I have a newfound respect for Anthony Shetler after doing this interview and hopefully after reading it, you will too. Growing up between projects and shelters, Anthony was raised in constant turmoil between his father and his drug addicted mother. Around rampant drug usage, violence and physical abuse, his situation was never easy, until he found an escape: skateboarding. He eventually was taken in by a blue collar family he met through skating, and with their support, he was able to finish off high school and pursue skateboarding as a way out of the hell he was born in. There are a lot of people that like to claim “skateboarding saved my life” but in Anthony’s case, it couldn’t be more accurate.
You’ve said before, “I wasn’t sure if my dream of becoming a pro skater would ever happen so I made the decision to simplify my life.” What did you change exactly?
I changed the way I looked at things. I was riding for Zoo York at the time and I wanted to go pro and for all these things to happen. Zoo York told me I would go pro and it actually was printed in a mag too. I kind of had high hopes, but then it just fell apart for whatever reason. I never really got an answer… So when that happened I kind of was disappointed, you know? I had been working for so long, skating and traveling and meeting people and trying to get interviews in every magazine but then the bottom fell out.
So from there I was like, fuck it. That doesn’t validate me. I just need to focus on what I need to be happy. I took a step back and thought, I need my family, my friends and if I can skateboard, I’ll be happy. Just focus on what you need to be happy and every inch will add up tomorrow, and that’s been my approach since. That’s how my brand All I Need came to be – I can build a foundation and work up from that instead of trying to chase after something and get upset. I named it All I Need as a way to always remind myself, you need skateboarding, it saved your life, don’t ever give up on it. Always try to do something within it and always have it in your life. Like for many other people, It’s like therapy. It just makes me happy.
”I grew up basically in a war. My mom was on drugs. I’ve been around violence. I’ve been homeless.”
Yeah there’s definitely a lot of things that society likes make us think we need to be happy.
Yeah, they sell us these false dreams and tell us we are all gonna be millionaires. They give us these high hopes and set us up for failure. Meanwhile they don’t really give a shit about our well being: our hearts, our thoughts – they make it so hard for us just to provide to live. My brand, All I Need is for people that realize they have things that are worth more than money. It’s kind of a way of thinking.
The way I grew up, I grew up basically in a war. My mom was on drugs. I’ve been around violence. I’ve been homeless. My father was shot and killed. Some of my family is still in the projects right now, I worry about them a lot. The whole time I was growing up, trying to chase my dreams, I was stressing. I had my mom and sister calling me, telling me everything was falling apart, they didn’t know where they’re going to live. I was born into a situation that I had no control over. I just wanted peace and happiness and for the people around me to be happy and peaceful. I know that sounds hippy and I’m sorry [laughs].
Tell me about your situation growing up.
I always went back and forth between my mom and my dad because they were always battling it out. I don’t ever remember them getting along or being happy together. The only times I do remember them living together, there was physical abuse, drugs and violence.. all that stuff. My father kidnapped my sister, brother and I two different times because my mom struggled with drugs and he understood that we weren’t living in the best situation with her. He just took us away. But the court always gave us back to my mom for whatever reason.
My mom had us living in the projects, in shelters, and when we lived with my father we were living out of his car in Arizona. My dad kept us in a peaceful environment but he didn’t have any money. He was in a motorcycle gang and did landscaping at a motel – that’s also where we stayed for a long time. I don’t think he could’ve gotten a regular job because of his past.
Before we go any further, I just want to say that my mom, I love her to death and my father as well. He was a good father and he really tried to provide for us. My mom, she has been through a hell that I can’t relate to. She’s been through shit as a child that I’ll never have to deal with, so I can’t fault her for dealing with it through drugs and trying to self medicate all the poisons and traps that she was set up with. From her plight I learned so much, because if she didn’t go through it, I might have had to go through it. Crack, alcohol and prescription pills were huge in the areas I grew up in. That’s why it’s a vicious cycle cause this is generation after generation and for me, I just wanted to break that. That’s why I fell in love with skateboarding.
You have any siblings?
My mom has had 5 kids with 3 different men. My father had 4 kids with 2 different ladies.
Your dad was in a motorcycle gang and shot when you were 12. Where did you live after that?
Once he was shot, we had to go back and live with my mom because we didn’t have anywhere else to go. My mom was in New Hampshire at the time so we moved into a trailer park there, Garden Homes North, where we lived under government assistance. We were alright then because we had money coming in.
