CHRIS PASTRAS AKA DUNE INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
I remember when I first met Dune, in the mid ‘80s, at a concrete bank spot on Rutgers University campus. He rolled up with Rodney Smith and Mike Vallely and we would ride that bank for hours, just being stoked to roll and score some curb grinds. Dune always came across as a solid guy and a skater whose attitude was about having fun – whether he was skating vert, street or mini ramps. When street skating took over in the late ‘80s, he was at the right place at the right time, and it’s been really cool to witness Dune’s trajectory through skate history, from Shut, to World Industries to Blue to Stereo. When he started Stereo with Jason Lee, it was a pivotal move where 100% skaters were running their own company and flourishing with their art, skating and love for the scene. Today, Chris is just as heavily in the mix as ever, juggling multiple projects in the media too, with pure dedication to the soul of skateboarding. His ongoing commitment to skate culture has brought him to the present day where he and Jason Lee are rolling strong and celebrating Stereo’s 30 year anniversary. Dune still slappies curbs on the daily, and this 16-year-old at heart isn’t done yet. Jersey is the reason! Here is Chris “Dune” Pastras…
MURF: Where were you born and raised?
DUNE: I was born in New Brunswick, NJ, and then I spent a couple years in Edison, NJ, near the Menlo Park Mall. I wound up in Metuchen, NJ, for most of my childhood. We call Metuchen the hole in the donut of Edison. Edison surrounds us in all directions. That’s my connection to Mike Vallely.
What year were you born?
1972. I’m 49 years young. How about you? You’re still shredding. What’s your age?
I’m 96. [Laughs] No. I’m 56.
You’re still getting it.
I still want that pool coping.
That’s me with slaps. I gotta get my slappies in.
There’s a beautiful vibe to it. It’s pure and it’s the roots. It’s what we did in the streets as kids. We didn’t have anything except to get on a curb and dial that in for hours with our bros.
Exactly. It’s the essence of skating. It’s your bros and a parking lot. It’s the closest thing that I can imagine to surfing. It’s like a slash or grinding pool coping. It’s that desire for that sound. That’s all you need to be happy some days. It started up for me in 2014. I had meniscus surgery in 2012 and I was having knee problems. I was in and out of physical therapy for two years. Then I pulled over in the Home Depot parking lot one day and started doing slappies for the first time since like 1991. I was a little bit self conscious about posting clips at first. I didn’t know if anybody was gonna relate to it or if anybody skates curbs, but I put it out there. It’s like, “Where is Dune from A Visual Sound? What are you doing?” Sure enough, a whole other crowd of skaters emerged that were dudes like us with jobs or they had kids or other responsibilities and only had an hour to skate each day. When you have to fit it in, your chances of driving an hour to a new park lessened. As a new parent, I didn’t have time to go far, so I started skating parking lots and then filming and posting. Then the opposite reaction happened. A bunch of people were like, “This is so sick. It made me want to start skating again.” Or it was like, “I just started skating and I want to learn slappies.” It was relatable to people because there are so many people that still love skating and want to do it every day, but can’t skate the Mega Ramp or a 9-stair handrail anymore.
Totally. In New Jersey, as a kid, when did you become aware of skateboarding?
It was really early on, thanks to Rodney Smith who you know co-founded SHUT Skateboards and Zoo York. I grew up and spent half of my childhood with Rodney because my parents were school teachers and they worked after school programs. Rod’s mom was my godmother, so I started staying over there from the time I was three months old on. Rod was five years older than me, so that’s where I got my skate/sports influence, my music influence and my creative influence. It all channeled through Rod and he had the earliest Skateboarder and Action Now magazines. Then, in ‘79, I got my first plastic Free Former. In ‘80 and ‘81, Rod had a super sketch halfpipe in the backyard. It was one layer with a super small deck on one side and a little sketchy roll in. It was a junky, homemade halfpipe, but it worked. I started pumping on that and realized I needed a bigger board. Then I got a Variflex niner, which was in between a junk board and a decent board. So I was skateboarding and I played soccer, and I played basketball my freshman year. Then the soccer coach started harshing on me about skating because I was getting hurt and he wanted me to be the star player, but half of my energy was going towards skateboarding. He gave me an ultimatum and, around that same time, the Bones Brigade Video Show came out. Rod came home with a copy of it and I was like, “I’m sold. This is it.”
From ‘78 to ‘81, we rode Cherry Hill. Were you aware that New Jersey had one of the best skateparks?
I knew from Rod, but I was 7. Nowadays, you see 7-year-old skaters at parks, but back then I wasn’t really old enough for the older crew to want to take me with them, so I was just pushing around in the streets. We had this dude, I believe his name was David Sadler, who moved from California to Metuchen, and lived down the street from Rod. At the end of Rod’s block, there was a little driveway incline that we called the bank and it was just the slightest little angle, but you could carve it like a bank. We would run into David Sadler there carving backside and frontside, and that’s where Rod got his bug. Then I got the same bug immediately after. In ‘82, Rod started working at a shop called Freestyle in Woodbridge Mall, and I got my first legit board, a mini Jeff Kendall. Then I got a mini Neil Blender because I saw his Thrasher interview where he had that Voodoo doll and weird art and I thought he was cool and enthralling. He gave off the vibe of an artist, as always. Mark Gonzales had an interview shortly after and that drew me in just the same. I was off to the races after those interviews, The Bones Brigade Video Show and a decent setup. That was around ’84. We’d skate our little Metuchen train station for hours trying to learn curb tricks, decent ollies and jam up into wall rides. I had my own little misfit hometown crew of skaters, freestylers and occasionally even BMXers. There were so few of us in my hometown that we all kind of stuck together.
“It’s the essence of skating. It’s your bros and a parking lot. It’s the closest thing I can imagine to surfing. It’s like a slash or grinding pool coping.”
