8.28.2019

chrome ball interview #133: jason lee


NO WAR FOR HEAVY METAL!


Conducted July, 2019. 

So talk to me about growing up in Huntington Beach as a skateboarder. I feel like the beginning of all this is probably the easiest place to start.

Well, my brother, James, and I got plastic department store skateboards in 1977. We tooled around on those for a bit. But at that age, whenever you get a plastic skateboard, you don’t really consider yourself as much a “skateboarder” as you do a kid with a cool new toy to roll around on. Because we were also into BMX racing and riding dirtbikes, too. A pretty typical Southern California upbringing in the 70’s.

I ended getting another store-bought skateboard a little later on, a Variflex. It had the skidplate, the noseguard… the whole deal. That was when I was around 14. I started skating on that a little more and became much more serious about it over the next year or so.

All of my friends in Huntington Beach were also getting real into skateboarding, too. I met Ed Templeton around this time, who became quite a big influence on me, personally. Ed and I basically hung out together every day. Eating shitty food with too much sugar, playing Nintendo, and learning tricks. And there was Steve Robert, too, who was also great. Just a lot of HB kids.

But that’s when I feel like I actually became a skateboarder. There was a kid in my high school… I was a freshman around this time, but this kid knew Mike Madrid and used to sell me warped Madrid decks for 5 bucks. Those warped Madrid decks, man... That’s when I was hooked.

It’s funny to look back on, because there is only about 4-year period here where I went from becoming serious about skateboarding in high school to actually turning pro.



Wow!

You can’t really do that these days, skateboarding is much more difficult. It was a much simpler time back then, Eric. (laughs)

It was around 1986 when my friends and I discovered Mark Gonzales and everything that he was doing. He was the key to the door, at that particular moment.

Obviously, there’s Mark’s creative approach to everything, but how far along was “street skating” at this point?

Well, we knew of Natas and Gonz. You could obviously see so much potential with what they were doing, because it was so different. And we knew what Rodney Mullen was doing, but that didn’t feel like the same thing somehow. We were focused on ollieing. Grinds and kickflips. Jump ramps were still popular, too.

Because at this age, we are all in on skateboarding. That’s all we did. Pouring over skate magazines and studying videos. But in watching those old vert contests, you see something like Mark’s Oceanside contest footage… where he has the sticker in his hair? It was a thousand years ahead of its time, which was obvious to us. And that was the direction we wanted to head in. Exploring this new space.

Of course, we had seen The Bones Brigade Video Show. We all loved Lance Mountain because not only was he this incredible skateboarder, he was also funny and goofy with all of this character and charisma. Us goofballs were automatically drawn to Lance. And we looked up to Tony Hawk, too. But I think the one that really blew our minds was that Vision video with Mark in it.




Where he does that alley-oop lipslide on the bank-to-curb? If you really think about somebody doing that on a skateboard with a two-inch nose in 1987, it’s pretty ridiculous. He kickflips that ditch gap, too.

Watching him do all of that stuff was really all we needed… to not only figure out the sort of things that we liked and wanted to do but to also realize how much we needed to practice. Because Mark became the bar after that.

What’s funny is how quickly time seemed to move back then, especially in skateboarding. Because every year, there were just so many new tricks. The progression was insane. Last year’s tricks felt like ancient history, because it was all moving at this incredible rate. And Mark is only two years older than me but back when everyone is young, two years is a long time. That felt like a very significant age difference to us, for whatever reason.

So, as we got older and Mark turned 23… man, we thought he was old. (laughs)

Because I feel like human beings matured a lot earlier back then. A 23-year-old kid today isn’t the same as someone that age in the 80’s. People are maturing later and living longer now. I’m almost 50-years-old but I still feel like I’m 30 and can kickflip on a skateboard. I still have all this energy, where a 50-year-old in the 80’s was like somebody’s grandpa. So my brain legitimately thought that Mark was old at that point, at 23. But he was just a kid!

You don’t even really start life now until you’re 25.



With street skating being so new, was there a sense of pushing this thing forward at all?

We didn’t think about it like that. There was no way of knowing that it would actually become some big thing, we were just having fun. There was a feeling of… Okay, there’s the vert guys over there, we’re gonna try this new thing over here. But that was largely because we didn’t have any ramps, at least that I knew of. And because we saw Mark and Lance and Tommy Guerrero out there, cruising the streets. They were our inspiration.

But this wasn’t a thing called “street skating” to us, this was more about skating whatever was accessible.



I know that Gonz moved to Huntington Beach around this time, how did you first meet Mark?

Apparently, Mark heard about me because I was doing 360 flips. So he found out where I lived and just came over to my house one day. I wasn’t even sponsored at this point, so it must’ve been around 1987 or so.

Mark Gonzales is contacting me to go skating…. (laughs)

He just showed up at your house?

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that he just rolled up. I probably blacked out or something. Because you don’t really expect Mark Gonzales to be at your doorstep unannounced. (laughs)



What did he say?  

I remember him wanting me to do a 360 flip for him. It was pretty bizarre, to be honest.

“Hey, with these 360 flips, do you turn your whole body around with it?”

I remember almost being ashamed to answer him.

“No, just the board 360 flips.” (laughs)

But it gets crazier! The first time I go out skating with Mark, we go to these tight little vertical banks at a bank in Costa Mesa. And it’s me, Mark Gonzales, Neil Blender and Ed Templeton with the photographer O taking pictures of us. Next thing I know, up rolls a white Ford Taurus and out pops Natas and Mike Vallely!

My guess is that Mark called Natas while we were out, like, “Hey, we’re going skating, you should come meet us here…”

And in addition to all of this, along with Mike V. and Natas, is a tiny Chris Pastras at 15-years-old. Because Chris and Mike V. were friends from back in Jersey, Chris got his Mom’s permission to come out to California with Mike.

So Ed and I, the two Huntington Beach nerds, are out there skating with this legendary cast of characters. Mark, Natas, Neil Blender, Mike V, and the kid who would go on to be a near-and-dear part of my life for 32 years. Needless to say, that was probably one of the most magical nights in my life.


But how did 360 kickflips come about for you?

I just remember skating flat on the back patio in my backyard. I was doing 180 varial flips, because we had seen those. This was probably around 1987.

But I was doing those and on one attempt, the board over-rotated.

“Oh shit, I bet I could probably get it all the way around and make it a 360 varial kickflip!”

Of course, Rodney Mullen was already doing them. We’d seen them in the Powell videos. But in our heads, freestyle felt like its own distinct style and brand of skating. I’m not sure that I even picked up on the fact that he was actually doing 360 kickflips and that I could also do them as well. I feel like whatever Rodney did was almost grouped into its own category. Like, whenever Rodney did 360 flips, it just appeared to be another flip trick that he was doing.



