In the Year of our Lord Cardiel 2016, skateboarding has gone way beyond what I ever could’ve imagined it’d be a decade and a half ago when I first got into it. The drops are bigger, the rails are longer, the tech is techier, and the way in which we receive it all is so much more instantaneous and ephemeral. On top of that, the audience it reaches is bigger and more diverse, made up not only of core skate nerds like me but also of kids with plastic cruisers and YouTube channel subscriptions. Today’s landscape of skateboard sponsordom is treacherously amorphous, and any kid coming up trying to make it in this game these days better be able to keep up with the ever-accelerating times.
To me, young Johnny Jones represents one type of this new generation of sponsored skateboarder – one who, instead of being weighted down by all the history, pays it little mind in favor of the present, one whose career has been defined not so much by his ability on the board, but more so by the opportunities he seizes and the likable personality he presents while he is off one. Johnny walks that thinning line between corporate and core, appearing on reality skate shows while staying hooked up by some of the few brands out there that remain skater-owned.
I reached out to Johnny to get his thoughts on all this, and found a relatively shy and level-headed kid on the other end of the line. There’s little introspection or worry about the state of skateboarding here, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing, maybe it’s better to ride the wave and, as Johnny says, “just fucking skate.”
You just turned 19 pretty recently, so this is the first presidential election where you’re old enough to vote. Have you been following the election at all?
No, I’m not voting at all. I just know that Trump is a little bitch, that’s all I know about it.
Fair enough. Tell me what it was like growing up in South Central, Los Angeles.
It was different, it wasn’t a lot of skateboarding from what I remember, it was more gang violence than anything. There was some Crips that used to live up the block from where my granny stayed. At times I would just be chilling at the house and we’d just hear gunshots, my granny would yell at us to stay away from the windows and stuff like that. It was pretty crazy, but I didn’t really care, I was young, like, fuck it, I can go outside.
Any of your family go in for that lifestyle?
Oh, hell yeah, I’ve got an uncle in it right now. Lots of my friends too.
Is there an overlap in the gang and skate scenes? Like, can you be a Crip and still skate?
Naw, I feel like the whole gang shit is separate. It’s like you’re either going to gangbang, or you’re going to skate. A lot of people go for skating though, stepping on that board is a game changer. But it’s getting better, there are skateparks all over now. The more skateparks that are out there, the more kids that are skating, and the less kids get into gangs.
So if there wasn’t much skating around you when you were young what got you into it?
My cousin actually, he took me to the Valley one summer, all his friends skated, but he didn’t skate. I think on the last day I was there one of his friends asked me to ollie up a curb, and it took me all fucking day but I wasn’t leaving till I got it, and I got it and I was stoked! I don’t know, I think I got lucky.
What skaters were you into when you were coming up?
I never really watched skate videos too much, I was never really into that. I just skated, hit up the skatepark at like 11 and just skate all day, so I didn’t really think about stuff like that when I was really young. But once I actually started knowing a little about skating I started calling myself Lil’ TK, after Terry Kennedy, and then after that I started calling myself Lil’ Theotis. [laughs]
I saw this Theotis interview the other day where he said something about his mom wanting him to play basketball or football, but he knew that skateboarding was his way up and out, did you envision that same kind of opportunity in skateboarding when you started?
Not at first. I used to play football, but once I really got into skating, I stopped going to practice. My coach would call me over because the skatepark I grew up going to is right next to the football field, and I’d hear him calling me out like, “Why are you not on the field?” I was like, “I’m skating, I don’t want to do that stupid shit no more.” It’s more free, you go at your own pace, you don’t have to go to practice, you learn the tricks you want to learn – it’s about freedom for me. Once I got to know skateboarding, I knew I wanted to do this and not do anything else.
You’ve got a pretty big family, right? How many brothers and sisters do you have?
