John Rattray Pro Spotlight

For someone whose indecisiveness is so legendary, it is of little surprise that John Rattray’s life has followed as many twists and turns as it has. John is not exactly the biggest fan of planning strategies; he attributes circumstance as the most important factor in the creation of a great skateboarder, and having considered the incredible coincidences that have lead him to this point in his life, I have to agree to a certain extent. It is also true that the cream will always rise to the top and Rattbag is a creature who has excelled at anything he’s ever bothered turning his hand to. His talent on a skateboard is visibly phenomenal to all, but the gift that lies in those little elf feet of his is something that will never be effectively documented in photos or video-it can only truly be experienced firsthand. If John Rattray is in your top ten, congratulations, you have chosen wisely; if he isn’t yet, flip through the following pages and start to understand why he should be.-Oliver Barton

What are some of your earliest skateboarding memories?
I remember reading about it in primary four (equivalent to third grade), so I was around eight years old. They had this library which was just a bookshelf in the classroom, and there was this little book on there about skateboarding which informed me I had to wear flat-soled shoes. My main memory was being in Aberdeen when I was nine years old, holding my mum’s hand walking downtown possibly wearing a duffel coat. Two bigger boys were skating along the street, and there was a small dual carriageway, and one of them ollied up, rolled across the central divide and acid dropped onto the other road, ollied up the curb, and kept on going down the street. That was incredible. When I saw it, I remember having the feeling of that’s what I needed to be doing.

Did you start skating on your own?
I got my gran to buy me a little skateboard from Debenhams-I hounded her for it and got it for my birthday. I messed around on that little polyprop for a while. Then there was this kid who lived around the corner who was the son of my mum’s friend. He and his older brother were into heavy metal. They had skateboards and were into all kinds of stuff. The family later opened up the first comic-book shop in Aberdeen. So to a ten year old, they were into the most esoteric and exotic stuff ever. All the imagery of Iron Maiden really struck me-the dualist, the First World War, and all the Egyptology. By the time I started in secondary school, NWA had taken over and it was all about life in Compton.

Some of our readers may not know the difference.

Between Aberdeen and Compton?


Between Scotland and England-I don’t think many people here in the U.S. even know where Scotland is.

I know what you mean-it’s like Scotland’s Lapland or the North Pole-it’s a place, but you’re not too sure how to get there. So basically it’s Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, and Wales that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Scotland is located in the northern regions of what an American might refer to as England.

What are some of the differences between the countries?
In England, you’ve got a bunch of poofs, and in Scotland, well, that’s where the real men are. But of course I’m joking. I’m British you see.

You must be Celtic.
We think that I must have some Italian in me because the chief physician appointed to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s name was John Rattray, and Bonnie Prince Charlie spent a lot of time in Italy when he was exiled in 1744.

So Rattray’s an Italian name?
Nah, it’s Scottish as f-k. So I really like pasta, and when I try to speak Spanish in Spain, they always ask if I’m Italian-where do they get that idea from, eh? So, I think when John Rattray was in Italy, he got it on with some Italian mama back in the day and that gene pool came back to Scotland on a ship. So she came back with him and is now Glasgow Italian-that’s jusa theory. It would explain my love of pasta and the personality of my Aunt Moidy.

It turns out that John Rattray wrote the first rules of golf, but you knew that anyway. Rule six goes like this: if your balls be found touching one another you are to lift the first ball and play the last.

That could be a rule of thumb for any adult male.


If there were three rules you could write for skateboarding, what would they be?
Will they be inked by a great calligrapher and framed on the walls of TransWorld for years to come?
It depends if skateboarders of the world adapt to them.

First rule of skateboarding is that there are no rules. Second rule of skateboarding: see above. Third rule of skateboarding: Don’t be a dick, just live. Your moral judgment should be left to decide what being a dick is-what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s in there, it’s in your heart. Listen to your heart.

Are there things about America that still surprise you?
I don’t know. I stopped thinking when I moved to Southern California. No. I still haven’t fully adapted. I still pine for the fjordes. I still think that it’s a good idea to move back to Scotland. Maybe I’m looking at Scotland through thistle-covered glasses.

