Jerry Hsu Interview
I remember you once telling me you’d sometimes spend hours trying to come up with the perfect caption for a photo on social media. Does that stuff still command so much of your attention? Do still update all your Tumblr accounts and all that stuff?
I’ve kinda given up on it for now. But not fully because I still think about it and I still think, like, “What should I do with it? Should I just keep it going?” I think it’s okay if you have a creative outlet to leave it alone for a while. I just kind of got a little bit disinterested in it. The passion for it just kind of went away. But that’s not to say that it’ll never be back, but it’s just kind of a thing where maybe I moved on. Maybe I’m just bored of that and I don’t want to do that anymore. You just have to decide for yourself whether something is important to you or not. You really shouldn’t think, “Are people expecting me to do this?” That really shouldn’t be your motivation. It should just be: do you want to do this and does it make you feel good? And maybe I used to think about captions but I never caption anything anymore—people complain about no captions. They complain about everything.
Switch 5-0 180 Down the drain Photo: Brook
Where do you find your creative outlet these days?
Right now it’s mostly skateboarding. I guess most of the stuff I do is not really out there as far as Instagram or online. Stuff like that is more, to me, kind of a side project in terms of what I do creatively. I mean, I like to shoot photos and I like to build big things over time. And to just leak it all slowly over these platforms is kind of not really what I want to do. And how it is today, if people don’t see you doing something immediately—on their phone or whatever—they just think you’re dead; they just think you’re not doing anything. I like to think about stuff for a long time before I do it. You know, it’s a lot like skateboarding: I like to build and build and build. I don’t try to give people little tidbits so they stay with me, you know? It’s just, like, if they want to be interested in me, be interested in me. But if not that’s okay too. I don’t want it to be, like, “Well, I haven’t posted an Instagram in two days. I better do it otherwise people aren’t gonna follow me.” I don’t really think like that and so as far as being creative and stuff I just like to sit on it and keep things to myself for a while. It can kind of affect what you do creatively if you worry about what people think all the time. So I just try to stay in the middle, you know?
It seems like a lot of people want to put out an idealized version of themselves and it’s really easy with these kind of cute singular moments in time or how everything’s got a little bit of polish to it.
Yeah, man, Instagram is wonderful for polishing the turd that is you. You know, the ability to edit your own life and to show only what you want to show, it’s amazing. And to have people “like it” and comment is great. I mean, it feels so good when you post something and people really like it and it’s easy to become addicted to that. But its trivial. And it can tweak people out because if they’re always looking at stuff they aren’t doing but want to—that’s depressing. On the other hand, a lot of people’s idealized versions of themselves make me feel way better about myself.
What are some of your favorite Osiris memories?
Well, I would say in general just going to San Diego during that time in the late ‘90s. Going there and skating with everyone and being exposed to that time in skating was really awesome. The tours were kind of unbelievable. I think about those tours, about me being there and I kind of can’t believe it sometimes. I mean, people ask me all the time about riding for Osiris and it was really, really rad and also very strange. It was a very strange experience. But I really value it. I think it taught me a lot.
Who knew you could spend that much money at a Chili’s?
Yeah, I know. I was at some dinners that were, like, 8,000 dollars.
On spaghetti poppers. Eight-thousand dollars on chicken fingers.
Yeah, at a fuckin Buca di Beppo or something. Eight-thousand dollars? How was that even possible? But they did it.
When you had that banana-in-the-mouth Osiris ad, was that you trying to make a statement about your relationship with the brand?
I think that was just about me not being told what photos were being used in ads. I think that was more about me being out of the loop. I think at that point I was kind of checked out.
Have you ever dated a girl that skated?
No, never. Actually, there was this girl in middle school who really liked me and skated but for whatever stupid reason I just thought that wasn’t cool. Looking back, I should have totally went for it. It would have been so awesome. But you just have funny ideals when you’re young, like, how things should be and all that crap. I just thought it wouldn’t work or that it was going to be lame. But I totally should have done that. I really regret that. It would have been fun.
Have you ever made it with a skate groupie?
Umm, yeah. That’s happened.
Switch 180 5-0 to Fakie Photo: Colen
What was that like?
