Kevin Wilkins is kind of like the Forest Gump of skateboarding. He’s managed to be involved in so many awesome parts of skateboard history and he’s been around for so many of its most iconic moments. His phone is packed to the gills with the numbers of your favorite pros as he’s probably interviewed every one of them. I’m not trying to set Kevin up as some sort of skateboarding socialite, because he actually does stuff too. Kevin has been one of the top wordsmiths in our community for the last 20 years, he has a keen eye for amazing skateboarding and now he’s taken quite a fancy to ink and paper, but with pictures instead of words. Kevin has been scribbling some of his favorite skate photos for his blog called, “The Good Problem” in between writing the meat and potatoes. We asked Kevin some questions about living in Nebraska, not landing a 360 flip when he was 40, and why he likes to draw pictures of skateboarding. Duh.
I’m not trying to set Kevin up as some sort of skateboarding socialite, because he actually does stuff too.
Kevin Wilkins, where are you right now and why are you there?
I’m in my basement. It’s where my computer and stereo are. I’m currently using and abusing both.
Why do you live in Nebraska?
I grew up in Nebraska, and after a couple of moves back and forth to southern California, I planted roots in Lincoln again.
A little over seventeen years ago, though, Cheryl and I were all set to move to Vermont and start our family - I had a job and a house lined up, and once our baby was born we were going to make a go of it out there. But a week or so after Miles’ birth, Cheryl’s mom passed away. It was really unsettling -we were celebrating our new son’s life and at the same time, mourning the loss of his grandmother. I don’t really remember how we figured anything out, but somehow we decided to stay in Lincoln with family and friends and familiarities. We’d been running on the excitement of instability for years and all of a sudden, we couldn’t do that any more. Next thing you know, it’s 2016 and we’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my entire life.
How old are you and how long have you been skateboarding?
I’m 48 and I’ve been skating since my 11th birthday when I got an orange Nash board with a kick tail. Math says that’s 37 years.
So would you call yourself a writer who draws pictures, a drawer of pictures who can also paint with words, or just all around creative genius?
It says creative genius on my birth certificate, but I don’t throw that label around in public too much. People get intimidated by stuff like that.
If I had to call myself anything, it’d be a skateboarder who happens to write and draw and take photos and whatever - skateboarder first and then everything else after that. Everyone has creative abilities, I believe, but by being involved in skateboarding - this thing that’s part physical output, part creative expression - I had a clearer view of other forms of physical and creative expression. Without skateboarding, I wouldn’t be as willing to write, draw, or express myself.
Can you tell us a little about your background in skateboarding and your role at TransWorld and The Skateboard Mag?
I grew up with a skateboard, pretty much. When skateboarding was at its most dormant, Fausto Vitello was looking for locations to seed the subculture of skateboarding, and somehow - luckily for me and hundreds of locals—he chose my friend Rich Flowerday’s backyard to sew those seeds. A majority of the pros at the time, which was less than twenty dudes, came to Lincoln and held a vert contest here called the Midwest Melee. Like I said, I grew up with a skateboard, but after the pros came to my town, I was a skateboarder.
Being a skateboarder, I was instantly part of a much larger world that involved learning about riding a skateboard and all that it meant. But it also involved learning about music, art, photography, travel, and making things out of nothing... and running into other people who were doing the same stuff. Zine trading lead to strong contacts in skateboard publishing, and that lead to moving to California and working at a magazine called Homeboy with zine friends Andy Jenkins, Mark Lewman, and Spike Jonze. When that magazine went out of business, I was able to slide over to an editorial position at TransWorld Skateboarding
where another zine friend of mine - Tod Swank - put in a good word for me.
After that, between getting married and getting my degree in English, I worked for TransWorld
in one form or another (TWS Assistant Editor, TWS Business Editor, Warp Magazine Editor, and Senior Writer at TWS) for the next decade until 2004 when a few of us broke away from TransWorld
and founded The Skateboard Mag
. I worked there for eleven years as Editor, and for the last year or so I’ve been doing freelance writing work for Nike SB, Levis Skateboarding, Nixon, and happily doing other odd jobs in the world of skateboarding.
Who are your favorite skateboarders from each of these decades: 80s, 90s, and 2000s?
All the Indy guys who came to my hometown in 1982 were my favorite. And Dan Wilkes, And Neil. And Lucero. And Lopes. And Grosso. And Gonz.
