Interviews / Nike SB / Sidewalk Magazine

Paul Rodriguez talks Primitive Skateboards & Nike SB

(Featured: Sidewalk Magazine, May 23rd & July 22nd 2015, original posts available here and here.)

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Last summer you made the move from long-term board sponsor Plan B to starting up your own brand with Primitive Skateboards. You were without a board sponsor for a fairly long time before Primitive’s conception as a board company, were you thinking of just going to a different company originally? What sparked the idea to create your own company?

That could be a deep question and I could go a long time on that answer! I love Plan B, I love those guys and we were together for a long time. I’m still good friends with almost all of them so it was hard to break away from the squad, but I also did notice…you know…in pro skating circles I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve got a very strong fan base in skateboarding and I’ve had certain opportunities that don’t happen to every pro skateboarder. I noticed what Andrew Reynolds did back in the day with Birdhouse, leaving to start Baker. After ‘The End’, when he had the ‘Baker Bootleg’ video, he had this momentum and it just seamlessly evolved into his own company, he was the kind of guy who was well liked enough to carry his own brand.

It’s hard to answer this question without sounding a little…’cocky’ or whatever the term is, but I just felt like it was a window of opportunity within my own career. I might be one of those lucky few who’d be able to do that, start my own brand and move on. That window of opportunity only upholds for so long in skateboarding before you miss your prime, so I’d be kicking myself in the ass five years from now looking back and saying “how come I didn’t capitalise on that? Here I am, an older skater and not in my prime anymore and I have nothing still connecting me to skateboarding”.

Once you start your own brand, God willing if it’s successful, your heart’s in the right place and you do the right thing with it; the idea is the brand will last longer than yourself. I can’t picture myself not having some type of involvement with skateboarding. At some point you’ve got to retire but I still want to have some kind of connection and involvement because it’s all I know. Not even just a back-up plan on the “how am I going to make a living?” side of things, but a back-up plan for when it comes time to retire…is that it? What, I’m just out of skating? I want to be involved with it, so the idea is that this is something where I can be involved with and be a part of skateboarding way longer than I can physically be a part of it.

It’s also been very gratifying because I’ve never been in a position to help build up a new generation of guys. I turned my first person pro, Nick Tucker. I didn’t realise how much of a gratifying feeling that would be, to help someone realise their dream of becoming a pro skateboarder. Having a say in the decision of “OK, let’s turn you into a professional now”…it was a really good feeling; I hadn’t thought about that before.

That’s just some of the reasons. It’s going really well and I’m stoked to be out here and we’re gunna do our first international demo which is cool. You know we’ve only done maybe three demos in total as a team, so it’s really exciting.

What’s it like being being in charge of a company, rather than just riding for one? You must be a very busy man nowadays…

Well yes – but I also have a very, very good group of partners. One of my close friends, Heath Brinkley, manages and pretty much oversees the whole Primitive skate programme because I’m still very much concentrating on skateboarding and the last thing I want to do is be in an office sending emails thinking I should be out skateboarding. I’m very lucky to have a guy like him where I trust his vision with skateboarding; I trust his knowledge for skateboarding and how much his heart has passion for skateboarding. I don’t really question much of what he does, so he really runs it on a day-to-day basis. I mean I’ll come into the office, pretend I’m feeling important, but at the end of the day I’m not the one running it and if I was then there would be no hope for the brand [laughs]. You gotta know what you’re good at, and what you’re not good at!

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What is the process for creating board graphics like at Primitive? To what extent are you all involved with the design process and what influences the company?

Ultimately it’s a simple process, which is what we like; we love skateboarding so we want to pay homage to those who came before us and who have given us the opportunity to be where we’re at. As far as each individual pro, now that we have Nick [Tucker] and Bastien [Salabanzi] and myself pro we can play on different personalities, different parts of each person’s heritage; Nick likes the ladies, so you might notice that some of his graphics allude to that.

We just play on people’s personalities and we have a great group of artists that are constantly submitting their own ideas as well. Then Heath is also really creative and is always coming up with concepts. If I feel strongly about one I’ll throw out an idea, but I’m not the most creative or artistic guy there is – I just trust my team, and when I say team I mean everybody involved, behind the scenes and the guys you see skating.

I saw that Primitive was featured on the Vogue website a couple of weeks ago. Do you think it’s strange/funny that so many non-skateboarders have an interest in skateboarding now and that skateboarding is so popular to the world at large?

Well I think in skateboarding that question is going to have a dividing answer; you’ve got your super purists, the core people who would probably not be stoked on that. But I take the position that I appreciate appreciation. When someone says they appreciate something you’ve done, it’s hard to say that doesn’t feel nice; when I saw that in Vogue I was like “wow, that’s pretty cool”… that not only have we seen skateboarding really embrace us but it’s gone a little bit beyond that. People outside of skateboarding have been able to appreciate the art side of it, the graphic side of things, which felt nice.

