We had our first conversation over a year ago. Since then I broke my wrist, lost my nerve and then kind of came back. What has changed in skateboarding for you?
Right around the time we had that conversation I got really conscious of safety, especially head safety. I started wearing a helmet pretty regularly. I’ve hit my head three times, luckily with a helmet on every time. In December I went out…. It was a weird period after the election. I was so depressed and I remember going out about two weeks after, and I was like “Can I do this still? Am I shirking my duty as an American citizen by having fun?” It was that bad.
It was crappy weather and I was skating this pallet on a bank. There was a piece of masonite on top of it. It was evening and it got really humid and I went up to try to do an axle pivot or something, you know, ollie up, and I just missed, slid out, fell back on the bank and just BOOM, whacked my head. If I hadn’t had a helmet on I would have probably been in the hospital. I scared the shit out of myself. It really would have been an injury, even brain damage, and just think how much I have on the line. If something like that were to happen I would not only fuck myself, I’d fuck my family, my daughter, so many things would just go wrong. I’m really conscious of that now. Even if I go out and I’m just doing shuv-its I’m wearing a helmet. Wrist guards and a helmet because I fall on my wrists, I can’t break that habit.
Yeah same, obviously.
I noticed you were wearing a wrist guard in one of your latest videos.
I wear it all the time. I don’t need it but it makes me feel a little more secure. I’m also not skating the big stuff anymore without a helmet. I’ll drop in and carve once or twice but I’m not trying anything without a helmet.
But you’ll skate the little bowls without one.
Like Golconda or 2ntr, yeah. I’m not really worried about that so much. 2ntr is mellow and wood, Golconda…. Well Golconda does feel kind of dangerous. It’s quick and you would go right in to the opposite wall if you hung up.
Are you willing to risk it? That’s the question.
Well there are tricks I haven’t tried on it, like disasters, because I’m scared of that hang up. Where if I wore a helmet I’d probably just go for it.
Why don’t you just do it then? It only takes one time, and that time could be the last time. We are playing with fire as it is. I don’t want to play with that fire. If you break an arm sure, but your brain is your brain. I have a cousin who died. He was rolling down the street, slipped out, hit his head and died. He was 18. So I have that in the back of my mind. It could happen. There is no providence that is going to save you. So for me safety consciousness has now become something that is just part of skateboarding. I don’t care what people think, it doesn’t matter at all. I think people understand too.
Besides safety consciousness, I also feel more comfortable on a skateboard since the last time we talked. I feel like it’s an extension of myself now. It feels more natural, it doesn’t feel like I’m forcing it now. Like “Oh god, I have to learn how to stand on this thing again”.
I still feel that way every single time. If right now I had to jump on a skateboard and go ollie up a curb…. I’d feel like “I’ve never skated before! I don’t know how to do this!” It takes me a half hour to an hour, every time, before it starts to flow again.
Is that your body that is not warmed up, or your mind that is convinced it can’t remember?
It’s my mind. I may not be warmed up but the block is mental.
For me, it’ll take me a half hour to an hour to feel really warmed up and comfortable sure, but when I throw the board down and jump on it and just start carving around it usually feels pretty good right away. I don’t really have a psychological block when I get there, but I don’t skate ramps or bowls. I think that if I did, I would, because I remember how trepidacous I was. I’d go to a ramp like a foot bigger than what we were used to skating and feel like “oh shit!” It takes a while.
In some ways I still feel like I just started skating again. In other ways… I’m skating; there is no doubt about it. I’ll just go wherever I want to go and even if I’ve got nothing there I’ll just try stuff. Take me to a street park and I’ll skate the ledge and embarrass myself but I’ll eventually get something. Which leads me to another question; I’ve got all these parks. I’ve got more parks than I know what to do with, it’s amazing. Where are you skating?
