DC Shoes’ new collaboration with Dime – a re-release of the Legacy shoe from 1998 – is on sale today, so it seemed like a good excuse to publish a previously unseen interview with Josh Kalis (conducted while he was in London back in March for the DC x Slam collab), in which he discusses late-90s and early-noughties skate fashion among other topics. Watch Josh in the DC x Dime Commercial here.
Interview and portrait: Lex Kembery
Love Park specifically and Philadelphia more generally have been very influential in skateboarding, particularly the Photosynthesis era. Did you see the potential or was it more like a lucky sequence of events?
I’d say I saw the potential, maybe not for what it ended up becoming, but I saw the potential for a couple of dudes like me and Stevie (Williams) to be able to use Love Park to help escalate us together. Because I got to see it in the past with Mike Carroll and Henry Sanchez at Embarcadero, you know what I mean? Love Park was dead at that time. Before, there was Ricky Oyola and Matt Reason and they were doing their thing. They were kind of like a block. Me and Stevie couldn’t really… we were too young to really know what was going on, but when I went back to Philly, those dudes weren’t there any more, so it looked like an opportunity.
But you never imagined it would become what it did, the legacy.
No. I never thought it would be seen as the golden era.
What do you think would have happened to the scene if skating hadn’t been banned at Love Park (in 2002)?
I don’t know man. I wish it would have just kept going. There could have been more eras. In my opinion it would have been so beneficial for the skaters, the culture, the city… I mean there are so many different ways it could have went. After it closed, it took a couple of years, but some of the locals there, like the Sabotage guys, they were kind of resurging that thing a little bit. It was rad to watch that. They killed it.
I grew up a long way from Love Park, in a very small suburban town. We were watching skate videos with you guys in and we were all influenced by what we saw. Everyone had swishy trousers and Kalis shoes, particularly the red ones. It was a really big thing. Did you have any idea about that sort of influence so far from Love Park?
Honestly, I had no idea. I know that when I was in Chicago, all my homies wore it and when I was in Philly, all my homies wore it there. I always looked at it like it was just my crew, my guys showing full support, you know what I mean? Unless I was giving them shoes too. But I had no idea…
Do you think a scenario like Love Park blowing up like it did around 2000 could happen again these days? Do you see the drive you guys had back then anywhere today?
To tell you the honest truth, I think it’s totally possible that it could happen again. I say that because if you look at that small spot Jkwon in LA, even though you could only go there once a week, it was attracting tons of people. People were Instagramming stuff and saving tricks for video parts and shooting photos for ads. A couple of shoe companies ran ad campaigns out of Jkwon. DC used it for my Centric shoe, I know Walker Ryan did a whole campaign with somebody, I can’t remember which company. It was starting to crack off. It was building. A new mini plaza you could only skate once a week and it was happening. So given the right circumstances…
Do you think that social media takes away from how special these scenes used to be? People only knew about Love Park back then through word of mouth, video parts and magazines.
I think people just kind of get tired of social media. You can be as involved with it as you want. If kids like watching stuff all day every day, they’re going to do that – they’re still going to like what they like. So if a new plaza pops up and certain dudes are skating it all the time and certain media outlets are covering it, to me it doesn’t matter how much shit is on Instagram and Facebook. When something (a video or print feature) comes out, it’s going to be special for somebody, in my opinion.
Have you enjoyed social media coming into skateboarding and becoming part of your career?
I’d say yes and no. It’s kind of weird to… it took a while to feel comfortable posting my own stuff, but I’ve realised it’s just a different era and the people that are following you follow you for a reason. Somebody said to me: “Look man, these dudes follow you because they want to see you and see what you’re about and what type of things you like reminiscing about or what you were doing today”. When Twitter came out, I couldn’t use it because I was like: “Man, this shit feels corny”, but the reality is that I was focusing on the past when you didn’t talk about yourself. Nowadays, it’s new and I just have to learn. It’s still kind of weird, but at the same time it can be fun.
How do you see skateboarding moving forward? I think (Rob) Dyrdek spoke about a scenario where you have super-pros, then everyone else underneath.
It’s already there.
How do you think skating is going to change over the next 15 or 20 years? What is your forecast for pro skateboarding?
It could not change and stay how it is now, always.
When you were younger, did ever think skateboarding would end up how it is now?
No. I never would have wanted it to end up how it is now because it seems like there’s a big gap between… I’ll put it like this: 15 or 20 years ago it seemed like there was a huge middle class. There were tons of shoe companies, tons of pros that had pro boards and pro shoes, guys were making a good living. It seemed like a lot of guys were making a good living. Now, it’s almost like how the economy is: there are the ten mega-pros, a really small middle class and then there’s this gang of skaters… I mean there always used to be this gang of skaters in the industry that made no money, but not like now. They all used to be like 15, 16 or 17-years old. Now there’s a gang of skaters who are in their 20s and who may have been pro already or whatever, but they’re not making any money. All the shoe companies have gone away. I don’t know, it’s just kind of a weird state.
