Kareem Campbell speaks on his legacy and longevity in skateboarding
Kareem Campbell is a living legend. His style on and off the board has inspired countless people all over the world. There’s always been a freshness about him, and throughout the span of his three-decade career (still very much in motion), he continues to captivate the masses with a fresh approach and timeless technique. He's remained confident yet humble, adapted with the times, and continued to be a trendsetter. I had the pleasure of chatting with him as he brought me up to speed with all of his latest happenings, even remaining casual when mentioning that he was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame earlier that day. He indulged me with how it all started, went deep into my ’90's reminiscing, and fascination with that era of World Industries, especially the ‘Trilogy’ video, all the way up to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, the relaunch of Axion Footwear and his Ghetto Bird podcast. We covered a lot of ground, so settle in and get comfortable.
MF: Although you’re most associated with Los Angeles, you’re originally from Harlem, correct?
KC: Yep, Harlem New York.
MF: What made you originally move to Los Angeles?
KC: My family. My mom and my grandmother, they moved to LA and I moved there when I was 6.
MF: Was it just to have a change of pace?
KC: Naw, my dad was a street dude and they had to get away from New York.
MF: Got it. When you were living in New York, that was long before you picked up a skateboard, right?
KC: Yeah, I didn’t pick it up until I got to LA and Venice.
MF: When you were a kid were you going back and forth from East to West coast?
KC: Yeah, yeah. Every time I got kicked out of school my mom would send me back in the summer or during the holidays.
MF: Did you like going back to New York as a kid, or were you more excited to be living out in California?
KC: Nah, I lived in both. I was just bi-coastal. You get a different flavor, me being raised in LA, going back, I got the fruits of both, you know what I mean?
MF: Right. I can relate to a little extent. My parents are both from the Bronx, and I’m born and raised in San Diego. They moved here right before I was born, but all of our family remained in New York, so during my childhood we’d go back and forth for holidays and to visit family out East and I’d get a feel for different areas of New York and how much they differed from my neighborhood in Southern California.
KC: Yeah, so you got that familiarity with New York.
MF: Exactly, and when I was old enough to start really paying attention, I knew what I was amongst and just how special it was to have family ties there. Then going to skate spots at a young age, being at Brooklyn Banks as a teenager when it was jumping, and going to Supreme the summer after ‘Kids’ came out and seeing Harold Hunter cruising down the sidewalk…
KC: Astor Place, yep, yep, Astor Place, back in the day…
MF: Right, so I’m seeing a professional skater and a movie star wrapped up in one, and at that age, it’s enough to make your head explode, you know?
KC: Yeah, that’s tight, that’s tight.
You started skating in Venice, who's the first person to introduce you to skateboarding?
KC: The first person was this kid named Kyle, who was just a neighborhood kid, you know?
MF: And he had a board and you would take turn just pushing around on it?
KC: Yeah, I just watched him for the longest, and then I ended up getting a Johnee Kop. That was my first board.
MF: What made you pick the Johnee Kop, was it all just based on the graphic?
KC: Nah. I stole it (Laughs).
MF: (Laughs) So it was just whatever was there?
KC: (Laughs) Nah, you know back in the day, you would stack boards to skate and Ollie over it? Afterwards I just grabbed whatever board and kept skating away.
MF: And there it goes.
KC: Yeah, that was back in those Venice days. Those were the hard times days.
MF: So while you’re living in LA and skating around Venice. When did you realize you were gifted, and who helped your skating early on?
KC: I learned I was gifted by being recognized by Jef Hartsel, Jesse Martinez, Christian Hosoi and Eric Dressen.
MF: So this is the launch ramp era, right?
KC: Yeah. And those guys just embraced me.
MF: Well, I’ve been skating a long time, and I remember seeing an ad of you for Bronze Age Clothing. I think that was the first time I’d ever seen anything of you in a magazine. Was Bronze Age the first brand to hook you up?
