When I was in grade school, my parents decided to take a family trip to Chicago. This was a "very big deal" then, because my family never went anywhere more than a two hour's drive time from home (ours being in dead central Wisconsin, so Madison was about as "big city" as it ever got for us). Anyway, while heading into Chicago my dad accidentally got on the dreaded "loop," at which point my mom started freaking the f' out and stressed my dad out so f'ing bad that we never went on any "big city" trips again throughout the duration of my time under their roof. Weird how that memory has stuck with me over 40 years later, but I've got Chicago on my mind because that's where you're about to go in a much smoother and far less stressful manner with Timothy Johnson.
Are you a born and bred Chicagoan?
Yes, born and bred.
Okay, you gotta level with me then, because this has been bugging me for years: is the Windy City really that windy?
Haha… when talking about the weather conditions my opinion is no, Chicago really isn’t that windy. I’m sure Chicago experiences more wind than most cities because of Lake Michigan, but nothing worth reporting about. Now, when talking about Chicago’s political forecast, that’s a different story. I’m not sure about the validity of these claims, but it is said that some time way long ago in the 1800s politicians here in Chicago had the reputation of being windbags—all talk and no show—and downright dirty. So because of these political practices, Chicago politicians rubbed a lot of cities the wrong way and in the process earned the nickname “The Windy City” from outsiders out of spite. From this perspective, to answer the question I’m going to have to sit down with a couple of my friends in office and get back to you with an accurate account of my findings.
Is Candyman your favorite horror movie?
No, I’m not too big into horror movies. What is scary, though, is how the Cabrini Green housing projects where the movie was set are now gone and the entire surrounding area has been gentrified. I hear they're making a new version of the film, I wonder…
Word association time: When I say “Ferris Bueller,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Sitting in my red Ferrari GT, driving fast down Lake Shore Drive on a sunny day after I skipped school.
Do locals still call the Willis Tower the Sears Tower or did you have to change with the times?
We still call it the Sears Tower. At times we do refer to it as the Willis Tower, but only to make a mockery of the situation.
Are you musically inclined? If so, what do you play?
Can the skateboard be considered a musical instrument? I know it technically can never be, but it sounds like music to me.
When did you start skating? Do you remember your first board?
I started skating the summer of 1997. That summer my parents decided to move from the south side Chicago neighborhood of Roseland to the north side neighborhood of Edgewater. I was six years of age at the time and the youngest of three boys. My brothers were seven and eight. Upon sharing the information of our family's northbound departure with our fellow friends in the neighborhood, a lot of them gave us toys as going away gifts so we had a big trunk full of random toys. One of them was this old, beat up, plastic truck infested complete of a skateboard from a boy named Alonzo—I have no idea the brand. In the weeks leading up to the move, my brothers and I would practice riding that skateboard up and down the sidewalk with no aim, sometimes leading to one pushing the other while the other sat on his butt enjoying the ride. Glorious times. When it came time to pack the skateboard in the car to make the journey crosstown, it was so beat up and junky that my father made the executive decision to leave the skateboard behind with a promise to obtain a new one once we settled into our new place.
Who were the skaters in Chicago then that had an influence on you?
It wasn’t until some years later when I was about nine that I got a board and really started learning how to skate. At that time a lot of kids around the same age group in the neighborhood would meet up and skate the local elementary school parking lot. All those kids skating in that parking lot influenced me. The one individual who influenced me the most then was my second oldest brother. He would learn a trick and right after I would learn the same trick because I was watching him. Seeing him land the tricked proved to me it could be done. He set the standard.
Who was your first sponsor?
Push Skateshop, founded by Reggie Destin. May his soul Rest In Peace.
What’s your go-to trick?
The push—nothing beats the freedom pushing down a smooth, empty road.
There’s a lot of controversy about whether skateboarding is an art form or not, but I have to think if you’re skating on a Picasso sculpture in downtown Chicago that maybe it can be considered art?
I believe the act of skateboarding means different things to different people, depending on the reasons why one chooses to skateboard. Beyond any debate on how people decide to define their own relationship to skateboarding, I do believe the filming and promotion of skateboard footage is art. When one sets out to film skateboarding for the sake of making a contribution to the culture visually, I believe that expression is art.
What’s your day job?
Currently my day job is retail clerk at Uprise skate shop. Support your local skate shop.
Who do you like better, Dave or Uriah?
I love them both the same.
We went on a Big Brother magazine road trip to the Midwest in 1994. When we rolled through Chicago, we stopped at a sandwich shop and met Jesse Neuhaus and all of my coworkers thought he and I were long lost brothers. I guess because we both wear glasses, but I don’t know. What do you think?
I believe it was mostly because of the glasses. Was the sandwich shop PotBelly?
Yeah, that was place. He had his sandwich apron on.
