Interview by Brad Clarke
Produced by EVAN CARLSON & BRAD CLARKE
Photography by Laura Austin
Videography by Eric Longden
Skateboarding is constantly evolving from the progression of its tricks to the style and audience it reaches. That evolution rings true in one of the sport’s most notable figures, Paul Rodriguez. His rise from child prodigy to an international skate megastar is rooted in the primal focus he carries on and off his board. All great athletes have it; that drive to be great and the stubbornness to never be satisfied, forever on the journey to conquer the next challenge. His accomplishments in skateboarding rival the successes of basketball superstars like Jordan, Kobe, and LeBron—just replace the hardwood court of an arena with a waxed concrete ledge, and the reverse alleyoops with switch flip backside tailslides. Simply put, he’s on another level.
For Paul, part of the next challenge is about getting back to basics.
"It got to a point where I wanted to get my name on a board and did that, wanted my name on a shoe and did that, wanted other endorsements, awards, and to win certain competitions, and did those, too," Rodriguez tells us from his private skate park at an undisclosed location in Southern California. "Now it’s back to just wanting to get better. I want to keep improving my abilities."
Finetuning his craft is without a doubt the top priority, but the business side of skateboarding is also something Paul is well versed in. Taking a page out the Jay Z mogul manual, he’s been steadily building his skate empire. With the release of a monumental eighth Nike SB sneaker, the launch of Primitive Skateboarding, multiple endorsement deals, and numerous other projects, there is no stopping P-Rod.
It’s in his nature to always be rolling forward.
It’s clear that your passion and drive for skateboarding is on another level. When did that all begin?
When did my love for skateboarding begin? I remember it like it was yesterday. It was around Christmas time in 1996. I was in seventh grade and just went to a brand new public school after going to a private school. I was trying to be my own independent person. My school was close enough, so my mom let me walk there. I started to notice as I was walking to school that there would be kids outside before and after school skating in the parking lot — just skateboarding. I became fascinated with them just doing an ollie up a curve or a kickflip. That Christmas, I asked my family to give me some money so I could go down to the skate shop down the street and get my own setup. I got money, got myself a board, and it was game over.
As far as the drive, it’s really like this: when you love something so much, it’s not like you have to convince yourself into having drive. It just is what it is. For whatever reason, I just happen to love the feeling of riding a skateboard, grinding a ledge, or doing a flip trick. I love it! I can’t get enough of it. It wasn’t like a conscious thing, thinking, “Alright. I have to dig deep and have this drive.” It just came naturally. You get the best results out of life when whatever you’re doing is a passion and comes naturally. When nobody has to tell you to do it, and you just have to do it because of your own desire, it’s a byproduct of passion. It’s hard to motivate yourself to do something that you hate. I know people do it because they have to survive, but I hope that everyone’s doing what they do by selfmotivation because it’s what they’ve chosen to do. That’s how you’re going to be the best you can be. At some point, when I was having so much fun at it and getting good, I started thinking, “I want to be great at this! I want to be a professional skateboarder one day. I see these guys in the magazines. I want to be like that guy.” That just added another level of motivation and another spark. I knew I was just a kid and doing it for fun, but these guys are grown men, and this is their job? I want to do this for my job! Why wouldn’t I want to do this for my work? I want to have an excuse to skateboard for the rest of my life. That’s kind of how it is. It’s not forced.
Your part in City Stars’ iconic skate video, Street Cinema, put you on the map in 2001. How did filming that and being on City Stars shape both the skater and the person you are today?
That whole era is responsible for a lot of who I am today. It’s the springboard to what my career has become now, but it’s so much more than that. Around that time, I was hanging out with Kareem Campbell and fell in love with hiphop like Jay Z and Nas. That was the era that I fell in love with ice — jewelry — because Kareem got us all chains before everybody got their riders rings or chains. Kareem was the first one doing that. I remember he got me a dope diamond bracelet one time. That’s when I fell in love with luxury. That era of filming was also so special because I was hitting my stride. I was coming into my own and it was such a magical time. I was learning stuff so fast, to the point where I could film every single day and get so much footage. It came to me so easy at that point. I was spending so much time on my board, and it all came to a head. It was an explosion of learning. I had a good crew, too — Mikey Taylor, Justin Case, Devine Calloway and Spanky Long. Then there were the older dudes like Lee Smith, Caine Gayle, Ryan Denman, Roger Mancha, Eric Pupecki, Joey Suriel and all those dudes. They really took to us and took us under their wing. That whole time was special. No part of my career could top that era between the ages of 15 to 17. I can’t even believe how much of an impact it’s had on me.
