Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Interview: Andreas Trolf, Transworld Skateboarding

Andreas Trolf lives a pretty cool life. I mean, the guy makes a living traveling the world and doing what he loves most—writing, reading and skateboarding. The 30-year-old Transworld Skateboarding music editor was kind enough to spend a few minutes of his busy day, sharing insight about everything from life as a freelance writer, to friends in the business to the literary East Coast versus West Coast. Trolf was born and raised in New York, obtained an English Literature degree from New York University and has contributed to publications such as Transworld Skateboarding, ESPN Magazine, Thrasher, and SLAP. With the help of large amounts of coffee consumed during our conversation, Trolf had plenty of wisdom to offer.

David McClymonds: In the magazine world, do you believe that it helps to have friends?

Andreas Trolf: When there is a choice of hiring somebody talented or somebody that an editor is familiar with, if the person is reasonably competent, the job will go to the friend. It's not to say that it's all sort of nepotism in contact; there is a fair amount of talent involved, but getting any type of real job is constituent on what you've done in the past. Having clippings, having bylines—that's invaluable. But a foot in the door is the most important thing. Say you're sending out clippings or resumes, you don't have a way to distinguish yourself from the slush-pile. You're in the same boat as everybody else that really wants to get their foot in the door. If an editor or anyone on staff can recommend you and say that you're a writer that will deliver something, you're someone to be counted on, that's way more valuable than a degree in journalism.

DM: Would you recommend spending time in New York to make contacts, friends?

AT: The industry is there and the experience will be there. That's where people go to cut their teeth. That's where people make their names and their careers. You'll never have a shortage of something to write about. But then again, you won't ever have a shortage of something to write about here, you just won't have as much opportunity.

DM: Do you think as far as skateboard writing goes, there is as much opportunity in New York as here in California?

AT: There's no skateboard media located in New York, but there is generous New York coverage in all the magazines. There's tons of local photographers. As far as skateboarding media goes, a lot of times photographers will write the pieces as well. That's a way for the magazines to save money and not have to pay writers. To be 100 percent honest, based on people I know in the skateboarding industry, there are a dozen people making their living writing that aren't editors. People that make their living in skateboarding specifically from writing number very few. So if you want to go into skateboard journalism, get a camera, learn how to shoot it. You stand a much better chance if you're offering an editor images and words than you do if you're just offering words. That's just the nature of skateboard journalism. How do you write about something that is visual? It's much more difficult.

DM: You went to school in New York; do you feel like when you came to San Francisco you were prepared, as a writer?

AT: I actually had written for SLAP years ago, before I finished school. And that is, like we talked about earlier, based upon knowing people. Having an interest in writing, being blunt about it and saying, hey I can do this, I'd like to. Why don't you let me give you an article? A lot of it was based on sending out clips or being referred to a magazine by someone. But when I came back out here I had a staff position already and had a bunch of regular freelance jobs.

DM: Do you often get job referrals?

AT: Generally, people loathe to give up paying jobs. Referrals generally happen when an editor has seen your work somewhere else. I don't want to characterize anyone as being overly attached to their own income, but you really need to chase down jobs and chase down paychecks a lot of the time. The difference between having the rent payed on time is not screwing someone out of the job, but not passing along a job, either. As with anything, when you have a large amount of people vying for a limited number of spots, there is competing. It, by its very nature, is competitive.

DM: How much did an English degree prepare you for writing non-fiction?

AT: I don't know. The one thing that I really took away from going to school for English is that you need to read all the time. If you don't have time to read, you shouldn't have time to write. You can't write about skateboarding unless you're a skateboarder. What school does ultimately, is put you in an atmosphere with like-minded people that is conducive for you to learn. If anything, the experience of just being in that atmosphere, reading anything that I could get my hands on benefited in so many ways. I'd say that going to school just gives yourself more of an opportunity to concentrate on something.

DM: The way I see it, school teaches discipline more than anything... Showing up to school on time all semester—a lot of people can't do that.

AT: Right. Just don't fool yourself into thinking there is this end in sight. If you're not a more astute observer of life at the end of each day than you were at the beginning, you're not learning. Seriously, you need discipline and determination for anything. You've got to constantly be better than you are.

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