Q & A With Paul Rodriguez Jr.
There is a “Paul Rodriguez” Venn diagram. One circle represents people ages 44 to 104 who hear the name Paul Rodriguez and think of the actor and stand-up comedian; the other represents those under 31 who hear the same name and identify it with the three-time X Games golden boy in street skating. Those 32–43 are in the middle; they know both the funnyman and his son, Paul Rodriguez Jr., the skater.
Junior is a prolific pro skateboarder with many credits, but none more impressive than his name being the fifth ever to be on a pair of Nikes. That and his father’s prideful bon mot: “My son’s giving me competition. He’s the bomb. He’s good-looking, talented, and doesn’t ask me for money.” We caught up with younger Paul Rodriguez as he skates out of his father’s shadow and makes a name for himself as his nickname in the skating world: P-Rod.INKED: So where did P-Rod come from?
Paul Rodriguez Jr.: As embarrassing as it is, I gave it to myself. I had a friend named Spanky and a couple of other friends in the skate industry, and I always wanted a nickname so I took it upon myself. Believe it or not, I didn’t even know who A-Rod was when I came up with it. I was watching MTV and they were calling Jennifer Lopez “J.Lo.” Then I wondered how my name would work like that and I thought that “P-Rod” sounded funny. A little bit later I went on tour in Canada with City Stars and when I got there I was like, “Sup guys? P-Rod’s here!” And they were laughing and asking me what that is all about and I answered, “I’m P-Rod.”
At first it was just a couple of guys who would call me that, and then one time I was doing a signing at a store and a kid came up to me and said, “Oh, it’s P-Rod!” That’s when I noticed it was more a known thing.
Speaking of names, you aren’t really a Junior, right?
Yeah, my dad got to be a name with Paul Rodriguez, even though my grandfather was Senior. And it just got so complicated that calling me Junior was just easier.
What was it like growing up Paul Rodriguez Jr.?
For me it was normal because I had nothing else to reference off of. My dad was on the road all the time so I only saw him once a month. When he came home we would go golfing or to Disneyland, and if he was playing a show somewhere close I would go with him once in a while.
Did you learn anything applicable to skating from seeing him perform?
Either consciously or subconsciously, over the years I have been taking notes on how he is with his fans. I always value fans and people who are into what I am doing. I always make sure to be grateful and be good. Without fans you are nothing.
Do you feel that you have a good connection with your fans?
Back when I went on my first big Nike Europe tour in Holland this kid asked me to sign his leg, and the filmer with us showed me the tape later where the kid said, “I’m going to get this tattooed!” And I was like, Wow, that’s crazy. Then he sent the photo of the tattoo and it was insane. That wasn’t what I got into skateboarding for, but when it happens it feels good.
Did your dad buy you your first skateboard?
Sort of. I bought my first board with Christmas money that I saved up.
What made you first want to skate?
In the end of 1996 into ’97 I was going to a new junior high and there was a whole crew of guys who would skate before and after school. I was super fascinated by it; I would sit down and watch them but I was a really shy kid—I didn’t talk to anyone—so it took me a while until I met them, but they sparked my inspiration.
So did you start skating to fit in or because you thought it looked fun?
What drew me toward skating is that I couldn’t figure out how you flipped a board. I was fascinated that someone could jump down stairs flipping their board and grind on a rail or ledge and keep the board stuck to his feet.
When you first started riding did you know it was for you?
It clicked. I wasn’t doing tricks right off the bat, but just riding, rolling, and doing little things on a board hooked into me so hard that it was all I could think about, all I wanted to do. From there, any spare moment, I was riding my skateboard and trying to figure out how this thing works.
Where did you get your education?
There were no skate parks near me, so I grew up skating street only. There was a local skate shop right near my house so I would jump a wall and skate over to it. There I would watch skate videos, read all the skate magazines, sit and talk to the older skaters. … Looking back on it I was probably bugging the hell out of them with a million questions. But they didn’t seem to care, and they didn’t care if you would skate out in front of the store in the parking lot. Nowadays you can’t do that, with lawsuits and all.
And skateboarding is a crime.
I have heard that.
What do your parents think of skating?
My mom was always supportive and my dad now loves it. I don’t know if he was ever unsupportive but he, not knowing anything about skating, didn’t think anything could come of it. He’d say things like, “I’m sure it sounds fun to you, but you should think of something you could really do for a living. How are you going to support a family like that?” My rebuttal was always, “You are straight out of Mexico, a son of migrant workers who had to struggle all their life, and how did Grandma and Grandpa take it when you said you were going to become a comedian?” Then he would say, “Son, if you do it you really need to be good. It’s a long shot.” That is what parents have to say to their kid. Now, being a father, I understand that better.
And they allowed you to drop out of school to turn pro.
