Aaron Breetwor: DGM Photographer

This is a collection of insightful words and beautiful shots of your favourite people on skateboards. Enjoy this slice of Aaron’s soul. The photos are zenith!

Blake Smith photo

Blake Smith photo

Hey Aaron, how are you?
Hey man, all’s well. I’m chilling out on in New York City right now.

How was the snowpocalypse?
Not as bad as everyone cracked it up to be. I’m sure it was worse further outside the city, but they don’t let things get too hectic here. Salt, shovel, plow. Snow days turn into slush days pretty quickly.

Are you from NY?
No. I grew up in California in a small town just south of San Francisco. I’ve been out here off and on for about two years now.

Usually people move the opposite way, why’d you leave the sun?
Good question.

What was it like growing up in San Fran?
I didn’t grow up in the city. It wasn’t until after high school that I really started getting up there to skate with the Sliders.

When did you start skating?
I’ve been skating since I was 13 (21 now). When I was younger, I tried messing around on a shitty complete from Target, but things didn’t really take hold until I bought my own board. I needed a way to get out of the house, and growing up in a town without sidewalks, it needed to be something with bigger, softer wheels. I don’t think they make it anymore, but my first board was a Sector 9 Bambino. All I wanted to do was go fast and turn.

What did you get up to in those early days?
Freshman year of high school I left campus during my free periods to go exploring in the hills with some older kids who had boards. They were all cruising on stock setups, but by that time I had started to geek out and was riding a Hellcat with Bears, Jimz bushings, and split duro BigZigs. It was all kind of ridiculous really –  the hills I was skating then were essentially straight. Not fifteen minutes from those hills are some of the best runs in the Bay Area and I had no idea they existed. Even if I had, there’s no way I would have thought they were skateable. Things have changed.

How did skating fast change things for you?
I think skating hills is the only thing that ever really made sense to me. I would watch street videos with my friends in elementary school and just have no concept of what was happening. I’m not sure why the videos I found later of the Vancouver skaters bombing highways seemed more approachable, but that’s what I latched on to.

But again, I grew up in a place with no real “features” to speak of. Skating hills was what there was to do on a skateboard unless I felt like hanging out in my driveway learning to kickflip. More than anything I just needed to get out and see things.

What skate media were you consuming then?
At that time, most of the media was coming out of Canada. But really, so many people were on Silverfish that it was less about consuming media than it was about being a part of the conversation. I got to watch people like James, Zak, Kevin, and Mercado hash it out on the forums.

Are you silverfamous?
Never was, never will be.

Who were your skating friends?
Through Silverfish I organized a Bay Area Riders Barbecue. For two years in a row we got together for one day during the summer to skate the straight bomb in front of my house. There was Nate Blackmore, Donald Miguel, The Koss brothers (Ryan and Shane), Jeremy Hueser, and David HiltbrandDave and Jeremy are still in it.

There were crews scattered all around the Bay. Nick Ronzani was holding it down up in Sac and Liam was just getting his start in the Berkeley with Georges Siddiqi. It took a while before we all started getting together to skate, but a lot of the bigger names today were around back then.

Do you still skate with these guys?
Yeah. Whenever I’m back in SF I spend a lot of time in the Sunset with Nick, AFB, and Big Dave. Liam’s off doing his thing in LA now and Dave Hiltbrand is always on some sort of adventure, but we always manage to run into one another. These guys are my family.

What is the core of the community out there?
The Sunset Sliders. No Question.
How does one become a Sunset Slider?
Show up. Put in work. Earn your name.

What was your role in the community?
There aren’t really any defined roles. I skate, take photos, and listen to public radio.

When did you get into photography?
I’ve been shooting since I was really young. I never really made a conscious decision to get into it, I just kept taking my mom’s camera and pointing it at things.

Why do you enjoying working behind a camera?
Growing up I wanted to be a professional musician, but couldn’t seem to get myself to sit down and practice. I was in a rush to get out there and perform. Photography allows me a way to be, at once, composing and performing. That sounds pretty heady, but I’m not sure how else to describe it.

“…when you’re really connecting with the the tool you’re using, whether it’s a camera, a guitar, or a skateboard; the thing itself sort of disappears and you’re more able to connect with what’s in front of you.”

