Skateboarding always likes to refer to itself as one big family. No matter how many billions of dollars the industry makes, we want to see company owners and riders – bosses and employees – relate like brothers (and sisters). It’s a mindset that stems from skateboarding’s earliest ancestors, but one of the later advocates of this value system is Mike Carroll. As co-founder of Girl skateboards and Lakai footwear, few skaters have embodied the skater-run imperative better than Carroll, and few skaters have performed more stylishly on a board as well.
But, with the combination of big brands and outside money coming in at a time when our favorite skaters are aging into retirement, that family mentality seems to be eroding. It’s impossible not to notice the rapid changes. In an ironic twist it seems skateboarders have created an industry too valuable for them to run anymore.
Carroll’s companies have not been spared from this hostile environment. Gino, Mariano and Koston all dipped from Girl and Chocolate earlier this year, and now Marc Johnson, formerly of Lakai, was just announced as a new rider for Adidas. We heard the MJ news on Saturday morning, and before we could even process the ramifications we got a surprise call from Mike Carroll himself wanting to go on record about what’s happening at Lakai and what the future of the Crail camp entails.
You’ve had a lot of team changes and internal changes recently at Girl and Lakai. Is there anything going on that we should know, or is it just coincidence and timing?
I can only speculate what people’s reasons were. I think it just comes down to 40 year old men making grown man decisions. People tend to forget, especially when you’re 15 or 25 and the only thing you have to think about is skating and you don’t have to think about anything else except rent and utility bills. These guys have houses and children and wives to think about. If they wanted to learn job skills outside of skateboarding, that’s something that they maybe could have got here but there’s a different culture that isn’t handed down from working at a skateboard company, that 17 and 19 year olds started.
After Koston and Guy left I expected a bigger announcement or something than just the mellow Instagram post you guys put out. Were there any other plans?
Yeah, that was unfortunate. Eric definitely deserved more celebration than just that Instagram post. He has done so much for so many years for that to happen like that. There’s a lot more behind why it had to go down like that.. It wasn’t Eric’s fault and it wasn’t really our fault. Some announcements started moving quicker than we were being told and we just had to go ahead and do the quick post that we did unfortunately. But I’ve got nothing bad to say about them, and hopefully they have nothing to say about us.
Since Guy and Koston left, have you run into them at Biebel’s park and is it an awkward ex-girlfiend thing?
[Laughs] You know what, I go there all the time and they’re never there so… I went there once when they were there, but no, it wasn’t an awkward ex-girlfriend thing. The decisions are a lot different at this age when you have children and are providing for a family. If someone wants to bounce, there’s no reason to hold them into it, but that’s kind of something that has bit us in the ass a little bit. We’ve always had a thing where we don’t have contracts.
But I think when Brian [Anderson] and Alex [Olson] left, that made us kind of think twice about that because we just asked them to chill for a second so we could sell off some stuff but, you know, Alex just wanted to get it done and talk about it a little too quick.
”For Girl and Chocolate we never had contracts, but with Lakai we always have.”
That’s cool you never did contracts with your riders.
For Girl and Chocolate we never had contracts, but with Lakai we always have. I think that’s gonna probably change pretty soon, just because obviously we’ve noticed that nothing lasts forever… So it was always just a handshake thing. If you’re not down for anything, then you can bounce, just give us the courtesy, stuff like that. That was one thing that we tried to do, but it doesn’t work in this day and age.
What are Girl and Lakai up to, are you guys doing any new videos?
We’re working on a Lakai video. The Lakai dudes have been traveling, so that will be the next bigger project. Federico [Vitetta] has been filming a lot, Daniel Wheatley has been filming a lot. I think Meza is helping us with doing a couple of the rough cuts right now, so he probably might be editing the video. But yeah, Federico and Wheatley are pretty much the main dudes.
Is Mike Mo skating again? I know he got hurt badly.
Yeah, he’s starting to skate. He can do a couple tricks, but his foot isn’t 100% yet, so it’s pretty gnarly. I’d be going insane if I was him, dealing with what he’s dealt with. I think he stretched his nerve or something when he twisted his knee. He stretched his nerve, so his foot was basically paralyzed. It’s called drop foot. He would wear a brace that had a spring in it that lifts his toes up when he wants. So like if he was just standing there and just picked up his foot his foot would just dangle… like you could take a razor blade to it and he wouldn’t even feel it.
