Published by Nikazone Entertainment
All rights reserved.
Why a story about myself? Why not? I've had
some highs and I've had some lows. I've experienced a lot of
things. Through skateboarding I have found self worth, freedom,
friends, travel, adventure, and a dream career. Living life we
all have a story to tell. This one is mine.
I was born on July 10th at Mount Carmel Medical Center at 2:14 pm in Columbus, Ohio. Growing up in the early seventies, I had plenty of sunny days as an all American little boy focusing on Star Wars and riding bikes. My family ventured to Nebraska for some time, then moved back to Wooster, Ohio. Going through grade school my brother and I spent our days fighting, playing football, shooting fireworks, playing baseball and my all time favorite, break-dancing. To this day, I maintain that my days of doing shoulder spins and the robot greatly benefited my skateboarding, because the body movement and creativity requirements are very similar. In the early eighties I was breakin at county fairs, talent shows and the Layton elementary playground even then I can see I never ran from the spotlight.
In the summer of 1983 I was obsessed with Michael Jackson and the TV show Fame. My supportive mother encouraged me to go to an audition for the Akron Children's Theater's production of "Tom Sawyer." I was cast as Tom immediately after auditioning. All of a sudden, I had this large script in my hands and was terrified of the responsibility of carrying the show. Thank God I stuck it out, because that experience taught me volumes about the stage, performance, and professionalism, all at the tender age of nine. I spent the rest of my grade school years going head first into theater. I participated in countless productions and trained in both dramatic arts and dance. I had found something I could call my own, and I was doing something different than all my classmates. Looking back, those formative years made me who I am today.
I spent my summers with my grandparents in Mt. Gilead, Ohio. Hidden in their old damp basement was a rusted antique scooter, just waiting for me. It was the mid eighties and I was sporting Jams shorts and Hawaiian button ups. I loved the sensation of flying down the biggest hill I could find. Skateboarding hadn't reached Ohio and at the time I felt I was doing something radical. What I couldnt have known then was that I was just a nerdy ten year old making something out of nothing. From break-dancing to theater to antique scooters, I now understand how these were the precursor to my fascination with skateboarding.
Fast forward to 1985. "Back to the Future" looked like a hot must see movie. Three minutes into the production Michael J. Fox kicks the tail up of a Valtera and zooms down Doc's driveway. From that moment on my life would never be the same. It was like love at first sight and I knew someday I would have a skateboard. In the summer of 1986 I was still stoked on "Return of the Jedi", "Thriller" was blasting on my record player and break-dancing was on its way out. I needed a new hobby. One day I walked over to my friend Brian Menus house to hang for awhile and I saw his older brother trying to maneuver this monster board on the driveway. He had a real skateboard like the one in "Back to the Future" -- not a dorky yellow banana but a super fly Nash board with black and green wheels. Outwardly, I was calm, but inside, every fiber of my being was screaming to get my feet on this board. Later I offered him sixty dollars for the complete, and I was finally at home with my new friend, the Nash Night Stalker skateboard. Of course years later, I found out he completely ripped me off and charged me double. However, it was a small price to pay for that freedom and fun I had been craving.
The first thing I did was learn the basics. Now, today a kid picks up a board and spends thirteen hours in his driveway trying the latest triple heel flip right away, but back then it was just about maneuvering the board left and right. The goal was to get around without pushing, tick tacking. I had learned a 360 rotation and I felt I was on to something. When my friends and I ollied a brick we thought we were hot stuff, until the Bones Brigade reached the east coast. Thrasher Magazine and the video "Future Primitive" changed everything for us, and these resources were our bread and butter for skateboard education.
My skate buds were my neighbors Casey, Mark, Mike and Buddy . We were all classmates and a tribe of die hard skaters. We skated every single day; rain, snow or shine, we were on our boards. Since we lived near a college campus, it was our home for skate spots. Our dealer was the store California Cheap Skates, and skateboarding was our drug. We had graduated from our Nash and Valtera decks, it was time for the real deal. My first pro deck was a Kevin Staab. The pirate graphic spoke to me and grabbed my attention. It was punk rock and fit me perfectly.
