April 25, 2024/ & / INTERVIEWS/ Comments: 4

There’s a plethora of reasons to take a step back from professional skateboarding. Injury, family and all that comes with not being 24 years old anymore are amongst the most popular, but we rarely hear of someone distancing themselves to pursue a selfless goal.

John Gardner did just that, taking a step away from skateboarding and leaving behind a pro board and sponsors to pursue his true calling, mental health awareness.

He is back in school and went on to launch Nothing But Today, a mental health consulting firm working to spread awareness and teach techniques for dealing with mental health setbacks. Since then John’s gone on a worldwide tour giving lessons on mindfulness, breathwork, and suicide prevention.

Spreading John’s message is something we can get behind, so we got him on the phone and chatted about his vision for the future, what makes him the man for the job, and even picked up a few tips to traverse stressful situations.

What was the inspiration for stepping away from being a pro skater?
In all honesty, it is a really scary step because I’ve left behind a lot of security, but my intuition has always been strong in guiding me in the right direction, and mental health and teaching mental health have just been at the forefront of my interest.

Over time, I’ve just felt this gravitational pull to pursue it and learn more about it and offer it to people. So the real reason for stepping away is to focus all of my time on this, and skateboarding will always be there.

Was it weird leaving money? You could have still been pro and collected checks while in school, no?
Yes, It’s been weird. And yes I could have done that but I wouldn’t have felt right taking the money for nothing. I know most brands have a limited budget and the way I see it is if I’m taking a piece of the pie and not doing anything, than that means I’m potentially taking money from someone who’s trying to come up and putting it all on the line. I do think about that from time to time as letting go of that money has been a humbling experience, honestly. I have been smart with my money over the years, saving and investing, so I’m not struggling, but still needed to get a job to supplement income. Returning to minimum wage shift work has been an adjustment. A humbling adjustment.

Were there other drawbacks or difficulties in pro skating that contributed to your decision?
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t burnt out towards the end. I could see it building over time, and it started to feel unhealthy in a lot of ways. I felt I should make a plan to step away to protect what I love, and simultaneously I wanted to do something in the mental health field, so it all made sense.

It can be a delicate dance to do something you love for money. I’m sure I could have kept my career going for a while, and it was tempting to do that because I was making really good money, but I felt strongly I needed to do something else.

So far it’s been a great decision — all signs that I’m on the right path keep showing up. If it’s meant to be, maybe a time will come when I am set up in this new career and I can return in some capacity, but for now, it feels really good having skateboarding only as an outlet for fun and not for profit.

What was the reaction from the community?
In all honesty, I was nervous to make those phone calls because you don’t know how people are going to take it, but every single person I spoke to was overtly supportive; very, very supportive from everyone at DC to Creature to Nixon to Noah, everyone was really cool. OJ, Independent, it felt great to have that support because I think the writing was on the wall. People could see that this is an interest of mine, and I’m not really a half in, half out kind of guy. I’d rather just jump headfirst into this while I’m still young and able to shift so dramatically.

You’re up in the mountains in North Carolina right now, right?
Yeah, I just moved here a few weeks ago, kind of on a whim. I had a good feeling, and I wanted to plant roots somewhere, and this seemed like a really good place to plant roots.

It’s beautiful, surrounded by mountains, clean water, good people … and I’m kinda just wingin’ it. Seems to be the common theme of my life, but it’s worked out thus far.

“It can be a delicate dance to do something you love for money.”

Have you become a crazy slack lining guy yet?
[laughs] Not yet! Ironically though, I have been thinking of slack lining a lot because I just moved into a house that has a beautiful black walnut and magnolia tree right next to it. I want to get a slack line and walk between them. I gotta call Ace Pelka, him and his family are pro at slacklining.

