chrome ball interview #52: shawn mandoli

chops and shawn sit down for conversation.

photo: julien stranger

Some words about Shawn from a few of his friends...

When I saw Shawn Mandoli for the first time after I got out of prison, it was like we had kindred spirits. Now we serve as pastors together at The Sanctuary Church. We want to change the world with the love of Jesus Christ. He's a great example of who we are to be as Christians and he still rips on his skateboard. It doesn't get much better than that! -Christian Hosoi


After knowing OF Mandoli for about 20 years, I finally got to meet him about 5 years ago. I remember we were hangin’ with Christian and Alabamy (Pastor Jay Haizlip) when I noticed Shawn's casual approach and how he wasn't trying to fit in. We were all chilling when he respectfully asked to be excused. He sat down at another table, whipped-out a laptop and started rappin' with somebody. A while later he returns and apologizes for the interruption before excitedly telling me about his fiancĂ©e in Canada and how he looks forward to those convos everyday. I thought that was cool. Soon after that, he started rollin’ by my pad to pick up what me and the wife and kids were puttin’-down… like wanting to learn about being married and how to barbecue.

I got love and respect for Shawn. He's really humble and not afraid to be himself. He’s a real lover of Jesus... a man of God if I've ever seen one. And he focuses entirely on everything he does. I've gotten to skate with him a few times, and even though his style to me is new school, he rips and has a smooth flow to it.  But even if he is a rippin' pro skater dude, I'm just glad he's my brother in Christ because he's been a good influence and a great friend. I trust this guy, he's a lovable dude.

Oh yeah, and he's funny, too. -Aaron Murray


Alright, Shawn, so I gotta bring this up and I figure we’ll do it right here at the beginning just to get it over with. As mean and unfortunate as it was, your teeth did become a weird focal point in your career for whatever reason… in ads as well as in your Real Video part, oddly enough. Why do you think that was?

As far back as I can remember, my teeth were busted so I just grew up with that kinda stuff. I used to play it off and try to laugh about it, making the most of a seemingly tough situation. It was awkward for me because they were so crooked but you’ve got to be willing to laugh at yourself every now and then.

I’m assuming Real jumped on it just for marketing purposes but I remember Lance Delgart taking photos of “the tooth” for laughs among the San Jose homies in the late ‘80s.

Why do you think your teeth got so much attention?

I kinda invited people in on the laughs. It was never a sore spot for me… I never got mad or offended by it.

Big man. So how were you first introduced to skating?  

My older brother started skating before me and he ripped. I just wanted to do what he did.

I have to imagine growing up in the legendary San Jose scene that you were basically surrounded by amazing skaters, right?  Is there anybody we’d know from your crew back in the day?

I’m so thankful to have been surrounded by talented skaters but that was just how it was. We weren’t fanning out on each other or anything. I grew up skating with Salman Agah, Cab, Ed Devera, Simon Woodstock and Spencer Fujimoto. I went to John Muir Middle School with Tim Brauch then high school with Jason Adams and Matt Eversol. It was great coming up with these guys but that was just my neighborhood. It didn’t really feel very special at the time. 

What about such legendary SJ landmarks back in the day as Raging Waters or Kendall’s Warehouse? Were those always in your peripheral?

I used to skate the mini spine ramp at Kendall’s warehouse a little bit. It was fun. I remember Jim Thiebaud showing me how to do stalefish-to-tails there years before getting on Real.

But most of the skating we did was in the streets.

Due to proximity and sponsors, it always appeared that you and Salman were always in the mix together, even down to you guys killing that old Powell Quartermaster Cup contest. Devera, too.

Yeah, Salman and Edward were some of my best friends growing up.

Salman helped me out a lot, though. He was the one who got me on Real back in the day. He was like a big brother to me. I met him when I was 13 at a local pizza joint. He was a mean-looking dude but once we started skating together, it was cool.

My Dad really liked Sal, too. He’d always talk about what a good guy Sal was because he could see that Salman was really looking out for me and making a way for me with regard to my sponsors.  

