At first glance you probably recognize Rob Brink as that mellow dude sitting at the end of the table on Weekend Buzz nursing a beer. And that he is! However, as a tenured writer, editor, producer, strategist and consultant of the skate industry Rob's contribution to the skate world behind the scenes goes well beyond that of your average web host.
Rob was nice enough to take some time from interviewing your favorite skaters to answer a few questions himself. This is The Rob Brink Interview.
Robert "Sunshine On My God Damn Shoulders" Brink, Why Journalism?
I love John Denver, but is that sarcasm? Or am I really just beaming with love and life and light? Why journalism? Because I fucking failed the same biology class two semesters in a row in college with the same professor (that’s pretty bad, huh?) and sucked at pre-calculus and a few other classes so bad that I had to drop them. So my hopes and dreams of getting my degree in environmental science and one day working in a national park or something along those lines escaped me. Around the same time, a few different English teachers of mine were very encouraging and complimentary of my writing so I was like, “Fuck it! I’ll go with what I’m better at.” I switched my major to English with a concentration in writing (as opposed to the literature concentration), continued with it all the way through grad school and the rest is history. I got lucky.
What were your career aspirations at the time you entered grad school?
I guess I just answered that accidentally. I must be a goddamn clairvoyant.
Tell us about a time you really struggled with your career, did you ever want to give up?
Every day I’m strugglin’! Nah, but I had a really shitty boss when I first moved to Cali and worked for DC. They were a great company and there were a lot of awesome people there but she was a total cunt. She won’t ever see this cuz she hated skaters and skating to begin with and she’s gone from the industry thank god, but she can go fuck herself. One time, after being there about a week, I walked to her office while she was socializing with some other chick from work (of course I knocked first and excused myself), and asked her something about how to submit a form for my business cards that she wanted me to get and right in front of the other chick she goes, “Why do you always ask me such stupid fucking questions?” I was like, “Wow, okay” and just did my thing. But that’s what I was up against. Like I literally heard that chick on the phone through the wall between our office telling people she hates skateboarders. These people actually do exist in our industry and take a paycheck from skateboarding. I swear. It just sucked ‘cuz I just got to Cali. Moved out for that job. All bright-eyed and bushy tailed and she kinda salted that experience for me. That was a tough time. I quit after only 4 months. Then hitched a ride to Sole Tech for eight and a half years. Had plenty of struggles there too, some definite goons and riff raff, just at like any job, but it’s all good. It’s skateboarding and I’m lucky as shit to be a part of it.
Rob NOT cranking out fictional masterpieces | Photo: Ivo Janssen
"Over the years, I’ve come to the realization that I’m more of an editor and producer than a writer. Like, I’m not sitting around like Hemingway cranking out fictional masterpieces."
What did you write in 1998 to get an Honorable Mention for "Excellence in Fiction"?
Some boring, typical and pseudo-autobiographical angry 20-year-old boy shit about a confused dude who hated the world. I cringe when I think of how bad it was. Honestly, I think my professor saw a fire in me and wanted to be encouraging to keep me going, but that story itself deserved no awards.
Do you have any journalism pieces you are most proud of?
A bunch of Buzz episodes. The stuff I did for Missbehave and Mass Appeal. My Caswell Berry feature for The Skateboard Mag always strikes me as one that worked out really well. I’m sure there are other skate interviews that are escaping me right now, but so many are so fun for various reasons. Over the years, I’ve come to the realization that I’m more of an editor and producer than a writer. Like, I’m not sitting around like Hemingway cranking out fictional masterpieces. I tend to struggle with prose sometimes and I prefer the art of interviewing and editing down an interview more than crafting a prose piece and my vocabulary could use some improvement. But I do love it all. Always room to grow though.
WTF is MissBehave Magazine and WTF did you write for them?
It was kind of a hipster mag aimed at girls, out of Mass Appeal in NY. Like Complex for women. It came around during a big shift to content being consumed on web and social media amongst our female audience so it likely never stood a chance, long term. We had a good run though. I loved working for that mag. Primarily, I interviewed celebs like Kat Von D, Regina Spektor, Amber Heard, Sky Ferreira, Santogold, Jena Malone and so on.
Who is your favorite skate journalist of all time?
