Omar Hassan Interview

Aging Gracefully

When you’re twelve, one year of age makes a world of difference. Seventh graders are a completely separate species when compared to the infinitely lesser sixth graders. At least that’s what seventh graders think. I certainly thought that when I was in junior high. The kids who were a year younger than me seemed like privates in an army in which I was a full-bird colonel. Not to mention the kids who were two years younger. Protozoans!

I’m not trying to be a dick, that’s just how it goes in the rough-and-tumble world of preteens. And that’s how it went in the soon-to-be-stratospherically-priced, undeniably middle-class Heights area of Newport Beach, California in the early 1980s. That’s were I spent my childhood, and notably, that’s where Omar Hassan spent his childhood, too.

Being two years younger than me, I probably shouldn’t have even acknowledged Omar’s existence, except for the fact that before his age had even broken into the double digits it was obvious this shortish ball of energy had a future in skateboarding. A bright one. To my horror and that of my friends, who would struggled to learn tricks Omar had forgotten a year before, there were even moments when we found ourselves jealous of him. He was sponsored by Vision before we even knew what sponsorship was, he could do ollie rocket airs off curbs and every invert in the book, and occasionally he’d even be seen at Lido Skates with none other than Mark Gonzales–the local legend who would eventually become elected skateboarding’s God, by a landslide.

The years went by, and my friends and I fell into the machinery of school and life, and, with the exception of seeing him in the occasional skate mag, Omar sort of disappeared from our tiny corner of the globe. Skateboarding took him around the world, and it gave him a paycheck, and he met and spent time with the people we idolized as big-time seventh graders. Like all sponsored skaters, he found out skateboarding has a downside, too, in the form of switching teams–from Vision to Blockhead, from Blockhead to Acme, from Acme to Formula One–and collecting injuries–elbow pins, ankle screws, knee surgery.

I’m still only two years older than Omar, but our age difference seems nonexistent now. In fact, I often think of him as being older than me. Maybe that’s because he’s spent well over half his life in skateboarding’s spotlight, or maybe it’s because at only 25 he’s a household name in skater’s homes, or maybe it’s because while I was getting drunk and going to high school football games, Omar was riding on trains around Europe with the people who invented modern skateboarding.

Whatever the reason, we’re still friends, and we recently met for lunch to discuss his move to Black Label skateboards, his physical health, and what it was like to grow up with Mark Gonzales as your coach. Still the ball of energy he was at ten, Omar did most the talking, while I sat and listened.

And even though I’m older, somehow that arrangement seemed fitting.–Joel Patterson

Tell me about when you started skateboarding.

I started really young, and I skated swap-meet boards on my knees. My older brother had the first Caballero Powell-Peralta board with the Pizza Grip. As I got older, I started skating all the little local ramps–like the ramp in your backyard in the Newport area–and I started to learn how to ride transitions like that. I’ve always liked street skating, too, due to the fact that I’ve always looked up to Gonz a lot.

At that time, you could go up to Huntington Beach and skate with Jason Lee and all those guys under the pier or down in Balboa. So I never really focused on one terrain. I can’t say I’m a vert skater because I didn’t start skating vert ramps until later. I never really had my own vert ramp, I just skated whatever was around.

Was there someone who encouraged you to skate everything?

Mark Gonzales.

You hung out with rk a lot, right?

Yeah. He helped me a lot. My parents weren’t really the wealthiest, so he’d give me boards. And I saw how Mark paved his way through skateboarding and just had fun skating everything.Christian Hosoi was another big influence, because, in a sense, he was that way, too. He would skate a little bit of everything and just have fun with it.

How did you meet Mark?

Actually, I was friends with the people who made Mad Ratz skate shorts when I was really young. Mark had just gotten off Alva to ride for Vision, and Mad Ratz owner was Brad Dorfman’s Vision’s owner sister. Mark was sleeping on her couch one day when I was like twelve, and I was there hanging shorts out to dry for five bucks a day. Mark woke up, and I was introduced to him. We went skating, and I was blown away by his style. He picked the weirdest things to do. He would run up a wall and jump off onto his board. He just had fun skateboarding and was really creative. Even though I wasn’t an artist like him, he always made skating enjoyable in that arty way.

