90s skate prodigy Brandon Turner on addiction and recovery

90s skate prodigy Brandon Turner on addiction and recovery
Living the dream soon turned into a nightmare for skater Brandon Turner. Yet Turner eventually found a route to recovery and redemption through skateboarding.

Back in the 1990s, Brandon Turner was a skateboard prodigy who became a superstar as a young teen. Hailing from San Diego, Turner, known as Li’l B, made his name through his fearless pursuit of impossible stunts and quickly rose up through the ranks. 

Turner’s passion for the sport was nurtured as a young child growing up on a U.S. military base in Yokosuka, Japan. He became close friends with local skater Tomonari Hongo, who introduced Turner to the local skate scene and taught him how to kickflip. Turner returned to the United States, only to encounter culture shock as a young Black teen in a predominantly white sport. 

“It was really different but I stuck to my mission,” says Turner, who connected with Peter Smolik and joined Voice Skateboarders at age 13. Two years later he teamed up with Chad Muska at Shorty’s Skateboards, and began living the dream.

Turner was traveling the globe, partying with friends, making videos, and winning awards just as skateboarding was reaching critical mass. At the height of his career, he made $60,000 in one month — and burned through it living the high life. 

With the fame and money, Turner’s drug and alcohol use intensified and things began to go awry. “I started hanging out with some older people who didn’t have my best interests at heart and it started getting out of hand,” says Turner.

Staying loyal to the streets and skateboarding eventually took its toll. Turner’s off-the-board escapades resulted in an exhaustive cycle of hospitals, arrests, and depressive episodes that went on for years that almost ended his skateboarding career — not to mention his life. 

In 2014, Turner entered recovery and turned his life around, devoting himself to helping others through his love of skating. In July 2020, he started a skate programme at the Healthy Life Recovery rehab centre in San Diego, California, teaching participants skateboarding skills and wisdom gleaned from his own harrowing experiences with addiction.

With drug overdose deaths reaching record highs in the United States in recent years, Turner’s hard-earned wisdom and innovative guidance are needed now more than ever. Having faced down addiction, Turner applies lessons of balance, courage, commitment, and perseverance to the skate programme to help people understand that progress is made by facing their fears and showing up everyday.

“Skateboarding is one of the greatest lessons in life because it’s constant failure every single day, multiple times, and you have to pick yourself back up and apply what you have learned” Turner says. “When people fail, they are down on themselves but anyone who’s ever been successful with anything knows that you have to fail in order to learn and succeed. It’s all perception.”

Although Turner describes himself as “hard headed,” his instinct for self-preservation eventually won, and he transformed the things that were destroying him into an opportunity to help others struggling with addiction. “I know plenty of friends and associates, who think the same way I did,” he says. “I know I can help people through my experience.”

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