Honestly, Gavin Nolan isn’t my type of skateboarder, but I respect him. I respect that he dealt with my annoying questions and I respect that he has positioned himself to have a career in skateboarding. Dropping out of high school, going back and forth between Boston and California and living off of a couple of dollars a day – Gavin took the chances that most rational people wouldn’t. But it’s the culmination of those risks, those choices to stick with it even when the odds are totally fucked, that separates the hometown hero from the guy who really breaks into the global consciousness of skateboarding. And with the recent announcement that he’s turning Am for Zoo York, the risks seem to be slowly paying off for Gavin, (~Da Wigga~). This is his story so far.
Has anyone called you a Wigger before?
[Laughs] Ya, all my friends in Boston and I used to wear enormous clothes and listen to a lot of hip-hop… Haven’t heard that one in a while, I think it’s funny tho.
Would you get mad if I started calling you “~Gavin, Da Wigga~”?
At first I’d think it was funny, but nicknames catch on quick in Boston. So I guess I’d rather you didn’t call me that.
Why are you so polite?
Am I? I don’t know, my mom’s polite I guess. I try to be respectful of other people.
A lot of upcoming Am & Flow skaters don’t make a lot of money, many times not getting paid at all.
What was the hardest living situation you’ve been through so far, ~Gavin, Da Wigga~?
When I was 18 or 19 I took a trip to California when it started getting cold in Boston and it got tough out there… But I was like, no matter what, I’m staying. It was winter in Boston and I knew I had to stay and skate. I was crashing at my friend’s place at the time, but I didn’t want to overstay my welcome, and I didn’t want to ask people for stuff. Luckily, my buddy Alvaro came up to me said if I was assed out, I could live with him for free upstairs at his mom’s house in Venice. I ended up living there for 3 months.
How much money were you living off of a day at this point?
Anywhere from $2 to $5 a day.
What were you eating?
It was Cliff bars and mini tangerines… At some points I was living straight off of pasta. I would cook it the night before and bring pasta in a container so I could eat it for lunch and dinner the next day. If I wanted a drink, there was a water fountain right there at the park. It was so fun to me, some days I hardly ate anything. I just didn’t care as long as I could give my 100% to skating. I never felt like I was lacking anything or I was down, I just was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. Food wasn’t too much my concern. We would get BRCs [beans, rice and cheese burritos] for like a dollar at El Pollo Loco, and we could fill’em up with all the salsas and stuff like that. That was a good thing, two of those burritos and you are chilling.
Did you ever have to steal food to get by?
No, I never stole anything. I spaced my money out so I would be like, OK, if I have $500 and I’m spending less then $5 a day, that can last a good amount of time. I’d buy cheap groceries… it was always a lot of pasta and a good amount of peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Right outside of Stoner Park there was also a recreation center for kids, where they had a snack time everyday at 4pm. The dudes who ran it would welcome the kids at the skatepark too, so at 4:15 everyday a bunch of kids and I could get down on snacks. It was mostly milk and cereal. I was skating with a lot of kids that would be living off of that and BRC burritos. I wasn’t the only one out there that was trying to get by and save their money.
There was a dude at Starbucks who also started hooking it up. I think he started helping out because he liked skating and I’d go in with a cup from the previous day and ask for a refill because that only cost .50¢. I’d order a Venti Iced Coffee. He knew it wasn’t a refill, he probably just thought it was funny. But he’d always let me refill my cup and in return we hooked him up with a board. I got by on little things like that.
You ever think about living like Sebo Walker, the Am that lives out of his Van?
It’s funny because when I went to LA I became good friends with Sebo. I thought his van situation was straight up sick. He had it all set up nice and clean, right next to the gym where he could shower and all that. I remember thinking he had it good and wanting to have a stable situation like that, especially with Stoner Park being right there.
What was your life like living in Boston? Was it much different? Was it a hustle too?
When I was living in Boston it was cool, I could just sleep at my mom’s, hop the turn style at the train in the morning and skate the city all day and night with my friends. That’s what we all did. It seemed normal to me.
How often would you hop the turnstile? Is there a trick to hopping them?
