JERRY HSU DISCUSSES CHOCOLATE, LEAVING ENJOI & THE INDUSTRY

photo: foxxyz

photo: foxxyz

Like the rest of you, I’ve been brainwashed by Enjoi. I can’t think of the brand without that pukey orange color, the panda, and Jerry Hsu’s face invading my consciousness. Maybe it’s just because he had the last part in Bag of Suck, but I always thought Jerry personified the brand best, much like Reynolds and Emerica or Nyjah and Element. To me, Jerry was Enjoi, which made it hard to believe he really was leaving after over a decade of riding for them. Now a part of the Chocolate family and balancing out the younger squad, I’m excited to see how the senior half of Jerry’s career plays out.

You recently left Enjoi after 10+ years. You told me one of the reasons was because their brand manager, Matt Eversole left.
In your eyes why was Matt so important to the company and why did you decide to leave after him?

Matt and I have been friends for over 15 years so we know each other well. After Marc [Johnson] left, Matt was the guy behind Enjoi. A lot of people thought it was me but really Matt was the brains behind it and never got the proper amount of credit. Not only was he our brand manager, but he did the ads, tons of graphics (along with Winston Tseng, our artist), filmed, made the videos, managed the team – he had like 4 or 5 jobs. It was very stressful for him to run the company because not only was he doing all those things, he was also fighting the larger entity of “Management” [the company that owns Enjoi]. What they wanted and what we wanted, didn’t always line up. He was instrumental to keeping Enjoi as true to itself as possible.

I knew without Matt, Enjoi would evolve into something else, and I felt like it wasn’t where I belonged anymore. I wanted to be ahead of whatever was coming and if there was ever a time to take a chance, it was now. It was not an easy decision to make. Things I didn’t agree with that happened internally would just pile up over the years. The decision took a long time to make and it had absolutely nothing to do with my teammates who I respect very much.

enjoi "breakup" ad

enjoi “breakup” ad

How did you quit? What types of feedback did you get?
It came as a shock to a lot of people and even to myself. People would ask me if I still rode for Enjoi and I would be like, “I don’t really know, ask me later.” One of those things like when you’re breaking up with a girl you’ve been in a really serious relationship with but it’s not working out. I didn’t wanna face it. That definitive “I’m leaving” moment was pushed as far as possible until everyone was like, this is over. I was so indecisive. It was emotional, eventually I was asked whether I was going in next year’s budget and I finally said don’t put me in the budget. I was mostly speaking with Louie and it wasn’t easy telling him I was done. We have ridden for the same board company for like 14 years so these conversations were emotional and shitty for me.

I would see reactions from kids online and they weren’t happy with my decision. At a certain point it seemed like a competition to see who could insult me the best. Lots of kids aren’t a fan of the change I guess but my association with Enjoi was so strong, I can’t really blame them.

How does that work with contracts? Wouldn’t you have to wait until your contract was over with Enjoi to quit?
That is true if you have a contract, which I didn’t with Enjoi. I feel like that was something Matt [Eversole] designed for all of us. He knew our position was special among the brands at the distribution company. We had a certain amount of weight and when Management would try to challenge us he made it so we didn’t have contracts. He could use the team as leverage if things were to get really bad, he could go, OK well, I can take the team somewhere else right now. It didn’t always work. There were always struggles for footing and it put a strain on everyone from the team to people all the way to the top.

What changes specifically do you imagine we will see now that the gatekeepers like Matt and yourself are gone?
Basically, skateboarding is a business and the purpose of business is to make money. Many companies are ultimately run by “Dark Men.” People you don’t ever meet, people that inject money into a thing and expect to get more money. All they want is results. My bosses at Enjoi had bosses, and then they had bosses. Between the skateboarder and Dark Men, there’s a lot of people that are just trying to do their jobs, feed their kids and keep their bosses happy. Despite how core they say they want Enjoi to be, there’s a certain demand for as much product to be created and sold as possible. Expansion! Matt was the guy who said we cannot make 17 different colored jeans (even though we did). We cannot make jeans with 12 inch pandas embroidered on the butt! Management wants a steady operation with growth all the time. It’s the problem all skate companies with ideals and success eventually face: What choices do I make to help all my riders and employees prosper and not bend for big business?

JerryHsu_JenkemInterview_Quote1

For most people it’s an easy answer: Yes bigger is better! I think when people talk about these issues it’s important to consider the agendas of everyone involved and how different they can be. Guys in middle to upper management aren’t awake at night worrying about whether the skate company they work at is being “core” enough. And why would they? They’re awake at night worrying about doing their job and adult shit. So eventually tons of weird decisions get made and no one is on the same page. The creatives and skaters want one thing but the Dark Men disagree. And generally speaking, creatives don’t own shit so guess who wins. Everyone comes in to this skate business world with principles and by the end they just become apathetic.

