Can you tell us the story of how you started skateboarding?
I first really fell in love with skateboarding around Christmas time, 1996. I went to a new school and there was a group of skaters there. I would see them skate the parking lot or at the public park across the street and I was fascinated by it. I couldn't understand how they kept their board to their feet and how they could flip it. It was just amazing to me and I had to learn how to do it. I had to. So for that Christmas, I got a skateboard and I was hooked. I couldn't stop.
I watched Primitive’s Pain is Beauty. How was the premiere?
The premiere was really good. We had three showings and it was a full house every time. We're really thankful that a lot of people came out and supported us. It was a project of passion and my partner Andy definitely drove himself crazy putting it together so I'm real glad people seemed to like it. All of our team riders really came through with great parts so I'm real proud of everybody. It's really cool to watch a project that you're a part of unfold.
Can you tell us about your involvement with Primitive?
It’s been open about four and a half years now and I started it with two other really good friends I've known since I was little kid. My partner Andy was the team manager at the shop we used to skate for back in the day called One Eighteen. He was a few years older than me so he took me under his wing at the shop and had a hand in getting me in front of people that helped me get hooked up to be where I'm at today. He was always super supportive of me. Once I finally made my way and got with Nike, he came to me with the idea about Primitive. He's always wanted to start his own store instead of working for someone. So once I got on Nike, he eventually convinced me. I was skeptical at first to go into business with him. Thank God he did ‘cause he's done a great job. Him, Jay and our other partner Jubal, they've done an amazing job and I'm so grateful to be doing this with some great friends.
You're the first Mexican American to have a signature shoe on Nike. What does your Mexican American heritage mean to you?
It's my roots. It's where I come from; it's my genetics, my DNA, my body, my build. All from my heritage. My ancestors all before me contributed to the blessings I’m living now. It's where you come from. You can never be ignorant to where you come from because they're responsible for what you are now.
You're on your sixth shoe model from Nike. How do you feel each model has progressed?
It's really cool to customize a skateboard product to the way you like it. When I was a young kid dreaming about being a pro skater, I always wanted to change little things of different products. It's cool to have that opportunity now on a big scale. Hopefully what I like, others may enjoy as well. I like how they have all progressed. My first shoe came out when I was probably about nineteen. Bit more of a baggier style, air bubbles in the shoe ‘cause I’m a big fan of hip-hop and was influenced by hip-hop style. The first two shoes were bigger. The third slimmed down a little bit, more like a Jordan-type inspiration. The four, we went real simple, basic. I wanted to tone it down. The five, we did the single toe piece. I really liked that cause I rip my shoes real quick and the six we just did a little evolution of the five. We added a couple of different features to modify it: more ventilation, little aesthetic things. I was feeling the vibe of the five so I didn't want to go to far from that.
Are you going to feature in The Chronicles Part Two?
No because right now I'm working on the Plan B video and it's real tough because there are such high expectations for everyone in the video that we're really taking our time and doing the best we can. To film for two video parts at the same time is just asking for me to have a nervous breakdown [laughs].
I'm wondering what thought processes you go through when you're filming tricks for an upcoming video part.
It's about outdoing yourself from last time and pushing your ability to the next level. Not only just having new tricks, but also improving the way I do the tricks, my style. It can definitely drive me crazy and send me through an emotional rollercoaster. Some days I come home from skating and I'm so deflated and almost depressed. You get to the point where you're like "man, I don't even know if I can even do this anymore". Then other days you finally land that trick you've been dreaming about and it's like "I got this, I can do this forever. I love it". I do one trick or line at a time and if I don't get it that first day I keep going back. When I finally do get it, off to the next idea. When I retire I would like to think that I added a little bit to skate history. I like to think I can leave my mark in the sense of helping to innovate and add new elements. I think on a level of trying to leave a legacy one day when I'm retired. I want to be up there with some of the greats.
It's a sad time for the skateboarding with the recent news of Lewis Marnell. How do you think skateboarding has been affected by his death?
I mean, dude. It hit us all so unexpectedly. It's a sad thing to lose anyone, especially so young and vibrant. I really feel for his family and his wife. He was just recently married. He was only married two months.
A real tragedy.