I've been called a prep skater in my day. I always look back to Edgewood Middle School 1987. I was your typical pissed off at the world for no reason seventh grader, but I had a skateboard, so watch out everyone. One day sticks out in my mind; it was last period of Ms. Hanna's English class. With a good thirty minutes left in the day, she started yelling at me as usual. However, this day was different since I had my board which just happened to be outlawed at school. She was yelling and I snapped. I hopped up on my desk, leaped off, landed on my board and did a fast lap around the room. My internal voice told me I was insane, and the other students were in sheer shock that I had the balls to do this. After my lap I rolled through the door and flicked off the lights on my way out. I just kept going out to the street and gave myself an early release. Looking back I can see I was learning to communicate with my skating. Yes, it was wrong, but it was also gutsy. Since then I've learned to keep the tricks on the street and ramp and out of the classroom. This stunt scored me a two day out of school suspension. I filled the days building the ultimate ghetto launch ramp; real punishment, I know. However, I vividly remember questioning what I was going to do for a living in the future. Being a pro skater didn't seem like an option being on the east coast, but the idea of being self employed was extremely attractive. I decided to start my own skateshop in my basement.
The Skate Shack: I turned our basement storage room into a used skateshop. Considering I was only in Jr. High school, this was a serious operation . I loaded up on hundreds of stickers, as they were a full profit item. I mailed cash to skate shops in California and a week later would double the sale. I even bought knee pads wholesale through a distributor. I learned the importance of self confidence and salesmanship, and this began to feel like something I could continue after high school. I fantasized about being this surfer/skater guy who would skate to work. That summer I learned how to advertise and promote. Since my mom was a realtor and had a phat copy machine, I snagged paper from her and made flyers to post and send out. I also bought large neon name tags and fed them through the copier to make stickers. Now, today its a mouse click away , but back then it had to be done from scratch. I even played UPS man and personally delivered orders on my bike. My parents became more and more nervous with each box from California being dropped off on the porch, but I was making profit and wasn't even out of eighth grade.
Summer drew to a close and I was having a blast, right up until my dad knocked on my bedroom door. I do have to explain something about my parents. They loved me very much, I dont doubt that. They were, however, people who were more comfortable paying someone to fix something than to handle it themselves, whether it be a leaky faucet or an unruly kid, and I, the rebel, fit in that category. My dad calmly told me a police officer was there to escort me to a boot camp in Montana. Fortunately the guy was cool, so it eased a great deal of my tension. Billings, Montana was my home for the next three weeks the period of my life I refer to as the Vietnam days. I have countless stories of pain and struggle while on this adventure, as this was no picnic or summer camp. This was three weeks of nuts and granola, with the only variety being the three day solo trek where I had to fend for myself to eat. I was faced with fifty pound backpacks, no civilization, no skating and miles upon miles of mountain hiking. I lost nearly fifteen pounds from my already bony frame, which I made up for with my first meal at home; a large Dominoes pizza with a two liter of Pepsi all by myself. Of course, out of the ten kids in my group I was labeled the skater dude. They wore their L.L.Bean clothes and I was macked out in Vision Gator shorts and a pink Vision Psycho Stick shirt. Being a skater became even more part of my identity and my true self.
I survived the summer and geared up for my freshman year, but had zero desire to jump into Wooster High School. Music, girls, and skateboarding were the only things that got my attention. I used the sounds of Guns N' Roses, Def Leppard and AC/DC to soothe my nerves. This was a troubled year with bad grades and a questionable future. In my blood I felt I was going to do something special and different, but I also knew achieving this goal would be a struggle. Being the black sheep of my family forced me to embrace being different and also to learn to believe in myself. As a young teen, I was pissed off at the world and didn't know why; it wasnt until years later that I could see the bigger picture. In the fall of 1988 my parents gave me a day off of school to go check out a private school. Turned out it was a private school for troubled teens, and I was there to stay. I was in total lock down six days a week, with the only break being Sundays when we got to go on a supervised field trip to the roller rink. It was total hell. I lost all my trust in my parents and felt I didn't need anyone to get things done. I now appreciate the deep inner strength I gained during this time, and that experience had a profound effect I still feel to this day. Believe me, my parents loved me and I loved them, but the way I saw it, they were busy professional people who didn't want to deal with their unruly son, so they made it someone else's job. For several months the only outlets I had to fill my desire to skate were Thrasher Magazines and fingerboards. Finally, in early December I was home sweet home, only to find out my parents had another school to send me to, a prep school in New York. I had one goal that semester, to improve my grades and show my parents I had direction and didn't need private school. Somehow within weeks I was getting As and Bs and my busy parents finally relaxed and let me come home for good.
Once I was back home, my friends and I didnt let the cold weather prevent us from skating, we just incorporated into the drills. We skated to see who could ollie the highest ice block . My bros and I spent those snowy days at a spot we called the shelter. It was on a college campus and had an open area with a roof to give us some clear space, and housed three benches and a wedge. This is where I learned to grind and slide, and it was also where we started to ollie our boards with height and control. We began to surprise ourselves and each other with our improvements. The camaraderie and encouragement was healthy. Today I see way to much competition and negativity with new skaters. We were improving and it was becoming more fun and rewarding.
