interview by Neil Macdonald (@scienceversuslife) / Photo by Ryan Young
I think I’ve known Corey Duffel for around a decade now, after first meeting him when I interviewed him about music and skateboarding for Sidewalk magazine. The interview that ran was great, and it covered everything people would want to hear from Corey at the time, in terms of skateboard opinions and music preferences, and he sent a load of amazing photos for us to use. Thanks largely to Corey’s enthusiasm for the more obscure sides of British post-punk and indie, we kept in regular touch and became friends.
Corey is one of the most open and honest people I’ve ever met, and it took me a while to realise that. I think that’s because there are so many questions that we, as humans, just don’t want to ask each other and therefore an equal number of topics that don’t get discussed as they should. Maybe it’s because we don’t really want the answer, or they’re questions we’d be uncomfortable answering ourselves, but if you don’t ask, you’ll never learn and you’ll never move forwards. He’s also one of the most humble people I’ve known, and not always entirely comfortable talking about himself when there are so many people around him who’ve excited and inspired him, people he’d much rather have the spotlight on instead of himself, hence it being ten years between these two interviews.
Since he has made the decision to follow his own path, do his own thing and ride his skateboard how he wants, he’s now able to look at his own past through a new, clear lens, and it seemed like an appropriate time to call him up, see what was going on and make an interview of it. I thought I knew him pretty well, but it turns out there’s a whole lot going on that I had no clue about, just because I never asked. Because you don’t ask mates personal questions like that, and these aren’t the kinds of things very many people find easy to bring up. Well, I’ve asked those questions now and I’m glad I did. Read on for some truths about the wonderful and frightening world of skateboard life, growing up on tour, the industry, the insecurity and the injury, because as Ian McCulloch knows, nothing ever lasts forever.
What have you been doing during California’s lockdown?
I’ve been doing a lot of pilates, this form of exercise. I was actually introduced to pilates by Johnny Marr’s son, Nile. Nile’s a skateboarder, but he broke his hip playing football years go and when I told him I’d broke my hip he said the best thing was to get into pilates. Even Johnny was saying the same thing! He’s a real advocate for staying in shape, so I had both the Marrs giving me advice about staying in shape when all this is going on and while I can’t skateboard. I don’t want to turn into a fat fuck.
Even your fitness regime is influenced by ‘80s British indie now.
Yeah, absolutely! I’m just trying to look good as I get older too, you know? When I see Johnny Marr, I think, “Whatever he’s doing, I want to be doing something similar!” I’ve just been hanging out here and playing records too, and going live on the Instagram playing music, playing DJ sets which has been quite fun for myself, and maybe for the people following me. But I don’t really care, I play music for myself. Like when you’re DJing and you don’t really care what the crowd thinks, you’re just playing the songs you wanna hear.
But you’re only getting asked to DJ because promoters or whoever know what you like, and what you’re going to play anyway. No DJ wants to be standing in a room of miserable people who aren’t dancing.
Yeah… When you see somebody kinda start to move their feet around, and getting into the vibe, you can go from there. Or you can test the waters. Let’s say I play a Cure song that they’re not feeling, I can think, “OK, I can see they don’t want me to go into deep, heavy, depressing, dark music tonight”, but a lot of the time I like to start off with the Happy Mondays or the Stone Roses, and if Kinky Afro doesn’t get somebody moving, you know that all is lost anyway. It’s going to be a rough night. A lot of the times I’ll start of with So Young by the Roses—the 7” you gave me—because that song hits with such a punch, it starts off so fast…
Corey playing his records not hoarding them. Photo: Rachel Travers
The B-side, Tell Me, is better…
Haha! Absolutely. But that’s usually a good way to judge how it’s gonna be. It’s so similar to skateboarding, you know? If you go to the first spot and you stick on a nose slide or a 50-50, you know it’s gonna be a shitty day! But if you get it going, you’re stoked. When you see people enjoying the music, and you have the interaction, you end up wanting to still play stuff that you wanna hear but also stuff that other people relate to. When you see the heads bobbing, it makes you feel good and you want to keep it going.
You’ve always been good at getting the music you listen to out there, either by DJing or in video parts. Ice and the Iced being the most obscure example I guess, but stuff like the House of Love and Siouxsie isn’t what people normally expect from a skate video. Have there ever been arguments over song choices?
Absolutely. In the Transworld video [Right Foot Forward] I tried getting rights for Scott Walker, the song Seventh Seal off Scott 4. I really wanted to use that but we couldn’t get the rights. That’s what they told me. I have a feeling they just didn’t like the song because it’s a very long, drawn-out song. That got shut down. For the same video part I tried using another band, the Heavy Metal Kids, this glam band, and the song was called Chelsea Kids. The lyrics are a bit outrageous, it’s about drug-sniffing kids going out with stiletto knives and having fun, so I have a feeling they just weren’t feeling that one either.
We talked about a bunch of bands we could use and I gave them a list of five bands I’d be happy with… The Replacements, Siouxsie and the Banshees, but I was really hoping for Scott Walker. I was more than happy that they used Spellbound by Siouxsie, I’d made sure they knew to use the 12” version. The drumbeat is much better, but they couldn’t understand the difference. The production on a 12” is much different to a 7”.
Like the two versions of Shine On by The House of Love.
Exactly! I wanted to make sure I skated to the version of Shine On that has the extra reverb on the guitar. Some people would never know but those little things do make a difference. If there’s a particular little part missing, it’s just not the same.
I know you were travelling into San Francisco to skate when you were pretty young, and that’s when Pier 7 was really popping off. FTC was huge, Mad Circle was a thing and everybody was looking at The City. What was that like?
Pier 7 was a magical place for a skateboarder, especially one from the suburbs. That was a dream destination. I could get the train for 25 minutes, then skate for five minutes and be there. This is before California had skateparks, and it was before they put the coping on the ledges, and you’d go there and see so many amazing pros.
Seeing Lavar McBride there was one of the coolest things for me, being 12 years old and seeing him when he was probably only 17. Every single kid worshipped Lavar because he was so relatable—because he was also a kid. Obviously he’s one of the greatest skateboarders ever, but he had the cool hair, the cool outfits… The KCKs with the cargo pants…
Corey feeble grinding on home turf aged 12. Photo: Stephen Duffel
Did you have a pair of KCKs back then?
I had one pair of Kareems, and they were the only pro model skate shoe I ever had.
Black or white?
I had the black with gum, but I wanted the white. My mom wouldn’t buy me the white ones because she said they looked like nurses’ shoes. My mom made fun of me and then I got the black and gum. So this was before I was into punk rock, and before I turned into the Corey that some people will know. This was me being a 12 year-old kid influenced by Menace skateboards and 20 Shot Sequence, and everything that was going on in San Francisco at the time, especially Henry Sanchez, Karl Watson and Drake Jones.
Drake and Karl were the dudes I always wanted to see because they looked cool; they had the flowing style, the cool haircuts, the long belts… Then after that guys like Cairo Foster came along. Seeing him skate Pier 7 in 1997, he had a whole different approach, he was more like how Marcus McBride was, skating over the whole block rather than doing little two-inch grinds on the block. He nollie hardflipped over the entire thing with so much power.
Seeing Brad Johnson filming Kalis there when he did the frontside flip 180 nose grind on the ledge… I got in his way on one of his attempts and Josh grabbed my board and fuckin’ threw it, and he told me that if I got in his way again he was going to throw it in the ocean and kick my ass. It was cool in a weird way back then that an adult could threaten a kid like that, and I went home all excited, like, “I met Josh Kalis!” Even though I didn’t really ‘meet’ him.
So you did appreciate that these dudes were the best, and this wasn’t just regular skateboarding?
Oh yeah, they were the guys I was already looking at in the magazines and seeing in the videos. You’d take the train out there and skate ‘with them’ but in reality you were really just getting in the way. But you were at the same spot!
Did you recognise that this was the centre of the skateboard world at the time? Would you have thought that people in the UK or Australia were looking at the same photos?
I didn’t even think about that. You guys probably had your own thing… I mean the UK had Tom Penny, and we worshipped that whole scene too, so I didn’t realise how special Pier 7 really was.
Tom’s a one-off though, it’s not like that’s an ordinary example of UK skating.
Absolutely, but when you’re so young I don’t think you realise that. I had no idea that this Mecca of skateboarding was so close to me and that you over in Glasgow could be dreaming of it, and might never get to be a part of it, and I was just so spoiled. An appropriate word now would be ‘privileged’. I was very lucky.
Who was cool to you back then? Who was a dick?
Who was cool? Drake Jones. Brad Johnson. Karl Watson. Dan Drehobl. Phil Shao. John Cardiel. Mike Rafter. Mike Rafter took my brother and I out skating on Christmas Day in 1997 and John Cardiel and Matt Rodriguez were there, with a few other Sacto legends. This was one of the coolest things ever. I watched Cards stick on a crappy metal ledge and get tossed; it was cold and I remember him saying, “The concrete ain’t got no love today”, and when I slam that’s still the first thing I say, twenty three years later. I can also still remember the noises of Matt Rodriguez’s trucks… He didn’t use bushings or something and they just rattled like a skeleton dancing down the street.
Mike Rafter is a huge reason I got sponsored; he saw me skating and talked to me. He told me I should film, and that I should start going out to where pros were and meet people, so I’m very thankful for his help and encouragement. Just seeing Brad Johnson filming all the pros was always cool and that inspired me to wanna skate. I don’t want to put out names for the chumps, because maybe they’re different now, but there were so many of them that just straight up sucked. They robbed kids, made fun of them, and kicked us out of spots.
Almost everyone in SF was not cool for a while. I dreamed of riding for Bay Area companies but after meeting the pros and employees I wanted nothing to do with them. I was bullied so hard for my speech impediment, called so many names for it. Being laughed at for your speech is tough and makes talking to people even more intimidating. And it was only ever skaters that picked on me for my voice.
I was bullied so hard for my speech impediment, called so many names for it. Being laughed at for your speech is tough and makes talking to people even more intimidating
Did you skate Embarcadero at all? Was it a bust by that point?
We’d go to Embarcadero but the scene was dead there. Nobody was skating there anymore, so I suppose that’s maybe because it was a bust, although we’d skate Mini Hubba, which was kind of connected. I missed the whole EMB thing by about two years, because I started in ’94 and by that time they’d moved out of EMB to different parts of the city or to the Pier. You’d get kicked out, but I had to get myself to ollie the Gonz gap, which I’m stoked to say I did back then, in ’96 or ’97. And a kickflip and a back 180 on the seven. Or the six really, you call it the seven but I think it was just a six-stair.
We were more interested in being where the pros were because we wanted to watch them skate. You wanted to skate but you wanted to fan out too, in the presence of so many great skateboarders. If you knew some other pros were in town you’d got to Hubba because you knew you’d see them there. Like for instance I was there when Josh Kalis switch back tailed it, and you can see my skinny little twig legs in the sequence in the ad… When Joey Bast does his last trick in the Planet Earth video, Silver, the switch frontside shove-it heelflip down it, I’ve got BGPs there too. To see Joey skate back then was sick. I was there when BA did the back Smith back 180 and the back tail shove-it. I did get to skate it though.
What did you get there?
The same few tricks I’ve continued to do throughout my entire career. But Karl Watson was there when I managed to do a bluntslide down it, so I’m stoked on that. Also I was there on my twelfth birthday, and Drake Jones was there. My goal was to try and do a kickflip down the stairs that day, to go big in San Fransisco on my twelfth birthday, and Drake Jones happened to ask me what I was thinking about trying, so I’m already enamoured because Drake was one of my favourite skateboarders.
This is him wearing his Roots sweatshirt, shelltoes, and with the cool dreads… Classic iconic Drake Jones. I told him I wanted to kickflip it and he said that if I did it first try he’d give me whatever was in his wallet. He had a dollar in his wallet and he gave me that buck for kickflipping Hubba Hideout first try. It was so much motivation, to have Drake Jones offer me the contents of his little velcro wallet. I still have the Drake Jones dollar.
Was Lennie Kirk around then?
