Local pro skater and longtime musician Matt Rodriguez has a style all his own
For having had such a long, successful career as a professional skateboarder, going on trips around the world to film countless videos, landing in magazine spreads left and right, co-founding a popular footwear company called iPath, all while earning what many might call “legendary status” along the way, Matt Rodriguez is a really mellow, surprisingly normal guy. In fact, when Submerge arrived at Rodriguez’s Midtown house in early January, we found him in his backyard shoveling dog poop. See, pro skaters are just like you and me.
One major difference between Rodriguez and the rest of us, though, is that the remainder of his yard, the part not covered in dog doo doo, is made up of a custom skate park with ramps built from salvaged wood.
“It was kind of like a scavenger hunt,” Rodriguez said of his lengthy search for re-usable lumber. Although extremely well built, the ramps are steep and gnarly with tight, technical lines; definitely not easy to skate. In a way, that sort of sums up Rodriguez’s style. He’s known for rolling up to spots that to the untrained eye might not even look skateable, but before long he’ll have a couple tricks bagged and will be ready for band practice (he plays drums in local band The Storytellers as well as percussion in a musical experiment called Blktop Project with fellow pro skaters Ray Barbee, Tommy Guerrero and Chuck Treece). A dirty drainage ditch here, a makeshift plywood ramp leaned up against an electrical box there, and Rodriguez can make anything and everything he approaches on his skateboard, no matter how sketchy or unusual of a spot it is, look downright stylish.
Case in point: After an interview sitting with Rodriguez amongst the ramps in his backyard, photographer Wes Davis and Rodriguez set out on one of a couple missions to snap some photos to accompany this article and Submerge decided to tag along. After loading up a couple skateboards and a case of camera equipment into one car, we headed for a bank spot in West Sacramento near Raley Field that Rodriguez wanted to session. “It’s been here for years but was always fenced in, so I couldn’t get to it,” he said of the feature. The fence recently came down so he’s taking full advantage. As we rolled up to the spot, Submerge couldn’t help but notice that the small concrete bank Rodriguez spoke of was literally smack dab in the middle of a dirt field. Not where you would typically think to go to snap a photo of a skater, like, say, somewhere with more concrete.
“This is the story of my career, fucked up spots,” Rodriguez joked.
We arranged three or four long, narrow pieces of wood as his run-up to the bank to gain speed. He’d start in the dirt with his board in hand and would sprint toward the makeshift ramp, hop on his board and then pop a trick on the lip of the bank. Davis lined up the shot from a number of angles, at times getting down and dirty laying flat on the ground to get the proper vantage point.
“Sometimes you’ll be at a spot for hours trying to get a shot,” Davis said of the tedious art that is photographing skating.
Lucky for us, Rodriguez was on this particular day and half-an-hour or so later we had a few keeper shots, some of which show the Tower Bridge directly behind Rodriguez mid-trick. We’d captured two Sacramento icons in one shot, a success indeed.
After the dirt field bank spot, we headed around the corner to an entrance near the ballpark and immediately started, pulling pieces of plywood off of nearby lumber piles, building a makeshift launch ramp and a landing with a tall obstacle in the middle for Rodriguez to olly over. You know, another typical Rodriguez style set-up consisting of randomly found wood and obstacles. Just as we were about done with the set-up and Rodriguez was getting ready to hit it, we heard someone yell at the top of their lungs, “Hey!” and we saw what looked to be like a security guard pointing at us from a distance. We thought nothing of it until we saw him start running, so we scurried back to our car and hopped in before he could give us any shit. Crisis avoided.
“Just like the old days,” Rodriguez said, smiling ear to ear as we sped off, tires chirping.
On the car ride back to his house, Rodriguez spoke of wanting to get into photography, stating that it would be a good way to keep involved in the sport as he gets older. At 35, Rodriguez is surely no young buck, but one look at his part in the recently released iPath team video The Other Ones shows he’s still at the top of his game and likely will not be dropping off the radar anytime soon. “Trust me, I’ve been a part of a lot of videos,” Rodriguez said. “Some I’m proud of and some I’m not so proud of. This one, as a team we did some missions and covered some ground and gathered some good footage. It is what it is, I think it’s good, honest skateboarding.”
