chrome ball interview #129: ronnie bertino (2019)

chops sits down with mr. butts for more conversation.

photo: niko

So I gotta ask… of all sponsors, why Alva? Were you a big fan or was it more of an Orange County proximity thing?

Alva was just something that I happened upon. My friends and I somehow found out that Alva’s warehouse was located nearby in San Juan Capistrano, just two towns over from where we were in Orange County.

So, as little skate rats, we just had to go over there. Knocking on the backdoor and asking for free product. Stickers, boards… whatever they would give us.

We ended up talking to this guy named Tony Ruiz, but everyone called him “Tonan” because he had long hair and looked like Conan the Barbarian. He’s just one of those notorious characters.

Yeah, he’s come up a few times in these.

He was the one in the back that day when we all showed up. But he was smart about it.

“No, I’m not gonna give you guys free stuff, but if you want to go skate and let me see if you’re worthy of some stickers, come with me to the Stewart Ramp.”

The Stewart Ramp was a mini ramp in San Clemente, right by Tonan’s house. So I went over there and skated with him. I’m assuming that Tonan went back and told Fallahee about me, who was running Alva back then. Things just unfolded from there.

“Okay, whatever. We’ll give him a board or two.”

Tony Alva didn’t even know I existed. The only way I even got on his radar was when Fallehee drove me up to a CASL contest in Upland. I got first place in the Factory Sponsored Division and as I went up to get my trophy, T.A. swooped in to put his arm around me and smile for the cameras. I always felt like that was him giving me the official nod to be on Alva… 6 months after I showed up at their doorstep. 

Didn’t Adam McNatt grow up around your zone, too?

It’s funny because he grew up in the next town over from me but when you’re young, that feels like a million miles away. So yeah, he was the local ripper of that other town. I’d hear about things he did but no, I didn’t know him back then.

My deal was totally separate from Adam and Pat Brennen. I feel like they got on later.

We actually met Pat Brennen at a demo, because he was from Pasadena. Fallahee had driven us up and we saw him out skating around….  That demo was also the first time I ever saw Gabriel and Guy skate in-person, so for Pat to stand out in that kinda company really means something.

The three of you were labelled Alva’s “New Breed”. Did you know Fallahee was about to market you in such a way?

Skateboarding was just going in a different direction, you know? And that New Breed ad was John coming to that realization. I mean, you can always have the weed smoking dreadlock guys at the party but you have to remember that this was around the time Shackle Me Not came out. The industry was going through this big shift and that previous style of slash grinds in the pool was no longer going to be at the forefront of things. Because suddenly, you had all of these new street tricks coming out. And it wasn't just Alva either, that’s just where skateboarding was heading. It’s basically something that happens with every generation… myself included, a few years later.

John’s plan was to get a bunch of amateur kids who ripped, just like H-Street did. But Fallehee’s plan was to also do those Street Shadow boards you saw in the ad in a way to where amateurs could get some cash, too. It was a nice thought, even if it never really came to be, at least while I was there.

Did you have any run-ins with the older Alva riders? Didn’t you go on a trip with those guys to Arizona?

Yeah, Hartsell, Duncan, Reategui and I did a trip to AZ in John’s blue Caravan. I was just a little kid at the time, too!

“Mom, I’m going on a trip!”

“Okay, have fun!”

She had no idea who these guys were!

I remember the back of that van had been gutted, so it was all metal, like one of those Safari cargo vans. No AC in the middle of summer. Those dudes would slide open the side door so they could smoke weed. Just cruising down the highway with the door open. It was just so hot, we had to get some air in there! (laughs)

And looking back on it now, I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if we got pulled over? A bunch of dreadlock dudes smoking weed in a van with this little ass kid? Out of state? The cops would’ve had a field day with that.

But how did those guys act towards you? After all, you were coming for their jobs!

Honestly, they were always cool to me. Nobody was ever a blatant dick or tried bulling me around. I’m sure I probably tripped them out, but at the same time, they had Jesse Neuhaus before us. I feel like he might’ve been a nice middle ground between us and them. Because he was definitely more of their style, but also doing more of the current tricks.

So what happened with you and Alva? Were you just not feeling New School or…?

I left well before New School was happening. That was nothing I was ever approached about.

John had got me on Venture, which is actually how I met Greg Carroll and Keith Cochrane. Getting to know those guys over the phone, they had mentioned that they were going to start doing Think.  And by that point, the novelty of being sponsored by Alva had pretty much worn off. Pat, Adam and I were all starting to think about doing something else.

It’s funny because Pat was always into Powell. And I was actually at the Powell Park with Pat and McNatt the day they got approached to ride for them.

Yeah, how’d they end up on Powell and you didn’t?

Well, Pat was super interested in my being a part of them going to Powell. He essentially wanted us to be a more Southern California version of that Guy and Gabriel crew.

I was just more interested in doing something with Think by then. It was a new company and I really liked Greg and Keith. Things were going well with Venture and I wanted to go more in that direction.

Think was going to be a bunch of younger kids up in San Francisco. And traveling up there was really appealing, so that’s what I did. As soon as I got on, they flew me up and I pretty much lived in San Francisco at Greg and Mikey’s house for the next year and a half.