I saw Lennie around after Timecode came out, when he was in the Jesus stage of his career, and I was so excited to say hello to him, but he brought out a bible and started reading bible verses to me. I told him how sick his switch lip slide on Hubba Hideout was, and he was thankful for that, but he just wanted to read bible verses to me.
Jumping off a building for Think aged 13. Photo: Bruce Rodella
When did you start to become aware of the industry out there? SF was the centre of everything then, and Deluxe and FTC were the coolest things.
That didn’t really come on until pretty much after I went pro. I mean I knew that stuff existed, the people who lived there, and Deluxe out there with Spitfire and Real and Antihero… I didn’t really see Antihero as being San Francisco, Antihero were just the dickhead skateboarders that you’d see around different parts of the Bay Area who’d talk shit to you or whatever. Guys like Mic-E Reyes, Greg Carroll and Thiebaud were around but I didn’t really know what it meant. They were guys that owned companies so I thought they must be millionaires or something. Little did I know they were twenty year-old high school dropouts who happened to run skateboard companies.
I was so far off, compared to the reality of it and it wasn’t until many, many years later that I understood what the ’industry’ even meant, and how tight-knit and connected it was. When I rode for Think when I was 13, I had no idea that Think was connected to Thrasher or that they were friends with everybody at Deluxe… I was riding for Circuit wheels and I was trying to get on Spitfire Wheels, and little did I know that of course the two companies will talk to each other because they’re all friends. So it’s like, “Hey, why is your guy sending us a sponsor video?” Fuck. I was only 13, and just not thinking that way.
You’re not being strategic or anything, you just want better wheels.
Yeah, exactly. Even being on Think but wanting to wear a Zero t-shirt because Zero was a company I liked before I got on Think. It’s like, “What do you mean I’m not allowed to wear a Toy Machine shirt, or a Menace shirt?” I was so unaware, so clueless about so much of it.
Were you on anybody before Think?
Think and Venture were my first sponsors, those came together. I was on a shop before then, just called The Shop, and that was my first sponsor but they also sold snowboards and whatever else.
So Greg Carroll was very much the man.
Very much so. I don’t even know how I even knew who Greg Carroll was, I’d just seen him in Damage, the Think video, where there’s a clip of him at Union Square and all these financial guys are walking by and he goes, “There’s all my employees”, and there’s about a hundred guys in suits walking by… And when you’re 11 years old, you’re wondering if that’s what Think Skateboards really is.
Anyway so I gave Greg a video, and maybe three weeks later I get a phone call at 7:45 in the morning at my mom’s house, and my mom goes, “Hey, someone named Greg Carroll is on the phone for you!” as I’m getting ready for school. He goes, “Hey, we watched your video. Me, Drehobl and Shao watched your video and we want you to come down to the warehouse to meet you. Can you be here for 10am?”
I think my mom was still on the other phone, listening, so she pulled me out of school that day and drove me down to Think to meet them. Sure enough, Dan Drehobl and Phil Shao were there, Paul Zuanich and Tim McKenney were there and I had no clue why these pro skaters were there so early.
To suss you out.
Yeah. They’re there watching my video and all of a sudden I’m getting to meet all these guys I looked up to. It was a very cool feeling to see Phil Shao watch my sponsor-me tape, and then ask me about tricks afterwards. And then ask me if I wanted to get some skateboards… And I’m just this little kid in a Zero shirt who can’t pronounce my words.
Did you ever have any chats with Jamie before Foundation? Ever send Zero a tape?
Jamie sent me boards when I was about 15, but he wouldn’t send me boards with the Zero logo on them, he would just send me blank boards. He knew I wanted to ride for Zero when I was a kid, I did send him a sponsor tape when I was 12 or so, in 1998, when he would have been filming Misled Youth. I was skating San Dieguito high school one time, and he happened to be there with Matt Mumford and Ryan Bobier, and Jamie brought it up years later, he told me he was very impressed with what he saw.
Corey nursing a broken wrist with his mum, brother Kevin, Jamie Thomas and Matt Mumford-San Digueto High School 1998. Photo: Stephen Duffel
We talked about what could have happened, or what should have happened, but also how it was probably for the best that it didn’t happen. But as a kid I wanted to ride for Zero because after Thrill Of It All came out there was nothing else like that, that I’d seen before. It was just so different, and I was very inspired by Jamie Thomas as a kid. I mean, Welcome To Hell… Jamie, Ed, Donny Barley, Brian, Elissa, Maldonado… They were the shit.
How did Foundation come about? You were skating with Brad Staba in Walnut Creek anyway, I guess?
It started off with Staba, and me being 11 years old. Brad was the local ripper when I was a kid, and I’d pester him constantly because I looked up to him so much. I would go over to his apartment and ring his doorbell after school every single day and see if he wanted to go skate with me. I remember thinking Brad was a bit of a dick because he wouldn’t always want to skate, but looking back he was actually really cool. The fact that he even tolerated that whatsoever. And he’d give me boards here and there, and clothes and stickers, and he took me out skating so many times.
Brad had a lot to do with helping me out. When Josh Beagle and Heath Kirchart came to town to skate with him, Josh already knew my name; he knew me as the local kid who would bug Brad constantly. When Josh and I became buddies when I was a teenager, he remembered meeting me as a kid and said he wanted to get me on Pig Wheels.
Were you still on Circuit at the time?
At this point I was on nobody. This was post-Big Brother interview.
I thought Emerica kept you on.
I got demoted to Emerica flow. I had an Emerica ad in On Video, the video magazine, then that thing came out and I got demoted fast. The team manager was in rehab at the time too, so there was a loss of connection and I didn’t know what was going on. I was worried about calling up Don Brown, like, “Hey, I just had this interview come out, and I think I offended some people…” I didn’t even understand the worst part. I’m sitting going, “Hey, did you guys see my interview?!” and they’re like, “Yeah, of course we saw it, you fucking idiot”. And there I am just being so naive, going, “Didn’t you see all the Emerica logos in there?! What’s going on..?”
Something you said to me once was that you spoke a lot of other stupid shit in that interview which never got pulled up. It was always the Stevie comment, but it was quite indicative of the time that the homophobia didn’t get picked up on.
I think that just goes to show how skateboarding was as a whole then.
Yeah, like that stuff was fine then.
And that’s completely disgusting. Everybody wanted to destroy me over that one part, but there was the whole interview. That still bothers me. The racial part, I was never even trying to be racist, I like Stevie Williams and I’m a big fan of his skating, but the hatred towards the queer community was me actually trying to say something, like “Fuck this, that stuff’s wack” or whatever, because I was so influenced by hearing other skateboarders say that shit all the time.
People pulled me up and called me a racist but all the other stuff was equally as bad. Just terrible, terrible shit. I’d seen it in interviews and heard it said so many times that I thought you were supposed to use those words. It was horrible.
The casualness of the homophobia in skateboarding back then was the worst. Like it was just normal. It’s crazy to think about now.
It’s so cringe. It’s embarrassing. Over the past few years it’s dawned on me just how terrible skateboarding has been. We all want to hold onto the counter culture skating we remember from the ‘90s because it was so special, but lest we forget that it could be pretty vile too. The misogyny aspects are just terrible. I remember thinking it was so cool to think that we were dirtbags and pseudo-rockstars doing whatever we wanted. I wasn’t brought up on this mentality at home, but I was raised on it through skateboarding. We were so proud to be outlaws and to not be a part of society; we were a gang of misanthropic delinquents from broken homes.
We raised each other, but there weren’t many rules, only arbitrary ones about not waxing rails, going faster and not being a kook. We were raised under the code of ‘Skate and Destroy’, and some of us took this too seriously. I know I did. I wanted to be a part of the tribe and didn’t want to be normal. I was a skateboarder. It took over twenty years to realise that I was just being a punk for the most part. Now I look at it and I don’t want to encourage kids to live the same way I was brought up in skateboarding.
We raised each other, but there weren’t many rules, only arbitrary ones about not waxing rails, going faster and not being a kook. We were raised under the code of ‘Skate and Destroy’, and some of us took this too seriously. I know I did
I was 13 years old on tour and seeing stuff that no kid should be around… The drugs, sex, vandalism, fights, everything. It was all stuff I thought was so cool because it was glorified in our culture and I wanted to be part of it too. Life in the fast lane. I thought the ‘Live fast, die young’ attitude was so bitchin’ and now I look at it and wonder why I was so into the destruction and negative side it. Skating is amazing and living a long and awesome life is amazing too.
Agreed. So you’re getting wheels from Pig now…
I was getting Pig wheels when I’d been buying First Division 58mm tyres at the time, because I was so influenced by Eastern Exposure and all that stuff. Brad is giving me his used Duffs shoes and his used Foundation boards, and taking me out skating.
Ad for Corey’s am wheel on Pig. Photo: Sean Cronan
You finally broke him.
Ha, yeah. You couldn’t screen phone calls back then, so it’s not like his phone would say ‘Annoying 12 year-old kid who wants to go skating’ each time I called. Brian [Anderson] was always kind enough to go skating with me, and because he didn’t have a car out here, we would just skate from spot to spot, which really taught me different ways of skating. I got to see him film a couple of things for Jump Off A Building, and it was just a case of Brian trying a gnarly trick and Brad pulling out the camera.
People don’t realise that Staba filmed all of Brian’s Jump Off a Building part. Just out skating as friends do, and capturing it. How skateboarding used to be. The stuff that I’d see Brian and Brad do when there was no video camera… Man, I wish that was documented. Brad was such a good skateboarder. Beyond good.
I’m a big fan of his Duty Now For The Future part.
The opening line that Brad has in that video, where he does a frontside bluntslide on this ledge—and he skates the same spot in Nervous Breakdown—is a place we used to skate quite a bit, and the tricks they would both do there were just incredible. Those guys were good. That inspired me to get better, and Brad is a huge reason why I wanted to skate rails and why I’d wear khaki Dickies and bright red shirts with a mop-top hairdo back then. I was so inspired by Staba. Now we’re good friends and he’ll come over with his daughter to swim in the pool and stuff. And rather than being the annoying kid, now it’s like, “Oh man, Brad wants to hang out? I don’t know if I can deal with Brad today!”
So did he get you on actual Foundation?
He didn’t get me on, but now that I think about it, he definitely paved the way for it, because without his connection I wouldn’t have met Josh Beagle, and Josh would have known I was a nice kid, pre-fucked-up interview. He knew me for who I actually was, and not for the dude I was pretending to be in my mid-teenage years, trying to shock everybody.
He knew me for who I actually was, and not for the dude I was pretending to be in my mid-teenage years, trying to shock everybody
Formative years. The photo on the right is Corey’s first package. First photo: Matt Sharky. Next two: Stephen Duffel
They told you they wanted a shocking interview, right?
Oh absolutely. Had the interview gone to Slap, like it was originally supposed to, it would have been a completely different interview because it would have been my friend Joe Brook interviewing me and the first question wouldn’t have been straight up making fun of me. They wouldn’t have made fun of my speech impediment or called me a girl.
My 15 year-old confused hormones took all that as an insult rather than being strong enough to hang up on them. Instead, it was just, “Oh, it’s a stupid magazine, I’ll just talk shit because nobody’s gonna care”. When I would read that magazine I would find it funny because every second word was a cuss word and it had all this fucked up stuff in it, so I thought I would make it the most outrageous interview ever.
Well, job done.
It was certainly the interview seen and heard around the world. It’s hard when people just want to talk about that interview without addressing the issue. All human beings in general are capable of acting racist, and now we’re starting to realise as a whole how fucked up white society really is, and the injustices that black people face. Racism exists everywhere and people are only starting to realise that. A lot of it is ignorance, and you don’t even realise the racist stuff you’re doing.
People say they hate the phrase ‘white privilege’, but you have to accept that it exists. I can never know what it’s like to be African American. I think a lot of us have to accept that to be able to move forward, and to try and help out the bigger picture. I can apologise over and over for that one comment, but that doesn’t change the world as a whole. The world is actually very racist, and we have to find a way to make it better. Somehow. For many years after that I was still ignorant and probably did things without realising, and that’s just because it’s part of society. It’s ingrained. Like with homophobia in skateboarding, you don’t even really understand what’s going on, you might just say, “Man, those pants are gay”, but what does that really mean? That’s a terrible thing to say.