We have this roller rink, which was built in the 1970s. It is outdoors and an oval, like a horse track, and on the sides it inclines upwards so that you can keep momentum. It’s really great for skateboarding. Unfortunately it has drains so you sometimes have to jump over them going up or down from the transition. It’s imperfect but it’s the best thing we have. There is a flat area and there is the bench. Which is literally one metal bench that the skaters have been skating since whenever there have been skaters to skate it. It’s broken, it lifts off in parts, it moves when you jump on it, it’s kind of too high for me…. I call it the bench of death because you could really eat shit on it but the younger guys, who are good, skate it like it’s nothing.
This is where most of the action is. All winter I’ve been going there and I hadn’t seen anyone there until last week. Suddenly they all came out of hibernation. Technically the skateboarders are running the place. The city has given them permission to run it, to take care of it, which means opening it, closing it, keeping it clean, keeping it repaired and the option of building obstacles. The problem is there is no money. Nobody wants to chip in. So unless there is a big donor out there with money that wants to pay for it, no one is going to do it. The kids have no money and the city doesn’t want to help. In New York, you have the city that is behind the parks. We don’t have that. They won’t give us a euro. So we just have these makeshift obstacles that people bring and that’s it. That’s what we skate.
What about concrete DIY?
We can’t do that because we still have the eyes of the city on us. Anything we do there has to be regulation. If you build a mini-ramp and it’s not regulation, they are going to tear it down. Our hands are tied because if you are going to do it, you have to do it right, everything has to be authorized, all the bureaucratic crap. We have to kick in the money for it otherwise we are not going to do it at all. So that’s the situation. Luckily skateboarding is the kind of thing where even if you have nothing, you have something.
We have other spots that are sketchy. This spot with a bank, it’s tight, it’s brick and it has holes and broken glass all over the ground. If you skate that thing you are lucky if you can do an axle stall but it is what it is.
How do you find these other spots? Do you go looking for them?
No, the skaters know. There are like five spots that the skaters go to. They are all totally destroyed. If there is a marble ledge or curb, it’s missing chunks because it’s been skated for twenty years. We’ve got this one place with marble ledges but the actually skate-able space is really tiny. It is so worn down from twenty years of use that it’s super slippery. Everything is sketchy here. There is not a manny pad in sight. There is no smooth parking lot with a stupid sidewalk that you can ollie up and ollie off of. It just doesn’t exist. Italy itself is an ancient country with cobblestones everywhere instead of pavement. There is no public investment in new piazzas or plazas, like Pulaski or MaCaBa. Everything is old and dilapidated and you just take what you get.
Do you have any plans to take any trips to skate anything besides your roller rink?
It’s complicated because of work. It’s hard to get away for a weekend but maybe in the summer? I’d really love to go to that marble park.
That thing looks amazing.
It’s three hours away. It’s a long trip but I’d really like to do it just because it’s unique. Made from the same marble Michelangelo carved the David statue out of. That’s cool. I can’t think of anything else, locally. Skating Rome is fun. I’d like to get back to Rome and skate that park but it’s far, I may as well go to Tuscany and skate the marble park. I don’t know when the next time I’m going to get to the States is either. I’ll probably get arrested at the airport at this point, just because I have dark skin.
I’m cool just skating though. The spots don’t matter, just the skating.
You said you hadn’t seen anybody this winter, that you skated mostly alone. I struggle when I go out alone. I enjoy it if I have something in mind, like if I’m going to work on a trick or try to get something on film. That way I don’t feel like I’m in anyone’s way. But if I don’t have a plan, I often end up discouraged. I have to have a reason to be skating when I am alone. Do you have a similar experience?
No, alone, with people, I don’t care. I just have to go out. I need that time. If I have to skip a week for whatever reason, there’s a twinge, like time is slipping away. It’s a very philosophical thing. I know that our time is limited. Life is limited, obviously, but this is probably more limited than other things in life, just because of age and considerations like that. So I feel like every time I don’t get to do it, is less time that I get to do it. I don’t feel like I can skip a week and just go next week. What if something happens next week? Then you skip two weeks.
Then it’s a month.
