12.26.2018

chrome ball interview #124: thomas morgan

Killing. 


Introduction by Chris Carter. 

Hill and I were always stoked on Thomas’ skating. He had an amazing sense of control, style and energy from the moment we first saw him drop-in. And after we met him and got to know him, we liked him equally as much as his skating. We felt like he’d be a great addition to G&S, and after working with him for a few months, everyone who was already committed to moving over to The Workshop was down to bring him along, too.

The team backed him fully as a street skater, too. I was seeing street being quickly applied to vert and I thought it was great to have that versatility. Vert skaters were an endangered species at the time we started Workshop, so it made sense to have him skating street from that perspective as well. This was an era with literally about 20 decent skateparks in the entire U.S. And good vert ramps were even less common. Most of his homies skated street as well and with Danny (Way) killing it in the streets, so it just seemed smart and progressive to me for Thomas to hit the streets in addition to the ramp.

We always welcomed Thomas down to Dayton any time he wanted. In the early years, all the guys stayed at my house, which was in the ghetto and rich with gunshots, hookers, panhandlers and then some. Thomas was always very polite, appreciative and respectful. Easy and fun to talk to, we enjoyed hearing his perspective on everything. He and his crew of Canadians were all cool and most of them had quite memorable personalities. Weiss, Bokma, Jesse Sorrensen and a few other Toronto skaters would normally stop by on one of their many migrations to Tampa in the winter months. 

Thomas and his entire crew (which eventually extended to PA with Sean Miller and Schaefer in FL) were never ones to take much shit. They weren’t into starting fights but weren’t scared of confrontation either, if/when it occurred. Add in Conklin and Turner to the mix, and now you've got some volatility. 

Thomas liked sports, cars and motorcycles: All things that we had more in common with than most skaters I've worked with over the years. I remember he had this funny thing where he'd ring me up on tour sometimes, or bring it up on long drives, where he'd try convincing me that the Workshop was doing well enough to where I should buy he and/or the team guys sports cars. At times, he would suggest it as a loan whereby we could take it out of his pay, etc. I always got a big kick out of this. It was in this funny, half-serious but persuasive tone that always made me laugh.

As far as tour stories go, there's that time in Houston where he's watching the Blue Jays in the World Series and Turner pissed him off, heckling his team in some manner. Thomas snapped and, I believe, shoved Bo. It appeared that a fight would ensue, which meant that I’d be forced to try breaking it up and would have likely got caught in the crossfire, suffering collateral damage. But fortunately, Bo didn't launch a counter-attack, for which I was very grateful for and relieved. The original Workshop am team (Rob, Duane, Bo, Scott and Thomas) was very close-knit, like a group of brothers. And we all know how brothers fight. 

We had skaters spread out all over the country, which I liked. It helps each scene where they live and we always worked with their local dealers to support them. For T-Bird, he was able to live at home in Toronto and live fairly well on a 90's skateboarder income. Moving would have helped him, I believe, in getting a paying shoe/clothing sponsor(s) and more coverage in the mags. We did pay the rent on the house in PB for the Workshop team and filmers, and he was always welcome to stay there for free when visiting. But at that time, most of us midwesterners/east coasters didn't love California that much. Weird vibe. Felt like strangers in a strange land. So he spent a lot of his non-Toronto time in Florida instead.  It was obvious that he and his T.O. friends were always so tight and loyal to each other. When you feel that strong of a connection to fellow friends and skaters, it’s hard to leave.


CBI: As an American, I always presumed it was the harsh winters that gave rise to Toronto's indoor vert scene of the late '80s, but is that really the case? 

Thomas: I mean, that’s basically right. The need to have an indoor place to skate during the winter months has always been a constant. And it was because of those winters that we did have a lot of vert skateboarding here. Because you could really only street skate between April to November and that was pretty much it. You could always go skate a parking garage, which we did do some, and there were a few indoor parks over the years. But it’s not like these parks ever had huge square footage, not like how they do now. It was basically just a vert ramp in a warehouse. We all wanted to skate every day so those ramps were our only option, through parks like Torontosaurus. A lot of guys went on to become pros from that, actually.

Yeah, wasn’t Weiss, Justin Bokma, Tom Boyle and Jason Corbett all up there for that Torontosaurus era?

Yeah, that was the crew. Torontosaurus didn’t last as long as it should’ve but that was a killer time. It just happened to be right around the time when we all got sponsored, which was probably a bad thing for the park as we were then able to leave town whenever it got cold.

But Torontosaurus had a great street section, so Justin Bokma and Jason Corbett would always be skating there. Justin would even skate the vert ramp every once in a while, too. I remember us both learning these terrible inverts together on that thing one day. They were awful but we were so stoked. I think we both did them for maybe a day or two afterwards until the harsh reality set in that we just weren’t cut out for those things. We just never quite got inverted, which is kind of the point. What we were doing looked more like “handturns”. (laughs)



I remember Torontosaurus from that Canada article in Transworld, which must’ve been a huge deal for you guys back then.

Yeah, Corbett got the cover! We couldn’t believe it. Because we were up there in no man’s land! But Kevin Wilkins and Spike Jonze came through on a cross-Canada trip in Kevin’s Accord. Those guys were total bosses, too. Spike even ended up sleeping on my Mom’s couch, which is funny to think about now.

