chrome ball interview #150: max schaaf

"Just a couple of blog dudes trying to get attention."

photo: chami

So your upbringing is the stuff of legend, with a cool Mom who skated and a future Thrasher editor in the house, alongside a full vert ramp. But how did you discover skating? 

Well, one thing that a lot of people don’t know, not that I try to hide it, but my Dad lives in Walnut Creek… It’s kind of a long story. I was actually born in Pittsburgh before we moved out here when I was two. 

Oh wow, I didn’t know that. 

Yeah, and years later, after my Mom and Dad divorced, he started his new thing out in Walnut Creek, which is about 15 minutes outside of Oakland. He’d heard that it was the cheapest place in the East Bay to buy a house, which at the time, he bought one for $70 grand. So growing up, my older brother, Billy, and I bounced back and forth from Walnut Creek to my Mom’s house. 

At that point, we were into all things noisy and destructive. Playing cards in bicycle spokes, hatchets into trees... the whole deal. And one day at my Dad’s house when I was nine, I hear the sound of somebody skating down the street. Looking out the window, I see someone grab stinkbug and do a powerslide. It made that loud barking noise and I remember thinking to myself, beyond all things standing, I must make that noise. I never even thought about if it was hard to stand on that thing and ride it, I just had to make that sound. 

I don’t believe in a God but I do believe in destiny and things finding you at the right time. And not too long after that, somebody left a banana board in front of my house. Bright red. It was actually missing the pivot cup from the back truck, so it was real squirrelly. You could almost do figure eights as you pushed, and that’s what really got me going. 

Shortly after that, I was able to talk to the dude who made the noise. He was an older punker dude, a friend of my brother’s. And I was like, “You must teach me how to make that noise.”

That was the beginning of the end. 

Billy, Mom and Max

Did your Mom skate beforehand or was this something she wanted to share with her sons afterwards? 

It’s funny because when you’re a kid, you always think of our parents as being really old. They’re just these older units in your life. But she had us when she was pretty young, because when I was 10, she was still only in her mid-30s.

It’s amazing to see what’s happening in skating today with it becoming more inclusive, because my Mom had hairy armpits and wore men’s pants. She rode a motorcycle. She’s a straight woman but people often thought she was gay because not many women dressed the way she did. 

She was still living in San Francisco when we started skating, so she started taking my brother and I to the Hunter’s Point Dish. And by taking us there, she got introduced to this world and was just blown away by it. And she liked it, man. She wanted in.  

She started skating with us, mostly at the Dish. And that’s how Jake came into our lives. Because the first thing Jake ever said to me was after my Mom had just fallen at the Dish. He goes, “Your sister just took a helluva beef.”

…Remember when “beef” was a word for slamming? Like, “You totally beefed!”

But I still remember him saying that to me, and he always reminded me of it, too. Because after he said that, I looked at him and said, “That’s not my sister, that’s my Mom.”

He was taken aback by that. But knowing what I know now, of course he thought she was my sister. She had a half-shaved head, wearing thermal shorts with a mini-skirt on. She was on fire! 

Max's Mom

But how gnarly was skating the Dish as a little kid with your Mom? That wasn’t the friendliest place. 

No, it wasn’t. And I do remember getting bottles thrown at us, which was a common thing. But I think we got a pass for the most part because it was just a Mom with her two boys. And we were in the jankiest light blue Pinto, which had been tagged on the hood. There was nothing to say we were well-to-do and killing it. 

So how did you find transition skating? Because I don’t remember many ramps in the Bay Area back then. 

Well, there were a few in Oakland. We’d usually stop by Sam’s Ramp after we left the Dish, which was just down the street. And there was that place, the Blood Bowl. That was an amazing pool. 

It was in Sick Boyz. 

Yeah, and that neighborhood wasn’t messing around, either. I can’t remember exactly where that was because it’s stuck in my little kid brain, but it was definitely right in the middle of the worst zone. Because the locals would let the e-brake off people’s cars and roll ‘em down the hill. I remember us going up there and seeing our friend Dave’s Honda Civic parked on the side of the road, that was always kind of a big deal. Like, “Oh my God, his car is still here!” 

But Walnut Creek had a crazy ramp scene. Because it was the suburbs, there was a plethora of ramps. The first ramp I ever skated was out there… eight feet tall with six-foot trannies and two feet of vert. 

photo: wig

Holy shit! (laughs)

With pool coping!

And it was also part of this weird trend they had going out there where one side was bigger than the other. So one side was 8 feet tall and the other was 6 feet tall… I guess you were supposed to kickturn on one side? I still don’t really get it. But that was the first ramp I ever dropped in on, the smaller side. I skated that ramp a lot at first, which actually made every other ramp after that feel just incredible. 

I guess that’s how I got into transition skating… I’ll never have a good explanation for that because I was street skating just as much back then. I was right there with everyone else, doing that. And my brother and his friends were always building ramps, too, like launch ramps and stuff from Sacto Streetstyle. Just kids building ramps out of plywood and PVC coping. But I always enjoyed the feeling of dropping in and the weightlessness of something steep. 

So how did you get a ramp in your living room?  

Well, I tried to build a ramp at my Dad’s house first, but the city and neighbors weren’t having it. We ended up having to go to court, so that never happened. 

But the one in Oakland with my Mom and Jake… San Francisco in 1986 had just started to get a little more expensive. But through her friend Steve, she heard about this part of West Oakland where she could rent 6,000 square feet with 60-foot ceilings for $800 a month. So all of a sudden, we had all of this space. 

I remember her showing that place to me and oddly, right away, she said that we could build a ramp in there. I was only 13 at the time, right when she met Jake. 

It was your Mom’s idea?

I’m sure that I probably threw out a “Can I build a ramp in here?” at some point. And like I said, this was right when she met Jake, too. Right as we were moving. It was too soon for him to say “I’m gonna live here with you” so he probably went the other way with it… Like, “We should build a ramp in here. It’ll be good for your son.” 

Working that angle. (laughs)

It’s crazy that Jake is dead and I don’t have him to fact-check this. Because everything I’ve ever said about Jake, I wonder if I’m saying it right. Knowing that he’s going to read it and I’m gonna get that phone call. But now, I can just ramble at will! (laughs)

I miss him so much, man. I miss having that person to call, like remember that? And he’d know the exact date and that it was somebody’s birthday. He’d have the exact info filed away. 

photo: dawes

He talked a lot of shit but there was typically a kernel of wisdom in there. What’s the biggest lesson you learned from Jake? 

It’s tricky because I live in the new Oakland, where everyone is “they” now. I’m learning this whole new language and I’m down. I’m totally down to learn how to view the world in a broader way. But when I think about Jake and how un-PC he was back then… how he conducted himself allowed us to survive where we lived. And to be honest, there’s a bit of a struggle with me and all this. Because we were the only white folks in our neighborhood back then. That can be said nonchalantly, but if you really think about how intense that could be, it was huge, man. 

I remember one of the first times I ever skated home from the Bart Station, which was 10 blocks away, it was rough. And when I finally got home, I told my Mom that I wished I was black. 

Jake looks at me and says, “No, you don’t.”

I was still pretty young, but he said it in a way where I obviously didn’t understand the impact of what I had said. 

I was just so sick of getting harassed and yelled at. “Hey white boy! Hey honky!”

After a while, I became “the skateboard kid” and people just shouted at me to do an ollie. That was fine because it meant that I’d been accepted. But in the beginning, it was gnarly living there. People would throw bottles at our house at night, saying the craziest shit through the walls... which were tin so you heard everything. 

