Karl Watson and his big-ass smile have been a staple of Bay Area skateboarding for years. We first became fans after Mad Circle's 1995 classic 5ive Flavors, a short but sweet video in which Watson showed us some of the ledge wizardry that he would become known for in later years.
Watson's trick selection stands out as uniquely his own, and some of his ledge combos like front nose frontside 270 out have foreshadowed the impossibly awkward pretzel manipulations of the Suiciu Era we are in now. But Watson never looks awkward - his skating flows and the line-to-single-trick ratio in his video parts is something that this younger generation of stuntmen should take note of.
This is The Karl Watson Interview
Let’s start out with a favorite of ours... Do you remember your first board?
Yes, it was a green Zorlac board with white Tracker trucks. I loved that thing!
How is skating in the City these days? Where do you typically find yourself?
Skating in SF will always be awesome. I usually find myself thrashing some of my old school spots like Fort Miley or just skating some avenues hills. That's where I find joy on my board.
Who do you skate with most often now?
Locals or teammates.
What is your favorite SF spot, past or present?
EMB was the best spot I've ever skated. There was everything a young man at the time could dream of and it was always packed with skaters and all sorts of interesting people. Big thanks to the architects who designed Justin Herman Plaza AKA EMB.
What’s your favorite East Bay spot?
I enjoy skating the East Oakland plaza. That park is fun.
Do you still live in Richmond? Or have you “upgraded” to Point Richmond?
Haha! I no longer live in Richmond. I moved back to my hometown, Oakland Ca. And, yes, it is an upgrade.
FTC's skate team riders at Wallenberg in 1994 | Photo: Bryce Kanights
"That was a pivotal moment in my life and without that occurrence I'm sure I would not have discovered EMB."
Do you still run the “Hood Games”?
Keith "Kdub" Williams runs the Hood Games, I've just worked with him over the years. But as my focus shifts more and more to the business of Organika Skateboards, I find myself being less involved.
Do any of your kids skate? Any aspirations of pro status for them?
All 3 of my sons skate but mostly for fun. I don't recommend they follow the same path I've gone down. It's a tough industry that can be very brutal at times.
If Nick Lockman didn’t call you over to his house that fateful day in SF, would you still have found your way to EMB?
That was a pivotal moment in my life and without that occurrence I'm sure I would not have discovered EMB. And if I did I probably would have had a rough time without Nick Lockman and Sam Smyth vouching or me.
What are some of your favorite EMB stories?
One day in the late 90s when the empire was being taken down by SFPD, we were all skating and having a good time when out of nowhere we saw cops enter EMB from every possible direction. There was only one way to go and that was to jump over the wave and cross a busy street. There were at least 30 police men in full SWAT gear and they meant business. Us skating there had become a huge problem and the city wanted us out. As we all frantically made our escape, some were captured and some got away. I was one of the lucky one who got away. After that day SFPD seemed to have a stronghold on our spot. There would be a car parked there everyday and if you even walked by with your board you'd get ticketed.
Click To Watch Karl Watson in Mad Circle's "5ive Flavors"
"I enjoyed learning the nose manny nollie 360 out there. Most def still one of my favorite tricks today."
How exactly did Nick and Sam Smyth hook you up with Dogtown?
Nick and Sam didn't hook me up but being apart of the EMB crew, which they introduced me to, really helped. Wow! That was back in 89, you're bringing me way back with these questions. HAHA!
What Pier 7 manny trick of yours is a personal favorite?
I enjoyed learning the nose manny nollie 360 out there. Most def still one of my favorite tricks today.
Your noseslide 270 on Hubba gets our vote for most underrated Hubba trick... What other tricks have you seen gone down there that you really dug?
Well thank you! My personal favorite was when I witnessed Eric Koston do the backside nose blunt slide down it. He was so amazing to watch and he did it with ease. It looked as if he was just doing a frontside nose slide on the top of it, that's how good he locked into it.
What is your favorite part from Mad Circle’s Five Flavors?
Mr. Rob Welsh's part was my personal favorite.
What happened with Ipath? Do you still have a relationship with them?
