Erik Ellington Interview
Thanks to Supra we recently caught up with Erik Ellington as he was passing through London. Here’s what he had to say about the Warner Ave days, his new life as sober business owner, dropping Antwuan Dixon’s board and much more.
Alright Erik? How’s the trip going to far?
It’s going really well thanks. It started off in Paris for seven days, we’ve been in London for four or five and we’ll be heading up to Manchester on Friday for Go Skateboarding day.
From what I’ve understood it’s not exactly a traditional skate tour right?
Well we’ve got someone from the Skateboard Mag shooting photos for an article so in that sense it is, but you are right to say that it’s a bit different. The focus of this trip is little bit more on the areas we are going to and the people that have made the skate scenes what they’ve become rather than just being about us and the tricks we do in these places. For instance we’ve been interviewing a few people that have been influential for the London scene and we’ll be including them in a special video that we’ll be dropping about the trip. Skating some of the more iconic spots in these cities and finding out about their history from the OG’s has been really cool. As a pro skateboarder you get to travel all around the world, but most of the time you don’t really get a chance to experience a lot of the city. For a lot of the places I’ve visited there’s just not much I can say I’ve done aside from skate some cool spots and maybe eat dinner in a nice restaurant… This one is a lot more laid back. The first night my friend Louis Slater came down from Sheffield and already I felt like I’d done more in London than I’d ever done on any other trip out here.
How do you know Louis Slater?
I guess Louis came out to California when he was 16. He came and stayed at the Warner Avenue apartment we had back then. He was friends with Mark Baines and I think it was Mark who invited him out the first time… We all got along really well with him straight away and I’ve remained good friends with him for over 15 years. Before he started Slugger Distribution he’d regularly come out and stay with me for three months at a time.
I guess you mentioning the Warner Ave place leads me to my next question: it’s been quite well documented that you haven’t always been very kind to your body yet you haven’t slowed down at all in terms of video parts/productivity. How have you changed your lifestyle since those days?
Well I’m 37 now and these days I really try to take as good care of my body as I can. I quit drinking a couple of years ago and I recently quit smoking. Drinking doesn’t work so well with me… I get into a lot more trouble than the average person. I decided that it wasn’t the way I wanted to live so I quit. And I live a more rewarding life this way. I’m a better father, I’m a better friend, I’m more productive, and more creative. And then smoking… I’m just smoking to kill myself; I don’t know what the fucking point of that is. It’s funny how people that don’t smoke really wonder why we do it to ourselves… Anyway I just got sick and tired of it so I eliminated that from my life.
I want to skate for as long as I can and I know that’s not going to be forever. I mean I’ll probably be able to roll around for as long as I can walk but actually skating at the level I want to skate is a different story. That’s why if there’s anything I can do to slow that down I’ll do it. Having to slightly change the way I eat or use a roller for my muscles is nothing if it means I’ll be able to do this thing that I love for a living a little bit longer.
Do you at all regret how that heavy partying lifestyle was almost glorified (in videos) back when you guys were living like that?
I can’t really do anything to change the past and even if I could I’m not even sure I would. Everything happens for a reason, to get to the point were you want to be sometimes you have to go through stuff like that in order to make a change for the positive. It’s a part of your path. It took me all these years to get to a point were I can be a positive influence but maybe this positive influence will be tenfold to the negative one I may have had in the past. All I can do is lead by example now. It is a bit sad when I see someone really wasted but whatever, that’s their path – they may go on to change the world after that. It may be something they need to do to move on to the next part of their life.
I guess parallel to the lifestyle change you’ve also started a business with Baker Boys distribution. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Well we started Baker Boys distribution six or seven years ago. The Baker team was getting so big that we thought having another company for people to get on and go pro for would be good, so we started Deathwish. Once our contract was up with the distribution that Baker was out of we bought that and started something with it. We took Baker and linked up Deathwish and Shake Junt that my good friend Shane Heyl that I grew up skating with in Arizona is doing. Then later we added Vol.4 that Nuge started and Jim Greco’s Hammers company. Then I became friends with Lucien and I’d known Lev for a bit and we now also distribute Palace in the US.
How exactly did the Palace thing come about?
Well Louis Slater showed Andrew and me the old PWBC news things. We were big fans of those and I ended up meeting Lev, kept in contact with him and when I was on a trip with Lucien two years ago he told me they hadn’t figured out distribution United States so I hit up Lev. Him and Gareth flew out and we made it work from there.
I really like where Baker Boys is now. My goal is to provide a home for the team riders and friends that want to start something so that we can house their stuff, distribute it and get it out there. It doesn’t even have to be something we own, a lot of the brands we have no direct link to (like Death Lens) other than we think they are cool brands. It’s a good feeling to have employees that I get to become friends with or that I’ve known for years and get to see grow, mature and get different positions in the company. And seeing your friend’s brand grow, watch more and more stuff getting made is rad. Especially when I think that it all kind of started with Baker and that period we mentioned earlier. We all skated and partied together, became life-long friends and ended up creating this. Some of us became sober, some still live like that but we all have that common friendship and enabled us to keep doing what we love. I’m almost 40 and I still get to skate every day, go on tours and help create graphics… I’m stoked. I could not have imagined it being any better. I couldn’t have created a better reality in my head.