Was there ever a point when you were fully homeless?
The bottom fell out on my mom a bunch a times and we lived in shelters. After the trailer park in New Hampshire we moved to New Bedford, and I lived in the projects. That’s one of the worst times in my life. We never had food, my mom had drug dealers down in the basement with her. My sister was kind of lost and doing crazy shit. Thankfully my friends Jeff and Ted would always feed me. I met them through skating and they knew my issues and what was going on. They would let me come over for dinner and any time I needed something they would help me out.
With such a tough home life, did you finish high school?
I finished high school… I almost didn’t finish 8th grade, I had straight F’s for most of that year. But they knew it wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work, it’s just that I had so much on me that I’d go to school almost in tears and I couldn’t really focus. So they just passed me through and I went to New Bedford High School. There it was a whole different world for me. It was big, like 4000 kids and I was like fuck it, I’m just gonna go to school and focus and get a diploma.
I was living with my friend’s family at the time cause I had nowhere to live at that point. They took me in and my friend’s mom was washing my clothes, feeding me, taking care of me all through high school and allowed me to have a peaceful place to live.
Wow, so you lived with another family for high school. How did you meet them?
Yeah, all four years of high school. I met them because of skateboarding! I met these two kids, Eric and Ryan who skated and I was just a dirty kid and I had shitty clothes and a shitty board and all I knew was skateboarding. They kinda knew my story and they just asked their mom and dad and they let me live with them. They were just like a blue collar family. Their mom would drive us around in her mini van and bring us to skate parks and it was fucking awesome. Their mom, Joanne, she was such a sweet lady, she really loved her kids. She worked at the post office. She just recently passed about a year ago. Because of her and her empathy, she helped me get to where I could travel the world with skateboarding.
”The good thing about skateboarding is that it’s for everybody”
How are you still sane?
That comes from survival mode man. Just from never knowing where food or shelter is going to come from. I just always had to stay optimistic and the people I’ve met have been so amazing and beautiful that everything feels like a blessing to me. Yeah man, I get it, it’s crazy as fuck. I’ve been on my own and trying to hang on to skateboarding. I shouldn’t be sane to be honest… half my family is not sane. They’re all drug dealers and shit.
The good thing about skateboarding is that it’s for everybody. It’s for the jocks, the nerds, the disgruntled little ghetto kid, the cool kid with the Nikes. But it was a bit difficult for me because growing up and trying to come up in skateboarding, I came off as thirsty. I wanted it so bad and I was “trying too hard.” But other dudes came from good means and it was easier for them – they fit in, they’re already popular, cool and they grew up in a safe environment. I didn’t have that. I always had that mentality like, I’d better try and better take advantage of what I had if I wanted stuff to happen, so I never really fit in. Even in school, kids were talking about video games and day trips and shit it would think, after school I’m going home to the fucking shittiest situation…
You’ve skated for big brands such as Zoo York, World Industries & Birdhouse. What are some things you thought they did wrong & how will you try and fix them with your own brand?
Big brands kinda get too far away from their original mission statement in the pursuit of profit. If success and money comes in, they start to take that money and think about what they can do to maximize the profit. But with a small brand like mine, I need to take care of those helping build my brand. Shops that help me out and the riders that ride for me. I gotta go to war for them.
I feel like money is very important, but there has to be a balance. Because I’m in it for the long term. I don’t want to sacrifice certain ideas I stand for just for money. I don’t want to chase money, I want the money to chase me. I’m not above hard work either, I’ll work jobs and find time to fit it all in if I have to. I only have one life, I’m gonna make the most out of every second. I’d rather be tired and sore everyday than just fucking sitting back.
”Big brands get too far away from their original mission statement in the pursuit of profit”
There’s also life cycles to brands and only a few brands make it through that life cycle more than once. You’re on top, you’re down, then you try to get on top again. It takes a lot to maneuver and you have to have your heart in it. That’s why I appreciate all the shops and the people supporting All I Need right now, because we’re building skateboarding together. That’s what I look at my job as. We need to talk to kids, I need to do demos, I need to reach out to people and talk about the beauty and passion of skateboarding, and get them inspired.
I feel like that’s my job because skateboarding is being taken over by people that lust and just want to make money. When skateboarding gets so big all the vultures come out and start taking it apart. The people who are gonna survive and stick around are gonna be the ones who are building the community and actually care about it. We all want make a profit, don’t get me wrong, and I do too, but more so, I want skateboarding to thrive. To prosper. It brought so much joy into my life and the people around me, it has been endless. We owe skateboarding so much.
