Words & interview by Chris Nieratko
From SNEEZE NO.15
I thought I was on the receiving end of a prank call when I was asked to interview Erik Ellington, Deathwish Skateboards co-owner and flagship pro skater. I asked, “What the fuck does either of us know about being healthy?” It was a knee-jerk reaction. I spent the better part of my twenties blacked out, boozed up, on drugs, having unprotected adventures in Hollywood, all chronicled in glorious detail in my book, Skinema. At the very same time Ellington was making a name for himself for similar hijinks as well as for his skateboarding talent. His Baker Boys/Piss Drunx crew was so iconic and influential at the time that Rolling Stone did a full (yet, unflattering) exposé on the partying antics.
But that was a long time ago. Nearly half a decade has passed. Ellington and I are both married with children now. We are business owners. And on most nights we can walk a straight line and pass a sobriety test. I suppose it’s not so far-fetched to think we know a thing or two about health or at the very least, how to avoid being extremely unhealthy.
I guess a good way to start is: how bad was it when it was at its worst?
ERIK: I guess it’s like any other kid that’s young and getting paid. I moved to California and was having fun with my friends and stuff. Our Baker thing was glamorized a little bit more than what anybody’s situation was. We drank a lot or whatever but who doesn’t? My mom was always really mellow with me drinking and stuff. I’d be sixteen and she’d be like, “If you’re going to go out and get drunk, come here and get drunk with your friends.” And I’d do that and I think that gave me a little bit of a tolerance in a way of not wanting to get as completely fucked up as possible, because I started at an earlier age, even though I ended up doing that too at times. Drinking is fun and it can get out of hand pretty quick and then you get into doing a little bit of coke or something and next thing you know you’re smoking crack in Hollywood. Fortunately my body, at the time, had a shutdown mechanism where at six in the morning or seven in the morning you’re smoking crack or whatever and I couldn’t do it anymore. The next day being a pro skateboarder I felt like such a piece of shit that I was regretful every single time I did that. Some people get to the point where they’re like, “Fuck it! I don’t care. The drug is more important.” But to me skating was always more important. I still go out and get drunk and stuff. I haven’t touched hard drugs in quite a while but I think it’s nice to go out and get drunk with your friends, but it’s also nice not to black out and be an asshole to everybody.
Omar Salazar told me recently that years ago in San Diego at a trade show party you were in a fight and you were supposed to get arrested and instead he got arrested and escaped with handcuffs still on his wrists.
ERIK: Really? I don’t know. I remember Tony Alva getting arrested and I think I should have. I guess maybe that happened too. The blackout stories are, like, your guess is as good as mine.
Tell me about it. Years after one of the Big Brother premieres someone came up to me and was like, “You know you pulled your dick out on the dance floor and pissed all over so-and-so’s wife.” And I was like, “Nope, not me.” They said they had a photo of it but I didn’t remember it, so it didn’t happen.
ERIK: I do remember the first time I got really drunk to where I threw up. I recall that like everybody can. Me and two of my friends, Gabe Fletcher and Thomas Noona, so me, Thomas and Gabe got Gabe’s sister to get us four 40s of Olde English when I was thirteen years old and we each drank one and split the last one. Then I remember falling in a creek in Anchorage, Alaska in the summertime and thinking I was going to drown. I was throwing up all over the place, all over myself. To this day I hate Olde English.
You lived in Anchorage through all your teenage years?
ERIK: Up until I was fourteen or fifteen, then I moved to Tempe, Arizona.
Alaska has those extended daylight seasons and then there’s months of constant night. I always wondered if kids were getting really fucked up during those extreme seasons?
ERIK: Yeah, in the summertime. Pretty much everybody gets such cabin fever in the wintertime in that exaggerated time of darkness where it gets dark at 3:30 in the afternoon and then it doesn’t get light until 10:30 in the morning; so you only get five hours of daylight. It’s the exact opposite in the summer so in the summer everybody takes advantage of the time of good weather. The memories of the summers in Alaska, running wild with my friends are rad. I don’t really have that many memories of wintertime. It’s the weirdest thing; my only memories are from when it was summertime.
You haven’t done hard drugs in a while. When was the last time and what made you stop?
