Interview by Farran Golding. Portrait by Andrew James Peters. Photography by AJP & Ben Colen
For all the things Andrew Allen has in spades (debonair button-ups and polo shirts, switch tricks, a taste for off the beaten track spots and equally idiosyncratic approaches to them), there’s something he seems to have no grasp of whatsoever. Ego.
His humbleness isn’t the self-deprecating variety which plagues so many professional skateboarders either. He’s just a guy who seems to cherish every moment on his board and hasn’t taken his opportunities for granted.
There’s a line from Andrew’s favourite movie which goes: “You can’t just call time out and stroll on into the beach if you don’t like the way things are going.” However, he’s got the wholesome demeanour of a somebody that could just stare out at a sunset for a little while and all would be right with the world. I imagine his cheerful and relaxed tone has the same effect on anyone who knows him personally too; and while I didn’t think there was much that could make me a bigger fan of AA, it turns out an hour on the phone did just that.
AA switch noseblunts before shooting off to meet Gary Busey at the local deli. photo: Ben Colen
You grew up in San Juan Capistrano, a little beach town in Orange County. Is spending your childhood by the sea responsible for your love of Point Break?
I mean, yeah, absolutely [laughs]. Growing up by the ocean and stuff, I spent a lot of time at the beach and still do. I think it’s a pretty special place and, watching Point Break as a kid, obviously it’s a little different than when I watch it now but all in all it definitely contributed to my love of the film. Now, a lot of it is just ridiculous and funnier. The characters, the dialogue, the whole storyline; it’s pretty outlandish. I can laugh about it, but I guess the overall message of the movie remains the same.
What would you say that message is?
I guess that surfing is the coolest thing out, man. [Laughs].
You once played Johnny Utah in a stage version of Point Break, were you channelling Keanu Reeves or trying to put your own spin on him?
I’m trying to remember what year it was but there was a Vans Christmas party and in L.A. there’s a thing called Point Break LIVE where a group of actors recreate the movie on stage in front of a live audience. They do it for a month at a time, every night or somethin’, and they pull a character out of the audience to play the role of Johnny Utah.
So, Vans had a whole Christmas party where they invited employees, the team and, outside of that, they had all sorts of people from the magazines, other pro skaters and so forth. When we got there, a lot of people told me I needed to do it. I’d been there, I’d seen it once before and so I knew what to expect. I didn’t necessarily want to do it, but something came over me and I went for it. To be honest, I already knew most of the lines. I remember them being like, “No! Read the card,” – they have flash cards that you’re supposed to read – and I was trying to do the best Johnny Utah impression I could do, maybe changing the lines a little bit. Overall it was a pretty special occasion. I don’t remember too much of it, I’d definitely had a few drinks, but I had some crazy adrenaline take over or something. It was pretty sick.
What’s your favourite Gary Busey scene from Point Break?
Probably the classic one where he’s talking about there being a sandwich shop around the corner which has good meatball sandwiches and he sticks his head out the car window and says, “Utah! Get me two.” [Laughs]. Yeah, that’s my favourite.
I read you wanted to be a sponsored surfer when you were a kid. Did that ambition carry into skating?
Being younger and because it was California, I dreamed of being a pro surfer. The whole culture was kind of wrapped around that. My dad pointed me towards waves and I learned how to surf. Both of my parents grew up in Southern California and I remember my dad telling me that back in the ‘60s he made his own surfboard and he told me stories about people making skateboards, the ones you hear about with roller skate wheels and stuff. I played sports too and they were always driving me to practices and games on the weekend. I don’t think they pushed anything on me, but they were definitely supportive of whatever I wanted to do.
The city I grew up in was a little bit away from the beach. Not far, but it was like a 10-to-15-minute drive to get there, and being a kid obviously I couldn’t get to the beach to practice and surf everyday so that’s where I started skating. At first, I would emulate surfing; going the down the hill there would be a driveway which I’d try to carve. The standard story or whatever.
I’m not sure exactly what I age I would’ve been, maybe around 10, I realised there was a little more you could do and I started ollieing. A kid named Jason moved to my neighbourhood and he was a little older than me. He saw me skating, he told me not to push mongo and we went to his house and he had all the Plan B videos. I’d never seen skate videos, I’d seen a couple of magazines and skating would’ve been on TV; but I remember watching those and seeing people flip their board, doing ledge tricks and skating vert. That opened my eyes to the possibility that there were tricks to be done and that’s where I started trying to progress, if you will.
How intertwined were the skate and surf scenes in San Juan Capistrano?