“You get the best results
out of life when whatever
you’re doing is a passion
and comes naturally”
Being that you’re the leader of the Mtn Dew Skate Team, talk to us about how that relationship started and why it’s such a good fit?
Mountain Dew and I have been together for over 10 years. I was riding for Mountain Dew before I was riding for Nike. That came through my lovely manager, Circe Wallace, who came to me with the opportunity. They reached out and talked to her about me during that era of me being the young guy making a splash on the scene. I was very fortunate, and still feel fortunate, to have everyone wanting a piece of me. Dew had interest, and we got together. The reason we fit together so well is because for the majority of my career, I’ve been with them. As I grow as a person, Dew has grown with me. It’s almost like we are one. I had so much of my career with the brand that I couldn’t picture myself not having been with Dew. I felt like it was a good fit.
The Dew skate team has grown so much, and talentwise, you have one of the illest squads out there. How did the team start, and what’s the process of building it?
At the very beginning, Mountain Dew wanted me to build the am squad. I was really reluctant and hesitant because I’d never pictured myself as a person to farm up talent. That takes a talent in and of itself to find other talent, and know who has potential or see something in someone before anyone else does. I didn’t feel like I knew how to put together a team. As they kept massaging the idea into my membrane, I came around and was like, “Let’s do it.” Early on, I think Theotis Beasley was the first guy we put on —he’s an OG. Carlos Zarzua was on early, too. Once the team got to a certain point, like now, I don’t even necessarily go out to look and add anyone. It’s really like we’ve all been together for so long now that we’re a family. If the team wants someone on, then I’m down. That’s kind of the way it works. It keeps things moving naturally. You can tell by looking at some sponsors, and you know they forced this group of dudes to be together. It’s almost like how they do boy bands [Laughs] — just getting a bunch of dudes to audition. There are so many teams that just aren’t believable. Now, it just feels natural. If these dudes are out with these guys, and they’re backing him, it’s family. It’s like Justin Schulte. He’s a kid I’ve known for my whole career. He grew up here in the Valley. Him and Carlos Zarzua are good friends, Carlos was already on the team, and he was like, “Hey, what about Schulte?” Obviously, they’ve got to have skills, but that’s how it goes now. The team, as a unit, has grown a mind of its own. It knows who fits.
“As I grow as a person, Dew has grown with me.
It’s almost like we are one.”
Let’s talk sneakers. With the release of the Nike SB PRod 8, it puts you in an elite standing with the brand. Talk about the kicks and how Nike SB helped to shape your career?
Where do I begin? I’m very fortunate. That’s my motto for the day. I got told not too long ago by one of the Nike executives that Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and myself are the only athletes on Nike to have more than eight shoes. That’s nuts! To me, it shows that in a small industry like skateboarding — compared to Nike’s usual industries like basketball and soccer — I’ve been able to make a big enough impact to continue a trust. It’s crazy to think of, and it blows me away. Being with Nike, and going on my tenth year, it feels like I’ve also grown with them. I’ve become intertwined with Nike. Our stories are together — at least with Nike SB. The process of making a shoe, at this point, is like a welloiled machine. I’ve been working with the shoe designers long enough now that they know me and what I like. Every year, when it’s time to start a new shoe, they know what I’m going to say: I want impact protection, I want it to look tight, and I want it to be durable. We’re always figuring out how to make it better. With the 8, we needed to step out of the box completely. We had to challenge ourselves and utilize the technology at hand that we have access to at Nike. I got to go into the basketball department and meet with their designers where they showed us the different technologies. I’m with Fabrizio, the guy who designs my shoe, and we’re just getting so many ideas and putting them together.
It always starts off with a drawing. He draws up ideas, we come to a conclusion, sample it out, mess with a bunch of materials, skate it, and then it gets made. It’s that type of procedure. There’s a lot more stuff in between, but those are the basic steps. It takes about a full year. Actually, this one took more than a year. We started the 8 before the 7 even launched. I was willing to take this risk, as well as Fabrizio and the rest of the team, to push all the brands into a new direction. I already know there will be the haters who aren’t even ready to see the shoe. People will definitely see that it’s totally different. You won’t be able to say that it’s a ripoff of another skater’s shoe. We all see these companies ripping off the same shoe — [cough] Stefan Janoski. All these people are trying to rip off this my boy’s shoe — and if it sells, then great. I’m just at the point where I want to do it all different, for better or for worse.
