CCS Customs X First Thursdays Interviews: Jay Howell
November 05, 2021 - CCS launches the Customs X First Thursdays program with one of our favorite artists: Jay Howell.
On the occasion of Real Skateboards reissuing Cairo Foster's classic 'Hammerhead' graphic as part of the Actions REALized program, we had the man himself (and former CCS rider and cover skater) stop by the office to sign a few decks for you and tell us about the project. Inevitably, the conversation turned to nollie hardflips.
CCS: So, tell us about this Real reissue. How did it come about?
Cairo: So it was pre-Covid when Andy Pitts reached out to me and he said he was going through some archives at Deluxe and had pulled out this original artwork that Todd Francis did. He batted around the idea of whether or not they could do an actual reissue. So I had heard about it before Covid-19 was a reality, so lots of things came up from that point to then Christian Alexander bringing it home and getting everyone together, to Ashley Rehfeld, Jeremy McNamara, Joe Brook, and everyone over at Deluxe, it took a while for everything to come to fruition. I always loved everything with Actions REALized and stuff that John Rattray’s done so that’s how the Ben Raemers Foundation got involved cause I wanted to make sure any of the proceeds went to that. It wasn’t like, “I’m getting a reissue deck and I can get some money off it.” I want to make sure anything that comes off of it goes to something that’s awesome and positive.
CCS: Does this graphic have any personal significance to you at all?
C: Yeah, so it’s my second pro board at Real. The first one I had was a great white shark and that one’s super awesome as well, but with this one, it reinforced the fact that I rode for Real skateboards. And Todd Francis is an amazing artist. With his career and all that he has done, for me, it has made it a cherished graphic. I didn’t even realize it but it is the only graphic that Todd ever did for me when I was riding for Real.
It reminds me that someone once said that when you turn 30, it’s like you don’t really realize you are in your thirties until you are 31. So, in a way, getting the second board graphic for Real with the hammerhead sharks had an impact that I was really on Real Skateboards. And it is definitely one of my favorite graphics through all the companies I’ve ridden for.
CCS: Every company that has a lot of longevity has 'eras'. While this wasn’t the first era of Real, this timeframe is remembered fondly in part because it was when Mark Gonzales was on Real. Do you have any Gonz stories from this time?
C: When we were filming for Real To Reel, he and I roomed together on our way up to DC. While it’s nothing super wild, I remember he had checked out a bunch of art books from the library and he was going through all these books and would wake me up at 2 and 3 in the morning, like, “Cairo, check out this book! Check out all these masks from this ancient civilization!” And I’d wake up, like, “What?!”. And it was great to be in the van with him and seeing his outlook on skateboarding.
And he had done so many cool things on that trip. Like the 3 handrails in a row. And I remember we were skating there and a cop rolled up that was much younger than him just being cheeky. Not trying to mess with the cop but I was worried that this dude who was much younger than Mark was about to arrest all of us because Mark’s just being silly.
And that was also when, in DC, he curved around that brick wall and ollied. I mean, the ollie itself is crazy but I think people also trip on how Wolfe captured the jump across, how he switched feet at the last second. It was rad to look back and Mark Gonzales was my roommate on tour.
CCS: And, not to make the focus of your interview on another skater, but that was an era for Gonz where he was a legend already, but still very much doing legendary things.
C: Oh yeah. From Real To Reel when he does the ollie and kicks his board through the railing, he’s got my board. And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, it’s so sick that Mark’s holding my board when he’s talking there.” And the backstory on that is that he apparently did land that without a filmer there and that was them going back to get it.
CCS: So you get to be part of that trick in a way.
C: Pretty cool.
CCS: And what do you think of this Chima Ferguson tribute graphic with the mermaids instead of sharks?
C: I’m super hyped cause I’m a huge fan of Chima. Chima is amazing. So to have these two boards come out and be coupled up with Chima… I’m in great company. I’m really grateful for that.
CCS: It’s a great way to reissue a board but then bring a contemporary lens to it. There’s a lot of reissues happening now, which is exciting, but it is nice that there is an extra something unique to this time around. It makes it more than just a reproduction.
