‘I don’t have too much information to share but I do know that TWS was recently resold to a new parent company that may be more supportive than the last owners. Anything is possible.’
Born in Brussels. Raised in Norway and France. Living in the US. Two assumptions here: You speak a lot of languages, and your father was a US diplomat.
You are close. I speak Norwegian, French, and English. Born to an American dad and Norwegian mom. My father was not a diplomat, but he worked in the jeans industry—a denim diplomat of sorts—first running Wrangler Jeans in Scandinavia when I was a kid, then running operations for Pepe Jeans (from Amsterdam). We moved to France in ’86 when he got hired to run Timberland for Europe. Up until then we had moved everywhere he got jobs. After Timberland ended he ended up commuting to his job with Pepe in Amsterdam and we stayed put in Nice. I came to the US to go to college in ‘94.
When did you start skateboarding and what triggered it?
When I got to the American International School in Nice, France in ’86 the whole late ‘80s skate boom was happening. Every kid in my class got into it. We had launch ramps on the playground at school and would skate at lunch or after school. Then by ’92 almost everybody quit, the school banned skating, and only about three of us kept at it—XXXL jeans, 39mm wheels, pressure flips and all.
‘Two of the Italian kids who skated with us in the ‘80s, their father ran the Naples Camorra or Mafia.’
Apparently those international schools attract a lot of students from very interesting families. There was a rumour in my town that Kim Jong-un went to boarding school in St. Gallen, Switzerland in the ‘90s. Any newsworthy encounters you can share?
You are right. Our school had a number of students from “interesting” backgrounds. For example, two of the Italian kids who skated with us in the ‘80s, their father ran the Naples Camorra or Mafia. In my sister’s class, one of the students was the son of the former Shah of Iran. But I can’t really answer this question without mentioning my best friend Adam who was killed along with his family in 1992.
His father had been the liaison between the Reagan/Bush administration and the Iranian hostage takers in Lebanon during Iran Contra. We found all of this out after they died. Adam and I got our first boards together in 4th grade and our families were really close through ’86-’91 before they moved to San Diego. The whole family was found dead, shot in their beds in Nov. 1992, while the dad was found a few days later in his car dead from apparent cyanide poisoning. My mother had visited them there a few weeks before they were killed. In the years since, I have connected with a whole crew of Encinitas skaters (Chris Lambert, JT Pulford, Travis Kelly and the ESP crew) who had befriended Adam in that last year he lived out there. It’s a crazy story. I’d need a whole book to explain it all. To this day, the official story is still that they were killed by their dad Ian over money problems. However, I have been told by family members I’m still in touch with that that is not true and that he was set up. Those events changed my life back then and are probably a big reason for me still being so stuck in the early ‘90s sometimes these days.
You started writing about skateboarding full time since the year 2000. What inspired you to pursue a career in skateboard journalism?
It sort of just happened. I studied four years of graphic design at UCLA, graduated in ‘98 and started working as an Art Director at a few non-skate jobs. I had always been a writer to some degree as well and took some writing workshops at UCLA. My roommate from college was Pat Canale. He had written for Big Brother and worked there through our time at college. By 2000, he got hired at a dot com called antix.com that was a project Frank Messman, Steve Rocco, Steve Douglas, Todd Swank, Chris Carter, Bob Denike from Santa Cruz, Per Welinder, and CCS had all invested in to be sort of the main skate website. Everybody thought all the magazines would be obsolete by 2001 and the websites would take over. As it turned out the mags would live on another two decades and the dot com bust ended antix.com along with monsterskate.com, alloy.com, bluetorch.com, swell.com and all the others. I got hired by them to design the site and began working as art director there. Between doing the graphics, I started writing a few articles for the site as well and when Antix ultimately went under I reached out to Aaron Meza at Skateboarder and he hired me as associate editor there in ’01.
How did you end up working for TWS?
I got fired from Skateboarder in ’04 for a drunken trade show incident. I was blacked out drunk and threatened a bunch of higher ups in the industry. I caused such a mess that some of our main advertisers threatened to pull out. I was taking a bunch of pills (Klonopin, Lexapro, Xanax, Ambien) and drinking heavily for probably five years. I was always able to pull off articles and do a good job on them but it was too much of a liability to have me working in an office or at any events. After I got fired I decided to move back to EU and got hired in Paris as a graphic artist. By ’05 I quit that job and tried to run a shop (Hot Rod Nice) back on the Riviera.
