Based out of Los Angeles, California, Richie Valdez is a talented photographer, videographer, and editor who has been working in the skateboarding industry for almost 9 years. Richie started out at Hurley Clothing as a videographer and eventually moved onto working with other companies like Street League Skateboarding, Supra/Krew, and Tony Hawk's RIDE Channel. As a jack of all trades, Richie has filmed/produced his own full length video "Skate Movie" featuring Clint Walker, David Loy, Riley Hawk and many other others who kill it. As a matter of fact, he was the dude who put out Riley Hawks first real skate part. Although he is an extremely skilled filmer and skateboarder, Richie's got real talent is in his photography and has been featured in mags like Thrasher, Lowcard, and was on a winning King Of The Road Team. Richie was nice enough to send us over his favorite photographs of skateboarding, friends, and portraits to feature alongside his interview.
Over the last few months, Richie made a huge decision to leave the skate industry and pursue his passion in photography. His brave decision to follow his intuition is inspiring. We know that many people he worked side by side with are sad to see him go, and although "Leaving Street League was one of the hardest decisions of my life, by far" Richie believes it is a personal growing experience. We are lucky to have had the chance to get to know Richie Valdez, and we are so excited to share his exclusive story about why he left the skate industry after so long, and what he has going on for the future. We also touched base on his creative processes, exploration through artistic mediums, and musical influences. To view more of his photos please check out page http://plasticsaints.tumblr.com/
GB: Where are you from and where are you currently living now?
I live in the 310, and represent the 831 to the fullest. I grew up in Northern California in a town called Watsonville, which is in Santa Cruz county. I now live in a really nice part of LA called Westwood. It’s the UCLA area, it’s skating distance from Stoner, and it’s just super nice and clean. I dig it. I’m pretty sure all my neighbors hate me...
How long have you been skateboarding for? When/ how did you first get involved with the skateboarding industry?
At this point in my life I’ve spent more years on my board than off of it. Which is crazy because I never really thought about it in those terms. Probably been skating since 5th or 6th grade. I got into the skate industry in a weird way. To be honest, I wasn’t even ever really planning on being in it. I moved to Ventura, CA for film school and towards the end of my last year of college I had the option to do an internship or two instead of traditional classes because I was a little ahead.
I kind of knew what I would have liked to do after school and that was to edit trailers and such. It was “the thing” that I wanted to figure out how to get into. However, during my last year I cold emailed this guy Darren Doane one day who did a lot of music videos for hardcore / metal bands that I liked. I had gone to his website and saw that he was based out of the Thousand Oaks area, which is pretty close to where I was living at the time, and asked about possibly doing an internship. We emailed a few times, and that lead to an internship with his company. I had already been directing videos with a bunch of bands for MTV2 at that point so I was really excited about this internship because I really loved this guy’s work and felt there was a lot to learn from him.
I did my internship “class” and kept in close contact through the remainder of my last year of college. I guess I did well because he kept me busy with him even after the thing was over. He knew that I was a skateboarder and that it was all I cared about outside of college and film. He said that he had a good friend at Hurley Clothing, who at the time still had a full-on skate program. I did a 2 minute piece for them with David Loy and the rest just kind of fell into place. That was my first time meeting David, and I had a super good time. They were happy with what I did for them, and it basically got me hired. I didn’t even really film skateboarding to be honest. I was more of an editor I’d say. Growing up I would film, but I never considered myself a FILMER per se. I got thrown into the mix and got hired about a month before graduating. Two weeks after graduating I was on a trip to Hawaii with most of the team... I still can’t believe how things worked out.
What came to you first, photography or film?
I shot 35mm stills and video growing up so they both kind of became interests at the same time. I feel like I was more attracted to video as a kid because it was just so much more “open” to me, if that makes sense. My friends and I would film stupid shit with each others cameras and then make edits that would end up on VHS tapes. We had all had copies of these VHS tapes full of our skating and antics and on rainy days, or just at night, we’d all hang at my friend Drew’s ( THE hang out growing up ) and just watch all our stupid shit. It was the best. I still don’t consider myself a photographer to this day...I just like to shoot photos. I look at dudes like Anthony Acosta, Seu Trinh, and Oliver Barton, and I’m like blown away... THOSE guys are serious photographers and I’m nowhere near their level.
Do you enjoy one more than the other? Can you please describe to our readers your creative themes and styles that you portray through both mediums?
