chrome ball interview #126: silas baxter-neal

photo: humphries

You’ve always had a pretty straight-forward look over the years, did you ever have any regrettable phases growing up in Eugene? Like a skinny jeans Piss Drunx-era or possibly even a yo’d out cornrow phase?

(laughs) I did, actually.


Oh, for sure. Eugene is essentially a bubble in of itself and when I was growing up, backpack rap was huge. So I’d wear camo cargo pants and stuff like that… which I think is actually pretty cool, I just personally don’t look very good in it.

But I’ve never really been into fashion, in general. I’ve always just worn whatever was sent to me… which looking back on, probably wasn’t always the best idea. There are definitely a few red t-shirts and some desert camo pants that I looked pretty ridiculous in.

Did you ever start rapping or anything like that? Possibly a graffiti phase?

(laughs) Oh yeah, I went through this period where I got hurt and couldn’t skate for a little bit. I broke my foot and was out for about 7 months. But because I was so obsessed with skateboarding, I basically had to start hanging out with non-skaters so I wouldn’t drive myself crazy. So I found myself hanging around a lot of breakdance and graffiti kids. It was cool, though. I got into it a bit, which proved to be a sufficient enough distraction from skating for me. I learned a lot about the culture and everything, it just wasn’t me. And as soon as I started skating again, I kinda realized that I’d been getting into some trouble with that other stuff… partying too much and whatnot. So I had to make the decision to put it on the shelf and get back fully into skating.

You were living in Eugene until after high school, right? Were you actively pursuing a career in skateboarding up there through sponsor-me tapes and stuff like that?

Yeah, I lived there until I was about 19 or so.

Eugene actually had a pretty good skate scene as I was coming up. My friends and I would always be making little local skate videos, just for fun. We all had the same shop sponsor that we hung out at every day, and just by having reps come through town to sell stuff, I started getting Powell flow when I was 15 or 16.

Shortly after that, the Powell team came through and I ended up going on a little trip with those guys, with things progressing from there. I remember that first trip actually being to Texas with Tony Manfre and Caswell Berry.

Oh yeah, I forgot about Caswell’s Powell period.

Yeah, we were all filming for a little 411 commercial on that trip… an “Am/Flow” commercial, which I always thought was kinda funny. But I was hyped because I’d never really been out there before. It wasn’t much but it was my first experience with going on tour and shooting photos. It was cool.

Something I’ve always loved about your skating is the interesting trick selection, but looking through those early Powell ads, they’re all fairly “on-trend” in comparison. Were you possibly playing it a little safe with stuff early on?

Honestly, I’ve never really paid too much attention to trends. I’ve always just done whatever I could do.

As for those Powell ads, those were just whatever tricks I went with at those spots. I never really thought about coverage in such a way back then. I was just happy to be out there at all in those days.

But you know what I mean, you’ve always had a knack for atypical tricks and not-so-typical spots. Like all of the wallride stuff and the skating bricks with crazy tight landings… even that gap grind-to-grind on the handrails. How do you think this unique way of looking at stuff developed over the years?

I think it goes back to growing up in Eugene. Like I said, it was a cool scene but the spots weren’t always the best. The ground is shitty and there really weren’t any good ledges back then. That’s why I’ve never considered myself very good at flatground or ledge stuff, to be honest.

Our thought process with tricks came more from wanting to get something at every spot we had, whatever it was. Let’s figure this out. Not because we were trying to rule the world or anything, we just loved to skate. Filming for those little local videos in such a small area led us to start skating all types of different stuff. Because we not only wanted to learn new tricks, we also wanted to skate old spots in new ways as well… because that’s all we had. So that’s basically how I’ve always approached it: here is the spot, what can I do here? And I feel like over the years, that’s helped make my bag a little bigger, I guess.

Later on, Eugene did end up building a bunch of skateparks, so I was able to fill in some holes there. But that was years later and by that point, I’d already been messing around with all this other stuff.

Amazing. So how was riding for Powell in the early 00s? Was there loyalty there for you or just free product?

Oh, I liked those guys. I was super stoked be an am and go on trips and everything. Powell wasn’t necessarily a leading brand at the time, but I was so new to everything that I didn’t even really know what it meant to be a sponsored skater yet. I’d later find out how much different it could be but when you only know the one experience, it’s hard to think otherwise. I mean, I was still working a job the entire time, but in my mind, I was pursuing skateboarding. I just didn’t know how to really go about doing so. So yeah, there was some loyalty there but it just got to a point where I finally realized that they weren’t really trying to do much with me.

How’d that realization come about?

It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco that I started figuring it all out. Because that move was my big decision to go “all in” on skateboarding.

