Erik Ellington interview09.09.2015
We caught up with Erik Ellington back in June while he was in London on a Supra tour for a quick chat about life on tour, Instagram, the importance of printed skate media and his new shoe, the Ellington Vulc.
Portrait: Rafal Wojnowski
Interview: Henry Kingsford
How has the tour been so far?
It’s been amazing. We had a week in Paris and the weather was beautiful.
What is the purpose of the tour?
As with any of these trips, we’re always going to film and shoot photos, but this one’s a little different. We actually get to be in a city for a little bit of time. We were in Paris for seven days and we’re going to be here in London for four or five. There’s not the typical agenda where you have demo, demo, demo. It’s nicer for us because we get to experience a little more of the city, meet some of the people and actually get to hang out a little bit. That’s always been the drawback of what we do: you get to go to all these amazing places in the world, but you never get to spend that much time in them. I have friends in Paris and I have friends in London, so for me this trip has been really rad.
Are you going elsewhere in the UK? Last summer it was quite a big tour, right?
Last summer we were in Bristol and Manchester. I flew out of Manchester and the other guys came to London. This year we’re going to Manchester on Friday and we’ll be there for Saturday and then Sunday we’ll do Go Skate Day with Note shop and we fly out on Monday. That will make the total of this trip 17 or 18 days.
I know you spent some time over here last summer, but do you have any memories of skating London or elsewhere in the UK back in the day?
For so many years I had only been to the London airport for a layover. I had friends out here and I always said, “I’m going to come and visit.” I finally got to do it about four or five years ago but I don’t actually recall much from that trip. It’s the weirdest thing.
What trip was it?
Tom (Penny) was on it, (Chad) Muska was on it. I believe we had the whole (Supra) team. We did that shoot in the Clockwork Orange tunnel. Ali Boulala was on the team at the time, there was a whole crew of people. Neen (Williams) has just gotten on. I think I got drunk the whole trip so I don’t remember much of it.
Tell us about your new shoe, the Ellington Vulc.
It’s kind of a history of three shoes. It started with a shoe called the Avenger, which came about five years ago. It was a low-top with that kind of athletic-inspired, sportier sole. That shoe was a little bit early with that sole and the basketball influence. We kind of transitioned that into the Ellington. I picked the uppers of a few shoes that I liked, created the upper and we refined the Avenger sole – we took out the fake airbag and refined it. So in essence, it started with the Avenger then went to the Ellington. The Ellington is still out there. For the Ellington Vulc, all I did was slim down the foam in the tongue and the collar, made a few minor, minor tweaks and put it on a vulcanized sole, because that’s what I like. I mostly skate vulcanized soles. For me they’re just better for skating. Some people – like my friend Andrew (Reynolds) – can’t skate vulcanized soles. He likes cupsoles. It’s all personal preference, though.
Are you happy with the outcome?
Yes, definitely. There are a couple of changes I’ll make the next run, but those are things nobody will even notice.
How involved in the design process are you?
I’ve always been pretty involved. I hold high regard for anything that my name’s on, so I do not like to be told what to do. I do not like to told that I’m going to have to make something or not make something and I actually care about what people are buying with my name on it. I think that’s something that was instilled in me when I was young: if I’m buying a product, I like to feel like I’m buying into something. If my favourite skater is Jason Lee or Mark Gonzales or whoever, and I’m buying a Mark Gonzales board, then I’m actually buying a piece of that person. That’s his art, no one is drawing that for him or telling him what to do.
Have you been as involved with previous brands?
Most definitely. With Emerica I was 100 per cent involved in designing my shoe. With Zero I was 100 per cent involved with my graphics, with Baker I’m 100 per cent involved with my graphics, my video parts. Anything with my name on it I am 100 per cent involved.
Other than the shoe, have you been working on anything recently, a video part or anything similar?
Me and Andew Reynolds have a little video part we’re working on together. It’s just a little thing we’re putting out as two friends who skate together all the time. It’s nothing crazy. Then they’re currently working on a Baker 4 video, which I’ll probably have some tricks in. Jon Dickson and Taylor Kirby are also working on a two-part video that we’re (Deathwish) doing. The whole team will have a montage section. I’m sure Shake Junt is working on something too. We’re always out filming and doing things. Otherwise I’ve just been working at Baker Boys and trying to bring new brands into the building that I respect and that me and Andrew think are cool.
How will you release the video with you and Andrew?
We’ll probably release that on Thrasher or something. We’ll probably make some hard copies too because I have an older-school mentality. I feel like when something is only released on the internet, it has a certain shelf life. When I walk into a skate shop, it’s fun to see a video playing. It doesn’t have to be one of our videos, it’s just cool to see. I think there’s a certain amount of importance in a hard copy of something, whether it be magazines or videos and even if you release something online, I think it’s cool to have a hard copy, because you can have it in your collection. Five years from now, it’s going to be hard to dig something out of the feed and watch it.
I was going to ask you about magazines actually because here in Europe a lot got cancelled in print recently.
Which ones were they?
Sidewalk, Kingpin, Monster and some BMX magazines. I think it was something like 20 titles in total.
They all got cancelled?
Yes. I’ve noticed from the work I do with Grey, specifically with brands, that Instagram is suddenly way more important now. It feels like brands are aiming their marketing budgets that way. People are being paid to shoot photos just for Instagram. What are your thoughts on this?
