(Featured: Sidewalk Magazine, 24th March 2015. Photography by Chris Johnson.)
The news that Jeff Grosso would be attending House of Vans, London as part of these 50th Anniversary celebrations came the day before I ventured down to the big smoke. Honestly, after it became clear that we had the opportunity for an interview and I was asked if I was keen to do it, I don’t think that the word “yes” could have left my lips any quicker.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, or what meeting Jeff would be like, well I had an idea but wasn’t sure how true to the preconception I had of his character it would actually be. Anyone who’s watched Grosso’s series ‘Love letters to skateboarding’ (for the minority that may not have, stop right now and go watch a couple of episodes before proceeding) would naturally assume that he’s both hilarious but also possibly fairly intimidating due by his no bullshit persona. It turns out though that whatever caricature the show paints of him isn’t in any way over the top; it’s a truly honest depiction and Jeff is every bit as funny and no holds barred as he appears on Loveletters.
Long live the waffle sole, the side stripe, the toe bumper and the red heel patch with “Off The Wall” that is always barely visible after months of skating the same pair of Vans. Finally, long live piss-taking: skateboarding’s most intimate love affair. Thanks Jeff!
Shit, bear with me just one second. I double record everything to be safe and my dictaphone is playing up.
Come on dude, you’re not fucking prepared! Let’s see what we got here…
[Jeff picks up my sheet of questions.]
Okay, sorted. Erm, can I get those questions back please? (Laughs).
Oh here, go ahead.
You went through some pretty gnarly surgery last summer. What was going on?
I blew my back out in December of 2014. I got back surgery and, well actually I blew my back out and then I was shooting massive amounts of cortisone into it so I could go on the Israel trip with Anti-Hero because I wanted to go: the 18 in the holy land? That’s fucked! I wanted to be there for that really badly. So, I was shooting massive amounts of cortisone into my back and then on January 1st I was putting a chain on a tyre because we were up in the snow and I twisted and blew the disk out of my back on the L5S1. In March I got surgery. It’s been a full year, they said that everything went well and all that and I could start to rehab it, do physical therapy and stuff. But in the meantime I had to give up smoking! And I couldn’t do anything so I fucking put on thirty-five pounds! So, I am now the guy who ate the other guy…
What sort of an experience was filming the opening to Propeller? I know that part of the video was filmed on RED cameras but was it more just Greg Hunt filming you guys having a session than ‘choreographing’ it, so to speak?
We just skated man. We kind of pointed out like, “Oh, we’ll film this wall right now” and then he had three or four other guys filming secondary camera angles. That ramp is a private ramp up in Malibu and we just hunkered down there for three days, we had three sessions and we just got what we could get like old school style. Not three years or seven years. You know; “SEVEN YEARS IN THE MAKING – Extremely Sorry  – watch David Gonzalez grow up on film!” Nah it was three days, we went, we shot a little skateboarding; we got what we got.
One my friends said that he felt Greg was trying to put across a similar vibe to Public Domain  with the intro to Propeller. Particularly the way that section was filmed from the very bottom of the ramp. How accurate do you think that is or would you say that’s pure coincidence?
God, you guys are fucking nerds man! (Laughs) Who fucking knows man, you’d have to ask Greg Hunt! I mean there may be. We interviewed Greg for Loveletters this season, we’re doing an episode on skate videos, and I think he talks about getting into skateboarding through Animal Chin  and that stuff so it may have influenced him and you’re probably right. Personally I don’t even know what the fuck you’re talking about! (Laughs).
I thought it looked cool though; I liked the whole thing with Tony Alva rolling down the street and jumping the fences. I think his struggle was more that early on they actively tried to make a film about the modern team. What I like to call the ‘real team’ (laughing) and then at the last minute it was decided that they needed to drag in TA and Steve Caballero and (Christian) Hosoi and some of the older guys so I think his struggle was how to blend everybody together. Like, how do you go from TA to me to Hosoi to Ray Barbee to Dan Lu to AVE. Fuck, I don’t envy you, good luck!
So, moving on to what I really wanted to talk about with you; where did the idea for Loveletters to Skateboarding first come from?
Lance Mountain. Lance was working on a piece for Fuel TV and it was supposed to be a retrospective on his life, on his skateboarding and he was like, “Fuck all that. I would rather do a retrospective on the people that influenced me to become who I am.” So he picked his two favourite skaters; Bobby Valdez and Darrell Miller and he went on a quest to find them, interview them, tell them he loved them and how much of an influence they were on his life. It was this fucking odyssey he went on, (laughs), it truly was. Rick Charnoski and Buddy Nichols, the guys from Six-Stair that do Loveletters; they were filming it. They were enlisted to film the whole thing and it never saw the light of day. At one point because Bobby Valdez is the guy who made up the invert, Lance wanted to interview me, and that’s when I got into trouble for wearing the Skrewdriver shirt. I was doing yard work and they showed up and they wanted to interview me about doing handplants because Darrell Miller taught me handplants, I love handplants and Bobby Valdez made them up. That’s basically what I said, very long-windedly, in the interview and the project never saw the light of day.