Another form of Rodney wizardry.

Exactly.

So, back to that day, I started messing around with it and did a couple.

“Oh! Okay… 360 kickflips. Okay.”

I remember running out to tell my friends about it as fast as I could.

“I think I learned this new trick!”

And after that, I just started doing them as often as I could. There was even a sequence of me doing one in Transworld on a Rocco SMA board with the pointy nose.


That flatground article. But has style always been a part of the equation for you, even at that age?

Honestly, two things happened.

The first was seeing Mark skate, both in the videos and then in-person. You can’t help but have that become a big influence on you. And not just his tricks, his overall manner of doing things. Even down to how he pushed, he made it clear that style was important without ever having to actually spell it out for me in words.

The second was going to San Francisco after I had gotten on World Industries. I was probably 18 or so by that time. But I skated with Julien Stranger and that completely changed my whole outlook on things. You want to talk about confidence on skateboard? Style. Fluidity. And fearlessness. I was so pumped on my 360 flips and kickflipping down stairs… until I watched Julien Stranger bomb a hill in San Francisco that I was practically walking my board down. In total shame. And we are the same age, but he wore a confidence that I just hadn’t found yet.

So yes, it was Julien Stranger and Mark Gonzales who woke me up to the idea of style. If you’re going to skate, you have to go fast. You gotta be a man about it. And there has to be a fluidity in what you’re doing. Those guys really opened me up to that way of thinking.


Something that Ed brought up in his interview was a tale of you and Mike V. at the Santa Ana Courthouse and your reporting back to him the next day that it took Mike 27 tries to frontside boardslide a handrail. Do you recall that at all?

(laughs) I honestly don’t remember that. That feels like a lifetime ago.

But I will say that Mike V. was an interesting one for us. Because while Mark was basically untouchable, he was still 2 years older than us… which somehow, again, made a difference at the time. In our brains, 2 years felt like an 8-year gap back then.

But Mike V. was my age! He had already turned pro! And what he was doing on his skateboard blew us away! So while Mark was a god, Mike V. was a god who just happened to be a little more accessible… simply because he was our age, which floored us! We could deal with Mark as almost some kind of anomaly, but now Mike, too?

I remember going to the Carson City contest with Mike and he had on these gold-and-red Adidas. He’s frontside grinding down the PVC fun box rail… so easy. Whatever he did just looked great.

Even when I’d later tour with him… there’s that Hobo Tour footage of Mike and I skating a demo in Virginia, I believe. You can clearly see in that footage how much better Mike was than me. I skated slower. Mike was much faster and had more power. He was boisterous, like Julien. Big and unafraid. Sure, I had a few tricks or whatever, but Mike always seemed to be on a different level than me.


Weren’t you on Vision flow for a minute, prior to SMA?

I think I might’ve been. I’m honestly not sure but I really don’t remember that. I know that night when I skated with Mark and Neil for the first time, I was riding a Vision board.

You’re riding Vision boards in a lot of your early photos.

Right, but I’m not sure if I got them from Vision or I bought them, you know? They were in Orange County and wildly popular at the time. But yeah, people seem to remember that I was getting boards from Vision… even if I don’t. (laughs)


So your girlfriend at the time introduced you to Rocco at a tradeshow? That’s how you got your first sponsor?

Yes, the lovely Ann Vallely. She was my girlfriend at the time. We were at the Long Beach Convention Center for a tradeshow and she… God bless her, it was such a cool thing she did. Ann went and found Steve Rocco at the tradeshow.

“You have to see my boyfriend skate.”

I was far too shy to have ever done such a thing back then. But he came outside and watched me do a few kickflips or whatever.

“Meet me at Hermosa Beach tomorrow.”

I went down there the next day and basically did a demo for him. I don’t know how I did it, but there were these 3 or 4 stairs… I somehow did a 360 flip down them. Totally pulled it out of my ass. But he was pretty stoked on that. He put me on SMA Rocco Division that day as an amateur. My first sponsor.

I remember going over to the warehouse with him afterwards and he gave me a few boards and some Gizmo wheels. Remember those really soft, terrible wheels he used to make? And now that I think about, I’m pretty sure that the decks he gave me were all warped, too.

But what can you say? He was just starting out and it was free. I was stoked.

I have Ann Vallely to thank for all of that. She went on to marry Mike and they have two awesome daughters and their Street Plant brand. Just an awesome family.


Why Rocco? And what were your initial impressions of him back then?

I mean, the reality of the situation was that he came to me. I had no idea that Ann was going to do that. I was just stoked at the idea of getting sponsored!

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if I even really knew who Steve Rocco was before that day. But he was very enthusiastic and supportive of my skating in those early days. SMA Rocco Division turned into World Industries and suddenly, the company started to get some momentum, which was great. But when Mark left Vision and wanted me to skate for his new company, there was no way I was going to say no to that. You would’ve had to kill me first.


How was Blind originally brought up to you?

I just saw Mark at World Industries one day. It wasn’t like a meeting or anything, I just happened to walk in and see Mark and Steve Rocco standing there.

“Mark quit Vision and is going to do this new thing with us. He wants you to skate for it.”

And I was like, “Okay!”

You didn’t have to ask me twice. (laughs)


Was it named “Blind” because that’s the opposite of Vision?

Mark never told me. I’m sure that was swirling around but I never knew for sure.

There is a Talking Heads song called “Blind”. Mark and I are both huge Talking Heads fans, part of me wonders if it comes from that.

Honestly, I didn’t even care where the name came from, I was skating for Mark’s company.



Was it always supposed to be just you and Mark on the team in the beginning?

I don’t think so. I feel like that’s just how it happened to work out, organically. I don’t really think there was much of a plan. This is back when there were still only a handful of companies, maybe someone else didn’t want to leave? I’m not sure.

But he definitely handpicked everyone who got on the team. He loved each and every guy that got on Blind. I was always pumped to have new guys aboard… and equally intimidated by them. But I understood and was stoked to have the best guys on our team. It completed the picture.

So it really was just the two of you for a while, like that Dedication ad?

Yeah, that’s at Mark’s house in Huntington Beach. I was actually living there with him for a while. I moved out of my Mom’s house into Mark’s place.



Was it difficult for you to be in such a fishbowl-type scenario with one of your heroes?

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the D.A. Pennebaker documentary on Bob Dylan, Don’t Look Back?  

Always carry a light bulb.

(laughs) Right!

So there’s that scene where Dylan meets Donovan for the first time. Donovan was a pretty well-known UK folk artist kid at that time… Dylan was around 24-years-old and Donovan was maybe 17. And there’s those amazing close-up shots of Donovan watching Dylan perform in that hotel room, doing “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”.

