SIDEWALK ISSUE 210 - MARCH 2014
Despite being pretty much the same age, I never had many dealings with Stu Graham before he moved to America; aside from seeing him at the occasional event or bumping into him randomly at skatepark lock-ins during the late 90s or early years of the 2000s, our paths rarely crossed.
By the time I was able to travel to Scotland to skate or had the ‘privilege’ of Stu’s fellow Scotsmen Div and Benson coming to stay/terrorize my house on occasion, Stu was already firmly rooted in America with pro boards out on Creature, a full section in the Osiris video ‘Feed the Need’ under his belt, a wife to which he already one daughter, and another bairn on the way.
I guess in the eyes of most onlookers, this lad from Livingston was pretty much ‘living the dream’ in every sense.
Then, in 2008, completely unannounced, Stu was back in Scotland.
Through Alex Irvine and Cubic I found myself spending more and more time with the recently returned Stu – road trips, events, comps…he was down to get involved with pretty much anything and everything that helped him escape his native Livi. It was during the ‘Monkeys in a Van’ camping mission we went on in the spring of 2009 that we started to hear about the logistical nightmare he was still only partway through.
Deported and banned from America, separated from his wife and two daughters, and with years of legal ribbons to hack through before he’d even be allowed anywhere near US soil again…the reality of Stu’s situation was, to say the least, grim. The years that followed offered up several brief glimpses of hope, most of which were dashed as quickly as they appeared by one legal process or another.
Then, as randomly and as unannounced as when he had landed back in Scotland in 2008, on Christmas Eve 2013, a photo appeared on the Instagram feed that broadcasted to the world that Stu was finally back in his San Diego home, reunited at last with his wife and three daughters.
After years of visa issues and filing barrel load after barrel load of paperwork, it looked like the Graham clans’ lengthy ordeal was finally over.
During our annual Tradeshow-centric Stateside getaway in January, we decided to head down to San Diego for a few days to meet up with Stu, cruise around the adopted hometown that he has been exiled from for close to six years, and find out exactly how his nightmare had finally come to an end.
So, from a shaded bench around the back of Washington Street Skatepark, here’s how it all went down – straight from The Ogre’s mouth…
Stuart, set the scene for us please – where are we right now?
We’re at Washington Street…Vigilante Tranny.
When did you first come to San Diego?
2002 or 2003, something like that.
How did you get the money to first come out?
You know what? Focus paid for my whole flight. Sibs and Stu, they fully paid for my flight to come out here the first time.
Had somebody asked you to come out here first or were you on your own mission?
Well there was an Osiris trip…not the one for The Storm; it was a good bit after that. They all came over to the UK and I was talking to the team manager at the time, and he was all hyped, like an, “aye, come over and stay at my place" kinda thing.
So you came out at first for Osiris then?
Was that visit just for three months?
The first time was for three months, aye. I was sleeping in a wee tent, kicking about, throwing it up in bushes, that type of shit. It was rad. I stayed at Clint’s house for a long time as well, then I went back to Scotland for a couple of months, it was kinda near the end of the summer, and then I came back out and that was my first Christmas over here.
You just had all your shit in one bag then?
That big f*cking stupid bag that I wheel about, that big green thing: I just rolled about with that.
What boards were you getting when you first came out?
When I first came out I was getting Anti Hero boards through Shiner, then I started getting boards through someone else in the Deluxe warehouse…I cannae remember his name, it wasn’t any of the actual TMs or anything for Deluxe, it was just somebody in the warehouse who was sending me boards. Then I got on Black Label, and then I got on enjoi. I was up there with them guys and staying at the Tiltmode place and they were giving me boards.
Each time when you got on a new board company did you tell the other one? Or were you just collecting boards?
(Laughing), aye I told them. It was just where I was, as I was moving around, people were just giving me boards. I wasn’t really ‘on’ anything, I was just getting boards from them; they were helping me basically.
So when you left after those first three months and went back to Scotland, were you still on enjoi?
Mouly: Is that when I saw you up in San Jose? That time bloody ages ago…
Ages ago…for that video ‘Guarte’.
Mouly: Didn’t you have a cut on your eye from when someone tried to mug you?
Aye, someone tried to slash me. It was amazing that they asked me for change and the only money I had was change. I was wasted ‘cos I’d left the bar and I couldn’t buy anything else. He was like, “have you got any change?" and I’m like “oh yeah" and f*cking tried to give him my coins and the c*nt cut me…for giving him the change, (laughs).
What did he cut you with?
