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Photos of the interview by Alicia Berardelli

Interview with Amrit Jain, founder of Skate Sauce and social media director for Red Bull Skateboarding and Street League Skateboarding

April 9, 2021

Amrit Jain has been wearing many hats over the years from working in big movie production to helping Steve Berra create his vision for The Berrics, founding Skate Sauce, being a major player behind the scenes at Street League Skateboarding, or directing the social media strategy for Red Bull Skateboarding. We chatted with him to learn more about his story and his journey in the skateboard industry and how meeting a bum changed his life.
Where are you from?
I was born in Wisconsin but I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My father is from India and he luckily got a scholarship to Paris, France. That’s where he met my mother and then when they moved to the states so he could become a nuclear engineer, they moved around a lot. They had me in Wisconsin, I was there maybe a year and then they moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We grew up in the suburbs there until I was about ten and then they split up and divorced. My mom moved to the city and I moved with her.
When did you start skateboarding?
I started skating a couple years after that in 1997-98. My older brother skated, he was twelve years older than me, so at my mom’s house, there was a toy skateboard and two Thrasher magazines from the late 80s she had kept. I remember I would go through them all the time, it was such old skateboarding, but there was a trick tip of how to ollie in there. I just started going outside and trying to do that trick tip until one day I did a little ollie. After that I just fell fully in love with skateboarding. The friends I had in skating would teach me about the whole culture behind it, the videos, the pros, etc.
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Did you move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in skateboarding?
I started high school with good grades, but by the time I graduated in 2002, I was skating all the time, doing graffiti art, listening to hip-hop, selling weed, partying and I didn’t have the grades I needed to go to a ‘nice’ college. I didn’t want to stay in Pittsburgh and felt I had to go do something. My older brother was in LA and since I had to go to community college I told my parents, “Let me go to community college in LA”. My main objective to move to LA was skateboarding, the beach and good weather. I also thought, “Hey, maybe I can be a pro skater or something”. But once I moved here, I went to the skateparks and the spots and everybody’s good because they can skate all year round and push each other to be better. Where I grew up, there’s winter half the year and only a few skaters. I remember going to the USC spot called The Blocks and seeing Flo Marfaing and Alex Carolino at the time, around 2002-03. I didn’t know who they were, but they were around my age and they were just killing it so really quickly I was like, “You can’t be a pro skater, good luck”.
What pushed you to make video and film?
One of the first videos I had and one of the only ones I owned when I was growing up was Transworld The Reason. It was made by Ty Evans and I loved the filmmaking in it, the emotion, the music and all the cool editing. I loved Ty’s eye for filming and it gave me ideas for how I thought skateboarding could look. I met some guys while skating USC that were really good skaters, and I was like, “You guys should be filming, someone should be filming you”. I always wanted to film a little bit and make movies so I got a Sony VX2000 camera and started filming them. Sometimes I would be at street spots and a pro would be there but needed a second angle or someone to film. So I started filming tricks of guys like Sammy Baptista, met Guy Mariano through a friend and filmed some tricks of him, met the SK8MAFIA crew and would go to San Diego to film them. I started doing that in 2003 or 2004. Sometimes companies just hit me up and would try to get my footage but didn’t want to pay me or reimburse me for the cost of equipment, travel and my time. I didn’t understand that because the work I did when I first moved to LA was big movie production and they paid for everything when filming. I already had this do-it-yourself attitude and liked a good challenge so I was just like, “I’m gonna work on my own video”. I continued filming my friends that were good skaters, some of the SK8MAFIA crew and some pros, and I finished my first video Like Brothers in 2006. It was more of a cult classic, not a big video, just underground. We got a lot of love and respect for it. I thought it would give me a better chance of a company hiring me but no one was hitting me up [laughs], so I kept just doing my thing and working in the movie production industry.
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How did you end up working at The Berrics?
