An Interview with Jeff Ellis from AWHOU!
In the summer of 2018 I decided it was time to become a longboard dancer. So I hopped on over to my local boardshop here in Leipzig, The Shredderei, picked up a Bastl Boards Bolero for myself, and started cruising around reaaaaaaaaaaal cool. But there was a problem, I didn’t know how in the world I should start with all of this longboard dancing sorcery, so I sought help in the German Capital, which is a mere 77 minutes North of me…
Enter Jeff Ellis, pro-longboarder, part of the AWHOU! longboard crew, teacher for the AWHOU! Longboard School in Berlin, and all around just magical dude. I felt so comfortable in the beginning with Jeff learning my basics, and he turned me into a cross-steppin’ peter-pannin’ kinda fool! (The best kinda fool one can be, no?)
Jeff and I have stayed in touch since my beginnings, and he was kind enough to be the first pro-rider interviewed for the blog. I had a blast doing this with Jeff, and I think you’ll learn a lot about longboard dancing, the community, Jeff as a person, and possibly even about yourself just reading about his take on life. Enjoy! <3
Jeff!! Alright, let’s get right down to the important stuff, who is your favorite Avenger and why? If you’re not into Avenger films then why not!? Everyone loves the Avengers right…RIGHT?!
JE: The HULK! He’s green and his pants are indestructible, which translates fantastically into skating if you think about it. (Damn fine point if you think about it)
OK, tell us some of the basics, where are you from and how old are you?
JE: I’m from Berlin and I’m 30 years old.
Aaaaanddd now, the default question I’ve gotta ask every rider, what is YOUR longboarding story?
JE: My story is quite a boring one. I used to skateboard when I was growing up as a means to get out of the house and fit in with some kids I considered cool. I did quite well but wasn’t exactly passionate or ambitious about it. I dropped it eventually. After I moved to Berlin some time later a colleague of mine showed me this oddly shaped skateboard which was way too long, performed terribly at tricks but was a blast to just push down the street with. I had so much fun that literally the next day I went to a longboard shop and bought myself my first board. Since I had a background in skateboarding I wanted a board that I could speed through the neighbourhood with but also one that had a kicktail so that I could do some tricks – it was an Earthwing Superglider and it was a beast at doing exactly that. Only later I found out about longboard dancing and that my board choice was absolutely horrible for what I really wanted to do. A month later I bought an actual dancing board and started practicing.
At the 2019 Hamburg Longboard Open we saw one of the Timber Boards riders participate in a hippie jump competition while simultaneously eating a pretzel he was dipping in some kind of cheese sauce. What do you think of this strategy overall?
JE: It’s definitely a solid strategy. The crowd can overwhelm you and affect your performance, so cheese sauce seems like the obvious condiment to dip your pretzel in when you’re aiming for maximum focus. 8/10
JE: When I went to my first longboarding contest in Paris in 2012, I was approached by some students who asked me to wear an enormous bear costume and skate around in it for them to film. I was barely able to see anything but ended up doing an insanely risky hippie jump over a bench. It took me several terrifying tries and I’m pretty sure I was reasonably close to seriously hurting myself. My condiment of choice was no sleep and several cans of red bull. Would not recommend.
What’s been your most memorable moment as a longboard teacher?
JE: My most memorable moment was definitely this 11-year old Scottish kid I had a couple summers ago. He had no experience with any sort of board sport whatsoever and didn’t seem particularly interested in it, either. When he got on the board it felt like I was being pranked because whatever I showed him he was immediately able to do. He was an absolute natural. After about two hours he did his first nollie shuvit. We know kids learn fast but he was definitely on a level I have never seen before or since. We had an amazing time with lots of smiles and high fives and his mom ended up buying him a board.
I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of this fine world of ours on various longboarding trips, if there was ever a zombie apocalypse, and you could only protect ONE place in the world from zombies as a “longboarding safe zone” where would that be?
JE: Just one? You can’t seriously make me choose like this. Okay, I guess it has to be Berlin for me. Because everybody would skate at Tempelhof – the abandoned airfield (it’s seriously amazing for longboarding)– and I would still have my favourite spot all to myself. It’s only a 5 minute push from my home and I’m pretty much the only one there at any given time. Lots of space for everybody and lots of quiet for me. Win-win!
What’s your ideal dancing setup?
