I can’t say exactly how long I’ve been following Robert Brink on the internet. It’s been a while now. Having said that, I’ve never come across something he’s written that isn’t worth reading. In addition to being a known writer in the world of skateboarding journalism, he’s also a regular co-host of the successful and entertaining Weekend Buzz on the Ride Channel.
I always seem to run into Rob at Tampa Pro, and last year after chatting him up a bit I decided hit him up for an interview. Couldn’t be more glad that I did. Almost a year later, here it is: The Robert Brink Interview.
Starting off – I think a lot of people know you from your social media profiles and from Weekend Buzz on the Ride Channel. Both things you do well, but it seems that writing is a big strongpoint for you. I read that you got your start with writing at Stance magazine, right? Can you tell me about that experience?
I think Stance may have been the first mag I ever wrote for. It was either them or TransWorld. But what was rad about Stance, despite being kinda hated on back then, was that it was a pop culture mag influenced by the culture of skateboarding. Much like mags and sites like Monster Children, Hype Beast, and so on today. Tim O’Connor introduced me to Ted Newsome who was the editor at the time and Ted gave me a warm welcome and a chance. It was awesome because right off the bat I was interviewing celebs and playmates and rock stars. I’ve been a die-hard skateboarder since 1989, but I have also never been a fan of not progressing and expanding… very few people can back themselves into a corner and have a long and dynamic career. I also worked alongside Mike Ballard and Kevin Imamura; both have done amazing stuff in skate and beyond. I was just emailing with Bobby Hundreds and discovered he was an intern there while I was writing for them.
I started out pitching stories and doing book, DVD and music reviews and one day Ted flew me to Cali to work in the offices for a month because they needed help. I didn’t expect that to happen so fast. At that same time my dad was dying from cancer, so my mind was all over the place. But I was at the TWS offices working every day. It was at the peak of Jackass fame … so I was chilling with Jackass dudes, hanging out in LA … the whole deal. Prior to this I’d only been to SF a few times for skate missions with my NJ homies. But god, it was so fun. The whole era—not just the time in the offices. I learned so much and built a sick portfolio in a short time. I interviewed Opie & Anthony, Todd McFarlane, Elijah Blue Allman, Beetlejuice (of Howard Stern fame), supermodel Kylie Bax and so on.
The mag soon went under but by that time I was doing stuff regularly for TWS, TWS Business, Strength, ESPN magazine, Skateboarder and a few others, all while running a skate shop in NJ. Stance was the perfect experience/segway into Missbehave … a mag out of Mass Appeal aimed at girls. I ended up interviewing Sky Ferreira, Kat Von D, Jena Malone, Regina Spektor, Amber Heard, Stevie Ryan and Lizzy Kaplan.
I read a great quote you gave to Jenkem in a short section about how to get a job in the skateboard industry: “…work hard and you can have nearly anything you want. It’s worth everything you put into it.” It’s amazingly true in just about every aspect of life, but in this instance you were talking about the skateboarding industry specifically. This brings me to the question – was there ever a point where you really didn’t know if you wanted to continue with this whole skateboarding thing, or have you always been this dedicated?
Both. I am a workaholic to a fault. I’m the dude that thinks nothing is ever good enough. I’m a gnarly critic … of everything around me but more importantly of myself. I’m not saying this is always the best quality to have or that my word is gospel, but I’m always sizing things up, figuring out how they can be improved or looking for voids that can be filled. To me, that’s where the opportunity to make an impact is.
I’ve burnt out plenty. I’ve thought of walking away so many times. There have been blowouts and fights and shitty meetings in HR offices and failed relationships with women and lost friends and so on. I’ve actually been in therapy for a few months now and it’s interesting how my views towards work and the rewards I get from it and why developed at such a young age, based on factors from my childhood… and affect everything I do every day.
That said, work and skateboarding are my thing. I love what I do and I’m very fortunate. I’m living my dream and have the opportunity to make more dreams a reality. But it’s easy to get wrapped up and emotional because we are all so connected to, and in love with, skateboarding. And when you work with what you love the lines get blurred. You end up working 24/7 because you don’t realize you’re working.
One of my favorite quotes is from Heath Kirchart, in reference to his retirement, He said, “I’m sick of hating skateboarding.” It really resonates with me. For me, when you finally get behind the scenes and move all the way to Cali and get your dream job and all that, you are excited and hungry and full of hopes and ideas. You’re ready to conquer the world and help make skating better. But some of the shit you see and hear once you get in the mix will fucking break your heart because, again, skateboarding is what you love.
