INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS BY GREG HUNT AND COURTESY OF ANTHONY VAN ENGELEN
When is it gonna all end? AVE isn’t quite sure, and neither is anyone else, for that matter… If you truly dig what you do, the time that it stops, is when your heart is gone…Many skip beats. This guy is one that truly loves what he is doing… What he is doing, if you don’t know, is SKATEBOARDing, skating cause what else is he gonna do…cuz he digs it… Passion, soul, and lucky enough to live on his board, and continue to skate till he can’t… How’s this sound? If you ride your skateboard and dig it, isn’t that enough? This is Anthony Van Engelen.“I REMEMBER TELLING MY MOM, “YOU CAN MAKE MONEY BEING A PRO SKATER! I DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH, BUT IT’S LIKE $7,000 OR SOMETHING!”
Okay, what is your name?
My name is Anthony Van Engelen.
Wow. Whoa. How come ever time I come over here there are a bunch of dudes passed out everywhere?
[Laughs.] Everyone’s partying.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in San Diego. I grew up in Orange County and LA. In my early years, I was living in West Los Angeles and then when I was 12, I moved to Orange County.
Where in Orange County?
I lived in a number of places like Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Irvine. We moved around everywhere.
When did you start skateboard riding?
Growing up in California, I always had a skateboard. There was always skateboarding around. It was ’89, when I really got into it and I started to skate every day. I was trying to do tricks instead of just riding.
You rode a skateboard when you were a little kid just to goof around?
Yeah, I think every kid in California has a skateboard. That was just part of the deal. My aunt grew up surfing. All of her boyfriends were surfers and skaters. We weren’t that far in age difference, so that whole lifestyle was always around me. I remember my dad buying me a Hammerhead Hosoi, and I had one of those Sims banana boards. When I really started skating on my own, I got the Vision Lee Ralph board.
[Laughs.] Did you ride it barefoot?
[Laughs.] Of course.
Did you go to skateparks?
In ’89, there were no parks. We were just skating around the neighborhood.
Did you surf?
No, I mostly grew up inland. I was far enough away that the beach wasn’t that accessible.
What was it about a skateboard that you liked?
I don’t know what drew me to it at the time. The night before my birthday I played poker with my step-dad and his friends. I didn’t know what I was doing, but he told me what to do. I won $80 that night. The next day was my birthday. He said, “What do you want?” I said, “I don’t know.” Then a couple of hours later I was like, “I want a brand new top of the line skateboard.” He gave me $100 and told me to bring him $50 back. I went down to the skate shop with my poker winnings and the $50 and was able to get a complete set up. I got the Vision Lee Ralph with red and blue Trackers. It had an ’80s grip tape job with a travesty of triangle and squares.
What skate shop did you get it from?
Lido Surf N Skate. That was the start of it all. A lot of people skated, so we’d just do what the older kids were doing. Once I could ram into a curb and bring the back of the board up, it was amazing. I wasn’t good at anything in my life until that point. Once I slappied up a curb, I found something that was interesting and fun to me.
Did you see all the videos from the ’80s?
I was always in the dark about what was really going on. I remember skating around and I would hit a bottle with a stick pretending I was playing hockey, so that kept me on my board a lot. Then I started to rent videos from the video store up the street. They had “Search for Animal Chin” and “Ohio SkateOut” and all the earlier ’80s videos. My first link to real skateboarding was the Video Hut on the corner.
Did you see dudes skating that were sponsored?
Not really. I lived in major suburbia when I started skating, so I didn’t really see any other skaters except for the local kids. I remember going down to Newport to Lucky’s parking lot on 32nd Street. Some of those dudes might have been pro. They were doing streeplants and getting gnarly.
How old were you then?
I was 12. The first pros I actually liked were Bill Danforth and Neil Blender. I liked Danforth because he’d skate off the side of the vert ramp to start his runs. He was skating to Black Flag in his runs, and I’d gotten into punk rock, too. Then there’s Neil Blender skating around in a striped jail suit, or some shit. He had really good style. Those are the two pros that I was into. I was never able to see what was going on outside of myself riding a skateboard, you know?
No, I don’t know, but I’m going to find out. Did you get good quick?
No. There was a long time period of doing bonelesses and acid drops. Then came the ollie, which changed everything for me. I would skate to school and all the skaters would hang out in the parking lot before school and we’d set up skateboards long-ways and see how many we could ollie. Once I got the ollie down, I was able to ollie five boards.
You were ollieing five boards on the Lee Ralph?
