chrome ball interview #125: atiba jefferson

chops and atiba sit down for some conversation. 

While I’ve always been a fan of your photography, I’m even more impressed these days by the sheer amount of stuff you do. DJ, club owner, GOAT member, NBA shooter, business guy… and you’re seemingly at every concert in Los Angeles. What it is that keeps you out and about in such a way?

(laughs) Well, I grew up in a small town and honestly, my brother and I didn’t have much growing up… so I think when you come from nothing, you’re more willing to take advantage of opportunities. Basically, I look at life as something that’s not guaranteed and will ultimately be short, regardless of however it pans out. So, for me, I’m trying do as much as I possibly can at all times. It’s not always the best trait to have as it can be pretty hard on relationships, but these opportunities aren’t always going to be there for me. This is all stuff that I never thought I’d be able to do. So yeah, I’m stoked out there. I’m having a good time.

What would you say is the craziest “Hollywood”-type situation you’ve found yourself in? Sitting courtside at the Lakers with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, it really doesn’t get more California than that.

(laughs) Yeah, if I had to bring one up, that would be it. Because I grew up with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, through skating and those early records.

People forget what a big “skate band” they were back in the day.

Yeah, and through various things, I’ve actually become friends with Flea over the years. He’s really just a super nice, gracious dude. But it’s crazy because I’d gone to see a show of his and we’re hanging out when he starts telling me about how he recently got courtside tickets. That’s cool and all, but I really didn’t think anything of it.

A few days later, he hits me up.

“Let’s go to a game!”

“Oh wow! Definitely! …but wait, it’s Cleveland versus the Lakers! Don’t you want to bring somebody else? This is Lebron!”

“Nah, let’s go!”

It’s funny because I’ve shot so many games on that court through my NBA gig, but there is nothing cooler than actually sitting in one of those seats. That was my first time actually sitting down there, not working. And with Flea? Drinking a beer? No way. I was seriously laughing to myself.

Living in LA, you’re bound to find yourself in some crazy situations. This town is good for that. And people always say you shouldn’t meet your idols but I don’t agree with that at all, because that’s how you realize that they’re just normal people, too.

Is hero worship still a thing for you?

Oh yeah, I’m definitely still a fan, first and foremost. As a photographer, you kinda have to be. I actually laugh at anyone who isn’t. And that’s also why I don’t really consider myself a true artist, either. Because an artist should only need their tools to create. My tools are somebody else, like Tony Hawk and Andrew Reynolds. They’re the ones actually making magic happen, I’m just watching. So no, I have no shame in being a fanboy, you just gotta be cool about it. Not that I’m anywhere near as cool as my subjects, you just can’t be blowing up their spots. That’s rule #1. 

But how do you maintain that type of relationship with guys like Reynolds who you’ve literally known for decades?

I will admit that things can get to a point where you become another jaded friend. That’s only natural. And while you do lose an aspect of that “hero worship”, I actually think it improves the work by having a closer relationship. Everyone’s more comfortable and you can be more honest about things.

For example, I don’t have Kobe Bryant’s phone number, but he always greets me by name whenever we see each other.

“Hey! What’s up, Atiba!”

Obviously, that’s personally incredible for me, but I also feel like it means he can let his guard down a little as there is some trust there. Because as a photographer, I just want people to feel comfortable. That’s actually one of the most important things in photography. It’s all about social skills. You can take a bad photo but if your subject is comfortable and having a good time, it will translate. When a subject’s guard is down, that’s when you capture those real moments.

Just don’t get too comfortable, you know? You always gotta stay on your game.

Is that Cadillac you showed up in the other day the same one P-Rod bought you?

(laughs) Totally! Because Paul was a dude I shot early in his career… not that I discovered him or anything, but I did bring him up to Koston back in the day.

“Dude, there’s this kid out in the Valley. He’s amazing. You guys definitely need to creep on him for eS and Girl. I think you’ll be stoked.”

I mentioned it to Paul afterwards and he was so appreciative that I’d done that for him. Of course, Eric already knew about him, but having one more person vouching for the guy always helps. And Paul never forgot about that, which kinda became a thing after a while.

“Hey, you’ve done so much for me. I’m going to buy you a car, just wait and see. As soon as I get enough money, I’m getting you a car.”

He said that to a few of us but we never really took it seriously… until one day, he hits me up.

“Let’s go shopping!”

It was seriously one of the coolest things ever. Not because I got a car but for anybody to do that for their friend. It shows what a great person Paul is, something that I’m reminded of every day as I’m driving around in that thing.

It’s some Elvis Presley shit. But before all the Cadillacs and courtside seats, going back to Colorado Springs, how did all this begin? You started shooting in high school, right?

