INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS BY J. GRANT BRITTAIN AND BEN COLEN
Northern exposure seems unattainable, when things are controlled by others further South… McCrank, did and will always be one of the ones that makes the standards change, and has, for the good of others… Skating from the heart, and killing it like never before… Control, style, natural talent, equals the skills of the great ones… Trip the light fantastic, then break the light, pop it like it’s yours… The final out come, Rick McCrank…. Truly one of the Great Ones…..
“I THINK I HAD AN ADVANTAGE BECAUSE I SKATED SO MANY SKATEPARKS AND BOWLS AND ALL THAT STUFF. I COULD ADAPT TO DIFFERENT THINGS.”
I want to talk to you. I want to know why you do what you do and how you got there. So where were you born?
I was born in a town called Peterborough in Ontario, Canada.
How did you ever get into skateboarding?
My oldest brother was into skateboarding quite a bit, so I used to steal his board and go out and use it. He ended up getting into a lot of trouble, so he had to go and live with my dad. When he moved, he left me his board. It was a Vision Agent Orange board.
What year was this?
I think it was around ’87.
How old were you?
I was 11.
What drew you to skating?
I don’t know. It took me places. I just got on the thing and started going further and further from my house.
So it was a mode of transportation.
It wasn’t just transportation. It was more like a magic carpet than anything.
Okay. We’ll get to Machotaildrop sooner than later. Did you just start doing tricks and stuff?
A little bit. The board was upside down under my feet, so I flipped it over and jumped on it. I just cruised around and skated down the hills. There were hills around my house, so we skated those and we’d roll off curbs. I started to do some tricks, but I didn’t know what tricks were. I just kind of used the thing. There were kids in my neighborhood that skated, but they didn’t know anything either. They just skated.
So you just skated, and that was that. It was fun. Did you do team sports before that?
No, not really. I was on the soccer team, but that was later on. There was nothing before that.
No. We grew up super, super, super poor, so we didn’t have any money for anything like that.
What do mean super poor?
We grew up on welfare. My mom was a single mom with four kids. It was like poverty.
What did you do as a kid to entertain yourself?
We used to play spies and run around in the woods. There are lots of woods around my house. It was pretty cool. We used to hang out in the trees and pretend we were Russian spies. We called it Russian. We played some baseball and street hockey and stuff like that, but we were mostly playing spies and hiding in the trees.
You were using your imagination more.
Yeah. We’d try as hard as we could to not let anybody see us. We’d go in the woods and have wars and stuff.
With play guns?
Okay. Just checking on the ammo usage.
[Laughs] I used to hang out with this kid that was a kleptomaniac and I used to help him steal stuff.
Those kids are always good to have on your side.
Yeah. They get you into a lot of trouble.
This is true. When did you start to figure out skating? There’s a transitional point when something happens.
Right after my brother left, I picked it up. Skateboarding, for me, has always been a release thing. If I get really pent up and things are bumming me out, I just go skate. After my brother left, it was pretty hard for me, because he was my big brother and I really looked up to him, so I just went skating. Then one day, I saw some guy downtown doing an ollie and he had a lot of pop. I was like, “Whoa. What was that?” It just tripped me out. It went from there. Then I found an 8-foot quarterpipe down in another neighborhood, so I started hanging out and watching people skate. It was pretty cool.
Could they skate it?
They were mostly BMX dudes. They had a big pole on it for a height meter. It was baby blue. There was one dude that was on one of those bicycle scooter things from the ‘80s.
[Laughs] That was the greatest invention ever.
[Laughs] Yeah. It had pegs.
So you were watching these guys ride the quarter pipe. Did you hit the quarter pipe too?
Yeah, I skated it a little bit. I wasn’t dropping in or anything. I was just pumping up it.
Then what happened with your skating?
I think I just used my skateboard all day every day since my brother left. I would use it to skate to school and use it at lunchtime. There was a skater at school, so I got together with him. I just kind of progressed. I don’t know the exact point where I was stuck on it. I remember it being really hard to stand on it and really hard to flip. Before that, I was just kneeboarding around. I think I wanted to be like my brother, so I tried standing on it.
