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Available exclusively at select independent skateboard retailers, Vans Syndicate celebrates the diverse heritage of ideas, attitudes and influences that make up skateboarding’s unique lifestyle.

Interviewed by Rian Pozzebon

It is Syndicate's 10 year anniversary and you started your Syndicate project 10 years ago. Talk with us about who you were then and who you've become? What has changed?
My situation is completely different from then. I have 2 kids with my new wife and there is also the GIP-STORE. But what has not changed is how the person I was 10 years ago, and the person I am now still has the same love towards Vans.

Looking back on the many Syndicate projects, what is your favorite non-WTAPS shoe and why?
Maybe the Jason Jessee?
Because it is simple and shows his lifestyle.

You have been a big influence on the us (Syndicate crew). What, if anything, have you learned from us?
I believe something good was created because that existed.

You have attended every Syndicate event held in California and met many of our Syndicate friends/collaborators like Shawn Stussy, Wes Humptston, Mister Cartoon, Andy Kessler, Eric Dressen, the list goes on… Who stood out the most and why?
TG. He is also the skateboarder I looked up to the most since I was a teenager.

Outside of designing, we know that music is important to you, what 5 songs do you feel would best represent Syndicate?


Our mutual friend Kun (Kunichi Nomura) once interviewed us and asked a question that has challenged me ever since... I am curious to know how you would answer it: What one word represents Vans Syndicate for you and why?

A crew that was raised with VANS, having a skate mentality, and still continues to carry that out.

029.170 / WTAPS

STYLE: Authentic “S”
COLOR: (Wtaps) Yellow


Interviewed by Patrick O’Dell

Sorry I missed your call, I was just on my motorcycle.

Where were you riding to?
I had to go into the city to grab some motorcycle hardware, and I heard a John Prine song today and I had to have it, so stopped by this little record shop in Oakland on the way home. Its hard to find his records on vinyl, the guy told me ‘i don’t have the record here, but I have two at home and I’ll hook you up with it if you come in tomorrow’

You didn’t try to find it online?
No, I’m just trying to avoid that shit right now. I’m trying to do a little bit more ‘made in America’ even though its impossible, and a little less E-Bay or Amazon. The extra 10 bucks you spend just seems so worth it.

Well, I’m calling to ask about the new edition of your Vans Syndicate shoe, but let me first ask you if you remember your first skate shoes ever? How you first got skate shoes as opposed to random other shoes?
Yeah, its weird, cause I don’t ever remember a time without Vans… as perfect as that is for me to say to you right now… I’ve seen photos of myself in the navy-blue boat shoes (Authentics) before I skated. We wore hand-me-downs, and shoes were a pretty big deal, and that being said, I really cared what shoes I had. Early on when I started skating, I saw a dude skating in Hawaiian print Vans slip-ons, and I had to have ‘em. My dad found where they sold them, it was a few towns away. At the time I wore a 5.5 and all they had was 7.5.

I convinced him that they fit, I remember showing up at a kid party and instantly everyone noticed that my shoes were too big for my feet. But… they were the really sick Hawaiian print Vans from way back, that must have been 1983.

Since the beginning it was Vans, then the red checkerboard high-tops. I did the custom order that they used to have in the back of magazines. It said 8-12 weeks, and it took months and months and months… waiting for the UPS dude to come. I did a pretty wild pair, checkerboard on the outside, Hawaiian on the inside, red tongue on one, blue tongue on the other, they were nuts but they were so cool.

All the stuff you are mentioning is all stuff that Vans has brought back, that skaters wear now… the Hawaiian print and custom orders. But for a long time those shoes were hard to get. Did you ever have the lace-savers?
That’s embarrassing dude, not only the lace-saver that came with the shoes but i’d lace in an extra one to the front of the checkerboard Vans.

Its funny we are talking about it, because I just went to NY for that bike show there, and was having a full shoe crisis, cause I wanted to skate a bit, but I wanted my shoes to look right. And none of the shoes I had were right so went to the local college kid store and bought some navy Vans boat shoes (Authentics)… the navy blue and white ones, cause those always look so good. I shoe-goo’d the ollie area, cause I knew I was going to skate in Brooklyn…. and still I look down and remember the smell of the first box.

Any other weird shoe trends?
Cutting down full-cabs to half-cabs was pretty big in my day. Rick Howard was the first one I saw do that, and I was like ‘that dude is a fucking genius, that looks sick.’ I always thought the Half-cab could have been Rick Howard’s pro-shoe as well.

You ended up skating for Vans?
I did, off and on. Being a vert skater, you are already back against the wall, we travel with knee pads, and if you have some lame ass shoe on, its even worse, pointing out the herpes sore. In that first Real video I even said “I’m working on being marketable,” cause they had told me “we want you to ride for Real, and we want you to go far, but the reason James Kelch’s board sells is cause he looks cool and he’s a figure at EMB, and on top of everything he’s marketable” And I remember leaving the office and thinking ‘that fucking sucked, that conversation was fucked up,’ and basically they were saying, ‘don’t be a vert goon.’

Were there things you needed different for your shoes as a vert skater than a street skater?
You know what, I didn’t think so, I remember thinking whatever shoes my peers were wearing, like Mike Carroll’s Chukka Boots look sick. I think its all the same, I still skate in Era’s or Classics. I still wear low tops on vert. But because I was around Jake Phelps, who was wearing bigger shoes, I thought you needed hi-tops on vert, but then I realized, it didn’t matter, you were going to get fucked up either way. And I just want to feel my board most of all. I have been skating in Vans Era’s, I had 40 pairs that Vans sent me… but I ran out the other day and was skating some poka-dot Dollins. They were a pro series with a removable insole, which I hadn’t had in awhile, and I skated in them and it was one of the best sessions of my life. I’m sure it didn’t have just to do with the shoes, but I could still feel the board. So, I might be skating those for awhile.

