Despite what anyone might have to say about him, Steve Berra is legit. He’s been in the limelight since the early ’90s. Even though he’s enjoyed moderate success in Hollywood, he’s stayed focused on skateboarding and continued to put out tons of great photos and footage. He’s dealt with injuries, rumors, and plenty of random hate. But it doesn’t seem like any of it has phased him one bit. People have been training at The Berrics for a few years. Now that they have launched a brand new website to showcase these private sessions, Steve is prepared to make an impact on skateboarding in a totally different way. Add webmaster to one of skateboarding’s most promising new sites to the list of Steve’s accomplishments.
48 Blocks: You’ve been on the low for the past few years. What have you been up to since Skate More?
Steve: I took a break because my body was really hurting from pushing so hard in such a short period of time. I had to relearn how to skate again and film a video part in four or five months. The last six weeks of Skate More, I was filming with a broken metatarsal and when it wrapped I had to let it heal. During that period it just so happened that I was able to get the financing for a movie that I wrote and wanted to direct. Next thing I knew, I was living in Canada for four months and in the editing room for eight. We premiered in competition this past January and that was a big deal for me as a writer and director. Sundance gets almost a thousand feature length film submissions and only picks 16 for competition which is the most prestigious category. I had friends or people that I knew that were far more accomplished than I whose movies didn’t make it in. Since Sundance, I’ve been back on the board. I tell you, it was a bit rough. But now it’s better, sometimes. But skating wouldn’t be skating without its highs and lows.
48 Blocks: It was probably mentioned in the last answer, but talk about The Good Life. Give us a brief synopsis of the film and where its at currently as far as production and release.
Steve: It premiered at Sundance and for the most part got really good reviews. It did polarize some critics though. I guess that’s one thing I’m good at, huh? It’s a heavy movie. I wanted it to be very poetic and somber. It’s not about skateboarding, but I think every skateboarder could identify with it wholeheartedly. It’s about a young man who lives in Nebraska. He’s kind of the head of his family. A family that can’t quite get it together. On top of his financial duress, his estranged father has just died and he is also the manager at an old movie theater in a forgotten part of downtown Lincoln, NE. The old man who owns the theater is suffering form Alzheimer’s and this kid is basically his caretaker. He spends so much of his time taking care of everyone else that it leaves little time for himself. He’s a kid who would feel worse knowing he left people who needed him than helping them everyday and seeing his own dreams fade into oblivion. That is until he meets a girl, played by Zoey Deschanel, who kind of turns everything on its head. It’s set against the domineering presence of Nebraska football. It’s a very somber experience, but one I’m proud to have made. As far as release? Well, it’s out of my hands now. I do not own the film. I wrote and directed it, but the people who paid for it are the owners and they can do anything they want with it. As far as their agenda? Who knows. It’s been a very disheartening experience with them and that’s about all I should really say. Very disheartening.
48 Blocks: How do you balance your acting and other work in Hollywood with your professional skate career. Does either one take priority over the other and do these two passions ever conflict with each other?
Steve: Well, I don’t act anymore. I hung up the acting spurs about 8 years ago because it was cutting into my skating. I also didn’t like the material that was available at the time. So I made the decision that if I were ever to act again, it would only be for something I wrote. It was the only way to keep skating. I originally wanted to play a part in The Good Life. But as I got older and examined it more; I really didn’t want to try and wear both acting and directing hats. I thought it would disservice the story and the story was more important to me than an acting career. I would have been too disbursed. Around that time, I saw Mark Webber in a movie called Storytelling and knew right then that he was the perfect person for the lead character—far better than I would’ve been. As far as priority? Right now my only priority is skateboarding. I care immensely about movies, but I’m a skateboarder first and always. Those words are never music to my agents and manager’s ears. But they’re 100% supportive.They know how important skateboarding is to me which means they don’t push me to do jobs for money as it’s never been a big motivator for me anyway. Especially if it’s a bad project and could effect my reputation in the skate world negatively.
