BRIAN DRAKE Interview by TODD JOHNSON with PHOTOS by @LONGWOOD_SKARTY
TOJO: Paging Brian. You have a call on the courtesy phone. How are you doing?
DRAKE: I’m pretty good. Stoked to have a killer session yesterday on the ramps.
TOJO: I saw some pictures. You did a finger flip lien to tail over the channel.
DRAKE: Yes. It’s been about two years since I had that one.
TOJO: Ok, this is your Juice interview. You’ve been an avid reader of Juice since they were in Wilmington.
DRAKE: Yeah. Juice is definitely the raddest magazine out.
TOJO: So when did you start skateboarding?
DRAKE: It was probably ’84 or ’85 when I got a wider deck, big board. I learned to skateboard on one of those banana boards when I was 7 or 8, skating around the cul-de-sac we lived on.
TOJO: What was your first real board?
DRAKE: It was a Sure-Grip Kilroy model from a roller-rink.
TOJO: Shut up. From the roller rink?
DRAKE: Yeah. There was a little shop for roller-skaters, but they had skateboards there too and I saw that one. One kid in our neighborhood had a JFA board and that was the first fat board that I had ever seen.
TOJO: Sure-Grip made roller skates, so that would be appropriate for them to be in the roller skate rink pro shop.
DRAKE: Yes. It had Sure-Grip trucks and Sure-Grip wheels. It was pretty cheeseball, but it rode all right.
TOJO: Where were you skating back in ’84?
DRAKE: We were just riding quarter pipes. It started with boards with a piece of luan. Actually, the quarter pipe was probably the first thing. It was two pieces of plywood with a little luan at the bottom to learn to pump on. We looked so stoked in the photos, but the ramp we skated was kinked all up.
TOJO: Did you construct this ramp?
DRAKE: I helped with it, but Jim Payne, my neighbor, his dad had carpentry skills, so he headed it up. We showed him photos and the ramp plans in Thrasher.
TOJO: You progressed rapidly. I first met you in ’86, when I came down and skated with you guys on a vert ramp that was near your house, and you were holding your own. I’m only a year older than you, but you were ripping it then.
DRAKE: I got into it pretty quick and we would skate every single day. We had that ramp in the backyard right across the street from my house. I remember being in high school and writing down six or seven tricks to learn and then I’d go home that day and usually learn a lot of them.
TOJO: That’s what separates you from all of the others, because nobody does that. Nobody learns six or seven tricks a day.
DRAKE: [Laughs] Well, some of them would be a take off from a lien to tail and you had to learn Madonnas and crails and finger flips and every different variation you could. Then we built that ramp into a vert ramp. Did you ever skate the Clearwater ramp?
TOJO: I remember that I skated with Tony Simotis at the Dollhouse, but I don’t remember the names of the ramps.
DRAKE: The Clearwater ramp was a little north of St. Petersburg. You’d have remembered it because, on one side, you’d step off this little deck and you’d be standing on the guy’s roof.
TOJO: Oh, that sounds familiar.
DRAKE: It had a solid two feet of vert on it, 16 foot wide. We went there when our ramp was still smaller and we saw this guy Ralph Holjes skating it. He was doing inverts and lien to tails and airs and our jaws were on the ground. We couldn’t believe it so then we went back home and we tore our ramp down and built a 12-foot wide, maybe 9-foot tall with a foot and a half of vert ramp.
TOJO: Who is this guy Ralph?
DRAKE: Ralph Holjes was the local ripper in the area. He got hurt really bad at the concrete full pipes at Tampa. He smacked his head really hard and it almost killed him, I think. He came back from that and the doctors didn’t want him skating anymore. He still skates a little bit now, but that dude ripped back in the day with killer style.
TOJO: Were you aware of Grigley and the guys in St. Pete? Where were you growing up? I thought you were from St. Pete.
DRAKE: I was on the other side of St. Pete and those guys were five years older than me. It was like two ships passing in the night, so I missed that scene.
TOJO: You never got to go to the St. Pete ramp?
DRAKE: No. It was already done when we started getting into it. We didn’t know about it until it was done.
TOJO: How did you find out about it?
DRAKE: Cleo Coney would skate the Suncoast ramp with us and he’d tell us stories. Bruce Whiteside would tell us when Grigley was in town visiting his folks and we’d get to skate with him on the mini ramp.
TOJO: Okay. I skated Bruce’s mini ramp.
DRAKE: That thing was super fun.
TOJO: Yeah. I can’t believe you found out about St. Pete’s just a couple of years too late.
