The Matix army marches Japan’s capital.

Mike Mallilin is the promotions and team manager at Matix, and he loves to book me on Reno Airlines. Let’s just say I had some trouble getting down to Los Angeles to go on this trip to Japan, and let’s also just say that no company I’m involved with will ever book me on Reno, again. Let’s leave it at that.

Mike picked me up on the twelfth of May from Southwest Airlines at LAX, and we drove down to the Matix warehouse to grab clothes for everyone going on the trip. We stopped in at Dwindle Distribution to make Rodney Mullen’s life hell and to grab some boards for me. Then we headed out for a night in Hollywood sushi at Crazy Fish, and drinkies at Max’s. Let’s just say “watch out.” Business cards were exchanged many times. Hollywood is a strange place. Instead of a name and number, you get a business card. Some random girl was the “producer” of a rock ‘n’ roll fashion show, and some other guy was out back snorting cocaine and claiming to have skated with Tony Alva in 1978. We got his card, too.

The next morning, Mike and I headed to Kmart to buy Rodney some socks. Actually that’s not true. We were trying to find those cool quarter-frame, 35-millimeter Nickelodeon cameras. All we found was a small cowboy hat and a Yoda skateboard. The latter Mike almost bought for Mr. Mullen instead of socks. A tip: DO NOT buy apple juice at Kmart.

We met up at Dwindle Distribution. Everyone was doing their last-minute phone calls and getting everything together. We found out Jeron Wilson wouldn’t be able to go after all, due to some last-minute passport problems. Rudy Johnson and Daewon Song were there, and we dropped Daewon off to pick up some friends and then went over to LAX, where Ty Evans, Sean Sheffey, J.B. Gillet, Rodney, and Daewon would meet us. We checked in, split up, and met back on the plane to Tokyo. J.B. had flown from France to Germany to L.A. to meet us and then gotten on another plane an hour later to Japan. What we won’t endure …

As far as the flight to Tokyo’s Narita airport goes, I will give all you readers a tip: fly Singapore Airlines. The guy in front of you has video games built into the back of his head, and the stewardesses are dressed to kill. Plus, flights to Japan are never really full, so you could get your own aisle like I did. You’ll sleep like a baby. It’s worth it just to see what the stewardesses wear. I talked to Rodney for quite a while, and Sean came over for a bit, and I saw everyone sleeping, and then I found out what happened to Baby Jane, and then we were there. Tokyo, Japan. Matix, 1999.

Tokyo is like a hedge-maze of buildings. it never seemed to be directly sunny. It was as if the sky were borrowing parts of sunlight from somewhere else and spreading them around. Like the sun wasn’t really over that part of the world, or anywhere close. I remember the pieces of sunlight that came through the windows of the hotel restaurant the morning after we flew in. There was salad and miso soup and steamed white rice and tea and croissants on the table. I caught up on things with Skin Phillips, who’d flown in from Australia shortly before we got there. Skin flew in to help document the trip. You know, the photos you guys are looking at.

Skin and I made our way down the streets and alleys, past the shoe shops selling all the top brands, and past the fish markets. The streets were quiet, the shop owners dusting off their merchandise. It was early, and deserted, and Saturday morning. We browsed through the electronic shops and looked at what America doesn’t have yet. Temptation stood in the doorways, saying, “Come, give us your poor, your tired credit cards … “

There was an acoustic band playing music on the corner of a small alley as Skin and I made our way back to the hotel seven people playing drums and wooden flutes. One of the instruments required two guys to play: one swung a huge wooden mallet rhythmically, smashing the pulp of what looked like brown rice, while the other crouched tthe side of the tall bowl and would lean in and turn the pulp over after every swing. Quite symbiotic. We snapped some photos and made for the hotel, where we found the rest of the group awake, dorking a little on their boards and milling around.