Once you dialed in tricks, did you travel to other ramps or stay local?
For a while, I was like the little brother wanting to go, tugging at Rod’s pant legs. Sometimes they’d let me go, sometimes they didn’t. I’d stare out the window longingly and see Rod and Mike V. pulling off. We had a quarterpipe at Rod’s and, at least once or twice a week, as soon as they saw I was dedicated and I got a bit older, I got to join Rod and the crew of older dudes. Eventually, I was let in on pretty much all of the sessions. Some footage from that time is in my intro for the video Tincan Folklore. When the jump ramp craze came in, I didn’t need Rod to bring me to spots anymore, but I’d still go with Rod and the older dudes to the Brooklyn Banks, the 78 Ditch and Diner Park on Rutgers campus, and I started skating with Mike V. quite a bit. I’d take the train one stop to his place in Edison and we’d just take off pushing from his doorstep.
Where was the first road trip you took?
One thing that stuck in my mind was first venturing into the city to skate Brooklyn Banks. We happened to be there the day that they were filming for the Bones Brigade video, Future Primitive. Hosoi, Olson and Hackett were there and I was tripping out. Hosoi was the first person that I saw comfortably coast over the wall and he cleared it by two feet at full speed, just flying over that thing. That was one of my first trips into the city, so that was crazy. Jeremy Henderson, Harry Jumonji, Ian Frahm and Pepe Torres were some of the early NYC OGs that were shredding, along with Rod, of course.
Were you tripping? You already knew who Hosoi was from the magazines, right?
Yeah. That was crazy. He had Hackett and Olson with him and I was tripping because they were older and they just seemed like grown men ripping. They had this whole thing going with style and the powerslides they were doing. I was taken back like, “Wow.” The Brooklyn Banks was my first road trip. Then there was Rutgers campus, which was also a training ground. You were going to college there and Rod and Mike were knocking on your window to get you to come out and skate and we’d go skate Diner Park. Shortly after, in ‘87, Mike brought me and my buddy, Kevin, to California. We had the time of our lives and skated Venice High with Natas and Julien. One night, we had a session at Lyods Banks in Orange County where the line up was Natas, Gonz, Neil Blender, Mike V. and Ed Templeton. The photographer, O, documented it. That same trip, we went to SF and crashed on Tommy Guerrero’s and Jim Thiebaud’s floors and skated with them. It was like a dream come true.
Did you ever go skate Groholski’s ramp?
I did. That was probably the earliest legit ramp I had regular access to. As you know, it was 12’ high and 12’ wide with rough pool coping on one side. We couldn’t have learned on a tougher ramp. The Groholski’s ramp was a good complement to my street skating. Rod’s ramp was down by the time I was fully committed to skateboarding. We had a quarterpipe that I’d drag out, when Rod wouldn’t take me with him, so I’d just skate that in front of the driveway. We were street skating mostly and then we started going to Groholski’s on open skate days. At that point, I was with Mike V and Kevin Hartel. The three of us were diehards. We were at Groholski’s every Thursday. Because of the Bones Brigade Video Show, I was always cruising around and linking up spots and doing slappies and board slides and ending up at a ditch or a ramp and just cruising around doing bomb drops. That’s where I got the idea that you can look at the streets like they are a skatepark. Once I found street skating, the magazines and videos got me hooked. I’d skate ramps and transition anytime I could and Mike V was an early influence there. He was a local hero and I knew of him probably six months before I got to skate with him. He’d come home with Rod and I’d see the two of them hanging out. I’d be like, “Can I join you guys?” By ‘84, I was committed, so I was going with those guys. I would hook up with my buddies in town and take the train to New Brunswick to skate as well. Mike had just come back from Virginia Beach and moved back to Edison and gotten his first setup from Lance. He rode it for months.To us, as soon as he got that board from Lance, he was sponsored. In our eyes, he was on Powell. We were like, “Wow!”
How did that happen?
He rode that board until it fell apart and then he finally got in touch with Stacy and started getting packages. Mike is my earliest influence, beyond Rodney. There were a few others who dropped out from skating, like there was one of my homies, Rick Bulwicz, that we called MisfitHead because he had the Misfits haircut. We are still friends to this day. Funny enough, the dude I skated with every night was his brother, Gary Bulwizc, who was a freestyler. He was the only dude that was down to skate every night in our hometown parking lots. Shortly after, SHUT started formulating, and I met Mike Kepper, Barker Barrett, Derek Rinaldi, Felix Arguelles, Coco Santiago. Alyasha Moore, Wylie Singer, Eli Gesner, Bruno Musso and more. They were like founding fathers of the brand with Jeremy Henderson who came on board shortly after. I was getting to meet all of the dudes that were around New Jersey and the city, and my mind was blown. In the magazines, I’d see Gonz and Blender who are still my favorite skaters. Their creativity sparked something in me.
This is skateboarding. You can be appreciated for your art and whatever you do. Blender can be on the cover of a skate mag with a voodoo doll, dorkin’ it, and it’s all good. Everyone wanted to be a part of this family.
The boomboxes were playing punk rock music and early hip hop music and we were hooked, with the fashion, the art and the music. It was the whole kit and caboodle. We were stoked.
Once you saw Mike get a board from Lance, were you driven to get sponsored?
Honestly, I was so fortunate. It kind of fell in my lap, because of Rod. I wasn’t super aware of the financial part of it, so I wasn’t like, “I want to turn pro.” I just didn’t think much about getting sponsored. Now kids grow up seeing that stuff from the get-go. For us, it was more of a culture thing. We wanted to just be down with the culture and impress our friends or maybe the kids in the town over and get recognition for winning a local contest, or having a jump ramp session with skaters we’d never met before. That was about as far as it went. It didn’t really dawn on me until some of the guys from the city started coming to Rod and having him make their boards. Do you remember Herbie’s risers?
