We sit with pro skateboarder and entrepreneur Paul Rodriguez and talk about his domination of the skateboard industry and how his unwavering faith coupled with having a tight squad lead him to exactly where he was meant to be.
Words by: Richard Coyle
Snaps by: Herman Jimenez
You know the old adage, “when one door closes, another one opens.” We have two athletes that have been the face of the Los Angeles sports landscape for over a decade. They have both literally changed the games they love by their passionate and obsessive drive for excellence. While they share similar recognition and work ethic that’s where the parallels end. The reason being is that one is recently retired and arguably considered the G.O.A.T. and other is in his prime. Both share the same pressures to perform as Nike athletes and the hometown heroes of the biggest sports market on the planet; which is no easy feat and a daunting task on its own. Nonetheless, they both excelled in pressure-filled environments and on the grandest stages. The competitors I’m talking about are Kobe Bryant and Paul Rodriguez; or the Black Mamba and P-Rod if you prefer. With Kobe retiring, the proverbial torch has been passed along with the keys to the city to another one of LA’s sons–Paul Rodriguez. While this might seem a stretch in comparison, it really isn’t. Both entered the game growing up in front of us and achieved the pinnacle of excellence with an entire city backing their every move. Like Kobe Bryant, P-Rod was recognized as a prodigy at the ripe age of 14, just two years after he began skating. Paul Rodriguez has changed the skateboarding scene forever with his style, gravity-defying tricks, and swagger as a young latino skateboarder. His consistency, effortless style, and persistence on his board attracted the attention of shoe giant Nike which recruited him to their Nike SB team. Consequently, he became the first pro skateboarder and first Mexican- American to garner his own signature SB shoe which immortalized him as athletic royalty. “This is where I want to be. This is greatness. It just felt like, yes! This is so incredible, I felt so blessed. I couldn’t wait to wear Nikes everywhere like, oh shit! This is Jordan, Kobe, LeBron.” says, Paul. With accolades like Rookie of the Year and countless medals, P-Rod has a body of work that would impress NBA legend, Bill Russell. Fast forward to a little over a decade, there is no end in sight to his greatness and the scary thing is; he’s still in his prime. Employing the same focus and passion he has for skateboarding, he’s diversified his portfolio out of the sport in which he’s reigned supreme to building other brands like Primitive Skateboards, Saint Archer Brewery and now Villager Goods to name a few. “It takes something to be able to focus on something, make that vision come to reality and train all the time to be the best. You gotta dedicate yourself and buckle down. It’s where the glory, legacy, and accolades come from. The long haul.”, says P-Rod when we asked about his diversification out of skating. With his legacy in skateboarding clearly cemented, we can’t wait to see what else LA’s unofficial son has in store.
Being a young and successful entrepreneur, how do you find time for different ventures?
The key is having a good squad with each person doing their job and staying in their lanes. My skills are only in certain areas and that’s why you need to surround yourself with people who share the same goals and passions, and that’s the only reason I’ve been able to diversify and be successful.
You’ve been in the game for over a decade. How does that feel?
It feels weird because it goes by so fast. I feel so fresh in the game as far as memories go. I live like 5 miles from where I grew up and skated there since I was 12 years old. I drive by there every day and it’s still so fresh in my mind. Now I’ve been in the game so long and I’m a veteran and it’s crazy how fast it goes. It a blessing. I look back and I’m thankful. I remember when people were here for a year or two that are gone now. I’m still here and doing what I love. People come and go and it’s not a real stable environment career-wise.
You came into success and money at a young age, how did you avoid negative pitfalls?
One. I was always so in love with skateboarding and when the opportunity came time to party that stuff; it wasn’t appealing to me especially early on. I loved skateboarding so much that I didn’t want anything to interrupt it. Especially to this day, feel like certain things are a hassle because it takes away from my skateboarding. I didn’t see it as me trying to not be influenced, it was more about me loving skating and always being ready to do that. Everybody can go party and have fun. That’s easy and something that requires no skill. It takes strength to be able to focus on something, make that vision come to reality and train all the time to be the best. You gotta dedicate yourself and buckle down. It’s where the glory, legacy, and accolades come from. The long haul. That was always exciting for me and I wanted to be one of those types of people.
