1. Give Good Interview
Everyone was stoked. A reporter from Big Brother had called the house and said he wanted to interview Corey. Said he wanted to devote two pages to the kid wonder from Walnut Creek.
Finally, Corey thought. They’d noticed.
Corey Duffel had been waiting for this moment for six years. At age ten, he’d begged his mother, Sharon, to buy him a skateboard for his birthday. When the day arrived, Sharon and Corey filed into the family minivan and drove to the Ooga Booga skate shop in nearby Concord. Corey picked out the Wade Speyer pro model, which was just about as long as Corey was tall.
By the time they had returned home, the boy was lost in the skateboard and everything that went with it. He’d always been a terrific athlete all over their tidy suburb: track star, All-Star Little Leaguer, All-County swimmer. And he was a playful little ham, too — not just for the family, but for everyone. He’d say anything for a laugh, do anything for a moment’s notice. Turned out the skateboard fit Corey well.
Tricks out on the front curb — which he’d slick down with gobs of wax — begat tricks on metal benches at parks. Tricks on the small wooden quarter-pipe in the driveway begat tricks on the large half-pipes out in the backyard. One summer, Corey’s dad, Steve, built a half-pipe just behind the swimming pool. All three Duffel boys rode the thing dawn till dusk, back and forth, back and forth, but Corey, the middle brother, skated faster, grinded longer, soared higher.
When rainy days turned the ramp into a swamp, Corey stayed indoors, studying skate videos and the professionals who were glorified in them. Corey watched the pros olley themselves high up into the air and come spinning back down to earth. He memorized their foot placement, board movement, weight distribution. He read their interviews in the sport’s best magazines: Thrasher, TransWorld, Big Brother. “We looked through our Thrashers and wanted to be just like the professional skaters we saw,” he says.
At just age thirteen, he landed his first sponsor, Think Skateboards of San Francisco. Corey’s older brother, Stephen, used the camcorder to help make his “sponsor-me tape.” When Corey brought the tape to a big skate contest, approached Think owner Greg Carroll, and handed it over, Carroll was impressed by the kid’s moxie. “He was this little white boy from the suburbs,” Carroll remember. “The All-American type, for sure, as in the Brady Bunch-type of kid.”
But then Corey turned sixteen, becoming more punk rock and less Walnut Creek. He dyed his hair black. Cut up some T-shirts. Pierced his nose. Bought his first black leather jacket.
Corey’s new identity didn’t jibe with that of his sponsor, and Carroll complained that Corey’s attitude was headed for the gutter, too. Corey was an ambitious amateur who’d picked up a handful of other product sponsors — Hurley clothing, Arnett sunglasses, Emerica shoes — and was anxious to turn pro. But Carroll said the kid no longer fit Think’s polished image, so Carroll dropped Corey from the team: “I told his mom, ‘Be careful who your kid’s idols are. He’s looking up to the wrong people.’ “
So when Big Brother called the house last summer, Corey was ready. If he wanted to catch a new sponsor’s eye and turn pro, he needed to score big coverage in a big magazine. The family was ready, too. “Corey was walking around the house, saying ‘I gotta figure out something to say that will be funny,’ ” recalls Sharon, Corey’s mom. “I said, ‘Corey, you don’t have to think up anything funny to say. It’s Big Brother. They’re going to print what they want.’ “
Even Sharon Duffel knew of Big Brother‘s sketchy reputation. Where Thrasher provides credible, albeit fawning coverage of its subjects, and TransWorld is a straight-up Teen-17 gush-o-rama, then Big Brother is the industry’s National Enquirer. Larry Flynt — yes, that Larry Flynt — publishes the rag. The name of Big Brother‘s game is Embarrassment.
The phone interview was recorded by managing editor Chris Nieratko. After a few get-to-know-you pleasantries, Nieratko cut to the quick and asked Corey if the rumor was true: was Corey a fag?
The dis was aimed at Corey’s appearance. Long and skinny, Corey isn’t often confused with the high school quarterback. Also, since a speech impediment rounds his R’s into W’s, Corey’s voice sounds playfully childish. And, with Corey’s dress code a walking tribute to Dee Dee Ramone, Nieratko pegged Corey for a pansy. The interviewer stretched his logic one step further and asked Corey if his girlfriend ever felt like a lesbian, since she was dating a girly-man.
