Jeff Kendall

JEFF KENDALL
INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
PHOTO BY JIM GOODRICH

I remember the first time I saw Jeff skate and how solid and smooth his style was, stalling inverts and hauling ass all over the vert ramp with no sketchiness in sight. He had such a rad and unique style that it would burn in your brain that you had just witnessed Jeff Kendall throw down. Hailing from the Midwest, Jeff grew up riding backyard ramps and street skating whatever was around. The way he sees it, skaters skate everything with no limits. He’s a Santa Cruz vert icon from the ‘80s and has worked with NHS ever since.

Name, rank and serial number?
Name: Jeff Kendall. Serial number: I’m not giving you. Rank: Vice President of NHS.

I’m proud of you, man. Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana.

What year were you born?
1967.

When did you first start getting on a skateboard?
I was probably 11 years old. I was still doing the normal sports thing, playing football and baseball. I remember skating in my baseball cleats on the first board that I had. It was a Cal 180 or 280, which was a plastic board from back in the ‘70s. I remember seeing that show, Battle of the Sexes on TV and I saw Bruce Jenner and Kristy McNichol doing a slalom race together. I can’t remember who won, but that was one of the first times I saw skateboarding on TV. Skateboarding was really small in Indiana. I lived down the street from a roller rink, so I saw kids roll by on skateboards with roller-skates strapped over their shoulders. Those are early memories. I had an older friend, Sean West, who has since passed away, and he was the first person that got me into it. They had a halfpipe in the backyard and I was about 13.

That was around ‘79?
Yeah. It was ‘79 or ‘80.

Did you guys have any concrete parks?
There were no concrete parks yet. There was a park in the ‘70s and it closed down in ‘78. It was all ramps. Remember the Texas Clown Ramp?

Yeah. The Fiber Rider.
They had the same kind of thing where you roll around and try to hit these things. It’s like Whack-A-Mole on a skateboard. I only heard stories of it. That’s when I first got into it and I hadn’t really ventured outside of my street yet.

How big was that backyard ramp you were riding?
It was 10’ with no flat bottom. They added about six to it. It was pre-Rampage Ramp Designs, so they added eight feet of flat to it at first. These dudes were quite a bit older than me and one of them had a Shogo Kubo that was two of my feet wide. Even if I fell, I was still on the board. I’d fakie without looking backwards because there was no flat, so I’m looking at the other wall the whole time I’m going down fakie-ing. I must have looked so ridiculous. They sorted me out though. They were like, “Man, come on. You can’t do that.” [Laughs]

Did you get kickturns or grinds going?
I don’t think I ever got grinds on that ramp. I was doing kickturns, and then I built my own ramp. I literally built it by myself. I did the Rampage Ramp Designs, so I pulled the 10’ tranny with no flat bottom. It was like a ‘V’ with a crease at the bottom. It was pretty bad. That was 8’ wide on the side of my house. I can’t believe my parents let me do that. They were super cool about it. After I built that ramp, I started to progress. It was exactly 10’ tall with 10’ trannies, so it just went right to vert.

When you were skating on the first ramp, did you ever drop in?
No. I never elevator dropped on that one.

How about on yours?
That’s when I started to drop in.

What was that first drop in like?
I was so nervous, but that was a killer experience. I can remember that like it was yesterday. I thought I was the shit.

How did you get psyched out to do it?
Well, my ramp was eight feet wide and it only had a platform on one side. The other side had an extension that moved a lot when you got on it because there was no platform with 45-degree angle bracing to support it. About six feet from the ramp on one side, there was a slate rock wall that separated our neighbor’s land and ours. On the other side, there was a bunch of rose bushes and our brick house. My bedroom window was right there, so I’d take my stereo speaker and put it up on the ledge facing out. I was cranking 999 or X, Los Angeles, to get hyped and then I dropped in and barely stayed on. At that point, I was pretty conservative. I probably could have dropped in quite a bit earlier, but the width of the ramp and surrounding elements were a bit intimidating.

Were you into checking out the mags?
My older buddy, Sean, and his friend, Forest, those are the guys that brought me up and I had all their old magazines, so I knew all the guys, from Doug De Montmorency to Ty Page. I was looking at all that stuff, so I got my history lesson. The first board that I ordered was from a mail order shop called Kanoa Surf.

If it wasn’t Val Surf, it was Kanoa Surf.
Yeah. They had an ad in the back of the old mags. I got a Malba K-Beam Kryptonics board. I didn’t know what I was doing. They got me some ACS Lite trucks and some Kanoa Conical wheels.

Were you a Malba fan?
I just liked the way that board looked and I’d seen photos of Micke at Boulder doing the invert and he was riding that board. That’s what sold me. All I had to reference was older magazines. This was pre-Action Now and pre-Thrasher.

Who were you looking up to and digging seeing pictures of skating in the mags?
Caballero was one of the first. Being as young as I was, and seeing Stevie and how small and young he was, I could relate to that. Stevie was one of the first. I was such a huge fan of skateboarding in general.

Did you have a lot of guys skating with you at your backyard ramp?
We had a scene. There was my ramp and I had friends like Bob Pribble, Chip Jones and Steve Schick and they had a ramp around the same time. I was still BMXing too and they had a ski jump ramp. It wasn’t a halfpipe. It was a slant ramp that was 8’ high and it was super long and it went down into a ten-foot quarter pipe. Then they built another half-pipe that I skated most of the time. I skated there more than I skated my own ramp.

Where was this?
It was on the Northeast side of Indianapolis. It was 12-feet wide, so that was huge and it was 7’ of tranny with 2’ of vert. They built it tight and it was over vert too. They’d been skating a bit longer than me and had the pleasure of skating Apple and Apple had some super tight tranny. That’s the stuff I only have in my dreams and from seeing it in the magazines. I never got to skate there.

Why didn’t you get to skate Apple?
I was still really young, so I couldn’t go with those dudes. By the time I was hanging out with those dudes, they’d only gone a handful of times. The first trip, we got ready to go and it was Thanksgiving break from school and my mom and my buddy’s mom were going to chaperone us. We were ready to pile in the van and my friend called and said, “They closed Apple,” so we went to the Turf.

Did you see that coming?
No. Skateboarding was dying and skateparks were closing all over the place, but I wasn’t that connected at that time. I was like, “Why the hell would they close it? That seems stupid.” So we went to the Surf n Turf up in Milwaukee. It was good. It was Zill, Marty, and Stevie Beaudoin and that whole crew. That was a rad experience.

Did they have the coper law in effect?
I think they did. They must have. I think I even had Trackers at that time. I had my full Caballero replica set up with the Cubics.

[Laughs] Did you have a lapper?
No lapper.

Nosebone?
[Laughs] No. This was pre-nosebone. I don’t think those were out yet, otherwise, I might have thrown that shit on there.

Was the Turf your first time riding concrete and skating pools?
Yeah. It was so fast. It was so much faster than a ramp. It was like the Taj Mahal. As soon as you walked in the doors, they had music cranking and you’re staring down the lipslide gully. It was a little runway ditch with a bowl at the end that was no more than three or four feet deep. It was a good warm-up spot to get your first taste of riding concrete. We were skating ramps way before Masonite, so it was all straight weathered plywood, so speed was the thing I remembered the most. Skating concrete was so much faster.

