We recently had a chat with Robert Brink originally setting out to get Erica Yary’s number (yes it’s in the interview – read on) but ended up finding out about how he made a niche for himself in the industry, what work goes into Weekend Buzz and some tales about being a bagel maker. You’ll enjoy this one -
Tell us about where you are from and your life growing up to get us started
I was born and raised in Bloomfield, New Jersey. 20 minutes outside of NYC. It’s a very Italian/guido/Mafioso area. The Sopranos even filmed a lot of episodes there. I went to Catholic school from kindergarten to 8th grade. I’m no longer religious. My first job was that of a paperboy at age 10 or 11. I had a pretty normal family life. Mom, dad, younger sister. No divorce or drama at all. Played little league soccer and baseball for eight or so years and quit because the competitive nature really corrupted it for me. I hated the coaches and parents and how they acted. I hated being scolded or judged for mistakes when I was supposed to be having fun. I also hated losing or having my progression stifled because someone else made mistakes or wasn’t as passionate as me. I always wanted to progress at my own pace and be responsible for my own outcome, whether it be success or failure.
And how did you start skating?
Maybe like 6th grade…I picked up freestyle BMX…whenever the movie RAD came out. Obviously it was a breath of fresh air after all those years of team sports. I met some kids from the local public school who skated and they welcomed me into their crew. Shortly after, in 1989, our family moved 30 minutes away to a town called Parsippany and I was suddenly a freshman in a new town in a new public school. It was a culture shock. It was the toughest thing in my life. I didn’t fit in and dealt with a lot of shit from people. Even to this day, many of my strengths, weaknesses, issues, failures and successes all stem from this single event. I know there have been millions of worse childhoods than mine and life could be worse. But this was my first so-called “tragedy” and it affected me deeply. That said, the move lead me to meet some new neighborhood kids that skated. Soon after my mom got me a skateboard as an eighth grade graduation present. Obviously it changed everything and here I am. As much as the move fucked me up, I’m also very thankful to my mom for that first board. It’s so crazy to think how that one thing has impacted the last 25 years of my life.
It seems to have turned out positively -Best trick you’ve ever accomplished on the board?
I guess some stuff that stands out for me was fakie 5-0 fakie flips out, fakie tre to fakie nose manuals, kickflip back tails. I was a tech dude. Never had much transition around and I wasn’t a jumper. Boardslid a few handrails in my day. I have the worst style ever. I learned cab flips last year and was fucking stoked!But more than just specific tricks, I’m amazed thinking back on how much I had dialed. I miss that, because now that I’m older and my body aches and don’t have as much time to skate, so much of that is gone. Being able to back 5-0 skatepark hubbas, tre flip manny and nollie heelflip noseslide ledges first try is something you take for granted until you’ve got back and ankle trouble and suddenly fear a 50-50 on a curb without 30 minutes of warming up on flatground.
What does your job as Digital Communications Manager for Emerica and Altamont entail?
Man, so much.I create and execute digital strategy. In normal terms it means I have my hand in everything that promotes our brands on the web, mobile and in some print. From creating, spreading and placing content, to managing the websites and social media, to app development and e-comm, to making sure the core skate media and beyond knows what we are working on or setting up interviews with the riders for them, to going on trips and blogging it, to setting up web advertising and hooking up people with shit to review or wear. Sometimes I’m sitting in meetings in an office or up until 5 am getting a web feature ready and others I’m sitting at Quimby with the Emerica team watching Figgy kill it or in Japan rooming with Jose Rojo on an etnies tour. It’s amazing.
On the subject of Figgy – what do you have to say about his skating?
Never in my life have I seen someone go to war on spots like that dude. I always knew he was good. I used to skate with him at the etnies Skatepark when he was a little dude on Birdhouse…but while on a trip to San Jose last year with Emerica I saw him destroy some spots with very little regard for his own well being. Not to mention after getting a trick most people would head to the bar after and call it a day…going for or making a second banger that was even gnarlier. He’s fucking bonkers. I’ve feared for his life a few times while watching him. But he’s a pro. He knows what he’s doing, and does it very well.
Back to your responsibilities – how did you fall into the role?
Coming from an English, writing and journalism background in grad school, many years at a skate shop as a manager/buyer and my first “career” as an editor in book publishing, it was all sort of a natural progression. After a few years of freelancing for a bunch of skate mags and a short stint at DC as a copywriter in the PR department that I relocated from NJ to California for, I came into Sole Technology as etnies’ “Online Content Editor” in early 2005. I was basically the “blogger” and dealt with most of the brand’s copywriting/editing needs.