Yeah, I took a photo class as a junior in high school and got super into it. At the time, I was a busboy at this Mexican restaurant and had to save up all summer to buy my first camera… because while I grew up skating, I never really thought I’d go pro or anything. I never had the dream. And with this being right around the time I was starting my senior year, photography was the only thing I really enjoyed so I decided to focus on that.

Were you sending in photos to mags?

Yeah, I guess I’ve always been a High Speed guy on the low because the first photos I ever had published were in Slap. This was super early on, actually with a point-and-shoot camera. But Dawes ran two or three photos of mine in an article called, “For Those Who Contribute”… which, I was so hyped on. Not even having a proper camera yet and already having stuff in Slap with my name in there? It really meant a lot.

So after that, I immediately started thinking that I was the next Spike Jonze. Grant Brittain, part 2. And by that point, I was already calling the real Grant Brittain at the Transworld number through my shop. But after a few more attempts where I’d sent in some photos, expecting to be published, Grant had to break it down to me one day.

“Dude, these photos really aren’t that good. The lighting is off. The lens is bad. You have to realize that your photos should be as good as the ones already in the magazine if you expect to have your stuff in there, too.”

It was rough but looking back on it, I appreciate him being so real with me. Because I needed to hear it. I had to be honest with myself that my photos weren’t as good as the rest of the magazine. My photos sucked, straight up. Grant was right. So I stopped sending in my photos for a while until they got a little better.

At the time, I was working at the skateshop in Colorado Springs called BC Surf and Skate… and honestly, I was content with that. Maybe one day I’ll manage my own store and have some kids? Just live the dream out there in Colorado. Because I’ll never be a pro and I doubt that I’ll ever be able to make a living off my skate photography, I guess I’ll just be the dude at the skateshop. 

What ended up happening was Josh Beagle and Ronnie Creager came through my shop for Barbarians at the Gate. If you watch it, you can actually see me kickturning in a little ditch. But I was their tour guide around town. And when everything went okay, Beagle actually gave me his phone number on his way out, telling me to hit him up if I ever came to California… which was probably the worst thing he could’ve ever done.

So I end up flying out to California and actually taking Beagle up on his offer, staying with him for a week down in Orange County. It was the dead of winter, so I was instantly blown away by the California weather. I think I’d only been out of Colorado maybe once in my entire life, so California was just incredible to me. I remember getting a photo of Judd Hertzler on that trip actually… and there was no turning back after that.

There’s actually a movie that I credit in all of this: Men At Work with Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen. I know it sounds crazy but that movie really motivated my brother and I to move to California. That you should do whatever job it takes in order to be out there. Working at 7-11 or whatever. Because California was the dream, man. Just cruising the beach and skating, you know?

Yeah, didn’t you work at 7-11?

Luckily, it never got to that. Ako got a job assisting Ted Newsome, back when he was Art Director at Transworld, so there was money coming in. Swift actually hooked me up with filming Heath and Beagle for the last stretch of Rolling Thunder, too. $50 a day.

How was that?

(laughs) All I remember is picking up Heath from school a few times and him just fucking around... but we did end up getting a few things, which was at least something for me to point to.

I was also steadily improving with my photography, and with Ako working at Transworld, I started hanging out at their offices all day. I’m sure it must’ve been torture for those dudes but it did eventually start leading to things.

Was there some kind of breakthrough moment in all this where professional skate photographer suddenly seemed doable for you?  

For me, that came more from being out on the road with skaters I’d always looked up to. Being around incredible skating, that’s really what kept me going when the money wasn’t there yet… because the money wasn’t there for a while. (laughs)

Finding myself on tour with Tony Hawk, too. Transworld sent me out with Birdhouse for one of my first trips, that was a big deal. Tony’s always been one of my favorites, even though he really wasn’t “cool” at the time to a lot people. This was way before the 900, when Willy Santos was the big draw that people were coming out to see. I remember us actually laughing at anybody who was there to get their Bones Brigade stuff signed.

“Hey Tony! Come and sign this fucking relic from the 80s!” (laughs)

We were just so young back then, Tony felt ancient to us.

Funny story, on the first day of that tour, Tony gave me the keys to go park the mini-van. And this mini-van was seriously our entire deal for the trip. There was no rockstar tour bus or anything like that… even though a few years later, that would be the only way Tony traveled. At the time, this mini-van was it, because things were as bare bones as possible. Everybody sleeping in the same room, no tour manager, Tony as the team manager. Get in the van.

So it’s the first day and I’m super excited. I go out to park the van for Tony Hawk and I don’t even know to check the clearance of this thing. I’m pulling into the parking garage when, all of a sudden, I start to hear a gnarly scraping sound… oh, man, I just ripped the roof rack completely off the van. We literally just started this tour and I’ve already kooked it. I was so bummed, man. I remember sitting in that parking lot for so long, trying to think of how I’m going to explain myself to Tony Hawk that I’ve ruined the tour van.

But Tony was Tony about it. No big deal at all.