When I was a kid in small-town Scotland, my parents would send me to the ‘Paki shop’, or we’d have a ‘Chinky’ for dinner, and it took me a while to realise how fucked up language like that actually is.
That’s exactly what I mean, when it’s ‘normal’. You feel guilty about so much stuff, and you shouldn’t feel directly responsible for what your forefathers did, but you need to address it. Our roots are in hatred and we’re raised that way without even knowing. The Disney cartoons we see are meant to be so nice, but there’s so much blatant racism in them and that just gets passed on. As much as I hate that interview, it’s good that it happened because it allows me to work with other kids who might be struggling with certain things. It’s allowed me to move forward and educate other people who are ignorant or even just being assholes.
As much as I hate that interview, it’s good that it happened because it allows me to work with other kids who might be struggling with certain things
If a little kid at the skatepark says something, and then an older dude they look up to comes over and says, “Hey, Ethan, you can’t say that”, he’s gonna remember that, but when we were kids, or when I was at Pier 7 and somebody’s all, “Get the fuck outta my way” and they use some homophobic word, you’re maybe gonna think, “Well, that guy said it so it’s all good”. As soon as the guys you look up to stop using that language, things can start to change, you know? Maybe.
Misogyny too. It’s like, “Oh, you think skateboarding is bad for this thing? Well how about this? And this? And this?” Everybody thinks girls who skateboard are cool because they are, but girls who don’t skateboard?! The stuff I’ve seen on tour is chilling. Terrible, terrible stuff.
We’ll get to that stuff. For now, Josh Beagle is in the picture and wanting to hook you up.
I’d just turned 15 and I had no sponsors. Lance Mountain was sending me boards from The Firm, just as a good human being. I thought, at the time, that I’d probably have to stop skateboarding because I was so confused. I was going through puberty, I had a girlfriend but was confused about my sexuality, I’m just totally lost and I don’t know who I am or what I am. I liked skating but all my friends had stopped skating, I’m in high school and I hate it, I don’t even really like human beings… I liked music and I liked to ride my skateboard. When Lance called me up he told me I had to stay focussed, and he wanted to make sure I had something positive in my life so he sent me skateboards just to encourage me to keep skating. It was incredible. I still have hand-written letters from him telling me never to give up.
transit assisted Barbed wire fence vault. Photo: Joe Brook
Did you know Lance was even aware of you? This 15 year-old am out in Walnut Creek…
I didn’t understand at the time how huge of a big deal Lance Mountain really is. To me he was the guy from 411; I started skating in 1994 and I had never seen a Powell video. It wasn’t until last year that I saw Ban This, or any of those videos. I was in my thirties already, before I’d seen those Powell videos.
I wish I’d known you hadn’t seen Public Domain. Oh man. I feel bad.
Tell me about it! Those videos changed my life, and they’re what amped me to go skateboarding again.
So Lance is sending me stuff, but to me he’s just some guy who owns a company called The Firm and introduces 411. I knew he was an ‘80s pro, but I didn’t give a shit about vert skateboarding, you know?
I guess Lance was in a quiet time then, in between the Bones Brigade being heroes and then becoming cool again years later. And everybody was street skating anyway. They were kinda washed-up vert dudes for a while.
Yeah. Some washed-up vert dude sending me boards! I was hyped though, because I thought Lance was cool because he liked punk music as well. When I’d met him we were able to talk about The Clash, and Stiff Little Fingers, and Wire… So he was sending me boards but I didn’t know if that was going to go anywhere, so I stopped calling him one day because I felt bad calling to ask for boards. You don’t want to ask people for stuff.
I ran into Jamie Thomas one day, who was up here skating with Joe Brook, and I was on this beat-up old board with two different trucks, just skating. Jamie’s watching me skate a 15 stair handrail, not filming or anything, just for fun, and he says, “Hey, if you need boards, let me know”, and so he started sending me boards, but they were always the blank ones, and only the size that he rode, which was 7.75.
Were you riding eights?
8.5. So it was cool that I was getting Jamie Thomas’s boards but I didn’t want to ride them. But then Josh Beagle calls me up, like, “I see Jamie’s sending you boards from Tum Yeto, would you rather just get some Foundation boards?” I asked if I could get 8.5, and he said yes, then sent me a box of 7.5s… But they had graphics on them so I was stoked! I think this was 2001, so Ethan Fowler and Daniel Shimizu were on the team, and it was cool then. From there, over the next few years, everything just kinda worked out and I went pro. That all came from that one phone call from Josh, asking if I wanted a package.
And from Lance keeping you going when you could have turned to booze, or partying.
Absolutely. I think that was what he was hoping wouldn’t happen to me. He knew it was a pivotal point in a young man’s life. I could have just got stuck in a vortex, or followed the path of my father and turned to drink or drugs, and I think Lance just wanted to give me some words of encouragement. And Ian Deacon, of all people, was another guy reaching out to me to make sure I was doing OK back then. I got lucky, I had some good industry people looking out for me.
wrestling team assault a 16 year old. This story is unbelievable. Photo: Luke Ogden
Was there ever talk of getting on Flip?
I don’t think so. Ian asked if I wanted to ride for Ricta wheels, but no thought of getting on Flip. It was more encouragement to keep skating, and to not let people bring me down. Ian convinced me I’d get past this. People from Southern California reached out to me, but what’s sad to me now, looking back, is that nobody from my scene, from Northern California, from the Bay Area scene, had my back or was looking out for me at the time.
My dream was to ride for Northern Californian companies, because this is where I’m from, and yet my entire career was in Southern California. All the guys up here made fun of me, they bullied me and made me feel like dirt, whereas the pros I looked up to down south were all super inspiring and actually very caring. When I was 13, Brian Young and Dan Rogers had me stay with them for a week in San Diego, which is nuts to think about now. When I came back I remember the guys at Think were really pissed off that I was down in San Diego skating with San Diego pros, but I wasn’t even getting invited to go skate with the SF guys up here.
Foundation Pro announcement and graphic comp Photo: Sean Cronan. Inset below left-Lance Conklin with Corey’s first two boards. Inset Below Right-The Punch Bag
When you turned pro, Foundation ran a competition to draw your graphic, which Ed Syder, who’s from here, won. There’s no way I’m going to let a stranger design my first pro board, but how much of a say in it did you have?
It’s funny, when I went pro it wasn’t really discussed or talked about. They asked if I wanted to go up to the Slam City Jam and skate the contest, because back then you had to skate a pro contest to be pro. So I went up there to skate, but I didn’t know what that really meant. I mean I always wanted to go pro, but it was just like, “Uh… Sure”. And then I was talking with Tod Swank, and he thought about doing something a bit different. He wanted to get the fans involved in it too and do a board graphic contest, which I don’t think anybody had really done before.
It sounded fun so we ran the ad, and then we got thousands of entries. Thousands of pieces of art came in from across the world, and I spent hours and hours going through them. There were so many that were really cool, and it was so hard to pick one, because I had Tod, Beagle, Ethan and the art department all watching, like, “Hey, this one’s good!, “This one would be a good board graphic!” And so on. I remember Ethan told me which one I should use, and I wanted to agree because I wanted to agree with Ethan, but I didn’t like that graphic whatsoever.
He probably just wants to make sure he’ll sell more boards than you.
Hahaha! You might be right about that. I saw the one with Dee Dee Ramone playing bass, and I‘d always thought it’d be cool to have a Ramones graphic anyway, so I ended up choosing that one. I don’t think Foundation liked it too much because they changed it around quite a bit from the actual one that Ed sent in. I never saw the final design before it came out and when it came out I remember being like, “Huh. What is this?”, and not being very stoked on it.
I wish I paid more attention to the stuff that had my name on it, but I figured I should let them do what they’re gonna do because I’m doing my part, out skateboarding and being me, and they obviously know what they’re doing. When you’re 17 it’s hard to talk to an adult and tell them you think something sucks and you’d rather it be different. It’s hard to communicate. So my first board came out and I remember not liking it very much, and then they did this board with a punching bag graphic of myself. The punching bag part I loved, it was funny.
They actually made the punch bags too.
Yeah, they made punch bags that said ‘Beat Duffel up!’ because I was such an annoying little shithead kid. So they made this marketing campaign around beating up this loser kid. ‘We know this guy pushes your buttons, so here’s your chance to kick his ass!’ kinda thing. I was fine with that. The actual punching bag was my idea and it’s amazing that they were down to do something like that. But I was a bit bummed that they changed up the first graphic. I always wondered how Ed felt about that too…
[I went and asked Ed:
“The art I sent them, on a CD-R in the post, had the Ramones guy with a red and black stripes background. I think I also did a shitty Ramones-type logo for the top graphic. I think it was Mike Sinclair who emailed to tell me I’d won the contest, and he said the ‘art team’ were doing some work on it. If you look really close at Dee Dee on the Rock n’ Roll High School LP you’ll see where I got the idea from. It looked way better when they changed it. Plus they sent me a massive box of stuff. Actually, they sent me two as the first one never turned up.”]
I never actually skated my first pro board because they put it on a 7.62 size when I was riding 8.5s, and they always did, so I’ve never actually been able to ride any of my pro model boards. I was always told skinny boards sold better and they never printed any of my boards on the shapes I skated.
So whose 8.5s were you riding?
I’m not sure if they were even selling 8.5s, but there was a shape that Staba, Heath and Brian Anderson all used to ride and they still had the mould for that, so I was getting my boards custom made for me. It was the Toy Machine fist board shape, and that’s what I’d been riding when Brad and Brian would give me boards because that’s what they rode.
So they’d just screen a star and moon on it for you?
Exactly. That’s why I’d always skate that board. People would always point out how I always skated a star and moon board but that’s because it’s the only graphic they had for that shaped board. I love it anyway, I think it’s one of the best logos in all of skateboarding.
People would always point out how I always skated a star and moon board but that’s because it’s the only graphic they had for that shaped board. I love it anyway, I think it’s one of the best logos in all of skateboarding
Talking about the punching bag makes me wonder about all the crazy shit that’s had your name on it over the years. You were a very marketable skateboarder.
The thing I despise the most out of all that stuff is all my pro model shoes. That sounds so jaded but I hated every one of those because I never had any input. When I was on 88 both the shoes I designed there were one hundred percent what I wanted and they were shoes I absolutely loved, but when I got on Osiris I told them what I wanted and they canned every one of my ideas.
When you get shut down constantly, when you get told that your ideas aren’t good enough and that it won’t sell, it makes you feel like shit. It’s like, “Why are you selling something with my name on it? Can you maybe take a chance on me, isn’t that the whole point behind this?”
Every time I’d try to design a shoe I’d see the mock-up and it’d look great, and then a month later I get the actual shoe and it’s, “What the hell is this? What’s this colourway, what’s this shoe and why is it vulcanised?” The shoes were definitely something I was always ashamed of having my name on.
Detailing for Corey’s Duffel model on 88 Footwear from 2003
Were you ashamed of having your name on the cheques that came in from those shoes?
Well that’s what brings me down even more, because I know I sold out for something I wasn’t actually into, and that was always a hard thing to deal with. Riding for a company I didn’t believe in because I wanted a bit of a pay cheque. That didn’t feel good at all, it was cool being on a team with friends, but riding for a company I would never have liked as a kid? I was never interested in that company.
I don’t want to sound like a dick because there were some wonderful experiences from that situation, like the travelling, but there were a lot of parts that didn’t feel good. Looking back with hindsight, there were times when I was really fucking miserable but there were times when I’d go to this country with that guy or whatever, and I’ve got some amazing friendships out of it. Travelling with a group of friends is amazing.
Not many people enjoy every single part of their job.
