chrome ball interview #41: ron chatman

chrome ball and the ron chatman experience.

Alright Ron, let’s start this thing out at the beginning: how were you first introduced to skateboarding and what was your first board?

My neighbors skated. These girls I knew. I actually used to trade them candy so they’d let me ride their boards.  

That’s hilarious.

Yeah, I rode one of those red plastic boards for a while until I finally got an Alva for Christmas one year. I was only five or six. I didn’t even know Alva was cool back then, I just got lucky.

What was it like growing up in Long Beach? As rough as that place can be, there was a lot of talent coming out of that area.

There was nothing but talent in Long Beach back then. I remember there were all these Vietnamese skaters around who were all really good...

It’s funny to talk about skaters in terms of race but everything was just so seperated back then. The only way races would mix would be through skating. We’d all be skating together no matter who we were and then have to return to each of our respective cultures after each session. We had to. We were behind enemy lines and if some Asian kid got caught hanging with us, somebody might beat him up. That’s just how it was.

Skate crews were basically modeled after tagging crews and gangs because that’s who we looked up to. We had crews like the Main Street Locals, the Street Stooges, the Hood Skaters… It sounds funny but each of these crews were like 20-30 kids. Each crew had their own jump ramp or maybe a curb they skated. That was their ground.

Some Warriors-type shit. What was your crew?

LBS. Long Beach Skaters.

Anybody in that crew we’d recognize?

Jason Lee was a part of the crew early on.

Now I know you had a few sponsors beforehand but most remember you from that early SMA/World Industries era. How’d you hook up with Rocco?

Well, Rocco was also from around the South Bay area so I’d always see him out. Per Welinder used to do these demos around here and I’d always see him at those things.

Like I said, Jason Lee was already a good friend of mine. He was actually the one who put me in the mindset to where I could even look at skateboarding as a potential career. But Jason was already on Rocco while I was riding for G&S. All SMA was at this point was the Rocco board and some Think Crime stickers but it was already the ill shit.

So I had Jason talk to Rocco about me getting on. I remember waiting and waiting to hear something but I never heard back. Finally, I was just fucking called Rocco one day like, “Hey, I know Jason talked to you…”

“What? Jason never talked to me.”

But I told him who I was and that I wanted on the team. It just so happened that Spike and O were also in the room with him and I had met each of those dudes within the last year or so and shot photos with them. Rocco basically told me to hold on while he asked everybody in the room about me, they all co-signed and I got on. Just like that.

Just like that. I’ve always heard about how budget everything was. Was it tense with the threat of Kirby looming?

Oh yeah, Rocco was always pacing around, trying to think of ways to get more money. I didn’t know the whole situation back then but I definitely knew the name Kirby. I just thought he was some rich guy. I didn’t know he liked to hurt people.

But Rocco is an intense dude. Super high energy. And he kept himself around high energy people so we all just fed off each other. We’d always go skate with him or maybe go skimboarding… he was more like an older bro type of deal. 

What was it like riding for Rocco back then versus your experiences with more established companies like Gordon and Smith and Gullwing?

It’s funny because I see Rocco being kinda like Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He was the leader of a bunch of kids who were all into kid stuff. Like Klein and I didn’t party or drink at all back then, we were geeks who liked candy and video games. But he liked that.

Rocco just had the image. He always had the cool, newest shit. Super clever black-and-white ads… just laid out there like traps. Flipping it. No other companies could do it like he did because he understood the dynamic. Fortune rewards the bold and he was definitely that. He came along at the right time with the right team and knew what to do.

It wasn’t really a structured thing though. He was just really into skating and he believed in us. He understood what all we had to go through because he was a skater, too. He let us know from the start that contests didn’t matter. They were a good way for people to see us skate but not to trip on it.

Skateboarding wasn’t shit back then but he always took care of us. Rocco had already put Klein and I in print ads before we had even done any demos. That was a big deal for amateurs. As a young adult, he gave me a huge part of my self-worth. Even if he did fan the fire of me being a bit arrogant, that was good because I’d never had that before.

