Marc Johnson's "From SOTY to Hell and Back" Interview
Despite his unassailable grace and precision on the board, and fearless fun and whimsy off, Marc Johnson has always cast a dark shadow. Beneath the poise and Tilt Mode pillow fights, hints of a troubled genius, manic virtuoso, elegant mess. Fully Flared earned him SOTY, but his public breakup with the Crail camp (timed with big-shoe-jackpot redemption) left many with mixed feelings. About time. Good for him. But damn it, hard to see your heroes squabbling like that. It’s been 13 years since he held the little rusty man in shorts aloft. “The only award that matters.” Those were his words. So what’s up? A new company? A precious clip or two? An epic comeback? Or a never left? This is where we pick up The Marc Johnson Story.
You won SOTY in 2007. Can you believe it’s been 13 years?
No, man, it feels like two years ago. Time just goes by so fast now. It’s freaky.
Eighteen hundred bucks and a Harley? What a time to be a SOTY. December, 2007 Photo: Burnett
Leading up to it, you had been on a four-year intensive training boot camp mission to film for Fully Flared. Take us back to that time. What was that experience like?
So it started in 2003. It started the way that other videos start—it was just really relaxed, mellow and normal kind of like how videos were back then. Then it was like, I’m not gonna say pressure at first, but there were just little things that you would notice, like the conditions and the environment got more and more intense. And then you would kinda notice that there would be infighting. It just got to be where certain people were not talking or not dealing with other people. There are people who literally dropped out, like Danny Garcia. I think Danny got a taste of it when it got intense and he just fucking left. And I fucking respect him for that. He was just like, I’m not into this. Goodbye.
Seeing red or teetering on the brink? SOTY cover, May 2008 Photo: Reda
Well, to put it in historical context, this is coming off of a really insane time in skate-video history. You’d had those Transworld videos, you had the Zero and the Flip sagas. This was the era of lighting it up at night. And then you guys were working with Ty who kind of pioneered this whole thing of intensity. What was it like working with him?
Working with Ty on Modus Operandi was phenomenal. It was great. I’d go down to Hollywood and stay with him and we’d just go skate and it was super fun. Then working with him a little bit on Yeah Right!, because I came in at the very end of that video. So getting to kinda hang with those guys while they were working on that, even before I skated for Chocolate, that was fun. ’Cause I already had a relationship with Ty. He was one of my dudes anyways. So we did Hot Chocolate and that was cool. It was just a month on the road and that was easy and fun. Then for Fully Flared, it started out normal and we had already been lighting shit up—we had been lighting shit up since Modus Operandi with Greg and Ty. Everything started out normal enough and really mellow, at some point the vibe changed and I’m not privy to that information. I’m not privy to why it changed but everybody noticed that there was a lot of pressure and it was almost like an unspoken pressure and a lot of people were just unhappy. You could tell. A lot of people were unhappy and a lot of people were not enjoying what they were doing. But we were all together and we were working on this project, so we just fuckin’ did it anyways.
We could only fit a fraction of the ground Marc covered when we went to print. So for the real fans who prefer to hear it straight from the skater's mouth, we've decided to release the entire raw tape of our two-hour interview. Like any demo not inteded for production, it's a little dirty and a little loose, but it's got quite a few gems hidden throughout. Listen up and enjoy.
There’s a long history of unpleasant hard work resulting in spectacular projects.
Yeah, and I think eventually they kinda figured out a formula. Like, to get what we want and what we know these guys are capable of, we have to get these guys all together and we have to facilitate it, you know? This is what I eventually realized about Ty—I feel like a lot of people kind of put him in the crosshairs. A lot of things were sort of dumped on him and he was put in the crosshairs for how gnarly it got. But I honestly believe that it’s not because of him that it got gnarly. I’m pretty sure that something happened behind the scenes that kind of broke his heart and he just said, Fuck it. I’m gonna make Apocalypse Now. You’d have to talk to him about that. I’m not trying to air anybody’s laundry, but something changed with him and I don’t know what it is. I have an idea of what it is and I think something broke his heart and then he just was like Colonel Kurtz, like, I do not give a fuck, let’s go. So the formula, if I remember correctly, was let’s go on the road, let’s go to this foreign country, we’re gonna set up camp in these apartments or Motel 6s or whatever and we’re just gonna get up in the morning and we’re gonna go skate. And we’re not gonna stop until every single person on the team is absolutely fuckin’ done. If one person wants one trick at any fuckin’ spot, we’re going to stay out all night. Nobody can go back to the hotel. Uber didn’t exist back then. We were out until 5, 6, 7, 8 am sometimes because one person wanted a trick at a spot. That was the formula. I realized after the fact that all Ty was doing was giving us the opportunity over and over and over. All he did was give us the opportunity to realize our true potential.
What was an intense high of that experience and what was an intense low?
An intense high would be working on a trick for a long time and getting it. ’Cause a lot of that stuff wasn’t planned. We would go to strange cities that we had never been to and we’d just go to spots we had never been to and we had to figure out those spots while we were there ’cause we weren’t coming back. So if you went to a strange city that you’d never been to and you went to a really cool spot and you’re just skating it, you’re looking at it and you’re like, I think on this spot I could maybe do this trick, and you gotta start trying it and figure it out and land it. Because you’re not coming back. So there was that trick, I think it was in Atlanta on the roof of that parking structure with the weird tin ledge with the angle iron in the middle. I did a switch noseblunt slide to backside noseblunt over the angle iron. Again, rolling away from that was just like, Oh my God, dude—’cause it was very, very hard to do. That trick was really, really hard to do for some odd reason. All this weird shit kept happening. So rolling away from that just felt so good.