Jake was always completely himself. He would still come out, peacocking. Head held high. He knew everybody's name. And if somebody handed him a joint, he’d smoke it and just bullshit with everyone. He was "Jake the Snake". And if it wasn’t for Jake, I don’t think we would’ve survived that neighborhood the way we did. But I also know that somebody is going to quote something Jake might've said back then, out of context and in slang... just like how everyone is getting called out and canceled now. Because it looks horrible in print. 

I don’t know if you ever saw the photo where Jake went to grade school, but he was the only white kid. He was the least racist person I knew, and I mean that in someone’s heart. Jake didn’t care what color you were, which was probably the reason he used the language he did at times with people he knew… because they were cool with each other. They’re just bullshitting. You can call me a cracker ass motherfucker and I can say this to you. We’re both gonna laugh about it and pass the joint. He was so himself and just down for conversation, which meant mostly with people in our neighborhood. Because we had nothing, which meant we had nothing to steal. So we were quickly off people’s radar.

The biggest thing I learned from Jake is to be yourself. Even though I always knew how important that was, it’s easier said than done. It’s taken me well over 40 years to finally be comfortable in my own skin. But I always envied how comfortable Jake was with being himself. Jake on dope was hard to be around, but sober or fairly sober Jake… those early days with him, that was a beautiful time. 

Max and Jake

But was it hard being a little kid, into little kid shit, with this gnarly dude around? Because I’ve seen photos of you wearing 720 Airwalks or with a Bones Brigade shirt on. I can’t imagine he was into that at all back then. 

(laughs) What’s funny is when I got those Airwalk Fahrenheits, he’s like, “Pfft, nice moonboots.”

Two weeks later, he had a pair. 

Jake often did wear skate stuff like that. He loved being a skater so much… 

Don’t get me wrong, my Rat Bones jacket? I got big-time blasted for that. Stuff that other kids could enjoy, I couldn’t. Like skating with a chain wallet or wearing the bill of my cap up? I couldn’t do that because I knew Jake would immediately be like, “What the fuck are you doing!?!?”

“Errr…. uhhh… okay.”

But if I really owned something, it wasn’t talked about anymore. And I’m sure my Mom would tell him to go easy on me from time-to-time. 

I’m hypersensitive, dude. And I think Jake knew that, so he’d cut me some slack. But with my childhood, I didn’t really get to be a kid. I didn’t get to play in my neighborhood. I was actually kind of a shut-in. And because of that, my social skills suffered. I still get crazy anxiety around groups of people. 

Was it ever hard for you to skate in front of people, having grown up skating inside your house? 

Oh yeah, I hated contests with a passion… but I always loved practice. 

Luckily, I was on Real, because they always gave me the option of going to contests just so I could skate in practice. I never believed them, but that’s what they said. Just show up and skate during practice, then disappear when the contest starts. Shred, show people what I’ve been working on and represent our company… and if I want to bag out, bag out. 

I could never do that, though. I don’t know if it was pride or maybe just a sense of responsibility? Because I’m already here and I know Mike Frazier is going to ask why I didn’t skate the contest. I look up to Mike so I better skate… drop in and bail on my first 50-50. (laughs)

I blew it on the first backside air or first 50-50 so many times. My nervous energy was huge! But later on, in my 30s, I started having a beer for medicine. Just one beer before the contest, and it would calm my nerves. I started doing better in contests after that. 

Any stand-out sessions with 80s vert pros back then? I heard Joe Lopes stopped by…

Yeah, big time! My whole thing with high school was that I would go every day. I was never tardy and I never cut class. I was an amazing C student. And if I was stimulated, I’d do fine. Like if I was taking photography, I’d get an A, but I was just cruising for the most part. 

Well, one day, Jake told me that Fred Smith and Joe Lopes were coming over to skate the ramp on Thursday. I still remember having to get my Mom’s permission to cut school for that. 

So we’re all there, and I’m tripping. I think I was even riding a Fred Smith board at the time. Joe Lopes is there with those weird long shorts and long shirt he always wore… and he gave me the craziest, clammiest deadfish handshake. I just remember thinking to myself, “Oh no…”

I think he brought a bong with him, too.

Fred was a little more normal, but I could tell they were both kinda wondering who this kid was. I’m sure I was a bit of a buzzkill, but then we skated and everything was fine. 

Joe did a huge frontside ollie. Fred Smith did some incredible handplants and a nice frontside air. But they were struggling, for sure. Because the thing about our ramp is that while it ruled to us, it was actually really hard for other people to skate, especially for pros who were used to skating good ramps. 

…But then Hosoi came over not too long after that and just tee’d off on it. Oh my god, it was bonkers. 

But honestly, my favorite sessions were typically on Friday nights when Jake would call to tell me that Julien and Coco were there. That whole crew. In my head, those sessions were the ones to be at. 

I always thought Julien stood out the most from that time period. He’s a much better vert skater than people probably realize. Just seeing him do an indy to fakie was incredible. Everything was so proper. I think that’s what inspired my doing ledge tricks on vert early on. That if I’m going to do a noseslide fakie on vert, I gotta stand on top of it and I’m gonna have to stomp on it.

I learned a lot from those guys. Seeing Micke Reyes do a kickflip halfway up the ramp… I hate saying stuff like this, but that’s what gave me the idea to start trying no-handed kickflips on vert. Because I saw him do one halfway up, it was obviously a go. 

You had to “think about” Jim and Tommy’s offer to ride for Real, bringing it up at the dinner table later with Mom and Jake. Was that your first sponsor? And was there anybody you would’ve rather ridden for? 

Man, I have this weird thing where even in the best situations, I’m not content. I’m just a daydreamer. Like, maybe NASA will call and put me on the moon at 48? 

Prior to Real, I was getting boards from Dogtown, during that Karma and Wade era. I looked up to Wade, so I was definitely wondering if I should stick with those guys. But I was just so flattered by the Real offer. It felt super exciting to me. 

I still remember that day, I was at Studio 43 sitting on a chair between the vert ramp and the mini ramp. Jim and Tommy kinda pull up their chairs, like, “Hey, we want to talk to you.”

I knew what they were going to say, just by the vibe. But at the same time, I was always so paranoid about getting special treatment because of my connection to Jake. I’m sure there was a lot of that going on in my head, too. Jake was a shipper at Thrasher at the time, he wasn’t some editor they might’ve been trying to impress, but I was always super self-conscious about any type of special treatment. 

And yes, we talked about it at the dinner table. It was hard because I lived with Jake and he was always so reactionary. It’s not like he hated Jim and Tommy, but he was just so critical. 

I think on the inside, Jake was stoked for me. But I also think there was a slight competition between us that I didn’t realize until much later. It’s just this thing that happens. I’m watching it right now with Taj at age 14, where you go from being pretty lousy to really good, really quickly. Because two years before this, Jake was watching me learn how to drop in and now I’m trying 540s on that very same ramp, the Widowmaker. At some point, I feel like he stepped aside. 

Every once in a while, he’d still call me out on something, like, “What are you doing with your hands?” Because he knew that I’d just watched the H-Street video and was trying to do Danny Way’s hands or whatever. Something so embarrassing… But things were different after that.

I feel like the first big project you were involved in was that first Real video. How seriously did you take filming, versus the more conventional vert channels of shooting photos and going to contests? 

It was never do or die or anything. It wasn’t my life like it is now. Honestly, for that first video, they just came over one night and that was it. That’s how important it was. 

I got a couple things in there, but that was literally one night of filming with an extra clip thrown in from the San Jose Warehouse. Because if you were a vert skater at that time when street skating was taking off, trying to get someone to film you was hard. And none of my friends had video cameras, either. So yeah, my first video part in the Real Video was more like, “Well, here’s what I got that day. This is it.”

It was a weird era, man. I mean, that noseslide on the handrail in there is the craziest thing. I think there’s a photo of that, too.

photo: morford

Yeah, it ran in Slap. 

