Richie Jackson: Skateboarding's Psychedelic Warrior

Surrealist star on Noel Gallagher and Young Thug, skating with 'SNL' castmembers and why there's no shame in being a hippie

The man and his mustache: Pro skateboarder Richie Jackson. Credit: Artur Sadovski

In 2016, professional skateboarding is a game of go-big-or-go-home. But in a world where death-defying aerials have become routine, where does Richie Jackson fit in?

Nowhere, actually. Which is precisely the point. To Jackson, creativity is king, and the benches, tables, rails and chain-link fences he encounters during a session aren't obstacles, but integral props in the Richie Jackson Skateboard Circus. His latest video part for Death Skateboards is surreal, a bit silly and stuffed with "Holy shit!" moments, all of which have helped Jackson, 30, establish himself as one of the most recognizable faces in contemporary skating – even if he still dresses like a member of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band. He is nothing if not unapologetically unique.

A day before getting on a plane to Estonia, Jackson took a break from his busy schedule to chat with Rolling Stone about his unique style, his love of Lou Reed and why there's no shame in being a skateboarding hippie.

You recently posted a video of Noel Gallagher bashing skateboarders on your Instagram – what did you think of him calling you guys "fucking little idiots"?
Well, if at first he thought [skateboarders] were idiots, he now certainly thinks that, because of the way skateboarding at large reacted to it. I mean, I feel like every time I do an interview I can't get through it without alienating some demographic. This time it's probably going to be skateboarders as a whole, because I think [Gallagher] came out on top of that one. He maintained a sense of humor throughout, and if you're posting death threats on Noel Gallagher's Instagram, it's hard for me to not think that you're a moron. People are threatening his children and his wife. It made me ashamed, actually. He totally won that round and it was a little disappointing for me to see the way skaters handled that.

You've also been hanging out with Kyle Mooney from SNL. How did that friendship come about?
Yeah, we just were skating yesterday. I had seen his work on the Internet and I just ran into him in Santa Monica. He was crossing the street and I said hello to him and asked him if he wanted to come skate with me and now he does all the time. It's crazy. He's getting rather good.

How would you describe your aesthetic? You seem to be taking cues from the early days of skateboarding – the Sixties and Seventies in particular.
Definitely. Well here's what I think happened: when skating was really picking up momentum, the musical movement that it was aligned with was punk rock. There was even a board that Vision put out called a "Hippie Stick," and it was supposed to be like, "Oh you can beat a hippie with this stick." The anti-hippie sentiment in skateboarding was very strong, because they were separate worlds at that point. But it was inevitable that the two would kind of coalesce and come together, because skateboarders don't want to fight anybody, they're mostly mellow dudes that want to keep to themselves and smoke a bunch of weed. Ultimately skateboarders are hippies. So I didn't think there was anything wrong with combining the two. I think it makes more sense. Of course, I'm a punk as well and I always will be, but I didn't think there was any shame in being a skateboarding hippie.

Speaking of that, what's your take on the current state of rock music?
I'm super into a band called Client Liaison. And what they're doing wouldn't be described as rock but I think that in the context of the rock scene they are one of the punk-est acts out there. It's 100 percent Eighties synth, but overblown to the point where you think they're being ironic, but they maintain that they are not. I'm also into this group Prayers, the cholo-goth guys. You wouldn't even describe it as rock by the way it sounds, but I think those are the new rock & rollers...I guess Young Thug is a punk as well, because he's doing the whole androgynous thing with wearing dresses and freaking everybody the fuck out just the way Bowie did when he was coming up.

Have you been reflecting on the passing of Bowie and Prince?
Oh definitely. Lou [Reed] hit me hard as well, very much so. It's crazy. I don't even know what to say about it. When Lou passed I got straight on to listening to the whole catalogue over again and I still do. That's still ongoing.

Whenever an artist dies like that it changes your entire perspective.
It does, in an instant. It's like soon as it happens you see who they really were in the blink of an eye. It's the final brush stroke in the body of work. You can't see what they've done until that final brush stroke is made.

You're originally from New Zealand, but you live in Los Angeles. Have you been paying attention to the presidential election?
Of course. I'm kind of becoming more politically conscious against my will. I think it just happens as you get older – you can't help but notice the insanity a little more. There's a John Lennon quote that sort of sums it up where he says, like, "I think we're being led by insane people for insane objectives and the insane thing is I'm the one liable to be locked up for expressing that."

I guess that's particularly true if you're referring to Donald Trump.
I don't know why we let it happen. I don't know why we let these psychos decide our fate. It's mind-boggling.

You've become kind of famous for your mustache, is there Salvador Dali inspiration there?
That's 100 percent what it is...I'm continuing his work in a sense [laughs]. I think he would really like that. I think he thought he was much bigger than his work and it was going to live on and it was going to inspire everybody and all things would eventually become Dali. I can't say that he's wrong, because that certainly seems to be contributing [to my skateboarding].

I read that if you weren't a skater you'd like to be a painter. So I guess that connects to Dali too.
Painting I can do, no problem. Both of my parents are great painters, so I kind of have it hardwired into my DNA. It doesn't even feel like a challenge when I'm doing it – which is why I prefer skating. Because skating is something I never feel like I'll master.