“Oh, it’s fine, dude. We didn’t need that thing anyway.”

He’s the best. But between that and calling Jeff Kendall to bail us all out of jail on another early trip with Santa Cruz, I knew I wasn’t in Colorado Springs anymore. I loved it.

What would you say has been your most embarrassing photography fail?

(laughs) There have been a lot…

Actually, nobody will ever know my most embarrassing fail because the photos never came out. But Heath did a kickflip backlip down the City College Rail during Rolling Thunder, probably the first one ever done down a handrail. And I totally blew it. I have no idea why I didn’t shoot fisheye but wow, those photos are terrible. I still have the slide but I won’t even show that to anybody. It’s that bad… like, what the fuck was I even doing?

Luckily, it’s Heath so he ended up doing bigger ones. But yeah, that first one… ugh. (laughs)

How’d you end up 360 flipping for the cover in Grant’s recreation of his classic Swank pushing shot?  

Straight up, Grant just asked me one day. He and Swift had the idea to recreate that cover for whatever it was… 10 years later. They just came up and asked me.

“Can you 360 flip for a cover?”

I could do 360 flips pretty well at that point but I still went out and practiced a whole bunch. Because if this is going where I think it’s going, I have to at least be semi- up to par. (laughs)

But talk about surreal! That was still pretty early on with my living in California and here I am, shooting at this legendary spot for a cover with Grant Brittain.

Do you remember the overall reaction to that cover? Because that shot is kinda sacred to many people.

I honestly never heard either way about it. This was before social media and the Slap Message Board, back when everyone was in their own little bubble. We just did it and hoped for the best. Keep it moving.

I’m sure if we did something like that now, we’d get lit the fuck up. (laughs)

Talk about shooting those old Pro Spotlights for Transworld. Because I feel like where most interviews are now in tandem with a video part, those articles were almost parts in of themselves back then.

Yeah, those interviews were just part of being a pro back then. Like video parts are nowadays, that was the standard.

The goal with shooting a Spotlight was always four stills and four sequences. That’s what you had to get, that was the formula. 12-pages, until they started getting longer. But there was hardly ever a deadline, you just shot until they were done, if they got done.

This was also back when people typically shot photos and filmed. You did both, literally at the same time in most cases. Just set up the video camera on a tripod while you shot stills and hope for the best.

The thing about shooting photos back then… let me say it like this. Most people don’t know this, but the first paid gig I ever had was for one of the early DC ads. A still photo and a video grab sequence of Rob Dyrdek doing a nollie nosegrind down the City College Rail. Skin actually shot the photo, he just brought me along to shoot video and check it all out as I’ve always been a huge Dyrdek fan.

So Rob was actually trying nollie frontnose at first... for a while. That is, until he shifted to the nosegrind. But it took forever… until somehow, he puts one down. I mean, that’s skating! Sometimes people just do stuff. But there was absolutely no progression to it whatsoever. He did that one and that’s the one he did. There was no going back for another so you better have gotten it.

The reason I bring this up is because Rob was hardly the only skater to shoot this way. That’s how a lot of pros got coverage actually. Like, straight-up, I’ve never done this trick before but I’m gonna try it, so get ready because this is probably gonna take a while. Make sure you have enough film. But they’d actually do it, which is the beauty of skating.

So going back to those Pro Spotlights, if every one of those 8 photos was a trick they’d never done before, being shot on film, that could take a while. Because all it takes is making that one try. So yeah, a Pro Spotlight could take anywhere from 6 months to a year.

Do you have a personal favorite?

I did a couple with Andrew Reynolds that will always be special to me. The second one with him kickflipping the Hollywood 16 on the cover? I always loved that photo. And I did one with Jeremy Wray right as he got on Element… the one where he did the San Diego triple-set and all that roof stuff.

It’s funny because I worked on Jeremy’s previous Pro Spotlight, too. It was partly me shooting and part Dan Sturt, who I am a huge fan of. You can see in my photos for that first one… the color prints with sloppy borders? I’m a total Sturt rip-off at that point. But by the time I shot the second Wray article, you can see some progression there, composition-wise. I feel like I started coming into my own point-of-view here versus being so heavily influenced by Sturt and Spike. Not that I necessarily figured everything out overnight. It’s still pretty mixy-matchy, but it’s better. And Jeremy was unbelievable at the time. He’d just present you with these crazy ideas that had never been done before. You wanted to do it justice stylistically, but at the same time, he was on such a completely different level that it just needed to be captured. 

The Kareem Campbell one is special to me, too, because he’s always been so elusive. To pull that off was something I’m really proud of. Everybody loves that dude.

Yeah, how did you make that happen?

