Words and Interview by Farran Golding.
Early September last year I was woke up by a call from the shop. The following conversation with Martyn went something as follows:
“Are you up?”
“I am now...”
“Well you’re gonna want to be because the New Balance team are coming to Leeds and we need someone to show them some spots and I thought you might want to do it.”
“Fuck! I’ve got work later but yeah, I’ll get by the shop soon.”
A quick call and brief sweet talk to my assistant manage, I explained how I was ‘really sorry but last minute Sidewalk business has come up’ and how I had to be late for work because of it. ‘Sidewalk business’ basically being my code for anyskate related work that meant ‘I have way more fun and interesting shit to do than make cocktails tonight’. Anyway, after this I was allowed to start work a couple of hours later.
Around three o’clock the New Balance team arrived at Welcome and I introduced myself to Tom Karangelov who funnily enough I’d sent some interview questions to a couple of weeks prior and then stood awestruck as Arto Saari walked through the door as Brenna grinned at my general lack of not knowing what to do in this situation. We all ventured down to playhouse where after trying a line a for about half an hour, Arto Saari and Russell Houghton sat directly behind the block I was skating which made me too nervous to keep trying it. I sat down and spoke to Tom Karangelov for a bit about his stay in Manchester and we both easily got on due to a shared love for Joy Division and Morrissey. It was at this moment that Jordan Trahan popped the most perfect Kickflip I have witnessed in person over one of the Playhouse blocks. Literally, this thing was about a foot higher than the block itself with some serious ninja shapes on the catch. It was fucking beautiful.
Anyway, fast forward to now and it’s funny to find out if I’d never blagged that afternoon off work, the following interview wouldn’t have happened – you’ll read why towards the end. After witnessing Jordan rinse Playhouse in person and then consistently more so in every one of New Balance Numeric’s videos since then, I was stoked that, between both our shaky internet connections, we spent a good amount of time discussing New Balance, filming for the upcoming 5Boro video, Bronze and skating in New York amongst other things.
Hey Jordan. It’s just been a holiday in the States right, you had a good weekend?
Yeah it’s Memorial Day Weekend, a big day for people to party, I feel like everybody in America takes every chance they can to celebrate. There was a parade right on my avenue like right outside the house; marching bands and little kids dressed up like navy men.
You’re going on a trip this Friday right? Is that for another New Balance video with Russell Houghton?
Yeah, we’re gonna fly directly to Montreal, spend a few days and then Quebec City I believe.
Canada is the focus for the trip then?
Yeah. I’m still unable to skate and so is Tyler Surrey but we’re both gonna go on the trip and just tag along.
I was just about to ask you about that. So you injured your foot is it, what happened there?
In February I was out in San Francisco for a couple of weeks working on my friend Ryan Garshell’s GX1000 video and on the very last day of the trip I dislocated my ankle and I broke my fibula.
I had to spend about eight hours at the hospital in San Francisco. At the end of the day they reset my ankle but told me I needed surgery to put a plate in my leg. I flew out to Colorado the very next day and then two or three days in I saw a doctor.
How long until you’re fully recovered?
Well I’ve been on six weeks physical therapy in Louisiana, where my parents live and I just got back to New York about a week and half ago. I’ve been walking for about two weeks. I have my own workouts to do and it’s gonna take a few more weeks until I feel comfortable on a board.
What have you been up to whilst you haven’t been able to skate?
Since I came back from Louisiana I took about thirty tapes from this kid who films down there; he never captured any of his footage. So I’m gonna take it all, watch it all from start to finish and start cutting this together for the crew.
Were you interested in editing before, or with this injury is it just some too keep you occupied?
I was just back home and I was like ‘what’s up with the video guys?’ – I ride for a skate shop in Louisiana (Rukus) – and we’ve been working on it for about two years I guess. I would go home for holidays, you know Christmas time, and the crew is always skating, they’re always doing things. But when I’m watching these tapes from like a year or two ago it’s really sparking me up.
So it’s their first shop video you’re putting together?
When I was like fifteen/sixteen, we made a shop video and that was my first video part. Back in those days I was super hyped being a part of that. This one’s a little different. I have my own footage to contribute. If all the guys in the video each have five tricks, I can’t give myself a full part (laughs). I’m just gonna put in an adequate amount I guess.
Have you been filming for this about as long as you’ve been on New Balance then?
