Check Out/Check In: Rob Welsh
Words: Mackenzie Eisenhour
Jan. 1998, Vol. 16, No. 9
Robert Welsh, aka Wu-Welsh, aka Welshington donned his Check Out in our January 1998 issue--a few months before the Mad Circle dropped Five Flavors, a couple more months before Rob turned pro, and then a couple more months before Giant pulled the plug on Justin Girard's brainchild. Twenty years later--with a pro run spanning Mad Circle, Aesthetics, Zoo York, Santa Cruz, and Expedition, and a video part catalog including Five Flavors, Ryde or Die, Vol. 1, Free Your Mind, and Fully Flared--I checked in with Rob to get his take on it all and see what he's been up to since hanging up his pro model in 2016.
This was the extended text from Rob’s Check Out/Check In from our July-August 2018 issue.
Do you remember this Check Out? Do you remember the first time you saw it?
Of course I remember it. As far as the first time seeing it though. It all happened really quickly. I do remember being bummed on the portrait (laughs).
The portrait is amazing.
It's the hair man (laughs). There was a reason for that though. I had a job at the time.
Look at that mug. You're lookin' proper in there. Had you shot with Blabac before?
Yeah, Mike (Blabac) was staff for Mad Circle. I'm pretty sure he lived with Justin (Girard). That dude (Blabac) is the best. I always loved his nighttime pictures because he used tripods and a few flashes and it gave it that ghost effect.
Where is this spot? SF?
That spot is by the Art Institute in downtown San Francisco. It was up against the wall, there was a ledge and then on top of the ledge was that flat bar. Your leg could get caught between the glass and the rail. I think it's still there.
That was through Donny Barley. Barley rode for them. I skated Gullwings. Everybody did after Matt Hensley's video part.
I had the Street Shadows.
Shortly thereafter though, probably within like a week Greg Carroll took me aside and was like, " Nah dude. You live in SF now." I kinda knew but was just like "whatever."
How did you end up on the Mad Circle?
(Bobby) Puleo. I was skating Union Square one night and he came up to me and asked me who I got boards from.
You had no board sponsor at that point?
No. Like I said I was working. When I moved out West--you have these ideas, and then you get here. I grew up in the Northeast. It's brutal in the winter. My thing was always "get me out of where I'm at" and for me skateboarding--or at least where I was supposed to me in my mind--was in California. SF seemed like a small enough city and you didn't need a car and you were around like-minded people.
EMB was still there too when you moved correct?
Yeah. And to us as outsiders looking in, that (SF) was just the place to go. Where I grew up there were hardly any skaters. I moved out west with a couple guys from New Hampshire and a guy from Vermont. I moved out with this guy Mike Gower, Jonah Thurrell, and Nikhil Thayer. We all knew each other in New England. So we got together and moved out.
Where were you working when Puleo discovered you?
I was working at a grocery store. My girlfriend had a job there--she worked in the floral department and was like, "They're hiring somebody in produce." I'm fucking 19; this guy Mike who ran that department immediately hired me. He loved me. He told me like, "You know, kids out here don't have any work ethic." I was there for about a year. I would work full 48-hour weeks and every day after work I'd go skate Union Square. So one night I'm there and Puleo was there.
What kind of stuff might have caught Bobby's eye?
I could do little backside 180 fakie 5-0 grinds. The pop shove it frontside crooks. I mean I skated Union Square at night every day and I could skate it. Going back, I guess my superpower had always been skating ledges.
Was any of the Mad Circle part footage from those night sessions?
No. That pop shove front crooks was from later. But those were my tricks there. My friend Ben, Bennie Blanco who wrote the Check Out text would film.
Who is the Bennie Blanco guy? I thought it was a just joke or something.
Bennie Blanco from the Bronx.
Yeah, Carlito's Way, but I didn't think there was actually a dude named that.
Bennie was a kid from Western Massachusetts who would skate with (Jim) Gagne. Bennie would film and wrote my thing. He's back East now. As far as the Mad Circle video, I filmed a lot of that with Pete Thompson and then Richard Hart filmed some. It went quick though. It's so easy to film your first video part though because you just do what you already do.
Rob’s breakthrough part in Mad Circle, Five Flavors (1998).
Were you surprised at the response the part got? It seemed like you blew up overnight.
Of course. I thought I was a part of a really cool thing. I really liked everything that Justin (Girard) did and it couldn't have been a better fit. I was heartbroken when it went down. You find this little home for yourself and then... But thank god for Sal (Barbier).
Did you quit the grocery store job?
You get an opportunity like that you gotta run with it. When that opportunity presented itself I was working full time. I had to quit my job to go on tour. I remember it being a pretty big deal. It was a decent job. I had benefits. I get time and a half on Sundays. I was thinking, "Skating can't pay as much as this." But I had to make that decision to go on that summer tour. My boss was like, "I got to let you go, if you go." He was kind of like a father figure and he gave me that talk, "Be careful what you chase after." Not really understanding. But I had to think about it. I actually talked to my dad finally and he was like, "Fuckin' do it. You're young once. You don't want to look back and think what if." That was really good advice from him.