Do you think if you were a kid now, you’d start skateboarding?
Yes. I mean now it’s easy to start skateboarding. If you go to California, there are skateparks everywhere and the moms are over in the dog park while the kids are skating these skate plazas. As much as I love that, I fucking hate it too, you know what I mean? To me, that’s killing the real skate culture.
I think you’ve spoken before about how people don’t really want to meet up and just hang out downtown all day any more.
They do, but you just don’t see it. Or maybe the skate media is not covering that. When I go to cities – even Chicago – I don’t see the same type of mentality of kids spending all day downtown, like sitting in the plaza or doing flatground tricks on the street corner. I see kids getting bored and wanting to move. They don’t want to hang out there because the cops might come – all the things that were just normal back in the day but kids don’t want to deal with anymore.
Do you think there is a bigger sense of entitlement among kids now?
Yes, I think there is a big sense of entitlement for sure. Kids aren’t having to go and earn respect anymore. Those walls have all been broken down, pretty much. Things kind of reversed. If kids came in back in the day, you kind of gave them a hard time. Those kids – like myself – would want to show and prove, you know? They’d be like: “I want to do this, this and this. I want to show those dudes…” Even if there was a fight going down, I wanted to show them that I had their back. Nowadays it’s almost like they don’t care. They just don’t care. It’s like: “I don’t care if you don’t like me. Fuck him, I’ll skate here anyway”. And they put it on their Youtube page or their Instagram and they’re getting their satisfaction from the likes from people they don’t know, but they don’t care about the people who are right there standing in front of them and how they feel about them.
That’s kind of what I was getting at when I asked if you thought Love Park could happen again somewhere else.
So swishy trousers… what made you start wearing them?
That’s a good question actually. Swishys… Dude, I honestly don’t know. I think it had to do with Droors. Before Droors, I wore Gap jeans. It was all about Gap jeans and white T-shirts. Dude it was just Droors. When I got on the team, they were making swishy pants and they were sending them to me and I was putting them on (laughs). One of the main reasons why I wore swishy pants was because the east coast summers were hot. It would be 90 degrees and wet and you could pull up swishy pants and cool down. They were just nice.
When you designed your shoes, did you think about how they were going to work as part of an outfit, how they were going to look with certain trousers, for example?
Yes. I would always take the sample and cover the back heel part because of how jeans would sit on it. I’d be like: “That’s how the toe looks. That’s good.” But nowadays, with collared…
Yes. I’m still looking at the design with the whole back end being covered. I never really take into consideration the new style of cuffed pants.
Has anyone you’ve seen in footage wearing your pro shoes made you think: “You’ve made my shoes look shit. You’ve ruined my shoe. I hate you wearing it”?
That’s definitely happened in the past, but I could never hate on somebody wearing my shoe. I don’t choke the laces up. I know what you’re talking about.
Did you ever used to run the double tongue?
I did, yes. Never in DCs, but I would run double tongues when I skated in Half Cabs or shell toes.
What is your favourite camo?
Truthfully I don’t know their names. I just like the army green.
The woodland camo?
Yes, the woodland.
Favourite (DC) Lynx colourways.
I think my favourite one was the original grey with the orange.
Yes, that was my favourite too.
The grey with the red was pretty good too.
Do you have a favourite outfit from a video part?
Probably just that outfit I was wearing for the tre flip over the can. The sweat pants and the white Kalis 1s, the white with the yellow. That one was probably my favourite.
Whose idea was it to do the red and baby blue colourways?
It was mine. Kelly Bird was the team manager at DC at the time and he was like: “Hey, you have an opportunity to get some custom colours”, so I sent those and he called the baby blue one the Smurf shoe. There were no plans for those shoes to come out to the public at all – they were just going to be for me. He was like: “Hey, your Smurf shoes are here”, and he sent them to me in Philly. I went to California for a trade shoe and I was wearing the blues and the people at the DC booth were tripping out on them, so they (DC) were like: “OK fine, we have to make them”. But yes, I got made fun of for those.
I always thought that first shoe in red looked so good in video footage.
Did you have that mind when you chose the colours?
I don’t remember why I picked those two. I think I wanted something that just stood out, you know? No direct reason, just: “Look at my shoes!”
Has anyone else ever made a pro shoe that made you envious?
No, not because of the look, but I definitely had shoe envy in terms of: “Damn, that shoe is selling like crazy.” Like the (Nike SB) Janoski. I was like: “God, I wish my shoe would sell like that”.
But at the time your first DC shoe must have been selling well.
Yes, it was crushing it. Mine would sell like 100,000 pairs a year. I remember me and Stevie broke some DC record, because we sold over 100,00 pairs a piece in one year, but those did nothing compared to the (Osiris) D3 or currently the Janoski.