chrome ball interview #110: steve olson

above the clouds with crazy monk.

So where have you been, Steve? Skateboarding has missed you!

Well, I left the skateboarding industry back in 2005 and since then, I’ve just been living life, man.  Maintaining and trying to pay the bills. I live with my girlfriend, Samantha, out here in California. Just a 41-year-old regular dude trying to stay healthy and survive.

I skate every day and I’m still out there making music, too. I have two albums out. Aside from skateboarding, music has probably been my biggest creative outlet. I feel like I’m constantly rhyming and freestyling. I honestly don’t even know why I do it, I’m just compelled to, I guess… kinda like skateboarding.

I also like to read a lot. Spirituality has always been an interest of mine and I’ve gotten deeper into that over the years, too. But yeah, that’s about it. Just trying to maintain in this crazy world like everybody else.

Talk a little about your current musical passion. How would you describe your sound?  

For me, an emcee is basically a poet. A wordsmith. But what is poetry but a creative expression of language. And beyond that, we all need to breathe in order to live. I feel like words are an extension of that. Reciting the written word aloud.

It’s just something that I like to do. I think almost every skater has busted a rhyme at some point, casually messing around. But for me, I found myself getting progressively more serious about it over the years.

Beat-wise, I like to use a lot of samples. It’s not so much like today’s hip-hop, which tends to sound really digital to me with lots of keyboards and synths. I’m more into that dirty, early 90’s New York sound in my production. That old-school boom bap.

Lyrically, I like to think that I’m on more of a spiritual/metaphysical tip. Almost on some anti-government, anti-oppression shit. Seeking freedom in your life. You could say that I’m trying to manifest my poetry through the avenue of hip-hop music… that’s what I’m trying to do anyway. (laughs)

Where does “Crazy Monk” come from?

I came up with “Crazy Monk” in the late 90s. I started rhyming seriously as an MC around '95 or so, not even fully realizing that I had embarked on a journey. I know it sounds funny but it’s almost like when you first start skating, it reaches a point where you realize that it’s no longer this thing you’re trying out, that you’re actually a “skater” now. It was kind of the same thing for me with music as I got more into it. I needed a name.

Crazy Monk comes from constantly trying to understand things in my life. My rhyming largely coincided with a spiritual awakening of sorts at the time, trying to take a more spiritual path. I liked the idea of a “monk” but also wanted to throw in the “crazy” aspect because I don’t feel like I fit into any type of box. I don’t follow any formal religion or system of rules.

You’ve always hinted at spirituality throughout your career with graphics and ads. What all does that entail for you present-day?

It’s all kind of wrapped into one now.

I actually just got back from Australia a few weeks ago where I performed at a conscious hip-hop festival in Melbourne. They brought me out to perform and while I was there, I also taught my first spiritual workshop. I did a little slideshow and then we got into some chanting exercises. Group spiritual exercises… I feel kinda funny saying that because it’s not like I’m better than anybody else. We’re all equals. I’m not gonna sit here and act like I know everything, not at all. But I do take spirituality seriously.

I got really interested in studying spiritual knowledge around the age of 18. I was as deep into that as I ever was into skating. You gotta remember that I moved down to San Diego and turned pro at 17, so it wasn’t too long after some pretty big life changes that I started looking deeper into things, spiritually. And since then, I’ve definitely evolved through several different phases with this stuff.

Not that I follow any religion. I am not a follower of any one teacher, guru or religion… but I’ve had many influences. I look within, in addition to my studies, and try to pray and mediate every single day.

From the outside, you always appeared to have more indie rock leanings earlier on in your career. How much of an influence did time in the van with MuskaBeatz and the Federalz have on you?

I think that skaters tend to listen to all types of music. Even before I moved down to California, I remember having Gangstarr, Tribe and De La Soul tapes. Throwing those on in-between some punk rock tapes while out skating a parking garage somewhere. It was all love.

But Muska did play a part in all this over the years. Even the first time I met him, back in ’95, he gave me the first Ol’ Dirty album on cassette. That blew me away. I’d never really heard Wu-Tang before so when he gave me that tape, I couldn’t stop listening to it. I remember listening to that before going out to skate and getting super hyped. Ollieing down a huge set of stairs with the ODB stuck in my head. All that was through Muska.

Have you two ever collaborated on anything?

I did hit him up at one point, trying to get on his album. But I don’t think I realized how many legendary MC’s were actually going to be on there. I remember seeing all the greats he had guesting when it finally came out, it blew me away… to be honest, I probably didn’t need to be on there. (laughs)

We did mess around and record something at his house one time but it never came out. But yeah, Muska’s beats were dope, man.

So was it your passion to create music that overtook your desire to skate? Is that why you retired?

Not really.

I guess you could call my leaving a "retirement" but there were a lot of factors that played into why I left. It wasn’t just about making music and it’s not like I was over skating, either. Like I said, I still skate every single day. I just don’t keep up with the industry like I used to… at all, really. But I still have so much love for skateboarding. I just reached a point where I knew that I didn’t have the same motivation anymore.

