Bringing Shitty Back
Sean Reilly on the art of building a DIY skate brand in a sanitized world
Text by Travis Hancock || Images by John Oliveira
“The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.” - Oscar Wilde
Skateboarding on a rock in the middle of the ocean is about as useful to humanity as a hamster spinning its wheel. But skaters donning the shirts, hats, and stickers made by the up-and-coming brand Shitty Kids do not care. They admire their creative, vandalistic, sweat-and-blood-spattered work intensely. Amid the sea of brands pushed by ivory-tower executives and bandwagon outsiders, Shitty Kids is creating DIY ripples.
The mastermind behind the brand is another Irishman, Hawaii skateboarding guru Sean Patrick Reilly, who claims the title “professional busboy” before “pro skater.” Have you seen him? He’s the illustrated man pushing all around Honolulu in torn-up shoes, hefting a dilapidated boom box blasting genre-splicing mixtapes. At Aala Park, where Reilly is such a regular that he refers to the resident homeless caretaker Tom Slick as “Dad,” he has probably logged more time and unthinkable tricks than anyone—sometimes barefoot just for fun.
Running on Hawaiian time, Reilly has been slowly, organically building the Shitty Kids brand since 2003. “The main backing behind it is a reason to make skateboarding videos with all of my friends in them,” Reilly says. The brand name has followed him ever since he picked up a camera to film “sponsor-me” videos, and eventually to document the talent and hijinx blossoming in and around Chinatown.
“I always had Bedpan Productions, because my nickname was Bedpan, but I needed a mock company behind the videos. One day I was skating in Kailua at a skate park and this kid messed up on a trick and hit his knee and said, ‘Ugh, I’m such a shitty kid!’ and I was like, ‘What did you say?’ He said, ‘I’m a shitty kid,’ like, ‘My family hates me.’ And I was like, that’s awesome. I was in the stages of editing a video, and I went home and put ‘Shitty Kids presents a Bedpan Production’ and from there it always stuck.”
Throughout the ensuing decade, Reilly made nearly a dozen full-length skate films, always using the same, essentially artificial production title in his ramshackle editing process. But over time, Reilly saw the potential to imbue the name with meaning, thanks in part to skate legend Jef Hartsel, whose clothing company Poetree came with a “whole vision” that, as Reilly puts it, “got my mind thinking about what I can put on a shirt that’s really going to relay some sort of message, maybe to make skateboarders that are taking this so serious to mellow out, have some fun, enjoy life.”
Then about two years ago, Reilly finally hit the print shop, a move catalyzed by the late Bernardo Bernard, a creative force in Hawaii’s skate scene.
“One day I was shooting the craps with my friend Bernardo,” Reilly explains, “and I was like, ‘Dude, I like your art. Let’s draw Shitty Kids graphics and make this a company.’” Early on, Reilly diverted that art from anything fecal. As he explains, “It’s more based on the assumption that culture outside of skateboarding sees us as like, right away, those skateboarders who are just shitty kids.”
From those early days of scribbling emerged Bernard’s timeless “SK,” a hand-drawn visual palindrome now tagged around Aala Park ramps, stickered on Chinatown’s benches, and printed on an eclectic array of shirts found in APB, In4mation, 808 Skate, Kicks Hawaii, and shops on neighbor islands. In graffiti-style fonts and thick black lines, Shitty Kids graphics feature puns and thought-provoking phrases like “How Far the Ideal From the Real” paired with indelible images ranging from a staring eyeball to Bruce Lee pointing at the moon. In spite of its growth, the brand is still very DIY, partly due to the spontaneous way Reilly launched it.
“Right before Bernardo passed I was questioning going big into this and making a bunch of shirts. I thought of making one run of stuff, for fun. So when he passed I was like, ‘Holy shit, I’m using that logo—it’s so awesome.’ I try to put it somewhere on the shirt where it has the most power. When Bruce Lee’s pointing at the moon, it’s in the moon; or in ‘How Far the Ideal from the Real,’ it’s in the center eyeball.” For Reilly, featuring the very stigmas associated with his friends’ allegedly useless wooden toys was key to the company’s philosophy.
“For someone walking down the street, walking past a ledge or little embankment, it’s nothing to them. For me, I get excited about that,” Reilly says. “There are objects out there in the streets that my friends and I can have hours and hours of fun with that others couldn’t give a shit about. And it sucks that we fuck it up and people get mad, but there are things we can do on our skateboards that will give you so much joy.”
Reilly’s mantra has garnered a following, from which he has handpicked the inimitable Shitty Kids skate team. In Reilly’s words, “You’d think the team is just about partying and things like that, but I think everyone is just a really crazy and spontaneous skateboarder and it all meshes well. And they’re the people I want to put into one big video.” Like an urban paniolo, Reilly wrangles together the too eccentric or otherwise too humble members of his team, often without the aid of all-too-breakable cellphones. “When I skate with one of these dudes, they always seem to amaze me with something that I didn’t even know that they could do,” says Reilly. “It’s always worth it.”
Meet the Shitty Kids Team:
AKA: The Next Choppy Omega, The Most Interesting Skater in Hawaii
Reilly’s words: “He’s a beautiful mess. Deaf in one ear. Constant energy. You take him anywhere and he becomes the life of the party, bouncing off the walls. He is a 26-year-old mad, crazy child.”
AKA: King of Makiki
Reilly’s words: “He’s a really cool, quiet kid that’s really smooth at skating ledges, but when you least expect it he and Mikey can go on a party tear and next thing you know you find them in a random ghetto karaoke bar singing at 3 o’clock in the afternoon drinking 40s.”
AKA: Miles Handsome, Maui Miles
Reilly’s words: “Out of nowhere he will just jump down any handrail, no matter what the size, it’s not scary to him. He slams and jumps right up, tries it again. Right now he is on a tear. Basically he’s the person in Hawaii rushing every single big rail.”
AKA: Burns, Young Buck
Reilly’s words: “Jiu Jitsu master. A lot of people don’t know, but he’s the nephew of Anderson Silva. Tyler’s definitely like Mikey Albert’s little sidekick.”
AKA: Non-GMO, That Foreign Guy Who Kills It
Reilly’s words: “I think Misha is originally from Russia, but lived in Israel for a while, and now he’s out here. He’s someone I skate with all the time. He’s one of those guys, you take him to any spot and he does whatever he wants there.”
AKA: From Big Island
Reilly’s words: “I don’t always get to skate with him, but as with everyone on the team, he doesn’t really second guess what he’s doing. That’s what got me stoked on him.”
AKA: Lil Darkness, New Kid from San Diego
Reilly’s words: “Lots of pop.”
Reilly’s words: “Maybe the most random person I know—random and spontaneous. I see him and just say, ‘Wow, your mind is in another place and that’s awesome.’”