We hold fast to the tried and true in skateboarding. We love to see everything pushed, but it’s comforting to know we can always come back to what we know as “normal”.
Every so often, though, someone comes along that manages to push us out of our comfort zone while remaining entirely relatable. Someone who views skateboarding through a lens not unlike you or I, but executes in a manner that constantly has us wondering why we hadn’t thought of doing it that way. No novelty, only an eye for possibilities. It’s a rare, special thing within our little bubble, and for a lot of us John Motta holds a high spot in the small club comprised of skateboarding’s unpredictable characters.
John, along with his brother Joey, runs Rawr, a natural supplement company, and Petrafind (handmade custom rock art) when he’s not making clips for the next part happen or determining logistics for how to film in spots no one’s ever filmed in. With A Happy Medium 4 in the works and 2 businesses running strong, we thought it would be fun to call up John and get his perspective on his own output. Living up to everything we wanted him to be, he spent an hour and change on the phone with us while walking through the desert with a 20 lb. pack on. Y’know, to multitask.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone with as symbiotic of a relationship with walls as you.
Walls. I don’t even know how I… when did that start? That was before the Happy Medium videos. Man, I don’t even know how that started.
There was a spot, like a loading dock where you could pull the guardrailing off the end of the stair set and skate over it. It was a 6 stair, so you put the rail at the bottom of the stairs and skate over it, like a gap, and then there’s a wall with no rail or anything. I just randomly tried to wallride it and it happened to work out pretty easily. So, then I tried kickflipping into it and it was working and I ended up getting it.
That was your first time?
That’s kinda what sparked it. Yeah, straight wall, no bank. I liked to do flip tricks into rails, and after trying that – you don’t have to aim anymore. You’re just hitting a wall. You don’t have to aim but it’s harder to get out of it. From there, it just grew and I’d try to think of whatever I could do into a wall that made sense. It’s fun. It’s also just a wall – you don’t need a perfect handrail, so it’s easier to find them.
There’s a lot more walls out there.
There’s a lot of ditches [in Arizona] with banks to walls where I could practice stuff and then try to take it down stairs. There’s plenty of ways to think about it.
I remember seeing the 3 flip fs wallride and thinking, “I’ve never seen anyone do that.” I’d seen the pop shuvit wallride… have you ever seen anyone else do that one?
Still, at least not on straight walls, no banks included, I don’t think so. There’s a few other ones, too, like the varial heel wallride, that… no, I haven’t. The 3 flip one, I’ve seen it but not, like, good. They just scraped.
Who do you like to watch skate walls?
Probably Silas. He’s sick. Other than that…I know what I can do well on a skateboard as far as basics, and I actually pull a lot of ideas and inspiration from biking and snowboarding. For whatever reason, it’s easier for me to not try to mimic exactly what a skateboarder’s doing. I go to outside sources and it helps me approach it in a different way.
What felt best to roll away from?
That 3 flip wallride wasn’t hard to get into, but to get out of it? That was rough. The varial heel wallride was a battle. 4 trips, hours at a time each, so probably that. That’s the funny thing about skateboarding: the outsider – no one knows what goes into it. I did the wallride nollie onto the handrail; that was something I’d wanted to do for so long, and I got that from snowboarding and biking – they all do that, but no one in skateboarding had done it, so that’s where I got the idea. I was looking for a spot to do it, but the dimensions – how far the rail has to be from the wall so your tail doesn’t hit the rail because you’re going up but it can’t be too far away because you can’t get over enough. That was more of a commitment thing – that’s a very basic wallride trick, you just have to commit. You’re going to stay on the board. I ended up having to “make” the spot. I modified it – scooted the rail over – but there was a lot more thought and pre-game stuff that went into it. In terms of it standing out in my brain and then turning into something, that was the longest time by far between when I had a trick in mind and when I did it.
You want to talk about Dunks?
