Through various ups and downs, Julian Bah has fought hard to remain at the forefront of rollerblading and it feels like we are only now getting to know his true self.
Love him or hate him, Julian Bah has done an exceptional job of remaining relevant within the blading culture for over a decade. Since emerging in the early noughties as a street skating wunderkind with an unparalleled ability to stomp massive gaps and technical grinds with equal grace, the Atlanta native has produced seminal parts in various celebrated videos including Masters of Delusion, Hashassins, Ego, Black Market and Barely Dead. With such iconic moments in blading video history documenting his prolific past, it would be easy for him to get complacent and simply try to get by on former glories, but it would appear that he is still pushing himself harder than ever. His spectacular slam in his Blader Gang VOD is evidence that he is still taking serious risks when he straps on his skates. If you watch his numerous sections in chronological order, it would seem that the only main differences between his video parts then and now is that his style has become more refined and he has made a conscious effort to trim down his trick selection, focusing on manoeuvres that look good and feel pleasing to perform.
Despite his undeniably world class talent on skates, Bah has been a regular source of criticism since a much discussed incident featuring fellow skater and former girlfriend Coco Sanchez that led to him being kicked off the Rollerblade team. We weren’t there, we don’t know what really happened and having no desire to bring up something that was so long ago, it didn’t feel right to make him suffer the discomfort of having to yet again discuss an event he would rather forget about. However, there is the fact that since departing the Rollerblade team under dubious circumstances, he has since been fired from Razors just before the release of what would have been his debut pro skate and later Ground Control. This has resulted in Bah being tarnished with the reputation of someone who is rebellious and difficult to work with.
I am the first to admit that we have given Julian a tough time over the years and taken certain opportunities to have a laugh at his expense. Because he first rose to international prominence in blading at such a young age, it feels as if we have watched him grow up through his video parts over the years and there is no doubt that he exudes confidence both on and off his skates. This is more than understandable because he makes blading look cool as hell and, from a very early age, he has had people constantly telling him how incredible he is at it. However, sometimes the way he is conveyed in videos comes across as arrogant and at times it feels like we are seeing a caricature of Julian rather than his true self. Then his Mushroom Blading podcast came out and it seemed like, for the very first time, we were getting to see the real Julian; a humble, articulate, easygoing character who also happens to be a bit of a joker and isn’t afraid to make fun of himself. While listening to that interview, I couldn’t help but wonder how different his career would have turned out up until this point if he had managed present himself as that person sooner. When we talked he was equally as candid, openly admitting that he may have made mistakes in his past but equally keen to make it clear that there are other factors that may have led to people having the wrong impression about him.
Regardless of what has transpired in the past, Julian appears to be happy with the way things have turned out and he has every reason to be. He has a sponsorship deal with Adapt that he negotiated on his own terms and believes is more of a partnership than an endorsement, along with a wheel sponsorship in the form of close friend Franky Morales’ Gawds brand. The Atlanta scene appears to be stronger than ever too, with good friends David Sizemore, Carson Starnes and Chris Smith all at the height of their powers and in the ideal position to put together an epic scene video if they have the inclination. Judging from Julian’s reaction when the topic was raised, it would seem like such an intriguing prospect is a possibility. We chatted to him at his Atlanta home to discuss his often eventful time as a professional blader and find out what the next step is for a man who has been rolling for over 20 years, and it looks like he still has a good few more left in him.
Wheel Scene: I understand you have been travelling recently.
Julian Bah: Yeah, I was in California for about two weeks.
Apart from attending Oakland Blade Jam, what else were you doing out there?
I was trying to get some clips. We are working on a Gawds video. Franky (Morales) also invested in a studio, so I was helping him with building the studio. It was a lot of work in the studio, so hopefully when I go out there next it will be all set.
Gawds is making a full-length video?
Er…something like that. I guess you could call it that. We don’t actually know. It’s still in the beginning process. We want to come up with a cool direction for it and we don’t necessarily want it to be too long, but we want to put something out that’s really cool to watch…and to get people hyped on the company.
So that will be you, Franky Morales, Paul John, Dave Lang and Erick Rodriguez?
Yeah, ERod just got on the team, so he will probably have a part in it.
