There are only two serious questions in skateboarding: “How high can you ollie?” and “Are you sponsored?” The kids want to know. In the history of Pro Spotlights, the above questions are rarely (if ever) asked, because, at that point in a skateboarding career, the answers to those questions are a given. Imagine if this magazine only asked those two questions, page after page, followed by such brilliant responses as: “High enough” and “Yes.”

Mike York has more to say than that. So maybe the “serious” questions are not the best ones to ask. Mike’s only been a professional skateboarder for one year¿he’ll do more interviews over the span of his career, but this will always remain his first.

It begins like this: “Are you nervous, Mike?”

It ends like this: “Keep on skating.”¿Aaron Meza

Interview by Justin Girard

Are you nervous, Mike?

Yeah, my cast is sweatin’ right now.

I want to know what it was like growing up around so many famous skateboarders?

It was good. It made me push myself harder, because I would see all these dudes skating rad at Embarcadero. They were putting in work, not filming or anything, just getting down. It made me want to get down, too.

Was it weird being in the limelight?

I didn’t even know I was. I would go to Embarcadero, because it was a fun place to skateboard, and people would give me shit. They’d say, “Oh, you don’t skate anywhere else.” But I would have a full day of skateboarding there, just getting loose with everybody. I don’t know, it was pretty normal to me.

Do you find that skateboarding has become not just the athletic part of your life, but an emotional thing, too?

Yeah, right now it definitely is. That’s probably why some kids watch me skate¿to see me get mad, and stress, and yell. I get upset, because that’s how much I love skateboarding¿I want that feeling of landing that trick.

How do you deal with the pressure of being a professional?

If I’m skating with my friends, I don’t really worry about it; I just try to learn tricks. Sometimes, when I go to a new skate spot, there will be locs I’ve seen in videos skating that spot, and sometimes I’ll feel weird, like, “Oh, I have to skate at a certain level because I’m on this company.” But really, I’m here because of what I’ve been doing, so I’m just gonna keep doing it.

Does it make you more self-conscious if people are around?

Not really, it’s all just skateboarding. Once I really start getting into skating, I forget everything else around me.

But it gets harder when you think about it too much.

Yeah, I’ve definitely been in those situations, but you’ve just got to deal with it.

Do you think about skating all the time?

It’s in most of my thoughts. If I’m driving around in a car, I look for skate spots. I even catch myself fingerboarding on the edge of the table. I’m sure I’m not the only one like that, though.

When did you first get sponsored?

Well, the first sponsor that gave me free things was Real Skateboards. Before that, I was getting New School boards for twenty bucks from my friends around my house.

You didn’t grow up in San Francisco, so how did you know to come to San Francisco to skate?

When I first started, I was just skating around my house in Albany¿a city located north of Oakland on the San Francisco Bay. There was a BART Bay Area Rapid Transit station that had a big parking lot with a bunch of red curbs. So, you know, we watched the videos¿at that time Tom Knox was skating double-sided curbs really good in the Speed Freaks video. So we would try to learn all the tricks. One of my friends was better than the rest of us¿there were three of us¿he was more advanced, and he’d been around for a while. He was like, “We need to go out to San Francisco. I know this skate spot where all the skaters hang out.” We went to Embarcadero, and I w amazed at how rad it was¿the energy I felt from all the skaters, everything. It made me keep going back. I could barely skate when I started going to Embarcadero, and I pretty much learned how to skate there.

It’s a funny thing how people become locals at a spot because they’re so closely hooked up with a group of friends. So it really wasn’t the famous Embarcadero when you first started going there?

No way! At that point it was nothing. It had only been in one video¿Animal Chin. When I went there, I saw locals I thought could’ve been pros. I looked at them as pros, because they were older than me and were rad skaters. As I got older, I started seeing a lot of them get sponsored. Then, some of my friends who were my age started getting sponsored. All of a sudden it was becoming Embarcadero, EMB, this new thing. The magazines and videos started getting with it. Mike Carroll helped make Embarcadero what it became with his part in the Plan B video Questionable Video, rippin’ it up.

There was a while there when people at Embarcadero were skating so hard and pushing the whole sport.

