5.18.2021

chrome ball interview #149: gideon choi

Let's start this off with an all-new Gideon mixtape from Manolo.


=O =O =O

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming...

chops sits down with Big Cliff for conversation. 

So we’re doing this fairly late on a Tuesday night and you just put the kiddos to bed, which is a perfect lead-up to my first question — didn’t you name your son “Cliff” after James Craig? 

(laughs) Yeah, that’s a James Craig reference. My son’s middle name is Clifford, just like James. That’s my youngest, he’s three.


I used to hang out with James and his brother, Jeremy, pretty much every day when we were younger. And one day over the course of conversation, it came up that I don’t have a middle name. I guess that kinda thing seems like a big deal when you’re young, but when I found out how awesome James’ middle name is, the whole thing took on a life of its own. Because Clifford is a fucking amazing middle name, man. I love it.


It has something to do with his dad or his grandfather… I don’t know. But after that, it became this inside joke with our crew. Everybody started calling James “Little Cliff” and I became “Big Cliff”. Because James is the youngest and he was also really small for his age. 


…I remember the first time I met James, actually. He was doing front-foot impossibles off a three-stair and I couldn’t believe it. But I thought he was a little kid!


“This seven-year-old is fucking gnarly!”


Turns out he was 13! (laughs)


So yeah, that’s how we were rolling for a while. I started telling people my middle name was Cliff, too. I was psyched on it. 


Year later, when my wife got pregnant with our son, I tried telling her that we had to name him Cliff. Well, turns out she wasn’t fully on-board with that decision. She wasn’t in on the full history of this inside joke we’ve had going for decades. 


Luckily, we were able to compromise on the middle name. 


Amazing. So, are you originally from Fullerton? Is that where you started skating? 


No, I actually grew up in the La Palma/Cerritos area until the 8th grade. That’s when we moved to Fullerton. But La Palma is where I started skating. I saw some older kids skating around and I wanted to do it, too. 


It’s funny because I started skating when I was 10, so I was always running around with dudes in high school after that. Just a little kid riding around in their cars, skating… wondering why they were even hanging out with me. It was weird but I had so much fun. And that’s when I fell in love with skateboarding. 


I had really strict parents, which is kind of the stereotypical Asian family thing. They were super strict and all about school. Skateboarding was my escape…


But moving into the Fullerton scene must’ve been incredible. There were a ton of pros coming out of there at the time.  


Yeah, the Fullerton scene was crazy, but I didn’t meet the Craig brothers or my other friends until later on. Actually, when I first moved to Fullerton, I was on the complete other side of town from what was going on with skating there. There were only a couple of kids who skated in my junior high, and we all eventually phased out of skating once we got into high school. I actually stopped skateboarding entirely for, like, two years.


So you were pretty late coming into the “career” side of this.


Totally. I didn’t start back up again until I was in the 10th grade. I was sitting around with a buddy of mine who I used to skate with, and he goes, “Hey, why did we stop skateboarding?”


“I don’t know.”


“We should go skate! That was fun!”


So we dragged our old boards out. He had that old-school Lance Mountain with the cave drawings and I had an old Natas… and you have to remember, this was around ’91 or so. Years after those boards had come out. 


But we just went out there and had fun. We didn’t even know how much things had changed in skating until we ran into some other skaters. I remember seeing their modern boards with the big noses and thinking to myself, “Oh, boards are different now!”


We must’ve looked like we came out of a time machine. (laughs)


But from there, I got fully back into it. Venturing further out into other areas of Fullerton. And one day, I ran into James Craig and Rick Ray in a McDonalds parking lot. That’s when things took off. Because I had no idea about the Fullerton skate scene until that day. It was like a light came on. 


After that, I’m watching videos all the time. Not only catching up on skateboarding in general, but I’m also starting to notice all of these local spots in there, like Fullerton High School. Suddenly, I realize that some of these guys in the videos, they’re the same guys that I see rolling around town sometimes… like Ronnie and Heath Kirchart. It was crazy! 


It’s pretty wild, I saw some old Fullerton videos online and half the crew ended up going pro. James, Luis Cruz, Kenreich, McKinley…


Jeremy Craig must’ve posted those.


Jeremy became a filmer after a while, right? 


Jeremy was actually a really good skater, he just got pigeonholed into the whole filming thing. James and Jeremy got a camera for a present one year and Jeremy just happened to film the best. Because we all took turns filming each other, Jeremy had the steadiest hand and knew how stuff should look. So, after a while, everyone just started asking him to film everything because they knew he’d make it look good. That’s how Jeremy ended up filming so much… which must’ve sucked for him because I’m sure he just wanted to skate.


I know he was on Society with James… which, I’ve always wondered why you weren’t on there, too? 


Because I wasn’t good enough. 


You don’t think so? 


I’ll be honest, I was just kinda there. I never really had “the dream” of going pro. I never even thought I’d get sponsored… I mean, some people like to dream about owning a Ferrari but I don’t because I know it’s never going to happen, so I’m not going to waste my time thinking about it. Same thing with getting sponsored, I never saw it as a possibility. 


But the Society team was all your homies, you never saw this as a possibility for yourself?


But those guys were all way better than me! They were all much more talented than I was at riding a skateboard. 


Don’t get me wrong: When they all got on Society, I thought it was cool. I was happy for them, but I never pictured myself there. And they never asked me, either. 


Plus, I’d actually left for college around this time, too. I was down in San Diego for most of that. 



Didn’t you draw a monkey graphic for them? 


I did! Because Society didn’t really have any proper direction, they’d just let the riders or whoever do the graphics, which I always thought was insane. Mashing together all of these different things… some of it came out kinda corny, to be honest.


It’s so funny how that worked out. Because it’s not like I’m some serious artist or anything. I was just doodling on a notepad one day, probably while talking on the phone as they messed around on the computer. Luis just happened to say, “Hey, we need a graphic.”


