Gilbert Crockett Interview – Sidewalk Magazine (2017)

Back in February 2017, I sat down with Gilbert Crockett on the occasion of his second Vans shoe being released. For whatever reason, the stock of his shoe never made it to London’s House Of Vans in time for the launch event. So, in the end, the poor guy got flown across the Atlantic for three days; the first spent skating Southbank in near-minus temperatures and the second at the mercy of a conveyor belt of interviews for a bunch of different outlets.

Fast forward to 2020 and I got to interview Gilbert again, this time for Quartersnacks. Although I prefer the second one, I feel it wouldn’t have gone as well without this original interview serving as something of a base; as we expanded on a bunch of things which were talked about here in (his hometown crew, his local shop, the thought that goes into his video parts, amongst other things).

Long story short: sequels are rarely better than the original so I’m taking the Quartersnacks interview with Gilbert as my version of Terminator 2. Here’s a link to the QS piece and (accompanying mini-doc) – what follows is the 2017 edition…

Gilbert Crockett, London, 2017. Vans Crockett 2 Launch. photo: Chris Johnson
photo: Chris Johnson

Gilbert Crockett is a fairly stoic character but courteous and friendly nonetheless. This didn’t come as a surprise but it’s interesting to be in the presence of someone whose demeanour is so calm when their delivery on a skateboard has the power of a nose-breaking punch. 

Swooping in and out of London for the launch of his new shoe, Gilbert’s understated nature wasn’t completely apparent at first. However, after seeing the footage of a solo mission from the night before he departed (kickflip backside smith grind on a waist height planter, just for fun), it became pretty obvious he wasn’t one for the media circus which had followed him around the previous day…

Actions speak louder than words, and some jeans fit wider than others.

kickflip backside smith courtesy of @ceeblues.

Venue, the shop you ride for back in Richmond just finished up a new video, Gospel. How was the premiere?

It was a full house and the video turned out awesome. My friend Will [Rosenstock] made it and he did a great job. It was pretty much everything we could hope for.

Your friend Ty Beall just turned pro for ScumCo & Sons too, did they surprise him at the premiere?

No, they surprised him before the premiere. He already knew he was pro, then ScumCo drove down with his boards so the first time that the shop got his board was at the premiere, which was sick.

We’ve been celebrating while for him for a [laughs]. I’ve said it before but he’s like “the people’s pro”. When you’re skating with him he entertains the whole crew and will pretty much do anything for a laugh or a clip, he’ll try some psycho huck and bring the laughs out of everybody.

How far back do you and Venue go?

Shit, I used to ride for the ‘B Team’ when I was a little kid. The juniors. I used to go there with my mom and eventually she filmed me skating and we made a sponsor tape for the shop. I started riding for them when I was probably fourteen or fifteen, I think. A long ass time.

There’s been of a lot of videos. The shop used to be called ‘Dominion’ and they changed the name and moved locations. This is probably the ninth video that they’ve made and I’ve been in them since number six.

I’ve moved back home a couple of different times and I always go back there. It’s a group of dudes I’ve skated with since I was a kid so it’s super fun and definitely the roots of my skateboarding so I love it.

Gilbert Crockett, switch ollie, Richmond, Virginia. photo: Brent O'Donnell
Switch ollie on home turf. photo: Brent O’Donnell

Was that original name taken from the Old Dominion Freight Line which runs through Virginia?

I forget what it means but ‘Old Dominion’ is a nickname for Virginia. I don’t remember the origins.

You’ve talked about approaching video parts in a way that’s relatable so do you think people would connect with the Venue videos, like Gospel and Old Dominion, more so than your part in Propeller?

I think so. I mean, there are two different ways to do things, and I like both ways, but when you’re going out skating and filming with your friends it creates a different feeling than when you’re going on big trips and filming for years at a time. It has a different vibe.

Do you consider your tricks or spots with the same attitude regardless?

Yeah, totally. I don’t want to bullshit. I don’t want to sandbag and film clips that are easy and look like something I’ve already filmed – I want to push myself. I want to be moving all the time, filming different shit and be into different tricks. I think being young I definitely wanted to jump down big shit and go down that road but when I got older I developed an idea of the way I wanted to skate more.

As you mentioned, you’ve moved away and back to Virginia a few times. What kept drawing you home?

I mean, what we were just talking about: a group of friends I’ve known and skated with since I was a kid. I really like the East Coast and I like the way skating is on the East Coast. It has a different feeling. Most cities have a different feel than the West Coast. The weather is a little harsher, but I enjoy it.

