BLACK REVOLVER X PAULO DIAZ
Guatemalan born Paulo Diaz was the first professional skateboarder in his country and also a skateboarding central figure in the 1990s. Once, he was considered one of the best Los Angeles skateboarders and was sponsored by the best companies.
One day, without noticing, Paulo walked away from skateboarding to follow a different path: one of traveling, art and music. Diaz is a true artist and for him, skateboarding is just a way of personal expression that he perfectly combines with his other passions. He’s a living legend.
This is his story…
KNOW A LITTLE MORE OF HIS LIFE IN THIS INTERVIEW
For the new generation that doesn’t know about you (and for the old one too), tell us your story. Who is Paulo Diaz?
Good morning, from Los Angeles to Guatemala. I’m Guatemala’s first professional skateboarder. I’ve lived here in LA all my life. My story is a bit long because I’ve been skating for over 30 years. It’s a story that I want to tell you but… it’s long. I started skating when I was 12 and I turned pro around 16 or 17.
Which part of Guatemala are you from?
I’m from its capital. I lived in zone 3 and zone 4. I remember that I also lived in zone 12 as well, before we moved to LA. I turned 4 here.
Did you start skating in Guatemala? How did you start?
I started here in LA. I remember my big brother had a board that he forgot about: he didn’t use it anymore and let me use it. That’s how I started. I remember my friend Kevin, who was my brother Quique’s best friend, he knew how to skate. He showed me how to drop off of a sidewalk. I recall the second where I dropped off a step, I couldn’t stop it anymore. It was the most fun thing in my entire life and it’s been 30 days since I started skating that day.
Why did you come to live to the United States?
Our whole family came here. While in Guatemala my dad worked for Coca-Cola, and my uncle was also the country’s company president. I was about 3 years old but I remember clearly that my dad would come home everyday telling stories about another employee being killed. Finally, since my uncle was the boss… they kill3ed him, just like that man. The union… I don’t know what it was, but there were financial issues. Politics.
When my uncle was killed, my dad would’ve been next. I remember that he had 2 cars. We were well off; we had an apartment in zone 12. I went to a private school. We received calls threatening my family. So my dad sold both his cars and everything we had, and we all of a sudden moved to LA in 1980. We had so start a new life here. We lived like a year in East LA. The place was awful at the time, there were a lot of gangs, cholos and all of that. My dad had all types of jobs, he had four kids and didn’t speak English. Since he realized that our environment wasn’t great he relocated us.
At that time, only my grandma lived here in Los Feliz. Nobody had heard about Los Feliz. That’s why we’ve lived here all of our lives.
How did you meet Gabriel, Guy and Rudy when you started skateboarding?
Out of Gabriel Rodríguez, Guy Mariano and Rudy Johnson… I met Gabriel first. He lived farther south in LA. I met him here on Wilshire Boulevard, ‘cause that’s where we skated, where all the buildings are. At that time what we used to do to skate was forming a “skate crew”. It was totally different, more like breakdancing, we faced off against other people. We used to call it “battle”. There wasn’t that many people.
Everybody knew that I was the best skater in LA. We used to meet to set up competitions to see who was better. That’s how I met Gabriel. He was the best one we knew so we had to meet each other. I never battled against him: we were best friends since the second we met. I met Guy and Rudy through our sponsors, a store on Melrose Avenue. It was a very nice store, they sold albums and skateboards. It was the best.
Skate has become increasingly rocker, but when I started it was all rap. It used to be all reggae and rock; Bob Marley and rock. On Melrose there was this nice store that sold boards. I used to buy music there. Someone who worked there saw me skate and said that I should meet René, the company head. I did and he became my first sponsor. They used to hold contests where they would ask us to attend, and that’s where they met all four of them.
People sought out skaters. Gabriel was the first one who skated for Powell Peralta. Gabriel suggested three more. Stacy Peralta interviewed all four of us. He said: “I can’t choose”. Gabriel was the one who started it all.
How was meeting Stacy Peralta and him choosing you all?
