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The Original *Useless Wooden Toys

 

Andy_Howell-Switch Nosegrind-Revert-Thrasher Jan-1993-new-deal-skateboards.jpg
 

Muck Mouth x New Deal Interview: Andy Howell

Where are you living today, and what is your current job?
Calabasas CA, I make tech companies and art mostly...

When was your favourite era in skateboarding?
Late '80s early '90s is when I was most inspired and motivated to progress in skating. It was a time when most of the foundation for today’s skateboarding was unwritten, so I’m happy to have contributed to that.

Who was your first sponsor, and how did you get hooked up?
17th Street Surf Shop in Virginia Beach sponsored me initially, the guys reached out to me and I started their skate team, and then helped pick the skaters for the team who were mainly my friends and kids I saw coming up. The cool thing about it was that 17th gave me what they called “Unlimited Credit” which meant I could have anything i wanted at any time in the shop with no limits. Frankly it was too much, I got a lot of Gonz decks, surf stuff, Stussy gear, it was insane. Having a new skateboard whenever I needed it at 15 years old helped me progress quickly at that age. At the time I was still skating vert a lot but also street was taking over my life already. 17th and the Jones family helped push street skating forward in the area.

My first board sponsor was Santa Cruz, I was skating Trashmore every day at the time and I had entered some contests and done pretty well. I wrote a letter on lined school paper with my results and few snapshots by one of my friends, and sent it to the address for Santa Cruz in Thrasher. I had told my friends I did it and got joked heavily... We didn’t skate to get sponsored back then, in fact, until Trashmore sponsorship was not even considered. we used to joke each other if someone would even bring it up. Anyway, one day after sending that letter I got a call and my mom told me someone was on the phone called Rob Rawstop or something. I said “Rob Roskopp?” And she nodded yes. I picked up the phone in disbelief and he started talking...

“Andy? This is Rob Roskopp from Santa Cruz”

I thought, ‘yeah right, this is one of my friends playing a joke on me’
I said something like “yeah right! No it’s not! Is this Bushka? Charles?”

“No it’s Rob Roskopp. I got your letter, and we want to sponsor you. What kind of board do you want to ride?”

Still in disbelief, I replied sarcastically, “yours of course, dude!”. After a quick exchange we hung up. A few days later I got a sick package and it was on from there.

Who is your favourite skater of all time?
Gonz for street, Chris Miller for vert.

Are you still skating?
Yes, rolling around, though surfing a lot more nowadays. I will always skate if my body lets me. I surfed before I skated, and initially tried to emulate surfing on a skateboard on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach as a kid, so it feels natural to have gone back to surfing when I moved to California at the end of ‘93. I lived in the Bay Area for a few years and didn’t surf, but I got our place in Malibu in 2011 for the waves.

Do you still follow skateboarding - even if it is just browsing YouTube/Instagram?
Definitely. I don’t always know who I’m following or watching a lot of the time, but I see skateboarding every day. There was a time in the 2000’s where I wasn’t following it as much, but recently I’ve been paying more attention. I’ve always done collabs and art projects with brands in skating though, so I’m always connected to it.

SPECIFICALLY REGARDING YOUR TIME ON  NEW DEAL...

How did you get on New Deal? How long were you on, and were you pro or amateur?
I started the company with Paul and Steve In 1990, and was on for 2 years until I started Element in 1992, also with Paul and Steve, which was initially called Underworld Element. I rode for Element for close to 4 years I think.

Which of the videos you were in?
ND Promo, *Useless Wooden Toys, 1281, UE Promo, Skypager, Fine Artists Vol 1

What was your favourite video part of yours, and what was your favourite part of someone else?
I was stoked on my UWT and 1281 parts because I saw a lot of progression in them. Noseblunt variations, impossibles, mini ramp stuff, nollie variations. One of my parts I tried to do completely switchstance and nollie/nose, which hadn’t been done and was a personal challenge. I think that was Skypager.

Favorite video parts for others is hard to say because I liked so many and so many friends had rad parts, but the first that comes to mind are tied between Gonz's Blind Video Days part, Natas's Streets On Fire (as well as Natas's Speed Freaks, because I was on tour with him up and down the east coast during that time and I have a little cameo in the part), and then Tommy’s first Powell part. These were all monumental, and experiences I had with each of these three guys were crucial to me early on.

