Introduction + Interview by: Eby Ghafarian
Photography by: Jonathan Becker
I’ve been living in Charlotte, North Carolina on and off for the last couple of years. It became apparent early on that the whole skate scene orbited around Eastland, a fun DIY build on the foundation of an old video rental store where a shopping mall used to reside. With no notable skateparks in Charlotte, Eastland was the central hub for skaters in the metro area. That’s where a group of young, talented skaters (called 5301) congregated and began working on a trilogy of skate videos, each better than the last. This past summer the city decided to terminate Eastland, fragmenting the skate scene. But last Sunday, Joey Dennis and crew premiered their latest offering, Avenue, to a packed out venue. Almost the entirety of the Charlotte skate scene, and many from the surrounding area, showed up in force to support. I spoke to Joey, the soft-spoken, sweetheart of a man who was the powerhouse behind Avenue to learn about filming for this project, the Charlotte skate scene, and how he is going to film a part himself next year… and we are going to hold him to that! You will be hard pressed to find a more pure person in skateboarding who puts in so much work just to spend time with their friends. We salute you, Joey.
Okay, let’s get the prerequisites out of the way. When did you start filming Avenue, where was it filmed, and why is it called that?
After our second full length video, Central, we decided to go to Atlanta, which was super fun. We thought about doing an edit instead of a full length, but Jermaine [Whittaker] and Dyshon [Whidbee] ended up having so much footage that we decided to do something big again. We unofficially started filming in January of 2021 and after a few months everybody wanted video parts. We were always talking about making a trilogy video because Eastland’s address is 5301 Central Avenue. We made the 5301 video in 2018, then Central in 2020, so we said screw it, we are going to do Avenue. We had a new vamped group and everyone was committed. It was filmed primarily in Charlotte, with a lot of North Carolina (Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro) footage. We took a Tampa trip, and I know a lot of people say Tampa doesn’t have spots, but it was fun. It has good spots, I don’t know what people are saying. We took three New York trips for the video, including one trip that was two weeks long. After the first week we were all burnt out. We also went to DC and Philly.
Why do you subject yourself to the torture of making independent skate videos?
It is torture! It is mostly because of Jermaine. He pressures me into skating all the time. He’s like a crackhead when it comes to skating. It was cool to see him start getting boxes from DC and WKND and he wanted to get a minute of footage a month, which we were doing for a long time. Everyone likes Jermaine, so it became a group thing every day. He’s going to move to Philly in August, and when he moves I don’t know what it will be like. Isaiah Stines as well, he is so dedicated. I think it’s really cool that he cares that much about something, and that I could help my friend. It’s more about helping out my friends than anything else. Dyshon is the coolest dude. I like filming because it’s an excuse to hang out with my friends.
How do you finance these? Joey Dennis sounds like a made up name, are you really a Walton or Rockefeller?
I don’t know what my mom was thinking. Two first names. There was this game of S.K.A.T.E back in the day that Black Sheep [skateshop in Charlotte, not to be confused with the one in Manchester] hosted and Sturgill [Horn] was announcing on the horn, “The guy with two first names.” That’s when I realised; “Damn, I do have two first names.” He was talking about Ricky Bobby. I’ll probably never forget that, but I never thought about it until then.
Our trips are super cheap. We roll 10-11 deep. We all pay for B&Bs when we have to, but for New York Jonathan Becker had a real nice crib off of Jay Street (in Downtown Brooklyn) and would let all of us crash in his room. It was kind of gnarly and his roommates hated him for letting us do that. He eventually had to move out because he kept letting homies stay in his room, because everyone wanted to visit New York. It wasn’t just us. He’s from New Jersey so he was always having his homies from Jersey staying the night, it would literally be all of us and a few Jersey homies every single night. I’m not sure if he ever slept alone in his room. That’s how much he supported people, which was cool to see. As for B&Bs, since we were so deep, we’d book one for $400 for a week. We’d pay $50 each and a lot of us would be just sleeping on the floor. It was super cheap and driving to New York is no problem. We’d usually hit DC on the way to New York too. A lot of homies would let us stay at their places, Jermaine and Isaiah know a lot of people everywhere somehow.
