chrome ball interview #117: scott johnston

chops and scooch keep it clean. 

So how’d you find yourself on such a small SF company like Think all the way out in Washington D.C.? Were there any other D.C. dudes on that squad?  

No, nobody else in DC rode for them.

I feel like my getting on Think just came from being so focused on all things San Francisco at the time. SF was like the mecca of skateboarding to me. And there was just something about Think in those early days, at least, for me. Like, I remember really liking Karl Watson back then, which is kinda strange because I don’t think that he’d even come out with anything yet.

Looking back, it is a little weird that I knew so much about that company. I mean, how did I even know that it was ran by Greg Carroll? But I was just so into the San Francisco scene, as well as the Carroll Brothers, I just knew... even though Mike had nothing to do with it. Maybe just his proximity was enough for me back then. (laughs)

Think just always seemed in the mix. Carroll and Kelch would wear their shirts and it felt like they had all these ties to guys I really respected, even though they were so small. I feel like that actually made them cooler, you know? Like, you had to be in the know.

They were one of those small ad companies.

Oh my god, yes! The quarter-page ads! Those were the best! Somehow that stuff spoke to me back then. It seemed so underground… but it was probably just because those small ads were all they could afford.

Was Think your first sponsor?

I actually got on Venture first, which they and Think were always connected. But that was never a “strategy” of mine or anything, it just worked out that way. Everyone in D.C. rode Ventures back then. Pepe Martinez, Steve Teagues and Chris Hall were all on Venture, which those relationships probably helped me out early on. Back when I was trying to get on Think, Greg could reach out to those guys about me, you know? That’s how things worked from afar back then.

But yeah, I sent in a sponsor-me tape. It’s funny, because I remember talking to Greg on the phone about everything a few days after he got it.

“Yeah, Henry Sanchez was over here the other night and we watched it.”

“Henry!?! Oh no….”

I was just trying to get a couple boards, man! You got Mike and Henry watching this thing? Those guys are the best… oh, man… (laughs)

It was just felt so crazy, being a shy 15-year-old and finding out that Mike Carroll and Henry Sanchez are sitting on the couch, watching my tape. I wasn’t ready for that type of situation! (laughs)

I know you had a few clips in Partners in Crime early on, your big debut.

Yeah, but back then, videos weren’t that big of a deal. I think on that one, they just hit me up out of the blue one day, like, “Hey, we’re putting a video together. Send in your footage by the 15th if you’re into it.”

That was it. I filmed a little and we also put some stuff from my sponsor-me tape in there that wasn’t too old, but that was it. No big deal at all. So funny compared to how it is now. 

Being so far away, how seriously did you take a “career” in skateboarding at the time?

Nah, I never considered what I was doing to be very much back then… like I said, I was mostly just looking for free boards. It’s funny because I knew that people were pro but you didn’t have all the backstory on everyone like you do now. Like, you knew Tony Hawk was this amazing skater, but he almost seemed like a crazy superhero persona or something. He didn’t seem real. I just didn’t understand how the industry worked… but hey, I was getting free stuff! That’s really all I knew.

Not that I was greedy, I just didn’t know how it all worked. Getting boxes was the only real solid feedback I had, you know? And after a while, they started talking about giving me money, too. You start hearing all of this stuff about yourself, it’s so weird… like, really!?!

Well, let’s lean into this and see what happens.

Were you always planning on moving out to San Francisco?

Not necessarily. Coming out of high school, I intended to go to community college or something. San Francisco always sounded amazing but moving there felt so far-fetched.

I actually grew up in the suburbs of Maryland but spent every second I could in D.C. because I liked skating in the city. But to live in San Francisco? That whole place is like a skatepark. Just walk outside your door and there you go. And I was lucky with Think and Venture being there, it all came together. So once I decided to really give everything a go, SF just made sense.

It was definitely a risk moving out there but things started to change so quickly for me after I arrived. I want to say that I turned pro within a year of moving, which definitely would not have happened back in D.C. But the industry was still so small that being in the mix like that definitely helped. Plus, I was so happy actually being out there, that was all the motivation I needed.

Any culture shock at all?

I mean, that place can either make or break you. But I feel like I came in with the right relationships already started and was able to build from there. I’m sure my sponsors might’ve given me a little leeway at first but that stuff will only get you so far. It doesn’t matter who you’re down with if you’re out there kooking it, you know?

Yeah, and you really were walking into social minefield there.

(laughs) Yeah, it was tricky. Because to some, I’m sure it could’ve looked like I came out there for fame and to go pro or whatever, but I never had that mindset. It was never like, “I’m gonna make it!”

