After a pitstop at Slam City coinciding with the opening of House of Vans, we caught up with Anthony Van Engelen over the phone. Speaking to us from his Los Angeles home, A.V.E. runs us through his and Jason Dill’s departure from Alien Workshop to start Fucking Awesome, working on the upcoming Vans video, and keeping the spark alive well into your 30s.
A.V.E. at Slam City Skates, Covent Garden. Interview by Jacob Sawyer. Photo by Maksim Kalanep.
Anthony Van Engelen’s skateboarding has always done the talking and his video parts have often been repeat via Slam’s old VHS/sketchy TV combo. With the Vans video gathering momentum, a feverish response to Fucking Awesome, we were stoked that Anthony passed through town and our Covent Garden store for the opening of London’s House Of Vans in Waterloo. Catching him during a brief break following a three week tour, with A.V.E. just before he hit the road again.
backside 5050 pop out. ph: Anthony Acosta
“When we left the Workshop it was me, Jason, a pile of F.A. stickers, sandpaper and an old Workshop board.”
You were recently in London when the House Of Vans park opened. Was it trip seeing a physical landmark, representing how far Vans has progressed as a company?
I mean, it’s crazy being in that whole space they’ve got going on over there. It’ s sick. Skateboarding as a whole – and of course Vans has that spot historically – to see where skateboarding is at in 2014 is a fucking trip man.
I like London. Unfortunately every time I come, I don’t really spend that much time there. I feel like every time I come, it’s just for three days. Definitely on this last trip I wanted to stay for a little longer.
I feel that there was an adjustment period after everything that happened with Alien Workshop. Everyone fitted really well at one certain point and sometimes, when you see people on another company, it doesn’t sit right. However, with you and Jason starting Fucking Awesome it not only makes sense but feels like it has been that way for a long time. Is it a relief riding for something that’s all your input where you make all the decisions?
Is it a relief to be in that position? [Laughing] Yes and no. Obviously with doing something like that comes a whole lot of other responsibility behind the scenes but it has been amazing. I know, even prior to moving into this idea, that it was absolutely the right thing and what we needed to be doing. It has been a good experience but, like I said, it comes with it’s challenges too. But I’m fucking stoked, it was the obvious next move for us.
Looking back, was it always obvious?
Like anything I’ve experienced in skateboarding, and I know it sounds cheesy or whatever, it’s always been intuitive because it’s been my whole fucking life. Whenever things have happened or I’ve been presented with something, it’s almost like a knowing thing for me.
When Jason brought that idea up it struck me that way too. Like, “Okay, this is absolutely what we need to do.”
It wasn’t that simple though, we almost did stay with the Workshop. From the idea, and the movement towards it, there was a big space of time between.
You both made it the best it could be before the exodus.
It definitely wasn’t a snap decision.
We spent many years there, all the relationships we had there with everybody… Aside from it being a company that would get bought and sold, the core people that ran it, who we had been with for, what, sixteen years? They were still part of the company and still the people we dealt with so it was tough.
When we first brought up the idea I knew that was the right thing. Obviously we both did but it was difficult to move out on our own. It was just Jason and I. When we left the Workshop it was me, Jason and a pile of F.A. stickers, sandpaper and an old Workshop board.
There was no back-end structure or anything. Both of us are fucking psychos. You know, you’re insecure about shit, we’re older, it was tough, man. Let alone the relationships at the Workshop, leaving after that much time. Having to say, “Hey, we don’t like what’s going on, we don’t like where this thing is going,” and having to step away while people are trying to get you to stay. But we saw it. The ship was on fire and, hey, we just did sixteen years so that was the deal.
Early Fucking Awesome boards with pro models from Dylan Rieder, Kevin Terpening, A.V.E. and Jason Dill
“Skateboarding as a whole, I’m glad to see it’s still got a new generation to push it forward in the right direction. To hold the torch for what we come from.”
It was completely the right time to start something new. Even a few years, back the same companies were running the show and it was a bit of a closed book. Now, there are small companies in their infancy and it feels like everything’s exciting again. There’s unpredictability. Do you see this the beginning of another period?
Yeah absolutely, it is. Shit just got stale in skateboarding. There are a lot of people that are involved in what you’re talking about that have been doing shit or who have come along. It’s not only us that are doing something new but of course. I remember talking to people, people that think they know what is going on in the business of skating or whatever the fuck. People like to think that now that there is all this dough in skateboarding and people are really established and comfortable that they can control skateboarding. We all started skating at a time because you were fucked up and outcast and all this shit and it seems like skateboarding almost became this rigid structure that most skaters were against. I don’t know how old you are but at least from where I came from. I remember talking to somebody, I won’t say his name but I was like don’t you think skateboarding is going to take itself back? Like it will have a resurgence, not exactly what has happened in the past but something that looks like it and the person I was talking to said absolutely not. Now here we are a year later and it has you know and it’s sick. That’s the thing about skateboarding, it will always have those people involved with it and it will always take itself back to a degree away from a jock mentality. It will always have that place for that fucked up kid and those people that were outcasted at least that’s why i ended up in skateboarding.
