Chris Jones Interview
The hardest thing about interviewing pro skateboarders is that unless we ask them questions directly relating to kickflips and filming video parts, we often have a hard time getting much out of them.
With Chris Jones we had the complete opposite ‘problem’: the boy wouldn’t shut up. No matter the topic. Ask him an innocent question about growing up ‘skating’ with a snakeboarder and before you know it he’s launched into a ten minute tangent about why the sport should actually be referred to as ‘street boarding’ and how ‘snakeboards’ are in fact just the first brand to popularise it… Which surprises him because so many people use them on ramps! Think that, times a two and half hour interview and you’ve got a nice little bit of editing on your hands.
My theory is that this desire to launch into elaborate conversations about literally anything has a lot to do with his curiosity. If it’s out there he wants to learn about it and discuss it. Which I guess is one of the things that makes his company so enjoyable. It’s probably also one of the reasons why he gets himself into some of the surreal situations he discusses in the following pages.
This comes across in his skating as well. Whether it’s shooting half of his interview in a city he’s never skated or sanding down and waxing up hubbas that shouldn’t grind when he’s at home: he’s always up for the mission! Which
is a pretty good way of keeping things exciting both for him and for us…
Photography by Sam Ashley
Interview by Arthur Derrien
Can you start off by telling us a little bit about what it was like growing up skating in South Wales? Caradog (Emanuel) mentioned that for a while the crew you rolled with consisted of some BMXers and a snakeboarder.
Chris Jones: I started skating with my brother and a couple of guys from around where I lived. There was a curb that was really waxed from the time when everyone rollerbladed so we’d just session that. Then when I got a bit older we started venturing out into the big village…
What did you guys skate there?
More curbs, ha ha. Oh yeah and a few drops, but that was about it really. Anyway eventually over probably the space of about two years my brother and the other guys I’d skate with quit. I guess there’s an age where people go through an ‘extreme sports’ phase but most people get over it… For some reason I really liked it though so I ended up being the only one that carried on skateboarding in my village.
Fast forward a few years and some of those friends got into BMXing probably because of that Dave Mirra game and one of them got into snakeboarding…
And that was your crew…
Yeah. Further down the line a skatepark opened in Bridgend and I slowly started skating with Caradog and Dylan (Hughes) just because I guess it’s just easier to skate with people that are actually skaters, ha ha. But my friend on the ‘street board’ (here’s when Chris explained why that’s the correct terminology for the sport), he was fucking gnarly. He’d jump onto 16-stair handrails and stuff so he’d get me hyped to jump on big stuff as well. It was really fun! I could never keep up with him though; he’d go in!
I heard you took a gap year right after your GSCEs which is pretty rare… Was it just because you wanted to skate?
Basically I hated school. I don’t know why I just didn’t like it. I didn’t like the format maybe… Actually I do know, I was just going through that stage of loving skating loads and that’s all I cared about. And I didn’t have the kind of patience and discipline to just sit in a class and really pay attention so I just ended up fucking around and never really tried. I didn’t completely take a year out though, I started a photography course but it was really shit and I ended up quitting at the point when it was too late to start something else. And that was the time I was just getting flowed boards off East (Dave Mackey’s board company) and I had a few trips coming up that I could have gone on with Dykie (Mathew Ryan) so I was like ‘fuck it!’. So I signed on to this weird jobseekers thing. It wasn’t jobseekers allowance it was something for younger kids – teenagers who had just come out of education and were looking for career development. There was this place where I supposedly could go and develop skills and stuff but I’d literally just go and sign on and get out of there. You’d get paid a bit of money for it and it was enough to live off at the time.
I bet your parents were very pleased about that…
My dad was basically like ‘you need to go back to school you’re a fucking wasteman’. There would be days when I wouldn’t go out skating and he’d come home from work and find me sat in the living room watching snooker in my pants. ‘What the fuck are you doing?!’ He shouted and got pissed off and basically made me go back to college and do my A levels.
