The New Jersey nomad discusses renouncing his professional status, winning two of the USA’s biggest competitions, his views on the industry and filming for his section in The 666 Series.
Flashback to the end of 2012 and John Bolino seemed to have the blading world eating out of the palm of his hand. He was riding a wave of consistently astounding sections that included The Nimh Team Video, The Truth 2, CHARG!NG, the mother of all enders in Pariah, and then his Originals section dropped and it seemed like he was only getting stronger. Every section seemed to trump the previous one and Bolino was rapidly becoming every blader’s favourite blader. He was living in Oakland at the infamous Shredweiser house, working at Bernal Heights Collective, alongside several other professional bladers, selling marijuana, and just earlier that same year he received his first signature skate through SSM. He had come a long way from being that hungry little kid on the Deshi flow team from New Jersey. It was as if Bolino had sold his soul to the devil and all of his dreams were finally coming true.
Bolino’s wild journey has involved touring across America countless number of times as well as venturing into Europe for various competitions. One eventful trip involved a trip to Winterclash and an unfortunate encounter with Dutch police while partying on the streets of Amsterdam. Smoking weed might be tolerated in the Netherlands, but there are certain other acts that can land you in a lot of trouble and relieving yourself in public is a particularly effective method of antagonising the local authorities. Fortunately, Scottish rollerblader Lewis Bowden strolled by at just the right moment and managed to prevent Bolino spending the night in a police cell.
(Laughs) I was wasted and didn’t see the pisser 50 feet away from me, so I pissed on someone’s door. The police walking by didn’t like that for some reason and arrested me – singing while pissing probably didn’t help me either. (Laughs) They hated my guts. I was talking shit and singing the whole time. Everyone was broke and they didn’t know how to get me out, then Lewis came strolling by and noticed Shima. He said, “What up?” Shima, probably laughing, mentioned my situation. Lewis hooked me up and got me out. Thanks, Lewis. You’re the man. I owe you one, bud!”
“Being a pro is just a title that I don’t agree with right now.”
However, in May, 2013, the crazy ride seemed like it was about to abruptly end when Bolino announced that he was retiring from professional blading and it felt like a worrying sign of the times for blading. Here was someone who was at the height of their powers, in perfect health, one of the most popular bladers in the world, and he was turning his back on professional blading. If someone at the pinnacle of the sport was deciding that pro blading was no longer for him, what did it mean for all the amateur bladers trying desperately to reach his level of proficiency and popularity? More importantly, what did it mean for blading in general? According to Bolino, years of frustration at working hard towards a goal that no longer seemed attainable had simply taken its toll.
“Being a pro is just a title that I don’t agree with right now”, says Bolino. “It’s a hazy title and it doesn’t matter to me. For example, if somebody makes a wheel company and it gets the slightest bit successful and he puts his friend on the pro team, in my eyes, that doesn’t make a professional, but a lot of other people seem to think so and I think it’s helping kill our industry. Being pro for a boot sponsor is the only legit title to me.”
In September of that same year, to add another twist to the tale, Bolino showed up to the NYC Street Invitational and romped to victory, overpowering Montre Livingston and Alex Broskow to take home a massive wad of cash. Six months later, he rocked up to the Motor Town Classic in Michigan and took down Alex Broskow (again) and Don Bambrick to net $7,000. Winning two of the biggest contests in the USA after retiring raises a fairly obvious question: What is John Bolino’s definition of retirement?
“I can’t really explain it easily”, he begins. “I guess it’s ‘cause I gave up everything to be a professional skater for years and I just got fed up. It’s a tough industry right now and it’s bullshit how we can’t make it work. We have the right ingredients but the wrong formula. I really needed money at the time, so I busted my ass at a couple comps and got lucky – that’s all that was.”
At the NYC Street Invitational, Bolino stormed his way to first place in a pair of skates that raised a few eyebrows – all-black USD Classic Thrones. With Montre Livingston’s departure still present in the blading public’s memory, it seemed like Bolino was simply the next to go and all of SSM’s biggest names were jumping ship, but the fact of the matter was that he was simply trying to get involved with a company that had more financial resources at its disposal. However, Bolino quickly discovered it was a partnership that was never going to work.
“When I dropped everything professionally, I started dipping my feet in other boots, but all the USDs I’ve ever owned hurt my feet. Some felt okay, but there was always a problem: something would explode, a cuff screw would fall out and I’d almost break my ankle or they just simply wouldn’t feel comfortable. After trying to create a relationship with them, I just noticed it wasn’t working out and hit Shima back up. Luckily, Shima accepted me back into the family and I learned my lesson that money doesn’t mean shit when it comes to our brands that we helped create.”
“I gave up everything to be a professional skater for years and I just got fed up.”
To say Bolino’s living arrangements over the past year have been unstable would be an incredible understatement. When the Shredweiser house disbanded and everyone went their separate ways, he ended up living in four different cities before settling in Los Angeles, after trekking from one side of the United States to the other and back, and somehow found the time to take part in the Shredweiser Americana Tour as well. If this all seems slightly confusing, that’s because it is. It makes a little bit more sense when he explains it.
“After the Shred house, I crashed the couch at the Haitian Magazine house in Los Angeles. A couple of months into that, we decided to split LA and relocate to Portland. Unfortunately, when we got there, things didn’t work out. Maybe it was wrong place, wrong time, but it seemed to be impossible to land a home. So then we got the idea to move to Kansas City, MO. That was cool, but after a couple months at the KC house we got evicted, so I decided to live in a van again and become a nomad for a while on the Shredweiser tour. After that, I ended up back in Oakland for a couple months, crashing between Shima’s and Matty Shrock‘s house. Now I live in LA again with my girlfriend.”