Were you in there carving around?
No. I had Trackers. There was no carving. I would get three or four mini kickturns instead of a carve.

Did you go over to the clover?
It was super gradual. You’d skate the Footie bowl after that and then you’d go in the clover. Then you’re braving the keyhole and the halfpipe. It was super fun, and there was nobody there. It was my four friends, me and a couple of others.

Were you grinding the clover?
I was grinding it, and I had just learned inverts, so I have photos of me doing inverts there. My hand that’s planted and the rail on the board were maybe six inches from each other. I was almost horizontal. I just remember having to pull in so much more because of the round walls. I was like, “Oh shit.” I’d been skating flat wall ramps this whole time, so it was different.

After that day, were you just addicted?
Yeah. Riding the skatepark was such a new rad experience with a variety of stuff to skate and people to skate with. It was great. I was skating with guys that were really good. There wasn’t a lot I could do to skate more concrete, unfortunately, because that was six hours away. The Turf was the closest, by far, with Apple having closed down. It just made me want to skate more. It didn’t matter what I was skating. I just wanted to skate more.

You were in high school at that point?
I was probably a freshman, because I was 13.

You get back from the Turf and skateboarding was dying, but you’d just skated this incredible skatepark. Were you trying to get back to the Turf?
I didn’t realize that the skateboard industry was having a rough time. I was young and into punk rock and skateboarding, so I didn’t take notice to that at all, but I did want to skate more concrete. There was The Getaway Skatepark in Alabama that was still around. I never got to skate it, but I heard they had rad stuff. Some of my older friends ended up going there. They were more mobile than me.

In ‘80, ‘81, Action Now hits and you see pictures of people jumping horses over rocks. What did you think?
I was like, “What is this?” At first, I’m thinking, “I’m still in Indianapolis, Indiana, and this is coming from California, so they must know more about what’s up than I do. Maybe I’m not in the game. Maybe this is kind of cool. They’re telling me what kind of Levi’s to wear. Maybe I should listen to them. I don’t know. They showed windsurfing, and there’s more water here than skateparks.” I wasn’t super anti. I was just a little confused. I was like, “What happened to the skateboarding?” We had such a small scene that we didn’t rely on the magazines too much. We were just paying attention to what we were doing more than anything. It was refreshing to have Thrasher come along and cover nothing but skate. It still didn’t hit me that the reason that Skateboarder went to Action Now was because skateboarding advertisers weren’t paying the bills. I remember magazines like Skateboard World. It was changing, but I was just into the act of doing it. I wasn’t paying too much attention to what was happening in the industry.

What’s rad is that you had a backyard ramp scene and, when Thrasher first came out, they were focusing on ramps. Ramps were going on in the Midwest and we were building ramps on the East Coast too. How did that evolve in your town? Did you start traveling to other ramps?
Those were some of the funnest times of my life. It was a closely knit core group of dudes that would go to Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia. You had Mike Hill’s ramp in Dayton. It was rad. I really appreciate what those guys did to create that scene with M.E.S.S, the Mid-Eastern Skateboard Series. For us, it was a way to get to skate with one another and put a little pressure on ourselves in a contest. You were dropping in and trying to put together a string of tricks in 45 seconds. It was a good time. We were throwing up tents alongside the ramps and it was nothing but skateboarders and good, carefree times.

What year did those start?
1983. There were a handful of contests held throughout the Midwest that were pre-MESS.

Where was the first contest?
The first contest I went to was Ridgeway’s in West Virginia. I don’t know if it was part of the M.E.S.S. series, but it was the first contest that I went to.

What kind of ramp did he have?
It might have been 16’ wide and 8’ tall. It was pretty raw and small, even for back then. It had a wall that was bowled, but not on purpose. It had wood broomstick coping. It was painted maroon, but the paint was peeling. It was pretty rugged.

How did you find out about it?
My older buddies were more connected and they found out about it through phone calls. There was a big zine scene, but we weren’t learning about events in the zines until after they happened. It spread through letter writing too.

Dayton was a 10-hour drive?
It was a little less, but there were a handful of us that went. There were guys there from as far away as Milwaukee, because there was nothing like that happening, so everybody flocked to any type of event.

What was it like your first day there, meeting all the people?
It was overwhelming. I was super quiet and shy. I was really excited about competing, but it was overwhelming because everyone was quite a bit older than I was.

Were they more progressed with their skating or were you skating at the same level?
There was sponsored and unsponsored, so I entered the un-sponsored division. The sponsored division was Roskopp, Underhill and Batmite… Those guys were way ahead of me. They were way more advanced. I had so much fun though. It was great times.

Who won the contest?
I got first. Rick Summerfield probably should have won, but I got little kid points. Roskopp had a ramp too and that may have been the next contest.

Where did he live?
He lived just outside Cincinnati. His ramp was 16’ wide and 8’ or 9’ tall. Vert ramps were small then.

So that was the next contest?
I think so. That was one of the early ones. Dayton at Mike Hill’s might have been before that. He had a ramp contest. There was one in Kentucky and Tennessee. M.E.S.S. was a good time for about a two or three-year run.

During that time, were you talking to any of the guys about getting hooked up?
Roskopp hooked me up with Madrid, after the contest in West Virginia.

How stoked were you?
I was pretty stoked. I remember just waiting for the UPS truck to show up and bring a box of goodies. My parents were tripping out. They had no idea. They just knew that I was riding a skateboard and I was getting way too old to do it. They were like, “When are you going to grow out of that?” Then they were seeing me get free product that they were used to paying for, and they were like, “Whoa, wait a second. This is strange.” To be honest though, my parents were very supportive. They actually drove me to West Virginia and a few of the different M.E.S.S. contests throughout the years.

They would hang out for the weekend for the contests?
They did for the first couple. When I was 14, they let me start traveling with my buddies that were older. They hung out for the first couple contests though.

Wow. What did they think about what you were doing?
They were probably a little concerned about what was happening, because I was hanging out with older dudes. They were wondering about the drinking and smoking and stuff, so they’d ask about that. They were probably as concerned about that as how well I did in the contests. I was levelheaded enough that they could trust that I wasn’t going to be influenced by what was happening around me. They let me do my thing. I had a lot of freedom. They knew how much it meant to me, so they let it roll.

So you and Roskopp were on Madrid. Was Danforth on Madrid too then?
Yep.

Did you connect with Bill at any of those M.E.S.S. contests?
Danforth was at a handful of them. He was always one of the dudes. It was Danforth, Brett Martin, Britt Parrot, Mike Hill, Kevin Dickman, Ray Underhill, Batmite, Joe Bowers and many others. I was riding for Madrid, up until ‘84.

Those were really down times and it was super underground and you were getting hooked up. That’s sick. Did they give you any travel money or fly you to California?
No. I was just getting boxes of stuff. Beau Brown was my team manager. I think Bob Schmelzer was my team manager at some point. The first ad I got was skating the Beaudoin’s ramp that we built in their backyard. That was a big deal for me. We drove up there and built the ramp for them and happened to get some photos. In those days, there was free product but no other perks.

