If you’ve been skateboarding for more than a couple of years, you most certainly remember Josiah Gatlyn. He’s the guy who kickflipped over that basketball hoop, got “discovered” through the Bang Yo Self contest, and rode for Stereo and Zero before disappearing from skateboarding – almost leaving as quickly as he got here. Super talented, his skateboarding was fluid and unique, and I always thought he was going to be a big name for a long time to come.
I wondered what happened to Josiah until I bumped into him on the good ol’ internet via his official website – where he’s rebranded himself as a “Digital Creative / Motion Designer.” We started talking, and he told me he was working on editing a new part with some footage he was sitting on. Most of it was stuff from when he was filming for Zero’s Cold War in 2013, but it never went anywhere, and he was down to release the previously unseen footage as a part with us.
After releasing the part on Monday, we decided to do a little interview to accompany it, filling people in on where he went, what he has been working on, and what life after skateboarding is like.
You just released this “goodbye” part with us, but you left skating a couple of years ago. Can you explain how and why your skate career kind of came to an end? Weren’t you making any money from your sponsors?
The most money I ever made from sponsors was $300 a month, and most of those years when I was riding for Stereo the checks were never on time. They would just never show up, and when I asked about them they always had some vague excuse. This was happening to everybody on the team, not just me. This was when Stereo was under Antics distribution. It was a distribution owned by a guy that didn’t skate or really understand the culture very well. I remember one time he thought the entire Stereo video could be filmed in like 2-3 months. I was blown away by that. I had heard from ex-employees about crazy shit that was going on there too. Antics eventually went out of business, but I had already quit to ride for Zero before that happened. That was the only reason why I quit Stereo. It had nothing to do with Pastras, the team or the brand itself. I loved Stereo, but I just didn’t want to keep feeling like I was running in circles and not knowing what was going on.
Then after a year of being flow for Zero and then getting let go, I left San Diego and drove to LA. My fiance was interning at the Fantasy Factory as a web designer. So I went and stayed with her at a friends house in LA. She had to fly back to Florida because she had to finish up her last 6 months at FIU. And after she left, I didn’t really have anywhere to stay. All I had was my 97′ Ford Explorer. I saw online that you can legally park your car overnight in the parking lot of Wal-Mart. So I slept in my truck for 2 weeks until I found a place to stay. Every morning I drove to Starbucks and started working on my motion reel on my little 13 inch Macbook. I was in there every day from opening to close. During that time I just kind of reflected back on my life. I saw the situation as a sign. I decided that I was going to take control of my life and just start doing what I really wanted to do.
I never planned on really trying to have a long lasting skateboarding career anyways. While I was skating for Stereo, in the back of my mind I was constantly telling myself “I’m going to give it another 2 months. If things don’t start working out, I’m going to pursue other things”. I didn’t care about turning pro as much as just being able to afford to film video parts. That’s the only thing that intrigued me about a skate career. I hated contests. My original goal was to eventually make enough money to have a comfortable life while filming video parts, ride it out for a bit, and then start doing something else. But after all this stuff happened, I just decided to expedite that process. If I was going to change career paths and do other stuff, I needed to do it immediately. I felt this was the right time. Start as young as I possibly could.
Any advice or thoughts from sleeping in your truck for 2 weeks? Anything you learned? Anything bad happen?
It really wasn’t that bad. I had an SUV so the bed of my truck was pretty large and perfect to sleep in. I had a blanket and pillows and shit. It was pretty comfortable. Waking up dripping in sweat with nowhere to take a shower sucked though.
I wasn’t the only one sleeping in the parking lot. There was a ton of other people there sleeping in their cars too. I never talked to any of them, but I would see them getting in and out of their cars. Some of them had pretty decent set ups. Looked like they had been there for months.
The psychological aspect was the hardest part about it, but in my experience I think it did something to me. Just in those 2 weeks I pondered more about existence than I had ever been able to comprehend before. Your survival skills start to kick in more than usual. You kind of feel like you’ve stepped out of the machine and you’re hiding somewhere. After just a few days I started to realize how much of an illusion American life really is. It seemed like I was at the lowest of lows, but it was just a mind game. I thought to myself “This really isn’t as bad as it seems. If I can get through this much psychological stress, I should be able to get through anything.”