When I started skating there wasn’t necessarily a scene but by the time I got into my teenage years there was some crossover. My close friends, who were more serious about skating, would never go surfing but we’d see the surf guys at the skatepark and be like, “These dudes are here? That must mean there’s no waves,” or it’s windy, or something. The way surfers skated at that time, they weren’t trying to do tricks. I don’t think there was any bad blood but there wasn’t much of a connection between the two.
Right when I graduated, like a month afterwards, I went on my first Vans trip to China. With that destination, that long ago, my parents were like, “Wow, that’s really something,” you know? Neither of them had been to China before so I think when they saw that, they thought skateboarding was a real thing
You’ve rode for Vans for just about your whole career and went on your first trip for them just after graduating from high school. Were you already being paid to skate at that point and was there any pressure from your parents to get a ‘real job’ or go to college?
When I was a senior in high-school, I turned 18 and I started getting paid a little bit of money. I rode for Matt Mumford’s company, Legacy Skateboards, and that didn’t last long, it was around for a year. They gave me a little bit of money and I had been to the Tampa contests and on a couple of road trips before that but, yeah, right when I graduated, like a month afterwards, I went on my first Vans trip to China. With that destination, that long ago, my parents were like, “Wow, that’s really something,” you know? Neither of them had been to China before so I think when they saw that, they thought skateboarding was a real thing [to pursue].
My mom is a teacher and her thing was always, “You’ve got to go to college.” After that summer I enrolled to take classes at the local community college. Shortly afterwards I got asked to go on another Vans trip down to Mexico City so I asked one of the professors, “I have the opportunity to go on this trip for two and a half weeks, what’s going to happen if I don’t make it to class?” and they said I’d be dropped. So, basically, I’d lose the money and fail. I sat down with my parents at that time and we had a conversation. I said this is something I really wanted to try and do and I told them to give me a couple of years to see if I can make it happen. My mom was like, “Okay, well you need to take some online classes.” I took a handful, which were basically a joke, but I did that just to make her happy. Then, at some point, I started getting paid more money and everything worked out.
It sounds like you were thankful for the opportunity but didn’t have your hopes set on it taking you as far as it has.
Yeah, for sure. Skating is one of those things that you’ve got to remember can always be taken away. You can hurt yourself or somethin’ and it’s not necessarily going to last forever so I never wanted to think, “This is all I’m going to do.”
Switch wallie on the Silverlake side streets wearing slip-ons. photo: Andrew James Peters
552 on the 411 was your first big exposure, but I feel like Prevent This Tragedy was more of a breakout part for you. How did you get involved with that video and what did you think it did for you, career-wise?
Basically, that first Vans trip I went on in 2004 was the initial trip where they were talking about making a Vans video. In theory, it kind of started then. There were all these trips happening and a filmer named Joe Krolick was working for Vans. We were travelling a lot, I was living back home in Orange County and Joe lived in Huntington Beach, or Costa Mesa, so we went skating all the time. I’d meet up with him, we’d drive around and we’d meet up with some of the other dudes on the Vans team at the time; Scott Kane, Nick Trapasso and a lot of guys up in Long Beach.
For whatever reason, a Vans project of that size took much longer and a different direction and switched hands. Basically, I was accumulating a lot of footage and Joe, who had worked for 411, said I could get a 411 part. At that time, 411 wasn’t as big of a thing as it was ten years beforehand. There was the internet and TransWorld videos were probably seen more. I put that part out and it was in what was almost like a Krooked video? Which was cool, I was skating for Anti-Hero so there was a DLX connection. I like that part a lot, but it wasn’t maybe seen as much.
I don’t know the timeline exactly, but it was a similar thing a few years later. I was sitting on a handful of footage and somebody at Vans would have said, “These guys are making a Thrasher video and I know you have a lot of footage.” Somebody had backed out, maybe Corey Duffel because he broke his leg or something, and they asked if I wanted to be in the video. I already had my part, basically. We went on one trip up to the Pacific Northwest with some of those guys; Sammy Baca, Emmanuel Guzman, Tom Remillard and David Gravette, then after that the part came out, I think it was seen a lot more for sure. I was super stoked. It was a weird thing because it was kind of a Converse video, and then I was in there, but I didn’t mind because a lot of people told me that I liked it, so that’s how that came to be.
Julien and I went for breakfast one morning, just the two of us and he was like, “So… What do you think? Are you into this…? Do you, uh, want to do this?” and I thought he was fucking with me and was going to tell me to go home.
How much time did you spend with the Anti-Hero guys before Julien Stranger put you on?