It was not that hard, comparatively. There wasn’t exactly courtship. It was just kind of, like, “Hey, I know you and let’s hang out.” I don’t know. It’s weird. I’ve never been good with hanging out with ladies, really. I don’t know what to say a lot so girls don’t really like that. So to have something happen so easily was kind of, like, whoa—kind of crazy.
And congratulations; you’re married now. How was meeting the in-laws?
Well, it was awesome. There was no weirdness. They live in the middle of Canada, in Saskatoon. I thought it could be some kind of weird meet-the-parents type of situation where they were gonna be so different, but they were really cool and they really accepted me immediately. It was super easy and I’m really glad it turned out like that.
Were you nervous?
Yeah, I was totally nervous.
Did you ask her father for her hand in marriage?
No, I didn’t. I guess for me and my wife, I think our view of the whole process is just, let’s just do it. We don’t involve ourselves with those kind of formalities. The feelings we have between us is what’s important, not doing everything you’re supposed to. So she was just, like, “You know what? You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
How’s it going so far?
It’s awesome. It’s weird taking one more step into being a grown up. I think being a skater and doing these big life milestone things, it’s just so weird every time because we just want to be kids forever, you know? Skateboarding keeps you immature and thinking like a young person, so when you do these big milestone things—it’s so crazy. I think about it all the time. So it’s going great.
It changes your life a little bit to always have to consider somebody else’s feelings.
Yeah, exactly. I do wanna just say that I’ve been really, really loving it but it’s also very different to have to consider, like—everything that I decide now I have to think about someone else. And I don’t mind that but it’s just new. But it’s also satisfying in a lot of ways because she does the same for me.
How important is a certain kind of camera equipment to your photography?
I’m not into gear at all. The only thing that’s important to me is that it feels good when I take a picture. You know what I mean? I have so many different kind of cameras just because I like cameras. And after a while, if a camera doesn’t feel good anymore I gotta use a different one. It’s like board shapes: you know, this is what I ride right now and then when I don’t want to ride it anymore I’m gonna ride something else. I’m not obsessed with, like, “Is this eight-and-a-quarter or eight-and-five-eighths?” Kids are so obsessed with that shit. They ask me constantly about sizes and I’m, like, “I don’t know. I just stand on it and I know it’s good.” And it’s the same thing with cameras: if it feels good when I hit the shutter and the photos are what I want, then this is the camera that I’m gonna use.
Has there ever been a moment that really stands out where you took a photo and immediately felt shitty for taking it?
Yeah, that happens. A lot of photos I take are of people who don’t necessarily want to have their photo taken. So sometimes I feel like if they look at me a certain way or something I can feel a little bit regretful. But I try to suppress that anxiety. It’s counter productive.
I was just curious about it because every photographer—or photographers that like to take pictures of the world around them—goes through that moment where they’re, like, “Oh God. I feel like a fuckin’ turd.”
Yeah, but in general it’s very rare that I feel like that. It’s very rare ‘cause how could I do what I do and feel like that all the time? It would be hell. So to answer your question: it’s very rarely.
Switch Carve Photo: Colen
What makes a good photo for you in general? I feel like a lot of your photos kind of point out the absurdity of life. But not in a critical or mean-spirited way.
Yeah, I think I’m trying to take pictures of things that maybe are unseen or invisible. But I don’t try to really say too much with one photo. I like to tell a story with a group of photos that maybe seemingly don’t go together but they do give off a feeling and that feeling kind of generally goes towards things that are absurd or that I consider absurd and beautiful about everyday life. That might sound kind of cliché or whatever but that’s what I like to do.
You’ve been on a bunch of really elaborate skate trips that didn’t have much skating in them. What’s the toughest, most hair-raising spot that you’ve gotten yourself into in the guise of international skateboard travel?
The one that sticks out the most would be when I took that motorcycle trip to Vietnam. That was so dangerous. I could have died on that trip: riding those motorcycles across the country was pretty reckless. Looking back, obviously it was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done—hands down. But that was the hairiest situation I’ve ever been in because, you know, I crashed and I broke a rib and if there was just one more thing going on on that road, like a car or anything, a rock or whatever, I could be dead. It was pretty fuckin’ crazy.
