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As a cornerstone of Nike SB, Paul Rodriguez has shined under the sportswear giant’s skateboarding umbrella, moving forward onto his third signature sneaker model, appropriately dubbed the Zoom Paul Rodriguez 3. Continuing his mastery of the sport, P. Rod remains an engaging figure to fans with his down-to-earth persona and unmatched skills. Taking a break from his grueling schedule, we catch up with the native Southern Californian to chat about his skate tour-dominated Summer, upcoming third sneaker installment, and a closer look into the life of a superstar skateboarder, rapidly evolving into one of the world’s finest and most heralded athletes.
Interview & Photography: L. Ruano
Interview with Paul Rodriguez
Paul, I’ve been hearing about your brutal schedule. How hectic has your Summer been so far?
It’s been pretty hectic. This is the third weekend in a row with a major contest going on. First it was The Maloof Cup, then the Dew Tour, which I just came home from yesterday, and I’m already back practicing straight away for the X Games this weekend, so it’s a bit of a hectic one so far.
There probably hasn’t been much time for too many other projects since you’ve been skating so much. When did you guys start the design process for the Zoom P. Rod 3?
February/March of 2008 was when we really started to get the ball rolling on the shoe. It’s usually about a year or a little over a year long process.
What kind of technical features were you looking to implement into the P. Rod 3, progressing from the first and second design?
Well I don’t know if this counts as technical but I was mainly just looking to trim the fat. The second shoe I really liked but I felt there was some bulk that I could cut down. For skating, you like to have a lot of board feel, so I really just wanted to get the sole thinner but I didn’t want it too thin because I like to jump down stairs and things. No one likes to get heel bruises and things like that. With the materials I didn’t want it to be so puffy like prior releases. I want to be able to break in on the board, feel the board, and just feel the flick a lot better. Trimming out excess material that isn’t necessary was my main focus in working with the third design.
Taking a closer look at the sneakers, I can definitely notice its less bulky and the tongue is thinner than before, yet the Zoom Air feature remains.
Yea, the Zoom Air I still needed. I have to have that heel cushioning. We also added a lot more flexibility to the shoe, the soles are a lot more flexible than before.
Do you think that’s the most important factor when deciding what features your signature shoe will incorporate?
Well for me, I’m all about skating, that’s everything. When I design a shoe I think of it from a skater’s perspective and also think of it from a performance perspective. For the design aspect, I work with designers because they know how to add the flavor and style to the shoe. I definitely know what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. What I’m good at is understanding what is going to skate well and what is going to perform the way I want it to. The rest is a collaboration between the designers and myself.
Were you into sneakers growing up?
I was into sneakers when I was going to school. I had to have the illest shoes, well, what I thought were the illest shoes, which weren’t like Jordans and all that. For me, it was the signature kicks of my favorite skater at the time, whoever it was. I remember I had to have Eric Koston’s shoes, which is tight now because we’re teammates again. I used to love the Muskas and I remember loving these Marc Johnsons back in the day as well. So yea, since I’ve been skating, especially when I was in school and younger, basically there might as well have not been an outside world to me. All I knew was everything skate related, whether it was clothing or anything else, as long it had something to do with skating, that was what I would want. Music was important as well, music that was in a skate video was what I was listening to. That all I related my life with.
Hip-Hop seems to resonate the most with the skate community. Was that your primary preference?
Dominantly Hip-Hop. But really, if there was a video part out there of people I like, then I would just get into that particular song, whatever genre it was because when I heard the song, it replayed the video part in my mind and then I just get excited.
We’ve noticed that the past couple of designs (P. Rod I & II) have had collaborative designs from selected designers. Do you have anything lined up for this shoe, in regards to a special/quickstrike release?
My main priority is making sure the shoe performs the way I want it to perform as far as skateboarding goes. And then we think of the fashion aspects followed by the collaborative aspects, because to me this shoe is definitely made for skaters. I was passionate about making it skateable. There’s definitely going to be some collabs/limited editions to look out for because we do that every time. Obviously it’s an exciting thing to do, so we’re definitely going to touch down on that.
It seems like this model definitely evolved into a more skate friendly shoe, like you mentioned, compared to prior releases which could be label as more fashion forward. We noticed that also with Janoski and Omars designs, which are more technical and skateable shoes. What are your thoughts about the direction the team (Nike SB) is headed in?