And it’s funny, because I thought Powell would help me with getting down there… not that they were paying me before but I was still getting photo incentive. But when I moved to San Francisco, they suddenly decided that they couldn’t pay me at all, which I always thought was strange. (laughs)

That is weird, because no offense to Eugene but San Francisco is a much larger market. You’d think they’d be hyped!

Yeah, but after I moved to San Francisco, not only did more opportunities start to present themselves, I also started to get a better understanding of how the skateboard industry worked. And it became pretty clear that if I was really going to do this, I’d have to go somewhere else.

But it seems like you went a dark here for a bit, emerging sometime later on Habitat. What all was going with you at this time?

I had a Thrasher part come out around this time, Rocket Science. Part of which was old sponsor-me footage along with new stuff I filmed down there. That got some attention. And Trevor Prescott was making those kinda underground Seasons videos at the time as well, which I also had a part in. So I was doing stuff, it just wasn’t happening overnight, you know?

I was trying to make it work but the problem was that I just wasn’t making any money. I’d help out at skate camp and sell boards to make whatever I could, but I was getting eaten up, financially. And after a year or so, I was basically broke.

I’d already met Brennan Conroy, the TM for Habitat, and he was giving me boards. He seemed stoked on what I was doing but they weren’t ready to pull the trigger yet and commit fully. So I didn’t really know what to do.

It just so happened that my girlfriend was moving to Denver at the time, so I went out there with her for a few months. Because I could no longer live in San Francisco the way I was doing it… Living the skate life on one burrito a day, I just couldn’t do it anymore. So I moved to Denver with the plan of just waiting it out to see what happened next. But I think that move is actually what kinda prompted Habitat to take me more seriously. And it was actually while I was out in Denver that they finally put me on the team. Brennan came out in early fall with Alex Olson, who was getting Alien stuff at the time, and we skated for a week or so. I guess that was the deciding factor of whether or not I got on the team.

So yeah, once I got on the team, we returned to the West Coast, ultimately coming back to SF for a while.

Were there any other possible board sponsor options at this time, prior to Habitat?

There was a moment where I contemplated riding for Popwar before I got on Habitat. I’ve always been a big fan of Cairo’s and I thought that company was cool. And because I knew some people there, it felt like a real possibility. Adam Crew was an amateur for them back then and he’s actually from up here in Washington. I’d known him for a while and had actually made a lot of my initial friends in California through him when I first started going down there.

I got a box or two from them but I feel like by that point, they were already starting to fall apart.

I've always seen you and Guru as part of Habitat’s second wave, two non-East Coast riders thrown into the mix with a heavy crew of hard-knock Jersey kids. How were you greeted by those dudes?

(laughs) Yeah, we were the hippies. I was definitely stereotyped as the new hippie kid, which I rejected and hated… probably because it was a little bit accurate. But those guys definitely teased me a lot. Almost like a big brother-type mentality, you know? They could definitely be assholes, but in a way where they were obviously trying to show you the ropes. Teaching you what was cool by making fun of everything you did that wasn’t cool.  So yeah, it was hard, but I needed that. I mean, there were periods where I definitely felt harshed but there were also periods where I felt really accepted by them.

It’s cool, though. I love those dudes.

What was a particularly harsh experience from back then that you laugh at now?

(laughs) Well, Renaud and I always had a pretty interesting relationship. It almost felt like whatever trip we were on determined if he liked me or not. Because on some trips, we’d be buddies and skate all the time, but on other trips, not so much. Sometimes I was in on all his jokes and sometimes I was the brunt of all his jokes. It was weird.

I remember going on one trip in particular where we were both catching the same connecting flight at an airport. I met him in the terminal and he greeted me with, “…Pffft, what the fuck? We’re supposed to be fucking friends now or some shit?”

“Woah! Cool, dude.” (laughs)

Yeah, I’ve always heard he was the harshest.

There was another time where we were all in Ohio and he calls me over, like, “Hey, come to our room.”

Cool, so I head over and when I open the door, there’s a towel laid out on the floor with a piece of pizza on a plate… and there’s a giant pile of shit on top of the pizza. Danny and whoever else in there were just laughing at me.

It was definitely a wild bunch to travel with, for sure. They were the dirts, man. I wasn’t quite a dirt, just trying to fit in and get along with everyone. It’s not like I was trying to be anything I wasn’t, I was just wanting to be accepted.

Tim was a good one, too, because he can be funny in the most asshole way possible. You were always the butt of his jokes… so whether he liked you or not, you were never sure. But at the same time, Tim could always find a way to make you feel okay about yourself from time-to-time. Renaud seemed to go out of his way to let you know that he didn’t like you. And Freddy, he’s a maniac but he has a heart of gold. I’ve never really seen him be a straight-up asshole to anyone. Sure, he could get wild but there was never any malicious intent there.

Since we’re on the subject, what is your best Fred Gall story?