What are the main differences between Scottish culture and American culture?
Scottish culture is like a storm in a tea cup, and American culture is like a hurricane in a coffee cup. You can make of that what you will.

Why is it that Scotland has produced so many great inventors?
Because they’ve had such an incredible role model.

Who?
Scotty from Star Trek. I’ll tell you why-it rains eight months out of the year. There’re great universities in Glasgow and Edinburgh that were set up in the 1600s or then abouts. So you’ve had people indoors going a little bit mad for quite some time.

So that would make perfect sense. You’ve got John Logie Baird who invented TV.
Perfect for when it’s raining-I need something to do, if only there was something to do.

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.
So you can sit indoors and talk to your friends without having to brave the rain.

John Dunlop invented the pneumatic tire.
And look what happened, now we’re in Southern California.

What separates great skateboarders from good skateboarders?
Circumstance. It comes down to being the right person in the right place at the right time and being influenced by the right stuff.

Who would you consider great skateboarders?
Mark Gonzales, Danny Way, Jamie Thomas, Geoff Rowley, Arto Saari, and John Cardiel. They had the right motivation and were in the right place at the right time. It’s like all great artists-they happen to be inspired by something that was new, they were thinking about the right things, and everything just meshed.

What adjectives would you use to best describe yourself?
Thoughtless, forgetful, sometimes useful, indecisive.

What setbacks have you encountered along the way?
University-it was this thing that I felt I had to do. I was skating the whole time. Work to hand in, exams to study for. I don’t regret it ’cause I passed. I had a minor nervous breakdown when I first came out here to the States. I filmed this 411 part, then went back to Scotland thinking it was time to get a job, but then there was all this opportunity as a professional skateboarder. I knew Jamie (Thomas) was interested. So I had all that going on, university’s finished, I don’t know what I’m going to do with the rest of my life, smoked some weed at the Long Beach ASR, and one thought train led to a whole locomotion. This continued for ten days in San Francisco-I was staying at (Slap photographer) Joe Brook’s. I just wasn’t sure who I was at that time. I’d just had this interview in Slap where I’d bared my soul to the skateboarding community, and I realized at the ASR show I didn’t know who the skateboarding community was. Now I realize that I’m not the only idiot out there. I take great comfort in the realization that there’s people far more idiotic than me wandering around the Long Beach ASR trade show talking about skateboarding to anyone who’ll listen.

Is there any part of your job that you approach as a sportsman?
The portrait to this interview-I treated that like Lance Armstrong would approach Tour de France number seven.

What do you think are the three most decisive moments in skateboarding’s history?
Rodney Mullen having his freestyle board focused in Rubbish Heap. Hocus Pocus and Welcome To Hell. Or maybe the waves being flat, the pools being drained, and the wheels being urethane. Or, or, or…

Where do you see yourself in 25 years?
I see myself in the Highlands of Scotland riding around on a fold-up bike, wearing a tweed sports jacket, but only as a disguise, and probably teaching kids calculus. Then I’ll come home and check on the goat. We might have some eggs. I’ll be trying to pass myself off as a Highlander. Or perhaps I’ll have figured out that perfect thing that skateboarding’s lacking and be running a business tirelessly attempting to fill that void.

If you had to make a movie around a story or myth in skateboarding, what would it be?
An adventure with Lindsey Robertson and Ryan Smith, closely based on reality. It would be so far beyond Wayne’s World. Lindsey’s a wild man. Tom Waits would be a good theme tune for Smith, it’s called “Black Wings.” I was driving with Smith to do this video thing the other day. Actually, I wasn’t riding with him-I was driving the maroon Accord, and he was in all black and riding his matte-black Harley. We came over this hill on the 58 toward the Mojave Desert, and I drove past this cement factory. The shadows are really long ’cause it was late in the afternoon. It was a dead ringer for the Thunderdome. In the rearview mirror there’s Smith looking like Black Wings, some sort of Road Warrior. I came back home to (John’s girlfriend) Philippa explaining how I wanted to tear all the signs off the car and paint it matte black, ’cause I’ve seen the Thunderdome and realized the maroon Honda just isn’t going to cut it. She put the kybosh on that real quick. It’s a masculine dream.

