Jeremy Wray is hands down one of the greatest skaters of all time. His death-defying feats on a board pushed perceptions of what tricks were possible, with his water tower ollie – shot by legendary photographer Daniel Harold Sturt for the cover of Thrasher – still regarded as one of the gnarliest in skateboarding's history.
I had a chat with the 43-year-old about changing the face of skating during the 1990s, his work in shoe design, Wraybros, Element, Adio and why fake steez has no place in art or skateboarding.
VICE: I'll start with what I ask everyone – do you think there's an inherent link between skateboarding and creativity?
Jeremy Wray: I believe it's all undeniably linked – at least, it used to be. So many skaters from the 1980s and 90s were also artists, designers and all around creative people. I just did my best to watch and learn from those who came before me and do them proud in my own way.
You've done a fair bit of shoe design in your time – tell me about that.
My first shot at designing shoes was for the brand Dukes Shoes, which I had the opportunity to create from scratch. I got to come up with the brand name, design the shoes, create the logo and even design the box and hang tags. It was a huge undertaking and I loved putting it all together.
After that brand ran its course and was sold off by [owner and World Industries founder Steve] Rocco, I was able to link up with Jamie Thomas, Chris Miller and Jose Gomez to help create Adio Footwear. Another huge project, but at least this time I got to work with a good group of guys to make something unique for the time. We did some really good skate shoes with them over the years.
After Adio was sold off I designed another shoe for Element using everything I had learned from the previous designs, and made another solid skate shoe – but shortly after that Element dropped their pro shoe programme. After designing shoes for the better part of the last 16 years, and really thinking my future was headed toward a position in shoe design, the next opportunity to design one still hasn't presented itself – at least, not yet.
What tips do you have for people still honing their creative skills?
Everyone will tell you to "be yourself"! It's both the best and the worst advice you can hear. Most people have no idea who they really are, especially while trying to figure everything out in their younger years. So my best advice is to simply trust your gut. If it feels right, then it probably is – for you – no matter what anyone else might have to say about it. If something is feeling fake or forced, in skating or in art, it probably is, and you shouldn't ignore that feeling.
Outside of skateboarding, are there any particular designers you respect?
I don't follow a ton of designers outside of skateboarding, to be honest. I've always been a fan of clean, intelligent design work. A few designers I think are hitting it right on the head design-wise are Benny Gold, Bohnam, Loser Machine, Dark Seas and Shepard Fairey, to name a few.
When did you start Wraybros, who's on the team and what's the company's ethos?
My Brother Jonas and I started Wraybros in 2013. Our team consists of me, Jonas, Paul Luna and Pat Channita. We've all been skating together since the early-90s. We're all about skating with your bros and having a good time – just being on your board and out and about in the world.
What are you currently working on with Wraybros?
We're currently working on the next round of shirts, hats and decks. Eventually we're hoping to put out a few video promo edits with all the homies, but nothing too serious.
Do you have any personal highlights from your own skate career?
I just recently revisited the spot in San Diego that I ollied in the opening section of my video part in the Color video. I knew it was pretty far, and had measured it by walking it off with my feet, and guessed it was somewhere in the 19-and-a-half foot range. Well, this time I actually had a tape measure with me and was able to confirm that not only is it in the 19-and-a-half foot range, but judging by where I landed in the footage, it may really be the first documented 20-plus foot ollie. Still pretty incredible that it was even possible back then, especially when you consider the 39 to 40mm wheels. Crazy.
Yeah, you always skated the biggest things, or rooftops – lots of high drops and danger factor. What drew you to skate that kind of stuff?
I was able to ignore the drop and just focus on the gap itself. If you could do certain tricks if [the gap was] the same size as a grass gap or set of stairs, then with the right mindset you should be able to do the same tricks on a roof gap. Most of the danger would be from not going fast enough to clear the gap, but I would always try to go faster and clear everything by enough to be confident that I wasn’t going to hang up.
You mentioned forced style – who do you think it's wrong to "fake the funk", or pretend to have a style that's not your own when you're skating?
It shouldn't come as a surprise that holding a pose or trying to unnaturally move your arm a certain way after landing a trick because you thought someone else looked cool in their video when they did it is just wrong. But apparently there are lots of kids who completely disagree with me on that one, which is also fine. To each their own. What works for me and what I think is cool won’t necessarily be the same for someone else. I just think that when skateboarding is natural it looks the best.
Fair point. Do you have any plans for the future that you'd like to mention?
I plan on doing my best to grow our Wraybros brand and push the artwork, graphics and overall aesthetic to be as clean as it can. Elevating the quality of our products wherever we can and expanding into more shops. I'll be doing collabs with other brands along the way as well; most recently, the Forty brand requested a "designed by" collection, so I'll be getting that project started next.
Nice! Thanks, Jeremy.