I have nothing but love for my old sponsors but things had changed so much in those last couple of years, with both Shorty’s and Creation. It seemed like every company I’ve ever been affiliated with starts out as a tight family, operating purely out of a love for skateboarding and fun. But every single time, it starts to feel like a money-making corporation after a while. Maybe that’s what it always was. I understand it’s a business. It’s a job and there was a lot of money involved, especially in the early 2000s. But that tight family vibe always seemed to suffer the most, which was honestly my favorite part of being a pro skateboarder. That was always my greatest source of inspiration.  

How’d you get on Foundation all the way up in Washington?

Well, I started skating in ’87 at the age of 11. But it wasn’t until I was 15 that I started making moves toward getting sponsored. I still remember when I asked my Dad to film me, he went out and came back with a huge VHS camera from Rent-A-Center.

We filmed every weekend for a month or two and I edited it all together with two VCRs. I even put some Dinosaur Jr on there. I sent my tape out to World Industries and Blind, trying to get on those teams because I thought they were so dope. And from there, I just started calling them all the time.

“I sent you guys my video, did you get it?”

It was always a woman who answered the phone.

“Yeah, we got your video but I don’t think they’ve watched it yet. We’ll get back to you.”

I think she might’ve been lying to me… that or she was just being nice, but regardless, I wasn’t catching on to what was really happening. I just kept calling on them over and over again until I finally gave up. (laughs)

Shortly after that, the New Deal team came to Tacoma on a tour. I remember my friends and I just ambushing them at the demo, super crazy. It’s funny because while we were so in awe of this big team being in our town, at the same time, we wanted to crush them. We ended up taking them to all our spots, just so we could try taking them out.

So yeah, I gave them my VHS tape on that visit and it honestly wasn’t too long after that when I sent my tape out to Foundation, too. I always thought they were cool and felt that maybe since they were a smaller company, they’d be more open to someone like me riding for them.

New Deal and Foundation both ended up calling me to ride for them the same week… well, New Deal wanted to put me on something they called their “B-Team”. It wasn’t their real team, I guess. But Foundation was super into it. I still remember the phone call from Tod.

“We love you, man. We want you on our team right now. We’re going to bring you out to Cali immediately, if you’re down.”

Boom. That’s how it happened.

Was it difficult having a California sponsor while living in Washington? Just asking because both your Cocktails and Super Conductor parts were relatively short. How would you go about being part of the team from so far away?

It was hard! I’d go down to California whenever I could but I was still so young. There weren’t any skate photographers in Washington back then either, so I’d just film with my friends all the time and send it in. But even that got hard after a while because most of my friends I skated with were quitting to form bands or just partying. It actually got to the point where I almost quit, too. I even called up Tod Swank and seriously started to cry over the phone to him.

“Tod, I’m over this. I’m gonna quit. I’m not on the team anymore. I’m done. It’s over.”

“Olson, you’re tripping. I’m gonna send you a fat package. You’re still on the team. You’re not gonna quit. I’m not trying to hear that.”

I was totally serious at the time but he wouldn’t even listen to me. And he was totally right. A couple days later, I’d completely forgotten about all that and was skating like a maniac again with this huge box Tod had sent me.

But I found myself getting hurt a lot in those early years, too. It’s almost like I was going too hard for them… jumping down a huge gap and breaking my foot in half. So I had to chill a lot while waiting for things to heal. It really was a blessing that Swank had my back like that.

Isn’t that treehouse in Cocktails actually your old bedroom?

Yeah, my Dad built that treehouse in our backyard and hooked it up. It was like a legit house with electricity and everything! Completely weatherproof! I lived out there for a while. 

Didn’t your dad also build pyramids around your house or something? Is that true?

Well, he built a pyramid in his bedroom and put a bed inside of it. That’s where he slept. He thought the shape of a pyramid created positive energy.

Your Dad sounds amazing. What was the Ingvar moniker you used in those early ads?

That’s just my middle name. It comes from my Dad’s side of the family. I’m pretty sure it’s Danish.

So we talked about those early parts being fairly short, what about your filming for Tentacles of Destruction? I feel like that’s the one where you really broke through.

That was after I’d moved down to California permanently so I guess I was a little more settled into things. I was actually living with Frank Hirata and a few others down in Encinitas. That was a great time.

But you’re right, that part really made my career up to that point. Even though it wasn’t super long either, there seemed to be a lot of tricks in there that people were feeling. Not to sound arrogant but I still think that wallride with the nollie heelflip out is dope. That still seems futuristic to me! (laughs)

Most of my part was filmed around Encinitas, close to where we were staying. We filmed for about a year on that one. I think I only took maybe one trip for my part. Leigh Petersen and I went up to San Francisco to skate Hubba Hideout. That spot was seriously the entire reason we went up there. Luckily, Foundation hooked up a filmer and photographer for us to meet. I remember we slept in his car for that whole trip, right out there on the street.

Tell me about this trip, because that Hubba footage has become pretty legendary.

I just remember driving straight to Hubba Hideout. That was our entire agenda. I got out of the car and immediately got a trick. That 180 nosegrind-switch backside shove-it out? That was right out of the car! I couldn’t believe it.

