Josh Kalis. Portrait by Jacob Sawyer
We have always been big fans of Josh Kalis here at Slam and have gone on record a few times describing him as the consummate professional. His legacy has inspired many generations of London skaters and the turn out for the events we planned with him and DC was testament to his influence. It was an honour to have him visit us on his first ever trip to the UK. He couldn’t have been a nicer human being and gave us a lot of his time before everything kicked off. We are stoked to be able to bring you this exclusive interview…
Thanks for coming out here to see us, was it a mission?
It wasn’t too bad, the flight is direct San Diego to London so it’s chilling. Thanks for having me out, it’s an honour
Have you ever been to the UK?
I have not, this is my first time
You’re not so keen on flying?
I can’t stand flying. Actually it’s not quite as bad now as it used to be. Mentally I’m learning how to do it. I’m getting on a plane and I’m going to see some people and that’s just how it is. I’m gaining strength in that area.
We are really stoked on how everything has turned out with this collaboration. Were you hyped when you first saw it?
Yeah dude, it was super sick. I didn’t know the tongue was getting slimmed down or the colour way. I didn’t know any of it. We did a collab with Slam a couple of years ago on the Centric and what you guys did with that was unbelievable, it was super sick. So I already knew coming into this one that it was going to be super rad too. When I did see it, it met every expectation I would have. I was like whoa that’s real dope. The fact that you guys slimmed it down and really made it your own with not just the colour but the feel and the way it fits peoples feet. Your twist on the whole thing is pretty sick.
What shoes influenced the Kalis 1 that our shoe is based on?
To be honest the Kalis 1 didn’t have an influence. It was literally me having an outline of a shoe and filling the blanks. I was using coloured pencils and drawing shit and It ended up being what it was from scratch.
How long have you been on DC for now?
I got on DC in ’97 I think. That’s twenty years!
So that was DC Euro Super Tour time?
Yeah what year was that ’98? I was on the Super Tour number 2 I wasn’t on the first one I was on the second.
(Mike Blabac) You started getting shoes in ’95 or ’96 though but you got on in ’97
Actually I think I got on in ’97 or ’98. I wasn’t even on the team for a full year. It was two or three years of flow to getting on to bang! getting a shoe. It happened that fast so 97-ish I would say
What’s your favourite DC shoe of all time?
Probably the Lynx, I think it was the Lynx for sure. The Lynx or my first shoe because that was such a big deal to me.
There was a time when literally everyone at this skate spot called Fairfield Halls in Croydon had a pair of Lynx’s. That was a sick period of time…
I think the Lynx was pretty much the first shoe that had the two blocks, one on the toe and one on the heel. You could do colour ways on the centre, the top of the toe and the heel you could make one colour and the sides another. It was visually pleasing, you know what I’m saying.
What’s your favourite board graphic of all time. Yours and anyone else’s?
My personal favourite of one of my graphics was the Josh board that was spelled out like the Love statue. That one and my favourite graphic of all time was probably the Steve Caballero Bonite with the blue background with all the bats because that was the very first board I bought myself.
So it went soggy?
But dude I was 12 years old so I didn’t even notice that shit. I mowed lawns all summer to buy that board. Or I just thought of another one the Jordan Richter ‘put the condom on’ I don’t know why I liked that one. That one was dope. I think because I saw (Mike) Carroll skating EMB with it in a video and I was like ‘Aaggh I gotta get that board!”
What is your favourite photo that Mike Blabac shot of yourself and another?
Hmm my favourite Blabac photo. I really like the nose blunt at Love. The Bay bridge one, pushing on the Bay bridge. Obviously the tre flip because that was the shoe box cover. Honestly there are too many.
What’s your favourite Mike?
That’s a tough question, maybe the Bay bridge. The cleared off Bay bridge, that was just insane. There’s a lot, there’s that one. Koston’s nose blunt just because it was my first cover and people still refer to it. There’s a lot and it’s tough which is a good thing. There’s Josh’ tre flip, the ones people still refer to. Danny’s nose blunt slide on the rail. If I had to narrow it down it would include those few. (Mike Blabac)
Josh Kalis-Bay Bridge Photo by Mike Blabac
Do you still ever skate with Stevie?
