From "Video Days" to Finding Islam, Jordan Richter Has Been Always Been on His Own Trip
Video Days, the Blind Skateboards movie released in 1991 that Spike Jonze directed, ushered in a new style of skateboarding video and makes an argument for the greatest of all time. If you own a skateboard, not a long board, and don't know what I'm talking about, click here and then rejoin us in 24 minutes.
The team itself was a unique blend of personalities with a creative approach that fed off founder Mark Gonzales. Guy Mariano, Rudy Johnson, Jason Lee, Jordan Richter, and of course the Gonz all contributed to something that defined an era in skateboarding and continues to influence. In a video packed with legends, there's one name there that often gets ignored: Jordan Richter.
Jordan, who recently referred to himself as the Mike McGill of the Blind team, stood out with a section that was mostly vert at a time when that style was fading. It wasn't until later that many eased off the fast-forward button and realized that the nollie and lip tricks Jordan had in his quiver were pre-cursors to the vert renaissance that would come later.
As the Video Days-era Blind team splintered, they all took different but well documented paths. Occasionally you'd get a blip of where and how Jordan was skateboarding. In the early 90s when many pros rolled slowly, bouncing their boards off the ground in the hopes of landing, Jordan popped up with a short part in New Deal's Whatever video, skating fast and clean, shunning the goofy boy garb of the time. Then something happened: He switched teams, the sparse coverage faded, and rumors surfaced of near-fatal LSD trips. Jordan was rumored to have found Islam and was driving a cab. Perhaps he had taken the longest journey of anyone on the Blind team.
He’s the subject of a recent documentary called Wayward Son about his life in skateboarding and finding Islam, and then returning to skateboarding. It turns out that most of the rumors were true, including the one about taking 30 hits of acid, only it was fake and poisoned him instead of just frying his mind.
VICE: The Video Days-era Blind team was packed with what at the time were considered extreme eccentrics. How has that version of yourself changed?
Jordan Richter: The changes I went through from that time until now are tremendous, but I look at others and they still have a shade or tinge of themselves still imprinted. I hung out with Mark at the reunion and he's still Mark, Jason is still Jason, there's still something there of themselves no matter what success they've had. Looking at myself I don't see anything of the person I used to be, and there are many reasons for that. I always felt so far removed from the other guys, not because I tried to. I had my own challenges that took me to places that the normal kid wouldn't go though. I really appreciated being a part of that—it was a milestone in skateboarding, a turning point, so to be a part of that, even though I didn't feel like I was contributing in the way that I wish I had, it was still awesome now that I look back on it.
When did you start transitioning out of skateboarding?
Around 1995 going into 1996. I got really sick, I took a bunch of LSD and it had a really bad effect on me so I stepped out of skateboarding to recoup my health. For a short time after my sickness I was still on New Deal. I had to step out due to poor health and in my condition I just didn't have the ability to continue. But when I came back into it and was riding for Goodtimes Skateboards with Peter Hewitt, Adam McNatt, Dave Leroux, and others—which was a great team—I still wasn't feeling completely whole. I didn't quit skateboarding, I still rode from time to time, but due to the impact from the whole experience I needed to take enough time away from it until I figured stuff out.
You took an interesting religious turn. Are both of your parents Jewish?
Both my parents passed on, but yes they were both Jews. We came from an Ashkenazi upbringing, which basically means we are European Jews, German to be exact. We grew up very secularized though and never really practiced the Jewish faith, we went to synagogue a couple times, but that was pretty much it.Mostly our Jewishness was based around racial pride and nationalism. It's funny, I was the only child in the family who didn't have a bar mitzvah. We were the black sheep amongst our relatives, no doubt.
What made you turn to Islam? Skateboarding until fairly recently was illegal and viewed as an outlaw thing, but is now widely accepted. In light of all the conflict in the world and the view of Islam, do you feel that outlaw thing again?
I'm chasing my old ways, huh? Chasing the “Skateboarding Is Not a Crime” thing… being Muslim is not a crime. My becoming Muslim was not something born out of rebellion, but rather I was seeking to bring order to my life. I honestly wanted to do the right thing and be more spiritual and God-loving. But I always have been one to have my own thoughts and formulate my own opinion about the world and what it means to me. So when it came to religion, politics, race, etc., I have always had my own views and followed my heart in deciding what to accept and reject. I felt more comfortable deciding things that way. I guess in a nutshell that is the “outlaw thing” nowadays.
I do, however, think that with the immense growth of skateboarding we have drifted away from that individualism that was so commonly found in the guys who came before us. Seems like lots of us have been dumbed down, which is unfortunate ’cause we lose the creative expression and artistic side to the industry. Just my opinion, and I could be wrong....
My grandmother was a very deep spiritualist, she was into metaphysics. She was a no-joke lady and always was raw truthful about life, and she really imbued that in me as a youngster. I believe that her advice and nurturing gave me the moral compass that made me gravitate towards the soul-searching that inevitably led me to Islam. Even if I was at a party, I was soul-searching. I remember I was living with Danny Way and I took a bunch of acid and he walked in on me talking to myself, thinking I was in a small crystal ball.
