Roberto & Diego
Skateboarding can mean many different things to many different people, but one aspect of it that is fundamental to everybody involved in the culture is the formation of friendships between human beings. The two decade long friendship between Diego Bucchieri and Roberto Aleman is a perfect example of this.
Despite being born thousands of miles apart and being raised in very different cultures, through a shared love of skateboarding these two have created a bond that has spanned the globe. 23 years after their first meeting in a warehouse in Northampton, UK, Diego and Roberto are now both residents of Barcelona and spend much of their time skating and hanging out together.
Between the pair of them they’ve clocked up hundreds of thousands of road hours, ridden for some of the most influential brands on the planet and left an indelible mark on the global skate scene. As you’d expect, they’ve learned a thing or two during that journey, so it gives me great pleasure to share some of that with you all via this joint interview for Free.
All hail the lifers!
Photography by Gerard Riera
Interview by Ben Powell
Who came up with the idea for this double interview?
Roberto Aleman: It came from Diego and I. We already did it once before for Dogway magazine about 15 years ago. We’ve been friends throughout that whole time and with us living in the same city now and skating together all the time, we wanted to do it again after so long. We talked to Gerard Riera and asked him what he thought about it and he loved the idea. So here we are now.
Diego Bucchieri: I have a longer answer to this but it’s basically the same reason. It all started a couple of years ago, right before we moved back here. My wife and I came over to visit Roberto and at the time we discussed how sick it would be to film for a joint video part. When we were both in the States we’d always be out shooting photos and filming each other so it was kind of our thing anyway.
Then when P-Stone passed away, we decided that we had to do something for him because we’d filmed a shared video part for Thrasher with him in the past, and it was him who first introduced us to each other. Then with Jake passing away too, that was even more of an impetus to do it. We started as soon as I moved back to Barca a year ago – filming each other, shooting pictures of each other and then Gerard got involved too. For me, it’s pretty difficult to find the time to do it – I have the Nike job, I have my board company, I have a family: so when I go out to shoot with Gerard, it has to be fully organised like, ‘I’ll meet you at the spot; I have an hour’. Adult-life style you know?
It’s worked out though because I always have an idea of a spot and a trick that I want to get – no more wandering around aimlessly, I just can’t do that anymore. We have a group chat – Roberto, Gerard and I – called ‘The Mission’ (laughing), that’s where most of the photos that you’ll see in this have been arranged. There should be a video part at some point but not any time soon – you’ll see it eventually.
I feel like we ought to talk a little about the influence that Jake Phelps has had on both of your lives – he played a strong role in both of your skate careers, right?
RA: The Hell Ride crew came to stay with me when I was a 16-year-old skater and that was my first ever tour back in 1996. At the time I was just a little kid when this group of crazy Americans came and stayed at my home. Out of nowhere I had all these pros: John Cardiel, Julien Stranger, Phil Shao, Bob Burnquist, Karma, Arco, Curtis Hsiang, Luke Ogden and Jake Phelps at my house. I’m sure you can imagine what kind of an impact that had on me at that point in my life. I can say that definitely having that experience with those people changed the whole thing for me. It helped to form the person I became and Jake played a huge part in that. I realised that I didn’t know shit about skateboarding until that experience and it made me know that I wanted to be part of this culture for the rest of my life.
DB: Yeah he definitely had a huge influence on my life too. He was the first guy I looked up to when I came to the States. He helped teach me English, he explained a lot of things about how skateboarding worked, he gave me the nickname ‘Butcher’: it’s definitely not an exaggeration to say he really, really helped me out. From simple things like how to live in the States, through to how to shoot an interview or how to make the right decisions with sponsors – his advice is still a major part of my life to this day.
Most of the gnarliest things that I’ve ever done on a skateboard were with Jake present, and with him pushing me to do it. He was definitely a huge influence on both my skate life and my overall life. He loved Argentina too, visited many times, spent Christmas with my family… It was the same with Preston, so those two passing away really hit me hard.
Your experiences in skateboarding share some similarities in so far as you both grew up a long way from the epicentre of the Californian skate industry but yet both managed to have long careers riding for huge international brands. Do you think your pathways into that were similar?
