Vincent Milou Free Part
Filmed and edited by Luc Mazieres. Supported by Globe.
Not gonna lie, when someone posts a video of themselves at Street League, headphones in, Monster logos all over the course and with #feelskullcandy #feelrad as the caption, it really doesn’t make you want to put them in the mag. Or a photo of them on some podium with a massive French flag in the background, #teamskateboardfrance underneath… That shit is basically the opposite of what gets us hyped here at Free. So why are you reading the intro to a Vincent Milou interview then? Well firstly because he’s been going so HAM that it was kind of difficult for us to turn these photos down. Secondly because he wasn’t afraid to put me in my place when we were chatting about all this stuff. We gave him a chance to tell his story, not always asking easy questions and even taking the piss out of him a bit at times and he took it all in his stride, not for a second taking himself too seriously or getting offended. It’s easy to write people off when you have no clue what they’re actually like or why they do the stuff you consider wack, but really that’s kind of neekier than a couple of Instagram posts nobody’s going to remember after two days.
Photography by Clément Le Gall
Interview by Arthur Derrien
How was the meeting with the surveyor? Are you buying a house or something?
Vincent Milou: It went alright I guess, he was kind of trying to rip us off, but we clocked it and he changed his tune a bit… Yeah I’m in the process of trying to buy a house with my brother, but it’s a mission. Les Landes, the region where I grew up, in the southwest of France, has become so popular in the last few years because of tourism and stuff that prices have skyrocketed. Like to the point where farmers that have owned land for generations are forced to move out because their properties are suddenly valued at so much that they have to pay a wealth tax that they can’t afford… It’s pretty crazy.
What was it like getting into skating around there?
So I grew up and started skating in a tiny place called Saint-Martin-de-Seignanx about twenty minutes away from the beach… There was practically nothing to skate; it was terrible, gravelly concrete, sand and pine trees. Like if I wanted to skate I couldn’t just jump on my board and cruise to a spot or something, I had to beg my mum to drive me to the Hall04 skatepark. Then from going there I met some other skaters from around my area and little by little we’d go to other skateparks and sometimes even look for street spots around them but there was basically nothing. Think of how bad some of the spots are in that Jacky Biarritz edit are, well I’m talking ten times worse. Anything that had ground you could roll on was considered a spot.
How did you get into doing contests?
I guess one day we heard of a contest in some tiny park in a village nearby, went to check it out and it was really fun so every time there would be another one we’d always go. And then yeah we kind of fell into doing them because there was nothing better to do really… And that’s what people did around us. Like I didn’t know anyone that filmed or shot photos or really went on big street missions. If you skated where I was from, that’s kind of just what you did.
And that’s how you started getting sponsored I’m guessing? Just through going to these things?
Yeah but my first sponsors were really shit ha ha. They wouldn’t organise trips or anything like that but gave me a travel budget and since all I wanted was to travel and skate different places if I heard of someone going to say the Mystic Cup in Prague, I’d ask my sponsors to pay for that. So I slowly started travelling more to skate comps…
At what point did you kind of start to realise you’d been missing out on this huge other side of skating?
When I was 16/17 maybe? I guess just through travelling a bit more I met Clément Le Gall (who shot this interview) and Julien Delion and they kind of schooled me, started taking me on missions to Spain and stuff. That’s when I fully got into it…
Meeting Willy Santos was also an important turning point. I met him at a comp in Denver and he ended up inviting me to stay with him and we became super close… Thinking back on it now is pretty crazy because he barely knew me yet still went out of his way to make me feel welcome in his home with his wife and kids and he introduced me to so many people in the industry in America. Like everyone at Transworld, which led to me getting parts on their site and photos in the mag, the people at NHS and I got on Indy… I owe him a lot. Like the first time I went out there he was like ‘tomorrow we could go skate the Baker park with Reynolds if you fancy it?’ I couldn’t believe it. But also I was kind of clueless, like I didn’t quite realise the extent of Willy’s career and everything he’d done.
Did getting tricks at some of the iconic American spots also help a bit?
Yeah definitely. Once I’d done the flip front lip at Hollywood High it was way easier to get people like Rhino to come out and shoot with me… Like before that – and even for that trick actually – it was a bit harder. Like someone from Thrasher was initially supposed to shoot it and they kept bailing, coming up with excuses… Which I understand I guess, they had no idea who I was, they probably thought there was no way I’d do it. And I guess not that long after that I did the front blunt down El Toro… After that everything was way easier out there because people kind of knew who I was.
It’s funny how like old school or traditional or whatever your journey with all this has been. To get noticed you had to go to LA and do the best trick on their famous spots; you don’t hear of people from Europe doing that so much anymore… When you hear of people coming up these days it’s usually through scene videos or blowing up on Instagram or something.
Probably because they can, ha ha, because they live in Barca, Paris or London or anywhere that actually has shit to skate and a proper scene. The spots where I’m from are just so dead, nobody wants to see me skating them, they’ll scroll right past ha ha. When I started I had the absolute worst sponsors ever, skated these bone spots and had no idea about anything… Whenever I’d ask to do cool shit I’d be told to fuck off basically. It’s not easy to come back from that ha ha… I probably never will, ha ha.
