If you know Phil, owner of Humidity Skate Shop in New Orleans, you know his unrelenting love for skateboarding. With that said, I was still shocked by the amount of thought, sincerity and openness he brought to this interview. “There is hope for skateboarding.” With people like Phil out there, I couldn’t agree more.
Philly, let’s get right into it. We recently did an interview with Ed from Mia Skate Shop that discussed the relationship between corporately owned brands and skate shops. I know you carry Nike. What’s your relationship like with them?
I’ve been working at the store for over 10 years, but before I started working there it was the Nike pink box era. And everybody knows the pink box era was the horror era because that’s when nothing was selling from SB. That’s when Dunks were like $60. So the old owner of the shop was just like “fuck this” and cancelled Nike. Then a couple years later I was working there, that’s when the Blazer was popping, and BA started coming to New Orleans pretty often and he’d send me boxes. I’d get the Harbors and they looked good, so my boss was like “let’s try it” and reached out to someone at Nike. I remember I was in the meeting and we had a new rep, Doogan. He came in and was feeling the shop and was like “let’s try Nike again, but just really really slow.” I remember the old owner ordered a ton of shit and Doogan was like “that’s too much. Let’s just start with two shoes.” So that was amazing, after everything I had heard about Nike pressuring shops and shit. After that, Doogan really treated us well. Then he moved up and a different rep named Joey got our whole territory and Joey’s a skateboarder. He’s actually really good, super tech amazing skateboarder. Since then we’ve had the best relationship. We’ve never been fucked. I pay my bills. But I do get in arguments with my friends with them telling me these are gonna sell, or I need more of those. I’m just like, nah, I’m good. I’d rather sell them all. So our relationship with Nike is super chill.
What are your thoughts on Street League and that tier of skating?
It’s not for me. The reason I started skating was because I didn’t like the structure of sports and coaching and what not. I’ve watched it a few times and to me it’s boring. I don’t think skateboarding can be judged. Everyone has their own favorite skater. So to me, you can’t win. I don’t like the idea of kids thinking there’s a best when skating is the best when you’re just pushing around with your friends.
How did you start skating in New Orleans?
My parents split up when I was like two. I’d go to my dad’s place and I had a half brother. He had pictures hanging on his wall of Jason Lee and old Thrasher photos. I got into it through him. I had a scooter first, but the handlebars rusted off and I still just used it like that. It was so shitty. One day my dad said if I hippy-jumped this broom he’d get me a real board. I did it, so I got a Nash board and it was so much faster than the scooter. From there, I really didn’t get serious about it until like 5th grade.
I remember Duane Pitre’s grandma had a poodle grooming shop and sold his boards. I bought one with no grip and it evolved from there. Back in the day, we had a skate park called Second Nature that was run by all the best skaters in the city at the time. It was crazy. Every time you went there it was like a demo. It was amazing. I pretty much grew up in that park. My mom would drop me off at 11am and I’d stay until 11pm. The older guys took me under their wings.
When did Humidity open?
Initially it was a front, I won’t say the guys’ names. But that was in ’96. Then in 2000 they sold it to this guy Steven, who was a real skateboarder. He wanted it to be like a real, real skate shop. Not that it wasn’t a skate shop before, but Steven wasn’t doing drugs or anything like that. He moved it to the Quarter and it’s been there ever since. Now it’s been about 5 or 6 years since I took it over.
What made you want to take it over?
Steven was leaving. He was just like “I’m out.” It made sense.
What sort of values is Humidity based on?
The hardest part is we stick strictly to skate. Everything we do is just skateboarding and that’s tough in the South. We don’t sell long boards or anything like that. The values that I have? I try to protect the shop name more than anything else. Keeping it strictly a skate shop.
What do you look for in a brand that you carry?
If it’s fun. There’s so many fucking brands now. If I’m feeling it, I’m feeling it. And if I like it, there’s usually a reason for me to carry it. And I try to show people why I think it’s cool.
What brands do best for you?
It’s all over the place. Board wise Deluxe does really well. Girl used to kill it for us. For the smaller brands, Quasi sells the best. They do really well. Scumco does well. I push the shit out of them. Clothing wise, Thrasher shit is popping right now because of Rihanna and shit. Then we’ll have like the Hypebeast kids that want Bronze and FA stuff. They honestly don’t skate, they just follow what’s hot. Our own shop stuff does pretty well, too.
How do you keep the local skate kids and community hyped?
The way I look at it, if I was 15 what would I want to see a skate shop doing. Like we’ll post on Snapchat that you can go find this free board here or something. Free donuts on Sundays. I try to think of it always from a kid’s perspective. Keep things relatable for a 15 year old.
How has social media and online content changed how you promote the shop?
It depends. Instagram I try to keep it really clean and show what the shop has to offer. On other social platforms, I just don’t give a fuck. Like on our Facebook, I just try to have fun with it. On Snapchat, I act like a 12 year old and just try to make people laugh. But it’s changed everything. Everyday we get people coming in because they saw a new hat or something on our Instagram. It’s basically our web store. I tell people anything you see on there, you can call in and order. Hit us up and we’ll ship. We don’t really have a web store on our site.
Will that change? Will you build ecomm?
I don’t know yet. I’m just trying to skate. I’m not trying to sit at home and build a web store and hate my life haha.
