Hello, my name is Ocean Howell and this is my CBI Interview.
So I gotta admit that while I’ve always been a big fan of your skating, I honestly don’t know that much about you at all. And in prepping for this, I couldn’t find any of the typical old interviews and background stuff I usually do. Did you just not like giving interviews back in the day? I know a lot of dudes tried using a less-is-more “mystique” approach with coverage back then, was that a factor in this at all?
(laughs) Oh, I’m not sure I could’ve gotten away with that. I’ve heard that Tom Penny and Guy Mariano would do that back then, only coming out with a few things every now and then to make sure everything was their best stuff. And I did reach a point later on in my career where I did start to dodge interviews but not so much early on. I just don’t really remember being asked all that often during those initial, more ambitious years of my pro career.
But along those similar lines, I do remember getting a little frustrated at times when people would run stuff of me that I wasn’t particularly excited about. I mean, it was fine that they ran the photo, it was never anything totally embarrassing or anything. I just didn’t quite understand why they ran some of the things they did.
I actually started to like this one later on but I absolutely hated it when it first came out. It was a shifty of mine that Sturt shot. The photo was really nice and to be honest, the shifty looked ok, too. I just didn’t think I popped it high enough. It was a pretty low shifty and I remember being so bummed on that.
There were a few others over the years but that’s the one that always comes to mind. I think back on it now and realize that it’s obviously more of an artistic shot but I was still pretty young… Crazy Sturt. I always felt so lucky to be working with him that I never questioned his judgment. I trusted him and just let him do his thing because I respected him so much.
That and he probably would’ve killed you.
(laughs) You’re probably right! You didn’t want to get into an argument with that guy!
But going back to what I was saying before, is Ocean even your real name or a nickname?
Ocean is actually my middle name: Erik Ocean Howell. But I’ve been Ocean forever. My parents have always called me that since birth.
And you grew up skating in Carlsbad?
I was actually born in Oceanside but I moved to Carlsbad when I was in junior high. My parents split up and my Mom moved there while my Dad stayed in Oceanside. I’d go back and forth between them. I was still in Oceanside when I first started skating, though. Back in ‘85. My next-door neighbor had an old Nash board and I’d screw around on it. One day, he decided that he wasn’t that into it so I bought it off him for cheap. From then on, I was always out dinking around in the street. I got hooked pretty quickly.
Any good run-ins with local pros as a young grom out there dinking?
I remember going to Tony Hawk’s house once when I was little with my friends. It’s not like we were invited or anything, we just showed up. We somehow figured out where he lived so we just went over there and knocked on his door. I can’t image what he thought as he opened up to see a bunch of little kids standing on his doorstep.
“Hey Tony, what’s up!?!”
He was really nice about it, though. If someone did that to me, I’m not sure how friendly I’d be.
The important one for me actually came a few years later when I first met Hensley. He was still on Vision at the time… H-Street wasn’t even really a thing yet. But he used to come up from Vista with Steve Ortega and Brennand Schoeffel to skate around Carlsbad on a fairly regular basis. He was so far ahead of everyone else, it was mind-blowing. And here he was doing all of this amazing stuff and none of it was getting documented. He didn’t even care. It was the best.
But not only was he this amazing skater, he was also so cool and down to Earth. So humble. He was everything you could’ve imagined being right with skating, which actually made me like skating even more. He was always nice and psyched to skate with us, even though we were still just learning and coming up. It meant so much to us. Honestly, if I had to point to any one thing that contributed to my eventually making it as a pro, it would be from my watching Hensley.
It wasn’t until later when Shackle Me Not came out that any of what he was doing actually got documented and put out there. But we’d been watching him for a while by then. I actually remember being a little bummed about the fact that a few of the amazing things I’d seen him do weren’t in the video. We still loved it, though.
So you were able to watch H-Street grow from the beginning?
Yeah, starting in my junior high years and all throughout high school, it was basically the H-Street era. It was my favorite company in all of the years leading up to my actually getting sponsored by them.
