Chops sits down with the East Coast Powerhouse for conversation.
So I know you’re technically from West Chester but as a long-time Love Park local, it must’ve been pretty crazy for you to see that spot attain such a legendary status over the years. I mean, you were one of the first guys to ollie into the fountain back in the day, well before it went on to become one of skateboarding’s most beloved locales.
Yeah, I remember the first time I ever went into the City to skate with my friends, we caught the bus to 69th Street then hopped on the L Train down to 15th Street. I was 14 years old. The way you pop out of the subway like that, we just couldn’t believe it. Love Park, City Hall, and the Federal Building all right at each other. Three amazing spots: boom, boom, boom. That was the mecca right there.
This was back when Love had bushes on all the ledges so there really wasn’t any getting up on them back then. You could really only boardslide the ends of stuff. But this was right around the time when noseslides had just come out so we was cool anyway. It was on from then.
The Love Gap stuff though is definitely crazy. Mugs be throwing some crazy shit down that thing but you gotta realize that skating is just skating. Like, I used to love skating the Love Gap. I mean, I technically ollied it first but I made it all sketchy and shit so I don't like to claim it. But over the years, I’d skate that thing all the time, even without a camera. I just liked it. And my process with gaps was to always work myself up to things and see how I felt. Start out with an ollie and take it from there… frontside 180, backside 180, kickflip, 3-flip and so on. That’s how it worked for me. I was never claiming a trick before I got to the spot.
The difference now is people’s logic: if they think they’re going to fall skating a gap, it might as well be on the trick they want. So they’re just going for it, fuck it. That’s cool. Everybody’s got the way they work. To see these kids go to Love and see them just go for shit like that, it’s crazy. But at the same time, people probably thought I was crazy, too. That’s just how it is.
What’s the craziest thing you ever saw go down the gap?
Probably when Wenning fucking tried switch heelflipping that thing. I don’t know if he ever made it but back when the city was claiming they were about to tear the place down, he was there everyday, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day trying that thing. I remember his axles would be completely bent and sliding out this one time. The wheel would just be sticking straight up. But he was on it. I know he got that switch backside 180. Those two things right there were some of the sickest things I’ve seen. Just basic but not basic at all. Just amazing.
I was never there for when some of the crazier shit that went down, like Cole’s back 3 or Reynolds frontside flipping it in the leather jacket. I wish I could’ve seen those go down.
I know you came up in West Chester with what would become a pretty legendary crew with the likes of Bam and Dan Wolfe. How’d you first meet up with those guys?
We were all just some skaters out there in the suburbs.
I met Dan through a mutual friend of ours that I used to kick it with. I remember Dan was on some shit where he just loved skating. He’d always be trying to build the coolest shit to skate, even if he couldn’t skate it himself. Sometimes he’d build shit just to see other dudes skate it. So it was only a matter of time before he got a camera.
I was introduced to Bam by some fools I used to skate with back in the day because they were all from the next town over. One day, we went to this guy’s ramp and Bam was there. He was a little younger than us but the heads all saw how good he was. As we got older, you know how it is, people just started getting into different interests and dropping out of skating. Not too many people were always down to skate like Bam was so we just clicked like that. He ended up being like that little brother kinda thing.
How did you two end up connecting with H-Street/Evol back then? Was that just through sponsor-me tapes?
Not sure if you remember these guys but I’d actually been riding for Toxic Skateboards for a little bit… just some grimy-ass people from New Jersey. I went with them to one of those tradeshows, just to try and hustle some shit and ended up talking to some of the boys from H-Street. I had a sponsor-me tape with me and they were into it.
I’ve always been down to bring my people with me so as soon as I got on, I started talking to them about Bam. My young bull kills it, you’re gonna love him! I ended up bringing him along with me this time I had to meet some H-Street heads up in Woodward and it all worked out.
You were actually on that team for a while (nollie front-foot doubleflips in Lick and killing “The Letter” in Back in Black) and even though some of the prestige had diminished, they still had a pretty solid team of up-and-comers at that point. Were you stoked on riding for them or did you see them more as a stepping stone?
Oh man, I was so fucking amped on H-Street. I did get on right after Plan B had started but that was still the Next Generation-era and all that. Even though they’d just lost whoever, it was still like, “Oh my god, H-Street!”
