"No Way, LA: Darkroom Keeps It Crusty" Article
Somewhere between the tasty waves of California and the storied architecture of the East Coast exists a crusty paradise known as the Midwest. And not only does it host a thriving skate scene, there’s even a few companies rooted in the area. Included on the list is Don Pendleton’s Darkroom, and with a roster of hungry ams and a few newly-minted pros, the time seemed right to hit the road on their first official skate trip. Barcelona wasn’t in the budget, so the crew kept it close to home and crunched some ’crete in their backyard. We hit up a few of the vanhabitants to find out what keeps them raging in the Rust Belt.
Kinkers, grass gaps and some of the most iconic non-coastal crust, the latest Darkroom vid is a treat
Hey, Cotie, where you at right now?
I’m in Louisville at my second home—Home skateshop.
How far back do you and John Clemmons go?
John lived with me when I moved to California. He was 15, I think. I lived out there for three years and he wanted to come out and skate. I was like, Fuck yeah you can come out. But I also made him do online school and graduate.
You guys have made a name for yourselves out there, first with the Foundation stuff and then in the Incubator video. So you got some heat and the first big trip is through the Midwest. Were you hoping for Barci or SF?
Well, this is what I like to skate and this is where I want to be. No one needs to see me skate in Barcelona or SF—that’s how I look at it. I feel like this is why people want to watch our stuff. If we went to everyplace that everyone else was going to, then why would you even watch it? I would not go to Barcelona. I’d be like, Maybe I’m sitting this
Pole vault fence hop, Cotie Robinson jams out in the smooth streets of Baltimore
So you got the whole crew together. Did anyone surprise you when you skated with them on the road?
I mean, Alex—he’s the new dude. He’s way better than I thought. He took me out, too! I was boardsliding this rail and then he just lipslides it in my face!
The kids are hungry, man! How come the California thing didn’t work out?
It was fun. I had a good crew out there. We were skating with Cody Thompson. He does some GX stuff now. We were livin’ with him. We would go out, finding our own shit, but then it would be the new hot spot. And by the time our stuff came out, it’s already blown out. I liked our crew, though. Matt Militano was out there, Kevin Liedtke and John Shanahan would come stay with us. We’d skate cool shit, but when all that stuff phased out, there wasn’t any real reason for us to be there. I’m not gonna go to Hollywood High and do something. So once all that was done it was like, Let’s go back home.
You’ve got the chops to hang in California, but now you’re using them at these unseen churches in Kentucky.
My big take on it all is that I like to skate something that’s never been skated, making it a new thing. That’s why it’s hard to go on a trip because you go meet up with the locals and they’re taking you to spots that everyone’s seen. I like to do the Google thing, or I have BMX friends or scooter friends who will have stuff in our zone that no one’s ever messed with. We have a heavy BMX scene here. They’re way beyond what we’re doing, so with their spots it’s free reign ’cause nothing’s been done. We got a rollerblade scene, too, and they’ve been on this shit forever. It’s crazy how much shit they know about that we’re just now getting around to. They love sending us their shit because they’re like, It’s not gonna affect us. We go up to Columbus and they feed us with spots.
Cotie jump starts the session at the first spot of the trip. Midwest hippies just hit harder
I heard there was a less sick run in when you guys went to Ohio this time.
Dude, I found that rail like five years ago. Well, someone posted it and wouldn’t give it up, so I got on Google Earth and found it. We get there, John’s gonna grind it and this psycho dude shows up, walks by a couple times and then he’s by the van with a crowbar. The homie Mike’s over there and he’s gnarly, just askin’ him, “What are you doin’ with that crowbar?” Different generation, man.
Who’s the best out that’s not from the coasts?
This kid Will Hommrich from out here. He’s slept on. He looks insane on a skateboard. He gets no shine, but he’s from Louisville, too.
Is he comin’ up?
Not really, but he doesn’t care. He’s still gonna do his shit and it just gets gnarlier and gnarlier.
What do you want out of this game?
I’m content with what we have. The only reason for any of this—or that we have anything—is because of David Kappa. That’s our dude. If this is it, I’m good. We’re still making Hulkripps videos, but it’s just under a company now—Darkroom. Don is the shit, too. My first skateboard from a shop had Don Pendleton’s artwork on it and he did the graphic for my first pro board. It’s like the universe fucking did it. I don’t want more; I’m content.
Bumpin’ bars in Charm City, home is where the huck is
Brook busted out the vlogcam for a special Darkroom edition of Fatback
What’s up, Alex? Where are you from?
I’m from Portland, Oregon.
How does a week in the crust of the Midwest compare to the West Coast’s scenic spots?
I would compare the Midwest more to Portland, and I like that. They’re rough, but you still see a lot of good spots. The crust looks sick.
Do you think you need to move to LA or New York to pursue skating?
Right now, I don’t feel the need to.
Being from the Pacific Northwest, how did skating rails become your speciality, as opposed to maybe big transitions?
I grew up skating Ed Benedict park, which is more like a plaza-style park, then I’d go to contests which also influenced me. Ultimately it was more of just the people I skated with, like my brother who skates rails.