Then the years begin to build up and you are doing it less and less. I don’t know… I need it. It’s a release. For me, skating is one part of my life where I can just get away. Disappear and get on with an almost a philosophical investigation. That was the feeling of painting, back when we were in art school. You’d go to the studio and just disappear for hours in the paint, on the canvas. It was like you were entering another world. It was something special and creative. That is what skateboarding is now. It’s like reading a book. I like seeing friends and skating with people, but if there is no one there I am fine. I just get in a zone and get out of it when I am too tired to do it anymore, or it’s dark. Those two or three hours, I’m just there, that’s it. Everything else just disappears for me.
It would be hard for me if I was always by myself. I would do it because I enjoy it, but I think I would slowly start to wane off, which is what happened in college. I was going out alone at night to skate and after a while I just lost interest.
But there is something different about it now. Then it was the tail end of our youth. It was associated with a certain period of time and we were growing up and moving on. So stopping skating was part of this whole turn towards sophistication, becoming an adult. It was like “I don’t do that anymore, I read books and make art now”. Now we’ve gone through sophistication, being an adult, marriage, divorce, kids, taxes, Now we are on the other side of that and coming back to this thing we loved. Otherwise there is no reason to come back to it. It’s always been there in the back of our minds but the relationship has changed. We are now doing it for different reasons. We didn’t start this time because it’s really popular because of the Bones Brigade or because all of our friends are doing it. I’m much more aware of why I am doing it and what it means to me then I was back then. I love books and music and lots of other things but skateboarding gives me something that nothing else gives me. Skateboarding makes me feel in touch with something that I need. I can’t define it and that is really frustrating for me. I don’t know if you feel the same way?
I just feel… cool? I don’t mean like… posing. I mean like “I can do this weird thing that not many other people can do”. Even if I suck, I’m part of a very small group of people who can do this weird thing, especially at my age, and I like that feeling. I’m proud of that. Whenever I get discouraged I have to remind myself that I’m judging myself against people who are half my age. When it works … it feels better than anything else.
Does progress matter to you?
Totally, it does. Do you have that thing where you don’t want it to matter?
I definitely don’t want it to matter but it does. If I am just hanging out with friends I don’t really think about it. I do push myself a bit more when there are other people around though. I step outside of my comfort zone a bit because I want show off or impress my friends. I get psyched when they get new stuff so I know they get psyched when I get something. You feed that energy. I actually learn more on my own though, because then I’m not so self conscious. Then I can work on the fundamentals. There are basic things I can’t do that I won’t try when other people are around because I know it’s a gap in my skill level.
I’m perfectly content skating alone but I do enjoy it more when there are people there because of the social contact. I like seeing people. I like hanging out with people. Like you said, skating with other people pushes you, because even if you don’t want to, there is always that element of you know people are watching you. You know people are judging you. Like it or not, we are human beings and that matters to us. As much as you think it doesn’t matter or you don’t want it to matter, it does. Approval from your peers does matter in the end. It does kind of keep you going back. Even stupid shit like Instagram, in lieu of actual people there is always Instagram. You put something up and get likes, it feels good. It’s still social interaction. It’s still community.
You’ve looked really smooth in some of your recent clips.
I feel smoother; it corresponds to the feeling in my mind. You know how that is. A trick really happens first in your mind and then it happens on the skateboard. You feel it, the way you think it should happen and then you try to translate that. It’s like art again, you have a picture in your mind and an idea of how you think that picture should look, and then you try to apply that to the canvas. That is kind of my litmus test for trying new things. If mentally I can put my mind around it, and feel all the motions it takes to land that trick, then I can probably do it. If I can’t get there, in my mind, then I don’t have the necessary skills yet to do it.
