BLADE LIFE: An Interview with Stefan Brandow
Stefan Brandow is one of those rollerbladers who gives you a lot of hope for the future of our sport. Stefan simply “gets it.” He is ahead of the curve in the blading community. When he goes out and films for his video parts, or online edits for sponsors, his understanding of progression shines through, a mixture of both raw talent and an impeccable eye for creative detail. He does unique maneuvers because doing things that are unique and question the current state of our sport is something that flows naturally through his rollerblading thought process. Stefan embodies the creative and energetic aspect from the serious side of blading, but embraces it with an ease and grace that is rare amongst rollerbladers his age. He is doing everything right and with a smile on his face. To someone like him, the pressure of progression is no match for the natural eye he posses for incredible eye-pleasing skating. — Brett Dasovic
Stefan Brandow. What is behind the name? Where does your foundation begin?
My first name is from my mothers French cousin. My name actually isn’t supposed to be pronounced “Stef-in” but “Stef-on.” Kind of like when the nerd from that show Family Matters steps into his machine and turns into the ladies man Stefan, that’s me, ha ha. My family has always pronounced it “Stef-in” so that’s just what I go with. Not sure if Brandow really has a nationality or not. I was born in Upstate, NY and recently moved back here after living in Pittsburgh, PA for the past four years. I was done with college, wanted to be with my family again, and had a lot of things I wanted to accomplish that I would only really be able to do if I was back in NY.
It seems like you’ve come up so quickly. I remember meeting you a few years ago and now things are so different for you in respect to rollerblading. How did you get so motivated and what can you attribute it to?
I just love rollerblading. I’m a very passionate person, so if I’m going to do something, I’m going to go at it 110% or I’m not going to do it at all. When it comes to any projects involving rollerblading, whether it be a friends little park edit or a profile for a sponsor, I want to put out something above and beyond what I’ve done before. My standards for myself and my blading are higher than my blading ability sometimes, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it constantly makes me improve myself and try to get better.
Brett spoke about your trick selection, how do you approach blading? Do you feel as if you skate a certain way for any reason?
Growing up I had to skate creatively. I didn’t have perfect ledges or perfect rails to learn on. I lived in the middle of nowhere. I had to create my own spots, skate fences, and launch out of curb cuts. I grew up in a creative house, too. My Dad is the second coming of McGuyver, and my Mom is a glass artist, so I’ve always done things a little differently. Plus, there’s a certain type of skating that when I see it, it gets me excited to skate. It’s nothing that I can pin-point or specify, but to put it under a general umbrella it’s just creative skating. I’m not sure if that’s because of how I started skating or because it’s just what I like, but I’ve always enjoyed watching people do things differently on blades.
I know some people dislike the way you approach skating. They disagree with always having a camera present instead of just blading. Do you look at blading as work? What are you thinking when you strap up the blades and head out for a session?
Usually when I go out and skate it’s either for a park session with friends in Rochester/Buffalo or to hit a few spots on a nice day. Most times when we do go out and skate street, there’s a camera present because everyone always has something their working on. When I have something specific to film for or shoot photos for I plan it out and make lists to make sure everything is as productive as possible and no one’s time is being wasted. People assume that if there’s a camera around to get clips or photos with, you automatically aren’t having fun with skating. I wouldn’t skate if I didn’t love it and didn’t have fun doing it. I don’t understand why that’s such a hard concept to understand. God forbid someone loves skating enough they want to go somewhere with it or be involved in the industry. Apparently that means you don’t love skating. I always see young kids who dream of going somewhere in blading and a lot of older guys will just shoot them down and say, “It won’t happen, just have fun.” Telling them to have fun is great, but why can’t they have something to shoot for? I’d understand the argument if there was a ton of money to be made in rollerblading and you could do it for the money and NOT for the fun, but we all know it’s quite the opposite. I will always be involved with skating one way or another as I grow older. If you don’t like me or my skating, don’t watch me or pay attention to what I do.
You go very in-depth when making a section or edit of yourself. With self-promotion more prevalent than ever, why is filming so important to you? Do you feel as if other people are ever slacking?
