Joey Pepper Extended Interview

Interview: Christian Senrud
Photos: Jonathan Mehring

Smith grind

How long have you two known Zered?
I’ve known Zered since, like, probably 2001 when he started coming to Boston. He’d make skate trips to the city from Cape Cod, so I’d see him around in the streets.

Was that the Darling Street days?
Yeah. I was living with Ben [Colen, photographer], and Steve Nardone lived up the street. Zered would come to the city and ended up crashing with Steve all the time. I called him Uncle Steve because he was like the dirty uncle that took it upon himself to let all the little kids stay with him, so he had, like, four or five of the young kids over all the time. It was, like, Eli [Reed], Jereme Rogers, Lurker Lou—all these younger guys were staying with Steve. He had a little day care going over there.

And your spot was for the older dudes?
Yeah, kind of. It was me, Ben [Colen], Sean Keenan and Vanik Hacobian living there at one point. I was just crashing on the couch; then I ended up taking over Vanik’s room. It was the typical skate house, but it was also in a college neighborhood. It used to be kind of ghetto, and then it was gentrified and there were frat houses and shit around so it was half hood, half frat houses, then we had the skate house on the block. So, yeah, shit got crazy. It was non-stop. It was back in the days when we couldn’t remember the last night when we didn’t drink. It was every day, skate all day and come home and party, just typical shit. I don’t remember a lot from those days, ha ha.

Do you remember trying to fight Rob Welsh, then you both fighting a bunch of frat boys?
Ha ha, I was just on tour with Rob and we were actually talking about that the other day. That whole night was kind of crazy. He claims I took a crazy swing at him, and I guess I probably did, but the way the story goes is we were at some frat party and the cops came. While everyone scrambled, we stole a brand-new keg and dragged it down the fire escape and rolled it down the hill over to my place, which was four blocks away. Then whatever happened kind of spilled over to my place. My roommate, Sean Keenan, was home and there was a party going on upstairs, so the upstairs neighbors got some kind of noise complaint. So when the cops came, they thought the party was downstairs and tried to go through the window. When the cop tried to come through the window, Sean got up and kicked the cop in the chest and out the window. After that, the cops came in with their guns drawn on Sean and he was, like, “Yo, what the fuck? You’re crawling through my window! What do you expect me to do?” Shortly after that, all I remember was me and Rob got in some argument and I took a crazy swing at him. While I was swinging at him, these other dudes started cheering for one of us, and at some point during our fight we decided to turn and fight these other dudes because they were cheering for one of us. I don’t really know the rest of it, but we ended up fighting these other dudes instead of each other. And, you know, that was like every night back then, some shit like that going on every single night. It was just a big fucking blur.

Fond memories.
Yeah, it served its purpose. I’m glad I lived there and that shit happened. I got some crazy stories and met a lot of good people during that time, but everything has to come to an end at some time.

How long had you known Ben before you guys drove cross-country together?
I think I knew Ben for 24 hours before we made that drive. I think I hung out with him once on New Year’s ’99 or 2000 and we were drinking, partying. I knew who he was but I’d never hung out with him. He told me he was driving cross-country the next day, and I was just, like, all right, I’ll go. And, sure enough, the next day I jumped in the car with him and that was it. Been friends with him ever since.

So you decided to go to California with less than a day’s notice with a guy you didn’t even really know?
The common link was Will Harmon. Will and Ben were going to drive cross-country together and I kind of knew Will and then I met Ben and he was cool with it because he could use the gas money anyways.

Was it a straight shot to Cali?
I think we were on our way to Tampa and then from there we were heading to San Francisco so we ended up stopping at the trade show in Long Beach. It was January in Boston, so we were just hitting the road trying to get out for as long as possible. So we did the loop, and when I came back a month and a half later, I came to find out that the kid I was living with hadn’t been paying my rent money. He was just keeping it and not paying rent, so when I got back, I went to my apartment and there was an eviction notice on the door and the doors are locked. I called around and couldn’t get a hold of either one of my roommates, couldn’t figure out what the fuck’s going on, and came to find out we had gotten evicted and they basically moved their own shit out and left mine for the landlord to throw away. So I was homeless and couldn’t find either of those dudes. I think they just split town and went home to live with their moms in Maine. So I was completely homeless, called up Ben and ended up couch surfing with him, and that’s how I ended up with them.

Have you ever run into those roommates since then?
No. That’s the other crazy shit. I used to see those dudes all the time and I haven’t seen them once since then and it’s been, what, 14 years?

Feeble grind

What would happen if you saw them nowadays?
I don’t even know what I’d do if I saw them. At this point, I’m better off with those dudes out of my life because they sucked anyway. I was just living there for a place to live so, whatever, it all worked out.

