Read our exclusive Elijah Berle interview. We are stoked that Ben Powell was able to make this one happen…
Words and interview by Ben Powell. Elijah Berle-Chinatown. Photo courtesy of Vans
Sometimes the stars align and sometimes they don’t.
This Elijah Berle interview has been on the boil for a good few weeks now but a combination of bad phone connections, ridiculous amounts of travelling, (on Elijah’s part) and a number of logistics foul-ups had us thinking that it would never happen.
Just when we’d given up on the idea, I received a phone call from a random US number and on picking it up, was greeted by the extremely fatigued-sounding voice of the man in question. Had I known beforehand that he’d been to New Zealand, China and Brazil in the last four weeks that I’d been chasing him, I’d probably have given Elijah a break but, as they say, ignorance is bliss.
Big thanks to all at Vans for facilitating this one, and even bigger thanks to Elijah for taking time out of his stupidly busy schedule to chat Natas spins, Venice history, Dill’s teeth and invert technique with some random Brit less than 24 hours after landing home in the USA…
How many interviews have you done this month?
(Laughing) I’ve lost count man honestly, I’ve pretty much been doing them nonstop for the last three weeks. It’s cool though – it’s all part of the job these days. Sorry for lagging on this one…
When you were asked about how you got into skating on The Bunt, you said that you were ‘born into it’ – is it true that both your mother and uncle were skaters before you picked one up yourself? Was this something that you saw as a kid?
Yeah that’s it. Around the time when I first picked up a skateboard and started getting into it, my uncle would take me to skateparks at the weekend. He was fully into it himself so I guess that made it less of a chore for him. My mom knew how to cruise around too. She was cool with us skating up and down the drive and would come out and join in sometimes. They were both coming at skateboarding from a positive perspective because of it, which was cool as a kid. It seems cooler now as an adult than it seemed back then though…
Growing up in Santa Monica, you’re pretty much in the heartland of some deep, deep skateboard history that shaped the future – was this something that you were aware of as a kid skating around there?
I did grow up in right in the centre of a pretty heavy place in terms of skate history but it wasn’t something that I was aware of when I was young. Obviously I knew that there was skateboarding going on everywhere around me, but I didn’t really connect the dots till later in terms of the historical side of Venice. I’d hear stories about how famous videos had been filmed around where I grew up, but as a kid it didn’t really mean that much to me because it was just how that area was – as a kid you only know what you’re exposed to and to me that was surfers and skateboarders. Skateboarding is a lot more ‘normal’ here than it probably is in the UK – it’s just like having a bike or something so everyone skates really.
Within a small area of Venice there are so many spots that have been massively important to skate history – from the curbs down at the beach, to what used to be The Pit with the ledges that everyone recognises, through to things like the fire hydrant that Natas did the ‘Natas spin’ on. Given that you grew up around these places, did they still seem as magical to you as they did to a kid like me, growing up 1000’s of miles away?
(Laughing), I definitely know what you mean but honestly, it’s hard for me to imagine it from your perspective because to me, the Venice curbs were just our local spot, you know? We’d never been anywhere else at that point either as we were just little kids, so to us it was really just our neighbourhood. We definitely spent a lot of time skating those curbs though – that was the hang out spot; go surf, watch the sunset, try to get somebody to go buy us some beers, (laughs)…
Yeah that’s one benefit of living in the UK – it’s definitely a lot easier to get beers underage…
Yeah so I hear man. It certainly looked like that on the times when I’ve been over. People drinking everywhere!
Elijah Berle Backside airs for Anthony Acosta in BCN, another spiritual home of liberal cerveza consumption
Which of the famous Santa Monica/Venice spots did you actually get a chance to skate? I’m guessing that the Pit ledges might already have been gone when you were pretty young, right?
Yeah, that was before my time unfortunately, they were already buried by the time I was old enough to start exploring. I heard that place was pretty sketchy towards the end though, so maybe it’s a good thing.
