Jon Humphries has shot and filmed some of the most legendary skate moments but it was not by chance.
His tenacity and timing to be at the right places at the right time to capture the right shots and make long lasting friendships with skaters he met along the way helped him keep photos rolling in
He was right there at the start of adidas, Savier and Nike’s skate programs but didn’t just shoot the photos. He came up with a lot of the creative concepts behind some of those brand’s most standout ads.
Since he has been a member for a while we had to hit him up to dig into his archives and talk about some of his favourite photos and films he’s documented in his career as a photographer and filmer in skateboarding.
Read his interview to learn how he first started skating and got a handle on shooting, capturing the early days of the Burnside skate scene, Matt Beach, getting mentored by J Grant Brittain, working for adidas, shooting with The Gonz and Lance Mountain, Savier, Brad Staba and Brian Anderson, shooting all the 16MM film sequences in Can’t Stop, Bob Burnquist, Kurt Hayashi, skating the UK with Mike Manzoori, Toby Shuall and Pete Hellicar, directing for Nike, The Koston 2 Commercial, Gino Iannucci and John McEnroe and more.
So Portland is where you grew up and started skateboarding?
Yeah and I started shooting here.
What year did you first pick up a board and discover skating?
I started skating when I was about eleven. A friend of mine who lived down the street had a Nash board, like a toy board but he wasn’t into it so I ended up borrowing it from him and jamming around on it.
At the time I was racing BMX bikes. I did that for like a year. I would go to the BMX track and I would see dudes skating when I was down there, there was a little pad of cement and I saw them on there trying to skate on that and I got interested a little bit from watching that. So I grabbed my friends’ board after seeing that.
@mikeychin_stagram: Fakie Flip at Burnside
What happened to the BMX?
My parents wouldn’t support my BMXing. It was too expensive for them. It sucked at the time, I was doing really well at it, getting firsts and I was moving up and I was really into it. But you’ve got to have good bikes to race BMX. You can’t have a lame bike.
So I went to skateboarding, because it was cheaper, a board was easier to get, so I started skating and that’s all and then I did it non-stop. I really started getting serious about skateboarding when I as 12.
What year was that?
In 1986. That was the boom here and that was when Animal Chin came out with The Bones Brigade.
Everyone in America either rode BMX or skateboarded, it was huge. I went around with it.
With me, it was the boom, I was into both of those things and skateboarding just stuck. I rode it out through the boom into the 90s’, went through that craze of it dying and being really small and awesome and when I was going through High School and whatnot.
Launch ramp era?
Totally. Launch ramps and you know by the time 1989-1990 hit, all that stuff went away and the next thing you know we’re all just strictly street skating and trying to learn all these street tricks but I always skated ramps too. I had a really big yard, so built a spine ramp in my yard. It started off as a half pipe but our friend ended up donating us another mini ramp, so we made it into a spine ramp.
Yeah. It was 5ft on one side and like 3-4ft on the other side. I always skated ramp. I was always better at it. But you had to skate street ‘to be cool’ so I always did that too.
Ramps helps you get more control on your board though
Yeah, you take the tricks back and forth obviously. We thought it was weird that street skaters couldn’t skate ramp and couldn’t do a 50-50 on a ramp in the early 90s and you’d be like what, you can’t 50-50 a ramp but you could Backside Flip something?
It was the opposite for me I struggle with street tricks but I could rip a mini ramp for sure and skate a little bit of vert for sure.
So your ramp was ‘the go to spot’. Who else skated it at the time?
So basically all the local town legends realised I had a ramp and there would be times that I’d come home and they’d be skating my ramp.
I’d be like who the fuck is this!? The next thing I know those dudes are my homies, they were the local dudes who ripped super hard and were like a year or two older than me.
I ended up skating with them a ton and learning from them a tonne and palling around with them.
Were you shooting much skate photography at this time?
I never really shot photos of them because I skated with them before I shot photos. I actually failed photography in my junior year because I didn’t take it seriously.
But then Senior Year came around and I was like damn man, I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life, I need to figure this all out really fast. I was like I really love photography.
So one of my friends who was an amazing skateboarder and who was also an amazing photographer, James Rexroad, taught me a ton, so I hung out with him and asked him a bunch of questions.
So in Senior Year, I really took it serious and had an amazing photography teacher at my school too.
After that Senior Year, I moved into a house living with my friends, started trying to shoot local sponsored guys, started going down to Burnside and shooting as much skateboarding as I could.
That’s where it all started, moving out of my parent’s house and quitting community college because it was useless.
Got a couple jobs, got a camera and started trying to shoot guys who were sponsored, and could do tricks that could get into the magazines potentially, who had a bit of a name already but were from Portland. That’s because everything in skating at the time was based around California.
