The Buddy System: Steve Berra and Eric Koston are good friends who rarely skate together

Walk into any Hallmark store and you’ll find a row of cards oozing with sentimental goo about the beautiful bond of friendship. As pathologically sentimental as they are, they’ve got the fundamentals down-friendship is good. You can hang out with your bro; go to movies; take skate trips; talk about girl problems; play pool, cards, video games; whatever turns your crank.

That’s what makes Koston and Berra’s friendship puzzling: they hardly do any of the “friend” activities together. Rather than two friends heading in the same direction, or making Three Musketeer proclamations, they seem more like two guys driving around in speeding bumper cars, and their friendship is certified by how stoked they get when they actually bump into one another. “I never see them together-it’s sort of weird, they’re like the Odd Couple,” Rick Howard says.

Seeing them together is one thing-Koston can’t even remember when they met. Berra is positive it was in 1991 at an amateur contest in Rockford, Illinois. Koston won the mini ramp, and Berra talked to him after. “I just thought he ripped. I didn’t know him or anything,” Berra remembers.

Koston remembers talking to Berra at an amateur contest in Atlanta. “I don’t remember what we talked about, though.”

A few years later, they lived twenty minutes apart in Northern San Diego County. Berra lived with Tony Hawk and Koston with Alphonzo Rawls. Koston and Rawls would often skate Hawk’s mini ramp. “Tony let me drive his Civic, so sometimes I’d pick Eric up to skate,” Berra remembers. “Actually, I taught Eric how to drive a stick in Tony’s car. I still don’t think Tony knows that.”

Koston eventually moved into an apartment in Hollywood with some friends. Berra had moved to Santa Monica, and when Koston’s roommates moved out, Berra moved in. Was it a nice apartment? Clean? Nice neighbors? “It was a shithole,” Koston answers. “At first, it was good-for probably a year and a half-then we had the earthquake.” In 1994 a massive earthquake smacked Hollywood and destroyed sections of the city. The walls in their apartment cracked, dishes and fish bowls shattered, but that wasn’t what wrecked the apartment.

“It was the skatequake that really did that place in,” Berra points out. On average, they had five “guests” staying over at a time. They called it “skatecamp.” Skaters would drop by and stay for weeks. The carpet turned an off color and began to look like a mechanic’s garage floor. “The trash chute was also right across the hall, and I can still smell that stink,” Berra says. Koston nods in disgusted agreement.

Two-and-a-half years ago, they moved into a house off Melrose Avenue. They imposed a “no skatecamp” rule that was never enforced (one guest stayed for a year). But it appears to be working better than the apartment. “It could use a touch-up,” Koston points out as he surveys the table covered with the basketball magazines and movie scripts, the mountain of new shoes crowding the corner (Koston has 33 pairs of sample shoes), and the stack of fresh boards beside the front door. It’s a clean, but cluttered house.

I ask them why they think they’re friends, and they shrug simultaneously. Koston is quiet, and Berra is rarely afraid to voice what’s on his mind. Do opposites attract? That theory is hard to test. They have such hectic lifestyles that they can barely keep track of one another. Koston will leave for Vancouver, and if you ask Berra when his roommate gets back, it wouldn’t be unusual for him to answer: “Eric’s in Vancouver?”

“It’s not that we don’t want to skate together, but the ‘work’ part of it usually gets in the way,” Koston clarifies. “Today I have to go shoot a watch ad, and he has to film for the video and go to an audition.” Both are constantly busy with photos, demos, contests, videos, and girlfriends.

When I ask Berra for a definition of their relationship, he points to their roll-top desk. Koston’s side is stacked full of bills, and Berra’s side has an off-balancee stack of scripts, magazines, and shoe designs.

Just then, the evil landlady knocks on the door and lets herself in. Koston, who was on his way into the kitchen, spots her and backs up, out of sight, leaving Berra to receive the full brunt of her complaints. It seems the boys aren’t taking the trash cans in on time. They’ve also neglected to water her plants, and she almost starts crying as she blubbers that they will soon die. Berra tries to explain that they travel a lot and sometimes miss the trash pick up, but she won’t hear any of it. Koston peeks around the corner every so often.

When she leaves, their talk changes to the topic of moving. “We need to get out of here-we need another bathroom,” Koston says.

“That is the key, separate bathrooms and showers that work-ours has no pressure.”

“And a third room to store stuff.”

Koston mentions he might rent a movie later. Berra reminds him not to go to the local video store, because he’d rented a movie on Koston’s card and never returned it. Koston nods and doesn’t seem to mind: Berra gave him money for the fine.

By noon they both have to go their separate ways, but something happens that shows their friendship. Berra is late for a movie audition. As he runs out the door, he remembers a new skate spot. He stops and grabs his Thomas Guide (a street map of L.A.) that has all the skate spots circled, and sits down on the sofa beside Koston. He explains the spot and how you could drag a picnic table up to one of the bumps. He makes sure Koston knows exactly where it is before he leaves. Then they split in different directions.

So what is the key to their relationship? Separate bathrooms (that they don’t have)? Powerful showers? A Ying and Yang deal? Multiple video-store memberships? I asked Howard, considering that he’s a close friend of both, if he could illuminate their relationship. “Aren’t they both really into badminton?” he answered. “No, wait, it’s the furniture-I think they like the same furniture.”

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