chrome ball interview #160: satva leung

chops and dj satva sit down for conversation. 

photo: morford

Special Introduction by Cairo Foster.

I met Satva in San Francisco prior to the release of Toy Machine’s Welcome to Hell. To me, this part earned him a place in some imaginary skateboarding hall of style, yet I feel like it was the same period when Satva took on a larger role behind the camera lens while also venturing into the world of music. From working for Thrasher to creating his own video series, he was able to shine his light on many skaters who were on the come up, myself included, all the while adding in that unmistakable flare that is uniquely Satva.


I’ve had a chance to reconnect with him in the past year and learning how he's embraced family and career reminds me a lot of how he’s always skated. That it’s more about how it’s done versus what’s being done, and I think we can all take a page outta that book. With the same smile and laugh he’s had since I met him, it’s good to see Satva living life in style.

=O =O =O

CBI: First things first, your great-grandfather was a Cantonese medicine man who got paid in wives? Is that true? 

Satva: (laughs) Yeah, that’s true. My family came from some wealth back in the day. There was the spice trade going on at the time, which my family did some importing and exporting of Chinese medicine. They actually had their fingers in quite a few different things back then. Spice trade, medicine and even construction. 

Growing up in Canton, I guess my grandma used to get carried to school on this platform by, like, four servants. She was basically royalty back then, which is pretty crazy to think about. But by the 1950s and ‘60s, it was wartime and things started changing over there. My grandmother basically won the lottery to get out of China and ended up moving to Riverside, California. East LA, holmes… which is where I was born.    

Did he really have five wives?

He had three wives and two concubine mistresses. This was back in China... A long time ago, obviously. But yeah, he would help people out and sometimes they didn’t have enough money to pay, so these families would often offer a daughter as payment. “You can have my daughter as a wife.” 

It sounds crazy but that’s just how China was back then. My grandmother had seventeen sisters and ten brothers, spread between the five mother wives. I can’t remember the specifics of how it all went, but each wife or mistress basically had a number. So yeah, big family on my dad’s side.

By comparison, my mom’s side is pretty “normal”. Swedish-Norwegian descent, she grew up about an hour outside of Chicago. Just your traditional midwestern Americana vibe. 

Not to get all up in your business, but didn’t your parents split up and your Dad started dating Groucho Marx’s daughter? 

Yeah, they’re actually married now! Her name is Melinda. The story goes that when Groucho died, Melinda got a house but it was actually Groucho Marx’s maid who inherited a lot of the money. Apparently, the maid really took care of Groucho in his later years and came up after he passed. 

My parents got divorced when I was still pretty young, like fourth grade or so. We were living in Mendocino, California by that point. My dad and Melinda were musicians and they met through this local play company they were both in. They ended up sticking around Mendocino with my older brother while my mom and the rest of us moved up to Trinidad, California in Humboldt County, which is about five hours north of San Francisco. That was around the time I really got into skating. 

Well, since we’re on the subject of random shit… I gotta ask, how’d you lose the tooth? 

(laughs) It’s a little complicated. I lost my actual tooth on this big vert ramp that our friend Ian Cunningham had built in the nearby town of Eureka. We were always skating this beast of a ramp… and by “skating” it, I really mean just pumping around. We never really learned how to skate vert because it was just so huge. 13-feet tall, PVC coping… Jesus. But yeah, just pumping around one day, I slammed on face and broke it out. I had to go to the dentist and get a fake tooth implant.  

A few years later, my friend Moish (R.I.P.) had moved down to Santa Barbara and invited me to stay with him over the summer. He was actually living with Rob Washburn at the time in this little S.B. skate apartment. I was only 14 or so, but I stayed the whole summer. Skating the Powell Skate Zone every day, it was so much fun, man. Just an amazing time. 

But… You know how they had that giant roll-in? Like, the really huge one? I wasn’t rolling in from the top but on one of the smaller roll-ins they had on each side… which was still, like, six-feet tall. There just happened to be this little gap in the ramp and when I went to drop in, my tail got lodged in there somehow and I fell straight to the bottom.  

(laughs) Oh, man…

Yeah, there was nothing I could do. My board got stuck and I just faceplanted, dude. Definitely a design flaw… I’m surprised no one else ever did that over the years, because it was literally like a trap at the top of this ramp. Who knows? But yeah, down I went. Broke my fake tooth out. 

I ended up getting a retainer tooth, which was my third tooth now. But I hated wearing that thing, man. It was so uncomfortable. I’d always take it out at spots because I couldn’t skate with this thing in my mouth. So, of course, I end up losing it. One day while out skating with Jake Jones at Eureka High School, I took my retainer out and put it on my hoodie. I skate around for an hour or so and forgot about it. As I’m leaving, I grab my hoodie and it must’ve fallen on the ground. Gone forever. 

My parents were super pissed, too. I still remember them yelling at me, like “Three teeth!?! Jesus!”

So, no tooth for me. Not for a while, anyway. Once I got sponsored, I decided not to fix my teeth until my skateboard career was over… And it’s fixed now, by the way. Once I had kids, I finally got around to fixing it.  

photo: thompson, no filmer that day

When did you start coming down to SF? 

I started coming into the city around ’91 or so, when I was 15. I would come down and stay with my uncle in the Castro. It was great because I could stay all summer and just take the Muni directly to Embarcadero. Looking back, Embarcadero was like my summer camp back then. It was perfect. Just wake up, go to Embarcadero, skate all day and come back home for dinner. Do it all over again the next day. That was literally every single day for me back then.  

