chrome ball interview #97: sal barbier

No, ma'am... just a vagrant. 

Sal: I just know this is gonna come out bad, man. I always look like a bad guy in these things. I always talk too much. You can only take what you can and I end up looking terrible.

The last one of these I did was for the Tracker book and I remember talking to GSD about my life back in Louisiana, prior to Hokus Pokus. I was talking about how skate videos were made back then… basically echoing every street skater at the time, which was “Show me some stuff that I can’t do.”

I feel like it wasn’t until Shackle Me Not came out that street skaters really got to see all of the latest shit in a video, to see 45 tricks they’d never seen before. I feel that’s the way it was always supposed to be instead of all those videos that left you feeling like, “Well, I guess I can do everything Johnee Kop can do.”

But this book comes out and I end up looking so arrogant! It sounded like I was never impressed by a video until the ones came out that I was in. Come on, man! That’s not true! I love vert skating! I love Bones Brigade Video Show! But they all weren’t like that! Curb Dogs is a terrible video! Would you really watch that thing in order to get hyped to go skate afterwards? No, you’re laughing at it! 

Kids attack pros! That’s what they do. That’s just how it is.  I’m not a bad guy.

CBI: My crew would just annihilate Bill Danforth’s Street Survival back in the day. But to be fair, I don’t even think he could ollie.

Exactly! I was representing an entire generation of skaters who didn’t have access to vert ramps. And because of that, they got decent enough at street to have an opinion.

Natas’ part in Wheels of Fire is where it first starts to get gnarly but Shackle Me Not was like an And 1 tape, dude! Remember the first time you saw Hensley rolling down the street? He kicks the board all crazy, it does that crazy flip and he jumps back on it? It was insane! You’d never seen that before! You didn’t even know what that was! There was nothing even close to that in a video before, am I wrong?

For sure, but didn’t Johnee Kop have the first handrail ad? There’s something to be said for that.

I got nothing against Johnee Kop. And it’s not really him anyway, it’s the videos that Vision made of him. That’s my point.

When Shackle Me Not came out, they didn’t care what the footage looked like. They would’ve used stuff from 7-11 surveillance cameras. Who cares?  A little light on top of the camera? All you’re gonna get is an ankle of Dave Graves anyway but who cares! H-Street had the worst looking footage ever but kids don’t care!

Compare that to Vision using the most expensive equipment they could find in order to film a guy cruising around with Lester and breakdancing. But you can’t blame the guy getting filmed! It’s not Johnee Kop’s fault. It’s Brad Dorfman’s! What a waste.

And to go completely off-topic for a second, which I’ll tend to do over the course of this interview and is how you’ll make me look like a bad guy... But how awesome was it back then to open a magazine and see dudes like Ken Fillion or Troy Chasen in there? Texas dudes who were probably hanging out in a 7-11 reading Cream Magazine five minutes before the photo was taken? True hessians coming out in sweatpants way before Thrasher and Rob Welsh figured those things out. I love it! Real heavy metal dudes in tight-ass sweats with holes in them. Ronnie James Dio concert-going sweats! These dudes couldn’t have cared less. And they were ripping! So awesome. They were, like, the furthest thing from Johnee Kop possible.

Just kidding about that last part. I was just trying to bring it back on-topic for you. (laughs)

You rode for Eppic back in Louisiana, right? What was the story behind that company? Their team was incredible! Petersen, Markovich, Bryan Pennington and plenty more… Wasn’t that the same guy who later went on to do Small Room?

Yeah, the story is that Louis Carolton rode for Nash, even though he never actually rode their boards. But the guy ripped and on top of that, probably had the best set-up ever. He received this huge budget from Nash to basically travel anywhere he wanted to go. It was incredible.

Back then, contests were the big thing. Before social media, contests were where you’d go to see all the skaters in the area. To call “an hour away” was way too expensive on your parents’ phone; you’d get in trouble for that. So contests were key. I actually used to help organize contests back then, which is how I met a lot people. And I covered some good distance back then, too, but Louis was everywhere! And not just local contests either, Nash would seriously fly him wherever he wanted to go! They paid for everything!

So because of all this traveling, he could scout all the up-and-coming talent. But the thing is, he was actually using Nash’s travel to put together this new company he wanted to do outside of Nash called “Eppic”. I remember him telling me about it at a contest and it sounded rad… the problem was that the partners he ended up hooking up with for Eppic only wanted to put out all of this wacky shit! Off-set slalom boards and weird gash boards to hook your foot when you ollie? It was awful.

I felt so bad for the guy. Here he’d put together this amazing team, basically an H-Street set-up prior to Ternasky, but these guys he partnered with ruined it all by forcing these crappy products on him. I can still picture him sitting there, talking to himself like, “Why!?! Why won’t they just make regular boards!?!”  (laughs)

I rode for Eppic for a bit but by the time I got to the ’88 Amateur Finals, things were starting to go bad. They wouldn’t even pay for my flight out there. Luckily I got my shop sponsor to pay for it: The Bicycle Source in Baton Rouge, I’ll shout him out.

