Weekend Buzz ep. 117: Steve Caballero & Mike McGill, part 2

November 24, 2016

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Weekend Buzz ep. 117: Steve Caballero & Mike McGill, part 1

November 18, 2016

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Ryan Allan: Discoveries

October 18, 2016

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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.

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“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.”

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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.”

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“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.

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“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.

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“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 …”

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Weekend Buzz ep. 116: Eric Dressen & Josh Borden, part 2

October 7, 2016

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Weekend Buzz ep. 116: Eric Dressen & Josh Borden, part 1

September 30, 2016

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Weekend Buzz ep. 115: Jamie Foy & Zion Wright, part 2

September 16, 2016

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Weekend Buzz ep. 115: Jamie Foy & Zion Wright, part 1

September 10, 2016

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Weekend Buzz ep. 114: Olan Prenatt & Mikey Alfred, part 2

September 2, 2016

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Weekend Buzz ep. 114: Olan Prenatt & Mikey Alfred, part 1

August 26, 2016

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Post-Vans Propeller: Greg Hunt Talks Inspiration, Process and Critics

August 14, 2016

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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.

rob brink greg hunt

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.

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