John Gardner: On Mental Health, Freddy Gall and Fitting in with the Fiends

JohnGardner TitlePhoto: Heikkila

The all-terrain East Coaster finally got the green light for THE PRO RANKS. After years of incredible parts, interviews and high-concept ads, it was only a matter of time. Just before Gardner got the new gig, Creature OG Sam Hitz called up his fellow fiend to talk about the new crew, Fred Gall memories and political prospects in this jam-packed interview from our June '21 issue.

A self-described naturalist, John pays homage to the Earth Mother with clips on every skateable surface she has to offer

So, you’re currently staying at the Creature house in Vista—Creature Airbnb, man. What’s the vibe like?
The vibe is solid. The squad we got is really cool: Cody Lockwood, J-Worth, Peter Raffin, Willis Kimbel. Everybody gets along. Noah’s been buying everybody food at night, which is really cool.

The master of ceremonies.
Always. He’s a good host.

What kind of grub are y’all getting down with? Does the squad eat healthy?
For me, it’s all veggie-style, but we’ve been running seafood, eggs in the morning, lots of fruit—crucial fruit.

Basically, with the Creature team, there’s a wide gamut of dietary choices within the crew.
We’re a very eclectic group.

 DSC5518 copy DZHard not to make a number-two joke here since this drop-in 50-50 is the shit      Photo: Rhino

Exactly. I feel you bring balance to this squad.
I’m honored that you would say that.

The center, pivotal zone between the dark and the light. Do you feel the same?
I feel very much at home with the people that I’m surrounded with on the Creature team. But at the same time, I don’t feel like there is somebody who leans too dark or leans too light. I feel like we’re all kind of in the center but we can dip into either side.

We got every vibe present in this squad—and it’s a big squad. Has it ever gotten too rowdy for you, whether it’s party time at the Creature Airbnb or shenanigans in the van, where you had to dip out of a situation?
I would say no, because there’s balance in imbalance sometimes. So if the vibe is pushing you in a certain direction, then that’s the balance in and of itself. So, if you get a little too rowdy, I don’t know—there’s something peaceful about chaos sometimes.

Boom. That’s a pull quote, as we say in the biz. I feel like you’d make a good politician. Have you ever thought about politics?
I have not ever thought about practicing politics.

JOHN GARDNER BONELESS GAP HEIKKILA DZClear-skies frontside boneless—PMA goes a long way     Photo: Heikkila

Do you pay any amount of attention to the nation’s politics?
I do as best I can without letting it consume me.

It’s a pretty intense climate out there right now. The country is very divided; it needs balance. In what way do you think that our nation’s current politics affects skateboarding?
That’s a fucking great question. I would say any sort of person who’s in that leadership position in our nation makes me want to step up in my way of leadership if they are lacking in whatever way they’re lacking. So, in the form of politics maybe, it affects me because everybody around me is affected by their decisions, so it makes me want to be as solid as I can be so that the people around me are affected by my decisions in the best way, if that makes any sense.

John Gardner pullquote The best way that I can describe any sort of negative energy is, it's like passing clouds in the sky
That’s fine. I nominate you for president 2024. It’s time we get a skateboarder in the White House. Does the negative energy spewing on the news ever fuck with you?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, the best way that I can describe any sort of negative energy is, they’re like passing clouds in the sky. You know, I’m the blue sky, the way I see it, and the negative energy, the negative emotions, they’re like clouds. So, they are dark sometimes and sometimes they cover the blue sky and they look like they’re there for the whole day. They look like they’ll never go away but they always, always pass.

See, that could be a campaign slogan right there: The dark times will pass like clouds with Gardner as president. We would get campaign donations coming in from skateboarders all over the country! Who would you pick as a running mate for President of these United States?
Wow. What a heavy question. Does it have to be a skateboarder or can it be anybody?

John Gardner Hippie Jump Photo Rhino DZHippie jump at the spot where Milazzo snapped his wing. Danger abounds     Photo: Rhino

It can be anybody, but I got a couple in mind already.
Living or dead?

Living, of course. I’m serious about this.
Alright, give me a hot minute to think.

Okay, let’s just put Fred Gall in as your running mate.
Okay, me and Freddy G.

JohnGardner COLOR blabacphoto DSC 0545 DZWhite-House material     Photo: Blabac

I’m like your campaign manager right now. I nominate Fred Gall as your running mate: Gardner/Gall 2024. Speaking of Freddy G, you guys were just on a mission to the Southeast, right?
Yeah, we were. We were down in Miami together.

What was the objective there?
An OJ’s skate trip and we were able to get Freddy down there to skate with us. It was so fucking rad.

