John Clemmons Doesn’t Belong in Skateboarding

Words by Michael Cukr. Photos by Mac Schafer.

I met John on a trip in North Carolina back in 2016. He was wearing a long sleeve polo tee and had a middle part.

He’s vegan. He back tailed this 11 rail, like, third try. I always really liked John and was a big fan of his skating. Anytime he posts something on Instagram I’m blown away. Anyways, I’ve kept an eye on John for the past few years. He struggled with the pressure from skateboarding to end up in California but wanted to stick around his hometown in Louisville. Finally, he found a home on Darkroom, which is Don Pendleton’s new board company run out of Ohio, and I’m glad he did because I love the spots he digs up. You can’t find spots like this anywhere else, and John’s skating doesn’t look the same if you take him away from them. Darkroom just put out a new video called Incubator (which you can watch above). I caught up with John to get the scoop on his obsession with the Midwest, Darkroom, and their new film. Read below.

Frontside nose grind at school on a rare day with no jocks or rednecks in sight.

So, did Darkroom exist when you were on Foundation or no?

That’s funny you ask. So, Darkroom did exist. And Mike Sinclair was the team manager, but Darkroom was only a griptape company and that’s it. Don Pendleton started it as a griptape company and then years later it became a board company. So, fast forward a few years… I see all my friends skating for Darkroom and they’re working on a video and here I am, I’m riding for Doomsayers with people that are all cool ass people, but they’re not from the Midwest and they’re all in LA. And the same thing that got told to me when I was on Foundation like I should be out in LA kind of thing. So, I just told Omar I’m good on the Doomsayers stuff because I just want to do this shit with my friends, you know? And do something out of the Midwest instead of just going to LA and doing the same shit over and over again, you know?

So what’s up with Darkroom? Who makes the videos and shit?

David Kappa. He just filmed hometown videos in Cincinnati and makes all the Hulkripps videos. So then once Darkroom became a board company it just made sense for him to make the videos because me and Cotie [Robinson] and him, we’re all really tight, you know? And then Don Pendleton started it and does all the art. His art is super good, he was a big part of Alien [Workshop] back in the day and he did a Pearl Jam album cover and shit.

So, basically, Don started Darkroom and then the videos are sort of like Hulkripps videos in terms of the crew?

Exactly. The Darkroom video to me is a Hulkripps video because I’m skating with the same people that I’ve been skating with and filming with the past five years.

‘We literally only went on two trips, but everything else this whole entire video we’ve filmed on a Saturday.’

What’s the vibe like when you guys are filming?

It’s just us just going out. And we only skate Saturdays and Sundays since David has a wife and a kid so it’s been limited. So we all work all week and then we just meet up on Saturdays and try to get as much as possible. And somehow it’s been working out that way. We’ve maybe been on like two team trips, you know? And I feel like a lot of companies are able to go anywhere around the country. We’re kind of just stuck in the Midwest, just like, ‘Oh, there’s a spot by my house. Let’s go get something.’

That’s insane. So basically the whole vid was filmed on a Saturday?

What’s the vibe like when you guys are filming? We literally only went on two trips, but everything else this whole entire video we’ve filmed on a Saturday. That’s it, but during COVID when everything got shut down that was a huge bump for us. We skated spots that are inside a convention centre that you can only skate at 3:00 AM normally and we were skating there at noon.

Back Smith with colour-coordinated slip ons. Gotta love a skater who knows how to get a good photo.

So, where did you guys film the whole vid? Is it all Kentucky?

This video is pretty much just in the Midwest—Detroit, Ohio, etc. There are maybe three clips from California. We’re not like thinking of it as a big-time company where we have to go do this. We’re just doing what we’ve always been doing.

So who else films out there? Is there any other pros or crews from there? or is it just you guys?

Well, Alien Workshop and Quasi are from Ohio, but in Kentucky, there’s one filmer, David. He’s like an hour away. We don’t have any photographers here either. That’s why we never get photos unless you fly out somebody from LA to shoot photos. Like, the last ad that we had for Darkroom was just screenshots from the camera.

