Zach Miller Interview: Plane on Fire, Dew Tour Mayhem & More
Wild surf trip relived, competing in the Dew Tour last-second, running a surf company, and more.
Zach Miller is more than your average Southern Californian skateboarder, shaper, photographer, filmmaker, surfer, artist, world traveler and business owner. Zach eats, breathes, and bleeds creative style on land, sea, and on both sides of the lens. We met up with Zach to hear his tales and current projects, including his surf company ZM Shapes.
You’ve been with Nixon forever. Can you explain that history a bit?
I started riding for Nixon when I was 14 years old. Todd Richards brought me into the office one day, and at that point the office was maybe 10 people. Todd started getting me hooked up and I've been riding for Nixon ever since. Then, right after high school, I had just started doing pro contests. I was traveling a lot but I wasn't really making a whole lot of money as a skateboarder. I definitely needed a job. What I wanted to do besides skateboarding was graphic design. In high school, I had interned at a design and production agency, so I learned all the Adobe Suite programs. When I was looking for a job, I needed a job that was going to be really flexible and let me skate whenever I needed to. I got a semi full-time job at Nixon. It was pretty rad. I did graphic design, doing a lot of ad layouts, photoshopping watches and helping with anything the creative department needed. Anytime I needed to leave, I would just tell them. I had the freedom to keep skating, surfing and doing all the trips that I needed to do. I worked at Nixon for about five years. Then I started riding for Quiksilver, and they had me on a crazy travel schedule. I was earning a salary so I stopped working at Nixon.
“That was the first time I've been on a real legit surf trip to gnarly waves.”
What's your craziest Nixon story?
The coolest, craziest Nixon experience I ever had was when I was 15. I went to Tavarua [a small island near Fiji]. Nixon used to do this trip called High Tide Hold'em. They would take the team, the best-selling sales reps, and a handful of employees. Everyone would go to Fiji and Nixon would basically rent out the island of Tavarua for a sick surf trip. They'd have a poker tournament, a pool tournament, a fishing tournament, a challenge to catch the gnarliest wave. You could win a crazy custom watch, or glory. But the plane engine caught on fire on the way there and had to turn around, landing back in LA. A bunch of people bailed and didn't want to go anymore. A group of us said screw it and got on another plane and flew to the island anyways. That was the first time I've been on a real legit surf trip to gnarly waves. I remember being so scared surfing. Brandon, who was the team manager, was screaming at me to go for one that I was accidently in the right position for. I made the drop, got to the bottom, and I thought I was gonna get the craziest barrel ever. I stood up and got lipped to the head. I slammed in the reef, broke my board, got totally cut up and washed to the coral section called Shish Kabobs because the coral is so sharp. I swam back and was picked me up by the back of my surf trunks out of the water like a wet dog and dumped me into the boat. He gave me the option to see the doctor on the island, or get my cuts cleaned up by the team. They gave me Neosporin and scrubbed my cuts with limes at the bar. That was probably the craziest thing.
“I made myself a batch of surfboards for an Indonesia trip. I've been making a lot of boards for people the last two years.”
This was a busy year for you. Can give us a rundown of your recent trips?
I was in Copenhagen for two and a half weeks for the Copenhagen Pro. That was a good time traveling around the city. For that contest, every day they have a different event at a different location in and around Copenhagen. When you're there for that long, it gives you a lot of opportunity to do things aside from skating. You get to see the city and go to art shows, museums, and see all the sights. That city is so skate and bike friendly that we didn't get in a car the whole time. From Copenhagen, I flew back to LAX and drove straight to Palm Springs to meet up for the Nixon x Rolling Stones shoot at Nude Bowl. I barely survived the jetlag. I came back in full zombie mode.
Then, I made myself a batch of surfboards for an Indonesia trip. I've been making a lot of boards for people the last two years, but I had this realization that I didn't have my own quiver. I made myself six boards and went to Indo for a rad surf trip with my buddy Kai. We went to Telo Island which is in Sumatra—and we scored. We ran into Torren Martin, who's one of the most stylish free surfers. We were surfing a spot and a sailboat rolled up. At first, we were bummed, thinking a bunch of dudes were about to jump off the boat to surf. But then Torren and his buddy paddled out, and that's exactly who you want to be surfing with. We ended up switching boards. I rode his board for a couple hours. He rode my board and liked it. That was a good sign.
Dew Tour was an unexpected thing. Jake Wooten got hurt and they needed someone to fill his spot, so I ended up flying to Iowa to skate. But when I got there, they told me Jake was there—so I was out of the contest. Jake was going to skate. I ended up being a commentator with Todd Richards and Chris Cote. We were live on TV and the contest had just started. Suddenly I hear in my headset that Jake slammed and couldn't skate, so I was back in the contest. I thought they were joking but Todd and Chris looked at me and said, "No, this is not a joke." This is all happening on live TV. I'm looking at them with the dumbest look on my face, so totally confused. Todd finally reaches over and takes my headset off and yells, "Go run to the bowl! You're in the contest. It literally starts in a minute." So I run off the TV set, run all the way to the bowl. I'm standing on top of the bowl inside of the arena full of people and lights. The contest is going on and I'm literally like changing my pants. Trying to put on my skate shoes and change into jeans. As I button up my pants, they announce: "Zach, your run is now, go!" I dropped into the bowl with my pants barely on, totally caught off guard with zero practice. All the boys are laughing. I think I made a handful tricks. Whatever, it was fun.
What's been going on with ZM Shapes?
I've been putting a lot of time and energy into my surfboard brand. The site is now fully live. You can go through all the models and stock inventory. There is also a custom-order form that you can fill out for custom boards.
“I've always been super interested in surfboard designs. Coming from a graphic design background, it translates over—it's an art project.”
How did you get into shaping surfboards?
I grew up surfing and skating relatively equally. I was definitely more skate-focused when I was younger. But I always surfed. There was a surf shop that my buddy worked at. He was shaping boards out of the back, so I shaped my first board with him. It became a little hobby. I'm such a surf nerd. I've always been super interested in surfboard designs. Coming from a graphic design background too, it translates over—it's an art project. Then, it snowballed into me having a little board label. I've been taking a lot of skate aesthetics and putting them into my surfboards. I'm doing board graphics on the bottom with different colors. All my boards are very skatey, high-performance alternative boards.
What's your favorite Nixon watch and why?
I'd say this Sentry I'm wearing. The PU silicone band with the classy look and numerals is a good way to go.
These next questions are rapid fire. What do you prefer, a nap or caffeine?
Definitely a nap.
Twin fin or single?
Skateboards: shovel nose or small nose?
Dawn patrol or sunset?
Sunset. I’m bad in the mornings.
Rap, rock or house music?
Skate mission or surf mission?
If I’m being honest, surf missions. You go to a comfortable tropical place. For skateboard missions, you go to a ditch.