@sk8rlocoheddings: Kickflip at Burnside
Who were those guys you were shooting then?
The whole Burnside crew, Neil Heddings, Pigpen and Sage Boulard at first but then it was Matt Beach, Jayme Fortune and some other local street rippers like Dave Hupp who rode for H-Street.
That was the crew. Like I’d go out with the street guys but make sure that one day I would just kick it at Burnside all day and I would get a photo because there’s always somebody there ripping. So I would kind of go back and forth in-between going street and doing that and eventually got into the magazines through that.
Matt Beach, Jayme Fortune and Dave Hupp at the time had big enough names to get into the magazine. Not every month but enough.
Where did you get your first photos published?
So I had a couple photos in Slap early on. That didn’t really work out. I just wanted to work for Transworld. J Grant Brittain was the best photographer. They had the best photos.
As much as I loved Thrasher and read Thrasher as a kid, they didn’t have the same quality of photos or articles I didn’t think so I really went after Transworld.
So I submitted a bunch of photos to Grant Brittain and he was like these shots sort of suck.
You’re using the wrong lens, which as a young photographer, you always think your photos are great even though they’re not. You know?
So he told me to get a fisheye and stop using this weird 20MM lens I had and this and that. I was kind of bummed on him at first because he was blunt and harsh but in a good way. I listened to him and I waited a year and I got a photo of Dave Hupp published in Transworld in 1995.
What was that photo?
It was Dave in downtown Portland, there was a straight out ledge off this old war monument and he’s doing a Switch Tailslide off of it, I shot it Black and White but it was toned sepia or something. So that was kind of cool that my first shot in Transworld and it was this guy I had been shooting for a few years before that.
What was it like in those early days of Burnside? Bet it was wild
It was super intimidating when we were younger.
The guy who taught me a bunch of photography that I mentioned earlier, James Rexroad, who ripped, he had a car and was older to me. He took me to Burnside for the first time; it was just when it was two banks to walls, two banks on the face wall, so you could just ride it as a gap.
So I remember he pulled his car up on the curb onto the flat part and shined his lights on to the bank to wall one night and that was the first time I skated Burnside. After that, even though I was kind of a street kid, I was a shy kid from the suburbs. Downtown Portland seemed big at the time even though it was not. It was intimidating these guys came from broken households and different backgrounds then I did.
I was a super middle class white kid from a safe neighbourhood and some of these dudes were pretty rough. They were already doing drugs and getting drunk and I wasn’t really at that stage yet, I was pretty young.
Must have been gnarly to you at the time but for them it was normal
Yeah, that’s how they skated. That’s how Mark Scott and the Rebel Skates guys from Portland skated. They were real skaters. Partying, skating and living life. They were 3-4 years older than me, which at that time felt like an eternity.
What was the moment when things took off for your work?
For sure. I had two revelations. The first one was that I was just getting a single photo here, another single photo there, wherever you know. But then I get an article on Portland. I got like 10 pages. I got a cheque for $2500, which at the time I was stoked.
I was like holy shit, dude you can make money from the magazines, if you do articles. You can’t make much from single photos for $175 each but if you do articles they have to publish them altogether. So at that point, I was like boom articles.
So at the same time I was already working on an article about Burnside. So the guy who had been helping me out and first took me to Burnside, James Rexroad, at the time, he was a photojournalist for the local paper came down. So he taught me a lot about photojournalist style shooting then too.
So I learned from a photojournalist, it was really good because it gave me a different perspective on it and showed me you need to shoot other things besides skating like portraits and photo essays.
So my goal was to make a photo essay of Burnside. I was like dude, there’s so many characters down here, I’ve got these great skate photos, I’m going to shoot cool artistic photos of the light down there because the light’s amazing and combine it with these photos of these characters who are just insane and drinking and doing whatever and so in 1996 I had this Burnside article printed.
In High School I learned how to shoot black and white and then from James I learned even more. So I did the whole thing in Black and White and hand printed all of it. Transworld had never got an article that was hand printed black and white because all of those guys were shooting slides, so when they got it they were tripping out and thought it was amazing.
I did like an eight page Burnside article and it instantly put me on the map. Everybody I met was like this is a rad article. I met Tommy Guerrero in SF and he was like dude I really loved the Burnside article. It was amazing.
Then at that point I did all I could do in Portland, so I moved to Santa Cruz, California, because I had a place to live with this girl I met. At the same time, for some reason, Burton Snowboards, saw my Burnside article, I shot some snowboarding because I lived in the Northwest. But they never saw that, it was all off the back of my skate photos at Burnside.