‘I did all my schoolwork, but there was this one paper that I had to do… I actually gave my cousin a pair of Spitfire wheels to do my last page. I graduated.’

That’s crazy. Here in California, it’s like, you go skate spots and run into four other crews and there’s always someone you can hit up to film or shoot photos.

And, what’s crazy is that it’s only happened a couple of times, but say me and Dave and everybody else on the team goes out and skates and we see even two people skating a spot, we’re like, ‘What the fuck, dude? This feels like I’m in California.’ When I go to California and I go to a spot there’s like 10 people, a photographer and three filmers. We don’t get that here. It’s literally just us—two people and a filmer.

Contemplating life, V-Grits, and middle parts in a parking lot thousands of miles away from the nearest ocean.

So, you don’t even got a long lens and fish if you’re trying a trick?

Well, the thing is we do it twice.

Like little kid style. What’s the kind of the vibe in Kentucky, like not talking about skating—what do you like about Kentucky over other places? Do you eat all the fast food and shit? What’s the deal?

So, since I can’t really eat a lot of fast food here, I usually like to go to like a lot of the more expensive vegan joints. They have a lot of good vegan restaurants here. My favourite place is called V-Grits, and they pretty much just make everything homemade. It’s amazing. Even people that eat meat would love this spot. The craziest thing is my past few jobs that I’ve worked at have all been barbecue places.

So kind of a random question, but did you graduate high school?

[Laughs] yes, actually I did. I went to Seneca High School and then junior year Cotie hit me up to move to Long Beach. So three days later I flew out there and did all my school online and graduated. What’s funny is like, I did all my schoolwork, but there was this one paper that I had to do, but I was just working and super busy in California. And I actually gave my cousin a pair of Spitfire wheels to do my last page. I graduated.

No scratches. All blunted. Catalogue-worthy frontside noseblunt.

That’s funny. I guess the reason I asked the high school question was… what were the kids like in high school? Did you fit in?

I was the only skater and I definitely got made fun of because it was either like hicks that were all into guns and all that redneck shit. Or you had the jocks that were into sports. And then you had me and everybody made fun of my clothes and my shoes and everything. But, at the same time, I didn’t really give a shit because I enjoyed skating that much.

And you also probably didn’t want to fit in with those people anyways.

Absolutely not. I already went through Catholic grade school. I didn’t give a shit about high school.

‘I feel like I just don’t really fit in with the California kind of thing and there’s so much more room to progress in the Midwest. And I feel like it needs to be pushed more. You know?’

It’s pretty funny I feel like there’s like no pride in being from the Midwest or something, you know, like everyone rolls around and reps LA or east coast. Where the Midwest is like the little brother that you just ignore, you know? Or people even make fun of it and act like everyone is a redneck out there. That’s one of the things I thought was sick about you when we met… I remember people were telling you to move out to LA to skate and be in the scene and you wanted nothing to do with it.

Exactly. I mean, I’m from here. I was born and raised here. I love living here. I like that my closest friends are here and ride for a company that is literally based out of Ohio. Just makes way more sense to do it here. I feel like I just don’t really fit in with the California kind of thing and there’s so much more room to progress in the Midwest. And I feel like it needs to be pushed more, y’know?

Front three into some Midwest crust.

Yeah, for sure. At the end of the day it is home and, like, as a human you’re attracted to things that feel comfortable, that you relate to. And it’s cool to see skating in a different city, rather than the same spots over and over.

And the spots are so unique and you know no one skated them yet. It makes you feel like you’ve actually done something instead of going to some spot in LA that’s been blown out. And you get a trick on it and in the back of your head it’s probably already been done, but, I mean, we’ve been working on this video for a while, you know? And I’m with the people that I’ve always been with. So it’s like, regardless of what happens, I’m still friends with who I’m friends with and we’re just doing this. I feel it’s just a Hulkripps video, but which is always going to be a thing in all of our hearts, but now it’s moved on to like an actual board company.

Follow John Clemmons for more Midwest antics here.

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