Nine year-old Sven just wanted to fit in like all the rest of his schoolmates. So when the coolest kids in his class got Yo-yos Sven desperately wanted one as well. He begged and pleaded with his parents until they finally relented. On the last day of school before the summer break Sven’s mother dropped him off at school and handed him a small wrapped present. ‘Don’t lose it or get it taken away,’ she said. Sven unwrapped the present to find a new shiny orange Yo-yo. Sven was ecstatic! He showed all his friends at school and he finally felt like he was fitting in.
All summer Sven played and practiced with his Yo-yo. He got quite good at it too learning loads of tricks. The Yo-yo was great because he could do it almost anywhere, but more importantly, he could do it all by himself – he didn’t need a team or other people to participate.
Summer was drawing to an end and Sven was excited about the new school year ahead. ‘Wait until the others see my Yo-yo tricks. I’m really going to impress them!’ he thought. The first day back at school finally came and after the first few hellos Sven broke out his Yo-yo. He started doing his Yo-yo tricks and then suddenly: ‘Ha ha! Yo-yoing sucks dude!’ The kids in school started teasing him. ‘Yo-yoing is so not cool. No one does that anymore man, we’re into football now.’
But Sven didn’t want to play football; he hated football! Sven decided he just preferred playing with his Yo-yo. Sven stuck with it and he became quite famous in the underground, but tightly knit Yo-yo community. He was even flown to the States by a Yo-yo company to do a demo. The haters continued to hate, but Sven took it all in stride. Sven had to do other jobs to make ends meet, but that didn’t bother him. He still had time to do what he loved: Yo-yoing.
Sven’s story is similar to those that started skateboarding before the mid-nineties. Back then skateboarding was ‘not cool’. There was no Street League, no X-Games, hardly any corporate shoe sponsors and no big money energy drink companies, but still, there were millions of skateboarders that skated for the love of it. Skateboarding was underground and people didn’t understand it, but that was just fine with us. There wasn’t that much money in it either back then. Fast forward to today and skateboarding has been thoroughly inserted into the mainstream. But somewhere along the way in skateboarding’s rise to popularity certain aspects of skateboarding trailed off. Not all types of skateboarding were invited to the big party. The Olympics in 2020 will have street and bowl events, but what about the other kinds of skateboarding? What about the others? We tracked down some of ‘the others’ to find out about their style of skateboarding and why they keep doing it with little recognition, slim to nil coverage and little to no money. They are the new Svens. Perhaps this will bring a better understanding of freestyling, longboarding, slalom and vert skating to the mainstream skateboard world. People often make fun of what they don’t understand, but lest we forget, we used to be Svens too. -Will Harmon
Denham Hill – 25, Leeds, UK
Will Harmon: How did you discover skateboarding and what was your first skateboard?
Denham Hill: I discovered skateboarding in the early noughties, all my friends started doing it, and it was all big trousers, loud music and all the horrible fashion styles. My first deck was an old Toy Machine demon monster. Then I just took to it and all my mates quit, but I just kept progressing and progressing.
At what point did you decide your focus would be freestyle skateboarding and how did you get into that exactly?
So around the time I started skating Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was a big thing, but I was always more into hardcore and eighties skateboarding. I was all about bonelesses and I used to ride a lot of pool and bowl. And from that I researched into older types of skateboarding and things that weren’t quite the trend anymore. That’s when I came across freestyle and stumbled upon clips of (Rodney) Mullen on Tony Hawk’s. I liked the different approach and from there I was keen to explore it. So then I kind of sat on YouTube and typed as many links as I could. I started seeing Pierre Andre, Ray Meyer, Don Brown and all the other freestylers of that time. And I just thought it’s constant movement, constant chances to develop tricks and constant ways to create new combos and lines and that’s just what got me into it – just the creativity I suppose.
And then from there did you get a special freestyle board? How did you source that?