You can just see this look in Donovan’s eyes… like, “Holy shit, that’s Bob Dylan.”

That was basically me around Mark.



Amazing answer. But how hands-on were the two of you with Blind?

I really had nothing at all to do with the actual company itself, other than skating. I was just a kid, man. Skating and trying to learn new tricks. I’d have some ideas but it rarely went deeper than what you saw. Like, I’m a big Bowie fan, let’s do a Bowie graphic. Things like that.

Obviously, this changed a lot after Chris and I started Stereo. But in the Blind days, I was just skating. Being tripped-out by Mark Gonzales all of the time. Slowly starting to develop my own style, to a degree. But I was still so young and honestly, a bit in Mark’s shadow. And that’s okay, it was a pretty extraordinary situation and I grew a lot because of it. I learned a lot so when Stereo hit, I was able to blossom creatively.



What about the “Will Skate For Food” ad with you sitting on the hydrant?

I believe that’s a Spike photo but I don’t know if the rest was a Mark idea or a Rocco idea. I just played along with it. I thought it was funny and goofy.

“Yeah, let’s do this real quick so we can get back to skating.”

It was probably 5 minutes out of our day… I think in Torrance somewhere. On our way to another spot.

I believe that Kenny Anderson recreated it a few years back. That was cool to see. You want to talk about style, man. Kenny Anderson is like melted butter on a hot cobb of corn. That guy has style for days.


How’d you land on the Cat in the Hat and the Grinch for your initial pro models?

I was reading a lot of Dr. Seuss books at the time. I just really dug that stuff and probably mentioned something to Andy Jenkins about it. It’s always good to get an idea of what someone is into or what they’re like when making graphics, it makes them more personal that way. So I must’ve said something and Andy went off to do his own version of what became me wearing the Cat Hat.

The Grinch largely came from this same sort of thing, too. Andy’s own telling of the Grinch’s nature. But that shape was great. I loved the Grinch shape back then.


In your own words, what’s the concept behind the USA #1 graphic and what does it mean?   

I don’t remember who came up with the American Icons board. I know McKee drew it out but I can’t recall who had the initial idea. I don’t know if it was my idea to have contributed or not. But I just thought that those things were representative of America at the time. A pack of smokes, a six-pack of beer, television… it was a goofy little dig at consumerism and America, in general.

And don’t forget, the original version had that funky background. It wasn’t always the American flag, that came later. It originally had a funky, fluorescent-colored background before we changed it. We actually made a few boards with that alternate reality-version of the graphic... I still have a couple of those.


So many of your photos from this time will live on forever. The Pro Spotlight stuff, the one-foot over the hydrant, that 360 flip over the hip at the Hawaii contest. How was shooting this early tech stuff on film? Wouldn’t a lot of photographers only shoot stuff after you’d already made it once?

Well, that 360 flip one was during a contest, so that worked out pretty easily. I was just taking my run. Someone saw their shot and took it. I didn’t even know, I was just skating.

But I don’t remember having to make a trick prior to someone shooting it. I feel like all that stuff was pretty easy to shoot, for the most part. I’d just skate and do my thing. Spike and O were always fast and they’d be able to get things pretty quickly. That was it.

Keep in mind, there wasn’t any other option but film back then. There was no other means of documenting this stuff. Film was expensive but it was what it was. And I never knew how much film they’d have on a particular day anyway. You’d just want to do your thing the best that you could, and they shot it until they got it. But like I said, O and Spike were always very fast. I don’t ever remember there being any sort of struggle in those photos. 


How was shooting that legendary Pro Spotlight?  

It was great, man. I liked to be photographed. It was always exciting to see how it came out. I believe that one had the one-foot over the bench for the centerfold, right? That was a fun one. I always liked that kind of stuff.

My biggest problem back then was that I could just be so hard on myself at times. Because I was ultimately just an insecure kid.

How so?

Mark was just really, really good at skateboarding. He was very light and loose about everything. And, like you said, being in that fishbowl, I could really get down on myself for overthinking stuff… which only made me feel more insecure.

You go through that shit growing up, because it’s hard to adapt sometimes. And I was probably a little immature for my age back then, too. I don’t think that I got my brain really ticking until a little later on in the game, whereas Mark probably matured before I did. All of those factors were at play.


But everyone goes through that, especially when you’re young. 

I was able to let a lot of that go in a big way when Stereo hit. Again, I learned a lot from those early days. And despite the insecurities and the ups and downs, in retrospect, you're ultimately extremely grateful, more than anything else, that you got to ride a skateboard with your friends for a living. 

A 12-year-old Guy Mariano probably didn’t help matters much, either.

Oh, for sure! And I was super intimidated by Rudy Johnson as well. Because both of those kids were just on another level. And they’re younger than me!

Don’t get me wrong, Mark’s the raddest human ever, but he also liked to push buttons. That’s what he did. He liked to bust people’s chops and he’ll admit that. That’s just Mark, right? But add all that up and it’s the perfect recipe for me to feel a bit insecure at times. Vulnerable.

You certainly can’t regret any of that, though, because that’s just life. That’s just part of growing up and going through shit. Feeling competitive and getting down on yourself. Wondering if you’re good enough. But so much of it was all in my head. Because there were plenty of days where we’d just skate and I wouldn’t even care. We’d be out there having fun.



How did Guy and Rudy get into the Blind mix anyway?

Mark saw those guys skate and was blown away.

“Hey, I’m putting these guys on the team.”

“Cool!”

Again, with the vulnerability, I will admit that there was a part of me like, “Oh shit, these guys are really good!” But it was never such a thing that caused any problems between us. I was stoked to have them on the team, for sure. You want those guys on your team.

It’s the same thing with Jovontae Turner… I mean, who wasn’t a Jovontae Turner fan? Holy cannoli. That guy was amazing! I don’t know what ended up happening with him and Blind but I was definitely bummed when he left. Mark and I were both huge fans of that guy.



What was the process of getting new riders on Blind? Because there have been several people over the years who claim that they were asked to ride for Blind.

I feel like all of the riders came from Mark…

Who said they were asked to ride for Blind?

Jeff Pang said he was asked, Salman Agah, Frankie Hill…

Frankie Hill? I don’t remember that one but Salman, possibly. He was amazing back then… I can’t really remember but they would probably know better than me.

How many people actually skated for Blind during those original days?

You, Mark, Guy, Rudy, Danny Way, Jovontae...

And Jordan.

Because it was always a very select bunch. I had some say in things, I guess, but it was Mark’s company. He was obviously the one who would have final say in deciding everything.


How do you remember those Powell spoof boards being hatched?

Mark and Rocco would conspire together on a lot of things. Sometimes you’d see something and it would obviously be a Mark idea, whereas other times, it was something Rocco must’ve brought to Mark. I feel like those Powell boards were definitely both of those minds at work. I just showed up to hold the deck for the photo.