The biggest turning point was after my sickness, I think I started looking at myself and everyone around me and thought it was the same old crap over and over again, the same people with the same bad habits and same problems, and no one was trying to better themselves. I was gonna get the hell out. I started to read a lot and listen to conscious hip-hop—my biggest and most influential artists at the time were KRS-One, PRT, Rakim, Tenor Saw, Nitty Gritty, and King Kong. I was also into Afrocentrism. Even though I was a white European Jew, I identified with the black community more than my own. I saw the struggle of identity and reclaiming of identity as something very attractive. I started to search and find meaning however I could, and that was really in the form of the life of Malcolm X. Long story short, I prayed a lot. I wanted to know truth for what it meant to me.
That must have been pretty extreme, living southern California.
You're right. After I converted I stayed in a small studio apartment by myself. I was holding onto my skate career a little bit but was really struggling with it because of some internal conflicts I was having with how I was going to go about skating and not get caught up in the things that would compromise my new faith. It wasn't that I didn't like skateboarding, I loved it and the people in it, I just felt I was not strong enough to stay away from certain destructive habits while being around the friends I loved. I really missed my old friends when I left, but if I knew if I wanted to become better, whatever that meant at the time, I really just needed to separate myself until it all made sense.
It must have taken a long time to get acclimated to a new lifestyle and cleanse yourself of old habits. It seemed like after 9/11, there was a microscope on you all of a sudden. Was that difficult?
It was heavy, man. First of all, I was one of those people who used to make fun of "anything foreign," Middle Easterners in particular. I was one of those punk, ignorant kids at the skate park that would laugh and mock anyone—or anything, for that matter—that I didn't understand. I'm still trying to get comfortable with certain things about myself, like we all are—not my religious choice or me being a Muslim, those things don't affect me because I don't have to hang out with anyone who may have bad opinions of me.
When 9/11 happened, I freaked. It didn't hit me right away, but later I started to see a trend of hate coming my way and that made me concerned. Because we as Americans wait for an opportunity to let out our aggression on someone when we have good reason to do so. So at times I would get confronted by someone or get into fights because of my beliefs. It’s wild! I'm as “American California” as you can get, so to be viewed as a foreigner was super weird. Sometimes it was funny, but most of the time I would feel like a foreigner because of my religious choices.
How did you get through it?
It took me some time to do the research and see what has been done to us and how we have been brainwashed to hate everything Arab or Islamic. For those who care, I suggest reading Howard Zinn’s History of the United Statesto get a better overview as to what has been done to condition us to think the way we do, and why we have this hatred embedded in us. For those who don't care, well, stay dumb!
I'm not going to let the media or popular culture tell me what I am and what I should believe. I form my own deductions based on logic and intuitive insight. Essentially what happened is that people were told that someone was responsible for something and everyone believed it. To simplify it, not only did people believe a lie, but the people being accused also believe the lie about themselves. I would say at the end of the day, my faith in my creator was stronger than the effects of the lies that were being fed to me, and I am thankful to God for that!
It seems like you exist in two very distinct worlds: skateboarding and the Muslim community. What was it like seeing yourself in the Wayward Son documentary, where those two worlds intertwined?
That documentary, believe it or not, it was very healing for me, and it allowed me to reconcile lots in my life, especially my skating and my relationships with my family and friends. The kind of Muslims I found when I first came into Islam was a sort of cultural imperialistic type. I was being taught and guided by the immigrant community. They are good people who mean well but they are from a different culture and their paradigm is different then my own. These aren't violent people, they are decent people-loving people, but they just don't speak my language or understand me or where I am coming from. At the time, though, I didn't have anyone else who could help me learn the tenets and the practice of Islam. Those people existed but the larger immigrant community overshadowed them. It was a good thing then because it allowed me to remove myself from my identity and let me look from the outside in and see who I was as an American finding my way into a lifestyle that was so misunderstood in the West. God has wisdom behind everything.
You said early there's not a lot you recognize about yourself from those early Blind days. To see your lifetime played out in 90 minutes must’ve been strange.
I can explain to you what it feels like. Emotionally, it really allowed me to be honest with myself. It allowed me to be honest with people to a higher degree, to be more transparent with people, and more comfortable with Islam and my identity, especially around other skaters. I go skate with Steve Caballero at least once a week, and I skate with Jeff Hedges. Jeff is an atheist and Cab is a devout Christian and all three of us get along great! I don't bring up my beliefs to anyone unless they ask. I was able to reconcile a lot from the documentary and I'm thankful to God for that, but I don't like watching it anymore because it's like a closed chapter to me.
It sounds like a closed chapter, but it also seems like the documentary helped you merge those two worlds.
Yes, it most assuredly played a role in clarifying some things, which gave me resolve. Any time you are openly honest about where you are in life and you face the things you don’t like about yourself or the things that may need to be changed, you will always come out feeling a sense of relief and growth. Even if it drives you crazy first. I love people and I believe everyone has potential to be great in their own scope. At the end of the day, no matter what you believe, if you are just and good with good intentions, then I am with you and will stand by you. But if you are of the same faith and you’re oppressive and ill-intended and are out to hurt people, then I will not stand with you, no matter what you believe. I think we are in a time now in history where we really need to get over labels and seek to understand one another without bias. Even if we don't agree with or condone something, we need to try to understand and be critical thinkers.