Carnie. Period. He’s to writing what Gino Iannucci is to skating for me. There’s just no question or hesitation. But Nieratko, Meza, Burnett, O’Dell, Earl Parker, Sean Cliver (in his Big Brother days) all fucking nail it. I also love when someone who isn’t considered a “writer,” so to speak, cranks out something great. Like a photographer or filmer or industry dude who does a piece for a mag or whatever. I remember Gaberman wrote a piece about gardening for The Skateboard Mag that was amazing. The Andy Jenkins essay on that one Girl board many years ago, “The Earth Will Bury Us All,” is really cool too.
Dave Carnie | Rob's favorite journalist... (not the cat) | Photo: Josh Friedberg
"Carnie. Period. He’s to writing what Gino Iannucci is to skating for me. There’s just no question or hesitation."
Do you consider copy writing for DC Shoes a turning point in your career?
For sure. They funded my move from NJ to California, for one. Secondly, I met Heath Brinkley there, who I have been working closely with on a lot of projects lately and he introduced me to Mikey, Malto, Bledsoe and others when he came to etnies back in 2008. Third, even though I was “copywriter,” at DC, I ended up working directly with Ken Block a lot and doing web content and email newsletters, so it was my first official digital venture … way before digital blew up, so that was nice. It’s a snowball effect, you know? Everything plays a part in the now.
Is that how you eventually got working for Sole Technology?
Someone from Sole helped me out getting a job at Sole. But it’s quite possible I met them through a DC friend. I have no idea.
What are some other moments you consider significant milestones in your career?
Every time I got assigned an article. Even to this day. Every Friday that a Weekend Buzz goes live. Every time someone like you interviews me. Every time I learn something new. Every time I meet someone new. Every time I get a new job or another client. Every time I get a new idea. Having my dad pass away. Having the balls to leave NJ. Doing the Tim O’Connor Adidas Roast. Everything is a milestone and opens a different door in a way.
Do you still kick it with Tim O'Connor?
Funny, everything you ask me I have been kind of addressing in the preceding answer. It’s cosmic maaaaaaan! I try to make it a point to chill with Tim when I am back in NJ a few times a year. I love that dude and owe him my career. He will always be one of my skate idols and I will go to the grave saying that most people will never truly know how amazing he was on a skateboard because his output was kind of minimal over the last 15 years.
"They say 80% of men cheat in America... The rest cheat on tour in Barcelona" - Rob Brink (click to watch)
"So he leans over the railing, skillfully regurgitates up a tennis ball sized glob of puke, not unlike a mother bird feeding her young, and drops it square onto some dude’s bald spot who was walking on the sidewalk below us."
What's the funniest thing he's ever done?
So many things. He can make himself puke on command without using a finger. One time we were in Ybor City at a Tampa Pro, I’m talking like his Element days, and the annual St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras-style parade was going on. And we were out on the balcony of some restaurant above the street and parade and having drinks … so he’s like, “want me to puke on someone?” We had just finished dinner so he was locked and loaded. So he leans over the railing, skillfully regurgitates up a tennis ball sized glob of puke, not unlike a mother bird feeding her young, and drops it square onto some dude’s bald spot who was walking on the sidewalk below us. Pretty remarkable. But there are likely millions of Tim stories. Just having Tim tell stories about other pros and tours and his own experiences was always one of my favorite things.
Can you think of any skate idols you've met that turned out to be a real let down?
Not so much skate idols, but people in the industry. You get a job, everyone’s cool. People become your “bros” within the company and then some of them end up crossing you. Fucking you behind your back, double speaking, lying, whatever. That’s the biggest disappointment really. Like the DC chick. She was kinda my friend before she hired me. And to be totally honest, it’s never really the true skaters that end up being shitbags. The TM’s, the filmers, the photographers, the team riders … those are always the best dudes because they are skaters, you know? They are down. It’s often the brand managers and directors and random executives and PR dipshits and a lot of the non skaters who somehow worm their way into higher positions at “skate” companies who end up being fucking dark men … like the type of dudes who just need a big check so they can pay their fat Orange County mortgage and buy their wives expensive shit. In my experience it’s the people who are threatened by the credibility of skaters within an organization who end up being the lamest to the skaters … which is ironic because the skaters of the world buying the company’s product are actually the people responsible for their paychecks. Of course, there are plenty of cool people out there, don’t get me wrong, just giving you some perspective.
As a grown-ass-man is it ever awkward working in an industry fixated on 17 year olds?
