chrome ball interview #71: sean malto

Chops sits down with KC's finest for conversation. 

Alright Sean, so on average, how often does someone come up to you and emulate one of your more notorious super fans with their best “Sean Malto! SEAN MALTO!” impression?

(laughs) Oh man, that’s been insane. Those clips went viral so fast… I ended up getting so many text messages that day. Everyone was tripping. But it’s funny because even as much as people have tried to emulate her, no one has truly been able to match the excitement of that girl. It was so crazy.

Which one is more popular, that girl or Jack Black’s “Do it for the Skate Gods?” I have to imagine you got that one a lot, too.

The Jack Black one was a lot at first but the “Malto, Malto!” one has been lingering a lot longer for some reason.

What’s the backstory with that one?

It was at a signing down in New Orleans. It was raining out and we knew we wouldn’t be skating so we were just taking our time getting to the shop. When we finally arrived, those two girls were right at the front of the line. Who knows how many hours they’d been waiting but when they saw us, this girl just went ballistic. I’ve never had that sort of thing happen to me. I didn’t even know what to do.

But yeah, that girl... I think her nickname was “Potatohead” actually. We were supposed to go on a date to Taco Bell.

Did that ever happen?

No, but I’ll leave it open. (laughs)

Meeting new people is one of the best things about skating. Just be nice and roll with it. I never thought I’d meet someone who had that much love… it really is flattering.

So how’s your foot doing? When can we expect to see you back on your board?

The foot is doing well. It’s a little bit ahead of schedule. Right now, I’m set to come back at the end of March but that’s just basic rolling around. I probably won’t be fully skating until the end of April. I still have a little bit of time but, like I said, I’m ahead of schedule. Hopefully this process keeps speeding up and I can get back on my board sooner.

I know you’re up here in Portland doing Bo Jackson-type rehab stuff and I’ve also seen you on the Berrics documenting yourself out traveling around for appointments. You definitely seem to be taking this whole recovery process very seriously.

Well, what I had done was a common ankle procedure so there is a basic framework in place with guidelines to follow. Plus, I’m younger and a bit more athletic than the typical patient so that helps... but at the same time, I’m not trying to just be able to walk again. I’m trying to get out there and jump down 12-stairs all day. So, it’s a little more difficult knowing what those rules really are.

I’ve been talking to different people that have already gone through this… Torey Pudwell, Rick McCrank, Ty Evans… I guess it lingers for a little bit but the more physical therapy you do, the faster it works itself out.

I know you largely put the foot photos out yourself through Instagram. They’re obviously gnarly but did you expect the reaction it got? Does it freak you out when everyone starts weighing in on your injury like they’ve been? I know people have come back from much gnarlier injuries but they weren’t so public about it…

Yeah, I did it to myself. (laughs)

If I didn’t want anybody to ask about it, I wouldn’t have posted it. I put it out there. People are just curious. I mean it’s cool when kids tell me that they can’t wait for me to come back. But there’s also the kids that think it’s career-ending… the ones on Instagram who are asking me if I’ll ever be able to skate again.

I’m fine with it, though. I’m confident. Talking to other pros that have gone through the same thing, it’s a standard ankle procedure. The success rate for coming back from this type of injury is 95%.  The way that my ankle folded probably meant that it was probably loose in the first place. It will take me a little longer to come back from having the surgery but when I do, I should be even stronger than I was. My ankle will be tighter so I’m excited about that.

But honestly, doing stuff like the Road to Recovery videos has been really cool. Being able to film what’s going on with a GoPro for those things has been good because it’s something I can do. I’m going crazy not skateboarding.

What will be the first trick you do once you get back on your board? And what’s the first real hammer-type trick you’re looking forward to trying? Are you going to attempt that varial heel again?

The first trick is always that KFC, that kickflip challenge.

My friends and I have this joke where everyday when we wake up, we do the kickflip challenge. Before you’re warmed up, it’s the first thing you do for the day.  Just to do it. It will be interesting to see a kickflip challenge 4 to 5 months later. I have never been away from skating this long so hopefully I can do that first kickflip.

Other than that, I’ve been piling a list together. It’s hard to say the first one but I’d love to go back and try that varial heel again. Down that gap that I hurt myself on, I’d love to do that.

