Adam Johnson met Alex Broskow in Kansas during the summer of 1994. They hung out more when Alex turned 12, worked on their first video part together in 1999, started clothing label Vibralux in 2003 and collaborated on Dead Wheels (with Chris Farmer) in 2011.
All that’s happened since that summer of ’94 can’t be condensed into a sentence or two, but AB & AJ are one of the most productive duo’s in blading history.
A few weeks ago they were in New York to meet potential future business partners and film the first part of their video on-demand series. Shortly after the trip we talked to them about their time in NYC, the future of their companies and life in general. We’re proud to present an in-depth interview with this formidable duo, beautifully paired with awesome photos from Mr. Shawn Engler.
Interview: Johannes Jacobi Photos: Shawn Engler
Hey guys, thanks for doing this with us. Where are you right now and how did your day look like until you started answering my questions?
AJ (Adam Johnson): I am in the passenger seat of my girlfriend’s car heading to Manhattan (Kansas) to help her mom move. My day is going to be spent daydreaming of how I want to put this section together.
AB (Alex Broskow): I’m currently in London working on something with Adam Kola for The Booted. It’s been raining off and on today (it’s England), so all I’ve done today so far is gone to get coffee and walked around Adam’s neighborhood a bit. It might clear up so we can go out and do some skate tricks.
A few weeks ago you put out a little edit for fun but obviously a lot of people didn’t understand it or just don’t have any sense of humor. What were your thoughts when you saw the reactions on lets say RN for example?
AJ: It was pretty horrifying at first to be honest. I thought it was pretty obvious that it was an April Fools edit considering the day it dropped, the title of the part (Alex Broskow Youtube Skate Video), and all of the things we did within it. Just the fact that some kids thought we were serious goes to show the sad state of online content.
AB: Oh yeah, I completely expected that. Some people just don’t want you to have fun, it’s crazy. It’s as if you’re not allowed to have fun and do things that are meant to be funny if you’re a pro skater.
It’s getting to the point nowadays that if “kids” on RN like your edit or whatever you just put out then you’re doing something wrong. I’m not sure if people are negative for the sake of being negative or they really don’t want skating to progress. We’d be in a better place if there was more positivity.
Did you expect it to be like that?
AJ: I expected kids to get mad, or be upset that we were ‘wasting our time’ by having fun, or ‘wasting their time’ by offering some free content that wasn’t dead serious. Still my mind was blown when I realized kids thought it was serious.
You just stayed in New York for a week. What was the purpose of this trip?
AJ: Alex and I went out there for a few reasons. First and foremost we wanted to kick off our video on demand series for the Vibralux team by shooting a New York style skate part in the 11 days we were there. Additionally we met with Kyle Sola about changes in Dead products and to set up the structure of the company moving forward and discuss potential improvements to design. Lastly, we secured an American based garment manufacturer and denim supplier that we will be working with in the coming months for a late summer/ fall release.
You filmed for an edit that is supposed to become the first edit of yours that people can buy online and download to their devices. What made you start playing with that idea and does that mean there wont be any free content coming from your side anymore?
AJ: Free content will always exist. I’m personally feel that free content should be put out for only a handful of reasons. If you are promoting a product, having fun, or just trying to work your way up the food chain, free online content remains the best way for kids to try and get noticed (just do it well). Our version of pay for download content came from a few shortcomings of conventional DVDs. First, it is getting increasingly difficult to make back production costs with the distribution of DVDs. 2. Content gets dated waiting for an entire group of people to get their parts finalized and edited. 3. It is hard to establish any kind of reward system with a conventional DVD product when the budgets are so big and the revenue isn’t there.
When you started filming, was there a different approach to it, compared with filming for an edit that would be available for free? There are still some people who don’t see the point in paying for web-content, what do you tell them why it’s worth it?
AB: I’d say we went about it just like filming for a regular video part. So it was more serious than filming for a free online edit. And we were trying to capture the NYC vibe and feel, so that’s different than filming a regular part. Skating in NYC is like no other, very different.
