Rookie seems as poised as an old pro

Aaron Smith

Austyn Gillette makes this very adult backside flip look like child's play.

This introduction to an interview with 20-year-old Habitat pro Austyn Gillette will not draw any analogy between Gillette's smooth skating style and the smooth shaving experience that his namesake razor brand promises consumers.

Tempting though that comparison may be, it would be too obvious. Still, how to describe the ease with which Austyn Gillette seems to glide across the surfaces of city streets without employing that image? When he skates he makes asphalt seem as giving and slick as ice.

During our conversation Gillette appeared self-possessed and thoroughly grounded -- at times even sedate. In short, he is not your typical 20-year-old, nor is he your typical freshman professional skateboarder. He does not traffic in self-promotional schtick. You could say Gillette's skating "speaks for itself" but that would be even more obvious than the razor comparison.

In this interview Gillette touches on the early influence of Daewon Song, being boxer Oscar De La Hoya's neighbor and meeting former Alien Workshop rider Lennie Kirk on the night he was released from prison. I just wrote out a series of questions. Some of them are corny.
I can do corny.

You've been pro just about a year now and recently moved back to Los Angeles. Does the level of responsibility feel different?
Since I moved here my responsibilities have increased drastically. I am always getting hit up from the Berrics and all those guys. As long as I am doing my job, going out and shooting photos, I don't get hassled too much. Not living in L.A. I think it's easier to be one of those people who hate on it. I was one of them. With all the projects down here it's hard to get out of it, once you're in it. Now that I am living here I am like, "Oh, I am actually doing my job."

You also probably see more pros.
Anytime we go to the skate park, there are the faces of skateboarding. It changes everything. It's right in front of you. I am hoping it doesn't affect the way I skate, in a sense. Because I am always trying to steer away from whatever is going on around me. But I am also not trying to be a kid hiding in the corner.

We just skated with Marc Johnson at [Brandon] Biebel's park. It was every skater that you would want at a session. Mike Carroll. A.V.E. Grant Taylor. Then they all filtered out and it was really just Marc and I. He has really been an influence. I really like his creative skating. I feel like what he skates and what I skate would be the same because I am not going to be the guy jumping down giant stuff. I had met him a few times but that was the first time that we actually skated. I am definitely not jaded. I still get excited when I am skating with people that I really looked up to and have always been into.

Speaking of not being jaded, that giant kickflip you did for the Royal ad is amazing.
Andrew Reynolds has done much bigger. It kind of felt like a kickflip off a pyramid back in the day -- like fatty to flatty. It was in New York. I did it pretty quickly. It was a successful trip. Which is rare.

I hear it wasn't a make.
You heard that?

Just kidding.
I hear that a lot actually. People were like, "There's no way you made that." There's proof. It was in the Transworld Awards Show. [Laughs.]

You grew up in Brea, Calif. Who supported you early on? Who inspired you?
I used to see Daewon because he lived in La Puenta. Just over the hill from Brea. He gave me reason to believe you could skate for a living. When I was little, he actually ollied over me on a mini ramp. I was sitting at the bottom of the ramp. It was on flat. And he just said, "Stay there." That was when I realized, "Wow, this guy has some pop."

I also would skate Inland Empire a lot. I was skating this park called Brickyard. This guy Eric Boevet pretty much got everything started for me, so serious shout-out. He asked my dad if he could film me. I was 9 or 10 and I started riding for his board shop and he started sending out my videos. Everything really happened because of him.

Your parents let you skate a lot?
My dad let me do whatever I wanted. My dad was really supportive as long as it was good for me and he knew skating was good for me. He was a chiropractor. He passed away two years ago. I would get adjustments all the time. Anytime I hurt my ankle. I don't know what he would do. Just adjustments every single day. He was able to nurse me back to 100 percent every single day. I miss that.

Oscar De La Hoya was my next door neighbor. I remember my dad getting his autograph for me but I was pretty little. My dad owned a big chiropractic business. He was, like, well off before everything hit the fan … We lived in these town homes in Whittier Hills. It was pretty baller for the first five years of my life.