Like I said, when I first met Matt, he was riding Vision boards but it wasn’t too long after that when I saw him riding Magnusson Designs stuff. I remember these totally wild shapes with the tail twice as wide as the rest of the board. It was crazy. But that stuff turned out to be the proto-H-Street stuff.
It was great to watch the whole thing explode like it did.
How did you officially get into the mix? Was H-Street your first board sponsor?
Yeah, H-Street was my first board sponsor. That all came about through Alf. He lived in Oceanside and used to always see Mark Wyndham and I skating around. He told Ternasky about us and organized a session up in Carlsbad to meet up and possibly film.
Basically, everything Mark and I had in Hokus Pokus came from that day. My frontside boardslide down the kink rail was the first thing we ever got. Then came Mark’s mind-blowing stuff: the pop shove-it 5-0 and the backside 180 fakie nosegrind. Those tricks were totally unheard of down handrails at that time. But all of that stuff was the same day, the day we got on H-Street. Alf just took us out skating with Ternasky and that was it.
I was wondering why you only had one trick in there and if you filmed anything else?
Nah, that was it. I think we filmed all of that in an hour. Those spots were pretty close together.
I’m pretty sure the editing for Hokus Pokus was already done by that point but luckily, they threw us in at the end. I remember Ternasky telling us that there wasn’t enough time to put our names in the credits but that he’d figure out something. That’s why he dubbed in the “Yeah, Ocean!” and “This is Markus” bit. He figured that he’d at least say our names in the video if we couldn’t be listed.
How many times have people come up to you and screamed out “Yeah, Ocean!” over the years?
A lot. Honest to God, I still get that sometimes. I even remember people writing it on their griptape. So funny.
And Mark never actually went by “Markus”, right? He was just “Mark” in his personal life?
Right, that was Ternasky. And, of course, everyone called him “Markus” after Hokus Pokus. I think it did bug him a little but he was so psyched on everything, he just never said anything. But he was always “Mark” to the people that knew him.
Were the two of you guys really as close as it seemed in mags and videos back then?
Oh yeah, we skated together almost everyday. We were really tight. I mean, growing up, he lived up the hill from me so he’d just skate down and meet me at my house on the way into town. We’d skate around Carlsbad all day and then bomb some hills on the way home. Watch some skate videos that night and redo the whole thing the next day.
So you guys were part of the same neighborhood crew? That’s how you met?
Exactly. You know how you always had an idea of who skated within a 3 or 4-mile radius of your house? That’s how I met Mark. And you gotta remember, this is back during the days of jump ramp sessions, too. So the entire scene was basically around whoever’s house had a jump ramp in front of their driveway.
Mark had the most natural talent of anyone I’ve ever seen. He was so good, so fast. I clearly remember when he’d only been skating for 6 months or so… he had an Eddie Elguera Madrid board, that’s how long ago it was. But he was doing switch methods off jump ramps. We didn’t even know what to call it.
On that same board, remember that kinda flat rail Hensley does a slow-mo 50-50 on in Shackle Me Not? It’s a weird spot but Mark did a 20ft frontside boardslide on that thing. And this is within him skating for 6 months. It blew our minds. Then he did a shove-it out of one, a body varial out of another one and I think all of this was first try. I remember we all just stopped. The whole thing only took a couple of minutes. I think even he was shocked by it.
Someone from Transworld actually shot a sequence of the frontside boardslide… I’m pretty sure it was Mark Waters. He expected it to run in the magazine but they said it was too good. (laughs)
What do you mean?
They said they wouldn’t run it because it was too good. He was a nobody and wasn’t associated with any of the companies that advertised in the magazine. It made pros look bad so it got rejected. We couldn’t believe it, man… our first glimpse inside the industry. But it was also our first realization that we could possibly break into this thing.
You two were often characterized as “in your own world”. Was there any sense of friendly competition between you two or was it more about the progression of tricks and pushing the limits?
The scene down in San Diego with the H-Street House was a little too nuts for us. Those guys were a little older while Mark and I were still only 15 or so and, admittedly, a bit sheltered. Regardless, we didn’t have a way to get down there anyway so yeah, we were definitely off on our own.
