AVE - Slam City Skates - Covent Garden. Photo - Maksim Kalanep
Anthony Van Engelen needs no introduction. He was in town recently when the House Of Vans park opened in Waterloo. With everyone at the shop signing and a busy schedule on the cards we were unable to do an interview at the time but managed to schedule one for later. His skateboarding has always done the talking. I remember his video parts often being on repeat on the old Slam VHS/sketchy TV combo. With the Vans video gathering momentum and the feverish response to Fucking Awesome we were stoked to catch up with him over the phone in this exclusive interview...
How is it going Anthony are you alright?
Yeah it's going good. I just got back from a three week tour so I'm at home in Los Angeles getting ready to go back out there.
You were recently in London when the House Of Vans park opened. Was it a trip seeing how far Vans has progressed as a company?
Yeah, I mean it's crazy. Being there in that whole space they've got going on over there. It' s sick. I just feel that skateboarding as a whole and of course Vans just has that spot in skateboarding historically so to see where skateboarding is at in 2014 is a fucking trip man!
Do you like it in London?
Yeah I like London, unfortunately every time I come I don't ever really spend that much time there. I feel like every time I come it's just for three days. Definitely on this last trip I wanted to stay for a little longer because I have never gotten a good amount of time there.
I feel like there was a period of adjustment after everything happened with Alien Workshop. It was where everyone fitted really well at one certain point. Sometimes it's weird when you see people appear on another company and it doesn't sit right. With you and Jason starting Fucking Awesome it not only makes sense it feels like it has been like that for a long time. Is it a relief riding for something that is 100 per cent your input and all the decisions are yours?
Is it a relief to be in that position? Ha, yes and no. You know, obviously with doing something like that comes a whole lot of other responsibility behind the scenes. But it has been amazing and I know definitely for a fact even prior to moving into this idea that it was absolutely the right thing to be doing and what we needed to be doing. It has been a super good experience but like I said it comes with it's challenges too but I'm fucking stoked, it was the obvious next move for us.
Looking back was it always obvious?
It's just like anything I've ever experienced in skateboarding or life in general. Especially skateboarding and I know it sounds cheesy or whatever but it's always been an intuitive thing because it's been my whole fucking life so I guess it makes sense. Whenever things have happened or I have been presented with something with me it's almost like a knowing. When Jason brought that idea up it struck me that way too, like okay this is absolutely what we need to do. It wasn't that simple though, we almost did stay with the Workshop. From the idea and the movement toward it there was a big space of time between.
You both made it the best it could be before the exodus. Was there a long period of time where you were thinking about leaving or a much quicker decision?
It definitely wasn't a snap decision. We spent many years there, all the relationships we had there with everybody. Aside from it being a company that would get bought and sold still the core people that ran it who we had been with for what was it sixteen years? They were still part of the company and still people we dealt with so it was tough you know. When we first brought up the idea I knew that was the right thing and obviously we both did but it was difficult to move out on our own. It was just me and Jason. When we left the fucking Workshop it was me and him and a pile of FA stickers and some sandpaper and an old Workshop board. There was no fucking back end structure or anything you know. Both of us are fucking psycho's, you know you're insecure about shit and we're older, it was tough man. Let alone the relationships at the Workshop and leaving after that much time. Having to say hey we don't like what's going on, we don't like where this thing is going and having to step away while people are trying to get you to stay. But we saw it, the ship was on fire man and hey we just did sixteen years so that was the deal.
It seems like it was completely the right time to start something new. Even a few years back the same companies were running the show and it was a bit of a closed book. Now with everything going ballistic and the money that's being thrown at skateboarding in one way there is also this other side which seems like it is wide open. There are small companies in their infancy and it feels like everything's exciting again. There is unpredictability, do you agree that a new time has started, another period?
Yeah absolutely, it is. Shit just got stale in skateboarding. There are a lot of people that are involved in what you're talking about that have been doing shit or who have come along. It's not only us that are doing something new but of course. I remember talking to people, people that think they know what is going on in the business of skating or whatever the fuck. People like to think that now that there is all this dough in skateboarding and people are really established and comfortable that they can control skateboarding. We all started skating at a time because you were fucked up and outcast and all this shit and it seems like skateboarding almost became this rigid structure that most skaters were against. I don't know how old you are but at least from where I came from. I remember talking to somebody, I won't say his name but I was like don't you think skateboarding is going to take itself back? Like it will have a resurgence, not exactly what has happened in the past but something that looks like it and the person I was talking to said absolutely not. Now here we are a year later and it has you know and it's sick. That's the thing about skateboarding, it will always have those people involved with it and it will always take itself back to a degree away from a jock mentality. It will always have that place for that fucked up kid and those people that were outcasted at least that's why i ended up in skateboarding.