Why skate rails when it seems like you could just be doing slappies and still be in the van?
Hey, that’s a good idea!
What’s the worst slam you’ve taken?
I’ve knocked myself out. I ghost grinded a rail, scorpioned and landed on my face.
Lobasyuk gets lippy in the cuts of Ohio
How do you get psyched up to skate some of these pipes?
If someone I’m with is down to skate it with me, that definitely helps.
Who’s the first one out of the van to hop on something sketchy?
Probably John Clemmons. He’s insane.
What scene do you think is doing a good job putting out good skating?
I like the Seattle scene a lot, and the Ohio scene is really sick, too.
Would you suggest a team go out to the Midwest?
I definitely would say to go towards the Midwest. I’d like to go back to Baltimore. I didn’t get to skate there ‘cause I got hurt. I pulled a muscle trying to skate every spot. It was my first time on a trip like this and I overdid it.
You gotta pace yourself! What would you like to get out of a pro skate career?
It would be cool to just have the classic pro board, but mostly just have fun and try to make a living off of skating—even if it’s working at a company. I’d like to put out more video parts I’m hyped on, too.
Well, you’re on your way.
Last question: if a guy rolls up on the session with a crowbar, is it fight or flight?
I wouldn’t fight a crowbar. I would try to be peaceful with it.
Don P was on this session and Alex killed it with his performance review—mellow bump, aggressive kickflip, give this kid an extra box
What’s up, John? Where are you from?
I’m from Louisville, Kentucky.
Do you clock some hours at the 24-hour park?
I hate to say it, but I’m down there almost every single day. It’s not the safest park, but as long as you’re doin’ your own thing you’ll be alright. A lot of shit goes on down there, though.
We’re renaming the boardslide drop-down boardslide to fakie the Kentucky Waterfall. John rides the rapids outside of DC
My friends from the Midwest used to tell me about crazy scenes there at three in morning—people whippin’ donuts in the grass or shooting fireworks.
I mean, I’ve seen fuckin’ cars just pull up and go down the double banks and shit. There’s not a huge skate scene here, so the skatepark is for everyone—bikes and RC cars. Just yesterday I was skating the park and this dude was face down on the ground. I couldn’t even see him breathing. He eventually turned over, but I thought for a second he might be dead. The older I get the less I skate there at night, though. I’m trying to have dinner and go to bed early.
Do you have a job outside of skating?
I work at this good vegan joint called V Grits. I just got the job a couple of months ago. I only work about four hours a day, but it’s good to make some extra money. I feel like with skaters who are trying to make a career out of it and don’t have anything else to do, you can kinda drive yourself crazy. You can’t skate 12 hours a day.
How did Ohio to Maryland become the route for Darkroom’s for big trip?
I didn’t really choose or have a say; I just heard there was a Darkroom trip and I was like, I don’t care where the fuck we go, I just want to get in the van—especially with Joe Brook going and making it a Thrasher trip, I was just pumped up.
There are people who have skate careers hitting banks—a sort of low-impact discipline. You are absurdly gnarly, but have you ever thought of rebranding yourself as a cruise/tech guy? What is the draw to being a gnarly skater from the middle of the country?
Well, I think we skate a little different than when me and Cotie were on Foundation for like a year and a half. But I just like doing it and there are a lot of rails to be grinded here. Also, it’s really fun grinding a kinked rail—you feel insane after you grind something that you thought you were gonna die on. But for this part coming up, I’m starting to skate things that aren’t just rail after rail.
Clemmons kickflips into the cobblestone crust in Pittsburgh while the locals sweat our camera gear
Do you wish that more people from the coasts would go out to the Midwest?
I mean this in a nice way, but most of my favorite skateboarders are not from the West Coast. Gilbert Crockett’s one of my favorite skateboarders and he’s from Richmond, Virginia. I feel like people who have grown up skating somewhere like that just look better skating those kinds of things. I also think it’s good for people from the middle of the country to visit California, but sometimes you can kind of pinpoint the people from the West Coast who come out here. They have to put Bondo in numerous cracks where we might just do one crack. I mean, even some shit in California I’ve seen I’m like, Why are seven cracks Bondo’d?
What do you want out of your skate career?
I would love to make this more of a reality than it already is. I have good people supporting me; I’ve filmed some video parts that I’m really stoked on and proud of; I just love what I do and I love skating for what it is. My dad passed away a few months ago—actually while I was on a skate trip. I went to Minneapolis with one of my younger brothers. My dad supported our skating more than anything, so I kind of want to do more to make him even more proud. I wish he could see this article. He worked at UPS and before he died he worked 500 days in a row. He’d work 115 hours a week. If anything, I’m doing this for him.
Well, dude, you’re doing a hell of a job.
John was more stressed about the dude swinging a crowbar in the parking lot than the lack of Bondo on the run-up—frontside 50-50
By Michael Sieben
What’s kept you in Ohio all these years? Did you ever consider relocating to California?