So, they sent me to Austria to shoot snowboarding based on my Burnside article. It was super random. I’d never been to Europe. They flew me to Hintertux in Austria, I did the job and at the time, they paid me a small day rate which really helped me out. It projected me into buying more camera stuff, I had money from that Burton thing. That Burnside article was the pinnacle of the start of my photography carer.
So in North Cal, when did you start to work for skate companies?
When I moved to Santa Cruz I lived across the street from Santa Cruz Skateboards.
I could walk over there. I started shooting their riders who lived in town. I went on my first US-wide tour with them in a van and I shot an article for Transworld for them. That was the first skate company I did a bunch of stuff for, I shot some ads, some posters and stuff for them because I was right there.
At the same time when I was in Portland I lived across the road from adidas America…It just dawned on me that I lived across the street from both of them.
This lady Alexa started to come into the skate shop where I worked for a bit, she was like were going to start this adidas skate team and right away all these lightbulbs started going off in my head and I was like, I‘ve got to get in on this and shoot skate photos. I’m thinking I’ve got to work with shoe companies, make money too or whatever, I mean its adidas, I was thinking about my future then.
You knew it was going to be big
I started going into the office, and showing her my portfolio. The next thing I know I was shooting the first adidas ads with Gonz, Lance, Matt Beach, Paulo Diaz and Quim Cardona and Jahmal Williams. It was the first adidas things but Paulo had done some things with them before but this was the first real thing they did working with skateboarders to produce everything.
Paulo Diaz and Gonz: Early adidas days
Paulo Diaz he was the first guy on the adidas skate team?
Yeah somehow Paulo Diaz got hooked up with someone at adidas. I’m not sure how but if you remember he had an adidas ad, in 1996-1997. It was a 2 page ad of a trick on a picnic table. It was random but not that bad considering they didn’t know anything about skateboarding.
Fast forward 2-3 years later and they’re trying to get involved in it and Paulo got grandfathered on to the team. Yeah, I did all the photos, I started doing all of the adidas stuff there for about 2-3 years.
What were the main things you were doing for adidas?
I did a bunch of little video things for them and I did a bunch of ads. The ads were through agencies, which were totally crazy and insane because it was the first time I had to deal with advertising agencies and they didn’t know anything about skateboarding. It was pretty awesome experience to work with an agency like that
Was that just photo or videos?
The ads were in 411 and they were just produced internally, not through agencies, which is why they were more organic because I had full creative control over those things. I wanted to keep it simple and show good skateboarding and shoot it on film.
My other friend who’s a bigtime DOP now, he shot it with me. We travelled to those guys’ house and shot a bunch of stuff and edited it later.
I just wanted it to be voiceover, some good skating, and some portraits and that’s it. The art director, from adidas, she made that opening collage that featured on all of the edits that we shot too.
So it was like collaboration in that way too
How did you choose the music?
So the music is all made by a friend of mine. Because music rights, if you work for adidas, they make a ton of money, they didn’t want to pay for it at the time. I paid a friend of mine who made all this weird electronic music, he made it all himself and he did all the music for all of those edits and I paid him for it.
Was he a skater?
He grew up skating but his brother was more of a skater. He was more into music than skating, he was into skating when he was younger but by the time he made it he was more of a music guy.
Which one of those edits was your favourite to make?
Gonz or Lance Mountain. Those are my two heroes. To be able to make those was amazing.
Gonz was a riot. There are endless stories about hanging out with The Gonz. To go into his studio and film him painting whilst he chatted was pretty surreal.
Yeah, so your photos of Gonz in SF, were they shot at that time?
So at first I was living in San Francisco and the first campaign I did with Mark was him cruising and Ollieing and jamming in the Tenderloin. That was when I was living in SF and that was the first thing I did with him, we went out for a day or two and I shot a ton of stuff.
They just gave me Carte Blanche. With Mark, you can’t rein Mark in.
Mark would go to these advertising meetings and he had a million times better ideas then these people who were making 100 or 250 grand a year.
Mark is way more creative than any other human you’ve ever met. He’d be like I don’t like that idea and he’d start spouting off his own ideas. He always had so many better ideas than all of those people at those meetings, it was hilarious. I remember the first one where they told him their ideas and he was like I just want to go skating.
So how did those photos come about?
So I used to do this thing where I’d just follow people and I’d do all these skate photos with this motion thing with a flash. So we just did that in the Tenderloin and got a bunch of random cool photos and skate photos that day too I think. I got to do that with Mark 4 times or so in SF.
Every time, I got a cool photo. I never got the chance to do that with him again but that was over a 2 year period. After that, I lost touch with him and I didn’t work for adidas anymore and adidas, it kind of went away for a while.
Yeah, it left and came back but you were there at the start. Did you make the ad at the start of ‘Can’t Stop’ with Matt Beach and Gonz?