Weren’t they red and wooden?
Yes. Herb Neumann had a zine called Geek Attack and he was hand-making these wooden risers that were sort of triangular with an embankment to them. It was a super weird little funky thing that he made. I think that’s when Rod was like, “I want to make some risers.” They were designed to absorb some of the impact with the tapered design. Around that time, he met Bruno and Alyasha and that’s when things really took off and Rod started making boards in the city with those guys. He got some equipment and Ron’s dad, Gene, was a foreman at a lumberyard, so Rod had access to tools. By the time that my interest in skateboarding really peaked, Rod was hand-making boards with a group of dudes in the city. I was like “Let me ride what these guys are making.” By ‘87, SHUT became a full-blown thing, a project and a team, but it started slow. At first, it was just Rod, Bruno, Alyasha and Eli Gessner, goofing around, making their own boards and graphics.
Who came up with that name?
I think it was Rod. He called his riser pads UT Pads. It was short for ‘Shut Up and Skate’. It was sort of a take on the Zorlac tag. It was just a shorter version. By the time it was boards, it became SHUT, which was again short for ‘Shut Up and Skate’, the New York City/New Jersey version.
Damn. I never knew that.
Honestly, half of the SHUT dudes probably don’t know about Herbie. He was a Jersey local, and I don’t think anyone knows about Rod’s UT Pads, but that was the earliest usage of that. Then it turned into SHUT by the time Rod hit the city and met Bruno and those cats.
In ‘87 and ‘88, SHUT was blowing up. Was there a team you looked up to then? Who was your fantasy sponsor at that point?
As you know, by ‘88, SHUT was a legit company and we were traveling to contests and getting to meet Barker Barrett for the first time and getting to go to Cheap Skates. It was two hours away, but I was there as many nights as I could be. By that time, those guys were my heroes – Mike Kepper, Felix A. and Barker. I wasn’t looking outwards too much. Of course, Powell was huge, and we all love Powell Peralta and they came out with videos regularly, so that was a huge influence. We all loved Dogtown too. I was just pretty locked in on SHUT and my local Tri-state area crew, until Mike started riding for World Industries in ‘89, which at the time was SMA World Industries, then my eyes opened up.
Did you get on World early with Mike V?
Eli Gesner just reminded me that Rocco picked me out of the crowd at a demo we did upstate in ‘86-’87 and had asked about sponsoring me, but we never exchanged contact info and he didn’t speak to me directly. Then Spike Jonze came over to film Rubbish Heap in ‘88. So much happened within a year and everything was moving so fast. Spike came to town to film Mike and, around that time, I got my first free boards from Mike. I was Mike’s flow buddy like, “Here’s a board,” so I rode my first non-SHUT board. As soon as Mike got on SMA World Industries, of course, I was interested in riding the boards. Then Felix, Billy and I wound up in the Rubbish Heap video. I was just some kid skating with Mike. I didn’t think I was on the team. Then Rubbish Heap came out and I was like, “Ok, great, I guess I’m on the team.” Then I got sent a couple packages and, by ‘89, it was official.
“We’d show up in the van and Sean Sheffey, Jeremy Henderson, and Mike Kepper would roll out and it was like, “This is the crew!” It would change the entire vibe of the contest, like a record scratch. Hip hop would start blaring and everyone’s eyes were on Sheffey and the SHUT boys. To be a part of that, it was special. Being part of the early days World too, I can’t even believe it. Talk about being at the right place at the right time.”
World Industries took over by being anti-establishment and blew up, while most of our companies died. I was mad about it, but it was genius. Were you aware of how groundbreaking it was? You were on a team that changed skateboarding a lot.
Yeah. I had a feeling. With SMA World Industries, I got interested through Mike and it was all through his lens initially. By the time I went out to California, they were editing Rubbish Heap and I went to one of Rocco’s first offices in Torrance and met Rodney Mullen and saw what was happening there and you could sense it in the air. Change was coming. I don’t think anyone knew how abrupt it would be or how dominant World Industries would be that fast, but the boards, ads, team and vibe were definitely something different. I remember skating the Rocco II’s at Eatontown Roller Rink when they used to turn the roller rinks into skateparks. That was where you gathered and saw the fresh shit. There were the best jump ramps and there was music playing. By the time, the Rocco II’s came around, that was the first double nose street board, and that was way ahead of its time. A few months into being on flow and seeing the ads, I had the feeling that this was a thing. It was picking up a lot of momentum. All of the kids in school would beg me to sell them boards. It was moving so fast and becoming so popular. It’s a trip because I got to be part of two major movements. I got to be part of SHUT and that domination of the East Coast. To me, SHUT was like New York City’s version of Dogtown with our own vibe. It’s aggressive, in your face and loud. It’s hip hop and mixed race kids from the city and all over Jersey. We’d show up in the van and Sean Sheffey, Jeremy Henderson, and Mike Kepper would roll out and it was like, “This is the crew!” It would change the entire vibe of the contest, like a record scratch. Hip hop would start blaring and everyone’s eyes were on Sheffey and the SHUT boys. To be a part of that, it was special. Being part of the early days World too, I can’t even believe it. Talk about being at the right place at the right time.
Did you look at the marketing Rocco was doing when it got to the point where they were busting the other companies’ balls?
Yeah. I was never crazy about that side of World. I was kind of ambivalent towards it. It didn’t fit my personality. I didn’t really get it and I wasn’t a fan of the cruelty in it. When it came to doing my first graphics, I’d be a little bit at odds with the art guys and Mark McKee was my good friend. It was more Rocco-driven. He wanted everything to be controversial and crazy and that definitely wasn’t my vibe, hence the Dune based character that I came up with. To my knowledge, it was the first time a black person or person of color was depicted on a board, beyond the Steadham skull on Powell.
The baby Dune character was your first World board, right?
