Pero Simic's "Roadkill" Interview

Pero Simic Header Raw 2000Photo: Bird

You’ve probably noticed an influx of skaters that model in the last few years. This career choice can have off-putting repercussions while navigating the onslaught of corny requests and cringey campaigns. Luckily, Roadkill’s Pero Simic doesn’t get caught up in the bullshit and prioritizes hitting the streets the ol’ fashioned way. On the heels of their newest release we chat with the New York-based talent to see how he walks that fine line. —Ted Schmitz

Pero joins the pack as they criss-cross through Manhattan, uncovering new approaches to iconic avenues

Hey, Pero, how do you pronounce your last name?
It’s pronounced “Shee-meetch.” It’s Croatian. So in Croatia you have the accents over the “S” and the “C.” Most people say “Sih-mic,” which I’m cool with. But I'm hoping one day we can change it back.

Awesome. Let’s get into it and start with a weird question. There’s no one I know that’s as good as you that pays for boards and shoes—especially being in New York, a hub of the global skate scene. Why do you think that is? 
I appreciate you saying that. It’s pretty flattering. I don't know. But my mindset was always that if it's meant to be, it'll just come. If I wanted it to happen, I thought it should be in an organic way. I think also I skate in a nuanced way. I can’t kickflip crook or nollie flip out. My skating works in a certain way and I think it works a little better in New York.

Sorry if that’s a weird question.
No, it’s a funny question, ‘cause I kinda gave up the dream of sponsored skating years ago. But it’s been crazy moving here after college and linking up with Naquan. I met him when I was like 16. Next thing I know, I’m in videos with like Ishod, Jamie Foy and the Baker guys.

Do you have a chip on your shoulder skating sometimes, because you know how much a skateboard costs?
Not really, but when I snap a board, I am bummed. It’s like, Damn, that’s 80 bucks. But for me, I do also like being able to support what I like and having that freedom to choose what I ride. I’d probably rather have a free board, though.

Pero Frontside 5 0 Columbus Circle 2000 2Everyone was hyped when the bottom step got fixed up, but Pero set his sights a little higher. Gap up to 5-0

That’s honorable. Another weird one: You’re someone who is clearly aware of your image. You’re well dressed, you’re careful how your skating comes across and it’s part of what you do for a living. So is part of it that you’re picky? Would you rather hold out for one of the cooler brands to associate with?
To an extent, maybe. But I’ve always thought of it, like, I'd rather buy my own boards than be forever flow for like a Toy Machine or something. I love Toy Machine, but I'm not good enough to be on with those guys. I think my skating probably works for one of the more niche brands. So yeah, I think in some way I’d rather hold out for a company that makes sense than just take free boards from anywhere. Granted, no one's ever even hit me up for free boards before, so I’m not totally sure. I would be at peace buying my boards from Labor and I’ve got a good shop back home, Bill’s Wheels, that’s always held it down.

Pero Simic Pullquote I feel like the days of sending sponsor-me tapes is over. 2000

You’re not gonna send a sponsor-me tape out then?
I feel like the days of sending sponsor-me tapes is over. I’m in my mid-20s now. I’m not a 17-year-old kid. But I also think the landscape has changed in a good way. Ten or 15 years ago, it would’ve been done for me.

I just saw someone go on their first trip at 28!
I think it's awesome. It's great. I've just loved skating so much. I haven't really thought of it in the sense that I'm doing it to get put on. I just love the process of looking for a spot and figuring out what trick could work. A lot of times it doesn’t work and I feel bad for dragging Naquan, but when it does, we’re hyped. That’s more important.

Pero Naquan Phones 2000The spot search in the 21st century

How did you link up with Naquan?
I met him when I was like 16 or 17 at LES park. I have family in New York, so I’d come and visit. We were both at the park every day for ten days. So we exchanged Instagrams and then four years later, I moved out here. I remember he was filming a full-length on an iPhone with a Death Lens. I come back a few years later and he’s got the full setup and he’s becoming the marquee guy in New York, capturing it in the coolest way. I owe everything, even this interview, to Naquan and him being down for me. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if I’d be filming street skating anymore. But I just ran into him one day and tagged along to the curved ledges in Downtown Brooklyn. I did this front blunt kickflip pretty fast. That was great, ‘cause I think it made me look better than I was. Since that day, he’s always been down to go out to some obscure spot.

