Insider Info: Natural Selection
By Rob Brink
The Skateboard Mag February 2007
The back story:
A little over a year ago, when I first started writing for The Skateboard Mag, they asked me to write a piece about almost anything I wanted. I was pretty flattered that the best mag out there (in my opinion) wanted to run a feature on me. Then I had to shoot photos, and I have to say, I gained a newfound appreciation for the pros and what they have to go through to come up with a good idea and a good trick at a good spot, not to mention actually landing it and then hoping the photo looks good once all is said and done. At least the dawn of digital photos makes things a little easier, huh? About seven months after I wrote the article, Ryan Cropley and I shot the photos. Since I'm old with no real bangers under my belt, I had to take the artsy fartsy approach. So here ya go. Look mom! I'm in a magazine! And I'm not just the writer this time!
"I feel freer to progress now, and I don't have to care if I'm skating well or not. Skating will always be there for you, especially after you've done it this long. You won't lose your connection to it unless you let yourself."
Before realizing a career (other than being pro) in skateboarding could be a reality, I wanted to be a forest ranger—in a national park or one of those places John Denver always sang about. I began college as an Environmental Science major, thinking that would get me where I wanted to be. As the semesters passed, I fumbled through retard-level algebra, failed biology twice with the same professor and simultaneously flunked precalculus (despite the tutoring help of the hot chick who sat next to me)—all of which were required for Environmental Science program.
After about two years of anxiety and pissing away my money, I dropped science and defaulted to English. It was just a spontaneous decision really. I had no idea where it would take me.
I was spending most of my time skateboarding rather than studying. I was constantly filming for my flow sponsors (sorry Clyde, just flow)—Infamous skateboards, Gullwing trucks, and Nice Skate Shoes (insert guffawing here) baking bagels from midnight to 8 a.m., and working afternoons in a skate shop for money to pay for my car and college. I was getting older and it was becoming painfully obvious that I wasn't a skateboarding prodigy. Things were advancing at insane rates. Kids were getting better, faster, and at younger ages—everything going to stairs and rails—shit that would just pulverize a frail tech skater like myself. The truth was, it was time to accept that my dreams of becoming a pro skateboarder were pretty much obliterated.
As I began my writing classes, one professor, Mrs. D., emphasized to "write about what you know."
I really only knew about one thing—skateboarding. By then, I had been doing it for nearly a decade. And this is when I decided if I couldn't be a pro skateboarder, then I was gonna figure out a way to make a living in skateboarding if it killed me.
So I wrote and wrote and wrote. Everything and anything about skateboarding. Most of my classes were more about selling writing and getting published rather than how to write, so I spent months creating hypothetical pitch letters to the editors of Slap, Thrasher, Big Brother, TransWorld, TransWorld Skateboarding Business—all full of ideas of things I thought the magazines would love to publish. I somehow found a way to work skateboarding into every assignment I was given. I was inspired for once in my life and getting good grades. Skateboarding was transcending into aspects of my life other than just my time on a board.
Then one day Mrs. D. said, "I really think you should try to broaden your subject matter beyond skateboarding. I fear that you are backing yourself into a corner and possibly limiting your potential to get published or making a career in writing."
I was floored and unprepared for that criticism. My grades told me I was doing just fine. Furthermore, if I was supposed to write about what I knew, there wasn't much else besides my lackluster life as a bagel baker.
I persisted writing about skateboarding. I had Mrs. D. for a bunch of classes throughout college and grad school—freelance writing, book and magazine editing, writing for the magazine market, journalism and a few more. Despite her suggestion to me, which I ignored, Mrs. D. was very supportive. While I was finishing up my master's, helped me land my first "real world" job—editor at a small book publisher in NJ. There, I edited manuscripts about witchcraft, irritable bowel syndrome and hokey motivational speaker bullshit.
Shortly after, I made it through grad school with a very respectable GPA and got my degree.
Then one day, while editing a colon cancer manuscript, I got a call from Mrs. D. She'd been asked to pen Andy MacDonald's autobiography. She was admittedly amazed that, after telling me look beyond skateboarding, that her next major undertaking was a book on a professional skateboarder. She even tried (with no luck) to bring me on board as a "consultant."
Around the same time, my friend Tim O'Connor turned pro for Element and introduced me to some people in skate magazine land. I called and emailed and networked. I pitched ideas and traveled on my own dime and soon enough, the editors were assigning me stories and I got published. It felt just as amazing as the day I learned a trick after months of trying or first got calls from companies wanting to flow me some product.
That was four years ago. I've since worked my way to the west coast—blessed enough to make a living as a skateboard journalist and editor. Sometimes people ask me how I got here. And as much as I just told the story, I am still not sure. A little skill, a little luck, some determination and hard work, a few helping hands along the way and, most importantly, rejection. Failing math and science, along with never obtaining more than a flow sponsor or two, were the best things that could have ever happened to me. If it wasn't for that, I'd be a washed up pro by now, or sleeping in a mosquito-infested tent in Yellowstone national park after a day of picking up cigarette butts.
The way I see it, I must have treated skateboarding right because skateboarding found a place for me and takes care of me now. I've discovered that most of the world cannot really fathom how your passion can become your career. But there are hundreds of people in this industry just like me—beating the odds. Some are artists, some are writers, some are photographers, and some are team managers or footwear designers. Most of us dreamed of being pro one day, but skateboarding's natural selection processed us, and thankfully, placed us where we belong.