Kiwi rides with a Viking spirit
When it comes to skateboarding, New Zealand native Bjorn Johnston has put in work. Though he joined Element's Australian team relatively recently, his resume runs quite deep. Prior to signing with Element, as well as his current shoe and apparel sponsors Krew and Supra, he happened to ride for DC and RVCA. Not exactly unknown indie brands.
Pictures of Johnston have appeared in all the major magazines including Transworld, Thrasher and The Skateboard Mag. He even used to skate for SEEK (under Alien Workshop) alongside heavies such as Josh Kalis, Rob Dyrdek, Mikey Taylor and Colin McKay. Johnston also notes that he has been to the United States 13 times.
Still, ESPN.com wanted to know more about Johnston -- who currently lives in Sydney, Australia. To that end we e-mailed him some questions.
ESPN.com: What did you learn from skating with Mikey Taylor, Rob Dyrdek and Josh Kalis?
Johnston: I guess the main thing was no matter how big you become in whatever you do, staying grounded and being cool to everyone is the key to success. I grew up with Kalis being my favorite skateboarder, and to go on a trip with these guys it was a little intimidating at first. But they were so cool and welcoming. It was rad. Dyrdek telling old tour stories at dinner was hilarious.
Have you gotten a chance to skate with Stevie Williams and Chad Muska since joining Krew/Supra?
Chad Muska, no. But Stevie, yes. We just finished the Supra "Oz Man Out Tour" here in Australia and New Zealand, which Stevie was on. It was so sick. He's another one of my idols growing up. So to hang out with him and skate was awesome. So many people came out to see him at the demos, he could just do a front nose on a ledge and everyone would go crazy! In NZ he could barely skate because the kids just wanted to talk to him and get his autograph. He loved Australia so much after the tour ended we both flew back to Sydney, where he's staying for another week.
How would you describe the culture of Element skateboards? Do you interact with American reps frequently?
I guess some people love to hate on Element. A lot of their business comes from mainstream, but that happens with any company that grows to be huge. Element has always been a skateboard company and that's what they do. They don't have snowboard, motocross or BMX divisions. They just do skateboarding. I really like that.
When I'm in America I go in to the offices, say "hello" and everything. They have been rad and will include me in events or trips while I'm out there.
What is your least favorite aspect of America?
Probably the driving involved in Southern California, and how strict the cops are with skateboarding. Other than that, it's amazing. The people are rad. The spots and weather are amazing and it's a lot cheaper to live than Sydney!
So cops are more chill in Australia?
Way more chill. No such thing as getting a ticket for skating out here. If the cops did ever show up to a skate spot, it would be a nice, "Hey guys, you can't skate here. Can you please move on?" I guess people don't sue each other as gnarly out here, so the liability worries aren't as bad.
Before joining your current sponsors -- Element, Krew and Supra -- were you feeling stress about what the right brands to partner with would be?
No, there was no stress at all. I wasn't even looking to be honest. I had a good thing going with my previous sponsors, and the Krew/Supra thing came out of the blue. I had known Dennis [Martin the U.S. marketing director for Krew/Supra] for a long time. They approached me, and we discussed future plans and it just got me psyched. The deal was too good to say no. Plus I already knew a bunch of dudes on the U.S. team from my time out there. I just felt it was the right fit. Now I couldn't be happier. Kind of just fell into place.
Supra informs us that you have a family crest and "some battleships" inked on your body "in homage" to your Nordic heritage. What attracts you to this aspect of your heritage?
Yeah, I have a Viking boat and a few other Norwegian influenced things. I just like the art and the way the Vikings would just charge in and take over. There was no hesitation. So I guess that influences me to a certain degree. Well, at least I try to live by that idea. Ha, ha.
As a professional skateboarder, how is living abroad an asset? How is it a liability?
I would say skating all the different spots that are not as blown out as California would be an asset. But overall, living abroad isn't really that much of an asset. The market is a lot smaller, so you're not going to make as much money as you could in the States. All the major global magazines are based in the USA, so getting coverage in those [magazines] is harder, too.
Also, riding for American companies and trying to spend a lot of time in the States requires a lot of effort and money into getting a visa. It's so nerve-racking every time I've turned up at customs. You feel so unwelcome, drilled with questions and there's always the chance they decide they want to send you straight back home for any old reason.
When you're at customs, what do they think about the fact that you're a professional skateboarder? What kinds of questions do they ask?
To be honest I would rarely ever put down that I was a skateboarder. When I was a teenager I would say student, then a few times "unemployed" and now I just say "marketing." I did once say I was an "amateur skateboarder" and they drilled me, asking what it meant, whether I made money from it, if so then how much, if the contests I was entering in the States had prize money.
I learned from that, that it's best to avoid it. After this interview, if I get drilled again, they'll probably be able to Google me, find this interview, and then I'm screwed! Ha!