DR. DARREN MENDITTO
INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
INTRODUCTION BY MERK
PHOTO BY PETER FURNEE
Emergency room surgeon… Check. Martial arts black belt… Check. Handsome… Check. Nice guy… Check. Dedicated family man… Check. Ripping, style-laden vert skater… Check. The “Moose” has it all. East Coast guy done good. He didn’t let the small wheel baggy pants street “style” trend of the ‘90s stop him. Some of his peers crashed and burned and couldn’t recover after vert died in the industry’s eyes. Darren chose to move forward and give med school a try, all the while keeping his head down with a few close friends to seek and destroy whatever vert they could find. I’d like to say he’s back with a vengeance but the truth is, like most lifers, he never went away. He just chose to cultivate other interests outside of skating. Smart man, ladies and gentlemen. I give you Dr. Feelgood. – CHRIS MEARKLE
Hey, Murf. What’s going on?
Are you ready for this interview?
Yeah. Let’s get it on.
Okay. First question: name, rank and serial number.
Team Destroy Division. Serial number is circa ‘83.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Ocean Township, the Oakhurst division, right along the shore. I started skating in the summer after fifth grade when I started to see other kids skating around.
When were you born?
I was born in 1970.
When did you first start getting exposed to skateboarding?
I had an older brother who had a fiberglass board with clay wheels and free steel bearings that I used to mess around with when I was eight years old. I’d set up plywood on a tire and do monkey grips and jumps and then I got into BMX for a while. This guy named John Grossman had a skateboard ramp in his driveway, so I’d go over there to ride my bike on it. They were all skateboarding, so then I started skateboarding around 1982.
Were you aware of the Paved Wave in Oakhurst?
I heard rumors of it, but it was gone around that time. I don’t know what year it closed, but I never laid wheels on it.
Were you aware of what was going on in skateboarding as far as magazines and skateboard parks getting built and torn down? Did you know about the concrete skatepark explosion and then implosion?
At the time, I wasn’t aware of it at all. I was just living near the beach and I skated and surfed and a couple of my friends skated. I got one of my first magazines from your brother, Kenny, in sixth grade homeroom. He was a Murphy and I was a Menditto. He came in with a Thrasher and I think it was the Desert Ramp Jam issue. An old Thrasher was the first exposure that I had to a skate magazine, and I thought it was cool.
That was the first time you had seen printed photos of vert skating, right?
Yeah. All we had were a couple of grainy black and white photos on the old newspaper style versions of Thrasher before they switched over to a normal format. That was right when I was seeing the old mags. That was the first exposure I had to pool skating and catching airs and the ramp rage that was going on. I remember seeing the battle in the desert with Christian Hosoi and Micke Alba.
You hadn’t seen a vert ramp yet, and you see these pictures of guys flying in the air and going upside down. Were you like, “How did they do that?”
You’d see a picture of something like a tabletop lein air and you don’t know how they did it. Where was the peak? How did they tweak into it? My first real exposure to watching guys that knew how to skate was watching you. It was you and Steve Herring. Remember old Wubsy’s ramp in Oakhurst?
Was that Jimmy Born’s ramp?
No. It was Wubsy. Anthony Davis had this ramp right next to his house that Gary built. It was right near the Whalepond. That was the first time I’d ever seen real vert skating. We were there doing fakies and frontside kickturns as high as we could. It was you, Steve Herring and Brad Constable, the trifecta of Jersey, skating that day. It was the first time I heard squealing wheels and clack smacks and all the scrapes and heel sliding and scoops and sweepers. It had a whole different set of sounds and it was awesome.
“THE ALL TERRAIN SKATEBOARDER IS THE NEW LIFEBLOOD OF SKATEBOARDING. THE SPLIT BETWEEN THE PURELY VERT SKATER AND THE PURELY STREET SKATER HAS NOW BRED AN ALL TERRAIN RIPPER FROM THE SKATEPARK ERA THAT IS THE MOST IMPRESSIVE TO WATCH.”
Were you intimidated or inspired?
It was totally inspiring and awe inducing any time we went to a big session. In ‘83 or ‘84, I remember going to one of the first big ramps, the Blue Ramp in Jersey. That’s where the vert scene was and we were nervous to go up for the first time. I remember watching a full session there with Darrell Montgomery, Steve Herring, Possum, and all the Belmont guys that skated there. I remember going up to put my board down to start fakie-ing and I looped out and whacked the back of my head because the ramp was so slippery. I’d never ridden anything but plywood, so I didn’t know the ramp was going to be slippery until I rode it.
That blue fiberglass was slick.
That sent me for a loop. That was a whole other phase, learning to ride that thing. It was starting from the bottom and working your way up. I remember the first time I ever dropped in on a vert ramp was at the Blue Ramp.