"Oh my God, Dude." Marc rolls away from his very, very hard ender in Fully Flared Sequence: Reda
That was summer 2007, so the intense period of that video had been going on for years at this point. I remember rolling away from that trick and I went to the wall at the very end of the parking lot and I got on my hands and knees and I put my head into the wall. It was just like endorphins and gratitude and relief and all that stuff. And that particular feeling was amazing. That was such a good feeling. So it was moments like that—and there were plenty of them. Because that was the era where every consecutive video part you put out had to be better than your last one. So, for Fully Flared I had to go out and do a shitload of new tricks. So there were tons of those highs, man, and it kept me and Guy Mariano going—just the constant need to get something that day. Like, We have to get something today so we can keep going. Little by little I think some people who weren’t feeling that, maybe they weren’t on that same extremely obsessive, addictive fuckin’ thing that Guy and I were on. I think a lot of people maybe lost interest in the video or filming for it or something. I’m not sure, but that shit, the obsessive compulsive need to always get a new trick, that kept us going ’til the very end. Here’s one of the lows—there were plenty of lows during that time, too, because that’s when I was drinking a lot. So even though we were filming and I was getting a lot of footage, I was also drinking a lot at that time, which made my personal interactions during that time extremely turbulent. My relationship with Ty became extremely turbulent, my relationship with Kelly Bird completely fell apart, I got in a fight with Cairo Foster in Russia, and this is just these guys calling me out. Eric called me out in Arizona on a trip. Like, Koston just called me out, ’cause I was just wilding out. And Kelly Bird called me out because I was being extremely irresponsible. So in my mind I justified my behavior with, Hey, I’m getting clips. If I’m getting clips what’s the problem? I was just too fucking young, selfish and ignorant to realize that my behavior was actually affecting other people in a negative way. I couldn’t see it at the time. It’s just a combination of being young and not having the skillsets to cope with the pressure. I had no tools in my bag to cope with the type of pressure that we eventually ended up under. Young skateboarders generally don’t have a lot of coping skills. Dudes would either bail out, they’d either not go on trips at all, they would leave early or if people stayed on the trips they were coping with the environment and coping with the vibe in various ways. And the way that I used to cope with it is I would just stay on a steady buzz.
Just a SOTY and his sweater. Texas. January, 2008 Photo: Reda
I remember specifically one of the low lows. I’ll tell you two of them. So we rented these apartments. It might have been our first or second trip to Spain in 2004 or 2005. We had two or three apartments in Barcelona. It was me, Biebel, Brad Staba, Jesus Fernandez and I know Tony Cox was visiting a lot because he lived out there at the time. But there was a night where we were drinking and we had a skate magazine and this is when they were fucking huge, like 250 pages. So Staba lit the magazine on fire in our apartment. He lit the fuckin’ magazine on fire and I’m sitting in a chair, I’m drunk, I think Brad had ripped my shirt off. There was just shreds left on me. I had shreds of a t-shirt on, I’ve got a black eye from burning a wine cork and wiping it on my eye and Staba hands me a burning magazine and somebody shoots a photo of it. Somebody shoots a photo of me, in our apartment holding a burning magazine. So in the morning—mind you Staba lit the fuckin’ thing on fire and basically threw it on me. So in the morning there’s burnt magazine ashes fuckin’ everywhere. Like, we just put it on the tile floor and let the thing burn. So in the morning Kelly Bird comes to our apartment. Somebody had gone over to their apartment to show him the photo of me holding a burning magazine. He comes over to our apartment and sees the rubble from the destruction—there are wine bottles everywhere, burnt-magazine pages, we might have lit a bunch of other magazines on fire. I can’t remember. So there’s just shit all over the apartment and the company is paying for it, right? So Bird just starts going off on me. He’s like, “I saw that photo. You’re fuckin’ burning magazines in here?” I was like, “Bird, that was not me. Staba lit the fuckin’ thing and threw it at me.” And he didn’t want to hear it. He just was coming after me. So then I go over to their apartment and of course I’m a little drunk. I go over to their apartment and tried to fight Kelly. Just so stupid. I didn’t fight him but I was like, “Let’s go outside right now,” that kind of dumb shit. They calmed me down and Kelly and I went outside and he basically sat me down and he goes, “Look, dude, we’re really worried about you. We don’t want anything bad to happen to you.” He sat me down and had a serious talk with me and it was the first time anyone had ever done that in my whole life. He explained why they were worried about me. I think I was 25 or 26 at this point and he said, “Look, dude, what you’re doing right now can easily result in death. Easily. We’ve seen it before. You’re on that trajectory right now. We’re watching you on this trajectory. We’re just worried about you, dude. You are fucking out of control.” It was weird, man. No one had ever spoken to me like that or no one had ever given a shit about me like that. So that was a fucking low. That was a low point in my whole life. Then a year and a half later we went to Russia on a trip. I don’t think we did any demos. I think it was a filming trip. It was me, JB, Cairo, Carroll, Rick, Ty and I can’t remember who else. You were there. You remember that fuckin’ trip, right?
Moscow meltdown, 2005 Photo: Burnett
Dude, oh my God. So I’m gonna say this for the magazine. This shit happened. This is crazy. So remember we had the Russian driver, we had the tour guide guy and his girlfriend? So the girlfriend, her father worked at the American embassy. So let’s say that we’re about to fly to St. Petersburg and before we hop in the van to drive to the airport I thought it would be a great idea to get a bottle of vodka and drink it on the way to the airport. Now mind you I wasn’t a vodka drinker at this point. I didn’t drink vodka. Vodka was gnarly, but you can buy it at every newsstand on the street in Russia so I bought a bottle of vodka and I just started sipping it on the way to the airport. And, dude, by the time I got to the airport they said I tore a payphone off the wall and they had to walk me through security and all this weird shit and I couldn’t stand up anymore. I think when we got to St. Petersburg the cops were waiting for me and they threw me in jail. Do you remember that?
