Jehri Jerry has been through a jive-assed saga of epic proportions throughout the 20 Years of Girl. The great fellowship, or as he says it better himself - camaraderie - gained through a similarity of pursuits connected with skateboarding was achieved, simply from therein. In light of this great celebration Jeron Wilson, one of many Brothas from Different Mothas, talked us through the memory of Keenan Milton, the desire to keep proving himself for Pretty Sweet and why he has stuck with the same Girl for 20 years. Enjoy…
Photography provided by The Chrome Ball Incident
Words by Stephen Cox
Thank you very much. I can't believe it's already been 20 years, man.
How does it feel to have come this far?
It's just amazing to be honest. I never would have thought when I first got on Girl that we would be here 20 years later, but with such good people behind us and the brand it's definitely survived some of the tough years and here we are today.
What moments stand out most to you looking back?
I'd say working on all our videos has definitely been major for us with all the hard work that it takes to do those productions with them taking so long. They're our big feats. Then obviously how everyone reacts to them in such a great way, which brings such a great feeling. It's definitely been amazing.
How did you get on Girl?
I was first approached by [Tim] Gavin. I was skating on Blind with him; he basically had me under his wing. I was skating for Blind for a good year or a year and a half. I guess Gavin was talking to Rick [Howard] and Mike [Carroll] and everybody, and they said they were going to be starting Girl. But at the beginning however, I wasn't in the mix. I wasn't part of the first ads but I guess Gavin convinced them to put me on and here we are [laughs].
You were living with Tim Gavin too.
Yeah. It would be off and on where I would just go and stay at his house. He lived in an apartment in Hollywood and I lived in the Valley about 20 minutes away. It might have seemed like I was living with him but the reality was that I was just staying over a lot more than I probably should have [laughs].
How did it feel leaving Blind to get on Girl?
I really wanted to do it because it was a major move. Girl was here in LA and I think with Blind, it was just that everyone was going so I couldn't stay there by myself so I basically jumped ship. It was a fluid transition at first, which evolved where we are today. It all happened at the San Francisco Back to the City contest. That's when people jumped ship from Plan B, Blind and a few other brands.
Were there nerves?
Definitely a lot of nerves. I had to call Rodney Mullen the day of that contest to let him know that we were quitting. It was really uncomfortable at first but Rodney was really understanding about the situation. I'm sure he was bummed but there was no stopping us then [laughs].
Is there anything to be said about the controlled state of the industry at the time?
Yeah. Everybody was an employee and all of a sudden they're turning into owners. Everybody was apprehensive about that. They didn't know how everything was going to work out and I think they just wanted to do what they wanted to do. They took that chance and it turned out to be beneficial for everybody.
You were one of few, if not the only, am when you first got on is that right?
I believe so. Actually it was Tony Ferguson and me. He went pro shortly thereafter. Then we had Robbie McKinley as an amateur for a while. After that, we haven't had too many ams, man. It's kind of crazy, and we still don't have any now! We turn all the ams pro. We've got to work that out.
You mentioned the contest culture before. Being an am was different back then as well wasn't it?
Definitely. When I was an amateur, I didn't enter too many contests, but I definitely did before I was sponsored. They had the Quarter Master Cup at Powell and all the rest.
Do you remember the “Working Am Program" ad?
[Laughs] I definitely do. It caught me by surprise for sure. It's so funny that you brought that up because I just saw that ad the other day. I saw it posted on Instagram. It was definitely a cool concept [laughs].
So how did you find out you were going to go pro for Girl?
I think it was after the first Girl video, Goldfish. The skateshops pretty much just start asking for your board so it happens gradually. It just so happened that I graduated high school and the timing was perfect, I'd pretty much just turned 19 and everything kind of happened.
Do you remember seeing your board for the first time?
Oh yeah. When I saw it for the first time I couldn't believe it, man. It was a dream come true. I started skating when I was 10 and in hindsight to be a professional skater 10 years later was surreal. To still be a professional skateboarder 20 years later after the company started? It's crazy, man. I'm so blessed to be with a great group of people and a great company.
Mike and Rick both mentioned input from the riders is commonplace.