Lately, in the last few years or so, I’ve gotten heavily into shooting stills. I had kind of been burnt out on video for so long that I wanted to focus on sharpening the other side of the blade. I bought myself a 7D and some flashes and just kind of went at it. Trial and error’ed it with learning to shoot with flashes. I would just look at magazines and study all the photos I really liked and try to figure out what they had done. My first year of shooting photos I would send the stuff to Kyle Camarillo and Sean Peterson for critiquing. I learned a lot from them via iChat convos where they’d tell me what to do the next time I went out, or how I could have shot it differently. After a while I upgraded the flashes to higher power strobes, and a SunPak or two which helped. I feel like I can still improve so much more which is the fun part. I love to shoot stuff long lens because it usually allows for more interesting compositions. We all know fish eye works for a lot of stuff, but I will usually try to stay away form a basic ass fish eye shot.
With video, for the last 3+ years I was doing Street League stuff, which had a very specific vibe / look / feel to it—I had to go about it a certain way. With my personal stuff, I just always try to convey a fun / loose vibe. When I have stuff for a company or something I go for super clean, and everything that goes along with that. Lately, I've been making a bunch of short-form stupid Instagram edits of skate footage and mixing those with 90’s music videos in a fun and stupid way. I love to just zone out with a beer and make fun edits of my friends.
Why do you think it's important to document skateboarding and put it out into the world? Do you see it as an action sport or art form?
Nowadays I don’t think skateboarding should be documented as damn much! Every fucking kid is a “filmer” now. It sucks because not everyone is putting out stuff worth paying attention to. For years I honestly didn’t even pay attention to 95% of the stuff that was coming out. Everyone always asks me if I’ve seen this edit, or that edit and my answer is always “nope.” Everyone and every company is putting out the same boring ass shit and it’s mind numbing. I’m a 31 year old man with interests inside and outside of skateboarding. I don’t want to watch some fucking lame content created for the sake of just putting stuff out that day. People putting out endless flows of crappy videos everyday is making us immune. No one has time to watch all that... nor should they. Go fucking skate instead.
What I think is important is a return to "less is more". The more we put out the more I feel like it’s a fucking sport. We all know it takes a certain level of athleticism to do what we do, but the garbage that gets thrown in our faces all day everyday is what makes it less of an art form I think. If that makes sense? The actual documentation of skateboarding is important though! It’s the way that it is packaged and delivered to the masses that makes it or breaks it. I have a lot of friends that I’ll watch stuff with and just laugh because it’s so bad. However, when I watch stuff like the Oververt, Propeller, or Pyramid Country’s Exeter....that’s when I feel like it’s an art form again. Put some thought and soul into what you’re doing, people. Who am I to talk though, because all my stuff sucks too, haha!
What music genres/ artists have been major influences on you and your style?
I grew up listening to a lot of heavy music. I never really got too into rap (or hip hop) as as a kid. It just didn’t speak to me. I liked punk and ska when I was really young, but when I discovered hardcore and the crazier metal subgenres was when I really came into my own as a music appreciator. I knew what I was about. I remember hearing Hatebreed, Glassjaw, and Poison The Well for the first time and was just blown away at how fast and angry that shit was. At an early age Shai Hulud, Converge, and American Nightmare were the bands that really spoke to me.
Stylistically, as lame as it sounds, I wanted to be like the guys in Eighteen Visions. They were definitely more fashion savvy than most bands, and I loved them! I tended to dress slightly different than most skateboarders even at a young age. I feel like a moron looking back on it now. Crazy hair, lots of black, tighter fitting clothes... I was basically a scenester who skated. I must have looked so stupid!
As far as influencing goes, Shai Hulud and American Nightmare for sure helped make me the cynical, nihilistic bastard that I am today. Their lyrics were really heavy on social commentary. Matt Fox (Shai Hulud) was so angry and pissed off with mankind. Wes Eisold (American Nightmare / Some Girls / Cold Cave) was so honest... his lyrics were almost like poetry. Same goes for Jacob Bannon (Converge)... very poetic and crazy lyrics. I was also into bands like Every Time I Die, Black Dahlia Murder, and Scarlet. I thank all these bands for existing and helping me not look at the world or people the same.
