John Rattray ‘Cover Stories’ interview from Sidewalk 200

From Sidewalk 200 – May 2013


John Rattray
Sidewalk issue 48 : July 2000
Cover photo: Horse



I’m sure you’ve been told this before but issue 48 was the biggest selling Sidewalk of all time, (approx 70,000 issues), which says quite a lot about that moment in skateboard history – namely the middle of the THPS boom and pre-internet content – are you proud?
– I don’t think I’ve ever known that fact. I don’t think pride is the emotion. Maybe a little bit relieved that we’re over the peak, (laughing).

That was during an Iceland trip with Shier, Colin and Horsley, which again is very telling – there was enough disposable income in UK skateboarding to send you four to Reykjavik of all places – what were you actually doing over there?
– We were flown there to be guest judges at a contest that was happening at a music festival. I think the festival paid for flights and accommodation. Ian Brown was there. I asked him, “What’s the magic word?” and he said, “Abracadabra”. Which was funny at the moment but a bit sad as it belied a lack of proper manners. All civilized humans know that the magic word is really “please”.

You actually landed two covers from that one trip as well with ‘Blueprint’ architecture mag using a boardslide photo as a cover too– did you have any involvement in that happening?
– No, I thought Andy was submitting his photos to a stock image library or something and they sourced it that way, I’m not sure, but the Blueprint coincidence was pretty radical.

So you’re originally from Aberdeen John, 9/10 hours away from the centre of UK skateboarding and over 5000 miles from the centre of global skateboarding and yet you’ve found yourself as a professional skateboarder living in the USA with a long and distinguished career under your belt. How did the kid in the black socks waxing up the kerbs at BT carpark manage this?
– He was reacting against deep rage and inner pain.

How much was it a case of you simply following possibility as it was presented to you, compared to pre-ordained ambition and planning?
– I think if you have a loose plan and some ambition to achieve a certain goal then you’ll be more attuned to making the decisions that might lead you logically towards that goal. The key, I think, is to walk before you can run and so forth. So – a bit of both.

Aside from the success/fame side of skateboarding – could you select a particular moment or era in your life as a skateboarder so far that would best represent the joyful side of it for you?
– Anything to do with slalom.

You’ve lived in the States for a good while now and after 10 years in California, you and your family have re-located to Portland, Oregon – what prompted the move and why did you pick the Pacific North West?
– I moved because I couldn’t afford the rent in California. We’d lived down there for 10 years and had wanted a change for a while anyway. My friends, who live in SF, called me up and offered a reasonable deal on the rent at the place they own in Portland. So we moved our life up here.

Where on earth did you get that Wu Tang shirt from that you were wearing when you noseblunted Clipper? And do you think it played a part in your rise?
– Got it from Marshall’s on Beach Boulevard in Huntington Beach. As strip mall as it gets. I was with Shier and Colin. I don’t think I bought it when I first saw it but it stayed with me: Like the guitar in Wayne’s World. I finally bought it for 15 bucks and it got me stoked so yes, it played its part.

Was 411 the precursor of the internet in that it kind of operated in a similar way to web content these days – which bit of footage/video part/section of your own is your favourite and why? Which one do you think has had most influence on the way your life turned out, looking at it retrospectively?
– 411 definitely raised the quantity of skating we would get to see on video. That was a natural corollary of the new abundance of affordable video equipment that emerged at that time. There were more cameras around so more content got produced, that trend has continued. The delivery system was VHS then DVD and now Internet.
As for which bit of footage, probably having some clips in Scott Malcom’s video The Vava Man had the most influence on the way my life’s turned out.

Did you ever land the front blunt flip out on the ledge at Southbank?
– No, I wonder if Baines remembers. We went by there one day and tried to lock into a couple of noseblunt slides but kept sticking on the rocks. Baines was like, “You should try to get that front blunt flip out.” And I tried but the ledge had a fresh coat of wax on it. We’d been waxing it before we realised it was the rocks causing the sticking, not the ledge. I slipped out like never before and fully chest smashed to the floor. I couldn’t breath for a while after that. Never tried again.

