Brad Johnson Interview

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“Interview
Interview by Ben Powell / Brad johnson clutching Margaritas

 
From a skateboard culture perspective, one of the upsides of the global pandemic and the ensuing shut down of normal life has been the release of an unprecedented amount of never seen before footage on Instagram.

Of the numerous filmers currently engaged in this process, one time S.F. resident Brad Johnson is probably the most prolific. As a sponsored skater who also filmed throughout the golden era of San Francisco skateboarding, Brad is sitting on hours of footage featuring all of the most celebrated and progressive street skaters of that era. Happily for us all, he’s also more than happy to share all of this previously unseen skate history via his Instagram account @chef_bradjohnson

If you don’t follow him already, we strongly recommend that you do so immediately and prepare yourself for an onslaught of peak era S.F. street skating featuring everyone from Lavar McBride to Simon Evans.

Aside from a career as a pro skater in his own right, Brad has also been responsible for capturing a lot of the most important S.F. footage of the 1990s, with heavy contributions to all of the legendary skate videos of that time. From Trilogy to Mouse to Timecode, Brad was the guy wielding the Hi8 filming vast amounts of the iconic tricks that went down at San Francisco’s legendary street spots without really getting the recognition that his contribution to skate video history deserves. By his own admission, Brad never really viewed himself as a ‘filmer’ as such, more so a skater who just happened to have a video camera on hand in the right place at the right time.

As big fans of both his skating and of his Instagram output we figured that it was time to fill in some of the gaps in his story and in doing so hopefully encourage you all to start enjoying his drip feed of San Franciscan skateboard history too. Many of the more obscure projects that Brad filmed for were released pre-Internet and, due to the haphazard cataloguing of skate videos from that era, may be new to some of you reading. You can find links to all of the projects discussed in this interview peppered throughout so prepare yourselves for a deep dive into an unparalleled Hi8 time capsule.

Big thanks to Brad for taking the time to speak to us about this and even bigger thanks to him for being on hand to film all of this stuff. Enjoy…
 
 
You’re originally from Missouri – can you tell us a little about your introduction to skateboarding?
 
I was born in St. Louis, Missouri. I started skating in the 7th grade – probably 1987 or 88. The first video I saw was H-Street’s Shackle Me Not and Powell Peralta’s Public Domain. At that point I was still just kicking it around the neighbourhood, building jump ramps and rails. Typical suburb kid shit.

You’ve posted footage from Kiener Plaza in St Louis on your Insta and mentioned how it was your version of Embarcadero – did it have a similar cast of crazy street lurkers?

Oh yeah, once we started going downtown our crew expanded from 4 or 5 heads to about 20 or 30. Kids would come from all around to skate at Kiener and other spots around the city. There were always crazy characters lurking around. Hustlers playing card tricks, gangsters lurking around: you definitely had to keep your eyes open. St. Louis can be pretty sketchy. It did win the murder capital of the U.S. a few consecutive years in a row. When I was 16 I had a gun pulled on me in downtown St. Louis, thank God that was the first and last time that happened.

Did your Kiener days prepare you for life in S.F. later on?

A little, but I was definitely still wet behind the ears when I first went out to S.F. There was way more going on in S.F. that’s for sure.

Did you grow up with Leland Ware of 48 Blocks in St Louis? I saw you mentioned he had BGPs in some of that old footage you posted.

Yes, we probably first met at Kiener Plaza, when were somewhere between 15 or 16 years old. After that though our crew rolled around all over together. I moved to S.F. by myself. Leland moved to Washington D.C. for a bit, a few other homies moved to New York, but eventually there were around 10 or so people from St. Louis that moved out to either S.F. or L.A. Captain and Casey who did the Fuel T.V. show are from St. Louis and Steve Berra too.
 

“Brad
Brad boardsliding a St. Louis rail in 1990

 
Did you get demos and pros coming through? Were there any local brands/pros out in Missouri?

We had a lot of demos come through St. Louis. Sal Barbier, Jason Lee, Rick Howard, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen and Frankie Hill just to name a few, there’s a shitload more who came through over the years.We didn’t have any local brands, but there were 4 or 5 skateshops around, all with their own teams or whatever. By the time I moved to S.F. it had dwindled down to 2 shops.

Steve Berra is from St. Louis, but he moved to Omaha, Nebraska early on. Every once in a while he would show up back in town. This was around 92 or 93.

