DUTY NOW FOR THE FUTURE – MONTANA POOL SERVICE interview with JEFF AMENT interview by JIM MURPHY
Jeff Ament and his grassroots skate company, MPS, is on a mission to create a Treasure Trail of epic skateparks connecting small towns and reservations in Montana, eventually, connecting through North Dakota and South Dakota. MPS is a take on Jeff’s good friend Wally Inouye’s Inouye’s Pool Service from when Wally rode for Caster in the ‘70s, ripping up the concrete scene with style, passion and aggression. Growing up skating and seeing the epic concrete parks and skate legends of the ‘70s, Jeff has turned MPS into a killer skatepark building adventure, working with the Grindline, Dreamland and Evergreen crews to revive the style and energy found in the ‘70s skatepark explosion. Jeff remembers the feeling of being 14 years old and riding his first concrete skatepark and it’s this passion that he wants to spread to the youth on the High Plains in order to share that feeling of freedom and the pure joy of rolling with friends.
Hey, how are you? Are you jamming?
I was actually on the phone with our manager. There is a lot going on and, when I’m not in Seattle, it’s extra work.
Where are you now? Are you in Montana?
No. We’re in California. We’re officially snowbirds at this point.
Have you been riding Linda Vista?
Yeah. O and I went to Linda Vista today and it was a heavy session with Blender and Lance. There was a bunch of dudes riding those crazy little Polarizer boards that Blender is into. It was cool.
Was Blender skating the full pipe?
I didn’t see him in the full pipe, but I saw some of those other dudes riding it. Blender was riding the smaller stuff and doing his crazy, wacky style. He was doing inverts on this little 3-foot wall. It was really weird riding, but super cool.
“The concept for the name was sort of an homage to IPS, Wally’s deal. It started off with stickers and stuff. Simultaneously, I was getting involved with getting parks built in Montana.”
Sick. Did you ride?
Oh yeah. It’s such a big park that you can go to a part where nobody is skating, especially during the weekdays during the day. Usually nobody is riding the full pipe or giant bowl, so I can get some runs in that little peanut thing. I usually hang over there.
Did you get some grinds going?
Yeah, you know. How are things with you?
I’ve just been working hard and I was thinking that I needed to interview you about Montana Pool Service and how the concept came about.
The concept for the name was sort of an homage to IPS, Wally’s deal. It started off with stickers and stuff. Simultaneously, I was getting involved with getting parks built in Montana. It goes all the way back to helping get a park built in the Seattle Center 25 years ago when I took some of my philanthropic funds from Pearl Jam and we gave them $50,000. We used to give all of the money from our home shows to local organizations. That was the beginning of MPS.
As a skater, when you were growing up in Montana, did you look up to Wally Inouye and the Caster guys?
Oh yeah. When I first started getting Skateboarder magazine, Wally was on the cover of every third one for about two years. He always had the coolest style and it seemed like he was operating to the beat of his own drum. When Wally and Strople started to skate for Caster, I jumped all in and started buying Caster Skateboards. Those boards seemed to last twice as long as any other ones, because they had the fiberglass in between the laminates, and it just felt like they really cared about the quality. IPS was Wally’s own trip and, at that time, pretty much every skateboarder had an IPS sticker and a Town & Country sticker on their board. It didn’t matter if they were a G&S guy or a Dogtown guy or a Sims guy. Everybody rocked the T&C and IPS stickers because they could rock that and not get in trouble by their sponsors. Montana Pool Service started off as an homage to IPS and, as I started to get to know Wally, over the last 15 years, it fell in the same time frame as building these parks. The great thing about Wally is that he comes out every year to Montana to skate and he’s been super supportive. From the perspective of when I was a 14-year-old skateboarder, it was the ultimate. If I could have looked into the future and said, “In 30 years, I’m going to be hanging out with those guys and building skateparks in my home state,” I’d have thought, “That would be awesome, but that seems crazy.”
Right. Well, if you flash forward to 1993, what inspired you to come up with that name – Montana Pool Service?
I think about things from a graphic and artistic point of view, so I’m constantly matching up my world with their world. It could be something like taking the Alva logo and writing Ament in the same style. I would re-appropriate the things that I thought were cool. I would take the Caster font and write my name like that. Coming from a small town, I felt like that was the only way I was ever going to do my own thing. I would cut out the griptape myself because I was never going to have a skateboard company or be a pro skateboarder, so a lot of it was just daydreaming. The beginning of MPS was more of that daydreaming. I still feel like I do that a lot. If I’m in the back of a van or on a long plane ride when we’re on tour with Pearl Jam, I have my notebook out and I’m sketching stupid little things that appeal to the 14-year-old skateboarder that’s still inside me. It’s funny how long lasting that stuff has been to me. If you think about it, it’s like, “Is something wrong with me?”
