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John Gardner Interview

Flowers don’t send invitations to the bees

With his 29 years, John Gardner is not a newcomer to skateboarding anymore, but I want to be honest with you, I hadn’t heard his name til his Shoutout Earth DC part this April, which was followed shortly after by his Creature pro part. Since then, I was hooked on his skating, and by a lucky twist of fate, we were able to make this interview happen in kinda like record speed. Like John says in his interview, “Most beautiful things in life just happen without trying so hard.” When the FaceTime cam turns on, I see him sitting in a van in New Jersey, eating a cantaloupe, and waiting for the DC team to finish breakfast and start the day. Besides him being a pro skater, he’s also the team manager for the company. So he’s used to getting up early to get things ready. After a while, I see Evan Smith loading his stuff into the trunk and Wes Kremer sending greetings. The crew is ready and that means that this interview has slowly come to an end, which is a bit of a pity cause I could’ve continued for hours more. However, all good things must come to an end. Maybe for you, this is just the start of experiencing the great and fun skateboarding of John Gardner.

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Inverting a rail with a street sign, ollieing into the UC Davis gap – how do you come up with those ideas?

I’ve always considered skateboarding to be an art form. That may sound cliché or corny, but to me, it’s a blank canvas and I want to paint my own picture on it. I like to try and do things a little different. It makes it more fun for me.

Do these ideas come spontaneously?

Everything is always spontaneous. I come to a spot and try to find something I can skate.

I watched your OJ Wheels clips and it seems like your approach is to just go for it, jump around, try stuff, fall down – it feels like a lot of falling is involved in your skating. Not like slamming, more like playing around. Is your skating always playful?

Oh yeah, we’re blessed to be able to play with a wooden toy for our job. Why don’t we make the job playful? It can always be fun even if it’s challenging. Falling is just part of that beautiful process of creation on your board.

"I always try to keep on the forefront of my mind why I started skateboarding: because it’s fun, and if I’m not having fun, then it’s as if I’m doing it incorrectly"

You definitely make it look fun and you made quite a lot of those videos with some funny bits in them. Do you enjoy doing that?

I love filmmaking in general. Before I pursued skateboarding as a career, I went to college for four years to be a filmmaker and when skateboarding presented me the opportunity, I wanted to incorporate what I’ve learned.

When I look at your skating, I can see a lot of different influences: a big portion of Gonz but also some Jaws, some Daewon Song, some Mike Arnold, as well as some ‘70s freestyle.

I’ve always been inspired by Gonz, so I’m honored that you say that. I really like the aspect of moving meditation and flowing in skateboarding. People like Mark Gonzales, John Cardiel, and Matt Rodriguez have really influenced me. Not just doing tricks, but how you do the tricks and also how you feel when you do the tricks. That part has always stuck with me. I try my best to just really enjoy myself and those people are people who really inspire me – they look like they’re really enjoying themselves on a skateboard. I’m also inspired by Tai Chi and that kind of moving meditation.

John Gardner signinvert long Heikkila

Frontside Invert

I totally agree with the fun part. When I started skating, I liked people who were able to do the craziest tricks. Then I was aiming for the most stylish skaters, but recently it changed to those who look the most fun.

Sometimes it’s hard because you’re so passionate about a trick and emotions come out, but I always try to keep on the forefront of my mind why I started skateboarding: because it’s fun, and if I’m not having fun, then it’s as if I’m doing it incorrectly. I understand, you try a trick, you might get angry, it’s part of the emotional process, but if the underlying feeling is, “This is fun, it’s just skateboarding,” then you don’t take it so seriously and that makes the whole process better – and maybe people enjoy watching it better.

When I was younger, skating was like going into a battle. It fucked up my brain and my body. I still enjoyed the suffering in a weird way, but at some point, I was like, “Why am I doing this?” and I decided to change my approach. It should be just fun when I’m on my board.

It helps me with my psyche too when I approach it like this. ‘Cause as many people know, skateboarding can be really emotional. You put your heart and soul into a trick or part and it’s an extension of yourself. This is a little vulnerable to say, but when I was skating and really hurting myself and putting all of my self-worth into landing the trick, it made me feel like I wasn’t good enough – and the underlying theme for me in my life with skateboarding is that I’m good enough in each moment. I don’t need to prove that I’m good enough. Trying tricks can also sometimes feel like that. I’m not worthy until I land this trick. For me, I noticed that in my process early on and thought that I don’t want this to be that. This is supposed to be fun, so I make it as fun as I can.

