Exclusive Eric Koston interview

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Photo: Sam Ashley.

Thanks to the wonderful world of social media I’m sure all of you already know about the Koston 2 shoe launch Nike organised in London a few weeks ago. Well not only did they kindly invite us to the event, which for me meant spending the afternoon drinking beer, skating an indoor bowl and playing mini-golf rather than staring at my computer screen, but they managed to fit us into Eric Koston’s tight schedule for a 30 minute interview. I think it’s fair to say that he’s one of the, if not the professional skateboarders who get’s the most media attention, so meeting him in person was quite a strange experience as I’m sure you can imagine. Not just because it was intimidating, (although I was indeed shitting myself) but also because knowing so much about the guy without having actually having met him felt very strange. I found myself recognising his voice, mannerisms and facial expressions as if I’d known the man all my life, yet I was a complete stranger to him. Something about it felt almost a little perverse, as if I had been unconsciously stalking him for years.

Until now I had always been the first to complain about the “marketable personalities” the skate industry creates for some of our favourite pros. It has nothing to do with whether or not I think the “stoner guy” or “hyperactive/loud guy” images are genuine, it’s just that what gets me stoked on a certain skater is his approach to skating and the way he’ll push or kickflip, not how he’ll act off his board (a little paradoxical for someone working for a skate magazine I know…) Anyway, meeting Koston made me change my position on this. Can you imagine how difficult it must be for these rock star status pros to keep their public and private spheres separate? Having a bit of a “funny guy” persona to hide behind actually sounds like a pretty good way of not exposing too much of yourself.

There’s evidently a lot more to the man than what we can gather from seeing him clown around in Chomp On This or read out the rules at The Berrics. Whether or not it’s something that can or should be explored in interviews is a different story…

 

Hi Eric, can you briefly tell us what brings you to London?

I’m here for the Koston 2 launch event that Nike Europe have organised… They’ve put together a little mini-golf course so it should be fun!

 

Have you been going all around Europe for these launch events or is it the first stop?

Well I did a big one in L.A and kind of a soft one at Tampa Pro where we premiered the commercial and released the pink shoe but this is the only one I’m attending in Europe.

You obviously play a major role in the promotion of a shoe but how involved are you in it’s actual production/conception? What about with other products?

I’m actually really involved with the production/conception process of quite a lot of other products, particularly with Fourstar. We aren’t a huge brand so when it comes to manufacturing we can’t go for anything too expensive though. Basically we try to find the best materials we can within our budget and adapt our prices to our customers. Skateboarders aren’t exactly rich right? Well a small percentage probably are but I guess we don’t take them into account… Of course there are always products where we push the envelope a little bit, but we are usually quite careful. We’ve created a template that we run by.

When, it comes to designing shoes it’s very different though, I’m involved in every step of the process.

 

Have you had a chance to visit the factories that make your shoes then?

No I haven’t actually, it’s the only thing I haven’t had a chance to do yet. I’ve met the owner of the factory though, he’s a pretty funny guy. I actually know a few of the guys that there, I’ve been meeting them at the Nike headquarters in Portland every now and then.

 

Do they know anything about skateboarding?

They do to a certain extent; I mean they really try to get it you know? They even built a ramp in the factory! It’s actually quite a funny story. So the factory is in Taiwan and originally this guy Lorenzo that works for Nike sent plans for a miniramp out there because they wanted to build something to teach employees how to skate. That way they would understand what they are making. So he sent them plans for a small mini ramp, thinking it would be ideal: they would learn how to drop in and then work their way up from there. You don’t start on a vert ramp right? So they started building it but the owner of the factory thought it looked too small and decided to tell the guys building it to make it taller without consulting anyone else. A little while later one of the guys who takes care of choosing materials for the factories (he’s a skater, he used to work at Girl warehouse years ago when we first started) went out there. Apparently he showed up at the factory and saw the ramp and was like “ what the fuck is this?! Why did you build a huge vert ramp?!” I think it wasn’t even a well-made vert ramp either; it was some weird-looking dangerous vert ramp.

 

Were any of the employees actually skating it?

Well not when this guy showed up because everyone had been discouraged by the gnarly slams and broken wrists they had witnessed… When Lorenzo asked the owner of the factory why he’d built such gnarly ramp he just answered that the one on the plans just looked too small (even though he obviously wasn’t going to try and skate it himself). In the end Lorenzo managed to get it cut down to a miniramp so that they could actually learn to skate safely…

I think they also make snowboard boots in that factory and a few of the employees once told me that they’d just come back from snowboarding trip to New Zealand. At least Nike are getting it in that sense, they realize that it’s important for the people who work in their factories to get an understanding of skating. Not that many people are aware of this but I think it’s pretty cool

 

You’ve been coming to Europe for years now, do you feel like people have approach to skating here?

