It’s tough to sum up the career of someone so prolific on and off a skateboard as Jamie Thomas. Through his solid career, he’s pretty much set the standard for what it means to go big on a skateboard, while simultaneously creating some of the most memorable video parts and videos in skate history.
Off his board, Jamie’s used his personal aesthetic and business know-how to create Black Box Distribution, the all-encompassing skate company that’s responsible for brands like Zero, Fallen, Mystery, Slave, Insight and now Threat.
CCS recently spoke with Jamie about being a business owner, a pro skater, his days being homeless, what he rides, Cold War and more. Read on and absorb the insightful words of the one and only, Mr. Jamie Thomas.
Fallen, Zero, Slave, Mystery, they’ve always stuck out as some of the most “core” brands out there. What’s your take on skateboarding’s current mainstream emergence? Well I think it’s pretty obvious that the landscape’s drastically changing and as much as I would like to stick to the old philosophy of business and skateboarding and how they both merge together, we really have to adapt to the current landscape of what skateboarding is and what skateboarding business is going to be. And that sounds a little vague but I think for the most part it’s basically staying relevant in all facets of skateboarding. You know, now skateboarding’s on television like crazy so I think that it’s important, if you want to stay one of those brands, you have to have some of your riders in those contests and involved in those different mainstream activities. Because regardless of what I’d like to say or think, some of those events and some of those outlets are basically dictating where the direction of skateboarding is headed, at least at some capacity. And that’s just the reality of it. And the rest of us, we keep plugging away on our videos and our web videos and everything else we’re doing to keep the underground lit. But it’s definitely necessary for us to be involved in those more mainstream things that are going on at there. And as far as the mainstream brands or the sporting good brands that are becoming so effective in skateboarding, I think it just has to do with where the whole economy is at.
In tough times the big brands get bigger and the small brands get smaller until consolidation happens. I don’t really worry about that stuff too much; it’s completely out of my control. I just try to be the best we can and try to make Zero the best it can be and Fallen the best it can be and keep working with all the dudes that are backing it and keep working with all the dudes that are backing it and keep it evolving in a positive direction. That’s all we can do, you know.
With you running the whole show at Black Box, how do you balance out your responsibilities as business owner and pro skater? I try to do my best with prioritizing. I try and pick good business initiatives that are most important and focus on those and once they let up a little, I try and skate. And then I try to plug back in to more team and marketing efforts. I just try and rotate and keep a constant rotation of which one I’m focusing on, as to not focus on any one for too long and neglect another. I just try and do a little bit of everything every day and that’s pretty much all I can do.
How do the days of being a successful businessman and pro and family man compare to the days when you were sleeping at Embarcadero and living trife? I mean I’m really thankful to have a family and really thankful to have any success in business, but the days of sleeping at Embarcadero, I’m somewhat envious of the simplicity of those times. [Then] it was all about trying to skate that day and trying to eat. And that’s really awesomely simple and my life will never be that simple again. Sometimes I’m a little envious of how little responsibility I had. But that was just the times. I don’t really think about it that much, but it’s definitely different. I have a lot of responsibility and there’s a lot of people at Black Box, our employees and team riders somewhat depend on me to guide and lead the company in a direction that’s going to be positive to not only the future of the brand and the company, but all of their futures. It’s kind of a lot of weight on my shoulders. Some days that’s daunting and some days I’m really inspired by that and it makes me want to do a good job.
Is it crazy think where you were at then and what you achieved up until now? I don’t really trip on that too much, I just keep looking forward. I look back sometimes only when I see I could have done something better, but I don’t really try to party and high five myself. I just try and think about what I need to do today and tomorrow in order to keep the future bright.
Where did The Chief nickname come from? Well Ellington, Greco and Ellisa. I used to just run the missions and just try to come up with the most productive plan for all of us. And it seemed like I was always on some quest to be in charge of something. And I guess they just coined me The Chief and thought it was real funny. It was funny and I never really tripped on it too much even though I knew it was a funny dig at me running stuff. They came up with it and it just stuck. People thought it was funny and it just kept going.
