Posted September 28, 2013 in News

Twenty Questions With El Jefe

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Novato California, photo by Gary Darer.

How is it being back in Ventura after seven years in San Francisco?
It’s cool, in a lot of ways it’s a love / hate thing. I mean, we have family here, and most of my real friends are also here, so it’s nice to kick it. Plus the weather and the beaches are a lot better down here. But, you know… it’s Ventura. Before we moved, I had a dream I was stuck downtown after nine, and nothing was open. I was like, “Ahhhh!”

How is it compared to when you left?
In some ways it’s still exactly the same, like, there’s still no good food spots open past nine, the skateparks are still just as bad, people still drive 50mph on the freeway… that sort of stuff. But there’s way more homeless people here now, and it seems like more out-of-towner types, too.

Have you been skating?
Actually yeah, now that we got the warehouse going.

Warehouse? Is that where the shop is?
No, they’re two different things. The shop was originally going to be at the warehouse, but after I got the warehouse space, I was on Craigslist one day and saw an ad for the spot on Main St. The advertised rent was so low I thought it was spam, but I followed through and it turned out to be legit. I got the keys the next day and I moved the shop to Main St., which is perfect, because Main St. has way better parking and foot traffic, and now there’s nothing to steal at the warehouse!

What’s the warehouse setup like?
Basically it’s just small, sick indoor action. It’s 1,200 square feet with a few ledge boxes, wedges, a quarterpipe, and a bank ramp with a parking block. Plus a clean bathroom, microwave, and full-size refrigerator. A place to post up, get creative, paint, and do body work on the sticker van. What more could a washed-up skater ask for?

Ha… right? Are you still making websites and doing design stuff?
Yeah, for sure. I just finished up this FTC book I’d been working on for like two months straight. It’s gonna be sick for sure. And I just talked to Kelch; I think I’m going to help him set up a site for Hella Cool Skateboard Club, his new company out of Cincinnati.

That’s what’s up. You wrote another book?
No, it’s a photography and interview book. I did the design and production, making sure everything goes right in Hong Kong. Also the editing. Seb Carayol did the interviews and writing. We got photos from some heavy hitters: Bryce Kanights, Mike Blabac, Tobin Yelland, Lance Dawes, this dude Gus Duarte… I had never heard of him before working on this project, but his photos are insane. He’s got all these old shots of Carroll and EMB guys that are just amazing.

That sounds sick, when’s that coming out?
December of this year. We’re going to have a “sneak peek” at the shop for the Grand Opening, so people will be able to see a few of the actual spreads soon.

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Spreads from the upcoming FTC book: Karl Watson, Brian Anderson, Jovontae Turner, Mike & Greg Carroll, Rick Ibaseta.

How’s the shop going? I heard people were hating…
Yeah… it’s slow, but it’s going. I expected it to be slow at first, I haven’t done any real advertising yet, and I expected a little hating. Plus the business model is atypical. With the exception of trucks and some other hardgood stuff, I don’t really stock any of the major brands. Serio is a shop for real skaters who don’t care about mall brands. For the most part, I only sell stuff from smaller, skater owned and operated brands that you can’t find in the mall or at Five Points.

Speaking of Five Points, what’s all the drama about?
Was there drama (laughs)? I guess maybe yeah, a little… basically just one of those things where you think you try to do a good thing, but it ends up backfiring. That’s the short story.

What’s the long story?
Well… there’s some business stuff that I don’t want to talk about, but let’s just say I’m an ex-employee and somebody who cares about the local scene. I worked at Five Points for like 4 or 5 years and put blood, sweat, and tears into that place. It’s the curse of caring. After I moved to SF, every year I’d come back to Ventura to visit, and it just seemed like the shop and the scene was going through harder and harder times. It’s definitely not like when John and I worked there and used to set up demos, contests, video showings, and stuff like that. Those are the things that keep the kids and the scene psyched. I mean, Angel and Lawrence definitely put in work—Angel with the video stuff, and Lawrence with a Go Skate Day jam—but for the most part, there hasn’t really been an active shop scene for ten years. I want to change that and get everybody psyched on the scene again, not just the inner circle of Five Points.

Anyway, a few months ago, I asked Brad about buying into Five Points to help turn things around. I don’t know how he felt about it, but he never said anything in response. Then, in July, I was working on the FTC book a lot, using Five Points as a base. Sometimes I’d take breaks and I started just kinda, I don’t know… cleaning up around the shop and trying to make it better, the same way I would have when I worked there. Most people seemed to think the improvements were good, but Brad and Dave got kinda bummed. We had an argument or two. Brad’s going through tough times right now, so instead of fight them on everything or try to explain myself, I just decided to do my own thing. If Five Points wants to stay where they are, okay, that’s fine… but they also have to realize not everybody wants to move at their speed.

