Birling the Skatepark Effect
Wesley Lee, Drop down to 50-50. Cayer By Adam Wawrzynczak There was once a time when skateparks acted primarily as warm-up spots....
After repeated viewings in an attempt to digest everything in Alright, Ok, the latest video offering from Vans and director Greg Hunt, I caught up with leading man Elijah Berle to talk in-depth about some of the standout moments in his part that pass by oh so quickly, even in this well-paced and thoughtfully crafted part. —Jeff Thorburn
Tell me how you got started on this video. Did you come right out of filming “No Other Way” and into this? Was there a plan from the start?
I’d say everything for this video was filmed within the last year. We kind of had an idea to start the project around the time that my shoe was coming out. That was originally the plan. We had the commercial lined up for the shoe, and that didn’t go very well either. That kind of just threw me off after that. We had an idea for a video, but we were not off to a good start. The ball was not rolling. Just for me, personally, I wasn’t really skating as well as I would like to be. I had some weird mental block going on because I wasn’t skating good. So I would say we really started to kick into gear and get stuff for this video at the beginning of this year. Right before Covid happened we made it on one or two trips. I think in January we were in Portugal, and then we went to Sacramento. That’s when things started to kick into gear here a little bit. Ever since then it’s been—if you notice, Gilbert’s part is mainly filmed in Virginia, and my part is mainly LA. Which is kind of cool because usually for a video part it’s all over the place: you’ll have footage from out of the country, and from other states in the US. It’s cool to see someone film a video part where they live. To work with what they’ve got, without being able to travel and go to spots. Here’s your situation; see what you can do with it.
What was it like just filming near home, especially in this year of Covid?
I liked it. I love LA. I love the way the city looks, and I love clips filmed in LA. I think people kind of realize how it’s not as easy to film here in LA, maybe just because of the significant amount of skateboarders that do live here. If something is skateable, or somewhat skateable, it’s definitely been hit before. It’s kind of rare that you see a part thoroughly filmed throughout LA. Being that’s where I’m from, I’m pretty proud to have something that’s mainly LA-based under my belt.
With so many of these spots being in your home city, are they spots you pass by in your daily life, looking at all the time thinking, “Fuck, I’ve got to do that thing.”
I wouldn’t say as much, because I live by the beach. I’d say the majority of my skating is done inland, the actual Los Angeles area, but I’m more over in the Venice area. It’s kind of a little retreat back here at the end of the day. When I go out to that side of town, that’s when your kind of passing stuff like, “Shit, probably going to have to try that soon. Can’t put it off forever.” But if I was living around there I’d be going nuts. Even knowing something is a few blocks away that you want to try—but you’re still a little scared to try it—it raises the hairs on the back of your neck.
You might not want to walk by these spots on your way somewhere else really.
Sometimes you go to look at a spot, and either you start telling yourself good things or you start telling yourself bad things. It’s one or the other for me.
This immediately took my mind somewhere specific. Tell me what was going on at this time.
Didn’t Dill do that?
I’ll tell you right now, at that moment in time, Dill was the last thing on my mind. That table flip just had to be done. But that’s kind of cool that I paid an homage to Dill without even really knowing it. I was just so angry and that thing was taunting me, so it had to be flipped. I’d been going there for so many different weekends, trying a trick that I normally wouldn’t do. I was trying to do a Fakie Inward Heel, Fakie Manual on the table. I think we were so adamantly trying to get it because Greg [Hunt] was like, “Dude, you should really try to get that, because no one will expect you to do that.” I was just swimming in waters that I wasn’t really accustomed to. After going there over and over and over just to try something that most other technical manual skaters could probably do, I was just having such a hard time with it, because that’s not what I do.
Are the schoolyards a spot where you’d normally just go skate and see what happens, or are they a place where you go when you have a trick for a table in mind?
I love skating schoolyards, mainly tables. I love skating tables. Anytime I can think of a trick to film on a table, I try to go and do it. It’s such a timeless part of skateboarding that’s so cool, that’s never really changed the way it looks. Those tables have been the same tables since the 90s, probably before that even. You can go back on footage longer than I’ve been skating, and see someone skate that same obstacle. It’s not like a spot, it’s an obstacle. Anyone can come from anywhere and try to bring to the table—no pun intended—what they can do. I like skating tables, and I think schoolyard lines look amazing, so I’ll probably flip a couple more in my day.
