The Boss is learning that the simpler life is, the better.
Andrew Reynolds has spent half his life indulging in the spoils of a bejewelled life in skate. But The Boss has decided it’s time for a change. Now, having shaken off the shackles that have been weighing him down, he’s learning that the simpler life is, the better it gets.
“I’ve got some clothes so I can protect myself from weather. I have a house to sleep in, a car for transportation, a skateboard for entertainment – that’s it.” Andrew Reynolds is speaking on the phone from his new house in Studio City, Los Angeles. But ‘new’ in this context doesn’t mean bigger and better; it means smaller, simpler and more streamlined.
There have been some big changes in Reynolds’ life as of late. After a sudden epiphany and a bout of “spazzing out”, the thirty-three-year-old skate millionaire has done some serious downscaling and sold up his six-bedroom mansion, complete with its own skate park, in the Hollywood Hills. He’s moved to a far more modest two-bedroom apartment – just enough room for a single dad and his five-year-old daughter – and adopted an atavistic approach to his possessions. In the space of a few short weeks, he’s sold his once-beloved Cadillac to fellow pro skater Dustin Dollin, thrown out “three quarters” of his clothes and shoes, and offloaded his entire jewellery collection, except for a diamond ring that once belonged to his mother and now sits on his little finger. And he’s feeling a whole lot happier for it, too.
“It was some sort of cleanse, just realising that you don’t need any material things. At the moment, the less I have, the happier I am,” he says with a liberated tone. “It’s like a list of chores you have to do; when they are done you feel relieved. I have less furniture, a less expensive car and less of a house to clean.”
Reynolds started accumulating these now-discarded trappings of success when he turned pro for Birdhouse at the age of seventeen – just eight years after he first tuned into skateboarding by way of a Vision Psycho Stick commercial on MTV. He was still living among “a load of rednecks” in his humid, swampy hometown of Lakeland, Florida, at the time. But as soon as he graduated high school (to make his mum happy), he flew off to the So-Cal skate Mecca of Huntingdon Beach to “smoke weed and fly off shit all day long”. By 2000, he had quit Birdhouse to start his own company, Baker Skateboards, and “represent raw street skating”. Although he flirted with a few comps here and there, Reynolds stayed true to Baker’sraison d’être and concentrated on filming over the next few years, constantly seeking out stairs to throw himself down and impress his fellow skaters with – which he did in Baker 3 and Baker Has A Deathwish.
But this life of much pain and little reward is traditionally not for the thirty-plus, as the body and mind start to reject the punishment over time. Reynolds, however, refuses to give in. With the help of exercise bikes, swimming pools, protein shakes and ice on aching joints, he pushed himself harder than ever to film what he considered to be his “best ever” part for Emerica‘s 2010 team movie Stay Gold, and walked away with a segment that more than stood up to the new generation of names on the team. Reynolds, it seems, is still living up to his moniker ‘The Boss’. “I don’t really think I’m in any sort of spotlight,” he says, comparing himself to skate superstars like Tony Hawk, Paul Rodriguez and the up-and-coming Torey Pudwill. “I’m not that type of personality. I don’t really attract that much attention.”
Flashback to a few weeks prior to our phone conversation, and I’m about to meet up with Reynolds and some of the Baker team in Paris during Emerica’s The Outsiders Tour. Reynolds is here with his band, The Goat – in which he plays guitar alongside Shane Heyl on vocals, Kevin ‘Spanky’ Long on bass, Beagle on drums and Atiba Jefferson on keyboards – who are due to play La Gaite Lyrique as part of the Public Domaine skate exhibition. The day before the show, they go for a skate around the city with me and Thrasher’s Mike Burnett in tow. “I’m just cruising for a few days,” Reynolds tells me as we wait for the Metro, having made his way down to the train almost entirely on his board, tapping each of the overhead signs that lurk just above his lithe 6′ 2” frame. Despite expressing a lack of ambition, he pauses before entering the station with Frappuccino in hand to inspect a ten-plus stair set on the side of Boulevard Poissionerie, seemingly drawn to its scary dimensions like a moth to a flame. It is a perfectly natural reaction for Reynolds: these things made him.
Now that you’re so established in skateboarding, do you feel less pressure on trips like this?
I always want to do crazy shit on my board, you know what I mean? If I have an idea for a trick, I want to do it. But I feel now after [Stay Gold] and being a little bit older, some pressure has been lifted. Before the video, I felt like I still had to prove something; I had to make that one really good.
What do you put your success down to?