They threw me in jail. I have no recollection of that. I was completely blacked out. I had no recollection of being in the airport, of being on the plane, of getting pulled off the plane in St. Petersburg or going to jail—absolutely no recollection of that. So they told me that I went to jail, Russian jail, and then the tour guide’s girlfriend called her dad at the embassy, they threatened somebody or paid somebody off and they got me out of jail. They got me to the hotel and I woke up the next morning there. That’s what I remember—waking up in the hotel. And I guess I had gotten in a fight with Cairo Foster. So I wake up and I don’t know where I am. I woke up in a room alone. I didn’t know how I got there. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know that I had been to jail. I had no fuckin’ recollection. So I go downstairs, I buy orange juice—I’m thirsty as fuck. I’m so fucked. It’s so disgusting. And then Bird comes to my room and goes, “Pack your bags. You’re going home.” I was like, “What?” He’s like, “We got you a ticket. You’re going home right now.” So I packed my bags, they took me to the airport and I flew home. And I’m telling you, Mike, I was fucking horrified. When they told me what happened I was so embarrassed and horrified. I can’t even tell you how bad I felt. I felt so bad. Like, I got in a fight with Cairo Foster? I love that dude. I think he called me out and I think I said something to him. I don’t even remember. I was blacked out, but when they filled me in and told me everything that had happened I was so horrified. It was so terrible, just sitting on the plane the whole ride home with a head full of, You just did this. This is what you just did. That’s another low point of my entire life and that’s a low point of that video experience. When I think back about that time it’s like I don’t even know that person. None of it even makes sense. It’s like a bad dream. It’s very, very strange. And the reason I’m so open and candid about that stuff is because I would hope that if even one person reading this interview, I hope that one person will maybe choose something different if they’re going through something crazy or maybe they’re already on that trajectory. I would hope that those stories could maybe help even just one person to make better choices. Because it took a long time for me to fuckin’ open my eyes and make a better choice for myself.
Marc throws a heelflip in Russia before getting sent home Photo: Burnett
Not to glamorize it, but I always wondered—I’m pretty sure you were blacked out and still doing manual tricks. At what point do you lose balance? I don’t mean to make light of it. I was just like, Whoa, he’s hammered and he’s doing manual tricks.
At that weird museum spot with the gap to manual I was pretty toasty. I remember that. Yeah, I was pretty toasty. Jesus fucking Christ. Just in it, dude. Just in it at that period of my life. Oh God. I’m just so embarrassed by that period of my life.
The manuals are the last to go. Toasted perfection, 2005 Photo: Burnett
So what was your relationship like with Guy diving back into this project? I have to imagine that he was somewhat of a childhood hero of yours, right?
Oh, absolutely. From Video Days to the friends section in Virtual Reality to Mouse. Like, dude, seriously? Oh my God. So after Mouse he dipped out. He broke out of skating for a while and popped back up I think in 2005 and I think he started going on trips in late 2005, early 2006. So yeah, I think we bonded pretty quickly kinda over some shared experiences and we were the same age and we had all kinds of ideas for new tricks. That dude was a soldier. He is a soldier. So you get two really, really obsessive skateboarders together and they’re just gonna fuckin’ go to a spot and just work the shit out of it. So many times we’d go to spots—and it just happened trip after trip after trip and it would be me and Guy, last men standing.
How does that affect you? Does it give you more energy to look over and know you have a friend struggling with you?
Absolutely. It’s like you’ve got somebody in your corner. You’re in someone’s corner, you’ve got somebody in your corner and it’s not like you’re the only one holding the whole fucking team up from going to bed at a decent hour.
’Cause that was the pressure. As long as you’re trying a trick, you’re keeping Biebel awake.
Dude, I caused Guy to miss a flight one time ’cause I was trying a trick for so long. We were all stuck at the school. We were in a van, stuck in this school in North Carolina and I’m trying a trick and Ty’s like, “Dude, he’s gonna land this. You can catch a later flight.” I’m not kidding you. So there were plenty of those times when it’s last man standing and everyone’s just exhausted and over it and tired and done. I’d be trying a trick and everybody’s sitting around. It sucks when you’re lighting up a spot, it’s three in the morning, you’re trying a trick, you’re trying your hardest to get it so you can all go back to the hotel and get some sleep and you’re looking around at everybody and you know that they’re bummed. And then Ty is just like, “Fuck that, Marc. Do that shit!” Ty’s just like, “Fuck everybody sitting down right now. Fuck ’em. Do this trick.” So skating with Guy, he would be right there. A lot of times Guy would be the last man standing trying some crazy trick at three in the morning. It’s like the old saying, if you want something different, you have to do something different. If you want something more in life you have to do more in life. So that’s exactly what Ty was doing. He wanted more so we had to do more. It’s like, hey, if you want this video to be phenomenal you have to go outside of your comfort zone and reach for something that you’ve never tried to reach for. And that’s what we did.
Probably a better distraction than a dozen donuts Photo: Burnett
Aaron Meza said he remembers you eating the most gigantic meals in one sitting because you were probably burning 20,000 calories a day. Even now you’re a wiry fella, but what was going on physically with you at the time? I don’t know, dude. We’d go to a restaurant and I would just open a menu and it would be like, “Sick, I’m gonna get a chicken sandwich and I’m gonna get blueberry banana pancakes.” I’d be like,That looks good, that looks good and that looks good. I’m ordering all of it. Dude, we were on a trip to Florida one year and I ate almost a dozen doughnuts at a spot. There was a Krispy Kreme walking distance from the spot, so I walked over there and I got 12 blueberry doughnuts and a coffee and fuckin’ just started eating them. I don’t know, man, maybe it’s just like rocket fuel or something. But all the beer during the day and the red wine at night, it was just consumption, dude. That’s what it was. So much consumption, like compulsive consumption. Just stuff as much shit into my body to distract myself from how I feel. I think I was just compulsively dumping shit in my body to avoid feeling anything at the time.
What were you trying to get away from? Was it your childhood?
Fuck, I don’t know, dude. I don’t know. Because none of that shit started until we were filming Fully Flared. I always drank before then but I didn’t drink compulsively. I didn’t eat compulsively. I didn’t really have an addictive personality or a compulsive nature until that video and then I just became a very compulsive person.
Most really good skaters have some compulsive tendencies because that’s what it takes to get that good.