I look down at this little notepad I’d been drawing on…


“Why don’t you use this monkey?” 


“Yeah, that’s cool!”


I wasn’t even serious when I said it… but they ran it! I still can’t believe that happened. Society was funny like that. 


You mentioned moving down to San Diego for college. Your Check Out said something about having to work out a deal with your parents to pursue skateboarding instead? Is that how it went?


Well, that Check Out said I was going to medical school, which wasn’t really the case. Rodney actually wrote that Check Out, but I think a lot of that was possibly misinterpreted from things I told him on the phone? I’m not really sure. 


How it really went is that I wasn’t even sponsored when I first started going to college. That only happened after I’d moved down there… like you said, I got a late start. My parents were paying for my school, so I felt an obligation to them. They always wanted me to become a doctor, of course, but that really wasn’t something I was pursuing. I was just going through the motions. 


Suddenly, I got the opportunity to ride for Blind. Yeah, it was completely out of the blue, but that was the reality. And I obviously wanted to see where that could lead. 



That was through a sponsor-me tape? 


Yeah, James and Jeremy Craig sent my sponsor-me tape to World Industries without me knowing it. 


Like I said, I never thought about actively pursuing sponsorship, but I started skating a lot in San Diego when I moved down for school. I was going through product like crazy because I was skating so much, so I was constantly having to buy used boards off people. 


At some point, my friend told me that I should make a sponsor-me tape for Natural, because he was friends with Danny Mayer. He said that I’d probably be able to get some free boards, which was really all I was looking for. And because I was constantly filming with James and Jeremy back in Fullerton, I knew that I could throw some footage together real quick and maybe get a board or two. Awesome. 


So I went back home on Christmas Break and got a tape together. We made a quick little edit at James and Jeremy’s house, because that’s where everything was, and I drove it back down to San Diego and handed it off to the guy. 


Little did I know, James and Jeremy ended up sending copies of my tape to a bunch of companies without me knowing. And they never told me, either. Because one day, I got a call from Rodney Mullen and I thought it was a prank call.


It started when I was out skating somewhere, somebody said, “Hey, Rodney Mullen is trying to get a hold of you.”


What!?! That doesn’t even sound real, especially because I didn’t know they sent my tape to Blind. Why would Rodney Mullen be calling me at random? Whatever. 


That weekend, I come home from college and my Mom says that somebody keeps leaving messages for me at the house. I listen to the voicemail and the guy says he’s Rodney Mullen, but I don’t know what Rodney Mullen sounds like. 


“Aw man, somebody’s fucking with me. This isn’t real.”


So, I don’t call him back… he calls again! And I still don’t believe it’s him. Because this was months after I’d made that tape. Turns out, by sheer luck, Ronnie happened to be at Blind one day and saw my tape. And because I don’t have a typical name, he knew it was mine.


“Hey, I know this guy. Let’s watch his video!”


So, they popped it in and actually liked it! That’s when the “prank calls” began. 


“We really liked your video. We’d like to start flowing your boards.”


Even talking to him, I still didn’t believe it was Rodney… but I was down for some free boards, so I play along and give him my address.


A couple days later, I get this huge box of boards. 


“Oh shit! I guess this is real!”


Everything just went crazy from there. 

Did you ever hear back from Natural? 


I did, actually. They sent me a couple boards but it didn’t work out. I think they went out of business not too long after that.


So Blind was your first sponsor?


Yeah, but I was kinda floating around at first. Because you can’t really sponsor someone off of a sponsor-me tape, you know? That’s never the most accurate portrayal. They need to see you skate in real life first. 


Rodney didn’t know what company he was going to put me on, either. He’d always say “We’re going to find a place for you, we just haven’t figured it out yet. Hold on, but know that we’re going to take care of you. Just keep getting footage.”


Then, I get a random call from him one Friday night.


“Hey, Natas is coming down and he wants to skate with you.”


“Oh shit!”


But the thing was, I was just getting over the flu. I’d been sick all week! 


“I don’t know, I’m fucking sick… but it’s fucking Natas. Fuck it, I’ll go!”


So the next day, a mini-van pulls up to my house. I climb in and it’s Natas, Gino, Dill and Clyde Singleton. And just like that, I’m totally fucking intimidated. 


“Aw shit, are you serious? What am I even doing here?” 


We go skate and, of course, I skate like shit. Because not only was I miserably sick, I felt like a total dork around those dudes. And I’m sure it was super awkward and weird for them, too. Because I probably didn’t say a single word all day. Just grunting at these dudes and probably laughing too hard at their jokes… oh, and hoping I don’t give them the flu!


Now, I’m not totally sure about this, but I do kinda feel like that was a try-out between Clyde and I. Because I don’t think Clyde was on the team yet… but I’ll tell you this, Clyde was ripping that day! He made me look like a fucking chump. 


So yeah, I didn’t end up getting on 101. 



How did Blind happen? 


I had another “audition” with Rodney, Soc and Lavar at Fullerton. And thankfully, I didn’t blow it this time. 


Because I was in San Diego and they were in LA — it just so happens that Fullerton High School is right in the middle there, so that’s where we decided to meet. Totally cool with me! That’s my home spot!


I had butterflies the whole time but I ended having a really good day. I was throwing out stuff that I’d never even tried before, hoping to impress them… I even landed a couple things to my surprise!  


So Trilogy was your first part ever? 


It was! Pretty crazy, right? The way it all worked out, everything just went straight into that. 


Were you scared about your first part being in such a big project? 


I got lucky because I had no idea Trilogy was even coming out… which actually helped me out a lot. I knew a video was coming at some point, but I didn’t know that it was going to be this huge thing. Because like I said, I was only on flow at the beginning of all this. Rodney kept telling me to film stuff, so I would go out and film all that I could, sending it in as I went. Unbeknownst to me, that‘s when I started filming for Trilogy.


