Eric Koston's switch to Nike from Lakai a few years ago allowed him to do more than just be a skateboarder. It has given him the opportunity to be more hands-on behind the scenes, and meet people he's always dreamed of meeting. That might explain why he seemed to fit right in at Nike. Known for being a nitpicking sneaker-head, shoe designers sought out his input on improving their footwear line, and his ideas produced innovations in skate shoes that have crossed over into Nike's other athletic footwear lines. With his second signature shoe set to release at the end of March, Koston spoke with XGames.com by phone about his adventures as a Nike athlete. He discussed the stories behind his signature Nike shoes and addressed whether or not Nike's indoor LA skatepark, 6th and Mill, is closing down. He even hinted at the possibility of a project with Tiger Woods, and the time he tried to get Lebron James to skate.
XGames.com: Skating for Nike has given you the opportunity to meet a lot of your favorite athletes outside of skateboarding. Was this something you took into consideration when you decided to ride for them?
Koston: Maybe slightly, you know? That wasn't one of the only things to jump in my head. I considered the brand, and the shoes they could make and the resources and technology they have. I thought about how I would fit there. These are the things that stuck out to me and the rest was just icing on the cake.
We all know you're a golf nut and a few weeks ago you instragramed a photo of what looked like you golfing at Torrey Pines with Tiger Woods. You've been known to enhance photos on Instagram before, so did this really happen?
I wasn't golfing that day, but I wish I was. It did really happen though. When I'm asked who I want to meet out of the other Nike athletes, Tiger Woods has been at the top of that list for a long time. I met a woman named Amy Bartlett who handles a lot of Tiger Woods' related events for Nike and we were talking about working together on an upcoming project. I won't let the cat out of the bag for now, but she hit me up when he was playing at Torrey Pines and asked if I wanted to watch him play a practice round. She said if I came down she would try to get us together. When he's at a tournament he's so focused that he's harder to [reach] but Amy made it happen. I got to walk with him on the green for a hole and talk. I'm glad that worked out.
You're a huge Lakers fan also. How did that shoe collaboration with Kobe Bryant come about?
A few years ago we were supposed to work on something for Nike Skateboarding and it didn't work out because it got shelved. When my signature shoe was coming together we noticed there were parallels between us from us both being based in LA to also similarities with our shoe designs. For our shoe collab they frankensteined my shoe's sole to his shoe's upper. The parts worked well together along with a lot of other things, so when that story came together it made a ton of sense. I was psyched. It was an honor to be able to say that I have a shoe with his name and my name on it. It's pretty wild.
What was it like hanging out with Lebron James and Amare Stoudemire in China last year?
Hanging with those guys was super cool. Nike does this thing called the Festival of Sport in Shanghai, to show people in China that sports can be a hobby. The reason for this is life in China can be pretty serious [without sports] if you're not going to be pro or be on an Olympic team, because you just go to school to get an education and then get a job. That's fine, but you can also take up a sport as a hobby. That's why they brought athletes out to show the Chinese people. The festival took place over a four-day span, so we'd end up hanging out a lot between appearances. One day I asked Lebron James if he wanted to try to skate in the hallway near the green room and he was like, "No way." Paul George of the Indiana Pacers was there and he said that he used to skate and he hopped right on my board and did a trick on flat. I was impressed. He told me he grew too tall to keep skating. Amare Stoudemire of the Knicks said he went through the same thing.
What happens to them is they get these crazy growth spurts when they're young while they're messing around with skating here and there, and they get too tall to keep skating. Paul George actually cruised around on the skate course they had set up for a local contest. The year before, Kyrie Iriving of the Cleveland Cavs was at the festival, during the lockout, before the NBA season started. He was 19 then and he told me he used to skate too. He's actually been to the Berrics. It's funny, but these are all young guys and it's not that far-fetched to hear that they were into skating. It's a part of youth culture and I get it. It's sick.
How come you got involved in designing the Zoom FP and improving the Dunk before you had your own shoe?
When I first got there they had certain initiatives they had been working on already. One of those things was reworking their iconic shoes so they could be better for skateboarding. They were trying to make the shoes more skate-functional and more supportive. When it came to the Dunk they asked me what would I do to it and that's how my involvement came about. I wanted to change the tread because it would get slippery after a short period of time and that's bad for skating. I wanted to make it more skateable, that's why the tread pattern changed a little bit.
With the Zoom FP they had me working with Shawn Carboy and they wanted both of our input and feedback on that. Us working together led into the evolution of my first shoe on Nike. So those were my baby steps at Nike, working on the Zoom FP, going through the whole process and learning how it works, and them learning how to work with me as well.
You're known as someone who pays attention to detail. With you being so picky, what is it like to work with you?
I definitely am into the details and I am picky. I notice really little things like texture on rubber. Things people don't even look at, I see those details. I always have an idea of how I want things to look. I'm always looking at things and wondering how I can change them, which sometimes turns into madness. I think me and Shawn work really well together. We don't really butt heads. I'll have an opinion and he'll have an opinion and I'll try to push mine more, but we've never had it out or anything. I'm not the toughest guy to work with but I will make you work, I guess. You'll be looking at every little detail.
Your second signature shoe on Nike looks a lot like a golf shoe without the spikes. Talk about why that is and what you were trying to achieve with this shoe.
I've always liked golf shoes and one day I was looking at one and I felt like if you took the spikes off and designed it the right way it could be a really good skate shoe. It's got a timeless look too, that dressy golf shoe look has a timelessness that I want. I want my shoe designs to last forever aesthetically. You don't want it to be kind of cool and then you're over it in a year. So I took that into consideration and looked at how well it would work with the paneling and the eye stays. The eye stays are really narrow which keeps the griptape away from your laces. I hate broken laces, so having a narrow eye stay keeps it away from the areas where it normally rubs when you're doing a flip trick. I still haven't broken any laces skating this shoe, so it's working.
Tell us about the Nike Bespoke Destroyer jacket you designed with the main logo composed of your favorite LA skate spots.
Basically Nike has a lab at the Montalban theater in Hollywood where they can make you a Destroyer jacket. You can actually do the artwork and turn that artwork into embroidery on the jacket. They'll do anything you want to do. I didn't think they'd start from scratch like that but they actually do. It was really sick and I was psyched with everything we came up with and how it turned out.
What makes it cool is that it's your own, you know what I mean? Whatever you want to illustrate they can turn into a jacket and it's one of a kind because it's your story. The patch on the back of my jacket has all my favorite skate spots in LA. I've lived in LA since 1993 and what's pictured are all the spots I spent time at and spots that evolved my skating. There's elements of the West LA Courthouse stairs and there's a smokestack which represents the old outdoor amphitheater in Venice with the dirty graffiti ledge spot we used to skate. The smokestacks were recognizable from the outside. And I can't forget the mini picnic table and fences in the design because I spent so much time -- I mean I still do, skating the picnic tables at the school yards in Los Angeles.
Speaking of places you skate, supposedly 6th and Mill is closing this spring. Do you know why that is?
I don't know what's going on to be honest, but hopefully it can stick around. The only problem I could think of is that the lease was only for one year, so maybe they'll get to keep it around, but I don't know. It's been great for events and for a place to skate so it has served its purpose. If it does have to shut down maybe they'll find another location.