INTERVIEW WITH MERK
INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
INTRODUCTION BY JIM MURPHY
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF MERK
Chris Mearkle A.K.A. Capt. Destiny is one of the East Coast’s premiere ramp and bowl builders. From his backyard ramp skate roots in Connecticut to his building antics for Bam’s MTV show, Merk has brought his building, skating and drinking skills to a whole ‘nother level. He prefers his coping as harsh as possible: rock, stone, brick, rusty pipe with barnacles, glass-embedded concrete, and un-sauced pool coping. Anything to grind the Indys harder and bust the egos wider. He prides himself as an East Coast skater and why wouldn’t he? If you see him skate, you’ll never forget it. If you have seen him slam, you’ll wish you could forget it. Merk is hardcore with opinions to match.
Name, rank and serial number.
Name – Chris Mearkle, rank – Capt. Destiny and serial number – 5.9.
Capt. Destiny, we need some background.
I want to start by saying, in that one “Duty Now For the Future” interview that you did with “Twister”, and he didn’t thank Johnny “Carwash”, that was bullshit. That’s all I have to say.
“IT’S JUST TRAGIC TO SEE ALL OF THESE PRE-FAB SKATEPARKS AND IT DOESN’T HELP WHEN YOU GET SKATERS LIKE ANDY MACDONALD ENDORSING SKATE WAVE.”
Is that it?
Well, no, that’s not all. “Carwash” has been Twister’s right hand man forever and he didn’t even thank him. That kind of hurt some of us back here on the East. He wouldn’t be shit without “Carwash”. I had to let that out. I feel better now.
Where were you born?
I was born in old misty Geneva, Illinois, right outside of Chicago. I lived there until I was in fifth grade.
What year were you born?
I was born November 6th, 1972, on Election Day – a true patriot.
Did you get into skating in the ’70s when the skateparks hit?
No, I didn’t really catch the bug until I moved to Simsbury, Connecticut in the fifth grade.
Did you start skateboarding then?
Yeah, I moved out there and a kid in our town had one of the first Caballeros. I thought that was the baddest thing I’d ever seen.
You had the whole crew there.
Yeah, in that misty, wooded, little town, it was me, Bato, Sloppy Sam, Big Tim, Remy and Trashman. We all grew up skating together and we’re all still putting it together. It was a heavy crew of skaters. We were in the middle of the woods and we didn’t really have anything to skate, so we’d goon the midnight run to the construction sites and load up the trailers. We’d find pieces of plywood and build our own ramps. Around that time, in Simsbury, there must have been 20 different ramps. There were vert ramps, minis, spines and all kinds of stuff.
You learned how to build a ramp from scratch?
Yeah, I just cut it and nailed. We built all kinds of crazy stuff. I remember the first corner I built, I used 15 different templates. I didn’t know the cut radiuses on the ribs, but I knew what was skateable.
You guys had a hardcore crew from the get-go.
Yeah, it was a lot of fun, and the stuff that we built was more on the gnarly side, too. I don’t think one ramp had any kind of steel or PVC coping. Everything we built had concrete on it. We were such big fans of coping, because we didn’t have the pools to grind. We would use bricks, parking blocks, or anything we could to get a gnarly grind on it.
Who were you guys idolizing at the time?
I was a huge Salba fan and still am. That’s why I like to do gnarly stuff with coping. Salba – the “Jersey devil” – was my superhero. He could do it all, plus he had the East Coast pride, too.
You had a big ramp in your backyard, right?
Yep, my house was always the skate house with the ramps in the driveway. People would always come there and my mom would make hot dogs for everyone. My dad helped me build that ramp and it was a lot of fun. We framed out this big 24 foot by 32 foot deck on the hill so that one side was kind of level. The other side was like an 8 foot drop from the flat bottom. Then we built the ramp on top of that. We stole some pool coping from a local pool down the street, and we layered it in steel that we stole from Magic Skatepark in Redding.
You sprayed “East” on the ramp.
Yep, in big old English letters. That was the East Coast battle cry.
What does it mean to be from the East Coast for you?
