Settling down with Real Skateboards after a stint in sponsor limbo, and with two heavy video parts in as any many months, the year is looking promising for Mason Silva. Here, he talks surf heritage, joining the DLX family, music supervision, and fakie flips gone awry.
Interview by Farran Golding. Photography by Gabe Morford & Bram De Martelaere. (Above: Morford)
Mason Silva’s output over the past few years is a near-perfect case study of skateboarding media coverage, circa 2020. Solo parts, enders in a full-length, a Thrasher cover and article, a heavy introduction to his new board sponsor swiftly followed by a year-in-the-making video part; all with room to breathe and peppered with a few single tricks destined to do the rounds.
Since Mason first came to my attention, I’ve rinsed everything he’s put out and been left not hungry for more but plain excited for the next occasion I’d get to see him blasting across the screen.
“Less is more” is the trademark of a powerhouse, after all.
“I wanted to put out something which had a feel to it and felt like Real, something more proper than just one clip and have that go to waste.”
First off an overdue congratulations on finding a new home with Real. How’d it come to be?
Oh, thank you! It happened naturally which felt good. I wanted to be around the Deluxe guys and it felt right being there. It felt like skateboarding, you know? I was making trips to S.F. and skating with them. I didn’t feel rushed to make a decision. After a while they asked if I’d be interested and they were going put it to the team. Sure enough, it happened to work out within the next couple of months. Everything was set in stone around October of last year but I wanted to make that part really good too. I wanted to put out something which had a feel to it and felt like Real, something more proper than just one clip and have that go to waste. Real isn’t a company you do that with. You can’t just push that one aside [laughs].
What are your earliest memories of Jim Thiebaud and Tommy Guerrero?
I can’t remember the first time I met Jim because it was on a trip to S.F. when I was 14 or 15. I went to the warehouse and was tripping more on the fact I was inside DLX. I was probably too young to know anything about Jim to be honest [laughs]. The more we’ve spoken, I trip on how smart he is and how cool he is to talk to. Those first few conversations are stuck in my memory. I’ve been talking to Tommy a bit during my last few visits to S.F. and he’s such a laid back dude. I feel starstruck every time I talk to him.
That’s two guys who are held in unanimously high regard. Not just for their impact on skating but for being good people too.
Yeah and they’re the people who don’t make it seem so. You forget they are held in such high regard because the level they talk to you on is that of an everyday person.
Jim’s been vocal about how stoked he is to have you on board and, just from reading comments and whatnot, a lot of people are in general. How’s it feel to have your career decisions cheered on by thousands of people you’ve never met?
It’s pretty insane. You never know what people are going to say nowadays because it seems like everybody hates everything [laughs]. It’s really cool to see people say, “Oh finally!” and whatever, you know? I kind of figured everyone forgot that I didn’t have a board sponsor. It’s crazy to get those messages from Jim too. He’s hyped to have us working together.
“Having such a set in stone way of doing it, that’s what I was really drawn to: the people whose style you could see a silhouette of and know exactly who it is.”
I’ve been mentally placing you on Real for as long as I’ve been aware of you. You’re their next-gen powerhouse. Keith Hufnagel is the OG, Dennis Busenitz is the modern classic and you’re the new guy. For lack of a better way to put it those “haul ass, ollie high” skaters – the Hufnagels and Wrays of the world – was there a moment where something clicked and you pushed yourself in that direction?
I love those type of comments too [laughs]. “Oh, I thought he was already on Real.”
For sure: Keith, Reese Forbes, Jeremy Wray, Donny Barley, I’m super into those types of skaters. There was a time when I was skating for Element and, actually, I think it was one specific session. I was trying some flip-in thing, going slower, getting pissed and my old team manager, Cole Matthews, was like: “Dude, you know you don’t have to do those things? You look a lot better when you’re just going really fast.” I liked skating that way so I figured if that’s the way I “should” skate then I’m down. When you’re little, you think “Am I not on the same level as other dudes?” who might be doing more technical tricks. You don’t know what’s going on. Now, I try and keep a fair balance and not just ollie everything [laughs].
