When I hear the name Vern Laird, I instantly picture a big smile, dreadlocks, and the hours we’ve spent in since the mid-‘90s talking shit.
Vern’s the perfect balance of positive and particular and it’s that brand of East Coast honesty that’s made him successful in the skate industry. Whether it’s on the mic at a contest or working for brands, he’s a stand out personality, leading him to own the name “Vern” in skateboarding.
Though he’s had his share of coverage over the years, Vern never went pro, but recently was honored with guest board on Surprise Skateboards. At an age where most dudes are complaining about knee and back pain, Vern celebrated his countdown to 40 by going hard, filming a full part to commemorate four decades on Earth. The current Team Manager for Bones Bearings, we chopped it up about everything from Love Park to what led him to try to film a part before his 40th birthday.
What got you inspired to drop a part on your 40th birthday?
Enrique Lorenzo. I do a yearly trip to Barcelona and I was out there filming Enrique for a week for a video part for Bones. He was a little hurt, so there were days where he couldn’t skate and I’d get to a spot and start skating. I ended up filming two lines and a few single tricks and Enrique was telling me it was the start of a video part and that I should drop one. I’ve never been a dude to celebrate my birthday, so maybe I’ll just drop it on my 40th. I don’t like celebrating getting another year older—another day closer to death. That’s so depressing that people celebrate dying!
Enrique got me psyched and the birthday idea made sense. I’m not giving myself a Bones part that I’m going to drop on the site myself, that’s wack! There’s nothing more wack than a team manager that still skates and thinks he’s still pro. There’s a few dudes like that — I can say that without saying there names. Once a pro, always a pro and that’s a quote from a pro who is no longer one and still thinks he is. No way man, bow out. I was never a pro. Some dudes need to be happy that they were ever a pro at all and just let it go and move onto the next phase in their life.
”Some dudes need to be happy that they were ever a pro at all and just let it go and move onto the next phase in their life”
Not everyone can be Eric Koston, be pro forever and be good as shit! A lot of dudes had it, but not everyone can keep it. Koston looks like he’s having fun still, that dude can do a dork run and it’s still better than half the guys taking it all serious. I’d rather watch him do an early grab 360 over a pyramid, it’s Eric Koston, he already made everything up, the rest of you are just catching up.
Video parts are stressful, it made me appreciate what dudes go through. I suck at what I’m doing and I’m working for it. I could never do what these guys do.
What’s it like being the TM for Bones Bearings, one of the biggest teams in skateboarding? How do you keep everyone happy?
It all depends on the skater and what they want and expect. It’s one thing if I was the shoe or clothing sponsor or even beverage sponsor where a pro is making the majority of their money. I like to think of a bearing sponsor as the bottom rung of sponsorship. The bearing sponsor should be the least of someone’s worries, even though we keep you rolling. I just updated my list the other day and there’s 175 people on the list, divide by 12 months, and tell me how realistic it is to get all those people ads.
”If somebody owns another bearing company and actually thinks their riders are running those bearings, then they are really delusional”
I try to keep it fair and not just have it be my friends. I try to get people who’ve never had a Bones ad before, but if they don’t have a good photo, I can’t just waste space on it. It’s a tough juggling act. Some people just want free shit, others want money, it all depends on who they are. Granted it’s the best bearing company in the world and everybody rides them, no matter what they say they ride. I know what people really ride, I’m not stupid. You can take the check from ‘Bearing Company C’ and trade those three sets in for a pair of Swiss, because that’s exactly what happens.
If somebody owns another bearing company and actually thinks their riders are running those bearings, then they are really delusional. Seriously, and to all the kids who are getting fooled because ‘so-and-so’ is in an add for another company and getting hyped on said bearing company, you are delusional, because realistically there’s only one bearing and everyone’s riding them.
When you’re a kid working in the industry sounds like a dream, but once you’re in it and interacting with all these people you looked up to, it’s a lot different.
It’s the worst sometimes. It’s funny how some people envy me, because I know so many pros, but I think of the phrase “Never meet your heros.” Sometimes it’s really awesome, meeting The Gonz is awesome, because he’s the best dude ever. Period. If someone has something bad to say about The Gonz, they should kill themselves. How do you say anything bad about a living legend? Then there’s a lot of dudes you wish you never met and just knew from afar. It makes you not even care about their skating, because all you can think about is what an asshole they are and how you wish you never had to deal with them again. Luckily that’s only a few dudes, but it sucks.
”If someone has something bad to say about The Gonz, they should kill themselves”
Where’d you grow up? When did you start skating?
