16 things: Gonz
16 Things You Didn’t Know About Mark Gonzales
words: Kevin Craft
photo: Bryce Kanights
1. Mark Gonzales’ first sponsor was Alva, but he didn’t ride for the company very long before turning pro for Vision at 16. When asked why he chose Vision, Mark explains, “I liked those animal-print boards. They had the zebra skin, the crocodile skin and the alligator skin. I thought those were dynamite.” >
2. In every skate photo Gonz has shot during the last six years, he’s skating someone else’s board. “He thinks everyone else’s board is better,” says Deluxe team manager Jasin Phares. “Mostly because he’s constantly loosing his. He’ll just ask to try your board, rip it up, and say, ‘Your board is better.’” >
3. The Gonz was actually duped into ollieing the big gap at Embarcadero, now affectionately known as The Gonz Gap. “He was launching off the high part of the gap to the ground,” says photographer Mofo. “I told him, ‘Dude, why don’t you ollie all the way across this thing onto that flat square out there?’ He was like, ‘No way, it’s too far; that’s impossible.’ So I lied and told him, ‘Some kid already ollied it, I guess I’ll just have to go photograph him.’” With this new motivation, Gonz nailed it third try. To this day, Mofo has never told Gonz the truth.
4. When Gonz went back to kickflip his namesake, he wasn’t alone. Jamie Thomas was also there trying to flip the chasm. “Jamie would come really close,” says photographer Bryce Kanights, “Then Mark would come really close. And then finally Gonz just landed it, totally mobbed out and ugly, but he landed it. Everyone watching just blew up—except Jamie,” says Kanights. “It totally deflated him.”
5. Mark’s search for the kid with the magic trick lead him to longtime cohort Jason Lee. “He’d heard I was doing 360 flips,” Lee recalls. “I think I was like 18 when he found me and asked, ‘Hey, when you do those 360 flips do you turn your body around, too?’ I said, ‘No, unfortunately not; that’s too hard.’ He just said, ‘That’s cool, man.’ And that’s how we became friends.”
6. Many famous people collect The Gonz’s artwork, among them Donald Trump and P-Diddy, who also owns a stash of Krooked skateboards.
7. The Gonz is a germ-a-phobe, and is constantly washing his hands. “One time we were getting ready to skate Burnside,” says Phares. “And one of the locals says to Mark, ‘Watch where you’re sitting. There’s a whole bunch of pigeon shit right there. You might get a staff infection.’ It totally freaked out Mark. He instantly went digging around in the van and got his gloves on. He came back but didn’t really skate because he was too freaked out about the germs. One little comment ruined what could’ve been an epic session. He’s always wearing those white gardening gloves—like they’re going to do anything.”
8. Gonz is known to buy expensive luxury items only to treat them like disposable tissues. One time in France, he bought a $300 fountain pen and was drawing on random things throughout the city when he ran into a homeless man asking for change. “He just gave him the pen,” remembers Pharis. “He said, ‘Here, you have it; it looks good with you.’” On the same trip, Gonz bought a $1,000 pair of Italian shoes and thrashed them while skating. “They were totally slippery and terrible for skating,” says Pharis, “But his whole idea was to master skating in them so that when he put on his skate shoes again he’d be even better.”
9. When Adidas approached Gonz to design his signature shoe, he wanted it to be made of wood. “I wanted wood to be placed inside the shoe and rubber around it to give it some soul,” explains Gonz. “So you have wood on the board and wood inside your shoe. It would be more natural; you could almost feel the soul of the tree.” Adidas opted not to produce the wooden shoe.
10. Every year during its annual sales convention, Adidas invites its star athletes to meet and greet the public and stockholders. One year the shoe giant invited The Gonz and as he was introduced, he skated out on stage with tennis star Martina Hingis on his shoulders. The big wigs at Adidas went berserk. Recalls Lance Mountain, “Adidas was freaking out like, ‘What is he doing? He’s gonna drop our trophy.’”
11. The Gonz has an alter ego named Chavo, a gangster from Southgate. Gonz often signs boards with this moniker. “I still have a board from back in the day that he signed, “Gonz skates with Chavo,” says Kanights.
12. When traveling, The Gonz is known to pack light or not at all. “The first time we went to Europe in 1991, the only luggage he brought was a brown paper bag from the market,” says Rudy Johnson. “Everyone had duffle bags, and all he had was a brown paper bag for a two-week European trip.”
13. Gonz created Blind as a dis to longtime sponsor Vision. He masterminded much of Blind’s early creative direction and drew the Blind logo that is still used today. The company was partly owned and distributed by Steve Rocco’s World Industries. Eventually, Mark wanted no part of Rocco’s clandestine activities and was so anxious to leave he traded his portion of the business for the company car. “I like gangsters,” says Gonz. “But Steve Rocco seemed to have a real mob affiliation and I didn’t like that.” Gonz sold the car the next day. It’s safe to assume, monetarily speaking, Rocco got the better side of the deal.
14. Gonz once jumped over the hood of a moving vehicle in one leap. “He’s constantly running and jumping over things or playing hopscotch or leapfrog over tall parking meters,” says Phares. “I’ve seen him run and jump over a full-size car as it was turning a corner.” Jim Thiebaud has also witnessed Gonz’s unusual pedestrian antics: “It’ll be raining, and he’ll just jump up and do a 20-foot 50-50 on a handrail in his shoes.”
15. Gonz was the first to intentionally skate switch—as far back as 1987. When asked what inspired him to skate the opposite way, he replied, “I never really had an actual concept of skating one way or the other. Sometimes I’d be skating and someone would say, ‘Hey, dude, you’re going the wrong way.’ I didn’t understand. Even now when I skate switch, I don’t think, ‘Oh, I’m going switch.’ I just try to skate how I feel.”
16. Gonz is also a talented and creative bicyclist. “Right now he’s on a mission. He’s looking for the lightest and sturdiest bike so he can hammer down the kickflip with it,” says Thiebaud. “And he’s close; he’s almost pulled it.”