You’ve described yourself before as ‘a skater who had access to a camera’, rather than ‘a filmer’ – were you already filming when you were still living in St Louis? Is that how it started?

There are a lot of sponsored skaters who also film – Jamie Thomas, Rick Howard and Josh Kalis just to name a few others. I think that’s just how it was early on: bro cam.

I skated for this shop called Future Sk8. The owner had a camera he’d let us use. I think we were trying to film a shop video. This was around 1990-91. The camera took a small tape that you’d have to put into a VCR tape adapter to watch – prehistoric technology (laughs).

The shop video never happened and I think we just wore the camera into the ground: skating, filming and passing it around to all the homies. So, to answer the question, I never set out to strictly film, it was always bro cam from day one. Everyone took turns filming and being filmed. We made a few city videos though. I’ll eventually get around to uploading those.

After the shop camera bit the dust, I think my grandma helped me get my first 8mm camera; those were the standard before Hi8. She charged it on a credit card and I had to do chores and help make the $15 – $25 dollar payments on it each month.

Clout Skateboards sponsored you in what, 93? Was getting sponsored part of the original motivation for you getting interested in cameras/filming?

Yeah, 93 sounds about right. I had sent a sponsor me tape in to them. I came home from school one day and there was a message from them on our answering machine. I thought it was one of my friends playing a prank on me at first. I probably have my sponsor me tape somewhere still. Way before that, my homie Danny and I were shop sponsored by Dogtown.

This was right around when the Dogtown video came out, early 90’s with Wade Speyer, Wing Ding and of course John Cardiel’s first part! I think we got like 2 boards and a couple shirts a month, all through the shop. The owner of the shop knew Red Dog. Anyways, that’s sort of how we got into filming, when we realised you could get free stuff to fuel our addiction, (laughs).

Weirdly, I remember the skateshop I worked in from 93 to 97 stocking Clout boards, along with a connected clothing brand if I’m remembering correctly. It was a pretty obscure brand but had a banging team from what I can recall – yourself, Ellington, Danny Minnick, Pat Washington. Where was the brand based – SF?

Yep, that’s right – Jugs Clothing! They used the Lexus symbol and just flipped it around. Gotta love that early 90’s style. Just rip off anything possible. This dude Ray did Clout and Jugs Clothing out of his garage in Black Hawk, which is a pretty wealthy area about 30-45 minutes outside of S.F.

Is that how you first found yourself in the Bay Area?

I was planning on moving to S.F. regardless. The H-Street promo with Carroll doing the tre flip lipslide at Brown Marble was all the inspiration I needed to move. I fell in love with S.F. before I even knew of Embarcadero. Clout just helped expedite my situation. Ray was rad, he let a bunch of us stay with him for like 3 or 4 months. Kept the fridge full and we were always smoking heavily, (laughing).

Clout paid for you to fly out to S.F. for the first time, right? Is that the first time you met Ellington and Pat Washington? You posted some really early footage of Erik on your Insta – were you riding for Clout and helping film their video?

Yeah, they bought me a one-way ticket out there. A week or so later, we were picking up Erik at the airport. The two of us stayed there the entire summer. Clout was working on a video. We didn’t have a filmer, so we all just took turns filming. We’d take the Bart into the city and just film all day: taking turns, back and forth. Mad Circle was filming for Let The Horns Blow during this time too, so we were always running into their crew at Wallenberg, Ft. Miley and all over the city.
 

We didn’t have a filmer, so we all just took turns filming. We’d take the Bart into the city and just film all day: taking turns, back and forth

 
The Clout video was called All Soul, No Payroll, (laughs), none of us were getting paid, but we got free product and he kept us full. We were all so young that it didn’t even matter. We were skating, so we were happy for the most part. That’s when I first met Serge (Chuckreef) and Pat (Washington) skating at Black Rock. They were cool as hell from the get go. A couple days later they were both riding for Clout too.

Ellington must’ve been fresh from Alaska at this point too – did you get on well with him?

I think he was living in Arizona at the time, but yeah we got along good. Of course being young and cocky we were always talking hella shit to each other, but I think it helped motivate us. The audio of all that old Clout footage alone is golden. Just hearing us talking mad shit to each other is super funny to hear now. “Come on pussy, land it already!” Great times.

Was that your first experience of California? This must’ve been at peak Embarcadero era right?

