As a journalist, media director, and host of RIDE Channel’s "Weekend Buzz", Rob Brink takes the phrase ‘a career in skateboarding’ to a whole new level. Starting as a manager at a local skate shop in New Jersey, Rob has worked his way up in the industry to titles that skateboarders have only dreamed of. Once I got him on the phone it was hard to hang up--his stories of the battles, successes, and experiences are eminent. If you were ever debating moving out to California to make it in the industry, wondering why Erica Yary is no longer on The Weekend Buzz, or what it would be like to have a job that requires working with hundreds of skateboarders, read this retrospective interview with Rob Brink and how he became someone who was determined to work hard for what he wanted, even if he was going against all odds to do so.
GB: What was your first connection into the industry?
RB: Technically it was meeting some of the kids in my area who ended up becoming sponsored. Tim O’Connor was one of my best friends growing up. Before I ended up sponsored by a local shop myself, he was a friend of mine that eventually got really good and ended up becoming pro. But when I knew him, we were just kids, so that grew into, like, probably the most important connection of my life and my career. Other than that, pretty early on, I think in 1993, I had some friend who introduced me to a skate shop in New Jersey and that shop ended up becoming a sponsor of mine and then I eventually went on to becoming the manager of that store. That played an important role on where I am now. As far as skateboarding, skating with Tim and getting to know that shop was pretty important.
What's the name of the shop?
“Out of Bounds.” It’s in Scotch Plains, New Jersey and it’s still there I believe... different owners now. I don’t know if you know these guys but these twin brothers Mike and Quinn Cordona—Mike passed away, but they were sponsored by that shop when I got there. They used to be pro, Quinn is still pro actually. They were pro for Real and Quinn’s pro for Organika now. But when I got involved with that shop they were sponsored by it. So that’s one of the shops little "claim to fames”. I was like their skate buyer in the beginning and I helped around the store. Everything from getting boards together and running around the back. But I eventually became general manager.
Was that while you were going to college?
Yeah, my timeline is a little confusing. For the most part, I've always had two different jobs. When I was 15 I started working at a bagel bakery and then a couple years into that I had an opportunity to be part time at that skate shop. But the skate shop was far away and it was only like 2 days a week, so I was like, “Well I’m not gonna quit my job but I'll just do two jobs.” I guess I was in college/grad school doing all of that and at some point I quit the bakery to work at a book publishing company, cause my degree was in English and Writing. My professor helped me get a job at this publisher that published my professor's book. That was another foot in the door connection that happened randomly. As I was working at the book publisher I was still working at the skate shop. I never really quit the skate shop from like 1997 to 2004. It was never really a full job either, I was always there just a couple days a week. So I’ve been holding two or more jobs since I was 15 years old.
So then what made you move to California?
I quit the book publisher to become the general manager of that skate shop. Working with the book publisher helped me get my foot in the door with something towards publishing, but working at the skate shop actually brought in money and benefits. At the time, I really established myself as a freelance writer for skate mags. So that started in 1999 or 2000 while I was at the publisher, freelancing, and managing the skate shop. The book publishing job served its purpose for the experience I had to show on my résumé, but I was using it as kind of a back panel. I remember my mom kind of tripping like “Okay you got a job as a publishing editor but you’re going to go back to the skate shop?” I got what I needed out of this book publisher, I got that experience on my résumé, I was establishing myself as a freelance writer already for Transworld and Skateboarder, I was starting to get published in all the magazines on the West Coast and I thought, “If I go back to the skateshop I can focus one hundred percent on skateboarding.” So I went back to the shop, writing non-stop and working the skate shop and got completely immersed in skateboarding and started developing my skate career. Then DC Shoes reached out to me cause they knew I was looking for a job out west. My friend Skin was running Transworld at the time (he works for Adidas now), but Skin basically hooked me up cause I was writing for Transworld and he knew I wanted to come out west. He hooked me up with the PR people at DC. They needed a copywriter, so they hired me and payed for my move to California and everything. It was a little crazy, because during this whole time frame my dad was sick with cancer and passed away.
Oh fuck, I’m so sorry to hear that.