KC: Yeah, Bronze Age, and then there was Gouge. Gouge Clothing too. Bronze Age was Bridge Bolts and Grind King, and my boy Daniel was the one that used to run it. We skated for Circle Skates; me, Daniel Castillo, and a few other skaters that’ve come up, we all skated for Grind King, Bridge Bolts and Bronze Age. Kind of like the whole Venice squad. And you know, we used to rock Jimmy’Z since I used to get it from Christian and then I used to get Gouge from one of my other boys, and I think one of my first ads was actually Gouge, before Bronze Age.
MF: Ah, nice, and it was all shot down in Venice, right?
KC: Nah. The Gouge one was shot at the old downtown LA skatepark that we used to have in the hood, off of Soto.
MF: I had no idea all of those brands were affiliated. I didn’t know they were all under one roof…
KC: Yeah, yeah. This is like the whole Venice squad, and it was all ran through Circle Skate. That was the skate shop and Bridge Bolts and Grind King were behind it, their spot was off of Abbot, but it was all one big family. You know what I mean?
MF: And if I’m doing the math, linking back to Jef Hartsel, he would have been hooked up in the early early days of SMA (Santa Monica Airlines) becoming World, right?
KC: Yeah, that’s when it was SMA/World Industries.
MF: Is that how you initially met Steve Rocco?
KC: Yeah, I met Steve Rocco through Jesse and Jef.
MF: What was your first interaction like with Rocco?
KC: Fuck. I don’t even know. I had more of an interaction with Mark Gonzales and Felix Arguelles that day, my first day of meeting him.
MF: Did you realize that Felix was from the East Coast as well? Did you two click on that level?
KC: Nah, see, you’ve got to remember, when they first put me on, I didn’t know anything about most of the pros. I just knew the Venice pros, or the pros that came through Venice. So I was still green, I was like, super green. I didn’t even know who Mark Gonzales was at that time.
MF: So he’s just showing up at the beach blasting off the launch ramp with all of the other pros, right?
KC: No, I met him at the warehouse. The first time I ever remember meeting him was the day I went to World Industries to get my first package.
MF: What was it like for you to be able to walk through the warehouse and just pick out whatever you wanted?
KC: I actually didn’t. Mark Gonzales and Felix and everybody else just filled up my shit with a whole bunch of shit. I didn’t know how much to get or what to do. They just filled it all the way up, so I went home with like, 10, 20 boards and a whole thing full of shirts. I had the royal package that day.
MF: What were your parents doing and what was your family doing when you came back with that box? Was everyone tripping?
KC: Nah. My momma thought I was selling drugs to by skateboards. She met Jef Hartsel when he had dreads so she was like, “Are you selling drugs for him?” (Laughs).
MF: She sees the dreads and just starts putting it together (Laughs).
KC: Yeah, ‘cause back in those days I was selling weed.
MF: So this is what, back in the early ’90’s? Like ’92, ’93.
KC: Yeah, exactly.
MF: So, when ‘Love Child’ came out, were you skating with that crew, and just not yet put on?
KC: Nah, I had already quit during Love Child. I quit right after Rubbish Heap came out. I was riding for World and filming for them before Rubbish Heap came out, and I went on my first tour with World, and that’s when that whole chaos with the sugar in the gas tank with Jovontae (Turner) and all that craziness. I ended up quitting.
MF: You ended up riding for Blue, right?
KC: Yeah, me and Dune (Chris Pastras) started Blue, and then we put Jason (Lee) on it. We did that for like a year, and then I just ended up going back to World, ‘cause things weren’t going well with Vision. We had started Blue under Vision.
MF: From Blue you go back to World. I actually heard something about that very recently. I was listening to Dune’s interview on The Nine Club, and he said Rocco might’ve given you an offer you couldn’t refuse to come back from Blue and ride for World again. Is that right?
KC: Nah. To be honest, me and Jason Lee at that time were having differences, and then, I was kind of just over the whole skateboard shit. You know, I came from the streets, and my family is you know, “Live by your word”, and I just got kind of uncomfortable, so I decided to go kick it back in Harlem. I stayed in Harlem for like a year and then Daniel Castillo was the one that called me right before the SF contest.