That sounds pretty exciting. What else have you been doing over the summer?
Other than that, I really haven’t travelled too much. I went to Detroit; that was really fun…skating with everyone out there. AJ (Adam Johnson) and all the guys were out filming for…whatever they were filming for! We skated with them a bit and hung out with everybody, and that was really cool. Other than that, I’ve been here a lot working on music. I’ve got a studio here at the house, so… I’ve been in here with Personal Trainer DJ. Shout out to Personal Trainer DJ!
Is that solo material or are you still doing stuff with a band?
The band actually broke up. I wasn’t actually in the band, but I worked with them a lot. They had their own thing going on, I was doing my rap stuff and we collaborated on a few things. The drummer, who is my really good friend, found some new guys and they’ve been trying to work on something. I’ve been in the studio with them a few times too. It’s always good to have a full live band to perform with. It’s like a whole other level or performance, so I really like that aspect of it.
It must feel less vulnerable performing live if you are not alone and you have your guys around you to back you up.
Yeah, exactly. I kind of black out on stage. If I’m by myself or with people, I don’t even really notice. I do feel it when there’s a band, when you have the live music behind you, you can definitely feel the difference. It’s cooler for sure.
It’s got to be a pretty exciting time to be in Atlanta at the moment because the blading scene is going strong, especially with yourself, Carson Starnes, David Sizemore, Chris Smith, Adam Bazydlo and all those guys doing well.
The scene out here is definitely sick. I really like everybody out here. It’s crazy for me because I feel like I’ve been through every era, because even when Andy Kruse and Tom Hyser and Franky Loscavio…those were some of my first memories skating, going on tour with those guys. I went to Texas for the Hoedown with them and that was my first time going on a tour and it was crazy. To start from that and make it all the way to now is… It’s dope. I’ve seen myself grow. I’ve seen everything else change. To be able to ride with those changes and still be relevant is the test of time…if you can last. I feel good about still being in the game and being where I am. It’s good to be able to see the whole thing.
It does feel like we have watched you grow up via your video sections. With your years of experience in the blading industry, do you share any advice with your friends? I know Carson recently left Razors when he was apparently meant to get a pro skate. Is that something you two discussed?
We actually just talked about that this past week. Carson was letting everyone know that he just didn’t want to be with the company. He said how he wrote Andy a good email about how appreciative he was for everything. He didn’t read me the whole thing but it seemed really nice. He said Andy then asked him why he wanted to leave, so he wrote an even longer emailing explaining their differences – what he didn’t like – and then I think he didn’t hear back from Andy. I think it’s good for Carson. I was actually the one who got him on Razors and he reminded me about that. He thanked me for putting him on. He is a super cool kid but he understands now. He got to ride for the company and everyone told him, from my experience and everyone’s from that company and other companies that Andy owns, what to expect. He just felt like it was his time to get out of there.
It felt like Carson leaving Razors when he did took the power back for the skater a little in terms of sponsorship. It takes a lot of conviction to leave a company when they are offering you a pro skate. As someone who has skated for that company and left on a sour note, what is your lasting impression of working for Razors?
In all, it was a great experience for sure. Being able to live out in California in that house and…really feel like a professional, you know what I mean? That was cool. I heard a lot about Andy before I rode for the company and everybody does. Everybody has that in their head, but as long as you know I feel it’s a little better. I feel like there are a lot of kids that want to get into it but don’t know and, if they do, don’t care. They just want to be sponsored by that company because they think it’s a dope company. They don’t care about the underlying things it entails by being sponsored by that company.
When you say “people know about Andy”, what do you mean?
I don’t want to say anything that nobody else knows, but…
Are you referring to what he expects from his skaters?
It’s just not… He’s a business man, first of all, and he’s never skated a day in his life. I don’t feel like he really respects his team. His core are his team, the people he sponsors, the people he puts on his merchandise, and he doesn’t treat them the way a professional athlete should be treated, in my opinion. That’s the biggest thing; just the respect. Riding for that company was a struggle because it seemed like everything was all good on the outside, all the videos that you would see, because he wanted to make it look extravagant. It wasn’t. We can’t afford that lifestyle. He’s just trying to sell the dream basically and he doesn’t focus on the product enough. All the skates are always the same and it’s just changing colours. He doesn’t care enough to grow the brand for everybody else because he’s very comfortable where he’s at. If it were to get more money, everybody else would have to get more money. Anybody that doesn’t agree with him, he will either kick off the team or they will see their own way off the team themselves because they don’t believe in what he believes in.
