INTRODUCTION: Stuart Gomez
Silas Baxter-Neal was raised in Eugene, Oregon, with an evergreen wonderland as his backyard. He spent much of his childhood outside among the wildlife, streams, and trails. Silas was raised off the beaten track. Portland has been his home for some time now—a rain-drenched city surrounded by a natural environment catering to Silas’s outdoorsy ways. He had moved back there five years ago in the midst of a hectic Pro career and started a family. He then took over the legendary warehouse space that previously housed the Dept. Of Skateboarding skatepark (wheel marks from fifteen years ago can still be spotted in certain well-worn areas), building a new indoor park and sinking his lure even deeper into the local skate stream.
As definitive as his Northwest pride is his loyalty to Habitat Skateboards, which he’s stood behind through thick and thin for over ten years, and his longtime shoe sponsor, adidas Skateboarding. The first adidas full-length, Away Days, will be released in May and many are predicting that Silas’s part will be a showstopper.
On top of filming in dozens of cities over the past three years for Away Days, Silas also found time to collaborate with longtime friend, Oregonian photographer Jon Humphries, for a series of photos taken entirely in Portland. The project is close to his heart. “I always wanted to do something cool with Jon, and we both have really strong Oregon ties and pride,” Silas says. “We thought it would make it stand apart and timeless.” You can take the boy out of Oregon, but you can’t take Oregon out of the boy.
INTERVIEW BY JOEY SHIGEO
How did the idea come together to shoot your entire interview in Portland with Jon Humphries?
Me and Jon have known each other for a long time and we’ve shot very little. When I’m home I’m not out trying to film and shoot photos as much as when I’m out on trips, you know? Usually he’s busy or I’m busy when we do try and connect, but then we started shooting some stuff last summer and we got like three or four things and it all came out really cool looking. I’ve been into Jon’s photography since I first started seeing his photos. I always wanted to do something cool with him and we both have really strong Oregon ties and pride, you know, so it was just kind of a cool idea to try and do it all in Portland and make it kinda stand apart and timeless, you know? We thought it would be kind of a cool idea for an interview.
For sure. You’ve done so many interviews over the years.
Yeah, a lot of times they do have a theme because they’re all from a time period, you know? Like, all of the photos will be from working on a video or something like that.
Do you remember the first photo you shot with Jon?
It was probably from a couple of years ago. I just moved back to Portland five years ago and I knew him from when I was kid just from being in Portland. And it wasn’t until I moved back here that I started shooting with him more.
Has it been hard to align your schedules?
Yeah, he’s busy doing a lot of work outside of skating. He’s on trips and I’m on trips. We both have kids and families, so our free time is divided between that and skateboarding and other fun activities!
Jon doesn’t shoot skating a whole lot anymore, does he? How do you guys come up on those spots?
It’s just mostly ideas that I’ve had for a long time. I’ll drive around and I’ll see a lot of stuff; a lot of spots where you could get one or two tricks at. Where you’d have a lot of fun at, you know what I mean? I’ll just make mental notes of all the skate spots and then when I’m feeling up for it, I’ll just go out and try to get as much as I can.
How would you describe the skate scene in Portland now compared to ten years ago?
I don’t think I have my finger quite on the pulse of the Portland skate scene as much as I did when I was younger. I just stick to my own thing when I’m here. I see kids out skating the streets and having fun; it’s cool to see the kids out in the street and not just at the park. There’s a bunch of people that moved up here recently, like Josh Matthews and Joey Pepper, so that’s pretty rad to have a couple of friends and other Pro skaters to go skate with. I think Raybourn is here, too, but I haven’t really seen him out. I don’t really go out that much!
Is that kind of like the hub of the scene up there?
For a lot of us, yeah. For the people I’m around, for sure. It’s our spot to go shred anytime, it’s super fun. Whenever it’s raining, or at night or whatever. It’s always a go!
When did it first dawn on you to take over that space?
Well, when I first moved back to Portland, the Pharmacy had gone out of business and they didn’t have a store at the time. And my friend, Brennan, moved back to Portland, too, and I talked to him about putting together some sort of skatepark. We originally wanted to do a public one with a little shop in it or something. We were looking at buildings and it’s hard to find a good building for a skatepark because of zoning. We had one place lined up but one of those building owners was over it and backed out. And then that space kinda became available. It used to be The Dept. Of Skateboarding for ten years—the Cal Pharmacy shop and park—then they sold the building. They went out of business and sold the building. It was a warehouse space for five years, then [I took it over] three years ago, I guess?
It was real random that we ended up in that building. It was the right price, and the other place had fallen through and it was available at the time, you know. It was kinda random how it all came together. It’s kinda cool to be in a place that has some skate history—we have marks on the walls from the old park. That’s pretty cool.
For street skating in the city, do you just go solo with a photographer and a filmer?
