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Friday, January 8, 2010
Updated: June 21, 11:55 AM ET
Keeping Sacto Spicy

By Josh Brooks

As one of Stereo's original members and a partial brainchild behind IPath, Matt Rodriguez has always brought originality and style to everything he does. Out of San Jose, he made a name for himself in San Francisco, but made a home in Sacramento, all while staying homies with Cardiel and approaching everything with a Do-It-Yourself attitude. Get some Rodriguez history, heated by the habaneros tucked into his knitted hat. Enjoy.
Matt always tries to keep it spicy, whatever way he can. A portrait with one of his little habanero buddies.
You've been on IPath since the very beginning. What's been the history of IPath, since the beginning?
The history of IPath has been just going against the grain of what everyone else was doing at the time. When it started, all the companies were making shoes that were more sporty or fresh. We wanted to come out with something a little more abstract and down-to-earth—more progressive as far as the materials we were using, more eco-friendly. Our riders were more in line with the lifestyle of the company, not just the sick tricks they could do.

I remember thinking the shoes were so completely different.
Yeah, well, in the beginning Matt Pailes, Matt Field and me had the first three shoes, the Grasshopper Fields, the Buffalo Pailes and the Cat Rodriguez. Me, Field and Pailes got together and were asking ourselves, should we call it I&IPath or just IPath and I was like, "No, it should just be IPath with one solid symbol." So, we went out for a photo shoot, just to bomb a hill. We didn't even have samples made, so we just bombed it barefoot—kind of a roots thing, the essence—and ran that as our first ad. It said, "One truth, many paths, one destiny." That was cool.

Then, there was the first tradeshow we went to. We had the samples there and had our own homemade shirts that Pailes and I had made. We made our own stickers to give out. A lot of people were like, "What's this s**t? It's some hippy ass s**t. This ain't gonna last." [Laughs] We tried to come out of left field, be different and catch people's attention, but at the same time, they didn't understand it. It was too hippy or too eco. They either loved it or hated it.

So, when IPath started, who was backing it?
It was just Pailes and I and an investor, Brian Cross. There was probably one other dude under his wing, but for the most part Brian Cross. Field, Matt Pailes, me and Bigfoot set the direction as far as the Bigfoot art and grassroots appearance and, you know, our credibility as far as names before IPath even started.

What year did it start again?
Late '99. It was right before 2000. We didn't have much money, but we had cool designs and our names. We weren't a bunch of no-name barneys. We had separately built our own places in skating and we wanted to do something that we could vibe with. We didn't want to try to relate to someone else's program, you know? We wanted to use different materials—hemp and other fabrics—and question what skate shoes could be.

I remember them being really different at the time.
Yeah, a lot of shoes were really tech then and our shoes were simpler. We wanted shoes that were easy on the eye, not all this busy-ness going on.

IPath has changed a lot over the years. How is it different now from early on?
It's definitely undergone some changes with riders and structure, but I would say the general direction has stayed there. They've played with some different ideas, but it still falls back on that central root. We've always been willing to branch out to different riders with a different style, but it's got that same core.

I know you have a bunch of new ams on the team, who are unique. What are some of the experiences you've had getting to know them?
It's always good to have new energy around. There are the new guys, like Jaws. You never know what to expect from them [laughs]. He's always got his mouth open. He's just a skate rat, you know? It's cool to have that young energy around. He's out late at night, hardflipping down massive sets of stairs...f**kin A, I remember having energy like that. There's Jaws and then [Danny] Dicola. He rips, man. He's awesome. He's so soulful and he gets down on anything—ditches, bowls, and parks. It's always rad skating with Dicola.

There's Ben Raybourn, too.
Oh yeah, he's got a lot of slash and power. He'll be around for a long while. He loves it. Sometimes he reminds me of [John] Cardiel—so much energy and he doesn't know what to do with it. Like, "Take me somewhere before I put my head through a window."

Frontside ollie on his backyard ramp creation. Rodriguez is determined to make a scene, no matter how hard it might be.

Speaking of Cardiel, you've known him forever, right?
Yeah, I've known John [Cardiel] for, like, 18 years. I knew John when he was just a lanky kid from Grass Valley coming down to Sacramento to rip s--t. Cardiel's always been a spawn child.

You guys have been biking around a lot together, right?
Yeah, we roll around. Cardiel's always hittin' the trails, you know? Whenever he doesn't leave me in the dust, we'll go ride, hit the trails, take the train out really far and bike back into town. We'll cruise around town, 'cause he can't really skate around any more. So, it's kind of my way of going out, slashing and rolling with him.

