Meet Your Neighbor / Winter 2011
Meet Kevin Rucks
In this installment of our “Meet Your Neighbor” series, SLO LIFE Magazine sat down to talk with Kevin Rucks. He is formally a professional skateboarder, who lives in San Luis Obispo with his wife, Jennifer, and their two kids, Drake and Milla. In addition to co-owning and operating Salisbury Vineyards with Jennifer and her parents, John and Maridel Salisbury, Kevin is a freelance artist who owns a small skateboard hardware company, Cannibolts, and is actively learning the art of BMX with his son. Here is his story…
Let’s start from the beginning, Kevin. Give us some background.
My dad was an electrical engineer from Arkansas who worked in the aerospace industry. We bounced around a little bit growing up. We lived next to Cape Canaveral when I was little, so I got to see spaceship launches. Just before I started elementary school, he was transferred to Orange County, where I grew up. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and I have two older sisters. I started skateboarding when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I found out I was pretty good at it and decided to enter some competitions. I was 14 when I got my first sponsor, Santa Cruz Skateboards.
What did your parents have to say about that?
"A strict vegetarian with a burning passion for the toughest, most enjoyable sport in the world, Kevin plans to skate, draw and make the earth a better place to live." THRASHER MAGAZINE, NOV. 1990
At the time, they really didn’t understand what it was all about. I remember once in high school they sat me down to ask if I was doing drugs. I was the lead singer in a punk band and had this huge Mohawk and was really into animal rights and being a vegetarian; I even started a magazine called “Why?” which was all about why we shouldn’t be eating animals. They said, “There are all these random people coming to the house all the time, and you always have cash.” I took them through my bedroom and showed them all my drawers and my closet, which were full of tons of free stuff from my sponsors, companies like Santa Cruz, VANS, Airwalk Shoes, Converse, and Independent. I would sell everything that I didn’t use. That’s where the cash was coming from. They were pretty blown away.
Who were your role models as a kid?
My heroes growing up were Spider-Man, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Evel Knievel. My biggest influence was Evel Knievel because he always said things like “guys will cheat in car racing and use nitrous oxide, and their car will run really fast for a couple of laps then blow up. If you take drugs in life you’ll run really fast for a while, then you’ll fall apart too.” In other words, you can’t cheat the system - there’s no easy way to do it. He had integrity. He’d say that he wanted to live his life “jumping through the air with sunshine on his face.” I remember the first time I saw him say that; it just grabbed me, and I said that’s what I want. I didn’t care about being rich or having a mansion or a yacht, I wanted to be like Evel Knievel, jumping through the air with sunshine on my face because he’s living free and being his own guy and being dangerous. That was cool. That’s not something you could buy or go to college for. You had to earn it. You either did or you didn’t.
Why Spider-Man and The Six Million Dollar Man?
I liked The Six Million Dollar Man because he was always trying to do the right thing and be honest, and he didn’t like guns. Spiderman was the same way but he used sarcasm to put down the bad guys by making these great little wisecracks. When someone would pick on me at school, I would try to do the same thing. I figured out that if I could embarrass somebody for trying to bully me or my friends, then they usually left us alone, and sometimes they’d start buying my artwork.
By the third or fourth grade, kids were buying my artwork… they’d say, “Can you draw me a zombie? I’ll give you a quarter, or you can have my chocolate milk at lunch,” or they’d trade me for something. I never went to school for art, but I ended up doing a lot of skateboard graphics and concert posters for people. Half the time I’d get ripped off and never get paid, but I didn’t care because I loved doing the work.
How did you get into art in the first place?
My grandmother was an artist back in Arkansas. She painted fine china. So when I would go back there to visit, she would teach me all of these really cool techniques using oil paints. I’ll never forget when she taught me how to paint a dragon. She put this blue paint down then used a Q-tip to roll out the scales of the dragon. I was blown away. Then she showed me how to make the teeth by using a toothpick to carve it out. I can still recall the smells of oil paint and those old arts and crafts shops she would take me to.
It sounds like you had fun at Grandma’s house.
On those same visits, I would go to this little comic book shop - the same one my dad went to as a kid. My dad would tell me, “Kevin, you can go in there, but you have to buy something. You can’t just go in to look at everything and leave.” He was very adamant about supporting the store. So, I would walk two miles from my grandmother’s house down to the little town center of El Dorado, Arkansas. I’d spend all day in this comic book shop just soaking it all in. The little old lady there was so nice. She’d let me sit in the middle of the floor with a huge stack of comic books, just flipping through them all day long.
Why didn’t you choose a career in art?
Actually, my friend had an embroidery company down the street from where I grew up. He started asking me to draw things for his customers. For example, he’d get some job with the fire department and he’d say “Kevin, I need for you to draw a Dalmatian with a crooked fireman’s helmet that looks like an old-time Chicago-style gangster.” Then the next day it would be something else. He would call me and say, “I’m meeting with my client in ten minutes - I need you to come over and talk to this guy.” That led to a job with a t-shirt company, where I did a lot of silk-screening.
