THE MARC JOHNSON INTERVIEW

photo: anthony craine

photo: anthony craine

What you are about to read is the longest, most personal and most honest interview we’ve ever published on the site. Over email, Marc answered all of my questions in detail and broke everything down like we had been friends for years, candid and unfiltered. With company owner experience, 10+ full length parts and 20+ years of skateboarding, you better believe there’s not too many other people in the world who know the ins and outs like Marc. It’s a long one, but if you stick with it, you’ll get to hear and read about things that not many people have talked about publicly.

Brian Anderson left Girl, Dill and AVE left Alien, and more team changes are to come from different companies. Why are people making such drastic decisions all of a sudden? How are these major team changes affecting skateboarding as a whole?
I’ll tell you why these folks are making such ‘drastic’ decisions. I’ll put it in the form of a story. Here goes:

Let’s say that you build houses. Someone calls you up to offer you a job building their house. They know how to use a hammer and a saw, but can’t build the house all by themselves. So they ‘hire’ a bunch of really good carpenters to build the house for them. It’s easier that way. Everyone shares the work. Let’s say it takes years to build that house, and once the house is finished, your job is over. You’re done. If you go back to the house and try to live there or even sleep there, you’ll be thrown out. “BUT I BUILT THIS PLACE,” you might say. The owner will say, “Yeah, but I PAID you to build it. Now it’s finished. Beat it. Get out of here.” Guess what? He’s right. You built HIS house. Not your own house.

Maybe people get tired of building houses for other people. Maybe people want to build their own houses. They sure as shit have the necessary experience. More houses should be built by people who’ve been through the experience of skateboarding. More houses should be built by people who know what it’s like to film video parts and go on shitty tours with shitty assholes telling them what to do. People who’ve been through hell and back with skateboarding, instead of pansy-ass flatlanders who used skateboarding to make a shit ton of money while simultaneously taking huge dumps on the faces of skateboarders year after year, contract after contract, cooked accounting report after cooked accounting report. I say fucking GO FOR IT. Skateboarding should be run by skateboarders.

pretty sweet tour 2013 / photo: anthony craine

pretty sweet tour 2013 / photo: anthony craine

You’ve said in a previous interview, “Skateboarding is something you get into because you don’t want to play by the rules but look at us now, it’s nothing but rules – you can’t do this, this trick is not cool.. etc…”
But wasn’t this always the case? Each decade has had a set of rules of what’s in, what’s out, what’s allowed…

Yeah, that’s always been the case actually. There aren’t rules, per se, in skateboarding, but there’s always been an unspoken set of rules within the skateboard community. Those rules change and evolve like everything else. Right now is a really good time in skateboarding, actually. Skateboarding isn’t narrowed down anymore to what a bunch of 16-year olds say is cool and not cool. Can you imagine? 16 year-olds running skateboarding? That actually happened around the early 1990′s. If you didn’t do certain tricks or wear certain clothing, you couldn’t get sponsored or you were dropped from the sponsors you already had. Vert skaters felt that one first hand. And lots of other street skaters as well. Skateboarding changed so much year to year. It was a crazy time to be a skateboarder. Now, there’s more diversity and more diverse types of skating are accepted, promoted and supported. Companies will support lots of different kinds of skaters and what they do.

There’s still an unspoken set of rules, but they’re more lenient and easily broken if the right dude comes along. What’s ‘cool’ changes all the time. And what’s funny is when you see groups that publicly hate on something or someone, only to jump on the bandwagon once a certain faction has given that person or thing the green light. From hater to dick-rider overnight. Shows you what those people are made of. There’s a lot of that in skateboarding – going along with the herd. Herd mentality. Groups of half-wits that have to unite like Voltron in order to form a single thought. Those people are a fucking joke. They go along with whatever is hot at the moment because they have to maintain a foothold and hang onto their little spot in skateboarding because they personally have nothing to offer skateboarding whatsoever. They just take up space and agree with whatever the majority says. They’ll go from loving to hating overnight, or from hating to loving something overnight. I love when that shit just blows up in their faces, like an exploding turd.

