I’m rooting for Tom Karangelov and you should be too. Born in Serbia from humble beginnings, Tom has earned his way into skating, working shitty jobs to support his college expenses while pursuing the skateboard dream. Unlike many upcoming Am skaters, he doesn’t have the luxury of asking his parents for money or a room to live and has even helped them out financially during turbulent months. After being initially “discovered” in SLAP Magazine’s “One In A Million” contest in 2009, Jamie Thomas showed interest in him, putting him on Zero flow and eventually giving him a chance to be in the new Zero video, “Cold War” as an Am. This is his story so far.
Do you still go to college?
I only went to community college, and while I was doing that I was working and trying to finish the Zero video [Cold War]. But when more and more trips started happening, I kinda stopped going to school. And at the end of the video, I stopped going to work too. Now I just skateboard.
I heard a rumor that you aren’t on Zero Skateboards anymore either though…
Yeah, I quit 2 weeks ago. I’ve just been skating with my friends.
You weren’t under any contract?
This sounds kinda fucked up, but I think Jamie [Thomas] had some trust in me. Like, I really like the company, and he wasn’t worried about me leaving. But I’ve heard Jamie say it before, “If people aren’t down for our program then they shouldn’t stay.” I got paid a little but I don’t think there was any huge amount of risk taking with me. At least he thought that, so there wasn’t any contract. After I quit, the last thing he said was, “Alright man, well take care. Good luck with everything,” and by the time I said, “Ok,” he had already hung up. I was worried that he was pissed at me. But then a couple days later, he sent me a really nice text which said like, “It took me a couple of days to digest everything, but I’m gonna miss you and good luck with everything.” He said nice stuff. We’re on good terms.
So why did you just leave Zero?
After the new video, Cold War came out, I just got to thinking like, dude, all of my favorite skaters that ride for Zero, like Keegan, Rattray, Ben Gilley – they all don’t really ride for it anymore, and they kinda have had mixed endings. I just felt like, fuck dude, I’m getting older and I ride for this company and I don’t feel like it’s gonna be there for me in the end. So many riders quit or got kicked off. A lot of employees left and that triggered my emotions. Like, Zero is Jamie, but these 4 or 5 other people had a lot of say and aren’t very easily replaced. That’s how I felt… But when I would talk to Jamie, he would say stuff like, “If I die, Zero is gonna be here. If you quit, Zero will continue. I hope that I’ve left enough of a legacy that if I’m not here or Cole is not here, Zero is going to continue.” At one point he tried to get Josiah Gatlyn on Zero, which is so weird. He’s a nice kid and stuff, but he’s not the Zero I knew or know. I just worried that if I was older, maybe I would be a corner that would just get cut, like what I saw happening. I’d rather just quit and not ride for anything and figure it out.
”I just felt like, fuck dude, I’m getting older and I ride for this company and I don’t feel like it’s gonna be there for me in the end”
Tell me about your friend Garrett, who you bring around everywhere.
He’s really awesome. Like, the other day, I brought him with me to shoot some photos with David Broach for this Thrasher interview I am working on. He comes wearing like, sandals and starts asking the Thrasher photographer the most embarrassing things, like, “You get the photo!!!? Are you sure!?” even though Broach has been shooting photos for like 20 years. Everyone is just like, “Who the fuck is this kid?”
Another funny thing is, I get stuff from MOB, so Garrett thinks that MOB grip is really cool. Even though it’s just griptape. Like, “Oh, Tom rides MOB. We all ride MOB!” He’ll even talk shit on other griptape companies. One day I brought him to Black Box and James Hardy was there, and Garrett asks him what type of board and setup he has. James is like, “Bro Style grip, Real, Thunder,” And Garret’s like, “Oh what? Fuck that Bro Style shit! We ride MOB!!” and he doesn’t even know who James Hardy is. It’s awesome. He’s been my friend since 6th grade, he’s just down to hang out.
You are also friends with Corey Duffel. Have you ever made fun of his pirate ship bed?
Corey? Nah, Corey is the shit. I liked his parts when I was little, and when you meet him he’s just as cool as you ever thought he’d be. He has a couple of different rooms in his house and one of them is filled with stuff he collected as a kid. He had the pirate ship bed, action figures, and a bunch of his boards he saved and stuff.
Sounds like he has a room dedicated to his 14 year old self.
But dude, that’s kinda what’s cool about skating. A lot of people give him shit about his outfits and whatever, but aren’t we skateboarders and we care about originality? But when there’s someone that’s so original and out there, he gets so much shit. It’s crazy. Like with Garrett [Hill], half red half black pants. People are still talking to him about that. But dude, was it really that big of a deal? They are just fucking pants. Aren’t you encouraged to be creative when you skateboard? The dude who tries to go out of the box gets like, so much shit for it.
Have you ever considered wearing “crazy pants” like that?
Ah, no, I’ve worn white pants a couple of times with a white shirt and kinda got a lot of Heath Kirchart comments for that. I don’t give a shit, I just thought it was funny because 30 year old skate nerds would call me out on Instagram and stuff. Like, “Oh, who does this guy think he is? Heath?” No.. I think I’m myself. I’m not the only person who wears white. Fuck ’em.
Have you stolen anything before?