What was it like building up to that? The first time I ever dropped in I was scared shitless. How did you get the mentality to just go up and do it? Did it take you a while?
I was always going for it. I was trying frontside airs because I was doing those on a mini ramp at the end of the driveway. I was like, “How can I get enough speed to blast off the top?” I thought that was the next progression. I realized that’s how I was going to go higher and faster. It was intimidating the first time, but with all the people cheering you on, you take your first leap of faith and just go for it. Then we spend years trying to find that feeling again.
Yeah. How did you feel after you made that first drop in?
It’s one of those things that you can’t describe. It’s one of those feelings. You’re proud of yourself and you’re exhilarated that you didn’t crash, all at the same time. You feel like you stepped over a hurdle and it’s probably one of the few times where you really get a feeling for something. You know that perfect feeling of hitting your first home run when you hear that perfect crack? It just feels right. You get the feeling for what feels good.
From there, the whole world opens up to you as far as doing tricks and going above the lip.
It’s a whole other realm. You’re in the ramp and then you’re up on the ramp and then across it and above it. It was a good time. We had pretty good sessions every Saturday. That was the only time we really got to ride for the first few formative years. Jeff Jones owned the skate shop and they had the ramp open on Saturdays. We were just scratching at backyard things all week long just waiting it out until the next Saturday.
At this point, you’re in high school, right?
This was in middle school into high school. Here’s a funny story of how our paths crossed way back when. I was in sixth grade and I was in your brother’s class and you were the chaperone for our school trip. You must have just turned 18 and you chaperoned a bus trip to Sandy Hook with us. We skated PJ’s ramp in the afternoon, that ramp in Wayside. You were the 18-year-old chaperone with a bunch of seventh graders. It was a time when you were skating for Zorlac and you were traveling all over. P.J. had that big white ramp with a channel and it had red stripes up the side.
That was a good ramp. I remember when I went to Ocean Township High School, I was the only skateboarder and I would have to take a bus to Ft. Monmouth to skate. What was the skate scene in Ocean Township like for you?
It wasn’t as developed as it became, but there were a few skaters and then guys progressed and there were more and more. We had our own little crew. I had groups of friends that all got together and got along pretty good. In my early years, I played football, so I knew some of the guys on the football team. I had friends that surfed and buddies that were into playing music and jamming out. And then there were my skater friends. It started out as a mix of people. It never was any type of problem like, “Oh, they’re the skaters and they’re the jocks.” It wasn’t anything like that. We had a weird group that just got along. There were a few skaters in the school, like Rob Stewart who did the Casino Skatepark in Asbury. He and I and a few guys would skate after school and we’d find little ramps and build little ramps. We’d take the train down to Belmar to skate the ramp down there.
Did you ever skate the Wall Ramp at Russ Iglay’s grandma’s house?
I skated there a couple of times before it was totally dilapidated.
What about the Holmdel ramp?
We had some good sessions there.
Yeah. They were all good.
That’s what kept the New Jersey scene alive. In ‘85, I started going up to the Barn. I was 14 or 15 years old the first time I went there.
Who did you go up there with?
The first time I ever went up there was with Steve Herring, because he lived in Tinton Falls, and I lived right there. He would drive Possum and me up there. We were the young crew. That’s the first time I saw Tom Groholski, Dan Tag and Jay Henry.
What was your first impression of the Barn Ramp?
That was a whole other scene. I’m walking into this creaky old barn behind the house for the first time. It was the middle of winter and you’re trying to keep the flame alive and you hear about some place up North that’s indoors and it’s a vert ramp. I remember going there for the first time. You felt like all the eyes in the world were on you when you walked across the flat bottom to pad up without getting a board to your knees. You had to climb up this sketchy ladder to this small deck and people are hooting and hollering. God forbid you get in somebody like Jay Henry’s way. You’d get tossed off the ramp and banished for life.
I think that’s where I had the most fun skateboarding, the early days at the Barn. It was so underground.
Yeah. It was so bizarre. It was unprecedented at the time. It was the mid ‘80s and an indoor crew of dudes builds a vert ramp up in North Jersey in the hills. It was a cool scene of dudes that were into something different. It was hooting and hollering in an old barn, and flying around on skateboards. It was awesome. It was all the dudes that were into punk rock and some metal. It was a little bit of both. Jam on.
I was going to Rutgers at the time, and I would get a ride there with Groholski. I remember the sessions going all night non-stop. It was so sick. You were still in high school?
Yeah. I graduated in 1989. I met Dan Tag going up on day trips to the Barn. He was one of the younger groms with me. That’s when we started going skating with Bernie and Capt. John and venturing south. They used to hit up Ocean City, MD, and live there all summer, so we started doing very frequent road trips to Ocean City.