Maybe your camera is your instrument?
I think when you’re really connecting with the the tool you’re using, whether it’s a camera, a guitar, or a skateboard, the thing itself sort of disappears and you’re more able to connect with what’s in front of you. I guess, in that way, the camera is an instrument.

What do you shoot?
When I’m out in New York I assist other photographers and shoot my own documentary work. I spent the fall months working on a series at the Knickerbocker Manufacturing, a hat factory in outer Brooklyn.

Out West, my life pretty much revolves around skating, so I travel and shoot as much of that as I can. Last summer I started working on some more conceptual series that are related to, but not of skateboarding. 

When was your first year travelling and skating?
I spent a lot of time in LA visiting family while I was growing up. At a certain point (around 14 or 15) I reached out to Kyle Chin to see if I could come skate with him in Malibu. I think he asked Georges Siddiqi (who was in grad school at Berkeley at the time) if I was nuts or not. I guess he thought I wasn’t that crazy because Kyle said okay. So on one of my trips down south I met up with Kyle and Dustin (Hampton) and skated the hills.

When I graduated from high school in 2011 I had already applied and been accepted to college, but I wasn’t ready to leave California or skateboarding. I was working as the Editor in Chief of Skate Slate, so I was able to defer and keep travelling, skating, and shooting. That was my first proper year traveling and skating in any sort of self-supported way.

Did you have fun with Kyle and Dustin?
Yeah. Everything changed.

What adventures did you have together?
Lots of firsts. Canyon runs, cored wheels, and Hawaiian Barbecue.

Who were you learning from back then?
I was lucky enough to be in a position where a number of my friends were turning out to be some of the best skaters in the world. Everything sort of happened at the same time. I was getting more serious about shooting and skating and the industry happened to be taking off.

I didn’t really have any mentors in skateboard photography. In high school I assisted an architectural photographer for about two years. He was the one that really showed me how to look at space. The only downhill shooters back then were Nate Lang, Jon Huey, and Max Dubler. I approached Jon at Buffalo Bill in 2010 and introduced myself, talking all kinds of crazy about wanting to make a book of downhill photos. Little did I know that shortly after that trip I would meet the publisher of Skate Slate. The story of how I ended up with the Editor-in-Chief job is pretty lengthy, but once I had it, my first priority was making sure that Jon and Max got hired to shoot. Those two taught me a lot about life and skateboarding in the 18 months that we worked together.

“Shut up and listen. Put it down and skate.”

What was the most important life lesson?
Shut up and listen. Put it down and skate.

Was there any pressure to be one of the best skaters in the world?
I think if there was, that it was pressure that I put on myself. When you spend enough time with these guys you realize just how much of a commitment it is to learn to move in the way that they do. No one has James’ flow. No one has Matt K’s light feet. No one has AFB’s style. If I were to put in that time, I’d never make any pictures.

I do think it’s important that you know how to skate and skate well if you’re going to make it your job to take photos of skateboarding. If you don’t, there’s no way for you to understand how the rider is moving through space. You might be able to take a beautiful photo, but there’s a certain amount of empathy that will always be missing.
Photography would be nothing for me if at the end of the day I couldn’t put down the camera and skate.

Photography would be nothing for me if at the end of the day I couldn’t put down the camera and skate.

When did you first shoot skaters?
I was shooting skating at the first Bay Area Riders Barbecue.

What do you try to capture when you shoot skateboarding?
I’m most interested in the relationship between the skater, the surface they’re moving across, and the space they’re moving through. That’s what I try to distill in my pictures.

Do you have more fun skating or shooting?
The two aren’t comparable.

Is it possible to make a job of shooting skateboarding?
Time will tell. Personally, I’ve got a bunch of different interests and I don’t think shooting exclusively skating would satisfy me. So much of what influences my photography has nothing to do with cameras or skateboards.

What adventures did you have in 2011?
Too many to count. I spent a ton of time on the road moving up and down the west coast by car, bus, and train chasing down hills, pictures, and people.

Do you prefer shooting events or one rider on a spot?
If I’m at an event, I’m usually not shooting at all. I’ll either be skating or walking around taking portraits.
On photoshoots I like to work with at most four skaters.

What were your favourite memories from 2011?
The PDX trip to Giant’s Head. I took a train up to Portland from California and rode with the North West crew across the border to Summerland. First night there, I slept on the floor of the bus with my shoe as a pillow.

