INTERVIEW BY JESSE MARTINEZ
PHOTO BY TOBIN YELLAND
Jesse Martinez and Julien Stranger are two of skateboarding’s most notorious characters. Both have spent the majority of their lives, since the early days in Venice, dedicated and committed to skateboarding, and skateboarding wouldn’t be the same without them. Here’s to two of our favorite heroes and antiheroes: Mess and Stranger…
Hey, Julien, let’s bang this out.
Okay. Let’s do it.
When were you born? What year?
I was born in 1970.
How did you end up in Venice? I always wondered that.
I was always in Venice. I was there since I was a baby. My mom was kind of a beach bum back in the day, so I was in Venice since I was really young. She’s from L.A., more from the North side.
You’re one of the rare and few born in Venice. That’s an honor.
Yeah, dude, I don’t take it lightly.
When did you start skateboarding?
That’s a tough one. There were always skateboards around. I remember getting a Roller Derby Pro when I was like four, from a family friend. When I really knew that I was super into it, I was probably 11 or 12.
You couldn’t help becoming a skateboarder. It was all around you.
Yeah. For me, it was a super consistent thread in my life, once I started moving back and forth to San Francisco. It was the one thing that I could bring with me to both places. I didn’t have to start completely over. I could find skaters to hang out with.
Well, S.F. and Venice are similar. I don’t know why, but I always felt like S.F. was a second home.
Rad. Definitely. They both had some diehard skate teams for sure.
What was your first real board, your first good one?
It was a Steve Caballero.
That’s a fine selection. Who actually hooked you up first?
Mondo Beck was an Alva boy.
Yeah. I saw him at the beach and he told me to come by the Garfield house and get a board. I was fucking stoked. I went over there and T.A. gave me a board. I walked in and it was all black and T.A. was laying on top of his bunk bed with this naked girl and he grabbed this board from against the wall and handed it down to me. He said, “Tell me what you think, man.” It was a window into a whole other world and I was beyond stoked.
It might as well have been a gold bar, huh?
Yeah, dude. It was insane.
That first time someone gives you something for free, you’re like, “What?”
Yeah. I went right home and cut it up.
A lot of rad shit went down at that Garfield house. To get a skateboard from Mondo Beck and the Jak is an honor.
Yeah. Mondo was sick. He was a good dude. Is he around still?
I hear Mondo is in Hawaii somewhere.
That’s where he belongs for sure.
Yeah, he does. That dude could skate. Who was your first real sponsor?
I guess it was SMA, but it was funny. I got traded from SMA, after two or three boards, over to Dogtown and Skip told me, “You ride for Jim Muir at Dogtown now.”
I remember that happening. I gave him shit for that. I was like, “That guy is one of the best hopefuls in our neighborhood and you just handed him off?”
That was pretty funny. It was cool though.
Are you kidding? Riding for Dogtown, you’re set in stone forever.
At that time, going to all the CASL contests with Murray, Oster, Eric and Kelly, with Jim driving us to contests in the Falcon, was just huge. That was my first sense of team camaraderie and brotherhood that I still try to keep going with what I’m doing these days. That meant a lot to me for sure.
The neighborhood tradition is hard not to follow wherever you go. What an honor for you to be with such legends at the beginning of your career.
It was fun, man.
What did your parents think of you skating back then?
They were cool. My mom bought me the Cab. My stepdad used to try to ground me off my board when I’d fuck up in school, but there was nothing they could do about it really. They were probably just stoked that I wasn’t doing worse shit, because I wasn’t that into school, so it was good.
There was a lot in Venice to get into back then.
We were pretty innocent. I wasn’t really getting into much, other than skating and surfing and hanging out with my friends. I was playing Dungeons and Dragons and shit.
Who was your crew? Who were the younger dudes that you were skating with? I know that me, Murray, Dressen and Oster were the older crew and you were the younger guys with your crew.
Yeah. We just skated around down by Brooks. We definitely weren’t like the Breakwater Locals dudes. We were like four blocks away and it was a whole different world. It was just my friends, Hector and Richard. That was my crew.
What about when ’85 and ’86 came around?
I was hanging up here a lot in S.F. and my skate world started expanding a lot. I was skating with you guys too. Out of my little crew, I was the one that wanted to go skate down there with you guys all the time.