Rocco and Rodney would always be looking out for us. Always on the positive tip. Like trying to get us to go to bed earlier or buying us a bag of fruit in an attempt to get us eating a little better. Just like how I’ll buy my daughter some fruit now, they’d do the same for Jeremy and I… but we’d just end up throwing that shit out the window as soon as we got on the freeway.

How did Rocco deal with all the mischief you and Klein were known for?

Rocco was like the older gangster and Klein and I were the young hotheads. He was like the villain in the movies.  He always knew the right thing to say or do to get us to crack off. Always pointing out stuff to us that we hadn’t gotten to yet. Like Klein and I would be out running rampant and Rocco would say something like “Oh, look over there, a flock of geese…” We’d do the rest.

Hilarious. So let’s get into Rubbish Heap. Wasn’t that just a couple of days for you? You’re pretty much wearing the same clothes throughout the entire thing.

I think that was only like 2 or 3 sessions. There was a Long Beach session in there and Beryl session… we went up to Chris Branagh’s and that was filmed. Probably about 4 or 5 days worth of stuff. But back then, the tricks that you could do, you could do.

Was there a lot of pressure for that video since you’d already been getting so much coverage? How was it filming with Spike?

Rocco never made us feel any pressure. We always felt like we knew what we were doing. He’d have to tell us to do something every now and then but to be honest, I hardly remember making Rubbish Heap. I just wasn’t tripping off it that hard. I felt like I was already in the coolest, toughest gang just by being on the team.

But I was with Spike all the time anyway back then. Ditch school, eat Del Taco and skate a curb. Go hang out at World Industries until we got on Rocco’s nerves and then go out skating some more.

Who’s idea was it to go with Jimi Hendrix-inspired graphics for your first pro board? The Ron Chatman Experience is such a classic.

I was kinda bummed on that honestly. I’ve always been into drawing and art since I was a little kid so I already had everything drawn that I wanted. I wanted to do my own graphic but World wasn’t having it. McKee was a sick artist and we knew what he was capable of but that was kind of a last resort, to be honest.

You were able to do a few boards over there, though.
Yeah, but it wasn’t about money or anything. It was just what I wanted to do. I had two boards and was super-stoked on that. You couldn’t do random, hand-drawn stuff on World back then. They were running their whole rip-off graphic thing back then.

What are they called now? One-offs? Back then, they only wanted rip-offs!

But Mark’s cousin, Ernie, did one for me. He went on to do all the Neighborhood artwork. And Raymond Pettibon, who I met through Mark, did one for me, too.

Yeah, didn’t he do that ill train graphic?

Exactly. And World didn’t even want to use it! It was such a hassle getting that thing out there. That whole ordeal actually got me thinking differently about having boards on World and I don’t think I even had another board for them after that one.

The first board graphic I remember you doing was for that one Gonz hieroglyphic-type deck. I guess this would be one of the first collaborations of many as you guys seemed to get super tight around this time…

He’s the Yoda of this whole shit. He’s the innovator. We’re all just doing reenactments of everything that came from the root. Like people may go bigger today but it had to be thought of and done first.

But just growing up, being into drawing and looking at skate mags, Mark always had the most amazing graphics. And of course, the tricks were ill. So every photo of him is sick because you got like a double bonus: you could check him out and then whatever he had on his griptape. 

When I met him, I realized that we went about skating and being in the streets the same way. Going through rough areas and dealing with people we maybe didn’t want to deal with, we understood that level because we’re both from the same area. And then with his artwork and seeing how he got down, that’s how we really clicked. We were into a lot of that early gangster writing.

Incredible, man. So how did World and Rocco change during your time there? Did success kind of ruin it for you? What made you start looking for another sponsor?

It just seemed like he started treating people differently. Like people that I felt were higher up in the food chain or people that I personally looked up to weren’t being treated the way that I felt they should’ve been. It made me wonder if I was going to be done the same way.

And when Rocco started getting friendly with Ternasky, we just didn’t understand it. Our whole team was like a bunch of pitbulls and couldn’t figure out why he was hanging out with this cat so much. They’d sit next to each other at contests and place bets on who’s guys would win… These guys were our opponents. We weren’t talking to those guys.