MF: Got it.
KC: So I flew back to SF with maybe $150,000.00 in a backpack, and went to the contest.
MF: (Laughs) That’s amazing. So at this time, you’re back in SF, skate the “Back to the City” contest, and then did you head down to LA, and you’re filming for ‘New World Order’, right? Was that your first “produced” part?
KC: I mean, I can say I never did a real produced part ever in my life. That was one of the parts. I think my A-1 Meats was my first part. I think I got on that day and spent the day filming, that was my first part (Laughs).
MF: That was one day filming and whatever you got, you got.
KC: Yeah, that was it.
MF: Going back to New World Order, that era of videos, when you were really riding for them and coming through with those ground breaking video parts, it seemed like that would’ve given you a year or so to really put everything together and build up your footage.
KC: Nah, nah. All of my footage is all sporadic and it’s all last minute. I was 90% traveling. I used to be on the road like 10 months out of the year. So most of my footage was like, last minute, “We need a part”…
MF: And there it was.
KC: You know, it was just pure skating, you know what I mean? ‘Cause you gotta remember, back in those days, it wasn’t really built around “skateboard parts”, so to me I was just going skating. I was more “touch and feel”, I’d go and skate in front of you.
MF: Were you credited as being the first one to Ollie the Santa Monica Triple Set?
KC: Yeah, I definitely was the first one to do that.
MF: I remember seeing that and being blown away. My friends and I, we all got New World Order and we were living off that. How many years were in between New World Order and ’20 Shot Sequence’? Not many right?
KC: Nah. It wasn’t many years. We were putting out all those mini videos for the Distribution House. I think 20 Shot came out within two years of New World Order. I think we were going to do a Menace video and in process they said, “Let’s just put out a combination of everyone in the Distribution House into one with whatever footage they had”.
MF: At this point in the mid 90's were you going out and skating every day, a couple times a week, or just whenever you were sparked?
KC: Yeah, because it was more of like, what else are we gonna do? We all kicked it together, we all hung out, and even if we weren’t skating, we always had our boards. So you’re always kind of skating, you know what I mean? Lockwood, Los Feliz, you know what I mean, so what’s the difference if you’re skating to get a trick, or just out there skating?
MF: And you could feel that. That all came through. We lived two hours south being down in San Diego and we’d come up and skate Lockwood, the Courthouse, Los Feliz, and even some of the stuff you were skating in 20 Shot, that for me, didn’t even seem like much of a marquee spot, for example those white ledges and the bumps that I think were on Vermont.
KC: (Laughs) Yeah, haha.
MF: Your part even made us want to go there. And looking at it now, it seems like just a “down the street” type of spot to you guys. Somewhere you knew you wouldn’t get kicked out. But as kids, we’re like, “We’ve gotta get to those ledges! We’ve gotta go to where Kareem kicked it off!”
KC: (Laughs) Yeah, ‘cause they were right down the street from XLARGE, where we kicked it every day. The car wash, the Vermont bumps, it was right where we’d be every day. Basically, it would be me, Guy (Mariano), Gabriel (Rodriguez), Fabian (Alomar), Gino (Iannucci), Rudy (Johnson), Billy Valdez, Eric Pupecki… we were all always together. Before a lot of us had cars, and even when we did have cars, we’d still take trains, and buses, because we used to do graffiti back in those days.
KC: So we’d skate all day, skate past Sunset, skate all the way to Beverly, try to make it all the way to Wilshire, and we’d be tagging and doing everything along the way.
MF: If you made to Wilshire, there were so many spots too. We’d drive up and see everything you guys did there, and it was a big “skate tourism” spot destination for us. It’s still good just driving through and reminiscing on it.
