12.11.2017

chrome ball interview #109: frank hirata

it's a wonderful life. 


While in actuality the quickest of blips, Small Room Skateboards remains one of skateboarding’s most beloved underdogs. How’d you get hooked up with those guys?

Yeah, Small Room was my first board sponsor. The factory was actually located in the town I grew up in, Los Osos, California.  We were all close friends so the company kinda felt like it was everybody’s deal. Small Room was Louis Carlton and Tony Buyalos, who ended up starting Shorty’s a few years later. Those guys had actually been doing another brand just before that called, Eppic.

That’s right! They had a few heavies on that squad, too. Sal and Markovich, I believe.

Exactly. But yeah, after Eppic fizzled, Small Room was their next project.

The original CCS was located in the area, too. So it became this thing where all my friends would start out skating for the CCS Shop Team and then end up on Small Room. Just from where everything was in this small little area and we were all so tight, that basically became the program.


I always imagined Small Room being run out of a garage or something.  

Louis and Tony actually had their own warehouse going at the time. They had it pretty well put together. They were deep into screen printing and would screen all of the boards right there. All of that rad stuff they did back then was made in-house, which was always cool to see. They were very well-organized, especially for a microbrand.

That’s so rad that you not only got to ride for such an amazing company but that it was such a close-knit operation right there in your hometown.

Oh, we were hyped on Small Room. We sincerely wanted to do everything we possibly could for that brand. And it was a pretty unique experience, for sure. Like, if we were ever needed anything, we just stopped by the warehouse on our way home and got it. No big deal. Just pick up whatever you need. It was right in town and we were stopping by there all the time anyway.

It felt like it belonged to all of us, that we were all in it together.

“What a deal. I wrecked my truck but I got a new skateboard.” Is that ad a true story?  

Yeah, that really happened. I was on my way to high school my junior year and really did wreck my truck. I was bummed but figured we might as well make an ad out of it. So yeah, I basically conceived that while sitting in class that day. After school, I went over to the warehouse and talked to Louis. He was pretty stoked on it, too. Next thing you know, we have an ad.

Small Room was cool because ideas could just come from anywhere, even from wrecking my truck. It’s crazy to think that was an ad. But the brand was just so fun, nothing serious. 


It had to be difficult leaving that but how did Powell enter the picture? Had Small Room just run its course?

Well, Powell was located in Santa Barbara, just a bit down the road. As far as the skateboard industry goes, with so much being in Los Angeles and San Diego, Powell still seemed pretty local.

I’d been going down there for a while and was starting to place well in their Quartermaster Cup series. I actually ended up winning two of them. The second time I won, Powell’s Team Manager Todd Hastings asked me to ride for them. I was obviously flattered by the offer but I was so hyped on Small Room at the time, I had to decline.

photo: jake the janitor

That’s pretty admirable as Powell was enormous at this time.

But Small Room was solid at the time, too. They were still growing and a lot of the riders were out there doing things. It felt like we were gaining momentum and about to really start making some moves.

The thing is that I’m still constantly going down to Powell to compete in these contests. As an amateur, especially back then, that’s what you were supposed to do. So finally, Stacy asks me to ride for him personally, which is pretty crazy. I mean, it’s Stacy Peralta. It’s kind of hard to say no to the man himself. He’s the dude! I grew up watching this guy’s videos. So that sealed the deal for me. It just seemed like too great of an opportunity.

But it was a hard transition to make. I honestly still feel bad about leaving Small Room back then but it was a consequence of having to make big decisions at age 17.


Was Small Room pissed?

Yeah, they were pretty upset. I mean, it’s not like we all stopped hanging out together suddenly. But Louis was pissed. He’d spent a lot of energy on my being on Small Room, on top of just hanging out together all the time. I think Tony understood, though. He was about to go do his own thing with Shorty’s anyway. But it was still hard.

You did join Powell at an interesting time with Rocco waging war and Stacy almost out the door. Could you sense any trouble brewing at all?

Looking back on it, you’re totally right. But at the time, Powell still felt unstoppable. They’d just put out a hot video, Ban This, and things were looking great. None of us knew about Stacy leaving yet… something like that still seemed like it could never happen. And while Rocco was gaining momentum, he didn’t feel like a real threat just yet.

But that’s how it all played out within 6 months of my joining the team, which was crazy to see. It wasn’t too long after I came over to Powell that I started to wonder if I’d made the right decision.


Was there a specific event that happened to make you start wondering?

Everything was great through Propaganda. That was still a great video, and more importantly, it was still all being done by Stacy. It still felt like the Bones Brigade…  I had a part in there that I thought had turned out well. Things were looking good.

It was only after the video had come out that we all Iearned about Stacy’s leaving Powell. That was the turning point for me, because in my mind, he was the guy! He’s the one who initially got me on the team and we’d actually gotten pretty close very quickly.

Powell just didn’t feel the same after Stacy left. And if I’m feeling that way after only being there a short while, I can only imagine how the rest of the guys felt.