Who would have thought you’d then go on to get a first in your history degree in Bristol…
Ha ha. Well then I enjoyed college. I think it was just something about school; I just didn’t get along with my teachers. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that my brother was naughty. They were just like ‘your older brother is a piece of shit, so you’re gonna be a piece of shit’. And I remember my English teacher speaking to my mum on parents evening being like ‘oh there’s no hope for him Mrs Jones.’ And my mum would be like: ‘What are you on about?’
‘There’s just no helping him, he’s just like his brother.’
And my mum just being like ‘fuck you’. My mum telling her to fuck off, ha ha!
Let’s fast forward to when you decided to move to south London after uni. If I remember correctly one of your first experiences of it wasn’t the nicest, ha ha.
Ah yes… Got beat up. Got knocked out. Spilt Wotsits all over Bellenden Road. Wasn’t great, no.
Basically I was going back to my ex-girlfriend’s place pretty drunk… I stopped off at the shop to pick up two packs of Wotsits. I was in the middle of eating them and as I was just coming up to the house some guy just appeared from behind the car in front of me. I could tell he was gonna try and do something. Before I had time to do anything another guy came up behind me and just punched me in the back of the head, then the guy in front of me punched me in the face and then they just fucking beat me up until I was knocked out. I was wearing a Nike jacket and when I was on the floor I realised that’s what they were trying to get off me so I just put my arms back and they took the jacket and ran off. I must have just passed out because of how many times they’d hit me. I remember coming round and sitting on the curb confused with Wotsits everywhere. I had to go to hospital for a check; they’d chipped my tooth. It was grim, really grim. That was just before I moved here.
Luckily it wasn’t enough to make you change your mind about moving… How did you meet Jake (Harris) and get tight with the whole Isle/Atlantic Drift crew?
I met Jake on a Nike Big Push that he was filming. Actually Tom (Knox) was also on that Big Push but with Emerica so I met him at the end of that too… I think what happened is that while I was still in Bristol in my last year of uni he called me up and was like ‘hey I’m gonna film this edit’. It was the Grey video, which later became Eleventh Hour. He then invited me on a trip to Lyon, which is where I met you and I got to know the rest of that crew a bit better. I eventually moved here and as a result I became close to all of Jake’s friends, then Crayon went under, Isle came into existence and now we’re doing Atlantic Drifts!
You’ve been on a lot of trips with Jake and that crew… Any of them particularly stand out? I quite enjoy the stories from the Japan G-Shock contest one…
That one was your doing, ha ha! (Editor’s note: we got randomly contacted by organisers of a contest in Japan, asking us to pick the top three dudes in the UK to represent the country in a skate contest). Casper (Brooker), Jake and I got invited to take part in a G-Shock competition in Tokyo. It was just after we finished the Isle video. We’d worked hard and Jake was in the final stages of the editing and we were going to have the premiere when we got back. So we were in pure celebration mode. I went there straight there from Palestine so I was also really excited to see both of them. Oh yeah and the hotel they got for us was super fancy!
Anyway we skated this G-Shock competition, which basically felt like a kind of a trial run for the Olympics or something. It was as if the organisers were trying to show that they’d be capable of putting them on or something. They had our faces on this massive screen, flashing lights, a huge crowd, breakdancers, fireworks… It was insane. Of course they made us wear a G-Shock watch each, ha ha. And we had to stand behind this curtain and they’d introduce us on this megaphone: ‘From the UK, Jacob Hariiiiiis!’ Then this woman waving a Union Jack flag led us out. And none of us are really that patriotic so it felt quite weird and there was a cameraman with this big camera filming us…
Now as I said earlier we were celebrating hard, so we’d been out the night before and had gotten steamin’ – in fact every night before that as well, ha ha. And I remember on the way to the competition we had to stop the taxi so I could throw up out the window, and from then on I couldn’t stop throwing up. I was doing it every half an hour all the way into the comp. I must have given myself alcohol poisoning or something.
Definitely one of the top three athletes in the country right there…
Ha ha. After we got introduced, we had to wait there until our comp runs, and obviously just before they called our names to go up and skate, I threw up again. And then we went on but I was still a bit nauseous and for some reason I spent practically the whole time trying to do a nollie bag lady on the quarter. Jake didn’t believe I could do them so I just wanted to prove to him I could. We had ten minutes of skating and I think the only person that landed a decent trick was Jake. He like back-smithed the hubba. And I just spent the whole ten minutes falling over trying this stupid bag lady on the quarter. Team Japan took us right out, ha ha. And that was it really. I just went into this weird zone where I had to do it. Couldn’t do it. Didn’t do it. Threw up after as well.