You must’ve done a pilgrimage to the Natas hydrant though, right? I’m pretty sure that’s mandatory for anyone in the Santa Monica area…
Oh yeah, once we were old enough to be clued into that, we definitely took a trip across Venice to pay our respects. I think I’d probably skated past it hundreds of times before I put two and two together and realised that it was the actual Natas one though. I actually did a Natas spin on it a while ago too, stuck it up on Instagram just to show some respect. It’s exactly as it was when he did it too, with the signpost next to it so you can get off the hydrant. This whole area is pretty much a skate museum once you get into it I guess…
You have mad tranny skills too, so does that mean that you were a skatepark rat too in the beginning?
Yeah kind of: I’d go to this skatepark in Santa Monica called ‘The Cove’ with my uncle quite a lot when I was younger. You had to wear a helmet though which sucked, but as a kid you’re only really thinking about skating. I’d run the helmet religiously from the age of about 10 till say 14 or so, at which point I started to be over the helmet which I guess pushed my friends and I to go skate street more. I definitely grew up skating parks though – I got a good upbringing on transition. There were a few years where I didn’t, once I’d started street skating more, but I guess the kid years in the helmet were imprinted in my brain because I could still skate tranny pretty well. There were also a lot of backyard mini ramps around too, that was another pretty normal thing for me growing up. I had one in my backyard, the skate shop had one…
What was the deal with your ramp? In that interview you did with Hamish you mentioned that some of the neighbours were cool about it and some weren’t. Is it still there?
Nah, that ramp is gone now. We did pretty well though – we had it for four years. The city made us take it down in the end because of permit bullshit because it was too big of a structure to have in the yard without the right permit, but it was sick whilst we had it. It was the first ramp that we’d ever built too, which kind of made it special. Took us about a week to build – 5 and a half feet high with a seven foot extension: that’s where I really learned how to skate transition properly I think. Most of my trick bag comes from that thing. You don’t tend to see backyard ramps so much these days, maybe because Venice is mad expensive now but back then, as a kid, everyone had a backyard mini ramp.
What about seeing famous skaters around Santa Monica/Venice? Were you aware of pros being in the area and/or people filming at these spots that were so local to you?
We’d see them out filming yeah, I didn’t know who any of them really were at that stage but I knew they were pros because they’d have people filming them and all that. It was pretty normal to see it, but I wasn’t really a kid who looked up to any skaters in particular. Skating was just something that I did with my friends. I was never really chasing after getting sponsored or anything…I know everyone says that, but that’s how it was for me. Things just kind of happened…
You’ve mentioned before about how the Venice park is this crazy showing off kind of place these days, with 100’s of kids flying around entertaining the passers-by and because of that, you don’t tend to go there much yourself, despite it being on your doorstep. Is that still the case?
I do go there a bit but yeah, it’s generally pretty crowded. I do like skating the bowl there when it’s quiet but it rarely is, especially in the summertime. It’s just one of those parks that attracts huge amounts of spectators, because of where it is I guess. When you have that many tourists hungry for entertainment, that’s when the full-pad fly out demo’s start: I can’t handle that vibe really.
Do you ever see Jesse Martinez down there? He was the unofficial caretaker of the place for a long time I believe?
Yeah, I see him from time to time, you never really know when he’s going to show up but he definitely still localises it. I’m sure he’s still skating when it’s empty you know – he’s Venice royalty.
Can you see yourself living anywhere else but Venice? Are you not tempted to move up to L.A?
I think I’ll probably stay here. I travel that much these days that I love having somewhere relatively mellow like Venice to come home to. I’m not sure I could handle the traffic and general chaos of L.A as an actual resident.
Venice can be hectic too but it’s generally mellow and has that kind of ‘people hanging out on the streets and walking around’ vibe that places like L.A just don’t have because of the size of them.
Santa Monica and Venice used to have kind of a bad rep back in the day – can it still be sketchy around there sometimes? Like people who don’t know the area wandering off into the wrong neighbourhood etc?
Oh yeah, it can definitely still be sketchy. It’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be back in the day but if you get into it with the wrong people, shit can still get hectic pretty quickly. The whole Venice/Santa Monica area has definitely been gentrified over the last decade so you don’t see that side of it as much as you used to but the sketchiness is still here, away from the main strip.
You’ve been travelling a lot recently whilst we’ve been trying to get this done – were you just in New Zealand?
