Anthony Claravall travels like any other skateboard filmer, except when the trip ends and everyone goes home, he doesn’t. He’s been on the road filming skateboarding for 20+ years and didn’t have a home address for over a decade.
Curious to know what drives a 47 year-old man to keep living out of suitcases and hotel rooms for that long, we talked with Anthony about his life and how he went from a 411VM filmer to the go-to tour guide for fresh skate spots in both Barcelona and China.
He opened up about the nitty-gritty of living on the road, including supplementing his income by hustling skate product, eating only dollar menu food, and making VHS porn compilations to share with other traveling skaters in the pre iPhone era.
Read on to learn how to stay young forever (and be thankful you never had to watch porn through a tiny camera viewfinder).
You’ve been filming on the road for the last 20 years, what’s the longest you’ve ever been in one place?
Fuck, dude. I moved out of an apartment in SF in 2004 and I didn’t have a place or my name on a lease for 12 years until 2016. So I would say maybe SF but even then, since I’ve been filming professionally, I’ve been traveling full-time. Even now, I run New Balance Numeric in Asia but I’m on a plane every week.
So you’ve mostly been living out of travel bags and storage for many years?
Yeah, I have stashes. I had a storage place in SF. I would have shoes and a board and some clothes at a friend’s place in Hong Kong. I would have the same thing at another friend’s house in Bangkok. Same in Barcelona at [Thomas] Winkle‘s. I had my mom’s in New York, Joe Brook in SF, 852 in Hong Kong, Taiwan at Delta Skateshop.
I would just have a pack of white T’s, a pack of wheels, bearings, shoes, and a board. That’s all I need.
Have you ever thought about settling down?
I guess I have [settled down]. I have an office in Hong Kong and I have an apartment, but I’m not really there. Three out of the four weekends a month I’m somewhere else. I don’t have any kids, I’m not married, it’s just skateboarding. Before the New Balance job I was traveling 100% of the time. I would sublet a place, but if it was a shorter trip then I would couch surf. Or I would do a Chocolate trip, a fucking Enjoi trip, and then a fucking Zero trip back to back and I would be in a different hotel every week. That was just normal.
“I don’t have any kids, I’m not married, it’s just skateboarding.”
What was the brokest you’ve ever been while traveling?
When I first started filming for 411VM I would literally make $83 an issue and the issues came out every two months. That meant living off the dollar menu for years. For fucking years. As a filmer you get free sets of wheels and T-shirts, and some boards, and I’d just sell that shit.
I would save up boards and products and go to Brazil and sell it to shops and make like, thousands of dollars. It’s a hustle. You had all your tricks too, like the smallest most expensive thing you could bring around is a pack of Bones Swiss bearings. So that was ideal currency, super light in your bag and you get the most bang for your buck.
In Philly everyone was riding 8.25″ boards and 55mm wheels, but if you had that shit and then went to Brazil, everyone wanted to be like Stevie [Williams] and ride a 7.5″ and 50mm wheels. You could not sell your 55mm wheels to them. You had to know and do some research. That’s the hustle.
Someone at MACBA would come up to you and be like, “What about those shoes?” and they’ll be pointing to the shoes on my feet. So I’ve literally sold the shoes off my feet and skated back to the crib in socks.
You started traveling because you moved around a lot as a kid. Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I grew up all the way uptown in New York. My parents were from the Philippines and moved to the States three weeks before I was born. My dad worked for Pepsi so we moved around a lot. Mexico City, London, Malaysia… I went to middle school in the city, I went to high school in Connecticut for a year, then my dad was transferred to Malaysia so I went to an international school there. With a company like that you always get home leave, so we would always come back to New York. That was “home.”
I remember graduating high school and going to college, I was like, “That’s over, I’ll never afford or be able to travel like that again.” But when I started working in skateboarding and filming, those doors opened up again. Like, there’s a trip to Tampa Am or a Make-A-Wish. That stuff was really new and when they would ask if I could go I would say yes. I never said no to a trip.
“I’ve literally sold the shoes off my feet and skated back to the crib in socks.”
So you kept saying yes to gigs and eventually you were able to survive for 20 years from just filming?
I mean, there’s a little bit more to it. In between filming missions I would take any job where I could just take off for three months at a time and come back.
I remember writing a proposal to 411VM and telling them I would go to Europe and all I needed was a rail pass. I was going to go to these three contests and these three cities after that and film a street part. They thought it sounded good so it was just taking advantage of those opportunities.
411VM for kids it’s like dinosaur talk, but at one point it was the biggest skateboard media outlet. We were selling 50,000 issues or something crazy. At one point I had a 411VM American Express Gold Card for flights and tickets. I was making pretty good money, I had benefits like health insurance and shit, it was crazy.
As you know though, things change a lot and it all ended up fizzling away. But the act of filming and making videos didn’t, and I started branching out working with different companies. At first I was the Barcelona dude, then I became the go-to Asia guy.
You were one of the first skaters to discover Barcelona as a skate mecca, yeah? How’d that happen?
I went to Europe in 1999 on a skate trip with Joe Brook [photographer]. We went to Belgium and we skated with a friend there, and he told us that his uncle lives in Barcelona and it’s the best city for skateboarding and he was moving there. So Joe and I looked at each other and were like, “Okay, let’s go.”
Barcelona in 1999 was exactly what this dude told us it was. We rode by MACBA and it was completely unskated. No ledge was waxed. People only skated the big four because people had seen Jamie Thomas do that on video. I’m not saying we were the first ones, but we were there before there was a waxed ledge.
There were free maps of Barcelona at the subway station and I would take the map and mark down what the spots were and where they were. I’d show other skaters the maps and they would make a copy of my map with a pen. At a certain point, people were hitting me up for that map.