Also, as an amateur on the team, it was starting to get really messy. There were just so many of us at the time, all vying for position to hopefully go pro one day. Nobody really knew what was going on. No one was giving us any information and at that time, Powell was stacked with a ton of amateurs who were ready to go pro. Are they turning Pat Brennan pro next? Or Chris Senn? Colin McKay? Adam McNatt? Gabriel Rodriguez? The question was if we were going to turn pro for Powell or have to go somewhere else? What exactly is going on here? 


All future legends. But your debut in Propaganda made a lot of noise at the time, too. It had to be pretty stressful to film a Powell debut at that point, right? Was that on 16mm or video?

We knocked all that out in two days, man! And yeah, it was on 16mm. Stacy arranged it all and had his filmer come up to work with me. Frankie Hill came along for a few sessions, too.

By that point, I was aware of the legendary Powell Handbook, even though I’ve never actually seen one, but I knew these guys were coming up to film. I knew I had to step up my t-shirt game! I actually remember being kinda worried about having fresh enough clothes to wear. (laughs)


I was always stoked on those celebratory rollaways in your part, waving those hands in the air!

(laughs) That was one time, man!

(laughs) No way! There’s definitely a few in there. Were you just having a good day skating? Regardless, I always thought it was cool to see.

It was this weird mix of being super nervous and fired up! Those were all my spots so I knew what I could get there. We weren’t getting kicked out either so it was almost like going to a ramp or something. It was entirely on to me to get all my tricks as good as I knew I could get them… all in-front of this big camera.

The only celebratory roll-away I remember is when I did a 360 shove-it over a hip. That stoked me out because I’d been trying it for a long time. They just didn’t edit quick enough and yes, the fists clearly went up. But I was only 17 at the time, man. I was stoked.


So rad. But your next part in 8 with Paul and Frankie almost looks like a completely different company. Was Stacy already out the door by then or was it supposed to look “lo-fi” on purpose?

Yeah, it was supposed to look like that. The idea was to have it look more like how H-Street was making videos at the time. Lots of bro-cam video stuff, a little more raw than what Powell would typically put out. The problem was that our part came at the end of the video, after everything else’s before it that looked exactly like how Powell typically did things. So our part looked kinda out of place.

Then they gave us that song. Oh, man. “Brown is Down”.

Yeah, what was that!?!

(laughs) I have no idea what that was all about. We were so bummed on that, man. We had no idea that was going to be in there…but then all of a sudden, what is this? Yeah, we’re all brown but why is this in our part? Why are we skating to this song? What does this even mean?


But that 3-flip tail grab and all the mini stuff was amazing.

We all worked really hard on that video but 8 felt like a letdown to me, personally. I just thought that my Propaganda part looked so much better. It looked like how Powell videos were supposed to look, not Powell wanting to look like H-Street.

It was a collective part, too. I was totally down to share a part with Paul and Frankie, but at the same time, it did feel like a message that I probably wasn’t going to be turning pro for Powell. I had my own part in the previous video, now I’m in a shared part? I guess that means I’m probably not at the top of their list to be getting a board anytime soon. I felt like something had taken a turn.

Were you actively looking to go pro at the time?

Going pro was something I thought about a lot back then. That’s what I wanted. But the simple truth was that there were way too many other ams on Powell who were better than me. Once I came to that realization, the whole thing changed in my mind.


So you started looking around because of 8?

Yeah, and looking back on it, I wasn’t the only one either. A lot of riders left at this time. Competition had picked up on all of the uncertainty that had arisen at Powell after Stacy left. Brands saw their opportunity to snatch up some talent and went for it.

That’s when I got in contact with my old friend, Russ Pope. He was aware of my considering leaving Powell and knew of some potential over at NHS, that Rob Roskopp was going to be starting Sims back up. Word was sent back to me that if I wanted to go up and check things out, that there might be an opportunity to turn pro. So that’s what I did.

It was always rumored that you were also an early option for Plan B at this time.

I did have a lot of friends over at World over the years. As for Plan B, I was skating with Danny Way a lot back then. He might’ve brought it up to me at one point but it always felt like a pipe dream. I think I might’ve wore a Plan B hat once but that’s about as far as it went. (laughs)

I don’t think that I’d made enough of a name for myself to where the other riders would’ve considered me a viable option for such an elite team. I think it was Mike Carroll who told Danny that I just wasn’t good enough for Plan B, which did sting a bit at the time. Still so young and sensitive, the last thing anyone wants is to be rejected. But I think after that, I started choosing a bit of a different path when it came to looking at sponsors.


What was Sims 2.0 like to ride for?  

It’s funny to look back on because it was just me and Andy Roy as the only two pros at the time. We were still so young, too. Andy hadn’t quite reached full Andy-mode yet but we still had a lot of fun.

To me, it was just another opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. NHS was super cool and turning pro was a dream come true. Plus, Russ being involved was comforting as well.

So what happened? That relaunch didn’t seem to last very long.

Yeah, Sims was pretty short-lived. Andy and I were travelling around a bit to promote it but the brand just never seemed to pick up much momentum. 

