Eli Reed: The "Out There" Interview

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Words and Photos by Waylon Bone

A few years ago, Eli and I were filming pretty regularly for Converse’s Purple. One morning he showed up noticeably jazzed. Knowing that he was sober, I asked him what he had been up to the night before. He went into enthusiastic detail about a Brooklyn dancehall party he was at until 5 am. I couldn’t imagine having the energy to stay up that late without drinking but the vibes that he felt would go on to consume him for the next few years. Besides John Cardiel and some of the OG San Francisco skaters, I hadn't heard much about skaters being into dancehall. I wanted to travel to Kingston and document Eli’s reaction to a real dancehall, candidly. We stayed for a week looking for skate spots, Ital food and the dancehall parties, obviously. Although skateboarding can be considered an open-minded sport or art form, I was well aware of the fact that skateboarders can be rigid to new ideas coming in. This made me skeptical to finish the video and put it out where it could be openly criticized. But in my mind, I knew this was a huge part of Eli’s lifestyle, one that he unapologetically loves. Eli is at a point in his life where he knows what makes him happy and truly doesn’t care what other people think about him, contrary to popular belief. Take a look at how he lives day to day.

I was gonna ask what happened last night?
Oh yeah, I was at Kinfolk. It’s kind of a known place with a dancehall night where lot of my friends who are dancers show up. I didn't personally go in that hard but my boy James did. His name is Floats. He's like a flexer and a glider.

Eli photo2 2000pxSwitch in the city

I had a feeling you were at Diamond last night.
Well, the night started at the Diamond party. It was a Keith Haring and Diamond collaboration where I helped produce a photo shoot and put the party together.

How long have you been here at this apartment?
I've been here for exactly a year now. I was staying temporarily in another room. I thought I was gonna find a new place but the people in the building offered me this room.
Eli Room Landscape Gif 750px
Back in New York, Eli put his pad together with intention
Where were you before this spot?
I was in LA.

Eli photo12 2000pxLA ain't for everyone

Do you want to talk about that period?
I mean, yeah, I met a girl and fell fucking in love with her super big time. I basically moved out there to chill with her and try to switch things up a little bit. I always loved New York, though. I didn't really want to go but I thought, Hey, I know LA well, so let's try it a little bit. It was cool. That's actually where I linked up and started doing more things with Diamond, so there were good things that happened. I did a year and a half out there but then it didn't work out with the girl. I stayed out there for another month or two and I was like, LA is not really the place for me to live.

EReedSwCarve DZ 2000pxHe needed to get some gnarly shit. Switch over the bench at China Banks definitely qualifies

It seemed like you were filming quite a bit.
I was filming for the Converse video, so there were two good things that happened—linking up with Diamond and spending a year and a half skating the hardest I had in a while. I mean, I'm still skating hard but that was like every day because I knew the deadline was coming. Six months out, I was like, I need to get some gnarly shit. That’s when I went to SF and did the switch wallride on China Banks and then the switch roll in at Century City. I always looked at that because Nick Diamond was living over there. I went to stay with him one winter and I was going by it everyday. I thought, Fuck, that thing is so sick! So one day I just tail dropped in with nobody there. 
Just tail dropped in it by yourself?
Yeah, by myself. It's not that bad of a tail drop.
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He did the tail drop solo but we're glad he documented the switch roll in. The people need to know!

Were you excited to move back to New York?
I actually did meet some cool dancehall guys in LA, but when I moved back to New York it was like the beginning of a new era in my life. Everything's so different now. I mean, it's still the same—it's New York, New York! But there’s just so many new kids, so many crews and so many spots that you used to skate that you can't now. I was living in Brooklyn for a long time and now I'm back in Manhattan. It's cool to be in the mix of downtown Manhattan, but it's just so corporate. That's what I think now when I walk around New York. Not that I'm some triple OG but I've been around since the end of the ‘90s, so almost 20 years. I remember being at Max Fish hanging out on a burnt car, like a beat-up burnt car that had been there probably for half a year. It was just dirtier with cooler people and less skaters. At Tompkins it was like Harold hungover late in the day, TF Eric—this guy you never see around, Scotty Schwartz, Switch Back Ted, Pappalardo and Bill Strobeck floating around. It was a small crew. It doesn't mean it's good or bad. I think it's cool that skateboarding is a lot bigger now but I like small niche things. I always want to do something different. As it gets bigger, it can become unattractive in some ways. I think it’s kinda weird because skating was about individuality and that punk rock rebellious shit, you know. Like fucking punk rock and hip-hop.
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The rug really ties the room together

So what's your daily routine around this neighborhood?
At the moment, I've been waking up and going to yoga every day. I always do it in the winter when it starts to get cold. It's fucking good, man. I'll feel like shit because the weather's shitty or I’ll have a headache, then I just do yoga, hit Juice Press and I feel amazing. It just changes everything for me.