I started getting some boards from DLX and Anti-Hero around April or May 2005. I’d gone up to S.F. and met Julien once at DLX, and we had a “hello” or whatever, but there was an Anti-Hero trip in February 2006. It was a month-long road trip from L.A. that went all the way from Arizona into the south and through Texas, Louisiana and to Florida. There was a stop at the Tampa Pro contest, because Tony [Trujillo] was skating in it and Bad Shit were playing a show, and from there we drove all the way up the East Coast to New York and from New York we drove back to San Francisco.
That’s a heavy introduction.
I remember going on that trip and, obviously, I didn’t really know any of those dudes but after a few days of skating and hanging out everybody was pretty cool. [Laughs]. We were in Jacksonville, Florida and Julien and I went for breakfast one morning, just the two of us and he was like, “So… What do you think? Are you into this…? Do you, uh, want to do this?” and I thought he was fucking with me and was going to tell me to go home, [laughs]. I was kind of nervous and said, “Yeah man! I’m into it,” and he’s like, “Cool, I think it’s good.” And that was it I guess.
Was there anyone you clicked with right away? You and Frank Gerwer seem to have pretty good chemistry.
All those guys are individuals and everybody’s personality is different but Frank is probably the easiest person to get along with, for anybody, so I definitely enjoyed spending time with him from the get-go. But, over time, with every one of those dudes I shared some type of bond, if you will, that wasn’t just skating.
Andrew dips his tips and toe for this feeble around the shallow end. photo: Colen
What memory stands out from the Beauty and the Beast tours?
I’ve got to say that first trip was probably the coolest thing I’ve experienced through skating. When the idea came about, I thought, “That’s just brilliant.” Everything from the name to the idea… I don’t remember who came up with it, if it was Sam [Smyth] and Julien or whoever, but like I said before about watching those Plan B videos; I was always such a huge fan of Rick [Howard] and Mike [Carroll]. I was kind of starstruck with the idea that I was going to go on a tour with these dudes. The meet-up point and was crazy because I’d been on this two weeklong Skate Rock trip and I was so thrashed from being on the road. We ended up staying in Oregon for two days then driving down to southern Oregon to meet up with everybody else. On that first day I felt like, “Holy shit dude, that’s the Girl team. There’s fucking Rick Howard!” Just thinking of all the classic things he’s ever said and done.
After a couple of days of skating and hanging out, everybody got real tight. We had some of the most fun skate sessions and just partied and kicked it on top of that. After that, I became friends with Mike Carroll, and we would hang out. It was crazy.
I’d say if there was one memory that stands out, there’s footage of everybody skating this little bump over a sidewalk and into the street. We had been at this skatepark up the street, and we had driven by it. There were three big vans but for whatever reason we saw that spot and people were like, “Pull over! Let’s skate that!” you know? It was just a dream session. You get out the car and somebody ollies it, then somebody else goes and kickflips it and it turned into this whole session of people getting stoked on the energy of each other’s skating. Cheering, people high fiving… I don’t know, man, that shit was pretty special and pure. Then, being amongst some of my favourite skaters, that shit stands out as being one of the best sessions I’ve ever had or seen, you know?
I hear stories of people who have gone through those big filming things and they’re fucking fighting with the filmer. That sounds like hell, I’m stoked I haven’t done that but at the same time I imagine the reward of putting in all that work, going through all that shit, the high you would get off of that accomplishment; I would like to experience that someday.
It’s strange that somebody with sponsors of your calibre hasn’t been in a bunch of years-in-the-making, ‘blockbuster’ type of skate videos. Has a life without deadlines kept skateboarding fun for you?
For sure, I’ve never really had that thing where people are like, “Fuck dude, we’re filming this thing and I’m losing sleep.” Where there’s this enormous amount of pressure with a deadline. With the Vans video there was that, but I had been hurt, I already had some stuff and I knew I wasn’t going to be having the last part or anything. I was just stoked to be a part of it. But yeah, it definitely keeps things fun. It’s not as stressful. I put stress on myself, but I hear stories of people who have gone through those big filming things and they’re fucking fighting with the filmer [laughs]. That sounds like hell, I’m stoked I haven’t done that but at the same time I imagine the reward of putting in all that work, going through all that shit, the high you would get off of that accomplishment; I would like to experience that someday. It’s got to be the most gratifying thing to get to see it in front of your eyes at a big premiere and think, “This is the last three years of my life. This is it, right there. It paid off.”
I was going to say: Propeller is the exception to what I was getting at a minute ago. Earlier you mentioned Vans had been toying with a proper video for years so were you unsure if it would be a concrete thing at first?