 SL 2011 / photo: jeremy adams

SL 2011 / photo: jeremy adams

You were in the first season of Street League, but none after that. What happened?
I got kicked out because I dislocated my ankle filming for Pretty Sweet. Drydek had one of his assistants kick me out. I’m glad I got kicked out. I’m stoked for the dudes who kill it at ‘Street’ League, but there’s no way I could deal with all of that TV shit and those rules and conditions. It was really fun to skate in the first season with all of the dudes I never get to see, but I’m just not really wired for that kind of action. I don’t belong anywhere near ‘Street’ League.

Have you ever considered using steroids or any type of “performance-enhancing drugs” to help your skateboarding, whether in a contest or for filming a part? Has it ever been offered to you?
Yes, I have taken performance-enhancing drugs during a certain video. I took beer and whiskey in order to skate under extreme duress. And yes, the beer and whiskey were offered to me. The vodka and red wine was my idea. I got that on my own. I’m ashamed to admit that I took those. They helped me, in certain ways, get through one of the most difficult periods of my life. Will my SOTY award be revoked now? I’ve been clean for a long time.

How do you stay so humble?
I wouldn’t claim to be a humble person. I just know that I’m not better than anyone out there because I’m a pro skateboarder or for any other reason. In the bigger picture, I’m not special or much of a big deal. I mean I am. We all are. We all make mistakes and we all have potential. I’m just someone who has made a lot of mistakes, recognized that, and really tried to learn from those mistakes. Smart people make good choices. That’s what a smart person is. A humble person simply knows he doesn’t have it all figured out, accepts that, and tries to better himself. Don’t be proud of being an idiot, be proud of any honest effort to stop being an idiot.

We’ve never really heard much about your family. You said a long time ago, “I have no family basically, I was biologically conceived but the people who conceived me don’t really give a fuck about me. So I have no family.”
Have you ever reconnected with your family? Does this affect you today as a father, raising a family yourself?

I never had much of a family experience. Most of my relatives have passed away, and I have no contact with the other ones I know of. My father didn’t help us out when I was growing up. We were so poor. And his family had money. Plenty of money. But he was the wandering addict fuck-up, so they distanced themselves from my family. My grandmother once told my mother, when my dad had disappeared and we were starving, “You guys aren’t my problem anymore.” And my sister and I were told that we had grown up to be huge disappointments to them. It was so absurd, and it was always a one-way street with family. We always had to call them or visit them. It was never reciprocated. I had to call them, or I’d never hear from them. I stopped calling them. People are busy I guess. I’ve seen really cool families of people I’ve known throughout the years, and I know that family can be a good thing. I just wasn’t born into a great set-up like that. I don’t mind at all. I’ll have my own family one day.

If a big sports shoe brand paid you 2 or 3 times your current salary, would you consider leaving Lakai to ride for them?
Okay. No, I wouldn’t ride for a mainstream sports footwear brand. I would not skate for Big Company Footwear.

Why not?
Big Company has a policy where if a skateshop wants to carry that ONE shoe that everyone wants, the skateshop is forced to carry ALL of their shoes. FORCED to carry all of their shoes. When those shoes don’t sell, the skateshop goes into debt and that debt gets bigger and bigger until the skateshop goes out of business. Your local shop owes Big Company a lot of money and must continue to sell the popular shoe just to pay their bills, and then they go even deeper into debt because the other Big Company shoes don’t sell at all. No one wants them. But skateshop is forced to carry those shoes too in order to be able to sell the one popular shoe. And now, skateshop doesn’t even have a choice about what they order. Shoes just randomly show up at the shop, and now skateshop owes Big Company money for product they didn’t even order.

Who the fuck does that to a skateshop????

Obviously someone who doesn’t care about the skateshops, skateboarding or skateboarders. It’s terrible. Skateboarding footwear brands don’t do that shit to skateshops. Skate Footwear brands let the shops decide what shoes they want to carry. Skate Footwear company doesn’t force skateshops to do anything they don’t want to do, or strong-arm them into a debt-slavery relationship.

Jenkem_Marc_Johnson_Interview_CoporationsCoreShoes

The reason that skateboarding footwear companies are in trouble right now is because some people said ‘Yes’ to Big Company Footwear. Some people decided to take that big check, then some more did, and then some more did after that. Those people, who took that check, gave Big Company legitimacy in OUR skateboarding industry. Certain pros have been paid a lot of money to endorse Big Company being involved in skateboarding, and kids have seen that and think, “Well if So-and-so is backing them, then it’s ‘cool’, right?”. Kids are growing up thinking that Big Company Footwear in skateboarding is normal. They don’t know that there was a time when skateboarding wasn’t popular and Big Company wouldn’t touch skateboarding with a 50-foot pole.