It’s weird because I wasn’t on “flow” for very long. I guess Rodney really liked my footage because things happened very quickly for me. I actually started getting paid not too long after that Fullerton session. It wasn’t a lot of money but enough for me to realize that this was getting serious. 


“Oh shit, I guess I’m sponsored now!”


But even then, I only remember Rodney bringing up Trilogy maybe once or twice after that. Like, “Hey, we’re gonna come out with a video in a couple months. Try to get some footage for it.”


“Okay!”


And because I’d just gotten on, I’m still filming as much as I could. But while this video project was always in the back of my mind, my filming was more about proving myself to everyone. I never really knew the scope of the whole project. I don’t think a lot of the other guys did, either. I mean, you’re always filming because that’s what you do, but there’s a difference between randomly filming versus working on a specific part. 


Before I knew it, I got a call to come up and edit my part. That was it. That was Trilogy. 


…But it wasn’t until the premiere that I realized, “Oh, this is a really big video!” 


Was Stevie Wonder your choice? 


Yeah, I remember first hearing that song around this time and immediately wanting it to be my video song. 


There was actually a bit of mix-up with that. Because at the premiere. Socrates had edited my part to a War song. I asked him to switch it back to Stevie Wonder for the home video release and when he did, a few clips got left out. It’s a shorter song so he had to make it work. I remember four clips being left out.


So the switch tre line wasn’t originally your ender? 


Honestly, I’m not sure… but I don’t think it was.


Because while it is a classic line, it’s also not the most obvious choice to end a part with. 


Oh, for sure. But at the same time, I don’t know what else we would’ve used instead. I wasn’t really thinking about enders back then, I was just trying film as much as possible… which made for an interesting time when we had to go through everything during editing. 


My part was basically a mash-up of everything. Let’s just throw all my footage together and 

because you don’t really have an ender, that switch tre line is now your ender.


It’s almost like you’re getting poached there. 


I didn’t even know he was filming me! Soc always follow films! Him filming long lens is pretty unusual… that might be his only long lens shot in the whole video! And through a fence? That’s crazy!


Honestly, I was just warming up there. I knew that I wanted to film that line, but I wanted to get warmed up first. Because my thing was that I always felt super bad for taking too long to film. The last thing I wanted was for a filmer to have to sit there for hours because I can’t do something. I think that comes from filming with my friends back in the day. You don’t want to be the guy that takes forever, you know? And that was me! I was always the “one more try” guy! Not being able to land something stupid while your buddy sits there, looking at you… like “I don’t want to sit here filming you all day, I want to skate!”


They’d be so bummed, man. So, I always wanted to get things quick, even if that meant doing easier tricks. Probably not the best way of going about being a professional skateboarder. (laughs)


So yeah, I’m just practicing there when I ended up doing it out of nowhere. Luckily, Soc happened to be filming me. I still remember rolling over to him afterwards. 


“Okay, let’s film it.”


“No, I got it!”


“Wait, you filmed that?”


“Yeah, it’s dope. I got it from a good angle.”


“Really!?!”


“Yeah, have a look.”


He shows me the footage on his camera.


“Sweet! I guess we’re done!” (laughs)


I’m sure people bring that switch tre up to you all the time, right? It’s still regarded as one of the best tre flips ever.


I’ve heard people talk about it, which is always super humbling… but have you ever seen Luis Cruz do a switch tre flip? His were incredible! All I’ve ever done with my skating is try to copy my friends. I learned switch tre flips from Luis and wanted to do them like him. I tried to do backside flips like Jeremy Craig. I tried to do heelflips like James Craig… even though I could never do them very good. 


I just saw my friends do awesome stuff and wanted to do things like them. 


But yeah, that line was probably the easiest thing I filmed for Trilogy because I didn’t know I was being filmed. 


You’re known for having one of the cleanest styles from that era, but was style a conscious thing for you? Doing things properly versus learning every trick? Because you definitely had your go-to’s. 


I had a pretty limited bag of tricks… well, that’s not true. Not to sound big-headed, but there was a period where I felt like I could do almost any trick. 


It goes back to wanting to film things quickly. I’d get so self-conscious about wasting people’s time that I just went with my go-to’s instead. Because I knew I could do them quickly and they’d look good. That’s why I ended up doing the same tailslide over and over again. 


But I have to imagine your nollie hardflip over a picnic table taking a minute. 


No, that didn’t take very long. I landed it sketchy, but it came pretty quick. 


I had nollie hardflips pretty good, so I’d had that idea floating around for a while. I’d already done one over a trash can at Fullerton, picnic tables were always the next step. 


I mentioned to Socrates that I wanted to do it at Lockwood but was kinda sketched out about going there. 


“Nah, it’s all good. I got the pass from Fabian. As long as you’re with me, we can go.”


So yeah, Socrates and I went on a mission for that one. I feel like that was a deadline trick, two or three days before editing. We just cranked it out in a half-hour. It didn’t take very long… especially if I was filming with Soc. I was just as starstruck by him as I was by some of the superstar pros I came across. He was just as legendary. So I wasn’t about to waste this dude’s time, especially after driving up there together for it. I was too careful to let that happen. 


Were those switch flip and frontside flip clips over the table both the same day? 


Yeah, I did those both on the same day... but that was with Jeremy Craig filming. He didn’t get the same special treatment that Socrates did. I was way more comfortable with Jeremy. Not that those two tricks took a long time either, but if they would’ve… whatever. Sorry, Jeremy. (laughs)


Did you film with any other World riders back then? Like the Menace guys or Kareem? 


Any random meet-ups tended to happen through Soc. I remember skating with Daewon a bunch, which was always amazing.


One day that sticks out was skating with Dill and Steven Cales. Dude, Cales was so close to doing a heelflip backside nosebunt slide across the top of one of those picnic tables. It was incredible. He was so close, we all thought he was going to do it…


Wow, I’m not sure if anyone has even done that to this day! And that was 25 years ago!