Jake and I were skating downtown and Ron Allen just happened to be shooting a photo with Gabe across the street from this handrail I wanted to look at. I was pumped on noseslides on ledges at the time and was thinking about nosesliding that rail. 

Gabe noticed me looking at it, so he just ran across the street and we shot it real quick. It just worked out. Then he ran back across the street to Ron and we skated off. I actually street skated a lot back then, I just never really excelled at it. It was all stuff that everybody else on the team could probably do first try. I had to come to terms with my street ads. (laughs) 

But yeah, that video part was soup. Just throwing in scraps and seeing what happens. 

I always loved that you were “working on getting more marketable” with a Johnny Cash song in 1993. 

(laughs) The Johnny Cash song was probably the one cool thing about that part. But that quote was me making fun of Jeff Klindt, because he’d recently told me that I needed to become more marketable and it freaked me out. It literally kept me up for five nights in a row… because this is skateboarding! It’s not like I was wearing a helmet and kneepads out street skating. I actually thought what I was doing was pretty cool. My outfits are pretty cool, I guess. For a vert skater, right? 

That’s how I learned the cold hard facts about skating. I mean, Kelch was selling the most boards out of all of us back then… because kids wanted to be like James.

It’s more than skating, you need to be marketable, too. And that was 1993, it’s only gotten crazier since then. It’s a hard pill to swallow but that’s the way it is. And what’s funny is after I started doing 4Q, my boards started selling better than ever because there was more of an image behind it now.

Talk about your Thrasher cover in ’95, which I think is your only one, correct? You mentioned your paranoia about receiving special treatment, how was this with Jake as editor? 

Yeah, that’s my only Thrasher cover. It’s a half-cab. And that was probably the most stressed I ever was about possibly getting special treatment. I’m sure people thought that, but I don’t think of Jake as a dude who would’ve ever thrown me that bone. Because this was also at a time when I felt like I could do almost anything on a skateboard. And some of the best things I ever did were only in front of Jake in our home, no cameras. So at that point, he knew what I could do better than anybody. Maybe he was starting to realize that something was starting to blossom inside me? I don’t know.

It’s a great photo. 

I just remember Jake telling me beforehand, “I want it to be an ollie-to-fakie or a half-cab. And it better be the biggest half-cab you’ve ever done.”

That’s why it kinda looks like an ollie-to-fakie, I pumped so hard into that half-cab. And that ramp had really horrible huge coping. It was such a struggle to get that. 

We shot it twice, actually. Because Jake wanted a new member of his staff to shoot it. We shot it once and it was too dark, so we had to shoot it again. And I’m on a board that my sister drew, the Naomi Campbell Espirit board. Back when it was acceptable to ride your own board… though, I still knew not to wear my own shirt. I never did that.

My favorite Max quote over the years is when you said “I’m just a vert dude trying to get attention” in the Fourstar video. But in going over all your stuff, I feel like so much of your career comes from you making your own scene. Beyond having a ramp, I also know that you came up with a lot of your own ad concepts, too. That so much of all this is you making it happen for yourself.  

That’s really nice to hear, man. Because like I said, I was always kind of a hermit in my own world. Even when I had that vert ramp with the Gonz painting, it was still in West Oakland. There wasn’t a cafĂ© up the street or a park to go hang out in. And because of that, I spent a lot of time sitting around, thinking about Real. Looking at magazines and thinking about why this one ad is really cool while this other one is wack. 

One place I could hang out at was Deluxe, so I was over there all the time. Hanging out in the art room with Todd Francis and Ancell. Taking in as much as I could and then giving some out, like, “What about this?”

Although I was the token vert skater, I never felt like that, especially as the years went on. I was just a part of Real. And this is where I have to mention Gabe. Because if it wasn’t for him, I would’ve never made it as far as I have in skating. Because Gabe was always down to shoot with me. Whenever Real needed an ad and they couldn’t get Drake Jones or whoever to shoot anything, Gabe would always hit me up. And I wasn’t easy, either, because I always had some idea I wanted to do. 

“Let’s make my ramp not look my ramp. Let’s hang this yellow sheet of paper in the background and shoot a trick from this angle. Let’s climb up here and see what we can get...”

Because for some of those ads, I wanted them to look a certain way. I’d tell Gabe that I wanted it shot from here and do this or that, and he was down. Then he’d go back and tell Jim or whoever how we wanted it to look. That we were going for something specific. 

Gabe was just the best. He shot amazing stuff and even better, he’d never guilt trip you about wasting 30 rolls of film when you couldn’t get the sequence. And he’d always give you that confident, man-style, “You got this.”

One of all-time favorites, tell me about Too $chaaf, Born to Max.

Aw, one of my favorites as well, man. I still have the outtakes from that day on the little mini-bike… the same mini-bike that Mark ollied over me on. Which, that was another one of those ideas that popped in my head and I just knew we had to give it a try. Because that bump was right near my house. It was originally supposed to be Huf ollieing over me, but for whatever reason, he didn’t want to do it… not that I can blame him. Would you want to jump over Max on a motorcycle? No, not really. 

Luckily, Mark and I were really bonding at that time and he was up for it. 

But as far as Too $chaaf, the original Too Short album cover is such a classic. Especially with the Oakland connection, it was too easy. Again, I just brought it up to Gabe and we made it happen. 

I love 90s-era Real because everything was a one-off and it all felt so personal, especially your stuff. Like the orange-tinted ad with Buzzard and Dutch. Was that Gabe again? And was that always intended to be an ad?

Oh man, I love that one. And yes, it’s safe to say that almost every ad of mine was shot by Gabe, except for the Spitfire ad where my mouth fell off. I think that was BK. 

But that’s one thing about skating… I watched Real try to turn into Black Label at one point, back when Black Label had that crazy surge. To me, Real was always that company you couldn’t describe. You couldn’t really pinpoint its identity. And that gave us the freedom to do whatever we wanted, visually. Gabe had the idea for Drake Jones and the butterfly. And even though it looks like no other ad at the time, no one was surprised by that because it’s Real. It wasn’t a Powell ad, where it had to be super polished. A World ad being controversial. We got to do largely whatever we wanted to because it wasn’t a marketing thing.

The first thing I ever shot with Gabe was that kickflip backside disaster sequence. 

With the MTV Sports icons.

(laughs) Yes! But the catch photo in that one, where it’s on my foot, the flash didn’t go off. And it was really dark. 

I remember going into Deluxe to look at the sequence, because I was super pumped to have gotten it. That went down in three tries and I honestly think that might be the happiest I’ve ever been, after getting that. Because I felt so much pressure with it being my first Real ad, and I got something that I’d never seen before… But the flash didn’t go off on the catch photo!

They actually wanted to use a different photo from another take, but the board wasn’t on my foot in that one. I was way into photography at the time, and I remember saying, “You tell Gabe to burn-and-dodge that photo because he can make that negative work. There’s enough here to use the original sequence.”

I even called Gabe about it, like, “Gabe, please salvage that photo!”

And he did. They saved it. But because it’s me, and probably only me, I can tell that they really had to work on that frame to bring it out. 

With the Buzzard and Dutch photo, I just remember Gabe coming over at 10 in the morning. Hanging out for a minute like we always did, bullshitting, and then we tried to shoot this thing. I can’t remember if that was always supposed to be an ad or not, I just wanted to shoot it because it felt so powerful. Being pulled down the street by these pit bulls. 

Sometimes, I’d just be driving and an idea for a photo would pop in my head. Because I do love photography, but again, I’m not great at it. But I can spot a good photo. Luckily, Gabe was always down to take that drive over the bridge and get it.  

What about the $ board? Did you make that yourself? 

