A hustler behind the lens and in the lab, Andrew Durso, 35, doesn’t take no for an answer. Over the years, that mindset has paid off in more ways than one. From traveling the world taking skate photos with friends to helping business owners and artists brand by way of making stickers, Durso takes pride in the grind that he has going for himself.
Like most of us, though, Durso had to work hard to find his place in the skate industry. Truth be told, these days he says the majority of his work is coming from entirely new types of clients. Still, his roots run deep in skateboarding and he is regularly pumping out stickers for skater-owned businesses such as Black Plague Brewing, iDabble Video Magazine, Highland Peaks water bottles, various skate shops, Keen Ramps and even here at the Dew Tour.
Before taking the self-employed path, Durso worked at Active Ride Shop for nine years doing everything from picking up the shoe room to eventually becoming the inventory manager. Sponsored by the shop for skating before becoming an employee, Durso says that is where his network all began.
Today he is working from home to help others brand their businesses or traveling the world, and all of it is on his own terms. Recently Durso’s photo of Chase Webb feeble grinding a rail around a corner from his X Games Real Street has been circulating on social media. Durso explained that photo was shot about a month prior on a recent trip that he, Webb and a slew of other Lake Elsinore area homies took to Barcelona, but was then cut short due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
We checked in with Durso to hear the whole scoop. From how he started his businesses to waking up at 3 am in Barcelona and scrambling out the door an hour later to travel home during the global pandemic, Durso tells all in our conversation below.
Let’s dive in with everything that you do for work. What came first, photography, the ‘zine Roll Dawgs, or did it all begin with a deep love for stickers?
It was definitely freelance photography. I got started in 2010 on my first trip to New York with friends. We were planning to go to the Maloof Money Cup, because I think Manny [Santiago] or one of the homies was skating it.
I’ve always either had a little Olympus or video camera while skating over the years, so it was just time to get something better for the trip. I bought my first Canon, I think was a Rebel XSi, and was just taking photos around New York and of the homies skating. Then, somehow I ended up shooting the contest.
I didn’t have a pass but ended up getting some photos ran on a web article. That sparked something. I thought, ‘I like this. I dig it.’ Ever since then I just kept going.
So that was around 2010, when did the ‘zine Roll Dawgs start?
The ‘zine started in January 2012. After that trip in 2010 I pretty much shot every day. Me and the boys would skate every single day, five or six people, and it didn’t matter where. L.A., San Diego, Long Beach; we’d be going out to Arizona for Phoenix [Am].
We had way too many photos, and I was over dumping them on Facebook and Instagram. So I wrote a [Facebook post] asking, if anyone would be down if I started a ‘zine? It ended up getting like 40 comments, the most I had ever had back then. That was actually motivating, to see so many people down with me putting together a little something in print.
I thought it would be a one-time thing. Then, Claire Roberts jumped in and said if I needed help she would be down to do it. So we made it happen in January 2012 and then took our first issue and released it at Phoenix Am in April. We passed them out to the people. We realized how hard print was. That was where the nightmares began—hah!
The first issue had a lot of Chase [Webb], Brendon Nueva and Fabrizio [Santos]. Fabrizio Blessed the first cover, he frontside flipped over this parking garage rail into a bank. I was tripping. We were just starting to skate with him, and I was all hyped from seeing him in videos from over the years. To see him throw down something bigger, so proper— I was just like, ‘What the fuck?!’ So we put it on the cover.
Okay, then fast forward to 2014, what sparked the sticker company, A’s Custom Vinyl, to start?
Well, it was pretty much Roll Dawgs. I order my first set [of Roll Dawgs stickers] when I got business cards through VistaPrint, they were the paper ones. I used to pass them out to everybody. I remember one day I saw it on someone’s car, peeling and looking all papery. I was just like, ‘What the fuck am I doing?” Haha, this is not a good image.