48 Blocks: Talk about The Berrics and how that came about. When did you and Eric decide to make the park?
Steve: I was a week in recovery after my ankle surgery. I had a skatepark out in the valley that I leased. I couldn’t walk so I was doing a lot of life inventory when I was caged up at home. I started going over my finances and seeing how much I pay for a building that I didn’t own. I started looking up some buildings in downtown LA. They were twice as big and for almost the same price as a lease. I called Eric and asked him if he wanted to go in on it with me and he did. That week I was hobbling around on my crutches. Eric and I were looking at buildings and we found one about two weeks later. By April, we were the owners of The Berrics. That was three and a half years ago. We decided to make it in the first place because skateboarding is illegal everywhere in LA. Back in the ‘90s it was a little less illegal, but still a chore to just skate. After the Tony Hawk explosion, forget about it. Places where there used to be five people skating now had fifty people skating, sometimes more. That became the downside to growth. I’m not complaining, just explaining. Living in LA is a lot of driving around. You drive a half hour or an hour to skate a ledge you get kicked out of in 10 minutes. Then you drive another hour to skate a rail that you get maybe two tries on. This was our lives every day of the week. No matter which way you slice it, that’s not fun. You just don’t end up getting a lot of time on the board and that’s where our time needs to be spent because we’re professionals. So, we wanted to build a place to skate every day that had everything you could get on the streets so we could actually get better and make our lives easier when we hit the streets. Our lives in skateboarding are a lot different than some people who do it as just a hobby because we make our living off of it. So waiting all week just to skate on the weekends when things were closed, well, that just wasn’t working. Not even in a big place like Los Angeles.
48 Blocks: How hands on were you with the design, and who did you actually get to build it?
Steve: The design evolved over time. I’d think of something and I’d bounce it off Eric, Rob Dyrdek, or Brent Kronmueller and we’d talk about it. Through many different conversations, I was able to come up with a solid blueprint. I seemed to spearhead it, but it was a definite collaboration between the four of us. Brent Kronmueller built it. Like I said, our main goal was to build stuff that would help better our time in the streets. Stairs, ledges, manual pads, and rails are the fundamentals to street skating. So we have a lot of those things in the Berrics. It’s been an essential to a lot of pros that live here in LA. And it’s just a great place to skate. You don’t have to drive 30 mins to go skate a ledge and then another 45 to hit up a rail. They’re right across from one another at the park.
48 Blocks: At what point did you decide to add the web component to the park?
Steve: After I was finished with my movie. I hadn’t been to the park in a while and there were a lot more people skating it than I would have liked. And a lot more keys floating around than I would have liked. So I changed the locks and shut it down. Then I stepped back and took inventory of the scene and realized that a lot of really gnarly guys were skating there and they were doing a lot of really gnarly stuff. Stuff that wouldn’t be seen by anyone but the people that happened to be there that day. I thought that was kind of a shame. I also thought about the old World park and even further back to Dogtown and Z-Boys days and how guys like Schlossbach, Socrates, and Stecyk had the foresight to document all that went on. It became extremely valuable to the history of skateboarding. In twenty years, I think the Berrics footage will mean something.
So I basically told everyone that if they wanted to skate there it was okay. All they really had to do was film some of the stuff that they do when they’re there so we can make a website based around the park and show the skaters of the world what goes on inside. Kind of open the optical doors to what it’s like being around the pros. It helps them and it helps us. Everyone agreed to it and it’s been working out great. There are no logos or banners in the park for any skateboard companies. This is not a DVS, Lakai, Alien Workshop, Girl site because we want all skaters from all companies to come skate and we don’t want to use their names to sell our products. We don’t sell any products. This is skateboarding, that’s it. We want to use our names to build a more consolidated skate community. We want to promote anyone and everyone whose livelihood is skateboarding. We want to do what we can. Our country is experiencing tough times right now and skateboarding has been affected. We want to try and help reverse that. We want to do what we can to just bring some joy to those interested in it and interest to those who find joy in it.
48 Blocks: By the time people are reading this The Berrics site should be launched. What can people expect from it?
Steve: We have sections all with site-appropriate names—mostly militaristic because it is called The Berrics. In laymen’s terms, it’s basically this: pro of the month, am of the month, team of the month. Each come in the park for a day or two or longer and they film. We edit it together and show it to the world. Our first pro is Eric, for obvious reasons. Our first Am is Jimmy Cao because we think he’s sick. Our first team is City Skateboards. And let me tell you, it’s some great stuff. In the future, look forward to seeing Guy Mariano, Ellington, Greco, Malto, Mikey Taylor and a whole lot more.