I like that skateboarders can have a career from their hometown nowadays. Would you say these scenes all over the world, like you and the Bust Crew guys for example, can have just as much influence as companies now?

I do think so, yeah. Maybe big companies don’t want to admit that but everyone wants to watch something and be able to relate to it. To think, “Oh yeah, that’s what me and my friends do,” and either make stupid videos or try to film seriously. No matter what you’re doing, you want to watch something that you can just go outside and get to. Or I do anyway.

Mother Collective - shitkicker - Gilbert Crockett pro model
Gilbert’s debut Quasi (nee Mother Collective) pro model board, ‘shitkicker’, featuring artwork by Will Gaynor

Will Gaynor has done a few graphics for Quasi since the company started, including first board when it was Mother Collective and your Will Oldham/Bonnie Prince Billy graphic too. How’d he become involved?

He’s is from Virginia. He’s from Roanoke, which is a couple of hours from Richmond, but he went to art school in Richmond and he’s a skater too so I ended up meeting him through mutual friends. Then I started paying attention to his art and I loved his paintings.

When Chad [Bowers] was theorising Quasi I had an idea to use his art because it was the first thing that came to mind. Chad ended up really liking his art and kept in touch and he’s been working with him since then.

His work features a lot of iconography from the Old West which, of course, I’m guessing you’re a fan of?

Pretty much old shit in general is what I’m inspired by [laughs]. I’m really into old imagery of things that are tattooed a lot, old paintings, I’m into vintage clothing and jewellery, a lot of Native American and Western stuff. I’m not into the Civil War stuff though. A lot of people in Richmond are. There’s history to it but it’s not something I’m inspired by, exactly. Ever since I was a kid I’ve just been into cowboys and that’s pretty much the Old West.

I noticed you got the Alien Workshop tattoo on your finger blacked out. When was the last time you spoke to Mike Hill?

The last time I spoke to him was a little bit after we all got kicked off, so a couple of years ago now. I was just talking to him about what they were going to do. No one wanted to take blame or responsibility for that whole thing. I guess it’s kind of everyone’s fault for being involved with something that was going south like that.

I always knew though. Chad would tell us, “Things are pretty weird over here and it might get weirder.”

I was so far disconnected from that so I didn’t really know what the hell was going on over there so when we got fired it was like, “Oh, that must be what Chad meant…”

With the shift towards smaller board brands over the last few years do you think the ‘small company’ model is sustainable in the long run? 

I think it just depends on which company you’re talking about really. To tell you the truth, I have no idea. To me it makes sense. I think a lot people are paying attention to those brands – and they’re smaller now – but if people keep paying attention to them they’re just going to make more money and then maybe they wont be such a small brand. Maybe they’ll stick to that ideology of being small, I think that will probably help them, but who knows. Five years ago we wouldn’t have known these small brands are doing so well so who knows what will happen in another five.

Quasi is small but at the same time they’re not doing small numbers. There aren’t that many people working there and I don’t think they plan to have too many people working there anytime soon or moving anywhere or to a bigger facility. I don’t really think it needs to grow too much more.

Gilbert Crockett, London, 2017. photo: Chris Johnson
Gilbert Crockett, London, 2017. ph: Chris Johnson

How often do you get back to Ohio to see Chad and the other guys?

Once or twice a year, probably, it just depends on what we’re working on.

Chad also helps me with Vans apparel. There’s a collection out right now and there will be another one after it. Chad’s a good person to work with on things like that too because I’ll give him an idea of something that’s old, that I like, and he has a fresh take on those things – like putting a couple of more details on it. He’s pretty good with that and that’s usually what we work on.

I’ve always been really obsessive about shoes and clothes so it’s a dream come true for me to be able to design shoes and clothes.

Is there anyone on Vans that has influenced you regarding the way you handle having a skateboarding career as much as the way you skate?

Absolutely. AVE is the person I look up to a lot with things like that. He takes it seriously and at the same time he has fun with it too. It’s fun to be on trips with him but I think he sets a pretty high standard. He works so hard and to get ‘Skater Of The Year’ when he did is just insane. I can’t help but look up to him, even though I already did before I met him.

I’m sure you’ll get asked this no end of times over the next two days but can you run me through the details of your new shoe?