Yeah, that was my first time out there. We couldn’t skate Embarcadero during the day much anymore by the time I got there, so everybody would chill and skate Mini Hubba. Then sporadically we’d go hit up Brown Marble, Black Rock, Union Square – Market Street still had loads of granite benches too.

Then we’d end up back at Mini Hubba and as Hubba Hideout was right across the street we’d roll over there in mobs too. Once one person started jumping down it, it opened the floodgates to a full on session. Then around 5pm skate Embarcadero until the cops came, then head up to Union Square for skating and partying.
 

Lavar McBride’s nonchalant nollie backside flip at Hubba Hideout filmed by brad

 
It had a reputation for not always accepting newcomers too easily – did you have a strategy to avoid getting vibed there?

I was just skating and trying to stay out of everyone’s way. I think the locals only got bummed when people would come through and just sit and watch, but it was a pretty intimidating group of characters. I had already met Serge, Pat and Marcus (McBride) by then so I think I got a pass.

It’s 1993 and you’ve just spent the summer in San Francisco at a point where it is undeniably the global centre of progressive street skating. How long did you last in St Louis before you had to go back?

I rolled my ankle super bad trying to frontside flip the stairs at Hubba Hideout. I couldn’t walk for close to 2 weeks. I had no money, couldn’t skate and I’m sure Ray was through with caring for all of us. Erik bounced back to Arizona and I flew back to St. Louis a couple of days later. I think I was back in St. Louis for 6 or 7 months: straight hustling, saving money so I could move back for good. Once my ankle was 100% again, I was out!

Did you being somebody who ripped and who knew how to film/had a camera help you to integrate into the scene there do you think?

Once I moved to S.F. I bought a Hi8 Camera from Circuit City. I opened a store Credit Card and charged it to the game. The same deal as before, just making the minimum monthly payments on it. I had already met and made friends with hella people when I had come the previous summer, so at this point I was just skating and filming with the homies until that snowballed into skating and filming with a whole crew.

Can you remember the first person you filmed once you’d moved to S.F. the second time?

Mostly I’d just film the homies – Serge and Pat, Same thing, we would just take turns filming. Once other people would see us with a camera, they’d be like ‘Yo, let me get a try’. Next thing you know, you have a line up of 4 or 5 people taking turns trying to get clips. You could probably count on one hand how many people had cameras and a fisheye lens back then. So when you could get filmed, you were psyched.

There’s footage of Stevie, York, Karl, Ben Sanchez and Shamil all waiting, taking turns trying to get lines at the Pier. A couple going one way, then a couple more on the way back. Every night when I’d get home, I’d put the makes from the day on a VCR tape. We called it the ‘Killa Tape’. Once it got started it quickly grew from one clip into a 45 minute footage tape.
 

“We
We bet there were some sick Mike York Switch Crooks on the “Killa Tape”. Photo: Mike Blabac

 

Every night when I’d get home, I’d put the makes from the day on a VCR tape. We called it the ‘Killa Tape’

 
You were skating the City at a high point – Brown Marble was still skateable, peak Embarco days, Black Rock before the stoppers – where would you skate mostly during those earliest days?

The whole city was like a giant skatepark. Sometimes we would skate from Ft. Miley all the way to Embarcadero hitting up spots all along the way. Wallenberg, Washington Highschool, Lincoln Highschool, cruise through Union Square, hit the Cardiel Street gap, through Black Rock down to Brown Marble and then you’re right down at Embarcadero, Hubba and Mini Hubba. Plus the numerous spots out in the avenues and the hills: bombing down backside Ninth Ave. with a crew was always hella fun. It was a winding downhill run. Literally just cruising for 10-15 minutes with no pushing, just flying downhill.

This is way before Pier 7 was built too, right? Were you around when that was being constructed? Do you know who the first people to skate that place were?

It wasn’t there during the summer, but when I came back it had just about been finished. People were already skating it, but they were still finishing some of the construction. Serge called me and told me about this sick new spot that everyone had started skating at. I’m not sure who the first person to skate it was, there were so many skaters in S.F. during these times though so who knows for sure?

What was going on for you sponsorship-wise at this point? This is pre New Deal/FIT, right?

I think I was just skating hand-me-downs. I had also been filming Stevie, Karl and Spencer for the Profile Video, so I would get Profile boards as a sort of payment for the footage. I was content getting boards when I needed one.