MF: So with your part in ‘Trilogy’, that seemed to be when World was on top. All of the brands were clicking, I know you guys were doing joint tours and were out on the road together, all the product was looking good across the board, and the distribution just looked unstoppable. Someone who’s my age now, back in ’96 I was 16, I had already been skating for several years and I just felt so tied to it. That video made a huge impression on my me and my friends. The whole aesthetic, the clothing, music and style of skating and spots to seek out. What are some memories from that era for you?
KC: Trilogy is when they kind of gave us free reign and really let us be who we are. The music, everything was just raw and uncut.
MF: Back then you could still skate to whatever song you wanted.
KC: Right you could do whatever you wanted. I remember they changed Daewon's (Song) song at the last minute to some Rasta song. He had Tribe (Called Quest).
MF: I heard that. That’s what Socrates (Leal) was saying. I though he said it was Tribe and they could’t get the rights and he had to change it at the last minute. Sadly, that ended up being the wrong move.
KC: Don’t let ‘em lie to you! (Laughs) We didn’t get the rights! They changed that shit. Steve Rocco and them said it was too much rap.
MF: I know you’ve heard this throughout your career, but the songs you guys skated to back then influenced skaters all over the world to not only find those tracks, but to go out and buy those entire albums. Especially Wu-Tang.
KC: Well with Wu-Tang, when RZA first came down with the tape, “Protect Ya Neck and Method Man” I put it out in the video before the little cassette even came out.
MF: So you got that single from The RZA?
KC: Yeah, I got it from RZA and Power.
MF: I never knew. That’s unreal.
KC: Yeah, RZA and Power came down. My cousin used to work for MCA Records, so they were trying to shop it to him, you know what I mean?
MF: The plot thickens with skateboarding, hip hop and especially Wu-Tang, and you being at the center of all of that makes perfect sense to me. That’s wild though.
KC: Yeah, when Power and them opened up the Wu-Wear Store in Statin Island, they had the Menace “Enter the Pu-Tang” boards all throughout the store.
MF: And see, I would have never guessed that you had a legitimate sign off to make those boards. This is long before everyone was doing collabs, and I would have thought you guys were doing that just out of being pure fans and not that Wu-Tang was actually blessing it and knowing who you guys were as skaters at the time.
KC: I’ve never changed. I’ve always been a street person, and that was all love. We promoted them to be in our whole world. You know what I mean, see half of them was talking Mathematics, and the 5% Nation, and that would have never really cracked if somebody didn’t break it in.
MF: Very true. Well, I do think the credit is more than due for you guys introducing their music to skateboarders, and expanding their fanbase in a huge way across the globe. The way skateboarders have influenced culture at large, rappers were able to ride that wave and still do. Wu-Tang is still touring, and when you show up, their fanbase…
KC: Are still skateboarders! 90% is gonna be skaters, from old to young.
KC: Skateboarding has done so much from Avril Levine, to Eminem, to Kid Rock, I mean we can go down the list. They all used to skate.
MF: Getting back to the streets, as a Serra local dating back to the early ’90’s, something I’ve always wondered was who beeped you during the infamous pager line?
KC: Yeah, that was my girl. I was having my son at the time. I was always worried that I was going to miss his birth.
MF: So you’re on call! (Laughs)
KC: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I just checked it, and finished my line, know what I mean?
MF: Unbelievable. And as a follow up question, did you just hit the pay phone and call her back to make sure everything was good?
KC: Yeah, I called and she was doing good (Laughs). I just checked in and kept skating with (Rob) Dyrdek. After Serra we went down the street to that hand rail school, the two different hand rails, I think I did like a grind and crooked grind or something.
MF: Yep. We used to call those “Double 8’s” those two perfect 8 stair rails right down the street. We always loved seeing visiting skaters come through and hit those rails.
KC: Yeah, that was my first time going there with Dyrdek. Dyrdek tried to kill me that whole day (Laughs). He put that shopping cart in front of that bump in Pacific Beach. He said everyone does tricks over shopping carts off this. So I’m switch pop shoving it, not knowing that no one did shit over a cart (Laughs). Dyrdek, that’s my dog, he used to push me though.