Corey laughed and thought about what to say. And then he said, “Well, we were sitting in Wendy’s once, and some nigger comes up to us, like, ‘Hey, lesbians, get down on your knees and give me some blow jobs right now.’ That’s the only time she has ever felt like a lesbian. He was some trashy nigger like [pro skater] Stevie Williams, like gold fronts, like sketchy, and had a pistol in his pocket, so I pretty much had to listen to whatever he said, like you don’t want to talk back to him, so that’s the only time she probably felt like a lesbian.”
Finally. They’d noticed.
2. Give Better Interview
Located at the end of a cul-de-sac in Walnut Creek, the Duffel home looks like a mirror image of the one directly next to it: a rectangular green lawn, a big tree, a driveway, an American flag. The Duffel home is distinctive, though, for the six-foot long metal rail at the curb, built for board slides. And Corey’s car, a 1984 white four-door Oldsmobile with a skull and crossbones on the front license plate and skate stickers everywhere else, also upsets the suburban symmetry.
One sunny afternoon last month, Corey answered the front door with a friendly seventeen-year-old’s smile, wearing a black leather jacket, tight jeans, and chain-lock necklace. He was home on a weekday because unexcused absences at Las Lomas High School had finally caught up with him. If Corey wanted to graduate in June with the rest of his peers, administrators told him he’d have to do it through independent study.
Over his jacket, a navy blue sling kept Corey’s arm tucked by his side. He’d recently broken his collarbone in a skateboarding-related incident, the kind that most high-school skaters are all too familiar with. Corey and a few friends were skating at school when Corey’s board shot loose. A wrestling coach picked up Corey’s deck, and the two engaged in a quick game of tug-o-war, which ended on the ground. Corey is 6 feet tall and 132 pounds: when he hit the concrete, the collarbone between his neck and left shoulder folded like a taco, then snapped. Corey wouldn’t be able to skate for at least two weeks, or until he could raise his arms above his shoulders for balance. By Corey’s estimate, he’s broken eighteen bones so far, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. “Look at this,” he said, admiring the nub of a bone poking out from beneath the skin.
It’s been a rough year for Corey Duffel. After his Big Brother interview hit the streets and then played on the magazine’s Web site, most of Corey’s sponsors ditched him. Ricta Wheels and Nike’s newly purchased Hurley Clothing division were the first to go. Others soon followed, when African-American riders protested sharing a brand with their sport’s budding John Rocker. Even though Corey no longer rode for Think Skateboards, he still was on Venture Trucks, another of Greg Carroll’s product companies. “I dropped him from Venture right away,” Carroll says. “I wanted nothing to do with the kid, or anything he was about.”
Since skateboarders aren’t governed by any official organization, there was no “punishment” for Corey in the way of fines or suspensions. Instead, rabid skate fans, mostly suburban male teenagers, flooded the fan-based bulletin boards on the Internet to weigh in on their new villain. Most of the dialogue was limited to reactionary teenage angst. But some kids warned Corey not to appear at contests or risk catching a deck-slapping to the face. Others flat-out threatened to kill him. “Don’t come to Philly,” one fan wrote. “We got Stevie’s back.”
For weeks, the message boards crucified Sharon Duffel’s son. When she and her husband read Corey’s interview, they cried. “We didn’t raise Corey to talk like that,” she says. And when she logged on to read what the kids now had to say about her son, she felt awful. “There were times when I wanted to lash out on people. I’d read the things kids were saying on these boards and I would get so angry, because they were saying things that weren’t true about Corey and our family. For a mother, it was very saddening.”
Saddening as it was for the Duffels, the incident followed a traditional arc, one that’s more recognizable in other American sports: athlete says something racially insensitive, media swoons, sponsors back off, apology follows. But in skateboarding, the athletes can’t be told to sit down for five games. Skateboard superstars are indeed athletes, yet they also are rock stars. Controversy, of any scent, typically smells sweet.
Thrasher offered Corey a mea culpa interview on its Web site and billed it an “exclusive.” In it, Corey regretted using a “derogatory word,” and insisted that neither he nor his family were racist. He wasn’t raised that way, he said. He took responsibility for his comments, if only temporarily, then said he felt like a pawn in Big Brother‘s strategy to sell more magazines. They’d double-crossed him, Corey said.