But you were sponsored, so you were probably out of your mind stoked anyway.
Yeah. I wasn’t looking for anything more. I just wanted to keep doing this and get better. I wanted to keep having as much fun as I was having.

So you, Rob and Danforth were getting good. What year were guys planning to do the pro thing?
Well, Roskopp had already gone out to California in ‘83 or ‘84. He moved out early on and turned pro for Santa Cruz. In the Madrid days, that idea hadn’t even crossed my mind. I hadn’t been to California yet and skated with the best amateur skaters. Turning pro wasn’t even a thought whatsoever.

Were you on Tracker, since you were with Madrid?
No. I never rode for Tracker. My first truck sponsor was Gullwing.

Who was your hook up at Gullwing?
John Hogan was the team manager, later on, Randy Jansen. Back then, I was riding different brands of trucks and then once I became loyal to them, I just supported them 100%.

You never rode Indys?
I rode Indys on my street set up, but not on vert. I went from ACS to Trackers. All my buddies had Indys and I guess I didn’t want to do the same thing that they were doing. All they rode were Indys. They were like, “Indy, Duane, Indy, Mike Smith, Indy, Christian…”

So you’ve got Gullwing and Madrid going. Were you still living in Indianapolis?
Yeah. In ‘84 or ‘85, The Faction came through Indianapolis and played in this backyard. We were like, “It’s The Faction. There’s Caballero right there!” We were all afraid to talk to them, so my buddy, Sean, went up to him and started talking to him. We ended up taking him to this ramp that I had. It was a ramp that was pretty new at the time. It was at my uncle’s house. We called it the Love Ramp. It was 28’ wide, 10’ tall, a foot of vert, with a channel, and three different types of coping and an extension. There was different coping on every wall. There was pool coping on one side of the channel and PVC on the other side, and pipe on the extension. It was just a cornucopia of coping. They came and skated with us, so I rode for Powell for about six months. Caballero hooked that up. He talked to Stacy and I started getting stuff.

Did you approach him or did he just come to your ramp and watch you rip?
I didn’t say anything. We just skated. Then I got a letter from him saying that he wanted me to ride for Powell, and Stacy was going to reach out to me. I rode for them in early ‘85 for six months. I had just graduated high school, and I knew at an early age, that as soon as I was able, I was going to cut out of Indiana. It was California, without a doubt. When I graduated high school, I knew I was going to go to college, but it was time for me to go explore the world first. The Trashmore amateur contest was coming up and there was the Tahoe contest. The first Trashmore contest, the Pro and Am, were on two different weekends. I wanted to go to Trashmore and I wanted to go to Tahoe. My buddy, Bob Pribble, was looking out for me a lot more than my clueless ass. I was just riding a skateboard with no direction or huge aspirations. He was the one looking out for me at the time, so he called me up and he had been hanging out with Spidey and the O’Briens up in San Jose. He’s the one who was like, “What is Powell going to do for you?” I was like, “What do you mean?” I didn’t even think about it. “You need to go to Trashmore and Tahoe and come out here and stay with these guys in San Jose and then go to Del Mar.” Then it hit me like, “Yeah, maybe they should be doing something for me.” So I called Stacy and told him that I wanted to do this and they weren’t down.

What did Stacy say to you?
I don’t remember exactly. It was something like “You’re not ready,” or “We just can’t do that.” I hadn’t met him yet, so I was just this kid calling him from middle America. Who knows? So I started thinking about Santa Cruz, because I had gotten the go-ahead that they were willing to invest in me.

Did Pribble make them aware of how good you were?
I guess Pribble sang my praises. I don’t know what kind of lies he told them, but they wanted to fly me out to Virginia Beach, so I let Cab know that. It wasn’t like I had the plan of turning pro, but I think that’s where he thought my head was. I think he thought that since I’d gotten sponsored, I was thinking I was ready to turn pro. I did have some thoughts put in my head that I’d get lost on the Bones Brigade making turning pro some day less likely, but I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. I was convinced that my board sponsor should bring me out to California and see if I’ve got what it takes to go to the next level though.

What did Cab think?
He thought I was jumping the gun. He wrote it to me in a letter. He thought I was being a little too aspirational and acting a little bigger than I should have. He thought that sticking with the Bones Brigade was the best thing rather than jumping at the first offer to fly to California. Nonetheless, I made that decision and it was the one of the best ones I’ve ever made. It’s why I’m here where I am now. It shaped me.

It’s all Pribble’s fault.
It is all Pribble’s fault.

So you go to Trashmore for the contest and how did you do?
It was me and Henry [Gutierrez] battling it out. It was Henry, Midgette, Crescini and Fudala. I had met Midgette because he had travelled to a MESS contest or two. That was just a rad crew of dudes. From what I remember, it was between me and Henry, but somehow I won the contest. That was the first time that I met Dave McIntyre from NHS. He was the first person from NHS that I met. It was a small operation in the mid ‘80s. Skateboarding was still small, although it was about to boom, but not too many people saw that. Spidey and McIntyre were the first people from Santa Cruz that I met. Spidey was out there too for the contest.

What did they say to you?
They were tripping out. I don’t think Spidey had ever been out of California, let alone the East Coast. Spidey was a unique individual, and still is.

Were they tripping that you won or were they expecting that?
I think they were stoked for me. They might have been like, “Here’s this dude we took a chance on just a month ago and he won the contest.” I was proud to show them some return on that investment right away, for what it was worth. Then I went straight to Tahoe. I got picked up by Pribble and the O’Brien’s and met them for the first time and went to Chantry’s place. Then I went straight into that contest and that was amazing.

That was when Lance lit his tail on fire. What was your perception of that scene?
That was exactly what I had hoped that a contest in California was. It was nuts. All the pros were there. It was the first time I’d gotten to see any of those guys skate live. Since the Am contest at Trashmore was on a separate weekend from the Pros, I didn’t get to see any of the guys skate then. Tahoe was a party scene. The ramp was in the middle of nowhere and there were tons of people and ripping skateboarding. It was really cool.

What skaters stand out in your brain from those sessions that were just going off?
Lance. Christian. Stevie. Blender was there. Grigley was there.

Chris Miller?
Yep. Gator.

That was the first time you saw the heavy-duty pros riding?
Yeah. I knew that I had a ways to go as far as trying to be as good as these guys. When the idea for me turning pro came up, I didn’t like it. I felt like I wasn’t ready for it. It took a lot of convincing to get me to do that. Just being able to see those guys ride that I had seen in magazines and videos and being part of that was really cool.

Was Fausto there?
Fausto was there. That was the first time I met him. Novak was there. The entire industry was there.

What was it like meeting Fausto?
Meeting Fausto and Novak, I didn’t know who I was meeting then. I only knew that they were the owners of NHS and Indy. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people I was meeting. I was thrown into the throes of the concentrated epitome of the industry at that event, and I was just floored. It was a really cool experience.

Did you go to San Francisco after that and chill with the Santa Cruz guys?
We went and stayed in San Jose for a lot of the summer. Then I went down to Del Mar and did that scene for a while. I stayed at Larry Balma’s house. Even though I wasn’t riding for him, he was cool enough to let me crash on the couch while Pribble was staying there.