What are you doing with your time now that you aren’t skating for a career?
I’m trying to build a good foundation for myself and for my business so I applied to Western Carolina University for their Masters in Social Work program. I’m happy to share I’ve been accepted to the program for the Fall, so I’m preparing for that by taking some other related courses until it begins. Suicide and Mental Health First Aid, Adult and Pediatric CPR/AED/First Aid, and an intro to Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy – which i’m really excited about. Shout out to The Pearl Institute for inviting me to be a part of that.

Are you still doing your project “Nothing But Today” too? Can you tell me what that is?
Yeah! What I can say now is that it’s really a vehicle for me to try and share with people techniques of stress regulation that have helped me.

For now, we’re essentially a mental health consulting firm, where we go into corporations or school systems and share very basic mental health training. Such as how to breathe correctly and the anatomy of breathing; how to meditate, and the science of meditation, and why it’s important; sleep hygiene; facts about social media, amongst many other things.

We talk about skateboarding, too, and there are so many mental health benefits that come with skateboarding. This is essentially my way of sharing that with people and sharing the things that have helped me to hopefully help other people as well.

“If anyone needs some hype as far as skating goes,
I always watch Crusty by Nature, Wes Kremer.”

Wintertime can be tough for folks, mental health-wise. Now that it’s getting warmer, I was curious if there are things that can help you get out of that winter slump, skating or elsewise?
I feel like the winter blues are correlated with the lack of sunlight. There’s a lot of research that it plays a huge role in your mental health. So, as hard as it is in the states that get really cold, I think it’s important to try if you can to get outside, even if it’s cold and cloudy and damp.

As far as the winter blues goes, it’s a great opportunity to reflect. It’s hard to face uncomfortable feelings, and for those of us who live in cold places where we have to stay inside, I think it’s an important time of reflection that is often one that we just want to get through as quickly as possible. For anyone out there who’s stuck inside, those are some good things to consider.

If anyone needs some hype as far as skating goes, I always watch Crusty by Nature, Wes Kremer. You watch that, instant smile — instant smile … He’s one of the best people we have in skateboarding, by far. And I would not be the only person to say that.

What were some of the techniques you got to teach on the Deep Rest Tour?
I was teaching basic principles of mindfulness, breathwork, and suicide prevention. Mindfulness in terms of watching what arises/falls in your awareness without reacting to it, and how to easily access that state; for example, feeling what anger feels like without being consumed in it or reacting unnecessarily to it.

I taught some basic anatomy about the breathing muscles and what’s happening on a biological level when you inhale and exhale. Specifically, exhaling slowly is better at calming the nervous system than the usually prescribed deep breath in. A deep breath in will actually increase your heart rate, sometimes causing more stress.

With suicide prevention, I worked with The Ben Raemers Foundation to share some of their work and research around the signs to look for and questions to ask someone who might be experiencing suicidal ideation.

Could you give us a concrete technique someone reading the piece may be able to use today to help reduce their stress?
Your breathing and your eyesight are some of the most powerful tools you can use to regulate stress. I say “regulate” because there is also good stress too.

As for breathing, there are techniques of controlled hyperventilation called cyclic hyperventilation that will safely mirror the effects of stress, allowing you to increase your ability to handle stress in other situations. Wim Hof teaches a version of this.

For the eyes, just zooming out, literally taking in more of your optic field can help to calm the mind. When we are hyper-focused on screens our eyes are straining and working hard to keep things clear and in focus. Just zooming out can help ease the mind.

Suicide and suicidal ideation are still close to a third rail [when discussing mental health], and you didn’t shy away from approaching that. How important do you think it is that we do take something that is that uncomfortable or that frightening to people, and look at it and talk about it?
I think it demands to be seen, and I think not addressing it is doing a disservice to the ones that we’ve lost, because so many people are struggling in the shadows. My philosophy is that if we’re more open and we talk about these things, it makes them less nuanced and less taboo so that we can hopefully together find the tools so that this doesn’t happen.

It’s such a tragic thing for someone to take their own life, and it has this really painful ripple effect. If I can in any way, shape or form contribute to someone feeling less alone and reconsidering making that decision, then I think it’s their life well lived.