What are your pet peeves when it comes to filming? People that don’t throw down for gas or buy you food and beverages, or at least share some product you helped them get with your footage? I used to get anxiety when people would break down while struggling to get a trick, throwing their boards and screaming.
It’s none of that. The worst thing is when someone doesn’t try their trick, which is in a line, and asks me to film it, saying they are just going to do it. I have to at least see that you are getting close to the tricks. I end up running around for long periods of time. Also filming in really big groups, which always happens. Everyone in this group likes to skate ledges, so it’ll be a lot of ledge lines and my back and knees will be suffering. Other than that, people who are like, “ Why didn’t you invite me to the sesh?” It works both ways. You could hit us up too. It’s not like we aren’t open to skate with you. But if you do hit us up and come skate with us but just sit down at every spot, we are not going to keep hitting you up. You have to contribute to the session, that’s only fair.
Also, I don’t like it when you film a clip of someone and it ends up on Instagram the same night. Sometimes they don’t even tag me. Why did you even hit me up to skate? Just to post on Instagram? You have an iPhone. I would have been better off filming on the phone so I didn’t have to bend over and film it fisheye, and go through the whole process of exporting and sending, when I could have just filmed it on a phone. It just doesn’t make sense. I held onto a lot of people’s footage for easily a year, so props to the people that did not post their footage for a whole year. I know that’s tough.
What were the qualifications for becoming a filmer for this video? God-level manuals? Because you and Dyshon are ridiculous with your balance boarding.
A lot of patience, honestly. There are a lot of ledge lines. It’s funny because Ethan [Kaplan] and Brandon [McLaurin] like to skate rails and nobody else likes to and will get mad when we go to rail spots. I also had to keep my schedule pretty free on my days off to keep up with those guys. Dyshon helped out a lot. He filmed a bunch of random stuff and let me have all his footage. He has a very keen eye and shot more b-roll than I had. It wouldn’t have been the same without him.
Story time! Tell me a story that happened while filming.
We went to Atlanta and Nashville about 11 deep in the 5301 spray-painted van. We were super crunched back there and we got pulled over one night in Asheville. I was driving, it was pouring rain and for some reason the van’s headlights would cut on and off. I may have been speeding or maybe the cop saw the headlights cut off too, and the van just looked pretty sketchy, but he put his lights on and maybe a minute later I started to slow down. I was trying to get the caution lights to come on, but they wouldn’t do it because the van had electrical issues. I slowed down super quick and pulled to the side, but the cop was going so fast that he jetted past me. So when he passed, I took the exit and we chilled out somewhere. If we got caught we were 11 deep, there was a bunch of weed and people were drinking beers back there. We would have been screwed. Somehow we got super lucky. I was going to tell everyone to hide under the covers if I spoke to the guy, but it worked out. He was going so fast and, in the microphone, was like, “Pull over!” But when we pulled over he kept going.
At the premiere the other day, Jermaine told me you guys have already filmed three clips for the next one. That’s cool, he is an insanely good footage machine, but the real question on everyone’s mind is… when are you going to film a part?
Oh no, never. I feel like filming a video part is very stressful. I don’t know how people do it. I see it first hand and still don’t know. Every time I try to get a street clip I get very discouraged, I feel like I’m wasting the filmer’s time. I’d rather be filming. But I am hyped to be free and skating again, and by “be free” I mean not working on a full-length skate video with 14 video parts. Being a filmer is weird because people hit you up out of nowhere and send you these paragraphs, like, “I want to do this here. Yo, I can do anything right now, just take me somewhere.” It could be a lot of pressure. I mean I’ll go on my day off, why are you hitting me up at midnight? But Dyshon said he’s going to make a video in 2024, he has it written on his whiteboard. So if anything it will be in 2024, because he makes his full-length videos in six months somehow. He’s got it like that. If Dyshon ever filmed a video, I’d film a video part.
