20 Years of Girl/Chocolate Interviews – Justin Eldridge

Justin Eldridge on 20 years of Girl/Chocolate

Photography provided by Chocolate Skateboards

Words by Stephen Cox

Hi Justin, how are things?

Good. I live pretty close to the beach so I’ve just cycled my bike down to get coffee.


How are you feeling being part of Chocolate at a time like this? What’s going through your head about your time with the company?

You know, it’s gone by so damn fast. Time flies when you’re having fun. Every single person on this team and everyone involved is so fun to hang out with. I’ve had so much fun this whole time.


What moments stand out to you most?

The Hot Chocolate tour was my first real big tour with them. It’s probably one of the longest tours I’ve done. That was one of the biggest things that stands out because it was so much time on the road with those dudes; getting to meet Spike [Jonze] and getting to do the stuff that we did. It was big landmark for me.


The opening sequence was amazing.

That was sick. I want to say that was in Chicago but I can’t remember. I could be wrong. We knew we were going to meet up with Spike, go downtown and film a bunch of kids run after us. None of us really had a clue how big it was going to be though. They shut down the streets and everything. It was epic [laughs].


It definitely was. There have been plenty of celebrations going on, were you at the art show in Brooklyn?

It was awesome. There were a couple of smaller ones but there were three big ones, I went to all of them: LA, Denver and Brooklyn.


There was a demo in Denver too?

Yeah and New York. Both the New York and LA shows were pretty big. It was really cool to see. The places were a good size, but for the amount of people that came it was small. There was a line out the door the entire time. To see the support and the people wanting to see the artwork was really cool.

Must have brought back some memories.

Absolutely. It was cool to talk to fans and people who have been following us for a while. The art was a timeline: at one point it started in the building and just went around the walls. To see it all together was crazy. They had a screen playing too with all the videos combined. The one in LA had a separate room for it. I walked around and I didn’t go into the room with the video until the very end of the night. Once I got to the room, I just went in by myself. To watch that video and to see it all on the screen and to see everything that came before me, and everything that came after me? I got a little choked up, you know? To see it all put together and know you are a part of it? That was cool, man.


How did Chocolate begin for you? Who were you skating with before getting on?

I skated and still skate for Val Surf. I was working there, skating a lot and couldn’t even believe I was getting boards from these dudes. Then for a while, I just didn’t know what was going to happen. It was getting to the point where I wanted to further my skateboarding career, to do it full time. There were another couple of sponsors that wanted to start paying me too. I went to the manager at Val Surf, and I didn’t know what the Chocolate thing was going to do or if they were really down. I remember him saying, “Just wait, hold out. Do your thing, but just wait”. He was right; I can’t thank that dude enough. I got a call from Sam [Smyth] and they wanted me to go on a tour. I had skated with Eric [Koston] before because I was on éS a while before Yeah Right! Actually, I didn’t even know I was going to be in Yeah Right! I went out filming with him and Atiba [Jefferson]. I don’t know if it was him who said to put me on, but I didn’t know I was going to have a full part until I got to the premiere [laughs].


That’s crazy. I know Koston was your favourite pro growing up too. What was it like skating with people you looked up to at that stage?

I get nervous a lot or whatever. I remember it was kind of cool because I became friends with Atiba and skated with him a few different times. When I skated with Eric I wasn’t nervous. It was cool because I was comfortable and it made me want to skate even more. I skated my ass off those few times and it worked out.


You got on around the same time as Marc Johnson right?

I think Marc and Kenny [Anderson] were on just before me. The Hot Chocolate tour was the first time all three of us were together with everybody.


Has leaving ever crossed your mind?

Never, ever. I’ve got a Chocolate tattoo. When I first got on I remember Stevie [Williams] had one, Richard [Mulder] had one. I never thought that something like having a skateboarding career would happen, let alone get on Chocolate. I remember telling my friends I was going to start and end my career here. I’m not saying other companies aren’t good but what I like is here and it’s incredible.


I spoke to Mike Carroll about Brian Anderson leaving Girl last year. What went through your head when Mike York left?

I don’t really know what the deal was with the York thing. That was kind of a weird one. When the people I trip on leave, the majority do it to start their own company. It shows that people don’t leave because they’re unhappy. It’s more along the lines of people getting to a point in their career where they want to start their own thing. I always trip every time and I understand that, but I couldn’t explain to you why someone would want to leave otherwise.


Girl and Chocolate is the sister duo done right. Other companies don’t seem to be able to get it just as right as you guys do. What’s the difference?

I could go on and on about it. You know what it honestly comes down to? The people that run this thing: Rick [Howard], Mike, Megan [Baltimore] and Spike. There’s something that those people have that is hard to find on this earth. You could call Rick your best friend after meeting him once. It’s not like he has a shit ton of best friends, it’s that he is so amazingly nice to people and is such a genuine person. It starts with them and they have the ability to put the right people together. It trips me out. Even when these new guys get on, I’ve been here for 10 years and you do wonder for a second. Then you go on a trip with them and you’re like, “this guy could be my brother”. It’s insane how they can pick that. It’s not just the talent, it’s everything. It’s some gift that they have.