The distributors arrived and escorted us to a small shop where we all sat at a long conference table in front of a store, and signed autographs, and talked with the kids. We signed for what seemed like hours. It was almost like a conveyor belt of signature: shake hands, smile, sign, photo, next. We started getting creative after a while, drawing pictures with the autographs, blacking out teeth and putting glasses on some of the guys. Devil horns, angel wings. Someone gave Rudy a white pen that exploded, and he had to take a short recess. It started raining, so the crowd hustled and bustled in toward us. Our tables almost toppled over on us, but it was such a great feeling to have all these kids so happy to meet us and spend even a few quick seconds with us. The Japanese kids are definitely different people. Not one of them asked for a shirt, or a deck, or the shoes off our feet, or money, or an umbrella. They were almost too shy to take the stickers we set out for them. They were just happy, and it was contagious.

I took a break from the madness and went to the 7-Eleven for a bottle of this great afternoon tea they sell there, and this funny girl came up to me and started trying to speak with me. She was laughing and hugging me, paying all these nice compliments. She kept saying something about my collared shirt. We both had umbrellas, and I hugged her and talked for a minute.

One by one, we each did interviews for Warp magazine Japan, and then we all headed out for dinner. Just before dinner, while we were walking through some shops near the restaurant, Sean spotted a crazy whoop-dee-doo flatbar that stretched across from one building to another. Sean wasted no time in climbing up the ledge on the side of one of the buildings, and onto the roof, where he set his board on the five-inch-wide beam and dropped in, went down, flattened out, and grinded across to the other building. It was a one-shot, one-photo try, and he pulled it off like a little kitty cat. Purrfect. We all sat mesmerized as Sean hopped down, and we went to dinner.

I had to pick at scraps of lettuce and tomatoes with my beer at dinner everything was pork, or chicken, or who knows what. Once things got going, the conversation started flowing, and pretty soon it was one of those times when you stop and look around, and every two or three people have their own conversations going. Crazy energy coming off of everyone. We had about sixteen people at the table, and it was amazing. Our corner talked a lot about music. Rudy plays guitar and I just bought a piano, and Rodney was asking everyone what they’d do if they suddenly got two-million dollars. The answers were pretty cool. To me our group didn’t seem like the typical skateboard group, as I see them on the whole it was relaxed, calm, and mature, but brimming with energy and life. I remember stopping at dinner and looking at everyone talking and laughing, and I was just happy to be a part of Matix and in Tokyo getting to know all these guys on a personal level. Skateboarding is good that way.

Of course, after food, we were whisked away to a club where the party continued. A few had split off to head back for the hotel. Hennessy was twenty bucks a shot. I found a cute little British girl to dance with, and it was going well until I went over to the bar. By the time I returned she had been swooped on and stolen by an Australian. Those guys move fast. A little while later, I woke up in a cab cruising through the streets of Tokyo. I looked over and saw Mike Mallilin dead asleep, and that’s when I started to panic. I asked the driver where he was taking us, and he held up a card from our hotel. I think it’s a given that you never fall asleep in a cab in a foreign country. Luckily for us, we chose Japan, where you could probably drop a wallet on the street and no one would pick it up.

Anyway, when the driver finally stopped, the fare was 50 U.S. bucks, and I couldn’t recognize the area or see our hotel. Mike woke up and, half out of it, we started giving the driver a hard time, “No, take us to our hotel! Where the hell is the hotel?” I felt like a heel when I finally saw the sign behind us. I tried tipping the cabby for the trouble, but he wouldn’t have it. Another tip: do not tip in Tokyo. It isn’t the custom to tip. We stumbled back to our separate rooms and repeated sleep. The morning would bring a huge religious festival and we’d be doing a demo in the afternoon.