Although that said, your favourite skater is Heath Kirchart, right?
That’s my first favourite skater right there. He did a lot of ‘simple’ tricks too and made them look good. I could watch a Heath kickflip for hours. Having such a set in stone way of doing it, that’s what I was really drawn to: the people whose style you could see a silhouette of and know exactly who it is. If you saw Jeremy Wray do a front three, you’d know it’s him.
Here’s a tough one for you, rank me the following Heath parts: This Is Skateboarding, Sight Unseen and Mind Field.
Oh, dude! That’s really hard. I might ruffle some feathers putting This Is Skateboarding first. I think it’s the song. That song is so good and with the way the part is edited… Realistically, Mind Field, should be #1, that part is amazing but Sight Unseen was also the first Heath part I saw so I don’t know where to go with this one [laughs].
You were there when [Brandon] Westgate back three’d “the Heath gap”. Witnessing Heath tow Westgate in at the spot where the curtain came down on his own career – that’s seeing history in the making.
I just got goosebumps thinking about that session. There’s a weird story with that one. Jon Miner was up on the basketball court filming and my friend Ryan [Lee] was filming on the ground. Heath was towing Westgate in and I’d driven there separately in my own car. The cops were on the way, because this lady was real pissed off and she’d called them, so they told me to leave. I walked out to the cars to and saw one coming into the parking lot so I took off. I was driving along and I found Heath walking down the street, no bike, with his head down. It was the funniest thing. I honked at him and he got in my car – which is insane in itself – and he was like, “Oh yeah, he did it. I ditched the bike a street back.”
Coming out the gate swinging for his introduction to Real, Mason rockets into one bank, over another and into the next. photo: De Martelaere
“Basically, everything is wrong with that thing.”
Getting back to Real, your introduction was short, sweet and had a good vibe to it. The opening ollie in, ollie out was ballistic. What’s the story there?
It’s an abandoned school in Oakland. We were dorking around on the banks for hours, Frank [Gerwer] was skating a log into this other bank. I kept eyeing it up and toying with the idea that you could ollie into the first then ollie into the second. The second one has a kerb before you pop for it and there’s also a huge crack in front of the first one. Basically, everything is wrong with that thing [laughs].
I threw out a couple and knew it would be worth it. I had some real sketchy ones where I couldn’t get my feet together in time or I hit the crack and had to fly over into the second one. I’m really happy the first one I put into that second bank was also the first I rolled away from because that could have been devastating.
Was the Modest Mouse song your choice? [‘Every Penny Fed Car’ from Sad Sappy Sucker, 2001.]
Yeah, because my favourite Real part is Cairo [Foster] in Real to Reel and he skates to Modest Mouse [‘Never Ending Math Equation’]. Different song, same era. I’ve always wanted to skate to a Modest Mouse song but I didn’t have the opportunity until then so I was stoked that worked out.
Do you usually like to be involved with how your parts are put together?
I’m pretty hands on, yeah. I went to Miner’s house like ten times when he was editing my Element part [PEACE, 2018] so I’m definitely along at each step of the way and giving my two cents even if they don’t want it [laughs].
What about the 360 flip out the parking lot and up onto that roof? Not speaking on that trick specifically, although he did shoot it, but was that stint in S.F. your first time shooting with Gabe Morford?
It was like clipping a 150 and landing the 151st one. That was on the first proper trip. We were all out filming and about twenty dudes from Real were sitting there. Like, “Fuck, I’ve got to land this…” You can go kind of slow and just snap it up so there weren’t too many sketchy ones. I was trying to play it safe but I just could not get my board above that thing.
I’d shot with Gabe a couple of times beforehand but that was my first time hanging out and being close with him. Like I was saying earlier, that first trip to S.F. when I was 14/15, that was with Gabe too. It’s sick to have someone to link up with who I’ve known for a while. When we first talked about me getting on Real, one of the first things I told them was I wanted to shoot an ad in S.F. with Gabe because that’s the way it should be. I always pick his brain about what it was like shooting with all of those people he has. I try and get him to talk about darkrooms and stuff like that but he’s a pretty quiet guy. Maybe one day I’ll get some more information out of him.