Still, Corey pledged in the new interview, “It’s going to be a tough hole to get out of, but I want to get out of it fast. I’m going to try to get a lot of coverage and speak out. By doing this, others who don’t know me might realize I’m not as bad as they think. I want to gain some respect back.”
It took a good six months for things to cool down. But when they did, several new sponsors came shopping for Corey Duffel.
3. Call Some Photographers
Sharon Duffel used to be a soccer mom; now she’s a skater mom. “We used to fill up the car and take all the neighborhood kids to games. When Corey got into skating, we did the same thing: loaded the car up with a bunch of kids, but we just went to skate parks.” Little did Duffel know that her son would become one of the celebrities in what has become the country’s predominant sport for kids.
Skateboarding is arguably bigger now than baseball. According to a survey prepared last summer by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, “More Americans rode skateboards last year than played baseball” — which is a remarkable claim at first glance, but not unbelievable. The International Association of Skateboard Companies estimates that 16 million skaters roll around the United States, and that nearly a third of those, 5 million, live in California. Since 1997, 800 skate parks have opened up nationwide. And last year, the skateboard industry — and all the products related to it — generated $1.4 billion in sales.
Like all sports, it’s the superhuman talents of the top pros that excite the marketing machine. After Tiger Woods walked his way through a string of tournament victories, Big Bertha golf clubs found their way into the hands of duffers all across the country. Likewise, after pro skaters Mark Gonzales and Natus Kappas mind-blowingly olleyed up to a handrail and slid down a staircase on the same day a decade ago, skateboards began flying out of skate shops. The sport left its steel-wheel days far behind.
But, unlike golf, skateboarding’s biggest stars today aren’t necessarily the ones with the most talent or the best score. Skaters maneuver within a sport in which doing well in competition is only half the battle. The other half, and the increasingly more important half, is projecting a marketable personality that translates into product sales.
“Skateboarders work like independent contractors who are responsible for marketing themselves,” says Justin Regan, team manager for Emerica, one of the industry’s top five shoe companies. “They’re in control of making their image into a marketable commodity — a commodity that a company can use to sell whatever: boards, shirts, shoes.”
For Corey, crafting an image on wheels began the day he handed his sponsor-me tape to Think’s Greg Carroll. The industry was hungry for younger stars, Carroll says, and Corey’s fearless style, coupled with his youth, hit the mark. As his sponsor, Carroll put Corey on his “flow team” and started flowing him free skateboard gear prominently branded with Think’s logos.
From there, it was up to Corey to hound photographers and skate journalists to arrange photo shoots and interviews. If Corey appeared in a magazine photo wearing a Think T-shirt, then he was paid a “photo incentive” fee of $100. The cycle is self-fulfilling: the more appearances Corey makes in the magazines, the greater demand for his image from fans. Corey has a natural aptitude for this skill.
“A lot of ams expect the photographers to call them up, and I’m just the opposite,” Corey says. “I want to work with them. And they like that.” Carroll’s early endorsement opened doors for Corey, one he’s still well aware of: “When I called photographers up, it was like, ‘He’s Greg’s kid. Give him the time of day.’ “
Corey hit the first bump in his young, rocky career two years ago. Carroll took Corey and other amateurs to a contest in Tampa, Florida, to compete and gain exposure. Corey showed up sporting his new punk look, wearing torn-up skintight jeans and a T-shirt that read, “Who the fuck is Jim Grecko?”
Jim Grecko is a pro skater who rides for Baker Boards — the anti-Think team. Baker’s team shtick is one of hard-core punkers who canonize Sid Vicious, drink hard, and skate recklessly. They’ve nicknamed themselves the “Piss Drunx.” Corey’s on-the-surface punk rock appearance had some skaters and Internet fans making easy comparisons. A few snickered that Corey was nibbling on Grecko’s style. The T-shirt gimmick made Corey and his friends laugh, though; it rang of self-mockery. But the stunt peeved Carroll.
“Obviously this kid didn’t want to be with us,” Carroll says. At the competition, Carroll asked Andrew Reynolds, Baker’s team manager, if he wanted Corey to ride for his team. Reynolds agreed, and an arrangement was made. Carroll returned from Florida relieved, and Corey was happy to roll with the industry’s rebel outfit.
