11.15.2016

chrome ball interview #96: alphonzo rawls

chops sits down with alf for some conversation.
 

So someone told me that you were actually one of the kids in the background when Tony Hawk ollied the fence at Del Mar for Animal Chin? Is that true?

That is correct! That’s me standing there with a couple friends of mine. Yes, technically, I'm in Animal Chin. (laughs)

What makes it more awesome is that we weren’t even supposed to be in there. We were still too young to have memberships so we’d actually snuck in there that day. We used to do that all the time. Basically how it worked was if you were under 16, in order to skate Del Mar, you had to get someone to drive you out to Fallbrook and get insurance through the Boy Scouts office there. But Fallbrook was like an hour and a half away… my mom wasn’t having it. So instead, I’d just take the bus down to Del Mar and sneak in with my buddies, hoping to get in as long of a session as possible before getting kicked out.

That day, in particular, was great because not only were we able to skate and watch a contest, we also got a front row seat of Tony ollieing that fence! We got to be in Animal Chin because of that! I mean, I was already Powelled-out before but I went crazy after that! (laughs)


It had to be an amazing experience growing up around such a legendary park like Del Mar. That’s about as heavy of a scene as it gets.

Oh yeah, even though I was sneaking around and getting kicked out all of the time, Del Mar was super inspiring to me. You can’t ask for a better introduction to skateboarding culture. Being able to see the dudes from the magazines in-person, doing all of the latest tricks. It was incredible.

As little dudes, who did your crew see as the “nice” pros and who were the ones you steered clear of?

Honestly, nobody was ever flat-out mean to us. Even as kids growing up doing classic kid stuff, you can always tell who you should probably stay away from, regardless of if they’re pro or not.

But as far as the “nice” pros from back then, Billy Ruff immediately comes to mind. He always took the time to talk and hand out stickers. I was always blown away by how nice Tony Hawk was, too. I mean, the guy was pretty much the man at the time and here we are, a bunch of little kids, but he was always friendly.

Actually, as I got a little older and met Tony again on more than just a fan level, right off the bat, he let me borrow his car. I’d only gotten to really meet him just a few days prior when he invited me over to skate his ramp. My car battery ended up dying while I was there so he just let me borrow his car. He didn’t even care but I was blown away. The guy barely knew me! Not only was I starstruck that he’s Tony Hawk, why in the world would it be okay for me to take his emerald blue Honda Civic hatchback!?! But there I was, out cruising the streets in Tony’s car.

What was in the stereo?

A Pixies tape. Of course, those are the details you remember.


I know McGill’s came later but I’ve always been fascinated by that place as it really was this amazing epicenter of transitional progression, even while that style of skating’s popularity was on the decline.

McGill’s was my whole world, man. I was there as it opened on the first day and was there literally everyday from open-to-close for the first 3 months. But honestly, skateboarding was so small at that point that I didn’t have anywhere else to skate transition anyway.

It was an exciting time because street skating was really coming into it’s own. Suddenly, we had all this new street stuff changing the way we skated ramps. While vert used to be the inspiration for most early street tricks, it was now becoming the other way around. McGill’s was actually the perfect place for all of this because not only could you take streets tricks to his mini-ramps with all the spines and hips, you could then adapt it to vert when you felt ready. It was perfect. I feel like McGill’s played a large part in establishing this new way of thinking about tricks.

...just make sure to wear your wrist guards. McGill checked that religiously. (laughs)

Was your getting sponsored just an extension of skating there everyday? Was H-Street your first sponsor?

Well, I was actually supposed to get on Powell-Peralta first. McGill would always tell me how they’d been hearing all of this stuff about me... Stacy was supposed to come down and check me out but he never ended up making it.

I was also supposed to get on Dogtown at one point, too. Paul De Jesus approached me about it and the TM even made the trip this time, too. I was supposedly on the team but I never got any boards or anything from them. 

Danny was actually the one who opened up the doors for me at H-Street. He brought me up a few times and apparently, they were already interested. Luckily for me, they took those necessary next steps and the deal got finalized literally the day after the San Diego Shackle Me Not premiere.


Just as they were starting to blow up.

And I gotta mention that, along with my Chin bgp’s, you can also see me make my unofficial H-Street debut in the background of Shackle Me Not, too. While Magnusson’s doing a fakie rock on the mini at McGill’s, I’m doing a 540 over the spine. Some more well-timed cameos on my part!