You just didn’t have a choice; you just had to frontside blunt El Toro for people to stop taking the piss out of you ha ha.
Obviously it wasn’t like that… It’s not like I went to America thinking, ‘I’m going do these tricks and fuck shit up.’ It happened naturally. Although it would be pretty nice if I was at the top of those stairs like, ‘fuck man, I’ve been stinking for too many years, I just have to commit to this to make up for it,’ ha ha.
Wait actually while we’re talking about America, I should probably give you the Woodward side story as it played a part in all this as well.
For fuck’s sake you went to Woodward?! Ha ha…
Yep! Ha ha. Basically one of my mates from around my area told me about it and we decided to save money for a year and try to go. Obviously it’s pretty bone, but to two 15-year-olds that only ever skated skateparks in the middle of nowhere in the southwest of France it looked like the best thing ever! So we started selling shit at every car boot sale and making money wherever we could… I even convinced the council to donate 500 euros towards my trip if I organised a little contest for the kids in my area.
Anyway long story short, my mate’s grandpa died and couldn’t go with me so all of a sudden I’m going to America on my own to go to this camp and I don’t speak a word of English… But the point of this story is that out there I met Jamie Foy, Zion Wright and so many other people I’m still friends with today. Like if you watch those Am Scramble videos on Thrasher, almost all those kids are Woodward kids ha ha.
I’m not surprised… It seems like that place breeds those kinds of skaters.
Yeah but not even just skaters! Like that’s where I met Tylre Wilcox who’s now the Indy filmer, he was there doing the video course thing, ha ha.
Ok so you made those LA connections there and had Willy in San Diego… How often do you go out there? Do you just do three-month stints every time?
No, now I’ve got a proper VISA and a flat with a couple of friends. Basically I’d been going back and forth between France and the States loads and to the point where when I flew in to skate Tampa once they stopped me at passport control, took me in a room and grilled me like ‘what are you doing here? Why do you keep going back and forth, you say it’s to skate but you’re not a pro skater?! This makes no sense. Why are you coming here then? And if you’re not a professional how are you making money? Amateur basketball players don’t get paid…’ that sort of thing. I had to get my Instagram out to try to explain ha ha. It was a pretty bizarre situation… Anyway I got the stamp that time but he was like. ‘it’s the last time you’re getting let in on a tourist VISA. I’m putting your name in the system and if you want to come back you’re going to need a proper VISA or you’re not getting in.’
I’m guessing Street League was also part of the reason you were going back and forth so much? How did you end up involved with all that? You have to be invited to take part in it right?
I dunno to this day I’m confused because they had people like (Mark) Suciu or Tyshawn (Jones) doing it then. I’d literally filmed two parts in my life and done a bunch of comps; I was a nobody.
I guess they also had people that do loads of contests…
Yeah but even the ‘comp dudes’ they’d invited were like Jamie Foy or Zion Wright you know? I think they must have just been desperate to get European dudes involved or something. Or someone sick bailed and they needed someone to fill in that wouldn’t turn it down or something ha ha.
What was skating it actually like? All the stopping and starting looks like it would be kind of draining…
I mean I was suddenly skating with guys like Ishod (Wair) and so many of my heroes so for me it was obviously a bit surreal… But to be honest I usually enjoy it, especially the first year when it was a lot tighter and there wasn’t the added pressure of everyone being there to try to qualify for the Olympics and stuff…
And honestly what you were talking about is fine, especially if you’re in a group with other dudes that you like. The first time I did it I was with Suciu, Ishod and some others that were really nice to me and between tries they’d hype me up, we’d chat… They made it feel like we were just having a session.
And often at practice we’d have a giant game of s.k.a.t.e. with everyone, session the various bits all together… I dunno I’ve had good times going to them. And I know it’s not the sort of thing you’re into… And in some ways I can see where you’re coming from…
I mean energy drink logos everywhere, knife sponsors…
Yeah… I guess I see it as an opportunity to go to the other side of the world for a week. I usually get to explore the city and street skate for a few days before the contest too…
And also there’s the money.
Well yeah. Like the first year I did it I remember they called me into a room and said ‘welcome to the league, here’s your check’ and it was $5000.
How much do you think you’ve made from going to those things?
I don’t know how much in total but there’s a year I probably made about 40k.
Which can go towards you buying this house…
Yeah exactly. Just to be clear I’ve nowhere near saved up enough money to just buy a house up front, but at least it’s a start you know? Like it’s enough to not get laughed at when I walk into a bank asking for a mortgage loan.
What about the Olympics… Obviously it’s the same format and shit as Street League so I know you don’t have a problem with that, but what about in terms of what it represents, were you instantly down?