I think you made the right choice. Can you break down the time between Mad Circle ending and Aesthetics starting? Did you get on 23?
No. I never got on 23. Mad Circle was still going. Then it took me a second to find a new home. I started getting on the DC program after Mad Circle. I had met Kevin (Taylor) in Philadelphia when I was skating for Mad Circle. Kevin was so good. Clyde too. Think about what Clyde did at Hubba Hideout in Trilogy (96). It's ridiculous. I think with skating there are highlight reels. I know that my better years were obviously like Aesthetics. Then after that everything is all right you know. Sometimes walking away is tough. Even when you might think you should with injuries or whatever.
Was it Huf (Keith Hufnagel) who filmed your switch tre over the Brooklyn Banks wall?
Yeah. After the Mad Circle part that was sort of the next thing I had. I remember I wanted to go to New York. But that one kept me on the industry radar for sure. I always tell kids, go do a hard trick at a famous spot. It puts you on the radar. However you follow that up, if you don't kook it after--it works. If they hand you the reigns, run with it.
Up the ante and an iconic spot. Do you have a favorite era from your pro run? Was it circa '01 to '16?
I actually turned pro in '98. I have a pro board for Mad Circle that you've probably never seen. I got a board right before it went down. That's what made it almost like a double whammy. I was bummed.
What was the Mad Circle Welsh graphic?
It was a comic book theme from a board series they did.
I like it all. I like where skating's at now. I have more fun skating now than I did when I was pro. I enjoy it more. I was skating last night. I can't even fucking move right now (laughs). But I'm having just as much if not more fun now than back in the day.
Are you still on the vert program?
Yeah. I skate it all. That's the whole point. I think with the vert thing, it just so happens that there's a ramp super close to me. Which had never happened before. And there's a schedule when you can skate it, which makes it even better. I'm in my 40s, so scheduling my life is pretty much a good thing. I have another little skatepark by my house I'll go roll around. As far as going out in the streets, I guess I could still hop in a van with whoever is going out, but I'd probably rather be on my own any more.
What is skateboarding at the end of the day? I think it's a performance art or like a martial art.
It's only really comparable I think to dancing. It's dancing. And dancing's fucking subjective. That's why it's a really weird thing when you can make a living doing it. And I was lucky that some people liked the way I danced. And I don't ever take that for granted.
You're a great fucking dancer Rob.
Shut the fuck up (Laughs). But it sounds weirder than it is. Once it all started to take off you figure you have to do hard tricks. You gotta like "bring it." And that's frustrating man. Especially when you get older and think like, "Fuck, I can still bring it," but some filmer doesn't think you can bring it as good as the new guys. It's so weird man.
When did the knee problems start? Did it ever fully go away?
That started while we were filming for Fully Flared. I did it pretty early on for that. I have hereditary bad hips so you start falling apart. I'm a little taller than most people, I don't know. I skate now and I have to take a day off. I have to pay for it. But if I don't skate I'm completely miserable so I just have to pick my battles. I wouldn't know what to do without my skateboard. I'm still like that.
I think we're all the same in that regard.
A lot of it is having different goals now too. That's the thing with skating vert. Say if I go to a ledge or something I'd be known to skate or whatever--you get pulled in directions in skating. If somebody jumps on a rail, you gravitate towards that. You never really get to pick on your own. Like filming manuals to me--I'd rather watch paint dry.
You got the Cab manny though.
(Laughs) that's right. But I had to work for that. That wasn't something that came easy. I could maybe still do that on a shorter manual pad. But instead of me going out and trying to keep that bag of tricks, I just always want to try new, so the ramp's nearby and it's all brand new. It's exciting.
You feel like kid again.
That's why it's so interesting to watch people learn how to skate. Even like Lil' Wayne or whoever. There's something about it where you want o watch him learn.
I agree. It's when you get to an endpoint and don't change trajectories that it gets lame.
Just always be growing or you're in a decaying state.
What's new these days? What have you been up to since parting ways with Expedition?
I've been skating. Reconnecting with old friends. I'm repping for a lot of different brands. You can't make a living being a sales rep. But I'm basically doing missionary work for all these brands. Sal and I have a couple of things in the works so that hopefully I'm not just driving around trying to get 5 or 7 percent from other people forever.
What's the status on Ryde or Die Vol. 2?
I'm on it. How bad do you want to see it? I would film a minute part. There would have to be some type of reward. Preferably monetary (laughs). I might need a massage therapist and a new hip.
Rob in Ryde or Die, Vol. 1 (2001)
Rob in TWS Free Your Mind (2003)
Rob’s shared part with Lenoce and SJ in Fully Flared (2007).
Stay tuned for more COCI’s.
Follow Rob: @welshington