Darren Navarrette Interview

Hurricane, Photo: Dominick

Posted: March 19th, 2009

"I can feel the tears welling up in his eyes while he reads this"

Interview by Jeff Grosso

Is it true that your girlfriend puts your skateboards together?
It’s true she tried, but she couldn’t do it. She tried to put it together with no bearings and no bolts. Looked good on the carpet, though.

Where are you from?
I live in San Diego, CA, but I’m originally from Minnesota.

How long have you been skating?
Whew! I’ve been skating since ’84.

What was your first board?
My first board was a Roller Derby. My first legit board was a 
Mark Gonzales. My dad cut the griptape into an Aztec sun. It was a really nice board. I traded it for a Vision Hippie Stick. Biggest mistake of my life as far as skateboards. If anybody knows where that board is, I will buy it back.

The Hippie Stick?
No. The Vision Mark Gonzales with the Aztec sun.

You’re hoping it still exists somewhere?
It’s hidden in someone’s garage. Guaranteed.

’Cause the griptape job was that good?
When I traded for the Hippie Stick, my parents were pissed. “Your father spent 20 minutes on that griptape job and you just give it away like that!”

So you weren’t into your heritage back then.
I just wanted whatever the kid next door had.

How did you get into it?
I wish I could lie to you, but I started like a lot of people: BMX bicycles. 
I was a BMXer and I used to jump dirt and try to take my hand off the grip about an inch. There was a BMX Plus magazine with an article: “Skaters versus Bikers.” There were photos of Chris Miller and Erik Juden at Upland versus Eddie Fiola. The bikers were going 10 times higher, but for some reason I wanted to skate after that. Plus, I could fit it into my locker at school.

How did you get into serious skateboarding?
The neighbors down the street, they were a little bit older than me and they were the kids with the nunchucks and throwing stars and Hutch Trick Stars, and they built a quarterpipe and were ripping. Then we finally got our bikes and we tried to rip, but by the time we got our bikes they had already moved on to skateboarding and they had a halfpipe down the street. So I went and sat up on the back of the ramp, on the roll-in, for about three days. Finally they pushed me down that roll-in and that started it all. I started meeting more and more skaters, and then I ended up at this placed called PISS—Private Indoor Skate Spot, in Minneapolis—and those dudes were good. Everybody could do frontside airs and backside airs. There was Dave Leroux, Eric Froland, and Justin Lynch.

Don’t say Justin Lynch.
Yeah. A lot of people don’t like him. He was a dick to me, too, but he could blast six-foot airs. He was like a robot. I didn’t know the difference then between robot skating and fluent skating. He was going in the air so high and I was impressed.

When did you first come out 
to California?
It was for the NSA am finals when they had the contest at the Ecke Family YMCA. 
I went out there for the contest, and I was like, “This ramp sucks! Is this for real?” Then I came out the next year, and I was thinking, “Why am I here?” But I made the move.

You washed up at the beach.
Yeah. Mission Beach.

And you’re the unofficial mayor?
I can wave when I walk down the 
street, yeah.

Darren Navarrette Interview
Airwalk, Photo: Rhino

So you’ve got a Mike Smith, 
Hermosa Beach thing going?
Yeah. I like that.

Lots of trouble to be had?
Yeah. I’d end up at the bar for a couple weeks. People would be like, “Do you even skate anymore?” and I’d say, “I skated yesterday… Oh you’re right, that was a month ago.”

Michael Burnett: Tell the story about your Mexican relatives who came over.
Yeah. I have a cousin who walked across the border—crossed the desert on foot and everything. He called my father and is all, “I’m here!” He picked him up in the desert on the side of the road. His lips were falling off, his skin was peeling, but he made it. He made it across the desert and up to Minnesota. Owns his own restaurant. Hopefully he lives happily every after. He’s got a green card; it’s a card that’s green. If someone asks him for it he shows them, but in Minnesota nobody knows what a green card looks like anyway. Never saw one before.