Aw man, I actually get this question a lot and I always feel a little guilty because I never want to throw him under the bus…

I don’t think he’ll mind me telling this one. It’s something that always makes me laugh from back on the Regal Road trip. We were out skating this spot and Freddy was full-on trying to get this trick. He’s got a filmer and a photographer at the bottom of these steps, the whole thing. And he’s battling it, you know? We’re all sitting there, cheering him on as he‘s trying and trying this thing… and this one time, he almost got it, man. So close. He gets his board and heads back up there for one more try. And we think he’s got it, too. So we’re all waiting for that next try… and it’s starting to take a little longer than usual.

“Oh, he must be up there psyching himself up.”

But he never ended up coming. He just disappeared.

“Hey, where’d he go?”

(laughs) Turns out that he decided to sneak around the corner from the spot to a bar and get himself a drink. He just left us there, waiting. Didn’t tell anyone, we just found him there. But in total Freddy fashion, he ended up coming back after he was done and got the trick. He always finds a way, man.

I love it. So how long were you on Habitat before filming for Inhabitants got underway?

I don’t think they’d started filming for it yet. Because the first few trips I went on initially were for a tradeshow promo loop thing. But it was pretty much after that where everything started going towards what would become Inhabitants. I know it came out in 2007 so I want to say we really started filming for it seriously towards the end of 2005.

How serious did you take that project? Especially after all the work you’d put in by this point, was this essentially do or die for you? Or were you just seeing how it turned out?

It’s funny because I look back on all that stuff now and feel like I was so oblivious to the whole reality of it. I was so consumed with being in the moment back then that I’m not sure if I understood the whole big picture. It was more just trying to figure out the ropes.

I was living with Brennan in San Francisco, which in retrospect, really helped me out a lot because it took all the guesswork out of things.

“Alright, we’re going here today.”

I don’t think I realized what an influence that had until much later. Because he knew what I could do, you know? Not that he would tell me what tricks to do, but he’d take me to spots, knowing my overall thought process and capabilities. Sometimes I was into it, sometimes I hated it. But I definitely credit a lot of things, both in Inhabitants and throughout my career, to Brennan. He was pretty hands-on with helping me do what I needed to do and I see a lot of that in Inhabitants now that I maybe wasn’t quite aware of back when we were filming it.

So you weren’t you making lists and sitting in on edits?

(laughs) Not at all. I don’t think I started planning things for videos until much later on. Not that I’ve ever set out to have the “best” part in a video… whatever that means. That was never my goal. Especially with Inhabitants, I was just trying to earn my place on the team and show what I could do. A lot of my motivations back then came from simply being excited to be out there, skating epic spots and getting better. Learning tricks. I don’t want it to come off like it was such hard work because it was really exciting and a lot of fun to do. It was my first real taste of experiencing what it truly meant to be a sponsored skater. It was fucking amazing, man.

In retrospect, it almost seems like your success with Inhabitants was more of a timing thing. After bubbling up for years, you finally had the proper backing with sponsors, and with living in San Francisco now, it all came together to create this incredible video part.

I think that’s pretty accurate, actually. Because I’d always been obsessed with skating and trying to film. That sense of accomplishment you have with landing a trick on film. Now, I had the opportunity to do it all for real, skating all these famous spots around the world for this big video. That, and I had someone who was kinda focused on me, helping me get what I needed. It all just worked out.

Were Cream and Hot Tuna your choices?

The Hot Tuna was my choice. Cream was Joe Castrucci.

Who’s idea was it for that all wallride section in your part? Was that something you planned on or more from just having a bunch of wallride clips at the end?

Well, the one wallride spot was right by where I was living at the time, so we skated there a lot. It was an easy spot for us to hit up that was a lot of fun and you didn’t get kicked out. So yeah, we got a lot of stuff there. But no, it wasn’t some preconceived idea to have a section like that. I just had a lot of wallride clips so Joe put them all together into a cool little section.

You definitely made the most of it. One thing that always trips me out in this part is that bank-to-wall side rock-n-roll in there… how’d you come up with that? Did you know that spot prior or is that just where your mind went?

Honestly, that trick came from going down to Burnside. I’d see people do it on the pillar there all the time, I even remember Mike Crespino doing nollie big spin to side disasters there. He’d always skate the pillar like that and I thought it was cool.

I’d never seen that spot before but it just popped into my head. I thought it could be cool to get that at a street spot, you know? But yeah, that came from Burnside.

Makes sense. What about that front blunt to gap in Sacto? So gnarly.

Yeah, that was scary. At the time, it definitely felt like I was reaching a bit with that one, like it was on the outer edge of my abilities. Because I’d done a few blunt gap-outs before but nowhere near anything that big.

