We sat down with Brandon Turner, who started his skate life in Japan. He reunites with his Japanese homies and looks back on his younger years.
──BRANDON TURNER (ENGLISH)
[ JAPANESE / ENGLISH ]
Special thanks_Green Door
VHSMAG (V)： You used to live in Japan right?
Brandon Turner (B)： I came to Japan in the early '90s because my dad was in the military. He was stationed in Yokosuka navy base. That's why I lived here. I got here when I was six years old and I went back to the US when I was 13.
V： So you lived here about seven years. Those years must have meant a lot for you at that age.
B： Yeah it means everything. It changed my identity.
V： Did you start skating in Japan?
B： No I skated in the US first but I decided that I was just going to be skating when I moved to Japan. I played sports on the base at first and then I got over it.
V： You eventually start meeting skaters. How did you find skate community in Japan?
B： It was hard at first because I didn't have a board. There was a shop that Kame-chan owned called WILD BOY'z and I knew it was there but boards were so expensive back then. My parents wouldn't buy me boards so I would just go to the beach. Then I met Tomonari Hongo and he started bringing me around. Places like Chuo Station and Umikaze... There was Ume and Demi... all the Yokosuka skaters. So I just started skating with them.
V： So you started skating in the US but pretty much learned how to skate in Japan?
B： Yeah. Tomonari taught me how to do my first kickflip. I went to my first contest in Japan at Daiei. I watching all the OG Japanese skaters.
V： When did you meet Kenta Iijima?
B： I met him at the Daiei contest.
Kenta Iijima (K)： That was the WILD BOY'z contest. You were walking around checking out the competition. After the contest you came to me and you were like, "Can you do this trick!? Can you do this trick!?" I was like, "Who the fuck is this little punk?" And then I went to the US when I was 16 and I was hanging out at Pacific Drive. Then this guy came to me and was like, "What are you doing here! Remember me? I'm Brandon, I used to live in Yokosuka" in Japanese.
B： Yeah, he was with Muska, Sheffey and everyone. I was still just a little kid (laughs).
V： That's sick. Did you feel any cultural difference when you were in Japan?
B： I was really confused so I had a lot of anxiety. I was tripping because I didn't really know where I was at. We didn't have smartphones then so my American life was over. So Tomonari taught me the culture and how things are done here. It's way different than how Americans do things, you know? Americans don't give a fuck (laughs). There are honor codes here. America is diverse so everyone's on their own shit. So after a while I started identifying with it and really fell in love with the culture.
V： I heard you were sponsored in Japan.
B： Yeah, WILD BOY'z skateshop. They gave me some WILD BOY'z wheels (laughs).
V： Fondest memory living in Japan?
B： I had so many great memories. So many crazy things happened in Japan. There was no Instagram. I met Kenta in Japan by coincidence and seen him in the US. There's no lines connected, you know? So fondest memory is just being at the Daiei contest watching all these skater there. And me knowing that that's what I wanted to do. That's why Japan is so special to me. My decision to skate and completely fall in love with it was made in Japan. It's not just one fond memory, it's the connection. And being accepted was a big thing.
V： So at age 13 you went back to San Diego and you reconnected with Kenta. Was that before you got on Voice?
B： That was right before getting on Voice. I was skating at Pacific Beach a lot and I was on Voice with Peter Smolik and Kanten Russell. Voice didn't go under but there was an opportunity with Muska and I went to Shorty's. It was a hard decision. It was like breaking up with a friend but that's what I had to do. But it was the right decision.
V： Yeah, Shorty's blew up.
B： That's how everything started. They knew how to run a company and they kept the team really tight. Our team manager George Nagai, he's Japanese too, he was solid. We always had trips, always making plans. That's why the video was so good. It was all real. We were always doing things together having fun skating. With Shorty's, we were all living as one.
V： Yeah, you can see that in Fulfill the Dream video.
B： Companies still put together videos and it's good but for that special feeling that you get from it... You can put a project together and the skating is amazing but... this has nothing to do with skating. This has to do with the love around skating and all the camaraderie. Just being able to see stuff that no one gets to see like riding the horses.
V： What was the story behind riding horses?
B： It was just like, "Hey, we're gonna go hang out, get a hotel, eat good food and go ride horses." That was the plan (laughs). It was our off skating day so we went to ride horses.
V： One of your biggest sponsors was Osiris.