Would you take those kind of risks again now that you’re married?
It would be harder, I think. Especially because my wife would be, like, “Why the fuck are you doing that?” So I would need to have a very good reason to do something like that. Not just to get one photo in a travel article. I don’t think that’s gonna be worth it.
Who is the coolest guy in skateboarding right now?
That depends on what it means to be cool.
That’s your call, bro.
I’ll tell you: I think Wes Kremer is really, really cool. He exhibits something—I can’t put my finger on it, but the way he skates, I feel like he’s very genuine, very himself and that makes him really cool to me. There’s just something about him; I really like it.
Let’s talk about this Emerica video. It’s coming out pretty soon, right?
Yeah, probably closer to the end of the year it’ll be all done.
What’s your mindset going into this one?
Well, this time around is way more deliberate. I wouldn’t say that I’m organized but I would say that I’m more thoughtful. I think it’s just sort of a necessity now in terms of where I am with my body and my skills and stuff. I can’t just show up somewhere and pull off some kind of crazy move, you know? I need to think about it and plan ahead and get good at what I’m gonna try.
Switch 5-0 Shove It Photo: Colen
You got road dogs with you or do you like to go solo?
No, I like road dogs: Andrew, Herman Spanky, Bucky and Miner. We skate together. It helps. Some people like to go out solo and that’s cool but I like the support. It takes away a type of pressure that is kind of detrimental to my skating, so I definitely like to have my friends around.
Here’s something I always wondered: does it help when the filmer or the photographer tells you, “You got it”?
Yes. Even if you know it’s kind of empty. If I’m trying something and it’s taking two hours and they say, “You got the next one,” even if they said it, like, 50 times it doesn’t matter to me. I appreciate it every single time. It’s funny; I’ve been skateboarding for, like, 20 years and I still freak out because I kind of don’t know how to do it sometimes. I don’t know what it is that makes me land something. It’s just, like, one of these tries you’re gonna black out and it’s gonna happen. That’s just how I skate. The hardest things I’ve ever gotten or the things that I’m most proud of it’s sort of, like, you’ve just got to wait for everything to line up: it’s not about conquering every aspect of a trick. It’s not about, like, this crack, how many pushes—those are just means to getting there. It’s not about conquering that stuff. It’s just about getting that stuff out of the way. Every step that it takes to landing a trick, you have to kind of not hold on so tight and let go a little bit and it will happen.
The darkslide photo in this interview is insane. How long did that take you?
It was kind of a long process because, first of all, that spot is really annoyingly difficult to skate. If you’ve never been there, it looks like it’s just gonna be a great time—you’re just gonna go there and you’re going to pull off all kinds of stuff. And then you actually go there and it’s such a nightmare to skate. I went there one day and I was just toying around with it and then I didn’t know if it was possible or not. It was just sort of a dream trick to me, like, “Oh, what if someone did this here? I think that would be pretty cool.” And then I just really set my mind to it. I think I went there probably four or five times, hours each time to do it. So yeah, it was pretty difficult but it was something that I thought about so much that I had to do it. I think filming for this video part has been really weird. I’m trying to just do what I do best instead of worrying about what is cool. I can’t compete with what’s cool. I can’t compete with what kids are doing. I just have to do what I know I can do and just hope for the best with it. I talk about this with Andrew all the time. We can’t do a lot of that jumping shit anymore. We just have to use our imaginations and just use the tools that we have and do what we’re good at. I’m not really gonna suggest a double set anymore. Never. I’m just not gonna do that.
Do you ever look at what’s trendy with the kids and think, “Maybe I’ll throw a little bit of that in there?” I’d almost say you could just hot dog the fuck out of a curb right now and kids would go nuts.
You’re asking do I ever feel pressured to be kind of trendy? I mean, yeah, sure I guess so. But I feel like if there is a type of skating that’s so popular right now, like, why would I just become invisible? Just skate how you want to and if you fall into some kind of trend, who cares.
Hoo-Soo grind Photo: Colen
I don’t know if you care about this shit, but I’m worried about this Donald Trump situation. Are you worried?
