20 Years of Girl/Chocolate Interviews – Marc Johnson

Photography provided by Chocolate Skateboards

Words by Stephen Cox

So Marc, how does it feel to be with Chocolate as they hit the 20-year mark?

It feels awesome. I’m stoked that I’m a part of the history of such a unique and classy company. To me, Chocolate is one of the few board companies that have true style on all levels. The line-up of guys from the beginning is stellar. Classic dudes. The butter factory.

You’ve been on for over half that time, right?

I’ve been a part of Chocolate for 11 years, so just over half its life. The longest I was ever with a board company before Chocolate was 3 years: Maple, A-Team, and Enjoi were all 3 years. Now Chocolate for 11 years. That’s half of my entire skateboarding life. It’s crazy to actually think about it in that way. Chocolate has just remained such a stylish and rad company, without ever straying from the original vibe. Chocolate has stayed true to Chocolate. Not many companies can claim that. Lots of brands have gone through all sorts of weird image changes or phases in order to cash in on one trend or another, and Chocolate just hasn’t played it like that. It’s an authentic thing because the guys running the show and directing the look and feel of the brand have kept the integrity as priority number one. That’s rad.


What moments are most prominent in your mind when you reflect on your time with Chocolate?

The first trip I went on with the squad was for the Hot Chocolate tour video. A month on the road with everyone doing demos and filming these amazing choreographed sections with Spike [Jonze]. That was my first real experience with the Girl Films side of skateboarding; the rad quirky video ideas that we’ve all come to know and love from the Girl family. Being with Chocolate essentially means that you’re with Girl and Crailtap as a whole, and there have been so many awesome moments in the last 11 years. One of the craziest things about it is that I’m skateboarding with a lot of my childhood heroes, and bumping into a lot of other people I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet and skate with otherwise. I feel like those experiences are really exclusive to the Crailtap team guys for the most part. We have opportunities to work on really unique projects because Spike is one of the founders and adds an absolutely awesome vision and perspective to everything we do. I look forward to every single piece that we can do with him because they are rooted in the reasons that we all started skateboarding: fun, camaraderie and cool ideas for new and different stuff. Spike isn’t concerned about petty skate bullshit. He just wants to do rad, fun stuff with skateboarding and I feel like that has almost been totally lost in skateboarding as a whole. It’s fun when we get to work with Spike. A lot of the other stuff skateboarders have to do can be a complete nightmare physically and emotionally. A lot of the stuff we get to do as part of the Girl/Chocolate family is really special and that means the world to me because I see what it’s like out there for a lot of other skaters and teams.


A lot of the guys said the same thing, and seem to appreciate that aspect.

I’ve gotten to hang out with Mark Gonzales a couple of times too! That’s crazy to me, Mark Gonzales! Talk about a childhood hero. Guy Mariano too. I would’ve never gotten to know Guy if I didn’t skate for Chocolate. Rudy Johnson. Rudy is so rad, on and off the board. I can break down these moments into experiences with people. People are the most important part of anything, and so far I’ve met so many amazing people and had all these great experiences from being a part of the company. Another really important “moment”, I guess you could call it, was back in 2009 when I had got myself into a bit of a bad spot in my personal life, which was totally aside from skateboarding. Rick [Howard], Guy and Jason Callaway drove 2 hours up to the mountains to come help me with something really important in my life. This was way outside of my role as a team rider and outside of that relationship. These guys came to help me when I needed it most and that said a hell of a lot about what Rick, Meg [Baltimore], Mike [Carroll] and Spike have built over the last 20 years. It’s more than skateboard tricks or some boards on a wall at a skate shop. It’s so much more than that. Chocolate truly has a bond that is more like a family. You may not see each other every day, but it is something you grow to trust and can depend on like family and old friends.


Always positive to hear. What sort of celebrations have you been involved with? There seems to have been plenty going on.

Chocolate has been doing those retrospective shows all over the place. Those have been unbelievable. I went to the LA and Denver shows. I bumped into so many people from back in the day. I bumped into a girl that I’ve known since 1995 and we kind of lost touch: she was somehow there with her husband and son. I tripped out. I have no idea how or why she was there but it was so awesome to meet her family and she got to see a lot of what I’ve been doing with my family. I saw Richard Mulder there too, and his family. That was so cool to catch up with him. Everyone was there, all the OG dudes. It was a pretty historic night, set to a background of video, photo and graphic memories. It was heavy.

