September 2, 2019
Vans at 50:
An oral history of the iconic skateboarding brand and a case study in longevity.
Oak Street July 2016
Words by Robert Brink
Photography by Ye Rin Mok
To last 50 years and be more culturally relevant than ever is unheard of for a skateboarding brand. But such is the case for Vans, which celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this year.
Despite its humble beginnings as a made-to-order deck shoe created by Paul and Jim Van Doren in 1966, Vans is the skate world’s longest-running brand and one of the few in American history to become a culture within itself.
So how did the Van Doren Rubber Company go from selling a dozen pairs of shoes on March 16, 1966, in Anaheim, California, to surviving Chapter 11 bankruptcy, family fallouts, multiple acquisitions, going public, and five decades of trends? Some of the company’s most crucial figures break down how it became the iconic $2.2 billion brand it is today.
Listen to the customer
Steve Van Doren (VP of Events and Promotions and son of Vans founder Paul Van Doren): “We were just a tennis shoe company that my dad started in 1966. He knew he was going to have to do something special because he couldn’t afford advertising. It wasn’t my dad’s niche; he was a manufacturer his whole life. So he made the sole twice as thick as anything else out there. He used pure crepe rubber with no fillers. He used No. 10 duck canvas and nylon thread so the shoes would last longer. He didn’t know it was eventually going to be gripping a skateboard, but all those things, together with the construction, made for a better shoe. So if a mother came in and bought a pair for her kid and found out it lasted longer than other shoes, she’s going to keep coming back for more.”
Tony Alva (professional skateboarder, Skateboarding Hall of Fame inductee, original member of the Zephyr team, Vans-endorsed athlete for 40 years): “We just knew that we needed deck shoes. Vans started, and there was a shop on the corner of 19th and Wilshire in Los Angeles, two blocks away from my junior high school. It wasn’t intentional, but Vans were the best shoes for skateboarding. They were affordable and they lasted. And they would sell me one shoe at a time. If I wore out my right shoe from dragging my foot a lot, I would go over with a couple bucks and buy another shoe, which would keep me going for another week or two.
I was one of the guys that gave them input to start designing shoes for skateboarders, and they called it the Off The Wall series. We took the basic deck shoe but added a bit more padding and used two-tone colors because we were always wearing different colored shoes based on whatever we could get at the time. But what we were all about when it came to Vans was that gum rubber sole that grips a skateboard so good that you don’t want to reinvent it no matter what. The vulcanized rubber and either suede leather or canvas and that waffle sole—that’s all we ever wanted.
Then they went to making hi-tops, which was a completely new level of functionality. That was the ultimate shoe for us because it had that gum rubber sole, but the suede and the canvas combined with the hi-top guarding the ankle bones. That’s what we did—we gave Vans so much input that they started to evolve with skateboarding. It was one of the smartest things they could’ve ever done. And the reason they were able to do it is because Paul Van Doren and his sons were open to it. They were listening and they knew there was something about the skateboarding culture that was synonymous with Vans, and they rode it out. Here we are 50 years later and they’re still riding that wave, which is amazing because what it’s done for them is it’s given them growth through an organic evolution that no other company in the skateboarding industry has or could ever have.”
Steve Van Doren: “Tony worked with my dad and my uncle Jim. We realized that canvas was going to take a beating, so we started putting leather on the toe and the heel and added a padded collar so they had more support. From there, Tony would start suggesting, ‘Hey, we’re getting hit in the ankles with our skateboards when we’re in the pools.’ So we came up with the second shoe, which was the mid-top Old Skool. Then my dad saw how hard they would pull their laces to tighten them up and break the eyelets. Normal people don’t do that. So when we designed style No. 36, they left out the metal eyelets but put an extra layer of canvas so you didn’t have a chance of pulling an eyelet out and ruining the whole shoe. Soon we made an even higher-top shoe, the Sk8-Hi. We always listened to what skaters or kids told us. When kids were drawing checkerboard patterns on their shoes, we just followed their lead. Same thing with skating, they’d ask us, ‘Hey, can you do this? Can you do that?’ And we would.
Later, in 1988, when we made the first shoe for Steve Caballero, he found out eight months later that kids were cutting the top down to make the shoe lower. He came to us and said, ‘Hey, see how I duct taped these after I cut ’em? Maybe we can just make ’em a mid-top.’ And that’s how the Half Cab came about.”
Steve Caballero (professional skateboarder, Skateboarding Hall of Fame inductee, Vans-endorsed athlete for 28 years, creator of the longest-running signature shoe of all time, the Half Cab): “I attribute the success of the Half Cab to a combination of things: timing, capturing a moment, and Vans listening to what the skaters and I wanted. Steve Van Doren is really good at listening and making sure skaters are well taken care of.”
Stick to what you know
Vans doesn’t deny its mistakes, nor does it make excuses for its failures. The times it suffered were the times it tried to be something it wasn’t. The company made breakdancing shoes in the ’80s, for Christ’s sake. But there has always been an accountability, a sincerity, and an authenticity to Vans that clearly illustrates why it’s been here for half a century and is now more successful than ever. Not a lot of brands can say that. Nor can they say they swung back from the bottom all the way to the top, the way Vans has.
Steve Van Doren: “Vans was going great, the checkerboard shoe was flying, my uncle Jim was president, and he was doing a magnificent job, but he made the mistake of trying to be Nike. We had a running shoe. We had basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, skydiving, and wrestling shoes. We even had breakdancing shoes. We were making really nice shoes, but my dad, who was a great manufacturer and businessperson, kept telling my uncle, ‘Hey, they’re costing us a fortune. We’re losing our butts.’ But my uncle wouldn’t listen because he guided Vans through the checkerboard era, and we were the hottest thing going. All the money we were making on checkerboard shoes, we spent on lasts, dyes, and materials for making athletic shoes. And they weren’t selling. People don’t know Vans for that. You got powerhouses like adidas, Nike, and Puma, and we were getting our butts kicked on the athletic shoes.
Then, from about 1994 to 1999, they [McCown De Leeuw & Co., the private equity firm that bought Vans in 1988] were making all kinds of skateboarding shoes. They were excited about all these new things happening in skate footwear and they were trying to follow the other shoe companies instead of lead, but that wasn’t us. They began manufacturing overseas for the first time and forgot all about vulcanized. They weren’t using our traditional looks or side stripe on the shoes. There were a hundred skate shoes on the wall of shops, and you couldn’t tell which ones were ours. I remember sitting in a meeting and telling everybody they were all full of shit.
‘These aren’t our shoes, guys! We used to make six million pairs of vulcanized shoes a year, and today we make less than a million!’ That was when we signed Geoff Rowley to come on board the skate team and help us get back to basics. Unfortunately, a couple times during the history of the company, I’ve had to call everybody out and tell them they were wrong. Thankfully, they listened. We released Geoff Rowley’s vulcanized shoe and started rebuilding Vans on classics and vulcanized, which is who we always were and what we always were.”
Geoff Rowley (professional skateboarder and Vans-endorsed athlete for 17 years): “I signed a contract with Vans and started to work with the design department on sketches for my first signature model. It was vulcanized, had the Vans side stripe and heel tab, had foxing stripe and the Vans original skateboard logo, and a primary color scheme. This was the opposite of everything Vans and the industry was pushing at the time, and it wasn’t easy to convince upper management that it was the right direction. This is when the fighting started, but the only person in the building that supported my design was Steve Van Doren. He believed in me, and I think he was quietly stoked that a skater had come in wanting to get back to his family’s roots.”