[Laughs] I hear you. I’m still riding a skateboard and I’m 50 something.
Yeah. Nothing else feels like it. We snowboard and ride mountain bikes and do other things that sort of approximate it, but nothing is quite like skateboarding. Having experienced that stuff as a young person coming into his own, when that stuff hits at the right time, you’re sort of stuck with it. It’s who you are. There were a few years when I tried to shake it and I didn’t ride my skateboard very much. I didn’t ride ramps or transitions for a few years. As soon as I rode a ramp and a bowl again, I was like, “I can’t believe I quit doing this. What was I thinking?” Now more parks are getting built every year and you can call your friends and say, “Have you skated this one yet? We should take a trip to Colorado or wherever the cool new parks are being built.” We’ve tried to make Montana a similar place and make it a destination.
Right. Okay, I want to go back to how this all started. In 1993, you and the band wanted to donate money to a Seattle skatepark. Were the guys in the band down with the idea? Did Eddie or Stone or McCready skate or was it just a no brainer for them too?”
I think those guys have touched on skateboarding at different points in their lives. I know Mike has pictures of him skating Carlsbad Skatepark when he was a little kid. Ed grew up surfing, so he was skating down to 7-Eleven and wherever. Stone’s nephew, Lucas, is a ripping skateboarder and has been for the last 10 years or more, so Stone has learned to skate a bit. I think that skate culture works side by side with rock music, so it was an easy sell. The only hard thing was, when we were on tour, it was like, “Are you going to skate that giant bowl? Are you being careful?”
Yeah. What’s the deal? When you go on tour, do you skate? We’ve heard the story of guys going on tour and skating and breaking an arm and not being able to play. I remember that happening when I was skating for Zorlac in the ‘80s. I was thinking about you and what the vibe from the band and others might be. Are they ever like, “You’re our bass player. Don’t fuck up.” Is there a nervous energy when you’re out on the road and decide to go skate?
At the beginning, there was, but now it’s been 20 years of me dragging my skateboard around on tour, so it’s old hat now. So far I haven’t had any major injuries, but I’m knocking on wood right now. I’ve fallen really hard and tweaked my back, but that hasn’t stopped me from playing shows. I couldn’t imagine our management telling me that I couldn’t ride my skateboard either. [Laughs] That’s just not the way it operates. I couldn’t imagine giving up the one thing you love to do for the other thing you love. The older I get the more I want to do all of this for as long as I possibly can because, at my age, it could very easily get to a point where my knee isn’t working anymore.
What are the memorable Pearl Jam tours where you had rad gigs at night and skated killer shit during the day?
There have been so many. The first time we went to Australia we stayed at Bondi Beach and there’s a vert ramp on the beach. I was like, “I’m going to go surf for an hour and then I’m gonna go skate and then I’m gonna get hot and I’m gonna go jump back in the water.” In the early years, every time I was in Northern California, I’d hook up with Joel Gomez. I remember skating this crazy wooden bowl in Sacramento with Joel and I looked at my watch and it was six o’clock and I was like, “Oh shit, we’re going on in an hour and we’re a 45-minute drive away.” Joel and I jumped in the car to drive back and we got to the show just in time for me to change my t-shirt and jump on stage to play. I was stoked because that was the first time that I had skated a bowl in a few years. Sometimes the European tours happen to be in the right place where you string together seven or eight good places over the course of three or four weeks. Now I’ve gotten to know people at all of these places, so that’s even better. I can trade a few tickets to the show for car rides to the parks.
Are people cool to you about it?
Oh yeah. It’s the greatest. In most places, the guy you’re getting a ride with knows that you’re playing a rock show that night. Most of the time, when you go to a park, you’re just another crusty dude riding a skateboard.
So people aren’t freaking out that you’re there. You can just go skate. No big deal.
Yeah. One time I was in Champaign, Illinois at a bowl there and I was hanging out skating and I heard these kids talking. One was like, “Have you ever heard of a band called Pearl Jam?” The other kid was like, “Nah.” Then the first kid said, “My dad has tickets to their show. I think it’s some old rock band.” [Laughs] It was kind of awesome to hear what every generation was thinking at that time.
Totally. [Laughs] When you guys helped build that skatepark in Seattle, was that after you met Monk and those guys? Was that a Grindline job?
That was a guy named Eric. He was a Southern Oregon guy and he built Ashland. You know what’s crazy? I didn’t know Hubbard at that time, but I knew a lot of the guys that he skated with. When I first moved to Seattle, I skated with a bunch of those guys, like Tom Peha, Wez Lundry and Ryan Monihan. There was a guy named Mark Lyons that had a ramp out in Issaquah.