Was that your big move out to California? How did all that work out? Didn’t you live at Scooter’s for a while?

Well, I fly out to the ’88 Amateur Finals and I’m a very shy kid. I’m watching all these guys I’d seen in magazines and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’m trying to skate but honestly, I’m freaking out.

I must’ve been doing okay because Jason Lee hits me up during the contest about possibly riding for World. He said that he thought we skated similar because we were both doing kickflip manuals or something? I don’t know. (laughs)

“Hey, I’m gonna give you some stuff. Once you get home, call World and tell them who you are. I’ll have it all hooked up.”

I was hyped because after having to find my own way out to the contest, I obviously wasn’t on Eppic anymore.

I also met Ternasky there for a brief second as well. He’d later claim that he told me to call him at some point but I don’t recall anything like that. I got a “What’s up?”, at best.

It never ended up working out between World and I. I could barely get enough nerve to call and once I did, they had no idea who I was or what I was even talking about. I was so bummed.

I figured that I’d end up just going to college but before I did, I decided to go check out California and see if I could actually skate with these people at those places. If it worked out, cool. If not, I’ll come back home and buy a Ford Mustang so I can work to pay for it. Small-town dreams.

So I sneak out to California and, of course, the place where I’m supposed to stay falls through. It’s a long story but I basically find myself in this abandoned apartment where I have until the end of the month to figure out a way to get back home. But I’m so hyped to be out there that I don’t even care. I’m just gonna skate this out because I’m having the time of my life. I’m out hitting the Sadlands and skating all around Huntington Beach! I’m loving it, dude!

I was going over to Scooter’s house a lot back then because he had his ramp and it was basically the place to go. One day, kinda randomly, he offers to let me stay there. I barely even know the dude but Felix is staying there… I might as well, too.

Ternasky ends up coming through a week later. Nielsen and Donaldson were already on H-Street and I knew they’d already been talking to him about me. He’d heard that I was crashing at Scooter’s and wanted to see what was going on with me.

“Dude, I remember you from the Am Finals! I’ve been hearing from the team about this guy from Louisiana and I thought you might be the same dude. What happened? I told you to call me! What’s going on with you? You don’t really live anywhere?


“Well, why don’t you come on some trips with me then? You can ride for H-Street and we can film for the new video. You can go around and meet everybody with me. After that, how about a tour with Matt Hensley and then a trip with Danny Way? How’s that?”

And just like that, that’s how I ended up filming for Hokus Pokus… which I gotta say, has to be one of the coolest “coming out and getting hooked up” stories ever. I mean, I was basically homeless when Mike came through.

How did you get so prominently featured in Hokus Pokus as a new rider? Did you just film a ton?

Yeah, I just got in the van and kept going. Plus, I’d never filmed before, which always give you an edge.

You had all-new shit… Sal Flips and the whole nine!

I’d like to think that I would’ve had all-new shit anyway. Just kidding. (laughs)

You have to remember that I didn’t have anything else going on so traveling around with Ternasky basically became my job.

We drove to Santa Barbara first and met up with Kit Erickson. After that, we went a little further and it’s the Ben Jobe/Ron Allen set-up. From there, Dave Graves and John Deago. Then Mike Carroll… It really was the best way for me to get introduced to the whole deal. I got a real taste of what each dude was about in their own hometowns.

It was all about skating at that point. I could’ve been wearing pajamas in my footage and they’d still put it in the video. Mike just wanted tricks. There was no “Don’t film this” stuff. You were filming and if you landed it, they were using it. That simple. It freaked some people out but I was always nice about it, which is probably how I was able to get so much footage.

So the beginning of Hokus Pokus is basically this first trip?

Yeah, probably around two weeks on the road with Mike.

Usually we just hit up spots that people knew, which was fun… It was the solo missions in-between stops that you had to watch out for. This was always dangerous shit he’d spot off the side of the road on our way somewhere else. Stuff he thought would be cool for me to kill myself on. And since I was the new guy, I had to play it smart… but in the back of my head, I was bumming.

But I thank him for that. It raised my level, even though it was painful at the time.

One thing that always stood out in Hokus Pokus are those seemingly all-night sessions, like the Vista bank-to-curb stuff. Is that really how it went down?

Back then, we logged what I like to call “Tom Knox hours”.

You go skating all day just to turn around and do it again that night.

“Yeah, let’s do it!”

Sure, I skated all day but now Mike wants to drive out to Vista and skate with Hensley? Of course! Everyone’s down. We’ll drive an hour after we just skated for seven and be psyched once we got there. No one’s sitting down because there was such good energy. We just loved to skate.

That’s why there’s so much night footage in there. We were going skating anyway, you might as well film it. We’re going with or without the camera.

But wasn’t it distracting to skate in-front of that little nightlight?

The nightlight honestly didn’t bother me. I think I’d probably notice the crazy set-ups they have now more than that little light.

But honestly, I wish I could go back and change how some of that footage looks. I just didn’t care enough at the time. If they filmed it, they filmed it. I never asked to look at stuff afterwards. I didn’t care about angles or what I was wearing. I just wanted to skate.

