ABOVE: Despite being homeless, Johnny Economou, 20, says has regular “sleep overs” with women all over town after he meets them on the Venice Boardwalk.
By Melanie Camp
The air is fresh, the sky uncluttered. A clear blue after a week of wind that chased away clouds, the Los Angeles haze, and unburdened the palm trees of their dead fronds. In the distance is a crisp view of Malibu and the undulating lines of the Santa Monica mountain range.
Johnny Economou drifts by, his board floats over the smooth concrete at the north-west end of the Venice Beach Skate Park. Undulating lines that mimic the mountain view. We had decided to meet early because Economou had wanted me to watch him skate but he didn’t want to compete with the crowds.
“I’m not that good. They’d make me look bad,” he says. His self-deprecation is endearing.
We had decided to meet so Economou could tell me his story. It reads like a fairytale filled with romantic encounters, and a meet-cute that could be straight from a Hollywood movie. For Economou Venice Beach is home, of sorts. His home without a house. Like many young, mid-western, Americans Economou has made the pilgrimage to Venice Beach with dreams of hitting the big-time, and he may just be on the brink of breaking through.
Working as a child model growing up in Wisconsin, Economou had aspirations to go further in his industry.
“L.A. is where it’s at. I have a plan to go as far as I can in the modeling world,” he says. Part of that plan includes living on Venice Beach, camping out under the stars.
Growing up Economou’s family often spent holidays camping.
“I love nature, I like being around it, it doesn’t bother me to sleep outside,” he says, adding that he believes society today disconnects individuals from nature and that living outdoors is a way to reconnect. “You’re always inside or you’re always on your phone so being in touch with nature is a good thing. It grounds you more to the earth and to the energy and everything.”
Economou believes being connected to a universal flow helped him land a big break after only three months on Venice Beach.
“I was just chilling on the beach after a swim when these people stopped about 20-feet away from me and set up a picnic,” he says.
According to Economou the picnickers caught his eye as they looked more like celebrities than the regular Venice Beach-goers. He even noticed they had their own security, watching from a distance.
“I thought they were police at first, then I realized they were bodyguards,” he says.
However the security had not anticipated an attack from above and a flock of Venice Beach seagulls quickly invaded the party.
“These seagulls started swarming them after they pulled out their food and the girls in the group started screaming. So I ran over and helped chase the seagulls off,” says Economou.
Grateful for his efforts the group of four struck up a conversation with Economou, two in the group suggesting Economou should take up modeling. At that moment Economou realized who he was talking to. The celebrity group was none other than Kendall Jenner, her best friend, supermodel Gigi Hadid, actor Ansel Elgort, and Jenner’s modeling manager, Ashleah Gonzalez. The group was in Venice shooting a commercial and had decided to share a lunch-break picnic on the beach.
The chance encounter led to Economou signing with modeling agency TwoManagement where he is managed by Katie Wolland.
“I was at the right place at the right time,” says Economou. “It’s the law of attraction, you put out and you receive. If you’re really spiritual and you’re in touch with energy and the world, you can control things like that.”
Economou has dreams of a big house and a fast car.
“I want to live lavish,” he says. “I want to get that Ferrari; I want that house on the water. I’m shooting for that.”
For now he’s enjoying the freedom life on the streets provides.
“Homeless by choice, not by force,” he says. “I don’t want a house, I don’t want my own apartment yet because I like being free and living the Hippie life.”
Economou may be homeless but he is not often short of a bed. This morning Economou had caught the bus out from Hollywood where he’d spent the night with a female friend. He says that as much as he enjoys sleeping under the stars he does prefer a warm bed.
So, how does one get that if they are not interested in taking on the responsibility of paying rent?
Economou has “sleep overs” with women he meets on the Venice Boardwalk.
“That’s my motivation, to go home with a girl, or else I’ll be out on the beach,” he says. “I like sleeping on the beach but obviously going home with a girl is better.”
While the Homeless Romeo will not name any names, he says he has gone home with many women, from tourists staying at nearby backpackers, to wealthy Venice locals. He even travels as far as Beverly Hills and Hollywood to visit his lady friends.
Economou says he is truthful with all the woman he sees.
“It’s mostly an open relationship,” he says. “I keep them as close friends and I keep on talking to other girls and I let them know that. I believe in sharing the love. I like to date a lot of women. You can’t just pick one.”
As we move away from the Skate Park and make our way along Ocean Front Walk, Economou is distracted by an attractive local taking her dog for a morning walk. Whipping out the charm he says, “hello.”
“How old are you?” the local lady asks.
“I’m 20,” says Economou.
“20! Oh my God. I’m double your age plus. How about that!” she says.
“Good. That’s just how I like it,” says Economou adding that while he prefers women over 35, it is more important he feels a connection.
Later the Venice woman says she though Economou was a sweet kid and that she understood how someone might want to take him off the streets for a night and cook him a home dinner. While she did find his quest for a bed amusing, she said she could see how he had a string of ladies around town who regularly welcomed him in for the night.
While being discovered by Kendall Jenner, and regularly bedding a bevy of fascinating women, all the while living the hippie dream on Venice Beach may sound like a dream come true, Economou is quick to say he always had a plan and he works hard to stay focused.
“Somedays I’d have a feeling that I wouldn’t get discovered, or that I wouldn’t make it but you can’t have that lack of confidence, you can’t have that mindset,” he says. “You’ve got to really focus, and really put out good vibes, and overcome those bad thoughts and good things come.”
Economou doesn’t feel it is his place to judge others but agrees that many people, while they do come to Venice with a goal to make it big, can lose direction. This is something Timothy Pardue, the Manager of a local homeless youth organization The Venice PAD, backs up. Pardue explains that being homeless still costs something and many arrive underestimating how much money they will need to bring with them.
“A lot of kids come out here to get into the entertainment business and they have a picture in their mind of L.A. that is based on what they see on TV. They get out here, they bring a thousand bucks with them, and then they realize it’s not what they expected. L.A.’s a tough town to live in for sure,” says Pardue.
Time will tell how far from the streets of Venice Beach Economou will rise but as he is determined to stay focused on booking work as a model, as well as finding shelter in the arms of his many California girls, his future seems as clear as the view out towards the Santa Monica mountains on this bright, sun-shiny Venice day.