I rode the Lee Ralph until the tail was gone and then I turned it around and was riding the nose. I spray-painted that board about 15 times. I’d cut logos out of magazines and glue it on the board, because I couldn’t afford to buy stickers. I’d give it a new look all the time.
[Laughs.] You’d re-dress it.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I’d re-dress the board. My second board was a used Blind Jason Lee board. There was a huge time gap. I was in a weird time warp as far as skateboarding.
The boards changed drastically.
I rode the Jason Lee until it was just a little piece of wood.
Were you seeing any pros skating then?
In Irvine, there was one pro I came in contact with when I lived by the Thunder Run Bowl in Irvine. I was skating down the street one day and some dude pulls up in a pick-up truck beside me. He was like, “Hey, man. Where’s Thunder Run?” I said, “It’s right over here. I can show you.” He said, “Cool. Get in.” He had a bunch of Zorlac stickers all over the truck. He was some older dude with long black hair. We got to Thunder Run and he was totally ripping it. He had on Zorlac sweats and a Zorlac shirt, so I figured he probably rode for Zorlac. He told me he was a pro. I remember telling my mom, “You can make money being a pro skater! I don’t know how much, but it’s like $7,000 or something!” That was my first pro contact.
You don’t know who it was? It wasn’t Craig Johnson?
It might have been. This guy was for sure Zorlac.
That would have been epic. Was your mom supportive of your skating?
Fuck, no. She hated skateboarding.
Does she hate it now?
No, because now it pays for shit.
[Laughs.] She wasn’t supportive of it at first?
No. My mom was like a preppie. Outside appearances were everything and skateboarding didn’t fit into that, especially in that time period when as a skateboarder you’re shaving Mohawks in your hair and you’re dirty and all your clothes are ripped up. That just didn’t fit into her world. The inside could be a total mess, but the outside had to look good. That’s the way she wanted it. Like every kid, I hated my mom, but now we love each other.
It works itself out. I want to know about the progression of how you got better skateboarding.
I just skated every day. A lot of my friends that I grew up skating with eventually got into other shit, but I just stuck with it. There was a long time when I skated alone. For some reason, I had some weird obsession with it.
You were passionate about it.
I used to write what I did in this little fuckin book every day. It had skateboarding in it every day.
It was like a journal?
It was like, “I went to school, and then my mom yelled at me, and I skated Vista Verde.” I wrote in that book for a year. I was so paranoid that there might be a day without skateboarding in it. Most of that time I was skating alone. I just had to skateboard.
So skateboarding is dead and you keep skating. All the dudes that you used to ride with shined it?
A lot of them ended up quitting. A lot of them were older. They were getting into chicks and partying. I was the younger kid. I didn’t have other outlets, so skateboarding continued to be that outlet. I pretty much carried on by any means necessary. Once I hit junior high, I saw this Japanese kid on the corner when I was skating one day. He had on new Vans, and he looked like a pro. I went up to him with another buddy of mine that still skated. We were immediately drawn to this dude. We were like, “Hey, man. Who are you?” He could barely speak English. We were like, “This guy has to be someone special. He’s some super Japanese skater.” So we set up some boards and made him ollie over them.
He was standing across the street, and we were like, “No, it’s time to ollie boards. You’re the Japanese super skater. So he ollied five boards stacked. It was insane. He became my boy. He was in high school and I was still in junior high. I was just a little kid. That dude was a gnarly skater compared to us. He was an exchange student from Japan. He didn’t have any friends, so we ended up skating with that dude a lot. That was a huge part of my progression in skating.
Did he drive?
He got his car a year after we’d been skating together. We started going to San Diego and skating spots that were in videos. Then we started seeing pros like Kris Markovich, Eric Koston and dudes like that. This was the big pants, small wheels days.
I don’t know them.
[Laughs.] It was horrible. It was a bunch of assholes with giant pants and little tiny flat-spotted bearing covers. It was so shitty, but we loved it.
Why were you so attracted to your skateboard?
I was a miserable student in school, because I’m dyslexic. I hated school. There was no satisfaction coming from that area of life. My whole life sucked. Skateboarding was the only good thing that I had. It was the only thing that would give me a sense of acceptance. When you’re a kid, you want to be accepted. I wasn’t accepted anywhere else but in skateboarding. Although, I might be a loud mouth freak skateboarder and my friends would yell at me sometimes, I felt accepted because I could skateboard. There’s really not much else going on when you’re a kid. Of course, you’re going to do something that makes you feel good.
