Chops sits down with the Icon.
So I’m going to selfishly start out at my own introduction to skateboarding: Animal Chin. Much has been said about this project but one thing that’s consistently brought up by everyone present is you seemingly coming into your own during filming at the Chin Ramp. I realize you’d been at the forefront for a while by then with no shortage of contest wins but do you personally feel your skating had gone up a level during this period?
(laughs) I’ve heard those guys say that but it’s kinda hard for me to think that way personally. I do feel like, at that point, I was coming into my own in the sense of being able to skate other terrain. I remember people saying that I had some crazy unfair advantage at the Del Mar contests because they thought that was the only place I knew how to skate. It’s funny to think about that now but I will say because of that, I made a conscious effort to break out of Del Mar and start skating other places. Leaving my comfort zone to learn how to skate not only other pools but new terrain, in general.
At the same time, I’d also been on this progressive trip for so many years. Thinking up and learning all of these different tricks. It just so happened that the Chin Ramp proved to be the perfect venue. It was a state-of-the-art ramp that was just so much bigger than anything we’d ever ridden before. Its size really gave us the freedom to explore. Personally, it allowed me to try things that I was still only considering as well as the tricks I’d only made a few times prior, like a 720.
For me, Animal Chin was the beginning of the true video part. There were obviously skate videos before Chin but they were all filmed in such a short timeframe. And because you had such limited time, you only went after the tricks that you were confident you could get. You didn’t want to waste time.
Back then, Stacy would come down to Del Mar and we’d only shoot for 5 hours or so. That was it. That was my entire part. And you better hope you’re having a good day or you’re in trouble. So, in that respect, those early parts really weren’t that much different than contest runs. You were still in that same type of mode.
There was enough time at the Chin Ramp for us to try harder tricks. We were going to be filming at this ramp for several days, we no longer had to rush. And while a couple of days filming now seems like a quick turnaround, it was a luxury at the time! You could go out and attempt something over and over again… like how videos ended up being. I feel like this is where a lot of that thinking began. There were tricks I made in Chin that took a little longer than what Stacy was typically used to filming, but in the end, it was worth it. We had the time and the space, let’s open this up a little bit.
The Chin Ramp represented the perfect storm of all this stuff coming together.
With so much of your public persona established by Stecyk and Stacy, how comfortable were you with Powell’s marketing of “Tony Hawk” over the years? Was there anything you ever outright refused to do?
I trusted Stacy and Craig’s instincts. I knew that they weren’t going to put me in something so far removed to where it wouldn’t fit into the Powell aesthetic and skateboarding, in general.
The only time I was relatively uncomfortable was an ad we did where I was painting inside an empty swimming pool. It wasn’t the concept I had problems with but more to do with me painting Stacy’s actual pool in his apartment complex with absolutely no permission for me to do so whatsoever. The landlord was known for dropping by on any given day, which made the photo shoot nerve-racking because if he happened to stop by, I’m the guy in the pool, surrounded by a bunch of paint, with my name written on the wall. I was only 14 years-old at the time, I thought I was gonna get in big trouble!
Did you guys drain it, too?
No, it was already drained because they were resurfacing it or something. We didn’t go that far but I think knowing that it would be drained is where Stacy got the idea to make the most of it.
But yeah, I remember getting in there and being so nervous… asking over and over if we’d gotten the shot yet. And, of course, the second we got it and began spraying the paint off, the landlord comes walking in. He only saw a few of the marks remaining and didn’t seem too bothered by it. Luckily, he didn’t see how much paint we’d actually used just minutes before.
But with regard to the videos, it seemed as though each project got increasingly more grandiose as Stacy got deeper into tv production, possibly in conflict with the actual skateboarding for top priority. Was there ever a point, possibly after Shackle Me Not, where the team tried steering Stacy away from these bigger productions into a more grounded skateboarding approach?
Well, as much as Stacy wanted to control the quality of videos, we were still bringing in footage that we shot ourselves and he’d still allow it in the final edit… reluctantly.
“Really? This dark deathlens footage? It looks so bad!”
“Yeah, but look at the trick! It’s never been done!”
So those videos weren’t all about being these big productions. Skating was always the most important thing but I know what you’re saying.
You have to remember that the Powell team got so large after a while, there was no way that Stacy could possibly film all of the riders. And it wasn’t just him anymore either. By that time, I’d bought a video camera for myself and we also had Steve Sherman shooting as well. And we were still being ourselves. It’s not that we had to steer Stacy in any direction.
It got to the point with Celebraty Tropical Fish that Stacy let me edit our own shared part entirely. He didn’t have any control over our part at all. I had my own editing equipment so it was all up to us, doing things the way we wanted.
