Albert Nyberg Interview
We all know that being a pro skater comes down to being marketable enough to help sell skateboard products. That’s all it is. It has nothing to do with being ‘better’ than most or even being more productive. It’s someone, somewhere deciding to pay a skater to make their brand look cool.
Yet for some reason, no matter how much we think we’ve come to terms with that reality, it’s impossible not to feel frustrated when someone leading progression gets ‘the call’. In an age where three skids and a flatground trick land you parts in Transworld videos you want to believe that our industry needs people caspersliding down walls. But that’s not how it works and I can’t think of many people who in Albert’s position would have been able to take a step back and say that they’re still glad making it isn’t just about being good. That having something special should always take precedence over being ‘the best’.
So with that in mind we hope you enjoy our interview with Albert Nyberg, ‘the Elmo guy’ who does weird tricks, loves video games and makes music only his fiancé is allowed to hear. We think he’s got something pretty special.
Photography by DVL
Interview by Arthur Derrien
You’re currently still living in Linköping, Sweden, where you grew up skating, right? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Albert Nyberg: It sort of started off with me tagging along with my two older brothers, Victor and Martin, who skated. There wasn’t really anyone my age skating at first and so I learnt a lot from just copying them – that and being the ‘stunt dummy’ of the crew. When you’re the youngest you often end up getting thrown down stairs, ha ha. There definitely weren’t a lot of spots or anything but we’d build stuff… It was fun.
Did you grow up watching a lot of skate videos or were your brothers sort of your main source of inspiration? I dug out some footage of them and noticed that they had a similarly unconventional repertoire…
I learnt a lot from them… My brother Martin was one of those guys that could just do any trick, even if he’d not skate for a month. Victor was also really good but would do slightly more conventional tricks really well. He used to watch a lot of old skate videos and I ended up loving them, like watching Ray Barbee do no-complies… Being younger than them I found myself influenced by a lot of different eras, hanging out with older guys who had late shove-its on lock whilst watching the videos that came out at that time.
Like Photosynthesis or later Fully Flared. But I also never stopped watching older ones like the Powell videos. Like Propaganda… I love watching the vert skating in those. I even gave vert skating a proper shot when I was younger but there wasn’t a proper vert ramp anywhere near me so it didn’t really work out. I still watch those videos all the time…
But I definitely find it hard to expand my horizons. Especially nowadays there’s so much coming out that it’s impossible to keep up. I often get freaked out a bit and revert back to stuff I know I can enjoy. Like how you do with a good movie or art or something.
Why is it that you’ve chosen to stay in Linköping your whole life despite it obviously not being the ideal place for your line of ‘work’ (skate spots, weather, etc.)?
I have considered moving but I guess I’ve always travelled so much that it’s nice to have somewhere calm to come back to, where I have my family and a lot of my friends. I’ve been thinking about it more recently as I’m getting married. Starting that stage of my life here makes me feel like I’m getting stuck even deeper into my hometown, ha ha… But I’m happy here so I don’t mind.
Can you tell us a little bit about that New Soul brand you skated for before Sour and how thanks to them you became the Elmo guy.
I basically just bought this one Elmo longsleeve that I really liked. I had some clips in it in that You Got Soul part (Editor’s note: the video part that got him noticed) and I guess they saw an opportunity there and made boards and shirts and stuff…
Are you even a big Sesame Street fan?
Not at all, it was completely random. I just bought a shirt once because I liked the colours. But yeah since I’ve been getting a lot of ‘where’s the Elmo shirt?’, I’m kind of over Elmo now, ha ha.
How did everything end with that brand? I heard it was a bit messy… Didn’t they threaten to take you to court over a breach of contract or something?