I don’t know it was really fast, it was like a tiny cut I had right by my eye, it was like a wee slit. It was right close to the place where we were at as well; Louie and that were pissed because they’d stayed there for ages and never had any problems. But it was maybe my fault too, I dunno if I did say something to him…but I was trying to give him the change, I can totally remember being like “aye, aye for sure, I’ll give you some change", wasted, falling about the place.
In the time that I was with Louie as well I got on Ezekiel, and that was a proper US kinda thing and I started to get on with DJ Speed; Sean Lewis is his name. He used to be the head DJ, the main spinner for NWA, super sick dude, but he paid for a good two or three flights for me to come back and forth a few times. It was all DJ Speed…
At that point I’m guessing you were just on a three months tourist visa?
Aye, and then when I came back for the third time I don’t think I went back after that. Four, five, maybe six years I overstayed.
So it was the third time you came back when you overstayed?
It wasnae ‘til I met Chelsea (Graham – Stu’s wife), which was the third time I came over, then I never went back after that.
Didn’t you end up marrying her not long after?
Aye. We got married just up the road there, at San Diego courthouse.
And did that not allow you to stay over here legally?
Well at that point I should have done all my paperwork, but by that time I was on Creature as well so I was doing loads of shit, I was going on trips and doing loads of stuff, and before I knew it I had overstayed…I was only supposed to be here for three months and I don’t know how long it was…the timescale and all that stuff we’re talking about…f*cking hell I don’t know, it was a good few years anyway. And that’s when I went on that Osiris trip and tried to come back in to LA and got deported.
Was that the Osiris trip to Europe?
Aye, it was a six-week thing as well.
So you managed to get out of the country okay?
Nae bother, aye. They were like “OK, cool". Osiris had booked all the flights; I was flying into Germany, that’s where it started. I didnae even want to go on that trip as well, I was adamant that I wouldnae get back in, and they were like “nah you’ll be all good, if you fly back into LA you’ll be chilling".
It wasnae chilling at all…
So, in a nutshell, when you flew back to LA, what happened? You were queuing up for customs…
I had my little 90 day thing again, just standard procedure coming in, and as soon as I handed it all over he put my passport through the machine, he looked at me and went “you have to come with me". An hour and a half after that I was on a plane back out of LA to London. They only got me to London as well.
Did they pay for it?
Aye. I think the British Embassy paid for it. But aye, it’s mental, like that they can just be, “you’re out".
What did they say to you? “You’re out and you can’t come back"?
Nah they never said anything like that, they were just immigration officers, they didnae have that sort of info on what I’d done, they just knew I had to be outta there. It was crazy.
When I got to London that was the best bit. I’d just been on a trip for six weeks, had nae money, had f*ck all. After 24 hours of flying – Madrid was the last stop on that trip, in Spain, so I flew from there all the way to LA, did all that bullshit then flew all the way to London. I was stuck there for nearly a day, and then I got an EasyJet number up to Scotland.
Mouly: What did customs or immigration say to you in London?
F*cking not a word, nothing. “Cool…in you go." They just knew I was coming off of that flight, it was totally chilling. Nothing was wrong to them, they were like “welcome home". I was like “wankers"!
I was stuck in Heathrow or Gatwick and it was pure grim. Naewhere to sleep, I was stuck there with all my stuff like “rad, back in this shithole".
So how did you make it back to Scotland from London with no money?
I think it was Sibs and Stu Rattray again, I owe a lot to those boys. My Ma and Da didn’t have the money at that time too, I was trying to hit them up and they were like “there’s nae way. You’re stuck in London for a while" (laughs). I would’ve been alright, I could’ve called a million folks in London, there’s so many people I could’ve phoned. If I’d have phoned Cubes and told him he’d have driven from whatever point in the country to pick me up.
What was the situation after that then? What was it like being stuck in Livi?
It was just pure hell. Absolute hell. It was like my worst f*cking nightmare had come true; it was so bad.
There’s nothing to do as well. I was looking for work and it was the shittiest work you could ever imagine. All factory work…that’s all what’s around Livi as well, big factories and all that kinda shit. It’s either that or you work in Sports Division selling some prick f*cking sports shoes, or Starbucks or something. I couldn’t work in Starbucks; can you imagine me selling coffee? You’d be seriously bummed, (laughs).
As soon as you got back to Livi, you must have started going through the legal process so you could get back into America though.
Aye. Well I was kinda adamant that I could get back quite quickly ‘cos I had the wife and kids, but because I’d overstayed so long I’d been banned for three years, then I had a one year…not a cooling off period, but one year where I had to wait to do all the stuff…I didnae get it at all. After that they were telling me to come back because after four years all my shit was clear, then it took nearly another year and a half to get me here now.
