Thrasher put the QS-conducted interview with Alex Olson from their March 2014 issue online. In the event that you don’t want to read the small type on the layout pages, here it is in beautiful, enlargeable text. This was conducted right after New Years, so there are a lot of Supreme video questions (this one informed the Bill interview a bit), and vague questions about his company, which were made less vague in Mackenzie Eisenhour’s interview. It’s clearly a bit out of date (neither the Supreme video nor his company had an official name at the time…), but here it is for the print-averse.
All photos by Jonathan Mehring.
Unrelated but important: The Ultimate #Nineties Skater Bracket is down to the Final Four…Kareem v.s. Henry Sanchez and Jovontae v.s. Matt Reason. Vote here.
Try and find a young skater that stirs up opinions more than Alex Olson. Abruptly quitting one of the most respected companies ever, bailing on a new one before it even got started, and being cryptic regarding the details of his own venture have a way of doing that. Alex wants to be something more than just happy to be here, which sounds reasonable. Unfortunately, that sometimes gets contorted by people who want to believe he’s either ungrateful or disinterested in skating altogether. After taking a six-month hiatus in New York last year, we had a chance to talk to him about what he’s been up to in light of all the changes.
Why have you been spending so much time in New York? What draws you to the city?
When I was 18, Dill flew me out. It was the first trip I ever took by myself. I met all the people at Supreme, Max Fish, The Hole…I always wanted to move out there but either sponsors wouldn’t let me, I had a girlfriend, or the weather was a concern.
Bill started filming for the Supreme video, and I had just gotten done filming for Pretty Sweet. My girl had also just broken up with me, so I was pretty over everything. I flew out to New York for Go Skate Day this past summer. I was only supposed to stay for two weeks, but I got a place out there and ended up staying six months filming for the video.
Supreme has been around for twenty years, but this is their first skate video. Why’d they finally decide to make one?
Well, they had “A Love Supreme,” which was the artsy 16mm video Thomas Campbell made in 1995. It used to be really hard to find but now it’s on YouTube. For this one, I think they realized there had such an eclectic group of people around Bill [Strobeck] and it would be a good thing for them to do. Once Dill and Mark Gonzales both said they’d film for it, Bill had a green light.
How did you first get involved with the shop?
Without Supreme, I don’t think I would have ever gotten sponsored. They opened the bowl in the L.A. store maybe ten years ago now. My friends Jeff and Mike worked there, and I met everyone through them. Mike Carroll and Scott Johnston would always come in and I’d skate the bowl with them. After a while, they’d start inviting me on street sessions. Scott took a liking to me and it went from there. I was getting Workshop stuff from Dill, but that didn’t pan out. Scott told me they needed an AM for Lakai. He told me if I kept getting coverage, they’d put me on.
Did they specifically approach you to film for the video, or did it happen naturally skating with Bill?
Well, there was sort of a deadline, but it was pretty loose. There were no specific parts they wanted to have. It was all the “style guys.” That was Bill’s thing. He was filming a lot in L.A., but after a while, the Supreme guys told him he had to get more New York footage since it’s a New York brand.
It’s funny, an entire clique of kids came together because of that video. Like Nakel [Smith], Sage [Elsesser]…
What do you mean “came together?”
They were like I was, just kids hanging around the shop every day. I remember seeing them from way back. They kept skating and getting better. Bill took a liking to them because it was a weird clique of kids that almost felt like World Industries when it started. Just a bunch good friends who skate but you can tell are into other shit too. They have a real good energy about them. He’d just start inviting them on sessions after a while, and now they’re all going to be in the video.
Bill seems like he has a very specific vibe he goes for with all his videos. How did you first start filming with him?
Jason Dill introduced me to him when I first came to New York and we clicked from the second I met him. I was filming with him when I was getting Alien boards.
He’s selective with the people he films because he came up with the Workshop and Habitat teams, which themselves were always selective about who they put on. Plus, he’d hang out with Pappalardo, Dill, and other really opinionated pros. Everyone says Philly was really judgmental when he was coming up. Everyone had a nickname, everyone would get made fun of, if one person did the smallest thing wrong, the whole park would get on his case for it. It naturally wore off on him.
Is filming with him different than with other people?
It’s a lot harder if someone is your friend, because you get more annoyed with each other. It’s a different chemistry. There are also positive points because you can be more honest with one another.
Why are you wearing all white in all of these photos? Is it a Heath homage?
It was only because New York is really hot, and when you wear white clothes, you don’t get as hot. I sweat really easy. You’ll be amazed how much better you do in all white against the humidity and the sun.
You’ve been hopping around teams a bit. Why did you leave 3D so quickly?
I was thinking of leaving Girl. Brian called me and told me he was starting his own thing, so I thought it made sense for me to go somewhere new. I agreed to ride for his company, but the more I thought about it, I realized I wanted to start a company of my own, and I’d only be vicariously living through him. I figured it was smarter to leave before it launched versus when he actually had boards made for me.
Before you started getting paid to skate, did you have some other idea of what being a pro would be like?
When you’re growing up, it’s just “Oh, they’re pros and that’s awesome. Arto is sixteen and he’s already sponsored.” You think of it as “How will I ever be as good as that person?” rather than “How does the industry work?”
I realized that less creativity is able to happen at the bigger companies. No one really steps out of their boundaries anymore. Part of that is because I romanticize about the eighties and nineties. It comes off as a time when people were being more creative. There was less money going around, so nobody had to be safe. I wanted to do weird ads, and have more control. Everyone says it was much different back then than what I perceive it as though.