IPath was a great company back in the day and the team was truly a family. But everything changed once they were acquired by Timberland. In the beginning there was talk of IPath fully merging with their brand and us having full access to all of the perks that came along with it. They even said we'd be able to use their private jets for touring. But none of that never happened. Since the leadership was compromised they brought in their own people, and when that happened things took a turn for the worse. I still talk to the new owner often actually, I think he's a rad dude. He just doesn't have the capacity to understand our world of skateboarding.
Click to watch Karl Watson's Lost Footage from World Industries "Love Child" (2:57 mark)
"Those were the days... only 16 and was actually getting paid to skate."
What’s up with Praxis?
I was approached by the old head of sales over at Ipath to be a part of Praxis. Things looked very promising at first. I was given part ownership for being a part of it and for taking the risk. To make a long story short, they ended up using me to launch the brand and lied about stuff. Shortly after, I quit due to their lack of integrity. Now they're out of business.
Tell us about your time riding for World Industries making $100 a month.
Those were the days. I was only 16 and was actually getting paid to skate. Although it was only $100 per month it was still a lot of money to me back then. They were the first company to start paying me.
When we think of World, things like the warehouse skatepark in LA and lines in Santa Monica come to mind. Was it different for guys like you and Lavar McBride being up in the city?
Well, for Lavar things were very different. He was a super star of the day and got the royal treatment, which he deserved. I on the other hand, was kind of in the shadows being up in the Bay. But when I spent time in LA, either staying at Rodney's house or the World warehouse, I had the best time. Rocco was the coolest dude at the time. He would take us shopping and would often hold little contest for us. He always had a wallet full of 100 dollar bills and was eager to have us vie for some of his cash. This one time he brought a box of oranges to the warehouse and called us all outside. He said "the first one to hit the billboard overhead gets one hundred bucks" we all tried but Daewon was the victor.
The Dungeon… What are some of your best / worst memories there? Do you feel like struggling is an important part of growing up?
Yes struggling is an important part of the growing process. The Dungeon was a fun place indeed; It was full of skaters who liked to have a good time. But there was only 3 bedrooms and 9 skaters lived there. So crowded is an understatement. But that was the only con, the rest of my experiences there were super fun.
Click to watch Karl Watson in Kayo Corp's "It's Official"
"I have love for the dudes at LRG but my family is at KAYO."
Did you have a signature tag back in your graffiti days?
Yep. Tens one IBC 640
Have you ever met Theotis Beasley? Do you think he is trying to compete with you for biggest smile?
I have! I love the dude. And he most definitely wins for biggest smile.
As a vegan do you take a lot of supplements?
I do take supplements but I have a hard time taking them consistently. Was a vegan for quite some time, now I eat more of a pescatarian diet.
We heard you weren’t stoked on the name Organika at first and weren’t trying to start a ‘peaceful’ brand… Why? Looking back are you glad you chose that name over “Altered”?
You're right. At first I felt the name didn't fit my vision but after talking to my partner, Troy, I understood his point and agreed to make a company based off my actual lifestyle. I think we made a good decision.
What has been your most stressful moment as a company owner?
Not too many stressful moments, Kayo runs pretty smooth.
Click to watch Karl Watson for Organika
"It was just time for me to fly my own flag and make Organika as tight as possible."
In addition to being co-owner are you still the team manager?
Yes, but we'll be hiring someone for that position soon.
Any brands you’d like to collaborate with on a limited release? FTC? DGK?
There are things in the works : )
Did the decision to leave LRG have anything to do with starting the Organika clothing line? Like was it just too big a conflict of interest?
It was just time for me to fly my own flag and make Organika as tight as possible. I have love for the dudes at LRG but my family is at KAYO.
Karl Watson & Stephen Williams posted at The Dungeon
"The Dungeon was a fun place indeed... But there was only 3 bedrooms and 9 skaters lived there. So crowded is an understatement."
Would you ever do an LRG x Organika release?
We've done collaborations in the past. But, yeah I'd entertain the idea as I'm still tight with the owner and Tyrone (LRG TM)
What is your favorite section of The FTC Book? Were there any surprises?
The whole book is my favorite. And no surprises aside from how good it came out.
What does 2014 hold for Karl Watson and the Organika crew?
Growth. Keep a lookout for some new additions to the team.