I just wanted to check it all out. Sure, I was interested in seeing what could happen but I was never overbearing in how I showed up. I barely even skated the Seven, let alone the Gonz. I wasn’t trying to be a spectacle. I was just stoked to do my thing out there in this legendary place.

How difficult was it being drug-free in the land of Hubba?

(laughs) At that point, I just skated, man. I didn’t even try to fit-in like that. I had tons of respect for the crew and everything, but that wasn’t my thing and I wasn’t going to pretend like it was. So when I was done skating for the day, I’d just go home and watch tv. I never stayed out at first. Not that I was so focused on trying to dominate skateboarding or something, but it really was all that I cared about. The people who I hung out with back then were mellow like that, too. Greg Hunt and Mike York, we were just all about skating.

But it was never an issue. People were always cool. Honestly, nobody was too heavy into all that stuff anyway. There was an aspect of it but I think that’s been blown out of proportion over the years. I think with most dudes, it was more about going big at a rave on Saturday and then being fried for a couple days. That was really about it. Things seem so much crazier when everyone’s young.   

Speaking of, were you down with that raver stuff Think started doing after a while?

No, because again, that wasn’t my scene. That was actually one of the reasons why I left Think. Not that I was this big anti-drug guy, but that stuff wasn’t my message. So for that stuff to be all over everything, it wasn’t going to work for me.

Weren’t you a security guard or something when you first moved out there, too?

(laughs) Yeah, while all those guys were out at raves, I’m working as a security guard.

Oh man, that was 3 nights-a-week. I’d show up with my security guard outfit buried deep in a backpack and have to put it on real quick.

It was at this hospital where a baby had been stolen a few weeks before, they went hyper with it and put security everywhere. I seriously had to stand in this empty hallway for hours that nobody ever went down. That was my job. I got paid pretty decent money for it but after a while… oh, man. And that outfit!?! There was no way I was wearing that thing outside of that place. Definitely not gonna wear that on the bus, I’ll get murdered! I was maybe 130 pounds back then, too. Like, look at this guy!?! Please. He ain’t doing nothing. (laughs)

One of your earliest ads, a front crooks down Hubba with microscopic wheels in ‘92. I remember that really making an impression back then. Was there ever footage of that?

Oh, that was super early on.

Yeah, there’s footage of that somewhere. Mark Oblow filmed it for a tradeshow loop or something. I remember shooting the photo separate and going back later to film it.

I’ll be honest, I was actually trying a frontside noseslide but I kept on grinding it instead… alright, I’ll stick with that then. I couldn’t turn all the way but crooks is probably better anyway. Sometimes you just have to roll with it. (laughs)

And then there were four, how’d Mad Circle enter the picture? Weren’t you supposed to be an OG on that squad?

Yeah, I was supposed to be on at the very beginning. I think it was Wing Ding who come up to me one day like, “We’re doing this thing. You should check it out, maybe you’d be interested.”

I ended up going over to Justin’s house and looking at some things on his computer. It was really sick. Because I already wasn’t happy with Think’s new aesthetic and now I’m looking at this incredible Barry McGee artwork? It seemed so new and different from what everybody else was doing at the time.

I just didn’t want to leave Greg. Because after all, he was the one who originally put me on Think, all the way back in D.C. Now I’m living in SF and I’m pro, so much of that was because of him! So yeah, I was supposed to be an OG on Mad Circle but when I went to go quit Think… I couldn’t do it. I think I might’ve even started crying!

“Forget it, forget it! I’m staying on Think!”

I think about kids today who quit their sponsors through a text message or an Instagram post, just an “I quit” and they’re out. No regard. I feel like there was way more of a relationship back then. You actually had to talk to people about things.

So yeah, I was all hyped to ride for Mad Circle but I felt too guilty about quitting Think, so I stayed… and then I was right back where I started. I had to come to the realization that Mad Circle was something I wanted to do. So I went back to Greg and finally went through with it.

Talk a little about those early Mad Circle days at Justin’s house. I’ve always heard people talk about it being this creative space with constant new ideas.

Justin lived just off Haight Street, which was always a good place to end your evening. Grab some dinner and head over to Justin’s. At first, Mad Circle was mostly Justin and Gorm Boberg with Barry McGee as this mysterious figure out there, doing his thing somewhere. But I always remember going over there to check out whatever Justin had in the works on his computer. He was just so juiced, man. Because he was learning how to do everything at the same as he was starting this company. It was so cool to be around.

“Aw, man, check this out! And what about this!? Let me show you this!”

I think that’s what actually sparked my interest in design later on. Because you couldn’t help but be drawn in by his enthusiasm. And eventually I did start making some t-shirt graphics and a few other things. Baby steps, I guess. But for years, I didn’t feel like there was any point to it. I could just sit back and watch those guys come up with everything.

