In 2009, Pat Burke caught the attention of skateboarders across the world with his Radio Television part. With that one video, showing his ability to skate big shit with a Baker-esque mix of sketchy and perfect landings, he solidified more diehard fans than anyone reasonably should with an introductory part.
Which is why, in the years since, it was so frustrating to see his career keep getting sidelined instead of blowing up. He dealt with multiple injuries, and I’d heard rumors of him struggling with substance abuse, and over time it became less clear what was happening to him.
Then last month, he surprisingly dropped a new part with the Bust crew after not hearing from him for many years. So I hit him up to find out what his life has really been like since first breaking out, and he spoke candidly about his path to getting clean and finding positive motivation.
Skateboarding doesn’t always do a great job of talking about substance abuse, so hopefully Pat’s story can highlight some of the difficulties and stigmas that can hold others back. Seeing Pat skating at full force again is a great reminder that there’s always something brighter to strive for.
You just had a part come out, I’ve also heard a rumor you’re filming another part too?
Yeah, actually. I was filming for two things at one time over the past few years. $lave is making a video that will premiere in October of this year. It’s really close. Extra motivation to put a fire under my ass to make it good. Trying to come through with that one so I can make another good one. As good as I can at least.
The world last saw you in the Dekline video True Blue in 2014. Why did you only have a minute of footage?
Yeah, that was a fucking shitty year. It was a December, about a year before True Blue was supposed to come out. I was fucking around with my friends, we were skating this spot and it had started to rain. I had just set up new wheels and bearings and I did one of those slip outs where you go completely backward and I snapped my arm in four places and had to get surgery. That took a downtime of about six months and multiple physical therapy sessions and then as soon as I got better I started skating again.
Afterwards I was up in Long Beach, where I had just moved, and two weeks [after I was back] I got nailed by a car that was going 45 mph, but somehow didn’t break a single bone. I smashed their windshield and everything just skating across this intersection. Somehow the bumper hit my knee so I pulled a PCL muscle in my knee. That extended the downtime to about a year. You can’t do anything that you want to do other than just lay around. But I tried to muster together what I could.
That was a great lesson though. I remember going to that premiere and I brought some friends with me and it was like a minute little glimpse part that felt mediocre and I remember that feeling of being disappointed and being like, “I don’t want this feeling ever again.”
You’ve been kind of off the grid for most skaters since then. What happened after that part came out?
I left California in 2015 to go back home to Virginia. I got a one-way ticket around Christmas time. That one-way ticket ended up being no return. One week became a month, one month became two and so on.
I was living in a shitty place [in San Diego] and we didn’t have electricity or water. We were broke. I stopped using my cell phone too. I had some old flip phone. No numbers, no Instagram.
How did you live without electricity or water?
It was kind of a piece of shit. We had four roommates and at one point I think we had someone living in the garage. We always got rent paid, but somehow none of the utility bills were getting paid at some point. I don’t know how it happened. The power bill and the water bill got up to over $1,000 each and it got to the point where they shut off the power to get our attention, but we couldn’t pay it back. We had to pay the amount in full to get it back on. Same situation with the water. So we were like, okay we paid rent so we could stay in this dark unlit piece of shit [laughs].
How did you shower and take shits living in a place without water and electricity?
You just had to have candles or a flashlight at all times. Taking shits was a complicated process because you had to have a bucket and fill it with some type of water to put in the top of the toilet so you could flush it. It’s hilarious looking back on it and just seeing how fucking shitty we were living.
Not to mention, we accidentally had a fire there. A whole room caught on fire and the fire department got called and everything. The landlord still didn’t kick us out. We put the fire out right before the firefighters came. There was a fire up to the ceiling. I guess someone put a firework in a water bottle to mess with someone while they were sleeping. The landlord came the next day but he still didn’t evict us after we came close to burning his house down.
No wonder you wanted to get out of there…
California is great but after a while something about home feels right. For three to four years I was pretty off the grid. It wasn’t working for me. I had to change things drastically in order to get better. Get back to your roots, get back to your family and real friends. All the shit that matters to me.
Being back in Virginia now, meeting Will and the Bust Crew, and a great girl named Gloria, that really changed my shit around in a positive way. Having a constant in my life who cares about me completely and who I care about completely was the most crucial element to me getting better, honestly. The old shit that used to matter to me, the way I used to drink and shit, I don’t care about that anymore. The new shit matters to me at this point. I had to cut my losses and get the fuck out of California.
There was mention that you went into rehab for a bit. Is that true?
Yeah, I had some fucked up habits. The more my life was sucking, the more bad shit I would be doing, and the more bad shit I would be doing, the more my life would suck. It was this Catch-22 cycle that was hard to get out of. Getting away from old people and that old place and starting fresh was exactly what I needed to start a new chapter.
