We all have that one friend that got way too into mushrooms at some point in their life. In some cases, they go off the deep end forever, trapped in an iridescent feedback loop of Phish concerts and tie dye shirts. Other times, they come out on the other end with some genuine life insight, as if the mushrooms put their “magic” parts to work and ignited some much-needed change in them. Tyler Bledsoe is more like one of those cases.
Many have suspected his recent “lack of output” (relative to today’s social media standards, at least) was a sign that he had gone full Portland burnout and dosed himself silly. What’s really happened though, is that he’s taken a step back, thought about the years beyond skating, and has picked up tattooing as a side hustle to his skate career. Now, he’s juggling and excelling at both, getting footage for highly anticipated videos and inking people in his free time.
Since he seems very settled into his almost comically stereotypical Pacific Northwest life as a pro-skater-turned-tattoo-artist, we figured it was a good time to check in on him. If you’re in the Portland area and want to get some of Tyler’s work on your body hit up Thunderbird Tattoo.
Do you think Portlandia ruined Portland?
Yeah, probably a lot of it. Definitely added to it, but I think that was going to happen regardless.
It’s funny because I’m pretty sure Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein [Portlandia stars] actually live here, too. They probably get a weird vibe walking around because I don’t think people in Portland are too down for those two.
Did you ever get shit from sponsors for not leaving Portland?
Pre-Instagram, sponsors were always like, “What’re you doing? Have you been skating?” saying, “You should be down here in L.A.” I got that vibe that they were suspicious of what I was doing [laughs]. Plus, I’m definitely not the best at communication. I can go months without talking to people and they’re like, “What’ve you been up to dude?”
But now I almost feel like Chad Bowers [Quasi Skateboards owner] and other sponsors kind of want people to be in the place or city where they’re comfortable because that’s where you’re happiest and you produce the most. The skating is more interesting that way.
I know you’ve become a tattoo artist recently. Was it weird transitioning from just being a pro skater to being a pro and working with a schedule?
Yeah, it’s weird. I had to get my GED and go to a nine-month tattoo trade school. It’s definitely a lot more responsibility. It’s not just on me, it’s more about the client, not showing up late, and being somewhat professional. I never had to do that shit before with skating. It was just a damn free-for-all, you know?
But it’s cool because tattooing and skating feed off of each other so much. I got more stoked about skating when I started tattooing and having some other outlet. It took basically all of the pressure off of skating. So now skating is just fun. Nothing I have to worry about with it now.
“I kind of realized skating ruined me in that way and I couldn’t do anything normal afterward.”
In terms of feeling less pressure, is that in a financial sense or mental sense?
I’d say it’s a combination for sure. Skating is so up and down financially, especially nowadays. It’s fucking hard to pay your bills off skating. You have to ride that wave of having something else on top of it.
I feel like tattooing has a lot more longevity. I can do that up until my 50s or 60s, or however long I can hold a machine and see. It was really the closest thing I could find to skating. I kind of realized skating ruined me in that way and I couldn’t do anything normal afterward. I had to find a career that was my own thing. I didn’t want to fucking start working construction or something, killing my body more. Tattooing is just like skating, you can’t ever master it. It’s so fucking hard.
Are there any unspoken rules of being a tattoo artist, kind of how there are in skating?
Yeah, there are a lot of kooks. It’s super over-saturated at this point. You can just buy shit on Amazon and just fuck people up [laughs]. Normally you kind of paint for a few years and get ready and hang around the shop and get tattooed and stuff. Now people just jump in it right away. There’s not a lot of ethics going on.
People will get out of the tattoo school or something and they don’t get hired, so they just open their own shop, and then it kind of creates this over-saturation of shops. Also, a lot of them aren’t very good shops. It’s like Starbucks here, there’s one on every corner [laughs].
I’ve noticed that a lot of tattoo artists try hard to have an online presence, is it similar to skating in that way?
For sure. It’s almost even more important in tattooing, kind of. A lot of older guys aren’t even tattooing because they don’t want to be posting stuff on social media. They’ll just sit around all day, waiting for somebody to walk in, but people don’t really walk into shops anymore after COVID.