In addition to skateboarding we will also have an art department. This came about because I have hands in two worlds. Eric and I both know a lot of actors, writers, and directors whose work we respect immensely. We’d like their work to be introduced to the skate community if it already hasn’t been. Musicians, painters and photographers as well. It’s an art department, so it encompasses all the arts. Our first interview is with Milo Ventimiglia, star of that show HEROES. He’s been a friend for a very long time and a real skater at heart. Something he can’t do much of now but has an immense love for. I want people in our community to know that and see what a cool guy he is and maybe watch his show. I want people that are fans of his to see how cool skateboarding is so maybe one day when they’re walking out of the grocery store and they see two kids on a board, maybe instead of wanting to kick their ass, they’ll help them out.
There will be a blog with new stuff posted every day. Footage and photos, stuff like Mikey Taylor’s new turbo Talon, Chico’s first piece of footage as an American, Jim Greco’s one of a kind fluorescent pink and sparkle hammer board. Stuff that goes on inside the Berrics with the people that skate the Berrics.
48 Blocks: What about the new Alien video? What people can expect from your part? How far along is it?
Steve: I’m about a minute into it and, of course, a little behind due to my movie. I re-injured my ankle again yesterday trying to film and it’s pretty bad. So we will see. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. I’m going to the doctor today to see if my life is over or just on hold for a little bit.
48 Blocks: There were some pretty harsh criticisms of your part in Skate More because you built some of the spots where you filmed for that. More recently there was an essay posted on the pre-launch Berrics site regarding the legality of skating and the necessity of creating places to skate. What would you say to your critics and what is your view on creating your own spots? Do you think it is a necessity nowadays given that most spots are skate stopped or illegal?
Steve: Well, I originally wrote that as an intro to the DVS catalog. I’ve been writing the intros for them for about four years now. But then I decided to put it up on the Berrics page because it seemed so applicable to what we were doing. It’s still up on the site under the UNIT DIRECTIVE if anyone missed it before. It was never really intended to address my critics. Ultimately, I don’t care enough to address them. I’m a skateboarder. I’ve been hated my whole life simply for the fact that that’s what I do. So a few people that speak in broad generalities using terms like “everyone thinks this” or “nobody likes that” to make it appear that it’s majority opinion—it really doesn’t bother me.
I did hear that Jamie Thomas made a few eyebrow-raising comments though—which I guess was a little weird, but whatever. To answer your question, do I think it’s necessary to build spots? If you want to skate, then yes, sometimes it is. Bottom line is this: I had a rough year and eight months. A year where I skated for maybe two months because I kept re-injuring my ankle because it was so damaged. And eight months to recover from the surgery after it was finally recommended by my doctor. So the team had been filming for the whole time. I had no footage and I had physical therapy five times a week when I was getting back and even while I was starting to skate.
I don’t like flying all over the world to skate because I have a daughter and it’s hard on her. So, my first thought was, well, I’ll just get some benches and put them at this place I know of that has super smooth ground and I’ll film some lines. Like PJ in that one video. The place had this tall beautiful brick wall and the benches we had were a little short so we built some ledges. I saw the brick at Home Depot when we were getting the materials and that’s how that was born.
After that we just got creative with some other stuff. We thought it was cool. And a lot of other people did too. It was really fun. But by no means were any of the spots easy to skate. They were just skateable. There’s a big difference. It was never to fool anyone. It was never to be sneaky. It was more for the aesthetic. If I’ve been anything in my 16 years of being pro, it’s always been forthright and outspoken. People talk shit. Believe me, I’ve done my share in the past. But for some people it’s their lives and the malicious things some people say about others are just downright evil.
When you inspect it further, being evil is the only thing they do best. It’s the only way they can make themselves feel valuable. They talk shit, pussy out, and don’t use their real names and the only person they’re entertaining is themselves by speaking vehemently about others’ accomplishments. Broken down into those parts, it’s pretty sad. It’s a peak into the mind of a really unhealthy individual.
48 Blocks: You are a member of the Church of Scientology, which is a controversial entity that often falls under speculation and criticism from those outsiders. How did you first get involved with that, can you briefly talk about your beliefs and how you apply them to your life in general and more specifically skateboarding?
