Street Dreams are Made of These

Tony Hawk ain't the only So Cal pro skate mogul swimming in dough. Courtesy Street Dreams

What happens when a pro street skater with a penchant for humor and storytelling gets noticed by the world at large? How about when that same skater gets embraced by the mainstream and becomes a celebrity? Can that same skater stay true to streets that defined him? Rob Dyrdek is certainly going to try.

At nearly 35, with a pro career spanning two decades, Dyrdek has seen skateboarding go through a lot of changes. He's been in it for the ups and downs, and he's made legitimate contributions to the progression of the sport. Today he straddles two worlds: one of Hollywood fame and hit TV show fortune, the other of raw street skating -- an activity that, despite widened acceptance and mass popularity, is still outlawed in many places and frowned upon in others. With "Street Dreams" (which premieres Sunday, June 7, in New York City), Dyrdek leverages Hollywood to tell street skating's true story to a broader audience. But, as far as Dyrdek's come from the streets, does he still know them well enough to tell their story?

--Adam Salo

You said in a recent interview that films like "Gleaming The Cube," and "Thrashin'" were "relentlessly blasphemous to a skateboarder." It seems that cheese is inevitable when skateboarding and Hollywood collide. How does this film differ from other big studio attempts at interpreting skateboarding?

Well, number one, this film was made one hundred percent by skateboarders who did it because of the fact that Hollywood has cheesed out all films that have to do with skateboarding. The whole idea was to make a very authentic, real portrayal of street skateboarding culture.

Why'd you decide to finance it yourself?

In filmmaking, the big thing is, never put up your own money. So that was my rally cry as I was doing the whole project. The original budget was about a million dollars, and we were sitting with different investors, and I was giving it to these guys—everything I knew about skateboarding: the history of the sport, the future of films, the future of the sport—a very passionate speech. And the guy says, "We love it. We love your passion. We knew skateboarding was big when we saw that kid walking through the mall and started rolling on his heels." I was like, I just gave you the most ridiculous, passionate speech about the sport, and you just hit me with Heelies? That was sort of the defining moment where I realized, why would I let anyone else have a say in it? If I believe in it so much, why not put my money where my mouth is?

So how, then, was it working with Sal Masekela and Jason Bergh (Berkela Motion Pictures)?

They came in after it was done. I had done the film myself and then shopped it out to a bunch of different distributors. I became paranoid about doing a deal with a bigger distributor who didn't understand the nuances of the idea, or how to market and distribute a film like this. That's why I ultimately chose Berkela, because they really get it.

Who's your primary audience? Do you think skateboarders will be stoked on the film?

I feel like it's for everybody. It was written for the mainstream audience, with nuances for the core. It's very much a coming of age, traditional story—the "Karate Kid" of skateboarding—but the core will love it and the mainstream will love it, too. It's more about doing a true feature film that our industry and culture can be proud of, and that the mainstream can see to understand real skateboarders and real skateboarding.

Were you worried about skateboarders' capacities for acting?

Very much. I wrote the thing with the intent of having P. Rod starring in it. We know he's the golden child, but ultimately he was the greatest risk. The film lived or died on P. Rod's performance, and he absolutely killed it. The rest of the parts were small in comparison.

So the basic gist is: kid from the Midwest wants to go pro, has the skills to pull it, gives up everything to make a go at it, friends and girlfriend turn against him, then he lands the ultimate trick and lives happily ever after. So what's the ultimate trick?

A 360 flip crooked grind down a handrail. In "Grind," for example, the big final trick in the end—somehow he became a vert skater—was a frontside heelflip 540 using Bucky Lasek as a body double. But Lasek didn't even make the trick, so they cut it together to make it look like he made the trick. What allows this movie to resonate so deeply into the core is that nobody alive has ever done a 360 flip crooked grind down a handrail, before or since P. Rod did it in this movie.

How autobiographical is the plotline of this thing?

I took a lot of character cues from myself growing up, like having an inner-crew rival, and included a handful of scenes I took word-for-word from my life. But I used it more as a base for character development. There was no Tampa Am or Skate Plaza for me growing up.

Is quitting school addressed in the film?

Failing out of school, but there's no direct addressing of it.

What do you tell kids who don't have the talent or drive to make it as pros? Should they still quit school to pursue it?

Obviously I encourage everyone to stay in school, get an education and follow their passion. It wasn't like I quit high school and went on to make millions of dollars. I quit high school, turned pro for Christmas, sold one board and got a check for $2. I was so poor, I needed to cash a $2 check. I take no stance on education fundamentally—I know every kid needs an education—but it is a little bit odd that the majority of professional skateboarders don't graduate high school.

How can a kid know if they've got what it takes to make it?

It is what it is. If you have a dream, you have to put your blood, sweat and soul into it to make it happen, like any other pro sport. Of kids that grow up incredibly talented and get scholarships to colleges, still only five percent go pro. There'll always be plenty of kids that are really good, that go on to get sponsored, that never turn pro—it's the nature of the beast. As it is with anything in life, there's a lot of sacrifice and commitment needed to be successful at anything you do.

What about the kid who does go pro at an early age and wants to blow it out up front?

It's just like the kid that comes out of high school and goes straight into the NBA. You have your LeBron James-es, then you have your Jermaine O'Neal's, where it takes seven years for them to finally have a solid run in the pros. Ryan Sheckler and Chaz Ortiz got picked up really young and they'll both go on to have long, successful professional careers.

Cops play a big role in this film. Did your own run-ins inspire Safe Spot, Skate Spot or is that something you felt there was a need for outside of Johnny Law?