I started to think about people in other countries who sleep on the ground, drink dirt water and are barely able to eat. It makes you feel like a pussy when you start thinking about that stuff.
Were you ever fully on Zero besides flow? Do you think Christianity helped you and Jamie [Thomas] bond more quickly than maybe someone who didn’t share the same faith?
No, I don’t think that had anything to do with it. I think it was more that he saw that I was motivated and that I was hands on with everything that I did. He understands design too so that was also a connection as well. We mostly talked about business, I think that was one of our main conversations. I probably asked him about a billion questions every day. He told me the back stories about how he bought the rights to Zero from Tum Yeto and how he took the money he made from the THPS games to help fund it. And how he started and funded Fallen, etc, etc. So that was really cool. I learned a ton of shit from him by asking questions whenever I got the chance.
I never fully got on Zero, but I was getting paid $300 a month as a flow rider for a year. I told Jamie that it would be nice if he matched what I was making from Stereo. The situation that I went through with Zero was almost like a reality TV show. It was all over the place and I really didn’t even know what was going on until it was too late.
I originally emailed Jamie explaining that I wanted to quit Stereo and that I wanted to ride for Mystery. The next day he called me up and we talked for a couple of hours. He told me he would rather me ride for Zero instead of Mystery. I was shocked because Zero was the last company I would have imagined he would want me to ride for. So of course I said yes. But the problem was that he didn’t tell the entire team about it, only a couple of people in the office that day. He told me that he could put me fully on immediately, but if I went on tour and got into an argument with one of the team riders that had been on the team for a long time, it would cause problems. So he put me on that Zero X DGK tour to see how I fit.
When I first showed up on tour, I introduced myself to some of the guys on the team and they looked confused. I had no idea that some of them didn’t even know that I was going on that trip. So that was awkward as fuck.
I think the main reason why Jamie wanted to put me on was because he saw potential marketing value in me because of the Berrics and all that. He was trying to get the team stoked on the idea of me being on Zero, but some of them really didn’t seem to care. I think they were bummed because I didn’t fit Zero at all, which is completely understandable. I was too young and dumb to understand what was going on at the time.
After a year of being flow, Jamie had a meeting with the team and managers about me turning am. They decided that it wasn’t going to work out and that was it. Then about 6 months later Jamie called me up and wanted to turn me pro for Threat, but then it went out of business soon after all that stuff went down at Black Box.
Going through all of this taught me a lot about how the skateboarding industry works. It’s not that it’s cut throat, but it’s just extremely tribe-like in how companies are designed. Almost all companies have a specific image and if you don’t fit that image, people get confused or pissed. I think maybe Jamie thought that somehow I was going to eventually transform into the Zero image, I don’t know. Subconsciously I didn’t really want to change anything about myself. I just wanted to kind of do my own thing. All company owners in skateboarding have a set idea of what they want their brands to look like and they pick out the team that suits the brand the best.
Throughout what little bit of a career I had, I was always trying to find myself as a person. I don’t think people really knew how to read me very well. Skateboard companies are brands, and you have to be a brand too. Music and culture plays a huge part in this. I never really identified with the punk rock thing and Zero has always had that 90’s punk rock feel. This same sort of thing happened with Stereo. Jazz is cool, but I didn’t really identify with that either. I was still trying to figure out what I was into.
My hometown that I grew up in has a population of just 700 people. Pikeville, North Carolina. So I was completely oblivious to the real world before I started traveling for skateboarding. No social skills, nothing. It took me a while to get adjusted to society. Growing into an adult while being involved in the skateboarding industry is tough.
It wasn’t until after I threw in the towel that I started to actually find myself as a person and as a creative. I think this is because I felt really confused with my identity because I felt like I was being thrown around in circles, not knowing where to render my identity. Stereo and Zero are such complete opposite brands. And when you’re riding for different companies that shit definitely messes with your head. I have full freedom now. I don’t have to worry about that anymore.
Most people know you from all the Berrics coverage early in your career. Being at the Berrics so much, did Steve ever try to convert you Scientology?
Haha, no. During the years that I’ve known him he’s never mentioned it to me. Berra was always a super good dude to me and helped me out a ton. He seems to have a good heart from what I have seen.