Damn, Animal Chin and Shackle Me Not are two classics!

What can I say? I get around, baby!

Amazing. So talk a little about your first project in the actual foreground with Hokus Pokus. How did you go about getting your own part with such a large team?

That just came from a whole lot of filming. You basically had to earn your own part during the filming process. But if you had what it took, it would happen for you. It all depended on your footage. A lot of people just didn’t want to put in the effort. Luckily for me, I was motivated. I knew enough to realize how big of a deal these videos could be.

I also gotta give credit to Mike Ternasky for being such a motivator. He was almost like a father-figure to those of us who didn’t exactly have the best environment at home. Looking back on it, we were basically like a bunch of little kids out there trying to impress our Dad. But he’d find cool ways to rewards us for things. A couple hundred bucks for making something within so many tries… and yes, dinners at Benihana’s.


So “dinner at Benihana’s” was an actual real thing?

Yes, it was. There was actually a Benihana’s not too far from the H-Street team house.
Mike definitely loved using the reward system.

Do you remember any clips you got specifically because of the reward promised?

I honestly don’t because I didn’t need that. My big motivation back then was always the premiere. I’d never been to a video premiere before and could only imagine what that energy must be like with everyone watching your stuff. That’s what kept me fired up. I wanted to do my best and show that I belonged on H-Street.

If you look closely at my board in that older footage, you can often see where I’d use sticker paper to write trick lists of what I wanted to film that day. I remember writing them out the night before and sticking it down close to the rails so once I got to the park the next day, I could start rattling them off. Checking them off as I went. I used to love seeing how many checks I could get in one session.


Did you get a lot of that H-Street “nerd” stuff back then?

Definitely in my travels. I think there were some people who didn’t like how H-Street seemed to have blown up overnight. The kids and fans of skateboarding always liked us but there was definitely an undercurrent of anti-H-Street within the industry. Older pros would always give us crap… the Dogtown guys, specifically, weren’t too fond of us.

I remember during the awards ceremony after an Arizona contest one year, I heard a couple dudes at the Dogtown table say something slick about H-Street. I was still an aggro young kid at the time who probably didn’t know any better so, of course, I decide to step up.

“What the fuck!?! Fuck you guys! You wanna talk some shit!?!”

This is basically to their whole team. It never went any further than that but it’s funny to look back on now, especially since I almost rode for them at one point. They definitely weren’t intimidated by me but I think it did show that I wasn’t gonna take that kinda shit. But incidents like that made it clear that it actually wasn’t all good for us out there. That not everybody was so impressed by us.

Didn’t you get in a fight during an H-Street demo at Embarcadero once?

I did. I was 14 and on one of my very first tours. One of the stops was at Embarcadero and I ended up getting into a little scuffle with some guy who was probably 20-years-old.

Long story short, I got punched in the face. It actually wasn’t much of a scuffle. He was with a big crew and I knew my place. I wasn’t a local while, apparently, this guy was kinda like the bully of the area. He was a bigger guy than most skaters so I think he liked taking advantage of that.

I always heard your board hit his girlfriend’s ankle.

Nah, that didn’t happen. We were skating the 7 as he and his crew sat at the bottom. I don’t even think he skated really… just a kid looking for trouble. There might’ve been some of that H-Street beef mixed in there as well, I’m not sure. I was just a 14-year-old kid, new to traveling with skateboarding.


On a brighter note, describe the day-to-day in one of skateboarding’s most notorious residences, the legendary H-Street house. And while I know where this is probably gonna go: what’s your favorite memory from your time there?

I mean, it was basically your typical skate house but on a grand scale. We were all so young back then. H-Street paid for it all and just about every rider we ever had came through at some point. There were the people who actually lived there, like Sal in the big bedroom with his Mustang in the garage, but there was always people coming and going. Everyone from Jeremy Allyn to Donger to Cookiehead Jenkins.

Obviously, my favorite memories from the H-Street house have to do with the now-notorious area resident, Katie. Of course! For those who don’t know, let’s just say that she was fairly promiscuous, she liked to do the team favors and that she came around quite often. It was pretty nuts, actually.