It was beyond that. Not only as a professional skateboarder and someone who's doing it at a ridiculous level do I still jump schoolyard fences on the weekend and get kicked out by cops everywhere I go, it's the reality of our sport. It's 100 percent guerilla and 100 percent illegal. Safe Spot, Skate Spot came out of sheer problem solving. I wanted to say, look, you don't have to have a million dollars to build this giant skatepark; you can take existing parks and build skateable surfaces within them, and you can build a lot of them. That's really the nature of the sport and how we'd prefer to do it—to have replicated, real street environments.

What about the abundance of free, public, concrete skateparks that have popped up in hundreds of small towns worldwide in the past decade?

There are 13 million skateboarders in this country and 10 million of them are steet skaters, and those 10 million kids don't want to go to traditional skateparks. They either want a plaza or they want to be in the real streets.

What about when street's incorporated into the design and these new 'traditional' parks are turning new people onto skateboarding every year?

If you had a basketball hoop that was 5 feet high, and the rim was bent down sideways and the backboard was twisted, you could still play basketball on it. Fundamentally, it's still a hoop and a backboard, but that's not the way it's meant to be played. When it comes to these guys who don't street skate and don't understand it, they build these inadequate street sections and traditional parks that are pointless, and no street skater had any desire to skate them.

What's up with the Street League?

Of 15 million action sports participants in this country, 10 million are street skaters. The reality is that competitive skateboarding plays no significance in our sport. No one cares about the X Games or the Dew cup—the best in the world aren't there. Until there's a proper format and venue for kids to get sponsored and cross over into the mainstream, competition will never play any significance, kids will lay in obscurity and stay in the streets.

I'm going to build permanent skate plaza arenas where events are going to be held once a year—bring in the stadium seating and the Jumbotron—and the best of the best put it down for the money. It'll be like an organized best trick contest, but on five distinct levels of street skating. An organized jam format and Instant Scoring eXperience will engage the audience on a level that's never been done in street skating. Then, for the rest of the year, anyone can come and skate it.

How big a role do you still have in Alien Workshop, Silver, Reflex and DC?

With DC it's deep because I have my own division, the Dyrdek Collection. Alien, no more or less than I've had for 20 years. It's my primary board sponsor and my very best friend. Reflex and Silver I got together, pushed on their way and don't really have to play an active role anymore.

You're 35 this month. On a scale from 1-to-10, and face gash aside, how much tougher was it to film for Mindfield than it was for Memory Screen, 18 years ago?

The brutality of Mindfield was that I filmed almost my entire part, as small as it was, while filming "Fantasy Factory." I'd jump a car 100 feet one day, then go light up a ledge at 11 at night, pull Danny Way away, get attacked by a shark, then get home and film all weekend trying to get it done. It was the most brutal five months of my life. I could never begin to explain to anyone how hard-core that time was. Dealing with cops, trying to do tricks that hadn't been done in certain spots—I didn't drink or go out once. There wasn't a moment that I wasn't working. It was seven days a week for five months straight. Memory Screen? That was just what I did at the time.

Your own favorite video part of all time?

I really don't feel like I've ever filmed a truly solid video part. I guess I'd say the DC Video, or maybe my old Tracker parts because there were tons of tricks back then that had never been done. I was just doing tricks. I didn't realize I was making tricks up. Being a kid from the Midwest, I didn't know any better.

Favorite video part of all time?

Guy Mariano's part in Mouse is the greatest video part in skateboarding history. Bar none.

Which Rob suits you best: producer, actor, writer, entrepreneur, activist or skateboarder?

To me it's just one big lump. Everything is so intertwined—it's just the growth of who I am, the opportunities given to me and how I can maximize them. Skate Plaza, skate movie, skate spots and Skate League was the grand plan for a long time, and I think TV got in the middle of all that. TV presented itself and became a catalyst for showcasing all the stuff that I really wanted to do and put it into a mainstream light.

So MTV pretty much lets you do whatever you want?

To a degree, but they know that I wrote every episode of "Rob & Big," and that I wrote it for a skateboard video, the same way that they know that I write every episode of "Fantasy Factory." My big thing with "Rob & Big" is that it got bigger than I had anticipated, and I couldn't do it anymore because it was getting so fake. I didn't want to confuse everyone. I didn't want it to be what I was known for, but rather, something I did. So I said I wasn't going to do another season, but they kept beating on me to do my own show. I really didn't want to, but I said fine, I'll do it about my business stuff. But if I'm going to shoot it, I'm going to put everything under one roof so I can handle my business, skate and film my show all in one place. They loved it.

How much hamming it up is "Fantasy Factory" Rob versus normal Rob?

Come on, man. I'm shooting TV. I'm trying to create the funniest, most ridiculous stuff—of course it's hammed up. I'm not going to go out and get attacked by a shark or jump Ken Block's car 100 feet unless I have a TV show. But I get to live these incredible experiences. Whatever I can dream up, I can do, so I'll just think and think and think and come up with the craziest s---. It's a blessing to have a creative outlet like that.

What other entrepreneurial pies are you interested in getting your hands in?

Right now I'm moving forward with the Wild Grinders cartoon. The toys launched six months ago and that's the next step for the brand. Then my biggest thing is the league and getting that off the ground. I have meetings with the City of Los Angeles to build my first arena in the Valley. It's a massive undertaking, but I'd like to have my first event in 2010. And really, I have a bunch of movie projects I'm looking at right now and a couple other TV shows. But my focus as of today is promoting the film.