Steve Berra is one of the easiest people to hate in skateboarding, and he knows it. The target on his back is big and bright, and he sometimes seems to relish in wearing it. In just the last couple of months we’ve seen him unleash an epic WWF style monologue on Instagram live, heard rumors about the Berrics-owned shuttering of The Skateboard Mag, and watched the Dime contest lob some low-key jabs at his beliefs and spot choices.
As much as he gets goofed on, there’s no downplaying the imprint he’s left on the skate world. For better or worse, Berra and the Berrics pioneered the modern day skateboard media landscape. But now, as money in skateboarding is being rerouted through numerous non-skate-centric platforms, and as some of skateboarding’s major magazines struggle under heavy financial strain, the future of the skate world Berra helped create has never been more uncertain.
Because we’re no strangers to courting controversial figures, I’ve been asking Steve for an interview for years, wanting to talk to him about everything from Scientology to switch flips. Surprisingly, amidst the fervor of the last few weeks, he finally accepted, and after a few dozen emails and a few hours of late night phone calls and early morning revisionist texts, we can finally share with you our conversation with the most polarizing man in skating.
We wrapped this interview up about a week ago – before the Dime Glory Challenge – so there are no thoughts on that here. But you do get an extensive tour into Berra’s mind, with all of its thoughtful and contentious logic on full display.
What’s going on with The Skateboard Mag? I saw it get renamed to Berrics on Facebook and there were rumors that it was going to get shut down. Is it still going to continue?
I still very much believe in print and so do a lot of people. The thing with the Facebook page was actually a mistake on Facebook’s part. That was not supposed to happen.
So is The Skateboard Mag going to remain in print? Or are you changing it? Do you think print in skateboarding is dead?
I don’t think print is dead, no. It’s different and it serves different purposes than it once did, but, it’s definitely not dead.
When we bought TSM it was at 82 pages, it was having a really really tough time, so Eric [Koston] and I dug in and we acquired it because everyone at the mag were our friends. We did everything we could to make the mag better. Better paper, great photography, bigger size etc. etc. And we learned a lot of great things. One of them was that a lot of people outside of the industry didn’t know we [The Berrics] actually owned it, and a lot of young skaters out there would be very confused and it made it a harder sell for the guys than it would be if it just said The Berrics on it.
Therefore, after a lot of thought and a very expensive lesson, we decided that it was better, for the future, for the print portion of our business to actually fall under The Berrics name instead of The Skateboard Mag. There’s a lot more to it, but it’s more personal than anything else. There is still a good business with print.
There are a lot of people that find it valuable. I know I do, and I know a lot of skaters do. It’s cool to be in a magazine. Much cooler than being a post on someone’s Instagram page. I think if you asked 100 skaters if they would rather have the cover of the magazine or an Instagram post on an account with millions of followers, my guess would be the majority would take the cover. The cover positions you as someone important and not everyone can do it. There aren’t an infinite amount of covers. They can hang that on their wall, show their parents, show themselves in some distant future where they’re old and don’t skate anymore, and it serves as proof that they accomplished something.
Followers on an account you don’t know is going to be there forever—an account that is owned by Google or Facebook, who control how many people you can reach with that account—may not mean anything in the future. Remember, at one point in time Tila Tequila was the most followed person on social media. Where did that get her? Where is she now? My point is, end of the day unless it was an absolute necessity, we would not step out of print.
You just came back from a big media conference and met lots of leaders across different fields. What did they think of skating and our world? Is there anything skaters can learn from them?
I think the biggest takeaway is that, ya know, we’re in this on our own and that a lot of people outside of our culture don’t necessarily care about skateboarding the way we do because it’s just too difficult to navigate through and too hard to understand. It takes years to know what we know and there are a lot of land mines our industry puts out in the field that those kind of people don’t want to deal with. They might get that skateboarding is cool to people, and may even think it’s cool themselves, and they might understand things like the X-games but when it comes to actually knowing about skateboarding, the history of it, why someone like Matt Hensley is important in the same way that Tony Hawk is important, I think they just don’t have the patience to care.