Was that when you were on Aesthetics?
No, that was long before. It was even before I was getting boards from Rhythm, maybe when I was getting flowed boards from Channel One. I don’t even know if I was getting boards from them or from someone else and they were giving them to me. It was way back.

How long have you been living in Brooklyn?
Like, six years?

How’d you end up there?
I’d been living in San Francisco for three years and I came out to New York for a wedding. During that week, I met a girl who’s my girl now, and we started hanging out. I basically ended up moving here for her. It’s also that I’m from the Northeast and I was looking for a reason to get back.

As an outdoors dude’s dude, does living in one of the biggest cities in the world ever wear on you?
Yeah, I constantly have to get out of the city. And the older I get, the harder it is to be here for too long. I’m a country person living in the city. I live in Brooklyn and I never even go to fucking Manhattan. That’s how withdrawn I am from what’s going on. I got a car, so it’s pretty easy. During the summer, I leave all the time, go up to Maine, upstate New York, Massachusetts, all over.

Is the urge to leave the city what makes you willing to jump on a trip with Mehring to some wild-ass location like Vietnam on a scooter or Amazon on a boat?
That’s a little bit separate from everything all together actually. It’s kind of like I’m living a triple life. I have the skate life, then there’s the travel life and then there’s this whole other life where I don’t even want to be in the city. I just want to be in the fucking woods as withdrawn from everything as I can get. That might play a little bit into why I enjoy going on Mehring’s trips, just because you’re so far removed from everything and I do enjoy that—getting off the grid and being anonymous. The thing about the city that drives me nuts is that there’s so many options and so many people and I don’t really give a fuck if I have 30 options for coffee in the morning or 50 options for where I can have dinner at night. I’d honestly prefer one option or no options. But on the flip slide, I love the city and the opportunity that’s in the city. You can constantly be doing something new. There’s pluses and minuses, but I definitely have to get out as much as possible.

Plus you carved out your own space with the woodshop.
Yeah, for a while I had a spot where I was working at. I like having a place where I can get creative. I think every skater has that in him. You have to have outlets, and I think the older you get the more important it is to have a creative outlet. You’re not skating quite as much as when you were younger and you need to move far beyond a physical outlet. You need to make things and end up approaching the artistic things just like you would approach skating, just as addictive.

So, no guitar or camera for you? Just the lathe and saw?
For me, yeah. For the last few years it’s been woodworking, and I’ve learned a lot through a good friend of mine who had his own business, so he put me on as a paid apprentice and taught me a lot. It was a good opportunity for me to learn and to see if it would be something I’d be interested in. I’m pretty appreciative for that opportunity.

With saying he “had” his own business, is that something that’s ended for now?
It hasn’t really come to a close, it’s just lately I have to go back and forth and it’s hard to keep a balance between working and creating and doing something separate from skating and then focusing on skating. It’s a constant battle to keep the balance. I’m the kind of person who’s all or nothing with the things I do, so it’s really hard to put your all into two different things at once. It’s constantly having to go back and forth.

Skating kind of draws out the obsessive nature in people too, I think.
It really does. Sometimes I think it creates obsessive behaviors. It’d be cool to see a study in that. I wonder if it’s something that comes naturally that makes you a good skateboarder and makes you dive into it or if it’s the skateboarding itself that creates these tendencies in people. It’s kind of weird.

Could be a mix of both, too. How’d you get Zered on Expedition?
I’ve been friends with Zered for a long time and I was skating for Zoo York at one time, so we’ve traveled a lot together. We’ve just been through a lot of shit together, so throughout all these changes with sponsors and stuff, we’ve been friends. Since I got on Expedition, every time I heard a rumor that shit was going down with Zoo, which was pretty often—there’s that annual Zoo York’s going down rumor—I’d hit him up and let him know that if he ever wanted to, the door was open and I’d do everything I could to make it happen. But I also didn’t want to influence his decision or make it seem like it was something that he had to do.

Welsh was saying he’s always had a spot on the team as far as he was concerned.
Yeah, it just made sense. Plus, I’ve been dying to get another dude from this area on Expedition anyways and for it to end up being him makes it twice as good. It’s a perfect fit.

You two have had a similar past with sponsors and how you’ve parted with them and how some have let you both linger.
I know it’s fucking hard out there and I know the way shit goes with sponsors. There’s a lot more that’s playing into these decisions that sponsors make than we really think. I know it’s not just one person making that decision, but yeah it’s kind of weird. With Zoo, that’s no big surprise. They’ve been doing that for years. They do their little house cleaning every few years. The list is endless, just so many dudes they’ve fucked over the years, so it’s really no surprise that happened to Zered as rad as he is. He’s not the first; he won’t be the last. But as far as other sponsors go, it’s tough to get strung along. It’s kind of a weird subject.