Did anything surprise you about the 20-year celebrations?

I think what surprised me most was the sheer volume of work that has come out of Chocolate. Just the graphic work by itself is unreal. The graphic work alone could be a huge book by itself. And then there was this crazy photographic history along with the art. It was so insane to see everything in one place, especially the early Chocolate art and photos that I’ve never got to see. There should be two volumes of Girl and Chocolate coffee table retrospective books.


That would be cool, Rick and Megan mentioned a Girl book being in the works. Let’s jump into how Chocolate started for you, what were your circumstances at Enjoi and why was change a must for you?

I’ve beaten this Enjoi question to death for years but the bottom line is that I left because of two reasons. The first was because the company was sold to another distributor without my knowledge. They didn’t tell any of us about the sale until after it had already happened. So while I felt like Enjoi was my baby for a couple of years and that I was an important part of the brand as a whole, I learned that I was not. “My” brand was sold to someone else and I wasn’t even told about it. Let’s just say that I wasn’t enthusiastic about the changes that were made after the sale of the company. Everything changed: new building, new employees, they fired almost all of the employees that made up the company prior to the sale and so on. I didn’t trust that the integrity of the brand itself was actually a priority with the new distributor. I was worn out from constantly fending off these pushes to basically become this corny toy store skateboard brand. They wanted to put the panda logo on everything and just corn the whole thing out as much as was possible. Keep in mind that I was 25 years old, directing the look and feel of a skateboard company. Looking back, 25 is in most cases still a very immature and naive age to be. Especially in skateboarding. From my perspective now, at 25 years old I was very shortsighted and clueless about a lot of things in general. Enjoi stopped feeling like the right thing for me to do.


Fair enough.

The second factor was basically a kind of strange personal crossroads where the lifestyle I was living in order to keep my end of things together just wasn’t working out for me anymore. I needed to change quite a few things about how I was living and coupled with what had happened with the sale of Enjoi and its sibling brands, I felt like I had to step away and figure out my shit.


Timing is everything. So how did you actually get on Chocolate? What sort of conversations went on that led to you being an addition to the team?

The idea to ride for Chocolate came after I left Enjoi. I was already on Lakai so I had a connection to Girl and Chocolate and I got to know Rick and Megan from working on Lakai stuff. I had the idea to talk with them about bringing some guys over from Enjoi to do another smaller board brand through Girl. I spoke with some of the Enjoi team riders about how they would feel about possibly going over to the Girl camp and everyone that I asked was beyond stoked. The whole point was to stick together. I had two possible names for the brand, which I absolutely loved, and I sat down with Rick and Meg and proposed the idea for a third brand out of Girl. We got through two meetings, and Rick mentioned that Mike had asked if I wanted to ride for Chocolate. The board thing and the politics around taking almost an entire team from the distributor where Enjoi was ended up being way too heavy. I absolutely loved doing ads, graphics and catalogs and coming up with ideas for a board company, but it couldn’t work at Girl at the time. It would’ve been rad, but ultimately it was just too heavy for everyone. Being asked to ride for Chocolate blew my mind. I felt like I was ditching the Enjoi guys in a way, but Matt Eversole stepped in to fill my role there and while we all still skated together all the time, Matt was the only guy I could think of who would keep the integrity of Enjoi as his number one priority. He had the sense of humor that essentially was Enjoi and was perfect for the role. So that was a relief. Enjoi was in good hands with Matt. He cared about the team first and foremost and that’s what I wanted for those guys.


It all worked out well then.

Everything clicked. Enjoi was in good hands, I was asked to ride for Chocolate and I was beyond stoked. I was collecting Wallride catalogs for years before that, and Girl was a place that amazed me as a skateboarder: the videos, the ads and graphics. You just knew that they did it right. It was untouchable and in a league of its own. There was something about Girl that was just way over the rest of everyone’s heads. You watch those videos and you see the list of dudes on the team and see the artwork coming out of that camp and you just know that it’s something special. I don’t know if “sophisticated” is the right word, but it’s just f**king rad all the way around. They know what they’re doing and it shows in everything that comes out of there. So I’m sitting there freaking out and giddy like a little kid who suddenly won the skate lottery. I joined Chocolate.


