If you grew up skating in the late ‘90s or early aughts, Gershon Mosley was a household name. He rode for some of your favorite companies (it’s okay, I skated those ugly Globe shoes too), killed miniramps, and made skating shirtless a legitimate style choice.
But despite ripping prolifically, one day he kind of faded from skateboarding’s public eye. After leaving Blind, he rode for a company called Inc. that never really took off, then quit Globe and by 2006 was off the radar. Rumors abounded about whether he left voluntarily or was shown the door, so we caught up with Gershon to find out.
We were on the phone for a solid two hours, and while he was candid about a lot of stuff — money, sponsorships, his opinions on specific skaters — he often responded by going off on tangents that he’d clearly been ruminating on for quite some time. We edited the interview pretty heavily to make it more coherent, but it’s still full of the kind of skate industry insight you can only get from being there and living it first hand like GMOS.
You were on top of the game in the 2000s and then stepped away from the industry. Why?
I stepped away from the industry the first time in ‘92, but I didn’t stop doing what I did. After I turned pro with Santa Cruz they got shifty with me. Sims fell off and they had turned certain dudes pro [on Sims] and then they had to put them back on the ship. So they tried to demote me, and instead of getting demoted I quit.
Was Santa Cruz going to cut your pay?
Yeah! And take my board away and shit. Demote me like, “Oh, you were pro but now you’re am again.” So basically, I was up for a minute. It wasn’t even that long. But then I moved to Idaho. When I was in Idaho, it was a change of life. I left my family and a lot of things changed. So I go to Idaho but I’m not really doing anything industry-wise, then when I got back to California I think I got on Powell. On Powell I was big. Then I went to a company called Human and started getting paid more than probably everybody in the industry at that time.
How much was Human Skateboards paying you in the mid-90s?
I was getting $3,000 a month from Human from just decks. That was just my guarantee. That’s what people don’t recognize—it’s our name they’re trying to retain, and they get it for cheap now. They got it cheaper and cheaper because people didn’t do their own deals. Then my truck sponsor was like $50-100, wheel sponsor around $200. When I was with Globe, I think I had them guarantee me $2,500 after I started. But then I never worried about a guarantee after my shoe came out. But at the same time, my lifestyle wasn’t extravagant. It was food, clothes, shelter, and skateboarding.
Damn, I didn’t realize you could make that amount from skating back then.
There’s a lot of things people don’t realize. It comes down to, say, nationality, for one. You know how people refer to other humans as black and white? There’s no such thing as black people and there’s no such thing as white people. But in the system—the United States is a corporation—when you plug it in, if it says “Negro, black and colored,” it’s just corporate property.
So were you experiencing issues related to race in the skate industry?
I wasn’t myself experiencing a lot of situations, but I did recognize how I was being mistreated. I was around a lot of bigots, but they accepted me because I was “special.” [In Idaho] if I were just anybody else I would have had a harder time. I definitely wasn’t hooking up with the ladies very often, because it was a small place, and most people weren’t dark-skinned. Didn’t have a lot of melanin.
Were there any specific race-related incidents that stuck with you?
There was a specific team and I was the only “melanated” guy on there. But I was also the workhorse. I was the guy that, if they sent me to a demo, they knew that I was gonna do shit. And not just do the routine. Because that’s how all the other riders did. They were fucking amazing and are considered legends, but they had demo routines.
I agree, it’s more fun to watch people skating the way they skate naturally. Is that what got you disillusioned with the industry?
I left for multiple reasons. Part of it was my life. I couldn’t stay in San Jose when I left Santa Cruz. I couldn’t afford rent. Also, I wanted to get away from there because that’s where I spent so many years growing and the world is bigger.
I had to separate the art from the business. When people get mad, they’ll say, “Skateboarding sucks!” But it’s not skateboarding that sucks, it’s the business and politics of it that suck. We’re so self-centered and so lost in just wanting to do that thing, that we don’t see the bigger picture when we say that shit. I’ve heard so many people [say it] and they quit skating altogether. Some of them still have issues. They’re still ego based. But if nothing else, skateboarding should have destroyed the ego.
“Skateboarding goes two ways for me. Either you’re a jock… or you’re an artist.”
What do you do for money these days?
So, I have The oBtuseconcept. It’s not a skateboard company, but I have skateboards and product to offer people. It got in a couple shops and I’ve tried to talk to a couple people about repping it. Basically, I had a team together, but at the time I wasn’t ready to push it that hard. I don’t want to just have riders. And that’s what shops want.
Skate shops just want a guy with a name that will sell?
That’s what I learned about the industry, is that you have all these guys and basically they’re bounty hunters. A lot of people don’t have any pride in themselves. These big skaters, when they’re on their own, they do nothing. They wouldn’t create a board brand or anything like that. They’d be trying to get boards off of another company or link their name to another company because that’s what they know.