I had a few Osiris shoes and every one was a shoe I didn’t get to design. That was something I was always not too stoked on, having a shoe out there with my name on it that kids think I skate, yet I haven’t even put my foot in one because it hurts my feet so bad and I wouldn’t even want to skate it. It’s the same with clothing sponsors, they would put your name on shit that you didn’t even sign up for. Stuff you wouldn’t even see until the catalogue came out. “What is that obnoxious thing?!”
nothing obnoxious about this SF Wallride Photo: Dave Chami
Are you talking about Sessions?
Not Sessions, Sessions was incredible because they came to me in the coolest way and said they wanted me to design my own clothing line. They gave me one hundred percent creative control, for the fits and everything. This is around 2003, when people weren’t really wearing tight clothes, and I wanted the shirts to fit as tight as possible, like I wanted the larges to fit like an ‘80s large, like a polyester muscle t-shirt. I wanted neon colours on the sweaters, and holes in the cuffs for my thumbs, and they went ahead and allowed me to do whatever I wanted, right down to the logo and the stitching. It was all completely how I wanted it.
Did Osiris ever send you any D3s?
Nah, I never had a D3! They sent me some other crazy high tops and I ended up having to wear them just because I needed a capsule so bad. I was wearing these fake-Air Max, Reebok Pump-looking things that I couldn’t even fuckin’ ollie in but my feet hurt so bad from the vulcanised shoes they’d send that I wanted to try it out.
Did you keep much of your merchandise? The action figures and stuff like that?
My mom kept a lot of it, which was really cool. She kept every magazine I was in, and made photocopies of the ads and everything, over the years. She has everything that’s been in a magazine from 1997, up until a couple of years ago when she stopped doing it. I kept almost all of my boards that came out. I missed a few so I’ve been buying them off eBay, because to me they’re special. Especially the early boards; they mean something to me because they’re based on movies or bands that I liked.
That’s something I really cared about, the relatability, so maybe somebody would see a Clockwork Orange board and think, “Hey! I also like that book!” and then instantly you have that connection. Or because you like Siouxsie and the Banshees, or Tim Burton or whatever. That stuff was very important to me, I really cared about what went on my board in the early years. After a while, like all companies, they end up just taking your name and putting it on some shit that you don’t care about, but you just have to roll with that.
Sometimes it was terrible, but Swank always allowed me to have a one-off, even if he absolutely hated it. A couple of years ago I had a board that said ‘I Hate Every Cop In This Town: A Good Cop Is A Dead Cop’ with me pissing on the gravestone of a police officer. That was pretty cool that Swank actually allowed me to have that. A lot of companies would just have been, “Fuck no!” but Swank always had my back with what I believed in, even if he didn’t necessarily believe in it himself.
How do Tech Deck royalties compare to board royalties?
Tech Decks are weird, because it works out that the skateboard company licenses out their name to Tech Deck. They own the graphic so I guess they make all the royalty money off it, and the pro doesn’t get paid. But for the action figure, I think I got about a thousand bucks for that one. They hit me up to ask about doing an action figure, so I asked them to explain, and they said they were doing ones with Tony Hawk, Ryan Sheckler, Shuriken Shannon and Danny Way, so with those names, fuck yeah, why not!? Then they said they’d give me a thousand bucks so I was down.
I was never paid royalties from any of my sponsors, I was always just on a salary-type pay cheque. So I never made royalties off the shoes, the clothing, the tyres or the skateboards. I don’t know if I should have had a contract that meant I would get that stuff, but I was a bit naive, I was happy to go along with whatever.
I’m surprised you didn’t get board royalties. I didn’t think it’d be like that at Foundation.
I never knew how many boards I was selling, I never even thought about asking. I just knew in the beginning that my board was outselling the rest of the team. For a time I had the best-selling board at Tum Yeto, which means I was doing better than Toy Machine and Zero, at the time. I just never asked how many boards I was selling because I was never interested. Looking back now, I should have, but I felt like I was being taken good care of and I was just very happy to be where I was. I felt like I owed those guys a whole lot.
Maybe I should have been more open about stuff but I felt like it was a huge blessing to be out skateboarding and to be given a chance when I felt like I didn’t deserve anything because of the past. It’s a hard one, but it’s been a wonderful time. I was never pressured to do anything other than be myself, which was amazing. I didn’t have anybody telling me how to behave, or what I need to be doing. I was taking care of the main thing that needed to be taken care of anyway. Being out skateboarding, and documenting it.
Documenting a burly backlip for Thrasher in 2007. Photo: Dan Zaslavsky. Inset below-Tod Swank and Corey at the That’s Life premiere
You were on the same team as Neil Blender for a while, on 88. Did you meet him much? Were there 88 tours?
88 trips were great. Neil used to come out street skating with us, which was really cool. A lot of guys would stick around at the hotel at nighttime because they didn’t want to street skate, but Neil had never seen anything like it; he thought it was so interesting that we’d go out with lights and generators at 2am to look for spots to get hammers. Neil would always come on those sessions.
Kinda like the Lance story, I didn’t really know who Neil was other than a story of him spray painting during a competition run. I’d have a big CD wallet when we were travelling and he’d always be asking to borrow CDs. One time we were out somewhere in the middle of the desert skating a pool, and I had a slingshot with paintballs, and I was just shooting paintballs, but some of them got into the pool as he was trying to skate it… I’m not even thinking, I’m just fucking around in the desert, and then the next thing I know is that I’m getting choked out by Neil Blender.
I’m just fucking around in the desert, and then the next thing I know is that I’m getting choked out by Neil Blender
In the middle of the desert and you have to shoot the pool with Neil Blender in it?!
When you have paintballs you have to see them explode, and there was nothing else I could shoot them at! So next thing I know I’m getting strangled by Neil Blender and the team manager, Lance Conklin—who is also fuckin’ legendary, which I had no clue about either—has to break it up. Like, “Neil, he doesn’t know what he’s doing! He’s just a kid, he’s fucking around!” I thought Neil was a dinosaur, like my dad’s age or something, but in reality he was probably the age I am now, or even younger!
He’s a big dude, right? Because you’re tall.
He had to be one or two inches taller than me. He must have been 6’4”. But he was fun, he’s a trippy guy to hang out with and he has amazing stories, but looking back now I wish I’d taken the history lesson that I have now, and known all that stuff. I was a skateboarder who didn’t know the history of what had gone before, but we didn’t have a @scienceversuslife or a @koolmoeleo posting that stuff, showing people what happened.
Maybe it’s good that you didn’t know who Neil Blender was at the time. You could have fanned out and annoyed him even more.
Exactly. To me they were just dudes. Like Peter Hewitt, I mean I knew how sick he was, but to me they were just the guys that I got to go on tour with. Lance Conklin! I had no idea just how awesome Lance Conklin was until I watched his Powell video parts about two years ago. To me he was just this really cool team manager that I got to hang out with. The same goes with Tod Swank… My boss being one of the coolest skateboarders in the world, starting up one of the first DIY skate companies, being a photographer who shot Natas and Gonz… All this amazing stuff and I’m just this little snotty brat talking shit to this guy, like, “Fuck you Tod! Your company’s wack! Why are you a vegetarian?” Just pestering him. Holy shit. How did that guy not just slap me and tell me to learn some respect? It’s a trip.
I bet he was fine with it. He doesn’t need somebody else telling him how much the shit he did years ago rules, he wants to see new skateboarding. Not the stuff he’s done in the past. Is it right that everybody rides Bones bearings, regardless of what bearing company sponsors them?
Come on, of course! We all know those other bearings suck. All you have to do is follow Vern Laird on Instagram, and you’ll see him constantly post emails from guys who ride for these new bearing companies asking for some Bones. He’ll screenshot and post those emails. Even the guys who ride for these other companies know that Bones are the best. Bones are what everybody skates, yes. Vern Laird is another legend team manager too! It’s amazing that this guy I only knew from skate videos is now my friend and my boss. I’m so lucky.
I think there’s a lot more hard work in the universe than luck.
Hard work is always admirable. Anybody can be born with natural talent, but it’s the hard work that really separates it. Not everybody’s going to be a hard worker.
And you don’t think of yourself as being naturally talented?
Haha! No. Not at all, whatsoever. Somebody might think I am, but no.
It’s a thing people say a lot when somebody’s just really good, but yeah, sometimes people do actually have to work at being good.
And also skateboarding’s so cool because it’s subjective. Somebody might think I’m a terrible skateboarder with awful style, but somebody else might really relate to it. I could never keep up with—I never even tried to keep up with—some of the stuff I saw at Pier 7 because I can’t skate that way. There was no way in hell I could do the tricks they were doing! It wasn’t even fun for me to try, so why try to emulate something that I wasn’t about when I could put my expression into what I wanted to do?
That was when skating really took off for me, when I realised I didn’t need to emulate anybody else’s thing. You can borrow inspiration from other people and make it your own. When I look back at all my favourite skateboarders, they were all the same, they weren’t following other people’s paths. They made their own path.
Corey forging his own path with a tip of the hat to Blender-Lien to tailslide. Photo: Dave Chami
That was when skating really took off for me, when I realised I didn’t need to emulate anybody else’s thing. You can borrow inspiration from other people and make it your own
And that’s what punk is, doing your own thing. There’s nothing punk about trying to be somebody else.
People ask me now why I’m not wearing the tight pants, and why I don’t look ‘punk’ anymore. I never wanted to join the fuckin’ army because you have to wear a uniform, and now you expect something from me that’s just like joining the army? I’ve never wanted to wear a uniform, or be told how to behave. It’s like people think I’m stuck in a mould where I’m 35 but still have to dress like I did when I was 16.
That’s not changing, that’s not growing. When I was a kid I thought ‘Live fast, die young’ was so cool, but that’s not a cool attitude at all! It seemed cool at the time but there’s so much more out there and I don’t want to be stuck in one uniform, or one ideal, I want to do all sorts of cool things!
Your Downtown Lights part made that point pretty well. Pushing around at night in shelltoes, bouncing off things… Just having fun and being stylish. That’s more entertaining than somebody like Duane Peters still doing the same tricks and drugs he did 40 years ago, wearing the same outfit.
It’s tough but you do have to make changes. I might look different but it’s the same energy I’ve had since I was ten years old. My style hasn’t changed, even if the attire has changed a bit. As long as your soul shows through in your skateboarding it doesn’t matter how you dress. As long as you look like you’re doing it for the real reasons, as longs it’s not phoney. You can see fake style from a million miles away.
Since you don’t drink or do drugs, did you end up seeing much sketchy shit on tours? Was it hard being straight while everybody else is all fucked up?
Yes. A lot of sketchy shit. Yes. It’d get very depressing on tour seeing my friends and heroes doing drugs and drinking as much as they did. On so many occasions it led to bad times and there were so many fights that never should have happened, whether with regular people in the street or in bars or between ourselves. Ethan Fowler attacked me with a meat cleaver when he was on drugs in Paris. I swear skaters want trouble, they feed off negative energy and like to suffer, so drugs do not help these situations.
I’ll keep names out of this but being 13 years old and seeing my heroes smoking crack and doing cocaine was a shock. A 13 year-old kid shouldn’t be seeing adults do that sort of stuff, let alone have it offered to them. That’s just how things were back then. The drugs, watching people come back with hookers and a lot of fights. Some skateboarders just have that jock mentality, in reality no different to the blokes you see down at the football club, with that tribe mentality. If you get five or ten people with the same mentality, and they’re all loaded together and one of them starts talking shit, then the next thing you know everybody’s throwing up fists. I never liked being around all that stuff, which is why I’ve always preferred skating solo.
A lot of the time tour is really hard for me because I’m around a lot of people where I don’t necessarily agree with what they’re doing, but you don’t want to not fit in with the ‘tribe’ because you’d be cast out so easily. You have to kinda play along with it, even if it’s something you don’t believe in… That was hard as a kid, especially trying to talk to somebody that’s a couple of years older, like, “Hey, I don’t think you should really be doing that”… Imagine that? You’d be kicked off tour and never invited again. You have to suck it up sometimes, and looking back now, that’s a fuckin’ terrible way to live. Especially the drunk driving, and having no seatbelts in the vans; that was stuff that terrified me but you had to just accept it and pray to something out there that you’ll survive to make it to the hotel safely that night.
