Steve Berra... Where to begin? He has been in the game for years. Decades. Nearly three decades in fact! He originally turned pro skating vert and then became one of the most respected street skaters of the 90's. He probably has the best backside flip ever, and his fakie flip is a contender as well. Plus, Fakie 50-50s on handrails anyone? Didn't Mason Silva just pull one on the hubba in his Recruit a couple weeks ago? Also you should really know his part in Rolling Thunder. Aaaand of course that he co-founded The Berrics with Eric Koston. Berra... Eric... Berrics... Get it???
Really the man's work speaks for itself so without further ado, this is The Steve Berra Interview
What were you doing at Dew Tour Portland last year when we bumped into you? Do you typically attend those types of events?
I was there trying to figure out how to make the event better.
How do you feel about skateboarding potentially becoming an Olympic game?
"It’s going to happen whether we like it or not or whether I am for or against it. There are pros and cons to it being an Olympic sport but I think the cons are blown way out of proportion and the pros are for a select few people. Like I said, it’s going to happen regardless because the Olympics needs skateboarding to try and attract a younger audience, much more than skateboarding needs the Olympics at this point, and they’re a globally recognized, backed by governments of the world organization. If we want to see skateboarding grow and be on a level the way baseball or basketball or soccer is, where their athletes make a lot of money, skateboarding becoming an Olympic sport will help that. Some may even be against that, but I want skateboarders to make $45M deals because I think what skateboarders do is so much harder and more beautiful than any guy swinging a bat or running towards an end zone. Times change.
Why haven’t scooters died out yet? Do you think they’ll eventually go away like rollerblading or are they here to stay?
Ya know, I don’t know why they haven’t died. I don’t have enough visibility on them to make that call with any real certainty, but I would guess they’ll fade into obscurity within the next 5 years. I understand they’re quite a nuisance the skatepark. Luckily, that problem doesn’t exist at the Berrics.
What was it like growing up in Omaha? What was the skate scene like?
Well, I grew up in St. Louis until I was 12, then Omaha for a year, then back to St. Louis for a year, then back to Omaha for the rest of 9th grade and the subsequent years of high school. I left school a month early but I did graduate. To answer you, I did not like Omaha. I’ve learned to like it now, but I did not like it then. I loved it for my friends and for the fact that we had a skatepark, but being a skater in the early 90s in Nebraska, a state whose cultivated its entire image and life around the football program, was not a super safe place to be. Jocks were way worse than anyone else at that time. Their sole purpose was to harass you and make you feel endangered. At my school it was mellow for me because all the jocks knew me, because I was one of the best soccer players in the state and they, to some degree, respected that and all had once been my friends, but soccer faded away and I just skated so they stopped being my friend. They didn’t really mess with me like they did the two other skaters, but they didn’t talk to me anymore. Outside school, however, was a different story. There would be times when we would get followed by carloads of jocks, chased, get stuff thrown at us, just because we were in a parking lot learning how to do no complies like Mike Vallely in the Public Domain video. One time we were all skating on this popular street in Lincoln, Nebraska called O street. It’s where all the college and high school kids go on friday and saturday night to cruise up and down and we were trying to do wallies on this slanted pillar that held the light pole, there must have been about 14-16 of us there and this huge football player jock from the Cornhuskers gets out of his car and starts yelling and screaming and next thing I know he’s got me in his arms and picks me up and throws me about ten feet into a telephone pole, like a ragdoll. I must’ve been about 15 and weighed all but 100 lbs. There were at least 15 of us and no one could do a thing. They were too young and small and this guy and his two friends were way too big. Another time my friend Matt and Linh and I were skating downtown Lincoln at night and this car pulls up and another huge jock gets out of the car, he’s wasted, and he starts yelling at my friend Linh, who is Vietnamese, “You killed my brother!! You killed my brother!! Fuck you!!! I’m gonna kill you!!!” Apparently his older brother was in the Vietnam war. And this other dude and this girl get out of the car and try to stop him. “It’s not worth it baby, don’t do it, baby.” “Come on man, fuck that gook, let’s go!” “Come on baby, that piece of shit ain’t worth it! Get back in the car.” Needless to say, we were scared shitless. I had never seen something like that. As a skater, race and religion weren’t anything you even cared about. As a skater you just accepted people the way they were, if they like skating and you like skating, there really wasn’t anything else in the world that could divide you. Skating was your race and your religion. I don’t think that exists quite as uniformly in skateboarding as it did when I was younger. I see some very hateful skateboarders out there who talk about how skateboarding accepts everyone, yeah, everyone but the people they don't like. It’s funny how that goes.