No, Micke made that board. And I think that it was originally cut out as a joke. The dollar sign as a skateboard. The moneymaker. The almighty dollar. Gabe just brought it over to the ramp one day, like, “What do you think? Can you get something on this?”

On the first drop-in, the tail almost scraped the ramp, man. It was super flimsy.

And I was like, “No.”

I was such an asshole sometimes. Like, how dare you bring this piece of shit to my ramp?! But then I started having a bad session on my normal board…

“Well, shit. Let me fuck around on this dollar sign board for a minute.”

And it became one of those things that’s so silly, it’s fun. 

The first thing I tried was that stalefish, grabbing through the dollar sign like a handle. And then we ended up getting all that other stuff, which I was so happy about. 

That board is still on the wall at 510. I saw it up there the other day.

A lot of this stuff comes from Real being in SF, they didn’t always have riders at their disposal. But they always had their shut-in on the other side of the Bay Bridge, anytime. 

“Oh, there’s a crazy idea we want to try? Give it to Max!”

I got this Mountain Dew commercial once, thanks to Micke, because they didn’t know who else to give it to. Who on the team would be down to do this weird thing? Well, I was down to this weird thing and that’s how I bought my first house. I did a Mountain Dew commercial that aired during the Super Bowl and got paid $17 grand. 

Gonz shreds the butt

Is this before or after Shred Butt?

This is well before Shred Butt. (laughs)

Man, at my funeral, I hope somebody mentions Shred Butt. I gotta tell you, that was the hardest I’ve ever laughed in my life. Because it felt so much like skateboarding… vandalism at Tampa Pro. I didn’t think I was gonna bum anyone out. But I didn’t see this energy drink thing coming at all. Because as a skater, I’m fairly healthy, and that shit is poison. Nobody really drinks this crap, they only drink it in Europe with vodka. This is a joke. 

But when I saw that ramp, every mischievous part of me knew that I had to fuck it up. So I went to the hardware store.

“I need a quart of red paint, a roller and a stick.”

We put it in the trunk of Micke’s car and went back over to the park around three in the morning. Climbed the fence, made “Red Bull” say “Shred Butt”, and got red paint all over my shoes… which was the first thing Brian looked for the next day. He was looking at everybody’s shoes. Luckily, I’d switched mine so I got away with it. Then I had to watch this poor guy scrape paint off the ramp for the next two hours. And I didn’t even skate in the contest, I was just so upset about the Red Bull ramp. (laughs)

Honestly, I was just mad that the contest wasn’t on the indoor ramp anymore. Because the energy of that indoor Tampa vert session was like no other. It wasn’t going to be the same on this Shred Butt outdoor ramp, so I felt robbed, like how dare you? You take the one good vert contest and ruin it with this energy drink ramp? That was my form of protest.  

Again, I hope I’ve grown a bit since those days. 

“Seconds after this, Max knocked himself out and coughed up blood in front of 4,500 people.” Is that really how it went?

Yeah, I’m riding a Thomas Campbell-drawn Ethan Fowler Stereo board but I Sharpie’d it to where in the negative space of Thomas’ artwork, it says Real. I loved that board. 

But yes, that’s true. It wasn’t that quick of a timeline. I think that photo is during practice and I knocked myself out in the contest later that day… you know, when it really matters. 

I knocked myself out cold, man. Clean. Taking a nap on the flat bottom. And how that typically works, you wake up either euphoric or violent, right? Some people swing at the paramedics, but I’m always joking… Actually, I just slammed really hard at the vert ramp three weeks ago. Elissa was there. I don’t remember this but she said the first thing I did was take off my helmet and ask “How does my hair look?”

I’m real jokey when I get take a good shot to the head. 

But back to that contest, there I am, totally laid out on the flat bottom. Mike Frazier and Neal Hendrix slide down, worried about their buddy who currently looks like a chalk outline on the ramp. The paramedic is there, speaking to me in a thick German accent.

“How are you doing? How are you doing?”

And you know how they always ask you what your name is?

I said, “Max Dugan Returns”.

The Jason Robards movie?

Yeah, man. And Frazier just goes, “Get him outta here, he’s fine.” (laughs)

Like… this asshole’s down here, cracking jokes. 

I just don’t like being the center of attention, which is probably why I’m like that. I want everybody to carry on with what they’re doing. Everything’s cool. 

photo: vukovich

My favorite part of yours, talk to me about Nonfiction. Because while your Real Video part was only one session, Nonfiction really feels like a statement. 

It was different than the previous ones because once again, I had Gabe. I’m pretty sure he filmed all of that part… most of it, anyway. 

My personal favorite is Real to Reel. Because there’s that line in San Jose with multiple flip tricks and a 540, I feel like that one captures me at my best. That and the whole thing just looks comfortable. But I’m definitely proud of Nonfiction. 

With Nonfiction, I was trying to do that thing where if I did a kickflip backside air to fakie, I did a switch kickflip backside air to fakie. If I did a switch crooked grind, I also did a normal one. A lot of that. And it was cool because a few unexpected street skaters noticed what I was doing and made a point to tell me that they liked my doing each trick both ways. 

photo: brittain

Mirroring tricks before it was even really a thing, but was it a conscious decision for you to start skating vert like a street skater? Like ollieing out of lip tricks, where’d that inspiration come from?

It’s funny because I always used to cringe whenever people called me a “vert skater”. I always wanted to be like, “No, man, I’m a skater!”

…but deep down inside, there was also a part of me that wanted to say, “Fuck yeah, I’m a vert skater!”

I’m a vert skater with my own ramp in a warehouse, so I had to be fairly creative. But ollieing out of stuff? I just wanted to be Mike Carroll. I really did. I wanted to do a noseslide-nosegrind-noseslide-nosegrind, but I couldn’t. So the challenge became more about how I could do that same sort of thing in my world.

The weirdest thing about being a vert skater… it’s like how I surf now. I really enjoy doing it but I purposefully don’t look at surf magazines because I don’t want to know too much about it. Not even clowning anyone, I just don’t want any of that joy I feel to be taken away. Because I’ve always related more to those guys down at the ledges at EMB, working on tricks. That’s how I skated my vert ramp. I’d sit on the bench up top and think about stuff I should try. I've never wanted to be around those people telling me how I should do it or how it should be. This was my thing. 

But how much did Bob Gnar influence your Nonfiction part? I know you were already heading in that switch direction but I feel like you two really found a common ground here. 

Well, switch had been happening, big time… even on the Widowmaker, I had lines where I was dropping in switch to switch indy air, switch flip fakie…

You had that switch flip Indy ad way before this. 

Yeah, that was on a Vancouver trip, which I saw what Colin McKay was doing back then and I just knew, man. That was it. Chris Miller has always been my biggest influence as far as speed and style, but what Colin was doing back then? It was so fresh and new. It really looked different. 

So by the time Bob came, all of this was pretty much in motion. It’s just that Bob was so unconventional. He was like somebody who'd just been released after being locked in a cave for years. There were no rules. He was going to do it the way he wanted to do it and he didn’t care. And he was incredible. He was already the best in Brazil, but now he wanted to be the best in the world... There was a pride in Bob where he wanted to succeed so badly.

We were both kind of on our own kick. What I didn’t realize was happening, because Bob was staying at my house, I felt like I was skating terrible compared to Bob, but I was actually landing so much more stuff because he was there. Bob had raised the bar so high that mine got raised, too, and I didn’t even know it. 

What about that clip where you do a kickflip mute into a 540 and Bob slides down, celebrating? 

Oh man, that’s a great question. 

So, I had been landing 540s for years but I’d always shoot out across the flat bottom… this is so embarrassing. 