If you ride for a company, it’s your job to support and promote them. That’s the point of being sponsored. It’s a two-way street. You promote the company and their products, and the company supports you with whatever products they make. If one side isn’t pulling their weight, the relationship isn’t working. If I’m going to make anything that is going to have a company’s name on it, I’m going to try to make sure it’s the best edit I can make at that time, and make sure it’s better than my last. It’s my job to promote the company in the best light I can. I think as an industry we’re slowly starting to get back to “if you’re not doing work for the product you’re getting, your ass is cut.” And that’s how it should be.
Where do your alliances fall? What do you make of how the blading game is broken up?
I try to be friends with anyone who has a pair of skates. That’s just me and my personality. I want to be friends with everyone, but that’s not how life works. There are certain people that you’ll never be able to get along with and you shouldn’t try to force it just because they rollerblade.
People also really need to buck the fuck up and quit being so critical and hateful. Rollerbladers judge others without truly knowing the person and that’s asinine. Just because our culture and industry is young, doesn’t mean it has to be immature as well.
You recently left the Remz flow team to join USD. What was your reasoning for this switch? Do you have any regrets?
This is one thing I want to get straight, I didn’t leave Remz FOR USD. I never left one team just to ride for the other. I had been having really bad knee problems since the beginning of this past summer. I wasn’t sure what it was from and it was really concerning me. When I moved back to NY I went to a doctor and had him look at my knees. He knew that I skated, but I brought in my skates and showed him some videos so he could get a better understanding of what could have been causing it. He told me that the motions my body was doing and the impacts I was taking were not being supported enough by my skates. He thought my skates were completely made of cloth and told me to “skate all plastic skates,” ha ha. I really thought about it and talked with Kato about the situation and we both agreed it was smarter for me to be able to skate and be able to walk by the time I was 40 instead of continuing to skate the skates. From that point I just started trying out different skates to see what would make my knees feel best. I tried a few things, but it ended up that the USDs were super supportive and after I found the right setup/liner I absolutely loved the way they skated. Eventually, Demetrios had heard I was skating them and he wanted me to call him. I talked to him and really loved the direction he wanted to take things with the flow program and USD as a whole. Since then I’ve just been working on different things and trying to get stuff out promoting the skates. I’m very lucky and proud to be a part of a company with such a rich history. It definitely feels right being on USD. I feel like their brand and image fit me and what I’m into.
I know you were a very close friend of James Short, and that you still keep in touch with his family. How else do you help his memory to live on? What can we see in your skating based on his influence?
Basically everything. I cess slide probably more than my already destroyed skates would like me to, but he taught me the way to do them correctly and I’ve been hooked since he did. He just had such an open and fun mind. Not just for blading but in regards to everything. My skating is half of myself and my ideas, and the other half is James and things he taught me. Every year we’re going to continue having the Memorial Session at his home skatepark, and I’ve been trying for quite some time to make a big online video documenting the time I spent with him. Hopefully these long winter months coming up will help me finish it. I feel like I owe it to him and everything he did for me to kind of keep his legend alive and allow new and younger bladers to see the type of person and skater he was.
I’ve spoken with you before about many things outside of blading. What other influences do you have in respect to blading from outside our culture?
Clothes, design, basketball, electro, there’s so many things that I love and influence me that I haven’t had the chance to fully get into. I love electro and electronic music. There’s just a certain type of electro song that when it hits gives me a feeling that other types of music don’t. I don’t imagine my skating to any other music, so if people don’t like my music choice mute anything I make. I use it for me, not for anyone else.
I played basketball a lot when I was younger. I went to a lot of camps during the off season at big colleges and really wanted to go to a college to play, but I ended up quitting to skate. I still go to NBA games and follow the Knicks, Suns, and Bobcats religiously. One thing I find funny about basketball culture is that wanting to improve yourself and go somewhere with it is completely normal. If a little kid in rollerblading wants to push himself and go somewhere in skating he’s told to not worry about it and just have fun. Is it because people are scared that little kid is going to come up and take their “spot” somewhere because blading has such a small community? If that’s the case maybe you should step your game up if you’re so worried about some little dude coming up. If someone is passionate about something, let them be.
As far as things that directly influence my rollerblading, lately skateboarding and snowboarding have been a huge influence. When I see a trick I like that someone in a different sport does, I try to figure out how to translate it over to rollerblading. It opens up a lot of doors and creates new ideas for things we might not have thought of doing on skates.
What can we learn from outside influences? Do you think we need to look outside our own circles to improve them?