Then we stuck around to watch the break dancing that was really entertaining. There was a guy rapping that kept repeating ‘pineapple jiz, pineapple jiz’. Maybe he’s like a famous Japanese rapper but I can’t remember his name. All I can remember quite vividly is that song because it was so bizarre. And everyone loved it, there was a big crowd going ‘pineapple jiz, pineapple jiz’ and we were just there like ‘what the fuck?’ And then yeah I probably threw up again, went out that evening and it pretty much carried on like that for the whole trip.
How was it having Kyron (Davis) on the last trip (San Francisco)? Is he now a part of Atlantic Drift?
Oh yeah he was a great asset, I’m so glad he came. When you spend time with him you really get the most out of life. He’s in every bit of footage, either doing a trick, in the background, by the skater when they’re riding up or running in after someone that’s landed a trick to give them props… He was constantly hyping people up, going to the shop to get the beers in… So yes, he’s a part of Atlantic Drift now.
Is Jake going to make it a brand?
There’s definitely chat about turning it into a clothing brand and basically everyone having a share of the brand. Everyone puts a bit of money in to get it started and then everyone has some ownership over the brand. So it’s like a cooperative company in that sense and everyone can contribute ideas, everyone’s got access to the Instagram and everyone can design stuff if they want. It’s like everyone’s company, not just one person’s. We want it to properly represent the whole crew’s ideas, which is great really. You’ll probably get a real diverse range of stuff. It’s really early days though; I haven’t chatted to Jake too much about it… Most of us have a lot of free time so something like this would be great for us.
And boy do some of you guys love clothes…
Not me though, I hate clothes. If could get away with not wearing them I would. I’d be a nudist. In fact we should probably get nude for the rest of this interview I think, ha ha. Me, Jake and Casper got nude together in South Korea recently in a Jjimjilbang, (traditional Korean public bathhouse) it was quite funny.
So we all got nude and obviously people were a bit uncomfortable being nude together for the first time. Like Casper, I don’t think he likes it at all… He just sat in the mud bath the whole time. I remember getting out and going to the toilet and then coming back into the Jacuzzi or something and feeling like a little bit awkward. You always feel self-conscious about the size of your penis – it’s inevitable! So I kind of just waved my penis around a little bit in front of Jake and Casper singing ‘I wave my shlong up in the air sometimes’. Ha ha!
I was just trying to break the ice! I guess I took it a bit too far… I very quickly jumped back in and immediately felt awkward again. It was quite funny though.
I mean it’s not often you get naked in front of your mates! Or at least we don’t… All my Japanese friends on the other hand they get naked all the time, it’s like part of their humour. They just get naked in random restaurants and stuff, ha ha. Like Hiroki who rides for Traffic! When we went to Japan on that trip I mentioned earlier, he met us and showed us around a little bit and took us to some spots. At one point we all played a game of S.K.A.T.E. together and when Hiroki got to T he went ‘if I don’t land it now I’m taking my second go naked’. This was about two hours after he’d met Jake and Casper, ha ha. Obviously he fell on the trick, got butt naked and took his last go with just his shoes and socks left on. Which he bailed, naturally, ha ha. It wasn’t even warm at the time, it was like October or something. Then he just stood there naked, looking defeated, ha ha ha.
How did you choose the locations for the part you’re filming with Jake to come out alongside this interview?
The first destination other than London was Palestine. I was out there with SkatePal (Editor’s note: SkatePal is a charity that builds skateparks and offers skate classes in Palestine) for a month and a half and since we were on a bit of tight deadline I was trying to squeeze in as much filming as I could. So in the middle of that Palestine trip I went to SF for eight days to film an Atlantic Drift and then got back, we finished building the park, and once it was done I thought ‘why doesn’t Jake come out for a weekend so we can film a couple of things?’ Flights were quite cheap so he did!
And how did that go?