You recently moved from San Francisco. What did you like about San Francisco?
San Francisco is just a giant playground. San Francisco is so aesthetically pleasing. If you want to get away it's really easy. If you want to be productive it's also really easy to do that too. I was living in the inner-Richmond, off Geary and 15th. I'd get done skating, and then hide out there. I feel like Southern California and Northern California are opposites. I don't even know how wide Los Angeles is. I don't even know where it stops. Whereas San Francisco is seven miles by seven miles.

I remember when I was 15, and first started frequenting San Francisco, I was with Josh Kalis. Lennie Kirk came over the night he got out of prison. I was like, "Who's this guy?" And Josh was explaining it to me. We actually skated with him the next day. It was pretty weird.

Was he killing it?
He boardslid this 30-foot-long flat bar. It was pretty tall. I don't even think I could get on it. It was pretty cool to see. Someone with that much power. Wild man on a board. It was pretty awesome.

Did he have any prison stories?
No. I didn't really talk to him. I was kind of, like, scared.

You weren't like, "Hey, what's prison like?"
I didn't know what to say.

David Chami

Austyn Gillette has just finished his freshmen year as a Habitat pro. He cites Marc Johnson's "creative skating" as an influence.

A lot of the music in your video parts is very expressive, artistically serious independent music. Do you like any mainstream pop?
I can get into a catchy tune. But once you're influenced by music it plays a key role in the way that you skate. You work so hard. You film so much. Everything takes time. I am definitely not consistent. I like to take my time. You take pride in your footage. And you have a vision.

I like how Jason Dill has always chosen good songs. I listen to the same kind of music. I liked how Jason Dill used Radiohead and Cass McCombs.

My mom used to listen to Radiohead a lot when I was little. She was a big Radiohead fan. Yeah, it was weird. I have always kind of been around Radiohead. But I have also always been around Sugar Ray, and crappy bands like that. She listened to that stuff too. "Every morning there's a halo hanging …" [Singing.]

You project confidence when you're on the board. Do you suffer from any anxiety? Do you have "madness"?
I work better off lack of sleep somehow. I don't really like sleeping.

You don't have good sleep hygiene?
My circadian rhythm is completely messed up. It's a roller coaster.

Maybe it's related to your love of coffee shops. You've said previously you might one day like to own a coffee shop. What do you like about coffee shops? Is that where you like to read books?
I don't like reading in public. You will not catch me with a book or a laptop in public. It has to be really silent when I read, or very light music. Otherwise, I can't digest it.

If you're not working on a laptop or reading, what do you do at coffee shops?
Lately it has been pretty busy. Grab a pastry. Sit down. People watch. Without sunglasses. Hopefully. Sometimes with sunglasses. It is a real convivial atmosphere. You should be really friendly, not a hermit.

But you like to read, just not in coffee shops?
I looked at my collection of books. I graduated in 2008. I have read 10 books in three years since I got out of high school. That really bums me out. Ten books in four years. I am actually reading the same book as Jereme Rogers. My friend pointed out that Rogers is holding the same book in this picture. It's called "Rich Dad Poor Dad." It's actually a really cool book. The other one is the "48 Laws of Power."

Do you apply that every day? Is there a favorite "law of power"?
I take it with a grain of salt; if you apply it completely you might become a dictator or something.

Talking to you I don't think, "This guy is seeking power."
One rule is "conceal your intentions." I try to be quiet. In a skate interview it would be, "Well, I don't tell anybody what I filmed lately."

Nice. You're barely out of high school and you're already an advanced student of the laws of power.
I did two years of an independent study school, then my senior year I went to a public school. I was able to graduate in three years total. People advised me to do one year of normal school at least. They didn't want me to miss out. I was able to get what I need out of high school, but I didn't think I needed any more. It was kind of strange seeing people wear Habitat T-shirts. That happened a few times. I didn't like talking about it. I don't really talk about it. I don't like people knowing what I do.

Conceal your intentions.
Exactly. I don't tell anybody that I skate. I am kind of weird about it.

Well, thank you again for taking some time to do this interview.
It went well and smoothly.

Smoothly. Just like your skating. Oh, that was corny.

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