Yeah, I am definitely proud to have been a part of that. A lot of rad skaters would have quit because of the police, or maybe they didn’t have sponsors, or whatever, but that place kept them skating. Eventually, a lot of them had to quit skating, they had to go on with their lives and everything. It’s cool. But that place has some of the best memories for me.

Did you ever hear of Officer Squirrel?

Officer Squirrel? Who’s that?

James Kelch used to tell me a story about a cop they called Officer Squirrel who was so infatuated with busting skateboarders, he would hide in the trees at Embarcadero, jump out, and chase after them.

I don’t know about him, but I knew the Terminator 2. He’d run after you and wouldn’t give up the chase. You’d have to run so far. And I remember Walrus Man¿this big cop who looked like a walrus and never caught anybody. Those are the only cops I remember.

Do you remember how everyone had nicknames at Embarcadero?

Yeah, that was the funniest stuff.

You ever have a nickname?

Little Mike.

Whatever happened to Little Nick? Is he Nick now?

He’s Medium Nick. He’s pretty big now.

Did getting sponsored change your attitude toward skateboarding in general?

Yeah, sure. When I first started skating, I didn’t need to understand that I was riding Lance Mountain’s pro-model skateboard. I didn’t even know Lance Mountain was a person, I just thought that was the name of the board. I was so clueless and young back then. Later, I started understanding the deal. Of course, I wanted to be sponsored, but I never let it eat me up. So, being around Embarcadero, having people there who were already sponsored helping me get sponsored, just made me want to be more focused and serious about what I was doing.

I’d get to Embarcadero around 11:30 in the morning, and James Kelch would already be there, shirt off, sweatin’, rippin’. I’d be so stoked to see that.

What did you think when there was that mass migration of skateboarders coming from everywhere to Embarcadero? Kids were sleeping and camping-out there.

I was tripping out. I know a few pros who slept there¿pros kids love now. It just tripped me out to see those dudes do that. I had to spend the night there one time with some of my friends after missing the BART train. I think it’s pretty weird, though, that they would want to sleep there. It’s not that comfortable. It’s cold.

Moist and cold.

Yeah, you don’t want to sleep outside in San Francisco.

Especially not in wintertime. Back then, was there anyone in particular who influenced you?

Oh man, it was hard for me back then, because there were only a handful of streetskater pros. Gonz, Natas, Jim Thiebaud, Tommy Guerrero, and both the Carrolls Mike and Greg used to come down. Everyone who skated there was my favorite back then. It was incredible that not only were those guys spectacular athletes but really cool people, too. I’m glad I got the opportunity to meet them through skateboarding. The old-school Embarcadero crew¿those are the boys.

What ever happened to Bobcat?

He moved somewhere.

Bobcat, that’s another Embarcadero nickname.

Yeah, Bobcat, that kid used to be so good. John Loue, that kid gets props. What’s up, John? Wherever you’re at, I hope you kept on skating, and “Hello, how are you doing?” That kid used to get loose. He was good ’til the day he left.

Do you remember any of the crazy fights that used to go on there?

Yeah, I’ve seen wild stuff there. That was definitely a funny place.

Funny place to grow up.

Hell yeah.

Have you ever skated in New York City?

Yeah.

What do you think about the comparison of skateable obstacles between San Francisco and New York?

New York’s fun, it’s real flat and spread out. In San Francisco, you don’t have to push as much, because there’re hills. I like the spots in New York, because you hit them real quick, and then you keep on pushing. It’s more like you’re sessioning the city. Here in S.F., the cops kick you out of spots so quickly, you find yourself pretty much skating wherever you can.

Do you find spots here getting old?

Yeah, just because I’ve been skating here for a long time. I can honestly look at blocks and go, “I remember when I used to do backside grabs off that block, then I did railslides, then it was noseslides, now I’m doing nosegrinds.” You know what I mean? I’ve been skating the same blocks for so long, I’ve gone through all these stages on them. But it’s cool.

Does music affect your mood when you’re skating?

Yeah, totally. If I hear a new tape, and maybe there’s a song or someone’s lyrics on it I like, I’ll keep that in my head. So when I’m skating, that song will give me extra energy.

Do you like hip-hop the most?