I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about… Ok, this is a funny story of how this happened. This put me on the directory of my skate career. This one little fuckin’ stupid move.
Ok, there’s this kid Juice, a friend of all my friends and he was in older videos, like way past. I knew him from the skatepark, but he had a pair of Nikes… from my P.V.W.H.L. part, I wore a blue pair, like throughout my whole part I wore those. I had never gotten any shoes from Nike or anything, and Juice needed a board – he was kind of a shoe dude, like collected sneakers and all that – he had those and he needed a board, so I traded a Powell board for that pair of shoes. Any pair of shoes I have I Shoe-Goo them and they last forever, so they lasted through the whole part and made it seem like I liked a specific shoe, but it was the shoe I traded for. That’s probably a big reason I got on Skate Mental, because they saw I was wearing Nikes and everyone who works there is friends with Brad and that’s just how that worked out. So, me trading a Powell board to a kid probably was a big deal in the direction my career went.
That’s really funny.
That pair… I ended up really liking the shoe. I can’t wear low anything; I have to wear mid or high because my ankle bones, for whatever reason, stick out far.
You don’t want the collar scraping on your bones.
There’s a Nike outlet 15 minutes north of my house, so I went there and bought an all-leather, light, very earth-tone looking, regular Nike (not SB) Dunk, and since I liked that shoe I just started buying those. They were like $40 out there, and that’s just how it happened. There was no other reason to it – they were cheap and it was protection and all that. That’s pretty much it. I also tie my shoes – a lot of people, when they skate, just slip their foot in and out of their shoe – I can’t. I can’t skate like that. I have to tie my shoes.
They’re choked up?
Yeah. That’s the story.
When I saw your last couple parts, I had to readjust my brain because there were no Dunks.
It’s just high-tops. Mid or highs. I actually haven’t ordered shoes in a long time. [Nike] sends so many shoes, and I like my shoes really worn in, so once they start getting ripped I just put Shoe-Goo on, so I still have probably 5 or 6 pairs and I haven’t ordered anything in probably 2 years. I also don’t skate every day, just when I have something to film; just life and being busy with other shit. That’s how I have to operate now. I have to be productive. I have to film something – I can’t just go out and skate all day. Like, “Let’s meet here, I have an idea for something”.
You have that “killing two birds” thing going on – skate and get a clip or at least try; feel like you’re accomplishing something.
Yeah, exactly. I don’t necessarily think it’s good to be that way, but I still have fun and can do that.
Well, you have to look at your time and manage it wisely.
I’m at that point where… I just turned 29 and I’m still at home, y’know? It’s cool to have fun, but if I want to skate and still put out videos, there has to be a purpose to what I’m doing. Try to make it for a reason. It’s becoming more of a task, for sure, thinking logistically about your time and efforts.
Totally understandable. Tell me about what it was like riding for Skate Mental?
Awesome. The best thing ever. But, also… too much freedom?
Like you needed to be on a schedule?
No, I didn’t know what a schedule was back then. Looking back, I think we enabled each other, all of us. Just as far as when we were together, not necessarily in the grand scheme of things. When I’d go visit or on trips, we were too much of friends so we didn’t worry about being productive. Fuck, there are so many stories. But more than just skating stuff, Brad helped out in life situations. It was pretty awesome, for sure.
It’s gotta be a trip to have Staba as your boss/mentor.
That was kind of my first… I’m pretty self-motivated and get things done without anyone telling me what to do, but he was the first person to tell me what to do – that I had to answer to besides parents or teachers. As a first, that’s definitely a warped perspective.
You got a very different view of the industry than most do.
Yeah [laughs]. It was awesome. I still talk to him and Dan [Plunkett] a lot. [Dan’s] one of those people you definitely have to watch in person. He’s more of a sessioner – just show up to the sesh and skate. The complete opposite of how I go about filming and being productive on a skateboard. He can just do tricks. Tons of tricks. I didn’t really grow up in skateparks, so when I get to a park or spot with a lot of people it gets overwhelming. I’ve always just been spot, spot, spot, trying one trick – it wasn’t like I could just rifle off a shitload of tricks. He’s definitely that, for sure.
