“Eli Reed is a professional skateboarder who has as much to offer when he’s off his skateboard as he does when he’s on it. He has become a fixture in the Downtown New York Art, Fashion and Skateboard scene and is also currently spending more time in Los Angeles, taking classes to pursue a new passion: Acting. I met up with him at a park in West Hollywood to conduct this interview” — Chad Muska
Where are you from and where did you grow up?
I was born in Boston, Massachusetts and grew up in Cambridge, Lexington (Where I started Skateboarding) then back to East Boston in my early teens. I eventually moved to New York City.
How did you start Skateboarding?
Some kids in the neighborhood were doing it and my big brother had a skateboard that he got from Maximus (Skateshop in Massachusetts). It was the 90’s and the skateboards were shaped different than they are now. I’ll never forget that— my brother had to draw the shape of the board— to show a street board, not an old school 80’s board—for our mom to get. Skateboarding was just one of those things that picks you. They say when you love something it picks you. So by the time I was eleven or twelve I started to see some magazines and skateboarding videos, and I just knew this is what I wanted to do: I wanted to be pro.
Did you feel you had to go to New York to make it as a professional Skateboarder?
Actually, California was where I wanted to go. When I was twelve years old I won a Vans Warped Tour contest and it automatically qualified me for the next round and they flew me and my mother out to California. She was really excited because she had never been there before. We both started to see that I could do something more with skateboarding, and that there was a chance to make a living at it. I got to see a bunch of pros that I looked up to, like Andrew Reynolds, Ed Templeton and others. I wanted to stay forever, but we had to go back to Boston.
How did you get your big break?
It was a slow start for me. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t turn pro until I was 23. Most of my friends were turning pro around 18 or 19. I was sponsored by my friend’s company in Boston. It was a smaller company and the industry would usually ignore smaller independent brands at that time, so if you wanted to make it as a Professional Skateboarder you had to get a major board sponsor. I eventually got hooked up with a Mountain Dew endorsement through Paul Rodriguez and shortly after that I joined the Zoo York skate team. That was when things really started to happen for me.
What has Skateboarding taught you?
Everything. We started with skateboarding as kids, planted that seed and watched the flower grow. Skateboarding has taught me about friendship, community, precision, strength and every quality that I have. The overall life lesson that I learned from skateboarding is to never give up. You are always going to fall down in life but you can get back up and keep going.
So I hear you’re working on a video project with Converse?
Yeah, been filming for that and also been working on a capsule collection that will drop with it.
What are your feelings on social media?
I’m not that into it, to be honest, I’m just not that type of person. I’ll be on Instagram and make skate edits and stuff on my iPhone because its easy and fun to share, but overall I’m not like a Facebook guy, I’m kind of an old school guy. I prefer face-to-face communication. Like, recently I became single and I have never been on a dating app or website like Tinder, or that other celebrity one. I just walked up to a girl I met recently— it was the day before Valentines Day, so I walked up to her and just asked her if she wanted to be my Valentine.
What do you think about the current interest in skateboarding from the high fashion world?
I think it was really going crazy about a year ago and now it’s slowed down a bit. It’s still there, but every brand out there wanted to have a skateboarder in their advertisements at one point. I ended up doing a Coach commercial and then a Tiffany’s watch commercial. I was just connecting with these brands through word of mouth on the streets, being a skateboarder in NYC. I think it can be executed so right—and amazing—but it has to have the right people doing it. There are a lot of ideas I have that I would like to bring to some major brands.
You also have had a clothing line, self-titled ‘Eli Reed,’ that you designed and ran for the last five years. Tell us where you are at with that now.
I slowed down working on the brand a few moths ago to focus on skateboarding more, and some other projects. I’m not 100% done with it, but I needed a change. I’m still working as a brand though, doing collaborations with other brands like Rochambaue. We are creating some video installations and skate performance art pieces.
Yeah I saw that you walked in the Rochambaue fashion show?
Yeah those are my boys.
