TEXT: STUART GOMEZ
Josh Kalis has a legacy in video and print that seems to include roughly half of the major cities in America (with some Barcelona sprinkled in there for good measure). His natural born hustler’s ability to adapt to new environments makes every one of his clips and photos seem totally natural; no matter where he skates, he’s a local. Like a living example of the age-old aphorism, “it ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”
Backside 180 melon. Grand Rapids, Michigan. // Noseblunt slide. c.1989
During his tenure as an ambassador of sorts at LOVE Park, as the mecca evolved from a free-for-all with little police intervention to a tightly-monitored skate trap where marauding task forces were guaranteed to hand out three-hundred dollar tickets, even the cops were deferential to him (“I got caught, but I’ve never been booked,” Kalis says). No matter the conditions or the bust factor, Kalis was likely to come away with some amazing footage.
Kalis’s longevity can be attributed to many qualities and twists of fate in his epic timeline of coverage, but the fact that he has been consistently welcomed with open arms at some of the world’s foremost plazas speaks to one particular trait: He believes in respect. Gotta give it to get it. As a teenager, he fulfilled a life-long dream of skating San Francisco’s Embarcadero. The prototypical plaza was notoriously averse to outsiders, and, as Kalis recalls, “I’m the dude who’s real respectful of my environment. I hung out, I looked at everybody; I didn’t immediately start skating.” Pacing himself while remaining aware of his surroundings, he fondly remembers those first few pushes at Embarcadero: “On the inside, I’m like, ‘Holy shit. I’m at EMB!”
That initial session set the stage for some timeless footage in his first full part in Toy Machine’s Heavy Metal. Kalis’s career was only just beginning, but he was already adapting to new situations like a seasoned professional. His career is still in full swing, and full of eye-popping progression across all forms of media, but his true talent may be a kind of social intelligence that not only opened doors for him but also indirectly served as building blocks for the legacy of the plaza era itself. His impeccable history in photos and video may even be defined by his keen self-awareness and belief in respect. Kalis says, “I adapt, I’m not a tourist. I’m embedded in whatever community I’m in.” Kalis gets in where he fits in.
Josh Kalis & Stevie Williams c.1995
The following are excerpts from Josh Kalis’s forthcoming Life On Video feature to be aired on TheBerrics.com, a series of interviews covering Kalis’s career. This section pertains primarily to LOVE Park.
INTERVIEW BY ONIL DIAZ
When you first started skating with Stevie at LOVE, was there anything that really stood out to you?
What was really standing out to me back then was the plaza. It kinda gave me that same feeling as when I used to watch Dave Schlossbach’s Quiet Storm, the Embarcadero section. When I left, I was gone for a while. I lived in Michigan, Dallas, San Diego … but the entire time I was moving around all I thought about was: Nobody’s doing anything with LOVE right now. The Sub Zero video was big for LOVE, but it wasn’t the vision that I had created in my mind of what LOVE Park would look like from a media perspective.
Were there people at LOVE Park who were there because they knew that it was going to be an epic spot?
Well, after I left, when I would see any type of media coming from LOVE Park, I would think: You’re doing it all wrong! Ricky Oyola and his crew started a new movement with handicap bump over rails, wallies, pole jams; they moved away from LOVE Park, so LOVE Park was kinda just left to dry. What’s really going on in Philly right now? I was seeing what the Sub Zero crew was creating, but I wasn’t seeing what I wanted to see—all the LOVE Park stuff.
When I did go back to Philly, I just looked at LOVE [and saw] that the opportunity to grow together was just massive. And, right then, I just put it together. I saw open game. Like, what’s everyone doing? They’re not doing shit. If we squad up, it’s ours! Everybody eats. And that’s what we did. I got Stevie, Stevie got his homies—just me and Stevie doing it together. I don’t think Stevie knew what my train of thought was, but then all of a sudden you got the whole LOVE Park era. The one that took over the old era; the one that shined bigger than the old era.
Switch heelflip. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. c.2002
How did you know at that time that you were taking LOVE Park back?
I didn’t look at it like I was taking it, but I knew that LOVE Park had changed quite a bit. All the dudes that don’t skate and hang out are all new. I knew that there was some weird changing of the guard that had happened, or was happening, but there was no guard! So, it changed but there’s nobody there repping it. That window of opportunity was just staring me right in the face. Now it’s illegal, now the cops come, now you get thrown out. It wasn’t that big of a deal until later but it was just like this is where you can really make it happen, you know? When you have an opportunity like that, you can create anything you want. If it’s rad, people are gonna come to it. And what we created at that time? Man, we got Fat Bills, Pappalardos, Wennings, and Tim O’Connors, and all these people that were able to come and shine. It was kind of my turn to envision what it would look like. I didn’t know what the outcome would be, but I’d seen Mike Carroll and Henry [Sanchez] do it at Embarco, I’d seen Ricky [Oyola] and them do it at LOVE. I was at the top of my game and it worked.
How long did it take for you and Stevie to start filming at LOVE?
I think the time gap from when I first moved back to when LOVE Park was essentially under me and Stevie, it was shortly after the Transworld video (Sixth Sense) came out. When that video came out, that’s what solidified Josh and Stevie/LOVE Park. Before that, I don’t think there was a full explanation of [the spot]: big ledges, little ledges, it has everything. It’s showing the cops, it’s showing the atmosphere, it’s showing the dudes running away. This is the new LOVE; you haven’t seen it in a while. These are the dudes that are skating it and this is the culture. It had its own culture, dude. Sixth Sense shined that light and let everybody see it.
Switch crooks. San Francisco, California c.1996 // Backside tailslide. San Diego, California c.1995 PHOTO: Swift
How did Stevie get a clip in that part?
Stevie is the definition of “Make something out of nothing.” For me to be able to say that I had a big part in giving him that window, I didn’t know that I was giving him that window, but it helped me out too! Because, if it was just me trying to carry the weight of LOVE Park, it just wouldn’t have worked. But me and Stevie? That shit was just awesome! That’s my favorite video part ever, because it’s the story of EVERYTHING. Everything is in it.
Did you and Stevie have any rivalries?
Here’s the thing about me and Stevie that most people don’t know about. Sure, we lived together and we skated together, but we had completely separate lives. Stevie was the king at LOVE Park during this time. He’d squabble, he’d fight—I didn’t fight—so he was respected. I got respect at LOVE Park because Stevie was letting people know, “Yo, don’t fuck with this dude.” So I would take some of the opportunities I had and passed them to Stevie as well. We had two completely separate lives, but when it came down to LOVE Park, and Philadelphia, and skateboarding? We were just connected. It wasn’t anything that was spoken about, it wasn’t like a plan, it just worked. We both just knew what we were doing.
Frontside noseslide. NYC, New York c.1998 // LOVE Park. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania c.1997 | PHOTOS: Gee
Watch JOSH KALIS'S 'Life On Video', now live at TheBerrics.com and click the image above to preview more from issue #147 of The Mag.