But do you feel that web stores are important for shops?
Yeah, they’re important. I was talking to my homie about this the other day. I do think we’ll have to get a store going, especially with all the big box brands selling online now and going direct to consumer.
With that said, you always hear about brands saying how important independent shops are. What can they do to support shops?
It’s bullshit, man. It’s bullshit. Our biggest competition is the brands we sell. Brands don’t give a fuck. Kids don’t give a fuck. I don’t know man. Sometimes I wonder, what is the point anymore?
What is the point for you?
I don’t know, dude. I ask myself that question everyday. I guess as skateboarders it’s just what we do. We keep going. We love this shit. We just wake up and do it. But it doesn’t make sense sometimes, that’s for sure. I’m definitely not making money. I’m not a baller. Enough to survive, yes.
Well, you definitely love what you do.
Oh yeah. Fuck yeah.
It’s so sick to get a text from you and it’s a new clip of you skating.
Haha. Yeah. It’s weird, man. It’s just a weird time in skating. Lots of stuff is fucked, but there’s still a lot of good.
Crook. Photo:Todd Taylor
I did an interview with Prod a while back and he said something really interesting. It was something along the lines of a lot of the bitterness and hate in the industry comes from older guys that don’t even ride their skateboard anymore. That they are involved with the skateboard industry, but don’t actively participate in the best part of it, actually riding your skateboard. I thought that was a really good point. But the difference with you is, you can identify the things you don’t like about skateboarding, but you don’t seem bitter or jaded. You say the industry is going through a crazy time right now, but still go skating everyday and film new clips and try new things and bring in new brands.
Well, I definitely have my times where I feel jaded, but I think that’s any job no matter what. The shop is my office. But I just believe there is hope. There is hope for skateboarding. Listen, I have this thought. So many people say they hate Nike, right. And everybody says they hate Nyjah. But what if when Nyjah drops his shoe he tells Nike that he only wants his shoe available in skate shops. Like “I’m already a millionaire. I don’t need way more money from this shoe. I only want it in skate shops. Not online, not the mall, just skate shops.” Nike would probably drop him immediately, but what if that happened? What would people say about Nyjah then?
Are you saying that the brands and skateboarders that have a huge influence on the industry need to think about their actions and how they are shaping the industry?
Exactly. I wish some of the bigger pros could see the difference that they could make if they made certain choices. Skateboarders do need to take it back. You’ve got like 45 and 50 year old dudes running skateboarding now, when back in the day Spike and Mike were kids running a company. So what they put out was relatable to kids. People ask me now, “yo, why isn’t shit selling?” Well, because it’s coming out from brands that are run by guys that buy jeans from Old Navy and shit. What do you expect? Why do you think all these smaller brands with young skateboarders running them are doing well?
You spoke about being hopeful. Where do you hope to see skateboarding go?
Just fun again. If it was fun again, that would be tight. But everyone is so stressed about money, it’s hard for people to have fun. Brad Staba, he’s having fun. Like Skate Mental isn’t our best seller, but I’m like, damn, that dude doesn’t give a fuck. Not saying you have to agree with him, but he’s definitely having fun.
You mentioned the smaller guys too, like Bronze and Jamaica.
They’re just kids having fun and I think that’s tight. That to me is what it should be. Like they’re just doing shit when they do it. And if you can be a part of it, tight. I want to let the industry know that we/Humidity should be a part of it. Like I have fun chasing brands. That shit is fun to me. We’ve had three brands that no one else had in the United States. I’ve had Butter Goods for two years. I reached out to them, got that shit in and we were the only store in the country that had it. Same thing with Yard Sale. We have Yard Sale. First person to have them. Another brand doing rad shit is FA. They have fun. No social media. It’s rad.
The last thing I want to ask you: you’re 31 now, you run the shop, you have your girl, you have your cat, but you still make time to take skate trips to New York and Barcelona. You still make time to film video parts. I know a lot of 30 year olds, that love skating, but aren’t making the effort to get out at that level. What keeps you skating like this?
Look, I don’t have education. I dropped out in 10th grade. Years ago, I had a job at Honda. A dope job. And I was working there for like a year and I was happy working on cars. That’s my hobby outside of skateboarding. So, I was 19, working at Honda and my friend that films called me and said one of the guys from the shop was moving to Germany and I should go work there. He said he would talk to Steve for me to help me get the job if I wanted. And I was like, damn, what do I do? I went home and talked to my mom. The job was part time, no benefits, under the table. But I told my mom I think I have to do this. I just wanted to be around skating more. And she was like “well, if that’s what makes you happy, I got your back”. And so I gave it a shot. Ever since then, I’ve just been skating. It’s the act of skating that keeps me going. And I’m lucky man. I got a girl that holds me down. It’s about having the right mixture. She knows I need to skate and I’d be miserable without it. My old lady is the best. I’m blessed to have her.
This is the path I’ve chosen. I’ve got everything rolling on black and it’s fucking scary. That’s all it is. We’ve got a shitty little apartment and we make it happen. The act of skating is so fun. I think people lose that. My biggest inspiration is Jahmal Williams. He’s what, 40? He has a kid. And put out that Static 4 part? I don’t care how old you are. If Jahmal is putting out footage like that, at that age, you have no excuse.