In the following interview with Rodriguez, you’ll learn more about iPath and his involvement in the company, his passion for music and how it ties into his skating, his love for Sacramento and tips for growing dreadlocks. Pick up The Other Ones at local skate shops or find it online by searching “iPath The Other Ones.”
What have you been up to lately? What have you been focusing your energy on?
Skate-wise, doing a lot with iPath right now, designing some shoes and trying to scout out some possible new members for the team. We just finished a video, The Other Ones, so just doing that, keeping that fire burning. And you know, music, The Storytellers and Blktop Project. We just did a Blktop tour in Japan.
How was that?
It was awesome, we went for eight days. It was great.
You were one of the original founders of iPath back in the late ‘90s. Since then the company has gone through a couple of ownership changes and it seems like it’s been on a bit of a roller coaster. What is your role at the company now?
Just someone who they, at least the new owners, look at as a headstone basically. Being there from the dirt up, going through all the metamorphosing, to team changes and new owners. Now it’s on its third owner, and hopefully its last. Just being someone who they look to for direction, being a skater, you know, they figure, “This guy knows what he’s doing and has been here from day one.”
I’ve read that Klone Lab, the new owners, want to get the company back to its roots. It’s got to feel good knowing that everyone is on the same page when it comes to realigning the company with it’s original values and image, right?
Yeah, whereas a lot of stuff changed when Timberland bought it. They hired a general manager, he came in and just cut half the team, and the half of the team that he cut were big personalities and a big part of the company, that makes up the vibe. A lot of stuff went through change then. But Timberland came into the situation not knowing who the hell was who in skateboarding. Through the time they had it, it grew and maxed out every year and was showing increasing growth, but I just think it wasn’t enough for them and they had other stuff on their plate. They actually sold Timberland, so the good thing is that they put iPath on the market for someone to take instead of canning it. They could have been like, “We’re over it, sorry.” But they realized that it’s a collective of skaters and artists, and a lifestyle even beyond just skateboarding, and they respected that and they wanted to give it a chance for someone else to take the time and energy. So Klone Lab stepped in.
It’s a tough market out there for small shoe companies, isn’t it?
Oh yeah, you’ve got companies like Nike, even all their pros that they pay to skate for their team combined is still barely a chunk of what they pay Tiger Woods. So skating for Nike, it’s fun, they can have fun with it, but it’s not their livelihood. With something like iPath, from the original investors to the investors now, that’s all they have, they have to make it work. But, you know, we’re just wanting to take more road trips, trying to get articles, making some films, get it all out there and just keep it going. Just keep trying to show the raw side and the soul side of skating.
As a company, especially coming from a grassroots budget, let alone motive, it’s not always easy. We don’t have X amount of dollars to just blow and have fun with, we have to make every dollar count. Granted, not everything runs smooth, even when you have all the dollars to wipe your ass or sweaty forehead with. But nonetheless it’s all about keeping going, nothing is going to be perfect. It’s like a band, sometimes a member gets fed up and can’t take it, or you want to bring a new member in, or someone wants to go in a different direction, or there’s a falling out. Whatever you have left, you have to work with.
The iPath skate team has gone through changes recently and a lot of people were dropped, right? Who is officially on the team now? I read somewhere it is just you, Fred Gall, Kenny Reed and Steve Nesser. Is that true?
Yeah, for right now.
About The Other Ones, there’s a long story behind why it didn’t get “officially” released through iPath, can you touch on that please?
It’s an independent effort from the team, because at the time iPath knew people were going to have to be cut, and they didn’t want to put it out as “the iPath video” and then a month later, half the team is gone. So for now, for our individual talent and credibility, the video is out. It’s out there as opposed to out of sight, out of mind. The team got together and were like, “Fuck it.” iPath still put in some money to produce it, most of the footage in that video is from iPath tours, so iPath is still a big part of it.
The song during your part, you recorded that right?