In early 2007, I heard of this place called The Berrics and it was this secret private training facility that Eric Koston and Steve Berra owned. On new years in 2008, I saw this job for The Berrics on a skate job website and they needed a filmer, so I reached out. A couple weeks went by and I never heard back so I started losing my optimism. Then one day I get a call from Steve and he’s like, “Hey man, we want to try you out, come down you’re going to film the REAL team”, he calls me back and he’s like, “You’ve been in big movie production and you made your own video, I see a lot more than you just being filmer, I need someone to be my right hand man that’s gonna help me build The Berrics into a full on content website”, and I was like, “Yeah let’s do it”. I remember a week later we hired Chase [Gabor], the main filmer at The Berrics. It happened so fast and it was a trip suddenly being in the middle of the skate industry. My friend Donovan made this video “How To Make A Butteryass Ledge” so I shared it with Steve and we came up with ButteryAss Mondays and some other shows like Wednesdays With Reda and different ideas for daily content. After working there a few months I hadn’t really met Eric yet, and one day I was just skating the park by myself at lunch and who shows up, f***ing Koston! Even right now I can feel the hair raising on my skin because before getting the job at The Berrics, I remember many nights trying to manifest the job so hard and being in a dream where I was skating with Koston, and now here I am and he’s goofing around skating with me. After eight or nine months at The Berrics, I started to have my own vision and ambition to make my own company. I had an opportunity to live with a band in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills so I could start my own company without needing a job. Leaving The Berrics was one of the hardest decisions in my life after working for years to get a job in the skate industry. I left at the end of 2008 and started Skate Sauce.
What’s the story behind the name Skate Sauce?
The band I moved in with was from Philadelphia. Before they moved out, they were on tour in LA and I was selling them weed and showing them around. They called me the sauce because they put me in their GPS as “A1” since my name started with “A”, and I was the first person they met in LA. A1 is a famous steak sauce and since I also hooked everything up for them, they were always like, “Man, you’re the sauce”. One day I was trying to come up with what my company was gonna be called, for me it was just a website to have videos on since my name was hard to remember – I was thinking skate street or street skate or something. They were just like, “You should call it skate sauce, you skate and you’re the sauce”. It hit me and I liked it. I slept on it and the next day I realized this could be more than a website, it could be a product. I was very inspired by Diamond and the way they did it because Diamond was a hardware company so they could sponsor a lot of pro skaters without contract issues from other sponsors. I was like, “How could I make a product that could sponsor everyone, my friends that are pros and not have problems?”. I thought, “We put sauce on food when its dry, and when a ledge is dry we put wax on it – like a sauce. Okay, I’m gonna make wax!”. It also was a cheaper product to produce unlike skateboards, wheels, trucks, etc.

The way I grew the brand was using YouTube, Facebook and eventually Instagram. I didn’t think much of it, I just knew it was the free way to build the brand and use my skills in photography and videography as well as my connects with the skaters I knew to create this movement. I started working on my second skate video in 2009 and this time it would be under the brand – Skate Sauce’s Hard Times But Good Times. I always had a dream of meeting Tom Penny, he’s my favorite skater in the world. In 2011, I went on a trip to Barcelona to finish filming the video, Vincent Alvarez was supposed to come but he got hurt two days before and couldn’t come. So I went out by myself. I had two months in Barcelona and didn’t know who I was gonna film. I go to MACBA the second or third day I’m there and randomly through a friend I ended up meeting Tom Penny. My good friend Winkle lived in Barcelona and filmed with Tom before. He invited me out on a session with Tom and told him he should film with me and I ended up filming a full part with Tom Penny. That really took Skate Sauce to another level.
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So you started working for Street League Skateboarding after that?
I put the video out in 2012 and then a couple years later in 2015, I had a meeting with my friend who was the president of Street League. I’d heard that they needed a filmer or something. But he’s like, “Hey, I have something for you, I want you to be the director of social media for SLS”, and I was like, “Social media – that’s a job? What makes you think I could do that?”. Turns out he had been following Skate Sauce on Instagram and loved how I ran it. He thought I could do the same thing for SLS. So over those next four or five years, I worked at Street League, grew their Instagram from 400k to 2.1 million, moved up the ranks, and eventually I produced the ESPN show, helped make the course and worked behind the scenes on other ideas. At the beginning of 2017, we started ETN which was like the Netflix of skateboarding. Unfortunately, it didn’t work and in 2019 we all lost our SLS/ETN jobs.

