Erik Ellington, designer, professional skateboarder and entrepreneur
Born in Alaska, it was after moving to San Diego once he’d graduated high school that Erik pursued a career as a pro skateboarder. Initially, he achieved this by working with Zero Skateboards, before veering off to start a brand with friends – Baker skateboards.
Since then, Erik has diversified to say the least, moving beyond the world of frontside blunts and flip outs, while always keeping one foot firmly on the board. He co-founded Bakerboys Distribution in 2008, which provides resources for skateboard companies, including his own Deathwish brand. In 2006, he co-founded Supra skate shoes, which was sold in 2015. Though that certainly didn’t mark the end of Erik’s association with footwear, as in 2018, he launched Human Recreational Services in collaboration with Parisian fashion designer Vaz Rajan, where he creates more formal shoes influenced by skating culture. And last year, he partnered with Chinese sportswear giant Li-Ning to create their first skatewear collection.
We spoke to Erik between Ollies to pass a few questions by him.
Did you start skating in Alaska?
Yes, Anchorage, Alaska.
What first drew you to skateboard culture?
Individuality and style. From what I saw at that time, it was something you could do whenever and however you wanted. There were a few things that drew me right away. I remember finding an old Powell Peralta catalogue on the ground and being in love with the graphics… And seeing skateboarding in the movie Back to the Future. It looked so fun.
How did you become a professional skater?
When I moved from Alaska to Arizona, it introduced me to a more massive skateboard scene. I was surrounded by people who were much better than me, which was exciting. The friends I met became my family, and we all wanted to pursue the dream of making that our life… filming videos, taking road trips, being able to live off what we loved.
Eventually, I progressed enough to get sponsored and move to California. After that, it was an evolution of doing what I loved, and timing.
Did you always have the ambition to one day move beyond simply being a skater?
I’ve always had interests outside of skating, but they all stemmed from the foundation skateboarding had given me. In other words, what I was interested in was influenced by the experiences I had. I wanted to be an architect because architecture is what we notice when looking for new spots and the compositions of materials, etcetera. My design influence directly correlated to the way I wanted to express myself, pulling from my favourite skaters, musicians, and so on. We would edit our own videos, so I’ve always liked shooting, editing, and syncing the right music. It’s a melting pot of creativity and unlimited freedom to explore.
Plus, I always feared getting a regular job, and I knew that wouldn’t last forever. But I think that fear turned into motivation. And the drive I have for skateboarding was channelled into wanting to build things… I love the process.
Who were your design inspirations?
It’s ever-changing, depending on the time in my life. For the most part, it never came from any one source. It came from my surroundings, friends, and different people my mom would bring into my life, the skate community. I moved a lot and lived in various cities in the US, so it comes from experiences rather than directly from anyone in particular. However, my stepdad was a pillar in my work ethic and a significant influence in teaching me how to find creative solutions, so if I had to sum it up, it would be him, Johnson Quarles.
What’s the best design you’ve ever seen on a skateboard?
Those first designs I found in that catalogue on the street when I was younger have always remained my favourites. Seeing the images on those shapes had such a profound impact on me that I’ll never forget what they meant to me at that time. They were the Craig Stecyk Powell Peralta graphics – the ripper, Steve Caballero’s dragon, the rat bones art. Then later, Mark Gonzales and Natas Kaupas and their respective brands, Blind and 101. Their art on skateboards was always a favourite of mine.
How did you cross over into making skate shoes?
I’ve been drawing shoes and customising my own shoes for as long as I can remember. Once I was sponsored and turned pro, I was able to design a signature shoe with a company called Emerica in the early 2000s. The shoe was successful, and it gave me confidence. The way I made it was very much a representation of my style at that point.
A few years later, I was offered to be a partner in creating Supra footwear, primarily helping with design, marketing, and endorsing signature products.
What’s the idea behind Human Recreational Services?
Once Supra ran its course, I left with no intentions of recreating what I’d done in the past. I wanted to create something which represented a new phase of my life, and Human Recreational Services was born. The idea is to combine influences in my life, synthesise them, and create articles representing those phases in a timeless, refined manner, fashion, technique, and method.
Where do you look for inspiration today?
Mostly, in the same way I always have, through new encounters, friends, and keeping a close connection to skateboarding. My inspiration has always come from discovery. As I get older, I find it working with younger people that are excited with a fresh perspective. That’s inspiring to me.
How has it been working in a different marketing territory with Li-Ning?
It’s fun! It’s been an amazing opportunity to work with a brand of their scale in a country where skateboard culture is newer. The way it’s becoming more accepted in China right now reminds me of this turning point with fresh energy and creative passion. Plus, applying my experience with the freedom to do what I think is cool with a brand like Li-Ning is an honour.
You’re based in LA now – is this very much home?
Yes, LA is home, but I’m between here and NYC mostly.
What do you love about being in based LA?
It feels like the right city for what my family and I need. When I was young, I was never in one place very long. Here, I have stability with my family, business, and friends.
What’s next for you?
Whatever the universe brings :).