One of the things that I know a lot of UK skaters who follow your account love (myself included) is the amount of Simon Evans footage you’ve been posting recently. Simon was such a legendary figure in British skating, had a small part on the New Deal promo, and then dropped what has gone down as one of the most legendary UK interviews of all time in RAD magazine. Then for all of us in Britain, he moved to S.F. got on Experience and seemed to disappear. How did you first meet Simon?

I first met him through the Russian Twins, probably at Wallenberg. Then eventually, I filmed some stuff of him for Experience. Profile, Experience and Cream were all under one roof. It was like the poor man’s World Industries of Northern California. They had super rad teams and riders, just extremely poor management.

Do you have any good stories about Simon from that era?

We never really hung out. I think we both lived in different worlds. He was always super cool though. I remember he was doing all these crazy switch stance lines way, way back. Like with switch nosegrind pop out in the middle, switch smith grinds. He was definitely super good! He was more chill and reserved though. After he was done skating he would go his way and I’d probably end up at Union Square with a 40oz. and a blunt.

“Rob
Rob Welsh exiting Union Square with a back tail Photo: Mike Blabac

 

You had some connection to Experience too, right? Was it the same people who were behind Profile and FIT?

It was Experience, Profile & Cream Sports. Later on after those brands went under, the owner partnered with another guy and FIT came about. There was lots of money going in at first. They had multiple two-page ads going, a tight team, a clothing line and then shit went south. This dude was stealing money out of the company and by the time they figured it out it was too late to save it. So it went under. We were all super bummed. It basically all ended overnight.

I saw you posted a photo of someone’s VHS copy of the Experience/Cream/Profile video recently – how involved were you in filming for that video?

My roommate at the time and I filmed and edited the Profile and Experience parts. They probably only made 500 copies – 1000 at the most. It was the dark ages, medieval times, no websites, no Internet, no money. We edited it between a camera and a VCR, added the audio by McGyvering a Walkman up to the VCR/Camera. I wouldn’t begin to know how to do all that shit again, (laughing). It was all trial and error. Imagine having no Internet to turn to for advice?

You posted a few lines of Ed Loftus too, another UK Southbank head from the early 90’s who got a lot of coverage in RAD magazine and then kind of disappeared after moving to S.F. (at least as far as the UK scene was concerned). Were you tight with that group of UK ex-pats? There were quite a few of them out there from like 93/97 ish. (Toby Shuall popped up on your insta recently too – the switch heel at Hubba)

Hell yeah, now Ed I used to kick it with a lot – him and Ryan Mills. Toby actually stayed with me for a bit too. He was a rad kid. Yeah, that switch heel was from when we were working on the Profile video. Karl, Spencer and Stevie are there in the background after he lands it. I remember when Toby stayed with us, one night he was asking for a ‘duvet’ and with his thick British accent, I thought he was asking for a doobie (slang word for joint). (Laughing) super funny times. I had no idea what a duvet was anyway. We call them blankets.
 

I remember when Toby stayed with us, one night he was asking for a ‘duvet’ and with his thick British accent, I thought he was asking for a doobie

 
On the subject of Experience, you’ve posted a few clips from the Experience mini ramp – again, something that nobody outside of that small scene would’ve even known about – what’s the back-story on that place?

That was just the mini ramp they had in the warehouse for a short while. The warehouse was right downtown, South of Market in an alley on Minna St., right by Powell Street and Union Square. So it was a perfect meet up/hang out spot.

That footage of Henry nearly doing the 5.0 grind flip out to fakie on that same mini ramp that you posted – FUCK! 25 years ago man – so far ahead. Were you getting paid to film those guys at that point?

I didn’t get any money from filming until Trilogy came out. I don’t think I knew you could get paid to film stuff until Lavar told me to invoice them and get paid! I just loved skating and if I wasn’t skating I was filming. That’s all we did back then. Skate, film, party and repeat. Plus there was no information on how to invoice companies, or what to charge. Everything was seriously trial and error.

That’s the perfect opener for me to ask for Henry Sanchez stories really – you and he became good friends right?

Yeah, we lived together for a few years. Me, J.B. and Henry lived together way out on 48th Ave. Eventually Lee Smith and Jason Wussler ended up living there too. Another house it was Rob Welsh, Henry, Jason Wussler and I. We called it skate camp. Skate all day, everyday. Party all night and do it again, over and over. Vicious cycles. There were always other random house guests too – dudes from L.A. and elsewhere.
 