It just means earning it a little bit more. We didn’t have stuff handed to us. If you really want it, you just have to go out there and make it happen by whatever means necessary. The weather makes it tough. If I had a dime for every time I wanted to skate in the wintertime, or for every time I’ve gone out there with a sledgehammer and busted off 16 inches of ice to skate the ramp, I’d be filthy rich. We didn’t have the luxuries a lot of other people have. It just meant a lot to us. You appreciate it more. The people here are real. The East Coast just breeds a different kind of people – no spoiled little bitches.
Did you get to travel up and down the East Coast?
Yeah, I’d rather do that drive from Maine to Florida, than drive out West. If you want concrete, go down to Florida.
Yeah, that’s a great road trip.
Yeah, go down to Lansdowne, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Cheap Skates, Reading and then down to The Hanger.
What did you think when you saw a vert bowl indoors?
I was thinking, “This is cool – a wooden swimming pool.” This is what it’s about. I wondered how the hell could people build it. I wanted to learn how to do that.
Where did you go when things went underground and the parks were starting to die?
By that time, I was done with high school and I was going to art school at the School of Visual Arts in ’92 and ’93. It was a tough place to skate because there wasn’t anything to ride in New York City, not like there is now.
What did you do?
Every once in a while, I’d take a train to Asbury, NJ. That park was good. I quit school after a while, because I was going nuts. I couldn’t stand living in New York City. It was horrible.
Was that when you moved to Vermont?
Yeah, I moved up to Vermont and it was still the same crew. It was Smiley, Bato and me. Big Tim came up there a lot. We went to Cutting Edge in Bennington almost every day. That bowl was so much fun and the scene was cool. The people were so cool that we decided to move up here. During that era, when everything died out, it never really affected us, because we lived in our own little vacuum world.
You were more concerned about skateboarding than having a career?
Yeah, it didn’t really affect us. It was still ‘seek and destroy’, going on the road and skating with like-minded people.
Did you stockpile Jason Jessee boards?
That’s exactly what we did. Badlands in Orlando, FL, had some early ’90s/late ’80s Santa Cruz decks in stock, so we went down there bought a bunch of them. Every few months we would call them up and order 5 or 10 more. The small boards didn’t affect us, and it was the same thing with wheels and trucks. As long as we kept our heads down and didn’t pay attention to what the skate media was pushing, it was good. We might as well have been on the dark side of the moon and that’s the way that we liked it. It just took a while for everyone else to come around, and we knew that they would. Totally.
What was the first major park that you got involved in building?
Skater Island was the first and it was insane. After the first expansion, that was our clincher to move to Rhode Island.
What was the Newport scene like?
There was the original Water Bros. with a vert ramp and we used to skate that all the time. Everyone there was super cool. “The Package” is the man. He kept threatening for years that there would be a big huge skatepark in Newport. We never really believed him, but eventually it ended up coming together. We started taking weekend trips there and then we all just moved to Rhode Island. The first expansion of the park was sick. They expanded the skatepark a second time and a third time, so we were working on that with Twister. At the time, everyone was like a big family. Little did we know, Dougie and Mary had other plans. It was a really good scene for a while. Twister showed me a lot. He definitely knows his shit, even though he can be a pain in the ass sometimes.
When did you start your company?
After the third expansion at Skater Island, I needed something for the letterhead, so I decided on East Coast Ramp Design.
What was your first park under East Coast Ramp Design?
We did a park in Welfleet, Cape Cod, immediately after Skater Island. It was a mini ramp and street course, but we got to throw down some pool coping on it and do some big vert walls.
Was it hard to get what you wanted in the park when you were working with the cities?
That was my first experience with the cities. There’s too much red tape with the city. When you have a private park, you have one person to deal with. That gives you a good amount of creative freedom. With the city, you have to have a meeting and vote on everything. There’s a lot of passing the buck. Usually, the committee has a 14-year-old kid son of the mayor who’s a skateboarder. They want a skatepark and they have the drawings, but they never have enough money. It’s a political mess. The financial issues are a really big deal, too. Even though a city might spend $100,000 on a playground, they won’t cough up $40,000 for a skatepark. That park we did in Welfleet was outdoors across the street from the beach, but they didn’t want to spend the money for pressure treated lumber. We were like, “Okay, but you’re right across the street from the ocean. You’ve got to have pressure-treated wood or it will rot.” They said, “We can’t afford that. Maybe you could get like pine and put Thompson’s water seal on it. We were like, “No, you can’t do that. It’s going to rot and fall apart.” They wouldn’t listen, so half of it ended up rotting into the ground.
