Eli “Jesus” Reed
man of mischief
Eli Reed has both feet firmly planted on his board. Sure, we may be in the backseat of a car, but he’s actually behind us, one arm holding onto the car, the other used to balance himself as his board is pulled along the pavement of a New York City street. It may seem like an unconventional way to talk to someone, but, it’s pretty fitting for Eli. After all, he’s pretty much made a living off doing things other people wouldn’t even think of‐whether that’s on the board, or by being a pioneer of contemporary skate style.
Eli’s done a lot in two-plus decades of skating. But, from dropping into his first two-foot quarter pipe to launching his own brand to skating the Playboy Mansion, there’s one thing that’s guided him: Creating a fantastic reality where nothing is impossible.
So, Eli, you grew up in Boston, right? Why’d you move to New York?
Yeah, I grew up in Boston. I was born in Summerville, Massachusetts—where they filmed Good Will Hunting—and then I moved to Lexington, and then East Boston. Eventually I settled down in New York. When I was a kid, Boston felt like such a confined city. No matter how creative I was or how much I skated, I always felt confined and almost pushed down by the people there—even if it wasn’t intentional. In New York, I felt like I could express myself more, whereas, in Boston, people were always shutting down that kind of energy. Here [in New York], people are expressive and don’t shut down their impulses to be who they are and do what they want.
And you started skating when you were in Boston?
Yeah, I started skating when I was 10.
When you started, were you just pushing or did you know you wanted to do tricks on it, immediately?
It happened so quickly. I was obsessed with basketball from like eight to ten and I was literally always in a tracksuit and jerseys—like all the time. My brother had just gotten a board and—I’ll never forget—he told my mom that he wanted a board, but ‘the new kind’. I was, like, ‘what are you talking about, we have skateboards already’. We had the old school boards with the fish tails and he outlined it, with, like, the two round tails. I’ll never forget that. Anyways, I was always jumping on his board and quickly was just trying stuff. And he was like “get your own board.” So I did. I was kinda wondering if I wanted to skate or play basketball and slowly I let the basketball go and was just skating all the time. It took, like, two years before I realized I wanted to skate for the rest of my life.
What do you think drew you to skating over basketball? Was it the people you were hanging out with? The idea of it? The cool factor?
Yeah, it definitely had a cool factor. I mean, my older brother was doing it, so that played a part. But I think there was also the thrill of it. Like that feeling when I was skating. I remember, nobody wanted to drop into the little two-foot quarter pipe and I was trying it and it was just, like, so scary and so intense. That feeling was amazing—it was scary and intense and thrilling. The excitement really got me hooked.
And this was at Maximus Park, right? That’s where you were skating in Boston?
Is that where you got your nickname, skating at Maximus growing up?
Actually, I never really had a nickname growing up. It was five or six years ago, I started going to this place called Fire Sundays and one time, the bouncer was, like, ‘what’s wrong with you, you Jesus-looking dude?’ I mean, I don’t know what Jesus looked like, but it must’ve been the long hair. Every Sunday, the bouncers were like ‘What up Jesus?’ That went on for a couple years and that kind of became my nickname—Eli “Jesus” Reed.
It’s contributed to this mentality that I can do anything, if I want to. It’s tied to this term: fantastic realities. I think people are always creating these fantastic realities, especially skateboarders. That’s what we live in. We don’t even understand what’s not possible. We always assume something is possible, people will tell us it’s not and then we go out and do it.
You said that you feel more inclined to express yourself in New York, but is there anything that quite rivals what Maximus Park was?
There’s nothing like Maximus. Nothing will ever be like Maximus. I think it was the time—y’know, early ‘90s—and the unique people that created it. The way that they designed it—people don’t create skate parks like that anymore. The characters that were there every day and the way people skated then was different. Kids, now, want to emulate how people were skating then and there, but at the time, that wasn’t the case—nobody skating at Maximus was trying emulate anybody else.
Do you think that’s something that you’ve carried with you? The idea of not emulating others and pushing boundaries? Chasing that thrill, if you will?
Yeah, definitely. Especially in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, when that’s what everybody was doing. I think if you grew up in that era, skating was more about that idea of doing what nobody else had. Whereas now it’s not really as much that way. For me, it was always about doing stuff that hadn’t been done before. As I grew up off the board, I brought that mentality into other aspects of my life, too. Maybe a little too much so. Like, it took some of my friends telling me ‘yo, just because something’s already been done, doesn’t mean you can’t do it, too.’ I guess I kind of realized that you can’t always be trying to do something that’s never been done.
That’s interesting, so you think that skater mentality has informed your decisions off the board?
I’m sure it has. It’s contributed to this mentality that I can do anything, if I want to. It’s tied to this term: fantastic realities. I think people are always creating these fantastic realities, especially skateboarders. That’s what we live in. We don’t even understand what’s not possible. We always assume something is possible, people will tell us it’s not and then we go out and do it.
So that mentality’s carried over into your other projects?
Without a doubt. If there were ever roadblocks—like going to a factory and them saying they couldn’t do something, I’d figure out a way to make it work. I think it’s interesting, because there are some designers—if they had that mentality, they’d be able to exist more outside the box?