What did they have down there at that point?
They had the vert ramp and the first pool that was more like a bowl.
What year did they get the vert ramp?
I think it was ‘84 or ‘85. I started going in ‘85. We used to go down there almost every weekend during the summer. That’s where the sessions were. We went to Cedar Crest and Virginia Beach and then we started venturing out to wherever the session was. Tag and I would just start driving and meet up with Bernie and all those dudes.
When you would show up at Virginia Beach, what did you think when you saw the multiple vert ramps?
I was like, “Why can’t this be closer? Why can’t they do this in our town?” I couldn’t imagine going to a park in our town and having a professionally built 32-foot ramp. We just had the Blue Ramp. As loved as it was, the Blue Ramp had major flaws and it was only open once a week. We just did not have these top-notch vert ramps with whole scenes around it.
Yeah, and they had legitimate platforms.
There’s nothing like flapping over a handplant to support beam in the crotch. [Laughs]
So you’re going to high school and you’re road tripping on the weekends. What were your parents saying? Were you on a trajectory to go to college? Were your parents into your skateboarding?
My parents have always been super supportive. My dad was a schoolteacher. My mom and dad were always about the benefits of education and going to school, so I always thought I’d go to school. I just thought everyone went to college, so I figured I would. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at first, but I figured it out. My parents were totally supportive. They didn’t see skateboarding as a negative at all. I was being focused and I was skating. I was doing amateur contests and I started doing well and getting sponsors and traveling around.
Where were your first amateur contests? When did you first get into wanting to enter contests?
It’s funny. I was visiting my aunt who lived in Virginia at the time, and we heard about the Ocean Bowl that was relatively new. I was 14 or 15, the first time I went there. It was a November day and it used to get so windy there. I was there skating by myself and Josh Marlowe walked up. He said, “Hey, do you skate for anyone?” He was involved with Kryptonics and this was right before they started Toxic. He was in the Kryptonics and Atlantic Skates crew. He was the one that first got me sponsored after skating with him in Ocean City. When that spring came, my first contest was at the Ocean Bowl.
Were you stunned that you were getting sponsored?
Yeah. It was weird. I was into it for the sake of being into it though. I knew about people that were getting sponsored and traveling around from you and your brother. I would get updates on you from your brother. He’d say, “Oh, my brother is in Texas, Florida, California, Boston… traveling around and skateboarding.” So I knew you could and I thought that sounded pretty good. I like to skate, and I’d like to go do it all over the place.
There was such a wild scene with all the pockets of people that made it what it is. You take a road trip up north and go to Rhode Island and see Fred Smith and the Loud Ones, and then go down south and skate with the Toke Team. There were just a whole bunch of crazy characters. In Virginia Beach, you had the Fork.
What was your reaction to seeing all these different scenes?
It was cool how you would maintain friends that were five or six or twelve hours away just through this common bond of skateboarding. There would be rumblings of some underground jam, and it would just happen, and all the dudes from all over would be there. A couple of months later, there would be another jam and you’d see the same crew from Cedar Crest and Virginia Beach and up North. It was rad being part of it.
So you’re 15 years old and you’re getting sponsored. How did you do in that contest?
I think I got third. It was Bernie and myself. I don’t remember who won. There were quite a few contests in the early days at the Ocean Bowl. I know I got in the top three in a few of them. Then they started Toxic as a side thing to Kryptonics.
So you come home and say, “Hey, mom, I’m sponsored.” What did your parents think of that?
That was a weird concept. They were like, “You’re sponsored? Okay.” A few days later, I’d get a package of boards, shirts and stickers. You’d get all this free stuff in the mail, and it was awesome. When you’re a kid, there’s nothing more exciting than getting a free package of skateboard stuff.
Were you dealing with Dorsey Truitt directly?
It was Dorsey and his girlfriend or wife that used to run it. You rode for them too. When you and I both rode for Toxic, we had a couple of good tours.
Hell yeah. Italy.
1991 or 1992.
Give or take. Let’s back up. What about Cedar Crest? Were you connecting with Josh Marlowe a lot?
He rode for Atlantic Skates and we skated a lot together in Ocean City with Bernie and Capt. John. They lived in Ocean City with Geoff, so Tag and I would go visit them most weekends unless there was a ramp jam going on somewhere. We’d make the trip to Cedar Crest. We made plenty of road trips. I remember driving my dad’s big ‘78 Oldsmobile Delta 88 with a backseat big enough to lie down on. We’d pack five guys in there and drive to Cedar Crest for the weekend. We’d camp out and see the crazy things that Cedar Crest bred. We were just raging out in the woods.