How old were you at this point?

I want to say 15 or 16. My mom was really cool, obviously.

But what was the team vibe like on Think? Because not only was it a new company, I can imagine it easily turning into a Lord of the Flies scenario with so many young dudes on the squad.

I loved it, man! We were all just stoked to be part of something. So much of the company was originally based on having younger riders, it really felt like it was our thing. I mean, the first board was the Missing Children board. That was the direction they wanted to take, which made total sense. Because if you went down to Embarcadero back then, those same kids would be there, killing it. Skating every day. It was obvious.

Karl Watson, Sam Smythe, Nick Lockman, Jason Adams… those guys are still working in the industry. So Keith and Greg must’ve been onto something.  

But no, it wasn’t cutthroat at all. We honestly hung out every day. Meeting up at Embarcadero to go skate Brown Marble Benches. Nobody was trying to beat each other out because going pro didn’t even feel like an option. We just loved skating. We’re in SF, down at Embarcadero with Mike Carroll and Henry Sanchez in 1991. It was paradise and we knew it.

Talk to me about Partners in Crime. An amazing part but that whole project was a little under the radar. How seriously did you take it all?

At that point, I was just a total skate nerd. Every day, I’d wake up and take the BART down to Embarcadero. Jacob Rosenberg was the guy hired to film that video and every chance I got, I’d meet up with him.

In total, I want to say that was probably around a week and a half or so. Just filming every day with Jake. A few clips were actually filmed for a Venture video that never came out... I even trekked down to San Jose to film with Jason Adams, Ed Devera and Shawn Mandoli. But yeah, that was about it.

Jake was pretty much the only filmer in San Francisco back then, so everyone was always hanging out with him anyway. That’s why I can honestly say that things weren’t cutthroat, because we were always filming together. Figure out whatever trick you wanted to film and wait your turn. And when it was somebody else’s turn to film, you respected that.

But that video was just so small that there wasn’t a lot of pressure with it. I remember a lot of people actually thinking I was from San Francisco after that but no, I was just mostly staying with Greg and Mike.

Greg and Mike’s house was just them, right? That had to be a trip.

Honestly, it was a just place to meet up at the end of the day and crash. Eat your food and go to sleep. Next morning, you’re back on the BART to Embarcadero again.

But yeah, it was just them. Greg had the downstairs and Mikey had the upstairs. I remember their Mom visiting a few times while I was there, but that was it. She was always really cool, but it was pretty much their house. Henry would be there a lot. Jovontae, too… And I slept on the couch.

photo: niko

You mentioned your Mom being cool but how did this work with school and everything?

I just had to explain to her that I had this incredible opportunity to really do something with all this and luckily, she saw the potential there. I don’t know if it was the best decision on her part, but she did let me decide.

“Look, you’re going to lose out on a lot of stuff but with this opportunity, it’ll open up the chance for you to do all this other stuff. As your Mom, I am going to discuss all I can with you but ultimately, it’s your decision. What do you want to do?”

“Fuck, I want to go!”

…Because who wouldn’t?

That’s why I respect my Mom. I feel like most parents wouldn’t have let me go. They would’ve made me stay in school and become an insurance agent or something. Enforcing what they wanted me to do with my life.

For me, skateboarding was the best thing ever. I lost out on a lot of education, for sure. But all of the life experiences I gained in its place… waking up at the bottom of the Swiss Alps with fucking snow on ‘em? What kid gets to do that at such an age?

You got in early on the 90s Embarcadero wave, was it obvious that it was about to become the epicenter of modern street skating?

You have to remember that I was coming at it from a different perspective than most of the other locals. Because I grew up out in the suburbs of Orange County, nothing even close to that kind of city vibe. We either went to the local schoolyard or down to a red curb that was 5 miles away. 

But in San Francisco, you’d take the train to this amazing spot, right in the heart of the city. And not only was Embarcadero an incredible spot, it’s also surrounded by all these other incredible spots. And with a ton of people skateboarding, too. Some of the best in the world. It was like Mecca, and you could totally pick up on that vibe. You just knew that it was obviously something special and we were lucky to be there.

That’s why so many kids ended up coming there from wherever, because even through photos and videos, you could tell that it was basically like Disneyland for a skateboarder. You had to be there.

You’re staying at his place and skating Embarcadero every day, you must’ve seen a lot of Carroll’s Questionable part come together, right? Is that how your backfoot heelflip got in there?

Yes, exactly.

Mikey and Jake would always be filming together and in-between stuff, I’d try to film some stuff, too. Everyone got a turn but there was a bit of an unspoken order to things. Mike was out there, trying to do his thing and when he was either done or taking a break, somebody else would slide in for some clips.

I feel like that’s how my backfoot heel and everybody else’s stuff got in there, too. I imagine it was probably all on the same tapes and dudes just liking stuff as they were editing.

Did you know that was going to be in Questionable?

No, I had no idea.

Was a backfoot heel a common one for you? Had you ever seen anyone do that before?

Yeah, I did that one a good bit. Everyone was doing backfoot kickflips at that time and I basically said fuck it, I’ll try a heel.

