What’s skateboarding really about, anyway? Austin Graziano, founder of the California Bonzing Company, says it’s all about the incredible feeling one gets from riding. Graziano uses many superlatives to describe this feeling: joy, buoyancy, happiness, head high. The word that Graziano returns to, a somewhat indefinable word, but definitely evocative, is “bonzing.”
My first exposure to the California Bonzing Company (CBC) was a YouTube video featuring Graziano flying down Market Street on a full-size ironing board with trucks and wheels bolted to the bottom. Since then the CBC has come out with video after video, done two successive Parking Day events, and released the first board this summer along with a new video featuring skaters bombing down Twin Peaks.
I grabbed some enchiladas with Austin to catch up on what the California Bonzing Co. has been up to and get an idea of what exactly bonzing means: an approach to skateboarding that gets to the roots of the practice.
J: What’s the California Bonzing Company all about?
AG: It’s about the joy of skating. And what skating opens up to us… the unique perspectives and beauty that skateboarding allows us to have. We ride boards of all shapes and sizes, and we believe that each individual has their own style that can only be defined by the individual.
J: And what is the latest with the California Bonzing Company?
AG: We just finished Parking Day on September 18th, where we supported the building of San Francisco skate parks. This year we teamed up with the San Francisco Skateboard Association. We took over about 7 spots, had a mini halfpipe and a street course. We’re working on our second board, with artist Dane Spriggs. Really excited about it, should be pretty awesome. And.. continuing working on our films of San Francisco.
J: What’s the most recent video?
AG: Twin Peaks. That came out in June.
J: Twin Peaks is a crazy hill.
AG: It’s an awesome hill.
J: Kind of the mother of all San Francisco hills.
AG: Yeah! Yeah, you know it’s kind of hard to convey that in video. In my first cut I tried to explain that in the video. Most of the audience is outside of San Francisco. So everybody’s like, uh… yeah. Didn’t really get it that well. I cut out trying to explain how ridiculous the hills are.
J: When you look at a hill (to skate) what are you looking for?
AG: You don’t really pick out hills. Some turns in it are good, what I personally like, but it’s kind of the way you ride it, the way you break it down when you’re riding it. There’s some things you have to worry about – the lights are kind of like close-outs, you can get caught in front of the light or behind the light and have to bail or almost get hit by a car or something.
J: How did you first start skateboarding? Were you drawn to the big boards at first or did that come along later?
AG: I first started skateboarding when I was like 8 years old. Plastic board, plastic trucks, that kind of thing.
J: When did California Bonzing Company start?
AG: In 2006. It started shooting the videos. The videos that we produce are unlike other skateboarding videos. Skateboarding videos for some, one director called it “skateboarding porn” – where it’s just like trick, after trick, after trick, and there’s not too much variance in the way you watch your skateboarding. So, we produced these things where it’s not just like someone doing this kickflip – which is pretty cool, yeah – but we also try to capture what that skateboarder is feeling when he’s doing that trick, that’s what we try to portray, that headrush, that head high.
J: The other thing I noticed is that with each video, there’s a really strong sense of that place and that moment.
AG: All the videos are shot at specific skate spots in California. We try to explain a little bit about the location and the feeling of it. Parking Day was really cool. The core of skateboarding in the world is very, a tradition of you know – fuck your mother, skate or die, hardcore, punk rock… we understand that, but what we produce is different, you know, we’re kind of interested in the bouyant feeling of skateboarding. Parking Day put me into contact with the kind of core skateboarders that maybe aren’t my normal audience, so that was one cool thing about it.
J: What’s the state of skate parks in the Bay Area?
AG: There’s three (in SF). There’s Crocker Amazon, one down Potrero, and a little dish, literally like an oval with a nub in the middle. Even if you were to include all of the Bay Area, Alameda and like the North Bay, it only totals to like seven skate parks. Portland Oregon has like 24.
J: That’s crazy.
AG: Puts it into perspective. It’s like any other sport – football, baseball, basketball – people need a place to do it. You’ve got to do it somewhere. There’s totally that inconsistency. We’re not allowed to skateboard on the sidewalk, we’re not allowed to skate on the street. Where are we supposed to skate? It’s illegal on the sidewalk, it’s illegal on the street.
J: What gave you the idea to put wheels on an ironing board?
AG: I thought it would be silly and funny, and why the hell not?
J: What’s the experience riding such a huge board?
AG: It’s a little crazy, yeah. I want to produce a board like this – I’ve ridden one like it before. With the big boards, you can come into a turn, and the board will flex your weight, and just when you think you are not going to make it at the apex of the turn you bounce into the center of the board, the board takes the weight flexs and makes the turn, you can like pop it and it digs in and turns really tight – it’s pretty cool.
J: Riding these really big boards, it’s almost like turning back to the roots of skateboarding – you’ve probably seen Dogtown and Z-Boys and stuff – the roots of skateboarding in surfing, like wanting to surf the pavement.
AG: Waves that break 7 days a week. You really do have to look at the history of skateboarding to see where it is now. Even understanding it, and redefining what skateboarding is – not just in a halfpipe, or on the street – it’s everywhere.
J: Your first board came out in June this year…
AG: The name of the board is De Stijl – pronounced “Da Stall” – and in Dutch it means “The Style” – and it’s also the name of a 19th Century Dutch art movement, and the artwork on the board is inspired by this movement. It’s the first convex longboard ever, and it’s made out of bamboo and maple.
J: The first convex longboard ever. How did you come up with that?
AG: Well, when we’re riding our boards… we go really fast and turn often.
J: How fast?
AG: There’s terminal velocity, seriously. It’s hard to say… 30, 40 miles an hour, going the same speed as the cars definitely, no doubt. With the concave boards, when you’re going too far, then you’ve got to rebalance yourself, okay, then push on the insole of the board, just enough to slow yourself down – or if you go too much you have to kind of do this balancing act.
People have tried to make up for this by making flat boards. But even the flat boards, when you’re going fast and turning a lot the board torques from the front and back adding uncertainty to your turn. If you were to put all your weight on your heels, it would put too much pressure on your heels and throw your board out, so you have to kind of put some weight on your toes, and kind of turn, spreading your weight evenly. It doesn’t feel that comfortable… it’s not as pure as it could be. So man, one day I was like, let’s turn this thing upside down. And I did, and it was great. You sit on the inside of this centrifugal force, in the turn, and you just sit up on the outside of the board. It’s great. It’s pretty awesome.
J: What’s next for California Bonzing?
AG: More boards, clothes. San Francisco to San Diego – bonzing worldwide. We’re in the process of shooting a series of videos in San Francisco, something I wanted to do from the getgo. Sunset, Downtown and Chinatown.
We’ve done the longboarding thing now, Twin Peaks. Chinatown is going to feature sliding, where you slide on the ground. Downtown’s going to have street skating. Sunset is going to have street skating, longboarding, and sliding.
Another thing we’re working on is pave reports. I don’t think pave reports have ever been done in the skateboard industry. Every time a street is paved in San Francisco, we’ll be reporting on it, letting you know where the fresh pavement is being laid.
Interview by Justin Allen
Pics by Eric Carlson, courtesy California Bonzing Co.
For more info, visit californiabonzing.com