I don’t think so! And he was locking in, too. Sliding the whole thing. He just couldn’t stick the landing. It was impressive, for sure. 


Oh! And another thing I wanted to bring up, I know Ronnie talked about his manual line at Fullerton in his Chrome Ball Interview. I think it’s a switch manual flip then a switch 360 flip nose manual, or something insane like that? 


I know you asked how long it took him to get that and he played it all nonchalant. I was there. He did it in two fucking tries. I witnessed it. It was fucking insane. 


Legendary. But what about Josh Kaspar? You were there for his helicopter/dj phase on tours, right? 


Yeah, I was definitely around for that stuff. 


It’s weird because I always liked Josh, but he always had kind of a different thing going. You could never shake this feeling that he was trying so hard to market himself. Because he would have this weird persona in front of crowds, and then turn into a regular dude back at the hotel. It was like this character he’d turn off-and-on for demos… you don’t have to do that. 


He went through this phase where he really liked WWF wrestling. And the thing about pro wrestling, it’s built around these larger-than-life characters. I feel like that’s what he was going for. Getting on the mic at demos, pumping the crowd up with this stuff that was straight out of wrestling. 


“Who wants to see me ollie this thing? Let me hear it!”


It was weird. Like I said, I never had any problems with him. I just wasn’t into that fake persona he had going. 


How would you react to that at demos?


Honestly, I didn’t mind because it put all the attention on him. With Josh playing up to the crowd like that, nobody was paying attention to me. That’s cool, I’ll just skate. 



How was your relationship with Lavar? Robbie talked about his rapping Method Man at him in the van once for what felt like an unusually long amount of time. 


Oh, I saw that many times. I was actually the default Lavar roommate on tours, so I got the full experience.


Lavar was the total opposite of Josh. Where Josh had a fake persona, Lavar would tell you exactly how he felt at any particular moment. He’d just blurt it out… That might’ve been the problem, actually. Lavar was too real. 


I mean, he was smoking a lot of pot back then, so he’d just go on these weird tangents for hours. Talking non-stop crazy shit about whatever, all the time. Not making any sense. And it was hard at first because I wasn’t used to that, but after a while, I got to know his personality. And deep down, Lavar is a sweet kid. He just has a rough exterior that freaks people out. Because he’s been through so much crazy shit. I look at him kinda like a child star. He got sponsored and thrown into all of this so early, that has to affect you. All that pressure? That’s not an easy way to grow up. But he really was an incredible skateboarder.


A great Lavar story actually came up last weekend when I met up with James and Ronnie. It was James’ first tour with Blind, and we’d all gone out to do a few demos together. But because James had just gotten on the team, Lavar was trying to test him a bit. 


There was one demo, in particular… it might’ve been the very first demo of the tour, Lavar literally followed James around the course for the entire demo and did every trick that James did — switchstance. (laughs)


That’s insane!


Yeah, and because Lavar was so good, I don’t think anybody even realized that he was skating switch the whole time. But we did! Because Lavar is regular stance and James is goofy, Lavar would’ve had to been skating switch in order to follow James around like that. Every trick on all of the same obstacles, going the same direction. We didn’t even notice it at first, because Lavar wasn’t making a big deal about it. And then it dawned on us, like, “Oh shit!”


I can’t imagine how bad that must’ve sucked for James… but it is what it is. He just had to come up with something that Lavar couldn’t do switch. (laughs)


I’m fuzzy on the timing here…  didn’t they turn you pro after Trilogy? Was it really that fast? 


Yeah, it was right after Trilogy. Because that’s what Rodney used to justify his decision when he called me. 


“We’re getting really good feedback on your Trilogy part, so we want to turn you pro.”


This was all happening way too quickly. I mean, I’d only been on Blind for a few months at this point. I basically just got on the team! 


I remember telling him, “Dude, I don’t even think I should be sponsored by you guys and now you want to turn me pro? I’m not ready for this.”


“Well, the only pros we have are Ronnie and Lavar. We need more pros, so you and Josh are both going pro.”


So yeah, he was basically calling to let me know that it’s happening and I just need to go along with it. After all, it’s not like I can really say no to fucking Rodney Mullen, you know?


At this point, I’d never skated in a single skateboard contest in my entire life… I hadn’t even been sponsored a year! I knew I wasn’t ready. But I was also about to turn 20, which is pretty much over-the-hill in industry terms. If you’re not pro by the age of 20, you’re a fucking man-am and you should probably just retire. 


Plus, I knew that if I didn’t take advantage of this now, I’d never be asked again. Sure, I’ll probably get kicked off in a year, but at least I’ll be able to say that I have a board with my name on it.


Whatever, I’m just going to do it.


Were you into all the Grim Reaper stuff back then?


Nah, I didn’t like the Grim Reaper. I thought it was corny, but I never felt like I had much say in that. They were making a lot of money off that, selling a ton of boards with the Reaper on it. We all just kinda understood. It is what it is.


…At least it wasn’t Flameboy or Wet Willy. The Reaper wasn’t as bad as that shit, was it?

 


It wasn’t that bad. But some of your old graphics from back then are pretty wild. Like the Grim Reaper with nunchucks or that Koreaper board with the eyes? 


I actually asked McKee to do the slant eyes thing because I thought it would be funny. I used to get that all the time when I was a kid. That was just a part of it, you know? I grew up feeling like an alien most of the time… so whatever, let’s make fun of it. 


To be honest, a lot of that stuff would come out and I’d have no idea. I wouldn’t see it beforehand. Because I was just kinda along for the ride, you know? Happy to have the opportunity. But it was never intended to be serious or mean-spirited.


I don’t want to say that I didn’t care, but I was never bummed out by anything. It takes a lot to bum me out anyway, but I never took it too seriously. I understand that people can take stuff like that personally and get offended by shit, but it’s all for fun. 