Yeah, I think when I was younger I would compulsively work on tricks. I would rarely start working on a trick and just stop. Rarely. So I think I just pointed that obsessive compulsive nature in my early years at skating. When you do that, you’re generally rewarded for that kind of behavior. And then you grow out of that and that’s when you start pointing that obsessive compulsive behavior at destructive things and, dude, it’s not very long ’til your life will fall apart. But I didn’t start drinking heavily at all. I was just a social drinker, super mellow, until we were maybe a year into filming Fully Flared. And I don’t know why. Maybe it was the inability to cope with how I felt at the time or maybe it was the pressure.
Flared out 270 big flip at Winona. Denver, 2007 Sequence: Reda
Well, you’d gone from North Carolina to now you’re on the team with the fuckin’ Plan B guys. Even though you eased into it, that’s gotta freak anyone out.
Oh man, dude. Here’s a weird one—oddly enough, isn’t it strange that without trying at all I ended up working with every single person who I looked up to as a child? You know, Steve Rocco, Rodney Mullen, kinda in the World Industries camp, Daewon Song, Kareem Campbell, Shiloh Greathouse, that squad. And then it was like all the Plan B and Blind guys—Rudy, Guy, Spike Jonze. It’s just fuckin’ weird. And I didn’t maneuver that way. Everything was happenstance. So one of the weird surreal things that happened a lot is we would all meet up at a spot. It would be like Jason Dill, Gino, Carroll, Rick, Guy, Rudy and it was just like taking a trip to 1993. That happened a few times where I’d look around and I’d be like, Oh my God, I’m in the middle of a 101 video here. I’m in the middle of Virtual Reality. It’s very interesting how that happened.
So while you’re making this video, did you have any conversations with Ty about your part? Was that part of the experience?
Never. No. I never checked in. I was so checked out that I never checked in. I didn’t know shit about shit. I gave Ty three songs, I was like, “Oh, these three songs right now are sick, any one of these three I really like.”
Had you seen it before the premiere?
No. Hell no.
So you showed up and it’s the three-song last part.
Oh my God, talk about being able to deal with that. That was really overwhelming. Hell no, Ty wasn’t gonna let anybody see the video before the premiere.
Was there a point where you were like, I’m good. I’m done, or were you just dying until the finish line?
I wanna say the deadline to stop filming was probably mid-October. I was done in August 2007 after our last US trip. So in the summer of 2007, we went to Europe for a month and then we went on the road for a month. And that trip, that US trip in the summer of 2007, when I got home from that I was fucking done. I was done, done, done. And, dude, I didn’t touch a skateboard again—at all. I did not touch a skateboard again until January or February 2008 when I had to go to Texas to shoot the interview for the magazine. I’m telling you, I did not touch a skateboard. So when we landed in Texas to do that trip, to shoot a bunch of photos, I could barely skate. I mean, talk about a lackluster showing in that issue, my God.
Taking the front board to a fakie nosegrind on the victory lap Sequence: Reda
C’mon, you were in the victory round. So when you came off of four years of these crazy trips and these month-long all nighters, what did you do? How did you deal with being done?
You know, because I would spend so long being checked out—and when I was home it was like a steady check out—it wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t getting wild or anything but I just checked out. I would say that I was decompressing. If anybody said anything to me I’d be like, “That’s all I’m doing, I’m just decompressing.” And I would just hang out by myself, glass of red wine and I would just do my thing and I didn’t want to see anybody. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I just wanted to check out of the whole world and I did that. After that video I did that until almost the end of 2009. So almost two years, I checked out for almost two years. I was popping up here and there but by that time the drinking, it had its hooks in me physically and that kind of lifestyle had just become habitual. I had been doing it for so long that it almost became engrained in me and I didn’t like how I felt when I wasn’t drinking so I kinda just kept a steady buzz. I kept a steady buzz for the next year and a half. And I don’t know where the madness went. I don’t know what I pointed it at.
What did it mean to you to get the Skater of the Year award?
Oh, dude, holy shit. It was kind of incomprehensible. ’Cause you know, if it’s happening to you it’s not the same as looking at one of your friends who gets it. If it happens to you it’s almost not real. It’s just kind of like, Wait a minute. What the fuck? There’s only been 17 of these in history. ’Cause I think I was after 17. I think I was number 18. So it’s like, Oh my God, there’s only been 17 other human beings in history who have ever gotten this award. So it was very surreal and kind of overwhelming. I didn’t really know how to process it. And of course at the time I was the kind of person who felt like they didn’t deserve it. I used to do that with everything—oh no, I don’t deserve that. If it’s something good, I don’t deserve anything good. Just put me in a van and take me to a spot so I can work.
Maybe that trophy's safer kept with Reda Photo: Reda
Were the seeds of your eventual breakup with the Crail camp sowed during the process of making this video or was it something else?
No, actually. Not at all. That was 2007 when that video came out. That happened in the summer of 2013. That’s when I decided that I no longer wanted anything to do with those people.
You had a time where you gave it so much effort and it was with this group of people and now those people aren’t in your life anymore. That’s gotta hurt a little bit, right?
No, it actually doesn’t. It did ’cause I was there for 14 years. Fourteen years is a long fucking time to be around the same people over and over. At the time, it’s almost like half a lifetime. So for 14 years that’s all you know. That’s your world. But I think I had seen so much shit by the time that I had made up my mind that I was just done. I’d seen so much shit and I was so disgusted that I just didn’t care anymore. This is the saddest part, and this happened to a lot of us—by the time some people thought that it was okay to take a shit on the people who had built those companies, a bunch of us, we felt like we were too old. We felt like we were stuck. And I talked to a number of people who confirmed this. They’re like, “Yeah, man, when you’re 38 years old you’re thinking, Oh, I’m too old. Nobody’s gonna want me. Nobody’s gonna want a 38-year-old skater on their team so we’re fuckin’ stuck." That’s how a bunch of us felt, like, We’re too old now. Nobody wants us. We’re stuck here. I certainly felt like that. So there’s literally a space of three years where I just was like, Fuck, I’m stuck. Seriously, that phrase keeps echoing in my head: Nobody’s gonna want me. I’m too old. And, dude, for those three years, that’s a fucking horrible feeling. Just seriously having no concept of your value, no sense of self-worth, no concept of anything, just thinking that that’s it—you’re old. Nobody wants you. Nobody cares anymore. That happened to a bunch of us and it was fuckin’ sad. Eventually I realized that’s not even remotely true. We do have value.
