Greg Janess

I don’t really remember the first time I met Greg. The past seems to be getting a bit fuzzy. I do remember the first time I saw him. He was riding a wood grain Roskopp II and was doing boneless variations. At the time though, if you saw another skater you would approach them. There weren’t that many of us, and Fallon was far from skater friendly. Greg had a supportive family and an amazing ramp. To this day skating that ramp with him in the scorching heat is some of my best memories growing up. Watching him excell so fast and the constant road trips made skating so much bigger. From vert, ledges, pools, tech, to big gaps, Greg skated everything on a higher level. Greg also dealt with my ups and downs through out the years and stayed a true friend. I’m very honored to say Greg Janess is my friend and bring you his interview for Wheel Bite. One of Reno’s finest on and off the board! -ERL

Japan style in Reno. Volland Photo.

1. Greg you were the first person I knew that had not only a ramp but, a good ramp. How long after you started skating did you and your Dad build it?

I had been skateboarding a lot for about two years when my dad offered to help build me a half pipe. So that means I was about 14 and it was 1987. I was at a crossroads. My dad had gotten me a motorcycle when I was about 8 and that had become a huge part of my life. I was also really into bmx at the time too. Initially it was a toss up between skateboarding and biking on the ramp. And I rode the motorcycle on it a few times too.

Greg’s backyard was our skatepark. Circa 1987.

2. The Janess Ramp went through several phases of alteration. Your Dad was always supportive and out there sweating in his famous sweater. What were the original dimensions?

At first the ramp wasn’t that great but it was exactly what I needed to learn to compress and do kick turns. At the first phase it was eight feet wide. It had eight-foot transitions and was nine feet tall on one side and eleven on the other. So we’re talking one foot of vert on the low side and three on the other. The higher side was my dad’s attempt to keep us from damaging the satellite dish that was right behind it. That worked for awhile.

Fallon Mini Ramp Contest Circa 1990.

3. What video or mag inspired you to build your own ramp?

My first inspiration was a skate demo I was lucky enough to see at the California State Fair in Sacramento. We had gone to the fair because one of my sisters, Katherine, wanted to go to a ‘Til Tuesday/Rick Springfield concert. Somehow I ended up at that concert with my sister and mom. But anyway there was also a half-pipe demo by Christian Hosoi and Alan Losi. Not at the concert itself but earlier in the day in a large tent. It was the first time I had ever seen skateboarding like that in anything but Thrasher or Transworld. I was completely blown away. I had no idea the human body was capable of such things. Just watching them drop in was the biggest miracle I had ever witnessed. Prior to that I had seen this guy in Fallon, Pete Baratti, ollie over a gutter and that had been amazing. That was the first time I saw anyone ollie anything. I had no idea how he was able to get a skateboard to lift off the ground for almost two feet and to a height of almost four inches. My new goal in life was to ollie up a curb.

4. The first time I saw you skating you had that wood grain Roskopp II. Was that your first board?

My very first board was a hand-me-down from my older brother. Or more like an abandoned relic that was in the toy chest. It was one of those fiberglass ones that was maybe 20-inches long and 5-inches wide. The trucks were so skinny there was no way I could get them to grind the edge of the sidewalk in my front yard. Next was a Locals Only from Gemco in Sparks. My choice was that or an Executioner which I had seen one or two people riding. Either one was crap but it was the next step up from fiberglass and I was beginning to read Thrasher quite a bit. It was full of advertisements and product placement that made me sure I had to get my hands on one of these professional-quality decks. My parents had to be sure this wasn’t a passing interest before they would consider taking me to a regular skate shop.

Circa June of 1985.

5. What inspired you to pick up your first skateboard? 

 My grandmother kept this journal that she would edit and share with the family each year. In it she wrote that at age eight I was interested in all things with wheels and that it would be interesting to see what my choice of transportation would be. It’s true I always loved things with wheels. That love affair had me riding bikes, then motorcycles, then skateboards. Skateboarding has shaped my core philosophy on life and how I see the world.

 

6. Who was in your first skate crew? I rolled with Jim Allred, Steve Schmitt, and Steve Stubblefield. You had a bit of a younger crew at first right? Although we eventually  became one crew.

It seemed like everyone was skateboarding when I really got into it in 1985. My early skate crew included Matt Robinson, Matt Nelson, Jay Descallar, Jason Crockett, Rob Duvall, Ryan Carey, and Derek Yost. Others too but it’s amazing how the years erase those important connections from childhood.