The dream scenario. 

Yeah, it was amazing. I ended up becoming good friends with the Russian Twins and after a while, we got our own little crew going, “The Corner Kids”. Not really accepted by the cool guys, we’d just hang out in that corner by the Big Three. That was our zone. 

Ever have any static for being a “tourist” back then?

You know, like everybody says, it just depended on how you rolled in. Keep it cool, don’t act like a kook, and you’ll be fine. 

I never really had any problems, although someone did try to jack my board once. This was early on, when I was just a scrawny little kid. Virtual Reality had just come out and I had a brand new Mike Carroll board. Brand new setup. Everything. I was actually on my way back to the Muni after skating Embarcadero all day when I could feel somebody running up behind me. I don’t even think he skated, he was just some thuggish dude. But all of a sudden, he’s pushing at me and trying to grab my board. Somehow, I was able to fight him off. And he was a big dude, too! But yeah, I just grabbed my board and ran. Just kept running. This dude isn’t about to take my Mike Carroll!

But yeah, it was just such an amazing time back then. It’s hard to pull out individual memories from back then because every day was full of awesome experiences. Like everybody says: You’d go down there on a weekend and there were 200 kids. Mike and Henry are out there trying some crazy trick, blowing everybody’s mind… 

I finally ended up moving to San Francisco in ’94 for college, which I didn’t end up attending for very long. I actually dropped out pretty quickly because I got sponsored. 

Yeah, I was going to ask about that. Because legend has it that on the night after you dropped out, you met Jamie Thomas at EMB and got on Toy Machine? Is that really how it went? 

Yeah, that’s true. That’s really how it went.

Straight out of the movies! 

Right!?! I fulfilled the dream! (laughs)

School just wasn’t working out for me at that point, man. I wanted to skate and have fun. So, after basically making the decision to drop out of college, I ended up going down to Embarcadero that night. It just so happened that Jamie Thomas was also there and he saw me skating. He comes up to me, like, “Hey, are you sponsored?”


“Alright… do you think you can get me a tape? A sponsor-me tape?”

I mean, it doesn’t get any better than that! (laughs) 

It was perfect timing on my part because Jamie was in the midst of putting together a new team for Toy Machine. This is right when he got Kalis on the team, too. And it just so happened that I’d already been filming a lot with the Russian Twins, so I had footage. We were able to put a little tape together and I got it to Jamie. He went and showed it to Ed and a few weeks later, they’re flying me down to San Diego to meet everybody at Tum Yeto. I was fully on after that. 

Because I was over college by that point. I’d basically come to the realization that I didn’t want to be in debt for the rest of my life, you know? Because my family didn’t come from wealth like that. Sure, my Chinese roots were wealthy back in the day, but my experience growing up was pretty poor. 

Nobody was carrying you to school. 

(laughs) Exactly. College just felt like one of those things you’re supposed to do. But once I actually got there, I had no idea what I was even doing there. I’m 18 and finally living in the City… I want to skate! Fuck it, I’m just gonna drop out. And somehow, less than 24 hours later, Jamie is hooking me up. 

But was Toy Machine your first sponsor? I find that hard to believe.

There were a few random things before that. Like when I was a senior in high school, I took a multimedia class… which is actually where I first learned how to shoot and edit video. Of course, my friends and I start making little sponsor-me videos. I actually sent my tape in to New School and ended up getting the weirdest response from them. 

“Hey, we like your tape. We’d like to put you on our wholesale team program!”

So, not really sponsored. I still had to buy my boards, but it was better than nothing. $25 bucks instead of $50… I think I might’ve ordered one package. (laughs)

After I moved down to the city, like I said, I started skating with the Russian Twins a lot. They actually used to skate for Counterfeit Skateboards and I remember them saying, “Hey, we can probably get you on here, if you want?”

I maybe got one box from those guys, too. And that was it. 

Wasn’t Counterfeit the blank board company? 

I can’t remember… but the name alone was terrible. Counterfeit? Jesus. 

So yeah, I don’t think you’d call any of that “getting sponsored”. Toy Machine definitely felt like my first official sponsorship. 

Weren’t you filming for Thrasher around this time, too?

Well, Toy Machine used to pay me a little as an am… like, $250 a month. It was nice but definitely not enough to make it in the city, so I still had to work. I worked at ZA Pizza and a few other places for a while.  

One day, I ended up meeting Bryce to shoot a Check-Out article for Thrasher and happened to mention that I also filmed and could edit… even though I didn’t really know what I was doing. I kinda did, I guess. Rough concepts. But it turned out that Thrasher needed someone to help film and edit their videos. This is probably a year after I’d gotten on Toy Machine. 

So yeah, I got hired on at Thrasher and worked on a few of their videos back then. It was fun. I was there for about a year or two. Bryce was my boss, which was super cool. Eventually, he left and Phelps became my boss… which was interesting. 

switch backside 180 nosegrind

(laughs) How so?

Nah, it wasn’t bad. It was just a different way of working. Actually, I will say the one good thing Phelps did for me is that he fired me. 


No, I’m being serious. I’m thankful for that. Because he was like, “Dude, you gotta pursue your skate career, man. Stop making Thrasher videos and go pro.”

And I remember thinking to myself, “He’s right!”

But yeah, it was fun. That Raw video we did… oh my god. Have you heard about that one? 