You mentioned earlier going to these meditation sessions. If you could put together John Gardner’s Ultimate Meditation Retreat Seminar™, who do you want to be there?
I’ll tell you a story that I’ve told before of a meditation retreat that I went to in Germany in 2018, at the European Institute of Applied Buddhism. When I got there, it was very challenging. Most retreats are challenging. They have a way of forcing you to look at things that are hard to look at, but you have the support of other people. So when I was there, I got paired up with a group of 25 people around my age, and each group was assigned a monk and maybe a nun, a few monks and a few nuns to help lead the group and talk. The monk that I happened to get paired with happened to be a skateboarder, and he happened to be known in the monastery that he lived in, which is Plum Village as the skateboarding monk.

His name is Brother Dai Gaic. I interviewed him for the first issue of the Deep Rest zine that we made, and he and I have been friends ever since. He’s just such a sweetheart. So if I could put together the dream team for a meditation retreat, he would definitely be in there.

It seems like maybe Wes Kremer should be involved too. You, Wes, Skate Monk.
Wes [Kremer] and B [Brandon] Turner. Shintaro and Masaki Hongo. Karim Callender and Frank Gerwer. I will also venture to say that Gou Miyagi is the embodiment of meditative skateboarding.

Have you ever meditated on a trick?
Yes actually, one clip comes to mind I filmed 10 years ago at FDR. I had a dream about a line there and then woke up and meditated on it, visualizing what I would feel like and things that could go wrong. I remember feeling it so clearly and then, if I remember correctly, a few days later Kevin Winters and I went down to FDR to film it. I’ve also used EMDR as a meditation when skating.

Have you ever gotten high meditating?
Yes, but it feels different than the traditional highs through substances. I think a high also implies a low and for me when I’ve been “high” from breathwork or meditation it feels like a very tranquil prolonged sense of calmness and clarity without any sort of come down. Not visually comparable to psychedelics, but the same feeling of unity and personal sovereignty. Those heights definitely exist within. Holotropic breathwork is a good pathway for that, if done safely.

“Your breathing and your eyesight are some of the most powerful tools you can use to regulate stress.”

Any piece of advice that you might give to somebody if they’re reading this and maybe feeling a little stressed or depressed or down?
The best piece of advice that I can give is to try to identify what you use to escape the feeling. Try to identify, when that feeling of discomfort comes, what’s your initial reaction to try and escape it, and identify if that is a healthy thing or not.

And if it’s not, then slowly try to just sit with the feeling and identify what message it has for you and what’s happening in your body. Where is the tension and what’s the story that’s playing out? Those are the key principles of mindfulness meditation, just watching as the clouds pass in front of you and feeling what that feels like.

We often try to escape when discomfort arrives, and I think that discomfort — granted it’s not going to threaten your life or your health — I think that it’s a very valuable asset for us to grow. I always try as much as I can when I feel discomfort, to just sit in it for a little bit and identify where it’s coming from. Is there a story behind this discomfort and is there something I can do to soften it? And then more often than not, the clouds pass and the blue sky appears.

It might take a whole winter season, but it eventually comes.

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  1. fryanblores

    April 25, 2024 2:12 pm

    wonderful to see john continue on a path that provides him meaning and abundance. i’m glad to be around for the cultural shift skateboarding, and the world as a whole, is slowly and surely taking to emphasize mental well-being.

    folks like john and those at the ben raemers foundation have definitely helped me in minimizing the stigma of speaking on mental health in my own life. great guy; great article.

    thanks jenk

  2. Charles

    April 26, 2024 2:02 pm

    In the picture where John’s wearing an orange hat, I thought he was packing a big bud into a peace pipe. Turns out it’s a beautiful bird and a flute! Jesus I’m tainted lol

  3. Chris

    April 26, 2024 10:56 pm

    The epitome of a beautiful human being.

  4. da big loc

    April 30, 2024 3:41 pm

    gardner come skate athens GA homie

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