There was some friendly competition there, for sure, but it was never a big deal. We were never trying to “beat” each other. While we did have a lot of the same sensibilities, I thought it was pretty obvious that we had very different bags of tricks. Mark did a lot more switch backside stuff… nollie inward heels, things like that. Different ways of doing things. But it was always fun to see a different approach at the same spots.
But I was Mark’s biggest fan and always tried to consciously push him. He was always a little reticent about a career in skating. As soon as he started getting some attention, I don’t think he ever knew how much he really wanted. I was always trying to be his cheerleader and I know I definitely irritated him at times because of that. It was only because I believed in him so much.
Risk It was your full-length debut, how’d that go? Was that just one day of filming with Mark?
I was actually pretty bummed on that part. I was coming off an ankle injury and a lot of the stuff in there were just tricks I’d screw around with. Basically lip tricks on curbs. Not stuff that I necessarily wanted in a part.
But yeah, that was 1 or 2 days of filming. My ankle was still pretty jacked so I wasn’t up to my normal level.
What’s the story behind the Eclipse, the band that both you and Mark skated to in that video? And do you still have those recordings? Because I’m not sure if you realize, that tape is like the skate nerd’s holy grail.
(laughs) That’s awesome to hear that people still remember that stuff.
The Eclipse was my good friend Johnny Eades’ band that he was in with his brother, Tim. They were a neighborhood band from Vista, just a bunch of high school kids having fun. They never had a proper release or anything. They just played little shows around town. Mark and I were really into them.
I’m pretty sure I hit Johnny up a couple of years ago about that tape and he couldn’t find it but I’ll ask him again. It was seriously something that they just made at their house. There were a few other good songs on it, too.
Were you or Mark ever asked about possibly joining Plan B?
No, we weren’t approached about it. Like I was saying before, Mark and I weren’t all that close to those guys. We were both kind of in our own scene.
We did hear about it prior, though, and I even brought it up to Mike at one point, like, “Hey, Is there any chance of possibly getting me on this new thing you’re doing?”
He said he’d ask the rest of the guys but he never got back to me. I wasn’t going to push it… I probably wouldn’t have felt super comfortable there anyway.
Mark definitely wouldn’t have gone. He ended up quitting H-Street kinda early anyway to ride for Blockhead. He wanted to be on a smaller team. He wanted a sponsor that felt more like a small group of friends.
I was surprised when he left for Blockhead.
Yeah, me, too.
I mean, we loved Blockhead. We loved hanging out over at the Blockhead house and skating the ramp but I never would’ve quit H-Street to get on the team. Those guys were great but it was just so small. It’s not like there was a bunch of money in skateboarding at that time anyway but Blockhead was a little too small for me. It eventually got too small for even Mark who was actually looking for that. They just didn’t have enough in terms of resources.
Were you actively looking around for another board sponsor as well?
I was psyched on H-Street but it all became so unsettled. It was like everyone was expecting it to fall apart, so it became almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It seemed like everyone suddenly felt the need get out. The company did end up continuing on strong, although in a different shape… but for me, after the Next Generation project, I felt like it was time for me to move on.
Well, I’m gonna nerd out on your Next Generation part now, one of my all-time faves. First off, how long did you film for that and what impact did the Plan B exodus have on the project for you?
I probably filmed about a year on that one. I was mostly out filming with Sturt, which was always fun. But filming wasn’t like how it is now, where people are on these crazy missions everyday. It still had that early 90’s mentality… semi-professional but not insane.
Plan B didn’t really factor into my part at all because I’d already stacked most of that footage prior to them leaving. I don’t honestly remember Plan B having any type of influence on what I felt I needed to film either. I still felt confident in what I was doing. I know Magnusson felt much more anxious about getting the video out, to demonstrate that H-Street was still here and still good, but it didn’t really affect me one way or the other.
You spoke about your disappointment with Risk It, how about this one?
Oh, I really liked most of the stuff in this one. I mean, with the exception of what Sturt shot, which was always great, I had some pretty terribly filmed bro-cam stuff in there but I was happy with how I skated.