Moving on to something completely different. I don’t know if you heard but quite a few of the main European magazines recently stopped being printed. Do you have any views on this? Do you think print mags are important for our culture?
I’d actually heard about that yeah. Well to me that just sounds like a perfect opportunity to create something awesome. A lot of the time when a corporation pulls the plug on something like a magazine they are typically a few years behind. I know there’s value in having something tangible and I’m not just saying that because I grew up with magazines and videos etc., I think it’s valuable for everybody that skates. This is something I’ve noticed even more in the last few years with iTunes videos, isolated web parts etc. When stuff only comes out online, once it’s buried in the feed (after about a week) it gets forgotten. Even if it’s a phenomenal video part… Now give it a couple of years and it’s almost impossible to find! If you are lucky you might be able to find some shitty quality version that’s been re-edited to a different song or something but that’s not the same thing is it? Having something tangible means having an archive of it. Archiving is what makes history – it’s essential, especially in skating. People go into museums for a reason: because that’s where stuff is archived. The Internet doesn’t archive things in the same way, you almost have to stumble upon things. But it’s cyclical, you have to go through a phase like this one for people to realise that having magazines that archive what we do in a systematic way is extremely valuable. It’s just like with anything, as humans we have to make stupid mistakes in order to learn.
I feel the same way about social media; I’ve been trying to hold back a little. I don’t need to know every single thing every single person I know is doing every day. For instance let’s say I’m a fan of Mike Tyson. Do I really need to know what he’s eating for breakfast? I think that and these immediate disposable video parts are going to have to come to and end – or at least slow down. What why guys are doing is so good, no matter what time or era we live in or what people say is relevant. People said that about DVDs and we just put the Shake Junt DVD and it sold really well.
Thanks, that’s really encouraging. You guys got anything lined up for the rest of the year? Any more DVDs?
Well as soon as I get back from this Supra trip I’m going to join the last part of this Baker tour with some of the Deathwish guys. We’ll be going up the East Coast. Then we are working on Deathwish video that’ll focus on Taylor Kirby and Jon Dickson with everyone else having footage in montages. And yes, we’ll be putting it out on DVD after a 24-hour online premiere. Then the Baker guys are also working on Baker 4…
Sounds sick. What’s Antwuan Dixon saying at the moment? Has he been skating much?
I don’t know… I mean he’s up and down. With Antwuan all I can do is pray, pray that he can find his own motivation, that he’s not doing it for something else. You remember what I said earlier about people being on their own paths? Well he’s on his own path. There’s nothing people can do to convince him otherwise. He has to figure this stuff out on his own… I’ve tried myself but that’s not the way to do things. I can only be there to support him if he choses to get sober and change the way he lives his life because it’s clearly not working for him the way it’s going. Some people can drink like ordinary people, some people can’t. And for him it’s going to take some serious lifestyle changes… Whether he chooses to do that is not under my control or is it even really my business. He’s a grown man; he can make his own decisions. He got out of jail almost a year ago, was skating for a little while… He has a hard time you know; it’s difficult.
And when I see him skate, how naturally graceful he is you want that. You want to tell him: “you know what, take it easy, maybe mellow out a little bit, don’t get in a fight or don’t do this or that,” but really, it has to come from him. There’s nothing I can do apart from take away his board and not promote him and encourage that behaviour. Because let’s be honest giving him a pro model and paying money does encourage the lifestyle. I’ve heard people say that we capitalise on that image but that’s not true at all. We dropped his board four years ago in hopes of a change. And then every release you’ve got people asking us “where’s the Antwuan board?!” For sure one of the most iconic styles in skateboarding ever but this guy’s our friend and we are trying to help him.
Makes sense. I remember you guys took away Spanky’s board for a bit as well, was it that he was injured or was it a similar deal?
No it wasn’t even that he was injured. He’d just made choices in his life that in one way or another that showed he wasn’t a professional skateboarder. I won’t go into great detail about it, as it’s his and Andrew’s business, but let’s just say that he kind of lost sight of certain responsibilities. I think it became very apparent to him once his board was gone that what he wanted in life was to travel the world and get paid to do what he’s loved doing since he was a kid. So he made moves to make that happen again and showed the dedication of a true professional. It was like a rebirth for him.
It’s quite impressive really. He could have easily thought: “fuck this, these guys don’t have my back,” and continued to do whatever he was doing whilst holding a grudge against us. But he didn’t, he got his shit together. And him and Andrew were friends throughout the whole thing and they are just as close now.