In a weird way, it’s also a throwback in skateboarding. When I first started skating in the late ‘90s/early 2000s, there was another shoe brand who you could tell was really striving to go for the futuristic, high technology look. The only problem is that it was just the look. There was no function of the technology at that time. Now, this is like a throwback to bring that futuristic look and the technology to back it. The function is actually real because we’re with Nike. I’m anxious to see how people will take to it. It’s outside of the box. The price is a little bit higher, but we’ve got other tier takedown versions of it, too. We came out knowing this wouldn’t be for everybody, but this is what we want.
"I’m not at the Hova level yet, but I will be"
The focus you have on your board has evolved into you being a pretty keen businessman. With that, you’ve just launched Primitive Skateboards. Give us some insight on why you left Plan B and how Primitive Skateboards came together.
I’ll start by saying that I’m not a keen businessman yet. I’m a young, beginning entrepreneur who’s learning the ropes of the game. By no means can I go in there and chop it up with master businessmen. I’m not at the Hova level yet, but I will be. I’ve just been fortunate enough to at least have one philosophy that’s helped me so far and proved to be successful: find people that are just as passionate at what they do as you are about what you do. If I know how much I love skateboarding, and I can see how much this person loves design, retail or crunching numbers, then that’s a good fit. It’s served me well so far. Primitive Skateboards came about, but it wasn’t the master plan at the beginning. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just came to a realization about two years ago that I was at a point in my career where it was either now or never. I’d either do it now or miss my window of taking ownership of myself in the skateboard category. I’ve been fortunate enough — as I’ve said time and time again — to be in this position where not many skateboarders have been able to get to. It would’ve been foolish of me to let that opportunity go by and stay in a regular sponsorship. It took me about a full year to leave Plan B because I was so tight with them and had so much love for the whole team. We really had a good thing going. It was a successful brand, but I decided that I needed to have ownership of myself. I forced myself to leave without having a proper plan. I didn’t know exactly what or how I was going to do it, but I’d never figure it out if I never put my back against the wall. I decided to step away from Plan B with no plan, but I had to figure it out. At first, I was going to do like I did in December and print up 500 gold boards. They sold in two minutes. I thought, “I’ll just do that every couple of months.” After thinking about it strategically, and realizing shipping 500 boards from your door is a nightmare, I knew I needed some type of infrastructure. My partner Andy Netkin at Primitive was in my ear like, “Hey man! What’s up with turning Primitive into a board brand?” I wanted to keep it small at first and then build, but then seeing how we already have a warehouse and shipping capabilities, it made sense for my partner and me. We were just going to do it on our own, but it made sense to have a sit down with my other partners at Primitive to come together and bring this idea to life. It just worked out for so many reasons. It made sense to do it this way.
You’ve accomplished so much already. What keeps you motivated and what are your plans for the future?
At this point, the accomplishments have gotten back to what they were in the beginning when I was 12. It got to a point where I wanted to get my name on a board and did that, wanted my name on a shoe and did that, wanted other endorsements, awards and win certain competitions, and did those, too. Now it’s back to just wanting to get better. I want to keep improving my abilities. My body is still healthy, and I feel like I’m in my prime. I still have so much in my mind that I can learn and evolve in skateboarding with. That’s my goal. I want to get better until my body says, “Okay, we’re not doing this anymore.” After that, I’d love to be a proper actor in a perfect world. We’ll see how that evolves. I want to have the freedom like when I left Plan B. I want that freedom after my skate career, which is a while from now, to be able to figure it out. I won’t have to rush into something or do this and that to continue to survive. I want to be in a position to take some time for me and see where the next adventure takes me. You have to retire relatively young. I’m sure at 40 or 45 I’ll still be skateboarding, but I know I’m not going to be out there competing as an elite pro with the new generation. I’m aware of that reality. I’ll be skating always, but I know I can’t go sit on a beach until I die. I’d go nuts. I can’t not be working toward something. Hopefully acting will be that adventure. Who knows what will evolve in the next few years?