INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY AND DAVE DUNCAN
INTRODUCTION BY DAVE DUNCAN
PHOTOS BY DAN LEVY AND DAN BOURQUI
Jake Brown is one of the superstars of skateboarding. Arriving on the vert scene from Australia in the early ’90s, Jake just dropped into the fun scene and had a good time. In ’98, Jake was digging the combi pool with me and didn’t have much money. As vert skating started to rise again in the late ’90s, Jake started getting paid and getting big sponsors. He was trying the 900 tailgrab, did the loop wasted, survived the gnarliest crash in skateboarding history at the X Games and look at him now. Jake has this reckless abandon where he travels through life and somehow this reckless abandon carries through into his skating. Once you put the kid on the wheels, he’s on fire. Normally, he’s this really soft-spoken, kind, harmless guy. Once you give him some alcohol and get him fired up around the boys, he turns into a raging ball of fun. He smashes and destroys everything in his path from hotel rooms to fast cars with a lust for life. He’s a man on a mission. Jake has paid his dues and makes skateboarders proud.“To me, it was just another slam. I’ve been taking slams my whole life and I’ve always gotten up and walked away. If I was able to get up and walk away, I was going to. I was like, “Do I get another run?”
Hey, Jake. How are you doing?
I’m good, brother.
You ready to get this interview going?
I’m ready. Let’s crank her out.
All right. Let’s start with your name, rank and serial number.
[Laughs.] Name: Jake Brown. Rank: Permanent Retarded Psychotic… Serial number: 667.
[Laughs.] That works. Where were you born?
I was born in Sydney, Australia.
[Laughs.] I was born in ’74.
What was it like as a kid growing up in Australia?
It was the shit. I was stoked. It was a good way to grow up.
When you were a kid, what did you do before skateboarding? Were you playing sports?
I was playing a bit of soccer and I surfed. Then I got into skating in the mid to late ’80s.
What attracted you to skateboarding?
My dad was a surfer, so he gave me a skateboard before I even knew how to walk. I was just stoked on the feeling of actually riding a skateboard first. It was fun.
Do you remember your first skateboard?
When I was five years old, I remember my dad carved out a piece of a wood fence and made a skateboard deck out of it. He threw on some trucks and fiberglassed over the top of it like a surfboard. That shit was sick.
What did you have to skate in Sydney?
There was a ramp called the Mona Vale. We had a home mini ramp and vert ramp in Fairfield. There was a bunch of different concrete stuff spread around.
Was there a good backyard scene or good skateparks?
There were parks, mini ramps, quarter pipes, flat bars or whatever. There was always something to skate. I started by skating down the street and skating quarter pipes or whatever there was that looked fun to skate.
When did you start skating your first ramp? Was it something you built or something in the town already?
There were a few different times that ramps would pop up in car parks. Skaters would put them there and skate them until the Council took them away. They’d only be there for a couple of weeks.
You were making an effort to go skate some vert.
We’d go into the city once a week and cruise around. We lived two hours away from the closest vert ramp, so we’d go there for the weekend and sleep on floors or sleep in the parking lot. We did whatever we had to do to skate some vert. Australia has always had concrete skateparks, as long as I’ve been skating, so we’d go in the middle of the night to the concrete parks and ride them in the dark. There were streetlights, so it threw crazy shadows all over the place.
What did the people in Australia think of skateboarding? Was it like America where it was underground and people were kind of looking down on it?
I never got the feeling of anyone looking down on me. I was just a kid that was stoked to be skating. Sometimes you’d get kicked out of places by security guards, but that was it.
Were you reading skate mags or seeing videos from America?
Yeah, we had Australian magazines as well, but we would look at Thrasher and Transworld. There was one called Skating Life that was Australian. That was the biggest one over there. Then this magazine Slam came into the mix. The first video that I saw was The Search for Animal Chin. I tripped on that shit. From there, I went right into the Santa Cruz movies and Wheels of Fire and Streets on Fire. It was all the Powell propaganda. Then it was all the Plan B and H Street videos.
Who were you looking up to in the mags?
I was actually looking up to all the people that I skated with that were ripping in Australia. Every now and again, we’d get the magazines and videos and then we were looking up to Caballero and Jason Jessee and all those dudes.
Who were the locals skating in Sydney back then?
