In unbelievable turn of events, we recreated the Love Park kicker to can at Southbank for our DC collaboration in 2017. Josh Kalis and Mike Blabac were on hand for the weekend, visiting our Covent Garden store for an exhibition and overseeing the next day’s jam.
At the time, Jono Coote sat the duo down to talk about their relationship with the old bump-to-can as a crossover point in the venn diagram. With the blessing of former Sidewalk staffers – Jono, Ben Powell and Andrew Horsley, we’re happy to re-present this interview to live alongside our own conversations with Josh and Mike (linked at the end of this piece).
Blabac and Kalis in Covent Garden, 2017. Interview by Jono Coote, photo by Andrew Horsley.
A demo and jam at Southbank is nothing out of the ordinary. Any big names visiting these shores are more than likely to stop by the venerable, ammonia-tinged banks of the Undercroft. If not for organised events, at least for a spot of skate tourism.
DC Shoes, however, decided to do something a little different when they started sorting out plans to announce their collaboration with Slam City.
The recent demise of Philadelphia’s legendary Love Park has seen a flood of nostalgia for one of street skating’s most recognisable locations. With a Mike Blabac, Love Park-themed exhibition scheduled for the Friday, DC and Slam orchestrated a recreation of the iconic Love Park ‘slab to bin’ obstacle, which played host to one of the most banging 360 flips ever caught on film by Josh Kalis
Using precise measurements provided by Sabotage Production’s Brain Panebianco, Slam and DC rebuilt both the bin and the kicker as an exact replica of the original and had Josh Kalis oversee an intense session at the very fitting location of Southbank. A celebration of the street plaza essence of skateboarding, and to announce the drop of the Slam City x collab shoe.
I caught up with both Kalis and Blabac a couple of days beforehand about the demise of plaza skating in the US, how the propped up slab to bin originally came about, Brian Wenning’s 6am skate missions and Ralph Lauren outfits for Olympic skateboarders.
Josh Kalis and a “Where’s Waldo?” of Love Park locals, 1999. photo: Mike Blabac
Even before Love Park was demolished, there seemed to be a constant struggle between skateboarders and the city to gain some kind of acceptance. DC even offered $1million for the park’s upkeep with the proviso of skateboarding being allowed within its confines, right? Was there ever a time when the city came close to working with you guys in a constructive way?
Josh Kalis: Well, the mayor at the time said if the skateboarders using it came up with $100,000 a year in maintenance then they would let us skate.
That’s when DC stepped up and said they’d do it for ten years. That’s where the million dollar cheque came from. It was going to be 100 grand a year for maintenance and security.
Then they backtracked. The city was like, “We never said that, there’ll never be skateboarding at Love Park!” And that was that… So, they lied [laughs].
Mike Blabac: It always went in waves which I’m sure is just like any other spot.
I never lived in Philly. I’d go out there to meet Josh and Stevie. I was flying out there, not knowing if we’d be able to skate all day, every day, or whether motorcycle cops would be coming in from all directions kicking everybody out.
“The city tried to make it seem like they were cool with skating. The reality was they just wanted to profit off of it.” – Josh Kalis
There wasn’t even any sense of them trying to work with you around the time the X-Games hit Philly in 2001?
Kalis: No. That was just a whole bunch of faults right there, you know?
The city tried to make it seem like they were cool with skating. The reality was they just wanted to profit off of it. That’s why we all wore – in fact, I think I even got barked at by DC for this – a Love Park shirt rather than a DC shirt. We had anti-John Street [then Mayor of Philadelphia – ed.].
Ken [Block] was like, “What are you doing, dude? You’re on TV, you need to be wearing a DC shirt!”
[Laughs] Come on man, it’s for the people!
You’ve both talked about how the ’90s version of plaza skating has almost died in the US. Are there any cities left in States that still have spots of that scale and type that you’ve visited, with that EMB or Love Park vibe?
Kalis: There really isn’t man!
Blabac: I mean the closest thing on the West Coast was J-Kwon, but that’s not really…
Kalis: Yeah. J-Kwon, Pulaski… There are spots that people could create plaza vibes at. The Island in San Francisco, there’s a ton of them.
I think the issue is the mentality of the kids that grow up skating now. They don’t have that super anti-authority, fuck school vibe. Plus now, there are so many purpose-built skate plazas: Stoner Parks everywhere, in every city. Kids are getting dropped off by their parents and it’s an okay thing to be a skater.
You can go to New York City and there are plazas all over the place but no-one’s creating anything with it. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, it’s just a different mentality.
Josh Kalis with a quick and tasteful line from his JKwon-heavy part in Sabotage 4 (Brian Panebianco, 2015)
“People came from all over to skate Love – if they didn’t get kicked out by the locals…” – Mike Blabac
I guess it’s a two pronged issue. The building of purpose built skate plazas coinciding with the fast encroaching privatisation of public space and authorities shutting down alternate uses of those spaces.
