Everybody has a .45
So as one of the icons in this arena, how does Nate Jones define the word “style”?
(laughs) First, how do you define the word “icon”?
(laughs) Such a good answer. But seriously, when it comes to aesthetics while performing tricks on a skateboard, you’re definitely in an elite group there…
Well, that’s a hard one because everybody has their own style. It’s like an opinion. That’s how I’d define it.
So it’s more about a point-of-view?
It’s an opinion. It’s like with anything concerning art and music. Some people like rap, some people like rock, some people like country. It doesn’t make one right or wrong, it’s just what people like. But there are also groups like the Beatles whose style transcend to a bigger mass of people. There are certain styles that more people will like. You can say the same thing about Mark Gonzales and John Cardiel. Again, it doesn’t mean one style is better, just certain styles are easier to appreciate.
Was there ever a time, perhaps when you were starting out, that you tried to learn every possible trick you could, regardless of aesthetic? I’m presuming you started in the early to mid-90s when having good style commonly took a backseat to simply making the damn trick.
Yeah, when I started taking skateboarding a bit more seriously, I really wasn’t that selective about tricks. Like you said, I basically tried to learn everything I could. But I think everyone reaches a point, if they skate long enough, where you start to focus only on the tricks that feel comfortable to you. For example, I prefer kickflips over heelflips because they feel more natural to me. Little preferences like that. The tricks that feel more natural to do are always easier and more fun so I tended to gravitate towards those. So even though I really didn’t do all that many tricks in my parts and ads, I liked doing them and I guess it showed.
Did you have certain influences growing up that would go on to inform your skating in this regard?
I really began to understand style by going to skate in Cincinnati when I was younger. The guys I skated with there were all so very interesting to watch. They were all so cool and relaxed on their boards… smooth and effortless. They might’ve just been doing ollies or whatever but they all looked so neat.
I remember one time actually asking a friend of mine, “How do you get good style?”
He just looked at me and said, “It’s something that either eventually comes to you or it doesn’t.”
The point is that it got me started to think in that way. When you’re younger and trying to do every trick you can, it’s not always going to look good. That’s serious. You have to start going with what’s more natural to you.
I have to imagine that Alien Workshop must’ve had a large impact on you, having coming from that area. Did you ever try to get on that team?
I pursued it for a short time. I kinda knew Rob Dyrdek a little bit but there didn’t seem to be much interest there. This was also when I was starting to get product from Real so I just moved on.
How did you get hooked up with Real while still in Ohio?
I just sent them a video and they called me up.
They originally wanted me on Stereo and while I loved Stereo, the company was already so different by then compared to when it first came out. Real still had that Nonfiction type of look going that I loved so much. Mark Gonzales, Keith Hufnagel and Matt Field… it always seemed like Real treated skateboarding as this relatable, real-life thing as opposed to how so many other companies saw it with the bigger, better, more punk rock approach.
So how did the move to San Francisco come about? Was that for skating and Real, specifically? I know you’ve always had a soft spot for the East Coast scene, was Philadelphia or NYC ever an option for you?
Yeah, I was considering both Philadelphia and New York at one point. But after coming out to SF a couple of times and with Deluxe out there, San Francisco just made more sense. I knew that if I was going to make a run for it in skating, I had to have my face in front of the right people. I had to be going in there and handing off photos and footage... hanging out with the team. That was all stuff I wanted to be part of anyway and I knew it would work more in my favor to be actually out there instead of at a distance.
I had tried living in San Diego once before but it didn’t work out. So I was back in Ohio again and my girlfriend had just dumped me. I was pretty much bummed on everything and just out of desperation, I call up Jim to ask if there was possibly anybody on their way to San Francisco who was in the area.
“Actually, Gabe Morford and the Stereo team are driving back from New York and they’re going to be heading right by you on I-70.”
“Do you think they can pick me up?”
They came through the next day and I hopped in the van. That was in 1998 and I’ve been out here ever since.