Yeah, he’s so down for his people. And your stuff really stands out in those videos. The wallride on 67th street and the boardslide 270 were insane.
Thanks. I love when things work out where you’ve walked past it 100 times and then just one day an idea pops in your head.

Pero SImic Boardslide 270 750Walk past it 100 times, boardslide 270 it on the 101st. As seen in the first installment of Roadkill

So you didn’t think you were gonna be primarily a skater. Why else would you move to New York?
I’ve always loved New York since the first time I came out here.

I’m sure modeling had something to do with it. When did you find out you were handsome? 
Oh. I don’t know.

Pero Simic 50 50 Garage 2000 2Security holds this down like Fort Knox, but a big crew can distract even the best forces, frontside 50-50

Well, that is how you make money as a model.
I mean, for sure. That’s how I make money, which is great. But I don’t know if I just found out. It was more from being around creative people in Long Beach who were starting projects and just needed someone to model, so I’d volunteer. After I did one, then someone else would need a model and it just grew organically from there.

I’m sure moving to New York seemed like a good move for that to be a viable career.
Yeah. I was trying to model in LA, but I couldn’t get signed to an agency. So it wasn’t really working in LA. I just wanted to move to New York anyway. I just saved up my whole senior year from working to make the move and figure out the first six months. I wasn’t pursuing pro skating, so I just tried to get into modeling out here. Luckily in the first few months, I got connected with an agency and it’s been working out.

Pero Simic 5 0 Kickflip 750Can't kickflip crook? Fuck it, finding a big wood block to 5-0 kickflip will do

That shit used to be super wack. Anything that’s viewed as pretty-boy or effeminate, or really anything outside of skating wasn’t really cool. You could do it, but you couldn’t put it out there or show that you cared about it. The only way was to show that you were committed to skating. Did you feel like you had to hide that or keep it separated from your skate life?
Not really. I’ve always been into clothes or presenting myself how I want to. I had my hair gelled and wore a collared shirt in California. When I first started doing things with modeling and skating, I was self-conscious a little. You wouldn’t wanna be seen doing some wack shit with a skateboard. On fashion photoshoots, they’ll ask, Hey can you put the board behind your back? And I’m like, No, I can’t do that. It just feels weird that they’re trying to use skateboarding, but it’s not respected.

Are you worried someone’s gonna see you doing something corny and it’s gonna go around?
Well, the first job I got here was for Levi’s and it’s me skating through the street, holding a dog in some turquoise fit—not the best look. And it went everywhere. Was it embarrassing? Maybe a little ‘cause I’m using skateboarding in a weird way. But that job came at the exact right time, ‘cause that buffer I saved up was dwindling. It gave me a few months to just go out and film with Naquan. It’s also like, no one can hate on you for making money.

Pero Simic Pullquote The only reason I’m posting photos of myself is so casting directors can see the work I’m doing. 2000

That’s new. We could and we did hate on people for making money. I hate it when people do branded content with shit that sucks. It’s something about letting the outside in. But modeling and skating seems to have become a pretty common thing. Dylan, Alex, Carl, Evan, Ben Nordberg—it goes on.
Some of them like Carl are on another scale than I am. It has a lot with how you do it. No companies are hitting me up to post about some deal they’re doing or some gimmick. The only reason I’m posting photos of myself is so casting directors can see the work I’m doing. But you have corny models just like you have some corny skaters. I'm in a lucky place where I love clothing and skating and I get to do both.

It's just a fact that the clothes you wear impact the clips.
Oh, the fit makes the clip. But yeah, I’m lucky to work in fashion and skate when I want.

One glaring thing under all this is money. It’s well known that amateur skaters don’t make enough on skating alone to live in New York. Even if you’re on a lower tier than Carl, there still is just way more money in fashion. I think because of some of the crossover brands, modeling has become a way for skaters to support a similar lifestyle. Skaters just look cool. And it’s pretty hard to do other work where you can make those kinds of day rates, even if they are sort of spread out.
Yeah, I get the benefit of the life of a pro skater, but I don't have the stress. There’s so many parallels. They’re both aesthetic industries. A lot of times I get asked to bring my skateboard to set. And that’s often the reason I’m there. But I’m not gonna do a mall grab with it or something. Sometimes you don’t have that control, though. I know people who’ve had wack shoots blasted out there, but at least they got paid well for it.