Unfortunately, right after that, I ended up getting hella broke off. I basically fell off the top of Hubba, straight to my knee. I couldn’t even walk afterwards. I thought I was done, dude… which bummed me out because there was so much more I wanted to get. I mean, we’d just gotten there!

But seriously, I had some kind of miraculous healing that night. Somehow, after sleeping in Leigh’s car that night, I woke up 100%. I swear to God. It was like some kind of miracle, like I had experienced some form of instantaneous divine healing from God. It’s one of the only times in my life that something happened I cannot explain. Because I definitely hurt my knee really bad, but when I woke up the next morning, my injured knee actually felt better than the other one.

So yeah, we went back to Hubba for the next two days and I was able to get almost everything I wanted there for Tentacles. I was super happy about it, because that’s pretty risky to drive all that way for a spot like that.

How’d you land on “Quicksand” for the song?

Oh, I was all about David Bowie. Leigh and I were both super into him at that time. I still remember listening to that album in Leigh’s car on that SF trip, rocking out. I thought that it only made sense to include it.

I gotta ask, it’s been long-held that at least some of those tricks down Hubba for Tentacles were done on psychedelics. Any truth to that?

Nah, no… Really!?! I’ve never heard that.

I’ve heard that for decades! Even Frank mentioned it when I talked to him.

No… not at all. Definitely not at Hubba. You’d die!

Because I know you and Frank did mess around with them a good bit back then.

No, I wasn’t on any type of psychedelics at Hubba Hideout. That’s so weird to hear… because I’m really proud of what I was able to get down that thing.

As far as drugs go, I did have a drug problem but it’s probably not what you think. I was the biggest stoner for years, man. Most people won’t even think that’s all that bad, because weed and skating go hand-in-hand in the culture and that’s all good. If that’s what people want to do, I don’t care. But I had a problem with weed and tobacco for a long time, smoking weed every day.

I’m proud to say that I’ve been free of all that stuff and completely sober since 2008.

But I do remember your Big Brother interview where you talked about taking acid quite often. And living with Frank, I know he seemed pretty sincere in trying to expand his mind and consciousness back then through various means. What was your thinking there?

My thing is that once I got old enough, like around 15 or so, I just wanted to take drugs. I never had any interest in them before that, I just wanted to skate. But after a while, hanging out with my friends who were all a bit older and into that, I wanted to see for myself.

I never wanted to skate on acid, we were just always out skating whenever we got the acid. I wanted to take acid and I was already out skating, what am I going to do? I guess I’m now going to skate on acid. But it really wasn’t anything. You’re so high, man. You’re definitely not going out to skate Hubba Hideout… more just sitting on a bench like, “Woah!”

But I would caution people about all that. People need to chill on the drugs. I’m so lucky to have gotten through all of that okay! I remember going to Seattle when I was younger. We’d drop acid and lurk the streets all night. That’s so dangerous! You gotta be careful with all that stuff. Be safe.

The Foundation team at this time couldn’t have been more random, what was the vibe like there? Did you guys get along well?

For the most part, both Foundation and Shorty’s were like a brotherhood, man. It was all love. Those dudes were all my best friends.

The thing is that when you’re on a team, you find yourself around these guys a lot. Traveling around on tour, going to contests and filming together, there will always be conflicts that arise. People will always butt heads sporadically in that type of scenario.

I’m not going to name any names, but I will say that on every team I’ve ever been on, there was always one guy that I never quite got along with. I don’t know if it was because I wasn’t being nice, but I don’t think it was. Whenever you have a bunch of young dudes together like that, there always has to be one guy who gets a bit too macho. Maybe even a bit too violent… possibly their egos got a bit too big.

But that was honestly minimal and you learn to work around it.

What’s your best tour story from the Foundation days?

There’s so many stories, man… There was that time where I went to Amsterdam and saw 20 UFOs. Ever heard that one before?

(laughs) Let’s hear it.  

We were over in Europe, hitting up all those different skate contests… Munster, Northampton and all that. And this is the year they had one in Switzerland, which is actually where this story starts out at.

So we’re all out there and it’s the day of the contest. I guess I woke up a little late that morning and found that everybody else was already over at the arena. So I skate over there. On my way, I tried to backside 180 this cone that was out in the middle of the street and ended up spraining my back somehow. I don’t even know how I did it, but it really hurt.

Needless to say, by the time I got to the arena, I really wasn’t feeling the contest. And I’ll admit that it’s kind of lame that I did this, but I just took off. I didn’t tell anybody, either. This is how much of a stoner I was: I was like, “Fuck this contest. My back hurts. I’m going on a solo mission to Amsterdam.” (laughs)

I go back to the hotel, grab my backpack and just disappear. The guys ended up getting so pissed about this because it was before cell phones, too. They had no way of getting in contact with me. But I went to the nearest station and caught a train to Amsterdam, which was like a 10 or 15-hour train ride.

So I finally get there and its Friday night. I quickly realize that I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m by myself and I can’t find a place to stay because I really didn’t think this through.