RA: For me, my earliest experiences of skateboarding were spending the first two years in Matola, my hometown, skating on my own with no knowledge of anything else. All I was doing with the skateboard at that point was breaking my mom’s plants trying to learn tricks at the house. Then I went to Elche’s main market one day to do the shopping with mom and we passed by the local skate plaza and saw a lot of skaters. I couldn’t believe what I saw that day; I had thought that I was the only skater in the world before then.
After that day I would go with my mom every Saturday and skate with the guys in Elche whilst my mom was shopping. I didn’t have the nicest welcome at first though because I was a country kid, but I managed to fit in somehow. After that I would work really hard at school and trade good marks in class for permission to go to contests in different cities around the country – I began travelling around Spain from about 14 years old…
DB: I always wanted to be able to support myself through skateboarding but that just wasn’t a possibility in Argentina when I was growing up. We’d start small board companies over there just to get enough money to travel to Brazil or to Chile but I always knew that to take it to the next level I’d have to go to the States. A couple of my friends from Argentina travelled to Europe first to go to all those Euro contests that used to happen every summer. They came back and told me how great it was, so the next year, eleven of us from Argentina all went out to Europe together and saw all the US skaters in the flesh for the first time. That was a revelation to me, to see the guys from the videos, to skate with them and to realise that they weren’t these superheroes that landed every trick the first time. That’s when, for me at least, I realised that it was a possibility to go out and maybe try for myself. Those old contests, Münster and Radlands and all those European events, that was what made me decide that I was going to do whatever I could to get out to the States. I got whatever job I could get in Argentina after that month in Europe, saved up everything I earned and flew out to the States as soon as I could afford the flight – that’s when everything started for me.
Were your influences coming from local skate culture, or from the USA?
RA: My influences were from Spain until I was able to watch some videos and see magazines and then I found out how big the industry was, and the USA influences started to come too. Like I said above, I came from a tiny village outside Elche with no other skaters so I spent my first two years without knowing anything about skating or the industry or nothing.
What was the skate scene in Buenos Aires like when you were growing up Diego? Did it feel connected to the US?
DB: I’m from the south part of Buenos Aires, ‘the Boca’ which is the poorer part of the city – the north is the rich part. There was always a big scene though. In my neighbourhood the skate scene was closely connected to the punk rock scene. The older generation around me all came from that culture so when I started skating around age ten, that was what surrounded me. Those older guys then took us from our area into different neighbourhoods and we’d meet these other kind of tribes of skaters across the city. You have to remember that this was before the Internet so it was just a case of going to a plaza with your crew, meeting these other groups of skaters and then becoming friends and banding together.
Were there domestic brands and skate media over there in Argentina?
DB: When I first started skating the local industry was really big. You still had the US brands like Powell Peralta and Santa Cruz but there were a lot of made-in-Argentina brands too, usually not brilliant quality products, but those brands were connected to the shops in Buenos Aires and they were the people supporting the skate scene and putting on contests back then. That was in the ‘80s, by the ‘90s things got really bad – it became really difficult to find decent skateboards anywhere in Argentina – the local industry had kind of died away and getting boards from the US was pretty hard.
Was there no option to pursue skateboarding as a career in Argentina at that time?
DB: No, not at all: that didn’t happen really until about eight years ago. And still, despite there being people in Argentina now who get paid by their sponsors, the situation is still one where to survive you pretty much have to get a ‘real job’ too, even if you’ve got a shoe contract or whatever. You still need a side gig in Argentina, even more so now with the economy the way it is, it’s really difficult to make a living from skateboarding. There are options now compared to my generation but it’s still hard. For my generation it was hard to even find product…
Back when you were both coming up, there was no social media to connect people easily like now so how did you create links to the skate industry that was so far away?
RA: Lots of handwritten letters. In my case I was writing letters because where I was living in the village there wasn’t even a telephone or anything, so I took the only option I had. Then later when the phone arrived it was easier to be in contact with this other world in the USA.
What about you Diego?
DB: Well, like I said – my connections started because my friends and I travelled over to Europe in the late ‘90s and started entering the contests over there. Back when I was a kid, it was unheard of for US pros to visit Argentina. Eric Dressen came over once towards the end of the 1980s but that was about it. We had to leave there to become connected.
For you Roberto, once you’d made contact with the outside skating world, you were able to create connections through people coming to visit you to skate Spain, right?