Were you responsible for it?
I made them sign off on it. There was no warranty without the pressure treated wood. That’s what you have to deal with when you deal with towns.
Are those pre fab skatepark companies getting a majority of the work now?
I’ve lost a few jobs because of the pre fab parks. They have fancy websites and big money. They speak the language that the town wants to hear, but they don’t know how far the coping should be set in or set out. To the city, a skatepark is a pacifier for kids. It’s not something for them to skate. It’s something to get them to shut up. They buy this pre fab junk and no one wants to skate it. The people who didn’t want the park in the first place say, “We told you no one was going to skate it.” It’s just tragic to see all of these empty pre-fab skateparks and it doesn’t help when you get skaters like Andy MacDonald endorsing Skate Wave. It’s stupid. It’s not like Andy ever has to skate it. A town looks at his endorsement and goes with Skatewave. People who actually skate won’t have anything to skate because the thing is junk. It doesn’t affect Andy, because he doesn’t live in that town. He’s on a jet flying all over the world, skating the best stuff in the world. These corporations can come up with the kind of money to buy someone’s credibility, but they have no clue. I get a lot of emails asking me about parks. I tell them, the first thing you want to do is find someone who skates to build your park or your ramps. If they don’t skate, they shouldn’t build it. You don’t hire a butcher to paint your house. Don’t hire a playground company to build your skatepark. Hire a skateboarder that knows what he’s doing.
Do they listen to you?
Sometimes. A few years back, I don’t think people really knew much of a difference. I think now you have organizations, like the United Skatepark Association of America, trying to educate towns.
Do they do a good thing?
I think that they do. They’re trying. They’re taking on the load that no one else wants. I’m back and forth on that lady, Heidi Lemmon, that runs it, though. To me, it’s like, “Why do you even let these pre-fab guys be part of the organization?” She says everyone has a right to be part of the organization. The best parks will stand out and people who build junk will get weeded through. The problem I have with that is, by then, it’s too late. I wish more people would open their eyes. There’s beautiful concrete being built all over the country, but for every beautiful concrete park there are three pre-fabricated pieces of junk going up. They are ripping kids off. They aren’t giving kids any future. Don’t give the kids what they want, give the kids what they need. That’s the way it should be. It’s tragic to drive by one of those little empty pre-fab parks. It’s hard to talk to towns because you don’t want to come off as sour grapes, but I’m a skateboarder first and a skatpark builder second. If you don’t want to hire me, that’s okay, but, for the love of God, hire someone that skateboards.
Let’s talk about when you dealt with people like the Gravity Games. Did you have an opinion of the Gravity Games, going into it?
It’s just a big money skateboard contest. I think it’s a purely sensationalized production, but the bottom line is those first place prizes are great. I’m all for that. First place for a vert contest in 1985 was $5000 and now Burnquist can get $10,000 for one trick. As far as that goes, I’m all for that. With all of the evil behind it, that’s one good that comes out of it.
How do you treat it as a builder for the event?
It was cool at first. I went out with Brian Sizer because I happened to be in Ohio building a fullpipe for Brewce Martin at Skatopia. Sizer came out that way and he was like, “We need a couple of guys to help out, because we are going to be doing all new stuff.” We went out there a month early and built a vert ramp and all of the street course stuff in a warehouse off site. That was cool, but by the time we got to Cleveland, it really started getting crazy. It was a little bit much for me, to see all of the media running around. Even though we built the ramps, when all of the big time people start showing up, we got treated like shit. We’d go in to get our free lunch and security would stop us. They thought we were bums off the street, trying to get a free meal. We said, “Dude, we are right here building the ramps.” We were sweaty and covered in dust and they wouldn’t let us in. It just sucked. We were definitely below the scum line.
Did they pay you a good rate?