I didn’t do that one but I wish I did! So this was when I started getting phased out of adidas.
adidas had an internal video department who helped me do those 411 edits.
One of the internal guys came up with that idea and made that. I don’t think it was their idea. I think it was Mark’s idea. It definitely wasn’t there idea. Mark made that one. I was bummed I didn’t get to shoot that. I think it was because I was already starting to do Savier at that point, it was when I was making those transitions.
Matt Beach, Launch Ramp Airwalk
So you worked for Savier too? That was Nike right?
I’ll back up a little bit. One thing I want to state about adidas, Savier and Nike. I was at the beginning of all three of these companies.
adidas was going well; they had the sickest team, ads, and art direction. But next thing you know the Germans killed it for some reason, they didn’t get it or understand skateboarding. But if they had stuck with, they would have blown Nike SB out of the water.
If they had the foresight to go oh skateboarding’s going to big…but they quit when skateboarding got huge. I guess it’s not enough money for them to worry about it. The shoes were really good at the time, everything was coming together and they pulled the plug.
I never understood why…I’ve always wondered if there ever was a reason… But anyway I saw adidas fading and Brad Staba and Brian Anderson were my homies and I saw they were doing this Savier thing and I hit them up about it. Next thing you know, I squeezed in there and I was like I want to let go of adidas and do the Savier thing.
To answer your question, Savier was Nike backed but we didn’t even know at first because they were trying to keep it such a secret, but it wasn’t backed by big Nike, it was backed by a group of venture capitalist that are connected to Nike. So I’m not quite sure how that worked. Money was coming from Nike but I don’t know how it worked.
A lot of the tech from those shoes went into SB it looked like
The designers at Savier were really good and they had access to all of Nike’s resources. So that’s why they could make those shoes. They were not from scratch.
That was part of the deal this guy Paul who started Savier, who got Nike to invest in it drummed up. To this day I have no idea how he got them to invest in the whole saga. Maybe he was a good talker. I’m still flabbergasted that he did.
How much did they invest in him?
I got a feeling they gave him between 5 and 10 million dollars. Somewhere around that. You can’t just start a shoe company, you need lots of money and part of the deal was that you can use Nike resources, so that’s why they got so much great shoe technology in there.
So there were a couple designers and they sat there and worked with Brad Staba and Brian Anderson who were super involved in the whole thing and pushed them to make good shoes.
What were the first Savier shoes like?
The first Saviers were fucking horrible man. The guy who started it he wanted to do these shoes with purple soles on them all, all of the shoes had purple soles, at that time; it was the wrong timing for purple soles in skateboarding.
We had to fight him to not make shoes with purple soles man, it was insane! Long story short. It was going to be great. Just like adidas. We had this sick team, awesome ads, all this stuff and the CEO he just couldn’t let it be successful and he just ran it into the ground.
I saw that ship sinking fast and I just jumped off that boat and thank God the Nike SB thing started to happen right around the same time. I just so happened to shoot a portrait photo of Sandy Bodecker, who started SB, for Stance Magazine.
I started talking to him about what I do and he basically told me in secrecy that Savier is dead and we’re doing this Nike SB thing and I had the inside info and I was like this is even bigger than Savier, I’ve got to get in with Nike, this is going to be huge for my career and it turned out that it was.
Savier ads were like fashion ads. I was into fashion at the time so was Brad and Brian. That’s what we were into and we wanted to stuff that looked like it came from outside skateboarding, which was different to what people were doing at the time.
That’s the difference between the guy at Savier and Sandy Bodecker. Sandy is a leader, he realised that he was going to surround himself by all these talented people that come from skateboarding, not people who don’t and he let us just run with it and we did awesome stuff because he gave us freedom.
Unlike this other guy who was jealous and didn’t know anything about skateboarding and we were really smart kids, who were in the middle of the industry. Brad and Brian had great ideas on shoes, ads and everything. I don’t know what was going on with Savier. It’s hard to be a leader, you need the right personality and Sandy Bodecker obviously did.
How did the Nike Prod Supreme ad shoot go down?
So that’s the thing. I was there at the beginning of the ads for SB. I was super involved in the ideas for the ads, I was very vocal, and I was very pushy about it. But I also had really great people I was working with
This guy, Michael Hernandez, who wasn’t a skater, but was an amazing creative designer, was there. He was very driven, he had been at Nike for 10 years. Knew the ins and out. So I would just collaborate with him and push him in the right direction and on to things that would make waves in skateboarding.
I think the boxes were his idea and I just made it happen, I shot that. That was Paul’s first ad, yeah some of the other ads, those guys didn’t have any ideas and I would straight up come up with a lot of the ad ideas, for Nike, it was unheard of, photographers don’t do that. But we were so small and under the radar at Nike at the time, we got to do almost anything we wanted, it was amazing.