Why do you think that little brothers want to be like their big brothers?
I don’t know. I didn’t have a father figure around. That could have been a big issue. I don’t know about the little brother thing.
I had an older brother and I always wanted to be like him. I just never thought about it. How long did you ride the Agent Orange board before you decided that you needed a new board?
It took forever. It was really hard for me to figure out how to fix the hardware. It would break and I didn’t have any real tools. I didn’t know what to do with the thing. I can’t even remember what I got after that board, but I had it for a long time. I might have gotten this Alva mini board with some sort of Thor or Hercules dude holding a sword. I think I got that off some kid in the neighborhood.
When did you start realizing you had some skills in skateboarding?
I think it was when my brother came back to visit and we went out skateboarding. He was bummed at me because I could do all of these tricks that he couldn’t do. I was like, “I guess I’m good.” I could ollie over a planter, and he couldn’t. I was like, “Oh.” I guess I had some competition in me with the other kids that skated around. We were trying to see how many boards we could ollie over.
The ollie was the main trick?
Yeah. Eventually, it was the kickflip. I remember doing kickflips a long time ago.
So you had no problem doing the kickflip.
Yeah. When my brother came to visit, I could do kickflips. He was like, “What are you doing?” I said, “I don’t know.”
He was like, “Why are you showing me up already?”
[Laughs] Yeah. It was that kind of mentality.
It happens. Were you seeing skate magazines?
No. I didn’t really see anything like that. Eventually, a friend in the neighborhood got more into skating and he had a magazine. I remember looking at it and seeing all the boards for sale on the back page. I think that Psycho Stix board was in there. I remember seeing the hammerheads and stuff, so it was around that time.
Did that make you want to skateboard more?
Totally. It got me more into it. I saw a photo of someone doing a Bertlemann slide on a bank. We found this ditch not far from where I lived, so we were trying to do stuff like that.
Wow. So the skateboarding keeps going. When did you start to get super good?
Eventually, I found a vert ramp on my exploration trips. I was randomly skating around Ottawa and found a vert ramp. It was closed, and it had a chain across it, but there was a channel. We’d roll down the channel on our backs and go under the chain. That was it. We started going there all of the time, even though it was closed. Eventually, in the summer, it was open, and it just went from there.
Is that where you learned how to skate vert?
Yeah. It was a 10-foot ramp with a channel and about six inches of vert. It was sheeted with plastic. After it rained, it would bubble up because of the moisture. It was pretty cool. I was glad it was there. The guy that ran it used to let me skate it for free because he knew that I didn’t have any money or anything.
So you were skating the vert ramp all of the time?
Yeah. It was mostly a summer thing. It was really far from my house, so I had to skate to it. Skating to it was like skating street. I had this whole route where there were all of these stairs and curb cuts and stuff like that. It was like Ray Barbee skating street.
Did you start looking at magazines and videos?
Around then, I did. The first video I remember seeing was called Curb Dogs. I watched that once. After that, the video I remember was Risk It. I saw the Powell videos, but I never owned any of them. I’d just see them at friends’ houses. The Risk It video was one of the ones that I saw more than once.
Did you learn tricks from those videos?
It’s hard to remember. I remember learning tricks through my one friend Eric, who knew what tricks were. He would be like, “Try this. That’s called this.” It was that kind of thing. He was like my skate pal.
[Laughs] I’ve never heard it called “skate pal.”
[Laughs] It was cool. He was my skate pal in the neighborhood.
So you were still riding the wide boards then?
Oh, yeah. It was the Roskopp board era.
When did you come into your own?
I guess it was in those vert years. I skated that ramp for two or three summers. In that time, I got better and more into it. I learned more about how it works. I probably ended up getting to see more videos and magazines, and I found more people that skated.
Did you travel outside of your town to skate?
No. That was in high school.
Were there a lot of skaters at your high school?
There were very few. I think there were two other skaters.
Why do you think you kept skating?
I don’t know. It’s all I ever wanted to do. It just became me. That’s what I do. That’s who I am. I didn’t want to do anything else.
