words: Jesse Fritch
I’m not quite sure how to describe Matt Dove; I’m not sure anyone does. You see, what he does makes no sense to the average person—and it’s been like this forever.
I first met Matt at Woodward when I was 12 years old. It was my first day there, and he showed up after just winning the NSA finals, which at the time was the biggest amateur skateboard contest. He was sponsored by everyone that was popular at the time—Planet Earth, Airwalk, Gullwing—and was about to turn pro. As the story goes, a few weeks later Matt went to clean a fish tank and didn’t reappear for four years.
During those four years, I constantly wondered what happened to Matt, everyone did. He became a sort of mythical figure whose whereabouts people would discuss late at night. But then, four years later, I was at Woodward again and Matt just rolled in ready to skate again.
Nine years later, Dove is now one of my best friends, even if I still don’t get him. From breeding lizards to fighting ESPN to missing a few days of skating because he’s looking for rattlesnakes to disappearing for four years, he never seems to make any sense to anyone. The only thing I can say for sure is that when pros say they “just skate for fun” or that “money doesn’t matter,” Dove is one of the few who really mean it. When and if that ever changes, he’ll probably disappear again.
So this is your first interview, right?
Yep. I’ve had some articles associated with my artwork but never a full-length interview.
In how many years of skateboarding?
Sponsored skating or just skating?
Well, I’ve been skating as long as I can remember. My brother always had skateboards, and I had to emulate him. When I took enough beatings from him for taking his board without asking, my mom finally got me my own board. As far as it taking over my life to the point where all I could think about was skating, probably 18 years.
But didn’t you disappear for a couple years somewhere in there?
I definitely disappeared from the skateboard industry but never from my skateboard. You know what it was like where we grew up in Baltimore. Even though skating was popular, the industry was non-existent except for magazines and videos. I didn’t even understand the relevance of stickers. I remember once I took all the stickers off my Rubik’s Cube and put ’em on the bottom of my board. They were just stickers, right? What’s the difference? The social politics and reality of skateboarding wasn’t the same as on the West Coast. I didn’t grow up with big skate companies all around me, so I didn’t quite understand the serious nature of the industry and publications. I just wanted to skate and have fun. Maybe I was ignorant, but I know I was happier skating before the pressure of contests with sponsors came into the picture. My skateboarding was mine and I couldn’t take the fact that this new variable was making it not fun at all. So, peace, I was out. Skateboarding was and still is an outlet for me and my sanity. It was as creative for me then as it is now, and without the freedom to do with it what I wanted, it became kinda like a disorder and stressful instead of therapeutic. Things changed, so I made my choice to keep my skating sacred.
Where did you go?
Well, I was living in New Jersey with the owner of The Brick skatepark when I decided I needed to find myself and my interests again. So, I packed up my little white Civic with all my stuff and made my way back home to Baltimore. I had just enough money for food and gas and somehow made it through all the toll roads without paying once. I’ve always been into animals and nature, and I got a really cool job at a huge tropical fish importer/store. I was in heaven. Not long after getting hired, I think the owner noticed me staying late, checking out all the fish and reading every chance I got. He started to teach me all these things you can’t learn from a book, eventually sort of making me his apprentice. Pretty soon, I was doing necropsies, diagnosis and treatment for all of these different types of tropical fish and treating them successfully most of the time. I never stopped skating, but it was limited to Lansdowne and downtown Baltimore. I was happy again. I could skate whenever and whatever I wanted and was learning about something else I always had an interest in.
So what about the snakes?
Eventually my interest in ichthyology, the study of fish, evolved into another fascination of mine since I was a kid: herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians. I applied what I learned from Dennis [owner of tropical fish store] to herpetology and saturated myself with every bit of knowledge about reptiles and amphibians. We carried some reptiles at the store, and I sort of took it upon myself to dig a little deeper than just keeping them alive long enough to sell. I wanted to know how they worked, dietary requirements, habitat, reproduction, Latin names, disorders, deficiencies, treatments, milligrams of medication per kilogram of weight, anatomy, pretty much nerd-out on them. I’d been working for Dennis for about three years when I saw a help-wanted ad in the Baltimore Sun for a keeper in the herpetology department at the Baltimore Zoo. I was like, “What the hell, I might as well fill out an application.” I had no previous schooling in herpetology and was sure there was no way I was getting the job. Don’t ask me why, but they called me in for an interview and I got the job. That was a crazy serious job. My life could’ve been taken from me at any time during the course of a day. From dealing with 12-foot slender-snout crocs to being locked in the enclosures to clean and feed 9-foot monitor lizards and venomous reptiles of all shapes and sizes. Get this: since the African slender-snout crocs are an endangered species, I had to lock myself in a huge enclosure with a broom, a panic alert button and a squeegee. Nothing that could harm the crocs or be used to defend myself was allowed in with me. The crocs well-being and health came first.
