In the first of what will hopefully be a series of pro interviews on the website I put some questions to one of the UKs finest exports and one of my favourite skaters, John Rattray.
Johns put out a fair few video parts over the years, he has a rad style and choice of tricks and is well respected by other pros, he had just got back from the Zero Bacon and Legs tour and took some time to answer some questions.
Here is a look into the mind of John spliced with some of Johns video parts.
(The Bacon and Legs tour John was just on)
In the U.K. sponsored skateboarding seems to pretty much be based around media, video parts and magazine coverage, whereas in the US demos and comps seem like a much bigger deal, with Zero being known for pretty lengthy demo seasons what was it like adapting to tour life? Do you feel much pressure in demos or just enjoy them?
John: There's always a little pressure you put on yourself. I remember as a kid I was always so hyped to actually skate that I didn't notice too much if pros didn't skate, but I definitely noticed when they did and it was inspiring, so if I'm doing a demo I feel bad if I can't skate for whatever reason. I always try to find something to skate at any demo even if it's just blasting a few airs or trying eggplants on a quarterpipe or something. And on Blueprint and DCUK tours I remember we would skate demos for hours and hours. Maybe my memory's faulty?
(Johns last part while on Blueprint)
You often find that different skaters are favourites of different cliques in cities, do you notice this when youre touring? Are certain skaters more popular than others in different cities?
I was just in Kansas City where Malto is the hometown hero but besides that I'm really not sure. Maybe everyone that both reads and watches TV likes Cole and the 3 kids that read think I'm vaguely cool or something.
(Johns part from First Broadcast, a UK independent video)
At the Dying to Live premiere in London your No Comply got probably the biggest cheer of the night, was this a big surprise and why do you think this was? Who has the best No Comply?
Yeah, sort of a surprise. I think the hardest trick in that part was the 3 flip over the bank gap at the end. For whatever reason I tried that for hours. The no-comply was just one of those throw in for the fun of it moves without which skateboarding becomes just another sport. on reflection I'm not surprised that the UK crowd get that having being raised on the consistent genius of Sidewalk, Heroin, Death and everything else.
(Johns part with the aforementioned No Comply)
Skaters are incredibly fickle, and while being a popular skater in the U.K. when you arrived in the U.S. I guess you were relatively unknown compared to some of the other Zero team, did you get any animosity from other skaters/industry types or did people just assume Jamie knew what he was doing?
I never noticed any animosity. If there was then I really don't recall. The American industry is as full of incredibly talented funny great people as the UK I think and like anywhere it has it's share of oddballs too. Thinking back I was always as self-conscious as anyone, which can sometimes be misinterpreted, but there was no real animosity other than that which I may have invented in my own imagination here and there.
(Johns second Zero part)
Youve put out some rad video parts over the years, but at the same time you seem to fall into the category of the "skaters skater", someone whos really good to watch in person with an off the cuff creative style, in your runs at Tampa you seem to fit in a hell of a lot of tricks in your time. Street League seems like the polar opposite to that style of skating with one hit tricks, and therefore for guys like you and Busenitz etc it seems you wouldnt get to skate how you wanted in that kind of comp, does it bother you that you dont get a shot at that kinda prize purse? Or that a certain style of skateboarding seems to be becoming more well respected off the back of those style comps?
I think that for there to be a lot of money put up by corporate sponsors to fund events like street league the bosses looking purely at the spreadsheets need a structure that provides quantifiable return on investment; as do the riders. That's the bottom line. Big bank is at stake. Like in the circus the owner has invested money in lions and tigers and pays to keep them fed and the crowd wants to be feel energized and feel like they're seeing something worth paying for. It's all show business.
Street league still showcases a spectrum of styles from Tommy Sandoval to Shane O'Neal and the finals are cool enough to watch. Since the beginning there have always been people attempting to be the ring-master. Right now it's Dyrdek and he's a lovely chap and a good ring master so whatever. Whether I'm bothered at not getting a shot? Hmm, sure I'd like a shot at 100 grand or whatever it is. I'd be stupid not to, but I'd have to train and workout and train more and drink protein shakes or something. I've never really been motivated that way when it comes to skating. Not that everyone in street league does that, Tommy certainly doesn't, I'm just saying that's what I'd personally have to do to stand a chance. Not to mention that then I'd have to do some depraved sexual thing to be considered. I'm pretty sure that's how it works anyway. The scoring system seems fair enough for what it is, i.e. an arena sport, like basketball. It seems to add up technical skill and consistency and that's it. We are all free to take it or leave it like everything else onTV.
(One of Johns Tampa runs, notice how many tricks he fits in one minute!)
In the 80s and 90s in the U.K. seeing a pro skater was a really big deal, things like Cardiel at Livi go down in history and get talked about years later. With internet message boards and the throwaway nature of clips these days do you find people can be more apathetic towards seeing pros? Or do the internet clips just help separate the wheat from the chaff and help push the progression of skating? Do you watch many Youtube clips?