What Nike ads that you made are you still stoked on?
I did the ads were everybody skated cars and vans. Like Darrell, Grant Taylor and Justin Brock skated those cars and trucks that was all my idea.
The ads with all of the collages of Polaroid’s, those were all my ideas.
Those three stand out to me.
Danny Supa: Backside Heelflip
Any others that come to mind?
Also the ad series with the see through, standalone plexiglass ramps and fluorescent light glowing tubes running through them that was all my idea.
Paul Rodriguez, Backside Lipslide
They were sick
Those other guys were involved in too but it was my vision. I want to do these clear ramps, and have all these bulbs in them. I wanted to something different; I was bored of just shooting street ads.
Yeah that was sick. How did you construct those?
Yeah. I have so many resources in Portland. I hit up my homie who built sets, and asked him.
I did a ton of the work too with him. I was hands on and really involved and a lot younger. I hired my buddy and we figured out how to make those plexiglass ramps and set them up together, even though we had never done it before. They lasted for the shoot and then after that they kind of exploded. They lasted for one day of skating but after that, they were not too great.
So you’re a photographer but when did you start to film skating too?
So as skateboarders, we always did video stuff too. Its funny people don’t know that. I’ve always made videos since almost when I started skating. At the time I had an A1 digital camera, which is the same one that Dan Wolfe had used to make Eastern Exposure 3. That was one of my favourite videos, so I had ended up getting one of those and make a local skate video with it in 96’.
I made The Firm video ‘Can’t Stop’ with Lance and my buddy Kurt.
From there I wanted to get into film. I wanted to be a director for a while. I was still doing stills but I was doing both. Half and half. It was super hard to get directing jobs. Good paying super good ones
As a director you can work for 2 weeks, do phone calls, write treatments and you don’t even get the job and you don’t even make any money, it’s so weird and you just try and pitch to get the job and you’re going up against crazy directors. It’s hard man. So I reverted back to still stuff.
Even though lately I’ve just been trying to be a DOP and when I do video stuff get someone else to direct. I think it’s a better fit for me, behind the camera as I have directing experience and I can assist them on that and co-direct while I’m shooting.
‘Can’t Stop’ is legendary. Which bits of that video did you shoot?
So, I’ve always had the connection to Lance Mountain in the Northwest.
We grew up going to skateboard church, because there was nowhere else to skate.
So Lance would come up for these church camp demo things and skate vert and I took a photo of him doing a McTwist in 1991 with my mom’s point and shoot camera. So my friends had always known Lance.
Even before I shot photos, I was driving down to California and then knocking on Lance’s door and he would let us sleep on his floor.
Later in life when I was shooting photos, I reconnected with him, through my friends and then adidas happened and I became good friends with Lance through adidas. I love hanging out with him, he’s so creative, he has awesome ideas, and he’s one of my heroes.
So I moved to California and I moved across the road from Lance with Matt Beach to make the Firm video, Can’t Stop. I was like Lance let me help you with it!
He’s an artist. He’s scatter-brained, he’s amazing and has ideas but I was there to make those ideas come to alive.
I pushed everybody to get it done. I got the filmers on-board to do skate filming. I did all of the skits, all the gangster stuff and all of the 16MM filming. Lance in The Dream house sequence, Lance skating the bowl all lit up at night, all that special stuff on film, I shot all of that.
Lance Mountain: The Firm Can’t Stop Still
What about The Grind?
I didn’t shoot The Grind. My friend Kurt Hayashi shot that. I shot all of the film. Kurt and Anthony Claravall basically shot all of the skating in it.
So The Dream, who came up with that visual idea?
That was Lance. Lance and Gonz are very similar, they have such amazing ideas.
They are probably two of the most creative people you might ever meet in your life. Lance was basically moving out of his house, the house that he had for years. So he was like I want to build these ramps in a house like me and Neil Blender did in a house in an old Powell video but make it even bigger.
I was in Portland, so I flew out there for a couple days to shoot it. I have never laughed so hard in my life, watching him skate all of this stuff inside his house. He did an Invert outside in the ramp and got stuck in the tree. His neighbours were like what the hell was going on. I was laughing so hard I was crying dude.
Yeah, the pivot by the fireplace and all of the ramps down the stairs it was jokes. How did you come up with ideas for it?
I shot it on film and somehow I did it with crappy lights. That was all about Lance’s ideas. He wanted the fire in the fireplace in there for example. He’s super detailed orientated. Then adidas ended up paying for it because we used some of the photos for adidas.
Yeah this was when Lance was still on adidas. So we shot it a few years before Can’t Stop came out and we kind of saved it for that video.
What was your favourite section to film for Can’t Stop?