Yeah, cause that’s what I get down with the most. A lot of my friends do, too. I don’t just hear them rappers cussing, I hear what they’re talking about; I respect how they make beats and all that. I like other music, too¿all sorts of other music¿but hip-hop is probably the biggest part of my collection of music.

Was hip-hop popular in your neighborhood when you were growing up?

Yeah, it was. That’s probably what got me into it, too. I was the only white kid in school, so it was kind of hard for me, but the other kids didn’t trip. We didn’t have a lot of money when I was younger.

What’s your hometown?

Albany, California.

Where you born there?

Nah, I was born in Manhattan, New York, and my parents didn’t want me to grow up in a bad neighborhood, so we moved to Oakland laughs. They didn’t know any better. They thought California was all palm trees, so, “Hey, let’s move to Oakland!” We lived in the worst neighborhoods in the Bay Area for a while. We moved from Oakland to a bad part of Berkeley, to Ridgemont, to El Cerrito. We finally got to Albany when I was a little older. It’s a lot nicer there.

What do your parents do?

Well, my mother cuts hair, and my father used to sell shoes¿which was hard for him, but we got by. My mother owns a hair salon now, with her partner.

Do you have a close relationship with your parents?

Yeah, especially with my mother, because my father passed away not too long ago. We deal with it, though¿my mom and I are definitely strong. We’ve been strong this whole time; we give each other a lot of support. She’s supported my skateboarding from day one. When I would come home with cuts, or whatever, she wouldn’t stress on me.

How old were you when your father passed away?

It happened this year. It was hard, because he was really sick before he died, and the process was kind of slow.

Do you minkated there was my favorite back then. It was incredible that not only were those guys spectacular athletes but really cool people, too. I’m glad I got the opportunity to meet them through skateboarding. The old-school Embarcadero crew¿those are the boys.

What ever happened to Bobcat?

He moved somewhere.

Bobcat, that’s another Embarcadero nickname.

Yeah, Bobcat, that kid used to be so good. John Loue, that kid gets props. What’s up, John? Wherever you’re at, I hope you kept on skating, and “Hello, how are you doing?” That kid used to get loose. He was good ’til the day he left.

Do you remember any of the crazy fights that used to go on there?

Yeah, I’ve seen wild stuff there. That was definitely a funny place.

Funny place to grow up.

Hell yeah.

Have you ever skated in New York City?

Yeah.

What do you think about the comparison of skateable obstacles between San Francisco and New York?

New York’s fun, it’s real flat and spread out. In San Francisco, you don’t have to push as much, because there’re hills. I like the spots in New York, because you hit them real quick, and then you keep on pushing. It’s more like you’re sessioning the city. Here in S.F., the cops kick you out of spots so quickly, you find yourself pretty much skating wherever you can.

Do you find spots here getting old?

Yeah, just because I’ve been skating here for a long time. I can honestly look at blocks and go, “I remember when I used to do backside grabs off that block, then I did railslides, then it was noseslides, now I’m doing nosegrinds.” You know what I mean? I’ve been skating the same blocks for so long, I’ve gone through all these stages on them. But it’s cool.

Does music affect your mood when you’re skating?

Yeah, totally. If I hear a new tape, and maybe there’s a song or someone’s lyrics on it I like, I’ll keep that in my head. So when I’m skating, that song will give me extra energy.

Do you like hip-hop the most?

Yeah, cause that’s what I get down with the most. A lot of my friends do, too. I don’t just hear them rappers cussing, I hear what they’re talking about; I respect how they make beats and all that. I like other music, too¿all sorts of other music¿but hip-hop is probably the biggest part of my collection of music.

Was hip-hop popular in your neighborhood when you were growing up?

Yeah, it was. That’s probably what got me into it, too. I was the only white kid in school, so it was kind of hard for me, but the other kids didn’t trip. We didn’t have a lot of money when I was younger.

What’s your hometown?

Albany, California.

Where you born there?

Nah, I was born in Manhattan, New York, and my parents didn’t want me to grow up in a bad neighborhood, so we moved to Oakland laughs. They didn’t know any better. They thought California was all palm trees, so, “Hey, let’s move to Oakland!” We lived in the worst neighborhoods in the Bay Area for a while. We moved from Oakland to a bad part of Berkeley, to Ridgemont, to El Cerrito. We finally got to Albany when I was a little older. It’s a lot nicer there.

