Recently heralded by Slam Magazine as one of Australia’s most influential skateboarders of the last 25 years, at only 25 years of age, Jake Duncombe has seen and done more than many seasoned pros a decade his senior. No longer exactly the ‘Teenage Wildman’, through the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows, Jake still manages to take it all in his stride and still seems to have more fun than anyone I know.
I recently caught up with Jakey on his home soil of the Gold Coast to talk about his career thus far, and plans for the new year as he prepares to return Stateside to polish off his part for the new Life Extension video.
Words by Andrew Currie
All Photos by Andrew Mapstone
(Click images to view larger)
I’ve seen you going upside-downies (handplanting) a bit lately mate… how’s that working out for you?
Scary. I’ve actually been thinking about having a proper crack at vert.
Have you done a handplant on vert yet?
I’m working up to it. Gorby (Steve Gourlay) told me they’re actually easier on vert, but I just can’t fathom weightlessness on a skateboard. I’m having a hard enough time with ‘em on a five foot quarter pipe. At fourteen foot those vert ramps aren’t small these days!
What’s the most legit vertical trick you’ve ever done with pads on?
Kicky back smith at The Ranch (Jackson Pilz’s ramp).
If you could swap your kickflip to have any vert trick on lock, what would it be?
I’ve been trying to learn backside airs since the first time I ever skated vert. I can’t do a proper nose grab backside air, so I’d take those.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever read by Hunter S Thompson?
I hate reading, and he’s the only one I can read. I found a bunch of stuff on the internet, his speeches, from when he ran for sheriff in Colorado. His arguments were incredible.
What’s your favourite animal?
The sloth, and the Jake Brown.
You were with Blind and Globe forever, so what happened there?
Well, firstly I’m so thankful for everything they (Blind) did for me – I mean without (Bill) Weiss I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. There were a couple of times when I’d thought about quitting but didn’t due to loyalty. But at the end of the day new kids come in and older guys get let go. So they started cutting my pay, and we all know that money makes the world go ‘round. Whoever says that money doesn’t buy you happiness is a f*@kin’ liar and deserves to be slapped. I’m not talking about a lot of money, but it’s nice to be able to buy some food and order a beer.
With Globe it was a similar thing. I think we just got sick of each other. Obviously I wasn’t doing my part by doing stupid shit like wearing other people’s shoes. They just got sick of my antics and I wasn’t ready to change. ‘Time for change’ – no, no change.
And how’s this Life Extention gig working out? How did it all come about?
Man, I f*@kin’ love it. I’d heard through the grapevine that Nick (Trapasso) and Sinner (Pat Pasquale) were starting a new company and Flip (Phillip Nash) from Happy Hour Shades worked as the middle man cause I didn’t even have their numbers. It was something new and fresh and I saw a chance to be a part of it from its start. Nick’s got a good head on his shoulders when he needs to switch to business mode. I love his mentality towards the way he skates, and the way he thinks about skating. He sold his car to buy a 15-seater van just so he can roll with the boys when he’s out skating. I just love everything about it.
Were you ever close to riding for any other companies?
Throughout my whole career everyone’s been like “What’s this Blind shit? Why don’t you ride for Baker or Deathwish?” I mean Dustin tried heaps to get me on Baker, but without naming names I can say that there was one person who didn’t want me on, and he was pretty high up there. I’ve never met the bloke in my life but he doesn’t like me.
So you planning on getting back over to the States pretty soon?
Yeah, as soon as I can. I’ll head over at the start of the year to finish my part off for the Life Extension video which should be coming out around April.
Do you still enjoy the process of filming a video part?
Ah, yeah. For a few years there it was pretty hectic because the deadlines seemed to be never ending, so it did get too much. Filming for this Life Extention video is the happiest I’ve been since filming for my first Blind video part for sure. I’m 25 years old now and I feel like I need to go hard for this one, and I’m pumped on the footage I’ve already got. Nobody’s really seen much of most of us on the team in a few years, so people think we’re done. The footage I’ve seen of Nick Trapasso is untouchable!
What’s your favourite board graphic of all the ones you’ve had?
I really like my new L.E one – the kangaroo griffin. Mark Lording did a f*@kin’ good job on that. He’s an Aussie tattooist who does all this really good Australiana shit. I really like the Jack Daniels one because it got ceased and desisted. They made us stop production never to be sold again.