Ha ha. I met him on the Friday, and we went skating but I was feeling a little bit nauseous, but we skated and we filmed like two things and got loads of good 16mm stuff, so a great first day! And then on Saturday when I woke up I felt a bit light-headed and weird. Probably because on the Friday we’d really pushed it. It was really hot and I was just skating in the boiling sun for like hours. I was also really achy because I hadn’t really been skating that much, I’d just been building the park. My body was battered from that, I hadn’t given myself time to recover and I also hadn’t really skated properly in a while. There was this hubba that I saw down the road from our hotel, which was an 8-stair or something and then you land, there’s probably about like a metre and a half, then a head high drop. I wanted to skate that. As I was on my way there (the first time) I felt so ill that I turned around and went back to the hotel to have a nap. It was like midday… Whilst I was there I threw up. Basically I was having heat stroke and exhaustion. When I woke up I of course still felt completely fucked, but since Jake was only there for the weekend and I really wanted to film stuff for the part in Palestine I was like ‘fuck man I need to go and at least try this hubba’. So I just forced myself out of bed and met him. I tried to warm up, but my legs felt like jelly. I had no energy. I remember carrying my board and it was feeling really heavy, like weighing my arm down. I tried but couldn’t get warmed up, fell on five kickflips and was just like ‘fuck it, I’ve just got to try this’. It was reckless and stupid but I was in such weird head-space that I felt like I had to. Anyway when we get to the spot I’m fucking terrified. I thought I was gonna throw up or pass out at any second but started trying it anyway. Just forcing myself. Started grinding down it but just couldn’t properly commit because as soon as you commit, then you’re going down that head high drop I described earlier. Eventually a family (it was outside a house) came out and were like ‘you know you can’t do this here, you’ve gotta move on’.
‘Please, my friend’s come all the way from London to film me do this. Can you please just give me like a couple more goes?’ And they agreed. But after awhile they noticed that I was leaving marks on the ledge,‘these marks, they’re new, this isn’t good, you can’t do that!’
I begged them for one more saying I’d clean the wax off the hubba. Again ‘my friend’s only here once, please give me one more go and we’ll never come back’. They were really nice. They were like ‘okay, you have one more go and then you have to go’. So I had one more go and just went for it. I was completely off balance though. Definitely not the right 50-50 to commit to at all so I landed and just got wheel bite. I just flew off the hubba, off this head high drop whilst feeling so ill I thought I was going to faint and just fucking hit the ground. I was pretty lucky not to die basically. Or at least break an arm or something. But I was fine. And then it obviously hurt a lot. It really did me in. I was fucked.
It wasn’t over though; I still needed to clean the wax off this ledge… I was bleeding loads, like actually dripping with blood as I was cleaning the ledge. So as I’d clean the wax off I’d drip blood over it and have to go back and wipe that off too. It really, really sucked. Once it was cleaned and they were happy I went back to the hotel, threw up, went to bed and woke up the next day feeling ten times worse.
Just another horrible slam to add to the list…
I mean my whole life I’ve been taking horrible slams. If you look through my ‘career’, I’ve spent most of it just slamming and you know what? I never learnt my lesson. I just keep slamming. That’s just a part of me; unfortunately, it’s just my curse. I’m cursed with bad slams.
How did you first get involved with SkatePal? Did you develop an interest in the Arab-Israeli conflict during your history degree? Did you have friends that worked for the charity?
No I didn’t study the Arab-Israeli conflict at all in university. Basically as I said before, as a skateboarder you have a lot of free time, even when you’re filming parts. I’d had full-time jobs alongside skating so I knew I was capable of juggling my time between that and other activities. So I thought like fuck it, why not do some volunteering? I started doing some volunteering work at a charity called Kids Company, which worked with inner city children and offered some therapeutic activities for them to participate in. It also did a lot of other stuff so I’ll leave it at that, as I’m probably not going to do it justice. Anyway, I was just doing little art classes and then started doing some skate workshops. I was really enjoying it but for reasons that are too long to get into here the charity went under.