So, when people from other fields or from the advertising world want or have to make decisions about skateboarding, they’re just going to want to say, “oh, the guy who won the thing, we want him.” Because it’s easy. You can attach a number to it and that they can understand. But we know, as skateboarders, that the number doesn’t always mean the most important thing. So, it’s up to us, the skateboarding industry, to take responsibility not only for our present and future but also for the past and make sure it’s preserved and not forgotten about. And that’s not always based on numbers or a high-rate of return on our investment, if any at all.
As far as learning anything from them… well, it seemed like all of them really wanted to live and grow and do positive things that created positive effects on the world and I like that. I respect that, even if that core skater in me thinks it’s all a bit lame, because it can be, but I think some people in the skateboarding industry have this real desire to remain ignorant intentionally and promote and indulge in negativity because it makes them money in the short-term but in the long-term its product is that it sets up a whole generation of young people to have a hard time as adults because of very bad habits they were encouraged to adopt when they were the most impressionable.
Maybe I sound lame to some people, but, ya know, I’m old enough now to where I’ve seen it. If we make drugs and partying so symbiotic with skate culture eventually that kid is going to get older and skating is going to become less important to him and when he has his next $50 to spare the question is, does he spend it on a skateboard or does he spend it partying? If he buys drugs and alcohol, which I’ve seen many, many times, then we’ve lost a customer. I’d much rather be taking customers from the dope man than the dope man taking customers from us.
You’ve mentioned recently that Facebook and Instagram are ruining skating because everyone’s putting their dollars into marketing on those platforms instead of The Berrics or Transworld..etc. Is that right?
Let me clarify that a little. I don’t think “everyone” is putting their marketing dollars into those platforms. Some people are putting some dollars into it. And I wouldn’t say that Instagram and Facebook are “ruining” skating, but on the off chance that I did say that, I apologize. It’s not what I totally meant on either of those subjects. Let me also say that I don’t think anything can “ruin” skateboarding because it’s an ever-changing thing.
What I mean is this, and I’ll give you an example: these two kids came up to me several years ago—they had very famous parents—and said, “We wanna start a skateboard brand.” I told them, “Look, it’s never gonna happen.” They were somewhat offended and asked, “What do you mean it’s never gonna happen?” And I asked them, “First off, you guys don’t even really skate. Who do you guys know? Who is going to ride for you? Who cares what you have to say? Skateboarding is not like opening a coffee shop.” Anyone can open a coffee shop because no one’s gonna walk in and say, “Hey man, you didn’t grow up picking beans in Guatemala. I’m not buying fucking coffee from you.” That doesn’t happen in coffee shops, but in skateboarding, it does.
If you wanna own a skateboard company or skate shop, you kinda have to be that guy growing up in the trenches skating, filming, being part of the skateboard community, building it. Traditionally, you have to earn your way into it and once you’re in it, there are a whole other set of politics you have to deal with, but you’ve at least earned your way into participating in. I’m not telling you it’s right or wrong or that I invented them, I’m just telling you that’s kind of how it is or at least has been, traditionally. And that’s why those kids would not have been successful, in my opinion. Not then anyway. This was 10 years ago. Nowadays, they might have a chance despite the fact that they don’t even skate because of social media. That’s where social media comes in.
With the advent of social media, you’re seeing people who’ve hardly done anything in skateboarding, or nothing at all, create an Instagram page, get together a few thousand bucks, order some boards from China, post on Instagram or pay for posts on Instagram saying they’re going to “sponsor” people if they buy x amount of boards first or go to the skatepark with a trunkful of stuff and undercut brands by selling $35 decks to kids. Brands who’ve spent a lot of energy, time, money, and their entire lives into building skateboarding as we know it. And if they didn’t exist, there wouldn’t even be skaters at the skate park to sell those $35 decks to or even skate parks for that matter. In my opinion, that’s unfortunate it’s happening like that.