It was the best time of my life. During that short period I was there with Stacy, Gabriel and the rest, it was the best. Stacy is super cool. We were young. We skated in the same company as Tony Hawk. It was a dream.
You were a part of Ban This. Tell us a little about it.
We started with Gabriel… Stacy sponsored Gabriel, Rudy and me. It was the beginning of our career. It was 2 days of skating and an extra day. Stacy told us to use the same clothes to make it seem as it had been recorded in a single day. You don’t do that anymore: sometimes you can take up to a year to record a video part. That time it was shot like in a couple of weekends.
Who are your best friends in the skating world?
Chad Muska, Gabriel Rodríguez, Guy Mariano, Benny Valdez. I have tons of friends in skateboarding that are rad.
I remember that you used to be good friends with Quim (Cardona).
How could I forget Quim. He´s like my brother. I haven’t mentioned Rudy Johnson. He was part of the original 4 crew.
Do you still skate with him?
When he’s here, yeah. He’s from New York, I don’t see him as much. Yeah, I still skate with all of my friends. Lately I’ve been focusing on my art and music, I haven’t been skating out but I’m always exercising. Right now I’m preparing for what, God willing, will be the best time of my life in skateboarding.
You were sponsored by a lot of brands like Powell, Blind, Stereo and Chocolate…
Adidas, Getto Child… Who else? Grind King, Independent Trucks, Thunder Trucks. I’ve skated with almost everyone.
You were skateboarding a lot and all of a sudden you disappeared. You chose to travel to India and Bolivia. Why did you do it?
I went to India and Bolivia to learn Andean musical instruments, which I like a lot, and Indian instruments, which are what I play more: the tabla, for instance. They are very sophisticated instruments. That’s why I left skateboarding. When I started skated and making money I could travel all over the world, and I got into instruments. I’ve liked music so much that I remember buying almost any instrument I gazed my eyes upon. Especially the tabla; it takes a lifetime to master it. No, actually, it takes several lives. If you’re lucky, if you did something good in your former life you might have the chance to play it. I’m so lucky cause I’ve been able to. It’s like not being able to learn something unless you learned to do so when you were a baby.
I’m trying to learn all the instruments that I can. That’s what happened to me: there were 24 hours in a day and they weren’t enough for me to learn. I didn’t forget about skating. If you search on YouTube you’ll see that I’ve always skated, it’s just that it’s complicated when you play musical instruments and you’re an artist and you’re a skater, and you’re trying to do everything at the same time. It gets complicated. I’ve invested a lot of time and effort into skateboarding, music and art. Just now I feel like I’m ready to do three things and create something very nice.
What type of music do you listen to and make?
I like all types of music from all over the world. If there’s music that I haven’t heard in a specific country, I’m sure that I’ll like it. I like the marimba, which is folklore. I like classical, I play classical guitar, Indian classical music. I listen to a lot of Indian music. I grew up solely on punk rock, Black Sabbath, all of that…
I like soul music, oldies. I love all music. The music that I’m making right now is like gipsy, with instruments from around the world, a little bit of rock and a little bit of everything. It’s something that no one has listened. Now, the music that I’m focusing on has high vibrations. When you listen to it you get… That’s why Indian music has to do with meditation. It’s connected to science. There’s daytime music, nighttime music, summer music. It comes from God.
Tell us a little bit about your art.
I was fortunate enough that, as a young boy, my brother was an artist. He taught me. Without realizing it, I learned to paint incredibly. I learned from the best. My brother is an art master. Only now that I’m an adult do I appreciate that I learned to create art when I was young. I can paint, do what I want, it’s just that art takes time. If I want to paint a landscape or a perfect portrait like the Mona Lisa, I’m able to, but it takes time. There are periods in which I do a lot of art or music, but now the three things (skateboard, art and music) are converging. Art is giving me a new life.
I paint everything; abstract, I can paint whatever I want.
In the ‘90s you were known as one of LA’s best skaters. What was your goal at that time? What did you want to achieve?
