It’s not every day that an A-list celebrity pops up in skating, and Jonah Hill has been “reppin’ the culture” pretty hard. Over the last few years Jonah has appeared on Crailtap’s Mini Top 5, acted in a Palace x Reebok commercial, and served as a talking head in the Big Brother documentary Dumb.
Now, Jonah is doubling down on skating with the release of his directorial debut, Mid90s, a movie sprinkled with early skate nostalgia that stars Na-Kel Smith and some of his Illegal Civilization buddies.
But it seems a little random for a guy known for playing a chubby high school nerd and a crooked undercover cop to write and direct a movie about the golden era of skateboarding. So what is Jonah’s deal? Was he the dude who used to scrape the bottom of his board with scissors before school, or someone who grew up actually skating?
The first tipoff was when a skateboard popped up on SLAP with yearbook style photos of the crew that used to hang out at a Los Angeles skate shop called Hot Rod. A small picture of young Jonah was on the board, with the title “Jonah The Jew” underneath.
For those who don’t know: Hot Rod began as a legit skate shop in LA that many pros would ride for and frequent. The shop even had an “Industry” section in 411VM #36 featuring employees, friends, and notables like Daniel Haney, Steve Hernandez, and Chris Casey. Then after some changes in management it eventually became more focused on Nike SB shoes and streetwear, and today it’s an odd store that sells strictly Vans gear.
“He was like this 3 feet tall, 4 feet wide little kid with a fro
and he signed it ‘Jonah the Jew’”
When we called Hot Rod, they knew nothing about the shop’s early days or who worked there, but we were eventually able to get in touch with Matt Solomon, a manager at Hot Rod back in the day and one of the creators of The Captain and Casey Show. Solomon vouched for Jonah, saying “For six years, he was at the shop every day.”
Although Solomon said the board with “Jonah the Jew” on it was after his time at the shop, he knew the origins of the moniker. “Our very first dollar that somebody spent at The Rod was from Jonah and he signed it. He was like this 3 feet tall, 4 feet wide little kid with a fro and he signed it ‘Jonah the Jew.’ We were stoked and hung it on the wall.”
Tim Bruns, another original member of the Hot Rod crew said, “He was kind of a mini-celebrity at the time. Even before he became famous just because he was pretty funny and chubby at the time. He had a board and he skated. I think he ran with a crew, he might have ran with Mike Lotti [Owner of Lotties Skate Shop]. There were so many kids it was tough to keep track.”
Jonah was such a frequent flyer at the shop that the old crew even knew his mother. Solomon vividly recalls Jonah’s mom coming in to the shop. “His mom was, or still is, like a talent person and she would come in. She was super Hollywood, and would say, ‘My son Jonah is so talented! He’s gonna be a star.’ We were looking at him and looking at her like, I don’t know… [laughs] Then he turns out to become a superstar, so that’s awesome.”
Solomon says he used to drive the kids to local parks regularly and he recalled Jonah consistently hopping in the van to go skate at the park.
While nobody said they had any footage of him, and the only visual proof we have of Jonah skating is a blurry kickflip sequence (that he later deleted), who really gives a shit? From chatting with the Hot Rod dudes, it seems like Jonah had skate culture ingrained in his virgin mind since the early days, and if he really was the first person to spend money at Hot Rod, that would’ve been around 1996, in the mid-’90s.
So the next time your neighbor mentions “this new skateboard movie” they read about in the New Yorker, you don’t have go on a triggered rant about how skateboard culture is getting hijacked by outsiders.