That part had a lot of the more complex combo tricks that I liked doing at the time but I was happy with how I did everything. I will say that after Next came out, I knew that I wanted to step away from a lot of those more intricate tricks and start focusing on more straight-forward stuff. But I liked it for the time, sure.
With so much of that era’s mindset geared towards innovation, you were one of few who maintained a solid style throughout. How cognizant of style were you at that time versus trying to land the latest technical marvel?
Thanks for saying that. I was absolutely trying to maintain a clean style in the midst of all that insanity. Things got so wacky back then with tricks and it drove me crazy. Everywhere you looked, people were just flinging stuff around and hoping for the best. Pop and pray. Boards bouncing off the ground mid-trick actually became a common thing. We used to joke about people waxing the ground in order to get that perfect bounce to land their tricks. It was terrible.
My friends and I were probably most critical because it was so close to what we were doing. We did those tricks, too! Just not like those guys!
We always wanted to pop everything. Catch everything. We wanted to skate with at least some speed and some power. That meant a lot to us. It wasn’t just about landing the trick. If it looks like garbage, who cares? But those guys made everyone else doing that particular style of skating look so bad. They gave it all a bad name for such a long time.
Was “Peace Frog” your choice? And who’s idea was it to film an intro like that?
Yeah, “Peace Frog” was my choice. I liked that music and was definitely on some weirdo hippie-type vibes back then… though I would’ve never labeled myself that. (laughs)
But yeah, oh my god, that intro… I hated thing that so much. That was all Tony Magnusson’s idea.
“Hey, we don’t have any type of personality stuff of you for your part.”
I remember it was the day before he was supposed to edit the video. Definitely the last time he’d see me before the video would be done. But he was really worried about this personality stuff.
“Well, what do you want to do?”
“Just stand there and say that this is your video part.”
So I did it… but the whole time I’m thinking how stupid it was and how much I hated doing it. I love you, Tony, but I was not psyched on that thing at all.
How’d those 540 varial kickflips come about? Mind-blowing at the time and you had a full-page sequence of one, shot on film. Definitely not the norm.
Those just came from trying 360 flips, seeing it go a little further and figuring why not? They didn’t seem too crazy for me. I used to do them pretty much everyday and really never had any trouble with them. They didn’t mess with my 360 flips either so I was pretty hyped on them.
How long does a 540 front foot impossible down 3 take?
Oh yeah, with the frontside 180! Not that long actually. I had all that front foot impossible stuff down pretty well, too.
That 540 one was at UC Santa Barbara on a filming trip. There were a bunch of guys there so you couldn’t take too long on a trick. There were just too many people to film. You had to get your thing and move on... especially on that campus because you got kicked out pretty quickly.
What’s the secret to a good front-foot impossible? You might have the only one.
(laughs) Alex Moul had a good one, too.
You push down on your front foot. Put your foot over the bolts and after you ollie, push your foot down like you’re trying to focus your board. The rest will just happen.
Ok, I’ll give it a shot and let you know how it goes.
Cool, send me the footy.
How come you didn’t go pro after that part?
Well, Tony Magnusson was planning on turning me pro afterwards. He thought I needed to put one more thing out and that part was going to be it. That was the plan anyway but I ended up leaving H-Street right after the video came out, before it could happen. Everything was so unsettled at H-Street that it didn’t seem like anybody really knew what was happening. I felt like I needed to move on.
Once I got on Birdhouse, it was kinda more of that same premise. They wanted me to be more established as a Birdhouse rider before turning me pro.
But I have to imagine you got plenty of offers. Were you ever hit up by Rocco at all?
I was actually on 101 for, like, a day. Markovich and I were always friends and we were skating together a lot back then. He really wanted me on 101 and at one point, told me that I was on the team. I actually met with Natas once and he didn’t say that I wasn’t on so… But I never heard from them again. The story I heard is that Rodney Mullen 86’d it but I’ve never been completely sure about what happened.