Edward was from the Eastside of SJ, which is kinda seen as “the hood.” I was from the Southside but I’d always hear stories about this 12-year-old Filipino kid killing it. Once we won the Quartermaster Cup for Sessions, we started skating together all the time and became homies coming up. I really looked up to Edward. Even without purposefully trying, he was always pushing me to skate better. Edward was always progressing on the technical side of things. He was so ahead of his time.  

Was Real your first sponsor?

Actually Dogtown pro John Fabriquer saw me skating a spot behind Go Skate, a local skate shop, and started flowing me Dogtown boards. I was so stoked. I’d take the bus out to his house and he’d hook me up. I was always so thankful.

I got on Venture through Greg Carroll with Salman and Edward putting in a good word. Greg was the team manager for both Venture and Dogtown at the time so I eventually got on Dogtown… as a result of being on Venture, I guess. But it was cool because Edward skated for Dogtown and Venture back then as well. I was just so psyched to be sponsored. It’s funny because I remember signing “Ventures Rule” in my friends’ high school yearbook.

That’s awesome.

Think Skateboards basically came out of Dogtown so as a result of me being on that team, I got transferred to Think with Karl Watson, Sam Smythe, Nick Lockman, Jason Adams and Ronnie Bertino. We had that Missing Children Board.

I wasn’t on Think very long, though. I was skating with Salman a lot by then and he wanted to get me on Real.  I was all about it and it ended up working out.   

Coming from the Bay Area, you had to be stoked to be riding for those legendary dudes. What were those early days like at Real?

I honestly felt humbled to be on the team because I didn’t really feel like I was good enough. The team at the time included Tommy Guerrero, Henry Sanchez, Corey Chrysler, Tony Henry, Salman Agah, and Tony Ferguson. So sick! Joey Bast, Lavar Mcbride, Mike York, Edward Devera and Moses Itkonen got on eventually, too. It was an honor.

Some straight-up legends right there… most of whom went on to really do their thing in that classic first Real Video. How was it filming for that?

To be honest, I didn’t really like filming too much. I hated driving to a spot with the pressure of having to film a trick. I just liked to skate. I’m a skate rat at heart who still just loves to skate. I’ve never been like, “Dude, I’m going to drop a hammer for my part.”

Filming back then, I’d try to do some stuff for the videos but honestly, I’d mostly just go skating and film what I happened to be feeling at the moment.

I felt the pressure, for sure, but we weren’t thinking the video was going to be some great game changer or anything.

Overall, were you pleased with your part?

Not really. I felt like my part was too short, which is nobody’s fault but my own. I couldn’t acquire footage the way Salman and Edward did. I was stoked for the other guys, though. Edward and Salman had rad parts.

Were those your favorite parts?

Yeah, and I was stoked on Moses’ part, too. It was super short but his tricks were really good. And I also liked in Max’s part where he says, “Hey Jeff, I’m really working on being real marketable: Blind shorts, Firm shirt, one elbow…” That was funny.

Max is the best. But we can’t really bring this video up without getting a little more in-depth with Salman as he was really breaking barriers in the realms of nollie and switch in this one. What was it like for you to witness all this stuff going down firsthand?

I just remember him getting back from Europe in the early 90s. We were skating in the parking lot of his Dad’s bakery and he started doing nollie flips. I was like, “Dang, what’s that!?”

He came back from that tour on some other level. Then there was that Real ad he did with all those nollie tricks: “Nasal Passage”. The rest is history.

You know when you see someone skating that’s on another level and they stand out, that was Salman back then. I started learning switch because of him and his influence. I knew there was something fresh about it.  

Now we talk about the Real Video being your first big part but in reality, you actually filmed a complete part for another video that was never released. Talk a little about the ill-fated Venture video. I know you filmed with Rosenberg on that… why did it never come out?

I don’t know why it never came out but when something doesn’t materialize, money usually has something to do with it. All that footage that Jake posted on YouTube is a trip, man. I was stoned in all of it. I used to smoke a lot of weed back then.