I haven’t skated with Stevie in a long time. He’s always in Atlanta and when he comes to California he is in and out real fast or doing stuff in LA with his family so I never really get to skate with him. I tried to get him out to Jkwon when I was going there all the time but he’s too busy for me.
What’s your favourite go to spot now? Is there anywhere you localise?
I think right now it’s really just doing some downtown San Diego stuff. There’s a couple of new little Plaza’s in San Diego. I have been hooking up with Wes Kremer and the Skate Mafia boys and we have just been going down there. Jkwon was the main thing for about three years, that place was real fun but they fucked the ledges all up which changed the dynamic of it. Right now it’s just kind of limbo
Is there a particular London spot you would like to see?
Dude, I got to see Southbank so that was dope. I really want to see that St Paul’s spot because that video (Atlantic Drift 2) is dropping today. Truthfully I like exploring London right now, I didn’t realise how big the city was. It’s just a concrete jungle, I like it. Too bad it’s raining right now!
Perfect Tre Flip form Photo Mike Blabac
What’s the secret of a good tre flip and are there any no no’s?
I think the secret for a good tre flip is honestly giving each one as much effort as you can. I think that lately people figured out a way to do lazy tre flips. I remember we used to call them ‘schoolyard tre flips’ because you just do the motion whether it’s an inch off the ground or six. People started doing them just as filler, that’s the no no to me. For me, every time I try a tre flip I put every ounce of energy into it as possible. That’s what separates a good one from a bad one.
What was the Dallas skate scene like?
When I was in Dallas it was sick! We had our own little scene. I don’t really know about the overall skate scene in Dallas. It was me and a group of seven or eight dudes who created our own scene. We were the only ones skating downtown. We would hang out at the Jeff Phillips skate park, none of us really cared about any of the other skaters. We were our own little family. We were in the lowrider scene, the video games scene, we were in our own world. It was tight.
You’ve pretty much run the same kit your entire career is that a deliberate move on your part? What do you make of people who switch it up constantly?
I wouldn’t say it’s deliberate but I would say that I’m a creature of habit. I don’t really like too much change. The people that know me, they know me for who I am. I never felt like I needed to change for anybody. I will do some things to better my life like eat better or drink more water or whatever it is. But when it comes to my appearance it’s just the way I grew up. Just because I move to San Diego or even if I moved here to London I’m not going to change the appearance of who I have become. It’s just the way I am.
Who has your favourite Love Park centric video part of all time?
You know what I’ve always really liked Ricky Oyola’s Eastern Exposure part. It didn’t have that much Love in it, he was kind of anti Love back in those days. I don’t know if that counts. Let me think, a heavy Love part? I used to really like Fred Gall’s Sub Zero stuff, his stuff as really good. Matt Reason always had a ton of good shit. It’s funny talking about that because those guys ended up being like enemies. I always respected the footage they had at Love, it was a bit before my Love Park time. I can’t really think of too many people who have had parts where the majority of the stuff is at Love outside of those guys can you?
Ahh you’re right Kevin Taylor! Kevin definitely hands down. You know what’s funny is that this dude asked me about who was my favourite Love skater yesterday and it was Kevin Taylor, I don’t know why it slipped my mind. KT! Sorry brother, fuck those other guys.
Do you have a good Lennie Kirk story?
Dude I have got tons of Lennie Kirk stories! Let me think of a good one I haven’t told already. Me and Lennie were such good friends that we were kind of like brothers to the point that we would be driving in San Francisco in his car. We would get into a little bit of an argument and I’d say “pull the car over let me out” and he’d be like “Fuck you Kalis” and I would jump out of the car. Then he would drive a block and stop, then I would walk up to the car and get in. Do you know what I mean? We were such good friends. I would consider that we still are. As far as stories, I remember we jumped in Lennie’s car one time and we were driving to Vancouver to the Slam City Jam contest and this dude was drinking Boons while he was driving, do you know what Boons is? It’s like a wine. We drove for what felt like three days straight without stopping and this dude was just hammered! He wouldn’t let me drive, that was pretty scary. That’s not a good story, I can’t think of any I haven’t told already.