Create and support culture
Vans has invested in the communities it believes in by creating countless contest series, building world-class skateboarding facilities, and sponsoring events, films, and more. Its continued support of what matters has paid off in that its customers, ambassadors, and fans return the favor with fierce loyalty.
It’s what leads to things like Sean Penn hitting himself in the face with a Vans checkerboard sneaker in Fast Times at Ridgemont High or the longest-running concert series in America, the Vans Warped Tour, being recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The recent viral explosion of “Damn Daniel” and his appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show may have been an amazing accident, but Daniel wearing his white Vans in the first place certainly wasn’t. Neither was Kristen Stewart and her Vans footprints during the Twilight cast’s Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony. It’s placement and fandom you just can’t buy.
Steve Van Doren: “If we want to stick around, we have to stick with our roots, which are skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, and BMX. Fortunately, our parent company for the last 10 to 15 years, VF Corp., has been the bank. I don’t have to worry about money like I did in the early days. They’ve given me the tools. Instead of having a van, I’ve got motorhomes. I’m from Boston, so when I see Converse, who is in Boston, stepping it up in the skate game, I tell VF I want to build a skatepark that’ll be there for 20 years, because the kids there haven’t had a skatepark for 13. We just spent $3 million and put a skatepark in Huntington Beach because they didn’t have a skatepark either. Those are nice things that, thanks to our success, they’ve let us invest in. As well as continuing with the Vans Warped Tour, doing the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing, helping the Skateboarding Hall of Fame with their events, doing the Vans Pool Party for the last 11 years, and the new Vans Park Series, which is going to five countries and hopefully going to get park skating to the Olympics.
Five and a half years ago, we opened the House of Vans in New York and three years ago in London. In those two venues, kids come and get a place to skate. House of Vans is also host to lots of great music and events. It’s our clubhouse and we can do anything we want with it. All of the Vans events, except for the Vans Warped Tour, are free, and that’s just our feather in our cap so people know that we give a shit.
A lot of our skateboarders play music, and music is important to us. So Kevin Lyman and myself got together, and we started the Vans Warped Tour 22 years ago. Art is another thing. When we have skateboarding contests, we always try to have an art show because a lot of the skaters will travel, they’ll take some art with them, put it up, and sell it. They have a lot of different talents, and that’s how trends start.”
Taka Hayashi (artist and Vans Vault designer since 2004): “Vans is basic, clean, and timeless. Our classic models have simple paneling, which gives plenty of room to paint, draw, and tweak on a pattern. It’s a perfect 3D canvas to create on. As a little kid back in the early ’80s, it was a treat to go into a Vans store and go through stacks of fabric swatch books and customize your favorite shoe model. There were so many graphic prints, woven fabrics, suede, leather, and canvas to choose from. That was such an innovative concept at the time. I feel very honored to be a part of a brand that embraces art, music, fashion, and skateboarding. I really enjoy working with other artists and seeing what they come up with. They motivate me to keep pushing design and art to the next level. It’s a never-ending cycle.”
Appoint the right leader
When we talk about doing the right thing and ask how Vans has successfully cemented its place in our culture, all roads inevitably circle back to Steve Van Doren.
Geoff Rowley: “Steve has dedicated his life to Vans and goes above and beyond to support pro skaters and skateboarding hard goods brands worldwide. He is the single most important person in our whole industry, and we all owe a lot to him for his relentless support, hard work, and dedication to skateboarding.
Steve Caballero: “Steve’s one of the main reasons I’ve stuck with Vans so long, because of who he is as a person and how caring and supportive he is of his riders.”
Tony Alva: “He’s the ambassador of fun. He’s the guy who’s got our backs. He’s been the guy from day one. He enables us to make a living as professional skateboarders. Steve is like a big brother to all of us. He’s taken the money that he’s made and flexed it as a muscle for professional skateboarders. It’s a really positive muscle, and we can do great things with it.
Vans is the American dream story come true. It’s crazy that a little mom and pop family business that manufactured rubber in Anaheim with a small corner store is now a multi-billion-dollar company that makes shoes strictly for skateboarders. But since skateboarders are such trendsetters—always setting the pace for fashion, art, music, and all the things that kids are crazy about—the kids who don’t skate want to wear Vans too. It’s the same reason we wanted to wear them when we were kids. We wanted to wear them because the surfers wore them, and the surfers were the coolest guys in the neighborhood. They were the toughest, they got all the chicks, they were the hardest partiers, they were the dudes. Those were the guys we wanted to be like, and what did they wear? They wore Levi’s flares and they wore Vans.”
Steve Van Doren: “The skateboarders adopted us. I’ve been around the company since I was 10 years old—for 50 years. I’m very loyal to them because they gave us a reason to be, a reason besides just making sneakers.”
August 17, 2019
Weed, Skateboarding and the Olympics
Monster Children, June 2019
Words: Robert Brink
Photos: Andrew James Peters
Design: Matt Rodriguez
It was only until a year or so ago, and going back a decade or more, that the usual band of skateboarding blowhards, and even the clueless types outside of skateboarding, could be heard saying (or seen typing) things like “Yeah, skateboarding will never be in the Olympics because no one will pass the drug tests!” Or, “Good luck getting anyone to give up weed to even get close to competing in the Olympics!”
Statements that come from the same knee jerk reaction-fueled foresight deficiency as say, celebrities claiming they will move out of the country if Donald Trump gets elected president.
And here we are, in 2019, with people like Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, Snoop Dogg, Miley Cyrus, Samuel L. Jackson, Bryan Cranston, Barbra Streisand and Chelsea Handler still residing in the United States and the Olympic debut of skateboarding in Tokyo happening in just over a year—with qualifiers full of countless skateboarders, testing negative for THC and other narcotics, already underway.
There are three things that people should’ve learned from skateboarding’s six decades of existence by now:
1. Never say never.
2. Change, progress and evolution, are not only inevitable, they drive skateboarding.
3. Don’t ever underestimate the will of skateboarder.
The following interviews comprise a cross-section of six different perspectives on cannabis, skateboarding and the Olympics, and, as much as we wanted to appease the naysayers, we came up short.
Olympics: 1, Blowhards: 0
Dashawn Jordan, Professional Skateboarder:
So you’ve never really been into smoking weed?
I tried it when I was younger, but I haven't smoked in years. I prefer not to.
What sparked that decision for you?
I hate feeling like I'm not totally aware. I like to be sharp with everything I do. There's nothing I hate more than talking to someone who's really high, or even when I would be talking to somebody who was sober when I was high. In a weird way I felt disrespectful because I wasn’t able to give my undivided attention or show true emotion about what they're talking about—I just don’t like that cloud over my real feelings.
Being in the skate industry, you’re around people who smoke all the time. Are you opposed to it or the legalization of marijuana?
I mean, my mom smokes, so I’m I'm not against it. The only thing I hate is when it's abused. When somebody's like “I have to smoke to eat.” Or, “I have to smoke to sleep.” That's when it's annoying to me.
So are you okay with people who use weed or CBD medicinally?
Oh yeah. I had a homie who works for a CBD company give me a bunch of stuff. And I was like, “You know, I can't really use it, but I'll give it to my grandma.” And you know I gave it to her and she used it and she said it actually helped her shoulder. It literally took away the pain. So when it's like that, do your thing. I'm not against it.
So from a competitive standpoint, if they do random testing at Street League in London next week, because it's an Olympic qualifier, you’re not stressed at all because you don't even smoke.
Yeah. I'm chilling. At X Games in Norway last year I did it the first time. The random drug test and stuff. I was like, “Dude, whatever you guys need me to do. I'm not tripping. I don't have anything in my piss!”
