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Pro skater runs a leading design firm in her hometown of Santa Cruz – Judi Oyama

Team photo taken by Bill Golding back in the day.

Swinnerton: Judi, can you tell us a little bit about your background? Where did you grow up?

Oyama: I was born and raised in Santa Cruz. I spent most of my years in the Aptos area. I used to ride my horse in between Soquel and the Aptos hills and on the beaches until all the fences started sprouting up.

My father went to Art Center back in the day and was head of Cinematography at Lockheed in Santa Cruz. He was always into photography and encouraged me to get into computers from the early days.

My first Apple was a IIsi with a 80-megabyte hard drive. Back then, when I was working on designing Beckmann’s Bread packaging, it took 20 minutes to save. This gave me time to read magazines, dust and have a super clean office.

I had a burning drive to do more each day because in the back of my mind I think of when my parents were 11 and 12 they spent three years in Japanese Internment Camps with their families. They rarely talk about it and they have no anger. They did try and give us everything they could since they had to start over and times were tough. I never take my freedom or all of what I have for granted.

Swinnerton: How did you get into skating?

Oyama: By watching my brother skating on a board he made in Aptos Jr. High wood shop class. I wanted to try and never stopped. I went from my driveway to the street with some of my girlfriends to local schools, skate parks and racing downhill on hills around town. I got sponsored by Santa Cruz Skateboards three years later and started competing throughout California.

When you look back at the ’70s, ’80s, and even the ’90s, what pops out in your mind as some of the highlights of your skating life?

I was in a short-lived multi-million dollar skateboard show called “Skateboardmania” back in 1978. It was like the Ice Follies of skate. It was supposed to run six months per skater and travel the world. We were the first group and then other skaters were supposed to learn what we did and take our place to keep the show going.

They had us living in Hollywood and working mid-afternoon to evenings learning choreographed skate routines at Paramount Studios. It’s where I met Duane Peters and a few other life-long skate friends. It was the only paid skate gig which included seven semis, 40 roadies, $50,000 worth of Plexiglas ramps, a rock & roll bus, fancy hotels, parties in Beverly Hills and skating on Hollywood Boulevard. We got to stay on the Queen Mary for a week and they rented the Long Beach Arena for practice. Our opening show was at the LA Forum.

Skating the Capitola Classic was one of my skating highlights. To this day whenever I drive down Monterey Avenue I think of the feeling of flying down that hill and how fun it was.

I look at the road and see the cracks and lines that one day I hope they will repave. There is nothing like being a little out of control and wondering if you are going to crash and then coming to a stop at the end in one piece and the adrenaline you feel.

I still race slalom which has similar speeds to what we did back in the day but with better equipment and faster wheels. It is my way to keep the rush in my life since I don’t feel as comfortable pushing my limits at the skate park. I don’t bounce like I used too.

Swinnerton: Was there a group of skaters that you especially liked to skate with?

Oyama: Yes I skated with a crew at Winchester Skate Park that included Steve Caballero, Scott Foss, Mike Goldman, Steve Olson, Rick Blackhart and Cindy Whitehead. My slalom and downhill crew was mainly Michael Goldman, John Hutson and Mikko Biffle.

Swinnerton: The Bones Brigade’s new movie is being screened in many movie theaters across the country right now. Did you ever get a chance to skate and or hang out with any of them?

Oyama: I saw the movie in San Jose a few weeks ago. I skated with Steve Caballero, Scott Foss, and Tommy Guerrero in the early days. They all used to ride for Santa Cruz Skateboards, but as the competition for riders started happening they got swooped up by Stacy Peralta.

I used to make custom skate shorts and made a pair for Cab that were a 23-inch waist. He was a tiny little guy. We still skate together at the skate park but his level of skate and mine are two different things. He still competes in vert and wins most of the masters events.

Swinnerton: How did you become a designer and illustrator?

Photo: Mike Smiley Goldman

Oyama: In the early days of my skate career I spent a good amount of time at NHS [which builds Santa Cruz Skateboards]. I saw how Jim Phillips worked with the founders showing them ideas from pencil drawings to pen and ink and then to mechanicals. Eventually I learned to silkscreen and screened some of the earlier board graphics. I always wished I could draw like he did.

Richard Novak encouraged me to go to school. I went to San Jose State and majored in graphic design with an illustration concentration. I got work from NHS which then led to work with other action sports brands while going to school, which led me to opening my Maximum Impact Design business straight out of college.

Being a designer and Illustrator is interesting to me, since it takes a very creative person who has to work with highly technical things. How do you bring the two together in your workflow?

