You can probably recognize Johnny Wilson’s crew when you see a mob rolling twenty-five deep to a Manhattan skate spot. In a city full of cop-outs (“We got kicked out because there were too many people,” “There are no good spots anymore,” “It’s too easy to get caught up partying,” etc.), they have managed to complete four full-length videos in two years, all while releasing a weekly video blog series, which is up to volume #214 right now. That’s roughly ten or maybe thirty hours of footage, in a place that we often insist to be pretty frustrating to skate in. These guys might truly be the most productive skate crew in the history of New York skateboarding.
A week from the premiere of his new video, Paych, we talked to Johnny about where they come from and how their operation functions. Sorry for not including the obligatory “VX V.S. HD!” and “Is the internet ruining skate videos?!”-questions ;) ♥
Where are you from?
Born in South Florida, moved to New Jersey because my dad worked in the city, back to south Florida, and then to Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg, which is the capital and two-and-a-half hours from Philly. Once I graduated high school, I moved to Brooklyn.
How’d you get into skateboarding?
I have two older brothers, Mitchell and Andrew. If one did something, we all had to do it. My oldest brother started, so we all had to start. I’ve been skating since I was around seven-years-old.
Were you always the dude with the camera, or was that later down the line?
This kid in our town [in Pennsylvania] made a little video when I was in seventh or eighth grade. He stopped filming immediately after, so I asked to borrow his camera to film my brothers and our friends. It was a shitty Panasonic with a baby Death Lens. After that, I got a bigger Panasonic, which was sort of the predecessor to the DVX. I ended up trading the Panasonic for a VX1000 to this dude in Long Island. I cannot believe that trade went through; I definitely got the better end of it. The dude even emailed me saying “I’m not really feeling this camera. Could we trade back?”
Where’d you trade for it, Skate Perception?
Yeah, the kid who I originally got my first camera from had an account on there. He stopped filming, so he ended up giving me his camera, and eventually his Skate Perception password. He had 500+ posts, which grants you permission to post in the classifieds.
When I got the VX, I had no idea how to use it. This dude Kevin Winters, who made Bruns and has maybe five VX1000s, really helped me out with how to set everything up.
Were you only filming friends around your town at that point?
Both of my brothers went to college in Philly, and I was a senior in the middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania, so I’d be going out to Philly every weekend to skate with them.
How’d all of you end up in New York?
I had been coming here forever because both of my aunts live on the Upper East Side.
Originally, Andrew applied to school in New York. There were two Andrew Wilsons in our high school. One was a drug dealer dumbass, and the other was my brother. Our school had been known to mess up transcripts, so to this day, we think that they sent the drug dealer Andrew Wilson’s transcript to the schools my brother applied to in New York. He ended up having to go to community college in Philly for a year. After that year, I was done with high school and he was over Philly, so we both moved up here.
You move here for school too?
I went to culinary school for a year. It was only for a few hours, Monday through Friday, and a year-long program. I still had a ton of time to skate and film.
Why didn’t you take the film school route like every other kid with a VX1000?
Because I only like filming skateboarding. I had no interest in filming movies or commercials. I still can’t picture myself doing that today.
Did you move out here cold, or did you have a crew already?
We knew Colin Sussingham, Dylan James, Paul Tucci, and some other dudes because we all had mutual friends in Philly. There’s a whole New Jersey and Philly connection. We got this four-bedroom in Bed-Stuy, which I’m glad I don’t live in anymore. It was nice having that “skate house” life for a bit, but I’m glad to be in a mellower situation now.
Then we met Sean [Dahlberg.] He made Mama’s Boys, which was a real Pratt-heavy video. Most of the skaters in it went to Pratt, and there were a lot of Pratt spots in it. We met Cyrus [Bennett], Max [Palmer], and all them through Sean.
I think you guys roll deeper that any other crew in the city. How do you manage to actually get so much done and not kicked out of everywhere?
That’s starting to become a bit of a problem. Some people will freak out when there’s a bunch of people on the session. For example, we keep trying to go to that rail where Dela did the switch ollie into the narrow bank [on 33rd Street.] That place is a crazy bust. Security will see a bunch of people skating flat on the street, and it’ll blow the mission for the dudes trying to skate the rail. But nobody wants to be that guy telling someone they can’t be there.
That’s just how it works. In the morning, one person texts another person “Where are you skating?” and that person texts someone else. It easily becomes at least ten people on every session. We always get the rap for skating with too many people, but it’s still fun.
You guys find a lot of random spots that don’t pop up in other videos. How does a regular day session work?
When we lived with Colin and Dylan those first two years, they both had cars and would always be down to skate. Having a car ends up taking you to places you normally wouldn’t see just skating around. Recently, we’ve been skating Manhattan a lot though.
Do you set out with a plan for any of your videos? Or is it just skate with that big crew and see what happens?
This video isn’t much different from Beef Patty. There’s no structure to it. Whoever had enough footage for a part has a part, and whoever gets a few clips ends up in the montage. This one will probably have two or three friends sections, and a mini Ishod part.
What’s the story with the side yard? [Ed. Note: The side yard has since been demolished.]
I’ve lived in that building for a year. Max has lived there for three years. It was a neglected side yard, covered in trash. There usually isn’t space for that sort of thing in New York. Originally, Max built one quarter pipe with wood up to it. He started cleaning it out, and expanding it more from there. Over two or three years, it got done to where there was no way to expand it, short of maybe building an extension. It’s incredibly hard to skate, [the transitions are] super tight and low. We live in a sketchy building, and our landlord is “don’t ask, don’t tell” about it. Some of the neighbors will get bummed if we’re there past midnight, but other than that, it’s pretty mellow.
Paych is premiering at Sunshine Cinemas (143 East Houston Street) on Wednesday, September 24th, at 10 P.M. You can follow everything Johnny has going on via John1Wilson.tumblr.com.