DRAKE: We were bummed like, “There used to be a big vert ramp around here and vert contests with pros?”
TOJO: Yeah. Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain, Monty Nolder, Rob Roskopp… I think Neil Blender won the first one.
DRAKE: You didn’t go to one of those did you?
TOJO: No. I was too young. I had Kona, so I was happy. I couldn’t drive yet, so I wasn’t traveling. Those guys would come to St. Pete after Kona. There was a contest on New Years Day ’84. They flew out from California. That didn’t have anything to do with the Kona contest.
DRAKE: Yeah. We had just started skating, so we had no clue, which is crazy because stuff was in your own hometown. We had no clue it was going on. You’d just read about it later and be like, “Oh, that happened.”
TOJO: So you skated and progressed and then you graduated high school in ’89 and then what?
DRAKE: I was still 17, so I was living with my parents and they said I had to go to college. I called it 13th grade because it was the same people from my high school that went to St. Pete’s Junior College. My dad talked me into going into Business Administration, which totally sucked and I ended up dropping out. That’s when I moved to Daytona Beach to skate Stone Edge.
TOJO: Let me ask you this. Who is administrating your business now? You are, so props to dad.
DRAKE: Yeah. I had to erase the hard drive they taught me in 13th grade for that though. [Laughs]
TOJO: When you were 17, you realized that you wanted to keep skating.
DRAKE: Yeah. There was a freshly built skatepark in Daytona. Stone Edge went up and I skated that Lake Helen ramp on the way over there. I think I’d been to Stone Edge once before I moved out there.
TOJO: Stone Edge was the skate mecca. Who do you remember skating with there?
DRAKE: You never knew who was going to show up. There were different skate tours coming through and we skated with everyone that came through, like Remy Stratton, Peter Hewitt, Sean Andrews, you and Barry Floyd. There were tons of Florida guys like Bob Umbel and DR Bono and all the guys from down south and Frazier and the Tampa people, like Brian Schaefer.
TOJO: Mark Lake. Monty Nolder. Blaize Blouin.
DRAKE: Yeah. I got to skate with Tom Groholski all the time.
TOJO: Mike Frazier. Rob Mertz.
DRAKE: Greg Hiler. The locals killed it – the Glug crew.
TOJO: Yeah. I was skating Rodney’s ramp last year and there was this little kid. His dad might have been co-owner and he still skates a little bit and he stayed friends with Phil Hajal. I skated with his kid last year. He grew up at Stone Edge.
DRAKE: Garrett was a little blond kid back in the day. He’d have his whole gang of kids. They’d come through and hit everything in the park. It was awesome.
TOJO: We can’t forget about Adam Luxford.
DRAKE: Oh, man, yeah. You definitely can’t forget that dude. He destroyed everything at that park. There was Team Steam and all those guys, like Captain John. Chris Hawkins skated switch just as good as he skated normal.
TOJO: Are you talking about the Silver Surfer, Steve Silver? Jeff Thrush. Vinton Pacetti.
DRAKE: Yeah. Ol, Vinnie. He’s got 187 now. Where did you and I skate together the first time? Was it the Suncoast ramp?
TOJO: Yeah. I have a memory of being at a ramp across the street from your house. Tony Simotis and Brett Applefield introduced me to you in ’86. Then we skated together a bunch at Stone Edge, but every time I tried talking to you, your buddy, Matt, would not let me talk to you.
DRAKE: [Laughs] What’s up with that?
TOJO: I don’t know. Why don’t you tell us about Matt and how you guys met?
DRAKE: We knew each other from skating Leonard Trubia’s ramp. That was Mike Frazier’s local ramp. Brian Schaefer had a ramp in Brandon, Florida that was nice too.
TOJO: Leonard had his own ramp?
DRAKE: Yeah. It was in his backyard right next to a lake. Your board could shoot off and go into the lake. Rob Mertz and Ken Sigafoos would come down to Florida every winter and skate all our local ramps. Those were some of the first power skaters that I was able to skate with and see how to stall an invert and how to smack your tail on a lien to tail and put power into everything.
TOJO: What are your memories of first seeing Rob Mertz and Ken Sigafoos?
DRAKE: They pulled up on the side of our ramp in that blue van they were living in and it was stacked full of gear. Mertz was riding for Santa Cruz at the time, so he had all the Santa Cruz wheels and boards and griptape and Indy Trucks. They piled out of that van and completely destroyed our ramp. They just completely shook that thing. We had never seen stalled inverts like that. We had to bang the nails back into the ramp after those guys were done skating it. [Laughs] It was awesome.
