chrome ball interview #104: ray barbee

Chops and Ray sit down for conversation in full view. 

The Step-Hop, the 43, the No-Comply… conceived by Blender but you definitely made it your own. Where did your inspiration come from to start exploring this step-off flatground arena?

I got turned on to what I call the “step-hop” by my friend Randy Smith and the Go Skate Crew, out in Sacramento. They were the ones who turned me onto those ideas. Back then, there was a big interest in skating flatground, which I think had a lot to do with finding yourself in lit-up parking lots and tennis courts at night. Finding yourself where there were minimal things to skate but because of the lights, you could skate, so you got creative with whatever you could. Even if it just meant getting creative on the ground.

This is back when I lived in San Jose. My friend Robert Torres and I started going out to Sacramento a lot to skate because we’d met a bunch of people from there. It was a 3-hour Greyhound ride but it was like an adventure. Leaving right after school and hopping on the bus. By the time we got there, it would be 9 or 10 at night so we’d usually find ourselves at Quimby Park because it was the only spot lit. There were a few benches there but it was really just a tennis court with smooth flatground. It wasn’t much but since it was Friday night, everybody would be charging anyway.

Of all the tricks everyone was doing, I really gravitated towards all the step hops that Randy was doing out there.  

For us, “step hops” is where you hit the tail off the ground. “No Complies” were when you used something else, like bonking off a curb. Even though we’d seen Blender doing those off curbs, it didn’t excite us as much as what we saw Randy doing. We were more into doing it off the tail because you were cutting out the middleman. You didn’t need a curb. You could do it wherever. So from there, we all started coming up with as many different variations we could think of.

Flatground lines became your calling card early on as street skating was just starting to develop. Did you expect this approach to catch on the way it did?

Nah, I didn’t have any expectations like that. Much like anything, when you’re in the moment, you’re excited and that’s all you really need. Everything else that comes afterwards is the cherry on-top. I’ve never been too conscious of where things might possibly lead.

I actually grew up skating ramps but I’d broken my wrist. My parents took my skateboard away while I had my cast on but I was lucky enough to have a back-up board at a buddy’s house. The problem was I couldn’t go back to the ramp during this time because my parents knew where it was and I’d get caught. But I still wanted to skate so because of that, I ended up skating more street.

We’d skated street before but it was more like something to do after the sun went down or maybe when the neighbors were over you skating the ramp. But now, we were starting to skate street all-day, not just as an afterthought. It’s like we had opened this little treasure trove of possibilities to explore.

But once again, it goes back to Sacramento and seeing Randy do tricks back-to-back. It was so cool to see and I knew immediately that it was adding another level to things. Tricks are fun but doing them consecutively like that was a real challenge.

It started as seeing how many tricks we could do in a row. From there, just like a vert run, you started to think about how certain tricks flow into other tricks. It was the same mentality. Like, I always liked doing backside airs on one wall and then flowing right into a frontside ollie on the next one. It just feels right to me. It’s this same idea but on the ground. In a sequence. In a line.

Back then, there was so much emphasis on contests. They played a much bigger role, especially for “streetstyle”, because street skating wasn’t really being represented in the magazines. Contests and street jams were all we had as ways to get hip to one another and see what everybody was doing. But because of these contests, I started seeing how important flatground could be because no matter what the course looked like, you always had flat. It was a great way to not only throw in new tricks but also connecting obstacles in your run.

I know you had a few sponsors prior but how did Powell enter the picture? How did Public Domain come about? And why a shared part?

Well, I got into skating up in San Jose and in-between my sophomore and junior years, my parents decided to move us down to Orange County.

You gotta remember, skateboarding had its own version of hip-hop’s East Coast vs. West Coast beef back then, NorCal vs. SoCal. And growing up in San Jose, I come from that NorCal school. The Bay Area was my stomping ground. When I found out that I had to move down south, I saw it as a death sentence! I was bummed, man! But I quickly found out that SoCal is where the bulk of the industry is. Before I even knew, I’m out skating with Natas, Gonz, Jason Lee, Jeremy Klein, Chet Thomas, Steve Saiz… the list goes on and on.

So I started getting more into the mix when I heard about this Powell demo coming up. It was kind of the thing back then where, no matter who was at the demo, you wanted to go and skate with them. Granted, at the time, I was riding for G&S but I still went out there to skate the course before the demo started. It was actually Chet and Steve Saiz’s demo, who I already knew, so it was pretty mellow. I was just out there skating around beforehand and when it came time for the demo, they wanted me to keep skating. So I did.