Steve: This has been a big topic of discussion over the years, so I’ll first tell you how I got involved. I used to date a girl that was a Scientologist. I remember when I first started seeing her, I sat on a sofa across from her in my living room. I was with Paul Sharpe and my friend Jerry and we just grilled her about it. She was nice and explained everything the best she could. But we weren’t really trying to hear an explanation we were just looking for things to shoot down or at least I was because I was, I don’t know, an asshole. I guess I didn’t think I would be seeing her for very long. I don’t know. Who knows what was going through my mind back then. Turns out, I ended up really liking her.
There was that one thing though, Scientology. I had read every bad thing that’s ever been said about it and its founder L. Ron Hubbard. But I had actually never read anything he wrote himself. I had never even looked at a Scientology book or cared to until one night I was lying in bed and she had just fallen asleep and I looked at her and thought to myself, this is a girl I’ve been seeing now for over a year. I tell her I love her before we go to bed or get off the phone or leave one another for the day, and I never once bothered to look into this thing she had so much affinity for, Scientology. In fact, I had done just the opposite.
I continued to read more bad stuff about it and talked shit about it behind her back. I was like the asshole cheerleader in high school who demanded her boyfriend quit skating because it was a) uncool b) she didn’t understand it or c) her parents said it was “bad.” Once I realized that, I thought it was pretty low of me. I felt like a total pussy. I had heard so many outlandish things about me that were completely untrue, in particular the Jovontae story. I thought it was only fair to check it out for myself. You see, a rumor is only an effort to remedy a lack of data. That’s all it is. And lack of communication brings about rumor. So I got a book and I read it. I got the data. Then I asked a lot of questions to the people that worked there. People who have now become some of my closest friends. Point is, I communicated after having read some actual Scientology, not just rumor. And that’s how I became interested.
I don’t know Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, or John Travolta or anyone else people speculate about me knowing. I don’t get special treatment from Hollywood for being a Scientologist. It’s not a networking knitting circle. It’s just not. It’s something I like in the same way I like skateboarding. It’s an organization that is here to help and helping people has always interested me. I can’t knock that. I won’t knock that or any other organization that is in favor of improving what we have, improving civilization, because I’m rather tired of seeing people strung out on drugs or alcohol. I don’t like that people suffer and go though immense amounts of unnecessary pain. It’s not what life is about. Now, having been on both sides of the coin all I can do is find the humor in it all when people talk shit about it or me for being a Scientologist because I know it only comes from a great deal of ignorance. I know that for a fact so I really don’t care. I really don’t.
As far as how it’s helped my skating? Well, it’s just helped me as an individual. I understand life much better and when you understand life, you have an easier time understanding other aspects of it—skateboarding included. I don’t claim to be perfect, far from it in fact. But I at least have the self awareness to know that and see upon where I can improve and where I’ve been the architect of my doom. Scientology has enabled me to really look at who I am, what I am doing, and put myself in check if it I get too crazed. The best way I can further help people understand it is by telling them to actually go and buy a book. It’s what I did.
48 Blocks: Despite growing up in the Midwest, you were able to get sponsored and turn pro when skateboarding was much smaller and it was harder to break into the industry if you weren’t in California. How did you make that happen for yourself and what if any obstacles did you face in pursuing a career in skateboarding?
Steve: You know, I just a made a real nuisance of myself. I used to call my sponsor and tell them what I was up to. I was probably a bit of a pest, but what I did the most was push myself hard every day I skated. It was kind of my only alternative. I was really poor and when it’s the only thing you have, you discover ways to get on people’s radar and if you’re any good at what you’re doing, people will notice. Bottom line is, you have to push yourself and your skating.
48 Blocks: You were also able to make the transition from vert to street early in your career. Were you skating street the whole time or was there a point where you decided to concentrate on that more than vert? Now that being diverse in what terrain you skate is celebrated again, can we expect to see some new Berra tranny footage?
Steve: I actually got sponsored for street skating first. I was sixteen and it was back at the NSA regional contest in Ft. Wayne, Indiana in 1989. Rob Dyrdek was there too. He actually won the contest. I got sponsored by Blockhead and when I went home I thought, “Hey, I’m sponsored now and everyone in California that’s sponsored knows how to skate everything so I better start skating vert.” So that’s what I did.
We had an indoor park. Winter came and by the end of it I somehow got really good at it. Probably better than I’ve ever been as a street skater. I think every kid goes through that stage where they really excel at something they’re into very easily. It just so happened I was skating vert at the time that that happened. Two years later I turned pro for Birdhouse and was primarily known as a vert skater.