You almost have to do that social media thing. “Hey, I’ve got time today. I got this stuff I want to do.” Then people are more drawn to come in. You end up not getting the people who will walk in and be like, “I want a bird with all my kids’ names in the wings, and I want some clouds with their birth dates.” You’re just like, “What the fuck are you talking about? Why don’t you just get the bird, it’ll be cooler.”
Do you think weed helps you skate? If so, what’s the perfect amount of high to be while skating?
I would say it helps for sure, the less you think while you’re skating, the better [laughs]. I feel like the dumbest skaters are always the best because they’re not overthinking anything. But, I don’t know if there is a specific amount to smoke, I think it just depends on the situation. There are definitely times when I’ve been so zooted to where I’m so in my own shit that I don’t even know what’s going on outside and I get into that flow state. I kind of get connected with my board better and I’m not thinking about all the shit that’s going on around me. It’s very rare that I skate and I’m not stoned.
Do you have any pairs of old HUF shoes, still?
Yeah, I actually just found a little stash. They’re some random later models.
I have a few pairs of Dylan’s slip-ons left, I still wear them to dress up nice and shit if there’s like a fucking wedding or something. I wore a pair of Huppers to work the other day but I didn’t skate in them though.
I’m so hooked on Half Cabs. I can’t get off those. I’ve wanted to wear Half Cabs my whole career. Never been able to, so now that’s all I fucking wear.
The same thing happened when I stopped skating for Etnies, I was like, “Yes! I can wear whatever the fuck shoes I want.” I was wearing different stuff for a while. Then eventually I was like, “I just want to wear Vans.” I keep going back to them. Half Cabs are just the best skate shoe.
Are you on Vans or could you wear whatever?
I was just buying them for a while and then somebody hit me up from there and they were like, “You can just order them, you don’t need to buy them.” So, that’s basically all I’ve been wearing. I don’t get paid by them or have a contract so I don’t think I’m necessarily obligated.
I mean, even if I do have a contract with skating, I don’t even trust it at this point [laughs]. I feel like you’re so disposable as a skateboarder, it’s kind of sad. If they want to kick you off they’ll find a fucking reason. It doesn’t matter. It’s a little bit ruthless. Skating is kind of like the music industry, but you don’t even make as much money so like, even worse [laughs].
“I got the shoe with Etnies and I was finding checks in my drawer that I hadn’t cashed and I didn’t even care.”
How many contracts would you say you’ve signed in skating?
I think when I was on Etnies we would do three-year contracts. I did two of those. I never had a contract with Alien and I don’t have one with Quasi. It’s only been shoe stuff and HUF.
At what point in your career were making the most money from skateboarding?
Man, I think it was when I was 22 to 24. I got the shoe with Etnies and I was finding checks in my drawer that I hadn’t cashed and I didn’t even care. Around that time I was like, “Fuck, you’ve made it,” type thing. And then Etnies was quickly like, “We’ve got to cut you down a little bit on this next contract.” And, “We’re going to cut you down a little bit more.” And then it’s like, “Oh, we don’t have a contract for you this year.”
Before getting into tattooing, did you ever find yourself in a rut with skating?
It was more just like, I felt like I didn’t have any control over my career. It got to a point where I was like, “I could fucking go film five parts this week and I’m still not going to be able to pay my bills.” I wasn’t even enjoying skating. It was like torture. I started feeling that bitterness and I was like, “Fuck, I want something that I have more control over.” I didn’t want to be a victim of the skate industry anymore. But since I’ve started tattooing I’ve been enjoying skating more than I have in a long time.
Do you have any tips for anyone else who might be feeling that lack of control over their career?
You just have to start opening up to new things, in a way. Before I got into tattooing I went through a little transformation thing where I was trying to find something else outside of skating. I was like 26 at the time, trying to really figure out what I want to do. I just started diving into myself, and just sitting with myself, meditating and borderline isolating. This is when I started to get into drawing and painting, and that’s kind of where it all started blossoming. I didn’t even know how to draw, you know? So it was like, fuck dude, why would I have any urge to want to tattoo? I don’t know where the fuck that came from. The meditation allowed me to see what I wanted to do. I think meditation can give you a strength you don’t necessarily have.
You don’t really want to sit down on the floor by yourself and fucking close your eyes and breathe. Meditating is not always the most fun thing, but making yourself uncomfortable sometimes is kind of good. It can get you warmed up to start something new. Fuck, it’s just so easy to get into a routine and just get stagnant and do the same thing over and over because it’s comfortable.