So, the stuff you ride. Has the size of the board you’ve ridden fluctuated through the years and do you go back and forth with board size? No, I’m pretty slow moving on my board size. From the early to late 90’s, for 10 years I rode 8.25 solidly, even if the shape changed a little bit. Then I had a few injuries that made coming back to such a big board a little bit of a struggle, so I went down to a 7.875 for about 5 years. Basically when I was coming back after a couple of injuries, I was struggling on an 8.25. I didn’t have the power that I had. And also I was trying to get a little more technical throughout Dying To Live…doing flip to ledge tricks a little bit, like kickflip back smiths and stuff. I started getting my board a little bit smaller in order to skate more technically and I realized I wasn’t that terrible at flatground. So I went to 7.875 and hung out there for about 5 years and then slowly started working my way back up. I rode an 8 for a little bit and then I’ve been riding an 8.125 for about 5 years. 8.125 is perfect for me.
Do you find that it’s harder to get tech on a bigger board like that? Not for me. 8.125 isn’t at all, it’s perfect but 8.25 was a little big. I didn’t do too much tech stuff back in the Welcome To Hell and Misled Youth days. I’d like to try and do that stuff now and be a little bit more creative. It just gives me more of an ability to adapt and do more stuff…I can play a game of SKATE and still do ok. 8.125 feels perfect for me, I’m really psyched on it. It’s a little bit longer 8.125 and it’s stable for big stuff and small enough to flip around. I know Cole rides an 8.25 and Garrett rides an 8 ½ and those guys, they’ve got the power to move that stuff around. More power to’em, but 8.125 feels perfect for me.
Have you tried the P2’s out that you guys are making? Yeah, actually I’m riding a P2 board now and it’s really, really good. Mainly because it’s really strong and it kind of rides like a well broken-in board. It’s got some spring to it and it kind of stays there, it doesn’t peter out. I’ve tried to focus them and they don’t really break. They’re really, really hard to break. The only way you can break’em is in the middle and you have to stomp on it really hard with two feet. Then flip it around upside and stomp it that way and then put it on a curb. They’re hard to break. So if I was a kid and wanted something that was gonna last, they’re definitely worth the investment. It’s the best board I’ve ridden and that’s why Zero makes them. I’m not really one for gimmicky type board technologies but it’s the best one I’ve ever seen. So that’s why we got behind them and are making them.
As far as Thunders go, what are you riding? I ride the Hi’s.
Why a higher truck? Well if you’re going to be jumping a little bit, you’re going to be getting wheel bite more often with a lower truck. I don’t jump as much as I did when I was younger but I’d like to say that I still like to jump down stuff when I can or when I feel up to it. I’ve always liked the way a higher truck feels, too. I like to turn and higher tricks give you the option for turning whereas a lower truck has half the turning ability. So turning and less wheel bite. And I ride the Thunder Titanium axle trucks and they’re amazing. The have hollow kingpin’s and the truck’s real light. I ride 147’s and they still feel really light. Thunder’s are the best, I love’em.
Talking about jumping down big stuff, how have injuries affected your want to go bigger? Has being aware of the consequences of what can happen when you get hurt made you rethink approaching certain spots? The closer you are to the injury date, the more conservative you are. And the further you get away from that, the more you start to forget a little more about that injury. But you never totally forget. I think it turns more into calculated risk. You really look at what could happen and what’s the likeliness of that happening. You’re basically more mature about what you decide to jump off of and how you feel about it and if you feel up for it or not. Kind of what I’ve learned is that it doesn’t stop me from jumping off things, but I’m much more picky about the circumstances. Like everything has to feel exactly right in order for me to know that it’s worth it and that I have a strong possibility of making it. Because no one likes to be hurt. And you have so many times to reference it back in your mind when you’ve been out from 2 to 5 to 6 months. It’s in the back of your mind but I find that confidence outweighs that fear or that hesitancy. And if you’re confident and skating a lot and you’ve jumped off a lot of things that have been a similar size leading up to the point where you’re at that moment, I find that if you’re confidence is there and you’ve been skating a lot…you just go for it. You don’t even question it. If everything feels right, you just go. The hard part is when you don’t skate enough to build that confidence and that’s been happening to me lately. I have so much else on my plate, my time on my board is not often enough, so when I’m at a demo or put in that situation, I don’t have the confidence to jump down stuff. So generally I don’t always pull the trigger. Just now I’m coming off a knee injury and just now it’s starting to feel good. So I got to take that in stride and not go out and blow it and jump down something huge and be back to square one again.