I end up spending the night on the streets, which was super scary. Amsterdam was so sketchy back then, way too crazy for me. But I knew I had to lurk the streets for a night and figure out a way to get back tomorrow... so I ended up buying hella weed. (laughs)

Somehow, I find this totally random vert ramp in the middle of a public park. So I climb up to the platform and chill there for the night.

At 3 or 4 in the morning, I’m laying on my back atop this vert ramp, looking at the stars, and I swear I started to see all these UFOs. I remember seeing this really bright star… and then it started to move! Suddenly, it breaks into three stars! And then, those same stars are now like 20 balls of light! Flying from one side of the sky to the other!

It’s not like I got dosed or anything. Because I was feeling totally normal before that. It doesn’t make sense to be hallucinating for 1 minute and then feel normal again. And I’ve read about this exact same phenomenon happening to other people, just like I saw. It all checks out. It really makes you wonder what all is going on out there.

I can’t even follow that up, man. But was it obvious being around a young Heath that he was about to become this legendary figure in skating?

Like, Heath Kirchart? Oh, he was always really good.

I remember living out in Washington for a brief stint after I’d turned pro, Heath came up and visited me. I remember he did a kickflip-frontside boardslide down a handrail that blew me away. This is back in '94 or so, way before people were really doing that. And he kept getting better as he got older.

He was always super straight-edge back then, too. Very anti-drug. Just 100% about skating at the time and I always liked that about him. I’m glad he never got sidetracked into partying too much.

What’s up with that dude now? Is he still pro? I haven’t heard anything from Heath in years!

He’s doing just fine, I’ll send you some links. But what about your own style? It seemed like your hair and glasses always made you stand out, even becoming fodder for ads with people dressing up like you. How’d you take all that?

Oh, it was all in good fun.

The first couple years of showing up in magazines, I was wearing the weirdest gear, but that was all stuff I’d find in thrift stores. Sure, I went through the super baggy stuff but after so many of my friends had quit skating to join bands, we all started rocking weird “grunge” gear. I guess I kinda brought that stuff with me into skateboarding. Being from the Pacific Northwest, I was definitely a product of that “alternative” subculture.

I still wear those thick black rim glasses. A lot of people wear them now but not so much back in the ‘90s. I still rocked them, though, I have them on right now actually.

My hair has always been really thick and curly. I think I get it from my partial Puerto Rican ancestry. It’s always been borderline afro curly. I never wanted to get a haircut so I’d always have this weird hair going on until I’d finally shave my head. It was like a cycle.  

But I was just being me, man. I’ve always been pretty far out there for my entire life. As humans, we all want to fit in but sometimes, you just gotta say, "Fuck it."

What about that Foundation ad claiming you suffered from paranoid schizophrenia? What was that all about?

(laughs) That was pure fiction. I actually created that ad.

Growing up in Tacoma, we’d always be lurking around downtown and you’d constantly see mentally ill people out in the streets. Some were homeless and others were in a special care home nearby, but you’d always see them out, hella drugged up. I’d always trip out on them. Definitely sympathetic but also some admitted fascination there, too.

I was reading a lot of classical literature at the time, in addition to some Beat writers from the 50s and 60s. Different writers who were all a bit subversive in their time. I think that idea basically came about through all of that. I wanted to do something a little different than your typical skateboard ad.

“Yo Tod, let’s make an ad where I fall on the ground and have a fake seizure. I’ll rip my glasses off and you can take my photo. It’ll be dope.” (laughs)

I think it even says something about how I’d gone crazy but I couldn’t skate on the meds they were giving me, so I was refusing to take them? Pretty funny, man. But yeah, I just made all that up.

How’d that Big Brother cover come about? And what are your thoughts regarding that photo these days?

Oh, if someone asked me to do that now, I wouldn’t. Even though I’m not a Christian, I have respect for the Bible. I’m not trying to disrespect an entire system of beliefs like that. I’d never do that again.

That one was crazy in how it came about because I think Big Brother had asked someone else to do it before me and they refused. Somehow, that led to them asking me. The thing is that they never told me the concept beforehand. The photographer was just like, “Yo, Big Brother wants to give you a cover. Let’s go meet up with those dudes and see what they’re thinking.”

Of course, I wanted the cover of Big Brother. It was one of the top magazines back then. I was all about it.

So we head over to their offices and that’s when it dawned on me that while this photographer had hinted about it being something controversial, he’d never actually told me the idea. It was only after they got me there that they told me the premise.

I didn’t want to do it at first… but I’m surrounded by 10 dudes, pressuring me to do it.

“You gotta do it! It’ll be great!”

They start pulling out all of these Bibles, getting ready to light them on fire.

“We also have these red pajamas we want you to wear. And we’ll have to paint your face red!”

“What the hell!?! I’m not gonna do all that. That’s wack!”

But they kept at me, man. And it kept getting crazier and crazier. It’s actually pretty funny to look back on now.

“Nah, it’ll be cool! Here, hold this pitchfork!”

It was such a crazy position to be in because I honestly didn’t want to do it but I really wanted that cover. So eventually, I gave in.

I thought it was gonna be so wack… and it is wack, from a certain perspective. But I was so worried about wearing those pajamas and being painted red. But I gotta say, the way they lit it up with the angle of the photo, it actually looks pretty dope.