I was through the roof, man. I mean, I really started going for it after that, too… like I’d seriously be out there trying 10-kink handrails and shit. Just crazy shit and getting fucked up because I thought that’s what I had to do. I even remember Wolfe telling me, ““You gotta do this! You ride for H-Street now!”
As time went on, I began to realize it wasn’t the same H-Street anymore. It was starting to fizzle and when it changed to Evol, you could see it didn’t have the same oomph. That’s just how it was but I still appreciated everything they did for me.
Even going back to that Back in Black part where you skated almost every Virtual Reality spot you could find, you’ve always gone out west for extended periods of time only to return home back to Philly. What has kept you East Coast for the majority of your career?
There’s something about it… I just like it better. (laughs)
It’s just crazy out here. Raw skateboarding. For us, it’s never been about doing a trick, going back and doing another trick, and then going back and doing another. We were all about being able to ride down the street with your friends and consistently do tricks on the way. Skating in the street from one side of town to the other, never sessioning a spot for longer than a half hour. Our fun was about having a good time between the spots, not just at the spot. You can’t really do that in Cali because it’s all so spread out. It’s like a half-hour drive to each spot!
So how did Toy Machine enter the picture?
I was out in Cali on an Evol trip but I wasn’t really feeling it. It was just feeling stale to me. I ended up meeting with Kalis one day and he could tell I was over it. He told me to send him and Jamie a tape and they’d see what was up with it. I ended up getting hurt for a few months after that but as soon as I got back on my board, I put all my focus on this tape I was going to send Jamie. I ended up skating with him a bit and it all worked out. He came out to Philly, linked up with Wolfe and it was wrap.
Granted Heavy Metal was a turning point for the brand but did you expect Welcome to Hell to blow up like it did? What was it like filming for that thing? Such an eclectic but amazing team… did you see this as your big opportunity?
Yeah, I was just at that point where I was really starting to come into my own. I was 19-years-old and felt like I had everything to prove to the world. People around my way were telling me how I wasn’t going to make shit out of myself and me being the knucklehead I am, that was all the motivation I needed. Fuck it, I’m going to try and be the best at what I do. I went hard at it.
It’s weird because I expected it to have the impact it did but it was still surprising. I hoped it would have that kind of result but it actually went way farther than I could’ve ever imagined. The fact that it still gets mentioned in interviews and magazines and shit, that’s enough for me. Even though my name never really gets brought up in those things, the fact that I made it in a video like that… shit, I did something right.
We filmed for something like a year for that thing but the time just flew. It was so much fun and we were so into it. It got to the point where our mindset was that even if we didn’t get a trick, maybe we’ll get a good slam out of trying it and that was good, too.
Where did the “the East Coast Powerhouse” bit come from? I imagine you still get called on the daily, right?
That was just Jamie. I remember sitting there, working on those little introductions to everybody’s parts and mine just came out. I remember he just looks over and says, “Oh, I have something for your part. ‘Mike Maldonado, East Coast Powerhouse.’ How’s that?”
“Alright. Yeah, if that’s what you think of me, I’m down with that. That works.”
It was cool. I’d be walking around town and kids would come up and say it. That’s what’s up! But nowadays, it can feel a little weird, to be honest. I’m a little older now and you who you are but with a name like that, you gotta imagine dudes looking at you like, “Powerhouse? Who the fuck do you think you are?!”
It does get a little weird sometimes but fuck it.
So you know I’m going to have to ask about that bench ollie… was that something you’d done before or was that a one and done thing for the cameras? I ask that because the First Division ad is a different outfit than in your Toy footy.
Yeah, I was actually trying a frontside 180 on the day I did the First Division one but we got kicked out. That day was more about just getting the photo and what we could while we there. I never got that frontside 180 though.
The one in the Toy Machine video just happened. We were skating and I’d filmed a line when I started looking at it. I wasn’t even really thinking about trying it until Rick Oyola said something like, “Woah, that would be impossible!”
I don’t think he meant it like I couldn’t do it or anything, just that it would be really fucking hard to do. But hearing that, like I said earlier, I was filming for this thing and as a young bull trying to prove myself, it made me want to do it. And I did.
