Talking Modern Luxury and Crooked Cops with Ex-Street Skater Tony Ferguson
Ex-Pro Skater and shoe designer Tony "Rone" talks about skating in the Wild West of Vancouver in the 90s and levelling up with his new company Rone.
When you drop the name Tony "Rone" Ferguson around almost any skateboarder, they'll tell you about the stylish pro skater from Canada... and one-time white rapper. The latter is of course an exaggeration, but Ferguson should be used to it by now, having never living down his 1993 video introduction for Plan B's Virtual Reality. (His non-skating screen time also includes appearances for Girl Skateboards where he played a policeman in scenes directed by Spike Jonze.) The retired skater-turned-shoe designer and owner of the new footwear brand bearing his nickname has carved his path from city streets and into the design world using pure creativity—and as VICE found out during a recent conversation from his Vegas hotel suite, he wouldn't change a thing.
VICE: You've become synonymous with Vancouver skateboarding, but actually you started out in Ottawa. What was that like?
Tony Rone: I started skating there and I had my little crew and I was definitely into it for a few years then moved to Vancouver. But [Ottawa] was a good scene. It was a quiet city but you kind of could do whatever you wanted.
Did you notice a big difference in the west when you moved to Vancouver at 17?
All these guys [in Vancouver] were sponsored already and they were going to Cali. It was all new to me seeing all that, and meeting Rick Howard and Colin [McKay] and Sluggo—they were all sponsored. It was definitely a change.
Vancouver's financial district was a street skater's dream in the '90s. What was it like back then?
I was in San Francisco a lot at that time and skating at EMB, it was an epic time in skateboarding. Vancouver street skating was paradise to us—it was similar to what was happening in SF and other cities at the time. It was a different time: We actually street skated, we would post up all day in city plazas, skating, running from police, getting into fights. This really doesn't exist anymore as everyone is going to skateparks, indoor training facilities, etc.
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Yeah, I think that's a really important part of skateboarding that people don't experience as much anymore. It really seems like Vancouver was the wild west, like an inspiring frontierland for skateboarders.
You were interacting with people. Even before getting kicked out, you're on the street and you're talking to people you know. It's just different—you go to a skatepark now and just skate with a bunch of skaters there's no like... I don't know how to describe it. It seemed more real to me. I love going to the skatepark, but it's a different feeling for sure.
The Slam City Jam contest series was so important to Vancouver's skate heritage and attracted all the best in the game, like hundreds of pros in town at one time. Shit could get pretty wild at night too—can you remember any stories from back then?
It was always my birthday at the same time as the contest. We were staying in these suites and had a huge party for my birthday. It was Slam City Jam in Vancouver circa 1995, we were basically up all night, and Eric [Koston] was right there with us but he had to skate in the finals the next morning. On no sleep, Eric was just killing it, landed every trick in his run and ended up winning the contest! We all knew how much natural talent he had but after that I remember thinking he was definitely the best. He could do anything he wanted!
You play a hell of a cop on screen in the Chocolate Tour and North video. As someone who's probably had their share of run-ins with the police, can you share a story?
I definitely had my fair share of run-ins with the police, but one time during one of the Slam City contest in Vancouver when we were all at a club, a huge fight broke out in the club and everyone was running outside. As people were running outside, cops were taking people down, straight hitting, tear gas—the shit was fucking crazy! Chico [Brenes] and I end up getting gassed and thrown in the back of a paddy wagon, they drove us around for a while and then just dumped us in an alley off Hastings. Fun times.
