Stefan Janoski Pro Spotlight

Words and Photography by Oliver Barton

With the ambidextrous feet of Diego Maradona, a passport stamp collection verging on Kenny Reed status, and an already impressive video-part legacy, “I Was Born In Vacaville” is the classic small-town Target-curb-to-international-skate-fame story most skateboarders would trade vital organs to live. Vital organs or otherwise, no one gets this far for free; for the “glamour” of now, there were years of poverty-induced starvation diets, Billy Rohan electrocutions, and cop-shop car washes to deal with. I guess spending the college fund your grandparents set up for you on floor space in Sacramento with Biebel would be a pretty powerful motivating factor for anyone.

Considering he’s made it to the top of the game, Stefan’s at the bottom of the maintenance pile: The collection of photos that follows took next to nothing to compile, save a couple of boxes of ready-start firewood, one custom Jason Hernandez(tm) skate spot, a plane ticket to Spain, and two jars of macadamia nut butter for Liam.

So, you’re from Vacaville, California, population 90,000. What’s it like there and what sort of stuff does a kid from there get into before he gets into skating?

Well, I just pulled into Vacaville in my car, and the first thing I saw was a guy in a pickup truck doing doughnuts in a parking lot. That’s what they do out here-or go tip over a few cows. Shit, I don’t know, just running around in the hills. It’s mostly just suburbs everywhere and a lot of hills. My dad had a little bit of land, so we used to ride four wheelers around sometimes, but nothing serious.

What about getting mixed up in graffiti?

Oh, yeah. That was pretty fun actually. We’d just go out at night and climb up on rooftops and climb up billboards and spraypaint them. We’d paint weird little pictures-faces and stuff like that. We had a little crew called RTS.

What does RTS stand for?

I don’t like that question!

Well, how did the days of RTS end?

I got caught, I got in trouble. We drove my car to Fairfield, which is a little town near Vacaville. We parked up and just walked down the freeway spraypainting all the way. We were all pretty screwed up. I looked over and I saw one of my friends running across the freeway, and all the cars were swerving and beeping at him. It’s the freeway, you know? And my other friend was running down the side of the road while I just stood there trying to figure out what was going on. I hadn’t noticed, but the cops had shown up and they were running straight at me. They grabbed me and threw me around a bit, roughed me up. Everyone else got away. After school, I had to go and wash police cars for that.

You’re not that lucky when it comes to brushes with the law, right?

Well, I used to be the only one to get tickets because I’d just talk too much. I’d take getting a skate ticket as an opportunity to tell the police exactly what I thought of them. But that was when I was younger. No one can do anything to you when you’re a young kid, so you can say what you want. They give you a ticket and you just laugh. I wouldn’t pay for that shit, anyway. They’d get mad, and it was fun. But now you just go to jail if you don’t pay a ticket, so it’s not fun anymore.

So when was the first time you saw a skateboard? Did you want one off the bat?

I always had one. I had a Nash board. It was just called a “Nash,” and it was a Toys ‘R’ Us brand or something, and it had ninja stars cut into the griptape on the top. I was just pushing around on my knees. It wasn’t until I met this kid Josh who skated that I got into it. We went around to his house one day and we were trying to learn ollies in his garage; we were ollieing onto this ice chest or something. That was when it all started.

When did you find out that there were magazines and all that sort of shit?

Pretty soon after. I got into it a little more, and I went to a shop and bought Virtual Reality and 411 Number 1 on the samday. Those were the first two videos I ever watched. I saw Virtual Reality and that was it. I was just like, “Holy shit!” I knew what could be done right away. Mike Carroll was pretty much my favorite part, and I really liked the Blind friends part. You should watch that video right now-Jeron Wilson is so sick. He’s just a little kid, and he does a sick, long line at that bump spot. They did a lot of crazy tricks back then.

How long was it before you started to travel to towns nearby to check out stuff to skate?

I went to San Francisco a lot. My parents would drive up there on the weekends, and I’d skate Embarcadero while they’d go and do whatever they did around San Francisco. I really liked skating Brown Marble back then-that was the best spot. Everyone was skating around back then-there was EMB, Brown Marble, and Black Rock. We’d just skate all of them in a row, but I liked Brown Marble the best. That was my all-time favorite spot.