Right, but you gotta admit that the videos leading up to Tropical Fish were increasingly over-the-top. Was the team worried at all by H-Street’s trick porn while you guys were out filming the Greater Gutter Open?
I’ll be honest, we were still on the Powell gravy train at that point. We were just going with it, for the most part. I wasn’t trying to disrupt our approach to making skate videos. I mean, it had obviously worked so far!
The most important thing to me was wanting to shoot on my own timeline. By that point, I had my own ramps at my house and if I felt like shooting something, I wanted to go out at that moment and shoot it. I didn’t want to wait for Stacy to come down. That was my biggest concern back then, which had more to do with convenience than rebellion.
But I never thought the videos got too big… and skateboarding was always the top priority, obviously. It’s just that skate videos were still evolving at the time.
A dominant figure of the contest age, when did you start to realize the power of videos?
I actually wanted to believe in the power of video before it came to fruition. I always took them seriously and tried to get my best stuff.
Care to elaborate? Like, what do you feel is your best part from the Powell days?
I put the most effort into Ban This. That’s when I really started to make a conscious effort towards a “part”. There were tricks that I’d planned specifically for that video, stuff that I’d intentionally kept under the radar.
I filmed that with Stacy at my house for three days. I remember him lighting up my ramps and the hillside for shooting… I was so serious about everything. I had made the decision that this to be my opus, so to speak. This was going to be everything that I wanted to put out there. And by the end of it, I was happy with the part. I thought it came out really good and I got a lot of new stuff in there.
Isn’t your ender a 540 ollie on vert... in 1989?
But as progressive as you could call the tricks I was doing, it became clear that a video part didn’t matter as much as another contest win. I’m not saying that video parts didn’t have any impact because they certainly did, but at the end of the day, people were still looking in magazines to check what place you got. For whatever reason, contests just meant more to people at the time.
Something that came to light in Guy’s Epicly Later’d, were you aware of Stacy throttling am coverage in favor of more merchandised pros?
No, I wasn’t privy to that but I wouldn’t dispute that it could’ve happened. It does make sense Stacy possibly doing that. I mean, those guys were on a whole ‘nother trajectory to outshine everyone so I get where he’s coming from. Let’s face it, we’re not talking about a couple of regular ams with those guys. (laughs)
With Powell being as big and popular as it was, there was just so much talent. If anything, I was trying to hype the guys up. Like, I remember Bucky coming out to my house for a week and doing 10 nbd’s over the course of his stay! That got me excited! I felt like I was part of the process! Granted, I wasn’t the one doing the tricks but I felt like we were all exploring and progressing together. It was amazing to see him doing stuff that had only existed in our imagination seconds before.
I would’ve never told Stacy not to use footage… in fact, I was often the one making sure it was in there.
Along these similar lines, how real versus played up in the media was the feud between you and Danny Way?
I think it was definitely exaggerated. It’s funny because I’d see Danny, we’d skate together and everything would be fine. But after the fact, I’d hear something negative about it.
From my perspective, it always seemed like it was the people surrounding him who were more outspoken. Like, I remember going to a skateshop once where I ran into one of his bros who, out of nowhere, said something like, “Yo, Danny beat you!”
Stuff like that actually happened. (laughs)
It was like we were rival gangs in The Warriors or something. It was really strange. And I gotta admit that some of my friends probably got a little mixed up in it as well.
Didn’t it all start with a game of SKATE?
Yeah, there was an event going on at McGill’s and a bunch of us were there playing a game of SKATE. I was just kinda going along with it, not really thinking about strategy or anything... just kinda doing it. Danny ended up winning and, for whatever reason, that really seemed to resonate across the hardcore skate industry. That’s when people really started to jump on this supposed rivalry.
Yeah, there was an event going on at McGill’s and a bunch of us were there playing a game of SKATE. I was just kinda going along with it, not really thinking about strategy or anything... just kinda doing it. Danny ended up winning and, for whatever reason, that really seemed to resonate across the hardcore skate industry. That’s when people really started to jump on this supposed rivalry.
I realize the both of you were quite young at this point but there were reports of you prank calling his house and referring to him as a “Xerox Machine”?
I honestly don’t recall the “Xerox Machine” thing but Ken Park was actually the one who prank called his house. I do remember that one. I think Danny’s stepdad thought it was me on the phone but it was really Ken Park. For some reason, I remember Ken actually thinking that he was doing me a favor by prank calling Danny’s house. I’m not sure why. I never would’ve wanted Ken to do something like that. But things did get weird between Danny and I after that.