Yeah, you don’t want to come off as a bitter dude after trying to get something going with a company.
Well, it sucks to become that dude. Once you let someone string you along to a certain point, you become free. It’s like, why would they pay for something they already have for free? They already have everything they need. The only time I’ve ever seen it work out, it’s either right off the bat or not at all. There’s a hundred other guys that it’s happening to also who are really rad dudes, good sponsors that got no sponsors. Just got to be fortunate for what we do have.

Backside 5-0

Yeah, but it’s refreshing to hear someone just say it like it is, like don’t be fooled. It’s like a bad relationship.
It’s fucked up out there. For someone to be stringing Zered along is beyond comprehension. Everything about the way his career is and the way he approaches skateboarding, he’s the perfect professional skateboarder in my opinion. He rips and does it on his own. Whoever he reps gets twice as much out of him because he works that hard and he brings credibility to a company. Anybody who’s sleeping on him has to be out of his mind.

On a lighter note, do you think Zered will share any of that Red Bull money with you for getting him on the squad?
Maybe I’ll get a 12-pack in the mail or something.

Was there ever a point between sponsors where you thought that might be it in terms of professional skateboarding?
No, to tell you the truth with the whole Zoo York thing, I was bummed to not get the check anymore, but when I hung up the phone, when all was said and done, it was a relief because skating for that company was never something I was proud of. I never felt like I actually represented, so there was never any real connection between myself and what I was doing. It was just a paycheck, like I really didn’t give a fuck. I was friends with people on the team and have all the respect in the world for my teammates, but the company itself, it was nothing, man. So for it to finally be gone and to not have to wear that fucking shirt anymore was the best feeling ever. Within a week I had a regular job and was working full time and skating and in the next couple years probably skating better than ever. It all just made me realize a paycheck isn’t everything. Skateboarding is going to be there for me no matter what. While I was getting that check, there was the anxiety of what if I lose it? What am I going to do? I think that’s what a lot of people worry about. But as soon as that check was gone, it was natural progression, move onto the next thing and do what you got to do to survive. It’s not hard. Anybody can do it, and eventually we all will have to. Everybody’s going to have to figure something out, whether it’s in skateboarding or outside of skateboarding. There’s always a next step.

Yeah but a lot of people feel like they don’t have any other options since they dropped out of high school to skate and have never had a job and can barely manage their own life without a team manager helping them.
For a lot of people, their best bet would be to stay within skateboarding. If you’re not getting paid to ride the thing anymore, try to develop it into something else in the industry. If you put that much time and energy into something over a lifetime, the natural thing would be to let it turn into something else. That’s what happens in every career path. It doesn’t have to be that hard is what I’m trying to say.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned in your time in skateboarding?
I don’t know what the most valuable thing is but I’ve definitely learned that beyond getting paid to skate, the skateboard is always going to be there so it’s OK to do other things. Losing sponsors and getting sponsors and having to work and going through all types of bullshit with skating, I’ve just learned how much more I love skating. No matter what I do, it’s OK to have other passions, it’s OK to work, it’s OK to do other shit. It doesn’t mean you’re any less of a skater. I think that’s something a lot of skaters are worried about. They don’t want their sponsors to know they’re out playing golf or that they’re working another job or playing the guitar instead of skateboarding. But we’re all people at the end of the day, and the skateboard’s gonna be beside us no matter what.

Who’s the most deserving person you’ve ever seen Jeff Pang choke out?
Man, I think I’ve only seen him choke out one person, so I couldn’t really say. He choked out some guy on the Fuel TV crew, and that was pretty funny. I don’t know if the guy deserved it, but either way it was pretty funny. I don’t know how it happened, but we were all drinking all day, and after six weeks on the road having a camera pointed in your face, who knows what can happen?

What’s your best Clyde Singleton story?
Well, there was the time he cracked his head open three times on one skate trip. There’s the other time he pissed in my bed then flipped the mattress over and tried to lie to me and pretend he didn’t do it. That time he pissed in my bed, he washed my blankets but he didn’t piss in my bed. The best story is the time he split his head open three times on the trip, but it’s not really a good story. It’s kind of awful, actually. It was a pretty crazy trip. There were two skating, where he hit his head and ended up in a hospital with stitches and a big bandage on his head. Then toward the end of the trip, he and Rob Welsh were walking at night and it was raining and dark and he stepped off the side of a bridge. There was no railing and he ended up in a coma in the hospital. It was pretty gnarly.

What’s next in the New Year?
Still working on shoe stuff with Huf and continuing to grow Expedition. I feel like 2013 is going to be a big year for Expedition. It’s working really good; the team’s starting to be what we’ve always wanted along the way. It’s really well-rounded. Basically just focusing on that and trying to get healthy again. I had surgery about five months ago, so I’m trying to get my ankle good again and just skate, skate, skate.

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