Honestly, I’m not really sure how I would’ve felt about that. I knew that I wanted to leave H-Street and I always thought 101 was awesome but I was never fully comfortable in that LA scene. I’m not entirely sure that I would’ve gone all the way through with it.
Birdhouse always felt right to me.
How did Birdhouse enter the picture?
Birdhouse came from me asking Tony about it one day. I’d see him around at spots occasionally and he was always complimentary towards my skating. I knew that he was starting Birdhouse and I respected everybody on the team. It seemed like the right thing for me to do… a little smaller but also with the resources we’d need. A little nerdier.
So yeah, I just asked Tony one day at a spot and he told me that he’d run it by the team. He got back to me real quick and I was on.
How was it being a Birdhouse amateur at 18 with the rest of the am team being so young? Andrew, Heath and Beach were all just babies back then.
Oh, they were just children but I loved them.
It was a little different of an experience for me because they’d already told me that I was turning pro soon. That was made pretty clear and I understood. So while I was technically still an am, I realized that I was in a much different place than the rest of those guys. I never felt threatened by them or anything like that. I got why Tony wanted to sponsor and invest in these kids. I was honestly psyched on them.
I wasn’t on too many trips with Heath before he left but I thought he was awesome. He was really quiet and would mostly keep to himself until coming out with something super sarcastic and hilarious.
I loved Andrew, though. That was my homie. He was so much fun to go on trips with. He was the kid that you could tell to do anything and he’d do it.
“Go jump off that!”
Off he’d go. And he’d usually make whatever crazy thing you told him to do, too. I loved that kid. He was always so amped and excited. So much fun.
I definitely assumed a big brother-type of role with Matt, for both good and bad. I used to torture that kid. But he was such good kid that you couldn’t help but harass him a little bit. He was my little buddy.
Could you tell back then that those little kids were about to grow up to become these legends?
You could tell but not right away. They were all still so young.
I remember watching Andrew skate for the first time, it was obvious that he was a great skater. I knew there was a possibility of him becoming something really special but, like I said, it was still so early on. But the potential was there.
For whatever reason, I didn’t see him again for another 6 months or so but when he came back out again, you could tell. He’d gotten a little bigger. His board fit under him better. And everything he did was just perfect. His skating was just so much better. At that point, I knew.
I remember that happening with both Andrew and Beach. It just seemed like they came back out to California one summer and, all of a sudden, they weren’t little kids anymore. They looked as good as any pro and their skating was incredible. They always had the talent, they just needed a little more size.
So I gotta ask… you’ve come up several times in these interviews over the years as quite the loverman on tour. Care to comment?
(laughs) I think that’s probably been a little exaggerated but I did make some friends. Maybe I’ll just leave it at that.
Smooth. So how was filming for Ravers in comparison to H-Street? It seemed a bit more light-hearted by comparison with some Brand Nubian vibes in there.
Yeah, I just started listening to a lot of that music around that time… I’m still hyped on that song actually.
But that’s probably my favorite part of my career. It was just such a good time for me. I had just turned pro and I was skating with my friends, skating the way that I wanted to skate. I was really happy.
The filming definitely wasn’t as good. I didn’t have Sturt anymore and it’s almost all bro-cam…
Yeah, there’s some pretty crazy stuff in there. I love the one clip that just starts with you in mid-manual before backside flipping out.
(laughs) Yeah, that was in Germany. I remember doing that and feeling pretty hyped until the person who filmed it comes up to me afterwards and matter-of-factly says, “Oh, I screwed that up. Sorry.”
That’s not an edit, that’s literally where the clip starts! But that tells you about both the era and our sensibilities towards making the video. A clip where the entire beginning of the trick is missing still gets used. Who cares? No one’s gonna think that I faked getting into a manual on a curb. Just go with it!
I loved riding for Tony because good skating is all that really seemed to matter to him. I think he felt a little burned out after his Powell video experiences and was trying to approach it more from a skater’s point-of-view. He obviously wanted there to be production value but good skating is good skating. Who gives a shit about anything else? This is essentially how we all felt and went about making the video, which made it a lot more fun.
Why the Schoolhouse Rock intro?