Did you think you were going to be a pro skater?
I don’t remember that, but my brother told me that I did say that stuff. I used to think I never wanted to be that, but he was like, “Oh, no. You were always saying that.” He called me out. I guess he would know. I blocked that out. I used to draw little graphics with my name on it, for sure.
Did you sign your name?
I would draw a picture on a board and call it Rick Stix, like Schmitt Stix.
[Laughs] What were the graphics like?
It was just like one of those Psycho Stix graphics. It was a guy with big hair and a big nose. It was the only thing that I could draw at the time. That was the graphic. Rick Stix. Maybe I’ll get Rick to make it at Girl and fulfill that dream.
After the vert ramp, when did you start to realize that you could really skateboard? You can skate everything, yeah?
Yeah. Around that time, I was skating a lot of vert and a lot of street. I think it was when I was landing airs. I was like, “Okay, I can do late grabs.” That’s what I called them. I could early grab ‘em, but when I was able to do late grabs, I was like, “Okay.” Then I started skating more stairs. My friends were scared to jump down a lot of stairs, but I could do it. I just kept going, and then the ramp closed. Then it was just street skating. Eventually, I found this mini ramp at the Boys and Girls Club, so I skated that. I had never skated a mini ramp before. I just skated the streets.
Don’t you think the mini ramp was easy after learning how to skate vert?
It was real easy. It was great. I was like, “Wow. I can learn a lip trick.” I remember always wishing I had a mini ramp to skate, so I could learn lip tricks and then take them to vert.
Why was the vert there? Was it part of the city?
Yeah. It was a city deal. It was a community thing in the French part of town.
They always seem to support weird things in a good way.
Yeah. They’re passionate people.
How did you find the mini ramp?
I found out about it from this kid in my neighborhood that had just started skating. He was really young. He said, “There’s this mini ramp at this Boys and Girls Club that I go skate.” It was downtown, and I didn’t live downtown, so I had to find it.
You lived in the woods.
Yeah. I lived on the edge of the city.
So you find the mini ramp and it was all good.
Yeah. It was really fun. Plus, I was downtown, so I could skate down there, and that was really cool. The mini ramp was open in the winter too, so it was full time. I wasn’t just skating in my friend’s basement. I used to skate in his basement, because he had room.
Were you just doing street tricks?
Yeah. I was doing ollie grabs.
Were you skating every day?
Your skateboard was basically connected to you.
I would have the boards with zero nose and tail. I didn’t have any money to get boards, so it was a long-term connection with my board.
Would you get sad when you had to put a board down?
No. I’d get stoked because I’d have a new board that worked. I ended up getting a paper route, so I got a little bit of extra money so I could afford to get the bits and pieces. I would always buy used boards from kids. This one kid stole a complete and I bought it off of him. That was the Roskopp board. Then I left it at the vert ramp in the storage room and there was a drip on it, and it de-lamed it.
[Laughs] That’s harsh.
It had some nice Gullwings on it with the coping cutout in the middle.
Those were the weird trucks that they made, but they held when you did 50-50s.
That was the idea.
Do you remember the original Gullwings? They were really bizarre.
I probably saw them as an adult, but I didn’t see them then.
They were lame.
[Laughs] Anything that was made for tricks really worked for me. Those coping cut wheels were the best. It had the cut out in the middle of the wheel. It looked like two wheels in one. I thought those would make you go faster for sure.
[Laughs] There were so many gimmicks, but obviously they work on the kids.
Yeah. Gimmicks work on kids.
They think it makes perfect sense. “Oh, it’s got eight wheels instead of four.”
Yeah. I remember one guy telling me that white wheels make you go faster, but I didn’t believe him.
[Laughs] The color doesn’t make you go faster, pal. I’m not going to buy your wheels off you.
That was the same day that I learned how to caveman a handrail.
What does that mean?
It’s when you hold your board in your hand and jump on the rail.
Were you a stair king?
I think, as a young teen, I was the guy that would fly down all the gaps.
What was the biggest gap or biggest amount of stairs that you could fly down as a kid?
