Whatever happened with Brian Sumner?
The Internet doesn't forget. Those that put out amazing video parts ahead of their time are thankful for this fact, for knowing that future generations will see what was done before they ever started skating. The flip side is that for those that put out silly rap videos when they were going through their confused phase, their children will someday find those as well.
Many older guys I know don't care for the fast paced, short shelf life of new web content. I love it. And I love coming across things I haven't seen in years. Recently I found an old favorite of mine: Brian Sumner's part in Birdhouse skateboards' video, "The End." One of the very first times I was sent to California for a story was around the filming of "The End." I was good friends with [then Birdhouse team manager] J. Strickland and stayed with Strickland, Andrew Reynolds, Sumner, Jim Greco, Ali Boulala and friends at the infamous Warner house in Huntington Beach. I remember going to a rickety, indoor training facility with Sumner and seeing him do kickflip backside tailslide shove-its on a ledge perfectly over and over. In the mid-late '90s that trick wasn't as commonplace as it is now and I'd never seen it done firsthand so perfectly, let alone 25 times in row, each time better, cleaner and longer than the last. So re-watching "The End" got me wondering: Whatever happened to Sumner after he quit Birdhouse. I'd heard things but I figured the best way to find out was to just give him a call. Here's the gist of it in a nutshell:
"I came over to America [from Britain] when I was 15, just to skate for two years," says Sumner. "I was riding for Birdhouse, living with Jim Greco and Andrew Reynolds. Birdhouse was paying all my bills. Life was all about me and I didn't know any different; it was like that for the next five years. Then the Baker thing was coming around and we starting partying and fighting a lot. I was a guy that wasn't a U.S. citizen so I was scared of being sent back. So I didn't get as deep into stuff as some of the guys. During that time, I met my wife and decided to stay back with the Birdhouse team and not go up to Los Angeles and do Baker. The next five years I made crazy money on Adio and TSA, which became Volcom. Then I went on to Analog but it was around that time that my wife and I started fighting like crazy.
"I was around guys like Tony [Hawk], Bam and Tom Green at these 5-hour autograph signings and I finally said, 'Is this all there is?' I love skating but I was getting over the life. I starting getting into fights. I got divorced from my wife. I was super aggressive. I got to the point where I was like, 'You know what God? I have all this money, getting $100,000 to $300,000 checks from Adio from my shoe sales in Zumiez, I'm divorcing this woman, I'm not content, I'm in so much pain and I'm going to prove God is not real and none of this really matters.' I shot a Birdhouse ad in a Bruce Lee outfit and, because of that, I had a Billy club in my car. The cops searched my car and said the Billy club was like having a gun. They arrest me. I'm not a citizen. It was more drama and I just didn't want to live anymore."
So what turned it around?
"The judge said I could have community service and at the very bottom of the list of places to do the service there was a Christian Thrift-store," says Sumner. "I began to read the Bible and it made sense to me but not completely. Then Christian Hosoi got out of jail and someone told him I was seeking God and he came up to me at an Analog contest and told me about his pastor, Jay Haizlip. He took me to his church service and it began to change me. I went home that night and I prayed for 40 minutes. I said to God, 'A lot of these Christians seem like they're crazy. Skating has done so much for me. I've loved this woman, I've hated this woman. I just want to know if you're real and if so, I'll follow you. If not, I don't want anything to do with this life. Five minutes later I felt the presence of God. My mind and heart changed in one instant. I broke down crying and my life has been changed since."
Three weeks later Brian reunited with his wife, quit all his sponsors and signed up with the Christian board brand, Reliance skateboards. Today, he's out every weekend doing events and sermons. Sumner's son is now 11 and he now has a 4-year-old daughter and another son of 18 months. And for the past seven years Sumner's been living differently. Being so busy with the church, I wondered how often Sumner still skated.
"Street skating in Huntington, where am I going to skate? You have to go jump fences and trespass; it's hard. But definitely for the past two months I've been skating non-stop every day and really skating, not just skateparks. I'm 32 and want to make sure I'm skating and working on new stuff but for those past few years my main focus was rebuilding my family."
How about hoping on rails like he used to? Is Sumner still on it?
"Oh yeah, I still skate handrails, no problem. When you add 15 pounds of muscle, mostly from surfing, I have more power than I ever had. I'm filming hard and shooting photos for a Reliance video."
Above the money and the skateboarding and everything else, Brian has found happiness. "It's ridiculous how happy I am. I wouldn't change a thing. My marriage is working. My kids are healthy and I get to use skateboarding to share my message. I know it's the good news I'm spreading. People say I'm brainwashed and I say, "Well, my brain needed washing. It was filled with junk."