I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead, H-Street was just a different vibe. We were both top level but coming at it from different places. I straight-up remember Mark telling Rocco not to bring Ternasky around. He didn’t like Ternasky’s vibe and if Rocco brought Ternasky in, Mark was out. But the whole Plan B thing was already done way before it actually went down and that was something that Rocco said he wouldn’t do. I was not alright with that.

It seemed like as he grew, his goals were changing. It was never anything too dramatic. He always took care of us. He paid us well and was never stingy with product. I just didn’t like where it looked like things were going.

I’m sure that you must’ve had several options to choose from… what made you choose Milk?

Christian. He was one of those masters that I looked up to as a kid. He could go high when nobody else went high… whether they didn’t think it was possible or they were just scared, no one did it. Just like Mark on street. It’s like those dudes are on acid or something 24/7. Their reasoning is just different. They ain’t tripping at the biggest gaps or the steepest shit… that’s exactly why they’re doing it. That’s their reality which is why they’re so nonchalant about it.

But yeah, on top of being down with Christian, Milk also had their own screenprinting place so I was able to do graphics galore. Even Mark was able to get in there and make some graphics for Christian, too.

That was a real fun time. This was back when I was hanging out a lot with Mark around Huntington Beach. Skating, drawing, drinking coffee and watching movies. That’s all we did.  

So Mark was still skating during that post-blind period he had where he vanished for a bit?

We were killing it pretty much the whole time.

I remember this was back when I was still on Milk, I got invited on this crazy tour with Salman, Cardiel, Karma and Alan Petersen. This was one time where skating really gave me a voice because I basically told them that I wasn’t going to go unless they paid for Mark, too. But it ended up working out and we got to go skating all around Europe. That’s the tour Cardiel talks about on his Epicly Later’d.

That’s a heavy crew, man. So the ATM Click project all came about organically from this mix?

Exactly. Once Milk was done financially, I ended up going to New Jersey with Mark, who had moved there to do his artwork after quitting Blind. We just kicked it like that for a long time.

Mark started getting the motivation to start another company and, of course, I was down. We were both drawing and skating so much, it only made sense. But we needed a flag to fly. It’s like kung-fu level: we were trying to build a dojo. The thing was, nobody wanted to fuck with us. That’s one thing that really stands out. We talked to several people but still ended up with very few choices of who we could go with. Mark had known Jeff Fallahee since he was a kid on Alva so that’s how ATM Click ended up happening. But it wasn’t easy.

I can’t believe anything involving Gonz would have a tough time getting financed.

That’s what I mean. And the industry was so small then. Only a few people, to be honest.

I remember Jeremy and I even brokered a deal with Tracker where Mark was supposed get his own truck but that didn’t work out either.

I remember that. The Brotherhood.

Yeah, Mark was supposed to get a truck during that but Tracker started claiming that it was gonna cost too much money to make the mold so it never happened. Those fools wouldn’t even listen to Mark.

The way I see it is that there are people with money and then there are real skaters. And nowadays, it’s worse as there’s way more people making money off of skating that don’t skate. It’s like royalty: it weakens the bloodline.

But one of the lasting legacies of ATM is the discovery of so many great riders, many of whom tend to associate with the Menace mythos. How did you guys find riders like Joey and Fabian?

All that basically came from Mark and I’s other roommate, Kevin Hartel, moving back to California and getting a job at X-Large. He ended up befriending a dude named Paul Takahashi who was the big homie to all those guys like Joey and Fabian. He was the older cat trying to put on his little homies.

We would hang with those guys a lot, which is actually when I first started drinking and partying.  We’d pre-game with a few drinks then go skate Lockwood and Los Feliz all day before going back to X-Large and hanging out there. Paul just lived down the street so we’d crash there once the dust settled. But yeah, that’s how we got down with that crew.

This was back when Mark and I used to go grifting around… like from that movie, The Grifters. We’d go out late at night, maybe in the Valley or somewhere, just scoping places out. Trying to find places to skate. But we’d always end up back at either X-Large or Lockwood.