What happened? 

Oh, dude… it was gnarly. Because before Bryce left, he had the whole thing dialed. I guess he had more of a budget, but we had our own post-production house in North Beach with full-on editing suites. All the equipment you could ever need with crazy snacks everywhere. The whole deal. And Bryce would just sit there, calling shots to the editor. Trim this, delete that. It was sweet.  

A few months later, Bryce quits and I get thrown into the mix. 

“Satva, you were Bryce’s assistant. You gotta do all this stuff now. Go handle it.”

“Oh… okay.”

But not only that, they no longer have the budget for that sweet post-production house in North Beach anymore.

“Paul Zuanich has a computer in his attic. Go do it there.”

Paul Zuanich had some shitty computer set up in his attic, which meant I basically had to live in his attic for three weeks, editing Raw. I don’t even think I left that attic once the entire time, man. It was gnarly. His computer was so shitty, I ended up getting hives because I was so stressed out. And the whole “Exporting the Video” thing at the end? Nah, it wouldn’t export. The computer would just die. Every time. I thought I was so screwed, man. It was insane. 

Luckily, it worked out. And we ended up getting some better gear afterwards, too. I think I even started investing in better equipment of my own after that, just because I never wanted to go back into Paul Zuanich’s attic ever again. (laughs)

What were your first impressions of Jamie Thomas? And what did you think of the new direction he and Josh were bringing to Toy? 

I’ll be honest, I didn’t care what direction they were trying to bring, I was just hyped to be getting free boards. I would’ve taken whatever, it’s still gonna be better than Counterfeit. 

Both Josh and Jamie were super cool. I didn’t really get to know Jamie until I went down to stay with him in Pacific Beach, but he’s a super nice guy. Josh was interesting because while we would skate all day together, he’d always go over to the Alien House at night. Like, every night. So I honestly didn’t get the chance to hang out with him very much. And I definitely wasn’t surprised when he ended up skating for Alien, either. I did go over to the Alien House a couple of times, too, but I mostly hung back with Jamie and chilled at his house. 

I was always a fan of Toy Machine. Growing up skating in the early 90s, Ed Templeton was always one of my favorites, so I was hyped to be on his team. It’s funny to look back on, but Ed was the guy at that point. It was still so early in Jamie’s career, I had no way of knowing what all he was about to do in skateboarding and for the company. He was still coming up. So, even though I rarely saw Ed because he was up in Huntington Beach, I was always way more nervous around him than I was those other guys.

But Jamie is clearly a motivator. You’ve heard all the stories and they’re true. He taught me a lot, showing me how to be more productive. To always have a plan and make the most out of the day. And because of that, I always felt like he was even more psyched on me because I filmed, too. Because whenever we would go out skating, sometimes there wasn’t even a filmer with us. Jamie would just film us. But because I knew how to film, it meant that he could get clips, too. That he could get some stuff and it was still going to look okay. 

It was insane going out with him back then, though. Because he’d say something the night before, like, “Hey, we’re gonna get up around eight tomorrow and film some stuff.”


But it’s not like we were waking up early to go skate some type of mellow warm-up spot. No, we’re going straight to a 15-stair handrail. Meeting up with Sturt for the photo, back when people were barely even skating rails like this. 

“Alright, go stand in the bushes and film from over there.”


Meanwhile, I’m thinking this guy is completely out of his mind. I wasn’t even sure if some of the shit he was trying was even possible, but he’d always come through. It was mind-blowing. 

satva filming jamie

How was filming around SF with those dudes for Heavy Metal? 

Oh, we barely filmed for Heavy Metal at all. I think I went down to San Diego that one time and then Jamie came up to San Francisco for a weekend or something. It was really quick. I remember being pretty surprised to find out that we were done filming. Like, “I have enough footage for an entire part? 

I was still so young back then, I just went with the flow. Whatever you say, guys! But it was never like, “We’re filming a part!” or anything like that. A lot of my part was footage I had lying around… stuff that I’d filmed with the Russian Twins. And that was it. 

I like the inward heel down the Big Three. 

I seem to remember skating with Drake Jones that day, because he and Jamie were good friends. We were both trying pop shove-its down the Big Three and Jamie said that I should give inward heelflips a shot, because it’s kind of a similar trick. I don’t remember it taking that long… even though “not that long” back then meant that it still probably took an hour. But no, we didn’t have to come back for it or anything. 

What about your switch frontside flip over the Cardiel street gap? “That was bad!”

(laughs) Oh, where Kalis freaks out? I’ll be honest, I still don’t know how I did that. And at night, too? I don’t know what type of magic I harnessed from the skate gods because I wasn’t even seriously trying it. I just threw it out there a couple of times and happened to land on one. I still remember rolling away from that thing, like, “Oh shit! I did it!”

That’s just the power of Jamie. He can really bring that type of magic out of people and I do feel like he brought it out of me that night. Because it just kinda happened. It was getting dark… you can tell by the slow shutter. It’s a little blurry. And it’s not like I’d been trying it for very long. It just came out of nowhere, really quick. 

You nollied the SD Sports Arena double-set at night, too… which is super sketchy, man.

Yeah, I actually thought that was going to be my ender. Because that thing broke me off, man. Jesus. I couldn’t skate for days after that. But once again, Jamie motivated me to try it. I honestly didn’t think that I could do that one, either. 

