I know a lot of people who would do some very bad things to have an opportunity to live Patrick O’Dell’s life. On paper it seems like a skate nerds dream: run a skate show on Vice that interviews and tours with some of the most notorious skateboarders in the world. Not to mention that he was also the photo editor for Vice, and has directed music videos for the likes of people like Morrisey. But how’d a random dude from Ohio that moved around his whole life end up working for some awesome companies and create the definitive skateboarding history show? We called up O’Dell to pick his brain and find out the tricks of the trade.
Have you met any girls from your show on Vice, Epicly Laterd?
I’ve met a lot of people who have said they like the show but the pro skaters are the dudes that girls are excited about. I got a email from a girl recently that was so weird, she was just like, “hook me up with Jerrys Hsu, or Dylan [Rieder] or Steve Olson,” just rattling off all these skaters. Or I’ll be at a bar and girls will be like, “ouhh whats up with Heath Kirchart??” I think the sort of romance of a pro skater, it’s like a pro athlete but a rebel, you know, girls love it. I don’t think being the guy walking around holding the video camera is like that. It’s like the cowboy or like…the blogger.
You’ve interviewed dozens of pro skaters, have you noticed anything common between them?
Not really, that’s whats kind of interesting about it because everyone is so different. I’ve been interested in the mental aspect of trying a trick. Like, you want to grind that rail? How do you go about doing it? If you asked [John] Cardiel, Andrew Reynolds and Heath Kirchart all that same question, those answers are 3 so drastically different. Like Heath needs it quiet, nobody around, Reynolds has all this madness going into it, like tapping on stuff and Cardiel, if it was quiet he couldn’t do it. He needs somebody screaming at him calling him a pussy and shit just chaotic. If it was quiet and nobody was getting him stoked he wouldn’t do it. I think pro skating is a really big melting pot of different personalities. And some of them I don’t even see anything in common.
How many pro skater’s genitalia have you seen?
One time I was at a strip club in Spain and the dancer brought Caswell Berry on stage and got him completely naked. She was still dressed and he was balls out naked and even did a little dance.
Is there a way to survive off just doing skate photography?
I think the only real way to make money with skate photography is to be out there, grinding at it, with good dudes that are going to produce. And If you are good at skate photography and with the right teams. I’m relatively shitty but when dudes are good like Atiba and he goes to an Emerica trip. He’s gonna have a retainer for the magazine he works for. Then he’s gonna give certain photos to that trip article, and then he’s gonna take others and say, this is a Baker ad, this is a Spitfire ad, etc, and sell them. And by the end of the trip if you sold a ton of stuff, and if you can get a shoe ad in the mix, you’re doing pretty sweet.
How much does a photographer make per photo in a Skate magazine?
I don’t know. For editorial for a magazine, it might be like $150 or so per photo in a magazine. An ad could be like $500 or something, at the very beginning and then later with a shoe ad it could be like $1000.
Have you taken any fully nude photos of yourself?
No. Head to toe? Definitely not.
Seems like you have gotten to work with companies or people that you have always wanted to. Is there any quality about yourself which you think has gotten you to these places?
I don’t know it’s just luck I think and being open to it. You know for the things I got there’s so many things I didn’t get. It sounds good when you condense 15 or 20 years worth of trying into what the successes have been because there have been so many failures, or attempts at things that I didn’t get. It’s just persistence, I think it’s just like, trying to not be too put off by failure. Because there’s been many throw in the towel moments you know, where its just like why am I even doing this? Why am I still trying?
Anything specific you never got? Like a “failure”.
I never got a Thrasher cover, and I worked for them for like 6 years so I would like to maybe go buy some cameras and call Phelps up and be like, c’mon, give me a cover. I might try to make something happen someday.
While doing the show, do you ever find yourself in political situations, like between companies or riders?
I’m not gonna go too gung-ho on politics like Big Brother, which was one of the best magazines ever, but they would shit on people so much, that skaters would not shoot with them because no one wanted to get clowned in the magazine. It ended up getting worse and worse where the writing is amazing but the photography isn’t there cause they can’t get on the good tours. I don’t wanna burn bridges, I just wanna leave it pretty chill but you can push it a little bit. If I had done episodes where I was shittin on everybody, I would have been out of episodes like 6 months later. I’m always navigating through some difficult situations because skateboarding is so entertwined with advertising. There is all types of shit that never occurred to me when I was young and then I got into this.
What types of stuff didn’t occur to you then that does now?
Like I remember once when I worked for Thrasher, I wrote a tour article and I kinda zinged the company I was on tour with, I was kinda making fun of the company itself. Then I got a call, and it was like dude you can’t just talk shit about them, when you go on a trip where they pay for you to come. And I was like ohh that makes sense, I didn’t think about that. Of course I was like 22 at the time, I didn’t really know what was going on. Skateboarding I think is one of the few sports, maybe not anymore that is so tied in to marketing. The people that make you pro are people that sell products. So if you’re not making your sponsors happy, you aren’t going to be a pro skater.
Yeah, it’s pretty much a lot of marketing?
The act of skateboarding not at all but the act of being a pro skater is. Because you are paid out of that marketing budget and everything, it’s like you are there to help the company sell stuff. I don’t know sometimes I think of professional skateboarding, as stupid as it sounds almost like comic book heroes or something. The skater has to appeal to his fans or whatever, get people to buy his and their stuff. If no one is buying your stuff you aren’t a pro. Sometimes it gets so far with peoples persona’s that im like, woah this is like the WWF or X-Men or something. Like in wrestling the guy comes out and he’s like the Mexican, or the truck driver, or captain america and stuff.. And with some skaters, not all of them of course some of them just go off talent, but a lot of them it’s just these little caricatures..