The market is so oversaturated, but listen, I believe in a free market and competition. It’s their right to do that, I just see that it’s a problem that’s formed and social media definitely exacerbates that problem because you used to have to earn your way into the game. This is why I think industry media platforms are important. They remain the lighthouses for the industry, curating skaters, brands, etc. and no matter how rough the waves get out there, or how much the algorithms change, the media platforms remain and you have generally had to prove yourself to make it in them.
I mean, I see people on their phones everywhere and all they’re doing is sliding their thumb up their screen as fast as they can while the pictures on instagram fly by them. I don’t even know how they’re absorbing anything or if they’re effected by anything they see besides a viral clip. It’s just too much and they follow too many people. The skate industry cannot just be instagram viral clip posts and instagram advertising. It can be part of it, but there is certainly more to skateboarding than just that.
Why do you think “proving yourself” in skating is so important? Do you think it will always be like that?
I think because you can’t fake it in skateboarding. You had to know how to skate if you were going to get somewhere. Some people disagree with me on this. I’ve literally heard some say, during Muska’s first reign over skateboarding in the late 90s, early 2000s, that Chad was nothing more than just a marketing machine. Well, that marketing machine part may have been true, but he wasn’t just a marketing machine. Chad Muska could fuckin’ skate AND he was Chad Muska. Those two things combined were magical. There was no faking it. He did not give a fuck and he earned his place at the table not because he was a “marketing machine” but because he was a fearless skater doing shit no one else was doing. He was and is who he is and it’s also why he still has a very influential voice to this day.
There’s no doubt that social media has disrupted stuff and banner ads / display advertising has been declining. Is that something that worries you?
Everything is worrisome about business when you have employees you need to take care of and they have families they need to take care of. Owning a business isn’t as fun as people on Instagram make it out to be. Putting CEO in your profile description is nice if you want to get a girl’s number, I suppose, but owning a business is hard work and when something goes wrong you are the one who eats the most shit for it. You are the one who suffers the most consequences even if you didn’t make the decisions that led you to those consequences.
A brand expanding into a pretty decadent culture, like skateboarding right now, is going to be subjected to the uptrend-downtrend cycles that the culture goes through. If that downtrend is owned and propagated and ran by insane people, then you really do have to worry because the downtrend becomes permanent and the total decay of the culture starts to set in and nothing you do is going to work. You just have to have a plan and you have to have good people who are operating on the same plan. That plan in my opinion, has to have as a goal the idea that everyone wins, not just you, because there is definitely one guarantee in business and that is nothing ever stays the same. If you serve people well, you’re gonna survive. And back to social media, you know, we don’t even know if all of those likes and followers and reach and views are even real.
You mean like on Instagram?
Sure. Look at the Instagram algorithm changes. According to their own numbers, users miss on average 70% of the content in their feeds. How do we know all of it is real when the percentage of reach on those accounts are relatively the same whether you have 102 million followers like Taylor Swift or 100k. As a society, we’re really putting a lot of faith into a couple entities who sort of have a monopoly on communications across the world, which I think is kind of scary. That’s why it’s important for the skateboard industry to have their lighthouses, and for the skateboarding industry to work together to preserve and put a culture there, and that they work with people who want to see skateboarding succeed.
I think it’s the mark of a pretty unintelligent person when I hear people say, “Fuck Nike, or Adidas or Converse etc…” At least those brands are doing something for and with the industry. And they’re doing a lot of somethings. More than someone like Stance is. I don’t dislike Stance or even mean to pick on Stance, but let’s take them as an example:
I see Stance socks advertisements on Google Adsense for movie websites or political websites I go on. They’re okay with targeting skate consumers through Google, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, but not through the media sites that actually helped put them and the skaters they enlist to build their brand there in the first place? It’s disappointing, particularly because when they first started we did a beautiful 3-part “Trajectory” on their company for nothing, just because we wanted to see them succeed. Then, now that they did succeed, closing last year at $180 million in sales, they do very little for the culture, yet you have small board brands who are killing themselves and making a fraction of a percent of what Stance does all to make sure the culture continues. It’s odd why Stance and some more companies like them don’t do more, yet want that halo effect of skate culture.