There are times when he'll call me and I'll have something set up to skate and he'll be like, "Yo Matty, what up? You wanna hang?" And, I don't even have the heart to tell him I'm going skating, you know? I'll be like, "I gotta do something. I got this errand I gotta run," or "I gotta go get my son," but I'll hit you up first thing when I'm done. He's like, "All right...all right!" I can't tell him, "I'm gonna go skate, bro. I'll catch up with you later!" Breaks my heart.

Having to hear that all the time might be tough, huh?
Yeah, but he's a champ, man. He still loves skating. He's down here a lot. I'm building a ramp in my backyard right now and he's come over here a few times to give me some tools and help out. He just loves it. He's like, "I suck dude, but I'm gonna skate this ramp!" He'll come around and pump, but his legs get tired easily, you know?

It's cool that he's found something else to put that energy into—something like biking.
Yeah, he's always been an underground biker. He's got tons of PK Ripper BMX bikes that he's gotten over the years. It was just cool for him to dive into something he already loved, but on a new wave—like fixed gears, no breaks. He's gnarly. He wants to go fast and haul ass...have that element where you can go down hard any second.

I heard you guys got some bike tickets for not having breaks.
Oh yeah. Sacto cops were like, "We're in a budget crisis and there aren't any skate rats downtown because all the street s--t is small and outdated. So, since the fixed gear thing is all big, they have these bike cops and undercover patrol cars specifically pulling over bikers to see if they have a brake. It's easy to tell if there's no brake. I had a friend who got pulled over and they impounded his bike for a month the first time he ever got caught. I got lucky. I got stopped, got a ticket and then had to pay $25 and then I was cool. You gotta get a brake, have a CHP [California Highway Patrol] sign it off that you have a brake now and then go to court, so they can clear it up. It's like, " All this for that?...I'm wasting your time, you're wasting my time, for $25 bucks?" A lot of guys are hardball about it, though. They put a brake on for a day and then take it off, but if you get caught the second time, they'll run your name and then they'll take your bike and impound it for a month.

That's funny, because you could just put on a fake handbrake.
Yeah, yeah, for sure. You could have a brake, but you don't have to use it. You could just stop using the feet holsters. But, it's rad, because Johnny vibes off of it, like skating. There's the same commitment on the bike and everything your feet do the bike does, like on a skateboard. He vibes on it, so he got me stoked on it and he helped me build my first bike. He did it all sick. It was like a rugged bike we found on the street. He stripped it down, rubbed down the rust, gave it a paint job, bought some rims...next thing you know, I'm rollin' with him.

He's actually going to start building bikes as a business, right?
Yeah, yeah, he's got his own website he's working on, called Brake Free Customs, brakefreecustoms.com. It's all bikes that he set up...just him vibing on color schemes and different parts. He wants to open up a shop in Sac, eventually. He wants me to help him. It's like, Brake Free Customs—skateboards ain't got no brakes. We'd set up customs, sell skateboards and only sell cool s--t—not toy s--t. Anyway, that's kind of the idea. John vibes on bikes like cars, you know? He's trying to feel it out, get the license and all that. But, he's got tons of custom bikes and product to get it going. Hopefully, in 2010.

Where are you originally from, then? Sacto?
Skateboarding-wise, I came up in San Francisco, but I'm originally from San Jose. I moved here [Sacto] when I was ten and a half. I went back to San Jose for two years when I was 16. I went to Hawaii for a year, finished my last year of high school. Then, I've been back in either SF or Sacto ever since.

You were one of the first people on Stereo when it began, too, right?
Yeah, I was part of that original line-up of Stereo. When our first video dropped—even when our first ads dropped—it was so different and unique...it didn't mean to go against the grain, but it stood out at the time. When we did the first video that was a time when World Industries was putting out footage where peoples' skateboards were bouncing up off the ground when they did flip tricks and smack off their feet before they rolled away. It wasn't at a soulful stage, that type of skating. It wasn't pleasant on the eye. When Stereo came out, it was more soulful and about cruising the streets with good style.

That time was pretty rough, when you go back and look at it.
Right? You had guys like Cardiel, who never really skated that way. They were always just like F--k it, I'm still gonna do gaps and haul ass, you know...go a hundred miles an hour and do a back lipslide on a ledge, you know? J. Lee [Jason Lee] definitely wanted us to skate how we skated and stick to our guns. People noticed that.