Yeah, she came in and found him. I feel for her because it must have been the most crushing moment of her life. His mother, his father, his close family are probably gut wrenched about it. I was fortunate enough to spend some good times with Lewis. He was a great guy and the silver lining to it is realizing that death is going to come for all of us. It helps us to realize that I could die any day, each day. I need to live every day like it's my last and interact with everyone like it's the last time I'll speak to them. It's a valuable lesson because sometimes you get stressed about certain things.
I watched the LIFE series. Something that really stood out to me was how shocked you were by the effects of Hurricane Katrina.
It was insane. When we went to New Orleans as far as I thought, we were just going there for the new skatepark opening and we were gonna skate the park, have a spot for kids to skate and that's a pretty cool cause. Then once we got there we learned that the skatepark was in the most devastated area of Katrina. It's been seven years and in certain areas it might as well have happened yesterday. It is literally still devastated. To see the strife of people who lived through it: Mac who took us around lost his whole home and the amount of people that were lost that never got to see each other again. It was like putting myself in their shoes and their state of mind. To have experienced that, I don't know how anybody could have the strength to pull out of that and move on. Some people lost literally everybody they know.
You've also been very lucky in the injury department as far as I understand.
I've had certain little baby injuries. My pinky toe was jacked for a while. It seems like a whack injury but it was definitely interfering. I’ve been very fortunate. I'm thankful.
What about the hardest slam you've had?
I've taken lots of hard slams. I've just been fortunate that none of those slams have been so bad that I have broke anything or tore ligaments. Recently I've been skating this stair set trying to get a certain trick and it's been ripping me apart. My hip is pretty chewed up. It was bleeding for a couple of weeks straight. I put a bandage over it but my jeans kept rubbing on it, but nonetheless I've just been fortunate and I all I can do is just give that up to God because I'm not in control of the injury department. I'm just thankful to God that I'm still healthy. I'm twenty-eight years old and I still feel like I'm eighteen. Loving it.
How do you assess risk when you're skating?
I'm definitely a scaredy cat. I don't do danger.
I wouldn't say that.
Maybe. It's just the feel when you get to a spot. How does the ground feel? How does the landing feel? How does the runway feel? I just assess it on a case-by-case basis. If you actually watched me in the process of filming a trick, say jumping some big stairs, you'd see me go through the most insane process. I take my hat off about thirty million times between each try, say a prayer, roll up to the stairs ten times in a row, talk to myself for like ten minutes and then finally try it once.
I walk back up and do the whole thing again and again for hours until I finally land it or maybe I don't. Then I go back another time and we go through that whole insane process again. I've never considered myself a daredevil, wild or reckless. I don't just do things without thinking. I only try things if I believe that I have a very good chance of really doing it. Otherwise I'm not just going to take a shot in the dark and hope for the best. That may also be why I've been fortunate.
You have a wealth of sponsors and you seem to be covered from all angles. How would you assess your own work ethic in terms of the amount of sponsors that you have?
I would consider myself a certified workaholic. It's all I do, all I think about, it's all I want to do besides be a good father. All I want to do is be a great skateboarder. That's it. It's all I care about at this point in my life. My child and skateboarding are really awesome. I have been very fortunate to have great sponsors; dream sponsors that anybody who aspires to be a pro skateboarder would love to have and I’m grateful to have them at a time where it's difficult for people to get sponsored or maintain sponsors.
Often people say once skaters go pro, the work ethic can sometimes lag. It would appear yours hasn't. What's your opinion there and why do you think your work ethic isn't in keeping with that statement?
I've definitely witnessed it after being inside the industry. Seeing people so hungry, then finally making it to be where they want and then almost completely overnight changing their work ethic. Some people react to what they think pressure is differently. When you're a little kid and you dream of being a pro skater all you think about is free stuff and skating all the time which is true, but also you've got to think once you sign a contract you have a responsibility to those sponsors. It's not just like "we're giving you free stuff and skate how you want." It's tours, deadlines, contests, and appearances. I don't think a lot of kids really understand before they get there. If you don't live up to those responsibilities, your sponsors will have no problem kicking you off the team because there's a million other kids who want to be exactly where you are. I think for some people, that affects them. Your passion all of a sudden becomes your job. Some people don’t react well to that and only do what they have to do to keep getting by and forget why they started skateboarding in the first place. A skate career is different from skateboarding.
After hearing Koston's words from the In Bloom part ten years ago what sort of feelings did you have?
