The rewards of skateboarding are intrinsic and obvious to anyone that has devoted even a portion of their life to it. Yet skateboarding is physically taxing, mentally consuming, and comes with no guarantees. Life happens, opinions happen, and the fickle nature of the industry means that opportunities come and go at a moment’s notice. Some of these opportunities may come from an independent brand that thrives on an idea, with financing coming out of pocket, and the pay off being the chance to represent shared ideals. The other end of the spectrum is from corporate companies that have significantly larger budgets, and the opportunity to provide jobs and livable wages to employees. Regardless of your stance on the beaten-horse topic that is independent vs. corporate, occasionally a job goes to someone that makes sense. The karmic stars seem to align and it’s as if an inanimate object is paying back all the time that was invested out of love, with the opportunity to make a living from it.
From working a job that allowed a flexible schedule in order to skate, to traveling the world with Converse, Lee Berman got thrown into a position to be coveted seemingly overnight. While it may be timing and luck, it may be a better example of making and maintaining relationships, while also being able to work outside the parameters of what a job description can entail. – George Chen
Where are you right now, Lee?
Truthfully, I’ve been insanely busy lately and I started these questions sitting on the floor at Hong Kong International Airport while waiting for a flight to Bangkok, Thailand (which was our last stop on the Asia leg of the One Star World Tour), a place I’ve always wanted to go. Then I continued them on the plane back from Bogota, Colombia, which was the last stop on our Latin American leg, and now I’m finally sending them off to you from my couch in Boston, MA.
How did this happen? All of this travel seems like a whirlwind of change from your last job, which was not in skating.
If you bring it back two years, I was running my own real estate company and was just finishing up real estate season in Boston; the time between March 1st through September when all the apartments change over. I had also just purchased a home in Boston the June before and was finally moving into it. Which was definitely a huge life move for me at the time.
I started working in real estate because I was still skating a lot and skated for Consolidated and wanted to be able to make my own hours and travel when I wanted. I had a friend who was already into it and he said there was an open desk at the office he worked at and if I took the real estate agents exam and passed, he could get me a job. After working there for two seasons, the gradual progression was to go out on my own and see what I could do. The way it was working was I’d have to give 50 percent of whatever I made to the office, so I figured if I could go back to real estate school and get my brokers license, all I would have to do is 50 percent of what I was already doing to make the same amount of money.
The crazy thing about real estate was the longer I worked in it, the deeper I got and there was more and more money to be made. The way I worked was riding a fixed gear around the city showing as many apartments as I could; moving around fast gave me a leg up on all the slime balls driving their luxury cars around dealing with traffic and parking. It was rad to be out in the streets and getting exercise, but eventually I got hit by a tow truck and it was a good reality check to be laid up for a while with time to think. I was only doing real esate to make money and I was at the point where my next steps would have been to really expand my office and employ more people which would have meant more time sitting in an office and dealing with people I didn’t want to deal with. For how easy the act of doing the job was, I took a lot of mental abuse from clients, landlords, other agents, and my own emotions that came along with a job where you work on commission and can go weeks without a pay check. Without going too deep into things, when my friend and now boss, Andy Henrie asked me to come and work for Cons it was a no brainer.
How did you meet Andy Henrie? Was that from growing up/skating in Massachusetts?
I don’t actually remember meeting Andy for the first time, but it was after he started at Cons and moved to Boston. I remember one of the first times we went skating, he got his trucks up on the back of the JFK fountain step up ledge bench in Harvard Square (I know this means nothing to people that haven’t been there). He didn’t land it, but I don’t think anyone has even tried to get up there. I guess when I saw he could ollie, I decided we could be friends (laughs).
Boston is a huge college town and it can be really hard to retain friends here at times. When I graduated college there was like a mass exodus of homies as they got their first jobs elsewhere or just wanted a change. Then another mass exodus as people start to get their second jobs a few years later. And then it sort of seems that dudes just slip out one by one. It’s rare when someone a little older moves here and is down to go out and skate all the time. Andy ended up living pretty close to me, so it was easy to link up after work and go push around.