I don’t know it’s weird… I’ve noticed that in Europe you get certain types of skaters that will predominantly come from a country. For instance you get tons of really tech skaters coming from Eastern Europe or in Germany you notice that a lot of the skaters seem to value precision over style… Actually now that I think about it, it’s not really the case anymore. Things have changed; you get all types of skaters in every country now. I guess in the nineties and the early two thousands it was that way but skating has become a lot more well rounded. These days all the different styles of skating have become accepted, this means that skaters from a country don’t feel the need to fit into a certain category anymore. I’m not saying the phenomenon is specific to Europe though, it’s a global trend, the same thing is happening in China, Australia, Japan…

 

Have you ever been influenced by any European skateboarders?

Yeah when I was younger there was a dude from here that I remember seeing in a Powell video: Curtis McCann. I was pretty young but I remember seeing that little guy from the UK ripping. In that video it was the first time I got a taste of skating from abroad and I just thought it was sick. Plus he was an am, of a similar age as me…

Then after that he had some stuff in that Underworld Element video that was also really good.

It’s funny that you’d say that, Stevie Williams also mentioned Curtis Mcann when I asked him the same question… Do you still keep up with European skating?

A little bit. If videos are online and stuff then definitely but…

 

But you’re just not a geek?

No it’s not that… I think I’m still a geek, it’s just don’t have time to be full time geek. I have two kids now so at home it’s hard for me to get my computer out because they know I’ve also got cartoons on there. If I get my laptop out when they are sitting on the couch next to me they’ll start stomping on the keyboard until l put on whatever Disney cartoons or movies I’ve got stored on there to keep them occupied. They’ve taken over…

 

Haha. So just like most of us, you pretty much only watch the skateboarding you find on the Internet… Do you think this new way of enjoying videos has affected the skate industry?

It has, absolutely. It’s something that was bound to happen and whether or not some people helped it doesn’t really change anything. It’s happening because that’s what the world is doing and as skaters we have to evolve and adapt. We manage to do so when it comes to other things you know? One of the main problems about the way things are now is that since parts come and go so fast a lot of the time people don’t get the shine that they deserve. When a free part is thrown out there it doesn’t really show the time and energy that was put into it… It’s like “that was Tuesday and now it’s Thursday and this is some other dude”. It sucks because I hate for people to think that skateboarding is disposable: those 5 minutes of footage are a couple of years of someone’s life; this section is something that he killed himself for… That’s where it’s a little brutal. I’m not the biggest promoter of free video parts. We’ve always sold videos because it’s the only way we could break even. Especially with Girl videos, we’ve got a huge team, do lots of travelling, each video takes 4 years to make, and costs from half a million to almost a million dollars to produce… I think Yeah Right took 4 years and when you add up everything it cost a million dollars; and that was a long time ago. Skate companies can’t afford to take such a heavy hit and that’s why they have to sell their videos. It enables them to make sure it’s a win… There aren’t that many board companies that can produce major videos like the Girl ones without without going out of business, it’s just too expensive. I can understand it when it’s just short clips here and there but when people are giving out full street parts I really don’t. To me it’s another product and that’s why I think we shouldn’t be going in that direction. We don’t hand out boards for free on the streets do we? It may sound greedy but someone had to pay for that to be made and there is no way to recuperate those costs. Unless the board sales shoot up in such a dramatic way that it covers the spending but that never happens and it’ll kill us all in the long run.

I’m not saying there aren’t good sides to it though. For instance the fact that your skating can be instantly delivered to a kid who will probably never get a chance to see you live is great. He can pull out a video part from one of his favourite pros, watch it as many times as he wants and be psyched. So yeah there’s a good side and a bad side to this phenomenon.

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What does it say on that kid’s board? (Photo: Sam Ashley).

Few pros have had such a long and productive career so I was wondering if you did anything special to take care of your body. Do you have a personal trainer or go swimming a lot or something?

I don’t but I kind of want one though. As I’m getting older I’m starting to feel more and more shitty. I guess all I do is try to skate as much as I can and stretch. I use a foam roller and other things that help loosen up my joints and ligaments but that’s it. One thing I used to do was Pilates. I did that for a year actually; I really enjoyed it but ended up stopping because I couldn’t find time for it. I should really start making time for Pilates again… So yeah, that’s the one thing I did for a while and I thought it was pretty helpful as far as making my body feel okay. I wasn’t ollying any higher or anything but I felt physically better.

 

What about for the business side of things, do you have an agent or someone to help you out?

I don’t, I used to have an agent a long time ago but I fired her. I didn’t think it was necessary… It was cool because a few weird opportunities would come along but sometimes they would just be a little too weird…

 

Like what?