I kind of put it in the back of my head and then Vans gave me a shoe. I wanted to do the mid-top, they didn’t want me to do the mid-top – it took me three years to convince them to make the mid-top. Because they said, “The mid-top doesn’t sell, we tried that, nobody cares” and I was like “That’s because the mid-top sucks and I can fix it.” So, I made a video smoking in my pink robe out in front of my house with all these shoes to show the sales people. “Please buy my shoe.” Everybody thought it was really funny and somebody was like, “They should give him a show” so Vans called me and they were doing Off The Wall TV.
Series seven starts soon. Is it surprising how well people respond to the Lovelettersand to be doing it this far down the line?
Yeah, shit, the fucking thing has been going for almost seven seasons man, it’s six years old and now people are starting to figure it out. The first two or three years everybody was like, “Oh yeah, whatever” and now everybody is all in love with it like, “The dude is so cool!” Where were you three fucking years ago? It’s a struggle every year to see if they’ll bring us back and now they’re no longer doing offthewall.tv. But things work in the show, I have a good time doing it, people seem to enjoy it. It’s great to nerd out over skateboarding and watch some fucking footage and whatever. It’s eight minutes to hype you up to go skate with your boys or girls. We didn’t cure cancer or anything here, it’s just some fucking stupid ass skateboarding video bullshit. Hopefully you enjoy it, keep watching, blah blah blah blah blah. I need the pay cheque.
At least you’re honest.
Do you take on board certain subjects that people ask you to cover or is it all just aspects from skateboarding history that mean something to you personally?
Everybody comes up like, “Dude! You should do one on shoelaces!” Fuck, you know? That’s actually happened to me. Yeah, we do. I listen to everybody, some of the ideas that pop up – we sit down and Rick, Buddy and I spitball ideas around. Some of them are fucking no-brainers; other ones will start as one thing and then end up being something totally different. Some of the ‘Rant and Raves’ started out as episodes to, like the episode to the frontside grind and then ultimately end up becoming about, “Tuck your fucking knee you fucking goon.” I mean that’s a shitty example but you might start thinking you’re talking about inverts and you end up talking about fucking stickers or something.
Your opinions on the show can be pretty polarising and you’ve talked before about how people can take them too seriously. As if, (even though you make it clear you don’t think that way), you’re saying that your word is ‘the law’ or something…
Yeah! My word is the law. Deal with it, (laughs).
I was gonna say if there was another skateboarder to do something similar to Loveletters, whose word do you think should be held in that regard? Apart from Mark Gonzales…
If Gonz wasn’t fucking insane, then yes, but Gonz is pretty sketchy man. I saw him yesterday, (laughs). So, who gets to be the law?
Yeah, like whose word would you take as something to never disagree with?
I mean initially when I pitched the show they wanted me to do it; I’ve told this story before and I was like, “Fuck that, I don’t want to do some dumb show, that sounds like work and work is responsibility” and I fucking hate responsibility. When I pitched the show I was like, “You should do a love letter to skateboarding and you should have Geoff (Rowley) do it.” Because Geoff kind of straddles that – you know he’s English so he’s worldly. He’s kind of in-between new age and old age, everybody respects him, he knows his shit in and out. He’s English so he’s very – what are you guys? Stoic? Stern?
Articulate too, there’s another one. I thought Geoff would be a really good host and because most skateboarders are completely fucking insane, because he’s English and because he’s very prim and proper-ish.
Well, he’s from Liverpool; he’s not all too prim and proper…
Okay, yeah but you know, good mannered. Especially when put on camera. Since he has good manners and knows how to conduct himself, which is a very English trait, he would be a good juxtaposition to the insanity sitting on the other side of the fucking table or in the chair next to him. Of course, they didn’t like that idea and were like, “No, you’ll do it!” I was like, “Fuck” and once they pretty much tell you that you have to do something you’re pretty much like, “Hmm, yeah, okay.” So yeah, Geoff would be a good one.
You said in the last ‘Rant and Rave’ episode how the negative critiques some people enjoy so much about Loveletters opposes the reasoning behind why you do it. Is there anything you’ve said on an episode that you regret?