Yeah, things just worked out. Like I was crashing at the Newell for a bit when Dustin decided to take a trip back to Australia. I sublet his room while he was gone and he never ended up coming back. That’s how I got my room there. Some things are meant to be. Right place, right time.
Favorite SF skatespot? And how did the hills treat you at first? Ohio’s pretty flat, man. I imagine there’s a pretty harsh learning curve.
Union Square would probably be my favorite, for sure.
And yeah, I definitely took some harsh slams skating the hills. I skate pretty loose trucks and came to find out that bombing hills can be even scarier that way. I mean, you can always tighten up your trucks but who wants to do that? Once I get my trucks right, I don’t mess with them. So I definitely took a few good ones at first but then you start to learn which hills to take. You start figuring things out. Learning when to powerslide and when not to.
You had a small part in Kicked Out of Everywhere but Real to Reel is really what set it off. Talk a little about that one. Such a classic part.
Going back to Kicked Out of Everywhere for a minute, the only reason I had anything in there was because of my superstar guy, Tommy Guerrero. I’d just sent him in that footage for whatever and he insisted on putting it in the video. I really wasn’t expecting to be in it but it was cool to actually have footage in there. That was because of Tommy Guerrero.
He’s the reason I got on Real, period. He was the one guy who really backed putting me on the team. One of the most stylish dudes ever…
On to Real to Reel, that was about a year and a half of filming with Dan Wolfe. The Gil Scot-Heron song we ended up using was actually Gabe’s pick and I love it. I thought Dan’s editing work was fantastic, too. Working with those two guys was such an honor as well as just being really fun. Back in the day, my friends and I always used to film everything we did in black and white because of Dan… just trying to get a little bit of that Eastern Exposure feel. So this was huge.
But I was happy with how it all turned out, for sure. Some of the stuff was just me skating around while some of those other tricks were actually work. There was a side of making that part where the company felt I needed more hammers. That was pretty constant feedback. It was definitely hammertime at that point.
There were a few things in there that they didn’t want to put in… the ollie over the California Street gap, for example. They didn’t want that in there. But it was fun! I actually enjoyed doing that.
There were a few other things they didn’t like but it was my part so they let me have what I wanted. The 5-0 in Union Square… I mean, it is just a 5-0 on a ledge. (laughs)
I got so much flack for that. So many people would ask why I even had that in there. I don’t know, I just liked it.
Were you a big fan of the filming process? Nothing can drain the fun like having a camera shoved in your face.
Nah, we always had fun filming. There were only a few times that it felt like work… just when I had to go out and specifically get something big. When I had to go out and get those hammers. That’s when it wasn’t fun for me because I having to go do things that I didn’t really want to do. Those tricks weren’t my ideas. I was basically doing them for the video but when you’re being paid to do something, you have to compromise sometimes.
Plus, I wanted the video to be good… and possibly make some more money, too! (laughs)
The big backside 180 down that triple-set, was that an example of hammertime?
Actually I did want to do that one. That was an opportunity that just came up and didn’t really take me long either. That’s back when I was going to L.A. a lot to film with Huf, which was always a blast. But yeah, that was one of the few times I actually had something for those hammer requests.
An example of hammertime was that backside flip down the double-set. That was a nightmare and just took forever. Not fun.
You said Gabe picked out “Gun” for you towards the end of filming. Did you have any other songs in mind prior to that?
I had so many in mind, I can’t remember them all. From David Bowie to Creedence… so many. I was even thinking about going back to a Stereo vibe with some jazz stuff. I’d never even heard of Gil Scot-Heron before but when Gabe played it for me, I was just like, “Woah”.
It’s funny you say that about Stereo because I always felt your part had that same type of feeling to it.
Oh yeah, huge influence. Ethan Fowler, Jason Lee, Chris Pastras… all those guys were such a big part of my skating. I always felt that if those guys were able to be out there doing their thing without jumping down some crazy 50-stair rail, maybe I can keep doing what I’m doing and still be okay. Get some free product and work a part-time job or something.