Who would play Jamie in this movie?
Jamie would have to play himself, because if anyone played him, he’d be all, “That’s just not right-I’m going to have to play my self.” He’s that kind of guy. He’s an “if you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself” kind of guy.

Do you have recurring nightmares?
I did have some for a while. I kept dreaming that I was in my secondary school wandering along the corridor and there’s this room that has a math class. Whenever I see that classroom, I feel anxious and think I really need to go in there soon. Then it’s the end of the year and I’ve got the exam coming up and I haven’t been in the math class all year and there’s no way I can make up all that work. Then I wake up and realize that it’s all in the past and I’ve actually passed that exam. When you come out of that last exam you’re like, “F-k it.” It was the same with high school. University was stressful-I don’t know why I put myself through university. I suppose it’s some sense of social duty, duty to my mum and family, all the teachers. You should go to university, that’s what you should do. Somehow it helped me become a pro skateboarder.

Finish this sentence. Skateboarding is a celebration of…
Pain and pleasure-not at the same time, but hand in hand.

How much of you personal skateboarding is serendipitous?
You mean how much of my skateboarding is a result of making fortunate discoveries by accident. F-k, I don’t know-43.2 percent.

Skateboarding has gone through a lot of phases. These days it seems that all aspects of skateboarding are accepted.
Yeah, as long as it’s good, it’s all good. Whatever you do on a skateboard, as long realize that I’m not the only idiot out there. I take great comfort in the realization that there’s people far more idiotic than me wandering around the Long Beach ASR trade show talking about skateboarding to anyone who’ll listen.

Is there any part of your job that you approach as a sportsman?
The portrait to this interview-I treated that like Lance Armstrong would approach Tour de France number seven.

What do you think are the three most decisive moments in skateboarding’s history?
Rodney Mullen having his freestyle board focused in Rubbish Heap. Hocus Pocus and Welcome To Hell. Or maybe the waves being flat, the pools being drained, and the wheels being urethane. Or, or, or…

Where do you see yourself in 25 years?
I see myself in the Highlands of Scotland riding around on a fold-up bike, wearing a tweed sports jacket, but only as a disguise, and probably teaching kids calculus. Then I’ll come home and check on the goat. We might have some eggs. I’ll be trying to pass myself off as a Highlander. Or perhaps I’ll have figured out that perfect thing that skateboarding’s lacking and be running a business tirelessly attempting to fill that void.

If you had to make a movie around a story or myth in skateboarding, what would it be?
An adventure with Lindsey Robertson and Ryan Smith, closely based on reality. It would be so far beyond Wayne’s World. Lindsey’s a wild man. Tom Waits would be a good theme tune for Smith, it’s called “Black Wings.” I was driving with Smith to do this video thing the other day. Actually, I wasn’t riding with him-I was driving the maroon Accord, and he was in all black and riding his matte-black Harley. We came over this hill on the 58 toward the Mojave Desert, and I drove past this cement factory. The shadows are really long ’cause it was late in the afternoon. It was a dead ringer for the Thunderdome. In the rearview mirror there’s Smith looking like Black Wings, some sort of Road Warrior. I came back home to (John’s girlfriend) Philippa explaining how I wanted to tear all the signs off the car and paint it matte black, ’cause I’ve seen the Thunderdome and realized the maroon Honda just isn’t going to cut it. She put the kybosh on that real quick. It’s a masculine dream.

Who would play Jamie in this movie?
Jamie would have to play himself, because if anyone played him, he’d be all, “That’s just not right-I’m going to have to play my self.” He’s that kind of guy. He’s an “if you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself” kind of guy.

Do you have recurring nightmares?
I did have some for a while. I kept dreaming that I was in my secondary school wandering along the corridor and there’s this room that has a math class. Whenever I see that classroom, I feel anxious and think I really need to go in there soon. Then it’s the end of the year and I’ve got the exam coming up and I haven’t been in the math class all year and there’s no way I can make up all that work. Then I wake up and realize that it’s all in the past and I’ve actually passed that exam. When you come out of that last exam you’re like, “F-k it.” It was the same with high school. University was stressful-I don’t know why I put myself through university. I suppose it’s some sense of social duty, duty to my mum and family, all the teachers. You should go to university, that’s what you should do. Somehow it helped me become a pro skateboarder.

