Interview by Farran Golding
Ryan Lay is one of those skateboarders whose skill you might overlook simply because they have so many other things about them equally capable of commanding your interest.
In case that sounds like I’m damning him with faint praise, I’ll put it this way: if youth worker, political campaigner, charity ambassador and insightful podcast host are on your resume then being able to switch backside lipslide handrails and take an ingenuitive eye to the old whizz-plank is pretty trivial in the grand scheme of things.
That’s not to say the latter isn’t important for myriad reasons; including that skateboarding often introduces us to the wider aspects of life we come to embrace. However, with this instalment of ‘Offerings’, it was heartwarming to learn about the overlapping significance of Ryan’s recommendations. And even if I wasn’t a fan of his favourite auteur, revisiting some underrated Jack Sabback footage alone justified hitting him up…
iPath ‘Summer Preview’ – Dan Wolfe (2005)
I’m not sure if I believe in favourites but I do believe great pieces of art hit you at the right time
You’d have been about 17 when this came out. What was going on in skateboarding for you at that point, were you sponsored yet?
I’d been sponsored since I was a sophomore in high school. I grew up loving the Static videos, the FTC videos, the East Coast and S.F. skating. The thing that’s going to be true of all these individual choices is I’m not sure if I believe in favourites but I do believe great pieces of art hit you at the right time.
There was a lot of really bland handrail skating when this video came out. I grew up skating in suburban Arizona so that was the norm. The iPath video felt so loosely scripted and an accurate portrayal of how it feels to skate in a city which was something I didn’t really know a whole lot about but it piqued my imagination. Interestingly enough, probably as a result of this video I decided I was going to leave [Arizona] when I finished high school and go to college in S.F.
‘Formative’ sums it up then.
Definitely. The other thing everyone talks about is that the video loops. You’d put in your DVD player, it would end and then that Kinks song would start again; it was almost hypnotic. Because of that little design feature I think a lot of people watched this video more than usual. It was a time when videos were beginning to feel a little overwhelming and long whereas this was concise. It’s the perfect length to put on before you go out skating, it’s not overwhelming or depressing in the way some videos are when they’re pure spectacle and achievement.
I could spend this whole conversation talking about Jack Sabback’s part. You lived together in New York some years later so how did you two become friends?
We rode for iPath together. I travelled with him and wanted to emulate Jack because he was one of my favourite skaters. I’d moved back to Phoenix and was itching to move to New York. Mind you, this was at a time when moving to New York meant that you were killing your career [laughs]. But I loved the city and the culture: all the things people love New York for, basically.
I slept on Jack’s floor or couch for a few months, Josh Stewart lived in that house too. Then I finally moved into a place down the street but Jack was nice enough to share his spot with me. I even puked on his floor one night which I still feel guilty about.
Mind you, this was at a time when moving to New York meant that you were killing your career
The laziness of ‘Sunny Afternoon’ coupled with how much of that opening line is just Jack skating down the road, kind of slouchy, with his arms trailing behind him is great. His style is so entertaining, it’s almost enough to see him ride his board and then the tricks are a bonus.
There’s few people who look as cool as Jack does when they’re just pushing down the street. That’s a quality which you could pull from the Stereo videos, A Visual Sound and Tincan Folklore, not jamming it mach-ten but casually skating down the street and doing perfect flip tricks.
So if you were a fan of his before you became friends did that start with this part?
I was a big fan of the original Rasa Libre so I knew of Jack loosely from that, which must have been around when this video came out. In retrospect, Rasa Libre had such a dream team. I think people forget how remarkable the original lineup was with Dylan Rieder, Omar Salazar, Jack, Reese Forbes and Matt Field. It was my favourite board company but I don’t remember having seen a whole lot of Jack prior to this video.
Something I wanted to point out is his long frontside nosegrind and backside nosegrind reverts, for me that was a little call back to Brian Wenning in Photosynthesis. Another thing that stands out is his nollie backside 180 to switch manual, switch frontside 180 out and he manoeuvres around this pole. That trick is damn near impossible on anything longer than a four or five foot kerb but he was good at the awkward tricks and holding them for a long time too.