Well I started off with standard street popsicle boards, and I’d get a lot as hand-me-downs when I first started out, so I’d try to kind of sand them down or try and plane them into a better shape. But then I got in touch with Yoyo Schultz over in Germany, a freestyler of old, and he sold boards from a company called Decomposed so I started riding those. They were all freestyle decks and freestyle wheels and trucks, because of course you need narrower trucks as well. And after a couple of years Tony Gale, who is another freestyler in the UK and a mate, got in touch with me and he said that Moonshine, who are a vert company, they were starting to make freestyle boards and wanted to put together a team. So I got sponsored by Moonshine, and I now get all my freestyle gear through those guys.
Can you tell us a bit about the freestyle community? Does it have its own isolated culture?
Isolated kind of… It’s almost a separate tangent. The way I’ve always seen it, if you are on four wheels and on a plank, then everyone should make the effort to support each other. Since the early nineties freestyle has gone really underground. The community around it now is super-tight. There’s never any beef and everyone’s just a decent human being. It’s a great little community, but I think some freestylers alienate themselves further by showing disrespect for street skateboarding by claiming ‘it’s all the same’ and all this. But in my opinion we’re all on boards and we should be able to bounce ideas off each other. Being a freestyler you do get the piss taken out of you a little bit by street skaters. But that’s the same with everything: it’s a different approach and sometimes people don’t get that. Freestyle has probably gotten more respect now than it has done previously particularly with Instagram and social media platforms.
So do you pay attention to what goes on in the rest of skateboarding?
The whole reason I skate is because I absolutely love skateboarding and I love it in every form it comes in. Freestyle is my passion, but I do like to catch up on what else is going on in the skateboard world because I work for a skateboard coaching company. I do like to keep on top of everything that’s going on purely because it’s a mutual respect thing as well.
Who are some of your favourite skateboarders?
Pierre Andre, Don Brown, Terry Synott and Keith Renna are my big freestyle influences. I suppose my favourite current freestyler is Tony Gale from the UK, also Mike Osterman. In terms of modern or public eye skateboarding, Ben Raybourn I’m a big fan of. Also (Rodney) Mullen and Daewon Song.
Can you make a living off freestyle skateboarding?
One of the most frustrating things for freestylers is you could be the best pro freestyler in the world and you’ve got about the same status as a professional Yo-yoer. You see all the guys in Street League and whatever and of course they’re able to make good money off sponsorships just for doing what they love doing. And that’s mainly because of that scene of skateboarding now, that common facet, which most people relate to – whereas with freestyling, you can’t really make money off it, even if you’re a top pro. The only person that has these days is Kilian Martin, who rides for Powell. I think the only way of doing it these days is combining freestyle with street.
And what do you think about Rodney Mullen making that crossover decades ago?
I think at that time I respected his decision to do that, because you do have to move on and progress with things. However I think, and I’m not trying to call anyone out on this, but one thing that I think a lot of the freestyle community are frustrated with is that Mullen made the crossover into more street skating and then didn’t really do anything to support freestyle for the subsequent twenty years. So I think a lot of people are kind of bitter about that. I don’t mind, people can skate how they want it doesn’t bother me, but it would be nice to get the same recognition and the same validity as any other skateboarder. Just ‘cause you skate freestyle, you shouldn’t be cast out like a social leper! (Laughs)
Do you wish freestyling would be featured more in the big mainstream magazines?
I think it would help out. Some of these guys are so talented, creative and miles ahead of anyone else in the scene that they deserve some press and recognition. It would be nice to see freestyle skateboarding written about a little more… On the flipside, the freestyle community is pretty tight. Everyone’s quite happy with the way it is, but I think people would prefer the opportunity to get out there a little more.
How many freestylers are out there?
The problem you have with freestyle is that every freestyler thinks that they’re the only one. There’s just not many around, but in the UK we’ve got a pretty good scene.
Do you guys have events where you get to see each other?
Yeah we do meet-ups and we have jams every now and then also we do demos at NASS festival every year. And then we go on road trips to comps in Europe and stuff. There’s maybe like nine or ten really common faces here in the UK, but for every one of those there’s probably another two or three that are kind of hidden away thinking that there’s no one else that does it so they won’t come forward. It’s still very underground.