Was that video completely finished? You had to be bummed it never came out…

I don’t know if it was totally done but I honestly wasn’t too bummed. I knew something else would come around.

One thing I’ve always wondered ever since I saw that for the first time was your hardflip in there. Didn’t that pre-date Daewon’s in Love Child?

Love Child came out in 1992. We were filming for the Venture video a couple years before that. So, yeah it was before Love Child.

That’s a pretty big deal. Had you ever seen anyone else do that trick at the time you filmed it?

No, I don’t remember seeing anyone do it. I remember trying them with Spencer Fujimoto. We didn’t call them hardflips back then, we called them frontside varial kickflips.

Craze. So anyone that has followed your career even remotely knows how much of a role that Christianity plays in your life. Were you always a religious person? It didn’t seem like your spiritual beliefs were as much at the forefront earlier on in your career as they would later become.

No, I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. I grew up in a home where I was smoking weed, drinking beer, and looking at pornography at the age of six. It was all given to me by my step-dad. And like I said, I was stoned in most of my early footage. So yeah, my childhood was pretty twisted.

I became a Christian in the fall of 1992. I was a senior in high school and that’s when God did His work in me.

Was there a specific incident that caused you to reprioritize your life in such a way?

Yeah, I was always going to this church in San Jose to skate this sick mini ramp they had. All the homies in San Jose would be there which meant there were definitely some sick sessions going down. But that’s where it all started for me. I heard about Jesus, forgiveness of my sins, and freedom in Christ... it was the Gospel message that set me free from my past and the shame and guilt I felt.

The Bible says, “Whom the Son has set fee, is free indeed.” I understood my need for forgiveness and received it by putting my faith in Christ. I’ve been walking with God ever sense.

photo: julien stranger

 Now as tight-knit as the Real crew seemed back then, I can’t imagine everybody being as considerate to what some could interpret as “preaching”. Was the crew for most part receptive or at least tolerant of your views? I imagine some more than others… for example, I have a hard time imagining someone like Coco being open to a passionate religious view such as yours.

I’m confident in my relationship with God and as a result of that, I’ve always been outspoken about it. But I don’t shove my Bible down people’s throats. My prayer is that my lifestyle speaks to others more than my mouth. When what I believe is real, meaning when I genuinely live the life I profess, people will respect me for it. They may not believe what I believe, but they will recognize that I’m not a phony.

One memory that definitely sticks out is this one night on a tour in Japan, Julien got drunk and we started talking about God. Julien is a pretty smart dude and reads a lot so he can keep a dialogue about random stuff on a higher level than most. We talked for a very long time and I remember him saying that he could tell my faith was real. He said that while he may not believe the way I believe, he could tell that the way I felt was genuine.

But it was chill back then. I’d take the train to SF and stay at Drake’s or Huf’s house. Skate, take photos with Morford and film. Those were some good times. I was a Christian so there were certain things that I wouldn’t do… like I wasn’t going to strip clubs, getting drunk, or smoking weed, but I also wasn’t getting in their faces and waving my Bible at them. I just didn’t compromise my beliefs. So I was cool with the team and, for the most part, they respected my convictions. I wasn’t saying one thing and doing another so I’m assuming that’s why.

And yeah, Coco was all bark, no bite… Remember his Real board with the “667 – Neighbor of the Beast” graphics? But at the end of the day, I enjoyed skating with him.

Well said. Now moving on, did you know that you were about to turn pro after that Real Video part in ‘93? You were still pretty young.

I had an idea. We were on tour and I saw my boards at a random skate shop in the Midwest. I was stoked!

Did you feel like you were ready?  


(laughs) But while you turned pro in the aftermath of that video, Salman found himself grappling with all kinds of personal demons… winning Thrasher’s SOTY and then briefly retiring shortly thereafter. Did you have any idea what was going on with him during this period? Were you as shocked as everyone else when he suddenly announced his retiring?