We would hop the turnstile pretty much every single day. They used to have them so you could drop exact change but you could just put a few pennies in and get through. Then they upgraded them so you needed a card and you had to swipe for the two doors to open and let you through. There’s a trick though – we would reach over the doors and put our boards over the sensor on the other side, which made the doors open. The machine thought someone was leaving the station and the doors would open up. There were some stations that were easier than others. I got caught a good few times, nothing really happened though. You could just run. I’ve got some tickets… we thought it was fun. It was just part of the skate day. I remember like 15 of us just barged it all at once one day and the lady in the booth just started laughing.
You dropped out of high school, right?
I dropped out of high school at the beginning of 11th grade. I was so fucking consumed by skating, my friends were getting homeschooled and I talked my mom into getting homeschooled too, but it didn’t actually end up working out. I just got the books and didn’t do any of the work. I always hung out with a lot of older kids, especially these two brothers, the Wisdom brothers, who I grew up skating with in Boston. They were getting homeschooled, they were gnarly skaters… I don’t know if you’ve heard of them before, you ever hear of Tommy Wisdom? They were kind of doing the skate thing a little bit and a bunch of companies wanted to take Tommy in, but he didn’t wanna go through with it. He actually went back to school. I just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t my top priority. Skating was. I think in school they teach you to go to school, get good grades, get a safe secure job, save for retirement…But that just isn’t me.
You lived with PJ Ladd when you were a kid right?
When I was 10 or 11 I went to live with PJ for a couple of weeks over Christmas break, and I ended up going back every winter. This is when Plan B first started, after PJ Ladd’s Wonderful Horrible Life. It was a small apartment in West Hollywood. We skated all morning, day and night, so when we would go back to his house, you’d just be so tired and happy to pass out wherever. PJ is just always mad cool. I read that Brian Wenning interview last night where he said that PJ would always pay for everything, and that’s totally true. My parents didn’t have a lot of money, so I could go out to Cali with just a few hundred bucks and PJ would just be buying us food all the time. If he’s eating he’d make sure his friend were eating too. We would go out to a couple nice restaurants, but mostly we would go out to Chipotle or some shit like that. After skating all day, Chipotle was a really nice treat. I grew up in a situation from the ages of 7 to 14 where my mom would leave $5 on the table and she would be at work, so I would be by myself and just go to McDonald’s every day after school. So going to Chipotle was pretty good.
Can you pass on any good advice that PJ Ladd has given you?
Everything he ever said I really paid attention to because he came from a somewhat similar background and he really made something of himself. Something that stuck with me was, “With a 100% dedicated mindset, anything is possible.” That’s one good piece of advice he gave me. I was young so I believed that shit. I still do.
Have you beat PJ Ladd in games of SKATE before? What tricks can you get him on?
I’ve played more games of skate with PJ than I have with anybody else in the world. I’ve beaten him before, but he beats me a lot more than I beat him. He has every trick, but maybe I can get lucky on a switch frontside big spin, or maybe a switch frontside big spin heel or something like that.
You used to be on Plan B flow. How did you go from Plan B to becoming an Am for Zoo York?
I was getting flow boards from Zoo a long time ago, I just felt like Zoo York was a better opportunity to me. I kind of stood out more and I felt my skating comes from inner city skateboarding and I could relate to Zoo York more.
Were you just not enough of a jock to be on Plan B?
[Laughs] Nah, Zoo York just felt more right for me.
Do you have a fallback plan at all? Or are you just investing yourself 100% in skateboarding?
I always felt like I was gonna skate. I’ve had bad jobs along the way – I delivered flowers, I’ve worked in a restaurant before, I walked dogs for a little bit. But I just want to be skating. That’s kind of what I’ve always done. I’d rather be out skating than in the house chilling, watching TV. I live in New York now. These days I just wake up, meet with RB [Umali] and go skate. By the time it’s 8 P.M. I go back to my house, see my girl and make dinner and chill.
For me with skating, The more you do it, the more you want to do it. I just did it so much, it only made me want to do it more. If you take a couple days off you may not feel that urge to skate, but if you’re learning or working on a new trick constantly, you wake up wanting to go do it.
I just went to Ireland with my mom because my cousin was getting married. I was there almost two weeks and that was the longest I’ve gone without skating, as far I can remember. 12 Days, that’s pretty much the longest I’ve ever gone without skating. It’s just what I do.