Team Rider to TM: How John Gardner Went from Top Am to Driving the Van on DC's Euro-centric "Domino"

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John Gardner is a flute-playing East Coast ripper who got on the DC team and became the TM less than a year later. We hit him up to find out what it’s like to go from being a rider in the van to the man behind the wheel, see who’s gonna have the standout part in the upcoming DC Domino vid, discuss bar fights in Berlin and hear why you should never put all your chips in one basket. You’re gonna dig what the Gardner is sowing.

What’s up, John? How are you handling the quarantine? Are you on lockdown?
Yeah, I’ve been on lockdown for about a month. I haven’t really gone anywhere. I’ve just been spending time at my house doing what I need to do and keeping myself productive.

DC photo 2The Gardner digs into a ride-on 50-50 across and down in Berlin

Have you been able to skate at all?
Yeah, I have two roommates who skate, Ace Pelka and Dakota Hunt, and we’ve been skating curbs together, just trying to keep it as light as possible. Not doing anything high risk, just in case.

And you’re in Long Beach now, correct?

11JOHN GARDNER 5050SMITH SHOTBY HEIKKILA 2000PXGetting comfortable with movin' up and switchin' positions, John rides the 50-50 up to Smith

When did you move from the East Coast out West?

In about 2017. I came out here and I was living in my van at the time. Then I lived at the DC park and life just unfolded for me and this opportunity to get this job happened from hanging out with Jimmy Astleford.

When you say “this job” you mean the DC team manager position.

Jaakko Ojanen fsboardfakie shotby HeikkilaMaking moves of his own, Jaako rides the front board escalator to the top floor

Okay, so a little history here: you were on DC flow for almost a decade, then you got on the team, then two years later you became the team manager. Is that right?
Actually, I got on the team and within a year I became the team manager.

Was that something you had ever dreamed of doing or was it just total happenstance that the job position opened up?
To be honest, no. It was nothing I ever planned on doing but the opportunity presented itself and it just seemed like the right move. I’m happy I did it.
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How was that transition? What’s it like to go from being just a guy on the team to a guy who has to manage the team? Did that change your relationship with any of your teammates?
Honestly, no, because I’ve been hanging out with these guys for so long, so it was actually kind of an organic process because I had already established relationships with every single dude on the team. For me, it was kinda best-case scenario because I naturally want to take care of people and I want to be a leader. So, going on trips, nothing has really changed besides the fact that I’m the one driving; I’m the one making sure everyone is fed and taken care of. I don’t consider myself a manager of these guys, I consider myself someone who is managing everything around them. And I make that known. You know, everyone is a grown-ass man who can take care of themselves and we’re all friends so it’s super easy. I’m there to make things easier for everybody and that’s what I want to be doing. It’s a win/win for everybody.

Do you ever butt heads with anybody. Does conflict ever arise?
Yeah, but I think that’s natural. I think it would be ignorant to think that you’re never going to butt heads with anybody. We all have really good communication with one another, though, so if there ever is a time when we butt heads, we just talk about it. It’s just human nature. Nothing has ever happened where it’s been catastrophic.

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Who is the easiest person to work with on the team?
Alexis Ramirez and Wes Kremer are the easiest guys to work with. I mean, everybody is easy to work with, but those guys are just happy with whatever—no matter what. They’ll make the best out of any situation. They are super fucking easy going.

DC photo 8Alexis may be easy going but his skating is hard as hell—frontside 50-50

DC photo 4Banger management requires a separate skill set...

On the flip side of that, is there anybody who is difficult to work with?
I think the person who can be the most difficult is T-Funk. But not in a way that I don’t enjoy being around him. He challenges me in the best ways and teaches me to be more patient. He’s a really good dude and maybe just a bit misunderstood.
DC pullquote 2What’s something about being a team manger that the average skater wouldn’t know?
Something I feel is important to mention here is that a lot of people have asked me, “Are you giving up on pursuing skateboarding because you have a job now?” And I think it’s really important for a lot of people to know that skateboarding doesn’t necessarily pay you all that well when you’re pursuing it. So I think it’s really important for kids who are reading this to know that you shouldn’t put all of your chips in one basket. Really focus on what it is you want in life, but at the same time be realistic. And—go get a job. It’s completely normal. People glorify having skateboarding being your job and they put it on a pedestal, but for the vast majority of people you’re not going to be able to pay your bills through skateboarding. So it’s really good to have other means of income and to just be realistic in your expectations.

