Imagine flying virtually for free to anywhere in the world at a moment's notice. That was more or less the winning hand that James Capps was dealt through a relative at United Airlines about five years back—right in time to link up with skate tour-guide extraordinaire Anthony Claravall and seek out every untouched corner of Asia. Already sitting on a passport full of stamps and a lifetime of incredible memories—here is the full Roll Call detailing James' adventures flying the friendly skies, his day job in SF working the Alcatraz ferry, living at the legendary Newell house, his spot on the Chocolate and Lakai flow rosters, along with everything else along the way.-Mackenzie Eisenhour
Photos by Dave Chami
How's the summer been treating you? How was the camping trip?
It was amazing. We went down to Big Sur. It was just all this super good ocean scenery. Good swimming spots. And all these good camping spots.
You're from Idaho, is that correct? But you also spent some time in Oregon?
Yeah. I'm originally from Boise, Idaho. Then my parents split up, and I moved to Oregon when I was 11 and spent the rest of my youth/childhood years there.
Where abouts in Oregon?
It's like this little town on the coast that you've definitely never heard of. It's called Coos Bay. Then the actual part where my parents live is Gold Beach, which is about an hour south of that in the middle of nowhere. The entire population is like a thousand people or something.
Did you start skating in Oregon or back in Boise?
I started in Oregon. There just wasn't that much to do where I grew up in Oregon. We were always riding bikes or whatever, and then one of my homies got a skateboard and it just clicked. Every day we would just mess around with it, bombing hills on our butt. There are some gnarly hills in Oregon. Then finally we saw our first skate video. We saw TransWorld i.e. ['00] then Flip Sorry ['02], and it was on.
How did you find your way to SF from there? You live at the Newell house, right?
Yeah. I live at the Newell now, which is pretty crazy. I don't know how I ended up there. I did a trip here [SF] when I was like 16 with some buddies from Boise. It was just like a homie trip. Everyone saved a little money, and we went for like a week and stayed with some friends of friends. I was just super hyped on SF, though. I remember being like, "I gotta move there. I'm gonna move there as soon as I graduate high school" kind of thing.
"So I pretty much quit this job and started flying around wherever I could go."
What kind of scene/spots were going on at the time in SF?
By then, everything was pretty much already done as far as the old spots. It's been done for a long time. But Potrero Skatepark had just gotten built. Right when I moved here I went to the opening day [June 28, 2008]. Saw [Jake] Phelps cruising around. That was pretty crazy. I actually saw him hang up on some kid's board, right on the big bank there, and just smack his head super gnarly. I was like, "All right, welcome to San Francisco."
You got the full experience right off the bat. How did you end up at the Newell?
I lived in a lot of places before the Newell. But I started working on this ferry that goes to Alcatraz, I want to say six years ago. I didn't work here the whole time. I quit for like four years, but this was like my first real job. When I moved here, my dad drove me down from Oregon and dropped me off with some homies that I didn't really even know. I knew them through Brennan Conroy [Habitat TM], because he's from Idaho. It was funny because he asked me like, "I have some Oregon homies. Do you know them?" And it was Josh Matthews and Justin Carlson. I was like, "Well, I know of them." Anyways, it turned out that they had a couch they would rent out for like 500 dollars a month. So my dad drove me down and dropped me off, and I found this job.
How did you find the ferry job?
Another homie, this guy Daniel who lived with Justin and Josh, was looking for jobs too and told me about it. It was like 15 dollars an hour. Six or seven years ago that was really good. Costs in SF have gone up a lot since, but back then it was really solid.
Do you drive the ferry?
No, I wish. I work at the snack bar, dude. I'm just selling beers, hot dogs, and pretzels on that thing.
I was picturing you commandeering this vessel.
God, I wish. I would be set. Those guys make dough. Definitely more than 15 dollars an hour.
Do you ever get off the boat at Alcatraz and check out the old Gonz wall?
It's funny that you ask, because I actually just went with a couple of friends from out of town that are visiting yesterday. We walked right by it not even looking for it, and I was like, "Oh, that's the Gonz spot." I don't know how he did that. I don't know how he pulled it off, because they don't even let you take your skateboard on the boat.
Yeah, that was my next question. There's no way you can skate out there, right?
