Ryan Allan: Discoveries
By Rob Brink Concrete Photo Annual, 2013
“What kind of camera do you use?” is the most common question people ask when they see my photos or my gear—and I’m not even a REAL photographer, so I can only imagine how often photographers hear it.
It’s not necessarily a “bad” question, but more an odd one in the sense that every successful skateboarding photographer I know has the potential to, and will, share a vast wealth of knowledge and experience beyond the words “Canon” or “Nikon” to help you progress in the field of photography and the skateboarding industry.
Ryan Allan is one of those photographers.
“I answer gear questions all day long,” Ryan says. “And I’ll also reply, ‘Get better at networking.’ I swear its something I had to learn, because I’m a quiet introvert. Sometimes I’ll go to skate premieres and nobody will know I’m there and that’s what holds me back. I’ve seen people come up with next to no talent, but they’re really good at being the life of the party, and that shit goes miles. It’s both infuriating and hilarious. Like, ‘Wow, that dude is making it because he’s funny and buying people drinks.’
Did you ever see Walk the Line—the Johnny Cash movie with Joaquin Phoenix? Or the film “Pollack,” starring Ed Burns? Nearly any story about creative legends has that scene … the moment where the struggling artist realizes their place in it all. For Cash is was upon receiving hundreds of letters from prison inmates who were moved by his music. For Jackson Pollack is was accidentally spilling paint on a blank canvas in his shed and then continuing to haphazardly and purposely do so. And for almost anyone who’s “made it” in the arts, they have similar stories.
And trust me, experiencing that moment is far more exhilarating than finding out if your favorite photographer prefers film over digital.
“I can almost pinpoint it exactly,” says Allan, “I didn’t figure myself out until a Flip tour with French Fred. Hanging out with him, I realized that, for me, this has to be more about aesthetic and things looking rad and less about sports photography.
“I hit it off with Geoff Rowley shooting for Vans,” Ryan explains. “So then I went on a Flip tour and he was like ‘Come check out this stuff I have going on in the desert.’ He didn’t tell me much about it, but Fred was shooting a mini ramp thing with some Flip guys for Extremely Sorry. I’d known Fred for a while, but really spent a lot of time with him on this shoot and was watching him do a lot of time-lapse dolly stuff. Things that people are just doing now, he was doing way back then. They weren’t HD cameras, but they were HVX kind of things. He had a ladder and a dolly and was measuring the distance in sticks from trees as he was moving the camera manually—without an intervalometer. Just watching him, I was like, ‘This dude is so obsessed with creativity. It’s awesome!’ I got so sparked from him. The stuff he’s done for Cliché … if everything in skateboarding were like that I’d be so hyped.
“I’m sick of third-stair-from-the-bottom fisheye shots,” Allan continues. “I still have to do it, because I have a commitment to the skater to document them. I have to get them in the mags for both of us to make a living, so there’s this frustrating battle when I get to a spot. Like, ‘I could shoot this really weird and it might not get run, but so and so needs a cover.’ So you have to shoot it standard, and when I’m doing that I’m like, ‘Fuck! There’s some awesome shit going on with five dudes hanging by the van having a beer and I’m here sitting under a rail shooting this trick.’ And that’s more what I want to do now. I want to shoot the hang out. It resonates with me. Even as a kid, Jason Lee talking about Benihana’s in Video Days, for example … that’s the stuff I remember. The skaters are all having a good time. Kids don’t even see that in videos anymore. The personality doesn’t come through. Girl and Chocolate do a good job of showing that. A lot of brands ignore it. I’d love to be able to do that all the time but I also understand I have a job to do. I’m fully a spoiled brat now and I get pissy and bummed. That’s the inner artist in me, not the reporter that’s documenting the back smith down the 12 stair.”
And there’s a conflict in skateboarding (and beyond) that you, the reader, may not be so privy to. One far beyond that of the internal “artist” vs. “reporter” plight. And that’s the constant battle between the artists and the businessmen—art and creativity vs. “getting the job done” and selling product and ad space.
“I look back at old TransWorld mags with the “New York Minute” by Ted Newsome,” says Ryan. “Those little slices of New York life were things that I loved. Now it’s all gone. I look in mags these days and all that I see is the spot and I don’t get any sense of what the situation it really was. And that column being gone, sadly, was probably about ad space. Some president or person up top saying it’s not an interesting story or it's better to sell an ad or run a photo of a smith grand where you can see every sticker and logo on the board and what shoes the skater is wearing. I get burned out on that. I’ve worked for many companies. I’ve shot silhouette stuff and they’ll be like, ‘We can’t use that photo.’ But in my opinion it doesn’t matter. It isn’t bad that’s it’s a silhouette because it’s about the emotion. That’s what sells your product. They don’t need to keep putting more frickin’ logos in your face; that’s going to happen anyway and they don’t understand that a silhouette ad might actually stand out because it’s the only one anyone’s seen in a long time. That’s the constant battle I fight with myself all the time, but it’s also the world I’ve invited myself into.
“Luckily I get to shoot with people like Tom Karangelov, for example, who are down to do weird stuff and aren’t worried about whether goes in an mag or not. He gets it. I need more people like that. One of my personal favorites of him is in Laguna Beach at this handrail into a gnarly hill bomb. And I was holding my camera way above my head so you could see down the hill. I shot one and it was only his feet and board grinding down the rail … with his Zero socks on. I’m don’t feel you need to look through the camera for the position of a photo. So naturally I was so hyped when the photo ran in Color.
Ryan’s built relationships with some of the most photographically iconic skaters in the world … guys like Arto, Dylan, Rowley, Stefan and more—as well as newer, yet equally photogenic individuals like Tom Karangelov and Ben Nordberg. Similar to that of, say, Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, these relationships between Ryan and his subjects can literally be seen through years of magazine and web documentation—and they are symbiotic.