That’s a pretty consistent feeling in all of skateboarding at every level—that paranoia of being too old.
’Cause skateboarding is an activity that worships youth. It’s obsessive compulsive modernity. It’s always like, Who’s the new kid? What’s the new thing? If you’ve been around it for a long time, like a crop of new kids come up and they’re fucking killing it and of course skateboarding is gonna like take its lens and move it over to these guys. So you’re just like, Ah, fuck, you know? I remember thinking one day like, Dude, you had a solid 20-year run. Nobody cares about you anymore. Some people get only get a solid two-year run.
Progression and youth was the story for so long, it’s hard to shake that.
Yeah, man. There’s a group of us like Guy, Eric, myself, Gino, Daewon, of course. There’s a group of us who I feel like we all work really hard. We worked past tense and we still work really hard, but for whatever reason we have been extremely blessed to continue to matter to people. How many people came and went in the ’90s? How many people came and went, just like this guy pops up in a Wheels of Fortune in 411 and a year later nobody knows where he is? Or this guy is in this magazine or this guy gets an interview and three years later nobody knows where he is. It’s like, yeah, it’s the fickle finger of fate. Who knows who makes the rules or why things are but us being under the microscope for 20 years straight is incredible. It’s fucking amazing.
How is your life different now than it was in 2007 when you got Skater of the Year?
Well, I’ll answer that question by saying this: for 20 years I got to be almost the exact same person and for 20 years I was rewarded for being exactly who I was—good and bad. So nothing happened in my life that required me to change drastically, didn’t require me to change my personality, fix my problems, work on myself or look at myself. I got to live in this thing for 20 years where I could be whatever I wanted, I could do whatever I wanted and I could completely ignore everything. I didn’t need to change. I didn’t need to make changes. Then in 2012 I lost my son in a court battle. My son’s mother took him away from me and we started this legal battle for two years. I had to pay for her lawyer, too. Eventually the judge made me pay for her lawyer, but, dude, two lawyers for two years—it took everything from me. And it completely broke me into a million pieces. And yeah, man, I feel like I kinda dipped out for a while. I wasn’t really skating anymore because when you’re going through some shit like that the last thing you give a fuck about is riding a skateboard. The last thing that I was inspired to do was ride a skateboard, so I imploded. I curled in on myself and just fucking imploded and all my hard work, everything I’d worked for was gone by 2014. It was just fucking gone. I lost a good relationship because of that. I had a dog. I lost my dog because of that. So by April or May of 2014 I literally had to start over. Like, I had to pick up the pieces and I had to really look at myself. Because what happened was during those two years—I didn’t get to see my son for six fucking years. But during those two years that we were going through the legal battle I had never been squeezed by life before. I just kinda had this, sort of like a skater ride through life. A 20-year skater ride through life. Just like, Oh, you gotta go on tour, you gotta go to this contest, you gotta film a video, you gotta go out with your friends, you gotta hang out with your friends, you gotta go to the bar. I got to do that for 20 years and then for the first time ever in my life I was fuckin’ squeezed, dude. I was fucking squeezed. And the interesting thing is when something finally squeezed me in life, I did not like what came out. Because I realized that what came out of me when I was squeezed is what was always inside of me that I never had to look at in those 20 years ’cause I could just go skate or go on a trip or get drunk or fuckin’ go do this or go do that. I never had to look at myself. And so after that court thing I did not know who I was anymore. I lost my kid, I didn’t know who I was, I lost everything that I worked so hard for and for the first time I just had to stop and look at the person I had become little by little. The person I ended up as. And I fuckin’ didn’t like myself at all. I didn’t like the way I reacted to all of this. I did not like the person that I had become. And going through a really, really serious fucking rough time, it was like a mirror was being held up to my face and I got to see the way that I reacted to all of this stress and the way that I completely destroyed my relationship with a very amazing woman at the time. I just fucking crumbled because nothing in my life had ever prepared me to go through two years of psycho legal shit. So starting then I had to just basically pick all of these pieces up and reconstruct a new person. I had to reconstruct a better person. And I have, I have been and that’s what’s different about my life. I started on this journey of looking at myself, working on myself and just becoming a much better person. And that shit doesn’t happen overnight. Little by little you uncover something and you clean it up and you uncover something else and clean it up. Little by little, years go by and you’re just like, Okay, I feel like I’m kinda starting to maybe understand life a little bit. So the last five or six years I’ve spent a lot of time—not to sound stupid, but reading a lot of spiritual books and philosophy and going to professionals and talking to people. Like I bumped into some mystics and some kabbalah healers. I studied kabbalah a little bit. I’ve just gone and met and worked with all these amazing people who have helped me kind of pull my head out of my ass. And one of the cool side effects of doing that is you stop taking shit off of people. I took shit off of so many people for so long because I was that guy who was just grateful to be at the party. No matter how successful I was, no matter how much whatever, no matter what, I always had this thing inside of me that was like, Dude, you’re lucky to even fucking be here. Shut the fuck up and try that trick for five hours. I went through my whole life like that. Then at some point I started to grow up and I started to look at things and be like, You know what? That’s actually not okay. Fuck you. At 39 years old I actually learned to stand up for myself and it gets better and better every day. I’ve learned how to stay the fuck out of bullshit, not participate in bullshit, treat people really well, have a relationship where I respect and I love and I listen to another person. You know, I care for another person. Whereas before I didn’t do that. I was always checked out. So yeah, little by little I just started to sort of grow up, become responsible and just take responsibility for my actions, my words and all of that stuff. And it only took 40 years.
Most would take five hours on a fakie bluntslide 270 and still not get it Sequence: Reda
Well, you’d be surprised at people who never figure it out.
Oh, I’m sure. You know what’s funny is I was talking to my son’s mother recently, maybe a year ago, and I thanked her. I thanked her because inadvertently she did some shit that just shattered me and if that wouldn’t have happened, who knows? I may have just continued to be the same selfish irresponsible checked-out son of a bitch.
