Gabriel “Gabbers” Summers: The Thrasher Interview
Gabbers is back on his beat, battling hectic rails and deadly terrain in his new Zero part. We hit up the Tasmanian madman to talk the benefits of hard work, keeping his cool and why he looks up to Spanky—as seen in our August ‘22 issue.
Our guy serves up one hammer after in this savage offering for Zero
Are you a bogan?
No, I wouldn’t say so. I’d say I’m a redneck. No, actually I wouldn’t say I’m a redneck. I’d say I was born in redneck territory, which makes it possible that I’m a redneck. But I don’t think I am.
What’s redneck territory?
Well, I’m from the small town of Penguin in Tasmania.
Gabbers kicks it off with a massive gap to grind at the ATL 5 block. We’ve got to assume the kink cut itself off and ran out of sheer terror Photo: Hodge
Why no penguin graphic?
I don’t think it would be spooky enough for Zero.
How do you feel about cancel culture?
Sometimes people deserve to get canceled because they are fucking up.
Nollie heel with plenty to think about Photo: Hodge
So we’ve all learned to be a bit more polite?
Well, I did that Bunt podcast where there’s the section to call people out, and I kind of did, but I felt wrong about it because I’m going to see these people one day and people change. So I probably said some shit about people I shouldn’t have. Even if it was true, I don’t want to be influencing people’s opinions of others.
What do you think of SLAP?
I look at SLAP every day. Skateboarding is my life and that’s a way I get news about something I like. There’s been threads and mean things said about me, but I don’t take it personally. I almost take it as constructive criticism.
Has it ever hurt?
I mean, I’d say I’ve got a pretty thick skin. But yeah, there’s been some things that have hurt. But at the end of the day you’re not meant to like everybody.
You were living in Reseda for a while but now it seems you’ve moved on to Mt Baldy. When did you realize you were losing your hair and what were the stages that led you to acceptance?
I’ve always had a receding hairline! I reckon I may have made it worse by always wearing a hat, but I think I just got over my hair being sweaty under there. What was the point of it? But I’ve never been self-conscious about it. It’s something I can’t help, and I’ve got a huge dick so it’s fine.
Who have been the most inspirational skaters to you over the years?
First and foremost, Heath Kirchart, just for his unique way of going about getting tricks—going alone in the middle of the night, almost acting like some sort of villain or serial killer. As a kid I just always thought it was cool. Erik Ellington, too, just ’cause he’s so goddamn cool with everything he does. He can make track pants, a singlet and a beanie with dangling pompoms on the side look cool. And he’s always been the nicest; he’s always been really cool to me. And I gotta say Dustin Dollin. He was my first favorite skater and he’s done a lot for me. And I’m feeling patriotic, I guess, and he’s an Australian legend.
Gabbers gets the two-for-one special
Do you remember any pro skaters’ interviews that had an impact on you in your younger days?
I remember the first mag I got was a Transworld in the early 2000s with Mumford on the cover. It had an interview with him and his was a pretty remarkable story, coming from Rockhampton.
So that was pretty inspiring for a kid in Penguin?
Since I was young I was always interested in people making it from Australia. Like I said, Dustin was my first favorite skateboarder and still is. He became somewhat of a mentor to me in my early skateboarding. He was the first one to really have my back and believe in me.
It’s ironic that we were discussing politeness when Dustin Dollin is your hero.
He’s very outspoken, to a fault. We’re very different people, but I think that’s why we get along.
Kickflip 50-50, South of the (US) Border Photo: Rhoades
What have you learned about Dustin that has surprised you?
He’s very sensitive, like me.
Talk more about that sensitivity, Gabriel.
It’s a funny dynamic when you have two sensitive people because it can all just end in sadness.
Sadness, that is funny. What is “making effort”?
Giving it your all, putting your heart and soul into it. It’s hard because I’ve put so much effort in that it almost hurt me. I do freak out and I am hard to skate with sometimes because of how hard I am on myself. I put so much pressure on myself, and sometimes the cooker explodes. I’ve lost a lot of friends from being like that—it’s burnt some bridges. But then in saying that, the reason I’m here now even doing this Thrasher interview is because of my attitude towards it. If I didn’t have my work ethic, the love for it, this wouldn’t be happening.