I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone do it before, it was just something I tried. An idea, I guess. Because Mikey used to do ollie backfoot kickflips a lot. His obviously looked much better than mine, so essentially being a reflection of Mike and being stoked on what he could do, I started going with a heelflip version.

What about the switch frontside 360 heel down the little 3… How?

Yeah, that was a sequence in Big Brother.

Like I said, I was just a reflection of who I was around. I had basically surrounded myself with amazing skateboarders and was just trying to do the best I could. I mean, if you don’t pick up on a few good things by skating with Mike Carroll and Henry Sanchez at Embarcadero every day, you’re probably never going to. When you’re surrounded by greatness, you really have no choice but to skate somewhat okay.

That one took a few hours, to be honest. I remember being there in the morning, giving it a go. I don’t think it was the prettiest but it worked. I know I ended up doing it later over a hip, which I probably didn’t film, unfortunately.

Did that EMB one ever come out in anything or just Big Brother?

There was footage of it. That sequence is video grabs, I believe. But now that you mention it, I’m not 100% sure that it ever came out. I mean, I thought it did… or maybe it was going to. But maybe not. (laughs)

How about that crooked grind transfer for your Thrasher cover?

I just happened to be at Golden State Park with Lance Dawes one day. The ponds were just right up the way and he brought up going there. I started trying that transfer and lo and behold, I got one. Lance shot it… which I believe was his first Thrasher cover. So yeah, both of us getting our first covers together with that one made it even better.

Not that I beat anybody to that trick. I’m pretty sure that cover had more to do with the quality of Lance’s shot and my riding for a NorCal company than the actual trick. Wearing a Thrasher shirt probably didn’t hurt either!

What about your Transworld cover a few years later with all that wild gear for the 50 states?

That was something between Transworld and Ezekiel Clothing, who I rode for at the time. I can’t remember if it was always supposed to be a cover but that outfit was definitely part of the deal. Ezekiel was making snowboard gear… which I don’t know how they landed on that crazy outfit but that’s what it had to be. I just remember Alex from Ezekiel hitting me up about it.

“Hey, we made this red, white and blue snowboard suit. You’re gonna wear it and go shoot photos with Grant.”


I’ll be honest, I stole that trick from Tom Penny at Tampa Pro. I remember watching him do switch frontside wallrides on the course all day long and he made them look like so much fun. I wanted to learn them like that, too.

photo: niko

What’s the story behind your smoking on the TVs for Droors?

That was a Niko idea. He’d shot all that stuff with H-Street and Evol and had just started working at Droors. He wanted to do something that was different from the typical skate stuff everyone else was doing.

“Alright, Ronnie. You’re gonna sit on this TV and put a bunch of cigarettes in your mouth.” (laughs)


It makes sense. I smoke cigarettes. Let’s do it.

Like I said, it was all Niko’s idea. I don’t remember having much of a thought or say about any of it… other than I thought it was cool.

Sure, I’ll come in and smoke some cigarettes. Easy work!

photo: niko

What about the Bush Magnet ad? Who was that girl?

Oh man, this is when I was back in Orange County. I can’t even remember who the photographer was but I was still on Think at the time because I’m riding a Crackhead Baby board.

We were out in front of the Carl’s Jr down the street from my house in Mission Viejo. We had just finished eating real quick and were about to head over to UC Irvine, which is where I got the switch frontside 3 in the ad. But we were just standing there when that chick came out, so I hit her up.

“Hey, let me get a picture!”

I didn’t know her, never met her, never nothing. But she was into it. Cool. I got a photo with some chick, now let’s go shoot a sequence of this trick… That’s an ad.

photo: niko

And the final installment of the Ronnie Droors trilogy, what about that “Safe Sex” ad with you and the blow-up doll? How’d they talk you into that one?

(laughs) Drunk. Straight-up. If you look at my face in the ad, you can tell I’m three sheets to the wind.

“Let’s take photos of Ronnie with a blow-up doll!” (laughs)

(laughs) Were you embarrassed when it came out?

(laughs) Nah, fuck it. It’s a Droors ad! That’s cool, man! Anybody wanting to take my photo for an advertisement, I was down. I feel like most kids would’ve done it.

What’s the gnarliest shit you ever saw go down at Embarcadero?

As far as just in-general, I remember these two guys walking through… I can’t remember if they started talking shit or if we might’ve said something to them. Regardless, I remember Kelch chasing the bigger one through the plaza, punching him in the back of his head with an old school skate key. The guy was able to run away but still, that was a pretty crazy thing to see.

What was your time like with Josh Swindell? An amazing skater and seems to be doing well now, but looking back on everything, you can definitely see a pattern of him getting into more and more trouble.

Swindell was just Swindell, if that makes sense. He was still an alright guy, and all of the trouble that he’d get into only seemed to be to his own detriment. It never really affected us that much. But obviously, nobody foresaw what was about to happen with him.

That being said, there’s a lot more to that story than what has come out over the years. Josh did have a hand in it, but he wasn’t the only person. A few dudes got away with stuff and I’m not talking about Danny either. People might say this or that about Danny that night but none of that stuff is true.