I was 15 when I officially dropped out. After months and months of begging my mom to give me home-schooling, I finally got sponsored to skate by a small board company, and then she let me do home studies. From there I never really met the criteria as far as school was concerned but I skated my ass off. So I was making progress and getting better sponsors, a little here and a little there. By the time I turned 17 I was doing fine financially for a kid, and I turned pro later on that year.
Pretty impressive for a teenager.
My mom always wanted to move out of our area and I always loved it, so she moved to another place and I stayed in the house. Technically I was living on my own, and she was cool because I was able to help her with rent for the place that she moved to. And everything fortunately worked out from there.
How was your first foray into the spotlight at the X Games?
My very first one was ’03. I was 18 and it was by invite only, so to me it was just an accomplishment to be there. I liked the course they built so I just had fun skating it in, and I think that’s why I was able to do pretty decent. I wasn’t saying to myself, “I better perform, I better do well.” I was like, whatever, this is super fun. And I won third place.
Do you feel like your lackadaisical attitude helps you skate?
I think having a relaxed attitude and not overanalyzing or overstressing anything is helpful in life. Even as I got older and started doing well, and people expected me to do well, I never felt an added pressure to perform.
And with that you went on to win gold three times since in the X Games.
Yep, I was in the same mental state, except when I won I was like, “Holy shit, this is crazy.”
How did you react when the major endorsement deals like Mountain Dew and Nike—who had never endorsed skaters before—started knocking on your front door?
I felt phenomenal. I always dreamed big. When I did something I always dreamed that I was going to be the best one day. When I was young and doing karate I would say that I’m going to be Bruce Lee; when I played guitar, I said to myself, Okay, I’m going to be Jimi Hendrix. It was the same thing with skateboarding. I wanted to be Eric Koston, Chad Muska, or Andrew Reynolds. And that was my mind-set. So for Nike to be knocking on my door, that was bigger than anything I could have dreamed. Because at that point, I was just hoping to get a few skate company sponsorship and getting my name on a board, and that would have been conquering the world. So when Nike called I asked, “Are you guys serious? You know I just skate, right?” They flew me up to the Portland Nike campus, took me on a tour, and I just asked them, “Where do I sign?”
Did you help develop the Nike SB [skateboarding] brand?
I have had more and more involvement as the years go on. When we first started I just told them what I wanted in a skate shoe: I wanted support and cushioning in the heels but I didn’t want it too thick; I wanted a good, nice suede on my shoes, because that was the material I was feeling and I wanted a cool profile. They came up with a few drawings and after I selected the one that I was loving, they made a sample of it. I skated in it, and that was all she wrote.
Target recently tapped you as well.
They came to me a little over a year ago, expressing some interest in my skateboarding. I’ve been shopping at Target for forever so I thought, That is not a bad sponsor to have. It’s a one-stop shop where you can get everything. They have been really cool, and they are rebuilding my personal skate park from scratch, so I am blessed to have a sponsor like that.
Another high compliment was being in a few of the Tony Hawk video games.
That was awesome. I was so psyched; it was a milestone. Also, I think that is when my father finally got it that I could make a life skating.
Do you see any parallels between your line of work and your father’s?
There are a lot of similarities between our lifestyles. One is that we both do improv. He observes his surroundings and tries to find out how to make it funny, and when I look at my surroundings I have to come up with creative ideas, like how to grind it.
How did you decide on your tattoos?
The one on my right forearm is Jesus. I was 18 when I got hit by the bug and I knew that if I got something I wouldn’t want to think that it would be stupid in five years. I 100 percent believe in Jesus Christ, I 100 percent believe in the higher power. I’m no preacher, no angel—but I 100 percent believe the truth. A friend of mine who owned a skate shop hooked me up with this gangster thug dude named Trippy who did it. I went in there knowing that I wanted a picture of Jesus and he drew me out a couple of options. I picked out the one I wanted, and that was that.
And on your triceps?
That Day of the Dead skull was the first skateboard graphic that Plan B skateboards put on my deck. The whole idea behind the Day of the Dead skull was that it touches on my Mexican roots and my roots in skateboarding.
Do you have plans for more?
Yes, but I just don’t know exactly what. Since I have a daughter I might get a portrait of her, or her name. But I haven’t pulled the trigger on it. So I’m rolling it around in my mind. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not super spontaneous. I’ll pine over something for a while before I decide to do it. That’s just the way I am.
Do you have the same mentality when you skate?
I am a scaredy-cat. I won’t try something until I am positive I can do it—I am terrified of killing myself. I think of a trick for a couple of years before I mess with it. I am not the guy you just take to a big handrail and I just jump down it. I’ll roll up a half-hour before and debate on it. I might know I can do it, but I’m a cautious kid. Fortunately I haven’t broken a single bone while skating. Yet.