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The Influencer Interviews Vol. 1: Robert Brink

Skateboarding has been, and will always remain, tied to the spectrum of arts and humanities. Robert Brink is a rare figure in the skate community who not only recognizes this, but actively seeks to extrapolate those tangents. His path in life is unique and his views on culture, literature, and the skate industry are even more so. He is now hosting the weekly web series The Weekend Buzz, and making a shift toward writing for himself and we're excited to see his path and progression. Rob inspires brands like ours to think differently, and for this we are thankful for his influence. In this episode, we sat down to talk about fashion, books, personal growth, and, of course, skateboarding, culture and many other things...enjoy!

What's your shoe game like? 

I have like seven pairs of "Winos” in rotation and another 20 backups in boxes. Brown Born wingtips. A few of the original Gravis Dylan shoes. A few Converse Jack Purcell Topsiders. I'm really picky about shoes. I'm skating in the Adidas Busenitz Vulc. That is my favorite skate shoe for the past few years. They break in fast with the right amount of grip and flick. I like the heritage of Adidas. I’ve always loved the close-to-the-foot low profile and streamlined European influence in footwear.

I've never owned a pair of suede dress shoes. I usually always had leather. The ZzyxX Crooner is rad because it’s not too dressy, but everyone else is wearing Vans or hipster desert boots. I like dressing up a bit more than the average dude I suppose, and shoes like this are perfect.

Talk about your personal style.

Like I mentioned, I’m not into high fashion or anything, but I think I pay attention to clothes more than the average guy. I've never had the money to go to Burberry or Prada to shop. I like affordable, understated stuff with minimum treatments and hems. I don’t like excessive flair. I wear grays, blues and black mostly. I like to wear a piece where one small element pops. That one detail helps make it special.

I think all this comes from me getting picked on a lot when I was a kid. I got to a point where I didn’t want to stand out or draw attention to myself, but rather, be noticed by people who matter. “How do I say something without screaming for attention?” is my mantra I suppose. 

I feel that way about my work too. I try not to be too "markety" and “networky.” I’m not running up to LA to hang with all the "right" people at the right places. I sit back and do my thing and hope my work speaks for itself.

When I see someone come into skating, where fashion is more a part of what they are than the average dude, like an Austyn Gillette or Ben Nordberg, I'm really drawn to them. When Dylan Rieder popped up a while back, I was drawn to his whole aesthetic. Like, "Whoa! That’s something I've always wanted to see in skateboarding!" I like seeing people who look different and aren’t dressing like a 12-year-old who shops at Zumiez.

Talk about coming from an East Coast, blue-collar area.

Where I grew up in New Jersey it was very blue-collar. There was some upper middle class, but those were fewer and further between. Not like here in Southern California. There is a different work ethic and a different value placed on work back home. People don’t tolerate bullshit and they don’t want to hide how they feel to avoid an uncomfortable situation. I grew up mowing lawns, delivering papers, making bagels overnight and working at a skate shop. I'm not mad at kids who get a car handed to them at age sixteen, but there is a huge difference in the cultures and work ethics and you can see it. Especially in the skate industry. People here will literally just ignore work emails, skip meetings, miss deadlines and fuck the people relying on them and be like “Oh, my bad.” Ignoring things is the new “no” and where I come from, that’s just plain lame.

I came out here with guns blazing and I worked my ass off. I had a lot to lose. I was ambitious, I was hungry and I probably was a bit of an asshole, but I didn’t want anyone to think that I wasn’t on my "A-Game".  I answered emails within a minute. I worked at night, until the sun came up. I made deadlines. I worked on the weekend. Whatever it took to get the job done. Eventually, it creates an unrealistic expectation. People get used to it and if you start to slow down to the level everyone else is working at, then they think you're blowing it. I was always at level 12. Others were at 8, 9 and 10. It can build a lot of animosity towards others if you aren’t careful.

The thing that’s tricky about skateboarding is you forget that you're working. When you're doing what you love for a living, you have to learn balance it. You have to throttle your productivity. Otherwise it consumes you in negative ways and you end up despising the things you love so much. My work affected my personal life negatively. I had girlfriends who wanted more time from me and I didn’t appreciate that. Lack of sleep, being stressed out, causing arguments with co-workers, there was a lot. Because I didn’t juggle it right for many years. Luckily I’ve figured it out.

What books do you recommend?

"A Massive Swelling" by Cintra Wilson. “Invisible Monsters” and “Survivor” by Chuck Palahniuk. Anything by Hemingway or Steinbeck.

Whose writing do you admire?

Cintra Wilson. She's a friend of mine now and her first book changed my life. It’s called "A Massive Swelling" and it came out in about 2000. A lot of people in our generation know the book "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs" by Chuck Klosterman, but not "A Massive Swelling", and that’s just sad. The Klosterman book is like the diet version of Cintra’s. 

Cintra had a tone that I was very inspired by. I'm not saying she invented it, but it was my first exposure to anything like it and I wanted to write like that, but for skateboarding. The problem is, with the dawn of the Internet, that tone has now become THE baseline tone under which everyone operates. The snarky, cynical, sophomorically critical, Yelpy, blogger tone. That aside, what Cintra does with words and sentences is incredible. It’s memorable and makes you wish you could do it too. 

Howard Stern is another. He’s hands down THE best interviewer I’ve ever heard. People forget he's essentially a writer and journalist. He's a huge inspiration to me and my work.

Charles Shultz. His writing is so simple. Peanuts is a comic, but he makes you realize things a lot of things about people and being a human and he says them in a non-offensive manner, yet still draws attention to many of the negative flaws in people and society.