What about the rest of the world’s freestyle scene? You can probably get glimpses now via social media no? Is there anyone who is really pushing it out there?
Yeah there’s a fella out there in Romania called Marius Constantin who needs to be far more recognised than he is. He’s basically built an entire freestyle community in his country. He’s like a massive celebrity over there and no one else seems to have really heard of him. He pours everything into trying to get the kids out there to skate; he does fantastic work. So you see a lot of guys coming up in Romania at the moment. Guys in Japan have always had a pretty solid scene and in the US as well. In the US they do competitions a little differently over there, but they’ve got some really talented skaters.
So what’s the biggest misconception about a freestyle skateboarder?
There’s so many of them! (Laughs) Shin pads, headbands and really, really short shorts is a pretty common misconception. Also that we’re a bunch of anime-loving nerds who still live with our mums when we are like forty years old. Those are probably the biggest two, but at the end of the day most of us just completely love what we do and we just want to keep progressing and hopefully try and forge some kind of career out of it – whether that’s giving back to the community through coaching or through the merit of being a decent skateboarder.
Carlos Paixão – 28, Maringá, Brazil
Arthur Derrien: How did you discover skateboarding and at what stage did you decide to focus on longboarding?
Carlos Paixão: The first time I stepped on a skateboard I was nine, but I stopped soon after that when I broke my arm. Then I didn’t really get back into it until I turned eighteen and discovered longboarding. Straight-away I loved being able to go super fast and do mad slides and stuff.
So there hasn’t been a point in your life when you’ve focused on ‘traditional’ skateboarding?
Not really no. I’ve always done it a little bit but it’s never done the same thing for me as longboarding. I mean I can kickflip and stuff but I think I just wasn’t made for street skating. I’m really tall, quite heavy and I have really bad knees (I tore both my ligaments). All this makes it hard for me.
And right now you’re currently considered the fastest skateboarder in the world?
Yes, in a competition in Canada I recently became the fastest rider in the world.
How fast is that?
137km/h. I’d like to add that there’s a guy in the United States who claims to be the fastest. He made a video where he’s supposed to be going 143km/h but it’s not in the context of a competition. I think he was trying to send his data for the Guinness Book of records; we’ll see what they say…
How did this passion progress into you going to international competitions and stuff?
When I first started going to longboard competitions I was never super focused. Like I didn’t really train or watch my diet or anything like that. I’d just be taking it easy, drinking, smoking… But then right after I finished University I placed fifth in one of the top races and thought to myself maybe I’ve got the right physique for this or something. So I decided to give it a proper shot and quit my job to just skate. I did a year of living off the money I’d saved up and focused everything on competitions. I was living off the money I’d make from the competitions, selling some product… It was tough; there was no partying or anything. In fact it was quite a sad year now that I think about it.
But it ended up paying off. You live from your passion now right? Where exactly does the money you earn come from? Sponsors? Winning competitions?
Well I receive a little salary from each brand and I get money from my government.
How does that work?
In Brazil if you’re in the top three of any international / global ranking then the following year the government will support you by giving you 500 dollars a month for a year.
These competitions also have prize money right?
Yeah some of them do but these days it’s never very much. Right now is probably the weakest the industry has ever been… We’ve really reached the bottom, but at least the only way to go is up!
It makes me really sad… These days all companies care about is riders that don’t wear protections and film edits with them from cars that are driven right behind them, it’s super dangerous…
In traditional skateboarding ‘style’ is one of the things people care about the most. Is it the same in longboarding?
Yeah everyone has their own style and it is something we look at. I’d say my style is an athlete’s style I guess. I can push harder than anyone, tuck faster and I’m always clean. Brazilian style you know?
Like it’s often generalised about Brazilian street skating?
Kind of yeah. There are three of us that are always at the top at the moment, we call ourselves the Brazilian storm.
So in your eyes what’s a good style in longboarding?
I’m a racer. For me the best style is the one that wins – the fastest style. It’s funny sometimes I feel like I’m an animal that being made to race on a track, I really give it everything I’ve got.
Can you tell us a little bit about the culture there is around longboarding? Are there many magazines, videos, etc.?
