Every few years, a skateboarder emerges onto our skate radar with an inspiring life story. Sometimes they’re overcoming physical adversity, other times they’re defying systemic odds, and often they’re coming from really difficult backgrounds, determined to make a name for themselves.
This interview is with someone who has one of the most moving and overwhelming stories we’ve encountered since the beginning of Jenkem.
Anderson Pereira, who goes by the name Anderson Stevie, is a 27 year-old skateboarder from São Gonçalo, Brazil. He grew up in a favela with few opportunities, except the skateboard his mom bought him when he was 14. Although he would later sell drugs, work in gangs, and go to prison twice, he continued skating and eventually used it to prevail.
Today, Anderson has been living and skating in LA, trying to actualize his dreams. He’s won some contests (both Adidas’s Boost the Bar in São Paulo and Daewon Did It), been briefly interviewed by a tuxedoed Tim O’Connor, and is now getting boards from Fucking Awesome.
One of Anderson’s friends reached out to us to see if we would be interested in interviewing him, and after watching some clips and hearing parts of his story, it was a no-brainer. During the interview, Anderson said skateboarding saved his life. That phrase may have become a cliché, but if anyone has the right to use it, he does.
So you used to sell drugs to get money for boards and skate gear. How did you get into that?
When I started skating at 14 I would hang out in the streets and I started smoking weed. The guys I smoked weed with were in a gang and I started selling drugs to buy skateboards and shoes because my mom couldn’t afford them.
In my city, that’s your career. My mom did everything to try to make sure I didn’t do that. That’s why I got some education. I have some friends, they don’t have an education and they don’t have a future, they don’t have nothing. They just think about drugs, girls, sex, that’s it. My grandfather back in the day used to deal, and he died in jail. Also, my dad is a cocaine addict, he’s not doing good. He doesn’t help my mom.
As a kid, I couldn’t ask my mom to buy new shoes for me, so when she would, I needed to skate them for like six months. The shoes started getting a lot of holes and I taped and glued them together, but they were like monsters. So wack.
“I was on the radio and I would tell people when the police were coming”
What kind of neighborhood did you live in?
I grew up in a dangerous place with a lot of gangs. The gangs control the neighborhood. Police can’t even get in. If police try to come in, the gangs start shooting at them.
That’s the culture. The gang bangers make money to have parties, get girls, and buy gold chains, so that’s the dream. Kids grow up in the neighborhood thinking like, “I’m gonna go be a gangster and get a lot of girls and gold chains.” Some of those chains are ~$50,000. They put it on their neck, a chain, $50,000. You can buy a house for that much, but they don’t have a house. They live in the ghetto and they’ll never get out.
So were you in a gang, or did you just know people in gangs?
The first time I tried to get in a gang, my dad went to them and said, “Don’t take my son.” They knew my dad because my dad is an addict, so they didn’t let me join. So then I went to another neighborhood where they didn’t know me and I started working for their gang.
I started selling to make money to buy skate gear, then later I started working in a bigger gang where I was on the radio and I would tell people when the police were coming. Then I became like a manager. The manager has a connection with the boss, so the boss makes managers take care of people’s salaries.
A gang is like a company. There’s a lot of people involved, from people with radios who look out for the police to security guards who have a lot of guns, the gangs pay for all of that. They pay good and I worked for them, but then I went to jail for selling drugs. When I went to jail, my mom finally discovered everything.
How long were you in jail for?
My first time I stayed for one month and then got out. The second time I stayed for six months. My mom hired a lawyer the first time so that’s why I think I got out after one month, but the second time she couldn’t so I waited for six months. I’ve seen other people in the same situation as me get seven or eight years. I got lucky and that’s why I believe in God.
The second time, after waiting a few months, there was a process where they would decide my sentence. I could have stayed for seven years. But when they met with me I told them that I skate and told them to search for me on YouTube. They watched some videos of me skating and then a few months later I was out.
Now my name is clean. Back in the day, if you put my name in Google you would see me in the news for when I got arrested, but right now when you put my name in Google you just see me skating. I was so happy when I saw that because that’s why I could get into America. If the police here saw the other news stories, they would say no.
So when you got out of jail the second time, did you pick up skating again or go back to the gang?
The last time I got out of jail I had more connections, so I didn’t stop. Because when you get out of jail, the gangs promote you. You get a promotion so you’re like, oh, I got my money, I can’t stop.
When you get promoted to manager level in a gang, do you get any perks like days off work or vacation?
Hah, you can’t take vacation days. You work all the time. It’s different in different places. Some places you work like 12 hours per day and another 12 hours you can take off. Some places you work 24 hours, like one day straight and another day off. The vacation is when the police take you and put you in jail, that’s the vacation. The gangster’s life in Brazil is quick, like two, three years, then you finally go to jail or you get shot and die.
And when I got back out of jail, I started to do everything again because the system in Brazil, they wanna make that shit happen. They want to put me back in jail, and when you go to jail you don’t change. You feel worse. Every time you go and come back, you’re worse.
