Don Nguyen

Don Nguyen

DON NGUYEN 

INTERVIEW BY CHRIS CASEY

PHOTO BY SEU TRINH

You all know the dream. Let’s not pretend. I wanna be a rocker, wanna be a roller, I wanna see the world and I wanna get the girl. Well, this guy is doing it all right now! Livin’ the life we dream of and giving the finger to regrets. He skates things most people wouldn’t repel down, even if they had climbing gear. I’ve seen him build guitars out of cigar boxes and jam the music of the gods. He’s got the goods and it shows. This universe favors the bold and Nuge is the Sriracha. – CHRIS CASEY

Hello. Are we all here?
Yes, we’re all here. Where does it start?

Where does it all begin?
Will you explain it to me? Yes. Please.

What do you want me to explain to you? Your life?
Yeah. Explain it to me. You tell me what happened.

Okay. Here’s what happened in your life. First, you were a baby, and then, all of a sudden, you were on the road with Volume 4. It’s the shit. The end.
[Laughs] Yes!

Let’s start it off. Is it Donald or Don?
It’s just Don on the birth certificate.

Really? That’s pretty cool. Did you get Donny in school a lot?
Yeah. I got Donny, and some people called me Donald, but not really. It was just always Don.

When was your first encounter with the skateboard?
It was on an old Variflex Ramp Rat board in ‘85 or ‘86 at my mom’s pool hall in the parking lot.

A pool hall parking lot.
Yeah. I was skating a manual pad and a parking block in the parking lot pretty much only.

“It was either grow up inside the pool hall or go out and adventure and skate.”

Was this in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, or where were you?
It was Oklahoma City, South Side. The life! [Laughs]

The life. [Laughs] So you start rolling around and seeing stuff.
Yeah. It was me and my older brother, Danny. He got me started.

And you battled?
No. He’s five years older. I was just doing what he was doing. He was always doing cool ass shit it seemed like. We started skating and I skated for three years straight and then I stopped for a little bit and then started again in seventh grade and never stopped after that.

It was too good. You got the itch.
Yeah. When I came back, seventh grade style, I had a Natas board, from back in the day. It was my old board from years ago. Then I met another group of homies that skated, because my brother had quit.

Did they float you a newer board or were they like, ‘You just keep skating that thing?’
I skated that for a while and they were like, ‘Dude, you’re killing it on that thing.” That was just about the time that noses came about and they were like, ‘You don’t have a nose.”

‘How are you nollie flipping on this nose, Don?’
[Laughs] I still can’t even do those. I still have no nose right now.

Oh man. How did mom and dad feel about your skateboarding?
They were cool with it. They were always busy at the pool hall and I’d go there every day pretty much. What could they say? It was either grow up inside the pool hall or go out and adventure and skate. They were super lenient about it. I’ve never been grounded ever. They were just always like, “Yeah, whatever.”

So you were a saint as a child. Is that what you’re saying?
Well, I got into some bad shit because my brother got in some bad shit, but I was pretty much mellow and just skated and tried to steer clear of the other path, you know?

Yeah. Tell me a little bit about your crew from the Oklahomies, as they’re called.
Yeah, the TDS homies.

TDS stands for…
The Death Squad.

[Laughs] Yes.
That was back in the day. I don’t know what we were doing. I don’t know what even happened, but we just started making shirts and became this crew.

“Think about it. We were like giant human beings and we were at Stonehenge and we would sit on those things like benches. Fools were sitting there rolling dice or something.”

Who was in the crew? Do you remember?
Yeah. They’re still around. I still talk to them all the time. It was Terry Matthews, Bandit, Dan, Gabe, Billy, Robbie and all kinds of fools. There were so many dudes, like 30 dudes. Everyone that ever came to Oklahoma would stay at that house, and they’d be part of the crew too, like Richie [Belton] and J Roy [Justin Roy]. It was cool. Skating was so fun in Oklahoma back then. We had a little skate house and we’d skate downtown. At night, after 5 o’clock, you could pretty much skate downtown because it was like a ghost town down there.

That’s the best. The Omega Man. Just get out there and look out for zombies.
[Laughs] Yeah.