That’s rad. I know Natas had a big influence on you. When was one of the first times you hooked up with that guy?
That’s a cool story. I had just transferred schools from San Francisco because I used to spend the second semester of every school year down South. It was my first day of school at Santa Monica High School and Natas was in my class. I had heard about him or seen him somewhere, so I knew who he was. There were only a few skaters so, immediately, I was like, “What’s up, dude? Let’s go skate.” From then on, I would skate by his house on the way to school and we’d skate to school every day. That’s how we started hanging out.
Natas was a big influence on a lot of guys back in the day. A lot of us were pushing towards the pool style of street while you and Natas and a select other few were paving the way with pressure flips and all of that stuff.
[Laughs] Pressure flips? No way, dude. You’re missing something there. I don’t remember that.
Not from what I saw. You guys were a step up from us back then.
Natas was always definitely smashing new territory. You inspired me though.
I did a lot of skating with Natas back then and I could see his influence on your skating as the years went on.
Definitely. We would just try to not ever do the same trick. Our whole thing was to out-creative each other. Remember Brandon Murdoch?
I just ran into that guy the other day.
How does he look now?
He’s fucked, but it was cool to see him.
We’re all fucked.
True. True. That was rad. I had just been talking about him with somebody. He was in Venice and he was definitely one of the best skaters around, from before I even got super into it. He’s a little bit of the lost skate history of Venice. Gonz used to come down to Venice to skate with him.
I was just going to mention Gonz because he’s probably one of the most gifted skateboarders to ever step on a street board. When did you see him come into the fold? I remember him and Natas were tight back then, so you couldn’t help but wind up skating with the Gonz. He was the man. How did you meet him?
That was definitely how I met the Gonz. My memory is a little fuzzy, but it had to have been from him coming to skate with Natas and me just kind of tagging along.
You guys had your thing going on back then.
Big time. It was nuts.
What did you think the first time you saw that guy skate?
You know what, dude? Do you remember this? You and I had just gotten to one of the early Oceanside street style contests and here comes the Gonz with orange hair and you elbowed me in the ribs and you said, “That’s the Gonz.” I knew Gonz, but he had just showed up and you wanted to make sure that I saw him. It was funny. He proceeded to trip everyone’s brains out. He didn’t even know what he was doing.
I remember. The Gonz was a step ahead of everybody back then.
There was no point of reference. He wasn’t necessarily ahead. It was more like, “Where is he? What the fuck is he doing?” You didn’t know where any of it began. You know what I mean?
Yeah. The way I saw it, even if you beat the Gonz in a contest, he still beat you. He did such crazy shit that even if you beat him, it didn’t matter.
[Laughs] Yeah. Everybody knew that he was the best skater there. It was just a matter of whether or not he could stay on his board. He almost never did, which is even cooler.
The Gonz didn’t care. He was like, “Here I am. Watch me rip.” I remember the first time I met you in mid ’84 or ’85. I started hearing about you from Natas and I was like, “Yeah. I’ve seen him around. He’s a young kid.” Back then we didn’t hang much. We had a different crew with the older guys and you were a young kid then. Once we connected, you and I started skating and you really made me better because you skated such a different way than I did. Remember that one morning we went to the Venice Pavilion and skated off the stage and we were trying to do the first ollie kickflip to catch it on the bottom of your shoe?
I’m not sure if I’m just making that up in my head, but that sounds hella familiar.
That really happened. I met you one morning out at the Venice Pavilion and you were like 13 years old, and I said, “Hey dude, I’ve heard of people doing kickflips and catching it to their feet.” You were like, “Sweet!” You and I went and tried it for about an hour. We were ollieing off that stage kickflipping and trying to catch it to our feet. You did it first within the first ten tries. The first person I ever saw catch a kickflip to their feet was you.
No way. Really? [Laughs] Wow, dude. That’s funny.
What I saw you do that day was on the same level as the day that Christian Hosoi came rolling down the street to Hot Cuts. Street skating wasn’t even invented yet and he said, “Watch this.” He did a stationary ollie and our jaws dropped. We were like, “What the hell was that?” Skating was never the same in Venice after that. It was the same thing as that day when you did that first ollie kickflip and it landed on top of your shoes, and you rode it down and landed it and rolled away, I never saw skating the same again after that day.