“Henry
Henry Sanchez Switch Crooked Grinds hubba for the short lived C/O Wheel Co. Photo: Mike Blabac

 
Were you around for any of the Tim & Henry’s era stuff? What about his peak Embarco era before FIT started? The story is always told about how he’d be doing things that nobody had ever even thought of before on a daily basis – I can’t imagine what witnessing that must’ve been like…

Tim & Henry’s was before my time, but I can imagine what it was like. I witnessed first hand his Transworld part coming together. Henry is stubborn, he’ll try the hardest trick or hardest tricks in a line over and over and over until he would get it. If someone said they saw him do a Mctwist on a half pipe, I’d believe it. Henry’s the man. He should be in the skateboarding Hall of Fame…

What’s the craziest manual you ever saw him do at the Pier?

Too many to name: I was probably there for 99% of them live.

He almost did switch front heelflip nose manual up it. He made it all the way to the end and then lost it. That was pretty insane, there’s footage of that. Victor has hours of him and Marcus and everyone else too. Vic took over the filming duties. He had a VX, so I passed the torch on to him and taught him how to invoice companies so he could get paid.

As I’ve mentioned FIT – that’s another of those short-lived but mythic companies that it was virtually impossible to get over in the UK. Were you involved in filming for the 411 FIT Industry section? That was on such heavy rotation – I hung out with a bunch of super hesh transition skaters at that point and even they loved it…

I honestly don’t remember. I may have contributed a clip or two. It’s been so long since I’ve watched that, but John Trippe was the staff videographer for Tantrum Distribution. That was FIT, Civilian Clothing & CO. Wheels.

What about Credo, the Tantrum Distribution video? Mike Graham’s part on that – amazing…

Again, that was mainly John Trippe. I may have filmed a few things in there, but it was mainly him I believe. This was right around when I really started skating more, but a little before Victor started filming. Yeah, Mike rips: super smooth style and lots of pop. I think John stopped filming a little after this came out.

The FIT team was incredible – Henry, Pat Washington , Stevie, Mike Graham, Maurice Key, Kelch, yourself – I was always really surprised that it didn’t blow up.

That was my personal favourite time. I was so psyched to be on the same team as all these guys. It’s weird, but I knew them all, but still really looked up to all of them and was really inspired by them. Joey Bast was on FIT too! He was super-talented. Pat, Mike and I were the ams.
 

“Joey
Joey Bast Nollie Frontside noseslide at Black Rock in 1994. Photo: Mike Blabac

 
I was on New Deal and we were at a tradeshow in Long Beach. I think Marcus brought it up to Dave. He said, “Why don’t you guys get Brad on FIT?” Later that day they asked me, I was like ‘hell yeah’. I didn’t even have to think twice! J.B. and Matt Milligan had gotten me on New Deal, but both got the boot shortly after I got one for riding Girl boards. So I didn’t have any real close ties to them anyways. I knew Kenny Reed and Rob Gonzalez pretty well but none of us really kicked it together. FIT just seemed more natural and it was based in the city.

It seemed like the perfect brand to represent that point in time, what happened?

One of the partners was stealing money and by the time they figured out what was happening the ship was too far-gone. Shit sucked, we were all super bummed. One day we got phone calls like “Sorry guys it’s a wrap.”

Stevie, Henry and I drove to the warehouse. I had a little Honda CRX. The loading door to the warehouse was open, so we started grabbing boxes of boards, loading all we could fit into my tiny ass car and drove off. When we got back to the crib, there was a message on the answering machine. Someone had spotted us and ratted us out.

Dave, one of the owners was always super cool, had called asking if we could bring the boards back so Stevie and I returned all the boxes we took. I think Henry kept his. When we returned them Dave gave us both enough boards to ride until we figured out other sponsors. He knew we just wanted to skate, plus he was already way in the hole from all the money that had been stolen.

By the late 90’s when FIT was around, the focus of the media had sort of shifted away from SF I guess but obviously based on the footage you’ve been posting, people were still absolutely killing it – so much crazy stuff must’ve gone undocumented or unseen by all but the locals around then right?

A lot of people had moved down to L.A. and spots were getting capped or destroyed, but people were still skating everyday. It was like the changing of the guard. When Victor stepped on the scene, business was back to normal. He was down to film everyday rolling around with his camera in his backpack. He’s got years of VX footage.
 

