Holding On To The Dream?

by Ted Newsome

Laban Pheidias was a pro skateboarder for almost a decade¿the 90s, an era of fat pants, tiny wheels, mini ramps, big gaps, green hair, late-shoves, impossibles, double grabs, one-foots, and pressure flips. Laban saw and did it all. He and Dave Bergthold ran Blockhead and then Invisible, which gave great talents like Rick Howard, Steve Berra, Matt Mumford, and Jamie Thomas the ability to further their careers. Laban had numerous pro models, video parts, and interviews. He had his own line of juggling and skateboarding videos, his own wheels, and even a pro-model shoe. Life was good: he was traveling the world, making enough money to live comfortably, and doing what he loved best¿skateboarding.

In 1999 the skateboard industry went through a period of consolidation, and a number of companies went out of business¿including Invisible. Within a year, Laban had lost every sponsor he’d ever had¿no board, no shoe, not even a set of trucks. He still had the skills, but got no love from the industry.

What do you do when your professional life falls apart? What do you do when your dream comes to an end? Do you give up? Do you move on? Let’s find out what Laban did.

TED: What was going on when Invisible started to fold?

LABAN: There were a lot of battles with the place company we were running it¿we struggled the whole time we did Invisible. Invisible had so many chances to go on and do bigger and better things, and we were doing all the right things, except that we were being held back.

When Invisible was finally gone, what did you do to keep going in skateboarding?

I made a sponsor-me video and sent it out to companies, but no one wanted to sponsor me. Either no call-backs, or the people who called back were like, “Sorry, bro.” I was thinking I could keep on fully pursuing professional skateboarding like I’ve been doing since I was nineteen, or I could make a change. I decided to move to L.A. and concentrate on other things, like writing screenplays, going on auditions, taking acting classes, and making short films. I don’t think I would have ever done all the little films I did outside of skateboarding if I had stayed where I was at. So when Invisible went under, my mind was already thinking differently¿I was already kind of distanced from skateboarding.

You made that sound like it was a really easy, natural transition, but was there a time when you were thinking, “What the f¿k am I gonna do?”

Yeah, there was a time, and the reason that time came was the money situation. That’s what causes all the stress, it all boils down to money. When the money in my savings account¿which wasn’t that much at all¿started dwindling away, that’s when I really had to start thinking hard about what I would do next.

There was a time when you were making pretty good money: you had a shoe, boards, juggling videos, wheels¿all that stuff you were getting income from.

Yeah, I had all that stuff, and I was doing everything I needed to do to get all that stuff, and I was getting the coverage that made me deserve all that stuff. All the goals I’d set coverage-wise in skateboarding, I achieved. I wanted to get the cover of TransWorld, and I got a two-page-spread cover. Then I wanted to do a 411 Profile, and I got that. I got a cover of Big Brother, an interview in Big Brother, and parts in all the videos I wanted to be in. And I did the kind of parts I wanted to do. I tried really hard to have good parts, and I busted what I wanted to do. So, I was thinkin’, “Shit, now that Invisible’s gone, the money’s running out, I’m stressing … what am I gonna do? Am I gonna try to do everything I’ve already done in my life? Get another cover of TransWorld? Get another interview in TransWorld? Get all that same stuff I’ve already gotten? Or should I start making the moves to the next things I want to do in my life?” The way I look at it, skateboarding professionally is rely only a small portion of the things I want to do. But skateboarding¿not as a professional, just as a skateboarder¿is something I want to do my entire life, because I love the way it feels.

And you still got the skills …

I’ve still got the skills to be pro if I want to. You know what I mean? I can still bust!

Yeah, ’cause all the photos we shot for this piece were shot after all that stuff went down.

I can still go out there and find a crazy rail or gap or ledge and do what it takes to do what I want to do, but now I’m spending time doing other things … pursuing other things.

What are you doing right now to make money?

I’m shooting and editing skateboarding projects for an Internet company called iFuse.

What kind of projects?