[Laughs] yeah. The sole is an update version of the older one, it’s a new Wafflecup. The tread is different on that, on the sidewall and on the bottom. The last is a little bit narrower than the first one but not to say it’s a really narrow shoe or anything. The panels are different, the seams are different – to me it just feels like an update. When you wear an old shoe for a super long time, no matter what it is, you eventually think, “Now I’m looking for a bit of a shorter toe” or maybe a little bit more narrow. With this thing we brought the laces in a bit so the eyelets are a little bit closer and then the toe is a little bit shorter and definitely added a bunch of details that I’m really into. It kind of gives it a modern, sporty skate shoe feel, which is what I wanted to make.

I’ll be honest, you come across as quite humble to the point where you wouldn’t be too into talking about yourself in these sort of situations. How’d you feel about these type events as being part of the job of being a pro?

It’s a little weird for me but, generally, as long as it’s respectable and easy to do I don’t have a problem with it at all. It freaks me out sometimes when I have to go these events and show face or whatever but as long as people are genuine, like yourself, it’s pretty easy. Sometimes people freak me out when they’re just weirdos, and staring at me, but I don’t have any of that going on right now, which is good [laughs].

A few mellow ones to round this off – favourite video part of all time?

Probably [Anthony] Pappalardo in Mosaic [2003, Habitat Skateboards]. Everything about it: it’s filmed really well, the music, good editing and that’s the type of skating I love.

He’s doing lines with manuals and ledge tricks that are solid and he’s also grinding double kinks too which I think is so sick. He’s skating a lot of different types of shit.

All time favourite skateboarder?

Shit, that’s terribly hard… I’ll say AVE.

Favourite skateboarder from Richmond?

Ty Beall. Most of the guys I’ve known for about the same time but him and I go back. He used to skip school and pick me up in someone else’s truck that he stole from the school parking lot and we would go fishing. We’ve been fucking around for a really long time.

Are you and him kind of the ‘hometown heroes’ as you’re both pro and ride for the shop?

Shit, I guess so. There’s another pro. Trent Hazelwood is another pro in Richmond, I might as well shout him out! He rides for Shipwreck Skateboards.

Favourite Magnolia Electric Co. song?

Fuck! That’s really hard one too. It always changes anyway. Do you listen to them much?

Yeah, I actually got into them through your part in Old Dominion

Oh sick, that’s awesome! Texas 71 – I’ll say that one.

On ‘Adventures with Chris’ you mentioned ending up with a different Magnolia song for Old Dominion [‘The Rock Of Ages’] than you intended to skate to. Was the song you skated to in Propeller [‘The Handing Down’] the one you had in mind originally?

Yes, it is actually! I don’t know if I ever explained that to Greg [Hunt].

Back then I was living in L.A. and texted Will a song I wanted to skate to when we were talking about it. Somehow, he just edited a different song from that album for my part and sent it to me. Of course I still liked it, like, “Whoa, this is different but let’s roll with it!”

All time favourite board graphic?

Damn, that’s tough too! Probably some sort of Workshop board…

Mine would be Jake Johnson’s first Workshop board. I’ve spent years looking for that thing.

Jake’s first Workshop board? Actually, that’s absolutely what I would say!

We had a running joke about that board that’s still going on. Where I live, everyone was obsessed with it when it came out. Everyone would buy them and all of sudden they were all gone and everyone just wanted to get a hold of them. People were saying they could skate better with his board, it was pretty funny [laughs].

Most influential figure to you outside of skateboarding?

Damn, that’s a tough one.

Outside of skateboarding I’d have to say Will Oldham. I’ve read some of his books and he talks about layering things and I think he’s really good at keeping it sort of mysterious. I really admire the way he goes by different names and the way he has different sounds in his music. A lot of different imagery. He’s very versatile and almost enigmatic where there’s so much mystery to it.

You don’t know everything about him, which is so cool in this day and age. He’s not on the internet, not on social media and shit. I think that’s cool and I like that with skating too. I almost wish that I could do that more with skating, where people just see your skating. Like how it used to be back in the day when people didn’t know everything about professionals. You’d see footage and be curious about everything.

“Why does he look like this?”

“Why does he skate like this?”

“What’s this music?”

Nowadays everything is so accessible that you can’t really do that and I think he does a really good job of keeping things interesting. I admire that, a lot, and he’s so creative at the same time.

Gilbert Crockett, nosegrind, Will Oldham Quasi Skateboards advert.
Ol’ frontside nosegrinds for Ol’ Will and Quasi Skateboards.