I was in New Zealand, but I’ve been to China and then to Brazil for a week each after getting back from NZ. That’s all happened in the space of like 4 weeks…
Shit! I feel bad for harassing you now…
(Laughing), it’s all good man. I got home from Brazil yesterday and honestly, I’m pretty happy to be home now. That’s a lot of miles in a month, even for somebody like me who lives on that kind of schedule. I’ve been going pretty hard. I’m excited to be back for the summer, spend some time with the lady and the family, chill out at the beach. Just back into Venice time…
Did you go anywhere that you hadn’t visited previously?
I’d never been to New Zealand before no, I loved that place, it’s beautiful – I’m definitely down to go back there again. Lord of the Rings shit – it’s crazy – like big cities and urban but also tropical too. I loved it there.
Any Lee Ralph sightings?
Unfortunately not, he was staying a long way from where we were in Auckland.
Was this for a Vans project?
Yeah, a filming trip for Vans: Full mission style – trying to squeeze every minute in, and hurt as much of my body as possible, (laughs).
You’ve got a good repertoire of inverts – what’s your favourite upside down move and why?
You know what? I haven’t done many inverts in a while. I don’t want to say that I’ve lost touch with them as they’re probably still in the trick bag somewhere, just that I’ve not had the opportunity recently. My favourite one to do would be the eggplant I think. It’s the scariest one too because that trick can go wrong so badly if you miss your hand placement, I’ve done that before. Straight down to the flat bottom on your chin, which is never good. In terms of the feeling of it though when it works, I love that one.
Ever got any constructive criticism from Grosso on your invert technique? It’s a topic he definitely likes to talk about and, with you both riding for Vans, I was wondering whether he’s shouted at you for incorrect technique…
(Laughing), no, surprisingly: I think mine slid under his radar…
Or maybe they were just legit enough to get a Grosso pass?
I very much doubt that. Maybe there were just plenty of other worse offenders out there in terms of technique so that I escaped without getting a tongue lashing, (laughing).
You joined Fucking Awesome relatively recently which is a brand with a huge profile and a team scattered around the country – who do you skate with the most?
I skate with AVE a lot. Aidan and Sean Pablo are around in L.A. too so I see them quite often. Nak and Kevin Bradley all live around Venice so we’re out together pretty often.
Is there like an official FA HQ where people meet up to go on missions together, or is it more of an ‘everyone’s on their own mission’ kind of vibe?
Just wherever we’re skating normally but we do have a warehouse kind of in the middle of where everyone lives. We’ll go there to collect boards and whatnot and go off on missions from there fairly often. It’s the warehouse that Dill posts footage of on the @faflatgroundentertainment Instagram sometimes. There nothing much there, but everyone loves nice flatland don’t they?
Everybody loves a Jason Dill story and you’re in a good position to have witnessed countless Dill antics – do you have a good anecdote about the boss for us?
(Laughing), yeah I’ve got a good one actually that happened recently.
I watched him get carded for cigarettes a few weeks ago and he didn’t have any ID on him so was snapping pretty hard at this lady in the store. He ended up convincing her to sell him cigarettes by verifying his age via his teeth, (laughing). His teeth are allegedly ‘fixed’ but compared to your average human they’re still pretty fucked up. He basically made her look into his mouth whilst saying, “Look lady, look at the state of my fucking teeth – do you really think I’m under-21?”
“Look lady, look at the state of my fucking teeth – do you really think I’m under-21?”
He kind of bamboozled her I guess as I’m assuming that’s not the average interaction in her store. Whilst she was still staring at him with this puzzled look on her face he just threw the money down, grabbed the cigs and goes, “Alright, have a nice day lady!” Not that unusual with Dill really, there are endless amounts of stories but that’s a funny one that happened recently.
So aside from the release of this Vans shoe, what else have you been up to of late?
Like I mentioned earlier with all the trips I’ve done in the last month – that’s all for a video part that Greg Hunt and I are working on. It should be out in the next couple of months, hopefully…
Is this a solo part?
Yeah, mainly me I think – at least in terms of having a ‘part’. There will be some footage of other people in there, whoever has clips, but yeah, it’s basically a solo part. Not that I’ve been travelling on my own with Greg, other people have come along too, but the focus for me at least, is working on this project.
You were pretty vocal about SOTY the year that Guy didn’t win – you’ve gotta be hyped on TJ wining this year though, right? Pretty much undeniable that choice?