Maybe the advertisers are not interested in my culture or your culture and they want to own their own version of it, and they can only do that through one of these communication companies?
You know, maybe you’re right. And Stance is certainly doing that. Maybe it will become like the coffee shop scenario I gave you earlier.
What can the industry do as a whole to work together so everyone is able to flourish?
Do you have any ideas?
I think a lot of people just have to understand that most of us all have the same special interest… skateboarding surviving. Once we all understand that it is a very common goal most of us have, then solutions can be gotten to.
If you think with that, you will start to make the right decisions a lot easier, and things can become more clear. It can’t just be me staying alive or you staying alive. It has to be us and them and those and these guys. That’s how an industry is created. And listen, I don’t want to paint a picture that everyone is negative in the skate industry because that’s not true at all. There are a lot of really extraordinary people and companies in skateboarding that are doing just that, but the skate industry is unlike any other “sport” or culture because our tickets are boards, wheels, tee shirts, stickers, hats etc. There is no off-season or even on-season. Basketball, football, baseball etc. all have organizations to make sure their culture sticks in the same place and that they have control over it.
Skateboarding is so affected by trends because the only thing we are doing is selling product and by doing that we are at the mercy of fashion a lot of the times, and the consumer. That’s how you have brands like Rip N Dip—which is not really a hardgoods brand—probably selling more boards than most skate companies. Most brands aren’t rushing to get in a room together to work with one another because they see each other as competitors more than they see each other as allies. The people who run skateboard brands are saints as far as I’m concerned. These are just thing I’ve observed over the last 26 years.
You went on an Instagram Live rant earlier this month about the state of skate and someone recorded it and put it on YouTube. Does that bother you?
I don’t know if it was meant to be a big big statement about the state of skate more than I was just trying to be entertaining, really. I mean, that’s not really how I talk in real life. I do think it’s funny someone went out of their way to record it and put it on YouTube with the sole intention of trying to “bring me down”, but it took something that was only viewed by a few thousand people and turned it into something much bigger.
It doesn’t bother me. I don’t care, and I think it’s clear by my tone in the video, however silly it was, that I don’t. If I cared what anyone thought about me, I would still be living in Nebraska or Missouri. The Berrics would never have happened. Half the stuff I’ve done never would have happened. I would never have built a facility. I would never have decided to create a media company.
I’m not anti-skater. I’d never go on some page and write some diatribe about what a kook someone is while out the other side of my mouth talk about how skateboarding is freedom and there are no rules to it and how skateboarding accepts everyone, rich, poor, short, tall, fat, skinny, black, white, brown, Asian, Christian, Muslim, Catholic, etc. etc. Yet I see it all the time, and not just people attacking me, but there is some hateful shit out there. And sometimes I talk shit back because I think I have the right to do that. Do you realize that there have been people that have gone on message boards and Instagram who have threatened to rape my daughter, do all kinds of lewd and lascivious shit to her because I built yellow flat bars to skate in my Workshop part, or because of something we did on the Berrics, or because someone doesn’t like me? Yet, they talk about how to keep skateboarding in the hands of skateboarders. Every once in awhile, like with the DC thing, I talk back because I’m not going to just go sit in a corner and die nor am I necessarily going to just take it.
“It’s funny, because people build spots all the time now and no one seems to care, but at the time, it was a hot topic.”
Since you mentioned it, why did you build yellow flat bars in your Workshop part?
Honestly, because at the time, my daughter was in school and I’m a single parent and I had to pick her up and take her home and take care of her while I ran the Berrics and I didn’t have time to drive in LA traffic 3 hours a day to go to spots to get kicked out of as a grown man and I only had 6 months to film. They were still a pain in the ass. I still had to do tricks on them. It’s funny, because people build spots all the time now and no one seems to care, but at the time, it was a hot topic.