In the beginning of the 90s, I had countless brushes with greatness and tried not to fan out on too hard on anybody, but my favorite skaters were the ones I was lucky enough to skate with on a regular basis. The list is huge, diverse and I won’t go into it too deep, ‘cause you’ve heard it from everyone else: Tony Hawk, Ray Underhill, and Joe Johnson localized Tony’s Falbrook ramp. Peter Hewitt, Matt Moffett, Mike Youssefpour, and the rest of the Linda Vista Boys Club Skatepark guys were so good and so fun to skate with. Owen Neider, Derek Williams, Sean Andrew, Jordan Richter, Brent Fellows, Alphonzo Rawls, Danny Way, and the rest of the guys at McGill’s Skatepark. Hensley, Barbee, Jason Lee, and Mike V., too. Later it was Carroll, Howard, McCrank. It was Stranger, it was Alan Peterson, it was Cardiel. I don’t know. I liked everybody. I still do, I guess.
Now it’s guys like Grant Taylor, Raney, Raybourn, Daniel Vargas, Daan Van Der Linden, and anyone who kinda takes what’s come before and makes it into something better.
Were you always drawing the whole time you were working your other jobs or is it a newer thing for you?
Weird. My uncle just asked me that the other day. I’ve always drawn stuff, but I’ve done it a lot more in the last few years.
Who are some of your artsy influences?
Charles Schultz, Stan Lee, Bill Watterson, Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Bukowski, Mike Watt, D. Boon, George Hurley, Bernie McGinn, MoFo, Grant Brittain, and Andy Jenkins.
When looking for a skate photo to draw is it 100% based on the style of the skater or do other things come in to play?
With this latest stuff - the From Photos
drawings - I mainly look for photos to accompany stuff I’ve written and don’t really think about them in terms of a drawing. Later, after the thing is published on The Good Problem
and then smeared around on social media, I’ll pause and kinda see what’s there. Lots of times, it’s just the way someone’s board looks in a photo. Or maybe their hand or shoe or something like that - one element that I think looks like it’d be fun to draw. After that, I just try not to fuck up the rest of the drawing that’s around the little thing that attracted me in the first place.
What is The Good Problem?
It’s a dot-com landing spot for a lot of ideas - essays, art, photos, and stuff - loosely based on the cynical outlook that life is nothing but a series of problems. There are bad ones - drugs, alcohol, criminal stuff, and shit that can get you and others into trouble - and there are good ones. But for lots of us, the good ones tend to be problematic, too. We’re attracted to them for the same selfish, obsessive, and addictive reasons that attract us to drugs, alcohol, and criminal stuff. The good ones kinda take the place of the bad ones, though, and keep us out of real trouble. Skateboarding is a good problem. Bikes are a good problem. You know what I mean?
If you took any two things and weighed them, the lighter of the two, for that moment, could be considered the good problem. Like heroin seems heavier than craft beer. Killing someone seems heavier than fist fighting them. Fist fighting someone seems heavier than running a mile. Everything is a problem, basically, and the good ones - if you can manage to choose them at the right time - can take the place of the bad ones.
You had a goal a few years ago to learn to 360 flip at age 40. Did you ever achieve that goal?
Nope. I’ve still never done one. If I was to set a silly skateboarding goal for myself today, it’d be to learn frontside inverts by the time I turn 50. It’ll probably turn out the same as the tre flips, though.
What kind of stuff besides skateboarding are you interested in, and do you draw any of that stuff?
I ride bikes. The upright, pedal-powered kind. And I’ve drawn them, yeah.
I like people and their faces. I’ll sometimes try to draw those, too, but they mostly end up looking like cartoons, which, probably not by coincidence, I also like.
You have children right? Do any of your kids skate?
Miles and Cian. Yeah. They’re seventeen and thirteen, respectively. Miles skates a little. Cian skates a little less. I've taken it upon myself to make sure there are plenty of skateboards in the house, and I taught them that it’s best to push with your back foot, but I can’t really force the issue any harder than that. It just seems weird. Skateboarding is one of the hundreds of things competing for their time. It really doesn’t matter if they skate or not. I do hope that whatever things they end up identifying with, obsessing about, or caring for provide them with 1/100th of what skateboarding has given me. Everyone needs that one thing.
What do you think of the current, digital state of skateboarding? Are you one of those cranky old guys who wishes it would all go away or do you embrace the modern age of shred?
Digital is just where we are now. And it’s super cool, just like magazines were when they ruled, just like video was when it took over on magazines.
Yes, I'm cranky, but not about where skateboarding is or its relationship to the digital medium. I’m cranky about much more important stuff: Space junk, hot glaciers, Bill Clinton and P-Funk. And shouldn’t garbage day and recycling day be the same day
I like the digital state of everything, though. But even better, I love what skateboarding does with it. Does it seem fleeting, though? Temporary maybe? Of course, I don’t know what I’m talking about, but maybe that impermanence is why our digital age meshes so well with skateboarding - it all changes drastically every day, if not every second.
In four words or less, why is skateboarding the best?
Skateboarding loves me back.