It’s the same thing that’s going on now with young kids in New York. They all dress like ravers from the nineties, and it’s not like they were around for that at all, but they just have this romanticized idea of it that gets them psyched to do something different.
I know you’re trying to keep details on your new company mysterious for now, but in light of what you just said, do you think it’s the best time to be starting a company?
I think skateboarding is breaking up into two sections. Like how in Hollywood, there are big blockbusters and then the indie films. It’s the same thing in skating. It’s great that skateboarding is getting bigger, but the room for creativity at the bigger companies is getting smaller. Girl would never say “You can’t do that,” but everything you did still had to be within the style of the brand. You couldn’t go super out of the box. I look at nineties boards and think, “What were they thinking? Why is this a board?” But in a good way. People didn’t give a shit. They didn’t take themselves as seriously.
What is the deal with 917-692-2706? Why do you keep posting that phone number on your Instagram?
I was speaking with Bill, and we were saying how awesome it would for a skate company name to be a phone number. For now, the company is just the phone number. We’ll release the details little by little. The idea comes from a rave culture thing, where you’d get a phone number back in the day, then go to a map point, and a person would tell you where the real party is, so it would have less of a chance of getting shut down.
Are kids confused by it? They barely use phones to make calls anymore.
I’m not sure. I stay off the message boards. They don’t know how to perceive it, I guess. That’s kind of what I want.
You want it to be deliberately confusing?
The number has something to do with the brand. It’ll tie in closer down the line. I’m trying to create a story.
Where does your interest in rave culture come from? It seems pretty uncharacteristic of skateboarders.
My dad listened to Fatboy Slim, Moby and all that shit when I was growing up. It was lame to like that sort of stuff back then. It had a stigma to it. Everyone would always make fun of it. I didn’t make it known that I liked it. We all grew up with that music because it was in so many movies and commercials. You knew the song without ever actually knowing its name. I liked when Ty [Evans] would put that sort of music in his videos. After a while, I was just like “whatever, I’m into it.” My friend turned me on to a lot more of it, and I got hyped on it after watching some documentaries about electronic music.
It has a weird tie-in to skateboarding. The status quo hated dance music, because it was a largely gay and minority based culture, so these kids in Chicago and Detroit took it upon themselves to make it because it wasn’t accessible for them. I was intrigued by this process of people who weren’t traditional musicians wanting to make something different with drum machines or whatever so they could pass around mixtapes. They created their own culture, and it got bigger and bigger. Skating grew in a similar way.
My interests and a lot of the ideas I have about what I want to do with the company are gay-based, so people feel like they always have to ask the “Is he gay?” question.
Well, there are some pretty provocative photos of you with your shirt off on the internet…
We’re just goofing around on Bill’s Instagram. It’s to get a rise out of people. People give such outlandish reactions about it, so we try to make it crazier and crazier.
Why do you think many skaters are so easily antagonized by something that could be perceived as gay?
People make fun of stuff that is different to what they are used to. The subject has been getting brought up more often these days. Someone is going to come out eventually, and people will get over it really quick. Like, there are openly gay people who are Tompkins locals and nobody there gives a shit that they’re gay. I just wonder why a gay skater hasn’t come out, because it would help all of these kids struggling with being gay in less tolerant areas.
It’s a tough thing to ask someone though. As a hetrosexual, you can’t ever really know what that battle is like in someone’s head. They obviously have their reasons.
No, I’m not saying I do at all. I’m just saying if and when come one comes out, it is going to help a lot of kids out there dealing with that. It will happen eventually.
Do you think you’re an easy target for people to gossip about? People seem to get riled up about stuff you say or do more than a lot of pros.
Definitely, but I do dumb shit. I quit Girl, so I have to listen to everyone going “You’re an idiot.” I get super bummed, because a lot of stuff gets misconstrued into what people want to hear. Sometimes I’ll be thinking, “I can’t do anything right.”
Are you aware that there is this perception people have that you don’t skate?
Of course. It’s the worst. I was getting that the most when I had a bruised heel, which takes forever to heal. It’s like, “What the hell am I supposed to do? I’m hurt, I can’t skate.” Any little hint of an interest outside of skateboarding that you post on Instagram or whatever immediately gets turned into, “Oh no! Go skate!”
You’ve had three parts since you first got on Girl. Kids might think you don’t skate because it’s perfectly normal to see pros drop three parts in a year these days.
That’s a huge part of it. I trip on the level skateboarding is at right now. I just watched the Thrasher “Best of 2013” video and thought “My days are numbered.” I’d be stoked if I did two of the tricks in that video. In the past year, skateboarding took a huge jump ahead. It’s a point where it’s like, “Who’s going to get paralyzed first?” I just watched a video of a kid trying to grind a rail as high as a second story window, he falls, clips his feet, does a front flip and somehow lands on his ass. You think “Wow, you almost just got paralyzed for the rest of your life.”
All that crazy rail skating is awesome, and I wish I had the balls to do that sort of stuff. But I don’t, and it’s Transformers to me. I couldn’t imagine trying to film a sponsor me tape today.
What gets you hyped now?
When you watch someone like Mark Suciu, you feel like a little kid again. I feel like I’m watching Pappalardo skate around Philly. It’s more relatable, even though he’s so good.
I was at Labor Skateshop right after I left 3D and I asked the guy what boards sell best. He said Palace, Polar and Welcome. I asked him why, and he said something along the lines of, “A lot of these kids aren’t at this ability where they can relate to the likes of Nyjah, so they relate more to a Polar video way more.” The type of skating associated with those companies is way more tangible for someone who just wants to skate. The skating in their videos could actually happen on a session with regular people.
Related: Atiba posted this photo on his Instagram the other day, and it’s chill…