Caswell Berry: On Hot Tubs and Hot Mops

Caswell Berry hot mop portrait shoy by Austin Gardner 2000

It is said that greatness comes from adversity—not necessarily how you take your lumps, but how you get back up and rise to the next challenge. In a 30-year journey, Caswell has endured his share of wins and losses. And in an age when the average "skate career" lasts three-to-five years, Cas is still making contributions three decades in. You can be the hottest thing smoking in these streets, and be gone next month, left holding the bag and wondering how to exist. Taking the next steps is not easy, but he has risen to the occasion while striking a balance between two careers and being well aware of his position. To know him is to love him, and that's why seeing him completely come into his own brings a feeling of pride and satisfaction. Not everyone gets a third act of a professional skateboarding career. But he’s made it from a pony-tailed stunt fetus to the Redbull-fueled superstar we know today. On the eve of his newest offering, the ball has been handed off, and he's running with it. Watch the fuck out!

No days off from the streets, Caswell comes through in this new part for his friends in the Jacuzzi

It’s been a journey. We are on the cusp of this part premiere. How are you feeling? Are you in a good space?
Good space? Let’s see, yeah, absolutely! Just starting to feel a little more confident on the board and able to try things that I couldn’t just a few months ago. I’m sure having a deadline has helped. I’m hitting a lot of different spots, which I didn’t think there were too many of them left around my neck of the woods. It's been awesome.

Skating aside, how's life?
Feeling good. That’s the one inconsistent thing, you know? With skating you can pretty much guarantee stuff. I’m gonna go to the park and I’m gonna try this or do that. Life on the other hand, you wake up and you have no idea what the fuck’s gonna hit you. But that’s why they call it life!

Caswell Berry 360 flip union city gap shot by Austin Gardner 2000Caswell having a perfect 360 flip is always guaranteed

Speak on the importance of a good group around you.
Is my group good?! The dudes we hang with help out in so many different ways, not just skating, but mentally. It can lift you up when you’re feeling depressed, or you have people that say, "I got this trick in mind for you." You think, I never even thought about it like that! Then I'll give it a shot because I can’t think of tricks for myself. Having friends that are down to film you, shoot photos, drive you around from spot to spot, if you have a good group of friends like that, all the rest is just on you. It takes all the thinking and other bullshit out of it. You don’t have to worry about the outside stuff and you can focus on skating.

At its height, what do you reckon you were clocking a month from skating?
Oh, man, I don’t want to seem weird. I don't like talking about that kind of stuff, but maybe like $15,000 a month.

Caswell PQ 1 Stomach Drop 2000

When did you notice the money starting to fizzle? Was it confusing? What was your initial plan?
I would get phone calls at times where you normally wouldn’t get a phone call from a team manager. I would look at my caller ID and my stomach would drop. My heart would sink because I knew it was coming. I could feel it. You hear of certain things going on in a company. You get that call and the first thing they say is, "Hey, this isn’t gonna be comfortable," or, "I’m sorry I have to do this." You’re just like, Hey, don’t beat around the bush; just hit me with the hard stuff. The second part was confusing. Confusing, because you’re not doing anything different than you were before. I was still just doing the same shit and fulfilling my responsibilities—shooting photos, filming, going on trips and doing everything that I was doing prior. Then you start to take it personally. It’s like, I’ve been doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Why is this happening?! You get bummed out and disheartened. It feels like a chick breaking up with you—there’s nothing I can do about it. You just got to fucking accept it. From there, I didn’t really have plans. It was like, I just got a pay cut. Okay, so I got to take a look at what I’m spending my money on. How much needs to be allocated for bills and whatever? From there, you start cutting little corners. Obviously, I’m not going and spending 500 bucks at Costco every time I go. I’m not gonna be buying a quarter pound of weed anymore. It’s just little things that you cut. Then eventually you’re at some point where you’re like, Fuck, I need to get a job.

Caswell Berry nollieflip wallnut creek overpass shot by Austin Gardner 2000Clocked out and on the way to the bank with a nollie flip

How has the transition into having two careers been? When skating couldn’t exclusively pay the bills, did you ever see yourself in the trades?
The transition from just skating to having a job and skating was pretty difficult. I barely finished high school and went straight into professional skating. Of course, I was skating before high school ended, but I didn’t seek out any higher education. I’m not the best at talking to people. I can do it, but I’m not a schmoozer. I didn’t know what the hell I should do. I could’ve talked to people about it, but I didn’t. I just made it harder for myself, which also is depressing. You get anxiety thinking about money, and so at first, it was really hard, you know? I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who to turn to. I didn’t know if it was schmucky asking people for a job. Are those things I think normal people do or know how to do? In that scenario, I wasn’t really normal, I guess. Going through some shitty jobs also made it harder as well. It made transitioning into having a solid career in the trades better and easier. Once I finally started doing a job that actually mattered and made me feel good, I wasn’t depressed anymore. I wasn’t so anxious about money. Those little things kind of slipped away. A new set of problems comes with that—being tired after work, my back hurting, etc. It’s just everyday normal shit here that everyone talks about.

