chrome ball interview #19: salman agah

chrome ball sits down with big sal for a slice.

First off, is it true that we have the biggest of skateboard improprieties, the mongo push, to thank for giving you a leg-up with all your groundbreaking switchstance innovation? I remember Kelch claiming on his Epicly Later’d that you were covering up a pushing handicap…

It is true that I did push mongo when I first started skateboarding but mongo was around long before I came on the scene. Kelch was saying that since because I pushed mongo initially, I could push switch naturally. Lots of other skaters who started skating switch later pushed switch mongo.

I still do unfortunately. Alright, so how you’d get introduced to skating and what was your first board?

When I was around 5 years old, I remember going into a store that sold skateboards in Ocean City, Maryland. Up on the walls were all these woodgrain finished boards with bright red transparent wheels. I remember pleading with my Dad for one. I ended up with a red plastic skateboard that didn’t have the red wheels but I was satisfied nevertheless. This was around 1976-77.

My favorite skater at the time was my babysitter, Wanda. I just remember this beautiful black woman in bell-bottom jeans and a big afro bombing hills with my brother and I just outside of Washington D.C. during the summer while my dad at work.

That’s incredible. So when did you move out west to San Jose? That town has always had an amazing scene. I have to imagine such a heavy crop of local talent having a pretty big influence on you…

We moved to northern California in 1981. Growing up, there were lots of people to skate with on any given day. The local skaters that most influenced me early on were Steve Rafolovich, Joe Conti, Chris Droukas, Mike Prosenko, John Fabriquer, Ray Barbee, Joe Spalliero and Steve Caballero. I was specifically inspired by Cab for his style and stature, Joe Conti for just being a dirty punk street shredder and Ray Barbee for his technical ability and style.

So how did you get on Powell back in the day?

I got hooked up with Powell Peralta when I was 16 through Steve Caballero. Stacy Peralta was up in San Jose filming Cab for Public Domain.

Must’ve been a dream come true…

It was definitely a dream come true. It was especially cool to have been asked by Stacy to ride for the team at Cab’s recommendation, since I had and continue to have so much respect for both of them. Skateboarding became very popular in the 80’s and all the guys like Cab, who were in magazines and in the Bones Brigade videos, were like gods. So it was definitely a special day… remember it like it was yesterday. My jaw dropped to the ground!

Jovantae and I both got sponsored by Powell Peralta on that same day, together.

So what was it like skating for the Bones Brigade during their glory days?

I really enjoyed skating for Powell Peralta. I was stoked to come home from school anticipating a box from them in the mail. I’d open it and they’d be full of “experimental” decks, Bones Swiss bearings, stickers, shirts and everything else Powell made. Just the smell of new stuff and the smell of the stickers was incredible... and the feeling of being on the receiving end was so amazing. Every time I received a package, it pushed me to skate so much more.

Powell used to host what they called AmJams and a contest series called the Quartermaster Cup at their facility in Santa Barbara. All the ams on the team were invited to stay at Powell over the weekend and skate. They’d make us custom gear and cater the event with food. They’d also invite the Powell pros to come skate with all of us ams. It was really incredible.

Shortly after getting on the team, I went to Seattle with Tommy G., Lance Mountain and Eric Sanderson to do a demo at the Kingdome, which was my first Powell trip. I didn’t know what “per diem” was so when Powell sent me a check for $90, thirty bucks per day for the three days, I couldn’t believe it. Powell Peralta sent me a check! Several months prior I was buying their boards and now here I was getting paid to go skate. It was a trip because my dreams were coming to fruition and it felt great!

Powell took wonderful care of me and riding for them at that time was an unforgettable experience that I’m super thankful for.

What was the story behind you and Jovantae's "Video Ur Self" section in Ban This? How was that filmed? And how come they didn’t spell either of your names right?

While filming for the video, I attended a TV production class as one of my high school electives and we were allowed to borrow a VHS camera over weekends. It was a monstrosity, basically borrowing a VCR with a lens and a record button on it. A lot of the time, I’d just set it down and push record because it was too cumbersome to skate around with. Video cameras just didn’t exist like they do these days. I honestly don’t even remember who was holding the camera for our part in Ban This. I was much too self-absorbed at the time.

We filmed in this kid Aris’ warehouse/home in Oakland. His parents were artists and they let Aris have a little indoor skatepark. They lived there and it was like skating in their living room.

To some degree, Stacy must have known what was on the horizon with H-Street to want to include a more homemade video section in Ban This. I have no idea why our names were misspelled in the titles. Our names were spelled correctly on the box cover. Maybe that was done on purpose to make it look more homemade? No idea about that one.