Clear the block kickflip to fakie.
You recently got back on Stereo, right?
Yeah, they have their main young bucks and then they have their classics and that's kind of like a tribute to their original riders and skaters that have their own style. So, there's Carl Shipman, Chris Miller, J. Lee, Chris Pastras...sometimes I wish they could get Paulo Diaz on, but he's doing other things right now. Mike Daher would be cool, too, but he's not rolling, either.

Tell me a little about your spice addiction. I've heard you carry around habanero peppers with you just to add your own spice to food on tour.
Yeah, in my hat or in my pocket, so I know where they're at. Every meal, I've got to fire it up.

So you carry them around like keys or change in your pockets?
Yeah, I carry habaneros, jalapenos with me. I carry them in my pockets if I'm skating and if I'm chilling, I'll tuck it up in my knitted brim hat. Those are my homies...my little buddies.

Do you just re-up when you go on tour then?
I make sure I stay kitted up, do my recon. I'm real into it. Cardiel and I have battles. We make salsa and s--t, like "You can't handle this!" and add all sorts of spice. It's like, "More habanero, more jalapeno..." and we try to blow one another out of the water.

You guys ever go to those hot sauce conventions?
I'd love to...maybe make my own one day, called the Punisher. I'm vegan, too, so you kind of have to learn how to cook. Maybe I'll whip together The Punisher.

[Laughs] Is it hard being vegan on tour?
I've been vegetarian for about 13 years and I've been vegan for around five years. On tour, sometimes you make mistakes and eat something that has a little egg in it or maybe a little cheese, but I do my best to avoid it.

It must be hard on tour.
Yeah, sometimes you break down and you gotta get a quesadilla at Del Taco or something. It can be hard. I keep a gas station diet sometimes—corn nuts, pistachios, walnuts, almonds and water...good old bird seed. When I'm on tour, as long as I can have a little food and my tea in the morning, I'm alright.

You drink maté, too, like Cardiel does?
Yeah, I make my own blends of tea all the time with maté.

Tell me a little bit about your band.
It's called the Storytellers. We play dub, reggae, Ska, rock steady.

Do you play a lot in Sacto?
Oh yeah, we play all over. We played in Japan—went over there with the distributor that carries IPath. It was a skate/band tour. We played for crowds at skateparks and at clubs after demos.

Japan actually has a huge reggae following, doesn't it?
Yup, the reggae culture is huge there. The people really follow it closely. We play wherever. We're gonna play at ASR this year, actually, just to draw attention to the brand.

Sick. I've also heard you've got a really good Dance Hall Friday up in Sacto, so good you're always trying to fit tours in so you can make it back to go to it.
I'm like, where we going? How long? Bring me back on a Friday morning [laughs]. Even at 8 O'clock on a Friday, I'll set down my bags and head over to the dance hall. It's real mellow. They've been doing it every Friday for the past six years—a lot of midtown, downtown people, a lot of downtown cats I've known for years. Cardiel spins there sometimes, too. I have tables and all that, but John keeps up with all that stuff—all the artists coming out of the island [Jamaica].

In Sacto's land of ditches, Matt lofts a stylish ollie on a kind of tight bank.

Tell me a little bit about this SAC part you're trying to build up there.
Yeah, I'm trying to do that. It's still in the works. It's called SAC and I wanted to do huge obstacles up to the side of the letters with stuff to skate on top. Then, if you see it from the top, it says SAC, like representing the city. It spells S-A-C from above and when you're rolling up to the letters, it'll be banks and transition and ledges and all that. The S will be about four feet high, the A could be six high and the C could be a bowl, basically, with part of it open. I'm gonna make it out of clay and try to present it to the mayor, like, "You can put your name on it, make it the Kevin Johnson skatepark." You know, he's an athlete and if he's down, he could build a park. Skating's born in California and Sacramento, the capital of California, should have a skatepark. You know, we should make a park downtown that's original and sick. I'm trying to approach him like that. It's something you could make a postcard out of, you know?

Something to mark the city.
Yeah, there are all these empty hotels down in the city. We should have something to bring people here...have contests, get the Maloof Brothers involved, invite the X Games to use the place—make Sactown crack! Back in the day Sacto always used to have sick ass contests. Plus, the park will bring people into the city to skate, you know? It'd be sick to get it built and have the X Games come through every two years or hold some other contest, just get something going.

Sounds like you're really trying to get something going in Sac.
Yeah, I'm building a ramp in my backyard now, just so I can have something to shred out there and slowly adding bits to it with wood I find...just building as I go. You want it, you can do it. You just gotta go seek and find.

That's kind of a theme that's gone through all your years of skating.
Yeah, when all else fails, do it yourself. 2010 let the games begin. Time to step it up.