John Gardner Interview: Meditation Retreats, Going Pro, Future Projects + More
John ruminates on mystic influences, corporate work and his journey to the pro ranks.
An East Coast native, a man of many abilities with a style that is all his own—John Gardner is so much more than creative on a skateboard (although he has that dialed down, too). Meditation retreats, breathwork outreach programs, traveling the world and raising money for important causes. John is mindful in all aspects of life.
“I try to make skateboarding a similar type of moving meditation as Shaolin monks do in their martial arts practice or Tai Chi masters do in their practice.”
Hyped to officially welcome John to the Nixon team, we hit him up to unveil some of the mystique. Some of that mojo is about to influence our Team-Designed, Custom-Built program, too. Check out the full interview below.
John, outside of skateboarding what other things are you pursuing?
I advocate all things mental health. I help teach people how to breathe and I help guide them in meditation. I like to travel, and I'm able to do so through a variety of sponsors, including Nixon, Creature, DC Shoes, Independent Trucks, OJ wheels, NJ Skateshop and Noah clothing.
So, what are you up to? What’re you doing in Indiana?
Currently, I'm driving across the great states on the road for about two and a half weeks. I'm stopping off in Indiana to grab some coffee and some Wi Fi.
Sounds epic. What's the nature of the trip?
There's a lot of change in the air. I've had a lot of time lately. So, when I have time, I like to utilize it and go see the parts of the country that I don't normally get to see. Such as national parks, national monuments, and friends in northern states which are usually covered with snow.
So, you're traveling solo but are meeting up with some friends along the way?
Yeah, currently I'm traveling in a 2004 Toyota Tacoma that my friend built out, shout out to Goodtime Vans. They built it out before I left California, and I've been traveling comfortably in style ever since.
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That's legit. What’s the truck set-up look like?
It's the perfect vehicle to travel in. I got everything that I need. I got a little road shower that gets heated by the sun. It's pressurized so I can have a nice hot shower, wherever I'm at. Got a cozy bed, my stove and a full tank of gas. So, I can do just about anything I want.
That's a great way to spend free time. So, you're originally from New Jersey? How was it growing up and skating over there?
New Jersey was the perfect place for me to live in the earlier half of my life, simply because of how diverse New Jersey is as far as culture and terrain. There are many different parts to New Jersey. You have city, suburbs, country, beach. It's got just about everything. It was really nice to grow up there. You have cities that are really close by like New York and Philadelphia. So, skating in New Jersey, you have a lot of options.
Have most of your travels been through skateboarding or just through personal travels?
I'd say a mix of both. But skateboarding has been the vehicle in which to travel and see not only this country but the entire world. I doubt I'll make it to see every single country in the world though [laughs]. I got 49 of 50 states down, though. Still waiting on Alaska. I haven’t made it there yet.
That’s some solid travelling. How did you make your way out to California from New Jersey?
Well, at the time growing up in New Jersey, there wasn't much opportunity for me for skateboarding. And at the time, if you wanted to do anything with skateboarding, you had to go to California. So, I had a small window to pursue something with skateboarding. I decided to pack up my little Honda CRV at the time and drive out there (that was 2014) and try to give it a go. I lived in my Honda CRV on and off for about three years trying to slowly make it happen. Sure enough, it all worked out.
Did you have friends in California or was there a sponsor opportunity?
I definitely had friends in California. I had an opportunity with Creature Skateboards and DC Shoes. And just from that little opportunity, I made some big opportunities happen.
“I decided to take up a job opportunity with DC Shoes as the Global Team Manager . . . I did that for the last three and a half years . . . I'm happy to say that skateboarding is now my full-time job.”
How was that lifestyle when you came out to California? Where were you working a little bit? Was it nice to have more free time to skate?
Yeah, initially, I came out to California with some money saved up. But eventually reality hits and you have to take up work. At the time skateboarding wasn't paying the bills. I decided to take up a job opportunity with DC Shoes as the Global Team Manager of their skateboard team. I did that for the last three and a half years. August 1st was my last day and I'm happy to say that skateboarding is now my full-time job.
Congratulations, man. That's a huge feat. How was that transition from trying to make it in skateboarding to going into more of a professional job working for DC?
It's been a really wonderful opportunity to get to see the inner workings of a company and the corporate setting. It's been nothing but beneficial to me in my skateboarding career. It was also helpful having that financial support as I was building up my skateboard career. You don't always start out making very good money skateboarding. So, it's nice to have something on the side or something in the forefront that can help support your dreams and goals, whether it's skateboarding or not. It's always nice to have some supplemental income to help pay the bills.
It's definitely a blessing to get paid to do what you love. Where would you say your style and trick selection come from?
You know, it's a good question. I've been asked the question before, and I tend to give the same answer. I'm inspired by a lot of people who came before me who were interested in how they did tricks versus what tricks they were doing. They were interested in how the tricks felt, versus how they looked. I've always just been interested in how skateboarding feels, and how things are done. I've always wanted to do things in a way that felt like a dance, that felt very calming. I really love studying Shaolin monks and Tai Chi. I see how they move, and I try to make skateboarding a similar type of moving meditation as Shaolin monks do in their martial arts practice or Tai Chi masters do in their Tai Chi practice.
