(Words and graphics. Published: Welcome Skate Store blog, 11th March 2019.)
A skateboarder’s ability to scrutinise and philosophise over minor details is a skill unmatched.
Styles, pushes, spots, tricks and clothing are all subject to critique by peers or fans; and, with those last two in mind, the name Elijah Berle evokes the image of him championing the nosegrind pop-in and the phrase ‘outfit crisis’.
Considering the days of stair hammers and skinny jeans, the post-Fully Flared flannel and tech takeover or the low-impact influx of recent years; adhering to the zeitgeist is rife for the everyday skateboarder and, simply, more recognisable for those in the spotlight. But going back to the beginning of Elijah’s career, one person stands out as impactful, to say the least, and that’s Corey Duffel.
“When you see footage of Elijah at 14, you’d think he was 18. He was probably six feet tall. I saw a sponsor me tape he sent to Foundation and you could clearly see he was influenced by Cataclysmic Abyss. The tight black pants, the small black shirt and chomping on rails,” begins the Duffman.
“At 14 he had already done a backside salad grind down the Jamie Thomas ‘one more time’ rail from Misled Youth, the one Jamie 5-0s and he puts his hand up for another, and I thought, “Fucking hell, who is this kid?”” laughs Corey.
Foundation began flowing Elijah boards shortly afterwards and he and Corey instantly clicked when they met. “He felt like a little brother,” says Corey, warmly. By the time he was 16, Elijah frequently stayed with Corey and his wife for weeks on end. “I’ve got like five photos [from back then] and seeing him as little baby Elijah is hilarious,” he laughs, adding he even taught Elijah how to ride a motorcycle outside his house.
“He showed no caution whatsoever. It was actually intimidating skating with him because he was going so hard. You’d take him to a spot and he could do anything there. I remember watching him do a nosegrind nollie flip on this rail by my place. It’s a rail most of us would do 5050s on. Nothing was safe around him and he was having fun the whole time.”
Standing out with pop and power, Corey remembers: “Elijah was doing 5050s up handrails as a 16 year old. He didn’t skate like a kid. He skated like a man and, obviously if you look at his footage now, he still skates like a fucking man.”
“We’d fuck with him, as he was the ‘kid’ [on the team], but Elijah was big and could probably stomp out any of us so I don’t think anyone had the balls to pick on him,” chuckles Corey, reflecting on Elijah’s relationship with the rest of the Foundation crew.
Photo: Anthony Acosta
However, he didn’t meet entirely eye-to-eye with Foundation’s team manager, Mike Sinclair, which Corey feels contributed to Elijah leaving Foundation after being told the team “didn’t need to two Duffels.”
“He wanted to ride for Foundation, and was enjoying it, but he was told to change up his attire. To tell a 16 year-old how to dress was so rude. That really pushed Elijah to think, “I’ll do, dress and skate however I want.” It sparked him from that moment on,” says Corey.
“You’re confused at 16. Maybe not confused but whether you think you’re original or not you’re just doing your own thing. At least Elijah thought that so to tell him, “You can’t wear tight jeans,” was so childish because, in a year or two, Elijah wasn’t going to continue to dress how I was. He was going to go into his own direction momentarily. You just have to show support for people and allow them to blossom into their own.”
According to Corey, Elijah was kicked off Foundation for riding an Alien Workshop board in an Osiris commercial (although he called it “a mutual breakup” in a 2010 TWS Interview). “It frustrated me so much that I didn’t want to dig into it. Then when he told me Rick [Howard] and Mike [Carroll] wanted to send him boards I thought, “It’s a blessing in disguise.””
Entering Tampa Am, as a flow rider for Chocolate and Vans in 2010, Elijah took first place. “He was grinding up an eight-stair rail in his line and I don’t think he was fully going for it either,” says Corey. “That line looked like a first try goof off. It didn’t look serious for him. I don’t think he’s even put out a full 100% video part yet, I think he’s still kind of goofing off.”
Elijah, ever the anti-authoritarian, kickflips over some slatted wood in blatant disregard of directional street signage. Photo: Acosta
Two years later, Elijah’s first section under the Crailtap camp came with Pretty Sweet, turning pro off the back of it the following summer. “Most of that was filmed before he was actually ‘on’ Chocolate. He was still flow at the time. Girl and Chocolate want to make sure you really vibe in before they put you on the team,” adds Corey.
Elijah’s look and approach since Pretty Sweet is, arguably, his most identifiable – an ATV decked out in work pants and flannel; with a brash approach taken up a notch in Propeller as he tanks through ditches and LA back lots. Raised in a melting pot of Santa Monica heritage (his childhood home a block away from the Triple Set and stone’s throw from the Courthouse ledges, plus, his mum regularly surfs at the Santa Monica Pier), Corey feels Circle Jerks couldn’t have been a more fitting soundtrack for his Propeller part. “Him skating to a Southern Californian punk band with a two-and-a-half-minute part of nothing but hammers was just raw.
“The flannel, the beanie, the wifebeater – where it’s basically 95 degrees at all times? I love it. He embraces it and he’s fully got that surf local vibe,” says Corey.
While the bodybuilders of Venice Beach might think they’re the main attraction, it’s a well known fact Elijah’s tough guy panache makes knees go weak as soon the shirt comes off. Backside air transfer. Photo: Acosta
Despite not sharing a sponsor for over ten years, and seeing each other less often nowadays, Corey and Elijah’s friendship has maintained the same big brother/little brother dynamic. “When he got on Fucking Awesome I was like, “Hey, you dick – you’re ditching Mike and Rick?,” laughs Corey.
Pointing out that, with his new sponsor and crew, Elijah is starting to resemble one of The Outsiders in a pair of powerful trousers, Corey says: “I think it’s cool and innocent that Elijah changes it up a bit with who he’s hanging around. He’s always been true to himself but he’s clearly inspired by people. You should always take inspiration from people and I think it’s a beautiful thing to see.
“If he wants to change it up and wear pants with smiley faces all over them – and someone wants to talk trash on it – why? Is it lame because he wants to do something different?
“There’s nothing wrong with that. He’s still doing it 100% his own way. There’s nobody else on those FA brands that skates or looks like him. You can’t compare Sean Pablo to Elijah Berle.”
Elijah dropped out of high school. However, his time bunking calculous to size up the schoolyard’s picnic tables clearly proved to be useful later in life. 360 flip. Photo: Acosta
Asked whether there’s anything significant which people might not know about Elijah, Corey says nothing springs to mind which isn’t already out there, but affirms: “He’s never become too cool, or too big for his boots, and all his OG friends say the same thing too.”
Corey’s wife, Rachel, says Elijah “was a little brat but always sweet,” who consistently drops whatever he’s doing when he bumps into the Duffels. “He even introduced us to his girlfriend as ‘his other mom and dad’ at the “BLESSED” premiere,” she adds.
Reminiscing over the days when Elijah would occupy the Duffel residence, Corey recalls: “There was never a time where he wasn’t stoked and I still see that same smile, and that same kid, in all of his footage and whenever I see him now.”