Whilst we’re picking out individual tricks: Quim Cardona does a nollie frontside biggerspin in a line which – on paper – should look terrible but it’s so relaxed that it’s pretty dope.
The Barker Barrett section sticks out to me. Obviously Quim’s section, he was always a favourite of mine, then Jon Newport and Danny Renaud.
Jon Newport does an amazing shifty kickflip off this tiny bump. Then, back to back, Danny Renaud has two of the most audibly pleasing tricks I’ve ever seen/heard. A flip back tail, which really dinks into the rail, followed by a crook that sounds like a bag of marbles spilling over.
That – and then the nollie heelflip he does. It shifties about 30 degrees, comes back, and it’s down like a ten stair. I think a lot of people forget that Danny Renaud skated some pretty big shit.
Ocean Howell’s backside 5-0 to back three out, that’s a lesser seen trick. He bigspins out of wallride too and it’s so silky.
Yes! I wasn’t familiar with Ocean Howell because the Feasters days were before my time, and I don’t think YouTube was really that prevalent yet, so Ocean’s skating was this mix of old and new which I was confused but enthralled by. It’s hard to imagine the landscape but no-one was doing no-comply tricks like that at that time. They’re such the norm now. Jake [Johnson] and Pontus [Alv] did a good job of bringing ‘em back. A lot of Ocean’s flatground no-complies would feel standard nowadays but I had rarely seen people do them as a backside 360 and definitely not as bigspins. I just couldn’t place him. Then there are those tricks on the milk cart where he’s powersliding down the hill. That’s pretty remarkable.
Matt Rodriguez closes it out, scoring his own part too. He’s skating a ditch in the first couple of clips and the backside carve into it is asking for trouble. But he just manhandles it.
Again, with Matt Rodriguez I hadn’t seen a lot of his footage early on. It’s funny, a lot of these guys I don’t think are fairly credited with the current revival of this style of skating. If you think of how Shin Sanbongi skates, it’s almost identical to some of the stuff that M-Rod’s doing in here and you can see the influence of all these guys in a lot of current, popular skaters.
Of course we’ve got to talk about Kenny Reed.
Kenny rode for iPath with me and his Static II part is pretty much my favourite of all time. When I got on iPath it was right at the beginning of my skate career and I emulated Jack and Kenny. They were at the tail-ends of their careers and through osmosis I learned some life lessons about how to pursue a career in skating and through Kenny I learned a lot about travelling as well.
We could think of this as the antithesis to the Fully Flared model … ahead of its time because I think it laid out a much better and more sustainable way of making a skate video
This would have been considered more of a ‘promo’ than a full-length video back in 2005. But it’s got an opening part, some shared and some short parts, some guys only have one or two tricks, and then it’s back to a full part to close it out and that structure basically constitutes a full-length video in 2020.
People theorise that skate videos got shorter because attention spans got shorter. While I think there’s something to be said about how a longer video can feel overwhelming and have the opposite effect of what’s intended – that being: to make you want to go skate – I also think it’s got a lot to do with the fact it’s hard to not be visible throughout the time it takes to produce an hour-long video. This did a good job of capturing what was going on for a year or two prior to its release. Just putting that out instead of waiting, we could think of this as the antithesis to the Fully Flared model of waiting as many years as it takes until everyone has a full part. That’s not sustainable anymore because you’ve got to be constantly staying top of peoples’ mind.
The model I grew up filming video parts with was that you wanted to get the best version of every trick you were capable of doing and put out a four or so minute part. This video was ahead of its time because I think it laid out a much better and more sustainable way of making a skate video – just laying out the skating you did within a certain period. That can include a few amazing tricks, or it can be what amounts to a full part like with Jack or Matt, but more often than not it’s “Here’s five great Nate Jones tricks and a shared part with Danny Renaud.” They’re not well rounded parts by any means but I prefer that so much more now. Andrew Reynolds is a good example of someone who did the absolute most in Stay Gold, which of course is a part that brings tears to your eyes, but how great is it to see him do a line with a noseslide 270? That’s not overwhelming at all, he just looks great doing it.
If you said ‘Dan Wolfe’ then people would probably think of the Eastern Exposure series, the Sub Zero video, or Real To Reel. Do you think this is an underrated entry of his?