“From the very beginning, punk rock and skateboarding, have been one and the same. When I moved to Seattle, at least half the kids I knew that played in bands skateboarded. Even going back to the guys I skated with in Montana, all those guys ended up playing in bands.”
How about Matt Gallardo?
Absolutely. All of those guys were young then. I was 20 and they were like 14 or 15. A lot of those kids were at a lot of the Pearl Jam shows too. When I first met Hubbard, I remember going over to West Seattle and skating the Butter Bowl. I was skating with Jay Iding at that time. I kept saying, “When are you going to come and build something for me?” After the third or fourth time that I asked, they said, “We’re ready. We were doing this park in Orcas Island and we had to take a break because they didn’t have enough money to finish it yet.” That was when Jay, Shaggy and Rabbi came out and dug the hole and rebarred the Treasure Bowl. Then they went back and finished Orcas. It was Hubbard, Sage, Brett Turner and Sloppy Sam. There were six skatepark companies in the original group of guys that came out.
When they showed up at your place to build, some of those guys were pretty gnarly. What was the vibe?
Those guys all knew a lot more than I did at that point. I knew that I wanted a square deep end because I wanted to be able to session it like a half pipe, but I hadn’t skated a ton of pools or bowls at that point, so I was relying on those guys a lot. Every morning they would have 100 ideas. If I had let them, we would have built four times the skatepark. They had ideas for building full pipes under the road and all sorts of crazy stuff.
Monk always had ideas.
Totally. Sometimes those guys butted heads too. I remember with the roll in to the bowl, Sage had a different idea than Hubbard. One guy was throwing concrete on while another was shoveling it off. It was the Wild West. I was like, “Well, I’m going to let them figure it out and, hopefully, it turns out.”
It turned out great.
Yeah. It was the beginning, so that was the first time they had done an over vert clamshell. There were definitely things happening in that bowl that were new to them. A lot of it was what the space gave us because I didn’t want to take out any trees, so the bowl had to fit in between the trees. I was lucky that I ended up with some of the best builders ever.
What was the inspiration for you to build on your property and then to build at other places in Montana?
Well, initially, I didn’t even want to build at my spot. The law, at the time, was that you couldn’t build a skatepark over five-feet deep and I knew that I wanted to skate something that was more than five feet deep, so I was like, “We’ll try to help build something cool in Missoula, but I want to build something bigger than that.” Had I known that we could build something bigger, I might not have built anything in my backyard at that time. We would have just built something in town so more people could ride it. Instead, we did both simultaneously. Then I started getting involved with the Montana Skatepark Association who was leading the charge to get a skatepark built in Missoula. I started going to meetings with them and giving them my two bits about builders and I promised them a chunk of dough. I tried to help them with the little bit that I knew. I knew that there were certain companies that we didn’t want to use, so we helped them come up with language for a contract that made sure that it was either Grindline or Dreamland that would build the park in Missoula. In the middle of all of that, the liability contract changed and we were able to build something deeper than five feet, so that was a huge relief. The state just changed the whole thing. I think it was the insurance that the state had for its park system. It changed from all these rules and regulations to it has to be a safe design and safe construction. After that, it was play at your own risk, which makes perfect sense.
Wow. That made the whole entire state of Montana open to deeper parks?
From there, what was the inspiration to build further than your immediate area?
Well, then there were other communities that were getting the idea that they wanted to build stuff. My buddy, Pete, was trying to get something built in Helena, so I offered to give him a chunk of money. My friends in Whitefish were building something and people up at St. Ignatius were trying to build stuff. There were all these small communities that were building skateparks. Every once in a while, somebody would hear that I knew what I was talking about, so I would get a call. Somebody in Great Falls called and said, “We heard that you helped build some stuff. What’s your advice for us?” I was like, “Make sure you build it out of concrete and that you get a great builder. There are really great builders in the Northwest.” That’s sort of when the Montana pride thing kicks in. I told them, “We have the opportunity to do this the right way because we are in close proximity to Grindline Skateparks and Dreamland Skateparks, two of the best skatepark builders in the world, and they’d love to come out and build something.” They built some of these parks for under $100,000. For the most part, it was Grindline, at the start, and then Dreamland built Butte, St. Ignatius, Polson, Whitefish and Kalispell. Since 2013, Evergreen has built 16 skateparks in Montana in partnership with MPS including Red Lodge which is in progress now.
What inspired you to work with Evergreen?