You know when you’re younger and somebody asks if you’ve gotten laid yet? And you say something dumb, like, “Yeah, back at camp in Yosemite.”

She goes to a different school.

Yeah. Maybe you’d gotten close, like real close. And you were sick of being asked that question, so you just say that you have? Well, that was me and 540s. People would always ask if I’d ever landed one and I’d say, “Yeah, I’ve landed one.”

Because I had landed one…but technically, I never rode up the other wall. And that was my big secret. 

So on that particular night, we’re filming. And it’s a good night. All of the pieces are lining up. That kickflip mute happens, and I was planning on doing something else on the next wall but I came out of it with so much speed... And usually whenever I tried 540s, it was always on the wall I was just on, but I was going so fast, I just gave it a shot... and I actually landed it and rolled away. I don’t know how, but I did. Totally on accident. And in that video, I am just tripping there. Because I thought that I was never going to get laid. I thought I was never going to do a 540, but I did! So I slid down and we high-five, even though Bob totally thought that I’d done one before because I’m a liar. 

He goes, “Wow, I’ve never seen you do one before.” (laughs)

And from then on, I could just do them. It was really weird. 

What about that backtail revert ender? Where you pop out super far? Super good.

That was one that I’d bailed so many times… I have a cast in that part, I’m not sure if you know that. I wore a long sleeve the whole time as my way of trying to hide it. But yeah, my filming was to the point where I’d gotten just about everything I thought I could get, I decided to mess around with that one a little more. 

“Hey Gabe, why don’t you come over and I’ll try to slam on this trick for you.”

That was probably 20 tries or so… It was hard because my ramp was so skinny. I’d done them at contests before but that was the first time I ever popped out like that. 

Was “Teenage Genocide” your choice? How come you didn’t get a TG-style instrumental like everyone else got?

Well, we’d made the Spitfire video and everyone got to choose whatever music they wanted. John skates to Van Halen, Coco skates to Thin Lizzy... It’s insane. So, of course, all the music got pulled. That’s why Tommy started making our music or we’d ask Tortoise to let us use a song, because we knew those guys. And at the time, Jim and I were going to see the Swinging Utters a lot, so we just asked them if we could use their music and they said okay. 

Because I picked Johnny Cash for my first part and I chose that jazz song for Spitfire, I wanted something a little more upbeat for this one. And I was really into Bay Area punk rock at the time… even though those videos completely burnt me out on it. Because once we got the okay from Swinging Utters, all of those other bands gave us permission, too. It got to be a lot. 

You’re quoted as saying “Vert felt right, but the community started to change.” How so? What kept you going? 

To me, there’s nothing like dropping in to a backside ollie across a vert ramp. It’s just this undeniable feeling that I could never find anywhere else. And I never saw any reason to look for it somewhere else, either. Even when vert started to change and get more jocky, it didn’t really matter. Just like how I have to deal with a lot of assholes in the motorcycle world. It sucks, but it doesn’t really matter because I still get to be in my shop and build what I want. It’s the same thing with vert. Whenever I just stuck around my house and skated the ramp, doing my own thing, I was good. 

I feel like the more I travelled, the less I identified with a lot of the vert community. Because there was this thing that started happening with tank tops, swishy shorts and buffalo meat. That some of these guys had actually started training and drinking energy drinks. It just felt so weird and jockular. 

There were plenty of times when I was grossed out by things. Like in the X Games when they’d make you wait two minutes to drop in because of a Marines commercial. A Slim Jim commercial. That did rob my soul a little bit, but nobody was making me do it. It’s just that thing where you start to worry about being irrelevant because you’re not at something. 

I always wanted to get fifth place in contests, man. Top three was too much pressure. Eleventh, you just missed the cut. But fifth was great, man. I loved fifth. And that was my motivation, so I better skate because I know Tony Hawk and Bob are gonna be at this one. Maybe Danny Way will bail and I can slide into fourth? But fifth was always my goal. I remember one year, I got fifth at Switzerland, England and Germany. I was pumped, man. I started playing that Luniz song all the time, “I Got 5 On It”. (laughs)

But if I could go back and do things differently, I wouldn’t have gone to 90% of those contests. Because you and I both know that a sequence printed in the mag is way more powerful than if Rick Howard maybe heard about me getting third in an X Games. None of that really matters. Even if you saw one of Bob’s runs that completely blew your mind, you would’ve probably seen that same line in a video anyway. 

Max and SJ. Photo: BK

You’re the only transition guy in Penal Code, which only dawned on me recently after a million viewings. Was that all one day with Meza? 

Yeah, Meza was an angel, man. He just hit me up one day, wanting to film for this video he was working on. 

Because I used to have a backpack company, not a lot of people know that. That’s what my Dad does. And at the time, he had access to a factory that made all kinds of stuff. So I used to make backpacks for a few companies, like Deluxe, Girl and Chocolate, and FTC. I used to be in FTC quite a bit and I’d see some of those guys. I met Meza a couple of times before that… I guess he just thought it would be cool to have a vert part in there.  

I’m pretty sure that was all filmed in one day. 

It’s all the same outfit. 

Well, I’m not above putting on the same outfit for a couple days of filming. (laughs)

But that song, man. People always ask if that was my choice or not. I have no recollection so I don’t want to take credit for it, but that song still moves me. The lyrics are so perfect for that moment in my life… that might’ve been Meza. He’s always had the touch when it comes to music and that was a magical Meza time back then, for sure. 

Gonz famously did your painting in one night with Oops Paint, but did you know he was gonna do that beforehand? Did you go with him to get supplies or was this all his own deal? 

Sometimes I’m the idiot who doesn’t realize how big of a favor something might be. Now I know because people hit me up to weld things or paint their motorcycles. But with Mark, we’d become quick friends. I already owned a painting he’d given me, but I had this big blank wall next to the ramp, so I just brought it up one day… Not really thinking that his energy would be better spent on a canvas he could sell.

“Hey Mark, how about you do a painting here?”

But Mark really dug the warehouse and my Mom being an artist. He was skating the ramp a lot back then, too. And at the time, he was staying at the house with Gino Perez.

I remember him telling me, “You should only do art when you’re inspired.” 

He couldn’t do it at that moment because he wasn’t inspired. But there was a Home Depot up the street and Mark brought that up, too.

“Do you know they give away what they call ‘Oops Paint’? It’s just the paint they mixed wrong. Let’s go up there and see what they have.”

At the time, they had a big rack out front where you could just grab it. So we ended up taking a bunch and I started getting all excited.

“Are you going to do the painting?”

“Nah, let’s skate or something.”

So we skate and after we’re done, I hit him up again.

“Now are you going to do the painting?”

“No, I’m not inspired to do it right now.”

I ended up going to bed that night and when I woke up, he’d actually got inspired after all and the painting was done. 

I still have it. It’s stacked in my garage. I asked Barry McGee what I should do with it recently and he told me that I should hang onto to it a while longer. I love that thing so much. 

Were you there for his Thrasher cover on the clay wheels?

Oh yes, front and center. Because that was it for me, man. 

Mark is the closest thing we have in skating to everything it should encapsulate. Dysfunctional, mentally unstable, insanely creative, beautiful style… he’s it. He’s the most beautiful thing in skateboarding. And everybody knows how good he is, because all you have to do is watch the Blind video. But when you start comparing him to other people, you start getting into technicalities. 

Well, here’s this board with loose bearings that Jake and I could only make it about halfway up the ramp on. And we would pay the price, too. We’d always slam on that thing. 

But one day, Mark just jumped on it and... you couldn’t grind it because the trucks were too skinny, but he’s hitting the coping repeatedly. Then he started posing those frontside ollies. We couldn’t believe it. And four tries later, it just happened, man. It was insane.

