Tony Alva has over 40 years of professional skateboarding career under his belt and still shreds pools around the globe. Vans, the nice fellas they are, threw him a birthday-party-bowljam to celebrate just that and we took the opportunity to question the guy, who brought his fair share of innovation to skateboarding. Sitting right next to House of Vans’ infamous indoor bowl, Alva did not hold back on sharing his ups and downs, life lessons and beliefs with us. Dive into the talk about his new documentary, his personal transformations and thoughts on skateboarding with and without the Olympics.

Hey, Tony. You’re premiering a new film tonight! Tell us about that.

We made a short movie that’s about the last ten or twelve years of me traveling everywhere as a professional skateboarder, mostly promoting the Vans brand. I have my own board company, I ride for Independent trucks, I have a signature guitar with Fender, so, a lot of the things that I’m doing in the film are connected to what my sponsors pay me to do; but it’s also stuff that, ever since I was a kid, I’ve been really enthusiastic about and makes my life just so much more exciting and fun.

“I don’t wanna be like Michael Jackson or Michael Jordan or Madonna”

Where do you take us through the film?

So it’s really cool: it’s about China, Korea, Mexico, some stuff in the US, over here in London… basically all of our travels everywhere, put together to music. It kind of shows the connection between surfing, skateboarding, being a musician and being a bit of a mentor and celebrity to a lot of the kids that look up to skateboarding. A lot of it is me signing kids’ boards and taking pictures with them and stuff like that. Just being a guy who’s not, like, untouchable—an accessible hero to the kids. It’s part of my job but man, I don’t wanna be like Michael Jackson or Michael Jordan or Madonna; they’re too far away from where they came from. I want to be one of the children, you know, not just a big brother. That’s also what keeps you young, man. If you’re just “the guy” or “the king”, that’s too much responsibility.

So you’ve got the mental part of staying young down, but what about the physical part? A lot of the guys nowadays do yoga.

I do a little bit of yoga. I do it to get into a state of calmness and to add some peace to my life. I have a tendency to respond to something that goes wrong or negative thinking by going into what I would call a state of frustration or irritability. If it continues, it will lead me to a really bad place, which is anger. If I get angry, I’m completely removed from the spiritual part of life that keeps me connected to progress. I want to stay peaceful and be happy, and I don’t want to be a slave to my emotions.

Has that change of mentality been a slow process?

Oh, yeah. It took only about 59 years (okay, maybe more like 49.) When I got to the point to where I wasn’t doing a lot of the stuff that I did before, I discovered the spiritual path in life. That took me to a place that I couldn’t find through other means. I used to use drugs and alcohol quite a bit, and sex and money. I was always looking for something outside to make me feel better inside. When I got rid of a lot of those things, my vices, character defects and shortcomings started to improve. Then, I finally found a path that was spiritual.

Also, my surfing and skateboarding improved when I found that path because I just surrendered to something that was not all about ego. Especially when you’re young, it seems like you can justify ego into action. It wasn’t until I was 49-50 years old that I found this path in life that lead to a pretty much clean and sober lifestyle. That helped me immensely. I’ve been 11 years and 61 days clean and sober, and my skateboarding’s pretty good right now. My body is a little old and critical in situations since skateboarding is such a high impact activity, so I have my good and bad days.

With all the interests you have – skateboarding, surfing, music – does your focus shift sometimes?

Surfing is definitely easier on your bones, but I think that the more that you use the two to compliment each other, the more both activities improve. Skating pools really help surfing a lot, I think, because you’re actually flying out, similar to what you do on a wave. So when I have a good day skating, it usually leads to the next couple days or a week or so of really good surfing.

How do you feel about social media?

That kind of stuff to people is not only exciting, but I think it draws a connection between the humanity in all of us. It can really be used in a positive way. There’s some weird and quirky things about it, like people using it as a weapon, especially when it comes to their opinions. That’s fine; it’s just human nature. But I think if you use it in a positive way, it can be really fun. My Instagram thing grew immensely and has become a fun little hobby. If anything negative is said on it, I don’t turn it into a big deal. It’s not that important. Everybody has the freedom to say and express their opinion when it comes to certain things, and if they want to be negative, then cool. I’m not gonna get into a battle about, like, morals and politics and stuff like that.

