Ed Templeton – The Modesty Behind the Machine

This interview with Ed Templeton was published in the June 2011 issue of Slam Skateboarding Magazine in Australia. The link to the original PDFs of the article can be found at the end of this post.

All information was correct at time of publication. 

To say that Ed Templeton is a talented man is an understatement. He has been a professional skateboarder for over 20 years, filmed over 20 individual video parts and become a world-renowned artist and photographer. He also runs one of the skate industry’s most successful companies and co-edits a quarterly art magazine. Ed is one of the remaining few stalwarts of the glory days, before online video parts and, as he calls it, “ledge dancing” took hold. You’ll find a picture of him in the skateboarding hall of fame, probably sitting a little uncomfortably between Mark Gonzalez and Andrew Reynolds. What really makes Ed stand out from the crowd though, is just how ridiculously modest he is. In a landscape where ego and arrogance are increasingly becoming the norm, Ed remains grounded and humbled by his success. He has not stopped moving forward since turning pro for New Deal skateboards in 1990 and he’s showing no signs of slowing up. Whether he’s putting out paintings, photographs or video parts, Ed puts his all into everything he does. Ed Templeton is a driven man. But where does this machine draw his motivation from?

It might not surprise you to learn that Ed’s childhood was colourful, to say the least. We’ve all heard of “the tortured artist” and though he may not want to be put into that category, Ed’s certainly got his own set of scars that didn’t come from the concrete. “My father was a dirtbag,” he says. “He left my family for a 16-year-old girl when I was eight, so my grandparents played a big role in my upbringing both before and after the divorce. I attribute all the good in my personality to them, and to having an older generation of Americans raising me and guiding me as a child.”

Ed’s mother suffered brain damage at a young age, which meant she was not able to pass the mental level of a 15-year-old. “Despite all this, she was able to raise us kids and she knows right from wrong,” he says. “It’s actually amazing. She’s very sweet, but I was not able to have any thoughtful conversations with her.”

Despite his trouble at home and the fact that his grandfather didn’t agree with his skateboarding, Ed managed to stay on his board. “I was able to skate if I did OK in school and I just scraped by,” he says. “My grandfather was, to his credit, letting me skate. I know he must have hated the idea of me skating, but as soon as I brought a cheque home for skating he changed his tune and started being more supportive.”

Ed turned pro for New Deal in 1990 and soon after a young Mike Vallely got on New Deal and told Ed that he wanted to start his own board company. The pair of upstart-entrepreneurs set up TV skateboards, though it folded quickly. “When TV went under I had no job or sponsor for eight months,” says Ed. “I was calling everybody trying to get a company started. I called Brad Dorfman, owner of the 80’s powerhouse company Vision (and the original backer for TV skateboards) and struck up a new deal for a company. I was going to call it either Toy Skateboards, or Machine Skateboards. When I asked Ethan Fowler, who was an am for my new company, he said it should be a combination of both.”

Toy Machine was born in 1993 and in 1994 Ed left Dorfman again and joined with Todd Swank, owner of Foundation skateboards. “That’s how Tum-Yeto distribution was born. I have been doing Toy Machine with Swank now for 17 years with no contracts, just a handshake,” says Ed.

Ed has been doing Toy Machine ever since and has seen pros of all shapes and sizes on the line-up over the years. Brian Anderson, Josh Kalis, Kerry Getz, Bam Margera, Jamie Thomas and Chad Muska have all graced Ed’s company with their presence.  The Muska even had a section in Toy Machine’s seminal flick Welcome to Hell, but it didn’t make the final cut due to a disagreement with Ed. “The truth is he got drunk at the premiere and got into my face, I kicked him off Toy Machine that very night,” says Ed. “He was jobless for a few months before Shortys.”

Ed has never been into getting hammered or taking drugs and to his credit, it seems to be working for him. “I just never did that stuff. I grew up watching my mother and father getting drunk and passing out, scaring the hell out of my brother and me,” he says. “Then in those teenage years when the drugs came around I always passed on them and took the crap from my friends, the peer pressure. I always felt like I didn’t have a need for the effects of drugs. People seemed to use it to achieve a certain state, to loosen up.”

Even at a young age, Ed knew he didn’t need drugs or booze to help him “loosen up”. “I was always able to do stupid stuff or ‘be loose’ without the use of drugs,” he says. “If it’s ‘let’s be stupid’ time, I’m in, and I don’t need to be wasted to do it. I don’t like losing control I guess.” Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here, considering Ed is one of the most successful pro skateboarders, businessmen and artists in his field. This comes back to Ed’s modesty and his motivation and you can’t help but think that there’s a good chance his success is linked to his clean lifestyle.