I don’t know much about Scientology, but I watched that documentary called “Going Clear” last year and it made me ask a lot of questions that I wish I hadn’t. L Ron Hubbard was friends with Anton LaVey and lived by Aleister Crowleys teachings. The origins of Scientology are occultic. There’s an interview with his son, L Ron Hubbard Jr. in a 1983 issue of Penthouse Magazine that explains a great deal of it all. That interview makes the “Going Clear” documentary look like child’s play. It’s terrifying.
Seems like you are a bit heavier now, that from a more beer friendly lifestyle, or just not skating as much and taking a “real” job?
It’s pretty much been a combination of everything together. I don’t skate as much as I use to, I’m constantly behind my computer working, and I also love beer and party a ton. So that can be a very unhealthy combination.
It has definitely fluctuated over the years. The first time I ever gained weight I thought it was hilarious for some reason, haha, but now that I’m getting older I’m starting to take it a bit more seriously. I know I can’t really party like this forever. I’ve been trying to cut down on the beer and have been skating a lot more lately.
After skating you transitioned over to design and animation. How did you learn those skills? Would you recommend going to school for design?
No, I never attended school for it and don’t recommend it. I learned from a mix of trial and error, asking designers questions, an internship, and watching tutorials online to learn the programs.
When I was around 12 or 13, I had a friend who was a developer. He was only 16 and already had a career job as a developer. He taught me how to use FTP and code in HTML. Once I figured out that I could create whatever I wanted on a computer, it was like a lightning bolt struck my brain. I was hooked. I learned how to design and build websites and edit skate footage around the same time. I had this editing program called Pinnacle. It was so terrible, haha, but I learned how to cut footage on that before I learned Final Cut. I would go out and film sponsor me videos with my friends and then come home and edit them. I probably edited like 20 different sponsor me videos and never sent them to anybody. I just liked making them.
When I was 16 I visited this guy named Dave Nelson in Nebraska on an Untitled Skateboards trip. He was the guy who did all of their graphics. He was the first skateboarder that I had ever met that was an actual designer so I was super excited to meet him. At the time he had a studio called “Divvy Collective.” It was a studio space that him and some other designers shared. He was doing work under the name Secret Penguin which he has now grown into an amazing branding agency. That was the first design studio I had ever visited and it was so fuckin’ sick. They decorated it super cool and had a TV with a game cube set up so they could play Mario Cart during breaks. They were working on the sickest projects too. I think at that time Dave was working on a website for The Faint.
I went over to Dave’s house that night for dinner and I asked him if I should attend art school or not. He told me, “Art school is a waste of time. What you need to do is intern at a design agency.” So that’s what I did 4 years later. In 2010 I interned at a small design firm when I was living in Florida. I was there for about 6 weeks and learned a ton of key design principles from some really awesome mentors. This was right after my recruit came out. I was riding for Stereo at the time. Then later on I got into After Effects and Cinema 4D which I learned the programs entirely from online tutorials and books. The learning curve never ends. There’s always new shit coming out and new ways to do things. That’s why I love it so much. Endless possibilities.
”College is a business and shouldn’t be looked at any differently than how you would look at Wal-Mart”
As far as college goes, I personally think it’s bullshit unless you’re studying to be a doctor or something that absolutely needs a traditional college education. So many kids these days are forced to attend college because their parents believe that college provides some type of career cushion. So they end up applying for college and then deciding what “career” they want to have for the rest of their life right then and there. The problem is that parents don’t understand what college actually is. They really do believe these corporate colleges and universities actually care about their children and want to provide education for them. That is terrifying. They can’t see through the sales tactics. College is a business and shouldn’t be looked at any differently than how you would look at Wal-Mart. All businesses have a business model and the business model of college is to make you believe that you won’t be able to get a job unless you have a degree. It’s an illusion. All they are doing is just taking advantage of parents and young kids that don’t understand how certain industries work. Depending on the job, most employers couldn’t give a flying shit where you attended college or how many years you attended because most business owners either dropped out of college or know that college had nothing to do with the success of their business. The only thing employers care about is you getting the job done better than anybody else and making them a return on their investment. The business world is run by people who have really strategic street smarts. The people who try to just play by the book usually don’t know how to survive.