I am a tech geek though I love non-computer-created artwork, since there is nothing like working through the rough pencils concept ideas to a final original piece of art. I went to school for illustration but had ideas that were above and beyond my abilities which led to a role in art direction and production, working with well-known to emerging talent in both illustration and photography. In the age of computers it is super easy to work with talent from all over the world.

For photography I use Lightroom to go through photos with photographers and clients. I am able to post location scouting, model selections and styling images through the online services, which saves time and speeds up workflow. For product graphics I have a talent pool and workflow that allows me to work with talented artists and provide a wide range of looks and designs for companies like Croakies, Buff USA, Camelbak and Socksmith Designs.

Swinnerton: On a tech side, what software, services and hardware do you use on a regular basis?

Oyama: I use the Adobe 6 Suite software line up. I use Illustrator, Indesign and Photoshop the most. I am taking a Final Cut Pro class at Cabrillo College to keep up on tech and to get a hand on the video production and mainly the lead in and out typography, video graphics and short videos for some of the businesses I work with.

I installed the Video Production Premium suite which has Adobe Premiere, After Effects, and a few other programs that will work together to help create what I want to do. I mainly work off a 27” iMac and use a Macbook Pro laptop, present and make notes on an iPad and use the iPhone way to much. I use Dropbox as one of the main on-line file transfer services and Harvest to keep track of hours, projects, create estimates and invoices.

I learn a ton from my kids who seem to find apps on their iPods, from lstop-animation to Mindcraft, that makes you wonder what technology is going to be next.

Swinnerton: Is there a software, services, or hardware that you wish was invented to make your life easier or would help you do a work-related thing that you can’t do now?

Oyama: Not any I can think of. [But] I wish Apple, Adobe and Google didn’t always do things to each others software to create problems that we have to always find patches and fixes for. If they could all play along nice, just imagine how much technology we would have at hand?

Swinnerton: What are some of the projects that you are most proud of?

Oyama: One of my most favorite projects was an idea I came up with from the ground up. Creating a Lance Armstrong poster with illustrator Michael Schwab to raise money for LAF (Lance Armstrong Foundation) and Youth Cycling Org. I had to convince everyone to work out the math challenges of getting them all hand signed and numbered by both the artist and Lance. It ended up raising over $60,000 for both non-profits. This poster was accepted into the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC..

The current project is an art show I help curate and put on for Board which I am a founding member. It was our Third Annual Board Rescue Art Fundraiser. We had more than 30 pieces of art from all over the country up, and several hundred people at the Santa Cruz Boardroom last Saturday, Oct. 13. For the first time we had the Phillips’ three generations of artists create and donate artwork—Jim Phillips, Jimbo Phillips and Colby Phillips—as well as well known skate artists Jason Adams, Jason Jessee, David Swift, Steve Caballero, Lucas Musgrave, Chris Sprouls (art director at Apple Computers—his includes an iPod) and a host of others. We are going to post them on ebay this week and it is our biggest fundraiser of the year.

Swinnerton: What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Oyama: The best part is that what I do doesn’t feel like work. I love what I do. I get to be creative I do not have to commute. I’m able to spend more time with my family. I get up early so I can get most of my work done before the rest of the family wakes up. I have a handful of designers that work with me remotely and in my home office.

I do a ton of work with a local retailer, the Sockshop and Shoe Company, which owns four retail stores in the Bay Area and downtown Santa Cruz.

They own a small sock company that has grown from 250 to 500 accounts since I started doing their catalog and all of their marketing materials.

The owners are the best, and I enjoy working with them and all the challenging projects that come up. I work on everything from sock graphics, photo-shoot art direction, catalog designs, retail signage, trade show graphics, to ads and hang tags.

I feel lucky that I am able to be somewhat selective on with clients and projects. I have to really connect with the work and the client to get the best from my design team and be proud of the results at the end of the project. I work from a home office and am a member at co-working location downtown so I am able to have client meetings and keep in touch with local talent from programmers to patent attorneys.

Swinnerton: What do you like about both living and working in Santa Cruz?

Oyama: I like the slower pace and more casual manner we have compared to the urban cities. I like working with other creatives that live in the area. There are a ton of really talented people in this community. You can see it from the small businesses that have sprouted up to the designers that have made their own apps and gotten bought up by bigger companies. I like that you can go walk on the beach or head to the forest if you need to gather yourself and take in some outside time.

Reprinted from Instant Magazine –
Interrogated by:
Matthew Swinnerton
Twitter – @Swinnerton

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