The difference between Josh Kalis and other skateboarders I’ve interviewed is that he actually cares. Not just about his career and sponsorship choices but for the bigger picture of skateboarding and our culture. Unlike other pro skaters that exclusively skate their private elite TFs around California, he’s out there, skating JKwon plaza every Sunday, with everyone and anyone. Interviewing him feels more like talking to another skate rat at a spot: joking around, discussing rumors and getting lost in skate tales. If there was ever some type of skateboarding political system, where everyday skaters such as you and I could vote for someone to represent our voice within skateboarding, Josh Kalis would probably get my vote.
In an industry where pro skate careers come and go every couple of years, you’ve maintained a long successful 15+ year career, surviving trends and economic ups and downs. How have you stayed in the game as long as you have?
I just love it. I love to skate, I really do. The only times I just wanna not be involved with it, the professional side of it, is when it’s boring and when there is no culture, JKwon, EMB or Love Park. When you can’t involve yourself in a skate culture, that’s when I’m over it, that’s when it sucks. I’ve always said once you get a check from skating, that immediately turns into a job whether you like it or not. I chose for that to be my career. I have to stay true to that, I have to do it as best as I can for as long as I can. Skating is always supposed to be your freedom, your expression, your fun, no rules, but as soon as you accept pay for that shit; now it’s a responsibility. Some people always look at it like even though they are getting paid, they can just fuck up. The reality is, it is no different than getting paid to represent people in the courtroom, you know what I mean? That’s just how I see it.
I always tell my friends that wanna get into the skate world, if the door opens up, you gotta fucking push through that door, because no one is pulling you in. I see it all day everyday, these kids get on flow or start making a couple hundred bucks a month, but they don’t do anything. They wait. They wait for the photographer, they wait for the filmer, wait wait and next thing you know it’s 7 years later and they are still flow. You just gotta keep pushing and pushing. I’m 37 years old – pro board, shoe, wheel, I feel like I’ve done it all and the reality is that door is just still opening dude. I can’t retire. There’s still pushing to do, there’s still resources to use and people to help. There’s just nowhere to go but forward for me.
You ride for DGK now but do you ever see yourself starting your own board brand down the road?
I don’t know. I could be wrong because I haven’t owned a board brand before but I feel like it’s probably pretty hard these days. I don’t think there’s that much money in it any more. Shit, you can go on eBay and buy 100 boards for $10, you know what I mean? As far as what I’ve kinda seen, with hardgoods, it’s just really hard to make money. Think about it, in 1987 or 1988 – when I started skating – a board was $50. Today they are $50 but the cost of everything has gone up, so, how are you gonna charge kids more money when the board only lasts a week?
So these companies must make most of their money off of softgoods [T-shirts, Sweatshirts, Pants, etc]…
Yeah, but then you get all these conflicts because if the skater rides for a separate apparel company, he’s not even supposed to wear a skate hardgoods company’s stuff at all. There’s weird shit going on with all that. That’s why you see some of the competitive dudes, they run like dual logos on their clothing. With some sneaker companies, it’s in their contract that you’re supposed to put their sticker on your skateboard, but then the skateboard company gets bent out of shape because now you are covering their graphic up. I don’t know, it’s pretty weird out there, pretty cutthroat nowadays.
Overall do you think there has been a global decline the last couple years in sales of all pro boards?
I would assume that, without a doubt. I was moving like 6000 boards a month in 2000, but by 2004, it might have been like 1000. This decline doesn’t have to do with a pro skater’s name not being relevant or anything; it’s just straight up that pro boards don’t sell as much as they used to. You got shop boards, blank boards, eBay boards. It’s also weird for shop-owners, cause I’m friends with a bunch of shops. I can’t go in there and try to preach to them, because who am I to tell some kid to buy a fucking pro board? I’m not gonna be that asshole. I can look at that kid whose dream is to be a pro, and tell him, “If you support the industry now, it will be there if and when you become pro. If you don’t support it now, that shit might be gone by the time you are that age.” Dyrdek told me like 10 years ago that in the future, there probably will be no pro skaters. There might be like 10, and they will ride for this big umbrella of a company that owns all of them. His thinking was that you would have like 10 major pros that made real good money, and the rest would just skate for fun or make a couple dollars. I’m split with that, half of me says, nah that will never happen, but the other half… I’ve seen some pretty heavy changes in just the past 5 years.