Gotta ask, what’s it like being Gonz’s stunt double? Such an incredible ad, how did that come to fruition? And did you feel weird at all doing that with him?
(laughs) I guess it did feel a little weird but it was fun to do.
I think it was Jim’s idea. He’s usually the one who comes up with those types of things. I guess it was that 3rd and Army backside tailslide clip that was later in my part that gave him the idea. I was into it so we went down to 3rd and Army the next day or so and shot it real quick.
The hardest part for me was filming at like 10 in the morning. We had to get there when nobody was around. That almost killed me.
Did you feel like you were ready to turn pro when you did? Looking back on it, do you think you were schooled enough in the industry side of things?
I don’t know if you ever really need to be schooled in the industry, you should just do what you do. The industry is always going to be the industry, no matter what.
As far as when I turned pro, it was just another day. From not being sponsored to becoming an amateur and then turning pro, it was all the same for me with the exception that I didn’t have to go to work anymore.
You weren’t nervous at all?
Nah, just another day of riding my skateboard. It doesn’t really change anything.
Nah, just another day of riding my skateboard. It doesn’t really change anything.
I remember reading your Slap interview where you seemed a little uncomfortable with the process of marketing one’s skating and image.
As far as “image” goes, I understand that. It’s what sells. You gotta have an edge of some sort for them to make you a product. They are selling you. I understand it, even though it’s not always a comfortable thing.
People are going to skate how they want to skate. That goes back to what I was saying about style. People want different things. Some of my friends love jumping down gaps and skating big rails… and I enjoyed some of that, too. It was fun but it wasn’t my pinhole.
I remember people referring to you as the “Robert Plant of Skateboarding”? How would you react to that? I know you had a few classic rock-themed ads and graphics… how much of that was really you versus marketing?
Nah, I felt honored to be put in the same category as anyone from Led Zeppelin. That didn’t bother me at all. I knew what they were doing as far as putting out an image. The Doors ad and all that, I was into all of that stuff. I actually used to have that Jim Morrison poster so I thought that ad was rad.
I was actually hoping to get one with Mick Jagger in there somehow, too… like, “I got moves like Mick Jagger.” (laughs)
What about the Six Newell project? That seemed like a fun little project to work on in honor of your old apartment. Definitely a bit of a bro down, right?
That video was one of the best times of filming in my life. Just us out with the video camera, skating everyday. So much fun. Night sessions at the library with the crew. Ten of us filming each other with one camera, passing it back and forth. Just a blast. Almost all SF with no pressure of having to get whatever. Nobody telling me to get bigger stuff or my part wasn’t going to make it in. We filmed. We edited. We picked all the songs. The whole thing was all on our own. So much fun.
I always loved the ender in there. So amazing and so casual… and you’re actually smoking in it. I didn’t even realize that at first.
(laughs) Thanks, man. Yeah, it’s funny because someone brought that up the other day and I had completely forgot about that, too.
I remember smoking cigarettes while skating because I wouldn’t want to take a break but I didn’t remember smoking during that trick. Not that I condone it… such a nasty habit.
Give us your best Frank Gerwer story.
Oh God. Where do I start? The best one? Jesus.
Alright… One time, Frank and I were on our way to this club we’d always go to on Thursdays for 80’s night. Of course, we’d been drinking a bit before we left and Frank had already put back a couple Jim Beam bottles. So here we are in this cab and when I look over at Frank, he’s got his head in his shirt.
“What in the hell are you doing?”
Turns out, he’s puking in his shirt. All over the inside of his shirt. But the best part is that when’s he done, he just pats his shirt down like it’s all good. Doesn’t miss a beat. Cab stops, he hops out and walks straight into the club. No problem.