MB: What were the lean years like, back when there were no parks and barely any ramps?
That was harsh. We lived at the Hesh House in the ’90s. We had an indoor vert ramp in Milwaukee, 24-feet wide. It was me, Hitz, Partanen, Jay Iding, and Rob Owen—the Hesh Crew. Sam and me would fight for a pair of Zombu wheels, 50s. They’d get ’em at the skateshop and he’d jump on his bicycle and I’d run, and the first dude there would get the last set of Zombu wheels. He got ’em, and I had 
to ride 45s.

You guys are part of the lost generation of vert guys.
There was this time period where I got good. I was getting face-high airs, and I’m thinking, “Okay. This is good. I’m making it.” Then the wheels went tiny and I was back to foot-high airs. I was thinking, “What happened?” I tried street skating and was doing a noseslide on a curb and this kid came up to me and was all, “You’re doing it wrong!” From there I just started riding old stuff and doing what I could. I don’t know how we got through that.

360 crail, Sequence: Rhino

MB: So they gave you a dead brand, Creature, and you miraculously turned it into one of the industry’s top sellers. How did that work?
First generation Creature, I was at the trade show skating the mini-ramp. I guess I was skating well so 
Jim Gray came up to me and said, “Hey. Come by the booth. We want to give you some stuff.” I’m thinking, “Cool, I’ve heard that before.” I was walking towards there and I walked by the NHS booth and Russ Pope calls me over. He says, “I like what you’re doing. I like the shape of your nose. We want you to ride for SMA.” I came home so stoked. “I ride for SMA!” Then I get a call: “SMA is done, but we’re starting a new brand called Creature. You’re perfect for it. You’re weird looking—tall and dorky and lanky. You’ve got a fucked-up face. You’re perfect.” I was thinking, “Man, I thought they wanted me for my skating but, whatever, I’ll take it.” So that was first-generation Creature. It was Barker Barrett, Jason Adams, and myself. Then they decided to leave NHS and start Scarecrow. I didn’t want to leave NHS because it was this legendary place. You walked back there and the boards on the wall told the story to me. That was what I wanted to be a part of, and I felt like I’d finally made it. So they wanted to leave and take Scarecrow to Jim Gray, the dude who told me three times he wanted me to ride for him but never made it happen. I was over it. I stayed there. They were like, “You can stay with us and go to Europe next month or you can leave and go to Jim Gray.” So I stayed and went to Europe. They told me to put a team together, so I said, “Hitz, Partanen, Chet Childress, you want to do this?” and they said no. But then they changed their minds and we got Creature, second generation. Later, they pulled the plug on that for some reason and I ended up on 151. They taught me how to drink a lot of whiskey. I thought I was tough for a while. I thought I knew how to drink. Then that went under and I thought, “This is the story of my life.” Then I started going up to NHS and doing these meetings with Kendall and I told him I really wanted to do Creature again. He asked me why, and I said, “Because I want a job.” He told me that was the wrong answer. What I meant was that I wanted to skateboard and make things happen and take it all the way. Somehow it’s all worked out.

MB: This is an inspirational business story.
Yeah. I feel really good about it.

MB: Here’s a question, why’d you choose to include the street skaters?
We need ’em. They allow me to travel and do some street plants around the world.

MB: How did David Gravette, the Baby Lamb, situation come about?
We needed a team and he practically fell into my lap. He’s rad. He’s down for Creature.

MB: Could Chet ever get back on Creature?
No. Sorry, Chet. But no. I asked him in the very beginning. I asked him three times, and I said, “Okay, this is the last time I’m going to ask you,” and he broke out his Ebonics and that was it. I can feel the tears welling up in his eyes while he reads this.

MB: Who are some of your favorite legends?
Just growing up seeing these dudes in the magazines was definitely a romantic experience. Tex Gibson, definitely up there. Jeff Phillips was probably number one. All the Texas dudes. Jason Jessee, obviously. Blender. Claar. Lance Mountain. Grossman, of course. Alan Losi. Steve Caballero. All those guys.

MB: Did you ever eat nachos with Phillips?
Chicken wings, about two weeks before he took his life. 
I was at his park—I was a little kid and I was scared of him, this big monster, and he’s all, “You guys want to eat some chicken wings?” I was so stoked. I couldn’t say anything. 
I just stared at him, eating chicken wings. That was it.