That part definitely put you on the map. And you continued to make a name for yourself in the months following… so why did you ended up sharing your Propaganda section with like 4 other dudes? Did you know it was gonna go down like that?

When Powell started filming for Propaganda, I was under the impression that I’d have my own full-length part. That being said, I don’t have any official documentation to prove that I was to have my own part, but I remember being certain that getting my own part was the deal.

H-Street was moving full steam ahead at the time and Powell probably wanted to have a real standout from the new generation of emerging street skaters. Frank Hirata ended up getting the part that I thought was going to be mine. It was a major letdown at the time as I really thought that I, along with everyone else, was going to be watching my debut solo video part and that I was going to be a star. (laughs) I was more letdown too because Frank hadn’t been on the team as long as I had and it happened last minute.

Looking back, I have to say Frank honestly deserved to have that part. He was a better skater than I was. But being young and lacking experience, it was still a disappointment… but it did become a sort of catalyst for me to progress.

In the long run, it all worked out fine.

So when did Real come into the picture?

The opportunity to ride for Real presented itself shortly after Propaganda came out in 1990. This was when skateboarders began taking control of the industry by starting their own companies. Apparently, I wasn’t the only skater that was unhappy at Powell Peralta after Propaganda as even Stacy decided to leave.

Around this time, skateboard construction started getting out of hand with very steep concaves. I always rode Ray Barbee’s pro model back then cause it had a good shape and was a little bit longer than the rest... but I hated this steep concave all boards had. So I started drilling the rear truck mount holes forward about ½ an inch and then cut off ½ an inch of the tail, which made it flat.

I used to skate a private skatepark in San Jose at the time similar to the Berrics called the Kennedy Warehouse. Corey O’Brien and Jeff Kendall started it. All the best pros and ams skated there as the Bay Area in general had become a major mecca for skateboarding. Tommy G. noticed my board there one day and told me about Real. He told me to call him in the future to get decks. That planted the seed. Soon after, I started going up to SF and skating with Tommy and Jim as much as I could.

It took awhile for me to get on. Jeff Klindt wasn’t convinced I had what it took to turn pro. I don’t blame him. I was super-ambitious and aggressive in a way, but I really wasn’t all that good, especially compared to Mike, Henry and a lot of the other city skaters. To me, they were setting the benchmark for what good skateboarding was. So I skated with Tommy & Jim, Henry, the Carrolls and the Tershays as much as I could in order to progress and within months of Propaganda, I was on Real.

Gonz was also calling me at the time, but that is another story all together. I also considered riding for Dogtown, but none of the other opportunities interested me because being with Tommy G. was where I wanted to be.

Wait a minute… You said Gonz was calling? Was there talk of you getting on Blind?

Right around when Propaganda came out, I started getting calls from Mark Gonzales. Mark would usually call late at night and the conversation would start after a serenading.

That's amazing. (laughs)

I called Guy and Gabriel and asked them both if they'd ever quit Powell and they both said never. I had my answer. But 2 weeks later, Guy and Rudy were up in Santa Cruz wearing ‘brainwash victim’ shirts. Jovantae was gone and now I was definitely on my way out.

I chose to ride for Real because I respected Jim, Tommy and Jeff. Jim and Tommy just left Powell and I felt confident they would treat all of us the way they wanted to be treated. I also wanted on Real because Henry Sanchez was getting a pro model and in my opinion, he was the best street skater on the planet at the time… along with Guy.

So where did your inspiration for delving into nollies and switchstance come from? Sure others had ventured into it before but you really took it to the next level.

I was always bigger for my age so when the opportunity presented itself to progress without the need to bend down and touch my board, I was all over it. That was my main inspiration.

One day, I was skating with Tommy and Jim in the city when Natas was visiting. We were at Brown Marble Benches a block up from EMB and Natas straight nollied up one of the benches. I was amazed. From that day forward, I was obsessed with learning every nollie trick I could think of… and it was perfect timing because noses on boards grew to seven inches.

Around the same time, I sprained my forward-leading ankle but I wanted to skate so badly that I just started trying to do every trick backwards. I could do every nollie flip trick and nollie-to-grind trick, so I simply went with it and did them backwards. Since I pushed mongo when I first started, pushing to skate backwards felt really natural. I had a lot of fun with it and I just enjoyed skating that way, pure and simple. I think Jason Adams once commented to me that I was wasting my time. It didn’t matter, I was having a good time.

The part about it being progressive or groundbreaking at the time was coincidental. I happened to be doing the right stuff at the right time. It was all a cosmic accident, mixed with my personality. I’m not one to follow and am defiant by nature, so naturally I wanted to do my own thing. Nollies and skating switchstance were my ways of rebelling in a way. It was my way of interpreting skateboarding and not following what others were doing. Now it’s the norm.