It was cool, though. Because they were on this trip and it was all so mellow. I think everyone was able to get an awesome photo that they really wanted to come out. Those guys definitely hooked us up.

As more and more of your crew got hooked-up, did your outlook towards a career in skateboarding change at all? Even though you were still in a fairly remote location for skateboarding at the time?

Remote is right, man. We were just doing what we loved to do. A “career” in skateboarding never even occurred to me until it just kinda happened. I hoped to be able to make some money from it, but honestly, getting sponsored for me was more about getting free stuff. Getting boxes in the mail is still about as cool as it gets.

But I still remember after Tom Boyle moved up here from Texas… or Pennsylvania. Somewhere. When he showed up, he was just so much better than everybody else. I knew right away that I’d never be that good. I felt lucky to even be getting boards after that.

Was Weiss already spinning naked 540s back then?

I’m pretty sure as soon as he learned 540s, he was taking his clothes off with them. That’s just Weiss.

Actually, I remember the day he learned 540s, it was on a little indoor ramp with no heat. It was awesome, but way too cold to be naked. So I’m sure that as soon as he found a ramp that was a little warmer, the clothes came off. 

Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure his first naked 540 was in that Dogtown ad, the Bare Essentials! Straight into the magazine.



How did you get hooked up with G&S?

That was a pretty interesting time for all of us, actually. Because not only was everyone getting sponsored, we were all getting our driver’s licenses, too.  You have to remember that being in Toronto, there was a time when the only good vert ramp in our area was Cheapskates, all the way in Pennsylvania. That’s an 8-hour drive dead-south from here. But being young and bored in the cold, we’d still go down there all the time. That kinda became the norm for us.

Road trips were just what we did, man. We’d literally buy a car for $150 and take it on a trip, running it into the ground. I still remember one of our best joints was a 1978 Mercury Cougar we bought for $500. Easily the size of two Navigators, we didn’t even insure it. But this was before you needed passports to travel across the border, so we just drove to wherever we wanted to skate… sometimes it wasn’t even for skating, we just wanted to go someplace warm.

But yeah, we started going to Cheapskates a lot, which is how we connected with all the dudes down there, like Sean Miller. This is back when Mike Vallely still lived in New Jersey, too. He’d come over to skate Cheapskates all the time, which is how Tom Boyle eventually got on World.

G&S wasn’t actually my first sponsor, though. There was this kid in Pennsylvania who had a little company out there called Tour Skateboards that I rode for briefly. It was just a small thing but it was fun.

But the more comfortable we got with taking these trips, the further we started to go. So after a while, we were driving down to Florida to skate Kona. That ended up becoming our thing, heading down to Cheapskates in Pennsylvania first and then onto Kona in Jacksonville. I mean, the last thing we wanted to do was stay at home up in the cold, let’s drive to all these parks instead!

So on one of these trips, we meet Brian Schaeffer up in Pennsylvania… obviously, he had friends in Tampa and happened to be looking for a ride back. We decide to head down to Tampa because we have a place to stay there now. When we get there, we find out that G&S is going to be having a demo nearby at the StoneEdge park a few days later. Of course, we’re all huge fans of Neil Blender, so it becomes this thing where we’re all so hyped to meet the dude. Fuck it, we’re staying. 

The demo ends up being Blender with Blaize Blouin on this steel ramp they had. Mike Hill and Chris Carter were there, too. This ramp was looking pretty fun so I ended up going up there and skating it with them. As we’re all skating, I notice that Mike and Chris are filming stuff… even me, at times. I didn’t really think much about it, they’re just screwing around with a camera. But that stuff actually became my little part in the Footage video. That’s it. I wasn’t even on the team yet… my entire first bit in a video was filmed without my even knowing what they were doing.

We end up talking after their tour was over and they put me on the team. But when the video came out a little bit later… I had no idea.

“Hey, I’m in this video!?!”



So you’re on a road trip, you go to check out a Neil Blender demo, just skating around. A couple of weeks later, you’re on the team and this footage you don’t even know about comes out in Footage? How does that even work?

Yeah, I had no idea what was going on with any of it! I was just skating, happy to be in Florida at a Neil Blender demo… which probably helped because I wasn’t nervous. I mean, Blaize and Blender were out there ripping, I was just a 100-pound kid! 100 pounds of fury!

It was cool, though, because Blender liked the way I skated… which freaked out everybody! To this day, I don’t know if he was making fun of me or if he meant it as a compliment, but he kept calling me “The Iceman”. (laughs)

Incredible!

And dude, that totally stuck in Florida. For the next year, everyone down there called me “The Iceman”. Like I said, I don’t know if he was making fun of me or what… I was just this skinny little kid, hardly “The Iceman”. But either way, it felt cool. People thought it was the best thing ever. (laughs)

I love it. But did you talk to Carter and Hill a lot at that demo or something? Because Alien started not too long after that and the rest of the OGs had been on G&S for quite some time. You just showed up at a demo.

I did talk to those guys a bit while I was down there. And I do think that we hit it off pretty well. I was still so young, though. But yeah, I remember Chris telling me that he was on tour for another two weeks and then he’d be back in California. He gave me the number to G&S and told me to call him.