I’ve got three… no, four brothers, and I’ve got four sisters. I’m the second oldest. I babysit them a lot – I love babies. I don’t live there anymore though, I moved out right before I turned 18, but I’m definitely more catering because of how I grew up. Like, if somebody needs help with something, I’ll help somebody, no problem. If somebody asks me to do something, I’ll do it.
Have you ever thought about starting a babysitting side hustle to help make ends meet?
I’ve thought about it, but I’m not cool with some random family that needs a babysitter. Naw, fuck that. But if it’s somebody that I know, if it’s a skater with a family and they want to take a little vacation, I’m down to babysit.
I know your brother Marquan skates too, does he ever get jealous that you’re hooked up by these big brands and on TV?
Naw, he is probably more motivated because of it if anything. He’ll talk shit sometimes, though, like, “I’m gonna get on this, or I’m gonna get on that.” He’s cool about it all though.
I found out recently that y’all were both on that skate-reality show Camp Woodward a few years ago. How’d that come about? Isn’t that how you got the attention of Chocolate?
Yeah, that was like five years ago. One of my friends was a filmer for the show, and he asked if I wanted to do an interview to like try out to be on the show, so I just answered a few questions and skated, did a couple of tricks. Two weeks later I found out I made it on, I was so stoked.
Growing up I always wondered if the skate campers could sneak off and hook up with the cheerleaders that are there for the summer too…
Yeah, I don’t know about that, but I don’t doubt it, so many girls there. I wasn’t worried about that though. I was like, I got two weeks here, I’ve just got to kill it. No chicks for me at the time.
So when you were there you just showed out to Chico Brenes and he put you on Chocolate flow, just like that?
Yeah, pretty much. I thought it was part of the TV show, but once we got done filming I asked him if it was for real or was that just planned for the show, and he was like, “No, you’re really getting boards from Chocolate.” At first, Chico would send me my boxes, then Mike [Carroll] started handling it. I’ve been skating Chocolate boards ever since.
I know you used to ride for Puma, and now are on Lakai. How do you feel about the whole corporate versus core shoe company debate that’s raging these days?
It’s crazy, you gotta understand these corporate people have a lot of money and have a chance to help some skaters and change some lives. I’m pretty sure a lot of these guys are making a lot of money. So if they get a chance to ride Nike or something like that then sure, why not? They got the money to hook them up and guarantee that they’re going to live comfortably. It all depends on how people take it I guess, but for me, it could be a good opportunity.
Do you make enough money off of skateboarding to support yourself at the moment?
Nope, I don’t get paid at all. None of my sponsors pay me, so I just work at a skateshop. It’s alright, it doesn’t pay all crazy, but it helps me get by.
Is that why in that King of the Road introducing clip you were packing all your shit into a plastic garbage bag? Can’t even afford a backpack and Thrasher didn’t want to hook you up with one of their duffels?
Oh, naw. [laughs] The filmers came over and told me like, “Just throw all your stuff in this trash bag.” I was like, “Are you sure? I have a backpack.” But they were like, “No, no, just use the trash bag.” And I was like [laughs] “Fuck it! Alright.”
Do you prefer all natural organic foods?
Oh, hell naw, I can eat McDonald’s, Burger King, all that fucked up food 24/7. I’m the last person that thinks about that kind of stuff.
I hear diet affects the taste and smell of your bodily juices, so, what’s your piss taste like?
I don’t know about other people’s, but my piss was fucked. My shit was golden. It had a weird ass taste, I don’t know how to describe it, my taste buds were going crazy like, “what the fuck!”. Not good at all.
No one forced me to do it though, I just knew we had to get some points and no one wanted to drink their own piss. I didn’t want to, but we had to get points.
Obviously one of the big arcs from the show was the tension between y’all and Birdhouse, and things seemed to really spark off while you were humping your way through that boardslide. What was going on there?