I like to think that I’m always challenging people’s ideas of what they think skating is. I’m trying to broaden others’ perspectives on that front. With most anything, people box things in, saying: well, skaters are like this, lawyers are like that. These preconceived notions end up crushing people’s ideas sometimes.
Right now you’re doing Becky Factory, right? Before that, there was another brand? How would you describe the differences between them?
Yeah, right now I’m doing Becky Factory, which is carried at Supreme and Opening Ceremony and a few other stores. I was doing my own line of clothes, called Eli Reed, which is on the back burner right now. Becky Factory is really a skate brand. We make decks and skate clothes for skate shops. Eli Reed was really more of a full line at a higher pricepoint. They’re really two different businesses.
You’re kind of one of the pioneers of the breed of multi-hyphenate skaters—guys who are designing clothes, or directing films, or doing a variety of other creative projects. Do see young skaters kind of emulating what you’re doing?
A little bit. I would say definitely, clothing-wise. When I started getting carried at Opening Ceremony, they didn’t have anything skate related and now they pretty much have a skate shop on the second floor. So, I kind of opened up those doors in a way. I remember rolling up to Supreme in these bright green—like bright—pants and my friend was like ‘wow, those are crazy, you’ve got the bright green pants!’ And now he’s dying his hair green—which is way crazier than pants. I think now skaters are a little more flamboyant with their clothes and I think I played a part in that. Trick-wise a little bit, but clothing, definitely.
Do you remember there being a turning point in terms of thinking about not only the tricks you were doing, but the clothes that you were wearing when you were riding?
It’s funny, because it’s different for everybody—some people just don’t care, but skaters, they really care. They’re really into things. It doesn’t matter if it’s their board or brushing their teeth—they care about how they do things. I was kind of obsessed with clothes around the same time I was getting into skating. I had all the Nike SBs and was just always into clothes and how I looked. Being on the board, you start to realize that how you look is going to translate into how you look on film or in photos.
I think it’s a deeper thing about skaters caring about things a lot. We’re intense people, and for me I was intense about clothes.
That’s really interesting. Do you think there’s a misconception about skaters? Because if you were to talk to most people and tell them that skaters cared a lot about these kinds of things, they’d be like, ‘Really? Are you sure?’
See, that’s what’s funny! I can only speak from my point of view, but, for me, because I’m older now, I can say that I grew up acting like I didn’t give a f—. That was really just an outwardly rebellious attitude because I did actually care about things. I think a lot of kids don’t understand that, yet, because they haven’t looked at themselves from an outward point-of-view. I’m about to be 34, but when I was in my teens and twenties I was on some kind of f— the world vibe. But looking back, I can see now that it was a mask. We all do care. It’s a societal thing to be like ‘yeah, no worries, it’s chill’. But half the time people are annoyed and don’t want to ruffle feathers. I think a lot of it is a front. We all care about stuff.
You, famously, skated the Playboy Mansion. Was part of doing that wanting to challenge the ideas people had? Because you were wearing a pink suit and clean shaven, and it was very much the opposite of what people would expect from a skater—maybe less so now, but still.
I like to think that I’m always challenging people’s ideas of what they think skating is. I’m trying to broaden others’ perspectives on that front. With most anything, people box things in, saying: well, skaters are like this, lawyers are like that. So, when I skated the Mansion, I was like, hell yeah, I wanna wear a pink suit and look clean shaven. People never see that side of me. I like doing that stuff, because it’s what I’m into—but I might not always get the chance to show it off. These preconceived notions end up crushing people’s ideas sometimes. They think ‘nah, I can’t skate like that, that’s just weird.’ So, I like to mess with people a bit and challenge those notions—but I also just thought it would be fun.
I feel like a lot of skaters peak relatively young, in their 20s, whereas you’re still skating in your 30s. You went sober a few years ago, do you think that played a part in keeping you going?
Without a doubt. I mean it keeps me there. The way I was drinking I wouldn’t be able to hang. I’m a little older, but I’m healthier than I was then—which is funny to me. It means I’m still progressing in certain ways I guess.
I check the mags and the videos and it’s thinned out as far as my generation of skaters go. I think a lot of skaters have a short window. I’ve been lucky in that things keep going for me. I just put out a big Thrasher part, for example. I don’t know, I guess I’ve lived through a lot of time periods and stages in skating. It’s pretty trippy. I’ve been skating 23 years and been into all different kinds of skating—vert, manual, street. To put out that Thrasher part and still get a ton of positive responses, that’s been really cool. I’m still doing tricks that—y’know I switch carved over the China Banks in California and that hadn’t been done—people were going crazy over something that hadn’t been done at one off the oldest spots in San Francisco.
What’s that feeling like? Getting respect from these other skaters for doing something that hadn’t been done before? Is that, kind of, like, the peak?
Well, yeah, that’s it. Like, that’s it. That’s what my generation goes for. That’s skateboarding: Getting respect for doing something nobody else has done, that’s why we do it. There’s no other feeling like it.
What would be the equivalent of that feeling to you, off the board?
I’ll tell you this: The first time I ever saw one of my shirts—when my line first came out a Supreme with just a few shirts and a few hats—on a kid that I had no relation to in SoHo. That. That was like landing a trick. It was the same feeling inside. I could tell he was feeling himself that day, he just had that look about him. And that was the same feeling.
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