At the time, SMA felt like the more progressive NHS brand. This was back when Steve Keenan was still running things with Karma and Alan Petersen, which was cool. So when Keenan asked me to ride for him, I was stoked… not realizing that what he was actually talking about was a whole new brand he was starting. He was, in reality, asking me to ride for Consolidated, which blew me away. Unfortunately, leaving again felt too risky at the time. I’d just come over to NHS and turned pro. Even though Andy ended up going, there was just too much going on for me at the time.

So when those guys bailed, SMA was basically wide open. After Consolidated, the thinking was that SMA still had value worth saving versus trying to keep Sims afloat, so most of us transitioned over to SMA at that point. Sims was basically one video and that was it. It just never seemed to catch on.



How was saucer-era SMA like from the inside? I loved your Numero Tres part but it still seems pretty slept on. Had the brand just run out of steam by that point?

We had a nice little run when all of us first got over there. Everything seemed fresh with this new team on a brand that was already so established. SMA wasn’t the uphill battle that Sims was. Personally, I was always stoked on the vibe of that second SMA direction we were going into, like Debunker. I just don’t think we stuck with that long enough.

With Numero Tres, here came another different vibe with completely different skaters. I think people just got lost in all of it, which is unfortunate because the team was sick. It just wasn’t as edgy as other things that were going on at the time.

I think it was a mixture of running out of gas in addition to just how skateboarding was at the time. Everyone was looking for whatever was fresh and new, which made things hard for SMA as a legacy company. There was just so much history there, you couldn’t help but feel you were only filling someone else’s shoes. It didn’t feel like we were creating anything new, more like just keeping something alive.


So how did you land on Foundation?

SMA was having some trouble. And since I had just moved down to San Diego, NHS was starting to feel pretty far away. I was in a new hub now and other brands must’ve picked up on that because I was starting to get some phone calls from people, seeing if I’d be interested in riding for somebody else.

Like who?

It kinda started with a call from Dave Bergthold, asking me to ride for Blockhead. I was interested… but then a few days later, I got a call from Swank.

“Hey Frank, I like how you skate. Want to come down to the office tomorrow and check out Foundation?”

“Yes, absolutely.”

I always thought Foundation was sick. Progressive for the time and exactly what I was looking for. A company that was moving in a forward direction, where I could pay my rent and was super cool.  


It always looked like Foundation was having the best time in those early years, even reportedly filming for Super Conductor inside Disneyland on shrooms. Is that really how it went down?

(laughs) Yeah, it definitely went down like that. I pretty much instigated that whole ‘shrooms thing. That little intro was filmed on my birthday and I thought I might be able to add to the fun. It was actually a great bonding experience for us. I think it solidified our camaraderie, setting up a firm base to do everything else that you have to do together as a team, like filming and going on tours.

I gotta say that skating for Foundation was probably the proudest time of my career.


So many classic graphics from this era. How much input did you have and what are some of your favorites?

Foundation graphics were almost always inspired by Tod. He would have the vision, which meant that graphics only tended to be presented to us over the years, like “Check this out!”

Our graphics were definitely more organized than most other brands back then. And because they were usually coming from Tod, they all had the same type of feel.

I was a little affected by this at first, because I’d had so much control over my graphics at SMA. I thought that pro models were supposed to be representative of what that rider was into at the time. I thought that was a normal part of the graphic process. So I remember right as I got on, I came into Foundation pretty hot with all of these ideas. Tod was cool about it but ultimately rejected them to do his thing. It was kind of a bummer at first but it actually ended up making things easier for me as I could trust there was a captain steering the ship. The brand was more consistent this way. 

I really liked my first board for Foundation that Yogi, an artist at Tum Yeto, did… a white, orange and blue abstract of a vagina. I remember going on my first tour with the team and it seemed like everyone was riding that deck. That was a really good feeling of support.

Curious George was sweet. I also had a sick Buddah graphic, too. Cleon Petersen, Leigh’s brother, did it during his stint at Tum Yeto. He was able to illustrate Buddah playing a Flying V electric guitar. Then Tod and I came up with the idea of me recording some electric guitar on a little 4-track and putting a tape in with the boards. It was cool to be able to get creative with the process like that.


“It’s a Wonderful Life.” Talk about your Tentacles of Destruction part, which was basically a short film. Did you really direct all that stuff? The Stallion Alert?

(laughs) I still love the Stallion Alert. That was a surprise, actually. That was my friend, John, who was a pro biker. I just happened to have some footage of him during a session. When that popped up, I was so stoked.

But yeah, that part was my vision, for the most part. I remember writing down, trick-for-trick, how I wanted it all to go with all the intermittent clips and everything. It was awesome because it had been a while since I felt like I had some creative input.  

The title came from the Failure song I was using. It just happened to coincide with the overall vibe I was going for. At the time, I was feeling the effects of consumerism as a theme and was trying to illustrate through symbolism what I felt like America was going through… like the ants running around, chasing money. There was just such a fixation on “success”.

Thrasher actually voted that part as one of the best of the year, which was cool, and I felt like I was on the right path at that point.