It's okay, but it’s important to the story because I had gotten job offers from Transworld while my dad was sick all the way back in 2001. It was crazy because he was basically dying and I had these dream job offers at Transworld and I was turning them down. I turned down a job at Transworld Stance, which doesn’t exist anymore, kind of like the skater version of Complex Magazine or something. And I turned down another offer after my dad died at Transworld business because my mom wasn’t doing too well and at that point I was like, “Okay this really sucks", but I was like “If I got two job offers, there will probably be another one.” I was lucky enough that three years after my dad passed away, I got the DC offer and my mom was doing better. She had met another dude, and I was like okay it’s safe for me to leave now. It was all perfect timing. I am still bummed that at 24 I wasn’t able to move out here and get in the mix of Transworld, cause at the time I was younger and I would have had more of a head start with the skate industry, and I would have been able to work at Transworld during an era where they were like the shit at the time. That’s no diss to Transworld right now but they were killing it back then, they were like my favorite mag and stuff. A little sad that it didn’t work out but whatever, it happened the way it was supposed to happen. I mean we are sitting here right now and you are interviewing me so I would say I’m pretty well.
How was it moving out to California? Was it difficult to fit in coming from the East Coast scene?
It one hundred percent was. When I got to California I was super excited, obviously–I mean I had this job offer, I was like “I'm living the dream”. But very quickly I realized how different things were. I was someone from the East Coast who was very blue collar, I had a very different personality or work ethic or whatever. I mean I already didn't fit in in New Jersey as a skateboarder, I never have. So what was really weird was moving to California and realizing “I don’t even fit in, in skateboarding” and that was really interesting to me. I was working at DC and eventually I moved pretty quickly and ended up at Sole Tech for like nine years and I didn't feel like I fit in there at all. Being a hard core skateboarder and then going into the corporate side of skateboarding like footwear and apparel, whether people say they are skater owned or not, when you are in that realm it’s fucking corporate. And I just didn't feel like I fit in at all. I was working with people who didn't skate, people who didn’t give a shit about the skaters. All my friends from the mags were always awesome, all the pros I’ve ever met were always awesome, whenever I would meet a photographer or filmer or team manager they were always awesome, but it was the work environment in these offices for jobs that I was very fortunate to have that I didn't fit into. I started seeing the dark side of them, I don't want to see the dark side of companies in the industry I always looked up to. It was a combination of that and a bit of homesickness that made me really depressed my first few years in California. I was flying home to New Jersey sometimes for a weekend, just to get away. I would spend four months a year down in New Jersey and I was always thinking of ways I could be home. I was like, "Okay if I find a job at Zoo York, I could move back home and still work in the industry." I was looking at all the companies on the East Coast trying to maneuver ways to get back East. I was miserable, I was drinking a lot. I got a fucking DUI when I moved out here. I mean all this shit happened and I was like I need to get the fuck out of here. To be honest, the thing that changed everything was moving to Laguna Beach. I just moved to an area that I loved so much.
What kept you motivated to get through everything that was happening?
As you probably figured out from my earlier career explanations, I definitely work for what I want. I wasn't going to give up. It was fucking hard to get out here and I think what keeps me most motivated is just trying to top myself and constantly say to myself "okay I work for this mag, and I'm writing for this mag but there's other mags that I think are awesome that I also want to work for, other pros I want to interview, other article ideas that I have." I was also probably stubborn and didn't want to fail and go crawling back to New Jersey like a lot of my friends have done. It sounds so corny but what kept me motivated was moving to Laguna Beach and my desire to not just grow my career but my writing, storytelling, interviewing skaters, and like publishing media is my passion. I think just trying to improve upon all of that and seeing areas in the skateboarding media or journalism where I know I could make a difference or make it bigger or improve upon something that could get done. That’s always what motivated me. I think there is so much room for better skateboard writing, that's always motivated me. I really don’t think people try that hard, so that’s always motivated me.
What advice would you give to people who are trying to get into the skate industry?
You really need to love skateboarding and know your shit. I've been involved a really long time and I think that because I'm older or because I don't necessarily dress like a skater, people are really quick to be like “Dude you don't even skate” or they're surprised, like, I shouldn’t know shit about skating or surprised that I had sponsors. I think it's really important to know your shit because there's always gonna be people doubting your credibility. Also, knowing your shit is what's going to get you further, you know what I mean. It’s like my education. Yes, I went to college and I know all about writing or editing or publishing, but I also spent 25 years eating, drinking, and skateboarding and that’s it. When you know something that well, that’s the best credential you can have. And I think you need to know what you want and you need to really focus on it and go for it. Some people hit me up and they’re like “I want to get a job in the industry what do I do?” and I’m like, “Well what do you want to do?” and their like, “I don’t know” and it’s just not going to work like that. You need to know you want to be a writer or a filmer, and you need to become an expert at that. That’s really important. And like just be cool, don’t be afraid to ask for things but don’t be a fuckin' leech about it either. Some people just call me up and ask for a job. It's like “Dude, earn it.” Or they will hit me up on twitter and be like, “Yo can you get me a job?” and I’m like “Dude, fuck that. Show me what you got at least.” I’ve given tons of people chances, I’ve helped out tons of people but they are all people who worked really hard, helped for free, and had talent and credentials. I think that is what's really important. If you’re going to hit someone up and ask for something, be able to strut your stuff and offer something, you know? I’m not trying to sound harsh, I’m just trying to make it simple.