So, I bought my next round and it was expensive. I was like, ‘Holy shit, these little stickers can get expensive.’ Back then I was throwing out so many stickers, everybody always wanted them. After that I realized I should look into buying my own machine. I bought my first machine back in 2014 while living in an apartment with Chase. I still have and use that plotter.
I remember one of the homies asking me if I could make any stickers with the machine and saying yes, but at the time I was only making Roll Dawgs stickers with it. Then, I made a Wu-Tang sticker and posted it on Instagram. Someone messaged me from that asking if I would make stickers for their company.
In 2015 it started to kick off and became something I was really doing. That is how it started, because of Roll Dawgs. It’s weird because at the time I was still really pushing my photography to work. Shooting every day, going out to shoot all the contests, shooting ads—whatever I could.
So, it was around the end of 2015 when I actually created the company, A’s Custom Vinyl, just before I moved back to Lake Elsinore. Andrew’s Custom Vinyl—it’s funny that was never supposed to stick. It just came up for tax purposes. I was going to build a different logo, but then I made Facebook and Instagram accounts and people started posting about it. So it stuck. I don’t know how I feel about it, but it still goes today.
“I think networking, telling yourself you can make something work, not being afraid to fail and just putting the pedal to metal. You’re going to miss your chance if you never try.” — Andrew Durso
Let’s backtrack just a bit, where are you from? I know you rep Lake Elsinore super hard, but are you not actually from there?
I was born in Harvard City, but my grandparents have always lived in Lake Elsinore, so I’ve always been coming out here. Then when I was six I moved to Scotland for a little bit with my mom before I came back. I grew up here. I went to Lake Elsinore Elementary, Middle, and High School—this is where I graduated.
I would say this is my fucking city. But, I was not born here. God, I wish.
What do you find the most enjoyable about your work? You get to do so much; travel as a photographer and help businesses brand themselves with stickers. Not to mention you get to put people on with the ‘zine.
Well, the ‘zine is on a hold because I am so busy with everything else right now. I would love to say photos because we get to travel, but it’s not really work. Yeah, I might sell some photos, but that’s not what’s paying my bills. I do love going shooting and skating, but I connect with people on a different level when we do stickers.
Getting to help out so many small businesses like breweries, some skate companies, different artists… I would say stickers, because I get to help so many and branch out whenever I go somewhere new. Getting to build relationships with people outside of skateboarding and on this sticker level, it is cool seeing others get excited.
I love stickers, and I have loved stickers since day one! I love the smell of them. Just everything.
Back when Ollie House [Skatepark] was open, I used to carry a box of stickers in with me. It was like my most prized possession. I would bring it in my bag, open it up, and have everyone check out my stickers.
That’s funny, I was almost expecting you to be that kid with the serious sticker collection.
I mean, I still do have a mean collection.
What sort of challenges do you encounter with your businesses these days? Is it tough to be an entrepreneur?
What I’ve realized lately are growing pains. I’m getting too big for myself. Every day I’m getting hit up with DMs and emails. To handle all that, cut all the stickers, packaging them, take care of invoices, answer everyone’s questions—just being the all-around man.
I’m still trying to be out there shooting, too. I want to say yes when people say, ‘Let’s go shoot this photo, Durso.’ I’m also trying to spend time hanging with my lady. It is tough to do it all.
Last year I was looking for more work. I had cool clients, but wanted to move on and get more. Well, after this last year, I’m biting my tongue now. Now I have it and am trying to juggle everything—that has been the biggest battle. I don’t have any help, I run this all out of my three-bedroom apartment. I use the master for my main office, then a second room for the sticker laminator and plotter machines.
Just a lot of juggling and growing pains, for sure. Plus, I haven’t been able to go skating in the morning for weeks now.
You just shot a photo of Chase Webb that I keep seeing from his newest gold-medal-winning Real Street video part. How did you meet Webb, and other skate industry connections?
I actually met Chase when he was four years old at the O.G. Temecula skate park. His dad, Jim, had a hockey mask on Chase’s helmet and I just remember seeing that kid bombing down a hill. I would see them enough to where we got to talking every weekend.