By this point, we had had our fill of the streets of Wooster, but we had never skated a real skatepark. We heard of this indoor park called Berea Roll'n'Bowl that was about an hour away by Cleveland. I was absolutely ready to leap out and skate a real half pipe, so we begged Mark's parents to take us up one snowy Sunday. For us, this was the Disneyland of skateboarding. I was super stoked but also very nervous because the word was this place had huge stuff. We shot out of the car, got memberships and rushed out onto the wooden floor. This place indeed was huge and housed a vert ramp, six foot pipe, loads of wedges and quarter pipes. This became my new home and training ground. Eventually, Mark got his license and we went religiously every Sunday till summer. It was street during the week and vert on the weekends. This was the park I learned to ride halfpipe at. The street finger flips and varials I could now perform on the pipe. One memorable session I also learned the importance of duct tape. I was bailing out of an air and ripped my pink skate shorts. With the middle exposed, I flew to the restroom, silvered myself up with tape and was ready to ride again. We never missed a weekend for anything, for instance, once I had strep throat and could barely stand but it didn't matter, I was riding.
The snow of 1989 melted away and we were back on the streets that summer. We found some new outdoor parks like Northlake and Clay's Park, which were both only 45 minutes away. My friend Casey and I caught wind of a pro demo in Youngstown on my birthday, so my grandparents drove us the two hours to the event. It was team Jobless which had some Alva guys and my favorite Fred Smith. Kids were sessioning the parking lots and the team had a big vert ramp that was only eight feet wide. I had never seen pros skate live in my life. It was unbelievable and such an eye opener, because it really woke me up to the potential skateboarding had. At the time we thought we were hot stuff in our little town, but we were little ants compared to these radical guys. I was front row center in the middle of the action when Fred Smith's board flew off the ramp and nailed me in the shin. Holy cow, it felt like a baseball bat hitting a ball, and hurt so bad, but I didn't dare let it show. I handed him his board in awe I just had a transaction with a real pro skater. I look back to that moment when kids ask me for my autograph these days. Had Fred brushed me off I would've been hurt and let down, but he reached out to me. Going back to our small town after that day, we had a renewed stokeness and purpose. I needed to build my own ramp.
I skated a mini ramp in a friends garage in Lodi, Ohio. Joel was a sick skater who also could build a ramp, so I called him up and we orchestrated a ten man team with plans to build a ramp in one day. We started at 9 am and finished at 3 am. I'll never forget seeing the moonlight on the fresh masonite. This ramp was only four feet high by eight feet wide with a two foot extension on one side, but it was a beauty and seemed too good to be true. I learned hundreds of lip tricks. We sessioned that baby at night with strobe lights. I have to say, the mannequin heads on the light posts were also a nice touch. I had a sweet view of the ramp from my bedroom. Every morning six to ten kids from all around would knock on my window and we would session all day. I ate cereal on the deck and warmed up barefoot with the Beach Boys playing. I lived the beach bum summer; meeting loads of skaters, eating microwave pizzas, bleaching my hair and skating twenty-four/seven.
Move ahead to winter of my sophomore year. My Harley leather jacket and killer mullet weren't keeping me warm, but I knew my band mate Jeff's basement would, so I joined his band called Valkava. We were a three piece metal band that did original songs and metal versions of Prince and Beatles songs. I was the youngest while Jeff and Mike were seniors. We played everywhere from roller rinks to Christmas parties at the Ponderosa. We made an original tape and sold it around at the surrounding schools and always signed autographs at our gigs . This time in my life gave me a small taste of what was to come later in my life. At the time, I welcomed the attention and learned a great deal about performing in front of a crowd. I started to seriously consider a future in music. I was a huge fan of the Beatles and studied their career. The idea that one could make a living from something fun was very appealing, but the real world was knocking and my parents were telling me to get a job or else. Wendy's and Arby's were only in my mind for a split second, because I knew I was clever and could come up with something better.
Going back to my entrepreneurial roots, I opened the Skate Shack again, this time in a legit building. The store was connected to a medical supply shop but it was just the right size with the right look and feel. I got some showcases and put some two by fours and banners on the wall. I met with the community chamber of commerce and got a vendors license. At only sixteen I became an entrepreneur overnight. I placed my first order of nine hundred dollars with a Chicago wholesale company. My once basement garage sale store was becoming a reality. I couldn't believe it. I had become that surfer skate shop guy I envisioned myself as years before. Things seemed to be at an all time high. My grades were great and I had the coolest job a high school kid could have. Everything was smooth sailing for me.