Two weeks go by, and we’re still on that trip. We’re in Michigan skating but I still called him right on that day. I was pumped! He picked up the phone and everything sounded great! I was on the team! I remember him sending me this gigantic G&S box, which, the first time you ever get a box from a big-time sponsor, it’s one of the best feelings there is.



But I don’t recall G&S ever giving you an ad or much of a push back then… and you weren’t in that Florida or Ohio mix. How did you fit in with Alien?

It is kinda weird that I was included so quickly. But this was also back when the NSA Amateur Series was still a big deal. You bring that up now and nobody even knows what you’re talking about. But I used to do quite well in those, and it’s through those contests that I met all the other future Workshop guys. I qualified in my district… even though, being from Canada, I didn’t even have a district. I had to go down to Pennsylvania and pretend to be from there. That’s seriously what the NSA told me to do: pretend I was from Pennsylvania for a day. Because that’s as close as we were gonna get to where I actually lived. (laughs)

So I qualified in Pennsylvania and from there, I went to Springfield, Missouri for the regionals. I remember Carter met me at the Springfield airport, I hadn’t seen him since that demo in Daytona at the start of all this. But that’s where I met Rob and Duane, too. We hung out at the contest all week and got along really well. All three of us ended up qualifying for the Nationals and shortly after that is when Chris hit me up about Alien Workshop.



What was the plan?

I believe that I was the last person he asked. Because I was a straight-up vert skater at the time. I know that Rob, Duane, Bo and Scott had already been contacted about everything, and they were all-in. My guess is that they felt the brand needed a vert skater. I feel like that was the feedback from everyone on the team. Luckily, I was already in the mix with G&S and got along with everybody I’d met so far.

So yeah, Chris ends up calling me about starting this new company with him. Looking back on it, I’m not sure that I really thought it through. Because it really was a big decision. But Chris Carter is the kind of guy that when you meet him, you like him right away. You find yourself wanting to be around him. And we had a pretty good relationship already… I just told him flat-out that whatever he was planning on doing, I was in.

He sent me some early prototype boards to check out. Different shapes and woodshops, I think. I remember having to ride them so I could tell him what I thought. It was pretty secretive as we were all still technically on G&S at the time. Chris just told me to keep doing my thing and not say anything. When they were ready to go, they’d let me know.



Were you aware that it was going to be this artsier thing?

Not at all. I think that actually took a lot of the riders by surprise. But with it being out of Ohio, I was probably in a better position than most of the others. Because it was only a 5 or 6-hour drive for me, which, I used to go down there quite a bit actually. Just by doing that, I had a better idea of what all was going on than some of the others. 

It wasn't unusual for me to get there and see them out printing their own shirts in the warehouse. Laying out the ads. Just grinding, man. Because starting a skateboard company from the ground up is hard enough, trying to do so out of Ohio in the early 90s was damn near impossible. But it was cool to see. 

I remember the first warehouse they had, it was this big open space and the only thing in it was Chris and Mike’s little stations, some screenprinting stuff, and this little Blender-style quarterpipe. That was it. Just this little 2-foot tall quarterpipe that went all the way to vert. Typical Blender style.

We had some great experiences, though, largely because the Workshop was so different. They weren’t trying to do things like any other company… which also led to more than a few situations where some guys felt like, “What the fuck is all this!?!”

Like what?

The “Believe” board was a big deal at the time. Even though it has gone on to become one of their most popular and longest-running graphics… not to mention that it’s been ripped off and put on literally everything you could think of. I mean, go into any department store to this day and you can still probably find that thing on cigarette lighters and belt buckles. But when they first came up with that, it was downright shocking to us. Like, what is this!?! We just didn’t get it.

I feel like Bo, being down in Florida, probably had no idea what the fuck was going on most of the time. And he hated that. But it’s not like Carter and Hill slowly evolved into this weird artsy thing either, they went right into it. Straight from the beginning. And it wasn’t just an image or a sales pitch, this is what those guys were truly into. Listening to things and doing research into all this stuff super early on.



I know they were into doomsday prep back then. I always heard rumors of them burying gold and digging wells for their own water supply. Did you ever see any of that stuff?

I heard about the gold but I never saw any of that firsthand. I hope they did… knowing those guys, they probably did. (laughs)

Was there any hesitation over leaving a solid operation like G&S for this strange entity out in Ohio?

It was only a short drive to Dayton for me, so they’re being in Ohio was actually to my benefit. Plus, I was getting in on the ground floor of this whole new thing. So while G&S had been around forever by that point, I immediately had a much stronger connection to Alien than I ever did with G&S. I could go down there and hang out for as long as I wanted. Skate the old Visitor Center… Dayton’s a funny place but it still has a special place in my heart.

But no, they didn’t discuss the business model with us. I don’t think there was any skateboarding in the ads for that first year or so, which, at that time, was completely nuts.



Did the Iceman have much Ohio interaction with Blender back in those early days? What was his role there anyway?