I want to say Stefan was there, he’s probably the one who took us to the spot… and I just started trying it. I honestly don’t know why I even thought I could do it but I guess it worked out. We did get it that day but it was definitely a battle. I was pretty shook, because I knew that I could easily get broke off on that thing. I still remember being so careful to get into blunt… every time, so careful. Because I knew if I got into the blunt, I could bail safely. The last thing I wanted to do was get into a front board instead and get tossed backwards. That scared the shit out of me. And it wasn’t a very small ledge, either. It was a little tall for me, at the time.

So yeah, I was pretty stoked to roll away from that one.

People seem to always talk about how Inhabitants came out of nowhere… possibly because Fully Flared was still impending. But at the same time, Alien/Habitat videos are always an event. How did you feel about the project prior to its release?

Yeah, Fully Flared had not come out yet but I think you’re right, they were released very close together, just months apart.

I definitely wasn’t expecting for my part to get as much attention as it did with everything that came after, but I also didn’t really think about things in such a way back then. I was just putting one foot in front of the other, you know?

But like you said, their last video was Mosaic, which I feel is one of the best videos ever. Danny Renaud’s part in that is probably the best video part ever, in my opinion. Combine that with Photosynthesis before that… I mean, everything they had done up to that point was absolutely incredible. So I knew Joe was going to put together something great for this one, too. I’ve always had great faith in Joe and Brennan with whatever they put out. I was never worried about the quality of the video, I just honestly wanted people to like my part.  

But you come out with your first big part and everyone goes nuts over it. Suddenly, there’s SOTY talk, which you end up getting. Was Inhabitants difficult for you to deal with afterwards… almost like a monkey on your back? That had to seem like a difficult act to follow, right?

(laughs) Oh, 100%. I feel like the year after I got SOTY, my head was completely fucked up. Because in my mind, I was just some kid from Eugene out there skating, it was hard for me to process. I didn’t see things as being so impactful as other people might’ve thought they were. I just thought I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. Shooting photos and filming, that’s what pro skateboarders do.

I didn’t think I was doing anything all that special. Looking back at all the other SOTYs that had come before me, they are all the most epic dudes I grew up watching. I could never think of myself being in that same category. So when all that stuff happened, I just remember thinking to myself, “Fuck, man. What am I going to do now? I have to live up to all this expectation. I’m not this person they think I am.”

It took me a while to understand why I was the one they picked.

But while it did kinda fuck me up for a bit, at the same time, it was easily the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me. It instantly solidified my career and established me in the industry, you know? That side of it was awesome, you just had to keep some perspective about the whole thing.  

You had an amazing year with eSpecial as well, was this an active campaign to win SOTY? Did you realize that you were in the running as it was all going down?  

I feel like it just kinda happened. I didn’t really know that I was even in the running. Brennan had been talking to Thrasher a lot, but he was the one involved in those conversations, not me. And honestly, he really wasn’t telling me much.

I was living in Santa Rosa by then and at some point, Burnett came out to shoot some photos with me. I feel like that was when he came to check everything out, to meet me and go skate. It just worked out that I had a handful of things around town that I wanted to do, which in Santa Rosa, it’s not like people were coming up all that often. So once Mike came out, I feel like I got a handful of stuff that might’ve impressed him enough to start thinking. Because after that, Brennan would start to mention that I was in the running for SOTY. But I just dismissed it as talk, figuring that he was only trying to hype shit up and make Habitat cooler. It wasn’t until they straight-up told me that I had actually won that I believed it.

How do you think all of these early accolades, establishing your career so quickly, has affected your overall outlook on the industry since?

It was just such a positive thing, because the industry really seemed to open their arms to me after that. My name was now associated with this thing that people hold in esteem. There was a place for me now and I was super fortunate to earn that so quickly.

Not that I had this type of perspective right way. It did take me a little while to figure out what the fuck had just happened. But I did ultimately realize that I had “made it” in skateboarding. Because up to that point, I was always so cautious in my outlook towards a career, thinking that there was no way it could last. And they typically don’t, so I was always thinking about my need for a plan once this was all over… honestly, I still feel like that at times. But I knew after winning SOTY and all that, I’d be able to ride it out for a while. I could give myself a break.  

It was a very encouraging time. I got on Adidas right around this time, too. Things were going to be okay. I was suddenly in a place where I had a bit more flexibility, to where I could do things like move to Chicago.

Yeah, I was going to ask about Chicago and what prompted such a move after all that had just happened? I imagine that had to raise some eyebrows with your sponsors, right?

(laughs) If they did feel that way, they never expressed it to me. It was after the SOTY thing, maybe they knew that I needed some room to let things breathe a little bit? Because I did.

I think everyone knew that I wouldn’t be out there very long. That was never our plan, either. My wife had gotten a job with Sears and we just wanted to go check it all out for a bit.

