INTERVIEW & PHOTOS Ali Mehraban
My first encounters with Jimmy were memorable for how blatantly terrible they were. Before Wheelbase, before Rad Train, and before I was even shooting downhill, I was at Blacks and needed to buy wheels off him; so my buddy and I head over to the gas guzzling Suburban Jimmy used to have and we sort through the variety of wheels he has in his trunk, I pick out a set and pay him, and my buddy does the same. We walked back to Blacks at this point and before we get too far, he calls out to us, “What are you guys up to later?” We turn around, to catch him skating down Blacks without awaiting our response and shouts: “Suckin’ Dick!” He follows this up with a straight-face mob down the hill just as he has been doing for years, and will for years to come. Meanwhile, we had no idea what to make of this interaction. Years later, I found myself running the Rad Train side-by-side with him. We would shoot hilarious videos and write obscene articles for obscene people. We got away with a lot of fun stuff, and after a busy year, I decided to join the Wheelbase family and here we are. In a sense, Jimmy was the first person to give me a place where I could post anything I wanted, and what I’ve learned from working with him is completely invaluable. We helped each other out and watched each other’s backs and had a terribly fun time doing it. Rad Train is still alive and cranking stuff out, and I’ve concluded that our first encounter was simply a form of brotherly tough-love that was a sign of the friendship we would grow into. Jimmy’s my bro, but enough of my words—here are his.
Full name and birthdate?
James Brian Riha Jr. born on January 31st, 1992.
What’s the scoop on your background as a surfer?
I surfed once upon a time as a little grom and did local contests. Slashed the water from age 8, but I’ve suffered from immature eustachian tubes to start off with, and flying/driving/diving—anything to do with loss and gain in elevation—affects my ears. I tend to constantly perforate my eardrums, and that doesn’t help much when you’re a kid and all you wanna do is be in the water. So after a year of surfing with a messed up ear, getting ear infections that turned into head colds, and sinus infections—even wearing a hood and ear plugs—I needed to find another outlet. This all happened at age 16 or so and at the same time I was introduced to skating down hills. I decided to switch gears. I find myself getting out in the water time to time—stand up paddle boarding with my hood and ear plugs to make sure I don’t get any water in ‘em or an ear infection.
What was your first downhill board?
Flat Sector 9 Pintail with ghost trees on the bottom, knock-off Indy 215’s and knock-off Fly Wheels. It was the board I won in a surf contest in ’07, and everything else was just lying around from other skateboards. Then I made my gloves and was skating the local stuff.
How did you know to get gloves and all that stuff?
I had good friends who were working for Sector 9 at the time and had been learning how to bomb hills. Jeff Budro showed them how a cutting board, blowtorch, and leather gloves could make you feel pretty invincible. I remember burning the hell out of my hand a few times making sure the cutting board was in the right spot.
What was “LSD Crew”?
La Jolla Shores Drive, bro. Everyone has their local hill right? Josh Hunt, Geoff Livingston, Dave Govea, and myself would wake up early and skate it to the pier at the bottom and get rides back up to the top with surfers. Not to mention the road we were skating was the main route for everyone in-and-out of La Jolla. There were all sorts of traffic: UCSD busses, city bussed students, bikers, walkers, and even the random surfer doing a u-turn in the shoot at the bottom.
Could you live anywhere else other than where you are right now?
I like having a home base in San Diego. Born and raised and living here for the last 23 years. I probably won’t leave any time soon, but I like this traveling around and skating thing.
Okay, well If you had to pick somewhere else to station the Train?
If I could pick where to station my train of radness it would probably be some dope-ass island with lots of roads to keep me entertained and a small DIY park. Locations I can’t talk about.
What’s one of your earliest memories involving trains, bro?
I have always been enthralled by trains. My parents got me Thomas The Train sets and wooden train sets at age like 4 or 5 and it was on! Next up was Legos and so on. Now I’m a conductor. When I was 16 I took the train up to Portland and was like, “Woah. So you get to sit here and the world goes by while you watch? Cool.”
What is your Train?
