CLS Interview: Steve Tierney
Introduction by Michael "Davo" Davidson. Interview by Yeoh. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. If you are a younger skater reading this you will no doubt know a few older blokes who are more than willing to tell you at length how "the 90's was better" or "skating isn't what it used to be". To a degree some of it is true. Skateboarding at the time was experiencing massive changes, new tricks every day, five stair rails were legit and you could end a line with a noseslide on a ledge. On the down side, we had enormous jeans, shirts that looked like dresses and bearing covers for wheels.
In the midst of all this, Teagues was making his mark on the Australian scene, mainly in Sydney, with something that only a few people had back then. A good, clean style. He stood out easily, making things that other people struggled with look effortless, and also pushing switch skating in Australia to new levels at a time when only a handful of people could switch ollie. Skating stuff aside, Teagues is a gun. He has always enjoyed himself doing whatever he has done and made sure all around him have too. Ask anybody and I am sure you will be hard pressed to find anyone who has a bad word to say about Teagues. Whether it was talking to little kids about tricks, making sure people had product to ride or designing tons of Aussie skate company logos and boards for peanuts, he always seemed to be doing something for somebody.
Teagues is my best mate, so of course I could go on forever about all the great stuff he has done and how benevolent he has been over the years. However, I think I would like to take this chance to say I am still bummed that I wasn't in the first song in the CLS vid, yeah, the Cat Stevens one. I have never forgiven Teagues for that and I am pretty sure he gave himself first part too.
Yep, still bummed about that." Davo.
So Steve, what has been happening? You're currently in Cambodia, what's happening over there?
I've been living in Phnom Penh for about 18 months. I came over with my girlfriend to get involved in some creative projects while she was working with the UN for a year, but we ended up staying an extra 6 months. My plan was to find networks that'd allow me to implement some art and design workshops with young artists, but mostly I guess, just to experience life away from the corporate design world at home.
I wasn't thinking about skating at all at first, but it turned out that before I left, I made contact with Skateistan and ended up volunteering with them pretty much as soon as I arrived. I’m really glad I did, it totally changed the whole experience.
It's been pretty amazing actually. I've been skating more than I have in years back home, and being a mentor to these kids and being involved in teaching them to skate has been a crazy experience. One I wasn't expecting that's for sure.
Tell me, how did CLS come about? When did it start? You all came from different areas? What was the sequence of events?
It's pretty much the same as every other crews' story really, just a bunch of skaters that stuck with it longer than most of their friends from school. I guess maybe the main thing that was different about us is that we were all from opposite ends of the city and it was kind of strange that we all met and became friends. It made hanging out after school difficult. I would have to get an hour train to the city, then change and get another hour train to Hornsby just to go skate with Phil.
We could pretty much only skate together on weekends, and we’d end up staying at each others houses all weekend rather than go all the way home and all the way back the next day, so we were spending a lot of time together growing up without realising it I suppose.
I grew up in Engadine, which is basically the southern border of Sydney. Mick and Sid are from around Rockdale area. Davo’s from Baulko, and Phil’s from Hornsby, which is pretty much the furthest point north you could get from where I lived.
We obviously had our own friends we started skating with, but you know as you grow up some people end up choosing other paths or careers and stop skating at some point. We all kept at it and started to push each other to skate better and eventually got sponsors and coverage. We all liked the same type of skaters and style of skating, so I guess we clicked that way.
Of course, really our crew was all the city skaters who hung at the PIT (Martin Place). It was always more than just the 5 of us when we were out skating for sure, but I guess you just become closer to some people than others in life and we all became pretty tight growing up.
Skateboarding has grown in popularity since those days. Street skating seems to gone through a few phases in the past 15 years. What are your thoughts on how skateboarding has evolved during this time?
Yeah, it’s changed a lot. Everything's so much more technical and big now. There's so much more money around too. The Street League thing is crazy. I'm not sure what I think of it. I like all the skaters who are competing in it, but watching the actual coverage does my head in.
But I still love watching skate clips and keeping up with what's going on. Although I guess I keep within a pretty tight range of what I know and like. I still have a lot of love for guys on the GIRL and Chocolate team than anyone else I guess. There's so many kids out there I have no idea about.
I have to say that lately I've been more and more impressed with the scene in Australia though. Just before I left to come to Cambodia I designed the logo for SBA. They were just starting with all those comps and the Hubs thing. In the time I've been away I've been watching clips online for the Pro / Am series and getting pretty psyched on it all.
Actually, I still do a lot of design work for Cuzza and HOON. I love everything they’re doing. They’re videos are ruling too, and the team is fucking nuts.
Aussie skaters are fucking gnarly these days. Comps have become so much crazier, and the standard of skating in Australia is off the handle. I’m so glad I’m not trying to compete now. Dudes have got it tough.
We used to just noseslide a ledge, maybe throw down a flip on flat, ollie a bank. Now, the most insane tricks are just standard for dudes. It's mental.
I feel like organisations like SBA are really helping the sport grow though. I don’t know what the general feeling is amongst the skate community with it all, but the Hubs program seems like a good thing for sure.
There's a lot of cool shit going on back home actually. I've seen that the Westsyde guys are doing skate clinics in Sydney, plus there’s other local skate clinics going on that I know of. I’m in close contact with Three Sixty Project too, who are sending boards over here for Skateistan regularly.