That’s why MJ’s Jenkem interview is so crucial to read and understand. Sure it sucks when someone like Nike kicks off Peter Hewitt or whatever … and it’s easy to default the old “Its cuz they are corporate and they suck!” reaction. But what also sucks is when certain skate brands selling and marketing how “core” and “skater owned” they are, are fucking over their own kind. Maybe it’s to be expected from a corporate giant … but when your own friends and peers stab you in the back … that’s the most fucked and painful thing ever. It’s happened to myself and lots of my friends. It’s happened to tons of pros and ams. I’ve seen it a hundred times.
I’m not pro-corporation, anti-core, or vice versa. And I’m in no way saying that all skater-owned companies are shady. Business gets ugly sometimes, regardless of the industry you’re in. But I think kids need to know. Buy what you like. Buy what brands you relate to and connect with and work for you. Buy what you can afford. But don’t just fall for some bullshit “anti-corporation/we are skater owned” mantra certain brands are spewing so that you buy their products. If the middle-aged dudes running a company can’t do a fucking kickflip or look at you funny when you ask them if they liked Chris Colburn’s video part, then they just might not be fucking skaters, know what I mean? There are legit reasons certain brands, massive or small, succeed over others … whether it’s better product, a better story, sicker graphics, treating their riders and employees better, etc.
And that’s also why I don’t have the time or energy to be bummed when pros do weird shit. So many kids spend so much time on forums and comments hating on pros for “kooking” it or whatever … what I really think they should be seeing is what happens behind the scenes at the brands. If they did, seeing so and so “sell out” for an energy drink sponsor or doing a Dr. Pepper commercial won’t seem so bad. It’s amazing how many people who gripe and talk shit online are so uneducated as to what they are even talking about. There are so many more layers to why shit happens than what most skaters in the world see. If every skater in the world sat in some of the meetings and conversations I’ve been in or heard about, the companies they choose to support and don’t support would be very different. They might actually be quite shocked at some of the shit their favorite “core” brand does to make or save a buck.
In the end, I’d rather skaters not even worry about this shit and just skate and have fun. But if they are gonna be putting everything under a microscope every day online anyway … I’d prefer them directing those efforts towards shit that’s way lamer and darker than Jereme’s rapping or Dylan’s cuffed pants.
That said, clearly I’m still here. And I’m thankful and lucky and more appreciative every day. The good far outweighs the bad.
In skateboarding it seems like it’s especially easy to write off a brand/person/style and be done with it forever. I remember a few situations I’ve seen with people I know leaving teams, having fights, or catching vibes the wrong way, like you mentioned before. But on the opposite end of the spectrum; there are a those notable people that seem like they will be friends forever. Are there any people in the industry or in your life in general that have a homies-for-life status?
Of course-and that’s part of the beauty of skateboarding. Despite all I just said, for the most part, I’ve met and befriended amazing people who’ve helped me and given me amazing opportunities. There are people who will be friends for life, regardless of where I work, who rides for who, what arguments we get in or whatever. In the end, I hope more people are making lifelong friends and having the time of their life over being bummed out and hating one another. Erica is like my sister. Danny Garcia and Jim Thiebaud and Josh Friedberg are some of my best friends. Ronnie Creager was the first time I befriended an idol of mine and he’s been the raddest dude. Johnny Schillereff just hired me. Austyn just sent me a text to come see his band play. Sometimes Carnie or Nieratko or Patrick O’Dell and I send emails back and forth about writing and our shows and so on. All the people I’ve worked with at the skate mags or behind the scenes at Ride Channel or whatever are awesome. I just got home from the Chronicles 2 premiere and it’s the best feeling just being around hundreds of people who you know and love and respect. Just walking around, connected by skateboarding and talking and hugging your friends all night. It’s incredible. Thank you thank you thank you to everyone.
On the subject of writing – You seem to be pretty well read. Do you have any specific writers, journalists or authors that you really get into?
I’m not as well read as I should be. Sometimes I’m ashamed of it. It just boils down to lack of free time. And even if I had that free time I think I would use it to write more rather than read.
I like Hemingway and Steinbeck. I like Emerson and Thoreau and Twain. I tend to gravitate towards American writers who write simply. I like that I read and comprehended “The Old Man and the Sea” in seventh grade and can also read it now and enjoy it on a different level. I found the new Salinger documentary quite remarkable.
I ’m a fan of the first four Palahniuk novels and his non-fiction. I love Cintra Wilson’s “A Massive Swelling.” I take a ton of inspiration from the way songwriters write lyrics, from Beethoven’s music, the way Charles Schultz wrote Peanuts, the way Howard Stern does everything, the way Oliver Stone or Terence Malick make films, the way Dave Carnie and Chris Nieratko and Mike Burnett write and think about skateboarding … to me it’s not just about “writers” in the traditional sense … but creators in general that can be really inspiring.