Jake Johnson jumped so Mason could leap. 360 flip. photo: Morford
“One of the first things I told them was I wanted to shoot an ad in S.F. with Gabe because that’s the way it should be.”
Real has consistently had that self-referential thing with their ads. Like Jake Donnelly kickflipping Ishod Wair, recreating the ad of Gonz ollieing over Max Schaaf. Any plans to do do one of those with yourself and if not, is there a certain Real ad or Gabe photo you’d be down to redux?
It’s not a photo but I really wanted to re-do the backside tail at 3rd and Army, from in Real to Reel, where Gonz rolls up and then it’s Nate Jones doing the back tail. It cuts to Gonz’s face, as Nate is in the back tail, and he’s sitting in an actor’s chair. It’s a good one.
Gonz drew one of your debut boards and you had some input into your graphics. What’s the ‘smokestack’ link with Manhattan Beach?
That was the spot I grew up surfing at. They wanted to do something with it but I didn’t want the beach and waves, the whole kind of beach boy thing, I wanted to do something that’s a tribute but less overt.
You were surfing before you skated, right?
Yeah, my whole family surfs. My brother was a sponsored surfer, my dad has always surfed and my mom started surfing when she was 40 and still surfs now. I meet up and surf with them whenever I can.
In your Thrasher interview you talked about Dane Reynolds being a childhood hero of yours. Dane’s a charger so do you think his influence fed into the way you skate?
Maybe subconsciously because I watched First Chapter so much as a kid. I don’t think I’d have put that together back then because I still didn’t know how I wanted to skate. Looking at it now then looking at the skaters I like, Dane’s surfing is almost exactly the same as the way Reese ollies or Keith pushes down the street.
Or the way A.V.E. skates a ledge.
Exactly. It’s a ledge but he’s going to fuck that thing up [laughs].
Also doing his share of fucking up ledges, Mason gaps to tail in Oakland while daydreaming of Dane Reynolds. photo: Morford
“Looking at it now then looking at the skaters I like, Dane’s surfing is almost exactly the same as the way Reese ollies or Keith pushes down the street.”
I checked out First Chapter and did a little reading up on it. From what I’ve gathered it’s a hugely influential, Dane wasn’t even old enough to drink at the premiere and it’s essentially a forty minute video just on him, right?
Exactly and he was super hands on with the editing process. I think he chose almost all the songs. I could recognise that from a young age so I wanted to have a say in how my video parts looked. That was cool to see.
For a couple of years you rode for Former which Dane owns with Austyn Gillette. Did it feel like things had come full-circle with surfing and skating in a way?
Yeah, that was a trippy one. It happened through a friend of a friend. Dane DM’d me on Instagram and that was weirdest part, seeing a message from him wanting to see what’s up [laughs].
in a recent interview, Austyn mentioned there were plans for him to do a brand with Dill but it fell through. For a while it was rumoured there was going to be third F.A. company with Austyn and yourself riding for it. Can you clarify anything about that?
I never had a confirmed thing of whether it was going to be through F.A. but Austyn and I talked about doing it and we tried to get some other guys. It slowly fell apart, just from people talking to other people and being, like, “Maybe I should just ride for a well established company?” It’s a big step and intimidating to do that early on in your career.
You’d been with Element since you were 14 so between getting on and leaving you’d gone through your formative years both personally and in skating with them. Did that make it more daunting to leave especially without another sponsor lined up?
It did but throughout that time so much had changed at Element so it wasn’t like I was quitting to all of the same dudes who put me on. I first got on through Ryan Dewitt. He passed away, then I was getting boards from Cole Matthews and he works for Thrasher now. There was another TM and he stopped working there. Things changed just like someone changes from 14 to 23, you know?