That is just…when I heard those words from him, I almost cried. Koston. He's my guy. He's the guy I studied. He's the guy I emulated, he's the guy whose skating I loved the most and I wanted to have a career like his. Koston has been now, for twenty plus years, the best ever and if I can even have a fraction of the type of impact on skateboarding that he has I'll be so grateful. When he was saying that…that was unreal. I had his posters on the wall. Every video part I watched a million times, I slow mo'd every trick, I studied everything. I'm sure for many other people and especially those of my age and generation, he was always the best. So when you have your hero speaking that way of you, it's an emotional thing. If I could let myself, I could really go back and think about that and probably get teary-eyed. I had no idea it was going to be at the start of the part. I didn't hear until the premiere. It was insane.
The Tom Penny sighting on Mikey Days, I didn't expect to see you so star struck and nervous. Did you eventually speak to him?
Yeah. I had met him early on back when we were both on éS. I met him back in 2002 Germany and man, I just felt like what a little girl must feel like when she sees Justin Bieber.
I was scared. My palms were sweaty. I was introduced to him and he looked at me, he had big blue eyes - real cool. Him, Koston and Reynolds. That's my combo right there. To me, Tom Penny was always a myth because when I started skating that's when he kind of disappeared so I always heard legends, tales and stories about him. I just never thought I was going to see him. To me he was like Santa Claus, just a legend. Somebody you talked about that you didn't even know was real. Every time I have seen him that same feeling comes back to me from when I was seventeen and I finally got to meet him.
You skated for Girl and leaving is perhaps a rare thing to do. How do you look back at your time there retrospectively?
I look at it with a lot of gratefulness. Those are very special times for me. I was really young, I was only with them from seventeen to nineteen but they were really great times. Obviously Girl is the one company that almost everybody would give their left nut to ride for, and I had no intentions of leaving Girl ever. As far as I knew, that's where I was going to be forever. But you get a call from a legend like Danny Way and how can you say no? The way I looked at it, Danny Way himself called me and asked me to ride for this company that he spent his career and put his hobby on the line for - him, Pat Duffy, the whole original crew - they put their bodies and their whole spirits into creating such a legend, such an epic company and now he's calling me, because he has faith in me to be there to help carry the legacy on. He's putting trust in me to continue that legacy. That's huge. That's an honor. I don't even know what I could compare that to. That's the highest compliment someone could receive. For me, it just felt right. I'm grateful I made that decision. I love Girl, I loved my time that I spent on Girl, and I love all those guys. Their thing is the way it should be.
Battle at the Berrics. Are you going to win for the second time?
[Laughs]. I don't think anyone knows that answer. Anything I do, I put my best foot forward. I do the best I possibly can and I try my heart out. That's all I can say. I'm not the most talented skater in the world and I definitely don't have the most fancy flatground tricks but somehow, someway, I was able to do it one time so it is possible. It could happen again.
Let's talk about your park. Who designed it?
Mike Roebke, the guy who built it, and myself. We worked on it together on his computer program and just designed it. He built it and made it awesome.
How was the design process?
I started off by drawing it on paper and he opens up his computer and shows me this whole program where he can design anything he wanted right then and there. From there we just added elements of my drawing, elements of his and he kept tweaking little things. It was just really cool cause he could literally design the whole park right there down to the colors of the whole park. It was super fun. I enjoy skating there and I'm blessed to have that type of place at my fingertips.
Who are the regular faces there?
Myself, Torey, Carlos Zarazua, Justin Schulte, Nick Tucker and Manny Santiago. That's the more regular crew that people would know of. Then of course friends I grew up with, people I know from my neighborhood and from around the area I've known for a while come through.
Your switch skating is often cited as your primary strength. Is this something that is intentional?
Long story short, yes. I've always wanted to be balanced. For some reason, I've always wanted to skate exactly the same both ways evenly. I actually play guitar left and right handed. I've always had to be even, always both ways. I don’t know why, it's always been a weird fascination for me even before skating. Switch was just so fascinating for me so I just try to do regular switch to the best of my abilities and try to improve it as best as I can.
I understand you believe in having a good mentality in terms of your performance in contest skating. I know you draw from athletes affiliated with other sports but which skaters do you admire in this respect?
Nyjah is rock solid. He's definitely a new wave of the next generation. He's a phenomenon. All that definitely stems from his mentality. Sheckler. He's a real competitor, real tough. Whether he wins or not he's there to fight for it. He just really tries. I love and really respect that.
There has been a recent announcement about the collaboration between X-Games and Street League. Can you tell us your thoughts on that?