RA: Yeah, my parents had a little flat in a beach town called Santa Pola, which was mostly empty for 11 months of the year so I hosted skaters from all over the world for the last 25 years. I have no idea how many in numbers but hundreds and hundreds for sure. That was definitely a doorway into that world for me.
Food is a central part of Spanish culture and your father’s paella is famous in skateboarding circles – was this part of your way of sharing your world with visitors – to give them an idea of your culture?
RA: Not just an idea of our culture but just bringing them into my family.
If you are my friend and you stay at the Santa Pola house then I’m gonna take you to where my parents are so that they would meet you too. And why not make a big paella for all of us? It didn’t matter how many people, my dad was always down to feed visitors.
Do you see this welcoming attitude as part of what makes skateboarding a global family Roberto?
RA: Not like it used to be. I remember going to different cities in Spain back in the ‘90s with no money and without knowing anyone in that town but it didn’t matter because as soon as you spotted a skater you were all set for the weekend with a bed and food. That doesn’t happen anymore. Skateboarding has become a trend and now, more people dress as a skater than actually skate. That is my perspective these days so the things I experienced and the way I was with hosting visitors is not an option anymore I think.
When you first came out to live in the States Diego, you rode for Think right?
DB: Yeah that was in 1998 – I went out to the States in Feb and then got sponsored in April of that same year I think. I went over there with two of my friends from Chile and we did a trip that started in San Diego and ended up in SF and that’s where I got hooked up with Think, Indy and those brands.
Was there a connection with Thrasher because of Fausto’s Argentine heritage? (Editor’s note: Fausto Vitello, founder of Thrasher)
DB: Yeah, when I first met Fausto he was stoked, like, ‘I’ve been waiting to find an Argentine pro skater for years’, (laughing). I remember telling him in my really shitty English at the time that if I was going to do it and get sponsored, that I wanted it to be because I deserved it and not because we had the Argentine connection. It helped in other ways too though because when I first came out I could barely speak English so having Fausto around meant that I had somebody to speak Spanish with, who knew skateboarding and how things worked. After a few months he started ragging on me to get better at English though, ‘That’s it Diego, no more Spanish! You have to learn English properly’. That forced me to get better at it, which made life so much easier for me in the long run.
Did you have any other links in the States at first or were you welcomed into the skate family as an outsider?
DB: Aside from Fausto and the Thrasher/Deluxe people that I’d met, no, not really. The first time I’d travelled over with my two Chilean friends, but when I went back three months later I went on my own. Like I said, my English was still shitty at that point: I just turned up at the airport and got picked up by Don Fish, one of the owners of Think. He took me out to Palo Alto where they’d found me a spot with Phil Shao (RIP) and Paul Zuanich (both Think riders at the time) and that’s where I started to make friends. I was trapped in Palo Alto trying to learn English from my dictionary and from watching TV, (laughing)…
Long before the days of social media where everyone can connect instantly and phone apps where you can learn languages easily too, right?
DB: Yeah but with skateboarding, the culture around it, it at least makes it a little bit easier. I can’t imagine what it would be like to do what I did without something like skateboarding to make it possible to meet people and make friends. All I did was go to Pier 7 or skateparks in the area and instantly you’d meet people and go skating. That’s the beauty of skateboarding isn’t it? I met Luy-Pa Sin, Cairo and a bunch of Pier 7 heads during that time – people that I’m still friends with now – and even though I couldn’t really communicate with them back then, because of skating we were still connected.
Roberto’s story is one where he created links with skaters from all over the world by showing them his culture – was there a similar story with you? Were you the Argentine hook-up for visitors before you moved to America?
DB: It was the other way around for me. The first trip where Jake and all those guys came over was in 1999, a year after I’d moved to the States. We all came during the winter and did a month-long trip through Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Uruguay – that was the first big trip to ever go to Argentina. We didn’t have US pros visiting before that, not like Roberto did in Spain…
You’ve ridden for Consolidated for 20 years now Roberto – tell us about how you first got involved with Con – what was it that drew you towards them?
RA: Back when the Hell Ride crew stayed at my house in ‘96 I met Karma Tsocheff and loved how he skated all the spots and all I wanted to do after skating with him was to skate Consolidated boards. I liked him and I loved the company from that point onwards. The Spanish distributor made the connection with them – he told them about me and helped me put together a sponsor-me tape, which we sent to them. They liked it and invited me to go on their next tour and meet everyone – so I did that and we have been together ever since.