I never took filming that seriously. I trusted people to do a good job with what they were making. I never had trick lists or sat in the editing room, I barely even watched the videos I was in. It didn’t matter. For me, when filming just happened to be while I was skating, it was a blast. It was later when it all became so serious, that’s when I started to hate it.

What about the voiceovers? Where did all that “Swamp Rat” and “Carroll Brothers” stuff come from?

That’s just terrible.

All that stuff came from Ternasky asking me to say something about different dudes.

“Say something about Kit!”

I’ve known the guy for a week and I’m saying he’s my all-time favorite? “SF with the Carroll Brothers”? Come on.

“Swamp Rat” was the same thing but this time, it was Hensley who walked in there.

“Say something about Sal!”

“Well, he’s from Louisiana… How about ‘Swamp Rat, super good!’”

None of that stuff was planned. You just said whatever and it becomes something you hear for the rest of your life. It’s something that’s just so bad… but still not as bad as skaters rapping in videos.

But what about “Tony Mag was there, catching real high air.”

(laughs) Supersonic Skate Camps wasn’t that bad!

I always thought the music in Shackle Me Not was awesome! The intro with Hensley skating down the sidewalk while that weird song is playing? That was great! It’s when you get into everything in the videos after that, that’s when it gets terrible. Like, what is this, dude? Opening bands for A-Ha? Those bands make me wanna puke!

(singing) “Have you ever sat on an empty beach with the sun and the stars?” 

What song is that? It seriously makes me nauseous.  

And look at the opening of Not the H-Street Video. The dude cannot play “Back in Black” on the guitar! Who can’t play that? So embarrassing.

But when skaters try rapping, it kills me. I’m not calling out any names but wow… and I’m not talking about Ron Allen.

He had some weird ones, though.

I’m not saying I have the album… no disrespect to Ron. But he had some interesting ones in there. Chris Gentry, too! I always thought he was solid entertainment!

Would you ever take up Ternasky on his trick bribes?

Not really. I’d try things that he brought up, like the spots he’d find on the road, but it was more for myself. It was never x-trick for x-amount.

Honestly, it was pretty amazing how he could use reverse psychology on Sheffey and I to get us to do things. He’d always take us somewhere “just to show us a spot” and we’d usually end up standing at the top of some rail, mad at the guy.

“Fuck this guy! Why would you bring us to this thing? Who does that? Nobody’s gonna be able slide this, dude. You’re crazy!”

But in doing that, he planted the idea and we’d typically end up doing it somehow. I still don’t know how he did that.

Take that big rail I skate in the beginning of Hokus Pokus, for example. There’s a reason I raise my hands after making that thing. It was a serious battle of the minds! I remember we were out skating this school when, of course, Mike comes over to tell us about some huge rail he’d found.

“Do this thing.”

“You’re nuts, dude. No way!”

“Just jump on it.”

“Then you do it, man! I can’t even believe this thing!”

This is usually when he’d start changing his approach.

“Well, just try to slide the end of it then. One foot of it.”

So I go and slide one foot of it… and that’s when I start thinking to myself, “Woah, I can get up on this thing!”

“Ok, now slide from the first bar out and we’ll leave.”

I do the first bar.

“Dude, I’m standing up on this thing!”

“Alright, we can go now.”

“No, I want to do it from the top!”

That’s how it worked! I didn’t even care what people thought of me celebrating. It felt rad to do because I didn’t even think it was possible.

What was your attitude toward the disses being lobbed at H-Street back then? I know Dogtown, in particular, was pretty harsh.  

Sheffey and I never had a problem with anybody because we’d go out and party with those dudes. We actually met the Schroeder brothers through Randy Colvin back in ’89. We’d go out and party together, which I think went a long way. Just being in a room partying with everyone and having a good time… maybe talk about Steve Salisan jumping off a ladder because that’s what I’m into. But it’s cool, dude. It’s a party. Who cares? And it’s funny because I still remember people telling me, “Man, you guys are fucking cool. All of those other H-Street dudes are fags!”

I mean, Sheffey couldn’t even pronounce their names but he loved Ben and those guys. He’d always say, “Man, I want to hang out with the Skroader brothers. I love those dudes!” (laughs)

I think those guys did that kinda stuff more to the other riders, which used to really upset certain team members back then.

“Why do you even hang out with those people!?”

Because they ain’t dissing us, dude. It’s like how Neil Blender calls John Sonner a whittler in that video. It’s just some goofy shit to say. But when it gets to you, that’s when it becomes a thing. When you get mad at it, that’s what makes it so much worse.

Now, the J. Lee thing, he really was trying to diss Ternasky. That bummed Mike out because he was a big fan of Jason’s. But I didn’t think one-way or the other about it. I don’t think people even got the inside joke anyway. Most people didn’t know who he was dissing so whatever. I was still confident in what I did.

How much input did you have with your H-Street graphics? And what was the story behind the sideways hat guy?