John Finlay, Biff Murdoch, Adam Luxford, Dave Evans, Higham Bros, Matt Hoffman and Spinner.
Did you ever see Lee Ralph come through?
He was from New Zealand, but I’d see him come through doing demos with all the pros. It was pretty cool. You’d see him skating the mini ramp barefoot just grinding around. I was like, “Damn, these dudes are nuts!”
That guy is so rad. Did he have the full beard?
He had a full beard with the Doc Martens that he’d take off as soon as he got to the ramp and he’d just start skating.
Did you travel around Australia to skate?
When I was 16, two of my friends and I moved to Melbourne for a year. We started skating with Jason Ellis, Dom Kekich, Tas and Ben Pappas, Gary Valentine and those guys. They were the dudes that were at the forefront of vert skating in Australia. We were into it, so we were just going to go skate and hang out in the craziest vert scene and be part of it.
I remember going to Australia in the late ’80s on an Alva tour and we hit a bunch of concrete parks. Were those parks from the ’70s?
A lot of it was built in the ’70s and some was built in the ’80s and ’90s. They’re still building stuff now. They never stopped.
In America, they bulldozed all the parks from the ’70s, but in Australia, they kept them all going.
There’s so much land that most stuff that gets put up stays.
That’s sick. It seems like Australia has such a hardcore scene. It didn’t seem to matter what was going on in America because you guys were so solid.You had your scene going on with all the boys riding over there.
Well, we were definitely influenced by America, but the Australian scene is strong enough to support itself. Maybe not company-wise, because we got all our products from America mainly, but there were enough skaters there for everyone to be inspired by.
In the late ’80s, vert was blowing up and then things started changing in the early ’90s when street skating started emerging. What was going on in Australia at that time? Were people still skating vert or were they skating more street?
Well, there has always been a handful of dudes that were always just into skating vert. The sheer skate population quadrupled so there was a lot more street skating going on as well. Did you come over to Australia with Duncan and do the Alva demo on the Skateboard World ramp?
Yeah. I came out with Duncan and the Alva crew.
It was you, Duncan, John Gibson, Craig Johnson, Reategui… I came out and watched that demo in Sydney when you guys did that.
[Laughs.] What did you think of that one? It was pretty hairy, huh?
It was sick. I was stoked.
[Laughs.] I had the best time there. It was all hardcore skaters. I was blown away. The skaters over there weren’t spoiled. They appreciated everything they had.
We’d ride our boards until they had no tail or nose and still be doing rock n’ rolls on vert.
[Laughs.] That’s so rad. Were there any contest series back then?
Not really. There was a thing that’s still going on now called the Big Day Out. For a couple of years, they put a vert ramp in the mix and let us travel around to the five different events to skate while the bands were playing. That was amazing. We got to see the whole country like rock stars. We had a good time.
When things died out here in America in the ’90s for vert and everything went street, what was going on for you?
I was just skating whatever I could find. Being from Australia, you have no idea what’s going on in America besides what you see in the magazines. There was always Danny, Colin or Max Schaaf or someone that was ripping vert. To us, it seemed like it was still going. Bucky was still doing it. I was skating vert, street, mini ramps, bowls and everything.
In the early ’90s, Adam Luxford was skating Stone Edge in Florida. He was ripping. He was one of the fastest skaters I’d ever seen. Were you in touch with Adam when he was in America?
No, I’d only met him a few times before he left for America. I knew he was over here, but I didn’t see him again until he came back to Australia. When he came back, I was just about to leave.
What brought you over to America?
I came over in ’96. I figured if I was going to keep on skating, I might as well come over and see what’s up. If weren’t for Tas and Ben Pappas, I probably wouldn’t have come out here. Tas said, “We’re living it out here. Everything is good. We’re killing it. Come out.” So I just moved out here with them and started skating the early Plan B ramp. It was Danny Way, Colin McKay, Tas, Ben and Mike Crum. I skated the Birdhouse ramp with Rune Glifberg and Chad Vogt. I skated Chicken’s bowl and Kelly’s bowl and whatever else was around. I remember Giant Distribution used to have a big mini ramp. I lived in Costa Mesa for a year or so and then moved up to chill with Vogt for a year or so. I just bounced back and forth checking out different shit.
That was when Tas and Ben Pappas were beating Tony Hawk in the vert contests. Ben beat Tony in the 1997 X Games in San Diego.