Did you suffer from alcohol dependency or was it mostly painkillers that were really a problem?
Definitely a combination. I still drink today in a whole different way and in small quantities. I’d say it wasn’t my biggest fish to fry but it was there. I could type my name in on YouTube and see the drunk, dumb shit I did, and obviously that’s fucking embarrassing. I think it was a personality trait at the time.
Do you mind sharing your story? Someone who might be in your past position could see that there’s a way out.
Absolutely. It’s hard to get out of that crap and end that cycle. I would get really huge unlimited refills of these painkillers prescribed to me after the car accident. I needed it for how much pain I was in at first, but that kind of just became a chemical dependency at one point. Eventually, they’re like, “Okay you’re better, that’s enough.” You’re fine at first, but there’s something in your brain that says you want more of this.
After that then you’re like, “How do I get this refilled?” and it’s just a chemical dependency. I don’t think doctors were as aware of this medication that they were giving to people and what the effects were. As skateboarders, we are prone to this addictive behavior. Maybe I’m speaking for myself, but if I find something, I do it completely or nothing at all. 200% or nothing. It just spiraled from there and that was just the beginning of it. It’s crazy how many people this type of stuff is affecting. I bet in every American family there’s someone that’s going through shit like this. It’s a common thing in our country, so I don’t need to shy away from it completely.
What was it about being in Long Beach that made the problem more serious?
Isolation from loved ones and real connections. I hate that place, I call it Wrong Beach. Sorry to anyone who lives there. Those weren’t the causes of it, I was the cause of it. My coping skill at the time was basically just self-medicating, so whenever things got harsh I would just get whatever I could get. But when I moved back here there was this connection back to my roots kind of thing.
What do you think was the catalyst for you to go to rehab and changing your life around?
Oof. All of the signs were pointing towards it. If you’re in it long enough you either die, or go to jail, or rehab. The hardest thing is you think you’re seeing clearly but then you realize you were living at a percentage of what you could’ve been. You get your feeling back because you basically numbed all your feelings.
At the worst point, I couldn’t even travel. I tried to go on this skate trip and it was a disaster. I didn’t want to go anywhere without mother’s little helper. It was controlling me instead of the other way around. I’m one of the lucky ones. I had the chance to stop. You do a lot of damage during those times and then you get better and you have to deal with all the damage in a raw way, clean.
Did you come out feeling like rehab was valuable and something you absolutely needed?
I needed it. I needed to be locked in a fucking room. You lose your ability to help yourself at a certain point. In fact, your mind is trying to make you do the opposite of what you need to do to help yourself. You basically need to be restrained. Then once the physical stuff wears off in like a week, you just have to worry about the mental stuff, the harder part.
But that physical part, I do believe it’s crucial. It’s hard to kick it. It never hurts — it’s like when you move out of an old apartment and you realize you didn’t need half of the crap you had anyways. It never hurts to change your location and realize what matters to you the most. I realized that a lot of the crap in my life I didn’t need. You just got to want to get rid of all that shit you’re causing yourself.
I really appreciate you being open about this stuff.
I think what’s so weird is that it’s not really talked about. There’s a stigma about getting mental health help. It’s like a taboo subject. I know people who had good jobs and then they’ve gone to get some help and they get fired. They get fired because they’re like, “You have a problem?” That’s why people don’t get help because they’re ashamed.
Someone mentioned that the first thing you filmed out of rehab was that switch hardflip down the City Hall 10-stair. Is that right?
That was the first trick I filmed with Will [for Nightmare Van]. That switch hardflip did set off a lot of good things. It was one of those things where there was like 40 people there and with cell phones now, I bet there are like 20 different cell phone angles. If you need one, someone can get you an angle, or it’s on Instagram [laughs].
Going back a bit, tell me about moving to California in the first place and skating for $lave.
I was on flow for Zero, I would just keep updating them with footage until they started getting more professional. Then they took me on a tour and started sending me out to California whenever I could. I was still in school at the time and when I finished high school, I remember I was working at some grocery store just debating what the fuck to do. There was a place I could stay in Vista [California] over at the Zero house, so I drove across the country by myself there.
A lot of the stuff from the $lave video in my part was filmed before $lave even started. Jamie woke me up one morning, I think this was like 2007, and he broke down that they were starting a new brand. I think they were unsure of where to place me on Zero anyways because I wasn’t a typical Zero guy. The fact that they were going to put me on the team from the get-go, I was stoked.
You were working and living at Black Box then, right?
Yeah, we were working in the warehouse on the weekdays. You’re skating as you’re working and it was the best job ever. Then we would live on the other side of the building in the skatepark, there’s like two rooms with multiple bunk beds. It was basically a hotel for the riders who would come in and out.