Wow. That’s nuts.
Yep. Sure enough that’s where it is now.
That’s a good one.
You were the first guy I ever saw do that. You’re skateboarding royalty. That’s all I know. Okay, I remember the first moment when I went, “You know what? I’m ripping! I’m here.” When was that moment for you? Maybe it was one day when you were competing or maybe it was just one day when you looked at yourself and you were like, “I can skate now. I can charge!”
It took me a long time to get there to where your strength and your skill are equally in sync. That took me a long time. Honestly, I’m a late bloomer. When I was 24, I could do anything that I wanted, and I was like, “This is it. This is the best.” I could still drink all night and skate all day and burn the candle at both ends and have the time of my life. It was a good feeling.
Do you remember the beginning of wall riding and who did it first?
Yeah. My first memory of that was the no-handed wall ride and that was you. That was all you. You weren’t putting your hand on the wall. Natas had his hand on the wall. You guys had your own styles to go about it. He would stay above it and you would get right there under it. There was a lot of wall jamming going on. There was the hand on the ground wall rides too.
Remember those days?
Yeah. Remember street plant circle?
Yeah. That was rad back then.
That was sick.
The Venice boys started wall riding and now it’s amazing to see every other sport is doing wall riding, with motorcycles, bikes, and all that. We started that shit.
Yeah. I trip out on where the wall jam is going right now. It’s so sick. Dudes are slappying huge walls into stand up 5-0s, so they are like the shallow ends of a pool. It’s like you’re skating vert, but you’re wall riding up the shit. Dudes are just ripping that stuff and I think it’s really cool.
Whenever I see new guys doing wall rides that advanced, I’m always honored. I go, “Wow. Look where it’s gone. It’s still alive.” I always thought it would be a night and day trick, here today and gone in a year, but it stood the test of time. I’m shocked.
Where skating is now, it’s opened doors to where the ollie and the wall ride have been combined, so it’s one move to where you can bash up the wall. The wall ride was more of a building block, just like the ollie that Christian did. It’s just getting taken to the furthest.
Yeah. I want to ask you this question. I know you had your hand in some trick that was created. There were so many. In our era, everything was new and everything was being invented.
I wouldn’t lay claim to anything. [Laughs] Maybe if I was drunk enough I would, but not in an interview.
That’s a great answer. Do you remember the Camel Toe Crew?
It sounds familiar. I know it was a Venice crew. It wasn’t girls. It was some dudes.
It was Eric, Little Man and Tuma.
Oh, yeah. That’s right.
They were the Camel Toe Crew.
Are you making fun of them right now?
[Laughs] You used to hang out with all of those dudes.
Of course, we did. Eric is awesome. There were some major egos flying around then.
Damn right. Venice is full of big heads.
Did vert have any influence on your street skating?
Maybe so, in the sense that I could only pretend to street skate on vert and ollie into my airs.
Isn’t it crazy that what you did then all the vert riders do now?
Gonz was one of the first dudes to start ollieing into his airs. He took the street to the vert from what I remember. I don’t really know.
Do you remember the Venice Pavilion?
Of course, dude. We worked on those murals there when I was in pre-school. All those murals that were there on the inside, before they cut the high wall down and put the fence around it, we did all those or worked on a lot of them.
Isn’t that rad? The Venice Pavilion was like the first street skatepark.
Yeah. It seemed to me like a central spot. It was a landmark, like a beacon. That was a good one.
I miss it every day.
I don’t even recognize it down there now. I don’t even know where I am in relation to anything. There is no point of reference anymore. I don’t hang out down there enough.
Yeah. You finally moved away from Venice. What year was that?
That was probably in 1989. I think I stopped going down there because there was nothing left for me down there. I was totally on the outs with my stepdad. I kept coming down there and skating with everyone, but I just couldn’t stay down there anymore.
Times change, you know? Skating took a hit right around then too.
I didn’t care about that. That didn’t really have anything to do with it. I just think my vagrant scene up here was just way easier. My friends were vagrants and we’d all hang out and skate curbs and we all had the same sort of vagrant skateboarding lifestyle, whereas, down there it wasn’t easy. I couch surfed at Aaron’s. Aaron Murray and Tim Jackson would always put me up. Aaron especially always had my back and gave me a place to stay.
