On the VICELAND show KING OF THE ROAD, three teams of the world's best skaters compete on a range of challenges, like dropping off a helicopter onto a skateboard ramp and peeing your pants in public. The weird, sloppy and downright ridiculous finale is almost here. To celebrate, we're holding free screenings at skate shops around the country this Saturday. RSVP here. And to get in the mood, VICE talked to the guy who calls most of the shots in New Zealand's skating scene, Jake Mein.
If you've picked up a New Zealand or Australian skateboard publication in the last five years you will have seen work by photographer Jake Mein, in some cases on almost every page. Working away in the background, he holds himself with a very South Island-esque humble confidence, which made it way too easy when I forgot my notes.
For the people reading this who aren't skateboarders from New Zealand and haven't seen your work, who are you?
I'm Jake Mein (pronounced 'mine', apparently I've been saying it wrong for years). I'm 29 and I'm a photographer.
How did you get into shooting skateboard photography?
I did skate when I was younger and I got hurt really young, and I guess I stopped after that. I realised there was no way I could keep up with the level of stuff people were doing so I decided to start shooting it.
So you did it to hang out with your friends and go out skating with them and not be a token?
Yeah, it was the best way to do that, because we all know what happens with tokens….
But in saying that, you got a kickflip in you right? Makes you better than a few people I know.
Yeah I got a kicky.
That's all I need to know. What's the workload like for a full-time skate photographer?
Day-to-day it's normally only be a few hours, depending on the skater you're shooting. On skate trips it's more than a full-time job, it can go from when you wake up to three in the morning and then somehow find some time to squeeze in your editing.
So skate trips can be pretty intense for a photographer, do you have to act as a motivator to make people do tricks?
In New Zealand more so than everywhere else, because there aren't budgets to bring along team managers. I don't want to say you become a caregiver, but you have more roles than just taking photos.
Do you feel like a bad guy trying to push people to do things they don't want to do?
Oh for sure. Definitely. Sometimes it can go really badly or sometimes it can work in your favour, or their favour, depending on how you look at it. You've just got to know when to lay off.
What's the most memorable skate trip you've been on, good or bad?
A trip that stands out is one to South America, just because of how hectic it was from Argentina to Brazil. It's hard to do anything down there, let alone skate and produce content. We didn't have trouble with people over there, apart from one time in Brazil where a Jeep turned up and about six dudes the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger jumped out with guns the size of me and kicked us out. It was more the amount of people and how shit the spots were, like Harry [Culy] and Fred [Shallcrass] skated a spot with about three piles of human shit in the landing for about two hours and had to walk away empty handed.
Most big New Zealand skate photographers, like Jake Darwen and Dave Chami, leave the country and go to live in greener pastures in Australia or America, why did you choose to stick around?
I think for me it was more that I just wanted to keep shooting photos of my friends and people that I get along with rather than making it a full on job. I talked to a lot of people who did it professionally overseas and they had a lot of horror stories about dealing with certain people, and I've met a few people that have come over here and they say meeting your heroes is the worst thing you can ever do. It sucks. Plus right now I like living in New Zealand.
Do you have skateboard photographers you really look up to and try to emulate?
There's definitely people I look up to, probably more from outside skating than inside. When I started David Read was number one and getting to work for him for so long is amazing. People like Mike O'Meally, Chami, Sem Rubio. Jake Darwen takes mental photos, but for me it was always people outside skating, that's why it was so good doing a photography degree to see other things. For a while there I was really obsessed with this Australian photographer Trent Parke, recently Dana Lixenberg, who did Imperial Courts, Kent Andreasen, Derek Henderson, James Tolich, my mate Harry Culy.
Skate mags here are essentially portfolios of your work, how'd you manage to get such a big slice of the skate photography industry? When I started it wasn't such a cool thing to do, there was probably one other young dude and obviously David Read, who was shooting heaps at the time I just pestered Reados (David Read) to the point where he had to run shit because he got so sick of me asking why my photos weren't getting run in magazines, which I find draining when the same thing happens to me now… It's changing now there's a lot of young dudes doing it, there was a while there when there were ten photographers in Auckland and all these young dudes coming up in Christchurch. The main thing you've got to do is make yourself available and stick it out.