Mark Oblow is one of the Punks and Poets at Stance. We sat down and asked a few questions about his long career in skateboarding and the late Dylan Rieder.
──MARK OBLOW (ENGLISH)
[ JAPANESE / ENGLISH ]
Interview by VHSMAG, Photos by Junpei Ishikawa, Special thanks: Stance Japan
VHSMAG (V)： You're from Hawaii. How did you get into skating?
Mark Oblow (O)： I got into skateboarding, growing up in Hawaii because I was a surfer. I started surfing first. Then basically in the early 80s, we would skate our driveways, and pump down our driveways like we were riding waves. When the plants and the trees were overgrown, we'd duck into the plants like we were getting barreled. We mimicked surfing.
V： So surfing came first and then skating took over?
O： So I was surfing and I got to the point where I was about to get sponsored, and I started skating more and I just wanted to skate. And then I started skateboarding, and I knew a Hawaiian pro named Johnny Cop, and he used to give me boards, and he used to hook me up with his product. Then he introduced me to Christian Hosoi, then my whole life changed. Because when me and Christian Hosoi became friends, then suddenly Natas Kaupas is staying at my house, Mark Gonzales is staying at my house, Steve Caballero, Rob Roskopp… All my heroes were my friends.
V： You were sponsored back then, right?
O： I was sponsored by Vision, I got sponsored by JIMMY’Z, I was on OJs and Independent Trucks. But I was with my heroes, so I started to shoot photos of them, because I knew that it was special. I started shooting and then all of a sudden, I shot a photo of Rob Roskopp, and it became a Santa Cruz ad and it was in Thrasher Magazine.
V： That was when you were in the ninth grade, right?
O： Yeah, and then it was like, photography was in my life, you know?
V： Is it true that you rejected the offer of going pro?
O： In skating, yes. It was a time when, at Vision they lost all their guys, so all the team had quit. Basically, there were a couple of us left. I was at the point too where, I really started to see that being a professional skateboarder had other obligations. My friends that were pro, Bo Ikeda, who was a skater and he grew up skating. As soon as he started to have to film a video part, have to go to a demo, have to do this, have to film an ad... it changed the sport for him and he got so upset.
V： Skating became a job.
O： So I saw that happen, because we skate not for competition, we skate not for money, we skate because we want to skate. So, when I saw that become his job, it ruined it for him. I was like, I don't want to do this, I don't want to be pro. And I said, all I want is to be a team manager's assistant. Then I can go to all the places that everyone goes, I can skate everything they skate, but no pressure. And then that's what I did, I started being a team manager's assistant for Vision.
V： That’s when you started working in the industry.
O： Yes. I left Vision, and then I went to Acme, and started Acme with Jim Gray. Because at the time Jim was at Vision. And then after Acme I went to Think, and I did Race Wheels. And after that I went and did Color Skateboards.
V： You’ve been involved with so many brands in your career, What were your roles?
O： So for Acme and Think, I was the team manager. Race was my first company. And then we started Color Skateboards and I started to do more art and photography in the brand. Then after Color, we left and we started Prime. And in Prime, everything changed, that was all my creative direction. I was working with Kris Markovich, he was the pro and I was dealing with the art. I started dealing with artists like Sean Cliver, and John Thomas and all those guys. At the same time, I was doing the ads, I was coming up with logos and clothing, and then it really all started at that, with Steve Rocco.
V： I wanted to ask about Vita too. Vita had the best team.
O： Yeah, we had the best small team. We had different stuff. Natas' shoe, he designed completely himself. There were so many good things that were happening. But unfortunately, we were small and we didn't have the backing. We had some ownership changing, and me and Natas were owners but the majority of the money was owned by this rich man. He owned a iced tea drink company. He sold the company and made millions of dollars, and he needed a loss for his taxes, so he came in on Friday and said, closing down, no more, finished. We people, our distributors wanting to buy it, and he said no, because if you buy it I don't get the tax write-off. And boom he killed it, Vita died. And Vita means life and the life was gone, because of money.
V： That's fucked up.