I think it's great. The X-Games and Street League can benefit a lot from each other. The X-Games will finally have a really cool format and really cool courses. I think the massive exposure the X-Games gets will really help shine light onto Street League and help the Street League grow it's own entity. The partnership is really cool and I'm excited about it. It presents more opportunities for the skaters and I'm really looking forward to it. Hopefully I can do pretty well this year.
Looking forward to the future, I understand you have a great enthusiasm for acting but skating is the priority for the next good while. What sort of films or TV are you into?
I'd like to be a film actor. My favorite actor is Johnny Depp. I like Christian Bale a lot. Guys you can tell who are real actors, that are real serious about their craft, who really live it and breathe it. That's the way I feel about skateboarding. That's my craft. I really honor the opportunity to work hard at it and improve. Right now I'm at this point in my life where it's really consuming most of my time. After I'm done with skateboarding I intend to put that same attitude, that same dedication into my acting and I aspire to be one of the greats. Whether I reach that or not isn't important.
Does your enthusiasm for acting stem from your father?
Definitely. The seed was planted very young. I was able and fortunate enough to go on a lot of movie and TV sets when I was young, meeting a lot of different people and actors. It's always been something that I've been close to. I think now at this age, I have the maturity and discipline to understand how to take it seriously. At a young age it was just more like "oh it just seems cool, I can see myself on TV". It wasn't really a deeper love for it.
You draw inspiration from people like Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali. Your father was in the movie Ali as well.
Yeah, he was. It was really cool. I remember when he did that. It kind of sucked in a way because he was supposed to have a pretty significant role but the guy whose role he playing - Ferdie Pacheco - got into a big dispute with the director. The director was like "fine, fuck you. I'm gonna cut your character out of the movie". My dad spent so much time and had so much more in the movie but because of the real guy that my dad was portraying got into a dispute, he only had a couple of little cameo parts when he really had a full-on role. I remember him being real disappointed about that.
You mentioned earlier your love of hip-hop. I understand you like Nas. What did you think of the “Life Is Good” album?
I love “Life Is Good”. Actually, I was just listening to a short while ago after dropping my daughter off to school. Nas is an amazing lyricist and storyteller. He's really creative and he's got a really cool voice. He's a legend. He's like a Koston in rap. He's just untouchable.
Being from the California area but liking rap from New York. Is there anything to be said there?
I don't think of things regionally or race-wise. I just appreciate great talent, great art. It doesn't matter where it's from, I don't care where it's from. I don't have any standards other than appreciating great skill. I understand how much dedication, hard work and time individuals put into things to get to a level where they're considered great. Whether it's music, acting, writing or filmmaking.
You touched on this in your recent commercial. I understand you guys have complete creative freedom with these projects.
We're fortunate to be in a position where we’re trusted in our sense of what would be good for the project. They come to us for the ideas instead of them telling us.
Steve mentioned that you had to get a filming permit to get the frontside feeble varial heelflip out.
That spot was a super good but is a really huge bust. I tried to go there a couple of times to get it but each time the cops came out and we barely even got to skate. Finally we just tried the whole permit thing. Even then they didn't want to give it to us at first but we finally talked them into it. We went to the school one day to give out shoes and boards to all the kids with the best grades. We ended up making a deal with the school and they were very cool about it.
How did the narrative come together?
Steve and I are really in tune. Steve actually wrote it word for word as he knows my mentality and knows the way I think. I went into the studio and knocked it out. The piece was meant to inspire, make you think and motivate people to try and be the best that they can be at whatever it is they want to be. I like to skate and Steve likes to make creative film work. We're striving to be the best that we can be and hopefully that can motivate others to do the same for anything that they desire.
Let’s finish up with some advice for aspiring professional skateboarders out there.
If you want to be a pro skateboarder, you have to want every part of the career. You watch your favorite skaters through magazines, videos and websites. You just see the exciting parts and the parts that you're supposed to see. You don't see those same skaters bitching and moaning about showing up to a signing or a demo or getting a video part done in time. You have to condition yourself to want all aspects of it. It becomes a job. You have to learn to still love that part of it, but also remain in love with the act of riding your skateboard. A lot of people get caught up in “the industry”. You forget it's not about the industry; it's not about your skate career. It's about being on your skateboard, riding it and loving it. When you do that you're really going to get your best work. That's when you're going to skate your best and improve the most.