We lived there for two years, which was good. There’s a great scene out there and I’ve always tried to stay productive with trips and everything, too. I feel like as long as they can see you’re still producing, you’re going to be okay.

I’ve definitely moved around a lot. San Francisco twice, Denver, Santa Rosa, Chicago… but Portland has always been kind of the default setting for me. I’ve always liked Portland, I just wanted to take advantage of some opportunities and see if there was possibly anywhere else that I might like better.

Do you feel like living in all these different places has had much influence on your skating?

I think so. Moving around like I have has allowed me to skate a lot of different things and just gain a different outlook on spots, in general. But more importantly, I feel like it’s allowed me to have a rich home life, outside of skating. It’s hard to explain but I got married pretty young. Having a family has always been important to me and having an outside world, besides skateboarding, makes me happier as a person. I feel like that lets me skate more for fun as it’s not something that consumes 100% of my life, every day. I’ve always been able to turn it off and on, which I still enjoy.

We talked about your knack for trick selection earlier, but where does that inspiration typically come from? Is this all stuff that immediately jumps out at you or are these typically spots you’ve seen a lot?

I guess it’s just the way I look at things.

“Oh, this trick would be cool to do here.”

Sometimes a spot just happens to be set-up for a weird trick, so you give it a go… and work your ass off for the next two hours, trying to figure it out. Because a lot of these tricks are just ideas. I’ve never done some of this stuff before and honestly have no clue how to actually get it. But you should always give it a couple tries, at the very least.

But having lived in Portland myself for 6 years, and I’m not sure if you know this, but there are places around town are known as “Silas Spots”, which usually aren’t even really spots. Like my friend Andrew lives near where you ollied over that bike rack to wallride in Perpetual Motion… man, that isn’t a spot. Or those little brick borders on the westside? No way.

(laughs) Yeah, stuff in Portland comes more often from really thinking about what is around. That stuff is much more premeditated, because I have to let myself think about it for a while as I gather up enough courage to try it. That, or I have to be in the mood to go do something weird, you know?

… actually, I should say “try” something weird. It’s definitely not always a “do” situation.

How did Perpetual Motion come about anyway? And how did that differ from your previous Habitat projects?

I remember being in Melbourne on an Adidas trip when Transworld hit me up about possibly doing a part for them. At first, I honestly wasn’t sure about it. Because it’s a lot of work and I just wasn’t super excited about putting so much energy into it with everything else I had going on at the time. But I came around to it. I remember asking if I could get Josh Matthews in there with me, as it’s always better to have a buddy involved.

But almost all of that part ended up being filmed here in Portland, which was something that I hadn’t really done before. I think I only went on one big Perpetual Motion trip, along with a few trips down to LA to skate with Jon Holland. But the rest of it was me and Tristan Brillanceau-Lewis going out on our own to film around Portland.

At that point, I hadn’t really filmed much since Origin, so I had all kinds of ideas for things I wanted to do. That’s always helpful.

But that video definitely felt more like a solo mission in comparison to the Habitat ones. Inhabitants and Origin involved a lot of team trips to random different places. Perpetual Motion had things literally down the street from my house. It was much more personally motivated.

You know I have to bring up that gap grind to grind again… I’m sorry but it really is insane. Did the inspiration come from that spot, specifically? Or was this an idea you’d been kicking around for a while? I can’t even imagine what the process for that was like.

That spot is actually in my neighborhood. This is back when my son was still pretty young and I actually found that spot while driving around, trying to get him to sleep. Because he always seemed to fall asleep easier in the car than he did at home, driving around with him in a car seat worked really well for a while there. At some point, he started to recognize roads and waking up whenever he knew we were getting close to home, so I had to start taking all these alternate routes home to keep him guessing. That’s actually how I came across that thing.

When I initially saw it, it was more for being a double-set and maybe some type of gap-to-rail scenario. But shortly after that, Brennan came to town and I took him to go look at it.  

“No, man… you gotta grind-to-grind this thing.”

So it was actually Brennan’s idea… and I thought he was crazy. But once he put that bug in my head, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Because the rails were mellow enough and with proper speed, it could possibly work. The rails were square and not too steep to where you could actually get on there and ollie. You wouldn’t just get shot to the ground.

It just became one of those things where I kinda started to obsess over it after a while. But I still didn’t really think that I could do it. It still felt like fantasy. Once again, Brennan actually had to call me out on it.

“Man, if you don’t do this shit, I’ll just fly Suciu out there and he’ll do it.”

It just so happened that the whole Transworld crew was up here to film the last bits of the video, so I brought it up. Just to go check out.

“Ok, well, let’s go look at this thing. I’ve never really tried to skate it but let’s have a look.”