The more I think about what went wrong, I’m confident that I can go back and do it. It’s not the gap’s fault because that spot is perfect. It just didn’t work out for me. I was unlucky and bailed too late. But I know what I did wrong. The only thing that sucks is that it’s a fountain in Kansas City that you can only skate during the winter. By the time I can skate again, it’s going to be full of water. I’ll have to wait an entire year to go back for that one.

Maybe I’ll wait for the day after Thanksgiving and do it on the anniversary of my injury.

Aw, man… you’re tempting fate with that one. So for the record, how do you respond to those outspoken critics of your trick selection? And how much of that do you think stems from your skating in contests, where such consistency is a necessity if one expects to actually do well? I mean, anybody that has paid attention to your skating in the mags and in videos (your insane TWS “And Now” part, for example) knows how big your bag of tricks really is.

I have to say that it is a little annoying to hear that sort of stuff. People are always talking about how I do the same tricks over and over again and that I’m boring. But those are the tricks I like to do and I have fun doing them. That’s the why I skate. Who cares?

It was actually more annoying to put out a part that I really worked hard on and still hear that. There were tricks in there that I’d never done in my life… like that backside overcrooks kickflip. I’d never done that before. I felt like I did do different tricks in that part but I still heard that stuff.

And yes, everyone watches these contests and thinks I do the same tricks. But it’s a contest!


Contests are built for that. You can’t fall. It’s all built off consistency and these tricks are the ones I know will get points. That really is the whole strategy portion of it.

There are tricks that I could possibly change up for it… to keep evolving. But I know an overcrooks kickflip will get me a high score almost everytime. I don’t think I have another trick that will get me that high of a score. I could try a backtail kickflip but it might not score as high.

And in a contest setting, why would you do that?

Right. I know I’ll get the highest score with this trick, that’s what I’m going to do. It’s strange to think about it like that but that’s how it is.

Did any of that trick selection criticism play into how you filmed for Pretty Sweet? Was there anything in the back of your head to where you were possibly trying to answer those naysayers?

Yeah, it did… which sucks. I’d go to a spot and think that it’s a good spot for a nollie front feeble but then start thinking about how I can’t do that now. That I should do some different tricks. But that’s just skating in general. You always want to learn and progress… regardless of if kids are making fun of you or not. (laughs)

But again, if you’re going to put yourself out there for public view, you have to be able to handle that kind of thing. I’m just trying to skate how I want to skate. These dudes can figure it out and talk shit… I don’t care how you skate. I’m excited to learn tricks and if I don’t, that’s fine. I like the feeling of doing an overcrooks. I like the feeling of hardflips. I’m not going to change the way I skate because you think its lame.

How was your experience filming with Ty and dealing with all the pressure that a big video like that involves? That was especially a huge part for you…

The whole process was crazy because it was originally going to be just a Chocolate video. I remember being actually bummed at the time because it always seems like I just miss videos. All throughout my career, I just miss these projects. It’s really weird. I have this one Transworld part and that’s it. So I was bummed, man. I thought I was missing another opportunity.

But Pretty Sweet slowly transformed into a Girl and Chocoate video and when they finally hit me up about it, I was so hyped… until I realized that they’d already been using all my footage over the years! (laughs) Free DVDs were such a huge part of skating when I was coming up that I’ve literally had all the stuff I’ve ever filmed on trips put out on those things. I’ve never had to save footage for a big part before.

But alright, whatever. Clean slate. Let’s do it.

Honestly, I was just excited to be in the van with Rick Howard, Mike Carroll, Gino and the Trunk Boys… it was so much fun. A great experience.

People always trip out on Ty because he’s so gnarly. I remember hearing all these stories from Fully Flared that were all so crazy. He definitely goes above and beyond. But honestly, when I started working with him, I really liked it. Trips were all very productive. He got you up in the morning and you skated late into the night. However much torture you went through, at the end of the trip, it felt good to look back on it. They were real skate trips, strictly skating. It was a full experience. I was psyched on that.

He does apply some pressure but he’s smart about it. If you get to a rail at night and you’re looking at it but not sure, he say something like, “I’m gonna put some lights on it just so you can see it better.” (laughs)

He puts light on it and chances are, you usually start skating it.