Wes Eisold was kind of like my Morrissey I guess you can say. I felt like I could relate to his lyrics a lot. The guy took very complex ideas and themes and somehow condensed them into the most simple and raw form of expression. He covered a lot of ground with his lyrics, and the music was just so fucking fast. I was sooooo fucking bummed when they broke up. I saw them play a few times and was very down about never seeing them again. The guy went on to do Some Girls, and Cold Cave which is his most “accessible” band. I love that he can take the same vibe and tone that AN had and put it into Cold Cave which is basically a solo electronic project. The music is way different, but his messages still pack a lot of weight and truthfulness. So fucking raw and real!! Fuck all the music skaters listen to these days. It’s so bad... ugh. Music in skate edits these days is horrendous too. SO fucking bad and another thing that deters me from wanting to watch the stuff.
I don’t just listen to heavy stuff though, I love stuff like Have A Nice Life, Chelsea Wolfe, Purity Ring, The Smiths, Camera Obscura, Minus The Bear, and the Weeknd. I’m all over the place musically. I went and saw Alkaline Trio last night and I felt like a 15 year old again, haha. I also LOVE 90’s pop music, THAT’S my shit!
Do you still think skateboarders are viewed as a threat to society? Or are they the popular kids now? How do you feel about the direction skateboarding has taken within the last 5 years?
Street skateboarding is a threat to society. That aspect of it will always be true to nature. We’re going out and fucking shit up, hopping fences, pissing people off. In schools it’s just kind of normal to be a skateboarder now. People have said it a million times... ”skating wasn’t cool when I was in high school.” But people say it for a reason: it was true then! Now you are kind of cool if you skate. Which is fine by me, but I hate when you see some kook riding down the street on a longboard or Penny board and those people are associated with real skateboarders. Fuck that, and fuck them for not buying a real skateboard and supporting real skate companies.
I do not like the direction skateboarding has gone down in the last half decade at all. It’s not like I was around at the very beginning of all this or anything, but what I remember of being a kid and growing up with a skateboard is different than what most kids growing up now will remember. The acceptability of skating is something that we just have to deal with now. Who knows if it will ever go back. They say everything comes and goes. Well, fuck... maybe in a few years it will all start to die down again. The only reason I don’t want to see that happen is because there’s skaters, and people who work in skating, who would maybe not be able to continue going on if it shrunk again. I’ll just shut the fuck up because all my friends know how I feel about skating as a whole. Riding a skateboard with your friends is amazing, and the best thing in the world. These days I just try to focus on skating with my friends and not pay attention to everything associated with skating. I do however think companies like Welcome, Skate Mental, Fucking Awesome, and Mother, came around at the right time. We need more stuff like that to remind us what skating really is. Companies need to not play it so goddamn safe. Skating isn’t for everyone, so stop trying to play by rules that govern non-skateboarders. Let’s piss off, offend, and be who we want to be.
Have you had any photography used recently or coming out? What are some of the publications your work has been featured in?
I’ve had some stuff in a bunch of Lowcards, band promo stuff, did some product stuff, and more recently I shot a Thunder ad of my boy Daniel Vargas. I was very proud of that one. Getting to shoot for a DLX company, and having it run in Thrasher was rad. A random one was that I shot a look book for that crazy women’s shoe company Jeffrey Campbell. That was a super left field and fun experience. Hoping to do as many off kilter photo projects as possible for sure. I recently shot a really cool photo for my friend’s side project ORBS. He’s the bassist of Between The Buried and Me (amazing band!) and he flew out here because the rest of ORBS lives in California so that we could shoot some band photos. One of the photos might even get used for the album artwork which I’m very stoked on!!!
How was it working on “Skate Movie”? How long did it take you to produce? Did you do both filming and editing through the whole process? Is it the only full length video you have come out with?
I had made one full length video before Skate Movie which was called Swearage. This was back when I was in high school. Just a fun homie video. Enjoi’s Zack Wallin had some stuff in that video...back before he had any sponsors and was like 14.
Skate Movie was about 3 or so years of filming and who knows how many months of editing. It was so rad being able to film with all those dudes because they were all still coming up at the time. David Loy, Riley Hawk, Ryan Reyes, Clint Walker... those dudes are all heavy-hitter household names now. Besides them it was just rad to be able to film with all my friends that I enjoyed being around and skating with. It was a small homie project that turned into something way bigger than I though it was going to be.