They had to be tripping.
(pause) Hell, I was even tripping. It was fucking great! To this day, that was probably one of my favorite things I ever did.
I liked that it that was kinda like how we talked about earlier with the skating from spot-to-spot. Adapting. Like, if there was a bike in the way that usually wasn’t there, you just fucking ollie over it. You’re not going to stop me from getting where I’m going. I’m gonna ride along and do what I do. That’s kinda what I liked about it. Fuck it, I’m gonna jump over this huge wall now.
But yeah, I surprised the shit out of myself with that one.
What about that 50-50 to step ender? How do you even go about trying that, knowing you’re probably gonna eat it at the end?
That one was almost the same kinda thing. We went to UPenn and that was the very first spot we went to. I didn’t go there with any type of plans to grind that thing. Bam was talking about it and I think he’d been skating there a few days before with some people. But it was another one of those things where people were talking about how hard it would be, which made me start thinking to myself that maybe I could do it.
Of course, Bam starts telling me how Ricky had once again said that it was impossible and that nobody could ever do it. To this day, I don’t really know if Rick actually said that or if it was Bam just fucking with me… he was known to do that. Just saying shit to start things up.
But I had not idea what to do about those fucking stairs at the end. I honestly just went at it like fuck it, we’ll see what happens and cross that bridge when I get to it. If I get to the bottom, I’ll work something out. If not, we’ll get some good slams.
Looking back on it now, how big an influence do you feel Jamie had on your part in particular?
Yeah, he was definitely a motivator, for sure. He’s the type of dude who can get you to do things you really don’t want to. I have to imagine that just about anybody who has ever ridden for his companies will tell you that he sometimes pushes it too far but it’s not like he’s sitting back there, wanting you to get hurt for some footage. Sometimes you kinda have to make people do some things they don’t necessarily want to do in order use all of their capabilities.
Basically he was trying to motivate and excite us by letting you know that this was going to be THE video. We were trying to building something great in skateboarding and it’s up to you if you want to do it.
Were you surprised when Muska broke out like he did at the premiere? Were you with him at all that night before the big blow-up?
Muska leaving, you could see it coming. He and Jamie had their own little beef already and it was inevitable. You have to remember, we were all still young folks at this point. You want to be the rockstar, the head honcho, and you could see these guys battling already with their parts. It all kinda started with that long, curved rail in L.A.
The Helter Skelter Rail.
Yeah, Muska had actually done that first when Adam McNatt went and did it for the Evol video, knowing that the Evol video was going to come out before ours did. Muska was pissed about that one, for sure. That’s probably what lit the first to begin with. Muska wanted to be the first to do that rail and he was but now, McNatt beat him to the video. He blamed that on Jamie for taking too long.
So now we’re at the premiere and Muska is already pissed when we find out the video is late getting to the theatre, which is normal but he’s now pissed about that, too. Fuck this, fuck that. The Evol premiere had a keg, ours doesn’t… He obviously felt that it was his big day to shine but he basically ended up getting pissed about everything and kicked himself off the team. I think he was looking to quit. He wanted to take his footage and go elsewhere with it, which was probably the best decision he ever made.
Who knows? It could’ve blown Toy Machine up! Look at Shorty’s! But at the same time, look at Shorty’s now. It’s nothing. Toy Machine has had its ups-and-downs but it’s still here. Still a dope-ass company.
Ricky Oyola’s name has already come up a couple times, did he and his crew ever give you grief for riding for the West Coast-based Toy Machine? How come you never pursued Zoo or Illuminati?
It’s weird because right before I got on Toy, those cats actually gave me the option to help hook me up with their teams. Matt Reason wanted me to ride for Adrenaline and Rick wanted me on Zoo. It was cool and I took it for what it was. I didn’t shit on any of them. I just felt Toy Machine was a better fit for me.
But no, they never gave me any grief about being on Toy, surprisingly.
Were you down with Ed’s art direction for Toy? I’m a huge fan but not everyone is hyped on having their board say “diarrhea face” on it.
Aw man, have you heard that story!? Oh my god. Yeah, that was like my fourth or fifth graphic and I was definitely swoll over that one. I was so pissed that I was really thinking about quitting the team over it!