How do Girl and Chocolate compliment each other or how do you compare the two?

It’s funny because me and Rick have a thing, we’re very competitive. I’m always saying Chocolate is better and he says Girl is. Chico has said it before, Chocolate has a flavour more or less compared to what Girl has. Everything shows that, from the artwork to the skating. To Rick, I would say Chocolate is better. To anybody else I would say that they compliment each other so well. It’s cool to see that Chocolate doesn’t need to be running the game. It just has that vibe. It’s something that you can relate to and want to be a part of.


It stood out to me how shocked you were in Hot Chocolate when Mike York wrecked his knee.


But you didn’t seem to care when your finger was bent completely out of place. You must get tortured about that.

[Laughs]. A lot. I think it’s easy because it’s a good way to start a conversation. There have been a few times where I’m like, “…okay. Did you like the skating?” It’s always good after that. It made the video a little bit cooler. I think it was just the timing and how ironic it was that Yeah Right! was based on a surreal kind of vibe. That’s why it was such a big deal. A lot of people thought it was fake and I’m sure a bunch of people still do to this day. That carried it even further. It happened in 5 seconds and then it was over, I never would have thought about it again otherwise.


The part was only a minute and a half long but was packed with bangers. So you didn’t take long to put it together then because you didn’t know?

To be honest, I want to say it took 2 or 3 months at the most because the video was already done. I filmed a couple of things that they knew they wanted to be in the video but I remember Scuba [Steve] saying, “You have some stuff and Ty [Evans] wants to put it in the video so you should just film more and try to get it in”. I just skated. After each trick I would ask whoever was there, “Was it good enough? Should I do this? Should I do that?” It was always, “Don’t worry about it. Just keep doing it”. But yeah, I didn’t know until I sat in the theatre [laughs].


I was wondering how much pressure you felt before with it being your first part in a Girl video, but you sort of got through it without all that stress then?

Yeah, [laughs]. There was no, “I have to do better than my last part, what are people going to think?” Yeah totally, I would take that situation. But at the same time it kind of messed up situations after that. It came out so effortlessly then I had to think about how to one-up that. Back then I was just jumping down rails. I wasn’t thinking about what trick is better than my last, it was just what I was doing at the time. From then on it has felt like there’s a bar for myself. I did the rail thing then got to know a bunch of guys on the team and the way that they skated, I kind of wanted to try other stuff but at the same time I feel like I had to live up to something. But you know, that’s skateboarding. I’m happy.


And all your footage in Hot Chocolate was from that one tour too then?

Yeah, there was maybe one or two clips form a couple of different tours.


What’s it like off the board touring with those guys?

It’s funny because I’ve been on plenty of trips with other different squads and you see the new guy get picked on. Honestly dude, the Chocolate tours have never been like that [laughs]. I know everybody says about the family thing, but it really is true. We’re all out there being brothers and helping each other. You’re either hyping someone up or helping them out depending on the situation. But with Spike on the Hot Chocolate tour, we went to a Björk concert and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were opening. Because we were with Spike it was completely different. Before the show ended he got everybody backstage and we waited for Björk to get off. Before you know it we’re in a mosh pit with Björk, Spike and these crazy people from her crew. They were dressed all crazy, it was such a surreal situation. I don’t know how many other groups of people could be in that situation.


Were you talking to her?

She was awesome. I don’t know if she was drinking or whatever, but we were all just partying. One minute when we were all just watching the show and then the next Spike is body slamming a big 7-foot dude dressed like a pelican on the dance floor, then Björk is body-slamming Spike [laughs]. It was so insane, dude.


[Laughs]. The guys talked about how you had nollie nosegrinds on lock in that video. I always imagine that trick to be scarier down rails because you’re leaning forward slightly.

I used to skate this little flat bar near my house, which is where I learned everything I ever do on rails. I don’t know, man. Maybe it was to do with watching Eric. I remember seeing him to a lot of nollie heelflip noseslides and a lot of other nollie stuff. For some reason that trick became so easy for me and I think I just stuck with it. Maybe I noticed that no one else was really doing it. I wouldn’t feel as comfortable doing a 50-50 on a round flat bar as opposed to doing a nollie nosegrind. Maybe after doing so much nollie that front leg just got fuckin’ stronger [laughs].


I remember reading an article by Oliver Barton about that trick on that trip that took hours to get, with Ty getting towels to dry up the spot and everything.