MF: Well for the record, that spot was the “Ingraham Bump” in PB and to my knowledge, no one before or since has done anything over a shopping cart off that thing. No one could touch a switch front shove. (Laughs). That trick is immortal.
KC: (Laughs). You can blame that on Dyrdek, ‘cause he pushed me to another level, and I didn’t even know. (Laughs).
MF: Well I’m glad he did, and skateboarding’s glad he did. That trick set the bar so high, that a shopping cart off that bump was just a one and done.
KC: Well that’s just love and blessings, brother, for sure.
MF: I’ve gotta ask some more about Trilogy. Speaking of Trilogies, you ended up doing three tricks over the table off the bump at Lockwood to close out your part. These are all infamous; a switch frontside flip, nollie hard and switch hard. Of those three, which was the most challenging?
KC: Probably the switch hard flip. Because you have to sweep it, we had to put the table so far back. Nollie hard flip and all of that, was easier since you pop it quick. So, to go the distance first to get over it was the challenge.
MF: When you think back on those sessions, can you still picture it clearly? Do you remember who was there, and who was motivating you?
KC: Yeah, it was Gabriel Rodriguez, Javier Nunez, Guy Mariano, Gino, Pupecki, ‘cause we all rocked together. So every trick that I’ve ever done on video was normally done around that whole clique. We’d normally just be skating, and I’d get a trick.
MF: And everyone’s just getting some. Everyone’s taking turns and hyping up the sessions.
KC: Yeah. Play the music and just having fun. If we had just one filmer, there’s a lot of shit that’s probably gonna get missed. So World ended up bringing multiple filmers besides just Soc and (Dave) Schlossbach. There was so many of us, and we’re just getting amped off each other.
MF: Were those last three tricks all filmed by Socrates?
KC: Yeah, Soc filmed all of those.
MF: At that time, how important was it to be filming and shooting photos? Were you always lining up a filmer and photographer, it seems like you guys were mostly just going out and skating.
KC: Nah. Honestly, we never filmed. People always thought we were always filming, but we didn’t. Other people like Rodney (Mullen) and Daewon, they filmed with Soc on the regular, but when he got with us, he was just out with the whole group. Just like, we’re gonna go to this spot, you should film. It wasn’t like we planned each spot. That’s why if you notice, most of our footage, we’re always together.
MF: So that just kept it fun, kept it loose.
KC: Yeah, it was just pure skating.
MF: What was your inspiration for the 360 flip 5-0 on top of the table at Lockwood?
KC: Actually, I was trying to film a 360 flip manual on top of the table. Then, God bless the dead, Keenan Milton told me to try and just grind it. I couldn’t manual all the way across it, but I could fuckin’ grind it (Laughs).
MF: (Laughs) That’s some good advice. Obviously you’re well known for your 360 flips, who has one of your favorite 360 flips?
KC: Josh Kalis.
MF: He’s the architect, right?
KC: Yeah. He and Jason Lee. Jason’s got the perfect one, and Josh is right behind him.
MF: Favorite skate spot in LA?
MF: Favorite country to visit?
KC: Australia and Japan.
MF: You’re currently going back and forth between California and Texas, correct? How do you divide your time between those two states?
KC: A flight (Laughs). I travel constantly. I’ll be anywhere I’m needed.
MF: What was your favorite memory of Menace? Do you feel that it was too short lived?
KC: Nah, Menace made it’s mark. It just changed the whole dynamics of skateboarding in the form of inner-city youth, and being able to be who you are. So it never died, it’s always gonna live, you know what I mean?
MF: Right. It’s always referenced and it’s always revered. Menace is a timeless brand.
KC: Everyone can try and replicate it, but it was so authentic, it’s hard to replicate.
MF: Throughout your video parts, you’ve skated to Onyx, Redman and Method Man, Nas, and many know you also rap. Have you had the opportunity to do any music with some of the influential rappers you’ve looked up to?