Worked out well then -
Since then, social media has exploded, technology has transitioned from print to digital and married writing and content production and PR and media quite nicely … so luckily, the path I chose in college and my magazine and publishing work had me well equipped to grow and evolve with media in the last decade or so. Obviously, being a skater who could never have gone pro, my goal was to do the next best thing and make a career out of it, so I mashed up everything I knew, and with the help of a few great people, made it work.
Anyone in particular come to mind who helped you out?
Back then, a very select few college professors who believed in me. Tim O’Connor, Eric Stricker, Sean Mortimer, Miki Vuckovich, Eric Sentianen, Skin Phillips, Aaron Meza, Ted Newsome, Scott and Jennifer Donohue, the couple who owned the skate shop I worked at for many years, Rob Buckley at AWH and anyone who ever let me interview them and cooperated…so many great people I owe a lot to. I still meet people all the time who help me and give me chances, so I’m thankful for that too.
We saw your interview with Jenkem where you said “Its funny how fast skateboarding progresses from a “trick” standpoint, but how stagnant it is from a mental and intellectual perspective” – One of readers tweeted us saying “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” – Some would often say that there’s no need to delve so deep into the philosophy of skateboarding, analyze the culture so much and perhaps let it become as specialized as much as anything can become today – what’s your opinion there?
That tweet actually reinforces my point from the Jenkem interview. To come to the conclusion that a “cigar is just a cigar” in regards to skateboarding takes a lot of thought, passion, intellect, experience and time in my opinion. Although simple in its message, it’s a Zen master perspective. Much more interesting to me than asking a dude who his sponsors are and what’s in his iPod; making fun of someone’s pants; or droning on about how the internet has changed skate videos or bitching about “energy drink sponsors” and “sell outs” or whatever.
Sounds about right -
Skate content and editorial isn’t going away, skateboarding and it’s culture is already being analyzed to death by the droves of mags and websites dedicated to it as well as the millions of kids commenting on it on the internet, so my point was to juxtapose that to what we see in the tricks and videos and maybe shed some light on holding the writing and the thought process behind editorial skate content and internet dialogue to the same standard that we hold the actual skating itself. And if all that fails, fuck, at least make it funny, entertaining or enlightening rather than telling people shit they already know or could have figured out on their own. Give the audience something to remember or walk away with rather than only look at the photos and regret ever reading your article in the first place. If you want to know what I think is good, read Nieratko’s Monster Children interview with Dylan. That’s a fuckin interview!
Didn’t see that, I’ll check it out -
Read anything Dave Carnie wrote for Already Been Done, or anything he writes period. Read Burnett’s intro to the Billy Marks interview in Thrasher a few years back. Read Kyle Beachy’s stuff. Maybe it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s what I enjoy. And again, it’s not just about writing well, it’s also about thinking well and knowing what’s a cliché already. I’m not saying it has to be highbrow or pretentious or the most original thing the world has ever seen, but maybe just not the same old stock topics and questions that yield stock answers. To me it seems many people publish what their idea of skate writing should be is, based on what they have read for years already. Like, “Oh, I have to ask this dude about his religion in our interview because everyone always asks him about his religion.” Or something like that …rather than using that time to do something unique. Writers and filmmakers and photographers—the media—are supposed to influence and enlighten the masses, while also entertaining them. Look how far video has come in skateboarding … the interviews and the writing and the ideas for content … not so much. I just read a really funny tweet from Donovan Strain … it sums it all up perfectly actually: “‘ay you know what would be sick? if we got so and so to film some tricks in a santa suit!’ – every skate brand in december”
I agree with you there. Anyway, onto more important matters – how did you meet Erica Yary and can I have her number?
I’ve known Erica since I moved to California in 2004. Just met her at some industry event through friends or something. In the last year she’s become like a sister to me. For years I tried to figure out ways to work with her and integrate her into what I was doing at Sole Tech and my personal blog (which never happened). So when the idea for Buzz came up and we taped a few test episodes at Ride Channel, I felt it needed something more. I’m a huge Howard Stern show fan and knowing Erica is a one-of-a-kind individual in skateboarding, it was a no brainer that I’d ask her to be my co-host, like a Robin Quivers. We have our moments bickering about stuff regarding the show like anyone would but I love that girl. Ya, hit her up. 858-492-8002
I wish there was someone to say “how do you like them apples?” to right now. How did the Pretty Sweet premiere go? Any partying after? It seemed like some people were already drunk on the carpet
Pretty Sweet was amazing! Standouts for me are Vincent, Kenny, Alex and MJ. But that’s not to take away from anyone else. And yeah, if I were those guys, I’d be wasted on the red carpet too! They earned it. I skipped the after party action. As someone with a DUI, I can’t fuck around with drinking and driving to and from LA. Plus I almost always have work to get home to anyway. I usually say “what’s up” to everyone, watch the video and jet.