Magazines that only focus on longboarding? We don’t have many, no… Although in Brazil we have a cruiser magazine that’s probably the number one source for downhill skateboarding in South America right now. But that’s about it. A lot of the time when I tell people outside of Brazil that I’m the world champion of downhill skateboarding they’re a bit like ‘downhill what?!’
So is Brazil the place where this kind of skateboarding is the most popular?
Yeah I think it is.
Do you pay attention to what goes on in the ‘traditional’ skateboarding world?
Yeah a bit… I watch Street League. But I’m more into bowl and stuff, like I love watching Pedro Barros. I think I prefer that to street skating just because you can really feel the speed. In fact, I’m actually going to skate a bowl myself tomorrow.
Really? Do you go in there with the longboard or do you have a normal board for that?
No I use a normal one. It feels a bit small for my feet but I can use it.
In a lot of places, like in England for instance, being a longboarder is seen as ‘uncool’ by a lot of traditional skaters. Is that something you’ve ever felt?
It’s because they don’t have real hills in England. If you see a longboarder there of course you’re going to think the shit he’s doing is super boring. Like ‘this guy thinks he’s going fast?’ Where I live there are huge hills everywhere and being a longboarder is like being the pilot of a race car or something. When people ask us what we’re doing with all this equipment and we explain that we’re going over 100 km/h down hills they’re shocked. Sometimes they even ask to follow us in their cars and realise they can’t keep up. It’s very different.
The adrenalin rush I get from this kind of skateboarding is so much more intense than when I ride street. If I can’t go down a hill, it just gets boring…
Do you have a pro board?
Yeah it just came out, it’s called the black mamba. It’s a good name because if you’re in a race with me you don’t want to get bit.
Do you ever wish downhill longboarding wasn’t so underground? That the industry was bigger, that more people would do it, buy more boards…
I just wish it could get into the Olympics. If street skating and bowl skating is getting in there I can’t see why this couldn’t. It’s so easy to enjoy and the rules are really clear: you’re not allowed to touch each other on the way down and it’s the first one that gets past the finish line that wins.
I guess the main difference with bowl skating / street skating is that you can’t just put us in a stadium, you need a 4000-foot mountain.
We often hear people say that street skating shouldn’t be in the Olympics because it can’t be reduced to a bunch of obstacles in a skatepark/stadium. It’s funny that your kind of skateboarding REALLY can’t fit into that format. What’s the biggest hill you’ve bombed?
I’ve just come back from a 16km race, which was probably the longest race I’ve done. That’s a long time without stopping when you’re going that fast…
What happens when you get to the bottom? Really long powerslides?
What’s a powerslide?
You know when you try to brake by turning ninety degrees to slow yourself down with the friction of the wheels.
What you mean a drift? Yeah we just drift when we get to the bottom. We use our hands and slide until we slow down.
The Slalom Skateboarder
Olivier Noël – 52, Paris, France
Thibault Le Nours: Can you tell us how long you’ve been skateboarding?
Olivier Noël: I got my first set-up in the seventies for Christmas. It was a Rollet…
How did you discover slalom skateboarding?
I’ve been slaloming since 2007, when I joined an association called RIDERZ. I was getting old and I could feel that skating transition and parks was getting too hard for me… Slalom skateboarding felt more accessible, less dangerous.
Do you follow what goes on in current skateboarding at all?
I regularly watch videos… I’m also a collector; I’ve got over 170 boards dating from the seventies until now!
Who are your favourite skaters?
I don’t have any single favourite skaters. I never have… I do have favourite teams though. I always loved the Alva team and the Dogtown team.
Is style as important in slaloming as it is in traditional skating?
No. There are a lot of dudes that don’t have great styles but are able to go really, really fast. That’s what counts. A great style is always a treat for the eyes but at the end of the day it’s all about the stopwatch.
Are there still slalom pros?
There have been slalom pros since the seventies and yes, there are still some to this day.
How many people do you reckon slalom in Europe?