I believe Jesse worked at the first one created here in Chicago. Jesse is an amazing individual on and off the board and he's one of my favorite people on this planet. Shout out to Jesse, his wife, and his baby girl. Did you get a chance to skate with him?
No, unfortunately. He was on the clock and we were only skipping through and didn't spend any amount of quality time in Chicago. I've always been stoked on Jesse, though, maybe even more so now after seeing the outtake photo of him with the leather-clad, dreaded-out Alva posse blown up super huge on the wall of Uprise. Do you have a favorite old board hanging up on the wall there?
Yes, the Powell-Peralta Ray Barbee "Ragdoll" board. I believe you had something to do with that graphic.
I did! The one that started this whole career of mine. Did you know Max [Murphy] or Ben [Narloch] before you started riding for StrangeLove?
I've known Max for quite some time now. At least a decade. Max is from Milwaukee and would visit Chicago often to skate the city. I met Ben after riding for StrangeLove.
When you first got on, I asked Rob [Sissi] what size board you preferred and he sent us a shot of a 10.5 you wanted to ride. I couldn’t believe it. When I asked why, he basically said you were probably trying to make skateboarding harder for yourself or something to that challenging effect. Since then, you’ve come back down to an 8.75, but what would your ideal size be?
When I know I’m hitting the streets with a specific trick or spot in mind for the purpose of filming, I bring the 8.75. When I’m going out with no specific spot or trick in mind, but still for the purpose of filming, I sometimes bring my 10.5 and go with the flow. The 10.5 happened when one day at Uprise we received a shipment of Street Plant boards. One of the them was a 10.5 with a slightly squared-off nose and tail, and the shape reminded me of the Mike Vallely "Barnyard" board but with a longer nose and tail. Usually boards that big don’t carry a substantial nose to pop nollie, but this one did and that’s what made it special to me. For about a week after we got the board, I would frequently size it up and stand on the deck in a crouching stance, imagining how amazing it would feel to blast off on that thing. Eventually I made the mandatory purchase. At first I fitted the board with some 169s, but upon a test drive in front of the shop Uriah took one look and said it needed 215s. I agreed and immediately went back in the shop and slapped on some 215s. The 10.5 is a yacht and does challenge my approach to certain tricks and obstacles, but I like how it feels like an oversized standard popsicle shape with a slight taper. It takes a bit of getting used to, but as with all things in life you adjust and proceed as usual.
All right, Tim. I’m sorry, but I have to poke the elephant in the room. What happened on the morning we went to 3rd and Army in San Francisco, because we all thought you were gonna go straight to the ledges, but…
I decided it was a good idea to ollie over the railing into the man-made quarterpipe below. I was getting close, but not close enough, so on one attempt, as I was approaching the rail, I decided to switch things up and try my luck with a forward-flip to back-slide on the bottom rail. I was sure I would slide the railing with my back, pop out, and land on my feet… instead I miscalculated my angle and landed a foot away from the rail on my back. I figured I only had one shot at a maneuver like that, so I gave the ollie a couple more tries and called it quits. That night I believe we all went out to eat ramen and I could barely move my legs.
I didn’t know about your background beforehand, but after watching you jump up and walk away with a smile from that slam—trust me, I would have laid there until the damn ambulance arrived—it didn’t surprise me in the least to learn you were a breakdancer. How long ago did you get into that?
I got into breakin' when I was 12. As I remember it, a friend gave my second oldest brother two films on DVD. One was Style Wars and the other was Beat Street. We would watch those films repeatedly and the next thing you know we found ourselves outside writing our names on peoples' private property by day and inside spinning around on our heads by night. Just like skateboarding, when it came to breakin' my brother would learn a move then right after I would learn.
Do you still do it?
I haven’t consistently practiced breakin' in about a year and a half. I've lived in the Midwest the majority of my life, and over the years I would usually focus more on breakin' during the winter season when I couldn’t skate. When spring would come back around and the streets were good to go with warmth and sunshine, I would then focus the majority of my time on skateboarding. Within me will always remain the fire and will to demonstrate power through the art of dance.
Do you think you would have made it through the rest of the SF trip if Dave hadn't brought his Hypervolt?
Absolutely would not have made it. Shout out to Dave for bringIng his Hypervolt on the trip, because it is an amazing product. I recommend it to anyone involved in activities that require self-imposed head-on collisions with concrete and metal. To all those who don’t know, the Hypervolt is a portable massage gun manufactured by a company called Hyperice. The Hypervolt is one product in a line of many by Hyperice, and one product I believe to be quite exceptional. The Hypervolt helps relieve muscle soreness/stiffness, improves range of motion, promotes circulation, and accelerates warmup—I also took that directly off the Hyperice website so don’t sue me. At the end of a long day of pushing around and skating spots, the whole team passed the Hypervolt around like it was a blunt. The Hypervolt greatly improved my ability to walk normally at the end of the day. All praise is due.
Where should we all go on our next StrangeLove trip? Is there any place in particular that you want to hit?