Many of you probably remember Jerry Fowler as being a really good ‘90s-era skater with a style that was ahead of its time. He skated for TV / Television, Toy Machine, and later Planet Earth / Rhythm, and put out several noteworthy parts. Jerry ran into sponsorship troubles after Rhythm went out of business that resulted in him stepping away from professional skateboarding. Despite not being in the limelight, he continued to skate on his own terms, and we’ve recently seen some solid stuff from him in Boston clips. That makes you wonder why the guy isn’t still hooked up. Fortunately, Jerry recently teamed up with long-time friend Jahmal Williams to become the second pro on Hopps. Obviously, this is a perfect fit, and Hopps seems to be steadily gaining steam. Welcome to the Block, and welcome back, Jerry!
Interview by Matt Bagley, Jahmal Williams, and Ray Echevers
Matt: Where did you grow up, start skating, etc?
Jerry: I grew up all over the suburbs of Los Angeles in places like Huntington Park, Bell Gardens, Bell, Downey, Lakewood, Long Beach, and Bellflower. In junior high, me and some friends from my neighborhood all talked our parents into buying us skateboards, and from that point on it was like the new thing that we were psyched on. When I was 15, we moved south to Yorba Linda, and then from there it was basically the same drill, bouncing around Orange County. We lived all over, cities like Brea, Placentia, El Toro, Lake Forest, and Mission Viejo.
Jahmal: Who were some of your favorite skaters when you were growing up, and why?
Jerry: One of the first videos I ever saw was Animal Chin, and I got really into Tommy Guerrero. I remember being really into the street skating footage in San Francisco, and how he flowed through the city. Natas Kaupas and the Wheels / Streets of Fire videos were definitely inspiring. When Shackle Me Not / Hokus Pokus came out it was insane because all of a sudden there were all these new tricks being done with good style, I was really into Matt Hensley, Sal Barbier, and Brian Lotti around that time. When Video Days came out, I was already heavily into street skating and a friend of mine kept telling me how sick Mark Gonzales was, and how his part was going to be amazing. I was in 10th grade when Video Days came out, and for me that was the video that I would throw in and watch everyday before I went skating. It was the worst quality VHS copy of a copy, but I was so hyped on it.
Matt: While you were growing up, can you remember any experiences you had with any of skateboarding’s greats?
Jerry: I had a pretty cool run-in at Mesa View with Jason Lee and Guy Mariano when they were filming for Video Days. I knew who they were and everything, but I remember being nervous about getting in their way or something ridiculous like that. So my friend and I took off. They were super cool to us, and we were really psyched when Video Days came out and we saw the footage from that day.
Jahmal: You have a lot of years of skating history. Did you feel a lot of pressure from your sponsors to film? I’ve always wanted to know that because you make skating look really natural and fun.
Jerry: I can honestly say that I never felt any kind of pressure from my sponsors to film. The heaviest team that I ever skated for as far as knowing that everyone on the team was out being productive was Rhythm. It seemed like every day I was hearing about how someone on the team came by and dropped off some new footage. It was pretty evident that people were handling their business. In a way, I guess you could say that I felt pressured by my teammates to keep up, but in a good way.
Jahmal: Did you have any important transitional periods in your career that you remember that had a major impact on you that you can share?
Jerry: Yes, meeting Felix Arguelles and Chris Miller, and being brought onboard and supported at Planet Earth while they were creating Rhythm. Coming into that camp at that time was huge for me. I had just gone through a nasty breakup with Toy Machine, and was really interested in ending up somewhere fresh and new. I basically cold-called Planet Earth one day, spoke to Mirko Mangum, and asked him for some boards. That led to meeting Felix one day in Venice Beach. Eventually, I went skating with him and Jeff Taylor, and they told me about their plans with Rhythm. It was just ridiculous how immediately at home I felt. I think it helped my skating. Everything was a possibility at Rhythm and Planet Earth. If your friend needed a job, he got one. If you had an idea of how you wanted your ad, your input was heard and respected. If your intentions were good, you were almost 100 percent of the time told that it could work because they had the resources and the patience to get things done. You can’t really force the family vibe. It’s either there, or it’s not. Over at Planet Earth and Rhythm, it was always there from day one.
Jahmal: Do you have any life lessons that you have learned from skateboarding or indirectly from skating?
Jerry: This isn’t really a life lesson, but Lance Mountain gave me some great, and much-needed advice once. He basically just told me to chill out and skate. I was stressing out over something stupid and I remember going to him for advice, and he basically just laughed, told me some ridiculous stories about skaters in the ‘80s that took themselves too seriously, and told me to just focus on skateboarding. I remember resenting him for a split second for making fun of me, but then I immediately changed my mind because I realized that he was right. It was simple advice and probably something that I should’ve known on my own. But at the time, I just needed to hear it from someone like Lance, who had been around the block. From that day on, whenever I found myself getting frustrated with skating for whatever reason, I would remember that conversation and just focus on having fun. Sometimes when you’re involved in the industry, it’s easy to get side-tracked, and start to care about shit that has nothing to do with why you started skating. Lance pretty much got me back on track. Thanks, Lance.
Matt: How did you end up moving from California to Boston in the mid ‘90s?
Jerry: I met Panama Dan here through Jahmal while on a Toy Machine tour. He put it out there that if I ever wanted to come back, I would have a place to stay. After coming out here for a few summers and enjoying myself, I made the move.