Best thing about riding for New Deal?
CREATIVE FREEDOM

Worst thing about riding for New Deal?
CREATIVE FREEDOM

Who was your favourite skater on the team and why?
Ed, because he was so creative on the board, so driven to improve, so kind to everyone, and when we started New Deal he brought all his creativity together into a look and feel that was uniquely him. At the time I didn’t realize how much of a modern day folk artist he was, but watching him evolve over the last 30 years as an artist has been inspiring. I still have his first painting.

Tell us something about New Deal that most people do not know?
Well it’s more of an experience, but on January 17th, 1994, at around 4:30am, Jose Gomez and I were pulling an all nighter graphics session at 1281 Logan. We were up on the 2nd floor working on the one graphics computer in the office. I was laying on my back on the floor partially sleeping and Jose was sitting in the chair by my feet on the computer working on something. At the time Jose and I would tag team art projects and also each draw graphics ourselves. Gorm was probably back in Sweden at the time. I was doing the ad copy and concepts and doing a lot of the ad layouts as well. I’m not sure what we were working on at the time.
About that time my body started convulsing like I was doing astral projection and about to detach from my physical body or something, sort of gyrating in waves from head to toe. I was realizing in my dream something was wrong, and as the waves got stronger I sort of did an upside down worm and was thrown up to sitting up, waking up at the same time. Everything was shaking, and Jose looked over his right shoulder with his eyes wide as hell!

Almost simultaneously we said, “Earthquake!!”

We were both east coasters and had never been in an earthquake before, so we had no idea what to do. This was the big one, Northridge, and even though we had both heard some training at some point in our lives about standing in a doorway or something, we jumped down the two half flights of stairs to get to the ground floor, and ran straight out the front door.

Josh Friedberg (pretty sure it was Josh) was downstairs doing 411 shit, and he came out, freaked out as hell too.

The strongest vision I have is looking down Logan Avenue and seeing the street just rolling toward us like a set of waves. Everything was shaking and rattling and the trees and cement were moving radically like the ocean. It was surreal, as time stood still and seemed to go on forever at the same time. I think we were all in shock, and couldn’t really register what was happening fully. It was insane… and we weren’t even at the epicenter of the quake!

After a minute or so things seemed to go back to normal, and I think we even went back in and finished working for the night.

What do you think about New Deal coming back?
It’s great. There has been so much pent up demand for New Deal. For over a decade we’ve been getting messages on Facebook and later Instagram, asking about bringing back New Deal. I get messages about the dark Siamese brother of Element, Underworld, and also Sophisto, all the time. It seems like the early and mid nineties are particularly interesting to kids nowadays, like the late 60’s and 70’s were interesting to me as a kid. There’s something about those who pioneered new creative outlets, like art and music, and it's especially cool to look back and see the same spirit in those that came before us.

It’s always been in the back of my mind, but I’ve had a lot of different projects going on over the years, which have kept my time occupied. I also got married in 2005 and have kids, and all skater parents out there know how that can impact time to daydream about relaunching brands. Steve called me up one day in 2018 and reminded me that the 30 year anniversary of when we started New Deal was coming up in 2020.

At first I wasn’t super excited about the idea, because I’ve seen a lot of reissues and found most of them boring and lacking passion and creativity. I told Steve and Paul if you want to do something together again, we’ve got to make it creative and bring something interesting to collectors and the younger generation coming up as well. My thought was that it needed to be a full relaunch as well as a true-to-the-original reissue.

I felt we had to not only create beautiful reproductions of the work we initially did in 1990-1992, but also reimagine New Deal for today’s mindset, skaters, media outlets, etc. Also, Paul Steve and I have spent the last 20 years in completely different areas of business and culture. I’ve been mostly focused on art, branding, fashion, and technology, and so being able to bring decades of relationships and new thinking to the project allows me to see the industry with a fresh set of eyes. The results of what we all bring together today should be even better than before.