Big Company didn’t care about skateboarding until they saw how much money was floating around in the business of skateboarding. BILLIONS of dollars are collectively being made by the companies involved in skateboarding. A shit-ton of kids are skateboarding these days, and skateboarding has become a widely accepted youth activity. And a very profitable one if you’re in the business of selling skateboarding products. Skateboarding has become so mainstream, that even people who don’t skate are buying skateboarding-related clothing and shoes.

Youth Culture is an extremely profitable business, and since skateboarding is now a huge piece of Youth Culture, lots of companies are going to take the limo to the skatepark and start writing checks. Because no one is going to give a fuck about Big Company unless they’ve got some well-respected professional skateboarders telling the kids that it’s ‘cool’. So Big Company writes these huge checks, and most pros are looking at that number and saying, “That’s more money than I’ll see in three lifetimes riding for Small Company Footwear. I have to do what’s best for me.”

People, read that again. “I have to do what’s best for ME.”

photo: ben colen

photo: ben colen

It’s understandable too. Shit, you throw your body down stairs for 10 or 15 years and you can barely pay your bills, and some dude who looks like a skateboarder hired by a guy in a suit and tie offers you more money than you’ll see in 100 years? Most likely you’re going to take it. You gotta do what’s best for YOU, right? Yes, you probably will take the money.

The average pro career lasts 5 years, and most pros walk away from skateboarding with nothing except two video parts and a room full of old pro models. They walk away with nothing practical or useable in the world outside of skateboarding, least of all, money. Do you think skateboarding companies give a fuck about skaters once they’re no longer useable or marketable? NOPE. The skater is on his own. No company is going to look out for your favorite Pro’s future. That’s just the way it is. I’ve seen it for 23 years.

Marc_Johnson_Jenkem_Quote_Interview

After they’re let go, professional skateboarders walk away from skateboarding usually with nothing. Especially not experience or a skill set to get a good job in ‘The Real World’. The longer you’re a pro skateboarder who doesn’t learn anything else, the less attractive you are to the job market outside of skateboarding. At some point, you are practically unemployable outside of skateboarding. It’s such a catch-22. You spend so many years doing what you love, that you don’t have time to really prepare yourself for life after skateboarding.

No matter how it happens, once a pro is no longer needed by a skateboard company, they get rid of him. They sometimes take a shit right on him as he’s going out the door too. They don’t care what happens to him. It’s not their problem. Pro Skateboarder killed himself jumping down the handrails and the stairs, made that company ‘cool’, gave his heart and soul to the Company, and after that he is on his own. The company paid him a tiny bit of money to do all that amazing skateboarding, he got to live his dream for awhile, and then after that, he’s useless.

photo: ben colen

No wonder people are taking the money! They’ve watched their friends and peers get shit on by Core companies since forever! They’re getting paid while they can, and setting something aside for when that day comes where Skate Company kicks them to the curb.

There are two sides to this coin. I’ll just say that some of the shadiest, cheapest, greediest, most dishonest people I’ve ever come across have been ex-skateboarders who run ‘Core’ skate companies. Just because a company is ‘Core’ DOES NOT mean that the people running the company are good people. They’re just people who are trying to make a shitload of money too. The fact that they may have skated for a few years doesn’t mean a damn thing if they’re selfish shitbags. And most times, those ex-pro skaters ARE shitbags.

Now that Big Companies have bought their way into skateboarding and purchased street cred that they couldn’t have possibly built on their own THROUGH ACTUAL SKATEBOARDING, the ‘Core Companies have had to get up off their asses and get their shit together. Big Company is actually good at business. Big company is on top of their shit. They handle their business efficiently and thoroughly, and is willing to pay skateboarders closer to what they’re actually worth instead of short-changing them and low-balling them “Because skaters are stupid and will take anything we give them”. Big Companies have scared the ‘Core companies to death and the core companies now have to actually run their businesses properly, make an effort, and treat their riders well instead of relying on the good ol’, “We’re KILLING IT in skateboarding. We don’t really have to be good to these guys. We don’t have to know how to take care of them. Hell, we don’t even need to take care of them. Fuck em, where else are they gonna go?” Well NOW, skateboarders can go to the Big Footwear companies. And the Core Footwear companies are scared.