I’ve found that the Ohio lifestyle just isn’t compatible with California culture. It would be like trying to relocate a wild badger into a petting zoo. I remember being out there once for work and we went to grab some lunch. I ordered a hot dog and the people I was with were absolutely horrified. I was like, Dudes, hot dogs are like one of the main food groups in Ohio.
What makes Darkroom different from the work you’ve done for Alien Workshop and Element?
Just the fact that I have complete creative control with everything now. We have less resources and less connections—both of those companies were huge in comparison. Darkroom has always felt more like a project than a business because the first few times it was just me sitting in my living room doing artwork. But we don’t have any backers or corporate connections so it’s a wing-and-a-prayer type of thing, like a lot of small companies.
Do you think there’s a shift happening in skateboarding where people are more excited about brands that don’t exist on either coast?
I haven’t noticed that to be honest, but I kind of hope that’s a thing. I want to think that there is still a demographic of skaters who want something that is outside of the mainstream and looks a little different and is a little less like the other brands. Skateboarding used to almost define pop culture—starting around the mid-90s—but now it feels like mainstream pop culture defines skateboarding in a lot of ways. I mean, we’re competing against Baby Yoda or Spiderman at times. And who doesn’t love Baby Yoda?
What’s the hardest part about running a small skater-owned brand?
For me, being in Ohio, I’d say it’s just the complete disconnect and isolation from the industry proper. My business partner Kevin Furtado and our warehouse are in San Diego, so that presents a challenge at times, too. And while there’s a lot to be said for that disconnect in terms of helping with creativity, there comes a point where it can be a disadvantage so it’s a double-edged sword. That and the amount of time that goes into it all—nothing is ever done so it becomes this black hole that eats all of your time up.
What’s the five-year plan for Darkroom?
Oh, man, the only thing I plan more than six months out is dental appointments and filing my taxes. Would you be interested in hearing about my 5-month plan?
Yo, Jake! I know you live in California now, but where are you originally from?
I’m from a place called Freeport, Minnesota. It’s like an hour and a half from Minneapolis.
How many months out of the year could you skate in Minnesota?
Like six months—almost half the year is winter. It’s an incentive for when it’s nice out, though. Every weekend you can, you’re gonna go skate. Even if it’s 32 degrees but it’s sunny, you’re gonna go shovel stuff out.
Jake Braun, 50-50 to Smith—seek and you shall destroy
When did you head West?
I was 19. I packed up everything I owned into my Prius and drove out to Oceanside. That’s where I still live.
You’re well steeped in the crust and you’re quite proficient at skating these awful, weathered spots. Do you prefer the smooth ground of California to being back home?
It’s a give and take, for sure. I love the Midwest and I love going on trips back home. But I think at the end of the day if you want to do it, you go to California—especially when I moved out here four years ago. Now I think we see a lot more people moving back to where they’re from, like Gilbert and Jake. I think there’s always been this expectation and understanding of paying your dues by moving out West and doing the whole deal, and then if you want to go back and put on for your area, then that’s a lot more acceptable
Darkroom has a really cool thing going by sponsoring skaters who’ve made that move. What did you think when they said the first big trip wasn’t gonna be in Barcelona or something, but Ohio to Maryland?
I was juiced! When John and Cotie had those Foundation parts, I was just tripping. It was a perfect example of how many insane spots are hidden in this country—things that people won’t go to ’cause they’re in Florence, Kentucky, two hours away at some random church. I love skating in places that people overlook.
What’s the appeal of being kinda gnarly and being on a team of fellow skaters who are also insane in a traditional sense?
It’s the hunt, right? Finding a really cool rail is probably the most satisfying thing. It’s like the Great White Buffalo—you find the biggest, the longest rail and if it’s just within your possibilities, that’s half the fun. It sounds weird, but growing up I wanted to do the rails the snowboarders were doing. Maybe big-wave surfing is another way of looking at it—there’s just something gnarly about that and pushing the envelope that’s really appealing.
What do you want out of this game—a pro board, hundreds of thousands of followers, an Essentia sponsor?
The target is always changing. When you’re a kid, you just want to get flowed a fucking pair shoes, then you wanna go through the TM, and then you wanna get in the van, then you want your name on a board. Right now, I just want to film something that makes people want to go skate—one of those parts with the right song, something lasting.
What part makes you wanna go skate.
Cole Wilson’s part in Oddity where he skates to “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” I would always watch that part and I remember people told me he filmed it while he was working 50-hour weeks at UPS. That’s working class and it’s the sickest thing I’ve ever heard. This dude is pushing the envelope, doing the craziest shit and he’s doing it the hardest way. I think everyone can respect that.
Who’s the best in the Midwest right now?
I’m hopping on the Nick Matthews bandwagon. Chicago’s a great city and I haven’t seen someone come out of there guns blazing like that in a while. It’s refreshing to see him do it in such an honorable way—the right spots, the right filming, the right shit. He knows what he’s doing.
Well, you’re 100-percent correct. That’s the right answer.
Jake takes a bent-knee boardslide through the bend in Ohio. God bless the Midwest and all those who crusade through its crust
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