I don’t look into it too deeply because I know at the end of the day, even though I am a business owner, in my mind it’s not about the industry or keeping it core…I know that every day I have my two feet on a skateboard, I’m riding it and I’m loving it. That’s all the validation I need. I feel like sometimes people who have a different outlook on that or have a chip on their shoulder are the very same people who aren’t even out there riding on a day to day basis…who used to do it and for whatever reason are on a board less these days. I do this daily, with passion and with love, so I don’t think too deeply about the rest of it.

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How did Carlos Ribeiro and Nick Tucker become the first riders on Primitive?

We’re lucky to have them; I’m so dumbfounded that both of them were available. Carlos I’d been trying to get on Plan B years ago when I first took note of him – actually Heath, my partner in Primitive, brought him to my attention. He showed me this montage of him skating in Barcelona, which was amazing; we ended up skating The Berrics with him one day and he was floating around without a board sponsor. I tried to get him on Plan B, then Girl and Chocolate came along and his dream was to ride for them. They were flowing him and he wanted to take the opportunity so I said, “of course, live your dream”. When the opportunity to start Primitive came along, Carlos was still being flowed by these guys two years later! I was like “What are you doing?” Not to him, but to them; “How is this guy not a superstar by now?!” So I made a run at him again, said that we were ready to turn him am now and get him on the programme to turn pro ASAP. The same thing with Nick; he was actually talking to Colin McKay before I even knew him about being on Plan B, because they both lived in San Diego. I dunno what happened to that, then he was getting flowed from Expedition and it was the same thing – you know “what are you doing?’ I’d been skating with him because he moved up to LA, he was skating with Manny Santiago a lot and I was skating with Manny a lot, it just made perfect sense.

You also recently welcomed Bastien Salabanzi to the team, who has been making a heavy comeback over the last couple of years. How did you get to know Bastien and why did you want him to ride for the company?

I met Bastien for the first time in 2001 at Tampa. I’m sure you guys out here know it better than me because you’ve seen it closer in Europe, but he was an electrifying character. Not only was he amazing on a skateboard at a young age – 15 years old, already murdering everything on the scene – but his charisma was out of this world, this grown man confidence he had as a little kid. We were around the same age, skating Tampa together, hanging out and playing a lot of games of SKATE and I felt like I was in somebody’s presence, like a special person.

I would see him here and there at skate industry events and we were always cool. I got to see him blow up, all these video parts murdering everything, killing contests, he was a force. Then he ended up coming back to Europe, I don’t know what happened with Flip and all that stuff but he kinda just laid low for a bit. I saw him a few years ago at a contest, I think the Maloof Cup, and he was still killing it. Again, there were even talks about trying to get him on Plan B. That didn’t pan out, then Primitive came about and he was staying close to my home visiting Manny Santiago. We got to talking, the conversation opened up and from our side we were super stoked to get him on the team and be a part of his legacy.

He’s still killing it and he’s still doing his thing, people need to see it!

So you’ve just got back from the Street League Pro Open in Barcelona. How was it and which new faces are you excited to skate with?

It was really good, the course was really fun and they’re gunna leave that there for the local skaters too so those kids are hyped. I enjoyed myself, got real close to getting a win there, but of course Nyjah has a way of figuring it out.

As far as the guys I’m looking forward to coming up, Cody McEntire just made it in, officially Street League after this weekend and he’s gunna be rad to see. Evan Smith made it in officially; I also really like Matt Berger.

For me, I always go back to the tried and true; like when Luan [Oliveira] is skating I can’t stop watching, it’s incredible and everything he does is picture perfect. Ishod Wair? Love it! Shane O’Neill, amazing. Torey [Pudwill], amazing…so many guys. I’m definitely missing some guys I need to be mentioning. Alec Majerus, I don’t know if he made it in but I love watching him skate. Louie Lopez, Wes Kremer was out there this weekend – I love watching Wes, he’s an incredible skater…Chris Joslin, I met him for the first time at the contest and he was ridiculously good. So many, it’s scary how good people are these days and how many people are good.

So how does skating in Street League compare to competitions you’ve skated in the past?

Next level. Street League is next level. First of all, just the treatment of the skateboarding. The skaters get treated properly; it’s run, built and owned by a skater so they actually care about skaters. Sometimes you go to these other events, I don’t want to name any names but multi-discipline events where you just feel like a circus act; “Your lounge is over there, here’s your course, you’re gunna be skating with the BMX guys as well so the course is matched together”…you just feel like a side show. At Street League you feel like a proper athlete, you’re in an arena with athlete’s locker rooms, stuff you don’t even need, but, you know, you get a little pampered and it’s hard not to like that.