It just seemed like, all of a sudden, they decided to give me a board. It definitely wasn’t about what I was trying to make. They chose the crazy vert shape for me and that guy was just a graphic they already had in a drawer. I have no idea where that came from but I distinctly remember telling them, “Over my dead body.”

“But it’s sick! He’s standing on a truck and he’s holding a truck!”

“You’re not putting my name on that, dude. Give it to somebody else.”

The problem was they had a deadline. It was too late to draw something else.

“So just put a L.A. Kings logo on the bottom like NWA, dude!”

That was supposed to be the plan but they made the other thing anyway. The Kings logo became a huge top graphic, sometimes in pink for some reason. Terrible.

But when it came time for the next one, they actually did ask me what I wanted.

“Just go knock off a logo.”

I knew we didn’t exactly have Jim Phillips in the art department so I figured they could handle this.

“Go ahead and take that dude’s head you want me to use and make the Raiders logo out of it. It’ll be hard, man. Do it!”

I was on my NWA thing again. But if you ever see the first run of that board, it looks so crazy. They have the NFL logo as the top graphic but with H-ST written instead and those little arrow things as the footballs?

“Cool, who drew this? Lance Mountain’s son?”

That was my joke back then because Lance Jr was only about 3 years old at the time.

But H-Street couldn’t even bend the screen. The bottom graphic breaks up! And the letters, man… the letters are letroset. That’s why the “R” looks so crazy. They bought packaged letters at a grocery store to use on my board. People use those things on their mailboxes, dude!  

But you still killed it during that Not the New era. I’ve always wondered if you had a lot of footage from this time go missing as Questionable would’ve focused on a much different type of skating. 

You’re right. A lot of stuff from that time never came out. They wanted to save it for Next, which I didn’t end up being in. I pretty much had a full part that never got used. That whole era was such a transitional period with tricks coming in and out so fast, you couldn’t hold onto anything. By the time you could actually use it, it was too old. Skateboarding was already in a different place. 

It sucks, too, because I was skating my best during that period. I was completely Street League-worthy at that point with my coolest clothes on. Unfortunately, that’s when the least of what I did got used.

But that kickflip boardslide on a handrail was revolutionary at the time.

That honestly wasn’t too hard for me. I did that one all the time down PVC contest rails, just never out in the streets.

That’s one where I don’t think I cared enough about the filming process. That and the frontside big spin to board were both one-and-done. I probably could’ve gone back and done it cleaner but I just figured we got it. I never went back to check how I landed it. I didn’t even watch the footage.

We actually got kicked out right after I did that and the thought of filming it again never even crossed my mind.

When did you start feeling that the H-Street team had grown too large?

Mike and I used to argue about that a lot before Plan B. We actually had a pretty big blow-up about it.

I told him straight-up, “Look, there’s a lot of rad people on the team but you don’t have to sponsor every single one of them, dude! We’re losing our edge. Some of these guys just don’t fit the bill. They don’t translate!” 

 “But doesn’t everyone deserve to be given a shot?”

“You can’t do that. It’s too many people. Too many different types of skaters all on one team. It’s gotta be more like Blind, dude.”

There was never any big beef within the team, just an increasingly large disconnect because Mike and Tony never dealt with the problem. They branched out with more and more companies as a way of shuffling people around when they should’ve just taken the best dudes and had them on H-Street.

It’s funny because as much as Mike argued with me, he was about to start Plan B for that exact reason. 

So were you on Plan B from the beginning? How come you weren’t listed as an “option” or seen in that first team photo?

Mike and I were always close, but like I said, we had that blow-up right before Plan B. Here he was arguing with me about the size of the team and he never once mentioned that he was starting his own company. He never said a word… and this argument got heated, dude. To the point where I started calling people to ride for someone else.

I actually called Rocco about switching. I knew that he and Ternasky were close but I had no idea what they had going on behind the scenes. Rocco ended up telling Ternasky that I was trying to leave. I didn’t care, I was gonna tell him anyway. It’s just that Rocco told him first. So all of what you just described was Ternasky’s way of punishing me. That’s why I wasn’t there for all the OG stuff.

It sucked to get punished like that but I was psyched that he came back to get me.

“I couldn’t leave you hanging like that, dude! I went back and asked some people… of course! Come ride for us!”

I’ve been told that you consider the Questionable-era the worst time of your career. Why is that?

Where I was with skating at that time was how you saw me in Not the New H-Street Video… Flowing around Eden Gardens, jumping down stuff and hitting handrails. I felt good. I already had stuff in my head planned for when we were going to start filming for Plan B. I remember talking about this massive thing that I wanted to kickflip when the first thing Mike says is, “We’re not filming that kind of video, dude.”

He only wants weird super teched-out ledge stuff. Two-inch scrapes. But I don’t like that stuff. Am I supposed to reinvent myself with tricks I don’t even like for a video? That doesn’t sound right. What do I do?

What happened is that I tore some ligaments in my ankle. When I finally get back on my board, it’s now a deadline issue. I don’t have hardly anything for this big video that’s almost done and I’m not really sure what’s going to happen to me.

It gets to the point where I just flat-out ask Mike what he wants me to do for the video. Just tell me the tricks and I’ll do them.

