Home Culture Culture News

Andrew Reynolds: From Drug, Alcohol Abuse to Skateboarding Sober

“I’m happy I found drugs because it brought me down quicker”.

Andrew Reynolds, aka The Boss in the skateboarding world, moved out to California from Florida just after high school, fully intent on two things: skateboarding and getting fucked up. “Tom Penny is my favourite skater and he was the biggest stoner drunk,” says Reynolds. In just a few years, he succeeded in both, having delivered some of skating’s most quintessential video parts, all the while getting wasted on cocaine, weed, and booze – a lifestyle that landed him in jail on multiple occasions.

In 1995, Reynolds’ talent in skating and success in competitions led to a phone call and request from Tony Hawk to join the Birdhouse team. By age seventeen, the young skate phenom was circling the globe with Hawk and teammates including Steve Berra and Heath Kirchart. In 1998, Thrasher named Reynolds “Skater of the Year” and within a year, Reynolds left Birdhouse to start his own company with artist Jay Strickland – the goal was to create a company that would accurately represent “piles” living the stoner-skater-punk lifestyle. Baker Skateboards, aptly named after the effects of getting high, or “baked,” quickly gained notoriety for its roster of havoc-wreaking talent, of which their boss, Reynolds, rode among his peers.

At age twenty-four, Reynolds, a blackout drinker, claimed his sobriety after years of struggling with cocaine and alcohol binges. His life continued on a positive spin, as he became a single father and role model in skateboarding, focused on skating and setting a healthier example for youth following in his path. Reynolds capitalised on his compulsive behaviour, and delivered one of the greatest skateboarding parts on film, with his ender part in Emerica’s Stay Gold – a definitive video part, so flawless, that it made Ed Templeton cry.

Last month, Emerica dropped MADE Chapter 2, showcasing the latest skating efforts by Andrew Reynolds and teammates Justin “Figgy” Figueroa, Jerry Hsu, Bryan Herman, Kevin “Spanky” Long and newest recruit Jon Dickson. The raw and impactful film comes as the second chapter in Emerica’s MADE series. “If you show any skate kid this video, they’ll finish watching it and want to go skate. That’s the goal and as long as that happens – you did your job,” says Reynolds.

Reynolds recently invited Rolling Stone into his Los Angeles home to talk about filming with his teammates, tell of a fortuitous trip to visit Jimi Hendrix’s estate, and muse on the possibility of swapping kids with Tony Hawk.

You left Florida after high school and moved to Huntington Beach, California to focus on skating and partying. What was the scene like back then and how has it changed?
We had big this crew – our Warner Avenue crew – Elissa Steamer, Erik Ellington, Dustin Dollin, Jim Greco and a bunch of other guys. That group was sort of the start of what would become Baker. We didn’t go out, we just stayed in our apartment complex. We stuck together and got drunk and did drugs every night. 

These days, if you skate, you’re cool – which is good. Pharrell calls himself Skateboard P and Lil Wayne skates. It’s totally different. Back then, we had this skater-punk-loser thing going on, sitting around a boom box and drinking beer. Then everything changed. All of a sudden, guys like Spanky are coming up huge, going out in New York, and all these dudes are scoring models for girlfriends. I was like, ‘what’s happening?’ That’s not how we did things. I missed all that.

How did you get involved with hardcore drugs and alcohol?
I knew I had a problem with drinking the first time I drank at age sixteen. I got really drunk off of some gin – that was my goal. It wasn’t about going to a party and having a good time – it was, “Let’s get fucked up.” I would drink and not be able to stop. I got so wasted – puked everywhere – and just thought that’s what it was about. My role models inspired my skating, but weren’t exactly the best models for healthy living. Chad Muska and Tom Penny were getting fucked up and I wanted to be like them and smoke weed and skate every day – so I did. I’m happy I found drugs because it brought me down quicker.

Andrew Reynolds, Los Angeles, California, 2005.

What motivated you to get sober and how did you do it?
My priority – my number one goal – was always to be a good skater. I wanted to show off and do crazy shit that pushed my skating and looked good on film. By age twenty-four, I realised my abuse was affecting my whole life. It was affecting my skating, I was driving drunk and I had been to jail a couple of times. I knew it wasn’t the right way to go, but I couldn’t control it. When you’re an alcoholic, you set out to just have one beer, and then three days later you’re on a cocaine binge, with every other drug involved, and you have no idea how it all happened.

I tried to get sober a few different times and in different ways. I moved back to Florida, thinking I would get a place near my parents and maybe that would help. Nope – they have drugs and alcohol in Florida. It’s actually worse. So I came back to Los Angeles and totalled my car and went to jail. I quit for like three or four months. It wasn’t until I met the right people and started going to meetings – that’s when it really stuck for me. After that, I didn’t want to go back.

How did you manage to put out all those incredible video parts in the early days when you guys were wasted all the time?
I still skated. I had a pro model shoe and deck. But there were these periods of time where I just couldn’t pull it together. And back then you didn’t have to film a part in a year and a half. We had four years to film parts. There wasn’t a push for video content like there is today – skating was very different. We were partying most of the time, and not even skating for weeks at a time. Kareem [Campbell], [Javier] Nunez and all the guys, that’s what they were doing. [Guy] Mariano didn’t even have a board for like a year. He might set up a board and do tricks like twice a year. Skating everyday was kind of nerdy back then. And that’s something that’s totally changed. Today, the best skaters go out and just attack shit all day long – like Figgy and Dickson. If you were like that back then, it was like, “Whoa man, chill out.”