It sounds like you’ve had this mentality for a long time. It's not like you recently decided you wanted to be sharp for skating contests or anything.
It's been like that from day one for me. Like I said, I had enough time where I did it and it was like cool but it was never a time where it was like a religion to me and I just had to smoke.
If weed or THC weren’t prohibited in competition, would you be opposed if another skater who you were up against was using it? Do you feel that would give anybody an advantage over you in a competition?
It's a weird grey area. Some people may do it because they want to relax. Some dudes may do it because when they are high they skate the best. It’s crazy because you have somebody like me who is out there as the person they are, dealing with the stress and the pressure and everything at a sober, normal level, why should the other dude who has the same worries be able to smoke and relax?
I don't know if marijuana provides a ton of advantages. But if there is an advantage, that's definitely the one—the nerves and the performance anxiety. Because competition is, in part, about overcoming those nerves in my opinion.I skated contests when I was younger and nervousness was the most difficult part for me.
That's my main setback when I compete too—the nerves. That's the only thing that gets me. This year, that's the one thing I'm trying to work on—just mellowing out.
Oscar Loreto, Adaptive Skateboarder and Athlete Representative for USA Skateboarding, the National Governing Body for Skateboarding in the United States:
Tell us a little about your condition.
They say when I was in my mother's womb, the amniotic bands wrapped around my hands, fingers and feet, preventing development. So I was born without my left foot and without nine fingers. Medically, it’s considered a congenital birth defect, but there are other theories—whether it's just a fluke thing or something like my mom being given some kind of bad drug during pregnancy. There's really no concrete evidence regarding what caused it.
When did you start using a prosthetic?
Around two or three years old. There are photos of me as a young child just learning how to walk with it. Before that I just crawled everywhere.
When did you discover skateboarding and figure out you could make it work with your prosthetic?
I always saw my cousin skating at family parties and I thought it was cool. But it was like eighth or ninth grade that I really picked one up and figured out that I could do it. Eventually seeing Jon Comer was the first time I saw somebody skating with a prosthetic.
Have you been prescribed medications for your condition or pain management?
I didn't have the traditional phantom pains like amputees have. It wasn't really until I started doing sports and being active that I learned about pain meds.
Do you use marijuana or CBD medicinally at this point?
The first time I rolled my ankle was first time I tried it out. It definitely helped with that, then a collarbone break and a bunch of other injuries. Its just way more effective and soothing on the body compared to Vicodin or Oxycodone or whatever they would prescribe had I gone through a doctor or pharmacy.
I imagine you know a ton of adaptive athletes who benefit from medical marijuana?
Yeah. Especially athletes that have had amputation later in life … they definitely use marijuana as a form of pain medicine.
Have you come across anyone whose treatments have been affected or has suffered due to marijuana being illegal?
Oh yeah, for example, my friend Andrew. After his snowboard injury he had to move back to Florida with his mom and they hadn't passed their medicinal marijuana laws yet. He used that to combat his pain because the stuff that they were prescribing for him had negative side effects. He knew from being an amputee already, even prior to his more recent snowboard injury, that weed helped him. But I think he had to go a year or so living in Florida until the laws passed.
My friend Evan was using marijuana medically for a long time and he stopped cold turkey when he found out he had the opportunity to compete in the Paralympics.
These people are given these great opportunities and even if the marijuana helps them, they're gonna do what they need to do. And from talking with Evan, for example, that was really his priority—honoring that opportunity and proving that he can compete in the Olympics without taking anything. And I believe that most potential para-athletes would feel and act the same way.
What are your feelings as far as marijuana in the adaptive/para community being performance enhancing versus a medical necessity? And do you think there should be a difference between the athletes and the para-athletes as far as what is allowed medicinally?
No, I think it should equal across the board. Able-bodied athletes, for lack of a better term, experience some really gnarly and debilitating injuries and benefit from medicinal marijuana too.
As to whether or not it is performance enhancing, I'm kind of on the fence about that. I advocate for weed obviously, but if it’s not possible to get an exemption or if they don’t change the rules regarding marijuana and competition, then, like I mentioned earlier, I'm the type of person that will abide by the rules because the opportunity and the bigger picture are worth it. But at the same time I feel they should look at it on a case-by-case basis, or if they considered a compromise—allowing a smaller amount in your system. Like if they can meet halfway with the athletes, that'd be pretty cool.
Matt Miller, professional skateboarder and co-founder of Miller Healer:
Tell me about Miller Healer and why you started it.
A long-time family friend who is a CBD guru saw me falling a lot in one of my skate videos and asked me what I did for pain management. I have always been natural—no taking pills, not even Advil. Us skaters, we just deal with the pain a lot of the time. So she let me try some CBD stuff and I definitely felt a difference, just not as much as I thought I would because it was a lower dose. So, together we came up with an extra strength version for athletes that's super effective —tested by athletes but designed for everyone. And that's how we came up with the idea for Miller Healer. We have topical products, like a push up stick and pretty much the best CBD patch out. We have edible gummies and a tincture as well.
Are you into smoking?
I definitely smoked here and there but I only liked the medicinal benefits. I'm not against it but I prefer CBD because it's non-psychoactive and I just feel right after using it, and seeing the amount of people CBD helps is why I started this.
How about the risks for athletes using CBD during competition? There’s the potential for THC to be present and show up on a drug test, right?
Yeah, they call it the Green Rush right now. There are so many new companies coming up and sometimes you just don't know what's in the products. There are a lot of companies that don't get lab tests, or that say they have a certain things in their products and don’t. But there are a lot of reputable companies out there and we are one of them. We spent the last four and a half months doing research and development making sure everything's done correctly and legit.
I'm sure the Olympics have a higher caliber of drug test too, but on a standard test, CBD might never show up as marijuana. But as far as the Olympic testing is concerned, I would recommend the topicals because that's the safest. If I were in the Olympics I would never want to risk that. We make these eight-hour time-release patches and a salve stick that are super good.
Do you consider THC to be performance enhancing in a competition?
I don’t think it’s performance enhancing. If there is a medical condition that would prevent an athlete from competing at their best, then I believe it should be allowed. I wouldn't recommend consuming cannabis while actually competing anyway, due to the psychoactive components. That's why I think CBD would be the best choice for competition since it has all the benefits while being non-psychoactive.
Especially the Olympics, man! You gotta represent for the country and you can't have little bruise or pain or something weird take you out, you know? And it’s great for is anxiety. You just feel better, you get back to your homeostasis form and feel top notch.
It also seems like this Green Rush is providing a new option for skateboarders as their careers wind down. Since weed is something they have been passionate about and enjoyed, like skateboarding, now it’s an industry and they can start a brand in or work in it. We've seen so many guys not have anything for themselves after skateboarding stops paying the bills.
Totally. I had opportunities to start a skateboard company, a hat company, like all these other things, but I always wanted to do something that helped people. Once this came about, all the stars aligned. We are sponsors for epilepsy day at Disneyland and things like that. The different range of people that CBD helps is amazing. Like you said, it's my new passion just like skating is always my passion, but it's dope that I'm doing something I don't mind staying up all night and working on for my business, because it's passion.
Also, realistically, skaters know day-to-day pain probably more than anyone. I know what works and what only kind of works. As a skateboarder or a professional athlete in general, you have understand skateboarding and that kind of pain to test the products and really know if they are going to work or not.
You want the people creating the products to have a high level of experience and authenticity.