I run the Rad Train. I started it to express the fun/real/classy and not-so-classy parts of skating that myself and a select crew thought we could post about. And that’s just what we did. You will still see blasts from time to time— posting our homies videos we think should get more views or homage. But we also make hats now.
Favorite Rad Train moment?
The Rad Rrain has had lots of memorable moments over the years. My personal favorite would be the Team Van extension of the Rad Train. Tim Del, Key Dougherty, Max Capps, A.J. Haiby, and myself were Team Van. We would show up to your local outlaw to “clean up”. It was a good time if you were a part of the team. We made a couple funny videos and managed to pull together some sponsor fund on top of podium funds to have a good time up-and-down the west coast of Cali.
Do you have to be in California to be a big shot?
Has the industry made it this way? Seems like it! Yeah, this is the epicenter of our sport: the West coast from Cali to Vancouver.
Who do you have fun with locally?
I try to skate with a lot of people and skate a lot of spots. I day-trip locally with A.J. Haiby and the Muir homies and find myself waking up way too early to skate GMR with Key Dougherty and Tim Del.
How far do you and AJ go back?
SDDRL #1 if you know what that even stands for. He was just this kid with a Chargers jersey on, and some messed up Gravity Buttons pro model on tracker RTS trucks. After seeing him at a couple races we ended up getting together with Josh Hunt and Duke Degen to session local mountains together.
Who has influenced your skating the most?
I have been told, “You’re a product of your environment”. I’ve been living in San Diego, which is home to countless pro athletes. I have epic memories of shredding sick roads with Jeff Budro, and Louis Pilloni when he moved to town to work for Sector 9. I am stoked to say Jeff and Louis are both my team managers and rad all-around humans. I’ve hung out with Biker Sherlock, Daniel Harold Sturt (Little did I know Daniel Sturt was the Gonz’s personal photographer back in the day and was picking me up during high school to go bomb hills!), and a couple other OG’s in the past. I can’t thank those guys enough for rubbing some style and knowledge off on me.
Got to be J.M.—he has the most fun. And then probably The Gonz; Mark Gonzales.
What do you look for in a hill, to get. . . the thrill?
The ones that go down to the beach, boy! I can keep myself entertained on a lot of different stuff. Long mountain bombs with righteous hairpins aren’t a bad thing either. But I find myself skating Blacks a lot. Like for the past 6 years!
I’m 100% sure you have the most runs on that hill out of anybody, ever. Whats your favorite line down it?
I like to slightly feel out my wheels in the pocket and then get that nice heelside carve in the bend so I can blast it toeside through the hairpin left—I’m goofy footed—and then frontside slappy the shit out of the exit curb!
When was the first time you ever went to Blacks? Were you just a grom skating around and you found it, or did someone take you there?
I grew up in the area and surfed Blacks a lot during the early years. I never thought about skating down it even though I had a classic Sector 9 mini cruzer every grommit wanted as a kid. I remember seeing—who I think now were—Noah and Patrick skating it on hard wheels. ’07 or ’08. Then I frequently saw Scott Lembach of Muir Skate when he had his shop across the way at UCSD. In 2009, Jeff Budro told us you could skate down Blacks with soft wheels. We saw people doing it on hard wheels, but never on soft wheels! I don’t really remember what happened exactly, but Josh Hunt, Geoff Livingston, and myself thought if other people had done it that we could do it, or try to do it.
So Blacks was mainly shredded with hard wheels back in the day?
Everyone I knew was hard wheel sliding and thought, “You can’t ride soft wheels down Blacks you’re gonna die.” We didn’t know what to really think, but we just learned how to coleman slide. Previous knowledge of going down hills said that if you didn’t have a run-out, then put them gloves on the ground and lean back! So we took what we knew and started bombing blacks hands-down. After a couple months we got the hang of toeside and heelside. Some times there was a lineup of 4 or 5 of us mobbing into the lefty—race lines and all—dusting the walkers and surfers with sand. Nowadays it’s all hands up steeze, with soft wheels too. It still stokes me out seeing some kids mob down and do fast, hands-down, race line slides. Brings me back!
Tons of people come up and down that hill all day long, seen anything interesting over the years?