I know it’s been asked a thousand times… but why the arm cast? Seems like you wore that thing forever. Do you think that smelly cast had any factor on your Most Beautiful Skater Award that Big Brother gave you in ’93? (laughs) Did you realize at the time that cast would become a trademark of your career?

The reason I had a cast on my arm for so long is because the bone that I broke has a difficult time healing… and that goes for anybody that breaks it. It’s called the navicular or scaphoid. The big issue is that the blood supply flows down into the tip of the thumb and then back into the base of the bone up in the wrist. If the top part of the bone is cracked or broken, even the slightest movement in the wrist cuts off the blood supply to the broken area, making it near impossible to heal.

I skated so much at the time, slamming and moving my arm around, that I kept re-fracturing it. I was also constantly removing the cast on my own because it bothered me to wear it for so long. Plus, it just stank.

So long-story-short, I had a broken hand for many years and it consequently became a trademark of my career. I don’t think the cast had any factor in my being Big Brother’s “Most Beautiful Skater”, I think it was my beautiful face that got me that award. (laughs).

I remember something back in the day where Indy ran a photo of you that was supposed to be for your mother and you switched truck sponsors because of that? What was that all about?

At the time, I wanted my ads to have just skateboarding in them so I didn’t like it. I think that picture was taken shortly after Kelch and I partied all night with some girls in a cornfield in Indiana.

In retrospect, I was looking for an external way to reignite some passion to keep pushing and progressing… searching for something new as opposed to looking within. It’s a short-term solution. Ultimately it doesn’t work. Not for long anyway.

Stay with the team you’re on, help them design better stuff if you’re not satisfied and more importantly, dig deep.

Talk a little about making the Real Video. Your part was pretty earth-shattering.

Filming for the Real Video was a lot fun. Even though I knew video parts were important, I didn’t really stress about it. Sure, I had my frustrating moments trying to learn a trick. I also didn’t like it when I thought something had been filmed and the filmer didn’t get the trick. But filming for the video was easy back then. Since day one, Real as a company has had touring and traveling in its DNA, which I think makes filming for a video much easier.

I don’t remember how long we filmed for, maybe a year or so, but I did really like the outcome. I thought it was a good video and represented skateboarding well. Considering all the groundbreaking skating that was taking place at the time, I believe all the skaters in the video were relevant to what was happening.

Blind Video Days set the tone for videomaking and individual parts to this day. I just wanted my part in the Real Video to be like Mark’s. That’s why I had vert skating in it and the atypical music.

So your Real part comes out and blows minds, going on to win Thrasher’s Skater of the Year. Such a good year for you but theres a lot of pressure that comes along with that sort of stuff. Not too long afterwards, you went underground for a while. What was going on? I remember hearing rumors that you retired for religious reasons?

I remember I was driving a box van to the tradeshow in San Diego with Jeff Klindt and Kevin Ancell and we had just passed Sunset Blvd when Jeff starts asking me all these questions. I didn't really know what he was getting at when he finally says, “So how does it feel to be Skater of the Year?”

The question didn’t even register. I thought he was just messing with me. Kevin was on the other side of the cab giggling. Jeff goes, “I’m serious, how does it feel to be Skater of the Year?”

My mind starts racing and I got scared. I just loved skateboarding; I didn’t think I was good at it. I just couldn’t believe it. How could this be? I was fat, I had practically just got sponsored... how could I be Skater of the Year? Something was definitely not right. What about all these other guys? I’m still learning how to skate, how is this possible?

After I received Thrasher’s Skater of the Year, I was lost. It wasn’t the pressure of being in the limelight that was intense, I was into that. I wasn’t trying to be a benchwarmer, so making it to the top was great. It’s what I had worked for.

The big problem was that I was deeply insecure. I had some some deep-seeded emotional issues that I needed to deal with and it wasn’t until I reached the SOTY pinnacle that I knew I needed to deal with them. Reaching the top so soon in my career and at such a young age intensified things to the point where I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I may have been at the top, but deep down inside, I was at rock bottom.

And to make matters worse, Vans had just picked me to get their next signature shoe after Cab. Former Vans CEO Walter Schoenfeld and I had lunch not long after and he suggested that I take a sabbatical, which is what I decided to do. I quit all my sponsors, including Vans, and I took the entire year off to just confront my personal issues, read the Bible, pray and spend a lot of time alone healing.

Ultimately, being Skater of the Year or being popular or whatever wasn’t the issue. Reaching that pinnacle is what caused the real issues to manifest.