Were you able to stop drinking?
Yeah. Oh, dude, I stopped drinking in 2009. I mean, I’ve had drinks here and there since then, but as far as it being a part of my life, 2009.
That’s great. Congrats on that.
Yeah, and the longer you do that you get used to life and that’s not a part of it. I don’t go to bars. I don’t hang out with anybody that drinks. There’s a saying that’s like, if you hang out in the barbershop long enough, you will get a haircut. So I stay the fuck out of the barbershop.
Staying out of the barbershop has its benefits Photo: Muller
It was a big deal when you got on adidas. What are you doing over there? I know people are excited to see what you’re up to and they just assume that it’s gonna come through that channel. But then you just started a board company, so now I don’t know what to expect.
Yeah, well with the board company, I wasn’t planning on starting a board company. The opportunity to start one came out of nowhere, literally. It just happened with a phone call maybe two years ago. I was on the phone with someone and there was an opportunity to start a board company and I was just like, “Alright.” I wasn’t doing anything board-wise. I was getting Krooked boards from Jim and then I was buying Polar boards. So I wasn’t doing anything in the board thing and I got a bunch of offers to start a brand under these different distributors. I talked to maybe seven distributors. They all hit me up to do a company. So it was like this distributor, this distributor—it kind of all happened right around the same time and I thought it was pretty strange. But with the exception of one, the deals that they put in front of you, the partnership agreements or whatever were fucking disgusting—shockingly bad. Like you’re gonna work your ass off, we’re gonna make the money. So I just was like, Nope, no. And if a distributor hit me up to do a brand I would background check them. I would call people and be like, “You went through there. What was it like? What are those people like? What’s the deal like?” So I said no to all of them except one and it wasn’t the right time for them so we didn’t do it. But yeah, the opportunity to do my own board brand, it came out of nowhere so randomly and I was just like, Yeah, alright. And we came up with a name and we’re just easing down the road. I don’t really worry about it.
Moving forward by looking back. Mind-melting Casper for our November 2012 cover Photo: Colen
Tell me about the name ’cause it seems like it’s a little tongue-in-cheek but then it also seems like an unsellable name in some ways.
I came up with all these different names ’cause I’m always doodling in a sketchbook or something. I’m always writing shit and doodling and collecting images out of magazines or off the Internet. I’ve just been doing that for so long that I had all these folders with all of this artwork that I had no intention of doing anything with. And I had been doing that for a long, long time. So when the opportunity to do my own board brand came up it was almost like I kinda turned around and I’m like, Oh my God, I’ve got a computer full of shit ready to go right now. It’s crazy. And I had written all these words and phrases in a sketchbook and I went back to that one and I was like, Huh, lemme look into this one, lemme look into this one, calling my trademark lawyer. With a lot of the names, somebody else already has that company making cupcakes or somebody else has that company making headbands or something like that so you can’t run with it. So one day in March or April of 2018 those two words popped into my head and they mean absolutely nothing. They literally mean nothing. So basically a skateboard company, it is a business and it is a company. And then there’s a difference between—instead of it being business and a company it’s business ampersand company because the word “and” means something completely different than the ampersand symbol. And the meaning of the ampersand is why I chose that instead of “and.” Anybody reading this can look that up and it’s a very interesting thing. So the craziest thing is when I thought of that name I wrote it down and I called the harshest critic in skateboarding to run it by him—Bobby Puleo. So I called Bob and I told him and he kind of mulled it over a bit and he really fucking liked it. I was just like, “Really?” ’Cause Bobby will tell you like it is. He doesn’t give a fuck, and Bobby liked it. I was like, “Oh my God, dude, okay,” and we talked about it a bunch and I was like, Okay, I like this. It means absolutely nothing and I like the fact that it means nothing. You know what’s funny is later on I realized that when I started skating my favorite company was World Industries. World Industries means absolutely nothing.
The World guys wore hats too Photo: Muller
So what do you want to do with it? Is it a fun art project? What’s your motivation here?
So I was told for a long time—these people who I work with, these spiritual advisors and I have an astrologer who I would call once a year to check in and there’s this lady in Ojai who I would see and get these four-hour card readings. So over the years I bumped into these people and talked to them and everybody told me, “You need to write more. You are going to make and sell something with your art and your writing.” Person after person, all these different people would tell me that. They would do these weird readings, like I would get tarot card readings, I would go see psychics and whatever. These people told me over and over, “You’re gonna make something, you’re gonna sell something, you need to write more and you need to do more art.” And I didn’t listen. I just kept doing my stupid shit, whatever the fuck I was doing at the time, which was not much. Then I started drawing more, messing around with the computer and writing a lot more and sure enough here we are. It’s like somebody unscrewed the cap on top of my head and I’m just dumping stuff out there. There’s no real marketing plan, it’s just whatever I feel like doing that day, I just do it.
So do you have a CFO? Is there somebody there or is it just you in a warehouse?
Gary Headlock. Dan Rogers. The headlock. Dan Rogers, dude, that’s my C everything O.
Okay, well he’s intense.
Yeah, I love it. He will tell you like it is and won’t hold back. I fucking love that.
Flying out of a nosegrind, MJ practices turning the corner before applying that lesson elsewhere Photo: Reda
Yeah, he’s fun. He’s only yelled at me twice this week. Let’s talk team ’cause some people might have an idea that they know who you are, who you like to spend time with, who your friends are maybe. They imagine a Puleo or a modern Puleo/Cox situation—a bunch of artsy guys sipping tea, doing watercolors or whatever when they’re not assaulting the streets. But you have Olympic hopeful Dashawn Jordan. Tell me about that pick.
He DMd me. He sent me a DM in November 2018. I had posted a photo of these samples, these two graphics that I had made up, and he sent me a DM and basically just said he really liked them. That was it. He was like, “Those boards are sick.” Then I didn’t hear from him again for like a year. Then a year later in 2019 I posted something and he sent me a DM and it was so easy and natural. He’s like, “Hey, dude, I love you graphics. Would you send me some boards? I’d love to check these out.” So I was like, “Of course I’ll send you some boards. What do you ride?” He’s skates an 8.25” and I was like, “Oh, man, we’ve got a great 8.25”. So I sent him like ten boards and he really liked the shape. He liked everything about the shape and all that stuff and then I just kept sending him boards.
