Austyn Gillette Interview

ag1 NPhoto: Molinar

Sometimes it’s best not to overanalyze things. If you try to dissect Austyn’s skating, you won’t diminish the magic but you also won’t capture what makes his video parts so timeless. This guy is one of the modern greats and Radiant Cure is another chapter in his legacy. Check out this starkly candid interview where he discusses his family, Dylan Rieder, and what keeps him motivated.

What are you up to, Austyn?
I’m mounting a toilet-paper holder to the wall.

Mounting a paper holder to the wall?
A toilet-paper holder.

Oh, got it. So let’s get this started: you were born June 21st, 1991, right?
Yup. Save the date.

Do you know your birth sign?
I think so. Gemini? Cancer? Is that my birth sign?

ag5Floating a kickflip at the Dynasty Center  /  Photo: Peters

ag2Raging rooftops. Nollie backside flip Down Under  /  Photo: Robinson

Yeah, you’re a Gemini/Cancer cusp.
It’s a cusp?

I’ve been on bad dates and that’s usually where the date ends, when we start talking about that stuff.

This says you’re pretty special.
Troubled special. Yeah, I guess.

It says you’re a meticulous and emotional individual.
Very true. Is this our first date? Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty accurate.

Tell me about where you grew up and how you got into skating.
I grew up in Whittier, CA. That’s where I was born and I lived there ’til I was about ten. About a year or two before moving, my brother and I got completes for Christmas. I’m assuming my brother wanted a skateboard and I just wanted to follow suit and do whatever he did.

Were you naturally gifted or did you have to work hard to get good?
No, not at all. I had so many hobbies but skateboarding was way more challenging. I think that’s why it stuck. I think that’s what drew me more to it.

What was your favorite skate video when you were young and starting to really get into it?
I was probably watching Habitat videos at that time because that’s who I wanted to skate for.
ag pq1Did you compete when you were a kid?
The first contest I did was down in San Diego and Tony Hawk was there. It’s funny, since I’ve been cleaning up my house—I’m moving, actually—I saw the photo from that contest just yesterday of Tony Hawk and me at my first contest. I ended up getting first place, then got on Hawk.

You were on Hawk?

How long did that last for?
Four or five years.

And then straight to Habitat?
Yeah, I went pro on Habitat.

ag4Frontside heelflip, fantastic LA  /  Photo: Peters

Photo: Peters

You were 19 when you turned pro, right?

How did that change skating for you? Did it get more real once money was involved?
I think it changed when I was 14 or 15, when I went to Europe for the first time. I worked at the skate shop, just folding clothes and doing small stuff, sold boards before I left, saved up some money. I was just traveling and not being able to go to school, focusing more on skating, learning the ways of the streets and how adults operate. I started filming for a Habitat video, the first one that we did. I think it was Inhabitants. It was close to two months, that trip. I think I was drinking wine then and just adjusting to Europe and not really knowing anything, but just watching people and observing.

So you were sponsored and competing and traveling and taken out of school at a pretty young age. Were your parents supportive of your skate career?
My dad was super supportive of everything and that was really difficult. That part was hard with my dad. He passed away shortly before I turned pro, so he never really got to see it. He was there during the project that I was working on for the Habitat video and then passed away shortly before it came out so I didn’t get to share that with him.

Was he sick, or was it something abrupt that you didn’t—
It was abrupt, yeah: cardiac arrest.

Oh, shit.
Yeah, I was in New York and just couldn’t do anything.

ag17Superior indeed—fakie frontside shove-it  /  Photo: Peters

That’s devastating.
Yeah, so that happened. And then, yeah, with my mom—

Were you close with your mom?
I was becoming close. We had a falling out. She tried to take her own life when I was 13 or 14. I came home from school and walked into a bathroom full of blood, and then didn’t see her for five or six years, something like that.

Wow, that’s fucked up.
Then we rekindled a bit and developed that—I guess there’s that moment when a parent and their child turn into friends. I think that happens probably in your 20s when you’re able to share a bit more. And I don’t know if I needed closure on that, but she never really wanted to touch on it too much. She kind of felt too bad. I think it had to do with medication and stuff. And then, yeah, that ended up being what got her.

ag pq2
Yeah, the morning of my brother’s birthday I got a call from my stepdad at, like, five in the morning, I knew immediately what had happened. I don’t know why; I just had this intuitive notion that something was wrong. And yeah, I got that call. That’s how it happened with my dad, too. I got a call. I was in New York and I missed the call. I called back 20 minutes later and within that time he had passed.

Fuck, that’s really heavy, dude.
Family. That shit’s fucked up. I started going to therapy. And then shortly thereafter—that was July, and then on October 12—Dylan passed. That was comparable to losing my Dad.

I didn’t know if you wanted to talk about Dylan because it’s such a delicate subject. He meant so much to so many people and everyone’s so protective of his legacy.
Yeah, I don’t mind talking about it, or about any of it, to tell you the truth.