Interesting. How did you begin diving into martial arts and some of these cultural influences?
You know when somebody is a skilled practitioner at something, I’ve always taken interest in that. Fast forward to around 18, I had a very memorable and significant panic attack. I didn't know what to do. I actually had been given a guided meditation CD that was collecting dust on the shelf. So, I dusted it off and put it in my CD player at the time. I listened to it and it brought me very quickly into a state of calm. It made such an impression on me that I've been curious about it ever since. And I've been learning about it ever since.
I’ve found meditation to be helpful too. How has your practice evolved over the years?
Over the years, as I've deepened my practice, I've become knowledgeable enough to share my practice and help guide other people on theirs. I wouldn't by any means call myself an expert, or a master. I'm very far from being either of those things. I'm still very much a student, but I’m interested in teaching as well. I've had the privilege of having the opportunity to guide people. It seems as though they've benefited from it and have enjoyed it. So, it has motivated me to want to learn more so that I can be a better teacher. Through all that, it's connected me with some people who are much more knowledgeable who I can learn from.
“I've been to about a dozen meditation retreats all over the world.”
Do you learn from different meditation experts in person or mostly online? I know you've gone to meditation retreats too. You went to one in Europe, right?
Yeah, I've been to about a dozen meditation retreats all over the world. Nowadays, it's a little harder to meet these types of people in person. A lot of the very skilled and higher-level type people are harder to find. I've met a few of them. They have very, very serious practices. Some practices, they've meditated almost 24 hours a day for 10 years. I've met a few of those people, and they have a level of presence and peace about them that I've never seen before. Those people are very rare and very extreme. As I said, few and far between. Fortunately, there is the internet. There are plenty of people who are knowledgeable on this subject who you can learn from through videos, or guided practices, and also others in person who maybe have less rigorous practices that are more accessible to you. So, it's been a combination of both over the years.
Are the meditation retreats accessible for the most part, or are those also a little hard to get into?
I'd say it varies, but they are definitely accessible to the average person. I'm actually going to one on Monday for seven days. This one is relatively cheap. There are others that are more high scale, which are great. Essentially, there are so many different types of retreats that are suitable for any type of person, no matter their financial situation.
What would you consider your favorite type of traveling to be? On a skate trip with a with a team, traveling solo or going on meditation retreats?
Man, that's a hard question. I would say that any chance I get to travel, see a new place, learn something new, meet new people and experience new culture—that's my favorite type of travel. I know it's a pretty broad and vague answer to your question. But any time I get to travel is my favorite, they all teach you something. They all have new experiences no matter what form they take.
“We were able to donate a significant portion of the proceeds to the Diné Skate Garden Project, which is a safe and inclusive skatepark being built on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.”
So, you had a vegan shoe released with your name on it and the profits went to a good cause. Could you explain what went down?
Yeah, I had the honor and privilege of having a shoe with DC Shoes. It was a limited release, so it's no longer available. But we were able to create a vegan shoe that acted as a vehicle for some charity work. We were able to donate a significant portion of the proceeds to the Diné Skate Garden Project, which is a safe and inclusive skatepark being built on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, specifically, the Two Grey Hills chapter of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. The skatepark is going to break ground in the fall. It was a really great opportunity to, number one, be able to help design a shoe with a company that I have so much appreciation for; and number two, make it sustainable; and number three, make it a vehicle for some really great charity work. It's been a great honor and something that I hope to do again.
That's a great way to make the opportunity of having a shoe more meaningful and help people out along the way.
How's the flute playing going? What drew you to the flute? Is there a specific style you play?
I think playing the flute, meditation and breathing practices go hand in hand. So yeah, to answer your question, I really enjoy playing the flute. I was drawn to it for those reasons. It's one of the oldest instruments. I think it's the oldest instrument, actually. There's a flute they found that dates back to Ice Age. Who knows maybe body percussion came first. There's no record of which came first. But I really like it for those reasons, the history, how it sounds and how it makes me feel.
Are you working on any other projects right now or in the near future, whether it's skateboarding or off the board?
Yeah, I have a few projects that are in the works. Number one, we're coming out with a board with Creature Skateboards that's dedicated to a friend of mine who passed away. A portion of the proceeds from that board will go towards the nonprofit Shatterproof, which provides accessible drug rehabilitation to Americans across the country who are suffering. That's something I'm really looking forward to. I'm also working with Tony Hawk's foundation, The Skatepark Project, to bring accessible mental health techniques to a variety of different places through their ambassador program, video projects, and through a variety of sponsors, as well.
Those sound like some solid projects. To wrap things up, how did you get involved with Nixon?
I got connected with Nixon through a dear friend of mine that has been rebuilding their Team. I got to meet the people behind the scenes at Nixon. It's a really great fit. I'm looking forward to doing some great projects with them, similar to the ones that I've mentioned already. Plus, I love everybody on the Team. It was a match made in heaven.