That’s not something anybody should have to be worrying about on a skateboard tour.
But it happens. The Cory Kennedy and P-Stone incident. Or Ali and Shane. And yet we haven’t really learned, and it still continues on. It’s heartbreaking that us, as a whole, can’t figure out a way to work on that. Not that everybody needs to be sober, but at least to think ahead a little bit more. It’s changing a bit now that there are more ‘adults’ in the industry, and people who believe it needs to be changed. But then there’s Jason Jessee posting ‘All Lives Matter’… I mean, what are you doing Jason? That’s completely stupid. Like what, “Yeah, I’m just gonna post this, this is OK”… No, dude. Knock it off.
You’d been skating with Jason for a while there.
Absolutely, and I’ve had to disconnect myself from him. He’s a great skater and a fun guy to be around but he actually is the same person he was in 1985. It’s hard to disconnect from your heroes but if they’re not showing growth… I mean if Robert Smith came out with some ridiculous opinion, would I still be able to listen to The Cure? I’d be heartbroken, but I’d probably still be able to listen to his music. But with skateboarding, it sucks.
If I could share any advice with younger kids it’d be to educate yourself. Knowledge is power. Don’t sit there and argue with haters on the street or on the internet, create. Skateboarding is art, use it as a brush to paint the world and make it more beautiful. I believed in this before but looking back I also did a lot of stuff I’m ashamed of. I didn’t have any older mentors that genuinely cared about me and the skateboard industry is just like any other meat grinder industry. They take what they can and if you’re on drugs, depressed, injured or in jail, most of them don’t have your back. I’ve experienced almost all of this first hand. I’m not saying there aren’t great people involved because there certainly are, I just want it to be known that I’ve thought hard about a lot of stuff over the years and see things differently now than I used to.
Skateboarding is art, use it as a brush to paint the world and make it more beautiful
Being on tour at a young age and for so long is amazing and with the memories I have could write a book on those adventures and mishaps. There’s also a lot of shame and guilt from stuff I did or saw. For not speaking out against friends because I didn’t wanna be laughed at. This even goes to the way women are and were treated on the road or in the scene, there are so many lewd things that go down on tour and I can remember being laughed at or being called ‘gay’ if I didn’t wanna do stuff with women. Being taken advantage of by older women then too… I thought it was cool at the time, now I realise it’s nothing to brag about, just at the time it was about getting high-fives and howls from the older homies. I got taught stuff that I shouldn’t have known about for years to come. I didn’t see a lot of respect for women from my peers, so this made me think it was OK to treat people this way, but it’s not ok to holler at girls and yell obscene stuff from the car window. Or to get what you want and then be an asshole about it.
I had an ad that said ‘Lock up your daughters’; stuff that sounded so funny and rock ’n roll at the time, and now I’m embarrassed by so much of it. I never felt comfortable doing this type of stuff and when I didn’t get involved in it was bullied and laughed at for being a ‘bitch’ or a ‘pussy’. When you’re young you want to fit in with your friends so bad. I never wanted to be like anybody else, but just like being in the fucking army I marched to orders that I didn’t believe in because I was scared of saying no.
Foundation on tour in Switzerland 2003
Have you ever thought you were about to die?
One time we were flying over to Russia with Foundation, and the plane was this janky little European-style plane, not like one of the big planes you take across the ocean, one of those little planes for maybe about twenty passengers. We hit this turbulence and the place started shaking pretty bad, and all the cabin crew were screaming in Russian while the overhead bins were popping open and all the bags were flying out. Everybody on the plane is screaming and the pilot is saying something—maybe he was telling us we’re going to crash—and it really seemed like the plane was going to go down.
It felt like longer but there was a good two minutes of the plane completely shaking and everybody panicking. I’m looking at the guy sitting next to me, thinking, “Huh, so this is who I’m going to die next to”. Obviously we got out of it but that was one time I was shook up travelling for sure. Often times in the van somebody will pass out while they’re driving and you run off the road, and everybody in there wakes up screaming. I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened, because when you’re driving across a country it’s like being in a band. These eight-hour drives after skating all day, and you’re just hoping you get there, somehow.
Skating-wise, I’ve been hurt a couple of times when I thought something could really have gone wrong. Any time you hit your head it can be a bit scary. You see it coming in slow motion, so right before the concussion comes you’re thinking, “Let’s hope I get out of this one”.
Those slams where you’ve got enough time to think, “Right, this is going to hurt” before you hit the ground…
Every time you hit your head or sack a rail you know it’s coming. You have time to think about it, but the motion is already set and so there’s no changing it.
Have you got any superstitions? Tapping your tail three times or any of that stuff?
Nah, I don’t do anything like that. I try to pretend I do occasionally, like if I feel it’s going to help me do something. If I’m trying a trick I’m terrified of I always sing a Motörhead song.. Iron Fist comes to mind as one; I thought about that song one time when I was a kid and the trick worked out. It gets me going, “You know me, evil eye. You know me, prepare to die”, and helps me accept that I might meet my maker, but also at the same time, it’s like, ‘Fuck you, here I come’. That’s only if I’m doing something big, if I’m going to war. If I’m just out skating there’s nothing like that.
Was that song playing in your head when you ollied into that ditch in the desert?
Ollie into a ditch in Tucson, Arizona. Jake Phelps said it should have been a cover, Instead it was an osiris ad. Photo: Jason Hainault
What’s the most scared or excited you’ve been at the top of something, knowing you’re about to do something down it?
That one you just mentioned, I was pretty scared of. That ollie. One that I was terrified of recently was a trick I did in Jon Dixon’s part in Green, the Emerica video. Going from one hubba into another hubba. That was just a couple of months ago. I was terrified of that because if you don’t pop, or if you clip, or if anything goes wrong you’re flying face-first down a ten foot drop into some stairs. When you’re going face-first you can lose your teeth, so that one was scary. Especially as I’m getting older, and skating isn’t getting any easier.
Good to be in that video though.
Yeah, and I was stoked to be in my friend’s part. Phil Shao used to say that he wanted to ollie it; he always thought it was possible because that’s where he went to school so he would walk up those stairs all the time. He always said it was doable and Jake Phelps said it wasn’t. It was coming up to the 21st anniversary of Phil passing away and about six months since Jake Phelps passed away so I wanted to prove that Phil was right. Like, “Fuck you Phelper, it is possible!”… I wanted to get it for him and for Phil.
You got any good Phelps stories?
The last time I saw him before he died, we were chatting about some stuff and he goes, “Corey Duffel. Shoulda been Skater of the Year. Guess who else should have been Skater of the Year? Mark Gonzales”. That was cool to hear because he’d told me before that that I was supposed to be SOTY but I was young so I’d get it another year. It doesn’t really mean shit anyway, I mean if the Gonz never got it, and he’s the Skater of the Century, the best skater of all time? Natas never got it. The two most influential street skaters ever never got it, so what does that trophy really mean? But skateboarding isn’t a competition, and it’s not like I’m going out there trying to ‘win’ anything. But to have that little laugh with him before he passed away was great.
High Speed—Thrasher and Slap—have had your back forever, right?
Oh absolutely. And that’s why I’ve always had their back too. The Vitellos have always been very, very cool people to me. Fausto was a good guy to me as a kid, and Tony, his son, is just an awesome guy. I feel like Thrasher is very lucky to have him there. Tony is the reason we have Atlantic Drift in Thrasher magazine. Tony cares about the international skateboard scene, more than just the ‘Skate and Destroy’, King of the Road attitude. Tony brings something that’s very important to skateboarding. He keeps the SF roots close, with stuff like GX1000 too.
Thrasher wasn’t always about ‘the best’, they documented the underground scene, the underachievers. I think Tony really wants to make sure that still happens, and that’s very important because skateboarding is more than just twenty-stair handrails and competitions.
Thrasher wasn’t always about ‘the best’, they documented the underground scene, the underachievers…that’s very important because skateboarding is more than just twenty-stair handrails and competitions
The cover of the new issue is Nyjah, doing I guess the biggest backside tailslide ever, and two pages over it’s Jovontae Turner doing a K-grind at Wallenberg, and that was my favourite photo in the whole magazine. Two-hundred pages of insanity and the best photo is one from 1992. That photo to me is what skateboarding is, and to see that photo in there, after 28 years, is still so relevant. It just looks iconic. I wish I looked that cool on a skateboard, but the cover doesn’t make me think anything other than, “OK, that’s gnarly”. It doesn’t speak to me the way that seeing old photos can.
this one foot with the sun setting at 3rd & Army speaks to us. Photo: Alex Pires
How did your time at Foundation come to an end?
I think a lot of it came down to communication problems. Such is life, right? That’s what so many problems come down to. I’m up here in the Bay Area, And Tum Yeto’s down in San Diego. Every team rider on Foundation is ten years younger than I am and they all live 500 miles away from where I live. So I’m this one guy on this company I totally love, but I felt like I didn’t have any connection with the team. It might just have been in my head, I don’t know. Maybe those guys thought I was cool, or maybe they thought I was a dick and just didn’t like me.
I think a lot of it had to do with the generation gap. I’m in my 30s and they’re in their 20s, but before that when I was turning 30 they were all 17 or 18, and they’d come visit me at my house, where I live with my wife and my dogs. They’d want to party and I’d be a bit of a grouch maybe. In hindsight I don’t think I was that much of a dick but when you’re younger and you’ve got somebody asking you to clean up your mess, you could think that that person’s being a fuckin’ prick.
In reality, Rachel, my wife, has school the next day, then she’s got to work, so I have to lay down some laws, even if I don’t want to. I think the communication was hard at times, but had I been their age I’d just want to hang out and party and skate. Having to look after six dudes was a bit of a weight on my shoulders, and I felt really out of place at times, with the only people I was able to relate to being Tod Swank and the people who run the company, people older than I am. I loved Foundation and I still do, but I felt like I didn’t have a sense of belonging with my family anymore. And that makes it hard.
Corey back tailing his way into his first Foundation ad on a board Jamie thomas gave him with a toy machine sticker on it Photo: Bryce Kanights
Especially strange because you’ve been used to being the young guy for so long.
Absolutely, I was always the young guy when I got brought onto companies. But I had injuries too, and in my late-20s I was going through some changes myself, and sometimes its maybe hard to accept that you’re maybe wrong or confused, and it’s hard to ask for help for things. I was lost, I’d been a sponsored skateboarder since I was 13 years old, so coming up to my 30s I didn’t even know what I wanted to do anymore. I’d been in a (timeworn) for so long that I’d never experienced so many things. It’s like I missed actual human development in a weird way, because I was always growing up with older people.
Since I was a little kid I always had young adults taking me around, so I wasn’t developing in the same way that most teenagers probably develop. And the same in my 20s, when most people go off to university and get into relationships and different things, I’m being paid to create chaos. I’d missed all these developmental cycles and felt lost as a human being, which put me into a huge depression. Just not understanding who I even was or what was going on, and so much of that gave me so many different emotions that meant I could find all these different excuses to make myself feel like I didn’t fit in at Foundation.
In reality a lot of that was probably just how I was feeling myself, because I wasn’t able to communicate that stuff to Tod. If I ever said I felt like I was being pushed away, he couldn’t understand it, but he’s also not communicating with the team or the team manager at the time. He’s all, “You’ll always have a home here, everything’s fine!”, but I didn’t feel like everything was fine. That went on for a couple of years and I was just lost and confused. I knew I could stay there and everything would just be ‘flat’, but there would be no high. Just existing. And that brought me down as a human being, to where I’m thinking about how I’m riding for this company for a pay cheque, and I do love the brand, but deep down Im not that happy with what’s going on.
They were putting out videos and they didn’t necessarily like my footage either. It felt like they thought I wasn’t doing enough, although some of that might also have been in my head. I’d show them photos and I wouldn’t get the feedback I used to, and I felt like there was a bit of a lack of respect there sometimes. Not to be cocky but I feel like that company maybe wouldn’t have progressed the way it did if it wasn’t for some of the stuff I’d done in the past. I didn’t feel like I was being appreciated as a pro for this team. I didn’t get that impression from Tod Swank, more from the team itself, so they maybe just saw me as being the old, hurt, jaded dickhead guy.