So you and Pribble were cruising around.
We drove his Rabbit around quite a bit. He put a lot of miles on that thing in the mid ‘80s.

Did you go and hang out with Caballero and do the San Jose scene with him? Didn’t he have his ramp going then?
No. It might have already been cut down to a mini ramp, but I never got to skate it. There wasn’t much to skate in San Jose at that time. That’s one of the reasons we spent a lot of time down in Del Mar. It was all about the NSA contests back then. It was contest travel. I stayed in San Jose because it was close to NHS, but there wasn’t a lot of transition going on in San Jose then. In ‘89, shortly after I moved out there, Corey and I opened up a skatepark there.

When you went to Del Mar, who were you hanging out with? Were you skating with Reese Simpson and all those dudes?
Reese was one of ‘em. Owen Nieder, Don Pollard, Adrian Demain, little Rex Kay, Bruno Herzog, Swank… That was a rad scene down there.

Did you guys shoot up to Upland and hang out with Salba?
I got to skate Upland once. I skated the full pipe the most because I had never skated anything like it before. We skated there for half a day on our way back up north.

So you were in San Jose for a few weeks and then you flew home to Indianapolis?
We drove around to a couple of contests first. There was the big street contest in Oceanside. They had a bank ramp up onto a picnic table, curbs, launch ramps, a wall ride… I think I did okay in that contest. I spent a lot of time in San Jose, but there was a lot of traveling to contests.

Were you doing any photo sessions and trying to get photos in the magazines?
We shot with photographers a little bit, but that was just the sessions that were happening and not orchestrated events.

What did you do after hanging out on the West Coast and doing the contests?
That was ‘85. I started college at the end of the summer. I went to IUPUI in Indianapolis. I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted to focus on, so I was just getting the basics out of the way. That’s when the proposition of turning pro and the obligation of traveling came up and I literally didn’t even finish my first semester of college.

Who talked to you about going pro?
It was Tim Piumarta and others at NHS.

You didn’t know if you should do it?
After I finally warmed up to the idea, I definitely felt like there was added pressure. Being from Indiana, I felt like I had a lot more to prove. I didn’t look at it like it was the greatest thing. It was more like, “Now it’s getting serious and I need to really prove myself.” The first pro contest I entered it was a BMX/skate contest in Southern California. Freestylin’ Magazine covered it, which was a BMX/skate mag. Billy Ruff was there. Lester was there. It wasn’t a huge event, which was cool, because I didn’t have to skate against Tony, Stevie and Lance. I remember Ruff was really cool to me. He could tell I was nervous as hell, so he gave me some advice. He said, “First run. Do what you know how to do and stick it and then make sure you pop out on the platform.” He also made me feel like I deserved to be there, which calmed my nerves a bit. I’ll never forget it. That was really cool of him.

Billy Ruff rips. I remember seeing him at contests. He was super consistent.
He was a contest machine. I became good friends with Billy and traveled a lot with him over the next few years. Pribble had Del Mar and Upland contest videos that we used to watch for hours on end. It was cool to get that advice and support at the same time from someone like Billy. That was my first contest and I think I got second, and it was all downhill from there. [Laughs]

I remember when things started blowing up and they had all those Roskopp Santa Cruz ads. I was like, “This is going to get big.” There came a point, where it seemed like if you came out with the right model and the right graphic, you were going to sell a million skateboards.
Yeah. There were only a handful of pro skaters at the time. There were like 40 or 50 pros then. It was a good time to be a pro, that’s for sure.

Did you turn pro after Roskopp?
Yeah. That was a couple of years later. I was riding Roskopp’s second model as an amateur.

You were in the perfect position because Santa Cruz blew up. When did your first pro model come out?
1986.

What was the graphic?
It was computer grid hands holding the world, which was exploding in half from a nuclear bomb. There was a mushroom cloud with my name in it.

What were the dimensions of the board?
It was a little under 10” and 30”. The tail was 9”. The tail was almost the widest part of the board. Christian’s first Alva board influenced the shape.

What did it feel like to get your first pro model in your hands?
It was a trip. There were no computers or Internet or email to share graphic concepts. I remember sitting in the bedroom of the house I grew up in and opening up envelopes with 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper taped together with this rough sketch that Jim Phillips had drawn. I had gone to the mall and grabbed a couple of books and then he created the graphic from the ideas and pieces of art that I had given him. When the final version was done, and seeing it on an actual board, it was definitely surreal. It happened so fast that I didn’t have time to mentally prepare for that moment. That made it even sweeter, to have it happen and to get that from something that I loved as opposed to having that expectation or entitlement, strictly because I enjoyed doing it. It was an amazing feeling.

What did your parents think?
Well, it really started to hit when checks started rolling in. It was still an unknown to them. They were like, “Okay, so you have your name on a board and this company is flying you around. That’s great. Good for you.” I know they were proud, but I bet in the back of their minds they were wondering how long this was going to last and was it worth quitting college. When the checks started coming in, and I was making money, things changed a little. Even though my parents were probably like, “This isn’t going to last. You can’t skateboard forever.” I was making more money than they were, at that point, so that added an element of legitimacy.

Being from the Midwest, you probably didn’t get too big a head about it and you were super humble and grateful. Did you keep your head together with it?
I think so. I am fairly conservative by nature, especially fiscally. I wasn’t spending my money like it was always going to keep on rolling in. I was 18, at the time, so I still felt like the idea of being 30 was so far off in my mind. I was just hoping I was still skating when I was 30. The average age of a professional skateboarder then was 19 or 20.

It wasn’t like a huge contest scene had developed yet either.
The contests were happening, but the purses were small. I remember that contest in Texas at that huge arena and the first place prize was $10,000 and that was unheard of. Most of them were in the $5,000 range. Now contest prizes can be a good income for a pro skater. Back then you weren’t banking on contest winnings to pay the bills.

The other fringe benefit was the travel. When you turned pro, did Santa Cruz send you to Japan and Europe?
That’s exactly what happened. One of the first places I went to was Japan.

Did you ever have a moment, when you were on a plane flying to Japan, where you just couldn’t believe it?
Yeah. My first trip to Japan was with Christian, Natas and Roskopp. The reception that we all got in Japan, the first time I traveled overseas, was just insane. It was overwhelming.

You guys were like Led Zeppelin, right?
Yeah. It was pretty nuts. It was actually kind of scary. I lost my board in the crowd when these kids surrounded me and wanted autographs. They were all speaking Japanese and yelling. I don’t do that well in crowds and my board disappeared. It was gone and I didn’t even care. I just needed to get out of there. I was trying to be cool about it and sign a couple of autographs and then I got into a mini-anxiety attack situation. It was surreal. So I broke away and Natas and I ran. At one point, I got away and I was hiding in this restaurant and I’m taking a leak in this restroom and then these kids bust in with cameras and they’re taking photos of me taking a leak. I was like, “I don’t believe this.” It was weird. As far as fans really fanning out and appreciating, that was the pinnacle. It never got that gnarly ever again.

