Aaron Herrington's "Homeward Bound" Interview
Herrington rides for Cons and Polar, but he'll say he's the furthest thing from a "cool guy." It's that attitude and a stunning new part from his old haunts in Oregon that makes him one of our favorites. Get to know him better in this wide-ranging interview from our February '24 mag. —Ted Schmitz
Like a fish in water, Herrington handles Portland's choppy spots with home-grown finesse
Hey, Aaron, how’s it going?
I can’t complain; just chillin’ with my girlfriend in New York at the moment.
Can you walk right now?
Yeah, I can walk. I actually got the okay to start skating already at four months out from surgery. I’ve been beasting on the PT. I go to the gym all the time and go to PT twice a week. I’m walkin’ a lot and trying to stay active.
Whether it’s Portland or NYC, Aaron can’t escape the crust. Gap to lip on a concrete ice block
That’s great to hear. Let’s go back. How did you injure your knee?
I was skating with Jon Colyer and Joe Brook a lot, going back and forth to Portland to work on this interview. Jon and Joe were both going to leave on trips, but I really wanted to get one more clip and photo to finish it off. The deadline we put on ourselves was coming up and I needed to get back to New York. I remember thinking, I could not skate today and wait two weeks for them to get back, but then I’m gonna be thinking about it the whole time. So I found this cool gap-to-gap hubba and rail in a parking lot. It was kind of weird and super steep. It was sketchy, but not that crazy in my mind. I just thought I’d ollie, skim the 5-0 and be riding away in five minutes. We show up and there’s cars there. The first attempt, I ollie over, bail and land kinda straight–legged. It felt kinda wonky and put some stress on my left leg. I gave myself 15 seconds, then I ran back up like, Alright, I’m gonna do it right here. Then the same bail happens. I go too fast, overshoot it and land straight-legged. My left knee just buckled inward and then I scorpioned into the street probably eight feet—tore the pads off both my hands like I’ve never done. You could see the bone of my pinky finger. The way my knees bent, it just pole-vaulted me forward. I get up and I’m just like, Fuck, my knee. I start to walk it off, stretching my knee and it pops really intensely. I’m like, Whoa, my knee just popped back in place.
Were you freaking out?
I’m prescribed anxiety medication for some mental-health stuff. I started feeling a little panic coming on, so I’m like, Okay, let me take this medication because I could go into a full panic attack here and not handle the situation accordingly. So I kind of calmed down. About 30 minutes goes by and my shit’s just throbbing and aching. I could walk. I could bend it. It felt pretty normal, but if I stood on my board and pushed, it just felt so off. Then I made the common mistake of going to the hospital and just asking for an X-ray—which I knew I needed an MRI. I went through the motions. I saw an orthopedist ten days later and within ten seconds of feeling my knee, doing what’s called the Lachman’s test, he was like, Your knee is completely gone. There’s nothing inside of there other than your LCL that’s keeping your knee attached. That was in April or May.
From the foot-wide to the head-high, this ride-on 50-50 is precarious as hell
First off, I just almost threw up. Second off, was this your first big injury to your knee?
So on that one, I tore my ACL, meniscus and my MCL. I’d had other issues before from hyperflexing my knee. That was about six months before the recent one. But the first time I had adrenaline going and was still able to get the clip. It felt shitty afterwards and those results said a similar thing. It was like, You tore your ACL; you did this and you did that. But by the time I had gotten the results back, I had filmed my ender for the Polar video and some other clips. I was like, It can’t be possible that my knee is destroyed. I have an orthopedic surgeon who’s a good friend of mine and he looked at the MRI diagnosis and was like, It’s not as bad as they say. They have to cover all bases and make sure that if it’s a bone bruise, they’re gonna say it’s a fracture. If it’s a slight overstretching of the tendon they’re gonna say it’s torn. But I had torn my MCL in September and didn’t know it. So when I got my diagnosis for my ACL reconstruction, my MCL was already partially repairing itself. So my surgeon cut my MCL and then cut open my quadricep. And then that’s where I got my new ACL, from inside my own quad. I got my quad grafted in and then I got this thing called an implant ramp and then six lovely incision sites as well.
Long step out to back blunt, the man loves a stretch Photo: Coulthard
Goddamn. This seems to be a uniquely American pro-skater problem. Like if a pro baseball player feels even a slight pinch, they see a string of specialists that go into every diagnostic possible and give them the best PT around. You just have to get the bare minimum and tough it up or walk it out. Seems like we should have the same health standards.
