INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS BY JOE HAMMEKE and ED DOMINICK
Upside down… sideways… any which way he wants. The dark side, the force is with him… Kiss of the Vampire, leaves his mark, wherever he goes… A Creature, the president of the Trip… Trip, but don’t fall… Get up, it’s go time… where we goin’? Does it matter? Not really, just as long as we’re goin’… Around the world with the Creature of the Trip… This is Darren Navarrette.“YOU HAVE TO GO WITH THE GERONIMO THEORY. TODAY IS A GOOD DAY TO DIE. YOU JUST HAVE TO LIVE. YOU CAN’T BE SCARED OF IT. YOU HAVE TO KEEP GOING. YOU CAN’T BE SCARED. YOU LIVE FOR NOW.”
Navarrette. What are you doing?
We’re playing music. We’re trying to rewrite that song by Bob Seger “Still the Same” and make it “Still That Lame.”
[Laughs] Nice. What do you play, bass?
Yes, but I’m playing piano on this one. I’m thinking the piano might get me more stuff from a woman, you know?
You can pull into any Holiday Inn and hit up the lounge scene.
[Laughs] That’s what I’m saying. That’s why I want to learn how to play the piano. If you can play the piano you can go all the way from one spectrum to the other. You can hit up the lounge, get on the piano and get laid by an older lady or a younger lady. Finger work is important. Piano playing is at the top of the chain, just because of the women. You can go anywhere and play it.
Do you think the piano is a romantic instrument?
Yeah, but it can also be loud and not romantic at all. I’d say it’s romantic, though. The spectrum of women would be the best on a piano.
Who are you?
I’m nobody. I’m just a person that breathes.
Good. Where do you come from?
I come from this Earth, but originally I was born in Kansas City. My dad is from Osaka and my mom is from here. I’m from all over the place. It doesn’t matter where I’m from. I’m here.
Okay, we’re going all over the place. Didn’t you grow up with Sam and Al?
Yeah. My skateboarding is from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Wait a minute. Isn’t Al is from Wisconsin?
They’re from Milwaukee, but the whole thing about it was we had the vert ramp and they had the bowl. We had to keep going to their zone and they’d keep coming to our zone. That’s how we all met. Then it became one big area. I lived there for a couple of months and then they’d move down to my zone for a couple of months.
Was Surf N’ Turf going on then?
Oh, yeah. That’s where I first met Sam and Al.
How old were you?
I was around 14 years old. I knew how to skate a vert ramp. Or I thought I did. Then I went to the Turf and these guys were just destroying the bowl. Sam rolls in, eggplants and looks at me. It made me want to go home, right there.
It was so intimidating. It was insane. What I had to do was stand there and just learn how to ride this shit. That’s what I wanted to do.
Was he intimidating you or was it just friendly banter?
It was just friendly banter. He knew something was going on. Like, “Who is this kid in my zone?” So I got him back years later. He came to my zone and I was like, “All right. You want this? You want an egg over your head. Done.”
Why did you take up skateboarding?
That’s a good question.
Did you play sports?
I played football for one day on a team, and then never went back. I had a BMX bicycle, so I started riding that and I broke my nose on it. I started liking that type of shit. Then my brother got a skateboard. He got a Roller Derby. Then I wanted a skateboard. Then the older kids built a ramp and that’s when it got serious.
That was it.
I started in 1984, never to quit again. In the ’70s, I rode a Freeformer ramp for a couple of weeks. Maybe that started it. I was at my Grandma’s house and there’s the Freeformer. I’m watching TV and it was one of those movies with all the kids with long blond hair. I was from the Midwest. I remember asking my grandma, “Are these all girls?” And she looked at me and said, “I think they are.” I didn’t know skateboarding was for girls at the time. I said, “Really?” Fuck. That sucked because I liked that shit. That was a let down.
They were all broads. Tricks are for kids.
Tricks are purely for kids.
So you grew up in Minneapolis?
I was raised in the suburbs. All of my skateboarding was born in Minnesota.
I grew up in Bloomington.
I know that. I’ve been there.
Okay, fine. That’s the connection.
[Laughs] There’s definitely a connection there.
Let me ask you a question though. When did you move to the West Coast and why?
I dropped out of school because I was taking too much acid and partying. My dad said, “You should quit.” I was already skateboarding, so I said, “Sounds good.” My senior year, I dropped out of high school and went to Florida and skated. I came back and I was all stoked. My friends started to hook me up with some stuff to sell. I started selling stuff and then made enough money to get out to California. Then I snuck into the tradeshow three days in a row. I met Russ Pope and he finally said, “Do you want to ride for us?” I was like, “Done. Let’s go.” So he put me on SMA.
So that was when SMA was run out of NHS?
Then you were riding for Creature?
Then Creature folded and I went to 151. Then I went back to Creature.
What was your attraction to vert?
Big air. I like to fly. I need to soar. I’m learning how to keep my wheels on the ground now too. You can still soar on the ground.
It’s still soaring, but when you fly in the air, it’s a whole different sensation.
Why skateboarding? You just dug the feeling?
That’s a tough question. I don’t know. You got to do it with a select few couple of friends and no one else. It was just fun. No one liked us. I didn’t like anybody.
Did you like the individuality of it, and the fact that you didn’t have to hang with a team?
Yeah, that’s what I liked about it. I hung with the hesh crew and learned a different route. No one told us what to do. It was all about survival. What can we do to survive?
What did you do to survive?
I skateboarded. Skateboarding keeps us surviving. It was all about what keeps us going. It’s a tough question. Why skateboarding? Why not?