The grapevine says that you spent the college money your grandparents gave you to move onto a couch in Sacto and skate. What was the living like back then?

Well, I had college money, and I wasn’t going to go to college, and I wasn’t going to get a job because I wanted to skate. Skating was my college. I just paid rent for a year and skated, and it worked-that’s what did it. If I had a job, it never worked out. I got fired from the Bagel Factory. I had a hip problem painting houses, so I quit. I just wanted to skate, so I moved in with (Brandon) Biebel, and we spent years sleeping on the floor and skating the whole time. It was awesome.

What was Biebel like back then compared to now?

He was just a smaller version with the same energy. He was always the best. Before I really knew him, I’d see him as a really little kid. I’d come up from Vacaville to skate The Grind skatepark, and I’d see him in there kickflipping into quarterpipes, just this little, little kid. He was always really good.

John Cardiel is another one of the figureheads of the Sacto skate scene. Do you remember the first time you saw him skate?

Actually, one of the first magazines I ever saw was the one where he was Skater Of The Year. He had a photo in Vacaville, but it said it was Vallejo. But we were so psyched because it was Cardiel.

What’s the rawest thing you’ve ever seen him do?

Actually, I’ve seen him do a lot of sick shit. I’ve seen him grind a rail after he sacked himself on it twice in a row. It’s in the TransWorld video Sight Unseen-the white rail. I couldn’t believe he grinded it, but it was just whatever for him. I shot a sequence of him frontside boardsliding this huge rail in Sac-this big, big rail. That was really crazy. I also filmed a trick of him in his TransWorld part-the rafter stall in Woodland. You know, I’ve pretty much been the media for John! I even got paid for filming that trick.

When was the last time you saw him and how was he?

I just see him randomly around town. He’s always really psyched, in a really good mood, really positive. I don’t really know what else to say about John. He’s sick.

At this point in time you must have seen less and less of your friends in Vacaville. Do they still skate now?

Actually, my friend Josh who got me into skating, he’s the only one that I really keep in contact with and he still skates-him and a couple of my graffiti friends like Mike and Jesse. But I don’t really see the people who I used to skate with that much. They all have jobs and family and all that.

At one point in time you moved to Encinitas. Why did you move down there?

That was fun. I lived with Kyle Leeper and his girlfriend Kristy-Lynn in Sacramento and they moved back to San Diego, so me and the girlfriend that I had at the time moved there. We only lived there for five months, though. My girlfriend didn’t like it. But whatever, she’s stupid-I loved it. There’re a lot of cool people down there, like Kyle and Richard Angelides. That was when I rode for Expedition and we’d all go skating together. It was cool.

What was the first-ever skate trip you went on?

It’s pretty funny. The first-ever trip I rode in the back of Justin Williams’ purple Honda with Colt Cannon, who I’d just met that day, and some of the Think team who were in a van. There was Dan Drehobl, Jesse Paez, Tim McKinney, and Lance Dawes. I don’t think that anyone remembers me being there. I don’t think I said one word the whole time. I didn’t know what was going on, so I just kept quiet. Lance Dawes was there, and we were just on a trip with him, and he didn’t remember me being there at all.

Did you have any idea that it was going to be the first skate trip of many?

Yeah, I knew. That’s what I was trying for. I just knew that it had to happen, that was what I was going to be doing. There were definitely times when it sucked when I lived with Biebel; we had no money, no boards, nothing. We just wanted to skate and film, and we just knew it had to happen.

What was the first foreign country you ever visited?