Also, it’s not like every pro skater thinks the same either. Most would look at this issue and be like, “What the fuck is the big deal? Quit whining and make the rainbow jeans and close the Walmart deal so I can get paid and we can film in China!” They just wanna get their Audi payments handled and not worry about this crap and I totally understand that. I definitely sat idly by while tons of these decisions got made because it was just easier to ignore them and appreciate my paycheck which was very generous at Enjoi. As a skater, it’s disheartening to find out all this stuff and Matt is a skater first and foremost. When he walked away I knew time was up for me too.

PandaLogoEnjoiTshirt

Many skaters have been leaving their longtime sponsors recently. Why do you think everyone is jumping ship all at once?
I think it’s a mixture of a lot of things. I think it’s a reaction to how people and companies have been treated in the last 5 years or so, the way skateboarding has been going, the big companies that have come in again and felt us up – which always happens. I think it creates a culture in skateboarding that a lot of people feel is negative. Because we grew up skating when skateboarding was nothing. It was $500 bucks a month, a thing you got beat up at school for. That type of upbringing creates a skater who can appreciate more. Now you’re a hero. To me it’s really bizarre. It’s like if you go back and watch Revenge of the Nerds, and all of the jocks are skaters. Everybody loves skateboarding and it invites the bigger culture into our subculture. It’s gonna make skateboarders react and start to wake up, like oh shit, I have to do something about this – to say what I want to say, do what I want to do and show people what I feel skateboarding should be like. Those are the people that are starting their own small skateboard companies and that’s really good. They are showing people that this isn’t all that is here for you and offered in skateboarding. Also once a couple guys start making moves it just becomes contagious. Lots of changes have happened lately and a lot more are coming down the pipeline.

JerryHsuquote3

It’s weird because the type of kids who thought skateboarding was cool in 1992 are not the kids who think skateboarding is cool in 2013. I’m generalizing of course but they are different kids. I can’t imagine what I would think of skateboarding if I was 12 years old right now. Would I be able to recognize how rad it is? I don’t know the answer to that. I feel like I would think it’s kinda weird and mainstream.. Maybe I wouldn’t have ever started. I remember the reason I started skating was because I saw these kids with green hair and big pants and they looked so stupid, and I wanted to be that. I appreciate everything skating has given me but I miss the attitude.

polar & palace skateboards at bright tradeshow

polar & palace skateboards at bright tradeshow

Do you think the industry can support this influx of new independent or startup brands?
That depends on kids. In the end kids decide what companies survive and what don’t. I think the answer is yes, there’s definitely enough room for these companies to survive and it’s good that they are out there and good people are trying to do things like that, no matter how risky it is. I think it’s positive for skateboarding.

Do you think some of these older brands from the 90s will be able to stick around and stay relevant another decade or two?
I think if a company wants to stay around that long, they don’t necessarily have to change their image but it’s mostly about the new kids that they turn pro. It’s about the next generation of skaters and if they can play those cards right, they will stay relevant and survive. It’s also important not to rely too heavily on trends. All those trend bubbles burst so it’s smart to try and look ahead, not just jump on a bandwagon.

JerryHsu_JenkemInterview_Quote2

Did you ever consider starting a new board company?
I never really seriously considered it. It’s funny because people were just like, “Start a company, why don’t you do something man??” I just looked at them and thought, skateboarding does not need another skateboard company that was created out of boredom or not having a sponsor. That is not a reason to start a company. The reason you start a company is because you have a really great idea, like an “aha” moment that you become obsessed with. You can’t sleep because all you can think about is this idea— which I didn’t get. You don’t have to have the greatest idea ever thought of, just don’t suffocate everyone with mediocrity. Please don’t just fill skateshops with static. There is a certain amount of responsibility that people should have when they start something, think about it for 1 second, does the world need another one of these companies? And I’m not talking about small independent companies because I support them. I’m talking about when big companies create brand after brand that have no heart and do not contribute to our culture but instead take away from it.

Why Chocolate and what do you like about the brand and Crailtap?
The obvious answer is Mike [Carroll] and Rick [Howard]. I’ve admired what they have been doing since I started skating and what they’ve built over the years is basically the answer to everything I have been talking about in this interview. It’s a family. When I walk into Rick’s office and there are printouts of graphics on the floor and he’s hand picking them, I know this is where I wanna be. It’s also where Marc Johnson is and he has gotten me every board sponsor I’ve ever had so I guess this is where I belong. Thanks guys, I would have had to start Donkey Punch skateboards if you hadn’t picked me up because it was the only idea I had.


Interview: Ian Michna
Special Thanks: Jerry Hsu
Photography: Foxxyz
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Comments

  1. Danny Hengel:

    lots of well enunciated points that even I hadn’t considered I guess it’s similar to the post impressionists and romanticism bringing a new art form to a stuffy culture that only grew out of criticism based on motivation and personal drive from the masters at the time. if you want it then you’ll make it happen. I don’t know how much I agree with perspectives in peoples’ determination to create something new simy out of “boredom”, maybe moreso out of the want to have more creative control and less “dark men” in the culture of skateboarding. I remember the first time as a kid watching photosynthesis and being kinda woken up to the fact that there was some guy telling Dill he’s blowing it, hence our modern day Fucking Awesome….