In hindsight, I think that letting other people direct how they see you and your skateboarding does help keep things more consistent throughout your career. Something I’ve learned over the years is that being so sporadic, almost impulsive, with some of these creative visions can be challenging in the long-term.


But it did help you stick out at the time. And while I know this is a pretty random clip for you, what about that gigantic fakie inward heel in there? That thing has been burnt in my brain for decades now.

Yeah, that was at an early Vancouver contest. Steve Olson and I were really into inward varial heels at the time. I’d been skating a lot of bank stuff and that time, in particular, was probably the pinnacle of my pop. For whatever reason, I could pop stuff super high back then without even really thinking about it. I don’t know if it was because of all the psychedelics we were on but we were pretty tuned in to stuff like that back then, trying to expand our minds.

But yeah, that one came out pretty good, just randomly. I don’t think I’ve done another one of those since.


Tentacles also sees “The Frank Stairs” coming in hard with the opener fakie heel as well as that fakie shove. What was that spot? And why did you shrug rolling away like that?

(laughs) “The Frank Stairs.”

That’s the Rancho Bueno Vista High stairs, which was kind of our go-to back then for trying tricks down something really big.

I honestly don’t know why I shrugged like that afterwards. Again, this was in my strange psychedelic madness phase. Whether I was battling something in my brain or possibly just making a joke of it, I’m not sure. But the fakie shove-it did come way too easy. With those stairs, you only tried something if you felt you could possibly roll-away from it right away, within the first three tries. I guess that one just felt a little too easy, like I was getting away with something.


It keeps coming up with the psychedelics, what all was going on with you at this time? You definitely seem to be going in a different direction here than in years past… artsier, more thoughtful.

I was trying to go a little more inward, figuring out who I was as a person. I feel like I’d always been such a product of outside influence prior to that. I’d gotten a fair amount of attention skateboarding, which was enough for a while, until I suddenly began to feel insecure about who I really was. Growing up in that era with some success, it was a bit of a challenge finding myself in all of that.

I was living with Steve Olson and friends down in Encinitas. We were all sponsored so it was all pretty mellow and relaxed. We just got really into trying to expand ourselves. Reading a lot and getting creative. I was trying new modes of diet, new modes of thought. Just trying to gain control over who I really was at my core.

Would you go out skating a lot on acid?

It was mostly shrooms, but definitely not. At least, not me.

Olson might attest to something different. When he went to Hubba and did all those tricks in Tentacles? He might have a different take on all that.

He was on shrooms for all that?

Yeah, I’m pretty sure. He was just on a different level than the rest of us back then, way ahead of his time.


But it was around this time that you gave your now-notorious Thrasher interview, an article that’s been cited for getting you banned from the magazine. How did this happen? What’s your side of the story?

It’s actually a convoluted story with a few different phases. But yes, it seems like this interview got me banned from Thrasher.

So I get a pro interview for Thrasher back in ’96, which was super cool. I was staying up in the woods of Northern California at the time, just for a change of pace. I was still skating a lot, but also still in that mode of self-development. Thrasher hits me up and I go down to SF for a few weeks to shoot with Lance Delgart. It all seemed to go really well.

The interview comes out and its pretty well-received. You can tell that I’m in a different headspace but I thought it was cool at the time. I was still married to my first wife back then and she’d done a painting of me for it. It’s not your typical skateboard magazine interview, dealing more with life stuff instead of skateboarding, but I don’t think there was anything out of the norm or detrimental in there.

Years later, at a contest down in El Segundo, Jake comes up and wants to catch up with me. This was way after the interview had come out but I hadn’t really seen him in a while. So in-between everything else, he asks how I liked the interview. I will admit that I was a little bit upset about the interview because it did seem like some of the context was altered slightly. So I let him know.

“Dude, you cut some things out that I really wanted to say. I’m not stoked on it.”

Admittedly, I was not in the best place to be saying anything like that and I’m sure it pissed him off. In hindsight, I should’ve just been grateful for getting an interview at all instead of being a jerk about it.

The thing is that you’re not going to be a dick to Jake Phelps without there being any repercussions. But it’s interesting that it took years for him to have his moment where he was really able to drive it home. So yeah, I got banned.


Fast-forward to 2009, I get a call from Dayne Brummet.

“Hey, did you see that you got banned from Thrasher?”

“What!?!”

There was this crazy video on the Thrasher site of Phelps really going after me. It had literally been years since that all went down or even since I’d last seen Jake, but he was really driving it home.

At that point in my career, I was at the very tail end of any type of viability as a pro. I didn’t really feel like anything I’d been doing for a while was making any sort of difference, so I just took this as my cue to exit. That was the last nail in the coffin, for sure.


Thrasher was planning on doing a week of videos about people who had got banned from the magazine and yours was the first one, right? But for whatever reason, the rest of them never came out and yours got deleted shortly thereafter.

Yeah, it was called 5 Days of Hate. It totally came out of the blue, but he cited my interview as the reason for getting banned. I remember he called me a “faggot”… which, why would you even say that word? I was pretty appalled by that.