Were you also one of the guys who put a lot of people onto spots throughout Asia?
I came to Asia on a trip in 2002, Malaysia Airlines had a deal where you could pick 15 cities in 15 days for $700. So we did the trip for 411VM. We went from LA to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Philippines, with two or three days in each city.
It was the first time I came to Hong Kong and all these dudes were telling me that China was amazing for skating. Then we skated and we were all like, this shit is really fucking crazy. Then I would talk to team managers, my friends, and other skaters and I was like, if you’re filming a video part and you skate ledges, you should take a trip to China. Then China became a place in every single video.
Would you say you’re one of the guys who has been professionally filming skateboarding the longest?
RB [Umali] has been filming around as long as I have, I think he went to college in NY in ’95 or ’96. There are a lot of people that came later, like Greg Hunt. When I started filming he was an Am for Stereo. He’s the best filmer in skateboarding. Ty Evans too.
It’s a different thing. Ty from the beginning, he was a filmmaker. He made videos and I was just a filmer who filmed tricks. I just loved filming skateboarding. But I made a video for LRG in 2009— Give Me My Money, Chico —and it wasn’t until then where I felt like every other filmer had made their own video. At that point I felt like I was late to the game.
I heard a rumor about you being a porn addict? Is it true?
[laughs] We would go on trips and porn was on VHS at the time, and I filmed on Hi-8 so I would make mix down tapes of porn. It was compilations of the best stuff. It’s like the same thing where you make a compilation of the best tricks.
I would have a mixdown and I would give it to Frank Gerwer or another homie and they would copy it and copy it and copy it. One tape would just make its way around. My homie from Long Island, a friend of Frank’s, would call them the Claravall Butters. I mean, fuck, dude, it was a different time. Now it’s just PornHub.
I was always traveling and always on the road, so what better way to have it? We didn’t have iPhones so you would copy it all onto the tape and then watch it through the viewfinder.
What about rumors that you take a long time to meet up with people because you have to rub one out?
I’ve had a shaved head for 20 years, and it takes a long time to shave in the shower [laughs]. That’s what I tell people.
Who are your favorite porn stars? Past, present, or of all time?
Dude, I can’t even start. You fucking serious? [laughs] It really changes. There’s this girl Emma Mae, I don’t know if you’ve heard of her. Unfortunately, toward the end of her career she got some work done, but she was amazing. She was like the Jason Jessee of porn.
What are some tips for sustaining a filming career for as long as you have?
Try to match the skater’s energy and really try to be as professional as you can. The secret to filming is to make it seem like you’re not filming. Never make somebody feel like, “Are you gonna fucking do it? What the fuck man?” It’s almost like a patient/psychiatrist relationship. You have to fuck around and find out if this dude really wants to go jump down something, if he is going to do it the first five tries or if after 20 tries he’s going to want to come back a different day.
Also, you can’t click with everybody. [Rodrigo] TX and I have filmed 20 video parts together because we click as people. I understand where he’s coming from, I understand how he skates, I know what he wants to do. He’s like, “Fuck it, I want to do this,” and he’s going to go 100% so you have to make sure you’re ready. Everyone works differently. Some people [you can be] like, “You fucking got it, dude. Next try,” and other people are like, “Don’t say anything, I know what I’m doing. Just make sure you film whatever happens.”
“The secret to filming is to make it seem like you’re not filming.”
If a company is sending you out there then it’s one thing, but if it’s a skater, make sure you do whatever you can do for this guy. I’ve gone to every country in the world and I’ve gotten weed for dudes because I knew they needed it.
The act of filming and just pushing the button is a really small part of it. You have to have spots, you have to know what to do if someone breaks a truck, this guy needs to go somewhere and unwind because he’s been jumping for four days so let’s get him a massage.
A lot of it is not the act of filming that makes a trip or a situation work. I guess that can’t be taught, it’s just intuitive, like being a good listener and understanding.
But none of that makes a difference today, nobody films like that. Now there’s five cameras and a fucking drone or you just hand your iPhone to whoever and say, “Film this.” Going out and filming a trick has changed.
In your opinion, are photography and video shot on film superior to digital?
Obviously, it’s different to see on a computer or a TV, but most people see footage on an iPhone and not even full screen, just on Instagram, and it means nothing. Also, I have friends who only shoot film, and then they come home from the trip and they get it developed and they post it on Instagram, so it’s like, what is the fucking difference?
But if it makes it special for the process or someone creating it, I think it’s rad. But to me digital photography is completely the same as film. It’s just how you use it. It’s just a tool. Look at VHS. We used to hate VHS because we wanted to shoot film and now VHS is a look. It’s a filter. People are making Palace-looking VHS videos and the quality on your iPhone is better than that. So is it fetishizing?
I mean, the VX1000 is fetishized insanely. There are kids who have VX1000 tattoos. I could tell you 100%—no, 1000%— 4:3 fucking matters. The human body looks better on a VX with that [fisheye] lens.
You’ve been on the road for decades now. When will you settle down? When is enough, enough?
It’s my dream to die alone. [laughs] I really value being single and having the freedom to do whatever I want. I could just be like fuck, there’s this thing this weekend, and I could just jump on a plane. Obviously, it’s amazing to have that partner or that relationship, but I do find myself really happy to sleep in on a Sunday if it’s raining and I don’t have shit to do and just worry about myself.
It sounds a little selfish, but I don’t know. At least I can say after it’s all been done that I’ve gone to all the places I wanted to go. I only have one place that I’ve never been to that I want to go.
There’s just one place. Cuba.