Some people might not know this but the old pro Dave Andrecht used to work at H-Street. He actually lived at the house for a little bit, too, with a room upstairs that was pretty much off-limits back then.

Well, I remember Katie was over to the house one day and the team was having their usual way with her. It must’ve been Bill Weiss’ turn because he ended up sneaking off with her up to Andrecht’s room. Obviously, he knew he wasn’t supposed to be in there but Bill went for it anyway. Next thing we know, Andrecht comes walking into the house not 10 minutes after they’d just gone up there. He starts walking up the stairs towards his room as we all sit there, looking at each other like, “Oh my God!”

We just know that he’s about to walk in on those two screwing around on his bed and its about to get crazy. But he walks in there… and we don’t hear anything. We’re expecting to hear screaming at any second but it’s totally silent. 5 whole minutes go by and finally, Dave just walks out like nothing. We’re all freaking out but trying to stay calm. What the hell is going on in there!?!

Apparently, they were in his closet! Dave didn’t even know. I still don’t even think he knows. There he was, steps away from them naked doing their thing and he had no idea.

The whole Katie thing is crazy, dude. I mean, a team van pulls up to School W and one or two dudes stay behind while everyone else goes skating? I still trip on this. She was such a soft-spoken, mellow girl but she was down for whatever. She’d just handle it.

You gotta wonder where she is now and if she’s aware of her notoriety…

I actually heard through the years that she was related to Orson Welles somehow and inherited a bunch of money. Pretty crazy.


Well, on a completely different subject: didn’t you name the “Big Spin”?

I did! Lotti made it up but I named it. I happened to be there one day as he was shooting a sequence of it behind Linda Vista Skatepark. He was looking for something to call it in the caption. His name was so similar to “lotto” or “lottery” that I put 2 and 2 together. There was a popular lottery game at the time that you’d see around called “Big Spin” so I put it out there and it just stuck. The rest is history.

What was the story behind that pool ollie in the Not the New H-Street Video with the lady freaking out?

That was at a hotel in Houston. We were down there for the Shut Up and Skate contest one year. We’d heard that Gonz had ollied it a few years prior and, for whatever reason, Magnusson was egging me on the whole time to ollie it, too. We ended up having an early flight out that year so I just went out and tried it real quick before heading to the airport. Keep in mind, it’s 5am. Obviously, you’re not supposed to be skating in that greasy pool area, let alone that early in the morning while the rest of the hotel is trying to sleep.

But yeah, as you can see, I bailed it. The lady who worked at the hotel was definitely playing it up to the camera with the yelling. She was actually really nice about it.

I went back again the next year for the same contest and tried it again…. and bailed it again! Same exact thing happened. We had to get the board out and dry it off real quick. I ended up making it on the 3rd or 4th try.  The best thing about that is the guys playing cards beside the pool in that clip. They couldn’t have cared less about any of it, they just didn’t want me disturbing their game. I always thought that was funny.


Did you see Plan B coming at all?

I knew it was coming because I was one of the first people Ternasky presented the idea to. I remember him telling me one day, “I haven’t told anybody about this but I’m thinking of breaking off from the team and taking you, Danny and a few other riders with me.”

So yeah, I knew. I actually thought I was going to be a part of it. What ended up happening is that I went on tour with John Sonner to New York and back in his Geo Storm. It just so happened that at this same time, they were having the big meetings about forming the team. So I come back and not only do I hear about some of our most incredible riders leaving for this new thing, but also, now I’m not part of it.

It was bittersweet. Although I would’ve loved to been on Plan B, I was okay with staying on H-Street… even though we all knew that losing those guys was not going to be good for the brand. I had a good relationship with Tony Mag at the time and I will say that my staying definitely made me a bigger fish in a now much smaller pond.

I do think had I gotten on Plan B, it would’ve served as a motivator for me to do more with my career. I’ll admit that some of the wind was knocked out of my sails after all that happened.

Sponsor-wise, were you looking around after those guys left?

I actually felt content on sticking with Mag. He had a much greater appreciation for his team after all that. I always knew that if I had any problems, I could leave but there was no reason for me to at that point. So I was loyal in return.


You definitely proved your role on the squad shortly afterwads with your Next Generation part.

To be honest with you, I always get my video parts confused. If you don’t mind, let me look that one up real quick. Hold on.