So advanced on the switchstance stuff. Were you ambidextrous in other areas of life?
I could play Lacrosse and hit a baseball equally from right and left side as a kid, and I think that made me think pretty early on that I could skate either way. I felt really comfortable riding backwards or forwards on a skateboard when I was 9 or 10 rolling around the driveways and street in my neighbourhood. I remember learning fakie ollies off of cracks in the sidewalk at a young age, although I still felt at that time as if I was rolling backwards, not skating switch and bumping off my front wheels. I would fakie ollie off the crack and still land on my back wheels which was sketchy because if I was rolling pretty fast and my board would squirrel out. I would try to land on my front wheels so that I could stabilize it. We’re talking like 1-2” off the ground and popping off the wheels, on a G&S Warptail 27” board, before the wide boards started hitting.

I had that vert mindset in my early teens, going fakie, not riding switch. Up until I hurt my knee at Lynnhaven and had to take a hiatus from vert around 14 or 15, street was just about styling out and cruising the boardwalk at the beach when the waves were flat. I had seen GSD doing boneless and other more vert and bank tricks on street, and would play around with it.

It wasn’t until I was down in Atlanta for art school that I started thinking about skating 'backwards', as I thought of it. I was 18 and this was around the fall of 1986 or 87. I had gotten a Rodney Mullen freestyle board back in high school and was doing some of the more basic fingerflips and rail stands, shove-its off the nose, etc., and I loved the way the smaller board with a nose and tail felt. I didn’t make the connection to get more nose until I started trying to come down fakie on flat ground wall rides, and then on jump ramps by popping off the nose while up on the wall, in order to get over the 2x4 lip of the jump ramp and back onto the transition without hanging up.

This was in 1986 and 87, while I was living in Atlanta. I was fully street then and rarely skated pools and vert, but I still had the sensibilities of skating vertical walls and tight transitions and was starting to develop my own variations of tricks to manipulate banks and walls around the city.

I started doing some of those as an amateur when I snuck out onto the practice session at the first Savannah Slamma, in I think '87. Neil Blender and Gonz were skating with me, and I had already skated with both of those guys before in Cali. I did a couple of those straight up wall rides to fakie popping off the wall on my nose, which in retrospect was a nollie, and I would land back into the jump ramp and roll out backwards. I was also doing backside grabs behind my foot and pulling off to fakie on the ramp, and frontside airs jumping back into the ramp. No one else was doing that, all I saw were these big arching wall rides pulling off and landing on the flat, which was known already at the time. Neil or Gonz called Tony over and said check out this thing Andy’s doing on the wall. Tony came and we sessioned the wall for a while and he started doing front side airs back in. Gonz started doing frontside airs too. No one else did the nollie if I remember correctly.

During that practice Stacy came up and asked me if I was going to skate the contest, and I told him I didn’t think so. I didn’t have a board sponsor at the time, and my deck was busted. I was hoping somehow he was going to put me on Powell, as I had reached out to him, and also Natas about getting on SMA just before the contest. I didn’t skate the contest and didn’t get on Powell or SMA (although I got pretty close with Natas and still have the artwork I made for the model that didn’t happen. And thank goodness it didn’t!) The next contest was Velodrome in Carson, and that’s where I turned pro, slid the wall, and Paul asked me to skate for him.

On Schmitt and New Deal I continued to evolve those tricks and by the end of ‘89 I was doing a lot of them pretty well. I was skating at home in Atlanta with my crew there, and many of them were also doing similar if not better tricks a lot of the time. I was able to progress kind of undetected, because I was the only one at the time leaving Atlanta to go skate pro contests. I would bring the tricks I was doing with my friends and be able to do something new and innovative at every contest and demo I went to.

The videos for New Deal show the progression as mentioned.

Who was your main inspiration with the switch tricks ?
Rodney was the only one I had ever seen doing things that could be considered switch when I started messing with it. Later on I liked to see what Natas, Gonz, and then Salman, and then later Cairo Foster we’re doing because I liked their styles. I got a lot of inspiration from Gonz throughout skating from the first time I skated with him for a week at Marty Jimenez’ house in HB, to the time I saw him imagining the nose blunt for the first time in Hawaii. I don’t know if he made it on that trip, but I went home and did it a million times until I did. Then I put it through the Howell filter and did a lot of variations of it. At some point I did an entire video part switch and nollie, as I mentioned before, and a lot of people thought I fell off until they realized I was first regular footed. Good times...