HAROLD HUNTER was an influential NYC skater. He played a role in the cult movie classic Kids, which depicted life on the Lower East Side in the 90s. In 2006, he died from a cocaine induced heart attack in his LES apartment. Drug addiction is not unfamiliar to the skate community. Before the Berrics and Nike SBs and Street League, skaters were the punks, the outcasts, the graff artists, the kids who ditched school, the kids who started smoking weed when they were pre-teens. They were the fuck-ups and artists. Skating ain’t what it used to be.
I remember picking up skate magazines and looking at the ads of the Birdhouse team getting wasted. I remember World Industry’s Flameboy chugging beers and murdering Wet Willy.
I think a lot of people my age (25) would say Baker 3 is their favorite skate video, a messy montage of drunk-and-high antics mixed with dope skating: Bryan Hermann falling into a bathtub; Dustin Dollin taking a shot before grinding a huge rail; Kevin ‘Spanky’ Long stumbling over into the grass; and Antwuan Dixon’s part–the most lax style, the dopest nollie heel in the game.
When Andrew Reynolds left Birdhouse and started Baker Skateboards, it consisted of members of the Piss Drunx (Reynolds, Greco, Boulala, Ellington, Dollin). The Piss Drunx were notorious for their partying and their ability to skate at the highest level. It wasn’t until Ali Boulala killed his best friend and a promising young skater, Shane Cross, in a drunken motorcycle accident that a handful of skaters had a harsh wake-up call. Reynolds has since gotten sober and inspired some of his friends who are pro skaters to get sober too.
Ali Boulala didn’t die in the accident but was severely injured. After serving 2 years in an Australian prison he was deported to Sweden, where Boulala became heavily dependent on drugs to cope with the guilt and loss of Shane Cross. Ali’s leg was injured so badly that he can no longer skate. Neither can I.
I broke my spine cliff diving 2 years ago. I was partly paralyzed in the accident and have weakened motor function in my lower extremities. I no longer have motor function in my right foot. I have a hard enough time balancing on flat ground. I was prescribed oxycontin for physical pain, but I used to cope with the mental pain.
Going through opioid withdraws has been awful.
I used to fling myself over a stair set or up the side of a bowl; I used to grind coping and catch heelflips; I used to cruise down the Venice Beach boardwalk; I used to sit in the empty bowl at night with my friends and smoke joints. If I think about it too much I get depressed.
But I use that feeling as motivation to bust my ass during physical therapy instead of falling back into drug addiction, though the temptation always looms. Sobriety isn’t easy in the skate community.
I don’t care if I never do another flip trick or carve another wall. All I want to do is cruise down the Venice boardwalk on a long board and feel the ocean breeze. You’d be surprised at the things we all take for granted.
Now, I’m a part of the skate community through photography. It’s not ideal, but it does curb my craving. Sometimes a flying board will hit me while I’m shooting. It hurts. I kind of love that.
Drugs and alcohol are inextricably bound to skate culture. But you don’t have to shoot heroin like Guy Mariano to be a pro. 1 You don’t have to beat a cocaine habit and a drinking problem to be a great skater like Andrew Reynolds. You don’t have to die like Harold Hunter.
Nolan Ryan Trowe is a photographer based in New York City.