Over the years you must have been on all kinds of crazy trips with Consolidated – can you give us a few good stories?
RA: Venezuela was crazy. I went there with Clint (Peterson) and Karma.
We went there to do an article for Transworld. It was the first time doing something like that for our Venezuelan distributor and the first time that pro skaters had ever been to the country. We were there ten days and he set up demos for all his shops across the entire country. This meant that our schedule was insane and we had to do around 20 demos in ten days, plus shooting an article for the mag. The last demo was at a Wendy’s and the Venezuelan army was there to protect us because it was really, really dangerous in that period of time. The whole situation was hectic, like nothing any of us had ever experienced before. At that point Karma and Clint didn’t want to do it anymore because of the pressure and the sketchiness of the situation in the country so they gave up. They went back to the van and refused to skate basically. The distributor didn’t know what to do, his wife was crying, asking me please to finish the demo and do the interviews for TV and newspapers whereas Karma, Clint and Brian Uyeda (the TWS photographer) wanted to go to Caracas to shoot one more thing before the flight. And I was in the middle of all that and the only one who spoke the language. Oh man it was intense. Looking back now it’s an experience that I’m really grateful to have had but at the time it was a nightmare.
You mentioned getting arrested twice in Mexico whilst skating and how Leticia got you out of jail both times – what were the stories there? Mexico must be a scary place to get arrested, right?
RA: Oh man, Mexico is sketchy enough as it is but being in a provisional jail in Tijuana is fucking sketchy. The first time it was with Steve Bailey – we crossed the border and on our way to Ensenada we decide to stop at Tijuana Beach to check some spots. We jump a school fence to skate a rail and the next thing we knew was that Bailey and I are sitting next to 15 Mexicans inside a jail.
I remember one of them, probably the most sketchy one, was trying to intimidate me, asking me if I liked it in the suite and if I liked the food (there was rotten food everywhere) etc. At this point everyone in the cell is waiting for me to answer the dude in silence so I just said, ‘Dude, feel lucky. You can see the sun from here, (it was an outdoor cage). In Spain when you go to the hole there is no light, no air, no nothing. And you are lucky if they even give you water.’
There was silence for a minute and then the dude answered me, ‘Respect hermano.’ From that I ended up becoming homies with the sketchiest dude and it was all-good from there.
Next day we’re up in front of the judge and we’re given two options – Pay $2000 to get out or we will have to go to the main jail at a Tijuana at the end of the day. So we rock the second option. I knew Leticia (Consolidated owner) was outside talking with some cop or something, convincing him to let us out. Thankfully, after they took us to the main jail in pickups and talked with some other agents we were free to go. No fine, nothing.
The second time was something similar. But they put us in a truck with a cage and took us out of the city for a better perspective of our situation, if you can imagine what that means. No luck there though, that one cost us $300 each to be free. Later on that same day the cops who we paid off were escorting us to skate a pool in Ensenada. Mexico can get crazy sometimes man.
So Leticia has always been more than just a boss for you right? Busting you out of jail isn’t something that every company owner would do.
RA: Leticia is one of the best people I know in this world. She has been my friend, my sister, my mom: everything but a girlfriend. And most people always thought we were together but we laugh about it all the time. Let the gossip continue, (laughing)…
Have you got any sketchy road stories to beat those two Diego?
DB: You know what? I think I managed to swerve most of that kind of thing when travelling. I mean I had a few incidents on trips where you’d come out of a club late at night and have crazy cops pointing guns at you, but it was never really from trying to skate, more just like being in a sketchy place late at night.
The only time when I was genuinely sketched out whilst skating was during a Toy Machine trip to Russia. We were trying to skate one of the main plazas in Moscow and Josh Harmony was trying to 180 nosegrind this big hubba. There’s a pretty famous photo that Burnett shot of the cop standing on Josh’s neck that people will probably know from that incident. That was the only time where I was ever really afraid whilst on skate tours just because we were in Russia and the cops there don’t give a fuck. You know, anywhere else you could be like, ‘We’re cool’ but in Russia, they’re not cool, not at all, (laughing). Thank God we were with the Russian distro who was able to get us out of that situation because it could’ve definitely turned out really bad. Aside from that though, I’ve been pretty lucky I think.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you went from riding for Think to joining Toy Machine Diego? Was there any beef about you leaving Think at first?
