The Adidas global skate team rolled through London on the ‘Boost the Bar’ tour a few weekends ago; kicking things off with a demo at Southbank. I went to watch the legendary Mark Gonzales skate the iconic London spot, and while the whole Adidas team threw down in front of a packed out undercroft, the real treat was watching Gonz. When things started slowing down I somehow managed to drag Mark away from his skateboard for fifteen minutes to get a cup of coffee in a quiet corner. I’m still in awe that I had the chance to sit down with him and whatever I write in this introduction will never do his incredible character justice. I can only set the scene and leave you to read on and find out more.
When was the last time you were at Southbank?
I went to the Tate and walked down the river and went to Southbank probably three years ago. But I’d been going here before that on and off for a while.
What’s your best memory of Southbank?
I guess just as a kid seeing the skaters in London skating it. As a kid it was always a dream to skate here and when I did it was amazing. It’s a lot of fun. Of course it’s a lot smaller now than it was when I first came. I guess seeing the photos of the locals here you know, like Deacon and Mac who did a 540 here. He used to do extended inverts on the bank. I can’t remember his name, I think it was Mac. So just looking at the magazines as a kid were the fondest memories for me.
What’s your favourite memory from the 90’s?
I was skating with like Carl Shipman and the other guys that were here who were really into skating. Like Tom Penny and all of them.
You also have a lot of other stuff going on, like all of your art and poetry. Have you got any shows coming up? What have you been working on?
I have, what do I have coming up? I can’t think of what it is. I’m working on a new sculpture for the Supreme store in Paris. I did a sculpture for the store here in London so now I’m working on the one for Paris. I guess that’s what I’m doing now.
How long have you been living in New York?
I’ve lived on and off in New York for maybe like ten years. I’m from California originally.
I’ve seen so many videos of you skating in New York, it looks so fun. How would you compare the street skating and the traffic in New York and London?
Well it’s definitely scarier skating in traffic in London because the cars are on the wrong side of the road. And Japan as well. But you know Southbank is good, skaters can go there and they don’t have to be in the traffic where all the cars are.
I mostly skate around the city, just cruising. Can you give me your best tip to avoid traffic while skating?
The trick is to not avoid cars, because when you do you move directly into an area where another car will be. So the trick is not to avoid the cars but go with them. As soon as you try to get out of their way, you’re going to run into another directly in the zone, you know. You get away from one car and go into another. A lot of the time you see people running out into traffic if their being chased, they see a car and jump back and get hit by the car they didn’t see. Sometimes it’s better to try and not jump back but jump with it, you know, go with it rather than against it. That’s my advice.
What’s your favourite cigar?
I don’t know, I have some here. Can I smoke here? I’ll light up, thanks boss. I really like this one.
Did you buy those in London?
[In a London accent] Yeah in London mate, in Harrod’s. This one’s a nice one, this one’s a nice one, I think I’ll smoke this one. My wife, she stole my clippers. She steals everything from me, she’s ruthless! So that’s the brand, you can see it there, Bolivar. This one’s a good one too, make sure you get the name, it’s a Cuaba, Havana Club. Cubans!
What’s the best excuse you’ve ever made to not go skating?
[Laughs] There’s never an excuse not to go skating! Sometimes I can’t go skating because I’m busy taking care of my children, but that’s equally as fun you know. They get up into some crazy stuff, kids.
What can we expect to see from Adidas Skateboarding in the next year or so?
Well I already own more than 60% of the company, I make most of the decisions, it pretty much belongs to me. I guess you could call me the Bernard Tapie of 2015! I’m planning on building an Adidas race car team. I own most of the stock and if I wanna do that I can. We could have Adidas Motorsport, make shoes for car racing, and basically dominate the Formula 1.
You could take on Red Bull and Mercedes and everyone.
Yeah man, I’m an epic bullshitter.
So have you got any other stories about skating in London?
Well you know I’m quite a bit older than you and a lot of these guys that are skating. Like the first generation of skateboarders were skating at the Crystal Palace. Lucian Hendricks, Steve Douglas, these were all the guys before me.. And then Southbank was like a spot where the vert guys would come to mess around and try tricks they wanted to learn on vert. They’d do them at Southbank, and then take them onto vert ramps. But then street skating came out and guys didn’t go to the vert, they only went to Southbank and the streets, looking for spots similar to the spots in America. But it was a very iconic spot for people to come and meet and to go places. A lot of the time people would meet at Southbank and then go to a different ramp, they’d be like “oh I know a ramp at Latimer Road’ or something”.
What do you think about the current state of UK skateboarding? Do you think it’s in a good place?
Yeah, well it’s very popular. The Palace skateboard company is just as popular as any company in America.
Palace is more than a skateboard brand in a way. It’s become a fashion icon.
Yeah, it’s great! That’s awesome. I mean the potential for that was always there. You’ve had Deathbox skateboards. I dunno, you guys have had some incredible skateboarders from here, like Geoff Rowley, Alex Moul. A lot of skateboarders from here are awesome.
I interviewed Rowley a few weeks ago and we spoke quite a bit about injuries, especially as you get older. How do you feel in your body when you’re skating?
Well.. It’s a lot like making love you know. How can you deny it? I don’t need no viagra to go skateboarding, I don’t need no viagra to go to bed either! Nah, I’m being silly. It’s fun and I enjoy it! The moment I don’t enjoy it, I won’t know what’s wrong, I’ll have to look for some sort of viagra to make me want to go skateboarding!
Maybe Adidas could start investing in that?
[Laughs] I don’t know man. I think once you get older, maybe you just, I don’t know, possibly when you get that age you’d start considering buying skateboarders on like Baseball player cards you know. But I don’t want to be like that. I want to go skateboarding! The skaters just keep getting better and better though man, I can’t believe it. Mark Suciu, like he’s so insane. When he did that one trick then came off and spun the frontside 360 nollie, it looked so bitchin’ the way he did that, I couldn’t believe it.
I think I got a shot of your front board on the white ledge into the bank earlier. [It wasn’t in focus]
Oh yeah? That was fun. I’m still enthusiastic about stuff you know. Some skaters get older and they don’t really like watching the younger skaters but I can’t help it, I just think they’re so good.
Where do you tend to skate in New York?
It’s kind of strange, I’ve been going a lot to the skateboard parks in Bay Ridge and Brooklyn. Yeah I go there, it’s a place called Owl’s Head. And I also go to Chelsea. I’m still on the streets though, that’s where I like to be.
Are you still riding your bike in New York as well?
Yeah, but it’s in storage right now, I haven’t ridden it for a while. I get in too much trouble riding a bike. When I’m on a skateboard nobody bugs me, but when I’m on a bike the cops always stop me and say like “oh you’re going against traffic, or over something”.
I got fined for cycling on the pavement in London.
Yeah, I’ve gotten a ticket for that in New York. But I was on the sidewalk in London riding a bike and I went past an officer and he didn’t give me a citation. I go ‘what’s the matter with you, write me up you asshole, what the fuck, don’t you wanna give an American a ticket!?! You piece of shit!’
You should have a go on a Boris bike and see what you think of that.
Some guy in Paris did a full somersault on a bike like that. Ok, let me ask you a question now. Where’d you get that watch kid?
Words & Photos: Will Sleigh