I feel like this has happened a million times in skating but basically the company was funded by an older couple that ran a distribution company. They didn’t skate or anything and they wanted to make the brand into something that didn’t align with what we wanted… So I left, but it all got really stressful as I still had two years left on my contract. It was a horrible period; they kept sending me letters saying I had to fulfil my contractual obligations and stuff… At the time when I signed it I remember them saying ‘don’t worry, the only reason you’re signing this is so that we can ensure that you get paid’, when in fact it was a lot more than that. Luckily I just ignored everything and eventually they found something else to invest their time and money into… But I learned my lesson: If I’m going to sign something I’m definitely reading it properly first.
It’s hard not to get bummed out when stuff like that happens; we’re in an industry where everyone is just trying their best to get by and have a good time…
So when someone from the outside tries to fuck with that it’s hard not to think ‘come on! I’m already working a job on the side!’
Were you actually already working that part-time job (at a food distribution warehouse) back then?
No I’ve only been doing that for the past three years. Before I was living with my mum so I didn’t have to, as I wouldn’t really spend money on that much.
I guess the Etnies thing coming to an end probably also added to that becoming a necessity… For how long had you been skating for them? Can you tell us a little bit about how it went down?
I skated for Etnies since I was 11 years old. At first it was via the distributor then after that You Got Soul part we were talking about earlier I got put on the European team for another seven years.
Basically right after last New Year’s, as I was just recovering from the hangover, out of nowhere I got a call saying they weren’t going to renew my contract. My previous contract was a 1-year one, which maybe should have set off an alarm in my head but it didn’t. I really didn’t see it coming at all… They also told me that Oli (Buergin), who had been my TM, and to me pretty much was Etnies in Europe, was also getting let go. He’d been working for them virtually since the beginning, like for 20 years or something…
Yeah… And I can’t stress enough how much Oli did for me and for this video part we were working on. There was basically close to no budget for us to do proper trips, but off his own back he’d organise tons of cheap missions, often with us camping or whatever, just so that we could film as much as possible. He really went the extra mile, for me, for us… And he didn’t have to.
Yeah that’s the saddest thing about all this: it’s not even like you guys weren’t being productive or anything. That 7-minute ‘Prehistoric’ Thrasher part was what you’d been filming with Oli for their video right?
Yeah… That’s the thing, if I’d been getting feedback saying ‘you’re not doing a good job for this reason or that reason’ I maybe would have understood, but I’d never had anything like that. It was completely out of the blue.
As sad as it is, what it comes down to is if the people running a brand think you are going to help them sell their skateboard products (in this case shoes). It has nothing to do with how talented you are or even how much footage you get.
Of course… There’s so many different ways you can make it in this industry, it’s not just about being good. You just have to have something special… But I personally think that’s a good thing. I’m glad our industry isn’t about being the best. It’s about inspiring people and creating stuff that makes people want to go out and skate – possibly even try something they’d never tried before…
Is this stuff you were thinking about at the time, like what it means to be a ‘pro skateboarder’?
Not really, I’m a European pro anyway so it’s not even a thing, ha ha. Just kidding. All being ‘pro’ means is that you get given an opportunity to focus on that over everything else, that’s all it is. The skating itself doesn’t change. It’s a term that doesn’t carry much weight in my opinion.
All I remember thinking at the time was that maybe it was because I’d been focussing on something longer, more ambitious, rather just putting out half decent parts every six months…
Yeah only the big part you were working on was for them so that doesn’t make sense… It’s just budget cuts and people having to make difficult decisions.
Yeah I guess… This is going to sound so clichéd, but looking back I think it was actually quite healthy for me. After the initial blow where you’re like ‘fuck I’m going to have to start working more, I won’t be able to go on trips as easily, there will be less time in my life for skateboarding’ you start realising that it’s good to be put in a position where you have to prepare for your future. And skateboarding itself will always be there for me.
Plus just when you started coming to terms with no longer getting paid to skate you got an offer from Vans…
Yeah, and here I am going on trips again! I’m in Alicante with them right now… And you know what? Oli’s driving to Portugal from Switzerland and he said he’d stop by to skate with us for a few days!