Yeah, with the things that I know now at 34, if I would have been as disciplined when I was 25, God only knows if I would have even had this injury. I’ve learned now that certain muscles and parts of your body, your hips, your pelvic area, your tibialis muscles—which are at the front of your shins—and all these other things all correspond within your body. If one thing is out of whack, then you’re gonna overcompensate for the other. Essentially, that’s what I did for months without realizing it. After my MCL tear, it would hurt; it would pinch a lot. And then all in that day it just gave way. I try to look at people who ride bikes or run or play soccer—not even professionally—they seem to take their body more seriously than most skateboarders do. They train, buy the bibs, the whole kit and it’s just their hobby. Even when skateboarding is your job, we don’t take the same appreciation and care for our bodies.
Yeah. It’s a hard balance, because you’re not just trying to do tricks, but you’re also selling a look and attitude about street life. If you bomb a hill and you look like you have a diaper full of hip pads, you’re gonna look insane. So you have to also consider the fashionable standards of the moment as well.
As difficult as it is, you can’t go 100-percent into something; you still have to keep the identity you have within skateboarding.
You can’t go full jock.
Yeah, but I see Stevie Williams on Instagram; he’s in his 40s and he’s fucking jacked. Or I watched this Felipe Gustavo documentary about the rehab stuff he does, and he’s one of the best skaters on the planet. Listening to him talk about training and all these other things, he doesn’t make it his personality or character, but he takes it so seriously and I was like, Dude, no wonder you can switch back tail hubbas first try in Street League. As I’ve aged, I start to really get inspired by these stories or by seeing other individuals who want to take care of themselves. You just got to put in the effort and you see results.
Callin’ in Stevie’s ups for a big back 180
So you put in the work. You had surgery in June and you’re already cleared to start skating. How is that possible?
Well, I haven’t started skating yet, because I don’t feel confident yet and I don’t want to get overzealous. I’ve been extremely regimented with what my physical therapy has to be. In the past, I broke my ankle and I didn’t do my PT. I realized like, Damn, when it’s cold, it’s stiff. With plates and screws and my negligence of the physical therapy, I really did make things a little difficult. I’m doing stuff now that’s all from my knee, but it’s also really good for my ankle as well. So I’m kind of trying to do two birds with one stone. But right when I got out of surgery, they said I gotta do these stretches or this ice machine twice a day. Once I got cleared to walk, I was moving. I live in a fourth-floor walk-up and I think that helps. I’m not good at sitting still. Even if I go to the gym, I’m still gonna walk an hour and a half before or after. My surgeon told me if I didn’t get to a specific range of motion in one month, I was going to have to get a second surgery and it was like, Alright, I’m NOT doing that. So I made myself work through the stiffness. I was vegan for about eight years, then I crashed that diet and I started eating red meat. I started eating a lot of fish. I started taking collagen peptides and all these other things and I’ve been building up more muscle. So my surgeon said I could try skating up to my ability, and to avoid cracks and rocks—but it’s New York City. I’m in no personal rush. I want to get to be 110-percent and then come back swinging.
How have you maintained your mental health and your relationship with substances as you’ve had your main outlet taken away?
To be completely transparent, I’ve never stopped smoking weed. So as far as my sobriety, I try to be careful with using that word, because it’s very precious for some people. I just haven’t drank for what’s coming on six years now. I made the choice to stop drinking alcohol because of the issues I was having with my mental health. At the time, alcohol was just exasperating those things. Truth is, I’m getting older. I’m 34; I’ll be 35 by the time I’m able to skate again. So honestly, the biggest thing that upset me the most was my age when the injury happened. I had my surgery on my birthday—Happy birthday to me. I would say it was the biggest anxiety and stressor that I had. But then you start to realize aging is out of your control. What am I gonna do, not age, not die? There were definitely times that were super dark, of course. But I’ve been taking different medications for my mental health and I can say the last six years have been the happiest years of my life. That being said, even having this injury, I was able to look at it as taking a break from the physical demands that I’ve put on my body for the last 15 years. I was able to step back and think, This is the break I need to learn to love skateboarding as I did when I was a child. Having something that you love taken away from you is awful, but at the same time, for better or for worse, it’s going to change you—most likely for the better. And then I’m also a gamer. I try not to devote too much of my time to that. I do it in the evenings, mostly.