JE: That’s actually not an easy question to answer because I’m kind of inbetween setups currently. It used to be the Dasilva Jeffrey on these 170mm prototype Blacktop trucks that never got released. I always had a thing for 170mm trucks. Before that, I would use Holey trucks that have since been discontinued. Unfortunately the Blacktops don’t fit under my Simple Mini-Platypus so I’m trying the new Paris trucks right now. As for wheels I’m not that particular. I do like any hard and small wheel by Orangatang. Generally either Skiffs or Fat Frees.
JE: If I would have to answer this question strictly it would be a Simple Platypus, 83a Fat Frees and Holey Trucks.
On the flip side what’s your ideal freestyle setup?
JE: I use the same board for that. Usually I don’t go out with one particular thing in mind. I’m not grinding it out like that anymore. I do tend to dance a lot more than I freestyle but I don’t switch boards for that. If I really get an itch for a longer board I’m using a regular Platypus but most of the time I’m just goofing around on my Mini.
JE: The strict answer: Dasilva Jeffrey, 83a Skiffs and 170mm Blacktops.
Speaking of dancing and freestyle, what do you think are the biggest learning challenges for both styles?
JE: In my opinion it’s going switch, which is true for both but even more so when it comes to dancing. I think going switch is essential for being able to move freely and being able to express yourself in the most creative way possible. I have seen a lot of very talented people that are killing it in their natural stance but will lose every Game of SKATE if you just go nollie on them. You will lose however if they win the Rock-Paper-Scissors.
JE: In my beginner workshops I start people off getting comfortable with the “wrong” foot forward as early as possible so that they understand that it’s not their feet keeping them on the board but the position of their shoulders. They then have an easier time learning whatever they want to learn on their own later on because they haven’t developed any nasty habits.
And on the topic of skate styles, let’s open up a can of worms here – Skateboards vs Longboards. What does that mean to you, from a point of culture and community?
JE: Having a background in both it actually means a lot to me because I think they go hand-in-hand. As a kid I spent way too much time trying to go from A to B with my tiny skateboard wheels, where in retrospect I wish I had a longboard. Different boards for different purposes.
JE: I haven’t really encountered much toxicity from either camp, though. Maybe because I inherently try to stay away from mindsets and confrontations of that sort. People are tribal by nature. This is why you get PS4 vs XBOX, Android vs Apple, Pepsi vs Coke. I think you can enjoy both. Don’t be a melon.
As a teacher, what’s your favorite trick or dance step to teach, and why?
JE: Definitely the 180° step. This goes back to the earlier question regarding learning challenges. The 180° step is a great way to warm somebody up to moving on their board and getting comfortable in a different stance. Fun and practical. Even later on you rarely encounter a visually satisfying combination of steps where a 180° step is not to be seen. It’s always there, there are countless variations and follow-ups and everything builds on it.
On the flip side of that, what is the HARDEST trick or dance step for you to teach?
JE: It’s usually not the tricks or steps that are hard to teach. Everyone is different. Age, sports background, are they risk-takers or careful by nature? The most challenging to me is when somebody is extremely eager and impatient or the contrary – somebody who is very scared. I don’t want anyone to get hurt because falling early on leaves a salty aftertaste. Plus, if you’re hurt you can’t skate.
JE: Tricks and steps are easy. It all comes down to physics at the end of the day and I feel like I have a fairly good understanding of how things work and how to communicate it. People however aren’t that linear. They require much more attention to detail and can’t be treated as simply as “Place Foot A in Spot B”. It’s a welcome challenge, though. I thoroughly enjoy what I do.
So you call Berlin your daily playground. Tell me one thing you LOVE the most about the city, and one thing you HATE deeply about the German Capital.
JE: I love the accessibility and variety of Berlin. You can get anywhere easily and in a fair amount of time either by board or by bike. There are bike lanes everywhere and the public transport is decent. When it comes to variety I love all the different foods you can get anywhere or the different forms of entertainment for people to enjoy, like comedy clubs and concert venues. Variety also applies to people with the general vibe seeming a tad more laid-back compared to other large capitals like London or Moscow for example, which I love as well but for very different reasons.
JE: I don’t think I deeply hate anything, but having lived in Berlin on and off for roundabout 10 years I noticed what I and many other people dislike about a certain city isn’t always very specific to that city. Most European capitals struggle with increasing rent prices and finding a place to live in general. When I first came to Berlin living was so cheap, I was seriously considering moving districts once a year cause all of them seemed so different and interesting. Nowadays I’m not sure I ever want to leave this apartment because I fear I won’t find something as nice. But seriously, it’s awesome here. If I want to find something to complain about, I’ll find something – no matter the topic.