So sick. That X-Large scene was pretty heavy back then…

It was all strictly vibes. Shiloh would always be around with Guy. Cales was coming back and forth then. Dune had his crew with John Deago and Mike Daher and they all lived close by… that’s how it all went down actually.

Fabian rode for Z back then while Joey was on SMA. Both those dudes were supposed to get on Stereo but it didn’t end up working out because I guess there were too many people on Stereo already. I remember those guys being so letdown when they found out they weren’t getting on but it ended up working out perfectly for us because these dudes were the illest and they didn’t even ride for anybody. They were up-and-coming street killers that we were already down with us and they weren’t even hooked up! So we made it happen. Steven, Fabian and Joey… those dudes were like the trinity. Thick as thieves.

Yeah, it’s a shame Steven never got the chance to totally do his thing like he should’ve.

Yeah, I remember going up north to see Steven when he was in jail. I don’t remember anybody else from the skate world going up there to see him. I even hooked it up to where he’d be getting paid for having a pro board while he was in there. Dude was getting royalty checks while in jail and paying for his own commissary. Cales is ill. Original rude boy.

What was the difference between 60/40 and ATM Click? Was that just a case of different backing? Metiver vs. Fallahee basically?

Yeah, that’s what it was but I’m not sure what difference it made. Out of the frying pan into the fire.

The thing with ATM was that we wanted to keep it simple. We wanted the company to have simple black-and-white ads with no skating. We had skaters that people already knew and we were going to try and make it different. We just needed Fallahee to pay for the ads and trust us with everything else but it didn’t quite work out that way.

I’ve learned as an adult that this kind of stuff is always more of a partnership and that you have to be ready for that. I wasn’t. Mark might’ve had more insight into that but not me. I wasn’t ready to compromise and I needed to be.

But it was cool. We figured we could take our riders and go off on our own, doing ATM like that. Fallahee didn’t see it that way, either. He’d already licensed the name so we couldn’t use it. He knew we wouldn’t want to fight him in court so we just let him have it.

The real problem was when he offered our riders money to stay even though Mark and I were leaving. On a sentimental level, we weren’t able to pay those guys worth a damn but Joey, Fabian, Steven and Lee stayed with us out of good faith. That meant a lot to me.

I had a link with Metiver through Union Wheels and he was down to back us on 60/40 so we went with that. Honestly, I was reluctant but we were down to our last resort. We had tried to talk to some other people but it still wasn’t working out so we went with the lesser of two evils.

And the same thing basically repeated itself with Metiver?

Yeah, it was that same thing.

Mark and I were basically assassins for hire. We didn’t have the funding but if you let us fly our flag, we’d fight for you. You can even have the lion’s share. That’s what 60/40 was about. With any true art, the artist gets the smaller piece.

So we went with Metiver. Still wanting to do black-and-white ads with no skating in them. Still trying to do things differently. But he didn’t want that.
The way I see it is that we’re all skaters. Whatever we’re doing, that’s going through us and if you’re a skater, you’re going to be able to relate, too. We were trying to do the sort things that hyped us while these other dudes were worried about marketing. Why? We know we’re tight. Like that Snot Remover ad with the dude having a straw up his nose, sniffing drugs. That, to me, is still rude boy. A black-and-white ad of a guy sniffing a wheel… that’s still gangster as fuck.

Metiver was a lot like Brad Dorfman. He wasn’t a mastermind, his success had more to do with skateboarding just being big at the time. But unfortunately, he did have his own agenda. Like starting more brands. Being self-contained and not overextended was a big thing for Mark but Metiver had his own ideas. He was always spreading himself too thin. He even did that brand with Simon Woodstock where he threw rocks at Rocco which I knew wasn’t gonna end good. I grew up in that dojo. Rocco shut it down and that was it.

I always felt you guys had so much underrated talent, like Gino Perez and SAD. Those guys never got their due.

Yeah, Mark brought in most of those dudes. I knew George Morales from Milk and I vouched for Larry (Moore). Gino was a friend of a friend of mine. But Lee and SAD were both suggested by Mark. He found them.

SAD was sick.