By then, Skateboarder was run by my friend Jaime Owens (Meza went to do Crailtap) and he was down to have me submit articles again. Jaime was Photo Editor at Skateboarder when I had started there in ‘01 and we had immediately become skate pals. Meanwhile, my friend Eric Stricker had also taken over as editor at TWS (under Skin Phillips) after Grant, Dave, Atiba, Ako, Wilkins and co. left to start TSM and had told me I was always welcome there. By summer ’05 I negotiated a pretty solid word rate with TWS and joined them officially on the masthead as staff writer. I got to rejoin my old friends and (Skateboarder) co-workers Oliver Barton and Mike O’Meally there too. That same summer I got hired to run the marketing for Hurley in Barcelona. We closed the shop in Nice (my friend Julien converted it into a bar which was way more successful) and my wife and I moved to BCN for two years while I did Hurley marketing by day and TWS writing by night. I moved back to LA in fall ’08 after getting fired from both jobs again due to drink and pills. That was when I finally got sober. Eric Stricker ended up passing away not long thereafter. It could easily have been me. I think about Eric all the time.
‘I got fired from Skateboarder in ’04 for a drunken trade show incident.’
As per TWS website you have written 131 articles. Which one stands out for you personally and why?
Some of my features and columns from Skateboarder probably still stand out the most as far as print articles. Maybe because those came first so they will always hold a special place. The Pixel Pros column, Skaters and Drugs feature, Steve Rocco interview, The Rocco Seed chart, Animal Chin feature, Alva Posse feature, The Rise and Fall of Plan B v.1 feature, some of the Intros I got to write there, I still like those articles looking back. I got to do the Riviera Tour and bring a bunch of pros back to my childhood spots in Nice, Cannes, and Monaco. We even got an On Video article and the cover out of that one. I was really honored to work with Aaron Meza those years. He had influenced me so much just with his song choices from the FTC videos. I also loved being able to mix my design with my writing. Some of the info graphics/charts from Skateboarder are still my favorites.
I started at TWS in ’05 and one of the first articles I wrote was about Jed Walters. I was told by Eric from Chromeball that Jed passed away recently so that one is coming to mind right now. RIP Jed. At TWS we have done some bigger print features that everybody pitched in on that definitely stand out. We did the 30 Most Influential Skaters issue. I made the timeline for that issue and it was heavy trying to decide what goes in and what doesn’t. Some of the work I’m most proud of at TWS are the longer web features— Origins of the Stalefish with Gonz and Hawk, Origins of the front pop shove with Rocco and Mullen, Origins of the backside nosebluntslide with Matt Hensley, Origins of the nollie flip with Rodney and Ali Mills, and we just did the Origins of the Switch 360 Flip with Rodney, Guy, and Henry Sanchez. A few years back thanks to Brett Nichols we were able to find the guy (Philip Mentone) that the Japan Air was named after based on an old 1985 photo in TWS—all of those were really fun to do.
Which one out of the 131 was the most embarrassing/funniest?
It’s all a little embarrassing sometimes… taking skateboarding as seriously as we do. But I think it is important at the same time to be passionate about things others might view as frivolous. At the end of the day skateboarding is no more or less important than any other human pastime. I remember being assigned to write the 10 Best/Worst Sacks about ten years back for TWS. I remember thinking it was a bit embarrassing but looking back now it’s just comedy.
‘I was really honored to work with Aaron Meza those years.’
As per your article in Jenkem you conducted TWS Spotlight interviews completely drunk. Were they ever published?