“Meditating is not always the most fun thing, but making yourself uncomfortable sometimes is kind of good.”
What is your meditation routine and how did you get into that kind of stuff?
It’s pretty mellow. I’m not like a crazy meditator. I’m not doing it for hours at a time, and there are days that I skip. It’s just kind of like a 20-minute thing in the morning maybe, and I can stretch, and it just kind of keeps me centered. I mean really, psychedelics got me into it. I feel like that usually is the case.
What psychedelics do you prefer?
Definitely mushrooms. They’re the most genuine. You always know what you’re getting. I could integrate mushrooms into my life more. I kind of know what to do with mushrooms. Acid always felt just like a drug, and DMT was so fucking overwhelmingly powerful that I didn’t even know how to integrate it, or didn’t know what to do with it. It was just like being abducted or something [laughs].
Mushrooms guided me and showed me, “Oh, I can do this if I want to,” and kind of similar to meditation, it showed me some strengths that I didn’t know I had. It sparked me to go inside myself. After those experiences, I would meditate, sit with it, you know? That’s what kind of got me going with it, and it just started becoming a routine.
“Mushrooms don’t want to necessarily push you over the edge.
They want to nurture you and take care of you.”
Have you had any really major takeaways on shrooms?
I did a year of heavy doses as much as I could, and I had all these experiences with my family, God, and all that shit. It totally sculpted my life now, in a way. It opened me up to the spiritual side of life. I never believed in that shit before. I did not believe in anything outside our reality.
I mean it’s hard to explain just because it sounds fucking crazy when you try to explain it [laughs]. I’ve had experiences with my dad that passed away. It felt like I’ve basically gotten fucking like 20 years of therapy out of the way in like 10 trips.
What realizations about spirituality did you find out? How many grams of mushrooms did you eat?
It was probably the first time I took a heavy, heavy dose of mushrooms. They always call it a “heroic dose,” where it’s like five grams or more. Terence McKenna always talked about how you can break through to the other side and then you can interact with the mushroom and all this stuff.
The first time I did that I started to have entities talk to me. Like, the mushrooms started talking to me. That’s when it changed. I was like, “Oh, shit. There’s definitely some spiritual side to this life because this is not something that I can think up on my own.” I started having other entities interact with me, so that’s what changed it.
It’s like you hit that point in a trip, you’re like, “Oh, fuck. I went too far. I’m not going to be able to get back now.” I put my faith in the psychedelic and was like, “I know you’ll bring me back.” I treated it like a friend or something, and it always treated me well. Mushrooms don’t want to necessarily push you over the edge. They want to nurture you and take care of you.
Are you still doing that amount of shrooms?
No [laughs]. I take them a few times a year now, not every week. [Laughs] I definitely still take them and try to have a relationship with them and everything.
They’ve become more mainstream lately for sure.
Oh, totally. People are seeing that all the pharmaceutical shit doesn’t really work for everybody, so it’s like a new way to take care of yourself. Like if you could have one experience and have a better life off of that one experience, why not do it? Or even if it’s just once a year or something. That’s better than taking a pill every day.
It’s funny because we just have them jarred at the shop. Everyone always tips us with weed and mushrooms at the tattoo shop.
Even my mom is asking about them. It’s fucking crazy. She freaked out when she caught me smoking weed the first time, so the fact that she’s opening up to mushrooms—that’s wild.
The lifespan of a pro skater has historically been about five years. You’ve survived much longer than that. How do you keep navigating through it?
Man, that’s hard. I always felt like as long as I was always thinking about the skating, and putting everything into it, things were working. But, obviously that kind of changed when I got to a certain age. It’s so different now. It’s not necessarily about skating anymore. It’s more about having a personality and how you edit your fucking Instagram videos and stuff. I don’t know how you have longevity in skating now. The way we did it was totally different.
Now you could probably have a way longer career as long as you post the right stuff every day and make an edit. You don’t even have to do crazy tricks, you know? You can just edit it the right way and people will love it. You don’t have to kill yourself anymore, so maybe it’s better now, in a way.
I guess, as long as you just fucking care about skating, I think it can give back to you.