Welcome to installment 3 in the COCI series. This time we check in with early World Industries prodigy/team captain then Milk/ATM Click/60/40 legend Ron Chatman. If you were a kid skating during the 1989-1991 Rubbish Heap golden age like I was you basically knew Ron and Jeremy (Klein) as the two kings of skateboarding. They were the hottest up-and-coming rookies, on the hottest up-and-coming brand period. Their lingo alone was cooler than every Brigader on the planet combined. Both would also notch Check Outs, in the April and May 1990 issues respectively—on the same LBC quarterpipe, while both wearing backpacks, with both photos also shot by Spike Jonze. 26 years later, re-enter the Ron Chatman Experience.
ME: Do you remember the first time you saw this Check Out? Was it a surprise at the time?
Ron Chatman: I hate to sound jaded, but it's the truth, back then, we were in the mix and there wasn't too many people that they were shooting street photos of. I knew it was for a Check Out I think when I shot it, because Jeremy (Klien) and I shot ours on the same day on that same quarterpipe. It was fully set up. It wasn't a surprise.
What was going on in your life right then?
I was a senior in high school. The majority of the kids of color—black, brown, or whatever, wouldn't be skating now if it was like it was then. They skate for other reasons now—money, bitches, drugs, fame, being on TV or whatever. I was considered a white boy because I skated, but I just skated because I loved it.
It seemed like you and Jeremy were pretty much untouchable for a few years.
During that time I remember in Poweredge Mag they called me, Ed (Templeton), and Jeremy (Klien) "the three." Christian Kline would shoot Ed and Rick Kosick would shoot Jeremy and I. We would buy him lunch from Carl's' Jr. so that he would shoot photos and he was the worst (laughs.) I'm not afraid to say, there were so many rad things we did that he blew—he was all thumbs with the camera. It's great that he made it (Big Brother/Jackass, etc…) but during that time I think honestly we could have shot better photos. But as far as getting the Check Out, I wasn't surprised or anything.
Jeremy was wearing his graduation gown in his Check Out portrait, was this shot the day of?
No. That came from us shooting the "Brain Trust" ad for World. You know how it goes, if I was Na-kel (Smith) and I go and shoot an ad for adidas, it might turn into a cover for TransWorld because Skin (Phillips) used to work there. We all know how it goes down. Rocco set the table for the whole thing.
He laid it down.
Or just capitalism in general, everybody follows the same rulebook. Everybody can act like skateboarding is all "free" and "core" but it's all gangster. Once money comes into it, you're in a capitalistic society. You may as well be in jail. Back then though; shooting photos was still a big deal. So we had shot the "Brain Trust" ad at my Junior High School. I think Chris from Dear has the actual negative from that shoot. I found it and I gave it to him. I probably would have lost it by now if not (laughs.)
Who's quarterpipe was that? Dear Chris mentioned it was some dude Mark from Long Beach?
Well, that dude is Mike V's main photographer now. He's a skate photographer now. That was my little homey since third grade—Mark Nisbet. Big up Mark Nisbet and the 508 crew. The craziest thing is during the time when I was getting my golden shine and all that, worldwide access—all those dudes; I didn't even know they were skating. Like Rob G. (Gonzales), (Jason) Rothmeyer, and all those dudes were from my neighborhood in Long Beach, but I didn't even know they were doing it.
You were the big dog.
Nah. But literally, the dude with the quarterpipe, Mark—I started going to school in Long Beach in 3rd grade and he was one of my first friends. We used to play burning army men, smoke wrapped up dirt, and play war all right there in that alley. So those were my stomping grounds in the Check Out. Less than a block away from my house.
Did you learn to skate tranny on that thing?
When he built that quarterpipe it was fucking on. That was where everyone got good. Rob (Gonzales), all those dudes.
What was the deal with the backpack? I think Klein is wearing one in his too right?