The tough thing about a situation like that is when there are multiple people involved in a murder, lawyers will often try to pin everything on one person with the cooperation of everybody else. And I feel like that’s what happened here. Not that I agree with any part of it.

I forgot you were there that night.

I was.

But didn’t you leave before things got out of hand?

No, I was there the whole night. And I’ll give you my side of the story that I’ve always given.

One of Swindell’s friends was a local rapper and they were having a release party at this shithole bar in Azusa. This is back when I was still Mr. Partytime, drinking a ton and doing whatever.

So I’m actually inside the club when the shit goes down out front with Danny. I’m sure you’ve heard the story. He had a run-in with the guy, Danny punched him and then Danny got knocked out by a bouncer.

Like I said, we’re all inside the club. Next thing I know, Danny gets dragged inside to our table where my friends and I are sitting at. They just plop him down with us. He’s knocked out… and we’re just hammered. The club is giving us all free beer, even though I’m definitely not of age. But there I am, drinking pitchers of beer, making sure Danny is alright. We had no idea about whatever was going on behind the bar. Because secretly, some people had pulled dude out back and whoever all was involved, they did what they did. We’re just sitting there, drinking.

Next thing I know, I’m getting thrown up against the wall by a bunch of cops inside the bar. They just came in and rushed the place. And like I said, I’m hammered. But they have everyone up against the walls and figuring out who is who. They seemed to pinpoint everyone from San Diego because that’s who got taken in for questioning.

I went to jail overnight with Scott Weber, Danny… Swindell wasn’t there. He took off, as did a few other guys. But everyone else who was there that night from San Diego got taken in and we didn’t even do shit.  

I still remember calling my Mom from jail. It was terrible.

“What!?! You’re being questioned for what!?!”

(laughs) “Yeah, Mom! Somebody got murdered and I’m super drunk!”

“Ronnie, what the fuck!?! What have you gotten yourself into!?!”

“Mom, I swear to God that I had no part in this!”

Ultimately, the cops realized that, too. After an entire night of questioning from these gnarly detectives, they finally came to the understanding that not only did we have nothing to do with it, but we were fucking morons, too. Drunken idiots. 

That’s all I remember. Did I have any part in it? Hell no. Do I know who did what? No, but I do know it was more than just Josh involved. Because there’s no way of knowing who delivered the blow that actually killed the guy.

Just terrible, man.

Thanks for speaking on that. Switching up speeds to sunnier topics, were you actively looking to leave Think before Blind?

No, my leaving Think basically came down to Henry saying that he wanted me to ride for Blind. I remember we were both down at Embarcadero, right before the Back to the City contest that year.

“Fuck, man… that’s a big deal!”

But no, I wasn’t looking around at all prior to that. It just happened to be the dream offer, like being asked to fuck Christy Brinkley in her prime. Of course, you’re gonna do it! You don’t say no to that! (laughs)

I did feel bad. Last thing I wanted to be known as was someone who hopped around from company to company. And a couple dudes did get mad at me. I got a few phone calls from people, telling me how lame it was... but come on! If you were in my shoes, you’d be doing the exact same thing.

Blind really was the best team at that time.

Yeah, even though it was pretty short-lived, with Girl starting not too long afterwards.

Could you sense that Girl was about to happen? Were you ever asked about it?

No. I was never aware of any of that until the very last minute, basically right before it all went down.

But with Blind being such a heavy squad, was it at all intimidating to be thrown into that mix?

I had a good relationship with everyone, they’d just all known each other for so much longer. Most of them had either grown up together or been on the team for several years already. So yeah, it was a little odd for me.

It wasn’t like when I got Think and the whole thing had just started. Blind had this crazy history with the best guys who’d all been doing it for years. I was just the new guy… not that I ever got any vibes or anything. My role on the team was just different. It was what it was.

Did you know you were about to be in Virtual Reality?  

I had no idea about the nollie 180 fakie nose wheelie to switch heel out in the intro but I did get a call about the Friends section. That Lockwood line with the switch back 3? I can’t remember who it was, but definitely a Plan B rider at the time.

“Hey, this footage is sick. Can we use it for a Friends section in the new Plan B video?”

At the time, we weren’t filming for a Blind video… at least not anytime soon. So, of course, I was down to be in Virtual Reality.

So that was you with the nollie 180 nose manny to switch heel out in the intro! I’m not crazy!

Yeah, I had no idea. It was just in there… but I was hyped. Honestly, I was hyped to see my footage anywhere.

But you weren’t filming for a Blind video?

(laughs) Because of that ad?

We were actually filming some at one point but we never really got anywhere. We’d occasionally film stuff while we were out but we definitely weren’t hardcore about it.

I feel like one obstacle we ran up against was that our footage was constantly being used for ads or whatever and we’d be back at square one again.

But no, it was never that much of a thing. It was never like “Alright guys, you’re really going to have to hunker down and film this part. We need this video to be out by whenever…”

They weren’t too worried about it. It’s almost like it benefitted Blind more to make people wait. To build up anticipation.

“Oh! There’s a video coming!”

No, there isn’t. There ain’t no Blind video, dude.

That little kid is still holding his breath.

That kid died years ago.

What was the best trick you ever saw Henry do in-person?