ERIK: It was before my son was born and he’s six years old. I just thought I’d make the conscious effort to stop doing that because it’s too heavy. I’m getting older, I was twenty seven when we had Julius; you don’t want to be a thirty-five-year-old dude doing coke and trying to find some bad shit out there. That’s what you look at when you’re younger and say, “I don’t want to be like that.”
You look healthy, you’re skating great. What’s the secret?
ERIK: The funny thing is my mom has always been kind of a hippy and into health food. When I was fourteen I worked at a health food co-op next to my house and I think I’ve always taken vitamins, even when I probably didn’t need to. Yeah, I’d mix it in with smoking and eating crappy food, but now I really make an effort to eat good especially now that I can afford to do that. I go to the vitamin shops and get the protein and glutamine mixes to put in your drinks so I don’t get as sore as I probably should after I skate. I cook my own food and make an effort to do better for myself. I’m into making pasta, like good ground up turkey pasta. I make these kale chips and squeeze lime on them and I cook with a lot of olive oil. I make fish here and there. Maybe that’s the key. I’m thirty four now, I feel pretty healthy and I feel like I’m pretty strong. And cooking smart seems to help.
Not that you need to concern yourself with other occupations but do you ever daydream and think, ‘If I wasn’t skateboarding, maybe I could be a chef?’
ERIK: Yeah, I did. I wanted to start a cooking show one time. I thought it would be neat to show that you could make something out of anything and it could be pretty good.
Thrasher’s Scarfing Material.
ERIK: It was kinda like that. Then I did have a dream of starting my own Cajun-style restaurant one time. My dad was a chef on an oil derrick in Alaska and I thought I could name it after him, but the restaurant business isn’t something that I can get into right now; that’s too crazy. But that was what got me into it, him and my mom could cook really good. He was always cooking Cajun, southern-style stuff since he was from Louisiana.
How intense is your pre-skate stretch session?
ERIK: Fucking horrible! I actually need to get better at that, too. I’m really bad with that. I drink those shakes and eat with flax oil on my food and then I don’t stretch for shit. I went to a dude the other day and he bent my hand back and was like, “You’re not flexible at all.” I was like, “Oh, that sucks. I guess I need to stretch more.” You know when they can tell right away? Certain people’s ligaments are just less flexible than other people’s? Well, mine are the least flexible.
When it comes to your vitamins, how do you compare to Dustin Dollin? I watched him take vitamins once and he ingests so many it took nearly 20 minutes to eat them all.
ERIK: I don’t know, I’ve never seen him take them, but he’s at the Baker Boys Warehouse right now so I’m going to ask him about that later. He’s gone through a couple knee surgeries so he’s probably got a full kit that his doctor prescribed him. I just do MSM, the glutamine, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, garlic oil, chlorophyll to oxygenate your system; I don’t really have one big supplement pack. I just freestyle it. See what shit works for you and what doesn’t work.
Dustin’s got the record; he has six knee surgeries under his belt. Have you had any serious injuries?
ERIK: No, knock on wood. I was talking to Dustin about that on Super Bowl Sunday and it’s gnarly, he’s bionic, for sure. Six is pretty gnarly and to come back strong from all of them is record breaking. I’ve been in the hospital for random fights but nothing skate related. I’ve broken my hand but that’s about it.
We’re all creeping up on 40 and you’ve made a living of jumping off big shit. How do you think you’ll feel at 40?
ERIK: Well, I didn’t think I’d feel too great at 34 and I feel like He-Man so I imagine at 40, I’ll be going pretty strong. I hope. I’m pretty confident I can do it.
Do you think that is more about having a young son than skateboarding?
ERIK: I guess, kids keep you young. It’s probably a collective of everything, mentally is the biggest thing. If you’re hanging out with kids that are eighteen, twenty years old you feel like a pussy if you’re not keeping with them. I’m not crazy but I think I can hang. It’s mostly your mental. I talk to people that are younger than me that don’t skate and they’re really old. They’re physically worn out, they’re mentally worn out and I think the people that we surround ourselves with in skateboarding allows us to stay young. You see Tony Alva and he’s fifty plus. He doesn’t look it, doesn’t act it; that’s what I want to be like. I don’t ever want to be like the squares you see that are regular, worn out people that are thirty five but look sixty. ♠