DC photo 1Hard on the TM, harder on the streets—T-Funk channels Mike Smith in Brussels

Does your team manager position cut into your skate time?
I’m actually skating more, which is really refreshing. I go on all of the trips now, where as before—we have a really big team so not everybody can go on every trip. Now I get to travel more and be with the guys and be more involved. So I’m skating more than ever, which is nice.

It’s gotta be motivating that the TM is out there skating and not just sitting in the van. Jimmy told me you got more footage in Berlin than a lot of the other guys.
Yeah, I love to hype the crew up just as much as everybody else does, so if somebody is getting stoked and trying a trick and I get stoked, it just has a ripple effect. So not much has changed in regards to skating with me being the TM. But I have to have a balance, obviously, when I’m on trips and skating, because I have to make sure I have enough energy to drive the van and I don’t want to get hurt, so I’m a little more cautious. But I want to get it just as much as the next guy.

Nick Dias bssmith shotby HeikkilaBig pop, big shoes and pure style, Nick Dias puts up a back Smith that rings of classic DC

Historically, DC is a pretty fresh company. How does a flute-playing hippie kid get on the team?
I never expected to actually get on the team. It was always a dream but I put it on such a high pedestal that it seemed unattainable. But I think with every single company, if you’re around the people enough, if you’re bringing something to the table that maybe nobody else is, you’re a good human being and you can skate, you can find your place wherever you end up. It doesn’t really matter if you fit the stereotype of a company as long as you represent it in your own unique way.

DC photo 13 2Chase Webb’s boardslide is Somethin’ Else      Photo: Francisco

When you got on tours, do you bring a flute with you?
I do, every single trip. I bring a different flute each time. I have a bunch.

DC photo 5The riding is on the walls—Shintaro Hongo, wallride backside 180

Who is somebody you’d love to see on DC?
I’m gonna say Matt Rodriguez because he’s my favorite skateboarder. If I could choose anybody to be on DC, it would be Matt.

What about a legacy pro? Who would you like to see back on DC?
Probably Van Engelen or Mike Carroll.

All good choices. So this DC video, Domino, focuses on four of the Euro guys, right?
Yeah, it focuses on Jaakko Ojanen, Thaynan Costa, Madars Apse and Josef Scott Jatta. They’ll all have full parts.

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Out of those four parts, is there one you’re most excited to see?
I know this is really a cliché thing to say, but I’m really excited to see all of them. I love all of those guys so much and I love watching them skate. Madars, for example, is super unique, so every time I see footage of him skate it opens different portals of my brain on how to skate differently. Jaakko does the same thing—he’s super technical but he’s got so much finesse. He’s really smooth and quiet. He’s like an assassin on his board. I love watching him. Thaynan is super graceful. He’s really stylish and it brings me so much joy when I’m around him and skating with him. And Josef is a fucking powerhouse. He’s hilarious and he’ll surprise you because he can skate fuckin’ everything.

DC photo 12 2Thaynan Costa, caveman nosegrind. Follow the arrow, yo

Thaynan fakie manual Domino 750pxThaynan gets graceful on the bank-to-sidewalk fakie manual for his Domino ender
Readers of the mag are no doubt familiar with Madars and Jaakko, but what’s up with Thaynan and Josef. What’s their vibe?
Thaynan is one of my greatest friends. He once told me I should come visit him in Lisbon. A lot of people will say stuff like that but don’t really mean it. He picked me up from the airport and we met his dad at their family’s fruit stand at the beach. He and his family run it and I could tell they all really enjoy their lives together. I stayed at his house and every morning we ate fresh fruit. His dad’s an amazing chef, too, and he’d cook us amazing lunches every day. They were so hospitable and generous. And Josef, man, every time I hang out with him I’m laughing nonstop. We call him Demo, which is pronounced dee-mo. It originated from demon, because he’s a speed demon. His Swedish slang cracks me up so hard. Here’s some examples: “Goddamn legging” means you’re a goddamn legend, and “psküntzz,” pronounced skoontz, originated from some gibberish in the van and now Josef uses it constantly. It literally means anything. I recently had to get him out of Barcelona when the Coronavirus outbreak hit. He thanked me and said, “Fuck ye, lord of psküntzz, you goddamn legging!”