I’m always surprised when things don’t match up with how I think they are going to feel. Like smith grinds. Every time I go to do them I have to relearn them. I always end up trying to really lock them in, point my toe too much and end up going over them. I have to back off a bit and do it more like a slash grind, which is not how they work in my mind. Or the 50-50s I did on the ledge at Golconda a few weeks ago. The ones I’d done previously, I’d turned off early. I’d totally forgotten what it felt like to ride off the end, that you just lift up and ride off. So I got in to it and just lifted up and came off because I know how to skateboard and that is how you go off a curb. But I did it without thinking and the feeling of it surprised me.
I had the same thing with that slappy disaster thing, with coming off the end of it, because usually I would do a slide or whatever and come out in the middle of it and this was sliding off the end of it. I had to learn to do that. It just kind of happened the first time. Once you do it once, and you land it, your mind knows how it feels. That’s the thing that I think is the key here, Once you land something, your mind understands the feeling. Then you know how to do it again. You know if it doesn’t feel right you bail. Learning the trick is learning the feeling. For me I go by feeling. I know what feels right. There’s something really intuitive about it.
I’m a slow, methodical thinker. I struggle with easy things like boardslides. I can eventually do them but for a number of tries I’ll come out in manual or tail touch and turn. I can only think about getting in to them. Once you are up there you have to think about turning and getting that weight back down on the front foot to come out smoothly. I have a problem where I can get in to lots of stuff but then I don’t know what to do because it happens too quickly for me. So I really need get in to things without even thinking about them, so that I can concentrate on how to get out of them.
Some people say that is the key. To only think about landing it. Just think about landing it, none of the micro movements and everything else will take care of itself. Which is why, with kickflips, I can’t focus on the landing because I’m too focused on the flipping and it’s just not working. I’ve kind of given up on that, I’m not going to spend my entire life trying to learn to kickflip when there are so many other things I can do. It just seems like a waste of time, when there is so much else to learn.
Are there any tricks that are on your horizon? Something you expect or hope to get?
I’m still trying to lock down my 5-0s. The last time we talked that was one of the things I was fighting with. I was doing them like a stand up grind, all the way up on top, all the weight on the tail, grind to a halt, teeter and fall back in to the ramp. This is not the proper way to do them so now I’m learning from the bottom up, starting with little kick turn grinds. I’ve done frontside scratcher grinds pretty much everywhere at this point. Give me some time and I think I can get the 5-0s proper. It just becomes a matter of pushing in your toes a little bit, to stand up on it.
How about you?
Well, like you I’m also working on those 5-0s, trying to get them on curbs. I can’t quite get my balance right yet. As always, my pipe dream is to learn proper kickflips. I know I can do them, but I have a commitment problem. It’s funny how so much in skating is just a question of knowing you can do it. You need that mental confidence.
Whenever I am able to skate a manny pad I try to work on nose manuals, but they are still inconsistent. I’d love to have a place to learn manny variations. Wallrides. I’d like to learn them, too. Basically, though I really like just going fast and doing long ollies and powerslides, carving around and being smooth. That just gives you a feeling that no technical tricks can, at least not in my case.
I need to go fast and ollie more. I don’t do that enough. Just push down the street and ollie the paint marks at a cross walk or something. Just see how far you can go.
Ollies and slides. That’s the best feeling there is. I could spend the whole day doing them and be happy.
Ollieing is the one trick I really remember “working”.
Because it’s the most basic one.
I remember being on that little patio in my backyard. Just popping up on my tail over and over. Until eventually I could go up a curb.
It looks like magic. To some one that can’t skateboard, who has never ridden a skateboard, if you ollie over something it looks like magic to them. Think about that. That is like the single greatest innovation in skateboarding history. The flat ground ollie.
Oh yeah, it changed everything.
For me, that’s the one real innovation that made everything else possible. And it was a true innovation, figuring that out for the first time. Now, if you don’t learn to ollie you will never do anything other than carve around.
It’s true. There are a lot of older guys I see that can rip the bowl but struggle to ollie.
I can’t ollie switch very well so I understand. Trying to teach myself to ollie switch… it’s not so easy. You do it a hundred times and you are only getting like two inches off of the ground. It’s like teaching yourself Chinese. You have to learn the alphabet again. It’s difficult, it takes time and effort but if you don’t get that you can’t get anything.