I do feel bad about it but it’s not like I’m cursed for all of eternity by having done it. I’m sure it’ll be all good.

You seemed to experience a huge jump of progression during the mid/late '90s. More rail-focused, bigger gaps, cleaner style. What all was going on with you at the time?

I was just getting more comfortable with living in California while also becoming confident with my place in the industry.

Riding for Foundation was great, but after a while, I did get in a bit of a funk. I wasn’t so hyped on the direction that it was heading. I felt like it had evolved into something different than what it was when I originally joined. The whole situation seemed different now, even with some of the people on the team. The energy wasn’t as good and I wasn’t feeling as inspired anymore.

Around the time of Rolling Thunder, I was basically depressed. The only saving factor for me back then was meeting Muska. That’s really when I started to hang out with him a lot and he definitely became a big influence on me, for sure. It’s really because of him that I started to skate rails more. He was basically the rail dude at the time.

I remember going out skating with Muska and Jamie Thomas and watching them change street skating forever with these giant rails almost every day. It really inspired me to do the same, just by watching their process.

Muska was one of my favorite skaters, but more than that, he was my good friend. We hung out a lot, in addition to skating together. But after all that went down with him and Toy Machine, I was seriously worried about him and his career. Ed was about to turn him pro and now he’s got nothing. But he made it happen. All of a sudden, he’s working on this Shorty’s thing that sounded amazing.

When Chad asked me to join the team, I honestly didn’t understand why. I thought it was supposed to be this elite team. But evidently, he thought I was dope enough to be on there. He totally believed in me. And by him asking me, I suddenly felt so much motivation again because I didn’t want to let him down. I think that’s really where all that progression was rooted. I wanted to bust. 

So you don’t really like your Rolling Thunder part? That’s kind of surprising to me...

I thought the video, as a whole, was dope. But I personally feel a little dip there in my part, coming after Tentacles with the Shorty’s stuff that was about to come.

What was that song you skated to?

I have no idea. I didn’t choose the music, which is one of the only times that somebody else ever chose my music. Maybe that’s why I’m not as hyped on it.

That was kind of the weird thing about that video, Foundation had brought in this dude who basically acted as the artistic director of Rolling Thunder. That’s where all the music and those little interviews came from.

Don’t get me wrong, I like it. But if you look at Tentacles with the type of skating I was doing and compare that to Fulfill the Dream a few years later, my style is totally different. I feel like Rolling Thunder was that transitional time in-between.

Were you consciously looking for a new board sponsor at the time?

I wasn’t looking at all! Muska’s offer came completely out of the blue. I was just gonna keep it going with Foundation. I don’t think I realized how unhappy I’d gotten with the situation there until after I got out of it.

Muska’s offer blew me away. But at the same time, I was still afraid to quit Foundation for an entirely new thing. Foundation was a big deal and I had loyalty there. I mean, if it wasn’t for Tod Swank, I would’ve never had a skate career. He gave me my chance.

But Shorty’s just felt right. I’d been a fan of Chad’s for so long… I actually tried to get him on Foundation super early on, too. I remember telling Tod about this kid that nobody had even heard of yet, but we should go ahead and turn him pro immediately because he was that good. I won’t name any names but there were a couple dudes who didn’t want him on.

“Oh, that dude!?! Nah, we don’t want him on the team.”

“What!?! You guys are tripping!”

Next thing you know, he’s blowing up!

Did you know that the rest of the Foundation riders were about to leave as well?

I had no idea. By that point, we were all pretty isolated from each other. We weren’t so close anymore. That team vibe was dying out.

So you hadn’t really had a part in a minute, prior to Fulfill the Dream. What all went into the making of that? Was there a different vibe with so much youthful energy going into this new brand?

I actually love that part because so much of it was filmed with the whole team together. We were all out there filming for it every day. It’s not like I had any leftover Foundation footage in there. We didn’t start filming for it until after Shorty’s had started, so the video didn’t come out for another two years.

But Shorty’s was such a tight-knit team. Tony Buyalos, the owner, would bring us all out to stay at his house in Santa Barbara for extended periods of time. He had this huge house with all these bunk beds. We were like soldiers, man. Filming became this constant thing that basically consumed our entire lives. Heading up to Tony’s house, going out on tour, going on road trips together… We’d even head out to contests just for an excuse to film in whatever city it was in.

Everyone at Shorty’s was 100% in what we were trying to accomplish, top-to-bottom. Even the owner would be out there with us. He was like another rider. So we went hard. 

It starts off your arms spread before trying that gigantic gap. What are you doing there?

That gap was kinda weird, man. It was actually one of those big metal storage containers that you see all the time on boats and trains. It was on top of this small hill, overlooking a parking lot. It was pretty high and the runway wasn’t very long either, maybe 20 feet.

Tony, the owner of Shorty’s, and I were up there for some reason. I don’t even really know why. But he’s the one who brought it up.

“Do you think that you could ollie off this thing down to the parking lot?”

“I don’t know, man.”

