Interview: Anthony Van Engelen


text_CHRIS NIERATKO portrait_ANTHONY ACOSTA

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      We interviewed Anthony Van Engelen at length for our latest issue — #116. Nieratko and AVE spoke for nearly an hour, but due to space constraints, we couldn’t fit the entire interview in The Mag. So we’d like to present you with this full-length transcript of their conversation — along with a full-screen gallery of the photos from the article — for your reading and viewing pleasure.

      Breaking up is hard to do, and 2013 has been one hell of a year for big-time breakups in skateboarding. It seems like on a weekly basis we’re hearing of a new roster change, someone jumping ship, or someone building their own ship. For many legends, now seems as good a time as any to step out on their own and carve a little place for themselves.
      Such was the case on May 1, 2013, when Jason Dill and Anthony Van Engelen announced that after fifteen years they were leaving their longtime sponsor, Alien Workshop. No further info was given. No reasons why. No clue what was next.
Finally the dust has settled, and we got a chance to sit down with AVE, one of the gnarliest street skaters of his or any generation, to discuss Fucking Awesome, his reasons for leaving the Workshop, and what the future holds for him and for skateboarding.

How did Dill tell you that you were quitting Alien Workshop?
      Ha! Well, I wouldn’t say it was as simple as that, but there was probably a little bit of that, too. It went back and forth, but initially, yes, Jason came with the idea that we could do this. Riding for a company for fifteen years, we slowly got to the point where we didn’t know what’s going on anymore, and the idea of leaving started to seem like a good idea.

It was your company for fifteen years … you and Jason were the face of the brand. What were the causes for leaving?
      A company that’s been around for 24 years goes through the ups and downs that businesses do, and especially in skateboarding hard goods. They were faced with tough decisions at certain times—we went along for the ride for a long time on a lot of it—and we backed those dudes up. I don’t blame those dudes for the decisions that were made. We went to Burton; Burton turned around and put us back on the market a few years later. We watched the company get bought and sold, and we were in this washing machine getting pulled wherever … to the point where I didn’t know what was going on in the end. I didn’t know that the company was sold from [Rob] Dyrdek and then bought back by him until after all that happened. I think in the end it was just a case that after fifteen years we’re just riders. Where am I going to be in five or ten years?

So it was a matter of stepping out on your own to have something of your own more than being unhappy? Or was it a mix?
      I think it was a mix of things. But it’s not as simple as being unhappy or needing something for myself in the future. I think if I was worried about what the next five or ten years looked like at the Workshop, it’s only natural to start considering doing something myself. Skateboarding is all I know and all I have ever been involved in. This is how I see myself continuing to be involved.

When I heard Rob was buying the Workshop I was very curious how the Rob experiment would go. He’s larger than life, everything he does is hugely successful, and Alien, despite being as big as it’s ever gotten, has traditionally been an underground brand. I didn’t know how that dynamic was going to play out. What was that like, and was that an issue that pushed you closer to the door?
      What pushed me to the door was the feeling of being in the dark about what was going on with the company. I think for Rob, his heart was in the right place in buying the Workshop. To ride for a company for twenty years and turn around and be able to buy it when Burton put it up for sale was something that I respected, but I too was curious how this was going to pan out, being that Rob is busy with a hundred other business deals and companies that make him millions, and skateboard hard goods are a tough business right now. The company—at one point after he purchased it—was sold, unbeknownst to me, then bought back by him. I had no idea that this had occurred. So I was in the dark and started to feel as though he had more important things on his plate than the Workshop.

Is there any truth to the rumor that one of the reasons that you guys split was because there were guys on the team you couldn’t stand?
      No. That team was built by us for the most part. And any changes that we decided needed to happen would have happened if we were going to stay.

Hard goods sales are a mess right now, so I applaud you two for doing this. I’m just wondering what are the goals of the brand? What equals success for you? Because it’s a rough go right now.
      I don’t know what success is, but I think it’s important for us to do something completely different than what is going on in skateboarding currently.
      We didn’t run out and get distribution. Supreme does not own us. It’s me and Jason, and it’s small. We don’t have a fifteen-man team that has to pump out fifteen pro board series every three months that look like shit and mean nothing. It seems like people are throwing shit against the wall and seeing what sticks these days because skateboarding got big, teams got big, and the whole infrastructure of board companies got big. Now there’s all these ships out to sea, and they’re trying to stay afloat. I feel like skateboarding used to have a lot more to say, and there was a lot more to skateboarding graphics, and it feels really sugarcoated for the masses now. We want to do the opposite.

You running it out of your garage or out of your trunk, Wu Tang style?
      Pretty much. Pretty much.