Chet started talking to Stacy about me after that demo. Evidently, Tommy had already been talking to him for a while as well, so now he’s starting to hear about me from a few different sources. A few weeks later, I was at a contest and I see Chet talking to Stacy, pointing over at me. That’s when Stacy came over and asked me to ride for Powell. This was about a year prior to Public Domain.

Vert was pretty much the whole industry at this time. Brands would support this little street thing but it was mostly by just sponsoring amateurs. There still weren’t too many street pros yet so brands would have all these street ams to represent them at the little street contests we were talking about.

Stacy and Dorfman were always the guys at big brands who supported street skating, to the point where they actually had street models in their catalogs. Obviously, you had Santa Monica Airlines but Skip was hip, man. He knew what was up. But as far as the other big brands, G&S didn’t have any street pros at the time. And Santa Cruz had Jeff Kendall, who because he was so versatile, had a vert and a street model... but that seemed different. His street board almost felt like by default or something. He didn’t seem like a dedicated street guy.

Stacy already saw the potential in street skating. He knew what was going on out there, under the radar. First by acquiring Tommy, Jesse, Thiebaud and Vallely and then by getting more amateur street talent, like me… I figure he saw Public Domain as his coming out party. Let’s give this a chance.

As far as it being a shared part, Stacy realized that there was power in numbers. You couldn’t just put an amateur cat out there by himself that nobody had ever heard of. At least, not that at that point. It’s way easier as a crew. So that’s how the Rubber Boys came about.

Where did the “Rubber Boys” name come from? 

You know, Stacy has never told me. I still don’t even know what it means. (laughs)

It’s funny to think that I’ve never cared enough to inquire! But that’s just Stacy and Stecyk doing their thing.

My hero in skating has always been my buddy, Randy. He was my inspiration behind my ragdoll graphic and everything. Randy skated super loose and I’d always try to get down like that, too. I always thought terms like “rubber” and “ragdoll” painted the picture to me of something flowy and loose. Elastic, if you will. That’s always been my interpretation of it anyway.

That part was a couple of days or so, right? Had you ever skated any of those spots before?

No, that was the first time I’d ever skated any of that stuff.

Our part in Public Domain came about as, “Hey, you’re gonna meet up with Stacy and some guys to film.”

That was it. We showed up and he had a list of spots he wanted to hit. That’s where we went and that’s what we got. 3 days, back-to-back, in the same clothes.

Were those your typical daily tricks back then? Did you bust out anything new for the cameras?

I mean, skating back then was still like how it is now with progression but it hadn’t gotten to that place yet where difficulty was high, which meant that you could be more consistent. But it’s all the same stuff. You have a trick set and that’s what you draw from. Tricks just weren’t as hard yet. But yeah, there were a few things I’d never done before in there that I just made up on the spot.

Like what?

That kickflip 50-50 on a bench with the backside 180 out? I’d never done that before. I gazelle’d out of a 50-50 in there, too. Never did that one before either. Some stuff is just improvised, man. You can’t call it. You just start making stuff up and if something’s close to what you’re already doing, you make it happen.

Everyone draws from a certain vocabulary, the same bag of tricks. You just apply it to wherever you are. That’s all it really is. Just like skating a contest course for the first time. It’s all stuff you know, just in slightly different situations.

But the kickflip stuff you were doing was way ahead of the curve. And I know you didn’t get many tries during filming so that stuff had to come pretty quickly…

That’s what was so cool about back then, you just sessioned. It was all long lens stuff so you were able to tune everything out. You were basically just skating. Filming was more about documenting the session back then anyway instead of going after specific tricks.

You could try all kinds of stuff over the course of filming and you either made things so they had footage to work with… or you didn’t. You had to be smart about it. If you’re out there bailing the whole time and not getting anything, when it comes time to move spots, you still gotta go. You just got nothing.

The cool thing about street skating back then is that the tricks weren’t all laid out. There was much more variety. I remember being able to tell where a skater was from by how they skated. The influence of their environment. Every scene was its own individual thing. Like, if you went to a contest, the guys from San Francisco would always be skating faster than everyone else because of the hills. Dudes from Venice would be doing a bunch of wall stuff because that was their approach. Even guys from Southern California, which is where Saiz, Chet and Sanderson were from, I feel like they were more inspired by the vert scene down there than the rest of us. Grabs and things like that.

I was a lot more freestyle in my approach because of that Sacramento flatground influence. So because of that, I had a lot of kickflips into things, step-hops, and things like that.

The overall climate back then was everyone out there doing different things. One guy’s doing this kinda thing while this guy’s over there trying that sorta thing, both at the same spot. There was no generally-accepted way of going about it. Everything was so fresh and new.

Did Stacy make you remove the labels off your Vision Street Wears?