O： Yeah, it was completely fucked up. But luckily because of Jason Dill and all those guys, Reese Forbes... And that's what I always told them, if you put 100 percent into it, and you're nice and you're humble and you rip, and you do all these things, it doesn't matter, you're going to get another sponsor no matter what. Everyone will want to sponsor you, and sure enough, every one of my team riders got on successful shoe companies and had successful careers.
V： And then you went to Quiksilver.
O： So, I'm doing Vita and I'm struggling, all these other companies have skate teams, but Quiksilver didn’t have one. So I go to my friend Danny Kwock at Quiksilver, I'll come, I'll build you a skate program, you help me by sending me and my riders around. You're going to sponsor Vita's skate team, basically. Then he says, “If you can get Tony Hawk you can do it.” Well back from the day in Hawaii, I had relationship with Tony Hawk, when they filmed the Bones Brigade video. I'm the one that took him to Wallows.
V： Oh really?
O： If you look in the credits, it says thank you to me and my brother. From back then I've been connected. So I call up Tony and I go, “Hey, you're agent is saying this much but we can only do...” And Tony goes, “No problem.” At that time is was Jason Dill, Heath Kirchart, Tim O'Connor and Reese Forbes.
O： Being at Quiksilver, I was only supposed to do that. But I had merged it into photography, I went into design work. Because I had the experience, I was making bags, I was making shoes, I had made all these other things, so I stepped outside of my boundaries, and made more relationships and took in more. But I also learned a lot of things not to do by the way a big brand worked, and how much they had to waste money and throw money. Then basically what happened was, none of my riders were getting respect. For me, it was like, “Fuck you guys, you don't understand, you don't respect skating.” These guys are here because of me, I gotta get out of here. I gotta take them somewhere else. At the time, I knew someone at Burton, and they approached me and my contracts had ended with Quiksilver. All the Quiksilver riders didn't even have contracts, which was the same thing. How is a company not going to have Arto Saari under contract? Because they didn't know. Dylan Rieder, no contract. Stefan Janoski, no contract.
V： That’s insane.
O： You know, no one cared. When I quit and I took the team and went to go to Burton, because Burton said they wanted skating's influence. They had Gravis, which is a shoe company that they couldn't get any ground to because there was no way to legitimize it, except if it becomes skateboarding. If I have one hundred percent control, and I can do whatever I want, then it's on. And we were at Gravis and Analog and we built that whole brand. Everything was going well, and suddenly, they switched presidents, and the president says, “Fuck skateboarding, fuck surfing,” and ended everything.
V： Skateboarding changed a lot since you started back in the ‘80s. What do you think of the situation we are in today?
O： I think for our generation it wasn't about money at all. There was no money. It was all purity, so we were all the same. Now you have a mix of people in it for the money, and a small pure breed of it that are artists and skaters. Still our generation never leave the sport, we can't because it's our life. It's a 100 percent a different thing. I'm thankful, and I'm grateful that there is money in the sport now. Why do pros in other sports get millions of dollars and my friends that are the surfers and skaters, dying in the ocean and dying skateboarding or breaking their ankles, or their knees and needing surgery and all these things? For no money? Now they at least get some fucking money.
O： Now they at least get some things, and now there's sponsorships that fly us around and take care of us. There's a yin and yang to it all, but it's also how you as a person and as a skater look at things. That's why even with Dylan Rieder and how he was, him being with me and being that way, he wasn't on all these big brands. He didn't have an energy drink sponsor, he was pure to the core. After Gravis he went to HUF because it was real. He had adidas and Nike, everyone coming after him, but he goes, “No I want to ride for HUF because HUF's a skateboarder.” He didn't sign with a clothing brand. He was making hundreds of thousands of dollars, but he goes, no I don't want to ride for a clothing brand because I don't want anyone to tell me what to fucking wear. That's a guy that could have had more money than anybody from his endorsements, but fuck no, he stayed pure.
V： Is it true that he rejected tons of money for doing modeling after DKNY gig?