The thing is, I’ve tried to get Danny on Birdhouse a few times over the years. Danny and Colin were on the top of my list to get for the team when we first started the company. Obviously I had no idea about Plan B at the time but I came back and revisited it again with Danny during the The End-era as well. Plan B was shutting down and we were looking to get as stellar of a team as possible, especially with this big video coming up. We wanted our own Plan B-style elite team for The End and Danny would’ve been awesome to have, for sure.
How would you compare the nature of this “rivalry” to the one with Hosoi a few years earlier?
What went down between Hosoi and I was a little different. He and I were always friends, even throughout that whole situation. But whatever that was between us really seemed to divide people. I remember it leading to these huge arguments between fans that went beyond us as people. It became this thing where who you supported symbolized if you liked “tricks” or “style”. He and I represented opposite ends of the spectrum and that was it. You had to choose one or the other. Through our individual successes, we somehow divided fans of skateboarding… which was strange.
But I was as big of a fan of Christian as anyone. Of course! I wanted to do airs like Hosoi! That’s the goal! I just couldn’t skate like that. (laughs)
The thing with Danny is that he was ushering in a whole new movement. Danny Way is where street met vert with very technical tricks. Kickflip stuff, varial stuff, disaster stuff… tricks that my generation hadn’t explored and honestly, I’m not sure if we were even capable of doing so. But with Danny and I, it was no longer “style” versus “tech”, it was “tech” versus “ultra-tech”. (laughs)
To this day, I don’t see our “rivalry” being so much based in reality as more just perceived by others. If anything, I think the basis behind this entire thing basically came from people’s perceptions.
“Danny is the new school… and you’re old now. That’s what’s happening to you. Sorry.” (laughs)
What was your creative process with figuring out all of these new tricks to explore in the 80s and 90s? I mean, you were going “opposite-footed” well before there was even a name for it.
That’s the thing, it’s not like we were trying to go “switch”, we were just trying to reverse a trick. Back then, we were constantly thinking about going the other way of whatever trick we’d just done because doing so represented another avenue of progression to explore. There were times where I actually remember watching videos backwards, just to come up with new ideas. Everything was so wide open.
As an example, I remember watching a video of a pivot and starting to think about all of the different ways to get in and out of it. Like, what if I went up fakie, got into a pivot and then came back in fakie? So I did that for Ban This… and it scared the shit out of me. (laughs)
But that’s how I went about trying new tricks. Or thinking about how gay twists had become a staple; what about frontside gay twists? Let’s go out and try one! Which is how those came to be.
We were constantly building on top of tricks by either turning a different way or combining different tricks. Like, a varial McTwist. We’d been doing varials and varial gay twists, let’s figure it out! That’s one’s still hard, though. (laughs)
You’ve said that once you saw the McTwist, you knew it would be the next big thing. Were there any other tricks you saw where you felt the same way about but were mistaken? Strange rabbit holes of innovation that, in the end, just weren’t worth it?
All of the stuff to tail. There was a time where we were trying to slap our tail on the way in from literally every trick we could think of. That stuff was never going to last… but we were serious about it! That was an entire movement for a year or two.
The funny thing is that on vert, nobody really hits their tail. It became more about someone just making the effort to do so. That became enough. Maybe you made a little bit of noise coming in and that was cool. But the irony is that going to tail totally slows you down. On mini-ramp, it’s awesome but it just doesn’t resonate on vert.
When did street skating go beyond novelty and transportation in your eyes?
It went beyond novelty for me when I saw Mark and Natas doing handrails. I feel that was the sea change in terms of opening up the possibilities of the urban landscape. Before then, you’d see slappies on curbs or maybe someone jumping down some stairs but nothing too big or technical. But once I saw the handrail, I just remember thinking to myself, “Holy shit, this changes everything.”
I jumped into street skating because I loved it. It was all-new terrain and it was exciting. Just seeing what Mark and Natas were coming up with was incredible to witness.
Unfortunately, after I rolled each of my ankles twice over the course of a two-week tour, I had to come to grips with the fact that it just wasn’t my forte. Street skating wasn’t going to usher me into some next level of skating and honestly, if I kept on trying to do it, I wasn’t going to survive. I’m not going to be able to keep my career up because I’m going to be hurt all of the time. And it’s not like I was pushing the limits or anything. I wasn’t bringing anything new to the table.
“Oh, look, there’s Tony doing the seven-stair handrail… just for the sake of showing that he can.”
I realized that I could be doing more worthwhile things elsewhere.
But your appreciation and support for street was clear. Even down to your taking cues from things like Rodney’s fingerflip to Guy’s ledge tech. What are some other specific street tricks you remember seeing someone do and taking to vert?