Lee (Charron – Creature Skateboards director) spent what must have been two or three thousand bucks on a flight for this one visa I was trying to get once I was allowed to come back and they were telling me to come back. I was saying to Lee “right I can come back, I just need to pay for the flight before I can get the visa". You had to have the flight booked to prove you were actually coming back, so Lee was like “right, we’ll do this, lets do this", and I went down (to the embassy) and they were like “nah, you cannae have this visa. You’ve also got a weed charge, you cannae do it and you’ll never get any other type of visa; you’d be better off sacking it off.
What was that visa for?
That was a Nonimmigrant visa or something.
And how long would that have lasted?
So you didn’t want that one anyway then, really…
I just wanted to come back. At that point I couldnae believe what had happened, I missed my wife and kids and everything else, so anything I could get I would take. I tried to do that, spent so much money going backwards and forwards to London to the embassy. I got refused that and I’ve been refused two other visas since then as well.
So what was different this time around then? How come you were finally let back into the country?
It was pure luck man, this Christmas because my stuff’s all clear and we’re in the system and all this shit, we’ve got a lawyer now as well, Chelsea phoned Border Patrol to see if I could do a land crossing just to come in for Christmas, then go back to Scotland to finish my procedure to actually come back properly. When she phoned them they were like, “no, no, he can probably just come back and do all his procedure here now because Obama has changed everything".
We didn’t know because we were locked in on some other bullshit and we weren’t trying to do anything that way. In fact, we were actually planning on them moving back to Livi because it was looking so unlikely that I was gunna get back here. About five months ago we sent all of our stuff back there, so all our life is in Scotland, we’ve not got any stuff here. Chelsea’s dad sent it all, he paid for it all and it was a lot of shit…big wooden cabinets, furniture, the lot.
Then she called to see if I could come back for Christmas and they were like, “just do this instead. Phone these people and do one of these visas".
It’s a K-3 Hardship Visa, and she phoned up and they were like, “oh aye we’ll send you these two forms, there’s one for you and one for your husband, just fill those in and send them back". It was twenty bucks, ten bucks a paper, I was actually kinda not believing any of it; it sounded too easy. They were like, “yeah come back, you can cross the border, everything’s fine. You’re all in the system so you don’t even need any papers to prove it, just cross on in".
The day that Lee booked my flight, Chelsea phoned up freaking out…she’d got all my paperwork through the exact same day.
How long was that whole period?
Not even six weeks…five or six weeks. Just right after Halloween was when Chelsea phoned to see if I could come back for Christmas, and I was actually here for Christmas. It was literally like (snaps fingers) “come on back" (laughs).
Did you tell the kids you were coming back?
Nah, they didnae have any clue. Roxanne, my eldest…she’s the one I feel the most sorry for ‘cos she’s been through it all, and she understood it all from the start. She would have been three or four when all of this started so she knew everything was happening; the other ones are in Livi-and-Emberland, they don’t even know what’s going on.
You had them coming back over to Scotland quite regularly though, didn’t you?
Aye, back and forth. They’ve been back there like three or four times across the whole time that that was happening. That was good, but it sucked at the same time, having to let them come back here all the time.
So when you came back this time, where did you have to fly to?
I flew into Mexico City…
Why did you have to do that?
Because Obama has changed all this shit, it’s a total trip. Because I have a weed conviction I can’t get the regular visas so I cannot fly into the US; if I fly into the US I get caught instantly and sent back again. But if I cross the border with my K-3 visa it’s totally chilling because I’m now allowed three f*cking criminal convictions. That’s what Obama has changed.
The immigration law is so spread out and so vast and there’s so many different sections – “a section for that, a section for that, I for that, E for this, K for that" – it’s so blown out that they don’t know what they’re doing.
Surely the only people coming over the border from Mexico with three convictions would be Mexicans?
Aye, and totally shady Mexicans as well - these aren’t nice guys we’re letting in, you know what I mean? But they’re like “bring it in, it’s rad".
There must be millions of people out there in my situation who, when they were a kid, they got caught with weed, or they got in a bar fight and broke someone’s nose or something stupid as f*ck like that, and that’s what’s holding them out. They could have kids here but they’re stuck in Mexico or they’re stuck in Canada or somewhere. There must be millions of them, but now that law’s changed people will be slowly going to Mexico and coming in over the land.
Land crossings are chilling; they don’t do fingerprints, eye scans or anything, you just literally show them your passport and if your status is all good you’re more than welcome to come in.
See when you drive into Arizona, you can see the border, you’re just driving and there’s a little white picket fence, and that’s the border, that’s Mexico on the other side of that little white fence; it’s f*cking nuts.