Are there other companies you’re hyped on who have a similar mentality?
I like the stuff that’s going on in Europe, Palace and all that. It’s something different and then, fuck, I just like the whole of skateboarding. It seems like there are a lot of kids representing skateboarding the way it should be. Street skaters, they’re like into being weirdos, that older stuff and there’s a new generation of kids who are doing whatever they want on a skateboard.
Not every kid is just trying to win Street League and stick a Mountain Dew sticker on their board. I mean, we’ve got a lot of that going on but skateboarding as a whole, I’m glad to see it’s still got a new generation to push it forward in the right direction. To hold the torch for what we come from, and what skateboarding is about, because it’s always been about more than just riding the board, you know?
I interviewed Pontus Alv recently and one thing he said about the new generation, is that he feels that it’s their job to shape and inspire.
It’s always like that for the new generation, it falls on their shoulders. They’re like, “Those dudes are getting fucking old.”
The older you get, you always need young and crazy.
switch 180 to 5-0 revert. below: A.V.E. and Dill. photos: Acosta
“I’m already an obsessive person by nature so when I finally get my foot in that thing and fucking start going, that’s it.”
You’ve been skating at a high level, in the spotlight for a long time, with a lot of video parts under your belt. Has your approach to skateboarding and your relationship with it has changed or is it the same?
It’s a little bit of both. It’s the same in the sense of my need to do it and my love for it but to obtain that is different now because I’m running into 36 in a couple of months. To skate the way I want to skate takes a lot more work and it’s a lot different to how it ever was. The formula is the same. I have to do a bunch of other shit. Well not a bunch but I’m not 18 no more, I can’t live off McDonalds, sleep on someone’s floor, and drink beer all night.
My life has changed a lot over the years. To skate at a level, to enjoy it the way that I want to has changed. I’ve gone through many phases of skateboarding as far as trying to re-find that hunger. Money and time and video parts can really distort things and put you in a place where, as far as skateboarding goes – for me, can be kind of dark. To rediscover the simplicity of just going out and doing your best sometimes has been difficult but I’ve been lucky enough to do that. There were down times, a couple of years at a time because of injuries and all types of shit.
We’ve seen a kind of renaissance from you and Jason with new coverage. It’s obvious you guys have been skating a lot which is amazing, and looks natural, like Feedback part ii. Do you remember it being a conscious decision, like, “We’re on this program now”?
No, not a conscious decision. Personally, there have been moments where there were conscious decisions to change certain things. To approach it differently, maybe, so I can see what I can do.
For Jason and I together, I trip on the past three-and-a-half years. Jason had his situation going on three years ago, kind of coming out of some life shit. It went on for a while, not skating much. Paths cross or end up coming back together which is what happened a few years back. Jason ended up in L.A. and he ended up staying with me. He ended up staying a year. We just went into skate mode.
Then here we are, three years later. I look back on it and all that shit needed to happen for us to be where we’re at now. It naturally occurred. For myself, with this Vans video, there were very conscious decisions I had to make. To be, like, “Alright, you’re not a kid anymore.” To approach this thing the way that you’re expected to, you need to start doing some different shit.
With the Vans video in progress, is that an all consuming part of every day?
Yeah and it has been for, like, four years.
I’d say I started really focussing maybe about two-and-a-half, three years ago. It took a while to get my footing in this thing and kind of let go and just skate. I was definitely tripping for a minute there. Projects of this scale are rare these days. No one can afford them, the internet is pumping this out every day so it’s just a different time. It’s almost a crazy formula now. Hold all your footage for four years, meanwhile people are spitting shit out constantly on the internet.
These projects which I for some reason always find myself in – which is good, they become all consuming. I’m already an obsessive person by nature so when I finally get my foot in that thing and fucking start going, that’s it. It’s a very positive thing but can also have negative effects too because I’m a fucking psycho. When I’m in it, I’m in it. I have to keep going and when I come home, I don’t shut off.
Are you happy with how it’s been going?
For myself, yeah. It’s been a positive thing. I’m really stoked. I’m 36 years old, I’ve spend my whole life outside with my friends. At this point, to be doing it and to be pushed and to surprise yourself at times. I’m really grateful. It’s been a rad experience.