Yeah, that was San Diego X Games. I think that was the year before Tas beat him at the Triple Crown in Hollywood. That was pretty monumental yeah for both of those brothers. I was in awe of the two of them, hanging out and skating with them and just seeing what they were doing. They were both completely on top of their game. I’d come over and hang out and they were just killing it. It was an amazing time.
What was the scene like coming from Australia?
It was a crazy experience because it was the first time I’d ever left Australia. I was tripping on everything. I was tripping on the 7-11 and all the shit they had on the shelves. They had a hundred kinds of bubblegum. I was like, ‘Damn, look at this flavor!”
Back then vert was still underground. What was your sense of that when you came over here? It was still just a handful of guys doing the vert thing. How did that feel?
I just got dumped right into the epicenter of vert skating. I was hanging out with Tas, Danny and Colin. I was skating with Jason Ellis and Mike Crum all the time. It seemed like vert was bigger than ever. It was insane.
Were you making much of a living back then?
No, I was just scraping by. I had no real expectation of where skateboarding was going to take me. I was just stoked to be skating with all of the best skaters and be amongst that crew.
Who were your sponsors when you first came over here?
I was kind of riding for Volcom when I left Australia. For some reason, I decided to say, “Fuck it. I’m not going to ride for anyone.” I made some calls from the airport and they said, “Why didn’t you tell us you were going?” I said, “Don’t worry about it.” Once I got to the States, Edward Sebastian hooked me up and I was pretty stoked about that. They were under the umbrella with Plan B at the time.
Where did you get boards and shoes?
I got on Kastel and was pretty psyched. There was a company in Cincinnati from the guys that did Strength magazine. They had a board company called Nation and I rode for them. Then I started riding for Blind.
Were you skating in the X Games?
There were a few of them before I started.
What did you think of that?
Well, it seemed pretty cool, but then they had rock climbing and other weird shit like luge. It’s come a long way with all of the sports they have involved now. They’ve got rally car and stuff like that now. It’s kind of crazy. It’s cool how it gets skateboarding out to the general public. I just wanted to skate the new vert ramp that they built out of nowhere.
[Laughs.] In 2000, when things started to blow up and concrete parks were being built and the World Cup started heating up, were you skating with Tas and Ben? Did they go back to Australia?
Well, Ben is not with us anymore. Tas is back in Melbourne. He’s been gone for a few years now. Those guys aren’t really in the scene anymore, which sucks. Ellis has turned into a radio show dude. He’s doing his thing. Renton was coming over here for a while. I’m the last standing Australian vert skater here pretty much.
Do you go back to Australia at all?
I only go to Australia once a year to see my family.
How did the scene progress over there?
They have a couple of big vert ramps now. They have a ramp in Prahran and a ramp in Sydney called Monster, which is nice. I never have time to check out the scene. They flew me out to do one demo at Big Day Out and I got so wasted that I couldn’t stand up the next day. I was just puking and shit.
[Laughs.] That’s what Australians do.They should be proud of you.
[Laughs.] They were like, “Uh, I don’t think we can pay you your full fee.” I was like, “Whatever. Fuck. Give me a beer.” The Globe World Cup thing was cool the first few years.
What were those contests like? You get all the heavy-duty pros from America there too, right?
They bring all the guys in. That’s cool. They did a quarter pipe contest for the highest air. I showed up and could barely walk and somehow pulled some big airs. That was fun. It’s hard when you go back to Australia because you miss it so much that you just want to drink every beer in sight.
[Laughs.] Let’s talk about the evolution of vert. The trannies went from 10′ and 2′ to 11′ and upwards. How were you feeling about the way the
trannie/vert ratio has been going on the ramps?
The bigger the ramp gets, the more you can blast and the safer it is. On the old ramps, if you’d hang up, you’d slam and go straight to the flat bottom. Boom. You’re knocked out. With the bigger ramps, if you hang up, at least you can catch a little transition at the bottom.
When Danny first started building the mega ramp, were you on the scene?
I was around, but he was doing most of it pretty secretly. He did the highest air thing at the airport and no one knew about that until the day he was doing it. Then he did the King of Skate thing. I didn’t see any of that until I saw the footage. I was helping Duncan and Rick build the Vans Parks at the time. After that, Danny built the Point X Ramp and I was out there all the time skating with him.