Interview and photos: Elliott Wright
As a Californian, Alaska has always conjured images of snow, salmon, boats, and bears.
It seems an unlikely place to explore the limits of skateboarding— a pastime most associate with a drier, urban landscape. Naturally, I was intrigued when a friend of mine told me about a new skate film, Bearrier, which highlights Anchorage and several other cities in the lower-48 states. We have our fair share of concrete road barriers down south, the kind that make regular appearances in most skate films. However, I had never seen a bear stroll through the foreground of a session, as I did in Brendon Hupp’s newest full-length video project. I was able to track him down with the hope of learning more about the film itself and skateboarding in The Last Frontier.
Brendon, how did you become involved with documenting skateboarding in Anchorage, a city that does not seem skate-friendly at all?
I started skating early on. Since middle school, I’ve been skating with my friends Evan Sharp and Shay Martinson. We were always filming ourselves skating for fun, whether it be a full video or individual parts. Soon after, I reached a point where I could not skate in the winters and wanted to keep doing something to keep busy. I discovered snowboarding that way. Then one winter, I blew my knee out. I started filming some of my friends who were really good at snowboarding, and that’s when I got really into filming. I got a Sony VX-2100 as a birthday/Christmas gift.
What led to you filming professionally?
Well, people would come up to Alaska to snowboard and I would film them because I knew the spots and stuff. When I got a little older, I wanted to get out of Alaska, so I went to school at Portland State University. After that, I realized that I didn’t want to go into an office job. I ended up filming snowboarding again after I graduated last winter.
What’s the skate scene like in Anchorage?
There’s an older generation, kind of. Evan, Shay and I met this guy, Ted Kim. He’s like the godfather of skating in Alaska. He made five or six videos before we were even skating. We would occasionally see him around, and then we eventually met him at a spot. He was super cool, and ended up making a video with some of us younger and older guys—a wide mix. He contributed to one of my videos a couple of years later. Ever since then, everyone skates together. It was not always like that, so it feels good that it’s like that now.
Who are some notable skaters from the older generation to come out of Alaska? Was there a main shop in Anchorage?
There was a shop called Boarderline. There was a really thriving scene through that shop. Ted was not necessarily in with that shop, which was sick, in a way. He was subverting that scene and doing things with his own group of friends. In terms of skaters, there was Micah Hollinger; he had a Big Brother cover. Jerry Smyth had a Thrasher cover; it was a cover that Phelps did not like apparently, [laughs]. Adrian Williams went pro out of here. I think Erik Ellington spent some time in Anchorage when he was younger, and then I think he may have lived in Fairbanks. That was way before my time though. There has been a lot of ebb and flow with shops, skateparks, and scenes. At this point, everyone’s down with each other.
So who makes up the current generation of skaters, as in, who are some of the skaters featured in Bearrier?
In addition to Evan and Shay, there’s Garrett Swenson. We are all from Alaska. Evan is always doing stuff here. Keeping it revved up, up here. I made the video over the duration of my time in college, so four years total. The video is staggered between three locations—Anchorage, the Pacific Northwest, and San Francisco. After going to school in Portland, I met some cool people, including Ryan Lutz, Aiden Olmstead and Marc O’Malley. Shay spent a couple years in Washington, which is the connection there. Shay then moved down to San Francisco, where he has been for eight years. Then there is Zach Crater, who is originally from Huntington Beach but lives in Alaska now. That was how the video evolved.
Tell me about the conditions of skating in Alaska, starting with the summer months.
Summer is really sick. Everyone is trying to make up for time they lost during the winter. There is this energy, all over the state, where everyone is just really revved up. Everyone wants to do all that they can, whether it be skating, hiking or camping. The daylight provides this collective energy that everyone feeds off of. That really drives a lot of people.
Are we talking about twenty hours or so of daylight?
Yeah. I would say it’s pretty close to 20 hours, give or take an hour. On the summer solstice, which is the longest day of the year, it does not really feel like it’s getting dark. It goes from dusk to dawn again. It feels like 24 hours of daylight. It makes it hard to catch up on sleep.