Is it fair to say you’re obsessive?
Fuck yeah, almost to the point of a mental illness. It can get tiring for me and the people around me.
Is that obsessiveness limited to skateboarding?
Outside of skateboarding I don’t have a temper. I don’t freak out on other things. I’m not a violent person.
Gap crooks at Docklands ✓ Party shirt ✓ Photo: McLaughlin
Do you accept the freaking out as part of your process, or is it a part you’re attempting to curb and manage?
I’ve tried to manage it in the past, but sometimes it just creeps up on me.
What tools have you used to manage it?
Laugh at myself. I’m screaming at a fucking skateboard; that’s pretty funny. I’m at level three, in my 30s, screaming at a piece of wood. The friendships that have lasted the longest for me are with the people that can manage to laugh with me. My friends that know me best know I’m not doing anything in a malicious way to ruin their day. It’s all in my head, and when it’s over, it’s over. I don’t drag it on—I can be laughing three seconds later. I don’t blame people for stepping back from me. I’m not for everybody. Maybe not for the faint hearted?
Will the real Gabriel Summers please stand up? Frontal bluntal Photo: Chami
You were a bit of a late bloomer as far as sponsorship and turning pro are concerned. Was making it always on your radar?
I had my first photo in Slam magazine in 2008. I’ve always had a bit of impostor syndrome, where I didn’t think I deserved any of it. It was way later that I believed in myself enough to be a professional skateboarder, or even want to be. I was probably 25 when I realized, Fuck this; I want to do it! Even when I first went to the States it was just to skate for six months. I didn’t have an agenda to turn pro, I just wanted to go there and skate, and that’s when I nosegrinded Walnut and did some other shit that to this day is probably some of the best skating I’ve done. I got to meet people, like the Baker guys, the Shep Dawgs and a bunch of other people who were really doing it. In my head I was just a guy from Australia having fun who might land a photo in Thrasher, and I ended up shooting a Lunatic Fringe.
So at 26 you’re Oz Skater Of The Year, working at a skateshop, solid with domestic sponsorship.
And then I decided to apply myself. In 2016 I went back to the States, and maybe because of the pressure I’d put on myself, but that was a bad time. I realized the Baker thing wasn’t going to work out for me, and then I experimented with getting on Birdhouse and that didn’t work out. They couldn’t deal with me freaking out over skating and I knew on the plane home to Australia it was done. Then at the ripe old age of 28 that My War comes out and sparks it all off again and the Zero thing happens.
Gabbers spends so much time in the trenches, he’s been highlighted in two Wars. Watch his most recent as a member of the Zero team
So you’ve been a professional skateboarder for four years now. Is the dream all you’d hoped for?
Nothing’s disappointed or surprised me. Skateboarding doesn’t owe me shit, so I’m thankful for everything I’ve gotten to do. I’ve gotten to travel the world.
Do you think man-am-hood better prepared you for turning pro?
Well, I have seen firsthand really good, young, talented skaters with bright futures burn out before they get their chance. I never had that natural ability to master this easily, which is why it’s become a full-time obsession.
Are you at peace with your ability or do you think you should be better than you are at skateboarding?
My self loathing probably comes from a bit of PTSD from demons I’ve fought throughout my life—school, being a kid, being bullied, being told you’re not good enough by teachers. I’m sure like a lot of us I’ve got undiagnosed ADHD, so I struggled to concentrate at school. I just wanted to succeed at something, so I found a way and that shaped my work ethic. I’ve also done an apprenticeship and got a trade under my belt. I know how to work. I haven’t put all my eggs in one basket.
And even though you’re a paid professional skateboarder, you’re about to start a job, right?
Yeah, I want to get my bearings back with working. I did my chef’s apprenticeship straight out of high school and I really thought that was what I was going to do.
Does cheffing come from a place of passion?
Yeah, I’ve always had an interest in food and I always loved cooking. I needed to do something that didn’t require math or spelling, not that I necessarily think that I’m dumb, but it’s always been hard for me to concentrate on those things, so I found something I could concentrate on to fall back on. So I did my chef’s apprenticeship, which was hard, but I got it done.
The man from Penguin battles a flock of fowl (and a gnarly double stacked noseslide) Photo: Rhoades
Is it something you aspire to be great at?