My favourite thing I filmed was Lance at the combi bowl lit up with all of the lights. That was my favourite. I dreamed about doing that for years and made it happen.
There’s a shot where he does the Rock and Roll slide around the corner and I had a big dolly track that I used to film it and I always wanted to do that shot and I was stoked to make it happen.
That for me was a real accomplishment. I don’t care about shooting regular video skating stuff; I wanted to shoot film you know.
Yeah it stands out. Bob’s section was gnarly. Who filmed that?
Bob’s section was insane. Kurt Hayashi went to Bob’s house for nearly two years, every day to film that, it was pretty nuts. Kurt filmed the whole thing. All of it.
@bobburnquist: Backside Lipslide Through the Corner
Do you have a favourite part from that video?
Definitely Bob’s part for sure. Matt Beach’s part is a bittersweet watch for me, even though I really like it.
I had a hard time getting Matt to skate during that time. He was such a pain in the ass at the time; I had to get him out of bed every day.
He did so much next level stuff and made it look effortless
Amazing skater but I had to harass him every day to get out of bed, so it makes me not like his part even though when you watch it it’s a really great part.
Seems like it came to him easy, guess it’s hard to get motivated.
It’s funny because you look at his part and it looks effortless but it was like pulling teeth to get him to do that part.
It really wore on me to the point we weren’t friends after the making of that part but we reconnected 3-4 years down the line
You shot Bob’s Baldy Full Pipe loop attempt. How did that go down?
So basically Bob was like I want to do this. I got wind of it through Lance.
It just came about because he was on The Firm and I was the guy shooting, so I got to do it.
It was scary to watch. If you ever been there you’ll quickly figure out its super hard to shoot. I couldn’t figure out how to light it. So I shot it on print film because it was easier.
You get more latitude than slide film which I kind of regretted but I had to because he was so deep in there. I couldn’t shoot the strobes close enough. I would not have been able to light him up well enough.
So I had to use slide film which is like a 100 speed film and I couldn’t get the flashes in there. We’re dealing with different camera equipment back then, it was 20 years ago. I have way better camera equipment now than I did back then and because he was like 40-50 foot back into that pipe I had to use slide film.
I couldn’t put the flashes in the way because I didn’t want him to hit it. Long story short – it was hard and nerve-wracking to shoot. This guy’s killing himself and I’m wondering if I’m getting the photo right you know?
Bob, Mount Baldy, Full Pipe Loop
I saw Kurt Hayashi passed away; what was he like as a person?
That’s a hard one. He’s one of my oldest friends. Skate church, is where I met a ton of people.
There were no skateparks back then, so the skate church had some ramps in a basement, even Burnside dudes would show up there sometimes.
Chris Fissle from New Deal would go there. Jayme Fortune, Matt Beach, Chad Vogt and Danny Minnick would skate at this church because there was not much else to skate in the Northwest in 1990 and 1991.
I met Kurt when I was 15-16 years old. I met him just skating there. We stayed connected through skating. He went on separately from me and got involved in video and I got into photography.
So, organically when skateboarders wanted a video guy and a photo guy whenever they went out to shoot a trick, me and Kurt start hanging out more.
We became really good friends. He lived with me and my wife, before we were married for years.
We grew up skating together. We were the 1-2 punch. I did photos, he did video. We got along well. We were raised in similar situations in Portland. He was like a brother, not just a friend, which was strange because I gave him a lot of tough brotherly love.
I pushed him super hard if he got lazy and I was so driven and motivated and I told Lance to hire him for the Firm, which he did and he became best friends with Lance, probably even closer than I was with Lance for a long time. That was because he did a huge part of the Firm video and after that the Flip video.
Kurt Hayashi and Lance Mountain
Kurt was a huge part of my life. Then after all the skate stuff later in life we both had kids a month apart. My first but his second. Both girls. Our kids are still good friends today and I ended up moving back to Portland 3-4 years before he did. So then when he moved back we became even better friends outside of skateboarding because we had families together.
Kurt’s passing away was hard for me. He was that dude who was always there, such a super solid guy. If he met you, you would be friends in 2 minutes. It still doesn’t seem real when your best friend dies. He was that guy. He made friends way easier than I did.
Dude he was like the mayor of Portland, he was friends with everybody. If you needed to get your car worked on, he was already friends with the mechanic down the street. It’s shocking; he was just such a sweetheart dude who left us. So it’s a hard one. It’s been a year and half already, still doesn’t feel real.
Sounds like he played a big role in your life
We got to travel the world together. He went on a lot of those Nike trips, not all of them but a handful. We did Firm trips, we did a bunch of things together.
How did that Black and White Lance curbside surf shot go down?
It’s sidewalk surfing basically. It was another one of Lances idea that he wanted to do it for a long time.