DB: Oh yeah. Big time. I’d been on Think since 1999 and everything was great for a long time – but eventually it got to a point where I wasn’t really skating with people on my team. I’d skate with Cairo a lot – around the time I started filming for the Transworld I.E. video so I was out with Burnett and P-Stone all the time when I was staying in San Diego. That kind of built a connection for me in Southern California and as I wasn’t feeling that much of a connection with Think at the time, I started to look for something different. I told Fausto that maybe I should switch to Real because I was close to Cairo but he said that if I left Think that I’d have to leave all the connected brands.
Around that time I went on a trip with Burnett, and Ed T, Austin Stephens, Caswell Berry and Roberto were on it too, along with P-Stone filming. That was the trip that sealed the deal as far as me quitting Think and riding for Toy Machine went. I just felt a connection, plus Toy was rebuilding after Elissa, Brian and Bam had left so it was kind of a fresh start for everyone. When I first got on Toy I’d already moved to Southern California; I was living in Hollywood. It was a harsh decision though because Jake and Mic-E had been so supportive of me and they told me, ‘Dude if you do it, just get ready because shit is going to hit the fan.’ And it did, I was basically banned from Thrasher for almost two years but it was still the right decision.
How long were you pro for Toy Machine?
DB: Eleven years.
How did it come to an end?
DB: It was a mutual decision. I was living in Argentina at the time and the first three years I lived there I was running the distribution for Toy Machine. Then it got to a point, due to import taxes and a bunch of economic shit that was happening in Argentina, where I couldn’t afford to import the boards any more. I was producing Toy clothing too, under a license, but it was a case of ‘if you don’t buy the boards, you can’t make the clothes’ which was fair enough. It seemed like the right time then to let it go and try to start my own thing instead and to put my energy into something new that I’d always wanted to do. That’s when I started my brand Cleaver. Everything was cool between Ed and I though, he even wanted to do a retirement board for me on Toy but I was like, ‘Fuck that, I’m not retiring…’ (Laughing)
Are there places that you never got to visit that you regret not seeing during that period?
DB: Not really because I would jump on any trip that was offered. The only regret I would say I have is that I visited so many places but because I was just so focused on skating I maybe missed out on actually seeing other aspects of cities I went to. Like people would ask me how Paris was and all I had to respond with was, ‘well there’s this sick double set’, (laughing)…
When did you first meet each other?
DB: We were just talking about this the other day. I guess we met in 1996 when I first went to Radlands in Northampton. I remember him trying to grind the rail and cutting his arm really badly but we didn’t really get to hang out on that trip – I just remember him eating shit. The first time that we did hang out was in 1999 in Madrid. Greg Carroll and I did a trip there to meet up with the Think distro and Roberto rode for the same distribution company. I remember talking to him on that trip and then meeting him again in Barcelona with Preston. Then after that we’d always hang out in Spain or the US. He actually introduced me to my wife, she’s from Elche where Roberto grew up; he’s the Godfather of my daughter too.
You and Diego are very close friends Roberto, but he works for one of the brands that you think should not be in skateboarding – do you ever argue about this contradiction?
RA: No we don’t because friendship comes first always. I can’t take any of that personally. Unfortunately for me, most of my friends ride for those companies or work for them but it doesn’t affect our friendship.
What about from your perspective Diego?
DB: (Laughing) no we don’t argue about it, honestly. We’re cool because we were friends before I got that job. The way we both think about skateboarding in lots of ways is pretty similar; it just so happens that I work for Nike too. He’s against it I know, but it has no bearing on our relationship at all.
You’re also vocal about not wanting skateboarding in the Olympics Roberto – tell us about your position on that – why are you against it?
RA: I lived through the era where skateboarding was something bad. Only outsider kids would do it and that was one of the things that l loved about it so much. I felt different to the rest of the people around me and that for me was something really special. Skateboarding has always been a way of life not a sport – we don’t follow rules, we never did – we jump the fence that says ‘no trespassing’.
Skateboarding is not a sport: it’s something completely different.
Nowadays kids start skating in an industry where the main brands are sports brands so it’s all different; It’s bullshit to me. I feel lucky that I lived through the earlier era.
So if skateboarding is not a sport, what is it?