What about the shoe for Syndicate? Did you have a lot of things you wanted to incorporate?
Yeah, without a doubt. I was working with that dude Jon, who is a designer. I don’t know if he’s still there, he writes for Hypebeast as well. And he came to the house with a sketchbook, and we sat there and sketched this shoe out… I’m sure you don’t know this, but I’ve been skating everyday lately, and I’ve been filming… but 10 years ago, I was so wrapped up in the motorcycle thing, and it was at the beginning of it becoming fashionable, and I remember asking “is this for skating or bike stuff?” and they said “it doesn’t have to be skating, if you want to make it functional for your motorcycle then do that.” So that is where I went with that. At the time I hadn’t seen the Mountain design in forever, and I said ‘that Mountain shoe is rad for your bike, cause right where your shifter goes, there’s that little lace saver.’ And I wanted the inside tire, its like an asymmetrical shoe, the inside is a higher high-top then the outside, I was like ‘the motor gets hot and it will protect your ankles.’ We tried to get that silver flame proof material, but it was too expensive. It has that little brass bolt on it, cause all my 4Q bikes have that brass hardware. There was a shit load of input actually on the high top of that shoe.

And this year we are doing an all black version, which is something I wanted originally, but it didn’t make sense at the time because it didn’t work with the red and white ones as a set. Its kind of cool that its going to be all black, because I still have an all black sample at the time Jon was like “this all black one is so rad, but then it would mean the red one would have to be all red and that would be too loud.” I wanted the red and white one because of Oakland and the H.A. and I thought it would be cool.

And you changed the logo from the mountain to the bridge?
Well, a lot of people think its the bridge, but its actually the crane, one of those Oakland ship yard cranes.

And the insole is a gas tank?
That’s right, it has fish scale on the inside? I was way into painting those at the time.

And the box looked like a box for motorcycle parts?
Yeah, I actually gave them a box for an old Harley part that had mildew on it. It actually had a spark plug in it from the 60’s… and I remember getting the sample with the box and just thought it was out of sight, I remember being so stoked on just the box. Some people even thought there was really mildew on the box. I have twenty here and when they are stacked it looks sick. Part of the deal was when we did the shoe, I got quite a bit of them to give to my friends and skate them over time, and they look pretty neat stacked up.

Its cool you got to have that much input in the shoe. Sometimes its just a color-way and thats it.
Well, as I was saying, I’m kind of a vert skater, and not marketable, so when they came to me it was shocking that I spent so many nights thinking about it, and when they finally came to me, I had all these ideas. And I think that surprised them. I was getting some recognition in Japanese bike magazines, and I think they just were like “let’s pour everything into this one and let this geek go off with it.” It had a killer box, and cool bag, and motorcycle grips. It was high-top, low-top and two colors. And at the time they told me it sold better than any other Syndicate shoe, and I think so much of it had to do with that they put the extra buck into it. They did say they weren’t going to make a dollar on it, but it was a cool project. I was really shocked how much they agreed to do.

029.170 / MAX SCHAAF

STYLE: Mountain Edition 4Q “S”
COLOR: (Max Schaaf) Black/Black


Written by Tony Farmer

Nothing beats an untimely death in securing one Legend status. Suddenly you’re larger than you ever were in real life, everyone is your tight bro from way back when, and no one speaks a negative word. Was Kess truly a legend? The godfather of skateboarding in New York City? Maybe, maybe not. Reality most likely lies somewhere in the margins. Doesn’t really matter. What matters is what he did and how he did it. These are the things I can speak to.

Kessler paid his dues. He cheated death on more than a few occasions. Coming out the other end, he made it a mission to give back. Or, when necessary, to take back. He guided many a soul through the trials of recovery from substance abuse. He raised hell at board meetings and got skate parks built in a city devoid of them. He mentored kids, and busted people’s balls. He was beloved, and despised. He knew EVERYONE. He was my friend, and miss him every damn day.

I don’t pretend to know his whole story. I’d like to think that no one does. He ran in a lot of different circles, overlapping and intersecting and binding otherwise dissimilar people together in the process. He was a skater, foremost. What else? A junkie, miscreant, hell raiser, pool shark, Zappa fan, shit talker, sponsor, goon in Guatemalan pants, surfer, brother, adopted son, angry Greek bastard, perv, sticker collector, Thrasher cover star and kite flying enthusiast.

I don’t know all his stories. But I’ve got a personal cache that I cherish, moments that come and go in my head as I wander the streets of this great city.

If there be an underlying theme to Kess’ tale, it would be one of perseverance. The myriad stories that I am privy to, from the minor ones I experienced firsthand to the ever-growing legends spun by word of mouth, are all sewn together by the common threads of survival and dedication. From minor political victories to life changing influences, his stories run the gamut.

Kess spent countless hours in board meetings fighting to get skate parks built in New York City. I’ve been to a couple of these, and they are brutal. Both mind numbingly boring and exasperatingly frustrating given the layer upon layer of red tape and bureaucratic bullshit. I can’t stomach them, but Kess would never let up. He bashed his thick skull against the wall of the Parks Department for years on end, and he got shit done. They might not be the best parks in the country, but they were progress, and the momentum he helped to create has delivered us unto spots like Chelsea Piers. It’s a damn shame he never got to ride a prope