Rodney Mullen interview

Rodney Mullen talks to Crossfire in a shop in Soho, London whilst the rest of the Almost team sat quietly next to us and homed in on the occasion.

Rodney is a pioneer of skateboarding. So much so, that the majority of skaters would say he was the single most important skater of all time, and they would not be wrong. Whilst on tour to promote the new Almost video, Zac managed to spend an hour with Rodney in a shop in Soho whilst the rest of the team sat quietly next to us and homed in on the occasion. It is a pleasure to have such an innovative skateboarder in our zine with big thanks to New Deal and Dwindle…welcome Rodney Mullen.

How are ya Rodney?

I’m OK, good to be here in London.

Superb, welcome to our City mate. I was introduced to you when you first appeared in skate videos and saw you on Powell Peralta videos. Freestyle skateboarding was almost sneered at back then, did you ever think that you would one day look back and realise how much of an influence you were going to be to street skating?

No. No idea.

Are you glad that you did not become a vert rider at all like so many other pro riders back then, was there pressure?

There wasn’t any real ‘pressure’. I’m pretty glad I didn’t abandon what I did. If I had turned to vert, at least I would have had some of those skills built in by now.

You visited the UK back then with a demo at Southbank, do you remember that clearly?

I remember everything about that trip. The first international trip I ever took was to London and I remember cruising by Southbank. It’s pretty etched in my mind.

Did being on Powell Peralta set you up as being more organized as a pro skater?

Maybe. Stacy is an amazing person and he had a long-lasting influence on all of us. Being from the East Coast and also being as freakish as I was as a kid, I wasn’t as exposed to Stacy like some of the other guys. But I think even that little bit of influence carried me a long way.

I read somewhere that you had to wear braces to straighten out your pigeon-toed feet? Did these (er) feet have something to do with your success for flipping the board?

Maybe. I notice similarities in a couple of other pro’s. A doctor once told me it was like having a built-in tripod for each leg. Not sure I believe him!

If you found out that kids were having surgery to have these kinds of feet would you feel uncomfortable?!

As long as they could put up with tripping over them from time to time and maybe a little ridicule, things might still work out! Haha!

You grew up and went to the University of Florida. What did you study there? Was it all just a waste of time now? This question comes from a skater who is about to start there in January.

Biomedical engineering and math was where I was headed. I started with Industrial engineering. I have good memories of UF. Lots of anonymity and the atmosphere is good.

Did your studies pay off?

Not literally, but it helped me. Good experience.

Are you gonna start working for al-Qaeda now?!!

Scary. Once you get some basics down you realise you know enough to learn how to do some bad things if you wanted. It’s as though they should give some sort of psychological evaluation before letting you take certain classes, especially in chemistry.

In your autobiography The Mutt, you seem to bare your soul, has this been a long time coming? Do you feel as though you have lifted a weight off your shoulders?

Not really. It was hard to sort of go back into some dark stuff I went through as a kid, then try to write about it in a way that didn’t lose the point of what is important as well as to be fair and as lighthearted as I could. I wanted to back out of it a number of times. If it weren’t for my wife, I probably would have. By now, I’m glad I didn’t quit. But when people tell me they read the book, my first instinct is honestly to apologize to them!

You talk about your Dad and relatives not understanding skateboarding, do they understand now since your fame has reached huge heights?

Maybe, in a way, but the ‘fame’ part is almost a distraction from the real point. He’s happy skateboarding gave me so much, for sure.

What advice would you give to kids who are in the same position now?

I understood my dad wanted the best for me, but it was hard to reconcile with how gnarly things got. There isn’t one little tidbit of advice someone could give that would have really made things better for me, mostly because you’re not in control of anything when you are a kid. The only thing I can say is to do your best and never give up, no matter how dark it seems. If your folks are the hard, confrontational type, just try to suck it up, so you never have to feel shame for words you can’t take back. They’ll know what that means and it makes it easier to live with yourself.

How did the FBI drop into your personal life?

It all started with a girl!

You mention on the Almost website that the first thing that you think of in the morning is to pray, how much has religion driven you in your career from day one?

It’s a real personal thing for me. It’s between me and God. I always pray a lot when I skate and I think it’s driven me a lot to be what I have become. I’ve skated alone since I was a kid, aside from obvious stuff like tours and hooking up and skating with friends sometimes, which is a lot of fun too, but I always go back to the same thing: Fortress of Solitude.

Are there rules for this? Does this mean that Slayer just cannot appear in your record collection?

Nope, no real rules. I’ve got my healthy share of Bad Religion, too! Haha!

What other music do you like to listen to?