It’s worth paying for online content when actual time, money and effort was put into it. Obviously people will be selective just like buying a DVD, and you should be. A big positive thing with it is the video has a much faster turn around. The part could come out 2 weeks after it was filmed and even sooner.
AJ: Very much different than filming for online free content. Unless there is a theme with content (April Fools) I’ve usually just shot when we went out and skated and made an edit when we felt like we were done (Clever Online Video series, etc.) This experience was completely different. Alex had a vision of how he wanted the part to look and the feeling he wanted conveyed. This has a very New York feel, from the spots, to the style or skating, With our VOD setup the skater gets 60%. 20% goes to a future travel budget (capped at $1,500), and 20% goes to the production. After the $1,500 is met the skater gets the additional 20%. In our opinion it creates a great opportunity to put out content that will (hopefully) always make at least the production costs back and then have the ability to create more income for a skater. From $3- $6.00 the download cost will be reflective of the quality of the section. Finally, this allows the customer to pick and choose who and what they want, rather than being forced to buy an entire video for $20 just to see a few of the parts they are interested in.
I assume some of the people that don’t see the point in paying, also don’t really know how “working on an edit” looks like. Kyle told me you left the house early and got back after midnight most of the times. Please tell us about an average day of filming for an edit like that.
AB: Wake up. Get coffee and something to eat. Skate/walk/bike/subway around to a spot or till we found something. Do that again after that. Around dark it’d be time for more coffee and food. Then we’d try and find some night spots. Most nights we got home around 1am. And then we’d repeat that the next day. When you have such little time to complete something you really have to make the most of it.
AJ: That’s putting it mildly. Working on an edit with someone like Alex is exhausting, haha. We were on some true skate head shit. Going around and search for tricks by ourselves for 5 hours, deal with oblivious tourists and rude people, remember to eat way too late and get coffee, ride another 4 miles looking for night spots with Shawn and Kyle, trek back to the house and grab something from the bodega. Go to bed at 3am after capturing the footage and repeat. No days off, no play days, no bars, no discotecs, just coffee, bagels, pizza, bikes, skating, sleeping.
What were the problems you had to face during that week?
AJ: Arguably the hardest part of the weeks were physically getting from spot to spot for myself. Between being out of shape, the 40lbs bag on my back with my skates attached, and the length of the day I was constantly trying not to die. Alex had a different set of problems he had to face.
AB: People were a big issue. There are so many people in NYC, there’s people everywhere. When you’re skating by yourself with only a filmer you’re a bit out numbered. Sometimes we’d have to wait 15 minutes in between attempts so battling a trick becomes more of a battle. It really gets to you mentally. Skating by yourself for that many consecutive days starts to wear on you as well. On top of that the amount of skating/walking/biking (most days over 10 miles of physical transportation) doesn’t make anything easier.
New York is super big and it takes hours to get from A to B. Why did you decide to film the edit in that city, knowing that you would only have a week to shoot it?
AJ: We could double the tickets to handle business for Dead and Vibralux. Also, Alex and I thought that filming a part in New York City to kick off the VOD would be sick. There is just an energy and look to the city that you can’t really get filming anywhere else in the world with the exception of Japan or Spain. It is very New York.
AB: I really like the way New York looks. It’s very classic, old school looking. Skating the streets of nyc just looks cool. I think we need more stuff coming out of New York (so many kids skate there, it’s crazy). It’s so unique and there are so many obstacles that aren’t the same in other cities. It’s like a different style of skating. I knew it was going to be hard in that amount of time but it was rad, lots of fun.
Getting tricks on camera wasn’t the only thing you were doing in NY. It seems like there’s interesting times coming for DEAD Wheels. Can you tell us about the ideas you’re playing with right now and who’s involved in the process?
AB: Kyle Solá! Exciting things to come. I know we’re all definitely excited about the future of DEAD. Don’t want to get into too many details just yet. But I can tell you we plan on making a very high quality wheel like no other.