So anyway over the last year leading up to SkatePal I was doing that and when it ended a friend told me about his friend’s brother being involved in a charity that was giving skate classes in Palestine. I was kind of already aware of these charities as we’d been to Cambodia together (on a Grey trip) and saw what Skateistan were doing out there. In fact I think I even applied for Skateistan but nothing came of it…
So I got in contact with Charlie (Davis) at Skatepal and he told me to come out there and volunteer. They were working on the build of a concrete park in this town called Zebabdeh and a mini ramp in Ramallah. When I went out I actually didn’t really know too much about the conflict. I’d read up on it a bit so I had a very basic understanding of the situation there… So I went there in July 2014 and as I got there ‘Operation Protective Edge’, as Israel called it, had just started. Which meant that basically Gaza was getting bombed, Hamas was firing rockets into Israel and it was all really kicking off… And everyone thought that me going to Palestine meant that I was going straight into that. But I was going to the West Bank.
Still a gnarly time to be in that part of the world…
Yeah… My friend Martin O’Grady, who went there on the same trip as me, saw a rocket get shot down by the Iron Dome (the Iron Dome is an Israeli Air Defence system) as he was walking out of the airport in Tel Aviv… Imagine seeing a fucking rocket explode as you walk out of the airport!
What’s the charity’s mission?
So basically at SkatePal we build skateparks in Palestine and we run skate classes. For a child in the West Bank there’s not really a lot of funding for extracurricular activities – stuff for kids to do after school… Especially in smaller towns. Which is why we tend to focus on them. We raise the money and we build parks. The idea is to offer a space for children to play and skateboarding is the medium that has been chosen for that because that’s what Charlie did and that’s what we have access to, but if they want to ride a bike or go on rollerblades we’re not going to stop them. We’re convinced ‘play’ is really important for a child’s development. Especially in an environment that’s as hostile as this. The fact that Palestine is under occupation means that a lot of these kids have to deal with terrible things on a day-to-day basis. Some of them have been through horrible traumatic incidents… So if we can provide a space where kids can enjoy themselves and blow off some steam in a positive way, that’s great.
For me personally, after visiting Palestine for the first time, I really felt like I had been exposed to something I shouldn’t have seen. Especially in towns where the occupation is so visible like Hebron. Seeing and hearing about some of the atrocities that exist made it difficult for me to come home and forget what I’d seen and to carry on as I was. Knowing this, alongside how neglected Palestinians feel, has lead to me wanting to devote as much time as I can to a charity like SkatePal.
Did you witness any of the violence first-hand?
On my first trip out there one of my Palestinian friends went to a protest at Qalandyia checkpoint and got shot. We went to visit him in hospital… It being my first time in Palestine, I was a bit like ‘whoa this is fucked’. It’s just gnarly seeing the level of occupation, even in the West Bank.
There are checkpoints everywhere. Basically it’s broken down into three different areas: A, B and C. Area C is basically complete occupation, where there’s Israeli settlements. It’s completely administered by Israelis. Area B is like where the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Israeli government in theory operate together but what happens is that the Israeli government restricts the work of the Palestinian Authority. And then there’s Area A that is under complete Palestinian Authority. They are still occupied obviously, it just means the PA are in charge of policing the area and that it’s a bit easier for them to build stuff, do stuff, and whatnot. So there are different levels of occupation but it affects every aspect of the Palestinians’ lives. In all of the different Palestinian areas the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) can just come in and insert fear into a town/city. That’s their whole tactic. They scare people, interrupt their day to day lives, get in the way of what they’re doing and antagonise them in the hope that they’d then end up doing something that’s arrestable or move away so they can build settlements.
The occupation is so deep-rooted that it’s not always visible to the average visitor. Take the water for instance: the water resources are fully controlled by Israel. Meaning that Palestine has to buy its own water off Israel. Sometimes, Israel will take water from Palestine’s resources/lands and sell it back to them at an insane rate. It just shows how ingrained the occupation is now: it’s terrible. If you want to buy something in a shop you pay with Israeli Shekels. So it’s in the water, in the currency…
Have you had any scary run-ins with the IDF?