That’s a good question because at first, it was vert tricks being adapted to street. Somewhere along the lines, it switched. But even something as basic as crooked grinds, that was something that had to be brought back to vert.
I mean, recently I started doing those frontside grinds and popping over to switch crooked grinds. People were doing those on curbs in the 90s.
Exactly. Even the shove-to to grind stuff… shove-it to lipslide. There was a little bit of that stuff on vert back then but it really wasn’t explored.
You did that in Bones Brigade Video Show.
Right, but it had to be taken out to the streets to evolve into technical stuff being done on ledges. It was only then where I started thinking more about the possibilities on vert. So there was an effort there of bringing it back to vert once it had been further developed.
I know there’s been some nerdy controversy surrounding the origins of the stalefish but did you ever hear about Gonz specifically trying to keep you from learning about his trying noseblunts back then? Is it common for people to purposefully keep trick ideas from you?
(laughs) I’ve never heard that! And I most definitely learned noseblunts after seeing Mark do one! I guess it worked. That’s hilarious.
But yeah, that kinda thing would happen. One time where I could tell that something was definitely being kept from me was when Mike McGill learned McTwists in Sweden. There just happened to be a Del Mar contest a week or two afterwards. I was kept totally in the dark but could tell something was going on. People were talking about something. Occasionally, I’d hear whispering.
“Yeah, yeah… I heard he does them four-feet out.”
I’d hear a little bit of something and look their way but as soon as they realized I could hear them…
“Alright, shhhh…. Stop talking.”
This actually happened to me several times over the course of the week before the contest. I just remember wondering to myself what the fuck was going on!?! (laughs)
And then he did it.
And then he did it.
But it’s so funny to think that people evidently thought that I could magically learn McTwists in a day or two, just by hearing about it. That they were so simple. Hardly.
Did you struggle learning them?
Oh, McTwists drove me crazy. I tried them passionately for at least two months afterwards until finally figuring them out.
Kids today have no idea how enormous that trick was. Did you feel extra pressure as “Tony Hawk” to learn it?
It was more self-imposed with that one. I just wanted to learn it for myself. It was the new thing. And at its core, the McTwist was completely different and incredible. Nobody had ever even tried something like that before. It took vert to a new level.
I was obsessed with the McTwist after it happened.
Do you typically learn a trick on street, then mini-ramp before taking it to vert?
No, because the techniques for vert, especially for flipping your board, are totally different. It’s not that learning it on street necessarily gives you an advantage on vert. It might give you a little more confidence, but that’s about it. I just take it straight to vert.
Even the technique of getting air on vert is different. It’s such a specific skill. That’s why you always see street guys struggling with basic airs on vert and landing on the bottom. They’re trying to snap their tails like on a mini-ramp and that’s not how you approach vert skating.
When did the harsh realization set in for you that vert was in trouble?
Well, it’s not like there was some great epiphany. All the signs were there. All of the parks were closing and there were less and less vert ramps to skate. This wasn’t so much a sign of vert’s popularity declining but skateboarding’s, in general. But once the parks closed, that meant that there were obviously less skaters being introduced to vert. Anyone that wanted to skate had to take to the streets because that’s what was available.
For me, the most obvious sign was that my income was drying up. Suddenly, I couldn’t keep my ramp in shape. I couldn’t afford to resurface it because honestly, I could barely afford my house back then, let alone my ramp. It was rough. I remember going up to my ramp and just watching it rot, knowing that there was nothing that I could do about it.
Harsh. Did you have any idea that Powell’s MeMeMe ad would set off such a firestorm with Rocco?
Not at all! I considered it more of a commentary on skating, in general. I didn’t see it as a targeted insult at Rocco… even though looking back on it, it obviously was.
Honestly, once I saw that Ray and Lance were in it, too, I trusted their instincts enough to just go along with it. I didn’t think about the message that deeply or what the potential repercussions could’ve been with those Blind boards and everything, which were hilarious.
But all three of you left not too long afterwards.
You’re right. Lance and I actually discussed doing our own companies not long after that. I don’t think it was necessarily because of that ad, just something that we’d each thought of individually. Sensing our own mortality and coming to terms with the potential courses of our careers. Are we going to try staying relevant for the rest of our lives? Or are we going to try moving into more behind-the-scenes roles around what we truly love?
How’d you go about getting Birdhouse together? Was there anybody you tried to get but couldn’t?
I definitely tried to get Colin and Bucky early on. I was skating with those two a lot back then and thought they were really ushering in a whole new era of vert skating.