(laughs) Oh, you’re smart! It took me a while to figure out why that was.

Yeah, I was only 16 at the time and there was definitely some “ignorance is bliss” there. I didn’t think my Vision shoes were a big deal since Powell didn’t make shoes. Why would they care? The reality was that Vision made skateboards and that’s what made it an issue. I just didn’t think of it that way.

They never communicated that to me, though. Stacy knew that I wanted to wear my shoes and he was trying to work with me but rather than just explaining that to me, they grabbed my shoes and cut off the logos when I wasn’t looking.

They didn’t even tell you they were going to do it?

Nah, the first time it happened, we were shooting an ad and I went to change clothes. When I came back to put my shoes back on, “Huh… the logos are gone.” (laughs)

That’s just being a naïve teenager. Not really knowing how things worked. That’s why I was so lucky to have Lance around. He was huge in helping me understand the realities of being a pro skater, that there are real responsibilities to this job.

But yeah, after I finally figured everything out, I started cutting the logos off myself.

Was it hard getting comfortable on Powell at first? Did you have any difficulties being the new street guy?  

Not at all, man. It was such a great time and they were all so open to everything. I’d always had so much admiration for the Bones Brigade. I’d known Tommy for a while and Lance, who was always my favorite, really took me under his wing. I’m so thankful for all of it.

I will say something that was a little trippy and kind of a bummer was just the timing of everything. Once Public Domain came out and Stacy saw the response, it was obvious that street was going to be big. This made things tough because a lot of the vert guys who were already in-line to receive pro models got shelved because of us. Our boards came out and some of theirs never did. That led to some awkward moments in the van, for sure.

The Rubber Boys came out right at the start of the whole vert-street rivalry. And this was back when everybody was functioning together. Like, if you’re going to Europe for contests, these are vert and street contests, together. So everybody had to be hanging together the whole time. You had to know that vert skaters were feeling the pressure from us essentially coming in and taking their gigs. It wasn’t intentional on our part but it’s just how it was. And a lot of these vert guys didn’t really have any respect for street either, which pissed them off even more… like, “How are these guys going to come in and take our shine?”

So would you often talk about these politics with other street pros who were also facing the same team dynamic? In addition to bouncing around trick ideas and concepts?

We wouldn’t talk too much about the team dynamics, more about just trick ideas.  Like I said, moving to Southern California changed everything because I was around everybody now.

It was great becoming friends with Mark Gonzales pretty early on. I still remember these long phone conversations we used to have where we’d dream about doing certain tricks. Mark would always call me back claiming that he just did the trick we were talking about learning. But the next time we’d skate together, he couldn’t come anywhere near pulling it off.

Later on, he told me that he would do that so he’d have to learn the trick. (laughs)

As a black skater in the 80s, did you experience any static within skateboarding? And not necessarily overtly negative, maybe just a few awkward dealings with suburban white kids?

Actually, most of the hassles I’d experience were from other brothers and sisters.

“What the heck are you doing? Why are you trying to be white?”

Skaters could’ve cared less. The only thing skaters care about is if you’re a kook or not. Are you someone that we want to be around and skate with? That’s really about it.  

So thankfully, nothing really in skateboarding. There were a few instances when guys starting dabbling and being influenced by Nazi culture… I remember the Godoy Brothers getting into that a little bit at one point.

Iron Cross Skateboards.

Yeah, that was the closest I ever experienced to that kind of thing within skateboarding. It was a trip, too, because I think that was more to do with those guys just being intrigued by all that… I was never sure if they really believed that stuff, deep down. It almost seemed like a fashion thing at the time. The sad thing is with that fashion statement came along all the lame hatred, too. I just stayed away from all of it.

That being said, that stuff felt more like a phase because all of those dudes are super cool at the end of the day. I guess it was something they had to go through and come out the back end of. It wasn’t some deep-rooted thing that a lot of people struggle with. Kinda weird.

Arguably the most popular black skateboarder ever up to that point, were you aware of any influence you may have had in this regard? Did you ever feel any added weight as a possible role model?

I was just skating, man.

Honestly, I’d always get the occasional interview question about this, which would be the only time that it would even dawn on me… like, oh yeah! But that’s the beauty of skateboarding. Once you fall into it, the culture keeps you so engrossed that you don’t even think about some of these heavier things. It’s only when you get older that you start to reflect on everything.

When you’re in it, you’re just in it, man. Doing your thing. You don’t have to get caught up in all these other concerns. Because it can be a bummer when you become too aware of weird politics and drama. You gotta push that stuff out. So I’m kinda thankful that I was so oblivious and didn’t let it affect me.