Is it fair to say that these issues you're speaking about stem from stuff in your past that you hadn't dealt with because you were too consumed with your ambition to succeed in skating?

I'd say skateboarding was partly responsible. My parents divorced when I was 2 which gave me deep feelings of abandonment because I grew up without my mother. I was too young and immature to understand and wasn't truly conscious of these issues until I started getting involved with girls in high school. But also around this same time was when I was also starting to realize my goals in skating. I was basically becoming more conscious of my emotional issues in parallel with my successes in skateboarding.

To top this all off, my Uncle was an Iranian diplomat in America during the Shah's regime in the 70’s and subsequently involved in politics during the Iranian revolution. I was 7 at the time when Jimmy Carter expelled all Iranian diplomats shortly after hostages were taken, forcing them all back to Iran. Our family experienced a tremendous amount of hostility from Americans... even from our so-called "friends" during this time. We were repeatedly the victims of death threats. So my father picked my brother and me up at school one day and we were gone too. Just like that.

We basically fled the US. I lived in Iran and then in Frankfurt, Germany for about a year. When we returned to the US, it was without my father because the American embassy wouldn't approve his visa. Being uprooted so abruptly and then being separated from both parents was very traumatic. My father was allowed to return to the US shortly after Reagan was elected and that's when we moved to California in 1981. My dad had two boys and $200. It was time to start a new life.

Both of these experiences had deep effects on me that would only come to the surface years later… and more precisely, the night that I received my SOTY trophy. I was a mess!

So in light of all this, was battling these personal demons through religion what led you to the Firm after your sabbatical?

Well, when I was ready to jump back into the skateboarding game, I was so heavily under the influence of Christianity that I felt “called” to ride for the Firm. I think I told Lance that I was riding for the Firm with the presumption that he didn’t have a choice in the matter. I may have had my insecurities around this time and but I also a strong ego/big head to go along with it. Weird combo.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from Lance Mountain?

To save my money.

I know you were on the Firm for a while there before bouncing back to Real for a minute but what led you to Black Label?

I just wanted to be on the same team with Jason Adams, who I grew up skating with. That was something I wanted from the time that we were kids. It was a very difficult decision because Thiebaud is such a close friend and mentor. He is 110% skateboarding. But I’m still on Black Label to this day.

I’ve always loved your Label Kills part… did you feel you had something to prove with that one since you hadn’t had a part in so long? And how much different was filming for that video compared to the Real video all those years earlier?

Thanks. It was much different filming for Label Kills. I didn’t really feel like I had anything to prove and wasn’t really into filming for that video. For the Real video in the early 90’s, most of the filming was spontaneous and done in more of a documentary fashion. Dave Metty, who filmed most of the Real video, was notorious for having the camera on 24/7.

For Label Kills, it was more about playing the “video part” game and I didn’t care to play. Or I should say, I didn’t care to work. I didn’t get into skateboarding because I wanted a job, I did it to have fun. Purposely filming had a tendency to make skating unenjoyable for me.

Putting the premium on demos and being able to shred in person rather than having to rely on cameras and editing…

You pinned the tail on the donkey!

This was still possible to do in the 90’s (barely) but is a career without constant filming even an option for today’s up-and-comers? Do you think cameras stolen skateboarding’s soul?

In my opinion, it would be in a skater’s best interest to live in front of a camera 24/7 if you are pro or am today. And if I were a young skater, I wouldn’t wholly rely on skateboarding media to promote me… I’d take the bull by the horns and do it myself.

I don’t believe cameras have stolen skateboarding’s soul. I grew up in a different era and was more interested in creating mystique, therefore creating demand. Today, it’s all about transparency. People want the inside scoop. So I say, give it to them.

Gotta ask. What was the story behind Skaterade?

Long-story-short is that I didn’t have the business knowledge and skills at the time to make Skaterade successful. We were on our way though. Part of my problem is that I have a tendency to be too far ahead of my time. I need to sleep on my ideas a little longer before I execute them.

Fondest Tim Brauch memory (RIP)?

I just miss having Tim around. He truly lived in the moment. You had to work hard to be in a bad mood around Tim, he was 100% positive energy and an amazing skater.

Curious since you’ve always had such a unique style of your own, who would you list as your Top 5 styles of all time?

Brian Ferdinand, Jason Jessee, Brian Lotti, Mark Gonzales, Wade Speyer, Cardiel, Tommy Guerrero, Steve Caballero, Julien Stranger, Carroll, Koston, Westgate, Biebel, Bastien, Henry, Guy… Jon Comer...

