A Very Focused Year
Photo: Corey White
TEXT: STUART GOMEZ
When you come through the front door at The Berrics, you’ll walk (or skate) down a long hallway before reaching the park. On your left, there are double doors leading to the Lounge—a sort of viewing room for the fishbowl full of skaters in the park. Walking into the Lounge, you can’t miss a 3’ X 4’ photo of Braydon Szafranski powersliding during the London leg of Emerica’s 2010 Wild In The Streets.
It’s a happy coincidence that this is hanging on the wall as I sit down for a chat with him. This is Braydon’s first time in the Lounge, and his reaction to the towering image of himself is a mixture of surprise and faint recognition (like he just noticed a hidden message in a wallpaper pattern). After a few seconds he says, “I’m so happy that’s there. That makes me psyched!”
The image is vintage Braydon. He’s leading the pack with flair, his energy radiating outward, attracting a street full of skaters and pulling them to his center of gravity. Six years later, Braydon’s aura is unchanged: he magnetizes you from the moment you meet him.
On October 31, we posted Braydon’s latest part—a two-song testament to clear-eyed focus. The part was knocking around in Braydon’s mind for years, but one traumatic experience in South Africa transformed the languishing part from an abstract goal into a very real opportunity to recapture that “little kid” feeling again.
In this interview, Braydon explains his yearlong process to finish the part. He touches on the lifestyle changes necessary to reach his goal, how his determination contributed to a renewed feeling of happiness, and his membership in an unexpected gang. Say hello again to Braydon Szafranski.
Braydon in London, England, in 2010. As seen in the Lounge. Photo: Yoon Sul.
How long has your video part been in the works?
Well, it's kind of been in the back of my head. On October 13, when we were on the Skate Rock tour in South Africa, we got in that car accident. I remember we were just sitting there, staring at a fire, in the middle of nowhere— nobody was talking—and I was just contemplating my life: “If I died right then, would I be happy with what I did?” And I just told myself, "I wanna film more. I wanna film another video part,” and just have that feeling. I bet myself I can do one by next year if I really work hard. I started it when I got home, on October 19, like, "Okay, I'm gonna be serious," and we landed the last trick on October 21. So yeah, it was pretty much exactly a year.
What did you do differently after the accident?
Personally, I got the shit scared out of me in that car accident. It checked me real hard on what I was doing and where I wanted to be. I didn't touch a single sip of alcohol for eight months after that, through New Year’s, through everything. I loved it, I felt great, and I just realized there were certain things that I needed to do to be more focused.
Drinking all the time, or slowing down a bit... Personally, my body doesn't react the way it should at my age when I drink and go out to party all night and do whatever. So I pretty much slowed that down, and now it's like I don't have the urges to go get fucked up all night on the weekend, because all I wanna do is go skate all day. [Alcohol] just ruins everything else. So it's like now I have things in perspective.
This last year was just heavy, you know. I've done so many different video parts and tried so many different things, so it was a chance to try something new—and I’ve never tried one without drinking at all. The hardest part about that is, as a skateboarder, if you go out and have a day where you get completely broke and you don't land a trick, you're mentally just shattered. And you're like, "Man, I would love a beer," or something at the end of the day to bring me down. And it’s the same thing with when you land a trick. You’re like, "Oh, now it's a celebration!" Alcohol kinda functions both ways.
In our world, you're taught that you can do anything. It was kind of a reality check to just try it once. If you're having a bad day, don't drink and see what happens. And if you're having a good day, don't drink and see what happens. You give it a month or two, and before you know it you become just like when you were a kid again. You have the same personality, like you can take over the world!
Before the accident, did you feel like you were kind of invincible? You could do anything—it didn't matter if you were drinking or not?
No. I used to think I was invincible when I was a kid, and then the first time I tore my ACL that's when I realized: "Holy shit. Human. Wow. Fuck." [laughs] Reality check. I've always known, since a certain age, I can function and I can get tricks, but if you've done it for so long that it's just normal, you don't know that you're not feeling as good as you can. Then after you take a big break you realize your body heals faster, your mind heals faster. Instead of landing a trick and having a day or two of celebration, the next day you're already landing another trick, and before you know it you're like, "Damn, I did three to five things that week!” Instead of doing just one and the rest of the week is "Woohoo!"
You know, I don't want this whole interview to be about how alcohol is a fucked up thing, ‘cause it's really not if you moderate it the right way. I wanted to see what I could do if I change things and try a different approach to this part. And it ended up working: I was happy and I came out with a whole video part. To me, that's like I did something right. Now I just wanna do that times 100 for this next part, and push it twice as hard as I did on this one. If I can do this, than I can do anything for the next one.
That's interesting to hear what your motivation was, and it seems like you're surrounded by a group of people who are equally ambitious. They train, they try to stay positive—you have a group of friends that seem very gung-ho and promote that productive mentality.