That’s the best. Going back to Six Newell, and I know this dude had some stuff in your part, what about Ocean Howell? Always one of my favorites, I can honestly see a lot of similarities between your styles.
Oh yeah, I was honored to have him in my part. He was a huge one for me. That part in Next where he skated to "Peace Frog"!?!
I actually got to stay with him for a little while… he wasn’t even really skating during this particular time but we were just staying there anyway. I remember his room was right next to the living room and he ended up bringing this girl home and having the loudest sex I’ve ever heard for an hour and a half. I just remember sitting there as he’s getting it on with this chick, thinking, “That’s Ocean Howell!”
But he was always so much fun to skate with. A big hero of mine, for sure.
It’s so funny because every time Ocean comes up in these interviews, it always seems to involve some sort of champion lover-type fornication. So how did Rasa Libre come about? Why leave Real? Was it for creative reasons or more of just a bro thing with Field?
Matt and I were always super close, especially back then. Two peas in a pod. But we were both pretty unhappy with the overall direction Real was heading in. The direction seemed to be changing more towards what all the other companies were doing at the time with the big hammer tricks and everything. Matt and I wanted Real to stay with its same direction and to take that to the next level, not just joining in with what everyone else was doing.
I feel that Jim could tell we were unhappy but wanted to keep us there so he ended up coming to the both of us about possibly doing a company. Honestly, they probably wanted us out of Real to open up a few slots there, too. Who knows for sure. But Matt and I were excited to get the company going. Matt came up with the name and we brought Reese Forbes in as well. It was good.
One thing that I will say is that I started the company under the impression that it was both of ours, mine and Matt’s. I soon found out that I was wrong about that.
How much control did you have within the brand? Were you psyched on how it came out?
I feel like Matt had most of the control. He seemed to handle just about everything, to be honest. Michael Leon was our art director and he did his thing. I never really felt like I had all that much say in things. I basically said yay or nay to something; usually yay. Matt was really the brains behind the direction and product.
But I was really psyched on how it came out. Rasa was pretty much everything we had envisioned going into it. I really loved doing it… which made it a real bummer when it fell apart the way it did.
Yeah, what happened that it all seemed to implode so quickly?
There were just disagreements. Like I said, Matt had a lot of the control and I just don’t think he and Jim saw eye-to-eye on a lot of things. It seemed like there were a lot of arguments and in the end, Matt basically said that if the company wasn’t going to be ran the way he wanted it to be, there wasn’t going to be any company at all.
But for whatever reason, when they were trying to explain to me about Matt leaving, I still thought that the other riders and I were going to keep it going. It wasn’t until I showed up on what turned out to be that last day that I found out it was over. Up until that point, all I was thinking was, “Ok, what do we do next?”
“Oh… uh… you’re done.”
It was definitely a shock but at least I was still on Thunder and Spitfire… or so I thought. The next month, both their ads came out with all the team members listed and I wasn’t on either one of them. So I guess I don’t ride for these companies anymore either.
How did you find yourself on Given afterwards? From what you said, it looks like you found yourself in a bit of a scramble there. Did you have any other offers? Did you really have any time to look?
During that first year we had started Rasa, I was down in L.A. for a Planet Earth clothing shoot. I was actually on the way to the airport with Kenny Reed to get dropped off when I get a random message on my phone.
“Hey, this is Jason Lee. I heard you’re in town. I want to meet up with you and see if you’re interested in possibly doing something with a new version of Stereo.”
Yeah, right. Someone is pranking me. But whatever, I call the number back and it really is him. So I go meet up with him and Chris to go skating for a bit. It was real fun. Afterwards, we go eat and they’re both showing me all this stuff they have planned for the new Stereo. They ask me if I’d be interested in riding for them.
I end up flying home to think about it and talk to Matt and Jim about everything. The reason I hesitated was because I really felt like Rasa was Matt and I’s version of our own Stereo. I did meet with Jason a few more times and he actually offered me more money than what I was getting on Rasa Libre but I just felt like Rasa was what I should be doing at that point.