You had such a tie with Dogtown and all of us back then. When you moved up north, did you still consider yourself a Dogtown boy no matter where you wound up?
I probably wouldn’t put it in those words, but it was pretty engrained in my character for sure. I remember getting into it with my friends up here, about people not having each other’s backs. I would be like, “What the fuck are you guys doing?” It’s just that whole idea of really having your friends back when the shit hits the fan.
Venice was always like that. We took care of our boys, you know?
You definitely always had my back, Jesse.
Oh, you know I did, man. You can always call me and I will drive straight to your pad.
When did you start AntiHero? When did that come into play?
It was like 20 years ago now, in the mid ‘90s. I just kept doing what I’ve been doing the whole time and it just kind of led to that and here we are now. I have no master plan whatsoever. It’s just skateboarding.
No offense to any other company out there, they’re all great and they all did what they did for skateboarding, but I consider AntiHero the truest to the end skateboarding company that I’ve ever seen.
Wow, dude. Damn. Thank you. Thanks, Jesse. That means a lot coming from you.
You guys walk the walk.
We’re trying, dude. You’ve got to live it and try to be as genuine as you can. It’s skateboarding.
Never bow down to the Google image with this new tech world crap that a lot of these companies portray. You guys have always stayed true to skateboarding. When I look at AntiHero, I see the purest of any skate company out there, along with Dogtown and SMA. To put you in that category of Dogtown and SMA…
From a dude from Venice for life, believe me, I know what that means. Thank you. You had a part in it too, Jesse, in all of it.
Hey, here’s another thing I wanted to ask you. When you started AntiHero, how did you pick Todd Francis to do the graphics?
Todd was already working at Deluxe. He’s the in-house artist. He was already doing a lot of the Real boards and Stereo boards. He was really easy to work with and we’d just bullshit and come up with fucked up shit.
You guys are always on the edge with those graphics. We’re always like, “Damn! Killer.” What kind of reactions do you get to some of that from people?
Well, it took people a long time to warm up to the idea of AntiHero. I think for a long time people just didn’t get it or they didn’t want to get it. It’s still like that now. I still don’t know what it is. It’s just grounded in skateboarding. The board graphics and everything else are an outcome or a byproduct of all of that. It’s kind of organic really.
You guys put out so many epic videos and you guys are so stylish and gnarly. What was the best video to you?
Of our skate videos, I really like the last one a lot and we did that Two Song video years and years ago with that Devo song “Be Stiff” and Skrewdriver. It was real quick. I like those two. They all belong in the time that they were made completely. I don’t think we ever really tried to bullshit anybody.
I never got the whole story about that Tent City incident with Buddy and Charno.
Oh, I liked that video too.
How was it working with those guys and what was it all about?
Well, I was just a fan of Northwest and Fruit of the Vine, truly. I just loved those dudes’ take on things. I liked the film and I liked the patience and I liked the story telling and they signed up and they were down. It was great.
That is rad. A lot of kids always talk about AntiHero and they’re always wondering how you decide who is going to ride for you because you have a very special team. You just don’t go and find some dude that’s ripping and say, “He’s the best. Let’s get him.” You guys have certain requirements. You guys are no joke.
That is a tough one. That’s a really hard part for me as a skater because I’m not here to judge any other skateboarders. We respect other people’s deals and what they’re doing. For most of the dudes on AntiHero, they’ve put themselves on, straight up. They’ve stood their ground and not ridden for anyone else and they are like “I’ll just wait for you to put me on. I’m still here.” I’m like, “Alright dude.” You still have to get in the van and people have to like you enough to spend time and share adventures with you.
Loyalty and character is a big part of being a pro.
Back in the day when Steve Rocco and I started World Industries, we got tons of videos. We’d watch them now and then and every once in a while we’d see a gnarly guy. How do you deal with that with AntiHero? Have you ever picked up a guy from a video?
Trujillo is the one. That is the one story. He gave us a 20-minute sponsor me tape and it was just like, “Fuck!” He was just ripping, dude, undeniably. He was all about it and he was super into it. Dude, I trip out on this, Jesse. AntiHero has been around for 20 years now, right? We’ve been skating, you and me, for a long time.
