The Future of Skateboarding with Elijah Berle

Photos by Andrew Peters, interview by Chris Nieratko 

There was blood everywhere.

The uncomfortable fold-out couch/bed where I last saw Elijah Berle was a horror show, and I knew things were very serious. The year was 2011, and Vans’ newest am was dead, I was quite sure of that. The stench of decay hung in the air of the cheap motel room, and I couldn’t help but think it was somehow my fault. The 16-year-old and his peach fuzz moustache had been put in my care for the duration of our weekend in the Arizona Desert, and somehow I had botched my only assignment. My mind quickly began to play tricks on me—had I somehow gator’d the young man? If so, where was the body? And why couldn’t I recall any of the details? I picked up the telephone and dialled 9-1-1 to turn myself in.

‘9-1-1. how can I help you?’

‘I’d like to report a—’

A knock came at the door. On the other side stood Elijah, smiling and ready for the day. ‘I’m sorry,’ I told the operator, ‘I meant to call the front desk. We need towels. Lots of towels.’ I hung up and hugged Elijah like a lonely grandmother that had had a few too many gin and tonics while looking at photo albums. It turned out Eli was very much not dead. He had cut his leg skating in the parking lot at 2 am and the wound bled all night, everywhere. He was fine, and we both had our uncertain futures to look forward to.

Each photo, every video part, every Instagram clip I see of Elijah Berle now reminds me of those fucked up few minutes when I thought the world had lost him, and they take on a heightened level of importance. I think of all he’s accomplished in the eight years since, and I swell up with joy with each milestone he hits: Best AM Award, Going Pro, Propeller, No Other Way, Fucking Awesome, his first pro model shoe. Raise your glass and join us in celebrating the life and times of one of skateboarding’s greatest magicians.

I’ve been looking in the mirror a lot lately and taking stock of the changes I’ve gone through the past twenty years. You’re a much different person than you were when you won Tampa Am in 2010. How do you think you’ve changed since then?

That was such a different time in my life. Ten years ago, I was fifteen. Everything is so new and fresh and exciting at that age. It’s hard to be bummed when you’re in that situation because you’re pretty much excited to do everything. I was just stoked to be there and to do anything, really. I’m still stoked, it’s just a different time.

How has skateboarding changed in the past ten years?

Obviously, there’s been a big spark in newer board companies coming together that are skater-owned, rather than big companies before that, that kind of just held all of the best skaters that we have. It kind of turned into those skaters leaving to do their own thing; started new projects, and that’s where I ended up. I’m stoked that it took a turn.

I feel like people in skating have never really discriminated against other skaters. I feel like now more than ever, people testing the waters with something new is respected and appreciated. People that aren’t testing the waters are the ones getting hated on, rather than how it used to be. If you stood out or looked a little different, you’d get hated on. Now, if you look the same as everybody else, nobody wants to have anything to do with you.

It’s funny, for something that’s supposed to have no rules, skateboarding has made quite a lot of rules for itself over the years.

Yeah, the unspoken rules. It’s funny, the other day I was explaining to my girlfriend why I had to go back and do this trick that I had already done. I did this trick, and it was supposed to be a 50/50, but if you watch the footage, my front truck wasn’t locked into 50/50, so it was a feeble, technically. It was off by a fucking inch, you know? I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got to go back and do this again.’ I showed her the clip and tried to explain it to her. She was like, ‘Who makes these fucking rules?’ She got pissed. I was like, ‘I don’t know who makes the rules. It’s just unspoken.’

I’m stoked that you do shit like that. There seems to be, in some facets of skateboarding, a lack of quality control. Right now, people are letting some shit slide that you’re like, ‘whoa, whoa, whoa! VIOLATION!’

I think skating is broken up into a few groups right now: people that have dedicated their careers to contest skating, out there night and day thinking about contests; it’s the only thing on their minds. Then there are the people that are here to have fun and not take it too seriously; then you’ve got guys out there in the street, like Tyshawn, that fucking eat, breathe, and live skating in the street. There are a few different paths you can go in skating. It’s cool that you don’t just have one option. If you’re a professional baseball player, you’re going to play in the league, and you’re going to do the same thing every single day. Skating and surfing are still kind of the only things you can make a career out of and do it how you want to do it.

You mentioned surfing. I’ve seen you out on the North Shore—

Drowning? (Laughs) Yeah, surfing is a huge part of my life. Surfing balances out the skating for me. There are only a few things in life that when you’re doing them, you can absolutely not think about anything else. You’re completely zoned and honed-in on that one thing. Skating is obviously something that has been that for me. It just brings me to total fucking peace with whatever’s going on. And surfing is the only other thing that I’ve found that brings me to that place. If you find that, whatever it is, I’d say stick with it because it’s probably a good thing for you.

One thing I always ask of skaters that surf: Can you kickflip it?