That was a moment I’ll always remember. Because kids are so good now that you sometimes wonder if humans have just evolved past all that? But I think if you gave anyone else that board, they wouldn’t have been able to do that. It was all just perfect for Mark. 

photo: atiba

Gotta ask, I know you said some stuff about Cab a few years back in an interview… I remember you leaving a comment on his interview here shortly afterwards, too. What was the story there?    

I actually wanted to touch on this, dude. Because what was going on is that I’m heavily into motorcycles. You can see it in my hands. I don’t just have a motorcycle parked in my garage, it’s what I really enjoy doing and it’s how I make a living. 

So when Cab came into it, I started getting phone calls from people, wondering why this guy is getting invited to certain bike shows and they’re not. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good answer for anyone. 

At a certain point, he got invited to something that everyone wanted to get invited to. And while these guys were up for nights on-end finishing their projects, this guy is stepping in front of them. They came to me about it, which all eventually boiled out of my mouth. I said what everyone else in that community wanted to say, but I wish that I wouldn’t have said it. I know a lot of people say they have no regrets, I’ve never been that person. I regret plenty of things. And I have the utmost respect for Steve as a skater. I recently saw that old footage of him doing a Caballerial at age 14 and it blew my mind. But there’s a sense of entitlement with some pro skaters where they think everybody kinda works for them. 

There were certain people who used to come to my ramp that I built, that I paid for with my money… If you spit on my floor, that’s my floor. That’s my Mom’s floor. This is my house. What are you gonna do? Go up into my refrigerator and crack open one of my Mom’s beers after this? Certain people were like that. 

Steve did come over once and we kinda had a sour experience. Just little stuff… like leaving trash behind. It was more about him treating me not like a fellow skater or someone he respected, but like someone on his payroll. It’s a recurring theme with owning a ramp, and not just with Steve. 

Back when it became hard to be a vert skater, when the Steve Berras of the world were like, “Oh no, I don’t do that anymore”, you made a list of those people in your head… And man, I’m opinionated, so when I put you on my list of “fuck that dude” back then, you stayed on that list. That’s not who I want to be anymore. 

I owe Steve Caballero an apology for calling him out on that stuff. It wasn’t my place to say it. I feel like the word “legend” is so overused now. A lot of skaters that people refer to as “legends” really aren’t. But Steve is a legend. Mark is a legend. Lance Mountain is a legend. Lance was my first favorite skater, even before Chris Miller, and he’s still my favorite skater. Lance is the epitome of what skateboarding should be, just like Mark. And even when I was younger, whenever Lance gave me advice, I always listened. 

But with Steve, I always struggled with that legend status. Because it’s always cooler when the legend doesn’t act like they’re a legend. When they know, it’s just not the same. And that one experience got the best of me. 

photo: dawes

We talked about Shred Butt, but were there any regrettable sponsors in your past? I know you did the Boost Mobile thing for a minute and also I read somewhere that your rode for Pornstar? I don’t remember that at all. 

No, the Pornstar thing was a joke. That was a company… I don’t even know what they made. Clothing or something? But Dave Duncan was the announcer at all the contests back then and he didn’t really know what was going on. So multiple times as he’s announcing me at these contests, he said I rode for “Pornstar” instead of “Fourstar”. That’s what happened there. 


But Boost Mobile was pretty wild. That’s probably the only questionable sponsor I ever had. It was presented to me as this kind of skatery-owned type of thing, which it wasn’t. But it was a free phone for several years, even after they quit doing the skate thing. That’s important because when Cardiel got hurt in Australia, I had that phone. That’s actually one of the reasons it got taken from me, because we had to call everyone. I believe that phone bill ended up being something like $10,000. Someone at Boost saw that, not knowing the situation… But having that phone at that moment was a total blessing. I just remember passing that thing around like a joint. That was triage in that situation. 

So honestly, I look back on the Boost thing as such a blessing because I had that phone at that particular moment. I’m okay with that one. 

photo: morford

What about the NorCal Barnies? How many people thought that was a real thing over the years? 

Oh, a lot of people thought that was a real thing. And to this day, I have no idea where that came from or why I said that. It just shot out of my mouth. This is the dorkiest thing I can say. Because I’ve always hated the word “NorCal”. Old bikers used to say “NoCal”, which I think looks really tough written. “Northern Cal” and “North Cal” is fine, but there’s something so bro-y about “NorCal”… so I just connected my two favorite bro-y words at the time, NorCal and Barney. 

You know what’s funny? I often get shit upon in the motorcycle world because I’m not tough enough or racist or whatever the hell. And somebody actually referenced that NorCal Barnies clip to talk shit about me, thinking it was serious.

“This guy is such a dork, he used to even have a crew called the NorCal Barnies! He doesn’t even realize what a barney he is!”

Whew… deep breath. I’m obviously dealing the bottom of the gene pool here. Okay…

And that’s always the stuff that keeps you up at night. 

Always. But you mentioned your Real to Reel part earlier, that backtail shuv on the ledge had to be a battle, right?

That was probably the biggest battle. 

The hardest part was that my ramp was only 22 feet wide. And under the Gonz painting, there’s a two-foot gap with a wall behind it. I got shoved into that hole more times than I’d like to have been. Some people didn’t like my ramp, and I get that because there were walls on either side. I had to skate it edge-to-edge, to where my butt would almost hit the wall, because I was trying to make the most out of my little ramp. 

I had done normal backtail shove-its on bigger ramps, so I knew I had to carve out of it a bit. I was just so terrified to land it. Because every time I popped off the ledge, I’m staring at that wall.

I don’t know if you’ve ever done this in your own skating, but I’ve found that if you wear yourself out to a state of delirium, you’ll accidentally land a trick sometimes because you’re too tired to bail. 

Rope-a-doping the Gods. 

Exactly. Because Gabe was over it by then. I must’ve started the same Minor Threat song over-and-over again probably 70 times. But I was stoked to get it, man. Because it happened so weird. The board almost does a 360 because as soon as I got on there, I was shove-iting back off. 

That kinda stuff just came from wanting to get a little more creative with the ramp... which then led to Gabe and I turning that same ledge up vertical one day and getting that wallie-frontside air sequence. I remember us being so proud of ourselves that day, like holy shit, we just thought of this. It just felt so new.  

What about the kickflip backsmith?

My girlfriend at the time actually filmed that one. I got lucky and it came pretty quickly that day, which was good because she hated doing that kinda stuff for me. She was a hard girlfriend anyway, and asking her to film stuff was even rougher. She also filmed the alley-oop frontside grind where I yank nosegrab off. Maybe the fronside noseblunt slide, too? There were a few things she filmed. Because I couldn’t have Gabe or Dan come over just for that, you know? Usually it was one of those things where I thought I could do it right now, can you please film this?

The kickflip backsmith was hard, man. That was a battle because I had the ramp at my disposal. It was always there, which could be too much at times. There were only a few hours I couldn’t skate it, because my one neighbor on the side who had a darkroom. So you’re always going back to it. 

…Then there’s also those times where I knew I could get something, but nobody was there to film it. So yes, I do have some tripod, lean-the-camera-against-the-chair footage, for sure.

I never even thought of that for vert. You can always tell on street because it’s always the sad guy in front of his house. 

Mine was the sad guy inside of his house, yes. 

(laughs) What’s the story behind the magnets video? 

That’s another joke people believed! But honestly, I think there might be something to that one. Because I’d heard a rumor about this mega ramp shit where dudes were putting magnets in their shoes and under their griptape. I remember being on a Fourstar trip where we slow-mo’d footage of… I’m not going to name the person… but we’re all skateboarders, you tell me scientifically if this makes sense to you? Because we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. I remember Koston losing his mind over it. 