TOJO: How did they find the ramp?
DRAKE: They were linked up with Tony Simotis. Rob Mertz said he was sleeping under his mom’s piano at her house. That’s who linked us up because they were skating the Clearwater ramp. They found out about our ramp and came over and started skating that. To see those guys skate and what you could do on a skateboard was mind boggling. That’s what pushed us to come home from school and be like, “I’m learning this, this and this today.”
“I feel like a kid again after we built this vert ramp in the backyard. It’s brought back the same feeling of learning tricks and skating vert and hanging out with your buddies. It’s incredible.”
TOJO: What about them living out of their van? Did that influence you in any way?
DRAKE: Yeah. It showed you a way of life. You could live in a van and go skate and do things that way. It wasn’t all about having a home. They introduced us to all kinds of punk rock music and straight edge music and that kind of stuff too.
TOJO: Were they musicians then?
DRAKE: Rob was playing some guitar, but I don’t know if they were in a band at that point.
TOJO: When did you start playing guitar?
DRAKE: It was around then, but I just tinkered with it. Later on, I got into a band and started playing a lot more.
TOJO: Did you purposely get a perm and grow your hair out like Rob Mertz did?
DRAKE: [Laughs] I purposely did not. I did have long hair in ’85 for a little bit, but I ended up moving to San Francisco and I was surfing one day and got pummeled. I came up and I was just breathing in my hair and choking on it. That’s when I shaved it all off and never grew it back out.
TOJO: Well, I was bringing up the influence of Rob and Ken living in a van and driving around skating because I saw two guys from South Carolina, Mike Thorvelson and Hank Beiring, and they were doing the same thing around the same time, but they had moved to Gainesville because there was a rad ramp there. I remember tripping out and I was like, “What are you guys doing here?” They said, “We liked the ramp so much we moved here.” I was like, “No way.” That was really rad.
DRAKE: That ramp was good. I went and skated it once.
TOJO: There were a few versions. The one I’m talking about was in ’86. There was one in ’89 too.
DRAKE: Yeah. That was the era I skated it, when it was red.
TOJO: What year did you leave Stone Edge?
DRAKE: I was living with Rob Mertz and Matt Howe in an apartment and Matt and I became good friends. We’d save up our money all year and then we’d take a two-month road trip. We went to the Turf one time and to California another time. On one of those trips, we’d gone through Wilmington, North Carolina, and stayed with the guys at the Dog Bowl – Rob Scull and Bailey Webb. They were super cool and they let us borrow their surfboards. We got back to Stone Edge and we were like, “Daytona Beach is an armpit.” That’s when we moved up to North Carolina. I think it was ’92 or the end of ’91 and I got a job with Reggie Barnes at Eastern.
TOJO: Reggie rips. What was there to skate in Wilmington at that time?
DRAKE: The Ramp House was going and they had a killer bowl with a mini ramp and a vert ramp. In ‘94, when that went down, Reggie built a vert ramp at Eastern. It was a 24-foot wide, 9 1/2 foot tall ramp with metal coping.
TOJO: So when was San Francisco?
DRAKE: In ‘94, I left Wilmington and moved to Colorado. I went and visited my folks and then picked you up in Jacksonville and we drove out West.
TOJO: We stopped in El Paso and spent the night with Jaime Favala and then went straight to Denver. Then you stayed in Colorado how long?
DRAKE: I was there for one snowboard season and then I ended up blowing my knee out, and then I got a job with Deluxe. I was stoked to be the team captain guy. They flew me out for an interview and I was 24. To be overseas and use their credit card, you had to be 25. They wanted Mickey Reyes to do it first and he couldn’t. All of a sudden, he could do it, so he ended up getting that job. They said to me, “You sold skateboards at Eastern, so do you want to do that here?” I was like, “Sure.” So I moved to San Francisco and started selling skateboards for Deluxe and I hated it. [Laughs] Then I saw a commercial for Sequoia Institute to work on cars, so I went to school for that.
TOJO: What was San Francisco like in 1995?
DRAKE: It was awesome. I liked it. We were living down by Ocean Beach about seven blocks up. I was surfing with Aaron Astorga and he was a really good surfer. You’d be out surfing at Ocean Beach and, within an hour, the surf could double on you and then you were crapping yourself figuring out how you were going to get back in.
TOJO: You’ve got cold water and great whites.
DRAKE: It was huge surf that just pounds on the beach there.
TOJO: Did you catch it good?