The first night we went there, I ollied into 50-50 a few times, just to see what it felt like. But it was already end of day when we got there, so it got dark pretty fast. The next day, we went back and I spent an hour or so until we got it. And yeah, it was so sketchy. I honestly wasn’t sure if it was even possible when I first started trying it, but as I began to figure it out, I got more and more confident with it.

Wasn’t there some Gonz inspiration from an old Real video?

Yeah, I think it was Kicked Out of Everywhere? I’m not entirely sure which one it was, but there’s a clip of him trying a grind-to-grind in one of those. I feel like that planted the idea in me somewhere, that it would be cool to do, if you could do it. And I’d actually done it before on ledges but rails are a totally different thing, obviously.

But yeah, my friends and I always call it “The Gonzo Grind”.

You’re undoubtedly skilled at handrails, do you have any interest in taking on some of the more notorious marquee handrails out there?

It’s funny because I’ve never really thought of myself as a handrail skater, but looking back on my parts, I do skate a lot of handrails.

I think the best way for me to put this is that I’d rather do something more interesting than simply checking off the next best trick at some famous rail. Because I’d much rather skate a handrail that’s a little more unique and weird.

And honestly, I’m not sure that I even have the ability to one-up the next guy at some perfect California handrail. Because there really are some amazing skaters out there, doing some very hard technical tricks down those things.

Honestly, the thought of you at El Toro kinda makes me sad. Regardless, was it at all intimidating to wrap your head around such a huge project as Away Days?

Yeah, I think as a collective team, we visited something like 90-odd countries for Away Days. That’s crazy. But it actually didn’t start out like that, which probably helped. It just became one of those things where as more people got on the team and the program itself got bigger, the project had to reflect that. I mean, I think over the course of that video, Adidas Skateboarding went from 6 people in the office to around 25. It was all just expanding so rapidly.

After a while, it became obvious that this was going to be a huge deal and that everyone and everything involved had to be stepped up. And that’s when the pressure came, later on. Because with all of the people who were now going to be involved, and the fact that it is coming from a brand like Adidas, I definitely felt more pressure with that project than I ever had before.

Plus, with regard to what I was saying earlier, I wasn’t the naïve new guy anymore, learning the ropes. By the time Away Days was happening, I was all too aware of where I was at in skateboarding and what was at stake. I keep on saying that I used to be so “oblivious” to all this career-type stuff but I don’t think that’s the right word. I just wasn’t putting much thought into the importance of things until only a few years ago. Away Days was the project where I started to understand more of the “industry” side of skateboarding and all that comes with it. So yeah, I was definitely sweating that one a little more. 

Were you ultimately pleased with how it came out?

Yeah, I like it. I definitely did the best I could do, for sure.

I have some side feelings about it that I can’t help but think of when people bring it up. Because that was one of the last projects that we did with Matt Irving and theagency, Juice. We had done literally everything together up until that point. So that part was a little hard with seeing that change take place.

It was just a transitional period for the brand and I liked where we were before. Not that I was bummed, it just felt like an end of an era there. It took me a minute to understand the new Adidas.

That’s fair. But as a rider, how do you feel about the drama surrounding some of the team switches and the shadow it cast on the project as a whole? Because it did seem like that stuff kinda took away from the incredible skating in that video.

Yeah, I think you’re right in that all of that stuff did become a bit of a distraction from what we were trying to do. I think a lot of us had worked many years on that project and ultimately, the drama is what many people probably remember most about Away Days as opposed to the final production. Because it really is an amazing video and while having those guys in there served to make it even better, I feel like there was probably too much focus put on that instead what we were actually doing on our boards.

And at the same time, you were also dealing with the collapse of Alien and Habitat as well. Did you see that breakdown coming at all and what was it that made you stay? I’m sure you got plenty of offers elsewhere.

Yeah, that whole period with Habitat sucked. Just so many years of uncertainty. I knew we were in trouble but I never foresaw Alien and Habitat going completely out of business for two months. That they would not even exist. No boards being made, no checks being written, nothing. Realizing that it was gone and not knowing if it would ever be back was just insane.

But those were some turbulent years. Habitat wanted to do apparel and footwear stuff, which meant they needed a little more fire behind them. So we joined with Burton, which was actually really great. They treated us well and not only did we suddenly have much better distribution, we also had access to much greater manufacturing capabilities.

Unfortunately, something ended up happening with Burton and they suddenly had to sell-off all their external brands, us included. That’s really when we began to have problems, because we started getting bounced around constantly between different holding companies. And Dyrdek had the reins, as he was the one with influence and money, but I don’t believe that he was the best person to be representing Habitat, specifically.

So we just ended up being under all these different umbrella companies and nobody really seemed to know what was going on after a while. It was a very strange and uncertain position to be in.