Then it’s got the best prize money, great exposure and the level of skating – you know there are great skaters all over the world, but you look at the line up? It just doesn’t get any better than that. Every time there’s a contest people are doing the most ridiculous things, first try, under pressure in front of 1000 people. How do you do that? In a video part you’d spend half an hour trying to film a trick and this guy is doing it first try. I dunno man, I get a rush from skating Street League – it’s pretty cool.

You’ve obviously spent a lot of time in Barcelona over the years but I can’t imagine anywhere more suited to your style of skateboarding. How does the scene in Barcelona now compare to what it was like in its ‘prime’? Also, what’s favourite spot over there and why?

Well unfortunately I never got to go there in its ‘prime’ prime. My first going there was 2007 and that was already a little late to the party. I never got to go to MACBA when it was just a perfect edge and when the long ledge down the long set of stairs was available. But ever since I’ve been going the skate scene seems to get stronger and stronger still; you go to MACBA there’s still 50 people there at any given time. There are still people skating through the city all the time, spots everywhere – even more being found outside the city, more and more. You’ve got to know the right people to find the new spots, but it’s still growing bigger than ever. As for my favourite spot? I don’t even have a favourite spot out there to be honest; there are so many options. Any day, whatever mood you’re in there is something for you.

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Image courtesy of Nike SB.

In March, Nike SB released your first pro shoe, the P-Rod 1, for the ten year anniversary of its original release. Was it your idea to bring that shoe back on the market?

Well I can’t take full credit for that. Fans have been mentioning that for so long, everywhere I go, Instagram if I post other shoes…always it was like ‘Bring back the 1, bring back the 1’. So I can’t take full responsibility for that at all, but it was definitely something I was asking about around two years ago and it made sense to do it on the ten year anniversary – we were so close, it made sense to wait a couple years longer.

Which has been your favourite model out of all of your pro shoes over the years? There’s also usually a cupsole and vulcanised version released of every model, which type of shoe do you prefer and why?

I’m a cupsole guy; I grew up in an era where we had big, heavy shoes. When I started skating was early ’97, so that was when the Koston 1 was out with the big air bubble, the Muska’s…and of course, although I never had a pair, the D3’s were big around that time. So I grew up in an era where it was big, puffy, fluffy shoes and I learnt to skate in those. When everything thinned out, it didn’t work with me ya know? My feet felt so vulnerable, I felt like I’d get heel bruises easier, I guess I was a little too early for that resurgence of Vulcanised shoes.

Where do you take most of your influence from when designing a new shoe?

Well every time is different – when the first shoe came out and we started designing it I was 19 years old, while with this new one, when I started designing it I was 29 and I’ll be 30 when it comes out. I was a kid all the way through to a man, and during each shoe I’m into different things, I want different things and I’m growing as a person. Influences can come from anywhere, but the one thing that stays the same is that I skateboard every day, religiously. It all comes from that, I need to be able to skate easily and enjoy myself, feel comfortable in them and not worry about any issues due to malfunctions of my idea.

Apart from your signature range, which Nike models do you really like to skate in? What about when you’re not skating, SB or otherwise?

To be honest with you, I haven’t really skated any other models since the Dunks or since before I had a pro shoe, so I couldn’t really tell you any current ones. I used to love the Dunks before my shoes were out, then there were the Delta 4’s but I wasn’t that into them. It’s hard for me to switch from one model to another – when I find a shoe that I’m comfortable with and used to, it’s just that over and over again. Then when it comes time and they say ‘Alright, we gotta make another shoe’ I try and design it, get used to that one and then say ‘OK, just keep giving me these’.

Your ninth pro shoe for Nike SB launches this fall. With all the different footwear technology that has gone into your shoes (and SB in general) over the years, will this model will be something really different to anything else on the market. Can you give us any details about it please?

It is different but in a more subtle way, especially more than my last shoe. But it has got some classic things like the cupsole I mentioned that I like, suede for the material which is what I grew up skating. There’s still nothing better in my opinion, synthetic or whatever, that feels better than suede; it’s tried and true. But there is still a lot of new technology, you got the Jakarta stitching on the back. I’m sure I’m missing some technical, proper terms…but, ya know, up the front where there’s no stitching so it’s less easy to tear, I usually tear up shoes and laces pretty quick. I don’t even know what this is called, it’s almost a screen print up over the Jakarta. Where the ollies normally tend to rip the shoe here, it has a little more protection. You’ve got the single pods on the sole for more movement in the shoe, when you’re bending your toes and stuff – so even though it’s a cupsole and a little thicker it’s not necessarily more stiff, it’s still very flexible.

Photography by Chris John except where credited otherwise.

 

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