"Look Left" / Mark Wetzel / PREMIERE

With actual city skating - of the type requiring actual urban exploration and spot scouting - having become remarkably popular over the past decade, it can be strange to see an original institution such as Ricky Oyola's Traffic Skateboards not necessarily being one of the first enterprises thrown into the limelight. Albeit strong of roots firmly planted in fundamental skate history and despite having pioneered and shaped the essence of the aforementioned practice, Traffic can't help but inherit of both sides of the coin of its honesty: uninterested in displaying the most accessible gimmicks, the brand insists on focusing on nothing but the timelessness of pure street design reappropriation and reinterpretation, resulting in a tinier, but core following of enlightened enthusiasts who understand the tradition, passion and devotion. With the Theories of Atlantis chaps now more involved with the branding of the company, to this day Traffic remains a labor of love and who to better embody that but longtime rider and underground king, Mark Wetzel. A true skateboarding's blue collar specialized in street grease, obscure spots and sharp moves, Mark has been giving his all to the sheer act of skating for a while now, as made prominent by the amount of quality footage he's been producing over the course of his career; only as low-key as sincerity is made to be in a world mostly dominated by numeric values. Mark's part in Traffic's latest video production, "Look Left", is a spontaneous testament to certain values; therefore it is with pride that LIVE Skateboard Media is hereby presenting it to you, alongside some precious words from the author.

LIVE Skateboard Media: May you please introduce yourself? Where, when and how did you first take up skating? Who were your influences growing up - some regional ones perhaps? Really interested in your background and the context in which your style developed.

Mark Wetzel: It started with just seeing the older kids in the neighborhood smashing around, and looking like bad kids. There was a biker family with a halfpipe on my street, and a parking block at my school bus stop. So, skating was pretty big at the time in my area.

My mother owned a gymnastics school, and a pro skateboarder named Jeff Jones started going there to jump on the trampoline with a skateboard attached to his feet. I went to a demo that he did at a Burger King, and my mind was fucking blown. I got a real skateboard after that and it was on. I was eight years old at this point.

Frontside pivot grind. Ph.:
Josh Stewart

Jeff Jones ended up opening a park ten minutes from my house. I started skating with the older neighborhood kids, and we would skate The Impact Zone, which was another park in Bricktown, New Jersey, too. It is the park that there is a contest at in the first 411VM. Fred Gall, Jim Mencer, Ricky Oyola, and many other Jersey rippers would skate there; I had no idea who they were at the time, but it was a way more raw scene. The older guys were tough and mean here, I loved the attitude.

"I remember going to Ricky's house and showing him my footage; I was so nervous I kicked the plug and sent the computer flying off of the table"

Growing up I was really into ledge skating, and liked skaters with unique trick selection. Tim O'Connor, Fred Gall, Guy Mariano in "Mouse", Matt Reason's hesh-but-tech approach, Ricky Oyola and Bobby Puleo's use of the random shit you find in the city, were all big influences on my skating. They were being original, and doing stuff other people didn't think of. That was always what I liked, skaters that had their own unique approach. 
The Sub Zero Video, Eastern Exposure, "Mouse" - they were skating all these amazing plaza spots. The Philadelphia scene wasn't that far away, and we would go out there to skate all the time. After high school, I decided to go to college in Philly - this was probably the thing that influenced my skating the most. Skating around downtown after getting kicked out of Love or City Hall, had me looking for random shit to skate. It was kind of like doing ledge tricks that nobody would think to do, but now it was looking for ways to use the spot that nobody would think of.  

Click on this 16mm portrait by Josh Stewart to see Mark's part in Traffic's "Via".
LSM: How did the connexion with Traffic happen? You’ve been featured in their videos for a long time, as early as "Via" over a decade ago. How did you first meet these guys? What was it like, first skating around with Ricky O? Was he already an influence of yours prior to meeting him? Interested in how your vision was shaped - you have a sharp eye for spots and quirky utilizations of them for city skating. Do you remember your first time meeting, and filming with Josh?
Mark: The connection with Traffic came about because of Jack Sabback and Rich Adler.
I was skating downtown everyday and was a regular at the spots. I guess I was doing alright, and when we would all get chased out of Love I started tagging along with those guys, lurking around, skating different shit. Rick was starting Traffic, and I think Rich and Jack said he should give me some boards.

Rich Adler, nosegrind up and down to fakie. Ph.: 
Yukihisa Nakamura courtesy of Secret Cut
I remember going to Ricky's house with my laptop and showing him my footage. I was so nervous and I kicked the plug and sent the computer flying off of the table. He liked my stuff, and sent me on my way with some boards.
I would only see Ricky around the city. He would come into Love or City Hall and you could tell he was already at it for a bit. He would blaze around the park for a bit, but then be gone.