(typing)

Oh, it’s a Thrasher Classic! Alright! And there’s me jumping over the pool! Okay….

That had to be a turbulent project to work on with the company going through such a drastic change midway through, right?

Yeah, filming for Next Generation was kinda tricky. We’d already filmed so much it when all of a sudden, a lot of our best guys leave to go start this other brand that’s supposedly setting this new bar for the industry. It was a setback at the time but we knew that we had to still make this thing live up to all of the hype that had been built up prior to Plan B. We were still an elite team, despite those guys leaving, so we went back at it. It ended up being a couple of years in total with how everything worked out.

I definitely felt more pressure on my end. I quickly became a key player on the team, not only with all of the new talent they’d gotten but also as one of the few remaining links to the original H-Street legacy. I knew I had to step it up for the sake of the company’s new position in the industry. We did have younger talent, like Koston, but he was still so new to the industry. No one knew what all he was capable of yet.


It did seem like you and Koston fed off each other for that one.

We realized that we were gonna be two bigger elements for it. We felt like it was up to us to keep the brand alive.

But yeah, we were absolutely feeding off each other at that time. We were living together and skating everyday. He was young, hungry and already incredible. I was out there trying to do my thing, too. 

That was just the nature of the situation.

Were you able to recognize Eric’s talent early on? Was there a specific moment when he did something where in your mind, he became “Koston”?

Koston and I were actually born in the same hospital in Thailand, like a year apart. Crazy, right?

With Eric, you could just tell he had something exceptional from the start. The rate that tricks came to him, it was like it was all just too fucking easy. I remember being in parking lots for hours trying some crazy flatground flip. He’d just roll up and do it first try, goofing around. Sometimes he’d even throw it out of a manual trick… that’s when it really hurt. (laughs)

Stuff like that happened all the time, even on transition. There was nothing he couldn’t do. Mini-ramps, handrails, manny pads… the dude had no kryptonite. Luckily, I was able to witness it early on so I could sit back and watch it all go down while everyone else was just figuring it out.


Which brings us to my personal favorite in your bgp trilogy, your Egyptian style roll-by at Miley in his classic Falling Down part. Always loved that.

(laughs) You know how it goes: completely spontaneous. Skating together and trying to film. You’re skating back to try something again when your friend makes his trick. It’s too late to get out of the camera’s way so you might as well do something funny as you roll by. Here we are talking about it 20 years later.

That’s the same San Francisco trip that he switch 360 flipped the EMB 7.

But how does one go about trying a caballerial backfoot flip on vert? How long does that take to land?

I actually remember seeing Eric try that on a little quarterpipe. I guess it must’ve been floating around in my head until I decided to try it on vert one day, out of the blue. I wasn’t even planning on trying it that day but gave it a few shots anyway. Just winging it.

The funny thing is that it didn’t even take all that long. I think I got it under 10 tries. How I was with tricks back then, if something even felt remotely close, I’d try to stomp it and hope for the best. You can definitely tell by the sketchy landing on that one, for sure. But that’s the only time I ever even tried it. 

It’s weird you brought that up because I’ve been thinking about that trick a lot lately. It’d be sick to go back and do it cleaner after all these years.


When did it become apparent to you that vert’s popularity was waning? Did that consciously affect how you conducted your career? Did you ever find yourself purposefully skating street more or possibly shying away from that new McTwist variation?

Well, vert’s demise quickly became apparent because all the ramps started disappearing. It became more and more difficult actually finding places to even do it at. 

My thing is that I never limited myself as a “vert” or “street” skater. I always skated whatever was available to me. I’m just a fan of skateboarding and honestly, I was getting more into street skating at that time anyway. That’s where my inspiration was.

I still skated transition when and where I could but I was always cognizant of what was going on. Not that this inspired me to skate a certain way but let’s be honest: at the end of the day, you want to keep your job. Kids weren’t buying Tony Hawk boards at this point, they were buying the latest street guy’s board instead. You always kept that in the back of your mind.

I didn’t realize that you drew so many of your H-Street graphics back then. It seemed that rip-off stuff you did sold pretty well.

Yeah, Pillsbury Doughboy, the Energizer Bunny and a few other un-notables. That stuff was all me. 
Danny’s Little Engine That Could and Magnusson’s remix graphic where the big cross is holding the kid for some reason… I’ll own up to those, too. I’ll admit it. Horrible. (laughs)

Oddly enough, H-Street was very receptive to my graphic ideas. I look back on them now and still can’t believe some of the stuff they let me put on their boards. They had to have been able to find better artists!

