What makes a brand relevant in the hyper-saturated skate industry of today? Is it the number of Instagram likes their latest 30-second clip receives, or the number of Facebook thumbs they get? Or is there something more, something about the respectability of the riders and the brand’s vision that makes a company worth supporting?
As long as there are people out there that care about the history of East Coast skating, then Hopps is always going to be one of the most interesting brands out there, even if they’re not racking up likes and faves like some of the younger brands. They understand that quality takes precedence over quantity, and, as opposed to constantly barraging us with #content from young guns and flow clones, we get a couple quality edits here and there featuring skaters with a long legacy in the skate world.
What’s even more admirable is that two of the three pros on the team work regular jobs and are arguably bordering on being over-the-hill in age. It’s quite the unorthodox model for a skate company, but these guys make it work by putting out impressive yet relatable skateboarding that makes you want to go outside and push as fast as you can down the street and through traffic, while maybe snapping a few ollies along the way.
We thought we’d check in with Hopps’ three amigos – Jahmal Williams, Steve Brandi and Joel Meinholz – to see exactly how they manage to simultaneously work their day-to-day jobs and keep their output strong enough to support a small board company.
What’s the story of how you three guys first met? How far back do you guys go?
I met Joel [Meinholz] years ago in Boston at my friend Panama’s party one night. I wasn’t skating as much at the time, and Joel was trying to tell me how I needed to keep skating more and all this stuff. I didn’t know who he was at all, so I was like, “Who the hell is this dude trying to tell me what I need to be doing?”
About 10-15 years later when I moved to Miami, Joel wasn’t skating at all. He was partying pretty heavy and weighed like 200 pounds or something. To be honest, I didn’t think he even could skate, but I would hear crazy stories about him all the time – about tricks he did all over Miami. He would always tell me how he used to be able to do this and that while at the bar drinking. I ended up telling him how he needs skating more in his life and how he needs to keep doing it. After that we both started skating a lot together in Miami. It’s funny because we both put two-and-two together years later – how we both gave each other encouragement to skate at different points in our life without really knowing each other too well when we did it.
”Who the hell is this dude trying to tell me what I need to be doing…”
Then I met Steve down in Miami around 2003 at the Control Skate Park. I had heard stories about him and how he back 5-0 grinded the gap to triangle ledge downtown. I thought that was so sick. I would try to skate that spot all the time and could never figure out how to approach it. So when I first met him I asked him about it.
Years later in 2008 or 2009 I’d gotten to know Josh Stewart a little bit from filming with him for Static 3. Josh used to roll with Steve Brandi and Bobby Puleo all the time, and I started bumping into them around Williamsburg a lot, so naturally I started to go creep around with them and got to know Brandi more.
Jazz seems to be an important part of the company’s DNA, what are some of your favorite jazz artists?
I like all the giants… John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Mingus, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker… I love them all. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Chick Corea and Pharaoh Sanders.
What got you into abstract painting? Did you ever take any classes or have you just been winging it forever?
I got into abstract painting via jazz music. When I started reading up on the different jazz musicians, I got really into Charles Mingus, and he was mentioning stuff that was happening in the West Village in New York with art, poetry, and music during the 1950s. One of the artists he mentioned was Jackson Pollock, so I went and took books out on Pollock. Then that lead into reading about the American Abstract Expressionist Movement.
I was always drawing and making things. As a kid I was fascinated by the making of Star Wars and the creative visuals behind the characters & spaceships from the movie, so I did a lot of sketches of all the different Star Wars ships. Graffiti in the ’80s was exciting and I dabbled in it for a short period through the years. Then in 1998, I received a scholarship to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. There I studied drawing, sculpture, and painting for four years. That was an amazing time.
You have a deck with an Egyptian pharaoh on it. Do you believe in any crazy conspiracy theories like Josh Stewart does?
[laughs] There’s only the truth.
Your photos have been used for a number of Hopps graphics. You ever broken out of skating? I’ve seen you’ve had some serious photo shows before, has anything come up commercially?