Fuck, man. There were so many…

I saw him do an ollie impossible noseblunt slide on the curb closest to the fountain at Embarcadero, going 100mph. Henry Sanchez fast, he just did it. Got into it perfect and popped out like it was nothing. This was probably 1991, riding 39mm wheels on those rough ass bricks… he had no choice but to push fast.

He was doing something insane literally every day. The cab frontside nose on the ledge closest to the 3-stair that was in Mikey’s part. I was there that night. Insane.

What about Guy Mariano?

Everything Guy did was beyond what everyone else was doing back then. That’s just how it was.

When I was staying in LA, we’d all meet at the World Park and every night, he’d do something insane. That frontside half-cab noseslide to heelflip out always sticks out in my mind for some reason.

What was that World Park scene like? You must have some great stories from inside there.

I did get to skate there a lot. And I’ve heard all of the crazy stories about that place, but I never really saw much of that.

I do remember this being back when Spike Jonze was still around, he had a little editing room in the building and I saw him in there, editing the Weezer “Buddy Holly” music video one night. That’s crazy to think back on.

But no, I never stayed in those bunk beds or whatever. I never really needed to.

Where did the idea for Mr. Butts come from? With the free cigarette?

That was all Rocco and the art guys. Because, like I said, I smoked a lot of cigarettes when I was younger.

I remember Bill Weiss telling me about how whenever he’d run out of cigarettes on tour, he’d stop by skateshops when that board was out and steal the cigarette and Blue Tip match out of them. (laughs)

But I was hyped on that board when it came out. It definitely sat well with where I was in my life. The youngest kid out there, chain smoking butts and skating.

Don’t do it, kids.

Has your son seen that board?

(laughs) No way!

Unfortunately, almost my entire collection of boards got stolen during my last move. Some motherfucker noticed that I was in the middle of relocating and just happened to have things temporarily stashed in my garage for a minute. They jacked my shit… one of the last Plan B boards I ever did with my Mom’s baby picture on there. Pretty much everything. Lame.

Have you seen Fucking Awesome using that Doonesbury Mr. Butts graphic recently? That was pretty great to see…

I haven’t. I’m so out of the loop when it comes to skateboarding. But that’s cool, though.

How much input did you have with graphics back then? Were you a big Sundays fan? A Darkwing Duck enthusiast?

I was never really picky. I usually just let them do whatever.

Honestly, the Sundays was pretty random. I had the cassette and really liked that baby head collage for some reason. I just thought it looked cool. And the Darkwing Duck thing was just some photoidea the art guys had.

I really liked that one flower slick bottom deck I had on Think. My brother drew that while he was in jail, so it really meant something to me. But graphics were going in and out so quickly… and we were all riding blank decks anyway. We didn’t care what was on our boards, just give me a good shape and no yellow tops.

No yellow tops for you?

No way! I couldn’t handle them. I loved green and blue.

Did you ever hear about the “Fresh Freddie Kruger” Blind graphic that Cliver did for you, that pissed off Plan B?

Yeah, I wasn’t fully aware of the situation back then. All of the in-fighting and all that.

Like I said, I was easy with graphics. I didn’t care. So when Cliver brought up this Freddie Kruger graphic he wanted to do… sure, go ahead.

I guess Danny found out about it and called the art guys, threatening to fuck ‘em up if it ever got released. I guess it was a big deal. So the art guys hit me up, saying that they can’t use it for whatever reason.


I didn’t care if they ran it or not. I imagine the art guys being more upset about it than I was as they’d already put so much time into it. But the thing is, they never quite told me the full extent of what was going on. I really wasn’t aware of the argument, so it’s not like I was taking sides or anything. I didn’t even know. I was like a little kid, caught in the middle of this whole other thing.

So why move from Blind to Plan B, post-Girl? Especially with Henry having got you on Blind and he’s still there?

Because I thought they were all going to go, Henry included. I didn’t want to be the last guy on Blind. It would’ve been one thing had I been on since the beginning, but I was one of the newest guys! That’s no good for anybody!

At that point, Danny approached me about Plan B. Obviously, they were a bit nervous after losing so many guys, but I’ve heard that I’d actually on their radar for a while. Because going back to that switch frontside 360 heel, Ternasky was there for that. I can’t remember why he was in SF, but he ended up inviting me out to dinner to talk about stuff. He never brought it up at the time but I found out later that he was trying to get me on Plan B, all the way back then. But I guess there were a few guys who didn’t want me on so he had to go with what his team wanted.

I can’t imagine Carroll wanting to steal you away from his brother.

I have no idea. But when Girl happened, Ternasky saw his opportunity. He actually told me once that he’d always wanted me on the team. He even had that quote in Big Brother about me being one of the most underrated skaters or some shit… So after Girl, Danny hits me up.

“Hey Ronnie, I think this move could be really good for you. Why don’t you come down to San Diego and skate for Plan B?”

It was the same thing as Henry Sanchez asking you to ride for Blind, you can’t say no to Danny Way asking you to ride for Plan B either.

You had all these different eras in your career… OC, EMB, World Park, now you’re down in San Diego. Is there a time you look back on a little more fondly than the rest?