Matt: Was there anything specific that appealed to you about skating in Boston?
Jerry: I just think there is a healthy balance of work and play in Boston. I see the young kids’ skate ethic here, and they are all hard workers while at the same time not having to document every trick that they do. That’s admirable. As scary as it is, any footage of Gavin or Zeb completely represents how they are skating everyday with or without a camera. Back in the day, Jahmal used to be the only person I knew where I would trip out on the amount of tricks that he did while he wasn’t filming. I would be like you should come back and film that, and sometimes he would, and sometimes he wouldn’t. Little things like that stand out to me, and make Boston skaters unique. I mean if skating is your job you obviously need to film, but I feel like it should never be your everything. And I feel like the skaters here understand that.
Jahmal: What’s your favorite type of terrain for skating?
Jerry: I like ledges, banks, and manual pads mostly. I’m also a really big fan of just skating around too, like from spot to spot, and everything that happens in-between. Does that count?
Ray: Do you ride any type or shape of a board, or are you picky? Do you need to have the bottom of the stack (flat) boards or doesn’t matter?
Jerry: I prefer a steep concave and a small width, like 7.4 or 7.5, with loose trucks. As long as my board is small, steep, and loose, I’m usually happy.
Ray: Are the Belmont benches the best benches ever? If not, what’s your favorite ledge or bench you’ve skated?
Jerry: Belmont is definitely up there. You can’t really beat the ground, and the fact that you’re hidden from the cops unless someone calls them on you. Trabuco Hills High School was amazing too before it got skate stopped.
Matt: A few years ago, you took a step back from professional skateboarding. Did realizing at some point that it was a job make it any different for you than when you started?
Jerry: No, I never really had that feeling to tell you the truth. I knew it was a job in the sense that it supported me. But as far as it feeling like work, I never really had that. Skateboarding to me was always fun first, and a job or whatever second. When I took a step back from professional skateboarding, it was just because the company that I was skating for at the time went out of business. Honestly, it was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to me. It took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to think about things other than skateboarding.
Matt: What have you been up to since you moved back to Boston?
Jerry: Lately, my life has been pretty busy because I’m going to Paramedic school full time. I’m in classes three days a week, and I’m also interning at a local hospital for three days as well. On my day off, I usually try and hang out with my wife. The school I’m involved in is no joke, you can’t half-ass it and survive. So it’s basically been my everything for a while. Skate-wise, this winter has been brutal. But in a way, it’s been a blessing due to how busy I have been with school. I have a tendency to blow off studying to go skate, which isn’t always the smartest thing to do.
Matt: It seems like you’ve really gotten back into skateboarding since you moved back. What got you going again? Was it the environment or was it something more personal?
Jerry: It was a combination of a few different things. When I got back to Boston, my brother Ben came with me. We went out skating one day, and everything just felt right pushing around the city. It really brought back a feeling that, in a way, I forced myself to forget about when I prioritized my life and took a step back from skating. My brother said some things to me, too, that I feel really define the scene here in Boston. He commented on the lack of people filming at spots even though they were killing it. The fact that it was 40 degrees, and people were out skating, and that someone that he didn’t know gave him props when he did a simple fakie nosegrind across a ledge. I was just really happy for him because, as an outsider, he was leaving with such a solid, and true representation of what skating is like in Boston. To make a long story short, how I felt that day when I went out skating with my brother and hearing his stories about his own experiences led to me being really proud to be back in Boston, and keeping that feeling going.
Jahmal: Who do you skate with most of the time?
Jerry: I usually give Ray a call, and tag along with him and whoever he’s going skating with. Gavin and Zeb are generally out everyday, so I end up skating with them quite a bit. Armin and Bill are usually down to skate anything and everything too, which is cool.
Ray: Who is the smoothest skater you have ever witnessed on a skateboard?
Jerry: Probably a tie between Kenny Anderson and Caesar Singh.
Matt: You recently joined up with your good friend Jahmal Williams and Hopps skateboards. How did you end up getting involved?
Jerry: Jahmal called me one day, and asked me if I would be interested in having a board on Hopps. It was funny because I had just finished telling him how I had the worst day skating ever in my life. Then, a minute later, he asked me to be a part of his company. I mean, we’re close friends, but Jahmal is also one of my favorite skaters. So I was definitely happy to get involved. It’s a win-win situation for us. He knows where my head is at skate-wise, and I believe in his vision for the future of Hopps.
Matt: Did you guys know each other before the Toy Machine days?
Jerry: Yeah, we skated for TV and Television before Toy Machine. Before I met him, Mike Vallely would always tell me about Jahmal, how fast he skated, and that he wanted to put him on TV. I remember he got on the team, and shortly after that he sent in a video of himself skating around Boston that was in black and white and edited to an old Black Sheep instrumental. It was so sick. It was a lot of pushing around Boston with some hard tricks thrown in there, and it had an artsy feel to it. I hadn’t met him yet. But, after seeing that video, I remember being really psyched to have him on the team. That was like 1992 if I remember correctly.
Matt: Are you guys looking to put together a team?
Jerry: We’re definitely interested in building a team, but at the same time we’re not in a rush. Any additions that we make need to be the right people at the right time. I’ve never been too big on forcing anything with skating. Our intentions aren’t just to create a team so we can say that we have one.