How was it coming up as an Asian dude in skateboarding back then? I’m imagining more than a few awkward interactions, but could it get hateful?


No, it was never hateful. Compared to regular society, skateboarding is much more accepting than that. Obviously, there were a few times where I felt awkward about shit, but for the most part, it was cool. You skate. I skate. Let’s go have some fun. 


One of the best things about skateboarding is that you can meet a total stranger from wherever and you have that connection, like how I’m talking to you now. There’s a bond underneath it all to where I feel totally comfortable talking to you. And none of that other shit even matters. 



Well said. But was it hard being “the new Blind”? Especially with so many graphics simply being new versions of old classics, like the Fucked-Up Kids and the Powell spoofs? 


Oh, it was terrible. I don’t know if you’re a basketball fan, but it’s like you had the Showtime Lakers and one day, they all decided to leave. So they just threw the ball to some random kid in the stands, like, “What d’ya got?” (laughs)


That’s kinda how I always felt. I mean, you’re not going to pass up the opportunity. Who’s gonna do that? This is your shot, you gotta take it! But in the back of your head, you’re always thinking, “What the fuck am I even doing here!?!”

Did you ever meet Rocco? 


There was a trip where we all went to Hawaii and stayed at his house… Not that he’d ever be able to recognize me in a million years. He had no idea who I was. But Ronnie somehow convinced Rocco to host James, Ronnie, Robbie and I at his house for the ultimate bro weekend, just because we were on Blind. And it was fucking amazing. Shotguns, ATVs, off-roading in Land Rovers… fucking night-vision goggles. Just all of this weird, crazy shit that you’d never normally do. That’s how it was, 24/7.


Incredible. So, while you mentioned your anxiety with wanting to get tricks quickly, did you like shooting photos and filming, in general? Or was it just necessary part of the gig? 


It was just part of the gig. I love skating, for sure, but after a while, filming stuff felt more and more like a job. And that’s when it starts to get old fast, when you feel like you have to do it. 


I don’t really like any of my video parts, but I’m sure everybody says that. It’s the equivalent of hearing your own voice in an audio recording. 


“Fuck! That’s what I sound like!?!”


“Shit! That’s what I look like? I thought I looked like Koston!”


No… no, you don’t. (laughs)



I’m asking because during this 96-98 window, you put out four parts and a bunch of photos. You really seem to be going for it here. 


Well, the 411 part only came about because of those leftover clips from Trilogy. I remember calling up Rodney about it.


“Hey, there were a few clips left out of my part on the re-edit.”


“Oh, I’m sorry. Maybe you could just use them in another part? Why don’t you do a part for 411 or something and throw’em in there?


Looking back on it, I don’t think that he had much regard for 411 at the time, but it sounded like a good idea to me. So yeah, that part was me trying to put something together real quick… which those leftover Trilogy clips weren’t even all that good. I’m not sure why I made such a big deal about getting those out.


Which clips were the leftover ones? 


The switch 360 flip into the Courthouse fountain was the main one I wanted to get out there… I can’t even remember the other ones.


But this when you really started exploring transfer ledge tricks, like that front blunt transfer at Chaffey.


It just felt like something cool to try. But I actually had higher ambitions for a lot of that stuff, it just didn’t work out. I was definitely trying to flip out of a bunch of those, which wasn’t happening at the time. I just took what I could get. 


 “Fuck it, it’s 411. Who cares. Let me get the flip out for a real video.” (laughs)


Because I was super close to flipping out of the front blunt transfer, coming out straight. And I wanted to do a switch crooked grind - flip out transfer over the wall at Chaffey, too. 


Too bad that neither of those worked out… Turns out that I wasn’t very good at the whole flip-out thing. (laughs) 



That frontside blunt transfer really became one of your signature moves. Where’d that idea come from? The only one I remember prior to that was Spencer Fujimoto in Love Child. 


I think that’s probably where it came from. I watched those videos so much, it all sank into my subconscious somewhere. Floating around. Because he did it legit, too. A proper tailslide before popping over. 


A lot of that came from going to Chaffey as well. Because there are so many different ledge variations there. Different heights and angles, over walls. So much stuff to mess around on. And not only that, there was always incredible shit going down there, too. You see someone get a clip on something and you can’t help but start thinking about what you might be able to get on there. Or maybe someone is skating a certain section and you start thinking about stuff on it, simply because you want to skate your friend? That’s how a lot of that stuff came about.


I do remember going there with Daewon one day with the intention of filming that front blunt kickflip transfer. He did a backside 180 kickflip to switch frontside crooked grind transfer… it’s in a video somewhere. He did it third try. It was so dope, man.


I just remember sitting there… like, “This fuckin’ guy.”


But your kickflip backtail transfer was sick. 


Oh, yeah! I’ll take that! 


That was a good time, dude. I loved Chaffey. We used to go there all the time. It was the closest thing we had to a skatepark back then. 



I like your three-pack of kickflip, switch flip and backside flip over that can, too. Off the little bump. 


Yeah, that was a random root bump I found. I really liked that thing. It almost felt like a snowboard jump because there was a slight downhill to it, you could just fly off it. I remember being so hyped on that bump but all of my friends hated it. 


“Dude, what’s wrong with you guys!?! This thing is fun!”


They weren’t having it…


You got that perfect 360 flip over it for Round 2 as well. 


Yeah, that was me sessioning by myself again because nobody would skate there with me. (laughs)


Honestly, I’ve always had a pretty good 360 flip. It’s basically the only flip trick I can still do. That clip came pretty quick. I think it was a Vita ad, too. 


All of my clips at that spot happened pretty fast because I typically went there with photographers. And because those guys were shooting on film, I’d be in an even bigger hurry to get things done than I was with filmers. 


One memory that stands out from that spot is going there to shoot photos of a backside flip with Kosick. I remember he shot it from across the street while eating a cheeseburger. (laughs)



No way!