Yeah, just being in jail doesn’t help people turn their lives around.
Yeah, and drugs are not the problem. In Brazil, the government makes weed illegal, then they sell weed.
“Vacation is when the police take you and put you in jail, that’s the vacation.”
The government in Brazil sells weed?
When they confiscate it, they don’t burn it. They sell it.
But guns are the real problem. The government has contacts and transport around the country, so police take all the guns and sell them to gangs in the neighborhood. You want a big gun, like an AK-47? In Brazil, it’s like $10,000 USD. The best one, like a G3, that gun is like $15,000. So imagine, people in the neighborhood don’t have money. But they make money selling drugs to buy guns. They buy from the police. The government wants that shit to happen.
My friends from when I was a kid, all those guys are in jail. One is in jail for 11 years, another for 12 years, another for eight or nine years. Another one, he’s dead. It’s a cycle. The government puts drugs in the streets because they believe if they make everybody an addict, they’re never gonna do anything. I see that shit, so I started traveling. I don’t have money but it doesn’t matter because I’m chasing my dream now.
What’s it like when you come back to your city?
Now when I come back to my city, everybody in my neighborhood sees me as an inspiration. I like hanging out with them but when I come back they’re like, “Stevie’s back! What you want, bro?” Then they want to take photos with me like holding a gun or holding some drugs. One day, the police were coming when I was hanging out with these gangsters and I needed to escape. I was like, damn, I can’t come back here anymore. If I come back they could put me in jail and my career would be over. So no more hanging out with the gangs.
That’s why I travel. Because when I travel I can skate, and when I stay in my city, it’s hard. My baby mama wants us to get an apartment and pay rent, but I know if I want a good place in my city, I can’t afford to travel.
But I know with skateboarding, it’s almost impossible to make money. It’s really for the love. If it’s about the love, you’re happy no matter what because you love that shit.
Skateboarding saved my life. Skateboarding brought me to the United States. A journalist in Brazil contacted me and he’s been writing a book about my life. It’s called Between Skateboarding and Drug Dealing and it’s going to come out at the end of this year. I think the book would make a good movie too.
So how did you finally get out of the gang and pursue skating full-time?
My first time in jail, God talked with me and said, “It’s not your life. Get out.” But when I came back to the streets I didn’t remember that so I started doing shit again. When I went back to jail for the second time, God talked with me again and told me I needed to stop that shit, and that time I understood.
My first sponsor was a skate shop an hour from my house. One day, after getting out of jail, the guy who used to run that shop saw me on the street and asked me what I needed to skate. I was like man, I need to get out of here. Look at this shit, the favela. Living in the ghetto, you ain’t got no money to travel and that type of shit.
So he made a team with four guys, made a video, and we went to São Paulo to skate. When I came back to my city I looked for contests online, figured out which one I could go to next, and told the guy I needed to go to that contest. He said OK so we went and then started going to more.
One day I won a contest and went to the United States. I went to LA and when I came back this guy from Brazil called me and asked me to skate for his board brand in Spain called Dealer. He took me to Spain and let me stay in his house, paid for my food, and paid for people to film me, and I filmed a video part.
Now I have one sponsor in Brazil, Thug Nine, paying me $330 USD per month, helping me start my career and make my dreams.
So you’re living in Los Angeles now?
Not so much living, more kind of surviving, you know? I have a tourist visa so I have to leave and come back. My plan is to go to Spain for two months then come back to the U.S. in November for Tampa Am, then go to LA again.
It’s hard for me too because I have a son, so if I come back to Brazil my baby mama will try to make me stay. It’s hard to help her and figure out how to help my career. The money from my sponsor stays with my baby mama in Brazil to help my son. Sometimes I need some, so she sends me little bits, but it’s hard here because every day I have to figure out where I’m going to go to sleep, what I’m going to eat. I don’t have money to pay rent so I’m really thankful for people who are helping me.
One day I met Guy Mariano on the street. He talked to me and he was like, everything’s gonna be good. So it’s like one day I was sad, then the next day I met Guy Mariano and he said everything was gonna be good. It’s crazy.
I’ve seen photos of you with Fucking Awesome guys. Are you riding for them?
Jason Dill started hooking me up with boards, so I want to make a video part.
One day I didn’t have a place to go and my friend, who lives in Hollywood, said I could stay at their house. I was looking for a skate shop and I went down Hollywood Boulevard and found one. I didn’t know it was the FA store, so I just went it. I started talking to the guy working there and showed him my videos, and when I went back there the next week, Jason Dill was there. He had seen my skating and liked it, and he was like, take whatever board you want. So I started skating Fucking Awesome boards and I’m stacking clips now, that’s it.
I tried to switch hardflip down the Hollywood High 16. I got the photo but I didn’t land it yet. I need to go back and get it.
How many times did you try the switch hardflip down Hollywood High?
I tried it 18 times. I did everything right, but 18 tries is too much. I couldn’t skate for two weeks afterward.