To your point, do you think we'll ever see an openly gay pro skater in the main stream? Or is it even relevant to skateboarding?
Ever is a long time. Do I think that day will come, yes, of course, it has to. At least I hope it does. I think it's awful it isn't that way now. I think the industry would actually be supportive if that were the case now, but there is a sector of the audience and some in the industry, like I said, who pride themselves in talking about equality for everyone... but these guys over there because they have this sponsor, or those guys over there because they do those tricks, or this dude right here because he has this sexual preference. It's rather sad.
What was it like when you first came out to California? What was a day in the life like back then? Were you living at the Blockhead house?
First time I came to California I stayed at the Blockhead house. It was amazing. The legendary ramp in the backyard. The California sunshine. I got to see all kinds of spots I saw in videos and magazines. McGill’s skatepark. I filmed my Blockhead part in 2 days and just kind of did tricks I was doing that week, nothing was every really worked on like it is today. I met a lot of cool people. It was an experience of a lifetime. Usually, we’d wake up and skate the ramp and then go out and try to skate. When I went to McGill’s I met Peter Hewitt for he first time. I was already a huge fan of his and I had really only seen him skate in a couple of clips but I knew he was incredible. Anyhow, he’s at McGill’s and he’s talking to someone, I believe this guy Derek Williams who was the guy who invented the Willy grind which some people now call the Bennet grind, and he was telling Derek that he learned a new trick. He dropped in and did a frontside boardslide across the entire ramp and then reverted. I couldn't believe what i just saw. I thought I was all bad ass coming there and doing the tricks I was doing and this dude just walks up, drops in and frontside boardslide reverts the entire vert ramp. I had never been so blown away ever. He was my age, he had so much style and so much power, he still does. He has always been one of my favorites, always.
Click to watch Steve Berra in Blockhead's, "Adventures In Cheese"
Who came up with the concept for your part in Birdhouse’s The End?
I did actually, but it was funny how it came about. Originally, Jeremy, Heath and I were going to all have a part together. I was supposed to be in that part. We were all supposed to be skating in suits but they kicked me out of their part. I remember they called me down to Birdhouse one night. I showed up there around midnight and they sat me down and they said they were kicking me out of the part because they didn’t think I was committed to it. And they were totally right. I wasn’t. They bought $1000 suits and I tried to get mine from Banana Republic. I had a kid. I lived in Los Angeles. I had so many different kinds of responsibilities they didn’t have. I was a bit hurt about it for sure, but ultimately relieved because they had already been filming and I had only gone out once with them and I didn’t even skate that night because I was too tired. I talked to Tony about it and he thought it was best, he thought I should have my own part anyway. So, I had to figure out something in the skit department that would be comparable to what they were doing. I had just done a screen test for this film called Idle Hands and I met this guy Howard Berger (who later won an Oscar for Chronicles of Narnia) and he was special effects make-up guy and I asked him and his colleague Gareth if they would help me with this skate video, that I had an idea and they said yes. They did this for free. They casted my head and made it look just like me and they came out on the day we shot and built this fake shoulder rid and blood rig and everything and then we shot it. There was really no other meaning to my part than that. I wanted to get my head chopped off so I then made up a story ala Evil Dead like something was chasing me and filmed a bunch of tricks and that was that. Some people thought it symbolized the monster that’s always chasing you while trying to film, and maybe to a degree, subconsciously, it was. But really, I just had become friends with a guy who knew how to do this stuff and I wanted to make the part as memorable as what Jeremy and Heath were going to do and what Tony and the rest of the guys were doing. The world was so different then. It’s amazing to look back now on it and see how things have changed.
I'm sorry, did you just say you did a screen test for Idle Hands? Like you almost co-starred with Jessica Alba?
Was she in that movie? I never actually saw it.
What is your favorite video part that you’ve filmed?
I’d have to say Rolling Thunder. I felt strongest then. It was something I worked on. Ultimately, every part I’ve ever done has been done in a week or about 6 months. I’ve never worked on a project for years. Maybe I’ll start now.
Why did you transition from street to vert and then back to street? If you had to pick, which do you prefer?