It’s funny because when I first set out to get the Birdhouse team together, the pros I had in mind were Willy, Bucky, Colin and Jeremy Klein. I thought that Bucky and Colin would be in, for sure. I figured Willy was a maybe, as he’d just turned pro at G&S. And while I wanted Jeremy, he was living the life of luxury on the most successful company in the industry at the time and there was no way he’d leave. But I loved him so much that I basically extended to him what I considered to be a “courtesy invite”... I never thought I’d actually get him.
The irony of all this is that Jeremy was the first one to say yes. And while Willy was difficult to untangle from G&S, I got him, too. The only ones I didn’t get were the riders I felt most positive about. Bucky didn’t want to leave the comforts of Powell and Colin was already set to go to Plan B. Shows what I know. (laughs)
Was your sponsoring Heath, Beach and Reynolds a result of Stacy’s influence to invest in young talent? It obviously paid off.
Oh yeah, for sure.
Andrew and Beach were byproducts of G&S. In addition to Willy, we also got G&S’ old team manager, Tom Drake. He’s the one who initially presented me those two as G&S most promising young talent. I remember heading down to a Shut Up and Skate amateur event to check them out and being totally blown away. They were both so awesome and unique. I had to have them. (laughs)
I definitely learned from Stacy the importance of recognizing talent early on and fostering strengths in skaters. That’s really how you build your company, by establishing and investing in long-term relationships.
Oddly enough, we found Heath through a sponsor-me tape he’d sent in. I still remember sitting down to watch his tape and thinking to myself, “Who the fuck is this kid? He’s doing double-kink rails and jumping down stairs at spots we know! Spots that aren’t far from here! How come we’ve never heard of him?”
He was living right in our backyard in Orange County! I still don’t understand how we never crossed paths with him or even heard someone mention his name before. He just came out of nowhere!
But Jeremy and I went out to meet him and he was just this little kid... I remember he’d drawn little Birdhouse logos on his shoes with a pen. But he was obviously an amazing talent and was only going to get better, which he definitely did.
Early Birdhouse saw you seemingly stepping back from the spotlight a little, at least on vert… only to explode with a massive comeback of sorts a few years later. What happened?
I think there was a misperception around this time that since I started Birdhouse, I’d retired. But I was always skating and learning new stuff. Skating has always been my outlet and I’ve never quit.
I tried to showcase that through the early Birdhouse videos but looking back on it now, we were probably a little too eager about videos back then. We probably made too many of them within a short period of time, which might’ve diluted their quality.
But around 1994, you were once again blowing doors on vert. I even recall a “Don’t Call it a Comeback” ad specifically addressing this. Is this where you consciously decided to buck trend and just do you?
You’re absolutely right. That’s when I came to the realization that if I was going to continue with my skate career, I had to focus on, frankly, what I excel at. I’m good at vert skating. It’s largely what had gotten me to this place in my career and there’s nothing wrong with that.
So yes, it was around 1994 where, after years of trying different things and rolling my ankles repeatedly, I made the decision to stick to what I know. I don’t want to call it my “comfort zone” but why wouldn’t I go with what I’m good at? Where I know how to fall! (laughs)
Which took longer: the switch 540 or the kickflip mctwist? And which one was more terrifying?
I had way scarier slams on switch 540s. It’s just such a different trick. I remember being in mid-air sometimes and completely forgetting which way I was supposed to be spinning. That’s when you panic and usually end up on your back.
The kickflip 540 took much more effort, though. That was several months of just dabbling around at first. Not even trying it. Finally, I got serious enough and it just so happened to be on a night in Tampa where all of the vert skaters had converged at one spot. Like I said, actual vert ramps were so scarce by then that all of us coming together on a decent ramp like that was super inspiring. I knew that it was time for me to do it.
How did your The End part come together? Did you intend it to be another opus, like Ban This? And where did the bullring idea come from?
Knowing the enormity of what we were trying to accomplish with the caliber of riders we had at the time, I definitely wanted to step it up and make something representative not only of how far I’d come in skateboarding but also the fact that I was still here. So yeah, I wanted to get everything in there. The loop and even a 900 if I could get one… that part never worked out, though.
The bullring was Mouse’s idea. He and Jeremy were the creative forces behind the interludes… Steve kinda did his own thing but it was largely Mouse and Jeremy. I was into the bullring idea, though. I thought it could be fun.
I’m pretty sure we built the ramp and filmed everything there in a week and a half.
How did you get pitched the idea for Heath and Jeremy’s epic jump ramp part? And did any concepts not make the cut?
They just went for it, man. They didn’t have to seek my creative approval for anything, it just had to be within budget. I wasn’t trying to have control. If the guys were hyped, I was hyped. And the jump ramp stuff was amazing! Even when it got a little naughty, that’s what they wanted to do. I wasn’t going to stifle their creativity.
