PRINT: 15 MINUTES with Brooke Howard-Smith
Perhaps better known for his enormous and engaging personality than his skills on wheels, Brooke Howard-Smith was not only one of the first skaters to make the long journey to California in the early ’90s, but he proved himself to be one of the most influential. As a founding owner of Senate he experienced the rollerblading boom—if not from the driver’s seat, then at least with a foot on the gas—like few others, learning along the way the benefits of shock marketing, the pitfalls of corporate ownership, and how to skip town when the mood is right. A consummate showman, Brooke’s appearances in early videos such as “The Hoax,” and “Hoax II” now serve as telling foreshadowing of the career he’s carved out for himself in his homeland of New Zealand where he hosts several television shows, and accessorizes his arm with the likeness of a former twice-crowned Miss New Zealand, now his fiance. ONE regular Mike Opalek went to NZ for a month to visit his old friend, and was kind enough to come back with this interview.
“Come on, Mr. Opalek,” he says with a bit of concern in his tone. “Has anyone jumped today?” he yells down to some kids on the shore of the river, making sure there are no logs or branches under the water that we cannot see. They all shout back, “Yeah, now jump!” They are all way more excited than the two of us. We’re standing on a one-lane bridge about 40 feet above a river in the Coromandel, which is somewhere in New Zealand. Brooke Howard-Smith tells me a story of the last time he jumped off the bridge: He tried a misty flip and it didn’t turn out so well — and then he’s off. The drop seems shorter than it really is. Especially when you’re falling and wondering why you haven’t touched the water yet. Brooke tells me that the depth of the river is about 8 feet and that he barely hit the rocks below. How reassuring!
When we get out of the water, the kids immediately ask Brooke if he’s the guy from “Target,” a consumer-based television show that informs, well, consumers if there are dodgy business people out there waiting to screw them. Brooke also hosts “Joker Poker,” a poker show with New Zealand celebrities, as well as two action sports-related shows, “XSTV” and “X Air.” He’s the funny guy on TV now.
I’ve been visiting with him for the past four weeks. I haven’t been able to spend this much time with him in almost a decade. It’s been great.
He’s one of those friends who, even if you don’t see him for a while — or years, for that matter — it’s just like you saw him yesterday when you reunite. He doesn’t skip a beat. And Brooke will never stop being who he is: One part creative, one part romantic, one part ego, three parts bullshit! You’ll either love him or hate him, but most rollerbladers know how valuable he has been to the rollerblading community, especially during the early years. He was the first person in the migration to Los Angeles in the early ’90s. Besides his love of jumping off natural and manmade heights into small pools of water, let’s see what he’s been up to in the southern hemisphere.
What inspired you to come to California in 1992?
I met a guy called Eric Wylie when the Team Rollerblade dance team toured through New Zealand. I’ve been skating for a couple years at that point, and we went skating with them, and I noticed they weren’t doing a lot of things that we were doing. I always assumed they would be a lot, lot better than we were. They said, “You guys should come over and you could make some money there.” And so I did.
What was rollerblading like back then?
Well, he was lying. You couldn’t make any money. I spent the first three years, you know, living hand to mouth. I think I had about $5,000 a year on average. I took out a student loan for $7,000 and that lasted me for a year and a half. There were a lot of people that would have you stay at their house, people like Chris Mitchell and Eric Wylie, and people like that had people staying at their house all the time. So, it was maybe a case of all these people coming from all over the world and staying at about four people’s houses in California.
When do you think the scene really began?
It began then. The best thing about it was everyone was in these tight little groups ’cause we had nowhere to stay and so every day we’d get up and go skate. Because we didn’t have to get jobs or we couldn’t get jobs, all we had to do was go skate. Sometimes we’d spend 10, 11, 12 hours a day just going out and fooling around, trying different things.
How was Senate started?
Way back in the day we started filming a movie. I don’t even know whose camcorder it was, maybe it was Chris’ (Mitchell) or Arlo’s, I don’t know? (Brooke looks at me like I should know the answer, even though I didn’t know he existed at that point in time.) Chris, Arlo and myself started filming ourselves skate. Arlo and I spent more time skating together. We started telling everyone we were making a movie. Shaun Tomlin and the guys (Groove Productions) started making “Dare to Air.” We told them we were making a movie too. We’d show them these teasers. It was really ghetto. We actually had … ah… this is the start of the movie “The Hoax.” We cut all the footage together and we didn’t know how to put the music onto the tape, so we’d cue up the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” on a tape and we’d press play on the tape recorder at the same time as we’d press play on the video and we’d show people this teaser. A lot of it was crashing. I think the very first Daily Bread said we were working on a movie that was all bails and called “The Hoax.” … I think that’s what happened. So, the movie “The Hoax” started out and then we built kind of a crew out of that, um, and we wanted to build a company. We had a fake movie; we thought, “Why not build a fake company.” We called it Senate; I don’t know where we came up with that. I think the video cover of “The Hoax” had photos of Clarence Thomas having sex with a girl from a porn mag. And he was in the Senate. Is that right?