A few yeah… There was one time when we went to Bethlehem, we were teaching some kids, doing some classes and the IDF shot a tear gas canister over and it went off so all these kids started crying while we were trying to teach. We were just trying to skate. They’ve pulled us over in taxis a few times… I remember once I was coming back into Jerusalem and the IDF pulled over a bus and pointed a gun at me, which felt quite weird. But like usually, being a Westerner you’re kind of fine. They don’t really terrorise you that much. But I’ve seen and heard stories of the way they treat Palestinians and it’s terrible. Like you know people are getting shot and arrested for no reason.
What’s tricky is that beyond Israel’s occupation of Palestine, there are two different Palestinian political powers that exist: Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. Aside from the difference in their political ideology there’s debate between the two on how to best deal with the occupation. These parties also have their own problems. Whilst Hamas has been declared a terrorist organisation by various countries, I’ve also heard stories of Mohammad Abbas, the Fatah leader, being corrupt. Apparently, so I’ve been told, he pockets money that’s meant to be going into the West Bank and builds himself massive mansions…When I was there last, one of these mansions was in the process of being constructed just outside Ramallah. So basically there’s also a lot of political problems from within Palestine. The occupation is obviously the major problem, but the politics are so complicated that it’s hard for them to get anywhere and make progress. I read somewhere that Hamas has finally handed power over to the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and that reconciliation talks between the two parties have begun. Hopefully this can lead to some progress. I hope so because I think that it will be difficult to overcome occupation whilst there is no political unity between the West Bank and Gaza.
Can you tell us a little bit about giving skate lessons to girls out there?
One of the hurdles we’ve come across is making sure we have enough female volunteers to teach the girls. Most families are happy for the girls to learn alongside the boys but others prefer their daughters to be taught by a female volunteer. It’s one of those things where I don’t think it’s right to go over to a different culture and be like ‘mixed gender sessions is what is accepted in our culture, you lot should do the same thing’. So we respect the parents’ wishes and have their daughters be taught by a female volunteer and offer all girl classes. However, alongside this we promote mixed gender sessions to those that are happy for their daughters to skate alongside boys.
As I mentioned before, there’s really not much for the youth to do after school and there’s even less for girls. That’s one of the reasons why we have a lot of female volunteers giving skate classes: we want to do everything we can to offer these opportunities to girls as well as boys. Skating is for everyone. What’s good for us is that as skateboarding is a completely new sport in the West Bank, it’s not seen as being gender specific in the same way other sports may be looked at in Palestine.
They don’t put it in the ‘boys sport’ category because they’ve never seen either boys or girls do it before…
Exactly. So we’ve introduced it as this thing that’s for everyone and it’s been accepted as that and it has been successful in reaching out to girls as well as boys. One of our volunteers recently did a head count of boys and girls for our busier weekend sessions… She found that around 40% of the children that used the park were girls, which is great.
What are some of your fondest memories from your trips to Palestine?
So you know how I’m renowned for falling over a lot when I skate?
Well basically this one time we were skating some flat in Qalqilya, I was doing some fakie tres and I fell on one. Whatever, I didn’t think anything of it, got on with my day and then later when I was in SF, my friend sent me this video, of this Palestinian kid who happened to be on his balcony filming us skating that day and he had this sick footage of me trying a fakie tre and just slamming, in the middle of the street! It was just so bizarre that he came across it. This little kid just randomly had footage of me slamming and had kept it, ha ha.
I know you sometimes worry about the idea of being a pro skater… What exactly is it that you question and what would you like to do further down the line?
Maybe in the future I’d be interested in being a social worker but at the moment life’s decided that I should be a skateboarder. That’s the way things have worked out and I guess I’m going to do that for the time being. It used to stress me out quite a bit, thinking about what I’d do after skating… When you’re a ‘pro skater’ you always feel like you’re in quite a precarious position, which is why I’ve always tried to do other stuff alongside skating. But at the moment the volunteering work I do with SkatePal is enough to keep my brain occupied whilst leaving me plenty of time to focus on skating as much as I’d like.
I’ve been given the opportunity to do this for a bit and now I’ve accepted that that’s what I’m going to do. I found out from my cousin the other day that it’s natural to have like a quarter life crisis. Which I think I had at the beginning of this year when I was feeling anxious and a bit down about all this. Luckily I’ve made it through to the other side!