I want to say that his took the longest, definitely over a year. That’s just Kareem. You have to be patient. But at the same time, it wasn’t like he was flaking and not getting stuff. He’s just always been on his own deal. And he had a lot of stuff going on, too. A top pro, running his own board company and just having started a successful new shoe brand? On top of having a kid? His whole deal was crazy. You had to be understanding if he couldn’t make it out that day to go skating. He had a lot of stuff going on and you just had to deal with it.

So yeah, it took a while. I was still living in San Diego at the time and I remember coming up to stay at his house in LA so we could shoot. And he’d always get something. If we actually did go out to shoot, he’d always try his hardest. He wasn’t fucking around because he really didn’t have time for that.

Would he have ideas for stuff or was it more spontaneous?

Typically, he’d show up at a spot and look around, figure something out and just do shit. Oh, there’s handicap ramp? Let me kickflip it. A double-set? I’ll switch hardflip it. How about we push this dumpster over there and skate it… backtail. Fully on the fly.

I actually remember him doing fakie 5-0s on a table, which was good, but I felt like he always did fakie 5-0s on tables.

“That’s sick and all, but what about a fakie 5-0 with something out of it?”

“Okay, I’ll do a shove-it out. Which way do you want it?”

“I have a choice? Well, backside would be cool.”

What about that one with Baker 2G-era Greco? Definitely a wild point in his career.

Oh, that was a fun one to shoot. That 4x5 portrait of him is one of my favorite portraits I’ve ever shot. And I’m pretty sure that gap to backlip in there was first or second try. But yeah, it was definitely a crazy era for Jim. Like that bluntslide? I remember him totally raging on that one but he still pulled it off.

That article was funny, though, because it really came together through Jim always rolling with Andrew. That’s how you got to Jim at the time. It’s not like he was calling me up, wanting to shoot. He was just handling shit and I happened to be there, for the most part. After a while, we started to realize how much he had and ended up going on a few missions to finish it up. But the glossary and “mob” and all that, that was all Jim’s idea. All that came together on the fly.

I feel like that was a product of everyone skating Wilshire all the time. That was our thing.

“Let’s get a Wilshire session.”

It was always Arto, Koston, Andrew and Greco. That was the posse. And that Wilshire era was like taking a year off from my partying life. Because while everyone else was out at the club, I’d be down shooting at Wilshire.

What about his backside noseblunt cover?

Yeah, that was definitely a battle. I feel like we had to come back for that one. Because we were always getting kicked out, too, on top of it being a backside nosebluntslide down Wilshire. There was always something tricky about that spot, especially in its prime. Those people definitely weren’t stoked to have us there all the time. Just another part of the game.

You brought up the Jeremy Wray Spotlight earlier, tell me about shooting the triple-set. That was basically out of the blue, right?

I just remember him walking into the office, like “This is the day.”

That’s the thing about Jeremy, he works in very mysterious ways. You never really know what you’re gonna get. Somedays he’s feeling it, somedays he’s not. But yeah, I was hanging out in the office one day and in walks Jeremy, talking about ollieing all three sets at the San Diego Sports Arena. Just hearing him say that was shocking, because nobody had even dreamed of doing that before. Plus, that spot was a total bust back then, so it basically felt like a fantasy all-around. Getting this insane trick at such an impossible spot… but I was down to try, for sure. And what can I say, we went down there and he handled it. It didn’t take very long at all.

Be honest, did you go down there expecting him to actually get it?

I thought we were going to get kicked out. Because at that point, I had all the faith in the world in him. Anybody who could ollie those towers knew what they were doing.

I feel like the triple-set came about because we were at the end of his Spotlight. We’d shot so much stuff already that had cover potential, but the triple-set was basically him dropping the hammer on the whole thing. Because he really did work his ass off for that article.

Something that I don’t think got enough credit at the time: Klein’s 360 flip over the bottom bar at Beryl.

Oh man, that was back in my early days. I’m not even sure my motor drive was fast enough to have kept up with all that. But yeah, that was unbelievable. And it really didn’t take that long for how gnarly it is. That’s the cool thing about Jeremy, because he always used to say he was “old school”. He’d always tell us about how Spike would make everyone land whatever trick they were trying first before he shot it. That’s how Jeremy came up, and there always a bit of that still in there when you shoot with him. 

I’ve always been a big fan of Jeremy. That spotlight was after he’d disappeared for a little bit to do video game stuff, but to me, he was a full-on legend who I felt people weren’t giving enough props to. So that article was fun to do. After that came his part in the Transworld video and he started skating with Heath a lot… it was great seeing him back in the mix like that. And honestly, the combo of Jeremy and Heath was seriously the best. My brother and I still talk about how so many of the best times we’ve ever had was with those guys. Just so funny and not giving a fuck.

Didn’t you shoot photos of their The End part?