H’s just itching to skate and when you see him he does shit so proper and in the state that he’s in… it just gets me stoked for him. Whatever I’m feeling he’s feeling times a million probably. I just know he’s a fucking skate rat, that’s just all he wants to do his whole life.
Do you know if Mike Mo ever faced repercussions for getting in an accident with those kids?
I think driving that golf cart, the repercussions, whether deserved or not happened to him. Not being able to skate this long, that’s probably one of the worst repercussions you could probably get. And on the bright side nobody else got hurt at his responsibility.
Who has the best selling Girl board right now?
Yeah. [Laughs] What about Malto?
Yeah, of course me… the kids love 40 year olds. Nah, I’m kidding. I don’t know. I think it fluctuates, but I think it’s probably Jereme Rogers, because we are still secretly selling J Casanova collab boards.
Apparently the infamous Crailtap park is gone? What happened?
We got rid of the park because we had another off-site warehouse that carried Fourstar and Lakai and it just got to the point where it didn’t make sense to have that second warehouse. So we consolidated and brought everything in under the same site. But I think we’re gonna try to make room within the next year so we can put a park back.
There’s been rumors for a while that Marc Johnson was going to leave Lakai.. then he really did leave to Adidas. What happened?
The rumors have been around for years. They have been hitting Marc up for years. He was courteous enough years ago to let us know they offered him something, and we were able to match it at that time. It was all good. I don’t think it was something he wanted to do at the time, he wanted to stay on Lakai.
Financially, as everyone knows, in recent years, it has been rough. We had to do some things financially and rearrange and lower some people’s pay, him being included. But he was understanding and we talked about it.
Then recently, we had to make more financial decisions and he was going to be affected again. For years he was greatly paid and we did our best to not touch him at all. Even throughout the financial struggles, we didn’t make any pay cuts to him while other ones were going down. He was highly protected when it came to that stuff, but it came to a point where there was nowhere else to cut.
We had to reduce pay and I just told him, you know what, this sucks. You’ve been in this for fucking years, putting your all into it, blood, sweat and tears and I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking you to stick around. We talked for a while, and I knew he was going to go skate for them. Everybody started talking about the rumors again, but it was a mutual thing and fully respectful. It was a sad moment. It sucked for me to have to tell him that, and to have to say, “You should probably take a better offer,” because these motherfuckers are coming at you all crazy. He’s almost 40 years old, I think at this age you should go get yours. And if he was gonna stay on, I didn’t want him to be resentful for the decision.
I sent him a termination agreement over a month ago and in that agreement we asked him to hold off a while from announcing because we had our product and the agreement was to protect us and the production. But I told him I was open to talk about the agreement and change anything. We asked him to keep it on the low for a while. But I knew it was asking for a lot. But… that’s what he’s getting paid for… Then I heard more rumors and I hit him up for a couple of days and he wasn’t responding so I had to be blunt. I was like, “Hey, I’ve been hearing these rumors that you are about to be announced at the Away Days premiere. What’s the deal with this?” I thought he was going to be on the team through at least the summer or July.
Then he finally got back to me, but was just like, “No, there’s no announcement… who would say that?” So I asked him again, “There’s no announcement tomorrow?” He’s like, “No.” Then the next day, the night of the premiere I just get a text, “Marc was just announced in the video.” I was just like… that is insane. Last night on the phone he said nothing was happening.
He could have called me, he could have talked to me, and said that’s a little too long to wait and keep quiet, because of certain agreements pending, or whatever. We’re friends, lets talk about it. Or if it’s not a friend thing, let’s get the lawyers to talk about it.
Did you guys work it out? Are you guys talking now?
His only response was, “Did you read the agreement?” insinuating that there was something wrong with it. Besides that he hasn’t responded to me. He won’t respond to me. He lied straight to my face. He told me nothing was going to happen. I would have done anything to make that agreement what he wanted. It was just like… for him to boldly lie to me on the phone. It was so disrespectful. It was disrespectful to the team, it ruined their night, it’s fucked up the team has to find out that way. You think you have a relationship with someone…
Just to be clear, you told him to go take other offers though… So you aren’t mad at him leaving, you are bummed that he didn’t give you more time?
I’m mad that he told me, point blank the night before the premiere, that there would be no announcements and that he would talk to his lawyer and we’d figure all that out. All the people that work hard for him, that design his shoes, the salespeople, production people, the team – everybody that works for Lakai was there and for them to show up to the premiere and get blindsided like that… We didn’t do anything to him to deserve that. For them to find out that way? It just makes us look like fucking idiots, because this dude is a pathological liar. He couldn’t be man enough to tell me straight up.