Let’s talk about the A Happy Medium vids. Those kinda blew up.
Definitely. Ok, this is crazy – by the time I’d filmed my first Happy Medium part up until now, that was my halfway point of video parts I’ve put out.
You had 6 before that?
They were local videos, but 3 of them had premieres. I’ve always been filming. I thought about that not that long ago and was just, “what the fuck”. That’s how people know me – from the Happy Medium videos. People ask me about those.
We just went skating, making sure it was looking good while filming. I don’t really know what there is to it – people ask me all the time how to get sponsored, and I’m just thinking, “I don’t know.” I never looked for that; it just happened. I’d been doing it so long by that point and just never thought about it. When I realized that was my halfway point, I was just like “what the fuck, dude” – it tripped me out, for sure.
Are those videos as fun to make as they look?
Yes. We all work the same way. It’s never really one session – more the day is the session. It wasn’t just all your clips happen at one spot that day. The whole day was fun because everyone had a trick in mind and we’d go spot to spot driving around filming, one big crew. That’s how all the videos were filmed. Very rarely would you be on a session at one spot skating it with everyone. We’d all be there, but everyone had their own spots.
That was the first Jaws part, right?
His first full part, yeah. What’s crazy is from that video, at least 4 or 5 guys turned pro out of the original bunch, and everyone got sponsored.
I remember going to a shop and seeing a Happy Medium DVD. I asked someone there about it and their eyes just lit up – “It’s an Arizona video and it’s fucking bonkers.” I bought it and was just floored. It had the same effect as the Coliseum video. That was a real trip. Did anyone see that coming?
I think it was just perfect timing. It just had that “something else” that everyone seemed to be looking for, but skateboarding wasn’t quite there yet.
We should talk about “entrepreneurship”.
That’s something skateboarding’s seen a lot more of the last, say, 7 or 8 years. Skateboarders deviating from skating but connecting the mindset to outside stuff.
I’ve been making videos since I was in 7th grade and that takes a lot of organization skills and getting people together – there’s a lot that goes into it that gives you principles to go by in life, some structure. So, when you do try to do something, you’re not blind going into it. You have a “way” to go by. Skateboarding helps you learn – whatever situation you’re put in, you figure out how to make it work. There’s a reason a bunch of skateboarders do it. People who are older, like my age and older, we didn’t grow up in skateparks. We had to go skate anywhere we could find.
It does trip me out when I go to old spots now, like downtown, people just watch. No one cares anymore. You don’t have the feeling like you’re getting away with something anymore but that mindset of not having anyone telling you what to do and doing what you want, and seeing results from that is definitely a mindset from skateboarding. Every kid now, there’s no way they’re not growing up with skateparks, so you’re just watching other people and it’s there, it’s given to you. You don’t have to exercise your brain in a certain way. That’s my look on entrepreneurship – it’s a mindset. You have to really not want to be told what to do. And that’s a weird word. I don’t like to use that word because I don’t even know what it means. I don’t call myself one, but I know if I were to have to make a resumé that’s a good word to use. But yeah, I’ve always been like that. My mom also saw that – she’d go to our premieres and see that we’d gathered hundreds of people, but also saw that I couldn’t just rely on skateboarding. I needed something else to fall back on. She also knew how freeing the feeling of owning something is. So yeah, the whole “answering to someone else”, you don’t have that. Yeah, I’m almost 30 and I’ve never had a real job. That’s a crazy thing to think.
