It’s fun to imagine what could’ve been with Drake Jones. People have been making it a pastime for well over a decade now. One of the 90’s most beloved skaters, “that dude with the ‘fro” broke more than a few hearts when he, seemingly out of nowhere, decided to pack it all up and walk away.
Just like that. Gone.
The bold decision proved quite shocking to the general skate population, who spoke of Drake as if mourning his death. As if a life without a pro skateboarding career was some unimaginable fate.
But Drake’s doing just fine— happily following his other passion as a caddie on the PGA tour. Yeah, golf. He didn’t die; he just had the guts to move on and had enough respect for skateboarding to let it go without milking it dry. So while this reality may not be as fascinating as whatever fantastical situation you’ve conjured up for Drake over the years, you gotta admit that the truth could be a whole lot worse.
So Drake, why’d you do it, man? Why’d you retire?
There honestly wasn’t just one reason why I left the skate scene. I guess it was just supposed to happen the way it did. I began forgetting the reason why I started skateboarding in the first place. I was such a perfectionist that I couldn’t handle not being perfect. I was way too critical of myself and I was tired of never having my true friends around anymore—or even knowing who my real friends really were, for that matter. I had these wack photographers around telling me what lame tricks to do and not respecting my ideas of what tricks I liked doing. Plus, I was frustrated about not being able to ride for my dream company.
What company was that?
Blind skateboards. I remember Jovantae saying numerous times over the years at EMB that he was calling Rodney to get me a box. Never happened.
Do you stand by your decision to retire when you did? Seems like you had so much more left to do.
I have no regrets when it comes to walking away from professional skateboarding. At the time, skating had become a job for me and that was something I felt was never supposed to happen. Today, I’m stoked to go out and skate. My golf friends will finally get the chance to see me skate after all these years!
All right, so from the end to the beginning: how were you introduced to skateboarding and what was the first board you had?
I was around 12 and totally rebelling against my parents. I remember watching my friends skate their jump ramp after school one day and thought I’d give it a try. My first board was a pink Tony Hawk mini with Boneite
Boneite! Yikes! Now a lot of people don’t know that you actually came up in NY. How does a dude in White Plains get sponsored by a relatively small west coast company like Think?
When my parents divorced, I moved to New York to live with my Dad. One day my friend Noah and I were skating the Pacifica Bus Station when this older slasher-looking dude rolled through. It ended up being Keith Cochrane, the owner of Think. He asked me a few questions and said he’d like to give me some product. I was stoked. Having packages come in the mail was a feeling I’ll never forget. It was like Christmas morning every time. I was on Think flow until I moved to Cali after high school.
Did you choose SF because of Think?
Actually my mom still lived in the Bay Area. I consider myself from the Bay, I just moved away for a bit after my parents split. I would still visit her during summers and on breaks and hit up EMB and all the video spots. SF skaters were always so far ahead of everyone else and doing different tricks that I’d never seen before. I remember having to learn them all over the course of the summer in order to go back to New York and show my friends.
Did you ever get vibed by any locals or did Think give you the pass? Were you ever a T-Dog?
I still am a T-Dog, (laughs).
Karl Watson was the only local that even gave me the time of day back then. I remember he’d either say “what’s up” to me or make fun of my dyed hair and the oversized clothes that I’d get from my local NY sponsors back home. It was all in good fun though. If you ever get to meet Karl, you’ll know what I mean.
But EMB was the coolest of the cool and the baddest of the bad. Once you were down with those dudes, nobody could fuck with you—and that’s for real.
You definitely killed both EMB and Pier 7, but what is it about Embarcadero that will always remain sacred? Why does the Pier always pale in comparison to those rough ass bricks?
EMB was just old school to me. Pier 7 was for all the new locals that started bringing in a different flavor to the city and by then, it was my time to move on. That spot always had too many tourists walking around for me anyway. I would film there in the morning when no one was there except for people jogging. It was just too small of a spot for so many skaters. But that crew killed those mannies though. Sick.
I do remember Woody Harrelson coming through the Pier and talking to us about hemp wear. It was cool that he supported our skating.
Of all the classic SF spots from back in the day, which one was your favorite? Least favorite?
Black Rock was one of my all-time favorites. If you skated all the way around that building, it had 5 completely different styled spots to skate.
Brown Marble was always a dream spot but was always a bust. That’s why we only skated a certain part of it. If you skated the long ledge by the window, the security guard would see you and then you had beef. If I had to pick a favorite, the Cardiel street gap at night was the best. Hauling ass and doing tricks over that thing was a total adrenaline rush.
On the flipside, Union Square was a cool spot until two dudes with guns jacked Jamie Thomas’ camera and ripped the chain off my neck. Luckily someone tracked down a cop and they caught the guys with all our stuff. Finally, cops coming in handy for skaters—it can happen!
Now you were with Think for a while … then you went through this kinda weird period where you left and were on-then-off Experience … I think Fun was even in the mix. What was going on with you at this time?