Yeah, I mean I honestly can’t think of anybody else who has done what that kid’s done over the last year. He definitely deserved it. He’s a hard worker. He’s gotten so gnarly so quickly – definitely the Skater of the Year in my eyes.
Do you get to skate with him a lot? He must be incredible to watch in the flesh – the amount of pop he has is supernatural…
I haven’t really skated with him that much because him and Bill were on, not a secret thing as such, but like really low key and focused. They didn’t really want too many other people around whilst he was filming for Blessed. TJ is really driven, as is Bill, and they had a fairly defined idea of what they wanted to get and where they wanted to go, so they kept it low key to avoid getting kicked out of spots because of having too much of a crew tagging along.
Going back to filming – what’s your take on that part of your ‘job’? You’re from the generation where it’s normal to always be filming, whereas pros from earlier eras kind of looked at it sometimes as being a pain in the arse. What’s your position? Do you enjoy the filming process and everything that comes with it?
Honestly, I love it most of the time. When it’s going good, I genuinely enjoy it but then of course when it’s not going well, it can be the worst thing ever for all involved. It’s just the nature of it, you know. With that said – for somebody in my position, filming is what you’re supposed to be doing. Like you say, it’s ‘the job’ so it’s not really up to me anyhow. I need to do it, whether I feel like it or not. It’s definitely easier when I’m working with somebody like Greg Hunt too, who I have a lot of history and a friendship with. It is what is…
One major difference these days I guess is that the Internet is always hungry – you can’t really just chill when you’re in your position but I guess the good side is that nothing gets wasted anymore. There’s always an outlet for footage – whether it be Instagram, quickfire stuff, full parts, even slams – does that add more pressure or do you prefer it that way?
Yeah it’s good. More people get to see everything these days – kids love seeing stuff on Instagram too, maybe things that a few years ago wouldn’t make it into a video you know? It gives people another perspective on skating, rather than only seeing the finished product. As much as people like to talk shit on Instagram and the shortened attention span that it plays to, I think there are definite positives to it. Sometimes you’ll watch a full video and it’s harder to absorb what you’re seeing and remember specific things, whereas with Instagram, you can focus on particular aspects or tricks and it makes it more memorable. That’s how I look at it anyway.
It gives people a platform to focus on one thing, rather than it getting lost in a longer production. Whether that’s good or bad in a more general sense isn’t for me to say but that’s one of the positives that I take from it.
“As much as people like to talk shit on Instagram and the shortened attention span that it plays to, I think there are definite positives to it”
How often do you get to go skate when there’s nobody pointing a camera or an iPhone at you? Or is that just not a reality any more?
Yeah that still happens. I’ll go skate with my friends and just have fun but even then, if somebody’s trying something worth filming, I’m not afraid to break the phone out and stick it on Instagram. The whole process of documenting skateboarding is just so much easier and less complicated these days – I don’t see that as a negative thing at all. I enjoy coming across cool shit on Insta myself so why wouldn’t other people who don’t get the opportunity to live the lifestyle that I do not enjoy it too?
You’ve always rocked Vans since I can remember seeing you in clips/mags so it must be a trip to have your first pro shoe coming out, right?
Oh yeah for sure. It didn’t really seem real until I saw other people, who I didn’t know, wearing my shoe. For a while I was the only person wearing them but now I’ll be out on the streets somewhere and I’ll see some random skater rocking my shoe – that’s when it kicks in and yeah, like you say, it’s a trip. It’s weird but in a good way – a really cool feeling.
The latest colour of Elijah’s Vans shoe The Berle Pro
I know you’ve been heavily involved in the R&D side of this one – tell us a bit about that process please? How did you go about testing the new ‘waffle control’ tech? Was it a case of just skating samples and then giving feedback to Vans? Or did it go deeper than that?
It works pretty much exactly as you’ve said. It took a lot longer than I initially expected though, just because the time involved in getting samples made is much more of a hassle as they have to make all new molds in the factory first. It was nerve-wracking at times too as the deadline was coming up and we were still tweaking details but it ended up coming together and it’s a really good shoe so I’m stoked.