Having been skating and doing well in competitions since you were a little kid, what’s your take on comps these days?
The SbA ones are great – they’re actually really good for Aussie skating. But in America these days it’s just all about TV – it’s just another show. Those Street League ones they have people physically stopping you from skating if the cameras aren’t ready. It’s all just for ratings.
You’ve had some pretty monumental moments in your career so far – any personal highlights?
I was really proud to be named Slam’s ‘Australian Skater Of The Year’ (2006). What it’s worth to anyone else I don’t care, but for me to be able to call up my dad and say “Oi, I’m the Australian Skater Of The Year” was a big thing for me.
What about getting Thrasher’s King Of The Road MVP in 2007?
That was a big one for me because I almost died of pneumonia. I was literally on my death bed in the van and then we (Blind) won and I got MVP so that was f*@king glorious.
People talk about having fun and letting a skateboard career happen if it’s meant to be. As a kid was that your attitude or did you know what you were after?
Man I knew what I was after because I left school to do it. I was 100 mile per hour because being a professional skater was my number one goal, and at the end of the day I had nothing to fall back on. In saying that it was more that I just wanted to be a part of skateboarding.
And has it been everything you’d hoped?
Well you soon realise that there’s a lot more behind it than just getting free boards and getting paid to skate. It is a job. It is f*@king 100% a job. It can get gnarly with tours, contests and demos.
Did that side of it come as a shock to you?
Yeah, it was, but at the same time I was pumped on being a professional skater so I didn’t care. I’ve never minded doing it, but it’s just the amount of tours, and time away from home not seeing family and friends, especially if you have a missus as well, it becomes tough because you’ve got them (sponsors) yelling at you going “You need to be travelling here… “ while other people are going “Why aren’t you at home?”
When I was younger I didn’t look at it as a job. I think the shock is growing up, and that’s gonna happen in whatever you do. Once you start getting bills and realise you need the money… I mean I was young and getting paid a lot of money, and I didn’t need to pay rent cause I was living with dad, and I had no bills. It’s when the bills start coming in that the real shock happens, and I’m still feeling that.
There’s a lot of talk about the business this, and the industry that, and there’s a harsh reality that certain companies have gone under which nobody saw coming . . . With an unprecedented amount of top level pros barely getting paid out there, how much attention do you pay to the economics of skateboarding?
I never used to, but then I saw a bunch of friends and team-mates, despite how much they’d put into skateboarding, get shot out the back door. I think what really shocks me is the amount of politics in skateboarding. Like if somebody who’s higher up on the team doesn’t like you, then that’s it. The amount of bitching is insane.
I guess when you first turn pro you’re not thinking about when it might end, but then the reality hits that if you don’t do it right, it could end. Is that something you think about?
Yep, every day that I’m laying tiles with my father. I mean people know that I got pay cuts and they think that I’ve just given up, but I’m not f*@kin’ giving up all those years of putting into this game that easy. Everyone thinks “You’ve got no sponsors, you’re not getting paid and you’re working, so are you gonna retire?” I’ll skate until the day I die, and at some point it will just be for fun, but for now I’m full steam ahead. I’m working with my dad to make some money so I can get back over to the States and rip it another arsehole.
What’s the best thing about being a pro skateboarder?
The people you meet, and the travelling.
Is there a worst thing about being a pro skater?
The people you meet, and the travelling.
Hawk once named him one of the best. This is why. Ollie to front wallride, ollie back in!
Who’s your favourite up and coming Australian skateboarder?
I really dig Mitch Robertom. Once Koby (Graf) eats a couple of steaks he’ll do alright.
Do you keep in touch with Ali (Boulala)?
I do, as much as I can. I love that bastard.
How’s he doing?
He’s doing good. He wants to get back out here but with what happened with Shane (Cross) it’s hard.
Does he skate?
He rolls, and can pump back and forward on a mini, but he’s never gonna be the same.
Ali’s got a heart of gold, and I hope people can look past the crash and don’t hold a grudge against him. Shane was my best mate, and so is Ali, and they both wanted to get on that motorbike…
Who’s your all-time great in the history of great skateboarders?
Danny Way… and Shane Cross.
If you had a time machine, what would you go back and say to a 15-year-old Jake Duncombe?
Nuthin’ lasts forever.