I don’t think that any ideas ever got nixed. Possibly if they were too expensive or we didn’t have enough time to do it but that would’ve been it.
The biggest problem with The End was trying to adhere to a timeline. Things kept on getting pushed out. It finally got to a point where we just had to set a date for the premiere and that was it. No turning back.
Being at the theatre on the night of the premiere… it was seriously the first time that I’d brought a flask somewhere. But everything was so late. We didn’t get started until hours after we were supposed to. I remember being an hour late and Mouse hadn’t even shown up yet with the final edit. Needless to say, the masses were getting restless and I was getting nervous! It's a packed house! So I call him on his home number… and he answers! This means that he hasn’t even left his house yet, which is an hour away!
“Where are you!?!”
“Oh man… this thing keeps on freezing up on me. Every time I go to output the video, it shuts down.”
So not only does he have to drive an hour to Orange County, we now have to add another hour on top of that so he can output the final master to tape! We’re going to be at least three hours late… and that’s if it even works!
People are already going crazy and we’re not even close to starting… and, of course, everyone is looking to me. I’m the only one who can really answer for anything. So I just keep stalling. That’s all I can do. We have Crackhead Bob there from the Stern Show and he’s sitting there, waiting. I’ve bummed out Crackhead Bob. It was terrible. Total chaos. Everywhere I turn, people are just screaming at me. So I went and locked myself in the bathroom for a while to hide. Just me and that flask. (laughs)
One of the more infamous urban legends, was there any truth to that rumor of Steve Berra’s tearful reaction to your smokey indulgence during the early days of Birdhouse?
I guess it happened while we were on a tour back then. I think Jeremy’s the one who told me about that, much later. God forbid I smoke pot once in the middle of some crazy six-week tour! (laughs)
What was the thought behind not including all of the Birdhouse team in Pro Skater 1? Do you feel that affected team morale at all?
I don’t think it did. I had a heart-to-heart with the guys and made clear my thinking that I wanted the game to represent skateboarding as a whole, with all its different styles and characters. Putting the entire Birdhouse team in the game just felt too self-serving. I knew I had a bigger responsibility to the skate industry to come out with something that covered more ground. As proud of the team as I was, I felt that there were other skaters that deserved the recognition, too.
Fair enough. So how did Baker come about? Crazy to think back to Baker Bootleg coming out that those dudes would eventually become your boss.
(laughs) It’s so amazing to think about it that way.
Baker came about fairly organically through Andrew. He brought up to me that he was looking to do more of his own thing with this crew that he’d been skating with. Per and I were already doing Hook-Ups by then and something like Baker made total sense. So we were totally down to help. We’d done it before and knew the right ways of going about fostering a team. It was an exciting opportunity that we obviously wanted to keep in our building… Not that we felt we were owed anything by them. Not at all. It’s just that there was already a relationship and we were all comfortable with each other. I just wanted to help Andrew succeed.
Baker would have a much different direction than what Birdhouse could’ve ever done. Much more raw… and I get that. I mean, just calling the company “Baker”! He’s promoting weed straight out the gate before he even had his team together!
But how comfortable were you with everything that Baker was doing at the time? Even Andrew has expressed some regret about this period and you had million-dollar endorsements deals to think of.
For the most part, I let them do their thing… and I say this about all of the brands, I never want to stifle their creativity. I will say that I didn’t like some of the more misogynistic things that were done. Heath and Jeremy’s part with the porn stars in The End, for example. There have been a few times over the years where I felt that we were better than that, that we shouldn’t be treating women this way. But again, this is what the riders wanted to do.
As far as Baker goes, I wanted to support Andrew and his vision. The things he believed in. I wasn’t about to step-in like, “Hey guys, you can’t get that wasted…” even though there probably was cause for concern at times. But that was their thing. The Baker House and the Piss Drunx were very much about no authority. It was crazy! To this day, I still can’t believe that there was anything actually left functional in that home. But that was their thing and I trusted them.
Granted you’d been trying it since 1989 but did you expect the 900 to have the cultural impact it did? Was it a matter of right place, right time with nationally-televised coverage?
Oh, I had no idea that it would become this gigantic thing that so many people would latch onto. Not at all. It had just become one of those things where I had tried it so many times throughout the years. I never would’ve guessed that would’ve been the day I made it.
You’re right in that I’d been trying it since 1989 but I don’t really consider those “real” attempts. I wasn’t holding onto my board through the whole spin or even getting the spin around regularly.