“Lets take Dylan, for example,” says Allan. “I was introduced to Gravis and met Dylan through Arto because I was shooting for Flip and followed Arto to whatever program he was a part of. But the way it really blossomed between Dylan and I was with this kickflip photo at a sculpture in Sydney. I shot it pretty weird … down below. I’d shot with him before but I played it really safe because I didn’t want to say, ‘Sorry Dylan I blew it.’ Back then he didn’t talk. And I fully thought he hated me. It turned out that he was living in a coma, but I didn’t have a read on him. But I won him over by easing him into these weirder photos. He’s really into things looking good and I knew that about him. We both like fashion magazines. We just started to feed off it all and I think it started to click for him. He knew I worked a certain way and I’d throw ideas out and he’d be like ‘Fuck yeah; we’re going to do that! People are going to think it’s gay, but lets do it.’ And that was kind of the beginning of the Dylan look that people recognize now.”
“Ryan’s photography is top-notch,” says Geoff Rowley. “He enjoys the moment and is a pleasure to be around. He’s calm, collected and motivated. He shoots classic shots that are timeless, technically crisp and with good variety. He is well versed in different photographic approaches, from studio product shots to portraits to available light black and whites. Whatever it is he can get the job done. He also isn't afraid to get on the road and explore. He’s an easily-pleased team player that adapts to his surroundings well.”
“Rowley is my number one guy,” says Allan. “He gets it. A lot of skaters are like, ‘I have this spot; it looks so cool; it’ll be so great for a photo.’ Then you get there and it looks like total shit. But when Geoff says it, you know it’s going to be amazing. He’s the first dude that I learned about relationships and understanding each other with. He knows spots and how they’re going to work. He recommends how to shoot things and I totally shoot them that way. He goes to great lengths, like getting mini ramps built in the woods. He understands that if it’s a mini ramp in a parking lot, you would film a part on it and everyone will hate you. But if it’s in the woods and you do some crazy voiceover with the footage, it makes it rad.”
So can a photographer indirectly and inadvertently learn from another photographer through a skater—the skater working as “medium” so to speak? Legendary skate photographer Daniel Harold Sturt spent a lot of time shooting Rowley; Rowley spent a lot of time shooting with Allan; Allan learns from Sturt …
“I grew up with Sturt photos,” says Allan. The Sturt / Hensley combination was amazing. Like, that’s me and Geoff. That’s what we want. A lot of people think that my container photo of Geoff is a Sturt photo. I didn’t even do anything Sturt-ish on it. And I feel honored when people think it’s a Sturt photo. I’m just like, ‘Fuck yeah!’ I always wanted to pick up elements of him. Arto used to send me all these little videos that Sturt made of himself longboarding and getting caught by cops. They were crazy. That’s kind of what you want—a tweaked brain. Look at the Markovich Carlsbad water gap photo that Sturt shot. It’s just Markovich’s knees down and you can see Sturt’s shadow using a half-lens fisheye, pre-Atiba. It’s just the craziest looking photo and there’s so much information about Sturt and photography in that photo. It’s so awesome. Sturt showed so much in that photo; that you can cut peoples heads off and it’ fine if it looks cool and that you can shoot on two different cameras and not have to hide anything.
“There’s so much craziness and awesomeness in his work. I’ve studied it for years. He made me realize that you don’t have to be up really close to see the action, but rather, step back and see the bigger picture. Think of the photo of Hensley doing the frontside ollie on the hat, if he shot that photo from the edge of the hat it would have been terrible and you’d never even experience what Matt was skating. Sturt is one of the best people that ever happened in skateboarding. You have to embrace the weirdos. These days, skateboarding hates out everything that is weird and different, yet we unconditionally love someone like the Gonz. It’s such a conflicting message. You have to love those people. There are a million generic, personality-less contest skaters. I love the Gonz and Ed Templeton and Jason Lee. The fact that Lenny Kirk went crazy and all religious is epic. It enhances the bigger picture. Ed talks about books and art and that helps with creativity. I’m lucky I’ve met all those people and grew up in a time in skateboarding when it was encouraged. It’s important to do that now. There are going to be all these kids who grow up at the skatepark and become like washed-up quarterbacks instead of learning a trade or art and all these other things that can help them beyond skateboarding down the line. They’ll blow their knee out and work in a factory because skateboarding didn’t bring them past that.
“Photographers are almost as popular as the skaters these days,” Allan continues. “Look at Atiba, he’s a celebrity in his own right and it’s cool. There are more and more kids realizing that there are careers and a fun life to be had in skateboarding in any capacity, not just being a pro. And I think photographers have the better deal because I’ve seen some pros get old and the world gets harsh really quick. Their bodies are destroyed and they have no skill sets. They’ve traveled the world and been catered to but when it goes away their world becomes a dark place. And I feel really bad. Sometimes I think I’ve got it easy. So all you kids out there who think that they want to become pro skaters, you might want to try something longer-lasting.”
The iPhone has quickly become the most popular camera in the world. Everyone has a camera in their pocket at all times and everyone’s a so-called “photographer,” or wants to be. Instagram has become a real-time skate magazine of sorts. Skate ads and photos in magazines have been shot on iPhones, and we’re not talking silly enjoi ads either, we’re talking actual tricks. But how does a true and professional photographer feel about this shift and how does it affect things going forward?
“It’s weird and has made me pull back a lot,” say Allan. “Because I see it so much now, I’ve avoided being the guy who has a camera around his back at all times. I think if you have good taste, know what you’re doing and are willing to sit back and not join the herd, but rather, more strategically decide what you want to do instead of just throwing it out into the sea, that’s when you will stand out.
“What you can do on an iPhone now is insane, and the whole thing has proven that anyone can shoot a generic photo and get it run in a magazine. Even the kid down the street has a 16-mm fisheye. Back when I started, a Canon fisheye lens was $800. If you had a fisheye in your city, you were the dude. Hopefully, people will eventually want a change, but I’m not worrying about that. For now I’m just doing my best to be really good at what I do and focusing on portraits and behind-the-scenes stuff.”
Most recently, Ryan got a gig as team manager (and photographer) for Asphalt Yacht Club. Like so many other creatives in our industry, Ryan knows it’s difficult—near impossible at times—to make a proper living without a full time job or multitasking.