Yeah, everybody brings something to the table. At the end of the day everybody looks at one another as equals. I think Girl is admired by a lot of other companies as well as far as how we treat each other and how we interact. We really love and admire each other. I think it shows. Having that camaraderie definitely shows we're doing something positive and can have an impact on the skating industry. It’s definitely something we entail within the company and the brand.
What are your thoughts on the art direction as a rider?
It's amazing. We have a bunch of great artists that work with us and we subcontract a lot of artists as well. But everybody brings something great to the table. As you've seen throughout the years there are always great series, which coincide with something and everything looks very well put together.
Have you had input with your own graphics?
From time to time I have some input but for the most part but they really have everything dialed in. They know our personalities and everything we're about to a tee. They know I like basketball so they'll incorporate that you know? What's really special about Girl with the series is that they're really well put together and artistic as well as everybody being able to relate to them.
Do you collect?
I've made a really conscious decision to make sure I get every single one of my professional boards. I have around 163. They're sitting right in front of me in my office. I get to be reminded every day how blessed I am to have that many pro models. It's insane. Also I've collected some series throughout the years of what I’ve especially liked. There are some that I've missed out on too. It gets to be overwhelming because there are so many good boards out there and so many good graphics. You end up having too many [laughs].
Having said the films are a major part of Girl, how was it filming for Goldfish?
To be honest at that stage of skateboarding, I really didn't even stress about going out and filming. It would just be some happy go lucky stuff. Every day was a great day in a sense. It would be me, Tim, Eric [Koston], Rick, Mike having fun, just carefree. We would just accumulate the footage and soon enough we went on out first European tour. Those are such good memories, we went out there for a good 3 weeks and we obviously got to bond a little bit more. It was like brother stuff; there was a lot of bickering and arguing too but that's what brothers do.
It’s considered one of the greatest. How do you view the influence Goldfish has had this far ahead?
Oh man. To be a part of that video was amazing. We were filming in the moment, with everybody leaving their current companies and just coming together. We were having the best time on our boards. Everything happened so organically. To have the first Girl video to come out and for it to have such a big impact on the industry, especially to hear you say it is one of the greatest skateboarding videos, is amazing. Obviously there was the skating, the skits. We showed what we were about, having fun, doing something positive when riding our boards. Hands down, I'm just honored to be a part of that.
How do you view your own video parts?
They've all been cool. I don't like to be, "yeah man, I liked every one." Everyone is super critical of themselves. Obviously having all these talented people around me inspired me tremendously. Having Koston, Guy Mariano? Guy was one of my favorites before I even got on Girl you know? I used to watch Guy in Video Days, he came from Burbank and I wasn't too far from there, I really saw that something could happen if you put your mind to it. It was a big dream of mine to become a professional skateboarder and to have those people around me made it so much more reachable and attainable.
Those around you have pushed you then?
I truly believe that. I think if you’re around talented people it's only going to push you. They pushed me quite a bit. There are moments in time when you question yourself and everything but at the end of the day when you have good people around you, they're pushing you; they're inspiring you to have fun. It's great. In my eyes I think it would harder to do stuff if you were skating on your own, not having anybody to motivate you and just watching videos. It’s just really awesome to have that.
With Girl, always comes Chocolate. Though it's hard to differentiate between the two, right?
Shit [laughs]. It's really hard to differentiate. I really can't. I look at us all the same; everyone has great style, everyone motivates everyone, everyone has something super unique. I look at Chocolate as the same, and it's really odd to say that because they're obviously two different brands but I think everyone kind of incorporates that too because we're such a tight-knit family. I mean, the art direction yeah. But we're all on Girl and Chocolate you know what I mean? It's almost one, but just a little different.
Perhaps the 20 Years of Girl is an appropriate time to celebrate Keenan Milton's life as well in that respect.
Oh Jesus, man. Keenan was definitely one of the best dudes on and off the skateboard. He was always smiling. He had the greatest personality. Whenever he was in the room he had this kind of energy where you were always drawn to it. He definitely brought a lot of smiles to all of us every time we were around him. His style on the skateboard was just so amazing, man. Just the flow of it, I almost get a little caught up thinking about it because he was so monumental to Girl and Chocolate. Even in hindsight, we're talking 12 years ago that he passed away and we're still talking about him and thinking about him every day. He brought such a great energy to the brand. It's amazing. You even see at the beginning of Pretty Sweet, we keep that memory to make sure people remember. He has such an impact on skateboarding still.