That was my first one. It was the baby sitting and then the baby standing. It was from a ‘70s children’s book that I found at a library in Torrance, right up the block from World. I brought that in and was like, “I want my version of it.” Shortly after that, I wanted the children’s book, The Little Prince, as one of my next graphics and Rocco was like, “No. That won’t sell.” That’s when I started to realize that I wasn’t gonna be able to come up with my own graphics ideas as a pro. I also started to not be stoked with all of the controversy. It wasn’t my thing. It wasn’t Mike’s or Jason’s thing either.
Let’s backtrack. When did you turn pro?
After Rubbish Heap came out, I was like, “I guess I’m on the team.” It wasn’t anything formal, but I was in the video and then I had a part. By the time I came to California, they had seen the New York footage and thought that I was good enough to go filming with Spike for more clips. That happened kind of organically for me, Felix and Billy Waldman.
Right. At that point, was your mindset that you wanted to be pro?
No. I was gonna go to college and I applied to various schools and had gotten accepted to pretty much every single one. I was in all AP classes, and I got pretty much straight A’s. My parents were both teachers, so school was something that I had to stay focused on. Then I got accepted to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh on a partial scholarship, and Rutgers. My mom swears that I got accepted to Princeton too, but there was no scholarship involved, so I didn’t even consider it because we didn’t have $200,000. The plan was that I was going to Carnegie Mellon, but then I was not going to know anyone and it was gonna suck leaving all my friends. So I was like, “Maybe I’ll go to Rutgers because that’s local and I can still skate with my buddies.” I was kind of hemming and hawing. That summer Rocco turned me and Randy Colvin pro overnight. I remember him calling me and being like, “You’re turning pro. We’re putting out a board for you and it’s gonna be out in a few months and I’m gonna start paying you $500 a month.” I was like, “Holy shit! What?” I had to call my mom and be like, “I might stay in California. This guy is trying to put out a board for me. I’m gonna turn pro.” There was a whole debate with my family about what I was doing. They were like, “You have to come back and go to school.” I was really torn up about it and I almost turned Rocco down, but once I went down to Southern California, I realized there were endless spots. I stayed with Mike V. and I got to stay with Gonz, and I met Jason Lee on one of my earliest trips out. My dad had moved out to California in ‘84, so I had a home base, if I needed one, in LA, so I just shifted gears. My mom was like, “We’re going to give this six months to see how it goes.” That was the game plan and my first check for my first board was in the thousands. As an 18-year-old kid, it was more money than I ever imagined that I’d have in my life.
Had you talked to Rocco about how he was selling that many boards?
Rocco did his thing, but there were enough people around. I was friends with Mark McKee and I was really good friends with Spike Jonze. I would go filming with Spike, and hear about stuff. I’d go into the office here and there, but Rocco was pretty much rogue. He didn’t overly talk about stuff, unless you just happened to be there when he was coming up with these crazy concepts. I remember the big controversy over the Powell series and being at one of the first Powell contests, feeling awkward, like, “We’ve got a bit of a target on our backs.” I didn’t enjoy that side. I’m just too mellow and I don’t enjoy putting anyone down.
It’s a trip because the vert dogs were skating all over the world. Then here comes 1990 and we were all out of a job. World takes over and we were like, “What happened?” Were you aware of that?
I was, but I came from more of a school of Barker Barrett and all around skating. I wanted to skate every day and I wanted to skate mini ramps and I wanted to pad up and skate vert. I could do all of my mini ramp tricks on vert when I got sponsored by World. No one ever knew until I happened to jump on a spine ramp or a vert ramp and I’d do an ollie revert to a half Cab mute and then someone would be like, “I didn’t know you skated vert.” As far as World was concerned, you put that in your back pocket, because it was all about the street skating that was coming up. With World, I saw the writing on the wall with not quite fitting their street mold, and I had started to have ideas for a retro-based company. I was getting into art and design, but what essentially became Blue Skateboards was a lot of my ideas that World wouldn’t take. I wanted to do retro graphics and throwback art. I was told that stuff wouldn’t sell, but I wasn’t super crazy about cartoon graphics. As amazing as they were and as much as I love the art and Mark McKee, nothing really felt 100% right for me until we founded Stereo. Then I was like, “This is my vibe. This is me. This is skateboarding through my eyes.” By then, I had matured too.
You and Mike Vallely could rip vert. All you guys that were known as street guys had vert skills, but the kids didn’t even want to see vert skating, right?
Exactly. Ramps, parks and street was my school of thought and my skateboarding. I didn’t really have an interest in trying to be super technical. Jason Lee had started feeling isolated as well because Gonz had left Blind, so I think Jason was uncomfortable. When Mark left, all of the air went out of the Blind balloon, so to speak. Jason wanted out, so we started just rapping on tours and stuff, like, “What if we made a ‘50s vibe company?” Then I came up with the name Blue. We went thrift store shopping and record shopping, trying to come up with logos. Then Christian Kline, the photographer, was like, “Brad Dorfman is interested in you guys doing a brand.” Christian got a hold of me, and Blue was gonna happen but, if Jason Lee was on board, it was really going to happen. When Jason jumped on board, Brad was like, “Maybe I should forget about Vision and try to do this new stuff with these new kids.” That’s where I got my chops to come up with graphics ideas. A lot of the graphics I was ripping off were based on records. I would hit a record shop and see what would be a sick graphic. I was all about graphics from the ‘50s up to the ‘70s and I’d bring ideas into the art staff at Vision, but Blue was a half-hearted Stereo. By the time we started Stereo, the idea was fully formulated. My dad was a jazz musician, as well as a teacher, so I’ve been around jazz my whole life. It’s weird though because you usually don’t like the music your dad likes. If your dad was listening to Led Zeppelin, you might like punk rock. At first, it was around me so much that I was not really a jazzhead, until I gave it a chance and started listening to it on my own accord. Then Jason and I would bug out on Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, and drink a bottle of wine, and it would blow our minds. Then it all just came back, the vibe that my dad and the albums visually had created for me. Then the Blue Note book came out and my buddy at X-Large Clothing hipped me to that and it all came rushing back. I was like, “Jazz and skateboarding. That’s it. That’s our vibe.”