Yeah. That was probably just part of the movement (laughs). Those were Airwalk backpacks I believe. Me personally, I used to ditch school at an early age so I always had a backpack with me to pretend I was either going to school or coming from school. Then when I got older to travel, you always just had a few necessities in your backpack. My kid, he's not even two yet, and he gets his shoes and his bag and his skateboard. He sees me. I'm 45 and I'm still the same way. Backpack, board, shoes, and I'm ready to roll.
What else went down on that quarter?
On that quarterpipe, a lot of shit went down. A lot of people got good there. It's gnarly now, there are skateparks everywhere and like DIY! this and that—that quarter was like Burnside for me. I was skating the First Wave ramp back in the day with Howard Hood, Lonny Hiramoto, Mike Smith and all those guys. George Watanabe took me under his wing and introduced me to that whole Harbor scene. Mike Smith and Todd Congelliere skated vert and I would try that when I could, but the quarterpipe was there everyday if we wanted it. Like how kids have a local skatepark now, that quarter was the closest thing we had to that. Thanks to that quarter, I could go skate McGill's in Carlsbad with Alf (Rawls) and Jordan (Richter) and not look stupid (laughs.) I need to say thanks to Mark Nisbet for that.
Why was Todd Congelliere's ramp the "Ramp with no vibe?"
Basically, I had a friend named Ofer. Remy (Stratton) put me on to skating a lot of vert ramps. And Remy and Ofer went to the same high school. And Remy had a homeboy, Howdy. And my friend Ofer was originally from Israel. So they used to heckle him and give him a hard time because he was a little soft. He would try to be down, but sometimes when you try to be down you just offer too much, and then they're like, "You'll never be down." Because you just offered everything. Like if you get caught by the enemy you're going to do the same.
Anyways, I had picked Ofer's side. They ran up to him one day and said "Sieg Heil" to him in the hallway. And I think I went up there and talked to Remy or some shit. He remembers. I remember. I was like, "What's up?" And he was like, "We were just heckling him." Then I felt bad because I had loc'd up on him, and Remy had put me up on game. We rode for G&S together but I kind of tripped on him.
After that everywhere else we would go, kind of there was a vibe. No one wanted to skate Todd's ramp. Because it was like eight-foot-wide and 12-foot-tall. And you had to climb up the ladder every time. And it never felt like it wasn't the first time. Every time you went to climb it. Then there were nails hanging out. But there were no vibes.
I skated a lot of ramps and had that access if I wanted. But because I had that friend Ofer. A lot of the times I'd bring him and I could feel the vibes. People trying to snake or whatever. But I'm just like that. If you're my homey, you might be a boob or a goof. But you're my friend so I'm going to back you.
Who was "Terrence Stukey?"
Terrence Stukey? That's the illest dude. Hajj. He's the smartest dude I ever met. He grew up with Spike Jonze, aka Adam Spiegel. And that was how I got on "Rocco" (makes deep loud voice). I always tell people. I told Jason (Lee) when he rode for SMA—"Put me on. I'm riding for G&S, Gullwing, and Airwalk." Back then that was a skater's dream. But I wanted to ride for SMA because that was the street shit. G&S was like riding for Powell. No disrespect to Neil (Blender) or any of those guys. But you know what I mean. Rocco was it. So I had told Jason to talk to Rocco for me. I already knew him and everything, but I thought it would be better with a co-sign, because that was my quote/unquote friend.
How did it go down finally?
So JLee never talked to Rocco, I got tired of waiting, and ended up just calling Rocco out of nowhere. And because I had met everybody from Homeboy Magazine through Terrence Stuckey—I had met Spike, Andy Jenkins, and all those other dudes—when I called Rocco all those dudes were around. I told him like "Hey, I want to ride for you blah blah." And Steve goes to everyone in the room like, "Hey, It's Ron Chatman. He wants to get on." And everybody in the room gave the nod and I was on.