I remember we were on a Europe trip and Ed’s showing us all the graphics he’s working on. He gets to that Diarrhea-Face Poser guy graphic and I just can’t hold myself back. I straight-up tell him, “Don’t you put my fucking name on that, dude! I swear I’ll quit!”
“Alright, Mike. No problem. Whatever.”
Sure enough, it came out. I was so vexed.
“What the fuck does that have to do with anything, man!”
Evidently Satva had ran into this dude while he was out skating one day and took his photo. That’s actually his board in the graphic. But yeah, that was Satva’s shit! It had nothing to do with me, man! And now Ed’s got “Diarrhea-Face Poser” on there, too!?! What the fuck!?! I don’t want that on my board.
Man, I was so pissed about that. I didn’t even save one of those as a collectable. Straight-up, fuck that shit!
I gotta admit, I loved that board!
Yeah, everyone else loved it! Trying to tell me it’s cool… fuck that!
Yeah, everyone else loved it! Trying to tell me it’s cool… fuck that!
We talked about Muska leaving but what did it mean for Toy when Jamie dipped? Obviously things weren’t as disciplined but was that for better or for worse? It was basically you and your crew running things after that, right?
Yeah, and in that respect, it was terrible! That was probably one of the downfalls of the entire thing. You had all these people who thought they knew shit and wanted everything. Everybody thinking they were rockstars cause they got a little bit of money and fame. It was a mess.
At the time, Jamie quitting to ride for Zero felt like a stab in the back. There was a feeling of betrayal there because we had all been repping Zero so hard the whole time it was coming out. It was only supposed to be his clothing company and that was it. Not boards. He had his own team he wanted to use for boards and he made it clear that he was going to stay on Toy Machine. He was going to keep Toy Machine and Zero separate.
So when he told us that he was quitting to ride for Zero, we were pissed. We’d been out there helping promote his shit because he’d done so much for us and now he’s gonna quit? Fucking hell, man. I mean, we wanted to be happy for him and hope this new thing of his would prosper… but it just didn’t totally sit right with us.
There is a clear difference in the overall vibe of Jump Off a Building.
That was more of an open project for all of us to just get it done. Just filming and skating, we didn’t really have a director or anything. It was up to us to push each other, which we did, but Jamie just had a bit more direction with us during Welcome to Hell. He knew what we needed to do, what spots we needed to go to and who needed tricks. It was a lot different.
The company itself kinda took a shitter at that point. We were all too fucking stubborn. A bunch of knuckleheads wanting everything.
Did you get the sense that the team was about to implode like it did or was it more of a momentum thing? Like one person leaves then another and so on?
Well, Kerry left first for Habitat. I don’t know how the hell he got that offer but that was a big blow. It definitely felt like he had broken the whole crew up and we were pretty fucked up over that one. That’s when things really started to spiral out. You could tell that certain people were already on their way and it started to feel like it was going downhill. The reason I left was a little different though.
Bam and Tod Swank had been having some serious problems over the ownership of the CKY video. I was siding more with Bam in the thing because he was my homie and that ended up being kind of a bad thing for me. I basically quit because I thought he was getting fucked over but I didn’t know that he already had a plan in the works for what he was doing next. Bam was already quitting but had thought it through a little more. I didn’t know this. I didn’t have a plan when I quit, I was just trying to stand up for him. It was stupid and I kinda ended up shooting myself in the foot for doing so.
Baker was in the near future and was definitely something to contemplate but that wasn’t for a little while yet. They were still getting everything together at that point. Baker didn’t happen for another six months after I had quit.
So you had no plan at all when you left? I know you were unsponsored there for a minute but I always presumed you and Bam had something in the mix that must’ve fallen through.
Not at all. It was an instant decision I made while caught up in the moment.
What had happened was that things had gotten so bad between Bam and Tod that Bam wasn’t even allowed to call Tum Yeto anymore. He’d been calling so much about contracts or whatever that they had actually banned him from calling. He had to go through Ed directly to even get boards.
So Bam calls me up to bitch about everything and I can’t even believe it. Fuck that, I’ll see about this myself. I end up calling them pretending to be Bam and I hear it firsthand, “No, we’re not allowed to talk to you.”