I was pretty excited that cold April afternoon that was the grand opening of my shop. My family couldnt make it, because at that point my mom had been battling cancer and the family was with her that day. I just biked to the shop, had a very profitable opening day, and then went home, high on my success. Those highs were quickly dashed once I pulled into the driveway and saw my brother shooting hoops. He didnt have to say anything, as the look in his eyes said it all. That was the day my mother passed away. The realization of that fact left me with an indescribable sinking feeling. I was in total shock and my tears were frozen back, but they would flow freely in the years to come, usually at the most unexpected of times.
Months passed and I really threw myself into my skateshop. It was amazing, because I had created a place that was completely submerged in skateboarding. I always had videos playing. It became a club house for skateboarders, with videos playing all the time and people coming from miles around to check my little skaters heaven out. A nice bonus was that I made great money and saw a definite future for myself with the skateshop. On a typical day, I would session my ramp till noon, work the Skate Shack till four, and then come home to kids waiting to skate, and then skated away the rest of the day on into the night. This was a great routine, and I never wanted to see it end.
I started my junior year of high school with an image that was a mix of all the influences Id had over the last few years, but mainly I was half punk/ half prep. The shop was doing well and I joined up with the local roller rink to have Monday night skateboarding. Mark, Casey and I were given a chunk of change to build
moveable ramps, with Mark as the brains of the operation and Casey and I as the muscle when necessary. We had some of the most talented skaters and had some hot sessions there. Then, as spring led into summer, business slowed at the rink and the doors closed. My band mates Jeff and Mike graduated high school, so our group disbanded. This became very introspective time for me and I began to consider my future.
By my senior year, skateboarding had gone out overnight and parks and shops were closing left and right. I continued to ride while everyone else put their boards in garage sales or trash cans. Instead of losing money, I eased into closing the Skate Shack and focused my energy and time into my music. With a multi track recorder I became a one man band, and performed the drums, keyboards, vocals, and guitar all on my own. My reputation at school morphed from the skater guy to the music guy. It seemed clear that a job in skateboarding wasn't a good option, where being a singer songwriter had real potential.
In 1992 high school graduation was right in front of me, thank God! I held up academically but hated school. I wanted to finally taste some freedom. Honestly, I was also terrified, because my game plan was thin and I didn't know how I would make a living. It became clear that I needed a quick solution when my father had all my belongings thrown in the rainy grass in the backyard at the start of summer. Gotta say, I had hoped for a smoother exit. Now, I had been giving drum lessons for ten bucks an hour in the basement, so the thought of teaching guitar and music crossed my brain. I headed out to Larry's Music Center, which was a place I spent a lot of time and money at growing up. I met with Larry and discussed the possibility of me teaching there. Much to my surprise he said yes and just like that, I had a full time job Monday through Friday at sixteen bucks an hour. It was a huge break and it would carry me through the next ten years.
With guitar money and the remaining Skate Shack money, I set out to find a home, something I discovered not to be a fun task at all. Some of the places I saw were complete dumps. My then girlfriend searched the newspaper classifieds and found something comfy in the country for me to check out. I met with the realtor and toured the home, and as I drove away I started to panic at the thought of someone else buying it. It was then that I knew I really wanted this house and I had found home. Once it was all said and done, I had a house with a great lawn, a sweet job and knew it was time to save money and build a future.
The first few years out of high school I spent a lot of time skating with my friend Casey. He and I were the only guys from our skate clan that didn't go to college. Casey and I were very similar and had a lot in common. He lost his father at a young age and I had lost my mother. Both his mother and my father were white collar and we were going to make sure we weren't. In the morning I would fly over and wake him up. He still lived at home so our killer launch ramp was intact. We talked about girls and skated for hours. At four o'clock I slipped into the sport coat, grabbed my guitar and briefcase and walked into the studio. When I first started, teaching was a blast and I was fresh to teach the instrument. When eight o'clock rolled back around, I was back on the board and we sessioned until three in the morning some nights. We had some crazy times that were out of control. It was a second childhood for us, only this time we had cars. Rollerblading had gained popularity at this point, and more and more skateparks cropped up in 1993-94. As far as skateboarding was concerned, the size of the boards had shrunk and the wheels were smaller and smaller, but we weren't hip to that movement at all. Both Casey and I faithfully held on to our babies, me with my Tony Hawk Claw and him with his Jason Jesse. About 30 minutes away in the town of Mansfield there was an outdoor park at the ski resort Snow Trails. I drove there every day in my little Pontiac Sunbird. In the summers of 1993 and 1994 this was my new home. Some of the sessions were so lame, though, just me and two little rollerbladers all day, but I loved skating ramps so it was well worth it. Some days I would want to ride so bad I even cancelled my students. Later we heard about an old skate park, Northlake, that reopened five minutes from Snow Trails, so we hopped from spot to spot. Better yet, we met a kid that had a half pipe in a barn in Ashland near Mansfield, so we could hit three spots in one day. I remember sessions that began at 10 am and lasted till 4 pm. On days like that, we grabbed dinner and then sessioned Northlake till 7pm or so. From there we would drive to Ashland for a night of skating pipe in the barn and when we were done there, we went home and skated the streets of Wooster till late at night. Now that's what I call sessioning. Those days were all about the love and hunger for the sport, and those were the good ole days.