RA: It could mean something different to everyone. For me it always has been a way of life. I am who I am, I think how I think and I live how I live because of skateboarding. It has shaped my personality and my life. I honestly think that if skateboarding continues like this, towards the fucking Olympics, that there is no heart in it anymore. It will just become another sport with rules, chasing bullshit about who deserves a fucking medal. For younger skaters, they have grown up in a culture where outside brands have always been a part of the skateboarding world – we lived the era where the industry was like a big ecosystem with lot of diversity. Lots of pros would make a living. Now the ecosystem is dying. Imagine a big lake with lots of different fish where all the species manage to survive and grow and live… Then throw a bunch of hungry piranhas there; they will eat them all.
He’s pretty vocal about how skateboarding should not be a part of the Olympics – what’s your position on that?
DB: I think that the Olympics isn’t going to change skateboarding, nor will it change how I personally feel about skateboarding. I think what scares people is the unknown aspect of that. Once the Olympics is out of the way and it’s happened, nobody is really going to give a shit – it’ll just be another competition.
It does seem like it will create opportunities for skaters in countries with not much infrastructure to get a chance to travel the world and experience what many sponsored skaters take for granted though, right?
DB: I think you’re right and that’s positive, at least from my perspective.
The only thing that does concern me is that some of the people getting involved in skateboarding because it’s going to be in the Olympics, some of the people working for the Federations and all that – I do worry that some of those people, (not all of them), are not the right people to be speaking for skateboarding.
Aside from that though, I don’t really see how much difference it’s going to make to actual skateboarding culture. The opportunities that the Olympics will create are a positive thing that will allow some people to travel and to experience things that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Like I say though, ultimately, it’s just another type of competition that will promote skateboarding to a huge public audience. It won’t touch underground skateboarding at all. I mean, I’m not going to suddenly start looking at going skating as ‘training’ am I? Well, unless they decide to have an old man category, (laughing)…
Given that you both live in Barcelona now, do you either of you miss anything about your hometowns?
RA: I miss my parents and my nephew and my friends of course, but I go there often so it’s all good. The culture in Barca is a bit different but where I’m from but we speak Valenciano as well and that is really similar to Catalan.
DB: Honestly, I don’t really miss much. Obviously I miss my friends and family but I left Argentina when I was 20 and basically grew up in different countries – first the US, then Spain and then I went back to Argentina with a totally different mentality. Spain feels like home to me now, it actually feels more uncomfortable to be back in the country I was born in. I never imagined that I’d end up living there again to be honest. When we were living there before my wife and I moved back to Barcelona, just seeing how the country was, how the economy was fucked up and all that – when we moved back to Spain I can’t really say I miss the place at all. I mean I love Argentine culture – the Barbecuing, Boca Juniors, the music, etc. but to live there, I don’t think so. I feel the same connection to Spain now after coming here for 20 years.
I always find it funny how so many people visit Barca but only experience the obvious spots – MACBA, Parallel, etc. – when there are so many things to skate and enjoy there if you just look a little harder. Do you think a lot of Barca skate tourists are lazy like that?
DB: Yeah I do. Lots of people who come here never even leave the Raval. Especially now with social media and all the focus on MACBA – it’s almost like people travel to Barca just to film a flatground trick at MACBA for the likes and never even look at anything else. It’s funny to me. When I first came here I was always about trying to find the unseen stuff, or to try and skate what the local guys skate. They’re constantly building things here too, the city changes so much all the time.
RA: Well, skateboarding is freedom so if you want to use your freedom in a plaza all day then that is your decision. No problem for me. People love spending ten hours a day at MACBA – I live two blocks away but it’s not for me, plus I suck at flat. My ankles suffer too much skating just flat. I do understand why some people in the city hate skateboarding now though, things are getting a bit serious in downtown, especially around MACBA. Some people don’t respect the neighbourhood and the city is getting a lot of complaints lately. So if you want to come skate there, please follow the rules like most do, don’t skate around Joaquin Costa at nights and make so much noise. So many local people live there and have to get up for work everyday, so respect the neighbourhood. #savemacba
Can I ask about the GoFundMe that you set up in April to help your nephew Roberto?