And yeah, totally dark by the time I landed it. Pretty crazy to think about. 


Talk about how the Toy team evolved into that Welcome to Hell era. One of the greatest teams of all-time, but I think you, Ed and Jamie were the only holdovers from Heavy Metal, right? 

I think so, yeah.  

I remember when we discovered the Muska. He was staying in that Hillcrest section of San Diego. Jeremy Deglopper had a little Vegas skate house going over there. For some reason, Jamie and I stopped by there one day… I was down in San Diego at the time. Chad wasn’t home but we ended up watched a tape of him skating anyway. 

“Woah, this dude is really good!”

What’s funny is that when we finally met Muska, I was actually more impressed by his graffiti book than his skating. And we all know how good he was at skating, but his book was super impressive. The dude had some dope pieces in his book, man. 

But yeah, we all went skating together and he killed it. He got on the team shortly after that. I typically didn’t get brought into team stuff like that, I just happened to be there at the time. Because I was up in SF, I might get a phone call or something… but I was also just an am, too.

I do remember when Brian Anderson got on the team. We skated around San Francisco State together, which was really impressive. Donny brought him over that day and he just destroyed everything. So, again, because I was there, I had an opinion. But it was mostly Jamie and Ed who talked about that stuff… or maybe just Jamie talking and Ed saying, “Okay.” (laughs)

BA at SF State is legendary, I’m sure that was another no-brainer. 

Yeah, but even besides his skating, he’s just so nice and down-to-Earth. I feel like that was maybe even more important at the time. Like, who is this guy? Do I want to be in the van with him? Is he dick? That sort of thing. 

Because yeah, the first time I ever saw him skate was at SF State. He was clearly good enough to get on the team, if not pro. But who is he? He looks super intimidating… with the bald head going. Dude looked like he was straight out of prison. (laughs)

Yeah, I’ve always loved how psychotic he looks while rolling up to Hubba Hideout for that front blunt. 

But he’s the gentle giant! 

I wasn’t at Hubba that day but I remember when he did the super long boardslide at SF State. He did it super quick, too. He just rolled up and did it, like out of nowhere. And people didn’t even really skate that handicap rail back then. It was like he wasn’t even thinking about filming, which made it even better. He was just skating. There was no, “Hey, let’s film this.” He just did it. We might’ve even had to ask him do it again so we could film it. It was crazy. 

Because by that point, Muska would have certain things he wanted to do. Jamie always had a plan going, too. But Brian was just flowing. He just had that flow. 

Didn’t you film Muska’s crazy 50-50 at San Dieguito? 

Yeah, I filmed one angle and Jamie filmed another. I think Theo Hand shot the photo. The crazy thing about that one is I also shot a photo of it. I was still filming and editing for Thrasher at the time but I was also getting into photography a little. I think I had Tobin’s old fisheye and Pete Thompson’s old camera body… just a wild combination of other photographers’ gear. 

The way it worked out, I saw Muska starting to warm up on that rail, so I snapped a couple of photos. This was before he started trying it seriously, but he did end up doing it. 

The problem was Thrasher had given me that film to shoot around with. And because I’d shot that 50-50 on Thrasher’s film, they owned the photo. Somehow, the film ended up back at Thrasher, and next thing I know, my photo is on a subscription card. 

Uh oh. 

Yeah, and I didn’t know Thrasher was going to do that, either. It just came out one day. Ed and Jamie called me up, super pissed, like, “What the fuck, dude? Why’d you give that photo to Thrasher!?!” 

They obviously wanted to run for it an ad… But I swear I never gave that photo to Thrasher. I wasn’t trying to poach it or anything.

satva on the left, photo: theo hand

That was, like, the craziest 50-50 ever back then, too.

Yeah, dude. It was insane. But all the photo drama that came later was a little rough. 

Do you remember how Elissa got on the team? 

Just prior to the video, I remember Jamie telling us that he was putting a girl on the team. I was cool with it… then I saw her footage and was like, “Oh wow! She’s good!”

We ended up traveling a lot together and it was always a good time. She’s super chill. Talking crazy shit in the van, there was never a feeling of having to hold back around her. In hindsight, we probably should’ve held back a little, but she always felt like one of the guys. We never felt like she was any different than the rest of us. 

I loved skating with Elissa and watching her rip. We skated similar stuff, too. We were never trying to skate some crazy shit like Jamie or Muska. Take us to a six stair and we’re good. They can have all that gnarly 12-stair stuff. (laughs)

Was there ever any pressure from Jamie or whoever to skate bigger shit? 

No, I never felt any pressure from Jamie to skate that kind of stuff. Not at all. He knew I was more into ledges and he was fine with that. 

Internally, you always want to do some standout tricks. And I would go big here and there, like the Sports Arena stuff. But for me, it always goes back to that Embarcadero mentality and doing shit proper. Style always prevails. 

Jamie would suggest stuff. And he was always good at showing me spots, like, “Hey, I got this spot you should check out. Maybe you can do that one thing there?” 

That was great. It was like you didn’t even have to think sometimes. But I never felt the need to go out and do some gnarly handrail… because those guys did that. It was a good balance. You could watch a gnar part and then a tech part. I always felt like I was fulfilling that “techier” side on the team.

What about that rumor of Jamie telling Panama Dan to skate more handrails or get kicked off?

I don’t know about that one. You’d have to ask those guys but I don’t remember hearing that. 

How was filming Welcome to Hell compared to Heavy Metal? 