I’m at that hill more than most and have seene some interesting stuff, but the most intense is the squirrel/crow lady. This women is a brain surgeon and feeds the critters peanuts up-and-down the road as she walks. She has a gnarly camel toe and a pissy attitude towards skating and the skaters. I’ve seen this crazy lady take a piss in the bushes all nonchalant-like. You know she is at the hill if you see a mob of crows in the sky over the canyon. As a matter of fact, I have also seen some intense bird fights, drunks, hot chicks, and scored a phone number or 2 off the hill.
PSA for keeping Blacks rolling?
Some simple rules that apply when skating blacks: 1. Respect the neighborhood and people who live in it. 2. Pick up your trash and other people’s trash—it’s karma points. 3. Spot the hairpins—look over the cliff and make sure there is no car. Safe and simple. 4. DO NOT TRY TO IMPRESS THE SURFERS! They don’t give a shit. Surfing is cooler any-who. 5. And ohh yeah, Please don’t eat shit and call the ambulance to the hill.
Your board control is insane. When I watch you skate I can see how well you know how boards-at-speed react. Is this something you are aware of? Training and diet tips?
I’ve been skating boards down hills for the last 5 years and I just let the board take me down now. I like doing what I do, but showing it with the least effort as possible is best. Effort can say a lot about something and with skating the amount of effort can be examined through style. My belief is when you’re so good at something, it just becomes second nature and effortless. Not to say we aren’t trying to slide, but yeah make it look good!
Is it a sport or art?
What ever you want to call it, bro-bro. I just do it.
What’s skateboarding and what’s longboarding?
People bitch about this a lot of time, or they used to. I don’t tell people i’m going “longboarding”. I just say I’m gonna skate down some hills, or go skateboarding. Keep it simple. A skateboard is a skateboard and a longboard is a longer skateboard. They are both skateboards. I do skids on my skateboard, do you?
Don’t you sling pot? Is that the term for ceramics?
I slang many a pot, but my pots aren’t the ones thrown on wheels. I like to make figures, shapes, and free-hand sculpt my ceramics.
Why is Wheelbase so darn rad?
Wheelbase showcases skating from a great point of view. Bandy and the team are always hustling for media and putting together rad writeups from events, and doing interviews like this one. I remember Wheelbase back in the day and I have got to say, you guys have come a long way. Stoked for Bandy and the team—they constantly are working on new shit from skaters for skaters.
So you used to surf in contests, now you skate in contests. What other shit do you do that you would feel confident competing in?
I don’t think i’m a competitive person, but I guess I am when in the right circumstances. . . As a kid, I could never play team sports, ha, ha! I was just not that type of person. I was always doing my own thing. But I would probably do stand-up-paddle board racing or surfing. Those guys are making a killing! Give me a car and let’s do the Baja 1000!
You might not feel competitive, but I know you really love racing. What’s keeping you leathered-up?
Staying stoked, Being humble, and respecting the scene. But for sure in 2013 I used the no-sponsors train as fuel for my competitive racing and went balls-to-the-wall. That moment onward started it all off. 2013 was gnarly! I took what I learned through the years and just tried to be better than the next guy or guys I was racing. Winning is fun, pshhh!
What events have you podiumed at and what is your goal with racing?
Local outlaws are fun, but I am most stoked on taking home Whistler, 2013, 2nd at Pikes Peak, 2013, 2nd at Whistler, 2014, 3rd at Almabtrieb, 2014, 1st at Pikes Peak, 2014, 1st at Rumble at the Ranch, 2014, and 4th at the last ever Angie’s Curves, 2014. Well, some people are taking it way serious and others are in it for fun. I try to balance them out. At the same time, yeah though, I’m probably not looking as far ahead as I need to.
You finally made it to South America last year. How was the hype over there?
I did a lot of traveling last year, whether sponsors wanted me to go or not. I thought I oughta go give the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd World Cup spot a run for the money. South America was gnar! Try showing up to Colombia and within the first 2 days having an infected spider bite on your knee the size of an orange, and spewing too! That was gnar. Everyone in South America is super down to earth and stoked on bombing hills. The racing is a bit more intense down there though, because who doesn’t want to win?!? With the stakes set high, new race courses, and traveling around with Rob Dog (Rob Mcwhinnie) and his wife I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Does DH racing have a future?