Two days later, Reynolds called Corey at home and revoked the offer. According to Corey, his new image was too similar to that of Grecko, who already had established himself as Baker’s house Ramone. “He thought the kids would start liking me over him,” Corey says.
Left high and dry without a board sponsor, Corey went back to working the phones and cultivating interviews. He got one with Big Brother.
4. Avoid Stevie Williams
After Corey’s Thrasher apology appeared, he was technically off the hook — he’d done the public apology thing and he’d vowed to be a better person for it. Sharon sat down with Corey and fished around for some answers. “We shed a lot of tears over what Corey said,” Sharon says, still not sure what motivated her son. “Corey thought he’d go for it, and I don’t know why he said what he said, other than he was an immature sixteen-year-old kid who didn’t realize what he was saying or how many people would read it.”
Sharon eventually wrote a letter to Big Brother, apologizing on behalf of Corey and her family to anyone who took offense. “But Corey asked me not to send it.” So she didn’t.
The following issue of Big Brother was themed “Rebuttals!” and wrapped an entire edition around pro skater Stevie Williams’ response to Corey.
To understand what Williams’ response meant, imagine Barry Bonds acknowledging the trash talk from a single-A left-fielder down in San Jose. On the commercial totem pole of skating, Stevie Williams is perched at the top — he’s got the high-end sponsors, a video game, the coveted shoe contract, and earns, according to the best estimates of industry wonks, about $500,000 a year. Williams’ image is couched in hip-hop; he wears balloon pants, a baseball cap worn sideways, and platinum and diamond chains. In short, the whole bling-bling.
In his interview, Williams dismissed Corey for a fool, questioned his upbringing, and then issued a sort of skateboarding fatwa. “Corey, don’t be afraid of me, just be afraid of my soldiers who got my back. I’m not going to touch you. I don’t like you, but I’m not going to touch you.”
Williams concluded by asking Corey to stay away. “If you see me, Corey, don’t come up to me to apologize.”
5. Call Stevie Williams
Corey called Stevie Williams anyway. The kid wanted to make things right. He called Williams’ shoe company, DC, and his deck sponsor, Chocolate, but heard nothing back. (Williams also didn’t respond to interview requests for this article.)
At skater gatherings that followed, an uncomfortable cloud of anticipation surrounded Corey. Friends teased him to keep his head up and just take the beating when it came. Corey says minority skaters who took offense at his comments have approached him and the conversations always have ended in a deep apology and a handshake.
“I don’t know why I said it,” Corey says now. “My brain wasn’t working that day. I was just saying anything, trying to go along with the Big Brother interview, thinking I was being funny. I was just so excited to have an interview at that time.”
Corey’s friends and family members believed the Big Brother interview had exposed not his racism, but his ambition.
“I read right through it,” says Ed Templeton, owner of Toy Machine skateboards, who’s known Corey for a few years. “He paints himself in corners with his mouth all the time. He’ll say anything, and not really consider the consequences of what he’s saying. The things he said were brash and definitely offensive, but anyone who knew Corey knew what he was really doing.”
Friends such as Templeton say that contrary to Corey’s exterior, he’s never so much as taken a puff of a cigarette or tasted a drop of alcohol. He’s also a practicing Mormon. “He goes to church with us whenever he’s in town,” beams Sharon.
Justin Regan, team manager for Emerica shoes, one of the sponsors who stuck with Corey, was forced to make a decision based on friendship and business.
“He wasn’t dropped from the team because of my relationship with him,” Regan says. “I have faith that hopefully Corey can turn this around, and somehow, eventually, set a good example through his mistake. That’s why I still flow him shoes. He’s not the monster that comes across through reading that interview. He’s an irresponsible and immature little brat, but he’s not that monster.”
Even the fans on the message boards smelled a ruse. “Corey is a nice person and a good friend,” wrote Slap Pal. “But he will say dumb shit to make his punk rock image more believable. Corey said racist remarks and other stuff because he is a sixteen-year-old who does not know any better.”
6. Give Good Photo
Driving around Walnut Creek, looking to skate despite his broken collarbone, Corey pulls his car into a parking garage to meet up with some friends who still have to go to school. Steve, whom Corey calls “Stiv” in honor of a legendary member of the seminal punk band the Dead Boys, gets in the car, and they head for the smooth tennis courts at the tony Rudgear Estates. Corey asks Stiv what he’s been missing at school.