MarcJohnsonQuote3

The problem seems to be that Core companies got way too comfortable and didn’t catch on and use common sense in time. Like a big Sloth, these huge Core footwear companies were sleeping while the Big Company came and stole the chickens in the night. The Core companies, for as fast as they could make change within their policies, just stood there struck dumb like a deer in headlights. And now everyone is running around waving that ‘Skater-owned’ flag around.

No one really made a big deal about ‘skater-owned’ before Big Company Footwear threatened to take away the Core companies’ place at the top of the skateboarding heap. And for damn sure, no one was looking at the business practices and rider-relations policies of Core companies before Big Company came in and started treating skaters like the honest-to-god professional athletes that they are. It was pizza and cokes on Skateshop Bob’s living room floor while Core Owner was at home in his Beach house sipping Pina Coladas and talking about the next sales meeting.

Big Companies may be killing skateshops and killing other brands simply out of greed, but they take care of their riders and help their riders get what they need to get done. They actually go the extra mile for their guys. It’s a really weird situation to be in as a professional skateboarder. Do you look out for yourself at the expense of a huge portion of the lifeline of skateboarding? Or do you support the lifeline, the skateshops, and the healthier relationships between the companies and the retailer and make way less money doing what you’d be doing anyway?

So it’s a toss-up. Go with the huge greedy skateshop-killer mowing down and swallowing up everything you love, who treats their riders like the actual valuable athletes they are, OR keep it core and support the brands who work with shops and accounts for the betterment of the industry as a whole, but who offer their riders a one-way street Fairweather relationship that fades into neglect, dishonesty, and the cold shoulder once that skater is no longer ‘valuable’ to them. That’s business, that’s not skateboarding.

And by the way, Fairweather means that while you’re popular, while you’re ‘The Shit’, while you’re killing the game, they’re super cool to you and they suck your balls. But once you’re not the shit anymore, and some new kids start getting the spotlight, they dump your ass like the leftovers from a taco truck tradeshow lunch. That’s when you find out how ‘cool’ you are and who your ‘friends’ are. That’s Fairweather. That’s how most companies operate. Those companies are also saying, “We have to do what’s best for US.”

I’m going to say this: Big or Small, a company isn’t shit until SKATEBOARDERS SAY it’s cool. Period. Anyone can make products. The skateboarders are the ones who make a company what it really is in the public eye. Skateboarders are the ones who legitimize a company so that kids out there will even want their stuff. Skateboarders are the ones who ultimately decide whether or not the company can actually move some product. And guess what? Most companies treat skateboarders like morons. A lot of companies view skateboarders as ignorant, disposable assets, who can’t read a contract, don’t know the difference, and will just take anything they’re handed because they don’t know any better, and a couple of zero’s at the end of a 2 or 3 or 5 look really fucking good.

The truth is, some skate companies make a LOT of money selling things because the skaters made the brand marketable, and hardly any of that money is shared with the skaters. Compared to what those companies pull in per year, skateboarders are paid peanuts. They get the crumbs and table scraps off the banquet table.

In my opinion, that’s fucking bullshit. Big or Small, everyone is in it for the money. Like I said, there’s a lot of money to be made in the business of skateboarding. The only difference is that how each company operates depends on who is steering the ship. Sometimes skateboarders make way cooler decisions than people who have no experience with, and no love for, skateboarding. The kind of love that only someone who has experienced it first hand can have. The world is changing. People need to wake up and look at the way they do business. You don’t have to be scared to make a lot of money. You don’t need to shit on people to be successful in business. You just don’t.

photo: andy jenkins / crailtap.com

photo: andy jenkins / crailtap.com

Personally, I would not skate for Big Company Footwear, but that’s because I have a personal investment in who I do business with. Maybe I’m naive and my investment is not reciprocated, but I like the companies I work with. Skateboarders make the decisions at almost every single company I work with. I know more than I’d like to know about skate business, and over the years I’ve heard what those Core company goons say about us behind closed doors. Skaters talk. Skaters LOVE to talk. It’s just my personal opinion that people should make educated decisions about what they buy and who they support. But if no one is telling kids how it is on both sides, how can they make educated decisions?