In the winter of 1994 I heard about an indoor skate park, Roller World, opening in Parma. By this point, Casey was in a serious relationship and had a baby, so skating wasn't part of his daily routine anymore. I was flying solo and drove an hour to Cleveland twice a week to skate Roller World. This park was actually a roller hockey rink that brought out ramps on the floor during the weekend. On the right side of the building was a sweet half pipe and I spent all my time jamming there. I was known as the old school guy. Street skating was coming up so no one else touched the ramp. Once in awhile I would see some old school cats who shredded with me. I owe this ramp a lot for my skate career because it was where I really learned some important tricks and a handful of what became my signature moves. Thankfully, there wasnt any such thing as an off season, since this place was open all year round. Later other indoor parks like Chenga and Smith Grinds were additional playgrounds for me.
By this time, the X Games had an audience and skateboarding was popular once again. I skated two to three times a week at different parks with lots of new skaters and saw a whole new generation of kids entering the sport. People were always taken aback by my old school Tony board, which I had plenty of thanks to the leftovers from my shop. I worked Monday and Tuesday, took Wednesday off to skate a park, worked Thursday and Friday, skated Roller World on Friday night, and then worked Saturday morning followed by a Saturday night of skating, and Sunday was reserved to hit Smith Grinds or Chenga. This was the routine I followed for many years.
In the summer of 1995 I drove past a kid shredding at the high school. I pulled over and talked with him about skating back in the day. His name was Nate Varns, and he became my new Casey. His friend Jeremy also skated, so I finally had a new clan to skate the summer away with. We went on crazy skate trips from street to parks. Nate lived with his older brother and mom, and they took me in as if I was one of the family. I was game for the free food and the entertainment they offered, to say the least. Since Nate and his brother were a few years younger than me, I saw first hand how kids had changed from when I was in school. Through networking we found Seth and Joel, who knew of another barn ramp in a neighboring town. We jammed there all night long. I began to run into a lot of guys that had quit skating and then started back up. This was a becoming a common pattern, since skating was on the rise again. I really felt I had an advantage since I had never stopped. When we had all said years before that we would never quit I was the one who actually didn't. Every now and again I could talk Casey into coming out for a few sessions, but it was bittersweet. Once at Roller World he noticed the vibe of new skaters was completely different from when we were younger, and it made him upset. As he was leaving, I realized that I had seen the change happen gradually, so it was easier for me. One highlight of that summer was that I met someone I ended up spending several years of my life with. She was unbelievably supportive of me and my career.
The summer passed quickly. I kept my skating routine going for months on end. By 1996 and 1997 I was entering several amateur skate competitions, winning many of them, much to my surprise. I skated against guys who were really good, but slammed when they went too big. I stayed with what I knew and gained points for consistency and creativity. I learned volumes about competing those years, and began to travel further and further to compete. I loved the crowd more than the competition and began to feel like a performer again. Instead of singing and dancing on a stage, I was entertaining on a half pipe. Even so, skating pro never even crossed my mind at all during this time. I was still teaching music and felt I might do that the rest of my life.
