PW: Currently you live in San Francisco, but where are you from originally? What was it like growing up there and what where your early years of skateboarding like?
JB: I grew up skateboarding in Michigan. It was awesome! It was a real innocent time in my life. I didn’t know much about skateboarding, but I loved it. The first board I had was a Nash Executioner. Then I saw the Bones Brigade video show and the first mag I read was Thrasher.
That was a turning point in my life, I was 13 or 14. For me and my friends skating in the 80′s looking at Thrasher, listening to punk rock and hip hop, etc. every one you saw that skated back then where your friends because we were outcasts and I liked that! We were like the pussy version of the Hells Angels! Looking for skate spots, building things to skate, 1/4 pipes, etc. I would never trade those days for anything, pure magic, we were on top of the world!
PW: How would you describe skateboarding to someone who has never seen it before?
JB: Art on wheels. If you think about it people in the world have built a lot of stuff. We looked at it an adapted to it. We can jump down stairs, grind up rails, slappy curbs. Even skate stopped spots! We are human cockroaches. We made a canvas out of our cement surroundings. Skaters are genius.
PW: What got you into photography? How did you learn?
JB: I always liked looking at magazines. National Geo, skate mags, etc. I never really took photos. I moved to The Bay Area when I was 19 because I had no interest in college. I wanted to skate. In my room, I made one wall of my favorite skate photos and when I look back on it they had to do with the skaters, light, and spots. I never knew I wanted to shoot photos, I just liked skating. I met Daniel Harold Sturt skating with Ocean Howell. He was pure genius! I didn’t really know too much about him, but I knew he shot a photo of Matt Hensley on the cowboy hat. That photo was burned into my brain forever. I asked him about photography and he said, “you see that corner, go sit over there.” I was bummed, ha ha! After he did his shoot he told me stand in front of a grocery store and ask someone for $50.00. Then go to Polimar Community College and take photo classes, and that’s how I will learn! I went back to SF and hurt my back pretty bad at work. I got depressed because I couldn’t skate. My girlfriend told me to take a class at city college of SF. I did! I registered for Photo 101 and my roommate Dave Metty gave me a Ricoh KR5 35 mm camera. I took Sturt’s advice, thanks guys! Then Dawes and Morf helped me a lot along the way.
PW: How did you get involved with Slap Magazine?
JB: I was contributing to Slap and a few other mags at the time. Mark Whiteley and Lance Dawes brought me in and asked if I wanted to be the photo editor. I was unprepared for it looking back on it, but I liked what they were doing there at Slap. It was one of my favorite skate mags and they were my friends. I can’t thank them enough. It made sense and I felt like I was at home there.
PW: What are some of your fondest memories working with Slap and Thrasher?
JB: Working under Fausto and seeing his passion for the brands he made, and his “fuck you” attitude. Working with Whiteley was amazing! It was on honor! Mark has one of the gnarliest work ethics and can shoot amazing photos and write and shred; he’s the whole package! The whole HSP family rules. There have been so many insane times there!
PW: With all the places skateboarding has taken you, what are some of your fondest memories?
JB: All of them. I guess there’s a lot that went on throughout the years. Cairo Egypt was insane, seeing the pyramids and lurking the streets was really fun and scary. I think every trip has a special moment. The crew, the place, the conversations, and a good laugh all make it special.
PW: Throughout the past few years, driving Big Blue around the US seems to have become a staple with you. What makes Big Blue so special for you and what plans might you have for the future?
JB: Big Blue was a gift from the Skate Gods for sure. It has over 240,000 miles on it now and still running strong. I love the van because we can throw a mixed bag of skaters or a team and travel the U.S. I like not having a solid plan, just skating and when we’re over the spots onto the next. Meeting the local skaters and checking out their scene. I have befriended a lot of shop owners and locals over the years and it’s like having a big family across America. I want to keep it rolling around the US and when it starts to die take it to Skatopia and blow her up. Seems like a proper burial stop for Big Blue!
PW: Do you love skateboarding?
JB: I like the Jason Jesse quote “I love it so much I wish it would die!” Yeah I love it a lot!
PW: If skateboarding weren’t a part of your life how do you think that you would have turned out? Would you be any different?
JB: I would be a totally different person, most of my life has been influenced by skating and through that came Art, Music, and Photography. Looking at Gonz, Blender, and Mountain; they shot photos and painted and that was a huge influence for me. But skating opened the doors for doing that stuff. It’s like learning to kickflip, for instance you start trying you battle shit in your mind, etc. But you learn a lot about yourself and find your threshold of pain. So now I apply that stuff to my life. You gotta fall, get up, and try it again, be willing to get dirty and hurt, then land something and really appreciate things. It’s a gift.
PW: Top three videos of all time and why?
JB: Alien Workshop Memory Screen
They were way ahead of their time with the editing, music, and skating. The visuals were insane!
Blind Video Days
The whole kit was amazing. The team, Gonz skating to jazz. Jason Lee’s style for miles, Spike Jonze filmed it. I love it!
Anti Hero Fucktards or any Anti Hero Video for that matter
Raw skating, awesome music, unpolished and pure.
PW: Do you have any heroes?
JB: My family and friends.
PW: Of all the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet in skateboarding, you have always been one of the kindest and most humble. What keeps you motivated on a daily basis and gets you out of bed to do what you do?
JB: I never thought I would be doing what I do in skateboarding. I worked a lot of shitty jobs in my life from an early age. This one I have now is a dream job. I don’t like calling it a job. It’s what I do. I love it! I meet creative people and get to work with them. I like to work hard, I think it’s a midwest thing? Every day is different for me and that’s huge. I don’t like a routine and that keeps me motivated.
PW: I always love it when a clip of you gets into a video and you seem to be in the best mood, it reminds me of how much fun skating is and that the people you are with is one of the best parts. What brings a session alive for you?
JB: I get hyped on skating whether it’s someone doing a 900 or learning to kickflip. You feel the vibe, as weird as that sounds, and it’s contagious. It gets me hyped to be a part of it.
PW: If you could skate one spot for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
JB: I used to skate a route in SF. bomb Bush St from my apt, skate Black Rock, then hit Brown Marble Benches, EMB then up to Union Square mostly at night. It was my favorite thing to do for years. SF is the best skate park ever!
PW: Do you have any words of wisdom or any life lessons that you have learned and would care to pass on?
JB: Have fun and don’t burn bridges. Get your passport and never look back!
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A CONVERSATION WITH JOE BROOK // STREET CANOE