Then one day I tagged along with him and his dad to Venice Beach Skatepark for a Termite photoshoot he was doing. After that, his dad took me everywhere. It grew into a strong relationship. I watched Chase grow up.
What about Dew Tour? How did you become one of the go-to photographers?
Dew Tour is kind of funny. Chase and Brendon Nueva were always in the kids’ event at Dew Tour, so I would always go meet them and get a media pass for what was called the Free Flow Tour. I would always just apply to get a media pass, no problem.
Then in 2016, when Dew Tour was in Long Beach I applied for a press pass and it was the first year I got denied. I was like, ‘What? I’ve never been denied and this is the one I really want to go to.’ I was getting a bit more established then, too, Roll Dawgs had been around.
Chris Ortiz was doing some work with the guys at BL!SS Magazine back then, and I was always sending photos to him. So, I just emailed him out of nowhere–I didn’t have anywhere else to turn–and just asked if he needed any help covering Dew Tour [for BL!SS]. That I would love to help. He replied that he had enough guys, but he could get me a credential if I shot some stuff and just gave it to him. I still had no idea he was the Photography Director for Dew Tour, so this was about to blow my mind.
I said, ‘For sure, let’s do it.’ Then he asked if by any chance I was coming down on practice days, and I told him that I wasn’t but that I would. Then on the last email, he sent me he offered me a hotel room if I was willing to also shoot for him the main days. I was lit!
I was thinking, ‘Wait, what?! You’re going to give me a hotel room? Let’s do it!’
After the first day, I don’t know who it was, someone was stoked on me and my photos. They asked me to come and shoot earlier the next day and that they could get me a little pay. I remember calling my lady super stoked! I was cheesin’ hard. This was all because of an email that I would have done for free, but that’s how it all started. I just wrote the big man—the cheese.
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You also shoot Dew Tour snowboarding now. What is it like to shift over to snow photography?
The switch over was pretty crazy. I was actually just joking with Ortiz about it after working with all the boys in summer and hearing them talk about working winter. I was thinking that would be cool to go to, so I asked Ortiz what was good with winter. He came back at me say that I didn’t know how to snowboard or anything about it. I was mind-blown.
I told him I snowboard all the time and had even shot other events like Hotdogs and Handrails. I used to help out Ariel 7 Headphones shoot the event and get paid. It wasn’t like shooting up on the hill, but I had shot summer snowboarding. He kept giving me that Ortiz run around saying I wouldn’t know what I’m doing, but after bugging him enough I got the plug. That was a huge transition, though. I had no idea what that was about to be like.
Such a huge hill, the temperatures were cold and somehow when shooting with other photographers I would end up in the same spots as someone else. So, then I would have to hike down or up. Man, it was just such a rush because it was not like skateboarding. To just capture the trick, but then to know who it was. I remember being stressed with a little notepad. It was cold and it wasn’t working.
Then I learned to shoot everyone’s bib numbers. I nearly pulled my hair out trying to figure out how to turn around photos fast enough. I kept telling myself, ‘Just get this done, Durso. You got this!’
I loved it, but I was scared during the first one. I didn’t want to blow it, so I just acted like I knew what I was doing. The other photographers knew what they were doing, and they were a big help. In the end, everyone was stoked.
What is the current status of Roll Dawgs? Did you say earlier that it is currently on a hiatus?
Yeah, I haven’t done one in a while. We got to [print in] color, which is what we wanted but it’s really expensive to do. Like I said, I don’t get to go shoot as much anymore. But, when I do shoot a lot of photos get saved. We have a lot of stuff that hasn’t seen daylight yet, and I was actually going to drop an issue right after this trip to Barcelona that we all just went on.
I wanted to blow up some photos and do a little release party at a brewery before this whole COVID-19 took over. Our trip ended up getting cut seven days short. We were stacking so many photos out there. If we would have had seven more days, I was going to come home and at least do a mini version of Roll Dawgs. Like 50 pages to show off our trip because we had 11 dudes. It would have been a good one.