It’s the only way we’re going to expand upon our sport and trick vocabulary. You can only do so many grinds and spins into grinds and spin so much without building bigger and bigger ramps to be able to spin more. There’s not supposed to be any rules in skating. We don’t play fucking soccer, we can use our hands if we want, we can do different things from other sports. I’m no poster boy for creativity because I don’t think I’ve reached my true creative potential yet. I’m still pretty tame when it comes to what I do. I really need and want to start pushing myself and my skating in a different direction. It’s inspiring seeing what Joey and Todd are doing with Mushroom Blading, seeing the tricks that Kevin Yee is doing, seeing Leon Basin and Mathieu Ledoux mix in parkour to skating. Our culture as a whole is pretty tame as well when it comes to creativity and pushing the boundaries. I think people are too scared or too worried about what people are going to think if someone sees them trying some weird handplant to cess slide instead of sessioning the down box or mini ramp with everyone else and doing exactly what they’re doing. I feel like there are too many perceived “rules and regulations” that we have to follow when we skate. Grab this, hold this landing, get this low on that grind, don’t do that switch up. I understand having a standard of style, but it’s gotten ridiculous. We have wheels on our feet, lets use them! Our skates aren’t meant for JUST grinding. We have our whole bodies to work with. As I said before, I myself am no preacher or creative guru for these things because my skating isn’t being pushed as creatively as it could be and I love grinding as much as the next guy, but I’m really going to try and start thinking outside the box more.
Simply put, what would you change about blading at the present moment?
A lot. A lot a lot. People really need to stop hating on everything in sight. People need to stop making documentaries about how hard it is to be a rollerblader. No one outside of rollerblading wants to hear that whiny crap anymore, and I sure as hell don’t either. It’s not going to get us anywhere. We all know we don’t have it as easy as other “action sports.” We’re the black sheep, the little brother no one cares about, the mutt of the litter. We get it, we know. People outside of rollerblading get it. If you wanted it easy maybe you should have gone to school for something that would have gotten you a high paying job sitting at a desk or done a popular action sport. I think as a whole we need to come together as one to make skating dope together and show how many different styles and types of rollerblading their are. No hate, no bullshit, no unprofessional B.S. Start showing people what goes down at contests. Start giving friends an old pair of skates and buying them some of those insane DVDs that come out around the holidays, too. Show people your favorite online edits. Nothing will change for the better until we stop talking and start doing something about it. It’s nice hearing all these great ideas at industry meetings during Bittercold every year, but nothing ever gets done or comes out of them. Our industry has the ability, ideas, and talent to reach out to new participants and new markets which will be great for everyone involved in rollerblading. More participants obviously means more money in the industry, and more money means our favorite companies won’t have to shut their doors, skate brands will be able to test and improve products dramatically, and our well-deserving pros will finally get what they’ve been destroying their bodies for. I’ve started giving away skates and buying skates for young kids in my area and teaching them how to skate. I drive kids to skateparks that wouldn’t usually get the chance to go. I’ve also been trying to start meeting up with kids who don’t have a lot of people to skate with in their area and take them to park sessions and to street spots they might not know of. Someone reaching out to the 3-4 kids that blade in an area that’s an hour or two hours away from other rollerbladers can help immensely. That’s what I needed when I was younger and that’s what is going to keep the young kids inspired and juiced on blading.
I had the chance to hang out and blade with you after you got done with a month-long tour. What the hell were you doing, because you tried to explain it, but I didn’t understand?
I’ve been working for a motocross and action sports clothing company recently doing some design and video work. I was in Columbus for a week hanging out and filming with some of my good friends, then I drove straight back home to get on this crazy insane tour bus this company has. We drove to Nashville because they had a big meeting at Journey’s world headquarters then we headed over to Birmingham to film two of their amateur skateboarders. After that I left to visit my girlfriend in Charlotte for over a week, then I went back to Nashville for a few days, we went back to Birmingham to skate and film at some spots I didn’t get to hit while I was working, then went back to Nashville and I ended up coming through Pittsburgh on the way home. It’s cool working for such a big action sports company, but it really makes me appreciate that rollerbladers are running rollerblading companies. It’s hard trying to make someone who doesn’t do a sport understand how that industry works and how it should be filmed/promoted.
I’m sure you already have a list, what are your goals for the coming New Year?