Portugal. I went with Chany Jeanguenin, Scott Pazelt, and Billy Rohan. It was insane! It was the craziest trip, for a cell-phone company called “Yorn.” I don’t know what we were doing there or how I got there, but it was a crazy trip. We were in the hotel bar one night, and we got kicked out because Billy was throwing peanuts at the bartender. The bartender was about a foot away from us, in a tiny bar, and we were the only ones in there, so it was pretty obvious. Anyway, we were told to go outside, so we all stood in front of the hotel just hanging out with glasses of beer in our hands. For some reason, Billy Rohan kicked his shoe off at Scott-kicked it straight at him. The shoe hit Scott’s glass, which hit him in the face and then the glass fell on the ground and smashed. Scott growled, picked the shoe up, and threw it over a wall, and you could hear a splash because there’s the hotel swimming pool on the other side. At this point, it had started to rain a little. Billy walked over to the wall so he could climb over to get his shoe, but he put his foot with a wet sock onto a garden light and got electrocuted. The light blew out, and he flew straight onto his back. We couldn’t believe what we had seen and started laughing, but Billy just got up, got the bartender that he had just been throwing peanuts at, and made him get a net to fish his shoe out of the pool. When he got his shoe back, he put it straight back on-there was water everywhere because the shoe was soaked, and he just walked off through the hotel like nothing was wrong. All of it took place in less than two minutes.

Getting to skate in all these faraway countries is amazing, but the one thing that scares me is when someone comes running up to you screaming because you were skating something really important and you didn’t realize what it was. You had a brush with it skating a church in Poland. What’s the survival technique?

I just wave my arms in the air and say sorry. I just kept saying that I didn’t understand, and it worked out.

Where would you draw the line on what you will and won’t skate when it comes to things like war memorials and spots like that?

I’ll skate anything. I mean, I’m not sentimental about stuff, so yeah, I’ll skate pretty much anything. In America, people get sentimental about a sidewalk or some asphalt like they love it. They love their concrete stairs and ledges. In other countries, they actually have real architecture that’s really old like all the plazas, and they don’t really mind. There’s way more sentimental value with the marble statue in Germany that nobody cares if you skate than a ledge they just built in front of a cookie-cutter school in Southern California, but America is where they call the cops on you for skating.

You’re fascinated with the river people in Sacramento. What’s the deal with them?

I don’t know, they’re just always there when it’s hot. I think they must Expedition and we’d all go skating together. It was cool.

What was the first-ever skate trip you went on?

It’s pretty funny. The first-ever trip I rode in the back of Justin Williams’ purple Honda with Colt Cannon, who I’d just met that day, and some of the Think team who were in a van. There was Dan Drehobl, Jesse Paez, Tim McKinney, and Lance Dawes. I don’t think that anyone remembers me being there. I don’t think I said one word the whole time. I didn’t know what was going on, so I just kept quiet. Lance Dawes was there, and we were just on a trip with him, and he didn’t remember me being there at all.

Did you have any idea that it was going to be the first skate trip of many?

Yeah, I knew. That’s what I was trying for. I just knew that it had to happen, that was what I was going to be doing. There were definitely times when it sucked when I lived with Biebel; we had no money, no boards, nothing. We just wanted to skate and film, and we just knew it had to happen.

What was the first foreign country you ever visited?

Portugal. I went with Chany Jeanguenin, Scott Pazelt, and Billy Rohan. It was insane! It was the craziest trip, for a cell-phone company called “Yorn.” I don’t know what we were doing there or how I got there, but it was a crazy trip. We were in the hotel bar one night, and we got kicked out because Billy was throwing peanuts at the bartender. The bartender was about a foot away from us, in a tiny bar, and we were the only ones in there, so it was pretty obvious. Anyway, we were told to go outside, so we all stood in front of the hotel just hanging out with glasses of beer in our hands. For some reason, Billy Rohan kicked his shoe off at Scott-kicked it straight at him. The shoe hit Scott’s glass, which hit him in the face and then the glass fell on the ground and smashed. Scott growled, picked the shoe up, and threw it over a wall, and you could hear a splash because there’s the hotel swimming pool on the other side. At this point, it had started to rain a little. Billy walked over to the wall so he could climb over to get his shoe, but he put his foot with a wet sock onto a garden light and got electrocuted. The light blew out, and he flew straight onto his back. We couldn’t believe what we had seen and started laughing, but Billy just got up, got the bartender that he had just been throwing peanuts at, and made him get a net to fish his shoe out of the pool. When he got his shoe back, he put it straight back on-there was water everywhere because the shoe was soaked, and he just walked off through the hotel like nothing was wrong. All of it took place in less than two minutes.