Did it feel right straight away?

I felt out of place to an extent because I didn’t know most of the guys on Chocolate, but they voted me on. I hoped I could bring something to the table and be a worthwhile addition. And Kenny Anderson had just gotten on a little bit before that point, which stoked me out so much. That was just the icing on the cake. I had asked Kenny to ride for Enjoi right when it started but he was going to stay with Planet Earth pretty much forever. I respected that loyalty and that made me want him on Enjoi that much more. It was like, “Shit! That’s so awesome. Damn it! F**k. That’s even radder!”  When Planet Earth pulled the plug on their board brand, he went to Chocolate and we ended up in the same crew eventually anyway. Kenny has been a favorite skater of mine since the early Planet Earth days: style for miles. Anyway, so here we are. I love everyone at Crailtap and I’m stoked that everything worked out. I haven’t been the perfect skater or person in the last 11 years, but I’ve tried my best to contribute to Chocolate in a positive way and earn that spot on the team. And after all these years, I still trip out on the quality of the output from the Girl camp. I love going to the warehouse where all the products are and digging through everything just to look at the stuff. I’ll easily spend 4 hours over there just looking at boards, clothes and goodies, just to see it. It’s pretty amazing that a board company has stayed legit for two decades. That has pretty much never happened in the history of skateboarding.

How well did you know the Girl and Chocolate camp before joining? When did you first meet Chico [Brenes]?

Oh my god I have the best Chico story. It’s not really a story, but it’s funny and awkward.


Let’s hear it.

So my first pro contest was in November of 1994 in San Jose. That contest was where I officially turned pro I guess. I didn’t have a pro board at the time but Maple was working on it. I’d lived in California for exactly 1 year, and I had never had a video part or any photos or ads in magazines. No one knew who I was. And to be honest, I knew that I didn’t have the talent and skill that it took to be a pro skater. I simply wasn’t anywhere near as good as these guys in the contest. Christian Hosoi was there. Holy shit, it was unreal seeing Christian shredding around with eight t-shirts flying out the back of his pants and I think he was literally wearing two trucker hats, one on top of the other. The whole experience was surreal. The Girl and Chocolate teams were there, and I was so nervous that I could barely roll around on the course. I actually watched practice instead of practicing myself. I had no business even being in that contest. Mike Carroll did a backside 180 over a car off flatground. The stuff some of the dudes were doing was insane. I was a curb skater who had only been skating for just over 4 years. I waited until everyone left to go back to their hotels; that’s when I felt comfortable skating. I was skating by myself late in the evening and Chico shows up alone. It was just me and him skating this contest course all by ourselves. I’m tripping because that’s Chico f**king Brenes. I’d been riding two of his World Industries boards a few months before that, and there I was skating, just me and him. It was really awkward to say the least. Anyway, I finally go up to Cheeks, I say hello, introduce myself and I held my hand out to shake his. Chico didn’t even look at me and just skated off to the other side of the course and kept skating without a word. I got dissed so hard. I left the contest and went home right then. It was just too uncomfortable to stay and skate. Two days later I was talking to one of my skate buddies at lunch and he was asking me how it went. I told him a couple stories about some stuff that went down, and then I remembered that practice day and I said, “Dude, the weirdest thing happened on Friday. Have you ever heard anything about Chico Brenes being deaf?”


  [Laughs]. What about Rick and Mike?

I didn’t actually meet Rick and Mike until 1999 filming for Modus Operandi. Ty [Evans] planned this trip to the southeast and everyone went: Chany [Jeanguenin], Chris Lambert, Rick, Mike, Brian Anderson and [Brad] Staba. Jamie Thomas showed us around Miami. That was a really rad trip. It’s all a blur now but I do remember being in a hotel room with Brad and prank calling Rick’s room a few times, asking for random people and hanging up. I think through filming for Modus and skating with Rick and Mike, it helped me get in at Lakai, which then helped me get in at Chocolate. Mike barely spoke on that trip. It would be funny if I was sitting at lunch with a skate buddy after that trip saying, “Dude, the weirdest thing happened on that Miami trip. I think Mike Carroll is mute.”