Yeah, of course I’m worried about it because it’s not just the guy that’s a problem, it’s what he has tapped into. It’s the fact that he’s so popular regardless of everything that he’s said. He’s said some pretty lame shit and people ignore it and they’re just swept away by him. They’re mistaking vulgarity with charisma. I think that’s super dangerous. Whether he’s gonna make it all the way or not, who knows, but the fact that he’s so popular right now—it kind of makes me sad about what people believe in and what they ignore. If a guy running for president can say things that are so un-American and unkind or just straight-up wrong, it makes me feel shitty. It makes me feel, like, “Damn, this country is split way more than I ever thought.
Well at least the Hsu’s can relocate to Saskatoon. So what’s your take on skateboarding being in the Olympics?
I’ve talked with my friends who are involved in trying to make that happen and I smile and I’m, like, “That’s great for you,” but I don’t know why they’re trying so hard to make it happen. Marc Johnson said something one time in an interview and I thought it was really smart: something, like, there are a lot of huge companies in skating right now and they kind of have their own agendas—whether they like to portray themselves in that way or not—but with big companies in skating, the pros are the one responsible for making that happen. It’s up to the pros to make an informed decision about whether these companies should be in skating or not. A lot of people just don’t care. It’s kind of like where we are now. But to bring it to that level, I think is just unnecessary and unhealthy for what we do. I started skating to get away from jocks, not to be surrounded by them. Do we really want the whole world to be skaters? To me, the reason I started skating was because the rest of the world sucked and skating was special. So to put it on that pedestal and to see skating everywhere and everyone skates, that just takes away what makes it so special. But I do understand why that happens: it’s the regular momentum of a thing that makes money. If you’re trying to make more money you’ve got to get more people to do it and I understand that. There’s people with families and kids and they have different agendas and people can’t survive just wanting skating to be punk and “just ours.” So I get both sides, but I just wish everything weren’t so annoying.
It’s a shame when there’s a part of skating that bums you out, you know? Because there was a time when we were, like, “It’s all rad: I like that old vert guy, I like this guy, I like the freestyle guy,” This is us. This is our thing. It sucks when the lame shit outweighs the actual skateboarding.
Yeah, I know. That’s kind of why I shot this interview. It’s a subtle message but it’s just, like, I want to do it for the magazine that I think has the same perspective as me. Collectively, if kids believe in something they should be more thoughtful of the companies they support. You can’t escape but it’s like the whole thing with voting: be a little bit informed. You’re a part of all of this and if everybody is like that then maybe it’ll be something that’s better. I mean, skateboarding’s great right now, but maybe it could do without a few things. It just bugs me because you see people fail. You see companies going away that maybe shouldn’t. So many people suffer because of this element of skating. And as a pro skateboarder all you can really do is make choices that you think are right. There’s always people trying to take advantage of skateboarding so maybe complaining about the Olympics is just the next thing for old guys to complain about. People try talking to me about, like, the golden age of skateboarding and that just doesn’t make sense to me. There is no best time. Skating just always is what it is. You try to tell me when Trilogy came out that’s what skating is, but I’ll talk to the next person and they’ll be, like, “Oh, Video Days, that’s what it’s all about.” Then the next person is, like, “Right now is what it’s about.” Skateboarding’s always what it is at the time that it is.
Darkslide Photo: Colen
6/23/2017Grosso sits down with Jerry Hsu to talk about rad Asian skaters in part 2 of the Loveletters.
6/14/2017Longtime crailtap videographer Federico Vitetta, along with his crew of master lensmen and the entire Lakai team once again bring you the best skating, filming and editing and keep The Flare alive. Check out photos from the premiere here.
11/21/2016Skateboarding just gets bigger and better every year. Here’s our hot list of 2016 SOTY Contenders. Who’s getting your vote?
11/14/2016There’s nobody like Jerry. He puts in the work, he pays the piper, but the end result is always so damn sweet. His video parts are a gift to the skateboarding world and these B-Sides give you an idea of what he goes through to make them.
11/14/2016Let’s take a trip through Hsu's video resume. We all know the man is a legend, but it’s still shocking to be reminded he’s 20 years deep in the game and going strong. Everything he’s put out is a CLASSIC!