I called this one the “bump over many bars”.
That’s a lot of bars right there. That grab especially just makes it look like chaos. We actually got a little crazy with this spot. So we found this spot and were skating it, not getting kicked out, but right where you land are two parking spaces for the business. We kept going back, but there was always a car in the landing. We went on a weekend and the car was still there. So what we ended up doing was we went to Home Depot and got construction cones, caution tape, and temporary “No Parking” signs. We even filled in the dates of when we were going to go skate there. We went real late at night, when there were no cars there, and we taped off those two spaces and made it look like there was some construction that was going to happen there. We went back the next morning, took everything away, and skated it. We fooled ‘em.
Is this in LA?
No actually, we did another trip, I can’t remember if it was the end of last year or right at the beginning of this year, but it’s in Ohio.
I believe Justin Henry does a Crook pop-over on the top bar, right?
Yeah, he did.
So did you go to this spot looking at it as a grind, or did you go there and just think, “I’m going to jump this whole thing.”
No, not really. I was pretty scared to Ollie the whole thing. I really couldn’t push as fast as I felt comfortable to be able to clear that. I think even if you look at the Ollie, I don’t really clear it by that much. I was pushing as hard as I could to try to make it that thing. I didn’t really think it was possible at first, but I just wanted to try it, without obviously impaling myself on that last rail. I think I tried a couple and made it over. I even had to do the high jump maneuver sometimes, when they like throw their legs over. Justin’s an Ohio boy, so he’d been wanting to skate this thing, so we went there for him to skate it first. And then I just thought the Ollie would be sick. I think we first went there at night time. It started to get dark, that’s when he did the Crook pop-over, but I wasn’t going to try in the dark. I couldn’t push across the street, into a parking lot, and avoid a crack and a hole in the run-up. I knew we were going to need some daylight for this one.
Back to the schoolyard. What’s the process for an Impossible Nose Manual across two tables?
Patience, and a lot of time. You’re going to have set aside a full day and have a lot of water. Hopefully it’s not too hot, because that shit took all day. Like I said, I don’t really do manuals, but I kind of had an idea to do this one. It was one of those thing where it would start to get close, and then get further away, then close again. I guess I’m just not the best at manuals. I just had trouble holding the manual the whole way through. My friend Tyshawn was there and he was just so bored. I was trying the manual for so long that I think he ended up taking a nap, and was fully sleeping in the schoolyard. I think he woke up as I was rolling away and skating up to him, and he’s like, “You did it?”
Do you like to skate the same board set-up all the time, or do you alter it based on the spot?
I skate the same thing. Maybe now that this video part is over I might give myself a little bit more wheel to work with. 53s are kind of the all-around, ready for anything size, so I’m always messing with that, but now that this is over I may bump it up to a 54 or 55. I like skating the same board, same size, same shape, same wheels.
What do you skate, eight and a quarter?
I skate 8.25, yeah. I’ve been going down in size pretty much since I turned pro. I think I turned pro with an 8.5, went down to 8.38, and now I’m down to an 8.25, but I’m not going any lower than that.
It seems like when you’re out skating the bowl at the beach you like to be a big Dogtown board or something, right?
I do really enjoy skating shaped boards, more so for transition. There’s just such a better feeling, skating an old 80s shape in a bowl, instead of your normal board. It just kind of makes it more fun or interesting. I think they make your Backside Airs better, but that’s not proven. I think for me personally, some 80s homage adds a little more flair to your Backside Air.
What makes you decide between wearing Authentics or your own pro model shoe?
Honestly, it was a little hard for me to get used to my shoe, just because I had been skating Authentics and Old Skools for so long. It had been like ten years of just skating those. So my shoe has a little more forgiveness than those shoes. It’s crazy how much you can notice a little bit of a difference in thickness in your shoe. So I was trying to get used to the shoe, trying to film a video part, and just trying to use what I was comfortable with. Then it just clicked with my shoe, and now I can’t skate any other shoe. An Old Skool feels like a piece of paper now. But just because I have a shoe doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate other Vans shoes. I know a lot of the guys exclusively skate their shoe, because they feel like they’re going to get in trouble, or it’d be bad to wear something else. But I think it’s good to throw on an Old Skool sometimes, or throw on some Authentics. That’s what makes Vans Vans, so you can’t forget that part.