MB: Is it hard dating a girl that skates?
Yeah, it was hard. Don’t ever do it. That’s the end of that question. She’s all, “Can I come skate with you?” I’m all, “Sure. Meet me there.”

MB: How many people have to pad up before it’s okay for you to pad up?
I seem to get shit for that. It’s rad that pads aren’t cool no more. When we were kids it was like, “Rad. That guy’s got red shells. He’s got blue recaps.” It was the look of it. It’s part of your warrior stance. You can’t go into battle without your armor. I guess it’s all what you want to do.

Andrecht revert, Sequence: Dawes

MB: What are some of the signs that Peter Hewitt 
is going to actually skate?
He disappears but you’ll spot him in the distance. He’s by himself. There’s smoke billowing from his mouth. He doesn’t talk to nobody. You ask him, “What do you think about this, Pete?” He’ll scoff you off and kind of yell at you for a second, and then you know he’s ready to skate. If you try and talk to Pete and he doesn’t answer you, you know it’s all business. Don’t ever ask him if he’s going to pad up ’cause he doesn’t like that. “Hey Pete. You going to pad up?” “What the fu—shit, fuck!”

MB: Describe your Creature dream lineup with any skaters, past or present.
Tex Gibson, Lance Mountain, Hosoi, Jason Jessee, Grosso, Hewitt, Steve Olson, Eric Koston. I don’t know.

I want to know how you became so noncommittal. When did you turn into Switzerland?
I never wanted enemies. I wanted alliances.

Why Ramona?
Why not Ramona? It’s nice to get out. You want to make it a struggle for people to get to it.

What was your first drink?
Beer with salt, with my father. It was a nice 
Chevy Chase moment.

MB: Who’s a session killer?
Omar Hassan. Just kidding! We like to tell him that but he’s actually rad to skate with.

MB: You ever fuck around with some facial hair?
Yeah. I had some going and then somebody told me 
I had a prison pussy and that was the end of that.

How long can you keep this going?
I’m trying to take it to 2012, the end of the Mayan calendar. End of the world. If I take it that far, everything’s fine. In fact, I’m banking on it. I once banked on Y2K. 
I thought that was the end of the world. “I’m not going to pay my taxes.” That didn’t work out.

MB: Why did you take Sammy Baca 
on your Creature tour?
We love him. You look over in the van and you see him, and you think, “Yep. This is all right.” We’ll take him on every tour we go on. We got NHS to pay for him and then we’ll have Converse pay them back.

Darren Navarrette Interview
Method to fakie, Photo: Rhino

MB: You think P-Stone’s got a cold 
one right now?

MB: What handplant variations do you want to accomplish before you’re done?
A good fuckin’ sad. A good Smith. I’d like to do them the way they’re supposed to be done. Top of the food chain: Andrecht fakies. It’s weird that for some tricks you have to make a face. And then when you see that face you think, “Oh no. Don’t do that trick.”

MB: Is there a stock air that you hate? Do you do slobs?
That’s a funny story. I thought I had a good slob air. I thought I could do them pretty good and then one day this guy 
told me that slobs are the worst trick ever. Never do them. Ever since then, they’ve become my worst air. That was Grosso who told me that.

There are rules. Okay? There are exceptions, but for 99-percent of the public there are tricks that should 
be left alone.
Neil Blender: What year is your car?

It’s a 1953 Bel Air.

NB: Have you ever gotten laid in it?
No, but once I was at the bar and I met this girl and asked her, “You want to go on a little date?” So we walked from the bar to where my car was parked and looked at the beach. Sat in my car and made out, like old-style lover’s lane style.

NB: What year would you want to be in for two hours?
There seems to be a gap in evolution from when man was a caveman to when man built pyramids. Somewhere around then.

NB: What number looks good to you?

NB: Does time have a color?
Time fades, so it must have a color.

NB: We need a few race horse names.
Four Front, Horse With No Name.

NB: What do eagles hunt?
Eagles hunt prey.

NB: Good.

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