“Oliver Barton came to my work to buy a wetsuit and also delivered the first mag I had a photo in which I’d shot with him.”
Did you have a regular job as a teenager or was there always so much going on with skating that it wasn’t possible to juggle both?
For a minute. In my first year at high school, I worked at Spyder, a surf shop next to my house in Manhattan Beach for a year. As I was working there I was filming for a Berrics ‘Recruited’ and that’s when [Eric] Koston asked me to ride for Nike SB. So that kind of ended that [laughs]. I remember Oliver Barton came to my work to buy a wetsuit and also delivered the first mag I had a photo in which I’d shot with him. It’s cool to think about that one.
Do you think you’d have benefitted from working a regular job for a little longer or is that change of pace something you’re looking forward to after to skating?
Yeah, I never got the real experience because I was so young and only working a couple days a week. You’ve got to keep in mind that you’re not going to be skating forever. It’s a little scary to think about but I also think one day it’ll be refreshing to have that normality and be on the same level as everyone else in the world.
I mean, I’m sure you’ve got a good while left but it already sounds like you’re not interested in milking it.
No, I wouldn’t milk it. If I’m not putting out good footage or serving as someone in skateboarding… I think there’s a time and place and some people have done it perfectly. Cairo did it really well. Heath did it well.
Bump to 5-0 on The Streets of San Francisco, photo: De Martelaere. Inset below – Mason’s April Thrasher cover, photo: Michael Burnett
What’s the backstory to the Nike SB part? It’s been in the works for a while, right?
It’s something I’ve been filming for a really long time with my buddy Ryan [Lee], who I grew up with. I’m super proud of it and I think it’s one of my most versatile parts. I got to have Aaron Meza edit it so that’s surreal too. It was a cool editing process, the songs that I got. I’m stoked on everything about it.
What’s the significance of the music this time around?
The first track is just a piano track, an intro. The second, the Roxy Music song – ‘If There Is Something’ – is from the same album as the song from [Andrew] Reynolds’ Baker 3 part. I’ve been listening to this Roxy Music song for, man, I don’t know – six or seven years. Since I first got on Element I’ve been thinking about skating to it but I knew you had to have really good footage behind it. It was a relief to know we could pull that one off.
Does that play on your mind a lot when you’re working on a part: the thought of your skating doing the song justice because soundtracks are generally one-and-done?
Yeah, exactly. If you’re going to do it you have to do it right. You can’t put an epic song to waste – especially if it’s something you really like. You should feel that you have something you’re proud of when you watch it again.
“You can’t put an epic song to waste – especially if it’s something you really like. You should feel that you have something you’re proud of when you watch it again.”
That Modest track was a nice change because until then you’d been edited to pretty dramatic music. That style suits your skating but do you at all feel like you’re typecast as a more intense person than you are?
Yeah, I was listening to music the other day and thinking about that actually. It would be nice to throw around a random edit to more of what I actually listen to on a daily basis. Although I listen to Modest, I’m down for other stuff. I’d skate to The Cure if I could, that’s who I listen to all the time. It would be cool to change that pace up a little bit.
A double song part with The Cure and Elliott Smith because there’s a sensitive dude underneath the intimidating power…
[Laughs] I’ve tried to skate to Elliott for sure.
I’m sure anyone who saw the Thrasher cover was eagerly anticipating the footage. Give us the rundown on that ollie too.
That one was so nerve-racking that I couldn’t sleep the night before. I found it while looking for a different spot at that school. I took a photo and I just kept staring at it, wondering if I could get to that second bank. I knew I’d have to buy a bunch of wood and lay it down for the run up because it’s terrible. I was so nervous that I only hit up one filmer and Burnett. We got there at 11:30am and the minute the wood was down I just couldn’t stare at it anymore. I tried about ten, just flying over into the second bank, then put one down and I almost ate so much shit rolling off the kerb. I was going too fast and I slid on my ass – then a couple of tries after it I was rolling away.
Exactly. I couldn’t prepare for it too hard because I knew I’d overthink it.