[Laughs]. Which of the riders do you get particularly well with?

Over the years, I’ve skated with everyone on the squad, but I’ve spent a lot more time with Chris Roberts and Kenny Anderson as far as Chocolate riders go. Out of the Girl guys, I’ve spent way more time with Guy Mariano and [Brandon] Biebel than anyone else. All the dudes are so rad though and have their own thing going on. We’re all out there all over the place, and when we get to all skate together or work on a project it’s always such a good vibe.


You’ve been very outspoken about the importance to you of skater-owned previously. What contribution does the skater-owned characteristic give to the atmosphere at Chocolate?

After experiencing a vastly different, more “corporate” profit-centered atmosphere, I can say that the skater-owned characteristic of a company creates a much better environment for everyone involved. It is business, of course, but it’s so much more fun and loose. A lot of importance is placed on staying true to the roots of why we all skate. People want to do rad things for the sake of doing rad things, whereas at some other companies the environment is more like a concentration camp of cubicles where the bottom line profit is all that matters and employees are always in fear of their jobs. At Girl, I know for a fact that when new people are interviewed they’re asked about skateboarding and whether or not they have a relationship with skateboarding is a huge factor in whether or not they get hired. Walk into some of these action sports companies and good luck finding someone who has ever even set foot on a skateboard. They don’t care about any of that. They want marketing degrees and sales experience with hard numbers. It’s all about profit. Normally at a skater-owned company there’s a huge focus on the creative side and so much more emphasis on projects related to the actual culture and history of skateboarding. People want to do legitimate skateboarding projects because they skate. They know the difference between what is good and what is blatantly lame and corny. Some people actually still give a shit about being a skateboarding company. Then you’ve got these action sports companies that dabble in skateboarding because it has a huge market in the teen demographic and they use skateboarding as a platform to build these companies that have nothing to do with skateboarding at all.


Well said. Girl and Chocolate is the skateboard sister duo combination done right and are commonly considered to be the greatest companies to ride for. What do you think has built this reputation?

The quality of the output and the integrity has built this reputation. The way they run the program is much more rooted in the experience of skating and a solid respect for where everyone came from. They didn’t forget where they came from, and they haven’t forgotten why they’re doing this. They want to do something fun, and it just so happens that the group of people that have gathered together over the years have kept it classy. They care about the finished product.

  How important was the legacy of the company to you?

Really important. Skateboarding isn’t that old, and most companies have come and gone. There aren’t many that have lasted as long as or have had this much of an impact on the history of skateboarding. Chocolate and Girl are ridiculously special in that regard. That company is a unicorn. You might see a unicorn once in 1000 years. It’s unheard of.


In what ways do you think about how you contribute to Chocolate aside from skating? Do you find it stressful?

It can be stressful at times because my own standards are so high that I rarely meet my own expectations. I’m definitely self-critical to a point where I can shut down if I cannot offer something that to me is the absolute best of my abilities. It gets harder to constantly top your last effort. I think the answer is to think outside the box and find new ways to contribute instead of two more stairs on the smith grind each couple of years. My contribution isn’t linear, and doesn’t need to be. I forget that sometimes. I don’t need to kickflip off a roof because I’ve already done it off the back of the tour van. It doesn’t work that way. I will contribute any ideas I have for damn near anything when I’m asked; shoe colorways, graphics, video ideas, tricks, music for video parts, product ideas. I just try to give back and hopefully something I do will make the whole thing a little better if possible.


You must get so much inspiration from the team too. Which of the guys do you look up to?