I wouldn't call it harsh I would say that’s good advice!
I mean that’s what I said about you. I didn't know your site and then all of a sudden I saw the Nieratko interview that you did. I started viewing your site more and then I saw the Erica interview. I was like dude this girl's hustling and that's rad. Some people don't even have that much drive, you know? And I think that’s really cool. It's also probably not easy to be a girl starting a skate blog and interviewing skateboarders. I think what you guys do is rad.
That really means a lot, thank you. We have always looked up to you and your work. What would you consider your biggest achievement?
I think it's everything that culminated to where I am now. Being able to have a talk show that has been running for almost 4 years is amazing. Being able to sit here and tell you that I know I have grown as a person and I have a better delivery and tone, even things like that, are accomplishments for me. Being able to stay in California for almost 11 years now, that's even an accomplishment. Every time someone's like, “Wanna do this interview?” or “Can I interview you?” or “I want to come on the show!” Every week a show comes out is an accomplishment. If I’m changing out at Street League and some little kid wants a photo with me I’m like, “Holy shit this is crazy!” or if I sign an autograph, I'm not trying to be arrogant but I’m blown away by that, that’s so cool. I think being able to support myself in the skate industry and have enough money to fly home to New Jersey and see my family, and do everything on my own terms. Some people move away and they struggle where they can’t even get back to see their family. I’ve been really fortunate to be able to spend my life exactly the way I want it a lot of times and to me, that’s an accomplishment. A lot of people have jobs and work a ton of hours a week and they don’t have a lot of time to see their family or for vacation or for anything and I think it's a real accomplishment to be able to set your life up in a way where you are not suffering to make a living.
What does skateboarding mean to you?
It means family. Its validated me, it's given me a family, it's given me a sense of accomplishment. Even now, I'm almost 40, you know? I travel and fly across the country to a Street League and I see all my friends and my acquaintances and I just feel comfortable, like my family. I leave and I'm so happy, happier than I was before I walked in there. I’m all charged up on a high like “I just got to spend this weekend with all my friends and I partied with all my friends, and all this cool shit happened and this guy said he wants to come out on the show", and you end up sort of networking and all these cool things end up happening. For me, physically skateboarding has always been a way to learn things and accomplish tricks and progress and get out my energy and frustration and just create. But, it also has been my family. My family was kinda sterile growing up–I was totally seeking that kind of warmth. I think my skater friends and even my girlfriend provided a lot of what I wasn't getting at home. I think a lot of skaters are like that, where it became their new family or home or something.
What is the most exciting thing you are working on right now?
You mean that I can tell you, haha? There are a lot of exciting things I can’t tell you about just yet. Every single week, taping Weekend Buzz is the most fun two hours of my week. I don’t know if that’s really awesome or really pathetic. I just love getting out and doing that show. I'm Editor in Chief at The Hundreds now, so I’ve got cool interviews lined up that I’m excited about. Not necessarily skate pieces. There is a series on Netflix called “Chief’s Table” created by the guy who did this sushi documentary that a lot of people kind of know about. I’m prepping an interview for the producer of that movie and that series which is exciting. I have a whole list of articles i'm working on right now. I’m prepping an article with Elissa Steamer that I’m really excited about. I’m prepping an article with Stevie Ryan who’s sort of like an internet/TV celebrity that I’m friends with. I just spent some time with Ty Evans helping him write a little bit of the voice overs for “We Are Blood”. That was a really cool experience that came out of nowhere, he just called me one day and was like, “Hey it’s last minute but I need your help!” So he sent me the screening of “We Are Blood” a week and a half ago and that was cool. Now that I have seen it and I could help a little tiny bit, I’m excited to go to the theatre and watch it. Ty Evans is the dude who made “Pretty Sweet” and all the Girl and Chocolate videos, and now “We Are Blood”. You asked me earlier what makes me happy or proud, and it’s things like that. To be at a point in my career where someone as amazing as Ty thinks about me and says “I want your help on this project”—that to me is exactly what I have always strived for. Other talented people wanting to work with me and use me as a source of help. That’s never going to go away. I’m always going to want that validation. It’s just my personality. It’s like a flaw I have. I like knowing that people need me and want me involved. Whether it's a girl or a work thing or whatever, it's something that I deal with constantly—needing approval and validation and I work really hard for that. Every time I'm like okay I think I want to ask this person for an interview and every time that person says yes I'm like so excited.