What was one of your favorite highlights or spots on the trip?
Well, Freddy wasn’t with us when we skated this spot, but he would have loved it—it was called the orange peel. It’s amazing, super fun. It’s a sculpture with like a little curve and you’ve got to ollie up. People do tricks to fakie. There’s a bunch of different sculptures all throughout the spot. It’s really fun.

What three elements make the ultimate John Gardener/Freddy Gall skate spot?
Number one: it has to be in New Jersey. Number two: it’s most likely a backyard pool that you can spend the whole day at with all of your friends and be as loud as you want. And number three: it’s got to have some element that makes it weathered, so not everybody wants to skate it. But the people who do want to skate it really want to skate it.

Gardenr PoleJamLip SD blabacphoto DSC 9187 BLABACJam up to lip on a certifiably weathered Jersey barrier     Photo: Blabac

So undesirable and in Jersey?
Undesirable, yeah.

I like that a lot, man—you being good friends with Fred. Have you ever experienced one of his code blues?
What do you mean by code blue?

Well, word on the street is on certain occasions he yells, “Code blue!” and just gets naked wherever he’s at. I haven’t witnessed it; I’ve just heard stories.
The closest I’ve come to a code blue is in 2011. My parents had this house that they were tearing down. There was a pool in the backyard, so we had Freddy over quite a bit and this was when he was drinking so he was a little bit more unpredictable. So the house was being torn down so anything in there was open for destruction. One day Freddy just decided to whip it out and pee on the rug in the living room.

That sounds more like a code yellow.
It was definitely a code yellow.

JOHN GARDNER HALFPIPE MELON HEIKKILA DZ Gardner digs up an organic U and gets lien in the green     Photo: Heikkila

Do you ever partake in any therapeutic smashing to blow off steam?
Ceremonious destruction? Yeah, for sure. That same house—we had a three-month bender of destruction. It was really cool and my mom and dad were in on it, too.

Family therapy maybe?
A family affair of destruction.

On the other side of the sword here, seems like there’s a lot of spiritual awakenings in skateboarding recently. I don’t know if it has to do with COVID or just current events, but more and more folks are getting woke to their spiritual side, especially at Creature. You’re kind of the shaman behind this. Do you think taking LSD has anything to do with it?
For me, personally, no. Forced introspection can be an avenue for spiritual awakening. Forced introspection could be like, through discomfort you’re forced to find comfort. You’re forced to get through it no matter what. So I would say that for a lot of people, especially skateboarders because we are no strangers to discomfort—forced introspection through discomfort really brings evolution within.

John Gardner pullquote I think there's a beautiful time and place for medicinal psychedelics
What about this whole microdosing thing that Ryan Reyes is on? Do you have any knowledge about that stuff?
I think there’s a beautiful time and place for medicinal psychedelics. There’s a wave that’s emerging for assisted-psychedelic therapy. I think it’s beautiful. Me, personally, it has helped me in a variety of ways, but what helps me the most is a daily breathing practice and a daily meditation practice. I think that coupled with assisted medical psychedelic therapy can be very beautiful.

Like that ayahuasca shit I see on TV?
I’m not really into that.

JOHN GARDNER FS INVERT OYSTER BAY 07.29.20 Elias PariseTakin' a trip on the lip, frontside invert     Photo: Parise

There’s a lot of vomit and TV cameras going on there. I don’t see how that’s helpful at all.
A lot of people are really hyped up on the ayahuasca train. But me, personally, it doesn’t attract me.

How cautious have you been with COVID regulations during your recent travels?
I try and keep a tight ship. I get tested before I go and when I come back. I wear a mask when I need to, so as safe as I can be while not restricting what needs to be done to live life.

Have you been personally affected by COVID in any way?
I got COVID really bad In December.

Really? That’s terrible, man.
Yeah, it was a series of unfortunate events, but obviously I’m still here. I’m good. It got a little scary because I had every symptom under the sun—it was hard to breathe, I was getting vertigo, my brain felt like it was kind of scrambled, I lost my sense of smell and taste, had chills every night, my body felt super weak. It was weird because I’m a pretty healthy dude, at least in my eyes, so getting that sick was a trip.

That sucks, man. Maybe six months ago, I didn’t know one person who had tested positive. Now I know a handful of people who got it. It’s good you’re open to talking about it because the pandemic is still going on.
It’s a very real thing. I think if people take the safety precautions that they can and are mindful of their actions then it’ll be good. I think we’re slowly pulling out of it, too.

JohnGardner 5050 handstand LongBeach blabacphoto DSC 5574 DZMadars-influenced caveman 50-50 to handstand     Photo: Blabac

Yeah, let’s get to skating, man. Let’s talk about this handstand. How the fuck does that even happen?
We were fucking around at this rail spot and I was trying caveman 50-50 coffin, and then I wanted to try caveman 50-50 handstand. My uncle, who’s really good at handstands, had always talked about doing a handrail on his hands. So I gave a few a shot and it was actually pretty easy to get up in it. It was a shotgun rail so your trucks didn’t move so I was able to get up. The scary part was just getting back down.