No, I think my dream is just to be part of a business that can sell food. I did a coffee course recently just to understand more about that side of things. I’d like to be involved in the hospitality industry.
And you’re not pursuing the American visa dream?
No. My parents live here in Australia and my friends live here. Australia’s a great country and I love it. I can do everything from here now. I’ve got friends who can film really well and I have my own work ethic which makes it easier for me to get my job done—and I like traveling. In a couple of weeks I’m going to Europe for six weeks on my own.
It’s a dynamic shift from the days of needing to live in America to maintain a pro career.
Yeah, but I’m not talking shit on those traditional steps of becoming a professional skateboarder. I do think it’s still relevant. I lived in the States for a year and I’ve gone back and forth a bunch, which I don’t regret because that’s still necessary. It’s just that for my age and the stage I’m at in my career, I make better use of my time being there for a couple months rather than being there all the time. Every skateboarder works better on trips anyway, so take me on a trip and I’ll get it done.
You went to Mexico for a few of these photos. What’s it like skating there? Is it as sketchy as people might think?
Skating there is good. There’s lots of spots. They’re pretty spread out, but we got a lot done. In terms of sketchiness, I didn’t really encounter anything that was sketchy. Everyone was super nice. I guess that goes with having a skateboard over there—everyone loves skateboarding in Mexico. Oh, actually the cops were super sketchy. I got searched a few times, so did some of the other people. Maybe we were the sketchy-looking ones.
A little Tasmanian tech, eh? Pop-shove nosegrind over the river Photo: Chami
What are your favorite places to skate?
If we’re talking purely for skating—Shanghai, China. I’ve been there a bunch of times, I have lots of friends there and know my way around. Actually, it’s not just good for skating, it’s just good for everything—good for food, good for having a fun time. And, of course, Barcelona. It’s pretty cliché to say, but we all know how good it is. It’s well loved for a reason—there’s spots everywhere, it’s easy to get around and who doesn’t love a bit of skate tourism? And the underdog—I went to Kazakhstan on a trip in 2016 with Patrick Wallner and it’s still one of the best trips I’ve been on. It was such a nice place. Borat did that place dirty.
Speaking of sketchy, given the turmoil and rampant gun violence in the United States, are your friends and family worried about you when you’re here? How does the US look to the average Australian?
Well, as I mentioned, I’m from Tasmania. Tasmania was the location of the last mass shooting that set in motion our current gun laws. The Port Arthur massacre is still very much a part of Australia’s consciousness, and I feel like it puts an end to any discussion of more-loose gun laws. It baffles me that with the current state of mental health that there isn’t at the very least background checks. The average Australian doesn’t think that there are more unstable people in the US, it’s just that our unstable people don’t have access to military-grade weapons. I hope that the senators who are holding the safety of the American people hostage can grow a pair and stop prioritizing cash over people’s lives.
You skate that risky, hairball shit. How do you manage injuries?
I’ve always been pretty good with trying to stay healthy. I go to the gym a lot—maybe three or four times a week. I think the best thing to do, though, is to skate all the time. If you’re skate fit you’re not going to get as hurt. The more you skate the more confident you are. I feel like the times you get hurt are when you’re not confident. I just try to skate as much as possible—and I love it!
Backside 5-0, traditional gnar Photo: McLaughlin
Is the new bonk/slappy style of popular skating appealing to you because it’s lower risk? Or does it seem like people are just dumbing it down? Do you ever question killing yourself doing tricks on giant rails and hubbas when people are getting rewarded for doing the same tricks on curbs and garden dividers with dope outfits on?
I like watching it. When people have a good style and are trying, I’m into it. But if it feels pretentious it’s pretty wack. I try not to get too bitter about that sort of stuff, because at the end of the day it’s all skateboarding. That’s the beauty of it—there’s room for all of it.
You went through a bit of a sober period recently, correct?
Yeah, I took a year off drinking, which was amazing. It made me feel really good.
What drove the decision to not drink?