You mentioned earlier that your friend Randy had something to do with your Ragdoll concept?

Yeah, the Ragdoll was inspired by Randy.

This is right when Sean Cliver had become an illustrator for Powell through that ad. My board graphic was one of his first assignments and I still remember sitting with him one day, talking about stuff I’d be interested in.

“What about a ragdoll or something?” Because I loved how loose and free Randy was while he was skating. We’d always say that he skated like a ragdoll. And because I was so inspired by him, people began to say that I had the same type of thing.

I had no way of fathoming how Cliver would interpret that but I totally fell in love with what he did. It’s like he made a superhero out of it! I think it’s still one of the coolest things ever. It reminds me of Spiderman or something. Even the beads and the friendship bracelets around the wrist, that was all stuff that we wore. The hat and the name in the cards… Sean’s amazing.

His name keeps popping up, whatever happened to Randy?

A knee injury took him out. It was terrible, man. His skating really was something special.

Sounds like it. So were you more nervous about Ban This being a completely solo part on the eve of turning pro?

Ban This was different because we all knew how big it was by then. It was no longer Stacy taking a chance. The response to Public Domain had shown that street skating had arrived. 

The team had really grown with more street skaters. By that time, Stacy had already sponsored Guy, Rudy, Paulo and Gabriel and they were out there filming their part as well. I thought all of this was great. The more, the merrier, you know? It didn’t even dawn on me that most people would feel added pressure with these younger guys around. I just wasn’t thinking of it that way.  

I don’t know if Stacy could sense that but I remember him sitting me down before going out to film and showing me their part. Basically as a way to show me what was going on. I was hyped, though. I thought their part was awesome. I understand that he wanted to motivate me but I’ve just never had a competitive mindset with filming parts. It was cool as a source of inspiration but I just looked at it like I can only try my best and do what I’m going to do. And that’s what we got. 

That part ended up being way different but it was still only 2 or 3 different get-togethers with just Stacy and I.

How was it different?

Stacy and I would literally just drive around looking for stuff. He’d see a spot or maybe even just a backdrop he liked and pullover. We’d get out, film a line real quick, get back in the car and cruise around some more. It was way more on the run. We weren’t camping out for that one at all.

There were some spots that I dug, so I’d just keep skating. Like, the stuff with the stairs? That was just around the corner from the Pink Motel. We were filming for Sk8-TV and I happened to find those stairs so we went for it. I was able to get all those tricks in-between stuff for Sk8-TV.

But something that came to light in Guy’s Epicly Later’d regarding Ban This was talk of Stacy possibly throttling their coverage in favor of his more merchandised pros?

I’m not sure, man. I feel like Stacy probably thought that he had enough for their part. Why go back for more? That’s how Stacy tended to look at stuff. You have these days to film and then your part is done. That’s it. Stacy had no desire to be sitting there forever so someone could get one trick. He didn’t have that mentality… at all, which became a challenge later on.

It was just different back then. So much of how things are now come down to the riders’ input. They have so much input with everything where as back then, the rider really didn’t have much say in how things were done by the brand. You were either part of the program or you weren’t. Riders can throw fits now and get what they want. In the Powell days, Stacy would’ve just kicked you off. (laughs)

You have to remember that Stacy was managing so many people. He didn’t have time to switch things around because his schedule was so tight. It had to be in order to get everything done. He couldn’t afford to be that flexible.

“We’re done, man. I don’t have time for that. You should’ve done that when we were filming.”

Were you concerned with Stacy’s treatment of street skating compared to H-Street’s bro-cam trick porn? That these dudes are blowing doors while you’re out filming scooter races?

My initial thought on the H-Street videos was that there were a lot of rippers in this video but the presentation is just so overwhelming! It took more work to decipher everything because there so much stuff going on. It was just so different.

That being said, Matt Hensley’s skating really stood out to me as being special.

Talk a little about your 1990 Transworld Pro Spotlight. Did you tackle that just like another video part? Did you expect it to have as much impact as it did?

It’s funny to hear you say that because to this day, I still don’t know how much of an impact it had.

What!?! That’s a classic!

You have to remember that I had so much rolling out at this time. Everything felt well-received, to be honest, so it was hard for me to see different levels of things. There wasn’t a clear contrast. I was just thankful to have gotten an interview.

It’s only in hindsight where I really learn how people looked at these things. 

Had you ever worked with Spike before? Because he really brought a special look to it.  

Oh, I loved working with Spike. I’d actually met him years before when he was at Homeboy. So yeah, when I found out he was shooting my interview, I was hyped. Because for me, especially back then, I got out with so many photographers. All I care about is if I want to hang out with the dude because you end up spending a lot of time together. But I dug Spike. Right away, it was a win-win.