Skateboarding went down some pretty crazy roads at this time but your trick selection escaped unscathed. I can’t find a single photo of you doing anything embarrassing of the early 90’s variety. How cognizant were you of matters of style and looking good on your board versus trying to learn every trick?

It was never like I only wanted to do “minimal tricks” or anything. I wanted to do a lot of tricks, for sure. But I feel like once I got to San Francisco, I learned that skating faster really made a difference. Everything looks better that way. So even though I probably wasn’t skating as fast when I wasn’t filming, as soon as the camera came out, I’d give it a few extra pushes to help things out a little. I feel like that alone got me out of a lot of that. Speed became more of a priority than noodling tricks.

So were you filming for Horns, 411 and Finally all at the same time? How’d you even do that?

(laughs) Yeah, that was all through filming with Meza back then. We’d film everything and if we doubled up on a trick, you just spread ‘em out. But the best stuff always went to Horns.

Surprisingly, it was very low pressure… which I don’t really know why that was. I should’ve been way more nervous! I mean, nervous is typically my speed! I guess because the industry was much smaller at the time, I could handle it? I don’t know. But if that would’ve been later on, I would’ve probably lost my mind.

That was all about 2 years of casual filming. It never got too gnarly back then. Never any deadlines or anything. You just filmed and after a while, someone would decide to put something out.

I don’t want to say that 411 and FTC weren’t important but they were just kinda… there. 411 hadn’t become a big thing yet. It was still this weird little offspring of Mad Circle/New Deal. And as far as FTC went, nobody thought that one was going to be as big as it was. I know I didn’t. Sure, FTC was the best shop but we were still just talking about a shop video. That’s where my head was at, anyway… which was probably the only way I got through filming for everything at the same time.

Looking back on it, I feel like both of those FTC parts really helped me out a lot, which is funny because I really just wanted to be part of this thing that Meza was doing... at least on the first one. Kent at the shop was always cool to me as well and I liked supporting him, too. So when the possibility of being in the second one came up, of course, I was down.

Was Steely Dan your choice for Horns?

Justin already had a Steely Dan song picked out but it was a different one. I ended up going through the CD and finding another one that I liked better, which was the one we used. I guess I just kinda took it and did it. (laughs)

I feel like that might be the only song in any of my parts that I actually chose!

There’s a lot of Pulaski footage in that one. Would you skate Freedom a lot growing up?

Oh yeah, for sure. As soon as I was old enough to drive, that’s where I was, connecting with all those guys down there. Sheffey was already gone by that point but all of the guys who would later make names for themselves at Pulaski were there. Chris Hall, Pepe Martinez, Andy Stone, Eben Jahnke… all those guys.

I feel like my time at Pulaski actually helped me get into the right mind state for Embarcadero later on. Because everyone had so much to offer. So much style and diversity. I loved it.

After I moved away, I’d still visit my family from time to time and be so pumped to be back. Because by that point, I’d been skating Embarcadero for the last year or so, I felt like I was skating Pulaski differently now, too. It was like a new spot again. Plus, it’s just so smooth and perfect.

With D.C. blowing up in the mid-90s, did part of you ever consider moving back?

Oh, I was totally stoked to see that scene blow up like it did but I was focused on going forward in SF. At that time, I probably felt like I was going to stay in San Francisco for the rest of my life.

Which spot do you prefer, Pulaski or Embarcadero?

(laughs) Oh man, they were both great but for different reasons. Because Embarcadero had the whole crew and there was all this famous stuff to skate but like I said, Pulaski was so smooth. You weren’t skating on bricks the entire time.

If I had to pick one to go skate today, it would probably be Pulaski, to be honest. If I’m going to go nostalgic, I might as well go the furthest back.

Where does Dune’s “Scott Johnston is the rippingest skater in town!” come from?

(laughs) He was just messing around. Meza was walking around the table at Carl’s Jr, asking people to say something about me for 411. Because those videos always had awkward little interviews in them. Just a kid sitting there, like, “Hey, I’m Jan. I’m 12 years old. I have been skating for 4 years and I like candy apples.”

They were always so bad. Aaron was trying to do something different and save me from the uncomfortable hot seat. But I still hear that one to this day. Every Instagram post, that’s the number one quote people throw out there.

Talk a little about Blabac’s classic backside smith shot with the parking meter.

Oh, I was bummed while we were shooting that. Because I didn’t know what he was doing! He was just like, “Let’s shoot this.”

“Man… I don’t know if that’s gonna be enough.”