Of course life is about who you know, but would you encourage people (interested in working in skating) that may not know anyone in the industry to network via Instagram or LinkedIn?
LinkedIn from my experience is pretty much worthless. I have a profile, but don’t even know the password to log on. The sky is really the limit with Instagram. It trips me out how easy it is to stay in contact with my friends all over the world without even having to really try. It’s really a special and beautiful thing. If you’re going to try and network via Instagram, just make sure to do it tastefully. There is nothing wrong with starting a conversation and saying “what’s up,” but no one wants your stuff jammed down their throats.
I guess the big thing is, nothing will ever make up for good old fashion human interaction to develop a relationship. I really encourage people to just get out there and skate, and have beers with people, and to be hospitable to people when they come to your city. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make a fool of yourself. If someone’s an asshole to you, just forget about it and move on.
Since working with Cons, how many countries have you been to? You’re living the dream of getting paid to travel; are you getting the time to skate these spots as well?
Well, it actually kind of stinks . . . I’ve wanted to go to most of these places my entire life but about 3 months after starting the job I started to have hip problems, and like all skaters I waited to see a doctor and now just recently had surgery about 3 months ago. Beforehand I was skating as much as I could, but couldn’t really fully enjoy it or skate to my fullest. I’m stoked I was able to get the surgery and have been rehabbing the best I can and will hopefully be back on the board in about another month.
It’s really been a wild ride since I started. I’ve seen more of the USA than I ever thought I would, doing four US tours, and traveled to Spain, France, Cuba, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, England, Macau, Hong Kong (which I guess is technically China), China, Korea, Thailand, Brazil, Buenos Aires, and Colombia. As you said, it’s absolutely a “dream job” and I couldn’t be happier, but have no illusions about it, it’s still a job and it is a lot of work.
What are some of the facets of your job? On the road? At the office? Is your title called Team Manager?
Well contrary to what people think, Cons is still a pretty small operation with just a few people running things so we all have to wear many hats. I guess the main aspects of my job are team management, social media management, and coordination of our seasonal marketing materials such as adverts, catalogs and digital content. But it’s really all how the wind blows at that moment. Sometimes I end up playing the roll of accountant and spend the week chasing invoices and looking at Excel sheets.
For all the benefits of your position, can you share some challenges that come from working in skating? Is it ever hard for you to separate the stresses of work and the love of something you’ve done for so long?
Of course – there is so much that goes along with my job that’s a struggle. Most of it is just common office stuff that happens in any industry with multiple departments. As one could imagine there’s plenty of moments in foreign countries with 15 dudes that become pretty difficult. Trying to stay on top of office work while I’m on the road is also a huge challenge.
Skating for myself hasn’t changed, it’s always been about the feeling you get with certain tricks, finding a new spot, or just pushing down the street. I don’t think that’s something a job can take away.
You are part of a heavy list of Static alumni. How did the Boston division come about in Static 3? Did Josh film all of that?
The Static 2 premiere in Boston, my friend Matt Bagley had coordinated putting the event together but I was still in high school and couldn’t get into the bar. He knew how much the video meant to me and how much I wanted to be there. He snuck me into the bar and had me sit next to Josh at this merch table away from all the partying to see the video. It was then that I met Josh, and I think Josh saw what kind of impact the whole thing was having on me. During that time I was a weekend warrior in the city and I think I must have been on some tapes that were submitted to Josh for the video. I didn’t have a trick in the premier copy but then once the video was out, Josh had thrown a trick of mine in a montage at the last minute. I really couldn’t believe it, for me to have a trick in a project that Kenny Reed, Bobby Puleo, and Ricky Oyola were in was like a dream come true at that point in my life.