Exactly. With our salve stick, patches and topicals, I've done so much research and development with all my pro friends who've hurt themselves. Yesterday I was with Kyle Walker and he was using the patches on his heel bruise. There's really been nothing for heel bruises in the world of skating thus far, and that's just one thing we deal with. These patches are actually working and helping people heal quicker. I've had skate doctors rub my heels out for three weeks straight trying to get rid of my heel bruises and the result was just more pain. Now I put these patches on or use the topicals and my body has natural receptors to heal itself.
Chase Webb, professional skateboarder:
Do you think skateboarding helped push marijuana to the point of normalization and eventually becoming legal? Seems like skateboarding and hip-hop have had a tremendous impact in that respect.
I feel like with time, everything becomes socially accepted. Pretty much every skater smokes weed, so maybe that did help. I just feel like everyone smokes weed nowadays. It's like a cigarette.
You just won a gold medal in X Games Real Street. Is it weird to think that you may not have been able to compete in that, much less win, had X Games been an Olympic sanctioned qualifying event and you could get randomly tested?
Definitely. But I would have quit smoking weed be a part of it. Like, I love smoking weed, but I’m not so dependent on it. If I've got to do something that's going to help you make some money or further your career, fuck it—I'm going to quit smoking weed.
Next month I’ll be in the Dew Tour and they drug test for that because it’s an official Olympic qualifier now. So I haven't smoked weed in more than a week. I’m basically using this as an opportunity to do my best, even though I'm not necessarily the most contest-type dude.
Did you attend any of the anti-doping education meetings?
Yeah, dude, last year at Street League in London. I got there and they wouldn't allow us to skate the course until we took this anti-doping class. And I had no idea that was even happening. The Olympics people had this whole PowerPoint thing set up and I was like, “What's the fuck is going on? Are we going to get drug tested?” Because I was definitely smoking weed that day! [Laughs].
But they were just getting everyone ready for it because this year is all the qualifying events. It was pretty funny being in that anti-doping class. All these questions are getting asked, like, “Are you allowed to take mushrooms?” It was so funny, dude.
Was it helpful in the sense that it taught you what you needed to know in case you want to compete?
Yeah, definitely. I learned about a lot of stuff. Like, if you have asthma, you're not even allowed to use an inhaler. Dude, I was tripping on that. How come you can't use your inhaler to breathe? Is putting too much oxygen in your lungs going to help you skate longer? I don't have asthma, but I know people that do and they're constantly hitting that fucking inhaler. That’s their medicine, you know?
How much did you used to smoke on an average day?
Depends. I live in Murietta, dude. So I’m by myself a lot, going to the skatepark and maybe smoking a couple times a day. But when you go on a trip or you're with mad homies and people are rolling up constantly, you can be smoking 20 or 30 joints a day. When I'm with the homies or on a trip, we're smoking a lot, dude.
Does smoking help your skating at all? With pain or nerves or fear? Or is it just enjoyable?
It’s more enjoyment for me, like a habit. Even now, I haven’t smoked in more than a week and I'm still skating every day—skating rails just fine. I don't really see weed as a beneficial thing to me. Maybe sometimes it could calm you down or help with anxiety, but when you're scared to do something, you're still going to be scared. Weed won’t take that nervousness away from you at all. I definitely don't think weed helps me perform any better as far as skating. But everyone's different.
What do you get when you're ride for Weedmaps as far as packages and product? I know you guys go on some pretty rad tours.
We definitely get hooked up with weed. It's not like getting a monthly box of wheels or boards from your sponsors though. You get it as you need it. Like medicine. If you need your medicine you hit them up or you could go to a clinic or they'll have it delivered and take care of you. It's pretty fucking cool, dude. In fact, it's pretty fucking cool to be able to hook up your friends with weed too. I like looking up the homies.
So I assume you're going to try your best at these contests and if you qualify for the Olympics, then you're down for that.
Every contest I go into, I'm going to try. I'm not the most confident, but I give it my all and fucking try, dude. That's for sure.
A couple of years ago, so many people were talking shit on the Olympics and the drug testing specifically and now you have tons of skaters entering the contests, taking things seriously. Some people like Chris Joslin have even quit smoking altogether I heard.
You just have to take it as an opportunity. And if you're not down for it then you don't have to be. It's cool that people like Chris, who smoked mad weed, are seeing this an opportunity to quit and I back that to the fullest. That takes some courage and discipline.
Allister Schultz, former pro snowboarder and cultivator/co-founder of Phantom Farms:
You were a pro snowboarder when the sport was en route to the Olympics in 1998 and marijuana wasn’t even close to legal like it is today. What was the sentiment within the industry and the snowboarding community at the time?
I was 17 or 18, and all through the '90's, smoking cannabis was part of the culture of snowboarding. When I used to go on trips all over the world—filming the biggest movies of the year—we'd bring a mason jar of weed and a bong and we'd get high and go build jumps and have a good time. That's just the way it was.
As more money came into the sport, some people started taking it more seriously and acting more professional, almost like a serious jock attitude. People had trainers and agents. People started doing yoga and stuff like that and snowboarding transitioned away from how it was cool to be a rebel; cool to be punk; cool to be hardcore—because of the Olympics, and a lot of us pushed back on that. A lot of really good people who I chilled with boycotted the Olympics. Some of the top guys in halfpipe wouldn't do 'em. Not just because of the weed, but because of the way everything became. I shouldn't say “corporate”, but you know what mean.
But anyone now who tells you it wouldn’t be their dream to be in the Olympics and win a gold medal is lying, because it would change your life forever.
Everything you're saying is exactly what's happening in skateboarding now, 20 years later.
When the first Olympics finally came for snowboarding; Ross Rebagliati [Canada] failed a drug test and was stripped of his gold medal. There are growing pains, but eventually you come out the other side of it and it's accepted for what it is. Like, it's cool to be someone like Shaun White and it's also cool to be some guy on the opposite end of the spectrum out there partying with his buddies or being the emo, skinny pants-wearing rail guy.
Now that athletes can use and get the benefits from the CBD during competition, do you feel it isn’t a big deal that THC is prohibited? Or do you believe that all of it should be allowed?
CBD becoming acceptable for athletes to use for recovery and pain relief is a great place to start. But other terpenoids and phytocannabinoids that are not just CBD, for instance, THCZ or THCB, CBC and CBN—these are all phytocannabinoids that have medicinal benefits as well. They just haven't been studied enough to be socially accepted like CBD has, but I think it's gonna happen soon.
For example, pinene is a major terpenoid in cannabis—in sativas. You know when you walk through a pine forest and you feel good; your head gets clear? In Japan they call it shinrin-yoku, which means “forest bathing.” People think it helps the short-term memory.
These types of things are in the process of being proven and I would vote to have it all be legal for people to use. Instead of giving the guys who’ve had knee surgeries oxycodone to heal up, it shouldn't be illegal for them to use something that has high myrcene in it to manage the pain so they don't get hooked on pills. I think everyone's in agreement that pills have completely destroyed how people view recovery and have destroyed people’s lives.
People aren't doing this for a money grab; they are doing it because it truly does help people. And now that cannabis has become more legally and federally accepted in all these states, more research can be done, which is great for a cannabis company like us who believes in organic and living soil, which brings out higher terpene profiles and we can breed more strains that are medically designed to help certain ailments.
Do you think THC is performance enhancing or decreasing?
I think it could be perceived either way. It would have to be a case-by-case basis, per sport. In the case of racecar drivers driving around a track, I’d say no. But something like snowboarding where you're by yourself on a halfpipe and it only has an effect on you; I think it should be acceptable. It's not a steroid.
Tell me about your transition from pro snowboarder to the cannabis business.