Once I read something you said about how key the Slap message boards were to knowing what skateboarders were really into, and how print couldn’t really follow along that path. Can you tell me about some of your favorite discoveries you’ve found in those forums? Do you check the forums often?
I don’t remember saying that … or meaning that. But here’s how I feel: the key to knowing what skaters are really into is being a skateboarder. Hanging with skateboarders. Being out on the streets and in the parks and in the van and at contests and paying attention to everything to do with skateboarding.
Magazines are awesome. And I’m obsessed with them. I pick up any magazine anywhere I am and flip through it. Doesn’t matter what it’s about. But my issue with print in skateboarding is that it’s archaic in the sense that if Johnny Layton whips his dick out or Spanky gets set on fire by Neck Face and a magazine wants to write about it … it won’t hit the shelves for a few months. There’s a whole world of fun and interesting content to be created and covered that print mags can’t do, for various reasons. Some because of turnaround time, some because of who pays to advertise in their mags or page counts. Sometimes the reality is that they are so busy running a media business and keeping ad dollars rolling in that they can’t always invest and focus more on content, as a result, some of the smaller independent blogs like yours and Skate More Spots and Jenkem and other sites have seized that opportunity and it’s rad that pros are taking time out to talk to them.
As for Slap … I’ve discovered there are plenty of cool kids on there that I end up writing back and forth with or meeting when I’m out and about. I’ve discovered that many people actually have no qualms of speaking quite assertively despite having no idea what they are fucking talking about. I’ve discovered that in some cases, people, no matter what, are gonna come on and talk shit for no reason, like, just for the fun of it. Which is sometimes lame and sometimes hilarious.
I’ve discovered people are a lot different in person than when they are hiding behind a keyboard and I’ve discovered that the Slap forum is a very tiny percentage of the actual skateboarding community as a whole. Yes, it’s a segment of the skate population and not to be ignored … but I know dudes who run brands that sit on Slap way too many hours of the day … dudes who should be worrying about why their brand is losing shit tons of money and why they have to lay off their friends or give their team riders pay cuts, instead they’re on Slap patting themselves on the back and forwarding threads to the executives when some kid posts something nice about their new product.
It’s nice to be able to go on there and interact (or defend yourself, ha-ha). Sometimes you can change people’s perceptions or break down people’s instinct to just hate on shit and actually have some cool dialogue. There are some great threads on there with book recommendations. There’s some shit on there that makes me crack up laughing when I’m in a bad mood. I sometimes learn about current events and world affairs from the Slap forum, believe it or not.
It’s awesome that it exists and I love it, despite the beatings that I sometimes take on there. I’m wearing a Slap hat right now actually. And to all the awesome people on Slap who watch my show and read my shit and post it up there and say cool shit, thanks so much for all the support.
I think Slap is actually where I first remember seeing your name – possibly a link to a story you wrote posted online, something like that. I certainly miss the print version. Anyway, not to beat on the Slap drum too much, but I think that’s also where I learned about Team Handsome. Is this still a thing? I feel like maybe you invented this. Regardless of its origin, can you tell me more about Team Handsome? For example: former, current, or future members?
I read and hear and get tagged in photos about Team Handsome every day so it must still be alive and well! I recently did a whole interview on Jenkem about it, better you link to that then me rehashing it all here. (ed.- You can find this interview here)
You recently had Giovanni Reda on Weekend Buzz. Here’s something I’ve always wondered: Is Reda always so charmingly annoying, or is that just his on-camera persona?
I’d say he’s pretty charming. He knows when to play it up for effect. He’s a talented dude. I thought he was gonna grill me on Buzz and he surprised me by being super cool and respectful and great to talk to. I don’t find him annoying at all, but I can see how people might think that. Getting to know him a bit definitely changes that perspective though.
Speaking of Weekend Buzz – I want to ask you about the concept of the show. How did things get started with Weekend Buzz? Also, I’ve noticed that some guys come on and talk, and don’t drink at all, whereas other guys have gotten pretty into it. Have you ever had any bad situations or repercussions from people drinking on the show?
The short version is that after my Free Lunch, Ride asked me to do a show. I couldn’t have been more stoked. Jesse Fritsch had some ideas how he wanted it to go, so we brought a bunch of dudes into the studio and tested out some conversational scenarios on camera. After a few test episodes I brought in Erica. Thought it would be fun to have a female dynamic in the mix. From there it just evolved and took on a life of its own. Here we are two years later and it’s been amazing. And no, there haven’t been any bad scenarios at all. The drinks aren’t there to get people wasted. We always want it to be more like hanging out at a bar or café with your favorite pros rather than some uptight and formal, stock interview. That’s all. And everyone’s been fun and awesome and I hope they’ve enjoyed themselves too. So thankful to the people at Ride, everyone who has come on the show and anyone who has helped me gather material for the show.