I’m loving it. I’m loving the direction the teams headed in. I thought that to see Stefan (Janoski), who is a great skater who has been putting in work for many years, get a shoe was amazing. For Omar, for him to get a shoe is really amazing as well because his story in skateboarding is a compelling one. He has had a hard road to get to where he is at now. He had sponsors and he lost sponsors, had sponsors and lost sponsors. His career in skateboarding was looking really, really dim up to just a few years ago. So to see him finally be on all stable sponsors and have really persevered with persistence is a testament to his determination.
What were your initial thoughts when you heard Koston was joining Nike SB?
My initial thoughts were that it was amazing. When I first heard he left his prior sponsor I immediately talked to Hunter and Kevin. I knew they had already spoken to him but I was immediately putting in my like 2 cents, “Yea, yea! Lets do it. Lets get Koston!”. He (Koston) is major reason why I am where I am today, whether he knows it or not. I used to sit there and rewind, slow mo, rewind, slow mo every video he had. I used to study it meticulously to the point of insanity. Eric Koston has really molded a lot of the way I skate today and basically directly helped me get to where I am at today.
It seems like Eric has had that effect on a good portion of the skate community for sure. Speaking of Eric, which we’ll get into in a second, how did the concept for the “Today Is a Good Day” video come about?
It was presented to me through Nike. They came up with this idea of doing the Ice Cube song because it really relates to a skater in a lot of ways. Being a street skater you get kicked out a lot, you get harassed by the police a lot. There are tons of days when you go out and try to skate, you can expect to get disappointed. You want to skate a spot, you get kicked out, then you drive in traffic, think of another spot, hopefully you get to skate and maybe you get kicked out or maybe it’s skate proofed. A lot of times street skating can be very disappointing because for instance, if you spend a whole week trying to go skate spots, maybe 3 of those days will actually be successful skate days.
It seems like the commercial relates to skaters on an almost equal level.
Yea, Ice Cube is obviously referencing growing up in the hood and having to come across all types of obstacles whether it be from rival gang members having to deal with police, or just having to deal with all kinds of nonsense. The guys who created the commercial went back to the original video in 1993 for reference. They though about it like this: “If Ice Cube is having the best day of his life, how can we flip it and make it the best day of Paul’s life.” I think that it also relates to skaters life perspective, like when you get that one day where you get to skate the spot you’ve been dreaming about skating and you don’t get kicked out, break a board or don’t get hurt, all the stars line up for you that day. Its definitely a great day and something you treasure which was easily adaptable to a skater lifestyle from what Ice Cube’s original meaning of the song was for.
Up until the last second.
Yup, up until the last second. [laughs]
What were some of your favorite spots growing up?
A lot of skaters out there who have seen my videos, definitely know that Sylmar High School was one of my favorite spots growing up. Some nice hand rails, just super fun to skate, but are now knobbed so you can’t skate them anymore. There’s DWP in Downtown LA as well. I haven’t skated it in such a long time because it’s such a bust. On any given day that you go to the DWP ledges, most of the time you are kicked out in 2 seconds. So DWP Downtown LA, El Camino High School and North High, which had some of the best ledges ever that are no longer skateable also. I can go on and on but those are just some of the spots I grew up loving. We got to recreate the Sylmar High rails at the Pacoima Park, which Nike just recently opened at the Richie Valens Recreational Center, so its good.
Getting back on topic with Koston, I heard a couple of big time LA stars are going to be in the second commercial. Any insight on that?
The cat is pretty much out of the bag for the first video, but obviously Ice Cube is in the commercial, he makes his cameo at the end and he’s a real cool dude. I was psyched he was able to be a part of it. Then of course Kobe honored us with his presence on the set, he was real cool and seemed really hyped on skating. It was just real cool to rub elbows with guys like that. I never thought skateboarding would bring me to a level where I would be knowing these guys and they actually know who I am, it’s a crazy honor. Of course we have Koston taking part, the new addition to the team. I thought it would only be right if the “Boss” could grace us with his presence. We also have Theotis Beasley and Shane O’ Neill (Nike SB AMs) showing them the love and the legend Lance Mountain, who is playing a cop in this commercial. So we really tried to touch all generations, all bases and really try to reach the skater and the mainstream in the sense of having Kobe and Ice Cube in there.