Do you think there are any brands that have kept consistent to their original mission statement?
5Boro. Steve Rodriguez man. I just saw how he did it, slow and steady and don’t neglect people. Take care of the people that work for you that see your vision and have invested in it. I think that’s a good approach on how I wanna do it. My first sponsor was 5Boro, and I have been skating for 17 years. Steve is a bit of a mentor to me. I really respect him a lot.
Do you smoke or drink?
I’ll have a beer here and there but I’m not a big drinker. I smoke weed, usually only when I skate. If I smoke weed and go skate it helps me feel. Skateboardings all about feeling, if you overthink shit, it doesn’t feel right.
I had vertigo for 6 months when I rode for World Industries. I went to San Francisco and when I came back, I had vertigo. I think it was a viral infection or something, like I touched a doorknob and scratched my ear. I was supposed to go to South America the next day but I woke up I couldn’t even stand up. It was fucking scary, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t do anything. If I sat up, I threw up. It lingered for months. It got less severe as time went on but I’d still get headaches and my eyes would hurt all day long. I went to the doctors and they gave me steroids and medicine but it wasn’t doing anything. Even after 4 months it was still there and the doctors just said they didn’t know. Finally my friend Mike Franklin was just like, “smoke some fucking weed!” so I smoked and it literally went away. Once I realized that helped, I got my medical license. But I still smoke very little weed.
Besides running your brand All I Need, what are you doing on the side now for cash?
I work at an indoor skatepark called Skaters Edge once in a while and do private skate lessons with kids, which is cool. I also am doing some work at this tire place, just like unloading tires off of trucks basically. It’s labor, but it pays..It’s all working towards my goal. Right now, I’ll do whatever it takes to keep it going and maybe there will be a tipping point where All I need will become so busy and I can fully do that. I was built for this, that’s how I look at it. My life has been about hustling and doing stuff on very little money. That’s why I have faith in it, I feel like I am supposed to do what I am doing. Which helps, because when you have a brand, man, you just don’t know. I talked to Steve Rodriguez and he was like, “there were so many times when I didn’t know if 5Boro was gonna keep going, but you just find ways to make it happen.”
Do you feel like you still have a lot of demons from your childhood that will haunt you later?
No, I worked it all out. I believe that confrontation breeds resolution so I try to work it all out man. I love my woman because she deals with my shit. I did have a lot of issues from growing up, just like everybody else, but I’m not afraid of the mirror. I look at myself and analyze myself everyday and see how I can improve and make sure I’m not full of bullshit.
What’s a good way to make positive changes in your life or confront something you are having trouble with?
The first step is to talk to somebody. Anybody. Get out of your comfort zone. When you have issues, you feel isolated. You feel alone. You don’t feel like you can talk to people. But there’s tons of people out there for you. Talk to your friends, don’t be afraid to express yourself. Let it out, it’s not good to hold it in.
Also I think through being active – sweating and feeling your heart beat almost every day – that right there, that’s why I love skateboarding and skateboarders. The average person just works a job they hate and they don’t do anything active or have something that is their own. I think what people need to do, including myself, is to do something active. If your heart is beating, you are sweating, you are using your body, and you feel alive. And feeling alive makes you feel good. Skateboarding, being scared, having your adrenaline going, testing your abilities, you feel fucking alive.
On top of that, just try to build a good supporting cast of people that are passionate and creative – that have things going on. People that try. I fucking love people that try. Where I grew up, no one tried, everyone was defeated and pessimistic, and I felt very alone. All I wanted was to be happy and I knew I had to work and just try to be happy to make things get better. I didn’t wanna live in shit. We gotta build the world up, and it takes a fight. We all gotta change our beliefs and change our ways if we want to do it.
December 30, 2014 2:30 pm
God damn this piece is amazing. Huge thanks to Jenkem for constantly delivering the goods in a solid way.
Keep on, Anthony. Favorite quote: “I fucking love people that try.” TELL ME YOU CAN’T FEEL THE EMOTION AND DRIVE IN THIS SENTENCE.
December 30, 2014 4:38 pm
December 30, 2014 5:56 pm
Now here’s a guy you can look up to. Solid advice all around.
December 30, 2014 7:36 pm
The rapture of being alive.