It was that winter that Kevin Coakley’s family moved from Massachusetts to Florida. I was down in Florida visiting my family and I took the train across the state to Tampa to see Kevin. Kevin was good friends with Pat Steiner who was skating with Josh pretty much everyday during that time. It was during that trip where me and Kevin really became inseparable and shortly after Kevin moved back up to Boston. Josh was just flirting with the idea of another video but he knew he wanted to do something with Pat so he asked us if we wanted to have some clips in the video and that’s how myself and Kevin being in Static 3 happened.
Static 4 man? That’s just a funny one, the decade had gone full circle and I was in Miami exactly 10 years after that trip to see Kevin. I filmed a few clips and one of them ended up in the alumni section. I felt like I was 18 again getting to be in a section with Kenny, Rick, Bobby, and it felt even better to have Kevin in there who at this point is like my brother.
What’s also funny is even though I’ve been out filming with Josh plenty of times, none of the tricks I’ve ever had in a Static video were filmed by him.
You’ve always had unique spot selection. Is this an East Coast mentality or for the aesthetic? If you could build one obstacle for your own private spot, what’s it gonna be?
For me it was just growing up where I did without spots. It was all about turning nothing into something. After that it just became an obsession of mine to find things that hadn’t been skated and to skate them. Although I have a lot of respect for it, the hardest trick on a ledge never had any appeal to me, which is actually kind of funny because I’d probably just build a nice ledge. I just watched Frank Gerwer do frontside and backside lip slides on a ledge in his 40s and I need to make sure I can do that too.
Would you consider yourself a lifer?
I guess my previous statement would show that I do.
As someone that has worked outside of skating, and now being part of the industry, you know both sides of the coin. Did you always want to work in skating? Is there advice you would have given to your previous self about how to break into working in the industry with what you know now?
As a kid, I always wanted to work at SLAP, so I guess in that regard I always wanted to work in skating. Truthfully, I was an emotional mess in my work life when I started at CONS. I was making really good money in real estate, but it just broke me down and I was over it. I didn’t have a soul or purpose and felt like I was only making a paycheck and losing my mind doing so. I guess my advice would be that if you love something you should make it your life. Everyday I come to work stoked to be around my co-workers and do whatever I have to do.
What would you have wanted to do at SLAP? Did you ever try and reach out to them when they were still in print? Now that you’re at CONS, are there any people that you get to work with that were part of SLAP?
I was so young that I don’t think I actually wanted to do anything specific. I’m talking like literally when most kids thought they were going to be a pro football players or policemen, I thought I was going to work at SLAP not even really understanding what that even meant. Without going off on a crazy tangent, I learned how to read from reading SLAP. In 3rd grade, I still couldn’t read and my mom bought me an issue from Dicks Sporting Goods and saw how into it I was, and ordered me a subscription. Not knowing what the text said was literally driving me crazy and really pushed me to learn how to read. Years later, after I was in the first One In A Million contest, I kept in contact with Mark Whiteley, who was the editor and is an epic human. He let me contribute to the mag when it made sense. I wrote a few pieces and really felt that’s just where I just wanted to be . . . being a part of something that had such an influence on me and being able to give back to it. Since working at CONS, I’ve done some trips with Joe Brook, Mike O’Meally, and Jonathan Mehring, all who at one point or another were SLAP photographers. I definitely fan out on those dudes and play 20,000 questions on long drives with them. It’s like getting to experience a bonus section. Joe’s really a good sport about it and tells a great story.
Can you say you are working a job that you’ve dreamed of? The cliché, but in the realm of a skateboarder, dream job?
I can speak for myself and say that yes, this is a dream job, but it’s certainly not for everyone. This job is a lot of work, I spend a lot of time at a desk, and it’s 24/7 with absolutely no boundaries.
If there were anybody current or past that you would want to fully put on Cons, who would it be?
Probably just Kevin (Coakley) because it would be rad to get to travel the world with my dude . . . although I was pretty jealous of HUF when they brought Matt Field on that last trip.
Lastly, without listing family/friends/pets, what’s your favorite part of returning home to Boston?
El Pelon burritos.