“Yes! My left ear just popped,” TJ Rogers says as he jolts his tilted head back up and heads to the bathroom about a dozen steps away. His mid-length hair is still wet from a recent shower and his rolled up sweatpants hint that he’s in for the night. He’s battling what doctors might refer to as Swimmer’s Ear, and it appears he might’ve just won. We’re at the Decenzos’ house. It’s me on the La-Z-Boy recliner, then on the couch there’s Scott manning an iPad and Apple TV, TJ in the middle when he’s not fidgeting with his ear troubles in the bathroom, and Ryan can be found on the far end. When I first got there I thought Scott, or Scoot as he’s called, was watching porn on the iPad. I walked in, said hello and there were tits on the screen. He’d barely looked up the whole time I’d been there and had a very glazed-over stare going on with a smile plastered on his face like someone who’d just discovered naked women on the computer for the first time. As it turns out, it was just Howard Stern TV. TJ returns and sits back down as the meat in the Decenzo couch-wich. “Sorry about that,” he says, still unsure if he’s fixed his ear problem. “What were we talking about?”
[o] cameron strand
We were talking about how odd skateboarding can be. How fickle and arbitrary the unspoken ranking system is. How you can do a huge trick, and that it can end you, and how that doesn’t really make any sense. In most sports or things—if you’re good at what you do, if you’re the guy that can hit 50 for 50 free throws in basketball or do a crazy trick shot in hockey—it’s not going to inhibit your “career,” whereas in skateboarding, it might to a lot of people. “Like how Bachinsky kickflipped El Toro,” I say. “That was how a lot of people came to know him, and that’s as far as they allowed themselves to get to know him. Everything after that fell on deaf ears for some people.” “Yeah I got that a lot actually,” TJ replies. “From my friends, too. I got a lot of: ‘Oh, you switch 180’d El Dorado!’ and ‘You switch 180’d El Dorito?’ Shit like that.”
In February Thrasher posted a video of Derek Elmendorf grinding one of the most insane kinked and curved handrails ever, a 22-flat-23, and it looked like he did it with ease. It was a cover-worthy trick, potentially record breaking (or back breaking), and one of the first comments I read about it was literally “cute hat,” in regards to his fedora. This sort of thing hasn’t held TJ back at all, though. Nor Ryan or Scoot for that matter. They’ve become my sort of Canadian census—my poll on the States’ northern brothers based off three skateboarders of varying age and rank in the sponsored world. I ask them if Animal Style from In-N-Out compares to poutine (it doesn’t). I ask them if it’s easier to travel abroad as Canadians than Americans (it is). I ask them if people give them shit for being Canadian, or if people don’t want to give them a chance because of that. They just laugh and say: “We’re Canadian. We’re used to it.”
“Not me,” Ryan said. “No one said shit to me.” We all sip from our beers, gaze back at the TV for a minute and consider why that might be. Maybe it’s because Ryan was already established a bit so he didn’t really feel the sting as bad when he nollied El Toro. TJ was still on the rise when he hucked down the infamous 20-stair in Lake Forest, California to the belittling of his friends. Or maybe Ryan just has better friends. Who knows? But that is a definitive trait of skateboarders. It’s not what’s done as much as who’s doing it, on what, with whom, how it looks, and why. Whether we like it or not, we factor in all the pertinent questions into everything skateboarding. For better or worse, the most technical, flawless skater is still victim to a host of heckling and misguided criticism.
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But these things—where you’re from, what you wear— factor in more than we want to admit. Skateboarding is very much about what is and who is cool, though we wince when we put it in those terms. We call it “style,” but that’s all style is—making something look cool, whether it’s an ollie up a curb or a frontside flip fakie 5-0 down a hubba. If it looks good, if it makes us want to do it, or something like it, it’s cool. If it looks like a dog shitting a peach pit, it’s not cool. We discuss this occurrence a bit, and it comes down to who you ride for and who you’re associated with. “It’s definitely a shortcut in a way,” Ryan says. “You ride for the right company and that’s your ticket in. That’s your street cred. You’re on the A-list already.”
“Whereas if you ride for another company, it can be the complete opposite,” I say. “Exactly,” Ryan returns. “A lot of those companies don’t even pay their riders because they don’t have to. Like you’re privileged just to ride for that company.” “And we are,” TJ adds as Ryan nods along. “Not everyone gets to do this, you know? But when you’re paying $3,500 just to get over here, then paying rent and everything else, your landlord’s not going to take street cred on the first of the month. ‘No it’s cool, I got this new tight sponsor, landlady, so you don’t need my rent.’” The $3,500 TJ is referencing is what it costs to get your P1 sports Visa in the United States. It basically lets you live down here as an athlete for five years without any worries of whether you’re going to be denied re-entry if and when you travel abroad. So I pose the question: “Do you think it’s the cost of the Visa that prevents so many Canadians from moving and trying to make it down here?”