DC photo 14 2Nose manual into the kinks, Josef Scott Jatta is a goddamn legging

Josef Scott Jatta back smith
Demo blasts a back Smith to prove he's a fucking powerhouse too
DC pullquote 3Why do you think European skating is so hot right now?
It’s different; it’s fresh. You’re seeing places and faces you don’t normally see. Skateboarding’s nature is to grow, so it makes sense that Europe has become a hot spot.

DC photo 10This switch 180 pole jam is all you need to know. Nothing else Madars

Wes Kremer fsshuv shotby Heikkila
Wes stays in the social media shadows, so you'll have to follow his front shoves where there's sunshine and street bumps

Give me your favorite Wes Kremer story.
This one isn’t too crazy but it kinda sums up who he is. We were on the plane to Europe. It was one of those really wide planes. I was on the far right side at the window and Wes was across the aisle on the far left side, also a window seat. I’m looking at every single person down the row. Everybody is hunched over staring at their phones. And Wes doesn’t get down like that. He’s got a flip phone. So I’m looking through the sea of iPhones and then I look over at Wes and I see him hunched over just like everybody else, but he’s hunched over looking at a Thrasher. He’s a real one and everything he does brings a smile to my face. He’s a very unique human being.

Wes reading 1500PXPhoto: Gardner

Is Evan Smith as tripped out in real life as he seems to be?
Yes, Evan knows how to turn it up, but at the same time he’s very level-headed and grounded and a lot of people don’t see that side of him. He’s a deeply introspective and a very loving and caring person. He’ll literally give you the shirt off his back, which ironically he did for me yesterday.
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Wait, why did you need a shirt?
Well, we were FaceTiming the other day and he had on this Skatelite t-shirt. I was like, “Holy shit, that’s a fucking cool shirt. Where did you get that?” He said, “I found it at the thrift store.” I told him, “Well, if you ever see another one, definitely grab it for me and I’ll pay you for it.” So I saw him the other day—I had to give him shoes—and he literally took the Skatelite shirt off his back and gave it to me because he knew I liked it so much.

DC photo 7The cops showed up to this dirt track in Luxembourg—because they got a call that a skunk was on the loose. Nothing stanky about Evan’s kickflip, though

That’s awesome. So tell me about the incident when you guys were in Berlin. Something happened with T-Funk tagging the inside of a bar, right?
Yeah, Tristan and Evan were tagging a window in a bar where we were doing a DC event. Obviously security was fucking bummed, so they asked them to leave. It was a relatively mellow scenario. They were being led out, they left peacefully and then a few of the security guards got a little bit rough and kinda pushed T-Funk off into a corner. And anybody who knows Tristan knows you do not push that dude into a corner. So he broke out and those dudes chased after him and then a brawl ensued. Some dudes got punched and we tried to calm the situation down as best we could. Everyone eventually broke out and then the cops came and that was that.

T Funk July 2020 Cover 2000PXBreaking out of the bar brawl and onto the Bible, T-Funk surfs a vertical stale 

Did anyone have to spend the night in jail?
No one went to jail, thankfully, but they were making all kinds of threats to us after the fact. One security guard was walking around the rest of the night with a bandage around his arm, saying that somebody stabbed him—which was very clearly not the case. We filmed the whole thing. But just shit like that. Nobody went to jail, but they were definitely pissed at us.

DC photo 6Tiago Lopez, front feeble transfer for an unimpressed Portuguese local

I heard somebody got choked out.
Yeah, one of the dudes who works for DC France, Manu, got choked for a little bit, and he was just trying to calm the situation down, unfortunately.

DC photo 14John has the kicks ready, just in case

Oh, man. Do you think there’s going to be a breakout part in this video that’s going to surprise people?
Jaakko will always surprise. Everything he does is always a surprise.

DC photo 13Jaakko, back Smith to kickflip like a ninja in the shadows

How would you sum up this video for the future viewer. What can we expect to see from Domino?
This is going to sound cheesy, but you can expect to see four very well-versed skateboarders who are great friends. They’re great humans and they fucking rip.
DC pullquote 5I have to assume this will be an online premiere?
Yeah, it will premiere online. With everything going on with the Coronavirus, I don’t think we’ll be able to do a public viewing for a while.

I know you’re not scientist, but when do you think we’ll get back to actually having video premieres when everyone can meet up and have a beer together?
Fuck, hopefully sooner than later, man. I have no idea. I guess this virus is calling the shots, not us.

DC photo 12Back lip to end the trip, you can’t fake the Funk