I don't watch a lot of stuff on Youtube really. Last thing I watched was the Austyn Gillette QUIK short that Colin Kennedy made for the Berrics. That was brilliant. I don't think anything needs to be throwaway just because it's on the internet. I mean I don't say web video anymore because I feel that's like saying vhs video or word book. The internet is so ubiquitous now. I also don't notice apathy towards skate clips because I only tend to see the best stuff. Thanks to social media the wheat get's separated before I even knew there was a chaff and since I'm watching great stuff the comments are 99% positive and enthusiastic, with the obligatory weird troll comment in there of course.
(Johns part from 411, the Nosebluntslide down Clipper set off his U.S. career)
Youre involved in the SKATE games, I guess this is the most mainstream thing youve done, do you get many non skaters recognizing you? Or do board sales noticeably go up after you appear in something like that?
I've had kids ask me to sign it at demos but they're skaters that know something about skating. Whether it affects sales I don't know.
Independent skate shops are often the lifeblood of their local scenes, but larger web based stores seem to be trying their best to take over, what do skate shops mean to you as a pro?
Skate shops are still the hub of any good scene I think. Although a good park can definitely generate the same community spirit. I don't know. I think the game has changed but there is still room for independent skate shops to do it. I hope. Shops will always be able to offer something the internet can't. Hopefully they can continue to foster and promote whatever that is.
(Check out the last trick in this, hefty 50-50 to hill bomb!)
Not many pros have a University degree, and the active age for a pro skater isnt that long, is it fair to say you could have possibly made more of a lasting career based off of your studies? Do you remember making a conscious decision that you were going to endeavour to become a pro skater instead or did it just happen? Do you think youll pursue a different career in the future or do you always want to be involved with skateboarding?
Yeah, I decided to be pro when I was 14. Then I forgot about that and went to uni to maybe finagle my way into some sort of oil engineering training program or something. Then Colin got me on Panic and I remembered the pro thing then I put one foot in front of the other and this is where it's led. I hope to always be involved in skateboarding to some degree but I'm very skeptical of skateboarding as a full on livable source of income so I'll certainly be looking at other fields. Not exactly sure what my skill set is yet, I'm working on ascertaining that before I make any major moves.
Im a Haggis eater and I read the other day that Haggis is banned in America due to the lung content, do you partake in Haggis and if so is there any chance you will be storming the White House as the lead advocate in the reinstatement of Haggis onto the shelves?
I occasionally eat the stuff when I'm in the highlands but I'm no activist about it.
The most well known Southampton skater is undoubtedly Don Brider, do you know of Don? Do you remember seeing him in mags when you were growing up?
Yes. Did he make mouse is pulling the key? I used to watch that video a fair bit. Was he involved with Insane clothing?
(Johns most recent video from the Predatory Bird site)
Skateboarding recently seems to be giving a hefty nod to skating of the past, with Wallrides, Wallies, Bowl Skating, and No Complies appearing in a lot of video parts despite perhaps being technically easier to do than other tricks in parts, where can you see skateboarding heading?
Same place as ever, having a good time with friends learning difficult tricks in parks and streets. The machoman higher faster further aspect is consistently impressive. Provided there's a couple of weeks break to do different interesting stuff between each one I could watch people back lip a 16 or back three the mega jump until the end of time, well that might be an exaggeration, maybe once a year. And I always like to remember that every year there is a whole new tide of 14 and 15 year olds for whom this is all brand new.
(An Epicly Later'd episode with John and Stu Graham)
Zero seem to have a lot of new Ams on the team recently, while lots of companies still see a gap to sponsor slightly older skaters, Flip and Lance for example, do you think skaters should retire (like Kirchart) or should legends remain sponsored? If so who are the top three legends you would like to see with a Zero pro/bro model, and who are your top three ams/rookies (on any company) that you like to watch skateboarding?
Pros should retire if that's what they want to do. If they're still motivated to film parts and skate demos and contest or whatever then that's fine too. Whether a company can support them financially is a decision that has to be made by the people with the unenviable job of looking at the spreadsheets I suppose. Pro/Bro model on Zero? I can't even begin to imagine. That's Krooked's thing. Top 3 ams/rookies? Mike Anderson (is he a rookie still?), Tom Karangelov and Dane Burman.
(The last ollie on this is pretty hefty!)
Finally, when I said to my girlfriend I was going to be doing an interview and needed some questions she thought these were the most pressing issues that needed to be addressed:
Do you like sweets? Yes.
Do you play Tony Hawks Pro Skater? (I understand you may be contractually obliged to say no) I don't play any computer games.
Do you watch the Simpsons? When I get the opportunity.
Do you like Pizza? Yes.
Do you like doing the flips? Depends who's asking and what they mean by that.
John is sponsored by: ZERO Skateboards and Wheels, Thunder Trucks, Modus Bearings.
Check out Johns site, THE PREDATORY BIRD, a website loosely based around the attacking nature of seagulls, and Johns travels with skateboarding. He currently has some awesome cruiser boards with different cut and stained woods as the graphic, check out the making of them here: