Where are you from, Aaron? Upstate New York, two and a half hours from the city. Cuddebackville. The name says it all. There were cows, fields, woods, and rivers.
Is that where you get your quest for nature? Indeed.
Growing up in a small town, you’ve got to get out sometimes. When did you start making road trips? I was probably 16 when I first went to the city for skating, once a month or so. But we had some stuff to skate in the area, too—not a lot, but we made shit happen. A couple mini-ramps, schools, empty parking lots. About 40 minutes away was a sick indoor park that went on for a couple years, until they started throwing raves there. That’s when things started going sour. Ravers would throw a bunch of baby powder all over the floor and make it slippery. We’d be falling all over the place. Also, I think someone overdosed one night and they shut the place down. Bummer.
Who was the road crew? My friend Frank Natiello was the one who I skated with the most. He’d drive anywhere, anytime; always down to skate. We’d link up with our friends Jamie Story and Justin Pierce, too. They lived about 40 minutes away from us. And anyone else who was down to roll.
What were some of the destinations? Obviously New York City, but we would also trek to Baltimore, DC, and Philly. We did a lot of rural expeditions, too. Small towns that were nearby.
"Cuddebackville. The name says it all"
Why those places? Because they weren’t that far away, and we knew they had stuff to skate.
When did you first get sponsored? My first sponsor was Tri-State, a sister company off Brooklyn Boards that Dan Zimmer started. Moved out to Tucson when I was 19. I think it was in ’93 when Dan started up that company. Jamey Storey, Mike Connolly, and Jay Maldonado were a couple of the riders. I got on just from skating with those guys. Tri-State lasted about a year. Then it consolidated to Brooklyn Boards. My first trip to Europe was with Brooklyn Boards, following the circuit. It was really cool. That was probably ’95. Brooklyn went under, and I was kicking it in Tucson doing my thing. Got a call from the New Deal team manager, Blake, and he started sending me boxes. I rode for them for less than a year. Got a couple packages. They changed the TM and revamped. I got one last box and made it back to the city. Met up with Steve R from 5Boro through my friend Ben Wall. Started skating with those guys, and soon after Steve put me on. That was rad. Rode for them for about five or six years.
And you went to school in upstate New York? I went to Buffalo State for two semesters, right after I graduated high school in ’93 or ’94. I skated so much up there. We were on skate missions all the time. It was only a year, but it seemed like three. You’ve been sponsored for quite a while. How old were you when you turned pro? I was 24 or 25. Little late for these days, I guess. But it happened, so shit, I’m stoked it all worked out.
Were you ever really concerned about going pro? I’m sure it was in the back of my mind, but I don’t remember stressing on it. I was working off and on for my dad here and there, and in coffee shops both in Arizona and New York.
Frontside blunt. Photo: Bush
What kind of work did you do with your dad? He’s a contractor. We would do carpentry work upstate, near Albany. I would take a month or two hiatus from skating so I could stay in the city for the rest of the summer. I would have it all planned out. After work at my dad’s house, I’d put on the headphones and skate a curb. Sometimes hook up a session with the locals. It was two months of mellow skating, but after I got paid it was on. Skated my ass off. I didn’t mind it, I was psyched to be upstate learning some tricks of the trade, hanging out with dad. My mom and the rest of my family weren’t too far away, either. So I would do the family thing, then go skate.
Who were you riding for when you went pro? 5Boro. When I turned pro I could actually live off my check for a little bit. All the pieces started falling into place. I definitely owe it to a lot of people who looked out for me, letting me crash on their couch or sub-letting me a room. Cheers to them.
There seemed to be a crew of you guys that went from 5Boro to Birdhouse, then Zoo York. Seamus was the 5Boro TM. He got an offer to team manage Birdhouse when Donny Barley was on. They took Westgate and Shetler at first. I think it might have been Shetler, myself, and then Westgate. Anyhow, we all ended up on Birdhouse eventually, for two or three years. Then Seamus had an opportunity to be the TM at Zoo, and with Seamus came the rest of the package. And here we are. I’ve been on Zoo for about four years now.
How did you get on Emerica? That was around 1999, 2000. Reda threw my name out there for an East Coast rider. I did really good at Tampa that year, and they invited me on an Australian tour. It was so sick. It was around that time when Remy put me on Volcom. I was all set up.
It seems Volcom and Emerica have been really good to you, backing you even while riding for a small company like 5Boro. They were down. From the get-go they were pretty supportive, for sure.
"Hensley skated the ramp then jammed out on the porch"
What brought you to Arizona? After the college thing I went home for the summer upstate. Linked up with a couple of my friends and discussed the options of what to do with ourselves. DJ mentioned he had an aunt out here in Tucson. He made a phone call and she said it was all good. So we hopped on the bus, Gus. We didn’t want to impose on her for too long—they kind of had a full house as it was with a baby and a toddler, and then three dirty skate rats, too. So we hustled, found jobs and a place to live within three weeks, and the rest is history. We rented a garage that was renovated into a guest house. It had a living room, kitchen, hallway, bathroom, and one bedroom in the far back. We divided our bed spaces with cardboard boxes on the floor. Then we had stragglers coming out from New York, plus the Arizona homies. Sometimes we had eight or nine bodies all over the floor. It was ridiculous. We were just skating, doing our thing, exploring Tucson pretty much. Then we eventually upgraded. We rented our dream house with a backyard mini-ramp and a bowl, live music, dogs. We made our childhood dreams come true. It was pretty awesome. Pros would be coming through to skate the ramp. Flogging Molly came through after a show. Hensley skated the ramp then jammed out on the porch.