This is my thirtieth season growing. I've been snowboarding for about 35 years. The two always went hand-in-hand because snowboarding is such an artistic expression. It’s not like a team sport. It’s more about your perception of the lines you draw and the tricks you wanna do and how you do 'em and the way you grab and cannabis brings out artistic-ness in people and artists use it in all kinds of ways for that purpose.
I was always a plant enthusiast. Before I got into cannabis I had gardens, my parents always had flower and vegetable gardens, they still do. So I kind of just got into it and when my snowboarding career kind of ended, I had more time to spend growing.
Then cannabis went medically legal in Oregon, so you were allowed to grow it legally with a certain plant count. That's kind of the beginning of the path to where I am today.
Do you see the cannabis industry as new and exciting option for skateboarders, snowboarders and surfers once their careers are winding down? It seems to be something many are really passionate about, like you were, but easier to get into now that legalization is more common.
It’s a great opportunity for skateboarders/snowboarders to venture into for a couple reasons. One is that most guys have been using the CBD and cannabis products their entire careers or lives. They have first-hand knowledge of the benefits—experts really—and can articulate the benefits perfectly and believably because they are, or were, professional athletes at the highest level. I’d believe the testimony of Tony Hawk or Matt Miller on the benefits of CBD so much more than say, Martha Stewart or Montel Williams.
Secondly, as an extreme sports athlete, there is no retirement plan for you when you’re sponsors feel you are not marketable and not worth paying anymore. They use your services and spit you out when the next ripping young kid comes along. We all know this. We all got there in that same fashion—it just usually happens so suddenly and most are left wondering what to do. So it is amazing when guys can parlay their careers into another career that they are passionate about. I think business minds and corporate people are realizing how creative and artistic and business savvy (cause more often then not we had to negotiate our own deals and manage ourselves) extreme athletes are, and see the great opportunity in partnering with them. I know many ex-pro athletes that have gone on to start and run all kinds of really successful businesses, the cannabis/CBD one is just a really attainable one where it’s been so intertwined with snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing culture, it’s great to see our athletes be successful in it. We deserve it.
Josh Friedberg, ex-professional skateboarder and CEO of USA Skateboarding, the National Governing Body for Skateboarding in the United States:
You’ve been part of the long and winding road to getting skateboarding into the Olympics. Knowing skateboarding is a subculture that has unapologetically embraced marijuana for decades, one of the jokes and concerns about the Olympics was always “Skateboarding will never be in there because no one will stop smoking weed or pass the tests.” How was that addressed early on?
Initially, like any other sport, subculture or group of people on the planet, there are people that smoke weed and people that don't. Obviously in skateboarding it’s more accepted to be public about it. Because of that, a lot of the knee-jerk reaction from the media, some of the governing bodies and a lot of skateboarders was, “Oh well, this will never work because too many people smoke weed!”
As you integrate a culture-based sport with the structure of the Olympic Games, it's really about getting people up to speed in terms of things like the anti-doping process and the national governing body structure. We were less concerned about whether or not people would want to participate and primarily concerned with trying to educate skateboarders about the anti-doping tests and ensue that they were prepared. So we did everything we could to give skateboarders at least a year of anti-doping education before any of the testing started at the sanctioned skateboarding events.
Have you seen an evolution of perception since the early days of no one believing it could work?
Absolutely, and I think a lot of that is based on the skaters becoming educated about what it meant for weed to be prohibited in competition and not out of competition. Also, the fact that WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) changed the acceptable limits for THC in the bloodstream—it increased significantly during their last code revision.
Were you surprised to see how many skaters were actually willing to participate, despite the fact that they may have been smokers? Some people are even quitting weed altogether, not just for the season.
I’m not surprised at all. When you're looking at a recreational drug like weed and then looking at what your career could be if you qualify to skate in the Olympic Games for your country, I don't think it's that tough of a choice at all.
To me, one of the best things about skateboarding is that people can make that choice. There's a strict competition career path and there's always been a chance become a professional skateboarder without ever entering a contest in your life. That diversity and freedom to pursue the path you want is one of the things that makes skateboarding great.
What about therapeutic use exemptions, even for say, Paralympic skaters down the line if it becomes an event in the Games?
My understanding is that therapeutic use exemptions typically aren’t offered for weed. And hopefully that'll change because with weed becoming legal in many states and countries, the thinking around what is or isn’t prohibited when it comes to weed continues to evolve and could completely change to make it less restrictive.
The thing about performance enhancing drugs in skateboarding, which is really what anti-doping is trying to prevent, is creating a level playing field so that one athlete doesn't have an advantage that the other. With a lot of sports, you're racing a clock or another human or you're lifting heavy weights—there are definitely sports where doping is an advantage and will continue to be a challenge to regulate. But in skateboarding, being stronger doesn't necessarily make you a better skateboarder and things like being judged on style, for example, make it less likely that skateboarding will have a performance-enhancing drug issue.
We're going to be a part of the Clean Athlete Program, as opposed to the Registered Testing Pool at USADA where the athletes have to give their whereabouts every day. In the Clean Athlete Program, skaters are still subject to the WADA code, but they'll have to give whereabouts twice a year, so it’s much less paperwork and will be way easier for our skateboarders to deal with.
As a skateboarder, what was it like seeing Cory Juneau be the first skater/athlete to be suspended for marijuana?
Cory's suspension was super disappointing mainly because the Brazilian anti-doping agency tested him at an unsanctioned event. There was no reason for that event to be tested. It didn't even make any sense. And they sprung it on him early in the education process, before many of those guys had a chance to even attend anti-doping meetings. So the fact that somebody tested positive for weed, before they had been educated, sort of proves our point. We were concerned with giving skaters a fair chance to understand what was going on and then for whatever reason, in Brazil, at this random event, they decided to drug test.
Even though he wasn’t a member of USA Skateboarding at the time, we actually spent some time trying to help Cory with that situation. It was just one of those things that never should've even happened and I hope that that's why his suspension didn’t have any actual impact on Olympic qualification.
With CBD being a non-issue and seeing those THC bloodstream levels increased, do you view this progression a possible pathway to marijuana one day being removed from the list of prohibited substances?
I hope that's the path, but I can't speak for WADA. It was a good sign that they at least raised the THC levels. The issue with weed and THC in general is that it leaves everyone's body different rates and you're not able to predict that. It's not like other drugs that are in and out of your system in a couple days. So, them recognizing that's the case and trying to find a solution is a good first step.
The issue with CBD is that it’s not FDA regulated. So, you don't ever know if there's THC in it or not, regardless of what the labels say. That's the problem with supplements—the industry isn't FDA regulated so they can literally put anything they want on the label and they can literally put anything they want in the supplement. So, I think figuring out how to regulate CBD in a way that allows people to continue to use it without adverse analytical findings is the right thing to do.
August 25, 2018
Iconoclast Jason Dill Is Returning Skateboarding to Its Obscenely Awesome Roots
Playboy October 2016
Words: Rob Brink
In 2009, pro skateboarder Jason Dill had to call 911 on himself. He was throwing up blood all over his New York City apartment and suffering from a gastric hemorrhage. The Jameson, Vicodin and Percocet cocktails had finally taken their toll.
“I didn’t think I’d even survive,” says Dill, who now stars on the Netflix series Love. “When I’m on the set, I’m quiet as a mouse. I’m just so blown away and thankful I’m there. And the last thing I ever wanted was the responsibility of owning a company that people expect more from—because owning a company is a pain in the ass.”