Yeah. No. He must have had some kind of in or something. He must have known somebody here. It's the Gonz, though, so who knows. The spot itself doesn't even really look like anything. It's so crusty. Everything on Alcatraz is really old and crusty. There's just birdshit everywhere too.
What's up with this free travel hook-up? I was told you can basically fly standby almost for free anywhere in the world.
Yeah. So I worked here on the ferry for two years, and then my aunt started working as a manager for United Airlines at the airport in Oregon. She's my step-aunt from my step-mom's side of the family. So she already had flight benefits that were pretty good, and she ended up getting divorced. So at that point she asked me like, "Hey, do you want me to put you down as my 'significant other' so that you can fly around and do your skating thing?" I was like, "Hell yeah." So I pretty much quit this job and started flying around wherever I could go. Through FTC, I got linked up with [Anthony] Claravall. And then it was just like every trip that I could get on I would go.
Had you done any traveling outside the country prior?
I had been on one homie trip to London and Barcelona—just with some friends from Boise that lived in New York. But that was the only trip I had really done. Then within the last four or five years I've just been doing it nonstop.
How does it work, you just choose the destination and then wait for an opening?Yeah. It's like booking a normal ticket, but then I have my aunt's log-in information and it takes you to an employee page. Then you just book it on there like you would any other flight. Just check Hong Kong or whatever and see like, "Oh, there are 90 seats available for the flight tomorrow. Let's do it." Or sometimes they're full flights. You just have to be super flexible.
That's insane. That's like the dream hook-up for skating.
Oh, it's crazy. I've gone on so many trips for so cheap. Basically I just pay the tax, which is a few hundred bucks max, and then the small airline fee.
You took the train trip across China with Mike O'Meally. How was that?
Oh, it was super sick. We followed the Silk Road basically that goes all the way from Shanghai into Europe. We only did the China portion, but it was so crazy because I've been to China a few times. I've been to Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen on filming missions, but we went to the other side of China—the Western side—and it felt like you weren't even in the same China. It felt like you were in one of the "Stans," like Pakistan or Afghanistan. Everyone there eats lamb; that's pretty much all they eat.
Sounds like a good adventure.
We also went to check out Ordos with Patrik Wallner. It's basically this massive ghost town. They built this city expecting a few million people to move there and basically nobody did. So it's this huge city in inner Mongolia that's like half built and abandoned.
Probably perfect for skating.
Yeah, exactly. You never get kicked out. There'll be like an amazing front entrance to a building with all this marble, and then halfway up the main structure they just stopped building it. It's pretty crazy.
Are you pretty tight with Claravall after all these trips?
We're homies for sure. I've been on a lot of trips with him.
Is he pretty much unsurpassed as far as knowledge of the region?
He's the dude. He's the king. If you go to Asia, as far as skateboarding is concerned, you'll want to meet up with Claravall. He's got it dialed.
The King of Asia. Who was your roommate at the Newell house?
Matt Milligan was my roommate at the Newell. He's lived there forever. He was there back when Frank [Gerwer], Elissa [Steamer], and everyone else was still there.
Who has the actual lease on Newell? That place could be like a museum by now, no?
Yeah. I honestly don't even know who has the lease at this point. I think Matt had it for a while, and then he sort of passed it over to my two roommates now—this dude Willy and another guy called James. John [Alden] I think still has it downstairs. There are two levels to it. Elissa moved out a while ago. It's changed a lot though. I think it used to be way gnarlier as far as partying and all that. Now John's got a baby, his chick's there. It's super mellow downstairs.
So how did the Chocolate thing happen? Were you enjoi for a second too?
Yeah. Claravall and [Matt] Eversole [previous enjoi brand manager] are super good homies, and I was going on all those trips with Anthony, and he was kind of hyping me up to Matt. So that was kind of how that happened. Then Matt quit [enjoi] and Louie [Barletta] took over, and it was kind of like starting over at enjoi. I was skating Lakais by then and going on a bunch of trips with them. We were on that Picture Me Eurollin' tour, and Daniel [Wheatley, Chocolate TM] was like, "Hey, do you want to skate some Chocolate boards." I was like, "Hell yeah." Who doesn't? That was like the dream come true.
All-time best Lakai rider?
Mike Carroll, hands down.
All-time best Chocolate rider?
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