To celebrate the launch of Muska’s new Skytop IV shoe in London last night we’re resurrecting this Huck interview from Spring 2011. This article first appeared in Huck 26.
Chad Muska is popping a Coca Cola. “I’m not drinking at the moment,” he says. “I want to be in control of everything in my life and I don’t want anything in my life to be in control of me.”
The polymorphous skateboarder is in London to launch a One Distribution pop-up shop in the basement of Slam City Skates, Covent Garden, London. He cuts an alien figure against the corporate tower blocks and grey intersections that make up Soho’s backstreets. There’s something California coded deep and it manifests in the long dirty-blonde hair poking out his snapback. But California is not exactly where Chad’s story started, thirty-three years ago.
“I’ve grown up all over the place,” he says, thinking back. “I was born in Ohio, grew up in New Jersey, Philadelphia… my parents were crazy, that’s probably the best way to put it. I was in twelve different schools by the time I was in sixth grade.” Constantly breaking up and getting back together again, Chad’s parents ragtagged across the states, finally settling, separately, in Phoenix, Arizona, and Las Vegas, Nevada, when Chad was eleven or twelve. “I first started skateboarding in Phoenix, at this big empty pool at the back of a vacant house,” says Chad. “I was riding BMX but every once in a while I’d try to grab someone’s board and ride, then basically [crash and] eat shit in the pool. […] After my bike was stolen, this guy gave me his old board and it just clicked. From then on it was straight forward, no looking back.”
At fourteen, after getting into some graffiti-related trouble, Chad ran away to California. He explains: “It was either stay [in Phoenix], work a shitty job and do community service, or catch a ride with these girls to San Diego, and that sounded like a better plan at the time.” And it was in the Golden State he found somewhere to call home. “In the ninety-somethings, California was a dream come true. It was heaven,” he says. “I was broke, I was homeless, I had nothing and I was just happy. I loved it. Nothing mattered because the beach was there and this energy of skateboarding was just kind of starting up again.”
Ed Templeton soon hooked Chad and Zero founder Jamie Thomas up with Toy Machine and they shook up skateboarding for the next decade. When Shorty’s went big, in the late nineties, Chad was the poster boy and many attribute Shorty’s G style to the profound Muska influence. Chad sets style, but he insists it’s not a conscious thing. “I never feel pressure, I just feel a need,” he says, laughing and swatting the comment away like a fly. “I just like to manifest ideas and see them happen. […] If you try something absolutely crazy ten times, and one of those times hits, it’s worth more than a thousand mediocre ideas, because it’s going to stand out, it’s going to be a movement and something new. […] The coolest thing about skateboarding is individuality and I don’t ever want to see that lost in the industry.”
And style, according to Chad, is not determined by the ice around your neck. He explains: “I’ve always been into style, my whole life. When I was dead broke, I used to go into thrift stores and get weird, extra-large, size-forty pants and cut them up or do stuff to them, whatever, anything. I used to get shoes, and paint them, and put fat laces in them, it was just taking whatever I had and putting some flare to it, that’s always been fun for me to do. And I guess I still love to do it.”
From developing kicks with C1rca in the early noughties, to designing decks for Element mid-decade through to his prolific relationship with Supra and Kr3w these days, the multi-faceted tastemaker has signed his name in the corner of every type of canvas. But is there any continuity in his multipartite approach? “Yeah, it’s all the exact same thing!” he says, stoked. “Whether I’m doing a trick on a skateboard, drawing a picture, editing a video, producing a beat, designing a shoe or making a T-shirt graphic, it’s the same energy and same feeling I get in my head. One inspires the other. It’s all the same shit to me. […] The common thread is just creativity and manifesting ideas and not talking about what you’re going to do, but just doing it. Talk less, do more. I’m inspired by people who have that same work ethic, that same mentality.”
Settled in New York now, Chad seems content. It’s a far cry from a few years ago, when his California-industry love story went up in flames. After years at the front of the pro skate story, Chad retreated into the seductive LA Hills, only re-surfacing, sporadically, in the tabloid media because of a fleeting romance with Paris Hilton.
“I had some things going on with C1rca and started to feel a bitterness with the industry,” admits Chad, looking back. “But I never stopped skating during that time; I just kind of took off and did my own thing for a while. I was a little wrapped up in the Hollywood scene and partying and stuff like that and I needed to separate myself from the industry for a while in order to appreciate it again. But skateboarding is me, you know, it’s in me forever. The longer I was away from it, the stronger I felt it pulling me back – just wanting to be a part of it again so much. No matter what else I was doing in the world, it didn’t feel right [without skateboarding] and I needed to be back in the skate industry somehow and contribute. I feel like I have a lot to contribute still and hopefully for many years to come, whether it’s on or off my skateboard. I just love this industry and want to be a part of it for as long as it accepts these ideas I have.”
Truth is the skateboarding industry welcomed him back with open arms. In a world where “you can go to any skatepark, anywhere, and find a twelve or thirteen-year-old kid who’s better than any pro”, heritage becomes increasingly important, and those with solid skateboarding roots become even more relevant; touchstones for a new cultural language.
Chad sinks the last few bubbles of pop and tosses the can in the bin. He’s “a horrible drunk” apparently – “an exaggerated, over-the-top version” of himself – and with plans to branch out into the fashion industry at some point, a bright art career ahead and “another video part, maybe the last” to skate, he’s going to have to pull together a united front.
The place he’ll always feel most centred is square in the middle of his skateboard. “Skating is the one thing that’s different from the rest, it’s almost like the backbone of everything,” he says. “I think I’ll skate forever. I’ll probably wheel my wheelchair to the skatepark and yell at kids or something. […] Without skateboarding I would probably be dead, in jail, or working some fucked-up job. If I had stayed in the situation I was dealt, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today, and I owe it all to skateboarding, for sure.”
You can find out more about Muska’s new Supra Skytop IV shoe here.