VERTICALLY CHALLENGED: CHEF DAVID DEERY DROPS IN FOR THE FIRST TIME
WORDS: Stu Gomez
45-year-old skater David Deery has set a lofty goal for himself: Drop in on vert for the first time before he turns 46. What in the world would possibly compel a middle-aged man to take this plunge? The pizza chef (and part-time comic) is doing it for the kids, by launching a Gofundme campaign to support Skateistan.
Deery (or MF David Deery, as he is known) is hoping for a cool thousand bucks to support the non-profit’s mission, but he’ll be popping his vert cherry on April 9 regardless—his 46th birthday is April 10—with a live-stream broadcasting the wonderful/horrible event.
The location of the vert ramp is still up in the air, and he is aiming high by focusing on the world’s highest-profile vert skater. “I want to do it on Tony Hawk‘s ramp… because it’s big,” explains Deery.
In this interview, we chatted with the masochistic homie about his #VertChallenge movement, which he hopes will be adopted by skaters around the world:
“Vert is coming back and people are skating transitions again. The idea of this Vert Challenge doesn’t have to be just for me; other people can do it, too.”
How long have you been at Pizzanista?
I’ve been here for 4 years or something like that. About 2 years too long.
2 years too long?
Pretty much. My whole thing with pizza was I’ve always wanted to learn about pizza. When I was living in Germany I remember specifically asking a few friends—there was this kinda punk rock pizza place kinda like Pizzanista—and my friend King Khan (name drop) lived there and I was asking him, “Hey man, ask them if I can apprentice.” They were Italian guys and they were pretty good; the pizza was pretty good. It turned out that because I didn’t have a work visa, I was on an artist’s visa, they couldn’t really do it.
When I got here I just needed to get a job. So I was talking to Daniel Shimizu (name drop) and I was like, “Hey do you think I could get a job at Kingswell?” He was like, Well what do you want to do?” And I said I would like to work at Pizzanista, and he said, “Oh I know someone down there!” So I think he called Thomas, who worked here, and that’s how I got the job. Everything in life is about connections: always try to become friends with people who are more famous than you. Like right now, I ride Sal’s [Agah] jock. I’m constantly texting like, “Hey Salman, good morning!” Because he’s more famous than me. I try to ride him to Steve Caballero’s house. And then when I get to Steve’s, I’m gonna ride Steve to Mike McGill’s house… well, McGill’s not as famous. Maybe I’ll ride Steve to Tony Hawk’s house. And then Tony Hawk is gonna take me right to Jesus [Christ].
Straight to the top!
And then He’s gonna take me somewhere.
So that’s the key to networking? Just punch above your weight?
You always gotta punch up! It’s the opposite of comedy—always punch up. And constantly network; it’s really important to network, you know? So if it wasn’t for Daniel—just think about that—I met Daniel because I knew Justin Strubing (name drop), and I met Justin because I knew Kit Erickson and Jaya Bonderov (name drop, name drop). And I met both of those guys because of my friend Noah D., who survived cancer.
How did you first get into cooking?
I used to roll with these hippie dudes. That’s such an insane, wild, long story. There’re these things called Rainbow Gatherings that started in the ’60s and they were basically if Burning Man wasn’t a shitty, corporate… it’s Burning Man, but real: it’s free, you’re not allowed to have money there; there’s no alcohol; and there’s no electricity.
It’s sounds very communal.
Yeah, it’s like a real hippie colony! You can trade for things but basically it’s like this communal campout, based around the full moon. You go out there and what happens is they collect money, just for food—it’s called “The Magic Hat”—and then the food all comes to these kitchens and the kitchens feed people 2 or 3 times a day. The people created kitchens themselves just out of necessity, so me and my friends created a kitchen. We were all skaters into hip-hop. There were all these dreadlocked hippies, and then there were these kids who were just bumping beats on African drums. It was just a cool thing, and we did that for years. And some of those guys actually went on to start this hippie hip-hop group in North Carolina called Granola Funk Express [name drop?]. One of the guys from that just went on to do kids’ music with his daughter, and he just won a Grammy last year!
Yeah. Agent 23—shout out to my man, Cactus.
Where was this? In SF?
Yeah and no. It was everywhere. I went to my first Rainbow Gathering in ‘92 in Colorado. They go everywhere; they move around. They’re in national forests, that’s why they’re free.
They do Regionals and they do Nationals. once a year they do a National, and that’s the big one that revolves around the July or August full moon, I think. Then they do Regionals once a year that move around specific forests. I went to a Regional in the Ocala National Forest in Florida. So, every year they go to the Ocala National Forest in February. Actually that’s where the GFE kitchen started.
What drew you to it in the first place?