I got kicked off Think for shopping around. That was right around the time Scott Johnston was about to go pro for them.
Is it that you felt that you were supposed go pro at that time? Is that why you started looking around?
I was stoked being on Think. I was starting to get photos in the magazines and I even got my own lame half-pink/half-green wheels called “Drake Jones Rave Balls.” I did go to my fair share of raves back in the day but I only got the wheel because nobody else on the team wanted them. But it gave me a few extra bucks for a month or two. Jamie kept a set for a while. Thanks, Thomas (laughs).
But when Scott went pro before me after only being on the team for a short time, I started thinking. I was riding Scott’s first Think pro model at the time and I didn’t feel like filming on it anymore. I jumped on the Haight bus up to FTC and started trading my Think product for World stuff. The shopping around started after that. It wasn’t long until Greg Carroll found out and came down to EMB to kick me off. All good.
So you got on Experience through JT?
It’s so weird talking about Experience. I was talking with Joey Bast about this the other night and he said if you weren’t in the Bay area scene, you probably wouldn’t even know about that company.
I started riding for Experience because I was skating with Jamie a lot and he was hanging with Roger, the owner of the company. I did turn pro for them and my first graphic was from the Jane’s Addiction Nothing Shocking album cover. We called it “Jones’ Addiction.” One of my top five favorite graphics.
What ended up happening over there? How did Real enter the picture?
I ended up going on a cross country Experience Tour with JT and Sean Young that summer. We had a great time and met some cool locals, but by the time we got to the South, things had gone bad. I made some lame excuse to leave and flew home from Alabama instead of driving back with Jamie. JT asked me before I left if I was gonna stay on the team and I told him I would but ended up quitting without telling him. Jim approached me at EMB one day to ride for Deluxe so I quit. I wanted to ride for Fun or Stereo cause I was down with Lavar but I ended up getting on Real as an am.
What was the story behind that “Flake Jones” diss board Experience put out after you left?
Yeah, somehow Experience put out my second Pro model with demeaning graphics without my knowledge. The board said “Flake Jones” on top and “SF Hearts Me” on the bottom. I wish I had one of those boards today … and maybe a shirt. If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?
I know it’s funny now but you were a lot younger then. What did you think the first time you saw it? Were you pissed at all or did you just laugh it off?
I didn’t know they came out with it until I saw someone skating it. I confronted the owner of Experience at EMB one day but he wouldn’t get out of his car. I started kicking in his door and trying to break out his window until he just took off. It never really got squashed and was never talked about after the company went under a short time later.
And during all of this you come out with your Spitfire part?
Yeah, the Spitfire video was the best. Even got my boy Kelly Haugen in my part with a smooth-ass trick. That whole video was good. Thanks to all my filmers and to Lil’ Danny for not turning the camera off that morning at EMB.
Are you referring to the switch tre down the big three? Such a classic clip.
Yeah, the switch tre. Danny was his name. He lived with Brian Young and loved skating and filming. I would crash with them a lot. We had to film early in the morning because EMB was becoming a bust.
I remember local lurker Smooth Smurf was in the background after I first broke my board. He offered me his board but I just shook him off and told myself to make it. Next thing I know I’m feeling the bricks underneath me while I ride away. I still remember how good that felt.
Now your Non-Fiction part remains an all-time favorite. What headspace were you in while making that gem? You mentioned being overly critical earlier, but you had to be happy with that part, right?
Non-Fiction was a weird time for me. I had been on so many shoe companies by that point but I honestly didn’t like any of them. I started trading shoe packages for other shoes and eventually started buying regular non-skate shoes to skate in. Nike GTS were sweet but would only last about a week or so. And since Adidas was only giving guys like J. Lee or Gonz free shoes, I had to buy shelltoes in the Fillmore to skate in.
At the Non-Fiction premiere, it wasn’t like everyone thought I had this killer part. I thought people were just being cordial about it. I didn’t feel pressure to film because I loved filming. Plus, I didn’t think about what that part was going to stand for today. I didn’t think it was going be my only board sponsor video part.
It’s a good video. I always thought Bast should’ve got more props because he filmed like 10 bangers on the last day of filming.
A standout ad of the 90’s … the tre flip in Timberland boots? How’d that one go down?
Actually, I’ve never owned a pair of Timberland Boots. The kicks in that picture were black and blue Nike hiking boots. And that is a heelflip varial. It must’ve been about 80 degrees outside.
My favorite part of that ad is that it just says, “skateboarding.” That’s the beauty of it. There is no format to skating. It doesn’t matter what you wear or where you got it. It’s an expression of who you are. It will always be an art form to me and not a sport, which is why I never skated in contests. I started skating to get away from being judged.
Weren’t you on that tour when Mandoli took his infamous drive time snooze? Care to give us a firsthand account?