I might have been a totally different person; I was going through changes, I wanted to be a biker, I wanted to man up and become a grown up, and never in my life had I ever felt that way. I was wondering how people I liked and respected could still be skateboarding… I was a lost and confused person for a couple of years, and I went into a slump instead of trying to progress or move forward. I allowed all this darkness, and all this weight on my shoulders, to bring me down, rather than worrying about what other people think of me. For the first time in my life I wasn’t able to be myself and I think that was what led me to want to stop doing the professional skateboard thing.
For the first time in my life I wasn’t able to be myself and I think that was what led me to want to stop doing the professional skateboard thing
Foundation never did anything other than support me. It was a fuckin’ epic ride, I was on Foundation for nearly twenty years, but there were a couple of things they did that did bring me down… They did King of the Road and I wasn’t invited, but I was in the running for Skater of the Year again that year. I had two video parts come out, I was healthy, I wanted to skateboard, I ride for a company that’s on King of the Road, and not to jock myself but I’m the biggest pro on the team and I believe that most people would have liked to have seen me on King of the Road. Even just to be a part of it would have been rad to be there as TM or something, and to not get that invite was definitely a kick in the balls for me.
They took an am that I didn’t even know was on the team, so once again, it’s the communication. Then see them piling out and getting drunk in the van… I wanted to go there and rip. I just wanted to be in it because I was feeling so hyped on skateboarding. I’d been hanging out with Kevin Rodrigues and felt really uplifted again. I was high as a kite on skateboarding and I hadn’t felt that way in about ten years.
Nosegrind tail slapper while filming for Homeboy. Photo: Stephen Rea. Inset Below-Corey’s last Foundation Pro Board
I think that’s clear in the parts you put out at that time. You had the opener in the Foundation video, whatever, but those two solo parts were amazing.
Had my solo parts been in the Foundation video, I feel like people would have loved it. But it is what it is. The huge thing that it came down to was a European tour that they did, that I didn’t get invited to. I saw it on Instagram that the whole team was in Europe. Not that I deserve to be on every tour, but I can imagine that the distributors, or anybody, would have been stoked to see me still be a part of it. I’ve been part of that brand for so long, and I just want to be there because I love skateboarding and I want to watch these guys rip, and I want to be sparking them on, but I felt so isolated from the company I love.
It turned into me wondering if it was just like a broken relationship, where we’re each too scared to break up with the other one. It turned out that it wasn’t like that at all, and it was just me that felt that way. It was like a suicide, just this five-second thought and then suddenly everything that I loved is gone. That day I woke up and saw them in Europe on Instagram… My heart just sank. I guess I’m yesterday’s papers, and I mean nothing to skateboarding. That morning I called up and I quit.
They were shocked because I hadn’t talked to anybody about it. Tod didn’t pick up, so I called the brand manager, Matt Barker, who’s been my friend for twenty years now, and has run Foundation since the ‘90s. I told him I didn’t relate to the team or the brand at times, and how me and the team manager, Mike Sinclair, don’t always get along. Mike and I are really good friends, but as boss/employee, we didn’t always see eye to eye. I saw Foundation as the artsy, cool company, not the company it became after That’s Life. To me, Foundation was everything before That’s Life.
That must be hard for you, because if any individual epitomises That’s Life…
Yeah. So I think about that all the time. “Is it me? Did I kill the vibe of what Foundation was?” They get this handrail guy and then after that it becomes the handrail company… When I got on, everyone on Foundation skated so differently so I actually felt like I fit in!
Everybody knows skateboarders made Gazelles and shelltoes cool again, but it feels like skateboarders also brought in the ‘tight black jeans, rock t-shirt and canvas shoes’ thing that’s now everyday fashion everywhere. You were one of the guys doing that, this time around, alongside a handful of others.
I think I was the only young guy doing that. There was Greco and Ethan doing that, but when kids see somebody their own age doing that it’s more relatable. It was like saying you’re some loser weirdo that doesn’t really fit in with skateboarding then, because you don’t wear yellow t-shirts, Flexfit hats and puffy DC sneakers.
I feel like I could step outside now and in five minutes find some regular person dressed like how you dressed back then.
That one is weird, because you didn’t really see it before and it is a very fashionable thing. Obviously I only took inspiration from the people I looked up to—whether that be David Bowie, Simon from The Cure or Dee Dee Ramone—and I definitely didn’t invent a look, but I tried to make it my own and I suppose that stood out in skateboarding. Fashion borrows stuff from skateboarding, but skateboarding borrows from fashion and music too. The three work together, but skateboarders always like to think we’re creating things and I think we definitely borrow from fashion designers without even realising it.
Knowing where to borrow the inspiration from helps.
In the early ‘00s nobody was wearing tight clothes, and you couldn’t buy that stuff anywhere so you had to make it yourself. I got very bullied for wearing women’s jeans, like, “How dare you wear that stuff, you faggot loser”, but why does what I wear matter anyway? How does it affect another person? Do they hate women? Do they hate gay people? And then ten years later those people are wearing stretch pants too. I just laugh at it. I stopped wearing that stuff when you could buy it everywhere, it wasn’t fun then anymore.
Kevin Rodrigues and Corey at Embarcadero. Photo: Matt Kurtain
How did you come to stay with Kevin Rodrigues?
I got to know him and Ben Kadow through Joe Brook. They came to San Fransisco with whichever team they were with, and they were both shy, quiet kids, and Joe hit me up to tell me they were in town and having a bit of trouble relating to what was going on. Joe knows I’m good at breaking the ice and fucking around and making people feel like themselves, so he asked if I’d go out to try to stoke them out and have some fun. I remember showing up to meet Ben on my motorcycle, with the big boots and the leather vest, and we instantly got along and started having fun. Kevin was very similar, it was his birthday and I knew he was a Psychic TV fan, so I showed up with a Psychic TV record I’d bought in England back in 2002 for him. Just like, “Hey, I don’t know you, but happy birthday! Here’s a record of a band you like”.
I didn’t know anything about him, but I found an interview online where he spoke about Psychic TV, and I asked GX1000 if he knew him and he goes, “Yeah, he’s the best skateboarder in the fucking world, and you should know how lucky you are that he wants to meet you”. So he’s obviously something special. We hit it off really well, and we’re talking away. Somebody comes up and asks if I speak French, and I say that I can only speak English, and they tell me that Kevin doesn’t speak English… That motherfucker speaks perfect English! If I wrote a novel and needed it translated to French, I would have Kevin do it. Kevin was just so undercover about speaking English to people he didn’t feel comfortable with that he hadn’t even spoken English on that trip. Half the crew didn’t even know he could speak English.
Kevin’s a wonderful, brilliant person, and I think he could see that I was struggling with things myself, and so he asked me out to Paris to stay with him for a little bit. Rachel said that I should take him up on it so I went to Paris for a month, just to skateboard, hang out and live life. To re-humanise myself, to smell the flowers, to see some art. All that stuff changed me fully. I went from being completely negative, stuck in the shadows, wanting to die every day, to going over there and feeling really high on life again. But I felt so good that I almost wanted to kill myself in Paris, because I felt that with feeling so happy, that I’d never feel like that again. I remember walking across a bridge, across the Seine, thinking that maybe today should be the day that I just say goodbye.
Somehow Kevin knew something was up, and he asked me if I was thinking about jumping off a bridge, or doing something like that… I feel like Kevin saved my life a couple of times. When we talk, he’s all, “Yeah, you think I suck”, but he doesn’t know how special he really is to me. The fact that this young skateboarder took the time to tell me a few nice things and make me feel good again when I felt like such an old pile of crap being around other young skateboarders, who didn’t care about any of the old stories or the history. “I’m just a washed up pro, this sucks”. Whereas with him he’s saying, “Just skate, just ollie. I want a Duffman pop shove-it!”, so just the fact that he wanted to see me skate made me start doing old tricks again, that I hadn’t done in ten years. Sponsors saying, “Oh, another back lip? Riiight…” made me feel so insecure, but Kevin really ignited my flame to really push myself again. Suddenly 33 didn’t feel old, and it was like life was just beginning.
Kevin really ignited my flame to really push myself again. Suddenly 33 didn’t feel old, and it was like life was just beginning
Filming with Ben Chadourne in Paris. Photo: Lulu AKA Luigi
Professional skateboarders have their midlife crisis in their late 20s…
That’s what it is. So many young skateboarders walked away from it when maybe they shouldn’t have. Like Wade Speyer was done at 25 years old. Wade Speyer should be one of the most legendary pros out there, he should still have a pro board!
So much of that all contributes to the whole Foundation thing. A lot of turmoil, and then that one Instagram post from Europe to finally break me down. I didn’t feel like I belonged for a moment, and so quitting was the hardest thing in the world because that’s my family.
If you were having a great time and 100% backing Foundation, that post would have seemed different, but you had doubts anyway.
Yeah. It’s not like I had anything else lined up, I wasn’t trying to get on anything else. People thought I got kicked off but there was never any talk about that. A lot of pros at that age get cut down to board royalties but they paid me on time every month for 15 years. There was nothing weird like that, one day I was just sad. Part of me regrets it in a way; I regret the way I did it but sometimes you need to lose everything to move forward and grow.
I don’t think there’s much in life that a person should regret if they know they did the best they could at that time. If you’re fucked on drugs and didn’t know what was happening then yeah, but if you’re making the best decision you can under whatever difficult circumstances, then you’re doing the best you can and that’s not something you can regret, even if it isn’t what you would do right now. Who reached out after you left?
I talked to Sinclair after it, but I didn’t talk to the team. I didn’t get a phone call from anybody except Nick Merlino, who told me he was bummed out that I’d left. I’m still friends with the guys on the team, and I don’t have any bad words for anybody. There’s no ill feeling towards anybody on the team.
I regret the way I did it but sometimes you need to lose everything to move forward and grow
There was a while there when nobody on the team had a shoe sponsor, and yet the team manager worked for a shoe company.
It’s so hard to say anything without sounding jaded. Sinclair is a great guy, first off. He’s a fun dude, he’s the homie. But at that time he was working for another company, and he worked for Toy Machine, and so I feel like he had his hands in too many cookie jars and Foundation didn’t get the attention it deserved. My dream would have been to been team manager or brand manager and it’s so hard to put this out without sounding negative, or like I’m dissing Mike which I’m not at all, and he knows he’s overworked, but here’s this team of awesome rippers and they only ride for this board company? No-one’s making money.
Is it worth riding for a skateboard company for $500 a month? Is that worth the negative energy that it puts on you, mentally? And physically, on your body? It’s almost not worth it to be a professional skateboarder in this day and age unless you have one of those shoe deals. I can work one day a week in a record store and it’s almost the same salary as being a professional skateboarder, and I’m not physically or mentally abusing myself to the point where I’m going to have a breakdown.
When money dictates your decisions, it sucks, and at that point you have to step in and dictate your own destiny, and look around and decide if it’s worth it. That sounds negative because so many times in interviews I’ve just had to say, “I’m stoked, I’m stoked!”, and as a professional skateboarder you don’t want to put out those feelings, but those feelings exist and you feel broken down a lot of the time, and you’re doing all this for a couple of hundred dollars and always just hoping things will work out.
There slowly seems to be various types of mentorship coming into skateboarding, for better or for worse.
It’s a wild ride. Do we want it to be that safe? It’s cool that kids have people to guide them and inspire them now, because when you’re a kid you’re all by yourself trying to figure things out. You can ask your parents but chances are your parents won’t know fuck all anyway. They’ve got their opinions, and once again, that’s how racism spreads because, “Oh, my parents say that, and they must be right” whether it’s a word, or a song or something. Fucked up nursery rhymes that get passed down the generations, and as a kid you don’t even know where that stuff comes from.
Did any skateboard companies get in touch when you left Foundation?