I was the first to master the switch stance and skating switch while pushing, which is not obvious: you sometimes skate switch style, regular or in a goofy way. I was the first one to master that style. When I was young I felt like Indiana Jones. It’s my best skating memory, being a kid and feeling like Indiana Jones. I was 14 or 15, I rode the bus in LA, go to the beach, to Glendale, to the mountains. There was lots of stuff for skating! I skated all day long. I remember that at one point one of my legs got bigger out of pushing so much. I looked at myself in the mirror and I said: “Wow! It’s stronger than the other one. So then I started to skate on the opposite side. I didn’t know anything about switch. Nobody did. It was before turning pro, when I started skating. All my skate buddies said to me: “That’s weird, it’s on reverse”.
When we all started switch skating I had it almost dominated. That’s how the nollie also started. On sidewalks we started to rely on the board’s nose, with the front wheel; it’s called Chinese Ollie. Later we started doing the nollie on street, on speed bumps. So I was the switch stance pioneer. I was also the best at high Ollie. I was known for skating high; I didn’t care about kickflips. There was too much kickflip going on. What I liked about skateboarding at the time, when I watched Powell Peralta movies like The Search for Animal Chin, was how much fun it was. That’s how I used to skate, I liked to have fun- I didn’t enjoy spending all day trying to figure out a trick, so much kickflip or trying to jump stairs or something like that. I didn’t jump down stairs, I used to jump up the stairs.
What I liked was being on the street and do ollies on whatever came my way: the sidewalk, a person, whatever; big, 180 ollies, 180° switch. I didn’t enjoy stepping down the board, like a kickflip, I just wanted to fly on it. That was my method. A very guerilla style, not just “trick, trick, trick”. That was really one of the reasons why I moved away from skateboarding a little bit, when extreme skateboarding, the X Games… man! I didn’t like it because skateboarding became like… Take soccer for example: You don’t see players climb up the fence and say: “Pass me the ball!”. They’re not going to break their backs in other to score a goal. This was already my point of view; I didn’t want to jump something, smash my face and not be able to skate. I grew up playing soccer and I liked taking care of myself. I didn’t want to kill myself. I wasn’t being paid for me to get killed. That’s why I steered away a bit from skateboarding, which people maybe didn’t liked too much.
Skating became a big monster, it couldn’t be controlled, it turned into an animal. I had a tough time with it. I like now that skating went back to what it used to be. Nobody did tricks like that in the ‘90s. Doing one of those tricks was silly, a joke. I thought: “There’s not that much fun anymore”. When I do one of those tricks people like them more than kickflips. That’s my style. Skateboarding is the most free thing there is. I’ve been to Guatemala and I’ve seen how skating has been demonized. I understand that, how skaters go to stairs and break them. I honestly want people in Guatemalan to start appreciate skateboarding more. It’s an amazing thing, the most liberating available. When you skate, you really do it and see how it is to push and ride, to surf on the sidewalk. There are no words really, to describe how that feels.
What was your last video part?
It was Supreme’s “cherry”.
How often do you skate?
I never forget how to skate, I’ve never practiced it. I get bored practicing a trick. I thank god that skateboarding has been the most natural thing for me. In reality, the less I skate the better I do it. I don’t understand how that could be. I don’t even keep a board in my house, because if I’d pick it up I’d never stop. It gets dangerous, actually, cause I start performing tricks.
You were known as the Nollie King. How do you feel about that?
I can’t believe it. I was the first one to perform an Ollie. I thank god for it. It’s the only thing that I can say: god gave it to me. Any other thing, music, art; I’ve worked so hard to learn those skills. I’m not someone who’s good with music, but I’m good at working hard to accomplish things. Skateboarding I’ve never practiced it, it’s a magical thing, something divine. It’s that triumph you feel that it’s the best for me; there’s nothing that beats the feeling of doing a nollie, or a switch Ollie, it’s incredible.
What’s the record you hold doing nollies, how many boards?