Oh no. This is a lot of old footage from when I was a kid. Random things that I’m going to throw in there that nobody’s seen but it’ll be cool.
Do you know what to expect when you go on NB# filming trips? From the first promo, A Place In The Sun, to last year’s Quids In, VX4000 and Sunland that debuted last week; the style is always different. Do you have any idea what the next video is going to be like when you’re working on it or do you just do what Russell says and then find out with the end result?
For the last video we put out, VX4000, that was kinda us breaking apart from all these big projects where we have to skate a certain way. You know I’m not from Los Angeles but while we were there for those few days I got to go out and find some spots. But then there’s also all these back stories, like Tom Knox and I shared an apartment last July, out in Echo Park cos we’re the only two that weren’t staying in Los Angeles. We had time with Russell for like four or five days but then he left for three weeks and then that was my only footage for this thing, so yeah each project is different. We held onto the footage for maybe six or eight months and then that was that. If you put out a trip video, it’s like all of this footage was here at once and that was the story behind it. So each video is being connected in different ways.
You came to England last year whilst filming for Quids In, what was your impression of the skate scene here compared to back home?
It wasn’t as much of like a New York, popping off, crazy scene. It was more like my crew down in Louisiana. Like the way each scene is kind of its own so you don’t know what to expect when you see the skaters from different towns. As far as like the towns with skate shops, those were the ones really thriving I found. You know Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester.
You were staying in Manchester so you spent a lot of time in the North of England, which is cool because when most US teams visit here, London seems to be the only place worth skating. Was the skating here what you expected it to be?
What I expected was to be rained out every single day or have a few moments to skate but we really got lucky with weather. You know that trip was such a flurry, such a blur. I showed up first in Manchester at eight in the morning after an overnight flight from New York and I was walking around the city for seven hours by myself, kind of getting a hold on things. But ever since we all cliqued up, it was get a van, drive. Driving to this spot, driving to that thing. It was a little less free than we imagined.
You hurt yourself on the first day didn’t you?
Yeah, bruised my tailbone. Instead of sacking on a rail I just leaned back and caught my ass. It was pretty brutal.
Bet that made for some fun when you were driving around the country then...
Yeah the skating wasn’t so bad as long as I didn’t fall on my ass. But it was sitting in the car for a few hours and then stepping out, having to like hold my breath and then start stretching just immediately as you get out the car. It was brutal. Twelve hour flight home wasn’t too chill...
You ended the trip in Scotland. Could you tell a lot of differences between Scotland and England? I imagine the accents were tougher to handle up there.
Oh absolutely, Scottish accents are a lot deeper. But yeah it was just different I guess, socially, because with all the things that were happening in Scotland at the time. Like the very day we drove into Scotland they had the voting for their own independence and if my memory is right, the minister resigns the following day because of his failure in this campaign. Then riots go down in Glasgow the very night we were skating and we drove all the way home. We barely missed that whole crazy scene.
You guys came to Leeds and swung by the shop for one the days when I met up with you. What did you think to it here?
We only had the one day in Leeds but we stayed up at the... man what was that one part, with the blocks?
Yeah. Just the whole central town, it seemed like a really sick town.
Arto said the ledges looked ‘medieval’. They have been skated for about twenty years...
Yeah there’s like huge divots in between where the concrete blocks connect and it’s similar to like how Flushing (Meadows) would look now. Like the ledge over the grate is so broken in and it leaves these huge chunks and it was just like those blocks.
So you’re from Louisiana originally?
Yeah a town called Abbeville.
But you’ve lived in Brooklyn for about three years right?
I lived in Brooklyn for like two and half, three years and then lived in Queens for the last eight months.
Did you move to New York because of riding for 5Boro?
Well I met them on a tour they did for Join Or Die. Like just to go out and film during the winter and they drove directly from New York to New Orleans and spent the first few days out of the snow for Mardy Gras, they got to see the whole thing. Then I showed them around Baton Rouge for two days. It wasn’t until like maybe two or three years later that I hit them up for some boards and they were reluctant, but I came up here on my own mission just to hang out. I took a train ride from New Orleans all the way here and just hung out with some friends. Those guys were down, we hung out, we skated around. After I left I got a couple of boards and it was just them trying to help me out at the time, there was no talk or plans or things like that.
Do you prefer skating out there as opposed to Louisiana?