Yeah, he was going through some stuff and no, I didn’t understand why he retired. But I’m sure he could explain it better than me.

photo: julien stranger

Well, at least it got him out of this next infamous incident: that notorious Real tour van crash of 1994. What’s your account of the events of that night? I know you were the one behind the wheel, right? If you weren’t a religious man prior to the wreck, I’m guessing this would’ve probably done the trick. 

It was Julien, Drake, Greg Hunt, Ben Liversedge, Matt Field and I on tour, driving from South Carolina to North Carolina. It was late at night after a party. Greg and I were the only ones on the tour that didn’t drink but Greg was too tired to drive, so I had to.

I remember we are at a donut shop and Ben runs out to the van with a dozen donuts under his arm that he’d stolen. He throws the stolen donuts on the dash and yells at me, “Drive!”

“No, I’m not stealing those donuts.”


I end up succumbing to the pressure and peeled out. So I’m driving and I remember having a huge coke to keep me awake. We are driving 69 mph on cruise control and everyone is asleep. Ben Liversedge is sleeping next to me in shotgun. Everything is fine when all of a sudden, Greg wakes up and sees me sleeping behind the wheel with the van veering to the right of the freeway!

I wake up, overcompensate and fishtail. We do a couple 360s and roll a couple times… nobody’s wearing their seat belt but me. But the van lands on its wheels and stops in a grassy area to the right of the freeway.

There was complete silence after the van had stopped. A surreal length of silence. All I remember saying is, “I’m bleeding.”

I thought I had killed everyone… or at least injured them all pretty bad. But one-by-one, all the survivors climbed out of the van. A couple of guys had minor injuries but that was it. My head was busted open pretty bad but we all walked away from it. Julien took some pretty gnarly photos of the whole incident.

I believe in miracles and I’m thankful to God that we all walked away. 

Following your spiritual awakening and newly-acquired pro status, it wasn’t long until you started combining the two to spread your message through graphics and coverage. I remember a 411 part of yours specifically being a perfect example of this. What did you feel was the overall reaction to your message? How receptive to this was the general skate public?

I was never really into building an image or whatever. I understand that marketing is part of selling a product and it has to be done so folks can make a living but it was hard for me to reconcile the difference between me as a person and “my image”. They are not one and the same. I didn’t want my image to be bigger than who I really was… I just wanted to skate and we did plenty of that.

There will always be haters. If I choose to live for Jesus, people will either love me or hate me. I’ve gotten a little bit of both throughout the years. I honestly don’t recall anybody saying to my face, “You kook, why are you preaching?” but I do remember as a result of me speaking out about my personal encounter with Jesus that other skaters who weren’t as outspoken about their faith being encouraged to be unashamed about their faith.

I hope I inspired some to come out and be bold about who they are in Jesus. When you have a real deal encounter with Jesus, you can’t keep your mouth shut; I just gotta share how good He is!

Did you feel that your sponsors were supportive?

Real was super supportive. They let me do all my graphics, which were mostly biblically-based. They let me be me.

I was recently thanking Thiebaud on Instagram for that.

Jim rules. So now that your career seemed to be going well with top sponsors backing you with plenty of coverage, why did you choose to retire at this point? I know you weren’t over skating… why couldn’t you skate and preach? Here you had worked so hard to become pro, did you just feel that it wasn’t as important in the grand scheme of things?

Nobody had anything to do with me quitting professional skateboarding other than that’s what I thought was best for me. It was the summer of ’98, I was 23 years-old and yes, things were going well. I was living in Oceanside and involved with a lot of ministry stuff for youth. Ministering the Word or “preaching” is a passion of mine and I really enjoyed what I was doing as far as serving in a church, doing missions trips, etc. I started to feel like I had to choose between either being pro or doing ministry because I was starting to devote less time to taking photos, filming, and touring. God didn’t tell me, “Quit skating, it’s of the devil!” I simply chose what I valued more.