I don’t know, things like drink sponsors and stuff like that… Suddenly I started realising that there are things I want to be associated with and others I don’t. If opportunities come my way then great but I want to be able to make my own decisions… I like the way my career is going with the sponsor I currently have and I don’t want to change anything. In the past I’ve accepted sponsors that have compromised my integrity a little bit just for some cash. Did it, felt bad, quit it and started asking myself “why did I do it?” I guess you have to live and learn. That’s why these days I’ve been trying to keep things simple. Although I would need help with organising some of my stuff, I’ve got a lot of shit to handle on a daily basis.  Sometimes it takes me two days to get back to someone just because I have so many emails to read… What I’d really need is a personal assistant. The thing is I’m so used to handling things myself that’s it’s hard for me to give those chores up to someone else. I’m going to have to do it at one point though, I need to free up my own time because it’s getting harder and harder to skate as much as I want. Balancing my family, the business side of things and actually skating can get a little bit challenging at times. I think I’ve figured it out though but it’s still a bit of a rollercoaster ride so something to steady it out would be great…

 

Moving on to something completely different, can you tell us about filming for Menikmati with French Fred? He’s quite an iconic figure of European skating and you witnessed some of his innovative filming first hand.

The funny thing about Fred is that he’s the first filmer I’ve worked with who after seeing me try tricks here and there decided to put together a proper trick list. On that list he’d put either tricks that I’d attempted and should go back for or just ideas of stuff he thought I should try. He had everything laid out for me… I remember that at first I was like “wow this is weird” but then I realised that it made sense. It was strange but it made sense. Usually I’d have an idea in my head and just go for it that day, see if I got lucky and if not whatever, but it was different with Fred, he had a battle plan! It was was cool though, particularly towards the end as we were trying to finish it up it would help me get things done. I had a checklist and it was like “get it done… got it! Cross it off the list and move on to something else”. It felt like a little game where I had to keep checking off my list. Looking back on it today, I think it probably helped me focus a lot more… It may not sound like it but it was actually really fun, those were good days.

I also think he brought a whole different perspective to skate videography.

 

Like with the way he filmed your nollie heel nose slide down Whilshire (rolling long shot from the top of the stairs)?

Exactly. When he started filming it like that I remember him telling me not to worry, as I’d skate up to the rail looking confused. I think I must have answered something like: “Ok, but what the fuck are you doing? Well this is how fast I’m going so don’t crash into me…” He had to time it and stuff so it was kind of odd but after a while it was all right. I thought the way it turned out looked sick too. It was the first time I’d seen anything like it… Back then almost everything was just filmed with a fish eye, down low to get the bottom stairs in. Even if people would shoot a trick long it would usually be from straight on by standing the bottom of the stairs. You’d never see anyone rolling at the top of the stairs! I’ve heard people refer to that way of filming as taking the Fred angle or doing a French Fred.

 

What projects are you going to be working on in the near future? I’ve heard that you were going to be involved in a Supreme video, what’s the deal with that?

Yeah I’m involved with that, Bill Strobeck started working on it last summer. He’s been filming most of it on a Hvx (Panasonic) but he might be mixing it up with other stuff. He lives in New York but he recently spent 3 months in L.A because it was too cold out there. I don’t really know what to say about it, I know he’s working on it with quite a few skaters…

 

Like who? I didn’t even know Supreme had an official team…

It’s a pretty big mix people: Guy Mariano, Scott Johnson, Dill, Van Engelen, Dylan Reider, Javier Nunez to name a few.  I know he’s also been filming a lot with this kid from New York called TJ (Tyshawn Johnson). Even Tyler The Creator filmed a line! It’s going to be quite an interesting mix of guys from different generations, which is cool. I spent a lot of time in schoolyards though… I’m a little bit tired of picnic tables.

I’m also working on a part for the Nike video. I think it’s supposed to be a series of 3 videos with a solid group of dudes in each one. I’m not going to be in the next installment, so I should be in the last one but I really don’t know how they are going to fit everyone in there. I think they were 7 in Chronicles vol.1; they should be 7 in the one that comes out at the end of the year and that leaves everyone else for the last one. I think Daryl, Theotis, Donovan, Piscopo, Luan and a few more should be in this one but people like Paul who were working on other video projects (Plan B video) will be squeezed into the last one so it might end up being a pretty long video. I don’t think we can wait another 5 years to put it out though. We’ll probably have to decide on a strict deadline and release it as it is otherwise it’ll never be finished… So yeah, basically I’ve been mainly working on the Supreme video and trying to get a head start with this Nike thing.

 

Do you reckon it’ll be your last part or are you going to go on like this forever?

I don’t know. Actually I want my last part to be Chomp On This 2. Everyone wants another Chomp video! We are all really keen to do it too but we just don’t have the time to get started with it right now. A few of the guys can’t even skate anyway. Ty for instance just had to get ankle surgery…

 

What happened, did he hurt himself skating?

I think he hurt himself a little while back when he was filming. He had to get an operation but whoever performed the surgery did something wrong and just made it worse. If you watch some of the behind the scenes stuff from Pretty Sweet you can see that he’s filming in a wheel chair! Then again right before that he was skating the mega ramp! I’ve seen clips of him on that huge quarter pipe… It’s pretty gnarly. I guess we can say that Ty has got the first clips for the long lost Chomp video! Actually that’s probably even Chomp “ender” material to be honest…

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