Honestly, my favorite thing about seeing Blender in Dayton was that he had this bitchin’ El Camino. It was killer, man. And he’d let me drive it around all the time, too. I still remember driving it back and forth from his place to the Workshop. I was only 18-years-old with a Canadian driver’s license, driving Neil Blender’s El Camino. It was awesome.  

I don’t want to speak on his behalf, but as far as I can tell, he was offered some kind of stake in the Alien Workshop as it was just starting out, but he declined. Because he thought that they were nuts, man. Putting aliens on skateboards in Ohio? The industry is dying, if not dead already. As far as I know, he didn’t want to be part of the actual company but was down to help out with graphics and whatever else while he hung out in Ohio. That’s the best I know of it anyway.



So talk about filming for Memory Screen and what that was like. I can’t even imagine…

I’ll be honest, I didn’t like my Memory Screen part the first time I saw it. I really don’t think anybody liked their parts back then. I mean, not that we hated it. It’s obviously cool now, but it definitely took a few years for us to realize that. I remember people coming up to us and saying what a dope video it was… we’d be like, “Really? I don’t know, man. I don’t know what fuck that video even is.” (laughs)

Because at the time, it was just so not what people were doing. So it took some time, at least for me, to appreciate it fully.

But yeah, there’s some tour stuff in there and some vert stuff from back in Toronto. A lot of my street stuff actually came from being in Ohio. I couldn’t tell you how many times Hill or Carter would grab a camera on our way out the door to go skate down there. 

You have to remember that I was still “the vert guy” but ramps were getting harder and harder to find. So a lot of my vert stuff in there was a little older because that style of skating was seriously dying. You could barely skate vert anymore because there just weren’t many ramps around. The ramp I’m skating in Memory Screen was one of the last ones in the area still standing. It was a very small ramp, little transitions with hardly any vert at all. And by that time, I’d gotten used to skating much bigger ramps so skating that thing was a bit of a challenge. It wasn’t the best but I had to make do with what I had.

I really didn’t have much choice but to start skating street more. Not that I didn’t like it, I’d always skated street, but a lot of my Memory Screen part was me starting to take that stuff more seriously.



But how long did that one-foot down those huge stairs take? Not bad for being “the vert guy”.

That was in Dayton. Yeah, I was hyped on that one. That was a big set for the time, man! And personally, a big vote of confidence for “the vert guy”! The rest of the guys seemed pretty psyched on that clip, too!

Yeah, how did the team take to your -ahem- transitioning out of transition?

They always got a kick out of the vert guy being able to skate street a little bit. They’d always egg me on to try different stuff. I don’t think that it dawned on me back then just how awesome it was to have the rest of the team supporting me like they did. I mean, those guys were so gnarly at the time! Like, I remember going with Pitre to one of those big amateur contests and the way people interacted with him, he was like a celebrity. But he was just Duane to me. He was my friend. Obviously, he ripped, but I never saw him in that crazy light.

But going back to those stairs, I actually went back there a few years later to kickflip them for Timecode. I was with a friend of mine who lived around there and he ended up smacking his head so hard at that place. We had to call an ambulance and everything… suddenly, I didn’t want to kickflip those stairs anymore. (laughs)



Gnarly. But back to Memory Screen, where did they get all that other random footage of you? Like, the La Bamba blanket, the mirror sunglasses and the go-carts?

Oh, I loved that La Bamba blanket. (laughs)

My mom bought me that right before I left to go on tour, so I brought it along and Carter loved it. He’d always try putting me into these ridiculous situations and say “Pull the blanket out!”

I knew that thing was going to end up in something.

As far as the go-karts go, we used to do that stuff all the time. I’ve always been a motorsports guy, so anytime we could go go-karting on the Workshop tab, I was into it. So yeah, that was all one day at some shitty Dayton racetrack.

Mike and Chris would always pull out the camera to film random stuff, but you never thought it would end up anywhere. It just felt like those guys were playing around, having fun shooting different things. Because before Memory Screen, you never thought footage of me wearing sunglasses or driving around in a car could ever be used in a skate video. But because Memory Screen was this completely different thing, all that wound up in my part.

I honestly didn’t even know we were filming for a “part”. Back then, parts weren’t made the same way they are now. The timeframe was much shorter and more pronounced. You went out and skated one day with somebody filming and then you edited your tricks together. That was it. There was no fear of looking crazy on a go-kart because that type of stuff was never going to be in there. But Memory Screen comes out and not only do they have you racing go-karts, they have Tom Selleck in your part as well. (laughs)

But I loved that stuff. I didn’t mind at all, I was psyched on it.



Did you ever say anything to Carter and Hill about your initial disappointment with your part?

I didn’t say anything but they kinda knew. It was just such a shock for us. Because, again, that just wasn’t how skate videos were made.

I was actually in Dayton while Hill was editing Memory Screen and I remember not being allowed to see a single second of it. They knew I wanted to, but no. The offer was never even put on the table. Not even an option. But I believed in those guys. We all did. They were such good guys and working so hard… we really respected them, regardless of what our own personal opinions might have been about different things. We just went along with it.

I was even staying with Hill while he was editing it. He’d just sit at these two editing decks for hours and hours. I barely even saw him outside of that set-up because he’d come home after I’d fallen asleep and already be back at work by the time I woke up. It was gnarly, man. I was just trying to drink some Miller Lights and skate.