I totally understand what you’re saying. In times when I was not happy with myself, skateboarding or landing tricks was so important for my self-esteem. However, as you grow older and get to know yourself better and become happy with who you are, it’s not that important anymore. Nowadays, I can’t even imagine why I focused boards when I was younger…

I’m a relatively small person, so I don’t have enough leg power to break boards. [laughing]

John Gardner BS Air Transfer Heikkila

Backside Air

You already mentioned Tai Chi and I know you meditate – is that the source of your positivity and can you recommend it?

Yeah, I can. Everybody has a brain and everybody has a mind that’s very talkative. Meditation is a tool to calm the mind down. It’s like training a puppy how to sit. When you first tell a puppy to sit, it goes in every direction. It doesn’t want to sit. Your mind is the same way. It goes in a million directions and thinks about a million things. But over time, the more you bring it back very gently – that’s the key word –, your mind learns how to be calm as the puppy learns how to sit. The more you go to this inner mental gym, the more you can lift the heavy weights of the emotions that we all experience. Meditation is just like going to the gym to get your biceps strong. When you meditate, you make your mind stronger and when sadness or depression or anger comes, those are heavy weights for humans to carry, meditation helps you to carry those weights.

"When you meditate, you make your mind stronger and when sadness or depression or anger comes, meditation helps you to carry those weights."

Do you incorporate this in your role as a team manager and are like, “C’mon guys, let’s start the day with meditation.”

[laughing] In a perfect world sure, but no. Meditation really works for me, so I do it every morning. I think it’s great, but everybody has to do life their own way, just like skateboarding. My mom once told me, “Flowers don’t send invitations to the bees.” That really stuck with me. If you’re a flower, bees just come. I think if you have something that really works for you and resonates with you, then maybe you’re just a flower the bees feed at. People can essentially incorporate things that work for them in their life in their own way. Every flower is different and every skateboarder is different too.

If you give a positive example, people will be attracted to it.

It’s such a well-known quote, but Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Meditation helps me with that.

John Gardner Albany Pool Heikkila 046

5-0 Stall

For me, skateboarding is kinda like meditating. It’s also repetitive, but I’m sure meditating is different.

You take one thing to focus on and every time your mind gets distracted, you just bring it back. Anything can really be a meditation. The deepest and most profound change in meditation comes from just sitting, which is hard for a lot of people. There are so many different ways to meditate. The best way of calming the mind for somebody, that’s the best way that people should do it.

You also went to a meditation retreat in Germany.

Yeah, to the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Waldbröl, near Cologne. It was very nice and peaceful. In 2018, I took a month-long trip through Europe. I got a ticket paid to Skate Malmö and I took the opportunity to take some time for a little personal retreat. I’ve always wanted to do a solo backpacking trip. I flew to Berlin for the first time, stayed a few days with a friend, flew to Cologne, and went to the retreat. Then I went to Copenhagen, flew to Paris afterwards, and from there, took the train to Orléans and did a meditation retreat there. Then I went to Portugal to see a friend and then flew home. It was the best trip.

I guess traveling on your own is easier than with a bunch of skaters. What are the wildest moments as a TM?

I’d say traveling with the guys you get to travel with is usually very smooth, we all get along. Having the job that I have, I’d say there’s more responsibility, so I think the hardest part on the road is finding the balance of how to manage everything and not get overwhelmed. That’s where taking good care of myself before we start the day helps. You will never experience something quite like a skateboard tour, it’s a very unique thing and you have a very unique subset of skills that you acquire from being on the road for 17 days with a group of twelve people that your average person may not experience. It’s very invaluable to have those experiences.

John Gardner shovelpolejam Heikkila

Polejam

Do you have to get angry sometimes?

It’s very rare that I have to be stern or get angry. If I have to, then of course, that’s something you have to do, but everybody fortunately respects me and trusts that I will lead the crew. Every time that I had to be stern, it’s always received well. On a tour, it’s kinda like you’re in a wild wolf pack. Sometimes boundaries get crossed a little bit and sometimes you have to bark or bite a little bit. That’s just teaching each other your boundaries and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

"On a tour, it’s kinda like you’re in a wild wolf pack. Sometimes boundaries get crossed a little bit and sometimes you have to bark or bite a little bit."

I guess it’s pretty demanding to be a pro and a TM at the same time, especially on the road.

It took trial and error to really figure out the best way, but fortunately, I can do my job as a pro skateboarder while I’m doing my job as a TM. But now versus when I started, I pick and choose my battles a little bit more wisely. Before, I was organizing the trip, driving the van, could try a trick for three hours, and really wear my body down. Now, I think of the time I’m putting in and how that affects my ability on the trip to do my job. When I try a trick for three hours, I might not have the energy to drive and check everybody into the hotel. However, I think it works really well and this is the best job I’ve ever had.