What about chicks?
Chicks didn’t come into my scene until later. I got laid when I was 16. By then, I was sponsored. I rode for Channel One.
Who got you on Channel One?
Marty the Jinx.
Was that your first sponsor?
No, Volcom was my first sponsor. That’s when they were in a little warehouse. Ian Gant got me on Volcom. I rode for Volcom, and then I got on Channel One. Channel One was out of Acme for a moment, but then they separated. I quit Volcom because all the dudes that I was skating with rode for TSA. They had a mini ramp in their warehouse and they had good parties, so I started hanging out over there. I started smoking weed and skating the ramp every night. I’d see Hosoi there sometimes. That’s when he was doing the Focus thing in Costa Mesa.
How did you get to the point of being sponsored?
I made my Japanese friend Ken Jiro shoot photos of me. He’d be snapping Polaroids when I was sliding a rail. Then I sent one of the photos in to Tracker.
I sent it with a letter written in crayon.
Buddy Carr called me. He said he wasn’t feeling the photos I sent, but he’d send me some trucks, but he never did.
[Laughs.] Oh, no.
Then a few years later I got sponsored by Channel One.
What happened to Ken Jiro?
He went back to Japan after high school. I just saw him last month. He works for a big skate distributor in Japan.
You owe a lot to Ken Jiro?
Yes. He’s the one that told me not to push mongo.
How did he communicate that to you with limited English?
He learned some English skills once he was living here. One day he told me, “You push wrong. You need to push with your left foot forward.” I remember retraining myself. So I accredit that to him.
Where did the word mongo come from?
[Laughs.] I thought maybe it came from “Blazing Saddles”. Mongo was the threatening big guy that could destroy the whole town. So you had to retrain yourself from pushing mongo?
It took me a while. My body wants to go mongo. It still does.
That’s the new video title, “Fighting Mongo”.
That’s the story of my life.
Let’s go back to the Buddy Carr freak not sending a package to a little kid that he’d promised it to. That’s a huge thing for a kid.
[Laughs.] I was running home every day looking for the package. I was like any little psycho kid. I thought I deserved something. I was looking for a letter or anything.
But the package never came.
No, the package never came. I guess Buddy was nice enough to talk to me on the phone. If I worked at a skate company and got some phone call from a 12 year old, I wouldn’t talk to him at all. It’d be like, “Yo, A, Stop doing your PTS reports. You’ve got a call from Billy Smith in Arkansas. He wants to know where his Trackers are.” I understand his pain.
So there’s no animosity with Buddy?
[Laughs.] I actually met him later on. Acid eyes.
[Laughs.] Acid eyes, Buddy Carr. He probably shouldn’t have done so much acid. I want to know more about your progression. I want to know how it goes from A to W.
I got sponsored when I was 16. I was doing what everyone else was doing. I would hang out at the beach, get drunk, get laid and smoke weed. Skateboarding took a backseat to all of that from when I was 16 to 18. When I skated, I skated pretty well, but I didn’t have any aspirations to go pro.
Did you have any aspirations to get sponsored?
I was just hanging out and partying and doing whatever.
What do you mean “whatever”?
[Laughs.] I was chasing tail.
[Laughs.] Just clarifying.
As far as skating went, I wasn’t that into it. I liked it, but I didn’t have any greater expectations from myself from it. At that time, I didn’t feel like I was good enough to even go pro. It didn’t seem like a realistic thing to me. That’s when the World Industries dudes were the guys everyone looked up to. I was so far from that group of dudes.
Who were the World Industries dudes?
It was a lot of the guys that are now a part of the Girl company, like Rick Howard, Mike Carroll and Guy Mariano. That scene was pretty much what pro skateboarding was. To me, those were the dudes. I certainly didn’t skate like them. I didn’t even know those dudes. With me being a street skater, that seemed like the only place to be, and if you weren’t going to be there, it wasn’t something to go after. I still skated. I just didn’t feel like I was going to be part of that scene and that was the only scene there was at the time. Then I dropped out of high school.
I dropped out at the start of my junior year. Things at home weren’t going good and I got kicked out of the house.
My mom was crazy. I was mad, and I let it be known. I used to like to destroy things in the house when I’d get mad. I was growing weed in the backyard and my mom didn’t know about it. I was breaking all the rules. We lived in Mission Viejo at the time and all my friends were down in Newport. I would go down there and be gone for four or five days and then come home and not talk to her.
Lack of communication.
