Tosh Townend Pro Spotlight

By PT (Tosh’s Dad) and Eric Stricker

You might think it’s odd for someone’s dad to interview his son for a skate mag, but when Chris Ortiz, who’s been photographing Tosh since he first started to impress at only fourteen years of age, asked me if I’d be into it, I said, “Why not?”

Living together in an old 60s house in Huntington Beach, we have to deal with each other most every day unless we’re traveling-he for skating and me for my consulting business, The ActivEmpire. So I definitely know him better than anybody on every level.

But besides being his father, I probably understand somewhat his current position in life. See, 30 years ago I was just like him, only I was a surf star-a surfing world champion, so I understand a lot of what goes on when you’re in the position he’s in as a skate star.I have to say, though, there’s a huge difference in salary! When I was of his status in the surf world, we did it for free trunks. But now, three decades later, kids like Tosh make six figures for endorsements like his Element hook-up. And while that sounds great, there really is a whole lot more to deal with.

The one thing I’ve always told him, though, about doing these interviews and profiles, as I’ve done a few in my day, is to only do them if you’ve got something to say. We all know Tosh can skate, but hopefully you can take something from his words as well.-PT

PT: You’ve just come off a three-week tour of the U.S. for Element, and you’re about to hit the road again to Europe for a couple of weeks for Emerica. How are the demands of being a skate star holding up?

Well, I would say that I’m holding firm. Coming off my ankle surgeries a few years back is not the easiest, but if you’re determined and believe, you can do anything you put your mind to. The demands are high, and I’m healthy. So while the demands are high, I’ll take the opportunity to be a righteous leader.

Do you remember when you were the new kid?

Yeah! I was fourteen doing fourteen stairs (laughs). I think I came into skateboarding strong and at the right time. Strong because I was busting tricks at a pro level, and right time because skateboarding in the late 90s and the beginning of the twenty-first century was a big boom, kinda like a gold rush.

Even though you’re only twenty, you’re already a big name. Do you feel any pressure from the new kids like Nyjah who appear fearless?

No, because why get pressured? He’s doing his thing, while I myself am already in the game.

How does surfing fit into your skateboarding?

Well, I began surfing at about four because of you being a pro surfer, and straightaway we were at the beach, and you had us in the water. Surfing fits into all of this, because that’s how I got style on a skateboard.

You spent last year working on your own project The Weenabago Projekt, with your friend Kristian McCue. How was that experience, and are you happy with how it turned out?

The experience was one of taking two of my friends who I grew up skating with and who never got to go on a tour together because of different sponsors and tours, so that was the whole idea that grew into The Weenabago Projekt-doing it for the love of skateboarding. I’m psyched on how it turned out. It’s not just the average tour video-it has character with the story of the many breakdowns of the Weenabago throughout the video.

What happens with the Weenabago next?

Across America, and if we’re lucky, West Coast Customs is going to pimp our ’77 Dodge Six Pack.

Stricker: When you started filming for Sight Unseen which was your third video part (ON Video 1, 411 #44, prior), you were only fourteen or fifteen years old. Being so young, did you understand the importance and relevance of guys like Heath Kirchart and John Cardiel at the time?

Yeah, I understood the importance of them leading the pathway for a younger generation to come up, breaking down the doors and just showing what can be possible.

Were you a fan of any particular person? Did yoknow who was going to be in the video when you were filming?

Well … I wouldn’t say a fan, because I’m not a fan of anybody. But yeah, I was stoked on John Cardiel and his skating. His stuff is pretty amazing.

How is the HB skate scene? It seems like a pretty intense crew with Rowley, Arto, Bastien, Appleyard, and of course, the local legend Ed Templeton all residing here at times. Why Huntington?

They like the grounds, the surroundings. It’s nice around here. They really don’t skate around here that much. They hang out and go from here on trips to skate. HB’s a good base because its location is right in between San Diego and L.A. with the Costa Mesa and Long Beach scenes just down the street.

Instead of “Surf City,” it’s “Skate City” (laughs).

I don’t know about that. The city would never call it that because they hate skateboarders.

I don’t know, they built the HB park on school property.