It wasn’t until around ’94 that I really started trying it in earnest. Where I would set out to shoot it on video or with a photographer. That’s how close it felt, to the point of, “Okay, this is the one. This is gonna happen.”
But it never did. By the ’99 X-Games, I’d exhausted every possible effort and technique that I had. I’d always try it in Best Trick Contests over the years… Jesus, they had “The 900 Challenge” at ASR the year before. Revisionists don’t really like to admit that stuff happened. (laughs)
But we were all trying 900s back then in actual competition as well as Best Trick Contests. I remember a Warp Tour in Maryland where all I did was try 900s. Seriously, the entire time... until I couldn’t move.
So when it came time for the X-Games, I obviously went in knowing that it was the most widely-watched competition going. They’d brought up the idea of having a Best Trick Contest, which I personally thought was a terrible idea for television. If you’ve ever been to one, it’s just people bailing over and over again. But they went for it anyway.
My goal that day was the varial 720. I’d only made it twice before and it was the best trick I knew I could do. I did get one trick in before that, a 360 varial gay twist, as more of a safety. I’d been in enough of those things to know I needed something on the board. So I did that and then ended up landing the varial 720 about halfway through the event. After that, I thought I was done. That was my best trick. But I had all of this time left… I figured that the next trick I wanted to do in my lifetime is a 900. I might as well start trying it.
I had no intention of even trying it that day but I did and kept getting closer and closer. Things were coming together. The ramp was really good and I was starting to figure out how to land. All of the other times that I’d landed, I was leaning too far forward. The one time that I really had what I thought was a make was at the Plan B Ramp when I put one down but was leaning too far forward. I fell into the flat and broke my rib.
After that happened, I really didn’t know how else to try it. But as I was trying them at X-Games, I figured out that if I shifted my weight as I was coming around, I wouldn’t break my rib again. As I started to land on the wall, I decided right there that I was either going to make it or get taken away in an ambulance. That was my mindset.
I didn’t care if it was after time or didn’t count. I didn’t care if it was on tv. I was just hyped on the crowd and the support from my peers. I just wanted to make it.
Have you had any interaction with Tas Pappas since his doc came out?
No, the closest we’ve come to any type of resolution was after I posted a video of a line I did on Instagram. This was maybe a year or two ago. But he commented on it. Something like, “Gotta give respect…” which was nice. I mean, I’ve received death threats from people in Australia because of things he’s said so…
There was literally a dude who was stalking me on Facebook that would leave comments like, “I’m going to kill you and your whole family. Don’t you dare set foot in Australia ever again.”
Jesus. Well, another source of recent controversy has been Tim Von Werne’s dismissal from Birdhouse, possibly because of his sexuality? Care to comment?
Let me try to explain this.
This is back when I was doing guest editor issues of Skateboarder Magazine. I knew that Tim was gay and figured that it could be an amazing article to have him come out to the industry in the magazine. This is right around when we were gearing up to start doing The End.
We’d talked to Tim about doing the piece and while he was a little hesitant, he was down. So we do the article where he essentially comes out and we’re in the process of putting it in a future issue of the magazine… I just don’t think I realized the gravity of the article in terms of someone’s life experience and being gay.
I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus here but our team manager at the time, you might be able to figure out who that was, found out about the article and freaked out. He calls me up and says, “What the fuck are you doing!?!”
“I’m doing an interesting article about a skater who happens to be gay.”
“If you do that, I’m going to quit and take the whole team with me.”
Basically, he began threatening to steal my team because of this article. In hindsight, I don’t think that it would’ve actually happened, but at the time, it was a pretty heavy threat for me as a company owner. I had put so much of my resources into the team and we had all these plans around this big video we were about to start working on… I had to make the executive decision to kill the article.
You can call that selfish if you want but it felt like a very real threat to me at the time. And while it was an interesting article, I didn’t realize the weight of the situation. While I obviously support the cause, I wasn’t sure if I was the right person to be championing gay rights in skating… if that makes sense. I underestimated how it would resonate within the industry or how it would affect Tim. He’s the one who I really feel the worst for in all of this.
But I did call Tim and tell him straight-up what was happening. He wasn’t surprised by any of it.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought was going to happen. I was trying to warn you about all of this when the article was first brought up.”
He was super cool about it. I guess I just didn’t listen in the beginning. But after all that, he obviously didn’t want to be on the same team with someone who possibly felt so homophobic about the whole thing… which is another bummer, because I feel like other riders get some of the blame in this when it really was the actions of this one person.
I appreciate the honesty, Tony. Onto sunnier topics, what would you say has been your personal favorite part over the years?
