Tattoos are inked into their wearer to define elements of their character, commemorate people, places or things they love, to express their feelings and individuality and to tell their story. Much like sailors who'd pick up tattoos at different ports of call, skaters often collect their tattoos on the road, memorializing pivotal moments in their lives. In this ongoing feature, we'll get the story behind each tattoo and glean a little insight into these modern-day street pirates.
Professional skateboarder Erik Ellington, who rides for Deathwish, Supra, Thunder, Spitfire and Krew, has a lot of ink that relates to skateboarding. As a skater, he's made of equal amounts style and determination with a backstory of tattoos that guide us through his rich history of hijinx, skating and family.
Ellington explained the meaning behind his first tattoo: "When my friends and I were about 16 years old, we started Balance, a board company in Arizona. My first tattoo was 'Balance' on my right upper arm. It was done by my friend Grime, who's a big-time tattoo guy now. I still owe him some product for that one; I owe him a set of bearings or something," he laughed.
"Next were these ... " Ellington put his ankle on the table and pulled down his sock, revealing a small mess of ink. Smiling, he described his initial move to California: "When I moved to San Diego in 1996, me, Scotty Copalman, Shane Heyl, Aaron Harrison and Elissa Steamer had an apartment and I found out how to make a tattoo machine out of a Walkman motor, a guitar string and a nine-volt battery. So I started doing tattoos on all of us. This one is 'the briefcase,' which is a tribute to my friend Vince Vargas. There was this spot called The Wedge that we grew up skating and he got tattooed on his leg 'el calzo,' which was supposed to be 'the wedge' in Spanish, and it turns out that the translation was 'the briefcase.'" Laughing, he continued, "So I got 'the briefcase' and the little briefcase to go along with it."
Moving from San Diego up to Huntington Beach, he reminisced on his Piss Drunx cohorts, "Next I would've gotten the PD around the Warner days." He pulls up his T-shirt, revealing a chest full of words, like the "Memento" of skateboarding, with a massive "PD" over his heart. " I got that at a random Huntington Beach tattoo shop. We got drunk one night and decided we'd all go get 'em. It was me, Andrew [Reynolds], Jim [Greco] and Ali Cairnes, maybe Shane [Heyl]. Eventually a lot of people got them; there's probably 10 or 15 people who've got that one."
Artist Esao Andrews is one of Ellington's closest friends, having grown up skating together in Arizona, and he's responsible for many of Ellington's board graphics. Laying his arms out on the table, Ellington fondly remembered, "From there I got my first board graphic that my friend Esao Andrews drew for me. It's my first Zero board and it's a skeleton holding an American flag. Then I got this lion from 'Aesop's Fables,' which was another one of my Zero boards. Those were both done at Sunset Strip Tattoo. After that I got the Kings' Cross, which was another eventual board graphic for Baker.
"That one [the skull and crossbones on his index finger], me and five or six of our friends got the night after our wedding. We had a party at the Hyatt on Sunset and a bunch of my friends flew in from out of town. Aaron Pearcy got it, Scotty Copalman got it, Esao Andrews drew it and got it, [my wife] Luci [Ellington] obviously, our friend Mike Pringle got it, Shane Heyl got it. Me and Shane got it here [on his index finger] and everyone else got it on their wrist, except Pringle got it right in the middle of his back for some odd reason. I have no idea why he would do that."
Pulling up his T-shirt, he pointed to a scratchy mess of ink on his ribs: "I got this one on King of the Road in New York. It was Neckface's drawing and one of his friends who had his own little machine did it, but he started passing out while he was doing it." He shook his head and chuckled, "He was just about passing out while he was doing it; that's why it looks pretty sketchy. He was all jittery and he'd just nod off."
Underneath his mandatory KOTR tattoo is some smaller script. He explained, "'Lowlife' was on our last summer tour in 2011. Nuge did it. We were in the outskirts of Philly. I drew the script and he did the tattoo. He's good. On that trip, basically, he'd be booked up every night; everyone was getting something."
Pointing to the massive Deathwish logo on his sternum, Ellington said, "I got that one in Florida on a Deathwish summer tour. That one hurt."
Adjusting in his chair, he lifted the other side of his shirt, revealing an entirely tattooed ribcage. He smiled as he told the tale of his latest tattoo: "I got this one in Amsterdam. That is a Bruce Springsteen lyric from the movie 'The Wrestler.' There's this song he did for the movie that I always thought somewhat relates to you're putting everything you can into trying to get a trick. I always laugh about it because of getting older, like in 'The Wrestler'; I thought it would be, like, just to make fun of myself. The song is, 'I come and stand at every door. I always leave with less than I had before. I can make you smile when the blood hits the floor.' To me, you go and try a trick for hours and don't get it; you're leaving for less than had you before. There's also a lyric, 'Have you ever seen a one-trick pony? Then you've seen me.' I make fun of myself about that one too. 'Have you ever seen a one-legged dog walking down the street? Then you've seen me.'" Ellington laughed and continued, "There's all these really funny quotes and I got the entire thing. I wrote the text. Any writing, I try to use my own handwriting. There was a dude in Amsterdam at the shop and he hooked it up."
Like a lot of people who got tattooed before tattoos became the norm, Ellington says he'd prefer to be a blank canvas if he was given the choice, just to go against the grain. However, he's in too deep, so he's tentatively anticipating his next and biggest endeavor to date. Born in Anchorage, Alaska, Ellington's impending tattoo takes him back to his roots. "If I ever get another," he said, "it would probably be an Alaskan totem pole in the shape of a cross. Normally they go straight up, but some have a crossbeam that makes the wings of a bird. The native Eskimos have different animals that represent different ways of life. So I was thinking the wings would go across my shoulders and the rest would come down. In the totem pole there's different faces that represent different things and spiritual things. I'd draw it, or maybe Esao would draw it, but I'd weave in times in my life, certain elements from Arizona, San Diego, Huntington Beach and Los Angeles, with my family, Baker Boys and my friends."