Yes. When I lived in Barcelona I would have to do the interviews around midnight or 1:00am BCN time as that was the start of the day in CA. I was drinking heavily at the time so it was always an issue. I remember specifically Arto’s Pro Spotlight being done fully blacked out. The worst part was going in the next day to transcribe it and hearing myself completely drunk asking him the same questions multiple times. Arto was very kind and forgiving on that one and I was able to salvage the text just by cutting it down to something bordering on normal. But not long thereafter that I did Chris Cole’s Pro Spotlight once again completely wasted (on top of a failed attempt at a Peter Hewitt interview… sorry Peter) and by then my luck had run out. I got fired for those and a bunch of other drunken idiocy in ’08. I’ve apologized to Cole in the years since. Life (and conducting interviews) is a little easier for me these days. I’ve been sober for 11 years.
Who runs the TWS website and IG?
Blair (Alley) is the last man standing at TWS so he runs it all. I think it’s kind of rad that I can still publish articles on the site there. After everything that happened with TWS I feel a strong bond to it. I love being the underdog to Thrasher now. The underdog usually wins in skateboarding in the long run. It worked for Thrasher after all those years TWS was on top (laughing).
As per LinkedIn, you are an associate editor for TWS since 2005. What was it like for you when the mag stopped in 2019?
I was sad when Jaime Owens told me the news. I remember that moment. The print magazine came to mean a lot to me over the years. Almost more so the older I got. TWS was the first mag I ever saw as a kid. And I had all these huge life events tied to it. But at the same time we had been waiting for what felt like 20 years (since the dot com days) for the print mag to finally be done. The writing had been on the wall for so long. It was almost a relief to finally have it happen.
‘I remember specifically Arto’s Pro Spotlight being done fully blacked out.’
What are you up to since then?
When my daughter Luca was born in ’12 I started messing around with my @deadhippie Instagram just passing the time when she would be napping or whatever. That picked up with me posting all the old skate spots and doing my #skatenerdstarmaps thing and now it takes up a fair amount of my time. I never stopped working throughout and had articles run on Jenkem, at TWS, at Slam City Skates when Jacob Sawyer took over the content there, at Red Bulletin, the Red Bull Mag, and now I also work for Alaîa Mag in EU. I’ve never monetized my Instagram stuff over the years, but I started getting a lot of jobs through DMs there. I was approached last year by a French book making company called Olo Editions and they asked me to write the 1000 Skateboards book that was just released in France and came out here in the US in late March through Rizzoli Publications.
Coming back to TWS. 1.6m followers on IG. With such a huge fan base, it has never crossed anyone’s mind to get back into printed mags?
Definitely. The option is always there. I don’t have too much information to share but I do know that TWS was recently resold to a new parent company that may be more supportive than the last owners. Anything is possible.
You worked for so many different skate mags. Which one did you enjoy working for the most and why?
Skateboarder was my first experience with all of it so I’d still probably say that. It was the OG bible of skateboarding and I’m honored to have been on that masthead. That era (’01-’04) the mags were still so big and influential. We had really nice offices in a high-rise building just on the border of Beverly Hills on the Wilshire Miracle Mile with views of the Hollywood sign and the whole city. In my opinion, Skateboarder under Meza was by far the best mag at that point. It was like a dream come true. But working remotely for TWS from Nice, France then BCN was also amazing. I’ve certainly enjoyed and appreciated all the mags I’ve worked for.
When you look at printed publications in general, it looks like that advertisers become more involved in the editorial aspect. What is your take on this?
Well, when the magazines were the only game in town they could treat the advertisers however they pleased. You either ran an ad or you didn’t. Plenty of other advertisers wanted in if you dropped out. But as the mags became less and less powerful and they needed those ad dollars more and more the advertisers could start dictating terms to the mags. So now advertisers won’t even come in unless they are promised the moon. The only difference was the shift in the power structure.
‘Mackenzie and I both got our start in the industry at Skateboarder Magazine in the early 2000s. I’ve always admired his level of talent with writing about skateboarding, and just his all round love of skateboarding. He’s dedicated most of his life with recording the history of skateboarding and preserving those iconic moments in his interviews and editorial pieces. I’m very glad to call him a friend.’
What does the future hold for print? Is it dead or just taking a nap?