“Lee
Lee Smith Crooks at the Pier. Brad’s Insta has loads of Lee Smith gold from the menace days. Photo: Mike Blabac

 
Can you give us a run down of all the major videos that you’ve contributed to over years?

Trilogy was probably the first one. I filmed the majority of the S.F. stuff in there except a few things. Alien Workshop Time Code, FTC Penal Code, a lot of stuff in Mouse. It’s funny because when we were filming for Mouse it seemed so organic. It didn’t seem stressful at all; we were just out skating, smoking and stacking clips.

I had no idea it was going to be as big as it was. I mean, I knew it would be great but at the premiere I was tripping out when it all came together. Oh yeah, probably a few things in Rodney Vs. Daewon and of course 411 random things, the Pier 7 Spot Check and Lavar’s Profile. A few things in Credo too. I’m probably forgetting some things. Hella sporadic.

You filmed a lot of extremely heavy tricks at Hubba – Kalis’ switch back tail, tons of Lavar footage, Dill and Marcus’ Trilogy stuff – do have any personal favourite Hubba moves that you’ve filmed or maybe witnessed back in that golden era?

Man, watching Lavar skate Hubba in person was insane. For those who never witnessed it live, he would just do it! So many of his tricks didn’t take more than 5 tries. He was a prodigy. I call him Baby G.O.A.T. There’s too many to name though, so many people put it down. Obviously Josh’s switch back tail, Antoine did a switch hardflip, broke his board and still rode away, that one was way back. Marcus heelflip 50-50. Everything was dope. Too many to name, this list could go on for days.
 

“Brad
Brad Filmed Josh Kalis’ switch back tail at Hubba in Alien Workshop’s Timecode

 
You post so much Lavar McBride footage – I mean we all knew that he was this prodigious talent based on his Trilogy part and subsequent World output but from your Insta his talent seems supernatural. What was it like skating and filming with him at his peak?

Watching him skate in person was unreal. He was so consistent even while doing super technical stuff. His video parts didn’t do him justice. By the time the video came out, he probably already had another part already done. We’d film all day then, go back to his house and smoke a blunt and watch the footage from the day.

Didn’t you say that he pretty much filmed his 411 Profile in a day?

It was probably like 3 days total, but all the library footage was from one session – where he was riding a Girl board. I remember we were at FTC and he was setting that board up and I was thinking World wasn’t gonna be too happy if they saw him riding that. Then he goes on to stack 5 minutes of footage that day! Oops. Then there was probably a day or two of Pier 7 stuff and that was it. He could have easily done it in a day though.

It’s crazy to think that skaters of Lavar and Henry’s level of ability didn’t end up in a position where their contributions to the culture guaranteed them both an income for life.

If there’s ever a Skateboarding Hall of Fame, those two better be in there. They both heavily influenced modern street skating and stretched the envelope.
 

If there’s ever a Skateboarding Hall of Fame, those two better be in there. They both heavily influenced modern street skating and stretched the envelope

 

Lavar McBride’s switch nosegrind revert at Hubba Hideout from Trilogy filmed by brad

 
Are you still in touch with them both?

Everyone is spread out these days, I think Lavar’s back in the city. Sanch lives up in Sacramento with his wife and kids. I mostly just keep in touch these days through Instagram or a phone call.

So whilst you were out in the city filming all this crazy shit, you were ripping too. Who was the person filming you and did you always have to wait to get your own stuff on tape?

One of my roommates at the time, Ben, he filmed sometimes. It was hard to get him out though. He was over filming, but occasionally you could bribe him to come out by buying him a 12 pack of Budweiser or smoke him out all day. He was responsible for filming some rad shit though too. He filmed Enrique’s switch krooks fakie flip at the Pier.

Pat Washington was pretty good at filming too. Basically if you were feeling it back then, you’d just ask a homie “Yo, could you film me for a bit, I got this trick I wanna get.” We would just hand the camera off to whoever wasn’t skating at the time. If they were sitting down, you’d be like boom “Hold This”, (laughing).

Which SF spot would you say you’ve spent the most time at over the years – both filming and skating?

Definitely Pier 7.
 

Brad frontside flips to switch manual the hard way and adds a switch front shuv for good measure

 
After FIT crashed you were kind of sponsorless for a while right?