By the way, why did you become a TM and didn’t get into filming/editing since you studied it?

The opportunity just presented itself to me in the form of the previous TM Jimmy Astleford. He and I became good friends and I was looking for work. As many know, supporting yourself just through skateboarding can be really hard. Then, fortunately, I found something through Jimmy that really worked well with pursuing skateboarding still. It kinda happened on its own. Most beautiful things in life just happen without trying so hard to make it happen.

John Gardner yourmomkickflipooverrail Heikkila

Kickflip

Getting from flow to the actual DC team and turning pro for Creature happened kinda late for you. Then you already started as a TM. Do you sometimes wish you’d have had more time of just being pro?

I’d say it’s perfect as it is because I’m able to enjoy my skateboarding more when I get to do it and I think that has a positive impact on my skateboard career because I’m not relying solely on being a professional skateboarder to make a living. I think where I’m at right now is exactly where I’m supposed to be and how everything happened – late –, it all happened at the perfect time. Because maybe if it happened earlier, I may not have been able to sustain myself the way I’m able now.

You were living in a van at some point.

Yeah. [laughing] I did it on and off for three years. I graduated college in 2014 and I had a pretty good job lined up and simultaneously a small little door opened in skateboarding to do it professionally. So I was like, “Do I take the job or this opportunity?” I thought about it and realized this opportunity can go away really quickly, but I can always get another job, so I might as well take a chance on this thing that I really want. I moved into my little Honda CR-V and built it out. I had a bed, a stove, and a cooler and did this while I was trying to make it in skateboarding – and fortunately it worked out. It was cool living in the van because if there was a trip happening, I would just drive there and I didn’t have to worry about a place to stay. I had a place to stay, and no matter where I ended up at night, I could just go in my van and sleep. So I slept everywhere from Texas to Arizona, Southern California to San Francisco up to Washington State, and back and forth the whole country. It was a really good time of my life.

John Gardner U Cdavisintodirt Heikkila

Ollie into dirt

Did you meet Sebo Walker to exchange about living in a van?

Unfortunately, I never met him, but I knew that he was simultaneously doing the same thing and I remember seeing him say that he would stay close to LA Fitness, so that he could get showers. So I got a membership to LA Fitness. They had saunas too – it was amazing. I was living like a really wealthy person.

Let’s talk about Creature for a sec ‘cause I feel like the company vibe is way more hesh while you’re pretty chill.

That was the small window I had in 2014. I met Darren Navarrette and we became really good friends. I was getting boards from Creature through my skate shop, but I didn’t really see that there was an opportunity, because I know that skateboarding is a tight-knit family and the way you make it happen is that you have an organic connection with the people. So I just was doing my own thing for a while and then I met Darren. He’s a really great person and we share a lot of the same ideas and values. Through Darren, I met everybody on the team and they’re so nice and kind and gentle. They feel things very deeply and I do the same. Even though Creature has this outward perception of being super gnarly – and those guys are –, we also have a deeply loving side as well. I resonate with that very much. A lot of friends told me, “You don’t really fit” and I think that’s great. I don’t necessarily fit, but I think that makes me fit. [laughing] Creature is my family and all of those guys are so sweet.

We have to talk about the flute for sure. Do you have it with you on the trip?

You know, this is the first trip I haven’t brought a flute, but I ended up stopping at a thrift store and I bought this one. [Shows a bright green translucent plastic flute] It’s a bad flute… But I always knew that I wanted to play an instrument. For a long time, I couldn’t find the one I resonated with. Then one Christmas, my mum gave me a flute, and ever since, I was hooked.

I saw a video where you said you love playing the flute in a parking garage in Encinitas. Do you go there regularly?

I go there once a week, but any parking garage will do. They’re perfect for having this great sound. It carries, vibrates, and reverberates. It’s beautiful.

You recently moved to San Diego, but you’re originally from the East Coast, from Summit, right?

Born and raised in New Jersey. I was just living in Summit for a bit. P-Stone is from Summit as well, but he had left when I was living there. I knew so many people around town who knew him and I hadn’t met him for a long time, and then he just came to my house with the OJ team and we got along perfectly – like he did with everybody. He was a great person.

Now you’re on the East Coast again. How long is the tour still going and where are you going to?

Today is day eleven of 17. We started in North Carolina, then Richmond, Washington D.C., Philly, and Jersey and we’re going to NYC today to spend the next week there.

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