In a couple of previous interviews, namely for Revolution Skate Shop and Be-Mag, Bolino revealed that the thing he hated most about living in California was that he couldn’t get laid. Well, it seemed rude to conduct an interview with a man who has previously been so open about his sexual frustrations and not ask him about his outlook on life now that he is in a committed relationship…and presumably getting laid as a result!
(Laughs) “That was a joke, but partly true. I had a bit of a dry spell but, you know, shit happens. Has being in a relationship changed my perspective on life? Yeah, I guess I’ve always been in and out of them, but it’s my first move in with a girl. Living with my girlfriend Mariella is great. She has put up with a lot of my shit and is still helping me grow for the better. Yeah, I guess my perspective has changed. I don’t live for today as much now – I try to plan and think more rationally about my decisions in life – but I’d also like to think I do the same for her. We’re a team in this battered and broken world, figuring things out every day.”
Life seems to have calmed down considerably for Bolino since the days of living in the Shredweiser house. For starters, he no longer lives in a house with a bunch of fellow mad men and an endless stream of couch surfers. He also holds down a steady job that no longer involves selling marijuana. It seems that the little Jon Jon Bolino the blading world has literally witnessed grow up before its very eyes is now a fully-fledged adult with a girlfriend, a place to stay and a regular income. It’s almost as though his life has finally gained some stability after years of uncertainty.
“At the moment, I’m working as a handy man…kinda. My girlfriend’s cousin owns a couple of businesses and he always has different work. Mainly I’ve been painting this warehouse he’s about to turn into a vapour pen lounge. It’s pretty rad. He’s making combinations of nicotine, CBD and THC oils for vapour pens called Spliffin. Check it out on Spliffin.com if you get a chance.”
Now that Bolino is no longer on a seemingly endless stream of tours for Nimh, Vicious, two of Adam Johnson’s digiflicks and the latest Shredweiser video, there appears to be a startling amount of regularity to his day-to-day life. Although it is slightly telling that for someone who is still considered one of the elite bladers in the world, the actual activity of blading takes up considerably less of his time than it once did and, when detailing his weekly routine, it is the last thing to be mentioned.
“If it’s a weekday, I wake up at around 6:30/7:00 am and go to work ‘til 4:00 or 5:00 pm, then spend some time with my girlfriend, play guitar and watch a couple movies. On the weekends, I try to skate and hang with my friends, and that’s about it. Tons of weed and music, with a little bit of skating, and that’s my life right now besides work.”
Just because Bolino is admittedly putting less hours into blading than before doesn’t mean that he is going to fade into a distant memory any time soon. In fact, this month marks the release of the third instalment of SSM’s The 666 Series and he is the centre of attention on this occasion. This is the first full section Bolino has released since his Create Originals part dropped at the end of 2012 and received over 30,000 plays. A year and a half seems like a lifetime when you consider the fact that he was releasing several sections a year for a while. Bolino readily concedes that the constraints of full-time employment made filming for a section difficult at times, but overall it was a positive experience and he is pleased with the result.
“It went good”, he says. “I always eat shit and create minor injuries, but no broken bones so far. Trying to skate while working over 40 hours a week is rough, but other than that it was a lot of fun skating for it. I spent three weekends trying a stupid kink rail and wasted a lot of time, so that sucks, but, you know, shit happens. I had more better days than shitty, frustrating ones, that’s for sure.”
Once his chapter of The 666 Series appears online, it won’t be long before more fresh footage of Bolino is on display as he has also been out filming with Lonnie Gallegos for F33t. The Los Angeles-based videographer is set to drop his latest project this summer, although Bolino is disappointed that he will only be making a brief appearance. “I went blading with Lonnie and Farmer recently”, he begins. “It sucks that I only got one day in with Lonnie. I wish I had more time to skate for it, but I’m pretty sure I’ll have at least one clip.”
Bolino also let slip that we can expect another full section in the not-too-distant future as he is currently planning a project with Kansas City filmmaker and good friend Adam Johnson. He was a little vague on the details, but it seems reasonable to assume that he is third in line to film a pay-to-play part after the release of Alex Broskow’s earlier this year and the forthcoming Brian Freeman section that is currently in the works. After the stellar displays of raw energy the pair produced together on CHARG!NG and Pariah, Bolino is understandably enthusiastic about the chance to work with Johnson again.
“Adam Johnson is coming through LA pretty soon to film a profile of me for his online series”, advises Bolino. “AJ’s one of my favourite people to film with. He’s always made skating really fun and productive.”
The dream of being a pro skater and making a living from his ability may not have went according to plan for Bolino, but he is carrying on regardless with what appears to be a renewed enthusiasm for his craft. Plus, with the profits from his highly anticipated section in The 666 Series being evenly divided between the skater and the production team, there is every reason to believe he will earn a nice chunk of money off the back of being a fan favourite that always produces the goods. While discussing the topic of money, Bolino was faced with a hypothetical scenario that involved receiving $10,000 with the catch that it had to all be spent in 24 hours. His dedication to SSM was evident by the fact that donating a large portion of the money to the brand was the first thought that entered his mind.
“I’d donate about $3,000 to Shima to help our companies, $1,500 or $2,000 to a vehicle, most likely a van, motor cycle or truck, $2,000 on two tickets to Argentina to see my girlfriend’s grandparents. With the rest I’d rent a house or apartment in LA for my mom and brother. It’s always been a dream of theirs to get away from the east coast and see Cali. I love them and I’d like to make their dreams come true.”
Words: David McNamara Photos: Sam DeAngelis, Megan Petersen and Miguel Camina
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