I was thinking in terms of tricks. It wasn’t until the photo came out that I really knew what was going on.

“Oh… you were just shooting the meter the whole time? You weren’t even shooting me!” (laughs)

But yeah, that’s an incredible photo, man. A great concept and I was stoked on how it came out. And pleasantly surprised. I definitely appreciate it more now than I did at the time.

Doing things the hard way… your 180 nosegrind. Where’d that inspiration come from? I don’t remember seeing anyone else do that trick prior.

No, I couldn’t have been the first! No way. I mean, it always goes back to Gonz, Natas and Henry Sanchez. That’s the trinity. If I have any kind of spirit animal in my head, it would essentially be those three guys walking around in there. I’m sure that I was taking inspiration from one of those guys there. I’m sure one of those guys did that one first. (laughs)

But that was at Brown Marble, which was one of my favorite spots back then. It came pretty quick, actually. And Justin came up with the “Hard Way” copy. He was always really good at coming up with just the right thing to say in those ads. That one came out pretty cool.

Something that I don’t think a lot of people know is that you can skate vert. And we’re talking proper airs here!

I’ve always had some connection to transition. Like, when you’re 15 and you start skating, you skate everything. I actually remember trying to skate vert early on… not that I was Tony Hawk or anything. Just some little baby airs here and there.

But once I moved out to SF, I connected with Max somehow. I was going over to his house a lot and he had that ramp there, might as well skate it.

Looking back on it, I was seriously skating a vert ramp with Max Schaaf and Bob Burnquist. Nobody else. And I wasn’t even tripping on it at the time… but I definitely trip on that now! Being able to skate in Max’s space with those two dudes!? What an honor! That’s insane!

But just by watching me skate, those dudes could teach me tricks. I learned tailslides on vert so quick because of those dudes, and it was their idea for me to even try them! Proper airs, they told me how to lean. Because I guess it’s pretty typical for a street skater to want to ollie out and lean back, which is wrong. They had to break it down to me.

“No, you have to lean over the top of the ramp and really pull yourself up.”

It was so interesting, because it wasn’t like they were giving me instruction. They seemed to know what I would probably be inclined to do naturally and say something to counteract that. It was pretty incredible, man. But yeah, that all came from those guys.

They would know. So talk about a little about your Five Flavors part. What all was going on with you at that point? Because it is a bit on the shorter side…

Well, all of mine are kinda short but that might be the shortest one. I don’t know, that was just kind of a weird time. A lot of things were going on. Not that I had my foot out the door, like I was gonna quit, but I knew that something wasn’t right behind the scenes. I could tell that maybe Mad Circle wasn’t going to be around anymore.

I think they did pull the plug about a week after that video came out.

Yeah, I can’t say for certain but I did have a feeling that it was heading that way. Justin was always up-front about everything and treated me like an adult. He would try to communicate everything that was going on and I knew that he was having a hard time with Giant. I feel like that possibly could’ve slowed me down because it’s hard to get excited about filming when you’re not sure if the video is even going to come out.

Plus, I was briefly living in New York at the time and trying to figure that what whole thing out, too… I guess I did kinda cruise through it.

But you seemed almost like the captain of the squad after a while…

Nah, it was always a group effort, but there were definitely things that I feel like I brought to the table. Like when Bobby started coming around San Francisco, I knew we had to get that dude on the team. Meza and I both were so hyped on his skating. And on Rob, too. The team felt like a natural build at the time but I guess I did bring more of that to the table just by being out there.

Is there anybody we’d be surprised to hear of almost being on Mad Circle that didn’t work out?

You know what? This was right around when I got on the team so I don’t know how much of a conversation there truly was, but I think Carroll was an option! His name was definitely being thrown around there for a minute. Again, I don’t know how serious it was… maybe he just liked the hats because it was his initials, but I do remember there being the tiniest bit of a chance that it could happen. This was before Girl started, back in the Plan B days, there was a little buzz there, for sure.

He’ll probably read this and wonder what the fuck I’m talking about but that’s how I remember it anyway. There was some interest.

So what did happen to Mad Circle?

I mean, it wasn’t overnight because, like I said, I had a sense that things weren’t right. But at the same time, we did just put out a video, you know? I’m sure, on some level, we figured that might buy us some time. But then I got the call from Justin.

“Hey, dude, it’s done.”

So I was still kinda shocked by that. I wouldn’t say that I was scared because I was still on DC at that point and had some other things going. It just felt crazy that it was gone.

I know you’re getting on Chocolate took a minute, ever entertain any other offers?

It only took 2 or 3 months but at the time, it felt like forever. Because they had to go talk to the dudes and I think maybe every single person had to say yes. But in the meantime, you’re just kinda left wondering, you know?