Yeah, and I heard they’re thinking of taking it away.

Do you feel that skateboarders still get persecuted?

It’s like segregation. They pick you out of the bunch. They pick skaters because they think they’ve got all the drugs or whatever. They think we’re always causing trouble, tagging, ’cause a lot of skaters do. And your look, too, like dreads or if you have a mohawk-they’re (the authorities) gonna pick on you because you’re the troublemaker, but they don’t really know why. I did my hair because it takes patience to do dreads. It’s being able to have that patience, and the dreads came naturally. I didn’t do anything. They’re not falsies.

Who were those guys when you were at Huntington Beach High?

Wes Lott, Ryan Cottrell, Brandon and Tyler Case, Matt Costa. And then there was also my surf crew because I surfed, too: Rick Williams, Daniel Bemis … I didn’t really hang out with those guys that much. They were more hanging out with my brother Jye.

Did it feel like that when you were in school-that skateboarders weren’t accepted?

Well, at Huntington there were only about five us that were real ‘core skaters. There were other skaters who skated, but they wouldn’t go home from school and then catch a bus to Santa Ana to skate some spot after school or on the weekends.

At about that time at school you were getting the reputation for being “gnarly skate dude.” You said you’re not a fan of anyone in particular, but you had to have been influenced. Who influenced your skating?

Reynolds-his style and the tricks he can do.

When was the first time you saw Reynolds skate?

At the HB park at the high school, and Ryan kinda knew him because he lived over near the Birdhouse house where he and Sumner, Greco, Lenoce, and that crew lived at the time. We would just skate flatground with them across the street at the Target store. Actually, that scene was a big influence, because at the time they showed how it was, they were still new themselves, they were still on the way up and hadn’t blown up yet. They had just moved to Huntington, and all they wanted to do was skate and get their careers on the move.

Your father, being the first world champion surfer and starting you out early in the ocean and on a skateboard, obviously passed down the genes. But are you bummed you didn’t get to keep his Australian accent?

I kinda wish I had the accent, because I hear girls say all the time, “Oh, that Australian accent of your dad’s is so hot. When’s the next time I can come over?” (Laughs) The young ones are still going for him, and he’s 52.

You and your dad live together, work together, surf together, and travel together. Is he more of a father or a brother?

Both. It’s like a father-friendship relationship.

Did he ever ground you in your younger years?

Yeah, I got grounded. I don’t even know what for. What did I get grounded for?

Schoolwork.

Schoolwork. It would never last, though. I always got my board back.

Usually it wasn’t just him. It was him and his brother Jye together.

Yeah, we would get in trouble together because we would fight.

One of the great scenes was Jye, Tosh, and a former girlfriend out in the street with Tosh and Jye’s surfboard, and Tosh is smashing it because he’s pissed off. And the girlfriend is trying to break it up, and she gets knocked over in the street, and they’re fighting.

Did your brother take your girl or what happened?

No, it was my dad’s girl, and she got in the middle of it. But what started it all was my brother came out and took a skateboard and pried my bar off so I couldn’t grind anymore. Like, pried it off the box. So I was like, “You’re dead, dude.” I ran upstairs, grabbed his surfboard, and started dragging it on the nose down the street.

So that’s why you got your board taken away.

Yeah, we got grounded for that.

You’ve had a serious growth spurt as well as your serious injuries in your short career. How, if any, did that affect what you do and how you do it?

My doctors would tell me my bones were strong but all my ligaments were really far apart from each other, so that’s why it was really easy for me to be rolling my ankles and breaking my wrists. I was just prone to it. When I was just out in Vegas, I backside flipped this rail and killed my ankle, but it wasn’t even really a break, it was just right in the middle, the growth plate. All the tendons just stretched-the perennial ligaments that line your big toe and wrap under your foot and come up to your knee. I tore it right in half at the ankle. Now I’ve had two ankle surgeries, but I feel that in the last six months my skating has really improved. Just coming back healed, actually feeling more powerful.

When I first met you when you were fifteen and we were on tour, you had all your homework with you, but I don’t recall you doing much of it, only talking about this Lexus IS300 you were going to get when you turned sixteen. Five years later, you have the same car, probably not the same exact car, but the same exact model.