I had to look at this one again even the first time. As you jam up that first rail, we don’t realize that the sign is that close to the rail. It’s a bit of an optical illusion.
I don’t know if you can tell, but there’s a crease in the sign right there. The only way to even remotely make it by that thing is to bend that. It was still just coming out so much. When you’re grinding something, you’re not thinking about altering your body to avoid something. I cannot tell you how many times I grinded up both of these things and just ran straight into that sign and fell off. It must have happened at least 50 times. I would sometimes grind up, grind up, and then hug the sign and just be standing in a 50-50, holding this sign, getting so mad at it. It was so taunting, and I didn’t even know if I would be able to make it look good without grabbing or touching the sign. Randomly one worked and just brushed up on my shirt and I got past that thing. It’s also pretty scary, because on the right side of this rail, it’s probably a 15 or 20 foot drop, so I didn’t want to lean into the sign but didn’t want to lean back and have to jump down there either.
Was this in Portugal?
It was in Spain actually. This trip was right when I got my shoe. Vans had a global meeting kind of deal. So all of the accounts from around the world go to this one hotel to do meetings and stuff like that. I had to go up and explain what my shoe was in front of all these people. We decided to make a trip out of it. I was at Street League, which was crazy, and then we flew to Spain for the conference and then went on a skate trip after. It was kind of chaos and weird.
Wow, this one was really tough, man. Obviously this isn’t my ender, it’s in the middle of the part, but I’d say this was the hardest trick to film in the video. Or at least the one I went back the most for. I don’t know why. I’m usually pretty consistent with Impossibles, but there was something about this one. I think it’s because you have to go so slow to get over that rail, and then the drop drops down so fast, and it’s pretty tall. So you just have to scoop it and free-fall with it until you catch the bank. I don’t know if I just got into the habit of bailing it so much or what. I don’t know what bone this spot had to pick with me, but it did not let me walk away easy.
So this was a lot of trips back?
Yeah, I’d say maybe 8 trips. And it was ridiculous, because I knew I could do it. I wasn’t scared to try it, it’s not very technical, but I don’t know what the deal was.
Did you land it multiple times or was this the one and only make?
There were no multiple times. This is the one.
It’s a good land—there’s a nice little carve on the sidewalk.
I just remember rolling off the curb and being like, I’m not even happy right now. I’m so mad that it took so long, and now I’m rolling off the curb and it felt so easy.
And then you got to skate on towards Victor Street.
Greg actually, just the other day, right before the video came out, sent me a screengrab of that saying, “Look at the street sign. How cool is that?” I had never notice that before so I thought it was funny.
This strikes me as a spot that is probably pretty iconic to a skateboarder growing up around LA.
Totally. There were some up and downs with this spot. It was unskateable for a while. They put a pole at the bottom. Even when it was in its prime of being skated, the landing was pretty shitty. Most tricks that got done, people either rolled into the dirt and fell off, or they get lucky, made it to the concrete, and got to roll away. For me personally, there’s nothing worse than skating a spot that you don’t get to enjoy the roll away. Usually when I land a trick, I just unintentionally start pushing, like I’m going somewhere else. That’s the best feeling, landing something and rolling away. It sucks when you end up skating something and don’t get to enjoy that.
For some reason here they decided to rip out the whole landing and make it all flawless concrete, and they never put the pole back. I always thought an Impossible grind would be great for that spot. I think that’s a cool trick and it’s an iconic spot. I was really happy to be able to have the opportunity to try that trick and skate that spot. I had to put a lot of work into that, too. It’s a spot where you have about 20 minutes to skate it, if that. Usually around the time you’re starting to get close to your trick is the time when you get kicked out. I think I went there 3 or 4 times and right when I started grinding them off the end, or maybe even stomping a couple of them, we’d get kicked out. I remember this day though was Super Bowl Sunday, which in America is like Christmas, so we went and tried it then. It was a ghost town and we got to skate it for as long as we wanted.