Kalis: Maybe, but it’s also accepted a lot more now. If you find the right spot and the right zone…
I don’t know. Like I said, I come from a different era. These kids have their era, I don’t think people are that interested in creating new plaza vibes. J-Kwon was cool, but it was one day a week and people flooded it. It was a small plaza and there’d be 150 kids there… With a 100 of them filming!
I bet all it would take is a couple of skaters from whatever city, or whatever little crew to, just start creating their meet up spot.
Blabac: That’s what it really was, it was crews back in the day. There was Embarcadero, so much iconic stuff came out of that because so many people were filming and shooting photos. That’s where the epicentre of skating was. Same thing with Philly and Love, people actually went there and stuff came out of that. It’s a lot easier for kids to film themselves in their driveway now but people came from all over to skate Love – if they didn’t get kicked out by the locals [laughs].
Look at Pier 7 because of Karl Watson, Mike York and Rob Welsh. Those guys would go there every day and hang out, film and shoot photos. That built that reputation as it being somewhere to go which I guess is what builds up somewhere as a proper “plaza”.
Josh Kalis – backside noseblunt at San Francisco’s Pier 7 for a classic Alien Workshop ad. ph: Tobin Yelland, design: Mike Hill, scan: The Chrome Ball Incident
Kalis: True dat! Somebody just asked me, recently, about why Chicago hasn’t blown up. There’s a lot of plazas in Chicago and I think it’s a lack of media. Also, it’s people not going there. They don’t go to the same spot every day, all day, and there’s not people shooting their photos. That’s a big part of it too.
Blabac: I mean, Pier 7 was crazy. You could go there any day, there’d be people playing dice, someone would try and film a trick, everyone was hanging out and drinking. It was crazy. All day every day.
Kalis: It’s a culture, man.
Yeah, more than just the skating. I guess Southbank is still London’s equivalent.
Kalis: For sure. Don’t get me wrong, plaza life is real outside of the US. Barcelona, Madrid, London – even in Prague. It’s still cracking out there. The plaza world is cracking, it’s just not getting the US media coverage. Just in the US, it’s kind of died out.
Is that part of the reason that the bump to bin was chosen to be recreated here, at Southbank? A street spot with a story, in the same way that Love or EMB had?
Kalis: Nah, it was because of the collab. The Kalis 1 was basically founded at Love Park. I lived there, that’s where all the ads were shot, and it turned into a pretty iconic shoe that was founded on the streets of Philly and Love, specifically.
Slam City wanting to put their name on it, it was only right to come to London and do it at Southbank which I would consider to be the London version of Love Park. It’s dope to put the two worlds together, mash them up at this one spot.
Josh Kalis and Mike Blabac encapsulated in a photo. Kicker-to-can 360 flip, Love Park, 1999. ph: Blabac (prints available here)
“It was only right to come to London and do it at Southbank which I would consider to be the London version of Love Park.” – Josh Kalis
Do either of you remember the first time you saw the propped up, tile to bin at Love?
Kalis: I was actually there the first time we popped up tiles. It was because there were some broken ones. The first coverage anyone ever saw of a propped up tile was Keith Hufnagel doing a 360 flip off of one and over, I think, three broken ones on the ground. It was in a Big Brother, maybe. That kind of opened up everyone’s eyes. Then it was Ricky Oyola who popped up a different one and ollied over two cans for a 411 opener, that’s what basically set off the whole thing.
I’m pretty sure it was the first iteration of that kind of DIY street spot. Is the Love Park kicker to bin the original version of it, you think? The propped slab has become a staple of nearly every video now.
Blabac: Yeah, it could be…
Kalis: It definitely opened up the eyes. Now, everyone lifts up grates. I can’t think of anything featuring popped up tiles or grates before that. I’d never thought about it like that.
So, it went from jump ramps to Love Park to now, in any city when you look at a tree, then you look for a grate, then you look around thinking, “What could we do here?”
Chris Oliver takes the Kalis route over the Southbank recreation of the Love Park kicker-to-can.
“I went there in June when [Love Park] was being demolished. I jumped over the fences and I grabbed a few pieces of it. I use them for bookends.” – Mike Blabac
I guess the replica keeps Love Park alive in a way. Do either of you have any physical mementoes of the place yourselves like bits of the ledge and tiles?
Kalis: Yeah, I actually have a full tile but I had it cut into four squares because it was too big and heavy. I also have two City Hall benches, which aren’t Love but they’re right across the street. Most of the time, back in the day when we would film at City Hall, people would think that was Love Park.
Blabac: I went there in June when it was being demolished. I jumped over the fences and grabbed a few pieces of it. I use them for bookends [laughs].
There was talk of the city donating some of the ledges from Love to a local park on the Sabotage Instagram back when it was being torn down. Do you know whether that happened?