For Fallen, you’ve got a bunch of signature shoes. You’ve got the Rival, the Forte, the Chief. When you’re designing each model are you designing them for different types of skating and what each skater might need? I want to make a skateboard shoe for everyone that skates. And if my name or the brand has the ability to do that, then that’s what we try to do. So for myself what I’ve tried to do is have a shoe that’s for every type of skater, whether you like to jump down stuff or you like to take it easy or you like board feel. The Forte is the one with the most board feel and the Chief would be second. And now we’ve created the Rival SLX, which has a very, very low profile cupsole with no EVA in the front of the shoe. So it’s almost like a hybrid between a cup and a vulc. And that’s basically an updated version of the Rival that’s been around since Fallen’s been here. It’s like a slimmed down version with a lot of board feel for a cup. And that’s what they do. People like different styles of shoes so we just try to make a shoe that suits all the people who might be into that guy.
What shoe are you skating in at the moment? I skate in the Forte’s and then I also have a new shoe coming out next year called The Victory, and I just started skating in that. It’s really low profile and really slim. It’s a vulc, similar to the Forte. The Forte is my favorite even though for jumping off stuff it hurts a little bit, but it feels so good skating in the rest of the time, it’s worth it.
I feel that a lot of people don’t know much about Threat. Can you talk a bit about how it came about? Sure. Well, Zero’s always been the lifeblood of what we’ve done and the foundation for Black Box. You know, it was our first brand and we built on top of that with Mystery and Fallen and Slave. But there’s definitely a need in these times to give kids an alternative in price. These are trife times, so we were trying to figure out a way to really cater to people that needed help and couldn’t buy a full price board. And obviously that demand has grown tremendously with the economics situation that we’ve got going on. So we tried to come up with a spin-off brand of Zero so we could help those kids get a quality board that they could trust. So I lent the Zero name to the brand, so it’s “Threat by Zero”. It’s basically a little collaboration between Zero and our designers to create a strong feel, similar to when Zero started, that maybe wasn’t as definitive as the style that Zero had when it first started. It’s more all-inclusive as a skateboard brand; it doesn’t really represent a distinct style of skateboarding. It’s basically just trying to give the homies that want an alternative to a shop deck or price point or blank board. So that’s the goal behind it and the boards are really good. I’ve ridden them and I’ve seen some out on the streets and kids are really pumped on them. It’s an organic process, so we’re taking it slow. We’re not trying to act like it’s taking the place of Zero or anything; it’s just an element of what we’re doing.
How did the Zero x CCS 25 Years Deck come about? We got asked to do an 80’s-style graphic and rather than doing a pro graphic, I thought it’d be cool to offer our board in full 80’s colors, as if the brand existed in ‘85. And it’s one of our best selling graphics too, so I thought it would work well.
So, Cold War. Is there any release date on the horizon? We had it set at early year, 2010. But I’m really trying to have a part in it along with a couple other guys who’ve been hurt that are trying to have parts. So we’re looking at mid 2011. We’re starting some trips and we’re going to have a lot of blogs and web videos as we film and get out there and try to make it happen.
Can we expect a full-length part from you? I hope, man. If I don’t keep getting hurt. I’m shooting for it and I’m working for it. But I’m not trying to put myself under any crazy pressure. I’m just trying to do all I can do inside the time frame until it starts becoming retardedly late and then we’ll just put it out. I’ve got a few other options too. I have a few homies that I might share some footage with as a back-up plan, but I’m tryin’ for it, man. Hopefully I can get to having some fun out there and it can translate through the part.
All Photos: Shigeo/Black Box
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