Soul Grind / Los Angeles / 1995 / Slaggerman
And your vision with Senate?
From the start, my vision with Senate … you know, I always liked building companies and building brands and logos. I love creating the culture and trying to make rollerblading cool, and Arlo I’m sure felt the same way. Arlo always wanted there to be more of an edgier feel to Senate than I did. I think the very first graphic Arlo drew was a kid with the baseball bat behind his back and it said, “Kill you parents,” and we had a giant fight, and his second one he drew a picture of me and it said, “I’m a pussy.” We all had different visions for Senate, but eventually probably what it was was a good vision. A way for us to enjoy rollerblading and make a bit of money and have our friends skate for us and with us and play grownups, making a company.
What was it like making the first videos like “Hoax,” “Hoax 2” and “Mad Beef”?
The early parts of making the videos ourselves were great. We were going out and every day you’d be quote unquote “inventing something” or doing certainly something you’ve never done before. And then Evan Stone and Craig Carol (T-Bone Films) got onboard with their cinematography prowess. They helped us focus a little bit more, and Arlo and I would go on shoots and be awfully competitive. We’d literally try to push the boundaries there while people were filming; great way to show off. Ahh. It was frustrating sometimes, we shot a lot for “The Hoax” ’cause they figured they’d need it for the sequel. But by the time they made the sequel there were all sorts of new tricks. Of course, “The Hoax 2” was amazing, traveling across the country with myself, Brian, Arlo — it was incredible — B Love, who can forget B Love. Next question! (Brooke laughs and grins at me, who he isn’t including in the roster.) Oh, I’m sorry, Dave Kollasch was on the tour with us for a little while!
What were your favorite memories of skating back in the day?
Most enjoyable experience is probably … a lot of it would revolve around Spohn Ranch, which was the really start of that intense community in 1994 when people from Atlanta and the Midwest … is Atlanta in the Midwest? (Laughs.) I know that I know that. Capital is Athens, Georgia! See, I know that! So, anyways, 1994 is the year everyone talks about. We’re starting this answer again. … 1994 is the year everyone talks about ’cause all of us were reasonable young kids who skated with a group of two or three people in our respective hometowns and that’s when everyone arrived from all over the world, literally. People from Japan, Australia, people from Atlanta, New York, everyone arrived in California and we still had only four houses. We had Mark Shays’ apartment, Spohn Ranch, maybe Chris’ place, just a few houses. Everyone would wake up and be so amped to skate because everyone had brought different types of styles and different tricks. And it was just so exciting, and of course, that was before the big boom, so it was really exciting to see anyone that rollerbladed. Andy Kruse wore a dress … sweet!
How did you feel when you got deported?
I wasn’t deported. I want to be technical about this. I was refused entry. I was coming back from Austria from doing a skate design session with Oxygen. I just flew 12 hours from Austria to Boston, and I listed a hotel as the place I was staying. But my passport was all ragged. They said, “Where are you staying in Los Angeles,” and I said, “With my friend Arlo.” They asked for his phone number. Arlo was staying at Daily Bread with Jess (Dyrenforth) and Jess briefed him. He said don’t say that Brooke works in the U.S., they went through the whole brief. But Arlo came clean to the (Immigration and Naturalization Service) and then they refused me entry. It felt bad; it felt crazy. It was another 36 hours to fly home. But back in those days I was such a scammer that I figured I’d be able to get back in somehow. And, of course, I did. I came back in a few dozen times over the next three to four years.
Be sure to read the rest of Mike Opalek’s interview with the Notorious BHS in ONE #9, out now, and check these YouTube videos for more Brooke:
Leave A Comment
he looks like the man with those two babe-a-rooskis…SLAMMIN!
one of the most influential and coolest people to ever put on the skates……
BHS may have been cool back in the day but he hasn’t done a fucking thing for new zealand rollerblading no products no comps no suppourt nothing
what has bhs done… rollerblading is in such a poor state industry wise today. why cover him when hes irrelevent today? we need to hear from people that matter.