He had a Nike ad he had to do and wanted to do it for that. It’s so much easier to do to stuff in Portland in LA. I could do whatever I want in Portland. The spot was across the street from my buddy’s light and grip business. We got to use their equipment and their hose to make the puddle and there was a a sidewalk right out front. My buddy, owns that that car.
I made a dam with a load of sandbags and filled it and made a fake puddle. Then I tested it out one day and then Lance flew in and we shot it the next day. Yeah we gave it a bunch of tries, it was weird because it was right at the transition of digital and film and I wanted to shoot it on film.
I was like damn I wanted to shoot it on digital. But I got it fine. I struggle with the timing with film and I wanted to make sure I got the light right and the water stood out. It ended up great. Lance was so good, he got the timing down.
Lance, Sidewalk Surfing in Portland
It’s one of my more popular photos now, people always talk about it. I also shot it in colour too, I have both, and it’s weird. But I don’t like it as much in colour. I think the black and white makes the water pop more. I’ve never shared it before in colour.
Be interesting to see it but the black and white stands out more
Yes. Exactly. It’s backed by green in colour, the darker black gives it depth and I knew from doing past water stuff, you need it for the water to pop out, so the water’s really backlit. But I give all credit to Lance. His ideas are so great.
How many Lance photos have you shot?
I have so many photos of Lance; I want to make a book on just Lance alone.
I need to reconnect with him. I haven’t shot with him for a long time. I’ve been on the outskirts of skating a little bit, he got hurt a bit and I’ve been back in Portland. I need to reconnect with him and shoot a few more things. I have so much stuff of Lance and during the pandemic, I found all these photos of him, I never used, I’ve got tonnes of stuff that I couldn’t even remember that I shot of him, that I want to use for it.
Cool. How did Toby’s Switch Nosegrind on Victoria ledges in London go down?
So one of the earlier trips I went on, I went to Australia with Sole Tech. It was éS dudes and Etnies guys and Mike Manzoori went with us.
Mike was skating for them as a pro but was filming and still skating more than filming. So we became friends on the trip and I shot some cool photos of him on the trip. I told him that I’m going to the Europe contests and then somehow I don’t know whether I asked or he invited me but I ended up staying at Mike and Sharon’s house in London for a month before the Euro contests.
So I went there, shot photos of Mike and he introduced me to everyone skating in town. Toby was one of them and we kicked it with Toby a bunch. I started shooting photos of guys in the scene and was hanging around with us.
Toby started doing that Switch Nosegrind and I was like I’m going to spice it up. In the 90s we did a lot of blur and flash to stop the action, and blur the background kind of stuff and I really loved how it looks.
Toby Shuall: Switch Frontside Nosegrind: Victoria Benches, London
Spike Jonze did a bunch of them. He did a lot of light tracing more than that but I don’t know I always tried to emulate those. The way Toby Nosegrinds, I thought I can twist the camera and use the same motion that he’s doing. I don’t know. Try to feed off the motion that he’s doing.
It’s a lot of luck. You try to shoot and get as much as you can from those kinds of guys. You’re shooting slide film so you don’t even know how it will turn out.
I didn’t develop it until 2 months later. It worked out. I’d done it a bit before so I had the idea of how to do it right and slide film makes stuff look so cool, especially that blurred stuff. So that’s how that photo came about.
It’s a banging photo, when was that shot?
It was 1998. That whole trip was amazing. So Manzoori handed me off to Pete Hellicar. He rented a car, and we hopped in to that and we drove all over England and up to Scotland up to that Livi jam, they have every year. We picked up Harry and we went up to Livi stayed there for a few years.
We also went through Birmingham. We went skating with Vaughan Baker. Shot photos with him. Pete took me on a tour for a week, so I got to know Pete really well. We still chat now.
Pete used to do Unabomber, which was sick.
I went home with a bunch of Unabomber stickers that was sick. I watched their videos, I was like this so sick. The spots look so rough but they were so photogenic, it always made me wanted to go there.
Where else have you been in the UK?
I went to Bristol and hung out with Danny Wainwright a bunch. I went to Manchester. I went to Nottingham and I skated there with Harry. I did another adidas trip where we hung out with Danny and then went to Europe. I’ve been to England a lot, I really enjoy it there.
What was it like working on the Eric Koston 2 ad?
I directed it. It was through an agency. It was an agency idea. A friend of mine Marco worked at an agency, who wanted to do something big for Koston’s second shoe. They had 10 ideas and I was like this is the only one that is sick. The Legend Grows. Eric Koston is a legend. We all collaborated on that one.
Everyone from Jake Phelps to to Tiger Woods was in that one
The cameos were mine and Eric’s ideas, not sure how Phelps got in there but it’s awesome he was in it.