I honestly enjoyed them all, man. I just kept finding myself surrounded by the best skateboarders in the world. Even down in Pacific Beach, I’m hanging out with Kelly Bird, Rob Dyrdek, John Drake, Duane Pitre… everybody at the old Alien House. You know, everyone always says that skateboarding is a brotherhood, I literally lived it like that. I loved all those guys.

To be able spend so much time with all these different crews, it was the best. I can’t say that any one era was better than the other because not only were they all so different, each one was valid at that point in time. I learned something different from each of them.

Any good stories from the Alien House?

Just partying.

Probably the fondest memory I have of that time is when Scott Conklin came to town. We were all raging… we drank a lot back then. Partying was just something that came with the territory.

But the funniest thing I’ve ever seen was Scott Conklin on all fours, crawling down the stairs of the apartment at 3 in the morning, singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” Everyone’s passed out and Scott’s singing that song. I will never forget that. (laughs)

Did you feel any pressure going into Second Hand Smoke?

I always felt pressure with filming, in general. I’d always just rather go out skating.

I liked filming with Jacob Rosenberg. It always felt different with him than it did with a lot of other guys. You were still working towards something with him, but you’d always be out in a way with people to where the whole thing didn’t feel so showcased on you. But having said that, when you filmed for Plan B, it was your time.

Because of how progressive those videos were, that right there was enough to put pressure on me. It was never someone putting it on me, saying that I had to do whatever. I put the pressure on myself. Because not only did I feel like I had a lot to prove, I also wanted to live up to something like Virtual Reality.

“I gotta come up with some shit for this!”

How did Ternasky fit in here?

Oh, I had a great time with Mike. He had such a deep love of skateboarding and just truly wanted to help dudes out in doing what they wanted to do. That’s what stoked him out. He was an awesome mentor and motivator, that’s how I saw him. If you’re having a bad day skating or couldn’t make a trick, he’d just come up to you, like, “Hey man, you can do this. You got this.”

He was definitely hands-on. He was always there, going on filming missions and trips. I don’t know what his background was before skateboarding but he definitely had a coaching mentality, driving people who still weren’t sure of their own capabilities to accomplish their goals.

But in my opinion, it was always more for the skater’s benefit than his own. I don’t ever recall any gnarly shit… like, “Dude, you better do this or you’re not getting paid this month.”

None of that. Honestly, I’m not sure if I would’ve been able to handle that on top of the stress I was already putting on myself. I would’ve probably just quit and gone home. (laughs)

How’d you get that then-unreleased Casual remix?

That was through Jake Rosenberg. He got it somehow, through his connections.

“Hey, I got a really cool Casual remix that nobody’s ever heard.”

I was easy anyway, but at the time, Hiero was all we listened to. Let’s go with it.  

You know we gotta talk about the switch backlip. Was that all one day or did you have to go back?

Yeah, that was all one day.

Did you go there specifically for that trick?

Not at all. I’d actually gone there with Duffy so he could film something over the rail. I feel like the only reason I even skated was because nobody else was, I wanted Pat to have someone to skate with while he got his trick. And for whatever reason, I got inspired to try this thing. I gave it a go and started getting closer and closer.

One thing people might not know, the clip in the beginning is a different one than the clip at the end. Because I ended up landing it three times until I got one I liked.

But I’m not going to lie, it took me hours. Because I was close, close, close… and just zipping out. When I finally land one, I don’t like it. So I land a second one and didn’t like that one either. I made a third one and that’s the clip in the part. So while it took me forever to make it, once I finally did, I landed three in a row.


Yeah, but if you look at the one in the opening credits, I land different. I kinda tic-tac out.

You killed the Ingraham Bump, too. Switch heel, switch hardflip, back nollie heel…

I had some friends from Dana Point that I used to party with. They started going to school down there and ended up getting a house in PB, maybe 7 blocks away from that spot. I was also staying a lot at the Alien House, which was in that same zone, too. So the Ingraham Bump basically became the local spot. Just hitting it up all the time… because why not? It was super fun and basically at our disposal. You’d always want to go there anyway because Sheffey hit it.

But yeah, you’re bound to get a few tricks there if you’ve staying close by for the last year.

A bit of an outlier but still worth talking about, what about your part in XYZ’s Stars and Bars video? Did you film specifically for that or was it largely extra footage you had lying around? And why the porno mag intro?

(laughs) I don’t know... stupid. That’s when I was drinking heavier and even more dumb. I just do stupid shit.

But no, there were a few older clips in there but I did actually go out with Tommy Caudill and film for that one. That was a fun little project. 

It’s a solid part. Just asking because I know that frontside noseslide nollie flip came out a while beforehand, which was pretty mind-blowing at the time.

I’d been trying that at the Encinitas YMCA and got super close. They hosted a couple contests there and had a ledge I really liked. It was just something new to mess around with. I’d never seen anyone do it before and thought it could be cool. I was always really comfortable with frontside noseslides and figured I could possibly flip out of one. And I did land one that day but zipped out.

So fast forward a little later, I’m out filming with Tommy and we hit up that ledge. I start trying it again and got one within a few tries. It’s a little sketchy. If you watch the video, I land all bow-legged and shit. Not the best landing but I liked it.