You know sometimes when I interview people, I know now the business side of what they’re saying. I’ll ask them something like, “why didn’t it work out with this company?” and they’ll give me an answer that I can tell is just from their perspective. I almost want to stop them and be like hey, think about it from the other perspective. You’re not coming on the tours, you’re doing drugs, being a dick to kids, didn’t film your video part, whatever it is, that’s why you got kicked off or something. But they’re like, “phh I thought it was homies,” Or, “I thought it was like a family, and I got kicked off.” You gotta think about it like from the perspective if you owned the company, what you would do, if you had a bunch of bums on your team.
I heard you were on the first Baker tour? How was that?
Yeah. One thing actually pissed me off on the first day of the tour. They were like, you have to drive, we don’t have room for you in the van. I was like OK, but then I realized they didn’t even have room for some of their own riders. So basically I ended up driving my own car and had to drive Knox [Godoy], Evan Hernandez and Terry Kennedy. I remember being annoyed, because I was like, you guys can’t rent me a car? They didn’t have room in their own van for their entire team, so they needed me. There was atleast 15 people on the tour, it was super chaotic. They would get 3 rooms, and 1 room was Emerica’s room. Jon Miner would sleep in there, and maybe 1 other person. Then the other 2 other rooms were insane, filled with people, multiple people on each bed, people between the beds, I was on the floor. I had a lot of fun, even tho there were parts that were super annoying, because they were full blown alcoholic craze at that point.
I read an interview with Knox where he says he tortured you on tour, threw your CD’s out the window.
I don’t really know if they were throwing CD’s out the window. But you know, I don’t really change for who im hanging out with, I’m just me. I’m not gonna just throw in music that’s gonna make a bunch of 12 year olds happy. I really like Knox, and I thought he was pretty smart and kinda a cool kid but a dick. I remember I stayed in one room and my bag was in the other with all the kids. I heard all this commotion, and Knox had put all this shaving cream in my bag.
Did you flip out?
I think I was just so tired and like half drunk at that point I was just like, whatever. Fuck these children. Knox was like 12 or 13, it was crazy how young he was. What are you going to do to a 12 year old that puts shaving cream in your bag? Terry [Kennedy] and Trainwreck were just giggling. I wasn’t that pissed. That’s just typical skate life, going on skate trips or Skatetopia or Robstock or on the road skating, it’s your turn to get tortured eventually.
You go on any recently?
I haven’t gone on one in a while. Sometimes I wonder how they stay afloat. I’ll hear some crazy stories, like Antwuan [Dixon] stealing hotdogs. He went in some gas station and just stole hot dogs. The guys like, “pay for those,” and he’s just like, “fuck you!” and leaves. And then the cops pull him over 2 miles down the road and he ends up in jail. Some of the skaters go on to the next stop and others wait around at the last stop for him. With these tours it’s constantly something. It seems like it takes a certain type of animal to survive.
If you could have any skaters career, whose would you want?
Im gonna go with the Gonz. I think that’s the dude, that’s the most important skater. When you look at his career from watching early early street skating, contest videos like Savannah Slamma, and that first Thrasher video Skaterock where he skates with Rocco, to present day, it’s just always the best, always the most creative.
It’s crazy to me that there are pros from like 2005 or 2008 that are “washed up” and gone and Gonz is a pro from what like 84 or something? He’s always been super relevant coming out with interesting stuff for what.. 30 years? And it always looks like he’s having fun!
Did you see the Gonz around a lot when you lived in NYC?
He lived a couple blocks from me, I would see him around a lot. I remember one time walking down the street and he had two boards and was doing a daffy across the intersection. It was like a mirage. And he went from one building, across the entire street into the other bulding, and then disappeared. I have a friend who saw him one time walking on the street and Mark dipped into an outdoor restaurant and was like secretly stealing silverwear. Took a fork, and then took a knife, then a spoon and then dipped. Everyone has these stories…
Another time I remember going to some lame party, to Sway or some bar. I remember seeing this dude with his hood up, pushing mongo down the street. Then I noticed he was smoking a cigar. I was like there’s some guy pushing mongo down the street smoking a cigar at like 2am!! Then I saw it was Mark and he’s just like, “I’m going to Battery Park to skate!” I was like fuck, I’m lame. I’m going to some fucking shitty bar for no reason and this dude is out there skating, it was almost like a little epiphany. No wonder he still rips after 30 years, he loves it! He wasn’t skating with anyone else either. You never see that with pros, no filmer, no photographer, no crew. Him by himself, where if he’s skating and he did something awesome, nobody will see it.
Do you miss the 90′s?
I think we romanticize the 90’s, and that was kind of when I was young in skating but it was really restrictive. You had to wear this skate uniform it was almost like golf or something. You need blue jeans, white shirt, starter hat, you have to like Souls Of Mischief, you have to do varial kickflips or whatever. And if you slash grind a bowl you’re lame or you do a boneless you’re lame. There were so many rules and you had to be this certain way and if you weren’t you were like “so wack”. I love the 90′s skating but it was really harsh and now it’s so different, it’s so vast. That’s what I kind of like about skating now.