It’s weird to say but it’s almost like he’s your caddy in a sense. Because he’s around you all the time… you’re skating with him for years and he knows what you’re capable of. He never put me in some situation that he didn’t trust me in. And just seeing him visualize something and trusting me like that definitely gave me more confidence. It was like a partnership between the skater and filmer that worked really well for Ty and I.

Gotta ask about that ender-ender… the overcrooks kickflip out. Didn’t that come right at deadline for you? Was that something you’d been thinking about for a while?

Yeah, it came super late.

I actually started thinking about it after I did that front crooks across the 3-stair ledge to kickflip out that’s also in the part. That was the first one of those I’d ever done but it took me a really long time. After I did it though, I kinda started figuring some stuff out. The problem was that I wasn’t getting the leverage because it was a front crooks. But in a overcrook on a flatbar, I realized you had so much more room to dip it down. So I ended up going home to my skatepark and… this doesn’t happen to me… but I swear it was 3rd try. I couldn’t even believe it.

So Moore Park is basically my backside overcrook rail for some reason. Everytime I learn an overcrook variation, I go there because it’s mellow. I already got an overcrook fakie and overcrook shuv-it there, maybe I can kickflip out of one there.

But on the rail was a different story than earlier on the flatbar. I had to go there 3 separate times before I could get it and with that spot, you can only skate it on Sundays. The deadline was coming and I didn’t have that much time left, especially if I can only skate it one day a week. And at this point, Ty is editing so I can’t even skate with him. I had to go with Federico.

What was crazy was that third time we went, he had rented this crazy camera that he’d never even really used before. It took to people to operate! So here I am trying this trick I’d never done before, the deadline’s coming up and Federico might not even end up filming it! I was tripping but it ended up working out.

Honestly, it didn’t feel like how I wanted to do it when I finally made it so I kept trying for another hour. But once I really looked at the footage, I thought it was fine.

You didn’t check the footage after you made it?

I thought it was good but with it being the deadline of the video, I felt I might as well keep skating and try to get it perfect. But it worked out. Federico filmed it perfect.

But yeah, after that, my part was now done. It was such a weight off of my shoulders.

From the ender back to the beginning, who came up with the idea to grind that rail in your house in your pajamas? Such a nice touch. Had you skated that rail prior?

It was my idea… but honestly, I wasn’t serious when I brought it up. When you’re on these road trips, you get bored and start talking about whatever. That’s one reason why talent alone isn’t enough to get you sponsored, there really is so much more. You have to be someone that people can really get along with because those van hours are a big part of it.

But yeah, that came out of one of those trips in the van where I just happened to be talking to Ty about my new place. I mentioned there was a rail there that was probably 50-50able if someone wanted to. Again, I wasn’t really being serious when I brought it up. We were just in the van. But just by being a skater and seeing the rail everyday, of course, I’m going to think about skating it. I think about triple kink rails that I see as I’m out walking around, not that I ever would skate them but it’s just something that you do as a skater. You just trip on anything.

So a few months down the road, there’s a trip to Kansas City and Ty starts asking me about the rail in my house.

“It’s whatever, don’t worry about it.”

So the last day we’re in Kansas City, Ty’s comes over to pick me up and we’re gonna skate this perfect 10-stair rail we know. Cool.

Ty pulls up. “Hey, I’m going to come inside.”

Well, that’s a little weird but maybe he just wants to kick it for a little bit before we go. That’s fine.

So not only does Ty come inside but so does literally everybody from the van. He starts looking at the rail and goes, “Let’s do it.”

“Do what?”

“Let’s film this right now, the intro to your part.”

“I don’t know, man. Maybe we should come back. Let’s go skate and come back.”

“No, let’s do it now… Just roll up to it a couple of times.  I want to see you roll up to it a couple times.”

Okay, whatever. So I start rolling up to it.

“What do you think?”

“I think I can get up onto it.”

Next thing I know, he’s already mobilized the whole crew in my place and their fully moving all my furniture around. Moving my entertainment center out, putting a mattress in the window… just like that. I’m just sitting there watching this whole pit crew of people set everything up. I can’t even believe it. Ty’s asking me if I have any pajamas. There’s a camera on a dolly all of a sudden. It’s crazy.