And what’s he like as a person? Is he a guy you like to hit the streets with?
Dude, he’s a sweetheart. It’s crazy to get to know him and learn his backstory, ’cause he kind of had a bit of a rocky introduction to skateboarding, to the industry, I think, and he’s always been really quiet. He stays in his lane and he does his own thing. And I think there are some people who created some misunderstandings about him. And this is from talking to a bunch of people now. Somebody in particular created a bunch of misunderstandings about him and Dashawn never said anything about it, never bad mouthed, he just stayed in his lane and he just stayed on his grind. I got to know him and I was like, Oh my God, people like you still exist? Somebody that good and talented and he is just a nice person, just a genuinely nice person with a heart of gold. He’s not jaded, he’s not bitter, he’s not mean, he’s not a shithead, he’s not dishonest—he is a fucking great human being and he’s never had an outlet or an avenue to show that. I don’t think he’s had a full video part so nobody really knows anything about him and it’s fuckin’ amazing. We just went to go shoot that Murder Recruit thing and me asking him to do that I’m like, There’s no fucking way this dude’s gonna be into this. Then I told him the idea and he was fuckin’ over the moon. He was like, “I’m so down to do shit like that. I love that.” I was like, Really? Most people would be like, “No.” He’s like, “No, I love shit like that,” and I was like, “Oh my God, great ’cause we’re gonna be doing a lot of that.”
Yeah, I was gonna ask. The video started out on the creepy side. It seemed pretty risky to do in the get-offended social media world we’re in these days. What makes you wanna do weird stuff like that?
You know how that whole thing came about is if I get a rough idea for something, I write it down and I tape it to the wall. So I tape it to the wall where it’s up there and I can kinda reference it, I can look at it and think about it. And the more I thought about it the more I would add little notes and ideas to it and the concept just came to me broken up into pieces. And seriously, it was creepy at first. It wasn’t Juicy Couture velour sweatpants at first, it was a completely different idea and the more I started shaping it the more I was like, Oh my God, what if this shit is just fucked-up and creepy and then the reveal is just a freeze frame of his face but he’s wearing a wig? Cause I’m looking for a brunette and Dashawn has a shaved head. I brought this box of wigs and disguises and all this crazy shit to Griffith Park and I was literally like, “Dashawn, pick a wig,” and he picked that wig. And I was like, “Perfect, man, we’re looking for a brunette.” And he was so cool about it, he was so happy and open and willing to have fun and I was just so hyped. I was like, Rad, ’cause a lot of people are really insecure and would not want to put themselves out there like that. Which I would have to respect that ’cause not everybody’s into the same stuff. I was so happy that he was genuinely joyful about filming all this and doing the reveal. We’re shooting these scenes and watching the playback and we’re just fucking rolling. It just came together so perfect and I was like, “Nobody’s gonna suspect that it’s Dashawn ’cause you’re looking for a brunette.” You’re probably thinking that I’m looking for a woman or something.
Yep, that’s exactly what I thought.
But that was the whole thing, the punchline is the freeze frame with Dashawn’s face wearing a wig. Oh, that was so fun.
So can we expect more of this kind of relative discomfort?
Well, more fun stuff. I wouldn’t say that it’s always gonna be me with smeared lipstick and a big-ass knife in my hand. But yeah, I just always have ideas that I think would be fun to do. I just write stuff down like, Oh, this could be fun if it’s done the right way. So yeah, just more fun stuff. Maybe some of it will be creepy. I don’t know.
Box spring wisdom on a personal Rolling Thunder Revue. 2020 Photo: Muller
Dashawn just put out a really gnarly Thrasher interview, so he’s got it on the streets, but what’s your opinion about skateboarding in the Olympics?
I know there’s a lot of hatred toward it and I think that’s because certain people haven’t figured out how they’re gonna make money off of skateboarding being in the Olympics yet. So when more people figure it out and they can kinda slime all over the Olympics they’ll be on board. A lot of people will be like, “Oh, you know what? It’s actually fuckin’ sick.” But think about it like this—say there’s 15 people on the team. Imagine being in the Olympics for skateboarding. Imagine you’re the person who gets to be in the fucking Olympics. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Imagine your family and how proud they would be of you and how that would be the highlight of their life. Like, My son or daughter is in the fucking Olympics. On that level, just for the families of the people skating in the Olympics, I think that’s pretty fucking incredible because that doesn’t happen to people. That’s a pretty crazy thing. I already made money off the Olympics. I was the first person to put Olympics boards out last year. The gold, silver and the bronze. I was the first person to make money off the Olympics. My job’s done, sir.
Paying it forward… on roller-skates. Dashawn’s pro party. 2020 Photo: Sinclair
What about in general? Do you care for it? Are you gonna tune in on NBC, watch and see these arbitrary scores?
I’m absolutely not going going to tune in. It doesn’t affect my life one bit. It doesn’t make my life better and it doesn’t hurt my life or take away from it whatsoever. It’s none of my fucking business. But I will say this, I truly believe that skateboarding being in the Olympics is going to create a completely separate industry. Skateparks are popping up in other countries like mushrooms and these countries are pulling kids out of gymnastics, ninja school and unicycle training and they’re being like, “You’re gonna be a skateboarder now. You’re gonna be on the Olympic team.” So all these countries are gonna treat skateboarding just like gymnastics or shot put or fuckin’ pole vaulting. So that’s gonna be a fork in the road where there’s gonna be this weird offshoot type of skateboarding that you’re never gonna see in the magazines, you’re never gonna see in videos, it’s gonna live in its own weird world that we’re never gonna interact with and I think out of that, I really truly believe that there will be a bunch of new companies that pop up that only cater to that type of physical activity.