Was the demo at a huge venue?
No. The demo was on top of this parking structure with a vert ramp. There was actually a demo inside too with a mini ramp and a street area. It wasn’t a huge venue. It was pretty compact. It was about 5,000 square foot and it was wall-to-wall people. This was in ‘87 or ‘88. Skateboarding was booming and NHS was in one of its peak years. That was an amazing year for skateboarding. Skateboard participation was off the charts. It all decreased from there on out, until the late ‘90s.

There you are in Japan signing autographs and everyone is going nuts.
Yeah. The international distributors treated us like rock stars. We had a dinner and I had one of the best beef stroganoffs I’ve ever had in my life. In fact, I had two of them. They had this red carpet area in the back of this nightclub and I remember eating this meal. After we were done, one of the guys says, “Yeah, that was a $4,000 tab.” That was when I was like, “That’s it. I have to check myself. I don’t really know what’s going on right now.”

Did that put it more into perspective that it was so over the top?
Yeah. I was in a different country with a different level of excitement. It felt a little unrealistic.

How was your experience in Australia?
Australia was great except the trip wasn’t long enough. We only spent 11 days there. It was a 16-hour flight to get there and I wasn’t ready to get back on the plane to do that again, but it was a fun contest and a super rad vert scene.
The skaters in Australia seem hardcore. They seem to do it for the right reasons.
Yep. They’re such funny people too. I’ve never met an Aussie that wasn’t hilarious.

So Hosoi wasn’t on Santa Cruz, but he was doing Santa Cruz wheels? Was that a Speed Wheels tour?
In Japan, that was a Santa Cruz/Hosoi/SMA tour with Natas and Roskopp. The Australia trip was Jason Jessee, Bod Boyle and the O’Briens. That was, later on, in 1990, I believe.

That was the Santa Cruz/Gullwing dudes.
Well, Jason and myself were. I got some pressure early on. Groholski skated in a few of the M.E.S.S. contests and I remember him riding for Santa Cruz for a brief period. At the time, I was riding for Madrid. We were on the platform at Mike Hill’s and I remember him saying that he was getting a lot of pressure to not ride Gullwings, so I knew going into it that I was going to get some flak for that, but they let me choose my path, right or wrong.

That’s impressive. That’s pretty ballsy to be riding Gullwings up in Santa Cruz.
[Laughs] Yeah. I didn’t realize how much that was bucking the system. They hooked me up at the beginning, so I was a loyal dude. Just because I was changing my board sponsor didn’t mean I was changing anything else. I got the passive aggressive comments here and there, but no real pressure to make a move. That move came later on and that was 100% on me. It had nothing to do with company pressure.

You have to respect Gullwing because they had guys like you, Chris Miller, Neil Blender and Ben Schroeder. You can’t fuck around with that caliber of riders.
I looked up to Gator a lot too. He was one of the reasons that I rode Gullwings because I was a huge fan. He was doing something different from everybody else. They had a good crew.

Tell people about the early Santa Cruz videos, like Streets of Fire. Powell had their videos, but it seemed like Santa Cruz had its own style of videos that were very popular. Were you part of that scene?
Scott Dittrich, the producer, who had done surf documentary type of films, brought that formula into skate and it was completely different. It was 16mm film, not video. It had a completely different look and feel. He wanted to throw the narrations in there. Even later, in the Streets video, where it was more skits, it was unique to Santa Cruz. It was limiting because you were working with film and that’s expensive. With film, the sunlight and the angle have to be good. Certain spots weren’t necessarily good for filming at certain times of the day. We had a completely unique look when it came to skateboard videos. Looking back on it, I’m beyond grateful to have been a part of that.

Did you feel like you were competing with what Stacy Peralta was doing or were you just doing your own thing?
We were doing our own thing. That’s the only way that Novak would have it. He picked Scott to do the videos because he knew he would get a different product than what was being done already.

At that point, street skating became huge. We were all riding vert and then we started seeing people doing street plants. How did you see it evolve? When did you start to see the shift marketing wise and street boards start outselling everybody?
That came much later. Growing up where we did, with limited access to terrain and skateparks and backyard ramps, as a skateboarder, you just skated everything. In the winter, the only place to really go was a parking garage where you were going to find a curb and some parking blocks to skate. Now with skateparks everywhere, kids have a huge opportunity to enjoy all aspects of skateboarding. It might be a little too niche and cliquey for its own good at times. Street skating was always something that we did. You skated whatever you could skate. We were no different from dudes out in San Jose. My friends would take a bus to skate a 30-degree bank with no curb on top. We didn’t see that’s where things were going. It was just skateboarding. The first video that I was in, I did nothing but street skate. I got this notice that there was a crew coming out to film me and they were going to do this video. I was like, “There’s nothing to skate in Indianapolis right now,” so we made do.

I remember that. I was thinking, “What is Kendall doing?” You’re a vert skater, but there was no vert ramp in your part. It was all street skating. There seemed to be a point when some vert skaters started trying to skate street to help sales and awareness with the street kids.
There is a theme developing here. I didn’t plan fuck all. I just went with it. Gonz came up and stayed with us in Corey’s tent in his grandma’s garage. He was skating around the streets with us in San Jose. Seeing Natas, there was definitely an appeal to that. I knew those guys were coming out to film and even though my vert ramp was dilapidated and my uncle was over it, I was street skating enough, and entering street contests like Savannah Slamma, so I wasn’t like, “There’s nothing I can do.” Unfortunately, at that time, there was no vert to skate, so we just traveled around the streets of Indianapolis and got what we got in a few days. We actually discovered a few new spots during that time as well.

That’s totally cool. It’s just interesting that you’re skating all over the world and accelerating in vert and then street skating comes in and your board sales start slipping and the street guys’ board sales start becoming the focus, right?
Right. That was the early ‘90s. It happened with Natas before that, in probably ‘88, ‘89, and ‘90, for sure. We didn’t really foresee the whole thing changing as much as it did until the early ‘90s.

All of a sudden, pro vert skaters weren’t being sent to vert contests anymore. Was there a point where someone at Santa Cruz told you that they’d have to ratchet back on your travel?
Yeah. I rode for Gotcha and they let me go and a good portion of that reason was that I was being irresponsible and not doing my part. That whole thing dried up and that was good money. Then you had shoe money and all these peripheral sponsors starting to dry up and you see the proverbial writing on the wall. At that point, your main source of income was from your board sponsor and that didn’t change until the early ‘90s. Bob and Novak had a sit-down with me and my dumb ass didn’t get the message until after the meeting. They were like, “You’re getting a little older now. What do you think about working here? You can run the team. What do you want to do with your future?” I still felt good about where I was, which was completely different from where skateboarding was, as far as the health of the industry. I knew that things were changing with street, but this was still ‘91 or early ‘92. I came out of that meeting and I was like, “I think I’m being pushed out.” Now I know how it works. When Rich has someone in his organization, team rider or otherwise, at a certain age, he feels like they can do more and he wants to keep them around. It was definitely a complement and I feel privileged that he looked at me in that way. At the time, I was like, “Oh shit. Rude awakening! Things are changing.” I was 24, at the time, so I viewed myself as a bit over the hill. I knew things were changing and I knew I needed a plan. I thought about going to culinary school and becoming a chef. All this stuff was going through my mind. I didn’t know if I wanted to work in the skateboard industry. When industry politics would surface, as they inevitably would, I would try to ignore them. I didn’t want what skateboarding meant to me to be tarnished by these external factors. My friends used to give me shit because, when I wasn’t skating, I wasn’t talking about skateboarding. That’s just the way I was. It was the act of. That’s the thing that got me into it and kept me going. The idea of working within the industry wasn’t something that came natural to me. It was an easy transition, but it wasn’t my first choice.