“Oh cool, that’s funny. This is rad... Let’s go skate.”



Did you ever feel manipulated by Rocco with all of this “industry politics” stuff? How much of this was you and Mark versus being a mouthpiece for Steve? Like Rocco writing that Dear George letter and signing Mark’s name, for example.

I know what you’re saying but we did always have to give our approval on things. We might not have been fully aware of the big picture, because we were just young kids at the time, but there was an approval process at the very least.

The only thing that I did not approve was the Satan graphic. Other than that, most of it just felt like Rocco being goofy and wanting attention. Wanting to stir the pot.

But yeah, the only time where I had to shoot something down that I was not cool with was the Satan graphic. Because it just hit me in the gut, right away. I immediately did not have a good feeling about having my name on that.

So I said no to that one and shortly thereafter, I remember Mark coming over to my house with the shirt… my name in the pentagram.

“Look, Rocco’s printing the shirts with your name on it.”

“What!?! That’s not cool. I didn’t approve that.”

So Mark and I went to World Industries and met with Rocco.

“Come on, just do it. I’ll give you $10 grand.”

He wrote me a check for $10,000 right there on the spot. And I did take the check but I didn’t feel good about it. I ended up talking to Rodney about it and he’s the one who dissuaded me from going forward with it... Mark didn’t feel good about it, I didn’t feel about it. And in the end, we turned around and I gave the check back to Rocco.


Talk about Danny Way’s time on Blind. I interviewed him a few years ago and he said that Plan B was always in the works, even back then. That he was just on Blind as a way of biding his time and getting in the Rocco mix. Did that feel like the case at the time?

It didn’t seem like that to me but I would’ve had no way of knowing otherwise. I really didn’t think about that kinda stuff back then, either. But Danny was rad and we had a great time together with him on Blind.

What was your beef with H-Street back then anyway?

I didn’t have beef with H-Street.

But wasn’t the Benihana’s intro pointed at Ternasky?

Yeah, that was a dig at Mike, which I regret, but it really wasn’t a “beef”-type of thing.

We had heard rumors of Ternasky, rest in peace, offering to pay skaters in order to do tricks and that intro was basically me being a smartass. Just me being young and stupid. I certainly didn’t have any ill will towards him or his company. Those H-Street guys were immensely talented. I was always a big Matt Hensley fan, in particular. I always put Matt Hensley stickers on my boards to pay respect.

Ternasky was a good-hearted man. And in his own way and right, he was progressing skateboarding. It’s 100% valid.

There was no actual beef there. Admittedly, there’s that pseudo-competitive thing where we were up in LA and they were down in San Diego, but none of that meant anything.

If anything, it was probably just more insecurity on my part. And again, just being a smartass.


So how long did you guys film for Video Days?

Video Days was about a year or so of filming, with all of the car stuff coming in at the end to finish it up.

It’s funny because I’ve had people tell me over the years that my part was their favorite in Video Days. I don’t know if they’re just being nice or what… And while I do appreciate them saying that, I can’t help but feel that they’re fucking crazy. Mark’s part in Video Days is ridiculous. That double-kink rail? The line where he goes from a frontside 50-50 and sloppily puts it into a frontside boardslide on the next bench over? Pure Mark magic. And that was all filmed on his last day of filming. It’s that same outfit in so many of his clips, you can just tell that he’s going for it. How anybody can say that they like my part better with all my slow skating? It doesn’t even compare. Not only did that confuse me to hear, it actually kinda drove me crazy.

Were you there that day when he did the double-kink?

I was not. That was just him and Spike, guerrilla-style. But Mark was on a mission, as the footage will attest.

After decades of dissecting that video, I feel like you and Guy would always film together, as you definitely show up in the background of multiple clips in his part.

Yeah, Guy and I skated a lot together. Mark and I as well. I remember it being 3 in the morning sometimes and Mark would suddenly get inspired to go skate. So we’d just hit the local Ralphs parking lot for a session. That’s how things often went with Mark. And those nights were always amazing.



How did the car “plot” come into it?

That was just Mark being Mark.

“Oh, I want to crash the car!”

The rest of us just thought that was so funny and great. We were sitting around, drinking beers. We came up with a loose plan and just went with it. Next thing you know, we’re down in Tijuana, crashing the car and catching a ride back to Orange County.

You’ve talked about being insecure, did you like your part?

It’s okay. But I feel like my part in A Visual Sound is much better, hands down. No question about it. Because there’s just that little bit of space between Blind, going into Blue for a minute, and then onto Stereo where I feel like I matured quite significantly. I feel like everything loosened up and I started to feel the flow of skateboarding more. The action of it finally started to feel more organic to me.

There’s definitely some good stuff in my Video Days part, but my skating is slower and feels a little more concentrated... meaning that I was probably overthinking things a bit instead of just going with it more.

I feel like you’re more confident by the time you got to Stereo.

Exactly! Going back to the insecurity point and just youth, in general, the mind isn’t even close to being developed when you’re 19. Your coordination, even. Your style is still a bit awkward. But as you get older, you find your groove, both mentally and physically. That just happened to occur for me during the Stereo days and filming for A Visual Sound.



Did you choose the Milk and Husker Du songs?

I did. I’ve always been a Husker Du fan. And I think it was Andy or Spike who might’ve suggested the Milk song. But I dug it, for sure. It’s an amazing song and really blew me away.

And wasn’t Video Days a reference to Woody Allen’s Radio Days?

That’s a good question! I’ve actually never heard that, but it very well could be. Radio Days is a great movie.

So was your personality just to ham it up for the camera with little monologues?

I’d always been a goofball in school and with my friends. Just really sarcastic and having fun being silly. I just continued to be that way. I’m sure there was a ton of footage of me goofing off like that.  

I didn’t exactly know that stuff would make its way into the final edit, but I was okay with it. Like, the song at the end of my part? That’s just me being comfortable enough to goof off and become what was probably very obnoxiously annoying. But it was fun.

Yeah, that song is completely improvised, right?

Yeah, I think a lot of people thought it was a real song but I’m just totally making it up there. We were right in front of the Hewlett-Packard gold rail in North Hollywood.


What does “No War for Heavy Metal” mean anyway?

Oh man…

So this was during the Gulf War, right? There were all those people out there protesting, like you see in the video. They’re all just chanting, “No war! No war! No war!”

It just came to me. It’s so stupid but that’s just my mind. It can be random like that.

“No war for heavy metal!”

Just some stupid, random thing. It meant nothing. It just came to my mind and I said it. 

Did you have any say on the edit?