Why basketball? My brother plays basketball. No big deal.
You’ve got the height to play basketball.
That’s why my brother, who looks just like me, plays basketball. He was too good, so I had to do something else. Skateboarding just looks radical. It felt radical. How come these guys are totally different than anybody?
Do you think that?
I don’t know what I think. Sometimes I think one thing and the next day, it changes.
[Laughs] So you think you liked skateboarding because skateboarders looked different than all the other freaks?
Nah, that can’t be it. That cannot be the answer.
I don’t have the answer.
I think I skateboard for the sensation of it.
I think you skateboard because it’s dangerous. And you can fuck yourself up skateboarding easier than anything else.
Well, yeah. When I first broke a bone, I realized that I was stuck in it now. I was like, “Fix it and I’ll go break another bone.” There was danger in it. Skateboarding is dangerous. No one else does it. It’s a select few only.
What about when your whole crew moved out to California?
I was first. Well, actually there were a couple of older dudes here first. Then it was me, and then Sam and Al came out. That’s it. We just stuck here. It’s good weather. There’s good stuff to look at. I can walk across the street right now and it’s all there.
Where does the name “Vertical Vampire” come from?
I was just walking down the street one day and someone called me the Vertical Vampire. I don’t know where it came from. I was just trying to mind my own business and they’re yelling “Vertical Vampire”.
Do you think you’re more of a night person than a day person?
I love the nightlife, so that explains the vampire shit.
Is that a Seger song? I love the nightlife?
So you stay up all night?
I have. I sure have.
I remember one night we were all in Florida and I came in at 6:00 in the morning and you were in the hotel lobby smoking.
Oh, yeah. I hooked up a girl that time. It was a great time. I’d like her to call me again somehow.
[Laughs] Tell me something else. Why did you choose San Diego?
It was probably because of Hewitt. He was living here. I thought, “I want to ride with this guy because he’s going about it all differently.” Everywhere else was the same. When I moved out here, it was all about snowboarding. There was nobody skating. It was a change of atmosphere.
What year did you move out here?
How old were you?
18. I lived in my van for a year and then lived on couches. I just drove around in my car.
Did you skate in contests?
I used to skate in contests. I’d get 13th place every time. I was right on the cusp. Every time. People would always say, “You’re right on the cusp.” I hated that.
You never got into the finals?
I got into the finals in Europe one time. I took first place and won. I got laid on that trip, too. It was good times. Young girls. I was the European Champion in ’96.
That’s a sick title to own. Who is in your crew of cats that you skate with now?
It’s me, Sam, Al, “Cranston” [Alex Horn] and Hewitt. And Blender.
Now you’re back with Creature. Creature is blowing up.
It’s a new chapter. It’s going good. We’re hyped on it. It’s on. We’ve got Gravette, Bingaman, Appelo, Neil Heddings, Graham, Silent Mike, Mallory, me, Sam, Al, “Cranston” and Steve Reeves. We love “Manchild.” He’s a good kid. It’s good to have that kid on the team.
How did Creature come about again?
I had to go up to the offices with a briefcase full of blank papers and pretend that I knew what I was talking about. Somehow, they decided I did. Boom. It worked out and it’s still working.
Have you been able to survive from skateboarding?
Definitely. I can get some sushi if I want to.
There have been some bleak times, too, no?
Oh, yeah. It’s about fun times and surviving, but skateboarding has always been that way for us. A long time ago, in Milwaukee, we lived in this asbestos warehouse and built a vert ramp. In those days, vert was dead and wheels were tiny. Sam and I would race to the shop and fight over a pair of wheels because they were 50mm. That was survival. I mean, who lives in an asbestos warehouse to skate?
[Laughs] We did.
You guys never had to go into the street world?
We didn’t have any interest in street skating. To us, the street world didn’t even matter.
What about handrails?
I’ve jumped down handrails. I just did one recently. The feeling is kind of nice. You click, grind and land. It does have some kind of feeling, but it’s hard. You can’t keep doing that. Instead of a soaring feeling, you get a sore feeling. Like, “Oh, that hurt.” We still do it though. But it’s not like locking up on an Indy air while Kevin Staab is watching you. That’s a way better feeling.
What happened when you got your first picture in a magazine?
I’m not going to lie. I fuckin’ loved it. I was really hyped on it.
What was it?
It was a shot in Thrasher and it said “The Vertical Vampire goes psycho to fakie.” That was my first photo: Thrasher. Air to fakie. I was trying to max out the air to fakie at that time. I was going 8 or 9 feet to fakie and coming as close to hanging up as I could.
Why? Was it for the danger?
Yeah, it was for that feeling.
It was the possibility that you might just get nailed. Did you ever get a cover shot?
The cover shot was a whole other story. That meant the world to me. I got a Thrasher cover. I never thought I’d get that. All of a sudden, I got the cover and I was so hyped on it. It was the Boost Mobile contest and they were playing some fuckin’ hip-hop, so I picked up my radio and listened to Bob Seger: “Still the Same” and stuff.
[Laughs] Right. Then you got the cover. What was the trick?
Lien melon with a boom box. I was pretty hyped on that.
What do you do every day?
It changes every day. “Subject to change” is my motto.
Every moment could change.
Except right now, it’s still the same. All these changes are still the same, just like Bob Seger says.
Do you live in the now?
Oh, yeah. I’m living for the future, too. I’m looking forward to checking out what’s next. The end of the world is coming, so I sign contracts for another five years, and then I’m done. I did it. Loved it. Thanks. I owe everything to skateboarding. Some people say that skateboarding owes them. That’s the wrong philosophy. I owe skateboarding.