Spike was cool because he’d always skate the stuff with me. That always helps. Go to a mini-ramp, Spike’s dropping in as well. It’s more like hanging out with a friend while we also happen to be working on this thing together.

But I remember one of the first shots we got, I’d taken him to this school. It was around noon or so, but I was ready to get the trick. Let’s do this.

“Ok, cool. Let’s go get something to eat and maybe check out another spot. Let’s come back to this one around sunset because that’s when it will look the best.”

“What!?! Sunset!?! I’m ready to do this now!”

But I listened to him and came back later. We got the trick and when he showed me the photo later, it looked so sick. I trusted him after that. Ok, cool… Spike knows what he’s doing. I’m not tripping on nothing.

I remember him telling me that he’d won some photography award for those pieced together frames he did of me.

Like the Talking Heads cover?

Exactly! I thought that was super cool, man. If anything, that’s what I remember most about that interview, just the fun times I had with Spike and him getting that award. I was really impressed because it was an award outside of skateboarding.

That Spotlight was a great early example of how to shoot street skating… because I remember you having a few ill-timed photos published elsewhere that would’ve never run a few years later.

Guys were just used to shooting vert. In their defense, that’s like going from 10-foot airs to some little flip off the ground. And it’s not like we were catching it either. It’s rocketing the whole time. I don’t really know how you’d go about shooting that. (laughs)

Fair point. Do you still like the Bangles?

(laughs) Yeah, man. I do.

Here’s what I’ve realized about my personality: if there was ever an emotional connection with something, that never changes for me. I can never relate to people who “used to like” something. I always wonder what happened to make them not like it anymore? Those reasons never change for me.

But yeah, there are some cuts on that second Bangles album, back when they were signed to IRS before they got big… “All Over the Place”, when they were super in the mix of the LA punk scene with Red Kross and all that. So many good tracks on that album.

What’s the story behind that shot of you pushing that Powell ran as an ad?

I have no idea, man. Magazines would come out and I wouldn’t know where half of my stuff even came from.

“Huh? What’s that? When did that happen? Well…. Okay.”

Back then, you’d go out with Powell for a day or two and get so much stuff done. You’d shoot a bunch of photos and they’d sit on the stuff, rolling it out as needed. It’s not like today where companies call up different photographers, seeing if they have any pictures. Powell would just backlog a ton of stuff for each rider. So yeah, when that came out, I didn’t even know.

“Wow, we shot that so long ago… and why did they just shoot me pushing?” (laughs)

Everything was very conceptual back then. If you think about Stacy’s style, tricks were involved but not how it is today. It was much more about that rider’s personality, closer to how record labels market their stars. Sure, this guy’s a ripper but does the personality come through?

Here’s photo of Ray pushing. Here’s one of a bunch of dudes hanging out on the deck of a ramp. That was an ad. Stacy’s approach was to connect skaters to the person, rather than their tricks. I mean, I had an ad doing a handstand! That was the magic of Stecyk and Stacy.

Rocco come from that school, too. Those early World ads are just the product of guys sitting around, cooking up goofy stuff. Half of the time, there was no skateboarding even in it. That was the climate. We weren’t to the mid-90s where everything got so militant. It was still fun, man. It had character. As corny as some people think that stuff is, it gave way more insight into that guy’s personality than just seeing them on their boards.

I know we talked earlier about how we really didn’t see H-Street as a threat, Rocco was a different story. He was blatantly attacking Powell. And I could tell Stacy was getting flustered. It became pretty obvious that Powell didn’t know how to respond, which became a much bigger issue and concern for all of us.

So what were your thoughts on Powell’s notorious MeMeMe ad? Did you realize it was going to yield such a gnarly retaliation from Rocco?

Oh, dude. At that point, with that ad... to me, Powell was really struggling. I remember thinking that if that’s all they could come up with, we were in big trouble.

There’s a verse I love in the Bible that says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly or lest he be wise in his own eyes.”

You can’t come up with a World Industries ad to battle World Industries. It just doesn’t work like that.

So yeah, I knew it was bad idea. But again, this was my job. And I’m grateful for that because it taught me to be professional. I work for the brand. I’m not the boss, so… ok, here we go! (laughs)

It was a tough one, though. But yeah, that’s when I knew it was over. This ad was all she wrote. And that’s pretty much how it went down. Stacy bailed shortly after and we were all left looking at each other, wondering what we were going to do.

When did Lance bring you into his plans for the Firm?

Right from the jump.

At first, George wanted Lance to do a company through Powell. George would run it but the company would be headed by Lance. That’s when Lance reached out to see if I’d be into it and, of course, I was down.