How did the DUI happen?
Tampa pro 2000. ‘80s night at Masquerade in Ybor City. A lot of beer and kamikaze shots. Left the club at last call completely wasted and was crossing the street to get a slice of pizza and sit there sobering up for three hours but I jaywalked and some cop pushed me and almost knocked me over. Like “I said not to cross!” Just straight up two-handed chest pushed me. Super agro and kinda for no reason. So I was like, “fuck it” I’m leaving. Got in the car, made a right hand turn at the stop sign where I was parked and never straightened out the wheel. Just U-turned onto the sidewalk, drove half a block down the sidewalk, somehow hit nothing and ended up perfectly parallel parked in the street again. Only problem was there were about four cop cars who saw the whole thing. I ended up in downtown Tampa Jail in an orange jumpsuit for about 16 hours. Mike Crum was there too. He got booked right before me and tried to pass his breathalyzer test with a penny under his tongue. You know that old myth right? So we are both hammered … and we didn’t know one another prior to this but I introduced myself at the station. So he fails his test and looks at me and pulls the penny out of him mouth and goes “You want this? It might help you pass!” Like so drunk.
And I’m like “Motherfucker you just failed! No I don’t want that harsh-ass penny from your drunk mouth.” I was over double the legal alcohol limit. The whole thing sucked but in hindsight I’m just happy and lucky I didn’t kill anyone considering I was driving on the sidewalk in downtown Ybor City.
How is Weekend Buzz going?
Weekend Buzz is the shit! I’m so stoked and fortunate to be able to do it. It’s a dream to host and co-produce a show for Tony Hawk’s channel and interview skaters and just laugh every week you know? It’s so fun. Basically an extension of what I do as a writer for web or print, you know?
How did it surface then?
The idea came about when I did my “Free Lunch” interview. After we filmed it, Jesse Fritsch from Ride (back then it was Shred or Die) kinda threw out the idea of me doing a Tosh. O-type show for them. Kinda like Skateline is now. I was super down and we brainstormed for a while. Shred or Die eventually morphed into Ride Channel and we started filming a few test episodes of Buzz. I felt I wasn’t the guy for that kind of show though. It felt weird being my age and zinging people half my age publicly, so and I took it in a different direction. I just did my best as an interviewer to make a good show happen. I tried to create outcomes that I felt myself, as a skater, much like the kids who would be watching, would want to see. From then it evolved to what it is now and Ride ended up with Skateline too so it worked out.
I see what you mean about the age difference -
A bit of trivia … our first episode was Mike Sinclair and Dan Murphy. Our second was Sal Barbier and Rob Welsh. Third was Kyle Leeper and Clint Walker. None aired and we no longer have the footy but there were some awesome moments in each.
Why didn’t they air?
The show just wasn’t ready yet. The audio, the set, the lighting, the format … Not that I am amazing on camera but I don’t think I had my mojo yet either. I’m really bad on camera. I have to forget it’s there and get lost in the interview. Once that happens it’s easy cause it’s what I love doing and I have so much fun. Even if you look back at the first Haslam and Rattray episode, that one probably shouldn’t have aired. Nothing against those guys but I don’t think I was there yet with my writing/show prep and the production was in its infancy.
So what happened to it?
The footage got deleted. I was super bummed about it. There’s one story I’m hanging onto from Dan Murphy that’s amazing! Welsh and Sal kept calling me a bitch throughout their whole episode. That was funny. There’s a clip from the Leeper/Walker episode in the Nyjah/Loy one.
Do you have a particular favorite episode so far?
This sounds so corny but picking a favorite is like picking a favorite child. They are all rad in different ways to me. I like Slash because it was our first bit of controversy when he freaked out about Allie. Kinda put us on the map. I like Jaws and Nassim because I wasn’t expecting much going into them and those episodes came out so fun. I like Antwuan because I think people were expecting a typical scenario of Antwuan wylin’ out and being wasted and I took a more serious route … got all Barbara Walters and shit. He opened up in a different way than I’d seen in other interviews and I thought that was awesome. It’s our most-viewed episode actually. Interviewing Tony Hawk, Chris Miller, Tim Gavin, Pat Duffy and other dudes from my era of skating in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s is fucking surreal. Sitting with Gavin was my first surreal moment because he was one of those dudes from the Rocco era that I just idolized so much. Seeing Neen get hammered and just let loose on Erica was incredible. That episode is so quotable.