One day I was going through my list of phone contacts and I had a friend named Adrian [Morales], and I remember he worked at Red Bull. I hit him up asking if they had any openings and he’s like, “That’s crazy you reached out to me, actually Red Bull is just now splitting the social media channels into Red Bull Skate, Red Bull Snowboard, etc, and we need someone to run the Red Bull Skate YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram”, I was like, “Perfect!”. I did that for all of 2019, traveled a lot around Europe again for Skate Sauce, started working with Jessup griptape to make commercials for them, and I was able to make a decent living off those different jobs. I didn’t live luxurious, but I was able to pay my bills and travel and have freedom so I loved it. Then at the beginning of last year, right before coronavirus, Street League reached out to me and they’re like, “Hey, we got more budget, we can’t pay you what we used to, but we can pay you half and you work from home”. I always wanted to be able to have a bit more freedom from working in an office as I work harder when I have a good balance in my life. So it worked out perfect – I get to do what I love to do without getting stuck in a 9-5 routine.
Thanks to that job offer for The Berrics.
Actually I would say to me the way it stems back is when I was living with Guy Mariano in 2004-05, I was at Hollywood High [School] this one time just skating, and there’s this bum from San Francisco named Smurf. He was a skate nerd, and he was sitting there asking me about what Guy was up to and after some time he’s like, “Hey, what’s up with you?”, I was like, “Man, I quit school and I’m just trying to get a job in video editing”, and he’s like, “That’s easy, you’re in Hollywood”. So here is this bum trying to tell me how easy it is to get a job, I was like, “Okay, if you get me a job, I’ll give you a hundred dollars out of my first paycheck”, he was like, “Say swear”. I didn’t think anything of it so we shook hands on it. A couple weeks went by and I get this call from this lady Kera. I thought it was a wrong number at first and then she was like, “This is gonna sound crazy but our boss knows some guy named Smurf and he recommended you”. I thought it was just a fake interview, so I go down and next thing I know, I’m in this huge production company office in this big glass meeting room with fancy chairs. I got the job right away – I didn’t even know what to ask for when they asked for my day rate. I said, “$100?” and they were just like, “Perfect you’re hired”. Thanks to Smurf, that changed my life in multiple ways – not just for my career but even how to deal with people. If I would have just judged him and been like, “He’s a bum” and not even give him the time of day to talk to me, I don’t think I would have gone on to do what I did, but that helped me get into video editing, getting the jobs I got, learning to work with the universe and doing what I love more.
What is your day-to-day life working for Red Bull Skateboarding social media?
It’s tricky with coronavirus right now, we’re just trying to keep the channels afloat, put some good content out there. It’s hard because they have a lot of projects that they work on, but then they have a team of really good skaters that put out great skateboarding, so it’s a mix of making sure we repost some of these really good tricks that they put out, but also making sure to really spend time promoting these bigger projects that we work on. We’re really putting a lot into skateboarding – trying to introduce our audience to new characters in skating and unique trips around the world exploring different cultures and what skateboarding means to them.
In recent years, I feel like Red Bull Skateboarding is really providing content on how you can discover the world through skateboarding, and I love it. What’s your input with this strategy?
It’s interesting because at the beginning of last year, I had a meeting with one of the big producers at Red Bull for skate and I’d been telling them we need more interesting videos. I was like, “We’ve been recently just putting out these skate videos, where we go to Bolivia or wherever, but it’s just a skate edit and it’s cool but everyone else is putting out skate edits. We need to put out stuff that is meaningful and has a deep story, almost where you can follow this adventure”. And he was like, “We’re going to put out a show called Skate Tales [with Madars Apse] soon, I think that’s what you’re talking about”, and when they showed me the episode, I was like, “Yes, this is exactly what I mean”. He’s telling a story about different characters in skating, he’s showing us different places, whether it’s Bam Margera’s life or a downhill OG named Sergio in Brazil or life with a blind skateboarder. These are the stories that need to be told, everyone’s seen skateboarding, everyone’s seen the crazy hammers, everyone’s understood how pro life is, but I think more people want to know how’s everyone else’s life is in skating. And how unique and different it is everyone can be around the world. So I wasn’t surprised when those videos did half a million views, everybody can connect with, whether you skate or not.
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Do you think there’s an opportunity for these videos to become documentaries on national TV with a bigger budget?
