Aloha Everyone and welcome to the sixth episode of The Temple of Surf - The Podcast.
We will give you full access to the best surfers, skaters, shapers, surfboards collectors, shop owners in the world! Discover with me their stories, their greatest successes, amazing behind the scenes and much more!
Today with us Jim Gray, legendary skateboarder and founder of Acme Skateboards. Let's discover more about him, skateboarding, surfing, future projects and much more!
We are in iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud and much more! if you want to read the interview you can find here the transcribe of our chat with Jim
TTOS: Welcome to the show. Where are you today?
I am in Costa Mesa, California.
TTOS: How's it going over there in this time of coronavirus?
We can go out. It's starting to loosen up a lot in the last couple of weeks.
The traffic is, is exponentially growing. I mean, you're seeing more and more people every day.
There are still a lot of empty places…you know, the shopping malls, the parking lots are empty, the stores are closed.
There is a movie called Groundhog's day where he wakes up and it's the same day over and over again. This period I would call it Groundhog's day Christmas, because on Christmas, when you wake up, all the stores are closed and today we keep waking up like it's Christmas again.
Every single day the stores are all closed….so it's strange, but people are starting to… “the natives are restless”….. put it that way.
The people here are kind of tired of being locked up and basically saying, you know, you're going to have to fx#@g shoot us. We're going out.
That's basically what's happening here….at least they're going to be prudent and now they learned to wear gloves or masks, and they're mostly at least staying far enough distance.
I wear masks when I go into stores or go near people, but when I'm out riding my bike, I'm not wearing a mask, but also I’m not being near people. I'm not riding in a crowd…..I definitely wear it when I'm around people for the respect of those people. But I definitely don't just go walk down the sidewalk with a mask on now.
TTOS: Today we're going to talk about you, surfboards, skateboards, your future projects and much more, but the first question that we have for you is: what is the most important thing in your opinion, in skateboarding and surfing?
There's only one thing, short little, three letter, word …. F.U.N.
If you're not having fun, you shouldn't even be doing it, you know?
And you can get serious about it and try advance to a certain levels, tricks, you know, style, all that stuff is great, but I'd rather see someone having fun, surfing or skateboarding with horrible style and you know, everyone else laughing at them…I don't even care if they're having fun….They win
The guy who out there super serious trying to like, act like he's the coolest thing on the world…..I have the most style….I'm the most beautiful at this time….the most talented….half the time those guys aren't even having fun!
So to me, one thing I've definitely learned from, you know, 45 and 50 years of doing this, FUN is the only reason we're out there.
And if you lose track of that, you f#@%d up. Pardon my language
TTOS: How did it all started with you and skateboarding?
My brother, John, is about a year and a half older than me, we started on like clay wheels, just getting a board…like a toy.
I rode it around the neighborhood a “Black Knight”. And then eventually I got like a grand tech board with ball bearing wheels, but that was still a little tiny boards that we just goofed on the neighborhood
As far as skateboarding…..my older brother, John started really watching, reading the skateboard magazines and he was a big fan of like Stacy Peralta and he'd be out, you know, mimicking Stacy Peralta and and going with his friends to all the new skate park parks that were opening the concrete way, Carlsbad….and I basically started got dragged out there with him, you know, and it wasn't, you know, I wasn't as big a fan of it as he was, but I took to it really quickly.
And I got sponsored pretty quick, which I always felt bad to my brother cause he was so into it…
It was my brother who got me out there.
TTOS: And then do you remember your first skateboard?
The very first skateboard was “Black Knight” the play wheel and then a plastic little board called Greentech with a ball bearing wheels.
Maybe the first true skateboard was a board that I made myself out of ash-wood in my garage.
I bought a set of wheels at the Vans shoe store cause Vans used to sell wheels for $10.
I bought two red and two blue wheels, red and blue as their big colors and I got some trucks ….that was my first board….I rolled around on it a little bit and then I won a skateboard on a skateboard drawing…
One of the ironic thing is I've manufactured a couple million skateboards….I've never really purchased a skateboard except for those ones in the drug store because I got sponsored.
I made a couple of one and then I got sponsored….so I never purchased a skateboard .