Back then, I lived with Tony Hawk but Eric lived about twenty minutes away with Alphonzo Rawls. They would come out every so often and skate the ramp at Tony’s. I knew Eric from the am contests and soon we just started hanging out a lot. We would go street skating and I would see how good he was and it inspired me to want to start skating a lot of street again. It was more of a challenge as well since vert seemed to come to me more naturally.
Also, Tony’s ramp was kind of falling apart and it made it hard to skate vert. As far as seeing some tranny stuff from me now? I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’ll leave that to Chet Childress. He’s unbelievably good at it. Him and Cardiel I could watch all day. As far as vert goes, Danny and Colin have pretty much had a monopoly on it since they started skating it. There is no one better than those two and I don’t think there ever will be.
48 Blocks: Who’s skating do you admire right now and who are some of the all-time greats in your opinion?
Steve: I will always admire Eric’s skating. He has been and still is the most influential skateboarder of our time and all time, and one of my favorites. Younger guys, let’s see, Tommy Sandoval, Dennis Durant, Kelly Hart, Nick Trapasso, Devine Calloway, Mikey Taylor, Alex Olson, Eduardo Craig, Jimmy Cao, Jimmy Carlin, Lucas Puig, Kenny Hoyle, and Tyler Bledsoe. Also, Bryan Herman, Sean Malto and Mike Mo Capaldi are probably the three best skaters I’ve seen in a very long time. As far as the all time greats, Rick Howard, Mike Carroll, Marc Johnson, Brandon Biebel, AVE, Chris Cole, Heath, Geoff Rowley, Appleyard, Arto, Ed Templeton, Jason Lee, Danny Way, Colin McKay, Pat Duffy, Daewon, Ronnie Creager, Jeremy Klein, Guy Mariano, Mark Gonzales, Dyrdek, Greco, and Reynolds. These are all people who have had a significant impact on skating for me and not only for their ability but for who they are as people. They’re all truly unique individuals.
Steve: I always planned on playing soccer then becoming an attorney. But when I got a skateboard at the age of 13, that all went out the window.
48 Blocks: It seems like many of the top street guys from the ‘90s, you included, are enduring well into their 30’s with pro careers and still putting out top-notch parts. Do you think that age is still a factor when it comes to skateboarding? Do you ever feel old or past your prime and how long do you think you will continue as a professional?
Steve: I don’t think age is a factor just yet as we are the first generation to really test the limits. When I was 24, I thought I was ancient. Who knows where it can go. Obviously there’s a ceiling, but 30 is not it. I think I have more ability now than I ever have. Sometimes my body doesn’t agree with me though. When you’ve taken hits for 20 years, not only in the streets but on vert as well, it gets painful at times. It also gets a little old, kind of like, “Oh god, not this again.” There are times when I’m skating and I’m thinking I can legitimately do it until I’m 50. Then there are days when I’m out skating with Tyler or Malto or Mikey or when I see Mike Mo at the park and I just think, “Enjoy it while it lasts pal, cause you can’t keep up with these guys much longer.” But they are absolutely the cream of the crop. Absolutely.
48 Blocks: Being that you’re a writer, what authors are you into? What is the last book that you read and what did you think of it?
Steve: It’s strange, when I write I actually don’t like to read other stuff and because I’m primarily a screenwriter I read a lot of screenplays as opposed to books. Screenplays are much different because there’s the whole language of film that you have to know and you have to be very succinct. It’s writing, but a very different kind. Great screenwriters? Eric Roth is absolutely my favorite. Michael Mann is an incredible writer as well. Frank Darabont. Paul Thomas Anderson. Dan Futterman’s script for Capote was perfect. Sean Penn. Chris McQuarrie. Tarantino. There are many more, but these are absolutely some of the best guys. They are the Kostons of the screenwriting world.
48 Blocks: What’s your proudest or most memorable accomplishment in skateboarding?
Steve: When I learned the 540 on October 16, 1990. It was such a huge turning point in my life. It’s when it actually became real to me that I had a shot at maybe skateboarding for a living. It was and has always been my dream.
48 Blocks: Any last words or advice that you would give to the people reading this?
Steve: Grip it and rip it.