Was it hard to wrap your brain around how vert was so huge where you’re traveling the world and doing shows for thousands of people, and then it just shifted to the flatland thing?
I was a little bitter, and a lot of dudes like us, didn’t take that very well. You could go two ways. There’s that fork in the road and you could go the bitter, self-pity way and things could turn bad.

Yeah, like Gator.
Yeah, and even Christian. For me, I saw how quickly it changed and realized that where it had evolved to wasn’t where I wanted to go. I knew it was time to change my career path. I wasn’t really bitter about it. It was just different. It just wasn’t for me anymore. Also, the income had substantially decreased and I had a mortgage to pay.

Now you’re going to work in the industry that’s promoting the thing that just killed your livelihood, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow, right?
A little. I think the fact that we had that ‘skate everything’ mentality growing up helped ease the bitterness. We were skating everything in the streets and skating a curb for hours, so it wasn’t so foreign to me to see where skateboarding had gone that I was pissed about it. We did produce a video in ‘93 and I didn’t have much of a problem poking a little fun at where skateboarding was at the time. The title of the video was BPSW, big pants, small wheels.

At that point, skateboarding was being driven by the Rocco and Big Brother thing, which was directly aimed at Santa Cruz, Powell and NHS. What was the mindset of you and Novak in order to combat that?
It was definitely the small guys against the big guys. What was happening was that I knew that Santa Cruz/NHS, the company that I had ridden for since the mid ‘80s, now was my employer, so my sense of pride was being threatened. At the same time, I saw the lack of evolution from some of the bigger companies, and I felt like we were one of them. I was like, “This is happening, because we need to change.” I looked at it and there was some sense of DIY punk rock shit going down. It wasn’t punk rock in the literal sense, but the attitude itself was similar. It was a little weird because it was infighting. For me, skateboarders were brethren and you supported everyone regardless of whether a dude did freestyle or rolled down the street barefoot and never planned on skating a ramp.

Or rode Trackers.
[Laughs] Yeah. Or he rode Trackers or Gullwings. It was a little depressing that there was that going on. I was like, “We’re all one. Why are we fighting one another?” It was a drastic change and it was definitely a manufactured battle. Looking back, it was a smart one. It was right. That was ready to happen. We were on the radar somewhat, but Novak had his influence, so he didn’t become too much of a target. People didn’t fuck with him too much, so we came out of that somewhat unscathed. We made a lot of drastic and stupid changes trying to change with the times that probably weren’t the best decisions. For Santa Cruz, Independent, Powell and Vision, times were tough. Even Independent was a tough sell in the early ‘90s because it had history. Instead of the accolades that NHS and Santa Cruz and Independent and Road Rider are getting now for being around for 40 plus years, it was, “You’re just old.”

I know guys who held on to boxes of old Santa Cruz wood because in the ‘90s there was no concave and boards were so flimsy. We went from having killer rockers and then boards got super mellow for street skating so everyone stockpiled concave boards. Was there any other innovation with concaves or board strength that you innovated in the ‘90s?
We backed off a little bit on the innovation front in the early to mid ‘90s, because we were at a point where we were just trying to survive and stay in the game. At that point, you felt like anything you throw out to try and stick on the wall, wasn’t going to stick. People were like, “Who the fuck are you right now still in this?” Bob had mentioned that a competitor in the mid ‘90s came up to him at a trade show and was like, “You guys should just give it up.” That was the one thing that was said to him that drove him to say, “We’re going to become the best house of brands in skateboarding that we possibly can.” That was a big motivator for him. NHS kept innovating in a lot of ways though. We were packaging wheels in mini cereal boxes, chip bags, and oilcans back when they were only 38mm. When it came to construction or concaves, we tried a few things when the slicks were around. We did different materials when most people were doing standard slicks.

It always seemed like you guys made quality stuff. What happened when the slicks went out of fashion?
When slicks died down, Santa Cruz, as a brand, had started to slip a little bit before that, but that was one thing that NHS pioneered in the sense that it became a staple in skateboarding. You weren’t selling a skateboard if you didn’t have a slick bottom board in the early ‘90s, so that changed things quite a bit. There was also this trend of focusing boards and flimsy super thin layups. We took a negative and turned it into a positive in the mid ‘90s. Piumarta had been making decks for so long and he refused to follow the trend and make a board .380” thick that is going to break. That didn’t sit well with him and he wasn’t going to do that. We came down from .420 of an inch thick, which is where boards were at in the ‘80s, to roughly .400”, which is still quite a bit thicker. We still had our wood shop in Wisconsin and we were producing boards. We had moisture-controlled rooms to keep the cellular integrity and structure of the wood. You didn’t want it to be dry and then damp and then dry and then damp where it starts to lose strength. We had the highest quality wood and it was a little bit thicker, so our boards didn’t break very easily. We branded them, “PowerPly” and we started selling a lot of boards that weren’t really focus-friendly. We just marketed the benefits of our slightly thicker boards and, all of a sudden, people were praising us for having boards that were stronger. Thankfully, Tim had an unwavering level of quality he wasn’t going to compromise.

You guys stuck with quality.
For sure. Going back to the Road Rider and early Santa Cruz days, we had multiple concaves for Olson, Duane and Salba and we had the precision bearing and the Independent truck. Those products were our foundation. I think we had credibility when it came to that and people still looked to us because we had higher quality stuff. Eventually, everyone came back around to the slightly thicker board and that became the standard again.

What was your job through the ‘90s?
I was the team manager for Santa Cruz, and we had other stuff too. We had Speed Wheels, and there was SMA. I worked alongside Russ Pope who was running SMA until he started doing Creature in the mid ‘90s. This was right after the big collapse when NHS went from 100+ employees down to 30 or 40 employees within two years. It was trial by fire and learn as you go, somewhat.

How many people could you afford to sponsor then?
We had to change that a lot. In the ‘80s, when Gavin was running the team, we had over 50 people on the team and that had to change. Gavin had to deal with that stuff before I was hired part-time.

Did you ever have to make the phone calls to let people go?
Absolutely. It just kept getting smaller and we were trying to evolve and reinvent ourselves, so we had to let people go, not only because of cost reasons, but because things were changing and we were trying to stay relevant.

How hard was that for you to do on a human level, to call a guy that you know is ripping and tell them that you couldn’t send them shit anymore?
It was terrible. It was really lame. It was even some of my peers. I felt like I was put in this shitty position, but my obligation to the company was to try and make it relevant again. I had to tell myself that in order to make those decisions and make those calls. It didn’t really help, but I had to do it.

How did people take it in general?
It ran the gamut from people being bitter for the rest of their lives to being understanding. Guys had seen where skateboarding had gone and they weren’t willing to go there. Some of them were like, “Skateboarding has changed so much. This isn’t me anymore. I understand.” The reactions were all over the place, but it was never fun.