Yeah, that was a funny one. I feel like even at that point I was over them. It was the warm up trick though. We went there and it was so wet. There were always points where you’re at a spot with Ty and without even asking he’s got a shit ton of towels and I want to say maybe even some sort of drying machine? It became a big ordeal without me even being asked if I wanted to skate it [laughs]. Shit was getting dried up! In my head I thought, “He’s dried all of this up. I have to nollie nosegrind it. Let’s do it and bounce” [laughs].


The white t-shirt skit was cool, kind of a continuation of the pink board in Yeah Right! Did you do all of that stuff on that one tour?

All the skits were filmed on that tour because it was so long. I remember we got back and there were some bits and pieces we had to finish off though. We went to the ledges at Venice and filmed the white t-shirt thing when we got back but it was right after so it still felt like we were on the trip, it just continued on.

What was it like skating those boards on fire?

I did a switch 5-0 on a little ledge. The board had little ropes that would catch on fire and they would just drench the board with lighter fluid then put it out. It was hard. A lot of them we had to do a bunch of times; the board was heavier, it was wet, it was on fire, there were a bunch of people running after you [laughs]. Actually, I remember I met this guy on a different trip and he was like, “Dude, I was the one that put out the fire every time!” I was like, “Shit, thank you!” That was pretty funny.


[Laughs]. Congratulations on the Pretty Sweet part too.

How do I even explain that one? That video was hard. I was hurt a lot during the beginning of filming for that. Luckily towards the end we did a lot of trips to China. It’s insane skating there. I skated some good spots and got some good footage but I feel like the video was to introduce the new dudes, let the world know about them and what was going on with Girl and Chocolate. It was fun, but stressful. Towards the end I didn’t even know what I had to go in there. Ty is obviously amazing at making videos. What comes with that is that you do something you think is cool, but Ty thinks that’s not going to make it. So it’s stressful dealing with that shit. If you’re not on his schedule you’re kind of getting left behind a little bit but you know, to each his own. Everybody has their own shit. It’s always fun though.


It looked sketchy as anything nearly getting run over by that truck too.

[Laughs]. Yeah, they don’t come much more sketchy than out in China I’ll tell you that much.


The opening sequence of the video was epic.

Dude actually, I wasn’t there for that. Me and Guy were on a solo mission to China for, it had to be two months. I think we were actually in Taiwan when that shit happened. They had permits for that shit and Spike was really involved and everything. But yeah, I wasn’t there.


You’ve got a good excuse. What were your experiences with working with the next-level types of cameras?

At first it was really weird, you know? Especially with Federico [Vitetta] having a body suit. It was so insane. It’s like a robot following you, it’s just fuckin’ weird. After a while, he’s such amazing dude that he just took it in his stride. He wore that thing more than he wore some clothes he had. He always had that thing on so it made you try harder. It made things seem like a bigger production than it was; you just wanted to land the trick because it looked amazing on that camera. And to get the dude out of that suit because it weighed a ton [laughs].


The Chocolate art direction and graphics are timeless. The ‘F**k It’ 15 year anniversary graphic is up there for you isn’t it? What’s behind that one?

Dude seriously, they’re so good over there. I know all the art dudes and everything, they’re friends of mine but sometimes I’m just like, “How the hell did you come up with that?” They make it fit so perfectly. I looked at that board and I don’t drink too much coffee, well I’m drinking coffee right now [laughs] but them not even knowing me growing up, as a kid I would go outside and listen to some reggae and down three cups of coffee. My brain just went, “what am I going to skate today?” To have the coffee cup be broken and for it to say “f**k it”, showed that what’s inside counts. It’s whatever can make you do something; it doesn’t matter if it’s a little broken on the outside. It doesn’t matter if your ankle is a little injured or there’s something else worrying you in your life, just “f**k it”.  You’ve got your cup of coffee, you’re going to go out and skate. That’s what I got from it. For some reason that touched me pretty deep, I’ve always loved that board.

So let’s sub a skater out from Chocolate and one in from Girl. Who’s coming and going?

Ok. Let’s see. As of right now, I’m taking for Cory [Kennedy] for sure. I don’t know who to give from Chocolate. I like all the Chocolate guys. They’re staying dude [laughs]. We’re taking Cory and we’re out.


Take it and run. What’s in for the next 20?

Keeping it fresh. I wouldn’t change anything. When it works like it does here there’s no need to change it. I think it would be cool – and not that it matters at all but Girl might be a good outlet to do it – if more people could see Chocolate. I’m not talking about selling out, but it would be cool for more people to see the artwork and the vibe of this company. It’s more than a skate company. It’s weird because the shit that gets skating in the public eye these days are these Red Bull things, Go Pro or whatever. Let’s get Chocolate further out there even if it is that way. It’s not just the Ryan Shecklers, the Plan Bs and Gatorade, there is Chocolate too. That amazing style and work is there. It would be good for a wider audience to think of Chocolate when they think of skateboarding.


Quote to summarize the 20 years of Chocolate?

“It’s family” – everyone. We always go back to that, they’re my brothers.


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