I enjoyed the Antwuan and Rumney episode -
Having personal friends on the show like Danny Garcia, Jose Rojo and Jerry Hsu is always a fun time. Even instances like Matt Bennett and James Brockman barely saying a word or Tom Remillard walking off the show all pissed off (which also didn’t air), that seem frustrating at the time of taping, are awesome in hindsight because it’s a learning experience and a story to tell. On top of all that, every week I make new friends or get to spend time with old ones. It’s amazing—a skate nerd’s dream.
What preparation goes into these features?
I one hundred per cent approach every episode separately. On average, probably 3-4 nights of reading old interviews from a decade worth of mags and the internet. Emailing and pre-interviewing friends and teammates and team managers about the guests who will be on. Sometimes all-nighters before a show doing all that and writing questions. I make sure the liquor stash is full. Usually I’m doing all that while Erica (or sometimes Ride) coordinates the guests and gets some other bits of dirt on the guests. Then we tape for about two hours every Tuesday and Jared and Cameron, the producer/filmer and editor/filmer, respectively, work their magic and crank out an episode two days later.
I wouldn’t have thought that much went into it! Moving on, we enjoyed the ‘Had a Dad’ posts on your site – can you tell us about the construction of these?
Wow, no one’s ever asked me about those. And it’s almost his birthday. December 12th every year is usually when I make sure I post a new installment and I’m definitely slacking this year. I’d love to work on it more but its a bit challenging switching gears from my normal writing and content production to something so different and prose-like and emotional.
It’s a nice idea -
As far as constructing them, I really just try to take a macro view of a particular scenario with him during the year of his illness and passing. I try to incorporate the relationship between us, or lack thereof at times, as well as real details and observations from the situation. I like making them short because it’s a challenge to get everything into a concise package. And also, I want readers to focus on the point of each one and hopefully absorb it and have it be memorable to them or relate to something they have dealt with in their lives, rather than having them try and process some epic 500 page novel or whatever. I prefer creating a lot of little pieces that are part of a larger whole.
What was your relationship like with your father?
My dad was awesome. Like I said, my family life was nothing to gripe about. However, that moving incident, combined with the normal hardships of the life of a teenager I suppose, created a huge gap, for about 10-15 years between my family and I. I was angry. I felt betrayed. I was kind of the black sheep and I didn’t relate to them. I was abandoning religion and childhood and innocence and my developing social life and friendships all at once when that move went down. I felt I was robbed of a lot. For many years my interaction with them was super sterile. I felt like I was living in a hotel a lot of the time. I worked and skated and went to school and ate on my own and spent time with friends and just locked myself in my room and talked on the phone and listened to music and slept there. The truth is, I wasted a lot of time and lost a lot of years and relationships with my family … because I was angry. Perhaps, being I was only 12 when it all started, my parents could have made more of an effort to get me back on track with the family, and remedy the situation, but whatever. Once my dad was diagnosed with cancer that wasn’t going away until he was dead, which, was in November 2000, I had a lot of lost time to make up for and things to make right so that I didn’t spend the rest of my life regretting it. In the end, we spent some time together and talked a lot of stuff out. I wrote him letters and got him gifts that I would bring to the hospital when he was in there. He asked me to write and read his eulogy at his funeral. That was heavy. My dad knew I loved him and I knew he loved me. That’s what mattered. He asked me to take care of the family the best I could once he was gone. And after he passed away I got closer with my family for sure.
That’s good to hear -
Interestingly enough, I learned a ton about my dad after he died. Just from talking to so many people about him that I was never really in touch with. Mainly how good and caring and positive of a person he was. Just an all-around, solid dude that everyone liked. The last few hours he was alive in the hospital…some of his co-workers and people he managed were with us by his bedside … they were kneeling down next to him and crying. I don’t know about you, but how many people do you know who would be at their boss’ bedside crying like that?
Not many! That’s cool -
My dad also bowled a 300 game a few months before he died, while on gnarly chemotherapy. That’s a fucking miracle. Witnessing someone wither away and die is wild. Seeing how it affects different people in different ways is crazy. I’ve always been an observationalist. For me it was more surreal than painful. I tried to take it all in and when all was said and done, I decided that maybe by putting some of it back out there in a semi-creative way, it could help other people not feel so alone if they are going through the same thing. It’s really easy to be in that situation and feel like no one understands what you are going through. And many people don’t. But when you find the ones that do it’s like a safe harbor and it’s amazing…theraputic.
