Eight scarves, two jackets, three socks, deodorant, a needle and spoon, four cigarette butts, and a restraining order from his mother.
Brandon Novak remembers exactly what he owned when he was 35 and homeless. He doesn’t remember the first time he tried cocaine and heroin, just that when he was 17 his star had fallen as a professional skateboarder, and he went to rehab the first of 13 times.
“After doing a lot of work internally, I can see it clear as day [that addiction] had its grips on me,” he says. “It took me, and I didn’t even know it happened.”
Born and raised in Baltimore, Novak got his first skateboard when he was 7. A natural athlete, he skated on a mini ramp at a local shop, drawing the attention of neighborhood skaters—including rising star Bucky Lasek, who introduced him to the king of skateboarding, Tony Hawk. By his teens, Novak’s career exploded.
When he was 14, he was signed to the Powell Peralta team and was the first skateboarder endorsed by Gatorade. He toured the world with Hawk and even starred in a commercial alongside Michael Jordan. He was on the trajectory to become a superstar, but behind the scenes he was dealing with a growing addiction to drugs.
“I didn’t live the lifestyle where I had to be in when the streetlights went on. I didn’t have a boss that I had to check in with at 9 a.m. and stay at work until 5 p.m.,” Novak says. “The accountability was slim to none.”
Eventually, he was given an ultimatum: Go to rehab or leave the team. Novak chose to leave the team. He was 17 years old.