So you flew in to Mexico…
Mexico City, then up to Tijuana, and then I crossed over the border. My father-in-law Scott and brother-in-law Billy came over to pick me up.
Mouly: Try to describe the feeling you had as soon as you crossed the border.
Near enough greetin’, like. Near enough greetin’ with happiness. Pure relief and the sweatiest hands.
Even when I’d met up with father and brother in-law, they were all hyped - they can drive across because they’re from here so they have their California ID’s, they could cross ten times in a day if they wanted to - I was just sitting in the back, palms sweaty, top lip sweating, shitting myself. I was expecting them to want to look in the luggage - “can we look in the boot?"…Nothing, nothing at all.
“In you go, carry on".
So when did the kids find out you were back?
Christmas Eve. I flew in on the 23rd but they were all asleep because it was super late, like 1am when I got back. That night I hung out with Chelsea, then in the morning we went for coffee before they woke up and came back super early, and Chelsea just walked in with coffee like she normally would. They were awake by then, I could hear them moaning and just being kids, and I just walked in and they were f*cking well stoked. It was amazing.
Tears and everything?
Aye, there was a wee bit of tears but I was expecting it to be insane because it’s all woman, you know what I mean? I was expecting it to go mental but there was a lot more screaming and cuddling…it was rad, it was really good. Then we went to the beach as well so it was like, “alright, I’m back in SD, definitely not in Livi now" (laughs).
What are your requirements now? Aren’t you grounded in SD for the first thirty days?
Aye, and I’m 18 days into it now as well so I’m a bit more than halfway through. Once that’s done then I can actually go on trips and start getting on with shit, but I cannae leave the country for two or three years I think.
Have you got more paperwork to be getting on with?
I’ve got shit loads of stuff to do, the next two or three years are pretty mental. I don’t have it yet but they’re sending me a book and I’ve got to study the book then get tested on it. It’s super easy shit that’s probably stuff that I already know, everyone already knows, like you have to be a total ‘tard to fail this test.
“How many states are there in America?" and all that bullshit; it’s pretty easy.
You won’t be going on any European trips for a while then?
I cannae leave the US for two or three years, which is rad, (laughs). I could stay here for ten years man and nae be bothered at all. They could ground me here permanently and that would suit me to a tee.
What was that you were saying the other day about having to go down town and have your fingerprints taken and tattoos photographed?
Aye I do. It’s like a biometrics thing – they do eye scans and fingerprints, and then they have a ‘markings day’ where they’ll take photos of all my tattoos and scars and all that type of dumb shit…and my teeth, they’ll definitely take photos of my teeth, (laughs).
That’ll be pretty interesting, that’ll take a while for them. They must be used to it though, now they’ve got hundreds of shady bastards crossing the border. I would love to see the files, look at all the different folk that were in that day, with all these crazy G13 tats and all these gnarly gang tats and shit, and then mine are all skate tats, they’re all skate tats. They won’t know that though. It would be funny to look through the rest of the shit tat book.
What was your daily routine like back in Livi?
Wake up, smoke weed most of the day, play computer most of the day and hang out with Benson. If it was dry we’d go to the park but it was hardly ever dry. A lot of smoking, basically.
You did a lot of work though didn’t you?
I was working in Norway and I was working with Churchill and those guys. I was in Norway for a good while, from spring right through summer. We were living in wee cabins; the Norwegians put it up pretty tight. They paid for like really nice accommodation so you’re not stopping in a shitty wee room, you’ve always got your own room and there are always nice showers and all that, which definitely helps when you’re working. The way we were doing it as well there was a lot of prep days, so you’d be prepping everything then doing a lot of concrete so it was pretty rad. There wasn’t any partying really, we’d smoke and drink when we went back to the place but we never got crazy or anything, it was pretty mellow. Working and saving money…it was healthy, such an amazing place.
What’s a typical day like here then? What’s your San Diego routine?
Just sitting in my wee spot, sitting in the sun just looking at the palm trees, then come down here early and sit where we’re sitting now. Once I get my key I’ll be down here all the time. Usually we’ll go to the beach, that’s the one place my girls love to go. My oldest has just started to want to surf so we’ve been going down there a lot more and watching all the surfers. It’s sick; I love going to the beach, there’s nothing like it.
I grew up in Livi far away from beaches, and Scotland’s a f*cking cold place so even if you went to the beach you wouldn’t want to be there; it’s the last place on Earth you wanna go. People don’t ever say, “lets go to the beach" in Livi; it’s a very unheard of thing to say. But here it’s amazing, everybody goes to the beach. We went to the beach on Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve I wanted to go down there for the sunset, right as the sun vanished into the sea; that was my whole vibe - “back in Cali". So me and the wife went down there and done that, it was rad.