KC: Yeah, everybody. But you know, back in those days when I was really trying to rap, I couldn’t really do it, because I was taking care of Paul Rodriguez and other young skaters, and I didn’t think their parents wanted to hear the real truth of my life, you know what I’m saying? Back in those days I’m being questioned by everyone’s parents and I don’t look like the typical person you should be letting your 15 year old child leave with, you know? So I had to make that decision to strictly stay skate.
MF: That makes sense. You’re meeting young skaters' parents and letting them know you have confidence in their kid’s skating, and you’re opening up their eyes, brining them on tours.
KC: I’ve always communicated with everybody’s parents. A lot of them looked at me like I was fuckin’ crazy.
MF: (Laughs). It was hard to understand back then. These days it’s a lot easier to convey to a parent their child has talent and you see something in them that you’ll be able to help nourish.
KC: Yeah, you’re taking them and moving them around. Back then, they didn’t see a job, they didn’t see the Olympics, you know what I mean, so they’d think you’re just going to fuck off. Back in our days, looking at skaters, we were always different, you know what I mean?
MF: Then over time, you win them over. You’re helping their kids reach their dreams, turning them pro, then they see the paycheck, you’re taking people around the world and doing things that the average person never gets to experience, let alone someone that young.
KC: Oh yeah, and then they love it. Even looking back at Paul’s dad, Mr. Rodriguez was adamant, he was like, “I don’t want you fuckin’ around with my son.” Then, next thing you know, we’re in Europe and he’s like hey, “You’re taking my son places I could’t even take him.” And I’m saying back, “Your son’s got a gift.” You know what I’m saying?
MF: You’re exposing them to the whole world at that point.
KC: Yeah, and at the same time, I was so different and I don’t really care about money so at the same time I used all my money to fly all my Ams to Europe with me. I was the first person to like, bring your whole team. Your Ams, your Pros, everybody.
MF: And I think that started to set the standard.
KC: Yeah, but they said that we were a Menace. But every trip was amazing. The way people all over the world embraced me and embraced everybody around me and allowed us to be who we are.
MF: Even though you guys were doing your thing as a crew, which of your video parts do you think captured you at your best?
KC: I really couldn’t even say, because I’ve never really done a video part yet. If I was to say I’d take 6 months and really focus on a video part, I’ve never done that yet.
MF: Is that part still coming?
KC: Yeah, without a doubt! Now it’s coming. I’m more focused now that I’m getting older. I can’t afford to fall as much, or tear a knee out the socket. You know what I mean?
MF: Yeah, I do.
KC: So now it’s coming, and it’s coming more strategically.
MF: OK, so if it’s not once particular part, which tricks get brought up most often when you’re talking with skaters?
KC: The Ghetto Bird is always gonna be brought up. Most people just think the Ghetto Bird is just from that one contest where I did the nollie hard flip late 180, but I used to do the switch hard flip late 180, back side 180 flip late 180, I used to do everything to late 180. But, I did not name that trick. Fabian (Alomar) named the Ghetto Bird. He said it looked like a fuckin’ black helicopter in LA.
MF: (Laughs.) I didn’t know he coined that, that’s amazing. And speaking of Ghetto Birds, that’s the name of your new Podcast. How do you structure that, maintain the schedule and attract guests?
KC: Honesty, we’re just running it, like we’re running it right now. We just do it how we choose, and we’re just going off the vibe, like skating. We’re trying to do something different and show where skaters went after they’re done skating. The idea is to show we’re more than just skaters, we’re human beings. We might know concrete, we might know anything, but at the same time, bigging up all the skaters that are coming up. You know what I mean?
MF: There’s more to it, especially now when you can talk to someone about their interests outside just skating. It gives their life more dimension.
KC: There’s a lot more coming from the show. We’re going to have a whole animation that shows you the chaos that we deal with, but as of right now, I’m just trying to big up skating and stand up for it in my way. I’m just being straightforward with it.
MF: I think it’s important you’re hosting due to your longevity, and you can attract guests that other people might not have access to, and your relationships go back so you can tell those stories and it’s always friend to friend.