Pero Simic Wallie Backside Smith 2000Wallie back Smith outside the broker's favorite local bean store

Would you rather make 80k as a model and skate on the side with Naquan and the homies, or would you rather be a 30k pro skater just grinding it out?
It would be the first option. It’s nice to make money and skate how I wanna skate, but I would also be stoked to travel and skate more. I think that would feel sort of validating to do that with a team.

Yeah, there’s something about being acknowledged for your talent, even if it’s not with money.
Even being in these videos is enough for me. It means a lot. And I’ve also been able to pursue other work. I’ve been working as a stylist on photo shoots, too.

I’ve been on sets with a stylist. I kinda thought that was a fake job. I thought it was like a DJ. You just pick things out. Maybe that sounds disrespectful.
Well, you don’t see the work that goes on before the shoot, too. I did one recently where I had to do five or six looks. So I’m running around to all these stores, picking out shoes that can work. That takes a day sometimes. Then on the shoot day, I’ve got 75 pounds of clothes to lug around. It’s like the same as camera gear. But a lot of it is one of those things like being an artist, where you know what looks good or you don’t. That’s fun, though.

Pero Simic Pullquote You have people making careers off 50-50 grinds 2000

I think that drives people crazy. Having taste is worth something, but you can’t teach it.
It’s often why some of the best skateboarders get no shine. You can have all the capability in the world, but if you lack the vision, it doesn’t matter. Then you have people making careers off 50-50 grinds. And that’s sick, ‘cause I think I fall into that category. Taste matters in everything.

What can a big stylist expect to make on a two-day shoot for a serious company like Lululemon?
It depends how much goes into it, but maybe they can make up to four grand a day for the shoot days.

But take the Atlantic Drift videos. Those are my favorite videos from the last five years. But it’s not just the skating. It’s the art direction and the edit that makes those videos so awesome.

And all those guys are hot, too.
They got a good thing going.

I think that’s what makes your skating stand out—you’re a careful with the look of your clips. Which is funny ‘cause it seems like you’re a New York skater—at least one from the last ten years. It’s classic tricks with power and speed. But you’re from Santa Cruz. What is the environment that spawned your skating?
I'm from a town about ten minutes outside of Santa Cruz called Scotts Valley. It’s funny ‘cause maybe I’m not the typical Santa Cruz skater. Growing up, Santa Cruz was pretty transition-based.

What were you influenced by when you were younger?
When I was a kid, I always loved Chad Tim Tim. That goes back to me when I was eight years old getting an Element board and the graphic had Tim Tim on it. It was sick. Then when I was at Element skate camp in 2007, This Is My Element just came out and his name was just popping up everywhere. Then I looked into his parts and he’s got really good trick selection, good clothing style and skated cool-looking spots. And then as I got older, it was like YouTube and the Internet so I could look up anything. Mind Field was a big video for me. By high school, my big influences were Dylan Rieder and Alex Olson in Cherry. Cherry meant a lot. Then I remember watching Sean Pablo and Sage and thinking, They’re not doing kickflip crooks on ten rails. They’re doing 50-50 grinds, but it’s way cooler. I think the skating you get into is also shaped by the skating you're capable of.

Pero Simic Ollie Up 50 50 Montrose 2000 2He's got a penchant for rolling against the grain. Quick-footed ollie up to 50-50 

So you weren’t getting pitted in the full pipe at Santa Cruz park?
I could maybe slash grind it as a party trick. But I was street skating mostly. Santa Cruz is such a historical place for skating with NHS, Independent, Santa Cruz, Creature, all those brands. I remember Raven would come down and tear everything up, but everything over six feet just scared me. So my friends and I just wanted to get a camera and be in the streets.

Were you treated weird ‘cause you didn’t fit the part of the bowl burner?
I had good friends, but there were funny instances at the park where someone would ask me, Why are you wearing a collared shirt and a jacket? Sometimes people would make fun of me for gelling my hair.

That shit was not okay until Dylan.
For sure. I have love for everyone in Santa Cruz. I don't want to seem like I was some outcast. Shout out Bill’s Wheels. Everyone there has been holding it down for me since I was like ten years old. They wanted me on the team and that was really validating. Santa Cruz is a great town to grow up in.