It was just destiny! I was hitchhiking across the country—this was obviously pre-internet—and I started going to Grateful Dead shows and I copped this free anarchist newspaper or something. And in that newspaper was a calendar of events, and there was like the Bread and Puppet… all these kind of hippie events that people do like Reggae On The River in Humboldt was a big one. It’s like a circuit. And I saw on this calendar that it said “National Rainbow Gathering, Colorado,” and me and my buddy Doug were hitchhiking, I had 156 bucks and we were like, “Fuck it. Let’s see what this is all about!”
And because we went to a Grateful Dead show we ending up going to this hippie gathering because we got a ride there. We only ended up going for one day because I didn’t have a sleeping bag. It was summer, but I’m in the mountains, so we get there in daytime and it’s like 80 degrees and then suddenly the sun goes down and I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m going to fucking die!” Literally. It was crazy—I almost died. But I lived.
So it was adventurous and you felt like it was your destiny… Where did the cooking come in?
I just kept doing shit like that. I ate a bunch of acid in the ’90s—I was on my way to being a “normy” then I took a hard left turn and started going to Grateful Dead shows. During that time, I met my friend Noah and he was really into Easy Rider so he was like, “Yo, I’m going to do this Easy Rider trip to New Orleans,” so I did that [too]. Then we go to Mardi Gras and we got a van, so we’re sleeping in the van. I bumped into some friends who were going to a Rainbow Gathering in Florida, so I told Noah, “You gotta go to this Rainbow Gathering; it’s crazy.” So we went to that Rainbow Gathering and we saw other skater kids from the Grateful Dead scene and they were like, “Hey we’re starting this kitchen.” It was cool! They built this treehouse and they had this cool little kitchen in the woods, and then there were like, Oh we’re going to the next thing.
So, then me and Noah did this whole 3-month tour in his van. We went to Grateful Dead shows and another Rainbow Gathering, and those guys were there again. Before you know it, you’re in this cult—I was sucking the guy’s dick [laughs]…
It just happened like that. It’s a lot like skateboarding: [for the question] “How do you turn pro” everyone’s story is pretty much the same. “Oh, I met these dudes and I got in the van. Along the way I front feebled a 12-stair handrail and they were like, ‘Wow, you’re not only really cool… you’re dope!’” And then you’re on the team.
Plus all the subtle social rules.
Absolutely. My favorite author is Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and in Cat’s Cradle he talks about this religion Bakananism. And the whole point is there’s no rhyme or reason to who your actual spiritual family is, you just meet these people and you have a connection that’s deeper than you’re born into. That’s why skateboarding destroys sexuality and gender and race.
It’s a humanist movement.
Yeah—true skateboarding. There’s never been a lot of [intolerant] bullshit in skateboarding. Maybe there’s pockets, but on the whole. Like… “Brian Anderson’s gay!” [Skaters are like] Who fucking cares! He rips—that’s all we care about.
It’s based on merit.
Well, not even merit. ‘Cause I’m not even that good of a skater but I think I emanate the passion for skateboarding. You don’t have to be “good” to understand that it’s the fucking greatest thing on the planet. You just gotta do it, for real.
So that was my first experience with cooking. And that was a lot. There’s a documentary there, for sure. We don’t have any footage or photos, but we had a school bus at one point and we traveled all over the country with this propane burner. But when we went to the woods we would build clay ovens under a fire pit and cook bread. It was pretty intense but a lot of the people there had a lot of food knowledge, but mostly it was just giant pots of soup and stew—what you could feed hundreds of people with at a time.
Where did it transition as something you did professionally?
Well, that’s when I came here [to Los Angeles]. I’ve always been into cooking and home cooking; I have an Italian grand mother so my family makes pasta at home. I’ve always done that with my family. So, I feel like I have a background. My uncle owned a pizza shop and I’m Italian, so it really does feel like it’s in my blood.
Do you have any philosophy about pizza? Where do you stand on Hawaiian-style?
I don’t really care about toppings that much. I don’t eat Hawaiian pizza, but I think anything goes. It’s like skateboarding. The classics are always gonna catch [my attention]: if you can’t do a huge backside air, I don’t want to see a Primo drop-in. Show me a cheese pizza. When I go to New York and I eat at Joe’s Pizza, it doesn’t really get any better than that. I can’t really explain why except that those guys have done it a million times. It’s just like a Grant Taylor backside ollie—that dude was born to do it. You can’t teach that.
Do you have any rules about pizza?
Not really. I don’t have any rules, but it’s just not easy to do right. There’s a massive equation that goes along from point A to point B. There are so many failures along the way, and it’s a very detailed step-by-step process. If you don’t meticulously walk that that line with the intention to make the best pizza, it’s not gonna be as good. That’s just it: The rule is, Strive For Perfection.
Really, it’s like skateboarding. You want to be perfect; you want to be grand. You don’t want to be… me. [laughs] It’s embarrassing, you know? I don’t show people my skateboarding; I show people my pizza.
You seem really self-deprecating about your skating…
No, I’m a realist! I’m not trying to kid anybody. I’m not good at skateboarding. I don’t have good balance, and I think that’s kind of crucial.