But I always loved that about H-Street. It was like the ultimate DIY-brand, which I think kids were able to pick up on. Things didn’t have to be perfect and that’s what made it cool. But if you compare our boards to the amazing graphics that were coming out of Powell or Santa Cruz around that time, we looked crazy! It must’ve looked like Cheyne Magnusson was in the back drawing that stuff for us.

Nope, it was me!


So what ultimately did happen between you and H-Street?

The final straw had to do with… I probably shouldn’t mention his name here. Aw, fuck it. It’s been so long ago and we’re cool now anyway. Do you remember Brian Barber? He was a pro for Evol at the time? Well, he was also working in the shipping department and from what I understand, he was jealous and upset that I was getting paid the most out of everybody on the team.  

But you were easily their most popular pro at the time!

There was nobody left! I was the only one really selling any boards, I thought I had a fair deal! But Brian evidently thought otherwise and brought it up with Tony.

“You’re paying Alf way too much while you’re giving the rest of us all pay cuts. You should cut his pay more instead of ours.”

As you can imagine, I wasn’t too psyched when I found out that someone else was speaking on behalf of my livelihood. So I made a special trip out there and socked him up a little bit. Mag didn’t really appreciate this. He wanted to go about it in a more professional manor instead of me beating the guy up at this house. So because of that, Mag and I ended up having it out, which led to a mutual parting of ways.

I somehow ended up on Bitch Skateboards.


Yeah, nobody saw that one coming. How’d that happen?

I just so happened to get contacted by Sal Rocco at the precise moment I left H-Street. He not only offered me a position to ride for Bitch but to also do some art for them. I knew that his plan was to start a company in retaliation of Girl but that was never my objective working there. They are my friends… but unfortunately, I had just lost my board sponsor. As of that exact moment, I no longer had my main source of income. I didn’t know what else to do.

The funny thing about Bitch is that I always wanted to ride for a World company. I always liked what World did and had always ridden their boards, sanded down and painted. I was down with literally everything else they had going on there. The offer just had to be for Bitch.

The way I figured it, with my situation, unless Girl or anybody else was gonna make me an offer, Bitch was the best opportunity I had going at the time. I tried shopping around but nobody else had anything to say.

I can’t imagine the day-to-day dealings you must’ve had as an employee of Sal Rocco.

I don’t know how much you know about Sal Rocco but he’s a wild man. I’m not even sure if he’s still alive. He’d go on these crazy drug binges for weeks at a time… and he’s technically my boss! Anything he could get his hands on, he was down and he was gone. He’d just disappear. Imagine trying to get anything done with a guy like that? Let alone trying to hunt down your paycheck, which I had to do a few times. The whole thing was very difficult.


Were the Girl dudes pissed at you?

I imagine the guys at Girl could’ve been but I was sure to make the effort and reach out from the beginning. I was very upfront with Eric about my intentions. I saw it as my opportunity to stay in the industry, that simple. It was something that I had to do. My intentions were never to diss Girl and I was never responsible for any of the Girl diss graphics they came out with.

So you didn’t draw those dick boards they came out with?

Nah, that was all before my time and I’d never have done that anyway.

Their beef was their beef. I honestly wanted to take the whole thing in a different direction, like an update to my Energizer Bunny graphic. It was taking a job that was necessary for me to do at that time. I was there to maintain my role as a professional skateboarder. It was either that or… I don’t even know what. Skateboarding was all I knew and I was scared. Bitch was the only opportunity I had.


How did Natural come about? Was that your company?

Natural was actually Danny Mayer’s company through Select Distribution, which was Brad Dorfman and Vision. Dorfman and Mayer started Natural together.

I didn’t know that was through Vision…

Yeah, Natural wasn’t exactly the best company in the history of skateboarding but we had a lot of fun. A team consisting of a bunch of “vert guys” in 1994 probably wasn’t the smartest business move but we had a good stretch.