I’ve noticed some pretty nice old clips of yours sprinkled here and there over social media. Have you ever had your own video part? If so, can we see it?
Never had an official part. My sponsor me tape from ’93 is on my YouTube channel, as well as some other random clips of my crew and I from back in NJ in the late ‘90s and a little clip I did with Thunder. There’s stuff out there for sure. But when I was younger, average kids didn’t make parts like they do now. For the most part, it was either a sponsor-me tape or a real part for the company you rode for. Now with YouTube and access to cameras, making a part (other than the skating) is easy.
Speaking of video parts – One thing I’ve noticed about skateboarding is just how many kids can do tricks that just 10 years ago would be considered mind-blowing. I feel like ease of access to skateboarding media on the Internet has played a big part in the progression of skateboarding. Kids have stacks of clips 10 weeks into learning how to ride a skateboard. How do you feel about this phenomenon? Do you ever long for the old days of having to travel to see people doing new and exciting things? Do you think the Internet will keep skateboarding alive; keep it from phasing out like it has in the past?
I think it’s great. I love the progression. And seeing Tampa Pro or Street League or someone like Leo Romero skate in person will never be replaced by Internet footage. So no, I don’t long for the old days because those days are still here. Travelling and seeing things in the flesh is still alive and well and the best way to do it. And yes, the internet will definitely help keep skating going and in the public eye more than in the past when the skate media consisted of only print mags and VHS videos you had to get at a skate shop.
Imagine print media being banned 10 years from now. No new books, no newspapers. Could you live in this world?
Yes, because there would be a lot more trees. The medium doesn’t matter to me. Print, tablet, Instagram, VHS, DVD, app, whatever… it’s the content and how content creators embrace, innovate and maximize each medium that matters. Bring it.
1995 was a funny year for me. I was just starting high school. I was finally, for once, finding a comfortable group of friends to hang out with. Skateboarding has been a part of my life for as long as I remember, but it wasn’t until high school that I really felt like I could enjoy being around other people. Skateboarding had finally helped me find these people. Up until then, I was pretty much on my own. I had friends on an individual basis, of course. But not like this.
Together, we would sit around, talk, some of us learned how to smoke, or drink, or just do things we didn’t need to be doing in general. We’d watch skate videos and yell at each other, we’d go skateboarding, and we’d try to find girls to bring into the group. That’s how it worked, we were a tight group and we kept it that way.
Saying that the film Kids portrays a life similar to my own youth may be a bit shocking to someone that may know me now, but didn’t then-and I get that. This movie is kinda fucked if you watch it from an adult perspective–especially if you are one of those adults that spent their youth on a cul-de-sac in a gated community. Sure, I wasn’t 12 years old smoking pot on the couch with my peers in a New York apartment, and my parents were pretty awesome people that kept an eye on me. But they gave me a lot of freedom to hang out with whomever I wanted, and trusted me to do the right thing. A lot of the time, I did. That’s not to say all my friends did. Skateboarders are a notoriously diverse group of people, after all.
In Kids, Larry Clark paints a picture of a modern, realistic pair of teenagers much like any average teenager you might know today. They ride skateboards, smoke, and lust after the opposite sex, generally doing whatever they can get away with. I remember my dad watching the movie and telling me that ‘those guys are a couple of shitheads’. They certainly were, but it’s not like I couldn’t relate to them on some level. (Yikes.)
If you want the basic plot of the story given to you, Kids is a story about what unsupervised young people are like in real life. It’s about AIDS, it’s about skateboarders hanging out, and it’s about tragedies in parenting. Some people refer to the film as a wake-up call to parents. I never saw it in that way, at least until just recently watching it again. When a guy explains how to roll a blunt to young teenagers openly in a city park in the film, I laughed. That’s where I learned how it was done—not from people I knew, but by watching the movie Kids. I now realize I could very well have learned it at the skate park, if I had been so inclined.
I’m straying from the point I meant to make, so let me tell you about the movie. ‘Kids’ is an honest, unsettling, but entirely engrossing film. When you watch it, at times, you could almost be convinced that you were watching a documentary about youth and AIDS. Or if you are a skateboarder, it’s about some people you may know. You’ll dislike the main characters right from the get-go, and even more as the movie progresses. They are, as my dad so eloquently put it- “shit heads”. But if you really pay attention to what’s going on here, you may learn a thing or two from them. Kids certainly scared me straight for a while.