Actually it is the same exact one. It’s been rebuilt a few times (laughs).

Wow, so it’s the same one. So you kept your word on that to this day, but did you keep your word to your dad and ever finish your homework?No, I didn’t ever actually finish high school. I dropped out as a sophomore. Halfway through tenth grade I said, “I’m over it.” I make as much as the principals and the teachers put together.

Was that a hard decision? Did you have your dad’s support?

He wasn’t supportive of me quitting. But in the end of it all, he came back and said, “You’re going to be coming out of school, but you’re going to be going into the school of life.” I had to be an adult at sixteen.

I agreed to it, providing that he realized that he had to grow up and be an adult if he wasn’t going to go to school. And he did that, but the interesting thing is they invited him to come back to Huntington High and speak at career day. He told the kids, “Look, it’s not like I don’t believe in school, but I had an opportunity, and if you believe in something strong enough, go for it. I turned that opportunity into a reality and a career, and I’m gonna get my GED, and I still continue to educate myself now more than I did when I was in school.” He reads books now, and he has a journal that he keeps up every day-he never did that when he was in school. He’s self-educating himself, which is similar to what I did. I had a scholarship to go to architectural college and I didn’t go, but I went on to become world surfing champion, ya know? So I guess it’s in the genes. He just knew he was capable of seeing his old man!

People probably forget you rode for Birdhouse for a short time before Element.

Yeah, my pops hooked that up through Per Welinder.

You were an early teen at the time, and then you got together with Element in your early teens, a company you’ve been with ever since. You’ve seen people come, seen people go, probably have become super good friends with some and not so good with others. But what’s it like to ride for Elecause we would fight.

One of the great scenes was Jye, Tosh, and a former girlfriend out in the street with Tosh and Jye’s surfboard, and Tosh is smashing it because he’s pissed off. And the girlfriend is trying to break it up, and she gets knocked over in the street, and they’re fighting.

Did your brother take your girl or what happened?

No, it was my dad’s girl, and she got in the middle of it. But what started it all was my brother came out and took a skateboard and pried my bar off so I couldn’t grind anymore. Like, pried it off the box. So I was like, “You’re dead, dude.” I ran upstairs, grabbed his surfboard, and started dragging it on the nose down the street.

So that’s why you got your board taken away.

Yeah, we got grounded for that.

You’ve had a serious growth spurt as well as your serious injuries in your short career. How, if any, did that affect what you do and how you do it?

My doctors would tell me my bones were strong but all my ligaments were really far apart from each other, so that’s why it was really easy for me to be rolling my ankles and breaking my wrists. I was just prone to it. When I was just out in Vegas, I backside flipped this rail and killed my ankle, but it wasn’t even really a break, it was just right in the middle, the growth plate. All the tendons just stretched-the perennial ligaments that line your big toe and wrap under your foot and come up to your knee. I tore it right in half at the ankle. Now I’ve had two ankle surgeries, but I feel that in the last six months my skating has really improved. Just coming back healed, actually feeling more powerful.

When I first met you when you were fifteen and we were on tour, you had all your homework with you, but I don’t recall you doing much of it, only talking about this Lexus IS300 you were going to get when you turned sixteen. Five years later, you have the same car, probably not the same exact car, but the same exact model.

Actually it is the same exact one. It’s been rebuilt a few times (laughs).

Wow, so it’s the same one. So you kept your word on that to this day, but did you keep your word to your dad and ever finish your homework?No, I didn’t ever actually finish high school. I dropped out as a sophomore. Halfway through tenth grade I said, “I’m over it.” I make as much as the principals and the teachers put together.

Was that a hard decision? Did you have your dad’s support?

He wasn’t supportive of me quitting. But in the end of it all, he came back and said, “You’re going to be coming out of school, but you’re going to be going into the school of life.” I had to be an adult at sixteen.