Definitely. I feel he didn’t get a lot of credit because it was branded for a shoe company. Also, I’m pretty certain it was filmed by a handful of people. Some of the footage is a little shaky which, again, I actually think that’s something people are more comfortable with now. We have these standards about footage being all the same quality but, as you know, some of the best videos are compilations from a grab bag of different cameras and qualities. Because of that, this doesn’t have the same effect as an Eastern Exposure but the feel of it is still great.
‘A Record’ – Laura Stevenson (2008)
Did you discover Laura Stevenson through her old band, Bomb The Music Industry, or her solo work?
I vaguely knew of her through Bomb The Music Industry. I’m not the biggest music person but someone had given me this album around when it was released. It’s funny, I’ve talked to Dom Henry about this before, because maybe he has a similar sensibility, but I tend to be into music that can be quite heavy. Some might even call it ‘emo’. You know, music that tugs at your heartstrings a little bit.
I don’t feel I have the vocabulary to speak about music but this album has the quality of a home recording and I love that. Maybe there’s a through line here from the iPath video with things which don’t feel so overly produced? Listening to that type of music, and her voice in particular, can be a little off putting for some – and maybe not thought of as beautiful in a traditional way. I loved Neutral Milk Hotel as well which is in that same vein.
it felt like I finally had some power in my skating. Coincidentally that was the period where I was skating with Jack and Kenny quite a lot.
There’s a few abrupt changes within individual tracks throughout the album. The opener, ‘Baby Bones’, shifts so drastically around the minute mark that I thought it was a different song all together on my first listen. Then, about half way through ‘The Source and The Sound (The Sound and The Source)’, it starts as calm and orchestral but becomes quite crashing.
Yes! The pacing is remarkable. There are a couple of songs which have a lullaby-like quality, a few have this fuzzy recording aesthetic that are quite heavy, a few hit with a full band and then you’ve got horns in there too. I really like the arcs, the ups and downs of the track list.
A few of the songs reminded me of Beirut. I think it’s the marriage of her vocals against those brass instruments. It creates an atmosphere that’s both solemn and triumphant.
I haven’t listened to a lot of Beirut but it definitely could be in that similar wheelhouse with the horns. You’re exactly right, there’s a very triumphant feeling whereas some of the later tracks, like ‘Holy Ghost’, have a haunting quality. If you’re sitting in a dark room that’s definitely hitting you.
On the whole it’s a very tender album. It’s not something I could listen to whilst going about my day to day. It’s one of those albums where you’d switch off from everything and really spend time with it as much as just listening to it, you know?
There probably isn’t an album which I’ve listened to as much as this. I skated to ‘The Source And The Sound…’ in the defunct iPath video, The Other Ones. That was a very untraditional song for the time which I really pushed for. Actually, that’s where I first felt like I was coming into my own. You’re never too pleased with your footage but that was a period where we travelled a lot, I felt good about what I had, and it felt like I finally had some power in my skating. Coincidentally that was the period where I was skating with Jack and Kenny quite a lot.
If for any other reason this album means a lot to me it’s because that song, personally, worked well in the edit and I’ve had a lot of people tell me it’s how they got introduced to Laura Stevenson. My part in Seance also has a Laura Stevenson song which was a bit of a call back to this. We had to get music rights cleared for the video before we put it out, so they didn’t really let anyone pick their songs because it’s such a headache trying to buy music, but I reached out to her with the help of Sean Bonnette from AJJ, who’s a friend of mine and knew her. I sent a heartfelt email about how I’d skated to one of her songs in the past and how her music meant so much to me, how it had helped me through a lot of dark times. I asked if she’d give her permission for me to skate to a track for the Welcome video and she was super down. That was cool – more so because it meant I got to fan out on one of my favourite artists.
Days of Heaven – Terrence Malick (1978)
Give us a summary of Days of Heaven.