Honestly, by that point, I really didn’t know what we were doing at Powell anymore. It was kind of a mess after Stacy left.

So that’s how the Firm started. It was originally going to be Lance, myself and Colin McKay… somebody else, too, early on. I think maybe Moses Itkonen? I can’t remember. But yeah, as time went on, Lance started to realize that building it this way would mean that he’d always have to deal with George. That even with all the hard work he was ready to put in, the company would still never truly be his. So he took out a second mortgage on his house and started the Firm.

Unfortunately, Colin bailed but we ended up getting the Gruber brothers and we were on our way. I was hyped.

freakin' wholesome

Did you have any other offers at the time? I imagine with Powell slowly dissolving, you had to be getting hit up on all sides.

Not so much. Because I think as far as everyone else knew, I was planning on being at Powell for the duration.

This is funny in hindsight, but Rocco actually hit me up to ride for SMA a few days after I got on Powell. It was all the same week. This is back when he was just starting out and didn’t have a team yet. I know he was already in a few peoples’ ear, though. He was already talking to Rodney and Vallely… it was pretty obvious that he was trying to kill Stacy from the beginning.

I just couldn’t take him seriously. I’d was on Powell-Peralta, man! They were huge at this point! How is this freestyler going to start a brand that would ever take out the Bones Brigade? (laughs)

That’s weird to think about. But going back to the Firm, you guys put out La Buena Vida pretty quickly. Was there an excitement at the beginning with having complete control? Or was there possibly more anxiety now since there was no safety net?

Well, my level of concern was different from Lance’s but I was excited. At that point, Powell had kinda run its course and skating was entering a whole new phase. Obviously board sales weren’t what they used to be but as far as overall excitement, it was a great time! Everything felt so new and there was so much potential. Even though we’re all wearing Blind jeans with bearing covers for wheels, it was all still a breath of fresh air that you could appreciate.

We had control now. There was sense of ownership. Doing it for ourselves, for this thing that we believed in. We weren’t submitting something to a bigger idea. We were in charge now going forward. It was a blast, man!

La Buena Vida was so much fun to do. I’ve always felt that the best scenario a skateboarder can find themselves in is to just be out skating with friends and the Firm was like a family, man. Stacy wasn’t controlling everything anymore. It was all up to us, which was huge, but also meant that we were entering the era of very loose deadlines. Things started to get done… whenever they got done. (laughs)

So yeah, all of this is came into play with La Buena Vida, which is why that video has the feel it does. Lance had always talked about wanting to do a video that felt looser and wasn’t so serious, that was more about friends skating together. Even down to the guys leaving their house and stopping by my place to pick me up. Those are really our houses! But that’s how skateboarding truly is, man. It was cool to showcase that.

Why go with Firehose’s “In My Mind” for your part not long after Tom Knox had just used it in Speed Freaks?

That just kinda happened. I didn’t really think about it until I heard from a few people after the fact.

Playing music, I’ve always been a huge fan of Firehose and the Minutemen. In a lot of ways, I learned how to play guitar by listening to those albums. Ed Crawford’s riff on that song, in particular, always got me. I remember my friends and I always used to play that one live. So I had an emotional connection there, irrelevant to who used it before.

FIrehose was in San Pedro, right under the bridge from Long Beach, so I’d always go see them play. I actually remember asking Watt one time, “Hey, I want to use one of your guys’ songs for my video part. Is that cool?”

“Take something from SST. Don’t take anything from Sony. They’ll come after you.”

Because I actually wanted to use “Down with the Bass” off Flying the Flannel but Mike didn’t think that was a good idea, which led me over to the SST catalog. “In My Mind” just felt right.

I honestly didn’t realize that Tom had used it before.

Give us your favorite Lance Mountain story.

Ok, this is the first one that comes to mind. We were in Barcelona for two weeks, filming for Can’t Stop. We were in a hotel and I still don’t know how Lance thought to do this but I guess whenever he was in the bathroom, he could hear everything going on in the bathroom a floor above us. I remember it being Anthony Claravall’s room with a few of our guys. But I guess the bathrooms were connected somehow.

I don’t know how it started but he figured out that there was a way to push up on the ceiling to where you could get through to the pipe and up to the next floor. I guess he thought it would be funny if he tunneled up through the ceiling to our friend’s bathroom and surprise them! The only problem was that the set-up was too small and Lance ended up getting stuck! (laughs)

I just remember thinking to myself, “Man, what are we gonna do? Lance is stuck in the ceiling in Barcelona and we can’t get him out!” (laughs)

Needless to say, we were able to get him out. He was covered in all this nastiness, man. Just filthy. But those are the kind of child-like antics that are just so good…

I always try to imagine how housekeeping would’ve reacted had they walked into this construction zone scene with some dude stuck in the ceiling. (laughs)

Amazing. Going back a bit, the ’94 Firm Video seemed much more traditional in comparison to Buena. Was this the company possibly getting more serious about things? Regardless, not enough people talk about Weston Correa’s part.