That’s all I’m doing there, working out stuff with him as we went. There’s a few things in there that I wanted to do but the majority was for Mike.

Luckily, I was always good at flatground so that played into my favor. Mike was really into what Rodney was doing so that’s why I have a lot of that kinda stuff in there. I can nollie flip and kick it around or do a shove-it and kick it again. That was all for Mike. I would’ve much rather flown onto some ledges or done some weird transition stuff but all that was frowned upon back then.

There was that mini-ramp section.

But it was all one-hit walls and treated differently. It was put into its own section.

My attitude towards Questionable was to just get it out of the way. Let me film this stuff that Mike’s asking for real quick and then I’ll go out skating for real. When I’m done filming, I can go skate. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.

It’s hard to come up with things you genuinely want to do after so many parts in a row like that, let alone dealing with stuff you feel like you have to do. That’s why there were so many dudes having spastic sessions back then. Throwing boards, focusing boards… it was rotten. They’re out there all day trying one trick and they have to film it because if they actually do it once, there’s no way they can do it twice. To each his own, some great things came out of that… but a lot of bad things, too.

What was the story behind that Lowrider slick of yours? I always loved that one… and Markovich’s answer graphic was pretty incredible, too.

Do you know how Plan B made their graphics? They went to Barnes and Noble, dude. Those bargain books that sit on the table in the middle for $4.99? The History of the Airplane? War Tanks? I’m serious. They’d buy a bunch of those books, scan the pictures and plop them on a board. That’s why those boards always had blank noses and tails. That wasn’t a stylistic choice, that’s because the picture didn’t fit. I still remember Ternasky’s big idea for dealing with the dead space:

“Just put the dude’s name and Plan B on that part! It’ll be fresh!”

That Lowrider board actually came from my refusing a bargain book graphic.

“Well then, you’re gonna have to get a graphic to us today.”

They didn’t think I could get one in time but I was already off and running. Luckily, I was in Pacific Drive with Niko at the time.

“Niko, I can’t have a bargain book graphic, man. We gotta shoot this thing. My friend’s got this old car, he’s gonna bring it by. Let’s shoot a graphic like King Tee’s “Act A Fool” cover! Do you know where we can get a shotgun?”

Luckily, Niko was down. The original idea was for me to be walking behind this car with a shotgun.

“We’re gonna need some girls!”

There’s two girls that just happen to be in the shop so I ask them real quick. One girl flat-out refuses but the other one’s down. Cool.

Turns out we couldn’t get a shotgun so I had to think fast. Luckily, my friend Sam was working at the shop that day.

“Sam, let us grab a bunch of all-black Stussy gear out the back!”

We can throw this chick in the mix. We’ll pull the car up by this fence and lean against it. It’ll be on some Ice T kingpin-shit, dude!

And that’s how we shot it. It only took about 5 minutes but it worked. No “fresh” bargain bin graphic for me! Not this time anyway.

I loved Markovich’s board, too. Me and him go way back, man. I remember when he first told me about his idea, I couldn’t believe it. If you’re gonna knock something, that’s how it’s done. That’s how you make an answer graphic.

I’m still confused by your “retirement” after Virtual Reality. What’s the story there? Were you forced out? How similar was your situation to Hensley’s?

We were all under so much pressure, man. And you couldn’t base anything off precedent back then because so much of this stuff had never been done before.

Virtual Reality was terrible for me. I was trying to film a part and it just wasn’t clicking. I was out there trying to knock it out but I was just so worn down. By that point, I felt like I had been out there filming forever.

Deadlines start to weigh on you. The pressure starts adding up so you go out trying stuff that you can’t really do. The longer you can’t get anything, the harder it gets to build momentum. So you just end up flailing around. It’s the worst thing ever.

With Hensley, I always wondered what the thinking was behind losing all those board sales? It never made sense to me. Because who are you going to get that would outsell Matt Hensley at that time? Who are you going to introduce that’s on that level? Because Matt’s already there. He doesn’t need to film another video part. What are you trying to do? You can’t just replace Matt Hensley.

Matt was a victim of how crazy business was being conducted at the time and what they made filming out to be. He should’ve never been retired like that. He still had years left in him.

“Well, June 5th is coming up and you don’t have much footage. What are we going to do?”

So everything we’ve ever done comes down to a deadline? I’ve filmed parts for you every year since I showed up. My entire skateboarding history and how much money I’ve made for your company… everything I’ve ever done as well as everything I want to continue doing is now based on a June 5th  deadline? Oh, and there’s gonna be an 18-year-old crusher dude in the video with me!?! 

Honestly, I was relieved when Ternasky said he was gonna retire me. I was praying they’d do that to me. Then I could  go skate and not worry about a camera.

Not only that, Plan B was looking to have me start designing their apparel. They were actually talking about paying me more to design their apparel then I was making to skate for them professionally. I was seriously going to get a raise by retiring! It was gonna be awesome!

But then you were back? And its not like you even went somewhere else, you were back on Plan B only a few months later.