On the other hand, a less intense trick, what was going on with that fakie flip at Tampa?
[Laughs] I get a lot of questions about that. People seem to think I did it on purpose but if I’d have planned correctly, I would have done a good fakie flip. It was my third run, I’d been skating all day, there was the semi finals too so my legs were completely dead. It was humid, hot and I got shaky legs rolling up the bank and whipped the flick but somehow still flipped it. That was another blackout moment where I was so tired I just knew I had to land on my board.
Bump to backside ollie. photo: De Martelaere
Let’s have some quick fire before we wrap this up: favourite memory of working with Jon Miner?
He’ll give you a lot about what it was like filming with certain dudes during those times. It’s amazing getting story time with Jon, talking about the Emerica days and This Is Skateboarding. It’s surreal when you start to talk about how much he’s done.
Westgate told me Jon has a method for persuading people to do tricks where he’ll go about it subtly long before he actually brings the trick up. Did you experience that?
He’ll definitely hint at certain things and after a while you get to the point where you can just look at him and know what he’s thinking [laughs].
Was the alley-oop wallride one of those tricks? I’d never seen it before and haven’t seen it since. What’s the technique?
That was a trick I thought of but he had an idea of how he wanted the video to end, once he saw the way I rolled out. I’d done it on a bank to wall, with no bar or anything, so it didn’t feel as insane although it was probably the hardest trick in my part. I didn’t think about the NBD thing until Miner spelled it out for me so I’m glad he shed that light on it. For the first few tries it feels like you have no idea what you’re doing and eventually you throw your body into it. Let’s say surfing [is the technique], it’s like how you do a surf air [laughs].
Half-cab crook for Mason’s first Real ad shot by Gabe Morford (“as it should be”)
“My dad understands there’s a good thing behind it, I think he understands skateboarding made me a better person too.”
Single favourite Heath Kirchart trick?
Either the back lip in Mind Field, where he’s wearing the shoelace belt and he puts his arms behind his back when he rolls into the street, or the 5050 in Sight Unseen where he ollies out does this thing with his hands because he realises the photographer missed it.
Is that what that is? I’ve always thought it was Heath being self-deprecating, like, “Ah, it wasn’t good enough,” or whatever.
That’s what I figured out, I think Miner told me. He looks at either one of the filmers or the photographer, and one of them missed it, and that’s why he throws his hands in the air. I’m pretty sure that’s what it was, if I remember correctly, because it makes sense when you watch the clip again. He’s like “Oh fuck…” How much better could he have done it?
Recommend a song by Elliott Smith, Modest Mouse and The Cure for the unfamiliar?
The Elliott Smith song would be ‘No Confidence Man’. That’s one of his first singles which is amazing. Modest Mouse, I’ll do ‘Edit The Sad Parts’. For The Cure I’ll do ‘Six Different Ways’ because it’s in a Blueprint video with someone who skates like Rowan [Zorilla].
What’s the nicest thing Jim T has said to you?
He texts me probably the nicest things anyone could twice a week after any clip I post. Yesterday he text me saying, “Mason, please, just let me be a fan,” [laughs].
To round this off: you’ve spoken about how supportive your dad has been of your skate career which is refreshing as for a long time it’s been pretty cliché for parents not to be. How do you think having that support over the years has contributed to you getting where you have?
It’s been a huge help. It feels really good when you do something and your parents are proud. It makes it all that much better knowing your dad gets the amount of work which goes into it because some parents might watch skateboarding and think you did everything first try or that you’re wasting your life. My dad understands there’s a good thing behind it, I think he understands skateboarding made me a better person too.
More San Francisco-themed material: Brad Johnson Interview, Lightbox: Karl Watson by Mike Blabac
Also by Farran Golding: Andrew James Peters Interview: Mentors Heroes & Monster Children, Lightbox: Gino Iannucci by Ben Colen, Bobshirt Interview: “For every era, that’s the golden era.”, Mark Suciu Interview: “I think it’s very natural to film for a standalone part.”