Shane O’Neill Interview

Shane and Scuba Filming a long Howard grind for insta, on the Kensington skatepark replica flat bar.

It was 8:30am in the sunny port of Fremantle, early in 2007. Shane led the way. It was just two of us skating through the deserted streets. The rest of our tour members were back snoozing in at the hotel. As we pushed down the street that led to the fabled Woolstores ledges, it occurred to me that this was a particularly monumental moment. There he was – although relatively unknown at the time – there he was pushing off down the street, on his way to change skateboarding forever.

This week I met up Shane on the morning prior to the inner-city rooftop premiere of his new part – one dedicated to his close friend and inspiration Lewis Marnell. It was also the global launch for his signature shoe. Our secret weapon has become a worldwide phenomenon. Shane we are all very thrilled for you and that includes Lewis who is over the moon.

Interview by Morgan Campbell
Photos and captions courtesy of Bryce Golder / Nike SB

We caught up almost exactly a month ago and you said you were here for ten more days. But, now it is a month on and you are still here?
I went back to LA. I was here filming for this video that premieres tonight, just filming and kind of enjoying Melbourne at the time… well trying to enjoy it (this was during the peak of the bushfires). I had to go back to LA and then came back here for this event.

Now I know you are going to beg to differ, but you are one of the most coordinated humans on the planet.
I don’t know about that (laughs).

Well let’s just say you are in the upper-echelon of coordinated people. It’s almost proven.
Maybe whilst skating… Maybe.

Were there any other activities that you felt drawn to that you felt that same connection with as skating?
Before skating I would play AFL (Aussie rules football) or cricket at school. I’d ride a BMX. I was a very outdoor sport-type person. Well kid I guess, I wasn’t quite a person. When skateboarding came along it kind of stopped all that. It was that same feeling of playing a sport but completely different because of the way skating is. How hard it is and the whole process around it. There’s no team; there’s no anything. It is just literally you and you are with friends, but on the skating-side it is only you. The cool thing about skating to me is the people you meet and the experience around the city and everything as a kid. Skateboarding is freedom and that’s what drew me in. I didn’t even consider playing anything or trying anything else ever again.

Legend has it that you got given a ledge with alongside your first board. It is not often someone is given the tool and the obstacle. Do you think you were intrigued to investigate the relationship between the two?
When I was given the board and the ledge I couldn’t skate the ledge. I’d ridden skateboards beforehand but never had my own board. When I got that board it’s when I started trying to ollie. I think it did help because I wanted to be able to skate that ledge. It was just sitting there.

You have previously spoken about not having the best home life, which I wont delve into, but I’m just wondering if from the get-go you saw skateboarding as way out of your home situation?
When I was young and with the situation I was in, I didn’t see skating as a way out, but I was so interested in skating it just was that. I was just so interested and invested in going skating with friends and coming into the city. Living in Melbourne is a big part of why everything worked out too. I didn’t have to stay around where I was to skate, I would go somewhere… everyone went somewhere: which was the city. So that added that element to it. I never saw it as an escape thing, it was just what I wanted to do and when I wasn’t doing that I was just dealing with whatever, but that was fine.

I remember shortly after we met we were on the Globe World Cup course at Rod Laver Arena. Thinking it was 2004 or 5.
It was the one with the red course.

It was like being inside a ketchup bottle.

The bump to rails there were pretty much eye-level for you.
For me… yeah

Did you realise the intensity of that moment. Being on court at Rod Laver (home of the Australian Open) alongside the world’s best skateboarders? Or were you more looking at all the obstacles?
At that point I was maybe thirteen or fourteen and I would watch skating but I was never a super-fan to the point where anything was weird for me. I just wanted to skate this crazy huge red course you know. I don’t even know how I got to do that? Because I wasn’t in contests, I don’t know how it happened?

I think because of the way you held yourself, you showed a lot of respect to everyone you met. You were so young and driven that people opened doors for you.
I had a lot of good friends and a lot of people that for some reason were interested in what I was doing. So that’s kind of how everything came about. I was just in that contest and then I was somehow on this other sponsor and things just happened.

They snowballed!