When you and Jason were thinking of starting your own company, you must have been making good money, right?
I mean Jason was the top guy in the building. I was low on the totem pole, but the money was decent. Deep inside I felt more like an idea guy, similar to Stacy Peralta or Jim Thiebaud, in terms of where my vision was. I’m sure Stacy Peralta felt a little trapped as a skateboarder. He had ideas to make films and graphics, and create a team and a vision. That’s how I was. I had a vision, but I didn’t know exactly what it was at first, especially when I was on World. I just knew that I didn’t like the graphics that much anymore, and I didn’t know why. I just hadn’t fully matured and I got turned pro too quickly in my opinion. I was away from my skateparks, like Cheap Skates, and my friends. The end of the World thing was a little weird and I was trying to figure things out. By the time Dorfman came around, Christian Kline was like, “You do the graphics. Do whatever you want.” That’s when it hit me. I could actually come up with the logos and graphics, all of it, and that could be my niche and potentially my higher purpose in skateboarding.
That was a great opportunity.
Yes. I was not super confident about my skating. I was like, “I know I’m good, but I think my ideas around skateboarding are better than my skateboarding.” That actualized by the time we were working on Stereo and I came into my skating as well. By then, I’d gotten my confidence back. I wasn’t a little grom anymore and I wasn’t under anyone’s shadow. I was my own person.
When did you come up with Stereo?
We did Blue Skateboards from ‘91 into ‘92. By Christmas ‘92, we launched Stereo. I was 20 years old. Jason and I bug out on it. We can’t believe that we were that young.
Deluxe contacted you when you were doing Blue?
Yeah. We got connected through a friend. It was Alexandra Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi’s daughter. She was my roommate and she was the station manager at a punk radio station. She was interviewing Nirvana and playing a bunch of grunge music, and doing all this crazy stuff. The Pelosi family was from SF, so she knew Jim Thiebaud and Ron Allen and Tommy Guerrero. She was really tight with Thiebaud and she said something about us not being completely happy at Blue, and there was some truth to that. We knew, instinctively, if we worked with the guys at Deluxe that do Thunder and Spitfire and Real Skateboards, our ideas were going to blossom. Sure enough, we went to get pizza with Jim, Tommy, and Jeff Klindt (R.I.P.) god bless his soul. Jeff got behind us early on, and he was sort of the president at Deluxe and he just loved it. He and Tommy were musicians, so they loved the idea. We came up with it practically on napkins. This is the logo, this 45 RPM logo, and I brought up a bunch of records and was faxing them graphic ideas and I think they were like, “This kid is serious. He’s got a vision.” We went in there with a year’s worth of graphic ideas. The art room at Deluxe was super talented, so any idea that we brought in became twice as cool as we thought. Some ideas would be straight up album covers. I was like, “Just scan this album cover. That’s the graphic.” The Miles Davis album cover, Bitches Brew, is a black woman on the beach. I was like, “This is the graphic. It’s so different that people are gonna pick it up off the shelf.” Deluxe was fully backing us and we were the surprise hit of 1994. I don’t think anyone saw it coming. At that time, the first Stereo video came out, A Visual Sound, and we were the number one company that year, which was a trip because that was not long after World. We were like, “We’ve got our own thing going on over here.”
What was your mindset that year?
The concept of Stereo was in the air, like I’m sure Dogtown was in the air. It just took CR Stecyk to make it visual, but the vibe was there. There was a vibe we were going for and we just happened to be the people that picked that lane and we were going with it. I started hanging out with the dudes at X-Large Clothing and they were huge design heads and I had a short-lived clothing brand with them called Deep Clothing. By the time that we launched Stereo, I had a lot of confidence because I got a good reaction to the graphics, but they were also a bit polarizing. You either loved them or you totally didn’t get it. There were people that were like, “It’s not gnarly enough. Where are the skulls? Where is the fire? Where are the cartoons?” Not everyone got it, but enough people got it. Mindset-wise, I wanted Stereo to be about style, and doing whatever trick you chose to do better than it had ever been done before, even if it was a simple kickflip. I also wanted it to be accessible and inspire people, because the skateboarding we did wasn’t totally out of reach or beyond technical.
You had your big year with Stereo in ‘94. How did you see the next years going?
It was a big transition. ‘94 was A Visual Sound and, in ‘95, I made Tincan Folklore. At that point, Jason had moved on. He had gotten his big break with Mallrats and was fully into acting. It was a huge transition, but I enjoyed making Tincan Folklore and we made half the music ourselves. The success that we’d had in ‘94 enabled me to buy a four-track recorder and a few acoustic guitars and a Moog keyboard, so I started making music and painting. I was living in a loft in the Mission and making Tincan Folklore was something from my soul. A Visual Sound was super refined, but I wanted Tincan Folklore to be rough around the edges, like a gritty version of Stereo. I got to make those film vignettes between parts and I was having fun just making stuff. We had a great run until ‘99. At that point, skateboarding was getting into the big brash, in your face direction and cartoon graphics were making a comeback. I had been basically told, “Dune, this whole jazz thing isn’t selling anymore.”
At that point, were they trying to give you suggestions about graphics and stuff?