B： Yeah, I was riding for éS at the time. There was Penny, Koston, Muska... then Osiris started. Quitting éS was a hard decision too. But those decisions make the big difference. I was always down to start something new.
V： Shorty's and Osiris were a big success. You were young and getting paid. How was your life like back then?
B： I was constantly partying, always on vacation and skating. I had a couple of condos and I was just chillin'. I had a daughter when I was 18 and I remember I had one condo for hanging out and other one with my girlfriend and daughter, you know (laughs)? That's stupid, I would never do that now. But back then I wanted the best of both worlds. I thought it was my time and nothing is gonna get in the way (laughs).
K： We used to hang out at the same place so I was seeing him go from a little kid to a famous skater. Most people start partying from around 18 but he started way earlier than that.
B： Yeah, I was 15 when I started kinda living the adult life.
V： How did SK8MAFIA come about?
B： Shorty's ended around 2005. It just started falling apart for whatever reason. Muska was the first person to say "Oh, SK8MAFIA!" and Peter ran with the name.
V： Who came up with the hand sign?
B： It was Peter Smolik. When I was growing up in San Diego, he was the legend with red shoes and big pants. My mom would go shopping and in front there's this red curb so all these skaters are there. When my mom was in the shop I talked with Peter. That was the first time meeting him. I was like five. I told him that I'm moving to Japan and he was like, "Hit me up when you get back." So that's what I did when I got back. I found out where Peter lived and I skated to his house. Then knocked on his door. He came out and told me to sit on the curb and wait. For like hours... (laughs).
V： So from there you grew to be a pro skater and pursued a successful career. You had ups and downs as well. I heard you got locked up too.
B： Well, touring and skating all your life, and partying after party... Went wild with alcohol and I got into other thing like selling drugs, living the mafia lifestyle. Using money to make more money. Instead of focusing on skating, I started hanging out with the wrong people. So I got distracted for a while. I made some bad choices and... I almost died. Getting ran over by a car. Running from the cops, jumping off a bridge and breaking both my legs and my skull... I took it too far. I was living a crazy lifestyle. I was getting fucked up all the time. Doing drugs and selling drugs. That's how I ended up in prison. Some people might glamorize it, but that's the place no one wants to be. It's no joke.
V： How long were you in for?
B： The prison was 17 months but I've been arrested over ten times. So I did three, four months here and there.
V： I heard you're sharing your story with kids at school.
B： I talk to kids and tell them what's up. I'm not preaching or anything. You can think that you have your shit together but it's really easy to fall off if you're not paying attention. You have to be careful who you associate with too, especially in America. A lot of young people in America are on drugs taking and losing lives.
V： And you're back skating and working on your solo part. How is that going?
B： It's almost done. The only thing that's holding me back is the photos to go with the video. But the video part is pretty much done. It's a full part so I'm happy about it.
V： What's up with Straye?
B： It's started by Angel Cabada and Mirko Mangum. They're making some dope shoes. I get shoes from them.
V： You also released an album, right? You were also rapping over your part in the Guilty video back in the day.
B： I just wanted to do an album that represented the stuff that I was going through. It's just a story. It's called THE CHAA and it stands for "Channeling All Awareness." I worked on it with my boy Ruska Beats. Just having fun being creative. That's what skateboarding is about. Art, music, creating... Live without a script of how you're supposed to live. I believe in that.
V： How do you feel that now Tomonari's kids are flying out to San Diego and staying at your place, trying to make things happen in the US?
B： I love it. Tomonari taught me my first kickflip and now I get to take care of his kids. That's what skateboarding is all about. When you have a dad that's a skater that introduced you to skating... that's what I try to tell them. "Yo man, your dad hooked this all up." Shintaro and Masaki, they're amazing. They're my little nephews.
V： That's sick. You made a lot of connection with Japanese skaters. How did you feel when you found out that you're going back?
B： I didn't wanna leave. But at the same time... I wanted to go pro in America and show love to Japan. Like, "This is where it came from." So in my eyes, I'm an American-Japanese pro skater. I want to give respect back to Japan. It started in Japan and I went to America and became pro.
V： That's awesome. So what's next?
B： I have a video part coming and also I'm doing a brand called Livin' Proof with Kanten Russell. We're getting that going. Kenta's helping get skateparks built in Japan so hopefully help that for the kids.
Born in 1981 in San Diego. SK8MAFIA pro who grew up skating in Yokosuka Japan. Hi notable parts include Fulfill the Dream, The Storm, etc. He just released his first album THE CHAA.