“I WAS SKATEBOARDING AFTER SCHOOL AND SKATEBOARDING AFTER MY RESIDENCY AND SKATEBOARDING AFTER WORK AND NOW I’M WAITING FOR MY KIDS TO GET HOME FROM SCHOOL AND I’M STILL SKATEBOARDING.”
By ‘87 and ‘88, things are going full bore. They’re having serious contests in Virginia Beach with serious pros coming through. Do you remember the first time you saw real pros skating?
Well, there were a few guys that came to Ocean City, like Rob Mertz and Ken Sigafoos. When I saw those guys in Ocean City, they were destroying it. A little further south, it was Mike Crescini, Allen Midgette, Mike Conroy and those crews that were up and coming from the Virginia Beach sector. Virginia Beach was the first place I saw O.G. heavy hitters like Lance Mountain, Jeff Phillips, Chris Miller and Christian Hosoi. That was in ‘86 or ‘87. That was the first time I’d ever seen skateboarding at that level.
What were you thinking?
It was mind blowing. I was like, “Oh, after all these years!” I’d seen them in the magazines and to be part of the contest as an Am was cool. They had the pros and then they had the amateur contest. I was like, “Wow. It’s tough to be an amateur.” And then you had the O.G.s really killing it. It was sick.
When you saw the pros skating, were you driven to want to be pro or did you care?
I didn’t care for the longest time. We lived in Jersey and I would skate regardless. We didn’t have tons of contests. The Northeast contest series was four amateur contests a year and that was it, so I wasn’t in this huge contest scene training to be a pro. My buddies first started gearing up for contests when Cheap Skates opened up in ‘87 or ‘88. Sean Miller, Tom Boyle, Dan Tag and all those guys migrated up to where Cheap Skates started and there was a whole scene around Cheap Skates. People started paying attention. You could get sponsored out there and they were sending guys on tours. It started to become this crazy thing of doing demos and all these shows. I would do a million demos back in those days for this guy that promoted outdoor rock shows.
Was this in Jersey?
It was all over the East Coast. A lot of them were up in Boston, but they were all over the place. They did one on the Atlanta Motor Speedway as a sideshow to rock concerts. I did a whole bunch of demos back in the day.
Did you get paid or were you still amateur?
Well, we’re mixing up years now. That was after I had done a couple of years of the NSA Amateur Series. I did that for two years in a row and did well. The next year I decided to enter a pro contest.
What year was that?
1989. The ‘89 Am Series was the last am contest I did and the next contest I entered pro.
Where was that?
The first one was in Virginia Beach at an indoor arena. There’s some sick footage of it. Tony Hawk and Chris Miller were there. Chris Miller was destroying with big giant frontside ollies to trucks. It was sick.
Now you’ve graduated high school. Were you thinking you’d go to college or ride out the pro skateboarder thing for a while?
It’s funny how things happened. At the end of each stage, a new door opens up. At the end of high school, Cheap Skates opened up in PA. That was indoors and it had its own scene. I was a junior in high school and Cheap Skates was an hour and half away from my hometown and that’s where I would drive every weekend. It was closer than Ocean City and it was winter. I wasn’t going to drive down to Ocean City to skate outside. We had Cheap Skates. I was graduating school and I was like, “What colleges are around here?” The Temple Ambler Campus wasn’t too far. That was my perfect opportunity to move into the area and take some classes and keep it rolling. It was an easy transition, so I went to college there.
Were you going to med school then?
Well, at that time, I was doing my undergraduate. As things got busy, and vert was kind of hot, I had a lot of sponsors, so I did some part-time semesters and then I took a whole semester off. I took off the spring and summer and didn’t start back until the next fall. I did quite a bit of traveling. If something came up, I would do it. I did the summer Europe tours multiple times. I did the pro tour through Europe, and Munster and France. I did the Radlands in England, multiple years in the early ‘90s.
In ‘89 or ‘90, I was on the road and I remember seeing you and Sean Miller skating Cheap Skates when I came back for a hot second. A year later, I came back and you guys were doing McTwists overhead. You advanced exponentially. You were doing overhead ollie to fakies. When did you and Sean start skating?
I had first met Sean in Ocean City. All the scenes overlapped. He was still doing street contests on the tennis court at the Ocean Bowl. I met Sean and he was from PA. There started to be rumblings that they were getting a skatepark one summer. There was a whole crew: Barker Barrett and Sean and Ben Miller. Harry Barford and those guys were coming down for different things. Once Cheap Skates opened, I was driving up there and skating with them. Then I went to school up there and skated Cheap Skates while I went to college. Those were the years that Tom, Sean and myself and a lot of guys that skated vert back then would just hit that thing hard. There was Buster and Derek. Bucky was still living on the East Coast. Those guys would come up and skate and they were heavy hitters.