That commercial was one of the biggest productions I’ve done. It was full on Hollywood real deal stuff. We had Tiger Woods in there. That commercial you could be anybody and be into it I think.
What was the hardest thing about directing that?
Keeping it legit to skating is always hard, even though that comes easy for me.
The hardest thing was the shot with Eric doing the Hurricane down the handrail. It was raining. Everything was going against us. It was a rail we just built there, he’d never skated it before. We did it with a motion control capture camera, film camera, the fire department, everything, getting the timing right on was the hardest thing to do. It was one of the most special things I’ve ever done, by the looks and feels and story of what it’s about it. I think it’s one of the most solid things I’ve ever done.
Yeah as it builds it gets more ridiculous, the bit with the baby was hilarious
That was hard to time and do. I know the cadence in my head. It had to be like bam-bam, one after the other, baby lands and Eric makes that expression, it took a while but Eric is so good, he nailed it.
How did Gino and John McEnroe’s ad go down?
Nike pulled the strings on that one. Gino Iannucci is a huge tennis fan and John McEnroe fan. We were doing that tennis rip-off shoe, of John’s first tennis shoe – The challenge Court.
John’s still connected to Nike somehow through sports marketing. We got Gino lined up, I’m good friends with him and work well with him and when he found he was going to be in this ad with McEnroe he was tripping and he was stoked too.
We picked a park. We got it permitted. I think we chose it because it was by McEnroe’s’ house. He rolled up by himself, and banged this thing out for us; I think we did it in a few hours.
He’s a funny guy who’s known for being super grouchy. He was nice but you can tell there was a little bit of tension and edge but he did it. There were a couple of times, he didn’t quite understand where we were coming from but he did it anyway. He knocked it out in an hour or two and then he was out, like see you later.
Gino’s Frontside 360 No Comply over the Flushing Meadows grate was sick, how long’d that take?
I think he did that pretty fast. I forgot the other part of the video where he’s skating down the middle of 5th Avenue and we had no filming permits. It was Sunday so a bit mellower but I had a jib arm and we we’re filming right out of the window of this car driving right up 5th Avenue, full film crew style.
Gino’s just blasting down 5th Avenue, right in the middle of the street, we’re filming, we did it like 10 times.
Cops rolling by, not even saying anything, we were just stopping in traffic doing whatever the hell we wanted in New York.
It’s so hectic in New York but if you look legit people don’t even say anything. That was really fun to get Gino to skate like that and skate around the city and get him to push around and follow him that was awesome.
What are you working on at the moment?
My career has taken a change of course. I worked for Nike SB forever. I was on retainer for 6 years. Sandy moved on from Nike SB. Some higher ups changed.
I got pushed out of Nike Skateboarding. I was kind of bummed. I put 12 years of my life into that thing. I was bummed and the way that he happened was strange. My friends were telling me instead of the higher ups who did not even know what I was doing for Nike. I was helping with the teams and projects and making photos and videos for insanely cheap in comparison to what it really costs. It was bittersweet.
But it was a blessing in disguise. But then other people in Nike got in touch with me from different categories.
Next thing I know I was shooting training, football, basketball and running.
It was what I wanted to do in the first place. I wanted to branch out and do other things. It happened organically and also because I wanted to do it.
So it worked out in the end. I did a tonne of jobs for Nike, other than skateboarding. I’ve done a ton of stuff and branched out into other companies.
I’m still getting Nike Jobs, a handful a year. It’s helped me to grow as a photographer; you can only shot one thing, in one style for so long. I enjoy shooting all these other things.
Lance Mountain, Frontside Slash Grind
It’s cool you get involved on these other projects.
Nike is great, working for them allowed me to pay my bills and feed my family; it’s been an amazing experience.
It’s been good to chat. Do you have any last words Jon?
Thank God we got to be skateboarders in life. We got touched with the magic of being skateboarders. What would happen if we weren’t?
Everything that I know, think and feel and talk about with my friends is all the stuff that comes from skateboarding.
It’s given us so many gifts. I’m so grateful for that. It helps us to think differently, out the box, it helps us to question authority and to be artistic. Not just help but it taught us all of this stuff and I feel so grateful that I got to be involved in it, in the time that I did. If we had not have found skateboarding when we were younger we would be different people. I’m glad we get to meet each other like this randomly and do this through skateboarding. It’s great.
I hope skateboarders nowadays still get that same feeling and get those same lessons and learn that same stuff…I hope the normalisation of skateboarding does not stop it being what it was to us.
I see a lot of older skaters forgetting where they came from, or maybe they have had different experiences to what I did.
You should question authority, question others, don’t follow and be yourself. All the things I learned as a young skater I try to stay true to and don’t change.