When I got sponsored back in 1989, skateboarding was different, people just skated. They skated vert, they skated street, they just skated. I remember taking a bus for an hour to get to a kid’s house I didn’t know just because I heard he had a mini-ramp in the backyard. A mini-ramp. This kid’s dad saw how many people would just show up to their house unannounced and so he built Omaha’s first indoor skatepark where I learned how to really skate. The winters are brutal in Omaha so inside the park were mini-ramps and a vert ramp. When I got sponsored I thought everyone in California who was sponsored and or influential at the time, Danny Way, Alphonzo, Jason Rogers etc. skated everything, so that winter I started skating vert and excelled at it very fast and two years later I was pro. I had never really abandoned street skating but in 91 when vert skating started to really fall out of favor and the vert skaters had kind of lost their marketability because Rocco wasn’t too into vert, and I started skating a lot with Eric Koston, I just made the shift back to street skating. It really was what was available at the time. In 92 I was a teenager, living with Tony Hawk and he had these ramps but no one had money then, and it was a lot of upkeep for Tony and the vert ramp was falling apart, so we street skated, even Tony did… a lot!! Over the years I’ve flirted with skating vert, but honestly, I just like skating, it doesn’t matter what it is, but vert ramps aren’t readily available to me in Los Angeles.
How does it feel to have maybe the best backside flip ever?
I appreciate that. It’s funny because it took me a long time to learn frontside flips. it’s just easier for me to go backside. I have only about 60% use of my left arm because I broke it so badly skating vert when I was 16, and I’m regular footed, so anything turning to the left, like a frontside flip is extremely difficult for me. Same with nose manuals because I can’t lift my arm past a certain point so it effects my balance. It’s easy for me to do fakie manuals and go backside and hard for me to go frontside and nose manual. I’ve put a lot of effort into learning frontside flips though and I can do them now but they never feel as natural as a backside flip does. So, I think out sheer necessity I had to become good at something, backside flips happened to be it. Now, are they best, I doubt that, but I appreciate the compliment.
How many surgeries have you undergone and which one was the worst?
Shoulder/arm surgery, reconstructive ankle surgery, wrist surgery. I’d say my ankle took the longest to recover, but my shoulder was definitely the most painful and it the most damaging. Not many people know that my left arm is so handicapped.
What’s the best rumor you’ve heard about yourself lately?
I actually haven’t heard many rumors about me lately. I’ve been off the grid for a bit. I don’t have any real desire to be popular. But I think one rumor I’ve heard a lot is that I’m getting rich off the Berrics. This is definitely not the truth. There was a part in Howard Stern’s book, Private Parts where he talks about how he was a really popular DJ in Ohio I believe and that he couldn’t walk the streets without being almost mobbed by people, meanwhile he was making $18k a year and living in a shitty one room apartment. His life lesson was, just because you're well known does not make you wealthy. Of course he’s a very wealthy person now, but the point is the Berrics has become a very popular platform in skateboarding but we certainly don’t have the money Thrasher does having been in business 35+ years and selling all those tee shirts and apparel and we don’t have the corporate backing Transworld does being owned by a big media conglomerate. And that’s okay, I think those guys do what they do the best they can do it, everyone has their own way of surviving. We’re just an independent skateboard media platform, owned and operated by skateboarders, that Eric and I started out of my bedroom and now, almost 8 years after having the idea we have yet to pay ourselves a single dollar, but we employ people and help people as much as we possibly can. I think people think quite the opposite of what’s really true because they have this idea that we are very successful.
What’s up with 17-teen sips? Do you still have a copy of it buried somewhere? Why has it never been released since the 2000 Slamdance Film Festival, were the reviews really that bad? Now that so much time has passed would you ever consider letting it see the light of day?
I probably have a copy somewhere. It was never released because I just wasn’t totally happy with it. It was an experimental film. Something I did for literally no money to try and figure out how to be a filmmaker. I learned so damn much making that thing, but ultimately I wasn’t happy with it. I don’t think the reviews were bad actually, I just think I did what I did and then I moved on. It was a made for nothing, digital movie before anyone made movies digitally. I’m happy having made it. If it sees the light of day sometime I’d be totally fine with that. I’m confident with my skills as a filmmaker these days.
Who is someone famous you would fan out on if you met them?
Good question... I'm not really enamored with famous people. I admire people for their work and most of the people I admire are writers or filmmakers who aren't particularly famous. There are a few people I've met in the past who I am huge admirers of, David Fincher being one of them. I've met him a few times and spoken to him on the phone a few times as well. We were actually going to do a little project with him a few years ago for the Berrics but I got really, really sick for almost a month and by the time I was better I just felt the momentum was kind of gone and never called him back. That was the fan in me. I didn't want to be a nuisance. I did get to go to the set of Gone Girl one day while they were filming at RED studios and sit behind David and watch him work. He was really gracious to me. It was a great experience. He is the greatest living director of all time.
Click to watch Steve Berra in Foundation's, "Rolling Thunder"
Do you think Rob Dyrdek has gotten off track at all in his pursuit of bringing skateboarding further into the mainstream? (e.g. ‘kickflipping’ a Chevy Sonic car, Lunchables ‘Fully Loaded’).