No, when Greg [Hunt] got involved it became way more tangible. You’d see that amongst the other guys on the team filming and the trips we were going on. You could see there was going to be a finished product in the future.
Were you happy with your shared part? I’d have never thought to pair you with Dustin Dollin but it worked really well, especially with that Stooges song.
Yeah, definitely, and like I said, I’d hurt myself and I wasn’t skating for a little bit. I had to get ankle surgery and at the same time I was blowing it a little bit. Just not really taking things seriously and partying a lot so, in a way, I wish I would have tried harder but I was stoked to be a part of that video and I think it worked. I didn’t necessarily have any gnarly ‘ender’ tricks, I just had some cool skating, and Dustin had some gnarly shit so, when you put it together, it worked. I remember Greg telling me about it initially. I went over and watched it and I was into it. I was stoked.
Ollie, West Hollywood. photo: Peters
You moved around bit during and after that video; Silverlake for a while and then East L.A. where you are now. How does your current spot compare to San Jaun Capistrano?
I lived in West Hollywood for a little bit and I wasn’t really into that. Coming from a small town where you can get around easy, there aren’t that many people and there isn’t much traffic, I felt like I was stuck a lot of the time. It would take 30 minutes just to get to the freeway in any direction and then you still have to get to wherever you’re going. Oftentimes, I would just talk myself out of doing shit because it’s going to take too long, so I’d just sit around and be unmotivated and kind of depressed.
When I moved to Silverlake I was refreshed. There was a whole new neighbourhood that I liked, and it was easier to get around. That’s when I started skating more. I lived there for three years and moved from there to East L.A. where I’ve been for almost another three years and over here it’s super mellow. It’s more of a residential area and there’s not as much foot traffic. Every time I’ve moved, I get to explore and find new shit to skate and that’s always the exciting thing for me: the hunt – if you will. I want to go out there and find a new spot then think about what I want to do and hopefully go there and get a trick on it. That’s the reward of the chase, you know?
How quickly did the L.A. High banks become your go-to spot after you moved over there?
[Laughs] I guess right away. There’s a lot weird shit over here and that’s what I’ve been into skating lately. With the injuries I’ve sustained and where my ankles are at, that’s kind of what I can do. There’s some shit I can’t really do as much and I don’t want to jump down a big gap or whatever. I’d rather find something where I just like the way it looks.
Half cab flip into a steep one you’ve always yearned to skate. photo: Colen
Who’s put more hours in at those banks out of you and Spanky?
I’d say him [laughs]. Because I probably haven’t been there for a couple of years. They skate-stopped it but I remember I went there one time, towards the end, and I just thought: “Ah, I’m done. I don’t have any more tricks to do here.” But yeah, probably Spanky, he’s put in way more time there than I have.
What’s your favourite trick that you’ve done at there and what’s your favourite that somebody else has done?
Hmm, my favourite trick somebody else did there… I’ll go with that line Guy Mariano did [in Mouse] with the
noseslide, 180, switch backside tail and then the switch pop shove-it noseslide because that’s a classic one. For my favourite thing I’ve ever done there? Probably the backside flip into it or the blunt kickflip to fakie. That took going there like ten times to do so maybe that one just because of how much of a battle it was. I would try it for two hours at a time until I couldn’t walk anymore and when I finally rolled away from it, I was fucking blown away. I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t seem possible because I had landed on it and fallen in every single way without actually rolling away.
Blunt stall kickflip to fakie. photo: Peters
When I finally rolled away from it, I was fucking blown away. I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t seem possible because I had landed on it and fallen in every single way
Was the move to Hockey the result of you and AVE getting to know each other throughout Propeller?
Yeah, I think so. I started hanging out with Anthony when he got on Vans, we started travelling together and he became somebody who I obviously became friends with but I’ve always looked up to him also. I like to think he’s given me a lot of advice. ‘Lead by example’ type stuff. When they started [Hockey], I guess we talked about it, it became something that I wanted to do and I went for it.
Was it exciting to be a part of building something from basically the ground up?
Something smaller that you can be more a part of from the beginning stage, like you say, to be able to build something, I definitely liked the idea of that. Something kind of fresh, something kind of new. All of that was enticing to me.
How involved are you with your board graphics? Any favourites?
The cool thing about Hockey is that the warehouse and art department are very close to my house so I go in there a couple of times a week. I like to think I’m very hands on with what’s going on and just more present with the company’s activity. Sometimes I’ll give them ideas that I think are cool or often Benny Maglinao will send me something and ask what I think about it so it’s kind of got people working together to try to make stuff.