TTOS: do you still have those boards?
I think I have the one of the first, well actually, you know what, I don't think I have any of those ones. I have some of the early ones, but not those ones.
TTOS: when was the first time you started to surf ?
I didn't surf until I was about 18 years old. I rode for a surf company….Gordon and Smith, which was a very large surf company that made skateboards.
Sometimes I go down to the warehouse, people go like, “Hey Jim, how come you don't surf?”
And I'm like, well, “I don't know….. I don't have a surfboard”.
So they actually made me a surfboard and I started going out there.
I literally remember when I first started surfing, Steve Cathy was a very legendary skateboarder.
He took me, he lived in Pacific beach in San Diego and he took me out once to surf with what Larry Gordon himself and a bunch of legendary skaters Pineapple and Dennis Martinez and Steve and it was just, it was just a great time.
I also lived in Newport,I just started surfing around my house and I love surfing. Like I said, I suck, but I love it.
I feel fortunate that a lot of these guys like that they were, they kind of came before me, even before I rode for him Gordon and Smith.
While I rode for Gordon and Smith, I never met Skip Frye. You know what I mean?
His early roots were before me and then I didn't meet him until 10 or 15 years ago.
Some various things with Larry Gordon and book signings, things they did….
And there are a lot of the 1970s, even skateboarders that I've only met in the last 10 years….and…. it was so cool.
I mean that I'd never knew them before Jerry Valdez and some of these guys that I now I've met them at various sessions.
Now we're friends. It's pretty cool to look at them to be a kid.
I've gone back and met all your childhood heroes, you know, that were in magazines…now you're kind of one of their crew because you became a pro skateboarder and were in the industry.
You know what I mean? It's kind of, it's a really cool thing.
TTOS: And then you ended up having two skateboard tricks, the Jim Jam and the Gray Slide right? What these means for you?
Well, I think it's cool.
I feel very fortunate that I grew up what I call art and generation of skateboarding was the pioneering generation where we were trying things because we didn't know what was possible.
You know? Now kids started everything they do is a variation of what's already been done…. even if they do something that's never been done, it's still a combination of things that have been done.
We were out there going, we don't even know how it's working…..as we were in these early skate parks a Jim Jam is basically my foot came off while I was doing tail taps and I jumped back in, I didn't want to bail and I eventually learned like to drag my foot and kind of hop back in.
I turned into this like sweeping motion and then, you know, Neil Blender one day just goes, “it's a Jim Jam”.
You know what I mean? So I didn't name it. You know, it's like, that's the funny thing about both of my tricks…..
They have my name, but they were both named by Neil Blender, you know? Cause I skated a lot with Neil blender when we were young and it was just the same thing….he was very casual about things.
You'd do something and he'd go, “it's a greatest lie….”
You know what I mean? And then that became the name, you know, and it would go into farther. We'd be in a parking lot goofing on, up on a curb and you do some wacky trick and he'd say it's a jolly Mambo, you know? I mean, he would just throw words out there because he was kind of a wordsmith and a kind of a sarcastic, funny guy. So so yeah, so he named my tricks, but like I said, we were in the pioneering generation just trying things and once we made something, no one had ever seen it's a new trick and you invented it.
So both districts almost died, but because the kind of street culture pushed all the vert stuff to the back. But now that all the skate parks are coming out, the kids are rising up and they're really curious about that. So yeah, both the Jim jam and the Gray Slide popular amongst the young kids, which is really cool.
Cause they were almost, as far as I was concerned, they were dead. You know what I mean?
No one knew they existed or cared, but suddenly a few youngsters started doing them and then they're all cool again. So it makes me feel good.
TTOS: What was the defining moment of your career? As a skateboarder….
Gosh. So funny. Cause I never, I never really looked at what I had as a career.
You know what I mean? I was, I started working early.
I mean, most of them in the pro contest I entered most of the guys, you know, flew out on Monday and practiced all week. I worked in the mortgage business….I was in real estate stuff and I would like hop on a plane Friday and fly out there and barely get any practice and skate out.
It was always working. So I never once lived off skateboarding.
