Austin Stephens rode the radical wave of the early oughts with rail smarts, style and a fashion sense foreshadowing the fancy lads of today. When Toy Machine announced his retirement model (the first I can remember since ... Jason Lee?) I knew I had to catch up with him to talk Jesus, motivation maintenance and what he was thinking during all those long, silent miles in the van. Thanks Stone!
Posted: December 19, 2013
Backside 5-0 at Fake Workman's
"I never doubted choosing Toy Machine."
How was the Olive Garden?
I didn't go, luckily. I guess that's just an Emerica thing.
That's the urban myth. You know you're getting kicked off Emerica when they take you to Olive Garden?
Who decided you were done being pro, you or Toy Machine?
It was my choice.
You had a pretty good run, right?
Definitely. Ten years, I think. Close to ten years.
Not bad. At what age did you get on the team?
Nineteen. And now I'm 33.
The handsome ham in a Butch/Deanna sandwich.
Dang. There's your youth! How was it?
It was cool.
Looking back, did you make the right choice to pursue skateboarding?
Yeah. I mean, you can't really look back and dwell on that stuff much. But yeah, I got to travel the world. That was the thing I'm most thankful for. That's an opportunity not many people get. I got to see a lot of the world and do it with close friends. That's pretty cool.
People may not know this, but as an amateur you had a choice between Toy Machine or Zero. Do you think you made the right choice?
Definitely. I never doubted choosing Toy Machine. I got along really well with Ed and Deanna and the team at the time. It just felt like family all the way. It was a good fit. It still does.
What are all the other sponsors you had?
Sessions was my very first sponsor. That was my first photo in a magazine, too. Then there was Emerica, Toy Machine. I was on WESC for a little bit. Then RVCA.
"At Tampa Pro I took my first run and tried to kickflip the pyramid five times and then my time was up."
Kickflip back tail at The Wedge, back when you didn't have to bigspin out.
What were those weird shoes you were wearing for a little bit?
Oh, Beloe. I quit Emerica for a shoe company that Russ Pope was starting with Ethan Fowler and myself called Beloe. It lasted about three months or something.
Income-wise, what was your biggest year?
I don't know. I never made a lot of money. I never had a big year or anything like that. I never had a signature shoe with a big company. I think that's where the big money is.
What about your biggest contest finish?
I skated Tampa Am once and Tampa Pro once. At Tampa Pro I took my first run and tried to kickflip the pyramid five times and then my time was up. I don't think I took another run after that.
What video part are you most proud of? Did you put out a part that you feel really represents you and your skating?
No. I never really put out the part I really wanted to, but the one I felt came the closest was Suffer the Joy. That was a lot of really cool trips during that time. When I watch that it brings back a lot good memories of cool places with close friends. There's definitely stuff I would take out of it and change if I could, though.
"They mean a lot more to me than just the skating."
Salad 180 at the world's smallest 10 stair. Corona, CA.
How come you never filmed the part you really wanted?
I guess it just never came together. I like each of my parts for what they are, though. I like that they're different from one another. I like looking back on them because they remind me of a time in my life. There's so many other things attached to them besides just the skating. They mean a lot more to me than just the skating.
Do you have a proudest accomplishment as a pro skater?
I haven't put too much thought into that.
When you got on the team everybody quit, right?
Yeah, Brian Anderson, Brad Staba and Elissa were the team when I got on and then they all quit on the same day shortly after. So Ed and I started going through sponsor-me tapes. We started keeping our eye out for people. I was living at Ed's house at the time when all that stuff went down.
Was Josh first?
Caswell was first. Then Diego. Then Josh.
Then Billy, Matt B and Johnny and all them?
Yeah, they were a little younger than I was but I knew of all those kids because of living out there. Matt B skated with my younger brother.
"You got to pass the torch sometime, right?"
Shifty in Moscow.
How many times have you seen Ed naked?
I have no idea. Not too many. A few? A handful of times, maybe? On tour? He usually covers up when people are around.
Were you surprised to see how much Ed has been eclipsed by Johnny in the public boner department?
What do you mean?
Well, Ed was the boner guy and now Johnny has really stolen his thunder.
He really did. No, I'm not surprised by it. You got to pass the torch sometime, right?
And what better guy to pass it to? They both ride for Toy Machine. It works.
"They'd say I was a unicorn."
Blinding blunt fakie in Scandanavia.
It's a strong legacy. Everyone on the team gets teased, especially on RVCA. What did you get teased about most often?
Yeah, and Leo.
It wasn't so bad. They'd mostly just say stupid comments about being handsome or pretty or something like that.
Didn't they accuse you of being a unicorn?
Yeah. They'd say I was a unicorn. Just stuff like that. It's hard to even know where that stuff originates.
How did you get the name A-Stone?
Diego, maybe? It may have started as A-stoniuous Monk. Ed used to say that.
I though you got it from P-Stone.
It may have been from that trip with P-Stone to South America. Then Diego started calling me A-Stone.
Do you like the nickname A-Stone?
Yeah. I'm cool with it.
"As long as your not trying to hurt anyone physically or verbally I'm ok with you."
Did you ever hook up with a girl you met at a demo or on tour?