I felt I was in the right, because she was doing things to make me mad, but Mom is the boss, so she kicked me out of the house. I ended up bailing for a month. I went to San Francisco and hung out with a friend up there. I skated there a little bit. Then I came back to Newport for a few weeks and partied. My mom ended up calling the sheriff and telling them I ran away, when she’d actually kicked me out of the house. She probably wouldn’t admit that to this day, but she did. She was like, “Get the fuck out of here!” I ended up going back home, because I knew she was looking for me. She was going to all of my friend’s houses and telling their parents that I ran away. I ended up going back to school for a month, but I was going to have to go to school every Saturday for the next year to make up for the days I’d missed. That first Saturday, I remember walking back home smoking a joint. When I got home, there was a sheriff at my house waiting to give me a speech about running away from home. I was totally stoned. It was a nightmare. He said he’d throw me in jail if I ran away again. And then he left. And I never went back to school again. I was thinking, “I’m not going to spend every weekend in school for the next year.” Of course, when you’re 16, a year might as well be ten years. So I just never went back. I stayed home and smoked weed all day. After about six months of that, my mom was like, “Are you going to school or not?” My stepfather was living in Russia at the time. He’s an ex-Marine. He was like, “Send him to me. I’ll straighten him out.”
My choice was go to school or go to Russia and live with him. I was like, “Fuck it. I’ll go to Russia. I’d rather go on an adventure than go back to school.” So I did that.
Where did you live in Russia?
What was your program in Russia?
It was miserable. My stepfather was trying to open the first Mexican restaurant ever in Russia, and he wanted me to be the bar manager. He had a friend at this nightclub down the street. They were a bunch of Nigerians. I think the club was a drug front or something. So my stepfather got me a job bartending there to get experience so I could work in his restaurant. I had to wear a bowtie and the whole nine. It was basically all mobsters and whores. The same high-class whores wearing Gucci would show up every night. I’d work there and I didn’t get paid. I’d try to learn Russian during the day. I’d learned enough to work around the bar, like dealing with the money and the drinks. I could understand little things. So I worked four or five nights a week and I studied Russian during the day. I was miserable. I didn’t have any friends. I was there for six months.
No skateboarding either?
I brought a skateboard with me, but being there, I was done with skating. I was still sponsored, but I wasn’t skating. I brought a board and wheels, but I didn’t bring trucks. I ended up meeting up with some skaters there and they gave me a Variflex and a Tracker truck.
So I hooked that up. They had no grip tape in Russia either, so I put red sandpaper on my board. It was a heinous set up and I rode it for two days. I was like, “Fuck this.” And then one night, I was depressed and they have what’s called “white nights” where it stays light at night in the summer. I told my step-dad I was going to go skate, but I ended up at the park getting drunk. I was walking down the street and some guy said something to me. He thought it was amazing that I was an American. He was a Russian that could speak English. He was like, “Go to the bar with me!” So we got hammered drinking vodka. I had no concept of time because the sun was still out. It was probably one in the morning and I was supposed to be home from skating, but I literally blacked out. I remember being in the street drinking beer and vodka in mugs. I had a total blackout. I remember going home and my step-dad was like, “Where have you been?” I said, “Skating.” He said, “Where’s your skateboard?” I said, “I left it with my friend. He’s going to do something to it.” The skateboard was gone. I must have left it in the street. I had a backpack with me and that was gone. The rest of the time I was there, I didn’t have a skateboard, because I lost it in a blackout.
[Laughs.] You lost your skateboard to vodka.
[Laughs.] Yeah. I was supposed to stay there for a year, but I put in six months and then I conned my way into going home for Christmas. I got home and I wasn’t going back.
Was it cold in Russia?
It was starting to get cold when I left. I was just miserable there. I had no friends. There was the language barrier. It was really hard for me to get laid there for some reason. I couldn’t speak the language well enough to be smooth. I was 17 years old and I was mad I couldn’t get laid.
[Laughs.] I boned some weird, drunk Russian broad one night. It was a nightmare. When I got back to California, I started skating again. I turned 18 and after a few weeks of skating, I loved it more than ever. I was progressing really fast.
What year was this?
Skateboarders were starting to make money then.
It had gotten bigger. I started skating and I had this gnarly focus that I’d never had before. I skated every minute that I could. The other things that were going on in my life before I left, I wasn’t too interested in anymore. Getting high and drinking wasn’t doing it for me anymore, and skateboarding was. So that took me to where I am now. Things just started to happen for me.