AJ: It’s astonishing that people haven’t explored a few of these concepts yet. We aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel, we are just tweaking some parts. This is a perfect example of how business as usual isn’t necessarily a good thing. It’s high time to disrupt the marketplace and challenge some of the presumptions we have as a community about what the best wheels are. We won’t be releasing wheels until we have something new to bring to the table.
Adam, for some people it looked like your took a step away from blading for a while. How did your life look like since your last video came out and today?
AJ: The last video left me broke and left Vibralux and Street in a position where they were unable to make new products. I never left skating, I just had to work a few jobs and hustle to put money back into skating. I worked in a restaurant and as a property manager and then worked as the GM for a fine arts gallery and office port. I made great connections in the business world, gained insight into different ways to succeed and grow a brand, and have now left all of that with a greater ability to solve some of the shortcomings we were experiencing as a company in such a small market.
I would like to hear about how your average day looks like today. Please tell us about working on different projects all the time and sometimes even having to work in side jobs to make everything happen.
AJ: Basic day starts around 8:45 when I walk my dogs. I’ll jump on the computer and answer emails from Guangzhou regarding manufacturing or anything that came in from Europe/ Asia from our wholesalers. Take a look at the daily, weekly, and monthly goals and see if Nick is available for design work that day. The number one take away from the other companies I worked for was how to work smarter. Having clear goals and establishing the map to get there is crucial. Around 10:30 I’ll drop my girlfriend off at work and head to the coffee shop where I am helping the owner to merchandize his cold brew for grocery stores. I’ll work on this and Vibralux/ Street/ Dead things for the next few hours and then go home to my dogs. I’ll read for the next hour or so and hang with them and then head to shoot some pool or throw darts. Kick it with my girlfriend for a bit and then head to pool league or dart league depending on the night. Wednesday’s I run karaoke at one of my old job’s and I’ll go there and make fun of drunk people. I’ve learned that the right balance of work, play, and socializing is critical to my happiness, without it I am very unproductive and feel trapped and begin to resent some of the things I love doing.
There were times when (at least in Europe) it was super hard to get your hands on Vibralux products and it felt like you didn’t work on new stuff at all. What’s the reason for it?
AJ: Money, import costs, our costs, sometimes it doesn’t make sense for our distributors to pick up specific lines. Also, soft goods have been getting harder and harder to sell in the industry. People don’t need a shirt to skate like they need wheels, bearings, frames, and skates. Clothing is a luxury item, and for lots of shops that are struggling, to bring in a product like shirts and jeans might seem like a gamble. During Charging and Pariah all our cash flow was going to travel budget, we were completely focused on the videos.
What’s planned for Vibralux in the near future?
AJ: MADE IN AMERICA. We secured a fantastic contact while in NYC thanks to Kyle. They manufacture high-end garments for companies like Rag and Bone, Flint and Tinder, Isaora. We are excited to be able to develop clothes that skaters will be proud to wear, and to develop a system that will enable everyone in skating to order a jean that will fit their sizing needs.
Additionally we are working on the production schedule for the coming online parts and putting that 20% from projects aside for a team video when the stars align. In a perfect World we will be able to work with Jero and some other integral photographers on releasing our Decade of Vibralux Book (that would be a dumb name for it).
Alex, most people still see you as a blader only, but you are involved in quite a few companies since a while already, Please tell us a little bit about that side of your job – not only about the companies that you are involved in directly, but maybe also about the product development for some of your other sponsors.
AB: Well besides my duties as a skater it’s mostly product development. With Vibralux It’s kinda like what to make, what not to make, or the direction we should go. Which is very exciting for the future of Vibralux, because we plan on doing some cool shit and we’re rebranding the company. With DEAD it’s basically the same thing, ideas and concepts. But we all have to agree on it to move forward with it. With all companies but especially Valo I try to address my opinion on products and content. I like to be involved with all of that and obviously the testing process.
I’m pretty sure most people are interested in hearing about your average day. Please tell us about it.