"Rick does a wallie feeble and I did a wallie back tail; I don't think they used my clip though [laughs]"

Ry Manos was a friend of mine and he had started filming Ricky, Jack, Damian [Smith], and Rich. So, I would tag along with them, but I was comfortable with Ry enough to drag him off on my own missions. I think Traffic's team was still kind of forming at this time, but when it came time to edit "Via", I had a bunch of tricks and was part of the crew so it just worked out. Ended up with the first part!
First time I skated with Rick, other then just ending up at the same spot, was on this makeshift quarterpipe that I made out of a broken refrigerator. We both filmed a trick on it. I think that session helped me get on. Rick does a wallie feeble and I did a wallie back tail. I don't think they used my clip though [laughs]!

Ricky Oyola, back tail as seen in Mark's "Look Left" part. Ph.:
Rich Adler courtesy of Skate Jawn
LSM: Back in 2008, you even shared a section in a video made by our friends from Italy, René Olivo and Diego Dominguez aka. the Chef family called "Nothing Compares", with the likes of Guru Khalsa, Tim O’Connor and Steve Durante. On which occasion did this happen? How many times have you been to Europe, and how different from what you’re used to was it skating here?

Mark: That connection is because of Andrew Petillo and Steve Durante.
After college, I saved up money and was going to move to Spain, to teach English. Really, I was moving to live in Barcelona and skate the amazing spots, but it ended up that I couldn't afford to pay off my loans and live out there off of that job. So, I just spent all the money I had saved up and maxed out a credit card, until I really had no money left.

"A bunch of my clips for 'Static 2' were from that little week in Italy"

I had known Steve and Andrew from seeing them around Jersey, but we were not close. Somebody gave me their number to link up with them when they came out. We hit it off well, and they asked me if I wanted to go to Italy with them. They knew René from a previous trip and were going to stay with those guys.
That was so much fun! We went on a little road trip around Italy, met a bunch of great people, and we filmed a bunch of stuff. A bunch of my clips for "Static 2" were from that little week in Italy. Coming from Philly, which had a very cliquey skate scene at the time, it was cool to see a closer community of skaters out there. In Philly, there were a bunch of different crews and everybody kind of did their own thing. Those Chef guys had a tight knit crew of friends who seemed like they did everything together. That was refreshing to see.

Click on this 16mm portrait by Josh Stewart to see Mark's part in "Static IV"
LSM: What was the filming process like, for "Static IV"? The Static series was fully established as a pillar of the underground scene at that point, and a lot of people were anticipating the new installment.  Was filming for a new Static film a source of extra pressure, or motivation, or are you of the type to just skate and whatever happens happens?
Mark: Running into Josh one day into the city, he told me that if I filmed tricks for the video, he would use whatever I had. I was a big fan of what he does, and was not going to let that opportunity pass me up.
It was over a long period of time, but it was not something that was a main priority in my life. I feel like a lot of people have a similar story about filming for that video. And, I think that is why the video does a good job of capturing the way that all those guys actually skate.
I had a full-time job, a little business that I was starting, bought an old house to fix up, and was not on the mission daily, weekly or even monthly at times. My parents lived on the coast in Jersey, and their house got demolished in Hurricane Sandy. Two feet of water in their first floor meant that the house needed to be almost completely gutted and raised about four feet. My dad and I did a lot of the work and I hardly skated for about eight months. I do not think I even tried to film a trick for over a year while the "filming" for "Static IV" was going down.

"If I got a clip, there was a place that it was going. And, into a video that was definitely going to be a classic"

I was working in Jersey City at the time, which is right across the river from Manhattan, and had about an hour and fifteen minute commute home. I would often take the train into the city, or skate in Jersey City before heading home to avoid the commuter traffic. Sometimes I would just lurk around for a few hours alone. Other days, I would end up finding something I wanted to skate and would call up Josh to link up. This sometimes turned into me skating until two or three in the morning!  
The first "Static" was the first one that I saw. Pretty sure a friend had it, and probably got it from Sub Zero on one of our Philly trips. Videos were not nearly accessible as they are now, and we probably dubbed copies of it for each other.  
Josh telling me that he would use my footage was definitely motivating. It meant that what I was doing must have been special in some way. It also gave me a project to work on. If I got a clip, there was a place that it was going. And, into a video that was definitely going to be a classic. So, I really just did my own thing, but made more NYC trips at the time because I knew I could link up with Josh if I had something to film.

Click to watch Mark's super good Traffic Report from 2010.

LSM: Your spot selection is always impressive, watching your video parts feels like you’re going through a list of spots you had found by yourself and backlogged until the right time and occasion to go film something smart at them. Do you enjoy spot hunting?
How much of your time would you say you devote to looking for new spots and what is your preferred mode to achieve such a process - skating around, driving, walking maybe? Have you ever used Google Maps to find something to skate (the idea might or might not sound a bit corny, but I know of a few people who are such serious spot hunters that they organize Google map screenshots by hundreds in dozens of folders on their hard drives)?

Mark: Thanks! You're pretty spot on.
I usually find a spot or figure out a way to skate something just being out skating with friends. And, then If I want to film it, I have to sit on it till I can drag someone with a camera there.