“I’ve done this my whole career,” explains Allan. “I’ve always used another outlet to get to where I want to be. I started SBC because there were no places to sell my photos and because Appleyard was a rising star in Canada and we couldn’t get his photos published anywhere. America didn’t know about Mark yet, and Concrete was pretty west coast-heavy at the time. So I was like, ‘Okay, lets do something east coast promote Appleyard.’ From there, Mark got blew up and got me a graphic design job at Circa, so I moved down to California. I’d already done four years of design working for the mag, so I started designing T-shirts and Circa catalogs, then became their photographer.”
After Circa, Allan freelanced for various companies over the years … Gravis came next.
“It’s always been photography-based, but the pitch was always, ‘I can shoot all your photos, but I’m also a commercial photographer and can shoot product and save you guys a shit ton of money.’ In skateboarding that’s the clincher every time.
“AYC came about through Ben Nordberg, which is crazy because I pick on Ben all the time. He was like, ‘They’re looking for a team manager; you should talk to them.’ Team managing isn’t my favorite thing, but I did it at Gravis because they were my friends. AYC is real team managing for me—a lot of time on the phone and emailing. But I’ve got to do it, you know? My creative photos don’t make the bank. But it’s cool … the team is awesome and everyone is rad. I really want to help. It’s a gnarly uphill battle and a social experiment for me. Like, ‘Can I bring an aesthetic to this team that, on paper, looks crazy?’ Aesthetically it’s not my style, but I think I can do something with it. That’s what’s nice for me. I’m not stressing if this comes or goes. It’ll be interesting for sure …”
Post-Vans Propeller: Greg Hunt Talks Inspiration, Process & Critics
By Robert Brink
The Hundreds, June 2015
When Greg Hunt began filming on Vans Propeller, he was living in a one-bedroom apartment and single with “zero responsibilities.” Fast-forward almost six years and Greg has a wife, a baby and two dogs. Now that the dust has settled, he’s currently working on a special edition of Propeller for release in late 2015 and enjoying some much deserved down time. Curious as to what’s on his mind in a post-Propeller world; in the wake of the year’s biggest and most-anticipated skateboarding video, the press tour, as well as all the criticism that comes with it, I caught up with him for a little chat.
I’m hearing people say they enjoy the Propeller Raw Files more than the video itself. I experienced the same at Emerica when we released the Stay Gold B-Sides …
I was 17 when Rubbish Heap came out. It had no real soundtrack except random parts with Rodney Mullen and Jef Hartsel. I loved it and that’s why I did the Raw Files this way. But for people to say, “This is so much better than the video,” I don’t get that. Rowan’s part with that song and all the different angles—there’s an emotional thing built in when you watch. That doesn’t happen with raw footage. Raw footage is awesome and a great way to get all the extra stuff out there because people love it, but I’d take an edited video part over raw footage any day.
To me it’s an enhancer. Dollin’s raw stuff it blew me away, knowing what went into that part.
For sure. If anything, the feedback I get is, “Why wasn’t this in the video?” People might prefer it because it’s honest. It shows the real story of the slam and the make and that’s very telling of what these guys put into it. I wish I could’ve put a lot of that into the video, but you can’t. I could always do better, but you’re trying your best to include everything in the best possible way. Chima’s part had too much music, that’s why we added a little something at the end. I extended Daniel’s song just so I could fit more skating in there. It hard to condense four years of skateboarding into four minutes when you’re following the traditional formula for video parts.
I don’t think people realize how restraint plays just as important a role ...
Exactly. You can make a video that’s short and to the point and some people are gonna love it and others will feel like they were expecting more. If you make a video with longer parts and a lot of stuff in between, people are gonna say, “I just wanna see the skating!” You’re never gonna be able to make everybody happy; it’s just impossible. Some of my favorite moments in the video are only a couple seconds long. Like Anthony in front of the water main that explodes or Daniel standing on that mountain and the tram comes by.
It seems like you’ve done a ton of press for this video. Back in the day no one interviewed the filmmaker.
It’s weird that nowadays, so many people want to talk to the filmmakers. I understand that I’m the person steering the ship and ultimately responsible for all the final touches, but really I put myself in the back seat to what these guys want. And I’ve always been that way. I didn’t film everything. I didn’t conceptualize the video part; it’s them skateboarding. Half the time I wasn’t even there, or off just trying to find a good angle. When it’s all done, I’m working with the guys to put it together in a way that hopefully resonates with people. It’s trippy, but we’re in an era where people want to talk to you.
In addition to the expectations people have for the video to be amazing, it seems there’s a weird assumption that you, the creator, are trying to make an artistic statement, or should be.
I totally agree. People that really have a vision when they make a video—the way they want it to look and feel prior to even editing it, I think that’s amazing. When Fred Mortagne did éS Menikmati, that video was so different from anything anyone had ever seen. Looking back, that was a really artistically brave thing to do, especially for such a young kid who, at the time, didn’t really know anyone.
I didn’t have a creative group that was working on this; it was just me. I had a lot of things planned for in-between parts and the intro, but I simply didn’t have time. And when I started to see how it was coming together, I saw it was a very straightforward, no bullshit skateboarding video, for skateboarders. No narrative, nothing very conceptual, no acting. I thought, “You know what? This is actually pretty cool. Just straight up skating.” How can you not like Anthony Van Engelen or Rowan Zorilla or Daniel Lutheran or Gilbert Crockett? These guys are amazing to watch skate. I know that much.
I think people also don’t realize that the artist might actually have zero interest in pleasing anyone except the people involved in the project.
That’s exactly it. Some people take it too seriously. Really what it’s about is the skateboarding. And when I’m editing, I’m working primarily as a skateboarder. I feel like people look at these videos like it potentially could’ve been this or potentially could’ve been that. Of course it could, but it’s really about the skateboarding and this video, more than any that I’ve ever done, is what it is because of the guys in it. It’s their skateboarding. They were very involved in what went into the parts. I read one thing that said that Propeller wasn’t an honest representation of modern skateboarding. The guy who wrote that just doesn’t understand. He’s out of touch with modern skateboarding, because this is the most honest representation of these guys that I could have possibly made.