Danny Mayer is the one who got Jason Rogers and I involved and I’m proud to say that I got Bucky Lasek on shortly thereafter. It was definitely a case of the homie looking out for the homie because Bucky wasn’t even really skating at that time. He was working for UPS at the time but he was my dude. He’s obviously an amazing skateboarder but he was in a rough spot with vert being in the condition it was in. I knew what he was going through so I hit him up to try and do the damn thing together. I feel like after he got on, that’s when he really started getting motivated again and things took off for him. It’s good to see him still going today.


So, of course, we gotta talk about those crazy Droors ads you were in with the underwear and obviously, the titty suck. Were those your ideas? Did you know that girl?

The girl who’s breast that belongs to is actually Tim Brauch’s sister. She was really cool.

All that came from spoofing high-end fashion advertisements. The skateboarding industry was super influenced by all that at the time. If you go back and look at a lot of ads from that time period, so many of them are based off of CK1 and Tommy Hilfiger ads. Droors was really into it, which is basically where both of those came from, playing with that.

The whole thing came from Ken Block wanting to do something that riffed on the United Colors of Beneton.

“What’s more United Colors than my black face sucking on a white boob?” (laughs)

Of course, he was all over it. We asked Tim’s sister and she got what we were trying to do. The rest is history. Little did I know that decades later, the internet would make it so anytime anyone googles my name, that image immediately pops up. Great. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to explain that one over the years.

I can’t wait until my kids see it. (laughs)


You were always a solid street skater but it was kinda surprising to see you start skating huge rails all of a sudden. How did that quick evolution take place? Are big rails and vert similar frames of mind?

You know what? You nailed it. You’re absolutely right.

A handrail is just like the coping of a vert ramp… at least in my mind anyway. I think a lot of vert skaters feel the same way. If you can 50-50 or lipslide a vert ramp, it’s the exact same thing on a handrail. I think that was the only way I was able to connect with handrails initially.

It also stems from my not being the most patient skateboarder in the world. I’m not going to try flipping-in/flipping-out for 3 weeks. I’d much rather show up somewhere and either make what I want or leave myself at the rail. My style definitely became more balls than brains after a while. (laughs)

I just don’t think that I was as afraid of the pain as others were… Vert ramps are pretty big, too.

But I remember you doing stuff down the Carlsbad Gap rail! There’s no way that thing was fun.

Yeah, I 50’d and lipslid it. But I’m not gonna lie to you: skating rails was never fun. There’s a lot of anxiety there. When you’re planning something like that, you might not even be able to sleep the night before. You don’t know what the fuck is gonna happen. You could end up lying at the bottom of that thing. That stuff takes so much mental preparation.


How’d you get into designing shoes?

All that started through Kastel, remember them? They were getting ready to launch their brand and asked me to design my own signature shoe, which sounded a million times better than any other shoe deal I might’ve had going on at the time so, yes, I’ll take that.

I started drawing a bunch of different shoes that I had floating around in my head and ended up with, like, 12 different designs. Being such a fan of footwear and fashion, I couldn’t decide on just one. But Kastel was so impressed that not only did I get my signature shoes, I also got four other designs into the line as well.

Needless to say, I quickly became fascinated with the footwear process and realized that this was something I could really get into beyond skateboarding. With all the graphic design work I was already doing, footwear design seemed like the obvious next step for me. I was all in.

Not too long after that, Duffs was looking for someone to take charge of their direction and I was able to slide on in. That’s where I went from drawing stuff I thought was cool to developing a real understanding of the process.  I started focusing on utilizing different materials, like denim, in addition to the overall functionality of a shoe. I was starting to go on development travels to factories overseas... basically that position at Duffs was their investing in my education of design.

Things kept progressing from there, building up my design portfolio with a few other brands in the industry. This was all until a couple of years ago when Everybody Skates started to take off. Footwear design remains close to my heart but has had to take more of a backseat these days.


Weren’t you doing fine art portrait stuff of pros prior to Everybody Skates? Was Everybody Skates a side project at first that required a priority shift after it started to catch on?

You noticed that, huh? Yeah, I had to reprioritize there.

I actually launched both projects at the same time but you’re right, my main focus was originally the portrait stuff. A lot of people thought they were paintings but I actually made them on Illustrator and would then sell them as prints and canvases with the pro’s permission. The idea was to someday evolve them into more like a baseball card/sticker format.