Tony did that. He’s just a nerd. (laughs)
I remember him showing me a bunch of weird old clips that he’d gotten and I think I said that I liked that particular one. It made me laugh. I’m not sure if I knew it was going to be in my part, though. So yeah, that was more Tony than me.
“Ocean is arty and stuff.” What were your thoughts on graphics back then? You had some pretty great boards over the years, especially for how cartoony Birdhouse could be.
The “Ocean is Artsy” thing was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. I don’t know if that fully came through… I hope it did because it would be pretty embarrassing otherwise. I was into all types of artistic stuff back then, like painting and photography. But I was basically making fun of myself with that. I really cared about my graphics for the first few years and never wanted any of the cartoony graphics they were trying to give me. I think they were a little annoyed with me because of that so we made an ad about it.
It was a really satisfying era, though. Your board could look however you wanted it to. You like a painting or photo? Put it on your board! Companies weren’t concerned with a unified look yet… which is probably a reason why we didn’t make any money. (laughs)
Do you have a personal favorite graphic?
I have a few favorites. A lot of my early ones I really like. I remember one of my first ones was this weird dude holding balloons out by a fence. I found it in an old E.E. Cummings book somehow. It’s a little cartoony but I liked it.
I had a buddy of mine in college who’s painting we turned into a graphic. It said “The City is a Magic Wonderland”. I liked that one a lot, too.
Another one that was pretty cartoony but I liked anyway had a black cat looking down at a bowl of milk, all bummed for some reason. I always thought that was funny.
And there was one with like a Dr. Seuss character holding an umbrella with rain dumping down on him.
Those are probably my favorites.
Talk about Untitled. Your 4th video part in 4 years… a great part but were you possibly starting to tire of the video process by then?
I was bummed on that one actually. I didn’t feel like I had enough time and honestly, my heart wasn’t really in it at that point. There were some things in there that I was happy with but there’s a lot of filler, too. Stuff of me screwing around and not really trying.
I didn’t have a great attitude about things during that time. I had the classic feeling of “I made it to where I want to be and it’s not what I’d hoped for”. I’m sure a lot of people go through that.
I did like a lot of the manual stuff. I was really happy with that frontside flip to fakie manual I had in there. There were a couple of other things but there was a lot of “meh” in there, too. I look back on it now and can tell it’s just me tiring of the process.
Were you going to school this whole time?
No, I pursued skating full-time for a couple years after high school. I wasn’t sure that I was even going to go to college at the time but honestly, my skating career ended up being the best thing for my education.
I reached a point where I had “made it” for an 18-year-old. I was making what I thought was a lot of money. I could have my own house, take road trips and eat comfortably… which was basically all I wanted to do.
Mark and I got a place in San Diego together after high school and all we did was eat and film. That was it. But unfortunately, after about two years or so, I just got bored. So yeah, for the rest of my career after that, I was in college, too.
Skating basically funded my education. My parents paid my tuition, but I paid my most of my expenses throughout college with money from skating and it just so happened that my career ended around 6 months after I graduated. It worked out perfectly.
It seemed like around ’97 or so, you backed away from the spotlight and no longer had a board. Did you officially retire at this point?
I never officially retired. I just started to check out after a while. I reached a point where I twisted my ankle really badly for the 5th time and I was about to go study abroad in Europe for a while… I knew that I was probably going to quit soon.
When I first turned pro and started having graphics, I used to care so much about every detail. But after a while, I stopped caring and let them do whatever they wanted. I started to check out more and more. You can tell because that’s when my graphics started getting cartoonier. After a while, I stopped participating in it at all. Like I said, boredom and not the best attitude.
When I moved to Europe, that was it. I’ve described it as as passively quitting. I just disappeared. They tried to contact with me for, like, 18 months… trying to figure out what was going on but I never responded. I never asked for boards. Nothing. I wasn’t even really skating. I basically went AWOL. Presumed dead.
I still feel bad about how I handled that. It was immature and probably the thing I regret most in all of this. Those guys were my friends and I really loved them. I just felt like I had to make a clean break for myself in order to move on.