I’m going to do it again, though. I’m probably going to do it on another trip, because we do homie trips every year in March.
Run me through your last Barcelona trip, how was it cut short by COVID-19? Did you know it was going on before you hit the road?
We did hear word about COVID-19, not being sure at first if we would be able to travel. I don’t think anyone thought that it would be anything like as serious as it was. We all just went along with things hoping they’d work out.
The day we flew out, no issues. We didn’t have any issues until halfway through the trip, on the seventh day when we all got the Trump message. Literally, at 3 am all of our phones were just blowing up. All of us, ringing like crazy about how he was going to close the borders.
It spooked everyone. We were out of our apartment in an hour. That was a dagger to the heart. There were so many mixed feelings up in that place. We just had the sickest day, stacked some really good stuff, drank until 1:30-2 am, talking about what we were going to do for the next seven days. We were so excited. Then we woke up an hour later.
How has business been going with COVID-19?
My business has actually been busier since this whole thing started. It hasn’t affected me [health-wise] at all, and it has kept me at home grinding.
I don’t know if someone with a lot of followers recently blew me up, but I deal with a lot of these ‘Mama’ girls. Like Badass Mama or Blessed Mama, and they are part of this world of moms that make their own clothing brands. I helped one lady make stickers—that blew up. Man, this Mama world is next level right now.
As soon as I got home she hit me up and said the stickers killed it so she wanted more, and then my business skyrocketed. One lady put me on to a whole new type of clientele, and I am still slammed today working sometimes 10-12 hour days. I have actually been busier since COVID.
What is the story behind the X Games Real Street photo you shot of Chase? Was that stacked during COVID or before? Have you been shooting any skating lately?
That was stacked a month before our trip to Barcelona. The first week back–when I was starting to get really busy–Chase and I were just renegading it. People were telling us, ‘Stay in,’ and we were just like, ‘Fuck that, we’re going out!’ We actually stacked a few photos that first week back.
But then, I heard more news and learned more about everything that was happening. I decided I should start to stay home. I also didn’t want people hating on me. My work has pretty much kept me home ever since.
It seems like it is good to go out again where I’m at, but there was a 2-3 week period where people were really frowning upon you.
Any words of wisdom you can share with people interested in starting their own businesses, and especially those trying to get into skateboarding?
I would just say, go get it. Don’t be scared to fail. For a minute, I was just selling stuff on eBay to keep things going but I didn’t know where I wanted to go. I knew I wanted to stay in skateboarding and I knew I wanted to keep shooting photos, but I kept sitting down thinking things aren’t going to work for different reasons.
I think from each failure I’ve had there has also been something that I learned. I’ve learned to see what’s working. When I saw that stickers were working, I asked how to keep making it work. Networking and not taking ‘no’ for an answer.
‘Yo, you want some stickers?’ ‘No, I’m good right now.’ Okay, then it is on to the next.
I think networking, telling yourself you can make something work, not being afraid to fail, and just putting the pedal to metal. You’re going to miss your chance if you never try. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.
Start all the companies you can, especially during this COVID-19. This should have been an eye-opener for half of the people that are jobless right now. All those dreams that you wanted to do, do it! You are stuck at home right now, anyway.
I took this as an opportunity. I went out for three of those days skating, then I decided to stay home. I’ve been reaching out to more people, posting about my client work to update my Instagram accounts and website all that I could. What else was I going to do? I was stuck at home, and this is what works so I want to make it work more.
Take it as an opportunity. Especially for people unemployed and getting those checks—follow your wildest dreams! Start your brand! Start whatever you want, because this is the perfect time to do it. You are getting paid to stay at home.
I see a lot of people grinding right now, but I also see a lot of people just floating it away. Look at this as a blessing time. Take it and make it work.
Any final shoutouts as we wrap this up?
Shout out Lake Elsinore! Love the place you live. Love your city!