Frontside flips and staircases? I dunno. [Laughs] Maybe there’s something about me that the kids can relate to. I’m just a skate rat, the same as them. When I watched parts of Jeremy Wray, Pat Duffy and the guys doing big shit growing up, that’s what would make me go, ‘Argh!’ and freak out when I saw it. So I was like, ‘Man, that’s what I want to do.’ I didn’t think I could invent tricks. Some guys like Eric Koston will be the first one to do a trick on a handrail. It’ll be the first one ever and the most tech-est thing, but I can’t physically do that so I just thought, ‘Man, I’m going to fly off gaps and do big kickflips and stuff,’ because that’s what I know how to do.
Is that why your video parts are mostly stairs?
Yeah, I try to throw in other stuff too. I grew up skating on everything and I’ll skate whatever everyone else is skating. But when I was little and I came across a big gap in my town that hadn’t been ollied over, then I was like, ‘Man, I wanna do it.’ It’s just to prove something to myself. I think, ‘I wonder if I can do this?’ I want people to see it and like it.
Is looking good while you skate important to you?
I try. I don’t know if you watched the bonus section [on Stay Gold] where I was tweaking out about every trick I did. It shows the tricks I keep going back and doing again and again, as I didn’t like the way they looked. It’s really important actually. If I had it my way, I’d only do it one time and then never do it again. But sometimes I don’t like the way the first one looks.
The first stop on our impromptu skate is the Parisian neighbourhood of Batignolles, which boasts a newly refurbished city park complete with a giant concrete wave sculpture. It’s a spot that wasn’t originally built for skateboarding, but drew the crowds of the clacking unwashed nonetheless. Reynolds wastes no time in charging at the edifice, casually carving its near vert surface before jumping off his board, walking up the wave and looking for a drop in. A few minutes later, he’s quietly rubbing a bleeding palm on the trunk of a sapling, having been taken out by a small drain cover. The Altamont de facto team manager, Fred, skates off to get bandages while Reynolds carries on skating regardless. After a makeshift medical job, he starts filming a line on the wave with afro’d cameraman Beagle, launching into a big frontside alley oop followed by a kickflip to fakie on the second hit. After the best part of twenty attempts and a few grunts and throaty snorts of frustration, they’ve got the shot.
“That one’s going in the video,” says Reynolds.
“Stick it on the internet,” suggests Shane.
“No way,” he replies, feigning disgust.
There’s an air of minimalism about Reynolds – that distinct ‘no nonsense’ vibe. Perhaps it’s the green Florida T-shirt that he’s worn for the past few days, or the fact that he doesn’t seem to speak unless he has to, but everything he does feels controlled and precise. Emotions, when they do appear, are fleeting, flickering only briefly over his deadpan face. His movements, likewise, seem stripped down to their bare minimum; there’s no fidgeting in his six-foot-plus frame – coffee is stirred slowly, water is sipped methodically, everything else is still. And his skateboarding simply repeats the pattern: relatively simple tricks, executed perfectly with nonchalant style. Reynolds is a man who appears to be in control of everything he does – and he’ll keep doing something until he feels he’s done it right.
It seems that everything you do is very deliberate. How much thought do you put into your skateboarding?
Yeah. If I’m just out cruising, I just go skate. But I look at filming a video part or putting out an interview differently. I’m not just going out skating for fun; I’m creating something for everybody to see. It’s like a project. It’s something that has to be, like, thought about down to every little thing – like if I was making a movie. I want it to be perfect so that it’s something I can be proud of and remember for the rest of my life, and for everybody to have.
So are you quite conscious of your image?
I don’t really care about [image] off the board, but the skating stuff, I want it to look good. If I’m watching a video and I see something sketchy about a skater, I’ve seen it and other people see it. I hear when other people talk about it when they are watching videos, they are like, ‘Ah, he put his hand down,’ or this or that. And I think, ‘That’s not going to happen to me.’
How is your body holding out these days?
If I stretch and take care of myself, I can skate every single day. Some days I just drink coffee, sit around and skate a little bit, but usually if I’m serious about skating, I’m doing all types of shit. I ride an exercise bike, I stretch every day, I drink water, take vitamins, have protein shakes and all types of stuff, every day. In skating, it’s not common knowledge. I tell younger kids all the time, ‘You better start stretching now, because you are gonna get sore and gonna be hurting later.’ But you only start doing it when you realise that your skating depends on it. [...] If someone told you, ‘You can skate for ten more years if you just stretch,’ you’ll be like, ‘Well, I love skating so, yeah, I’ll do it!’ I don’t care if it’s some jock thing; I’m going to stretch so I can skate.