I skated a couple of things that they built. I skated the Goat Bowl in Northern California and I thought it was good. I knew that some of those guys had worked with Grindline and Dreamland. I think the first park I worked with them on was Browning. Billy was working on a park in Colorado and then he flew out here and we were driving around and found a location. We had this big canvas and I took all of the philanthropic money from a pretty big tour year and I said, “This is how much money I have and I want it to all go to this one park.” That was the first bigger park that I had gone all in on. It was the first big park for Evergreen too, so they went above and beyond. We got twice the park than a normal community would get. It was so perfect that Browning was the place we did it because they have taken that park and run with it. There are so many ripping kids there. As you know, it’s a super special spot.
Yes. Explain your connection with the Native American Reservations and why you want to build skateparks there.
Well, growing up in a small isolated community can be a challenge for a kid and I think it’s probably even more of a challenge now because kids are hyper connected to the rest of the world. Kids in a small isolated community can be reminded every day that they are in a small shitty place. I think the reservations are even one more step isolated. When you look at a map of the U.S. and you look at where they decided to put reservations, it’s pretty much in between all of the resources. It’s in the plains somewhere away from water. It’s not the optimal place to live. Mostly what I relate to is my experience growing up in a small town. Just knowing that, if you could bring one little diamond of the best that there is to offer to these small communities and reservations, it seems like it makes them feel like more of a part of the world.
At the Blackfeet Reservation, when you approached them, how difficult was it for you to engage with the tribal elders about building a skatepark?
They’ve been great. Initially, there was a little bit of hesitancy, but it got better when I got face to face with people. When I was reaching out by phone or email, there was always apprehension. It was like, “Why do you want to get into this? What’s in it for you?” Then I was trying to explain to them that there’s nothing in it for me. I’ve been fortunate in my life and I’ve made some money and I just want to share my good fortune with small town Montana. That’s at the crux of the whole deal. Montana is small enough that, when you start talking to somebody for ten minutes, you realize that you know some of the same people. A lot of times, that’s all it is. Then it’s like, “Well, you know, the kids should have this.” Sometimes they get it when they realize that I’m originally from here. On the reservations, I think it’s just so rare that someone wants to come and help them. In a lot of instances, with the way that the welfare system is, people just throw money at things and there’s not really follow through or guidance. We try to bring a group of people back to their community every year and keep that relationship going. We share experiences and try to be a good neighbor. That’s the basis of what I’ve tried to do. That’s what my parents taught me and what my mom and dad did in our community. They were always helping and volunteering and they were on all the boards all over town. There was a real sense of community. This is my version of that. It’s different for me because I’m traveling so much and it’s hard for me to be that constant support, so this is my way of supporting with as much consistency as I can without physically being there all of the time.
When you first approached the Blackfeet tribal people, they could probably identify with skateboarding because they grew up with concrete parks in the ‘70s, so the concept of a skatepark wasn’t foreign. Did they understand the need to build with concrete?
Yeah. I remember having a conversation with somebody and they said, “I used to have a skateboard and we would ride it down this hill.” Skateboarding was so big when it first came out in the mid ’60s that most kids got on a steel-wheeled or clay wheeled skateboard and ate shit going down a hill somewhere. That was part of growing up. The good thing is that there are always a couple of people in these communities that have a kid that is way into skateboarding. That was part of what made me want to go to Browning. I ran into a few kids from Browning that were skating St. Ignatius a few years before we built Browning. They said they had a little indoor park, so I knew there were the seeds of a scene there already. I knew we’d have a better chance of success if there were some seeds going. They had it and it’s really been great to watch. You can show up there unannounced and there will be 30 kids there skating the last few hours before sundown, ripping around the park.
“If you really allow yourself to feel the music or to feel what’s it’s like to ride a wave or be in the ocean or on a skateboard and carve a ten-foot wall or pull a trick or whatever, it’s all that same amount of aliveness. You feel it.”
That’s so cool. When we go out there, the kids are ripping and it’s inspiring. Then you drive from Browning to your hometown in Big Sandy where you built a skatepark on the Rocky Boy’s reservation. Tell people what it’s like to go back to your hometown and have a skatepark built there. Did the people in town know who you were when you built that park?
I’d say half of the people in town remembered who I was from when I was growing up there. I was a little bit of a troublemaker, not too bad, but I was into punk rock and I had a big ramp in my yard. There was probably a little bit of apprehension at first, like, “Great. He’s going to try to bring his trouble back to our town.”
For the most part, I think people are psyched. Every year we bring 100 to 150 people from all over the world to town and it interjects a little energy into these communities. I feel like it’s good for these communities to have a little face-to-face time with a guy from Italy or the East Coast or Costa Rica. If they’re lucky enough to have a conversation, they have a more open mind about what’s out there. Then you also realize that there are all these freaks out there that ride these crazy pieces of wood and there are a lot of great human beings underneath the freaky exteriors.
