Brandon Turner is at the bottom of a bridge near Mission Beach in San Diego. One of his legs is badly broken, the wind is completely sucked from his lungs. For the moment, however, he’s just happy to be alive.
Seconds before he was running through the usual thoughts that come when you are plummeting 50 or so feet from a bridge. What will my parents think? People will think I’m a suicide.
I never reached my potential.
“I was just thinking like, hey, I just got here in this world and nobody is going to know the truth of what happened, thinking that I might have killed myself jumping off the bridge,” Turner tells En Fuego.
The terrifying moment happened to a different Brandon Turner, a younger version that celebrated and nursed injuries with alcohol and drugs.
At 39, Turner has found sobriety as well as redemption. You might say he is skating some of the best lines in his life. Wisdom, talent and sobriety coalescing to create truly incredible moments. His switch hardflip at Wallenberg was recognized as the Street League Skateboarding Trick of the Year. Notoriety has again found the man from San Diego.
Skateboarding is a solitary sport. It’s just you and the board. What remains is the nagging, unrelenting need to land whatever trick you’re working on at the moment. It’s a journey of self-improvement.
For Turner, self-improvement was a concept best captured over handrails and grassy hills.
I speak to him over Zoom. We recount a crazy year and a crazier life. Turner has since become a beacon of sobriety and a champion of other skateboarders, musicians and talented individuals who are daring to squeeze the most ability they have out of their lives.
He has partnered with Healthy Life Recovery, a place where he also found peace, sobriety and the power a healthy lifestyle can give an athlete like Turner.
There are many who would scoff at someone approaching 40 getting after some of these tricks. But, then again, Turner has never been interested in what others think.
“I was always like a daredevil,” Turner said. “I was always the kid willing to try anything and if someone said you couldn’t do something, I was always the one to want to prove them wrong.”
If the sport found him, it certainly picked a great candidate to excel. Turner lives for being told he couldn’t pull off some trick. And the videos of his younger self show a brash skateboarder who would grind, flip or soar without hesitation and often meet the harsh reality of concrete.
It’s in this sport that you meet rock bottom again and again before the tricks get engrained into muscle memory.
Turner grew up in San Diego until his father was transferred to Japan. He had already fallen in love with the sport thanks to a neighborhood friend named Manny who would let a two-year-old Brandon ride on the front of his board. As Turner says, “it was over” that moment. He was hooked.
The fearless moniker followed him through his early career. And his ability to keep pushing led to some truly astonishing feats, including his famed Carlsbad gap switch hardflip.
On camera for that day was the late Marc “Shockus” Delellis who once explained that he almost didn’t record the trick.
“Brandon is by far one of the most gifted skaters I have ever had the privilege of filming,” Shockus once stated, according to website Pacific Drive. “Here is an interesting fact: while he was riding up to the Carlsbad gap, he kinda messes up pushing and I almost stopped recording because my tape was running low, I thought he was gonna turn back and try it again. Luckily I kept recording because that is by far one of the gnarliest tricks I have ever filmed.”
Another skater may have stopped after nearly falling. But Turner is just built differently. He only knows volition. He only moves forward.
Getting Off Course
While Turner 2.0 is clear-eyed and determined, the previous version of himself partied as hard as he skated.
His leap from a Mission Beach bridge is documented in the recent Jenkem documentary “The Second Coming of Brandon Turner.”
At about six minutes in, he relives the moment he attempted to evade police because he was afraid of being caught for underage drinking.
Running up to the top of a highway he noticed a wall with another highway on the other side. In his inebriated state, he thought the two highways were connected. They were not. In the dark, he jumped over one side and fell.
It wouldn’t be the worst injury he ever sustained, nor the last due to intoxication. As he tells the San Diego Union-Tribune, a year later he was struck by a car and very nearly lost his life.
“I was in front of a party and was intoxicated and got run over by a car,” he tells the Union-Tribune. “I broke my leg and ended up on life support and flatlined a few times. It got out of hand with the partying. I started losing control of myself and making bad decisions.”
Turner spoke in depth about his legal issues and his prison stint with the Nine Club Podcast. His most harrowing experience with incarceration was immediate—a month in solitary confinement due to overcrowding.
His very first taste of the system was a tiny room that allowed only a sliver of daylight. He would get an hour a day to feel the sun, but the rest of his time was left to drawing on the walls with Kool-Aid and listening to fellow prisoners who he was convinced were going crazy.
It was at that time that he finally decided that his life wasn’t sustainable. By 2014 he had been to prison, had felt the anguish of falling from a bridge and experienced a near-death experience after being struck by a car.