My friend Tully passed away from cancer. He was someone I grew up with who was a bit younger than me. I kind of brought him up, but we did a lot for each other. He passed away in the beginning of lockdowns and that was the first really close friend I’ve lost, and he was younger than me. And I just didn’t deal with it. After a year and a half of grieving, getting drunk ‘til the early hours of the mornings for no reason, other than being sad, I just decided to cut it out, deal with it and live for him. Having that year off has reset the way I drink now. It’s nice to let off some steam by having a few beers with mates.
Zipped-up NBS on a curb dancer’s dream spot Photo: Chami
What are the challenges of having a relationship while being a pro skater? Is it possible to be a good pro skater and a good boyfriend?
I think it’s all about finding the right person. Because when you have a partner, you have to be prepared to make sacrifices. And when you have someone you truly love and care about, these compromises are easy. You want to FaceTime them every night and do nice stuff for them when you’re away. It hasn’t really been that hard. I’ve found someone that is understanding of what I do, and I think that almost drives me to make the most of when I’m away.
As an aging skateboarder, do you put a number on this thing?
You can’t put a number on it. As skateboarders we’re gonna do it ‘til we can’t, but being productive as a professional takes motivation.
I look at Spanky as a huge inspiration. He’s reinventing the way he skates as he gets older. Andrew Allen, too.
Is your own skating evolving as you grow older?
For sure. I have more fun doing other things now than just seeking out the best handrails. I still love to skate handrails, and hope to for many years, but change is for the best. If you look at my new part, it’s different. It’s something I can look at and go, Oh, it’s not so bad getting older.
Airborne attack to curb bash, what’s his age again?
When was the last time you did a manual? What is the greatest manual you’ve ever done?
It’s funny you ask; I was just talking to a friend about one time I switch varial flipped the manual pad at Lincoln, about eight years ago. It was a complete fluke and I may have thrown a party for myself that night. But yeah, I don’t manual. I always eat shit.
Do you feel hyped, threatened or a bit of both when it comes to skating with the next generation of kids?
That can depend on what I’m going through in life. I skated with Jack O’Grady when he was blowing up and it was incredible to see him learn 20 tricks a day, getting more comfortable on his board every day. And when you’re in your late 20s, turning 30, not doing that and you’re getting sorer every day, not better, it can be hard to stomach. In saying that, though, I always try to be as supportive as possible to the younger guys coming up, because that’s all I wanted and I got it from a lot of people from a young age.
Back tail drop and keep it going Photo: Riera
Who are the new guys keeping you on your toes?
I’ve been skating with a younger guy Kalem Beange who’s really unique. He does his own thing and doesn’t really give a fuck, which I admire. Rob Pace has been fucking it up. I respect that he’s going through the steps and he’s nailing it. I really want to give a shout out to Billy Lukins. We’ve got so many working-class skateboarders in Australia who are unbelievable.
It’s interesting that even though there’s not a lot of rules in skateboarding, there is etiquette. Would you agree?
Yes, and I think etiquette is extremely fucking important. A lot of people who’ve been amazing at skateboarding and tried to come up, who’ve blown it, have done so through a lack of it.
The road is littered with the carcasses of great skaters who blew it with one van ride.
And I’ve been the guy to blow it. I’ve learned the hard way with some things, but you learn respect and keep your wits about you. You have to learn and grow.
It’s still summer, but what are your SOTY predictions for 2022?
So far? It’s Ishod. Just give it to him again. Or give it to Jimmy Wilkins. When was the last time a vert skater got it?
Who is the greatest SOTY of all time?
Leo Romero, because since I picked up a skateboard in 2002 he has always been there killing it. I still go on Instagram most days and see him doing the gnarliest shit. And it just looks like he enjoys every second of it. It shines through.
What’s keeping you busy for the immediate future?
I’m filming a part with my friend Jeremy Corea who made the Harlow Factor videos and we’re changing the pace a bit after my last two Zero parts where I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. I’m not taking it easy, but I’m a bit more involved in the direction of this thing.
What advice would adult Gabbers tell 12-year-old Gabbers?
I would tell him to pay attention to school, but do not pay attention to the people at school.
What is your five-year plan?
Get a Thrasher cover! I just want to enjoy this life that I have and start setting up my next chapter. I’m not completely sure what that looks like, however, ideally it would be something as fulfilling as this. Hopefully I’m still skating and getting stuff in the Bible!
Over the rail to the ride of his life! Go off, Gabbers!