I don’t know how old I was, but I was skating a long 13-stair at a war memorial in Ottawa by the Art Center downtown.
What did your mom think of your enthusiasm for skateboarding?
I don’t know. My mom has been very quiet about it, but I think she was fine with it. She was supportive. She wasn’t against anything like that. I remember we were walking somewhere and I was coffin riding on my board and she got kind of nervous that I was going to get run over because I was so low. That’s probably the biggest problem she had with it.
After you started advancing on your skateboard, were you the hotshot in your town?
No. I was the guy that was the kook. I guess I was a kook, and probably still am, but I worked it out better these days.
Why do you say that you were a kook?
I just got made fun of a lot by the downtown kids.
Were they older or younger than you?
They were a little bit older.
So they were just making fun of the young kid that was getting better than they were.
Yeah. I kind of geeked it though. I remember meeting those guys and this guy was trying a trick, so I tried the same trick. I was just thinking, “That’s a trick that I can try.” That’s how I skated with my friends, but those guys were like, “This guy is trying to one-up you.” Then the guy told me that I shouldn’t do that. I was like, “Oh, okay.” I had no idea. I was clueless. I was learning late shuv-its and the guy said, “Nice late, late shuv-its. They’re already not cool anymore.” I was like, “Fuck.” I didn’t know shit. I was affiliated with the weirdo in Ottawa. He wasn’t a weirdo, but I hung out with this guy that called himself the “skate coach”.
He did the ramp at the Boys and Girls Club that I skated all the time. He really helped me out a lot. He ended up opening a store and giving me free boards. He helped me a lot and in other ways, he definitely made it hard.
It made it hard with the social acceptance of the other skate kooks.
Well, maybe I shouldn’t say they’re kooks, but they sounded pretty lame.
[Laughs] Whenever I saw them later as an adult and as a pro skater, they were pretty psyched on me. Things came around.
So you were affiliated with the skate coach and the other cats were making fun of you, and then you learned all the tricks that they were doing. Did you ever think you could skate better than those guys, but you just couldn’t show them?
I didn’t feel like that. I knew I was good, because kids would say that. There was a Birdhouse demo and the kids were saying, “Go show them up.” I was like, “Why are you saying that stuff? I just want to watch Ocean Howell do a big spin noseslide. Chill out.” Tony Hawk did a 360 over the funbox.
What did that do to you?
It was cool. I liked to watch it. Willy Santos was really good.
How did you ever get discovered?
First, it was the guy, Claude Regnier, who did the ramp and then opened the store. He was the skate coach. You’re a slalom guy. You know Claude.
I know Claude well.
He’s the guy that basically kept me skating because he hooked me up with all of this stuff. His shop was called Skateboard City.
He’s a nice dude.
Yeah. I owe him a ton. In other people’s eyes, it was very damaging. He’d stop me and tell me to bend my knees. I’d be like, “Just let me skate, bro.”
He’s the skate coach.
Yeah. I didn’t want to be like that with him because he was helping me and we were friends.
After that, I moved to Whistler into this house with this girl, Michelle, who was starting a skateboard company. She was like, “You’re going to ride for my skateboard company.”
Had you rode for anyone before that besides Claude?
No, that was it.
What was the company that this girl started?
It was called Cherry Bombs.
[Laughs] Were you psyched on the name?
I didn’t think anything of it. I’m a little naive kid. I’m not a jaded person.
How old were you?
I was 18.
That was a late start relatively speaking?
I guess so, for how things work these days. It went quickly from there.
Why did you move to Whistler of all places?
I moved there to go snowboarding. A few of my close friends moved there and I felt like I was back home alone. I was into snowboarding, but not in the same way I was into skateboarding, but I enjoyed it, so I moved there too. I wanted to ride the big mountain stuff.
Did you associate snowboarding and skateboarding as similar?
It was two different things for me, but I like going really fast. In skateboarding, you can go really fast bombing hills and stuff, so it was the same kind of thing. I tried to do things on a skateboard, like bonking things. Nose bonking a barrel is like going over a curb.
