back then. You just want to make your part longer and longer.
Fair enough, but why leave Birdhouse for the Firm?
Well, there were several reasons why I went to the Firm really. One big thing for me personally was that I needed something different to stay motivated to be able to keep skating. It’s not that I didn’t like Birdhouse but I needed something a bit more to fuel the fire.
I’ve always loved Lance. He was always one of my favorites. Even as a person, I always felt he was one of the cooler pros. And I just liked the Firm’s direction a little better. I liked the Firm’s graphics better and I loved their first video.
Mi Buena Vida?
Yeah, I remember thinking about possibly being able to make another video like that with those guys. In my mind, that was the direction that I really wanted to go in. I liked the Birdhouse videos but I needed a little bit more than that.
One last thing for me wanting to leave had to do with Birdhouse bringing in Flip. I just felt that things started to get a little crowded after that and I didn’t want to be there anymore.
What was the biggest difference in riding for Lance over Tony?
Well, Tony was super mellow and low pressure. No worries. He just wanted to keep it fun. That’s what he’d always tell me, to just make it fun because that’s the reason why we were even doing any of this.
With Lance, it was almost more LA-style, more Vato-style. This is how it is, you have to do it this way. Not that he was trying to be controlling about it, he was just a little more direct about things… and he was right. He was telling me how it really was with skating to try and push me. We were going to have to do it this way and we are going to have to work for it. Lance was always pushing me to try harder.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from Lance over the years?
Your classic Can’t Stop the Firm part... I’ve always wondered if you felt any extra pressure for that one due to not having filmed a part in a while?
Well, my last part was one I filmed for 411 a few years earlier with my friend Kurt and I really liked how that came out. It was mellow to make and I liked the results. So I just went for that same vibe with Kurt and knew we could do something… I wasn’t sure what but I knew we could do it.
But there was definitely pressure. Lance wanted to make this video the best one ever. The Firm was so small that we had to breakthrough somehow. We really had to make it this time. It had to be amazing. I was nervous but the way filming works: one thing leads to another and once you start getting a couple clips, things start to add up. You get sparked.
I definitely worked harder on that part than any of the rest of them. I think we filmed for 3 years or something like that. There was never a date, we just gathered footage forever. We’d make rough cuts to check out what we had and then go out to get more.
One thing I’ve always loved is that insane lipslide across that gap and all the way down. What was the process like for that? Were there any other tricks you were thinking about trying through to the end of the block like that? So amazing. Did you get that all in one session?
Yeah, all in one night. We waxed the whole thing… waxed it a couple times actually. I did a couple of 50-50’s the whole way down at first. After that, I figured I’d try to lipslide the whole thing, too. It was really fun actually. Going further and further.
I just wanted to have some really good stuff for the video. I like watching skating where someone is hauling butt and they shred something for a while. That was one of those spots where everything was right to make it happen. That and a lot of wax.
There was a little seam that you could really lock into which actually made it both easier and harder because I’d have to lift a bit for the cross-seams. Seams of granite. It wasn’t perfect but a lot of wax can do wonders. I got it that night, one forward and the one to fakie that we used. I got a sequence of it, too. I remember the wheels were square afterwards.
And what about that “The Grind” segment? That almost seemed like a joke. I know it’s on a major bridge here in Portland, did you have to wake up at a certain time to do that without any traffic? Had you done that before?
We were already skating and filming all night back then. That was our schedule. Meet at midnight and skate til 6 or 7 in the morning. But you’re right in that we had to do it when no one was around, for sure.
We did that probably around 2 in the morning. I remember waxing that whole length of the bridge probably seven times. They even bondoed the gaps in-between the barriers, too…. which broke out the first time I touched them. You can hear the gaps between those barriers in the video. Clunk, clunk. It was fun, though. And it really didn’t do anything to my trucks either. They were a little chunky from those seams but it was all really polished. Polished metals, polished Indys.
Kurt Hayashi: We measured it and that grind was seriously a quarter of a mile long.
So sick. But what happened after the Firm ended? I know you went underground for a little while there…
When the Firm ended, I shaved my head and bleached my eyebrows because I felt it was the end of my life.
Yeah, I was bummed because I thought the dream had died. I knew I was getting old in skateboard industry age back then and that it was bound to happen for me but I was surprised when Lance stopped. He worked so hard for so long. I knew he was struggling with doing so much on his own but I thought he’d always run the Firm.