Yes, I remember that specifically. Having to yell at him across the street, “Can I go?” 


“Yeah, you’re good.”


Totally eating a cheeseburger, shooting long lens. He couldn’t have cared less. It was amazing. 


What about your backtail ender down the Venice Hubba? That was heavy for the time. 


That was when I was living in LA for a year, crashing on my friends’ couch who were going to UCLA. They lived right by Venice, which was awesome. I ended up skating the pit with Robbie McKinley and Cameron Postforoosh almost every day. And when you’re down there, you couldn’t help but look at that hubba. 


I remember thinking to myself, “I’m gonna fucking backside tailslide this one day.” (laughs)


And one day, much later, I decided to finally try it. Sitting at the house with my friend, Ryan. Socrates was there, too, so I got all hyped. 


“Fuck it. I’ve been thinking about this for way too long. This is the day. Let’s go fucking do this tailslide!” (laughs)


I’d backtailed a few handrails before, but that hubba was sketchy. It was really skinny, almost like a double-sided curb. I don’t know if you ever saw it but it was only six-to-eight inches wide, and it drops off on the other side. There’s sand all over the place. Rollerbladers and crackheads you gotta slalom around. Not the best zone.


What about that overcrooks photo on the flatbar with Seu from around this time? With the crazy angle? 


That was all Seu, man. He found that spot and made me look really good skating it. That dude’s an amazing photographer.


It was actually a handicap ramp. He’s under there pretty good but I don’t think it was dangerous for him. It looks like a flatbar but it’s not. He’s just down low on the other side with me pushing my board out on the overcrooks. 


…I wish I would’ve landed that. (laughs)


(laughs) Oh no!


Yeah, sorry. 


Number one, we didn’t have a filmer. And number two, the rollaway was super short. Every time I’d land on it, I only had about two feet before I ran into the other side of the ramp. It just never worked out. 


I actually tried to go back there with a filmer and we couldn’t find the spot. I suppose that I could’ve just gone back there with Seu but I guess that was too much effort. (laughs)


Seu’s an interesting one, though. Because I always felt like he took me on as a challenge for himself as a photographer. To take this average guy and make him look good. And he did an incredible job. Like that overcooks photo? That’s all Seu. Another photographer might’ve made that look okay, but Seu made it look amazing. I’ll give myself maybe 10% credit for that photo, the rest is all Seu. 


Most of the photos toward the end of my career were all Seu’s ideas. By that point, we were pretty comfortable with each other. He’d come to me with all of these different ideas and they’d always end up looking dope. 



How was filming for Daewon vs Rodney compared to Trilogy? 

Oh, all those videos were a mess. I had no idea when either of those Rodney vs Daewon videos were dropping, I don’t think anybody knew… probably Rodney. But it was hard for the rest of us because we never really knew what was going on. Just like Trilogy, we were filming and sending in footage because that’s the job. But those videos would just come out... Like, here’s your part. We wouldn’t even see it until it was done. 


I think if we would’ve actually known beforehand, most of us would’ve done things a little differently. 


But your switch hardfip front crooks ender was a wild one. That had to be a battle.


Well, it was supposed to go into noseslide, which was the ender on my sponsor-me tape. At that time, I don’t think anyone had ever done that trick before, which is probably what caught Rodney’s eye. And I definitely remember trying to get them to reuse that footage for my Trilogy part, but Rodney said the video quality was too bad. I’d have to film it again, which is what led to this second go-round. 


I feel like the first one I did came pretty quickly, but having to go back and refilm anything is always different. And the second one took forever. I battled that one, for sure. Definitely filmed by Jeremy Craig, because there’s no way I would’ve had Socrates sit through all that. He would’ve been so bummed. 


That was Jeremy and I at some spot down in San Diego, trying it over and over again for hours until I finally got it… which, the one in Round 1 actually goes to crooked grind. That was a total accident. I’d honestly been trying to go into noseslide there… but the crooked grind looked good. Cool! Let’s go grab some beers. 


I was so over it by that point. I never wanted to try that trick again… crooked grind, it is!



You mentioned earlier having a hard time with flip-out shit, but your Round 2 section has both a backtail and your front blunt ender with varial flips out. Were you just playing around with variations there?


Yeah, that was just me messing around with stuff. The backtail randomly came one day when I was out with James. Just tagging along. He wanted to go skate that ledge, so I cruised over there with him. I couldn’t think of anything else to try, so I did that. 


The front blunt was a pretty great day, though. Because I was filming with Danny Minnick a lot back then, I remember him calling me up that morning and swinging by the house to pick me up. At some point, he decides that we’re going to skate with Sean Sheffey, but he never even told me. We just go to his house. 


I’m fucking freaking out but trying to stay cool. We end up taking a couple bong rips before heading over to some schools in San Diego. I was so pumped to be skating with Sheffey, I just wanted to skate good. I got both the blunt varial flip out and the blunt transfer clip that comes before it that day. Sheffey was a hero of mine so I wanted to impress him. He probably couldn’t have cared less… he probably didn’t even see it, but it felt like a big deal to me. 


But no, I didn’t film that to be an ender. 


I know you said that you don’t like any of your parts, but your Round 2 part is really good. 


Thanks. I think out of all my parts, Round 2 is probably my favorite. 


I’m not sure if I’d ever really seen myself skate before Trilogy, but I didn’t like what I saw. I didn’t think my style looked very good. Round 1 just felt like another version of Trilogy to me. But by Round 2, I felt a little more comfortable on my board and I think it shows. 


I wish I could’ve expanded on those clips and made it a full part, because it’s only a minute long. That would’ve been the best time for me to have made that happen, but it never did.


Ronnie always wanted to come out with a full-length Blind video back then, something we’d have a little more control over. He was always in everyone’s ear about getting footage, but then those Rodney vs Daewon videos would come out with a lot of our footage. I remember Ronnie being kinda bummed on those because they always seemed to kill any momentum we had going for our video. And it just kept happening.