What’s the deal with Charlotte, North Carolina? Explain it for the Europeans. I mean, the first American Revolution actually happened here before the rest of the country… and all these years later you are being interviewed for one of the crown’s publications.
I don’t know what the deal with Charlotte, North Carolina is, but Black Sheep probably has a lot to do with it. They’ve been prevalent for a really long time now and they’ve always been putting out footage. I don’t know why people in Charlotte are so good at skating. We’ve never had good skateparks. I’ve always wondered that. FOON is what inspired a lot of us to start filming together in 2016. It was a full-length video with Jay Pitser, Malik Jordan, John Pankus, and a lot of really good young skaters. It was really dope and inspired everyone.
They all rode for Black Sheep too and, as a kid, the goal was always to ride for Black Sheep. But Charlotte does not support skateboarding like it should. It’s grown really big, but the city just focuses more on finance and real estate, so it doesn’t make sense why there are so many good skaters out of Charlotte. Maybe the internet plays a really big part of that. I got into skating because of The Berrics and the game SKATE 2. All the media plays a huge part.
A lot of the guys in Avenue have moved or are moving on to greyer (definitely not greener) pastures like Philly, NYC and Cali. What are your plans? Are you going to continue to hold it down in the Queen City?
It would be cool to move out in a year or two, but for now I like NC. Everyone is planning on moving in late August, so I still have some time to skate with them. Charlotte is a really great place to live if you like to travel. It’s super easy to make a living out here and be comfortable, and the skate community is really great. The only way I would really move is if Dyshon moves. Once he decides to move, I’m out of Charlotte. He did say eventually he wants to get out of Charlotte too, though I don’t know when that would be. But yeah, I’m going to hold it down in the Queen City.
If you could film a video with parts from anyone of your choosing (excluding people who have already had parts in your videos), whom are you choosing?
I’d rather just film with the guys I film with. I’m not a big fan of filming with random people because sometimes it makes me feel uncomfortable. Some filmers brag about the people they film but I just film so I can hang out with my friends. Sometimes people randomly hit me up, like, “Yo, we gotta film a video part.” Damn, I’m not the biggest fan. Like, “Yeah dude, let’s spend a year together filming…” Even if I were getting paid, it wouldn’t really be worth it. You can make money doing other things. You can probably make a lot more money doing other things.
What is your favourite skate video of all time and why?
Probably Emerica’s Stay Gold. My homie Will Morris bought the DVD, I’d always sleep at his crib on the weekends so we could skate this parking lot by his house and we’d watch that video every night before we went to sleep. It’s on some other level that I feel people haven’t reached with a full-length ever. They spent five years filming it and it couldn’t have come out any better from start to finish. We used to watch Thrasher’s Prevent This Tragedy every single night too. It was back to back since we just had those two DVDs.
Your crew is called 5301, which was the street address for the late Eastland DIY in Charlotte. How has Eastland shaped you and your crew and what kind of effect has the recent destruction of it had on you and the city?
Eastland brought the whole community together. There used to be a foundation called Albemarle, then they tore that down and there was another foundation off of Independence Highway and they tore that down too, but around the time of that foundation we started linking up every day. I had a T3i, we were filming and, when that spot was done, Eastland had just a ledge so we started meeting there every day instead. Every day that we were filming we’d link at Eastland, until it got to a point where we had to stop because we’d get stuck there all day. It was just a safe space for everyone to connect and explore ideas of what spots to skate and most of the time we’d get stuck there. But, while stuck there, you’d be training for the spot you really wanted to skate. It was very beneficial either way. After Nike funded some stuff there it became more like a skatepark and got more popular. Eastland being destroyed was a huge bummer. We all knew it was coming but, when it happened, it didn’t even feel real. It had a seven-year run and we never took it for granted. Things are just not the same in Charlotte (post-Eastland). I think that is the main reason why a lot of people are trying to move or have already moved to other states. RIP to Beastland and also shout out to Steve Barrett for making it all happen.