Buster always ripped.
Oh my god. He had Buster’s Barn. It was so rad. A lot of those guys came up and did a whole bunch of stuff. Bucky, Buster, Mertz, Tag, George and all those guys were on the vert scene at the time. It was sick.
You and Sean Miller were peaking out right at the time when vert was dying, dude. Did you see the nosedive coming with the street skating thing?
No. We were surprised. We were from the era where you would see the guys with a pro model board and they were traveling around and having their expenses paid, at least a plane ticket and hotel. All of a sudden, there was no money anywhere, unless you wanted to drive yourself. I remember a few summers, where I would have been in my prime at age 23. Right after that, there were a couple of hot years and then a slow year and then vert kind of died. I was working summers at Mama’s Track Raceway in the mail department because you couldn’t make money as a pro skateboarder, especially as a vert skater.
We’re talking ‘90 and ‘91?
Yeah. That was just after high school. It really crapped out around ‘92 and ‘93. It was huge baggy pants and 38mm wheels. It became this weird thing. It was not just about being more into skating street. It became not cool to do anything but skate street. I don’t know. We just had our crew of vert dudes and we were skating everything.
Let’s backtrack a few years and talk about going to Europe. Did Toxic come to you and say, “We need you to go to Europe and promote the Toxic brand?”
Toxic did my first trip to New Zealand and Australia. That was my first big trip abroad. We went for six weeks. That’s when I took a semester off from college.
“YOU CAN LOOK THROUGH THE EYES OF A CHILD FOREVER, RIDING SKATEBOARDS AND HAVING FUN. I TELL TAG ALL THE TIME, “YOU’RE VERY IMMATURE. YOU’VE GOT TO STAY THAT WAY.”
Who was on that Toxic tour?
That was myself, Kyong Kim, a street skater from California. We met Dave Crabb. He was riding for Toxic. [Laughs] It was just me and Kyong and my buddy Dave from high school that went on this crazy trip. We had a bunch of boards sent out to meet us and I brought as many boards as I could carry. I would carry ten boards and stickers and I had just a couple of connections along the way. They were like, “We’re going to send you a plane ticket to New Zealand. Someone will meet you at the airport.” Some skater dude would pick us up and we’d go to a couple of different shops and tour around and do some demos that were set up. We did a couple of weeks all through New Zealand, which was amazing and then we did a month in Australia. We backpacked and had this loose itinerary of a couple of contests and a couple of demos and a couple of skate shop appearances. It was so low key. You’d get to one place and they’d be like, “Oh, yeah, when you get to this area, you should call this guy.” We just went from there. It was more of a couch tour. It was awesome. I could never imagine doing something like that. We flew to another country on the other side of the world and had this total common bond with people. It was like, “We’re going to go skate somewhere and drink some beers.” We were instant friends and it wasn’t weird at all because it was the same thing we were doing up and down the East Coast, couch touring. It’s amazing how, although we were a giant ocean and half a world away, that common bond brought people together. It was great.
Were you tripping out that you were even on a plane to New Zealand for skateboarding?
Yeah. It was a wild ride. I was like, “Really? Wow. I’m getting money to do this and a free trip? This is great!”
Were you under any illusions that it was going to continue that way?
No. I always looked at it as “This is great for now. I’m meeting some new people and traveling around.” We weren’t really making any money. It wasn’t like, “Oh, you’re a professional skateboarder and you’re going to make a lot of money and retire.” No. This was in the early days when $800 a month was good. Over time, it got better and then the X Games hit and people started making money again. Then you could look at it as a career. I was just looking at it as a ride. It was a cool way to travel. I’d rather do demos and contests and just to go see different scenes and hang out with different people.
Did you do Europe too after that?
Yeah. I started riding for Airwalk and Airwalk paid for a couple of those trips to Europe. They sent us to the Munster Cup. They’d have the big trade shows with the trade show ramps and demos. We’d go and travel all over Europe. We did the Munster World Cup and the French Open and the Radlands contest several years in a row.
What was your impression of Europe?
It was insane. It was such a wild scene. There were like 100 pro skateboarders from the United States. You had the team guys and the photographers and the guys that were just backpacking around. I remember stopping at certain train stops in Germany and seeing the thunder and roar of skateboards up and down the streets, just taking over the town for the weekend. It was insane. It was more of a big deal in Europe, and it drew from a wider area. I had never seen so many people come together by the thousands. We were skating in big giant arenas.
Do you have any road trip stories from Europe? Were there any wacky nights that you can still legally talk about?