Once it was finally done, when Metal Militia or whoever it was that owned us, they just decided to kill Alien and Habitat. Just like that. Over.

The thing is: I love Joe and I love the team. I have all the faith in the world in Joe, that he could hold it together somehow. I mean, he’s seriously put his entire life into this thing. And I have so much respect for him with not only all he’s done for me and the brand but for skateboarding, in general. I couldn’t just walk away without giving him a proper chance to do whatever he could, you know? I owed him that. And I think most of the guys felt like that, too. So that’s why we stuck around and ultimately, that’s why the team was able to remain almost completely unchanged throughout that whole ordeal.

You normally don’t see that kind of loyalty.

I really believe that was because of Joe. He’s such an inspirational person and he’s worked so hard over the years, we had to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I actually did get an offer at one point to go somewhere else. And I did think about it. But I wanted to do the right thing and, at the very least, talk to Joe about it. It’s funny because his advice was for me to take the deal and I didn’t listen to him. Sure, I might’ve been financially better off over there but I’m glad I stuck around. I’m stoked to still be with Joe and everyone.

The state of board brands just changed so much at that time. Two brands really came to the forefront, and as a result, we don’t really do that many Habitat trips together anymore. But we still try to see each other whenever we can. We’re still family.

And that takes us to Control Room. Was that always supposed to be a 3-part web series or was that decided later?

(laughs) No, it actually changed quite a lot.

I think it started when Josh Matthews got on Habitat. He had a little welcome bit and then they wanted him to do a full part. Because our last project, Search the Horizon, was more of a Brian and Mark video with a montage, the original idea for Control Room would be a Josh and Marius video with a montage… because Marius has been ripping and getting a bunch of footage that needed to come out somehow.

That was the first idea, until everyone heard that we were making a video and then suddenly, everyone wanted to put out more footage than just a few clips in a montage. So it was kinda up in the air for a while there. 

I don’t think that Control Room became a three-part series until right before it came out, because Alien and Habitat were no longer together anymore for the longest time. It’s funny to think about but they were actually separate brands up until about 6 months ago. I feel like that’s when it became one Alien rider, one Habitat rider and a montage. And now it’s actually going to be a series now with several more parts to come.

So yeah, it was a process. (laughs)

I’d actually been steadily filming for a while but with everything being so up in the air, I was never really sure what was happening. So around September, I hit up Brennan to try getting a better understanding of whatever it was that we were planning to do.

“Hey, how much longer do I have to film for this video part?”

He says, “September 25th”… which at that point, was only two weeks away.

“What the fuck!?!”

Because while I had some stuff, I didn’t really have any type of ender tricks yet. I felt like I still needed something else. And I actually went down to LA for some ender-type stuff and killed myself, which I got nothing.

So I fly home and call Joe.

“Joe, I don’t really know what to do. I don’t really have what I want for this video.”

“Oh, that’s fine.”

“What do you mean? Isn’t the deadline in two days?”

“Not at all, you have plenty of time.”

(laughs) What the fuck, man!

So yeah, I don’t think they even have a concrete idea by that point of what it was going to be. Because even after that, we still went through a bunch of false release dates I had to work around. Luckily, there really wasn’t much pressure because we never advertised about it. Nobody knew that it was even coming so we were able to work with it until we finally felt it was done.

So how long did you film for that one in its entirety?

Knowing that I was probably going to have a part was a little less than year. But the way I skate is that I’m always filming. If there’s no project than I just hold onto the footage until something eventually comes up.

I feel like this part not only had more lines but a lot more tech ledge stuff, too. Is that where your inspiration is right now?

I’m actually glad you noticed that because I do feel like that Control Room part is much different than my previous stuff. And yes, a lot more lines, a lot more ledge stuff. I feel like that has a lot to do with having my own park and ledges that work, I’ve started to finally learn how to skate them over the last few years.

It’s just that the desire to throw myself down stuff isn’t as strong as it once was. I’m not old by any means but it definitely hurts a lot more these days. I get way more sore now than I used to. So that had a lot to do with it, honestly. And like I said, I’ve always tried to figure out the best way that I can skate a spot, I feel like those thoughts have just started to change over the years.

I like that it’s different. I like that it’s not me trying to one-up all of my previous parts in that same vein. I feel like it shows a different side of my skating.  

I like it, too. And it’s not like you took some drastic turn either, it's just a natural progression that makes sense. 

Yeah, I think I had maybe two lines in all of Inhabitants? This one had ten. It feels good to get some pushing in there.

We talked about your quest for an ender in LA. What about that narrow kickflip ender you did get? Wasn’t that in the Pearl?

Something like that… I’m not even sure what that area is called? The Northwest Waterfront? Some new development up there. But I was just looking around that zone one day for spots and thought it looked cool. I’d ollied that gap once before, so I figured I’d head back and try getting something a little better.