We’ve both been on both ends of that stick. That’s the worst feeling.
Yeah. Totally.

So you were sponsoring ten amateurs and some pros in ‘94 and ‘95. Who were your pros in the mid ‘90s?
We had William Nguyen, Caesar Singh, Jason Rothmeyer, Tony Tieu and Ryan Aningalan. Chet Thomas was in there for a while and then he split to do his own thing. Jaya Bonderov was there and then he went to do Adrenalin. Around that time, we merged and took Brauch, Whaley and Israel Forbes from SMA and folded SMA when Russ started Creature. We had Brauch, Whaley, Israel and a good group of guys riding for Santa Cruz. That was one of the better times going into the late ‘90s with Tim and Ron and all those guys. We started doing pretty good again. We had a good thing going. The art direction was looking good. It wasn’t Phillips, which we didn’t realize until quite a bit later, just how important that was. The art direction changed so much. That was the biggest issue. There was no consistency. It’s such a basic thing. I can’t believe it was overlooked, but it was a huge mistake. Again, when you’re being viewed as old and stale, the last thing you want to do is keep the same look. I’m not saying it would have worked in the early ‘90s. We had to go through changes and stupid re-inventions to maintain. When it came time to start looking like ourselves again, the time was right. It couldn’t have just happened at any time. We had to go through these trials and tribulations and failures of different looks and art direction.

With Independent and Santa Cruz, you guys have proven over the years that you just have to stay hardcore to your roots. With all the other trendy companies that come in and go out of business, guys like you have to play it smart and make tough decisions to keep that boat floating.
Yes. You have to stay true to your roots but you also have to evolve at the same time.

In the late ‘90s, you guys are hanging in there and keeping things tight and then you start to see things like Burnside going down. What was going on with Santa Cruz when you started to see DIY concrete things like Burnside going on?
I don’t think we adapted quite quick enough to see what was happening at that level on the DIY front. I had moved and was taking on quite a bit more responsibilities at the company. In the late ‘90s, we went through another logo change and another art direction change, even after the success we were having in the late ‘90s when it was a more natural fit for Santa Cruz as a brand. I wasn’t so involved with strictly Santa Cruz by the late ‘90s. We were starting to grow again as a company and we started to build brands within the company and look at them as their own mini entities, so we were building our infrastructure as well.

Were you guys getting into snowboarding at that time?
Santa Cruz Snowboards began in 1989, so by the mid ‘90s it was really doing well. Snowboards for Santa Cruz as a brand and even for NHS as a company, from the early ‘90s to the ‘96/’97 peak, really kept the doors open. When we had to make steep cuts, snowboards were doing really good. It was still a cottage industry. It was owned by Burton, Sims and Santa Cruz. The ski industry was still shunning it. Their deep pockets hadn’t come into the mix yet, so we were doing really well in snowboards. I didn’t have anything to do with that division of the company, but I believe that I kept my job partially because of that. It was hard times for skateboarding, but snowboarding was killing it.

Was that a weird perspective to look at snowboards as keeping you guys alive? Did you think that skateboarding was ever going to kick back in?
We were in a little bit of denial, at least I was. We were like, “We don’t really need that. We’re doing good.” In reality, we absolutely needed it. In the late ‘90s, when the idea was thrown around of doing snowboards, I was one of the guys who was completely anti. It was just about skateboarding. That was it. Anything else was completely lame. That was my opinion, not so much from a business standpoint. I thought it would be the kiss of death. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Did you think the branding with snowboarding would bring you down even lower as far as your credibility?
For me, the brand meant so much in skateboarding, that doing a line extension into something like snowboarding was somewhat demeaning. Although, you’re still standing sideways and it was still a “board sport,” it was just too different. I thought it would hurt skate. I thought it would cause the company to lose its focus, but it didn’t. Novak made sure he had the right resources in place, which was monumental. I didn’t view snowboarding as something happening under that brand name, but it was a great move. It kept our lights on through some tough times when skateboarding was at its lowest.

In the early 2000s, is that when it started to pick back up again for Santa Cruz?
Yes, for NHS and skateboarding as a whole.

What do you think triggered it?
The X Games and Tony’s 900 had a lot to do with it I believe. I don’t think we’ve seen skateboarding participation levels as high as they were in the early 2000s thanks to video games and what Tony had done to pull these kids from off the couch or off their bikes or from the baseball diamonds to ride skateboards. He was an amazing ambassador for the “sport.” The demographics were there too. There were a lot of young kids that needed something to do. I think we’re missing a bit of that now. There are not as many kids. That demographic has to be there for a boom to happen. It was a perfect storm in the late ‘90s with what Tony had done and the economy and demographically.

What was your perspective when it started to peak again? How did you want to position Santa Cruz? What did you learn from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when you saw it coming back?
Well, we had diversified quite a bit as a company. Santa Cruz was not the only brand that we were looking after. We had repositioned Bullet to be more of a price point thing. We had safety gear with TSG, which later became Bullet for a while. We had a run with Bootleg in the late ‘90s. We took some of that success and started Mob Grip and Ricta Wheels. Later, we took those successes and resurrected Creature. The snow boom helped finance some of these things. A similar thing happened with Independent clothing in the late ‘90s, and selling to a mall store like Pacific Sunwear. Talk about the fear of the ‘kiss of death.’

But weren’t you guys selling the most Indy gear ever when those mall stores started ordering?
Absolutely. They had 900+ stores.

How do you weigh those temptations? You can make a ton of money but now everyone is wearing an Indy shirt that doesn’t even ride Indys. How does that play with you? Was there a discussion between the brand guys about where Indy should and shouldn’t be as far as these mall stores or core shops?
Absolutely. That was one of the tougher decisions to pull the trigger and go into that channel. We weren’t about to go in by ourselves. At the same time, we opened the door for other brands to make that move too. They had the same fears that they would hurt their brands and turn off skateboarders. Malls were very taboo at that time. We didn’t go into it so much like, “We’re going to sell to a bunch of non-skateboarders.” It was more like, “Here’s a way to get our brand out to skateboarders through this mainstream channel with this reach that we’ve never had before.” Then you start to see that there are a lot of non-skateboarders buying it, which did have a bit of a negative impact.

We all have our opinion about it, but in your eyes, was that a bad thing?
Well, it’s a badge of pride to wear a t-shirt from a brand as iconic as Independent Trucks. You don’t want people that don’t really know what it’s about wearing it if you’re coming from a core skateboarder’s perspective. From running a company with 90+ employees and over 300 family members, there’s a different perspective. It’s a complete paradigm shift. We definitely saw both sides. The thing is, not only were we able to keep the team riders and employees and start new brands, we were able to keep these core attributes and people that were such a big part of the company. We were able to keep them because of that. We fueled the skateboard economy more because of that move. We took the money that was coming from non-skateboarders, and invested it back into skateboarding and our employees.

How long did the Pac Sun thing last?
It was about a five-year run. It was probably ‘99 to 2005 before it disappeared completely.