(Laughs) No, definitely not. I don’t even know if I’d want to. I just like to get out there and do a few turns and be in the water. If I make the wave and do a few turns at the end of it, I’m hyped up. I’m satisfied with that. I will say, sometimes when I’m surfing and I’m pumping down the face, I’ll see a little pocket and, in my head, I’ll feel like I could do what I’d do if it were a quarter-pipe. Then I go try it out, and it’s just not reality. It doesn’t happen. I gave up on high hopes for surfing, but if I can make it down the line and get some waves, I’m hyped.

Where do you see skating in ten years from now—the year 2030?

My opinion, I feel like skaters are grossly underpaid athletes compared to all these other fucking assholes out here that are probably getting paid millions to sit their ass on the bench. I’d like to get my own thing going, whether it has to do with skateboarding or not; it’s hard to get a solid retirement off of just skateboarding. It’s pretty rare. It sounds cool to get involved in something else because skating is the only thing I really know. It’d feel good to be successful in something else. I’ve been looking to get a tequila company going. I like marketing and branding. To own a company; it’d be fun to be in charge of all that stuff. Hopefully (I’ll be) living in Hawaii somewhere, hanging out, surfing every day, skating sometimes. Pretty much what Arto’s doing.

I met you in 2011, the year after you won Tampa, on a road trip to Phx Am. You were my roommate, and I thought you had gotten murdered in the middle of the night on my watch!

I had a few people sweating because I was under their watch. Sorry, to all those people out there that skipped a heartbeat when they were in charge of me as a kid on tour. Phx Am is held by Cowtown, one of the greatest skateshops in the world. Not an easy business to be in, and yet they’re about to celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary. My skateshop, NJ Skateshop, just had its fifteenth anniversary. What do you think the role of the skateshop is, and how important is it that they persevere? I think they have a really important role, and not just for skateboarders or keeping skateboarding core. A skate \shop is a place where people can go that don’t necessarily have the best thing going on outside of skateboarding, and they can be comfortable and just feel at home. I knew a lot of kids in that situation growing up. I had a loving family and everything, but a lot of the kids I went to the skateshop with would go to the skateshop because they didn’t want to go home.

It just supplies people with a place where everyone has your back, like a home away from home. A family that raises you in a way that you wouldn’t get if you were playing video games. You grow up quicker and you get smarter. You probably start talking to girls sooner, too. A good skateshop with good people is a good place to grow up.

You recently had tricks in arguably one of the most impactful skateshop videos since PJ Ladd’s Wonderful Horrible Life: Supreme’s Blessed. How did you start rolling with that crew, and how important do you think Supreme is to spreading the gospel of skateboarding?

Well, I was skating with a bunch of those guys because I was going out to New York to skate with the FA guys. Pretty much ever since I got on FA, they were working on the Supreme video. I was there for some of the sessions. Rowan [Zorilla] got on, and I was skating with him a lot, so I just ended up around Bill [Strobeck] a bunch. I liked the way those guys operate on foot and in the field; no van, just getting shit done. I was hyped to be a part of the video and get some tricks in there. It was motivating filming for something I didn’t have to film for. It took a lot of that edge off.

People either love Supreme or hate it, but either way, they’re talking about it. They might say they hate it, but I guarantee if they got around anyone who rides or works for Supreme, they wouldn’t have a negative thing to say. Supreme has been a core staple in skateboarding since it started. When it comes down to it, they support the homies. Once you’re in their circle they’re taking care of you. They have an eye for skating like no one else really does. They put that whole team together and look at them now: Skater of the Year, and the most imitated skaters are on that team. I don’t know if ten years ago people were looking at those kids like that. They saw how those kids worked together and saw that they looked good together, now they’re on top of the world.

Is that connection how your switch from Chocolate to Fucking Awesome came about?

Well, I’ve been skating with Dill, Ave, and Dylan before he passed for years. That was when they were on Alien, and Dylan was doing the Gravis thing. I had just gotten on Chocolate. I was a young kid and still kind of starstruck to be on Chocolate and be skating with Ave and Dill and Dylan every day. Those guys wouldn’t grill me, but they’d be like, ‘When are you going to come ride for The Workshop?’ I’d be like, ‘Dude, fuck. I don’t know what to tell you guys.’ I’m not about to call Rick Howard and tell him I know I just got on, but I’m going to go ride for The Workshop. I was on Vans, and Dylan kept making subtle jokes about riding for Gravis, which, thank god, I didn’t. Those guys were always around and always making it known that Alien Workshop was an option. When they quit and started their own thing, I was interested, but I was still at a place where I just wasn’t comfortable leaving Chocolate. And then FA began to grow. I was just skating with those guys more and more, and it just kind of fell into place. Some of the kids that were on the team were reaching out to me. I grew up around Sage [Elsesser] and Nak [Na-kel Smith] and, obviously, I was tight with Dill and Ave, and the cards just started to unfold. The road that I was on was kind of narrowing out, and the path that was open to me had a lot of opportunity, so I just decided to go for it.

Speaking of Blessed, you have earned yourself the pinnacle prize of professional skateboarding: a signature shoe with your family name on it, And on none other than the most respected skate shoe company ever—Vans. How did you find out and how did that feel?