The thing is that I kept getting more and more positive feedback on the Everybody Skates images. I wasn’t even looking to start a brand with that stuff, I was more or less just amusing myself on social media. In the beginning, it was basically the images I’d text back and forth with my friends… calling Vinny Ponte a fat bastard, stuff like that. Combining images from pop culture with skateboarding. But I’d post this stuff and every other comment seemed like people asking for shirts.

My problem is that I was stuck in my ways. After designing footwear for 17 years, making t-shirts didn’t seemed like much… another t-shirt brand, big whoop.

Eventually I gave it a go, figuring I’d make a quick run to supply this demand and be done with it. I didn’t realize that in doing so, I was actually creating a bigger buzz. Next thing I know, Supreme is calling to stock my shirts. Basically every retail store wants to be like Supreme, so once I got in there, I had all of these other shops calling, too. It got to the point where I would’ve been a fool to not take it more seriously.

I will admit that one reason why I was so hesitant initially is that I didn’t know how far I could take this stuff from a copyright standpoint. It's not like I know anybody from the Michael Jackson estate.


Are you just producing small batches that are long gone by the time a Cease and Desist comes?

Honestly, there hasn’t been too much of that. At first, I wasn’t doing the volume to warrant those types of conversations anyway. But as I’ve gotten more visibility, I’ve tried to be smart and expand the brand into other areas that aren’t so dependent on celebrity likeness.

For example, I’ve always liked the tiny embroideries that Polo does. But instead of being a logo, what about using the embroidery to tell the story in a small space? So I started applying some of the images I’d already been using on t-shirts as tiny embroideries and found that several of them really worked. And these embroideries also allowed me to start expanding into hats and whatever else… places where I couldn’t run huge graphics.

I’m hyped that people have responded so well because I can now do things more anonymously. I just need to be creative with the medium in order to tell the story. It’s more about allowing people to draw whatever conclusions they want from a design without being so overt. Like, that’s not necessarily Michael Jackson. That heavier-set gentleman in my design doing a kickflip over a giant key could remind you of DJ Kahleed but that would be a coincidence, ya know? (laughs)

Of course. Morrissey’s back smith, Madonna’s Madonna… what’s your process like with this stuff? Are you still just amusing yourself?

Yeah, I still just go with what’s funny to me. I’m not trying to hit a demographic or cash in on a trend.  There will never be an Everybody Skates collabo with Dora the Explorer. It has to be true to my sense of humor.

A lot of my stuff comes from people making extreme expressions or holding their body in a certain way. There has to be something being conveyed that makes a specific trick come to mind and work. And there has to be an artistic element there. I’m never just gonna slap a celebrity’s head on a skateboarder’s body. That’s too easy.


Congrats on all your success, Alf. It’s been quite a trip. So as we wrap this up, what’s next for you? What other projects do you have currently swirling around in your head? I just saw the Plan B Guest Model that you have in the works and it looks amazing. 

Right now, I’m just trying to build off the momentum I’ve somehow been able to build with Everybody Skates. It’s getting a lot of attention and feels good. I just did my first trade show and a Grizzly commercial... I never expected any of this. I’m even skating more these days than I have in years because I’m so inspired.

It’s funny because with all of this stuff we’ve talked about, the whole thing basically came down to wanting to do cool things for as long as I could get away with it. But with everything that’s been going on in the last few years, I’m starting to feel like this is just the beginning.

big thanks to alf for taking the time. 

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

ALF RULES

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. So many good nuggets that I had no idea about. Please don't stop doing these.

Earl said...

Thanks Chops!

sanisidro said...

yeah,another great one!
please,keep 'em coming!
it was a fun read.thanks alf and chops!

Anonymous said...

Alf is the man!

Austin said...

So much stuff in here I had no idea about. Underrated legend.

Anonymous said...

pics of katie?

Frank said...

Surprised you guys skipped the expedition one stuff. That one promo video was sick; 50/50 on the big PVC pipe.

MCS said...

Good read. H-Street was my brand back then. Nice to see an ex-pro who transitioned to something positive and isn't bitter.

Unknown said...

Total gold Chops. Thanks so much for the continued magic that is chrome ball. Funny reading this with someone who was so amazing/underrated (cab back foot flip on vert etc etc etc) and reading Ryan Hickey's tears about not getting his dues for doing 5050s on ledges in NYC.

Anonymous said...

Still a good kid