That’s way more than five, Sal. (laughs) Last question, I know there’s a school of thought regarding the term “switch” as an antiquated notion with calls for its abandonment... What do you think?

Honestly, it never even crossed my mind. But with the way people are skating these days, I could see the term becoming obsolete.

Alright Salman, anything you’d like to add?

I’d just like to add that I’m very thankful to have had a skateboarding career. I love skateboarding and always will. There are lots of people who’ve been a big part of my success as a skateboarder and hopefully I can show my appreciation to them and to all my fans in the years to come!

special thanks to salman and jon constantino.


Anonymous said...

You both did a really excellent job on this.

Great read.

DIGZ said...

Awesome Sk8er, and a huge influence on sk8ing in general. In my humble opinion, he deserves to be mentioned along with the Gonz and Natas as an innovator, pioneer, and legend of street sk8ing.

I wish I got the opportunity to meet Salman. I've met most of my sk8 idols such as Gonz and Natas, but never got to sk8 with Salmon.

Keep up the good work on this site, and thank you for such a great interview. DIGZ.

Anonymous said...

There's some really great insight into Salman's disappearance after his SOTY win. Thanks for this.

magneto the great said...

You keep on topping yourself with your interviews. The ABD two and your longer CBI ones are always top notch. Props to you for always asking the well-informed and tough questions and props to Sally for answering them.

Box in Hand said...

nice interview!

Loo Ganida said...

keep on doin what
your doin, man!
loving it! one
thing I was thinking
about lately regarding
Salman, was what happened
with Skatebook? a falling out
with Mike Ballard maybe? anyhoo,
great choice for and interview I've
always enjoyed Salman's skating.

djtwit said...

excellent read. cheers!

Keith said...

solid interview E and Salman!

Imagine if he got on Blind!

I agree that he doesn't get the shine he should of gotten for the innovation he brought to the table.

Agah rugby shirt was the shit!

After he got soty and was off Real, I lost track of him. Nice to hear what happened.

Anonymous said...

I have fond memories skating with Salman at Ground Zero in Madera, Ca. He is a great guy.

Beerkiller said...

Great interview and great skater!

ps - The link to his Real Video part
is incorrect, it links his Label Kills part.

chops said...

Thanks everyone. Good lookin' out Beerkiller. Link should be fixed now.

Thanks to Chris for digging up the link while I'm at work.

Africa Skate said...

Such a sick Interview there chief!!
Keep 'em coming.


Anonymous said...

you know what's cool about skating and guys like Salman? Everything...

Props to Chrome Ball.

Hey, I'd like to see a segment on Kevin Harris's skate ranch. I know its kinda outside of you r approach, but I think that place was pretty important in the history of skating...

fabo les sk8s said...

ice lounge profile

cuz we fabo les

Unknown said...

nice work... Dr. Agah needs to look us up next time he is in Dallas ... I know he was here for a wedding not to long ago!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joel said...

This was great...thanks very much for the interview, those of us who are a bit older certainly appreciate the greats, and Salman is one, for sure. I remember that Real part being a mind boggler, and not realizing some of it was switch upon the first watch. Cheers! This man was a hero to many of us.

P.S. I think at that time, Sanch probably was the best there was. An excellent observation.

Pierpont local said...

They should have asked him about the time he called the cops on a kid because the kid was 18 and going out with a girl that was 17. The 17 year old girl was the daughter of Sal's ex-girlfriend and this is how he got back at his ex.

t.a. said...

It took me a couple days but I finally finished reading the interview- super rad.

The way he carries that nollie is incredible. And who better to lead the 'switch' charge than a guy with such presence and power - on and off the board!

Congratulations on all of your success, Chops; it's pretty obvious that doors are opening up for you. Cool stuff.

Anonymous said...

... not to mention the loftiest backside ollies I've ever seen, landing them on the drain! Blazing MXer, opinion leader, dog lover, voracious reader ... Yeah, Salman. Great, great story.


Anonymous said...

great read, sal you're a legend man! you'll never truly know how many skaters you've influenced, keep pushin' homie

ODG said...

Great interview.. I realized while reading it that I had a couple flicks of Salman and Jovantae from the Powell days and put them up on my blog. here's a link.


chops said...

thanks guys.

good lookin' out on the photos ODG. good shit. thanks man.

dada said...

yes sir, that was some excellent conducted and articulated interview, thanks to both the Chromeball and Salman.

Peter Ndagi said...

Thanks for this great article. I'm a big lover of skateboarding. If you're a beginner who would love to try skateboarding, this is an article for you best skateboard brands for beginners

puglover said...

I do love to skate alot.That how i use my free time