I distinctly remember in Perth, in the mid 2000s Paul Rodriguez took you to buy your first laptop.
We just went and bought a laptop together. That was a funny time; that’s when YouTube had just started. He was young still you know and we would just skate all day from the morning before anyone else wanted to go. At that time I was in a position where I could get my first laptop and he just happened to be the person I was with: which is pretty funny! It was probably the most expensive thing I had ever bought at that time.

Josh Pall Fakie 5.0.

A lot of Australians who are good at anything suffer from what we call tall poppy syndrome (and get cut down by others). Did you cop any of those vibes?
Well I did move away from Melbourne at kind of a young age, but I didn’t really experience too much of that. Maybe a few friends not liking what I was getting myself into at that point. But I don’t hold that against them and I also look back and I was like doing some things that you know… (pause) everything was just happening so fast. I have never experienced that; I have really great friends that don’t really care either way. They are still here doing their thing and I love them for that and I’m dong my thing and they think it is fine so… But I know what you are talking about. For me personally, I don’t think I am the type of person that has shown to care about that. I think that’s what affects you; if you are reacting to all that stuff it is just going to get worse. There are just so many people and opinions out there… It really just doesn’t matter.

One who has obviously helped you out a lot our mate Chris Middlebrook. Do you think you would have gotten to where you are without Middsy? And what do you suggest to kids who don’t have a Middsy?
I think I could have gotten to where I am without Middsy. But, I don’t think anything would be the same without him. I would never change (it). He has helped with everything, with filming, with everything. Such a good friend to experience it all with me. He is a very selfless person; he has definitely sacrificed a lot for certain things to happen. But, yeah like I was saying before good friends… that’s just what you need. Kids that don’t get that, they can find that, there are so many people out there. Obviously Middsy is the best case scenario because a) he is such a cool person, b) he was the best filmer, c) he worked with all the companies and had such a good understanding of how things worked… so that helped me learn. That was best-case scenario for sure. I love him for that and appreciate him. But I also have a lot of other good friends that helped with those things, but Middsy is the person who is so down to do anything or help with anything. He is one of a kind for sure. One of him is like five usual friends you know. He just texted me!

A couple of guys that aren’t scared of some hard work. Chris Middlebrook, Shane O’Neill and also Geoff Campbell.

Just last year you guys launched April: congratulations.
It’s a mellow start we have had; it’s been cool.

What drove you to launch April when you could have surely ridden for anyone you wanted?
I had already gone through the process of riding for people and being a part of things that way. I almost got there when it came to Primitive. When I was on Primitive, it was pretty much a similar thing, but it still wasn’t enough freedom to allow certain friends to get involved and certain things to happen that I need to be able to its not really personal thing its more for other friends and for things to happen that just couldn’t have happened at such a big company. So I had to start from the ground up and learnt a lot of lessons from Skate Mental and from Primitive in the early years, just about how things should be. That’s why that came about.

Your team has a really good balance of different styles. You have sponsored some of the world’s best like Yuto and included Australasian legends like Nathan Jackson and Jake Darwen… Was it difficult picking your team?
No it wasn’t difficult because I already knew the base of what we were going to do and whom it was with. So then it was just like… I want to put people on and give them the full potential that will actually help them in other areas of their skate career. It’s more about everyone liking who they are around and the people, whether they are the best skater in the world like Yuto or whoever else it doesn’t matter, it is about what their vibe is like and what they are bringing to the table. It’s not all about skating you know. There are a million good skaters.

Jack O’Grady back tailsliding.

There have never been more. There’s more since you answered the last question.
Someone just learned something crazy right now and it is being posted in the next 20 seconds and the caption is probably something like ‘first try’ or something stupid. (laughs)

Very early on you had the YouTube thing going on, and since then I have noticed you have used every platform effortlessly. What would you suggest to someone coming up now, what technology-wise should they get their head around?
It just depends what they are looking for. If you just want to mess around or if you are trying to look at it from a game perspective, like if you want to become a pro skater or something. You’ve just got to look at the right people. When Instagram started it was new for everybody so if I look back at my posts or some other people’s posts I’m like, ‘What the hell were we thinking?’, you know? It was just a learning process, but now we have already learnt that. So until the next thing comes along that none of us have any idea about, I don’t know, I think the kids should be able to adapt pretty easily. You could see this certain person posts this way and they are kind of like wild and crazy. This person posts this or… it’s up to them to interpret it… But until that next thing comes along I don’t really know. It’s a hard one. It just depends what’s next. Right now it is just stagnant. I don’t think there is anything really new in social media. There might be a new app and you can do it however you want to do it. I don’t know what is going to be next (whispering).