Totally. Such an original dude who wasn’t afraid to do stuff differently. All those guys were like that. None of our guys were afraid to do their own thing which is why we were able to have such belief in our troops.

What was the deal with “Bobcat”?

Bobcat was this ill dude around my way that had all these motorbikes. All the local kids would watch him jump shit and do wheelies. We thought he was the coolest dude. He ended up succumbing to alchoholism as he got older but I’d still go over there and check him out. Everybody over there was off the chain. It was like they owned the street because no matter what they did, nobody ever called the cops.

The day that stuff was filmed, I remember walking over there and everyone being like, “Bobcat is running off the roof!”  He’d already made it a few times but was saying that he wouldn’t do it again unless I bought him a big bottle of tequila. That’s why we show him coming around the corner with that bottle. I wasn’t even sure he’d come back but he did. But he went right up there and jumped. He was a daredevil that we all looked up to and respected.

So I know you were going to school there towards the end of 60/40, what did you end up getting into once it was all said and done? Weren’t you a teacher for a while?

I taught for a little while on an emergency credential and even worked as a Field Representative for the California State Assemblymen. Researching and doing all the grunt work out there to find out whatever they needed to know for these bills. It can be pretty gnarly. Keep in mind that I’m doing this in Compton and these were crack bills that I was working on. Crack and cocaine. I learned a lot. To see how gnarly the system is… to even be a player, you have to be able to look the other way real hard.

So what’s up now, Ron? I’ve heard that you’ve been out skating a good bit as of late. Stoked to hear that, man.

Oh, I’ve always been skating, I just quit skating for money.

What happened was that I messed my foot up really bad in June of 2009. Fractured my heel after jumping off of something while I’d been drinking. I had to get surgery and they put all this metal put in my foot. All over something stupid.  A few months later when I got my cast taken off, I realized that I just couldn’t do this drinking and partying anymore. It’s what got me into this spot to begin with. So I quit and everything in my life just started getting better. I’ve been going with it ever since.

Skating has been a challenge since my injury, though. I literally had to learn everything all over again. It was gnarly. But I’m a full-on skate junkie again. I feel great.

And yeah, as long as the video stuff feels cool, I’m into it. There’s never been a reason for me to be uncomfortable about skating. If I want to get a job and skate, that’s fine. It’s always going to be here for me. When I was burned out, I was burned out on life and over trying to skate for money. . There was a lot of stuff going on and I wanted to see what “real life” was all about. I was 28 and that was part of my journey. If you’re really a skater, it’s all a spiritual journey and you get that. You can go ahead and make fun if you want… but if you do, you’re a kook.

What do you think of skateboarding in 2012?

I don’t think many kids even comprehend what it took to come up with the tricks that everybody does today. They all started this knowing that a noseblunt was possible because they’d seen it. They know it exists. We didn’t. I remember sitting in front of World and watching Mark get into them. I couldn’t believe it. Then I’d hear about Hensley getting into them backside and on down the line…

I think a lot of the difficulty lies in the establishing groundwork. The originality and the innovation. It’s easier to learn something once you know it’s possible.

But skateboarding means everything to me, man. It’s the Holy Grail. It’s the thing that opened up all these different facets of my life that I’m still drawing off of. It’s the gift that keeps giving.

Thank God for Epsom Salt.

Good to hear, man. Last question: what’s the most important lesson learned from Mr. Mark Gonzales?

To follow your heart.

Well said. Alright Ron, thanks so much for doing this. Anything else you’d like to add?

I’d just like to big up all the people that support me. I’m at it like a skate rat again these days so I go through a lot of product. They make it possible to keep my fire burning and I really appreciate everything they’ve done for me: Joey Tershay at Ace Truck Mfg, Alex Horn at OJ Wheels, SALONPAS, Jeff, Bryant and Heath at Emerica, Jeremy Klein, Ryan Monihan, Fox and Deacon at Flip, Mike at DAP Skateboards in San Pedro and everyone over at Deluxe that have looked out for me over the years. Thank you for everything. 

And I'd like to send a special thank you to my Mom and Dad and to my daughter, Reyna.

special thanks to jason klotz and ron for taking the time.


hairfarmer said...