We’ve seen loads of clips of your daughter drafting in her car and she’s pretty fearless. Has she shown any interest in skateboarding?
A little bit. I take her to the park all the time, the DC park. I’ll go in and skate and she will cruise around on her scooter. She likes to go into her own world and pretend that she is a dragon or a fairy. It’s a good place for her to just run around. Every now and then I’ll slam and my board will go in her direction. She will grab it and kind of push around a little bit but she’s not allowed to do it on her knees. Every now and then she takes a couple of pushes and stands on it but to be honest I’d rather her not skate. Not that I would tell her not to. If she wanted to I would support it but the reality is that she doesn’t need to skate. I have no interest in her skating.
Describe one of the most interesting lurkers at Love. We have had our fair share in this city…
There were a lot of lurkers. I would say my favourite was this dude named Mac. He was like 6′ 5″, I can’t remember what video he was in but he was about to slapbox somebody in the video. He was cool, he had the skaters backs and he’d sell loosey cigarettes all the time. If anything ever went down he was like the first dude to punch somebody straight in the face not on the skaters side, on the lurkers side. I want to say that he was like the mayor of the lurkers you know, Mac was pretty cool. There was also the one dude that we nicknamed the prophet. He was this Muslim dude that would come down preaching and praying but he was an ex boxer. Those two dudes, the prophet and Mac.
In Manchester there’s a skater there who they nicknamed the prophet. I think the story goes that a demo was set to happen in the day and beforehand he said that it was going to go off. It did and he was nicknamed the prophet. Hahaha. What’s your favourite childhood skateboarding memory?
I’ve got two. We were skating downtown in Grand Rapids Michigan where I was from. I was probably thirteen or fourteen years old and Sean Sheffey just showed up! Not for our session but he just showed up and we kind of followed him around. That was really sick. My other one is when I was grounded at my house one day and Sean Sheffey and Ted Lee and John Lee just came to my house and said “Yo, you want to come skate?” My dad let me off grounding to go and skate with those dudes. That was probably the best day of my life. Being in the car with those dudes, being so young. I actually broke my board on that session. Sheffey was like “Yo if I had another board I would give it to you but I don’t”. For me, I had never got anything for free like that and just the idea that he was willing to just give me a board, I don’t know, that was the raddest day. I seriously got home that day, went back to my room, back on punishment and I will never forget that shit.
Who was the most talented skateboarder you encountered at Love to up and leave skateboarding alone?
There were a lot of kids at Love who were real talented but if I had to pick one probably this kid named Hung maybe. He was real sick. He would come in and do some wild ass, real sick stuff and then I would never see him. He would travel back and forth to China I think. It was like a treat when you would see him skate. There were a lot of dudes truthfully.
Josh outside our Covent Garden store. Photo Maksim Kalanep
What would you say are the best and worst things about skateboarding at this point in time?
I’d say the best thing about skateboarding right now is the diversity. I’d say the worst thing is the lack of etiquette, the lack of respect. I’m sure it’s there in pockets but I think people expect to be able to walk right into somebody’s scene and be accepted. I like seeing kids out there building respect and earning stripes. I think too many things are either handed to people in the scenes or they just expect to be accepted, there’s a sense of entitlement.
You own one of the most memorable fakie flips of all time, the one in NY at the Seaport ledges and also the kickflip in Peep This soundtracked by light sabres. We were talking about this the other day, were they all looking like that or did one just work out perfect?
First of all thank you for that compliment. I don’t know because I don’t remember seeing the other tries. I remember the fakie flip, that one was kind of tough to squeeze in between the switch nosegrind and the half cab nosegrind. It probably had something to do with that, the fakie flip was the hardest part of that line because the space between the two ledges wasn’t very much. The kickflip at the banks I remember I was bummed because we shot a photo of that but the photo didn’t turn out. You can see the dude laying down on the ground. I don’t know though, I got lucky I guess.