It was all right. It was a good experience to work with those guys. We definitely went pretty big outside of work. We had a game called ‘the blackout game’. We hung a scoreboard on one of the ramps, because every morning there was always a story to tell. People were getting mugged and maced in the face. All kinds of crazy shit went down.
What was one of the gnarliest nights there?
One dude had a gun pulled on him and another dude got maced in the face, smashing a hotel window. The gnarliest thing was getting a gun pointed in my face by an off-duty S.W.A.T. team member. That was fun.
Why did that happen?
I was walking around the corner on my way back to the hotel from the bar and I see this huge brawl going on between five guys. I’m like, “What is that?” I walked up and see that it’s Steve Hughes, Ben Schwab, and Tim Mott – three of the guys who are on the skatepark crew. They’re beating the shit out of these two guys. It’s full-on, no-holds-barred. Hughes has this dude and he’s just wailing on him. I jump in trying to break it up and the bloody dude on the ground starts yelling, “I’m a cop, man! I’m a cop!” I was like, “Whoa. Hang on a second. Let’s chill out.” While this is going on, the cop’s buddy, who turns out to be his cousin, comes out from around the corner with a 9mm pistol. He points it over the cop’s shoulder, in my face. I was like, “Hang on, man. I’m just here breaking up the fight.” Then he yells, “Do you know you just assaulted a police officer?” I was like, “All right, let’s everybody cool out. Everyone relax.” Steve and those guys ended up going back into the hotel. I needed to chill out, so I was walking back down the street, when a whole fleet of police cars came pulling up in front of the hotel. They got out of the car, with the cop that got beat up, and went in the hotel and pulled Tim, Hughes and Ben out of there. The cops threw them in jail and I couldn’t find them for three days. I called every police station, but nobody knew where they were. They got charged with assaulting a police officer and had to drive back to Cleveland to testify in trial. It was straight out of “Law and Order.” It was really weird.
Don’t mess with skatepark builders, huh?
It was funny though, because the cop got pinned. He said he pulled the gun because he was in fear of his life. During the trial, the lawyer ended up tricking him. He said, “You’re an ex-Marine S.W.A.T. team member police officer, yet you had to pull a gun because you were in fear of your life from a skateboarder?” The jury just snickered and the cop turned beet red. It was trippy. You know that Drew Carey show that says “Cleveland rocks”? No, it doesn’t. Nope. Suffice it say, I wasn’t invited back on the Gravity Games crew.
Yeah, but you did get contacted by Red Bull to do an event.
Yeah, that was a blast. It was this deal called Urban Waves. Andy Kessler called me and told me about it. The concept of it was that it was supposed to be a timed raced with a series of ten portable corners 4-6 feet tall. It was really cool. We built the ramps in this beat up warehouse in Linden, Jersey. It was me, you and Jack. That place is gnarly.
Did that define the term “dirty Jersey” for you?
It was sick. The warehouse had no electricity. It had all of these little junkies breaking into it all of the time spray painting their names on everything. There was no shitter. We were running all of these generators. It was a gnarly scene.
It was ugly.
We would go to this place down the street called the Lindwood Inn. The bartender there, the crazy old lady with acid washed jeans and huge hair from like 1985 at a Bon Jovi concert, wore more eye make-up than Bozo the Clown.
The one with the black eye from her boyfriend?
Yeah, she had a black eye. It was classic. We pulled it off in spite of the conditions. The ramps ended up coming out pretty good and it was a lot of fun.
Let’s talk about the Philly bowl/Bam Margera MTV house weekend.
Oh yeah, that was pretty weird. I just saw that on TV.
How did that come about?
This dude Tim Glomb, who owns a skatepark building company in Pennsylvania, gave me a buzz. I worked with him before on a park in Westchester Pennsylvania. He was telling me that Bam signed a contract with MTV to have his own reality show. He said, “We’re going to be tearing this house apart and building a bunch of ramps in it. Bam wants you guys to build it.” The premise of the show was he sent his parents away to Atlantic City and while they were gone we’d come in there and rip the house apart and bring in all of these ramps and put them together in the house. He’s got a big mini ramp in his back yard so we did a bunch of additions to that. We built a bunch of ramps going from the inside to the outside. We took the doors off the hinges so you could ride through the doors and windows. We went to Hooters everyday for lunch and Bato saved all his left-over oyster shells and we put those on the coping. Not to be outdone, Sizer used a full-on tree for a lip on one of the other ramps. Tony Hawk and Kevin Staab showed up a week later and looked at the ramps and just shook their heads. Bam’s folks came home and were like, “Holy shit! What have you done?” The house got totally trashed, but it was interesting. Of course, the day we were supposed to shoot, it ended up raining all day long, but it was fun.