Yeah, I think so and see it happen from time to time. That’s what Ty Evans did in the past and he is working on a new one right now. He’s working on this documentary with Nyjah [Huston], it’s kind of his road to the Olympics, along with a deeper story of Nyjah’s life. It’s gonna come out at the end of this year. But aside from that I definitely think there’s an opportunity to make more lifestyle and culture documentaries on a broader scale. I believe that there’s a huge area for that that’s just not being tackled as much right now or is yet to get the proper investment from big media.
Can you keep up with all the skateboarding content released every day?
It’s hard man, I used to be able to so easily and then it was probably about five years ago that it just started to get too much, there was a new Thrasher video every day. Along with everything else I can’t keep up with all of it.
How do you stand out on social media with Red Bull and Street League?
That’s one of the most difficult things, I try to tell Red Bull and Street League all the time, “Hey, fly me out here, let me go out with these pros” because I’m gonna go create unique clips with them, versus they create a clip and we repost it along with all the other skate channels reposting it, etc. At SLS, we’ve been releasing a lot of these older ETN shows now and it’s getting great feedback because there’s shows like this game show Foooor Wheels Live! and Face Melters, which is like a hammer going live down in the streets. Right now with the pandemic, everyone doesn’t really have many resources but to me it’s always just trying to put out something that everyone else isn’t putting out to stand out from the crowd.
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Do you think there’s more storytelling in skateboarding today because people are looking for more meaningful things?
One hundred percent. I try to tell my clients this all the time too, sometimes we all get so obsessed with the pros and there’s this huge resurgence in skating in the past few years when I talk to the kids in the streets – they don’t always know who Eric Koston or some of these big pros are, they might not even know who Paul Rodriguez is. They just learned about skating through #skateboarding on Instagram and they love skateboarding. There’s no rules like when I grew up, and there’s actually this big backlash against the rules as skateboarding is supposed to represent freedom. This new generation has such a different way of seeing it, it’s amazing because it’s actually what skateboarding is. There’s a certain history and culture that still needs to be taught and respected but at the same time, we’ve got to remember why we started skating in the first place. So to me, the storytelling is huge because we know the pro story, we should keep telling that inspiring story but there’s so many other amazing stories to tell from the huge growth in women’s skating to different parts of skating’s history to someone in the middle of Africa picking up a skateboard for the first time.
So what’s next for Red Bull and Street League after the covid pandemic?
That’s the tricky question because we’re all waiting to see what is going on. It feels like things are opening back up but then it doesn’t. With Red Bull, I think they already have some projects going on, Skate Tales 2 and just continuing to build off of what’s working. I have some ideas I want to pitch them for a contest idea and some other videos I’d love to create with them. With Street League, we started doing this thing called SLS Games during coronavirus where we would have team Shane [O’Neill] versus team [Eric] Koston. It was supposed to be the opposite of how serious SLS can be, instead its really just having fun like who can toss the board the furthest (like a board toss at a demo), or highest hippie jump, etc. Then we bounced it off with an underground skate contest called SLS Unsanctioned which is similar to SLS but without as many rules. We released that a few months ago and we just filmed another one the other day so that will be dropping soon. It’s a good way for us to do a Street League during the pandemic without the big arena and the fans. And then we’re releasing all the ETN content that we just have from 2017 that no one’s ever seen. We’re hoping to announce a 2021 world tour by the next month or two hopefully, it really depends on what’s gonna happen with the pandemic, but we would love to get back to doing a world tour this year, if not next year for sure, and going back to the roots of SLS.
Do you have personal projects going on?
I just launched a wheel company called CIAO Wheels, so that’s been fun. I was like, “Man running a new wheel company will be so hard, Bones and Spitfire rule it”, but I saw over the pandemic, their was a wheel shortage and an opportunity where I could have really gotten a company started. I designed them like the Spitfire Classics which I love and I made 125 sets. I was like, “You know what, if worse comes the worst, I have wheels for life haha”. Other than that I just want to continue producing good videos, working with skaters around the world, building my companies, helping others, and challenging myself with different projects. I’m trying to work on something new with Tom Penny I can’t talk about it, but it’s an amazing new project, something that everyone’s going to trip on. I’m just pursuing my dreams. Tom told me it best once – Life is a dream come true. Just follow your heart and do what you love.
Check out Skate Sauce’s website and Amrit’s Instagram.