You’ve said that ages 20 – 25 are the most important years of your entire life in a comment before. Why do you feel this way?
I believe these years are really important because they are the foundational years for the rest of your life. The years that you start to discover who you really are as a person and decide which life path you want to start going in. I highly recommend traveling when you’re young, even if it’s hopping trains or whatever. Take risks when you’re young. Go see the world, meet new people, get yourself into situations that you’re not used to, etc. Traveling really does open your eyes. But on the other hand, it’s important to understand that we all live in a fast paced world where people are super good at everything and start learning skills at a very young age. A couple of years ago I did this animated commercial for an agency and my Motion Director was only 19. There’s a lot of competition and if you’re not keeping up with the rest, you will be left behind. It’s better to start as early as possible trying to figure out what you love to do. Millennials are taking over right now. I see it all the time. Especially in the tech industry. Every agency I’ve worked at in-house is filled with 90% millennials. It’s a pretty crazy time.
Moving from your hometown to LA practically overnight, what was your first impression of LA and the skate industry?
I was pretty shocked at how different it was than what I imagined it would be like when I was a kid growing up.
There is a lot of really deep emotional social dynamics in the skateboarding industry with both the older guys and the younger guys. I’ve always thought it was funny how skateboarders try to act tough, but deep down they are some of the most emotional people ever.
I think it comes from everybody being so damn insecure about themselves. There’s a ton of jealousy and envy that goes on in the industry. I saw it first hand. It’s the elephant in the room that nobody ever wants to talk about, but deep down you can see it through people.
It seemed like everybody was paranoid because the industry is so small, tight knit, and everybody knows everybody. You never know what people are thinking. I think deep down, almost all sponsored skateboarders that live in LA are constantly stressed out about their careers. They know that it’s not going to last forever, and I think that’s what triggers all the extreme emotions between people.
That’s why I left LA in 2010 and moved to Miami. I mainly moved to be closer to my girlfriend, but I enjoyed the Miami skate scene a lot more than LA. It was a lot more peaceful and laid back. Kids often dream about moving to LA and pursuing a skate career. But they don’t realize how good they have it skating with their close friends in their hometowns.
”I’ve always thought it was funny how skateboarders try to act tough, but deep down they are some of the most emotional people ever”
Is it true you met your girlfriend on the Skate Perception forum?
She use to post a bunch of artwork in the graphic design section of Skate Perception. Everybody on there was always really impressed with her work, including myself. Her best friend (Michelle Blades) use to film skateboarding on a VX1000. They both grew up skating together and loved to create stuff. They were also heavily involved in the local skate scene at the time.
They had a website at the time called 210amproductions.com. They had a little skate crew and everything. Michelle used to film and edit, and Andrea (my fiance) did all the website design for the website. I messaged Andrea on MySpace in 2008, and then we started talking for a couple of months over the phone. Her dad bought me a plane ticket out to Miami for Christmas to come out and see her for a week. That was the first time we had actually met in person. It was my first time in Miami too. It was super fun. We connected immediately and have been together ever since. We’ve been together for over 7 years now. We’re getting married this year. She’s a senior UI / UX designer at Billabong now.
Looking back, do you think you were just at the wrong place at the wrong time? Bad timing with Zero and bad timing for Stereo? Maybe if you stuck it out and waited you would have had a real career?
Well I think when I first got on Stereo, I was at the right place at the right time. It seemed like everything was working out pretty well, but then later on my career seemed to dissolve into some weird series of unfortunate events.
But for the most part I chose the path that I wanted. When I moved to Miami from LA in 2010, I pretty much disconnected myself from the industry entirely. So that was about 2 or so years of getting footage in Miami, but not making any new connections in the skateboarding industry. So for the most part I kind of did it to myself, but that’s just what I wanted to do at the time.
But I believe everything happens for a reason. What happened to me makes sense. I don’t know what my life would be like right now if I hadn’t of gone through all that shit.
I could have probably kept filming and trying to get new sponsors and shit, but I got to a mindset where I was totally comfortable with the idea of a skateboarding career being a part of my past instead of being my entire identity in life.
Looking back on everything, this is exactly what I wanted in life in the first place. I’m more stoked on my career ending like this than any other way. You only get one life and I’m trying to pack as many things into it as possible.