If I come back home for a little while, I'd be keen to stay involved in something similar to what I’ve been doing with Skateistan. It’s changed my perception of what skateboarding means to young kids and what it can do for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Steve and friends in the Christian West produced video Big City 3.
CLS started as a group of friends who skated together in Sydney City. When did it become a brand with products?
I know that Sid came up with the name. I don’t actually remember how it went down. You’ll have to ask him. I bet Mick remembers it. At first though it was just a name for our crew and an idea of what we would call a skateboard company if we ever got our shit together to make one. It was actually CLASS, 5 letters for the 5 of us, which we later abbreviated to CLS for the boards. So the name was around for a few years before we started the actual company.
A few years later, Davo and I were living together around '97 and '98. We were skating a lot with Mick and Sid and Mark Harris. Phil was living in the States at the time. But we were all still really close.
We all had different board sponsors, but we were talking about CLS more and I remember I was messing around with some designs and made the CLS circle logo. I made it into a stencil and we all started spraying it on our boards just ghetto style for fun. I even got some stickers printed, which we plastered the city with.
I guess we had been filming together a lot too, and we had some footage we were really happy with, but we didn't want to give it to anyone to use in a video. So we decided to make the CLS promo vid.
At this point it still wasn't really a company, but I guess it was becoming more real and a few of us had to think about our board sponsors and what the issues were there.
But the industry was so small back then. It's hard to compare it to now. We had respect for our sponsors and stuff, but it was all so small-time. It was kind of just like being hooked up by your mate who had boards. Not many people except the distributors were really making any money from board companies, and most skaters with pro models weren’t getting paid much, if anything. I know I wasn’t. Unless you were prepared to go to the States, it was all for the love of it back then.
Were you the main person designing the graphics/products?
Yeah, definitely. By the end of 1996 I'd graduated a graphic design college course and I was already designing my own boards for OMNI. TIME skateboards was well established and I was designing most of their graphics and advertising too, as well as that, by mid '98 I was art directing Australian Skateboarding magazine.
So around the same time as CLS started I was basically setting up my career as a designer and illustrator and I was just trying to get experience. Actually, at that point I was probably the only one out of us all that had begun a career.
Once I'd designed the CLS logo it all came together pretty quick. I made sure everyone was involved in everything, but I got the funding and organised all of the business side of things. I had no idea what I was doing though. Now I think about it, it was pretty crazy being a dumb arse skater and getting loans for like $10,000+ just to buy skateboards so we could ride them at the PIT. Lucky Davo and Sid were working at SDS, so sales weren't a problem. I didn't make any money, but I don't think I lost any either.
Was it hard to get stuff made back then? How did you approach it?
Initially I started by approaching Cary Pogsun at OMNI. I’d been riding for him for years and he was a good friend as well as a sponsor. I knew he’d be into it, and I knew that I could probably just buy small amounts to start with seeing as I wasn't sure how serious I was about it all.
I remember it pretty clearly. Davo and I had no money at all. I had just quit my first design job to go to skating in the US for a few months with Sid and Phil. When I came back to Sydney I was broke and I had to take a job working in the General Pants warehouse to get some cash. Davo was working in the SDS warehouse right next door too. That was some crazy times, all we did was party and skate.
One weekend we came up with this brilliant idea to get the bus to Ulladulla and get Cary to make a screen with the CLS logo on it. We got him to screen a couple of boards and brought them back to Sydney for each of us to ride one. I was still technically riding for OMNI at that point too, which is pretty funny. But Cary was psyched on it all.
Anyway, that was our ‘big business idea’. Hahaha…. They were the first boards anyway. The CLS Prototypes.
It wasn’t until I was working at Australian Skateboarding magazine about 6 months or so later that we began the real production. I ended up using a contact Cary had with Premium wood in Canada. It was pretty easy really, from what I remember. Although I do remember how shit it was paying for shipping and basically figuring out the business side of things. All I wanted to do was draw graphics and skate. It was a little stressful.
Once it got more established I ended up working with Andrew Mapstone at XEN and he took care of all the distribution for me. It made more sense seeing as he already had good contacts for shops and was sending boards out on a daily basis. Mappy really helped out there. It was cool to be linked in with the XEN guys too cause we all knew each other and had a similar vibe going on.
So 15 years has passed. Are all you CLS guys still in touch? When's the next reunion?
Yeah, 15 years seems crazy, but not that long ago either. That whole time for skating was so different to how it is now. It feels like it was all so much simpler. It's such an old dude thing to say, but it's kinda true, trick-wise at least. Like I said, I’m so glad I’m not trying to compete with kids now.
We do stay in touch actually. Davo and I are still really close even though he lives in Japan. We talk almost every day just through email or viber or whatever. I know more about what’s going on in his life on a daily basis than some of my friends who I live close to.
I guess social media helps keep the rest of us in touch. When I’m in Sydney I see Sid a bit just cause he lives close to me, but Mick is real busy with his work and lives out in Parramatta so when I’m home I don’t see him much at all unless we organise a skate in Hyde Park or somewhere. Phil and I recently reconciled some differences around the time of the Flatarama event, which has been good for all of us hopefully.
We’re still working on Flatarama 2 for the next reuinion… Mr Ford?
Any last words?
We’re all pretty psyched to see these boards again actually. We’re not taking it too seriously though. It was a fun project when we did it first time around, and it’s just a fun thing to do again now. If all our mates from the PIT days get psyched on it, that’s enough really.