Tell me about your part in the new Emerica film: MADE Chapter 2. What does this film represent to you in relation to other films you’ve put out, like Stay Gold?
I know what I’m supposed to say, but this is the truth: the hardest I’ve ever worked for a video part in my life was Stay Gold – I gave it everything I had. I dedicated my entire life to the tricks I did in that video. I was very obsessed with making that part the way I wanted it. So to come right after that, and be older, and after pushing myself so hard – I was a little bit lost as to how I was going to do this one.

Part of me thought I could never top what I put down in Stay Gold – so why bother? For MADE, I probably gave 40 percent of what I could have. And it’s a pretty good part – it’s a nice part. I’m definitely proud of it and I did some cool stuff that I haven’t done before. But I’ve got a ten-year-old daughter now. She’s in school, she’s skating and it’s just a different time in my life. This video part resonates that – this is me, right now. I’m actually psyched that it’s not as good as I wanted it to be – because now I have a new place to work from. I can’t work from where I left off with Stay Gold or I would end up in the hospital.

Speaking of hospitals, Figgy took some serious damage while filming for MADE and still came through with a massive ender part in the film. How did he manage?
I don’t know how Figgy does it. He’s one of my favorite skaters and something really special. If you watch his parts in Bake and Destroy and MADE Chapter 2 – it’s so much footage. I mean, it’s like fifteen years worth of footage shot over a four-year period. It’s insane. Figgy is just some kind of Evel Knievel nutcase. When he wants to get the certain tricks, he works his ass off and he gets them. He’s the opposite of me in that he feeds off of deadlines. He got that bigspin front boardslide down the 14-stair rail at the last minute. Then he did the krooked grind grab over into that rocky bank that made the cover of Thrasher. If you see that spot, well, it’s just not possible. He’s a thrill seeker.

You once visited Jimi Hendrix’s estate while filming for This is Skateboarding. How did that come about?
I was listening to a lot of different albums that Jimi Hendrix did at the time. I was still in my last days of drugging and I was on drugs in my room and “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” came on and I was like, “This is the one!” So I brought it to Emerica and they said there was no way we would get the license to use it. But that same week there was an attorney working on some stuff at Soletech and he turned out to also be the lawyer for the Hendrix estate. He told Jimi’s sister Janie, who runs his estate, and she was totally cool with it. They invited me to come up and speak at the schools Jimi attended and bring shoes for all the kids. She showed us Jimi’s drawings, lyric sheets and guitars, and then we visited his gravesite. Janie shared some great stories about Jimi, like how he used to buy Corvettes and crash them, because, outside his musical genius, he was just this normal irresponsible kid.

“I’m happy I found drugs because it brought me down quicker”

Since you went sober, you’ve led a progressive and healthy lifestyle. Has that been easy for you?
I sobered up and three years later I had a kid and I was smoking cigarettes. I decided to quit that. I just evolved into a healthier person who thinks about eating healthy and exercising so that I can continue to skate. I hope to continue on that path and be, say fifty-years-old and be able to say that I feel good and still skate. Tony Hawk is ten years older than me and he recently did a 900 on a ramp. He was getting destroyed, just dying and then nailed it. He’s ten years older than me, and if he can do that, then I better be able to get out and skate pretty good right now.

You used to ride for Tony Hawk, then left Birdhouse to start Baker, and now Tony’s son, Riley Hawk, rides for you. How did that come about?
I rode for Birdhouse from around fifteen to twenty, and then Tony helped us distribute Baker. Riley was good, but I thought he was just a pretty good skater, who skated for fun. And then I swear, he figured out his thing and rose above everyone to where it was obvious he had an idea of how he wanted to skate, the tricks he wanted to do, it was sick to see. We went to Tony and asked if we could start giving him Baker boards. Tony said he backed it, if that’s what Riley wanted to do – and Riley was into it. What’s really funny is that my daughter Stella dreams of being sponsored by Birdhouse. She’s super into tranny skating and she loves Lizzie Armanto.

So you and Tony Hawk may be kid swapping?
Well yeah, it would be so rad to see Stella ride for Birdhouse. In my mind, she’d be so hooked up. Riding for Tony is the best, probably better than riding for Baker. We’re a small company and can’t afford too much. When you’re with Tony, you live like Tony Hawk. You travel the world, stay in the best places and eat at the best restaurants.

Whats’s up with Baker 4?
We’re filming for it right now. I’d say we’re going to give it about two and a half years. Which nowadays is a longer deadline. Everybody wants to really do that, because we all come from a time and place where the board company is your family. It’s Baker for Life – that’s the tattoo. That’s the gang. I could brag on the whole team and not feel the least bid weird about it. We are what every team is striving for – to have a real honest and true family that skates together and has a real passion for it. That’s what it has to be, or you can see right through it. I could probably start another company, so many guys hit me up, and they’re so sick. I’ve offered that to the guys – to Herm and Spanky. But they’re like, “I just don’t want to leave Baker,” and that’s so cool.