That’s a funny one because I did shoot the majority of it, but this was also around the time that I started shooting basketball stuff, so I shot a lot of it... except for the final bridge jump. And they actually had to do that one a couple of times, but I always had a Laker game or something to shoot instead… which, they definitely let me know their dissatisfaction about that! Because they’d been working so hard on this part and I was right there with them. Out in these weird strip malls, wearing suits and skating the signs. Now I wasn’t going to be there for the grand finale?

“Dude, I can’t believe you’re going to fucking miss this!”

I heard that literally every single day leading up to the final shoot. And I was so bummed the entire night of that shoot because I just knew I was missing this legendary thing.

So the next day came…

“Did you guys get it?”

“…no. We have to go do it again.”

I thought they were joking but no, they really didn’t get it. They really did have to go shoot it again. And when I couldn’t be there that second time either, it was like the whole cycle started all over. I was back having to hear about it every day again. 

Didn’t you once catch Heath spying on you at a shoot?

Yeah, Klein was there, too. I was out shooting someone who will remain nameless… such a dickhead move on their part. (laughs)

They used to do this thing where they’d call me up in the morning and ask what all I had planned for the day. I didn’t know what they were up to.

“Oh, I’m gonna go skating with someone today and shoot some photos.”

“Ok, cool! What time? Where are you guys shooting at?”

And I’d tell them whatever details, just making conversation. Because who cares, right?

But the thing is, and I should’ve kept this in mind… they’d actually spied on me before. One day, I was out on a shoot and they call my cell phone, out of the blue.

“We’re fucking watching you, dude.”

It was so crazy, man! Because here I am, shooting this guy who really is trying to get a trick. He doesn’t want to know that Heath and Jeremy are sneaking around, trying to fuck with me. And this is my job! I didn’t know what to do! It’s funny, but at the same time, I don’t want to fuck it up for this guy! He’s just trying to do his thing. 

So yeah, that had happened once before but it had been a while and I just chalked it up as a random, isolated event. There’s no way that it would happen again.

But on this particular day, the anonymous skater and I are going to shoot some photos at Front Street for his Pro Spotlight. So he starts trying a trick and I’m shooting… when I start to notice these dudes sneaking around. I look closer and it’s Jeremy and Heath in full-on Beastie Boys’ Sabotage-style disguises! Trying to look like grounds people in order to get as close to me as possible without my knowing it, which I guess was the point of their game. But I saw them and start stressing out. I don’t want to bum out my man! I remember even pointing one of them out to my guy, like, “Look at that crazy guy over there! Wonder if we’re getting kicked out?”

I didn’t mention that it was really Jeremy and Heath.

Well, what ended up happening was the cops came! They came up to the fence and wanted everybody out. I knew if Anonymous saw Jeremy and Heath in their outfits, he’d think that I was in on some elaborate prank… but I wasn’t! So I had to do this move where I stalled climbing the fence after my guy but before Heath and Jeremy to try and split them up a little, hoping that my guy would just walk off or something. It’s all I could do! (laughs)

I was so mad at them, but looking back on it, that shit is hilarious. I honestly think they were just bored. They had nothing else to do during the day and it sounded like a fun idea. There was always hi-jinx with those dudes, like Heath breaking into my house and hopping into my bed with me while I slept? And this was back when he definitely wasn’t showering very much. Now he’s in my bed, waking me up. So funny, dude.

But you must’ve been in your fair share of ABD controversies over the years, right?

Oh yeah, I’ve definitely been in the middle of a few things. You’re not going to get any names but there was one time where two guys were bickering over this one rail… which, seriously, both of them had tried the same trick and neither of them actually made it. I shouldn’t say “bickering”, but they were seriously going at each other, actually coming down to who even tried it first… who cares!?! It’s a bail!

And there’s also been a few times where someone brought up shooting a trick on a particular rail with me.

“Yeah! Let’s get it!”

Only to realize while he’s trying it… oh man, I’ve actually been here before with someone else. Wait, I think they even did this trick! Oh god, I even shot it! Oh shit!

Thank God this other guy didn’t end up making it. (laughs)

You’re known for shooting Koston, Reynolds, Muska and Thomas in the late 90s/early 00s… which is kind of like the Mt. Rushmore of that era. How would you go about comparing and contrasting those guys on shoots back then?

I mean, that’s one of those things about shooting skateboarding, you just take everybody for who they are. It’s hard to compare people like that because everybody works differently. Like, I’m going to go out with Koston and he’s either going to get something really sick or he’s gonna mumble around and talk to you about the spot. Jamie was always the most focused one. Andrew as well but Jamie was on another level with it. I don’t think Koston was as much because everything came so easily to him. Things have a tendency to work out for someone who can do just about anything they put their mind to.

Andrew was the perfect combination of focus and not really giving a fuck. I remember him getting Lasik surgery on his eyes and having to wear sunglasses for a few days, doctor’s orders. He still called me up to go shooting.

“I’m getting this trick today.”