KC: For sure. At first, I wasn’t going to do Tony (Hawk), but he has a real strong story that he needs to talk about. Because he’s done a lot of skateboarding and a lot of skaters hated on him for no fuckin’ reason. You know what I mean?
MF: Yeah, it can be easy to hate on the person who’s winning all the contests, right?
KC: Yeah, but at the same time they don’t even realize how much he does for them. It was kind of a business thing for me to ask him, “Hey, how are you dealing with the same bullshit I’m dealing with?” You know what I mean? And then you realize, he deals with 10 times more.
MF: I wanted to bring up Tony Hawk seeing as you guys have a deep history. You’re both icons of skateboarding, but have totally different disciplines. You were in the original Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game, and now you’re in the 1&2 relaunch over 20 years later. What’s your secret to staying in the game, literally?
KC: It’s important to have longevity. If people don’t like you, they don’t like you. I don’t know who makes those decisions, but back in the beginning, me and (Chad) Muska were like #1 and #2 for the first four of five years in terms of what characters people were using. And at the same time, Tony’s always embraced us, he’s killed it. Why would we not want to do it? The only reason I doubted the game was back in the day, when it got too corny. When they wanted to do the shopping carts, and things that would take away from the skateboarding.
MF: I’m sure that game opened up a whole new fanbase of people who never stepped on a skateboard, or maybe after playing the game they started to skate if the video game was their first introduction to it. Everyone in that game was exposed to a whole new demographic.
KC: Yeah, it turned us all into household names.
MF: Icons. Shifting gears, I have some questions about footwear. During your early years you would skate everything from Puma, Vans, Airwalk, Reebok, Adidas, Nike. Do you miss anything about those days of being able to put on whatever shoes you were feeling?
KC: Not really, because at the end of the day, I knew what I liked about them, and I knew what I wish I could change about them. So all I did was take the same shoes, and make them for skating. You know what I mean?
MF: Perfect segue into the Legendary KCK from Duffs.
KC: Yeah, yeah, exactly, that was the Reebok 5411. You know what I mean? I don’t hide from it. I shot my first poster in the 5411.
MF: Backside flipping at the World Park.
KC: Yeah, and everyone used to hate. They’re like dude, you wear Nike Air’s, Jordan’s and Reebok 5411’s.
MF: So you would always mix it up.
KC: Yeah, but my 5411’s were my best skate shoes. They always felt the best. And they were $54.00’s though, and I was broke back then. (Laughs). They’re called 5411’s, that means $54.11.
MF: And the KCK’s became timeless. When they came out, that style changed everything. So what did it mean for you, so many years later to get an Adidas “Super Star” color way with their “Respect Your Roots” campaign right next to Drake Jones, Richard Angelides and Joey Bast?
KC: It was dope! I felt like I was back with my family. When I flew in, I connected with Joey and we hooked up with Drake, and we just had a blast. It was like a reunion, you know what I mean? And it was dope to be respected for who you are, you know what I mean? You’ve got to realize, I get missed for a lot of things because I’m out of sight, out of mind. So it was dope to be recognized. I give Skin Phillips a lot of love for that one.
MF: Even more recently, what made you want to relaunch Axion, and how did you pick the initial squad?
KC: Relaunching it, I had actually partnered with a couple cats who had actually assumed the name. I had basically partnered back up with them, because this is my baby, you know what I mean? So we’ve been communicating on the best way to bring it back. You’ve gotta realize, skateboard footwear is so fucked up, that we don’t even have a core anymore, you know what I mean? We need the core skate footwear.
MF: So you saw the opportunity to do something to bring back your baby, and help fill a void in the core skate shoe market?
KC: Yeah, we want to bring it back to skate life. You’ve gotta realize, when COVID hit, that changed everything. Fathers are skating with their kids, now they’re spending more time, now they have to get shoes. They’re teaching their kids, that “Hey, I used to skate, and this is what I wore.” We’re reeducating the youth. The youth have been doing it on their own. So when COVID hit, all of a sudden, the parents that used to do it, they’re opening up their old Thrasher Magazines, and now the kids are gettin’ stoked, because they’re seeing it from all different elements, you know what I mean?