I’m sure I must’ve just smoked a giant joint but as soon I said that, I completely zoned out. I put my arms out for some reason and closed my eyes. Suddenly, I felt this huge rush of energy, like I was becoming one with the universe.

It’s weird because I’ve since learned about physical exercises that help bring energy into your body, like qigong and yoga. I didn’t realize back then that people who practice that basically utilize this same type of movement. The same type of body posturing and breathing. It’s crazy, because you feel so strong doing that. But I didn’t know any of that at the time. It’s like I tapped into a universal consciousness or something.

But yeah, I was up there doing that thing, when all of a sudden, I just threw down my board.

“Fuck it, man!”

I took one big push, tried to ollie it and bailed. It was pretty big… at least for me. I never made it.

It was Shorty’s idea to have that in there. I guess they felt it was an interesting enough clip to have as my intro. I collaborated pretty heavily on my edit and I don’t recall that ever being in there. I guess they added in a few extra things to the final edit but it’s all good. I thought it was cool.

What about “Mass Mind Control” and the Holy Mountain tank clip? Were those your ideas?

I’ve never liked the cops or trusted the government. I have a lot of reasons but simply by being a skater, you’re constantly being chased by those guys.

I wanted to throw in that Mass Mind Control text because I do believe that’s a real thing. There’s so many people in the world but we have all these systems trying to maintain control over you. The government thinks that control is necessary because there’s too many people in the world; they’re afraid of the ruckus people could bring. So they try their best to exercise control through various means, like money, for example.

No one should be able to control who you are or what you do, other than yourself. And ultimately, you are in control of whatever it is that frees you. No one is policing you 24-hours a day. If you want to be free in your life, the door is right there. It’s open. But only you can walk through it.

On the totally opposite end of the spectrum, what about the post-Hubba dummy toss?

I can’t remember who came up with that but I’d gotten that clip where I jump over the end there, we just wanted to have some fun with it. We found this weird dummy that was like a stuffed animal but with a human head and we put weird hair on it like mine. I have no idea where we got this thing but we ended up dressing it in my clothes and throwing it off a roof. It was pretty funny, though, to watch a dummy dressed like you being thrown off a building. That was fun.

Quasi-related, I suppose, what’s the story behind that boardslide off the roof?

That was only a block away from my house in Pacific Beach. I remember looking at that thing for years until one day, I was skating around with Sean Sheffey and Kien Lieu and we happened to go by it. I brought it up to those guys, kind of in-passing, and they started making fun of me.

“Aw man, you’re not gonna do that. No way.”

That actually motivated me even more. So I went up there and gave it a try. But here I am, on the roof of this building, when this super gung-ho cop comes speeding up out of nowhere. I guess the people inside called the police on me. This guy pulls up hella crazy, jumps out and starts yelling at me. But I think once I explained to him what I was trying to do, he actually got kinda hyped on it. I could tell he really wanted to see me do it but couldn’t because of his job. He still had to kick us out.

They ended up knobbing that rail right afterwards, super quick. So I ended up having to go on a super ninja mission, getting up at 4 in the morning to deknob it with a bunch of tools. Thomas Campbell met me back at my house, right as the sun was coming up, and we walked back over to get the photo.

It didn’t take very long to do. I’m pretty sure that I did it twice that morning because something happened during the first time I made it. I definitely remember being pretty pissed about having to do it again.

So the video comes out, Muska becomes the biggest thing in skateboarding and Shorty’s goes through the roof. How was this explosion of success from the inside?

It was definitely crazy but I feel like I’d been around long enough by then that I could handle it. I had enough experience in the industry. Because I’ll be honest, I’ve never really thought I was so awesome. It always kinda felt weird that people knew who I was. I’m no one special. So I think that mentality really helped me out when I found myself in a situation like Shorty’s, with how big it got. I was able to take the time to realize how blessed I was to be part of it.

Chad is one of my best friends, even to this day. He’s a genuine guy and I got mad love for him. He obviously got the most attention, but he took it in stride. To see him get mobbed all the time, regardless of whether we were at a demo or just out skating, he was great about it. He was always cool to kids and that can be rare with people in that position. I’ve seen him stand on top of cars to avoid getting crushed, like over in Europe… not like that was the norm. Sure, people would get hyped but those instances were pretty rare. Skaters are typically more chill than that.

How do you think Shorty’s was affected by this sudden rush of success? Did you see people starting to change?

Money and fame can definitely go to someone’s head. I’m sure that I’ve been guilty of that on some level. But I think most of the team held it together.

There were a couple of dudes that started to let it feed into their egos a little too much. You could see them starting to become little egomaniacs, doing stupid stuff. Getting hella drunk and acting ridiculous, thinking that the world owed them something. You can’t act like that. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you’re better than anybody else.

Shorty’s was such an extreme set of circumstances, at least when it came to skateboarding. I don’t know if some people were ready for that type of success. They might’ve still acted like that anyway.

What all was going on with the team during Guilty? And what are your thoughts on that project?   

Guilty is a dope video. I really like my part in that one, too. That video was a great time, back when the team was all still super close.