Right!?! How good was Wes, man!?!? Wow!

But yeah, that’s just where skateboarding was at the time. Skating was beyond serious during those years and that video just reflected the times. Like, this trick is accepted, that one isn’t. The crew is cool, that one’s not. Things weren’t so warm and fuzzy back then. There was a definite non-inclusive feel to it all.

That being said, none of that was really conscious at the time, even though it is affecting you. It just shows up in things, like how you make a video. You know how it is, everything goes through phases and this was skateboarding’s “serious” phase. And with all of these new riders on the team, James Qua and Weston… that was more of their deal, too. Those guys just wanted to get down to biz.

What was the relationship between Girl and the Firm around this time? I know you guys went on several tours together, Lance did some graphics in addition to your Gas Station cameo in Chocolate Tour.

We were just friends, man. Simple as that. Friendship and respect. We had this feeling where we were all in it together. I can speak for Lance in that we always had a feeling of community with the Firm. Everyone has their respective brands and interests but we’re all still skaters, trying to enjoy the whole trip.

With Girl, you have to remember how many connections we had over there through the Powell days. Those are deep friendships from early on, in addition to the guys that we got close to later on. It just made sense. We were always skating together anyway, might as well tour together, too.

The Chocolate Tour cameo was Spike’s idea and you already know the history there. Of course, man. It’s all family. That was fun, too. Spike’s always a good time.

How would you and Lance conduct your careers with regard to spirituality in the often-shocking Rocco era?  Individually, you guys made your faith known but it was never like The Firm was branded a “Christian Company”. What’s the balance?

We just felt that only people can have the Holy Spirit in them, not a company. Not the Firm. But you’re right, as individuals, Lance and I both put our faith in Jesus. For me, it has more to do with loving people and being sincere. At the end of the day, we love skateboarding and skateboarders and pray that somehow, in some way, we will be used to draw people in to want to know God’s love.  

But I know you got grief over the years as the “God Squad”, right?

Oh, that’s rad! I’ve never heard that before! (laughs)

It’s one of those things where this is so real to me, that other stuff doesn’t matter. When you’re on your deathbed, who cares what people think about you? It doesn’t mean anything. Faith is only as good as what it’s placed in, so hopefully, whatever someone puts their faith into is worthy of it. I have such a peace that I’ll die for that faith, which makes it easy not to get discouraged when you might be getting made fun of or called names.

I always think to myself… are these people gonna help me when I die? What are they doing for me and my life? I got some heavy stuff happening, what are they doing about it? Because I know who helps me and gets me through.

So no, that doesn’t affect me at all. It’s not like I’m getting martyred for this. There are people out there getting killed for their faith. This kinda stuff is whatever. Getting called “The God Squad”… I actually like that! (laughs)

People get caught up in a lot of stuff. Most of it, at the end of the day, doesn’t really matter.

What kept you on the Firm through all the ups-and-downs?

Relationships, pure and simple. We’re family. And if Lance didn’t pull the plug when he did, we’d still be at it. I’m very thankful for Lance, Yvette and my years with The Firm. I learned a lot. Lance is the older brother I never had. I have so much respect and admiration for that guy.

But how bad did Salman’s sockless feet smell back in the day?

(laughs) Dude! Sally and Stranger both, man! Whew!!!! If those cats took their shoes off in the van, you were done! If you lived through that, you are one tough cookie!

Not that I can say anything, I was right up in there with no socks, too. But I chose to keep my shoes on. I wasn’t trying to air them out in the van! (laughs)

And doing that is so bad for your feet! Blisters and all that… especially where the seams are? Don’t do it!

What about filming your first “modern part” for Can’t Stop? Did you take a more 2000s approach with trick lists and sitting in on editing?

No, I never had any trick lists but I’m pretty sure I sat in on some of the editing.

The big difference with filming Can’t Stop was that we traveled together to a lot other countries. We also took longer to film for it, too. But whenever you travel together for filming like that, you tend to find yourself at a lot of different spots based on what other guys want to skate. You end up filming wherever because people see things and they get ideas… but there are always spots that you’re maybe not that interested in, which can make you feel like you’re just tagging along in a way. So you start to hope that it’s a spot that you can get something on, too. That was a big change.

You never went on any solo missions?