What was it like working with Spike [Jonze] on so many productions?
Spike Jonze is one of the great talents to me. Obviously in making movies and coming from filming skateboarding to making movies you can tell he has such an eye and a vision of what he wants to do. He's every inspiring to me in the sense of what's he brought to the table; all the skits, the production, the routes he goes to make everything look fun and super refreshing. That's why a lot of people are drawn to him. It's an honor to work with such talent.
Having mentioned the skits, what were the best for you?
One of the ones I was in [laughs]: ‘Brothas from Different Mothas.’ I posted the fake movie poster that we made for it yesterday, it's funny you brought that up. That was a cool experience. Doing that? Then seeing how it was brought to life? It was pretty much just a day out, filming with your friends. It was amazing. For Spike to have a vision of what it could actually be was amazing.
Were you camera shy in front of the lens without a skateboard?
I think a little bit. When I was younger I also did a couple of commercials so I was already in front of the camera a little bit. Not to the point where I was super comfortable, don't get me wrong. I was still shy. I think when you have your friends around you it makes it so much easier. If it had of been a bunch of strangers then yeah I would have been nervous, especially because at that time I was like 16 or 17 [laughs].
What were the commercials?
Oh, those were a long time ago [laughs]. One was a popcorn ad campaign. I can’t even find it anymore.
We need to try and dig that up.
That would be amazing! [Laughs].
I enjoyed the Pretty Sweet part. How was it filming for the video?
Thank you so much. It was a little stressful. As we've gotten older it's turned more into a job in the sense of knowing what you have to do and getting it done. A little bit of stress but at the same time I just strapped on my boots and I just wanted to make sure I came through because there was a lot of other stuff happening with shoe contracts and all that stuff so I kind of wanted to show that I could prove myself. It was a cool experience, it definitely took a little while to get everything done but at the end of the day it turned out well. I was honored to share a part with Brandon [Biebel]. It turned out awesome, man.
I guess that’s a solid friendship right there?
Brandon is like a brother to me. I've always admired his skating and admire him as a human. He's awesome to be around, there's never a dull moment. He always keeps you on your toes and keeps you laughing. I love that. That's the type of person that I love to be around. I definitely veer towards hanging out with those types of people. I love that kid.
Who stood out to you in the video?
Obviously Guy. He's one of my favorites of all time, I was super psyched to see him out together another masterpiece. It was heartfelt for me.
Each video has collectively brought more hype to the table as they have come out. How much pressure do you feel each time a video comes out and how do you try and live up to that?
That's a tough question [laughs]. I think everybody knows where we've come from and what to expect but when it takes so long, people have high expectations. With Pretty Sweet, it took at least between 4 and 5 years. I would expect a lot. I think it’s hard for me to answer how others would expect to see something amazing though. I think it's amazing but you get people that are like, "It's too long, it's too this, it's too that" you know? I think overall everyone enjoyed it in the sense that it might be one of the last big productions as far as skateboarding changing tremendously. Everyone wants something now, now, now. I understand that to the fullest but sometimes if you want to have a really great video it's going to take a little time.
Is there too much criticism?
I don't think so. To be honest, I'd like to think the industry is very open hearted these days. I think everybody enjoys everybody. That's a really cool thing to have amongst your peers. Coming from when I was younger being 16 or 17, we were little shits you know? I remember we would have our little crew and wouldn't pay attention to anybody else. That's just how it was.
But that changes.
Yeah. Obviously you grow up, and then with the traditions and having the longevity of Girl, you grow as a person and a skater into a well-rounded person. I think that's how it is these days. Kids are more open. They're not segregating themselves.
Is that unique to skateboarding culture?
I believe that's totally unique. You can look down at someone's shoes and see marks and know you can walk up to them and ask them where a skate spot is. Being a skater reflects onto other skaters especially these days. People are more down to earth.