Yeah. They get to meet Randy Katen.
Yep. They get to see Randy Katen and Tom Inouye and Jim Murphy and Brad Bowman. Brad Bowman was ripping Big Sandy. Who would have thought?
He was killing it. So you grew up in Big Sandy near the Rocky Boy’s reservation and I remember talking to you about how hard it was for you to get a park going there and then last year you had one built there by Evergreen. Explain what it’s like to get that Rocky Boy’s rez park built?
In that part of Chouteau County, between Big Sandy and Rocky Boy’s, there’s a line of demarcation. There were a few skateboarders from Rocky Boy’s that would come down and skate Big Sandy, but I know it was hard for them. By building a park in Rocky Boy’s, it sort of evened the playing field and, hopefully, kids are traveling back and forth a little bit. When I was a kid, I was friends with a lot of the kids that I played basketball against up there at Rocky Boy’s. I think that’s what skateboarding can do too. We talk every summer about having contests and getting kids from the reservation down to some of the parks in the cities or get more inter-tribal things going on, like get the kids from Hays over to Browning or vice versa. It’s slow, but there are good things happening. There is a great organization in Montana now called Girls Shred and Kim Peterson and another woman went to Rocky Boy’s and 30 or 40 girls showed up and they handed out skateboards and helped kids. All those programs happen naturally and can be a part of the impact on the prejudices and trying to heal some of that horrible shit that went down 120+ years ago.
How amazing was it when we saw those kids from Blackfeet show up at Big Sandy and skate? They showed up and ripped. Tell people what that meant to you.
Well, that’s the apex of it. We built that park five or six years ago in Browning and those kids are getting good enough now that they feel like they can show up anywhere. They had never ridden Big Sandy before and they literally jumped out of the car and waved at us and went and dropped in and, within five minutes, they were airing over each other from bowl to bowl. They were bringing their flavor and riding the Big Sandy park differently than anyone else because of the way that they learned to ride their park. That’s just the best. That’s almost like taking skateboarding back to the ‘70s when Tom Inouye and Chris Strople would go to Florida and skate. All of a sudden, the Florida guys were seeing how the California guys skated and vice versa. It’s like when an Australian shows up at Upland and rides the place in a different way. The Texas guys are a prime example. Look at what the Texas guys did and you guys on the East Coast did. When you guys showed up, it was like, “Those guys are gnarly.” Now I think there is a similar thing going on. It’s like a microcosm of it, because of the isolation. A lot of those kids live in Browning, which is 120 miles away from Big Sandy, but it might as well be across the ocean because those kids don’t have a car or access to getting anywhere. Now we can promote these skateparks and get it into kids’ minds to go get a job, so they can travel. When I was a kid, being able to travel and go places was always the impetus for me to have a job. I wanted to be able to travel and meet people and see music in California and go to New York City. If you work a day job and save your money, you can travel. It’s pretty cool.
Well, you’re obviously very into music and skateboarding. Explain why music and skateboarding are so intertwined for you. What do you think that can show people about how things work together in our culture?
If you know, you know. If you really allow yourself to feel the music or to feel what’s it’s like to ride a wave or be in the ocean or on a skateboard and carve a ten-foot wall or pull a trick or whatever, it’s all that same amount of aliveness. You feel it. I think there are different levels of aliveness. There is the aliveness of being on your couch and playing a video game and there’s something to that. Your mind is engaged and there is some excitement to it. Then there is the aliveness of being on a double overhead wave and, if you don’t pull it, you’re going to get crushed into the coral. I think music does the same thing. For lack of a better word, it’s spiritual for some of us. If you get introduced to it at a young age, it’s who you are. From the very beginning, punk rock and skateboarding, have been one and the same. When I moved to Seattle, at least half of the kids I knew that played in bands skateboarded. Even going back to the guys I skated with in Montana, all those guys ended up playing in bands. My friend Mike Morasky was in Steel Pole Bath Tub. There is this need to feel alive and every day you have to make sure that you feel that at some point. Sometimes it’s playing guitar or singing and sometimes it’s riding your skateboard.
Do you think these days with everybody on their phones that kids are as active as they used to be? When you travel and play music, do you see an underground scene like we grew up with?