Later on when Rasa went down the way it did, I hit Chris back up to see if I could possibly get on at that point. He told me that Stereo was always interested in me but he’d heard through the grapevine that I wasn’t skating anymore. Someone had told him that I was only into playing music. This obviously wasn’t the case because I had shot more ads for Rasa Libre than I ever had for anybody else. Regardless, Chris wanted me to send in some footage and I did but nothing really came from it.
I ended up getting married and had a kid on the way. I knew Kris had always wanted me to ride for his company. He had actually asked me to ride for Hollywood back in the day. So I hit him up because I had to figure something out quick. A baby on the way with no job… bills need paid.
I got on Given, which was good. But it was around this time where even though I was still skating, I started to realize that all of my friends who I used to skate with just weren’t around anymore. Shooting photos was difficult because I didn’t have Gabe Morford in the van now. It became more of this situation where I’d find myself with a photographer and some other kids I didn’t really know. It started to feel like work, not just having fun. It didn’t feel natural anymore.
Is that when you basically decided to leave skateboarding?
I don’t think I really made that decision. It was more of a realization that all of my dreams had come true and it was now over. As a young kid growing up in skateboarding, I got to travel the world, meet awesome people and get a bunch of free stuff. It was great while it lasted but I feel like I just woke up one day and knew it was over.
Some people think that sounds sad but it’s not. How many people can say that they lived their dreams? I look back on it fondly with no regrets… other than I probably partied a bit too much. I probably made some bad decisions and should’ve been nicer to some people but c’est la vie.
What are you doing now, Nate? I know you have a band going…
Actually going to pick up my daughter right now.
Yeah, I have a band. That’s always something I’ve been passionate about. I love playing music and writing songs. I don’t find it to be a career-type of thing. I think a few people in skateboarding thought I was seriously trying to do a career in music next but I just enjoy doing it.
My wife and my kid are my day-to-day, basically. Being a good husband. I also work as a bartender for money. I’m a whore for the dollar (laughs).
My friend was in town a few weeks ago. I skated with him at the Berkeley park for a little bit but besides that, not really. I don’t have a lot of free time as I usually have “adult things” to do.
In your wake, it seems like skateboarding has become almost obsessed with style. Tricks now seem to come with a list of rules and faux pas attached. Popped a certain way, caught a certain way, arms down, etc. What’s your opinion on this alarmingly-uniform take on style? Is it missing the point? Is forced style even style at all?
Is that really going on?
Yeah, it’s almost like gymnastics. People are almost bounding their arms to their body because they think it looks better but it just ends up looking crazy instead.
That’s a pretty scary thing actually. Why are there rules? What are you doing? This isn’t an organized sport where you're supposed to do tricks the same way. This is self-expression. That’s what it’s all about. If there’s something that just isn’t a natural part of your skating, why are you doing it? Why would you force anything? Don’t. If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.
Varial flips are commonly placed at the top of the “don’t do” list… but you had a mean one and weren’t afraid to throw it down. What do you have to say in defense of this often-maligned trick?
(laughs) Well, it’s half of a 360 flip so it can’t be all bad! If you like doing 360 flips, 180 varial flips can be fun, too! Just go halfway!
I don’t know, man. It’s one of those things… fashion and trends, man. But everything comes back around.
On the subject, what’s the secret to a good 360 kickflip?
The best way to do one is just through practice, man. Get it down to where you can do it every time. Get more confident in it so you can start putting in less effort. They always look best when it seems like you’re not even really thinking about it. That’s what I’ve found.
Thanks for taking the time to do this, Nate. Anything you’d like to add? Words of wisdom or a couple thank yous?
Words of wisdom: life is short, enjoy it while you can. Don’t take anything too seriously and don’t do drugs.
And I’d like to thank Matt Field, Tommy Guerrero, Jim Thiebaud, Jeff Taylor and my friends and family for the support.