Oh sure. It’s hard to even compare because in Louisiana you all meet up to skate and it’s in a back yard or a mini ramp or like a kerb session or something but here in New York you’re free to do whatever you want. You can take the train to the city or, I’ve been hurt, I’ve got a bicycle, I’ve been riding this bicycle for miles a day. So I’m not limited like I would be in Louisiana.
Who’s your usual crew nowadays?
For the last three years we’ve been working on the 5Boro video so we would go out a few days a week, pushing around seeing if we can get something. But aside from that I have all my friends in Queens, we do Bronze together, so that’s a whole separate crew. Then there’s all these other sub factions of kids that hang out and skate so it’s never ending.
How does filming with Peter...erm... fuck. I’ve just realised I have no idea how to pronounce his last name.
(laughs) How does filming with him for Bronze compare to filming with Russell for NB?
Well Russell is... I don't know. It would be so interesting to get those two guys in a room together and see what they would talk about because... Yeah Peter is... I’m at a loss for words; he’s a strange fellow... (laughs) But Russell, he’s been doing this for a long time, he’s a professional. Peter has no aspirations to make any sort of money or career out of this thing; he’s just trying to keep some hype in the winter time you know?
How did you get to know the Bronze guys in the first place and how is it seeing it go from such a small thing to something people all over are hyped on?
Well when I first moved up to New York I skated with Rob Gonyon a lot because he rides for 5Boro and he’s from Queens. Man I gotta think way back because this whole Bronze thing started before I even knew it was Bronze. We finished Join Or Die in 2011 and Tombo (Colabraro) didn’t want to film VX, he wanted to start doing a HD thing and Peter had a HD camera and we just filmed a few things. The footage he used for the Enron video was from the first six months of me living in New York. Some really old HD footage and I didn’t realise Bronze was a company, it was just a homie video at first and there’s a few t shirts. It’s a really slow moving thing and we make things as we can. We don’t need to keep selling hardware to shops because shops have hardware; they just want a few t-shirts to support the crew (laughs). It’s kinda funny. We could dead the whole thing altogether and just start something new.
There are people that are die hard VX and die hard HD so it must be cool to work on both ends of that spectrum? Which do you prefer?
To dabble. Yeah certainly. Because the highest end of the spectrum is those RED cameras and Russell, you know he’s going to continue to do a few slow motion projects. Yeah people just want to see a mix; they don’t want to see the same stair hucking or the same old bullshit.
Do you think it’s strange how much of a surge in popularity the East Coast and especially NYC has had recently?
I guess since before social media, nobody could tell what people in New York were doing unless they put out a video. But now teams just want to come to New York, put out some Instagram videos and say they did it and that gives them a quick sense of accomplishment. But, if you really want to get any type of respect here, it’s spending time here and actually putting something into the scene. Not just coming here for like a few weeks in the summer time. People won’t really remember you if you come by and try to skate without chilling and talking to people. You have to know how to hang out as well as skate. If you kook it, nobody is gonna give a shit about what you did. You know someone will go right behind you and do the same trick because they don’t give a fuck.
On that note, with that sort of popularity now, would you agree that skateboarding is in a place where it’s better than ever for people coming up on the East Coast?
Yeah I would say so but it’s a really thin line. Like I feel strange because I’m not from New York but I’m one of the sponsored skaters in New York and I get paid to skate now. There are people that grew up here that have been putting video parts out for years and they don’t get a dime. So, it’s not something that I can feel really proud about you know? It’s a strange situation, looking around at my roommates and they have to move furniture six days a week up and down flights of stairs with no elevators. But who’s to say my skating is anymore worthy than theirs? But I live with Kevin Tierney and Brian Clarke; you know they had parts in Static V?
I know Kevin, not the other guy too much.
Yeah Brian had a really short part but it’s only the best of his skating and it’s all he’s gonna produce for a long time, he’s about to be a New York fireman. He’s about to just say ‘goodbye’ from it.
Is Kevin still on Zoo York?
Yeah I believe so.
Would you say riding for a brand as central to New York as 5Boro is, do you think that it’s strange how much Zoo York has changed over the years whilst you could argue 5Boro has stayed consistent to what it’s always been? Maybe even a little closer to the original vibe Zoo York had opposed to what Zoo is now?
When I think about it, we still have a crew that skates and people that we want to hang out with. It’s not like with the Zoo guys and they’re trying to meet up with RB (Umali) who’s their filmer. It’s not a competition by any means, but we have a crew that feels a little more authentic and we all hang out. So I guess that is the difference.