Are there any other companies right now that you are hyped on who have a similar mentality?
I like the stuff that's going on over there in Europe, Palace and all that stuff. That shit's sick, those dudes are doing their own thing. I love it, I think it's sick, it's something different and then fuck, I don't know. I just like the whole of skateboarding. It seems like there are a lot of kids who are kind of representing skateboarding the way it should be. Street skaters, they're like into being weirdos, that older shit and there's a new generation of kids who are doing whatever the fuck they want to on a skateboard. Not every kid is just trying to win Street League and stick a fucking Mountain Dew sticker on their board. I mean we've got a lot of that shit going on but in skateboarding as a whole I'm glad to see that it's still got a new generation to push it forward in the right direction. To at least hold the torch for what we come from and what skateboarding is about because it's always been about more than just riding the board do you know what I mean?
Ollie out of 50-50. Photo - Anthony Acosta
I interviewed Pontus Alv recently and one thing he said about the new generation is that he feels that it's their job to shape and inspire...
It's always like that for the new generation, it falls on their shoulders. They're like, those dudes are getting fucking old. The older you get, you always need young and crazy.
You've been skating at a high level in the spotlight for a long time with a lot of video parts under your belt. Do you feel your approach to skateboarding and your relationship with it has changed or is it exactly the same?
It's a little bit of both. It's the same in the sense of my need to do it and my love for it but to obtain that is different now because i'm running into 36 in a couple of months. To skate the way I want to skate takes a lot more work and it's a lot different to how it ever was. The formula is the same, I have to do a bunch of other shit, well not a bunch but I'm not 18 no more. I can't just live off Mc Donalds and sleep on someones floor and drink beer all night. My life has changed a lot over the years. To skate at a level, whatever the fuck, to enjoy it the way that I want to has changed a bit. I've definitely gone through many phases of skateboarding as far as trying to refind that hunger. Money and time and video parts can really distort things for a time and put you in a place where as far as skateboarding goes for me can be kind of dark. To refind the simplicity of just going out and doing your best sometimes has been difficult but i've been lucky enough to do that. There were down times, a couple of years at a time because of injuries and all types of shit.
One of the video parts that was on repeat in Slam and skate shops worldwide circa 2000
We have seen a kind of renaissance with you and Jason where there's loads of new coverage and it's obvious that you guys have been skating a lot which is amazing and it all looks as natural as ever, like Feedback part 2. Do you remember it being like a conscious decision, like we are on this program now?
No not a conscious decision, for myself personally at times there have been moments where there were conscious decisions to change certain things to approach it maybe differently so I can see what I can do. For me and Jason together, I just trip on the past three and a half years. Jason had his situation going on three years ago, kind of just coming out of some life shit you know what I mean. It went on for a while, not skating much. Paths cross or end up coming back together which is what happened a few years back. Jason ended up in LA, then he ended up staying with me, I said you can stay over here then he ended up staying a year. We just went into skate mode you know just because that's what we did. Then here we are three years later and I trip. I look back on it all and all that shit needed to happen for us to be where we are at now and it just naturally occurred. For myself personally with this Vans video and shit there were very conscious decisions I had to make. To be like alright, you're not a kid anymore. To approach this thing the way that you're expected to you need to fucking start doing some different shit.
Switch 180 5-0. Photo - Anthony Acosta
With the Vans video in progress is that an all consuming part of every day at the minute?
Yeah and it has been for like four years. I would say I started really focussing maybe about two and a half or three years ago. It took me a while to get my footing in this thing and kind of like let go and just skate and not trip. I was definitely tripping on shit for a minute there. Projects of this scale are rare these days, no one can fucking afford them, the internet is just pumping this shit out every day so it's just a different time. It's almost kind of a crazy formula now. Hold all your footage for four years, meanwhile people are spitting shit out constantly on the internet. These projects which I for some reason always find myself in, which is good, they become all consuming. I'm already an obsessive person by nature so when I finally get my foot in that thing and fucking start going, that's it. It's a very positive thing but it can also have negative effects too because I'm a fucking psycho. When I'm in it I'm in it and I have to keep going and when I come home I don't shut off.
Are you happy with how it's been going?