Welcome to Hell was different because we were all actually working on a video together, where Heavy Metal felt like it was thrown together to introduce the new team. Like, “Okay, here are the new guys on the team. Now we’re gonna get to work on our next video, which is gonna be this whole big thing.” 

What pisses me off about Welcome to Hell is that Jamie had told me, “I’m gonna come up and stay in the city for a few months. That’s when we’re really gonna get to work on your part. Don’t worry.”

But unfortunately, that never happened. Two weeks before deadline, he calls me up and says, “Hey, I’m flying you down to San Diego and we’re gonna film your part down here.”

“Oh… okay.”

That’s why the majority of my part was filmed in San Diego. And it’s not like I was sitting around that whole time, doing nothing. I did film a little with the Russian Twins or whoever. John Trippe. But at the same time, I was waiting to film some stuff until Jamie came up. Because that was the plan. 

So how long did you film for that part, really? 

The majority of my part was filmed in two weeks. Going to San Diego for two weeks and filming whatever I can. That and whatever footage I might’ve had up in SF. 

That’s rough. 

(laughs) Yeah, it sucks… And that part is the one thing people remember me for. If only I had a little more time to film, I’m sure that part would’ve been so much better. But it’s not like they were gonna push the deadline back for me, either. I was still only an am at the time. There wasn’t much I could do about it. 

So how do you look back on that video now? Because it really is one of the best ever, is there a slight feeling of “if only” with you? 

Oh yeah, there’s definitely some of that. But at the same time, it’s what kids remember me for and they seem to like it. That’s fine, I guess. But yes, I personally know that my part could’ve been better. It’s fine. 

It’s still a great part. Great style with a super good flow. And I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but that switch frontside flip in there is monumental.

(laughs) Yeah, everybody talks about that one.

Do you remember that day? 

Yeah, that was in downtown San Diego. The line itself was pretty spontaneous, I just wanted to get the nollie smith on the inside of that ledge. 

I had learned those nollie smiths on the inside of the ledge at Black Rock. Not the main ledge on top, but the high ledge at the bottom of the other side. That ledge is actually similar to the one in San Diego, because they’re both double-sided on top. I remember being so psyched to find that San Diego ledge because I really wanted to get that trick for my part. That was, like, the main thing I wanted to film that day.

I’m pretty sure it was Jamie who suggested doing it in a line. To get the trick first and just throw in some stuff afterwards. So yeah, all that other stuff was totally spontaneous. Just making shit up. And I just happened to do that switch frontside flip in there. I do remember throwing it out there. I landed a little crazy, not to mention that I’m in the middle of the road. But it worked out.

I love the jazz push. And for the record, it does flip, right? It’s not an illusion? Because there are detractors. 

(laughs) Yes! Of course, it flips! I didn’t just do a switch 180 off the curb! Come on, people!

It was slightly illusion, I guess. It wasn’t the proper flick, catch and turn-in-the-air kind of deal. But I liked it. I thought it was good. 

Legendary. So, how’d you land on the last two minutes of “Jesus Christ Superstar” for your part? 

That came from working at Thrasher. Working on videos, you always have to choose the music and they always had access to songs from that awesome Ubiquity record label.

I remember them.  

Fast-forward to filming down in San Diego with Jamie, he asked what song I wanted to skate to one morning... I had no idea. Because it’s kinda daunting, right? I remember he was eating his little avocado breakfast. He goes, “Go find your song.”

There was a little record store down the street from his house. I was dj’ing a little at the time, so I’d already gone to check it out a few times by then. I head over there and start digging through the CDs when I notice the Ubiquity label on one. They let you listen to the tracks at this store so I went to check it out and just happened to hear that part of the song.  

That’s wild, because it’s a 10-minute song but the section you use is the last three minutes. 

Yeah, people always ask me about that song. I think because I had that DJ mentality, I knew enough to scrub through the songs because of the label it was on. And I always liked the Stereo videos, too, with that jazzier side of things. Maybe this could be cool? 

Who edited your part? And did you have a hand in it? 

Like Bryce in North Beach, Jamie had an editor/motion graphics guy he would use. Jamie did some editing but there was definitely this other guy, too. He was the one who did the final assembly and all the effects.

I had a little input. I’d sit in there and watch it, but it was basically Jamie and that other guy. Jamie was definitely directing everything. 

Did you know your part was gonna have all those weirdos in there? 

(laughs) I’ve always kinda been a magnet for weirdos, man. Police and weirdos. 

The “prosthetic eye” guy, that dude was something else. We ran into him at Hubba Hideout one day. He was rambling on something crazy about just about everything. Illuminati, bunkers… the whole thing. I guess he was in the military and saw him shit. Maybe they took his eye? But he was rambling on and on… which, you know a lot of it is crazy, but there’s probably some truth in there, too. He was going off. 

What about the “break your leg” guy? Was that the entire exchange? 

Yeah, that was the entire exchange. That was down in San Diego at a little handrail spot close to Jamie’s house. Whatever, just another crazy guy in the street. Maybe he was the pastor at the church? I don’t know. But he was clearly upset. 

I feel like I landed the trick right after he left, because he was like, “I’m gonna call the cops!” Even more motivation for me to land my trick and get out of there. 

I don’t know if he ever came back or not. 

That was your frontboard shuv ender? 