What was with that Killing (Joke) sticker you had on your helmet?

(laughs) I think it was a band. It said something else afterwards but I thought I was cool so I cut that part off. It’s funny, I don’t even remember doing that shot. I know it was back in Canada somewhere… I haven’t watched Memory Screen in a long time.

That OG Alien squad had no shortage of personality. You must have a million stories from being out on the road with those guys.

Oh, I had some of the best experiences of my life with those guys. But unfortunately, this sort of thing always goes into some stupid fighting story. That stuff was always just so typically dumb. Carter actually kept a pretty tight ship on the road. He’d let you have a couple beers but that was about it.

The one that personally stands out for me… I don’t think Bo will mind me telling this story. We were down at the Skatepark of Houston for a pro contest around 1992-93. The Toronto Blue Jays just happened to be playing in the World Series against the Atlanta Braves. And being from Toronto, this was a big deal for me.

So I’m trying to watch the game at the hotel… and Bo has no dog in this fight. He really doesn’t care who wins, but he wants to get a rise out of me. So he starts egging me on, constantly, because that’s how Bo is. Rooting for the Braves. And I’m super serious about this thing, man. I love the Blue Jays.

For the record, the Blue Jays ended up winning both this game and the World Series, but at the time when this was happening, they were down. And I was pissed. All I remember is Bo opening his mouth to talk some more shit… I don’t even know what he was going to say, but I just lost it on him. He broke me. And I’m probably only 125 pounds at this point. Bo is a big kid. He would’ve obviously killed me. But I’m just so pissed about this baseball game, I charge him! Due to the surprise of it all, I actually end up smashing him into the wall, breaking this big glass thing that was hanging there.

Luckily, Bo doesn’t do anything. He just laughs at me! I mean, it's pretty funny in retrospect. I’m just this angry little guy, I couldn’t really do anything. I’d just given him my best shot and he’s laughing at me. So I storm out of the room.

Thanks for not killing me, Bo.


Carter and Rob: Civic Nation

What is “Civic Nation” and what is a "peckin"?

(laughs) Those are actually Dyrdek terms.

Civic Nation was because it seemed like every pro skater had a Honda Civic at the time. I can’t remember if it was Heintzman or Rob, but somebody even had hats and shirts made up of Civic Nation. I actually wasn’t in Civic Nation at its height but I did eventually get one later.

Those guys were all about “peckins”, too. That was basically our little code word for hillbillies. (laughs)



Where did “Toronto is Burning with Boredom” come from?

I have no clue where that came from. I saw that at the same time everybody else did, when it came out in the magazine. But I loved it, man. As Canadians, we were all just hyped that I’d gotten an ad. Nobody cared that it said we were all bored or whatever… because we were! (laughs)

I almost look like a trucker in that ad.

As a kid, did you always dream of having your first graphic be the Canadian flag?

Nah, I had no idea about that, either. But I thought it was cool. I liked that they did it in almost every other colorway except for the real one, red-and-white. But I loved that graphic. It’s funny, with all the crazy shit Hill was doing with paper mache, I remember getting so many compliments on that flag. But that graphic was a total surprise. I knew that they wanted to give me a board but they told me absolutely nothing else other than that.

You know, now that we’re talking about all this… those guys barely told me anything! (laughs)

“Just go skate, kid! We’ll figure all this out. Don’t you worry about it!”



(laughs) So did you have any input with your graphics at all?

(laughs) Sometimes they’d just show up. Not even telling anyone about it. 

"Hey guys, we're thinking about possibly doing a team series... and here it is!"

Not that they were all like that. Most of the time, they’d hit you up to see if you had any ideas and go from there. That’s how most of them went. But honestly, I never really had any input to give. Not that I’m mad at it, I had Mike Hill doing my graphics! What am I going to do? Give him some tips on graphic design? No fucking chance! I’m stoked! (laughs)

Something like the Smoking Bird? That’s a beauty!

Is that your favorite graphic?

Oh yeah, I love the Smoking Bird. That and the Canadian flag one… just because it was my first board and the shape was insane. But the Smoking Bird is my favorite, for sure. My nickname has been “T-Bird” forever and I was always smoking a million cigarettes back then, too. That board was the best.



So Memory Screen comes out and you’re now pro on this amazing brand. What made you stay in Toronto? And how do you think that ultimately affected your career?

It’s weird, man. I’ve always had this blind loyalty to Toronto that, even at the time, I knew wasn’t going to be particularly helpful in my career. But my crew was here and whenever I was gone, I’d always catch myself wanting to be back home. I spent a lot of winters down in San Diego or Tampa and I’d always catch myself wanting to come back home to Toronto.

Retrospectively, that was a mistake on my part but that’s where I was happiest. Maybe “mistake” is too strong of a word, but it definitely didn’t help me.

How often would you go out to the Alien House in Pacific Beach? I’m sure you must’ve gotten at least some pressure to move out there permanently, right?

Honestly, Alien was always cool about that. They understood my wanting to live close to home in Toronto for the same reasons Carter and Hill were in Ohio to begin with.