It did seem like Razors tried to portray a rockstar lifestyle for a while, with the big house and the parties and people flashing money around in videos, which just seemed like a lie because the skaters weren’t actually being paid very much.
That’s exactly what it was. He wants it like that. A lot of people want to skate for the company and don’t care what people say about Andy because they have seen those videos. They’re like, “I don’t care about Andy. This is cool. I want to do this.” He got what he wanted. People are still into the company. Maybe one day people will be like, “No! No more Andy!” Ha!
I remember the second time I got fired and I didn’t think I would ever skate again. I was like, “I might have to start doing something else!”
That issue is not exclusive to Razors. It does seem like the business always takes precedent over the skater’s welfare and they are basically treated like replaceable commodities regardless of their standing in the community because there is always another young skater coming up who is happy to take their place. However, if that keeps happening, there are going to be no blading heroes, just a bunch of regularly replaced good skaters coming up that don’t have any real influence.
I feel you 100% on that.
If we keep losing all of our sport’s idols, there will be no-one for kids to look up to. If we just keep replacing great skaters with great skaters every few years, there is no…
And they just keep doing the same tricks and it doesn’t really look too different. There are people in blading who have that legendary status and they shouldn’t get diluted. I feel like that’s a huge problem with the industry. There’s also so much content that’s just sub par that… Even going on Rollernews and trying to look through some stuff, the majority of it is just whatever. It’s weird seeing your favourite skater’s video next to all this stuff that you don’t want to watch.
I know what you mean; there’s no importance placed on the great skaters if they are displayed in that way. You will have a Franky Morales video next to a video of some kid you have never heard of skating a p-rail.
“I have been skating for 20 years and this is everything to me.”
Looking back on your career, and your decision to leave Razors initially to ride for Rollerblade, do you regret any of the choices you made? It does feel like you could have had two pro skates by now for Razors if you just stayed with them all along and did your best to keep Andy happy.
Yeah, that’s true. I don’t have any regrets though. I learned from every experience. I needed that to get where I am right now, so I’m happy with everything. I went through a lot, it was crazy going through all those different sponsors, but I’m still here and I’m still skating. I remember the second time I got fired and I didn’t think I would ever skate again. I was like, “I might have to start doing something else!” But blading… Any time I show it to someone, I always get the same reactions. How do we capitalise off it? How do we make it something we can eat off? That’s the next step of where I see skating going to. There are so many good bladers that just don’t believe in it enough and they don’t want to push it. It’s hard when they leave but I think it’s for the best because it will only be the people that believe in it the most that want to do it. When that day comes, I feel like I will transcend the whole game. I’ve been in it since the beginning, I have been skating for 20 years and this is everything to me, so to think about doing something else is crazy to me. I went through that thought process when I didn’t have any sponsors.
After the whole Razors and Ground Control drama, it did seem like that could have been the end of your career. Was there ever a point when you thought to yourself, “I am done”?
That was where my life was at when it happened…that’s what I thought was happening. Then I got the news that the company I wanted to ride for didn’t want nothing to do with me and I was like, “Oh, man, that is how everyone sees me.” I was sponsorless and the one sponsor I wanted to get was like, “No, you are not the image we are looking for.”
Are you talking about…?
This is Adapt.
Do you think the reputation you gained in the industry for being a difficult person to work with is unjustified or do you understand why people would think that way about you?
I totally understand it now. It took me a minute. I didn’t realise at first, but when I did I had to step back and just analyse everything. I was trying to look at it how anybody else would, you know? Just not biased at all. I was trying to imagine, if I didn’t know myself, what would I think of me. I looked at some footage of me from over the years, just talking and….just interviews and stuff, then I realised it. I saw how people saw me and it was a weird feeling. I was like, “That’s not me.” That’s this weird version of me when I’m in my skate zone, all hyped up on skating, and it made me realise that I have to…
I think I know what you are trying to say. You saw yourself through other people’s eyes and suddenly it made sense why they might have a false impression of you. How did you convince Adapt to take a chance on you?