I mean I got skateboard royalties for boards I sold. So I got, and it was always like, “wow, free money, how cool”. You know? But I, I never really considered what I was doing the career. I was lucky enough to be good enough to be out there with those guys, but I also didn't spend as much time as them or as much commitment to try to be like, I'm going to be in the top 10, you know, I just went and showed up.
And if I got, you know, it's 28 out of the 50 guys, I was stoked. You know?
So the, the defining moment was really just the joy of getting to experience.
All that I got to skate with Christian Hosoy and Tony Hawk and Eddie O'Gara and Dwayne Peters and, you know, I competed against them and I held my ground in my own way for as much time as I spent.
So it actually, it's more important now when I look back and I realized how lucky I was that I was there, all the really important stuff that took place. Cause you know, when I see movies come out or wherever I go, I was there.
I was there, you know what I mean? It's like and I, wasn't the big name guy, so I'm not the star and all of that. I'm not the one who all the pictures appear for it, so on and so forth.
But I was always…fine with that. I was happy that I was there.
So my real defining moment in skateboarding is when I started Acme skateboards in the nineties and built a big factory and sponsored guys, you know, it took the back cover of TransWorld for my ads and you know, and really when I became part of the industry and manufactured products and sold them to 65 countries and stuff like that, that was that's, you know,
TTOS: and Acme was a company that based everything on the quality of products. Right?
My thing was pros, you know, I was one of like about 50 or 60 pros and I had pro signature model boards and I don't really know why they want my name on a skateboard because I'm not really …people aren't running to stores to buy Jim gray..like they're going to run to stores and buy Tony Hawk or, you know, guys that went all the contests.
And I understood that, but the way the culture had been built, it kind of came if you became a pro, you know what I mean? You worked hard enough and a brand liked you and they gave you a model.
By the time I started at me, we started just turning guys pro randomly, like from, they edit a video and call them pro and there was 200 pro models, which means the whole idea…. the value of pro model was no longer, really very high.
It was just going down and down and down…so I sort of took a stand, but I was just going to make product and make my company stand for product and yet guys, that time I had the guys like O'Mara Sawn, Remy Strap, these guys are placing top 10 and pro contests.
I got them to ride for me without having their own pro models kind of to make a statement to the industry.
If you don't control yourself, it's going to collapse and become nothing.
Unfortunately the greed of the skaters themselves that had taken over the industry…. they didn't care and they did continue until they destroyed it.
I mean, they literally, now there's probably six or 700 pro models. I mean, having a pro model pretty much means nothing. You don't even know why someone's a pro you know, you see a new name up here on Instagram every day, such and such as pro like why, you know what I mean? Oh, because someone just called them pro today.
So yeah. So we were trying to take a stand.
Ultimately it didn't work, but I'm still proud that we did, you know, we had to live on products being good because we knew people weren't buying them for the hype of the names that were on them.
You know, we had to back it with knowing that you were buying a brand, you could trust. So that was our philosophy
TTOS: would you have changed something in the way you have done things with Acme?
Well, looking back at it today, you know, and I might've been more cautious about the way I took it, the way I poked at people.
I mean, I ultimately got sued by world industries for making fun of them and ad and while they didn't win that lawsuit and then they never would have, it did cost me severely because the rumor mills, they were much bigger than me.
They spread a lot of rumors that I was going out of business when I wasn't anywhere near out of business.
A lot of distributors that we sold to around the world were afraid to buy our product because they heard we were going out of business.
It wasn't like today, we're in a two seconds, you can post on Instagram and, you know, clarify.
I mean, if it was done in today's world, I would have fricking slash their throat. You know what I mean?
But back then you had, no, you had the whispers and the bigger guy was able to crush you and strangle you, you know? that was really it.
I tangled with the big dogs. I didn't like the way he did business. I didn't have respect for them. And I just think the way I'm wired, I don't know if I would it different. I just don't know.
You know what I mean? It's just hard to say because I did what felt natural to me. I've always tried to do what's organic to me, not calculated, you know,
TTOS: Where you evere afraid of failure?
No, because I failed fantastically.