If you admittedly don’t have the best equilibrium, why would you want to drop in on vert? Something that’s sort of the apex of skating?
‘Cause you have to push yourself! I can drop in on a miniramp. Vert’s the biggest. You wanna climb a mountain—no one’s gonna fuckin’ give you props if you climb a hill.
When I told Salman that I wanted to drop in on a vert ramp he said, “You gotta go to Bob Burnquist’s. You gotta drop in on the quarterpipe of the Mega Ramp if you wanna impress me. I was like, “Fuck you.” Everyone has their opinions: Dennis McGrath was like, “You gotta roll in. You can’t just drop in; that’s nothing.” I told him, “Fuck you. Are you gonna drop in on a vert ramp?” He said, “Oh, Fuck no!” I’m not rolling in! I’m scared of rolling in on a miniramp. You’re out of your mind!
“Dropping in is a mental game.”
Have you ever stood on the deck of a vert ramp?
Yes. It’s terrifying.
When I tried to drop in on vert I just dove straight down to the flat.
That’s what my friend, Patrick Connor, did. I grew up skating with him; he’s really good. He’s always been better than me—he’s done handrails, he can skate street really well—and last year he called me up, “Yo man, I’m gonna drop in on a vert ramp.” So we went down to the YMCA. We didn’t even pump around that much. I was like, “Let’s drop in on the quarterpipe.” And he said, “I don’t know, it’s kinda big.” He didn’t even pump around on the vert ramp or get up to the coping. And then he just went for it. Next thing you know he was laying on his side. I was filming him, and I said, “Oh dude, you got it now?” I was thinking the worst was out of the way—he took the slam. But he was just like, “I think I gotta go to the hospital.” I was like, “Nah, you’re good, Just shake it off!” But then he said, “Can you drive stick?” He broke him arm.
Another comic friend of mine, Jeremiah Watkins, I was skating with him a bunch. He’s pretty beginner-level, he got all hyped when he dropped in on a little 3-footer. So then I took him to Belvedere to [drop in on] the 4- or 5-foot ramp. And he broke his arm.
What was happening? Did you learn anything from those drop-ins?
They’re like, not committing. Dropping in is a mental game. The number one thing is keep your feet on the board until the board chucks you. If you slam it’ll probably be a Wilson to your head, and you’ll have a helmet on so you’re not going to break anything. Or you’re gonna slide on your butt or your back, or hopefully your knees. But if you take your foot off the board—and you’re sideways—you’re literally falling straight to your side from the top. That’s a broken… something. My plan is to keep my feet on the board, and if I bail it’s because my balance is off. I don’t think I’m gonna break something that way.
WTF is a “Wilson”?
Oh, that’s where your feet are on your board but you lean too far back and your board shoots out from under your feet and you fall backwards. Most beginner people who drop in on a quarterpipe, they Wilson because they stomp their foot down hard enough. They’re not committed to going down so they’re leaned back, kinda manualing down, and they just… whoosh. “Wilson!!!!” [Dennis the Menace reference.]
The other one is when you lean too far forward and you smack on your shoulder. I’ll take that one, probably. That’d be fine. If you’re on your board and you did that, then you’re only falling from the transition.
Are you going to do anything different with your setup? Tighten the trucks, get bigger wheels?
No. I have a pretty big board right now. Maybe tighten the trucks? But they’re already pretty tight. I’m skating transition now. I got to Pedlow and skate the bowl—I see Kader Sylla, Zach Allen, I’ll give a fistbump to T-Funk every once in a while. I see those guys and they’re supportive. They’re like, “You got this, OG!”
So, people in your circle do know about your Vert Challenge.
I think people know, but no one’s teasing me. People are worried for me. I got a few guys that are religious, praying for me.
How does that make you feel? More scared?
It makes me feel ready, dude. I’m ready. I’m gonna show the world! You put this on TheBerrics.com: I’m gonna show the world that for once in my life… you got Eminem, you know, 8 Mile. He did it [hums the "mom's spaghetti" song]. You got Tom Brady, always picked last. Now you got pizza chef David Deery: I suck at skateboarding but for once in my life, they’re not gonna cut me from the basketball team like they did in the seventh grade. Fuck you, Coach Jefferson! They’re not running me over in the scrimmage game like in football. No! Chef David’s getting up there for once and he’s gonna send it! Like Cardiel, baby. I’m smack that shit home and ride to glory! And everyone’s gonna see it because I’m gonna livestream it live to the livewebs. Mark Gonzales is gonna be there and he’s gonna high-five me, and they’re gonna pick me and carry me off like Bill Parcells at the Super Bowl. For once in my life I’m gonna be a champion!
But you’re a little scared.
Follow MF David Deery’s Instagram for updates on the location for his #VertChallenge, and check out his GoFundMe to donate. It’s for a good cause… and Skateistan.