KOKID…BHS IRRELEVANT???What have you done???Brooke helped bring an image and personality to rollerblading…without people like him we might as well have been riding scooters…you know nothing…
Awesome write-up mike and good looking out ONE…
Come on children, Brooke, Arlo, Mike, et all made rollerblading not ridiculous. They showed EVERYONE that rollerbladers are talented individuals not trend following fr**tbooters. To say that Brooke is irrelevant is to say that the past doesn’t matter, do you honestly not realize what the videos that Brooke made did to elevate rollerblading? do you really not realize what Senate was? Can you not grasp the concept that a few passionate individuals molded this culture that you take for granted ? It’s really fun to be a jaded post-everything seventeen year old but there’s more to life then being a jaded post-everything seventeen year old. There’s also more to life than rollerblading and there’s life after rollerblading. The fact that Brooke has managed to parlay a rather sweet existence out of a professional skating career while so many others fell into obscurity is a credit to both the person that he was and the person that he has become. I also find it not ironic that you both misspelled key words in your arguments.
I just wanted to clear something up. Isn’t Brooke Howard part owner of Sifika liners and shoes? If that’s not paying his dues than I don’t know how any rollerblader will EVER gain respect in this underground sport.
Someday we’ll cash out and throw away our pride to get that Tony Hawk Money? Ya right. Most rollerbladers will not take it in stride from what I’ve seen over the years. So all the haters of Brooke need to put a lil more time into their crap talking brigades and may I remind you that the allegations of Brooke not promoting his Zealy scene are false along with any kind of beef between Brooke and my brother Ryan. Years ago Ryan was a part of the blade game. Innovation and style were his callings and some people thought of him as a wily lil fellow but nonetheless he skated with some of the greats including BHS. In times of new skate meadows, my brother and Brooke had a minor scuffle and I wanted to let you all know he has long since forgotten this blatant disregard towards his character and person, but because of the Zen Gothic Freedom chicks like me this lil chapter in the archive of the history of rollerblading(soon to be a book written by me, errr if I can ever find a publisher) will not be set free.
Yo Milly, I have had 8 wheels under my feet for about 14 years, and i can
honestly say That your brother was by far my greatest inspiration/motivation, The Very Stylish Ryan Jacklone. Him along with Dave Ortega, Rawlinson, The Tejeda’s, Gil Vasquez and all the heads in NYC at that time, were what got me to skate and love it. I believe it was the MTV sports special where he was featured where i got a glimpse of him throwing the smoothest misty flips over a concrete barrier at the Brooklyn Banks. Along with Brooke Howard Smith, Your brother deserves his share of respect in the history of Rollerblading, before Josh Petty and Dominic Sagona as rollers with great style, There was the King of Style from New York City…..RYAN JACKLONE.
ps. I HOPE YOU FIND A PUBLISHER SOON AND GET YOUR BOOK OUT, WE AS THE INDUSTRY NEEDS SOMETHING LIKE THIS, AND WHO BETTER TO WRITE IT THEN THE SISTER OF A STYLE LEGEND.
BHS disowns nz rollerbladers, he wouldnt ruin his rep by putting rollerbladers on xstv either
Graham, Scott, kokid. I’m sorry this has taken so long. I didn’t see the comments at the bottom.
As far as the scene in New Zealand now-a-days it’s hard for me to comment. Skating is such a social process, I don’t roll with any one because no one has ever asked me. I don’t know anyone really in New Zealand. I’m twice most peoples age. I’m pretty settled, my bodies broken and I’m not very good any more so Rolling’s pretty frustrating. I enjoy skating with my friends, most of whom live overseas, but If I can I skate with The Australians when I’m there. I’m always down for a roll. Just don’t be surprised when I can’t do anything, then get over confident and you have to take me to hospital.
As far as ” he wouldnt ruin his rep by putting rollerbladers on xstv either” I finished XSTV 6 years ago. I put plenty of Rolling on there? Did you watch? I wasn’t my show, I just presented but when there was good rollerblading we aired it. I have never been shy about Rollerblading. I am and always will be a Rollerblader.
Scott “BHS may have been cool back in the day but he hasn’t done a fucking thing for new zealand rollerblading no products no comps no suppourt nothing”
I no longer own any Rollerblading companies, haven’t for 5 years, so I don’t know what products I’d be giving, and as far as comps go, I’d be keen to come and hang, commentate (I worked on and commentated Inline for Xair for 4 years you may remember that as the largest inline competition in Australasia????) but I worked in the industry 24 / 7 for 16 years. I’ve done my dash at organizing shit. There are younger, smarter people to throw comps. I’m happy to help out any way I can.
PS: Milly, Great to hear from you. I’d love to see it published. You know Ryan and I never really had a serious stouch, I’m pretty sure those arguments were always over Hyped for the whole FR-Senate thing. But I did once punch Arlo in the head and he had to get stitches… Hmmmm, may be that explains the deportation! Give my love to The Riggler!