A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to work towards that, I wanted to make it one of my goals. But I didn’t know how to go about it; I figured I’d just work hard and keep skating. When Kyle was filming for No Other Way, he was kind of filming a solo part, and I just jumped on all those missions and ended up with a part in that. It felt good to work towards something with no particular goal and see success from it. I think the No Other Way part showed Vans that I was serious about working towards something bigger. That year ended and Kyle won SOTY, and then I got a call from Jamie Hart saying, ‘We’ve been batting around the idea of you getting the next shoe. But we’re not sure.’ I was like, ‘You can’t just tell me that. Am I getting a shoe or not?’ He’s like, ‘I’m 80 per cent sure.’ He was messing with me. He said, ‘Now that I’m talking to you, I’m at 90% sure.’ Soon after, I started sitting down with the shoe designers and sketching my shoe out. I realised then it was actually going down, which motivated me to skate even more. They asked me what I wanted to do for it, and I said I wanted to film another part for the shoe. Hopefully, I’m going to get that out in the next couple of months. I’ve been working with Greg Hunt for a while. Excited to start 2019 with a shoe coming out and a part as well. It feels good to set a goal for yourself and achieve it. You should always have at least one thing you’re looking forward to or trying to work towards. If you don’t, you probably don’t got nothing going on.

I know you’ve been plagued with injuries over the years. You got hurt at the end of filming for No Other Way. I can only imagine how fucked that already mental part would’ve been if you didn’t get hurt at the end. Do you ever think about that?

I only had six months to film for No Other Way because I got two injuries back-to-back right before we started filming. When I started feeling healthy enough to skate again, they told me there were six months until the deadline. I didn’t think I’d be able to put something like that together in six months. I was just trying to get as much done as I could, and I shut everything off besides skating. I went skating every single day, even if I didn’t feel like skating that day, or if I didn’t have a spot to skate. I’d come home, take ice baths and stretch. I was really, really focused on skating one hundred per cent for six months straight. It was a snowball effect; I started to get more and more tricks. It got to the point where I only needed a couple of lines and last clips, and it ended up coming together. I was really stoked and proud that I was able to do that, even with a year of injuries. Last year, 2018, wasn’t the best year for me either. I got hurt a few times. It ended great, though. I was feeling good when it ended. 2019 feels even better. My Vans shoe came out, and I’m almost done with my video part. I’m working on a Thrasher interview. It feels good going into the year with all of those under my belt.

Kyle Walker won SOTY with his kinky part in that video. You were a close second. Do you ever joke that it would’ve been you if you didn’t get hurt?

No man, not with that 50-50 he pulled out of his ass at the end of the video. That dude works really fucking hard. I was just stoked to have a part; wasn’t a thought in my mind to get SOTY from it. I honestly wouldn’t have thought it was the right call. Kyle works so hard and was pushing his limits over and over throughout that whole video. He killed it, and really deserved it that year. It was cool to see what needs to be done to get to that position so you can work towards that. Maybe I can squeeze out a part this year. I’ll squeeze out the one for the shoe and maybe squeeze out another one. That might be something to work towards this year.

You got crushed on the bank that Chima Ferguson bonelessed into in Propeller for the cover of The Skateboard Mag. What was that experience like?

It was intense. I think it was too overdone, too over the top. I’m stoked Vans gave me that opportunity and went out of their way to do that for me but, in the end, I feel like it made it more stressful than it needed to be. I ended up getting hurt three weeks before that commercial. I was going to physical therapy almost every day. I hadn’t skated for three weeks, then the night before I was going to try that kickflip, I went to the parking lot across the street from my house, and was doing kickflips on flat ground, and my ankle was hurting. So, whatever, I set myself up for this. We’re just going to have to go for it. The next day I went to try the trick, and the roads were blocked off. There was a huge film crew. It was really intense. I was definitely depressed about it for a while; they put all that shit together for me, and I couldn’t come through for them. It sucked. But it is what it is. I’ve never felt that kind of defeat before, trying a trick. It was almost like nobody was home for a little bit after that. It was so intense, and I’d never worked myself to the point of that exhaustion before. But it was an experience. We ended up going out and getting a regular trick in the streets with me and two filmers and just used that for the commercial. I appreciate all Vans did for me. It showed how confident they are in the shoe and my skating. It was reassuring.

What’s next on the horizon for you?

After this year, I just want to keep it going. It would be really cool to get SOTY. Not putting that out there… One of my biggest accomplishments—and one I’ve always set out for—was getting a shoe. Now that’s happened, if I were to imagine anything being as big as a pro shoe, it would be SOTY. If I can achieve both of those in one year, I wouldn’t even know what to say. I couldn’t ask for anything more than that. I’d probably look back at this year as one of the better years of my life. It’d be cool to have that, or at least to be able to say I tried as hard as I could to do that. This year I’m going to work my ass off, skate as much as I can, and try to travel. Just get as much stuff done as I can, and we’ll see what comes from it next year.

Catch this interview and heaps more by picking up a copy of our Future Issue, right here.

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