DRAKE: Yeah. We probably went out a few times that we had no business being out there. I remember Matt got stuck out there one time when it had gotten really big. I got in and I was waiting for him to get back in and the sun was going down and it was starting to get dark. He was on a fun board and went over the falls and got destroyed. He came in and his forehead was split open. He said, “Thank god I made it in alive!”
TOJO: Ocean Beach is heavy. You also surfed in Indonesia.
DRAKE: We took a boat trip out there.
TOJO: Where do you think you caught your best surf?
DRAKE: I’d say Indonesia was consistent and good. That trip to Panama, I caught it really good. If you can get out in hurricane surf on the East Coast, it gets really good, as you know, since you surf down in Jacksonville. We caught it good at that Florida Vert Series contest.
TOJO: That was a great weekend. You guys drove from Wilmington and camped at my place. We surfed in the morning and skated Kona in the afternoon. It doesn’t get better than that.
DRAKE: That was an epic weekend.
TOJO: Okay. I think it’s important to say that when I spent time with Jeff Phillips in ’93, he told me he was stoked to have you on his team and he was looking forward to that next wave of vert ramps coming and then he died. It took a while for that next wave of vert to come after that.
DRAKE: Yeah. He was thinking it was going to happen sooner and he could have pushed to have it happen sooner, but he had so much stuff going on with his park. He was skating awesome at the time. He was a super rad dude.
TOJO: How did you get hooked up with Phillips?
DRAKE: Matt and I took a trip out there and camped in his parking lot at his park in Dallas. We started talking with him and skating with him and he was like, “You guys can crash at my house.” So we got to stay at his house for a few weeks and he took us around to skate pools. I remember he had this Honda Civic and he was like, “Hop in!” He was flying around town and we hit one of those metal domes in the streets that mark off turns and I thought we were going to flip that little car. He was driving like a race car driver and it was awesome.
TOJO: Did you go to his tree fort?
DRAKE: Yeah. That thing was awesome. Fred Smith was there that day too. Did you do the rope swing?
TOJO: I just remember climbing to the top of that tree fort and Jeff said, “A lot of people don’t climb all the way to the top.” I was like, “I like climbing trees, so it was no big deal.”
DRAKE: Yeah. I just remember there was some crazy rope swing that you could swing out of that thing.
TOJO: It would be rad if he were still around.
DRAKE: Yeah. He’d definitely be lighting up the vert scene.
TOJO: Who do we have from that generation lighting up the vert scene now?
DRAKE: Bob Umbel.
TOJO: We’ve got Henry Gutierrez, Allen Midgette, Sam Boo, Buck Smith and Rob Mertz. Mertz needs to get back to the East Coast.
DRAKE: Yep. He does.
TOJO: You settled in Wilmington and built a vert ramp. Now you’re hosting sessions for skaters from all over the world.
DRAKE: I feel like a kid again after we built this vert ramp in the backyard. It’s brought back the same feeling of learning tricks, skating vert and hanging out with your buddies. It’s incredible.
TOJO: That’s the great thing about getting older. You can relearn an old trick and consider it a new trick.
DRAKE: It feels like relearning it is a new trick because you did it again. Learning something you’ve never done before is even more insane.
TOJO: What is the latest on your list of newest never done before tricks?
DRAKE: It would probably be the ollie to rock slide to fakie over the channel. I saw Darren Navarrette do it at Phishlips and he made it look so easy. He said it was so easy, but it was pretty hard to learn how to do that. Travis Beattie and I learned it out here at my ramp. Travis is a super rad dude. We have a good crew with JJ, and the locals up here, Randy, Chad, Eric, Curren and Tyler. Curren and Tyler have been turning it up out here lately, learning more stuff. It’s good to have a couple of younger kids getting into it. You’re always going to have kids that want to skate transition and go up in the air and do inverts and that kind of stuff. Certain kids are going to have vert ramps and, hopefully, there will be other people that want to skate vert with them.
TOJO: I’m just thinking of the reliability of having vert ramps for the next 50 years.
DRAKE: Well, there’s a vert ramp in my backyard for the next ten years at least.
TOJO: We’ll have to rebuild that in ten years because by then it will have been up for 15.
DRAKE: Yep. We’ll have to rebuild my body too. [Laughs]
TOJO: Is there anyone you want to thank?
DRAKE: I’d like to thank my sponsors Moonshine Skateboards, Superfly Bearings and Speedlab Wheels. I also want to thank my daughter, Myla June.
FOR THE REST OF THE STORY, GET ISSUE #77 AT THE JUICE SHOP HERE.