Caswell PQ 2 Burned with tar 2000

What is hot mopping? Are there any parallels with skating?
It’s a waterproofing application for bathroom showers, tubs, decks and room areas. People do it on roofs, but I don’t do that. You work with hot tar and it’s 500 degrees. You use a mop and a bucket. You cut paper out and you make a little shower pan and then you put tar on it. That's the simple answer. There's an insane amount of parallels with skating. Even the tools you use are similar, like a razor blade. Those things are used every single day. Then there’s the way you have to get shit done. You can’t leave until you’re done hot mopping. Just like how when I’m skating, I’m not gonna leave until I land this trick. You can get wrecked mopping. It's dangerous as fuck. If you get burned with tar, you are going to the hospital and they are scraping your skin off to remove it. You also have to try different things to improve your chances of success.

Caswell Berry nosegrind Milpitas statue ledge 1 shot by Austin Gardner 2000San Jose is a hotbed for public art, like this frontside nosegrind

Talk about the demise of enjoi and the rise of Jacuzzi.
I’m sure there was other stuff before, but when people weren’t getting paid their monthly salary and/or board royalties, that was a big red flag. Then we’re just hearing that workers are getting laid off; in-house people are getting laid off. We were constantly being told, All your money is on the way, or whatever. It was pretty quick between then and what was the end of enjoi. The rise of Jacuzzi? The writing was on the wall. It was just a matter of putting the puzzle pieces together before it really came out. You’d hear Jeff Davis or Louie say, You know, you can still get boards and you can still do all this stuff. Something’s gonna happen. We can’t tell you what. We can’t tell you who or when, but something’s gonna happen. Then you see Lou's interviews, and little videos start coming out and a team gets put together. Then another video comes out and boards are fucking selling and that’s the rise. I kind of stayed on the outside.

Do you want to discuss your injury?
Obviously, I fell. I was skating with a bunch of friends and I felt like I wanted to skate this spot, but at the same time not wanting to skate the spot. When a friend is skating it, you don’t want them to skate it alone. Over the years, I have been toying with trying a feeble on this rail. It’s not a good rail. It has a harsh angle, like a 60-degree angle to the rail from the runup. So I’m kind of going at it sideways, and the friend who is skating it had waxed the shit out of it. I tried to get into one and it fooled me. I was like, Oh damn, I guess I got more pop then I thought I had! I was able to get on it and grind a little bit. For whatever reason, the next try I didn’t get into it and I slipped out. I got into a crooked slide and slipped out on the grass. The grass was a little wet because it was morning. Literally, it was a split second. I went from looking straight ahead to laying on the ground. I don’t know how it was so fucking quick. I basically laid on my leg and I had hopped up. I remember saying, “Oh, it’s broken!" I remember hearing someone say, "You’re okay. You’re okay!" I’m like, No, my fucking leg is broken! I don’t remember hearing or feeling a popping like I had with other injuries where bones were broken, maybe just because it happened so quick, just laying there. I think I tried to get up and walk or take a step or two, and that didn’t work. So I just sat directly on the ground. Then you gave me a football for a pillow and loaded me up in your truck and drove me to the hospital.

Caswell Berry smith grind gap out san leandro shot by Austin Gardner 2000Caswell gives it the ol' Smith test, across and out

I think it's worth mentioning this was the peak COVID era.
It was the height of COVID and I thought for sure going inside the emergency room was gonna be packed with all kinds of sick people. That’s a paranoia or anxiety of mine, too. But we go and it's a fucking ghost town. There’s nobody in there. I got right in, got some meds and an X-ray. Then I basically got booked to see another doctor to look at my leg because it was more extensive than they thought, or they just didn’t have the capacity to bandage me up or put a cast on it.