Sunday was the sixteenth. Skin, Rodney, and I headed out as early as we could, given the previous night. The religious ceremonies were already underway, and the streets were blocked off from cars. People swarmed in the streets, like a human ocean. We all ran around like little kids, snapping photos and soaking up what we could, retaining as much of this culture as Americanly possible. The people were beautiful, I thought, and all the sudden Rodney was gone. Lost in a sea of faces. I never lost sight of Skin, though, who stuck out like a sore thumb, running around snapping photos, wearing his bright red backpack.

There were crowds of people hauling floats, bands played in the towers of shrines, and masked characters consumed in traditional dance. It was nothing like I’d ever seen, and the people were so happy, and again it was contagious. Peace swept over the streets and through the people and I let myself go, drifting among the faces, wishing that everything was always this way. The parades continued for as long as we could see and remember, and Skin and I gave up on finding Rodney, figuring he knew to head back to the hotel by 2:00 p.m. We raced back and everyone was sitting around, setting up boards, talking, and waiting to take off to the demo. We all packed into cars and headed out.

The demo was held in an enormous arena, much larger than some contests even. I will say that it was both an honor and a pleasure to hold court with this collective. Skating with our group was strange for me, because when I was much younger these were all the guys I’d watched and loved in videos and magazines. I remember Rudy in Video Days, Sean and Rodney from the first two Plan B videos, and Daewon shined like a light in Love Child and New World Order. I just wanted to say thanks to Daewon for everything. I wanted to tell him how proud I am to be a part of Matix, and this group, and everything going on. Thank you, Daewon.

From what I can remember seeing, the demo was nonstop craziness. Everyone was killing the course, skating super good. J.B. opened up the dictionary to the word “clean,” and Rudy flipped the pages over to “grace.” I couldn’t decide whether to skate or watch. I’d cruise around and hear the crowd burst into applause, and I’d turn and see Sheffey rolling away from something, Daewon rolling away, Rodney landing some trick no one had seen before. It was a positive demo and energies were high. After the skating, we signed around 1,500 autographs with the conveyor-belt setup again. But it wasn’t so bad, and we all got really stoked on the kids, drawing pictures and changing up all the signatures to put something different in everything we gave. I was talking to Sean that night at dinner about how good it felt to make it that much more personal.

The after-party just wasn’t happening, and we were all exhausted, so after we took half-hour taxi rides to the alleged spot and got halfway down the stairs, everyone turned, stopped, and reconsidered. The noise coming out of the club sounded like a GWAR show, I was willing to sleep right there on the curb, and it looked like Ty and Skin were going to throw in the towel as well. No plan of action came about, so we took taxis back to the hotel and split up. Skin, Ty, and I headed overy. Luckily for us, we chose Japan, where you could probably drop a wallet on the street and no one would pick it up.

Anyway, when the driver finally stopped, the fare was 50 U.S. bucks, and I couldn’t recognize the area or see our hotel. Mike woke up and, half out of it, we started giving the driver a hard time, “No, take us to our hotel! Where the hell is the hotel?” I felt like a heel when I finally saw the sign behind us. I tried tipping the cabby for the trouble, but he wouldn’t have it. Another tip: do not tip in Tokyo. It isn’t the custom to tip. We stumbled back to our separate rooms and repeated sleep. The morning would bring a huge religious festival and we’d be doing a demo in the afternoon.

Sunday was the sixteenth. Skin, Rodney, and I headed out as early as we could, given the previous night. The religious ceremonies were already underway, and the streets were blocked off from cars. People swarmed in the streets, like a human ocean. We all ran around like little kids, snapping photos and soaking up what we could, retaining as much of this culture as Americanly possible. The people were beautiful, I thought, and all the sudden Rodney was gone. Lost in a sea of faces. I never lost sight of Skin, though, who stuck out like a sore thumb, running around snapping photos, wearing his bright red backpack.