“Oh my God, right there! You can see him kick the board off his feet but it’s stuck!”

It wasn’t like he was kicking it away, he wanted it to get off his feet!

Honestly, I became pretty obsessed with the idea that guys were doing this. Maybe that’s why Jake Brown’s shoe came off when he bailed that one time? Who knows. But that became my own little conspiracy theory. And that’s how the magnets video came about. 

I put woodscrews through my shoes and into my board. It was so janky… and really hard, actually. I couldn’t push! I had to do a Jake Phelps tic-tac snake drive to get speed! 

I love it. So I know Cards pointed at you when grinding that rail for Sight Unseen, but did you see him make it? What’s the gnarliest thing you witnessed John do over the years?

Yeah, I drove by and saw him skating that rail, which blew my mind. Because that’s right around the corner from where my Mom lives. And not once did anybody ever seriously think about skating that thing. It’s gone now, though. 

I stopped and was careful to get out of the shot, watching head-on. I saw him try it a bunch of times but I didn’t see the make. Because it was such a random thing seeing them, that’s why I stopped. I wasn’t actually invited. I didn’t want to crash their deal, so I left. 

But the gnarliest thing I ever saw John do? I was there for the Carwash, that’s up there. Those backflips on vert he used to do were nuts. I’ve seen him jump off some hotel roofs into swimming pools that should’ve never been done. The morning after he did the Carwash, he climbed onto the roof of a two or three-story hotel and did a gainer off the roof into a pool. That pool was only 8-feet deep and 8-feet wide, but he still landed directly above the drain. Right where you’re supposed to land, the deepest part of the pool. 

It’s hard, man. John is a God. The most blue-collar, working class, 100% balls skater I’ve ever seen. And I really can’t name you just one thing. I wish I could.

Did they ever ask you to skate for Antihero? 

I don’t think so, but I don’t really know for sure. I’ve always been a little confused by that. Because I remember being in the art room at one point, knowing that it was starting. And sometimes, Deluxe will try to lead a rider somewhere, like to Krooked or something. Maybe he’d be better on this? But I also know by that point, I’d put in so much time on Real, maybe I was just too much Real by then? I don’t know. So I’m not sure if I secretly wanted to ride for Antihero or if they were leading me there. 

Because on Real trips, that generator comes out a lot… and three hours later, you’re still at the handrail. It was the beginning of those days, which didn’t really agree with me. I was never one to complain. I don’t get bored because I think only boring people get bored… but still. When you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere, what can you do? 

I honestly don’t know how I started going on those Antihero trips, Julien just kept asking me to go and it became a comfortable thing for everyone. 

Just like being on Fourstar, I hold those Antihero trips in such a special place. I honestly can’t believe that I got invited to go with those dudes, because those really were the best trips of my life. Even if I couldn’t party as hard as those guys or be quite as gnarly as them, I feel so comfortable around that crew. Those are my people.

I always thought it was rad you being the one Real guy... 

Yeah, the fifth Beatle on Antihero. 

It’s weird to talk about all of this stuff with you. I feel like there’s a certain rhythm to my “career” or whatever that’s a skip off. A tooth off from the typical situation. Like being the vert guy in Oakland or the one Real guy on Antihero trips. I don’t even know why that is, it just happened. That was the natural evolution.

Well, I think you hit on it earlier, that you were just being yourself. Beyond your skating, there’s been an honesty and an openness throughout your career, and I feel like that’s why everyone is a fan.

Thanks, man. In everything I do, I’ve always tried to find the kids behind the school that maybe aren’t even there to smoke cigarettes, they’re just out there because they can’t deal with school and the people in it. Those have always been the people I’ve sought out. Not the “I’ve got purple hair and I’m a crazy misfit!” guy, it’s more about, “Hey, man, are you a little bit uncomfortable in your own skin?”

I think there’s more of us than people realize. That’s why I enjoy riding motorcycles. It’s a bit of an escape. Because it’s nice to get out of your own head. And it’s nice to find those people who get you, that you can be yourself around. 

I think Julien saw that struggle in me, and welcomed me because of that. Like, “Hey bro, have you ever had a cold Coopers beer in Australia on the front of that barge that takes you to this pissy skatepark?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“You should have one. It’s amazing. Come with us.”

Those are my favorite memories, when someone shares that special something with you. That’s huge. 

Probably a dumb question, but what does “4Q Conditioning” mean? Is it a way of saying fuck you or is it some type of machinery reference? Like divots and shit? I have no idea.

When I got into bikes, it was popular to have “fuck you” on the side of a bike, but I always thought that was corny. So the whole 4Q thing started as a joke. Because back when I was in school, if you didn’t know the answer to a math question, you wrote “4Q”. Like “3 = 4Q + 4Q”, just to fuck with the teacher. 

Vietnam vets always used to say it. I remember being in downtown Oakland and this guy goes, “Oh, man! 4Q? 4Q2, buddy!”

Old homeless men sometimes… probably the same characters, right? And I’ve had a few old bikers tell me that they used to write it on stuff back in the day. I’ve actually seen old 60s photos with it spray painted on a wall, like “Oakland Hell’s Angels 4Q”. That’s how the 4Q came about. 

Jawbreaker had the song “Condition Oakland” and I’ve always loved that song, so it became “4Q Oakland Conditioning” as a kind of play on words. But it’s not just a fuck you to anyone, you know? It’s about doing your thing, and this just happens to be mine. Maybe you like it and maybe you don’t. 

I just happened to put it on the side of a bike I built, which ended up becoming quite popular. It became “the 4Q Bike”, so I figured that I might as well run with it. A lot of biker guys didn’t know what it meant either, they thought it held four quarts of gas. I had everyone duped. 

Motorcycles became a big trend in skateboarding a few years back, how was that for you? Was it cool to see? Awkward at times? Who did it right? 

I feel like Riley Hawk and his friends had a nice approach to it. Because they just like old bikes, you know? They don’t wear the costume and all that.

I mean, it’s a good thing to wear boots when you ride a motorcycle. It’s a good thing to wear jeans. That part exists for a reason. But having a Jack Daniels bottle glued to the side of your tank? That’s corny as hell. 

I’ve never tried to connect riding motorcycles with skateboarding. They’re two completely separate things to me. I’ve had photographers want to take my bike to a skatepark and shoot it in the middle of a ramp, in front of some graffiti. And I’m always like, “Absolutely not.”

If my skateboard is on the back of my motorcycle, it’s in a duffle bag. The two are completely different experiences for me and I try to keep them fairly separate… although I do hate it when people say, “Man, I want a 4Q shirt but I don’t have a motorcycle.”

That’s not what it is.

And then I’ll have a motorcycle guy say, “I don’t even skateboard but I love 4Q.”

It’s just my deal, man. It honestly has as much to do with that old blog I had as it does being an actual “brand”. 4Q is just my point of view.  

I saw an interview where you mentioned having to step away from skating in recent years, which actually got you hyped on it again…

Getting old in skateboarding is not graceful, man. You can quickly become a cartoon character of yourself with a wax sponsor and a pomade sponsor. It’s pretty dark. Which is one of the reasons with Real, so many times, I’ve asked them to kick me off. Let me go. But their whole thing is that Huf and I, we’ll always be part of the team. And if you want to do a board, if you have an idea, let’s do it. It’s no big thing.

I’m largely at the mercy of the people who own ramps now, which can be hard. Sometimes I’ll go to the ramp and get small-talked to death. Sometimes there’s some drama going on that I might have to deal with. I mean, all I’m trying to do is go up there, say “hi” to everyone, put on my pads and skate. After that, hopefully, I walk away. 