Yeah that was me and Tommy [Guerrero], that was just on the cuff. I was like, “Yo I want to come down and throw down a rhythm.” We set up the mics and just fucking went for it. He had a bass line and we just did layers.
Is this the first time you’ve recorded a song for a video part of yours?
No, I’ve done that before, but it was all percussion. This one was percussion, Tommy on bass, a little guitar, some melodica, some shakers.
Is that something you’ll continue to do? Not a lot of skaters can say, “That’s my song during my part.”
I figure whatever I have to offer, you know? I’m going to need a song, why not throw down a little something?
How old were you when you started playing music? What instruments were you first drawn to?
In fourth grade I definitely was tearing down boxes and buckets and banging away on anything I could get my hands on. We had an extra room and I lived on Madison and Sunrise, and it was like all around me. I just had like boxes and buckets and pans. I’d play with my mom’s coat hangers, I’d snap them so I had sticks. I finally got my first drum set when I was in sixth grade.
So it was percussion that drew you in?
Yeah, basically. Drumming and time, rhythms and patterns. I like how physically demanding it is, like skating. That’s what attracted me to skating, because I used to break dance when I was young in San Jose. So when I first seen skating…
Wait a second, that didn’t come up in my research! How into break dancing were you? And how old were you?
I’d go to battles, me and my older brother.
I was like 7 to 10 years old. Then I found my first skateboard when I was 10-and-a-half.
You found the board in one of your grandparents’ closets, right?
Yeah, my grandpa’s closet. It was my older brother’s, but I’d never seen him ride it. I was like, “Sick! Something to roll on!” From then on I met skaters, and they showed me Thrasher mag and who were the dudes. I was like, “Oh sick, there’s a whole world here.” I was captivated.
You’re 35 now and still going hard in such a physically demanding sport. How do you keep your body and mind so healthy and fit? What are your secrets?
It’s just will. I don’t ever see myself just being like, “Ugh I’m too old,” or mad I’m not getting paid, or being sent around to do demonstrations. I’m going to skate, go find a ditch and have at it.
You skate with your trucks ridiculously loose. What’s that all about?
Jeff Toland and Ricky Winsor and Sam Cunningham, so many amazing guys like that, I naturally gravitated to it because I grew up seeing it. Those dudes literally schooled me, I was basically blessed to grow up with those guys. They were raw, they rode their trucks super loose, they didn’t give a shit, they were like, “Fuck you, we’re skating! Don’t talk shit or we’ll caveman the side of your car’s fender.” They were just so raw. You know, back in the day learning flip tricks and whatnot… You evolve over time, your skating may change. I definitely realized my skating was changing and wanting to do something different. I always want to do something against the grain, you know. I get sick of seeing the same redundant shit out there. As far as skating with my trucks loose, that was just more of a way to be like, “How can I make my circumstances more screwed up and still pull it off?” Back then, they weren’t doing the tricks that are around today, but nonetheless, it’s possible. So I slowly worked my way looser and looser.
And now your trucks are barely on your board…
It’s a challenge, yeah. My board’s fucked, but I’m still rollin’ away!
Have you always called Sacramento home?
Pretty much, yeah. I moved here when I was 11-and-a-half. Grew up all around skating, knowing different skaters around the perimeter, downtown and all the outskirts. I moved back to San Jose when I was 16 for two years only to realize I just loved it up here, all the trees–the people, the pace, just the vibe, you know? The seasons, you can actually see them. And just the people, the friends I met through skating here. So I moved back after high school. I’ve been here ever since. I go around the world, I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places, but when I’m coming home to Sac, I’m like, “Ah man, good old Sac.”
Lastly, how long have you been growing those dreads?
Oh, this mop? Seven years. The secret to fast-growing, long hair is to eat a lot of beans. Lentils, peas and kidneys, it’s all the calcium.
Learn more about iPath at ipath.com. Pick up The Other Ones at local skate shops or find it online by searching “iPath The Other Ones.” Learn more about Blktop Project at Galaxiarecords.com/album/blktop-project. Look for upcoming Storytellers show dates at Facebook.com/sacstorytellers and expect a new album later this year. That Rodriguez, he’s a busy dude.