I agreed to it, providing that he realized that he had to grow up and be an adult if he wasn’t going to go to school. And he did that, but the interesting thing is they invited him to come back to Huntington High and speak at career day. He told the kids, “Look, it’s not like I don’t believe in school, but I had an opportunity, and if you believe in something strong enough, go for it. I turned that opportunity into a reality and a career, and I’m gonna get my GED, and I still continue to educate myself now more than I did when I was in school.” He reads books now, and he has a journal that he keeps up every day-he never did that when he was in school. He’s self-educating himself, which is similar to what I did. I had a scholarship to go to architectural college and I didn’t go, but I went on to become world surfing champion, ya know? So I guess it’s in the genes. He just knew he was capable of seeing his old man!

People probably forget you rode for Birdhouse for a short time before Element.

Yeah, my pops hooked that up through Per Welinder.

You were an early teen at the time, and then you got together with Element in your early teens, a company you’ve been with ever since. You’ve seen people come, seen people go, probably have become super good friends with some and not so good with others. But what’s it like to ride for Element, such a large team made up of such a vast variety of riders and personalities?

It’s had its ups and downs, smiles and frowns. It’s been good throughout the years. There were just a couple promises they didn’t follow through with, but overall I’m really happy with Element.

Who would you say has been your best bud on the team through those years?

The best times were when Donny Barley was on, ’cause I was always hyped on his skating.

First Bam had TK make a guest appearance and now Mike V. is about to star in his first episode of Viva La Bam. Will we see you on the show anytime soon, increase the board and shoe sales?

Well, Viva La Bam is about to end, but if Bam wanted me to come on the show I’d be down to come skate and show what’s up with skating, but I’m not going to go ask or about to do any goofy skits. But overall he had his opportunity in front of him and he took it.

You can’t be mad at that.

Yeah, I don’t hate on anyone for what they do.

There was a day in time where ToshTownend.com was the be all, end all for skateboarding sites-kind of like how your teammate Colt Cannon’s site is now. But your site seems to be neglected lately, and you’re pretty slow to answer your e-mails. Are these dreads and this organic way of living causing you to pull away from keeping in touch with the world?

It’s not pulling me away. It’s putting me with Mother Nature. It’s bringing me closer to the world if anything-getting away from those computers and cell phones, which only make you go crazy. Any electronics don’t want to work for me. Because I swear my TV doesn’t wanna turn on, or my DVD player doesn’t wanna work, or my speakers are blown out, or my computer doesn’t wanna power up. I just think I have too much natural power for those things (laughs).

That obviously kills my next question about message boards and if you keep up-to-date with what kids think of you via the Internet.My sister keeps up with that, but since you seem like you haven’t seen any new stuff she’s obviously lagging. Should I be paying her?

She runs ToshTownend.com?

She just keeps up on it and writes the kids back. She’ll bring me papers like, “This kid asked this question.” And we’ll go out to dinner, and I’ll answer it. And I usually do take responsibility to keep track of that.

When are you most inspired to push yourself? When you see Senn ripping a pool most people wouldn’t even roll in on?

Definitely. I get on tour, and I get inspired because those guys are busting tricks that I’ve never tried. It’s just that constant inspiration progression. Those guys have killed it since day one. Senn I give props to.

Is Senn your favorite person to skate with on the current team?

I like to skate with Rupp, Senn, Brent … I give Jeremy Wray a call every now and then.

I would assume Hawai’i and Australia top off your favorite-places-to-travel list, but have you ever taken a few days to just kick it with Rupp on his farm in Pennsylvania?

No, not yet. I haven’t had the chance to. But I just got invited to his wedding that’s coming up-on the farm. And I think we’re going to be ending there for King Of The Road. So I think I might be able to make it there for that and actually be able to hang out and chill in the lion’s den and skate the mini ramp.

What about Senn’s place in Hawai’i-you’ve made it out there a few times, too, yeah?

Chris’ place is pretty nice because he lives right down the street from the beach-a little local spot he calls Hunnels. It’s skating distance, and you can walk back up the hill. And he’s got a little quarterpipe in the driveway and a six-foot mini that I helped build but didn’t get to skate, so he still owes me a trip out there. But we squashed that for the painting. The apple tree painting is mine.

What’s the story with the painting?

The real story is in Argentina. He said, “Do this trick in three tries.” It was the opening of my part, the backside five-0 down the kinked hubba, and I ended up doing it the thi