Yeah. We tried to remake Stereo, but it wasn’t well accepted and I didn’t really like it. By the time 2000 had ended, it was time to move on and we had parted ways amicably with Deluxe. I started going to City College in San Francisco part time in the mid ‘90s so, when that happened, I dove into getting a General Ed degree and Design degree. For a year or two, I was at school full time trying to figure out what was next and I thought things over like, “What’s next for me?” Jim Thiebaud was very gracious and he said, “If you need help, we can explore you working in the art department.” So I did a certificate program for graphics and got two degrees. I was thinking I’d work in the art department at Deluxe and maybe work my way back in there, but deep down I really wanted to continue to do Stereo.
“I just try to accentuate the positive, as best as I can, and be inclusionary and have a vision for what I can do culture-wise to properly represent skateboarding.”
At that point, Jason is a movie star. Was he doing his TV show, My Name is Earl, then?
My Name is Earl came way later. First, he did Vanilla Sky, and Chasing Amy, and tons of films and he had moved on completely. Stereo just laid dormant for a while, but I always knew I wanted to bring it back. I started hitting up Jason [Lee] like, “Let’s bring it back.” And, at one point, Jason had started skating at Berra’s park and started getting hyped on it all again. This was 2001 and 2002, but we were debating if it was going to be a clothing thing or just boards. Shortly after I got out of school, I was thinking I’d just do graphic design. I was doing catering and going to college, doing my own thing, and skating when I could. Then a friend of mine was like, “Osiris Shoes is looking for a team manager. You should talk to them.” I was like, “Osiris Shoes? Really? Is that a fit?” He got in touch with one of the brand directors, Brian Reid, and the next thing I knew I was on a plane to San Diego meeting with them. I was like, “I checked out the vibe and it’s gotta change. You gotta make some simple shoes. Focus on these certain guys and the creative dudes you’ve got. Foster that creativity and make the shoes functional.” It turns out that they were like, “He knows what he is talking about.” Next thing I knew I was going to live in San Diego.
What was that gig like?
It was fun. We traveled the world two times over. That was when skateboarding was huge and all the shoe companies were minting money. In the U.S., they insisted we travel in this huge tour bus like we were the Rolling Stones. We had a driver and everything, so I was tripping out. I was used to Deluxe tours where there were five of us in a hotel room and we would drive until we fell asleep. All of a sudden, I was managing the Osiris team and we did a European tour called The Aftermath tour because it was supposedly after The Storm. We did a world tour where we were gone for eight months of the year. It was crazy. We traveled Europe for two months and it was a summer of chaos. I was a pro skateboarder all over again and I was bringing up these kids that I had to look over, like Dylan Rieder and James Brockman. Traveling with Osiris, I couldn’t stay off my board, with all of the parks and rad spots, and everyone was like “You’re still really good!” I tried not to step on anybody’s toes but, being on the road skating a bunch with people like Jerry Hsu, I started to really get into it again. I thought I was done, but I was arguably skating better than ever in 2002-2003. Then I came back from a couple of those tours and started to have conversations with people about Stereo. I was friends with Bod Boyle through Alexandra Pelosi, and he got through to have a meeting with Giant about Stereo. A year prior, I had looked into the trademarking and realized there was nothing trademarked, so that was a goal of mine. I had to come up with the money to do it, which was a lot of money at the time. Knowing Deluxe had moved on, I wanted to keep going, so I was like, “Let me get the rights to the thing, so I can resurrect it.” So I trademarked it about a year before we got it to Giant. By that point, it was just all about, “How do we make this work? What is the royalty? Let’s go.” Giant was super gung-ho. By 2003, we were full blown bringing Stereo back.
How was it received?
It was well received, but it wasn’t quite ‘94. I have a theory. With board companies, you can usually stay on top for like a year and a half maybe. Then there are new kids that come up with new unique names and visions. Then the brand becomes a clothing thing or another business. You’re not going to be the top dog in the hardgoods game for very long, so you gotta diversify. Skateboarding was so small in ‘94, to be the biggest company didn’t mean a ton of money. By 2004, skateboarding was huge, and there were like 100 brands, not 30 brands like in the ‘90s. We out sold ‘94, but we were in a bigger market with more competitors. It was a success in certain eyes, so we were rolling along. We had Chris Peterson, Benny Fairfax, Olly Todd and Daniel Shimizu and it was fun and I was skating every day. Our team at Giant was talented, so I just had to conceptualize stuff and do line art. I’d go to Orange County once a week for meetings and it was on.
So you quit Osiris at that point?
Yes. Jason was like “Come on. Let’s get something going with Stereo. You can’t have a full time job.” I was sort of torn up about it. The Osiris guys treated me great, so that was a tough decision. Jason was like, “We’ll do a shoe deal. Don’t worry about it.” Sure enough, afterwards, we did get an Etnies collab for almost two years.
Killer. Did that pay the bills?
It definitely helped. By then, I’d also gotten connected with WeSC Clothing, which was then WE clothing. I was bringing them to America, when I was working at Osiris, just because they hooked me up as an ambassador. By 2003, I was fully involved with WE, and Jason was on board as an ambassador too. We started skating again together at Berra’s Park, before it was The Berrics, and we were formulating the new Stereo. We had Giant and WE behind us and we were well diversified. I was with WeSC for 14 years and that gave me decent financial stability, so I was able to be more flexible with Stereo. It had its good years and bad years, so we tried to stay consistent when we brought it back. We just wanted Stereo to be what it is. Stereo is Stereo. It didn’t need to follow World Industries or Blind or anybody. It’s its own thing. Now it’s me making it a sustainable business. I’m as involved in the business end as I am in the art, and we’re still going, and it’s our 30th anniversary.
Congratulations! As 2010 came on, you were doing Stereo full time since?
Yes. Bod moved on from Giant and started working at Dwindle. Then we took on Stereo as our own business with the full inventory in 2007. We had our own office and did it ourselves, which was a crazy experience, with lots of sleepless nights and new stressors that I never thought about, but we made it function. In the end, the license formula came back around, which I enjoyed more because I got more time to skate and focus on the creative and not so much on inventory, payroll and such. Being the man behind the scenes with the nuts and bolts and dollars and cents, I didn’t really know that as much. I just like making creative stuff, so I got into a license with Antics distribution that lasted four years. Stereo did really well with Antics and we quadrupled what we did in the Deluxe days.