It’s just good skateboarding. I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece, but I would like to think, if you’re someone who loves skateboarding you’re going to sit through it at least once and enjoy a lot of it. If you, for some reason, can’t enjoy a lot of that video, then I don’t know what to tell you because I spent five years working on this thing and I still love watching Anthony’s and Rowan’s parts … because I’m a skateboarder.
What stands out as the most impressive or scary thing you saw go down?
Trujillo’s last trick was really impressive. That was fucking gnarly. I’ve skated with him enough to know that when I saw him up there, he was really freaked out. You can’t try it a bunch of times. It’s one of those things that once you commit to going down, you’re either gonna pull it or you’re gonna seriously fuck yourself up—really fuck yourself up.
Kyle Walker getting hit by a car too …
I was already editing at that point. But yeah, that was fucked up. I saw the footage and didn’t want to use it because it’s not even like, “Oooh.” It’s like, “Ugh!” When it happened, the guys texted me the footage off their camera screens and it seriously looks like he got killed. He’s running across the street, he’s lying on the ground, he’s screaming. Horrible. But I mean, fuck, Kyle tried his last trick in Atlanta for maybe two and a half hours. I don’t even know how his body made it through that. He tried it, couldn’t do it, sat down and was over it. Everyone was like, “Alright, you did it; you gave it your best.” And he was sitting there like, “You know what? Fuck it. I’m gonna try it again.” And I think that happened definitely once, if not twice before he landed it.
Have you ever backed somebody down because you were scared they’d get hurt?
I’ve never told anyone they should stop. There have definitely been times when I felt like, “This is a really bad idea.” These guys know their own limits. I don’t think anyone really wants to get killed. If anything, sometimes I’ll say, “Hey, man. Maybe we shouldn’t do this right now because it looks like if we do, we’re gonna go to jail. Let’s come back later or figure out some other way to do it.”
Back when you made the M83 “Echoes” video, you and I were talking about being Terrence Malick fans and such. How much do outside influences come into play as a skateboarding filmmaker?
The first year we were filming Propeller I was watching a lot of rock documentaries. This old Bowie documentary and a Rolling Stones documentary called Stones in Exile.
In my opinion, skateboarders are more like musicians than athletes. How they perform and how they create and promote skateboarding—how people love a certain skateboarder more than another. I love seeing a band recording in the studio and the moments where they’re not actually playing the music—sometimes more than when they are playing. I like seeing guys sitting in the rehearsal room on the couch talking shit, or even a guy alone sleeping in the corner of the studio. That, to me, is really revealing and really intriguing. That’s loosely what I went for in this video with a lot of the 16mm stuff.
How much of your work is inspired by things you see that you don’t like?
Almost all of it. That’s the approach I had when I skated, long before I started making videos. I would just look at what everyone was doing and try to do the opposite. Skateboarding can be frustrating because physically, you have so many limitations. Sometimes you just can’t do it. And it’s funny because now that I’m making these videos, I have other limitations: budgets, time and the ability to actually make something happen. I think when I’m watching or reading or just observing anything, something clicks in my brain like, “Well, I definitely never want to do that,” or, “That’s really cool; how can I do that, but differently?”
Being a skateboarder—at least the generation that I come from in skateboarding—the last thing you want to do is copy someone. When you’re at a spot and some guy is back tailing a ledge, you’re not gonna back tail the ledge. You want to do your own thing and I think that’s something that I definitely got from skateboarding and it bleeds into everything I do in life. I think that’s why skateboarders do a lot of really interesting things when they go on to do projects outside of skateboarding, or even within skateboarding.
As a filmmaker, is it advantageous that you were once a pro skater who’s filmed video parts?
I don’t think so. I skated in the mid-nineties in San Francisco. It was a lot different then. Most of these guys now trust me because of the videos I’ve done, not because of the skateboarding I’ve done. These guys, they are 18, 19, 20, and through making one video over five years, they change a lot. You realize the distractions, lack of motivation, and things that become hurdles for them. I definitely blew it in a lot of regards when I was young, so me acknowledging and using that to help people is what I use more than anything. Even if I don’t say it to someone directly, I might just say, “I know what this person’s going through; give him some space.”
Also, you’re not just the filmer or director or producer; you’re a mentor …
And it’s tough because everyone is so different. It’s not a fucking wrestling team; it’s a skateboarding team. I’m not always successful, but I try to be sensitive to each person’s energy and needs. You want everyone to be stoked, not miserable.
I can’t take all the credit. When these guys are all together it takes on its own life and I’m sort of there trying to make sure everyone’s up and in the van and doing my best to steer the day in the right direction where we can get as much done as possible.
I sometimes have this fear that skateboarding will be my last stop. That skateboarding might not want me anymore as I age. Does that ever worry you?
I think that’s something that everyone thinks about, especially if you’re working in skateboarding as a filmer or photographer or writer or whatever—even a shoe designer. I like having other things to work on because it brings a little bit of balance to my life, but I know for a fact that if I completely remove myself from skateboarding there’s a huge part of me that’s missing. It’s been 30 years of my life. If anything, my phobia is working in skateboarding because I have to. I never want to resent skateboarding. I only want be involved in skateboarding because I love skateboarding. I never want to be in a position where I’m in skateboarding because I need the paycheck or because I’ve got nowhere else to go. That really freaks me out.
Chris Cole Talks Motivation 2, Therapy, and Life Under a Microscope
By Robert Brink
The Hundreds, June 2015
Chris Cole is one of the best skateboarders on the planet. He’s also taken more shit than most skaters on the planet—from his peers, from the skateboard community, from the Internet. In a culture where image and playing it “cool” are often more important than your actual ability on a skateboard, not many pro skaters have had to prove themselves to the extent that Cole has. To the point of second-hand embarrassment at times, Motivation 2: The Chris Cole Story pulls you into the center of his struggle.
Directed by Adam Lough, Motivation 2 (iTunes, June 23) is the story of an East Coast underdog who made his way to the top, battling self-discovery, industry politics and the void of a father he never knew along the way. The following is a conversation with a man who’s been put through the ringer and become one of the most comfortable-in-his-own-skin people I’ve ever met.