I did with my part, yes. Absolutely. But with Mark and his wanting to do the car thing, I just thought it was fun and funny. I left the rest up to him… Because Mark was the ringleader, man. It was his world. Stuff like Coltrane, Willy Wonka and Paris, Texas… All that stuff came from his brain. Those were his ideas and how he wanted to do it. The rest of us were just happy to be there with him.

And for me, personally, I was able to get turned on to a lot of stuff early on through Mark. Like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Freddy Fender, classical music… the list goes on and on.



Didn’t he try to hide a lot of his footage while filming the video?

I don’t necessarily think that he was being overly-secretive about his footage, but like I said earlier, he could go guerrilla-style whenever he was really focused on something. I do believe there was some of that.

Because there were times whenever we were with him and he’d be trying to film something, it could get very serious. And I remember the rest of us just kinda looking at each other, not really sure what to do. Because you didn’t want to say anything, you just wanted to be quietly supportive.

But when Mark wants to deliver, he will deliver. And he was very serious about that video part.

How serious did you take Video Days?

Oh, I was serious about it, for sure. I wanted to have a good part and have it mean something. To have it work in people’s minds. We all spent a lot of time on that project.

A Visual Sound was just such a different experience for me, personally, than Video Days. Because with the Blind video, I was focused on just my skating, specifically. With Stereo, there was also a creative component that I was experiencing with that project, in addition to the skating in my part. So, in that respect, my work on A Visual Sound was much broader with the video as a whole. I had to worry about things like the overall aesthetic and flow for A Visual Sound that didn’t even enter into my mind with Video Days.



I love that you had vert footage in your part, but how was skating Hosoi’s ramp with Mark and Christian?

Well, it was equal parts intimidating and exciting. But I felt it was important to show that I did skate everything, even if I was still just learning how to skate vert.

But the cool thing about skating vert is that once you start to get the hang of it, you’ll just start learning a bunch of tricks at once.

“Okay, I got backside ollies. How about a backside tail? I’m gonna try backside disasters, too.”

And so on… Your confidence starts to increase and it becomes relatively easy to keep adding new things to your list of tricks. It really took me back to my early days of street skating, when you’d learn kickflips and then start combining that with other stuff. Same thing.

And to do that with Mark on Hosoi’s ramp? So much fun.



How would you describe Jordan Richter’s role on the team? Because I know he was largely brought on by Danny, but I feel like he often gets shortchanged by people, unfortunately.

He probably did start out as Danny’s guy because they were both down in San Diego, but we all loved Jordan. Mark was really supportive of Jordan and his part being in the video, which was cool to see.

Jordan was rad, man. And once he got hooked on street skating, he could do huge kickflips over things. I still remember being super stoked on watching him do that.


What was the idea behind the bald cap Burger King ad and board? It was widely seen as a Mike V. diss but was that really the case?  

Not at all. It’s so amazing how these rumors start, I really do find it funny.

I just happened to shave my head the night before. It was just some stupid thing I did randomly.

That’s not a bald cap?

No, that’s my real head. I even remember my girlfriend at the time being not very stoked at all on it. (laughs)

“What are you doing!?! That looks hideous!”

I ended up going down to World Industries the next day and Rocco wanted to shoot an ad for my Burger board. So we went out, grabbed a burger at Burger King and shot some photos.

So the Burger board was already in the works?

Yeah, it was already done. It had been in the works way before I ever thought about shaving my head. I honestly didn’t even think about it possibly being misconstrued as a dig at Mike.




Because Rocco was starting to go at Mike in other ads around this same time.

If Rocco had any idea about it being about Mike, with my freshly shaven head, I was not made privy to that. He very well may have had some kind of underlying motive but I did not.

But that was, in no way, me poking fun at Mike. Because not only do I respect Mike V. as a skater, I’m also very aware that you don’t want to get on his bad side, either. He’ll relocate your jaw. But I’ve always had too much respect for Mike anyway.

So why did Mark leave Blind?

I honestly don’t know why Mark left Blind. Maybe he and Rocco had some kind of tiff? I don’t really know exactly. But it was never the same after he left. He did let me know beforehand, but I decided to stick around for a bit because I was supposed to “run Blind”.

The problem was that I didn’t feel like I belonged there after he left. Doing Blind without Mark Gonzales was not right and always felt weird to me. Blind was Mark’s company, man. He started it.

How much control over Blind did you have after Mark left? Or was it essentially Rocco’s at that point?

I remember trying to design some Blind jeans and maybe some wheels? I was definitely a 21-year-old trying to be this responsible skateboarding-brand guy. But I honestly didn’t know what I was doing. I definitely didn’t know about the money and the workings of the business. I just didn’t fit that role at the time, I wasn’t ready for all that yet.

But it was pretty short-lived. I think it was only about 6 months after Mark left that Chris and I split, too.


Another ad with a letter, this time from you after Gonz left where you talk about “Now that Gonz is out of my hair”… did you actually write that or was that more Rocco handiwork?

That would’ve been Rocco, obviously.

I’m sure his thinking was that it would be funny to have a letter announcing my “new position” at Blind or whatever... but I certainly would have never done anything malicious towards Mark. In no way whatsoever. That was just Rocco being Rocco and, for whatever reason, I might’ve thought it was funny.

I honestly don’t remember the ad very well, it’s possible that Rocco might’ve done it without my knowledge. But to answer your question: no, I did not write that letter.

Had you been unhappy with Rocco for a while?

I was just skating. My world was Mark Gonzales and Blind. Rocco was just doing his Rocco stuff and I wasn’t terribly invested or even interested in a lot of it. In my mind, when it came to Blind, I answered to Mark. Not Rocco. So when Mark was no longer there, I really wasn’t sure how to continue skating for the company.


As one of his earliest riders, did you see Rocco change at all over the years with so much success?

Well, you certainly want to grow as a brand. And he definitely grew. But I feel like Rocco was always the same, from what I can remember. Maybe his humor got a little darker? Maybe his desire to be controversial was heightened. Stirring the pot and pushing buttons. To be the aggressor. But in his reality, he found it funny. And it was his company, so he was entitled to do whatever he wanted to with it. But I didn’t particularly find all of it to be very funny.

Mark was just more my type of person. He was doing something that fit his brain while Rocco was doing something else that fit his brain. Instinctively, I was more drawn to Mark’s creative pulse. That’s all. 

Luckily for me, Chris was also wanting to leave World Industries at this time. And he actually turned out to be much more savvy about business than I was back then. So we hooked up with Brad Dorfman at Vision and started Blue, which would essentially be the seed for Stereo.



The first series of boards to come out after your departure, was there possibly a Jason Lee Fucked Up Blind Kid graphic that got dropped? 

No, I don’t think I was there whenever that idea came up.

…I wasn’t really into that kinda stuff.