It wasn't till February 1998 that I had an awakening of my musical side, and decided to pursue a professional music career. I produced my own albums for years and decided to make a compilation of songs to release to the world. I craved this for years but never felt like the timing was right. I sunk every penny I had into making my album titled Emblem. Having covers made and shrink wrapping were just the beginning of the expenses. I needed to distribute the cd to retail stores. The Musicland corporation answered my prayers and I started selling on consignment with the chain On Cue. I really put myself out there for people to see. I met with an agent named Franki Young who was busy with an established country act, but took me on anyway. I came to understand later that she was less than honest at times, if you look up white lie in the dictionary youll find her picture. However, she did teach me the importance of photos and image. While I was making money through cd sales, it never came close to making up what I put up to start the project. Despite the financial obstacles, I knew Id found my new calling. I got air play in dance clubs and my cd was getting reviewed in lots of publications, the most notable being Scene Magazine. The jerk, I mean critic, went on how talented I was but slammed me for this and that. Actually, this was good practice for what was waiting for me in the future. Rejection is an everyday occurrence in life, not to mention in the skate and music industries . Companies always wanted to change one thing or another, and I could never please everyone. One day a record label told me my voice was too loud, then the next day another would tell me my voice was too quiet. Through it all, this criticism made my skin very thick. Many people would've cracked going through what I went through, but all this only made me stronger and more secure in myself. I signed cds locally here and there and had a small following, and music was a positive outlet for me to perform.
Over the next few years I released more cds and enjoyed increasing album sales but I still continued to drain my bank account to finance each following cd. So many times I came close to my big break. Record labels, talent agents, and my manager all promised big things but even then I knew only I could bring on real success. By 2000 I had a large online audience established and used my website as the communication hub with my fans and as a way to make my latest work available. This is when I learned the potential the internet holds for promoting yourself, which greatly benefited me later in my skate career. In 2001, I made my first legit music video, a large production with several sets and a full crew filmed over two days and five different locations. For the first time, I was treated like a star during the video. I was catered to and even granted interviews between filming. This video attracted a larger audience and opened doors for me to the music industry. I accomplished a great deal the following year. I needed someone to contact the press and make bookings so I hired an agent. After turning pro years later she represented me full time as a professional athlete. I was performing everywhere and doing radio interviews. My song Love Love was getting some attention overseas and was the second most downloaded independent song on Lycos Music. By all means, I pictured myself on MTV within a couple years.
Through all this I always continued skateboarding. I had my bag of tricks and rode mainly to stay in shape. All my creative juices were thrown into my music career and skating took a back seat. In the summer of 2002 the Gravity Games were coming to Cleveland for the first time. Since it had been years since I'd seen real skating, I checked it out and even brought my gear just in case there was somewhere to ride. Once I saw that ramp I was overcome with the craving to just bust out. I ran back to my van and put on everything I had, every pad you could think of. I walked up to the security guard by the ramp and asked her if I could skate. She said it was for invite only, to which I boldly replied that I was Doug Brown and just wanted to ride for a bit. She said she knew who I was but she couldnt have; I think I just got lucky that the confidence card I played worked. I nervously walked across the deck and dropped in. I have to say, I caused an instant reaction and within seconds camera guys started taking shots of me. Even the pros seemed to be thinking, Who the hell is this guy? My style and selection of tricks grabbed the audience but it never occurred to me that they would stand out. After the session closed a few kids asked for my autograph, so I played it cool and signed their ball caps. That day I was approached by the company that made the ramps for the Gravity Games and Slim Jim for sponsorship. My life was changing right in front of my eyes and as I drove home that night I had no idea what had just happened. In the plant that is my skating career, the seed was planted that day in 2002.
By the end of the year, I had a couple paying sponsors and flirted with the idea of skating for a living. I began to take my skating much more seriously, and worked less to allow more time to skate. Slowly I saw my priorities change. I thought about opening another skateshop but already had a steady job. I had just finished a live cd and needed a break from the music industry. Shortly thereafter I began riding professionally for Yocaher Skateboards out of Los Angeles. With so many parks popping up there were enough parks to keep me busy all week and I was able to work on my moves daily. Nearby cities like Akron and Cleveland opened parks, even my hometown had a skatepark. I started to get some recognition at all these parks and my identity became that of a full blown skateboarder. All of a sudden shops and parks wanted to sponsor me on the spot. I began to travel extensively and participate in big competitions. I lost plenty but the few that I won got me recognized in the industry.