What’s your game?
I’m a Call of Duty guy. But besides video games, I also draw a fair amount and doodle skate spots I’d like to build. It’s good to have other options when you can’t skate.
Do you watch a lot of skating in your downtime? Do you keep up with the sites?
Yeah, I have my YouTube subscriptions that I follow and things like that. This probably goes for a lot of people, but I try to watch the things that have my friends in it. At the same time I could watch Ish Cepeda skate or Robert Neal and I’m like, That’s fucking sick. I’m starting to diversify a little bit and I honestly watch a lot of BMX and snowboarding.
The back 180 fakie 5-0 was once relegated to schoolyard benches, but Aaron takes it higher
Is that because you’re looking for inspiration on big terrain?
Snowboarding is relatable because it’s a board sport, but it’s so OD. They’re like switch 270 backlipping 20-flat-20 handrails. You can’t not respect it, in my opinion. With BMX, there’s dudes like Mike Hoder from Seattle. He rides with no pegs, has brakes, but grinds handrails on his lug nuts—literally with no pegs! He does the biggest 360s. It’s just so overdone that I think it’s sick.
Yeah, they can hit things or build ramps to things that materialize fantasy in ways we can’t.
And there’s different aspects to street-level snowboarding, which I never knew. There are some dudes that use a winch, and maybe aren’t as respected as if you do it with natural speed.
Is it funny to see the cultural norms reflected? Using a bungee for a us is a little passé.
Oh yeah, there’s only certain dudes that maybe get a pass using a bungee in skating.
I’ll give Sheckler a pass.
That’s who I was referring to.
On that note, are boardslide yank-outs over? Are you still going to continue that fight?
I read Cyrus’ Five Greats and he put them under tricks he’ll never do. Because I respect Cyrus’ skating so much, I was like Fuck, man. I’ve filmed plenty up to that point. But if I were to start skating tomorrow, 100-percent I would never do one again. There’s probably gonna be one in Paul’s video and one in this Polar Japan video and then it’s a wrap.
Boardslide around and out, no yank in sight
You’re one of the great rail skaters of our time. Do you feel like rail skating has kind of gotten less interesting as it’s gotten more figured out?
Oh, the crosslock? People used to grind rails on your toe edge or heel edge and there wasn’t a whole lot of that crosslock. It was sketchy. But take Kyle Walker grinding the kinked rail in LA. That will never get old to me. But if you’re grinding a 30-flat-30-flat-30 and it’s long and mellow, just crosslocked the whole time kind of chillin’ on it, it’s doesn’t seem as intense. Backside 50-50 kind of naturally does it, but frontside I feel like it’s more of a Hail Mary. Like Gabriel Summers, some of the different 50s that he does are just like, Whoa, bro! That Rob Pace part recently, in that video part he does the triple 50-50 at the end. He gaps to the third one and gets to the toe edge and he stands up and holds on. That’s a really good one.
Yeah, you gotta show that you might not have it figured out.
I think a good example of that is Jim Greco. In those Wilshire tapes, he does the back lip and the back 5-0. You can still tell there’s some sketchiness to it. He’s the GOAT.
A tale of two pipes: ollie off the big boy to 50-50 on the K Slim
He’s had an honorable career. You’ve made your name as a video-part skater. Crafting these things slowly and intentionally is becoming more untenable. Do you look back at Static and the Polar videos as the more honorable discipline, or do you feel like it’s actually good to let things kind of be more temporal and less precious?
I’ll always view the Static series as my best work. That’s what most people bring up to me. That was around the time that I moved to New York and had been filming with Jeremy Elkin, making parts I was proud of. Meeting Josh was kind of a dream come true. I grew up watching those videos with Bobby Puleo, Pat Stiener, Jack Sabback and those guys. I also just look at Static as what opened the door for my career. Then in the digital age, I do miss looking forward to videos with ads in magazines. You wanted those hard copies. Now, you might not want to take in a whole video; you just want to watch one person’s part. Like I saw Trevor Thompson’s part in Static VI on Thrasher today, and that was awesome. But if I didn’t get the hard copy, I might not see the whole video. I’ll always view video parts, photos and magazine content as the most important stuff, because that’s the generation that I’m from.