When I got off Razors and I wanted to get on Adapt… I saw them online, in a box, presented all sick at Winterclash. I was like, “Whoa, that’s really cool. I wonder if they’ll be into sending me skates.” I was at Bittercold and Brad Anthony was their rep, and he told me he could get me a pair. I was super juiced. He sent them an email and then he sent me the response that he got from Pieter and Olga. It was this big email explaining that they didn’t think I was the right person for their image, everything that had gone on with other companies…just my reputation. They didn’t think I would fit at all and that’s when I had to back up and look at everything. But at the end of the email, they said, “It’s still up for discussion.” That gave me a little hope, so I tried to think about what I was saying. I guess it came out good enough because they decided to work with me. It was weird because I already saw what they thought about me and I had to explain myself, that I understand everything they are worried about, but it’s just not me. Once they realised that, they liked me. We work great together. When I went over there, it was really dope. They’re family now. We have a great relationship and I couldn’t ask for anything better. It’s so good to be skating for someone that you can communicate with and work well with. I get to do stuff with this company that I haven’t been able to with any other company. I get to be more hands on.
It feels more like a working relationship where your ideas get heard, as opposed to a hierarchy where you have a boss and they tell you what to do.
You mentioned Pieter’s concern about your image when you first approached them. It does feel like, over the years, we have seen different versions of Julian Bah in videos. When you were younger, it was just the great skating we saw, then sometimes you appeared to be hyper and then there were certain times when you portrayed this rapper persona and it sometimes felt like we never knew which Julian we were going to get.
When your Mushroom Blading podcast came out, that felt like the first time we saw the real Julian Bah; talkative, funny, willing to laugh at himself. I have met some of your friends and they all say the same thing, “He’s a good guy. He is not like he appears in videos.” Do you think the image people have seen of you in certain videos has given them the wrong impression?
Yeah, most definitely. (Laughs) That’s what I am saying, I had to look at myself in all of these videos and I honestly think that has a lot to do with the way people see me. It’s the only way a lot of people do see me. On top of that, I am a pretty shy guy if I don’t really know you. At competitions, in front of a lot of people, a lot of people think I’m an asshole because I won’t say too much. They already have this idea about me, then they meet me and I don’t talk very much, and they’re like, “He didn’t say anything to me. He’s a fucking dick!” (Laughs) I think that doesn’t help. But when people get to know me, like you said… It’s good to know that my homies have my back. (Laughs)
After you convinced Pieter and Olga to take a chance on you, what happened next? How does your sponsorship with Adapt work?
There was an agreement when we first started working together…and then when they told me they wanted to give me a pro skate. I came up with an agreement and I felt like I scared them off a bit, actually. I proposed to get a contract written up and they were just kind of weary about it. They didn’t know what to think. I got it written up and when I went out for the skate release, that’s when we signed everything. They give me a certain amount for sales of the skate. There were other stipulations about the amount of edits I had to put out and what both of us expected from each other and… The only reason I did that was because I was paranoid as a result of getting off Razors. I was like, “This new company wants to make a skate. They’re out there, I’m over here. I don’t really know.” I thought it was the best situation for both parties because they can see, on paper, what they should expect from me as well. It goes both ways. They were uncomfortable at first, but when I went out there we talked about it and revised it a little bit. It was all good.
It does sound like a big gamble for both you and Adapt. They’re just complete strangers to you that live thousands of miles away. If they turned out to be shady, they could have sold your pro skate and given you nothing.
It sounds like a pretty unique agreement. Most of the skaters we have interviewed over the years have never had a formal contract from their boot sponsor and their main complaint is that they feel what is expected of them was either never clear in the first place or changed during the course of their sponsorship without any formal discussion.
That’s just it, it’s never clear. You never have something written, saying, “Here, do this.” It’s just kind of expected, for most companies.
But from what you said regarding Adapt, it seems like you both clearly set out what you expected of each other from the very beginning. It’s odd that other companies don’t appear to adopt that approach.
Yeah, for sure. That was a huge thing with being on Razors that I thought was just fishy, for sure. The fact that he had us out in California living as well, I felt like we should have been under some kind of…something! Some kind of contract. But, no, I never signed any contract with any other company. Actually, I signed a contract with Rollerblade.