What’s the major difference between this shoe and the Authentic colourway that you came out with a while back? They both definitely have that Vans legacy feel…
This new shoe definitely still has the board feel that you’d expect from a Vans, it just offers a lot more support for your foot and lasts a lot, lot longer. That was the main focus really, I wanted something really durable that would last for as long as possible whilst still giving you the classic Vans board feel. I mean, hopefully that’s a win-win for the people out there buying them. They might be a little bit more expensive to start with but you’ll be saving in the long run…
How did you go about getting Eric Dressen involved? I’m assuming you and he are friends right? He’s genuinely once of the nicest human beings that I’ve ever met – almost like he’s more stoked on people being stoked on meeting him than they are.
Yeah I know Eric pretty well. I knew the kind of thing I wanted in terms of the lettering for the shoe and knew that his style would be perfect for it. I just hit him up, asked him to write my name in his style and do the little logo. He was stoked, as he always is and honestly, the very first version he sent to me was the one that ended up being used on my shoe. I’m hyped to have him involved too, like you say, he’s a really nice dude.
360 Flip. Sunland, CA. Photo courtesy of Vans
Geoff Rowley always speaks highly of you – do you have any idea what this video piece that he’s working on is going to be like? Seems like he’s going all out for blood on this one…
I don’t know because he’s been out on his own mission. Just solo style, going on crazy adventures like you’d expect. As to what’s in there, I have no idea but I’m willing to bet he’s going to surprise everyone with it.
Have you been skating any pools recently?
No recently, but I’m on a hunt again at the moment.
Any Salba sessions?
Yeah I’ve skated with Salba a few times, not as many times as I’d like to. I need to go out into his zone and get on their mission. He knows where all the pools are at.
If you could only skate one type of terrain for the rest of your life, what would you pick and why?
Transition: more fun for less work and effort. Tranny is just more satisfying to me, plus I’ll be able to skate it for much longer than I’ll be able to skate street.
What about the best skatepark you’ve ever skated?
Hmm, probably Lincoln City in Oregon. That place is really gnarly so you have to be on top of your shit but if you’re on a good one, that’s the best skatepark in the US I think.
What’s your favourite US city to skate?
Maybe New York just because it’s so much fun to skate around the city – in a way that you can’t do in L.A. for example. You can go out with a big crew in New York and just skate around – no cars, no traffic jams – just hitting things as you come across them.
You were out in London for Street League last year and I saw a few clips pop up on Insta of you skating Mile End skatepark. Did you get a chance to go anywhere else in London?
Sadly not – just Mile End and the course at Street League. I had a good time though. I’ve been over once before for the Pretty Sweet premiere but it was pouring with rain and super cold so all I saw that time was the hotel and the pub. I’d definitely like to come back and see more of London.
What’s it like being in a contest like Street League from the perspective of somebody actually skating the course? Do you enjoy it?
Yeah definitely, it’s enjoyable. That was a bad year for me to do it kinda because I was trying to film a video part too and I missed the other Street League events because of that. The London one was good though, I liked the course and the general vibe was cool.
What do you feel about the way that Social Media has made everyone accessible to every kid in the world now? Is there a downside to that?
I don’t know how there would be a downside to it really. I mean, from my perspective – the more people that see your footage the better. You’re promoting your sponsors and yourself so everyone’s happy. Then the people watching on Social Media get to see clips and whatever for free, rather than having to spend their money. Like I said earlier – I think Social Media is a positive thing, at least from my own perspective.
I’m going to be interviewing Cephas and Donovan at The Bunt later this month – any suggestions of something to ask them to put them on the spot like they do to everyone else?
You know what, I don’t really know those guys that well. I just met them both that one time when we did the podcast. I think the best advice would be to be at least as drunk, if not more drunk than they are, then go from there. That approach seems to work well for them.
Ok Elijah – thanks so much for your time – I’ll end it on a quick one if that’s ok: do you have any advice for any kids who might be reading this who dream of following a similar life path to yours? What’s the secret to success?
There’s no secret. No matter what your dream is, whether it’s skateboarding or anything else, just never stop chasing it. I mean, what better stuff do you have to do than chase your dreams? Nothing right?
We would like to thank Elijah for taking time out of his hectic schedule for this one. Shop for his shoe and all other Vans Skate Shoes.