What did your father say when you told him you wanted to skate for a living?
When I told him I wanted to be a pro skateboarder right before I turned 12, he was like, “that’s cool”. That’s what little boys do. Baseball, Basketball etc. I don’t think he took it too seriously until a couple years later, I was still at it and he was like, “That’s cool, Mijo, I don’t think that’s something where there’s a career behind it. It’s not the way to raise a family.” He wasn’t unsupportive, but I just think like any parent, he didn’t think that was realistic. I would flip it on him and said, “Dad, your parents migrated from Mexico just when you were born. Hard working farm workers, struggled to get by, grew up in Compton and you come to them as a teenager and say you wanted to be a stand-up comedian.” In his mind, it was far fetched, but remember, you were the same guy I am. I kinda checkmated him a bit but what could he say? [laughs]
Did you feel any additional pressure to perform when you got signed by Nike?
Again, I’m so lucky and fortunate to have this crazy love for skateboarding. I didn’t really feel any pressure to perform until I got older. When I got signed by Nike at 18-19, I was so happy. Like this whirlwind of crazy amazing things was going on and when they put me on the team, I didn’t feel any pressure at all. I felt this is where I wanted to be. I didn’t even know Nike was an opportunity back then, I was just ecstatic. This is where I want to be. This is greatness. It just felt like, yes! It’s so incredible, I felt so blessed. I couldn’t wait to wear Nikes everywhere. 10 years go by and it started hitting me that I’ve been with them so long and have had this streak of good success then I went through a few mental struggles like this is Nike, this is Jordan, this is Kobe, this is LeBron and then the weird anxieties started coming. Good thing that was after I was established and well into my career and older so I was able to process them more maturely. I guess I was lucky to be super naive and confident to not allow that to affect me back then.
Who are your influences in skateboarding and in general?
Early on in skateboarding, it was Eric Koston, Tom Penny, Andrew Reynolds, Daewon Song, Rodney Mullen and so many others. Ever since I could remember I looked up to Bruce Lee as a major influence. Michael Jordan, Kobe and even to this day, Jay-Z is also my inspiration. He’s a person I’d like to model myself after and emulate. I just look at people that are living a certain life that I’d like to live. It’s not about material things but I would like to take little bits and pieces of that and make it my own. You gotta have somebody to look up to.
Being a veteran of the skateboarding industry, what changes have you seen?
The tricks are just more insane year by year. They are advanced and ever evolving. The internet had a lot to do with that. Before the net, we did skate videos that would last for years and now, you have YouTube and social media and it seems like new content gets dropped daily. The pace that skateboarding is at now is so fast. Kids are learning new tricks all the time and that right there is insane to me. I’m trained in a different pace and era. I don’t know any other way. It’s more commercial and mainstream and skateboarders have bigger names and that’s because of the internet.
Tell us about your involvement with Saint Archer Brewery?
It started by myself and two good friends of mine; Mikey Taylor and Josh Landan. We were thinking, “What should we start? Sunglasses? Nah it’s done. Clothing? Nah, we get free clothes by sponsors.” It was like every category in our world was filled. Mikey and Josh went on a trip together and they were talking about what we could do and Josh sprang up and said, “what about Beer!” Mikey said, “That’s interesting. Let’s talk to Paul.” They got back from the trip and we all met up, they pitched me and I thought, “man, this is interesting. Let’s do it.” So we started, did our due diligence and realized what we needed to do. We raised 2 million between family and friends and that money went to work immediately. Josh Landan is the reason why we achieved success early on. He really jumped in head first and made the brand what it is today. Again, after we sold, I was wondering how the hell did we know to do this? Two and a half years later, we sold to Miller/Coors. Always trust in your team.
Thoughts on cannabis among athletes?
In the world of skateboarding, there’s no such thing as illegal performance enhancing drugs. I think It should be legal. If alcohol is legal, make cannabis legal. Alcohol is far more dangerous in my opinion than cannabis will ever be. Trust me, I know many gifted people out there that use cannabis. I don’t know any alcoholics that can say the same and perform at that level.
Thank you for your time Paul, any last words?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this interview and be on the lookout for Primitive Skateboards and Villager Goods!
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