And he actually got it. He varial heel’ed the Bricktown 10 that day, wearing sunglasses. Doctor’s orders.  

It’s like Jamie had the focus, Andrew had the heart, Koston had the gift and Jeremy Wray had all of it.

I actually got an interesting phase of Muska because it was post-party time, “fuck it” Muska of the Toy Machine days. The Chad I shot was a really smart, business-minded, marketing genius Muska. The start of Muska Beatz and all that stuff… Straight-up Muska Mania. In skating, there are very few pros that change the way people dress and acted but Muska and Andrew both got to that point. There’s hardly anybody who’s been able to have that kind of impact on a generation.

My heyday with Jamie was basically Welcome to Hell and his interview afterwards where he kickflipped MACBA. That was my Jamie experience, before he was full-on Zero Jamie. After I moved to LA, I rarely shot him. But with Jamie, there was always a program. He wanted to get out there and handle literally everything. He was such a motivator. A lot of people won’t force others into a session because everybody just wants to do their own thing, but Jamie was gonna make it happen. He didn’t care because he was pushing himself equally as hard, if not harder. There were things that he not only wanted to do, he truly felt like he had to do them in order to be the best he could be. But he was willing to put in the necessary work and you have to respect that. And he really did make that impact in the end.

You largely came up with Reynolds as he emerged from child star to manhood through your lens.

Reynolds and Heath will always be the guys I came up with. But the thing is, Heath was already shooting with Swift when I met him, Andrew had really only shot photos a couple of times. It was so early on in both of our careers, we just met at the perfect time and I feel like we’ll always have that special bond.

When did he become “The Boss” in your eyes?

Probably that frontside flip down the Silvergate 14. That was 2nd try, too. On a Zero board. Not too many people know that. He broke his board on the first try and ended up borrowing Jamie’s board and duct-taping over the graphic.

At that time, it was probably the biggest frontside flip ever. It was undeniable. He’d been bubbling up for a while but it’s not like he had last part in The End or anything. That frontside flip was like, “Ok, he’s starting to leave his mark on things now.”

The funny thing about Andrew is that a lot of people in the industry used to hate on him back in the day. People didn’t want to give him the proper credit. I even remember a pretty big pro asking me, straight-up, “Why are you into this dude? His style is so bad!” Like I shouldn’t even be shooting with him.

I look back on that stuff now and laugh. Because to me, Andrew is one of the most influential skaters of all time.

But because of that early relationship, did you ever feel the need to step in later, when he was starting to struggle… like, hey, you’re fucking up?

Yeah, that stuff was hard to see. But at the same time, you don’t want to throw stones because I was drinking back then, too. The thing was, neither of us really drank growing up. We were just nerds about skating. That’s all we cared about. But I remember going on a trip, he was 18 and I was probably 20... when I came back, Andrew was super drunk. I was bummed about it, too. Like,  “Damn, dude! What the fuck!?!”

I got over it and even started to drink as well, later on. But with everything that came afterwards, his struggles were real. Something I’ll always remember is seeing Keenan out one night in LA, just as Andrew was starting to come up here as well. Keenan and I were always close but he broke the whole deal down to me that night, right then and there.

“Yo, just so you know, and let those dudes know, too… this isn’t Orange County. This is LA. If they start to take their partying too crazy, they’re gonna struggle with it. Because it’s a different scene up here.”

I told them that, too. Because those guys were definitely coming in hot, like “Oh, we’re running Huntington Beach, now we’re gonna start running Hollywood.”

They were doing drugs, man. Not that drinking is any better, but they were doing hard drugs. Not to get all After-School Special about it but you could tell things were starting to get out of control. And I remember talking to Andrew about it one night, after he’d just done drugs.

“Dude, as your friend, I gotta tell you that I’m getting a little worried about you and your situation.”

“Hey, I’m getting tricks. Isn’t that all that matters?”

“Not necessarily, man. What you’re doing is crazy. This stuff’s not cool.”

So yeah, it was a scary time. But it’s been incredible to watch him get sober and overcome so many things. Getting his shit together and becoming such a positive influence for so many that struggle with addiction.

For sure, he’s really been inspiring to watch come out the other side.

Exactly! I honestly think Stay Gold is his best video part, which was amazing to watch go down. We were all so proud of him.

…And before we even get into it, that’s Ako at the bottom of Hollywood High after his varial heel, not me. (laughs)

Well, for many, Frosty in Yeah Right was the standard. Weren’t you there on his quest for the “Ender Ender”, inevitably leading to that San Marcos 3flip noseslide?

It just seemed like every day, he was doing things that had never been done before. And down handrails, too. That was almost becoming the norm, because things were still so open like that. I guess the problem became keeping some type of perspective. Nollie backnose down Wilshire, backtail kickflip out… it was crazy to witness. That was just his window. Don’t get me wrong, he worked hard for tricks. Always talking to himself. But he could just turn it on, all of a sudden, like nobody else I’d ever seen before.