I don’t know about nollies, but I once did an 8 foot nollie. From a small ramp: over 8 feet. There was a point where I was doing nollies so big that… they weren’t recorded. I’m sure that I can still do them. God willing, at my age I can still do it. I don’t know if I can perform them better than when I was 20 or 30, but I feel like I can outperform myself. My record is what I’m doing now, like a boxer’s last fight. That’s why I don’t skate too much and that’s why I’m taking care of myself and getting as healthier as possible.
When was the last time you were in Guatemala and what did you do?
It was 10 years ago or something, but I didn’t skate. I just visited with my mom and dad. Before that I was there 20 years ago, when I was skating for Powell Peralta, when I was in Ban This. I skated back then. I’ve lived in LA all of my life, since I was 3 but for a specific reason: I feel that my heart is still in Guatemala. I lived in Guatemala for a long time. I remember clearly everything about it.
Do you plan on returning some day?
Yes, my dream is to retire to Antigua Guatemala. To own a small house there. What more could I ask for?
What are your immediate plans?
We’re making a film about my life. Right now I’m about to re-launch my career. Now I do have a legacy… I want to do something good in LA, be Guatemala’s pride. I’d like to be one of Guatemala’s success stories, held its name in high regard through music and art.
You will do a collaboration with Black Revolver. It’ll be the first guest pro model for the brand. How does it make you feel?
It’s going to be a proud moment for me. I hadn’t realized that I’ll be the first Guatemalan skateboarder, a switch ollie, nollie, skating history guy. It gives me pride. I want to re-launch my career with Guatemala, I want Guatemala to be with me.
How did this collaboration happen?
It started when I went to El Salvador. You guys came. It started there. I met Uriel (Ruano) and we took it from there. Now, through Facebook, we’re friends for life.
What do you envision as the design for the board?
I don’t even want to think about it. The skateboard will be a surprise. I’d like to surprise Guatemala and just drop by and visit you.
You were an important part of Chocolate. Tell us about it.
Back then, it was the best when I skated. We were young; I didn’t actually realize what I was saying. Girl Skateboards had just surfaced and Guy Mariano and Rudy Johnson skated for Girl. They started the company. I was performing switch ollies, stuff that nobody was doing at the time. Out of the blue I said to Rudy: “I want to join you guys. Why don’t you tell Rick to start a company for us?” It was in the Lockwood school, skating among friends: “Rudy, ask Rick”. Rick said: “It must be done”. Pump, pum, and that’s how the company came about.
The name Chocolate came from me having a band rock band at the time called Candy Lowlife. It was a very punk rock name for the time, but they did like the name Candy. I said: “Chocolate”. “Chocolate… wuuu!” And that’s how it came to be. The idea never stopped. Chocolate was a success. It was so nice, because things are not like that anymore. It was a time that ended the way it did… nobody in the world will live that again. Skateboarding ain’t like that anymore. That’s how things roll.
I tell people: “Man, we were the lucky ones to have lived through that, even though it ended the way it ended. It was the best time of my life. We were the unique ones, the groundbreakers… It’s the best.
To wrap up, any last words you want to say?
Hi to my chapines, I love you a lot and I miss everyone. All I want to say is that I miss Guatemala so much, I miss my people. I want to go to Guatemala, to skate in my land. That’s what I want to do.
Some ads of Paulo in a bunch of magazines
The expressions and opinions expressed by Paulo Diaz in this video do not necessarily reflect the positions of BLACK REVOLVER.
BLACK REVOLVER does not own the clips and photographs that make up this video and report, which were provided thanks to the courtesy of Paulo Diaz.
Videos courtesy Paulo Diaz:
Powell Peralta / Ban This (1989)
Powell Peralta / Propaganda (1990)
Chocolate Skateboards / Las Nueve Vidas De Paco (1995)
Big Brother Magazine / Shit (1996)
L.A. County (2000) / Director: Fernando Garcia
Collage (2001) / Friends Productions
Supreme / Cherry (2014)