This is going back twenty years ago, but I remember Jason Jessee used to call the skateshop I worked at to sell me Consolidated decks, which I thought was the most epic thing on Earth. You going to be calling shops yourself?
      I’ve called shops, but not to sell anything. We just compiled a list. I’m not all like, “Hey, this is fucking AVE,” but I’ve asked certain questions because we’re not going to sell just to anybody.

Rad. I didn’t get a phone call.
      How do you know? I called the shop not your cell. But yeah, aside from that I’m skating daily. We’re definitely working on it. It’s a makeshift operation, but we’re doing it.

Fucking Awesome as a brand name? You’re not trying to sell to little Johnny or his mom, huh?
      Maybe we are, I don’t know. I know when I was a kid, I loved buying the boards that came in the black bags. Those are the ones I wanted. So maybe we are … we’ll see.

Why go with that name and build off Jason’s brand and not start something completely new?
      When he brought the idea up of doing our thing and then using that as a platform, to me it seemed like the perfect answer. He’s been doing that for twelve years. There’s already a platform, a name, a following, and a certain aesthetic that comes along with Fucking Awesome. Even if we were to do something that was under a different name, it would have the same look. Jason is the mind behind the graphics and the look of things. We share a lot of the same ideas. He’ll make something, and I’ll be like, “Fuck yeah! That makes sense to me.” Or sometimes it’s just something totally retarded that makes you laugh, so whatever.

When are boards supposed to be in stores?
      We’re shooting for September/October-ish.

There was some weird timing when you guys quit the Workshop. Right around then Alex Olson and Brian Anderson quit Girl, and there was speculation that you’d all team up together. Mere coincidence?
      Yeah, it was coincidental that those things happened at the same time. I remember seeing Brian in New York, and he told me about the first movement on his end to leave Girl and start his own thing, but Jason and I had already been talking for a couple months about our shit. So yeah, it was just coincidental that things were happening at the same time on both our ends.

How did you tell Dyrdek and what was his reaction?
      Jason called Dyrdek, so I don’t know the first reaction, but I talked to Dyrdek the next day and he wished us luck. Our last conversation was that his goal is to maintain the integrity of the Workshop and his destiny is with Mike Hill and Mike Hill’s vision, so I assume that’s what he wants to do, to continue the Workshop. I think a lot of people were like, “Oh, is there going to be some Street League team?” Or they thought it would fall apart because we left, but the fact is that they have a great team. And if he invests in that team and that ideal and listens to those guys, it could be rad.

Is it true that the real reason you quit was because he wouldn’t let you enter Street League?
      Exactly! That’s it. He wouldn’t give me a portion of the Lunchables contract.

How do you think you’d fare in a Street League?
      Fuck. Come on. Dylan Rieder gets fourth, so fuck! I skate with him all the time, and it’s brutal. He’s one of the best skateboarders alive, and he’s getting fourth.

You’ve been muscling with this Vans video. You’re out skating every day like a little kid. How’s it coming along for you?
      I don’t know. I’ve just been out there doing the best that I can, giving it everything I got. For me, at this age, I’m just trying to show a lot of gratitude for what I got and where I’m at. It’s beyond what I ever thought it would be, to be able to still do this. I’m just stoked to be out there every day and to skate and have a chance to do my best. It’s been a lot of gratitude involved in filming for me. There is a flip side to that—when you’ve been doing it as long as I have and so much of skateboarding defines who you are and how you feel. When it’s not going right or my way, it can be hard to keep a positive outlook, especially when you’re going from video to video and trick to trick. But it doesn’t matter because I’m not sitting behind a desk with a chain attached to my neck. Skateboarding rips.

What’s the goal for yourself? Do you need to best Mindfield?
      No. It will be the best of what I am today on a skateboard. I don’t think about Mindfield, if that answers your question. I take it serious, but I’m just trying to enjoy it and skate a little differently. It has to change a little bit to keep it interesting for me, whether it be tricks or spots. So when I get a trick, I know it’s what I wanted to be doing instead of just going through the motions.

You’ve been out there with the dudes, and I’ve heard some of the gnarly shit that has been going down for the video. Who is going to own it?
      Chima [Ferguson] is super gnarly. I haven’t even seen half the shit he’s done, but everything I’ve seen has been mind blowing. The team is gnarly, dude! Gilbert [Crockett] is retarded. I don’t know what the fuck’s with him; that’s some other shit that I’ve never even seen before. Dan Lu, Kyle Walker, Pfanner, everybody is super gnarly, and everybody pushes it on the trips and does the gnarliest shit. It’s psycho.