Is that where you got the idea to do your own shop?
That’s part of it. I mean… for years, people would say, “Hey let’s do some sick graphics,” or, “Hey let’s make a shop team with a video,” or, “Hey let’s get some sick little skater owned companies in stock,” and they just weren’t feeling it for whatever reason. I think that stuff is super important for a good scene, you know? I was trying to explain this to Brad, but tensions were already high, so I just got frustrated and said, “Well maybe I should just open up my own shop.” His direct response was, “You should.” So, I did. I wanted to help make Five Points better, truth be told I still do, but from what I’ve heard from Dave, that’s not an option anymore—at least not for me.

On that note, I want to be clear, because rumors and nonsense spread fast, especially when people refuse to get both sides of a story: I’m not doing this because I’m mad and I want to sink Five Points or anything like that. It’s not to spite Brad and Dave. At least from my perspective, those dudes are friends first. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely bummed on what went down, but at the end of the day friends are more important than business.

Oh, another rumor I want to put to bed: Serio wasn’t the result of me and Burrito conspiring against Five Points. It was my idea, entirely. John is just 100% motivated and stoked on skateboarding at all times, so he threw in some chips with me and we built an entirely new scene in one month.

Is that what people are saying? That this is just you guys being pissed?
That’s one of the things they’re saying, I hear all kinds of stuff. People say I’m trying to steal Five Points’ business, or that I tried to “bribe Lawrence away with more pay,” or that I’m just some dude who moved here from SF and never really skated, or that I’ll be out of business in 2-3 months, or that John and I are just bitter haters… None of it is true! Don’t believe the hype! We both have mad love for Five Points, still.

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Left: ollie to fakie, 2011, photo by Ando Right: Just one of the many efforts to better the Ventura scene.

Why are people hating?
Like all hate, I honestly think it’s just out of ignorance. Not one single hater has come to ask my side of the story or say anything to my face. They all just talk crap on Instagram, or to other people behind my back, or they send me text messages. For some haters, I don’t care at all. I see some people hating on Instagram and I think, “Where’s their Ventura roots again? Oh yeah, they have none.” Like, it’s not a big deal that some guy who got rich off Jackass thinks I’m wack. For other haters I’m bummed, like most of the people I regularly opened my house to in SF. Now they don’t answer their phones when I call or support me at all. I guess they only supported me when they needed something, pretty much like everyone else in the skateboard industry.

Ouch. That’s got to sting…
It’s whatever. We’re all born alone, and we all die alone. I mean, I get why they’re hating. They’re just doing what they think they’re supposed to do. In their minds, they’re staying loyal to Five Points, but in actuality, if they were really staying loyal to Five Points, they’d support what I’m doing. Anyone who wants a better skateboard scene in Ventura should support what I’m doing, period. I mean, if you want to get down to it, I’m more Five Points than any of those kids. I’ve done more to help Five Points and Ventura skateboarding than arguably anybody else in this scene. I’m bummed that Dave and the Manderson crew are hating, but it is what it is. Brad and Tyler came into Serio the other day and it felt really good, even if a little awkward. As long as I’m straight with Brad, I’m straight with Five Points.

Word. On a lighter note, what brands are you going to carry?
I’m trying to make Serio a different kind of shop, like an actual “specialty shop,” how skateshops used to be. For the most part, I don’t want to carry anything that you can get at the mall. No big name sporting good shoes, hell, every skate shoe company sells to malls and outlet stores now, so I probably won’t even carry any shoes except Ipath! I mean, obviously I’m going to sell Indy’s or whatever, you can get those anywhere, but for the most part I’m trying to be unique instead of just offering more of the same. I want to support companies and riders I like and believe in, and that I think deserve recognition. Serio ain’t no cash cow.

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A small sample of the decks on offer at Serio.

Are you going to have a team?
For sure! We’ve already got a few “veteranos” nailed down to keep the roots covered, including one international rider! We’re also working with Shorty’s to find some shop ams right now, bringing back that era where shops worked hand-in-hand with companies to promote riders. There are so many good skaters from Ventura. In SF, I was always bragging to everybody about how good all the skaters are here. There are dudes here who deserve more out of a shop than a place to drink beer after hours.

Sounds good, what’s up with venturaskateparks.org?
Basically just the continuation of my fifteen-year struggle to get these Ventura parks rebuilt into something legitimate. I was going hard on that before I moved to SF, then it went dead, but now that I’m back I’m trying to get that handled. I don’t like unfinished pursuits. Ventura needs a real skatepark, it always has. I’ve got some meetings set up with Parks & Recreation, there’s a new guard down there now, so maybe things will be different. I’m hoping to have another run of skatepark fundraiser boards out soon but for now all people can do is sign the petition I started, tell others about the cause, or donate directly.

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How can people donate?
There’s an account set up at Ventura County Federal Credit Union, under “Ventura Skatepark Improvement Committee,” anybody can walk in there and donate.

Nice. Any last words?
Much love and respect to the few who’ve stood by and supported me. Haters fall back.

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