Speaking of Kobe, you said that you didn’t think he knew about the skate world, yet a wide array of people know of Paul Rodriguez, especially the youth. Do you see yourself as a role model or an ambassador of the sport?
I don’t know if I see myself as an ambassador, maybe some people do though. I understand that I definitely am a role model and it’s something I take seriously, especially now that I’m a father. The importance of setting a good example for kids is really starting to hit home with me. You know I am who I am, I don’t hide anything about who I am, I’ll always be very open about myself. But at the same time, I try to show responsibility to fans, I try to show that in the way I conduct myself. I’m not perfect, but I am conscious that there are kids out there who look up to me and I hope to steer them in the right direction.
Well put. Aside from skating, you have the title of entrepreneur under your belt. How did Primitive come about?
Primitive came about through Andy, my partner. This has been his dream since he was in High School. It’s something he has been envisioning for over 10 years. When I got on Nike, it immediately was the first thing he said, “Lets open up a sneaker shop, I’m telling you, a limited sneaker shop is going to kill it, everybody is gonna love it, I got this vision, I know how to do it.” At that time, I was only 19 and I just wasn’t really ready for that kind of responsibility. So he kept persisting over the next few years and finally about 2 years ago I realized to myself that I was at the point in my career where I was ready to explore other options, expand my portfolio, if you will. It turns out I’m really happy I did it. It was really nerve wrecking putting in the amount of money I had to put in, in the beginning, but Andy’s passion and his vision sold me. He was so on point that any time I had a question he was ready with the answer. Anytime there was in issue, in the process of getting the store open, he worked through it. He really showed this was something he wanted and he was really willing to work for it and wasn’t just like my friend trying to work an opportunity with his friend, who happens to be successful. Andy really put his financial status on the line to make this all happen and just seeing his passion for it was what really helped me believe that this would be a good thing.
Andy is definitely on a roll with various Primitive-related product. What other interesting projects do you guys have going on with Primitive?
The one that is just coming out is our Primitive Oakley Frogskin sunglasses, which came out really good, I’m psyched. Next we have the Primitive Nixon watch, which is going to look really sick. We also have a jean collaboration with The Hundreds set up. Right now those are just few of the projects and we’re of course looking to do some shoes and just keep the collabs coming. We also just recently did a Diamond collab tee, which did really well for us. Our Primitive shirts and New Era hats have been really well received in the street wear world, so we are very excited. The store has kept afloat for a year now, paying itself off, so that’s all we can ask for, especially in these times. We are very grateful.
Congrats on the 1 year anny. Retail can definitely be a tough venture, especially in this economic climate, like you pointed out. Have you guys started working on the Zoom P. Rod 4?
Yea, we actually started on the P. Rod 4 a month, month and a half ago. I’ve been going over it with James Arizumi (Nike SB Footwear Designer) and we started with the concept process. He took me to the mall, went through Fred Segal, and we kind of just talked about things I was into, whether it was clothes or shoes. Most of the time, James is just trying to get a sense of where my head is at, as far as style is concerned. He just sent me some sketches a couple weeks ago and we were just going over it then. We’re in the very early stages of the P. Rod 4 but it should be out around this time next year.
Kevin (Nike SB) was talking to me about it a bit, sounds epic. What else do you have in store for the rest of 2009?
A lot of things are coming up this year. We’re going to have the P. Rod 2.5 drop either in December or January of 2010. That’s going to be real cool, because it’s going to be a vulcanized, price point shoe. I currently have the cover of DUB Magazine our right now as well, which is pretty exciting. I’m going to have a cover and full interview in The Skateboard Mag coming out next. Working on the Plan B video—working to put out the best street video part I’ve ever done. I’m very excited about how that’s coming along. That probably won’t be out for another year or so. We got Street Dreams in theaters right now and I have my other film “Vicious Circle”, which is more an independent/dramatic film, out now in New Art Theaters. But my main focus right now is honing my craft and trying to become a better skateboarder, everyday. I also have a family, raising the baby, but you know the main focus is always trying to stand my best on the board and everything else should fall into place.
Paul, thanks for your time man. Any last words?
Give thanks, be happy for what you got, and do what you love. Thank God!