During the process, Sal actually hit me up about Aesthetics. That would’ve been sick, for sure. Sal’s basically the man and Aesthetic was a dope brand.

“I don’t know what we can pay you but we’d love to have you.”

Felix hit me up about Rhythm as well. That would’ve been solid. Huf even mentioned something about Real, too.

“Dude, you’re on Real if you want. Just say the word.”

I don’t know if it would’ve actually gone down so easily but that’s how he said it, which was sick to hear. You always wonder how those things would’ve played out, you know? But I always thought Chocolate was the best. And now, I’d just moved to LA and was super immersed in that crew, I knew that’s where I wanted to be.

Well, you really came out swinging in that Chocolate Tour introduction part. How’d that come together? They’d already filmed the van stuff prior, right?

Yeah, they filmed all of the skits right before I got in the mix. And because I was kinda late to things, I only had about 6 months to film that one. But it was cool because Meza down in LA now, too, so I was able to go out filming with him again. I feel like that helped a lot, just being comfortable with the filmer.

I wasn’t on Chocolate for every clip in that one. They did start giving me boards right away but there was a bit of a delay before I was officially on the team. So there is a bit of me trying to get on the team in a few of those clips. Hoping they’d have me. I knew the kind of skating those videos required so I was trying to step it up in my own way... hopefully. (laughs)

What about that nollie noseslide ender in Tarzana? I don’t remember too many people coming in nollie on that thing at the time.

Oh, that was super scary! (laughs)

“Fuck, I know I can do this but wow, this is terrifying!”

That was a pretty good session, though. Rick, Mike and I all out there together. Ballard and Meza, too.

Honestly, it was one of the few times where I had a specific trick in mind to try. I feel like most of the time, I’d just go to spots and try different things while I was there. Maybe one will work out? But I remember thinking about that trick on my way there, that I was gonna set out to do it. And it worked out pretty quickly, too. It was scary but I don’t remember that one being much of a battle. I got it that day.

I always liked that switch front tail past the rail on Fairfax, too.

(laughs) That’s another time where I had the idea beforehand. You’ve amazingly chosen two of the only tricks I’ve ever done that with. But I’d see that spot all of the time because I used to live right by there. So I just skated over there one morning with Blabac and Meza and got it done. That one went down relatively quick, too. Definitely not easy but I got it.

Damn… handling it!

(laughs) That’s not normal for me at all! Those are, like, the only two times in my life where that ever happened!

I ask everyone this from the Girl/Chocolate mix at this time: Any good Sheffey stories?

Oh yeah, of course… you just gotta be careful. I’m kidding. (laughs)

He was just so gnarly. He could party, but then he’d reel it in, and then go back to partying again. You never knew.

But I remember all of us were about to go over to Europe for those contests they used to have and Sheffey wanted to go. He was definitely ripping back then but he was always a little unpredictable on the road.

“Alright, Sean… but seriously, no drinking.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah… no drinking.”

So we’re at the Radlands contest and both Sean and I ended up qualifying pretty good, like 4th and 5th place or something. We were pretty stoked, you know? So later that night, I’m in my room and I just start to hear this loud music coming straight to my door. There’s a big knock and I start to get a little scared, because I know it’s Sean. I still don’t know where he got these headphones but I could literally hear his music blazing through my door. So I open up and he’s standing there in a towel with his headphones on, in the middle of the hallway. He’s holding a beer, too, but he’s hiding it behind the towel.

Okay, so we start talking and I just have to bring up the beer… I don’t know why but I do.

“Aw, Scott, I’m just having the one!”

I’m sure he probably put back a couple, which we were all a little concerned about, but the next day comes and he absolutely annihilates that contest! I still remember him standing up on this bannister, popping in switchstance and just killing it. I think he ended up getting 4th place or something. It was so rad to see.

And, of course, he gets that paycheck and just goes nuts with it. I think he spent it all that day. I remember him going to H&M… back when they were kinda high-fashion-y, I guess. He bought all these capri pants and mesh shirts, going full-on fashion with it. It was sick! (laughs)

So how did that elite Lakai opportunity come about? You were still on DC before that, right?

Yeah, I was still on DC but I knew those guys were about to break out.

By that point, I was just all about the crew. I was on Chocolate now and living in LA, I was totally in, 100%. DC felt like it was starting to lean a little too far into things, if that makes sense, and I wasn’t feeling it as much. But with Lakai, my mindset was that whatever those guys are gonna do will be the best because that’s what always happens for them. So I was down.

You brought up designing shirts for Mad Circle, did it just grow from there to shoes over the years?