Personally for myself yeah it's been a positive thing. I'm really stoked. I just trip, I'm 36 years old I spend my whole fucking life outside with my friends. At this point to be doing it and to be pushed and to surprise yourself at times, I'm really stoked, I'm really grateful, it's been a rad experience.
Is this video going to be insane from what you have seen?
These dudes are fucking gnarly. It is going to be pretty sick
Who has blown you away on the trips?
Oh man, all these guys, the young dudes are gnarly and it's gnarly to travel with them. Get out of the van and my old ass is just stepping out and they are already attacking shit. Watching Elijah Berle skate is something else. Just insane ability and power, it's just a trip. Another one of my favourites is Rowan Zorilla, so sick he's one of my favourite skateboarders right now as far as a young kid, he's great. Gilbert is insane. They are all gnarly.
Have the trips been working out for you as far as getting footage. Do you like filming on trips?
It changes through the process. I did a lot of skating in LA on this one. My whole approach to things now is kind of way more methodical and has to be at this point. I was always way more spontaneous but it's definitely got a little more planned out. I still like going on trips and having that spontaneity and just finding something rad but I have done a lot of LA skating too, knowing what I want to do. The whole experience has been pretty rad. Although it's frustrating at times to be in a project that's this long you can also really surprise yourself. When you're working with people like Greg Hunt or Anthony Acosta and all the people in the back end who make it happen the pressure and all that shit that comes along with these things it pushes you to a place that is out of the ordinary skateboarding. It has both sides to it.
I wanted to ask you about the TF you guys have. Years ago here having a skate park somewhere was a rarity and we would travel miles to go to one. Does it still feel like a treat having a park you can always go to that's guaranteed?
Yeah for sure, it is a necessity now at this point.Skating is so illegal now everywhere. In LA there used to be spots, we could meet at USC. I guess you can still skate Santa Monica down at the beach and stuff but spots they just don't exist any more. Now you drive somewhere and do a trick. For day to day skating and feeling the board it's sick and it's almost a necessity. Some spots have popped up in the past year but they go away quick. Things are always changing out in the street at this point.
How do you go about getting the space?
It's me, Guy, Dylan, Marc Johnson and Brandon Biebel that have the spot. Guy did a lot of looking for the space and then he just called and we went to check it out, it was as simple as that. Then we gathered money from our sponsors to help us build it all out and shit like that. That's how that works, they're fucking expensive.
I read about the cortisone injections. How long do those things work for?
They were working for me for three months at a time. It's funny I was telling this story the other day. They would work and then three months to the day it would be back in to serious pain in the joint of my big toe because I have a bone screw in there. Then I went to a different guy and he shot me up but there was a pop in the joint and I was like whoa that was weird and I saw my toe bend down and it hurt. But it was a fucking miracle. That was a year ago and I'm still skating. The joint gets tender at times but nothing like I was experiencing for a year and a half where it felt like someone was sticking an icepick in there. I don't know what happened, maybe that thing just exploded that spur or wore it down enough. Those shots if you put them in the right way sometimes shit like that that can happen. So that was a year ago man. I was well over what is good to be shooting in a joint as far as cortisone goes because it deteriorates the cartilage in your joint and really dries it out. I was looking at surgery but now i'm not so that's good.
It's inspiring for all of us who have skated from youth to now being in our thirties and approaching the next ten years to see you going for it. No high ledge retirement nose slide photos you're switch fifty fitting rails next to walls. Have you got any advice for those of us who aren't planning on giving up any time soon?
The formula is stye same man, don't get old in your mind. That's what happens, I saw myself getting there. I stopped watching a lot of skateboarding shit, watching yourself slowly getting there. Just don't. You've got to be a kid with it still, that to me is it. I love skateboarding, you can't lose sight of that. It's different being a professional or whatever the fuck I would be called because all that added stuff that comes with it can distort that shit. You have to separate those two things. As long as you still do it for the same reasons you did it for when you were a fucking kid you should be good till you die you know. You have to do it for you and not for anything else or anybody else and remember why you do it. That's the bottom line. As you get older there's other shit, I eat differently now and I'm a little bit more self conscious that I can move the way I want to or feel a certain way but that's about it. I think mentality goes a long way.
Do you and Jason have a lot of Vans projects in the pipeline?
Obviously we are always going to do things. Right now there isn't anything locked in for certain that we are going to work on. There are some things to come for sure.
Are there any surprises planned for Fucking Awesome?
Well we don't really plan anything so it's always surprising!
Thanks to Anthony Van Engelen for this interview and to Justin Regan at Vans for hooking it up
Interview by Jacob Sawyer