If the Shoe Fits: In Conversation with Gilbert Crockett
We caught up with pro skateboarder Gilbert Crockett in London to discuss his influences, designing a new shoe for Vans, and why the world is so fascinated by his trousers.
Image by Vans
Remember the days when watching a skateboarding video was a special experience? You'd read the hype in Sidewalk, head to your local skate shop on release day, spend a crazy amount of money (Girl's Yeah Right was £25 on VHS – mental) then watch it on repeat until you knew every trick back-to-front. You'd savour every moment, knowing that buying another video required at least three more shifts trawling cold Cornish council estates as a paperboy.
These days, watching skate videos has never been easier: all it takes is a quick Google search to stream a new or classic part. No money needs to be spent, and you don't even have to leave the house. But, as a by-product of this, the young skateboarders of today have become high and mighty – and pretty damn cocky. There's no better example of this than the comments section on Gilbert Crockett's Salt Life part on YouTube. It shows off Crockett's speed, trick range and ludicrous pop, with one of the highlights being a flat ground kick-flip over a roadblock around four feet high. But are the comments about any of this? Of course they're not. They're about his trousers.
Apologies for starting off with a rant that harks back to the good old days of, like, 10 years ago, but it's important to stress just how much more Gilbert Crockett is than a baggy pair of chinos.
The bio in Salt Life describes his skating as having the 'raw power of a brick to the face', which nicely sums up how fast Crockett skates without ever showing an ounce fear, and how he can bomb a huge hill as easy as he can flip 50-50 a hubba.
Having started skating aged 11, Crockett's local skate shop, Venue, soon snapped him up and sent his sponsor tape to as many companies as possible, attracting attention from Fallen, among others. He went on to become pro for the much-missed Alien Workshop, and has recently released his second pro shoe for Vans. VICE Sports caught up with him at the launch of said shoe, at London's House of Vans, on a rainy winter's morning.
VICE Sports: I saw a video of you from a while back tinkering with your shoes and customising them to make them better to skate with; it must be weird now having pro shoes?
Gilbert: Yeah! I mean, I'm so grateful for it. I'm a shoe nerd in general. They let me design it the way I wanted to make it, pretty much all the way to the end; they're really good at executing an idea. I usually start by drawing a side profile view of the shoe. I'll just send them a line drawing of what I imagine it looking like from the side, and then they kind of just know how to make the rest of it by putting it together in a computer and making a sample. They did a pretty damn good try with the first sample; it looked just like what I wanted.
Do you still feel the need to customise them now?
No, not really, they did such a good job. They got it exactly where I wanted it to be. I mean, I'll always have ideas for shoes in general that I think would be cool in skating. I'd love to make more.
It must be refreshing for the shoe company to see a pro showing such an interest.There can't be many people that have such a shoe passion before turning professional.
Yeah, maybe not. I know a few skaters are really into the design process though. With skateboarding, it makes such a difference which shoes you're wearing, you try so many different brands when you're learning to skate.
Were there any other sports you were interested in when you were younger, or just skating?
It's hard to say if I was actually interested in them, really, but I liked basketball and baseball. But once I started skating I pretty much quit everything else.
What was it like when you finally went pro?
A dream come true, pretty much. It wasn't something that I'd ever thought about happening, really. I just wanted to skate, and becoming pro was the best outcome.
You've mentioned watching Alien Workshop's Photosynthesis as a kid; was it mad turning pro on Alien Workshop and skating with those guys?
Totally. Another dream come true, really. Skating with Jason Dill and the rest of the team was mind blowing. Those guys were heroes to me.
I was talking to Wes Kramer a few weeks back about how social media is affecting skateboarding, with skateboarders selling out and with shameless self-promotion on Instagram. Have you noticed that at all?
Absolutely. I remember not very long ago I was looking at people posting about themselves, and I had a completely different view of it to what I do now. It used to be weird to promote yourself at all. I felt like, "Okay, I'm not gonna do that". But then I realised that [things] had changed, and I had to think differently about it because it's my job to promote myself, in a way. I think there's a fine line in overdoing it, too. I hate posting all the time; I think it's weird. Personally, I don't like people knowing what I'm doing all the time, but you know, I've learned to like promoting my shoe, because I love shoes and I'm proud of it. I want people to see what we've made and get excited about it.
I guess it's all about finding the balance between telling people about something you're proud of and ramming a product down their throat.
Exactly, I don't want to be like some fucking vlogger or something.
So, going back to videos you used to watch, what were the ones that got you hyped to skate back in the day, and what's doing it for you now?
Nowadays I really like Strobeck's edits, and Johnny Wilson's stuff. I love New York skating and those guys skate really sick. But things I grew up watching.... Anthony Pappalardo's part from Mosaic is an all-time great, and I was a huge Marc Johnson fan as a kid, so I'd always watch Yeah Right and the Hot Chocolate tour, all sorts of shit. I think that all definitely shaped my skating.
We're a similar age, so I imagine you were around at the same time when Yeah Right and Flip's Sorry came out. Do you remember that being a big moment for you?
Yeah, definitely, I remember Arto Saari's part being the shit. I used to love that part. It's crazy how heavy those videos were. Even Menikmati, looking back on it now, it was such a huge moment.
So can you talk me through how Alien Workshop ended, and how you went to Mother, and then the name change to Quasi. What happened there?
Mother was having trouble with a brand called Mother Denim. The skateboards were fine, because there's no skateboard brand called Mother, but it gets hard when you're making clothing under the same name. Instead of fighting the legal battle and pouring money into that, the owner had already thought of the [Quasi] name before. So he thought, fuck it, I'll just change the name. I think it actually helped the brand. People love to talk about gossip with brands, and an early name change made people like, 'Oh my god what's happened'. It spread the word.
You should change the name again then, maybe every time there's a new release.
[Laughs] We actually talked about that!
So who are you favourite people to skate with now? You're good pals with Daniel Lutheran, right?
Yeah, Dan Lu is one of my favourites. He and I are pretty close, I just wish I could spend more time with him, but we live quite far apart. I skate with a bunch of friends from back home: John Row and Ty Bell, who ride for the skateshop I ride for. We actually just made a film for the shop; it's called Gospel and it'll be out soon.
How does your life change when you do turn pro, are there a lot of new responsibilities?
In terms of responsibilities, the changes are kind of minor. I don't have much more to do now than when I was about 17. I really don't have anything to complain about, there are no downsides to it. I get to travel to some cool places. On that note, New Zealand is definitely the best place I've been – the skating is super cool and I love the way that place looks.
Nice. Right, to finish, I have to ask why all the comments on your YouTube parts are about your trousers...
[Laughs] I don't know! I've always been super into clothing so I like to switch it up and wear different pants. And yeah, people ALWAYS talk about my pants.
Well, I was watching it last night with my girlfriend and she told me to tell you that your trousers look sick.