Eli photo27 2000pxRight at home, Eli throws a switch wallie on Houston

Do you go to the bathhouse?
I haven't been going. It’s expensive. I don't have a pass and stretching is better for you than a bathhouse. Yoga's internal and that's more important. I think you get the same relaxation feeling internally throughout your whole body whereas the bathhouse is more for your surface skin.
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Keeping it green on the Frankenstein couch
I've heard you talk about colors before what do colors mean to you? I feel like your room is set up based upon moods.
I'm big on colors. I think they are mood setters. Green is my favorite color. It’s usually pretty calming. I like color-tinted glasses and stuff like that. I guess I'm sensitive to color. I reupholstered this couch. I went to the garment district in Midtown and hand picked it all. I went through a bunch of different fabrics and had to have a big one sewed together from two pieces. It was like wrapping presents.
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From $120 to 30K, not a bad investment
Do you have anything in this room that is important to you?
That Hambleton piece right there is probably worth a lot of money. I might be able to get like 30 grand. He's a dude from the '80s who was really big for doing these shadows. My buddy told me to come over because he needed money. He said, “Trust me, it'll be worth it.” I paid $40 each and there's three of them. There’s also a board that’s really cool. It has woven griptape that I made a long time ago on top of a board Paul Schmitt and I shaped together. After I cut it out, even Paul said, "This is really cool, man.”

Eli photo25 2000pxYou know you got the shape right when Paul Schmitt says it's cool

How does skateboarding correlate to dancehall?
It reminds me of skating because it moves really fast. An artist like Vybz Kartel—he's the king of the dancehall now—puts out a new song every month and then there's a new dance to go with it. So once a month there's a new dance that'll be really fun to learn and it reminds me of skating where month to month there will be a new trick. Kickflip back tails were hot for a month, then the nollie heelflip noseslide was kind of hot. So it moves fast like skating moves fast. It's similar. Some of the more basic ones are fun because everybody can do them. Some of the steps are easy to do but it’s tricky to get the bounce right. Maybe you can do the step but it wouldn't look like how a real dancer did it. It would be like doing the mob kickflip.

What are your values?
I value actually getting to know people on the street. When I buy food, I buy it from vendors and people on the street because they're real Jamaicans who are just trying to make a normal living. They make food at their house and they bring it out in pots on the street. The food is actually really, really good, so I buy from them rather than a place like Tastee's which is a chain. I value the locals in that way. I value the food that they make and getting to know people from the ground up.

Eli photo31 2000pxSeeing the world through heart-shaped glasses, there's worse ways to roll

Would you say Half Way Tree in Kingston is one of your favorite neighborhoods?
Half Way Tree is my favorite place to chill because it's just insane. It's like going to some crazy part of New York back in the day. You get to just people watch. You know, I’m really into the culture of Jamaica now. It's a fun place to just kick back and watch how they live. It's interesting to me.

Is that the one area that you compared to New York?
Nothing is comparable to New York. It's just the busier area, so yeah, in a way it's like their Union Square or 42nd Street. There are no underground trains in Jamaica so it's all buses. The buses pull up and they yell whatever part of town they're headed to. So like, "Boston Beach! Boston Beach! Port Antonio! Port Antonio!" super loud.
Eli Reed Out There BusNo place compares to New York, but a mad dash for the bus in Half Way Tree has a similar vibe

How many times have you been there now?
It's gonna be my third time in six months now.

What do you have planned for this trip?
The first trip was cool because it was a work-and-skate trip. On the second trip I went to just ask myself, Do I really like it out here? And I did. I really liked it. Now that I'm a little bit more plugged in, I'm getting involved in trying to put on a skate camp through Geejam Hotel and the skatepark in Boston, Jamaica. We're putting it together now and I think it's gonna happen.

Eli photo32 2000pxLightpost for a backrest? Almost as cool as sitting on a burnt-out car

How do you think people responded to the video that we put out?
I think the overall response was very positive. I would like to think that most skaters think it's pretty fucking sick because Jamaicans are some of the most rebellious, rawest people in the world. And for skateboarders, that's how we used to be from the beginning. Some said it made so much sense as to how skating and dancehall correlated and they could understand better by how I talked about the relationship. I even ended up getting a few emails from people asking how they could help with growing skating in Jamaica, which I thought was kind of amazing that they would do that.

Have you heard of skaters getting into dancehall before?
Yeah, John Cardiel! He's not doing the moves but he's been into the music forever. Joey Tershay and a lot of SF skaters were listening to it. A lot of the '90s skaters were really into dancehall. I always heard dancehall playing at Supreme when I was a kid growing up because Pooky was raised on it. Geo and the other Supreme guys listened to a lot of reggae and dancehall, too.
Eli Dancehall Tick TackAuthentic dancehall NBD, Eli tick tacks with the crowd

How many times were you going out to dancehall?
I went so hard that first time. I went out every night. In Jamaica it goes 'til sunrise, so if you don't really lock those windows up tight, you're only getting three or four hours of sleep. Then you go skate all day.

What would you like to tell the world about dancehall?
I would like to say, for me, as far as being in the dancehall, I always consider myself a guest because I'm really not from the culture. I'm an Irish kid from Boston. I grew up in New York, but I grew up around Jamaicans and Caribbean people my whole life. It's been a really amazing journey because I get to meet dancers and then they find out I'm a pro skater and they get into it. I’ll end up teaching them how to skate. I have friends now that I've brought into my skate world and they bring me into some of their dancehall world. It's a mixture of cultures and I think at the end of the day that's what we're all trying to do. We’re learning how to live together with different cultures and religions and things around us so it's kind of amazing to learn more about their culture.
What are a few albums or artists you'd recommend for a dancehall first timer? 
Dancehall is an evolution and it might not make sense if you don’t start with some of the foundational artists. Here's where I'd say to begin: Barrington Levy, Buju Banton and Super Cat
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