Your wife was telling me you did some brain mapping and it’s been determined you’re a superhero …
It’s called Neurotopia. I lack attention and a lot of different things but it turns out I have a super-fast reaction time in my brain and I have impulse control. Basically, my brain processes the information that comes through my eyes really, really quickly. And then my reaction as to what to do with that information is above par.
That’s obviously super advantageous, not only for learning tricks but also avoiding chaos and damage.
Yes. That’s actually a really important part of the whole thing. In Danny Way’s documentary, Travis Pastrana says that Danny’s not fearless; he’s just really good at assessing risk. And it’s so important.
Is it challenging being under the microscope for a year to film a documentary?
Yeah, you have to let somebody in pretty deeply. But the hardest part was really figuring out what needs to be told versus what is me trying to give you 100 percent of what happened. I’m very nostalgic and want to take you down each road and tell you why certain people and stories are so important to me. But you don’t need every story from my life; you just need the ones that matter.
What gets stirred up emotionally in the process?
The only thing that’s ever really a tough subject is talking about the fact that I didn’t have a father. And then watching my mother and my brother talk about it. I can talk about my life skating and the stories that go along with that—even tough stories, because that’s a path that I’ve chosen. But when you have to talk about feelings and things from when you were too young to control—that’s when it’s difficult.
How about knowing somebody’s out there interviewing your mom and brother discussing these difficult subjects?
I didn’t know that’s how it was gonna be. But when I saw the footage, what I did think about was that my mother and brother aren’t on camera much, or ever. So I was conscious of how hard it would be for them. I talked to everybody about that. They were like, “I don’t know if I did well.” And I’m like, “I’m sure you did fine.”
I feel like a project like this would bring me closer to my family. There’s stuff that comes out in these interviews that I wouldn’t necessarily bring up to them.
Totally. You don’t just walk up and say, “Tell me about this painful memory.” When I see their commentary and see them on camera, it brings a magnifying glass over the fact that I don’t live there and I’m losing valuable days I could be spending with my family. It makes me wish I were closer to them. But I love hearing their take on how things were.
As I get older, I’m reaching out to members of my family asking them about things, just through this process of trying to understand myself. Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis.
No, it makes sense. Skateboarding keeps us like Peter Pan for a very long time. We play; we go out with our friends; we have recess all the time. It’s not that you’re getting old; it’s just that now you’re maturing and inquisitive. You’re really not always sure who your parents are because their job isn’t to be your homeboy; their job is to prepare you for the world and prevent you from becoming an asshole. Certain parents take that job really seriously and leave themselves shrouded in mystery to get that job done.
In the time this documentary was being made, you won the Street League Championship in 2013, but you didn’t even make the finals in 2014. You quit Zero, which you co-owned, and did the free agent thing for a while. Then you got on Plan B. It seems you inadvertently added the task of a documentary during one of the busiest transitional stages of your life and career …
Yeah, and the funniest part is that none of that stuff is really in the film. It shows primarily what got me here rather than what I’m doing here. Because what got me here is what you can’t Google. You can’t find my sponsor-me tape anywhere, for example. And that’s where this documentary really comes in.
I’ve always admired that you’re the first to admit you aren’t “cool.” And some of this film almost painful to watch—the bad outfits, people making fun of you behind your back. At a point you said, “I’m still figuring out the script.” Does that lack of script come from your father being absent, to a degree?
Yes. You’re essentially learning from scratch. There are a billion things you miss out on when your dad is gone. For example, there’s the right way to measure and cut wood. The correct way to use tools or change oil in your car. How you carry yourself when speaking to other people—people of authority, people that are older. You miss all that shit.
Did you realize at the time you were riding for them, that Jamie Thomas and Rodney Mullen were both becoming very paternal for you?
I didn’t realize it actually. My wife pointed it out. It wasn’t a conscious thing. But tough decisions came up—times I had to disappoint them. With Rodney, I wanted to ride for Zero and I had to quit enjoi. It was really difficult to make that call. Then disappointing Jamie when I had to leave Fallen. Making those calls is like disappointing your dad.
People say, “Skateboarding saved my life.” Often times it literally got them off the streets or away from drugs. But for some, it’s because it gives you the family you didn’t have. I realize now that, aside from skateboarding, this bagel bakery I worked at for eight years was my family to a degree—my coming of age. They took me to my first bar. They taught me how to dress a wound when I cut half my finger off. They gave me a work ethic. They took me to my first strip club. Some of my co-workers there even died.
That’s super true. Like being on the road with people on a skate tour: the guy you always room with or the position you have in the van; the dude that rallies the troops at the skate spot to move on. Those roles, when you start young, they define who you are for a very long time until you choose the next role in your life.
In the film, Stevie Williams says you were “Weird but good—definitely weird.” Bam Margera and Jamie Thomas added similar commentary. Are you watching these interviews about the younger you and thinking, “Wow, maybe I was weirder than I thought!”
I’ve self-reflected and looked at it a whole bunch of different ways. I knew how they felt back then, but I never heard any of them ever say it. I thought it was rad that they finally came out and said it, because skateboarding used to be pretty goddamn rough around the edges. But now, since everyone’s all so connected and polished, people usually bite their tongues. So it was cool to hear them say, “This dude was kooking’ it.”
The film gets into the brutally honest sit-downs you got from Jamie Thomas. The unwritten “rules” of skateboarding, your wardrobe, you fishing for compliments—all these things are part of being a kid. You’re not trying to be arrogant; you’re just excited and trying to connect with people. At some point you cross this line from being an excited kid who’s trying to share yourself with your idols to being someone who’s a kook and talks too much. To me there’s something sad about that transition into adulthood and “professionalism.”
I didn’t really think about it that way, but yeah, that’s probably what hurt the most. Here I am just being me and I’m told, “Hey, you can be you, but be you behind closed doors with your close friends only.” That was terrible for me. At that age you’re a teenager; you’re an idiot but it’s a good thing because if you’re cool as a cucumber then, are you gonna be cool as a cucumber when you’re older? I feel like everybody goes through some crappy wacky phase in their teens. Like they need to do that in order to not be 25 and watching 8 Mile once a day, convinced that they’re gonna be the rapping scientist or something. I wanna make sure that kids know that it’s all right to be a dork.
