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10am // 03.12.2017

Highs and Lows 950

Are you absolutely sure you’d be dead if it wasn’t for skateboarding? Positive?

Words by Oliver Pelling. Artwork by Jimmy Roche.

I have a love-hate relationship when it comes to interviewing people. When I know I have an interview coming up, I hate it. It could be two weeks out or one hour, and I’d hate it just the same. I get nervous. I stress about what questions to ask. Then I get nervous some more.

I could be interviewing a snowboarder in front of a room full of journalists; an Aboriginal elder in some deep bush in Far North Queensland; one of my all-time favourite musicians over the phone; some young up-and-coming skater in a pub in Melbourne or two skaters and their girlfriends in their own home, and I’d get nervous just the same. In fact, I hate it right up to the point where I actually meet the person, shake their hand and start talking. From that moment on, it’s sweet. But it’s been this way since I first started doing it.

“Thanks for your offer, but I’ve got several interviews that I haven’t had time to get to, so I will put you on the list.” That’s what Jim Phillips – the artist behind Santa Cruz’ seminal Screaming Hand graphic – told me when I reached out to him for an interview in 2010. I can’t remember why I chose Jim as my first ever skate interview subject, but I did. At the time I was living in Kingston, just outside London, and, apart from dodging university assignments, playing Call of Duty and eating beans on toast, I wasn’t up to much.  

I had to start a blog as part of my university coursework, so I started a skateboarding blog and intended my interview with Jim Phillips to be one of my first posts. I don’t blame Jim for turning me down. I’d have turned me down, too. But by that point, I was in the third year of my journalism degree and had learned that taking no for an answer is not how you make shit happen. So I persisted.

Eventually, Jim agreed. We did the interview, it turned out all right, and I ended up pitching it to Sidewalk, the UK’s skate bible. They accepted it and that piece became my first ever published story. I think I even got twenty quid for it.

Hot off the rip-roaring success of my interview with Jim, I emailed Ed Templeton and asked if he was keen for an interview. My best mate was a big fan of Ed Templeton, and I wanted to demonstrate my newfound emailing skills. I think I told Ed I had a commission for Sidewalk, but I’m not sure if I actually did. Anyway, he agreed and Sidewalk published it.

At the time, I already knew I was moving to Melbourne, so I thought I’d try and get a foot in the door at Slam before I arrived. I emailed Jake Frost – editor at the time ­– the piece on Ed, and he was keen to publish it, too (providing I could make it relevant for an Australian audience). “You can’t go wrong in Aussie, mate,” Jake said when I told him I was heading down under. He wasn’t wrong.

Fast forward to 2011 and I was in Melbourne and unemployed. I decided to offset my joblessness and keep myself entertained by seeing who I could get on the phone. At the time, Rob Dyrdek was at the height of his Fantasy Factory fame and seemed like the most absurd interview subject to aim for. So aim I did. It took a few weeks to get him, and by the time I did, the publication that had accepted my pitch (Huck Magazine) wasn’t interested anymore. I didn’t tell Rob or his publicist this, obviously, and did the interview anyway. I wrote it up and pitched it to Slam, but they weren’t keen either. That interview remains unpublished, which is a shame, because it means this line: “I remember telling people for years that there’s this magical place called Byron Bay in Australia where there are thousands of sea animals,” will never see the light of day.

Eventually, I did get a job in a café. And then one day, Trent Fahey (now editor of Slam) emailed me and asked if I wanted to interview Danny Way. I said, “Yeah, OK” and raced over to the Westin Hotel one afternoon to meet him. I had to go to the interview straight after work. And when you have been making coffees and splashing milk all over yourself since 6 am, it’s not uncommon to smell a bit like cat sick. Danny flew into Melbourne that morning to promote his documentary Waiting for Lightning and my interview was his last of the day. We sat in an empty room with chairs opposite each other (which made it feel a bit like an interrogation), whilst Tas Pappas – an old friend of Danny’s – watched on.  

At first, I was a little preoccupied with trying to not smell like cat sick, which was proving difficult, but then I was preoccupied by how it felt like Danny was staring through my face, through the wall behind me and into the world beyond the room. It felt intense at the time, but in hindsight, Danny – who’d probably been fielding the same questions for the best part of the day – was likely just bored.

Since Danny, I’ve interviewed a bunch of the American pros. But some of my most memorable chats have been for this magazine’s ‘Where Are They Now?’ series. Sitting with photographer Steve Gourlay in his South Melbourne home and talking about the Pot Hole and his first roll of film; chatting with Greg Stewart and getting a dose of his insane energy even over the phone line; hearing Jason Ellis talk about the money and the madness that was Australian skateboarding in the ’90s. As an Englishman who’s only lived here for a handful of years, I couldn’t have asked for a better education on Australian skate history. It’s a humbling thing, this business of talking to people. And that’s where the other half of the love-hate relationship comes in.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years of interviewing people from the various eras and genres of skateboarding, it’s that people are amazing. I know it sounds corny as hell, but meeting people who are just doing the damn thing and doing it for the right reasons – I don’t think there’s anything more inspiring than that. If there are two things I’ve learned, it’s that – as a collective – skaters need to get another line. Once you’ve heard: “If it wasn’t for skateboarding, I’d be dead or in jail,” for the 50th time, it just doesn’t fly.   

And if there are three things I’ve learned, it’s that you should always strive to not be hungover for an interview. And if you are hungover, make sure the interview takes place in a venue where a good Bloody Mary is readily available. 

Article from Slam #215, Winter, 2017. Grab a copy of our Interview Issue here.