Yeah, I feel like seeing Justin doing his thing kinda planted that seed in me and after a while, I started messing around with it some. I got one of those colorful iMacs when they first came out and started teaching myself how to use Illustrator. I basically started drawing shoes just to see if I could do it. Just as a hobby, I guess. It’s not like I was designing for DC or anything… which is why I left! Just kidding. (laughs)

But as Lakai got started, I was able to see how the process worked. All the color choices and materials, picking up different shoes for reference. I really became fascinated by the whole thing.

Plus, at that time, I was a pro skater traveling the world. I always liked shoes anyway and now I’m picking up some crazy colorway in Japan that I’d never seen. I feel like having the creative bug alongside this shoe collecting thing, the two just connected.

So how did you get into designing shoes at Lakai in an official capacity?  

Well, it’s kinda funny how it worked out, because it was all so nonchalant. Mike was in the process of laying out stuff one day when I happened to show him this shoe design I’d done, which felt pretty legit. He goes, “We should make that.”

“Wow, you’re gonna make this shoe I drew? That’s cool!”

“Do you want that to be your shoe?”

“I’m getting a shoe?!?”

Just like that, I got a shoe on Lakai. Things just grew from there. I was always hanging around with the designers and asking questions, in addition to playing around on my own. Luckily, everyone at Lakai was cool about including me in on things, which ultimately led to them formally giving me the opportunity. Now it’s literally what I do to support my family.

So, of course, we have to bring up the 180 s/s k at JKwon. Did you realize on the day you made it that you would probably talking about that trick for the rest of your life? I’ve even seen it called “the best trick ever”.

(laughs) No, I had no idea. I just knew that all of the Lakai ads had these sick-ass sequences and that I needed something good. But I gotta say, that one definitely turned out better than I thought it would. I grinded way longer than I ever expected to.

But yeah, I was shooting with Ballard the first time I did it and he ran out of film, just as I was rolling away. So I had to go back for that one, which is always rough. Because it’s hard enough to do it the first time. That first one took a couple days. Now I have to go back? It’s like that first one didn’t even count.

Was your first one as good as the one that came out?

I think it was. With the angle that you come in at that thing, it forces you in. It’s hard getting into it but once you do, you’re basically locked in.  

Incredible. So how was your front-row seat for Owen Wilson’s acting tour de force in Yeah Right?

It was so surreal, man. Because that was at his pinnacle time, too. He was like the best thing going in movies at that point. But basically watching a superstar run through his profession like that was incredible. Because we know how a Koston approaches his tricks but watching an actor do his thing firsthand was rad. He just kept going and going. It was never like, “Oh, I fucked up” and stop. He was in the mindset of giving these guys as much footage as they could possibly need in, like, 10 minutes… and then I’m out. He knew exactly how much to produce so we had enough. It was cool.

He was only there for 10 minutes?

No, probably a little less than an hour. But it was pretty quick. You could definitely tell that when Eric was doing trying the trick, he expected it to go down first-try. It only took 5 tries, but you could kinda see him getting him impatient. But he was so hyped when Eric made it. 

“Okay, we got it. We’re good. I gotta go.”

It was the fastest hard-out ever. (laughs)

But even then, you’d expect a star like that to show up with an entourage. He was there by himself, man. He just came, did his thing, and left.

More skit stuff, what about the burning board and synchronized Bjork stuff in Hot Chocolate?

Both of those were essentially recurring things that would pop-up throughout the trip.

“Let’s try to film something here.”

There was never a specific day of shooting that stuff, we just grabbed shots as we went. Never a plan or anything. And it wasn’t storyboarded either. Even the Bjork thing, that was made up as we went. So that stuff could take a while because we had to work through it all.

Oh wow, I always figured that Bjork one to be pretty planned out.

Not at all, man. Total run-and-gun. If there was an extra minute and we saw an interesting space, we’d all put on our white t-shirts and film something real fast… Which, trying to coordinate 10 dudes to do the same thing, that’s pretty hard. Everyone landing their trick in a row like that? I remember a lot of those shots starting out pretty ambitious, trick-wise, but after a while, it turned into, “Well, just do a noseslide, guys.” (laughs)

But the burning board thing was dangerous as hell, man. It’s not like we had on stuntman gear or anything. There weren’t any special gels for us. No, just gas, our regular clothes, and skateboarding. That was it. Not to mention that we’d been doing a demo only a few hours earlier and now they want to take us out to some remote spot, super late at night. It was fun but wow, pretty crazy, too.

What was your trick on the burning board?

I didn’t have one! I’ll be honest, I was too afraid! (laughs)

I was all about being as close as I could without really engaging with the fire. I wasn’t trying to get burned up!