It’s just so weird to me that after all these years people still remember it, you know? Especially because of how many videos and edits come out now. It was a while back though... before the crazy internet boom really went off. I’m just glad people liked it because that was my brain child. I had to have some people help film some of the dudes in the video because filming 7 or 8 dudes while working Monday through Friday was really hard. Moose actually was originally supposed to have a full part in the video but at the time Deathwish was already starting to push him and I had to give them pretty much all the best stuff we had. Ryan was the one who ended up replacing Moose. It was a great time in my life! I had the whole idea for the name and graphical direction of the video while out in Holland. Hanging in Rob Maatman’s backyard smoking joints, drinking beers, sore from skating, while it rained and stormed all around us. Romantic, right? Haha.
Was it crazy seeing people like Riley Hawk, Clint Walker, and David Loy turn pro after they all had full parts in the video? Do you think “Skate Movie” played a role on their respective careers and put them on the map?
It is crazy seeing how some of those dudes completely blew up. I mean realistically... I’m not surprised because at the time we were filming it was just a matter of time. I knew that some of those dudes were on the cusp of really getting put in the limelight. I remember meeting Clint for the first time in Huntington while skating a spot and thinking he was so rad. I dug his vibe and his crew. I told em I wanted him and his friends to skate with us. You can tell when someone has something unique about them. I picked all those dudes to be in the video because I knew that I not only liked to be around them, but they for sure would be going on to do great things.
I don’t see Riley, Clint, David, or Ryan as much as when we were all younger which always bums me out because I have nothing but good memories of them all. I am VERY proud of all of them though and I’m honored to have spent some time with them in their formative years. I don’t want to say that the video played a maaaajor role in putting them on the map because their talent alone put them on the map. I’m sure it didn’t hurt though. I believe that was Riley’s first full part, and Clint’s first like reeeeal part. He had had a Roger Of The Month thing come out at the time but this part was the first bite that the world got of a much bigger bite that was to come. People kind of already knew who David was, but this part was probably his most comprehensive part at the time. All my other friends in Skate Movie (Adam Bertolet, Jason Vanzant, Dan Roberts) are fucking rulers too!
How long did you work with Street League Skateboarding for? What is one of the most memorable moments you shared with the company while working there?
I worked at Street League for about 3 1/2 years. It was a crazy time because when I got hired I think I was maybe the 4th or 5th full-time employee that the company had. I remember going to the Fantasy Factory and meeting with Atlas one day and just thinking, “This is so crazy!” It was nuts to me because I didn’t know anything about Street League when I went in. I had never seen one, or really knew anything about it. Just knew it was out there and it was kinda new. I went in for a second meeting and met Rob and kinda got signed up that day to be on board. The day after I was told I got the job I left for a 2 week Supra / Krew trip with Lizard King, Nuge, Figgy, Jon Dickson, Matt Mumford, Jaws, and Neen. I finished that trip and the next day went in for my first day at SLS. It was surreal.
My most memorable moment was probably going to Barcelona 2 years back for one of our first international stops. My whole life I had wanted to go to Barcelona... what kid growing up skating hasn’t wanted to go there!? We were doing the thing with X-Games at the time so it was kind of funky in a way... because that whole partnership was kind of wonky. But, FUCK IT! That partnership took me to Barcelona (and Brazil / Germany). I remember how stoked I was when I landed in Barcelona for work... I was like a little kid. I got off the train and skated at Santz. Dream come true. Thanks guys!!!!
Why did you decide to leave Street League?
Leaving Street League was one of the hardest decisions of my life, by far. I was working side by side with two of my favorite people in the world (David Serrano and Daniel Duarte). I think for me it was a personal growth kind of thing. Brian Atlas brought me onto the SLS program when I was 27 years old and I was still very content working in skating. And working for Street League at that point was so sick because it was new and changing so much. It was cool to be there as it got bigger and better. It was just a few of us when I stayed, and when I left I think there was 16 or 17 full time employees?
I had been working in skateboarding doing video stuff for almost 9 years and I think I just felt very stagnant. I wasn’t feeling challenged working in skating and street skating / filming for my new full length (LYSSOPHOBIA) and was just like almost suffocating. Dealing with skate stuff all day at work, and then dealing with filming a full length video... it was almost too much. I liked my job, and I am very thankful that that was something I got to do with my life for a while. I liked my dawgs that I worked with, it was cool that I got to travel to these insane events... but I needed something new.