    • real-o-meter:

      “enunciate” means “pronounce,” you pretentious turd. but i bet you think you sounded really smart and shit, huh?

      • you are not smart:

        from google

        enunciation
        the articulation of speech regarded from the point of view of its intelligibility to the audience

        dickhead

        • Your Dumb:

          Actually from google

          e·nun·ci·ate
          iˈnənsēˌāt/Submit
          verb
          1.
          say or pronounce clearly.
          “she enunciated each word slowly”
          synonyms: pronounce, articulate; More

        • Sepehr:

          “your dumb” should be a bumper sticker.

      • Marshall Applewhite:

        “Enunciate” also means “to express in clear or definite terms”, and is not specific to oral communication. My definition came from the Oxford Dictionary of English.

        • Paxman:

          … which typically includes old/obsolete definitions of words… For historical usage the OED is fine in my humble opinion. In practical modern usage “Your Dumb”‘s entry is more correct.

        • Alejandro:

          to Paxman

          obsolete definitions of words?? are you stupid?????

      • Webster:

        the word you’re looking for is articulated

      • Roberto:

        Hummm.. There seems to be something odd going on here! Congratulations to you all on figuring out how to use Google or having maybe flicked through the pages of and Oxford Dictionary. It must feel good to vent you frustration? Does it? I will admit though, it winds me up to read a RAD article about a skate genius and his thoughts and opinions, about how and what the skate industry is and where it’s going etc… It would be nice to not have to wade through all these spazzy little comments from kids who probably don’t skate. If you have the urge to go on line, insult and try to one-up on each other I would recommend you go on some chat forum or something, keep it out of skateboarding!!! Rant over. Jerry Hsu, you sir, are a legend.

        • ThatsIsJustCrazy:

          I’m just happy to hear bickering about definitions. Diversity of bickering is a great thing for skateboarding! I’m not sure I understand the comparison between art history and this interview. Is Jerry the post impressionism and romanticism component? If so, how? I’m not trying to disagree it just sounds like an interesting perspective so I’d like to hear more about it.

    • Steven Burnham:

      Good essay. A few run-on sentences that need tightening up, but you really blew my mind with that whole post impressionists thing. Art history really paid off.

    • big words bigger ego:

      lots of well enunciated points that even you hadn’t considered, he must be a genius to come up with something that you hadn’t even considered

      • Just Saying...:

        BTW Dill was blowing it. That dude holding his hand/stroking his ego resulted in the only truly great thing he ever did.

  2. flattiez:

    best interview yet!

  3. bangerBILL:

    Jenkem holding the title of best interviews continues

  4. Cory Mansour:

    Amazing interview guys. I love the raw insight to the skateboard industry and how you can get these guys ya interview to shed light on how it REALLY IS. So interesting to me and I couldn’t pull myself away from reading this one much like I couldn’t on the MJ interview. There’s just so much corporate involvement everywhere in skateboarding right now that it blows my mind how much it has changed. But I guess that’s a sign of the times…Love it or hate it ya gotta accept that that is what skateboarding has turned into nowadays. All corp bullsh*t aside, it’s good to know that these guys who are killing themselves are actually able to make the money they deserve and have a life they deserve to have after all they’ve put into skateboarding. Regardless of everything negative in skateboarding we should all just be thankful we have it and nothing can take away the pure, innocent and youthful feeling we all get every time ya step on that board. Skateboarding will live forever!

  5. “… The reason you start a company is because you have a really great idea, like an “aha” moment that you become obsessed with. You can’t sleep because all you can think about is this idea— which I didn’t get. You don’t have to have the greatest idea ever thought of, just don’t suffocate everyone with mediocrity. Please don’t just fill skateshops with static. There is a certain amount of responsibility that people should have when they start something, think about it for 1 second, does the world need another one of these companies?…”

    Same idea applies to art. Jerry is smart skateboarder. Rad!

    I’d loved this interview! Well done Ian!

    • ThatsIsJustCrazy:

      I don’t think this same idea applies to art. Does the world need more art? Maybe, but it does’t really matter because humans seem to wish to express themselves artistically without concerning themselves with that question and so we’ll get more art. It seems like you might be stifling peoples’ attempts at creativity by suggesting that creative efforts are wrong or almost rude if they don’t change the course of history. In fact, most people seem to really enjoy “static” creative efforts (see most Hollywood films). How does an individual know when they have only created static anyway? The opinions of others are really important in these cases which means that artworks must be shown to find out if others view them as worthwhile. I do wonder what Jerry thinks about arguably “static” board companies like Chocolate and Habitat. Have these two (great companies in my opinion!) actually defined a space truly unique from their parent companies (Girl and Alien Workshop)? Probably not, but I’m quite glad they’re around anyway.

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