It’s sick that you guys are still really tight after all that… If only Axel (Cruysberghs) was on this trip the old crew could have been reunited!
Wait Axel’s on Vans?! No way!
It’s what I’ve heard…
Someone told me that as soon as you think of a trick you write it down in your notes on your phone. Can you read me a few lines from your notes? I’ve got a feeling they might be pretty funny.
Yeah I think about skating way too much, ha ha. Even if I’m on holiday with my fiancé sometimes ideas pop into my head and I have to write them down.
Walking around somewhere beautiful in Sri Lanka:
‘Albert what are you doing over there?’
‘Uh nothing, nothing… Don’t mind me… Lovely view here!’ When really you’re desperately trying to type in ‘cab back tail hippie jump to…’ before you forget, ha ha!
Ha ha exactly. And sometimes, when I go back to them, I’m like ‘no way I can do this!’ Ha ha, what was I thinking? I must having been crazy drunk when I wrote that down!
Please read a chunk out then!
fakie one foot switch five-o
Casper wallslide body varial
Die Hard 2
City Of Lost Children
Buy Snus (Editor’s note: Snus is Swedish a tobacco product you place under your upper lip)
To do list: (there’s nothing on the to do list)
halfcab bs board body varial back lip 270 out
Hippie flip darkslide
Ha ha ha…
Some of these make don’t even make sense to me, ha ha.
Do you have anything you really enjoy outside of skating? I heard you play a lot of video games…
Yeah but I don’t know how interesting me sitting on a couch playing videos games really is.
It depends… I heard you play A LOT.
I’m better now but yeah sometimes I’d be glued to the couch for days. I’m super-picky about what games I play, as I really immerse myself into their world. So even just researching about them requires a lot of time… I can’t really do it like I used to anymore. I still think it’s a great way to get away from it all though, it’s kind of like reading a book or something. It’s healthy if you don’t do it too much.
Yeah… Sounds like you used to play a real ‘healthy’ amount too, ha ha. You make music as well right?
Yeah, I play the guitar, I have a ukulele and my brother bought me a synth. It comes in waves for me, but sometimes I get into this music craze mode, where I lock in with my headphones trying to find a sound I think is interesting. The songs are always really weird so I don’t know if I’d ever release anything to the public but I enjoy it a lot… And I make my fiancé listen to stuff and she likes it. Or she says she likes… Well I hope she likes it! Ha ha…
It’s a nice thing to have outside of skating, especially when I go to Barcelona and stay at the Sour office, it’s cool to play with Nisse or whoever after the sessions. Sour is a pretty diverse crew of people but they’re all surprisingly artistic. All in very different ways obviously, but it somehow all clicks.
I know we’ve kind of been over this but I’m really surprised you’ve never tried to live out there.
I’ve been tempted, but there’s too much going on… I get the angst when I stay in Barca for too long.
Not to mention life without Snus.
Yeah exactly! I’d constantly have to get people to bring loads over: it would be a nightmare! Ha ha… No but I’ve spent so much time out there that I feel like I can survive without actually living there now. If that makes sense… Although constantly seeing how much fun they’re having isn’t always easy.
Instagram just fuelling that f.o.m.o. ha ha.
I’ve got one last question: What’s the US Etnies tour autograph story?
Oof… Once when we were doing a signing at a skatepark on an Etnies trip in Florida, a middle-aged, rather large woman asked me to sign her boob. I was a bit like ‘uh… really? Are you sure?’ But it seemed like she was, so I started going for her chest when all of a sudden she stopped me just before the marker touched her.
‘I said BOOT not BOOB!’
And I looked down and she was talking about her cast! I felt so stupid… Everyone was crying with laughter, making fun of me. Her kid was probably right there watching the whole thing! BOOB… BOOT… Come on… Easy mistake! All sounds the same to me, ha ha. So glad I didn’t actually touch her; I probably would’ve gotten sued or something.