So if somebody says something cool, I’ll write back to them. If somebody gives me a compliment, I try to take it gracefully. If somebody says something negative, I know myself a little bit better than people who would make comments like that, so I don’t really worry about it. It doesn’t change my personal perspective of myself or the world and I try not to judge. And that’s something that I learned in the last ten years.

Nice approach, people should pick that up.

Well, dude, I used to get so fucking pissed off and angry if people criticised me back in the day because the first thing I saw was a personal attack. Where it’s not. It’s just their opinion and everybody is entitled to one. It’s freedom of speech in the country that I was born and raised in. Freedom of speech is a huge deal, but if they shoot a bullet at me I dodge it; there’s no benefit from using it as a weapon against them.

The documentary is not supposed to be a retrospective, though. You’re still going strong.

Not to give the ending away, but the last thing I say in the film is, “I’m still learning”. To be a professional skateboarder at 60 years old, with 46 years of experience, and to at least have the open-mindedness to admit that I’m still learning is a reflection of a lesson learned: I had to have trials and tribulations of making mistakes and doing the right things in order to get to this place in my life. Also, if I can share that with other people – especially younger people – I think it can help them avoid making some of the mistakes that I did. I talk a little bit about that in the film. Just have fun. Isn’t that what skateboarding’s all about? If you’re not having fun you might as well just hang it up. For me, when I was young, it was more about money and fame and power. You get to a certain point where that doesn’t work for you. And then – when you’re lucky – you get back to where you started as a kid. Once I started having fun again I made it back home, you know. Skateboarding can get way out there, long ways from home.

What’s your take on Skateboarding today, especially with the influence of Instagram?

It’s exciting—really, really exciting. There’s so many cool people out there doing it, and the techniques and freedom of it are always going to the next level. There’s no rules! So many people in the world today are either stuck in yesterday or are already tripping on tomorrow, so if you can use skateboarding to learn how to stay in the moment, that’s really important. That’s where the pure enjoyment of life is for me – when I’m right there, feeling the spontaneity, progress and natural ability to do something that’s fun, creative and difficult, and make it look easy. Fundamentally, all is well when you’re just out there rolling around on your board down the street.

The thing about skateboarders is that we’re so good at slaloming up and over the difficulties of life. I look at life very synonymously with skateboarding, because you don’t want to let the speed bumps, cracks, dog running out in front of you and trash in the street knock you off your board or deter you from going from point A to point B. It’s very similar to what we do in life. Just draw a clean line, keep it simple, but at the same time have a good attitude and try to progress towards your goal. My skating is still like that, to a certain point. It’s not really technical or fancy. It’s more about, “This is what I do and this is how I do it.” I’ve got a technique and I’ve fully been trying to refine that technique on a daily basis.

You still got the fs airs?

Oh yeah, I still do those.

Hope I’ll see some later!

Yeah, we’ll see what happens. This (points to image) is in St Augustin, Florida, a couple months ago. That’s a tuckknee, where the knee is tucked in inside your elbow. It’s a surf style approach to doing a fs air. I have the same piece of fabric on my wrist, so it couldn’t be that long ago, or else this would be all worn out. So it’s good!

“They need me more than I need them, man!”

You once said skateboarding doesn’t need the Olympics—the Olympics need skateboarding. How do you feel about it now that decisions were made?

I still feel the same way. I think there’s so much greed and corporate shit involved and the fact that they’re not really willing to share. They want to make money off our asses, and we’re going to give them street cred. How are they really going to judge it? Are they going to do skateboarding justice? It’s like, “oh yeah, more people are going to watch skateboarding on TV.” Come on, man! Every TV commercial, every movie going down in mass media today has a connection to skateboarding somehow. They all want a piece of it. So for the Olympics to come along and say, “Oh yeah, we’re going to do this, this and this for you and it’s going to be beneficial to the business and the whole future of skateboarding,” that might be true in a way, but I think their promises are basically geared toward them getting something from it. So I’m not a real pro supporter of the Olympics. But they wouldn’t want me, anyway. That’s alright. They need me more than I need them, man!