Amazing, thanks so much for this. ATM and 60/40 were so great.

chops said...

Big up yourself, hairfarmer.

Hope all is well.

Brendan said...

The perfect follow up to the Jeremy Klein interview!
You just keep outdoing yourself,over and over again,Chops...Many thanks homeboy.

Sonny said...

These interviews keep getting better and better.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff. Sick to see these dudes still ripping.

Anonymous said...

Sick. Ron is a good dude.

Anonymous said...


Man, Chatman is just too rad, respect!

Sean said...

I was hoping for this one down the line. What a good dude.

Giles said...

so cool. what a rad dude. i really liked how his style developed. too bad there isn't more footage from the atm 60/40 era. you can tell he was hanging out with mark. not to focus on gonz, but he really helped a some very different kinds skaters become greater by osmosis: j lee, ron, the menace guys, huff in the mid 90s.

K said...

Dang chops, answering all the mysteries of time. All I need to known now is whatever happened to the dudes on Neighborhood / Especial?

Keith said...

Great interview. Rubbish Heap was awesome. Nice that you got those personal snapshots into the interview.

Interesting to hear what happened with ATM Click and 60/40 in terms of funding/backing/distro. It always seemed odd to me for Gonz to leave Vision for the sake of freedom/artistic expression, has a great run with Blind, leaves for whatever reason, only to go back to a similar restrictive situation with Fallahee and Metiver.

dj twit said...

yes mate, great interview

Sleezy Bone said...

"Kirby" was a rather menacing loan shark that Steve Rocco borrowed money from to get World started. He was forced to pay Kirby 30,000 dollars in monthly installments of 2,500 dollars or get his kneecaps broken. After paying off the debt, Kirby actually became an investor and business partner in World.

ODG said...

That's insane..thanks for clarifying. New found respect for Rocco and World..

Anonymous said...

LBS represent

Anonymous said...

Amazing interview. So hyped to see the guys I looked up to back in the day still ripping.

I remember meeting Ron back in 1990 at Visalia skate camp. He had some friends from Long Beach that were there that week and drove up to skate camp with a car trunk full of World product to sell.

Little known fact... he ripped vert. I've got a picture somewhere of him doing a face high frontside air during one of the sessions.

Anonymous said...

Best interview since the lotti interview... always respected ron from a distance...

Anonymous said...

Much Respect to Ron. This was a great interview to read.

Skate Nazi said...

That contest handrail nosegrind from the Hawaii street contest is amazing, never seen that before, did that come from Ron's personal photo stash?

Always was a huge fan of him and Jeremy Klein, serious rippage in the Rubbish Heap days.

Anonymous said...

Ron would never tell this story about himself but this shit is a classic:
Imagine a meeting with a truck company owner who just started a board company out of the same distribution claiming to not have money to pay the truck company riders who quit other more popular truck companies to be there.
As the discussion heated up, and semi harsh implications were being danced around(we were basically kids and didn't really know how to deal with an old man), Ron through down the ultimate trump card and said in his best share cropper voice, "you think we can't quit? Oh PLEASE massa Larry don't throw me off the plantation!" massa Larry along with everyone else in that room was fuckin shook.
Ron went gangster and got us each $200 monthly raises(92' mind you that was a lot for a truck company) it was sick.

Anonymous said...

WOW! wish he would've delved into that story too.

chops said...

amazing story, anonymous. thanks!

and yes, skate nazi, those are from Ron's personal stash.

Thank guys!

Bansaipipeline said...

SAD was fucking rad.

I always figure those LA ghetto rats would have been a lot better off if they were born 10 years later.

They'd have ridden for Baker or something.

As it happened loads of those underdog 60/40 and Neighbourhood kids were amazing but just got forgotten about because they weren't on cool companies.


sri said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

What an awesome interview. I remember back in like '89, I lived in Los Alamitos, I was a kid, about 10 years old, and Ron came by a local skate shop called Pyscomania. Anyway, I remember skating with him for a bit, all the kids were, he was chill and really nice. He gave me a couple stickers. That made an impression on me.