Brain Wash dropped in 2010 and blew minds left right and everywhere else. “It was supposed to be a promo video, but half the team came up with full parts, so it got upgraded to a three-quarters video,” says Ed. With Colin Provost scooping the Skateboard Magazine’s AM of the Year, and Leo Romero getting Thrasher’s coveted Skater of the Year, 2010 was definitely the year of the Toy.

Ed has fond memories of Leo’s SOTY party that was held in San Francisco. “There was lots of drunkenness, blood, boobs and skateboarding,” he says. “It’s definitely been a great year for Leo.”

Ed seemingly leads parallel lives. In one, he’s a legendary pro skateboarder and company owner and in the other, he’s an incredibly successful artist and photographer. But how does he manage to cope with it all? “I just juggle everything,” he says. “With all the time spent on doing graphics and ads for Toy Machine and all the time spent making artwork for these shows, skateboarding itself has slowed down for me. On this recent tour I got two photos for the mag, so I’m still doing ok, but only in small doses.”

As grateful as Ed is for his success, he still finds elements of the art world fairly strange. “It’s pretty weird to have people writing about your work. I always thought it would be a dream job to make art for a living, so if that ends up happening it will be something I have been working towards for the last 20 years, along with skateboarding.”

When people talk about Ed’s art or photography, the conversation often turns to one, very particular, aspect of it. So, just why does Ed Templeton take so many photographs of his dick? Is it a guy thing, or something more…metaphorical? “This is a common misconception about me,” says Ed. “My dick is nothing special; it’s painfully average if not small. My wife calls it the ‘tater-tot’, so I’m not trying to advertise my penis by any means. There are a few photos of my wiener that can be seen out of hundreds of photos. For instance, I counted the photos in my last show in LA. There were 239. Out of 239 photos and paintings only three photos had a penis in them. Only 20 contained nudity of any sort. That was less than 10 percent. But people seem to zoom in on a dick and suddenly the entire show is ‘Ed’s Dick!’”

Ed made it clear that he’s not “trying to bum people out with images” and that he’s trying to tell stories with them. “The fact is that we all live this life together, and as humans we all have some common shared experiences. Sex and relationships are central to our lives, so I don’t exclude real life. Life is prickly and I think art should be a prickly too,” he says. “I don’t see it as pornography. Pornography is something created with the purpose of arousing or exciting the viewer. My intent is to document my relationship in an authentic way. So even if it is a photo of two people having sex, I hope that the context is clear that it’s about a feeling, mood, or circumstance that another human can find insight through, rather than simple arousal. But at the core, it is probably a guy thing.”

Ed’s success in both skateboarding and art means he has seen much more of the world than he would have ever dreamed of as a child. “There are a few places where I always have a great time,” he says. “New York, Sydney, Melbourne, London, Paris, Vienna and Barcelona, to name a few. Each city has its charm and benefits. Barcelona is great for skating and art, New York is great for art, food, taking pictures and books – same with Paris and London. Australia is good for everything.”

His first trip to Australia was around 1990 with New Deal skateboards. “I was with Justin Girard, and Kiwi Andrew Morrison (Morri) met up with us,” he says. “For me every trip to Australia is awesome, even the ones where it’s bad. For instance, I went in 2007 to do an art show with the Monster Children gallery in Sydney. I met up with the Emerica team and got hurt the very first day of the skate trip. I couldn’t skate the entire trip. But instead of going home, we just stayed in Melbourne and I limped around for a week taking photos. That was super fun even though I jacked my knee.

I went again with the Emerica team in 2000, that trip was epic. It was Tosh Townend when he was 15 years old, Erik Ellington, Marc Johnson, Andrew Reynolds and Aaron Suski. I think the term ‘Suski Grind’ was coined on that trip. It was a sex, drugs and rock star fame-style trip. The stories are legendary from that tour.”

So what does Ed like so much about Australia, is it the coffee, the spots, the landscape? “Eww, coffee,” he says (definitely not the coffee then). “The land, the people, the ocean. The people are super genuine, direct and down to earth. There are great parks and spots everywhere too, Australia rules so hard! I really loved Canberra, Brisbane, and Adelaide too. I still need to go into the outback, and over to Perth some time in my life.”

