Joey Pepper Interview

Joey Pepper. Ph. Sam Ashley

Joey Pepper in Copenhagen, August 2016. Ph. Sam Ashley

Whilst in Copenhagen last month, we ran into Joey Pepper. Joey’s an office favourite and also an old friend of mine from the Boston days… So why not catch up and see what he’s been up to? Moving out west again, quitting Expedition over Instagram, going on Levi’s builds, woodworking… Suffice to say we had a lot to talk about. Take a look…

Interview by Will Harmon

You moved to Portland about a year ago. Why the move there after so many years in New York?
I had been in New York for ten years and I was just ready for a change. I love New York, but I kind of just needed some space. New York is rad, but I like to do a lot of stuff outdoors – so living in NYC I’d always have to drive to Maine where I’m from or go far upstate New York and even then it’s hard to get out there.

It takes a long time to get out of the city.
Yeah. And I got a couple friends, Nikhil Thayer, he’s a good friend who lives in Portland and I knew a couple other people. My buddy Josh (Mathews) was just about to move there so my wife and I just packed everything up and drove out there. We liked it and it’s a cool place. There’s a good little skate scene.

Yeah there are a lot of people moving up there recently…
Yeah there are a lot of dudes and we have a tight little crew. Silas (Baxter-Neal) has his park, which is gone now, but we are building a new park. I don’t know it’s just a good scene. So I can do the skate thing and Portland is close to so much stuff in the northwest that I always wanted to explore.

Yeah I always remember you as being an outdoorsman. It must be easier to access that kind of stuff now.
Yeah you can leave the city and in 30 minutes you can be in epic scenery, go fishing and hit parks. And not even just Oregon, all over the Northwest – Montana’s not a far drive and you can go to Washington easily, Canada… All over the place.

You still have that nice car?
Yeah I still have the old Nova; I’ve been cruising that thing around. I’m thinking about selling it though. It’s an old 64 Nova.

I didn’t even catch this, but everyone was talking about this Instagram you did… It was talking about you leaving Expedition One and stuff. By the time I heard about it and went to see it, it was taken down. Do you want to speak about that?
Yeah it’s funny… I rode for Expedition for almost ten years and it had its ups and downs, but things were pretty solid with the team and it was good. But towards the end, there was a strange direction going on with the team. I think towards the final days of myself being on the team I was asking a lot of questions and I was getting a lot of answers (and promises), only people wouldn’t really follow through with the answers they’d give me… They didn’t do what they said they were going to do.

I mean shit’s hard out there for all the companies; it’s super-hard and that’s understandable. If it’s someone you are stoked on and riding for and getting paid very little or nothing at all then that’s fine. But at the end of the day if you’re getting lied to and not getting paid… It’s a whole different story – and that’s what was happening. People just weren’t being up front with us.

And you were not alone right?
A lot of other people were unhappy too. I didn’t want to let my teammates down, but at the same time I had less and less pride in what I was doing. Like what’s the point? I didn’t wanna take that shit out skating with me. You go out skating for the day and you are representing someone’s brand that is lying to you, not paying you… Towards the end they owed me over $10,000 and then straight up lying about where that money is and why the money’s not there. I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Yeah I understand.
So the day I did that Instagram I made a call… I made a couple calls and I was trying to do it over the phone for a few days and no one was responding. And it was super-important and I was leaving messages telling them ‘yo, I wanna talk! Let’s figure this out. I wanna talk to you,’ and no one called me back. So I was like: ‘you know what, I’m over this!’ I didn’t want to be associated with it (Expedition One) anymore so one of my options would have been to leave quietly like: ‘oh it’s been fun! It’s been a fun ten years,’ but that wasn’t the truth. The truth was that I was pissed off; I felt like I got fucked over, my teammates were being fucked over and we were being disrespected. And I honestly don’t think that dude Troy (Morgan) gave a shit about any of us. I think he’s a fucking liar. And I think he’s out for himself. He tries to pretend he’s all about it and he cares so much, but if he did care, he wouldn’t have let it fall apart like that.

So I posted that shit and a lot of people asked me if they told me to take it down but that’s not what happened. I left it up for a couple of days just so people could see it and then I took it down because I didn’t want to see it anymore. I wanted whoever wanted to see it, to see it, and then it’s done. I didn’t want to leave it up there and let it have a presence you know? I just wanted it out there and have my name disassociated from what they are doing.

And then since then have other people approached you? Like board sponsors?
Yeah a little bit. I’ve been talking to a couple of people, but I’m not really sure what I’m going to do, but there are some brands that are doing cool shit and have cool graphics. It’s kind of exciting not being sponsored. I got a couple boxes from a couple different people and I would get them in the mail and I’d actually be looking at the graphics, studying the graphics and thinking about if I like that or if I think it’s cool. I’m really into people that have a more artistic approach to things and if there’s somewhat of a story behind it rather than just a big fucking logo. Some of these smaller brands are doing things that (I think) are actually cool and it’s given me a different perspective.