Karl Watson recently mentioned your stint in SF in a Bobshirt interview. What was your time like in SF was it intimidating to begin with?
Yeah dude it was intimidating for sure. But like I said I’m a big fan of working for it. Those days in SF my mentality was work for it in all forms. Don’t be a dud, go there, give respect to every one that’s there. I’m going to put it in, I’m going to show these dudes that I got their back when we’re walking down the street or we’re on the bus or whatever it is. Then when we’re at the spot I’m going to show and prove because they were looking at me now representing their spots. I didn’t want to be the dude who was trying to do some bogus shit or do stuff that they’ve already seen people do. For me it was like, I’m going to try and represent for y’all because now the photos I’m taking and the videos and footage I’m taking is going to be representing your guys’ shit and I’m not from here so I’m going to put it on as best I can. That was my mentality.
When Alien disbanded it felt like there was a bit of a void. How do you feel about everything that happened now. Are you still in touch with Carter?
You know what, looking back at it there were just a couple of people within Alien Workshop that were driving the direction. I felt like they were just leaving me in the dust, my voice didn’t matter. I wasn’t into it so I said fuck it. I did as much as I could for Alien for I think it was thirteen years. That was my home it was where I felt I needed to be. I wanted to do some things like give Marquise Henry some shine and get him in the mix. They dissed me on that or they dissed me on the music I wanted to use in my video part or whatever it was. Then they were giving those things to new guys on the team. Dudes they had just put on they were giving these dudes all this shit. I was like you know what fuck y’all. I remember telling Carter “I skate for the Workshop for a cheque” His reply to me was “That sucks but whatever” It just wasn’t home anymore. I didn’t talk to Carter for a couple of years but I talk to him now. Not on the regular but when we see each other, it’s all love and it’s cool. My separation with the Workshop doesn’t fall on Carter. He was there doing work and trying to keep the company together and keep riders happy. It fell on a couple of other people that I dealt with on a daily basis. I’ve got no hard feelings.
Do you feel like what happened with Workshop has left a space for a company like that?
Yeah I think there’s a void for that. This generation of kids don’t have the same mentality that we had. We were all out there on our own when we were fifteen years old, high school dropouts. I don’t know truthfully if a company can do that anymore. Can they put eight fifteen or sixteen year olds in a van and drive around the country anymore? Times have changed but maybe they could
Are you working on anything video part wise? Do you find filming is a motivating force?
Right now I’m not working on any video parts which is kind of weird. I’m capturing some things here and there for small projects. DGK has had some projects and DC is now starting to work on some new projects. I haven’t heard of any full length video plans. It’s all been mix tape style stuff like Blood Money. Filming is definitely motivating. When I go and skate with the Skate Mafia dudes it’s all fun but you still want to capture that stuff. Nowadays everyone is putting up video parts on Instagram. I don’t know if video parts really have that pizazz any more.
Would you like to film something out here?
I would actually. I would like to come here and spend like a month out here. Rent a little flat. It’s always hard for me to go somewhere, especially like London or Barcelona and film stuff in the street if I’m just there for a few days. It doesn’t feel natural. I like to embed myself into the community and the culture. It makes it feel more natural, it’s more comfortable going out filming. I never like being a culture vulture. I don’t want to come here, film some shit and leave, I’d like to stay for a little while and hang out with the locals.
Do you feel like the younger generation of skateboarders now will keep doing it when they’re your age or tire of it. Do you think it is still as vital?
It seems with the last generation or two under my generation are they going to be able to create their own scenes? Nothing has changed it’s just a lot of kids being dropped off by their parents. I’m not sure if kids have it that hard these days. All the Love Parks and EMB’s and Pulaski Parks those scenes were created by people, the kids would go there. EMB, those dudes didn’t have parents some of them. They hung out at EMB and they created their own scene. Same with Love Park with Stevie, Rasul and Json and all the dudes who lived at Love Park basically. I just don’t see that anymore these days at least in the States. Everybody likes to be safe and comfortable. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing it’s just a different mentality.