Saw you’ve a BA in English Literature, same as myself. You Seem to be well-read –
I have to be honest here. I am not as well-read as I should be or as people might think. And I don’t read as much as I should. I suppose through all of my education, which was very specialized towards English and writing, I’ve read a lot by default. Maybe more than the average person, but I did that because I had to.Lately I’ve made a concerted effort to read more. I find myself wanting to take my writing to another level and I know I can learn so much by simply reading more…especially reading from the perspective of someone who writes.
Favorite work of fiction anyway?
I love and find inspiration in everything from ‘The Giving Tree’ to Peanuts comics to Hemingway and Kate Chopin or Poe to Chino Moreno’s song lyrics and Terence Malick’s films…to me it doesn’t matter what format or genre or subject matter, as long as it moves you and says something. I’m a big fan of critical essays and the work of Thoreau and Emerson, all the way to more modern stuff like ‘A Massive Swelling’ by Cintra Wilson and lots of what Howard Stern does. If I had to pass on one bit of fiction to a friend in hopes they’d be stoked and thank me…probably a book of Hemingway short stories or ‘Invisible Monsters’ or ‘Survivor’ by Chuck Palahniuk.
What about working as a food and travel writer?
Basically, the editor of your publication hits you up and says, “I want you to go review this restaurant or that resort. Hit up the PR person or general manager, schedule a date and get me 1,000 words by the end of the month.” So I end up at a restaurant that may or may not suck, where they usually put the best (or best looking) server at your table, eating for free, with visits from the chef and more food than you could ever eat. Or at a resort in a sick room and chilling by the pool for a day or two, also with lots of good food and private tours of everything with the general manager. VIP treatment. Then I write about it.
Sounds quite alright
It is…One time a chef hit on my girl during dinner when she left the table to use the rest room. It was a weird move considering he asked us to review his place. I took a few zings at him in the article as a result. I mean, he was playing Goo Goo Dolls and Dave Matthews while I was trying to eat…he was kinda asking for it.
What did he say to her?
Well, she complimented the mac and cheese dish they sent us to our waitress. He came to the table after that and was totally cool. Then when my girl left the table and walked to the bathroom he was over there somehow and goes “Hey so you loved my mac and cheese, huh?” Like all creepy and weird when he totally could have said it the first time he was at our table. It was funny because of how lame of a move it was.
- and what’s this about being a bagel-maker?
Man, if I ever had a book in me, it’s about that fucking place! I got a job at a kosher bagel bakery in my town so that I could save up to take a chick I liked to junior prom. 8 years later that place had bought me my first 4 cars, paid for a huge chunk of my college, supported my skate habits, introduced me to drinking and strip clubs and recovering junkies, ex-cons and everything in between. But most importantly, a work ethic. That place was like boot camp. The very beginning was mopping and doing dishes for hours. But soon after it was waking up at 4:30 am to make and deliver bagels. After that, and for the duration of my time there, it was midnight to 7 am to bake and deliver bagels…all while in college/grad school and also working at the skate shop. The last few years were scary. I was killing myself to get my master’s degree yet I was so scared I’d end up stuck at the bakery because I wasn’t doing internships in publishing or anything like that. Looking back, that place was incredible for me. It was a huge part of my life education. I miss it a lot. From the people to the manual labor to the simplicity of my life back then. Life is amazing now too and I wouldn’t change a thing, but things are so different when you view your work as a career instead of just a job. But dude, to this day, some of the stories I tell from that place amaze people. Any bullshit reality show about a bakery you’ve ever seen has nothing on this place. Fuck “Cake Boss” and “Ace of Cakes.” That’s pussy shit.
[Laughs] – try and reconstruct a diary of that or something!– So any new projects in the works? What are you looking forward to in terms of the future of skateboarding?
Been doing a little more with ESPN lately, working with Jenkem on some projects, got something awesome in the works with Ripped Laces…of course Weekend Buzz and Sole Tech stuff. I love what I do. I love skateboarding and I love seeing it progress and seeing new people blasting onto the scene and stoking everyone out. That’s what I look forward to … being constantly blown away the people out there ripping, making videos, writing sick articles and so on. That said, I just want to create original content that entertains me and the audience for cool sites and mags…people who are down for me and my vision of things. I’d probably be doing it anyway even if no one was paying me or publishing it simply because I like connecting with people and am just curious about things and telling stories to whoever wants to listen in general.
Can we finish up on a song recommendation?
You’re getting a few … deal with it.
Rober Brink’s website: http://robbrink.com/
Follow Robert Brink on Twitter: @RobertBrink
Photos by Josh Friedberg
Erica and Rob photo by Michael Burnett
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