Yes. But I think that awkwardness comes more from the insecurities of getting old. Like, for example, the day I met Trevor Colden the kid was awesome. We got along. I interviewed him for the Thrasher and Emerica sites or whatever and we became friends. I don’t even think of the age difference even though he is like 20 years younger than me. We hung out all weekend at Tampa Am 2012 because I was helping Heath Kirchart out with some Emerica stuff and it was awesome. I think being a skateboarder transcends age differences a lot of the time and that’s part of the radness. I don’t know if younger kids look at me and think I am some old lame greying weirdo, but it’s hard not to be insecure like that sometimes. You start to wonder if you are the old kook that you couldn’t stand when you were a kid or you’re still kind of cool and the kids respect you. I certainly hope it’s the latter.
BS Flip | Click to watch a Rob Brink line! | Photo: Ivo Janssen
"...it’s never really the true skaters that end up being shitbags. The TM’s, the filmers, the photographers, the team riders... those are always the best dudes because they are skaters, you know? They are down."
What happened to ABD? How was it the first of it's kind exactly and what made it so tough to monetize?
It was the first digital skate mag designed specifically for web and mobile. It wasn’t a PDF of a print mag on a computer or iPad, you know? I don’t mean this in an arrogant way, because it’s actually a misstep in business, but I think we were a little ahead of the times. Back then, the brands were still focused on print and also how to transition their marketing to digital, while remaining skeptical of spending their dwindling budgets on something new and uncertain. And, as a startup media entity, we didn’t have huge numbers to wow them with. But man, ABD was my baby. I loved that thing. And I loved what we put out. It was unlike what anyone was doing at the time. The shit Carnie wrote for us is some of my favorite stuff ever and it was amazing because I had all these ideas I would throw at him, like the Dill piece about him holding PJ Ransone’s balls in that Terry Richardson photo, or that Heath was delivering pizza’s for Salman, or the Power Balance controversy. And at first, he was like “What am I supposed to do with this? How do I make this an article? People want to read this?” And I guess I kinda just explained that I wanted to do really current, silly, dime store pieces about all this bizarre shit happening in skateboarding that was only getting play on forums and stuff. Things that the mags weren’t touching. He went with it, did some amazing stuff and ended up telling me he was really enjoying it. For me, working with Dave on that level was worth the whole ABD experience alone.
Why did you leave The Skateboard Mag?
It was kind of just a quiet, gradual, mutual departure. I loved working for The Skateboard Mag. At the time I started with them they were, without a doubt, my favorite mag. So I was blown away that I could work for them. Over the years, I think they, like many mags, were shrinking and needed less writers and overhead. I was the last of the staff writers to come on board in the first place. So I naturally knew and respected that guys like Carnie, Nieratko and Zitzer, who came before me, would likely be there after me if someone needed to be let go. I just started doing other stuff like ABD and writing for Concrete, SBC, as well as getting into food and travel writing for an OC lifestyle mag called 944 to fill the void of TSM articles and it all sort of took its own course. Not in a bad way at all though. It was quite peaceful and organic. Thank you so much Wilkins, will write for you guys again anytime!
Who conceptualized Ride Channel initially? How did you come to lead its digital strategy?
Ride was the follow-up venture to Tony Hawk’s Shred or Die site, which was more like a skater YouTube than an online media outlet like Ride is. I don’t know all the details but ex-Zoo York vert legend Jesse Fritch, who is now running the AYC skate program, was the dude behind the wheel and after we did my Free Lunch interview, he offered me the Buzz gig, he also asked me about helping them with their digital strategy and social leading up to their launch. It went well and once they got their momentum, my consulting gig ended and I was able to focus solely on Buzz.
"I kinda just explained that I wanted to do really current, silly, dime store pieces about all this bizarre shit happening in skateboarding that was only getting play on forums and stuff. Things that the mags weren't touching."
Who's been the most wasted on Weekend Buzz?
Pat Burke. He left us and brought in Ol' Pappy. No one’s ever done an episode in an alter ego before. That was remarkable. Ryan Reyes was a close second. He was pretty damn close to puking on me. The Oklahomies win the award for the most turnt up crew for sure. Clint and Clive and Big B killed it. “Two thousand fucking next time!”
What do you normally drink?
I show up with a green tea and usually work my way through two or three beers, tops. Gotta stay on point to steer the show and drive home. But it’s rare I’m ever spotted without a cup of green tea in my hand.
How do you decide who appears on which episode?
We are down for whoever! Erica does most of the casting. Usually it’s just who is available or people on our wish list or whatever. Just working our way through the industry best we can. We’ll try to time it with relevant things, like we got Cole on after he won Street League this year … but really it’s pretty haphazard.