Skateboarding goes two different ways for me. Either you’re a jock, which means it’s a sport, or you’re an artist. In that case, it’s art. There are some jocks that are pretty impressive.
Who’s your favorite “jock” skater right now?
Chris Joslin. You can tell by the way he pushes that he must have been an athlete in school or something. But his work ethic is phenomenal. He’s got so many tricks, and he does his tricks well. He doesn’t just do ‘em like Chris Cole. Chris Cole, some of his tricks would be meh. And Chris Cole was a baseball jock. Chet Thomas was a baseball jock. There’s different types of jocks, y’know? Colt Cannon was probably a football jock.
It’s the mentality. I can watch somebody skate and kind of tell how they think. That’s not to say that that’s a bad thing. Like I said, I enjoy watching Chris Joslin do stuff. But his style is more rigid. He’s stiffer. He doesn’t look like a Tom Asta or Mark Suciu when they perform their art.
You’re a Mark Suciu fan?
Yes. And, like, say, Busenitz. He’s a brutal artist. You could say he’s a jock, he puts that shit down with such authority, but at the same time, his paintbrush is pretty slick. Most jocks are kind of one-trick wonders. But he’s just like, “I’ll fucking smash the canvas.”
So you still love skating, right?
I still do it, right? But the industry doesn’t concern me, that’s business.
But you were in that ETN mini ramp jam the other day, which is very much the industry!
I didn’t know it was a contest! I was riding someone else’s board. When I go to public appearances, I prefer to ride somebody else’s board. I try not to get too serious about things. A contest is bullshit to me. That means they’re getting a free demo, and are only going to pay one of the people performing. And that’s not fair.
But they use my name to build the hype. They use anyone and everyone’s name to build the hype. Contests are bullshit, that’s why I won’t enter them. I’ll go to Tampa because I want to see the people. That’s for skateboarding. And the people who are really fans.
“A contest is bullshit… they’re getting a free demo, and are only going to pay one of the people performing.”
Maybe you can get ETN to send you to Tampa as an announcer.
I haven’t gone out of my way to make contact with too many people. I’m more trying to work with people that are really trying to work with me and aren’t trying to pimp me. I’m all for making notes and working with people, but everybody is just trying to get that hype. They’re not trying to actually work with you.
You care more about the actual skateboarding?
Yeah, and the artists that ride skateboards. I wasn’t competitive back then when I was entering contests. I was just skating, I wasn’t trying to be that dude. This is part of the reason why I’m probably not brought up too much. Only people that really go about their skating that way can really mention me.
I wasn’t really about being repetitive. There’s tricks that for sure you could know I was going to do. But I would never do a half cab crooked grind and then go and do a crooked grind. Shit like that. There’s people that were just trying to look good so they would do the easiest fucking things. It was basically the same trick.
“Jason Lee coming back just to sell product is wrong.”
Who is the most overrated skater?
Jason Lee. [Having a comeback] is not wrong. However, Jason Lee coming back to skateboarding just to sell product is wrong. He’s doing interviews and all that shit, and he isn’t really doing any of it. He had three clips and they were petty shit for who he was. I don’t expect much, but if you’re going to be trying to do the business, and you’re talking skateboarding and you’re one of the legends… I don’t like when people call me a legend because I can still tell my story. I don’t do idols. I respect skill and I respect humans, and I’ve had friction with certain people that other people think are iconic, who are basically the bait for the new generations.
I heard about an old incident you had with Andrew Reynolds back in 1998. What exactly happened?
That was just him feeling himself. Basically, something happened [when we were on tour together in] Australia, and I called him out for my perception of what was going on. I’ll just title it greed. At the time he said nothing to me. But then we come back to America and he comes at me at Long Beach Agenda—it was the year that Baker started—he comes at me with the children from that. I was probably stoned, but they looked like a pyramid! It was the littlest up to him in the middle, then it went down to the littlest on the other side.
This dude rolls up on me and tries to get all G like, “Yo, remember when we were in Australia and you said this shit?” I was thinking like, you didn’t even address it when I said shit to your face, and now you’re bringing all these children into it. I went to pat him on the shoulders like, “Dude, it’s not a big deal.” And he threw his arms up like, “What?” So we just walk off. But then the next trade show, people overhear Reynolds talking shit. They’re saying he said, “Fuck Gershon.” I walk in the middle of all of it looking at him, because that’s who the issue was with. I go, “Do you have a problem?” And he said yes, so I hit him.
“When I hit him, I was the one that was wrong, because all he did was say words.”
When I hit him, I was the one that was wrong, because all he did was say words. But most of it comes from my life. I grew up in Compton, the way that things would go down there… If somebody was talking shit and you got to this point where you’re like, it’s established that you were talking shit, either you punch them or you fucking walk away. I didn’t go in there to just find out he was talking shit and punk out. I went in there because I was sick of it. Like, leave it alone or let’s deal with it. So I hit him. And then Jay Strickland saved him. Because if he’d tried to get up and fight me, I would have hurt him. I knocked his teeth out, and his speculation was that it was because he fell into the chairs, but he fell into the chair after stumbling for a bit. I hit him solid in the mouth.