I think Rob does an incredible amount of good for skateboarding. I don’t think he’s gotten off track at all. And off track for who? What does that really mean? Maybe that’s not what Eric Koston does or maybe that’s not what Tony Trujillo does, but there are all kinds of different people and different skateboarders. I grew up in a time where everyone hated skateboarders so if you were a skateboarder you accepted and were happy for other guys who skated, or at least protected them. So, I fully back what Rob is doing and hope he does more of it. People should stop worrying about whether it’s good or bad for skateboarding and worry about what they’re doing themselves to make skateboarding better. Maybe it’s not representative of all skateboarders, but it’s representative or Rob Dyrdek and that’s pretty rad because Rob is an extremely generous and genuine human being who cares way more about skateboarding than the guys criticizing him.
How has being a new father changed your life? How is this time around different than the first? Any early signs of skate potential for your son yet?
It’s absolutely changed my life. My daughter is 21 and when I had her I was a teenager so there was a lot I didn’t know about life and a lot I especially didn’t know about being a parent. I have the best relationship in the world with my daughter. She has grown into someone I admire more than anyone in the world and I’m so happy and fortunate for that. We kind of grew up together. With my son it will be different. It’s exciting. He has a couple of skateboards that I’ve bought him and he loves them. He’s only a year and a half but he sits on them and pushes with his hands across the floor and he loves it. Of course I want my son to skate, but he will live his own life and if it’s something he wants to do I will support him, but if it’s something he’s not too crazy about, I’ll support that too.
We’ve heard your skating has become much more personal over time, do you think we’ll ever see another Berra clip on The Berrics?
You’ll probably see a Bangin. You’ll see something. Right now I am and have been focused on helping build the platform so that it can help build other people’s careers. There is a point where you can only do so much as a skater. Nothing I do on my board is going to make me more popular. It’s not going to pay me anymore. Fame and money aren’t things I seek so that aspect of a skate career is boring to me. This is a different stage of my career, the one where I get to be less focused on myself and more focused on everyone else and getting them to a point where they have great successes. That’s important to me. I also want to see skateboarding grow and I’ve consistently tried to get the Berrics to make content with that purpose. Before we came along it was magazines and video parts. The skateboard media world has opened up quite a bit whether or not anyone wants to contribute that to the Berrics or not is up to them, but quite a few people do and that make everyone who works there proud.
What is your main responsibility in “managing” The Berrics? Who comes up with the various features and who gets final say on what actually makes it to the site?
I don’t manage the Berrics really. We have a General Manger for that and an Editor-in-Chief for that as well. Nowadays, I work on bigger concepts. Things that we could do in the future, things we could improve on, places we need to go. Ideas.
Tell us a story about skating with Heath. What’s he up to these days? Is it true he’s no longer Emerica TM?
Heath, I love Heath. We’ll be bonded for our entire lives although we don’t see one another very often, but when we do it’s great to catch up and there’s just this comfortableness about our friendship that even when time passes, no time passes at all, we can pick up our conversation where it left off. I respect Heath immensely. He’s lived his life the way he’s wanted to live it.
How hands on were you with The Berrics remodel the last time around? How did y’all go about gathering input for it?
I’m always very hands on with that stuff but admittedly, Eric pitched in a lot of great ideas this time around. Him and I just took a walk through the park a few different days and really looked to see what could be better and different and looked at what people were skating and what they weren’t, what we liked ourselves and what we didn’t and went from there. I think it turned out pretty well.
What is your favorite feature?
I really like the ledge with the little manny pad on the other side of it. It’s really fun. Everything is fun, but when I just want some low impact skating, I go for the ledge.
Craziest trick(s) you’ve ever seen go down at The Berrics?
There are actually too many to think about. Chris Joslin, Felipe, Shane, Ben Nordberg, Squints, Austyn, Chaz, Nyjah, there are so many people that skate there and do so much different stuff and skate so different from one another, it’s really amazing to see on a daily basis. I think this is probably a better question for Chase.
If someone thinks they have the skills to hold their own at The Berrics, how should they go about trying to skate there or interning for the company?
Honestly, all they have to do is email. We read our emails and if someone has what it takes it will get through to us. We don’t respond to everyone because it’s impossible, but we do.
With all of the amazing content created by The Berrics over the years where do you take things from here? Would you ever create a Berrics East? Berrics North?
I would love that and it’s definitely something we’d love to work towards.
Anything new coming in 2015 you can speak on?
There’s a some really mind-blowing, what I think, game-changing stuff coming this year. Just wait and see what we have in store for you.
What’re you going to do now that you’ve finished all of these damn questions?
I’m going to go get lunch.