The night before the premiere, when Marc and I talked, he could’ve told me… I would have been mad but at least he would’ve been honest and I could’ve called the team and told them instead of them finding out like that. He recently had things come up personally and I respect his privacy and distance. I’m just truly disappointed how he went about this. I’m curious to see what he has to say for himself. I can’t wait to see what type of lie he is going to say to justify his action.
”It just makes us look like fucking idiots, because this dude is a pathological liar.”
What are you gonna do with that upcoming Marc Johnson Lakai product? What does a company usually do when this sort of thing happens?
Send it all to his fucking house, COD with a fucking strap on, and no vaseline. Well what we’re gonna do now, first things first, I’m gonna kick him off Chocolate. I’m not gonna text him, so he can read this or someone can tell him. Maybe he’s already quit in his mind, who knows. Marc, is kicked off of Chocolate as of right now. We’ll deal with whatever we have to deal with. Shoe wise… we have a lot of shoe production in the works… Normally when this happens to companies we’d usually take legal action, but that’s something we think is not in our character to do. But I’m starting to consider it, but that’s not really on the top of our priority list.
Uhh, Is there any way you guys can figure it out or he can make it up to you in your mind?
I thought we had a pretty good relationship. But now that we don’t have a working relationship, period, I don’t see why we’ll come across each other. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. There’s somewhat of a good dude in there, but when he becomes the liar guy and can’t count on him for anything… He’s an amazing skateboarder, don’t get me wrong, he’s seriously one of the best skateboarders ever, but there comes a time, amazing skateboarder or not, if you aren’t a truthful person… I don’t fuck with anyone that isn’t truthful.
I have a funny theory I wanted to share with you.
Oh yeah? I have one too. 20 year theory.
Oh yeah? What’s that?
I have a 20-year theory. When we started celebrating 20 years of Girl, Brian [Anderson] and Alex [Olson] quit. When we started celebrating 20 years of Chocolate, Gino [Iannucci] quit. No good things happen at 20 years.
So the moral is, just cut your company off at 19, before the curse starts?
Yeah, I would say that. I think that’s the best company policy to have. Just an exit plan at 19 years. [Laughs]
Or skip that year and don’t mention it and just go from 19 to 21…
Yeah like elevator floors. 20 is the new 13…
Well here’s the funny theory I read online – that big shoe companies in skateboarding are backing these small independent board brands to flood the hardgood market so brands like yours [Crailtap] or Dwindle [before Fallen went out of business] have to spend their time and resources worrying about their declining board sales rather than paying attention to their shoe brands [Lakai].
[Laughs] I think they’re gnarly enough to think like that because, I forget who was telling me, but they worked at one of those big shoe companies, and they have their 5 year plan meetings and there is a part of that to figure out who to take out. What’s their “strategy”. Like “How are we going to fuckin’ get this company out of our way?” And they just focus in on specific companies, it’s so gnarly dude. But I think skating is rad because you’ve got Real, FA, Creature… there’s so many different companies and they MAKE skateboarding, and these other companies that want to take out companies… It’s like dude, you exist already, you don’t need to take these companies down. You don’t need every single skater, but whatever.
Did I tell you about how fuckin’ retarded that dude Kaspar is? Remember with Karsten [Kleppan], when we put out the intro to Lakai video part and then a week later Karsten got on Nike? It’s just like, what the fuck. And then that dude Kaspar hit up Sam [Lakai’s Team Manager] and was like, “I know that Karsten’s off of Lakai now, but we want to get him off of Element. We want to get him on a cool company, would you guys be down to sponsor him for Girl?” It’s like, are you that retarded? You really think that that’s cool? We were super stoked Karsten Kleppan was on Lakai. We just put out an intro part with him but he basically just bounced, and then that dude Kaspar was trying to get him on Girl… like whatever dude, fuck that. That Kaspar dude is a kook.
I almost feel like you guys got targeted…
[Laughs] I’d like to think that… someone made a master plan, like ok, this is how we’re going to take out Fourstar, Lakai, Girl and Chocolate. I’m just kidding. Well I mean, we are targeted because we put a lot of thought into the guys we have on our team, and the guys we hire. They are sick and what we do is sick so that’s why they target us. They want our formula, fool. [laughs]