Well first of all I’d say this: when a corporation cancels that many (magazines) at one time, that’s a really good sign for somebody to start something new because there’s obviously going to be a demand. That opens up room for at least one very good, creative magazine. If I was in that position, I would look at that as such an amazing opportunity because they (the publisher) don’t know. All a corporation is following is a trend that was hitting years ago. They’re seeing the bottom dollar and they make their cancels and they do whatever they have to do to keep up with their shareholders. Yes online is everything that’s happening right now and I realise that Instagram and all this shit is immediate. It’s an immediate fix for people with attention deficit disorders, but what actually replaces somebody being able to hang something up on their wall? Or you’re laying in bed and you’re phone’s dead and you don’t have your tablet or your iPod or your iPad or any of that bullshit… You always have to have print. It’s a niche market we’re in, but there is always room for one good piece of content. Those are all good magazines. It’s really unfortunate, but I would see it as an opportunity.
As far as Instagram goes, this is my take on it: lately, in the last couple of months I’ve been really stand-offish with Instagram and I’m not the most cutting-edge dude around – I don’t spot trends years before they come out – but I feel like I’m pretty on par with most people and if I start seeing a pull-back myself… It’s just a little too much, it’s a little too invasive for me. There are too many cornballs getting involved, there’s too much shit going on. When I sense my own pull-back, I sense the rest of the world is either right there or right behind that. But yes, that’s the new form of marketing, Facebook, whatever, all that other shit, Instagram, it’s the immediate fix. People have a 15-second attention span for videos and all that. But it’s a cycle. People will start to get a little more reluctant to put their entire life out there for everybody. I think that within the next few years or so, that’s coming.
It’s interesting you mention that opportunity because one new German magazine has already started, Solo, and the guys from Kingpin have started a magazine called Free. Their first issue is due in a couple of weeks.
Good for them. That’s really awesome. It’s a tough game for magazines, man. It’s crazy, there must be a lot of people who hunt because I go and see like five different hunting publications, gun magazines, you know when you see these really niche magazines?
It makes you realise how niche skating is.
Right, then you hear the statistics that a billion people skate, or whatever that figure is. I look at Thrasher’s Instagram and they have a million followers or whatever. That’s a lot of people, but on a grand scale and that being the most popular skateboard magazine, that’s not a lot of people to have as a following. There must not be as many real skateboarders as I think there are. The statistics that I hear must be people that have bought a skateboard within the last 10 years. I mean shit, I bought a pair of golf clubs 15 years ago, but I’m not a golfer. You know what I mean?
Have you been hanging out with Lev (Tanju) or any of the Palace guys during this visit?
Yes I got to see Lev and Gareth (Skewis) yesterday. I stopped by the shop. It was Lev’s birthday.
What did you think of the shop?
It’s awesome. When Louie (Slater) was in town he called up Blondie McCoy and we got to look around the shop one night when there weren’t many people around. It’s cool just to walk in and see that marble floor. You know when you see something that means you made it? That stokes me out. It’s a shop that can hang with some high-end shit.
How is Palace doing over the US?
It’s doing good, man. It’s doing great. It’s interesting: because of social media, everyone in every part of the world can see what’s going on everywhere else, so skateboarding is not centralised in southern California anymore, like it was 10-15 years ago. You can start a brand in one country and it can be popular in another country. The shops seem pretty stoked on it (Palace). They all came out about a year ago and kicked it at Baker Boys when me and Gareth and Lev were meeting and figuring things out. It was cool to see everyone skating some schoolyards and shit in LA. It’s rad: I come out here and get love from those dudes.
Someone asked Lev this recently: would you do a Baker and Palace tour?
Hell yeah! I actually found out about everything through my friend Louie Slater. When he came out (to LA) about six or seven years ago, he showed me and Andrew the PWBC episodes. We were huge fans and we didn’t even know what it was. We were really fanatical about it. I had actually asked Lev about helping to edit the Deathwish video. This was years before the that video even came out – I didn’t know much about Palace. Then we spoke maybe a few months or years later about distributing the brand in the US and to make a long story short, we’ve been fans of it for years so yes, of course, I would love to do that. I’d like to do it either here, or in the US.
Which UK skaters do you like?
Lucien (Clarke) is one of my favourites right now. I appreciate skaters as people, first and foremost. If the person’s a kook and you can’t travel with them, then what good is skateboarding? I respect Lucien and I think he’s a rad dude. I’m 37 and I go skate almost every day when I’m back home, but I’m also a little more shut in. I don’t get out as much as I used to. When you’re younger, you know everybody in every little corner of say, England. When you get a little older, you tend to only hang with your circle of people. Now I end up meeting new people from my old people. Bryan Herman will say he’s been skating with a dude in Victorville. It’s not me who goes, “I’ve found this kid in Victorville and he rips.” So it’s a little bit harder. But there are a few people (in the US): Wes Kremer, he rips. He’s not a new dude though, but to me he’s kind of new. He’s fucking rad, man. He’s got a good head on his shoulders. He rips and we wants to skate, he’s not about a bunch of bullshit. I read his interview a while ago in The Skateboard Mag and I thought it was amazing, his distaste for social media, phones, all that. I respect that. I heard Blondey impossible tail-grabbed the bar out of the bank (at Southbank). I watched him skate a little bit – I’m a big fan. It’s cool: you go to different countries and different places and you hear about what somebody did and you’re like, “What the fuck?” It used to be that you’d hear about one person but so many people rip now. It’s awesome. There’s a lot of cool shit going on.