Caswell PQ 3 Going to Town on my leg 2000

What was the recovery like? Where was your head at?
The doctor that I saw basically told me that I had broken my leg when I thought it was just my ankle, so the injury was worse than I had thought. I couldn’t get in to see a doctor because of COVID. I didn’t have a primary doctor set up, so I had to have some doctor refer me to another doctor. I have no idea who this guy is, and he had to stress test the break. He had to basically test to see if he could break it with his own hands like he was bending my bone and wrenching it all crazy.  I literally just turned white. My hands started fucking sweating, and I was literally just about to barf. I started to spin. I wasn't expecting any of this. I didn’t know he was gonna do that. He just said, “We’re gonna perform a stress test.” And then he just started going to town on my leg underneath this X-ray machine so he could see how much of the bone was still connected. As he was bending it, he told me that he wasn’t able to break it. So he tells me in two more weeks come back, and he’s gonna do the stress test again, and if it breaks, I’m gonna get rushed into surgery. It wasn't just a leg but also my ankle, which was broken as well. Two weeks go by and I go back and I find out I have to have a full leg cast from basically my hip all the way down to my toes. I didn’t really realize what that entailed. All my muscles just go away; they atrophy. I couldn’t bend my knee after they took the cast off, which meant I couldn’t fucking walk. That alone took me maybe a month and a half just to be able to get walking without having a peg leg. The doctor never prescribed any physical therapy, so I was just left on my own to try to figure out a rehab situation. I would just get on my bike and ride. All the while, my knee wouldn’t fully bend and my ankle was super stiff. I just tried to take it upon myself to figure out how to fix it. That could’ve made it longer for the healing process.

So when you did start skating again you were pretty shook?
More or less, skating made me upset or angry, because I felt like I should be able to do the stuff I was able to do before. My body really couldn’t or wouldn’t allow me to even just bend down to do simple things. Obviously, I can’t get up to a ledge. Then there’s skating a ramp, which was a little more comfortable, until you bail because then you slide down the transition on your feet. I’ve never had any problems with confidence in the past. It fucked me up. I couldn’t get myself to try certain things. I remember doing flatground frontside flips and having to do them into the grass because I was afraid to land on the cement. I don’t know how much of a difference it would really make, but in my head it made it feel like it was a lot easier. It fucked with me so many ways, too many ways. Now, three years later or however long it’s been, I'm still dealing with it.

Caswell Berry wallride off bascom roof shot by Austin Gardner 2000Givin' the body shop a paint job of his own, Caswell wallrides over the rat trap

How did you mentally cope?
Booze, a lot of booze. That’s kind of sad to hear myself say that. I mean, you just try to take the edge off or get your mind off of thinking about being hurt because then it bleeds back to thinking about how it happened. Then you’re just building all these hurdles for yourself. You hit these roadblocks like, I’m not gonna try that, because I just thought about getting smoked. Or I’d think, This is the same trick I was trying when I smoked myself, or, I slipped out and did the same exact thing when I got hurt. It led me to drink a little bit to stop thinking about stuff. The next thing you know, you’re just drunk.

What made you decide to put down the bottle?
There's a number of things that would make you want to quit drinking. I think for me the main ones were obviously how it made me feel. There are all these trickle-down effects. So then you start drinking again to try to get back to normal. That's a whole cycle—feeling gross and looking in the mirror, not seeing something I like, just being bloated and fat. You know, another one is letting people down. I would see that and drinking got in the way of certain things and responsibilities. You bum people out and it’s not a good feeling. Like I said, there’s a bunch of reasons but I’d say those are the main ones.

Caswell PQ Flying down a handrail 2000
Caswell Berry Brian O Dwyer ClipCollision course from Harry Bergenfield's She's Cheating video

When the clip came out of you getting in Bryan O’Dwyer’s way, everyone else thought it was so funny and it really made me sad. I was like, Holy shit, this dude is at a world-famous skate spot in the middle of the day with a half-empty bottle of Svedka. How did that clip almost going viral make you feel?
Just seeing it made me feel stupid, because I start thinking what everyone else is thinking. Everyone hit me up about it. The thing is that no one really knew what it was unless you were there. There were three or four sets of people in different areas of the park watching out for cars, other people watching out for pedestrians, a person taking a photo and another person was filming. I got out of the van, and we parked right next to where he’s landing. I have four sets of people, which probably equals about ten dudes, barking at me. So I’m looking in four different directions. Then I see this dude fucking flying down a handrail right at me. So I think if you don’t know all of that, then it looks pretty dumb—like I’m just a drunk idiot. But I was drunk and I am an idiot. There’s more to it than just what was seen online.

