Justin Goetz Vert Is Dead Interview
With Vert Is Dead having recently celebrated it’s 7th anniversary, we thought it a good time to fire a few questions over to one of internet’s premiere skate historians, Mr. Justin Goetz.
Let’s start with how you first got introduced to skateboarding and what your local scene was like on the East Coast? What was your preferred obstacle or terrain? How about your top 5 pros?
I’m from a small town about an about an hour south of Buffalo, NY. I’m more Rust Belt than East Coast. I had always wanted a board, but my parents never let me have one until I was a bit older. All the cool kids had skateboards in middle school so that might have influenced me to an extent. My first board was a Variflex from a department store called Brand Names. If the bearings had been better, it probably would have been an OK set up for 1987. My first real skateboard was a Tony Hawk with Gullwing Pro IIIs and red Kryptonics from Avenue Skates in Buffalo. I got that in 1988.
All things considered, the scene in my area was decent. There were a bunch of people who skated. Some of the guys were pretty good. We built launch ramps and grind boxes. We had a few mini ramps, too. There’s a college with stairs and ledges, plus just being able to skate around town.
I like street skating and mini ramps. Low impact ledges, flatbars, and curbs. It’s more about skate parks these days because at this point getting a ticket for skateboarding would be stupid. I’m old. I just want to roll around for a couple of hours for fun and exercise without any hassles.
I was a big fan of Matt Hensley, Natas Kaupas, and Mike Vallely back then. I can never narrow anything down to five since there have been so many good skateboarders over the years. My top five right now would probably be Dan Drehobl, Darren Navarrette, Louie Barletta, Javier Mendizabal, and Gilbert Crockett with an old school bonus pick of Hugh “Bod” Boyle. Santa Cruz has a bunch of old Strange Notes videos on their website and Bod was ridiculously talented.
Nice list. You just mentioned still rolling around, but what year or era do you feel your skating ability peaked? And in the same vein, I should probably ask what you perceive as skateboarding’s “Golden Era”?
I really enjoyed 1997 to 2000. Skateboarding was growing again so there were more spots popping up, but things were still kind of underground. The crew I was skating with added to my fondness for the end of the 1990s.
I think the best I’ve ever skated was in the summer of 2002. I was putting in the effort and there were a bunch of different parks around I was going to. Not that my best was all that impressive or anything. I think maybe 2009 was a good year, too. I could ollie a big trash can on its side with ease, something I hadn’t really done well before. I don’t see that happening today.
Justin finding time for a little exercise.
So what made you want to start Vert Is Dead back in ’08? What were some of the other blogs you were following around that time?
I saw what was going on at Chrome Ball Incident and Police Informer and figured I could do something along those lines. I had the magazines and seeing the old stuff again was cool. I liked what those guys were doing, but I also knew I liked some different things than what they were posting so I thought I could add a little variety to the mix.
One website that was a big influence was Skateboarding Is. It’s from England and I don’t think it has been updated in quite a few years. Whoever did that was one of the first in on the online skateboard nostalgia game.
Let’s talk about your magazine collection that makes it all possible. Have you saved magazines, or have you collected them over time? Are you missing any years or publications?
I was always the kid who took good care of his toys so neatly keeping magazines was a natural thing to do. I’ve saved nearly everything I’ve subscribed to. I’m missing a few issues here and there, mainly stuff that got lost in the mail. I missed out on the beginning of Big Brother and I let my Slap subscription lapse once or twice so those are the bigger gaps in my collection. I’d like to see about getting some older issues of Transworld and Thrasher from before 1988 so I can honor requests for Bonite ads.
A portion of the stacks with a pair of Dan Drehobl’s first pro shoe on Vox.
Every year we get a few people asking to be removed from our Library, stating we’ve ruined their lives, witness protection, or whatever. Have you gotten anything like that where people have been bummed or upset at a post?