I had an “mind opening” night out in Joshua Tree on Valentine’s Day with 2 good friends, and that was when I realized that I needed to do something new with my life. I kind of feel like at this point in my life I don’t have to work in skating full time to be a part of it. And maybe I’ll enjoy skating even more now? I still wonder if I made the right move... leaving the skate industry after 9 years, but I truly felt like I needed to roll the dice. It’s the only way to progress and move forward. I got an offer to work in the photography industry and I took it!
This was my first week and I’m excited, scared, and proud of myself for stepping out of the comfort zone and into uncharted waters. I now work at a post-photo agency right next to where I live called Gloss. I work with cool people, at a rad place, and I’ve learned so much this week. My good friend that I grew up with up North and went to college with works there and I’m glad to have a homie in the mix. It’s a small company and I’m the the 6th employee of the place... kind of like when I started at SLS! I’m fucking pumped to be doing something new with myself. It’s liberating.
I want to take this time to thank Brian Atlas, Rob Dyrdek, Daniel Duarte, Mark Johnson, Ryan Ward, Christine Barbara, and David Serrano for the good times over at Street League. I am so very happy to have made all the friendships both within and outside of the company while I was there. I miss the SLS video department already... we goofed off so much with each other. I know that all the people there will carry on and take it to the next level year and year again. Love you all and I shall see you guys all again in the future <3
Do you have anything planned for the future?
For the future...well I plan on getting my hands dirty over at Gloss and learning Photoshop like the G’s that I work with there. It’s going to be hard for a long time I think because I have a lot to learn, but I’m ready for it. That’s the main thing that I’m going to be focusing my professional life on.
“Lyssophobia” is what I focus all my free time on. This is the project I’ve been filming for well... since just before I started over at Street League. It has a rad bunch of people in it. Adam Bertolet, Dirty Villicana (good friend of Clint Walker and myself), Justin Martinez, Daniel Vargas, Eduardo Craig, Dylan Witkin, and Ty Hjortland. I wanted to have the video out by December of last year, but Daniel and Ty were late additions to the video and I gotta put a lot of time and energy into filming with those guys. Ty lives up in San Luis Obispo area and so I have to travel up there a lot to film with him. But him and Daniel skate well together so I try to get them on sessions together up North and down here to film.
It’s been really hard learning to film transition better but working with them has been great. This will be Ty and Daniel’s first real video parts and I have no doubt that people are going to be hyped to see these guys. I think people know what Daniel is about already, but Ty is going to really turn some heads. He’s one of my favorite humans. He’s straight edge, has good morals / views on society, he’s a scrawny little white kid who is basically Spooky Black on a skateboard. I’m warning you all right now...you are not ready for what this kid has to bring to the table. I hope that Lysso can live up to Skate Movie! It’s going to be very different from my last video. Everyone in the video has their own brands of skating, styles, and I am making sure that the soundtrack is pleasing to the ears. I want it to have my kind of flavor / touch, but still represent each guy’s own personalities and tastes. I’ve been spending time roughing things out to just see how some people’s parts are going to look and feel and I like what I’ve mapped out so far. The only thing that is near being fully cut is the intro / title sequence and I fucking LOVE it. I want to carry that momentum into the rest of the video when the time comes... I can’t wait to unleash this project!!!
Other than that, I just shot 35mm and 120mm photos for Brixton with Ty and his sign painting. They’re doing a piece on him, and am picking up the film today so that will hopefully be coming out soon. That’s about it. Get broken into the new job, work on filming Lysso, and also try to stack some footage for that. I got a trick yesterday that I had been wanting to do for years and I couldn’t be more happy! Just going to focus on having fun and kicking it wit the homies. Like everyone should.
My bestfriend and I are starting an online zine type thang that we plan on having some fun with. It’s called PLAGUE(S) and we want to focus on skating, music, and art. My friend Derek used to sing for a band called The Faceless so he has a lot of connects in the hardcore / metal world. The band has a huuuuge following (they’re still together) and so he toured with just about every major band in heavy music…he has a lot of connects in that field. As do I since I used to work with a bunch of bands doing videos back in the day. He’s going to focus on the music side of things, and I will focus on the skate side. We want to do features / interviews with bands inside and outside of the heavy world, and then do stuff with skaters that I know. We both have friends who do tons of really cool stuff art wise too, so that’s another group of friends that we want to put in the spotlight. Just something fun to do! We already have our first 2 interviews… we just have to learn Squarespace. Can’t wait to get PLAGUE(S) rolling! Going to be a nice thing to keep us busy whenever we feel like doing like doing something. No rules!
Photos by Richie Valdez.