I’d say about 350 in Europe and 700 in the world? We’re probably between eighty and ninety in France. A few French dudes are killing it actually! Like Vincent Tanguy, he came second at the Giant Slalom world championships this summer and turned pro.
What exactly do you mean by turning pro? Can they make a living from slaloming?
Not really no… Even the ones with pro-models all have regular jobs on the side. They just get free gear from their sponsors and a bit of budget to go to comps.
Are you happy that this subcategory of skateboarding is relatively niche at the moment or do you wish it was more developed and received more media attention?
I’d like it if slaloming got a bit more attention to be honest… It all revolves around competing but we still manage to keep it really friendly and have a great time! Plus it’s always an amazing feeling when you do a good time because you know that your results will be passed on to the international federation of slaloming who then update the rankings on the site. Regularly checking each other’s rankings is super fun. The only downside is how expensive the gear is. Like a complete is between 350 / 400 euros because the precision trucks we used are finished by hand and can cost up to 250 euros. It’s probably also because the front truck and the back truck aren’t the same…
To you what’s one of the main misconceptions people have about skateboarders?
That skaters are rebels! Those days are long gone! Some skaters even think they’re rebels themselves but they get their board, their trips and everything paid for by shops or big companies. In the eighties it was not the same I can tell you that! Skaters used to be alcoholics, drug addicts, etc. You don’t see those personalities in the magazines anymore; they’re all squeaky clean.
That’s probably linked to the influence their sponsors have on the media more than anything don’t you think? Because I know a lot of skaters that could fit into what you described above…
Nah it’s changed, now they’re all wearing super tight jeans and spend most of their time taking selfies and showing off their brand new Vans. Skateboarding’s lost its rebelliousness. Half the kids in Paris just walk around with skateboards under their arms because it’s trendy again here…
The Vert Skater
Rich Lopez – 47, San Diego, USA
Will Harmon: How did you discover skateboarding and what was your first board?
Rich Lopez: I discovered skateboarding at fourteen with my twin brother Sanford. Our older brother came home with a skateboard so we wanted one. My first board was a Sims Lonnie Toft board, but I didn’t really take to it at first. It wasn’t until 1986 and seeing the Bones Brigade videos that I really got hooked. We built our own quarterpipes and learned to skate that way and then finally a few vert ramps popped up where we could get to within an hour or two’s drive. At Cheap Skates in Pennsylvania is where we met Sean Miller, Tom Boyle, Barker Barrett and Bam Margera. That really opened up skateboarding for us and we realised it wasn’t just us that were doing it.
So was it fairly early on that you decided vert skating would be your main focus?
Yeah it was always vert. I’m not really good at street so I’m not drawn to it. I do like watching Street League, even over pool skating, which I don’t enjoy doing or watching. I’d rather watch street skating, but I really suck at it.
Who are some of your favourite skateboarders and why?
One of the first guys I ever watched on a vert ramp was Jay Henry; he stood out. Watching him I realised that’s what I really wanted to do, even if it takes my whole life of struggling, I thought ‘I wanna do what that guy’s doing!’ And of course from the videos there’s Christian Hosoi, Steve Caballero, Tony Hawk, Grosso and all those guys. Then there was Jeff Jones from the East Coast.
What’s more important to you in vert skating: style (like Christian Hosoi) or technical ability (like Tony Hawk)?
I personally like watching the style and amplitude guys and that’s what I try to do. I like to pick up as much speed as possible and go as high as I can. Foot down to the pedal and just go and see what happens!
Vert skating isn’t covered that often in mainstream skate magazines. Do you guys have your own magazines or is there a separate forum where people go to talk about vert skating?
There’s all kind of groups on Facebook and that’s the main way I stay connected. Magazines are few and far between and hard to find. Facebook and Instagram I’d say are the main ways to stay connected.
Is there a main dude at the moment? Like some vert skater everyone is talking about?
Not really. Every now and then someone pops up out of nowhere… For example this kid Clay Kreiner freaked everyone out at the last Vert Attack as he was killing it with no pads. He came onto the scene hot.
Back in the day most skate teams always had a vert guy, but maybe not so much anymore. Are there special skate teams now that hook up a lot of vert skaters?