Stiv reports two things. One, the boy who is rumored to be gay is said to give his father’s boyfriend blow jobs after school.
“That’s not true!” Corey yells. “Shut up!”
“It’s totally true!” Stiv says, not even convincing himself. “He’s a meth freak, too.”
The second item: a few people got drunk in a friend’s car before school. Corey takes the news as a so-what item.
At the tennis courts, a few other kids are flipping boards and olleying up to knee-high park benches. Corey opens his trunk, a jumbled bin of random skateboard parts and gag clothing from the Halloween superstore he once worked at: wooden decks, black spike wigs, oversized sunglasses, skate sneakers, cowboy boots. And one fake gun, which Corey playfully puts to Stiv’s head.
After Corey slips into skate shoes and puts on a baseball cap, he skates toward the other boys on the court, and a little scrub in a watermelon-sized helmet, about ten years old, runs to the fence and points. “Look, there’s Corey!”
When Corey was his admirer’s age, skating was nothing but a euphoric rush. Every move brought pleasure; every summer night spent grinding curbs and olleying fire hydrants was a day in heaven. Corey skated first with his neighbors, but realized quickly that falling down just didn’t seem to hurt him as much as it hurt the other kids. Without having to worry about pain, it made stunts less of a mental obstacle.
As he grew older, the tricks only got gnarlier and more dangerous, and the friends he rode with spread out to include the Bay Area’s best riders. These days, popular skateboarding is generally divided into two camps: those who ride handrails, and those who don’t. Riding handrails is the stuff of Evel Knievel. A one-inch miscalculation can send a skater tumbling into a spectacular face-plant down a cement staircase. But, as one skate mag puts it, “rails get the chicks.”
And Corey Duffel rides rails. Big ones.
Take a look at a public staircase leading up to any building, and see if the handrails are scratched up or slicked down. If they are, skaters have been there. Now count the stairs beneath the rail. The more stairs there are, the more dangerous the ride. Skate fans who are obsessed with rails count steps like anxious accountants. More than ten is huge. More than fifteen, godlike.
Corey has successfully taken on an eighteen-stair rail.
“I do get afraid, sure,” Corey says. “But I think I just hide it more. I get scared; I won’t want to think about things going wrong. But when I’m driving up to the spot, I just put on some music and get a song stuck in my head. I don’t think about all the bad stuff that can happen because when you do, it usually does happen. I just think about making the trick, and how cool it’s going to be when I land it.”
Last St. Patrick’s Day, things weren’t so cool. Corey was in Santa Rosa, and he agreed to go out with a photographer and videographer to a twenty-stair rail. The rail was gorgeous. It was easy to ride up to and had a nice landing area — which is supremely important when riding rails. By the time a rider has reached the end of the ride, he’s gathered screaming-fast speed. There was only one problem. The rail was made of aluminum, not steel. Aluminum is softer, and tends to stick to the skater’s board. Corey decided to wax it down, which, at twenty stairs long was terribly risky. Wax generally makes the ride faster.
While he slicked the rail, Corey kept his reservations to himself. He’d always been strangely concerned with “wasting” a photographer’s film. “After you get there with two other people, you just don’t say no,” he says.
Since there were no other skaters to warm up with, Corey found himself doing the stunt just for the cameras. Finally, Corey mustered the adrenaline, circled his wheels, sped toward his target, olleyed, landed on the top of the rail — and watched his board stick beneath him. Corey’s body kept going down the stairs. He fell into the rail crotch first, straddled it like a cowboy, and then flopped into an unstoppable roll down twenty stairs, tangling up with the rail a few times on the way down.
At the bottom of the fall, which was captured on video, Corey’s body crumpled and looked dead. In the end, Corey broke his cheekbone, nose, and right collarbone. His hands were bloody. His scrotum was badly bruised black and blue. It later swelled to the size of a coconut, tore open, and had to be held together by butterfly Band-Aids. One of the photographers helped Corey up and gave him a ride to the hospital, and dropped him off.
Looking back, the pressure to succeed for film is always present, Corey says.