Yeah, I used to grab stuff from Starbucks. Starbucks kinda just pisses me off, it’s super overpriced. I feel weird paying $7 for an egg and a piece of cheese. I wouldn’t do it if it was a mom and pop type coffee shop. I just wait in line, grab the food that I want from the bottom refrigerator area, which is usually that protein pack, open it up and start eating. I’ll eat it while I’m in line waiting for my drink, and no one says anything. I get to the register and order my coffee, and they just ring me up for an iced coffee. You kinda just have to own it.
Have you ever been arrested?
No I haven’t. But my friend Russell Houghten [Filmer] has been in the gnarliest situations. He will dress up as a construction worker just to bondo something. The other day, we were filming at this spot on the freeway and we were waxing this spot at like 5 in the morning. Russell had this whole outfit on, and the cops came and were just like, “What the hell are you guys doing?” We were just like, “We thought if we dressed up we would look like we knew what we were doing and we wouldn’t get in trouble,” and just play dumb. We don’t play the douche bag card, like, “It’s our job!!!” We just tell them we dressed up and it’s not gonna harm anyone. We’re just waxing a curb. Look legit and act dumb.
Where did you get all the construction outfits?
We all go to Home Depot, it’s like $2 for a shitty construction plastic helmet and $.99 for a vest. Russel has all the tools too.
”Starbucks kinda just pisses me off”
You read any books?
I really like the author William Burroughs. Patti Smith, Joy Division and New Order, a lot of those bands were really inspired by this author. The stuff that he wrote was so crazy. I think he came up with the word heavy metal, and Kurt Cobain was really into him. The Joy Division song Interzone was inspired by him. That song is probably one of my favorite songs. Kurt Cobain did this weird thing where he played the star spangled banner all fucked up and William Burroughs read one of his short stories over the guitar. It sounds so cool.
William Boroughs and Kurt Cobain were both heroin addicts. Did that ever make you want to try heroin?
[Laughs] No, it didn’t. It was a different time period. I think the same thing with Jimi Hendrix. I don’t know if he’d be doing heroin today. It was just that time period. It doesn’t make me want to do it, but it makes me want to understand it.
What do your parents do?
They are retired. My dad laid granite his entire life, and my mom worked at the post office forever. My mom is from Serbia and my dad is from Macedonia. My parents don’t have a lot of money, I knew that I had to work while going to school and trying to skateboard and film this Zero part. I have bills to pay. I don’t have the luxury of asking for help in any way. After high school, my parents lost their house but I wanted to stay in Huntington because I already had all my friends here. So I lived in my friend Matt’s guest room right out of high school and I went to community college and worked a job.
Do you think if you start making a lot of money you would help your parents out?
Yeah, for sure. For a while I was kinda doing that while I worked and skated because I could save a tiny bit extra every month. They would be like, “Yeah Tom, we are kinda short this month, do you have an extra $200?” and I would give them whatever I could help them with. Cause I know they would do the same thing for me, and they have in the past. They are down for skateboarding. They left their homes so they could live in America and have a better life. I think right now they are doing well though, so I’m just trying to save my own money so I can move forward.
What have you been doing for money if you quit your job and also quit Zero?
I ride for New Balance, so that helps pay for me to live.
Does it matter to you that a company is not traditionally from or born in skateboarding?
That’s the thing, not everyone can ride for a “core” company, like a Dekline, HUF or Lakai. It’s a double edged sword. There are so many skateboarders… I have friends that ride for Dekline and stuff, and they will tell me how gnarly the trips are and how they have to use their own money to eat and stuff. That’s rad that they are down for it, I’m down for it too, but if you have a chance to ride for something that can help pay all your bills and eat when you’re on a trip, why wouldn’t you? You’re kinda stupid for not doing that.
”If Nike can help with car payments and eating out, why not. I see that as helping skateboarders.”
I think I read somewhere that Kevin Bradley was gonna ride for Lakai, but Nike offered him more money.. and why not? He’s like almost 20, he’s gonna need to start paying bills, and if Nike can help with car payments and eating out, why not. I see that as helping skateboarders. It’s probably helping Donovan and Kevin Bradley and all these young kids that ride for Nike. Skateboarding is not always there, not everyone can ride for Emerica or HUF. Companies like Nike and Converse have kinda been in it for a while now too. Everyone who works for Nike is cool. Mark Whiteley, Mark Goldman, everyone that Brian Anderson talks about, they all help him and Stefan Janoski so much… I heard Dylan talk about why he rides for HUF, that’s cool too and I get that. I guess I just have my faith that the right people work at New Balance and it is supported by right people.
So what’s the next move for you? I heard you were hanging out with Brian Anderson over at 3d recently?
I hope something does work out, that would be cool. But if not, not everyone has to be a sponsored skateboarder, I’ll just get a job. That kinda sounds crazy, but I’d rather just work and skate for fun, then skate for something that I’m not happy supporting. The New Balance dudes don’t ask me to do anything crazy, they just ask me my opinion on shoes, and I just skate the colors that I like. I don’t have to wear shirts or put stickers on my board. I just skate for them, it’s pretty simple. They support me skating with my friends. If it’s not meant to be, I don’t wanna force some weird sponsorship with some weird company. I’ll go back to school and work in a restaurant.