In 2013, after kicking the pills and spending more time on his board, Dill ditched his longtime sponsor, Alien Workshop—one of the most popular skateboarding companies ever—and walked away from a partial-ownership offer to co-found board brand Fucking Awesome, an extension of his self-funded apparel side project.
In doing so, Dill dumped a bucket of ice on the once-countercultural world of skateboarding, which in the previous 17 years had devolved into a G-rated parody of itself to appease moms and malls, and woke it the fuck up. The exodus of Alien’s riders to Fucking Awesome was swift. It’s now one of the top-selling and most knocked-off companies in boards and streetwear, despite its provocative graphics, null social media presence and label that prevents mass retail saturation.
When Fucking Awesome launched as a skateboard brand in 2013, it wasn’t uncommon to hear industry folk say, “They’re never going to make it. They’ll never get into mall shops with that name.”
You see where their brains went immediately? That’s what’s wrong with the industry—all this bullshit people talk. I’m sorry because some of them are my friends, but with their two-and-a-half car garage and two and a half kids in their suburb of Portland, of course they’re not going to be like, “Let’s go nuts!” They’d lose their fucking jobs. Luckily, I’m not fighting to keep my two and a half kids in the latest expensive daycare. I don’t give a fuck. No family, no car and no mortgage payments means I just shoot this shit out of my fucking soul.
Die-hards have criticized the skateboarding industry for pandering to the mainstream so much and becoming so non-offensive that a word like “fucking” seems shocking. That’s what’s so scary. If it were 1993, no one would bat an eye. You disrupted the entire industry.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased that things were disrupted, because I am. I most certainly wasn’t aiming for Alien Workshop to almost go out of business, because after being with them for 15 years, quitting was emotionally insane. But going into skate shops these days, looking at the wall and seeing other board brands trying really hard is great, because none of them were trying this hard before and I know that’s a direct result of FA. Anyone who thinks that statement is over the top, go ahead and think that but you can also eat my butt, because it’s the truth. I see people bite us over and over again and it’s ridiculous because they don’t even realize everything they bite. That forces me to go make something else that’s out of their realm because I know they won’t think of it. And then they bite that, too.
When I visit skate shops like Uprise in Chicago, Seasons in Albany, Orchard in Boston or Exit in Philadelphia, owners tell me that I helped bring skate shops back. They feel FA brought the kids and excitement back because new kids started coming in only asking for FA. Shit like that is such a big compliment that I feel funny saying it back to you.
After you were hospitalized in 2009, you kind of disappeared from skateboarding. In your own mind, did you ever imagine owning a respected company like FA?
No. It’s totally fucking insane. That’s why when I’m on the set of Love I take it all in. I’m just so fucking blown away. I didn’t think I’d survive. I really didn’t. I never wanted my own company. Wanna know why? Because it’s a fucking pain in the ass! When people expect more, they expect it fucking tomorrow. If you came out with some shit yesterday, they wanna see the new shit next week. It’s just ridiculous day in and day out, but I suppose it’s like having a kid. I take care of it. I love it. I can’t let it go to a community college, you know? I gotta raise it right. [laughs]
Skateboarding is a trend-oriented sport. Things are hot for a year or three and then they’re not. We’ve all seen the shelf life some skate brands have.
I’m now past my third year of FA. I’m proud of what we’ve done. If you are a company making stuff, you need to have it in the back of your head that, hey, I might have to kill this thing one day for the greater good so it doesn’t look like a bunch of bullshit. Imagine if Mark Gonzales got to end his skate company, Blind. How would we look at it today? Imagine if Mark had made some deal with Steve Rocco, the owner of his distributor early on, like, “I’ll totally do this, but when I think it’s time that this is done, I get to put out an ad that says, ‘It’s done. We killed it. It’s over. Thank you.’” I feel a lot of people think when you start a company, you just ride it until someone comes along and buys you. That’s not the fucking case here. I’d rather it die than look bad.
Killed at the peak.
Yeah, like Michael Jordan did, until he played baseball and came back and played for the fucking Wizards. It was like, c’mon, dude! I know I didn’t invent this way of thinking, but I feel it serves me best.
You also star on Judd Apatow’s hit Netflix series, Love. How did that come about?
About a year and a half ago I was in Los Angeles and saw my friend [TV writer] Lesley Arfin on the street. She was like, “Hey, I’m making this television show with my boyfriend and we think you’d be good in it.” I was at point when I really needed everything to be completely spot-on with FA—production and all that bullshit—so I was like, “I’m not really into it. That sounds crazy. I don’t think I have time.” She told me, “I knew you’d say that, but it’s Judd Apatow and it’s guaranteed two seasons for Netflix. Will you audition?”
And I fucking did. Before I knew it they were asking me to come to Sony Pictures and do a reading in front of Judd. I was so fucking nervous. It was wild because I’m not an actor.
The second season’s done now and I’m happy to be on it. Everyone was really nice. All of them knowing I wasn’t an actor coming into it was just super cool because I’d do a scene with a stand-up comedian and they’d be like, “Dude you’re doing good.” I’m like, “Really? All right. Good.”
August 25, 2018
Meet Austyn Gillette: Risk-taker With Style—On and Off the Board
Playboy.com April 22, 2018
Words: Rob Brink
Photography: Curtis Buchanan
Despite being at the helm of one of the only apparel brands of note in skateboarding and surfing at the moment—a brand called Former—where everything, from pants to thermals to tees to board-shorts are all custom (there's even safety pins and nail polish), 26-year-old professional skateboarder Austyn Gillette wouldn't dare consider himself a designer or fashion aficionado.
Interviewing him about related intangibles like "style" and "inspiration" and "process" usually derails into ponderous banter and a roasting of the current state of affairs, which, I'd like to imagine, puts us somewhere in between the great writers and philosophers sipping coffee at Paris' Cafe de Flore in the 1920s and Beavis and Butthead. "Do you think boot cut is going to come back?" Austyn pontificates. "Isn't that just a nicer way of saying 'bell bottoms'?" I say.
"What about capris or something?" He continues. "I'm ready for it. I just want to see it. When is the landline phone going to be hot again? It's just inconvenient enough to be really fucking cool and retro." To know Austyn is to love his uncanny ability to observe the circus that is life happening all around him. Amused; never triggered; notoriously deadpan, Austyn is the constructively berating older brother that everyone (including the world of skateboarding) needs. He's what Ryan Gosling is to Steve Carell and his beloved New Balances in Crazy, Stupid, Love. "Everything's just going backwards right now. Like full-on '90s. I don't even know what people are doing out there," he continues.
"They're suffering for the trend," I reply. "Oh boy. That's exactly what they're doing. There's a lot of fucking bullshit and some half-assed skating going on. It hurts the fucking eyes and soul. Everybody's a fucking celebrity; everybody's trying to get some with their internet personas. Everybody's just blindly throwing shit out there—putting a little milk down on the stairs and seeing if any cats come lick it up. And just because Rihanna wore their dumb ass shirt, people are successful financially. All that matters is putting your shirt on a fucking rapper. I can't wait until the modern rap is fucking done. I really can’t.”
At the heart of this ranting, though, lies the desire to see people try harder and contribute to creating great, timeless things—to filter out the nonsense and elevate the whole. Austyn is a quality control person, and you can count on two hands the professional skateboarders and brands from the last 30 years known and respected for that. "I think all that really matters is being good at what you do and putting out good content. If people like your style and you influence them, and they influence you, then you're doing something right and it's honest and pure. I don't think people are delivering right now. They aren't pushing the envelope and I hope that that changes.”