He did mention that I was making “shitty skateparks” at the time, which I think was his motivation behind the piece. To clarify that a little bit, I was working for a design-only firm back then that had worked on some parks. But we only designed these parks, we didn’t actually build them. Our process was to hold public workshops to get the local skaters involved, so every one of the parks I had a hand in was designed and approved by the locals of that town.

The problem was that my involvement was for the design only, not the build. So if budgets got cut and half of the park got chopped off or if a town went with the lowest bidder to build everything, that wasn’t my fault. We had no hand in that. But because I was the only recognizable face in the process, I got most of the blame.


I definitely want to let you say your piece in all the park stuff, but I’m still trying wrap my head around this ban. Were you actually banned the whole time leading up to that video or…

No, because I was still in Thrasher several times after my interview had come out. I don’t think I was officially banned until that video came out. Like I said, I think it was really about the skatepark stuff and he just used that interview as an excuse, 15 years later.

But the crazy thing is that I heard Phelps actually got fired shortly afterwards, that he’d gotten in trouble for saying things. This was right after that 5 Days of Hate video had come out and then deleted… so, of course, with the timing of everything, people automatically presumed that I somehow got Jake Phelps fired, making matters worse. I had nothing to do with any of this.

So I actually emailed Thrasher on my own accord, like, “Hey, I just wanted to write and say that I don’t think Jake should be fired, if this was actually a result of my segment. He’s just saying what he feels, which is what he should be doing. He’s the mascot of the mag. To fire him because of this segment is ridiculous.”

Thrasher wrote me back with a question about Small Room, I guess to verify if it was really me. And soon after that, he was reinstated. I’m still not entirely sure what that was all about, but that was my experience. Pretty weird.



Well, moving on… the Foundation team during this era seemingly couldn’t be more random, and with no shortage of personalities in there. Did you guys get along well?

Actually, the team got along really well.

I think as time went on, Berra and Heath became more business-savvy as far as how they envisioned their careers. Those two were definitely thinking ahead in terms of what the team meant and what was happening with the company. They knew how to play the game and I think that shows with what they’ve gone on to do.

I think that Beagle, Steve Olson and myself were just happy being skateboarders. For us, I don’t think that it ever really went beyond being happy in the moment and trying to keep that going.

Was it pretty obvious being around a young Heath that he was going to become this legendary figure?

Oh yeah, even as a little kid, everything Heath did was just better. Cleaner than everybody else. More pop. He was going to be tall but still had a great style, which made him unique. His choice in tricks and how comfortable he was with himself already… he just wasn’t afraid. Just this little kid out there skating gaps and rails that hardly anybody else would step to. And he never stopped.


What’s your best tour memory from those days?

My fondest memory is probably one from a tour we did back in ’95. On this particular tour, our team manager had lost a bunch of money. We’d found one of those little gambling spots on the road and he’d got taken for quite a bit. So, for whatever reason, we all decide that Heath will be the bank for all of us going forward. He was only 15 at the time but he seemed like the best man for the job. So here, take our money. (laughs)

So we’re in Memphis, checking out the city, when I walk into a pawnshop and see this amazing Les Paul. It was pretty expensive but I might as well give it a shot…

“Hey Heath, can I borrow $700 bucks?”

“Yeah, okay… sure.”

Somehow, he had $700 bucks to loan me! I’m not even sure if it was actually his money but I’m stoked to be able to get this amazing guitar! We’ll figure the rest of it out later.

Those first couple tours on Foundation were incredible. It was basically a dream come true. No supervision, rolling from spot-to-spot in our own van. Drinking, doing things we shouldn’t have been doing… everything we thought a tour should be. The kids were always hyped on us being there. It was like we were in a band or something.

What were your thoughts on the Barbarians at the Gate project?

We loved it when it came out but it did seem like this weird thing. All of a sudden, Heath and Josh were out doing this video that nobody else knew about. It didn’t really make sense how it was all going down with meeting up with Rocco and using his rig.

But Rocco and Tod were always tight like that. Swank was always learning from Rocco, on many levels. Even during their supposed beef and the Richard Mulder thing, I’m still not sure about all that to this day. We were all a little suspicious about it possibly being a marketing ploy, just because of how those guys were.


Never thought of it that way but now that you mention it, it does make sense. Moving on to Rolling Thunder, was that the first kickflip backside 5-0 down a rail?

I think so. That was actually the second time I did it that day. Steve Olson had been hitting that rail a bunch so I figured I’d go with him, too. I’d been working on kickflip 5-0s a lot, getting them consistent on ledges. Why not try one down a rail?

I have to say that the first one I made was money. It was pretty much perfect. But you know how you always want to look at something after you make it? Well, after reviewing the footage, we ended up recording over it. So I had to do it again.

The second one isn’t as good. There’s a little toe drag in there. Kind of a bummer but still good enough to use at the time.

Where was that marble bank spot you skated in your part? And what was your thought process with that? Not too many people were doing stuff into banks like that at the time.