What do your parents do?

Well, my mother cuts hair, and my father used to sell shoes¿which was hard for him, but we got by. My mother owns a hair salon now, with her partner.

Do you have a close relationship with your parents?

Yeah, especially with my mother, because my father passed away not too long ago. We deal with it, though¿my mom and I are definitely strong. We’ve been strong this whole time; we give each other a lot of support. She’s supported my skateboarding from day one. When I would come home with cuts, or whatever, she wouldn’t stress on me.

How old were you when your father passed away?

It happened this year. It was hard, because he was really sick before he died, and the process was kind of slow.

Do you mind talking about it?

No, not at all. I don’t really want to go over and over it, but it’s cool, because I’m here, and he’s a part of me. He made me, and I see him in me more and more.

Did your dad’s death change your view of life?

In a way, yeah. It taught me that you’ve got to learn to let things go¿that’s the key to life. If you let things eat you up inside, you’re not going to get anywhere. Whether it be someone dying, or you’re girlfriend leaving you, or whatever, you just have to deal with what’s going on.

Did you have a bond with your father?

Yeah. We were on sketchy terms for a while¿he was doing his thing and I was doing mine. Before he passed away, we had a really close talk¿we hadn’t talked for a long time¿then I went to L.A. for a trade show. That was the last time I saw him. When I got to L.A., I heard the news. I had to come home, my mom was crying on the phone; it was hard.

What’s your team-family situation like now?

Oh my goodness, wow, “family”¿that word isn’t just for ads.

I didn’t bring it up because of the ads. I brought it up because I understand why it is that you want to ride for a team with your friends.

Wow, Chocolate and Girl, I’m so stoked on that family. Those guys were my friends before. I remember meeting Rick Howard; I was already down with Mike Carroll and Sean Sheffey and everyone from S.F. I remember when Guy Mariano and Tim Gavin came up so long ago, when Tim first got on Blind. They came to Embarcadero and were ripping.

Chocolate and Girl are all about skateboarding, and they just support skateboarders. I have so much love for everyone in that company; they’ve helped me out so much. I love you Girl and Chocolate! I skate for you guys, as much as for myself.

Do you get to see all that goes into making a skateboard company work?

Yeah, it’s wild. I remember when Chocolate didn’t even have skateboards¿we were like T-shirts being distributed from the corner of the X-Large warehouse. There were some Girl boards there, too, but that was it. Seeing Girl and Chocolate go from the corner of someone else’s warehouse, to having their own warehouse, and then even expanding and moving into a bigger one, has been pretty amazing. And that place has gone crazy with product. Every time I go in there, I’m like, “When did you guys make this?”

Does getting stuff from your sponsor still carry the same rush as when you got your first package for being a sponsored skateboarder?

Totally. I just got a package today, and I got the Four Star fleece sweatshirt I’m wearing right now, and I was so stoked. Even now when I open up boxes it’s like Christmas every time.

Did you like any one company before you got sponsored?

Not really. I remember liking early World Industries stuff.

You rode for World Industries.

Yeah, I rode for World Industries.

How many companies have you ridden for?

I went from twenty-dollar New School decks, to free Real decks, to World, then I rode for Stereo for a little while, and now I ride for Chocolate.

I remember when you got on Stereo.

Yeah, I rode for Stereo because World wasn’t sending me boxes¿they would send me one board, that was it. One blank board. I felt offended, because I went out skating every day, and they’re gonna send me one board? I was like, “What’s up with this? I’m trying to skate. One board will last me a little while, but then I’m gonna have to call again next week.” Every week I’d call them for my one board. Other people I was on the team with were getting regular boxes, like Shamil Randle and Karl Watson. That’s why I switched to Stereo.

Did you get on Stereo right in the beginning?

No, it was already established a little bit. They had boards and a team.

Was that a positive experience?

At first it was positive. I guess I was just working with people who didn’t want to hear what I had to say. They thought everything I was saying was negative and bad. I would tell them, “We’ve got to change the concave.” They would be like, “Your just an am, you do