I still remember that day, driving out to San Marcos in the car. We’re gonna fucking do this. That was just Eric. I still have that deck actually.

One thing people might not know about, he’d actually tried that trick earlier on a bigger rail. But for him to get that, never been done on a handrail, the night before the premier, all the way out in San Marcos? That’s just what it took. There’s always pressure with your last trick and what you think you can do, which at that time, it felt like he could almost do anything. He just needed to fully realize that.

What about Muska’s legendary day in Phoenix for Feedback?

Oh my god, that was insane. So many clips… I don’t even know how many he got that day. You’d have to ask Ty.

Chad’s always been a magical kind of dude, but that day was insane. Because it was kind of a weird trip, to be honest. It was a random crew: Arto, Dill, Willy Santos, Geoff, Neil Mims, Boulala… and I remember it had gotten a little weird. People were partying and I think something might’ve happened with Arto’s heart issues, too. I just remember us all being in an odd space after a while.

Muska actually wasn’t there for all that, though. He flew in to meet us in Phoenix after we’d all been on the road for a bit. But his whole plan was just to come in, do his thing, and get out. And that’s what he did, for sure. Skating with Muska was always like that back then. Every time you rolled out with Chad, you were guaranteed to get three or four things that day.

He always had ideas, though. He was always so observant of everything around him as well as knowing of his own capabilities. Going out with Chad in L.A. was almost exactly like that clip of him cruising around downtown in the first Shorty’s video. He really knew how to go out and look for things to skate. Granted, we were on a trip that day but he knew Phoenix pretty well already. He definitely came in with a game plan.

Dude was ollieing through trees!

For the cover shot! Yeah, only someone who was familiar with the zone would’ve known about that one. Because that was his idea, too. And it’s not like he spotted that one from the side of the road, either.

It was just such a special thing. Because not only is this dude killing everything in sight, he’s also out there being the Muska, too. All hyped and happy while the rest of us were all feeling weird about stuff. It was amazing.

So many marquee spots over the years: Irvine, Bricktown, Wilshire, Hollywood High… even Carlsbad. Which of those was your favorite to shoot at and which one do you never want to see again?

It's just that all those spots were so plain to shoot. None of them were very photogenic. I’d rather shoot in the city, to be honest. It’s a lot more hectic, but it’s way more exciting, too. That’s probably the one positive thing about the spots you just mentioned, that they are all so isolated. No people around to deal with.

Out of all the old spots, I’d say the one that has a special place in my heart are the Arco rails downtown. Because they have so much history and are probably the most photogenic of the bunch.

I always loved your front tail photo of Heath there. 

Yeah, just using a fisheye with those big buildings overhead. That spot looks great.

But one thing that made Arco so fun was how crazy security got. It always felt like some kind of bank heist-scenario down there. Like Koston’s nollie back noseblunt? We literally had to run off after he made that because security was coming in hot! Not that I want to do that now as a 42-year-old man but it really was exciting back then. We were straight outta Heat!

What’s the scariest slam you recall in all of this?

Probably Mumford cracking his head open at Uni High. There’s a photo where his head is seriously cracked open. That was gnarly, man. It’s never a good time when someone gets hurt. That’s easily the worst part about this job.

So I know you’re coming off some footage in both the new Tired and Boys of Summer 2 videos but we obviously have to go back to the OG, Chomp On This. How was that thing even made back then?

Honestly, we really didn’t work on it for all that long. If you run it back, I’m pretty sure that it was under a year. We were on this Girl trip to Miami with Eric and McCrank and it just so happened that both Ty and I got some clips. Someone threw out the idea that we should make a video and next thing I know, Ty’s hyped on it and we’re making a video!

But not much time went into because it was a joke, you know? We never thought that anybody was actually going to care. Because this was pre-internet, pre-YouTube… videos were so much more work back then. You had marketing and advertising to think about because there was no such thing as a viral video yet. You had to do all these things in order to have a video that people would actually see and we weren’t doing any of that. We were just making a video! So we never expected it to do anything close to what it did, whatsoever.

I mean, it came out on VHS! Not even DVD yet, that’s how old it is! Next year will be 20 years! It’s hilarious. That’s Figgy’s first skate video... of all things, Chomp On This! Sorry, man. That was not our intention. (laughs)

High-profile homie videos are such common thing now, but I can’t think of anything like Chomp before it came out.

It was just this running joke that somehow kept gaining momentum. I guess because of who was in it, not that we were pros or anything, but we were enough of a part of things to where this crazy project we were doing was getting talked about. It became this thing where people started wanting to be in on it, too. Okay, I guess we’ll have some pros in there. Maybe people will think that they’re actually going to be getting something good out of it… but at the end of the day, they were stuck with us. Like a bad surprise or something. (laughs)

But how did you guys go about getting all those pro parts? I mean, Jamie Thomas and Eric Koston!? Even Henry Sanchez!