Sort of sponsorless yeah, but we were getting Girl boxes for around a year or a little longer. So I wasn’t really tripping. We were only getting $350 a month being Ams on FIT, so I always had a part time job. The FIT money basically was just enough to make a car payment. My part time job paid the rent.

Were you able to make a living from filming at any point?

(Laughing), I never made a living off filming. I had a part time job. Any money I would get from filming would be party funds. Back then you didn’t get anything until the video came out. So there would be months and months of filming, with nothing to show for it, except a lot of rad footage. Then you’d get one lump check for everything you’d filmed which was nice, but when you did the math, it was peanuts.

That’s why a lot of filmers come on the scene only to then disappear 2 or 3 months later. Unless you really love skateboarding and/or filming it’s not for you. Anyone who is in it for the money is gonna get slapped with reality hard and fast! Thankfully I grew up loving doing both, I wasn’t concerned with cashing in off filming. I just enjoyed it.

Did you ever get picked up as a filmer by any brands or by 411? Or was it more a case of you sending in footage as you compiled it?

It was all freelance back then. Once 411 saw some of the stuff we had it made it easier to get The Pier 7 Spot Check and Lavar’s Profile in there. Only problem though, no one wanted to be in 411 (laughing). It was like pulling teeth to get people to use their footage on 411.

Lavar’s Profile was different but he knocked that out easily. I should’ve reached out to Rodney or Socrates about being a staff filmer for World up north back then but I didn’t have the foresight to think about it like that.

I bought the SF Greatest Misses DVD without realising it was a compendium of your footage. There’s so much amazing skating on there that I’m surprised you found time to skate too. Is that your only 100% self-made full-length piece?

I had no idea what I was doing when I made that. I bought an iMac in 2001 when they first came out and I was pretty clueless about how to use it. I thought you just plugged it in and ‘boom’ you had Internet! Long story short, I had no Internet. I think I edited SF’s Greatest Misses on iMovie. I didn’t know how to adjust the volume of the skating so I just peaced it out. That’s why there are no skate sounds on there, (laughing).

Was it the switch up from Hi8 to digital in the late 90’s that put an end to you being a filmer?

Like I said, I never considered myself a filmer. I was a skateboarder with a camera, who could film. It was always skateboarding first. There would be periods, like if I was hurt or had a sprained ankle where I wouldn’t just sit at home and rest to try and heal up. I’d still be out limping around filming and trying to keep up with everyone on my little 50mm wheels. I never had a filming set-up.

The actual reason that I stopped filming was because Lavar kept hassling me to buy my camera. He wanted to use it to hook up to his TV so that he could practise switching his stance. I told him to just buy a new one, but I eventually caved in and sold it to him. He was a mad scientist! There’s some footage where he’s skating regular, but it looks switch and his switch looks regular. Instead of using the money I got from Lavar to upgrade to a new camera, I probably partied it away.
 

The actual reason that I stopped filming was because Lavar kept hassling me to buy my camera. He wanted to use it to hook up to his TV so that he could practise switching his stance… He was a mad scientist!

 
When did Western Edition come into the picture?

It started around 1999, but they didn’t start a team until 2001. It was Pat Washington, Nikhil Thayer, Jason Wussler and myself.

The aesthetic of that brand was so cool – I have a Pat Washington board up on my wall still today (the brown/green one with the pencil portrait) – was your involvement in WE purely as a rider?

Yeah, by then I no longer had a camera. Sometimes we would borrow Ken Goto’s VX because he never used it. This was the super bro cam days with mostly just Jason, Jabari (Pendleton) and myself. We made this little 3 Amigos clip. Those were rad times. Both of them grew up in St. Louis too, so we were all homies from way, way back.
 

“Rob
Rob Welsh frontside Crooked Grind. Photo: Mike Blabac

 

Rob Welsh has a cameo in your ‘Did It’ section – were Rob and you tight?

Hell yeah! That’s my dude. I met Rob, Nikhil and Jona the day they drove into San Francisco, in 1994! I was skating Black Rock and they pulled up in two cars, straight from a cross-country drive. I remember Rob didn’t have a back seat he just had a mattress from the back to the trunk.

We lived together for a few years. Had the craziest skate house! We called it skate camp. Way too many houseguests and roommates, but it was so much fun. There was always something going on. Imagine Rob Welsh, Henry Sanchez, Lee Smith, Pepe Martinez, John Igei, Jason Wussler, Andy Honen and myself under one roof! Madness. I was thankful he put a clip of me in his Aesthetic part.