The only thing I could think about was what if I get smoked on this thing? What if I come up short or get broke off somehow? I’m going to have to move! I own that place. If I get hurt, this is gonna stick with me because I see that rail everyday. It will be devastating.

But at the same time, I can’t live in a place where a rail is possible and not do it. It’s just going to nag at me. I was basically screwed. So I did it. I had to do it 4 times actually but it worked out.

Honestly, now I kinda want to put skatestoppers on that rail. I don’t ever want to have to deal with that thing again. I’m never it again. It’s done... I might even cut it out. (laughs)

Were you pleased with how the part came out? Jack Black seemed pretty psyched on it and I know Guy called your part his favorite in the video…

Oh really? I didn’t know that. Thanks Guy!

I was excited but you always want more. That will never stop. When I personally look at my part, I see what isn’t there, too. So I just want the next part to be better. You see someone like Marc Johnson: he’s done like 16 video parts and each one of them keep getting better and better. I’m not saying that I can do that because Marc Johnson is one of a kind, but in my head, that’s what I want to try to do.

I really want this Chronicles 3 part I’m about to start working on to have a little bit more variety. It would be cool to skate some transition. I’m definitely not good at it but there’s 2 years for me to figure it out. Maybe I can get a tranny clip at some point in that time. But I would like a more well-rounded part, for sure.

The gnarly stuff people are doing now is just psycho. I’m honestly not sure how long I can keep up with that stuff. I mean, that kid in the latest Thrasher did a 25-flat-25 and it’s only on the Contents page! Come on!

Did you realize BA and Alex were going to be leaving Girl shortly after Pretty Sweet premiered? I know you played around with the team changing trend at one point by posting a blank board on your Instagram for fun… which immediately sent the Internet into an uproar.

(laughs) Yeah, I texted Mike Carroll before I did it to see if it was okay, just to freak some people out. We thought it would be funny.

20 minutes later, all these guys are yelling at me. I had to take it down.

I had no idea about Brian. I think that was a big surprise to everybody. But whatever, it’s all skateboarding. I’m psyched he’s doing something that he wants to do. He has so many ideas and for him to have a place to put it all is great for him. He’s obviously a great artist and when I see his 3D stuff, I get psyched for him. I didn’t know about Alex either… I’m sure he’ll come out with something great as well. I wish those guys the best.

But it is a bummer, though. Those dudes were such a big part of the video and not just the skating. Just to have them in the van was great. But I’m happy for them and I’m also glad I still get to hang out with them on Nike trips.

World Park re-creation videos, reusing old Jason Lee graphics, and not to mention being around so many legendary dudes on the Girl/Choc squads from that era... I know the 90’s was well before your time but have you gone back to check out any of that stuff over the years? Talking about spending time in the van earlier, I have to imagine a lot of this stuff coming up in conversation quite often.

I’ve definitely gone back and watched older videos. I’m sure I can still get schooled on a million things in skating and I don’t want to act like I know it all but I’ve seen a lot of that classic stuff from spots like EMB, Hubba Hideout, and Pulaski. It’s cool to go back and check out all that older footage. Just watching Video Days and seeing stuff that Gonz did that I didn’t even realize had been done before. It’s cool. And you’re right, going on trips with those guys, that stuff is always in the mix. I’ll see Koston do something crazy and have to ask him, “What era was that?”

I get schooled along the way.

You’ve essentially grown up in the skateboarding industry… thrown into the pit on things like Beauty and the Beast at a very young age. What’s the most important tip you’ve learned after all these years on the road?

Well, an important one is to definitely not be the last one in the van.

That actually came from one of the first nights of Beauty and Beast. I was so hyped to be on that trip... setting up the tents and everything. But I wake up that first morning and get out of my tent to see literally everyone else with their tents packed. They’re just chilling and ready to go and here I am, the only one out of the crew that isn’t ready. Out of 30 dudes, they’re waiting on me. It was so embarrassing. So from then on, I was always ready.

Another thing is that if you want to go skate something, don’t feel bad about it. I remember feeling when I was younger that if nobody else wanted to go skate a spot, we shouldn’t go there. But I’ve learned with so much downtime on a trip, people usually get psyched when anybody wants to skate anything. There’s always too much time wasted on deciding where to go. Usually people just don’t know where they want to go so when someone actually does, people get psyched. And knowing there’s a support group behind you is sick.