What does it mean to you to be an artist?
To wake up every day with an idea and a need to execute that idea. That doesn’t necessarily make you a good artist, but it makes you an artist.
What do you think about the night-life in New York?
It’s just changed so much… I started hanging out in the city when I was 16, underage, sneaking in bars and stuff. Then I came back when I was around 20 or 21, so the past ten years I’ve been in the mix. Its not that I don’t still like some places in Manhattan, but lately I have been hanging in Brooklyn where the people go out to actually dance and have a good time and let loose. I started to get back to listening to some Reggae and my friend took me to a party in Flatbush Brooklyn called Fire Sunday., and it is the illest party in New York! Reggae dance hall Dj Bobby Konders from Hot 97 spins, and people just get so live! Now I go every Sunday and through that spot I started to discover a bunch of other places closer to my house in Brooklyn. Real Jamaicans and Caribbean people dancing, with their soul. I think just staying in Soho and the LES will kill you. New York is booming with life, there are so many cultures in different directions from Queens to Brooklyn and beyond. There is so much to discover.
Music you’re currently listening to?
Really into Dancehall right now, Vybz Kartel, Busy Signal. And if I’m chilling with my girl I like some Sade, and also been listening to some Leon Bridges.
Places to eat in New York?
I have a lot. That’s what I love to do: Eat! I have to throw Sant Ambroeus in there because they are family and that’s where I met Aleim. Then I have to mention Da Silvano even though they are closed. It was always my favorite. RIP! I was a Da Silvano guy but now I will have to go to Bar Pitti.
So I hear you have been sober for a while now. How is it going out in the scene and not drinking?
Yeah, I’m five years sober. In the beginning it was a little hard because, it’s funny, I was always very social when I drank but when I was out sober I had some social anxiety that I didn’t notice before. I think everybody has some sort of social anxiety and that’s part of the reason why people drink. Getting sober for me was the first step to self awareness. That’s why I like to go to places where things are happening and not just a bar where people are drinking.
What inspires you?
Always woman. As soon as I like, fall in love, boom, my energy is just like… Or if I am skating and see a beautiful girl I will land a trick right then. I am into signs, and Gemini are ruled by love. Women always spark my energy.
Any opinion on world views?
I’m not the best person to ask about this because I think that politics—and so much stuff—is bullshit, so its not that I’m ignorant, but I like to create my own bubble that I live in. I am such an American boy, raised in Boston, but I could see myself moving out of the country and retiring somewhere like Japan. There is an old saying that Politics create Hippies and Hippies create Politics.
So you are taking acting classes?
Yeah, I made the decision last year to heavily pursue acting and its kind of like skating. You have to practice and master the craft. I have done some small commercials and a pilot once, but that was before I started taking classes. I don’t think I will ever love anything as much as skateboarding, but acting has me really excited, like I was when I first started skating.
Now I’m ready to put myself out there. I am starting to learn raw theatre. It’s a whole different ball game. I feel you are not a real actor if you haven’t done theatre. I also feel that acting has already been a conduit to expand myself in different directions, because acting is limitless. To be a good actor you have to be able to be anything from a Tennis player to a Lawyer. I was working on a play, “Orpheus Decending,” and I had to play the guitar, so I learned it while playing the character.
Any other projects you want to mention before we wrap this up?
I have had this idea for a performance art skate piece. I think that skateboarding becomes an art because skateboarders are always conceptualizing something new that doesn’t exist. So I had this idea to invent a skateboard trick and set up cameras in a space and film the process of what goes into learning a trick. The project is called “The pleasure of failure” and it’s all about the process, and watching somebody fail thousands of times before landing the trick. I thought about it in two ways— either go into the space and stay there and lock yourself in there till you land it, and people have to bring you food and stuff, or go in for a few hours a day until you do it. It could take months or years but the idea that any one try could be the one you land is interesting. I was kind of inspired by Vito Acconci and his performance art. It’s all about the idea of falling down thousands of times and still getting up and keep going.