There were crowds of people hauling floats, bands played in the towers of shrines, and masked characters consumed in traditional dance. It was nothing like I’d ever seen, and the people were so happy, and again it was contagious. Peace swept over the streets and through the people and I let myself go, drifting among the faces, wishing that everything was always this way. The parades continued for as long as we could see and remember, and Skin and I gave up on finding Rodney, figuring he knew to head back to the hotel by 2:00 p.m. We raced back and everyone was sitting around, setting up boards, talking, and waiting to take off to the demo. We all packed into cars and headed out.

The demo was held in an enormous arena, much larger than some contests even. I will say that it was both an honor and a pleasure to hold court with this collective. Skating with our group was strange for me, because when I was much younger these were all the guys I’d watched and loved in videos and magazines. I remember Rudy in Video Days, Sean and Rodney from the first two Plan B videos, and Daewon shined like a light in Love Child and New World Order. I just wanted to say thanks to Daewon for everything. I wanted to tell him how proud I am to be a part of Matix, and this group, and everything going on. Thank you, Daewon.

From what I can remember seeing, the demo was nonstop craziness. Everyone was killing the course, skating super good. J.B. opened up the dictionary to the word “clean,” and Rudy flipped the pages over to “grace.” I couldn’t decide whether to skate or watch. I’d cruise around and hear the crowd burst into applause, and I’d turn and see Sheffey rolling away from something, Daewon rolling away, Rodney landing some trick no one had seen before. It was a positive demo and energies were high. After the skating, we signed around 1,500 autographs with the conveyor-belt setup again. But it wasn’t so bad, and we all got really stoked on the kids, drawing pictures and changing up all the signatures to put something different in everything we gave. I was talking to Sean that night at dinner about how good it felt to make it that much more personal.

The after-party just wasn’t happening, and we were all exhausted, so after we took half-hour taxi rides to the alleged spot and got halfway down the stairs, everyone turned, stopped, and reconsidered. The noise coming out of the club sounded like a GWAR show, I was willing to sleep right there on the curb, and it looked like Ty and Skin were going to throw in the towel as well. No plan of action came about, so we took taxis back to the hotel and split up. Skin, Ty, and I headed over to a little hideaway Ty knew about called The Double Shot, where we sipped a beer apiece and chatted about movies. I can’t wait to see Heavy Metal Parking Lot. The bar was waiting for us to leave, so we did, and made for the hotel.

I expected sleepytime, but I found Rodney wide awake chatting to a friend from the demo, and I joined in the conversation. Enter Mike Mallilin, exit Rodney, and chaos ensued. Everyone had gone to bed already, but we kept the dream alive. I remember going with Mike to the seventh floor and trying to smuggle a liquor dispenser into the elevator. We settled for Asahis, and went back up to my room, where we talked with Rodney for a while. We came up with nicknames for some of the people on the trip. Three nicknames stick out in my mind: Third Wheel, Rusty Nail, and Training Wheels. We eventually went to bed and slept.

Monday was a free day, so everyone did their own thing. Mike, Rudy, Ty, Skin, and I headed into the city to shop for electronics. I tried to get money out of several ATMs, but kids, it’s a different story in Japan. We lost Skin and Ty, so, Mike, Rudy, and I walked around for a while. We all bought new Minidisc players with digital recording, and Rudy loaded up on goodies for his friends and family. We made for the hotel to meet up and go skating in another area of Tokyo. We were hosted by a few of Japan’s finest, including Junichi Arahata and Shinnosuke Yonesaka.

I won’t say anything about the skating, you can check it for yourselves, but the place they took us to was unlike any place we’d ever skated high atop a tiled bridge overlooking the city, near a Ferris wheel so huge, we could only think to ask how the hell someone would begin to build anything that size. We were free, and it felt good just to cruise around on the tile. The bridge arched slightly on both sides, so when the filming and photos were done, we bombed the bridge all the way down to the cars on the street. We piled into the vans; everyone was in a good mood. Freedom is good for the soul, it cleanses America out of you.