Did you ever do the noseblunt nollie heel out again after the one in that section?

I had done one at night, but the daytime one was better. Fuck, I battled with that trick for a while. I’d try it for 20-30 minutes every so often, then just forget about it for a few weeks then try again. That probably went on for many months. I’ve definitely never done it since or even thought about trying it again!

I’m sure kids now can knock them out consistently. I wasn’t a gifted skateboarder. I had to work my ass off for most of my tricks. Joey Pepper had a funny saying, “All Will, No Skill” after he did his backside flip fakie manual up the pad at the Pier. If you try long and hard enough eventually your gonna make one!
 

Brad’s Noseblunt slide nollie heel out from the western edition video Did It

 

Your first W.E. section is almost entirely filmed at the Pier and 3rd & Army but in the second one you’ve got a fair bit of Barcelona footage too. You were an earlier visitor to Barca right?

The first W.E. video wasn’t planned. One day they just decided they were making a video so it was a case of ‘what footage do you have?’

I moved to Barcelona in late 2001. I went with my girlfriend at the time. We rented an apartment right by Macba. I wish I had stayed there longer to be honest but after 4 months my girlfriend was ready to go back to S.F. It was rad while it lasted though. I was skating a lot with Alex Castaneda and Enrique Lorenzo back then.

Is that how the Raul Navarro W.E. connection came about? OG Sants was similar culturally to Pier 7 I guess…

Nah, I knew Raul back then, but I think he was on Nomad at that time. He didn’t come over to W.E until 2011/2012. All those Sants dude ripped and were super cool. It was definitely a similar vibe to the pier.

W.E. is still going strong– do you still have any involvement with the brand?

Nah, not much, if I need a board or anything they’re there. We are all family. I love all those guys and appreciate all the support on and off the board throughout the years. God knows we weren’t easy to deal with!
 

“Western
Western Edition era Backside Flip. Photo: Ken Goto

 
Where are you living these days? Are you still in Florida?

I’m living down in Miami. It’s HOT. Nice change from living in S.F. for so long. We still go back to S.F. once a year, it’s a way different city now, but it’s still awesome to see some familiar faces and places.

Are you still working as a chef?

Nah, I owned a restaurant for 3 years but sold it when we moved down here. I’m a stay at home dad these days!

As a dad myself I know how hard it is to get out and skate with young kids – are you still out in the streets much?

She’s 10 months old so just starting talking and getting into everything. My skating is pretty limited to cruising around the neighbourhood if I’m honest.

Has the output on your Insta increased as a result of the Covid situation?

Sort of, well actually the tapes were gone for about 20 years! When Lavar bought my camera, I gave all my tapes and mini Hi-8 VCR to Victor. He held on to them for a decade or so and then passed them onto Mike Poore. Then a few months back, he contacted me saying he had a shoebox full of my old tapes and that he wanted to send them back to me. Fucking boomerang tapes!

So now here we are. No job, a pandemic and a lil’ free time when the kid’s sleeping to upload to Instagram! Thanks Victor and Mike for keeping these relics alive! Love you guys.

How much more have you got? It feels as though your backlog of clips is inexhaustible. Do you still have plenty of gold for us all?

There’s literally hours of footage. Imagine rolling around everyday with a video camera in your backpack in San Francisco in the 90’s. The only thing I regret is not filming more lifestyle stuff, but back then that shit was frowned upon.
 

There’s literally hours of footage. Imagine rolling around everyday with a video camera in your backpack in San Francisco in the 90’s

 
Personally, I’m hyped every time I see you post something new and everyone I know is too…

Thanks dude, I appreciate it. With all the crazy shit going on in the world right now, hopefully these 30 second uploads can bring some joy.

Ok, I’ve taken up enough of your time Brad – I just want to say a collective thank you to you for allowing the rest of us who weren’t there a window into this incredible period in skate history. Big up mate.

Thanks dude. Hope you guys all stay safe out there!
 

Brad’s part from the Western Edition Video Lookin’ Ahead

 
Thanks to Brad for taking the time out to speak to us. As we mentioned at the start of the interview if you aren’t following @chef_bradjohnson you need to rectify that right now.

Thanks to Mike Blabac for sending us photos and to ScienceVersusLife for the scan.

Previous interviews by Ben Powell: Mike Manzoori / Long Live Southbank / Elijah Berle / Tyshawn Jones / Jagger