Was that the ender you were hoping for?

It honestly wasn’t but it worked. (laughs)

It’s that weird thing where you think your ender has to be some kind of battle that you work really hard for. Something that you had to go back several times to get. But it’s not always like that. That one really wasn’t all that incredibly hard for me to do. I probably did it within a handful of tries. And it’s not like I got broke off or anything like that, either. So, as gnarly as people think it is or whatever, I don’t think that it’s quite on the level that it should’ve been.

I thought it was sick. But since we’re on the subject, going back to that Perpetual Motion part, why wasn’t your Gonzo Grind the ender for that?  Not to take anything away from the kickflip backtail, but that always seemed kinda weird to me.  

(laughs) You know what, I never really understood that either. I have no idea.

I actually don’t skate Burnside very much... and a lot harder tricks have gone down on that little ledge thingy. I mean, I know people who have done nollie flip backtails on that before. And when I did it, I really wasn’t planning on even using it for anything.

Rattray had recently moved to Portland and he was the one who was actually trying to get something that day. The only reason I was even there is because he needed someone to skate with as he tried it. And since he asked me to go and was skating it, I figured I’d skate that thing, too. I just happened to film that as he was trying his thing.

Maybe it’s because that clip was the last thing to get sent to them? I think that might’ve been the case. Maybe they thought I considered that to be the best thing I had? Because the Gonzo Grind had already been filmed… who knows? It’s weird but whatever. (laughs)

Operating at such a high level, essentially through your own motivation as you’re far enough away from California to have an existence outside the industry, how do you stay sparked?

It’s because skateboarding is my obsession. Not only do I like that feeling of accomplishment when making a trick, I also like the feeling of being productive and pushing myself. It’s just the best.

Admittedly, there’s some anxiety mixed in there, too, which helps keep me on my toes. Because I am so removed from everything, I get a little paranoid that I might not be doing what I need to be doing, if that makes sense? I really don’t know what everyone else is doing, so I better get out there, too. That’s a real thing.

But most importantly, it just comes from enjoying skating and wanting to get better. I’m fortunate to where I can largely make my own reality in skating. I’m very lucky that I can pick and choose the things that I want to be involved in. Not a lot of people can say that.

But as a SOTY with this legendary body of video parts, what’s kept you on your own path? What’s given you the strength to  shy away from all the energy drink sponsors and industry weirdness to do your own thing?

As far as energy drinks go, I just don’t believe in that shit. That’s more about morals for me than anything else. Because I think that stuff is poison and I don’t care to support it or be supported by it.

I’m just a pretty plain person. I don’t have some overly flamboyant personality and I’m not super into fashion. I don’t have any of the sorts of things that might make me stand out, per se. Because that kind of stuff just isn’t important to me. It all comes down to the skating. That is what’s important. And that’s what I’ve tried to take seriously. What should always stand out in the forefront are the tricks and how you do them. I really do think it’s that simple.

If I want to keep on doing this, living this life that I love with skating as a career, then it’s the skating that I need to focus on. That is done by skating hard and having fun. The rest of it doesn’t matter.

thanks to Hayashi, Holboke, Humphries and Silas. 


sect said...

silas is the best. great interview, loved every bit. his inhabitants part cant be topped.

Anonymous said...

Incredible. Top tier.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Silas and Chrome Ball!

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, guys. Just to offer a different take, Origin was always my favorite of Silas's parts.

Anonymous said...

a soty and a class act. thanks silas for all the slams and makes

Dustin Umberger said...

Great one Chops! Silas stood out to me even in those old Powell ads. Clean style, straight-forward kit, no pretension, just quality and creativity combined. And apparently a very down-to-earth perspective to boot!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Eric I have visited the site since 2012, and I have to say that I greatly appreciate the work you do, thanks really for keeping up with the interviews. I have had this doubt for a long time and it is why the interviews number 47 and 53 appear as animal chin and can not be accessed?

chops said...

Thanks for the comments everyone.

Anonymous No. 5, I've been waiting for someone to ask me that question... and while I'd love to make up something cool or hint at something mysterious, the simple truth is that I accidentally skipped 47 and 53 when i posted 48 and 54. (Pretty sure I was moving at the time). But I never noticed until I made that little side index and by that point, things were way too far along to renumber everything. So Animal Chin was used.

Coincidentally, there are two Chrome Ball Interviews that are completely finished but will never come out due to complications. So in my mind, I think of those two interviews as the Animal Chins.

Anonymous said...

Hahahaha woah, that's actually awesome! can we at least know who are those two "animal chins"?

Frank said...

Wait, what?! There are TWO CBI interviews that will never come out? I'm going to go start a petition to get them released. The people need to know!