How did that hazing from all the skaters back then not cripple you? Some of what happened to me still affects me to this day.
It’s still one of the most crippling things that we have as grown ups. It’s something that affects you as a human being in general, regardless of age. If you don’t have your defenses up and someone hurts you, it will still crush you as if you were a little kid. It’s definitely still affecting me for sure. It always will.
There’s nothing more true than the fact that most of the people who were the coolest in late grade school, high school and college are the most boring, average adults I’ve ever met in my life.
Or they’re in jail. All the cool football star dudes; all the baseball players; those super rad dudes that were getting invited to all the parties, they’re hitting the same spots in the same town they grew up in. The same bars, they’re going to the same Phillies game with the same homeboy that was their wingman in high school. The only thing that’s changed is that they’re fatter and they have a kid and they probably married one of the girls from high school that they weren’t dating at the time, but somehow linked up at with at the local bar. That’s what’s going down. And then the dude that was picked on for being smart, he’s got a solid scenario. He’s doing something cool.
But I’m not scared to go to a therapist. I sing that praise to everybody. A lot of dudes won’t do marriage counseling; they won’t do individual counseling; they won’t go see a therapist because in their mind that’s admitting you’re broken. Even a person who doesn’t need it at all still benefits from going to see a therapist.
The first time I walked into therapy, I had to coach myself through the door. By the end I felt completely relieved. It was the best hour of my life in a long time.
Totally. It’s like, you can play guitar. You can be self-taught. You can get good. But take guitar lessons and you’ll get there a lot faster. Therapy is your guitar lesson—your life lesson. When you leave, even if you can’t implement everything that was said to you, that knowledge went into your brain. And if you find it once or twice over time, that’s better than if you didn’t go.
What do you hope people watching the story of your life get out of it?
I want them to feel motivated to go out and live their dream. Everybody has a passion and the opportunity to change their lives. If you’re really great at math and you’re being groomed to be an accountant by your parents or whatever, but your real passion is tennis, you can be someone who plays tennis for a living. Maybe you won’t be a professional tennis player, but I want you to go for it because you can always fall back into a secondary dream. You could be a tennis instructor, for example, instead of just being like, “I guess I’ll just be an accountant.” Or you can be an accountant for the racquet company. You can work in the industry that you love. We need you.
I was sponsored but was never gonna be pro. So the next best thing was to be a writer in skateboarding …
And that’s the thing. I feel like for a lot of people, that’s not something that comes as normal; they don’t think of that. It’s basically like, “I’m not good enough to be a professional skater; I’m screwed.” And they just bail. And that’s not how it works. You could be a photographer; you could be a videographer; you could be a team manager. You travel the world with us, you get stamps on your passport with us and you’re in the van. You’re living that life. It’s a great life.
I’ve seen the stuff you guys have to deal with on the business end of things. Or watching you guys juggle the things at a big contest: press stuff, obligations. I’m like, “Why does he have to do this right before he jumps down a four-block?” Sometimes just sitting there shooting photos seems way better.
Dude, totally. We’re stressing out about our line, stressing out about a couple bad contests in a row. These sponsors expect a lot. It’s pretty crazy and people are like, “Oh stop complaining, the rest of us have it like this.” I get that all the time.
If somebody thinks that, they don’t understand that level of skating. Or haven’t skated at all. It’s hard to switch mindsets from being the celebrity skater guy to trying a trick down a gnarly fucking rail in front of an arena full of people.
That’s beautifully stated because that is the biggest issue in my entire life. It’s not juggling like, “I don’t have any time” as much as it’s juggling going from this brain to that brain and it’s a different dude each time. When I’m planning my contest run you can’t hit me with, “Hey can you look at this credit card statement, make sure that everything’s charged by you?”
I watch you guys switching back and forth at these events. I just can’t believe it because I know you’re worrying about your legs locking up, but you don’t want to turn a kid down for an autograph or a person for an interview.
Well, it’s funny because it’s the “mo’ money mo’ problems” thing. The bigger your sponsors get and the better you’re compensated, the more obligations you have. When all these kids are like, “I wanna make it to Street League one day! I wanna be like this dude and be sponsored by that company.” You might wanna be careful what you wish for because I’ll tell you what—Mikey Taylor or P-Rod or myself—we’re doing a lot more than the average Joe. We wear a whole bunch of different hats all the time.
Actually, I’m gonna go on a tirade right now:
When the “core” dudes try to clown, and I’m sure you’ve fucking heard it—it’s a defense mechanism—they say stuff like, “It’s just skateboarding, man.” Implying that you’re taking it too seriously.
A. You’re telling me what skateboarding is? Get the fuck out of my face. And B, Street League is a contest with a lot of money on the line and this is actually what I do for a living. This is my job. I love the hell out of skating; I love it more than anyone. But it’s not “Just skating, maaaaan.” That’s throwing what I love and what I’ve dedicated my life to, into some hobby that you kind of fuck around with. They love to throw that one around.
I know plenty of those people. I feel like that comes from a place of, I don’t know if “jealousy” is the word?
It’s a good word.
I drink a lot of tea while I work. Green tea usually. In case you didn’t know, tea is a diuretic. That means it makes you pee. And when you drink as much tea as me, you pee A LOT.
Above the urinal in the men’s bathroom at The Hundreds headquarters (my new workplace), hangs a framed photo of Asa Akira. She’s wearing a black, custom “Adam Bomb” The Hundreds bikini top; the bottoms are pulled down and wrapped around her red six-inch stilettos, ready to trip her up at any second. Her hand is covering her crotch, even though it seems like she’d rather I see it all. Her hair is long and black and flipped over the right half of her face. The eye shadow around her left eye is dark and overdone and exactly what you’d expect from a porn star. This is a good thing.
And with my dick in my hand, while countless cups of green tea stream out of it, I’m three inches from her and she’s staring right at me—her mouth agape and her lips gooped in some sort of pinkish gloss.
