Sam Smyth is the talent manager for Girl and Chocolate skateboards. If you Google him, most of the links that pop up lead to pictures of him eating sandwiches or his photo website. While those activities make up a large part of Sam’s portfolio, I think his greatest achievement is keeping the most elite team in skating balanced and happy for the last 15 years.
The Girl and Chocolate teams are about to release their first video offering since 2004's Hot Chocolate, and to the people concerned with such things (everyone who rides a skateboard), it’s the biggest event to happen all year—all that president electing business included. As you may have noticed, last week we released a little YouTube nugget from the Crailtap camp in the form of a bowl jam with Raven Tershy at the Diamond Mine. In preparation for the big day (which is November 16, by the way), every Tuesday we’ll be putting up more bonus junk from the Tap, so check back next week. And the week after that, etc.
I got out my typing fingers and had an iChat conversation with Sam in an attempt to learn something about the video, but we ended up talking more about oops poops, drunken kids, and babysitting a bunch of man-children than anything else.
VICE: Hello Sam. We had to postpone this interview due to our conflicting lunch schedules. How was yours?
Sam: Fine. Had a low-budge burrito and watched the end of the Giants game. Giants won the division series.
Will you brag to James Kelch about the superiority of your city?
Uh, YES. Fully.
As a person who reads every skate magazine and pays attention to people’s names in videos, I always wondered about your history. Can you give me the breakdown of where and how you were born and raised?
I was born to hippie parents in San Francisco, in the house that my mom still lives in. I was a city kid. I had a lot of freedom. I was riding bikes, taking the bus, and skating all over the city at a pretty young age.
Who did you start skating with?
I started skating with some kids from my neighborhood. They were down for a year or so, then they went on to different things and I stuck with it. I met Nick Lockman at Golden Gate Park. His dad and mine would take us skating. They took me to Embarcadero. Nick was six, I was ten. Nick is the team manager at DGK now.
Were his parents hippies or was he just poorly supervised?
They were cool as fuck. They liked to party, so I think there had to be a touch of hippie in ‘em. Like mine, they supported skating to the fullest, which wasn't a popular move for parents back then.
I heard you say once that you shit your pants at a skate contest when you were 12. Is that true?
Yes. Nick and I stayed best skate buddies for a long time. And then we met Karl Watson, and the three of us were like skate brothers. When Think Skateboards started they wanted our little crew, so all three of us got on Think. We actually came up with the name. They wanted to call it Move, and we thought that was whack.
Anyway, first trip we ever went on with Think was up to Corvallis, Oregon for the NSA contest. This had to be 1990 or so. While we were practicing I did a little oops poops. Unfortunately, I was wearing Ghetto Wear shorts. They were so thin there was no playing it off, and I had to ask Kieth Cochran to take me back to the hotel. He laughed and called me out on the mic, which was slightly embarrassing. When I got back I took my run. I think I did OK, but I puked as soon as they said time.
Had you gotten drunk the night before?
Yeah. It was my first time ever getting drunk. Jason Adams got me a 32oz of Miller High Life. That was my dad’s brand so it was the only beer I had ever tasted. I remember getting wrapped up in the bed cover and drug around the hotel.
Who was in charge on that trip? Who let a 12-year-old get hammered?
I was with Jason Adams, Jeff Toland, John Cardiel, Nick, and Karl. I can't imagine those dudes were that much older than I was. Keith Cochran and Shrewgy were in charge, but they probably went out to a party or something.
Was your only video coverage the Chaos section in 411 Volume 1?
I had one trick in that; a 180 fakie manual at the bus stop by Embarco. I also had a line in the Underworld Element promo. Nose slide pop up the block, back foot flip off. Can't find that one though. I asked Andy Howell, and even he doesn't have it. And then way after my dreams of professional skating were crushed, I had some tricks in the Fat Boys section of Chomp On This.
That sucks. Can you give me a brief overview of what a team manager does for people not familiar with skating?
There are so many facets to it that I couldn't possibly tell you all of them. But I suppose the main one is I try my best to take care of the team like they were my family. I want to help them do their jobs, and I want to see them be successful. Whatever that takes I try to be there. I make sure they have the product they need, I plan tours and I take them out on the road so they can promote themselves and the brand. I also try to provide the type of guidance an agent or manager would, but I don't take 10 to 20 percent—I'm just trying to look out for family.
Photo by Sam Smyth
What about with the upcoming video? Did you have to motivate the team at all? Am I wrong to assume that there are different ways to get Malto to do something as opposed to Marc Johnson?
Not really. They feed off each other a lot. Everyone skates together, so they all stay motivated that way. I have my private talks with certain guys. Sometimes they need a little pat on the butt. Mostly it's just facilitating, like "What can I do to help you...?" Mostly I can't do shit except for buy them a ticket somewhere and make sure a filmer is there. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink.
Does that get frustrating?
So frustrating. That's why coaches are always yelling and shit. But I never yell.
From a fan standpoint, it seems that your most mischievous skater is also the boss. Is it fair to say Rick Howard causes the most trouble?
He's been known to, for sure. Fireworks are his weakness. He loves fire and horseplay. Everyone on the team loves to travel with Rick.
Have you ever had to bail him out of jail?
He's gone to jail a couple times on tour, but I don't think I was there.
Is Vincent Alvarez as awesome as he seems? I am very excited to see his part in Pretty Sweet.
He’s even awesomer than he seems. He's been going off for... well, forever. I was going to say five years but it's been forever. He doesn't stop. He just keeps skating and skating, and we're lucky we've been able to point a camera at him for a lot it.
Photo by Sam Smyth
You have so many older guys on the team, and they mean a lot to older skaters. Do you think people put unfair expectations on them?
Yeah, maybe all expectations are unfair. The expectations they put on themselves are the worst. That's what eventually gets ‘em.
Have you ever felt that you let anyone get away from Girl or Chocolate?
Yes, it's happened. It’s usually for the best, though. At the time it fucks me up. I get bummed. But then down the road they usually fall off, disappear, or turn into a total nightmare and I'm like, phew, dodged a bullet there.
Ha! I don't want to put anyone on blast like that.
Come on, it can be someone who is still good. What about someone like P Rod? He might not be the most "Girl" guy, but he seemed to put in the work.
At the time people thought he was the second coming of Koston, so it seemed perfect. But as he grew up he changed. He got a new set of goals.
Photo by Sam Smyth
What are your top five favorite Girl/Chocolate parts of all time?
• Mike Carroll in The Chocolate Tour
You are a man of fine taste. Thanks for talking to me, Sam.
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