I’m skipping directly to dinner on this one. The reason: Ty Evans, Master Of Karaoke. We were crammed into this little dinner-box room at the restaurant, our shoes were held hostage, and we sampled from many different dishes and beers, and then the karaoke started. Ty hit us with his own heavy-metal renditions of many pop favorites, starting off with “Thriller,” and continued on through to a special number by Guns ‘N’ Roses. I think it was “Night Train.” We did a duet of Spandau Ballet’s “True,” and that’s when it all fell apart. Not much to say after a finale like that. Our shoes were set free, and we piled into cars and were magically transported to the same club from two nights prior.

By the time we got to the club we were already pretty loose. There were more people than I remembered from the other night, and we all went at it. Dancing, mingling, translating it all went down. I remember Rudy, Sean, Mike, Skin, J.B. and our Japanese hosts milling around. But kids, it got hazy for me pretty early. I did have a good talk with Sean that night. It seems to me that Sean is always the intimidating guy, and maybe he doesn’t like that too much. I know him just to be an amazing guy with a lot on his mind and definitely a lot in his heart. Getting to see different sides of lots of the people you grew up respecting is one of the many blessings of skateboarding for a living. I am especially grateful for those times. But after that it went dark. Let’s just say the janitor probably wasn’t very happy with the hotel lobby floor in the morning. Sean was kind enough to take my shoes away from me before I ruined those, too. Again, thank you, Sean.

I awoke to the sounds of Rodney and Sean laughing and running around, getting ready to fly out of Japan that afternoon. We were to be out of the hotel by 11:00 a.m., and our bags were being stowed in the lobby while we wandered around the area one last time. We all went back to the English-speaking store and everyone went crazy. J.B. got stuck with customer service from hell, and we just walked around, killing time. I talked with Ty for a while, and I have to say, he is a great guy to know. His dad raises and cares for exotic birds.

When it was time to meet back at the hotel to head for the airport, delirium was starting to set in due, in part, to the night before. I just went where they pointed, loaded up my bags, and put some music on. An hour later we were back at Narita airport. We said our good-byes to our chaperones and lifesavers Masa, Keori, and Koshin Distribution, we checked in, and then got back up to those friendly skies. By then I was silently hysterical, and visions of screaming people and planes going down and panic and terror were running around my head. Luckily, I got an aisle to myself, stretched out, and slept the entire flight. Before I put my head down, in the midst of growing turbulence, I took a look at everyone I could see from where I was. It turned out to be a damn good trip, and one of the best experiences I’ve had through skateboarding so far.

Matix, 1999.

o a little hideaway Ty knew about called The Double Shot, where we sipped a beer apiece and chatted about movies. I can’t wait to see Heavy Metal Parking Lot. The bar was waiting for us to leave, so we did, and made for the hotel.

I expected sleepytime, but I found Rodney wide awake chatting to a friend from the demo, and I joined in the conversation. Enter Mike Mallilin, exit Rodney, and chaos ensued. Everyone had gone to bed already, but we kept the dream alive. I remember going with Mike to the seventh floor and trying to smuggle a liquor dispenser into the elevator. We settled for Asahis, and went back up to my room, where we talked with Rodney for a while. We came up with nicknames for some of the people on the trip. Three nicknames stick out in my mind: Third Wheel, Rusty Nail, and Training Wheels. We eventually went to bed and slept.

Monday was a free day, so everyone did their own thing. Mike, Rudy, Ty, Skin, and I headed into the city to shop for electronics. I tried to get money out of several ATMs, but kids, it’s a different story in Japan. We lost Skin and Ty, so, Mike, Rudy, and I walked around for a while. We all bought new Minidisc players with digital recording, and Rudy loaded up on goodies for his friends and family. We made for the hotel to meet up and go skating in another area of Tokyo. We were hosted by a few of Japan’s finest, including Junichi Arahata and Shinnosuke Yonesaka.