Why didn’t you stick with it?
Well, one day this lady came up to me and told me that she was putting on these skateboard shows and paid $100 per event. She had this traveling ramp and would go to motorcycle events and promotions at K-Mart parking lots, and sporting event halftime shows, all sorts of stuff. So, I said, “Ok, when’s the first event?” thinking it would be some deal a few months down the road and she said, “I’ve got shows Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday...”
What did you do?
So, I went in the next day and quit the art job. I remember there was this old hippy guy that worked there and never said anything to me, but he just laid into me when I quit. It was an important lesson that I didn’t fully grasp until later, but I learned about the impact that we each make, whether we like the job or not. We all hold value, but I didn’t realize it at the time. I was 18, and I just thought I was sketching out these stupid t-shirts. But, after I was gone for a while, I started thinking about it and started wondering, “Wow, who’s going to do that work now that I’m not there?” I really should’ve given them at least a two-week notice or figured out how to do some work from the road or something.
I was filming a commercial for Mello Yello soda in Hollywood. This guy, H.B. Barnum [a songwriter and record producer], who I had not heard of at the time, had emptied his pool so that we could skate in it for the commercial. It was a great place on Mulholland Drive with a view of downtown Los Angeles. Jennifer had just recently graduated from Cal Poly and was working as an assistant for her brother who is a professional photographer, and she was renting a room in the house next door. Anyway, my friend had parked his truck in front of her driveway, and Jen came over to ask him to move it so she could pull her car out.
This sounds like a true Hollywood love story!
H.B. grabbed her by the hand and walked her over to make the introduction. Let me say, a girlfriend was the last thing in the world I wanted. I was working hard and really focusing on my career. But, as Jen likes to say when she tells this story, she walked next door to “find a skateboard on its side, an empty pool, and her husband’s eyes.” We just clicked right away. Later that day, after we finished filming the commercial, Jen’s landlord was feeling pretty flush because he had received some money for the use of his driveway, so he bought beer for everyone, and the two of us sat on the back of my truck and just talked about things all night like we had known each other forever.
How does Jennifer feel about your skating these days?
She loves it, and I think she wishes I would do more of it, but I‘m pretty busy these days. I can still compete in the Masters Events, which are 40 and over. I’ll be 43 this year. They have this thing called the Old School Skate Jam where they invite all the old pros to get back together. I went to Tony Hawk’s facility in January to skate the Boom Boom Huck Jam Ramp. It was nice to skate with Tony again, and I was able to thank him for supporting the SLO skate park [The Tony Hawk Foundation recently provided a $25,000 grant to help with the development of the skate park in San Luis Obispo]. He said that they are really careful about who they donate to, but that “they were really impressed with SLO.”
How do you keep in shape for skateboarding?
I have a ramp in front of my house now where I mainly do BMX tricks with my son and some of the other neighborhood kids. It’s a lot easier to fly through the air on a bicycle instead of a skateboard, especially now that I’m older. Right now, I’m trying to learn how to do bar spins; that’s where you spin the handle bars completely around while the bike is airborne.
Don’t you ever worry about falling?
That’s one of the things I’ve always appreciated about skateboarding - the humility of it all. You’re always falling down. I mean, there is a lot of failure involved in the sport. I would say that 90% of skateboarding is making mistakes. You are constantly falling. And when you fall, it hurts. You are hitting concrete. The other day I was riding my skateboard with some neighborhood kids, and I tried a new trick and fell. They were really concerned and came running over to me and said, “Oh my gosh, Mr. Rucks, are you okay?” And, I said “Yeah, I’m fine. Why?” And, they said, “We’ve never seen an old man fall like that before.” So I got up and brushed myself off and said, “I fall all the time. That’s how you improve.”
Seeing all of these kids running around the neighborhood must bring back memories.
It really does. I remember my dad coming home from work – I do the same thing now. He would love it when he would come home and see all these kids in the front yard, but then he would get a little annoyed with all the soda cans all over the front lawn and the candy wrappers all over the place. And you’ve got all these random kids in the house. There’s never a dull moment when you have a ramp in your front yard.
What does the future hold?
These are tough times for everybody, but I’m hoping that with this economy and with the way that things are going right now, there’s a lot of potential. I think there’s a big light at the end of the tunnel, a new idea or a new way of doing things that will just be better for everyone. The world is a much smaller place now. I mean, I look at the things my kids know. They’re so much smarter than I ever was. We used to have to go to the library or ask our parents. Now they just “Google it.” When I would ask my dad some crazy question growing up, a lot of times I would stump him, but now when my kids ask me something, I say, “Well, let’s go look.”
Kevin, you have such an interesting story - thanks so much for sharing it.
Not a problem. It was great talking with you.