In 2003 I was invited back to the Gravity Games to be the demo skater for the company that built the ramps for the events. This week was pure heaven. I skated from 10 am till 8 pm for five days non-stop. I never in my life signed so many autographs and met so many pros. For the first time I saw the real potential in skating as a full on career. I met some very influential people like Mike Vallely and Andy Macdonald. That week I also filmed with Much Music and even got some new sponsors. All this happened without me sending out even one video; my breaks all came because of people watching me skate. I tell kids everywhere that they have to do competitions and attend events to get noticed. Imitating what you see in videos and magazines won't get you anywhere, and worse than that, it's unhealthy for both the sport and yourself. Be original and creative. I never saw myself as a great skater, but I did embrace my originality and my own style
In the months after the 2003 Gravity Games I started touring skateparks across the states. I won the Vans Summer Invasion series, which opened the gates for more sponsors. The down side of the competition is that I split my chin wide open when I fell 12 feet onto the cement from the top of a quarter pipe. I had to drive an hour and twenty minutes to the emergency room. I easily could have broken my neck or bashed my teeth in. This was a big wake up call about the possibility of myself really getting hurt. The next day and thirteen stitches later I was back on my board. The tour dates continued to mount up and I participated in demos with pros like Quim Cardona and Andy Macdonald. My sponsors sent me out to grand openings of parks everywhere. The requests for autographs continued with increasing regularity starting in the early part of 2003, which was a strange concept for me. I never called myself a pro and was surprised that kids had this much interest in my skating. All the same, I was flattered and it did push me to continue to strive to be a better skater. The perks kept coming as the Applebees in my hometown gave me a tribute wall with photos and my deck to display and I got a sweet tour van filled with boards and disco lights. This was all great, but I knew there were still more opportunities available. I wanted a board sponsor and heard back from Yocaher Skateboards out of Los Angeles, California. I knew they had a good rep in the industry and global distribution. After a month or so of negotiations, I signed with them and finally had a pro signature deck. It all seemed way too good to be true. When they sent me my first package and it was a box the size of a refrigerator I couldn't believe it. I went out and celebrated my newest big sponsor. I had so many demos planned. I was preaching to the kids and shop owners my deck would be out soon. It was a long wait and I think many of them doubted me. In the meantime I filmed spots with 54321 and Out & About Sports channel.
As 2004 continued, my life was demo after demo after demo as I lived life on the road. In addition to Yocaher Skateboards, I signed with Negative One Griptape and they all kept me busy. In April 2004 I was invited to the Eastern Supply Warehouse open house in North Carolina. This weekend ingreatly impacted my future as it was the first time I was recognized as a professional skater. While at this industry only party, I skated, signed my posters and entertained offers from shop owners and skatepark owners who wanted to pay me big money to fly out and perform at their venues. I was eager and jumped at the chance to fly from one state to the next to skate and get paid for it. No complaints here.
Spring arrived and with it came a couple gifts: First, I was sponsored by SoBe, then my pro deck was finished and cropped up in skateshops across the world. Not only was this like having an album placed in every Wal Mart and Best Buy for me, but also (and even better yet) the public really liked the board. The company told me that out of every ten decks sold, six were mine. I hit the road for months on end to promote the board, and while doing so, I really saw the world. I skated parks from Mexico to Georgia and crossed the states back and forth with my skateboard.
My most memorable demo that year was the Cardington Skatepark grand opening, July 30th, 2004. This was one of the only free demos I performed all summer, and it was just ten miles from my parents hometown of Mt. Gilead. That day both sets of grandparents, my aunt, nephew and most importantly, my father all came. For the first time ever, my dad got to see me skate, and he really saw me in my element and all my glory when there was a line a mile long for autographs. I know my father has had to wonder what exactly I've been doing with my life these past couple years and this was my chance to finally show him. We all secretly long for the moment where our parents say they are proud of us, and I had that moment that day. It goes without saying that my mother was there in spirit, also.
That summer I participated in a lot of demos at Vans skate parks, which is where I first met pro skater Caine Gayle. The Fuel Channel was filming, and I even got some footage which later led to me joining them in the Get Hookt Up Tour with commentaries and actual skating. This exposure put me into people's homes and I started getting recognized as the Fuel guy. While my touring schedule heated up, my agent was on the phone daily with all kinds of companies. One of the most rewarding opportunities I had was getting sponsored by D.A.R.E. America, who sends me to talk to kids at schools and libraries about my travels and experiences and how keeping clean helped me get where I am today. Im glad to connect with the kids through skateboarding and then share that message with them. Being a part of both D.A.R.E. and Make a Wish Foundation has been extremely rewarding.
Gravity Games 2004 came around and it was an amazing time to reflect. Just two years before I had bravely joined a session of pros. Now I ate in the VIP tent and hung with all my heroes and knew I had come a long way both as a person and as an athlete since then. In my music phase, I was accustomed to signing a cd every now and then, but now the demand for autographs was constant. Saturday of the games I signed well over 2000 posters at the SoBe booth from open to close. I was also much more sure of myself and had a new confidence. My friends and family saw the good I accomplished and that my skateboard was no longer just a wooden toy but more a microphone to reach people, kids especially. With my whole family in the medical field, it was fitting that I was worked with D.A.R.E. and Make a Wish. This was the first time I felt my father was proud of my accomplishments.