Yeah, I always tell people, impatience is a virtue. You can be a pestering kid and sometimes be a nag, but like everybody says, you got to "go and get'ch yours nigga." Like I got mine. If I had waited, I probably would have never gotten sponsored by Rocco, I would have been waiting for Jason, he would have told me some bullshit story. That's real talk. I love Jason because he showed me early that you got to get yours by not having my back. I thought Jason had already talked to Rocco. I just called him because I really really wanted to ride for them. Like how people want to ride for Antihero now or something. It was like some Antihero shit. You couldn't just "get on" the team. G&S—you could just "get on" if you were "good enough." Rocco was too gang/gang for that.
They mention "focusing" boards in the text. That was right when the craze hit right?
I guess. I hurt my ankle focusing a board and after that I never did it. To this day I can't focus a board. I never did three flips because that was Jason's shit. I never did impossibles or heelflips because Ed did them. You couldn't do it better than that. I did the varial flip but I didn't step on toes or nothing like that. But I never focused boards either.
I guess the story goes that Mike Daher's brother George coined the term "focusing" boards (from a Bruce Lee quote) when he was a SMA Rocco Division/Blind am*. Do you remember seeing him do it first, before Rubbish Heap?
Yeah. I remember George Daher. He's the one. He invented it. But Klein would focus them at the drop of a hat too once he saw George do it. I couldn't do it, but I liked watching other people get their shit focused (laughs.) We could do whatever we wanted. We had a thing called NTMS. Not too much stuff. Like I still have packs of unopened Gizmo stickers, Hartsel stickers, Jesse stickers. Everybody calls themselves a "skate nerd" or whatever but skating is all that I have ever had. I have my kids and skating. Other then that, I like reading books and traveling. But skating's the whole reason for all of that stuff.
This is the thing dude. I never tell people. And this is probably the best time of my life. I was a sponsored skater kid that by sixteen wanted to drop out of school and take the GED. Just to skate. Because I was barely sponsored and G&S would reimburse me if my mom bought me a greyhound ticket to somewhere. I knew what I wanted to do.
Are you still fond of Alberto's Mexican food?
I always like three rolled tacos. Who doesn't? When you're on a budget, that's "Grande." They got the guacamole and the cheese. That Alberto's they were talking about was right by Matt Hensley's spot (The Flying Elephant). It was right there off of Tamarack Road in Carlsbad. And Swift and Terrence had an apartment right across from that Alberto's. It was like heaven. Then it got big. Alberto's is everywhere now. Dave Swift, who hated street skating—I used to stay with Terrence (Stukey) the dude that wrote this. He lived with Dave Swift and his girlfriend that became his wife. I used to skate vert with Jordan (Richter) and Dave Swift at McGill's and they used to talk shit on street skating all the time. Like, "Street skating and street skaters are bullshit." Like racist pretty much. It was funny at that time. Swift was all about Cokes and smokes, and decking your rocks. I liked it in a way because I grew up with a lot of dudes with etiquette.
What's going on in this fine month and year of June 2016?
Same shit. Skating. Rhymin'. Working with Pocket Pistols. SMA helped me out a lot last year. But working with Chicken again has been rad. We did Milk through him, ATM, then even 60/40. So he had a bunch of old art still in his files. He had been telling me about it for years. I finally started working with him again and I'm stoked. They do the retro boards, one-offs, re-issues or whatever you want to call it but they have dudes that know the process in and out.
Who does Pocket Pistols now? Just Chicken? No more Duane?
Screaming Squeegees was Chicken and Kelly Belmar. Duane was with Pocket Pistols for many many moons. But now Duane, the Master of Disaster, I don't know what he's doing. But I can be sure that he's doing it to the fullest.
I always think about Milk, ATM, and 60/40—like if one of those would have really gotten big…
Well, to me I can look at Girl and Chocolate and be like, "What did they do different?" The thing was we actually made it big. But we left (John) Falahee (owner of Milk/ATM dist.) because to us he was up to no earthly good. Not even business wise. He's not even like a business wiz. Rocco at least was a formidable villain. Falahee wasn't even a formidable villain.