I’ve heard people say that video didn’t quite live up to their expectations. I remember when it came out, people were trying to hate on it. And while I don’t think that it was as well-received as Fulfill the Dream, I feel like that would’ve been almost impossible to do, ya know? Fulfill the Dream was on another level.

I mean, I gotta say that my last trick in that part is one of hardest tricks I ever did. That super crazy double-kink in Chicago? That was a battle. It was a 5-flat-5 with another little kink at the end… and I don’t know if you can tell in the footage but that straight part wasn’t even straight. That was bent, too, like someone hit it with a sledgehammer or something. Pretty squirrely.

I got broke off trying that thing but I kept after it and landed it clean. That’s what skateboarding is. I remember I was listening to Wu-Tang 36 Chambers when I did it, too. I was hyped.

Where was that giant roll-in at?

Oh, that was back when Shorty’s had a little skatepark inside their warehouse. It was so dope, man. Right outside of LA and we all had keys to go in there whenever we wanted.

That was actually the roll-in for the park, but I noticed that right behind it was the roof of a little office they had in there. So I just started going off that roof into the roll-in. It was definitely sketchy but yeah, that was a good day. 

That was all one day?

Yeah, all my tricks off that roof into the roll-in was one day. Just having fun.

Incredible. So what made you start running those one-color sweatsuits shortly after Guilty?

(laughs) That’s kind of a weird story.

Around 2000, for about a year or so, I became a disciple of this spiritual teacher in China. This is when I pretty much learned how to mediate, by following the teachings of this guy and the Falun Gong tradition. These are exercises you’re supposed to do in order to achieve enlightenment. It was a huge movement over in China with millions of followers where the guy basically had to go underground because of the government feeling threatened by him.

I’ve since disassociated myself from the group but there is a tradition within the Falun Gong where you wear all one color. Different monks wear different colors, like all-red, all-yellow or all-orange. I remember reading that in a book somewhere and because I was so into at the time, I figured I’d rock an all-yellow sweat suit, too. I didn’t even care. That was for only about a year, though.

I still remember going to Slam City Jam that year and wearing completely neon orange from head-to-toe. People thought I was out of my mind. They were looking at me like I was an alien or something. I remember the only person who thought it was cool was Mark Gonzales. (laughs)

So were things just not the same anymore after Guilty? Why leave Shorty’s and why Creation?

Well, we started filming Guilty right after Fulfill the Dream came out, so it was a lot of those same vibes but even more so as everyone was really happy experiencing all that success. It was after Guilty, for me, that I felt the energy within the team starting to change. Things felt increasingly more fragmented and, honestly, more like a job. So I left.

In retrospect, I’ll admit that I’ve made some hella bad decisions, business-wise. I even remember when Vans hit me up about possibly giving me a pro shoe. But for some reason, I went with Kastel over Vans. Money-wise, that’s a bad decision! I obviously should’ve went with Vans, but at the time, the team manager of Kastel was a good friend of mine. My decision was based more on that personal relationship than anything else.  

Most of the sponsorship changes I made throughout my career were primarily about wanting to work with friends. I’m actually very lucky to have been involved with so many successful companies back then because I was in outer space at the time. I just never had that hunger for money or success, which is why I never became a successful businessman in skateboarding. Of course, there are times where I wish I would’ve transitioned over to that side of the industry but that’s not me. I’m happy with how it turned out.

So yeah, I left Shorty’s for Creation because, again, I was good friends with the owner. I was already on Satori Wheels, which was part of it, and I liked the energy there. Both Satori and Creation were on a pretty dope spiritually-conscious tip, which I was all about, too. It was pretty much towards the end of my career anyway but I’m glad I got a chance to be a part of all that. Those were some dope little companies.

So you were just over the professional side of skateboarding?

Looking back on it, I definitely feel like I could’ve kept going if I wanted to. I just didn’t have that inspiration anymore. It really didn’t even seem like an option at the time. Like I said, it really wasn’t one particular thing, more like several things all coming together. Things weren’t really going well with my sponsors at that point, either. When I left in 2005, I felt like things were bad with almost every sponsor I had.

What do you mean “bad”?

There was a lot of stuff going on, personal stuff that I probably shouldn’t get into. But in my mind, I truly thought that I was done, and once you start thinking that, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It was a weird situation to be in because nobody could really understand what I was going through. But something clicked inside of me and just like that, I didn’t want to do it anymore. It’s like, I believe in destiny. There are things that we are supposed to do. My heart told me that professional skateboarding was no longer going to be my life’s path. That I was done with the skateboarding industry and that I needed to divert onto another course. So that’s what I did.

It was one of the biggest decisions of my life but I don’t regret it at all. Some people will understand that and some people won’t. That’s fine. My life is great.

I gotta say that if skateboarding would’ve forgotten me after 2005, I would’ve been cool with that. I kind of expected that, actually. But to this day, people still hit me up about my time in skateboarding and I’m so thankful for that. It really does mean a lot to me that people still care.

Looking back on everything, what would you say is the proudest moment of your skate career and what is your biggest regret?