I’m going to be doing a DVD with a few people in the NY area. Nothing’s totally finalized, but some really dope dudes will have full sections. We wanted to try and show that when you think of New York and rollerblading it’s just not NYC. Buffalo and Rochester are the 2nd and 3rd biggest cities in the state, and have one of the best scenes I’ve ever been lucky enough to be a part of. I kind of want to try and connect the Upstate NY and NYC scenes a bit more. I’m definitely going to try and be in NYC a lot working on it. I’m also working on a huge project of my own that I’ve been waiting to do since I was 12. I’m really really excited about it and I want it to be perfect so it comes out the correct way right from the start.
End it how you want it. I know you’ve got more on your mind.
Nothing is going to get done in our industry unless people stop talking and start doing. Go to your local Play It Again and find some old blades. If some little kid at a local park shows interest don’t just give him the skates, give him the skates then get his name and number so you can take him skating a few days a month. A little effort goes a long way. Showing kids skating and giving them skates won’t do anything to keep them involved in the sport in the long run. Being involved in the jobs I’m involved with and talking with people from other sports, our perceptions of how they view us are completely wrong. People dig skating, people dig what we do, but they don’t see it often enough or they don’t see the right things. We need to be the ones to get our industry and our pros the recognition they deserve. No contest, TV show or anything else is going to help. Stop talking and complaining and start doing.
Most importantly though, open up your mind! Try something different. Let the hate go and be friendly. Any rollerblader that owns a pair of skates is doing it because they love it, just like you. Support each other. Support rollerblading.
Interview by Bruce Bales
Portrait by Nicole Cooke
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stefan is the shiiiiiiit. even if he likes the knicks….haha. everytime we hang out, if he’s not rollerblading, he’s talking to someone about it or working on edits and ideas he has or trying to assemble a rollerblading army to take over a skatepark somewhere with kids of all ages…he loves be able to be someone they can look up to and aspire to be. all in all, he’s THE BEST. boo yah. you go stefan brandow.
love, your (almost) neighbor,
USD is getting all kinds of great promotion and sales out of stefan right now and they don’t even send him anything. I heard he hasn’t even gotten skates from them yet. Something needs to be done asap or some necks are gonna be snappin ;) Jk but no freal hook a nigguh up.
keep doing yor thing man, nice pics
A great read and I really dig Stephan’s attitude. Rolling is many things to many of us and we need to respect and appreciate all the rollers out there and we need to encourage and support folks who want to get into something we all love, rolling.
Oh yeah, and it would help if I spelled his name right lol, my bad Stefan lol.
i like how you one deletes all the comments that talk shit on this stupid ass shithead and all the comments making fun of one for picking a turd like this.
fuck the whole lot of you
Most importantly though, open up your mind! Try something different. Let the hate go and be friendly. Any rollerblader that owns a pair of skates is doing it because they love it, just like you. Support each other. Support rollerblading
To be honest….Stefan does truly love blading, but he’s in it for himself only and he’ll step on anyone or take advantage of anyone in his path to get noticed. Look at me! Look at me!!! And, to be honest Stefan is creative in the way he skates, but his skills are highly over-rated. He’s a self-promoter and that’s why he’s sponsored and that’s why he has this interview. He’s one of the Pat Milberry’s of 2011. I was doing more tech, creative stuff in 99 than he is right now. I’m not trying to be cocky or mean, just honest. I don’t hate Stefan by any means, I just think he has a lot of growing up to do and is need of a very large slice of humble pie.
Sounds like someones a little jealous :) And if you weren’t hating you wouldn’t have posted that. Stefan’s the man, so epic fail of mass proportions on your part pal, and that means alot coming from me the maker of all.
An chief if your gonna talk shit like this put your real name sweetheart
Stefans hair is amazing. I really like his foot on rail foot on ledge acid. so provocative. I think Stefan is not only americas next Pat Millberry, he is americas next top model. Stefan should have, like, all the hot sponsors. I heard Photon Klothing out of Milwaukee is drafting a contract. Elytes Shoe Co is looking into crossing over into the market…. Stefan is on the radar with that one foot acid on ledge, soul foot on rail. I heard he has that on rails and ledges…. oh wait I guess that makes sense. I heard Stefan hits the club, pops bub and tips the dancer a dub. Really Photon is interested. $100 a month in cliff bars and wells fargo yo yo’s plus as many shoe lace belts as needed for the year. This package is outrageous,