We spoke about P-Rod before; he is a lovely gracious guy who mentored you somewhat. Do you ever look back for inspiration as to how to look after your younger friends and team?
Paul didn’t necessarily mentor me, I’m just an observant person and he is such a great person that it just kind of worked out that way. I could have also been someone that doesn’t look at what my friends do and how they act and I could have gained nothing from that. But I am observant and he is such a great dude so it helped that way. With me personally now I take that into consideration, but I’m a little bit more hands on with making sure things happen for people. Because some people just don’t have that, they are not as observant and they don’t think about things much, but with just a little bit of help they could you know. Paul didn’t need to do that for me but that doesn’t mean he didn’t do as much for me as I am trying to do for these people. You know: different people adapt differently.

Since you bought a daughter into the world has it been hard to juggle everything? If so any tips for young parents out there.
Well it wasn’t hard because she is the first priority, the number one priority and by the time she was born, which was 2015, that was five years into me being pro. It was is perfect timing… Because 2010 was when I turned pro, 2011 is when I was getting my bearings, and kind of blowing it… 2012 and 13 is when I started to understand how things should be and by 2015 I had a really good relationship with all my sponsors and the things that were going on so… It’s always been really easy to schedule things out or plan things or make sure I am there, make sure that I am present and doing the right thing by her but also maintaining. It was like perfect timing. Beforehand I might not have had such a good grasp on everything. And Nike, which is big part of what I do, they’re all so cool with planning with me and not just telling me what to do.

You have somewhat led the charge during the vulc era, was there a period when you wore the giant shoes of the early 2000s?
The first Dunks. I went from Dunks to Blazers then Blazer lows, to Harbors, which were like a thicker Janoski. And then Janoskis for the last ten years and now this: (pointing down at his shoe). If you look at the shoes it has always been a pretty consistent vulcanised way. But that’s gone in waves right? Vulcanised shoes were originally skate shoes right?

Totally, in the ‘70s. But then in the mid to late ‘80s everyone was skating in basketball shoes and then the skate shoes mimicked that for a while.
In my early years I won a few pairs of thicker shoes, and I skated them and didn’t really care about it. But for the most part when I can remember actually wanting to skate something and knowing that it feels different it was pretty much all vulcanised shoes apart from Dunks that is.

Nick Boserio and Cleo skate lessons.

For your shoe did you draw from any other eras, did you chunk it up a bit?
All the things that I identified that I liked in all the other shoes that I have just mentioned and things I have liked visually from other shoes, not skate shoes, but some other design elements that I needed from outside skateboarding. Having a tongue-strap or having the heal this high opposed to having it a little lower. Just certain things like that. And the lace system so that you.. David at Nike was showing me some other ways we could do laces and it also helped design the way the shoe looked from the side. So then it also ended up being cool ‘cause you never break laces unless you lace them normal and you have that option as well. It was the perfect little situations that made it a little different you know. But the skate side of the shoe was brought from all those different shoes; it wasn’t a specific shoe.

Was it fun working on it?
It was super cool because I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. It was just more doing something that looks nice, that’s good (quality) and not too expensive. It’s just personally what I am into as a skater. It’s the same reason I have ridden 50mm wheels for the last fifteen years. Maybe 53s will work better but I just don’t want to try ’em (laughs).

Don’t change it now! Which sport would get you stoked if they started using your shoe as a staple in their choice of footwear?
I feel with some crazy material and a different sole: basketball. With some really stretchy rubber maybe? I don’t know the basketball shoes are insane now but that would be cool for me I think. Just the way it is kind of one piece, for a basketball shoe might be cool, depending on the material obviously. It would be way different but I think I’d like to see that. For me, that would be the coolest.

That would be full circle.
You never know. (pause) I mean right now you could put some spikes on it and it is a golf shoe probably… (laughs).

Shane O’Neill, Melbourne, February 2020.