I won’t say anything about the skating, you can check it for yourselves, but the place they took us to was unlike any place we’d ever skated high atop a tiled bridge overlooking the city, near a Ferris wheel so huge, we could only think to ask how the hell someone would begin to build anything that size. We were free, and it felt good just to cruise around on the tile. The bridge arched slightly on both sides, so when the filming and photos were done, we bombed the bridge all the way down to the cars on the street. We piled into the vans; everyone was in a good mood. Freedom is good for the soul, it cleanses America out of you.

I’m skipping directly to dinner on this one. The reason: Ty Evans, Master Of Karaoke. We were crammed into this little dinner-box room at the restaurant, our shoes were held hostage, and we sampled from many different dishes and beers, and then the karaoke started. Ty hit us with his own heavy-metal renditions of many pop favorites, starting off with “Thriller,” and continued on through to a special number by Guns ‘N’ Roses. I think it was “Night Train.” We did a duet of Spandau Ballet’s “True,” and that’s when it all fell apart. Not much to say after a finale like that. Our shoes were set free, and we piled into cars and were magically transported to the same club from two nights prior.

By the time we got to the club we were already pretty loose. There were more people than I remembered from the other night, and we all went at it. Dancing, mingling, translating it all went down. I remember Rudy, Sean, Mike, Skin, J.B. and our Japanese hosts milling around. But kids, it got hazy for me pretty early. I did have a good talk with Sean that night. It seems to me that Sean is always the intimidating guy, and maybe he doesn’t like that too much. I know him just to be an amazing guy with a lot on his mind and definitely a lot in his heart. Getting to see different sides of lots of the people you grew up respecting is one of the many blessings of skateboarding for a living. I am especially grateful for those times. But after that it went dark. Let’s just say the janitor probably wasn’t very happy with the hotel lobby floor in the morning. Sean was kind enough to take my shoes away from me before I ruined those, too. Again, thank you, Sean.

I awoke to the sounds of Rodney and Sean laughing and running around, getting ready to fly out of Japan that afternoon. We were to be out of the hotel by 11:00 a.m., and our bags were being stowed in the lobby while we wandered around the area one last time. We all went back to the English-speaking store and everyone went crazy. J.B. got stuck with customer service from hell, and we just walked around, killing time. I talked with Ty for a while, and I have to say, he is a great guy to know. His dad raises and cares for exotic birds.

When it was time to meet back at the hotel to head for the airport, delirium was starting to set in due, in part, to the night before. I just went where they pointed, loaded up my bags, and put some music on. An hour later we were back at Narita airport. We said our good-byes to our chaperones and lifesavers Masa, Keori, and Koshin Distribution, we checked in, and then got back up to those friendly skies. By then I was silently hysterical, and visions of screaming people and planes going down and panic and terror were running around my head. Luckily, I got an aisle to myself, stretched out, and slept the entire flight. Before I put my head down, in the midst of growing turbulence, I took a look at everyone I could see from where I was. It turned out to be a damn good trip, and one of the best experiences I’ve had through skateboarding so far.

Matix, 1999.

all went back to the English-speaking store and everyone went crazy. J.B. got stuck with customer service from hell, and we just walked around, killing time. I talked with Ty for a while, and I have to say, he is a great guy to know. His dad raises and cares for exotic birds.

When it was time to meet back at the hotel to head for the airport, delirium was starting to set in due, in part, to the night before. I just went where they pointed, loaded up my bags, and put some music on. An hour later we were back at Narita airport. We said our good-byes to our chaperones and lifesavers Masa, Keori, and Koshin Distribution, we checked in, and then got back up to those friendly skies. By then I was silently hysterical, and visions of screaming people and planes going down and panic and terror were running around my head. Luckily, I got an aisle to myself, stretched out, and slept the entire flight. Before I put my head down, in the midst of growing turbulence, I took a look at everyone I could see from where I was. It turned out to be a damn good trip, and one of the best experiences I’ve had through skateboarding so far.

Matix, 1999.