Were you bummed at Lance?
I was bummed for Lance.
I figured Flip would’ve asked you to ride for them? You were ripping!
Ian Deacon told me in-person that I could ride for Flip but I don’t know what they would have done with me. I never trusted Flip. I thought they were shady. RIP Shane Cross.
But Flip had to be better than not being sponsored, right? I think I even heard rumors of you getting on Chocolate at that point.
I never heard that about Chocolate. That’s news to me. Nobody ever called me or anything about that.
Basically at that point, I thought I was probably better off not being sponsored. I actually started working at UPS for a while. Worked my way all the way through the training and became a driver. But once I got all the way there, I realized that I didn’t want to be a driver for the rest of my life. I was getting all these injuries from working the truck, I thought I might as well be skating.
How did Skate Mental come into the mix? Not the most obvious choice for you.
Skate Mental came into the picture after I seeing Brad at Jon Humphries’ wedding. He asked me if I wanted any boards, which was cool, because at that point I needed to do something… anything at all. I didn’t really have anything else going on for me. I just wanted to skate.
Shortly after that, Nike ended up asking me if I wanted to go to Tampa and enter the contest. I was pretty into it and thought if I could do well in Tampa, maybe that would lead to something else.
I ended getting 4th at Tampa and basically got on Skate Mental through that. It’s funny because all of these little things started to pop up for me after that contest, being able to ride for this or that, but it was Brad who helped me out when nobody else did. I couldn’t just leave Brad after that.
I know you’re quite spiritual. How do you react to some of Skate Mental’s wackier graphics? I remember people tripping on that “Religious Figures Doing Drugs” series.
No, it’s definitely gnarly. Those weren’t my ideas.
My thing is that I’m not the type of person who enjoys bugging people but what can I say about someone who does? I remember when Brad showed me those, I thought they were way too gnarly.
“I know but the artist gave them to me for free and I like them.”
I don’t own anything in Skate Mental so there’s not much I could do. It is his company. Was I supposed to quit? No.
I never rode any of those boards though. I didn’t keep any of them and I’m never going put one on my wall.
Did you feel like you have something to prove with your Right Foot Forward part? That was essentially your big comeback.
No, I never really think about having anything to prove. I more just want to be able to get back in there. To have that life I had before, to travel around and skate.
I remember really tripping at the time on getting older and still trying to film. Everyone I knew seemed to be really on me back then. My girlfriend at the time had tried to talk me out of skating and there were so many people in my life that thought I should’ve moved on by then. They all wanted me to move past skating.
I really had to deal with thinking I was big-time crazy for even trying. I never thought I’d be trying to video a part at that age.
It really was your generation that expanded the age limit of what could be considered as “normal” for a relevant pro.
Definitely. In my mind, it was all going to be over by the time I was 22. That’s the way it was then. You’d get a couple of years and then just fade away.
It was so crazy. There was a lot of even wondering, “Why me?” because these people had so much more faith in me than I even did at the time.
I just took it one day at a time.
Were you happy with the end result?
I did the best I could and it was honestly better than I could’ve hoped for. It was fun and I enjoyed it, even though it was very hard work. I love the way they put it together and that I got a song I liked. And I really liked the spots in that video.
Switching up speeds a bit, I gotta ask about something I heard from a few people… were you going on dinosaur hunts around this time? Hunting for UFOs?
I’ve been on both, actually. Which one do you want to hear about, UFOs or dinosaurs?
We’ll go with dinosaurs.
Ok. And I don’t want you think to think we’re crazy for this but my Dad reads a lot about crypto-zoological creatures: things that were once alive but are now believed to be dead, like dinosaurs.
Well, my Dad has a theory where there still might be some dinosaurs in this really dry, remote place up in Washington. There’s these granite caves up there alongside a creek and he believes this is where dinosaurs may still live. He said their bodies have bio-luminessence, which means their bodies flash light, especially when hungry. That this creek has really good fishing and the dinosaurs come down to the stream when needed.
So I decide to go up there with him to check things out. This means basically sitting up all night, waiting for things to happen. I have nightvision goggles on and we’re just waiting. Unfortunately, we didn’t see anything.