Do you think skateboarding is in a “fun” era right now?

Skateboarding is changing a lot–they just rebuilt the Combi Pool, and it’s right next to a street course. I’m stoked when I can look over and see Geoff Rowley but still be able to skate what I want to skate. And I’m stoked to see Geoff or Andrew Reynolds skating what they want to skate. We can all just have fun skating together and not having to be like, “Okay, this is street and this is vert.” You know what I mean?

I see Rick Howard roll into the Combi Bowl, and that’s like the raddest thing to me because it’s the most unexpected stuff.

What do you think about all the skateparks being built? Are we headed into another skatepark era?

I think parks are good, unless they’re blown out of proportion. I don’t think it could ever be a park era again, because it’s so fun to go skate down the street. I’ll never loose the love of going to a natural street spot and skating without a hundred other skaters, or having to pad-up, or whatever. Being able to create your own lines through the street, and finding obstacles that maybe shouldn’t be skated is what makes skateboarding creative, and you can never take that away. It’s just good to see that parks are there for the other guys who don’t appreciate that side of skating. I like skateparks, but I don’t think they’ll ever take over, because there isn’t enough creativity in them, and being creative is what skating is all about. It’s not good to be close-minded.

How do you think you’re perceived in skateboarding?

It’s weird, because now it has a lot to do with the company you ride for, what you claim to skate, the tricks you do for your ads, and how you dress. I’ve never really thought much about how people perceive me. I’ve always dressed the same, and I’ve always skated the same. I think I’m perceived more as an individual, rather than the molded skateboarder you see a lot. I just do what I want and try not to think too much about what people think about me.

I’ve always been into a little bit of everything. I like rap music and I like punk music. I like to surf and snowboard. I’ve just been an individual and done my own thing, and it’s been what I wanted to do. Like when small wheels came in, I went and tried small wheels or when skating without pads came in, I tried skating without pads. But those trends didn’t feel comfortable to me, so I just tried to stay away.

Do you think you could attribute your individuality back to Christian and Mark. When they were in their heyday anything went.

Mark and Christian were just doing their own thing, and that’s what set them apart–being themselves and skating. What’s helped Gonz so much is that he stuck with being a street skater even when it wasn’t the most popular thing to be. Now, street is a huge sport, and he’s the pioneer of it. And as much as he tried to skate vert and all that other stuff, what he is best known for is his individuality.

I really like to skate pools a lot even though a lot of skateboarders trip out, like, “Yeah, pool, heshdog, go grind.” But nowadays, the way they’re building pools, with transitions more like ramps, you can progress and do the same tricks in the pool that you do on the vert ramp or street. In a pool, you can do a kickflip noseslide around a corner! That type of skating isn’t really taken advantage of. I think a lot of people are intimidated by the stereotypical fact that someone will think they’re lame if they skate a pool. It’s cool if that’s what you want to think, but you’re the one loosing the battle.

What difference do you see between when you started skating and where skating is right now?

I see that there a lot more kids skating street; there’re a lot more kids in school wearing skateboard items then when I went to school. I’ve seen the growth of it a lot since I turned pro. Parents these days see it as a real sport now, too; they go out and buy their kids skateboards, not thinking that they are just going to be hanging out at the park. When I was young, my parents saw skateboarding as a nuisance, or sort of a waste of time. When I first turned pro, my parents thought I was just saying I was a professional skateboarder.

Were they nervous about you wanting to be that?

No. My dad’s actually from a different country, and my mom is the religious, soft-spoken type, so I didn’t have a lot of parental guidance. They didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing. It wasn’t until I was making money that they were like, “Where’s this money coming from?” I didn’t get a lot of parental support like, for example Christian did from his dad, which was really cool in a way. I was independent in that way.

You just got on Black Label; tell me how that went down.

Actually, I always wanted to ride for Black Label back in the day, and John Lucero, owner of Black Label used to always hint and joke with me about back in the Vans Ramp days late 1980s. But I never did because I was pretty secure with Jim Gray; he always helped me out with stuff, took me skating, and just did a lot for me. I didn’t want to burn my bridges with people, so I just stayed on Acme for a really long time.

Then it got to the point where I wanted to do something different. Acme was getting stale for me as a person, so I started Formula One and tried to do that. We had a good team and everything was great, but I think because we lacked certain knowledge, it just didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.