Stereo had impressive market share.
Yeah. We did the Stereo Vinyl Cruiser, which came from the distributor. It was basically like a Penny. Those things sold like hotcakes, because of marketing as well. We did all these cool videos that went with them. We made them cooler than the plastic board companies that were doing it. That was a huge part of the success. Completes were doing really well too. It was a well-rounded business.
Did you see that Penny thing blowing up when you first saw them?
Not really. The owner of Antics was from Australia, so he had seen that cruiser explosion. I guess it hit Australia first through surf culture. We were surprised. Jason and I were like, “We all grew up riding plastic boards in the ‘70s, so it’s not that much of a stretch.” He was like, “You have no idea.” We started to brainstorm about how we could make it our own and how we could make good videos. Next thing is Clint Peterson doing a 360 flip and we’re shooting 16mm film, making it look cool. That was our job and we did it and we sold tons of them. It was a trip and then that distribution just dive bombed due to some other brands at the height of our success. We debated doing business ourselves again, garage style. Then I had a conversations with different distributors. I ran into Rob Mertz, and he was like, “We can make this viable and do it.” My desire was to find another license, because I wanted to stay mainly on the creative side. I had very little interest in being the numbers guy again in terms of the big picture. I wanted to focus on the team and creative because that’s what I enjoy.
You had incredible exposure and demand. If you were to go on your own, you probably could have made a killing.
Possibly, but the Vinyl Cruiser thing started to die down and I was pretty diversified at that point. I was still involved with WeSC in a big way and I was starting to do broadcasting in 2007 with FUEL TV. That’s what paid the bills for me for a decade. The broadcasting thing at FUEL TV kept me busy from 2007 to 2011, when it dissolved.
What was your first job with them?
I got interviewed for a show called The Daily Habit and the host seemed really nervous. He was a great dude, but I was watching him read off the teleprompter and he was kind of stressed. I was saying to myself, “I think I could do what he’s doing and I don’t think I’d be that nervous.” My buddy was the talent booker, and I hit him up like, “If you guys ever need a guest host, I’d love to come in and try my chops.” They were like, “We’ll try that.” Even before that, I was like, “Let me do something.” So we had a What’s Happening with Chris Pastras vignette. It was like a five-minute vignette where we’d go to an art show or video premiere and I’d interview people. What’s Happening with Chris Pastras led to me becoming the guest host of The Daily Habit, whenever the main host was out of town or sick. Sometimes it’d be a day’s notice like, “Can you be on set tomorrow for a week?” So I became an employee and it got me my first home by having financial stability for the first time in my life. It’s always been up and down with the board stuff. It’s a tricky game and you’re not on top forever, so I subconsciously started diversifying what I was doing, so I wasn’t completely financially dependent on Stereo. I really enjoyed the TV thing and it came natural in some ways. In other ways, I had a lot of work to do, but it became second nature. As I started doing contests and stuff, it became my main livelihood. Stereo was ongoing. It just didn’t have the stress of paying my bills.
With FUEL TV, were you announcing at contests?
Yeah. My main gig was the studio gig, The Daily Habit and then a show called The Dew Underground, which followed the Dew Tour when it had multiple stops. I also had an interstitial/short form travel show called The Guide by Scion and then I did a show called Action Sports Plus for about a year, when it moved over to Fox Sports 2. That was trippy. I was the skateboard specialist or analyst, and I got to see how that worked with the teleprompter and making it sound right, but also being organic and bringing in ideas. I basically had to write the stories for the week.
So they’d show footage and you’d be the guy that would explain what’s going on?
Fuel was more studio TV outside of What’s Happening with Chris Pastras, but I also did the travel show where we traveled to different cities and did a tour guide of the city. It was a little vignette that ended up in The Daily Habit. For The Guide by Scion, I wrote half the script and I was like a producer, so I’d pick the ideas. We’d go visit Kevin Wilkins to find out about life in Nebraska. We’d profile whoever was the kingpin, like Andy Kessler from New York. I was basically on payroll to visit my friends, skate, surf, snowboard and catch up. It ruled.
You’d be brainstorming ideas for that and they were stoked, right?
Yeah. I got a lot of experience and it was awesome. It was a way for me to highlight my bros and give them some shine. The Daily Habit was a studio show where I would interview skaters, snowboarders, surfers and everyone, so I had to go into research mode, but I enjoyed it because it was challenging. I didn’t know some of the people in motorsports or surfing, so that took me out of my element, but I enjoyed learning about it. I saw the connection with surf, skate and snow. There’s such a creative connection there. It’s art to them, so I’d find the common connection with surfers or snowboarders or whomever. It was a trip. With The Guide by Scion. I had a hand in producing and I pretty much called most shots, or at least had a say in them.
“It’s been a trip to see the journey and how skateboarding has progressed so fast.”
Yeah. They’re all doing something they are passionate about and having fun.
Right. I was learning too. It was like going back to college. I’d be like, “This guy is the number one snowboarder in the world and I’ve never met him.” It was cool and challenging. The broadcast thing has always been challenging. It seems easy, but it’s not that easy, especially the contest format, when you’re in contest mode and everything is chaotic, and you lose the producer in your ear, but you’ve still got to sound smooth. It takes years of practice to just get out there and wing it.
What happened with FUEL TV?
It dissolved and I was one of the only dudes that stuck around for another year at FOX Sports 2. First, they were going to try to remake FUEL TV, but then they dumped it. It was a crazy journey, but I learned the ropes, so I jumped right into doing other stuff, like X Games and Dew Tour.
What was your next big opportunity?