C: 100 percent. Totally.
CCS: You mentioned that the proceeds are going to the Ben Raemers Foundation. You were teammates with Ben for a long time, do you have any stories about Ben to share? I think most folks have an impression of hi personality through King Of The Road.
C: The best thing about Ben is just that he had an innocent exuberance and joy of life. Just being around Ben and his energy just made everyone else smile.
CCS: He seemed so sweet, but I wonder how much of that impression is just his accent.
C: Just to have that English accent on top of being the kindest soul. Any memory of Ben goes back to that smile and everyone’s seen it… I’ll probably just keep my answer there so I don’t end up in tears here.
CCS: Not really related to this board, but I was wondering if you could talk a bit about Popwar. People are pretty nostalgic about this brand even though it wasn’t around for very long.
C: Popwar is definitely brought up often. People bring it up all the time. I get hit up every month by people asking if I’m gonna bring Popwar back. Well, A) I don’t own the name; And B) It’s way more complicated than that. I used to be taken aback by how people wanted it to be brought back but looking at the artwork and the direction that we created with Yogi
CCS: Paul Sharpe! Was he just behind the scenes or skating, cause he was pro for Supernaut afterwards, right?
C: He was behind the scenes and Supernaut was before. So he was doing Supernaut after Foundation and then I rode for Supernaut because I did the Raw Thrasher video with Satva
CCS: Well, if there is a conversation about powerful nollie tricks, or best switch ollies, it comes down to Paulo Diaz and Paul Sharpe. Speaking of nollie tricks, what’s the secret to nollie hardflips? We used to bug out on your nollie hardflip over the bike rack off flat at Ft Mason.
C: Well this is it right here. Technically, it’s not fully flipping. The way I do them, and this is part of the secret, technically it’s half-flipping. I do it kinda between my legs. Kinda the "San Diego illusion". And then I’ll go on the record and say prior to moving to California I could do them more properly flipped. Cause I could do the nollie hardflip to backside noseslides. So I wouldn’t be able to do that with the way I started to do them then.
CCS: It kinda wraps around and isn’t, like, a straight nollie.
C: Yeah. I would never be able to pop as high as I was able to do it if I did it the way Diego Najera does nollie hardflips. I was able to do it those styles, but way lower. That was things. Like, give up one thing to be able to achieve another thing. And for me, it was cool to do it to a trick on a ledge but it’s more fun for me to do it over things. So I gave up something to get something else I really liked. My favorite one is the one at Flushing Meadows. That’s my favorite one.
CCS: Wow. That is a real secret. I was just using the turn of phrase, but you just, like, revealed a secret here.
C: Oh yeah. And it time it gets shown or brought up there is a lot of hate. And that was 20 plus years ago. Let’s just let bygones be bygones.
CCS: Let’s take this conversation even further back if I may, and talk about one of my favorite magazine covers, and perhaps the greatest non-trick skateboarding magazine cover, which would be your Big Brother cover from 1997. Is there a story behind that?
C: Yeah. Satva is filming and Dan Libby is just hanging in the background, and Tobin
CCS: And finally, what’s happening with you and Mob Grip here?
C: It’s been five months now that I’ve been over at NHS brand managing Mob Grip, which is really cool because there is so much more to grip tape than just being the grippiest grip tape. So I’ve been learning a bunch there. We got our amazing team internally, but also an amazing team of skaters. Then last month I took on the role of brand manager for Ricta Wheels, which is super rad. And these are two companies that I used to ride for. So it’s like a homecoming in a way. I was able to represent both of those brands as a pro skater and now I’m able to do that on the back end and help others live their dream as a professional or amatuer skateboarder travelling around and skating the things we all want to skate. So, it’s been kind of like a dream that I didn’t know that I had, but still a dream come true in a way, you know.
Big thanks to Cairo for taking the time to sign boards and talk with us. If you want to dig deeper into some of Cairo's best skating (and there is a LOT), you can start with his Pro To Flow retrospective from Enjoi.