We talked about Droors, how come you were never DC proper? Why Kastel?

I don’t want this to come off as a he said-she said kinda thing, but I had gone on a Japan trip for Droors with Ken Block and Pat Duffy. And at one point, Ken sat me down to talk about things.

“Hey, I want to do a shoe company. What do you think about having your own shoe?”

Me, being the way I am, I didn’t think that I was worthy of having a shoe… and honestly, I just didn’t really see Droors being very successful in the shoe realm.

So I was just like, “Nah…” (laughs)

I totally screwed myself! I mean, Dyrdek’s on shoe fucking 29 at this point! He’s killing it!
Ken might’ve been insulted with how I reacted… like, “Well, fuck you then!” (laughs)

I probably shot myself in the foot but I like to think that everything happens for a reason.

Kastel was started through Ezekiel Clothing, who I was also riding for at the time. And the guy who originally designed the shoes for Kastel just happened to be my best friend growing up, Dustin. He was the main guy making the shoes. So with him involved and already riding for Ezekiel, it just made too much sense not to do it.

But that was towards the end. I only had 2 or 3 designs and that was it.

Was the Sal connection at Plan B what led you to 23?

Yeah, that was basically Sal doing his own thing and me being hyped on that. Obviously, Mike had passed away but things just weren’t really working out anymore with me and Plan B, either. We had a few differences in opinion over things.

Sal’s partner, Tom, actually hit me up about riding for 23 shortly after a tradeshow. I really wasn’t sure at first but ultimately agreed to do it.

That was short-lived, too.

Yeah, what happened there?

23 only lasted a year or so. I had a couple boards… actually, one of my favorite graphics I ever had was my Heaven’s Gate board on there. But that was basically it.

I honestly don’t know what all happened with that company. It’s a bit of a blur, to be honest. They ended up switching things over to Aesthetics, but I was out the door by then.

I was really deep into shit at this point. My skateboarding career was starting to wind down but I’m still partying. That’s where I was at.

How’d you end up doing sales at ATM?

Basically, I was living in San Diego and was really in a bad way with partying. My Mom had actually become quite worried about me. She was having trouble getting in touch with me, which was intentional. I wasn’t really talking to her or seeing her much because I was in such bad shape. But she knew John Fallahee was nearby so she contacted him and asked if he could find me, to let her know that I was alright.

So they found out where I was living and hunted me down. It was actually Tonan, of all people. Coming completely full circle.

“Ronnie, you need to come with me and John. Right now. Get in the car.”

So I rode over to their place and sat down with them.

“Hey, your Mom is really worried about you. We’re hearing that you’re smoking crack and all this other stuff…”

And at the time, I was. I was fucked up.

“Let me help you out.”

So I jumped on that. I didn’t get sober right away but started easing off the stuff that can really damage you. John gave me a warehouse job, working in the back for a bit and then I started doing sales. That’s just how it bloomed.

There was a point in all this where I thought I could relive the glory days and come out with a part in 2000… a shot in the dark that didn’t work. But it’s cool, I had fun. We did a few trips and I got a couple cool photos. So I was able to relive it again in that sense. But it ultimately made me come to the realization that I needed to grow up and get a job. I couldn’t just be out there doing drugs like I was, I had to get straight.

Did the party lifestyle just get out of control?

I just didn’t know where I was heading in life. You go from making money by doing what you love, skateboarding and traveling the world, to just being an alcoholic drug addict. It’s a harsh reality check.

But a common one. I’ve noticed a lot of San Francisco dudes, in particular, have battled Hubba.

Mine was after that. The only reason I even tried crack was because my coke dealer didn’t have any coke. I called somebody else and they said they had some. When I got over there, it was crack.

“Fuck it.”

And just like that, my whole deal went from bad to worse. Drugs are bad, man. They fucked me up. But I’m open to talk about it now because I’m happy and lucky to say that I’m sober. As soon as I found out that I was going to be a Dad, I quit everything. I didn’t do rehab, I didn’t do anything. Just 90 days on my couch. I kicked every single drug that was in me. I’d quit drinking before that but I was still eating pills, doing coke and even got into meth.

But as soon as my girlfriend told me she was pregnant, that was it. I wasn’t living for me anymore. My son saved my life, straight-up. He’s my greatest accomplishment. And I’ve been clean ever since, for years now.

That’s great to hear, Ronnie. Congratulations. And this with all the gnarly tax stuff you had going on, too…

Yeah, I never paid any taxes for the entire time I was pro. So by the end of my career, I owed the government almost $50,000. The problem was I didn’t know that I was even in this predicament until it was too late. I was already too far in the hole. It’s a pretty common one in skateboarding, actually.

When I got the job through Fallahee, I used my social for the paperwork. That’s when they hit me with a notice. I just had to come to grips with the fact that I was gonna have to deal with this thing. Suck this dick and pay it. (laughs)

“Okay, I’m gonna pay you guys. What do I have to do?”

Because the government doesn’t go away, dude. You can be 90 years-old and they’re still gonna find you. You can be one foot in the grave, they still want their money.

Fuck you, pay me.