Speaking of substances and mental awareness Can you talk about how Ben’s passing affected you?
I’d say first and foremost, losing a friend is going to be heavy, obviously. For Ben it was, I’d say, twice the burden because on one hand I’m losing a friend and on the other, it's the way it happened. It fucked me up really bad because I lost a father to suicide. I think I was dealing with a lot of shit that was left from my dad that reared its ugly head. It kind of just boiled old feelings above the surface or whatever.

What is your process for staying sane? Do you have routines and rituals that help you stay the course?
This is nerdy as fuck, but, I guess playing video games. I’ve always had them in my life. I could see why it helps me because I just fucking zone out and just focus on the fake task at hand in my video game. Also, it’s a different kind of thing, but my routine is, I wake up, go to work, get off and then try to skate. It gives me a purpose and keeps me grounded. I don’t think about my normal day-to-day life problems. I just put my head down, put some headphones in and fucking hot mop. The next thing I know, six or eight hours go by and I'm being productive. That takes a big chunk out of it where I have to be present in the moment and focus on the task at hand.

Caswell Berry Wallie Fresno 1 shot by Austin Gardner 2000Rail-reinforced wallie over the gutter

What is it about clean clothes that is hurtful to you? Are you superstitious? Does the bacteria in your two-week-old t-shirts have special powers?
Does it hurt me to wear clean clothes? It’s not about being clean or dirty. It’s just about how you like me to throw away my work t-shirts, and I don’t like throwing stuff away. I try to reuse and make due, even though there’s plenty to be used. I don’t like wasting stuff. So I wash it in the sink and then hang it to dry to spite you. Then I shoot it with flaming arrows or something insane. When I come back to work, my t-shirt is burned with a big hole in the front so my nipples are showing.

When you crack a Redbull do you feel like you are being reborn?
Yeah, as a piece of shit! It’s not like it makes me feel good inside. With the chemicals running through my veins, every time I drink one I think about how bad it is for me and I just keep going right back to it.

Is there any amount of money that could get you to remove your rails?
Absolutely not.

Your body of work is pretty extensive. What does this new part mean to you?
Extensive?! That’s very kind. I feel like these days people put out a part every year. I don’t really know if it’s extensive. To have a new part come out, it’s something that you put all this time and effort into. It’s like the trophy you put on the mantle. You have a home for it. It feels good. I’m looking for confidence, not getting a boner on myself. It means a lot.

You’ve had first parts. You’ve had last parts. Where does this one rank for you?
I didn’t even know I’ve had a last part before!

Bonus Round, you're insane!
I’m not good at choosing any kind of favorites. Whatever I’m working on is my favorite one at the time. I could look back on every part that I’ve put out that obviously was in a different part of my life and I can see the things I was going through or not going through. I was able to focus purely on skating, and I could see that in my part. I can see it in my face. That makes things kind of sad sometimes, but also awesome. I’ve gone through all kinds of shit and I’m able to just put out this part where I never even thought that was gonna be possible. That’s why probably whatever I’m working on at the time is my favorite, especially now.

Caswell Berry bs nosepick santa clara roof qp shot bu Austin Gardner 2000Remember that booger in Bonus Round? Caswell got this photo the same way, with a nosepick

So when you look back at it, you have a boner?!
I’m fully hard looking at my video part. No, that's so bad!

Where do things go from here? How is the future looking to you?
Well, I just wanna keep doing what I’m doing—keep skating, keep filming and just try to keep moving forward. If I’m not skating, I don’t feel like I have a full purpose. Work makes me feel purposeful, too, but skating is my sanctuary.

Thank yous?
Anybody that has packed a box for me, Jacuzzi, Louie Barletta, Jeff Davis, Krux trucks, Ron Whaley, Alex White, Lawnchair hardware, Cuong Lieng, Vern Laird, Bones bearings, Steven Smith, Lakai, all the past and present team managers, my love Veronica Torres, my family, Matt Hathaway, the Custom Hot Mop Crew, Matt Eversole, the Tiltmode Army, The Dirt Weasels, the Lozer Crew, Kevin Calderwood, Austin Gardner, all of my doggy friends, all of the skateshops and people who have bought my boards and the Monnie Family.

Caswell Berry bs tailslide stevens creek reservoir shot by Austin Gardner 2000This back tail calls to mind that famous quote, "It's a lovely day. The birds are singing. The sun is shining. What more can you ask for?" —Ben Raemers 

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, contact the national suicide hotline. For tools, resources and stories from fellow skaters about mental health, learn more at the Ben Raemers Foundation 
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