Five to six times a day, in these two-minute increments, all I can do is think about fucking Asa Akira. And I’ll say with 100 percent certainty, that, not only would this notion NOT creep her out, but she’d absolutely love it. It’s part of her charm.
And it’s this charm that has, more so than most adult film stars, thrust (pun intended) Asa into mainstream pop culture—from penning her autobiography Insatiable: Porn A Love Story, to her DVDASA Podcast with David Choe, to her recent reality web series, “Hobbies With Asa Akira” with The Hundreds, you’d be hard-pressed (pun intended) to find anyone somewhat hip who doesn’t know Asa’s name.
Oh, and she loves skateboarders. So you might have a shot …
So tell me about your phone phobia.
I really hate talking on the phone. I’m just always dreading that it’s gonna be someone I don’t wanna talk to. But when they don’t leave a voicemail I’m like, “Oh my God, who was that? Maybe I won a bunch of money and now I lost my chance!”
I get completely anxious when my phone rings or I have to make a call. When we were kids we sat on the phone all night long.
Every chance I had. I can’t even imagine doing that now. Even when my friends call, I press “ignore” and then I’m like, “Let’s just text.”
Do you have other neuroses?
Yeah, but one of them is that I can’t talk about it.
Like Fight Club?
Yeah (laughs). I’m a pretty neurotic person.
Does the world seem particularly terrible to you lately? Like, I’m driving to work and thinking about the drought and ISIS and Baltimore.
It’s horrible. Everything. And I don’t know if every generation has felt that way or if the world is actually getting worse. That’s why I feel like it’s too late for me to take acid anymore. My mindset is way too negative now. I went to Six Flags the other day and left knowing that would be my last time on a roller coaster. I used to love them—the scarier the better. And now, like, why would I put myself in that position?
Like when you hear about the Croc Hunter or some bungee jumper dying.
It’s the dumbest way to die because you put yourself there.
I was listening to an NPR interview with you from last year and it turned into that typical “What went wrong in your childhood” thing. Do you find it bizarre that so many interviews with porn stars go in that direction?
Definitely. When I wrote Insatiable I did a lot more mainstream media rather than porn interviews, and, for the most part, I think the interviewers walked away disappointed that I wasn’t some tragic story. I think they were rooting against me. In the book I talk about how I had this happy childhood. I didn’t have any traumatic experiences. And they seemed to come into the interview already doubting that and trying to catch me slipping—wanting me to accidentally say I was raped when I was three or something.
Trying to trip you up with questions like “If you had a daughter would you let her do porn?”
Questions like that don’t really come from a place of curiosity. It says more about them than about me. I think they’re uncomfortable with the fact that I’m so comfortable with my sexuality. It just bothers them. A lot of people need to justify it to themselves with something horrible.
What’s upsetting to you about the porn industry?
Here’s the thing: I didn’t grow up watching porn or knowing anything about porn. In my mind, porn stars were these really glamorous people. It’s not like I followed the careers of girls before me and then came out here and found out they were horrible people. To me the fantasy was coming out here, doing porn, being successful and having people jerking off to me. In that sense, it’s even more than I could’ve hoped for. But I was definitely shocked to learn that fluffers don’t even exist.
But that used to be a thing back in the day right?
No! I asked Nina Hartley and she said no. Fluffers were never a thing.
Nina Hartley’s still kinda hot.
She really is. There’s something about her that’s so incredibly sexual. It’s like the molecules of her being are all just vibrating on this sexual level. It’s crazy. And it’s impossible to not wanna fuck her.
She’s the person you wish you get accidentally caught jerking off by instead of your mom or your brother who’s just gonna embarrass you.
She would say the exact right thing at that moment. She’s just amazing.
How did “Hobbies with Asa Akira” with The Hundreds come about?
I’ve known Bobby Hundreds for a while and we did an interview when my book came out last year. A couple weeks later, he texted me like, “Hey, what do you think of doing a video series?” And I was like, “Ok, let’s do it!” not knowing any of the details or anything. We had a meeting where everyone pitched ideas and we decided on hobbies because I’m such a homebody. I genuinely don’t have a hobby. My favorite thing in the world is to read and watch movies. House arrest would be paradise for me.
I agree. I just wanna be home in Laguna Beach.
I feel like people are constantly asking me, “What do you like to do outside of porn?” and I’m like, “Nothing.”
But also, when you have careers like ours that you love and you are doing awesome shit like writing books and filming shows, you don’t necessarily need a hobby.
I love that you just said that. I think I’ve always felt that way and I’ve never been able to put it into words. It’s funny because people will often describe me as a workaholic but I’m really not. I just love my job so much that I want to do it all the time. If I were working a 9-5 job I’d do the bare minimum—complaining the whole time, trying to take long lunches. I wouldn’t be a “workaholic.” We’re really lucky in that way. I try to remind myself of that all the time.
What hobby did you enjoy the most?
I really enjoyed taxidermy, which is weird because it’s not something I would’ve imagined I’d enjoy. But I don’t see myself doing that on weekends. And crocheting I got super into. After we finished filming that episode I bought a bunch of yarn and everything I needed to crochet, but the only thing I can make is a rectangle or a square. And you can only make so many scarves before it’s like, “Either I’m gonna take this to the next level or I’m gonna quit.”
I also really enjoyed boxing because I like anything that is exercise without me thinking its exercise.
How much of your life is devoted to staying physically fit so you look good on camera?
Like, the whole thing (laughs). In some form, I’m thinking about my weight 85 percent of the day. Whether it’s because I’m hungry or need to be tan to look skinnier. It’s what I have to do to be able to have sex for a living and make money doing what I love. When I think of it like that, it’s not such a big price to pay. But it sucks. I’m always hungry. I’m never satisfied with the way my body looks. And the thing I’m most looking forward to when I retire is getting fat.
I read that Lisa Ann is the most popular porn star in the world. As someone considered “older” in your industry, is it comforting to know a woman older than you is that popular and there’s time left, rather than some 19-year-old coming in and putting you out of work?