I've succeeded, I've succeeded wildly and I've failed wildly. You know, I ended up walking, having to walk away from my woodshop after making a couple, a million skateboards. And so, failure is part of the deal, you know?
But I still succeeded. I'm the only pro skateboarder in history, that I'm aware of, that built a skateboard factory himself owned it a hundred percent…didn't have partners, didn't have any big money backing from the industry, right.
I found a way to build and manufacture my own factory, you know, and make great skateboards and acquire good advertising team riders.
And I wrote all the checks, you know, I mean…. there was nobody I had no silent assistance from background guys in the industry and stuff like that.
So It was highly successful….and then I fail.
I'm going to enjoy the fact that I was successful before I failed it.
It made for a great life for me, I've had a great life, you know, all my contacts.
All my contacts I made are still who I do business with today…and you know, I'm still in the same culture and industry.
The funny thing is compared to a lot of people I did battle with as a company, I still skate and they don't. So in the end I showed who really was the real skateboarder, even though they tried to make maybe like I was the business guy and they were the skateboarders.
Cause they did things the sloppy way, but ultimately they all sold their souls to the devil and lots of them got rich, but they stopped skateboarding a long time ago.
I skateboard cause it's fun.
I never forgot why I ride a skateboard….we go back to the three letters….absolutely…. F.U.N.
TTOS: And your biggest achievement?
It's just the friends I've made…that's the most important thing…. I can go anywhere in the world,like I said, if you're in Dubai, give me a call, if I'm in Belgium, I can post on Facebook. I'm coming to Belgium. someone will pick me up at the airport, take me to dinner, show me the town.
You know, I can do that in Indonesia or New Zealand or France. You know what I mean?
And that's the value that I get from having done my time…been nice to people.
I didn't blow up the road is I drove past, you know, so it's very, it's taken care of me …..my gosh…I'm a few years away from being 60 years old and I still have people that hand me tee shirts and give me stuff and like, you know…. just I get a lot of respect for doing my time. And there's nothing more valuable than that.
Actually, Ron Allen, a pro skateboarder for workload for H street a good friend of mine.
He told me once and it made me, it touched my heart a lot. He goes, Jim, you may not be rich, but you're wealthy. You know? And he said, wealth is a different thing than riches, you know? I'm an incredibly wealthy man. I I'm surrounded by friendship, love and respect.
The people that I want respect for my habit from some, I don't get it from aren't the ones I'm trying to get it from in the first place.
You cannot be liked by everybody and if you're going to stand for something, you're going to be hated by someone.
I was talking with my girlfriend last night actually and we was basically saying that to my friends….we know they're even in like politics, like she knows the mayor of her city. I know the mayor of my city. I know people that love them. I know people that hate them.
You know, once you decide to put yourself in a position of power, someone's already because it started hating on you, you know, just out of envy or jealousy or, and someone taught me something when I was very young, that I've always agreed and live with medicine, “power is taken, not given”
You go and decide where you sit in life and how you want to be involved in something. And so whatever I've done in skateboarding, I took power. I took charge. I didn't take power in a greedy power to step over people or hold people down.
I took power. Cause someone needs to, someone needs to take leadership.
Somebody has to believe in something, you know, and that was always my thing. Cause no one else is going to stand there and give it to you. You know what I mean? So I didn't wait for it. So I think in life you go out and you take charge and do things on your own. That's what I've always lived by.
TTOS: Let’s talk about the present, today you own a sticker company, what are your future plans?
My company is called Inkgenda (http://www.inkgenda.com) .
We print stickers, our customers are primarily surfing, skate people and if they're not, they're usually referred by someone in the surf and skate business our customers are anywhere from pro skaters, like Tony Magnusson and H Street and Volcom and RUCA we do stuff for Nike skateboard and so on and so forth and jokers skate shop.
I also own Powerflex Wheels, which was a 1970s wheel brand that I rode for when I was a right 15, 16, one of the partners and founders, Bob Ballou came to me a few years ago and wanted to relaunch the brand and I partnered up with him and his brothers…
Bob passed away a couple of years ago and now I own that company with his brothers. And we, we do that.