$500 a month for 8 years, but I paid it all off. A hard lesson learned, dude. I could have a fuckin Mercedes in my driveway but I fucked up. Those penalties are gnarly!

But it’s not like you’re talking tax tips with Guy Mariano outside the World Park back in the day.

The older guys who were running those businesses, they should’ve been driving us to tax people. But they never discussed that kinda thing with us. Here they are, handing a bunch of kids $3,000 checks every month, like, “Have fun!”

To us, it was like fucking Monopoly money.

I know a lot of people got hit by it and will continue to get hit by it. I truly feel for kids now who are making way more than we ever did. I realize the guys making crazy money have agents and accountants, which is good. But the ones making slightly less who don’t, they’re still making a pretty penny. That shit hits hard.

Were you ever bitter towards skateboarding?

No, if anything, I was more disappointed in myself. Because I could’ve done a lot more. I had a pretty long career but it could’ve been longer, had I kept my head on straight and a different outlook. It just wouldn’t have given me the same memories that I have from it. I was meant to do it the way I did.

That’s how you grow up. You learn from both your mistakes and your gains. And that’s how I’ve always looked at it. So no, I’ve never been bitter about it. I wouldn’t change any of the bad decisions I’ve made because it all led to my son.

…I mean, if I would’ve made more money, I would’ve only owed more in taxes! (laughs)

Amazing. But is there a lot of stuff from over your career that possibly never came out? Like old Think or Blind stuff perhaps?

I don’t even know. I don’t have any old tapes and honestly, I never really kept track of my footage or coverage like that. Maybe some filmers out there might have something? I really don’t know.

Because with a lot of these sequences, I don’t recall many of these tricks ever coming out… if they were even filmed at all.

That’s the thing. You didn’t always have a filmer back then, not the way it is now. I feel like pros now have their filmers sitting shotgun 24/7. Back then, you were either with a photographer or a filmer, you never really had both. At times, I was just taking photos, so that’s what you got.

You are, by far, the most popular answer among my interviewees as “Most Underrated Skater of the 90s.” How do you react to that and why do you think people say that?

I honestly don’t know why people think that at all. I didn’t really have many video parts. If you go back, my career was essentially random footage here and there with one 2-minute part for Second Hand Smoke. I had a few photos but I don’t know how they came to that idea.

It does mean the world to me, though. I have a hard time talking about myself so it really is nice to hear people say that. I appreciate it more than they could ever know. It makes me feel like my skateboarding career wasn’t for nothing.

Thanks once again, Ronnie.


chops said...

Thanks again to the subject of Chrome Ball Interview #5 for indulging me with a proper redux.

Stuffins said...

Damn, this is a great interview!

Stuffins said...

Damn, this is a great interview!

D Howman said...

awesome as always. thankyou. P.s what is going on in that last switch tail photo? aka the spot/ obstacle?

Anonymous said...

One of my all time favorites - happy he's doing well. I nearly burned the tape out watching his SHS part over and over again. Thanks so much for the follow up.

justindeandrade said...

Such a legend!! Thank you for a great interview

Chops said...

I’ll be honest, I’m not reallly sure. But liked the photo and had never seen it before.

Anonymous said...

Incredible interview... Thankyou

Watson said...

Awesome one! Obviously always loved this dude's skating but it was always a mystery what happened to him. Shame his career ended the way it did, but good to know he's healthy and happy now. Thanks for the skating Ronnie!

©hr!s/London/UK said...

Ronnie was definitely the best-kept secret: one of my favourite skaters of all-time. Great interview with one of the best unsung heroes from that whole era of innovation. He seems like a very humble and appreciative guy: it's great to hear he's doing well these days.

That back foot heel and the switch 360° heel... Both are still incredible, 25 years later.

Respect to Ronnie and to you too, Chops. Still hoping for a Chrome Ball book to surface one day... :)

DLTDA said...

Great interview. Ronnie is so critically underrated. I remember seeing Second Hand Smoke in the late 90s and being floored by how good he was. Wish we had more footage of him, but it’s so cool to see how thoughtful and humble he is now. Glad his son got him sober!

Fuck That Guy Scott said...

Great interview! Ronnie Bertino was the golden child growing up, you knew he was destined for greatness. He was so ahead of everyone growing up. I remember him being friends with 2 dicks from my school, those guys were such assholes but I never held it against Ronnie hahaha..
Sucks that drugs detoured him but I'm glad he is sober, sobriety is also one of the best things to happen to me.
Respect Ronnie.

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed it! But I wanted to go back and read the first one you did with him, and it seems to take me straight to the new one?

Anonymous said...

Man, I just wanna be as cool as Ronnie in the Second Hand Smoke video. I bet he has no idea that that part could be so influential to a dude that didn't even start skating until '98-99.
Thank you for this interview!

Isla said...

I reaaly enjoyed it.

Unknown said...

He is and was one of the most down to earth person I know

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Ryan said...

Ronnie and Fred Gall were the first guys I recall doing switch front blunts on real ledges in lines. Really great nollie 180 flip in Second Hand Smoke too. It was in a line, super smooth. My friend rode for ATM Click in the late 1990s/early 2000s. He was a Bertino fan and said he was cool.

Ronnie had great style.