Colville tribal member Nigel Alexander is best known for his career as a skateboard videographer. His videos have racked up millions of views on YouTube.com.
Alexander, 39, started his own YouTube channel in 2005 that is dedicated to filming skateboarding. Over the past 14 years, he has done video work with companies like AT&T, Nike, and Mt. Dew, as well as professional skateboarders like Paul Rodriguez, Chaz Ortiz,and Terry Kennedy.
His journey began on the Colville Reservation, where he attended Keller Elementary School and Paschal Sherman Indian School. He later moved to the Los Angeles area and attended William Howard Taft Charter High School in San Fernando Valley, Calif. He later completed one year of study at Pierce Community College in Woodland Hills, Calif.
Alexander talked with us about his upbringing during a recent visit he made to Keller to visit his family.
Tribune: How long have you been a skateboarder and what made you interested in the sport?
Alexander: I've been a skateboarder for 25 years now. I wanted to start when I was probably about five years old, but I'd already been to the ER for things like climbing or jumping and my mom said ”No Way!” I was bummed for a long time, but when I think back on it I understand. My brother started skateboarding in 1994 and I'd watch him do tricks and mess around on his board, which really caught my eye and got me interested.
Tribune: What gave you the idea to start creating skateboarding videos?
Alexander: Skateboarding is a really expensive sport because you end up tearing up your shoes and breaking boards a lot. Many parents can't support buying new shoes all the time or don't want to see you come home all banged up, but my dad made my brother and I a deal...we were allowed to skate but we had to find a way to pay for it ourselves. We figured we could use the money from our per capita payments toward some costs, and film each other skating to attract sponsorships for the rest. Over the years I've discovered that people who are good skaters make the best videos, because you can tell they have knowledge of the sport and that they really enjoy it.
Tribune: Did you have skateboarders or videographers who inspired you?
Alexander: Oh, there were tons of people on both sides. In skating, my top five were probably Tom Penny, Andrew Reynolds, Erik Koston, Ronnie Creager, Geoff Rowley.and Daewon Song. From the video aspect, there's really only one dude, Ty Evans. I always looked up to him; then, once I met him, he also spent some time mentoring me.
Tribune: How did you make this into a career? What's the work process like?
Alexander: A lot of it was trial and error at the start. Heath Brinkley is a guy I met that helped show me the ropes and pushed me in the right direction. When we started, we'd film, then make DVDs and sell them. The only way to make real money was to work on high end jobs, filming contests or filming for larger sponsors. The YouTube thing kind of fell in my lap, and at the start most people thought we were nuts, but I ended up being known as one of the first skateboarding YouTubers.
With YouTube, you have to have x amount of views to earn x amount of money through ad revenues. We never did anything goofy or wild to try to get more views, I just taped myself and my friends and tried to make the best videos I could. I figure there are plenty of other videos with that kind of content, and that's fine if that's your thing. I just love the sport so much that I didn't want to warp it into something else. I always wanted to keep it really authentic, and I'm still really proud of that aspect. It's also helped us continue to grow and maintain respect in this industry, because professional skaters appreciate that focus, and they're just as hyped to work with me as I am to work with them.
Tribune: What projects would you say you're best known for?
Alexander: I worked for the first season of Rob Dyrdek's Street League and filmed for different contest series. I also had an office at the Fantasy Factory for a while. I've done filming, editing, directing and producing videos for some bigger companies, as well as helped people start skateboarding companies, all kinds of stuff. It's hard to keep track sometimes because I'm always so focused on the next thing. It's a good way to be because it helps keep me moving forward rather then dwelling on stuff that's been done.
Tribune: You recently decided to take a break and returned to Keller for a visit this month. What was behind that decision?
Alexander: I've had a tough couple of years recently. I lost my dad about three years ago. My sister also passed recently, so I decided to come home to Washington and spend some time re-grounding myself before getting back into anything big. I talked to my family and they've been really supportive, so I'm happy it's worked out to be staying here for a while. It feels like a good time to slow down and just do some soul searching.
Tribune: Is being a skateboarding videographer your full time career, or do you have other things you work on?
Alexander: Up until now it has been, but part of what I'm doing now is figuring out my next step. I've realized I'm older now and as you get older it's physically harder to keep skating, just a bit rougher on you. Filming is also a lot more time consuming and intense than people really anticipate. So I'm taking the time now to really think about if I want to keep doing this or if I might want to try something new.
Tribune: I know you're on a break right now, but are there any future projects you're excited for?
Alexander: There are a lot of projects that people have proposed, and many things I'm excited about, but I'm not really hyped to start on them just yet. I'm trying to stay focused on how I'm feeling, and getting to a good place.
Tribune: What would you like to say to young people growing up on the reservation who have similar dreams?
Alexander: I think I'd be a great counselor for younger Native kids, just because I came from the same place and I feel like I understand what it's like. I'd say you have to have a dream and love it enough to make sure nothing else gets in the way of achieving it. When you're young it's better to stay away from drinking, and try not to step out of that zone because otherwise your dream probably isn't going to work. I had a lot of friends that started out on better paths than me, but have nothing to show for it now. If you stay focused it'll work out, and when you pull it off there's no greater feeling! I'm really happy to be from the Colville Reservation, and I hope I'm able to give back to our community someday.
Tribune: Where can people view your videos and photography?
Alexander: The majority of my work is on YouTube under Nka Vids Skateboarding, or on Instagram @nkavids. The YouTube videos have just over 95 million views, and my Instagram has about 256,000 followers right now. It's harder to share stuff on Facebook so I don't post there as much.