In essence: Richard Gere and Brooke Adams are marriedand travelling with his little sister [played by Linda Manz], sometime right before the Great Depression. At the beginning of the film he’s working in a steel mill and gets into an altercation with the boss so they take off by train to the Texas Panhandle. They end up at a farm and, along with a handful of migrant labourers, they live there and harvest wheat for the farm’s owner. In that brief period, Richard Gere’s character finds out that the owner of the farm [played by Sam Shepard] is sick and supposed to die within a year. Shortly thereafter the boss falls in love with Brooke Adam’s character. Her and Richard Gere have agreed to tell everyone they’re brother and sister so they build a plan to have her marry the landowner and swindle him out of his money. So when he passes away they’ll be able to live without working in this rugged lifestyle.
That’s a good set-up and we won’t spoil what follows. When did this come into your life?
Again, similarly to my other choices, when I was going to school in S.F. I was studying film – and maybe I’d seen this right before that – but it was in the early transition of realising film could be an artistic medium. As opposed to when you’re younger and just watch blockbusters, which are also great, but occupy a very different space.
I just remember being mesmerised. It’s hard to think of a more beautiful film than Days Of Heaven and that’s quite true of all of Terrence Malick’s films. The pacing, slowness and movement was fascinating to me. I recently read that he worked on it in a similar way to how we work on skate videos. Which is that they didn’t work off a strict screenplay, per-se, the technicians would be instructed to film what they found interesting, so there’s a lot of texture. So much of it has that golden light, whether that’s in the morning or evening, and I think I read some film critics were frustrated because they were wasting a lot of film.
Looking at their situation through the eyes of a child; she doesn’t understand the severity but she’s living through it all which I think is a fascinating device you don’t see in a lot of films.
Honestly, I couldn’t get into it.
Fair enough. I watched it with my girlfriend and she was a little confused, like, “Why is this your favourite film?” It’s a slow burner. The Thin Red Line is another favourite of mine, it’s a war film but it has similar pacing. I love the rapture narrative [of Days Of Heaven] and the de-centred narration from Richard Gere’s sister. That’s an interesting play. You’ve got this young girl narrating the film through a very poetic lens, not necessarily narrating what’s happening but talking about her feelings as she’s moving from sleeping outside in the winter, being in the snow, to harvesting wheat all day. Something I realise now, in the context of labour in this period of industrialisation, is how people are forced into extreme circumstances through their labour precarity and find themselves in incredibly unfortunate situations and moral dilemmas as a result. I missed that when I was younger because I hadn’t worked a whole lot.
I know much of the film’s acclaim comes down to how stunning it is but I found that it spends too much time basking in its own beauty and the plot and the characters played second fiddle to that.
People have that critique, especially of Malick’s later films, that they’re almost self-indulgent but I love the haphazardness of things playing through. There’s this momentum which doesn’t feel overly scripted in the way that a lot of films do, it’s like these events are slowly unfolding but I can see where you’re coming from.
I also didn’t feel an emotional connection to the characters or that kind of charge throughout despite it being a love story of sorts. It felt sort of flat, like watching a series of postcards and the characters are just silhouettes in the foreground of – yet another – rustic sunset…
This may be a reach but maybe there’s an inherently American quality which resonates with an American viewer over a British viewer? To me, there’s a bit of symbolism about the American Dream and how it’s unattainable for so many which I didn’t see until recently. I can see it’s not overly acted, that’s for sure. Still-for-still it’s one of the most beautiful films ever made, and I was painting a lot at the time [of first watching it], so it’s no surprise I appreciated a painterly film and maybe that helped me overlook the lack of emphasis on acting. I also remember loving a lot of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films for some of these same qualities.
Also, It’s very unconventional, the narration doesn’t quite line up with what’s happening in the film. You’re getting the inner monologue of this ten year old girl who’s loosely describing what’s happening between her brother, his partner and the farmer and she often trails off. Looking at their situation through the eyes of a child; she doesn’t understand the severity but she’s living through it all which I think is a fascinating device you don’t see in a lot of films.
The Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein (2007)
Onto the last one now, The Shock Doctrine.
Similarly, this is a book which hit me at the right time. I was a big fiction reader in my early twenties and I didn’t really think about politics in the early days of the Obama era which I think a lot of people are guilty of.
