So how long have you been skateboarding professionally?
19 years now.
Were there any older skateboarders that you remember as going more against the grain and being either vegetarian or vegan?
Not within my immediate circle. At that young age, no one really ate for their health when we were out skating. I know of 2 people, Ed Templeton and Mike Vallely, who were known for being vegetarian.
Did you ever go on tours with them?
I haven’t, but I would always hear stories like, “Ed just goes and eats by himself!” It’s funny because now I can relate to that. The cool thing is that sometimes other people will be curious and will ask to come with me to try it out.
Sometimes, if I end up going out with the team, while everyone is looking at the menu, I’ll just get up and go right to the kitchen and ask to talk to the chef. I’ll just ask, “Is there anything on your menu that you could make a vegan version of?”
On a recent trip to Australia, we were at an upscale restaurant, and I noticed that nothing on the menu was vegan. I asked if they could make one of the dishes vegan, and a woman came back and said, “Hey, one of our cooks here is vegan, and we’re open to letting him do whatever he wants.” I was like “Yes!” It was a dream.
As you got older, did you find any other sources of inspiration in how you approached food and health?
I think it began just with reading about food and health and finding inspiration in books. Also, when I became a father, I didn’t have a regular crew that I would hang out with every day. I hung out mostly with my kids, so I did a lot of reading and was able to come to some realizations in that time.
I was definitely influenced by the punk and hardcore music I used to listen to growing up. I also remember Brian Lotti. Brian was actually a huge influence in skateboarding for me, and he happened to be vegetarian. He was the one who hooked me up first in the skate industry.
Did you look up to him?
I did. I remember going to his house one day to skate, and he had all of these sun dried orange peels laid out, and I was like, “What is this stuff?” Now I look back and think, “Damn, that’s totally me right now.” (Laughing) There are definitely a lot of those moments, where you look back and realize that the inspiration and knowledge has been there all along, and it just takes a while to see it.
“I remember going to his house one day to skate, and he had all of these sun dried orange peels laid out, and I was like, ‘What is this stuff?’ Now I look back and think, ‘Damn, that’s totally me right now.’ (Laughing) There are definitely a lot of those moments, where you look back and realize that the inspiration and knowledge has been there all along, and it just takes a while to see it.”
I think it’s really interesting that health isn’t more of a “thing” for skateboarders. You are athletes and push yourselves physically every day. I wonder why eating healthier isn’t a more popular or serious topic.
I talk about that a lot. Now this whole generation of skateboarders is getting older, and a lot of us are still out there skateboarding. For me, my views just evolved and I came to see that being healthy is really the foundation of everything. A big part of it is mental too. Over time I’ve set up small routines, exercise and breathing regimens.
Do you do those exercises and meditations on tour?
Yeah, I still do them.
Is anyone every curious and ask to be a part of it?
Not really, some people will mimic some of my stretches but that’s about it. But how I eat has been the most evident difference when I am on tour with other people. I have a funny story about that, actually…So on tour, I often use that app called Happy Cow. Have you heard of it?
No, I haven’t.
It’s this great app, kind of like Yelp, that helps you find vegan and vegetarian friendly restaurants all over the world. On tour, often I’ll go out to eat by myself, and when I meet back up with the rest of the team, it turns out they ended up at some fast food joint. I’ll tell them where I went- and this happens all of the time- and at least a couple of people will say, “Man, I want to go with you next time.”
We were in Korea recently, and everyone else went out for Korean Barbeque. Korean restaurants can be really meat-heavy, so it took me a while to finally find a place to eat. Anyways, when I met back up with everyone, they were having a conversation about the drought in California. Now, I don’t like to preach to other people, and I don’t usually talk about my stance on things like animal rights unless someone asks and is genuinely interested. But I thought, “In this case, it’s important to bring up how much water the cattle industry uses.” So I chimed in, and a few days later one of the other guys sends me a text and says, “That really made me think, and I want to try to go vegan.” Now he’s been pescatarian for a year.