Andrew Reynolds was given the Mafia-inspired nickname ‘The Boss’ by fellow pro Jim Greco in the height of the Huntingdon Beach days as he was the first to start displaying his newly made wealth. But the moniker has taken on a new meaning. As the owner of Baker Skateboards, part owner of Baker Boys Distribution and creative director of Altamont Apparel, Reynolds has evolved into an industry player. But he didn’t exactly apply for the position. Although he likes to “come up with the creative stuff”, Reynolds, it seems, is all about delegation.
How did Baker come about?
It began in Huntington Beach. I was skating with Jim Greco and Erik Ellington who skated for Zero, Dustin Dollin who rode for Stereo, and Elissa Steamer [who was on Toy Machine]. We just thought, ‘We skate together every day and we all party. Man, we should start something together,’ and somehow we made it happen. I look back now and see that we brought back a whole type of fad; Baker was punk. It was [about] holes in our clothes and partying – we didn’t care.
How does running your own company change your life, day to day?
I’ve always just counted on hiring the right people to make the company run smoothly. I’ve never really been much of a businessman myself. I try to stay as far away from that as possible. I don’t like business and don’t like to be involved in that side.
And when you go on tours, what’s your role in the group? Are you in charge?
Nope, not at all. I’m just on the trip as a skateboarder. I don’t want it. I don’t want to do anything. I just want to hang out and skate.
Does the ‘hang-out-and-skate’ lifestyle ever get repetitive?
Nope. [Laughs] No way! How could it? It’s like the best thing ever. I feel like that’s the goal; that’s what you put all the hard work in for. So you can get to a place where you can just chill and skate. But still, I feel more like when [Mike] Burnett tells me there’s aThrasher article [coming out of a trip], I’m not trying to be in charge of what’s going on, but I’m like, ‘Damn, I want to get a photo for the article!’ That’s more what’s on my mind. It gives a sense of purpose. I want to shoot a photo that looks cool for the article so I did my job at least.
In 2007, Patrick O’Dell made an Epicly Later’d documentary about Andrew Reynolds’ OCD-like behaviour – something Reynolds likes to call ‘The Madness’. It manifests as several pre-trick rituals, often involving tapping on objects in sets of threes, or repeatedly checking landings and ramps. At the time of the video’s release, he admitted this behaviour extended outside of skateboarding and that he could often be found locking doors obsessively and frantically cleaning. Over the years, OCD has become one of the first things people think of when talk turns to Andrew Reynolds. But The Boss refuses to let the label stick.
When did ‘The Madness’ first start?
I don’t even know. It only really happens when I’m on top of something I’m about to try and I’m really nervous and scared. I start tapping on stuff. Maybe always, I don’t know. It’s something to clear my mind I guess.
Have you ever spoken to a professional about it?
No, I don’t have any kind of mental problem. It’s just that if I’m about to jump off something that’s as tall as a one-storey building, then I start to get nervous and do some sort of routine.
Does it manifest in any other parts of your life?
Not really, because I’m never really that nervous. I’m never really that worried as if I’m about to jump Wallenberg Four [a large stair gap in San Francisco] or something. That’s scarier than anything I have to do on a daily basis, so I don’t have any reason to be stressed.
You mentioned in the video that you sometimes have to lock a door three times in a row. Is that still the case?
I haven’t been doing it lately. I think I just kind of lightened up. Keeping everything really neat and clean is a big part of all that personality, but at some point with my daughter, there were markers and food all over the floor, and I think I just gave up. I have a van and it’s a dump. I quit. Occasionally I’ll do a big straighten-up, but honestly I don’t have the time to go and make sure about all those things. I make sure the doors are locked; I don’t want some crazy person coming in the house. But I don’t really tweak out too much.
Have you grown out of it, then?
I think so. I was skating [the other day] and it was taking me a long time to do this trick, so I started tapping a bit, doing the one-two-three stuff, but like that was just skateboarding.
“The thing about Andrew is that he likes his coffee – he has like five cups a day,” says Thrasher editor-at-large Mike Burnett, as we wait outside Grand Boulevard Metro station for Reynolds and crew to emerge from their hotel. After about an hour, Reynolds appears clutching an apple, an orange and a big bottle of water. After a few words of greeting, he skates off to find the nearest Starbucks for his habitual fix. He may have been part of the notorious hell-raising Piss Drunx crew, alongside the likes of Dustin Dollin and Ali Boulala, back in his younger days, but a five-a-day coffee habit is the closest Reynolds comes to over-indulgence nowadays. He’s been sober since he was twenty-four-years-old, and thanks Alcoholics Anonymous for the privilege.
What in particular triggered you going sober?