This explained so much of what I’d seen specifically while travelling. You don’t need to travel to gain a political lens but I was travelling for work while simultaneously working with refugee and immigrant youth at home with Skate After School. I hadn’t made the connection between everything and a good political storyteller can help you thread the needle between seemingly disparate phenomena. This was that book for me. I mean, it’s a super popular book especially for left leaning people…
The central theme is ‘disaster capitalism’ so, for context, it explores how catastrophic events come as a shock to our collective consciousness, creating a period of instability which is exploited through private contracting. Did reading this make you more observant – or perhaps scrutinous – of current affairs?
Yeah. As Americans the narrative we’re told is that countries are ‘failing’ because they’re ‘corrupt’ and ‘poorly run’ and through ‘spreading democracy’, and introducing free markets, we’ll help ‘liberate’ them.
My introduction to left-wing political reading was Stephen Kinzer’s books about regime change and U.S. overthrow of foreign governments. I read this shortly afterwards and it helped paint the picture starting with The Chicago Boys and Milton Friedman: free market economists who were wildly predatory especially in specific historical moments. They had a vision for a world which ultimately benefited multinational corporations. With the help of the CIA and certain events, some planned and some spontaneous natural disasters, these moments were used to implement far-right economic policies that just ravaged countries, or in some cases cities right here in the U.S.
This book really helped me with understanding first: the refugee youth we work with and second: the immigration we have from Central and South America, especially in Arizona as I live in a border state. You guys have similar problems in the U.K. where regions are deliberately destabilised through foreign policy decisions, like the war on terror, or over-exploitation/underdevelopment, and then you mix in climate change and suddenly you’ve got a lot of people seeking refuge in your country.. That process stokes anti-immigrant sentiment which kind of flames the fire and produces right wing demagogues locally. There’s obviously a lot more to that but that’s the gist of the argument.
Institutions are slowly privatised and they’re starved through austerity and the cutting of public spending in the process. That cycle of privatisation is probably similar to some of the NHS battles happening in the U.K
You’ve got a degree in public administration which I imagine has some bureaucratic overlap with the case studies presented here. Did reading The Shock Doctrine offer up any new considerations about that field?
Not necessarily. I was mostly learning to be an efficient writer, which is valuable in public administration, but there are ways in which these things seep through. Even in those classes you’re told the story of why public institutions or infrastructure are failing and this book helped illustrate what you aren’t told. Which is that institutions are slowly privatised and they’re starved through austerity and the cutting of public spending in the process. That cycle of privatisation is probably similar to some of the NHS battles happening in the U.K. – making something a worse version of what it could be, until it’s pointed at by someone who says: “Look, it doesn’t even function properly. Let’s keep privatising it and selling it off!”
As I was buying my copy the cashier said that “some of it’s quite dated now.” I haven’t finished it yet but that felt strange. With the world the way it is, now feels like a very appropriate time to read it.
I couldn’t disagree more with that [laughs]. A central theme for me, aside from the denser [economical] stuff, comes later on when Naomi Klein writes about the Iraq War, Green Zones and the process of turning everything into basically a gated community. That feels so much more relevant under Covid and climate change, not to mention we’re still fighting those wars, even though a lot of people forget that.
Travelling to Palestine, you see upfront what that vision of society looks like in its most grotesque version. When I came back I was thinking about it even more in regards to the U.S.’ relationship to the reservations here and these oncoming catastrophes. You know, the six months of hundred-plus degree weather and the wildfires in California. And how instead of doing what we know works – taxing the wealthy to build up better public infrastructure – things are becoming further segregated and the people who can afford to escape do so. I mean, wealthy people are hiring their own private firefighting services.
Any follow up reading you’d recommend from this?
The True Flag and Overthrow by Stepen Kinzer are good, I read those two right before this. They paint a picture of U.S. foreign policy in the 20th century and talk about similar things. Edward Said, Frantz Fanon, Nick Turse, Eduardo Galeano, Arundhati Roy are other good writers with varying degrees of accessibility. Blowback is a podcast that came out earlier this year which helps lay out the story of the Iraq War we don’t hear in the media: that it was basically at the benefit of multinational oil companies, it was all just to gain access to oil markets. That’s easy to digest if reading a long book isn’t your thing. Naomi Klein has a bunch of other good books. No Is Not Enough is about how we have to do more than just resist Trump and far-right authoritarians, and actually paint a vision of the world that looks different to the centrist politics we’ve had for the past 20 or 30 years, and it covers how not addressing major systemic fissures is likely to breed more far-right nationalism.