“You always want to skate your best when you’ve got photographers out there. Right now, it’s getting so hard to one-up yourself. But if you wanna make it, you have to do it.”
7. Create Market Demand
Earlier this year, Corey made it. Support from older skaters like Templeton and sponsors like Emerica’s Regan earned him a place back in the industry. Initially, companies flowed Corey boards on the down-low, not wanting to openly support him. “Who would want to get behind him?” Templeton asks flatly. “Who wants to say that a racist is cool?”
Yet Templeton was one of those interested. His Toy Machine brand, along with other majors like Zero and Foundation, were all interested in Corey and flowing him decks. Templeton says the notion of Corey actually harboring racist feelings was bizarre, and one that few took seriously. “If Ed Templeton would put this guy on his team,” Templeton says, “then everyone would know this kid was OK.”
When riders accept goods for free, there’s some expectation of loyalty to the brand. Templeton says he was ready to move things along with Corey, perhaps bump him up to pro by the end of the year, when suddenly he heard that Corey had jumped to Foundation Skateboards. Amateurs get to turn pro only after their sponsors believe there’s enough demand for the skater’s name to sell pro-model signature boards. “Everything was moving along fine,” Templeton says. “But he’s a young, antsy kid who really wants to get things going for him. I don’t think he could wait, or at least couldn’t communicate that he couldn’t wait, in a mature way.”
Corey says riding for Foundation has always been his dream, and that he and Templeton just crossed signals, and remain friends today. Ever since he was a kid, Corey says, Foundation was stocked with the gutsy riders he admired. The team is marketed as the “Glam Boys” of skateboarding, and there’s an emphasis on individual flamboyance. And, of course, Foundation also offered to top any salary number that came Corey’s way.
Foundation team manager Josh Beagle has known Corey for six years. “It took me a while to get the courage up to ask him to ride for me,” Beagle says. “A lot of companies were skeptical of approaching him, for the obvious reasons. But all his true friends knew Corey got the short end of the stick. Of course it bothers me if somebody calls our company racists — because we’re the farthest thing from it. But we’ll take a chance on Corey. He’s worth it.”
Beagle believes Corey has grown out of a spouting-off phase. “I’m not worried about him doing or saying anything that would embarrass himself or our company. I’m more worried about him hurting himself again, and not letting himself heal.”
The kids are already calling Foundation, Beagle reports, asking when the Corey Duffel pro model will hit the shelves. Once Corey gets his pro model, he’ll earn about $2 from every deck sold. Coupled with a handful of choice product endorsements, a first-year pro can easily earn $80,000. But Beagle and Corey aren’t moving too quickly; the idea is to create buzz, and strike the market at the right moment. “I want to be in demand before I turn pro,” Corey says. “I want the kids to think I’m amazing.”
Corey answers all of his e-mail and shakes hands with all of his fans who approach him around town. “I want to have as many fans as I can. They’re going to be the ones who support me down the line. I want them to say, ‘Yeah, Duffel. We like you.’ Not, ‘Fuck Duffel. He’s no good.’ “
One day a few weeks ago, Foundation listed Corey’s e-mail address on their Web site. As Corey sat at his home computer in Walnut Creek for just two minutes, not a moment went by when the sounds of an instant message didn’t light up his monitor. Hundreds had arrived, from skaters in Arizona, New Zealand, and Brazil. Most just asked Corey how he was doing, or what it was like to be a skate star. One female fan sent her prom photo with her date’s head cut out and Corey’s filled in. Corey finally turned off the computer and said he’d answer all of them later.
On the same afternoon, Corey received a box from Foundation and spread out the spoils across his living room floor. At Corey’s feet lay half a dozen new decks with the Foundation logo, bags of wheels, pants, stickers, patches, and T-shirts. Corey valued the goods at $650. Also in the loot, Beagle stashed two studded black leather belts. Corey took the belts out to the backyard and tossed them in the swimming pool. “The water will loosen the leather,” he said.
The postman also delivered Strength magazine’s “Readers’ Poll Issue,” the annual feature that asks kids to vote for their favorite skate pros. Corey was the only amateur to make the issue, and he wedged his way in as an editor’s pick: “Skater Most Hated/Likely to Get Voted off the Island/To Ask Where Did My Career Go?”
“Corey came up big in all three categories,” the editors wrote, just below a picture of Corey’s lanky frame sliding down a rail.