They kept paying me for so long. I couldn’t believe how long they kept paying me for after having never gotten any type of response from me. Finally, I got a check that said “Last One” on it. That was my retirement. (laughs)
How’d you end up in San Francisco?
When I came back from Europe, I wanted to work in a publishing house but I didn’t want to move to New York. I’d always wanted to live in San Francisco. I already had a lot of friends there... it just worked out. I got a job and enrolled in the Ph.D program at Berkeley.
Because this seems almost like the 2nd wave of your career.
Yeah, it’s funny because once I got back to San Francisco, I realized that I didn’t feel any of that weird pressure anymore. I was no longer pro so I could start to enjoy skating again. I wasn’t skating as part of a business, being pulled in directions that I didn’t necessarily want to go. I could go back to skating for myself and having fun.
But you had an iPath part in addition to some well-received appearances in Slap. I have to imagine there was at least a Rasa Libre offer on the table at some point, right?
I was just enjoying it as an outlet. I still had friends who were pros, I’d just go out skating with them. I was never out filming on my own but because of who I was with, there were always cameras around. Someone would turn the camera towards me every once in a while and I was able to get a couple things. I didn’t mind filming, especially if it was just for me. I didn’t really have any projects I was working on so why not try to get a clip or two? It was fun and got me back in touch with why I fell in love with it in the first place.
And you’re right. The guys at Rasa Libre did say that they wanted to give me a board at one point. This is early on when they were actually calling it “Green”. They ended up not being able to use that name for whatever reason and landed on Rasa Libre.
It’s funny because I was down to have a board but I came with some pretty strict guidelines. I told them that I wasn’t going to skate any demos, I wasn’t going to tour and I certainly wasn’t going to skate any contests. And also, I was only going to film when I felt like it. (laughs)
If you want to give me a board on those terms, let’s do it. I’ll definitely film and produce some good stuff for you but I’m not interested in that other stuff at all. I just knew from previous experience that it would ruin everything for me.
They actually agreed to it at first but nothing ever came of it. I’m kinda glad it worked out that way. I’m sure that it would’ve started to mess with my enjoyment of it again.
What sparked your interest in the Six Newell video?
Honestly, I didn’t have much to do with that at all. I was filming stuff and the footage would just be around. I was filming around Spain and Barcelona with Richard Hart and Michael J Fox and it just worked out. The right dudes were holding the footage. I think maybe Frank or Nate Jones asked me if I was willing to put some clips in their video and that was it.
With the exception of a few clips, I was never actually filming for anything specifically. Even with my iPath part, that was all stuff I just happened to film while out skating. I never intended for there to be a part… although I really love that one. But it’s really just me screwing around as an old man.
I was in a nice place where I didn’t have to care what happened to the footage, as long as it didn’t end up in some weird place where I didn’t want it to. I was basically out there having a good time when my footage started popping up in all these different places. (laughs)
A lot of that Richard Hart footage surfaced last year in the form of a “lost” part, 10 years later. It has to feel good knowing people still want to see you skate, right?
Oh, I’m amazed! I’m so surprised that anyone even cares! It’s unbelievable to me!
I was psyched to see that thing come out. There were a few things in there that I was bummed hadn’t come out prior but then there were also a few things that could’ve probably remained unseen. Maybe there was a reason why some of that wasn’t used the first time around. (laughs)
It’s great to have something like that come out. I have such a different life now. I don’t have to care about any of it that much. Just as long as there’s nothing too embarrassing in there, I’m amped.
You were linked to some of San Francisco’s more notorious residences during this time… the Howard House and 6 Newell, specifically. Have any memories survived from what must’ve been an amazing time with an extraordinary cast of characters?
Oh my god, endless stories. I mean, all those houses were scroungy but I think the Howard House was probably the worst of all of them… although they did find mushrooms and weird fungus growing in the carpet at Newell. But the Howard House should’ve seriously been condemned. I mean, at one point, the bathroom floor had completely rotted out and people were only walking on the joists.