Currently living in Los Angeles, the Orange County, California (Whittier, to be exact) native has been skateboarding since he was 8 years old, securing sponsorships and magazine coverage by age 9. As his career progressed and his skating matured, alongside his friends Dylan Rieder and Alex Olson (half-jokingly dubbed "Team Handsome" by the skate community), Gillette eventually came to be known as one of the most stylish and respected skaters of his generation, both on and off the board.
He's shunned blatant money grabs, flavor-of-the-month trends, NASCAR-esque logos and a wardrobe that looks like an Easter egg coloring kit exploded all over the cast of Seinfeld's closets. Instead, he prefers black or white basics—slim fit pants, tucked-in tees or wife beaters, dress shoes off the board and signature skate shoes that replicate them while on it. In essence, a man's man approach to dress over that of say, a mall skate shop employee or Odd Future festival-goer. "These days I love a '40s or '50s style, or even something like Peaky Blinders—that kind of early 1900s thing," Austyn explains. "Straight leg, wider pants and a clean shirt, stuff like that."
Far more important than the appeal and influence of Austyn's clothes, though, is that his natural ability on a skateboard rivals some of the top pros on the planet. These days, for most, opting out of chucking yourself down gargantuan rails or gaps and steering clear of the contest circuit is career suicide. But Austyn's technically proficient, yet surf-like approach to street skating embraces speed and finesse, with a trick selection that has always showcased skill and refined taste beyond his years. He skates fast; his push looks great; his flick is quick; his power understated. His landings possess just enough sketchiness to make them cooler than if they were perfect—carving from side to side or sometimes hopping his feet into the "correct" position after the fact. His arms and upper body continue spinning long after his legs are locked in place. His motions are fluid even though at first, they might seem like exaggerated flair.
Simply stated, Austyn is amazing to watch on a skateboard. He knows what looks good and has the talent, sophistication and restraint to execute it, alongside a keen sense of style to accentuate it. "I've always hung out with older people who have good taste," Austyn explains, "because of that, I wasn't so inspired by my contemporaries or skateboarders my age. I was always looking outward and I guess that's how FORMER is too.”
Conceptually born from the friendships forged on the "Team Average" surf trip to Australia for Monster Children back in 2012—with pro surfers Craig Anderson and Dane Reynolds (two of the most stylish and respected surfers out there today), and legendary professional skateboarder Dylan Rieder (who passed away in October 2016)—FORMER officially launched in March 2017 and is an anomaly in the sense that, as obvious as it seems, pro skaters and surfers rarely start brands together.
When I ask Austyn what he would like to see more of, he responds, "To tell you the truth. I would just like to see less. I would love somebody to say, 'No. There are too many of those out there. We actually can't make that.' You know how you have to go through the city for a liquor license or something like that? Where there's a cap and you've got to wait a year until they auction off somebody else's license? It should be like that." He continues, "but at the same time, I like that people are getting away with whatever, because I've always dealt with that—manipulating an article of clothing I find at a vintage shop and cutting the sleeves off or something like that, and people will ask me where I got it."
He notes that many of Former's pieces are "based off pieces purchased from vintage shops—things from back in the day—and then we put our little twist on it. And we'll ask men and women for feedback on what they like and don't like about it." Above all, there is an authenticity and passion behind each functional, timeless piece that he believes people can recognize. He continues, "Rather than doing what everybody else is doing, we're just doing what we want. It's a marriage of two completely different lifestyles filtered by experiences and friends who have good taste."
And that true place is the heart and soul of cultures like skateboarding and surfing. The desire to manifest a feeling inside of you into something tangible outside of you. To counter the inanity of popular culture and create what doesn't yet exist, if for no other reason than to have fun or inspire oneself and circle of friends—an ethos often appropriated but never duplicated, by mainstream fashion—the subject of decades-old animosity between the two worlds that only seems to be intensifying as more and more of skateboarding's influence, including plenty of stolen designs, seem to be popping up on runways, in advertising and on the racks of department stores all over the world—Thrasher's logo being the primary source of "inspiration" for many at the moment. "Skateboarding's always been pretty noisy," says Austyn.
"It's just a noisy, rebellious sport. I hate calling it a sport, though, but there's just something about it—you hear it, then you see the person doing it, and you don't know why it's so cool, but it just is. Everybody knows that. Skateboarding has a big presence and has been cool ever since it started. Bigger brands outside of skateboarding are drawn to it because it's rebellious. They're just buying into this thing we built now that it's already cool and accepted. There's nothing behind it other than that.
Never lacking in self awareness, Austyn jokingly concludes: "But it's just clothes at the end of the day and it's all pretty silly. We're not humanitarians. We're not doing anything special. Most people are so fucking oblivious to all the shit we are talking about anyway."
August 25, 2018
My Way: Bobby Hundreds
Playboy December, 2016
Words: Rob Brink
My parents are Korean immigrants, and I was one of maybe 30 Asians in a high school of 2,000 kids in Riverside, California. I was keenly aware that I was different—that I wasn’t white—and felt like the world was stacked against me.
During that time, skateboarding shaped my life. Through skateboarding I found music, and through music and skateboarding I discovered fashion. From as early as I can remember, I was an artist, but I was told there wasn’t a future in that. My parents told me I needed to concentrate on math and subjects I was horrible at. Because my creativity was squelched, it manifested in strange ways. Most kids were under their blankets reading Playboy; I was drawing in secret because I wasn’t allowed to in public.
All of my Asian American role models were doctors or the karate guy in movies. As an Asian American, you were either the consumer or the kid in the factory making the product. You weren’t the guy running the company. White men ran the clothing brands. Skateboarding helped me realize I could move beyond those invisible borders and be whoever I wanted—an Asian who dates white girls or is loud, outspoken and can fight.
For the last 14 years I’ve been dedicated to building the Hundreds, the streetwear brand I started in 2003 while I was in law school. As a result, I’ve had to say no to a lot of things. The Hundreds has never been the hottest brand. The times we’ve done well, I was miserable and felt the worst about the company. Other years, we were told that we suck and I was like, “I couldn’t be prouder of what we’re doing right now!” But if you keep going, nobody remembers the losses.
I have so much I want to do and not enough time to do it. I’ve felt this way my whole life. I’ll watch an Apple keynote and be like, “How do I be more like Apple?” I read a lot, so I want to write a book. Every time I enjoy a movie, I’m like, “I want to make a movie!” It’s this total narcissistic, egomaniacal thing—“Let’s see how much I can do before I leave the planet.”
I started my new women’s apparel line, Jennifer, because there isn’t a women’s brand guys are dying to wear. That hypocrisy bothers me. As a minority, I’ve always been sensitive to inequality and injustice. I’ve had great friendships and relationships with strong, intelligent women who’ve helped me understand their situations. Designers always look for imperfections and try to flatten the wrinkles. If something’s straight, you want to make it crooked. If something’s crooked, you want to make it straight. Let’s give women something their boyfriends will covet. It’s the wrinkle I want to flatten out. Of course I got pushback. “What do you know about women?” they said. Why can’t I do this? I didn’t know how to do streetwear 13 years ago, and I figured it out.
I want people to think differently. I want to disrupt things. I recently opened TikiFish in west L.A.; just because I’m a streetwear guy doesn’t mean I can’t open a poke restaurant. And just because I opened a poke restaurant doesn’t mean I can’t direct a film, like my streetwear documentary Built to Fail. Successes and failures are relative; I really don’t know how to judge them. I’m 36 years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I have a higher calling to work. As long as I do that, my family will be proud of me, and I’ll never be ashamed of what I do.