I haven’t seen anything like that since Madars did that handstand 50-50 on that long-ass ledge.
Madars was my inspiration for that.

For sure, but you’re on a rail. Did it get ugly?
Once. I flipped over to the other side but I was able to get out of it.

JohnGardner AZ blabacphoto DSC 2525 DZFlipping eggs in AZ, the Creach team serves breakfast all day      Photo: Blabac

That’s fucked. You got this eggplant on this fixed-wall spot in AZ. I like that. I’ve seen your frontside inverts. How long have you had eggs in your bag?
I learned eggplants in like 2011 at Chelsea Pier. They’re hard. They come and go for me.

You got a good one, man.
Thank you.

You should keep cooking them. What’s your beef with Long Beach? We got people there, dude. Let’s just fucking squash this shit right now.
I’ll preface this by saying I love Long Beach but I personally don’t love living there. I’m a naturalist and living in Long Beach—it’s kind of an industrial place. I feel that in the air. I want to be closer to nature. I think I would enjoy visiting Long Beach more than I’d enjoy living there.

John Gardner fsAir Orlando Heikkila 2000pxFrontside air on some sacred Orlando transition      Photo: Heikkila

Even though you’re not feeling Long Beach, there’s gotta be a spot there that still calls your name.
There’s a secret spot that’s probably not so secret but it feels secret and sacred, which is Care Park. It’s a small little patch of green in this small neighborhood close to Cherry Park. I would go there in the mornings when I lived close by and just listen to birds. It was cool.

Nice. Tweet, tweet. That’s soothing. Our boy Al’s up in there.
Love me some Al time. Al and I have spent some time together in Long Beach and every time we have it’s been really groovy.

Describe to me one of your favorite Al moments.
One of my favorite Al moments was the first time I walked into his newly-created tiny apartment and saw how advanced his craftsmanship is. He’s so good at what he does and it’s always so subtle.

JohnGardner Sw5050Wallie blabacphoto DSC 6799 BLABACNeedle-threading switch ride on, John does detailed work of his own     Photo: Blabac

He’s incredibly detailed with his work. And, by the way, today marks Al’s 49th birthday. Happy birthday, you fucking animal.
Happy fucking birthday, Al. Holy shit!

More Creature talk, man. We got some new ones on the team, dude. It’s ever-evolving and no one even knows what’s waiting in the clip. Right now, outside my door, we got John Worthington who just recently made it official with Creach. Give me some more of the other new names.
Mathias Torres, Joe Milazzo, Jhancarlos Gonzalez.

How are you getting along with the new squad?
They’re really sweet people. I really like everybody in the van—epic skateboarders.

John Gardner longass FSboard HeikkilaThis ain't no stall. Gardner goes sliding on the rock 'n' roll     Photo: Heikkila

Explain to people just how good J-Worth is. What’s your favorite thing about him?
He can skate anything. But not only can he skate everything, he can skate everything with control and ease. It seems like he’s comfortable on his board; he’s not forcing it.

He flattens out the kinks in the gnarliest pools. And at the same time, even though he annihilates these pools, his skateboarding is much more than that. He just happens to shine incredibly hard there. And, you know, coming from the Creature camp, we love those pits.
There are people who, when you meet them, you can tell they’re good people, and he’s one of those people.

John Gardner generatorride Miami Heikkila 2000pxPhoto: Heikkila

Yeah, absolutely. Coming from a managerial standpoint, who would you like to see turn pro for Creature next? It can be anyone.
Lefty, 100 percent.

Solid. I’d back that. If you could put someone random on the team right now, outta left-field, who would it be? Who would you like to see put in the van?
Fred Gall.

As your campaign manager I’m obviously on board with that. It’s a pleasure talking with you, John. Having you in the van, even when I’m not in there, gives me confidence that Creature will be alright.
Thank you, Sam.

John Gardner pullquote Just know that you're not alone and there are people out there who love you
It’s all about balance, man. We bring that darkness and we shine with the brightest, so thank you. Anything else you’d like to say?
Yeah, to anybody out there who may be struggling with life, with stress, with anything that life throws at you, just know that you’re not alone and there are people out there who love you and there are tools that you can use in your time of stress to break through those choppy clouds. Use your breathing and use your resources that surround you through your friends and your family and you’ll get through.

John Gardner BSAir Transfer HeikkilaFrom the shadow into the light, John jumps a backside air in perfect harmony with his surroundings     Photo: Heikkila
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