I look up to Rick McCrank, Kenny, Rick Howard, [Sam] Smyth, Scott Johnston, Guy and lot of other people as well. I think that inspiration comes in lots of little ways. The way someone lives their life and how they take care of business has an impact on me. And what a lot of the dudes have gone through and how they’ve overcome some serious shit to be where they’re at now. That’s pretty damn inspiring. A lot of us came from f**ked up broken homes with tweaked childhoods, and here we all are together, making our way through the world and doing a pretty goddamn good job. Pretty sweet for a bunch of kids who don’t have university degrees, wouldn’t you say? I would be remiss in my duty as a part of Chocolate if I didn’t mention that no one could’ve pulled this off without Megan Baltimore, Andy Jenkins and Spike. Megan and Andy are the glue that holds everything together. Everyone pitches in, but without Meg and Andy none of this would be the way it is. It might not have even worked out at all.


Everyone outside of the company always questions why someone would ever leave. How does it feel when someone leaves the Crailtap camp?

I think how I feel when someone leaves depends on the reasons they are leaving. Take Brian [Anderson], he didn’t have a problem with Girl. He wanted to create something new that had been brewing inside him for years. He’s a really creative person and he wanted an outlet for a lot of his ideas. I can understand that. He’s doing what a lot of people have done. He’s building something that he can call his own. That’s what Girl and Chocolate are too. Rick and Mike wanted to create something as well with the ideas they all had. I can respect that.

  For sure, Mike said the same. Have you spoke with Gino [Iannucci] about his decision?

I haven’t spoken to him about leaving Chocolate. I just heard about it a few weeks ago and didn’t really ask for details. Gino is a huge part of the history of Chocolate, and nothing is ever going to change that. Whatever he ends up doing, we all obviously wish him the best. I want Gino to be happy just like I want Brian to be happy. There’s more to life than riding a skateboard, and life is a lot longer than a skate career. Ideally, you would want to be happy and have skateboarding in your life at the same time for as long as you can. When you’re 65 years old and you look back on your life, don’t you want to look back fondly and be stoked on what you’ve done with your life? That’s some pretty heavy stuff right there. Whatever people need to do so that they can look back happily without too many regrets is what people should do.


Of course. So whose idea was the coat skit at the beginning of your Yeah Right! part? 

That was my idea. Damn right. My momma’s in that skit!


    [Laughs]. There’s always so much focus on your Fully Flared part and rightly so. How do you look at your Yeah Right! part in comparison?

My Yeah Right! part was old footage that was filmed out skating with the Tiltmode crew mostly. There are a couple of clips that I filmed for the actual Yeah Right! video, but the majority of the whole part was just skating with the crew. It was all natural and not forced.


Congrats on the Pretty Sweet part, mate. Great stuff. How do you feel about the part now that time has moved on a bit?

Thank you. I really like that part actually. The filming experience wasn’t as crazy for Pretty Sweet. It wasn’t easy at all, but it was a lot more comfortable.


How many tries did it take to get that last trick? Were there as many heavy battles as you had with Fully Flared?

I had to go back for that last trick about six times. I had to wear vulcanized Manchesters to get the proper grip on the front nose and the nollie heel out. I kept tripping out on how certain shoes didn’t work for feeling comfortable on the rail. It’s a long drive to that spot, and some days nothing worked at all. And that’s a really long drive home when you don’t come up on a trick. There were some heavy battles for some tricks, but not like Fully Flared. That backside lip slide shove-it on the bank-to-wall was a gnarly mission. I cried when I rolled away. No, really, I cried. Tears of relief. There were a few more, but the filming was much more natural for Pretty Sweet, if you can even call filming natural at this point. Filming isn’t even remotely natural now. It’s a shit show out there. I love skateboarding so much, but honestly, skating is in a really f**ked-up place right now.

  How do you mean? Do people need to start accepting a change in direction?