Probably the one I did around 2012. I don’t even think it had a name but for me, it was my way of showing that I’m still passionate about skateboarding. Because I feel like during the years prior to that, I was getting criticized by people who thought I was only interested in making money… that I’d lost the best intentions for skating, which was never the case.
I feel like that part really showed people, “Holy shit, he still skates! He’s been at it this whole time!”
I loved the doubles part with Andy Mac a few years back. Such a unique concept. How did that come about and how did you go about choosing cameos?
That part came from doing doubles events with Andy over the years. Those doubles routines were always fun but also a lot of work. But it’s just something that naturally comes up over the course of trying different things, where you begin to think up more and more spectacular ideas, if only allowed more chances to try. Trying difficult tricks over and over again doesn’t really work in a demo or competition scenario but is perfect for a video, let’s give it a shot.
So we start filming and every once in a while, somebody would drop by my ramp to check things out. That’s where the concept of cameos really came from. Just by having different people coming through for the Ride Channel, we started to get ideas of how cool it would be to shoot something with them as well. Maybe this person had a totally different style or trick selection? That makes it even better! So after that realization, the doors were wide open. We started pursuing cameos after that.
Neil Blender was one of the first I actively tried to get. He’s such a pioneer of modern skating and I’ve always respected him so much… Plus, I knew he’d be one of the hardest to get so I figured I’d need as much time as possible. But we got him. We set up a day to do it at Lance’s and even got Ben Raybourn there as well, which was cool to see.
I will say that the hardest one to get, by far, was Rodney.
How did the handplant-on-handplant Skateboard Mag cover happen? That’s beyond sketchy, man.
(laughs) That came out a little before the part. We’d made another smaller doubles video together earlier for the X-Games. It wasn’t nearly of the scope of Sync, which is probably something that eventually led to that part. But yeah, the handplant-on-handplant was in that video… although it wasn’t done exactly how we wanted it to be. It wasn’t stalled out like it should’ve been but we did do it. And yes, it was super scary.
But after we did it for that video, Andy kept talking about how we needed to get a photo of it. It was actually fairly spontaneous and done so quickly during the filming that no one was really there to shoot a good photo of it. But andy was all about it. I vividly remember him calling about it several times.
“Hey, we gotta shoot that handplant thing, man. It will be such a great photo. We gotta do it.”
I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to do it again. I actively started avoiding him because of it. Not picking up his calls, sending him straight to voicemail… to where it finally got to the point where Andy’s last message says, “Look, I know it’s scary. That’s why we have to document it the best we can.”
He was right. I finally called him back and agreed to do it, but only if Atiba shot it. Luckily, he was down. We set up a day and made it happen.
It’s seriously so fucking scary, though. Because when you go up for a handplant, all you have to gauge your position by is where the coping is. But when you’re doing a handplant on someone’s board, you’re basically waiting for the board to show up and hopefully be in the right place. A couple of times, I missed his board completely and dropped to his hip… so there’s a few photos where I’m doing a handplant on his hip.
But at this point in your career, what keeps pushing you? What drives you to keep putting out new parts? And will you be in the new Birdhouse video?
My motivation is that I’m still capable. I still have ideas. They’re not super risky spins or big airs but I still have the skill to do new stuff, even if it’s a little more focused on lip tricks these days. But that’s my outlet for creativity.
As far as the new Birdhouse video goes, yes, I do have some footage for it. I actually shot some stuff for it last week. I have at least as much as everyone else, if not more. So yeah, I’m pretty excited about it. We'll see.
Can’t wait to see what you come up with, Tony. So a couple quick ones as we wrap this up… Ponytail or McSqueeb?
(laughs) McSqueeb always!
Gleaming the Cube or Police Academy 4?
Oh man, Gleaming the Cube simply because I was only a stunt double in Police Academy 4. I had a starring role in Gleaming the Cube so I have to go with that one. Absolutely.
I ended up getting fired on Police Academy because I was too tall. I didn’t look enough like David Spade so they had to bring in Chris Miller.
Proudest moment of your career?
Probably being featured on the Simpsons.
Just because it’s such a measure of pop culture. To be featured as a main character in my own voice was a huge validation of my life that I never thought I’d get.
With everything you’ve accomplished over the years, what would you like your legacy to be? What would you most like to be remembered for in skateboarding and beyond?
That’s a hard one.
My pride says that I want to be remembered as an innovative skater that really pushed the progression of skateboarding tricks forward… but in a more lofty sense, I’m proud to have been a catalyst for skateboarding becoming more accepted. And not only accepted by people but recognized for all that skateboarding culture truly is. I think at the end of the day, that’s more important.
Thanks so much, Tony.