Skateboard media has always revolved around the images and personas of our favorite skaters. Behind these perceptions are the interviews, the windows into knowing more about those we hold in high regard. Mackenzie has interviewed the iconoclasts of our boys club, laying the canvas for what and how much we get to hear. Having longevity in the changing climate of skateboard journalism is no small feat. He has been a writer and editor for two major skateboard magazines, and endured the shift to digital. A true example of someone who has made a career in skateboarding, here is an interview with the interviewer. – George Chen
Do you work exclusively for Transworld? I know that Transworld is further south, but I used to see you at Stoner Park all the time.
Pretty much. But I still work on whatever else comes along. TWS is in Carsbad, about 3⁄4 of the way to San Diego from LA. I was the Staff Writer since about 2005. But when I started I lived in France. Then from ’06-’08 I worked from Barcelona. And since ’09, I’ve been living back in West LA. At the end of 2014, I switched titles to Associate Editor, but still work from home.
How did you get your first board?
I wrote an intro about it a few months back (same issue as the Olson Pro Spotlight). My dad brought my sister and I these Santa Cruz completes for Christmas when we lived in Nice, France. This was right in the ‘80s boom (’86) and everyone at the American school there was getting into skating. So the timing was perfect. By ’91, everyone else in our school had quit except for maybe three of us. Because all the other kids had done it during the boom, they looked down on it even more if you still skated. Of course, the more they hated us, the more we loved it.
You went to UCLA. Did you study journalism? What was the most valuable thing you took away from that?
Yeah. Basically after high school in France I moved to the States for the first time to go to UCLA. It was like the center of the universe for skateboarding at the time. The West LA Courthouse was right down the street and I started meeting all my heroes. I majored in Graphic Design, but took a bunch of writing classes, too. The most valuable thing that I took away from it was pretty much everyone that I met, a lifetime of knowledge, along with feeling like I had a degree to fall back on if need be.
Do you think that helped you with where you’re at now?
Absolutely. I got my first job out of school through a Japanese Design professor that I had. But even skate-wise, I eventually got my first job in the skate world through my UCLA roommate Pat Canale. We took a bunch of classes together and he wrote for Big Brother throughout college. So he was really my first link to meeting people in the “industry”.
Did you want to work in skating when you were in school?
Funnily enough, I actually didn’t. In my mind there was no money in it at that point. This was still in the mid-90s, before the 900, ’99 X-Games, THPS and that whole boom. I really enjoyed living this double life where I could be a serious professional in my career, then change into my skate clothes and hit the Venice Pavilion after work.
I never got the chance to skate the Pavilion. What was your favorite part about it? Was this as close as there was at the time for a skate plaza?
Oh man, I used to love the Pavilion. The benches were actually super fun to skate. Good height and it just felt so sick skating in there with all the graffiti. It was way sicker than a skate plaza only because it was so real. There might be dudes chopping crack on the bench or sometimes dudes would build their shanty houses in the hallway ledge, but it all added to the vibe. Jesse Martinez would roll through and regulate. I saw crazy shit go down there. The cops rarely came in. RIP Pavilion.
Definitely a stark contrast from the professional life and higher learning. How did you transition from school to the work force?
I graduated in ’98 and got this job as the Art Director for a small TV station in LA, LA36. Funnily enough, our office was on Wilshire in Korea Town. Right inside the plaza that Ray Barbee skates past doing the no-comply lines in Ban This. It was also right where Rick Howard is wearing the mouse costume in Mouse (’96). At any rate, like I said, I was really happy living this safe little double life. Nobody I worked with even knew that I skated. But on weekends, our crew was basically Pat (Canale), Robbie McKinley, Chris Roberts, AVE, and all the Hot Rod skateshop dudes. In the fall of ’00, Pat got hired to be the Editor of this upstart website called Antix.com. It was essentially this site that all the industry heads (Rocco, Douglas, Swank, Novak, Welinder, Carter, and CCS) had all invested in. Anyways, Pat got me an interview with the bosses of that and I got hired as the Art Director for Antix. So that was really my first industry job. I started writing a bit for that site in addition to doing the graphics, so when that .com closed in ’01, I hit up Aaron Meza at Skateboarder and started there as Associate Editor.
You’ve interviewed the who’s who of skateboarding. Who has been your favorite, and why?
I have always loved talking to (Jeff) Grosso. I interviewed him the first time for the Skaters and Drugs feature we did for Skateboarder and almost every word that came out of his mouth was gold. Like these huge universal truths—just one after the other like it was nothing. Some people just have it. It has to be honest though, too. No forethought or self-censorship. It just flows out naturally from the right people. The opposite would be people who are fearful of opening up. I’m not going to name any names, but there are some super insecure pros out there. Those ones are the worst. All of their fear is self-centered. They hide behind cardboard cutouts of themselves. You know who I mean.