For some random ass reason, asking about Berlin just reminded me about Prince. What’s your favorite Prince song?
JE: So many to choose from. I think it has to be “Kiss”. It’s a classic! (This is also my favorite Prince, so it’s pretty much destiny that Jeff and I can be friends forever at this point).
The AWHOU! Community has been growing like crazy, tell me, what’s been the most rewarding experience for you thus far being a part of this crew.
JE: You really like making people choose, eh?
JE: Because of personal reasons I have been distancing myself from not just AWHOU! but the longboarding community in general quite a bit in recent years. I am doing a lot better now so I am also getting a bit more involved again. When I decided to show up at the AWHOU! contest in June, everyone welcomed me back with open arms and it felt like I never left. Has to be my favorite and definitely most rewarding experience at this point. There are so many more because at the core we are all really good friends, doesn’t matter if we meet up every day, bi-weekly or annually.
I’ve heard many renditions on how AWHOU! Is actually pronounced…I like to howl it like a wolf, but I’m not sure that’s correct. So how the hell do you actually pronounce AWHOU!?
JE: You definitely got it right. You have to channel your most primal self and let it rip.
What’s the coolest design you’ve ever seen on a deck? Why did you love it so much?
JE: Oof! Not sure about that one. Personally, I’m much more of a minimalist and a purist. I like function first, then aesthetics. I have always appreciated a nice wooden veneer like Olson & Hekmati and Simple Longboards are doing. Those boards are beautiful.
JE: I’m not much of a graphics guy but I really like that Bastl Boards and Dasilva Boards have been working with local street artists for their graphics. Also shoutout to Loaded Boards. They make pretty boards.
If there’s one thing about the longboard dancing scene you could instantly change today, what would that be?
JE: Definitely the need to “go big”. Over the years longboard dancing has changed a lot. When I first started it was all Luutse Brouwer, Adam Colton and Lotfi Lamaali. It was about simplicity and rhythm, flow and elegance. A big trick gets more cheers than a technical, groovy dance line so it seems to me that’s what people default to. It’s not all that bad, though. There are still some amazing skaters out there who prefer dancing over landing bangers.
What’s your favorite joke you like to tell?
JE: Two balloons are strolling through the desert. One says to the other “Watch out! There’s a cactusssssssss….”
On a scale from 1 to 10, how important is an epic beard when getting into longboard dancing?
JE: 4! If I share the true secret, everybody will start growing one real soon!
Tell us about the different teaching challenges that come with a person who has never stood on a board, a person who is an intermediate rider, and someone who is already quite advanced.
JE: Intermediate riders are usually the easiest. They have a general idea of where they want to be and a fairly decent understanding of their board and body. So my job is only to give them the tools. If you have good basics, you will have an easier time building on that.
JE: Beginners are usually challenging because you don’t know what you’re going to get. As I said earlier, everybody is different so that’s how you have to treat them in order for them to get the most out of it. They’re also the most exciting because they can still be shaped in their ideas of what longboarding really is and what they can get out of it. If you don’t do a good job, they might not stick around long enough to see how rewarding it can be to learn a skill.
JE: Advanced riders can be tricky when they want to learn something specific but haven’t really taken the time to build a proper foundation. A lot of people would love to learn how to Manual but won’t give the Pivot the time of day when that is truly the one skill that can make the daunting task of learning how to Manual much more manageable. It’s also really fun, though. Because the advanced riders know about THE GRIND. They know skating is about putting in time, falling and getting back up to try again. So whenever I get to have a workshop where we just grind out a trick or two, I immediately feel taken a-back a couple years when that was all I was doing day-in, day-out.
Other than longboarding, what other cool hobbies do you have that you happily give your time to?
JE: I’m a runner. Most mornings, before I do anything else, I stomp out a couple kilometers to get my day started. This clears my mind and keeps me somewhat sane.
JE: I love video games. I’m a Grand Champion in Rocket League and currently absolutely addicted to Slay the Spire.
JE: I also read quite a bit and most recently discovered that cooking is something I like doing. Other than that, I enjoy spending time with my wife, whatever we might end up doing, be it travelling or going on a night out together.
Jeff, thanks for taking the time to talk to me, let’s end this on a personal note, what’s a message you wanna send out there to everyone with a passion for longboard dancing?
JE: Don’t take it too seriously and don’t compare yourself to anyone other than yourself yesterday. That makes it fair.
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