Back in the day, before you were making money skating you said you used to bet on Mortal Kombat. How much would you bet? Talk about some of the hustles you did to support yourself day to day.
We would bet like $10 to $40 per game. Normally we’d play at the 7/11 and for the big games we’d go to the mall. One dude pulled a gun on me at 7/11 because he lost and didn’t wanna pay.
We would also go to the 7/11 at 2am because that’s when they switched the rotating hotdogs that were cooking all day. They threw them away and put the new ones on, so we would just show up and get all the old hotdogs. Another thing we did – there was this all-you-can-eat chicken spot, Country Fried Chicken – was just post up in the back of the restaurant and when somebody was done eating, they would leave their plate on the table. We would pick up their plates and bring them up to the front and be like, yeah, I didn’t like the potatoes, can I get a new plate? And we would just load it up. But the best hustle of all – I mean he’s a homie now – was this kid Ant. He worked a full-time job and my dude and I would take his check every Friday, cash it, and wouldn’t give him shit. He is family now, we’re all grown up and laugh about shit. He wanted to roll with us and that’s what happened when you roll with us.
You said in another interview, that when you first went to SF and you went to the spot [EMB], people were dicks. It was how you pictured it, and even said that’s how it should be. Why is this important to you?
Truthfully, I think that is just a product of environment. I think that I grew up having to do something to be accepted, where nowadays you don’t really have to do that. That’s the way I grew up, so that’s just what I know. Kids need to earn their stripes, earn respect. Now if you feel that way, you’re kinda the asshole now, you know what I mean? Even today, in Carlsbad California, I will be the dude that doesn’t get invited to go somewhere because I can be the asshole [laughs]. It’s a different world, but when I went to EMB, Love Park, Pulaski park, I had to earn my keep. I would get my board stolen if I didn’t. Dudes would rob me, but as long as I played my cards right and stood up for myself and that type of shit, that’s where the acceptance came.
I do… actually. I do think it’s fucked up, as a matter of fact. I think it’s fucked up that Dill and AVE quit Alien. I still have strong feelings for Alien, I was with them for so long, Carter was like a father figure to me, Dyrdek same type of thing, mentor. No matter what, I have a lot of strong feelings for them. I knew the direction that it was going, and where they wanted it to go. When I left the team, I saw AVE and Dill were putting their dudes on the team, Kevin [Terpening] and whoever else. I knew how they felt about Mikey Taylor and Dyrdek coming out with Meaty boards and all that shit. But if you remember what I was saying earlier with the hardgood companies struggling you know, If you look deep into it, Alien’s payroll has to be fucking massive. Especially between Alien and Habitat. It’s not like they are killing it in the softgoods zone, you don’t see people wearing Alien all over the place. So I personally was never mad at the Meaty boards and shit like that because if they are selling tons of those, and use that to pay all these pros, cool. That works.
When I quit Alien Workshop, it was because I lost my voice, AVE and Dill and those guys had it, and I was in my own world. But then those dudes left? To have the voice and just leave, I was like are you fucking serious? And then Grant left? It sucks and it hurts me, because Rob is a good friend and I know how bad that is for the company. For me personally, I was just like, I felt bad for Carter, and everyone there.
So I look at it as like, unbelievable. I’m not gonna say AVE & Dill ran me out too, like they did Mikey, but it kinda seems the same way, even though they didn’t say it straight up to me. And now it’s just, they left. It bummed me out. When I watched that cinematographer section of Alien – it was so dope dude. I watch it from time to time, and I kinda get like, not the chills, but I get emotional on how rad that was. And I watch that and I don’t fit, I don’t fit on that but I have feelings for the Alien Workshop and I want them to succeed, so to see them getting broken up by that hurts. Hopefully Gilbert stays, he’s so fucking rad. Jake, another one of my favorites. Bledsoe too, I think he’s healthy now.