RA: Yeah of course: unfortunately his mom is an alcoholic and didn’t pay rent for almost two years. My dad was on the lease so he was responsible for all the debt and damage in the house. After she got finally kicked out we found out how she and my nephew were living. She never let anyone in and threatened the kid not to say anything. It was shocking when we found out. She never cleaned the house or threw the garbage out in five years. It was so sad to see.
I tried to raise some money to help my parents. They are both retired and now they have this debt for years because of this woman.
Did you receive help from skaters when you asked for it?
RA: Yes, the GoFundMe helped to get some money but not even half of the real debt, but still, it helped so much. The kid is mostly with my parents now, but his mom still has custody and the case is still in court. I was really surprised at how many people helped the cause, skaters and random people from all over the world tried to help us. When I told my parents what I did and how much money we received they couldn’t believe it – they both cried a lot in gratitude.
Tell us a little about your brand Cleaver Skateboards Diego – all the riders (Paris Laurenti, Eze Martinez and you) are Argentine, right? Do you run it from Spain, or is it based in Argentina?
DB: Eze is Milton Martinez’s younger brother, the middle brother – the younger one skates too – that whole family is good at skating. They all skate differently too.
I started the brand with the wood shop who make boards in Argentina – I owned a percentage of it, they manufactured the boards and dealt with the distribution and I did everything else. That’s how it worked in the beginning anyway. It was like that until I moved back to Spain, since last December I do everything from Spain. We still have the same set up in Argentina but they do it under a license where I get a percentage of the sales. I do all the graphics, the social media, all that still but now we get boards made over here in Spain too, in Saragossa. I was over there the other day, doing all the heat transfers on the boards. Basically all 100% skater-owned and run in Spain.
So is it part of a drive to help create opportunities for skaters over there that didn’t exist when you were a kid?
DB: I was thinking about this earlier today: I think firstly it’s for my own personal pleasure, to have a project to work on and a way to use all the things I’ve learned in graphic design and whatnot and then also to try and be able to help other skaters and to give a contribution back to the skate community, both here and in Argentina. Of course, I’m not doing it for the money because there isn’t any but like you say, it’s a way to give something back.
How do you both see your role or responsibility as pro skateboarders these days? What are your ‘jobs’ so to speak?
RA: I think that with all this new generation of skaters training for the gold medal that I play no role here really. For the underground skaters who just skate as a way of life and for fun: I am with them forever. Keep doing it because when the ‘sport’ bullshit dies we will be the ones with the torch to keep it burning.
DB: For the last few years since my pro career decreased from its highest point, I feel like my role is more motivational. I’d like to think that I’ve always been a pretty good motivator for younger kids, especially when I had the Nike team manager job, and before that too when I was on Toy Machine trips or Osiris trips – I always really enjoyed trying to encourage everyone we met to skate as hard as they could. That’s an aspect of why Roberto and I get on so well as we both push each other to skate constantly – whether that’s a gnarly trick, or just when we’re out having fun. So to answer the question – that’s how I see my responsibility now – to share my experience with younger kids just starting out on their skateboarding journey. I always try to point out how it won’t last forever and that you need to be smart and prepare yourself for what you’re going to do after skateboarding.
If you were to give any advice to kids reading this, who maybe want to devote their lives to skateboarding like you have, what would be the most important lesson you would give to them?
RA: Do it because you love it. If it is the first thing you think of when you open your eyes in the morning and the last thing when you close them at night then follow your dream.
DB: Pretty much the same as Roberto. Skateboarding can change your life for the better. If you are offered opportunities, you should always say ‘yes’. Try to be a good person and respect other people. Nothing complicated really.
Okay, let’s finish up – I forgot to ask already – how old are you both and how long have you been skateboarding for?
RA: I’m 40 and have been skating since I was 11.
DB: I’m 42 and I’ve been skating since I was ten, so in total for 32 years. I turned pro for Think in 1999, so 20 years of that 32 have been at a pro level.
No slowing down, right?
DB: (Laughing), well, I’m trying not to slow down, that’s the best I can say.
RA: Not in my mind no, if you ask my body though, you’ll probably get a different answer, (laughs).
Finally Roberto, you knew Ben Raemers well – would you like to say anything about his passing here?
RA: It is a really big loss – both as a friend and as a skater.
Talk to your friends when you have a problem. Don’t keep your problems inside and to yourself. Everything has a solution you just have to let people help you find it. RIP Ben – we love you.