My favourite graphic is probably my first one where it’s me in the car, driving, with the bottle. My friend Logan [Lara] shot that picture. I wasn’t drinking a beer, I think it was a Coke bottle or something, and Benny drew that. He just copied it with a pencil, and I was down. The silver colours with the black and red; I thought it was cool.
Was it your idea to remake Ray Liotta’s shirt from GoodFellas?
That was not my idea, that was my friend Hayden. He works at Hockey and does some marketing and design stuff. I thought it was brilliant. It’s definitely a shirt I was into and it’s based off of one of the greatest movies of all time. I had this other shirt that was similar to it which we sent away and got the material and cut based off of. Then we thought we should try to recreate that little scene to advertise for the shirt. Some people got it and others were like, “What the fuck are you guys doing?” [laughs]. Film, music and art are the things we try to pull from because those are the most influential aspects of our culture. It’s the good stuff.
Not that your output has ever slacked but you’ve become more productive as you’ve gotten older. Especially over the last few years. What’s keeping you so motivated nowadays?
I guess there are multiple factors. For one, the change in skateboarding with how the internet and Instagram has become the platform where you showcase yourself. As much as I didn’t want to be a part of that and – whatever you want to call it – “get with the fucking times”; I talked to my buddy, Jamie, at Vans and we were just rapping out about whatever and I asked him if it was a bad thing. If it was hurting me by not having Instagram? He basically said, “I understand what you’re saying and it’s a tough one. I think it’s kind of stupid but at the same time if you had a company and the main way you advertise for your company was through this platform, would you not want to do that? You’d be hurting your business by not advertising it because nobody would see what it is that you do and therefore coming to you.” That made sense to me. I decided to try it out and it’s definitely been a good thing, just trying to put more shit out there.
I think my motivation comes from wanting to continue pushing myself on my skateboard and making cool stuff. I have the ability to do that, so I want to get out there and be filming because there’s a place for something where you can put a clip here and make a little commercial about this. I do still believe that less is more but also, in a sense, if I’m skating as much as I can and pushing myself and putting stuff out, that makes me feel like I’m doing my job and that makes me happy.
What do you get up to when you’re not skating? You don’t strike me as somebody who gets burnt out on it.
Well, that’s a good question [laughs]. When I’m not skating, I’m always trying to do something that’s somewhat similar. I surf, go hiking, I like to be outside or just doing physical stuff. But the honest truth is that within the past three years it probably looks like I’ve been skating a lot, but the reality is that I’ve been hurt probably half of the time. Which sucks, but I think those long lapses are what makes you miss skating. It’s probably not a healthy break but taking that break resets your brain to think, “Fuck, that’s all I want to do.” Then when I’m able to skate it makes me feel like this the best shit and this is all I’m doing.
Our humble protagonist wallies out of a knackered L.A. spot of his signature variety. photo: Colen
I never think I necessarily deserve anything. I just want to be stoked and skate and not fuck up this thing that I’ve got.
You’ve held down an admirable career and it seems like you have really good relationships with sponsors and people in general. Why do you think you’ve made it this far?
Fuck, I don’t know man. At the end of the day I’ve always tried to be thankful for the opportunity. Obviously, there are times where you can feel different about it but at the end of the day these people don’t have to support you. There are hundreds of other people out there who want your job, you know? If you can see it and be thankful for it and respect it and, not that I’m saying I don’t want more, but I never think I necessarily deserve anything. I just want to be stoked and skate and not fuck up this thing that I’ve got [laughs].
I mean, with Vans in this particular instance, there are people who were there when I started out. The team changed so much and there are multiple factors for that. Some people probably moved on because they thought they could have a better opportunity elsewhere and there are other people who maybe got pushed out because they didn’t appreciate it. I think that plays a huge role.
Now you’re approaching your mid-30s, have you started thinking about how much longer you want to keep going and is there anything you want to accomplish with skateboarding before calling it a day?
Yeah, I have. I want to ride my skateboard forever and I think that I’ll be able to pull from the feeling I get off of it for as long as I can still do it. But in terms of what I want to do on a personal level, I want to do what we touched on earlier. Not necessarily with a crazy deadline but I want to strive for one last big project and with that I want to make another video part that would, ideally, be my most proud one. I’m not saying if the skating is the best, but I want it to be what I think I’ve worked the hardest on. With that, I want to get a full Thrasher interview and I really want to get the Thrasher cover. That’s something I’ve wanted my whole career and I haven’t got that yet. That’s kind of the holy grail for me, so that’s the next thing I’m going to set out and achieve. And that’s it, man.