And you’ve got a new video part coming out in Paul Young’s Down By Law, which had an ad in the mag!
Yeah. I filmed most of my Polar part with Paul and we have a really good rapport. Once we were done with that, he shifted back to only bringing his VX out and I’m really proud to have a good VX part with him. We went to Miami three times. We’ve been upstate a bunch. I broke my ribs while filming this one, broke three boards in Miami. We worked pretty serious on it. The whole video is gonna be great.
So that’s an East Coast part, but you also have an all-Portland part. How important was it to make something all in your home state?
I’ve actually thought about it for probably ten years. After years being dishonest with myself about filming a part, I just thought, You know, I spend enough time there now. I met Jon Colyer and we just kind of feed off each other’s vision. I told him I wanted to film this part and kind of put on for my home state. Half the people I meet don’t even know I’m from Oregon. They either think I’m from Florida or New York. So it’s for my own personal sake, and then wanting to showcase some of what the Northwest has to offer for skating. The Cal’s Pharmacy video that came out this last year shows so much shit that you can skate in Portland. It’s one of the best cities to skate that kind of gets slept on a little bit. I just wanted to get back and pay homage to where I’m from.
Set the record straight. Who’s got the crustier spots: Portland or New York?
Portland, for sure. We don’t have marble in the same way in the Northwest. The weathering is so much worse. In New York, you can Bondo a spot and it might be good. Oregon, you gotta Bondo, lacquer, rub brick and blowtorch the ground to make it dry. It’s like four steps.
A Creature Fiend might take the rail, but the Static alumn’s always lookin’ for the bank less ridden. Ollie over into the chute
What’s the best place you’ve been to skate?
I’d say Tel Aviv, but that’s gonna be controversial. Besides the unfortunate circumstances of the country and surrounding areas, it was a very fun place to skate. Greece was a really cool place to skate. Athens and Thessaloniki were really cool. And then probably Malmö, Sweden where Pontus and Polar are from. It’s cool to see all Pontus’ spots just biking around.
How has it been to see Polar go from a start-up skate company to the most important pants brand in the world?
It’s been pretty insane. Many of us on the team have been a part of it for over ten years, which sounds crazy to say. It felt cool as an American joining a European board company to make it an international company. I’m not saying it was the first, but then seeing other international brands come up like Palace, Magenta, Pass~Port, Evisen and others is cool. Seeing the growth of Polar has been awesome. It’s been an honor. Seeing Pontus’ progression in the quality of products, the type of graphics and the board shapes is really cool. We’ve been able to have our hands in certain projects; there’s board graphics that we get to have a good say on and board shapes, too. I don’t know if everyone gets to have that.
Feeble tailgrab on the Isla del Encanto
Toward the end of your career would you rather milk it and fizzle or go out on top like Kirchart?
As the great Chet Thomas once said, “I’d like to skate until I can’t walk.” I would like to skate until I’m 45 like Joey Pepper. If it gets to a point where reality sets in and being an 18-year-old 35 year old has to stop, I have no qualms with getting a job or going into a trade. I talk about HVAC all the time. I’ve had an awesome life and awesome opportunities. If I have to make my living like most Americans, it’s like, Cry me river.
If someone is intimidated and wants to talk to you on a session, what should they do?
Just come up and say something dorky. I’m just as timid or shy as anybody else, but I’m very approachable. I’m always gonna communicate with someone who reaches out. I’d love to believe I’m on the furthest end of the spectrum of what we negatively view as a cool guy. I’ve had people reach out on Instagram that have asked about mental health or not drinking and I’ve made friends with some people for years now. Some people have showed me their Polar board and I’m like, Hell yeah, you helped pay my rent!
What happens when we die?
Fuck, I don’t know.
It’s kind of weird that if there are ghosts, there’s not that many of them. It seems like we just go away, right?
You know, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about that. I’m trying to live today, and if I’m worried about what’s happening after I die, I feel like I’m missing something today. I will get philosophical for a second: Let’s say heaven and hell—I think heaven and hell is a metaphor for the mindsets in which we live. It’s not an afterlife experience, it’s a living experience and you create your heaven or you create your hell. You can follow every doom-scrolling thing you see on social media and every clickbait thing online and live miserably, or you can slow it down and just be like, Yo, I gotta live for today.
Stop doom scrolling and watch Herrington create his own heaven, one bar hop to 50-50 at a time
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