Maybe this is a just a rough patch. I know Workshop changed partial ownership again, so maybe that’s a good thing?
Well to tell you the honest truth, Rob really seriously tried to keep that shit the way it needed to be. He gave the power to those pros, and was like, let’s make this right. Dyrdek was going broke keeping Alien Workshop afloat, that’s what people don’t know. As far as the impression I have, he was paying for every single thing out of his own pocket, to where, he was spending more money on Alien then he was bringing in from everything else and it was breaking him. He had to do something. That dude lost millions of dollars trying to keep it going. And he did that for the dudes, for the original owners, he did it for the current pros, he did it for all of us. It was just too much. Now, half of it is owned by this new company, which is being head up by Chad who helped build Blackbox with Jamie Thomas. So I look at it as it’s in good hands.
I heard you were offered a deal with a energy drink company. I assume it would have paid well, why didn’t you take it?
I’m not gonna say there was a deal on the table, like sign here and be done. It was just talked about, half up to me, half up to them to continue the talk and be like, OK lets do it. But I just couldn’t get myself to do it man. I was at an autograph signing one time and the whole table was full of energy drinks. I was just seeing these little ass kids cracking them open and chugging them. If my daughter drank that shit, I would be like absolutely not, are you crazy? No way. You know, all that caffeine and shit that’s in there that you don’t even know about? If I wouldn’t give it to my kids, then I’m not putting my name anywhere near it. I never called back, and they never called me back, so maybe it was a mutual thing, but the opportunity did present itself and I just couldn’t follow through with it.
Do you have any advice or tips for upcoming skaters to have a long healthy career like you have?
What a lot of people don’t realize is the tricks, just the sole fucking tricks, it gets you only so far. The personality, lifestyle and culture, the skaters that live the fucking culture and respect it, those are the ones who keep going. They don’t even have to do crazy ass tricks, and people buy their boards and shoes because they just live and breathe skateboarding. Like Gino. If Gino went and filmed a videopart of whatever he wanted to do, that would be a blessing. Younger kids aren’t gonna realize that, they’re gonna wanna see Nyjah and Shane O’Neill push the envelope harder than anyones ever pushed it before trick wise. Not taking away from them, just using them because they are so fucking good at tricks. I think in 10 years from now, out of this young group of super gnarly pros, you will see who’s the icons. Who’s gonna be 40 years old and still pro. And it’s gonna be the people that brought the personality and the lifestyle and lived the culture. Like Suciu, I don’t even know Suciu, or Ishod. Those two to me are dudes that are probably gonna fucking go on forever.
Another little X factor in there too, is that some people let too much out at once. A lot of people don’t know how to do the videopart game. Don’t kill yourself for one fucking video part, there’s a lot of years to come, you know what I’m saying? If you don’t spread that shit out you will be chasing parts. Instead of skating crazier you should be skating wiser and be more strategic in the way you put your own tricks out. If you blow your load too soon, then your video parts start to go downhill after you’ve only been in the game for 4 years. There has been some heavy ass hitters that come out, and within four years they have three knee surgeries, and then they are gone. Some dudes’ parts were so buck, but then they don’t have another part for five fucking years. To me, that’s not wise.
Every era of skating is known for something, what do you think our current era is gonna be known for (2010 – 2015)?
Hmm, I don’t know. There’s a lot of shit going on right now, like the crazy tranny resurgence. That’s a pretty fucking good question. What would I guess these years would be known as in the future? I gotta use the word Hodgepodge [laughs]. That’s the first word that came to my head, and the second that came to my head was survival of the fittest. If you are a new pro or an old pro, or an am, it’s hard. I feel bad for kids trying to come up right now. It’s gnarly out there.