You were on the Pretty Sweet US Tour recently too, right?
Yeah. Unfortunately I was only on it for 10 days. Good times though. I wish I could have stayed for at least half the tour. I wish I went at the beginning in hindsight but the timing didn't work out.
What stops did you make it to?
The first demo I flew in for was Zumiez. Unfortunately it got rained out [laughs]. That happens sometimes. I always make a joke on tour: "I'm going to do a rain dance this morning so that way the demo gets rained out." It's a joke that I've brought up throughout the years and that way if it does rain everyone looks at me and says, "you did that damn rain dance!" So I flew into Buffalo, then Raleigh in North Carolina, Maryland and then Atlanta. I had a good time on those 4 stops.
What responses do you get from the fans having been on Girl for so long?
I get some sort of response. They're after the young guys these days! [Laughs]. They want [Sean] Malto and Mike Mo [Capaldi]. When anybody comes up to me and says something like, "hey man, I appreciate your skateboarding, I really enjoyed your video part" I'm really humbled and thankful that I have those people saying that to me still. I am happy with where I am in my skateboarding career and that I've been able to maintain it being a part of Girl. I don't think if I was on any other company I would have lasted this long.
Really. They have your back no matter what. Even if you're going through a rough stage in your skating, they will constantly have your back. I respect that to the fullest. Being an owner of Diamond now, I really use what they've done and use it as a model for what I'm doing. They've had just such a great impact on me.
Loyalty is a big factor then.
It's a big part of my personality and wellbeing. Being part of Girl, if they treat you well and you're doing what you need to be doing, the loyalty is there. I would never think to leave Girl, because I don't need to think like that. There's nothing else out there that I would want to be a part of. It's all I know.
How do you view the tours differently to the back in the early days?
It's a little different. I love hanging around the young energy: Corey Kennedy, Vincent Alvarez, Mike Mo and Sean. It brings me back to when I was a younger kid, being on tour, in the moment, having a good time, doing whatever as far as being in the van, having drinks. All this camaraderie alongside skating, we do what we love. It's great to see how they react to their moments and it's cool to be in those moments with them being an older skater.
When did you first meet up with Vincent?
One of the first times I met Vincent Alvarez was over at The King of LA contest. I think me and Sam [Smyth] just thought the kid was amazing. He reminded us of Rudy Johnson so we were just drawn to him. Sam made sure he got his contract and set that foundation, to make sure he was a part of Chocolate sooner rather than later [laughs]. It's amazing to have these kids that are really on top of their game. We can't do it forever you know? A lot of us are knocking on 40 [laughs]. It gets to the point where you've got to pass the torch to the young guys and I'm really happy where we are with these guys.
As one of the OG riders how do you pass that torch in a practical sense?
These kids are already on top of their game. I think them being around us, seeing how we are responsible; that rubs off on them a little bit. They're still young but they're young adults. It is passing the torch, but I'm very comfortable with it and I know Mike and Rick know where we're going into the future with these guys. We've got to get some ams onto Girl for sure [laughs].
Looking back at the last 20 years, what would you do differently?
There would be a couple of things. I can't say that I've never taken skateboarding for granted. I think being in the position that I am — skating for Girl — I could say that I neglected things for a couple of years where I just really wasn't on my game and I was doing stuff that I shouldn't have been doing. That they've had my back? It's insane. There would be a couple of years that I would take back where I would be on my board more instead of doing what I was doing.
But that's part of being a skateboarder too.
Big time. I'm not the only one who has gone through that for sure.
In what ways do you hope to leave your mark on the first 20 years of Girl?
Shit, tough question. I just hope that I've done all that I could have done in any given moment. Being around to skate with all these talented skateboarders. I hope to maintain doing that. We have a bright 20 years ahead of us.
What’s Girl's vision going forward?
To maintain, to keep doing what we've been doing. Keep the camaraderie and make sure we pick up some talented skateboarders out there that care about what we're doing. Being happy on your skateboard, man.
Let's finish up with a quote that summarizes the 20 years of Girl.
That would be Keenan: “Bunny hop son!" He would always say that. Just be like, "Ollie."
Special thanks - Aaron Meza, Sam Smyth and Chops.