I saw a newsclip where they were saying that the tag for the TDS crew was created to keep away other rival skate gangs.
[Laughs] No. There were no rivals. Everybody that skated was in the crew pretty much. There were only like 30 skaters in Oklahoma. Now there are hundreds. Back then it was a tight little posse.

No one was battling at the ditch or jousting? You weren’t a jouster, were you?
I have definitely jousted for shits and giggles. We recreated the Dagger ditch scene at the Dagger Ditch one night. It was tight.

What? Fun time I bet.
Yeah. We used to live right down the street from there. We stayed the night at the Dagger Ditch one night.

Sleeping at the Dagger Ditch.
We started a fire. It was sick.

Did any park rangers come through while you were burning it up?
Nothing. It was all good.

Clean operation. I like that. So you’re happy having a good time in Oklahoma. Skateboarding is going so good. Did you get sponsored? Did people start sending you stuff or did you just decide to go the California way?
I kind of figured it out when I visited California when I was 17. I came out to visit for a week or so in a Honda Accord with like six people in it. There were dudes sitting across the floorboard and shit. It was insane. We came out here and skated some ramps and the Huntington park and I was like, “This is the shit!” I went back home and saved a bunch of money. Well, not a bunch… I saved like $800 and came back. I was like, “We’re moving to Long Beach!” I moved to Long Beach with some fools, and my $800 was gone the first day for rent to move into a place, and then I was like, “Now what?” I tried to get jobs doing whatever, but I got homesick and broke and went back home. I stayed there for a little while and worked at Best Buy for like two years and saved up another $1,200 and came back again. This time I decided I wasn’t going back again. I was going to stay here and whatever happens happens. I don’t know what happened really, but my first trip, I was on Toy Machine flow, and then I got on Hollywood and it all started from there. I met all these dudes. It was crazy.

That Southern California lifestyle just grabs you.
I remember that I wanted to move here so that I could skate all year round. Back home it’s cold or rainy a lot of the time. I remember, once I moved out here, I would look out the window every day to see if it was raining. I did that for the first three months and finally, I was like, “It’s perfect every day. I’m not looking out the window anymore. It’s fuckin’ perfect.”

You said that you were never leaving this place and you haven’t. How long has California been your home now?
I’ve been here 14 years now, dude.

Whew.
That’s gnarly. It feels like six years or something, you know?

Time flies by really really fast here. So you’ve gone through the Toy Machine lifestyle. Who was your crew then?
I was living in Huntington, right by the park. I was living with some dudes from Oklahoma and then they moved home. Then I was kicking it with Matt Ball and a bunch of dudes that were kickin’ it in Huntington a lot. Then I don’t know what happened. I was homeless for a little bit, living in my car. Then I went on that trip and got hooked up by Hollywood on that trip. I came home and I started riding for Hollywood and I was living at Markovich’s house. That was rad.

Was he one of your idols growing up?
Yeah, for sure. That dude is one of the gnarliest. Front shuvits going down hills at full speed, and he was hauling. He took care of me. He took me in, like for real. He fully took me under his wing and let me stay there for free. We skated and he let me live in the guesthouse for like six months. That’s when Rich and everybody moved into our first Hellrose Apt.

Oh my god, Hellrose.
That’s when it all kicked off.

That’s where it really got real. Hellrose.
Yeah. It was crazy. It was insane. I don’t know how we all ended up in the same apartment building. There were five different apartments in the same complex right next to each other. It was Otvos, Atkin, James Craig, DJ Chavez, J-Roy, Richie and Lizard…

You had a full motley crew rolling around there.
We were all rolling around Fullerton. Imagine that.

What was an average day like at Hellrose?
Well, at the Fullerton house, we were just smoking a lot of weed and skating a lot, like all day, every day, filming and shit.

What time did you usually get up to go skating each day?
We’d go skate whenever we’d get up. Usually, it was around noon every day. It was pretty good, seriously. We’d party all the time and skate all the time. It was nuts. It was a sick schedule. We’d wake up and skate all day and play poker and then go to the bar. Then we’d get in a bunch of fights with the meatheads. Then we’d go home and do it all over again the next day.