But even if Carroll wants to go skate some spot that I would never skate, it’s cool because, at the very least, I’ll get to watch Carroll shred.

One of my favorite covers in recent memory, talk a little about that backside noseblunt down Stanford for Thrasher. So insane, man. What was your process like for that one? Did you go there specifically to do that? That had to be scary.

You know, sometimes skate trips just work out like that. I honestly didn’t even know that hubba was there. I mean I’d seen it before and recognized it when we came up to it but I didn’t know that was the spot we were at. But I was psyched. I started rolling up to it and everything felt good so I started trying it.

It honestly wasn’t even that hard or scary for me to do… it’s not like it was easy or anything. I’m not saying that at all. But it was one of those times where as I was rolling up to the spot, everything was feeling right. I was feeling good with that trick and just happened to end up right there to do it. Right place, right time. I was confident that I could get it. Not to say that I haven’t been confident about a million other things that I haven’t landed but that one was cool.

But it felt good because until that point, Thrasher was the last mag in the US that I hadn’t gotten a cover for yet. I had every other one up until then. I didn’t know that shot was going to be the cover but when it came out, I was hyped.

Is that your favorite cover you’ve gotten? You’ve definitely had more than a few…

Well, I’m friends with Atiba and I love the Skateboard Mag and everything… but yeah, that Thrasher one remains my favorite. It’s just a classic skate mag, you know? You gotta trip on it. Plus, with it being the last one, it really felt like a real monumental thing for me.

I always liked that Skateboarder cover with the tre flip over your namesake gap. Wasn’t that your first cover?

Actually my first cover was a front feeble for Transworld. The Skateboarder cover was the very next month. It’s funny because I remember seeing that Transworld cover for the first time and not even believing it was real. I’d never gotten a cover before and here it is with Blabac who’s such a classic photographer. I was tripping.

But I remember all my friends texting to congratulate me on that cover… and then a few weeks go by and people are still texting me with things like, “Awesome cover.”

I thought they were still talking about the Transworld one! I didn’t even know about the Skateboarder one!

That’s incredible, man. So that’s all I got, Sean. Thanks for taking the time to sit down.  I know you’re currently rehabbing but what plans do you have coming up after you’ve put all this injury stuff behind you?

After my ankle gets better, I’m just looking forward to really diving into Chronicles. I’ve already been talking to people about filming trips and things are looking good. This video is gonna be pretty intense. I’m psyched. We got a good crew lined up. We’ll see how it all works out.

Special thanks to Kaspar Van Lierop, Aaron Meza, Ben Colen and Trevar Cushing.


chops said...

I realize this is probably going to be a heavy dose of "new" for a few of you out there but I felt the need for little change-up here and this interview was definitely a lot of fun. Malto is just a super good dude, that simple.

This piece was in danger of getting lost in the shuffle for a bit so I'm really happy to be getting out there.

Andy said...

Well done Chops.

Jurij Turnšek said...

That was a nice interview. I like it how Malto went into details and wasn't vague about anything.

Dave said...

Good stuff, Chops. Malto seems like a cool dude, with a good head on his shoulders. Nice to see him be so conscious and down to earth.

stephen said...

He's a pretty well spoken guy. Fuck... Go back 15-20yrs and read some of the pro skater interviews, then compare the dialogue. Ha! Skateboarding is so crazy now though, so much thought about everything. Just hearing him talk about the thought process for tricks in video parts makes me feel weirdly uneasy. Not about him but just about what he has to deal with. Everybody is so critical now... Even more so than in the 90's when I remember the start of shit talking in skating. I dunno... Maybe I'm just old and out of touch. Malto RIPS for sure. I didn't even think that his, and other's, skill level was even possible 20+ years ago. I guess that's just progression though, and that's rad.

Seabreeze said...

the difference between this and old chrome ball stuff is that it's obvious that nike arranged for this coverage to happen, and that's precisely because the old chrome ball was regarded as official. it's not even like i hate this dude, but i do hate that nike buys their way into the legit shit like this. nike seems incapable of doing anything that really has an impact in our culture. no one remembers or cares about those over-produced debacle vids, for example--that shit has no impact. and the team was obviously chosen by people who know nothing about skating, it's all just one big miss. would emerica ever sponsor daryl angel, for example? hell no. i look forward to the time when skaters grow up and realize that dumb shoe 'technologies' don't really affect the way you skate, and that it is cooler to look like a skater than to like a normal ass jock, and nike is pushed out of skating once again.

chops said...