Well for years you’ve ridden for these bigger brands.
Yeah, well Zoo (York) was a little blip on the radar… Ok so a lot of the more established brands, one of their bigger complaints is that ‘these small brands are killing us!’

Oh wow, I didn’t realise they said that.
Or maybe just that it’s oversaturated. There are just so many small brands, and these smaller brands don’t have the big overhead and they don’t have huge payrolls so they can survive on a lot less. My perspective before was like ‘eh we’re getting killed. It’s hard to compete with these small brands,’ but now I’m like well shit, ‘what would I buy if I was a kid?’. When I was a kid I was buying Capital boards and all these small brands.

Because it was ‘cooler’?
Cooler graphics… Kids grab on to those subcultures and they are out there looking for that shit. I get it man… I would be doing it too.

Ok to change the subject a bit, how did you get linked up with Levi’s? Is there like a designated team?
Well there is a designated team but… I feel like the whole thing just happened organically. I wasn’t riding for Levi’s, but I heard about the Bolivia project that they were doing and I reached out to a couple of people and I wanted to go on that. I thought it was rad and I wanted to be a part of it. So we worked it out and Levi’s helped a bunch of people go out there. And through being out there, I kind of developed a relationship with the people at Levi’s Skateboarding. Then I went on a couple more trips… I did the South Dakota thing, and I wasn’t even riding for the team then, but I just thought the DIY project they did on an Indian reservation was a cool idea so I just called them and said, ‘hey I wanna go on this project…’

But there is something interesting about how Levi’s has quite a few HUF guys involved…
Well I mean that’s like how things get built organically… Josh Mathews was a big part of it, and I’m a good friend of Josh and the same thing with Dan (Plunkett).

That’s like your crew right there!
Yeah. But that’s what makes it work because we all get along. Al (Partanen), Marius (Syvanen), and me, Dan, Josh and Pat (Moran), we’re all just good friends. So when we go on these trips it’s like family. We don’t have to fake hanging out and being friends and shit… It’s just real. We are all into the same things and we are able to work and are stoked to build these projects and make cool shit. We’re hyped to go to all these places and they need someone to plant that seed. And that’s all it is, we are just going places where they don’t necessarily have the means of doing it, but they have potential and there’s kids who need it. So we go and try and kind of help them develop something that they may have even already started.

Have you built a lot of skateparks, and obstacles before? Because I know you are quite into woodworking.
Not much. Before these Levi’s projects I hadn’t worked with concrete much more than patching up a spot or filling in some cracks. So I’ve learned a lot. I think we’ve all learned a lot through this process because we go in and we’ll work with real good professional skatepark builders. We work side by side with them and they show us stuff and also we work with a lot of really good DIY dudes.

So now you got the hang of it?
Yeah we’ve all got to know it pretty good. In the last couple months we’ve actually done a couple more projects… We just did one in Detroit; that was rad. I feel like we’ve all kind of learned enough so we can actually go out and build some rad shit on our own and do it right. We can make something that lasts now, rather than something that’s going to fall apart in a couple years.

So are you still really into woodworking?
Yeah I’m still doing it. I have a woodshop in Portland. It’s kind of like if you are an artist or a painter, you need a place to paint. Whether or not I have some big project going, I need a place to go to. Like a skater needs a skatepark. If it’s raining in the winter you need an indoor park. For me, I need to have a place to go build shit. In New York I had my own woodworking space and in Portland I do now as well. I do stuff on my own sometimes and I work on my own little projects and then other times I’ll get commission work and I build stuff for other people. Lately I haven’t had so much time, but it’s there, I have the space when I need it. It’s a matter of finding the time… You gotta strike a balance.

So things are good with HUF? What’s been going on?
Yeah things are good, I’m on a HUF trip right now. I’m in Copenhagen; it’s nice out and sunny finally. Everything’s good with HUF; they are always super-active. We’ve got a big team but we always stay involved with each other and go on trips together. They’ve shown me all kinds of support over the years and hopefully we can keep it going. And then that’s the thing… You look at HUF, the strength of the team or a company starts from the top. It starts from the number one guy. And so you look at HUF, and the number one guy (Keith Hufnagel) is fucking solid.

And he knows skateboarding up and down.
Yeah and it shows in everything: it shows in the product, it shows in the team, it shows how happy the people are, it shows in the creativity, it shows in everything about it and it starts from the number one guy. And I feel like that was one of the problems that was happening with Expedition, the number one guy was not solid and it just fell apart from there.

Thanks Joey. Good to see you again buddy. Until next time!