“When you go to Franken it’s a one way ticket.”
No doubt that Austyn Gillette is one of the most respected professional skateboarders out there, but for this one he’s not “out there” but came “in here” – visiting our home turf. Together with his HUF mate Dylan Rieder, one cinematographer and one photographer, the little group spent a full month in Berlin to go skate and film – of course! But people, and especially visitors who’ve been to this city, know about the difficulties of having a mission, wanting be productive vs. also wanting to have a “good time”. Most of them like to go out at night, that’s for sure. So we’ve been wondering how Austyn managed to find that balance, and what he experienced between all those new spots, old bars and major obligations to his sponsors. We sat down in a little park at Gipsdreieck in Mitte to have coffee three days before his departure…
Hi Austyn, how’s it going?
It’s good today, it’s great today. It’s a sunny day, we got two weeks of rain and now it’s starting to clear up, it’s nice now.
You’ve been here for a while now, and your stay is nearly over. What’s the reason that you’ve been here for almost four weeks?
Well, the plan was made probably about six months ago, when we knew that we wanted to come back here. It was last summer when we came here, but it was only for a few days. I’ve been here quite a few times in the past, filming with some of the guys at Habitat. Now we’re filming for HUF, this is a desirable city for the few of us that are here. As far as skate spots and lifestyle, we’re sitting in a park right now, it’s beautiful! You can drink here, you can smoke here, you can do whatever you want.
So the plan was to shoot footage for a new HUF video?
Yeah, kind of, there’s two projects going on. Dylan has to film here for his shoe that comes out in July, I believe, and then I have to film for a full video part for December; my shoe comes out in January. It’s kind of crunch time.
Like cracking the whip, you know? We’ve only got six months, so it’s like, “Alright, we need to produce some stuff.” This trip’s been good.
Do you feel a lot of pressure while you’re here?
For me, yes. Not like pressure that everyday I wake up not at ease or that I don’t feel, like, happy, it’s not like that. Just who I am, skating outside here, filming for another video part, so your expectations for yourself are really high. Because you don’t want to do the same things you’ve done in the past. So it’s a little bit of pressure, but more on myself.
I heard you’re on more than just one photo mission.
It actually is kinda like that. We had to shoot photos for magazines. I basically have to get two ads and an interview kind of thing. That worked out, and as far as the footage goes, we’ve been able to film lines and some cool stuff.
Do you prefer filming or shooting photos?
I prefer just filming and if it’s needed: going back to shoot the photo. I think that’s more preferable to me but it’s not how it always works. I like filming.
Please describe the vibe in Berlin from you personal experiences.
One of the last free cities. For us you can’t do half of the shit we’ve been doing. You can’t do that in a certain time or you’re limited. In the States there’s so many laws and restrictions, and I guess when you come here that’s not the case with anything. I realize I found myself, like when I would go peeing in the bush over here in this park, no one would think anything about it, you’re just peeing on a bush. In the States, if there’s kids and you’re peeing in a bush, you’re going to jail. You would be considered a sex offender. You know, just things like that, small things. I came to this city five years ago for the first time and within in the first week I knew that this was probably one of the few places that I can potentially live; or cities like that. So for me it’s appealing, the food, the people…
Are you interested in other stuff apart from skating? Cultural stuff, German history, art shows?
I am, I’ve read some little things about Berlin on this trip. I think over time, if I wasn’t skating and had more time, I would’ve been digesting more things. I’ve been reading a little bit.
You’ve been on your bikes every day, it’s good, isn’t it?
Oh yeah, it’s way better by bike. You’re working on your own pace, you don’t have to worry about traffic. That’s pretty nice. This time around we bought the bikes of some place called “Bikepark” or something. Since the first day we got in we’ve been on our own bikes instead of renting them. I want to be able to throw my bike down some stairs at, like, four in the morning and not feel bad about it. So that has happened.
So the bike is broken now?
No! Somehow it’s “German made” so it’s still in good condition. I think I’m going to give the bike to Simo (Mäkelä) actually, as a gift, as a token to my appreciation for Finnish people.
Speaking of Simo, did you get to know some of the Berlin skaters from the scene and did you hang out?
I guess with Steve (Forstner), ha-ha. When we got out we tried to keep it small and packed. So when we do see people, it’s nice to see local skaters and what people are up to. But I never really experienced that, I think that is something you do when you’re not filming or you’re not shooting photos, because either way no one wants to come and skate the spot because there’s photographers or filmers. It’s a separation, but it’s out of, like, a respect thing. If someone else, someone from here is shooting a photo, it somehow means that we’re not going to go and skate the spot. But I don’t think I really know any native skaters besides Steve and a few other ones who are all transplants who ended up in Berlin.
What are your favorite top-3 spots in Berlin?
Number one: Burgermeister! Then I like the green little bumps in this new park area (Gleisdreieck, A.d.R.) not only for skating, but because it’s really nice there. And there’s one spot we didn’t go on this trip, it’s in Kreuzberg with this pyramid ledge, I like the flat ground there.
Wassertorplatz. The place you always get stuck trying to film a trick although you just went there to warm up…
Yeah, that place but that’s good though. You always know what you’re getting into when you go there. You know, you can plan ahead.