We've been doing well on the wheel market, again, just like Acme…. probably as far as I'm concerned, the best wheels out there, not the biggest, you know what I mean?
Because it's not all about hype and marketing and stealing the best team rider. We really make good product. And we're expanding that with the new world, as far as I'm concerned, online, ordering is getting bigger.
We are building a, to sell all escape products. So we will be able to sell power flex wheels, but we'll also sell you a pair of Spitfire wheels if you want them, because we're just going to have a complete online store and, and sell boards and trucks and so on and so forth.
So that's my most current thing I'm expanding into and I have a, like kind of a licensing company with jinx sole pro skater from vision, you know, and my friend, Greg and we have a bunch of artists that we licensed their art and we bring it to people like the big chain stores here, like zoomies and Pacific Sunwear and stuff like that. Oh, that was starting to, to go along well, we have a great stable of artists and stuff, but with this whole pandemic thing, that's a, that's kind of up in the air as far as, you know, what the retailers are even going to do, how many of them are going to survive and so on, so forth. So, you know, I dabble in it and I have my podcasts, which I do for fun, a witch, I think again, because all my customers come from with my friend network, it's just an excuse for me to talk to my friends and stay connected to people and have to be polite.
I print stickers for their brand or, you know, whatever….so it's all sort of interconnected. My life is completely inter connected with my customers, my friends, and so on and so forth.
I mean, in skateboarding, one of the biggest things that any skateboard brand has going against them from the start is …. half of the industry is owned by one group of people who own a magazine. You know what I mean?
And they promote their magazine and what is written is promoted..
So it is difficult to get fairness, you know, when it's not really the media aspect of it….Isn't fair….
So yeah, it's challenging,
TTOS: but technology allows you to create your own media…
Well, I know that's why skateboarding is changing.
Skateboarding was taken over by, you know, guys, my group of guys, they ran with the whole street skating culture as the new thing to promote because, and the main reason they ran with it so hard was because the other older brands, the Powell and Santa Cruz, so over, we're kind of rooted in the history of skateboarding and riding pools and so on and so forth.
And they want to take that business from them and for a time, they sort of did take that business for them. Yeah. Because they built such a got it. When you call it a cannibalistic system where they all eat, feed off each other and stab each other and then they kept growing those pro models from 200 to 300 to 400 to 500. They weren't, they weren't paying any respect for the system.
You know what I mean? They ate themselves alive and most of, most of them have spun out and disappeared. You know?
I don't know. So it's just the, the, the, they, but they were in complete control of the media. And the media for several years was just TransWorld in Thrasher. Okay. And I use this as an example, I sold all the ads for trans world in the eighties, in the eighties. If you tried to tell the guys at Transworld what to put in it, and I even being their ad sales guy, if I told them what to put it, they'd say, F@#$ You, we cover what's really happened. You don't have exactly, we cover what's happening.
You don't tell us what's happening. And but in the nineties it became the ma the brands told them what to do. The brand said, you have to promote this. You're promoting our riders. You're promoting this style of skateboarding. You're not going to put a long boarder in your magazine, or we won't advertise, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. They did everything trying to control the culture. And it worked.
Okay. So these brands took over, they got strong. And so on, but when social media came along, it allowed people to start promoting what was really happening.
Kids are starting to grow up now and realize there's still people doing freestyle. There's people having slalom races. There's people have downhillers, there's, there's all this stuff being clipped. People are riding pools and parks. It's like, so kids are growing up, exposed to all of it.
For about 10 years the industry was stopping those kids from seeing that they didn't even want those kids to know that type of skating existed because that wasn't what they promoted with their brands.
So it's sad that the whole culture of skateboarding, it wasn't in line with what was happening literally on the streets. You know what I mean?
This whole new world was growing up with skate parks and kids riding everything, but they were being sold a different thing in the magazines.
Those magazines continued to lose ground as media becomes in the hands of the people, as we switch to social media, I'm even more,
I'm more popular amongst guys, 80 skateboarders than I was in the eighties, because in the eighties, it was only based on whatever ads you were in, whatever cool brand you hung out with, you know, so on.a nd so before, okay, after that, I went on and did stuff that most of my guys didn't do made skateboard, sponsored guys set.