So I imagine growing up in that zone you probably knew the level that amateur skating was at. Cross Continental came out in 2012. So did you have some sense of your place in skating to choose to go to college?
The dream’s always there. But I graduated high school in 2015 and it was still that time that if you’re not on flow at 17, it’s probably not gonna work. I’m from an immigrant family, so it was important for my parents that I go to college. The only thing I knew about Long Beach State was that it was by Cherry park, so I decided to go there. I never even checked out Long Beach.

So even if you weren’t on the pro track, you still wanted to be around the scene?
Yeah, I think the hope was still there a little bit. Almost like, Maybe I can get on if I'm in Southern California. But it was cool. It was the first time I was seeing pro skaters a lot. I go to the skatepark every day and Julian Davidson's there; Nick Garcia’s there. I got to see Chad Tim Tim and know him through skating. Tom K lived around there. I used to buy Thunders and Spitfires from Tyson Peterson.

Pero Simic Shove ZUcotti Park 2000 2Pop shove over the Zucotti rail with an Antihero he bought from Labor

Were you filming and going to school?
Yeah, I’d randomly started filming with Tyler Smolinski, who’s the HUF filmer now. I think that’s when I started tailoring the kind of skating I do now. Maybe I couldn’t do a ledge line that is very good, but when I was skating with everyone else, I might look around the building for something that works for my skillset. Tyler’s also just one of the most talented filmers. I would also film a lot with the good homie Mitch Buangsuwon. He films with the Worble crew. So I’m appreciative of that time.

Pero Simic Frontside Wallride SoHo 2000 2Close viewers will notice a barricade to reroute pedestrians and to keep the peace. Frontside wallride in SoHo

Let’s talk about that front wallride and skating with Naquan’s crew in general. That was a crazy thing for me, ‘cause there were so many people on that session that they basically shut down the sidewalk for you.
That was crazy. It was on Lafayette, which is a busy street already. But we had so many people there. Sessions like that took me a while to get used to because it’s a big crew, but there are also big-name skateboarders a lot of the time. So you can feel self-conscious skating a spot alone and feeling like you’re holding up Jamie Foy. In California, you’re always limited to the amount of seats in the car. But in New York, everyone just links at a spot.

Yeah, it’s crazy how many people link up. I feel like he’s become a touchpoint for a lot of people in New York. He’s like a magnet. There’s something really alluring about the unfazed, observant type.
Oh yeah, he’s one of the best people I know and top-five funniest. His humor is really under the radar. You can't get caught slackin’ around him, though. If you’re eating messy or something, he’s gonna be quick with the photo. But he’s one of the chillest, nicest dudes. I think that helps with him being that magnet in the scene. It’s been great to watch his rise, ‘cause he’s born and raised in New York City.

Pero Simic Front Smith 750Front Smith on a waist-high sill, taste matters

Alright, so the new Roadkill is out. You guys did a great job. What does the future look like? Are you lookin’ for the Evan Mock path? Gettin’ in the van and doing TV shows?
Anything in the Evan Mock zone. Carl and Dre are doing a great job. Anything like that would be cool. But I just want to keep doing stuff along the same lines I’m doing now. Hopefully I can keep skating and making videos I’m proud of. I would love some shape of like a typical skate career. It’s not do-or-die, but I think I would like to go on trips and push myself. There’s a reason why I’m still trying my hardest while skating.

Hell yeah. I like it when people try. You should try as hard as you can for something you’re going to commit your time to. Second-to-last question: are drugs a bigger problem for skaters or models?
I don't even know. I’m not the biggest partier.

Which do you think would have more cocaine, though: a skate function or a party in the city with fashion people?
I mean, I’ve never even smoked weed. Mostly that’s what I see on the session in skating. It is interesting that cocaine can be as recreational as it is, but I don’t think that’s a fashion thing. I think that’s a New York thing. Honestly, I don’t see it that much either, ‘cause I’m not searching it out.

Nice. Last question: who pays your health insurance?
My mom helped me navigate the forms, so now I got Medicaid.

Moms are the best!
I love my mom.

Hell yeah. Thanks for doing this. You killed it.
Thank you.

Pero Simic Fort Hamilton Brooklyn Backside 50 50 20000 2When he runs out of spots in the city, you can find him scouring the cuts of Brooklyn. Winding 50-50 before his next shoot
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