Shaun Witherup Interview
‘Yoh! I got stories!’ Is what Shaun Witherup said to me when I told him I needed to interview him for the mag – and indeed he does! Leaving behind the muggings and mayhem of South Africa more than a decade ago, Shaun now calls London home, but the hi-jinx hasn’t stopped.
Photography by Sam Clark
Interview by Will Harmon
Shaun, you grew up skating in South Africa, whereabouts? Who did you skate with?
I grew up in Durban, SA. And back then the crew was Mike Sutcliffe, George Van Blerk and some other guys.
And when did you start skating?
I started my first year of Durban High School. I don’t know if you remember Snoopy?
No, ha, George Van Blerk, he used to be a pro on Death Skateboards and he moved from South Africa to England. So I ended up buying some trucks off of him. And then yeah I started skating and then we became nemeses. I got good and it would be me against him in the comps and stuff and he just wasn’t stoked anymore. (Laughs) You could say we kind of fell out.
So when and why did you move to the UK?
Because shit was just fucked up… Before I was 16 I had been mugged more than ten times at gunpoint, stabbed, house broken into numerous times, etc. But the final straw was I came home from school and found our maid tied up and our whole house was empty and she had been beaten. So my mum was like: ‘this is it! There’s no point.’ We had British passports so it didn’t make sense to stay there anymore. It’s just not safe. So we ended up moving to Liverpool.
Just you and your mum?
No she sent me over first as my aunt and uncle were there in Liverpool so she sent me up there and then I ended up skating for Lost Art back in the day.
Ah sick! Was that your first sponsor?
No no, I got hooked up in SA as I was skating the comps and shit. I used to ride for an SA company called Island Style. But Lost Art was the first in the UK. Mackey is a G!
All of my friends from South Africa have a crazy SA story of something sketchy that has happened to them… Got any more aside from the burglary one?
The maid one was gnarly, but there’s more… Once I got mugged in broad daylight coming home from the beach at a bus stop. It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon and three guys came up to me and two guys put a knife in my back saying ‘give me your shit!’ One dude was like ‘gimme your watch,’ and the other dude’s like ‘give me your jeans!’ So I had to take my jeans off and give them to this dude! So I’m standing there in boxers with 20 people around and no one is helping. People just don’t want to get involved. But I actually got my stuff back though, which is kinda fucked up. I ended up calling my mum and her boyfriend was this gnarly Hells Angel dude, he had bought me the watch. So I told him what area it was and somehow he found they guy, asked him what time it was, and then sparked him one (punched him) and robbed the dude back. Strange one…
Whoa! That is crazy. So what was it like when you first moved to Liverpool?
A bit of a culture shock man! Durban is kind of like a beach city and I rocked up in Liverpool wearing a Hawaiian shirt and blonde hair… I got put into this really tough public school there with tons of scallies and scousers… All the dudes wanted to fight me and all the chicks wanted to go have a drink with me. (Laughs) Guys just wanted to fight me all day long. It was a bit of a fucking shock for sure…
And then how did you move to London?
Liverpool was cool; it was a bit small and you know a lot of my friends were getting into the wrong shit like doing too many drugs and going down the wrong path and I just didn’t want to get stuck in that kind of way. So I just decided to move down to London and see what was up and give it a go.
Can you tell me about skating for King Clothing and being in an ad with Dan Clarke and Skepta being chased by a dinosaur?
Yeah that was a strange one… Ha ha. How did you see that? They said it was just going to be a photo of us wearing the clothes or whatever; we were just in a studio. But then it turns out in the ad there’s a dinosaur or some crazy shit. It turned out to be something I didn’t want to be involved with.
So you met Skepta back then? I guess this was before he was big…
Yeah that was before he was big… I met this Wretch 32 dude too. He was on King as well. He was a grime artist. It was a cool company that helped me out with flights and stuff, but I don’t know… It just wasn’t for me in the end.
You studied shoe design at London College of Fashion, took a few years off, and now you study menswear fashion at Central Saint Martin’s. How did you get in to CSM? It’s one of the most respected fashion universities in the world, can you tell us a little bit about studying there?
I think I blagged it to be honest dude… I guess because I designed shoes from before, but it didn’t really go the way I expected it to; I had a few job opportunities, but it didn’t really pan out the way I thought it would. So I just skated for bit then I decided that I wanted to learn more about garments so I could maybe start something later or work with somebody like that. So yeah I just applied to CSM and I got in after a few interviews and showing them my portfolio. I think the guy just liked me because I was a skater and not the usual fashion school type.
And you got a scholarship?
Yeah I got a special scholarship for mature students. They are more lenient to help you out and stuff. Yeah so I just finished the first year.
So I know you were down at Southbank one day, and you made a statement, and this statement has forever changed the vernacular of a lot of London skateboarders… Do you know what I’m talking about?
Sission! (Laughs) I was down at SB one day and I speaking to Lev (Tanju) and I guess not many people had heard it before and Lev asked me what I had gotten up to last night and I was like: ‘Ah I was sissioning this chick for hours and hours man.’ And then he just started laughing and then it just started going everywhere and everyone started using it: sission! So that’s how it all started, just mainly because of Lev telling everyone about that story. Sission this; sission that!
And I remember you had a job as a lifeguard at Shoreditch House… How the hell did you get that job and did you ever save anyone?
Dude I just used to chill there and drink Mojitos on the side. I pretty much did nothing. The only thing I saved was a few iPads and iPhones when people dropped them into the pool. I just took them out and put them in some rice… Oh wait I did save a kid once… Some mum was on the side drinking or whatever and her kid just went under and was swallowing water so I jumped in and dragged him out. There were times when there were kids and shit, but most of the time you are just chilling there getting tanned, speaking to people and meeting hot chicks…
The pre-Tinder days…
Yeah… Ha ha. I had to quit Tinder. It was just too much. Too many matches… (Laughs)
You must have some good stories though… Care to share any?