What was the connection? What made you guys become so close?
Our competitiveness, probably.

ag seq sfwPiecing it together. Backside flip to grind on  /  Photos: Peters

ag3Sea-level skimming, across and down  /  Photo: Robinson

Were you guys competitive with each other?
I don’t even know. It was just our interests in music and art and women and clothing and food—it all aligned and sometimes we’d hate each other and other times we’d love each other. It was just all of it. It turned into a deeper friendship than skating. It was the first time—because it’s pretty difficult when you’re young—I’ve had a friend that I’d want to be around all the time. We’d go on trips for a month or two at a time and we’d get back from wherever the fuck we were, and just by habit we would call each other the next day and hang out the fucking next morning. So there’d only be like a nine-hour break. We were both young and had money and were able to do these things that most people can’t do. It turned into special bond. So it has been very, very hard to fill that void, and when I think through all of these tragic events in my life, I notice I’ve become a little bit less social and more sensitive.

Fuck, that’s a crazy run of events in a short amount of time. Do you think you channel any of that into skating?

It’s probably the opposite, huh?
Yeah, skating is more of an I-need-to-be-in-the-right-head-space-to-do-it type of thing. If I’m just thinking about something else or something else is wrong, then I can’t. My only vice at that time after my mom and Dylan passed, I kind of just gravitated towards women. I was able to be more sensitive with women and I could connect a lot easier with them than men. I could talk about these things, or even not talk about these things. I could actually just physically connect without having to do that. The problem is being able to connect with people, because I’ve lost everything, every connection that I’ve held so dearly and all that I’ve ever known. Luckily, I still have my brother and some close childhood friends. But yeah, after he passed, I don’t know. I didn’t lose myself, but I just lost—maybe I did lose myself.

ag14Austin paints the haunted picture with a switch kickflip  /  Photo: Peters

ag10Photo: Peters

Where does the joy come in with skateboarding? What makes you stoked when you skate?
I think it’s just that thing that you think of right before you fall asleep, the last thing on your mind, something that you want to do and exactly how you see it in your head, being able to bring that to life and paint that picture that haunts you. It might be a trick in your head at a spot in some other country, and then you’ve got to figure out how to get there, and then you get kicked out and you’ve only got two days to get it. There’s this whole challenge and it lies within filming. For some people it comes really easy, and I’ve noticed that skateboarding’s become a lot more difficult for me.

Oh yeah, you think?
Yeah, I mean, just with knee surgeries and all that shit. That fucked me up for a long time, just physically. I just look at everything that’s going on and beat myself up. I hear people say, “Oh, you should just skate and you’ll be fine. People just want to see you skate.” I don’t know, though. I’m never satisfied.

People do love seeing you skate. You post just flatground tricks and people freak the fuck out.
That’s same with anybody, though.

ag6Always turning heads. Switch shove it  /  Photo: Peters

ag seq crop BWFinding elegant lines in a fucked-up world  /  Photos: Peters

You have to admit that you look especially good on a skateboard, right?
I know that I look different, but as far as quality, that’s up to the other people to decide. It’s up to the viewer.

How are you feeling about filming for this Former Radiant Cure video? Are you aware of what’s expected, what everyone else is doing out there?

Do you try to block that out or do you let it get to you?
I think as long as you feel good about it, that’s all that matters. I feel good about what we’re making.

ag16Staying happy with smalls tasks and tall crooked grinds  /  Photo: Peters

ag15Calluses build character—so do scratches on your board. Frontside boardslide  /  Photo: Peters

ag pq3
What else makes you happy right now? When you wake up in the morning, what do you look forward to?
I like tasks, so something as simple as knowing I need to patch up a wall or finish a song or film a trick—I like knowing that there’s something to do. I think everybody needs a task, and if you don’t—I don’t know what drug you’re on, but it probably feels pretty good. A good meal. Some hard work. If it’s something that you wake up and want to do, and fall asleep thinking about, then that’s something that you should probably be doing.

Music must be a good outlet for you.
Yeah, I got a new album that’s coming out. It’s actually being mastered right now; it’s a full-length. I’m going to just use my name on this album instead of Part Friend. It’s all sensitive stuff. A lot of it is about what I’ve dealt with for the past three years. It’s so easy to drink and do all that shit, but what do you get at the end of the day? I like a product at the end of the day; I like anything that involves my hands or my brain. I’m considering doing a little framing business, just learning about joint work. That’s the only craft that makes sense. Anything that requires physical labor and a little bit of brain, I’m usually drawn to. Picture frames requires both of those and a lot of math. You actually have to use a pencil and a piece of paper. And yeah, it’s a distraction from the phone and everything else. It’s just simple.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I hope not in LA. I don’t see myself married, but if that were to happen, that would be really nice—if somebody could accept me for the psycho that I am. But hopefully somewhere where I could sleep well and be surrounded by nature. I hope to have some calluses. I was talking to my grandpa the other day about it. He’s retired, but he worked at a steel company that manufactured all of the playgrounds in Los Angeles, so he would build picnic tables and swing sets that we’d see in all the videos. Those jobs, they’re becoming obsolete, but people had to do that and you see it in their fucking hands. I aspire to have those hands. Looking at somebody’s hands, it says a lot.

ag7Photo: Robinson
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