That Pacific Beach house was a lot of fun, though. And I was out there a lot. But those guys were funny, because here I was, this Canadian kid who is literally out there to escape winter and I’d constantly hear them talk about how bad San Diego sucked… while we’re out under palm trees on a perfect beach in the middle of February. It didn’t seem so bad to me. I love palm trees in February! (laughs)

You also have to remember that I was still a Canadian citizen, so I couldn’t just move down there for some unlimited time. Which also meant that I was constantly going back and forth from San Diego to Toronto. A proper Green Card would’ve been too tricky but I wasn’t even really considering that as an option anyway. I was so young and probably a little lazy, too. Like I said, I was just looking to skate and drink some Miller Lights.



As an OG, how much say did you have in the selection of new riders? Like, did you know Freddy, Kalis or Lennie prior to their joining the team?

Oh, 100%. They asked me about everyone, of course. And I gotta say that I was a pretty good fucking recruiter for those guys, too! Not a lot of people know this but I was totally the one who got Freddy Gall on the team. That was all me and I couldn’t be prouder of that. (laughs).

He was just a tiny little dude back then, though. He wasn’t crazy Freddy yet. Just this trippy little kid who was stoked on skating. None of your typical Fred stories but the potential was there for what he’d inevitably become. He just hadn’t fully arrived yet. I don’t think it was until he started getting money that he got crazier. Still a great dude.

I remember the first time I met him. Kelly Bird was staying up in Toronto with us and both Kelly and Freddy were riding for New School at the time. Fred came up so those two guys could go do their New School thing, that's really when I first got to know him... and then later on, I ended up reconnecting with Freddy at some contest in Bricktown, New Jersey. That’s basically when we decided to steal him. Sorry, Kelly.

Richard Angelides, too. He’s one that not too many people know about but I hooked him up with Alien for a while.



Yeah, how’d that go down? And what eventually did happen between him and Alien?

I was actually going to Texas a lot at one point, for skating and whatever else. Because I think Texas is just awesome. I love it out there. Tampa and Texas, both… I realize those places get kind of a bad rep from people who aren’t from there but I’ve always loved them.

But yeah, Richard was a Skatepark of Houston kid. He was just this tiny little kid in gigantic clothing. But he was ripping! A full-blast vert ripper! He reminded me a lot of Colin McKay… like a Texas Colin McKay. He had that tiny build, super good style and just ripping tech tricks. And then he started street skating, too! I definitely vouched for him to Carter. He ended up sending in a tape and was getting product for a while.

This is back when the Alien House was still going, so everything pretty much congregated towards Southern California. Richard came out for a bit, but he was skating a lot with his Texas friends out there, who all happened to be on Planet Earth at the time… so you know how that goes. He ends up calling us one day.

“Hey guys, I’m gonna ride for Planet Earth.”

He was just a young kid and obviously pretty upset about it... but we didn't help him out much with it either. We weren't very good about it at all, calling him a dick or whatever. I respect him for how he went about it, by calling us up and everything. That was totally the right way to go about it and, deep down, we totally understood. But we also considered ourselves much more of a team and company than Planet Earth at the time. 

“Are you kidding me, dude!? You’re going to kiss this away!? The Alien Workshop!?!”

So yeah, just speaking for my part in it, we were dicks. (laughs)



Any good Lennie stories?

It’s funny because when I first met Lennie, he was the sweetest kid in the world. But a little bit later, after his transformation, we all went on this tour together… wow.  

Don’t take this the wrong way, I appreciate whatever it is that gets you to sleep at night. Whatever you gotta do, do it. But he was so over-the-top with the religion stuff, it was unbelievable. He was just gone, man. And it’s sad because he really was such a sweet kid. I hope he’s well.

But this tour, man… it was insane. He was just walking around, Bible in-hand. Not even skating. Just focused on his path, whatever that was. He was constantly condemning people to Hell. It was really odd to see. Just constantly sending people to Hell for eternity. (laughs) 

He never condemned me, which I guess is a good thing, but imagine being stuck in a crowded van with this guy for an entire tour? And somehow, I got stuck sitting beside him, too! He would talk about God for literally hours on-end. Seriously, the entire time. He never stopped. I just couldn't deal with it. Nobody could. And that was it for him. 

With the combination of guys moving out west, the new riders and Duane’s retirement, did Alien start to feel a little different around this time?

I had no idea that Duane was going to retire like that. He just lost interest in it all so quickly… and once you’ve lost interest, you’re pretty much done. You need motivation.

As far as the guys moving out west, that was totally a good move on their parts. I was a little bummed that they moved so far away from me, but selfishly, I also knew that I now had a place to stay out there. So I was all about there being an Alien House.

At the time, both Rob and I were already bouncing back and forth from home to everywhere else. It just got to the point where we had to make a decision. We talked about it a good bit, actually, because I think that we both felt a little conflicted about moving. The debate over where you want to be: should you be where it’s “good to be” or where you want to be? He chose to move out there, I chose to stay in Toronto.

I noticed the company starting to change, going in more of that hip-hop direction. But I was already pretty removed by then. I just let those guys do their thing and went along with it. I know that’s probably not the best answer but it’s the truth. Clearly, Rob was largely driving the company at the time. He seemed to have the most influence over everything, and rightly so.