I have thousands of pictures and stories and products I've made….and when you start things like Facebook and you start posting all that stuff, and the guys that you grew up with, all they have is the 10 pictures of them in ads.
And you have like thousands of ads and boards and wheels and stuff you've made.
So, you know, when it starts separating and also I'm pretty hyperactive. I'm very visual. I take lots of pictures, you know? And so I have thousands of pictures of stuff I post. It's just, it's so sort of how I pass my time. I'm bored. I sit in the toilet, I post a picture cause I have thousands of them.
I have galleries products I've made and my friends and so on and so forth. So I actually have elevated in my respect level because I was able to show to people what used to get hidden by the magazines.
I was only as cool as TransWorld and Thrasher said, you know what I mean?
And now in the world of social media, you're only as perceived by people, what you put out there.
So I put out there the real me, and no one can stop that from being said in the eighties, the real me was stopped from being, because it was in the hands of somebody else.
You know, now you can't stop anybody from knowing who you are, who I am, you know, you can decide what you put out there.
So that's what social media has done…..
TTOS: you should write a book about it.
You know, I mean, if there was enough hours in the day, I probably would. I have that I've had thoughts for books, you know, you know, I mean the one idea that I had, that would be interesting….would it be like? More of a story about people that whose lives you influence and, and they influenced yours like a one on one, like, okay.
I'm one of the few people who've got to work on both sides of it. I got to be like, you know, a foul stole from Thrasher by having my own company and truck companies and wheel, you know what I mean? And I also got to be a Tony Hawk and skate with those guys and sponsor guys for that. So it could be an interesting book, a mix of athletes, industry people, you know?
So yeah, I've thought about it. I just don't know if there's enough, not enough hours in the day.
You know, my podcast is fun to talk to people,
TTOS: we gonna finish our interview with a short Q/A session ,please answer the first thing that pops out from your mind….
TTOS: the best skateboard and surfboard you ever ridden….
Honestly, probably the boards I made for myself at Acme by far…. just the best boards for me though. I had a custom concave made and so on, so forth, I have probably the best surfboard I've ridden that I think works for me as the FireWire that I got from them a few years ago, I print stickers for them and I got a board from them.
I really loved the buoyancy of it and how it floats and how it responds.
TTOS: The best skateboarding company of all time.
I'm going to give that to Powell Peralta….. I just think their consistency they've survived. they've weathered the storms. they've taken the beatings and I do still believe they do care about skateboarding. And I liked George Powell…I have respect for him.
TTOS: Your favorite artist of all time.
I probably like the clash. Yeah. I can just listen to every album all the way through.
TTOS: the best skate park and surf spot … your favorite one.
Gosh. Wow. Best skate park. It's still for me has to be big go skate park where I grew up lots of imperfections, but it was had a very big variety of pipes and pools and snake runs and banked freestylers to warm up in and just
and then surf, I have not like surfed all over the world. So, you know, I mean, I really have a Southern California surfer. The best waves I've ever had were in Newport, you know? So I just have to say Newport beach for me, Newport, jetties, you know…
TTOS: The best skater of all time….
Wow. That's a really hard one. The best skater of all time…and how do we define this?
I don't think there is one best skater of all time. I'm just going to try to think of who in my mind, who do I have the most respect for? I'm going to say Eric Dressen because he destroyed street skating started ripping when he was 10 years old, I can ride a pool. It was one of the best street skaters of all time he just can write anything is gritty. He does really do it for the love. You know, it wasn't the most famous of all time, but I just have a lot of respect for him.
TTOS: the last question we asked for everybody is unusual and has nothing to do with skateboarding and surfing. We want to know your best relationship advice….
Communication, because I've learned that a lot…. I was married for 34 years….I'm getting divorced. Yeah. I've been split for two years.
I've we had a couple of relationships with some ladies I'm currently in one..that's very nice.
And, and the best part about it is open communication, talking about everything, getting the problems out in the table when they happen being straight and honest about everything and having nothing to hide and nothing. So yeah. Communication and honesty. That's it.
If you can live that, you're good.
Recorded in May 2020