That’s interesting. I think having the confidence to speak up can really have a positive effect on people if it’s at the right time. Education is a powerful tool for change.
Right, and that’s also what I’m saying about educating the younger generation. It’s not just about communicating, but communicating effectively.
Ok, so here’s an even better story. About a month ago I was on a Cons trip in Australia, and I was trying to film this one trick for over an hour. By the way, that’s one thing I love about skateboarding- it never gets old, even if I can’t land the trick and I’m getting frustrated. So the whole team is there, and people start making bets, because they know I really want to get this one. The photographer yells out, “Kenny! If you do this right now, I’m going to go vegan for 2 days!” I keep trying with no luck, and one of the other guys yells, “3 days!” Someone else yells out, “Rest of the trip, vegan!” I ended up landing it that try. At that point, I wasn’t even that excited about landing the trick, but I remember looking behind me and seeing all of them running at me and it was just amazing. It went from eating by myself most of the time to all of the guys asking, “So Kenny, where are we eating tonight?” And it was so fun to be with them while they’re trying something new, asking the waiters at restaurants so many questions.
“The photographer yells out, ‘Kenny! If you do this right now, I’m going to go vegan for 2 days!’ I keep trying with no luck, and one of the other guys yells, ‘3 days!’ Someone else yells out, ‘Rest of the trip, vegan!’ I ended up landing it that try.”
I can only imagine that to be a young kid and to see you do your own thing and be confident with it, that it can be pretty empowering and inspirational.
That kind of stuff makes me want to reach out more and do more. If I post something to social media I get a ton of DM’s the next day with people asking me about recipes or how I healed myself naturally. I think about how helpful it was for me to have people to reach out to for inspiration and guidance in tough times. I hope I can be that for people. I have seen it happen a few times, where people reach back out to me months later.
Can you tell me a little bit about what drives your choices when buying food at the market?
I’ve been vegan for almost 3 years, and was vegetarian for a long time before that. I made the shift when I started dating Eva, who is a vegan chef. I never ate much dairy anyways, so the transition wasn’t hard. It also helps to have a chef at home.
What’s your typical market routine?
There are always the essentials- avocados, broccoli, tons of fruit, and cauliflower. Those things are always in my refrigerator. I go about once a week with my girlfriend and we tend to plan out meals through the week. We usually base our eating around what’s at the farmers market.
How many people do you typically shop for?
I shop for my three kids and my girlfriend. Shopping for the kids is different than just shopping for my girlfriend and myself. The kids eat vegan with me, but not when they are with their mom.
How has that been? Are they excited about the way you cook and eat?
It’s tough, I can’t just feed them a huge cauliflower dish! Instead we do fun things like make our own pizza dough. The best thing I can do for my kids is encourage them to learn and try new things, and to teach them that you can be vegan and healthy. I’ve taught them about where the meat they eat comes from. I feel like that shouldn’t be hidden, anyways.
Was there any particular moment that stands out for you that triggered the switch?
There were a couple of factors. One was the treatment of animals. The other was more personal, and had to do with overall mental and physical health.
You went through an injury during that time, right? What happened?
I had multiple tears in my knee, a shredded stabilizer tendon, and a torn rotator cuff. My ankle was a mess, too. At that point, I was recommended by 3 sports doctors to get reconstructive surgery.
“When the video came out, the whole ‘high’ of powering through it went away and the pain really kicked in for about four years. So take care of your body! Give yourself time to heal and give yourself time to connect with yourself. You’re not selfish for doing it.”
Wow, did this happen all at once?
No, the years of skateboarding just caught up with me. It had been bothering me for years, but skaters have a way of powering through stuff. It took me a long time to admit that I just couldn’t do that anymore. I saw three different doctors, and I just had a really weird feeling about getting these major surgeries. I wanted to get one more opinion, so I went to see a natural doctor. He told me that he had seen much worse, and that he believed that it could be healed naturally.
You didn’t get surgery?
