An Austin skateboarding lawyer talks layback grinds and the adrenaline rush of trial advocacy
Interview by Eric Quitugua
As a teenager, Rob Buford bought his boards from Easy Rollers, a
since-closed skate shop off the Drag in Austin.
He described the area as “Austin’s version of Haight-Ashbury for a
while.” Here Buford poses in an alley off 24th Street behind the
Skateboarding, in a way, has its own brand of justice with gravity as judge and broken bones and bruised egos as sentences. Barrel down a gravelly hill and the “speed wobbles” might just render one a verdict of eating pavement. Time a “backside boneless” wrong and the mighty gavel might award one an unexpected thrashing to the face. For some, not skateboarding is an easy choice. But others, like Austin-based attorney Rob Buford, stick with it and experience the thrill of riding down the hills of Tarrytown and the greatest sounds on Earth—the clacking of wheels after rolling away from a trick or the clinking of trucks on metal coping. “Skateboarding doesn’t make you a skateboarder. Not being able to stop skateboarding makes you a skateboarder,” he said, quoting skateboarding legend Lance Mountain.
When did you start skateboarding and how did you get into
I got my first skateboard at a garage sale around third grade. It was a complete piece of junk, but I loved it. I learned the ropes shooting the hills in Austin by the Tarrytown United Methodist Church. Austin has a lot of great hills.
What about the skate shops when you were coming up?Where did
you go? How about now?
Easy Rollers was headquartered in Austin. It was next door to Inner Sanctum Records, a head shop, and two popular cafes—Les Amis and Mad Dog & Beans. The area was kind of like Austin’s version of Haight-Ashbury for a while. Now it’s a Starbucks. Times change. No-Comply by House Park Skate Park is probably the main skate shop in Austin now.
What’s your current board set up?
I presently ride a 1980s Santa Cruz “Jeff Grosso” reissue with Independent 169 trucks and Bones 60mm Skatepark Formula wheels. I have a similar setup for street use, only with softer wheels.
What are your favorite tricks?
Are you learning any new ones?My number one favorite is the layback grind. I think it’s the most stylish move there is (Christian Hosoi agrees with me on this point). Other tricks I like include the Texas plant, backside boneless, frontside boneless, various types of slides, and carving a bowl with a lot of speed. If I’m feeling bold, I might work on airs or inverts, but not usually—this requires “padding up.” Now I always factor in the risk of injury, which slows my progress. You have to be willing to slam to learn new stuff.
Rob Buford started skateboarding in Austin’s Tarrytown neighborhood in
the late 1970s. The Austin-based aattorney helped navigate the design
and low-bid restrictions of the Mabel Davis skate park and is a regular
at House Park.
What gets you motivated to skate?
Skateboarding is the perfect remedy for the ups and downs of life. Life got you stressed out? Skate. Feeling bummed out? Skate. Want to hang out with some friends? Skate. It’s a beautiful day? Skate.
Who gets you motivated to skate?
Skaters tend to be competitive, even when we’re not in actual competitions, so that’s a big motivator—you push each other to excel. When you show up at the park, everyone is kind of sizing you up. It’s a stroke to skate well. Kind of like a day at the courthouse, right? I also watch YouTube skate videos a lot. It gives me ideas. Mostly either old videos or new ones where they are doing old-school tricks.
What do non-skaters have wrong about skaters? What do they
We have our own language and culture—a lot like surfers. People see that and make assumptions—we are troublemakers, we’re dangerous, we’re bad influences. Like any group of people, there will be all types. In some ways, that is well founded. Skateboarders want to hit anything that is “skateable”—empty pools, curbs, ditches, urban architecture, parking garages, things like that. Many times, it is private property. This can involve trespassing. Skateboarding can also inadvertently damage property. Putting up “no skateboarding” signs or calling the cops will not stop it. I am now in the ironic position of being on the other side of this. My office has a front driveway with metal surroundings that is attractive to skaters. We have had to repaint it several times, and I regularly have to run off skaters. I’m usually nice about it and tell them I skate too, but sometimes I’m more abrupt. There is definitely a “circle-of-life” narrative in there somewhere.
Where did your interest in the law come from?
To say I did not take the traditional path is an understatement. In 1981, after seeing the punk rock documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, I promptly dropped out of Austin High School to start playing in punk bands and skateboarding full time. Austin had a really big punk and skate scene back then. I remained heavily into that until I landed in military school, which, in retrospect, probably saved my life. Despite my background, I managed to graduate from Texas A&M with a B.S. in kinesiology. But job prospects with that undergraduate degree were pretty slim. One day, my dad said something like, “Why don’t you go to law school?” At that point, I didn’t even know what a lawyer did, but it sounded cool. I took the LSAT, applied to some schools, and the rest is history.
Trial advocacy is the closest thing that I have found to skateboarding. It can give you a real adrenaline rush (both good and bad). Your heart is always thumping when the jury walks out with the verdict. You never get over that (I have not, anyway). I also get a lot out of helping parents deal with troubled kids. I can relate to troubled kids in a way that most grownups cannot. And I can usually skate better than they can, too. TBJ