Yeah, like I said, things were looking really great for a second there. I was even considering checking myself into the Musician’s Institute to become the speed metal god of guitar.

But then, all of a sudden, nope.

“Too many people are talking, man. I’ve had a lot of people yelling at me for retiring you… so we’re bringing you back, dude!”

I guess Kareem went to bat for me. I think he’s the one that really yelled at him. And my boards always sold pretty well, probably because I dodged a lot of those bargain bin graphics. I think Mike was finally figuring out that being pro didn’t always mean filming new parts every year. I mean, what are we really talking about here really? Selling stuff.

But I was always cool with Mike. I never tried looking around for a different sponsor or anything like that. I was still there the whole time anyway, just not as a rider.

Well, your coming back did lead to a signature shoe. Was that all your design? And why the 23? Did you ever hear anything from Nike?

Yeah, those were 100% my own designs. I had all of these ideas floating around in my head because I didn’t like any skate shoes at the time. If I could’ve just bought a skate shoe with Jordan construction on the inside, I would’ve done that. But these skate shoes just didn’t work. I was constantly ripping out cardboard, going crazy.

Luckily, I got to incorporate all of my input into shoes and hold them to it. Like, I remember them being so reluctant about putting the rubber strip on the side for the first one but I made them do it anyway. I always wanted that and I think it worked.

The use of 23 was Ken Block’s influence. You might know him now as a racecar driver but I used to live with him. He was constantly telling me, “You’re always running the Jordan thing on your boards! You’d be crazy not to put a number on the side of that thing!”

But no, we never heard anything from Nike. Etnies was too far under the radar at that point. Everybody was knocking off everything at the time and the most you’d get is a cease-and-desist letter, if at all. So instead of some bargain book stuff, I’m gonna run some Jordan.

photo: niko

On a related note, what about the Jordan-inspired 23 intro ad?

I knew the Jordan thing was the easiest thing for people to latch onto so I went with that. I always dug how athletes were marketed back then. I found it fascinating how companies could create these dudes as “the answer”.

“Aw, there it is! That’s the thing! That’s it!”

They market it all in a way that’s so much cooler than whatever ugly thing they’re actually selling. I figured if I could tap into that somehow, even if it was just as something funny, it would work.

And I just want to say that’s a real photo. Niko photoshopped in the background but that’s a real ollie japan. I’m not laying in a bed or something. I pulled an actual jump ramp onto a basketball court near my house in San Diego at the time… Another successful 5-minute photo shoot with Niko.  (laughs)

What made you start 23 and Elwood?

Plan B started going in a different direction after Mike passed away and I ended up having a falling out with Rodney Mullen. I respect different creative processes but I felt that he’d lost touch of what made those companies so great. There were reasons why people now wanted to ride for Girl over anything he had going at World.

World had lost their ability to scout new talent. You have to keep in mind what a clique-y thing this is. If you start bringing in a bunch of weird new guys, you start to change the identity of your company and could end up losing something you once had. The team has to make sense and work well together.

Rodney started bringing in riders that I didn’t agree with as the graphics got weirder and weirder. I felt like I couldn’t control it anymore. The thing is, I’m not going to move on from something unless I think I can do better, which was starting to be the case. I mean, I’d never make a truck but it definitely wouldn’t be a Tensor if I did.  

…And now I’m the bad guy because of calling out a wheel-holder. Whatever.

How’d you go about putting together the teams?

Skating was at such a weird place back then, all of the guys that I wanted were already getting dumped by sponsors for being “too old”! People wanted to replace them with little kids and new mutant riders, like we talked about. But I loved these dudes! I didn’t understand why these proven guys suddenly had no value. I mean, if you’re sponsoring a 12-year-old kid, he’s gonna look weird with your stuff anyway… unless you’re selling Termite board shorts or something.

I don’t want to mention any names, but to a certain someone, it was a joke that I put Dill on.

“Oh, you can have him!”

They were literally laughing about it.

“Yes, sir! I’ll take him. No problem!”

Clyde was a different story. They didn’t think that was so funny.

“You can have Dill but don’t be fucking around with Clyde.”

“Whatever, dude. I’m not fucking around with just anybody. People want to ride for something else. Your shit is stale.”

Approaching people was never the hard part and I feel like I always had solid teams. The unfortunate thing is that I never had enough room on my companies to get all of the people I wanted.

Like who?

I always wanted Chico for Elwood but I knew I just didn’t have enough money. With all of the riders I already had, my roster wouldn’t allow it. My pockets weren’t that deep. I’d rather him go get paid the money he deserves elsewhere.

I also wanted Scott Johnston for 23 but I couldn’t do that for basically the same reasons as Chico. I always loved Scott’s skating and I think I might’ve been able to get him. This is right after Mad Circle ended, before Chocolate. People were talking to me about him but I just couldn’t pay what he needed. I knew someone else would.

Did you know that Drake was on the way out like he was?

I didn’t know but honestly, I didn’t care. I already knew he was lazy as shit when I got him but it didn’t matter. He’d already done what he needed to do. He’s Drake Jones. He didn’t really have to do anything else. Just give me an ad and we’re chilling. I’ll be able to sell the stuff.