No, I never went through with the surgeries. I just changed a lot of my diet, my outlook, my whole routine. I got very particular about what I was eating. I started meditating. It really became the foundation of my lifestyle. Without a healthy foundation, where can you really go?
That’s pretty incredible. So were you taking any type of supplements while you were working with him or was it strictly diet and physical therapy?
He didn’t put me on any supplements. At one point we did a blood test, and he told me that my blood was some of the healthiest he’d ever seen. I told him I was vegan, but then corrected myself, and said, “I’m a healthy vegan!” During that healing process I really was starting to feel the difference in my skating and also mentally.
Right. We mostly hear about diabetes and cardiovascular health when it comes to our diets, but we don’t hear as much about how it can effect us mentally.
That’s exactly what I’m talking about. If you have a really good diet, but are stressed out or in the wrong place mentally, you’re not really getting the full benefits of that diet. We all go through stressful times. It’s unavoidable. And it’s hard to be accepting of those times. For a while I was dealing with depression, and just getting angry about the fact that I was in that head space, and it’s really a downward spiral. I had to learn to say, “I’ve been through a lot recently. I’m supposed to be going through this”, to just be aware of it and accept it.
As humans I feel we have this fight or flight mentality. When things get hard or emotionally difficult we tend to look for the nearest and quickest exit route.
Yeah, it’s uncomfortable. It’s really difficult to accept those moments as they are and breathe through them. I’m not saying you have to go on top of a mountain and master all of these meditation practices- just sit wherever you are at and breathe. It doesn’t mean my problems disappeared, it just meant they no longer took over my whole existence.
So you grew up in Las Vegas- can you tell me about the food culture you were raised in, being in such a unique city?
I was fortunate to have a Japanese mother. It was very clean eating, but to a point. I was also the youngest out of six kids and we didn’t have much money, so I’m not talking exquisite meals here. Sometimes it was just cheap fish sticks- whatever could feed us quickly.
Did both of your parents work full time?
Yeah, my parents split up when I was 9. At one point it was all six of us kids with my mom working full time. She had two to three different jobs. As we got older, there was always a big pot of rice in the house. It was a sort of customary for my mom, to always have a really cheap and filling grain on hand for all of the hungry kids.
“Those sponsorships could have put my kids through college, but I turned them down. I just couldn’t do it, as a father, and as someone who is very careful with my decisions.”
If you could give your 20 year old self advice around eating good food what would you say?
Eat to be preventative, and eat to heal. Personally, I could have benefited from those things. Looking back at my career in skateboarding, though, there’s always been plenty of energy- I have had so much energy through the years. But it’s also about personal sustainability. There’s always your uncle, or your dad, or older friends, who have always said, “One day…” Now it is that day for me. I am older, and I’m a father, and I’m still out there skateboarding. In terms of health, I think I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been. There was a long period, though, right at the end of filming for “Pretty Sweet”, that I remember thinking, “Man, this really hurts but I have to power through it.” Finishing up a video part can be really stressful. When the video came out, the whole “high” of powering through it went away and the pain really kicked in for about four years. So take care of your body! Give yourself time to heal and give yourself time to connect with yourself. You’re not selfish for doing it.
I wanted to ask about Villager. It’s surprising to see some of these skateboarders that I really wouldn’t have expected to be so supportive of a healthy lifestyle drink.
A lot of us, most of us, actually, never said yes to any of the big energy drink sponsors throughout the years. (Eric) Koston, (Andrew) Reynolds, and myself- we always said no. Those sponsorships could have put my kids through college, but I turned them down. I just couldn’t do it, as a father, and as someone who is very careful with my decisions. But now with Villager you see guys like Reynolds, AVE (Anthony Van Engelen) and me… and maybe I’m more typical for that type of thing, but then you look at these other dudes and you’re like… “Holy shit!…”
Yeah, I did a double take when I was looking at Andrew Reynold’s Instagram, like, “Is that a smoothie on your Instagram feed???” (Laughing)
Yeah, and I love that!