I think, as a skater, building spots is part of just going out there and having fun skating and as a professional, going out there and getting your shit done. Traffic and security guards and getting kicked out of spots, it’s not fun, at all. It’s demoralizing in my opinion. So, I wanted to make my life easier and I also grew up in a time when skateboarding was really small and the pros and the companies and even the kids all really were supportive and just wanted to see you skate.
I just had no idea that by doing that it would make a certain group of people so fuckin’ mad. It is dark the things these guys say and are bothered by and are still talking about it over a decade later. I mean… come on… they were flatbars and some ledges. Calm down.
In the Instagram video, why did you feel compelled to stand up for these dudes [Mikey Taylor, Chris Cole, Felipe Gustavo] who got let go from DC? Why wouldn’t they just stand up for themselves?
I was just going to give away eight pairs of Chris Cole shoes, then it turned into explaining why I was giving them away. DC is a huge company with respect to the size of the Berrics, and how many times does this sort of thing happen? The big company gets rid of skater A, skater A never says anything because they’re demoralized over the fact that it’s happened, then big company seemingly suffers no consequences and goes about their business and all is forgotten. People never hear about it because most times, it ends their careers, and the company keeps going. In the past, people saw the skaters as damaged goods and media companies didn’t want to lose the advertising money from the company, which is what the company banks on, so Skater A has no platform and is ostensibly silenced and forgotten about. Then, years down the line, when they do get the chance to say something, the same assholes who are saying “Keep skating in the hands of skaters” are the ones calling them bitter and not even remotely backing them up. I’ve seen it time and time again.
In the case of Mikey and Chris and the others, well, I signed them to DC and I gave them my word they would be fine and that was in the form of having them sign long-term contracts. I put my word, my friendships and my reputation with them on the line assuring that it was going to be good for them to ride for DC. I was very sensitive to that fact that they have families and I take that very seriously. I signed them when they had doubts about the company, when they could have gone to other brands that never would have done what DC did.
I said what I said because I wanted people to know that they didn’t do anything wrong. It had nothing to do with whether or not they were good skateboarders doing their job. They did their job. They did a lot of good for DC. The truth is that it was personal. It had nothing to do with their performance. If it wasn’t a personal thing, when Quik [the company that owns DC] filed for bankruptcy they would’ve ended the contracts because it would have been the easiest time to do so. You see, when a company files for bankruptcy all the existing contracts can be assumed or rejected by the filing of Chapter 11. If the new owners of DC wanted to get rid of everyone, that would have been the opportune time, but they didn’t. They assumed everyone in question’s contract under the new ownership, besides Rob. They even signed new contracts, which DC then broke down the line, some of them years before they were supposed to end. So, by the sheer fact that they assumed everyone’s contract after bankruptcy, you can extrapolate that it then just boiled down to a personal thing when the new marketing director came on.
His pitch was that he wanted DC to look like Fucking Awesome and Hockey and Supreme and Thrasher. He is enamored with those brands. DC will never be any of those companies because those slots are already taken. It just boiled down to a personal thing. If it wasn’t personal, then why remove Mikey Taylor’s shoe from the line? It did probably $10 million in sales for them last year. If you’re telling me the big hedge fund is pressuring you about money, why clip the guy who has a shoe that sells a lot of units?
What happened was, the new guy in charge of the brand called up guys like Mikey and in a less than five-minute conversation told them like a high school football coach or something, “I’m just gonna cut to the chase, you’re not part of our marketing program in the future so we’re letting you out of your contract.” Not a thank you. Not a good luck. Just a basic “Fuck you, we’ll send you papers in a month to sign, fuck off.” And that’s why I said something.