It is true that you almost went to New Deal after Blind? Was that possibly because of Ed?

Yeah, I think I did for a second! My brain vaguely remembers something like that! Wow, I totally forgot about that! That’s very interesting. Yes, it is very possible that I almost went to New Deal before I ended up going with Chris. 

I think Ed ended up leaving New Deal around that time… maybe that had something to do with it?



Yeah, he actually started TV with Mike V under Dorfman as well. So Chris came to you with Blue?

I know that we had talked about leaving Rocco at different points but I feel like Chris was the one who actually moved forward with the idea to start a company, making it a real thing. Because he’s savvy like that, Chris was the one who laid a lot of the initial groundwork involved. I know he was the one who brought Brad Dorfman from Vision into the picture.

While I’m pretty sure that we both came up with the name Blue, Chris is the one who brought in all of the old logos and stuff. Like, if you look at the first Blue printout “catalog” that we made for shops, we had a Stereo logo in there. Because Chris was already using that as a graphic element in the pre-Stereo, Blue days. So once Blue didn’t work out, that’s where Chris got the name for its next iteration.



But why did you guys go with Dorfman, the opposite of Blind?

Dorfman had a lot of resources and was open to us starting a company, He seemed like he was gonna let us do whatever we wanted to with it. Simple as that.

Why did it fail after only a few months?

I feel like that had to do with it being our very first venture together. Maybe things weren’t working so smoothly over at Vision, either. I guess you could just say that it wasn’t meant to be. But it certainly birthed Stereo, so there was some good to come out of all that.



How is Stereo different than Blue?

We had the brilliant minds at Deluxe backing us. Jeff Klindt, rest in peace, was always so supportive of what we were trying to do, the idea of us doing a design-based skateboard company. To really focus on an overall aesthetic and unique color palette. They just got it.

Chris and I had gained that bit of experience with Blue and were able to fine tune the idea more directly and confidently this time around. Thiebaud and Guerrero were always so cool about everything and Deluxe already had the infrastructure that was so well-oiled. It all just made for a great recipe. 



What about making “100%” with Spike and Tamara for Sonic Youth?

I was just stoked to feel like I was in something where I was kind of “acting”, you know? Something that wasn’t just a skate video… almost like a movie project or something. I got to play dead, trying to do the best acting that I could.

But yeah, that was all one day. Spike hooked it up. Tamara had seen Video Days and wanted Spike to shoot the skateboarding for this Sonic Youth video she was directing. Spike got Guy and I to skate for it and, for whatever reason, I was to be the main guy.

It’s funny because Tamara would go on to direct a few episodes of “My Name is Earl” years later. So it all kinda went full circle.



And what was the connection with you guys essentially being the same characters in Allison Anders’ Mi Vida Loca?

Chris Pastras was actually in that one, too. I think Chris was dating Tiffany Anders at that time, the daughter of Allison Anders, who was directing the movie. They needed some kids to be in a montage sequence, buying drugs in Echo Park. And this was actually before the Sonic Youth video, so it was even more intimidating.

“Oh my God, I’m on a real movie set right now. This is so nerve-racking. There’s the camera, try not to look into that… I guess this is what it feels like to be an actor. This is crazy!”

It was fun, though. 

This was 1992, what was your outlook on the whole pressure flip trend that descended upon skateboarding at this time?

I wasn’t into it. I just prefer for things to be popped and caught up in the air. It just looks better to me, that’s all. Because we already had kickflips, why do another, weirder version of a kickflip? Just do a kickflip. That’s what my brain was telling me to do.

Honestly, I tried pressure flips for a day. I tried to get into it. And I did a couple… fuck this.



So did you guys move to San Francisco before Deluxe got into the picture or after?

It was after Deluxe got involved.

Chris was actually the one who moved up there permanently. I was just up there visiting all the time. Pretty much constantly.

I owe so much to Chris and Deluxe in all of this, because I feel like, for my own journey, Stereo is really when I started to blossom creatively. With the making of A Visual Sound, specifically. This was when all of the inspirations and things I had learned from Mark Gonzales and Neil Blender and Lance Mountain… it all started coming together for me. And I’m so grateful for that. I feel like the work we did for A Visual Sound is really something that we should be proud of.



Where’d the Blue Note/Reid Miles inspiration come from?

That would’ve been Chris. His Dad is a very learned man when it comes to jazz. He’s a jazz aficionado, so Chris was turned onto all of that stuff very early on.

It’s interesting, because at this time, Chris and I both started really exploring a taste for older things. Going to thrift stores and buying old button-down shirts and random stuff. Old radios. An old briefcase. Old books and records. It was just something we did, which all then started to swirl in with the head full of other influences we had going on already.

It really is amazing how the subconscious works. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s like a train that new cars keep getting latched onto and, next thing you know, you’re chugging along.



And this was you and Dune working on everything together?

Yeah, along with all of the amazing Deluxe artists supporting our vision. Chris was really at the helm of the ads, I would just offer my suggestions, which seemed to work very well. It was a lot of fun to have a hand in everything.

“This looks amazing! Totally. Okay, let’s do this but how about the stripes go vertically instead of horizontally? Let’s use this yellow instead of that yellow. Or maybe that should be blue and that should be red...”

And once I got my hands onto those Super-8 cameras and started to focus on A Visual Sound, that’s when this other part of my brain really clicked on. I feel like that’s what led to my photography later in life. You can definitely connect those dots.

It’s almost sectionalized, Blind to Blue to Stereo. Acting was more of a general move, which didn’t really come from skateboarding, necessarily. But then, with the photography, it’s all very linear for me. Everything can be traced back to Gonz, and slightly before that, my brother listening to Black Flag. Things like that, because it was around. Picking up my first Talking Heads record at age 15 and realizing that there was something interesting there.

Sometimes all it takes is flipping through an issue of a magazine, watching a movie or hearing a song... a little spark goes off. You recognize that your brain likes something for some reason. My brain likes Talking Heads, what’s that all about? The lineage takes your further.



How did the Stereo team come together?

Well, we’d kinda been looking around for a while before officially launching Stereo. Because we really wanted to get it right. But everyone fell into place relatively easily.

Carl Shipman came about through Chris and I heading over to Germany and watching him absolutely kill it at the Munster Cup.

Ethan Fowler was a little later, actually while we were in the final stretch of A Visual Sound. He filmed his entire part in two weeks with Tobin, which was incredible to see come together. Those two would go out filming while Chris and I hung back, working on other stuff. And every day, I remember them coming back with this amazing footage… like, “Holy Toledo!” Just naturally gifted.

Early on, we also had John Deago, Lavar McBride and Mike York, which I want to say were all suggestions from the dudes at Deluxe. Greg Hunt. They were all Northern California guys who fit in perfectly with what we were trying to do. 