It kinda depends. If I’m trying to go do something not fun, [laughs] jump down stairs or rails, a lot of times it’ll just be me, a filmer, and a photographer. And sometimes I can get homies to come with. I’ll go shred around downtown on weekends. I don’t blame any of my friends for not coming, though. If I wasn’t doing something down a handrail, too, I don’t think I’d want to be hanging around and watching either. [laughs] I mean, sometimes it’s fun!
You’ve had a bunch of different covers before, but never a cover with The Skateboard Mag. How is it for you? Is it still a rush to try and step up to the plate?
Any time I get any kind of project, I’m like super excited about doing it, but there’s always a level of me feeling unsure about how it’s gonna come out. Whether it’s a video part, or an interview, or something like that. So there’s always that excitement of getting it and not sure how good it is until the end, you know?
It’d be pretty poetic, too, if Humphries ended up shooting it.
Yeah, that’d be pretty cool!
How long have you known about Away Days?
I think they announced it three years ago, but then we started doing the Skate Copa contest series where we were traveling around to different cities and filming stuff there, too. Filming for the video didn’t really kick off until two years ago.
Had you been stockpiling footage prior to that?
I mean, a little bit. I had a Transworld part not long before we started filming so that kinda used up everything I had. There were a couple of months in that first year where everything I got went to that video. It’s kinda crazy how that happens. You’re working on a video and all of your sponsors kinda have to wait a little bit! [laughs] ‘Cause even on Habitat trips I try to keep all of the good stuff for the adidas video.
I’ve heard that you’ve done a pretty good job of hoarding all of your footage.
I try to! That way you just have enough for whoever needs it, you know?
I saw one of the trailers for Away Days, and it just doesn’t seem like the typical video. Do you know much about the structure, how it’s put together?
Not a whole lot. I know that Chris Mulhern, Justin Hubbart, and Torsten Frank are the main filmers who were filming it all and those three main guys are all going to edit it separately. And then, in the end, they’re all going to come together and edit it together. I don’t really know much beyond that.
I see. Do you know who is gonna be editing your part?
Mulhern is editing my part.
Do you give a lot of input?
Yes, a little bit. Chris showed me a rough version recently and we talked about it for a little bit. I try not to be too pushy with that stuff. They know more than I do. Viewing your own footage, you don’t view it in the same way. But I try to be pretty involved in the music. It’s always hard to find music.
With such a big team like that, how do you pick and choose the trips that you’re involved with and who you travel with?
I try and go on trips with everybody. The trips that I go on are kinda based on timing and weather. You know, I’ve been to a lot of places that I’ve already been before because I already know what’s there. I have to take into account the weather and whether it’s going to be worthwhile going for. Or just the sheer comfort of living. That’s why I like to go on trips to cool places, ‘cause you get to see cool things, you know what I mean? [laughs]
Some of the trips that I try to organize, sometimes I just know of a place that’s really cool and I try and go there. I’ll try to go to one or two spots that I’ve seen in a magazine, then try and organize a trip and make it happen.
Yeah, it seems like adidas traveled A LOT for this video, right?
It’s been pretty open-ended travel. If people want to go somewhere, they’ll try and make a trip around it. And everyone lives so far away so it’s kinda necessary.
How was it to travel with some of these young, rowdy kids?
It’s fun seeing their world and what it’s like to be a kid these days, you know? They totally have a different energy than me, but it’s cool to have a mix of that in there.
Are you getting a little foreshadowing of what it’s gonna be like when your kids are older?
I hope not. [laughs]
So, mostly your skating and filming has been on trips and when you’re back home it’s just family time?
I try to spend a lot of time with my family, but I’m pretty “antsy” in nature. I still go skate a lot; go to the park a lot.
Are you still finding time to fish?
Um, it’s been a little less the past few years. But there are still times. I think this year will be really good. Both Joey and Josh are real into fishing, so I’ve got some more fishing buddies to go with.
Do you skate with your son?
A little bit, yeah. I bring him to the skatepark. He has a little bike that he’s more comfortable on. He’ll skate for a little bit then get on his bike and ride that around. He can ride up the banks and down the banks, stuff like that. He has a little more ability with the bike right now. He gets more and more into it as he gets a little bit older.
You recently celebrated ten years with Habitat. Was there ever a time when you just weren’t sure of the future of the company? Did you ever consider other companies?
Right before we went to Tum Yeto, Habitat went out of business—Alien, too—for a couple of months. I didn’t know if it was gonna come back or how it was gonna come back. No one knew. I think Joe Castrucci had a lot of hope. He worked his ass off, worked super hard to get us into Tum Yeto, or anywhere, to come back alive. When he told us what was going on, he just said, “Give me some time, I’m trying to figure something out.” That was a really scary period, but it ended up working out. Joe came through, and we’re still alive. He dedicated his entire life to Habitat, and that’s pretty amazing! When you see someone who is that involved and cares that much, it’s hard to really want anything else, you know? Habitat’s kinda all I’ve been with forever, you know?