What made you start skating again?
Like I said before, I never stopped skating; I just separated myself from the industry. One night while drinking at a local bar in Baltimore called Mums, I noticed a familiar face I couldn’t quite pinpoint. Finally, I realized it was Derek Krasauskas. We talked and he mentioned that he, Bucky Lasek, Ray [???] and Billy [???] were making trips every weekend to either Woodbridge or Cheapskates to skate vert. After one session with those fools, I remembered what skating really meant to me. It was fun, and they knew how to have it. The fire was lit again and I had a solid crew to skate with who really didn’t give a f**k about the industry. They just wanted to go skate, learn and have a good time drinking brews and cracking on each other to the point were I was questioning if these guys were really friends. If anyone were to jump in on a serious cut-up session, they’d probably think we were all about to fight and that we really hated Ray. It was great, and it was fun again.
Didn’t you get hurt around then?
Yeah, I suffered one of the worst injuries in my life from skating when I wasn’t sponsored or skating contests. I was trying this gap at the Lansdowne Park and broke my leg really badly: vertical fracture in my right tibia from the joint surface 7 inches up with a 3 millimeter separation, a quartered talus bone, torn meniscus and PCL, and multiple strains and tears in my ankle’s soft tissue. After being in a full leg cast for like eight months, I was freaking out and realized how completely I needed skateboarding around me all the time. Thanks to a super supportive girlfriend (thanks, Kim) and family, I recovered after about a year and started to skate as much as possible. That’s when I saw you at Woodward again. In my head, there was no way I could get back to where I thought I was with my skateboarding without devoting myself full time. So I quit my job, benefits and salary, explained the situation to my girlfriend and moved to San Diego.
Weren’t you breeding and selling reptiles?
I did privately for a few years, mostly ball pythons, monitor lizards and bearded dragons. They take a lot of time, care and serious devotion for them to thrive, and I wanted to concentrate a little more on my artwork, music and skateboarding. When you’re dealing with living creatures, you can’t look at them as just a sale; you have to make moral decisions concerning their well-being. I didn’t feel like I had the time they deserved, so I sold all my babies. If I would have kept up with my breeding projects, I could have made a pretty good stack. Some of the projects I was working with are selling now for anywhere between $100 a snake to $10,000 a snake. Once again, just like working at the zoo and skateboarding, it’s not about the money; it’s about following your interests and finding some happiness and knowledge in the short time we’re here. No regrets.
Isn’t importing illegal reptiles only second to drug trafficking?
I believe so. It’s a huge industry with a lot of money circulating through it. It’s also pretty detrimental to native populations along with habitat destruction. That’s why captive propagation is so important for some species. A good number of animals will become extinct in our lifetime for sure. People go to whatever lengths to own an animal that is one-of-a-kind or rare. But what’s going to happen when the gene pool has shrunk to the point of in-breeding and sterility? Extinction. Only buy captive bred animals unless you are qualified and devoted enough to stick with your animals, get them established, and then make them available to other enthusiasts to relieve the pressure of collection in the wild. Most imported reptiles and other exotics don’t even make it to the pet stores to sell. The mortality rate is ridiculous.
Have you reaped all the benefits of professional vert skating like houses, BMWs and ESPN fame?
Uh, I almost own my car. Does that count? Besides that, I’ve definitely reaped the benefits of travel and meeting some of the most interesting people I would never have met without skateboarding.
But you won a gold medal, right?
I protested a metal out of them.
What was the controversy there?
Here we go. I started to win these “best trick” contests and placed alright in one or two regular contests. Somehow I qualified for the X Games. I thought about ESPN’s role in skateboarding and how they were just buying into something they really didn’t understand or appreciate. It was just money to them. Come on, these were the same jock types who gave me shit for skateboarding my whole life, and their lack of respect showed by how little they paid most of the competitors compared to what they were making. They tried to explain their position and lack of fair payment with, “Oh, but you’ll get national television coverage and that will make your sponsors happy.” I thought to myself, “Who am I? What do I have to lose? I’m not a high-profile skateboarder who’s afraid to speak up for fear of losing the chance to compete in the X Games again.” I knew I needed to show them how biased and lame their show was and that not everyone is in their back pocket. It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. I wore a shirt that read:
Needless to say, they didn’t appreciate it too much. I broke my kingpin, borrowed Bucky’s board (thanks, Buck) and landed a pop shove-it Indy 720.
Then what happened?