Business is never easy. I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to make decisions I didn’t want to make simply because the business couldn’t afford it and they absolutely broke my heart. I get that sometimes business is business, but you have to have some humanity about it and there was just none of that in what they did because end of the day DC is not their company and it’s just a job. I know that because I spent 6 years watching them. I just have a hard time thinking any of those other brands would do what DC did in the way they did it to guys who are pillars of skateboarding. And I thought it needed to be known. In fact, I’ve never seen any company in the 31 years I’ve been skating do that. End of the day, DC is gonna be fine. Their skate business is very, very small compared to their business at places like Ross and Marshalls and Costco.
Once DC filed bankruptcy in 2015, a document apparently showed the Berrics was getting paid $35,000 per month by DC. Any truth to that?
Listen, the Battle at the Berrics events alone are more expensive than what they spent. The live webcast, the filming, the editing, the prize money… it’s a lot. I’m sure they’re spending a lot more to sponsor the Dime event than they ever spent with us, and that is not a diss on the Dime event. What some people don’t seem to understand is that it’s not like the money went into mine or Eric’s pockets. Neither of us have personally made a dollar from the Berrics in ten years. Not a dollar. We put everything back into making it the best it can be. I don’t think anyone anywhere else at any company in skateboarding can say that and if they can, my hat is off to them.
You also talked briefly about bullies of the skate industry in the Instagram video. What did you mean?
Well, there are some definite bullies in skateboarding. But this is how bullying works: you get enough people behind you with whatever opinion you have and then you tend to think you’re right and you don’t consider yourself a bully. It’s mob mentality. And some of these bullies who really like to start shit, but mostly behind your back, can’t take it when you say something back and a few people agree with you. It kills them and so their only defense is that they say you’re the one being the bully.
What I do though, and what we’ve tried to do at the Berrics is, we always try to uplift the skater, the brand, the industry. I’m just not comfortable with making fun of people who work really hard just trying to do what they can. Maybe that’s an unpopular opinion right now with things like Skateline who get views for making fun of people. Maybe being a dick is in vogue, but I’m sticking to the idea that being nice has more value. When I look at myself and I look at my son, I don’t know if I want to set the example for him as the guy who willfully created stuff day after day trying to wreck people or make fun of them.
Ya know, a particularly heartbreaking one is I’ve had Jeff Grosso talk shit about me, post stuff about me on Instagram. I think the only time I’ve ever actually seen Jeff Grosso was when I was 13 years old at the St. Louis Zeltzer Seltzer contest and I had him sign my glass Gatorade bottle that one of the pros had left lying on the ground in the parking lot. One of two autographs I ever got in my life and I thought to myself, “Wow, what a bummer. I loved Jeff Grosso. I had so many of his boards.” It kind of broke my heart. Why, in his estimation, does he have every right to be in skateboarding but to him, I don’t? I’m not protesting that he’s around. I like Jeff Grosso being a part of skateboarding. But even if I didn’t, I certainly wouldn’t say shit about it because I don’t care enough to. He’s got a son, he’s just trying to survive, it’s not my place to fuck with that, so why’s he trying to fuck with me? Everyone has scratches you can magnify into festering sores, but I just don’t see the point of having to.
What do people say about you being a Scientologist? There are other skaters that are Scientologists, right? Why don’t you think they get targeted for being a Scientologist?
Most people don’t really say anything at all, but there are a few trolls out there who get pretty vicious. Admittedly, a long time ago it used to bother me because I like Scientology. I like the people that work there. I’ve been helped a lot by Scientology. I don’t get any special privilege in life from being a Scientologist, in fact, I get a lot of shit for it. In skateboarding, where everyone is supposed to be welcome, I am certainly not welcomed by some people solely because of a something I’ve only talked about when people have asked. It’s a personal thing for me, so I keep it personal, but if someone has questions I’ll answer them. I don’t mind at all.
In a nutshell, here’s how my relationship with Scientology started; I read a book years ago and I thought it made sense so I kept reading more. That’s about all there is to it, so it doesn’t bother me anymore when people say vicious stuff to me because I know if I was out there insulting people for their religion or their race or sexuality I would have to be at a pretty low point in my life. I have been there before, long ago, so I know what it’s like. Years ago, anytime I was like that I was feeling pretty low. I really believe in human rights and I respect what other people believe because it’s their beliefs and that’s a very, very personal thing, just like sexuality is, just like family is, just like one’s culture is. And I respect that in people and I would never insult someone for those things.