I know you go by Anderson Stevie online, but your last name is actually Pereira. Where did the ‘Stevie’ come from?
When I started skating people said I skated like Stevie Williams. I didn’t know who he was, but then I saw him in the Kayo video, It’s Official, and I thought he was so good. When I stopped gang banging and came back to skating, all the skateboarders knew me as Stevie, so I started going by Anderson Stevie. Stevie’s from the ghetto too, he made that shit happen, he’s like me. Also, his birthday is December 17th and mine is December 18th.
My cousin introduced me to Stevie Williams at Street League, but at that time my English was so bad I couldn’t talk to him. I was like mute.
“I named my son after Antwuan Dixon”
Your son’s name was inspired by another skateboarder, right?
Yeah, I named my son after Antwuan Dixon. I talked to Antwuan here and I was like, bro, I named my son after you because I love your style, and he started crying and saying thank you.
And your son’s mother was OK with that name?
No, no. The whole family was so mad at me. They were like, no, don’t use that name. Because Antwuan is not a Brazilian name. My dad is Adenerson and my grandpa is Adener, so all their name starts with an ‘A,’ so I used Antwuan. Everybody was mad but I didn’t care. Right now everybody likes it. They call him Tu-Tu.
Since you grew up in an impoverished area, did you have access to skate videos and magazines?
Yeah, the first time I had a computer in my house I found videos on YouTube of Rodney Mullen and Bam Margera. I tried to do primos like Rodney Mullen. And Bam Margera, I feel like he lands a trick and I feel something. It’s different, it’s not just skating. His videos got me hyped to get footage.
Then when I discovered the skatepark in my city I met a guy there who was able to hook me up with some videos. He hooked me up with Transworld’s A Time To Shine. Ronson Lambert, seeing him skate ledges, I was like, damn, I want to do that trick. He did a hardflip back smith, and now I can do switch hardflip back smiths, inspired by him.
Where did you skate when you were first learning?
There was a school that closed down by my house, so I would go there because it had flatground. The neighborhood is all muddy so you can’t skate most places. To skate a good plaza in my city, I would need to spend like R$50 per day to travel there, so for me, that reality was impossible.
The first time I saw skating was in a music video by the Deftones. The guy takes his board and cruises around a school, then he does an ollie over a table. The first time I went to LA, years later, I had the opportunity to skate the same table. I did a frontside big spin over the table.
“I feel blessed and at the same time I feel embarrassed. Embarrassed because I don’t have any money and I need people to help me all the time”
You’ve said you were saved by skateboarding, which isn’t an uncommon story among skateboarders. How does it feel to see yourself in that narrative?
I feel blessed and at the same time, I feel embarrassed. Embarrassed because I don’t have any money and I need people to help me all the time. That’s why I started a brand, Money Grip. When I get clips that I like, that’s the best feeling. All the bad days, everything is nothing. That feeling is so crazy. It’s better than drugs, it’s better than getting girls, it’s better than sex.
Since you talked about talking to God while you were in jail, did you grow up religious?
No. I grew up going to a Christian church in Brazil, but when I was a kid I was there to make music or try to get girls or something. But you never forget the talking. I want to go to church again, but to me, it’s not really about church. It’s about your mind. Your actions.
I also see church as a way for people to get money, like churches that make people believe in something and then take their money. I went to a Scientology church here and they were asking everyone like, “You wanna be rich?” I was like, why?
I think Scientology charges people a lot of money just to be members.
That’s crazy. Yeah, I don’t hate it. I went inside and watched some videos. They showed me some with skateboarders in them.
You know there’s skaters like Steve Berra that are Scientologists?
Yeah? Hell yeah. Everybody does what they want with religion.
So you’ve had a lot of friends helping you to get where you are today. Are there any you want to thank especially?
I have one friend, Flavio, he helped me make plans to get to America. He drove me six hours to São Paulo to skate in an Adidas Skate Copa contest, and I won the best trick doing a full cab flip first try over a bump to bar. So Adidas helped me pay to travel to the U.S. We tried to get into America together, but the United States consulate denied us. I called the people at Adidas and they helped us reapply. The second time I got in, but my friend still didn’t.
When I came back to Brazil I was able to travel with him to Spain, and that trip was the best time of his life. When we got back he started to get depressed, because he was so happy in Spain, and then he came back to our neighborhood where he had a child and wife and bills to pay. He couldn’t travel like me because I lived at my mom’s house, and his baby mama was complaining to him like, “Oh, you wanna be like Stevie.” So he killed himself. One afternoon he took some drugs and went swimming at the beach and drowned.
I know he did it on purpose because he had talked to me before, one day when we were driving. He started saying like, I want to die. He said a lot of shit. I felt bad because he was so sad, but after the drive, I forgot about it. Six months later, he did that shit. After that happened, I cried for one week straight. I couldn’t skate, I couldn’t get out of the house, it was crazy. So that’s life. Some people live, some people die.