Andrew’s version of the story was that he was super drunk.
Yeah he was! I might have had a buzz on, but I wasn’t drunk. One of the problems I had with the industry is that they egg these children on and don’t try to help them see shit better. The industry is pimping children and there’s no ethics in it. Skateboarding feels super aggressive but these dudes, if they were in the streets and somebody was about to punch them in the mouth, they would run away. All these supposed tough guys are just tough characters that ride skateboards. I don’t like watching that shit. I wasn’t really into Zero. Zero is like militant, like petty. Most of them were limited in their skills. They would only do like 3 tricks and jump down stuff all the time. Most of it was fisheye too so all of the stuff they were jumping down wasn’t as big or long as it looked. You have to remember that the action heroes are less than 2%, and the rest are posers. Most people only have like 4 tricks and they call themselves professional skateboarders.
You were known for skating shirtless. Did your sponsors ever ask you to put a shirt on so you could rep their brand?
It was fucking hot, man! And I sweat. I didn’t even think about it, it’s like basketball. Most people have their shirts off because the fuckin’ sun’s beaming. I think whenever that would come up, I’d be like, “Yo, dude, I rep your shit, don’t worry.” But I had situations like the X-Games where they were trying to go, “You need to wear this thing on your shirt!” I’d be like, “Fuck you, guys. You guys are fuckin’ trying to get me to rep Nike?” And it’s disrespecting directly the brand that I’m really promoting. Assholes.
“One of the problems I had with the industry is that they egg children on and don’t try to help them see shit better.”
The X-Games wanted you to put a Nike logo on?
Yeah, those motherfuckers. You gotta remember, that was the mainstream trying to get into the industry. And who they were actually getting at were the corporations. The corporations were getting paid more than we were. They were using us as bait.
I know you have strong opinions about skating styles. What makes someone’s style bad, in your opinion?
How they do their tricks. And what they do when they land. Y’know, it’s like a performance. Some people pause, but they do a pose. Those people are presenting skateboarding for other people.
You mean that post-landing fake steeze, right?
Yes! Uh, Dylan Reider.
You don’t like Dylan Rieder’s style!!!?
No, no, I’m just tellin’ you! If you watch his arms when he does that shit. Dude, it was totally fake steez. It was deliberate. It’s cool if that’s what you’re doing, but if you’re trying to act like that’s real style…He was a model before they discovered him. I looked at him as a mannequin in a sense. He was really good, but he wasn’t himself. It’s not to be disrespectful, but he was raised to be a star. I mean, he’s good. He had to develop the talent. But that’s the reason why some people who passed are remembered every year, but there’s so many people that passed that don’t get an industry bow. But he made some notes for a lot of people.
If it was about true respect, then there’s a lot of names that should be called out. Somebody should be calling Yoshi [Obayashi]! They saw him do the Yoshi flip—I did that trick because of him, that one-up trick for the A-Team—the one where you catch it between the legs.
The ones where if you could do the pro’s trick in the ad you could win a G?
I hated the concept because it was instigating one-upping. Like, Yeah, do their trick! I did that trick because I’ve learned all types of tricks—and I even told them what it was called. But they called it a mystery trick. They didn’t wanna give credit. And I told ‘em who did it!
You always skated to some cutty rap, what do you think about the rap music kids are skating to these days?
There’s a difference between a rapper and an MC. A rapper is on the radio and they only have four topics: violence, sex, drugs, and notes. Money. That’s all they really talk about. I don’t even like to use the word rap, because it’s different. MCs are like KRS One. They may talk about all the other topics, but they’re making the association with how this affects human life. And not laughing at people getting hurt for it.
I like that “My Philosophy” track with KRS One and Boogie Down Productions. I don’t recall if I ever made a video to that song, but that song is dope.
You’ve made a couple of your own video parts in recent years. How many unreleased parts do you have?
I dunno. I filmed with people randomly and people put stuff together. I don’t really have a clue. Then all the stuff that I’ve made myself, I don’t think on that stuff. I’ll look at that stuff and be inspired by it or whatever, but ultimately that’s why you don’t see me posting old shit. I don’t like to post old shit, everybody else does that! The majority of them, if they are even skating, they don’t skate enough to be able to put up content every day. Or even once a week.
So you’re only fucking with new footage in 2018?
Not only, but generally. A lot of that older footage is VX footage too. I don’t like putting VX with HD. It’s different formats, it sucks. When you try to stretch the VX or crop the HD, it fucks it up. It’s not right. So, I’m not against it, I just don’t think it should always be posted. All that is doing is keeping people looking at the past. People are stuck in the past, but what about today? The past is gone and the future will never be here. The future is never to arrive, we’re always in the present!