How many of that original crew are still in Tucson? We’re all still here.
Did you almost move to Portland? I have a lot of friends from New York there as well. I like the mellow vibe of that city. We checked it out a couple times. It’s still an option. That place is so polar-opposite of here. Here’s dry, and Portland’s pretty wet.
Pole jam 5-0. Sequence: Bush
And you have a daughter? I do.
How old is she? Two and a half.
How have things in your life changed since she came along? Obviously it made me grow up a little more. Time management. My time to skate and to do other things is more valuable. When I go out, I try to make it count. I’m with her a lot. Early-morning wake up calls, 7:00 am every day. I’m used to it now. Well, kind of. I sometimes have trouble waking up that early because I don’t go to bed until late. After she goes to sleep, it’s my time. But it’s been awesome; she allows me to tap into other things in life and re-live childhood through her eyes. I still travel, I just don’t have that extra-extra freedom.
No more skate all day, party all night. Those days are few and far between. I can’t handle that anymore, anyway.
What’s your favorite city to skate? I heard China is rad, but I’ve never been. Spain. Barcelona—it was amazing when I went there. New York City is awesome, and Australia, for sure. Those are my top three.
Is there any place you never want to go back to? I don’t think so, man. It’s’s all been gravy. I think I repress memories of the bad places, but maybe I shouldn’t in case I’m about to go there again. But I think it’s all been good.
"I like style and fluidness better"
Where’s your favorite place to live? Tucson has been awesome, but I wonder about living someplace else. I’ve been entertaining the idea. I’ve been here since ’94. It’s a small-town vibe. We have the mountains here. Upstate NY would be cool, Portland would be cool. But I’m unsure. Maybe I’ll just move to Nantucket on a whim.
Would you move to NYC? I don’t think so. I like to visit, but it’s too much for me. I’ve spent plenty of time there over the years. Six months here, six months there, after six months I was ready to go. I need to live around a mellower vibe.
Have you ever lived in California? No, not at all. I stayed there for a couple weeks while on Birdhouse. It’s pretty cool, I like the beach and stuff, but I’m more of a freshwater guy. Lakes and rivers. Here I am saying that and I live in the desert; however, I just did a three-day backpack trip in the mountains near Tucson. We had a good winter and there was water everywhere. We needed that.
Backside kickflip. Photo: Bush. Click to image to enlarge.
What makes a good video part? Obviously doing something different. I like creative skating, for sure. Variety, for sure. Street, tranny, everything combined. I don’t feel I’ve pulled it off yet, but it’s something to strive for. Just some creative clips. I’m down with the daredevil shit, I like watching it, but I like style and fluidness better.
Where does all the money go? I’m not a flashy guy, so no bling for me. I don’t even have a car. I drive my girl’s. So I guess home improvements, bills, bills and bills—Uncle Scam, of course—and diapers. I’m trying to save as much as I can, but something’s always breaking.
Where did all the time go? It’s still here, isn’t it?
How does a guy like you keep up with the young, seemingly indestructible kids? What’s your strategy? I don’t know if I am. I’m just doing my thing, rolling with it, you know. I skate the same as I always have. A couple new tricks under my belt, but I look for stuff that’s a little different. That’s the stuff I like to skate. Where I grew up we had random shit to ride. I like it out here; I do a lot of work on ditches. Ditches are so rad. A little work and cement, paint, whatever—shit—a whole new spot. That’s the stuff I really like doing, building a new spot. Something for me to skate and for the others, too. Three hours of work with cement when you build something to make it skateable.
You were on the last King of the Road. How was it? We came in last, it was sick. It was an awesome experience, road warrior-style. We kind of fucked up here and there, made some poor decisions about spots. Shetler got hurt right off the bat so we were a man down, but he got the eyebrow piercing. Skated with Skate Ninja in Colorado, met some other cool folks along the way.
What’s next? The future. Finish up the Emerica part. I hurt my foot a few weeks ago. I got another week off my foot. Then full force, get what I can for this video, make it as good as I can. After that, possible surgery to get rid of the bones spurs in my ankle. That’s been hindering my skating a lot. Probably in July. Go to Woodward East. I’ve been there four years’ running. Then Volcom is doing a pretty rad tour at the end of August—Chicago, Montana, Washington, and Portland. So, yeah, just looking forward to the end of the Emerica video. Everyone’s busting their ass off. It’s going to be great. The first one was amazing and I’m really looking forward to this one.
Final words? Thanks to everyone who’s supported me along the way: My family, all the couch surf hosts, everyone who’s looked out for me over the years.
In This Issue Classic power meets innovation on the March front as AVE goes over the back to switch 5-0 in NYC. There's 14 more pages of Van Engelen inside, so don't sweat it; Cyril Jackson talks about skating the streets (and sleeping in them), the Naawwsty Crew rolls deep from ATL to FL; Krooked krushes Korea; the Deathwish team spreads some love on the East Coast and Shane O'Neill has a killer ten-page feature. You heard what he did at Wallenberg, right? Add this one to your collection.