Um, cocaine – just messing with hard drugs and not being able to stop. My drinking was way out of control; I couldn’t drink one beer without ending up blacking out and doing drugs. It would happen over and over again. Probably from like seventeen years old to twenty-four, I just didn’t know how to control my intake of drugs or alcohol. It just happens to certain people. You are either that way or you aren’t that way, you know? I smoked weed like my life depended on it. Then one day, I woke up and I knew it was a problem. The hard stuff – I knew I shouldn’t be messing with it.
What helped you focus on getting sober?
Sobriety is something that is not the same as anything else I’ve ever done. If I take one week off of skateboarding or a month off of stretching, then I’m not going to die. The way that I felt when I was drinking and doing drugs, it wasn’t like I was just going to take a couple of days to get better; [I was] gonna die. You will crash your car, end up in jail, kill somebody. There was no other option for me. It’s not something that I can think, ‘I’ll give it a week and see how it goes.’ It was like, ‘No, this is serious!’ I guess it’s the most focused I’ve been on anything ever. Every single day of my life I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to stay away from that stuff, hopefully for the rest of my life.’
Have you put your energy into other things now that drinking isn’t a part of your life?
Yeah, I think like anybody who gets sober, you did other things because there’s so much time devoted to getting drunk. You have to so you don’t get bored and want to go out and drink and do something dumb. It’s all things that make sense. Instead of getting a six-pack of beer and sitting around, I’m going to practise the guitar for a couple of hours – I’m going to go skate, draw, do a grocery shop or something. You spend your time doing quality things.
Is staying sober on your mind a lot?
I don’t think it ever goes away. It’s like something you have to work at. Right now, I’m eight years sober, which is not that long compared to your whole life. I don’t really think about it that much right now, but I’ve seen many people have ten-to-fifteen years sober and then they forget about why the whole thing happened and think they can drink a beer or smoke weed and then it all falls apart. You have to stay on top of it, because sober people relapse every single day. It’s always in my head and I’m reminding myself that that life is not for me. Rarely do I even want to go have some drinks, smoke weed or do drugs. I don’t even have time for it. I don’t know when I would fit that in. I’m too tired at night! [Laughs] It doesn’t make sense for me anymore.
The most poignant of Andrew’s many tattoos sits on the back of his hand where, in basic handwriting script, the word ‘Stella’ appears. He explains that he’s cut down his time on the tour to just twelve days, on account of not wanting to leave his daughter for too long. “I blacked out and just made sure she was taken care of, I don’t really remember,” he says of the time she was born, clearly taken by the love-fuelled anxiety that comes with parenthood. “I just took care of her because I had to.”
How do you spend your time outside of skating?
Right now, I’ve been trying to figure out where to hang different paintings and stuff in my new house. I go put the artwork up, look at it and then be like, ‘Nah, I don’t like it there.’ The majority of the last couple of months have been about me worrying about what my house is going to look like, and just taking my kid to the water park. That’s pretty much all I do: hang out with my daughter and skate. That’s it.
How has being a father changed your life?
It’s definitely made me appreciate getting to travel and be out with everybody. Before, I would go on every tour and do whatever. Now, the tour is the holiday; there’s no responsibility and I just go skate a park all day. I appreciate getting free time on tours and skating more than I used to. I’m a single dad. I have a nanny who helps me, but when [your kids] need to eat, go to bed, get to school and go play with their friends, that’s it – your stuff doesn’t matter. Going to the skate park doesn’t matter. It’s like, ‘Oh well, I’ve got to do what’s important here.’
What has skateboarding taught you about life?
Probably to not give up so easily on things. If there’s something you really want, but you fail, keep trying until you get it. Be patient. Also, feeling like nothing is really out of reach. If you focus on one thing hard enough and put all your energy into it – like, if I said, I want to be a good painter or a photographer and I decided that today and tried as hard as I do at skateboarding, then I’d probably be okay at it. I think anyone can do that.
As you get older, is staying relevant in the industry difficult?
I don’t really care about that anymore. I look at Tony Hawk and Lance Mountain and they still travel – they still have a board and shoes out, skate and have fun. I just watched a video on the internet of Mike Vallely killing a contest! If no kids know who I am, I don’t care. I’ve had my time. I’m not trying to be the young new skater out; I just wanna skate and if I can still have a job doing it and make money out of it, then I’m going to do it.
What would have to happen for you to walk away from skateboarding?
Nothing. As long as I can skate, I’ll be calling up Eric Ellington [co-founder of Baker Skateboards] and saying like, ‘Do you want to play a game of SKATE somewhere?’ It’s just what we do. It’s like telling an old blues musician to stop playing guitar: it’s not going to happen.