So just how gnarly were those Fully Flared trips? Did that get blown out of proportion or were they really that bad?

You know what’s funny is that while you’re in the middle of it, you think it’s so insane. But now I look back on those trips as some of the best times of my life. So many great memories to look back on… but it felt miserable at the time. Those super-long drives and skating crazy hours. But Ty was dead-set on getting something done literally every day. That was his mindset.

We’d just be stuck out there. And if you’re working with 10 dudes, that meant 9 of us were typically waiting around for that one dude to get something. That’s how the project moved forward and I understand that, but to be trapped in the back of a schoolyard at 2 in the morning… in some weird town where you don’t even know where you are. All you wanted was to be back at the hotel, taking a shower. Instead you’re stuck at the spot, eating gummi worms.

But to his credit, Ty knew that if we stayed at home in our little comfort zones and distractions, it wouldn’t work.

Didn’t you come up with the Fully Flared title? And I’ve heard that Finally was also one of yours? Anything else?

I think I said “Fully Flared” at some point. Did I come up with “Finally”?

That’s what Meza claims.

Maybe I did! (laughs)

Wow, that’s awesome. I guess I got lucky.

When did you know that Fully Flared was going to be your swan song?

About halfway through. It just became one of those things where as you get older, you aren’t getting as much stuff done on your board as you want. And even more than that, it’s the fear. Seeing something you want to do and knowing inside that you can do it, but you’re afraid. You start talking yourself out of things more. Saying that you’ll do it next time or that you’ll come back for it. That’s the worst.

Because you need to be producing. Every other adult your age, their careers are moving forward. If I’m not doing anything, if I’m making money doing nothing, I’m in trouble. That’s not going to last forever. And every day that I didn’t produce, that worry set in more and more.

Do you think it would’ve gone that way had you not been involved in such a pressure cooker situation like Fully Flared?

I don’t think it was necessarily because of that video. If anything, it just highlighted where my head was at. Because even when I was at home, it was weighing on me. It’s Tuesday and I’m having brunch at some café at 10:30. I’m gonna head over to the Beverly Center and buy some sneakers, then a carwash. I just drove around all day, not even skating. At some point, it dawns on you how insane that is. That the life you’re leading is not realistic.

I couldn’t sustain that. I know some people do but I didn’t think it was right for me to even try. I have more respect for Rick and Mike than that. I know how hard it is for them to have to take people’s boards away because they’re so close to everyone. They’re skaters, too. That’s gotta be rough.

I came to terms with it on my own and then went to talk to the guys about it. I wanted it to feel almost like a relief to them.

“I’m out, man. I’m good. Let’s just move on to this next thing.”

I wanted to take the pressure off of that friendship while, hopefully, maintaining a level of respect for skateboarding and everything it has done for me. I just didn’t want to milk it.

Respect. But what about those clips in Cherry? That was so cool to see.

I remember them reaching out just as they were starting the project. And, of course, I’d love to be part of any project they’re doing. I was still on my board a good bit back then, too. Skating around Biebel’s and Girl a lot. So it sounded like fun. 

Plus, I felt like I owed the dudes at Supreme for taking care of me all these years. If they wanted me to be in their video, of course, I was down.

But yeah, that was just a couple days. I went out with Bill a few times and got some things. Daniel Wheatley and I went out for a few things afterwards that I was persistent on but I don’t think we came away with much.

Is there any talk of you being in the new one?

Nah, I think it’s already pretty jammed with everyone on their roster, you know? They’re pretty stacked.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that many younger riders often seem to point to you as a mentor of sorts… like Alex Olson and even Jereme Rogers before he left.  What are some words of wisdom or common pitfalls you often identify for these kids on the come-up?

I don’t think that I’m really telling them anything all that Earth-shaking. I think for most of these younger guys, they just need some perspective. And for Alex to even talk about me in that kind of light is incredible as he’s turned out to be such a solid man and remains a good friend to this day.

If anything, I think that it typically comes down to being patient about things. I feel like the rush to make money is rarely ever the right call. Of course, you need it to live and you should get your fair share. But to rush it is not necessarily the right thing.

With regard to what?

Getting too much, too soon. I find that can lead to a loss of focus as to why you even started doing something in the first place. Money can become quite a distraction and I feel like after a while, that can become your entire reason for doing something. And those people are never happy.

We talked about your difficulty in leaving Think and your decision to retire from Chocolate, what prompted to you start looking elsewhere from Lakai? That couldn’t have been easy either.

I think everyone has a tendency to wonder what life would be like somewhere else, you know? And you also have to ask yourself if you’re operating to your fullest potential. Are you growing as a person? Because when you have kids, you do start to look at life a little differently.