Other than difficulty sleeping, are there any other downsides to summer?
There are good days and bad days; it certainly still rains in the summer. There are a shitload of mosquitoes at some spots. It can drive you insane.
Have you ever swallowed any bugs while skating?
I know that happens to all of us. Maybe a week ago, I was bombing a hill and saw a cloud of them. There are enough of them where it just happens. There are a couple times a summer where you’ll catch one, [laughs]. We had a little DIY street spot that was off in the woods. There was some stagnant water, so that made it super shitty. We would load up on bug dope and spray which was the saving grace.
And Anchorage is completely dark in the winter?
Everything is changing with the climate right now. But regardless of that, it’s really cold, and more than that, it’s dark. So you end up with maybe five or six hours of daylight. You wake up, go to work in the dark, watch the sunrise and sunset, and finish work in total darkness. It can get depressing.
How, if at all, do you and your friends skate during the winter months?
We do not have any indoor parks in Anchorage anymore. But everyone skates this parking garage downtown. It has a bunch of curbs and parking blocks. Usually, someone will bring a box as well. The big thing is that bushings freeze pretty quickly. Usually, in the car I have the heat blasting on my feet and have my board down there on the passenger side. Halfway to the spot, I’ll rotate the board around to get the other truck as well. At 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6.66 Celcius), the bushings will last for 30 or 45 minutes. Then they start to harden up. When it is colder, you might get 20 minutes of skating; after that, you cannot turn at all anymore. We will wear gloves, a hoodie, and some shitty puffy jacket. The ground is super rough, so whatever you wear gets pretty torn up if you fall. You end up looking like a snowman or something, [laughs].
Falling on cold concrete is the worst ever. Hats off to you guys for getting out there in the dead of winter.
It’s like three times as bad as a normal slam. It feels like the ground is harder or something.
How often do you see a bear roll up on the spot?
It’s not often that you see that, but it depends on where you are skating. There is a creek that runs through downtown Anchorage, which is kind of an industrial zone. A bunch of salmon return up that river. When it is mid-summer, peak salmon season, you will definitely see some bears.
Have you had any other crazy encounters with bears?
Not so much in the city. They are usually pretty mellow; but when they have cubs around, that is when things can get crazy. Our buddy Garrett and his friends, who were camping, got chased once. They were on a trail and the bear followed them to the point where they had to mace it to get away.
After browsing your YouTube channel, I found Dip for Dinner. What is the story behind that one?
That project came about from having extra footage over the years. Some of it’s really crazy shit that just got lost in the mix, whether it be lost tapes or whatever. I’m not doing those people justice by sitting on the footage. If it doesn’t see the light of day now, it never will.
How has skating been since the pandemic? I know that the 1918 Spanish Flu hit Alaska particularly hard and devastated smaller villages.
Alaska is kind of its own little island, almost like Hawaii. Anchorage is liberal, but Alaska as a whole is pretty conservative. In terms of masks, it has become a political issue as opposed to just a general social issue that we are all dealing with. I would say that the state isn’t handling it quite as responsibly as they could. But then again, certain communities are. That’s where you could run into a village where, if the virus hit, they would be fucked. Anchorage has been pretty mellow. I think everyone is certainly more aware and keeps to their smaller groups. But we are still skating. Everyone that flies into the state has to take a test, which I think is good. Maybe most states aren’t doing that.
So, what are your future plans for video projects?
We are going to start a series of shorter edits called Procrastination Push. I have four edits already finished, I just need to start dropping them. The series will focus on whatever trips we plan, and putting the edits out faster than a full-length project.
My parents, Shay, Evan, Garrett, Ted, Travis, Crater, Bruce, Lars, Geno, CJ, Aidan, Marc, Ryan, Jack and everyone that put us up along the way. And thanks to you, Elliott, and Monster Children, as well as all the people who have checked out our videos!
Score a copy of the Bearrier DVD and zine HERE.