Kalis: It did – some of the long benches that were in between the ledges. Those are at Paine Skatepark, the outdoor Philly park. Also, they dropped off a ton of the granite at FDR but those guys fucking used it to hold up the tunnel that you walk through to get into the park. They concreted it into the wall! There are piles and piles of ledges and tiles that Brian Panebianco and [the Sabotage crew] have. They know where they are. I guess you can buy them from the city?
Stevie Williams – switch front nose, Love Park, 2000. ph: Blabac
What are your favourite Love Park photos and why?
Kalis: One of my favourites is the Stevie Williams switch front nose on the high ledge. It wasn’t even called the high ledge back then, it was just where everyone sat and smoked cigarettes all day. It was too high to even be called the high ledge, then Stevie did the switch front nose which Blabac shot.
Mike: I’d probably say [Josh’s] tre flip just because it’s been one that so many people have looked at, referred to, asked for, you know?
We went out there just to shoot a sequence of it, pulled a frame out of that and that was pretty much it. Which was rad, because we were just doing it because we were out skating.
There was no story behind it – just a day out skating?
Blabac: Pretty much, which was [the case for] all the stuff there. I think Stevie’s photo, the tre flip and the photos in front of the Love sign all happened in the same summer. Because Josh’s shoe was coming out that summer, I spent a lot of time there with him.
Brian Wenning with a different route over the can. Switch heelflip off the wall for his Habitat Skateboards pro debut ad, 1999. ph: Blabac / design: Joe Castrucci / scan: Bobshirt
“I really like a lot of the Brian Wenning stuff. He was funny. Weirdly, he didn’t like filming when other people were there.” – Josh Kalis
What about lines filmed there or sections that feature the place heavily?
Kalis: Man, there’s so much good stuff. I really like a lot of the Brian Wenning stuff from there. He was funny. Weirdly, he didn’t like filming when other people were there. He would wake up at 6am, a lot of his stuff was filmed at that time, right when the sun came up. Before the business people came around, before the cops would come and kick you out – he’d go and film super early.
And I’ll tell you what, Pappalardo’s switch flip over the bump to can was always a real good one. I remember cock blocking Wes [Kremer], bigflipping the bump to can, because he was on a Zip Zinger.
“Dude, you can’t do it on a Zip Zinger.” But it was going to go down and I was not gonna let him do it on a Zip Zinger. Me and Wes are cool as shit, but every time I see him I wonder if he’s pissed that I shut him down on that.
‘Kalis In Mono’ – A Film Fragment by Greg Hunt for Alien Workshop, 2006
Josh, ‘Kalis in Mono’ is widely regarded as one of the first – if not the first – “standalone” video sections. Which, intentionally or not, paved the way for the “solo video part” that the internet is filled with today.
Kalis: You know what, I think full-length videos haven’t changed at all. I still see them coming out. The problem is, in my opinion, that there’s too much coming out via Instagram and all that. It doesn’t have the impact when the videos do come out.
The video comes out, a solo part comes out, whatever it is – there’s only one big platform, and that platform is Thrasher, TransWorld, whatever? Every single one of these platforms, the video part comes out and two hours later there’s a new video. No-one’s given the time to… I don’t know, we used to rewind videos.
Blabac: I think it takes a while. A video can come out and, going with Josh’s point, can get overshadowed by whatever. It used to be that, when a video part came out, that was the only thing that people watched for a long time. But now, if something is truly good and meant to be watched over and over again, people still do that; it just takes a little longer for it to be recognised as such.
“Your fans are your fans no matter if you’re tre flipping bump to cans or slappy grinding curbs.” – Josh Kalis
Kalis: But dude, I’m 40 years old and I’ll still download a video. I can slow-mo tricks. I’m still doing that on the computer, hitting the arrow like you were hitting the arrow on the remote back in the day. If I’m doing it at 40, you fucking best believe some kids are doing it too! It’s just Instagram, Youtube – all that shit, it takes away from the impact full-length videos do have.
Blabac: I choose not to watch a lot of it because it’s too much for me. But a lot of it too is that skaters themselves put out stuff that they would have never put out of themselves a generation previously. Now, dudes will film stuff of themselves in a park, all day long every day.
Kalis: I’ve got to tell you, Mike, we were just talking about this. How there’s this whole generation of motherfuckers watching people play video games. They’re watching people build shit on Minecraft. This whole new generation of kids are watching other people do shit!
So, yeah, when you watch [Guy] Mariano, or [Mark] Appleyard, or whoever putting up slappy grinds and shit like that, it’s the same mentality of that kid who wants to watch that person play the video game. They just want to see what that person’s doing and how they are as a normal person. It doesn’t matter.