I’m honestly proud that I even got to be a pro skater. It’s such an amazing opportunity that I was given. So many people have to work a job they hate, just to scrape by. I got to do something for the first half of my life that I love! I got paid to skate! Yeah, it can be hard work but I was already doing it for years for free…. I don’t even know if “proud” is the right word, more like “thankful”.

And I’m sure I could dig up some regrets, like the Vans thing or whatever, but in my heart, I don’t have any. I’m good.

If anything, I wish I could’ve done more for everyone who helped me out, like Tod Swank and Tony at Shorty’s. Those people who put me on their teams and believed in me. If there was any way I could’ve done more to repay them for all they did for me, that would be cool. But I did my best. It was all real from my heart and soul.

So what’s next on your life’s path, Steve?

I’m just gonna keep on with my music. That’s really what I enjoy most these days. I have several new projects I’m working on in addition to a book that I’ve had in the works for a while now. Be sure to check out Crazy Monk on Bandcamp to give it a listen and email me if you’re interested at all in booking or physical CDs. I hope you like it. Peace. 

thanks to T. Campbell, Skately and Crazy Monk for taking the time. 


Tony Corolla said...

Another amazing interview! Best from Germany.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Chops. I've always wondered why Olson's treflip lipslide on a rail ended up in Welcome to Hell's friends section, when that could've been an insane ender for a video part. Also, always loved his nollie heel back lip on the ledge for that Shory's ad. Would've loved to see that in a video part, too. All in all, great work.

xproskater said...

Great interview Steve! You have always been on a intentional path in life. You are inspiring and ahead of your time in many ways. I appreciate your creative contribution to skateboarding and am stoked to have shared some great memories with you. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Looks like the guy from Eels. He needs to add a big sample to a song to make a hit.

Warm Up Zone said...

So stoked to see Steve's image form Chromeball in my IG feed. I speak for everybody when I say we have been hoping for this one for years!
I guess that puts the psychedelic Hubba story to rest.

I've been of fan of Steve Olsen for so long. I remember the footage of the huge kickflip in the Union Wheels ad in 411 #15. I was just blown away that the footage was just tucked into a wheels ad.
Check it before Laban's profile at the start of this video: https://youtu.be/CmzamaSsyXg

Great job!

chopak dumpings said...

the song in rolling thunder sounds like a street musicans version of Afro Blue by john coltrane pretty sure thats what it is

Anonymous said...

Can't believe you made this happen. My favorite.

Jedd Rockwell said...

He needs to add a big sample to a song to make a hit.

I don't think Steve is necessarily concerned with making hits...

Great interview, really stoked you did this one. Growing up in the Seattle area we were all immensely proud of Steve, whether he knew it or not.

Anonymous said...

Gracias monje, gracias chromeball!! Good read...bigUps from chile

Anonymous said...

Great read! I heard you are doing Andy Howell soon. Can't wait!

stephen said...

man, this dude's always ripped and he's a true individual. i find that really respectable and i love this quote: "If you want to be free in your life, the door is right there. It’s open. But only you can walk through it." i'm sooooo opposite this guy in my mentality: always concerned with job stability, materialism, not looking too out of the ordinary, etc. but i wish i had the inclination to live a little more careless and free. those tricks down hubba back then were insane too... forgot about those foundation parts. i do want to say that your response of "I can’t even follow that up, man" along with a quick change of subject to steve's ufo story came across as slightly rude... i dunno maybe i just read it wrong. no disrespect intended. your interviews are great, i'm very thankful that you do this site. big ups to steve olson!

chops said...

thanks everyone.

@chopak good ear!

@stephen it wasn't meant to be rude and we both laughed at the time. sorry.

@bill news to me but i'd be down.

stephen said...

my bad. maybe i'm just sensitive because i swear i saw a ufo once too and people always roll their eyes when i tell the story! lol

Ryan said...

Andy would be cool.

Anonymous said...


bradtheraddad said...

Thank you thank you thank you!! I feel some closure on so many things, rumors I've heard just like everyone else. Steve was a favorite of mine, I was getting F flow (rep flow, thanks you Mark and Kendra!) during the Super & Tentacles era and got to skate with Steve, Frank, Heath, etc. on a few occasions (I hardly ever said a word). Once the handrail chompers came on the scene after Rolling Thunder, I knew I couldn't hang so I kicked back. Regardless, I would always ask for Steve's boards (they typically had that 90's tapered tail, perfect for 360 flips at the time) after riding about 3 of his first model "bug" boards. I think the only question left is, what is the trick in the bug board photo? My money is either on a laser or inward heel. I know the caption says switch 360 flip but....the front leg looks too much like a heel flip just went down. Oh well, if that' the only thing left to wonder, then so be it. Thanks again for the Frank and Steve posts, looking forward to possibly connecting next time I go to Humboldt county!

Anonymous said...

Great to have news on this guy. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I like his outlook on life

steezdream said...

Big Interview Guys, thx !!!
Olsenator :-)

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Unknown said...

I always loved that switch tre photo. Did he actually land that?

Alex Juarez said...

Looking back, I'm kind of sad you didn't ask if he knew the other Steve Olson. Hahaha

Anonymous said...

Hey kid your tires flat