That was actually the train station in London that got bombed! That spot isn’t there anymore, which is kinda sad.

It was just a quick little stop on tour. We only skated it for a couple of minutes because you got kicked out so fast. But I was able to get those two tricks. For some reason, I was really into the whole “slow roll-up to sketchy bank” thing for a while. That and the Point Lloma spot were always a lot of fun. More of a challenge, I guess.


So why did everyone leave Foundation after Rolling Thunder came out?

It was crazy, man. I just got a call from Beagle one day.

“Hey, dude, everybody just quit.”

“What do you mean everybody just quit!?!”

“Yeah, Berra and Heath are gone. And Olson went to Shorty’s. It’s just you and me now.”

I had no idea! Those are some pretty heavy blows to the company! And it immediately felt different. I quickly realized that so much of my riding for Foundation had to do with the team. And now that they’re all gone, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to ride for Foundation anymore either.

It just so happened that these opportunities all presented themselves at the same time. Shorty’s was starting to make boards while Birdhouse was gearing up for their new video. It was all pretty smart on those guys’ part. Like I said, they’d figured it out. Start out here, hop over for a new video and begin a new career phase on that brand to keep it going. Stay fresh.

I did stay on Foundation for a little while after that. We got some new guys and I tried to vibe with them, I just couldn’t help but feel like I was the leftover guy from the previous era. Beagle was also getting more involved with Pig Wheels, not so much being pro at that point. It just wasn’t the same.

I'd found out that Maple was interested in me. Ed Dominic, the TM at the time, called me up to ask if I wanted to ride for them. I was immediately stoked because I thought that I was gonna be on the same team as Marc Johnson. That would be sick! I didn't realize that Marc had just quit, which is why they were even talking to me at all. His was the open slot on the team. That was kind of a bummer but I felt like I needed a change, too. 

In hindsight, I do regret moving around so much in my career. I wish I would’ve stuck around somewhere to focus on developing a brand for the long haul. I guess I just saw other pros jumping around and thought that was the way to do it. Ultimately, I don’t think that worked for me. Ever since leaving Small Room, I was off and running, when I should’ve taken more of an approach like Dyrdek’s and stayed put.


Is it true that you were bummed on being part of Big Brother’s Yellow Issue? And why did you start using “Garcia” at this point?

No, I wasn’t bummed on that at all. I’m half-Japanese so it wasn’t a big deal. I always loved Big Brother.

Garcia came from making a hybrid of our last names during my first marriage. That was my wife’s last name. I never meant to throw anybody off, I just wasn’t thinking about consistency back then when it came to my image. I think if I would’ve paid more attention in that capacity, my career could’ve definitely benefitted from it. I just didn’t look at skateboarding like that.

Talk about your time on Sheep. Life of Leisure was amazing but weren’t you supposed to have a shoe for them? Did that ever come out?

Sheep was an awesome idea. A great team with solid backing, it had everything going for it at the time. And being interested in veganism at the time, having a shoe option I could support really felt good.

But yeah, I was supposed to have a shoe on Sheep. It actually looked a lot like a Trekker, kind of a hybrid hiking boot scenario. I designed the whole thing. Everything was pretty much ready to go when a similar shoe came out on another Sole Tech brand, which was a little confusing. This other shoe was basically the design I had come up with for my signature shoe… but now it’s out as something else on this other brand? What’s going on here?

Suddenly, my shoe was no longer slated for release. It kept getting moved around until it finally got lost in the shuffle. This was back when so much depended on your board sponsor, that was the big indicator of how marketable someone was. After I left Foundation, I don’t think they felt I had enough weight to support selling a shoe, so it all dissolved after that.


I never knew that Physics Wheels was your project with Hosse.

Yeah, Marc used to do A-1 Meats through Tracker. Around 1996 or so, he wanted to start a new wheel company and approached me about organizing a team and possibly adding some direction to their designs, which were not your typical wheels.

Yeah, what was the thinking with those crazy shapes?

I guess they could be seen as a little gimmicky but we were sincere in trying to improve how skateboard wheels were designed. We were trying to progress the thinking behind the engineering there. Playing around with different things, like shapes, to improve their performance. So yeah, they did look a little weird but we gave them a shot.

You guys were able to keep Physics going for a while, though. And that video was amazing. Manzoori, Miner, Matt Reason…

Yeah, that was a neat video but it also led to the end of the brand, unfortunately.

Dream Reality was similar to what I’d been trying to do with my Foundation parts, using video as a creative outlet. By now, I had a little more experience and having creative guys like Miner and Manzoori involved, I feel like we were able to take it somewhere special. Those guys’ talent, even that early on, was obvious and it was really their filmmaking techniques that brought the project to life.

But like everything else we did for Physics, we went way over-budget. Too many 2-page magazine spreads and now a big video? Things just got too difficult to keep going.


How hard was it selling Matt Reason’s 63mm signature wheel in 1997?

His choice in wheel size couldn’t have been more off-market at the time but we actually did sell a bunch. I never expected for them to sell as well as they did. He just had a strong enough following to where his fans were willing to give some pretty big wheels a shot. 