Basically, mini documentaries on professional skateboarders, companies, or events¿they’re like six-minute documentaries.

So you’re still pretty deep in the industry.

Yeah, I’m still involved, and I still have a lot of friends in the industry. So now it’s almost a natural progression for me to start doing more of the directing, shooting, editing, and writing, and that’s turning more into what I want to do later on.

You’re using the skills you picked up while you were skateboarding, like filming and editing.

Yeah, which I was doing the whole time I was a professional skateboarder, making my own videos. I dig being behind the scenes! It’s actually a lot of fun.

What do want to do after this? You want to move into movies, right?

Yeah, ultimately that’s definitely one of the things I’m gonna do. I’ve completed a couple screenplays that I want to eventually make, but who knows when that’s gonna happen. You gotta figure out how to find people who trust you enough to give you a million dollars to make a movie. In the meantime, I make these short digi-films, but I’m definitely getting ready to step it up with people like you, Leo Fitzpatrick, Steve Berra, and the group of people who are from skateboarding and doing that type of thing. There’re a lot of people besides me that are into that.

Talk to me about On The Stand, this other project that you’re working on now.

Remember the Caught Clean videos I did?

Yeah, juggling and skateboarding.

When I first made those, people were doubting me. They thought it was wack or something.

Yeah, I remember people talking about ’em.

People were like, “What? Juggling? That isn’t gonna work!” But then when they saw the video, they were like, “Damn!” I got good reviews in all the magazines, and people dug it. I made T-shirts, stickers, juggling balls, and I sold all that stuff. I got the music rights for free, so I could only make 10,000 copies, which is still pretty good. Now the thing I want to do is called On The Stand. It’s a combo video, but it’s on another level than Caught Clean, because it involves hip-hop and skateboarding. Not just hip-hop as in rap music, but real hip-hop and all the elements of it. Breakdancing, DJs, rappers, graffiti artists, and street skateboarding, because it goes along with the hip-hop culture. Hip-hop and skating are so intertwined right now. So many skaters do, or are a part of, or are down with one or more of the elements of hip-hop. Hip-hop is way bigger than juggling will ever be, and skateboarding is way bigger than when I made those other videos. When I was in the fifth grade the only thing I could think about was breakdancing, and that was all I did. My street name back then was Domino. I would battle after school or during recess with other people in my school or with other schools all the time. After breakdancing came juggling and skateboarding, so I have the background for it.

So you’re gonna take all this and put it in a video?

Yeah, I’m gonna take all the elements and package it together in the freshest video. Plus, I’m working on getting a television deal for On The Stand TV episodes, so this thing is gonna be super fat! It’s gonna be huge.

Are you bitter about the skateboard industry?

Nah, I’m not bitter at all. There was a time when I was stressin’, but now there’s a bigger picture. Things are supposed to happen for a reason. Still, sometimes when I skate I’ll bust certain things, and I’ll be like, “Damn, I’m gonna bust out again.” I still bust out, but it’s really on my own terms.

What if someone like Mike Vallely came up to you tomorrow and said, “I’m starting a new company, and I want you to ride for it.” What would you say?

Actually, Mike did come up to me and say that, but I would have to seriously reconsider some of the other things I’m doing, because I’d have to drop half the projects I do if I was gonna go all the way and pursue professional skateboarding again. I don’t want to half-step anything I do.

ter about the skateboard industry?

Nah, I’m not bitter at all. There was a time when I was stressin’, but now there’s a bigger picture. Things are supposed to happen for a reason. Still, sometimes when I skate I’ll bust certain things, and I’ll be like, “Damn, I’m gonna bust out again.” I still bust out, but it’s really on my own terms.

What if someone like Mike Vallely came up to you tomorrow and said, “I’m starting a new company, and I want you to ride for it.” What would you say?

Actually, Mike did come up to me and say that, but I would have to seriously reconsider some of the other things I’m doing, because I’d have to drop half the projects I do if I was gonna go all the way and pursue professional skateboarding again. I don’t want to half-step anything I do.