…I’ll be honest, though, I didn’t want that Blind video to ever come out. Because, come on, you’re gonna follow up Video Days and Pack of Lies with Gideon Choi doing tailslides? That’s gotta be the biggest letdown ever! (laughs) 


Definitely a hard act to follow. You seemed to go into montage-mode after Round 2, popping in various videos. What all was going on with you here? 


Well, I was filming the whole time. I don’t know if I was inspired as I once was, but I was still going out there. I actually have a lot of footage from this period that has never seen the light of day.


The kickflip over the running fountain? 


Yeah, I have footage of that. 


That was another Seu idea. And Shiloh! Shiloh was the one who figured out how to keep the fountain running. He jammed a bunch of little twigs into that thing to keep it running, which blew my mind. 


“That’s fucking genius!” 


That was supposed to be in my last part. I actually filmed a part during all of this but it got axed. It was going to have a lot of my ad stuff in there, like my front blunt transfer at Flushing…


Was that What If?


It was going to be for a full-length Blind project we were working on prior to What If that never came out. It didn’t have a name, even though a lot of the footage ended up going towards What If? afterwards.


Like I said, Ronnie was really into a full-length Blind video back then, and it looked like that was finally going to happen. We’d all been working on that and it got to the point of editing everyone’s parts together. But whoever it was at Dwindle saw it and I guess they weren’t happy with it, so they scrapped the whole thing. 


“Alright, we gotta go back to the drawing board. This isn’t good enough.”


And that’s when I got kicked off. I guess when they saw my footage, they could tell that I was pretty much over it.


Did you see the axe coming? 


It did throw me off a little when I got the call from Rodney. And I was pretty bummed for a month or two. I didn’t really see it playing out like that, no. 


But I’ll honest with you, I’d already rehearsed my “I’m quitting” speech to Rodney so many times prior to that. Because I was over it. I love skateboarding, but I didn’t want to do it for a job anymore. 


That, and I always had this guilt about not being good enough for Blind. It honestly weighed on me pretty heavily. All of my friends were way more talented than I was and I always felt bad about it, like I shouldn’t be taking up a spot on the team. I didn’t know why I was there, which haunted me the whole fucking time. I was just some random guy who got lucky. Right place, right time. And I could never get passed that.


I always knew that it wasn’t going to be a forever-type thing, you know? That I was going to have to figure something else out in the long run. I was so blessed to have the opportunity, but I always knew. 


Not even Rodney Mullen turning you pro gave you any confidence?


No, I always felt like I was a fraud. Because Rodney didn’t really know me, he’d only seen my sponsor-me tape. He only skated with me one time in-person before putting me on. 


Do you think if you had gotten on Natural or something a little less prestigious that things would’ve been different for you?


No, if it would’ve been a less prestigious company, I probably wouldn’t have even tried. I would’ve just been happy with whatever free product I got and moved on with the rest of my life. 


Even your Check-Out mentions your “reluctance” to fame. Looking back now, do you wish that you would’ve approached things differently? That you would’ve put yourself out there more? 


The only regret I have from back then is wishing that I could’ve gotten over my weird self-doubt. That, and caring less about what the filmer thought as I was trying to do things. Looking back, those were easily my biggest obstacles, and they were all in my head. But I don’t know how I would’ve gotten past all that. 


I regret never putting out the video part I wanted to. I was trying my hardest for that last video part. My plan was to put that out and walk away. It just didn’t work out the way I planned. 


You’re quoted as saying “It was a good run” when you got the call… 


I think I used a surfing analogy, actually… not that I’m a surfer, but it looks like a lot of fun. (laughs)


“I just surfed it to the shore, dude. I’m in the white wash.”


There was no need to continue on with any of this. It was time to walk away. 


Did you quit skating completely at this point? 


Nah. Like I said, I was bummed for a little bit, but skateboarding is all I know. I’ve been doing this for too long, I had to go back to it. It’s not like I can stop hanging out at the skateshop. And there’s skateparks all over the place now, let’s go check ‘em out. I just want to go out and have fun with my friends.


And you’re a court stenographer now? 


Yeah, a buddy of mine got a job as a legal videographer, filming depositions. He started talking to a stenographer one day and found out that they make pretty good money and can set their own schedule. He ended up telling me about it, so I checked it out. It’s basically like a video game, and I love video games. So yeah, that’s what I do now.  


How often do you skate these days?


What’s weird is that I didn’t skate for the longest time, but with the COVID shutdown, there was nothing else to do. So I started skating all the time. 2020 was probably the most I’ve skated in 10 years. And it’s been awesome!


It’s all come full circle. We used to skate the Fullerton underground parking garage all the time when we were kids and now it’s the hot spot again. Weekly sessions there, every Sunday. A lot of the same dudes that I skated with back then, too. It’s amazing. 


You even popped up with a surprise cameo in the Tired 2020 video.


Oh yeah, that was Seu. He dragged me out and was filming some stuff for his part. I guess he wanted me to have a little cameo in there. He asked and I can’t say no to that dude. I love that guy.


When’s the last time you did a switch 360 flip? 


I actually tried one last Saturday and it was terrible. Trilogy was a long time ago, man.


Ronnie even laughed at me… and then he went and did one to switch nose manual right in my face. Just to rub it in. Because Ronnie’s still amazing. 


Something that came up in my research, did you have an Instagram account going for a while? I heard it got deleted but not before you made a few interesting posts about Nyjah Houston? Care to elaborate? 


I’ve never had an Instagram account. 


Ah, because I know there’s a fraudulent Gideon Choi on the Slap board, too. 


Yeah, we were actually talking about that last weekend! That there’s some guy posting on IG and the Slap Message Board as me? I didn’t even know there was a Slap Message Board! I’m a fucking dinosaur, dude. I never got into the social media thing. 