I find it weird that – I know Brandon just left but – I thought it was weird that you had him and Kevin Tierney on the same team as Chaz Ortiz. It just seemed weird with Zered (Bassett) and everyone gone...
Yeah, well to me, Kevin being on Zoo makes the most sense out of anyone in New York because he’s been ripping and representing those guys for so long they had no choice but to be like ‘alright this is our guy’ – he is the guy. So, hopefully Kevin will get a board in the next few months because there’s no one on Zoo York that should have a board more than Kevin. That’s how I feel anyway.
Any idea who is set for full parts in the 5Boro video as the family involved with the company is pretty big?
I’d say that the younger guys filmed parts the fastest, like Rob Gonyon and Silvester Eduardo. Jimmy McDonald filmed a full part while he was working full time at this ad agency, that’s like night times and weekends you know whenever he had time off from work, so people are gonna see his part and be blown away. Joe Tookmanian is gonna have a really good amount of stuff he filmed over two years ago. He’s been working construction full time so he’s been sitting on a part for like two years. You know myself... Willy Acres has some really ridiculous footage, probably like thirty seconds of some of the raddest shit. It’s hard not to give too many spoilers but it’s gonna be fucking rad.
Will the next 5Boro video be similar to Join or Die in anyways or will it be completely different?
Well the video format, it’s not gonna be some gritty VX footage, it’s gonna be some really classy HD footage. I think it’ll be nice. People are gonna be kind of surprised at the way this HD footage can look. He had to learn this DSLR camera from a VX and he had no prior experience to that sort of settings or dealing with that. It was trial and error and there were a few clips we had to go back and re-film but it’s been a fun process.
When’s the video set for release?
I’d say midsummer, midsummer classic.
Before I wrote these questions I tried to have a look at some of your past interviews but there doesn’t seem to be many (if any). Are you quite a private person usually?
I’d say I’m pretty private, I don’t put a lot about my life up on Instagram or Facebook. But yeah, I’ve only wanted to do interviews with people that I’ve met in the past, I’ve been asked to do a few but... If Seb and Tom K are like ‘yeah you should talk to Farran and do an interview!’ I’ll actually take that in consideration but if I get a random email or something like that, it’s something I’ll just delete.
Thanks for being up for this then.
Yeah man, you’re the real deal, whenever I get back to Leeds we’re chilling!
So, I’ve got to say the Varial Flip over that road gap at the end of VX4000 was pretty outstanding. Few people are bold (and skilled) enough to pull off a V-Bomb in style. Do you think the Varial is making a comeback?
Yeah well I think there was a time period when people forgot how to do certain tricks well, like Varial Flips, and people were doing really shitty Tre Flips. But everybody just wants to see something popped well or done well. It kinda doesn’t matter what trick it is as long as it’s sick. But I can’t say I’m that good at those, I get lucky.
Just getting back to New Balance to round this off. You’ve been on Numeric since the start with Arto Saari, Tom Karangelov, Jordan Taylor and a few more guys right?
All those guys got on like right at the start. Then I kinda got introduced like three or four months in, then I got on six months after that. When they were introduced it was straight away, I kind of went on a couple trips and came back to New York, didn’t really know what the deal was for a while. It’s a little different not living near the offices.
Since then, you guys have been frequently putting out quality footage and welcomed a couple of more guys to the team. How has it been seeing the brand create an identity for itself?
It feels like it’s less about all of the footwear because we had such a big period were we didn’t have shoes. Through that period we made like two or three big projects and I think it’s more about the crew than just producing some shoes and selling it to as many people as you can.
I think that compared to other ‘big brands’ that have entered skateboarding, New Balance Numeric doesn’t give off the ‘corporate’ vibe really.
I think that’s in large part to Sebastian’s work. He’s kept it such a small and tight crew that there’s no room for other ideas that we’re not feeling, it’s just what we want to do.
Is everything really close between the team, Seb and the people at New Balance itself then?
Seb helped me out through this whole process while I was hurt. I was in Colorado, got my surgery and then flew to LA to do the Sunland video just to like hang out and I stayed in L.A. for three weeks and they put me up with the guys. Sebastian keeps it what it is and he’s not going to allow any of the wrong people to get involved. I trust his judgement and even though it seems like things are happening slow because I’m on this side of the country, and I’m sure Tom Knox feels the same way, things eventually get smoothed out and we’re all on the same page.