What’s your favorite skate mag that’s out right now? Could be print or online.
Can I just say Big Brother? Haha, I have every Big Brother at home. But I like every mag for different things. Thrasher is just dominating right now which is amazing. It's rad to see Thrasher do so well. I used to write for Transworld for many years. The Berrics is cool because of what they did with the online thing. Jenkem is cool cause they are doing things that skate mags and other sites wouldn’t dare do, and they have become something really cool in the industry. And then there are people like you who are doing cool shit too. It sounds like such a pussy answer cause I’m like shouting out everyone but I look at it like, there are all these mags and each one is bringing something different to skateboarding. There are even guys overseas like that online mag Grey, those dudes are sick. Fuckin' King Shit in Canada, that's super cool too. Dave Carnie and Chris Nieratko are involved in that mag and those are guys I look up to who were friends of mine. Anything they do, I’m a huge fan of.
Who would you say is your favorite skate journalist?
Dave Carnie. He’s one of the Big Brother dudes. Chris is for sure my other one. But even Chris will tell you that Dave is the best skate writer, and incredibly talented in general. He’s like above and beyond. Even his emails, he makes them so effortlessly brilliant. Just writing back and forth and I'm always like “Oh my gosh he put this much time into making emails fun.” Honestly I think he just wants to be self entertained. He's amazing.
Did you come up with the concept for Weekend Buzz?
Yes and no. The original concept was more along the lines of what “Skate Line” but with multiple people. RIDE Channel came to me before RIDE Channel even started, before that they were called “Shred or Die” and Tony Hawk had this like skater YouTube site and that’s where Free Lunch started, it was on “Shred or Die”. YouTube came to Tony to create the RIDE Channel and basically my friend Jesse, who used to be a vert pro for Zoo York and now runs Asphalt Yacht Club, told me that he wanted to do a show where I would host a weekend update where we talk about the news and make fun of people. I was open to it, but at the same time I felt kind of weird cause I was a little bit older (like 35 or something) and I was like, “I don’t know if I want to talk shit on camera. It can be fun sometimes but it could also bring a lot of drama into your life and I would be dealing with a lot of backlash.” I just don’t think I wanted that at the time. I was like that when I was younger and writing blogs and stuff, being all critical, but I was so passed that. There are too many people out there that are doing that now and I didn’t want to be in that same swimming pool—it’s too easy. To me that’s not being a real artist or writer. I just wanted to do what I am best at and to me that’s interviewing. So we all got in a room and had some sample guests. We tested out different formats. At first we would just sit there and watch YouTube videos and throw out comments. Then, as time went on, we taped a couple episodes and I was like “Dude this isn’t really working the way we want it, let’s just get two guests and have some drinks and let me just interview people and tell their stories.” Actually the drinking part was Jesse’s idea. Originally they wanted to drink and gossip, kind of like that TMZ show where they sit around and talk about the internet or whatever. I think originally it would have been something like that but it just wasn’t working. I didn't create the idea but I helped shape it to what it is now. A couple test episodes in I was like dude Erica [Yary] would be perfect. It would be so rad to have a girl here, it would be a different dynamic, and she's pretty, everyone likes her, and she knows about skateboarding. I think I helped steer the show into the direction to where it is now, they had an idea of what they wanted and I tweaked it a little. Then Skate Line ended up flourishing and it was so funny, I was with the producers of Weekend Buzz and we watched the first episode of Skate Line and I was like “This is exactly what you guys wanted me to do, maybe we can get Skate Line on the RIDE Channel.” It was perfect and they became a part of RIDE Channel. Now they are at Thrasher, but it sort of worked out perfectly.
What has it been like working on Weekend Buzz without Erica? Why haven’t you guys asked her to come back on?