It’s definitely more comforting than if that weren’t the case, but I’m not completely at ease either. People ask what I’m gonna do after porn and I don’t know. I wish I could do this forever, but what if I decide to have a family? I guess I don’t feel totally secure. Like what if MILFs are really in right now but in five years they’re not? I still feel my age haunting me, but it’s more comforting than if there were no such thing as a MILF category.
Like if it was cut off at 27?
Oh my god. I’d already be over it.
In skateboarding most people are done pretty young too. The two industries are very parallel.
I totally agree. They’re both kind of on the outskirts of society while still having one foot in the mainstream. It’s kind of frowned upon, right?
The mainstream often takes what it wants from our industries to benefit, but then doesn’t really accept it. When they want skaters in a McDonald’s commercial, it’s cool, but then it’s illegal for me to skate down the street to buy groceries.
And there’s also something super damaging about being treated like a star too young. You guys even more so because skateboarding starts super young. But even with porn, 18 is too young. If you go from your parents’ house to being treated like a star and making thousands of dollars a day, how can you possibly be a normal person? You have no shot.
And the skate industry is crazy because there’s such a focus on alleviating anything from your mind other than performing on your skateboard. People book your flights, hand you cash on trips, send you clothes and you party.
Wow. Like all you have to do is skate?
Yeah, a lot of skaters don’t pay their taxes, they’ve never written a check. There are basic life skills that are handled for them starting so young.
It’s not their fault that they grow up to be a man-child. How would they know any better?
Have you personally noticed the skateboarding and streetwear cultures being particularly drawn to porn?
Yeah, for sure. I don’t think anyone in the skate or porn industry is attracted to what’s considered the norm. I think we like being outcasts and we’re drawn to things that are supposed to be bad or dangerous or unconventional. Comedians too. There’s a lot of intermingling between the comedy and porn scenes.
Is there anything particularly surprising or different about filming a porno movie compared to filming a reality series like “Hobbies”?
The main thing for me, it probably will sound really silly to you, is that with porn I can’t eat the night before. That comes with so much anxiety for me.
Is that a body image thing or an anal/cleanliness thing?
It’s a body thing. My body’s built for anal. I can eat all day long and I’m fine as long as I clean out and do my little ritual. But even if I’m just doing a blowjob scene I’ll will watch what I’m eating because I don’t want my stomach to bloat out. I’m pretty convinced that everyone in porn has body dysmorphia.
Given that so many women dislike or won’t try anal, how does that become your specialty?
I’ll tell you what the secret is, because my first time I didn’t enjoy it and didn’t do it again for five years. The trick is to do it about 20 times in like, a month. Don’t space it out too much and then it becomes enjoyable. But for those 20 times, it hurts like a bitch. You just have to know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
That’s what I tell people about eating oysters and sushi.
Or olives! So true. And then one day you’re craving it. It’s just like that.
We are opening up the world for men who want anal and women who wanna enjoy it.
I think the reason men want anal so badly is because we resist so much.
It’s the final frontier. Chicks always ask, “Why do guys want anal?” I think it’s that we just want to know you’re willing to please us.
I think so too. I can’t imagine that the asshole actually feels better around the penis than the vagina. I refuse to believe that.
It doesn’t. It feels like I’m doing something wrong. Maybe it’s Catholic guilt, but it feels like I’m hurting the girl and I want to just go back to the regular thing. There’s probably a lot of girl advice for skateboarders coming out of this interview, inadvertently.
Ugh! Skateboarders are the worst! Us girls love you guys so much and you never give us the time of day. I remember being a teenager growing up in NYC, I spent countless hours watching boys skateboard. And like, they totally didn’t give a shit that I was sitting there for four hours waiting to finally get to hang out.
Skating might be the only thing I’ve ever experienced that trumped the desire to get laid.
I think all skaters are like that. That’s the appeal though. That’s why girls love skaters, I would imagine. The unattainable factor.
So you have an Instagram account just for selfies.
This is my third or fourth time on Instagram because they keep kicking me off. And I’m not even posting anything crazy at all.
Suicide Girls are probably more racy.
Yeah, exactly. So I set up three accounts anticipating getting kicked off again. In the meantime I was like, “I can’t make all the accounts the same.” I feel really conflicted about selfies because as a principle I’m against them. I feel like it’s everything that’s wrong with the world in a way.
I feel the same. We sound old.
But I can’t stop taking them and wanting to share them.
Has there ever been a situation that made you say; “I can’t believe my career has taken me here”?
Writing the book was a lot like that. I love to write and read. When I was little I wanted to be a writer. I’ve always journaled. I’m certainly not a good enough writer to only be a writer. I would not have gotten the book deal had I not done porn. The whole process—even speaking to a literary agent, I was like, “Holy shit. I can’t believe my life right now!” And I think it was like that for my parents too. Writing the book justified a lot of things for them. It makes them a little less mad about the porn—something good came out of it in their eyes.
In order for you to get a book deal there had to have been a tipping point where you had mainstream appeal, right?
It was social media 100 percent. My literary agent, Mark Gerald, works with David Choe, who I do a podcast with. He follows me on Twitter and called me one day like, “I really like your Twitter and I feel like you could write a book. Let’s explore what we can do.” I was so excited that as soon as we got off the phone I wrote an essay and sent it to him. He loved it and then I wrote four more. We used those chapters as a book proposal and it just went from there.
That’s amazing. That crossover thing, maybe 1 percent of 1 percent of porn stars get there. Was Jenna the first?
I think Jenna’s the first and in a lot of ways she’s the only. I wouldn’t consider myself a crossover star at all. I’ve done things and crossed over a couple times but, I mean, Jenna Jameson had an E! True Hollywood Story. Neil Strauss wrote her book.
She’s a full-blown celebrity.
Oh for sure. She’s a household name.
Ok well, we’re both gonna have an anxiety attack if we stay on the phone any longer.
(Laughs) That was a really fun interview. You asked me so many things I’ve never been asked.
Well that’s the ultimate compliment. You cool with us doing a bonus “Hobbies” episode with bloopers and B-roll after the series ends?
Yeah I’m always down for whatever.
That’s the best thing a man could ever hear from a woman.
(Laughs) I’m down for whatever … including anal.