What was the first photo you ever had in a skate mag? What’s been your favourite photo of yourself that been run over the years and why?
– First photo was in R.A.D. doing a backside melon on the Andover bank at Livi when I was 12. I wasn’t that stoked on it because my teeth looked weird and there was a typo in the caption. I did backside melons on the Andover because I’d seen Bucky Lasek do an amazing one, full method style, earlier that summer at the Powell demo.
Favourite photo…I might say the fullpipe cover, or the Livi cover, or something by Oliver, Skin, Wig, Burnett, Jon Coulthard, O Meally, Dylan Doubt or Philippa probably.



What would be your Sidewalk favourite cover from over the years and why?
– I’d have to go with the fullpipe photo. I was on the other side of a depressive period in my life and we were on a rampage. We saw it, skated it and Andy clicked it, no flashes, ambient light just blasting in this white pipe up near the arctic circle laughing about whatever dumb stuff we could think of. There was no thinking, “Okay, we need to get a cover” not that I’ve ever thought that, but I know those words do get said.

Sidewalk has been going since 1995 so obviously skateboarding as a culture has changed a lot over that time – if I were to ask you to point out the 5 most important/ culturally significant events or developments that have occurred over that time, what would you pick and why?
– I don’t know if skateboarding has changed that much as a culture. As a business it may have mutated a bit but as a culture, I don’t know. We still look for spots and talk about video parts and meet at the skatepark or the ledge spot and try to loosen up. Laugh at and criticise graphics and ads and talk about what’s rad and what makes us want to puke.

My list of culturally significant stuff in skating from the point of view of someone who’s been in the States for the last 12 years might contain:
Toy Machine’s Welcome to Hell.
The VX1000 and the Century fisheye.
Jamie Thomas’ use of those tools.
Alien’s Photosynthesis.
Girl and Chocolate.
Krooked coming into existence.
Anti Hero adverts and graphics.
Ed Templeton and Toy Machine.
Televised contests.
Rob Dyrdek. Tony Hawk.
Shane Cross dying.
Andrew Reynolds getting sober.
Cardiel’s TWS part.
The rise of Shake Junt.
The tasteful globalisation of Cliché.
The demise of Blueprint.
The rise of Polar, Magenta, Palace, Sk8 Mafia, Skate Mental, etc.

Are there any particular skateboarders that you feel have contributed more than others to this culture and if so, which ones, and what’s the substance of their contribution?

Jamie Thomas: hard work beats talent.
Ed Templeton: Art Ed says, “This is how the world is, this is the stuff that happens, the stuff that humans do. Check it out, it’s weird.” Then business Ed says, “Now we’re gonna suck your blood and you’re gonna love it.” So good.
Andrew Reynolds: Get sober, get hammers.
Tony Hawk: Mall mums think skateboarding’s okay.
Rick Howard: Girl and Chocolate.
Julien Stranger: Talented cynic.
Aaron Meza: Quietly curating radness.
Jim Thiebaud: The facilitator of awesome.
Steve Berra: Giving kids plenty to be stoked on.
Michael Burnett: Setting standards in skate journalism.
Jonathan Mehring: Kickflip in the Mariana Trench? Not impossible.
Patrick O Dell: Showing it how it is.
Ryan Sheckler: Red Bull’s not that bad.
John Cardiel: Duh.
Eric Koston: See Cardiel.
Daewon Song: Inspiration.
Monty Nolder: Back smiths.
Dennis Busenitz: It’s cool to be sober and not hit rails as long as you do it fast and have skills.

So at this point in your life where you’ve had numerous pro boards, video parts, magazine coverage and are basically still ‘living the dream’: did it live up to your expectations?
– I never really had any expectations. Looking back I’d say I’m fairly dissatisfied with what I’ve personally done with my career but then again…
I’m pretty happy with the person it’s made me and I’ve certainly learned a lot about the business and people of skateboarding…

What does skateboarding mean to you at this point in your life?
– Now it causes me pain whereas it used to prevent me from feeling pain.

Are you able to imagine a life without skateboarding?
– Yes, absolutely. It would involve hill walking, reading, writing, hanging out with the wife, and making little short films. But really probably not. I love all the friends I’ve made so far because of skateboarding so without it I can imagine life might have been okay but with it life is definitely very rad.

Do you have any advice for the next generation of black- socked kids in Aberdeen skating BT carpark?
– Learn to play a musical instrument. Be respectful and don’t be a dick. Not being a dick will take you pretty far in this world.


Frontside carve. Photo – George Cutright

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