Damn, I hope it does or else I am going back to working at Burger King. I think the future of downhill will be building up an even better organization and building relationships with big, outside companies. I would like to stick to my roots, but at the same time how bad could blowing up our sport be, if done in the right manner.
How would one stick to their roots if racing got real big?
Contradicting statements. Ha ha! You got me. For sure, it would be hard to “stick to your roots” if our sport got real big. But how does one survive in today’s world without adapting to change?
What’s it like riding for El Beasto of Muir Skate?
Riding for the Beast, that is Muir Skate, is like nothing else. I have to stick to my roots and say “keep it local”. There was a time I didn’t ride for Muir Skate, and then I begged to be back on the team. Now I try to work locally with Scott to promote the brands I ride for. I went from shop-rat, to employee, then to team rider—with a gap of absence—and I’ve thankfully made it back on as a team rider.
What were you doing in Arizona with Sector recently?
I got the word about a week in advance that the Sector 9 boys wanted to do a film/skate trip out to Arizona. I made sure I had some time off and went with them on the most badass, R.V. lifestyle trip with a total of like 15 of us at one point. We found new mountain roads, amazing views, epic camping, and all done with the homies. Sector 9 should have some edits out in the short future.
Where are you going after we finish this interview?
The next stop for this Train is the East Coast, Vermont to be exact. I’m excited to check out the 2 new gnar-gnar hills that IDF and people have been talking about. I just hope it don’t rain! The race season pretty much started up after Catalina, and I’ve been keeping it mellow and just hitting the events I know I can make happen. I will be traveling with the NYCL homies and A.J. Haiby. If you’re on that side of the states, be sure to look out for us bombing your local hills and causing a ruckus in your parks! I’m pretty excited about this trip. Shout outs to Sam Ettore for making it happen.
Does the “race season” ever end?
Race season never does end, really. More events are always sprouting up and lining up in different locations all the time. Support grass roots local events!
It’s like the race season is practically endless if you can get around well. What are some of the places skateboarding has taken you?
My favorite places that skating has taken me have been: Europe, Canada, South America, New York, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, New Zealand, and countless other spots. Skateboarding has for sure given me an opportunity to explore different places, see different culture, eat new foods, and meet new friends.
Favorite road trip?
That one I can’t talk about ha, ha! It has to be my first long stay in Canada for Danger Bay, 2013. I rallied up with J.P. Rowan and Casey Morrow about 10 days before, in order to get the Sk8 Bus up to Vancouver for Danger Bay and the other races that followed. I sat on Facebook, contacting everyone I thought would want to go to Danger Bay and ended up helping fill enough seats on the the Sk8 Bus to get the it fueled with gas and to make it fun. Pretty sure Bandy was on this trip and hated life, but we loved it! I stayed in Canada for about a month and explored Vancouver with Tony Graves and George Mackenzie. I Ended up filming a classic with James on Giant’s Head.
If you could run your own nondescript skate brand how would you go about it?
Are we talking before or after this theoretical “blow up” in downhill/freeride skating? Anyway, I have thought about this and I know others who think about it as well. I would probably do the normal and necessary things to own and brand a board, truck, and wheel company. I would make it all in-house and in the USA. We would do the logistics to have a real team and flow program that we could support. We’d work with different media people to make quality media. Just build a brand that’s for the skaters, by the skaters. We wouldn’t make money, but we would have a lot of fun.
Who would be on your team?
Don’t you have a Pro truck out from Ronin?
Oh yeah! I am blessed with the opportunity to ride for Ronin Trucks and have my own personal colorway: red on red Pro Lites. I also have some cast red on red 42.2 Ronins coming out as another #rihasignatureseries option. There might be more signature gear with the other rad brands I ride for coming in late 2015. Keep a lookout and just keep skating and stay stoked.
Shout outs to Sector 9, Muir Skate, Rad Wheels, Ronin Trucks, RDVX Griptape, Timeship racing, and Don Carlos Taco Shop, couldn’t do it without your support.