June 12, 2018
Pro Skateboarder Brian Anderson Opens Up to Playboy About His Groundbreaking Coming Out
Playboy.com October 4, 2016
Words: Rob Brink
In 1999, professional skateboarder Brian Anderson won the World Championship, followed by the most coveted accolade in skateboarding, Thrasher’s “Skater of the Year” award. Just a year prior, in 1998, Tim Von Werne’s soon-to-be professional skate career came to a screeching halt after his sponsor, Birdhouse Skateboards, killed an interview with Skateboarder magazine in which Von Werne revealed he’s gay.
The world of sports hasn’t traditionally been kind to gay athletes; skateboarding is no different. Anyone relying on a heterosexual, male-dominated, youth-driven activity for their livelihood has always had to carefully consider the impact that coming out could have on their career and personal life. In skateboarding specifically, nobody wanted to become the next Von Werne.
Anderson is big for a professional skateboarder, towering at six-foot-three. He’s covered in tattoos and skates with the eyes of an axe murderer and the elegance of a zenned-out surfer. You don’t want to get in Anderson’s way during a session, but you do want him at your side in a bar in case there’s a brawl. Throughout his career, Anderson has designed his own shoe for Nike and collaborated on boards with some of the most respected skate brands in history. He’s been an icon in the skate world for more than a decade. Last week, Anderson upended that world when he came out publicly in a Vice Sports documentary directed by Giovanni Reda.
Anderson knew he was gay since he was four years old, when he found himself attracted to Popeye’s enemy, Bluto. His friends in the skate industry didn’t know until he told them in the early 2000s and, although word spread through inner-circles, a tightknit group of insiders protected Brian’s secret, speaking about it only amongst themselves and behind closed doors.
When the news hit in late September, Anderson did more than break the internet. He transcended skateboarding and harnessed the web’s power to bring people together in support of someone who pulled off a career move greater than any trophy and gnarlier than any trick. With little to no backlash, you’d be hard-pressed to find another example of a time when there was so much compassion and unity in the skate community.
Anderson might not be the first pro to come out, but he is the first A-list World Champion and “Skater of the Year” winner to. It marks yet another watershed moment in the recent wave of mainstream sport athletes coming out, from Michael Sam to Jason Collins to David Denson. But unlike what Von Werne experienced, this time around the skate community is grown-up enough to embrace it. To celebrate this pivotal moment in socio-sexual progress, Playboy asked sports journalist Rob Brink to meet up with Anderson to talk about the aftermath of his important public announcement. One thing becomes clear during their conversation: if you are going to hate on Anderson for being gay, you are hating on one of the most beloved, talented and influential figures in the history of skate culture. You’re also an asshole.
In the documentary, you say that you originally hadn’t plan to come out until after retirement. What changed?
I’d already told so many people in the industry over the last 15 years. It was irritating being halfway out. To be honest, I just want to be able to post a picture of my boyfriend and me on the beach on Instagram. But it’s not just about social media—that’s not real life. I simply wanted to be able to walk down the street and give my boyfriend a kiss in public before he got on the subway and I went skateboarding. I want simple things like that.
Just for my soul, I had to get this out. When you hold it in for so long it really messes with your head. I would hate to leave this planet and not tell my story. I wanted to tell everyone so that some little kid in the middle of nowhere who is wondering what’s going on with his life gets to hear all these fantastic people say, “Screw it, we love Brian!” Now, anybody who wants to come talk to me can. If there’s some kid that wants to pull me aside and go, “I’m gay and I’m freaked out” and I will be like, “I’m here for you. Want to go talk about this?”
What reaction were you expecting prior to the release of the documentary?
I wasn’t expecting it to be this huge at all. I should make the point that this thing was supposed to come out a week earlier, but due to some technical difficulties, it was delayed. I was upset because I had watched and combed through the edit so many times and was finally not afraid anymore. I was texting Reda, “Just put it out!“ That being said, it was a magical blessing because the night before it came out, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton debated. I got so many messages from people saying, “Last night was the worst, but to have something great come out in the world the morning after that madness was so refreshing.”
How has life been since your public coming out a week ago?
My phone is like a volcano. I wake up at five in the morning and look at Instagram, which I never used to do. It’s all been positive; the support from all different kinds of people is amazing. I’m very happy and just busy trying to be a gangster and embrace it all with the little sleep I’m getting.
What was it like for you to watch footage of your friends talking about you?
I shed tears watching it. Having that kind of support is incredible because not everybody does. I’m fortunate in that I’m a six-foot-three tattooed, hairy guy with a masculine voice, so I haven’t experienced anything too crazy. I was able to slip under the radar and my heart goes out to the people who it is more difficult for. What I went through was awful, but if you live in a small town in middle America and you are effeminate, I can’t imagine what that must be like.
I’ve been in my fair share of skate tour vans and have heard the way people say “faggot!” and “that’s gay!” How difficult was it to keep your mouth shut when that happened?
At times it was tough. I was scared. I couldn’t call someone out so I just had to deal with it. The people around me who might have used those words, they weren’t mean people. They weren’t racist; they weren’t homophobic. I was always careful to surround myself with good people and they never hurt me too much in that way.
Early in my career, being with [skateboarder and owner of skate brand Toy Machine] Ed Templeton helped a lot. To be on his team you have to be open-minded because you’re dealing with him. As an artist, he has a lot of provocative photos of he and his wife having sex and stuff. The people he let into our world were pretty darn open-minded folks. I never really felt a lot of homophobia with them. I would hear it around me in other venues, at contests and stuff, and I was like, “Thank God I’m not in the van with them.”
It’s amazing how respectful and protective the skate industry was of you all these years. I once saw a Vice UK article outing you, which is scary. Did that create any urgency for you to come out?
That disgusted me. I don’t know who had the audacity to think it’s their right to publicly post something like that. Like, who are you? Do you understand what it’s like to be gay? Screw you. I’m a public figure to a degree, so of course people are going to talk, but for someone to tell your story before you’re ready to, that’s disrespectful. That person should be ashamed of him or herself.
There have also been incidents where people’s careers were damaged as the result of coming out, such as Tim Von Werne’s. Mark Nickels, a friend of mine, was a videographer for Osiris and allegedly lost his job because they found out he was gay.
I don’t want to name names, but I heard how Tim was, what you’d call “fired.” That totally disturbed me. It made me angry about whoever was involved in doing that to him. And fuck Osiris for doing that to [Nickels]. Put that in print. That’s disgusting. They should be ashamed of themselves.
Based on percentages, one has to assume there are more gay pro skaters. Do you think you’ve encouraged them to come out?
I only know one and I think he’s basically retired. In the future, I hope so, just so they can be themselves. After all this stuff is over, we need to not even talk about the fact that we’re gay. It’s a great point to make right now and I’m thrilled, but I’m looking forward to just being a skateboarder again. It’s going to be cool when this is over so we can say, “Okay, we all puked this up and shit it out of our systems. Now we can just live.”
What would you say to other people out there, especially skateboarders, who are scared to come out?
Be careful. We are fortunate that we live in a time where things are becoming more accepted, but somebody can still throw a fucking bottle at your head. There are a lot of close-minded people and if you’re on a bus holding your partner’s hand, there might be someone who’s going to freak out and want to hurt you. If you feel like your family has old-fashioned values that may result in negativity, or if you think your parents are going to freak out and disown you, then don’t come out. It sucks to say, but we all have to wait for the right time in our life. But then guess what? There are going to be a lot of new people you’ll meet that will become your new family. They are going to hold your hand and walk you through the rest of your life. They’re going to love and embrace you and help you go further and be happier. There are millions of people out there ready to help you.