MF: I do. Younger skaters are seeing things through an older skater’s lens. When you re-release styles that were out in Axion’s early lines, people that had those in the ’90’s now they can get them again. And like you said, if it’s a father taking his kid to the skate shop, he can pick up some Axion’s and say, “Yo, I had these back in High School!”
KC: Yeah, they’d show an old picture and say, “I used to have these with rubber toe, now your’s is leather.” So everyone’s been able to embrace it.
MF: How do you approach new team riders?
KC: I’m just honest with them. I keep everything transparent. I don’t chase after who’s the best, but rather, who can be the best.
MF: You’ve given a lot of skaters a home right now, where some of your current riders may have been hooked up on flow from other footwear brands, but weren’t on the actual teams. From where I sit, it’s really diverse too, it’s not necessarily who you would first pin to be on Axion.
KC: I’m just being honest with it. If I wanted to go and get all the top skaters, I can go and do that. You know what I mean, I’d just pay a bunch a money, and it’s just a rotation. I’d rather keep it core, and fuck with the young kids that are really coming up. They’re hungry. They want to skate. They can actually tell me if the shoes are skating good, if the soles are wearing too fast.
MF: So you’re actually hyped when you have a bunch of young, hungry skaters that are burning through shoes, doing all that R&D, giving you good feedback and putting the shoes to work.
KC: Yeah, that’s exactly it, and at the same time, we build each other.
MF: I do have to ask, if you could pick anyone from the original Axion roster to ride with you today, who would it be?
KC: Guy Mariano and Gino Iannucci.
MF: Got it. Got it. For your TransWorld’s “Skater's Favorite Skater”, you chose Guy Mariano. Who are you looking at now as an up-and-comer you have a ton of confidence in? Who should we look out for?
KC: For today, there’s so many insane skaters, I don’t know how to even put it, because I’m not sure how many of them will still be here, you know what I mean?
MF: Well then, what about someone who you see having the ability to sustain a pro career and have longevity to span 25-30 years like you have?
KC: Nyjah (Huston). He’s a beast. I love him. That dude’s a fucking beast. He’s got a gift, he’s got a talent.
MF: Most definitely, Nyjah’s here to stay.
KC: I’m not sure if you’d like to mention it, but I just got inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame.
MF: Yes! Let’s mention that now. When do they make that official, and when is the ceremony?
KC: They just made it official today (September 10th) at 11:00.
MF: What?! That’s amazing. Very well deserved.
KC: The ceremony is November 12th, and I want to give a lot of blessings to Chad Muska, because he actually made a difference on everything they do. Because in all reality, he opened up their eyes.
MF: I recall hearing that. During COVID they announced they wanted him in the Hall of Fame, and he gave his nomination to you.
KC: Yeah, yeah, he was giving the respect of, “Why would you jump over him?” Through skating we both have embraced each other. You know, there’s so many politics, so he stood up, and I respect it, you know what I mean? Because that’s what real skating is, and that’s what I stand for. I want to build it to where we’re able to bring a Union to skateboarding, and insurance. I tell every skater, chase the insurance before you chase a check. You can skate better with insurance, you know what I mean?
MF: Well Kareem, I think it’s incredible that you’re still as involved as you are with skating after all these years. You’ve been a massive inspiration and one of my most influential skaters of all time. Thanks for taking the time to speak to me today, and for all that you’ve done and continue to do for skateboarding.
KC: For sure, brother. I know I’ve disappeared for a minute, but I ain’t far. I just had to regroup, realize and recognize. You know what I mean? You’ve gotta love it, because if you’re not going to give it your best, then you’re not gonna get your best out of it.
MF: Any closing remarks?
KC: Yeah for sure. Number one, be yourself, love yourself, don’t worry about anything, and always do what you do, ‘cause you will be recognized. That’s guaranteed, for sure.