Why did it go away?
Trends come and go. At the time, you had the Independent logo, the cross, which was appealing to a lot of people outside of skateboarding. You had the Jesse James West Coast Chopper shit happening at the same time. I don’t know if it had anything to do with that appeal, but you had Third Rail and all these companies that were doing similar types of logos. Who knows at this point? We are very happy with where things are right now.

How did you see it going from 2005-2010? Was it a temporary setback with Pac Sun or did you feel shaky?
We definitely felt strong. The company had gone through three down cycles, so we had learned what to do and what not to do. We had strong brands. Skateboarding wasn’t in the same position it was in the late ‘80s, but we were still strong. We had brands that were not cannibalizing one another. Our company infrastructure was very strong. One of the biggest attributes of this company has been the people and infrastructure. The way it was structured over the years, we started paying close attention to each brand individually as opposed to taking money from stronger ones to support weaker ones. We had invested and diversified the Pac Sun returns. We had learned from previous mistakes how to be smart-lean, that not all brands and marketing expenses are created equal. Financially, we were sound. We weren’t too worried. We felt like skateboarding was due to grow again. Everything changed in 2009 when the recession hit. Who knows if that postponed what could have been another boom four years into it.

Let me get your perspective on skateboard companies that are getting bought out by multinationals. How does that make you feel about the industry?
I don’t think it gives me this overall perspective-changing feeling by seeing that happen. These are individual companies making these moves and we’re just watching them as competitors. We try to gauge what their moves are going to be. It’s a little threatening because you have a lot of capital backing some of those companies, but this is still skateboarding. I think we’re engrained and people see that and feel that. They know, even when the people at the front lines of a public traded company are 100% legit, on the back-end, there are motivations that are going to force them to make decisions that a private company would not.

Do you feel like the skateboard industry is strong?
I think it’s pretty strong. From what I see, here in Santa Cruz, I don’t feel like skateboarding participation is declining. I see it everywhere. The skateparks are still crowded. The skateparks still have kids from four years of age to their dads that are 50. Now there are over 6,000 public free skateparks around the world, and there is a broad-based demographic that exists. That’s a huge plus. You have ease of access. Street skating is still the primary source and it’s accessible to almost anyone. I think there are a lot of things that are happening and we’re positioned to where we’re always going to be pretty healthy, but it could be healthier. I think there’s too much right now. There’s going to be some attrition and it’s going to tighten up. There’s just too much of everything for the amount of skateboarders there are.

Do you mean thinning the herd as far as skateboard companies go?
I don’t want to sound lame, and I don’t wish any ill will, but there’s a surplus of brands. It’s hard for retailers and distributors to justify carrying everything. Some retailers are tightening up, like, “We don’t need this many decks, trucks and wheels.” It’s more a sign of the amount of skateboarders out there now as opposed to anything.

You think there are less skateboarders?
There are definitely a lot less than there were in 2002 and 2003, when Tony had his influence.

Why do you think that is?
I don’t know. I have this loose theory that there aren’t enough kids right now. This is somewhat of a conspiracy theory, but it’s tough to make it right now without multiple incomes. That didn’t used to be the case in the baby boomer days. It was all happening on a single income and people were popping out kids left and right and that’s hard to do now. You want to make it in the world and have a career that’s going to get you by and comfortably set in life. Now you have a husband and wife both working their ass off and going to school. There are just less kids right now. When skateboarding is booming, you have a lot of kids at 13 years of age. I know it’s going to be more diverse from here on out, because you’ve got dads that are still skating and getting their kids into skating and I know it’s going to be broader than it’s ever been, but right now there are just not enough 13-14 year olds. I think it’s because people are not having kids like they used to.

There are still 6,000,000+ skateboarders.
There’s still a healthy amount. We’ll see. I think things will turn around with the amount of stuff you see on TV and the amount of shops and mainstream media that has embraced skateboarding and the riders and the amount of money in it now. You no longer have parents like we had where they saw no career path with skateboarding. Now it’s different. You’ve got skate moms and dads pushing their kids to try to become pro. That’s never happened before. Then you have the longboard transportation aspect of skateboarding.

How are you involved with longboarding and what is your perspective on that?
I think it’s healthy for skateboarding. There’s a subculture, just like there was with freestyle, vert and street. It’s just another aspect of skateboarding, but it’s more transportation than anything. It opened up the doors to brands like Sector 9, when everyone else was being way too cool to make anything like that. We were like, “Skateboards aren’t meant to just ride from Point A to Point B. You better snap an ollie, or grind that coping or it’s not skateboarding.” We were guilty of ignoring that a bit. Over the last few years, we’ve been doing our own thing on the cruiser skateboard side and trying to do it unique and fun and not super serious.

Do you think it’s peaked out?
It’s definitely plateauing. You’ve got the frequency of re-buys aspect. A lot of people buying a cruiser or a longboard and using it for transportation are not going through them. It may be the only one that they ever buy. I think it got to the point where a lot of people already bought one and they’re not rebuying and that’s why it’s leveling off. I don’t think that means that a lot fewer people are doing it. It’s plateaued, not for lack of participation, but the lack of purchasing the product. I think the cool thing about it is that skateboarding is an accepted form of transportation again, which can’t hurt.

Who are the Santa Cruz pros now and are any of them vert guys? You’ve got the Creature team going on too.
Josh Borden is one of our main dudes, as far as tranny. Obviously, we’ve got Salba, Dressen and Jason Jessee in the program. You’ve got Eman and Blake Johnson that run the gamut and skate everything. They’re all-terrain skateboarders. With as many skateparks as there are, it’s back to skateboarding again, and they’re skating in a way to where an ‘80s pro in the early ‘90s trying to do something on the street just looked like a fish out of water, and now you’ve got dudes in the generations to come that look natural. You have dudes like Gravette that do it all really well and that’s super refreshing to see.

What’s your take on the Mega Ramp?
It’s really cool. It’s definitely entertainment and I’m really amazed at the stuff that gets done. I don’t think it’s getting people off the couch to go skateboarding. I could be wrong. Evel Knievel was an inspiration for me, as a kid, but I was never going to jump buses on a Harley. I don’t know. I just think that when you’re showing people skating things that your average skateboarder is not going to ever be able to skate, there’s a little more of a separation there than is ideal.

From a skateboarder perspective, can you believe the evolution of Danny Way jumping over the Great Wall of China? It’s gone beyond what I could see coming.
No one could have seen that coming. If you look at the level that those guys have taken skateboarding to, there’s a lot of value to that. I have no idea where it will go from here. There’s definitely a younger group that’s going to keep it alive and it’s good to see that’s the case with vert as well.

Do you think skateboarding should be in the Olympics?
I don’t think skateboarding needs the Olympics. I think the Olympics needs skateboarding. I don’t think it’s the right fit. I really don’t. It’s hard to say. It all depends on how it’s done. It could be done in a way that it does work. It just doesn’t excite me.

We’ve come from the backyard ramps and now you’re helping to run this big gnarly skateboard company. Are you where you want to be in life?
I’m very blessed. I’m blessed with the wife and kids that I have and the career that I’ve had. I’m blessed to have been part of skateboarding for 30+ years and make a living from it. I trip out that it’s gone as fast as it has. I’ve been having too much fun, because it’s gone by way too quick.

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