What was it like having cameras on you all day?
That was not fun. From the time you woke up to the time you are going to bed, there was a camera always on you. They had the house totally wired with those mini cams. It was really weird
What did it look like when you saw it on TV?
They ended up using 5 minutes of a week’s worth of film.
Didn’t Bam talk to you about building something for a future show?
We were talking about that one drunken night. He wanted a 40-foot tall vert ramp, 2 foot wide, but he’s done with all of the episodes now. He’s a cool dude. We skated together in the past and he’s a riot. He just likes to see how much he can take these companies for. He’s a good skater and a nice guy. More power to him.
Since skateboarding is so popular, do you see a wave of people wanting to build their kid’s backyard ramps?
I think so. I think people are getting a little more educated. As long as people want cool stuff built, I’m more than happy to do it. The good thing is the traveling and skateboarding. You get to skate new stuff, meet new cool people and ride what you build and get paid to build what you love.
What’s your duty now for the future?
I just want to keep building cool shit.
What do you think about people who build skateparks without pool coping?
Pussies. That maintenance excuse is a load of crap. You pull it up and put a new block down. Sauce in private parks is for the birds. I would take a wooden bowl with pool coping over a concrete pool with steel coping any day. It’s just no fun if you can’t put ‘crete on it.
Do you have any shout outs?
Yeah, remember that Jason Jessee interview you guys did a while ago? Remember how long his ‘thank you’ list was? I’m going to blow him out of the water.
Okay, go ahead.
First of all, thanks to Julie Klosterman, my girlfriend, because she is always understanding. Thank you to Mom and Dad. The rest of the big ‘thanks’ are for the 5.9 death crew, Bruce Juice, Chickenhawk, Tommy “Jolt” Bennett, The Scotts, Steve Hughes, Karl the caretaker, Iggy Talls, Herb, Brewce Martin, Chops, Big Tim, Jesse “the body”, Jason Case, Donny Barley, Brian “Truckie” Sizer, Mike Bato, John “Smiley” Casner, all of the Daggers, Abe “The New Mexican Towery, Taber at Blue Collar Distribution, James Powers, Doug “The Sarge” Morre, Eastern Boarder, Bomber, Mikey Brown, Eastie, Kevin “the victor” Day, Paincheaters, Eric Albert, Brad Tucker, Nick Briggs, BMG, Buddy Nichols, Alex, all war veterans, Rick Charnowski, Little Eddie, Chris Colette, all of the CIA crew, Dave “Science Fair” Maxwell, Crazey Hoarse, Davey Rogers, the NRA, Eric W at Red Bull, Jack Firtzgarald, Terri and Dan at Juice, Kelly and Liz Mearkle, Fedeal Stone Pool Coping, Ben Schobe, Stacey, Tim Mott, Harley at Mass Appeal, Paul at the Boarding House, Water Bros., Andy Kessler, Steve Karp, Beaner, Little Joe at Kustom Kulture Tattoo Shop, Mike Barns, Jason Spears, Jim ‘Skadoosh’ Murphy, Nate Patraska, Rich Walker at Blinde sunglasses, Zimmer, Sloppy Sam and his Breaking Ground crew, Preston, Rhino, Sean Scyler, Tim Glomb, Windish, Neil Wade, Anthony at Eastern Pulse, the ECRW, Eddie Retegui, Johnny Kardash, Tom “Twister” Putnam, Hairy Jumunji, Sid “The total package” Abruzzi, Remy and Trash, Kevin Ramos, Steve “Mr. Lucky” Olson, Bam Margera, Brad Baxter, and everyone else who gives their blood, sweat and beers and of course, Johnny Cash, rest in peace. There you go.