How can someone tell a Breetwor photo?
I have my own way of taking pictures, but I’d be the last one to put into words what it is that makes them distinct.

Do you have any favourite people to shoot?
James Kelly, Aaron Grulich, and Eric Jensen.


What has been your favourite year of skating?
Every year is different. Summer 2012 was the best time of my life.

What did you get up to that summer?
After I left Skate Slate, I moved to LA to live at SkateHouse for a couple months. After that I moved up to SF and shot and skated for four months straight. That was where I really started to figure out how to shoot downhill–being in one place for long enough to really learn the light and space.

What was it like living in the SkateHouse?
Living at skatehouse was a trip. Those guys put up with a lot and do a tremendous amount for skateboarding. It takes a special kind of patience and love to do what they do.

What’s the one unrecognised contribution they make?
The mere fact of Skate House has set a precedent of openness in the downhill community that is just amazing. Their approach has been adopted by other skate houses around the world and that has fostered a level of growth that would have otherwise been impossible.

A lot of people don’t understand just how rare it is that someone will open up their home to you just because you’re the friend of a friend. People often take it for granted that they can show up in LA and have a place to sleep and a ride to the hills. Being a good house guest isn’t hard, but If you’re blowing it, you’re likely to find out. I think there are a number of people who have done quite a bit of growing up at SkateHouse (myself included).

What is the secret to shooting DH?
If I figured it out, shooting wouldn’t be fun anymore.

Do you make videos as well?
I spent two years in a film program in high school. I’d like to get back into it at some point, but I haven’t made a video in years.

Have you had any opportunities to skate/shoot outside America?
I’ve been up to Canada to skate and shoot before, but I’ve never left the continent for work. I’m hoping to make it out to Europe this summer.

Euro tour?

Do you work with any other photographers?
I do, but not anyone that’s involved in skateboarding. I do my best to get as far away from it as I can so that when I come back to it I’ve got fresh eyes.

What are you riding these days?
In New York, I ride a normal street deck.

In SF, I’m on some sort of longer double kick with soft wheels.

In the mountains I’m on a Landyachtz Top Speed with Rogue Trucks and Venom wheels.

Are any of those your sponsors?
No, but huge shoutout to Max and Zak at Venom for the support over the years.

When did you move to NY?
Fall 2012.

Do you get to do the sort of skating you enjoy?
In the winter I get to do absolutely zero skating. Spring is here though, so I’ll be out at the Chelsea Piers skate park quite a bit.
Lately I’ve been taking day trips to the hills with the NYCL crew. Shoutout to them for helping me get my fix.

What do you miss about the West Coast most, if anything?

How is the East Coast community?
It’s a small but solid crew. We go out to Chinese food pretty often.

How do you keep the stoke up when you can’t skate?
I read a lot.

Did you have a fun 2013?
2013 was wild. DGM started rolling early in the year and the summer on the West coast was amazing as usual.

Where did you skate/shoot?
LA, San Diego, SF, the Sierras, Maryhill, Whistler, Giants Head.

What gave you the biggest smiles last year?
The whole DGM crew took a family vacation. LA to SF, SkateHouse to SlidersShack.

What is your plan for this year?
Put in work on the West Coast.

What is DGM?
DGM is an ongoing collaboration between Jacob Lambert, Olivier Seguin-Leduc, Matt Kienzle, Thomas Trnka, Brian Peck, and myself. Our goal is to share the best photos in downhill skateboarding.

How will DGM be different from all the other print magazines out?
Stay tuned.

Pick 3 numbers between 1-20.
4, 7, 13

4 – do you have any recurring dreams?
No, but I had my first lucid flying dream a few days ago. It was Unreal.

7 – why did the chicken cross the road?
He wanted a bi-coastal lifestyle.

13 – what happens when a zombie bites a shark?
World peace.

Thanks so much for all your time Aaron, it’s been great hearing your story. Looking forward to seeing you in Europe sometime!
Thanks Gbemi.

Any last words?
Shout out Mom and Dad, the Bu Crew, the Sunset Sliders, Frank P, and Girl. I see, feel, and live because of you.


Cover photo by David Hiltbrand of City Blights Magazine”




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