We close these interviews out with some more general talk and I thought your involvement with Skate After School would be a nice place to start. Give us a rundown of the work you guys do in Arizona?
We basically create a skate session for kids. We like to tell people that we don’t do ‘skate coaching’, in essence it’s an after school program to keep kids safe. To touch on that same theme from before, public school funding has been cut across the board so we fill a void by giving kids an opportunity to do something safe and fun after school.
In January, we’ll be back working with seven schools and around 240 kids each week. It’s Monday through Friday and we have a truck we load up with skateboards, helmets and some small ramps. We pull up to each school, one day a week, build a little skatepark and give kids a chance to learn how to skate on their own. Typically we have supervisors, skaters for the most part, who hang out at each station like a quarterpipe, and give kids input when they want it. Ultimately we try to recreate the environment we learned how to skate in; figuring things out on our own, asking the older skaters for advice but also figuring it out and taking the occasional slam yourself. Obviously the kids have wrist guards and helmets on.
At the end of the day it’s a mentorship program. We have a core value curriculum called GRIP which stands for Generosity, Respect, Innovation and Persistence. Over the years we came to realise they were some of the core values we got out of skateboarding and we felt good pushing those. It’s not about how good you are, it’s about having fun with your classmates and peers.
How has it been navigating the past few months?
We went on spring break in mid-March. I feel like coronavirus was something you heard rumbling about in the news then suddenly the government announced we’re on lockdown and you’re like, “Holy shit, this is a reality now.” We went on hold for the rest of the school year, we kind of dragged our feet for about a month – probably not unlike a lot of people who were trying to figure out what ‘the new normal’ looks like, then we pivoted our program towards refurbishing boards and donating them to the community. We knew that we wouldn’t be able to go back in August so we decided to put our programs on hold until January but, as of right now, we’ve given out about 220 skateboards. Youth who are 14 and under can apply on our website, show up to our office and they’ll get a free board.
When you’ve seen the difference skateboarding has made to someone’s life, I imagine a lot of worry stems from knowing it isn’t going to be present for them in the same way for a while.
Yeah, but thankfully we do this program with Cowtown called The Skateboard Angel and through that people can buy a skateboard for a kid at cost. Which is about $55 dollars and it’s a good shop complete, not like a Toys R Us board. Through that, every year we’ve got each kid in our program a board of their own. We’ve actually seen a lot of the kids skating at home on Instagram. Bear in mind in June and July it’s like 46 degrees celsius in the daytime, with no humidity, so it’s brutal. It’s been challenging but there are kids who have a board, and a kerb or a flatbar, so they can learn on their own and some of them will skate with kids in their neighbourhood too.
It’s been tough but I think a lot of us, especially during Covid, have come to a new relationship with skating alone. I’ve never skated alone so much in my life, I used to hate it and now I’ve got a new relationship with skating to music too. It feels more like exercise which can be nice in a weird way. I find that I don’t push myself a whole lot, I think I need peers to do that, but it’s nice to try a hard manual trick on repeat for an hour and get into the meditative state.
I feel like outreach work and activism is quite embedded within skateboarding now. Would you say so?
You’re totally right. [Charities and nonprofits] are really having their moment. Part and parcel to it is that skating is having a big discussion around complicated social and cultural issues – which is much needed- but a byproduct is people looking to nonprofits and social skate projects to find a productive place for some of that energy, which feels healthy!
We’ve been around for almost ten years and I think it is somewhere similar for Skateistan and SkatePal. In the time they began there weren’t that many social skate projects but now they’re everywhere and it’s awesome. Almost once a week we get a DM or I’ll get a phone call from somebody who wants to start a similar program.
Also, skateboarding is becoming more mainstream and I think that helps with getting skate programs into the public school system and things like that. Something I feel very strongly about is that as skating enters the Olympics, and these larger corporations get more involved, there’s going to be a big influx of money and marketing money. There needs to be the right people in place to capture a lot of that energy.