3 Best Guests and why?
“Best” is tough. I usually go by memorable. Neen was amazing. Forrest was amazing. Austyn was amazing. I had a really fun time with Jaws, Reda, Huf. Guys like Cole and Slash who came on a few times, that’s awesome. Me and Nordberg were complete strangers and hit it off really well on the air and became friends. He’s in the first episode of my new show actually. Fucking Richie Jackson kissed me! Bill Weiss actually made an entire episode about his balls become a reality. That shit was just a little joke I was knocking around before he came on … like a personal fun challenge. And it happened. Dude, I know it sounds like I’m being a kiss ass or saying some cliché shit but what’s not to love about being able to do a show like that every week? I’ve interviewed about 200 skaters in the last two years on that show alone. I’m blown away that it’s lasted so long and people like it.
3 Worst Guests and why?
No one is the “worst.” And I mean that. But for me it’s tough when people don’t talk. For example, Danny Garcia is one of my best friends and he’s really smart and funny but he kinda didn’t give me much when he was on. Brockman was quiet. So was Bennett. So was Trapasso. Tom Remillard got bummed at Erica and walked off, but honestly, that was cool. I seriously love it all for what it is and I love all the guests and skaters for who they are. Some dudes are shy or don’t talk much. I like just letting people be who they are and letting the audience decide. That’s what I did with Forrest and it turned out to be amazing.
"Bill Weiss actually made an entire episode about his balls become a reality. That shit was just a little joke I was knocking around before he came on … like a personal fun challenge. And it happened."
Is Erica now, or has she ever been, a ramp tramp? What skater is on her list?
Well, her and Josh Harmony discussed their past relationship and sex life on the show once. But I’d never call her a ramp tramp, although it’s difficult to be in any industry and not end up dating or hooking up with people in it. Sucks for women in a sense because a dude will rail through dozens of industry chicks relentlessly and no one cares but a girl dates or fucks a pro and she get’s all kinds of shit for it. Erica takes a lot of shit, she’s got balls for dealing with it and still crushing it in our industry and as a person.
Who has yet to be on the show that you're hoping will make an appearance someday?
Dylan! Duh! But I’m down for anyone. Would love to Have Berra, Koston, Dill, AVE, BA, Heath, MJ, Staba, Carroll, Howard, Leo, Nieratko, Alex Olson, Tim O’Connor, Carnie, Steve Rocco, Gino … the list goes on and on.
You come across super mellow; do people ever just assume you're stoned? Or are you?
People assume I’m stoned all the time. But I don’t smoke weed or take any drugs. I think I’m just even. Even when I try to emote, nothing happens. Like, I think I’m sounding enthused and I watch the tape and I’m just the same as always.
Why don't you wear underwear?
One less thing to buy, wash, deal with. Once you go without it you realize it’s not that important to existing. I’m always amazed how baffled people are by the fact that I could give a shit about underwear.
Tell us about your best friend Forrest Edwards, was that WB episode even more awkward than it looked?
I feel “awkward” is a strange and played out word/emotion/reaction people throw out there so much now that the Internet is such a part of our lives. This isn’t directed at you but it’s like a word that comment critics and bloggers love to use. To me, there was nothing awkward about that episode. It was amazing. It was fun. I was cracking up. And it went exactly how I hoped and planned and assumed it would go while I was prepping it. It went how it was supposed to go. What would have been truly “awkward” was if I got butt-hurt and defensive and tried to argue or strike back at Forrest, rather than laughing and enjoying myself. It woulda brought the show to a screeching halt, made me look like a baby who can’t laugh at myself and probably resulted in Forrest beating me up. Does that make any sense? Forrest killed it and Garrett is awesome. I don’t think I laughed that hard on an episode ever. Thank you again Garrett and Forrest.
What skater are you crushing on the most these days? Or is it DFL? (Dylan For Life).
Always gotta back Team Handsome. Doesn’t hurt that some of those dudes rip AND are good looking and know how to dress, right? I mean, I know it’s become this big joke and all that, but I just like people who look good when they skate, bring something different, or make shit exciting. It’s that simple. Gino, Dennis, Leo, Dylan, Austyn, Nordberg … To me, Dylan is really rad because, not only does he skate really well, but he makes it look really good and he brought something different to the table. Maybe that was in the form of “fashion” in a sense, but trust me, it’s not easy to be the guy who puts out that Gravis shoe or dresses noticeably differently. It takes balls. And it takes time for people to get with it. That shoe grew on people, got knocked off and has become iconic. Even in some of his interviews and whatnot, there’s something about Dylan that resonates with me because what I know of his personality and demeanor reminds me of how I was when I was younger. And I think he stands out when a lot of skaters all look and act the same. I know people are gonna hate on me saying this, but it’s kinda punk rock in it’s own way. I mean, one might argue that someone like Albert Nyberg is that too … he’s just got the balls to be different and that’s pretty punk rock. I really admire that. It’s not always easy to do, nor is learning how to take the amount of shit talking you get for doing it.
