From sending sponsor-me tapes to designing shoes for adidas, Scott Johnston aka Scoochy J, has come a long way since moving from to suburbs of Maryland to SF as a teen chasing that skate dream. Read the full interview on The Chrome Ball Incident right here.
Was Think your first sponsor?
I actually got on Venture first, which they and Think were always connected. But that was never a "strategy" of mine or anything, it just worked out that way. Everyone in D.C. rode Ventures back then. Pepe Martinez, Steve Teagues and Chris Hall were all on Venture, which those relationships probably helped me out early on. Back when I was trying to get on Think, Greg could reach out to those guys about me, you know? That's how things worked from afar back then.
But yeah, I sent in a sponsor-me tape. It's funny, because I remember talking to Greg on the phone about everything a few days after he got it.
"Yeah, Henry Sanchez was over here the other night and we watched it."
"Henry!?! Oh, no…."
I was just trying to get a couple boards, man! You got Mike and Henry watching this thing? Those guys are the best… oh, man… (laughs)
It was just felt so crazy, being a shy 15-year-old and finding out that Mike Carroll and Henry Sanchez are sitting on the couch, watching my tape. I wasn't ready for that type of situation! (laughs)
Were you always planning on moving out to San Francisco?
Not necessarily. Coming out of high school, I intended to go to community college or something. San Francisco always sounded amazing but moving there felt so far-fetched.
I actually grew up in the suburbs of Maryland but spent every second I could in D.C. because I liked skating in the city. But to live in San Francisco? That whole place is like a skatepark. Just walk outside your door and there you go. And I was lucky with Think and Venture being there, it all came together. So once I decided to really give everything a go, SF just made sense.
It was definitely a risk moving out there but things started to change so quickly for me after I arrived. I want to say that I turned pro within a year of moving, which definitely would not have happened back in D.C. But the industry was still so small that being in the mix like that definitely helped. Plus, I was so happy actually being out there, that was all the motivation I needed.
Any culture shock at all?
I mean, that place can either make or break you. But I feel like I came in with the right relationships already started and was able to build from there. I'm sure my sponsors might've given me a little leeway at first but that stuff will only get you so far. It doesn't matter who you're down with if you're out there kooking it, you know?
Yeah, and you really were walking into social minefield there.
(laughs) Yeah, it was tricky. Because to some, I'm sure it could've looked like I came out there for fame and to go pro or whatever, but I never had that mindset. It was never like, "I'm gonna make it!"
I just wanted to check it all out. Sure, I was interested in seeing what could happen but I was never overbearing in how I showed up. I barely even skated the Seven, let alone the Gonz. I wasn't trying to be a spectacle. I was just stoked to do my thing out there in this legendary place.
Talk a little about those early Mad Circle days at Justin's house. I've always heard people talk about it being this creative space with constant new ideas.
Justin lived just off Haight Street, which was always a good place to end your evening. Grab some dinner and head over to Justin's. At first, Mad Circle was mostly Justin and Gorm Boberg with Barry McGee as this mysterious figure out there, doing his thing somewhere. But I always remember going over there to check out whatever Justin had in the works on his computer. He was just so juiced, man. Because he was learning how to do everything at the same as he was starting this company. It was so cool to be around.
"Aw, man, check this out! And what about this!? Let me show you this!"
I think that's what actually sparked my interest in design later on. Because you couldn't help but be drawn in by his enthusiasm. And eventually I did start making some t-shirt graphics and a few other things. Baby steps, I guess. But for years, I didn't feel like there was any point to it. I could just sit back and watch those guys come up with everything.
Skateboarding went down some pretty crazy roads at this time but your trick selection escaped unscathed. I can't find a single photo of you doing anything embarrassing of the early 90's variety. How cognizant were you of matters of style and looking good on your board versus trying to learn every trick?
It was never like I only wanted to do "minimal tricks" or anything. I wanted to do a lot of tricks, for sure. But I feel like once I got to San Francisco, I learned that skating faster really made a difference. Everything looks better that way. So even though I probably wasn't skating as fast when I wasn't filming, as soon as the camera came out, I'd give it a few extra pushes to help things out a little. I feel like that alone got me out of a lot of that. Speed became more of a priority than noodling tricks.