What did you do for New Years Eve?
We all just sat in the house; it was rad. The girls were hyped because we told them they could stay up as long as they wanted, but by 1:30am we were like “you’s are done, you’s are going to your beds now" so we could hang out. We thought they’d burn out but they kept it strong, all three of them, I was pretty surprised. Ember, she’s the youngest and she’s surprisingly got the most stamina, the big girls tend to burn out and she just keeps bouncing about.
What about your friends from San Diego, did you tell them that you were coming back?
I didnae tell anyone. I didnae tell anyone from here, I didnae tell anyone from there, there was probably just a handful of people who knew. I didnae want it to backfire, I didnae want to hype everybody up for it not to happen again. I was so worried when I got to Mexico and I was coming in I was like “f*ck here we go, this is it all starting again", I was worried as f*ck. They were super friendly, like “ahh sí sí - in you come, crack on". I had the wee guy helping me with all my shit, he was like my wee tour guide taking me to my smoke zones. I tipped him with US dollars too; he was so hyped.
So did you just randomly turn up at Washington Street and start bumping into people again then?
Aye, well I seen Ivory Turner when I first came back. We drove past The Bridge (Washington Street) and I had to come in and see it was still here, and Ivory was here and he phoned Tom Remillard and that’s how he worked out I was here, and they were the only two who knew. I got (Peter) Hewitt’s number and address off Facebook, I didnae tell him I was here, I just said I was going to send him a package or something, like, “I’ve got something for you, what’s your address?" and I just skated down to his pad because I stay pretty close to him. He knew I was coming though, I texted him and told him I was coming…I didnae want to freak him out too much, (laughs).
Do you skate with Hewitt most days then?
A lot, aye, I do skate with Pete a lot. I skate with him because he’s a lot like me, we like to skate a lot of the same shit, and he loves to go fast. Him and Tom, we skate a lot with Tom, he’s f*cking rad, he loves to go fast as well, (laughs). That’s our whole vibe, that’s why I hang out with those guys because they skate with pure power. From the second that their front wheels go down they just f*cking fly, they don’t stop moving.
Now that you’re back, do you think you’ll always live in San Diego?
I don’t know. There was a wee bit of talk about us maybe moving to Mexico, maybe moving to Ensenada just over the border, on the beach side of Tijuana. Ensenada is rad.
Is there a skatepark there though?
There is actually a wee park there, I don’t think it’s amazing or anything spectacular but seriously, if we got in the car now we could drive to where we’re talking about in like 30 to 35 minutes; it’s not far away at all. It’s seriously so close.
Tijuana is like 25 minutes away. See that trolley stop right there? You could jump on the trolley there and take it to San Diego, into the city, then jump on the other trolley that takes you to Tijuana.
See when you’s were like, “ahh we should have gone down town and got wasted" or whatever? That’s the spot right there, Tijuana…you’s would have had a great time there.
So what about Livi then? I guess it’s a distant memory at the moment but you’ll probably want to go back eventually…
I’d like to go back in a few years, but I was back for f*cking ages, nearly six years I was back there for so I’m not in any rush. I need at least ten years here before I think about going back there again.
What about your parents?
My Ma and Da are talking about coming out here in the summer. When I grew up we used to go to Florida all the time – 14, 15, 16…as I kid I used to go there every summer with my Ma and Da. All the stuff around here, it’s the exact same, it’s just a bit more spread out that’s all. So they’re gunna come over and we’ll get the kids and go Sea World and California Adventures and all that shit. Disneyland and Six Flags.
So after six long years, is it surreal to finally be back?
Aye. It’s amazing being back and seeing everybody again. Once I get my key back for this place it will be like I’ve never left.
Any last words?
We should get people out here a bit more often. Get Manhead and that to come out, Nicky, Snaddon…bring Snaddon out here, he’d f*cking smash this place to bits, folks would be phased!
I know Benson, he’s definitely gunna come over; I’m looking forward to that. The last time he came over so many people were phased on him. See when he left they were all like, “where’s that wee guy? Who was he? What’s happened to him?". He was here for three months, he left when he was supposed to as well and he never got in any trouble, so when he tries to come back he’s straight in the door, he’ll get back in instantly. I think he’ll probably not go back. Ride the wave until you hit the beach…I cannae remember who said that to me when I was here last time, but it’s always stuck in my head, that’s how it is. Ride the wave until you hit the beach…