"it went exactly how I hoped and planned and assumed it would go while I was prepping it... What would have been truly awkward was if I got butt-hurt and defensive and tried to argue or strike back at Forrest, rather than laughing and enjoying myself."
How did you end up selling Gary Rogers to Thrasher and how many times have people equated the move to a slave trade?
Jesus! Are people saying that? Ha-ha. I had nothing to do with that. That’s the business side of Ride channel and I only deal with my own show in regards to that stuff. I think Skateline got a good offer and they went for it. I’m stoked for them. Who doesn’t love Thrasher? Everyone wins!
Congrats on the new job with Element, is it nice being able to focus on one brand?
It would be, but that’s not the case. I work on Element, Element Eden and Plan B in addition to working on a lot of stuff for Branch Distribution and Johnny Schillereff (Element founder) personally. So that’s like five brands. I do love the variety and the challenge and learning new things and keeping busy though.
Do you have a favorite series on Ride Channel other than Weekend Buzz?
Maybe the Baker show. Or Erica and Lee’s red carpet shit. I tend to watch those pretty frequently. My actual favorite show was one of the first to get cancelled. It was called Gnar Zone and it was a prank audition show. Some of the people on that show, who thought they had what it takes to be an extreme sports show host, were bonkers.
Some actors / performers don't like to watch themselves on film, do you watch episodes of Weekend Buzz?
Yup. Every one. I have to. I mean, not cuz I love myself because I actually hate seeing or hearing myself on camera, but just for the sake of paying attention to how to make things better in future episodes you know? Or for catching mistakes. Always gotta watch or read a few drafts before making something live. I try to watch and learn how to speak better on camera or say the word “like” less. Just little things like that can be improved upon by going over your work even when it’s published.
Tell us about this new show you're working on with Matt Meyerson of RPRT.
The new show is one on one interviews. You don’t see much of that in skating and I’ve never quite understood why. I’ve always just wanted to do something like a less pretentious or lighter “Inside The Actors Studio” but with Buzz it’s simply not possible. It’s not the right forum. I can never go deep into any given convo with a dude because I share air time with Erica. Or have to switch focus to include the other guest who is there.
That’s not a bad thing ... it’s the nature of the show itself, but sometimes it drives me bonkers and I felt like I’m not doing my job as an interviewer and like my vision for the show isn’t fully coming through. Eventually, talking about dudes shitting their pants or how big their balls are every week starts to feel stale. The show has almost evolved to always needing to be these silly zany stories ... which was the point in the beginning and that’s rad, but I need to evolve also. There’s always room for crazy hijinx stories, but I also like talking to the human side of skaters ... Talking like friends or fellow artists. Normal conversation can be really interesting too, you know?
There’s a huge difference between when a journalist interviews a “celebrity” subject versus when an artist or peer interviews that same person ... The latter is far more appealing to me these days. Its more like interesting dialogue and less like a dude checking inquiries off a list to get the job done, which is how most skate interviews come off. I just want to do better than that and better than what I have done in the past.
Rob Brink & Ben Nordberg warming up for the first webisode | Photo: Josh Friedberg
"There’s a huge difference between when a journalist interviews a “celebrity” subject versus when an artist or peer interviews that same person... The latter is far more appealing to me these days."
What else is on the horizon for 2014?
Well, another show, like I mentioned is in the works. Planning on opening a skate shop. Also in the middle of starting a business with some friends. Hopefully get back into a little more writing and doing a lot of cool shit at the Branch with Element and all the brands and people who are soon to be involved. I need to skate more too. Straight up. Bad back, bad ankle, weird elbow injury 2 months ago that put me in the ER and a sling and just overall poor time management have had me off the board more than I'd like to admit. Dying to do some tre flips and film some little clips for Insta or whatever. I just got back from a few days at Woodward West with the AYC crew, Jim Thiebaud and my homie Josh Friedberg and it was a fucking blast. But that’s the point in all of this, right? That’s why we’re all here.