I’m with you about the Olympics. I’m not mad at anyone who wants to do it, it just doesn’t excite me. Do what you want to do. I’m not wild about Street League either but I don’t think it’s a moral failing to participate.
Absolutely not. People out there like to run their shitty mouths about some shit that they can’t fuckin’ do anyways. So everybody’s got a goddamn opinion about an opportunity that they’ll never get. Crybaby horse shit bullshit and it’s the reason these people complain and have something to bitch about is because they’re never gonna get the opportunity anyways. You give somebody the opportunity to do all this shit and watch them change their fuckin’ story. Watch them change their fuckin’ story immediately. You know what a turncoat is? Actually, now that they let me in it’s a great thing.
What do you want to do in skateboarding? Do you want to just have fun out there popping wheelies and catching crooked grinds? Do you want to challenge yourself to do more tricks? What’s your motivation moving forward?
I’ve been doing this 21-day Deepak Chopra meditation program and part of it is you have to create a separate notebook for all these writing exercises along with meditations and the other night part of the writing assignment was to answer the question: What is your highest intention for your life? And I had to sit and think about that. The easiest way to answer that question is in two parts: Part one is I had worked really fucking hard in my life. My resume speaks for itself. I’ve done a lot of work in my life and I’ve been so blessed to have these open doors to continue to do that work because that work is right for me. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. So part two of that answer is what are you gonna do with that? Are you just gonna film another video part? Are you just gonna take another trip around the merry-go-round? Especially in this day and age when a video part is forgotten in three days. ’Cause it is. It’s a revolving door; it’s a merry-go-round. Unless you do something more or do something different it’s not gonna change. And I’m not knocking the merry-go-round and the people who are on it having a great time right now. It’s their time and I hope they squeeze every fuckin’ drop of goodness out of the merry-go-round because it gives you a lot of cool things. But eventually you get to a point in your life where you’re like, Wait a minute. Okay, so I’ve done 21 of these things. Oh my God, I need to do something more. I need to do something different. And that’s not to say I don’t want to do video parts anymore, but with these open doors that I have and that I’ve been able to get in my life—like adidas for example. That’s an open door for me and so is this board company. I wrote down the other night in my notebook that my highest aspiration in life is to use my gifts and talents to help and inspire others to live an extraordinary life, to live their best lives and to follow their dreams. My intention is to serve others. My life can and will be an inspiration to other people who may come from hardship and abuse. I will inspire people to follow their dreams. There’s a little bit more but that’s essentially it. So basically with these open doors that I have in skateboarding I’m able to work on these project and there’s something else that I feel I need to be able to do and I need to use these blessings that I have and I can help to maybe teach younger skateboarders something with all of my experience. I can use all of my experience and I can use my resources to help others. I can help change somebody’s life. Because there’s a lot of kids out there who probably come from broken homes or hardship and abuse and maybe there’s nobody out there telling them, “No matter what anybody says go after your shit. Whatever it takes, go for it. The universe will conspire with you to make your dreams come true.” So that’s what my hope is. Moving forward, this abstract nondescript company, hopefully I can use it to do great things for younger people. That’s what I feel called to do. One of the projects that I wanna do—we found a foundation that sells artwork done by kids who are in orphanages. Like these paintings and drawings, they’re phenomenal artwork and they’re done by orphans. I was like, Oh my God, I have to contact this foundation and I have to figure out how to do something with this—make two or three boards every season and give 100 percent of the proceeds back to that foundation or that child. That’s number one. That’s the first thing I thought of. I was just blown away by that artwork. I was like, Boom, that’s a cool project to do. So stuff like that. We can share something with other people that will maybe change one person’s life or ten people’s lives. If you can do that, your fuckin’ work’s done. That’s it, like that’s your purpose in life. We’re not here to serve ourselves until we’re six feet under.
Righteous path, dodgy spine. There's no yin without yang, no genius without madness. Skateboarding is infinitely more interesting with Marc Johnson on board. North Hollywood, March 1st, 2020 Sequence: Muller
Rodney Mullen, Tony Hawk, I love that Dill almost died and he pulled himself out of New York and grew FA into this super successful thing. That’s pretty amazing to me. That’s pretty admirable because he almost died. So for Jason to be where he was in 2010 to where he is now, it’s phenomenal. I love that he was able to do that. So I really admire the fact that he switched some stuff up and his nature, he pointed it at something really productive and look what happened. And Salman. I love Salman Agah.
How do you enjoy skateboarding now? What’s fun for you on the board?
Switch stance. I don’t know. I just skate, man. I just turned 43. It’s fun for me to go skate and be like, I’m gonna see if I can do this trick. And it will be a trick I do or did when I was 18 or whatever. Sometimes I’ll be like, I wonder if I can still do this? Then learning new tricks at 41, 42, there’s no feeling like that. That’s still the best feeling in life. So there will be days where I’ll go skate and I do tricks—I know how to do tricks. I’ll just do tricks and be like, Holy shit, man, you’re 42. It’s amazing that you can still do this shit. I think I’ve gotten to a place in my life where I just feel a lot of fuckin’ gratitude for a lot of things.
3/14/2020It’s been a year but the love keeps flowing. We’ve added new testimonials to this retrospective page. Take a few moments and soak up more stories from the life and times of Jake Phelps.
3/13/2020Jake loved having his picture taken, especially with friends. Thought you didn't have a special photo with the Phelper? Might wanna check this post. Miss you every day, Jake. –Michael Burnett
3/06/2020Everyone’s favorite annual award ceremony is back to celebrate the year’s best breakthroughs and bunts. If you can’t make SOTY, might as well hope for a T-Eddy. See the list and guess who’ll get pissed.
2/28/2020Tomorrow’s hottest pros and Long Beach’s glitterati packed into Bradford’s for a first look at the hot-off-the-press Am Scramble video. Check the photos to feel like you’re part of the action, watching the scramblers shine, putting back White Claws with the best of ‘em.
2/21/2020The dramatic finale to Marc Johnson’s cryptic yet murdery video series is here and it couldn’t have ended any better—with Dashawn Jordan finally getting a pro board. Congrats, D!