No, actually, not really.
But you were pursued a few times, right?
Yeah, probably. It was too awkward and weird. Most of the time it was teenage girls or something. I was 23 when I turned pro. It just seemed weird. I feel like maybe it's different these days. Maybe people turn pro younger. Maybe it isn't different. What do you think?
They seem really, really young to me, but I'm old.
When I first met you you were pretty into being Christian. How's your relationship with The Lord these days?
Do you go to church?
"He punched the window out because he threw a board into Billy's head."
Backside O on the spot we should go to on every trip.
How does your faith manifest itself?
I don't know. That stuff's all really complicated, too.
Did you ever have the cross griptape?
No. I don't consider myself any religion these days. It's not so black and white. I'm not anti-God or anti-religion or anything like that. As long as your not trying to hurt anyone physically or verbally I'm ok with you. Whatever you believe. It doesn't matter. You can believe in whatever you want.
Do you remember the time Johnny punched the window of the van out?
I do. He punched the window out because he threw a board into Billy's head. That was weird.
That will go down in Toy Machine history as one of the stranger events.
"It changes it, without a doubt. It changes everything."
Here's the tough question: I remember you telling me this once, and I think it's pretty common but most people don't want to admit it, you told me that once you got sponsored or once you went pro, some of your motivation for skateboarding just kind of died.
Oh yeah, totally. It changes it, without a doubt. It changes everything. In those first few years of getting on Toy Machine - I don't want to sound like I'm whining.
It just changes. You've got all these eyes on you and there's pressure and deadlines. You're always getting compared to other people. Stuff like that. For me, at least, when I started skating none of those things existed. None of that was a part of it and that's why I was drawn to skating. It was just something to do that was fun. It changes once it becomes a job. I knew that going into it. I'm not stupid. But it changes it.
What did you do once that unfettered enthusiasm for skateboarding was gone and you had it as a job?
I just had to figure it out - figure out what kind of pro I wanted to be for myself. I knew I wasn't going to be the contest guy. I wasn't going to be the top guy on a shoe company or even on Toy Machine or anything like that. I just wanted to put out some cool photos and video parts and have fun doing it.
"I'm glad that they liked it. But I don't have to keep doing it just 'cause they liked it."
Copenhagen Summer, '07.
Were you cursed by the fact that you got sponsored for skating big rails?
It's not a curse.
Was there pressure to keep jumping on big rails?
Oh yeah. Always. From everyone.
How does it feel to jump down that stuff?
It was fun, at first. It was fun back then but that's not fun to me anymore. Things change. People change. That's just life. I don't care. I get it. It's funny 'cause I'll meet skaters, even today, and they'll be like, "Oh, you were so sick in This is Skateboarding." You know? And then that's all they have to say. "Thanks. Cool."
That stuff's really flashy.
And that's cool. And I'm glad that they liked it. But I don't have to keep doing it just 'cause they liked it.
Not gonna play Free Bird forever.
Exactly. My life. My choices.
I think there's a T-shirt about that. What was the best part of being pro?
Traveling with my friends. You get to see the world with a group of close friends on someone else's dime. You can't beat that.
"I don't really think about that stuff too much, 'cause who cares?"
Blunt in the UCI dungeon. photo: Dawes
Did being a pro skater make you lazy as a person?
That's a good question. I don't think it made me stupider. Maybe a little lazy, at the time. I don't think of myself as a lazy person, though. When the moment arrives I feel like I can get things done. I feel like I learned a lot from traveling and seeing how other people live. Skateboarding got me my job today. I'm working a job now that I like. I like the people I work with and I still get to travel. It's pretty good. I feel like even if I'd gone to college I wouldn't have been able to get job this good. I don't really think about that stuff too much, 'cause who cares?
You're the team manger of RVCA now, but I know you as being pretty soft spoken. After we heard you got the job we were joking that on your first trip as T.M. you'd get into the back of the van and open a paperback. Have you had to change your style a little bit to become the guy in charge?
Definitely a little bit. I feel like it had been changing over the years anyway. I'm good at getting things done. That's basically how I look at it. This is my job so I'm gonna do it.
Are you good at getting the skaters hyped up to kill that double kink?
I'd say so. I do it my own way. These guys are my friends, too. I'm fortunate to have riders who are my friends. We've known each other a long time so we just respect each other. They know their job and I know my job and we work together. It's a team effort.
Hell yeah he got a front!
So all those times on the trips when you were sitting quietly in the back of the van and we didn't hear from you for hours or days, were you secretly judging us?
No, of course not.
Me, specifically? Were you secretly judging me for every stupid thing that came out of my mouth?
No. That's not my style.
What were you thinking about back there?
I don't know. Probably some girl or somethin'.
What's next for Austin Stephens?
Just this. Work as a the RVCA skate team manager. Just keep working and skating.
So are you getting the Olive Garden dinner?
I don't think so.
So all you're getting for your retirement party is the board and this uncomfortable interview?
I guess so.
Well, good luck out there! I feel like you and I kinda grew up together, professionally, any way. Thanks for all the good times.
I owe a lot to you, Mike. I appreciate everything you've done for me. You and Thrasher.
Same over here! It's a symbiotic relationship.