When I first left, my friend from Welcome, Jason, had already sent me a box of boards because we’d been talking about doing a guest board on Welcome. That’s something I’d always wanted to do when I was riding for Foundation, do a guest board. I think it’s a really cool thing, and I like how Krookeddoes it, so I spoke to Foundation and they said I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t have a guest board on another company. Jamie wanted to do a guest Zero board, and I was all for that but that got shut down too. I wanted to make sure it had the star and moon on it, so people would think about Foundation, but no.
Corey and the star and moon in flight. Photo: Taylor Morgan
A Welcome version of that logo would be really cool.
I really wanted that to happen. It was weird to me that those weren’t allowed to happen. I still ride Foundation boards because it’s the shape I’m used to, but when Jason sends me some crazy Welcome shapes I ride those, I’m down for those. If Blondey sent me a board, I’d be like, “Hell yeah I’m riding this!”. Jeremy Klein sends me Hook Ups boards, that’s the coolest shit since Jeremy is my all-time favourite skateboarder. I’m 36 years old and getting Hook Ups boards from Jeremy Klein! I almost don’t want to set them up because they’re so beautiful, all hand-screened… The very first video I saw was the Hook Ups video so Jeremy Klein was my first favourite pro skateboarder.
Hook Ups is definitely ‘back’, and it looks pretty much like it did in the ‘90s, but what do you think about that in general, about companies getting a reboot? Like Alien, or more recently Droors?
It doesn’t feel the same. If Neil Blender was involved with Alien I think it’d be a bit cooler. I like what they do but it doesn’t feel the same to me, it’s missing something, you know?
It feels like the current Alien Workshop doesn’t need to be called ‘Alien Workshop’.
It’s the same with bands, like when Echo and the Bunnymen lost Ian McCulloch in 1990, that album they put out is really good but why call it Echo and the Bunnymen? You need Ian McCulloch, Will Sergeant, Les Pattinson and Pete de Freitas for it to be Echo and the Bunnymen. Just change the band name. Imagine the Roses without Ian Brown. Use the same imagery, the same ideas, but change it up!
What’s some of your favourite skate video music?
Well that first video I saw, Hook Ups’ Asian Goddess, still has for me the best music in any skate video. You’ve got Lush, Frank Black, Pale Saints, Curve… So many good ‘90s indie bands from that time. That introduced me to so much shit. Bringing Jamie up again, but hearing Baba O’Reilly with him landing on the drumbeat… That song made the part, and when he skated to Rush? Sorry, that just didn’t work for me. Ricky Oyola with Metallica in Eastern Exposure 3, now that is a brilliant part. There’s not much that’s better than that. Or than Natas with fIREHOSE.
It’s sometimes hard to watch videos now because even if they have great music, these people don’t have the vibe about them. Like, “Do you actually listen to Bauhaus?”, you know? I love hearing Bauhaus and I love hearing The Cure, but I wish I was seeing a goth skateboarder skate to them. I would fucking love to skate to a Manchester band, or to Sleaford Mods, but it’s kind of weird because I don’t know anything about what he’s singing about. Sometimes that stuff matters to me a bit, and it shouldn’t. I might like hearing My Bloody Valentine in a video, but I might not like who I’m seeing it with. I’m such a gatekeeper at times.
Ollie over the back to Fifty in oakland 2007. Photo: Dan Zaslavsky
It’s like wearing a band shirt. Don’t wear a Beatles shirt if your favourite album is The Best of the Beatles.
Of course. Not to be a complete dick to Heath Kirchart, but he told me Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds was his favourite band, so I asked which was his favourite album and he said, “I don’t know, I just have some stuff on my iPod”, and I remember being gutted. It shouldn’t bother me but I’m such a music nut and I just want to hear somebody tell me they love a particular album. I try to have a conversation and then a part of me just dies inside.
You must have bonded with Ben Kadow on music too.
Oh absolutely. Ben’s the real deal when it comes to music, he loves music and he’s not ashamed to admit that he likes complete rubbish too. When we were shopping in London he’s buying Blink 182 records, and that’s my buddy Tom’s band but I’m not going to tell him they’re total dogshit because it’s so cool that he’s that into it. He’s so hyped on that stuff, and he absolutely owns it. That’s always cool, you shouldn’t be ashamed of what you listen to.
Most music is made for entertainment purposes anyway, so there’s no need to feel guilty about being entertained by any of it.
I hate the idea of a guilty pleasure. Every day on my Instagram I post music and people always say, “Play punk music!” but I really like indie-pop music, especially twee stuff like Sarah Records. I remember you being shocked ten years ago that Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub was one of my favourite albums of all time, and not saying that’s a wimpy one, but some people would be shocked by that.
Understandably, since A Catholic Education is a much better record…
Haha! And the BMX Bandits and The Pastels too. I very much like wimpy, slow music. Like The Field Mice, I drive Rachel nuts with them. In Cataclysmic Abyss I skate to Dead Moon, a great band of course, but the original song chosen for that part was I Can’t Be With You by The Cranberries and that got vetoed. I mean OK, it was ABD because it was in 411 Europe 1995, but I wanted to use that song so much because it was my favourite song as a kid, but I have a memory of Nuge asking me if I really wanted to lose all my fans, and the guys at Foundation telling me it wasn’t a good call. I still wish to this day I’d skated to The Cranberries, but I didn’t.
I still wish to this day I’d skated to The Cranberries, but I didn’t.
In hindsight do you appreciate that those guys were right? That’d have confused people.
It’s one of those double-edged swords. I chose Dead Moon, and I’ve chosen all my songs, but part of me still thinks that Cranberries song would have been cool. It would have opened different doors but also would have shut a lot of other doors, maybe, and it doesn’t mean I can’t love the band still and be talking about it fifteen years later.
The Cranberries sold millions of records anyway, it’s not like you’d be introducing people to that band.
That’s a big part of it too, it’s good to have something a little bit under the radar. I mean everybody knows Siouxsie, but maybe somebody doesn’t listen to Juju as much as the other records. I don’t think many people had heard The Scientists before, and even though The House of Love might have been big over there, I’m sure most skateboarders didn’t listen to The House of Love. Maybe some went and bought the album and thought, “What the fuck is all this other garbage on here?”
I’m sure they’d just have got it from Kazaa at that time. Still though, a well known song being used in a different context can change the feel of that song.
Yeah. The bands were cool about it too; I always deal with the bands themselves to get the rights. I spoke to Dead Moon, and to Kim Salmon from The Scientists, and Bernard Butler gave me the rights to use Not Alone. Building up a relationship with these people is amazing, I see Bernard Butler liking my skate stuff on Instagram! And Johnny Marr commenting on my things?! Pete Fij from Adorable did everything he could with Creation records to let me get the rights for Homeboy.
It’s been an amazing introduction to my musical heroes, and Rachel and I getting backstage with Johnny Marr was pretty incredible. Or to hang out with Andy Couzens from The High and The Stone Roses… Skateboarding introduced me to these guys who’ve played the soundtrack of my life, and they have a respect for skateboarding in the same way that I have a respect for their music.
Corey’s kickflip contribution to london folklore. Photos: Leo Sharp
What have your experiences of the UK been like?
The first time I went over there was amazing, being obsessed with the London music scene, whether The Rolling Stones and The Kinks in the ‘60s, or the ‘70s punk rock scene. So for me to walk around in general was amazing, I was so stoked to just be there. To walk on the same cobblestones as, I don’t know, Jack the Ripper even! I remember doing the Jack the Ripper tour, whatever that means, but just to be in those places was so cool. From London, Percy Dean took us up to Liverpool, so to go there with him was absolutely incredible. I was the only one on the trip that really got along with him well.
He’s a gnarly dude.
Yeah. And he mumbles so much, and I’m such a mumbler too, so I felt like we had this connection through that, through being able to talk with each other just by making noises. Somehow we could understand what each other was saying the whole time, and we shared a love of The Dubliners, The Pogues and Cock Sparrer, so I ended up in the front of the van with him playing music and talking shit the whole time. He walked me around all these interesting Beatles sites in Liverpool which I absolutely loved, although everybody else wanted to go skate. I got to see places where they hung out and where they used to play.
first international cover. Bluntsliding in Liverpool. Photo: Percy Dean
That’d be when you had the Document cover.
On that cover it says ‘Take ‘Em All’, which is obviously a Cock Sparrer song…
Ah, no way, I thought that was something to do with Kill ‘Em All, the Metallica album, because it’s all black and red.
Nope, Cock Sparrer. I feel like Percy must have added that on just because of us rocking out to that song. I remember him and I having a conversation about how Geoff Rowley should have skated to England Belongs to Me by Cock Sparrer in his Sorry part. That would have been badass. But to be put on the cover of a UK magazine was amazing. That photo happened to be a first-try trick, it’s not something that was hard to do but to be skating a Geoff Rowley and Brian Sumner rail with Percy, in Liverpool, was very cool for me.
That photo happened to be a first-try trick, it’s not something that was hard to do but to be skating a Geoff Rowley and Brian Sumner rail with Percy, in Liverpool, was very cool for me
It’s noticeable how well you’ve remembered everybody you’ve met over the years.
I appreciated all these people back then, and I still do. It’s been some of the most wonderful times. I had somebody I didn’t even know take me around England, but we connected through our love of music, history and skateboarding.
I saw Manchester on that trip too, and got to take a photo on the bridge where Joy Division stood, and a photo at the Salford Lads Club, of course. Nobody else really cared about that stuff but it meant a lot to me. It’s like when you took me round Glasgow and showed me where Belle & Sebastian practice or where Bobby Gillespie lived or where Jim Reid had a fight with his girlfriend, it’s just like seeing a famous skate spot but it’s cooler to me because it’s a history I don’t know too well, or one that I don’t get to experience every day.
It’s great for me to see the influences where this music came from, and see that all these happy songs were actually written about really dreary places. I love that because here in California we’re so spoiled; the ground is perfect for skating, the sky is always blue and you can do fun stuff all the time. And over there where it’s quite miserable at times they’re singing these songs of joy.
My first trip over there was amazing though. Having a Friday chippy, having mushy peas for the first time, and a full English breakfast. All this stuff I’d only seen on television.
While everybody else is hassling Percy to find a McDonald’s…
They really were. And complaining that sodas were too small and didn’t have enough ice. While I’m like, “Who cares, let’s go out for a Sunday roast!”
Do you ever get a chance to see any shows on tour?
I did see Killing Joke in London! The Damned was playing the following night and I couldn’t get to that but I did see Killing Joke. I can’t remember what club it was, but we were staying at a place called the Columbia Hotel, which is a pretty well-known hotel because so many bands have stayed there, and Leo Sharp took a photo of me there but at the time I didn’t realise how special it was. Now, I’m so grateful that Leo documented that time. Thank you for documenting that, Leo.
Staying at the Columbia Hotel Photo: Leo Sharp. Inset Below-Rachel and Corey share a headstone in Glasgow. Photo: Neil Macdonald
What about Ethan Fowler turning up to go on a skateboard tour with no skate shoes?
He turned up to go on tour with one skate shoe. He meant to bring the other one as well, supposedly. And he only brought one complete skateboard. On the first day of the trip he tried a backside flip on flat ground and broke his board ‘accidentally’… It looked like he focussed it to me. Ethan was intense at times. He was either hot or cold, and you could have the greatest time with him or he’d be very moody.
It was hard to understand that at the time, because he was a few years older and he’s having to deal with guys like me who just want to skate and have fun, when he wants to look at museums and drink coffee. He’d been before, but I’d just dropped out of high school to go to Europe for five weeks so I wanted to make it the time of my life.
Can you imagine ever living somewhere in Europe?
We talk about it a lot, but it’d be hard because I have so much shit over here. I do think about minimising and giving it a shot sometime. Paris is amazing but it’s expensive. I like the North of England a whole lot, and Glasgow, but I don’t know if I need to show up with full rent, or even how I’d survive. Maybe Rachel could find some people to play music with, that could be good for her.
At what age were you starting to return home from tour with boxes of records?