Getting to skate in all these faraway countries is amazing, but the one thing that scares me is when someone comes running up to you screaming because you were skating something really important and you didn’t realize what it was. You had a brush with it skating a church in Poland. What’s the survival technique?

I just wave my arms in the air and say sorry. I just kept saying that I didn’t understand, and it worked out.

Where would you draw the line on what you will and won’t skate when it comes to things like war memorials and spots like that?

I’ll skate anything. I mean, I’m not sentimental about stuff, so yeah, I’ll skate pretty much anything. In America, people get sentimental about a sidewalk or some asphalt like they love it. They love their concrete stairs and ledges. In other countries, they actually have real architecture that’s really old like all the plazas, and they don’t really mind. There’s way more sentimental value with the marble statue in Germany that nobody cares if you skate than a ledge they just built in front of a cookie-cutter school in Southern California, but America is where they call the cops on you for skating.

You’re fascinated with the river people in Sacramento. What’s the deal with them?

I don’t know, they’re just always there when it’s hot. I think they must come out of the river. They’re just down there hanging out with their shirts off drinking beers. They all love Omar (Salazar). When they see him, they’re all “Damn, Omar, what up!” At the end of every river session, everyone there knows Omar’s name because he’s always doing some crazy rope-swing jump. You can float down the rivers on rafts that you rent-you leave one car at the top, one car at the bottom, and you float down with a cooler and some sandwiches. One time, these river people started swimming out toward us. I don’t know what they thought they were going to do, because we could have just hit them with an oar and they would’ve drowned. In the end, they just swam off.

A lot of kids that are growing up skating now have these crazy parks and skate plazas to train in. Where do you see the next generation taking skating?

I think the parks are why all the kids are so good now-they land everything perfectly. But I don’t think kids really push around in the streets anymore. They just drive to the skatepark.

Are you bothered by kids wearing tight pants and just skating rails?

Am I bothered by them? I don’t know, I just think it’s a bit weird. Today I saw a kid at the park who had a white T-shirt down to his ankles, and I was telling Judd that I think I had that same T-shirt when I was twelve years old, except I was wearing some purple, frayed Blind jeans underneath it. That’s just the way it is. I was wearing those clothes back then because of Mike Carroll in Virtual Reality, and now I guess people are wearing their pants really tight because of some of the videos that are cool now. I don’t really care, though. Skating can look really cool and it can look really gross, so it depends on the individual, because some people can pull it off and some people really can’t. Steve Olson put on a bright orange jump suit and he pulled that off, but if all the kids started wearing bright orange jump suits, it just wouldn’t work.

We were watching the History Channel last night and they had a thing about Prohibition-that was the weirdest thing, someone decided you couldn’t drink anymore. How did that ever happen? Everyone needs to drink every once in a while. Anyway, they were showing pictures of the bars back then, and the clothes that everyone was wearing were a lot cooler than the clothes now. All the guys had suits and hats and the woman had crazy dresses.

What is involved in your preparation for a gnarly trick?

Like madness? Tapping boards and superstition? Nah, I don’t have any of that. I just have to get psyched. You just have to go for it. I hate being scared of shit, you just got to go. It’s like jumping off a bridge. You do that one try when you just got to go, and after that it’s usually not so bad.

Is it true that you broke your ankle and had to skate switch for a year?

No, I’ve never broken anything, and I’ve quit knocking on wood. So when I say that I don’t knock on wood, I don’t care. But anyway, I guess I hurt my foot and skated switch a lot. I think it was more that I was really bad at kickflips for a long time, so when I skated a gap I’d never be a kickflipper; I’d just try and switch flip it. I got over it now, though.

How did you end up with the dog?

An old girlfriend, who I don’t like to speak of, wanted to get a dog. I gave her the money, and one day I came home from a trip and there he was sitting there looking at me. The first night she had him in a crate because she wanted to crate train him, but he started to make these crazy alien noises. I couldn’t sleep because of this noise, and I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. It sounded like a baby being squeezed. It was Liam in the crate, so I took him out and that was it-he was my dog.

Why does his tongue stick out all the time?

Because he’s got crooked teeth.

Who gets more attention at a demo, Liam or Stefan?

I never took him to a demo, but if I did, he would get way more attention. When I go to demos, kids j