I think so. The difference that I see is that, when it came to skateboarding and playing music, I had no teachers. The teachers were the older guys that were saying, “Hey, get after it, pussy!” or, “Are you still playing cover songs? You have to write a song if you want respect around here.” There wasn’t Woodward Camp and School of Rock and things like that. I think that’s the biggest difference. I think there is a little bit of hand holding going on these days with young kids. I think it’s partly the adults’ fault. It’s like the adults want to have a piece of their kid’s youth, so they’re very involved. They put the kids in these camps and the parents are in the stands yelling. Except for the one or two contests here in Montana, there were never parents around. It was just you and your bros calling each other out because you weren’t pulling the trick. It was the same way with music. Nobody’s parents were saying, “You have to play your scales or rock harmony or jazz technique.” Nobody was giving you lessons or telling you what to do. I think that’s the part that makes me feel a little bit bad because we all came upon this stuff in a really magical way. I think we all found our identity easier because we did it ourselves. Sometimes if you have too much help forming your identity, it’s not really your identity. It’s your teacher’s or your parents’ identity. The jury is still out, but it feels like it could be problematic in the future. It could end up like, “I’m not sure what I’m doing. I’m just doing what my dad told me to do.”
Let’s get into Montana Pool Service. It seems to me that your philosophy is that you want to build skateparks in small towns that can connect people. Is that your vision for Montana Pool Service?
Yeah. I want to make it so that any kid growing up in Montana doesn’t have to drive more than an hour to skate. That would be great. Our state is so huge, but I’d like to make that possible so that somebody’s parents could drive them down and drop them off and come back later in the day to pick them up without it being too big of a deal. I think we’re close. Now that we have Wolf Point built, if we can build a skatepark on the Crow Reservation, and something in Libby and a few other places, we’ll be in a cool spot where there will be 25 or 30 parks around the state and a lot of them will be located so that you’ll only have to drive an hour to get from park to park. Who knows? Maybe we will start on North Dakota next.
Yes! That way it can be like a treasure map where you can go from spot to spot. So are these places contacting you or are you reaching out to them? With Malta, did they contact you or did you go there?
Malta contacted me. It was actually a family of kids that I grew up with. His sister lived in Malta and she had a grandkid that skateboarded. That community was huge. I said, “We can be there in a month. I’ll give you this amount of money and, if you raise any money yourselves, I’ll match that too.” They ended up raising $10,000 in three weeks or so because they were so hungry for it. Those are the good ones. Actually, a guy who is a teacher in Lincoln, Montana, which is between Missoula and Great Falls, reached out to me two years ago, so I went to his school and met a bunch of the kids. There was a group of about 20 kids that went door to door and talked to all of the businesses to raise money for a skatepark and we finished building that one this year. It’s important. Those kids helped to raise the money to build the park, so they feel ownership of it. They feel like, “I did this.”
Yes! What kind of feedback do you get back from the community after a year or two of them having the skatepark?
There’s a guy named Travis, and his kids skate and he reached out to try to get boards and trucks and wheels because there isn’t a skate shop there where he is. I think they had some get-together and got the money to pay for a bunch of boards to give out to the kids. It’s important that there is somebody in the community that understands the value of it and is trying to grow the scene. The cool thing is that, if you have a really badass skatepark in your town, it ends up being as acceptable to skateboard as it is to play football or basketball, which is unbelievable. I see kids that remind me of myself growing up, because I grew up in a small town and I didn’t really know about jocks and that whole scene. I would go to football practice and come home and eat dinner and ride my ramp for four hours until sundown and that was normal. From my standpoint, I was just a hyperactive kid who needed to skate. I think all of these parks are such sweet parks, and there’s always going to be a group of kids in that town that are like, “Wow. We have such an amazing park in our town that we get to ride.”
Rad. Is the mentality in Montana more organized sports or is skateboarding in as much demand as football and basketball?
Well, I’ve noticed it in the cities. If you go by the skatepark in Missoula, there are always ten or 20 kids at that park. If you go by a football field or basketball court, it’s empty. If a kid has to use their own impetus to go play, those places are empty unless it’s part of an organized tournament or a class. I think that’s the difference. That’s the cool thing about skateparks. It’s not organized. You call your friends and say, “Hey, are you skating today? I’m skating. Let’s go.” That’s the way it was for me when I was growing up. If the World Series was on, you got together with your buddies and you played baseball because the Pirates were on TV and it was awesome. That’s the cool thing about the X Games. If you see skateboarding on TV, you have this amazing park down the street that looks a little bit like the bowl at the X Games or whatever and that’s pretty rad.
Yeah. Do you have an opinion about skateboarding in the Olympics?