How’d you find AVE?

Dill hooked it up. He brought me in his tape… I still have it somewhere. AVE’s tape was so good, and finding a decent sponsor-me tape back then was pretty much impossible. But that was Dill’s boy and he made sure I took a look at it.

I had him on Aesthetics, too, but I got robbed.

Yeah, why didn’t Dill and AVE go to Aesthetics?

I think it might’ve had something to do with Clyde and Dill having a falling out right beforehand. I had the money and it was always good between Dill and I, I just didn’t get the follow-through.

AVE just went with Dill.

photo: niko

What led to Aesthetics anyway? Why didn’t 23 work out?

It’s always the same thing, man. Ed Templeton and all those skaters that have had more than one company… we’ve all basically run into the same problems with backers. You rarely get the business end right that first time out.

You have to figure things out as you go. The problem that comes up a lot is that people who weren’t brought in for their ideas start wanting creative involvement. It’s weird because this person might’ve invested a lot of money and it’s hard to tell them they can’t weigh-in on creative. But that’s not why they’re there. There’s the money guys and there’s the skateboarders and creative guys. The team only signed up for what you want to do, they never signed up for the business guy.

Wasn’t Henry Sanchez on Aesthetics for a second?

Almost. It was a possibility, it’s just hard to pay people, man. He would’ve been perfect, though.

I wanted Kenny Hughes and Donny Barley for Aesthetics, too. That’s why when I got to Zoo York and saw their budget, I finally got them.

What’s your favorite Aesthetics series?

Oh man, there’s a lot… The arcade boards were cool. The handheld series came out good, too. But I think my favorite one has to be the model cars with the super touring car graphics? I absolutely love those. I have a big collection of those at my house, just the boxes. That’s the kinda stuff I created the brand for.

There’s just so many. Like, how awesome does the Midnight Marauders board look? And even the first ones with the bullshit stock high school mascots! All distressed and faded? I love those, too.

Talk a little about Ryde or Die. How involved were you in the making of that?

I worked with Barrett on that for a couple years. I’d give him my little notes and make sure we were heading in the right direction but truthfully, I was so busy with day-to-day stuff that I had to just let him do his thing. It came out incredible, though.

All I wanted to do was skate but I got caught up in the details of everything after dudes kept messing up when I wasn’t around. I just needed someone to take what I said and do it, dude. I wasn’t able to just direct the brands. If there was a 60-piece line, not only did I design it all, I was working with a pattern maker. I was selecting fabric. I was doing labels. All that shit. I only had so much time.

Is that why you didn’t have a part?

That and I got hurt. I actually went filming for it once. I went out and skated that tight transition thing with Clyde  where I got my one trick in the video. I was feeling pretty good after that so I tried to slide this little rail and tweaked my ankle. That killed me, dude. I was done. Between work and now an injury, I knew I wasn’t getting shit for that thing.

Who came up with Ryde or Die as the title?

That’s a Ruff Ryders name, right? I think that was Clyde. We were obsessed with the Ruff Ryders back then. We already had a Ruff Ryders logo going and yeah, I got a cease-and-desist on that one. I was stoked. What’s funny is that I don’t think skaters even liked Ruff Ryders. I’m not sure using that was actually helping me but I didn’t care. I loved those guys.

So what happened with Aesthetics? How did Zoo/Ecko get into the picture?

I had an irrational falling out with one of my partners. Once again, I had someone getting overly concerned about details… worrying if some of our riders were “too old”, which I found to be very insulting.

I started all of this, dude. If you never skated, don’t talk to me about Clyde Singleton or anything else. You were never on the bench. I know enough to realize that what you’re worried about doesn’t matter.

Meanwhile, I have this friend over at Zoo who keeps telling me how well things are going after the Ecko buyout. It seemed like they had all the money to do whatever they wanted. That led to him asking if I’d be interested in working there to go after talent for the team and possibly making some shoes.

I didn’t want to do it initially. I was still trying to save Aesthetics. Trying to buy this partner out but he wouldn’t budge. The whole situation drove me crazy because it didn’t make any sense. It’s irrational for anyone else to hold onto the name Aesthetics because if I walked, everybody else would, too. What good would “Aesthetics” be then? It was unfortunately a situation similar to what happened with 23.

But after weeks of fighting, we reached a point where it felt like we finally came to an agreement. Let me write this big-ass check and the brand is mine. It was already in the red but I felt it was worth saving... until the guy suddenly reconsidered and knocks the agreement off the table.

Fine. I’m turning down offers left and right where I could be making more money while I sit here, dealing with this? I’m done. After all the money I’ve paid to get it this far? I’m paying these dudes out of my own pocket! I’m out.

I’ve always liked Zoo York and this guy from Ecko seems like the coolest guy ever. Let’s go.  

How did the riders take the news?

They were cool about it. They knew what had been going on and I made it known that they didn’t have to come if they didn’t want to. I was ready to go by myself. I never pressured them or anything... but honestly, I didn’t have to. We knew we were gonna get hooked up.