Any Heath Kirchart sightings in the bushes?
You know what man, funny you say that. I went down there with Atiba one time to shoot a sequence, but we got kicked out and didn’t get it. On our way home though we were driving through Long Beach, and Heath texted Atiba. He was at Black Long Beach, so we went and met him. There wasn’t much talk of skating UCI, but it was just funny to skate that spot and then go have a burger and beer with him.
There was something tingling for him, some sense.
I did tell him that the hubba was skateable again and they made it perfect, and I saw a little smirk appear.
This is probably one of the better feeling tricks that I rolled away from throughout this part, just because that bank is so satisfying to roll down after you land your trick. I actually got a ticket at this school, maybe 5 years ago, so I just thought it was a bust. But I felt like it would be sick to do a Backside 360 over the rail. I think we saw that someone had skated it recently, so we went. It looked like it was under construction and they were starting to rip out the ground. I don’t know what it looks like now.
Was this just how the trick was working on this day, with your back foot kind of in the middle?
I don’t know, man. I think I was just taking whatever I could get on that thing. I was kind of in a rush, not knowing if cops were coming or if we were going to get kicked out. I was just sticking whatever was under my feet.
It sounded like this one got a little bonk off the rail too, off the nose.
Yeah, you can kind of see it right there. Sometimes that’s just what you need to get the board to your feet, you know?
Whatever it takes.
This one looks like it was a battle, based on your appearance.
It definitely was. I had fully given up, but I was still trying it. It was almost dark, so I thought, I guess I’ll just try until it gets too dark. I was already taking the loss on it though. That was the last spot of the trip and I was flying home the next day. So I was pretty bummed, leaving, not being able to try it again. I kept trying even though I was so tired, and I don’t know what happened, but I rolled away from that one and it felt so easy. I was so relieved that it was over.
You look pretty bloodied up, your hand’s duct-taped…
Yeah, there’s a lot of blood on my pants, too. I’d got a cut on my right knee and I was just fully bleeding through my pants. You can see it because they’re light coloured pants. My hand’s duct-taped up because I had a hole in it; my shirt’s filthy—you can tell that it wasn’t a walk in the park for me.
Is this is a completely different session from the previous clip, the Backside 180 Nosegrind 180 out?
Yeah, I’ve been there three times, and each time, it’s funny—well, I guess it’s not funny, but each time afterwards I went home and peed blood and threw up. The first time, this trick, I felt like it made sense since I had jumped down it for three hours. The second time was for the back 180 nosegrind 180. I tried it for an hour and a half or two hours, and then I rolled my ankle. I went back to the hotel, and then same thing again. I was like, what’s up with this rail? I don’t know if it’s the impact over and over or what. So the third time I went back to get the back 180 nosegrind 180, it was the same deal after I got it and went home. This rail is not good for my health. Maybe I should hang up the towel for this spot. But hey, usually with spots I really like, I’ll find another trick to try on them.
So you’re not ruling out a return just yet.
No, not yet.
How long after you did the Impossible over the rail did you go for this 50-50?
Oh this is well after the Impossible. But I had been thinking about grinding it—I wouldn’t even say I was thinking about grinding it, but I was thinking about somebody grinding it for a long time. I’ve always wondered if it was possible. I was wondering who was going to do it, but I think deep down I knew that I really wanted to do it. When the video started to come around, I went to look at it. I didn’t even have my skateboard. I was just by myself. I just wanted to get eyes on it, because I hadn’t really, truly looked at the grind with the intentions of me trying it. Something happened right when I looked at it, I saw the angle that I wanted to go at it from, and I thought, dude, I can grind this thing. This is possible.
So we went back, and I started jumping on grinds, kind of hopping over, but I still felt the possibility of taking it to the bottom. On one, I accidentally leaned in really far, and I made it to the last part, and jumped off down the stairs. So I was like, oh fuck, it is possible. It’s hard to tell from this angle, but right in the middle of it, there’s a kink with a pretty harsh angle that turns. Once you make it to that, you have to really lean into it, and it’s such a scary point in time to trust yourself to lean that way. The grind was so fast. In the footage it didn’t look as fast as I felt like I was grinding. I didn’t know if I could take the curve going that fast. The first time we went, I tried it forever and got pretty close. In the video they play the clip of me grinding down and then ollieing out.