Lots of stuff. I’m really into music, like a lot of skaters. I go through phases, so it’s hard to just say a name that sort of ‘means everything’ to me. I like a lot of Nina Simone, Clash, Johnny Cash, Stiff Little Fingers, Dixie Hummingbirds, BB King, Metallica, Beethoven, IZ, Leonard Cohen, Dvorak, Tom Waits, Shostakovich.

Top 5 records ever, stuff you would have to have on a tour like this?

Right now I’m in a Nick Cave phase. Blind Boys of Alabama: Spirit of the Century. Angelic Upstarts: Teenage Warning. New Model Army: Thunder & Consolation. Beethoven: 2and movement, 3rd Symphony.

What happened between you and Converse shoes?

They were good to me.

How much input do you have in making your own shoes models for Globe Shoes?

As much as you want, really. I have a good amount of say in most of my shoes.

Where did the name Almost Skateboards come from?

Daewon. The name is the last thing we came up with everything else was pretty obvious from the very first time we talked about doing it together. Names are hard, even if you have a good one, it’s hard to trademark so you can actually work with it. We’d gone through lists, and nothing great, then Daewon just called me and said, “what do you think of ‘almost?” Right away, it felt good.

How does it feel to travel together with kids like Greg Lutzka and Ryan Sheckler? i.e. Old legend with young ripper and vice versa.

It’s embarrassing skating with these guys. They are so good, and they’re so good to me. They’ll goof around with me and try my goofy crap. Then they’ll walk me up to a little handrail and try to coax me along. Obviously that’s not going too well so far. But I’m on my way. Ryan’s dad made me a flatbar. Such good people.

Have you ever helped each other learn tricks?

That’s what it’s all about.

Is it true that Chris Haslam beat yourself and Daewon at a game of skate?

Not ‘formally’, but it could happen if we tried. Could be a long game.

Have you ever felt jealous of Ryan Sheckler? Ever felt the urge to lock him in a cupboard?

All the time. Seriously, I cannot say enough about Ryan. The other day on the plane, Ryan and I were talking, then when he went back to his seat, the lady next to me thought he was my son. That was the first time I really thought about it, and I couldn’t imagine anything making me more proud than having that kid be my son. On top of being as gnarly as he is, he’s the coolest, most clearheaded and humble kid I may have ever met. He’s got a rotten sense of humour, too. Ryan Sheckler rules!

What is your fave part in the Almost Video?

Hard to say. Maybe Greg’s part. I wish I could fly like that. Even the way he stands on a skateboard looks so good and unique. Chris’ part is fun, too. I don’t know.

Who do you think is the best technical skater, that isn’t on Almost Skateboards. Who would you poach if you could?

I don’t personally know PJ, but I admire his skating a lot. I’ve met Paul Rodriguez a number of times and I really like how he is and the way he skates. It has to be someone who’s not just a good skater; they have to be a certain way and add something to the team, as well. Hard to say right now. Couldn’t be happier with how it is right now.

What is your best demo?

I have done every form of demo you can imagine. The Pork Rib Cook offs in Ohio, it was two 4×8’s laid on and I did a full demo on an 8×8 and all these guy are walking about eating ribs looking at me like I was from out of space and it was funny! Haha!

Wow, I can’t wait to ask you what the worst one was!

Yeah, that was back in the rotten 80’s. I had an agent at the time, I don’t have one now, but I did something with these rock and roll guys. That era was just weird, we all did random crap stuff back then. These guys were all drugged up with roadies and the girls. It was the worst.

Let’s talk tricks. You invented the flat ground ollie and Tony Hawk has been quoted to say: ‘“Every time you ollie you should get on your knees and thank Rodney.” How did you feel about that high accolade then?

Yeah, I guess I did. As for Tony, I write him monthly cheques!

What is the trick that gets you mad the most?

The way I skate there is not a trick really like that. I just try to reach out from what I’ve done, rather than focusing on doing a single type of trick further or higher that I have to practice all the time. I suppose that is why I suck so much when it comes down to doing demo’s as I never just roll around and do generic sort of things. I just try to focus on single types of tricks or movements, try to take them someplace new, then redo the same procedure.

No routines like you used to do in freestyle then?

Nope. There will be periods where I will not do a 360 flip in months, just so I focus on new movements and I don’t get stuck in doing things I’ve already done, unless of course I just have a really good time doing them. That’s where a lot of the joy I have skating comes from, how it stays fresh for me.

What tricks are you working on right now?

The video has just ended and before that I was practicing loads of primo moves but now that is finished I am starting from scratch and learning how to stand on my board different and just cruise around and do things. Switch helps you a lot to learn how to re-establish shoulder settings and stuff so that is what I do after any big thing I am done with. I try to start from scratch and see where that takes me, so I’m now looking at goofing around with a lot of nollie impossibles and seeing if I can grab it really high and turning it and seeing where that takes me. At the end of any video it is always a big stop point in my life where I try to look at things from a newer perspective, starting over.

