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John Drake talks ANIMAL Skateboards

Posted on May 14th, 2013 by kevin

Let’s start off with a little catch up. Unfortunately, knee trouble derailed your career in ‘98… what have you been up to since then?

Well I moved to Charlotte, NC and went to college for graphic design, studied some photography. Ended up graduating and working at The Mint Museums there in Charlotte as a designer. From there I worked for many of the arts organizations in Charlotte as an art director and designer. After about 8 years doing that, my friend had come to me with the idea to open a skate shop called Atmosphere for the kids in the hood. That lasted three years because we had a fire and death next door to us, then got broken into about 6 or 7 times in the three years we were there and the insurance company dropped us and no one would carry us. I guess when you can sit in your shop and watch people get ganked and stores get robbed on a daily basis we should have gotten better security but we lived around there so it was just regular for us. We did have a city owned concrete skatepark across the street from us in the park, which I skated all the time but it wasn’t really what street skaters wanted and most parents were really scared to leave their kids there if they didn’t live in the area. Still, there were some great things to come out of that and lots of great guys I met and am still friends with.

And how/when did ANIMAL Skateboards enter the picture?

My dad got cancer and my mom was dealing with several health issues so I moved back to Ohio to help them out. While back here I had just been doing freelance design but mostly photography, helping out with a local gallery, showing some stuff but also shooting portraits, etc. to make some extra cash. Then in November 2012 two of my old friends contacted me, David Harris, which I have known since I was 5 years old and we grew up together, started skating together and he still skated, mostly cone racing and that type of deal these days but him and his cousin who I actually went to high school with Jason Harris came to me with the idea of doing a company. I was down since they are solid guys, have known them forever and grew up skating with them. I also felt like since Alien and Habitat are gone out of Ohio there needed to be something to represent this area in a way that I feel Ohio deserves.

Well it’s rad to see you growing a small board company out of Ohio. Talk about deja vu. And the East Coast could use more companies, especially now that DNA doesn’t operate out of Ohio anymore. Also, I saw ANIMAL boards are made in the USA, something I wish more companies would do. How important is that to you?

When I skated for Alien my first pro checks were really small, so me and Dyrdek decided that we need to blow the Workshop up and move to Cali, and that’s what we did. I take the philosophy now that you have to start somewhere as an independent company, having been on the ground floor of so many. I skated for Etnies when they first started and were nothing, was there the day Ken Block designed the first DC logo and I was testing shoes for them. I’ve seen companies go from nothing to something. I’m not comparing ANIMAL to them in any way, but I saw how they started and where they went because I was there. Coming out of Ohio makes it so much harder, but to me as long as you maintain legitimacy, have good art direction and a good team anything is possible. I’m trying to keep it legit and that is why our decks are made here in the USA. I want good wood but I also just like the idea of our decks being made here and giving the skateboarders out there quality.

You recently re-issued your 2nd Alien Workshop graphic with a few tweaks, are there any more re-issues or collaborations on the horizon?

Yeah, I didn’t really want to do that necessarily. I had been asked by several companies over the years to put out a deck or a guest deck and I just never felt good in doing so since I’m not in magazines anymore or filming, etc. We decided to do it with our first run here at ANIMAL because we thought it may bring a little interest to the company that we may otherwise not get. I still skate, but do I necessarily want to see my name on a board? Not really. I didn’t even like seeing myself in photos or magazines when I was pro. 

As far as future re-issues and guest models I do have several friends lined up to do them. First one getting printed as we speak is a Ronnie Bertino, then Clyde Singleton. Not gonna say the rest, that will be a surprise. I also want to get something going with some of the old Alien pros which I have already discussed with a couple of them. I have huge love for people like Thomas Morgan, Lennie Kirk, Scott Conklin. Bo hates skateboarding so that is why I didn’t mention Bo. The rest are still hooked up so no need to talk about them. 