“Fuck that. You tell those motherfuckers that you just lost one. I’m not Bam, this is Mike Maldonado and I was calling to see what was up with all this. Y’all fucked up. I quit.”
Like I said, I was just caught up in the moment… and right after that, I came to the realization of what the fuck am I doing? I just wasn’t thinking, man. Young and stubborn. Ed was like my big brother. I should’ve just listened to him and stayed where I was. None of the teams I rode for ever felt the same after that. They were cool but Toy Machine was a family.
I kept thinking how Bam was my homie… where’s my homie now? Where’s all the people I was fighting for? Nobody’s out there fighting for me. That’s life, I guess. That’s what you gotta learn when you grow up, if you grow up.
How come you never did the CKY thing?
It just wasn’t me. When it started, I was always down for helping Bam out if there was something he wanted to do. I thought it was funny at the time, too. But once it got big, that shit just got too drawn out. For a while, they were even giving me shit for going out filming skating instead of filming their stuff. That shit wasn’t my scene.
There were times when I’d be at Bam’s while they were filming for Viva La Bam and I’d have to tell’ em to get those cameras out of my face, that I wasn’t going to be doing that kinda shit for them. Don’t film me. I’m not signing some fucking form. I don’t give a fuck about being on TV.
How did you get down with the Baker crew? It definitely seemed like an unusual pairing but the contrast was so sick.
Baker came about from living at the Warner spot with Erik Ellington. That was the whole crew right there. Drew lived down the street and everybody kinda started staying together.
I’m not really sure how it all came together because at one point, a little bit before Baker, those dudes were talking about doing a different company with Adrian Lopez and a few other guys. I remember those dudes talking about that all the time. Coming over to my crib, going upstairs and locking the door to talk about shit. J, Drew, Adrian and a couple other heads locking themselves inside rooms in our apartment. They just didn’t want word getting out.
That one never happened but I guess that’s where it all started with Erik and the whole Baker thing. I actually remember Erik bringing it up to me, thinking I would be a good addition to the team, which is funny since he didn’t even end up going through with it at first. For whatever reason, he stayed on Zero. So the dude that asked me to ride for the company didn’t even end up riding for them.
That’s fucked, man. But talk a little about your part in Baker2G? You definitely pulled out some shit on that one we’d never really seen from you before, was there a bit of a new spark there?
Yeah, there were a couple things in there that I was super psyched on but then there was some stuff in there that was just me skating.
I think a lot of my problems after Jump Off A Building came from just living in L.A. as I had never really intended to live there. It was never my plan to move to Cali. It just so happened that Erik was moving out of Elissa’s spot and he needed a roommate. Shit was kinda stale out in West Chester and I didn’t want to leave him hanging so I just did it. But living out in Cali was so unproductive for me. I could never really get into a rhythm. Not having a car for so long and having to depend on other people…. Add to that getting caught up in that lifestyle of chilling and partying, it gets you.
So what ended up happening to you and Baker? Why’d you switch over to their rival, Bootleg?
Things were just getting sour at Baker for me. The whole beef between Baker and Bootleg had started getting in-between the riders and it sucked. I knew all of the Bootleg dudes. I skated with Eldridge and the Team Manager all the time. Those were my homies. I lived with Elissa. Just about the whole damn Bootleg team were friends of mine, which started to become this thing with me and the Baker dudes. They started shitting on me.
I remember I was about to go on a trip to SF with Elissa to meet up with some dudes up there. But since it was technically a Bootleg trip, Baker started tripping on me.
Everything just spiraled out from there. I guess I wasn’t selling enough boards but they also weren’t being upfront about certain things with me.
I actually went to have a sit-down with those dudes to try and squash things. To start things over fresh. But the whole time, it just felt like one of those situations where someone wants to break-up but they don’t know how. That’s how it felt.
“You know, you gotta think about life after skateboarding… We’d definitely love for you to take a team manager position in the future.”
What the fuck? Look, if you want me to quit so you can turn Spanky pro, I’ll do that. I love skateboarding and I love this company. I only want to see shit be furthered. If I’m hindering that, let me know and I’ll fall back. If I’m not taking care of business, I’m taking up space.
They seemed so relieved to hear me say that, which kinda fucked me up. I didn’t like how quick they were to spring on that. Not even letting me work on things for a minute. It was just, “You would do that?”