7. The kids today have it made with skating being so popular. Explain how it was growing up a skater in Fallon NV.

There were no skateparks or skateshops. No X-Games or Internet to see what skateboarders in other places were doing. My only connection to the outside world of skateboarding was through Thrasher, Transworld, and a video rental place that somehow had VHS tapes of the 1985 Vision contests at the Del Mar and Upland skateparks in Southern California. Fallon is such a weird place. You have a lot of hicks plus a Navy base that brings in people from all around the U.S. I’m surprised there has never been some huge battle between the locals and the 18-year-olds who signed up for the Navy and have no idea how they ended up in the Nevada high desert.

Nose slide in Fallon NV. Volland photo.

Nose slide in Fallon NV. Volland photo.

8. There’s nothing lamer than the guys who you used to skate with and they quit, only to talk shit to you for sticking with it. After all your friends quit, why did you stick it out?

I’m not sure how it happened but one day it was cool to skateboard and the next day it wasn’t. There was so much pressure from the jocks and conformers to get everyone who skateboarded to quit. It was a constant onslaught of getting shoved into walls, tripped, and being called a skate fag. We live in a funny country where everyone wants to be an individual but then gets upset when someone is different from them. Many have empty lives without passion. They tend to act out anytime they see someone truly enjoying themselves. I loved skateboarding like nothing before. I wasn’t’ going to give it up without a fight. I take that back. I’m more of a conscientious objector than a fighter. Those with empty lives pushed and hit me quite a bit but they couldn’t break me. Skateboarding was my life. Skateboarding is life.

9. You always came back from skate camp with a whole new bag of tricks. I was pretty jealous I couldn’t go, although I was like 45 at the time. What skate camp did you go to?

I went to the Bobby G camp in Fresno twice and then then the Sequoia Lake YMCA camp once. Going to skate camp was a huge motivating factor for me. It was my first opportunity to skate a real vert ramp, a spine ramp, a good street course. It was so inspiring to skate shoulder-to-shoulder with pro skateboarders I had only see in magazines. It turns out they were real people and they weren’t perfect in every way. They were way better than me, of course, but I discovered they don’t land everything on every try. Most of them were really nice and were happy to give me tips and trick ideas.

The summer of my 16th birthday I had appendicitis and almost died. I was supposed to go to skate camp in a week and that’s all I cared about. The day after emergency surgery I was asking my mom to call them and see if it was possible to go to later camp session. It all worked out and was amazing. I got to skate with Jeremy Wray that week at camp. At the time he wasn’t yet sponsored but it was so obvious he was going to be a big deal.

10. I know when you got your drivers license, you started hitting the road quick. First it was Reno 293 trips right? How soon did you start hitting up SF to skate EMB?

Nose pick in Fallon NV. Volland photo.

Living in Fallon without a car is like being in a mosquito-infested prison in the middle of nowhere. Occasionally you could escape to the real world when someone with a car would drive you the 60 miles to Reno. Then you were at least somewhere that had some influences besides farming and the military. With my license I could finally escape most days of the week. Most evenings of my junior and senior years in high school were spent driving to Reno to skate until the sun went down before driving right back to Fallon. That means most of the school year I was driving an hour to skate for an hour in Reno at 293. Then it was an hour back to Fallon to have dinner with my parents and to skate my ramp after that. I know a lot of the skaters at 293 didn’t like me at first because I was so focused on getting in that skate time before driving back home. Making friends would have been great if I had the time for it. I think they started to warm up to me some in the Spring months when I had a bit more time to hang out. Although for that to happen I had to convince my parents that I shouldn’t have to be home for dinner. Not the easiest thing to do. Especially when my dad had spent all that time helping me build the ramp. He couldn’t quite understand why I would need to skateboard somewhere else.

I had been to EMB one other time just before the ’89 earthquake that took out the Embarcadero freeway. Ray Henderson, from Carson City, drove me down. I believe Eric Dado was their too. I had to figure out a way to skate there much more. It took a lot of convincing but eventually my parents let me drive myself to SF to skateboard for a weekend. Daryl Dibattista was with me on some of those early trips and he knew some girls who had an apartment in the City. Sometimes we were able to stay with them for the Saturday night. Other times we slept in the car and used the Hyatt bathrooms in the morning to freshen up. I was lucky that parents ever let me do all that. In hindsight that’s a crazy amount of responsibility for them to give me.

11. The vibe their was pretty harsh with all the “T Dog” craze. You seemed to fit in fairly quit for a small town white boy. What was skating there like for you?