I don’t want to rely on 90’s and 2000’s pros, but until I can develop an am that works hard and deserves to be pro that is what we are going to do. These guys deserve boards out just as much as any of the 80’s pros getting re-issues.

You just added a couple new ams to the team, talk about them for a bit. Who all is on the team and how did you find them?

First guy was Zay Belton from Charlotte, NC. I found him through my friend Pat who has a skate shop there called Armada that Zay skates for. Zay has a really good style and that is and always has been important to me, plus he kills it. I don’t care how good you are, the world may love you but I don’t because you have a bad style. Haha. It’s also important to me that these guys are down for the cause and they all are. Next guy I added was Ryan Strader from Dallas/Austin, TX. Ryan has been around the industry for a minute, he’s skated for several companies, and skates for FKD/Silver/Laced/Vox now. Ryan is just a good guy who rips. He’s out there trying to get it done. He goes out to Cali, stays with Jake Brown, stays with other heads, goes and gets footy and rips. Mike Crum and PJ Thebeau at The Shop in Dallas hooked me up with him. Third guy I added was Jackson Davis from NC. He’s a young cat. He’s out there skating in the Damn Am’s and getting it done. I liked his style and I liked his hustle. I found him through the owner of The Embassy Boardshop and my old connections from living in NC for 10 years. I think being only 5 months old as a company I got lucky, my team is good and can hang with anyone. Thanks guys!

I like that you’re doing things a bit more organically, in supporting a few kids that can grow with the brand. So what’s next for ANIMAL?

Yeah, as someone who grew up in a skate shop, was am, then pro, then a skate shop owner and now a company owner, I feel like I understand that it’s all about the relationship you have with skate shops and I will do everything I can to support the shops and my team. I’ve had some sponsored am’s ask me about ANIMAL and I just told them I can’t really do anything for them because I just felt it didn’t happen organically like you said. I like when things fall into place and it just naturally happens. While I have total respect for these guys, it just wasn’t a good or natural fit. I like the clean slate we have in a way.

What’s next for us is we are adding new decks and new products this month, griptape and hardware. We will also have some new t-shirts, one being a Don Pendleton collaboration tee and we have some other things in the works. We have released two quick commercials for Zay and Ryan and hopefully one for Jackson soon. Trying to motivate the team to film so we can do a nice little promo. Strader is heading back out to Cali soon and my guys in NC are filming as we speak. We are just going to continue to grow and build relationships with shops and the skate community at large.

Sounds rad. Having worn nearly every hat there is within skateboarding, which do you feel suits or suited you best?

I’m a creative person so I’d rather either be on a skateboard, shooting photos, designing something or coming up with an idea. Fortunately I have two partners that take care of the business side. What suits me best I think is just being a skateboarder who is also an art director.

And in watching skateboarding’s continual evolution, I wonder, how do you feel about it’s current state? What’s right with it, and what would you change if anything?

I can’t really knock anyone’s hustle because people have to eat and take care of their families, so the actual skateboarder’s that are going out and putting in work will always get respect, but conversely on the industry or business side I feel kind of bummed that skateboarding has allowed just anyone to walk into the club and grab whatever piece of the pie they want and everyone just accepts it. I don’t think kids understand that many of the brands they love are owned by business people that don’t skate and are simply just looking at reports and bottom lines. I know brands have to find a way to grow but I also feel there is such a thing as integrity. The best thing about skateboarding is the actual act of skateboarding itself and as far as that goes - the current state is sick!

Well said. Thanks for taking the time John, that’s all I’ve got for you. Do you have any parting words or thank you’s?

Midwest Marauders. weouthere. Thanks to you and Skately, my team, shops that support ANIMAL, skaters that support ANIMAL, my fam and The Harris Clan. Go rescue a dog or donate to your local shelter or animal rescue. If you see a stray, help that little dude out. I guarantee you will feel great for doing it and you will be rewarded ten fold. Peace.

For more on ANIMAL, check out their website.

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