Appleyard could put himself up playing video games and kids would be just as stoked. Anything goes now. Your fans are your fans no matter if you’re tre flipping bump to cans or slappy grinding curbs. And you never knew that before because you never got instant feedback. Whereas now, you get that.
“Damn, I only got 500 likes? I won’t be doing that again.”
Mike, have you ever seen a photo of Josh you looked at and thought, “Damn, I wish I’d shot that”?
Blabac: Probably the switch back tail on Hubba [Hideout], if I had to pick one. I lived in the city at the time, but he had to do that one with [Mike] Ballard because he’d started to ride for DC and Droors.
Josh Kalis with the aforementioned switch backside tailslide at Hubba Hideout, San Francisco. The footage of this was filmed by Brad Johnson and appears in Alien Workshop’s 1997 video, Time Code.
To finish off, with the Olympics taking in skateboarding in their next round, do you see skateboarding moving even further away from the plaza vibe?
Kalis: I don’t.
Blabac: Nor do I. There’s good and bad aspects of it and you have to take the good with the bad, or vice versa. It will shed light on skating but at the same time, people will be in plazas, skate street and not give a shit about all that. I think there will always be those kids out there and I don’t think that will ever change.
Kalis: Here’s my thing, man. Maybe I’m tripping but I think that there were more skaters that made more good money – pro skaters that made a good, living income – before all that shit even fucking existed.
Before Monster, Red Bull and Nike, before that shit was even here and it was just mom and pop skate shops, skaters made better money. Skate shops were thriving better. How long is it going to take before these motherfuckers figure this shit out? Think about it.
Blabac: Well there were fewer skaters too. Fewer everything.
Kalis: And there were fewer skaters!
Hard goods were kicking ass, shoes were kicking ass, you had skaters buying cars and houses – we’re talking the late ‘90s, early 2000s. Then as soon as the big corporate money came in… Skaters made less money, skateboard companies started going out of business, skate shops started going out of business, what the fuck happened?
The Olympics is coming in, maybe it’s going to completely kill a huge side of skating, then real skating can come back, you know?
Better than any Olympic TF, a Love Park kicker-to-can replica at Southbank. ph: Horsley
Blabac: Well, I do think that there’s a huge group of kids who just won’t be about that, know what I mean? There’s dudes like Wes. Wes will never be in the Olympics [laughs].
Kalis: I don’t know. Wes could be in the Olympics, dude.
Blabac: Maybe we can bet on that one right now? I’m pretty sure he will not, I’m pretty sure he’ll be driving his mum’s Volvo still, not wanting anything to do with it.
Kalis: Nah, he’s secretly stacking chips! [Laughs]. I mean, I’ll watch it for sure.
Blabac: Yeah, I’ll be watching it just out of curiosity. I want to see the first fool who walks out in a goddamn uniform, like a Ralph Lauren Olympics uniform!
Blades of Glory, peacock style.
Blabac: Exactly, it’s going to be insane!
Kalis: We should go and heckle everybody. I want to go and see who gets kicked out for having weed in their system.
Blabac: It’s going to be just two dudes left, competing against each other.
Josh Kalis pictured with someone who definitely isn’t Mike Blabac at Blabac’s exhibition at our Covent Garden store, 2017. ph: Jacob Sawyer
All Mike Blabac photos seen in this interview (including the original of Wenning’s switch heel) are available to purchase via his print shop.
The Slam City collaborations archive – 2022: Skate Shop Day 2021: Slam City Skates X Oliver Payne, Thrasher X Slam City Skates, Blast Skates X Slam City 2019: Slam City X RaD Archive, Slam City X RaD Launch Gallery, Slam City X RaD Archive – Curtis McCann by Winstan Whitter 2018: enjoi X Slam City with Ben Raemers, Gonz and Toby by Thomas Campbell and Mark Gonzales, Anti-Hero X Slam City with Raney Beres 2017: Dickies X Slam City – Fall 2017 with Tom Knox, Darius Trabalza and Neil Smith, Krooked X Slam City 2016: Vans x Slam City ‘Lampin Pro’ & ‘Native American Pro’, Vans x Slam City Launch Gallery, HUF x Slam City Skates, HUF x Slam City Skates Launch Gallery, Slam City “Artists” Decks with Tod Swank, Fos, Don Pendleton and Nick Jensen, Slam City Skates X Spitfire Wheels, Dickies x Slam City Skates (Summer 2016) 2013: Vans Syndicate x Slam City, House of Billiam X Slam City, DC Kalis x Slam City 2012: Slam City x Converse CTS, Silas X Slam City Skates, Real x Slam City Skates, Slam City Skates x Spitfire Classics 2010: Emerica x Slam City “Laced”, Toy Machine x Emerica x Slam City 2008: Penfield x Slam City Skates 2007: WeSC x Slam City Skates 2006: Etnies x Slam City Skates 2005: Nike SB x Slam City Dunk