With Raney Beres, who is 21 now, AntiHero has been there pretty much his entire skateboarding life. As a little kid, there was AntiHero, whatever form it was in at that time. I trip out on that. My entire skateboard life, there was Powell and Santa Cruz. Then I look back and think, “Oh, they haven’t been around that long. We’ve been around 20 years and they’ve been around 35 years at the most.” It just trips me out. It’s crazy to be a part of that now and to be one of those established skate teams or companies or whatever we are, that has been around for kids whole skateboarding lives. That trips me out because, in my mind, we just got started. It’s just weird.
Well, you’re a legend, dude. People still talk about you.
[Laughs] I don’t know about that, dude. There’s no past to fall back on, Jesse. There’s only now. There’s skateboarding now. There’s only if you’re doing it or not doing it. You know what I mean?
I’m a diehard. I’ll roll the old way until I die. I’m a Venice boy all the way.
I know you are.
One thing I always loved about being a pro skater was traveling. I loved traveling. I had a few trips that I will never forget and I’m sure you’ve had a few good trips too. Do any stand out to you?
Yeah. There have been a few good ones for sure. It’s all a blur at this point. There have been a lot of miles. There have been so many times and places, so I don’t think I can boil it down to one trip. It’s just overall good.
I know back then, me and Rocco based our tours off economics, like “Where do we sell the most boards? Let’s go there.” How do you guys determine where you go?
Well, we do it on what interests us. It’s like, “Where haven’t we been? That’s probably the biggest motivator. Where haven’t any of us gone that we want to go check out and go skate? That’s number one. Then if you can get the skate company to pay for it or try to help fund it, I’ll pay for my own ticket. I don’t care. Bring some friends and you have all the ingredients for something unique; something really cool in your life.
Yeah. Do you remember our old set ups that we used to ride compared to today’s set ups? It’s like night and day, isn’t it? It’s crazy.
Yeah. Our boards were sick though. Skating was different. Back then that shit was state of the art for where we were. Even if we had the boards that we ride now, it wouldn’t have made us better skaters or different skaters. We would have been doing the same shit. It would have been like, “What the fuck is this big nose for? I can’t do anything with that.” It has changed though.
Of all the years of traveling, what spot do you think was the raddest?
That is a tough one. I like cities a lot. I like a city that I can jump on my board and the streets are smooth enough to just hit it. I like that. New York is great. I like any skateable city. If you like natural beauty, there is New Zealand. There are a lot of beautiful places out there, like Barcelona.
Have you guys ever built something to skate up there at AntiHero?
Yeah. We’ve been building a bunch of shit the last few years. The last ten years we’ve been building shit and it always gets torn down and we always come back for more somewhere else.
That’s what rad about AntiHero. You guys give back without expecting anything to be given to you. There are so many fans of AntiHero and you don’t hog what you have. You give back to your neighborhood and build things and help people out. That’s the way that all skateboarding should be, but it isn’t.
Yeah. You’re doing it for yourself, but the whole scene can’t help but get stronger, definitely. We like to inject some radicalness into it, something new for fun.
Who are you skating with nowadays? Give me their names because if I move up there, I want to know them when I see them.
[Laughs] I got some friends up here. You know Andy Roy, right?
Yeah. He’s a fucking legend.
He is a legend. I know. I like skating with him. He’s around. Actually, we have a pretty good crew up here right now. Everyone is a real skateboarder. They’re not in it for any other reason than to have good times with friends. There are so many names. People can figure it out if they want. I’m not trying to be mysterious. I just don’t want to forget somebody, so I’d rather not even get into it.
When I think of San Francisco, I know I should be saying Tommy Guerrero but the only two names that come to my mind are Mike Archimedes and Mickey Reyes.
Hell yeah, dude, that’s my OG crew right there.
The first time I went to S.F., I met Mike Archimedes and I left San Francisco depressed. I thought I was hot shit and that dude put me in my place in a heartbeat. I was like, “What? I’m the number one amateur? I ain’t shit. I just got smoked by this long-haired hippie.”
[Laughs] Was that at a contest or were guys just pushing around?
We were just skating around. Natas and I went up there for a photo shoot with MoFo for the first time and we hooked up with Mike Archimedes and he proceeded to dismantle the curb. I sat there in awe.