I don’t care. I think there is always going to be kids that have getting a medal as their end goal, and there is always going to be kids that don’t give a fuck. I like it all. I prefer going to a park in Donald, Oregon, and seeing the kids go over the stairs and slash a frontside grind. I prefer that to watching a vert ramp contest, but it’s all skateboarding. It’s not to say that the Olympics won’t be a stage for something cool. Some kid is going to do something insane at the Olympics for sure. You can hate on Shaun White, but a couple of Olympics ago when he showed up and was going twice as big as everyone else, that was insane. You start going, “Wow!” That only happens because of the Olympics and the X Games and that whole mentality of contests. You have to go bigger and get that amplitude, or whatever ridiculous names they come up with for this stuff. That competitive environment pulled something really radical out of that particular sport and it took snowboarding to the next level.
Yeah. There are a lot of arguments for and against it. I look at it the same way you do. Skateboarding is getting so big. As far as skatepark design goes, what’s your opinion of the style of skateparks that Evergreen is building in Montana now? They are like the old ‘70s parks, right?
Yeah. It’s like the ‘70s parks with perfection. Those old ‘70s parks were pretty lumpy and I think they were trying to make them look like moonscapes or whatever. For me, the beginning of skateboarding is how you feel when you’re going down a hill or you make your first big turn or when you go over a bump or you go up a ramp. It’s feeling the roller coaster effect. The great thing about the Evergreen parks is that any kid can get on a skateboard and, as along as they can balance a little bit, they can go down and up and over that thing. As soon as you get the feeling of making it over that bump and up to the next thing the first time, it’s on. It’s instant. On another level, when you watch Billy and those guys ride those parks, you realize that there’s a whole other way to ride them. There are transfer lines and gap lines. You can ride it in a real basic surfy way, or you can blast and link airs and transfers throughout the whole park. A beginner can navigate cool lines and somebody who is really good can also navigate big lines.
Is there anything that hasn’t been built in one of the Montana skateparks that you’d like to get built?
Yeah. I’d like to see a full pipe or even a 3/4 pipe. Something of that nature would be nice. Billy and I have talked about it and, over the next few years, if there’s a bigger park that happens somewhere, that’s in the back of our minds. I think a real old school clover like the Turf but a little bit bigger, would be cool. We don’t really have anything like that up here. That’s sort of been my few bits into a lot of these parks. If they’re big enough to put a stand-alone bowl in, I try to change the shape up and make sure that we have a bunch of different shapes covered. It’s like today at Linda Vista, I was talking to Lance Mountain about shapes. We were talking about amoebas and he was talking about why he thinks they work best. It’s that constant thing of progression, like why the amoeba at this park worked, but the one at that park didn’t. He’s such an encyclopedia of knowledge about so many of the old parks and the new parks too. He’s a great brain to pick when it comes to that stuff.
So he likes the shallow to deep amoeba, like a four to 8-foot?
Yeah. He was talking about where the bonus pocket is on an amoeba. If it gets too much in the middle, it gets problematic. Those conversations are great to have. That’s part of the great thing about skating all of this stuff all over the planet. When you come upon something that feels like it works, the first time you ride it, you’re like, “Whoa, that just sent me exactly to the fastest place and on to the next fastest line.”
Do you remember the last place you skated that made you feel like that?
Lots of Grindline and Dreamland stuff gives me that feeling. There are so many of those places that, when you pull up, you go, “What the hell is this?” Hailey was a prime example. It’s 14 feet deep and there is a 20-foot long loveseat and the scale of it is great. Rolling over the full pipe is insane. When I pulled up, I thought, “That probably looked great in Red’s notebook, but he built that crazy idea and it works.” You drop in and you can just keep following it around and hit that pocket and that’s how you roll over the full pipe.
That’s genius right there.
Yeah. What Hubbard did at South Park with the circular vortex and four doors in four directions, he was really onto some shit there.
Do you ever ride that park at South Park?
Oh yeah. It’s so good and I think you could really expand on that design. If you made everything 20% bigger in scale, it would probably be more fun, but I see plenty of guys ripping at South Park. It’s such a different thing because there’s no flat bottom, so you’re always gaining speed. If your wheels are down, you’re just going faster and faster every time you go up a wall. That’s Hubbard. That’s the way that he thought. He had really specific ideas. He loved 7-foot radiuses and he had these theories about why certain things worked. Some of it came from Freemason numbers and it’s fascinating. Everyone likes different things and it’s sort of like making music. One person will hate a song and the next person will think it’s the greatest song ever. I think skateparks are the same way. It’s awesome that there are some designers and builders out there sporing new shapes and designs. As much as kidneys and amoebas work, as long as the pocket is in the right place, you wouldn’t have cradles, 3/4 pipes and capsules if it weren’t for those innovators. If you build something new, the next time you build, maybe you tweak it a little bit and maybe it’s right the second or third time. All of those things have changed. All those things that Hubbard and Red and Wally Hollyday and other guys built have changed skateboarding forever.