Mr Templeton is pretty much a legend in his own right and an idol to many, but he also has his own set of influences and heroes within the skateboarding world. “Watching Mark Gonzales has always been a favourite,” he says. “Brian Anderson, Julien Stranger, Leo Romero, Geoff Rowley and Chris Miller. Silas Baxter-Neal is seemingly always on point too.”

Suffice to say that the game has changed since Ed’s heyday; and a few of these changes have left him with mixed feelings. “There are always small things that one notices that are strange, but I always think maybe I’m just old!” he says. “Perhaps if I was a top pro now like I was in 1990 I would have face tattoos and a funny nickname instead of using my real name.”

Even though the skateboarding world isn’t the same place it was in the 90’s, Ed is by no means a grumpy old-timer with a chip on his shoulder, in fact, he’s quite the opposite. “Nothing really bothers me; I get more amazed by things,” he says. “I get stoked on everything! Good photos, good spots, good video parts. There are so many great fucking skaters out there. I love when people have talent and bend it into ridiculously hard and creative tricks. There is so much to do, so many unaccomplished things and these keep me getting out of bed every day. I have hundreds of books lying around that need reading, and a pile of work to get through, a wife to spend all this time with, a team of dudes to shred with, and art shows on the horizon to make things for. I have too many reasons to be stoked.”

Once upon a time, a stylishly executed smith or noseblunt could have been a stand out trick in a section. Nowadays though, such simple pleasures are being replaced by more high tech ledge-wizardry than NASA could even comprehend. “Those ‘ledge dancing’ tricks are boring to look at in magazine form. But that’s me just being old. A regular smith grind just doesn’t cut it anymore,” says Ed.

Despite the incredible progression in skateboarding over the years, Ed’s still got his own set of go-to tricks that give him the feel-good factor. “A regular 50-50 can feel really good and give great satisfaction if it was hard or big enough to challenge you. Usually, as you can see from videos, I always love doing nose blunt slides. I don’t know why they feel so cool, but they do,” he says.

Emerica fans will have noticed that Ed didn’t have a very long section in Stay Gold. “I’ve have been trying to tell all my sponsors that I’ve retired from making video parts,” he says. I no longer have the time or the dedication to do a proper one. If I’m going to do it, I would like to travel, and put in the time and work, push myself and at least feel like I’m doing the best I can do for a 38 year old dude.”

Toy Machine and his art career have put a dampener on the amount of time Ed has to get out and skate and go on trips. He’s fairly conscious that he’s not the youngest guy in the game anymore either. ”When I get out of practice it’s even harder to get the feel back and when it comes to filming, unless I dedicate real time that I don’t have, the stuff I’m doing is not up to snuff. Not worth filming,” he says. “When we get to a rail and I’m thinking: ‘Hmm, I bet I can smith this thing,’ and then my entire team does a smith as one of their warm-up tricks, I know I’m useless.”

One can only hope that Ed keeps on keeping on in the years to come. When you stop and think about just how successful the guy is, and just how long he’s been putting in the work, it’s nothing short of amazing that he still manages to be so humble and appreciative of it all.  You can’t help but wonder whether that’s why he is where he is in the first place. Sure, there are others who are might be making more money and have their faces plastered all over MTV and the like, but there are few who have come as far as Ed with so much dignity intact. Mainstream evils seemingly lurk around every corner of the skateboarding world, but Ed Templeton and his Toy Machine are fighting the good fight, for better or for worse, for good.

Ed Templeton for Slam, June 2011 PDF


Filed under Interviews, Skate News, Skate Reviews, Skateboarding

5 responses to “Ed Templeton – The Modesty Behind the Machine

  1. Pingback: Ed Templeton – The Modesty Behind the Machine (via Words and Wheels) « Camera Works

  2. Templeton is a good role model for young guns to look up to. Coming from a rough childhood to becoming a Pro skater is a big feet. You’ve really got to work hard at it because it’s a big competition, especially now. I’m curious as to how much the competition to become a Pro skater has changed from when Templeton became Pro to nowadays?

  3. Thanks for your comment, I definitely agree that Ed is a great role model for kids. It just shows what you can be capable of if you put your mind to it and work hard.

  4. I definitely like the way he express his thoughts and action on Skateboarding. Very down to earth person but still has the capacity to do all those errands. Photography, doin an Art shows and Exhibit plus running a company is very hectic to me, personally. But the way Ed handles it all, its just effortless. Which really it inspires me a lot.

  5. Yea he is definitely a role model for kidz as well as for youngsters! Drugs is the only thing that ruin the whole future, once you gone through this after this you really gonna live a better life as Ed handles it.

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