Oh fuck, all kinds of shit! Every season someone has some bullshit. “You didn’t fucking represent my fucking hometown correctly!” I’m like, “Where do you live? I don’t even know where you live.” Things that I regret saying… I regret saying everything.
I think some of the shit that I talked on Rodney Mullen in the ‘Freestyle Conspiracy’ episode; we set out to do one idea and it got so muddy so quick. It didn’t translate and we had to turn it in anyway and it’s a really muddy, unfinished idea. Basically, what I was trying to say was, “Fuck man, don’t take yourself so seriously” and some of the claims you make about yourself – first of all no skateboarder is allowed to make claims about themselves. Like, “Motherfucker, I was the first to jump down a three stair! That’s right, I jumped down a three stair before everyone else, so fuck y’all.” Right? Like nobody is allowed that. So, if I said that, everyone would be like, “Grosso claims to have jumped down a three stair first, he’s a fucking moron!” Right?
You don’t get to do that. So, why does Rodney get to? That was what I was trying to say. Not that Rodney sucks and not that Rodney’s claims weren’t true: you just don’t get to make them.
You have to wait for Mark Gonzales to tell the world about how he was influenced by you or Natas (Kaupas) gave you an idea or Steve Rocco pushed you in this direction or Mike Ternasky was the one that made you film your first video part. Whatever little historic tidbit that shows how completely insane and fucking awesome you are and how important you are to the history of skateboarding. You just don’t get to say, “I’m Jeff Grosso and I’m completely insane and I’m so important to the history of skateboarding”, right? Because then everybody just fucking laughs at my dumb ass and I get run out of skateboarding.
Love you Rodney, sorry bro, (laughs).
(Laughs) So, this is the last one now. If you were going to do a Loveletter to Vans itself, what would you have to say are the most important moments or people from each decade of the company’s history; 1966 to now?
Hey, you said I’m a fucking nerd.
(Laughs), who are the most important people from Vans?
If you had to pick say three people or moments from all of these past fifty years.
Well, I mean Paul Van Doren for even recognising… Think about it. The little upstart shoe brand out of fucking Southern California and they see skateboarding. Skateboarding is nothing in the 70s – nobody cares. There’s this big boom and skateparks are built everywhere but at first, before all of that happened, skateboarding was this little, tiny, stupid fucking thing. So, for Paul Van Doren and the Vans family to recognise anything in what we did as skateboarders back then is really fucking cool! To go, “You know what? These kids are onto something and we want to back that. We want to facilitate this weird thing that these kids do” and of course they’re going to sell some shoes along the way. That’s their ultimate goal, to sell shoes and make a living. So, for sponsoring skateboarding, for taking skateboarding under its wing, for literally propping skateboarding up at every step of the way whether it’s the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s.
As far as shoes brands… No actually, as far ANY company in skateboarding goes – I don’t give a shit if you’re Independent Trucks, Spitfire Wheels… Fucking Nike, whoever the fuck you think that you are. Right, nobody has done for skateboarding like Vans has done for skateboarding. They put on the contests, they send out the fucking promo packs to the little local events, they come and they fucking cook you hotdogs. Whatever, on every level whether it’s grass roots or big time, the Triple Crown and all that stuff. There was nothing going on in skateboarding before ESPN and fucking Dew Tour and lame ass Street League.
As far as skateboarders go: T.A. and the Dogtown guys for the 70s. Stacy Peralta; I fucking hate Stacy Peralta, I hate giving Stacy Peralta any fucking props whatsoever but the original fucking high top that everybody is celebrating for this fifty year anniversary, that’s Stacy’s design. He designed that high top. What is now known as the SK8-HI is Stacy’s design. The original brown, cinnamon shoes, Jesus Christ… “We’re gonna make them cinnamon, no-one will want to buy them”, right? Fuck man, I’m in the store like, “Cinnamon, really? No!” Luckily a few months later they brought out the blue ones and life was kosher. So, Stacy Peralta for sure…
Fuck! Any skateboarder that ever put a pair of Vans on their fucking feet after that. Salman Agah, Kris Markovich for cutting them down. All those dudes for wearing Half Cabs; (John) Cardiel, Markovich… I don’t know who cut them down first; some say Markovich, some say Cardiel. Some say other people… EMB! Anybody who skated EMB and for cutting them down and for wearing Half Cabs: Mike Carroll! Remember the Mike Carroll Half Cab?
I think they’re reissuing that as part of the 50th Anniversary pro shoes.
With his name on it?
I don’t know. Good point though.
That’s kind of rough because of Lakai and all that but that would be cool. I had a pair.
(Laughs) That’s everything man. Thanks a lot, it’s been a pleasure.
Right on. You okay?