Marc_Johnson_Education_JenkemQuoteInterview2

I’ve invested a huge part of my time, my effort and my heart and soul into Lakai. Because Skateboarders own it, skateboarders run it, and skateboarders design the shoes. Skateboarders film the videos, and I really like the skateboarders on the team. I grew up watching and being influenced by everyone involved with Lakai. I know who those people are. They pay me really well, and they treat shops the way that shops should be treated. It’s a partnership all the way around. We need skateshops. We love skateshops, because we are all the same people: SKATEBOARDERS.

Lakai didn’t have to ‘buy my endorsement’ or ‘purchase my support’. I supported those people involved with Lakai long before I ever joined the team. I rode Rick Howard boards. I rode Mike Carroll boards. I rode Kelly Bird boards, and I rode Scott Johnston boards. And now I work with them. I’ve gone on tour with them and watched them stress out while filming. I’ve watched them go through the same shit I go through. I’ve shared Motel 6 rooms with them, ate Bojangle’s with them, given them grip tape and bolts and wheels and bearings and shoelaces and socks while we’re stuck in a town 3 hours away from anywhere remotely considered civilized, filming our hearts out for what we love. They supported me through a very rough period of active alcoholism, and hung onto me after countless episodes of assholishness and wild, shameful behavior. I ride for a shoe company created by people who know what I’m going through and go through what I’m going through. That’s what I support.

I apologize for the haphazard format of this answer. I struggled with whether or not to say all of this. I am a skateboarder. And I’m so grateful to be where I am.

What are you most proud of in your skateboarding or “skateboard career” thus far?
I’m just grateful that I got here, and that I’m still here. I’m happy that I’ve been able to help some people get to where they want to go, and that I’ve realized some of my own potential so far. Thankfully, after all this time, I’m a better person and a better friend than when I started out. I’ve definitely had my share of fuck-ups, negativity, and weird shit, but I think I’m a better person for making it through all that bullshit and learning from it.


Interview: Ian Michna
Original Illustration: Lauren Kolesinskas
Photography: Ben Colen, Andy Jenkins & Anthony Craine
Special Thanks: Marc Johnson
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Comments

  1. whatever:

    Have you ever read an interview and after you were finished felt that urge to track down the person, buy a couple beers, and just listen to that person talk until your ears bleed? That’s what’s happening right now. Another amazing interview guys!

  2. Webb:

    Great work guys. This was amazing and I hope a shit load of people read it.

  3. swamp:

    Excellent,Marc is the shit.My respect for him just got bigger.

  4. Noah Metzger:

    Thanks Jenkem, for interviewing one the legends of skateboarding and one of my favorite skaters. Marc, thanks for being raw, real and just plain honest. As crappy skateboarder who works in a office and has a wife and baby boy and only gets to skate a couple times a week. I appreciate it. I get out there whenever I can. I will never get paid or “flowed” from any company and I don’t care, I just love to rip and kick it with my homies and go to the park with my 8month old son and wife and just skate because it makes me happy and it makes my wife happy to see me happy. On behalf of all skateboarders shitty, pro, am, flow, washed up and whatever, THANK YOU.

    • Arnold:

      Hell yeah man! As a crappy skateboarder who works in an office, too, I’m with you on that! I skate just to skate and because it’s what I love to do. I don’t get out to do it much outside of work, so I’ve given up eating on my lunch breaks to go session at a spot for 30minutes and then go out to skate on my breaks.

      Again, great read Jenkem and thanks again Marc!

      • Ryan:

        We should start “Crappy Office Skateboards”!

        • Zezinho:

          agree I skate as well..im 50 and just street skate longboard style but loved what was written here..great to see Marc sticking to what he lives and believes in!

    • Carlos:

      Oh man, it really sucks to be an office (dungeon) slave. I’m an crappy office skateboarder 2, and Marc Johnson is the real deal man. Great work Jenkem, great interview

  5. Mason:

    Awesome interview. The answer on BIG co footwear shares my same opinion. I’m glad to hear pros talking about the shit those BIG companies pull. Keep up the good work JenKen!

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