Did you see getting on Black Label as a way to get out of the pressure of running a company?

Yeah, I don’t have as much sales-driven pressure or the pressure of what we’re doing wrong, or the stress. Now, I’m just a skateboarder. I don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff, so I can just relax and focus on skateboarding–John’s given me the opportunity to do that. When I quit Formula One I was kind of struggling. I had talked to a few people, but I didn’t have anything solid in mind, except that I really wanted to ride for Black Label. I called John up a couple times, and he said, “No, I can’t have you on the team.”

But I ended up begging my way on the team anyway. We hooked it up, he got me board graphics pretty quick, and it’s been working out pretty well for us ever since. I think one of the reasons is because the Label’s an Orange County-based company and that’s where I’m from. I’ve always really liked John’s art, so I just feel really lucky to get on Black Label.

Explain begging your way on to the team.

Omar laughs He John felt he had a really full team–he’d just added Hensley and Valley, and he didn’t want the other guys on the team to feel like they were being forgotten. Fortunately, I’m good friends with Neal Hendrix, and Jim Gagne, and Tim Upson, so it wasn’t a major stress point. Also, being a smaller company, he didn’t know if he could aff, what he is best known for is his individuality.

I really like to skate pools a lot even though a lot of skateboarders trip out, like, “Yeah, pool, heshdog, go grind.” But nowadays, the way they’re building pools, with transitions more like ramps, you can progress and do the same tricks in the pool that you do on the vert ramp or street. In a pool, you can do a kickflip noseslide around a corner! That type of skating isn’t really taken advantage of. I think a lot of people are intimidated by the stereotypical fact that someone will think they’re lame if they skate a pool. It’s cool if that’s what you want to think, but you’re the one loosing the battle.

What difference do you see between when you started skating and where skating is right now?

I see that there a lot more kids skating street; there’re a lot more kids in school wearing skateboard items then when I went to school. I’ve seen the growth of it a lot since I turned pro. Parents these days see it as a real sport now, too; they go out and buy their kids skateboards, not thinking that they are just going to be hanging out at the park. When I was young, my parents saw skateboarding as a nuisance, or sort of a waste of time. When I first turned pro, my parents thought I was just saying I was a professional skateboarder.

Were they nervous about you wanting to be that?

No. My dad’s actually from a different country, and my mom is the religious, soft-spoken type, so I didn’t have a lot of parental guidance. They didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing. It wasn’t until I was making money that they were like, “Where’s this money coming from?” I didn’t get a lot of parental support like, for example Christian did from his dad, which was really cool in a way. I was independent in that way.

You just got on Black Label; tell me how that went down.

Actually, I always wanted to ride for Black Label back in the day, and John Lucero, owner of Black Label used to always hint and joke with me about back in the Vans Ramp days late 1980s. But I never did because I was pretty secure with Jim Gray; he always helped me out with stuff, took me skating, and just did a lot for me. I didn’t want to burn my bridges with people, so I just stayed on Acme for a really long time.

Then it got to the point where I wanted to do something different. Acme was getting stale for me as a person, so I started Formula One and tried to do that. We had a good team and everything was great, but I think because we lacked certain knowledge, it just didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.

Did you see getting on Black Label as a way to get out of the pressure of running a company?

Yeah, I don’t have as much sales-driven pressure or the pressure of what we’re doing wrong, or the stress. Now, I’m just a skateboarder. I don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff, so I can just relax and focus on skateboarding–John’s given me the opportunity to do that. When I quit Formula One I was kind of struggling. I had talked to a few people, but I didn’t have anything solid in mind, except that I really wanted to ride for Black Label. I called John up a couple times, and he said, “No, I can’t have you on the team.”

But I ended up begging my way on the team anyway. We hooked it up, he got me board graphics pretty quick, and it’s been working out pretty well for us ever since. I think one of the reasons is because the Label’s an Orange County-based company and that’s where I’m from. I’ve always really liked John’s art, so I just feel really lucky to get on Black Label.

Explain begging your way on to the team.