More than a year later, the quotes still have legs. Looking down at the magazine’s pages in his living room, Corey shrugged it off. “I understand the magazine industry and what they have to do to sell magazines. I don’t take it personally.”
8. Give Better Photo
On a drizzly Friday a few weeks ago, Corey steered his punkmobile through the Caldecott Tunnel, across the Bay Bridge and into San Francisco for a photo shoot. The photographer was Bryce Kanights, the Annie Leibovitz of skateboarding. Kanights has photographed nearly every professional who’s set foot on grip tape in the last 22 years.
This day, Kanights was assigned to shoot Corey in his SOMA studio for Heckler magazine, a youth-culture rag that centers on skateboarding, snowboarding, and surfing. Kanights says he isn’t sure if his photos will make the cover, but like a seasoned photographer, he’s thinking cover. “Corey’s got a great image. We can do a lot of things with it.”
In the past few weeks, Corey has attracted his industry’s attention, and most of it has been positive. Before Corey appeared in its Readers’ Poll, Strength published a lengthy interview, headlined “Cleansing Corey,” which, over the course of twelve pages, devoted equal parts to Corey’s worldview on the state of skateboarding and his amends for the Big Brother diatribe. Full-page photos featured Corey sliding down handrails in his black leather jacket. A few showed Corey waving with a blood-soaked palm. In the next photo, Corey stuck his bloody finger up his nose and made a goofy face.
Slap magazine also wrapped up an interview and Pig Wheels, one of Corey’s sponsors, featured Corey in ads due out this month. And Corey is ready to go out on a brief tour with Foundation’s pro team in April. The arc is filling out.
In Kanights’ photo studio, Corey brings along a couple props. Corey shows Kanights a switchblade he picked up earlier in the day, which he traded to a kid from school for one of his used decks. “I thought we could use it here,” Corey says, cutting the air with the knife.
Kanights has known Corey for a few years. Like Corey’s other friends, Kanights dismisses any suggestion that Corey revealed his true self in the Big Brother interview. If anything, it was a dumb kid being a dumb kid, Kanights says. Kanights considers himself one of the guys who’s helped Corey get his career rolling again. “It’s a hand-in-hand kind of thing,” he says. “I like shooting guys like Corey so I can expand my portfolio, and guys like Corey know I can get the photos published.”
After Kanights takes a few Polaroids to test for lighting, Corey moves off the set and reaches into his backpack. He pulls out a sticker of a pig’s face, the emblem for his sponsor Pig Wheels. Corey places the sticker in the middle of his chest. “Photo incentive,” he says, noting that he’ll get paid $150 if the logo makes it into the magazine. “This keeps guys like Beagle happy. And if Beagle’s happy, that means more ads.”
Warming to the camera, Corey starts snarling his lips and raising a clenched fist in mock angst. In between photos, he offers up some other ideas for future sessions with Kanights: “I think I should be eating a bunch of meat. Like raw hamburger. A big mess.” And “Bryce, we should get a gun — a fake one — and I’ll put it to my head.” Kanights shakes his head, and laughs off the suggestion.
Out comes the knife. Corey puts the handle in his mouth and shows all his teeth, like a growling dog. After a few snaps, Corey takes the blade and aims it at the camera lens, like he’s going to stab the viewer. When Corey tilts the blade to an angle, Kanights interrupts. “Hold it right there. I want to get the blade in the glare.”
At one point, Kanights wants just a shot of Corey looking straight into the camera. No goofy smirks or grimaces, just straight-on serious. “Give me a mean face,” Kanights asks.
Corey takes a deep breath, relaxes his shoulders and looks directly into the camera’s lens. He tries on the mean face. But his nostrils start to flare, like he’s sniffed pepper flakes.
Kanights: “C’mon. Be still.”
Corey fights it: “Okay. Okay.”
Kanights: “Just be straight.”
But Corey can’t keep the pose. He’s fighting off the giggles. Finally, he breaks out in a huge, whale-sized laugh, mouth wide open, head kicked back.
Flash! Kanights takes the picture. “There — I got you laughing.”
Before Corey returns to wearing the mean face again, he takes a breather.
“You can never look mean when you’re trying to do it,” Corey says. “Ah well. That picture’s for my mom.”