On a grassroots level.
Exactly. I’m really heartened by seeing the people who run SkatePal, who run Free Movement, who run Skate Nottingham. These are real people in the community with bonafide skateboarding credibility and I can only hope, as there becomes more mainstream interest in skateboarding, that all of these different projects fulfil that void.
The U.S. election is coming up and until Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race you’d been campaigning with Skaters For Bernie. What did that involve?
I was invested in Bernie’s 2016 primary run. It felt like an opportunity for there to be a rupture in the politics of the last 40 years. Again, if we can go back to The Shock Doctrine, you can think of the time since Reagan and Thatcher as this broader project of neoliberalism: cutting public spending, immense growth in the private sector paired with an all out assault on unions. As more of our friends move into gig work and labour precarity, many people are starting to question the status quo and also grapple with, and feel very viscerally, the almost apocalyptic scale of climate change. I got involved in the campaign on those grounds, I’ve got friends in the U.K. who were involved with the Corbyn campaign, which definitely had a similar vision.
In 2019 I decided I didn’t want to have any regrets towards not being involved with what felt like a momentous occasion. I went to Iowa for the Primaries, canvassed and knocked on doors there then to Nevada for the third contest, I canvassed here [in Arizona] and tried to organise with skaters across the country. It was an interesting experience. I learned a lot about people’s needs and – more importantly – the way that people are really, truly beaten down and disenfranchised. That was my broadest takeaway, which gave me mixed feelings. I’m still thinking about all that and obviously the protests changed the landscape quite a bit.
Getting back to skateboarding for the last bit of this: what sparked the decision to start Vent City?
The decision was sparked by not hearing the conversations I wanted to hear, but having those good conversations with friends and feeling there was an appetite for topics which aren’t readily presented in our available media. When you’ve got brands and industry supporting the media landscape you don’t really get unconstrained criticism.
I want to be very clear: there are magazines covering heavier critical issues and doing a lot of great work under very challenging circumstances. It’s hard work running a magazine or website. But for me, beyond talking about and tying social, cultural or political issues into skating, I wanted to have a place where people can feel free to say, “I didn’t like that video” or have an unfiltered opinion.
Obviously we have our constraints. Since we started Ted Schmitz is now working at Thrasher as the web editor and Alex [White] is my TM at Krux. As far as skate podcasts go, The Bunt’s interviews are great, The Nine Club is good to learn the kind of career arc of individual pros, but there were a lot of stories which weren’t covered and my hunch was that people wanted to talk about some of these deeper issues, it could be good to be divisive. It seems there’s an audience for that. It’s small but I think it’s growing every year, with a lot of other great projects popping up.
We’re all skate nerds and we have our different references for skate history. The long-term goal is to have a place where you can hear an unfiltered opinion about skating. Sometimes that can be deep and sometimes that’s as trivial as someone’s style on a back tail [laughs].
Well, you are comfortable speaking candidly in interviews. Your recent one with SOLO seemed well received. Over the years I think you’ve articulated your experiences well, career-wise, in a way that’s objective and observational even when touching on some of the negative aspects.
I guess in the last few years I’ve tried to pivot into being open about the things which are going on in my life. Not exactly the deeper issues but trying to pull back the curtain on skating in a way which people maybe usually don’t because they have constraints. I’m fortunate enough to do that because I have another job, with Skate After School, and I want to create a space where more people are comfortable doing that.
Anything you’d like to throw out there to wrap up with? Maybe some positivity to take into the coming, unpredictable months, as winter sets in and it starts raining too…
There’s a lot of value in pulling from different worlds and trying to tie things together to influence your skating. Having done this interview, I didn’t realise the influence these things had on my career and now I’m thinking about them in a different light. In that spirit, I think a message I want to give to other skaters is: don’t think that you need to only focus on the sheer skill and practice of skating because taking diversions will influence your skating in ways you probably could never imagine. I didn’t realise that until I was about 30, that I have a different approach because of my involvement with Skate After School; because of a book I read which Maen [Hammad] DM’d me about and that led me to SkatePal, because of my relationship with the world. So, really take a moment to appreciate the depth art can bring to your life and ultimately, your skating. Stay open!