Omar laughs He John felt he had a really full team–he’d just added Hensley and Valley, and he didn’t want the other guys on the team to feel like they were being forgotten. Fortunately, I’m good friends with Neal Hendrix, and Jim Gagne, and Tim Upson, so it wasn’t a major stress point. Also, being a smaller company, he didn’t know if he could afford to give me the things I need to ride for him. But we ended up working out a deal that’s pretty 50-50 even. I have to pull my own weight, and if it works for me then it works for him, and we’re both happy.

It’s given me a second wind. Like I said, I was kind of stagnant for a while, and I didn’t have the desire to help my company out as much as I do now. I’m hungry to help John and the Label, so I’m going to try my hardest the next couple of years to make it stronger.

You’ve had a couple really serious injuries in the past two years; how did they affect your skateboarding?

When I was twelve I broke my elbow when I hung up on a lipslide in a Powell demo, and I got three pins in it. Then, skating a freshly painted ramp, my foot caught the paint really weird and broke both the bones in my ankle, so I had some screws put in there. Then, at the Tampa contest a few years ago, during my run, I tried to do a frontside air over this gap on the street course, I was over-amping and not really thinking, and I ended up sliding out, dislocating my knee, and tearing my ACL anterior crucia ligament and meniscus cartilage. That one was the hardest to get over, because I’d heard so many nightmare stories about the ACL, and at that point I was skating my best.

How old were you?

Twenty-two. I just ended up sitting out for eight months. I went to physical therapy and that was painful, but what really hurt me was being so healthy, and knowing what I could do, but not physically being able to do it. So I started partying and going that route, because what are you going to do for eight months? I started hanging out with my fiends who don’t skateboard.

Then, when I finally got to a point where I was really emotional and stupid, I picked myself up and said, “Hey, what are you doing? Feeling sorry for yourself?” So I went hard into a lot of physical therapy and training to get my knee back in tact. When it got better, I thought, “All those days that I wanted to skate but couldn’t, I’m going to take advantage of now.”

It made me realize why I skate and who my real friends are. If I weren’t skating, I probably wouldn’t be as happy or focused on what I want to be doing. I think skateboarding has saved me mentally. At one point I thought I might never be able to skate again, and I was almost suicidal. All I ever wanted to do was skateboard, and when you get hurt like that, it makes you realize how much you appreciate it.

ld afford to give me the things I need to ride for him. But we ended up working out a deal that’s pretty 50-50 even. I have to pull my own weight, and if it works for me then it works for him, and we’re both happy.

It’s given me a second wind. Like I said, I was kind of stagnant for a while, and I didn’t have the desire to help my company out as much as I do now. I’m hungry to help John and the Label, so I’m going to try my hardest the next couple of years to make it stronger.

You’ve had a couple really serious injuries in the past two years; how did they affect your skateboarding?

When I was twelve I broke my elbow when I hung up on a lipslide in a Powell demo, and I got three pins in it. Then, skating a freshly painted ramp, my foot caught the paint really weird and broke both the bones in my ankle, so I had some screws put in there. Then, at the Tampa contest a few years ago, during my run, I tried to do a frontside air over this gap on the street course, I was over-amping and not really thinking, and I ended up sliding out, dislocating my knee, and tearing my ACL anterior crucia ligament and meniscus cartilage. That one was the hardest to get over, because I’d heard so many nightmare stories about the ACL, and at that point I was skating my best.

How old were you?

Twenty-two. I just ended up sitting out for eight months. I went to physical therapy and that was painful, but what really hurt me was being so healthy, and knowing what I could do, but not physically being able to do it. So I started partying and going that route, because what aree you going to do for eight months? I started hanging out with my fiends who don’t skateboard.

Then, when I finally got to a point where I was really emotional and stupid, I picked myself up and said, “Hey, what are you doing? Feeling sorry for yourself?” So I went hard into a lot of physical therapy and training to get my knee back in tact. When it got better, I thought, “All those days that I wanted to skate but couldn’t, I’m going to take advantage of now.”

It made me realize why I skate and who my real friends are. If I weren’t skating, I probably wouldn’t be as happy or focused on what I want to be doing. I think skateboarding has saved me mentally. At one point I thought I might never be able to skate again, and I was almost suicidal. All I ever wanted to do was skateboard, and when you get hurt like that, it makes you realize how much you appreciate it.