Mike Daher was like striking gold, too. They all were. All the guys who were a part of Stereo had such great style and their own flavor. It was such an honor to skate and create with all of them. Mike Frazier, Greg Hunt, Matt Rodriguez, Carl, Ethan... They were all amazing skateboarders and ones who understood where we were going for with Stereo. 


You’ve said that you worked on A Visual Sound every day for a year?

Just about every day in some capacity, yeah.

Jim Thiebaud and Jeff Klindt were so instrumental in all of this. They were the ones who really showed us how to do it.

“When you edit, log your footage. Write down all of your clips individually on index cards.”

So I went out and bought blue index cards.

Once we had all of our footage, we transferred the Super-8 footage over to VHS. We had a ton of Hi-8 tapes, too. Our set-up was a VHS deck, a Hi-8 deck, and a little monitor. And I’d sit at this little table in Jeff Klindt’s kitchen in San Francisco and just log footage for hours. Writing on index cards: Ethan, Backside Tailslide Shove-it, from this timecode to this timecode. Cool.

Now you have a giant stack of index cards. Lay them all out on the floor and that’s how you figure out your video. Because I knew the footage so well, I could see the tricks and how to place them together.

“That trick goes after that trick, which goes after that trick. Now, we’re gonna have a Super-8 break with some random footage…”

That all came from Jeff and Jim’s encouraging us to layout the video that way. And that’s how I’ve gone on to layout all of my books and photo exhibitions since. Same way. Making small prints and laying them all out on the floor.



Incredible. But was A Visual Sound always intended to be this incredible statement on style?

No. That was just what was real to us. That’s what made sense to us.

We were definitely conscious of the fact that we wanted to do something different. Something not so formulaic as compared to other videos we had seen. And we knew that we wanted to have jazz music in there. Chris had somehow found that Ululation record from New York… which I think people are still trying to find that music. I think somebody released it on vinyl?

But we also knew that we wanted some Super-8 footage and for it to be visually stimulating. Obviously, good skating. But most importantly, and this goes back to Mark Gonzales and Julien Stranger, we wanted to show that skateboarding is fun. That was the main thing. Fun, creative and loose. Not too overthought. Not too heavy on making it all the best skateboarding known to mankind. Just a fun and creative project.




I’m just more confident. I’m skating faster and it was a time in my life where everything seemed to be falling into place. Probably being in San Francisco also had a lot to do with it. Skating around the city. Skating with Julien and Ethan and all the Stereo guys. It was just a freeing time for me and I think that shows in the skating. Everything just clicked. 

Talk to me about that backside tail-to-tail stall. Entirely off-trend at the time but one of my favorite clips in the video.

We were just hanging out, making the day. Waiting for someone to figure out where to go next. Next thing you know, we’re all goofing off on these planters.

That was probably a subconscious Mark Gonzales move on my part. His type of creative approach. I guess that was probably a bit of his influence in my subconscious.



It does look like it’s straight out of Psycho Skate.

Well, it just made sense to go from tail to tail with how the planters were lined up. And I thought the clip looked cool so I used it.

Whose idea was it for the typewriter?

That’s my typewriter, but I’m not sure where that idea came from. Maybe I saw it in a movie or something? I don’t know but I really wanted it in there at the time.

And there’s all that scratchy music in the interludes? If you watch it all the way through, there’s a woman at the very end who takes the needle off of the record. That was my friend, Sarah. We were at a friend of ours house in LA and they had an old-timey record player so I just brought the camera over there one night and picked up some stuff.

I basically put my Hi-8 camcorder inside the speaker of their old wind-up 78 record player. That’s how I recorded all of that audio, which we then used in the video. And that was also the night where I filmed her taking the needle off, to make it look like it had been one record playing throughout the whole video... Just one of those creative ideas you have in your early twenties that you think is totally genius. (laughs)

It’s a little silly but still kinda cool.



How did you react to the video’s notoriously mixed reception at the time of its release? Why do you think that was?

Well, it’s funny that you should say that, because Rudy Johnson, who I respect immensely, hit me up about it many years later.

“Hey, I just watched A Visual Sound again and I really love it. I don’t think that I understood it when it came out but I really love it. I now understand what you guys were trying to do back then.”

It was such a sweet compliment and it was so great to hear him say that.

Maybe the consensus was that it wasn’t super-gnarly-hardcore-tech enough? Maybe it was too “artsy”, for lack of a better term? But we made what felt right to us. You can only hope that people dig it and possibly get inspired by it. Maybe it wasn’t conventional enough or the skating was too “basic”? Who knows? But we were proud of it. That video definitely captures our whole world of what we were doing with Stereo at that time.



I know post-A Visual Sound is when you started to get more into acting but you still had a Transworld cover and a signature Airwalk shoe...

Yeah, the shoe came out around the same time that I started to get interested in acting. Reading scripts. And then I got Mallrats in 1994, which was my first movie. I remember filming that and then going to the Germany contest in Munster that summer. I didn’t enter the contest but I was still kinda checking everything out... and I feel like that’s when I realized it was my time to hang it up.

Because that Transworld cover was in the summer of ’94, I believe… which is one of your only covers, besides Poweredge.

Yeah, that’s a Tobin Yelland photo. That was taken at these old banks on Santa Monica Boulevard that aren’t skateable anymore. But that was just a day of skating, Tobin just happened to be there. We’d skate with Tobin all of the time, both in San Francisco and LA.

It’s funny because when that cover came out, I remember wanting to celebrate but I also felt a little guilty about it because I’m wearing Etnies shoes in the photo. I was still under contract with Airwalk at the time.

I remember seeing someone who I really respected wearing those Etnies shoes… it might’ve been Matt Hensley? But, because of that, I tried them and they were so soft. Little did I know that I’d be going out shooting with Tobin and one of those photos would end up on the cover of a magazine.

Luckily, everybody was cool about it. 


So many classic photos of you over the years, do you have a personal favorite?

Probably that frontside ollie on the quarterpipe at the Munster contest in ’93.

That’s a hard question, because there are a lot of photos that bring back memories. But that time, in particular, is special to me... Plus, just the height of the ollie. I feel like it’s a good example of the sort of strength that I was trying to find in my skating. That confidence. It’s just a good, very still moment of me at a time in my skating that I’m most proud of.



Do you think you would’ve walked away from skateboarding if you weren’t acting at that point?

Yeah, I was probably going to walk away from skateboarding at that time anyway. The acting really wasn’t what pulled me away from skateboarding, it’s just what I did when I was no longer skateboarding professionally.

Because remember, the age thing is much different now than it was back then. All of the guys who stayed with it, they were able to get their second- and third-winds, to where it became normal for someone to be a pro skateboarder at age 40. But in 1994, a 37-year-old man was quite old. Definitely for a skateboarder… at least, a competitive one. Even age 30 seemed almost unattainable back then.