Oh, man. I was there in Amsterdam when Bill Weiss did his naked 540. There were so many wacky stories and interesting characters at every event.
You would see other pros, right? Were you seeing the Bones Brigade guys and Phillips and the other teams or were you just with other Toxic guys?
I was with the Toxic and Airwalk guys. With Toxic, it was really small, so it was only really myself traveling around. It was me and Danny Mayer. We didn’t have a big team. It was mostly Airwalk. Then I switched over and started riding for Vans and I was going to any contest sponsored by Vans. Vans did the Triple Crown and Van Doren was doing the BBQ. You were set then, because you were with the whole Vans team traveling around. They had their own block of hotels and you’d be set.
When did Cheap Skates shut down?
I think it went down in ‘95. Those were the lean years. I don’t remember the exact year it closed.
Well, you and Tag and the PA boys were still fired up on vert, so what were you guys doing, because sponsorships were mostly dead? Toxic wasn’t hooking you up anymore. What was that conversation like?
I don’t remember the exact conversation with Toxic. I do remember Airwalk saying, “We just don’t have any budget for vert guys anymore.” Right after that I was like, “What? Really?” I had 100,000 frequent flyer miles. I was like, “You guys spent a lot of money hyping up the brand with the vert thing, and showing up at the ASR shows with the whole vert team and then you just dropped the whole thing? I don’t get it.” It was just a weird time.
Did you see it coming?
You always heard about the heydays and the swings that skateboarding has had through the years, like when skateboarding started and then died and then came back. You always wondered if it was just another lull, but then street skating started taking over. You didn’t really think about it. You just did what you do. It was me, Sean, Tom and Tag, calling each other and going, “What are you doing at 4 o’clock? Let’s meet at Cheap Skates and skate.” It didn’t matter. Either way we were going.
“WE SKATED OWL’S HEAD AND THAT BOWL AT CANAL STREET AND CHELSEA PIER. ON THE WEEKENDS, I’D GO TO TOM BOYLE’S HOUSE. HE HAD A VERT RAMP. I ALWAYS HAD MY LITTLE SPOTS. WE STILL KEPT THE FLAME ALIVE, SKATING VERT.”
What were you studying in school?
Well, my first years after high school were at Temple University, and I was studying Exercise Science and Kinesiology, which is like Exercise Physiology. I thought I might do something within medicine. I was always getting banged up and hurt, so I figured it would be a good thing to know how to fix myself. I was doing some reading on how to tape up a sore ankle, so I could skate. I was into physical therapy and athletic training and exercise science. I got really into it, but I didn’t know I was going to go to med school. I thought I might go to physical therapy school. Then it really became like, “I might as well go to medical school. This stuff is kind of cool.” It just kept going. My brother is a podiatrist. He was always like, “Go! Don’t settle. Go on as much as you can. You’re never going to look back and regret it.” I was like, “I’m going to be 30 by the time I graduate.” My brother was like, “You’re going to be 30 anyway, so you might as well at least be a doctor.” I approached it one chip at a time. I said, “Okay, I’m going to study for the MCATs. Alright, now I’m going to take the MCATs…. Lo and behold, I ended up getting into medical school.
So you just kept going for it and everything just escalated from there?
Yeah. I didn’t have this long-term crazy ambition. Some people do. Some kids know in sixth grade that they’re going to be an engineer. I wasn’t a kid going, “I’m going to go to medical school.” I was into working out and I thought I could be an athletic trainer or do sports medicine and then I realized that athletic training is cool. That’s why I started studying it. The reality of that job was that you work every day at some high school and you’re there every day for every after school sport. I was like, “Well, I’m not going to be skateboarding or traveling, I’m going to be on the sidelines at a kids’ soccer game or football game.” The more I looked into it, and researched it, I was like, “Why don’t I go to the top of the proverbial food chain?” If you’re going to go, go all the way.
It’s like a parallel to being a skateboarder. If you’re going to do it, you’re going to go big, right?
Exactly. That’s really what it was. I was the only one in my class talking about skateboarding. Everyone else was studying on the weekends while I was down in Ocean City skating. School was the same thing as skateboarding. When I thought I could, and I knew I could, I was like, “Yeah, I could.” I was studying Anatomy and Physiology and getting A’s. I was like, “Well, I guess I can. Why not try?” I’d heard all about the 10,000 applicants for just a few spots, but I was like, “Well, I’m going for it.” I kept studying and taking my pre-med classes, like Organic Chemistry and Physics. I was plodding along and then I took the MCATs. I remember driving to Boston for a vert contest in the summer of 1996. It was the Vans Triple Crown of Skateboarding right in the square in Boston. I was driving up there, and my mom called and said, “Hey, you got into medical school.” I was in the graduating class of 2001. We started in ‘97.