How that went down, I started to rethink the whole thing. That we were never really cool like that. It was business relationship.
But I cannot talk shit on them cats. Drew gave me a fucking Cadillac El Dorado. A ’99 emerald green Cadillac El Dorado… he just gave it to me. I cannot complain about what he did for me because that was one of the illest shits ever. Maybe he saw what was coming and tried to give me a car to motivate me. I don’t know.
Why did it turn so confrontational between those two companies?
Honestly, I don’t really know for certain. I just go off of what I’ve been able to piece together from everyone and what I got out of it was that it wasn’t even so much Drew as it was a few other dudes. The main sticking point was the fact that kids weren’t able to decipher the difference between the two companies. Art directors make way more fucking money than the pros do and these guys were pissed that J was basically getting paid twice to make the same graphics for both companies. They felt like what they were paying him to make graphics, he was making the same amount or more at Bootleg and kids still can’t tell them apart. They were hurt he was making all this dough and it was getting in Drew’s ear.
Things just got to a point where Drew had to do something about it so he cut J and that’s when shit got bitter. But it sucked because the whole thing when it started was Baker Bootleg. That’s was it was. It was always to be those two companies.
Looking back on it now, things probably started to turn early on when mugs wanted to put money into Bootleg and J refused, wanting to keep things separate. Keep Baker and Bootleg the same, but separate. That’s what really put a monkey wrench in the whole thing because it seemed like to those guys that this dude was out to fuck ‘em over. It just grew from there.
Why didn’t Bootleg make it? Plenty of momentum, a ton of solid ams on the come up and a solid video, why did it fizzle like it did?
It just did. I don’t really know why. I’ve heard all kinds of different shit but I never really got it straight from the horse’s mouth. I guess the company just wasn’t doing all that great. Or maybe it was but other shit was being put onto it to where it didn’t look like it was doing all that great. I’m not really sure.
I know at one point, I heard something about how they had to cut everybody’s pay, that they could only pay us royalties or something. I think J just didn’t even want to go through all that. He felt like if they couldn’t really pay his people what they deserve or what they’d been getting, fuck it. If it was going to be like that then there was no real point in having a company.
While you've continued to pop up basically whenever you want over the years with different sponsors, it does seem you've purposefully dipped out of the spotlight a bit. Are you just over the industry shenanigans?
I am, but at the same time, I don’t think many people understand what’s been going on with me. I’ve talked to a few different people about riding for different companies over the years and they’re all like, “Yeah, man. We’ll hook you up but let’s see what you got first!”
You gotta understand, man, I’m not 16-years-old anymore. I don’t live with a bunch of filmers and shit. I’m not just sweating $300 to cover my portion of the rent, I have a fucking mortgage. I got dogs to take care of from where I used to breed them. I mean... I either have to get a job or stay on my grind to make sure shit is paid for. I don’t think people get it and it’s the people who own these companies that should really get it. They don’t want to hook this dude up and then have him burn us like everybody else.
You have to hook me up so I can show you shit. You need to help me get out of this position so I can skate and show you some shit. I can skate, obviously, but as things are right now, I can’t go out 4 or 5 hours a day… and that’s nothing out of any skater’s day. I love skating but I can’t do just that. I gotta grind to make sure shit’s taken care of.
So what’s up with your new board on Terror of Planet X? Definitely good to see a board out there with your name on it.
That’s my homie right there. My young bull I was hooking up with boards back in the day, now he’s wanting to do his own shit and it’s cool as fuck. Cool ass graphics. Almost like he doesn’t even need a team, like the next Hook-Ups or something.
Terror of Planet X is definitely a mouthful but it does have a ring to it. Once he showed me all of these ideas he had planned out around it though, I know it’s gonna work out fine. It’s honestly just like having Stricks back on the program.
There’s a lot we’re still working on but it’s dope. Right now we’re only doing small seasonal runs of shit. Keeping it real small. It’s just my homie doing all this. He didn’t get some type of big-ass loan or anything, he’s just hustling his ass off. Just like me. On the grind… I gotta respect him for that.
Big thanks to Ryan Gee, Angel from Planet X, Rob from Pusher and Mike for taking the time.