“I don’t get any special privilege in life from being a Scientologist, in fact, I get a lot of shit for it.”
Do you think there will there ever be money to support skating like there is in other sports?
I think there will be for a very few number of people making money solely for just their skateboarding skill. But I don’t think it will be like basketball, football or baseball where the worst paid guy on one of those teams makes more than the best pro skateboarder and the best guy on one of those teams makes more than every pro skateboarder combined. I hope it gets to that point someday, but I think we are a far cry from it right now.
The act of skateboarding isn’t nearly as popular as the act of dressing like you’re going out to go skateboarding. There can be money in skateboarding for people who have T-shirt brands that pop through the core and into the mainstream the way Supreme has, the way Diamond has, the way Thrasher has. But to own a “core” skateboard brand selling just to skaters, there is not a lot of money in it, which means there is not a lot of money to pay the skaters. They will have to depend on drink sponsors and other sponsors that could come into the fold to really make the money I think they deserve.
I think the Olympics will start to change things. I hope so anyway, but we’ll have to see how it unfolds. It could be amazing for the growth of skateboarding and skateparks all over the world, or it could be just a contest like any other contest, only once every four years instead of a few times throughout the summer. I’m not an anti-Olympics guy. I’m not anti-growth of skateboarding. I want to see some of my favorites get a lot of money for skateboarding, and I do want to see skateboarding grow.
Why do you think the biggest non-skate advertisers in skating are usually energy drink companies? Are there some viable alternative advertisers that may be untapped that would be a better fit than sugary drinks for kids?
So you do recognize that there are a bunch of kids that skateboard? And that maybe there are a lot of things the skateboard culture could ease up on pushing before sugary drinks? I’m just kidding… But listen, it’s not even all sugary drink companies. It’s Redbull, Monster, Mtn Dew and Rockstar. That’s it. How many drink companies are out there? A lot more than four, that’s for sure.
In regards to a better alternative, man, I don’t know. It’s kind of like when you go to sell your car or your business or your wedding ring because you got divorced and you think it’s worth X and someone thinks it’s worth Y. Is it worth X, or is it worth whatever people are willing to pay for it? I think in the drink category, those companies are just the ones that are willing to get in there and pay and play. It goes back to what I was saying before where other companies just don’t get the culture. Too many land mines. Thank God for those companies putting money into our industry, they keep skaters fed. Whether or not people like their product is their choice to make.
“Thrasher might be the only company in the world who gets to have their cake and eat it too”
Why do you think the Thrasher T-shirt popped off into mainstream clothing as opposed to any other media outlet’s merch?
Well, it was a confluence of things. Celebrities started wearing it, starting with Lil’ Wayne and then spread from there. They also send out a lot of boxes to people with a lot of free product. They also get brands to give them their content, and what happens is Thrasher puts a Thrasher head and tail slate on every video and then they put a Thrasher watermark over every frame of the video and it becomes a Thrasher product, not a Lakai product or Girl or Toy Machine or Nike or whatever, which then helps them sell Thrasher gear.
I recently read an article on Hypebeast that said, “Thrasher just released their new video and this time it’s with the Nike SB team in X.” That’s when it really made it clear to me that the videos they post are not the brand’s videos anymore, they’re Thrasher’s, and I think that’s how a lot of people saw them. The brands have been part of the Thrasher product explosion without realizing they were cannibalizing their own product as a result.
Then Zumiez picks it up, and when you have however many stores they have—600 or something like that—in every mall in every state and major city, and their hero table—right when you walk into the store—is all Thrasher shirts, it’s going to move units, just like Diamond or Neff or Huf moved units before them. It became the perfect storm, and thus became the Thrasher trend.