Mark (Gonzales) and I wanted to leave ATM. We were like, "Dude, this isn't working out." We wanted black and white ads with no skating. He wanted skating ads in full color. He wanted to waste money. We wanted to do what the formula is now—short runs, keep it small, and do our thing. He didn't want that. That was what we fought about. Our product was selling and he didn't want to pay his riders. All types of bullshit. The company was doing great, it just got mismanaged.
When we (Gonz and Ron) bailed, he offered to turn everyone who was am pro if they stayed with him. To me that was one of the best times of my life too. Because Steven (Cales), Fabien (Alomar), Joey (Suriel), all of those dudes could have gotten a check. And they weren't getting a check. They were skating for free. Back then they were young adults, still doing their thing—smoking their weed, dressing cool. And they still chose to stay with us and leave. I knew it was hard so it meant a lot that they stayed with us.
Then we were out of the frying pan and into the fire with bullshit ass (Rich) Metiver (another Dist. Owner during the '90s who did 60/40 with Gonz and Ron). In the beginning no one wanted to fuck with us. I rode for Milk. I did a tour with (John) Cardiel and those dudes—Salman (Agah), Cardiel, Karma (Tsocheff), Alan Peterson, Skin (Phillips) was on that trip, Thomas Campbell who wrote the intro to my interview over there. Mark had already quit being pro (Gonz quit pro skating to become an artist in 1992 —Ed.) but I got him on that tour. We went on that tour and we were hanging deep and Mark wanted to do shit again when he got back and nobody wanted to fuck with Gonz. Skateboarding was dead. And Mark is who he is but nobody in the industry wanted to fuck with us. No one.
I think a lot of people forget about that era. When Gonz got sort of shut out for a second.
I remember it. Even with the whole "black" phenomenon. They always focus on… I love brothers who had it extra harder. But it's like if you don't have a southern accent or some bee bee shot story—they don't enhance you the way they should. It's just racist (laughs). I just think skating is a joke on that side. I love skating, but the whole marketing side of it is smoke and mirrors. Isn't there a part where he says I like hurting people's feelings and breaking their lives?
Yeah. What was that about?
Because out of all of my friends, I was the shittiest skater. All of my peers from my area, all the dudes that were good got into real crime, real drugs, or they got scared of life. Which made me lose respect for all those dudes. Because I was like, "These are the dudes." My guys, my immediate circle. All of a sudden it was like, "You're sixteen now, time to ditch school." So I ditched religiously from 10th to 12th grade. Not by choice.
It says: "Wrecking other people’s lives is something Ron likes to do when he is tired or bored."
Yeah. I had no loyalty or no remorse because that was all that I had seen. Skateboarding helped me, like I didn't drink or smoke weed or nothing until way later. When I was over 21. I had been pro for like three years by then. I think weed and all that stuff made me nicer. Before that I was just angry. I had a lot of issues. Skating helped me settle them. I like to focus on that. Even now, I'm getting older and people can say you get bitter—but I was bitter when I started (laughs).
I always say this, but I got accepted to UCLA out of high school too. I could have gone either way. To me, I was pro in education and I was pro in skating. My mom and dad were educators. I didn't have a choice. My parents were dirt poor and they were on me to succeed. Like if I ditched school I was getting my ass kicked. Not "whooped" or whatever. I mean to the point where I couldn't suit up for PE because they would have called protective services. But skating is the best. Most skaters are dumb. It ain't a bad thing. All that other stuff is negotiable. It's like you can pass all the tests but you might not handle it in action. I remember dudes that were really good and they would choke at contests. Life is the same deal.
I didn't know you got into UCLA. That's my Alma Mater.
When are we going to skate Hundreds again?
Ron’s part from Rubbish Heap (World Industries, 1989).
* From Mike Daher's Chromeball interview.