My life filled up with month after month of touring. I was on plane after plane and one hotel room just led to the next. Sometimes being out on the road got lonely, but I was always at home in a skatepark wherever I went. My journey hasn't been all sunshine and smiles; underneath many of these stories remains drama and inner battles. With my rising popularity, I also ran into people who just didn't get what I was doing, especially since I never subscribed to the mainstream herd. I have always considered myself to be an individual. I visited Mike Vallely recently and vented to him about some stuff I was going through. He told me I was fighting a good fight and to stand strong. I also am encouraged by the emails I get from kids telling me how much I helped them or what a great fan of mine they are. Of course, those are always followed by a harsh "you're a sell-out" email, but I have to remember to be true to myself. First and foremost, I've always skated for one thing, fun.
My hobby became my profession as sponsors gave me a salary and helped me achieve my ultimate goal, to keep moving forward and teach kids the positive side of skateboarding. Thats my real focus, not just to win competitions or to have a Thrasher Magazine cover, because my real competition is with myself. We need to encourage each other. Whether you want to be a baseball player or a school teacher, one thing remains constant. You must believe in yourself. I never left skateboarding and it never left me. I showed it love through rough years of my life, and its payoff time as I'm getting loads of that love back. By now I have met all the skaters I dreamed of meeting, including Tony Hawk who Ive met several times. While in San Diego I got to session with Eric Dresson, Jim Grey and a hand full of todays top riders. Moments like this will be inside me forever. I have to admit, I still have days where I feel this is all one big dream that Ill wake up from any minute.
People ask me all the time how long Ill keep skating. I got part of the answer when I was in Wilmington, North Carolina, and hooked up with ex-pro skater Ray Underhill. Even though Ray is now 47, he still skates everyday. He was skating this huge cement bowl while his son and wife relaxing in lawn chairs by the ramp. With his helmet off the gray hairs were plain to see, but all geared up, he skated that bowl like he was 16 years old. I later saw him in California and the last piece of advice he had for me was to "skate for life." I've also met several of the Dogtown Z-Boys guys and they still skate. When I recently talked to Z-Boy Peggy Oki, she said she still skates on a daily basis. On the west coast there is a large population of people over 40 who still skate.
There are defining moments in life that vindicate that you've achieved something. On August 20th, 2005 one of my sponsors invited me to join the Jammin' 2005 tour. This was a huge music tour that hosted headlining bands and had celebrity guest speakers. This was so big for me to be involved in this tour. The opening night was at Schottenstein Arena to a sold out crowd of 20,000 people. Here I was at sound check in the middle of an arena warming up on a half pipe that was built just for me. Somebody wake me up. After getting a feel for the ramp I was escorted to my dressing room complete with food and a private shower. The demo was with me on the half pipe, Kevin Bickel and Tim Byrne on flat land with Jon Greer and Aaron Johnson on bmx. Waiting to go on at 8:53 between bands was like a three hour lay over at an airport. Finally our names were announced and we walked out behind the black curtain. I felt like a tiger on a leash that just got cut to run wild. The energy inside the arena was powerful. My heart was pumping and the crowd was very receptive to our performance. As I rode near the front of the crowd a sea of high fives would greet me. Jon and Aaron ended the show with back to back back-flips and the crowd was roaring. After our show the last band played and I was shot up to the arena lobby to sign posters and meet and greet. The people were very complimentary and thankful of our show. This was a night I will never forget. My mother would of been very proud and she was there in spirit.
As for myself, I look back to when I first rode the streets of Wooster, Ohio in grade school. At that time just rolling down a hill gave me a great sensation. Skateboarding is so much more than how many stairs you can ollie. If you haven't figured that out for yourself yet, then let me repeat what my dad told me years ago when he said, You haven't lived long enough. I still get back to Ohio and skate those old spots I used to growing up and I have no plans on ever stopping. Skating was never about money or fame, it was simply about having fun. At the end of the day, I'm still just a skater dude riding my worries away.
Shows, appearances, and demos continue to consume my life. This is where I am. Because of the past I've become who I set out to be. I've met all my heroes like Hawk, Steve Caballero, Tony Alva, Mike Vallely, Christian Hosoi, Danny Way, Bob Burnquist, and numerous others. I've had highlights from Canada, El Paso Texas, Orlando, San Juan Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, Kentucky, California, Atlanta, Newfoundland, Mexico, Minnesota, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Paris, Dominican Republic, Columbus, Kansas City, Nashville, and so many other places. Places and people are what keep me going. Influencing people in a positive manner means more to me than any sponsorship, trick, or trophy. It's connecting with the crowd that makes this journey worth while.