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“It’s definitely not the money,” TJ says with Ryan nodding in agreement while Scoot continues smiling at his iPad. “They put you through the wringer,” TJ continues. “I had to send them every bit of coverage I’d gotten—magazines, contest winnings, a biography. My sponsors had to vouch for me, too. I’m surprised they didn’t want a stool sample.” I’ve often wondered why more people don’t move to California when their dream is to become a professional skateboarder. The weather is great, the food is good, and the people are…people. Canadians seem to be just as, if not more, talented as a nation of skateboarders than those in the U.S. “It’s just a big pain in the ass to get,” TJ says, referring to the golden Visa.
I like TJ and I’m glad that he’s down here. People who aren’t from Southern California are people I tend to relate to a little better and I find myself rooting for them a little more. I like a lot of Californians, too. Guys like Heath, Templeton and Leo are some of my favourites. However, I tend to like immigrants and outsiders because they’ve had to work a lot harder just to even make it to California. The industry isn’t in their backyard. They didn’t necessarily grow up with great weather all year round or a dozen skateparks within 50 square miles of their house. And immigrants in skateboarding have to continually “make it” over and over and over again before they turn pro. Chima Ferguson and Dane Burman were both skaters of the year in Australia before they were pro in the United States. So they basically had to bust their asses in two continents before their American board sponsors would turn them pro, whereas there’s been a few Americans who recently went pro without even putting out a video part yet.
He didn’t scoff at the $3,500 because he’s a hard worker and can make that fairly quickly doing construction with his uncle, which he’s been doing since he graduated high school. And that’s what he was doing during the months leading up to his move south. That, and skating at night despite the polar vortex in his hometown of Whitby, Ontario. I’d been emailing him before he moved out here and he mentioned it was -22˚C one day. Now he’s drinking a beer on a couch between two fellow Canadians after a mellow day with Scoot riding bicycles around Huntington Beach, picking fresh produce off the neighbours’ trees. TJ brought me into the kitchen to show me their haul. “Fuckin’ Orange County living, man!” he says. “Oranges, avocados, lemons. We got a couple bananas too, but they’re not looking so good.” And they’re not. They’re as green as a summer pine and about the length of a tall man’s middle finger. “I’m hoping they ripen, but I had to grab a couple either way.”
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“I’ve dedicated more than half of my life to skateboarding.”
The Canadian trio on the couch are further examples of this. Ryan is pro and should be undeniably. Scott is AM and could definitely be pro (he probably will be if and when the Plan B video drops). TJ is not pro. He’s put out two full length video parts for his board sponsor, Blind, won contests, was honoured as the King of the Road “Mystery Guest” MVP by Thrasher, and has thrown a couple switch NBDs down notable L.A. and O.C. spots. But talent alone isn’t the test of turning someone pro anymore and it hasn’t been for a long time. So what’s the line, and how do you get there? What’s the secret? The path to becoming a professional skateboarder isn’t so much a path as it is a general direction—an “X” on a map with only the harebrained advice of your peers and the examples set by those few who have already accomplished what you’re aiming for to guide you along. It’s a path fraught with many pitfalls and sidelines, unwritten half-rules and unapplied common sense. And while some are fairly obvious—like being respectful and not taking things for granted, or staying healthy—others are abstract, arbitrary and often downright asinine. The way you hold your board, what you wear and how you wear it, hashtag use, music preference, trick selection…basically anything you do or don’t do can draw fire from the peanut gallery and edge you out of the race towards the goal of one day turning pro. But even stating the fact that your goal is to turn pro will open you up to a world of shit from the monkeys on the sideline just waiting to cast the first stone. It’s a wonder anyone ever makes it at all. TJ Rogers wants to go pro. He’s very open about that. He doesn’t shirk at referring to skateboarding as a career, or that a pro board with his name on it is exactly what he wants. Reading that might rub you the wrong way for some reason, as if someone with the gall to ask for such a thing doesn’t believe that skateboarding is enough in and of itself. Or is it that calling skateboarding a career or setting a professional goal defines things too rigidly? At a very base level is that somewhat contradictory to what we think and feel skateboarding is all about? That’s skateboarding. It’s an activity alive and kicking in the grey area between definitions. We are the tiny part of the Venn diagram existing entirely within a set of circles and entirely independent from it at the same time. We have pro skateboarders, but laugh when people talk about it as their career, despite actively seeking out their pro model shoes, boards, pants, hats and so on. So yes, TJ would like a slice, but in his case the desire isn’t coming from a sense of entitlement or good old-fashioned greed. It’s coming from the same place that we all traveled through somewhere in the not too distant past when we found skateboarding, fell in love with it and said, “This is it. This is what I’m about now.” Whether we knew it subconsciously or not, it’s also what would ultimately define us and occupy the majority of our thoughts and time from then on out. “I’ve dedicated more than half of my life to skateboarding,” TJ says. “I’m trying to do this for the rest of my life. Or at least until I can’t physically do it anymore.”
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