Yeah, I think I'm very blessed to have all the people that I have around me at the moment, and just in general. A lot of the people that I'm around right now have gone through the same things—they've seen both paths. We're all on the same level of "Let's push it real hard, work real hard the next couple of years and see where that can go.” We're not thinking, "You have to do something for the rest of your life,” and this and that. It's more like, I have a project, and I wanna make this project as best as I can. There's no exception to anything.
Don't get me wrong—tonight I'm gonna have a bottle of champagne, sit back, hang out with some girls… I'm gonna turn it into a great weekend! It's Halloween, my part's done. But November 1, when I wake up, I will push myself as hard as I can for this next project. I'm my own worst critic, I just wanna push it further.
Photo: Jake Leger
You mentioned that you were able to bounce back a little easier during filming since you've been sober. But was there anything else that was different for you with this part?
Yeah, it's not just alcohol. It's what I do when I'm not drinking. When you drink, you wake up and you get a really unhealthy breakfast because it sounds good. You're at Roscoe’s at eight in the morning, doing some shitty stretch, and then jumping down something. That's why I bounce back so much faster when I'm not drinking— me and Brandon, and a couple other people—we're in a gang, we call it the “Gallon Gang”: Every day you gotta drink at least a gallon of water, but try to get two. You drink a gallon and it doesn't matter what the fuck you did all day, how much you jumped and exercised or whatever. You do that, and then stretch at night, get a nice dinner, wake up, go to the gym, and then stretch way more.
It's the whole routine that brings it into play for me. When I'm working, knowing what I want to do for a living, what I want to accomplish, then no, [alcohol] is not positive for me at the moment. It's not positive for any professional athlete unless you've handled what you need to do. If you win the Super Bowl, you don't think these fuckers have a wrap party? Anybody, after their season is done, they have a celebration. But of course, when it's time to get back on it, you get back on it. That's what's amazing, and hard, about skating. Skating keeps you young forever, but you don't realize these other things until you're way older. Nobody taught me that shit when I was a kid.
It would be nice to communicate that to younger skaters: moderation is good. It seems like most people just end up going overboard with it.
It's just hard in the sense that, we live a seven-day weekend. You're on salary. It's not like every trick you land is the next paycheck you're gonna get—you keep kids hungry that way.
The reason it can be so hard is that there's always somebody doing something, especially in the cities that we live in. You might have grown up in this city or that city, but most likely, after you start to make a name for yourself or whatever, you move to California. Or New York or one of the mega-cities. In those cities, there's always something going on. There's always a party. There's a day party I can find every day in LA, and there's a night party I can find—and not just one. Multiple. Hollywood nights, New York nights, Vegas nights, you know what I mean? That's what can make you wanna push it overboard. Unlike most people who have their little group of friends, we have thousands of people. You see somebody and it's like, "Hey, I'll buy you shots and you buy me shots ! Woooo!" And the next thing you know, you wake up and it’s like, "We’re gonna go skating and hit this bowl! But we're gonna grab a twelve pack before we hit the bowl!" The seven-day weekend pushes away the dumbasses and leaves room for the focused.
It's sort of amazing in a way, with so many distractions, that video parts actually get made at all…
Yeah. In our era, skateboarding wasn't that cool, right? [laughs] It's crazy that kids nowadays are pulling up in Lamborghinis at the club like… fuck. You car is distracting enough, you don't even need to go anywhere: just sit on the hood and let it all come to you! But yeah, it's definitely different now, when you drive by a school and hundreds of kids have a skateboard with them, and they got the hottest girl. I remember when the biggest jock of the school had to be a badass or something. How the fuck is a skinny ass little scrawny skater kid with the rolled up pants getting the [hottest] girl, you know? I love it. Keep skating, man. You're killing it!
Braydon's part in Emerica's "Stay Gold," 2010.
Is there anything that you're especially proud of, that you were able to accomplish with this part?
I'm really just proud of the whole part in general. The first six months, I wanted to film a part but I also just wanted to skate. I was finally happy as hell again and enjoying skating like I haven't enjoyed it in years and years. It didn't really get serious until August or September when I realized, "Oh my god. I actually have a video part." It was a joke, and now there's enough footage that we can have a video part and extra footage. Now we need to sit down and figure out, “What am I missing?”
Then, just working on the varial heel—it was something I've wanted to accomplish for a long time. It was good because the last couple of months have brought me to the point I'm at right now. And where I'm at right now is so deeply focused that, instead of starting off this next part with fillers, I'm already in the mood to jump down big things. I'm enjoying it right now. I just wanna start it and go strong. See what can happen, you know? November 1, I’m gonna try to turn this all back into another positive video part and then taking my one day of celebration…
You gotta celebrate this part for at least one day!