Wow, so you found out you got into medical school and then you went and skated the contest?
Yeah. I was half nervous before I found out. I was like, “Well, if I get in, that will be some wild ride. If I don’t, I’m still going skating.” Once I knew I got into med school, it was like, “Oh, wow. I guess I’m really doing it.” I remember skating and thinking, “Oh, man, is this all coming to a close? I’m really going through with this, aren’t I?”
You were aware of how gnarly med school was going to be and you knew you weren’t going to be skating as much as you wanted to?
Yep. I didn’t know how I was going to deal with that. We used to skate five days a week for three or four hours a night. We’d meet at five and skate until nine or when the lights went out. I was like, “Well, maybe I’ll still get to skate once a week, or every few weeks.” But I figured it out, and it worked out pretty well. Right around the time that I started med school in Philly, the ramp at FDR was there. I had a quick sneak getaway and I would get my skating in when I could.
How gnarly was it for you when you first started med school?
Oh, wow, man, it was a slap in the face. You don’t really know what you’re capable of until you’re put in a situation where you’re responsible for more information than you could ever possibly think you can retain, and you’re going to do it, and so are the other 200 people in your class, or you could be that certain percentage that fails. I was like, “No, not me.”
It was a lot of studying?
Yeah. The first two years are a crazy amount of bookwork. At the same time, your first class is Anatomy where you go in this giant room with all these stainless steel gurneys in it and each group of four students gets introduced to the body that will be theirs for the semester of cadaver lab. That’s your introduction to med school. You get introduced with your group of four to your cadaver and you start Gross Anatomy and you start dissecting and following along with the book and also doing your other bookwork.
Did you have any issues with cadavers? Did you ever faint or anything?
No. That’s the first time that I was really face to face with mortality and the human body. I had been to a couple of wakes and things like that, and seen dead bodies, but not to get that intimate with it where you had to dissect it and look at it. Sometimes you looked at it and thought, “Wow. That’s somebody.” Then you start looking closer and you’re like, “Wow. Look at that. Look how this tendon connects to here and here. Look at how this perfect machine is engineered beyond anything. There are all these little tendons and where they attach and where they go.” It’s fascinating. There’s just a big difference between learning about it and doing it. It was an incredible experience.
You’re seeing this incredible machine, so the exploration didn’t seem to be something to be freaked out about?
Yeah. When you start med school, you hit the ground running. It’s like, “Next week is a test on the nervous system.” You have to learn the entire nervous system, so I was hitting it and trying to study and learn every single little bit about it. Anatomy wasn’t just remembering it. You’d have a lab where Question 27 would have a pin on a body that said, “If you were stabbed here, what movement would you not be able to do with your arms?” You have to think three steps ahead. It’s like, “It’s going to cut the dorsal scapular nerve and affect this muscle and he’s not going to be able to raise his arm above shoulder height. You have to think five ways through it. You’re in this hyper mode of learning what things do and how they work. You’re working with the cadavers and studying and it’s all pretty amazing. The people that donate their bodies to science are amazing people.
Yeah. Absolutely. So you were using your brain in a hyper way just like skateboarding. You’re pushing yourself beyond what you thought you could do.
Yeah. That’s a good way to put it. You never know what you’re capable of until you try it. The truest thing in life that I can give to anyone is that “Whatever you think can happen can.” That’s one thing I’ve learned this year. The only thing you’re in control of is your own thoughts. You control your thoughts and your thoughts become your reality. I really believe that. If you believe you can do it, you can do it. If you can think it and you believe it, you can achieve it.
“THE ONLY THING YOU’RE IN CONTROL OF IS YOUR OWN THOUGHTS. YOU CONTROL YOUR THOUGHTS AND YOUR THOUGHTS BECOME YOUR REALITY. I REALLY BELIEVE THAT. IF YOU BELIEVE YOU CAN DO IT. YOU CAN DO IT. IF YOU CAN THINK IT AND YOU BELIEVE IT, YOU CAN ACHIEVE IT.”
In that four years, you’re evolving, so by year two, were you thinking that you’ve got this, no problem?
Yeah. The first two years of med school are like a marathon. You see those TV shows where everyone is doing crazy amounts of studying and cramming all night for days. You’re just doing what you have to do to get through these crazy exams. I was still skateboarding and competing quite a bit. It was the first couple of years after the X Games started, and vert skating started taking off again.
Did you see that coming or what?
Well, the first X Games was 1995. A few years after that, vert skating had this huge resurgence. I’m hearing about all my buddies going to China for a month and doing all this stuff. I was like, “Oh, man.”
Was there ever a point where you wished you were still out there?