You started to have doubt. Am I going to be able to grind through this thing and still be relevant? Will I even still be physically able to do this? So it became a thing where I felt like I had a relatively good run, let’s not keep pushing it.

And everybody was getting so good. There was that Houston contest where I did the backside 180 flip over the funbox? At that same contest, Eric Koston did a switchstance 360 kickflip over the pyramid. All I had was kickflip and a backside flip.

There was just such a surge of young talent. If I’m 24-years-old, doing backside 180 flips and there’s a 19-year-old switch 360 flipping the same funbox, it’s gonna make you start to think about things pretty quickly… like, shit! I’m not going to be learning that anytime soon! Maybe I’ll just get off at the next stop and let everyone else continue on their way.



How did you come up with the idea to put the jump ramp footage in Tincan Folklore for your part?

Well, Chris and those guys did a beautiful job of putting together that amazingly strange video. I love that video.

But I just thought it would be funny, you know? Like, for my part, wouldn’t it be great if we just put in all of my old jump ramp footage from in front of my house?

Turns out, nobody thought it was very funny. I got a lot of flak for that one. We premiered it at some venue in San Francisco and people were not stoked. (laughs)



Was that supposed to be a retirement part?

No, it wasn’t meant to be a retirement part. At the time, it was just a goof.

In all honesty, I’ve never considered myself to be a terribly special skateboarder. Mark Gonzales, Ethan Fowler, Julien Stranger… those guys are on a different plane. The way I saw it, we have another Stereo video coming out. What am I going to do that will be any different than my part in A Visual Sound

There was a part of me that thought A Visual Sound was the best you were ever going to get from me. Because I’m not going to go out and force myself to do all of these new tricks. There wasn’t anything more that I could offer. So I felt like my time on the train was done. 

Kudos to Koston and Guy Mariano for continuing to push skating all these years. I just didn’t have the wherewithal to push myself in that way. In some ways, I just wasn’t interested in learning switch kickflip crooked grinds on benches. I wasn’t meant to do that. Koston and Mariano were the guys meant to do those magical things that I, quite frankly, don’t feel like I was ever capable of doing.



So why bring back Stereo in 2004?

2003, actually.

Well, I was trying to pursue acting for those 8 years and Stereo had a bit of a lull during that time. Chris was now the team manager at Osiris and living down in southern California.

I just happened to run into Steve Berra somewhere and he says, “Hey, if you ever wanted to skate again, I have a park in North Hollywood.”

“Oh, that might be kinda fun. I haven’t skated in a long time.”

So I went to check it out, and all of a sudden, I’m skating every single day. And I was feeling pretty good about it, too. I was only 33 at the time, I’m doing 360 flips again. It felt good being out there.

I call up Chris. Because he didn’t even know.

“Hey, I’ve been skating again.”

“Alright, I’m coming up. Let’s skate.”

Straight away, we start thinking about revamping Stereo. We end up hooking up with Giant and Bod Boyle. And suddenly, Stereo was up and running again. It’s been a lot of fun.

Sometimes you just need breaks, but when the time is right and meant to be, things click back into place. After 8 years, it felt like the most opportune time for me to come back into the picture and really get things rolling together with Chris again.



And 16 years later, how’s it going? I know you’ve had a few issues with distribution over the years but now you have Folklore going as well and things are back to business…

It’s been good, man. We’re very proud of it. Not to say that it hasn’t gone through its ups-and-downs. It’s been tough at times. There’s always struggle, like with any business. Distributions go out of business. It’s hard. The landscape today is much different than how it was even just a few years prior.

Overall, we’re very proud of Stereo. It’s 27 years old now, give or take.

How often do you skate these days?

I don’t really get out there too much these days. When I do skate, I tend to skate for a while. But in 2016, I published a book. I published another book in 2018. I have a photo exhibition right now and I’ve been working on a book for that as well. So I’ve just had a lot going on, in addition to being a father. And honestly, just the heat and the humidity in Texas alone makes it hard to skate, especially when you’re as old as I am.

But after a very nice and productive chapter in Texas, where I was able to spend four dedicated years on my photography, we’ll be moving back to California soon. Looking forward to getting back on the board with Pastras!



Give us your best Mark Gonzales story.

There’s way too many. Let me think…

The thing is, Mark would perform. I remember being on a road trip in Washington D.C. We found a handrail that was easily above my waist, and it actually curved down and around something like 30 stairs. Some gnarly thing that you’d actually have a hard time holding onto, just walking down. And on the other side of this handrail was a hedge.

I remember Mark having Ron Chatman hold him on the rail and letting go of him. He slid down partway and jumped into the hedges. Mark grabs his board and walks back up there. Pushes, ollies, gets on top of the rail and slides the whole thing. Like it’s nothing. Next thing I know, he’s cruising downhill in the street, he pops one of his signature frontside ollies and disappears.

I have never been more shocked in my entire life than I was seeing that. Just the fearlessness and certainty he had in pulling something like that off. And the spontaneity of it all. The child-like Willy Wonka spiritedness that he has. It was absolutely stunning that he pulled that off in one-try. It was brutal.

Was anyone filming?

No cameras, nothing.

And just the ingenuity of him. I remember seeing him at McGill’s vert ramp one time. He dropped in and did a massive kickflip, palming it into a backside air. He bailed but it was beautiful. And he never tried it again. This was before people were doing that sort of thing, because this was an actual street kickflip. It snapped to his feet and only then did he palm it backside.

And just random things with the way his brain works, like noseblunt slides. Stuff like that. He is just on a different creative level. Because you gotta think, he had prototypes at his house of double-sided boards, back when I lived with him. Shapes where the nose and tail were the exact same… and this was back when he was still on Vision! He thought that you should be able to ride your board either way. Gonz pitched it to Brad Dorfman but he didn’t like the idea. But if that would’ve worked out, we would’ve had popsicle shapes years before we eventually did. Mark would’ve progressed skateboarding even that much further. That’s the magic of Mark.



Are you still making a movie about him?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know if he wants to do it anymore. You never really know with Mark. We had talked about it and it was going to be something that we were going to pursue but things changed up a little bit. We’ll see. It’s definitely something that I’d like to do whenever he is ready for it.

What does skateboarding mean to you in the wake of a far more lucrative acting career?

Well, the lucrative thing doesn’t really matter.

Skateboarding was just always the catalyst for everything else. It’s responsible for everything I am as a creative person. It has shaped both who I am and how I think.  

It’s certainly the most important thing that’s ever happened to me. It really is. And I owe everything to skateboarding, without a doubt.


Thank you, J. Lee