Did you want to come out at that point?
No, I wanted to make it to the bottom. I was just trying to roll away from anything I could. So a few tries after that I ended up sacking the rail, probably the worst sack I have ever had. Right in the middle, at the tallest point, so both of my feet did not hit the ground. It was so painful that I just couldn’t try anymore. I was actually having trouble walking it was so painful. That was a Thursday, and then we went back the next Thursday, and there was a lot going on in my mind. I wasn’t feeling as confident. I didn’t really see the vision of that possibility that day anymore. A friend of mine had just passed away a few days before that. I was so mentally not ready for that spot. But I knew the only way to get over what I was going through was to go and do that, and not let it affect what I would normally do.
I just remember one try ollieing up to it and leaning in, starting to get towards the bottom, and all of the sudden I’m off the kink and rolling away. Dude, I must have rolled away for like three blocks, just trying to process what had happened. I really didn’t understand it until I was walking back up the hill, thinking, oh my god, I don’t have to go back up there again. Burndog [Michael Burnett] was there, which is always cool to get something gnarly with Burndog, because he shoots the gnarliest stuff. So that was a good day. Funny thing is, after that day, I was feeling sparky still, riding so high off of that. It didn’t really take that many tries, and I didn’t really slam that much, so we went to that rail where I did the Nollie Flip Backside Grind and I did that right after getting this trick. And then we went and had beers in the park.
How does this even come into your head, that this trick could be made a reality?
This was another one of those things that I would always just say, dude, could you imagine, Nosegrind Nollie Flip? I don’t know if it’s possible, but maybe. So after that last grind, which I didn’t know if that was possible either, I got that, so maybe this is possible too. Might as well go and try it. I think I went three times for this. The first time I went, wondering if I could even flip out that fast after getting onto that thing, I was nosegrinding it, nosegrinding it, trying to figure out the speed, and then I flipped one out and was like, oh, it’s possible. Almost like, fuck, now I’ve got myself into it. The first time I stuck it a couple of times but wasn’t really getting that close.
The next time we went, I just wasn’t in the right headspace. I just wasn’t getting close. This day that we came back, and they’d been working pretty good at the skatepark on this one obstacle I was trying them on. I started trying it for a while, and it was kind of just slamming, not really getting close, getting into Lipslides, and it was just all kind of bad. I don’t know what happened, and I was really tripped out by people walking by on the sidewalk, and all these little things bothering me. I don’t know what happened, but I just went into this fight mode.
After being tired, when I was pretty much ready to give up, I started running back to the run-up, throwing down even if someone was in my way. I’d go around them, maybe have a bad thought in my head, but I’d just think, shut the fuck up, you’re going to try it anyway. You’re tripping yourself out. I just started sticking them, with two feet, doing the tuck and roll. I just thought, dude, I’m not leaving without this. Again, I felt like I was going way faster then the way the clip goes by. I just remember sticking it, rolling off the curb, and then into the street like that. I just started pushing. I was just processing what had just happened, just pushing away, enjoying the victory ride a little bit. We went straight to the store across the street, got a couple of beers and celebrated on the steps.
That’s got to feel good. What’s next? Do you chill for a bit or move on right away?
Well I kind of roped myself into this thing that’s coming out December 4th, that isn’t quite as big a production as FA, but it’s something I’ve been working on…or I mean as big as Vans. So yeah, it’s for FA. A little something for that, so I’ll be filming for that pretty much until it comes out. There’s the giveaway right there. I definitely want to keep it going and keep putting stuff out.
Thank you for your time. It was great to talk with you.
That was cool, bringing up the screengrabs, going over those moments, because there are so many little moments that happen throughout the day of trying something, that it’s fun to be able to go over them.
It’s fun for us to hear about them. Congratulations and thank you again.
Of course. It’s a pleasure talking with you. Take it easy.