I honestly don’t know if I even had any influence, but if I did, I never really experimented with it.



How was making Timecode compared to Memory Screen?

The biggest difference between Timecode and Memory Screen was being allowed to film ourselves. That was pretty huge, actually. Because Memory Screen basically had to always be Hill or Carter filming. It was much more controlled but also harder to get things done. 

The problem with my part in Timecode is that a large portion of my footage ended up getting stolen. I’d gone out with Jason Carter and his video camera, using a tape that had a ton of my footage… I just kept using the same tape so I had a lot on there. But someone ended up snatching his video camera, which had that tape inside it. Nobody was backing things up back then. All the footage you have is on that one tape, in the camera, in the back of a car at some sketchy spot. Of course, that’s what happens. So yeah, that stuff was all gone.

It was way too close to deadline at that point and there was no extending it… they’d already given us a ton of time to film. It’s just that the footage I had in the video wasn’t exactly all that I wanted in there. It was missing a lot of my best stuff. So even though I do like that part, I also know how much better it could’ve been.

You bring up the riders having a bit more control. Did you at least choose your song this time?

No, I didn’t choose either of my songs. I just did the skating. All that other stuff in there was all Alien. I just let them do their thing, happy to be along for the ride.

Was it a conscious choice not to have any vert clips in Timecode?

Nah, I wasn’t even skating vert at that time, only street skating. But even if I wanted to, I’m not sure if I knew a place to actually do it at.



What happened after Timecode? It seemed like suddenly, most of the OGs were off the team?  

Speaking for me, personally, I was getting older and wasn’t really putting in the work anymore. Street skating was getting really gnarly and I was kinda at the end of it anyway. I was either going to have to make an adjustment and start doing that big stuff as well or just walk away. I just wasn’t ready to put the work in at that point, so that was basically it. I could see the end coming but I wasn’t willing or able to make the drastic change needed in order to stop it.

So how’d it go down?

They approached me. It was obvious that I wasn’t pulling my weight but those guys were pretty fair about it. Not that it was an easy experience for me to go through, by any stretch of the imagination. You dedicate 20 years to doing something, those are your prime years and then it’s over. But it was what it was. Those guys were as fair as someone possibly could be in a business relationship.

Did you try looking around anywhere else?

No, I never looked around. It was either the Alien Workshop or nothing for me. And like I said, I wasn’t working hard enough to keep it going anyway. I had a few people tell me to look around but it just didn’t feel good to me. That was that.



Well, Josh maintains his innocence, but Bo has voiced his belief that many of these roster changes were rooted in a Kalis ultimatum to management. Care to speak on that at all?

To be fair, Bo wasn’t really putting in the work at that point either. At least, not like he should’ve been.

I can’t speak on this Kalis thing because I know nothing about it. Honestly, this is the first time that I’ve even heard of this. But, really, if Kalis actually did say that I needed to go at that point, he would’ve probably been right. (laughs)

But I will say that when the Workshop was doing weirder graphics and nobody knew what the fuck they were doing, we were out there. People still respected us and I feel like our skating helped legitimize the whole thing, allowing those guys to continue doing what they were doing. They could be as weird as they wanted to be because the crew backed it up. But also, as riders, that’s what the fuck we were supposed to be doing.

I don’t have any bad feelings about it now. I think that if I really wanted to keep it going, then I would’ve put in the work. But I didn’t.

Did you keep up with Alien after all that? Like with Habitat and Photosynthesis and everything? 

Very little.

I'll be honest, I was very bitter about everything at that point. Because I had absolutely no preparation for the real world. None whatever. Not that it was those guys' fault, but I was screwed. I had no real skills or experience because I put my 10,000 hours into skateboarding. I had nothing else to offer. So, in order to deal with everything, I had to completely ignore skateboarding for a while until I figured out how to make ends meet. Stay in school, kids. (laughs)

I caught back up with things later, but a while there, I just wasn't into it. But yes, I still talk to Chris and Mike Hill to this day. Like for those Blue Tile Lounge boards, for example... a skateshop up here in Toronto did a re-release of one of my old boards a few years ago, the Smoking Bird sculpture. Everyone at Alien was really great with making that happen. Hill didn't even have the original photograph anymore that was used so he actually went into his archive to find the paper mache bird and reshot it. He sent those photos to the Blue Tile Lounge himself to use on the boards.



Yeah, how’d those boards come about? You even got a few new clips for that, too, which was awesome to see.

Yeah, the owner of Blue Tile Lounge is a big fan of the OG Toronto scene and was wanting to start a series of shop boards for some of us old guys from up there. I’m pretty sure I was the first one and then he gave ones to Justin Bokma and Jason Corbett, too.

Rob from Blue Tile Lounge is the one who contacted Carter about it initially, and Chris was totally in. Like I said, Hill had to reshoot the sculpture and everything. But an even trickier part about it all was that this is right around that time the Workshop went through some stuff. Basically what happened was that the Workshop printed the boards and had them ready to go, but when it came time to ship them out, the company collapsed. So, for all I know, that initial batch of boards is still sitting down in some warehouse in Mexico.