O： Yeah, he never did modeling anymore. He did the things with modeling just to get in Vogue Magazine. Once he got in Vogue, he was done. It was a goal. It was probably more for me, than him. He saw how much I aspired, and how much I wanted to be in fashion, and then next thing you know he's there, and he's in it, and he's living it. We were on such a level of that, that we went together. My goal was always to get into i-D Magazine. I loved i-D for years and years as a fan. Next thing you know, I shoot Dylan and they want him. Then boom, I'm in i-D. So, we both pushed each other. That's where even the switch of where I am as an artist. He was the one saying, Mark, you gotta do more art. He was the one riding my griptape every time. He was the one that, I'd see him on a cover doing a trick with my griptape. I'd be like, I'm with him always. I'm always here, no matter what. If you get hurt I'm with you.
V： Yeah, you guys were super tight.
O： You have Dylan growing up, and you have Sheckler. They were both friends, they were both around the same age. Look at the difference now. They were good friends. I remember being at Tampa, when I first brought Dylan to Tampa after he won the Damn Am. Him and Ryan were the ones running around as little kids. Him and Ryan used to live in the same neighborhood, they got along. Then suddenly Ryan got on World Industries and he’s blowing up. Then we flew Dylan to Miami, we're in Miami and boom, Ryan got an ego and didn't even remember who Dylan was. He snubbed him. And that bummed Dylan out. It all got worked out later, they became friends though.
V： Okay, that’s good.
O： Once again, you look at a guy that's driven for different things. Ryan was into contest. He was into doing it. That was his thing, and he did it, he's successful. That's what's rad about skateboarding too, before everyone used to judge Ryan. Negative, negative, negative. But suddenly, he flipped his stuff around, got on Plan B. And now, respect, respect, respect.
V： Being the mentor of Dylan and him passing away, that must have been super tough.
O： Oh it's been a crazy thing. I'm in a very good spiritual spot now. I've lost a lot of people in my life, my fiancé killed herself. I was suicidal when I was younger, I had thoughts of suicide, I had a dark cloud over me, I had all this negative energy in me. So when my fiancé killed herself I saw what it did to her family, and that saved me. Because I knew, no matter what, I couldn't hurt my family or my friends that way. I just had to suck it up. I went to years of therapy and got through these things and worked through. Unfortunately, then I lost Mike Ternasky, he was a mentor to me. He was the one that got me in to do Prime. He originally wanted me to be the team manager at Plan B.
V： Oh, I didn’t know that.
O： When Dylan got sick, I never ever thought he was going to die. Right when I found out about Dylan, I said to myself, he's gonna save people, something good is gonna happen. I already knew to look for the positive in the negative. Every negative has a positive. You just have to look for it. But sometimes you let your emotions take all this control of you, and you don't see it. So I kept my momentum and my energy in a positive way. I was with Dylan in the hospital almost every day. I was there and played a role of being positive because I knew he needed it. And I needed it. We went through that, he got out of remission. Then the second time he did it again. He did things that never happened before in procedures of cancer and leukemia. He was the first. He was cancer free, in remission before he passed. What had happened was, because of all the radiation and all the stuff, and all the chemicals, his body was weak. So basically, he got a lung infection, and that's how he passed. But he was surrounded by love. The room was filled with all these people, and he was aware. They said he was gonna pass at one day but waited two days until all his friends came from New York and everyone was around, and everyone was there. That's when he left this world.
V： That was one of the worst news for skaters.
O： But even today he's influencing all these people. I met a kid through Instagram who hit me up. From Hawaii, who wasn't even a skater. He was sick, he had cancer. One of his friends that was a skater bought him the Dylan Reider issue that I did as a tribute to Dylan. So, he looks through that. The kid, his name is Ross, gets a connection to me, seeing all the support and the love that he's got. At the time he said he wasn't taking the medication, he wasn't doing the chemo, he was in denial. The kid basically sends a DM to me and said, “Hey I want to let you know that I've been influenced by you, and you've inspired me, and I'm gonna go through this, I'm gonna fight this battle. I'm like, “Well I'm going to Hawaii for an event, I want to meet you.” And he told me the best news, that he was in remission. That he got healed. Fucking Dylan saved a life.
V： That’s amazing.