But why the fuck would I say something about Nyjah Huston? He’s an amazing skateboarder. Maybe I’m not up on the news but I’m not gonna hate on the guy. I get it, everybody has their opinion… but come on. Look at the shit he does!?! Are you kidding me? I can’t say anything bad about that.


And don’t you think it’s weird for someone to start an Instagram account with somebody else’s identity? That’s pretty sad. When James told me about this on Saturday, I was shocked. I couldn’t even believe it. And of all people, why me? Who cares? 



(laughs) As we wrap this up, there’s obviously a lot internal conflict with you and your career, but what would you say you’re most proud of from your time as a pro?


I don’t know about any accomplishments but I do appreciate being able to skate a little bit longer. To extend my time skateboarding, and especially being able to do so with my friends. Being able to travel the world as a pro for Blind with James, Ronnie and Robbie… I only wish my other friends would’ve kept skating so that maybe they could’ve come along for the ride, too. Being able to share that experience with people I grew up with, that’s insane. I still can’t believe that this all happened to me. 


Did you keep any of your boards from over the years? 


Yeah, I have a bunch of them. I had a few leftover and friends have also given them to me over the years. It’s cool… but honestly, I’ve never actually ridden my own board before.


Really? 


Yeah, I always rode James or Ronnie’s boards. 


Having my name on a board always felt stupid to me. And I don’t know who actually bought one of my boards, but thank you… even if it was questionable decision on your part. (laughs)


Big thanks to Manolo, Ronnie Creager and Gideon for doing this.


22 comments:

Anonymous said...

how can you not like this guy?

Anonymous said...

I wish Gideon had more confidence in himself. He was so good. I can relate tho because of my similar upbringing. That intergenerational trauma is no joke.

Anonymous said...

sickest style, so good

Tony Corolla said...

All hail from Germany! I always loved his style and footage.

Unknown said...

thank you gideon and chrome ball crew. best style since drake jones and one of the reasons why i am still skateboarding my ass off and filming in 2021 - trilogy, favorite video forever

marko fogy from slovenia

Anonymous said...

Amazing interview as always, thanks to you both! Underrated style, always loved that fountain kickflip photo!!

Unknown said...

It's so crazy this interview went down because I was revisiting the Blind Section in Rodney vs Daewon Part 1 where they play that Rolling Stones song "Like a Rainbow". I always liked Gideon's clean style and trick selection. I occasionally see him skating at the Brea Skatepark and dude still rips. Being of Asian/Pacific Islander decent, we aren't really raised to be that extroverted, so I totally understand his demeanor as he navigated through the skate industry.

Brian said...

One of the 90s greats that I was always excited to see new footage from. The SW Tre is definitely in the top 3 with AVE.

Wish that lost Blind part would get leaked on to YouTube!

Stickmoe said...

Hell yeah, Chromeball! Thanks for interviewing the legends I grew up watching. Always loved Gideon (Orange County Legend) since the Rodney vs Daewon days!

Anonymous said...

Around that same period I distinctly remember Steven Cales almost getting that heel to back nose blunt slide at pyramid ledges in nyc. We watched him flip into it and slide half the ledge before bailing on it for like a half hour. It was a crazy trick for that spot back then.

Anonymous said...

Great interview. Well done. Gideon hasn't had many in his career.

Anonymous said...

No tech deck ad?

Chumpion said...

Thank you. This is pure gold. As a jap born in Denver, I looked up to any Asian skaters and Gideon was my absolute favorite. And to hear how he didn’t deserve what he had, really hits home. I’m not saying I was ever amazing but I had shit down back in the day but I wouldn’t let anyone film me cuz i compared myself to all the greats. I def regret not filming cuz nowadays so many people are getting away w murder but still looks good to me. I forgot that it was all about having fun. Shit. Anyway, Gideon I hope you read this and put out all that footy that hasn’t been seen yet. I can’t wait. And CBI as always is the best

Chumpion said...

*felt he didn’t deserve

J_wU said...

Amazing interview, thanks for doing it. I kinda suspected for a few years there was a unseen section or footy from just before 'What if'. Would really like to see it....can someone get Manolo on the case?

Jørgen Johannessen said...

Great interview!

Unknown said...

Generic style and tricks. Had to point out the obvious

Anonymous said...

PLEASE PUT THE UNRELEASED PART OUT!

layzieyez said...

I'm a huge fan from the Trilogy part on. Imposter syndrome is too real. It's a shame it wreaked havoc on your professional career because you definitely deserved your spot in the lineup. Thanks so much to you both for doing this interview. I had some very needed laughs from some of the stories. Cheers.

Pk said...

Always wanted that shroom cloud board of his and I had a ad of his backtail down a square handrail on my wall as a grom

Esoligh said...

One of my all-time favourites. Trilogy is my favourite video. Watching all the vids as I read through this interview I remembered all those days skateboarding in Auckland City, thank you for creating some very real inspiration. RiP to my brothers Dean Clark and Jack Ma from those days. B.S.P. 1310

Ryan said...

That's really strange. I was around Los Angeles during the filming of Trilogy. I was 13/14 at the time. Actually, the guy who told me to watch it was Richard Mulder, who I happened to run into as a kid skating UCLA. The video had just dropped. The people I grew up skating with were Van Wastell, Justin Case, Stuart Faught, etc. I think all of us considered Gideon Choi one of the better guys on Blind. Those 411 parts were a lot of B roll, but I vividly recall watching Gideon's Rookie Pro section and catching that backtail on the Venice Hubba and audibly going, "Holy fuck." For the time, that was really heavy. That Hubba was less that ideal to skate for all the reasons mentioned in the interview, plus there was a gnarly crack at the top. Gideon Choi was a top-tier pro in my book and I'm glad you interviewed him, as once he was off Blind I never really heard of him again. -Ryan Leach