What is your personal favourite trick that you have invented?

Er….haha! It’s a goofy trick that does not even have a name. It’s just based the freestyle days but the way you catch it has a fun feel and the board just does it’s thing. I will try and explain. You do like a noseblunt on the ground, front wheels and nose touching, and with your back foot you throw the board 180, so it cracks the rail. Your back foot will be standing sort of one-footed primo and you continue the motion behind you, so it’s almost like a 360 and it just goes back to the wheels, or nose wheelie or to whatever.

Is there a trick you have never been able to learn? Was there one that got away?

There are always a couple that got away. In the video I do a casper to nose wheelie and I really wanted to do a casper 360 flip to nose wheelie. That one got away. Another heartbreaker.

Yeah, I have had problems with that trick too!


Was the Casper slide an accident?

That was not me, that was Mike Ternasky. I still think of him all the time. He was forcing me to skate for Plan B and do the video and I was like, ‘nah, Mike, you don’t need a part from me,’ so he basically stood by me filming all the way through and it was at the end of the video and I was going, ‘Mike you should not even show this part, what are doing.’ This is for Questionable, and he was like, “Rodney, we are not done yet,” and he took my board and said, “this is what you are going to do.” He slid across like a casper with his hands and said “you are gonna do this…” and he sat there and he made me do it and we did it over and over again. I remember being at the premiere and throughout my part it was so silent – until that trick, you could hear crickets and he grabbed me by the neck, which was a great feeling, and he said, “wait until they see your next video.”

Explain a monkey flip out?

Haha! It’s just a stupid thing you write down, like you grab the rail, you know, like a frontside air and hop out of a trick and flip your board. Haha!

How do find switch primo slides?

Yeah, there is one on the video. Not a big deal, just goes by.

Do you ever ride transition now and again?

I wished. When I was a kid I used to skate parks a lot until I lost my teeth and my Dad had me no more than that and nowadays it’s like a never did it! I’m absolutely retarded on transitions, so that is one thing I wanna learn again.

So I could take you at a mini ramp comp?

You sure could! Haha!

Ok, let’s step outside!


You have appeared in Tony Hawk’s video games, have you ever been disappointed with your image on a video game?

Those guys who put those things together are always so funny, I always bring boards to try to bribe them into making me look younger!

What is it like to play yourself?

I never have!


I have never played one single video game! They always ask me how I think about the last game and I’m always like, ‘hey I loved it!’ Haha!

It must be strange playing yourself, if you did?

People probably use it like a voodoo doll, my wife does when she is pissed with me!

After this Tony Hawk boom, do you think that kids who play these games expect to pick up a skateboard and skate just like their idols?

Maybe they will, but I know a lot of those kids drop out pretty quickly. If people discover skateboarding through a video game even if it is 2% of the people who get into it and find a love for it, then it’s good. Skateboarding has given me everything, and maybe it can do the same for one of these kids that just started by playing video games. Videos themselves are like the game a little, to an extent they are make believe, you go out there and try all day for one single trick.

There is a barrier of disbelief, and if you see one person do it and get through that barrier it becomes believable. Take Pat Duffy as an example, then you get kids everywhere flying down rails and they can do it. These video games are virtual reality, it’s not real but they make kids believe and it raises that bar of skateboarding. Seeing is believing.

What are 3 fave spots in the world?

I’m such a hermit, I just like a few things around LA that I skate but no particular spots.

If a deceased spot was resurrected tomorrow, which one would you like it to be?

I only went to Love Park in Philly a few times on tour but it had the best vibe. I know it meant a lot to the locals there. It would be super cool if people could skate there again.

Did you enjoy your time in London?

Yeah, like always. It was a little wet, though.

I really want to know if you can do a hang-ten nollie back foot impossible, cos i know someone who can. I would like to see Meanwhile Darren and yourself in a game of skate. Are you man enough for a sesh with him at our local Tesco’s car park?

Hah! I wished I could meet him, that would be awesome..

Any plugs, shouts or links?

Er..I hate these little one liners as they always sound cheap, but I suppose what you see in the videos, it takes over a year to get those things out. Don’t be disillusioned about your own skating and don’t feel you have to skate a certain way by what you see by what is popular. Just skate from what is inside you and this the real thing that will keep you going and that is the beauty of skateboarding. Don’t be dissuaded from what you would otherwise be by what you see and what is promoted so much because it often changes like any other fashion. Just skate from your inside.

Thanks Rodney….