O： I've been stopped three times in Japan already walking around Tokyo. Shibuya people stopped me. “Excuse me Mark, sorry to bother you, I'm a fan of your’s, I'm a fan of Dylan's.” Two different guys had Dylan tattoos. Yeah. I was telling my one friend from California. It was in the morning calling and telling him, “Dude, it's the craziest thing, I feel Dylan, I know he's here.” Dylan loved Japan, he's with me. I'm crying, telling my friend he wants us to be happy, he wants us to do good, he wants us to succeed. That's the thing, he left this earth and he went to the next, but he's inspiring still to this day. He's letting people realize, don't get judged, don't worry about what people think, do your thing, create your style, and be humble. It's all gonna be good, it's all gonna work out.
V： Skaters across the world miss him. Let’s talk about Stance. They brought you here, right?
O： Yeah. I was one of the original guys on Stance, because one of the founder, Ryan Kingman and I grew up in Hawaii together. When I moved to California, Ryan moved and stayed with me and my family. I helped Ryan, I got him a job at Acme. We'd been friends forever. When he started the brand, he came to me and goes, “Hey I'm starting this brand with these guys and we want you to be a part of it. It's a thing called Punks and Poets. It's perfect for you because you're a punk, and you're also a poet. So, I joined from the very beginning and it's been an unbelievable. I've been to China, I've been to Japan. I've traveled all over. I've had ten to twenty different socks, probably more like twenty. And it just continues to keep going. It’s a cool thing to be involved with.
V： Do you have kind of theme when you work with the socks?
O： No, generally what happens in the case for a lot of what's come out, is that I do journals. So, when I do my journal work, the creative directors or people will come and see my journals and go, can we do this? So that's how it is. I haven't done ones that I specifically doing a hundred percent of the way it is. Except for some of the Hawaii socks. Because there's specific socks that are only sold in Hawaii, and because I'm from Hawaii I know all the little weird trinkets so I’ll do those.
V： What keeps you going? Where do you find these find motivation and inspiration?
O： Honestly Dylan. Dylan is what pushes me. That's the thing, crazy as it sounds. I would've told you before the hardest death to deal with in my life would've been Dylan, but it was the easiest for me. He motivates me every day. He pushes me and drives me every day to succeed, and make everything as best as I can. He's the one who pushed me to stick to my art, which is amazing the way it is now for me. I always was working for the brands, now I'm an artist and they're all supporting me. It's a total different world. I have my own skateboard company with Yong-Ki Chang, Together Together. If it wasn't for Dylan and that focus, I would've been somewhere else.
V： Do you want to talk about Together Together?
O： Yong-Ki and I met in Hawaii years ago in skateboarding. I met him in a drainage ditch. At the time I was sponsored by all the brands, JIMMY’Z, Indy, and I went up and introduced myself to all the kids. That's how I am. Anyways he remembered this, and later we connected even stronger. Ever since, we've been together. At the time, he was working just with me. Before he had his brand called Solitary Arts, with Geoff McFetridge. I'm all, “You need to do another skate company, let's do a brand.” The whole thing with Together Together is, by yourself, if you have no money or you have no food, you're hungry or poor. But if you're with a friend and they have some food, then you have something, you have money, you have clothes. That's why Together Together we can do anything. Together Together it's unstoppable, Together Together anything you can achieve in life. But at the same point, we've only been making boards for our riders, and selling the boards for charity. We haven't even made any money ourselves, we haven't even made money to put back into our production. We've just been donating our money out to charities, to raising awareness for either cancer, or to a friend who passed away in a drunk driving crash, or the tsunamis, anything.
Oblow visited Japan for Greenroom Festival 2018 in May. He had worked on some artwork at Stance booth.
V： Any projects coming out in the near future?
O： I'm on the road to influence, and to inspire, and to let people know I'm about love. We all need to love more, we all need to help each other, and we all need to care about each other. We all need to have no fucking egos. That's my message, that's why I'm here to do. I'm representing me, and I'm representing Dylan, and I'm representing Hawaii, and I'm representing skateboarding.
Born 1971 in Hawaii. Oblow started his career as sponsored skater, later turned to photographer. He has been involved with numerous brands as team manager and founder, and currently works as an artist, traveling all over the world.