I think print is re-emerging in an updated form. I do think the old magazine model is dead, simply because so many newer and faster ways of delivering information have arrived since the turn of 2000. But print will survive if it is able to play to its strengths—the timeless (and uninterrupted) experience of flipping through physical pages. These days I like picking up a printed book or magazine and taking the time to disconnect from everything (no notifications, distractions or incoming texts or calls) and really immersing myself in it organically. Print can be meditative and a high-quality experience while screen content is mostly frenetic, disposable and scattershot. Technology’s selling points for the past few decades have focused on ever-increasing connectivity. Print can balance that out with some much needed dis-connectivity.
Skatemags are all about rad photos. Do you ever feel that your work as underappreciated compared to photographers?
In an ideal world the text and photos in magazines complement each other. Each is as important as the other if you care about that medium. The goal is to create an experience for the reader as they flip through. At a first glance, of course the photos jump out initially. Then the text is there for the secondary read and to add context, depth and backstory. To me that’s the difference between a skate photo book and a skate mag. As a writer, all you can do is create the best work possible. Whether that is appreciated or not by the readers is to some degree out of our control. Skate Mags are all about rad articles (in my opinion)—that includes both photography and writing.
Now with overwhelming amount of photos and videos available on social media, do you think there is a new appreciation for editorial craftsmanship?
I don’t know if there is appreciation yet, but there sure as hell is a major need for it. Editorial craftsmanship is glaringly missing in the barrage of photos and videos (and even hours long unedited podcasts) on social media and YouTube. When we had magazines with a finite amount of pages and space we had to make cuts and could not include everything as there simply wasn’t space. With digital content there is no real limit to how much content you can post or upload. Making editorial decisions is far more difficult than simply running everything. But it does the reader/listener/scroller a disservice because all the important things get lost in a sea of filler.
Any skate mags left that still grab your attention?
Definitely. I have been loving the issues of Closer by my friend Jaime Owens. I think that is the best model for what a magazine should be today. All the EU mags too still interest me. I will still always read Sugar Mags when I get them. I support all the mags.
‘Editorial craftsmanship is glaringly missing in the barrage of photos and videos (and even hours long unedited podcasts) on social media and YouTube.’
What else is on your wish list?
I think I’ve covered most of the big things on my list at this point. But there are infinite little things in our past that I would still love to investigate. Living in LA, the history is just all around you. I’ll take my kids to a birthday party and end up right by the old Dog Bowl house or something and it will blow my mind. I’ve seen spots from old videos at the most random times and it’s fantastic. I don’t think my curiosity will ever end for that stuff.
Have you thought of doing a podcast like so many others right now?
I have certainly thought of it but there are so many out there right now like you said. I am actually one of the (probably very few) people who still prefer reading text to listening to people talk. I like being able to scan the whole article then dig in where I want. I do not like listening to hosts babble on, especially when most of them have very little knowledge of what they are talking about. So I still like producing old fashioned text articles. Maybe there are a few other people out there like me that also appreciate reading them.
Coming Soon part One: Skate Nerd Star Maps. Tell me more please.
My goal is to have all the spots from #skatenerdstarmaps on my site (deadhippie.net). Then the plan was to have feature articles in that section related to specific spots. So maybe it’s an interview with Rudy Johnson just about the tricks in Video Days (91) at the Little Caesars/Pioneer Chicken curbs (His opening boardslide to 5-0 and then the Cab backtail and KF back lip). That same former Pioneer Chicken Stand is the one mentioned in Warren Zevon’s song “Carmelita” so it might make for a cool article. The goal is to create a bunch of content on there one day when I get the time. I got shadow banned from Instagram for a few weeks last year (after I posted the Menace Enter the Pu-Tang ad) and it made me realize I wanted to create a space to control my own content outside of Meta/Insta/Facebook.
Last question. If you could interview one person, who would it be and why? If there is anyone left, that is.
I’ve been so lucky and have spoken to almost all the people I really wanted to interview. For example I got to spend a few hours on the phone with Craig Stecyk a few years back and that was like speaking to Moses or something for me at least. He’s passed on but honestly I would have given anything to interview Fausto (Vitello). Same goes for Jake Phelps (RIP). I love outspoken people.
‘Mackenzie is a blessing to the skate community. He has brought so many nuances of skate history to light. #skatenerdstarmaps is one of the best reoccurring bits on instagram. We look forward to adding his new book, 1000 Skateboards, to the master archive!’
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