There were a lot of factors, obviously. I could see that there were issues after the buy-out and that things were changing. Plus, by that point, I was the Senior Designer. There was no more room for me to advance, and not only that, I’m now standing in the way of the guy underneath my position’s growth.

When I retired early, that was largely out of respect for my friends. Granted, I’ll never be a Heath Kirchart but I wanted to be an example and show people that it’s okay to evolve. I didn’t want to stay in the way of someone on the come-up, continuing to use up the brand’s resources, when I know in the back of my head that I’m done. Because then, everybody loses.

I basically had this same a-ha moment as a designer. If I want to explore the highest levels of footwear design, I have to go elsewhere to learn. The biggest footwear brands are in Boston and Portland, that’s where I needed to go in order to grow.

But yeah, it was super hard, man. It’s tough leaving your friends… and then to essentially go somewhere that is their competition? It definitely wasn't easy. But as a father, a designer and a skateboarder, I had to do what was best for all of those things.

Well said, Scott. But admit it, do you ever get tired of the Mr. Clean thing?

(laughs) Nah, because it’s just too perfect. I mean, the stories are kinda silly but it is rooted in my personality. I definitely took my fair share of showers back in the day. When you skate a lot, you get dirty… you always gotta reset, man. Keep it clean.

So as we wrap this up, the big closing question: What would you say is your proudest accomplishment in skateboarding and what is your biggest regret?

Oh my God! (laughs)

Probably getting on Chocolate was my proudest moment. Because from the minute that brand started, I always thought that it was the best. And it honestly never even seemed achievable to me. So distant. It’s not like I chased it either, it just came about at the right time, for the right reasons. It worked out. But yeah, that really meant a lot to me.

As far as a regret goes, that’s tough one because I actually like my career as a pro skater. I don’t think that I really have anything I regret, to be honest.  

Yeah, you really did have a good one, man. You got in, did your thing, and didn’t stay too long at the party. Plus, you got into this whole other creative design aspect of things. It really is cool to see. 

(laughs) Thanks, man. It does feel like I had a pretty good run. But if anything, there’s part of me that still thinks I could’ve done better. Like writing something off as “I’ll come back for that” or whatever… I should’ve just done it, you know? Part of me wishes that I had a better work ethic but at the same time, maybe that’s why I’m happy with how I did things, because it did come so naturally. Who knows? You can always wonder what might’ve been had you worked just a little harder… but then again, I might’ve kooked it, too.    

big thanks to sj for taking the time. 


Anonymous said...

Been one of my favorites since I was old enough to learn from the older kids at the skatepark what was “good.” So glad this interview finally happened! SJ fan for life

Dill said...

A nice tidy interview, that was

SJ is the ultimate Skate mannequin>>>

Andy Stone said...

Scott. Great read. Hope you and the family are well.

Anonymous said...

legend. been waiting for this one.

Keith said...

Always one of my favourites. Style, trick selection. So many classic photos. So both of you living in Portland, you randomly run into each other?

This part stood out to me.

"Proper airs, they told me how to lean. Because I guess it’s pretty typical for a street skater to want to ollie out and lean back, which is wrong. They had to break it down to me.

“No, you have to lean over the top of the ramp and really pull yourself up.”"

As an old fart and non-transition inclined skater, I still don't know the secret. LOL

ShredzShop said...

Great read! Always been a big fan.

Unknown said...

As a skater and a working stiff desk jockey, I saw Scott in Soho and asked him if I could shake his hand because he was always one of my favorites. Great to see where he has landed.

Diego said...

Amazing interview. Here is a link to that Think Promo with Scott's frontside crooked grind down Hubba. Always loved that add. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHcgNf1AauM

YouWillSoon said...

Just got a chance to finish the interview, another great one! Chocolate team came through our city for the Se Habla Canuck tour in 2004 and I got to show the dudes around to some spots. Scott stood out as a very stand up character. Great handshake, looked you in your eyes when he talked to you, remembered my name even though I was a nobody and used it when he spoke to me. Sounds trivial but when meeting legends, most of them aren't like that and it makes a big impression.

Perfect fucking career too.

François said...

Great interview!

Would have loved to hear about that 411 opener (the weird backtail at Brown Marble).

Thanks Chops !

Katrin Lime said...

This interview segment captures the essence of how skateboarding culture is deeply tied to specific locations and communities, with small companies like Think playing a significant role in shaping the scene and garnering respect despite their size. For businesses looking to capitalize on niche markets, it underscores the importance of understanding and tapping into the unique cultures and communities they serve, perhaps through specialized services like a marketing plan writing service tailored to the skateboarding industry.