There are a handful of teams that do. I think Moonshine and Green Issue are really standing out because they give vert skaters pro models. I thought it would be cool to do a video like ‘Moonshine versus Green Issue’. They are the two really strong vert teams.
Who are your sponsors now Rich?
I hope I can get all of them in there… OK I skate for Moonshine Skateboards, Independent Trucks, Bones Wheels, Randoms Hardware… I just recently started riding Steve Steadham’s shoes… Um, 187 pads and no clothing sponsor or anything.
Can you solely make a living on being a vert skater?
Yeah it’s possible, but it’s weird. It depends… Some guys do and some guys are on the other side of the fence thinking: ‘Why am I not making tons of money or any money at all?’ Contests definitely have a lot to do with it and for the past number of years the energy drink companies have been interested and are throwing money at it. Other companies see that and they latch on to that. I don’t want to call it luck, because it’s not, it’s a lot of hard work, but there is luck involved. It’s kinda like being a real good guitar player and if you don’t go to the right spots you might be just stuck in your basement the whole time. It’s where you go, who you know and all of that, which really does help.
Do you think there are a lot of underground vert skaters?
There are, but I don’t think too many. It would be cool if everyone could somehow be involved in a way where you don’t need a side job or thirteen roommates. Realistically there’s a handful of guys that are super comfortable and then there are guys who skate their asses off that gotta go an do another job, but that’s how that works.
How about yourself, do you make enough money off skating or do you have a side job as well?
For me it comes and goes in waves. For a moment I was super comfortable; my plans for when I was done with skating were to kick my feet up and smoke cigars and just chill. Then the money stopped coming in and I spent all my money I had in savings and I was like: ‘Holy cow!’ As a hobby, which helped spend a lot of my skateboard money, I got into RC helicopters. That helped burn a hole in my skateboard money, but then I actually got fairly good at it and I was able to do demos and stuff like that. So I was able to get an RC helicopter sponsor who helps me out with all the parts and stuff. There are demos, kind of like skateboarding, called ‘fun fly’ events and I get paid to do those as well.
That’s sick! Double sponsored!
Yeah the skateboarding demos are rare for me these days. I rarely get that phone call these days; it’s all the younger guys that do it now. I did that for eight or nine years straight, so I wasn’t that upset to accept that the younger guys were coming through. That’s real life right there.
Yeah that’s the reality.
The other thing I’m stoked about is that I feel like, when I pad up and skate, I still feel like I’m nineteen or twenty years old. I’ve never felt like ‘OK I’m almost fifty years old, no more 540s…’ or something like that. I feel the opposite: ‘I’m almost fifty, time to learn a new 540!’ I’m almost fifty years old so maybe I’m thinking I could have a second wind like maybe some kind of, I don’t know some kind of Viagara drug where it’s like: ‘hey this guy’s almost fifty, maybe we should hook him up!’
Do you wish vert skating would be featured more in the mainstream skateboarding magazines?
Yeah I think they should. I thought about ‘hey why don’t I just do my own magazine… It can’t be that hard,’ and just do one all vert. I think someone should do it; I would definitely buy it. Just every page a full-page picture of just vert; not even half pages, just straight up full pages because it’s so fun to look at.
OK Sam Beckett told me this story, and he said one time you guys went to a vert ramp and you said it was too small, it was an eleven-foot, and you refused to skate it. Sam said you love a thirteen-foot vert ramp. Is this story true?
Yep. It trips me out that guys like him (Sam Beckett) are good on any ramp and are able to adapt. I think to myself ‘how do they do it?’ But I think the way that I do airs I would seriously get hurt. I don’t know; it’s weird.
What’s the biggest misconception about vert skaters? You all push mongo?
Ha. There is one for sure… I bet everyone assumes that if you ride vert or even skateboard then you listen to Slayer and Metallica. I think Slayer and Metallica are a bit too old and soft. Some of my friends listen to really mellow stuff. When I hear it I’m like: ‘how do you… Even I thought you guys listen to Slayer and Metallica!’ (Laughs)