It was pretty crazy. Hill had to send the graphics straight to Rob at Blue Tile, who then printed the boards himself as there was no longer any Workshop to do so at the time. But Rob was great about it, man. I still can’t believe he was so determined to make what was essentially a shop board become a reality.

And that was just an afternoon of filming for you?

Yeah, I was just so appreciative of everything Blue Tile Lounge was trying to do, I felt like I had to at least try meeting them halfway with some footage. Hopefully I pieced together something that didn’t look like some guy trying to drop-in for the first time. What can I say? I tried my best. Old man-style.



So rad to see, man. And speaking of Blue Tile, have you been able to check out Bobby DeKeyzer at all? Definitely representing your hometown of Toronto for Habitat pretty lovely these days.

What was that name again? Wow… no, I need to check that out! I’ll check that out, for sure.

What are your thoughts on the Rob Dyrdek media empire? Could you envision back in the day that he would become half of MTV’s daily programming?

It’s not surprising to me at all that he’s wildly successful. But did I see hit MTV shows in his future? Not really. Because that’s totally fucking nuts, to be honest. I mean, what are the odds of that? But I think it’s awesome. I love it. And if they’re looking for a consultant who specializes in golf, Canada and dirtbikes, look me up! I’m available.  

We’ve talked through so many ups-and-downs with everything. Now that you’ve been able to put some distance in there, how do you look back on your skateboarding career?

I’m not sure if I would’ve done things any differently. My immediate reaction is that I would, but honestly, I’m not so sure.

You always have to try your best. But when I saw the end coming, I just wasn’t smart about it. I freaked out, man. I started having these gnarly anxiety attacks... I was in a bad spot because I couldn’t continue on in this career that I'd based my entire life around. I just didn’t know what to do.

It’s not that I should’ve tried harder, that’s not the right word. I just could’ve been smarter. Sure, it was super fun and I really enjoyed everything, but looking back, I should’ve prepared myself more for the end of my skateboarding career. If I knew the end was coming, which I did, I could’ve done more to ready myself for it. Instead, I just freaked out, which did nothing for me. Because everything else was fine, I just wasn’t ready for the ride to be over. I was dumb about it.  

If anyone can take anything from all this, it's that you can beat the anxiety. No problem. You can get through all that gnarly stuff and come out okay on the other side... like, everything is just fine for me now. But any type of preparation you can do beforehand will make things so much easier. I guess that goes with most things, but that's what I learned, the hard way. Don't wait until it's all over to figure something out... shout out to my friends in the Moonstone Mafia. 



Glad to hear you're doing well, Thomas. And thanks so much for doing this. As we wrap this up, give us your favorite Justin Bokma memory for those who never got the chance to meet him. 

There’s just so many good ones, man. It’s hard to explain. Because to me, he always seemed to be on. If you ever got him in a big group of people, he was just this character. And the sweetest kid ever. We went on so many road trips together, and he was always right there with me. He was the best, man. It’s hard to think about.

Probably my favorite story is, of course, Justin and Weiss. Because Weiss was always a little bigger than him, Bill would sometimes bully him around a little, even though Justin always seemed up for it. It was just this funny dynamic. But one time, we were all going to head down to Pennsylvania on a Cheapskates run. Justin was only a year younger than the rest of us but it was at one of those important points where a year could either make or break you, as far as needing a legal guardian was concerned. I remember Justin begging Bill to take him on this trip, to hopefully get him across the border… which was kinda sketchy, because if it didn’t work out, we were gonna have to turn around and come all the way back just to drop him off. Obviously, no one wanted to do that, so there was a risk there. 

Well, Bill wasn’t about to make it easy on him. I remember the deal was Bill making Justin shave his head Friar Tuck-style in order to go. Like male-pattern baldness. Bald on top, hair on the sides. And it was just so funny, man. And no hats either. He wasn't allowed to wear a hat or he couldn't go. Bill must've made him ride around town for a week like that before we left. It was so good, man. But he did it. He got to go and it all worked out… but I'll always remember him riding around town with that crazy haircut.


Special Thanks to Thomas, Carter and Halkias. 

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well done. Seems like a good dude.

Anonymous said...

T.O.’s finest.

Anonymous said...

My first board was his “Whales” slick. I’d love to find another one. Thomas rules,

Austin said...

This was great. Always loved Thomas’s skating.

Anonymous said...

Stoked! Scott Conklin soon please

Anonymous said...

Very insightful. Some great stories. Iceman.

Anonymous said...

Great interview! Grew up in small town Ontario, Canada, and my crew all looked up to the Toronto OGs. Thomas, Bokma, Corbett, and Weiss. It was a connection that in some ways made skateboarding ours too and not just something far away in California. Had Thomas' Canadian slick twice in the orange and green colour way. First board I bought with my own money too! Hope Thomas knows what a big influence he had on a generation of rippers and, that whatever he is up to, he is doing well. Greetings from Kitchener, ON, Canada.

Bednar said...

Gnarly, I may have bought my first car off Thomas, and dragged it out of Weiss’s moms garage all full of mold. Looking bike now it’s a strange honour to have been one of the “dirts” back then. Thomas was a key buffer in keeping us just far enough away from weiss’ amazing nick naming and bullying.,.. for years Bill called me Laaaaazarbeam