Yeah, although I didn’t know it was going to be my ender at the time. It kinda ended up that way with the crazy guy… because you can’t not use that clip. It was the perfect way to start out my part, but that also meant the shuv-it out had to be my ender. Not that enders were such a thing back then. I feel like that came later. 

Not exactly ender material but I always thought the nollie smith-5050 was slept on.

Oh yeah, that was a little flat rail in the Presidio. I loved skating that thing. The only problem was that there wasn’t any run-up. You just had to throw your board down and go for it. 

That trick was definitely some Justin Strubing influence. He was always doing those wild flat rail combos. Cairo and I were skating with Strubing a lot back then and I remember us both being pretty psyched on that stuff. 

photo; mcgrath

Were you at the premiere when everything went sour? 

Yeah, and I was actually in the edit bay with Jamie before all that, too. It was like I was back in Paul Zuanich’s attic again. Seriously, the exact same problem. The computer couldn’t handle everything and would crash every time we tried to export the video. I don’t think we had enough drive space. Enough RAM. It was just failing, failing, failing. We’re watching the clock tick down and it’s starting to get late… and we still had a 45-minute drive to the premiere. It finally got to the point where we just had to give up. There’s not going to be a video tonight because it’s just not working. We can’t get it out of the computer.

This was right around five o’clock. San Diego rush hour. Just bumper-to-bumper traffic, man. And I think the premiere was at seven. I remember Jamie pulling onto the far left shoulder of the freeway that’s reserved for accidents and just blazing past everyone. For miles... in his Honda Passport. I’m trying to stay calm, but the whole time I’m thinking to myself, “We’re about to get arrested and not even make it to this premiere we’re not having.”


Somehow, we don’t get busted and finally make it to the venue. Everyone’s wondering what is going on. Jamie and I are trying to deal with fact that there’s no video and Muska’s all goldschlager’d out. The whole thing went to shit. 

It sucked because Jamie and I were already so beat down from trying to get the edit done and it not working. Knowing that and still having to go down to the theater and face everyone? With Muska reacting to everything the way he did? It was a rough night. 

photo: thompson

Sounds like it. Moving onto a few photo-related questions: I’ve seen three different stills of your frontside crooked grind at China Banks but I’m not sure I ever saw any footage. How’d that go down? 

I just kinda jammed it in there. I definitely didn’t ollie into it… because that would be hard. It’s a jammer, for sure. 

I feel like I was about to film that with Jamie the day I got tackled by the police. At the time, I was also trying frontside 5-0 to fakie over the bench and almost had it. I think I was trying to get both that and the front crook jammer that day, but… you know… I got tackled instead. (laughs)

How’d that go again? Maldonado was skating on the street below and the cops came up the elevator?

Yeah, there’s a gigantic marble ledge down there that’s, like, waist high. Maldonado was trying to 50-50 that when the cops saw him. They start running after him and everybody bolts. He runs toward the banks, so the cops split up. One cop comes up the elevator and sees me skating the banks, totally oblivious. He thinks I’m Maldonado and tackles me.

I wish Jamie would’ve played the whole clip. Because in the footage, this cop just comes out of nowhere, charging at me full speed from behind. Total Terminator-style. I had no idea he was even coming. I was just pushing toward the bank and he tackled me! 

photo: wallacavage

Talk about your melon photo in the camo pants. Always loved that one. 

Adam Wallacavage just happened to be in town that day and shot it. I remember him really needing a bump photo for some reason. And I knew that spot because I would always take the Muni to Thrasher and see it out the window. But you could really only skate there during the day because it was super hood. Definitely not a good night spot. 

I must’ve just gotten a box from Edward Sebastian or Vanilla clothing… one of those. Because I don’t wear camos, man. I even remember thinking to myself that day, “Yeah, I’m gonna wear these camos for the photo. Fuck it!” (laughs)

I must’ve really needed a photo of me in those clothes! But I don’t know how the melonchollie came about. I feel like we were actually there to try a switch frontside flip into the street and I did that melonchollie first as a warm-up photo? I’m not sure.

The problem with that spot, besides being in the ‘hood, is that you landed right at a stop sign intersection. You always had to have someone watching for cars. Super fun bump, though. I think kids are still hitting that spot. 

What about that wallie late shuv over the jersey barrier? 

Oh yeah! That spot was super cool. Just a jersey barrier that was going off at the time. 

I don’t remember exactly how that trick came about. It was always fun doing wallies over that thing, I’ll guess I’ll try a late shove. I don’t really have any memories of the process, but it must’ve come pretty quick if we got the sequence on film. 

One thing I’ve always wondered about is that Shorty’s crooked grind ad with you up top. Did you go from bottom ledge to top ledge, like Bobby Puleo? And is there footage of that? 

Yeah, from 50-50 to crook… but I’ll set the record straight: I never really rolled away from that clean. But the photo looked sick, so we ran it. (laughs)

That was super hard, man. 50-50ing and then ollieing out to crook? I just couldn’t get out of the crook proper. I did roll away sketchy a few times, but never a clean make. 

Gotcha. So was there ever any talk of Toy turning you pro? Is that why you left for Maple? 

I just needed to make more money, man. Living in SF is expensive. I’d been on Toy for a couple years by that point but still had to work at the pizza place to survive. I just didn’t know what was going on, you know? I’d hit up Ed every now and then, like, “What’s the deal? Am I ever going to turn pro?” And he’d hear me out and everything, but it was always, “Yeah, yeah… let’s talk about it in a few months.”