Every trip to EMB was all about seeing what crazy tricks Mike Carroll and Henry Sanchez were doing. Pressure flips and hard flips were all the rage at this point and it was mind blowing to see those two doing them down the 7. A lot of the guys there were vibers but I somehow got in pretty quickly with Karl Watson and Mike York. They were seriously good and respected by the others. The other locals weren’t too bad if you were aware enough to stay out of their way. I’m pretty sure my best skating there was late at night when the place cleared out some. I have many fond memories of skating there with you, Daryl, Mark Carlisle, Kelly Haugen, and John Strickland. Were you there that time James Kelch gave us new decks for giving him a ride home?

Five O to fakie at Ozzy’s Ramp. ERL photo.

12. I missed that trip but, James did a similar deal with me. More of a “cash today, product tomorrow” type deal. EMB was blowing up at that time. I remember you went to San Diego on one trip. Things changed after that. Is that the trip you met Ozzy (Alvarez)?

Daryl (DiBattista) convinced me to give Rob Hostetter a ride to SD for the Zorlac premiere of Zero Hero. Honestly I was still rather green at the time and intimidated by the idea of having a SAP in my car for such a long drive. Rob turned out to be a really great guy and I had been worried without reason. He introduced me to Ozzy at the premiere and we hit it off right away. He had just turned pro for Zorlac and moved from Georgia. He was still in the process of getting things going there and he offered me a place to stay anytime I visited. He also said he could help me out with skate gear if I needed it. I probably took advantage of those offers much more than I should have.

13. Yeah but at the time you were focusing a lot of boards! I remember you invited me on the next SD trip. When you said it was an 8 hour drive, I thought you were nuts. When did you start getting hooked up from skate companies. Although the Polaroid’s we sent to Skull Skates didn’t pan out too well!

I think I remember us sending Polaroids to Small Room too. The very first company to hook me up was Firewood which was Daryl’s company out of Bikes and Boards in Reno. Daryl was cutting boards out of the blanks the skate shop used to be able to get. I think they were something like 11 x 33 pressed rectangular blanks that had concave with a tail and nose kick. Not much nose kick since noses were really short around this time. Anyway, he would cut the shape himself and then file and buff the edges. He would also add some graphics with a marker. I think Mike Huntsman was skating for him too at this point. That was a huge deal to me. Before that my only sponsor had been my parents.

Toby Riley and Greg in Heckler Magazine cira 1997. Chris Carnell photo.

14. Break it down Greg. Who were your sponsors? From shops to the big boys?

Let’s see. Bikes and Boards/Firewood, Karl Watson when he had an extra board (he skated for Think when it first started), Ozzy giving me Zorlac boards, ridiculously large pants, and small wheels (it was 1991 after all), Entity, Gullwing, Pacific Drive, Vision Shoes, World of Toys (Ben Dickson rules), Pacific Drive, Addiction, Human Skateboards, Clean Skateboards (flow from Kyle Volland), Venture Trucks (flow from Greg Carroll), Jeff and Damian at Out of Bounds. There were many others who helped me on the way. You have helped me numerous times and still do today. Scott Waters hooked me up with boards and shoes more times than I can count. Caine Gayle and Gershon Mosely helped me a lot too. I’ve been really lucky to have had so many great people in my life.

15. I think it was at the 93 Back to the City Contest in SF that Ozzy called you out at Hubba Hide Out. Something along the lines of “get down to business on this giant hubba and you’ll be fully on Entity” type deal. I know we were flowing you at the time. Ozzy always pushed you and Scott Waters. How did that all go down and what did you do on Hubba Hide Out that day?

We had skated Fort Miley for quite a bit that day and then someone said we should go to Hubba. I don’t think we intended to try anything on it at first. It was more of a reconnoissance mission to size it up and think about things we hoped to try on it in the future. I remember popping an ollie down the stairs but not having any real thoughts about trying anything on the ledge. Then Ozzy says something like, “Do something on that ledge and I’ll put you on Entity.” He was dead serious and it was the exact thing I needed for the motivation to try. I can’t remember how many times I rolled up to it before trying the first trick but it suddenly all came together. I locked into a noseslide and realized I had more in me than I thought. By the end of the session I had pulled a 50-50, a boardslide, a noseslide, noseslide to fakie, noselide to 270 shove-it, a 180 nosegrind, and a 180 nosegrind to fakie. That day got me on the team on a lot of what we filmed that day ended up in the Entity video. I was on cloud 9.

Entity Skateboards ad. Hubba sessions.

16. All those years of skate camp paid off son! I realized you stepped it up a few notches at the big four in SD. You were trying BS Nollie Flips, getting wheel bite, and ripping your back to shreds. Sal Barbier and Sean Sheffey rolled up and you quit trying. Sal Kicked Flipped them and Sheffey Heel Flipped them that day. A lot of people took you for a conceited guy, when in fact you were a shy kid. Although you did jump back up there with them. Not too long after that Ozzy asked you to turn Pro right?