Yes, I’ve broken out of skateboarding. Wasn’t as fun as working with skateboarders. We speak a different language, understand different lines, see a different world. Skaters are more fun to shoot, more alive. As far as commercial work, don’t know, don’t care… Usually I don’t even check my email.
Why do you think so many skaters from Florida move to New York?
Where are you from? Why did you move to New York? Florida is kinda rough without Josh Stewart, Joe Perrin, or GX1000 to film with.
”I got into party promoting because I needed job and I was good at drinking”
How’d you get into party/club promoting? Who are some of the craziest VIPs you’ve had come through? What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen go down at your parties?
I got into party/club promoting because I needed job and I was good at drinking. What do you consider a VIP? I consider anyone who can call themselves my friend a VIP. That’s why I do what I do, so I can help my friends out.
Our crazy might be different. There have been so many that I’m pretty much used to and ready for anything. But if you want something, NYC Chocolate Sundays shut a city block down for the one-year anniversary party with Ninja Sonik & Friends. The block was packed with people outside waiting to get in, so someone on the block called the cops. They opened the doors and saw people dancing off the walls, stage diving where there was no stage, bands getting loose, shit was lit. Cops thought a riot was going on so they called in the fire department and shut the street down. Party done by 1 AM for no reason. No one was fighting or anything, just having fun.
You’re a tennis instructor by day and a sponsored skater by night. What does skateboarding offer that you aren’t able to find in tennis?
In tennis, you have to be very creative in the way you play and the strategy you use. And there are rules. Although you will never play against two different people and use the same strategy against both players, no matter where you are in the world you’re still on a tennis court confined by those same lines and rules. In skateboarding, you can be creative and it’s not in a confined area where there are lines and rules. You’re able to branch out your creativity a bit more, and you have more options of what you want to do on a skateboard.
Are you ever worried about skaters catching you wearing a full country club tennis outfit in the streets?
Not at all. I like the brand Lacoste a lot. It originally started as a tennis brand.
I work in Manhattan, and not too long ago on the way to the train I ran into my friends Aaron Herrington and Waylon Bone and I was in a Lacoste outfit. We chatted and I was not uncomfortable, nor were they.
I actually like skating in tennis inspired polo shirts. Hopps makes polo shirts that I wear. I also find polos I like and put patches, mainly Theories brand patches, over the logos of the collared shirts I find.
Which is more terrifying: Driving with Joel through Miami traffic or watching him skate through NYC traffic?
This is a bit paradoxical, but Joel is full-on controlled chaos. I’ve known Joel for so long. He’s the King of Miami and he’s always been the same. Whether driving, skating or talking, he’s out of “conJoel.” He will look so out of control on his board like he’s just going for something he can’t possibly do, but then he’ll just do it. The same goes for driving.
We actually got into a crazy fight in Miami years ago when I was a kid and he was the guy I looked up to showing us around Miami. We were in line to get food in a drive through and the line was super long because it was about 2am and nothing else was open. A car full of guys tried cutting the line right when we were about to get our chance to order. They rolled down their window, looked at us and said, “YO, WE AIN’T SCARED TO GO TO JAIL, LET US IN.” I looked at Joel, and he said, “Fuck these dudes.”
This was a car full of five big Miami dudes who honestly didn’t look like they cared too much about going to jail. So they continued to nudge the front fender of Joel’s car, and then two guys got out of the car. Our friend Ricky Dixon was in the front seat, and he got out of the car and told them, “Hey, just relax, we’ll back up,” and BOOM, Ricky got punched right in the face. Then they proceeded to go after me in the back seat of the two-door car where I was stuck. I’m blocking punches with my board while three other guys are going after Joel. Meanwhile, Joel is laughing the whole time while fighting them off. He managed to knock three guys to the ground on his own all while I’m getting punched and trying to block punches with my skateboard. The dudes all got into their car and left. It was a big scene. After they took off, Joel just looked back at me and asked, “What did you want to order?” like nothing had just happened!