In Conversation with Skateboarder Braydon Szafranski

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Braydon Szafranski’s first skateboarding experience at age seven resulted in 30 head staples, a traumatized teenage babysitter, and a confiscated board by Mom. Where most would consider that the culmination of their skateboarding endeavors, it was simply the start for young Szafranski, unphased by the whole ordeal.

Ten years later, he fled his hometown of Las Vegas to settle in the arguable industry mecca of skateboarding, Los Angeles. By a stroke of fate, he ran into Chad Muska, one of skateboarding’s biggest talents and personalities, in front of Brooklyn Projects skate shop on Melrose Avenue. Having mutual friends from Sin City, the pair struck up a conversation, which led to watching a footage tape that Szafranski had with him. Blown away after seeing the first trick, Muska sponsored him on the spot. From that point on, Szafranski’s career took off, eventually earning himself coveted spots on the Baker skateboards and Emerica footwear teams before turning professional in 2006.

As much as skateboarding is integral to Szafranski’s existence, so is the same with marijuana. Since the early days of his career, he has been a steadfast proponent of the plant, as is most evident in the introduction of his Baker 3 video part. In our interview, we discuss how legalization has changed Nevada, the secret to achieving Zen-like clarity while trying a trick, and why the skateboarding culture has always been so closely associated with weed.

Photo by Sam Muller

Do you remember the first time you smoked weed?

In school I remember that the D.A.R.E program affected people differently. There was a cop there explaining marijuana, that it’s the “gateway drug” that “changes you and makes your personality crazy.” I remember my neighbor—my best friend since age three—and I looked at each other and we were like, Oh my god, we need to try this!

My neighbor’s older sister, who was in high school, was having a party. She came over, grabbed me, and said, “Hey, I want you to come to the side of the house with me.” Of course it was two high school dudes who were smoking her out and asked if we wanted to hit it. We both smoked and realized, Wait a minute, this isn’t anything like what the cop said—this is very mellow and casual and we don’t feel like psychos! We’ve literally been smoking ever since.

In previous interviews you mentioned that you and your dad have weed tattoos. How did those come about?

My dad knew that I smoked since I was younger, but he wouldn’t talk about it or anything because [he] was just smarter than that. When I turned 18, he came over and gave me a 12-pack of beer and an eighth of weed. He said, “If you are old enough to die for this country you are old enough to do either of these in this country—fuck what they say.”

The next thing that came out of his mouth was: “But if it was up to me, I would throw away that 12-pack and smoke this the rest of your life. I’ve never heard of anyone smoking a joint and doing a mass murder, but I see drunk people doing dumb shit every day,” he said.

He then offered to buy me a tattoo. He wanted to get some weed leaves with some handcuffs, so we both got that, with “Legalize” underneath. He always made this joke that if it ever became legal that we would add the “D.”

He never registered to vote in his life, but when legalization was on the ballet, we both registered and voted. When it passed and weed became legal, we went to a tattoo parlor the same day and added the “D.” He was jumping up and down, screaming, “It’s fucking legal!”

Photo by Sam Muller

Nevada is coming up on six years of being marijuana-friendly. How has Las Vegas, as a microcosm of the state, changed since then?

To tell you the truth, it’s something that should have happened a long time ago out here. People come to Vegas to experience all of their desires—everything they can’t do in their normal day-to-day life.

I don’t think that it’s changed; I just think that no one is paranoid anymore. If you have an ounce in the trunk of your car and it doesn’t reek, you can drive to a friend’s house without looking over your shoulder, thinking that it could be the end of everything.

I think the original argument is that people would be going crazy if weed was legalized; but clearly it’s not like that.

If anything, it calmed down the city. I’ve talked about it with people that have law enforcement in their families that have said that since it became legal, the amount of DUIs and DUI deaths have gone down because more people are smoking. Think about all those people that were super shitfaced, wasted, but instead took two hits from a joint and thought, Ah, I’m just gonna sit on the couch tonight. I don’t even care about going out. 

How, if at all, has smoking helped your skating?

It 1000% helps. Anyone that knows skateboarding understands that it’s as much, if not more, of a mental game than it is a physical one. The mental game is the strongest part of skateboarding, the hardest part. 

I think Jon Miner [Emerica footwear videographer] explained it perfectly to me. He said, “Your ADHD would always get a hold of you, where you would get close on the first try, but then get so excited and mentally in your head that you might try the trick for four hours and not make it.”

If I’m in the middle of trying a trick [that is becoming a battle], and I take a hit or two, all of sudden my mind goes from What was I losing? to What can I gain? I instantly focus in: Okay, slow it down. You know what you are doing. You know how to make this happen. You wouldn’t be trying this if it wasn’t for you knowing that you can do this. And within a try or two I usually ride away. It has everything to do with not just taking that approach from the beginning. 

It seems like what you are describing is something involving being present, almost a Zen state. 

I think a lot of people who use it as medicine in the right way can get into a Zen moment and it can honestly change your perspective of what you are doing through skating, and a lot of different things, as a whole.

Why is skateboarding and weed so closely associated with each other?

I think that weed is in every culture. However, skateboarders, before this new era, were bandits. Everything came from an outlaw perspective. Skateboarding, from the beginning, is a crime. It should always be an outlawed thing because, you know, it’s what we do. We do the funnest things in places that you are not supposed to, and that’s what makes it so spectacular.

Despite weed being considered an outlaw thing in the past, most skaters weren’t scared to hide it. Athletes in any category that wanted to be in the Olympics were scared of blowing sponsors if they got caught, even though they smoked weed in their off time! Skateboarding didn’t have drug testing and not being able to be on a team if you smoke. Skateboarding is about being who you are. I think that’s why skaters have shown the world that we smoke weed and can be open about it.

Photo by Sam Muller

You mentioned the Olympics. What are your thoughts on skateboarding being involved since Tokyo 2020?

I don’t care. Just like Jake Phelps (RIP) said, “One week every four years, and then it’s done and no one seems to give a shit again until the next four years.”

It’s the same fifteen, elite skaters that actually care over the millions of skateboarders that are out there. If you want to be part of that world, that’s awesome. I think that it’s wonderful that it’s going to be in the Olympics if that’s what skateboarding wants to be. I’m still not, to this day, going to say if skateboarding is a sport whether it is or isn’t considered one now. It’s still always what it was to me.

What are you most interested in these days?

Skateboarding. I still try to get out as much as I can. I’ve broken every bone in my body so many times, so it’s whatever. I’m 39 years old, so when I’m not sore from the last session, it’s time to get back out there.

Now I have days in between skating when I’m sore as shit, so I started thinking about other things that inspired me in my life. I always loved art, drawing, and tattoos. It fell into my lap when a friend who had a shop said, “Why don’t you just start apprenticing under me?” I thought it sounded fun. Now it’s become an addiction, just like skating. It can be nerve-racking to think, If I fuck up, this is something that is there for this person’s life. I get this same feeling of rush when I am tattooing that I do when I’m doing anything else. 

Besides that, my interests include painting, side projects, and woodshop stuff. Anything that can keep me moving and going forward.

Now for the most important question of the interview: Does weed save lives?

Weed does save lives. I’ve been saying this since the beginning of time and now the fucking world is starting to see it.

How many times have you talked about that with skaters?

It doesn’t matter what country, city, restaurant, or whatever. If a skater recognizes me, it’s always, “Weed saves lives! All right, Braydon, woo!”

Follow along with Braydon’s skateboarding and tattooing here.

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