And let me be very clear here, I don’t fault them for it at all. I think it was smart because it kept them alive in a very rapidly changing time of our culture and economy. I have to hand it to them, it was smart. They got the whole industry to create the content for them while we were busy creating content for the industry, which is a much more expensive endeavor. They have been getting content for a fraction of our cost and as a result, they’re the best-selling brand in all of skateboarding. Thrasher might be the only company in the world who gets to have their cake and eat it too with no backlash. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Do you still think Bronze 56k is wack?
The truth is, I never thought they were wack. How it all started with them is one day, on Twitter, which is something I hardly ever use, someone wrote to me, “You down with Bronze 56K?” And I wrote something back like, “No, that shit’s wack.” I had no idea what it was. I literally thought they were talking about a fake tanner, like a bronzer. I was just having fun with whoever asked me that. I didn’t realize they had anything to do with skateboarding. It must have been pretty close to the conception of Bronze. So then I had a lot of guys—I don’t know if they were in the crew or friends or if they were just fans of them at the time—go in on me pretty hard. I was like, “Wait, what is this?” I explained, “Yo, I was literally joking, I had no idea who they were. I thought you were talking about a fake bronzer.” Then I found out they were a bolt company, but I never thought they were wack, don’t think they’re wack now and I wish them the best.
How involved with the Berrics are you day to day? Are you still in the office Monday through Friday?
I’m back and forth between Chicago and LA a lot because my son lives in Chicago. When I’m in Chicago I’m with him and when I’m here [in LA] it’s 18-hour days. I usually fly out [to Chicago] on Fridays, see my son, have him Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, fly back to LA Sunday night and start all over again on Monday, depending on what projects we’re doing.
How do you get away from work and relax?
I really don’t have time to relax but I see my son and I see movies. I have seen thousands and thousands of movies. I see everything that comes out. So if I have a couple hours and I’m in a rut or I’m stressed, that’s what I do to escape. I love the whole experience of the movies: the popcorn, the soda and Milk Duds, the previews. I try to take my son to the movies but he doesn’t like it [laughs].
I know you’ve never smoked, drank or did drugs, right? What about caffeine?
Well, I’ve never drunk coffee. It doesn’t smell good to me, and when I was younger I thought everyone’s breath who drunk it smelled really bad, and those people happened to be adults. I never drank it and then I got to an age where I was like, “I haven’t had it yet, might as well never have it.” But I like Dr. Pepper. That has caffeine.
As far as drinking alcohol, I tried drinking maybe two or three times when I was in junior high. I took a swig of Seagrams 7 and I was like, “Ugh, not for me.” I took a drink of beer and had the same response, and then I had a drink of champagne, same response. I was never good at taking any kind of liquids that didn’t taste like soda or something sweet at a young age. Then, around that time when everyone started drinking and smoking and doing drugs, which was pretty prevalent around where I lived, I just chose not to. I didn’t like the way it affected my friends and frankly, I was fucking poor and I didn’t want to be poor anymore and I just focused on the one thing I was actually good at, which was skateboarding. I knew that was going to be my only path to a different life and because I find nothing particularly extraordinary about me, I didn’t want to handicap my opportunities or my chances of being successful by drowning myself in drugs or alcohol. I didn’t even want to take a chance. That’s how much I hated being poor.
I don’t hate people if they drink alcohol or smoke weed or smoke cigarettes. Do I prefer they don’t? Sure, because I think it can really damage people’s lives, but I don’t really give a shit, it’s their life. I know some guys really push it but they have to understand they’re extraordinary human beings, they can either deal with it or they can pull themselves out of it if it gets too heavy, but every day regular joe skater, like me when I was a kid, they can’t do that so easily if at all.
What if I offered you $5000 to do a line of coke? Would you do it?
[Laughs] Five grand is not enough money.
So you’re saying there’s a point where I could buy you out to do it though… Maybe like $20,000 for one line of coke?
My integrity is worth way more than 20 grand.
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