They announced that my trick wouldn’t count because it was after time. I saw people I thought were true to skateboarding and what it stands for with their hands in the air like little puppets backing up ESPN’s decision. By coincidence or not, the person they wanted to win had a ESPN-produced video game coming out. I spoke my mind and let everyone know what I thought was really going on and how much of a joke the contest was. Don’t forget: the year before, Colin McKay destroyed the best trick contest hands down and should have won, but Tony Hawk was given almost another full hour to make a 900. After he made it, he was given the gold. I don’t blame Tony; he was just fulfilling his dream of making a 900. It just sucks he had to make it for ESPN and their little soap opera. In my case, the judges overturned the decision and gave me the gold. So I guess someone heard me.
Do you still have tension with ESPN?
I don’t have anything to do with ESPN. As far as I’m concerned, they exist in sports and not skateboarding. It’s only a matter of time before their true colors show through completely or, better yet, not show at all. It’s already happening for the people who are trying to qualify for big contests. I’m pretty sure this year you could only go if you were invited. There were no qualifiers. Either you were picked to do all the cheesy little skits for the commercials or previews or you didn’t go. I mean, come on, what sort of show would they have without a good solid cast and heavy prior promotion and planning?
Didn’t Golden Palace really offer you 10K to put its logo on your back during the X Games?
Yeah, that was weird. I got a call from a Golden Palace representative who I guess liked my approach with dealing with ESPN. They wanted to use me as a vehicle for what they were about and their distaste for ESPN and its policies. I told them I needed to research them some more and find out what they were about first. After learning that ESPN was banning Golden Palace’s fighters from being shown on ESPN for business reasons, I agreed. I thought, let’s drive the spike in a little farther with Golden Palace’s hammer. I think when the ball was finally rolling, Golden Palace got cold feet and bailed. Once again, the more you have to lose, the less likely you are to speak your mind. A lot of skaters have families and babies to support. They aren’t going to pass up a demo, get banned from a contest or possibly deny themselves a good paying job by possibly hurting some feelings and speaking their minds. I don’t have kids or a family of my own or daily stress about what I will do after my skateboarding career. I have other interests that I’ve always explored to carry me through, so I try not to worry about it.
It’s crazy how everyone claims to skateboard for the love of it, but things change when money gets involved.
Money changes everything. It’s kind of creepy to think you know someone’s integrity and beliefs, and then the little green monster comes out. Everyone falls victim sometime, but the difference is how much you will take and how far you will prostitute yourself. That’s the defining line to me. If you base your drive on making money, where will you be when the money runs out? Out of gas.
What, if anything, do you hate about skateboarding?
Not too much. I do get bugged out by the hypocritical people who forget that they started skating to be different from the majority but they’re the first to come down on you and judge you for your beliefs or for an even a weaker reason like your style or how you dress.
What’s the difference between East and West Coast skaters?
Coastal brotherhood. Everyone on the East Coast is so stoked to get together for more then a two-person session. We drive hours to skate with friends for the day. It’s always like a family reunion. Your time is limited to a few months of the year, so you better get your fix while you can. On the other hand, the West Coast is more densely populated with people and parks, so you’re actually looking for a quieter place to skate. I’ve only lived in SoCal, so I can’t speak for the whole West Coast, but it seems I choose my posse here a little more wisely. I normally hang with people from the East Coast or the Midwest with a few exceptions like Pete and the Volcom family.
So if you aren’t just collecting paychecks, what do you do?
I play musical instruments daily. Coffee in the a.m., check out the ocean, then go home and try to record something. It’s like an addiction; I can’t get enough. I write tons, paint, skate, fish, hike, hang out with friends, keep active. I’m working on putting on another art show in the near future. If anyone out there is interested in checking out some of my artwork, go to www.volcom.com and check out the Volcom artist page. There is so much great artwork on that site. I’ve been working on a book idea that will hopefully inspire some people and give a little insight. Basically, I try to fill any spare time I have with doing something productive that I probably wouldn’t have the time to do if I had a normal job.
What artists and or musicians inspire you?
Hmm, I really like artwork from Bosch, Dali, the Wyeths, Blender, O’Keefe and so many more. All artwork is inspiring to me as long as it’s original and comes from a true place. Musically, more now than ever, especially with a better understanding about music, my original faves are still standing: bands like Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Pixies, Bauhaus, Melvins, Bowie and your band, Operatic, for sure.
So what’s next for you?
Pretty much follow my interests and keep on learning about my world and myself. A few visits ago back home I was digging through some old papers and photos from grade school and found a project we had to do. One of the questions was, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” This is what I wrote:
1. zoo keeper
3. professional surfer (I relate surfing to skateboarding because I didn’t know how to surf and still can’t.)
So far, I’ve met my childhood dreams and so many more things have been added since then. I need to rewrite that paper with my current plans, then open it years down the road. So much to do, so little time do it all. Better get started before I get caught thinking about it too long and look back on what I could have done.