Yeah. I was like, “What happened here?” I thought I had it all going on. I thought I had it all figured out. I was traveling around the world skateboarding and I’m starting to get paid for it and I stopped in my prime and I’m going to study for 12 hours a day? I need to have my head examined! Why did I do this?” [Laughs] At the same time, I was like, “I did it.” I remember after each exam block, you felt like you did it. It was a little bit at a time. One foot in front of the other.”
It’s admirable. You really hung in there.
It’s like the old saying, “The journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first step.”
That’s right, my friend. Were you thinking one day you would operate on your friends and build them bionic knees and figure out the best way to reverse skateboarding bodies?
[Laughs] Yeah! When I first went to med school, I thought I wanted to do orthopedics and learn about everything to do with skateboarding, like shoulders, knees and hips and how to fix them. I figured out I wasn’t that into orthopedics. A lot of it was 80-year-olds and hip fractures. I was like, “God, I don’t want to do another hip fracture.” Then I did a rotation in the Emergency Room, where we just saw everything and anything that can happen in the world.
You’re dealing with gunshots and everything?
It’s chaos. Whatever can happen will. You see all the strangest things in the world that someone will call 911 for, and they bring it to me. [Laughs] If you see that ambulance coming, they’re going to an E.R.
[Laughs] Yeah. ‘Okay, what did this dude put up his ass?’
Yeah. I can’t say that I haven’t seen that. I think every doctor on the planet has their fair share of ‘They put what where?’ stories.
When you graduated in 2001, what was your degree?
I went to an Osteopathic Medical School, so I got a D.O. degree to be a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine.
What does that mean?
Well, there are two types of degrees. There’s the MD degree, which is the Allopathic Medicine degree, and then there’s the D.O. degree of Osteopathic Medicine. Both are a degree that allows you to enter a residency program. In the United States, in the old days, you would finish medical school and hang up your shingle and be a general practitioner. As medical science progressed and things became more specialized, you’d have obstetricians and pediatricians and surgeons and you couldn’t do it all. You couldn’t be an obstetrician and a pediatrician and a nose and throat doctor and an ophthalmologist all at the same time, so there became specialized training programs for each realm of medicine, with Emergency Medicine being one of them. I entered a three-year residency program in Emergency Medicine and I got intensive training on anything that could present itself in an Emergency Room and the initial evaluation and stabilization of anyone who comes in. That could be a 90-year-old or a 9-week-old and everything in between. That’s the interest of the E.R.
In 2001, you went right into a residency program in the E.R.?
Yep. That’s when I moved to Manhattan. I did my residency at Beth Israel Medical Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine right there at 16th and 1st. I was living at 23rd and 3rd in Gramercy.
And we skated Chelsea Piers vert ramp.
Yeah. We skated Owl’s Head and that bowl at Canal Street and Chelsea Pier. Occasionally, on the weekends, I’d go to Tom Boyle’s house. He had a vert ramp. I always had my little spots. We still kept the flame alive, skating vert.
You just can’t kill that fire, huh?
Yep. I’ve been scratching that itch for a long time, Murf.
I know. It just doesn’t go away. When you were doing your residency, and people asked what you were doing after work and you said you were going skateboarding, was anyone shocked?
Not at all. I’ll tell you a funny story. When I was first trying to get into medical school, I met a few people and I remember one guy said, “Don’t tell them you skateboard. They’ll think of you as a skate punk.” I was like, “No.” I took the opposite approach. You have to write an essay about why you want to be a doctor and why you want to go to medical school and I wrote a whole thing correlating skateboarding and traveling around and meeting people and being an ambassador to your sport to being an ambassador to the human body. I embraced it and told them about how I flew all over the world and did all kinds of cool things and competed. In my interview, I think that made me stand out, and it became a positive. I didn’t keep it a secret at all. If anything, people found it extremely interesting.
What did the interviewer say when that was brought up?
When you’re first trying to get in, they talk about everything that you’ve done, from academic achievements to where you spent your summers. They were like, “Oh, really? You were traveling and skateboarding around the United States and Europe?” This was right after the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and I had been involved with that. We did a whole show of sport as art in the closing ceremonies of the Atlanta Olympics. That was a pretty cool thing. That was a highlight in my memory. We were in the middle of this huge stadium putting on this show. It was a crazy experience.
How did you get involved with that?
It was some guy that made a team around the first X Games. At the time, I was in my first and second year of med school, and I was still competing and doing quite well. I had a lot of top tens and some thirds and fourths. I was consistent. I always got top ten. That guy asked me and all the heavy hitters, like Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Mike Frazier, Tom Boyle, Neil Hendricks and Danny Way to be in this show in the Olympics. It was wild.