That was really all Ty and Lee. As much as I was involved, I gotta give the proper credit here because I was mainly just hanging out. But Ty and I were skating a lot with Eric at the time and Lee was with Jamie constantly back then for Zero stuff. It just worked out.

I think Jamie and Eric just wanted to have some fun in a video for once. For things not to be so serious. Because when Chomp was being made, nobody filmed anything unless it was absolutely serious.

We just wanted to make it different. We wanted partying in there and to do all the things that other videos wouldn’t. Specifically, we wanted everything that Lee and Ty would never do in their other videos. Because back then, you were never supposed to make a video part of pros partying. No way.

Was anybody bummed about being included in the party montage?

I don’t think so. But looking back on it, holy shit, that thing is definitely hectic. Especially for that time when partying wasn’t really being documented. It was gnarly, for sure.

This was before phones, too. A lot of those Hollywood clubs we’d go to back then wouldn’t allow cameras inside, not even point-and-shoots. So getting all that footage on the inside wasn’t easy. We had to put in some work for that stuff.

Yeah, I didn’t realize how much of that must’ve been shot on the sneak tip with full cameras.

Totally, but that’s what made it so much fun, too. The whole thing of trying to get away with it. It’s completely different now, people are filming in clubs constantly. But back then, you had to sneak around to get a clip. It really felt like a big deal.

How have these later homie projects you’ve been in compared to the original Chomp?

Boys of Summer is just the super homie video. It’s all just for fun, man. But it does mean a lot to me. I mean, I’m always going to skate but it truly is a different type of skating once the camera comes out. You always push yourself a little harder, trying that little something extra. To still click into that mode in my forties is pretty hilarious.

Last question: Give us your favorite Dylan Reider memory.

Well, I’m lucky because it’s not like I was his O.G. photographer. I actually remember meeting him for the first time, back when he was Birdhouse Dylan. I was at Burbank Middle School with Reynolds and I remember us both being like, “Damn, there’s that dude.” Even Reynolds was like, “That dude…”

There’s so many memories, man. Once we really clicked, we were thick as thieves. I’m fortunate that I was able to spend so much time with him. Living in my house together in LA or out in New York while he filmed for Cherry… which, that whole Gravis/Cherry period of his!? That was some unbelievable skating. His style, his trick selection… it was ridiculous. I still say he’s the greatest skater ever, because he really did have it all. From transition to street, to gnarly, to tech, there was not one hole in his bag of tricks. He could do it all.

Didn’t you shoot that Skateboard Mag cover with the frontside flip over the planter?

Yeah, and that thing was so big. Just an ollie would’ve been insane and here he frontside flipped it! We were getting kicked out, too. It was this hectic scene and he just handled it. That will always be a special cover to me, not only because of Dylan but I also think skating took a turn towards a better direction after Cherry.

But my greatest memories of Dylan are just how he’d do things to make you feel comfortable around him. He really wanted people to have a good time. Because someone that cool actually makes you start to feel cool, too… even though, you know in the back of your mind that you’re not even close to being that cool. But it’s a great thing.

Just going out and doing stuff together, being his friend through good times and bad. Beyond skating, his battling Leukemia was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen anyone go through. And he never let that fight take away from his smile or rob him from enjoying life. He never gave up.

Even down to the most beautiful 360 flip I’ve ever seen, over that shopping cart, he lived life to the fullest. Even when he was really sick, he still went to see the Animal Collective with me in Orange County. Because we always went to see Animal Collective together. They’re friends of ours. I remember when that show came up, I couldn’t not tell him about it.

“Dude, I know this will probably be against your doctor’s orders but I can’t go see Animal Collective without at least telling you.”

And he was really sick at this point. But he just looks at me says, “I want to go.”

“Well… we’re fucking going then! Fire it up!”

And we drove down there, an hour and twenty minutes, and saw the show... like a fucking trooper. It was great.

Thanks to Kingman, Brando and Atiba for taking the time.


Anonymous said...

Jason Jones?

Anonymous said...

Legends. Gratitude.

Anonymous said...

All Time Favorite. Thank you CBI and Atiba!

50 said...

Wish it was twice as long!

Unknown said...

Solid read! Great stories spanning over some important generations too. Atiba rules ����

Anonymous said...

Don’t ever stop doing these. High fives my dude. Chalker

nickyb said...

what a great interview, photogs always got the tea
thanks Chops!

bradtheraddad said...

Chops, you are our only hope, please keep doing these with as many in the skate family as possible! Love your work, keep it up!

ARE-DUHBYA said...

So damn good

Anonymous said...

The closing story is heartbreaking.

word hurdle said...

The final narrative is devastating.