Now with the proliferation of the internet and social media, video footage is thrown in your face all day long and it has ceased to be unique or special, which is ironic because some of the best skateboarding is happening right now. The sheer amount of fodder footage has ruined the ability for certain parts to stand out and shine. They’re overshadowed almost immediately by the next clip someone feels like they just have to show you. Great video parts are thrown on a website and then some bullshit is stacked right on top of it two hours later and it’s relegated to the internet graveyard. Video parts aren’t even featured for more than a couple of hours and they’re soon forgotten because some asshole dumps some shit you don’t need to see right on top of what is otherwise a fantastic video part that should have a chance to shine for at least 30 days on the media outlet featuring it. Bottom line: filming is almost pointless now. The problem is, no one knows what to do right now, and everyone’s answer is, “more, more, more!” And that’s both f**king stupid and absurd because it is killing skateboard media. Kids have seen so much skateboarding now that they don’t give two f**ks about any one thing that comes out, and they don’t have the attention span to remember anything in particular because one thousand people a day post footage all over cyberspace and use social media to try to grab your attention and stop you for 5 minutes to hopefully watch it. All media outlets are to blame for playing the “footage race” game. Congratulations guys, thanks to you and your need to post crap with increasing frequency, you’ve killed skateboard videos. Give yourselves a congratulatory hug. Thanks assholes.


Hopefully not the wrong time to ask if you’re filming at the moment. I’ve heard some vague talk of the next Lakai video; can you shed some light on that?

I’ve been filming all kinds of stuff for The Back Forty this year and handling a lot of the creative duties with that project, and then doing video projects for Lakai, Matix, Thunder. It’s all non-stop. There hasn’t been a whole lot of time to just be an 18-year old skater this year. I’ve got obligations all over the place with lots of different brands, and I’ve also been doing a lot of personal work for myself outside of skateboarding. What happens often is that when I buckle down on a project, that’s all I think about and all I do. I focus completely on that thing and then move on to the next project. A skateboarder’s personal life can sometimes be neglected and things can pile up and become overwhelming. It’s good to take time off from everything, care for yourself once in a while and recharge the batteries. It’s easy to get burned-out on so much skateboarding business when it’s constantly coming at you all day every day non-stop for years and years. In an effort to avoid burnout, I take time off and do other things and make sure the spark stays there. But there is some talk of a Lakai project and dudes are working toward giving that some shape. After the holidays, I’m going to continue working on that and focus on what I’m going to do for a part. We’ll see.

Let’s get that countdown going. Given your experience with Enjoi I’m guessing you’ve given a fair amount of input to your board graphics and the like too.

We have as much input as we want to share. If you want to do a graphic, they’re all for it. I don’t think some of the dudes know that. You can pretty much have whatever graphic you want. They love input from the riders. How it normally works is ideas are thrown around and sketches are made and graphics are mocked up and spread out on the floor of Rick’s office. He lets people cruise in, look at everything and make comments. The graphics are shared with anyone who wants to look at them generally. I think that a lot of the ideas come from all over the place and are passed along to Evan [Hecox] who translates them into graphics and blows our minds every time. It’s amazing. Then there are one-offs occasionally done by Art Dumpers or other artists and friends. It’s all pretty loose with plenty of room to do all kinds of stuff.


What suggestions of yours to Evan have made it onto boards?

I’ve never had any conversations with Evan personally about graphic stuff, but I have suggested graphics and series ideas to Rick that have ended up becoming boards for sure. I wanted a fireworks graphic based on the fireworks series they did in 2003 and I got this cool vintage rocket graphic from that. One of the raddest ones was the re-issue of the first Rudy Johnson pro graphic that Mark Gonzales drew back in 1991. They put that graphic out as a tribute to Rudy and Kenny got an original Chris Miller graphic for Chocolate right around the same time.


Just out of curiosity what did the “another Mike Carroll power move” text refer to on your Yeah Right! coat ad refer to?

Mike being the one who suggested I ride for Chocolate.


Good to know. How do you, Kenny and Chris hope to expand The Back Forty? What have you learned from Chocolate that has transferred over?

We’re taking our time with The Back Forty. If anything, we’ve learned that we don’t have to be remotely like any other brands, and stress ourselves out. That was a kink we had to work out through experience. People are used to what they see, and whenever something comes along that doesn’t fit that mold, people don’t understand it at first. That’s why we’re taking time and going slow. We honestly want to create something new, and we are learning how to do that day by day.


Looking forward to seeing where it goes. It’s substitution time, a straight swap from Girl to Chocolate. Who’s coming and who’s going? You might be interested to hear Rick said he’d go out for you.

Let’s see, I think Rick has the right idea. It would have Rick be on Chocolate and have Justin [Eldridge] roll around on some Girl planks for a while. Justin is actually a good fit for both teams.



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