I never quit skating, I just quit my direct involvement in the industry.

What was the reaction from your sponsors?

I remember calling Jim to tell him. He was cool with it and just said to let him know if I ever needed anything.  

Do you think he could see it coming?

I’m sure my sponsors saw it coming. I was in full-time Bible College while I was on Real so they had to be thinking about whether I may quit or not.

Did you ever consider trying to switch up and skate for a more religious-minded company… like the Firm with Salman perhaps?

I thought about it but I was just more passionate about being in ministry than the skate industry.

I don’t mean to undermine all that you’ve done with your ministry, but have you ever regretted retiring at that point? I mean that with the most respect.

I’ve honestly thought to myself at times, “What if I never called Jim to quit and moved back up to SF and jumped back into the skate game?” But then I think about where I am now with all that I’ve accomplished since then and I’m stoked to be on the path God has for me.

Talk a little about the seeming brotherhood of Christian skaters… Richard Mulder has been very out-spoken about his spiritual views and I know you belong to the same church as Christian Hosoi. How did all you guys come together like that?

Well, I knew Richard before I quit Real. We’ve been cool for a while. We chilled and skated a bit in the 90’s before I made the exit. When I found out he was a Christian back in the 90’s, I was stoked. I really looked up to his skating style and to find out we shared the same faith in Christ was rad. We chill to this day. We don’t go to the same church but we stay connected, for sure. I was just at Disneyland with him and his family… I wish we skated more together.

I met Hosoi actually at Mulder’s wedding. We connected again in the fall of 2007 and have been Pastors at The Sanctuary church for a few years now. Christian introduced me to Pastor Jay Haizlip, our Senior Pastor, who’s a pro skater from the 70s/80s. He’s the guy in that famous old Thrasher photo who’s drinking a beer while grinding a pool. Yeah, he’s the one who hired me to be one of the pastors.

Aaron Murray is a member of The Sanctuary Church as well. I actually hired him to be our Facilities Manager a little over a year ago. It’s funny, Murray calls me “the boss”. If you know anything about Aaron’s history, it would be the other way around if we were on the street. God has a sense of humor that way. That dude was so gnarly back in the day, I remember seeing him at party in SF back in the 90s and being scared of him. We’re brothers now.

When you’re a Christian, you just have a connection with each other because of the Holy Spirit inside you. It’s a real deal spiritual connection. We are cool with each other because of skateboarding, but beyond that we are brothers in The Lord.

Do you ever find yourself still fanning out at times while Hosoi is in the middle of a sermon?  

No, I don’t fan out on Hosoi. I respect him as a friend, brother, and man of God and I respect him for what he’s done for skateboarding… he’s a legend in the skate world but it’s level ground at The Cross.

We mentioned Coco’s 667 graphic earlier… what do you think of the widespread, often tongue-in-cheek proliferation of satanic imagery in skateboarding? Granted it’s most often a joke but still… Does that ever bum you out?

Anything that keeps people from the love of Jesus breaks my heart. That kind of stuff drives me to prayer.

Having said that, you were in some classic ads that were all able to fit inside the framework of your principals. What would you say was your favorite Real ad you were in?

I like the front nose to front crooks at EMB that appeared in Slap.
That was a good one.

I also like this one where I was skating a pool but I can’t find it. We were skating a pool in Reno and I think I’m doing a frontside grind. Morford shot the photos. It’s not that special of an ad, I was just stoked that I got a pool shot.

If anybody has it hit me up.

Here you go. Alright Shawn, I could go on forever but I’ve probably gone too long as it is. Anything you’d like to add? Shout outs or words of wisdom? A favorite quote?

I want to give a big shout out to my beautiful wife, Crystal-Gayle, she is amazing. And my newborn baby girl, Giavana. I love you family.

I always love to share that if you turn from your sin and turn to Jesus, He will forgive. One of my favorite scriptures is,Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Cor. 5:17

Eric, thank you for taking the time to interview me. I appreciate it. 