How was filming for Transworld’s Sixth Sense after working on these smaller, more abstract videos?

Sixth Sense was a lot of fun, man. Transworld would organize these big trips to go on with everybody else in the video, it almost felt like we were on some new team. Heading out to Arizona with awesome skateboarders like Kenny Anderson and Brad Staba, it was really cool.

This was still early in Ty’s career but it was great filming with him. He was still just “Cool Ty at Transworld” at this point, working really hard to create a name for himself. But it was wonderful. Super mellow guy you could trust to always make you look better than you actually were. I feel like he gave everyone a nice little push with that one.


Your frontside 360 ollie ender in Oceanside is a monster.

Yeah, that was Oceanside High. That bump was really sweet and kind of a hotspot at the time. I’d just gotten on Planet Earth from Maple and wanted to give those guys something good. Frontside 360 ollies were always one of those tricks I had in the bag. Not too long before that, Grant had shot a sequence of me 360 ollieing over a rail into a bank. It felt really cool and looked good, why not take it a little further? Thankfully Swift was willing to literally lie in the gutter to shoot the sequence. I was always stoked on that one.  

This is around when you started getting involved with Purkiss-Rose Skateparks, right? Did you see this as a transition out of pro skateboarding?

That’s just how the timing worked out. I’d gone to a meeting about what would become the Vista Skatepark and they just happened to be the design firm. My buddies and I contributed to the design workshops and being a skateboarder, I obviously really enjoyed doing it. Afterwards, they hit me up about possibly becoming a pro consultant who could step in to help shape their designs correctly. Things just went from there.

I wasn’t looking at it as a career, though. I didn’t really have any knowledge of drafting at that point, so I ended up taking a few college classes in order to hopefully get some chops. I did a few more design workshops with them after that and we just got on a roll.


So what happened? Again, give us your side.

Like I said, we just weren’t a design-build firm. That was the problem. Not that all our parks came out bad, it’s just that once our design was done, the city did whatever they wanted to with it. When you hire a sub-par contractor for the lowest bid, and they’re out there trying to build a mega skatepark that they don’t understand, it’s not a good situation. But with how the process is, once we finalized the design, our visibility to the actual site was limited. Often times, we wouldn’t even see these things until the grand opening… which could be shocking.

“Uh… that entire section is missing. What happened?”

“Oh, we ran out of money so we chopped that part off.”

Design-build firms are a staple these days. This is why.


And the recognizable guy who’d been pro for 20 years was easiest to blame.  

Yeah, that was the hardest thing to stomach. If my name’s attached to a park, I obviously want it to be the best it can be. The last thing I want is a crappy skatepark.

People just didn’t how the process worked. They thought that since I designed it, this must be what I wanted. I was only trying to help skateboarders have some input in designing a park they could enjoy. I didn’t want to bum anybody out. I was bummed, too! And then the industry heard about it all and evidently starts to think that I’m purposefully there trying to ruin skateparks…  I was really hard to go through, man.

It’s honestly a big reason why I wanted to do this interview, just to get my side of the story out there. People can still think whatever you want, I just want to be heard.

Definitely, man. So what are you doing now, Frank? Skating much?

Yeah, skating a bit.  My daughter Kalliope is 5 and my son Zennen is 3, both are into skating so I’ve been taking them up to Eureka to skate, which is about 60 miles north from here.  We live in rural Humboldt County so there’s nothing really to skate around here, which is a shame.  I’m actually getting a mini ramp built for our community park at the moment, which is phase 1.  After that, hopefully we can get a concrete park, too. I just had so many opportunities growing up. The kids around here don’t so I’d like to see something positive happen for them.  

Creatively, music remains my one angle where I continue to develop. I have a two-piece going with a drummer, Trent Sanders. We’re called Dreams on Fire. It’s been a lot of fun designing a sound together. It’s definitely where we want to be.


Great to hear, man. Last question, and for the record, are you really the inspiration behind Bart Simpson?

Aw man, that’s the last question!?!

No, that whole thing is a mess. I actually said that in a Transworld interview where the whole piece was a bunch of bogus claims, the premise being that the closing statement of the interview was supposed to say, “Don’t believe everything you read.”

Well, unfortunately, that last part got chopped. So people had no way of knowing that it was supposed to be a collection of tall tales. And, for whatever reason, people really latched onto this Bart Simpson thing. It’s been everywhere, published as truth. I even remember Dave Duncan announcing it at a contest during one of my runs!

No man, that’s not true!

I can’t believe they chopped the most important part!

Yeah, of all the things, right?

photo: t-muck

Well, thanks for taking the time to do this, Frank. I hope we’ve been able to finally put some things to rest. Anything you’d like to add?

Thanks for the opportunity!  I’d like to thank all the people who supported me over the years, my long list of sponsors and my best friends growing up.  Garth Biedenger, Manny Cothran, Ryan Swiebert, Ray Arebalo, Dirk Rago, Chris Watkins, the Pontius brothers (Matt and Chris), Tony Buyalos, Louis Carlton, Russ Pope, Mike Janeway, Erik Hatch and Jason Phaelen.  My wife Danielle Parker and my awesome kids, Kalliope and Zennen!

