James Kelly is one of the fastest downhill skateboarders in the world, hands down. This 23-year-old ripper hails from Petaluma, California and is known for his SkateHouseMedia affiliation, being a highly competitive racer, and for his fast and flowy NorCal style. James has been in the downhill community since way back and has been mentored and influenced by some of the most legendary riders and pioneering spirits in the scene. These days, James can be found on the covers of magazines, winning races all over the planet, as well as “gettin’ them hits” in a myriad of videos on the worldwide interwebs.
Regardless of all that, James is our homie. Over the years we’ve had some great adventures skatin’ and travelin’ with this dude. Please chillax-back and enjoy the following, James Kelly, Wheelbase Magazine interview. Tadow!
What was your first ever skateboard?
First ever? Hmm, have to think way back for this one? I remember messing around on an 80’s pool shape with a retro Snoopy graphic—that was dope—I was really young. I had an old Alien Workshop for a while, I don’t think I could even kickflip it. My first board that I really started skating hard on was a longer Sector 9 cruiser.
You are considered one of the fastest and most competitive downhill skateboarders on the planet. What’s up with that and how did this happen?
Ha ha! I skated a lot—that’s what it takes. Umm, but I got stoked when I was growing up and skating around on my Sector, then I saw Noah and Patrick’s “Bombing Claremont” video on Youtube. I never knew anything like that was possible on a skateboard. I was hooked right away, I think it was the “free” feeling the video conveyed, it really inspired me, they seemed so in the moment and carless bombing at high speeds. 16 year olds love that shit! After that I started skating a ton and searching for anything on the internet that would give me new ideas. I skated more and became addicted to the sensation I got when pushing myself on my skateboard. After a while, I started looking for crews to skate with, then outlaws, and finally real races where I met some amazing people. That helped me a ton.
The “search/sparking/stoke” dudes just announced you as “Speed Boarder of The Year.” Congratulation! That said, if you had to pick someone for that particular title who would you choose, and why?
Cool question. I’d like to see someone who skates a hill their own way. I like skating with people who bomb hills fast, see imperfections in the hill, and make those imperfections into skatable features. I’d pick a skater that flows down a hill in-and-out of switch rather than skating it as fast as possible from top-to-bottom. Not to say that racing isn’t awesome and relevant—I just think having style and creativity down a hill is key. Some skaters that come to mind are Camilo Cespedes, G-Mack, Louis Pilloni, Byron Essert, Kyle Martin, and there are a lot more out there.
You ride for some of the most prolific brands in the industry, including Arbor and now Caliber Truck Co. That is some major support right there! What is it like riding for these brands and how does it compare to working with some of the other brands you’ve worked with in the past?
I’m really happy with where I’m at right now with sponsors. It’s a very close family between Arbor, Caliber, and RAD. I’m stoked to be working closely with all three brands, helping develop new products and media, as well as improving what has hit the market already. I feel like I’m working for people who have the community and skateboarding at heart—that’s the most important thing.
You are an OG founding member of SkateHouseMedia. What’s new and rad over there, and what is your current roll in making it all happen?
Skatehouse is popping. Our HQ in LA features a revolving door with nomadic skaters constantly passing through. It’s awesome. I like it a lot, although our house can get pretty dirty. If you’re reading this and ever have the opportunity to come and stay at Skatehouse, you best clean up after yourself and pitch in. Going into this year we’re trying to deliver more of the same, but step it up in new and exciting ways. Always improving. Our goal has always been to capture and showcase the skate community from the eyes of skaters living it. We have 7 housemates traveling to events and being a part of the community all year long. If we don’t blow it, then we have the cameras rolling and put what we see back on the site. If you see a housemate at an event feel free to say, “what’s up” and even give the camera an intro. Plus, there’s talks of a new camera—that would be epic.
Let’s chat racing: What 3 races are you looking forward to the most this year and which ones do you want to win the most?
Angies Curves is going to be something else. It’s a very fast course. Kozakov is awesome on all levels, and I gotta say Whistler—kidna got robbed last year.
Pulling from your experience as a professional downhill skateboarder what can you share with our readers who want to get involved with the DH scene? How might they go about it, and in a productive manner?
Get out and skate, and skate safe. That’s the most important thing. Progress your skills at a safe rate. Anyone can stand on top of a hill and go down. Know your limits. Once you’re ready, go out and find other skaters in your area to session with and try to hit/create some outlaw races. Once you start getting the feel for racing and bombing a hill in a pack it’s worth it to save up and travel to a big event. There you’ll meet a lot of awesome people and learn a ton about skateboarding.
That Caliber mini ramp in your backyard is pretty sick—I know you’ve been shredding it a lot lately. What are some tricks you’re working on right now, and who at the Skate House shreds the hardest? Who can claim the best trick so far?
It’s so sick—dream come true to have a mini ramp in my back yard—especially a pretty epic one if I do say so myself. Kody slays the ramp with style. Louis has smiths and feebles for days. He’s also working on airs. I’ve learned a ton since Big Dave and Doug York came down and catalyzed the ramp building process. I got a tail slap on the extension the other day. Hyped! I want crail-grinds and steezy-ass front-tails on lock. Add on clean, big bonelesses and I’d be pretty satisfied for a minute.
This one’s always fun: Who are your 3 favorite skateboarders (downhill or otherwise) of all-time and why?
It’s so hard to only list three. There are so many amazing skaters that have pushed skateboarding in so many different ways. These three guys really inspired me.
Darral Freeman: Style and skill way before his time; so gnar!
JM Duran: So much style. Nor Cal roots. Used to show me around the hills every Friday.
Louis Pilloni: I’ve skated more with Lou dog than anyone else. I’ve seen the dude do some crazy shit.
What do you want people to remember you by when you retire from downhill skateboarding?
Wow! Heavy. Humble maybe? I don’t know, I’m just stoked to be apart of everything and skate, so that I guess. I’m never going to retire from any skateboarding.
If you could skate only one road for the rest of your life what would it be? Tuna is not an option. Gottcha!
Bofax. But for real, Tuna.
70% Babes, 40% Boards, and 37% Beer. What’s your answer, and in no more than three words?
Ha ha! Arbor Skateboards.
That was a tough one, but here’s another tough one: Can you beat Mischo Erban’s fastest downhill speed of 81mph? BTW, this question is not optional. Ha ha!
Misho is really fast. It would be hard. It would be fun to have the opportunity to try though. I’d like to try while skating with him–we could both definitely go faster drafting.
Downhill skateboarding is huge right now and there are more races and events than ever before—you are at the forefront of this movement—where do you see it all heading in the next couple of years? Is this current growth sustainable?
I’m not really sure? It’s a very interesting time right now. Since my first race in 2007, the sport has really grown with no signs of stopping. It’s interesting how back in the day no one knew how to stand up slide and everyone was all about racing. Now, I’m meeting groms all over the globe that down really know how to hands-down pre-drift, but can do 50 foot switch checks. I see hands-down speed bombing and gripping corners making a comeback.
That was fun. Thank you James for doing this interview with us. Let’s wrap it up like piggies in a blanket. Please feel free to hit our readers with any parting words of stoke, shout-outs, and/or novel-length poetry.
Thanks for the questions, Marcus. Stoked to be on Wheelbase. Big thanks to the skate community. Now get out and skate! Big thanks also to Adam Colton.