When I left Skate Mental, I didn’t have anything other than the supplement thing. It wasn’t much of an income, but it was enough to get by. Since then, it’s picked up a lot, so I can support myself with it. But I was trying to get jobs, and I couldn’t get a job. It was fucking crazy. Living like that, you really understand the way the world works. You understand the principles behind everything that’s going on, and I realized I could do this all myself. The amount of time and stress it takes to rely on other people to get a job… I could be spending that much time on what I already have going on and figure it out. But it is scary. I don’t have a problem with structure; it’s in me. I don’t think I’d have a problem doing a real job, but I don’t know what to say, socially. I’m only around skateboarders. Half the time we’re just making noises. We have our own language without even saying anything.
All the work you’re doing is going to you. You’re getting all the fulfillment and enjoyment out of it instead of working for someone else’s gain.
Yeah, exactly. It would be great to live that and see what it’s like, but I can’t. I tried for 2 months, applying for jobs. But, it’d be great to see what it’s like to not have to worry, as far as living mindlessly for awhile and not relying on my brain to constantly be making decisions and creating, but from what I can tell the answer to a lot of issues people have is staying busy and keeping your brain occupied. The cool thing is I lived it to get there; I didn’t understand it and then get there. It would be interesting to have a job and see what it would be like as an experiment.
You got the supplements, you got the rocks – there’s plenty to keep you busy.
Yes, definitely. And it’s all slowly getting there. This year I’ll be hiring someone to do shipping, so I can focus more on content, going out and putting people in the dinosaur costume and filming them. Or just regular shit. More creating, or more focus on creating. I’m always thinking about what to do next, and it’s pretty hard when I have to worry about the business part. That’s my next thing, hiring people and learning how to. That’s really hard. It’s something you probably shouldn’t even think about – it probably takes years to get semi-good at it. So yeah, that’s what’s next.
You’re going to have a busy year.
Hiring someone to pack boxes, that’s not that hard, but I do everything so it would also be nice to test it out and delegate certain things. We’ll see what happens.
I want to talk, before we finish up here, about your Happy Medium 3 part. Where the whole beginning is tunnels.
Oh, man. When we film that stuff, I’ll let someone know I’m going down there – this tunnel at these cross streets. Then you get these ideas and run across spots and you think, “this won’t be any different than lighting up a regular spot”, but it is SO much different. Just because it’s so new and exciting to you, it’s like a whole other new little world and you’re really psyched on it. I haven’t done it long enough or figured out a way to make it translate to how I originally wanted it to look. There’s way too many factors to make it really work. So, that was the first part… I don’t dislike it, because it was the first one, but from what I had in mind it’s completely different. Getting generators in there… oh, man.
But that was, what, 3 years ago? Now, they’re slowly making technology – LED lights that are battery powered – but it’s all new and it’s expensive. We still film with a VX, so it has to be lit up pretty nicely for it to look good on that camera. Lately, probably a month ago, I filmed one. I have to shove the generator through an outlet tube that leads out to the road, and for the most part the exhaust from the generator’s getting out, but it will leak in. I have a little LED light that’s not strong enough at all to light it up to film… well, first I go in and set everything up. I drill holes in the “ceiling”, the top of the tunnel, and I put hooks up there to run extension cords so they’re out of the way. It’s really elaborate.
Oh, shit. It’s a real process.
Just to film a 3 second clip. I haven’t figured out a way yet that’s efficient. I can’t even explain it. When I first went in there and saw all these clips in my head, I was thinking like most people do – because I hadn’t done it yet. It seems like you’d go about it like any other skate thing. But, depending on how far you go in and how well you ventilate the exhaust, you only have so many tries before you’re suffocating. It’s fucked. It’s not a good idea at all.
But that’s how I do it. I go in first, do all my sweeping before I bring generators and lights, and then I drill the holes for the hooks, then I set the generator up and the lights and turn all that shit on. Then I have my little LED light that I set up so I can see and warm up and get close to landing the trick – however long that takes; y’know, you’re out of breath, you’re in a tunnel, and then you have to turn the generator on and deal with exhaust. All this is going on, and the cameras have to find the right angle. That all has to be happening while the generator’s running. It’s gnarly.