I started to feel like he was putting me off while I worked away in this pizza place. I wanted to skate full time, you know? I wanted to go pro, not make pizzas. 

I guess the word got out somehow. Because Steve Benson from Maple ended up cold calling me one day, offering me money. Wanting to turn me pro. 

“Okay… well, let me think about it. Let me talk to Ed and see what he has to say.”

And I did talk to Ed about it, that I was getting offers. 

I said, “I can’t wait any longer. You have to give me an answer now. I really want to skate full time and I have this offer to go pro for Maple. What’s up?”

Unfortunately, it just didn’t seem like it was going happen for me at Toy Machine, so I went over to Maple. 

How was Maple in comparison? 

Maple wasn’t my ideal sponsor but the pay was decent and the team was okay. I have to survive in the city so I’m gonna have to make this work. But it was definitely a different vibe. Watson Wood compared to Tum Yeto… Not as artsy or creative, for sure, but it fulfilled my needs at the time. 

At the end of the day, I wish Ed would’ve given me the opportunity to turn pro for Toy Machine. I didn’t have to go pro at that moment, but at least give me a plan. Something to work towards. Let’s do another video part with a solid date and have me work my way up to it. I really wish that would’ve happened, but it didn’t. And again, I got this offer. I wasn’t making much money and needed to survive. Am I going to do this or am I going to be am forever? It was now or never. I had to take it. 

Two of your signature moves from around this time, how’d you start doing those switch frontside 360 kickflips and nollie backside 360 kickflips? Which came first?

The switch frontside 360 flips came first, because I remember learning them on flatground in Boston. I think we even filmed one for an Etnies video. But yeah, that quickly became my tour trick. Skating so many pyramids, it was always a good one to throw out at a demo. I remember Clyde Singleton coining it “The El Nino” at a Tampa Contest one year. Like a little hurricane, spinning your body around. 

I always had switch frontside 360s really good so I just added the little flip in there. It's all about the pressure in the toes. 

How did Dynasty come about? Was that Kien Lieu’s company thru Maple?

Yeah, being half-Chinese myself, I liked the graphics and the overall vibe. And after being on Maple for a bit, Dynasty felt like something new and exciting. Because let’s face it... Maple was corny, okay? I’m just gonna say it. By this point, they were trying to do their little World Industries character. The Maple Leaf guy? It was corny. 

Dynasty had a much better vibe. Donger was a DJ, I was getting more into DJing. They were both in the same distribution. It just made sense to move over there. And it was fun, too. Definitely fun while it lasted.  

Always in the mix, what are some clips you filmed behind the camera that have stood out to you over the years? 

Well, I’ve been filming for a long time, so it’s kinda hard to pick out specifics, but any Phil Shao footage was always super memorable. I filmed a lot of his stuff at China Banks, like the tailslide and all that. So awesome.

I remember when he got the cover with the 5-0 at Miley, too. I was on the center column, filming him from underneath. That was amazing. Just watching him warm up that day, blasting ollies over the rail like it was nothing. He could do it almost every single time… and that thing definitely isn’t easy to skate. He was incredible.   

How did filming evolve into making videos of your own, like Black Out and Streets? 

Well, I started out filming and editing videos for Thrasher, which was amazing because I grew up reading the mag. Around 2000 or so, I started Judah Skateboards through Imperial Distribution, no only running the brand but trying to be pro as well. And it was a lot of work. As a result, I really started to miss filming and editing. So, I came up with a concept to put out my own video, which was Black Out. I’d been shooting a lot on trips, so I had some footage stacked up. I got together with a motion graphics designer and, yeah, we put out our own video. 

I had a friend who knew some people at Fuel TV. He showed Black Out to those guys and that’s how the Streets series came about. SF was our first episode in 2003 and it went all the way to 2007. Basically three or four episodes a year. SF, Barcelona, Melbourne, LA, Toronto and New York. It was great. I was traveling a lot, back working in video production. And it was super fun going on those trips with my friend Gerrard, who conducted all the interviews. 

What was your process with each Streets episode? Because those were all pretty in-depth for each city.

Well, I knew that we couldn’t film an entire episode in a few weeks for each of those cities. Not with skate tricks. It just wasn’t possible. So I depended a lot on buying footage from local filmers. That was the basic formula: pay the local filmers for the bulk of our skate footage and then we’d go over there ourselves for a few weeks to film all the interviews, b-roll and pick up some more skate footy. 

In 2005, I became TM of Mob Grib and Ricta Wheels, so I would often piggyback my Streets stuff onto whatever I had to do for those brands and have NHS help out with the travel costs… Bring a couple of riders and a photographer from Transworld, which meant they got media coverage and I got to film for Streets, which was on Fuel TV. It was a win-win. 

How did Judah come about? Was starting your own company always the dream? 

It wasn’t my dream but I always had an entrepreneurial side. I think because I already knew the guys at Imperial Distribution from riding for Maple and Dynasty, they felt like we could give this thing a try. And I knew the artist Dave Flores from living in San Francisco. He was really coming up at the time. I figured that if I got him and put together the right team, it could potentially work… 

Granted, I had no idea that Imperial was about to go under in a year. That would’ve been nice to know before going into everything. At the end, there was definitely a feeling of “Why didn’t these guys tell me this earlier?”

Because they actually asked me to start the brand. I wasn’t the one who brought it up. They came to me, like, “Hey, do you want to start your own company? Yeah? Okay, then you’re gonna need to put together a team. We can do it, but it has to be right now.”