You mentioned Gilbert. Terps [Kevin Terpening] left Alien with you, too. I know there were guys on Workshop that you were close with. Is it hard walking away from them? Are there guys that in the back of your head you’d like to put on Fucking Awesome one day?
      That was one of the biggest issues on the plate of leaving—that team and the relationships we have with those guys. Like if we step off the edge of this cliff, we ain’t gonna be in a tour van with all those dudes ever again, you know? That was hard, for sure. It was hard to call everybody the day we did it and talk to everybody individually. We also didn’t want to go and create Alien Workshop II. We’re stepping out on our own. We don’t want to take a bunch of people and guarantee them a bunch of shit. And we weren’t trying to dismantle the Workshop, either. Obviously we put all those dudes on [Alien Workshop]—we love them, we wish we could be with them, but so far it’s been fine. I still travel with Gilbert. I still skate with John Fitzgerald often at my park or on Vans trips. I still talk to people and it’s been mellow; it hasn’t been weird or anything.

How do you think your partner’s footage is coming along for the Vans video?
      He’s been working on a Supreme thing for I don’t even know how long now, and his priorities have been there. But he’s got footage from when we were traveling a lot together about a year and a half ago. When he’s done with filming for Supreme in early September, he’ll just be on Vans trips again. But he’s skating every day and killing it.

I mentioned to you I had to close yet another one of my skateshops. Like the housing bubble, there’s a skateboarding bubble, and it’s going to burst. And I think small brands like Fucking Awesome will have an easier time because you don’t have all that overhead. I think the small will rise up and the big will fall. What do you think the state of the skate business is?
      I can agree with you; we’re already seeing it. I think there’s going to be small companies splintering off of these big things, and that’s going to be the new shit because it’s a lot easier to operate that small. I hear a lot of people say we’re going to enter a 90s-esque time in skateboarding as far as business is concerned. I agree with that to an extent, but who really knows what the future holds? I’m certainly no business analyst. But being a skateboarder, I feel skateboarding is due for some big changes, and if the shit really hits the fan, hopefully Dyrdek will take the remainder of his money and a build a replica of EMB and we can all hang out there ’til we die.

What’s the cause of it all, in your opinion? Rodney Smith of SHUT always said, no matter how big you get, “Don’t get too psyched.” And I feel like skateboarding got too psyched.
      Usually money has something to do with that. You would expect that money would be the culprit here, and it’s usually the root of some problems. But yeah, they did. People got psyched. I’m not going to sit here and say I know something that other people don’t. There’s a lot smarter people than me in skateboarding who went into business, but sometimes you end up somewhere and you’re like, “How the fuck did I get here?”

There’s a lot of big, outsider money in skateboarding. I hate parts of it, but I also like that my friends are getting paid well. But do you think that when that bubble bursts and it can’t sustain all these big brands and the circus leaves town, skateboarding will be fucked?
      It seems like these big outside corps are staying. Some have packed up and left once again; we see that with Analog, Gravis, Burton, Quiksilver, and so on. But it seems like Nike, Street League, ESPN, energy drinks, etc. are just pumping more money into it and more outside corps are continuing to enter skateboarding. So I don’t think that skateboarding will completely return to what we saw in the 90s when there was zero outside money involved in it. Maybe we’ll see ESPN Skateboards soon or a Street League Skateboard Team with leather uniforms. Who fucking knows? Everything is crazy right now.

Getting ready for the Olympics?
      Yeah, I’m sure that’s in their mind. “How can we rank skaters and get this into the Olympics and get people on Wheaties boxes?” Like you said, friends of mine ride for Nike and they’re making a good living. I ride for Vans. I know who I ride for. I know who they’re owned by. I’ve been able to have a good life because of that. I read your article, and I agree one hundred percent that these dudes throw themselves down staircases day after day after day and endorse products and give everything they have for their projects, and they deserve to make a good living.
      I’m about to have surgery on my foot in four weeks. My third surgery. I’m six cortisone shots deep over two years in that foot to make a video part, but whatever. I’m happy to donate my body to skateboarding because it’s what I love to do. I’m fucking stoked that I get to beat myself up at 34 and get into an ice bath and hobble to the toilet to take a piss in the middle of the night. I am totally grateful for it. I feel like the heart of skateboarding will always take itself back, and we’re already seeing that. I think that there are kids out there who are attracted to skateboarding for the same reasons I was. And that’s what I mean about the heart of skateboarding. I believe it’s there and the act of skateboarding is always pure. Your perspective on how you want to skate is all that matters—it’s for you—as far as the physical act of it. That doesn’t change regardless of what company comes or goes.