I knew I had gotten a lot better but I hadn’t moved past being a small-town kid. Those two rolled up and all I could do was watch in awe. You have to understand this was when H-Street was a huge deal and Plan B was brand new. I knew I had a lot of potential but I wasn’t so sure I could ever be anything like them.

Mira Loma Session

17. Ozzy had your Pro Model all ready and last minute you said no. I’ve never really asked you seriously about that. Why did you pull the plug. Most people would kill for that opportunity?

This is really hard to answer. Turning pro didn’t feel right to me at the time but in hindsight I realize it was my only chance. Ozzy believed in me but I wasn’t liking the constant pressure to perform. My love for skateboarding was very important and I was afraid turning it into a job would kill that love. I wanted to take a step back to focus again on why skateboarding was so important to me. Basically I was afraid of losing my one true passion and also didn’t realize I would never have another chance. I don’t regret my decision but of course there is that big “what if” that will never be answered.

Entity Skateboards ad. Switch flip.

 

18. That’s a hard decision but, it seemed to work out in the long run. I think you still deserved a Pro Model. After that, did your mindset change a bit towards skating?

Removing that pressure to perform felt really good. My favorite people to skate with were in Reno and I never quite felt like I completely belonged in San Diego anyway. It was always in the back of my mind that I would need to move back to San Diego or to San Francisco to get coverage if I wanted to try to get another chance at being pro. That never happened but I have lots of fond memories of many great times.

19. What are some of your greatest memories of skating after all this time?

I skated the Pipeline skatepark in Upland when I was 13. It was the first skatepark I ever skated and then it was torn down soon after.

Funny this popped in my head but I think you were at the Plan B ramp when we got to skate it for a bit. I dropped in on the 17-foot extension without pads and then had no idea what to do with the speed when I hit the other wall. I slowed down as much as I could but still probably went about three or four feet over the other wall before kicking my board away. Then I kind of landed on my feet for a second before sliding down the transition on my butt.

Skating the ramp at Tony Hawk’s house was incredible. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined being at his house and skating that ramp. It was unreal.

20. Tony Hawk’s ramp was definitely insane. We were still in the fan out stage for a lot of Pros back then. What are you doing these days? You went full circle and move to SF?


I’m living in San Francisco and skateboarding when I have time. I’m kept pretty busy doing computer tech support job for a book publisher on weekdays and from long bikes rides to places North of the Golden Gate Bridge a few times a week. Recently I started playing bass guitar in a band, Ritual Debris, after finally getting around to playing music again a few years back (I was in marching/concert band from about 5th to 12th grade but took a music hiatus for about 15 years). I’m dating a woman, Mel, who means the world to me. We’re planning on doing a camping/bike tour of Europe for 4+ months next Spring. My father passed away last July and I’ve been visiting my mom in Fallon whenever possible.

Welcome to the Jungle video.

21. Thank you Greg for not being a quitter and being my oldest skate bud! Now is your time to thank the people out there.

I’ve mentioned many of them earlier in the interview but they deserve to be mentioned again. First and foremost I would like to thank my parents for being supportive of anything I ever wanted to do. They may have not always liked it but they hid that well. I love and miss my dad very much. Many thanks to you for many years of friendship. We had a falling out in the past but we made it through and I’m very happy to have you in my life. Thank you to Daryl Dibattista, Todd Schroeder, Steve Stubblefield (RIP), Ben Dickson, Karl Watson, Toby Riley, Sherry Riley, Josh Riley, Ozzy Alvarez, Ray Underhill(RIP), Steve Saiz, Walt Teidge, John Ludwick, Scott Waters, Beau Shaver(RIP), Spencer Benavides, Lisa and Alan Sprague, Justin Hay-Chapman, Jeff Goforth, Damian Ruff, Andy Haney, Stan Byers, Mike Huntsman, Kyle Volland, Peter Jiminez, Scott Waters, Classic Skate Shop, and so many others. You know who you are so please give me a hard time if I forgot to mention you by name.

Time Warp.

I’m very proud I can say skateboarding has made me who I am. It exposed me to the larger world and introduced me to thousands of great people. Thanks for reading. Now get out there and go skateboarding.

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2 thoughts on “Greg Janess

  1. OPD

    Greg rules..i remember i was in the navy for a few years stationed in Fallon and got to skate with Greg a few times. What a ripper. Greg if you are ever up in Portland come skate Burnside with me. -OPD Mike

    Reply

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