I’ve gotten a couple little things, nothing major. A few times I wish I had worded what I wrote a bit better. You aren’t really thinking about who might end up reading it and you accidentally end up bumming somebody out when you are trying to be funny. It’s always cool when pros leave a comment or send an email thanking you for scanning in their first ad.
I’m honestly surprised I’ve never gotten any hate mail from a disgruntled vert skater in regards to the blog name. The reason I picked Vert Is Dead was because I wanted a name that was reminiscent of an 1980’s ‘zine.
So what’s been your most popular post to date? Or what’s a post that maybe caught you by surprise with it’s traffic or comments?
My first Jeff Phillips post is leading the way by a mile. I got the famous Crailtap bump on an Eric Koston one. That really gives you a lot more page views. Some of the search keywords that come up in the stats are hilarious. Often it is some random small bit of skate trivia that I’m surprised anybody else would even think to look up. I’m glad that somebody who was bored at work was able to find what they were looking for on my website.
How far ahead do you plan things out? Do you search for people/themes or just flip around and see what jumps out at you?
I like to have at least a week or two worth of scans ready to go at any time in case I get busy with something else. A funny thing is that I don’t actually enjoy the scanning process so I try to get that done all at once. The worst is when everybody was running two page ads in the early 2000s. It doubles the amount of work.
When I started I wanted to focus mainly on more arty stuff and obscure skaters, but that has changed somewhat over the years. I initially looked around somewhat randomly through all of my magazines, but that got confusing and ate up a bunch of time. I hadn’t looked at a lot of the mags in ages so it all seemed fresh and exciting again. It’s much easier to pick one smaller time period to focus on for a week or two. I had a few general ideas in the beginning and I’ve covered those pretty well so now it is more a case of picking a starting point and seeing what catches my eye. I do take requests and watch the comments for ideas. I also pay attention to what is currently going on in skateboarding and if a particular company has a new video or anniversary, then I’ll find scans to go along with that.
Hugh “Bod” Boyle. - Thrasher - July 1991 Volume 11 Number 7
I’ve always enjoyed when you mix in some newer stuff and the parallels you draw between the past and present. Plus it forces those who stopped following skating to hopefully recognize and appreciate where skateboarding is at today. Do you see yourself increasing current scans in the future, or do you prefer sticking to the nostalgia of older ads?
I think it’s important to connect the present and past. It’s much better than skateboarding’s teenage rebellion phase of the early 1990s when history got pushed out of the way in the name of progress. There’s plenty of room for both and we’ve recognized that today. I’m stoked on stuff like Polar and enjoi’s “Oververt” video in the same way I was into H-Street and Blockhead’s “Splendid Eye Torture” back then. There were good and bad things about all the different eras of skateboarding. That holds true in the present day as well. One era wasn’t necessarily superior, just different. The best is still going skateboarding today, whatever level of ability you are at.
I’m not going to say the well is dry, but it is at a conserve water stage for the older material. The mags were only so thick and a fair chunk of the quality stuff has been scanned already. I feel there is a bunch I haven’t put up yet. I’m not worried about whether something has been posted elsewhere. It’s also interesting to see what holds up as the years pass, so I will be including more stuff from the 2000s in the future.
Well we hope you continue Vert Is Dead for years to come, but if you had to suddenly wrap things up, what would your final post be, and why?
As long as I’m still skateboarding, I intend to keep updating. I’ve got plenty of time left before I have to take up golf so don’t worry. I have occasionally thought about ending Vert Is Dead and how I would do it. The grand finale will be a week or two of previously viewed classic content. The last post will be the same as the first post, a Gary Scott Davis Tracker ad from the first issue of Transworld I ever owned. It’s probably my favorite ad ever.
I’d like to thank everybody who checks out my little website. I appreciate all the comments, emails, and links.
Gary Scott Davis. - Transworld - October 1988 Volume 6 Number 5
Interview by Kevin Hulem
All images courtesy of Vert Is Dead.