The X Games was the next big thing, but I would do Tampa Am or whatever I could get my hands on. If you’ve got a gig, I’m doing it. I’ve been doing that ever since, until the pandemic. I traveled the world for a decade plus, with contest stuff. If you include FUEL TV, it’s even more than a decade.
Was doing the contests commentary one of your first gigs with the X Games?
Well, I’ve only done live events in recent years with X Games, but I jump around and do it all. I do analysis and I also do sidelines, which is the winner interviews. The sidelines seems like it’d be easy, but it’s not. It’s chaotic and loud. Sometimes you’re away from the scoreboard to see what’s happening, so it’s a challenge. It’s a juggle, but I love it. It’s the same kind of nerves you would get from entering in a contest. Through the years, I’ve learned that, when the red light comes on, breathe deep and let it flow, but I keep it loose. If I start trying to talk to Pedro about a contest format, but it seems like he wants to talk about something else, I’ll shift. You play off who you’re interviewing but, going into it, I have a total game plan. Some of it is like traffic controlling, taking direction on the fly, responding to the skater, and what they want to talk about as well, and staying on track time-wise. It’s not easy, but I like the challenge.
You gotta focus and keep flowing.
Yeah. Some people just wing it, but I always have a game plan. If it’s a battle between Sorgente and Pedro, I’ll have questions dialed in for both. I’ll think of questions as I look at the scoreboard, so I know what I’m talking about. Each skateboarder is different, so I have the homework in my head of the ten skaters that might win. It’s half off the top and half making sure you do your homework.
You don’t have a guy from ESPN saying “We want you to do this.” They trust you.
Some put ideas in your head and I’ve always got the earpiece in with the producer. The more you do it, the more they trust you and the less direction they give. It’s gotten to the point where I get some direction, but I typically get a lot of freedom.
What are some of the memorable trips you’ve been on?
They’re all amazing. The trippiest experience was doing The Guide by Scion because I went backcountry snowboarding through the mountains to the middle of nowhere to snowboard for the first time. That was crazy. I was driving a snowmobile up the side of a mountain and I’d never even ridden one. I went surfing in Hawaii and did all this stuff that took me out of my comfort zone and challenged me. We’d go visit a band in Austin, Texas, and jump off the bridge into a river that all the locals do. It was all this stuff that I had never done and it was all good. If it involves skateboarding, it’s always a plus. There’s not really one particular highlight. It’s a lifetime of highlights.
What do you think when you see the big Mega Ramp stuff?
I’ve never called a Mega Ramp event. They use a specialist for that and bring in Bob [Burnquist] to do the Mega Ramp at the X Games. They want someone authentic speaking to whatever the course is, so I’ve never called Mega Ramp. It’s a bug out to me and I get chills watching. To me, skateboarding has matured and it’s gotten cool in the way that people aren’t being judgmental. I feel like, in the ‘90s, it was very much like this camp versus that camp. You had the rival camps with the vert guys versus the street guys versus the pool guys and it was like five different scenes. Now everyone respects each other mutually. Everyone has gone through the ranks and been on TV and now everybody is out for skateboarding across the board and they’re trying to better each other. The vibe has changed in that way.
“Stereo is Stereo. It didn’t need to follow World Industries or Blind or anybody. It’s its own thing. Now it’s me making it a sustainable business. I’m as involved in the business end as I am in the art. We’re still going and it’s our 30th anniversary.”
What do you think about skateboarding being in the Olympics?
I’m proud of it and the skaters deserve it. We fought long and hard for decades with no one outside of our world paying attention. That said, it definitely got more serious, but rightfully so. In 2019, you could feel it and there was a lot more sports marketing. You’re at the contest and there is the marketing dude from Toyota and big time sponsors. Now there are three or four times the people there and I think that everyone is feeling the pressure of the rankings, and the tone got a lot more serious. I want to see the kids do good. They’re smart. They’re like, “This is my future. I’ve got to progress because, if I don’t, Tom Schaar is going to come along and do a stalefish 540 over my head and I’m going to get 21st place and go home.” The skaters are pushing each other and they increase that level because they don’t wanna blow a huge opportunity. It took on a more serious tone and longer days because there are more people competing. With the Olympics, there has to be an open format, so the tour and contests got longer and more stressed out. Whereas, in 2014 and 2015, you had the Van Doren Invitational, which is a lot looser and people were just there having fun.
Has that vibe taken out some of the fun for the skaters? Do you find some skaters going through too much pressure?
I think it’s a mix of both, but they’re all seeing it as a huge opportunity for the most part. It’s the same as it ever was. You have contest skaters and you have skaters that don’t want anything to do with contests. The contest dudes are refining their game plans and taking it seriously, rightfully so. I think it’s long overdue, given how difficult skateboarding is. Street League Skateboarding might as well be an Olympic event with the format and TV cameras. I think the attention is going to bring out the best, and it’s going to help the culture get a chance to shine as well. There will always be people that are like, “Screw the Olympics.” I just think it will create some fire in both directions and, ultimately, I just hope it sparks more people to skate.
Well, do you think it’s going to help get more concrete skateparks being built?
Definitely. I’m sure you saw the course they built for the Olympics. The size of the park and the street course was three times the size of any other street course I’d ever seen. I don’t know how people got through it in 45 seconds. It was gnarly. It’s been a trip to see the journey and how skateboarding has progressed so fast in park and street. It’s bonkers. With almost everyone having access to a cement park these days, the progression is going to keep happening faster and faster.
You’ve seen the evolution firsthand.
Yes. It’s been really cool watching skateboarders that started as kids or teenagers and have grown into full powerhouses. And it’s fun for me to be wearing different hats. I’m in the Stereo role and get to be an art dude and a brand manager and then I’m a sideline interviewer doing research. I love it all. It’s all skateboarding. If I can work in skateboarding, I’m just blessed.