But I will say that on a later night on the trip, we were woken up by something screeching in the bushes not too far from us. It sounded like what a pterodactyl would probably sound like. I just remember my Dad running up there with a shotgun.
It was pretty crazy. I ran up there with him and I was definitely afraid. That noise was scary. But we didn’t end up seeing anything. We checked all around but there was nothing. It was pretty weird.
Wow. Well, I know you’ve just finished filming an all-new part called "The Cove" with Kurt here at the park. I can’t wait to see some new footage but I have to imagine this project bringing up a lot of the same worries you spoke of during Right Foot Forward, right?
I never really thought I’d be able to film with Kurt again so this is almost like a nice surprise. It’s all the same pressure and things that I’ve been talking about but I’m just trying to have fun with it. I have so much support from my friends…. even though my family still thinks I should be moving on. Coming home with a lot of bruises, I can’t even go to the doctor if I wanted to right now. So that part of it is the same old thing but it’s really been more about having fun skating and hanging out with Kurt.
I’ve done stuff in this part that I never thought I was going to land. I’ve learned some stuff for this one… which is inspiring. It’s nice to know I’m going in the right direction. I always try to keep it new somehow. Something a little different than what I’ve done before.
What are you stoked in this part?
I was stoked I got a frontside kickflip tailslide on this little quarterpipe. That’s a ledge trick I’ve always liked that I thought would’ve been cool to take to tranny. This time around, I’m basically just stoked on being able to do a lot of ledge tricks on transition and in the bowl.
How do you go about making a video part now? Do you make lists or just wing it?
It’s usually more about what I feel inspired to do that day. Sometimes you feel like blasting a frontside flip down some stairs and you make it happen. Other times you feel like working up to a kickflip shifty over something. Ok… skate, skate, skate… and then, at some point, you just know you can do it. You’ll feel it in your legs when its time to go.
I can’t wait to see this thing. So what’s next, man? What do you have planned after this?
I really don’t know. We’re talking about filming another part in the streets. I’d be stoked on that. It’s doable. I feel pretty pumped from having been filming in here. I’ve been skating a lot and feel as in good of shape as I’ve ever been.
What’s going on with you and Skate Mental these days?
Skate Mental said they can’t sell my board so I’m just flow now. It’s tough to sell a lot of boards these days.
I hate to hear that, Matt. Especially after coming through on this new part. What are you going to do? Look for another sponsor?
I don’t know what I’ll do. I hope it’ll work out.
Why do you think you’ve always had these peaks and valleys in skating? Coming and going like you have over the years?
It’s just life. I’ve never been burned out on things at all, it’s just that life gets me down sometimes. Not being able to eat or not having a place to live sometimes. It’s just not perfect, you know? It’s not a perfect life, not a perfect world. I don’t expect anything to be but if you want to know why that’s been the case with my career, that’s the real reason. That’s why it is. Life gives me ups-and-downs and the career kinda goes with it sometimes.
Is there anything you wish you would’ve done different?
No, not really. I did what I wanted to do. I wanted to be me and I did the best I could.
Nice answer, Matt. So one last question… who do you think is the most underrated skater in skateboarding?
You see, it’s difficult because there are so many reasons why someone is an awesome skateboarder. It’s not necessarily about landing every trick, every try.
Probably Neil Blender, to be honest. I mean, everyone knows he’s the best but nobody knows how he’s really the best. You watch some of that old contest footage of him from ’84 or ’85, he was light years ahead of everyone… just in style and awesomeness.
It’s hard for me to say… skateboarding’s gotten so much bigger but I know that nobody in Pac Sun is gonna be shouting out, “Oh yeah! Neil Blender!”
Not to diss any shops but nobody in Zumiez knows who Neil Blender is, you know? There’s so many guys that actually made skateboarding what it is and nobody even knows them anymore. These guys that look like they know and even push the right way… they don’t really know.
Special Thanks to Kurt Hayashi, Jon Humphries, Mark Goldman, Mark Whiteley, Hunter Muraira, Kaspar Van Lierop and the city of Portland.
Special Thanks to Kurt Hayashi, Jon Humphries, Mark Goldman, Mark Whiteley, Hunter Muraira, Kaspar Van Lierop and the city of Portland.
Matt's sick new warehouse edit "the Cove" drops on Thrasher this Friday.