One day is all need. I love skating too much. Most people, they hate their job; they pray to god to get vacation. For me, I fuckin' love my job. Vacation? What the hell is “vacation”? I can't imagine going somewhere without my board. What do you do? People are like, "Oh, I'd love to go to Spain!" If I went to Spain without my board, I would have no purpose for being there. That's my vacation, being on my skateboard. I'm the happiest I am on my board. People mostly wanna be around me. All my ex-girlfriends wanted to kill me when I couldn't skate—if I was hurt or if I was into drinking—‘cause I'm a fucking asshole without it. Skating is what keeps me grounded… keeps me happy.
Was it that your identity was skateboarding?
It always has been, since I was a kid. Before I skated, skateboarding was my identity, you know what I mean? I just wanted to be a skateboarder, it's the coolest thing that was ever composed on this planet. I'm just very thankful to even be part of it. I'm blessed to even know it at all, to get to do it continuously at the age I'm at and that people are even hyped to see me skate. That makes me happy.
That's great that you were able to use it, also, as a tool for you to come back and be motivated to change things around.
It's not only that, it's my fans. Thank god for Instagram and these kids telling me every day how much they love me, and how much they want another video part. That was a huge inspiration and it helped me every day. I'm not the best at answering back, but I read all those comments and I appreciate every kid and everything they say. If it wasn't for them, I don't know that I would have been focused. ‘Cause after the whole Baker break up I went into a depression where I didn't give a shit about skateboarding. If it wasn't for my fans telling me how much they love watching me skate, they got me motivated to come back and go further and push harder.
So, having that instant feedback from people helped. It's something that may have taken you a lot longer?
Yeah, definitely. I wasn't great with computers as a kid, I never read any of the comments when there was a Baker or Emerica video out, I've never seen one of those blogs... so this is kind of intimidating. This is gonna be my first part, and there's gonna be fuckin' answers everywhere. I don't even know if I should read em'... I'm scared. [laughs] I’m only nervous about that part. I'm not gonna read shit until after Tuesday, ‘cause I don't wanna waste my day! I wanna go out on Halloween, not be all, "Awww man… dickface22 made me feel like an asshole." [laughs] Like, “I'm sorry I didn't work hard enough for you.”
Biebel's Park in "Next New Wave, AMFD: #002," featuring Braydon.
Tell me about the filming. Who did you work with?
When I first got back, it was with Beagle. And this guy John Marello started coming around the park—this was when me and Brandon were real serious and everyone was in the park every day. John started filming us because we were all just filming each other. That's what got us motivated back into skating: "Oh, you're getting close? I'll be the filmer today," or, "You be the filmer," and it was the raddest thing. You had Guy Mariano, Brandon Biebel, all these legends filming you, and you're like, "Oh my god! I just wanna skate like I'm a little kid! Ahhhhh!" So then John started coming in like, "Yeah I'll film you guys." And we're like, "Thank you, hell yeah!" Fuckin’ legend.
Then Brandon got signed for the PUSH project, in December, and then in January we were out at a spot in Long Beach, with John and all them. Jake [Leger] was there filming for another person's PUSH project as well. We just ended up talking, and I ended up going on a trip a week later with John, Jake, and TJ [Gaskill]. We all just bro'd down, and then TJ and John were doing their own things and Jake just hit me up like, "I'm gonna go skate here and I'm gonna go skate there. You wanna come?" Pretty much, I filmed a lot with Beagle, a lot with John, but definitely the majority of the part was with Jake… just grinding away. Heavy hours, heavy nights.
You've seen the finished part?
No. I sat with Jake the last week, and we were editing and this and that, but we were missing two tricks. He had a guest trick, and one of my other friends was gonna have a guest trick, but his knee got hurt. We were waiting for Jake's trick, so I've seen it all except for Jake's trick. Jake was finishing it this morning because and I'm meeting him in five minutes. I'm gonna walk in there and we’re gonna watch the finished thing. But I did sit down and edit the whole thing with him; we chose what went where and the song. He's just making the extra crispy touches right now. It's Friday night, this bitch comes out in what? 48 hours? So I'm a little nervous.
So are you gonna be unable to sleep?
No, definitely not. Because like I said: I'm going home, parking my car, and popping a bottle of champagne. I'm gonna hang out with some chicks tonight and I'm gonna have some fun with some friends. I won't be looking at my phone until Tuesday afternoon. I'm not too worried, though. I know I have to do some advertisements over the next 24 hours, but besides that, I’m just gonna see what happens and then I'll read it afterwards. [laughs]
What would you like to say to everyone who watches your part? Is there anything you’d like them to take away from it?
There’s nothing they can take away except, "Thank you so much, I hope you enjoy it." I worked really hard, and if you liked this one, stay tuned, because the next one's gonna make this one look like horse shit.
Rewatch Braydon's part now and stay tuned…