Totally. Can you believe where we are with skateparks built all over the world now? Did you ever see that coming?
No way. I remember when Grindline had built 10 parks and I had a conversation with Hubbard and he said, “We’ll probably get another year or two out of this before they figure it out.” That was pretty rad. It’s barely slowed down, even through 2009 when the markets crashed. I thought that was it, but it wasn’t.
“It goes all the way back to helping get a park built in the Seattle Center 25 years ago when I took some of my philanthropic funds from Pearl Jam and we gave them $50,000. We used to give all of the money from our home shows to local organizations. That was the beginning of MPS.”
You kept building too. Montana Pool Service kept charging. I remember you told me one day, “I gotta go back out on tour with the band so I can build another skatepark” I know you love what you do and you guys do amazing shows. Is it part of your motivation now so that you can help finance another skatepark?
Yeah. When you do something for 30 years, you have to find new motivation other than the creative part. I love to make music and the writing process and being in the studio with the guys. That’s the best. After 30 years of touring, when you first start making money, it’s like, “Oh, cool, I get to buy a house and a nice car.” After that, you’re like, “What’s next?” I didn’t ever think I’d be at this point. Now it’s like, “I’m going to build skateparks and force these communities to think outside the box and towards the future, and not just build another tennis court or stuff that kids don’t give a shit about.” I never thought I’d be making music this long, so it’s great to be able to give back in this way.
Well, Pearl Jam is still slaying it. What keeps you guys stoked to do what you do?
From a musician’s standpoint, everybody thinks that they are better than they were 10 or 20 years ago. It’s also that thing with getting older. You wish that when you were younger you would have had that ability to know when to expend your energy and when to pull back and relax, but you learn that as you get older. It’s amazing that we can still do it at a pretty high level, but we also hold each other to high standards. You can’t show up to the next tour out of shape or not having played your instrument for a year. We have expectations. You have to bring new songs to the mix and you have to bring your youthful serum – the secret – and skateboarding is part of that, for me.
Is skateboarding the same rush for you as when you get to play bass?
Yes. In a way, I can’t believe I’m still doing this at my age. I really did think a part of me would have moved on to golf or we would have become more of an acoustic unplugged band or something. We haven’t quite made that transition. [Laughs]
No! You were telling me you played Brazil with how many people in the audience?
There were some big shows there with 60,000, 70,000 and 80,000 people.
It’s rad because, just going to skate a skatepark with you, you’re still that kid from Big Sandy. Your ego isn’t there like probably half of the other rock stars. Congratulations. You’re still cool!
Thanks! The best part is that I get to skateboard with you, Strople, Bowman, Pine, Wally and Lance. That’s the greatest thing ever. I get to skate with Mike Morasky and Chris Maneres, two guys that I grew up with and skated with. It’s the greatest second half of my life that I could imagine. We’re not meeting those guys on a golf course. I’m inviting them to Montana to skate, but I feel like this is their territory. I’m a participant, but these are my heroes. It’s the same way with music and playing shows with Iggy Pop or Frank Black and the Pixies or the Buzzcocks or The Who or the Stones. All of that is dream stuff. To me, skating with Strople and Wally is as good as jamming with Keith Richards. It’s all dream stuff. Speaking of, what are we doing at Pine Ridge next year?
The land committee there in Pine Ridge has now approved the skatepark. You’ve seen the Grindline design for the park, so now we’re just in the process of doing fundraising for it.
It looks insane. I’m ready to take a meeting with Nike or Vans and try to raise some funds. I think there is some way to get it done if we can get somebody to match funds. If we can get somebody in the skateboard industry behind it, it makes it more legit too. It’s a way for companies to do good and make money. Good will is good for business. I think the people buying products would see that. They could do a whole ad campaign around it and they’d be building a new park every year on a reservation. It would only cost about $100,000. Think about how much money they spend on those contests where they build a million dollar skatepark and then tear it down. You could do the same thing on a reservation and leave the park there. There’s gotta be a way to make it happen.
Just tell them you’re from this little garage band known as Pearl Jam and the guys in the garage just had this little idea.
What is your duty now for the future for the Montana Pool Service?
My duty now for the future is to build five or ten more parks in Montana and go patch up a few of the old parks. It feels like there are three or four more years of work to be done in Montana, but it could go on forever. Every 15 years, you could go patch up the older parks. You see what Dreamland is doing now with the older parks. They’re hitting them with grinders and re-pouring sections to make them skateable again. My duty now for the future is to build more and keep it going. I look forward to getting something going at Wounded Knee too.
FOR THE REST OF THE STORY, GET ISSUE #77 AT THE JUICE SHOP HERE.