"The best shit usually happens spontaneously"

If one of the poor bastards that get stuck filming me are around, I most likely have an idea to try and get a clip. Back in Traffic "Via" days, or for "Static 3" there was usually a filmer in the group of friends out skating so it would happen more naturally.
After that, it got a lot harder because I really had to plan stuff out more. And, that right there fucks everything up. The best shit usually happens spontaneously. I love looking for new spots and driving around different neighborhoods. But, I don't have that much free time these days so in my time I just want to get on my board wherever and have some fun. I am not combing the streets on Google Maps, that is for sure.  
LSM: Your take on ledge skating is also intriguing, it’s got a unique touch to it. Doesn’t go overboard with the typical skatepark-styled flip-in flip-out, yet retains real difficulty, as well as some refreshing awkwardness, and a lot of your moves remind me of late eighties / early nineties classic curb / plaza ledge skating (think Armando Barajas meets Pepe Martinez) rather than of the more recent trends in ledge dancing. How often do you think of new combinations? For instance, how did the idea for that backside 360 out of 50-50 mid-ledge in that old Traffic Report come about (alley-oop 180’s out of grinds weren’t even as much of a trend back then)? Who would you say are your favorite ledge skaters of all-time?
Mark: I was always into guys that did innovative or just different ledge tricks. Tim O'Connor, Guy Mariano, and Marc Johnson always did ledge tricks that you did not see anybody else doing. It would be difficult, but the fact that they thought to do it, had a difficulty as well. Those guys did original shit. They were not impersonating something they already saw, they were making something for others to impersonate.
I liked that about their skating, and I guess it made me want to find my own original tricks. Plus, I ain't flipping in and out of anything - wish I could. The front 50-50 backside 180 out is about as nineties east coast as it gets, to me. I love how that trick feels and I guess I just thought: "what about a full back 360, nobody has ever done that?".

Click to watch "Traffic Patterns" feat. Ricky Oyola, Mark Wetzel and more, edited by Joe Bressler.
Favorite ledge skaters - Guy Mariano, Tim O'Connor, Matt Reason - he made tech ledge skating look more aggressive then anybody. Tim Achille was king of doing the alley-oop style, awkward ledge tricks; and Marc Johnson always had a unique ledge approach.

LSM: What was it like filming for the new Traffic video, "Look Left"? Was most of the footage filmed by Josh? How much of it is in NJ? What did you have (and more generally, what do you have) going on on the side, besides skateboarding - day job, family life perhaps? Is working on video parts like this still fulfilling to you, do you have a vision of what a good skate part is that you really try to achieve every time or are you more relaxed, just skating whenever you can make some time and whatever gets documented gets documented?

Mark: Filming for the new Traffic video started out great for me. I had not filmed anything for a while, probably over a year or so after "Static IV". So, I had a bunch of tricks I already did or that I wanted to do in my head. 
I was skating with Mark Humienik a good bit, and he skated with Matt Velez. They were the younger generation of skate rats from my area. This helped a lot, because there was a legit filmer that I could film with in my own town. I did not have to drive an hour to film a trick anymore.

"Hit me up if you have a project that you would like to work with me on, people of the world!"

Andrew Petillo and Matt Velez filmed most of that part. A bunch of tricks were in the suburbs of Jersey where I lived, so I really like that about the part. There were a few things with Josh, but they were old. I was actually feeling really good on my board, better then ever. Ability-wise, I am really not that good; there is a kid at your local skatepark that could probably whoop my ass in skate. But, I still think I can come up with original ideas or ways to skate things.
I felt like I was going to be able to put out a part on the caliber of my "Static IV" part, but then I broke my foot one day skating at Muni in Philly. I had to get a plate and six screws put in there, and that really took the wind out of my sails. It took me a while to get my foot ready, and my confidence in a place where I would try to film. And then, it was still a struggle [laughs]!
Most of that part was from before the foot break, after school or between paint coats. So, I am happy with that part, but knowing it was probably the last full part I would film. And, that it was not my very best was frustrating for me.
I am still teaching Art and Graphic Design, and really enjoy contributing to Traffic graphics. I would really like to pursue that more, so hit me up if you have a project that you would like to work with me on, people of the world!

Mark's Traffic graphic tribute to the Muni spot in Philly. Ph.:
Andrew Petillo

I have my paint company still, and I almost always have a project going. My wife has surfed her whole life and she got me into that. So, that is a real fun thing to get to do with her and travel to some beautiful places.
I definitely work too much, and I am trying to figure out how to slow it all down; but, there is no denying that I need to make money to live the life I want to live. Looking for the happy medium.

"I still look for new stuff to skate, and will try a trick for an hour in a parking lot by myself"

I would love to be able to film a part or have another project to work on. But, unless I purchase a tripod and a camera, that is not happening: Velez moved into the city, and my other friends that did film are over it. So, I have to go pretty far out of my way to get a clip at this point. I don't really see a point in swimming upstream to try and make that happen, it will just get in the way of the good times.
I still learn new tricks, look for new stuff to skate, and will try a trick for an hour in a parking lot by myself. I love the battle of landing a difficult trick, and when I do have someone to film I will go for it. I have definitely gotten better at expecting less out of myself though. Just riding the fuckin' board around, have some fun, get some exercise is good enough for me!


Live Skateboard MediaLive Skateboard Media

Wait to pass announcement...