I don’t stick around for the conversation, because at this point, skating’s almost like surfing to me. Sometimes the less I know, the better off I am. I’ve seen some stuff recently with people calling out other people for stuff and it’s just sad. It feels so unskateboarding to me. Unchecked egos and stuff like that... 

Don’t get me wrong, some of these people who’ve gotten… let’s call it “canceled”, they’re assholes. And they’re still assholes, deep down inside. They’re fucking shitty and they’ve been always been shitty, it’s just that not enough people knew for so long. And even if they were given a second chance to simply not be such an asshole… and they still can’t get out of their own way? Screw ‘em if they can’t figure it out by now. 

I view skaters as people who are all completely flawed, and that’s why we became skaters. Lend out a hand and help these people off the ground… just like in the Slayer pit. If you see someone on the ground, reach down and pick them up. If they swing at you, then maybe let them go. Or have a talk with them. 

How does Taj factor into all this?

He’s plays a big part, man... Experiencing things through his eyes. People always ask what Taj is to me. Is he my friend? No, I’m 48 and he’s 14. Am I his uncle or his mentor? Like in Hawaii, when they say I’m his uncle, they mean a person that helps raise you… which is funny because Ben Sanchez is actually his real uncle. That’s how we met, I saw him rolling around on a board that said, “Merry Christmas from Aris and Ben.”

“Hey, I went to high school with those guys!”

We’ve been buddies ever since. He’s not Onio or Clem. He’s a very different kid than they were. He’s got a Mom that adores him… But the blessing behind all of that is we get to enjoy skateboarding together. We have this thing, man. He makes me want to skate. He’s not bitter or jaded… that will come soon enough. But for now, I get to enjoy skateboarding for what it is with him. 

How much do you skate these days? 

They skate the ramp two or three times a week, so I try to get in on at least two of those sessions. Unfortunately, I’ve had a few heavy slams in the last couple of months, and what I’ve figured out is that I just wasn’t on my skateboard enough. I kinda lost my footing. 

It’s weird because I used to be able step on my board and just do things, no matter how long it had been. I could just flip a switch and turn it on. Like my Since Day One part? I pretty much phoned that one in. But something happened a couple years back where I couldn’t do that anymore, and it was a painful discovery. It’s given me a new respect for everything I’ve done and the things I can still do. 

Honestly, I’ve mostly been going up to Rockridge and doing slappies, manuals and kickflips. Just trying to find my feet again. 

As a skater, you’re constantly being told this won’t last forever and that you’re basically too old at 27. So when I was in my mid-thirties and the motorcycle thing took off, I figured that I better focus on that because I’m so old. I can’t skate forever, I guess. 

…But then you look at Lance. You look at Chris Miller.

That being said, I’ve had some good sessions. But you also learn to lower your standards and appreciate the little things more. Sometimes it’s just walking away from the ramp feeling good, other times it’s doing a backtail that I haven’t done in a while. 

It’s all part of the process, man. Figuring things out. And I’ve never been happier in my entire life than I am today. Sure, this old pickup truck may leak a little oil and have a ton of dents in it, but I still run. And I still enjoy it. 

Thanks for taking the time, Max.


Dalton Kendrick said...

Great interview and perspectives. The skateboarding I fell in love with was about being creative, uniting the liners and weirdos, and following your own trip. I always appreciate Max’s perspective and honesty and appreciate this all being put together here.

Do.A said...

Just watched the end of Jim's Ramp Jam again... because that's how you fuckin celebrate 5th place

du_repi_unda said...

thanks for the precious words of wisdom, also spent 30 mins watching jims rampjam after years ...

WarmUpZone said...

Amazing. What a great interview. I mean, all the Chromeball Interviews are fantastic, but this is one of the best.

xrt666 said...

Appreciate the interview! Max is a beast!!

Anonymous said...

SHRED BUTT - Max is one of skateboarding's best personalities, that non-fiction part is an all time fave of mine. Appreciate you both taking the time.

Jeffrey said...

This was such a fantastic interview. Max has so much depth and insight, and seems like an all-around great human. Well done!

Dustin Umberger said...

Great interview Chops. Max is a real, authentic person and that's what always made his skating stand out. I never knew the backstory with Jake or any of that stuff either. Really enlightening read.

Anonymous said...

Cab has been riding,fixing,restoring,and modifying bikes forever. Way before this guy.

Anonymous said...

Also 4Q is the name of a song by a streetpunk/skin band by Blitz from the eighties.I


Anonymous said...

@Anonymous, Yes Cab has been PAYING people to restore and modify bikes and cars for decades. If your going to talk come correct. Nothing wrong with paying others to do what you can’t or won’t. It’s his $ and choices so whatever works for him. Coupe de Cab? Gambinos Customs. Great car but he only financed it. As well as his T, his Trumpet and many many others.
Just for the record.

Anonymous said...

Spectacular interview. Is Max related to the mayor of Oakland? Elizabeth Beckman "Libby" Schaaf. Many thanks!

Jed Walters on 101 said...

Outstanding interview and writing on this one!
The headlines for the captions alone are Pulitzer worthy…

I always remembered the name Onio and him being one of the kids that hung around the ramp - that was the first thing that came into my mind when I saw the chromeball interview pop up. So rad to see him mentioned among others in the lamento ad for the widow maker.

Now that we know, you can totally see him being influenced by Julien Stranger’s skating.
I suck(ed) at skating transition because I’m lame, but I always looked up to M.S.’s approach on tricks and his style (redundancy anyone?!).
As if it would matter - aside from personalities - style wise I’d put him in the forefront with people like Julien and Claar on one hand and Blaize and Buster as the rather competitive guys on the other side (again: what would I know about it?!). It is apparent that he shaped his skating on a narrow and hard to skate ramp - he is so tight on his tricks. Just look at his backside lipslides!

My remote worshipping happens like everyone else’s: through glancing at pictures and video clips, with my belief growing stronger the further our church leads away from what was once important to most of us. Welcome to the olympics my fellow sportsmen and -women and of course, Go NorCal Barnies!

Favorite quote might be (and there are plenty of good ones in here) „Only boring people get bored“

Max had a big part in me buying some 4Star gear as did B.A. for getting Axions.
Oh, and the early Girl backpacks were pretty good - now we know why.

Live free or die!

Australia said...

Thank you

Anonymous said...

CB interviews are pretty much always good, but this one was a cut above. Having been born and growing up in the "county of the opposite coast" and skating mostly on that side of the Bay myself, I appreciated how hard Max Schaaf repped the East Bay in his ads and overall vibe (didn't know he started skating in Walnut Creek though! Ha!). Oakland/Berkeley/etc will always be in SF's shadow, and of course with EMB and all that was going down in the 90's, it was the center of the skateboarding universe, too. None of us dirtbag EB kids had access to a vert ramp, but I always looked forward to seeing an ad or sequence of him popping out of a trick at his ramp in the O. Much respect. Thanks for this interview.

Jon Humphries said...

The best…..really enjoyed reading…. thanks max and Eric

captain chaos said...

Goddamn that was a good read. Thanks for taking the time to get Max on CB. He's always been one of the coolest guys in the game.

frontsidehurricane said...

Max is the raddest.

Thanks for this interview, it was great.

I mean, so are the rest of 'em, but as a guy who grew up skating northern california from the early 90s on up to the mid 2000s its cool to get all these little truth nuggets from a guy I saw in practically every other skate video/magazine growing up.

I really need to put some money together for a 4Q Conditioning bike.

Anonymous said...

Another great interview. Thanks CB!

thechez said...

Wow. Thanks for this! Max has always been my secret underdog idol I suppose because I can just relate to him in so many ways. But when I finally found out he named his company after the Jawbreaker song it just solidified it. He's always been the shy, shut-in character skateboarding needed because so many skateboarders are just that way. Props to him for just being Max.