Were they fighting you because you were skaters or because they were kooks?
They were always picking on us. Maybe it was because it was Fullerton. There were all of these weird dudes that hung out there. It was cool, but there were a lot of long hairs that just didn’t like our kind. They’d say some crazy shit and then we’d have to defend ourselves and they’d just jump us.

You were just trying to live your life. You were just being a skater.
Yeah. I was smiling right before that.

What was the first video that you did? Was it for Hollywood?
My first year, I was living in Huntington and I filmed this part with Mike Stanfield, Filmbot. It was called Amateur, and it got picked up by Hot Skates, the shop. They were flowing all the Toy Machine ams. I was working at Jamba Juice at the time and I’d wake up at five in the morning in Huntington, and then drive to Tustin and work at Jamba Juice. They opened at six. I’d work all day and then I’d get off at two and leave my car in the parking lot. Then this dude would pick me up and we’d skate all day until night, and then he’d drop me back off at my car and I’d drive home. I was doing that every day.

You were a machine.
Yeah. I used to call Charlie Thomas at Tum Yeto from Jamba Juice. He’d be like, “Jamba Juice? What the fuck?” He had caller ID on his phone. I’d be like, ‘Yeah, dude. Can you send me a box? Just send it to Jamba Juice, care of Don Nguyen.” [Laughs]

[Laughs] Yeah.
Heath Kirchart used to come into that Jamba Juice. I used to see him all the time.

Really?
Kirchart and Mumford came in one time. A bunch of dudes came in there, and I’d always hook them up with free shit. Who cares? Hot chick. Free Jamba. Heath Kirchart. Free Jamba.

Yes! I wish I would have known about that. [Laughs] You’ve been in a lot of videos. You’ve been in a lot of 411’s.
Yeah. I filmed a few 411’s and then I filmed for some other shit, and then there was the Hollywood video.

Were you stoked on filming?
Yeah. It was sick. It was really rad the whole time. I love filming and going out and trying to get a trick. It’s the shit. It’s like the best thing you can do. If you get one, it’s the best feeling. You go get a trick and then you go celebrate it and then try it again the next day.

“I wouldn’t be here without my homies.”

Wow. You’re dedicated. So you’re shooting these videos and having a fun time riding your skateboard and you’re all psyched and, the next thing you know, they want you to be a Lord of Dogtown.
[Laughs] Yeah!

I mean you’re out in Oklahoma and, the next thing you know, you’re getting to star in the Lords of Dogtown.
Yeah. I don’t even know what was going on.

How did that come about for you?
Some dude was like, “Go to this casting because they need a Shogo.” I was like, “I don’t want to do that.” I was trying to go get tricks, but I couldn’t because I had just had surgery on my knee. I couldn’t skate and I was out for like nine months and this was right at the beginning of it. So I went over there and tried out and I didn’t want to do it, and then they were like, “Let me get this straight. You skate?” I was like, “Yeah. I skate.” And they were like, “Okay, you’re it. You’re him.”

How rad?
I swear to god. They said, “Say this line real quick.” I was saying the line and then they just stopped me and said, “Okay. That’s good. You got it. We start filming in three months. We’ll hit you up then.” I was like, “Really?” They said, “Yeah. We’ll see you in three months.” It was kind of weird, so I didn’t know if they were for real or not, so I just went on with life. Then they hit me up and they were like, “Let’s go.” It was perfect timing because I’d just had knee surgery so I couldn’t really skate anyway. Doing the movie worked out perfectly because all I could do was skate bowls and pump around and that’s what they wanted me to do anyway. I did that and, as soon as the movie was over, after four months of filming, I was right back to normal. I was skating again and I was right back to it.

That’s pretty sick. Did you ever get to meet Shogo Kubo?
Yeah, dude. I met him at the tradeshow right after the movie. He came by and said, “Hey, I’m Shogo.” I said, “Fuck yeah! Let’s go kick it and get a beer or something.” So I left the tradeshow with him and his son and we went back to the hotel room and drank a beer. We just kicked it for a second and it was sick. He gave me a board that was signed and he was like, “I’m stoked you did it.” I was like, “Fuck yeah. It was rad.” It was a sick moment.

FOR THE REST OF THE STORY, ORDER ISSUE #72 BY CLICKING HERE…

Don Nguyen

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