It actually would’ve been cruel for me to not have given them the option to come. They would’ve needed a new board sponsor and I needed riders for Zoo. It just made sense. My whole idea with Zoo was pairing their younger riders with more established pros. The last thing we needed to do was try finding 7 more Zereds. Good luck. We needed to build the team out correctly. The Aesthetics guys were perfect for this.

And not only can my guys skate, they look cool, too! They have a model aesthetic! You don’t have to hire a bunch of weirdos with dreadlocks who can’t skate for your billboards anymore. You can just put Clyde Singleton in Macy’s!

Would you ever bring Aesthetics back?

I’m gonna bring it out as a capsule collection for Skateboard Veteran, the brand I’m doing now. I think that’s cool. I’ll have the old team back on there, too... I’m even gonna throw Drake Jones on there just because. I’m never kicking them off and I’m never putting new riders on. So how’s that? (laughs)

I love it. And I was just about to ask about Skateboard Veteran. What’s that all about?

It comes from getting older and not being able to buy anything at a skateshop! The market is for 13-to-17 year-olds! That’s why people are making this crazy stuff that only Riff Raff would wear! I just don’t get it. I can’t identify with any of this weirdo shit! These aren’t even skate clothes to me. One season looks like knocked-off True Religion, the next season has Diesel trending so there’s a bunch of Zoolander-ass pre-wrinkled bullshit? Why can’t I hardly wear any shirts that mention skateboarding without feeling embarassed?

I’ve looked the same since the 9th grade. I’ve added some stuff along the way but only where it made sense. I’ve dug but I’m still me, dude. I’m not trying to look like I’m in Sons of Anarchy. I don’t wear costumes, I wear clothes.

So a while back, I figured I’d try to make some stuff on my own with dry humor. Something that if you’re a skater, you could look at it and get immediately. I made “Skateboard Veteran” hats in the style of those old guy military hats you see a lot. How do you not think that’s funny? I just couldn’t get a rep to sign off on it.

The funny thing is that I put them on a low-end Big Cartel site and sold two to John Cardiel… one for himself and another for Ricky Windsor. I sold one to Chunk Dinkins, one to John A. Grigley, and one to Elissa Steamer. I don’t even know if people knew it was my thing but looking at the shipping list, I knew there was something there. A lot of companies with a lot of money can’t even give their stuff away and these guys are buying it? I was stoked.

From there, things evolved slowly as I started making some decks, like a tribute to the Haro Circuit. I’d been wanting to do that one for a while. I got some more hats and tees, too. An Unsportsmanlike Conduct capsule… Poor Sportsman for the younger dudes. I think it’s all pretty awesome and things you’d actually want to wear. It’s not embarrassing… and rappers can’t really wear the stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to make it about some bitter old dudes wanting respect. No way. The tagline behind everything is “You Are Forgotten.” I don’t care about “paying dues” or “getting respect”. Nobody cares about your slappies. Big deal! I had fun and I’m still having fun.

photo: niko

And that’s the most important part. So as we wrap this up, are there any SLB words of wisdom you’d like to add?

I was actually thinking about the Olympics, dude. And I’m saying it: it might not be that bad of an idea for people to try getting into the Olympics. Gold medals are cool, man. If you’re at the top of your game and you can go win one, who doesn’t want to be in the setting of an Eric Roberts movie? I would totally do it! It would be the raddest thing ever!

I mean, just imagine if someone gets hurt? The top guy on the team gets taken out and an alternate has to come in… You could be that alternate! You’re the Cinderalla story! You’re over on the bench and all of a sudden, the spotlight’s on you! It quickly becomes all about winning the gold for the guy who got hurt! It’s The Best of the Best, dude!

How is that not awesome? I seriously wish I could make the team just so I could get hurt and be the guy everyone’s crying over.

Just imagine: it comes down to the final round and everyone is there! The crippled dude is on the sidelines, humbly rooting you on... and you get the gold! There's not a dry eye in the arena! You make friends with Soviets who were your sworn enemies just days before! How can you not want that!?!

So yes, in closing, I think everyone should be trying to get into the Olympics. (laughs)


MrRitchie said...

But what are Sal's thoughts on fingerboards..?!

Anonymous said...

Been wanting a Sal interview for years! It did not disappoint. Thanks for this.

Austin said...

Hughes, Barley and Sanch on Aesthetics? SJ on 23? Oh what could've been!

jim thiebaud said...

Sal = Greatness. Fact.

Andrew said...

i don't think this guy gets nearly enough credit for his contributions to skateboarding.

Anonymous said...


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I wanna be on the Sal team! "I wanna play football for the coach".

Unknown said...

Not good enough though

White Ninja said...

I wear clothes. Not costumes.

Spencer said...

Sal is Mr. Miyagi. I say that as a former employee and friend.

isidro said...


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Unknown said...

I was laughing so hard over that Olympics scenario he busted out at the end that I spit beer on my keyboard. Sal is amazing.

tonna said...

Amazing, a man that takes care in all respects
Thank you Mr Barbier

Anonymous said...

Sons of anarchy f asf