Words: Adam Salo
Tony Cox is a beach comber and a bird of passage, a Yogi and a metaphorical unicyclist. He smells like boys often do, sews bits of gold onto recycled shirts to make magic carpets and he's real down with his grandma. So leave him alone, he's only dreaming.
Tell me a little bit about growing up in Louisville, Kentucky.
I grew up in Louisville till I was 18. I graduated high school and moved out two days later. A lot of people think I'm from the South or they classify Kentucky as the South. But I always think of it as the Midwest because it's very close to Ohio and Illinois. Louisville is an amazing place; it's beautiful. It created a lot of unique people who are doing pretty important things, a lot of musicians, artists and actors. There's a lot of money where I grew up. There are basically three classes: upper, middle and poverty.
What was the skate scene like?
Skateboarding was so different at that time. It was much smaller but it was tightly knit. We had a skate scene and a music scene that were integrated. It was cool. There were a lot of talented people like my friend Thom Hornung and Mathew Ronay and Josh Sachs. We all just pushed one another. We all know each other too well.
Tell me the story of how you discovered skateboarding?
The first thing I really remember about skating was being at the mall with my mom in a bookstore and coming across a skateboard magazine by accident. I just remember a headband and a guy doing a handstand. My first experience seeing skateboarding live was in a white trash neighborhood where I use to hangout with this girl Estelle in the 4th grade. This was maybe 1987. Out in front of her house were three guys skating a ramp. One guy was named Troy Miller and another was Larry Lusher. Skateboarding looked like magic. I couldn't fathom how they were ollieing over manhole covers. From there, it was on.
Where is home right now?
Home is SF now. I moved back from Barcelona in January.
If you had to live in one place for the rest of your life, where would you choose to hang your hat?
It would be hard to choose. I thought it was Kauai, Hawaii. I went there by myself when I was 23. When I walked out of the airport and saw red soil and crazy colors of green, I thought that was it. I was ready to hang the hat up. I stayed with Jaya Bonderov and his family. His mom, Kris, said I was too young and told me to go back to the mainland. It's hard for me to stay in one place now. I work better in a cycle of places that I know. But if it I had to choose right now, I would say Spain.
You're a well-traveled person during a tumultuous time in history. What are some things you've learned from other cultures?
I feel like I've learned a lot from traveling; more than I ever could've learned in school. You can read books and learn, but those experiences are not your own. I feel true wisdom comes from your own experience. Here in the United States it's all about coming up and getting over on someone. There is no real celebration. When I lived in Spain, if my friend had 10 dollars, I had five of it. People would invite you places and show you good times. It's unlike here where people are over you when you're no longer of use to them. Some places have a better quality of life. One thing that has left an impact on me is the belief in the tradition of religions in other places. I feel like our country is lacking simple rituals and traditions. In Japan you feel the peace and gentleness from the practice of Zen. In Muslim countries, I've noticed a similar calm. In Morocco, for instance, alcohol is illegal and the culture was calmer and less violent.
Tony Cox-No Comply Tailslide
I know you get paid but I'm not under the impression that you travel on a Nike-size budget. How do you survive out there?
You just do it. You just hustle and make do with what you got. Some months you got $1,000 and some months you got $4,000. It just comes in waves and you just gotta ride it out. You don't think about it so much. It's not like I'm looking to buy a house or property; I'm just trying to do what I want to and be happy and share what I can.
What do you have to share with the world?
Well, I could tell you what I think it is at this time. But six months from now it may be something else. What I have to share with the world is no different from anyone. It's just my vision. It's what I've created for myself through my hands, feet, body and mind.
What do you have to offer to skateboarding?
I don't really know what I have to offer. Didn't someone already jump the Great Wall of China? Maybe solid color outfits or a trick I learned by accident.
What do you think needs to change in skateboarding?
Maybe the ideology of identity. Kids can't just be who they are. Kids are kind of just plug-ins. They see something they like and while it's cool to be inspired by it, they instead become the exact replica of it. I just feel like kids are scared to really, truly be themselves. Maybe we don't really have a sense of who we are until we're about 30. But I think a big problem is how kids just follow certain things and want to become that. They think they have to do certain tricks to just feel comfortable in their own skin. I think kids are afraid to go out on a branch and do something creatively that actually feels right to them.
You're fairly immersed in art and sewing. What inspires you to be a creative person?
The people around me are my inspiration. It comes from my grandmother who is like the root of it all. She inspired me to do the things I do, the sewing and stuff. It's more of a day-to-day living therapy thing than anything I'm trying to pursue for a career. It kind of keeps me sane.
What was the big sewing project you worked on with your grandmother?
That was a cityscape made out of fabric. It was hand sewn and made out of all my old clothes. It was the first big piece of art I ever sold and she helped me sew it. It ended up selling for quite a bit of money. It was a project that I worked on more than two years. I completed it and then I had a show in LA and it was gone.
Do you get to bring any of your creativity over to the companies you work with?
There's a thing I'm doing in Japan with a little clothing company called Young Coconut. I'm going to start giving them ideas. Matt Rodriguez is starting a board company called Uprize, and I'll start contributing images and stuff to that. A lot of people don't know I make art. I keep that separate and out of skateboarding. I'm just going to give them graphic images. I did a couple boards for Supernaut. I did a board series and another graphic for myself. I'm just going to give Matt hand-drawn illustrations and have someone help me on a computer to do graphics and stuff like that.
Do you see those contributions as an important part of being pro?
For me, it's a very important part, just representing the individual. Right now everyone just gets perceived the way the companies want them to appear. I don't feel like that really represents people.
I heard you're somewhat of a spoken-word poet when you've had a bit of wine. What's your flow like?
Nothing too serious. It's just stream of consciousness, nothing I could sit down and write. It's just all about things that are apparent to my life and things I like to pick at and make fun of. It comes from my brother. When I was in the third or fourth grade, he was into hip-hop and it really inspired my skateboarding and the music I listened to. I've been around it for 18 years.
I've heard that you've done some modeling in the past. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Yeah, but no. That's been a thing with people because it was a joke I made in my old 411 interview. It was a joke but it confused people because they didn't know how to take things in a joking way. I've done things here and there but, no, it's not anything.
That's not something you're into anymore?
Well, actually we're sitting here at this happy hour in New York casting people from the street. My friend Lauren Mollica is doing casting for a friend. So we're scouting people from the side of the bar.
Really? Or are you just goofing around?
No, we are really casting. We're looking for 30-year-old ethnic people for the Getty modeling agency. Typical New York.