Special thanks to Jon Constantino, Christian Hosoi, Aaron "Fingers" Murray and Shawn for doing all this.

Be back next Thursday.


Anonymous said...

He used to skate for Real and now his church's slogan is "A Real church for Real people". Shawn knows how to keep it Real.

Jeff Thorburn said...

This was sick. Great, respectful words from Shawn. I especially liked the Julien anecdote and photos.

Anonymous said...

I got to skate with Shawn a few times in the late 90's. He's a cool dude. It was weird reading that part about the van crash because it feels like the story he told me word for word. Also weird that at the time, I had heard of him but didn't know much about his skating and that he was so freshly retired from professional skating.

Brendan said...

Didn't see this one coming,nice one.
Bummed on the religion trip,though,each to his own and all that,but religion has absolutely nuthin' to do with skateboarding and it tweaks my nipples when people insist on including it in every conversation they have...about anything.
Rad skater,though,stoked on the early Real dayz.

Anonymous said...

Jesus saves twice on coupon days

Anonymous said...

I've always been a fan and am stoked to hear that you're still skating and serving the Lord. The Holy Spirit definitely has that connection between believers and I'm glad that life is good for you. God is faithful indeed! Thanks Eric for the interview. Well done.-Terry Ferkey

stephen said...

You know... I'm the biggest agnostic, maybe even atheist, person out there but I still enjoyed reading this. I'm biting my tongue to try and keep the negativity off my comment as I'm not a big fan of the Christian faith, but I don't get this quote:

"When you have a real deal encounter with Jesus, you can’t keep your mouth shut; I just gotta share how good He is!"

I mean... What was this encounter? Any proof of this so called interaction with some being named Jesus?

Whatever. I can argue forever about the merits of religion. Mandoli ripped harder than I ever did (and that goes double for hosoi and fingers) so preach whatever the hell you want. It's a free country. Just keep that shit out of the public school system. I don't want my kids brainwashed.

Anonymous said...

I know that the interviews here are about staying on topic with skate stuff, but I'd love to hear this dude's thoughts about the way christianity has been co-opted by the political right to push a pretty hateful agenda (homosexual discrimination, denial of birth control & abortion access, misogyny, etc.). It seems like Mandoli is a good dude, so I'm curious about how he reconciles his own views with some of the fucked up stuff that the christian church says (and lets people say and do in their name).

Anyway, another good interview.

hairfarmer said...

I was actually at a demo in the 90's where Shawn and Richard Mulder did a preaching thing. They both ripped. The whole religious component was a little weird but hey, demos with pros were few and far between so I wasn't bummed. Awesome interview. Is Shawn's 411 section not on youtube? I feel like that was some of his best stuff.

rnc said...

Thank you chrome ball incident for the interview, for asking the questions and for printing the answers.

I remember meeting shawn at newburgh skatepark in new york in 94 at a dlx demo. it was funny cuz coco seemed kinda scary, and fowler and drake were there doing their thing, and shawn gave me a pamphlet that said "Somebody loves you." lots of good memories. thank you mr. mandoli

Dustin Umberger said...

Great interview. Shawn is a one-of-a-kind skater and a great person. I don't identify with his beliefs but I have the utmost respect for his purpose and convictions.

Ben said...

re: Brendan's comment.

To be fair, Chops invited Shawn to talk about his faith and it's affect on his career in skateboarding, it's not exactly like he's pushing it on anyone in this interview.

Personally I'm agnostic, but I respect the dedication he's got to whatever he believes, if nothing else it's good to know he still skates and is living a life that's full for him. So many skaters stop skating for way more depressing reasons that waving a bible around.

Unknown said...

shawn rips and his Faith is a positive influence in a negative world!

Unknown said...

I miss our skating days we would go for hours....great man and the thing about his choice to leave pro skating to be a youth pastor was the reason I still even have contact with this "man of God" he was real as it gets and never seemed to judge like the others. Truly one of a kind and forever respected as a believer. Love you brother and God bless you and ur new family.

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