Were there some situations when you came to a spot and kids recognized you guys?
Kind of. We’ve seen a lot of kids wearing HUF out here, wearing the socks and shoes but not too crazy.
I’ve heard there were two kids coming from Poland, who tracked you down after they heard that you’re in town.
Oh shit, there he is up in the tree, right here! But really? That’s weird. That’s awesome. I guess they have a hard time finding me – fuck, yeah, I’m running!
What about girls out here?
I like them, but I haven’t had much motivation. It’s been purely skating for the most part which is kind of weird. I mean we went out and met chicks and stuff but I got out of a relationship not too long ago, so I don’t have much motivation towards women right now. I’m trying to stay away from them. This is the first trip this hasn’t happened here!
What does your apartment in Mitte look like? How do you live here?
It’s a nice little flat, which the guys at HUF rented for us through Airbnb. I think it’s good, it would have been nice to be a little closer to Kreuzberg, but it’s good that we could come here and find some solitude. We can go back home and relax and on a bike it’s ten minutes to anywhere. I guess it’s comparable to what I do back home, to where I live in LA. I don’t live in Hollywood, I live in East LA, which is the opposite of the center, so it’s really relaxed. Not like clubs when you walk out of your door. It’s like neighbors and dogs and trees, you know. Calm down, that’s cool. The last times we always stayed at Falckensteinstrasse in Kreuzberg, and that was productive in the evening, but not so much during the day. But it was fun.
Tell me about your daily routine over here.
I guess that was the routine: Basically wake up, drink coffee, skate, drink, skate, drink some more, and then go eat a Falafel around two or three in the morning, and then do the same thing the next day.
The last time I met you guys at a spot you were pretty wasted from the night before. When I asked you what you’d done, you just said: “Dirty things.” What kind of dirty things are we talking here?
Oh, did I say that? Dirty things? That was probably bullshitting, but I guess dirty things probably would have consisted of Franken Bar, and there were, like, many Mexicana shots, we probably had a bunch of those. I don’t know what we did after that, it’s kind of blurry. When you go to Franken it’s a one way ticket.
Do you have a crazy story of something that happened to you in Berlin?
Not this trip, I really can’t say that, and that’s really embarrassing but I guess we haven’t been in that mode to doing that. But I can tell you about that one time a few years ago: I was doing a full makeover to get into Berghain, and I cut out my nipple holes in my shirt. I looked like a complete psycho waiting in the line for like an hour and a half, and then I ended up getting to the front and they just went: No. And that was it. All in all we got some good photos out of that, ha-ha… I would say in the past I had different experiences compared to this one. Steve and I like to call ourselves losers, because we’re just skating and nothing else really.
Just losers, just nerds, which I guess is cool because you don’t find yourself doing that back home too often. You get in your comfort zone, this time it’s just everyday skating.
What do you think about the fact that Alien Workshop is done now?
It’s very sad. A lot of people over there are really talented. Maybe it’s for the best, some of the people are so talented that I’m sure plenty of other companies either inside or outside of skateboarding, the people behind the desk, maybe they’ll open up new doors for them. I mean, it sucks but this has been going on for so long. It was really influential for everybody and now it’s a weird time. You wouldn’t think that DNA would close their doors ever, you know. I felt that they had, like, a solid backbone in the industry. The people always loved it and supported it. I guess it just gets into like money and people buying companies out, then things start to get dirty businesswise. It’s sad but that’s how things go. If you want to go on trips or if you want to travel or to produce more, you have to work with people that want to fund that.
How are things going for you with 3D?
It’s progressing. Surprisingly – I mean it’s just Brian and I on the team, and my dog is on the team too. We’re getting good feedback, people are liking it, and I’ve seen kids riding the boards and they’re constantly asking about it. It’s all nice because all of it’s just Brian’s vision. He’s got a motor mind, constantly thinking on ideas, even when you’re just hanging out he’s drawing or making potential graphics or things like that. It’s easy as far as, like, for us. We get to do whatever we want, I call him and tell him whatever I like.
What’s next on your map?
New York for about five months, filming. Trying not to go back to LA. When I’m back home I just don’t do this much as far as skating goes by myself. Just playing music and hanging out with friends. I don’t have that much motivation just because LA is exactly what it seems like to everybody: Same spots, same people, same things. You go to a new city and it’s more exciting, and especially New York is always exciting. That’s on the horizon in three days.
So, looking back on your time over here, was it a success all in all?
Yeah, of course, it’s been good. It’s been productive up until I got hurt a week ago. Maybe I can get some more stories squeezed in in the next few days, who knows.
Did you learn some German besides the word “Scheiße”?
“Natürlich” – naturally. “Kuscheln”, something like cuddling, ha-ha…
Are you planning to come back to Berlin?
I hope so. It’s been successful; I had a great time! You guys know how to cook up some quality tunes on the dance floor! That makes a good party, when the music is not so serious. Stay away from this fancy shit, you guys did it successfully. Place mag parties? I will be there. And if I’m not there, I’ll be there in spirit.
That’s a great final statement. Thank you very much!
by Benni Markstein