So you get on Cherry Bombs and then what happened?
She took me to San Francisco. Kenny Reed was on Cherry Bombs, too, and he lived in San Francisco. So we went there, and Michelle was also in another business that the law didn’t like.
She was subsidizing.
[Laughs] Yeah. I didn’t know that at the time. So we were in San Francisco and somehow Michelle knew Greg Carroll, so we went by Think and Venture and he gave me some clothes and some Ventures. That was the first realm for me into the pro skateboarding world.
How was it to get hooked up with free stuff because of your skills?
It was amazing, but it wasn’t because of my skills. It was because I knew Michelle and he knew Michelle. The skill recognition came from Shorty’s, when I got on Shorty’s hardware.
How did you get on Shorty’s?
They had a snowboarding company, at the time, and I knew a couple of the pro guys in Whistler. They were like, “This guy is really good. He skates the bowl really good. You should hook him up.” It just went from there.
Wait a minute. You’re not getting off that easy.
So you’re on Cherry Bombs and you get some stuff from Think. Did you have any photos in the magazines or any video parts?
Just after that, I was skating in Vancouver a lot and I was shooting with a guy named Scott Serfas. He contributed some photos to Thrasher. He had this message from Jake. He was like, “Listen to this.” The message was Jake saying, “McCrank is the feature. This guy is amazing. We want a cover. Shoot a cover.” I was like, “This is crazy.” He was freaking out. So we went out and shot a ton of photos that week. He was shooting vertical shots for a cover. I was thinking, “They’re not going to give me a cover. No one knows who I am.” I ended up getting my first photo in Thrasher. It was a center spread. It was a crooked grind on a little rail.
What did you think when you saw that center spread?
I was pretty excited. It was unbelievable. It all started with Concrete Powder. That’s the Canadian magazine. That’s where it all starts for most Canadians. That’s where it started building for me with the photo taking.
Did you like shooting photos and videos?
Eventually, it was more stills. When I moved to Vancouver from Whistler, I lived a block away from Scott, so we’d go out skating every day and shoot. The way that I met Scott was through a guy that had called me in Whistler. He was making a snowboard video and he said, “I heard you were a good skater. Do you want to go skate in Vancouver?” So he took me there and we skated this spot called the reservoir with Moses Itkonen, Sam Devlin and Scott. Moses gave me his old board, and Scott shot a photo of me. Scott shot a photo of me switch ollieing over the little handrail at the new skate spot, and I got on the cover of Concrete Powder.
What is Moses’ last name?
Okay. I just talked to Haslam about him. I wanted to make sure that it’s the same Moses that Haslam was talking about. Moses is rad.
Yeah. If you look around Vancouver, you can say, “Moses did this here. He did that here. He did a lot here, skating.”
Yes. So you weren’t sponsored when you got the cover of Concrete Powder?
At that point, I had zero sponsors. I didn’t even have Cherry Bombs at that time.
You had nothing. You were just riding Moses’ borrowed board.
Yeah. I was just off the bus in Whistler. I went to Vancouver not long after that.
Who were you skating with? Obviously, you were skating with Moses and Scott the photographer.
Yeah. When I was in the city, I would skate with Scott, Judah Oakes and Syd Clark. They were good skaters from here. They were filming for that snowboard video and it had a skateboard section in it. The guy that called me, Brad MacGregor, would bring me on trips and stuff. The video was called The Burning. It was the Whistler snowboard and skateboard video.
So you owe your skateboarding career to snowboarding?
I guess. Yeah.
Wait a minute. What about your older brother? Did you show him the cover of the magazine?
No. I don’t think I did. We lived in different cities at that point and I don’t think we were communicating that much.
Was he still in trouble?
No. He was going to school. He’s a journalist now. He turned it all around, and became an amazing person.
Fantastic. So you weren’t like, “Look at baby brother.”
Well, when I’d talk to him, I’d tell him about stuff like that. He was stoked that I was doing really good.
Were you entering contests yet or were you just the photo guy?