Seabreeze, I figured there was going to be a bit of backlash on this one.

No ulterior motives here... I wanted to interview Malto so I interviewed Malto. That simple.

Granted, it was originally supposed to be for something else but when that fell through, I felt like it was more than strong enough to be posted on CBI. Malto's career is nearly 10 years deep at this point (longer than most) and far from my only subject from this generation (Davis Torgerson, James Hardy, Chima Ferguson, Alex Olson). So I gave it a shot.

I mean this with all respect because I know you've been checking the site for a while... but as far as any differences between "old" and "new" chrome ball and whatever... you honestly have no idea what you're talking about.

Seabreeze said...

well please pardon me, and for what it's worth i took care to not be overly disrespectful towards you personally. but certainly you understand why i would be suspicious, it is a known fact that nike got into skating through these kinds of guerilla marketing tactics. and i personally know a handful of people in positions of minor influence who have been bought up as well.

of course, the rest of what i said is quite reasonable.

build.symmetric said...

say what you want about Nike but they are helping to legitimize what was once a frowned upon subculture. Skateboarding is more than an artistic expression, it also takes immense athleticism that just did not get the recognition it deserved until things like Street League helped to standardize the sport and place it in the spotlight

stephen said...

Yea but most of us liked it better when we were part of a 'frowned upon subculture' that wasn't 'standardized' or 'recognized' haha. I think that was part of seabreeze's point! I don't have anything against nike or street league, etc. personally... I mean it's not my thing but hey, shit changes and it was only a matter of time before the mainstream noticed how fucking rad street skating is. Anyways, skaters were rocking nikes since the 70's way before they started marketing directly to us. I do miss when skateboarding was a subculture though. It's really not anymore.

Lari said...

Good stuff, Malto's sick!

Seabreeze said...

to be clear, it's more than nostalgia that drives my preference for when skating was more of its own subculture. when skating was less like soccer or football, it taught skaters more life lessons than it does now, and it made skaters into stronger and better people. in particular, it forced us to not be concerned with what others thought of us--because they thought we were freaks--and more generally to appreciate originality and weirdness more; other people looked down on skaters but we knew they were nuts. nowadays, young kids seem to not really have any sense of what i'm talking about, and i think they're just not getting the kind of experience they could be getting. making skating more normal waters down the experience of skating for kids basically.

C.T. Newcastle said...

Skateboarding might not be the same as when you were 15, but that doesn't mean everything current is terrible. Malto seems like a decent guy. You can like what came before, and also appreciate good things today.

Brendan said...

As great as skateboarding in the '90s was,and as much as I love it,there were a lot of things about it that sucked ass,too.
Malto's got a lot of talent and seems very level headed,for a guy in his shoes.
That ankle roll,jesus,that must have HURT.
Thanks for rewarding the Chrome Ball lurkers with more gold,Chops!

Anonymous said...

It would have been great if the chrome ball would get paid by Nike for the amazing content he has given us. As much as people hate on them and other big shoe brands they allow riders to live off skateboarding hopefully save some money for when their usually short careers are over.

Lari said...

This doesn't have anything to do with Malto, but: I was watching Sheeps Life of leisure and realized that I haven't seen anything from Sergei Trudnowski since the late 90's. Some kind of interview or guest post with him would be amazing even though probably impossible to get. (Matt Reason and Sean Young, too)

Giles said...

i'm down with malto and skaters like him who show and push what's possible. it's not my skate aesthetic, but it's cool. that said, lemme echo lari: sean young. he had some text in the most recent thrasher anti hero retrospective and it was just great. something about a post breakup bender that leads to a beatdown and a vagrant bus ride. i'd love to hear more of his reflections on his times in sf.

The_Notorious_BIF said...

Great interview Chops.
Malto's the best. I see him around town (KC represent) all the time and I still trip out on how nice and genuine he is. Despite what some Internet trolls may say, there isn't stuck-up or sell-out bone in his body. The kid is talented, works hard and truly deserves all of his success.