This is something you have to think about creatively. Erica did her thing with Stance and just like she explained in her interview with you, her career and her life went in a different direction and we kind of took a big break. We have to do what’s best for the show, there was an opportunity to bring the show in a new direction and that’s no offense to Erica. She said she contributed to the show incredibly and made it everything that it was. Think of it like a relationship. If someone is like “Hey I’m too busy I’ve got this other thing going on and I can’t really date you anymore because I don’t have time to be your fulltime girl-/boyfriend,” you sort of have to like move on you know? And you don’t just want to sit there and be like the “sometimes girl-/boyfriend”. Erica didn’t do anything wrong, there was no drama, nothing. She had a situation where she needed to go in a certain career direction, we had to keep the show going, and it was an opportunity to be like “Okay well we can do things with Lee and the show can now have a different vibe.” There was nothing wrong with Erica, It was just a chance to do something else. Once you go down that path you can’t go back. You don’t want to go back and have Erica half the time and then half the time Lee. We had to go in a new direction and I am not saying that Erica can’t come and fill in for one of us. I told Erica and we talked about it that if there is a week that I can’t do the show or Lee can’t do the show then she should totally come fill in. But it would be going backwards. No diss on Erica, the show has digged a new path and it’s just different.
Would you have her on the show to interview her?
I have invited her to be a guest but I don’t think she wants that. Cause it's not easy to be a guest on Weekend Buzz. I am so thankful for everyone that has come on and there were times where I pitched the idea of doing something called “Backwards Buzz” where Erica comes on as a guest. But I think Erica might be a little too shy and too much of a lady to want to be under that light. I would love to have her as a guest but she politely declined.
What are your thoughts about that Chase Gabor episode that caused all that online controversy on Slap? If you saw the way people reacted to that episode would you have still let it run?
I don’t think I would have ever asked the question because it is not my intention to do an interview and have anything negative come out of it for someone. I was pre-interviewing Chase’s brother cause someone was like “Hit up Chase’s brother and see if you can get some funny stories” you know? I may have told this somewhere before but this is exactly what happened. Chase’s brother sent me a text and he sent me some funny stuff, and one of the things said “Ask him about screwdrivers.” It was that simple. So I wrote in my notes “Ask about screwdrivers.” I honestly, in my head, thought, “Well it's probably referring to the first time they got drunk, maybe they were drinking screwdrivers”— I just had no idea. So I put it in the notes and every week before the show I shared my notes with Erica and she would give me notes that she dug up. We always shared notes and we would never plan who asks what, it’s not that organized. We just go through questions, like handing it off to each other and she asked the question. Then the next thing you know Chase gave that answer and I was like “Holy shit, I don’t even know how to react to this.” Some people gave me shit cause I was sort of like laughing.
Yeah but when you are in that situation it’s like what are you supposed to do, you know?
Yeah yeah and I was just so confused like I had no idea. I didn’t know what was going to happen and I don’t control the edits of the show. We taped the show and to be honest I am so wrapped up in the show and the interview that I just want to get home when I’m done and I didn’t even really think about it. That really threw me off, but by the time the interview was over I didn’t really think about it. Every week I just go home and then they edit the show.
When it aired were you like “Woah holy shit that’s fucked!” or was it the Slap Forum that kind of opened you up to it and realize like “Oh shit he might lose his career over this.”
No it was something I realized right after, like damn that’s pretty heavy. Seeing the way everyone reacted to it at first my thoughts were, “Okay there is messed up shit that kids do to each other,” you know?
Yeah! That was my perspective on it also!
Yeah, I mean when I was a kid I had a lot of shit happen to me. People spitting on me, I’ve been beat up before, food thrown on me. My initial reaction was like “Man kids do a lot of fucked up shit to each other.” Chase told that story about himself as a young kid and maybe it’s really not that big of a deal. So I was like yeah I mean kids kind of do fucked up shit and then I saw the reactions to it and I was like “Wow this is way more serious than I thought.” Allegedly, that’s not even what really happened. The rest of it is for Chase to tell. But from what I heard there is a different story and it’s not the story that was told on the show. If Chase decides to come out and tell that story then that’s up to him, but it’s not my story to tell. It sucks because based on what I know Chase is getting a lot of shit that he doesn’t deserve to get. I feel bad because I would never want to put anyone in that situation and I also feel bad if anyone feels that I made light of the situation on air. Cause if you look at mine and Geoff Rowely and Erica’s faces we were all like “Woah!” But we had to keep the show going. I was shocked, like at an uncomfortable awkward laughter, and then I just moved on. If my reaction upset anyone because they think I take a situation like that lightly, I totally don’t and I apologize. But most people with a brain should understand that.
To wrap things up are there any last words?
Thank you to the people who read my stuff and watch my show. I am always open to ideas and advice from outside people. To those people out there who leave comments defending us against the people who write shitty comments, thank you. I am thankful for everyone who has helped me and for everyone that pays attention to what I do.