At some point, I’d love to put out the part that I really, really want. It’s just harder than fuck to do. There’s way too many variables and it’s gnarly as fuck.
You’d have to dedicate your life to it.
Yeah, exactly. And find other people – like, Buster and Hunter, the guys that film, they both have bad asthma. Like, not even when they’re in tunnels like that, so I think it’s just too much. I tried to film a line not that long ago, and them having to put a mask on and try to breathe in that while skating and follow-filming… there’s so much involved. It’s like a whole other job. But, I slowly chip away at it. We’re working on A Happy Medium 4, and I’m still always thinking about ways to make it work. I think all it is is time; once an LED light that’s rechargeable and bright enough isn’t fucking $1,000 then I think it’s game on. I can just buy those and not have to worry about generator exhaust.
That’d be a fun special feature – run through the process of how much it takes to film one clip in there.
I’ve thought about that, as well. Even my spots, like how I bookmark them. So, when you get in the tunnel, you can’t use your phone – you don’t get service down there. You have to go by minutes.
“It took me 20 minutes to walk this far, so I know there’s this spot.” It’s all spots based on where the tunnel entrances are. You have the entrance, then you say, “There’s this spot, it’s this, it’s 20 minutes in”. It’s funny, it’s just a mess of entrances and minutes. But they’re there. There’s definitely enough spots to film a whole part, no doubt about it.
Are places like that ever a bust? I have no idea. We don’t have stuff like that where I live.
No, I’ve never… no, the only time you get hassled is if you’re skating in or out of one, like at the very end. People from the outside, they see you skating, but that’s it. Just like any other spot. There is one spot that starts in an alleyway behind houses, and you have to put the generator out of the tunnel, so the neighborhood dogs start barking and people look in the alley and see a generator with an extension cord going underground and the cops come. But even then, it’s more like “what the fuck are you doing?” They see all the work you’re putting in, all the equipment – you’re probably not fucking things up.
That is nuts. Most people never deal with spots like that or think about those kind of logistics.
My mom actually thought of this, but you know those big foil tubes that come out the back of dryers? You hang it off the handle of the generator and smash it up against the exhaust and feed it all the way out to the road, sometimes through the gutter. Sometimes it’s just like a silver tube sticking out of some random street.
I can’t believe how much work goes into those clips.
Yeah, it’s hard, man. But as with anything creative, it’ll never translate accurately at the end. It never does. But a part will happen. In the meantime, it’ll be tricks here and there down in there.
Do you ever get hyped on skating “normal” shit?
I’m very spot-oriented and I don’t spend all my time driving around anymore looking for spots like I used to. I’m not a skateboarder – um, I don’t really know how to say this – I’m just not a sessioner. What’s fun to me is the whole process of making a video part. There’s a lot to it and that’s what’s rewarding. Skateboarding’s easy enough to control to be able to do it like that. I do know it’s dying, though – that whole mentality – it’s just going away. When people just go out and session and film on their phones, it’s great, it’s fun to do, but it’s not teaching… there’s a lot that gets lost.
Yeah, it’s weird to have grown up on the full video being what ran the entire industry. Everything revolved around it. It’s been difficult to adjust. Meanwhile, there’s guys like you who are putting your heart and soul into getting 30 seconds of good clips.
I like to be productive and cut the fat out of shit. Here I am, doing the complete opposite of what I could be doing – pull the phone out of my pocket, do this trick and that trick. It just means way more to me and I don’t care to do that. I don’t need some pat on my back every day. There’s much more meaning if you take the time, whether or not it gets good feedback or not. It’s not instant gratification.
Well, I appreciate it. It’s a huge process to get any clips period, and here you are going down into tunnels and shit.
It sucks that it’ll never translate, ever. But I understand that. I’m going to try to figure it out, somehow, some way.