What were your primary duties at the warehouse?
You’re mainly just packing orders, but the best part is, you’re riding around on your board when you’re going to each thing. I remember my flip tricks were on point when I was working there because I was just always on my board and skating as I’m working. If you’re out in California for too long you don’t have any perspective about how cool that is. You get to ride around and do 360 flips while you get paid.
Wasn’t there one night where you were partying there and Jamie came in and got pissed at your guys for fucking up?
Oh yeah. We had a random metal 8-foot doorframe up and one of the fucking dumb kids there knocks the whole thing over. It fell into a glass window that cost over $2,000 and shattered it. I remember being like, “Oh man, this looks bad.” The alarms went off and everything. I think it was more of a “This is the last straw” situation. I could see how frustrating that must have been. Like, you guys are fucking up my property and I’m giving you a free place to stay, and us coming off as some drunken frat boys just breaking shit. Lesson learned.
Do you still want to go pro and keep climbing the ranks of skating?
I do have a goal to eventually get a board. It’s always something that I’ve had some debate in my mind. When I was out in California that wasn’t my concern. When I was skating with my favorite skaters and they’re my friends, that was good enough for me. I remember some kids would come out and be overly ambitious, and it would rub me the wrong way. I felt like they wanted to win the contest and get a board and I didn’t want to be that guy.
For now, if it happens, that’s rad, and if it doesn’t, I’m okay. It doesn’t define me as a person if I have my name on a board or not. I don’t even know what that shit means anymore. Sure it’s fucking validating, I’ll give you that, but I know who I am and I’m fine with myself whether I get my name on a board or not.
I can’t stop skating if I tried, because getting a good clip is my favorite thing in the world. I just want to keep on putting out footage. I want to be 50 years old and see some kids skating at 7-Eleven and grab their board and do a switch tre flip. I hate those people that get older and they’re like, “Oh I used to skate,” and they say some bullshit. I stop listening after that.
What’s your day job currently?
I’m going back to school right now for architecture classes. Hopefully one day I’ll be building skate spots [laughs]. I’ll be requiring that my buildings have lots of chrome handrails and marble ledges. I never thought I’d do something like this. I figured out at some point that if you get a Pell Grant from the government and fill out the financial aid shit, that covers the whole fucking dime.
I do some landscaping work on the side right now too. I’ve done everything from landscaping to HVAC with my friends and they’re all pretty gnarly blue-collar jobs. They kick your ass. You earn your money and when you’re free you’re so stoked to go skate and it reminds you to not take it for granted.
Being back in school, I feel like a little nerd. I finished high school but it’s cool years later to go back. I got accepted to NC State when I was 18. I looked up to Dan Murphy, he was one of the skateboarders that did the college thing. But I’m glad I didn’t go. I would’ve been in the wrong mindset.
When you don’t have a college degree and you’re starting your late 20s working your ass off and making shit money and have no future jobs, it feels like a dead cycle unless you find some lucky way out. This seemed like the best way to stop that cycle and actually get a job that I’m actually proud of and can pay you enough to actually thrive off.
Does anyone in school ever recognize you?
No, it’s funny because I’m in my 30s now, so most of the kids that are in my classes are these little 18-year-old kids. They have no fucking clue about a lot of things [laughs]. It made me grateful about deciding to go back when I did because I take it seriously. I see some of these kids who don’t care or try. They’ve probably just been in school for too long and are sick of it.
I actually enjoy some aspects of it. I love math class. I was always good at it. I hate English and writing, but it took being away from it for this many years to appreciate it.
How is it being in classes with younger kids?
I told someone how old I was and they thought I was 25. Maybe they think I’m older, but not by that much. I see some of the younger bucks and they don’t ask questions or attempt to try. I feel like I’m so past all that shit and I’m doing this for myself so I don’t care what these people think about me.
I like the nerdy kids who are younger. The ones who are trying, I like them way more. I always appreciate that when I do group work. I’ve gotten all A’s so far. Little nerdy boy.
Last thing, kind of random, but I heard you got thrown off a 50-foot cliff once. Did that actually happen?
[Laughs] Yes and no. We were camping and my friend J-Hon pushed me down. It wasn’t a cliff but it was the steepest hill that had an edge. He knocked me off the edge and I somehow lucked out. There are trees and rocks everywhere but I rolled down the entire thing doing flips until the bottom and I avoided all of those things. I was just a perfect ball at the bottom, unharmed. It was at Big Sur, I think.
Was this just roughhousing gone wrong or was he trying to fuck you up?
It was just us screwing with each other. But it was also dark, so I don’t think we could see anything. But it was just another situation where I got way lucky [laughs]. 50-foot hill and nothing bad happened.
It wasn’t your time yet, I guess.
One of these days it will be [laughs].