Finish this sentence. Skateboarding is a celebration of…
Pain and pleasure-not at the same time, but hand in hand.

How much of you personal skateboarding is serendipitous?
You mean how much of my skateboarding is a result of making fortunate discoveries by accident. F-k, I don’t know-43.2 percent.

Skateboarding has gone through a lot of phases. These days it seems that all aspects of skateboarding are accepted.
Yeah, as long as it’s good, it’s all good. Whatever you do on a skateboard, as long as it’s good, is worthwhile. Every now and again somebody pushes it forward a bit more, or there’s a new take on things. For the most part, everyone’s out there skating having a good time, and trying to do things well. My main goal in skateboarding is to try and not half-arse sh-t. I’m not trying to change skateboarding forever, but I don’t want to take the easy way out.

How long has this Spotlight taken to do?
The first idea I had for it was when you shot that backside tailslide shove-it in London, the sequence that got f-ked up.

That’s what happens when you put fixer in the developer.
This Spotlight took three years. I blame knee surgery and a general lack of organization. Really, it took twelve months, but when you break it down, really it only took three trips and a couple of days in Southern California.

Is it getting harder to skate in America?
I get more stuff done when I’m traveling. The hard thing here is skating handrails-a lot of people are into skating them. I like to find a handrail that’s never been skated on, and do a basic trick on it. (Zero filmer) Gilbert said, “Every handrail within a 100-mile radius has been murderized.” There’s still stuff to be skated in Southern California, but you have to search it out.

Do you consider yourself a hippie?
Yeah, a realistic hippie, one who believes in the value of real estate. I’m a hippie who might fly off the handle and smack you in the face-if I happen to be in the wrong frame of mind. But then I would get my ass whooped. You know how that happens-you think you’re hard as f-k and try to step up, then wake up the next day wondering what in the hell happened. You have a fat lip, a blood-stained shirt and a black eye, and you’re calling the last person you remember being with asking them what the f-k happened last night.

What lesson from The Godfather can you use in real life?
When the don’s daughter becomes old enough to be married, do not go to the don and ask him to commit murder on the day of his daughter’s wedding. That’s just bad form. I’m not sure what else. If you go against the family, then you should expect to soon be sleeping with the fishes. This could all be figurative-and if the don is named Thomas, then so be it.long as it’s good, is worthwhile. Every now and again somebody pushes it forward a bit more, or there’s a new take on things. For the most part, everyone’s out there skating having a good time, and trying to do things well. My main goal in skateboarding is to try and not half-arse sh-t. I’m not trying to change skateboarding forever, but I don’t want to take the easy way out.

How long has this Spotlight taken to do?
The first idea I had for it was when you shot that backside tailslide shove-it in London, the sequence that got f-ked up.

That’s what happens when you put fixer in the developer.
This Spotlight took three years. I blame knee surgery and a general lack of organization. Really, it took twelve months, but when you break it down, really it only took three trips and a couple of days in Southern California.

Is it getting harder to skate in America?
I get more stuff done when I’m traveling. The hard thing here is skating handrails-a lot of people are into skating them. I like to find a handrail that’s never been skated on, and do a basic trick on it. (Zero filmer) Gilbert said, “Every handrail within a 100-mile radius has been murderized.” There’s still stuff to be skated in Southern California, but you have to search it out.

Do you consider yourself a hippie?
Yeah, a realistic hippie, one who believes in the value of real estate. I’m a hippie who might fly off the handle and smack you in the face-if I happen to be in the wrong frame of mind. But then I would get my ass whooped. You know how that happens-you think you’re hard as f-k and try to step up, then wake up the next day wondering what in the hell happened. You have a fat lip, a blood-staiined shirt and a black eye, and you’re calling the last person you remember being with asking them what the f-k happened last night.

What lesson from The Godfather can you use in real life?
When the don’s daughter becomes old enough to be married, do not go to the don and ask him to commit murder on the day of his daughter’s wedding. That’s just bad form. I’m not sure what else. If you go against the family, then you should expect to soon be sleeping with the fishes. This could all be figurative-and if the don is named Thomas, then so be it.