Right after I moved to Whistler, I entered a contest in Langley, B.C. It was an am contest. The winner of that contest got to enter the Slam City Jam contest as an am. I won that so I got to go to the Slam City Jam.
I could have finished that sentence.
[Laughs] I won that contest with a switch Benihana.
[Laughs] Wait. Was that your go-to trick?
That was the trick that I’d just learned in Whistler at the bowl. That was my new hot trick. I was kook central.
[Laughs] There is no judgment going on.
[Laughs] If you want a little sidebar, call Rick Howard and ask him what he thought of me at that time.
[Laughs] That is not necessary.
Let’s put it this way. He called Benihanas cherry bombs.
No. He didn’t. Did you skate against him?
Was he in the Langley contest?
No. This was the Slam City Jam.
You won Slam City with a switch Benihana?
No. I won the Langley contest with that, but I entered Slam City after and definitely threw some Benihanas down.
How was Slam City Jam as a kid?
It was terrible.
[Laughs] Why was it terrible?
It was because of the attitude I got from the local skaters when I was little. I definitely got a lot of support as well, but the attitude I got at Slam City intensified by a million.
[Laughs] Yeah, but that was just to warm you up for what was to come.
I guess so.
It was preparation to deal with the attitudes that were going to come in the future.
Well, I collided with a certain skater. Actually, he collided with me. He ended up whipping me with his headphones in frustration. He was really mad. He whipped me with his headphones on purpose. My neck was bleeding. I was like, “Fuck pro skating.” Then another guy threw my board out of the way.
Who threw your board out of the way?
It was Henry Sanchez.
Was it a Cherry Bombs board?
[Laughs] Yeah. It was a Cherry Bombs board.
Were you like, “These guys are assholes.”
Yeah. I was like, “I can’t hang, because I’m not an asshole.” I wanted to leave. I blew my run, so it didn’t matter anyway.
You blew your run?
Yeah. I did good in practice. That’s when people were telling me good things, and I met some cool people that day. I met Don Brown and he was psyched. Donnie Barley was really nice. It was cool. I remember getting a lot of support from the local crowd, because I was a local kid. I liked that. I thought that was really cool. It made up for not having a lot of support when I was younger.
What year was this?
I like these first contest experiences. They’re really funny. How nervous were you? After you won Langley, you were like, “Yeah, I can beat some of these cats.” And then you’re competing against the pros at Slam City. You were an am skating against the pros.
Yeah. It was definitely different to be surrounded by pros at Slam City. I think Jamie Thomas was there too, and I used to look up to him as a skater. I was like, “Wow. Jamie Thomas is here too. Holy shit.” I think that was the year that Bob Burnquist won the vert thing that everyone was excited about.
So you weren’t getting flowed from anyone else in the States?
I might have been on Shorty’s hardware by then. I had a clothing sponsor from Canada called NFA. It was a snowboarding company.
Okay. You owe everything to snowboarding. I’m just going to set that straight right now.
[Laughs] All right. I owe it all to skateboarding, but the companies that got me started were definitely snowboarding related.
They gave you the breaks in the early portion of your career.
It was also because I moved to Whistler first. If I had moved to Vancouver first, it might have been a different story.
I want to know more. How about stepping into the arena at Slam City for the first time?
[Laughs] It was really scary.
It was crowded too with spectators, right?
Yeah. That’s where I felt good. I would skate the contest and do my practice and runs and then leave the course and sit in the stands with my friends. The crowd wasn’t making me nervous. It was the pro skaters everywhere.
So you blew it in your run. Did that piss you off?
No. I was happy it was over.
[Laughs] Do you think that motivated you more?
I don’t know. I was skating a ton of parks in Vancouver, so I had a better advantage because I skated parks all the time. A lot of the guys just skated street mostly. Contests happened to be at skateparks. They weren’t at street spots.
Slam City Jam is like obstacle city, right?
Yeah. It was quarter pipes, pyramids, flat banks and stuff. It wasn’t stairs, rails and ledges.
Do you think you had an advantage?
Probably. I think I had an advantage because I skated so many skateparks and bowls and all that stuff. I could adapt to different things.