Do you have any advice for people trying to maintain skateboarding past their twenties?
For me it always just comes down to the love for it. I try to listen to my body as much as possible. The older I get I feel certain things happening to my body and I try to adjust. Whether it’s my diet, stretching. Whatever it is I listen to myself and just try to maintain. Secondly it just goes back to the passion and the love to do it. If that passion’s gone it’s over.
Working in a shop there is a constant debate over board and wheel size. You ran a small board and wheels for a long time, do you still have the same set up requirements?
I ride a 7.8″ right now and 50mm wheels which is considered pretty small. I don’t even think DGK are gonna make them anymore. I’m gonna have to get them custom made. It’s not just me though it’s like Dane Vaughan rides a 7.8″ and a ton of the pros I know ride 7.8″ boards. Kids these days like the 8″ and above. If I fuck around on an 8″ it changes the dynamic of everything I try. Things feel laggy. I’m 40 years old I don’t need things to feel laggy right now. It’s hard enough to pop that board up sometimes anyway.
What takes up your time nowadays? DGK input, Plus Reserve, Speed Society?
Each one of those doesn’t have to take up much of my time. Plus Reserve I’m not gonna say it’s on the shelf but I put it on the shelf. You can get them but I haven’t put time into that. There’s no money in bolts. It was an idea that I had which I thought was cool, I executed it and I was happy about that. My main goal for that was to licence it to companies like Diamond or Indy and make it an industry standard. What happened is that Independent did it and I was like “hey I got a patent on that” and they literally whatever’d me. What am I going to do? Spend tons of money suing them? I don’t really give a shit. It was cool to do, I never felt like had invented something before. If I could licence that out to all the bolt companies that’s the only thing that could make me any type of money. Speed Society was a hobby for me but I have a partner in that who does that full time and I involve myself as much as I want. Right now I’m in pretty heavy skate mode so i stepped away from Speed Society a bit. maybe in the Spring I will jump back in. Speed Society is for the weekends when I’m too sore to skate then we’ll go out and fuck with the cars. It’s a massive website, it gets like 30 million page views a month. My Camaro ended up being the face of the brand. I’m a car guy, it’s fun. DGK, I just skate for DGK, I may give some input when we go and have lunch or something like that. But DC in the last few months I have really started coming into DC and helping them with the future and what the direction looks like. DC has been through some shit and we have some really rad people in there now who understand the culture and where DC came from, it’s heritage and what made DC so fucking sick in the mid to late nineties through to the 2000’s. We’re really focusing on that so I’m pretty stoked on that.
We’ve built the replica kicker to can. What do you want to see go down over that thing?
Dude to tell you the honest truth, I’m down to see anything go down over it. I couldn’t tell you how many companies and teams would come to Philadelphia. They would be like “Kalis put the bump up” So I would put the bump up, it was a mission you know to pull that tile up. Dudes would jump out of it and get warmed up and then I would drag the can out there and it would end up being a solo sesh. Nobody would end up jumping over the can. To have the replica bump to can, dude I would just be psyched to see people skate it. Ollies, kickflips, backside flips. It truly doesn’t matter, just watching people get to feel what I felt and to be able to watch people. I wanted to watch people back then but I would bury myself into the session. It sounds like it’s going to be a rad time and people could probably huck some good shit over it these days. Kids adapt better now. It’ll be eye opening for sure.
You’ve got five dudes to go on a skate trip with from any period in time who are they?
I’m going to say honestly it would be Kevin Taylor, Rob Dyrdek, AVE, Dill and Fat Bill
Any last words…
You know what I do have some last words. I truly want to thank Slam City for doing this second collaboration. I look at it like Slam has been around since ’86 and I think I started skating in ’86. They are from a legendary city, it’s a legendary shop. Much respect to Slam City for doing this and getting me out here and involving me and DC. I couldn’t be more stoked, straight up.
Interview by Jacob Sawyer