Skateboarding and Venice — it can be classic or it can be cliché. Blake Johnson, born and bred in this neighborhood, would dismiss the latter, not even troubling himself with an argument. Johnson, pro skater for the last two years, is most at ease in these streets. It is apparent in the many skate parts he has filmed in the area. And it is certainly apparent in his relaxed swagger as he walks up to the beach's famed skate park, board in tow.
Said skateboard is one of Johnson's most recent with long-standing skateboard company Santa Cruz. It features an illustration of a baby Blake in a diaper with his hair looking like he stuck his finger in a light socket. The board reflects Johnson's Venice Beach origins; it's where he stepped on his first board, a Christmas present when he was 8 years old.
"When I realized it could be a career, that was a big motivation," says Johnson, 26, who is sponsored by Adidas, Dickies and Hardies Hardware, to name just a few, and who is wearing at least one item of clothing from each sponsor.
Johnson is a bona fide ATV or all-terrain vehicle skater, meaning he is as adept at street skating as he is skating concrete parks, smoothly navigating bowls and effortlessly flying across high rails. This is something he attributes in part to spending his after-school hours at the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, skating at a park that had all the setups, including half-pipes and wood ramps.
"I was so dedicated and so focused," he says of his prepro days, his voice a beach-swept drawl. "I didn't want to have a Plan B. I feel like if you even have a Plan B, it gives a probability of your Plan A not working. I stopped skating for two years, stupid teenage partying and stuff. People would see me walking around the beach and ask, 'Where's your board at?' Then I would wonder, 'Where is my board at?' My friends that cared enough were telling me, 'You're throwing away a lot of talent. Even if you don't want to go pro, you should be skating.' I got back on it like that."
There was a time, however, when Johnson, not yet a high school graduate, was homeless, couch surfing and more concerned with getting a job just to be able to live. When his mother was set up in Venice again and had space for him, her encouragement got Johnson back on his board for good.
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He says, "I tell kids all the time, anybody that's struggling with something, don't give up, not even if you have to work steady jobs. There are 365 days in the year. There are a lot of years. You have a lot of days of trying to reach for the top. Figure it out."
Now Johnson has his eyes on Tokyo 2020, reeling off the skating Olympics qualifications as if they are part of his very being. Like all professional athletes, Johnson takes care of his body with massages, Epsom salt baths, cryotherapy and a pescatarian diet. He looks to veteran skaters like Daewon Song and Andrew Reynolds and basketball players like LeBron James for inspiration, and fellow Santa Cruz legend Eric Dressen for advice. Johnson has already decided that he is going to stay relevant and good at what he is doing for as long as he chooses.
"Goal after goal," states Johnson, whose pre-issue Santa Cruz board follows his "Venice Origins" board. Coming up this summer he has notable clips in TransWorld Skateboarding's summer video montage and his own part for Santa Cruz on Thrasher's platform.
"Goals keep me structured," he says. "I don't look at goals as, 'Maybe this won't work' — not just with skateboarding but with everything in life. If you want something you just go out and get it."