It’s rad that with Tom (Knox) being on the team, he’s fully on the team and not just like the –
Yeah, exactly. Whereas other brands might have however many guys outside of the States that rip just as hard Tom does, but they’re just international hook-ups rather than ‘fully on’.
There is no way we could ever have thirty pros on the team. We’re trying to keep it a little more focused and we’re doing some cool things for next winter... I just don’t want to spoil it.
There was the big gap were there was no footwear out, with the transition away from Blackbox. Could you explain what happened there at all?
I’ve been all the way on this side you know, I’ve been away from it. But Seb basically made this transition on his own from the San Diego warehouse and moved it all the way up to Long Beach and he, Kelly the designer and Levi (Brown) who’s now our team manager; they started the office and now it's gonna be proper and I think one of the biggest things that brings it together for me, at least. When I do get to go to those sales meetings and it’s me and all the guys and Seb, there’s also the owner of the brand, the son of the original owners and he is a real person and isn’t going to toss this thing away if business is bad for a few months
As you said, the team is really good and everyone fits well together. Has there been any thoughts for a full length New Balance video been talked about at all?
I think to make a full length video it takes a lot. It takes the whole team actually doing it so, like first off would be PJ (Ladd) he’s the guy with the first pro shoe, he’s the one that would have to film a part. I think the rest of us would be down, we’d want to do it with him and be like ‘yeah dude let’s do this, let’s make a video.’ Every time I hang out with him it’s like a different spark you know? Certain skaters have their own things that get them inspired, so just gotta figure out what it is for PJ.
On that note, Arto is at that same sort of level. Nothing short of legend. What’s it like being on tour with him? Obviously he’s more into photography now but after so many knee reconstructions you can’t blame him.
He’s a good dude to have on a trip because he’s the biggest one on the team, he’s the tallest, he’s the guy. So anywhere we go he’s in the centre of the charge and if he’s not skating he’s got his camera and if he’s like ‘Fuck yeah Jordan, let’s get this!’ what can I say? Like, ‘alright, fuck yeah, I guess we’re doing it’ even if I’m gonna feel like shit afterwards. Because he had the same people pushing him to do what he did so maybe it’s just a recurring theme.
Finally, do you remember the big Ollie you did at bottom of that street (Brigate) in Leeds? Where you had to run up onto your board?
Yeah, the big square.
Did you have any idea that had never been done?
Nah, I mean we were all hanging out at the spot before they told us to go up to the top where all the ledges and the blocks were. We were just hanging out, dicking around like ‘oh look at that. It’s a big gap in the street, we might have to have some people watch for cars but let’s try it.’
Did you have the idea to try it, or did someone call it for you as you were heading past it?
It’s hard to remember, that was like a quick twenty minutes. The sketchy thing afterwards was when Russell was trying to film a helicopter run up shot and he wasn’t trying to wait for cars. He was just like ‘hey run at the spot like you were just doing and throw your board down.’ I was like ‘cool Russell, if I throw my board down I’m gonna die’ (laughs) so I throw my board down and I cut off to the left and there’s a woman in a wheelchair, she’s about to get hit, I end up running into a pole, I’m like ‘fuck dude, can’t be doing this’.
So what was harder the run up or -
Yeah the fucking run up man! (laughs) It was ridiculous. Yeah it’s just certain things you have to deal with like if it’s a high anxiety spot and you have a helicopter hanging above your head, maybe that’s the thing that – maybe that was the trick. Like you held it together and did your part. Sometimes it’s not as easy as it looks.
When Russell’s got the helicopter on you do you ever snap and be like ‘I wish we were filming this with a normal camera’?
(laughs) Nah, he doesn’t over do it but on trips but you know he lugs that thing around because he knows there are shots that no one has ever got before and there is scenery that people need to see that tie a whole trip together like with the UK video. So whether it’s a corny or goofy thing, he’s doing it the best out of anyone, I feel.
I feel that if it was doing it for the sake of doing it would be. But Russell is showcasing something completely different.
Yeah it’s like a feeling you didn’t expect to have in a skate video like ‘wait we’re flying through the streets right now, why is this happening?’ (laughs)
Thanks a lot Jordan, all the best for your recovery man.
Thanks man, this was awesome, appreciate it. Alright, peace out bro.