No matter where you go you were getting hated on. This one time we went to Tijuana to film for Yeah Right! and, like idiots, we drove in with an entourage of vehicles—just too much. There was like three trucks, a couple cars, and we were just going to a school yard with this hubbub. To get to the school you have to hop a fence, so we pull up and everyone is hopping the fence and some guy comes running through traffic wearing a Polo shirt and waving his gun and yelling "Get off the fence!" in Spanish, and, "Get down." And we're just like, what the fuck? So we get down and instantly there's like ten cop cars in this busy area in Tijuana. It's such a scene, they sit us all down and they handcuffed us together—we didn't really know what was going on. The sketchiest part was some guy takes our passports and just drives away and we're sitting there cuffed. Chico and Felix Arguelles was there, so there are a couple of guys who can explain to the cop, 'We're sorry, we'll pay you guys.' And they say, "No, no, you can't do that here," and, "Our bosses are here, sorry guys you can't pay." And they start putting us in cars to take us to jail. And were just shitting! We're like, "No, no, no, no, we'll pay you. How much?" And they're like, not having it. They're just like, "No, gotta go to the police station, five weeks for trespassing." We were so fucking scared. I was handcuffed to Chico and I felt like, 'OK, if we're gonna go to jail [at least] this guy can speak spanish...'
They put us in the back of these cop cars with no place to put your legs—just like a fence between us and the cop. We were so squished and they were driving us around for like an hour until eventually they take us in and, after arguing with them, they're say, "OK, we need 500 each." And we're thinking $500? I don't know if I can even get $500. We're arguing and arguing then we find out it's 500 Mexican pesos, which, at the time was like 80 bucks. The whole thing was so sketchy: we ended up paying them off and they drove us back to the school yard, dropped us off and were like, "You guys can skate now." Some people stayed and skated and I was like get me out of this place. That was my last time in Mexico.
Where is skating still really thriving? Where do you feel most inspired?
It's happening in New York. Like, kids are skating in the streets the way we were in the '90s. That is happening there and it's happening in China. It's cool to see that that's back and it's not just indoor skateparks like in LA or bowls, you know— there's like shit going on in the streets again. I've been going to Hong Kong a lot, it's super dense and huge, it makes NYC look, you know, small. It's packed, its fast, there's a very international feel, there's a lot of ex-pats from England and Europe and Canadians... Theres so much happening, there's cool restaurants, skate scene, culture, and a lot of events starting up there. I like Hong Kong it's a cool scene.
I wanted to chat about your shoe designing career. Was creativity always something you engrossed yourself with or did the design stuff come to you as the world watched?
I don't think I was ever trying or worried about being creative, I think if you skate you are, by nature, creative. I think growing up watching all the skaters from the 80s being self expressive and creative is ingrained in us.
Did you have any experience with shoe design before getting involved at Alife?
No real experience at all, I just liked shoes. I was around guys like Eric when they were designing their signature shoes or when Mike [Carroll] and Rick [Howard] were starting Lakai. I was alway had an interest in shoes and wanted to do something within footwear.
Where did you get your business chops from?
Rick Howard had a big influence on all of us, I know I was inspired by what he's done, he dropped out of school in 9th grade and knew exactly what he wanted to do. He wanted to go pro and own his own company, he accomplished this and much more at such a young age and did it his own way, so I think that definitely influenced me in many ways.
Will your involvement with Alife footwear continue now that you have Rone?
Alife was a great learning experience for me but unfortunately I'm not moving forward with them, I feel like it's a good time in my life to move on and concentrate on my own project.
You've made an effort to position Rone as a modern luxury brand. In a time where everyone has the world at their fingertips, what is your definition of "modern luxury?"
I wanted to do something different, something that goes against the grain, to do skateboarding but more sophisticated. I wanted to showcase my influence from skateboarding on a different level. Luxury brands have never cared about our demographic at all, "modern luxury" is a new era that caters to us, influenced by what we have grown up with but made with the highest quality materials and craftsmanship.
There's something to be said for everything you've seen and experienced out in the streets, and the wide range of people that you mix with. It's just so wild to me that given your background that you have an office now in Milan, Italy. Maybe your diversity is what makes Rone work because in a world that's getting smaller and smaller, you have to go out and immerse yourself in the slums in order to rise up.
It's coming from the bottom, the gutter, from skating on the street. It's a juxtaposition from taking that and doing it the best and showcasing it... It's really not for a different demographic it's still for us. It's just the older guy who used to skate and wants that and can afford that now. The whole thing is that what I'm doing now is a culmination of everything i've done and all my experiences. We're going into it with the skate mentality but on a different level.