Is there anyone that you’re still trying to track down, or someone that you never got the chance to interview that you wanted to?
There are still one or two on the radar. I don’t want to name any of them because I’ll probably jinx it. But at the end of the day— the older you get—you realize we are all just humans. No one is any different from anybody else. Nobody is above anyone. We like to pretend they are, but I think deep down inside, we all know that they are just like us. Gino is just another human. Gonz is just another human. Exceptional in certain realms to be sure, and interesting to us all—but still made of flesh and bone.
With how personal kids can get with skaters with social media, do you think there’s still value in keeping some things private? I think about how Pappalardo said in his Epicly Later’d how he didn’t know anything personal about his favorite skaters growing up; do you think that is really possible anymore to keep it that way? Or just a sign of the times?
People used to say the same thing like twenty years ago. And to be honest, we knew a ton of stuff about every pro back then, too. I remember reading a magazine at Skate Camp (’90) and some older kid was making fun of me like, “Yeah, did you find out what kind of cereal Matt Hensley eats for breakfast? Man, it used to be that we just skated.” Then when 411 came out in ’93, people made the same case all over again. That it was oversaturation and there was no more mystique. That said, Instagram definitely gives pros a chance to kook it big time. But like I said earlier, the dudes that are legit and naturally cool don’t usually kook it. If anything, social media helps the kooks out themselves faster, whereas before they could hide behind their carefully crafted image of riding Harley’s or whatever. I get both sides to the argument though.
What’s one negative and one positive you’ve experienced with the transition from physical to digital?
One negative would be the obvious loss of the physical experience of owning mags and videos. One positive would be the obvious advantage of not having to ship boxes full of mags and videos with you every time you move.
Transworld has been a fixture in skateboarding through it all. With the trends that come and go and the fluctuations in popularity of skating, can you share any pearls on how you have been able to adapt to it all? I’ve always appreciated how your interview questions aren’t copied from one to the next.
Yeah. I think at the end of the day, the longer you stay around, the more you realize that the terrain will always be changing. Today’s favorites become tomorrow’s World Industries or whatever. The hot new kid becomes the next washed up has been. Today’s No Comply is tomorrow’s Benihana. The industry rises and falls along with everything else on earth. All things pass into the night. The only way to adapt if you want to work in it for me is just to keep skating. That’s the only constant. The act itself doesn’t really change. If I stopped skating myself, I would really have a hard time pretending to care about any of it. I honestly have no idea how people who have quit skating still work in the industry. But that’s just me. As far as interviews, I’m really just genuinely interested in the people I get to talk to on a human level. I actually enjoy it. Everybody has a story to tell and it’s rad to be able to help someone tell theirs.
Because of the greater presence of skate media on digital platforms, do you think it’s easier for people now to break into the industry? Do you have any advice for someone that is interested in finding a job in skating separate from professional skating?
I think that to a degree it has made it easier for sure. If you’re amazing, no matter where you are on the planet, you can build up a following and make yourself a force to be reckoned with. Look at Manolo. He was working as a projectionist in France when he started making his Manolo’s Tapes. He did it with such love, and frankly, did it better than the industry itself, to the point that the industry had no choice but to take notice. That said, I think the old structure is still in place. It’s still a good ol’ boys network to a degree. My advice to anyone who wants to break into it would be first to make sure that you love it. Second, create something to show people how much you love it. And third, find that one connection that can help you get a foot in the door. I think those three ingredients are the fundamental recipe. You’ll need all three and won’t last long if any one of the three disappears.
One thing that is great with Instagram is all of the handles that are clearly from people that love skating with or without the money. Koolmoeleo, Manolostapes, Bobshirt, Wuslanga, and yours, Deadhippie. With #skatenerdstarmaps, what was your idea behind that? I know that personally when I go to any new city, I want to see spots that I’ve seen in videos.
Yeah, that sort of goes back to the answer above. Agreed on all fronts. I think all of those guys are awesome. It’s so rad that the love they/we have alone is so strong—even after decades have passed. It shines so bright still. My idea behind the Star Maps was just based on my own obsession with it. I can’t help but love those old spots. I think we all have a concept of an Eden, like this nostalgic paradise we want to go back to. It may not even exist. But I get a feeling when I go to a spot from Natas’ Streets of Fire part for example—the feeling is almost religious. It’s my Eden so to speak. It’s where I place all my values. It’s only skateboarding, but it’s no less valid than the next man’s obsession. Also, thanks for your submissions, George!
Of course. I’m always looking for more. Lastly, one trick on the stoner quarter, what’s it gonna be?
Fuck. Pretty much anything that doesn’t involve stitches to the forehead. I collided with this guy Jonah there back in June. Total fluke collision, but basically the back of his head hit me right above my eyebrow and woke up in the ER. My wife wants me to start wearing a helmet now. But of course, I’ve been back already since and have skated it without one. Like Bukowski said, “Find what you love and let it kill you.”