Well this wasn’t through Tinder, but it’s a dating story… OK so I was with Tomek (Lipiec), and we ended up going drinking at some bars and we meet these chicks and bring them back to Tomek’s place. Anyway, these chicks leave, whatever, and Tomek and I crash out in the bed. Then like two hours into our sleep we get woken up… I get smacked in the face like two or three times… I’m like ‘what the fuck?’ So I open my eyes and there’s three big Lithuanian dudes that Tomek lived with that are kinda like on a gangster vibe. They were like: ‘Ah you brought prostitutes here! What the fuck!’ And we’re like: ‘No dude!’ So they are shouting at us in Lithuanian and one of the guys starts laying punches into me. I’m sleeping in my boxers and then I go down to put my sock on and he gives me an uppercut!
Yeah, so I land on the bed and then this one dude who had just gotten out of prison picks up a Stanley blade that was used to grip boards and Tomek and I are just stood on the bed against the wall and they’re like: ‘You gotta go! Grab your shit!’ And one of the guys is still laying into me and punching me, and he tells me to leave out the window. Three of them began pushing me towards the window, and it’s like a two and a half storey drop into the garden, and they chucked me out. Then as I’m laid out in the garden, two minutes later Tomek comes out with a bag of shit, he’s been beaten up as well, they just kicked him out. That’s one of the gnarlier stories.
So where did you guys go from there?
We just sat in the park for two hours. Tomek had to go to work that day! That was a mad one.
Indeed! Speaking of stories, I feel like you have some injury ones. You get injured a lot not even skating right?
Yeah mostly out partying. I just have a few beers then end up not giving a fuck. Yoh! OK yeah there’s a good one about having to get stitches in my hand. So I was at the Macbeth I think, and shit got wild. I ended up having a fight with the bouncer and he ended up cracking me one. So I had a split eye because we were skating outside like a ton of us… Anyway I had borrowed my friend’s bike that night and after all that shit started kicking off I realised someone had stolen his bike. So all my friends started to cycle home so I decided to just follow them skating real fast. So on the way home, after having a fight and my eye was bleeding, I come around a corner and put my hand on a fence. A spike just goes straight into my hand, and I didn’t know it at the time, I just keep skating down the road like ‘where is all this blood coming from?’ So I check my hand and it’s ripped to shreds. Anyways I go home and see Tomek and I ask him: ‘Dude, do you think I need stitches?’ He’s like: ‘Yo! What the fuck!’ My hand is nearly spewing it’s so bad. It’s super deep and to the bone.
‘I’m gonna call you an ambulance,’ Tomek says. So he’s calling 911 for like half an hour and it’s engaged. Every time he tried to call the number was busy so he’s like: ‘I don’t know what fuck we are gonna do! We need an ambulance!’ So we finally go online and realise the number for an ambulance is 999. (Laughs)
No way! Ha ha!
Yeah so finally the ambulance comes and they took me to the hospital. I’m super-drunk at this point so they drop me off at the hospital and they tell me: ‘Sit down here and somebody will come and get you.’ Ten minutes later I fall asleep, it’s like five in the morning and then I wake up at 10am. ‘Why the fuck am I in the hospital?’ I think when I wake up so I stand up look around and guess that I must have been super-drunk. So I leave and I walk up to the bus stop. I put up my hand to flag the bus down and I suddenly realise my hand and how fucked it is. So I went back to the hospital and stayed there another six hours and they stitched me up and shit; thirty-two stitches in my hand.
Yeah that was heavy. I ended up going skating on a Big Push a week later with all these stitches in my hand.
What a story! So I know you went back to South Africa for the photos for this interview. Where did you go to and what did you get up to?
I just stayed around Cape Town and travelled around there. Cape Town has good spots and everyone I pretty much know from South Africa has moved there. We had a few near misses with police and fights and shit like that. I ended up losing like three set-ups when I was there… Just through madness. Cape Town is wild.
I know you spent some time there, but why not move to Barcelona?
I was living there last year for like six months, which was a crazy ordeal… I think I nearly died by being eaten alive by bed bugs. Yeah it was this homie’s place… I was there six months and then I came back to start uni. That’s why I’m here in London. Once I finish uni I’ll see what’s up then.
How did you link up with Familia Skateboards?
Basically Gav (Gavin Morgan) hit me up. I’ve known his brother Steph since we were young; we used to skate together in South Africa. I film with their other brother Andy and Gav pretty much runs the company. So Gav just hit me up and asked if I wanted to be involved. At the time I was riding for Girl through the UK distro so I decided I’d rather be involved with something small, closer to home, with SA dudes and people I’ve known for a long time. Yeah it’s a good vibe; I’ve been riding for them for maybe like eight years.
What are you working on at the moment?
Yeah I’ve been trying to film every single place I go to, but the majority of the footage we want to have for the video. We are working on the Familia video so we want it to be really strong.
Congrats on the recent pro board!
Anyone you want to thank?
Big thanks and love to my friends, family and sponsors. Special thanks to Gavin Morgan, Dan Lawrence, Justin Biddle, Ivan the Great, Andy Morgan, Tom Beever, Ryder Nel, Bryce Campbell, Carl Richardson, Phil Brown, Yann Horowitz, Loucas Polydorou, Ann Sophie, Sam Clark and Henry Kingsford! Much love to you guys at Free Skate, Parlour Skate Store, adidas, Hélas, Familia, Levi’s, Riders of the Zol and my amazing mum! Sission!