Chuck Palahniuk is my favorite author. My perception of the world and how I operate comes a lot from that of a frustrated, pessimistic and angry young man. I connect with his stuff. I'm not as well-read as I should be. I like Hemingway and Steinbeck a lot. To me, they're simple and they don’t write pretentiously. I love the way Hemingway speaks about writing. There’s a book called “On Writing” that is full of quotes from him that I love. Dave Carnie is a REALLY good writer, not just a skateboard writer, but a writer, period. Chris Nieratko as well. My favorite thing is to hear or to read about the creative process of an artist, even if it’s someone like Beethoven or Picasso. All artists can be very inspiring to me.  

Talk about journalism in skating.

Skating progresses at such an alarming rate, always has. But the commentary and the intellect behind the commentary and writing do not progress anywhere near those levels. That’s troubling to me. I wish it was held to the same standard as the videography and photography is, but that’s rare.

Do you see skaters as sporting artists?

I see some skaters as artists. They just stand out, whether they try to or not. Vincent Alvarez, for example. The way he skates is amazing. They'll be one out of 30 or 40 these days where you say, “Wow, he's got something different that I like to watch.”

Do you look at skating on those terms?

I look for people who are doing something unique but not in a "cliché unique" way. There are a lot of people trying really hard to be super-eclectic right now and it’s kinda gross. I look for style and ease and I look for something unique that moves me. Like, if you look at ten paintings of a bowl of fruit, each one done by a different painter, there's going be one in that bunch where you say, “Wow! How did you see it in that way? How did you do it like that?” And you are going to be moved by that one and forget about the other nine forever. That’s how I feel about skateboarding.

So I think I look for style and I look for something original, and the combination of those two things move me. Like when Dylan became Dylan many years ago, or when Jake Johnson’s Mind Field part came out. Or when Dennis Busenitz or Vincent Alvarez came out. I feel that way about Sage Elsesser right now. I like watching him skate. To me, there's something special about that kid. All the Fucking Awesome/Hockey squad and everything Strobeck does really stokes me out these days.

What's the unique thing that separates these one in thirty or forty skaters?

Trick selection. The way they approach and see things. But mainly the style. And what makes that style is usually the arms. People talk about the push, people talk about the pop or the flick, but what people don’t realize a lot of times is that so much is in the arms. You look at Gino's arms when he lands a trick. Or Reynolds’ or Dylan's, Jake’s or MJ’s arms. Leo's wrists. Carroll’s hands. Almost all my favorite skaters have an arm thing going on.

What phase of life are you in right now?

I'm sort of figuring out the next phase—creating my second career … or the second phase of my existing one for that matter. 

I was fortunate that my first career choice, doing what I love in skateboarding, worked. Somewhere along the line there was a little detour into the realm of marketing so I could pay the bills. But I never stopped writing for part of my living. I still want to be a writer. I still want to be a journalist. I don’t know if I'll be relevant in skateboarding forever, but I certainly don’t want to keep being the digital marketing guy forever, simply because that's what pays the bills because writing doesn’t. I’ve gone from brand to brand to brand being the blogger and e-commerce guy and social media strategist. DC, etnies, Element, Primitive, The Hundreds and so on, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but unless I break that cycle, there won’t be change. I'm in the middle of breaking that cycle right now.

It’s very easy for me to do the same thing over and over because it gives me a paycheck and I can sit in my apartment by the beach in Laguna. This behavior is secure. It prevents scary situations but it’s also very stifling. That’s not how I want to live, I never did and I’m disappointed I somewhat fell into that. If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done!

What are some ways you're helping to transform the way skating and skaters are portrayed in the media by hosting this popular show? Do you feel an obligation to do this as a journalist?

The only real obligation I feel is to bring the audience as close to the skater or guests as possible. To make them feel like they are sitting at a bar or café with their favorite pros and hanging out. So that the people watching see the real version of that pro. So often people ask me if I get bummed about dudes on the show who may have been kinda lame or whatever. Of course I don’t. I want everyone to be themselves so the world can see them as they are. That’s the obligation I feel I suppose. As well as to try my best to bring something new to the table and not ask the same questions every other interview is asking, because that’s pretty common and uninspiring. A waste of everyone’s time really. The audience, the skater … everyone.

Did you “fan out” a little when you interviewed Tony Hawk?

Yes. If you don’t fan out over Tony, you might not be a real skater. Haha.

With your podcast on the Shelter Show you shared a lot and spoke about some very personal things. What has been the reaction from the community?

I got more amazing feedback from that podcast than almost any interview I have ever done. And I think that’s a testament to how people connect to other people sharing themselves and opening up. People really just want to connect and not feel so alone or far away from others. Being open and honest and vulnerable and sharing yourself can do amazing things for others, and yourself.

You described your first job working in a bagel shop as a critical experience you had early in your working career. What are some things you learned that you still apply to this day?

Oh man, so many things. Hard work, for one. If you work hard you will be respected and you can get what you want in life. 

Not being a pussy. We had no sick days. No hangover excuses. When it was your day, and your shift, you showed up and did your fucking job. Even if it meant running to the bathroom to puke every hour.

Accountability. You fuck up, you own it. You say you are gonna do something, you do it. I think this is the thing I have seen go away in the workplace more than anything over the years and it’s really sad.

The bakery taught me so much about work, but also about life. I learned to tell stories there. We would just stand in front of an oven for 6 hours at a time. Over the course of 9 years, that’s a lot of hours. You end up telling tons of stories and hearing tons of stories to keep yourself entertained. I could go on forever, but that’s why I’m working on a book about it. So I can’t tell you too much.


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