Yeah, man, it was fucking Clint [Walker], he was being a bitch. I was like, we can both skate, I wasn’t trying to get into some bullshit, I was down to take turns. I wasn’t even trying to snake. I thought we’ll just skate and whoever gets it gets it. But Clint was being a little bitch and would stop me mid-boardslide and shit. Like, just skate, you don’t have to do this. But he brought it on himself, he wanted to be a little bitch. Fuck with people then you gonna get fucked with.
What did you think of how Vice edited it?
Vice did a good job with that, I thought it was going to be trash, with all these people following us, I thought this shit is going to be stupid. We had our filmers and photographers, and then there were two Vice guys with us at all times, there was a GoPro in the van and we all had to wear mics – it was crazy. But it came out good.
Were there any other scripted moments where they asked you to say something or act something out?
No, hell no, never.
Any good Jereme Rogers stories that didn’t make the show?
No, but he’s a character. He’s so fucking funny, I sat next to him in the van most of the time and he’s got stories for days. He’s super cool, and still sick as fuck, he’s still got it, that motherfucker can still skate. One of the sickest dudes for sure.
Did he rap at all for you?
No, he was playing some of his new music though…
How was it?
It ain’t bad, I don’t know if I’d listen to it again though.
Have you been recognized on the street or asked for autographs since the show came out?
Yeah, I got stopped the other day in Chinatown, some guy called my name out while I was skating like, “Hey, I saw you on King of the Road! Will you take a picture with me?” I’ve been stopped a few times because of it.
[Laughs] I don’t want to talk about that, but yeah, I’ve gotten a few.
What do you think of Vice presenting a skateboarding show to a non-skating audience? How do you think that affects the industry?
I like it because it shows people what skating really is. Some people think it’s all about doing airs in a vert ramp or something, people assume we just go to skateparks and do tricks there, but this shows people actual skating. Real people skating in the streets, showing people how we really do it, trying and failing and everything. It shows people what skating really is.
Has hanging out with Raven made you want to skate more tranny?
Actually, when I first started skating, I didn’t ollie stairs or do kickflips or nothing, I used to just do airs. Like I’d try and do melon grabs, indies, benihanas, all that shit. These days you’ve got to be able to do both, ya know, you’ve got to be able to shred street and have a little tranny skill too, because you don’t want to go on a trip and everyone’s skating a bowl and you’re just sitting down. So I’m trying to learn, I’m not trying to get all crazy or anything like that, but I don’t want to just do slashes all day either.
When I see Raven skate the bowl, I think, shit, I just want to skate like that. He’s just so smooth and casual, so good. I’d like to skate like him or Stevie [Perez], Stevie is sick as fuck.
So you’ve done two skateboarding based reality shows so far, any plans to break out into non-skate related reality TV?
[Laughs] If the pay is right, yeah! But other than that, naw, I don’t want anybody following me everywhere I go. I don’t really do shit anyways, I just skate and work. But I guess I’d be down if someone was going to pay me really good.
It’s been about a decade since the last Lakai video, are there plans for another full-length sometime soon?
We’re working on it. I feel like the whole team is going to be in it, maybe some new dudes too. I’m trying to get some heavy tricks for it right now. Federico is filming it. It’s not VX or anything like that, it’s HD.
Where do you fall in the VX versus HD debate?
I feel like the VX is more fun, like, using it with the homies just fucking around. But if you want to get some cool shots and shit like that you’ve got to go HD. I prefer HD. The RED camera is sick as fuck too, that shit is next level.
Any advice for the Lil’ JJ’s that might be out there? How do you make it in the skate industry when the level of skating is as crazy as it is nowadays?
Just fucking skate every day and keep progressing. Sponsors and all that, they’ll come, you just have to be out there. Any competition you can get in or anything, you’ve just got to go and try to bust. You’ve got to kill it on the board. But you’ve got to try and be humble, be cool, too. If you’re like a Clint Walker, just a dickhead talking shit 24/7, no one is gonna wanna fuck with you. You just gotta be cool, know the right people, and you gotta skate, you just gotta skate.