Everything was so rushed. And I was trying to skate and do all the brand manager stuff, too. Getting graphics together, trying to find riders… let’s put Mindbender on the team!  

I do think the brand itself looked good, but the team was definitely a scramble. It basically came down to whoever I knew, along with suggestions from the other riders. Like, I didn’t know Dustin Charlton at the time, but somebody told me to put him on. “Okay, sure!” (laughs) 

I always liked some Andy Bautista, though. 

Looking back, Judah was definitely a lesson learned. I still wish that I could’ve figured out a way to make it work, we just didn’t have the time. And you can’t rush things like that. 

Imperial goes under, how did Dorfman get involved?

I think that came from Steve Benson trying just about anything to save it. 

“Hey, go talk to Dorfman.”

God… freakin’ Dorfman. I remember he flew me down to one of those beach cities in SoCal. He puts me up in this apartment and offers me the keys, totally trying to schmooze me over. And it worked. (laughs)

“Woo! I have an apartment… for a weekend!”

I did Judah through Select for about year or so but it didn’t pan out. It just didn’t feel good, you know? So I signed the name over and left. They very well could be selling Judah boards to this day.

photo: pommier

Did you look around for another sponsor or were you over it?  

I was just more inspired to do video production by that point. Judah had gone under but I’m doing Streets now. It’s cool because I can still kinda be out there. Skating, filming and doing the TM job. I’m still in the mix. 

I was still skating the whole time with Judah, but that whole thing left a nasty taste in my mouth with all the work and stress of running your own brand. And then to have it all go down the way it did, I was just over the industry side of things. It had taken me away from the actual skating, you know? 

In 2003, I got married. My love wife Karine is originally from France, so I started heading over there for summers. I’m starting to DJ more… At the end of the day, I just don’t think I was as motivated to skate anymore. I still loved it, but I was ready to move on to something different. 

So what are you doing now? 

Since 2011, I’ve been doing full-time video production. A lot of corporate video work for tech companies here in San Francisco. I was in-house for a while for a few companies but I’ve been freelance for the last five years or so. That’s been a lot of fun. 

We have two kids now, Myla and Maeceo. They’re nine and eleven. They’re a lot of work, too. But things are great, man. I love being a father. Soccer games on the weekends and we get to travel to France every summer. Life is good!

2022... still got it. photo: theo hand 

Are you skating at all?

Yeah, I really started wanting to skate again about five years ago, but I pretty much only skate Waller. People always heckle me, like “Go somewhere else, man!” But it’s fun and right by my kid’s school. There’s ledges and no one ever recognizes me there. I can do what I want. And it’s nice to just be able to skate again, without any pressure. 

I bring my camera down there from time to time and film whoever is around. Throw some clips up on IG, just for fun. I would love to do some actual video production for skate companies again. I love what Kyle Camarillo has been putting out lately, that’s the kind of production I would love to get on board with. Brand managers, hit me up! (laughs)

Last question, what would you say has been your proudest accomplishment in skateboarding and your biggest regret?  

Well, Welcome to Hell is definitely what I get the most recognition for. So many people seem to have grown up with that video. They always bring up the switch frontside flips and nollie flips. They really seem to like it and that feels great. But for me, personally, I think my proudest accomplishment was doing all the Streets videos. Because it was so fun traveling the world and meeting all the locals in these different cities. It was awesome. And I’ll never forget walking into a popular skate bar here in San Francisco named Delirium and Streets was playing on the tv. I felt like I’d made it! That was a good memory.

Regret-wise, maybe I shouldn’t have gone to Maple? Maybe I should’ve just stuck it out on Toy Machine? But again, with the situation I was in, I needed to survive. It’s not like I was living with my parents, I had bills to pay. And if someone is offering you money like that, it’s really hard to turn that down. So I can’t really say that I regret going to Maple, it’s more that I regret things not working out with Toy Machine. 

Big thanks to Satva and Cairo for taking the time. 


Anonymous said...

Good stuff, was always a fan and thought it was dope he did other things like music and video, too. Glad to hear he’s doing well.

Anonymous said...

Great interview as always - thanks to you both for taking the time

Dill said...

Satva should have been Toy Pro - funny how an ostensible art brand tout court has instincts that was always about going with the next big jock band wagon . . . and you can't really say that Ed had to chase the next belle du jour, bc Toy Machine was such a popular graphics driven company anyways -

Anonymous said...

Is there somewhere to purchase the STREETS video series!?

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the interview! Really interesting to read! 90s skaterat sweden

Anonymous said...

Real fan of SL. Was stoked to see him talk with Schmitty. The BK and BA stories were bonus. Didn't realize he filmed PS. That's some of my favorite footage of him. Keep hoping Thrasher puts out a tee with one of those frames on the front. Nice to see that things turned out well for SL. Seems like a solid guy. Good read.

Nattie Dap said...

PVC coping is the worst!! I heard that in Scranton PA - right before my time skating-1993 on, there was an all PVC mini ramp?!

ollie to 4 wheel slide, anyone

Nattie Dap said...

Counterfit had awesome clothes- at least that's how I felt as a twelve year old. Fuck ya- Rip city!! And considering how kids wore their clothes then- counterfeit was a rad name.

Nattie Dap said...

Yuck.. he wishes he was 'straight outta prison"... fantasizes

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