Yeah, I think that must’ve been 1995. There were about two or three weeks to go on a Real tour. We were leaving some town and heading further south for our next demo when we all decided to stop at this donut shop. It was Julien, Matt Field, Ben Liversedge, Mandoli, Gabe and myself.
We all go in the place, but for whatever reason, none of us actually buy any donuts. We just end up hanging in the parking lot outside when someone comes over with a skate mom, claiming that her son was at the demo and that she loved the team. We give her some stickers and sign some stuff but she’s beer buzzing pretty hard and left her car door open with her purse and some fresh dozen donuts waiting inside. She gets so distracted by the dirty skaters clowning her that she doesn’t even notice us snagging the donuts. It was all in good fun … or so we thought.
We get back on the freeway and Mandoli is driving. Shawn is real religious and was actually getting ready to head to bible school back then. He starts telling us, “Hey, you guys shouldn’t have stolen her donuts. God is gonna be mad at you for doing that.” We just laughed at him and continued scarfing down the free treats.
We kept driving for a while. Now it’s like 1 a.m. and Shawn’s still driving, Ben is in shotgun, Matt and I have the first row of seats and Julien and Gabe are in the way back. We’re all pretty tired and start trying to catch some sleep. I remember just closing my eyes when I start to feel the van bouncing up and down. When I look up, we are on the left shoulder of the road, stuck in cruise control with everyone asleep … including Shawn! I yell, “Shawn! What are you doing!?!”
He wakes up, sees where the van is heading and turns the wheel a hard right to get back on the freeway but we’re in cruise control so the van just takes off. He jams it back left in order not to fly off the road and we end up overcorrecting. We flip onto the roof, back onto the wheels and then take off across the opposite side of the freeway because the cruise control never disengaged. We end up crashing into a ravine. Thank God nobody got seriously injured that evening. Shawn was the only one that night wearing his seatbelt and I still remember watching him pick pieces of windshield out of the top of his head. We all got checked out a hospital and hung out in some crap motel for a day or two before flying back home.
I still want to apologize to that lady. Everything has a price. Even “free” donuts.
So amazing. Now after this brush with death, you made the switch over to 23 with Sal and company. Were you already feeling kind of burned out when you made this switch? Were you at all hoping this would reignite some spark?
The whole 23 thing started because Sal was coming up to Frisco to see his lady and we are both car guys. He rolled his badass white Mustang and mine was a Black Civic with 17-inch chrome wheels. “Black Death” was her name until my girlfriend renamed her “Darth Vader.” Shit was tight ‘til it got jacked in the tenderloin late one night. The cops found her on blocks three hours later in Oakland. She was never the same after that.
Anyway, Sal and I were kicking it SF-style. We weren’t really skating but just getting to be friends. Once I got on the team though, it was all downhill. I remember having a couple of boards with 23 before I got let go. I don’t think anyone knew I was thinking of leaving. I did go on a tour with the team one summer but didn’t skate much. I just talked to the kids and played skate with the locals instead.
When did golf start to overtake skateboarding for you? Is that something you’d always been into?
I had been playing 9-Ball billiards for almost a year before getting my last check from 23. I was supporting myself by gambling at different pool halls and tourneys, then going on the road with my boy Nate. He was the one who actually took me to my first range in SF to hit golf balls. Once I hit that pure shot at the range that day, all I wanted to do was play golf from then on. Now I currently caddie on the PGA and Nationwide Golf Tours and also work at the local golf club when not on the road.
Do you skate at all? Any chance of a comeback?
No skate comeback for this kid. I tend to stick to the “once it’s finished, it’s done” kinda thang, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t comeback in the industry. I’ve started skating more recently and will be working on a project documenting my skating and golf travels. It’s only gonna be for myself and my Facebook friends though.
You’re known for having one of the most impeccable styles in the game … especially in a time where style really wasn’t as important as it is now. What does style mean to you? What are traits do you look for in another person’s skating? And what do you think about all these rules and restrictions being placed on how you should skate nowadays?
Style is another term that is different nowadays then it was back then. Back in the day, to me, style was how you did your tricks. You could tell where a skater was from because of the way they skated—because of their style. Today, style is how you wear your clothes. Weak.
Kids today only seem to skate in order to get sponsored and make money. You might as well have stuck with baseball and played for the Giants!
Today, kids are just going so big, so young. They look like they’re holding on for dear life. I consider a lot of it “stunt skating,” which is just lame. But when you see the ones that go big and do have style … wow!
When did skating have laws on what was acceptable? Never. Don’t change your style to suit someone else. Don’t change your pants and t-shirt cause someone thinks it’ll help “your career”. Just learn the tricks the way you can and leave it at that. Faking it was barely cool for a minute. We need to let skateboarding return to its roots so it can be reborn again with the soul it lost long ago. Skateboarding always gets too big for itself and has to start again.
Well said. Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you to skateboarding for not only being a part of my life but for being a part of who I am. Thanks to the EMB crew, Willy Santos, Jamie Thomas and countless others. Peace.