Yeah. I would skate with him and then, for the second half of the school year, I would go back down to Venice and bring little bits and pieces of that back down with me. There was definitely some transference there.
After meeting Mike Archimedes, we came back here and bashed the shit out of our curbs.
Yep. I remember Cooksie teaching me frontside slappies down there in Venice. I still remember the exact curb it was. I just don’t remember what street it was on. It might have been Horizon. I remember Cooksie taught me slappies one afternoon and I was like, “That’s it. I can never get bored. I’ll never look at my skateboard and think, “What am I going to do with you?” It was seriously a mind-blowing epiphany of a moment and it held up. That trick doesn’t get old.
Some tricks never get old. It’s crazy how that happens, isn’t it?
Yeah. We’re lucky, dude. We’re lucky because skateboarding has kept us somewhat sane, not always, but mostly.
I’ve been skating for 44 years straight now non-stop and I had a guy ask me, “How do you stay interested?” I said, “Skating has so many aspects to it. I can go skate vert. I can skate a curb. I can skate a jump ramp and now I’m bombing hills. It never ends.” It’s evolving constantly. Have you ever drifted away from the street because it seems like you’ve been pretty loyal to the street for decades?
No. Never. Burnside came into the scene and we had a heavy ten years of always having a vert ramp around up here, which was great, but the streets were never not there. That’s just life.
I remember in the ‘90s, I didn’t see you for a couple of years and then I opened up a Thrasher and there you were blasting an ollie on vert on this wall. I was like, “Oh my god, is that Stranger?”
[Laughs] You didn’t expect that, huh?
I was shocked. I was like, “That dude is blasting!” I was proud when I saw that.
Okay, I wanted to ask you something else. Did you skate for Element at one time?
Yep. That was right before Real. I got kicked off SMA the second time I rode for them when they sold out to NHS. Some guys that worked at NHS kicked me off.
Well, don’t feel bad because they left without me too.
Yeah. That scene sucked and then they just went and did that reissue thing that sucked too. Whatever.
That’s just the way it is. Here’s another question I had. How did the Sick Boys crew become a crew?
CBS was the crew. That was Tommy and Arco and all their buddies. Sick Boys was just a video. All those guys go way back. They all grew up skating together.
Well, you know, San Francisco is known for its hills. I notice you guys really integrate hills in street skating. What is the best hill to bomb in S.F.?
Well, there’s backside 9th that just got repaved and I haven’t even gone to check it out yet. It’s funny. This nine-year-old kid, Zoah, at the park the other day, asked me if I still skateboard. I was pretty embarrassed. He’s the one that was telling me that this hill that I grew up skating just got repaved and he’s out there bombing it all the time. The kids are on it. You have to spend a lot of time on the streets to really know what’s going on out there. You’ve got to be on the streets all the time.
The skaters in S.F. have been bombing hills since the wheel was invented.
Yeah. I guess, as skateboarders, we are all products of our environment in a very literal sense.
I had my ass handed to me the second time I went to S.F. by Tommy G and his crew. They took me up to a hill and I thought I knew hills, but I went to the top of that hill and I crashed about 15 times.
[Laughs] Backside 9th. That’s the hill. I know it. It’s gnarly.
Okay, I don’t know this story, but I want to know. What was up with the Safeway curb?
It was just a double-sided curb. It was kind of like our Pavilion back in the day.
Here’s a question for you. Downhill skating is coming up now along with free riding and racing. What’s the fastest you’ve ever gone on a regular board?
I feel like I got clocked once going at least 40MPH. I’m not even sure. That was on a regular street board.
That’s really fast on a street board. You’re in for some skin loss. That’s crazy. So you know I said I’ve been skating for 44 years now. How long have you been skating now?
It’s been 30 or 35 years.
You’re a lifer.
I guess so. You just reach a point where that’s just who you are. I don’t want to change anything.
Some people ask me, “Why do you keep skateboarding? You don’t get paid anymore?” I have the same question for you. Why do you keep skating?
I don’t think there’s an easy answer for that. It’s a lot of reasons. When something has defined you for so long, that’s just how it is. I feel my best when I’m skateboarding. That’s the simple answer. Straight up.