Now that Carson Starnes is back in Atlanta, Chris Smith is there and films, David Sizemore is there and also films, why are you guys not working on a video?!
(Laughs) Oh… Erm… I love that!
It seems like the perfect time to do it! They are all skating incredibly and have built up a following, and you already have a huge following. Surely it would make sense to work on something together, no?
You’ve got a point there, I will give you that! (Laughs) Erm… We might have something planned, I don’t know. I don’t know! (Laughs)
That is not even close to an acceptable answer!
(Laughs) Erm…yeah. (Laughs)
I’m going to be optimistic and assume that you are working on something, but it’s just too early to announce anything.
(Laughs) Take it how you will! I’m not saying yes and I’m not saying no.
I have been out drinking with some of your friends from Atlanta and I heard that you have a nickname.
Oh, God! (Laughs) How did you hear about Alan?!
I am not telling you who told me. Why don’t you tell us about Alan?
(Laughs) Oh, shit! Oh…man. All right. Alan started in Vegas. You know The Hangover, obviously….Zach Galifanakis’ character. (Laughs) They started calling me Alan because I got a little…too inebriated out in Vegas one night and couldn’t remember too much the next morning. I think it’s in the Ground Control video…in the credits or in the bonus, you can hear somebody calling me Alan. That was the night it started and it has fucking followed me everywhere since! Oh, man… But he means well. He’s a funny guy. (Laughs) Sometimes he gets in a bit of trouble…but never anything too serious! (Laughs)
I’ll let you off with that very slender explanation!
(Laughs) What else do you want?!
Alan in The Hangover drugs everyone without their knowledge, so when I heard that was your nickname, I thought…
I didn’t do anything like that, I just don’t remember everything! Must have been the rufilin… (Laughs)
Aside from working on the Gawds video, which I am assuming is in the very early stages…
Yeah, I probably shouldn’t even have mentioned it, honestly. Shit. Erm… Too late now, so…
What else have you got planned?
I’m trying to work on a lot of music. When it gets colder, I like to work on music because I can’t skate as much here. I am going to go to Blading Cup and then going back out to California, probably San Diego, to skate for a little bit with Chris Smith. Hopefully he is going to be coming out there with me. Other than that, just music and trying to do a bunch of shows. There’s a skatepark I’m working on… Fingers crossed that comes through. I’ve been working on it for years, but I never know if it’s actually going to happen. I just heard from the guy today. He called me up and wants to get back into business, so…
Wait, what?! You are working on an indoor skatepark in Atlanta?
Yeah, the biggest indoor park in Atlanta, basically. The location is sick, it sits on 15 acres, it’s ten minutes from the airport, so it would be perfect for competitions. It’s like a little getaway. There are two lakes on the property. The guy I’m working with wants to do a lot with the property – paintball and everything. Right now, we are just working on the skatepark. He already has a foundation laid. The building is already set, we just have to finish closing it up and then we can start doing the ramps. We’ve got to get grants sorted and all this other stuff I never knew how to do that I am now learning about. It’s been a learning experience, if nothing else!
That sounds pretty interesting. It seems like you are gonna be really busy in the upcoming months.
Well, I think I have interrogated you enough, unless you have anything else you want to discuss…or you want to tell us a little bit more about Alan.
Oh, my God! (Laughs) I want to hear your stories. I want to know how you know about Alan!
It’s probably best if we don’t go there.
Julian Bah has made some questionable choices in the past and he hasn’t always painted himself in the best light, but he still feels like a skater we can get behind and champion. The new Julian Bah is older, wiser and he has learned from all the experiences that have taken place in his blading career up to this point. Plus, his talent continues to shine with the same intensity that it did when he first won our respect with his exceptional skills and creative flare all those years ago. After a decade at the pinnacle of the sport, he understands how to stay current and keep his audience engaged and, above all, he still seems to have love for his craft. As someone who has been his biggest supporter and most vocal detractor in equal measure, I cannot wait to see what he will do next and, whether you like to admit it or not, if you are reading this you probably feel the same.
Photos: Kevin Dowling and Erick Rodriguez
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