From the very first tour I ever went on. When Foundation first took me up to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, we were given something called per diem, which was $20 a day to buy lunch and stuff, and I remember on the first day I bought a loaf of bread and a can of peanut butter because I knew I could survive off that and use the rest of the money to buy music. I had my bread and peanut butter but I’d be eating everybody’s leftovers and driving them nuts, but I could spend all my money at the record stores.
From then on I’d always prepare, always make sure I packed an extra bag so I could bring records home with me. Sometimes they’d get lost at the hotel, or somebody in the van would throw them away, or they’d just get left somewhere… I’ve lost some amazing stuff over the years because somebody’s been cleaning the van and just thrown them away. I’ve been so lucky to be able to see so many different record stores, especially in the UK, Germany and Japan. Japan definitely has the most categorised record stores you’ve ever seen and your entire wants-list is just available there for you. I wish I knew back then everything I know now, in terms of different pressings.
You’re not a reissue snob, are you? Do you pay more to have a really fragile antique, or are you happy to pay less for something you can actually play out over and over?
I play my records. I’m not one of these people that has something just for a pissing contest, just to brag about it. I can’t stand that. People will see me and say, “You know you’re spinning a $500 record?”, and I’m like, “Yeah. The song needs to be heard. Do you like it?” They’re meant to be played. I don’t care about bending the original picture sleeve. When I die my collection is probably going to get thrown away anyways, it’s going to be a burden on Rachel, it’s not like she’s gonna want to deal with it! Haha!
Come on man, I’m sure Rachel knows her way around Discogs…
Ha! It’s a college education for somebody. Haha!
What’s the strangest box you’ve had sent to your house? What’s the weirdest company that’s wanted to pay you to endorse their product?
Hmm… There have definitely been some sponsor opportunities over the years that I should have thought more about. Like when Nike sent me a box in 2003… Maybe I should have actually returned the phone call there. Red Bull hit me up and I blew them out, because I just wasn’t interested in that stuff at the time. I think maybe I was brainwashed by skating into thinking that you have to be a certain way, and I didn’t want to go against the people I thought I looked up to, but in reality you need to look out for yourself because at the end of the day those people aren’t going to be helping you out like they say they are.
Those opportunities seemed really great but I was more concerned about being blacklisted from skateboarding if I was considered a sell-out. Maybe I should have done some of those things, looking back. A hotdog company called Ballpark Hotdogs hit me up once, and got me thinking if I should do an ad in Transworld with a hotdog company, but it just wasn’t something I was into. I could have taken the money and ran, but it was when I was 22 years old and I didn’t think I really needed to do anything like that.
Arizonan Stalefish from 2005. Photo: Blair Alley
It’s like the Cranberries thing. You only want to be yourself, but when that becomes something you have to think about, something you have to work on, it becomes a problem. Has skateboarding ever felt like a job, like an obligation?
It has, many times, but I’ll tell you when it really started to feel like a job—when social media came into it, when Instagram became a thing. Now you’re told what you’re supposed to be posting and what you’re supposed to be doing, whereas before you had so much freedom and control to be yourself and to film a video part. If you had your footage turned in, that’s all you needed to do, and it didn’t feel like a job at all, unless maybe you had to go on a trip you really didn’t want to go on…
One time I went to Europe and I had a MRSA staph infection, and I was really sick. I was in Europe doing demos for three weeks when I should have been in hospital because I could barely stand up, but if you don’t skate the distributors and the kids will talk shit to you. Or if you’re on tour and having relationship problems. I can remember being on tour in South America after just breaking off a four-year relationship with a girlfriend, and if you’re having a hard time emotionally, it’s tough to skate, and I remember showing up to demos and you have to pretend you’re having a good time, like you’re Krusty the Clown, all “Hey hey! Here I am! I’m here to entertain you!” when you’re actually a human being who has feelings, and some days skateboarding just doesn’t work.
Just like anybody in the real world you have to suck it up and go to work that day even if you know you don’t want to see your boss and you just want to tell him to fuck off. Anybody that thinks skateboarding isn’t a job doesn’t realise that it’s completely a job. You may be hurt and not want to do it, but you have to do it. And as soon as you’re not doing it you’ll be kicked off right away. It’s like any job; if you don’t show up to work you get fired. It’s always been a job but at least it’s a fun job you can enjoy, but there are times when the pressure of it can feel much greater and when social media kicked in that really came into play.
It’s always been a job but at least it’s a fun job you can enjoy, but there are times when the pressure of it can feel much greater and when social media kicked in that really came into play
All of a sudden I’m looking at my telephone and I’m seeing all these comments saying I’m wack, and I’m stupid, and when you see that right in front of you, it hurts. Whereas before when you put a video part out, you don’t know if people love it or hate it. You hope they love it but, but as soon as somebody can tell you they hate it within a couple of clicks, it’s wack, and it makes it harder to do your job because you start to feel insecure about things, and everything starts to change. And sponsors will give you pictures to post, like Osiris would send me a picture of a D3 and tell me to say it’s available, and I hated the D3 so why on earth do I want that on my platform, making it look like I promote it? Because fucking hell, I do not promote that. I want nothing to do with that.
But then I have other sponsors, like CBD MD where I’m obligated to post two times a month about it, and I’m more than happy to do that because I actually believe in the product and it’s helped me out as far as skateboarding goes. It helps me do what I love to do, so fuck yeah I’ll post about that. But when it’s, “Post this new video of this new team rider” and I don’t even know who the guy is, it’s so fake. When you’re doing something you don’t believe in, it feels like a job. And that should never be the case.
Noseblunt in Walnut Creek at the community college Corey has skated for 25 years. Taken from his Instagram. Photo: Cody Benjamin. Inset below right by michael Cukr
You’re pretty great at replying to people on Instagram. I mean, it’s part of your daily routine. Does that get hard?
It’s like the old saying, about treating people how you’d like to be treated. If somebody reaches out to you and they’re sincere, you want to be sincere back. If somebody just says, “What song” then I don’t want to reply back, but if somebody sends a message saying they really like the tune that’s playing, and could I tell them what the band is, it’s very different. If you speak to somebody with a bit of respect I’m going to sit and talk to that person. It’s like on the street, if somebody came up and said, “Give me five pounds” you’d be like, “Excuse me?!”, but if somebody asks you how you’re doing and you talk to them for a moment before they ask you for a favour you’d probably be more likely to want to help out.
Whoever’s talking to you, whether it’s somebody on Instagram or the police, it all depends on how they approach you. But then if you answer everything, you keep getting messages like, “How are you today?” so it’s hard sometimes. Every day I’ll get something about the Big Brother interview, like, “Yo, what’s up with that shit you said?” and I’ll always address it. If they ask me questions I’ll answer them.
To clarify, you and Stevie are cool, right?
In 2007 I was standing outside a disco in Barcelona, and Stevie Williams walks up. It might have been the first time I’d seen him in the flesh since that interview went down, and he’s coming over so I say I need to talk to him, and he says, “There’s nothing to talk about” so we just start chatting about the present, about there and then, and he’s wearing a leather jacket with these tighter-fit jeans on, and we’re talking about clothes, and then we see each other’s rings so we’re talking about those and about our different flair.
His is all bright, shiny gold and mine’s all beat-up cheap stuff and he’s laughing, saying that one day I’ll have a ring like his, like this giant DGK ring made of diamonds, and I’m saying that one day he’ll have one like mine, this big ol’ skull thing, and we’re just having fun and laughing. Just being two human beings in Barcelona being able to talk about skateboard fashion, and being able to relate. And I think that says it all, that even if you think you have differences with somebody, you’re not so different in reality.
It’s not like it was just that one quote from me, I was clueless for a long time. The whole world is actually pretty fucked up and we’re all actually finally opening up about it now, and being able to have the conversations we were scared to have before, or that we didn’t know needed to be had. If somebody asks me about that I can say that there was so much more there than just 15 year-old ignorance, there was ignorance for many years. I’ll be the first to admit that but that’s how we move forward. It’s hard to speak up about that stuff, because you hear it all the time.
I heard it in the tour van for twenty years, and it’s hard to call out your heroes, like, “Did so-and-so just say that?!” so you just go ahead and laugh with it. They might not be meaning to be racist but it actually is hateful. If people keep talking like that it becomes normal… Now that I’m older, that was a really confusing time. To change you have to look back and acknowledge the shit that’s happened. It’s good the way things are going, that there are so many younger people coming up who are changing things, and teaching us old farts something.
To change you have to look back and acknowledge the shit that’s happened. It’s good the way things are going, that there are so many younger people coming up who are changing things
Stevie wears tighter jeans than you now.
I know! I love it. Have you seen him on Instagram?! He’s fucking killing it. It’s amazing seeing him doing new tricks all the time, and I hope we get to see another Stevie Williams part. It’s been too long.
You touch upon it earlier, but you’ve suffered from depression.
Mental illness and depression runs deep in skateboarding and it isn’t addressed enough, not by any means.Toxic masculinity may be a huge part of it, worrying about being considered weak when you want to talk about how you feel. As a kid there were so, so many times I wanted to cry on tour, and the times I did cry I got yelled at told to knock it off and man up by my TM. I can remember crying at Phil Shao’s funeral and my TM at Think telling me to stop it. I held back my tears and emotions for so many years then a few years ago the shelf inside of me that I kept my jar of tears on finally broke and I’ve cried every day since.
It could be the song I’m playing, the feelings inside, the guilt I have, or the daily suicidal thoughts I have of wanting to end it all. It’s hard to explain but I know I’m not the only one. Two years ago I didn’t want to live anymore. I even spoke with Ben Raemers about it in Paris. We were both having a hard time, losing pay cheques, suffering as people and feeling empty. He told me I had such an amazing past and had done so much, and I told him that that was the problem, because I wasn’t growing as a person outside of skateboarding. Everything was about my past. This haunted me and still does.
I was telling him about how lucky he was because he could skate transition and people just wanna be around him all the time and listen to his jokes and share his candy… I knew he was suffering but I was being selfish and was addressing my problems more. We were both struggling but also laughing about it… Life’s strange like that. We cover up our weaknesses with smiles, but why are they weaknesses? It’s because we are scared and hurting, and that’s something we need to address more and stop worrying that we might look less of a man because we’re vulnerable.
It’s OK to feel sad and ask for help, and this is something I’m trying really hard to better myself with. I can be sitting on the sofa with Rachel and I might feel like dying and she’s my wife and my best friend and it’s still hard to express that I feel broken. Sometimes it turns into a broken record as well and our friends don’t want to hear about it anymore.
When you need a hug, reach out and get that hug, and be there for your friends or others when they need a hug from you. We could talk about this for an entire day, man. Please just know that it’s good to be sensitive. It takes power to be gentle and kind, and strength to admit you want help. There’s nothing weak in being afraid, and this ‘How to be a man in society’ bullshit needs to end. Women are much stronger than us anyway—they aren’t afraid to talk about feelings.
Please just know that it’s good to be sensitive. It takes power to be gentle and kind, and strength to admit you want help. There’s nothing weak in being afraid
What’s going on for the rest of this year then?
Right now I’m actually waiting on a surgery, I’m on call, waiting for a cadaver. As grave as it sounds, I’m waiting for somebody to die so I can get a cartilage transplant in my knee. As soon as the hospital gets the cadaver I go in for surgery to get that person’s cartilage, and I have to hope my body accepts it. There’s about a six month recovery.
What did you do?
I slipped in some trash at the skatepark. I didn’t realise how bad it was, but I tore the cartilage off my femur bone, and with Covid happening I wasn’t able to be seen by a doctor so I just kept skating and skating, knowing that something was wrong with my knee and that it was getting worse and worse. I’m making some boards too, not a skate company, I just want to make some boards.
Photo: Ryan Young
I have a video part ready to come out, if I can get the music rights. It’s been almost ready to put out for about a year, but I wasn’t ready to put it out back then because there were a couple more things I wanted to do, but with this injury happening, I think it’s better to have something rather than nothing out there. I don’t know where it’s going to go or what the plan is for it. I might just stick it up on YouTube.
People are going to start missing new content pretty soon, so that’s good timing.
Huge thank you to Corey for taking the time to do this interview and for sharing so much with us.