I deeply appreciate you all!

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amazing interview. Thank you.

Douglas Vincent said...

Frank helped us design one of the First outdoor Public Parks in Las Vegas .. I still skate it often to this day. It came out great ! Great Interview & Great dude !

AK76 said...

That is easily the best Frank Hirata interview ever done.
A nice Christmas surprise.
I'd love for someone to track down Todd Hastings and see if he was down for an interview.

Anonymous said...

The 90s were vicious. So many skaters were targeted because they didn't fit in the mold of the day. Great read guys, Physics was ahead of it's time as well.

Anonymous said...

I watched your Propaganda part every day in high school. You were so young and hungry in that part, it still inspires me now

Warm Up Zone said...

Great interview. The Sheep Life of Leisure part with the Pink Floyd song, and the Dream Reality video are two of my favorites.

It's good Frank got a chance to give his side of some of these stories. The 'Garcia', skatepark, and Bart Simpson thing has shaped my opinion of him over the years. It never detracted from enjoying his skateboarding, though. That kickflip 5-0 on the rail was mind-blowing at the time.

Ron Cameron said...

Ha! I'm pretty sure I layed out that Knights Of Royal Order Foundation ad. It was intense trying to edit Franks video part for Tentacles too, with Yogi and Cleon. The music kept not lining up with where Frank's notes said the clips should be. So we had our own fun with Stallion Alert. Fun Times. We also edited that crazy Toy Machine barnyard commercial too! Ed T was scared and stoked at the same time.

RC

Ben said...

Great interview! Always loved Frank's Life of Leisure part.

Felix G. Poggemann said...

Frank is still a cool dude, and will forever be my favorite skater. Unfortunately, the most important parts of his career all happened while I was living far away. I am glad finally to get his whole story.

JarretBerry said...

legend. loved hirata ever since i was a gromm. thanks for the two decades of hype brother!!

Anonymous said...

Been a fan of Frank since I first saw him skate. Liked him even more after getting to know him a bit while I was the shipper at his sponsor back in mid '94. Sounds like he's doing well. Really enjoyed this reading! -m.y.

Anonymous said...

Front 180 switch crook down that hubba pic always stood out...

The Chez said...

The 90's sure chewed em up and spat em out. Always liked his style and thought the Physics video was cool and different during the time of fresh. Great interview!

sanisidro said...

great skater since propaganda. i played and re-played his "numero tres" part forever back in the day.the back tail slide and the 180 backward nose-grind* on that wave hubba were my favorite clips for how agressive yet smooth looked on the screen.
also,i am sure i read about Frank's side on the skatepark designing in this very site years ago.can't remember were but,possibly on another post but,here on the CBI for sure since this and epicly later'd are the only things skateboarding i follow.
this was a great read,as usual over here.thanks Frank and Eric!

*whatever this trick's name is nowadays...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for doing this. I haven't seen Frank in almost 15 years but it was great to know he recalled our youth as I remember it. I was always amazed at his ability ever since the first time I saw him at a "Jump Ramp" Powell demo in 1987 behind CCS (obviously before he was sponsored by Powell). He was original, talented, unique and complicated, which made him interesting and fun to watch.

As far as Jake Phelps is concerned, that dude has this Jock mentality about who and what gets a pass. He is the antithesis of why many of us got into skateboarding in the first place. Funny the dude who is quoted as saying, "It doesn't matter what you ride, it's that you ride" judges so harshly other skaters. Skating is an expression like art and needs to appreciated and experienced as such. Frank did a great job of doing just that.

Anonymous said...

One word......IDOL....

Anonymous said...

You should interview Danny Gonzales. Another one thrasher tried to ban (I think) or Chris dobstaff. Both had mad skills too

Tommy Budjanec said...

I remember being so stoked on Frank's skating during the Rolling Thunder/Life of leisure time and he was one of the main reasons, besides Matt Reason, I wanted to ride for Physics. Luckily, I knew Hosse and he introduced me to Frank and we would skate together a bit before I was officially on the team. Frank was always an amazing skater and I was always so stoked to ride with him. So sick to see an interview with him in 2017!

FiveO said...

I remember moving back to Los Osos my senior year of high school and being super jealous of how easy Frank made everything look on a skateboard. We had some great sessions back then... great times, good people. Rad interview Frank, stoked to hear you're doing well :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you Chops!!! Can you try and get more PNW rippers? Cleon and Leigh Peterson/LeDare and or Chad Vogt were some major rippers from WA state and would be cool to see interviewed. Thanks I love this site!!!

Anonymous said...

Frank had a Transworld interview where he did a switch 3flip over a gap that had me puzzled for years ! And that frontside 360 over the rail and into the bank is one of my favorite photo sequence of all time. Frank has one the smoothest style and creative mind. Reading about his view of the sport was great. Good interview !