The Howard House was a wild place, man. You could wake up in the morning and the whole living room be full of loose astro turf and a giant inflatable Corona bottle. I’m serious: the entire room. That happened. I have no idea where they’d get this stuff. They’d be out at the bars and come stumbling back with whatever they could find.
I was able to keep it together through all of it, though. I was definitely guilty of some participation but whenever it looked like it was going to get a little too wacky, I’d typically escape and go stay over at my girlfriend’s house. I was never there for the really crazy stuff when the fire trucks would come. But I loved it.
Word got around, though. Different crews would come through and add to the mix. I actually remember being in Spain and talking to a kid about coming to San Francisco and crashing at our house.
“Oh yeah? What’s the name of it?”
“It’s the Howard House.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of that place. I’ve heard it’s disgusting.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of that place. I’ve heard it’s disgusting.”
We were internationally known for having a disgusting house! I mean, at first, it’s irritating when people leave their dishes sitting around but after a while, it becomes almost like performance art. There were beer bottles literally inside of the walls. Total chaos.
But I will say that it wasn’t just people being drunken idiots, although there was plenty of that. There was a lot of interesting stuff going on there, too. Simon Evans was living there. He had been pro for Experience but has since made it as quite a successful artist, having shown in all the major galleries. The style that he’s known for was developed at the Howard House. That was him feeding off everything. Everyone there was doing interesting things… it really was an amazing place, it just happened to be really gross, too.
You wrote “Poetics of Security” while living there as well. How did that come about? Did you expect it to go viral like it did?
Not at all. Honestly, I think I’ve gotten more inquiries about that paper than anything else. And not just skaters either. I’m totally amazed by how large and broad of a response it has gotten.
It was originally published in a small student journal but they happened to put it online and it just exploded.
It makes sense to me now because I think people are slowly realizing how architecture constrains usage and filters users, selecting certain publics while marginalizing others. When people realize this, it shocks them and whenever they go to look for more information about it online, my article comes up pretty quickly.
Was that your thesis?
It was just an article I wrote. I was living in the Howard House and working in that publishing house downtown. I was becoming more and more interested in urban planning and as an outsider coming into the city, I wanted to understand my surroundings better for myself.
It was just an article I wrote. I was living in the Howard House and working in that publishing house downtown. I was becoming more and more interested in urban planning and as an outsider coming into the city, I wanted to understand my surroundings better for myself.
I started to audit classes and help with the editing of some journals. It was a professor at San Francisco State who agreed to let me contribute something of my own. He seemed really fascinated by my skateboarding angle.
At the time, I was having an interesting experience as a young professional. Everyday I’d put on a nice button-up shirt and walk down Market Street to my job in a tower downtown. But at night and on the weekends, I was this dirtbag skater. I was having these incredibly different experiences in the exact same spaces around San Francisco. It all started to percolate in my brain and I just ended up writing down everything I knew.
Incredible. So I guess that brings us up to speed, Ocean. As we start to wrap this up, what are you doing these days? I hear you’re now a professor at U of O?
Yup, I’m a history professor at the University of Oregon... I actually just got tenure. I got my Ph.D from Berkeley in 2010 and luckily got this job straight-away. Super grateful for that. I also published my first book, with the University of Chicago Press, last year on the history of the Mission District. It’s titled Making the Mission: Planning and Ethnicity in San Francisco. Pretty excited about that, too.
Still skating at all?
I skate as much as I can. I just had my 2nd kid the day after Christmas last year so on top of teaching, buying a house and publishing a book, I’ve been pretty busy. But the skatepark here in Eugene is amazing. I’ve been able to catch a few “Dad Sessions” in the mornings there that are fun. Considering how much transition I’ve skated throughout my life, I’m definitely still learning but I’m starting to figure it out pretty well for my age. We also built a ramp in my basement that’s really cool.
So yeah, I try to go whenever possible. I still watch skate videos almost everyday so while I may only get to actually skate sporadically, my brain is still totally into it. I think that’s probably the most important part.
Agreed. Thanks so much for doing this, Ocean.
Agreed. Thanks so much for doing this, Ocean.
Special Thanks to Mark Whiteley.