Something finally clicked, and he was open to wisdom. “That's when I kind of had the realization that, you know, maybe I need to ask for help,” Turner said.
“And that's just something that I never, ever would do. The way I grew up, it was always looked at as a form of weakness, you know, asking for any help or that whole stigma of putting yourself out there.”
Turner understands with first-hand detail what it’s like to need help but not have the capacity to ask for it. And it’s by sharing his experience with dogged self-defeat that he is helping others now. He wants to be that beacon. His story is proof that not only can you get help, but the help can bring you to the top of your game. It can make you the best version of yourself.
It’s a sentiment that doesn’t often get championed around the street, where alcohol and drugs are considered integral to the celebration of finally nailing the trick that’s been in your head for months. It’s the salve that cures the aches and pains of a grueling sport.
“I always knew I wasn't skating at my fullest potential. But alcohol and kind of just drinking your stuff is a part of the skateboarding lifestyle,” Turner explained.
“I knew always that I wasn't at my (fullest) potential. But at the same time, skateboarding is dangerous and scary. And I'd have like a few beers or something and a few drinks before I was going to skate some big rail or something to kind of numb my wits and stuff. So, it was a learning curve for me to find the power within myself not to use that as a crutch to be able to do some of the things I wanted to accomplish.”
Wallenberg has been a dream for 20 years now, landing a Never Been Done at the iconic spot back then would have added to his increasing number of notable tricks. Doing it at 39 would prove even more, and not just to others in the sport but to himself.
Landing anything on the famed set of steps at Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School in San Francisco is more problematic than it once was. Skateboarders were once able to gather speed in the run-up but with the addition of a gate, that’s no longer possible. So even attempting a gap session takes careful planning and the need for a ramp to drop in. Even then you have to get out there early before the wind kicks in.
Turner had it in his mind that even with a bum foot, he was going to give it a go. The added pressure of nine of his Sk8Mafia team there just meant that he had to pull off the trick that day.
The above Jenkem video chronicles one attempt after another. A skater approaching 40 is seeking out another NBD.
With an injured foot, Turner doesn’t make the first seven attempts. But he remains focused and as he always has, he moves forward and lands number eight.
He comes down clean, rolling away with quite the sensation. “Landing It was the best feeling in my life because it's been a 20-year goal for me,” Turner tells me over Zoom.
More than that, it was singular in its scope and warranted recognition from Street League Skateboarding, which picked Turner’s switch hardflip at Wallenberg for its trick of the year.
Getting this kind of recognition is remarkable no matter the stage of your career. But to do it at his age proves Turner’s adage. He’s not going to let anything define him, even the passage of time.
Top of His Game
“I feel that I'm better than I was when I was 18 just because of my lifestyle choices,” Turner admitted.
With Healthy Life Recovery, he hasn’t just found a place of solace for himself. He’s found an outlet for his mission in supporting others going through their own turmoil.
“I know there's people out there who feel like I felt that way in my same industry. They were too afraid to reach out and who are suffering.”
He is now a recovery coach with the organization and has started a skate program to help others find their own path through sobriety.
He also co-hosted the June 2020 event Rolling for Rights, which was part of a larger movement that is dedicated to bridging the gap between skateboarding and politics.
"Growing up first and foremost as a black man, and then as a black teenage skater, hasn't always been easy,” Turner said via email. “Rolling for Rights brought up a lot of emotions and it had a deepened importance to me because of some of the treatment I'd received in the past based on my race."
Turner is using his platform to amplify his call for social change. It’s part of the new Turner whose life outside of skateboarding doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol but things that have come to really change the scope of his still-unfolding legacy.
There were many times through his career that he could have hung it all up and walked away. There were times when life could have robbed him of so much promise.
But he hasn’t stopped skateboarding. And he is still writing that legacy. He is still adding one story after another for the younger generation that will sing his praises when he is done with the sport.
And they won’t just recall a great skateboarder but someone who was doing great things for the community.
Turner has lived with a superhuman ability to be fearless. And he has benefitted from that as much as he’s suffered from its curse.
But with the wisdom of a most remarkable life. He now knows how to use fearlessness to its most admirable ends.
“And just with anything in life, I was always the person that believed I can do that; I always felt it in my heart,” Turner said.
“So, taking it to skateboarding, which sometimes people wouldn't be trying something and I'll be like, I'll do it. I know I can do that. That's how it was for me, that was my experience with skating, and I was just never, never afraid.”