There were a few times where I felt the need to grab Kurt Hayashi and hash some things out solo, of course. Maybe a few spots that I saw earlier in the day that I wanted to hit by myself. Ideas where I didn’t necessarily want to make the other guys wait around for me to do it. But it’s always more fun with a crew.

Honestly, I feel like I’ve gone about all of my solo parts the same way, just with different tricks. My thought process has always been more or less the same.

“What can I do here? How can I get excited about this spot? Okay, how about this?”

To me, video parts are like when you think about the back catalog of your favorite bands, they’re all based in a time. Very rarely does someone’s style not reflect the changes of a constantly-evolving environment. That’s how creativity works.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s always pressure with each part. Pressure to get tricks. You’re always tallying up what you got every day. That’s what drives you. Going on a trip and having not gotten anything yet? It’s the worst!

Do you have any madness-type stresses when it comes to skating? You always look like you’re having the best time.

My son just asked me this the other day and actually, I do. If you watch, I’ll always do like a kickflip or a tre flip as I roll up to get myself hyped before trying whatever it is that I really want to try. The feeling of landing something clean on my way in, it’s a mental thing for me. It really helps. It makes me feel like I’m more ready somehow.

“Alright, that heelflip felt good. I’m on point, I’m concentrating… Okay, let’s go!”

It doesn’t matter what I’m trying. It doesn’t even need to have a flip in it, like a feeble or something. But that’s what I gotta do.

After rolling through every conceivable trend, what’s been your favorite era of skating? And with always so much attention on the Rubber Boys, what’s your personal favorite Ray Barbee video part?

It’s kinda like when you first get turned on to a band. Most people love the Beatles but everyone has a different favorite album, right? A lot of times, that person’s favorite is the first one they heard. That’s how skateboarding is for me. I have the fondest memories of those early times, when there was such a sense of wonder with it all.

As far as a personal favorite part, I can’t really say because they’re all my babies. I was sincere with all that stuff. Obviously there are tricks in each that I’m a bit more excited about, for the time, but I can’t say one part as a whole. Of course, I’d have to say that I’m most thankful for Public Domain. I’m talking to you right now because of that part. Knowing that, it’s hard not to acknowledge the Rubber Boys.

As a street pioneer, how have you gone about staying relevant as so many of your contemporaries either fell back or retired?

I’m not really sure. I just know that I still want to skate and push myself. So I just do what I can do and try to be out there. I realize that I can’t keep up with the young dudes. Physically, it’s not even possible. There will always be anomalies like Guy and Daewon, but the reality of the situation is that our bodies are deteriorating. So I want to get all that I can out of it. That’s why I’m so thankful for my sponsors supporting me and being able to use all of my other interests, like my music and photography.

But yeah, that’s really it… Just do what you can do, keep pushing yourself and make sure you want to be out there.

Special thanks to Mark Whiteley and Ray for taking the time. 



Anonymous said...

Awesome interview. I always listed for suede visions because of Ray but couldn't afford them and had to skate the cheaper canvas versions of Chuck's.

Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

Glad it was mostlyskating,to be frank I don't care about music or photograpgy

Anonymous said...

Crucial read. So sick. Thanks Chops! Thanks Ray.

Keith said...

Thanks for that! Ray Barbee seems like such a cool guy. That Public Domain part was one of the first times I realized that style was something important.

Anonymous said...

Should have asked him about "Afro Fu," "Angry Fu Man" and "Micro Fu"

Skately said...

Great read! Have been trying to emulate Chris Miller & Ray Barbee on a skateboard for the last 30 years. Legendary style and the nicest guy.

Anonymous said...

Great read, thank you.. I agree, I came to read about Ray Barbee's history as a skater, it is well documented that he does other things. I am just glad he still pops up in a Vans video or something, with that crisp style we were all inspired by...
the fact that he is a great musician just makes him that much cooler..
who are his sponsors? Vans & Element? Does Element even promote him?
Looking forward to seeing more footage of this legend..

ajbdavid said...

Thank you for that interview Chops. Ray thanks for let us feel close to you, and for expressing everything in the best way, so people like me, who skated on the 90's and still, feel again in those younger years. You're one of the best and your story must be a neccesary subject for everyone who call himselve skaters. Thanks and blessing my friend. I'm skating one of your element boards right in this days.

djneilnice.blogspot.com said...

Sick read. His reference to the Bible and World Industries vs Powell days was quite intriguing.
~ Neil Nice

Anonymous said...

still holding out for the paul luna or lopez bros. chrome ball treatment.


Loo Ganida said...

Thank you, Ray is so rad!! I watched The Rubber Boys every time I went skating, wanting Ray's style to rub off on me!