One thing that is nice about New York City is that it is so large that there is almost always going to be someone else about my age there when I go out skating. That’s really nice.
That must be a great feeling. Historical continuity…. You can talk about the same references. I skate with kids that are between 12 and 25. I can talk to them about what is going on now, but if I want to talk to them about like… the Bones Brigade they have some vague recollection but it doesn’t mean anything to them. They didn’t live that. They didn’t live going in to the skate shop in 1987 and looking at the boards on the wall and going “Oh my god I want that. I want the one with the skull and the snake!”
I’m like the raconteur. I’ll be like ‘hey you don’t know about this one thing that happened back in 1989! Once upon a time there was this guy and he was doing those things way back then”. And they are looking at you like, “yeah okay whatever grandpa”.
I feel like I’m schooling the kids sometimes. And I hate that feeling, like they are being lectured by their elder, but otherwise I can’t talk to them about it, without giving them a little bit of the history. I think that’s important, to know where all this stuff comes from. You don’t exist in isolation, it’s more interesting if you know that Rodney Mullen invented all of the tricks that you are doing.
It’s so strange that skateboarding has such a short history that way. The people that invented skateboarding are still alive.
And they are still ripping.
Like Alva. Alva can still rip a pool and he was one of the inventors of pool skating.
The Bones Brigade! They just re-did the photograph on the Animal Chin ramp and they are in their 50s now. Skateboarding is a young thing. It’s about as young as punk. This thing that happened that has reverberated in culture ever since. Unless you count the initial ‘60s explosion of skateboarding, but then go back to the British Invasion. It’s the same age and hell; the Rolling Stones are still playing. How long do you think you will skate? How long is this sustainable?
As long as I don’t develop some kind of injury… I don’t even mean breaking something, I mean like ACL… doing something to my knee…. I feel like I’m going to be going in circles in bowls in to my mid 50s. I know those guys.
Barring injury would anything stop you?
Maybe I’ll lose interest and not be skating quite as much in a few years? I have a feeling though that I’m going to keep going out and going in circles for as long as I can. I’ll take that.
Just think about it, when we are there, you are going to be looking at guys like Caballero who will be in their mid 60s and still doing it and you’ll be like “okay, I’ve got another 10 years left!” They are the ones who are showing us what is possible. Tony Alva is still out there, he is 60. Right there it means it can be done.
How does your body feel?
The day after I skate I do feel it. My back will hurt the next day and I normally don’t skate two days in a row because I’m sore enough the next day that I don’t want to. It doesn’t last though. My knee that used to bother me doesn’t so much anymore. It’s normally just a sore lower back.
How about you?
I feel pretty good too. I’m stretching a couple times a week. I’m trying to keep my core strong. I go out and skate and unless I fall, I don’t feel it the next day much anymore. My body feels better than it did in my 30s. I’d been sedentary for my entire adult life. I was a bookworm; I didn’t do any physical activity. So when I started skating again, it had a huge impact. In the beginning I was in pain all the time. Now, after two years, my body has caught up with that. Skating is keeping me in shape because otherwise I wouldn’t be doing anything at all. I hate running, I hate going to the gym, and my bike has had a flat tire for two years. I can’t keep any physical commitment to anything, except skateboarding.
Because it’s fun. It’s not going to the gym. Going to the gym sucks.
But we are 40, that’s what people do. So for me it really satisfies two needs. I need that physical release, the exercise that comes with it and the mental space it offers. It fills this need that nothing else quite fills. It’s this precious thing I really need to do regularly. I think that, barring injury obviously, even if it means just carving around and doing slides I’ll do that as long as I can. That mental space, that full concentration that can go on for as long as I want it to, as long as I need it to, is certainly something I don’t get from anything else. Nothing else has given me what skateboarding gives me. I think I’ll do it until I drop. The older you get the cooler you are too, right?
I think so.