I grew up in Germantown, a neighborhood in the Northwest part of Philadelphia, but I got into skating in Northeast Philly. My parents got divorced and my dad’s family all lives in Northeast Philly. By 1987 I was street skating, but for me that was like taking a board, sticking it into a crack and trying to ollie over it.
Street plants were big then, so we didn’t even really care about going to skate parks. I’d build jump ramps in my grandfather’s basement. I don’t think my parents knew what I was even doing, but I was making the shittiest jump ramps out of the shittiest wood, like wood paneling that you’re supposed to use for walls. Now that I think about it, I don’t know how I didn’t even crash through the ramp and go straight through it.
A year or two later I saw a legit ramp and realized I had it all wrong. Mike Ritcius showed me Thrashin’, Future Primitive, and Bones Brigade Video Show, but I saw Future Primitive first and then The Search For Animal Chin came out. There was a local video chain called Erol’s, before Blockbuster and I saw Curb Dogs on sale in the $5.00 bin and it was all jump ramps, so I had to have one. They even skated Embarcadero in that video, it was the first skate video I had: ‘Ain’t nuthin but a curb dog!’
Tell me about the early days skating Love Park in Philly, when it started to really get attention..
Back then Love Park was so sketchy. I thank God I was friends with all the dudes that robbed people, because I would have gotten jacked too. My one boy set a record of six boards in a day. There was Big Sean — he’s dead now — he was the OG dude who used to jack boards, but I was tight with him. If there were weekend warrior dudes coming in from the rich suburbs, they were marks. Big Sean and those dudes were from the projects, they can’t afford shit—I’m not justifying it, I’m explaining—when you come from somewhere and don’t have it, you’re going to take it. That’s how it is. Whether they were robbing dudes for skateboards or people in the street, it didn’t matter.
It kept Love a little underground, because people were a little afraid to go there and it also kept magazines away – they didn’t want to get robbed for their cameras. It really hurt us as far as exposure. All the guys I skated with were way better than me, but they never got coverage, so there was not motivation for them. Stevie [Williams] didn’t even have any exposure until he went to Washington DC.
Part of that was this big beef between Stevie Williams’ crew, DGK (long before the actual company) and The Daggers. If you didn’t roll with Ricky Oyola and The Daggers, you weren’t getting coverage. Ricky kind of controlled the media in a way. Ricky, Matt Reason, Sergei Trudnowski, and AJ Mazzu were that whole crew. The real DGK dudes didn’t skate that certain way and they wouldn’t get looked at. Jude Farrell aka Rat Boy coined the term “The Daggers.” They’d come through like the villains in the movie Thrashin’, they were all gnarly, trying to run shit. Farrell would be like, ‘Oh shit, look at the Daggers, not even flipping their boards, wall riding on everything and shit.”
The Daggers were bringing in bigger wheels, wider boards, and were bringing back wall rides, pole jams, and wallies and shit, but meanwhile the DGK dudes were super tech and progressing that side of skating. Ricky’s crew was getting a lot of attention, which was great, but it caused a lot of tension in Philly. You were either “this” or “that.” I always felt like I was in the middle, I was friends with everyone so I skated how I wanted. I’d get heat from both sides for not picking a side.
What about rules, like you couldn’t piss pedal?
That was a no-no in Philly, you had to push switch. Ricky had mad rules for us. If you do a trick switch, you had to do a 180 first, you can’t just change your stance. No Hollywood Body shuffles. There were a lot of rules back then and it still makes me look at skating weird. I mean it’s Koston and all, but I still get weirded out when I see him push switch mongo. I hate it, you gotta push switch if you’re going switch. Even if I don’t do many switch tricks, you gotta push switch. Sorry Koston, you can do every trick in the world, but you gotta push switch.
You just did a guest board with Surprise Skateboards too. What’s up with that?
Everything is limited run. We’re not making thousands, even though I post shit all day to make it look like we’re moving a ton, but I feel like it’s just my friends who have shops buying the stuff. I guess it’s the industry VIP board because I’ve been around so long. David [Owner of Surprise Skateboards] said I deserved it, but I always felt like I was just some dude that pointed a camera or talked on a mic—I’m just a half-assed skater, a “never was.” He came up with the term the “Bro Pro” model. I’ll run with that until the orders slow down.
I’m psyched and honored! I guess the little kid dream came true. A lot of dudes that want to be pro just start their own company and make themselves a pro. That shit doesn’t count unless someone else makes the decision for you and decides you can have a board.