AB: The average day goes like I was up at 9am, go to the coffee shop. Hang there for a bit, read the paper, maybe meet up with some buds there. Then head back home for a little. If Labarre or Darst are working I’ll either wait for them to get off or I’ll go up to the skatepark. When those skate heads get off work we usually go back to the coffee shop then skate and get some BDST content. When night falls I’ll either chill at home or go out for dinner. After that I’ll watch some VHS’s. Might be another trip to the coffee shop thrown in there somewhere. So my days are mainly skating and coffee. It’s chill. I do more than that but that’s a basic day when I have nothing planned.
Is the business side something you like to do, or is it more something that has to be done? I mean, is the decision either to go out and blade or stay in front of the computer and write a couple of more e-mails a hard one to you still?
AB: I don’t have a computer so I don’t really do that. I like the business side of it. I want to be more involved with everything; AJ knows and is getting me more involved. I think it’s not only important for myself but for the company’s also.
You are Blading on that insanely high level for so many years now. Did you start thinking about the end of your active career already? And what is coming after that? Do you have a clear picture of how your life should look like in lets say 7 years from now? AB: Haha no. I don’t really feel like that’s near. Unless skating completely falls off the earth, then we’re all fucked. But as far as I go, I feel great. I’m having more fun than ever.
7 years from now I hope to be married, maybe a dad. Still skating and doing the brands. And hopefully have something going with coffee. But 7 years is really far from now. I can guarantee you I’ll still be skating.
Adam, just for the people that came in too late, can you please list all the videos you ever made and tell us if some of them are to be found online?
AJ: Victims of Obsession, Ascension, Pandora’s Box, Never the Same, Hustlin For Pennies, KFC1, KFC2 Collective Consciousness, KFC3 Straightjackit, KFC4 Generic Tour Video, Ego, KFC Member’s Only, Icons, On Top, Clever Online Video, Charg!ng, Pariah.
Now that everyone starts to sell their videos online for download, do you feel like putting out another DVD, or are that times over?
AJ: I would like to put out another DVD to supplement the online download, like a collectors edition. Maybe we will do that when we put out our book (if we have time to get around to it).
AB: There should always be DVD’s. They’re still important. Maybe we should just start producing our videos on VHS, then maybe the video market would come back. I’d be into that.
Will there be another full-length video from you ever, or is it more about short edits from now on?
AJ: If we do well with the single parts and can create a budget (the $1,500 talked about above) I would love to go and make a full video again with the knowledge that we wouldn’t be bankrupting the company.
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with us. This is your space to tell our readers whatever you want them to know. Stuff they should watch out for in the future or general advises to all the blade-nerds out there…
AB: Thanks Jojo and be-mag. Thanks to Kyle Solá, Shawn Engler and everyone else in New York. AJ for keeping up with me and all the commitment you have for skating. It’s very rare and pure. Jon Julio for making the most buttery skates and just for being the man. Be on the lookout and get excited about the things to come from us. We’re all in a good position right now to make skating look cool and bring it back into the cool. Get ready. Also thanks to my BDST fam and the entire DRAGON FAMILY. And Tana, thanks.
AJ: I want to thank my family first and foremost for all their understanding and support. Next I would like to thank all of the brothers of mine out there who have put us in the position we are at and are continuing to push this thing we all love. From the KFC dudes, to the WAR crew, to all the teams we have had over the years, you are all my family. Much appreciation to Kyle Solá, Shawn Engler, Jojo, Be-mag, Nick Stahl and the skate heads in the city for helping out, shooting photos, taking us around, lending bikes, sending us GPS co-ordinates. Thanks to the internet trolls and haters, you help to keep our views healthy on youtube and always keep the discussion lively on the boards. General advise, be yourself, speak your mind, stick up for what you believe in, and don’t be afraid to fail. An open mind and positive vibes will do more for the World (and skating) than any kind of hatred. Lastly I want to thank Havana for being such a wonderful and supporting girlfriend.