A.V.E. pole jams into the distance riding his debut F.A. graphic. ph: Acosta
“My whole approach to things now is way more methodical”
Is this video going to be insane from what you’ve seen? Who has blown you away on the trips?
Oh man, all these guys. The young dudes are gnarly and it’s gnarly to travel with them. We get out of the van, my old ass is just stepping out and they’re already attacking. Watching Elijah Berle skate is something else, just insane ability and power. Another one of my favourites is Rowan Zorilla, he’s one of my favourite skateboarders right now as far as a young kid, he’s great. Gilbert [Crockett] is insane. They are all gnarly.
How have the trips been working out for you, as far as getting footage?
It changes through the process. I did a lot of skating in L.A. on this one. My whole approach to things now is way more methodical and it has to be, at this point. I was always way more spontaneous but it’s definitely gotten a little more planned out.
I still like going on trips and having that spontaneity, just finding something rad, but I’ve done a lot of L.A. skating too, knowing what I want to do. The whole experience has been pretty rad. Although it’s frustrating at times, to be in a project this long, you can also surprise yourself. When you’re working with people like Greg Hunt or Anthony Acosta and all the people in the back-end who make it happen, the pressure and all that comes along with these things, it pushes you to a place that is outside of ordinary skateboarding. It has both sides to it.
Famed for ambidexterity, A.V.E. pole jams in switch. ph: Acosta.
“I think mentality goes a long way.”
I wanted to ask you about the TF you guys have. Years ago, having a skate park somewhere was a rarity and we would travel miles to go to one. Does it still feel like a treat having a a guaranteed park session?
For sure, it’s a necessity at this point. Skating is now so illegal now everywhere. In L.A. there used to be spots, we could meet at USC. I guess you can still skate Santa Monica, down at the beach, but spots just don’t exist any more. Now, you drive somewhere and do a trick. For day-to-day skating and feeling the board, [having a park] it’s sick. Some spots have popped up in the past year but they go away quick. Things are always changing out in the street.
It’s me, Guy [Mariano], Dylan [Rieder], Marc Johnson and Brandon Biebel that have the spot. Guy did a lot of looking for the space and then we went to check it out, it was as simple as that. We gathered money from our sponsors to help us build it all out. That’s how that works, they’re fucking expensive.
I read about your cortisone injections. How long do those things work for?
They were working for three months at a time. It’s funny, I was telling this story the other day. They’d work and then three months to the day it would be back into serious pain in the joint of my big toe because I have a bone screw in there.
I went to a different guy, he shot me up but there was a pop in the joint. I was like, “Whoa! That was weird” and I saw my toe bent down. It hurt, but it was a fucking miracle. That was a year ago and I’m still skating. The joint gets tender at times but nothing like I was experiencing for a year and a half where it felt like someone was sticking an icepick in there.
I don’t know what happened, maybe that thing just exploded that spur or wore it down enough. Those shots, if you put them in the right way, sometimes shit like that that can happen. That was a year ago. I was well over what’s good to be shooting in a joint, as far as cortisone goes, because it deteriorates the cartilage in your joint and really dries it out. I was looking at surgery but now I’m not. So that’s good.
It’s inspiring for all of us who have skated from youth to now, in our 30s and approaching the next decade, to see you going for it. There’s no high ledge, retirement noseslide photos – you’re switch 5050ing rails next to walls. Any advice for those of us who aren’t planning on giving up any time soon?
The formula is the same, man. Don’t get old in your mind. That’s what happens, I saw myself getting there. I stopped watching a lot of skateboarding. Just don’t. You’ve got to be a kid with it still. That, to me, is it.
I love skateboarding, you can’t lose sight of that. It’s different being a professional or whatever the fuck I’d be called because all that added stuff can distort that shit. You have to separate those two things. As long as you still do it for the same reasons you did it for when you were a kid, you should be good ’till you die.
You have to do it for you and not for anything else or anybody else and remember why you do it. That’s the bottom line. As you get older there’s other shit. I eat differently now and I’m a little bit more self conscious that I can move the way I want to or feel a certain way but that’s about it. I think mentality goes a long way.
A.V.E., John Cardiel, Christion Hosoi and Tony Alva signing away at Slam City. Full recap from our Vans Meet & Greet here.
Related: Greg Hunt Interview, Andrew Allen Interview: “I’ve always tried to be thankful for the opportunity”, Rowan Zorilla Interview: “I hope that’s not my first and last trip”, Elijah Berle Interview, Caleb Barnett Interview: “I want to skate to something operatic”
Also by Jacob Sawyer: Daewon Song Interview: It’s never too late to progress and never too late to come back, Benjamin Deberdt: London / Paris / New York, LIGHTBOX: Karl Watson by Mike Blabac, Catch Up with Pontus Alv,