To be honest when I first heard about skateboarding being in the Olympics I was a bit like ‘naaaaaaa’, imagining people skating around in silly numbered bibs and shit… And obviously I know it’s not very ‘cool’ but I do believe a lot of really good things are going to come from it. So many sick skateparks have popped up around where I live in the last three years because of that and there used to be fuck all.
Yeah and I mean that’s France. Fuck all here is probably still ten times more than say what some parts of Morocco had… For places like that this shit is huge. It’s funny how the people who are often the most vocal about being against the Olympics are people in big cities who already have street spots they can skate, who already have skateparks… Like yeah the idea of it is kind of bone, but people are not all of a sudden going to stop filming parts or shooting photos because of it. It’s not going to affect how much fun you have when you ride your skateboard.
Yeah it’s like I can see how someone in Paris wouldn’t be down for it and I’m fine with that, but as I said when I started skating outside my house there was gravel: of course I’m going to put myself in the place of all the other kids in the same position… Plus it’s one of those things that’s happening whether you like it or not, you might as well get involved and try to make it as good as it can be rather than complain from the sidelines. I trust the people that are doing it in France and I know that’s why they are doing it. If you’re not into it just don’t watch it.
What about on a personal level? Has getting involved in this stuff helped you in any way?
Of course. For example just six months after I agreed to be a part of it I fucked my ankle pretty bad and reached out to the people who run the Olympic stuff in France… I got booked in for scans, x-rays, etc. the following day. The day after I had an appointment with the number one ankle specialist in the country, the sort of guy you’d normally have to wait six months to see and by the time you finally do get that appointment you’ve already skated on your ankle and made it ten times worse. I was getting treated like a footballer or something.
The other thing is that thanks to all this I now have a really sick part-time job. They have this program in France where state run companies have to offer part-time employment to ‘recognised top athletes’. It sounds corny but anyway when I got involved in this Olympic stuff I got granted that status and I now work for the SNCF (French national rail).
Wow that’s random. What exactly are you doing for them? And is it not difficult to balance it with ‘pro skater’ life?
Well the scheme is in place to support athletes, not get in the way of their careers, so I only work the equivalent of four days a month… And it’s super interesting! My job is essentially looking for ways to integrate sports facilities into the redevelopment of disused stations all over France. We’re in the process of organising for a skatepark to be built right outside a station; I’ve had talks with people at Nike about building one inside a station… But it’s not just for skating; it’s for all these different sports.
Fuck that actually sounds amazing.
Yeah it’s super interesting and also it’s a good little back up for when skateboarding inevitably comes to an end… I mean that’s why they do this thing really, to help athletes remain functioning members of society when they can no longer do what they do.
Something that skateboard brands, shoe companies, etc. usually just don’t do. Like how many pro skaters have we seen quit school at 16 ‘cause they get paid a little, commit their lives entirely to skating and then when the checks stop coming have no idea how to adapt to ‘normal’ life, get depressed, etc.
Yeah definitely, that’s why I’m so stoked on this. They also mentioned something about how if somehow I did come to win the Olympics one day and thanked them in an interview for letting me work for them alongside skating I’d get a massive check ha ha. That would obviously not be that glamorous but…
I mean fuck it you’re in the bloody Olympics anyway you might as well milk it ha ha. Plus I’m sure a lot of the skaters will probably be associating with way worse… That does lead me to my next question though: when it comes to sponsorship where do you draw the line? How do you decide if anything is too wack? Do you ever say no to stuff your sponsors ask you?
I mean there’s definitely things I’ve done in the past where a part of me felt shit for having done them, but looking back now I’m happy I made those decisions because the money I made was saved and put to good use.
Exactly. But then there’s also tons of stuff I say no to all the time, especially more recently.
Well for example months ago Jart asked me to go pro for them for a stupid amount of money, like way more than I’d ever heard of any big board company ever paying anyone. And I said no.
Like Rockstar (the energy drink) could offer me all the money in the world to do stinking posts about their toxic drink on Instagram and I’d still say no.
I guess it’s that thing where once you say yes to being associated with those companies it’s hard to come back from… Like you’re instantly put in that category. Obviously there are a few exceptions and some dudes are universally adored despite the association but not many.
Yeah, and I really can’t afford to be making things instantly way worse for myself ha ha. That being said, I feel like you can’t really cancel people because they have a drink sponsor you know? So much of success in skating is luck, not everyone can get sponsored by a cool company and get paid to do what they love, some people just have to take the Monster deal if they want to do it and I wouldn’t hate on them for that. Like so many sponsored skaters would never in a million years say yes to working for the SNCF alongside skating but if I want to keep doing what I love it’s a compromise I’m willing to make. Otherwise before I know it I’ll be working seven days a week.
And I’m not saying I’ve had it harder than others and that I’m super unlucky or whatever because I’m really happy with where I’m at, never in a million years would I have dreamt of being here, I’m just putting it into context. Do you see what I mean?
Of course. And we touched on this briefly earlier but it’s that thing where since in skating influences and references are so important, every time you film a trick you kind of carry some of your past with you…
Definitely! If 2007 Vincent Milou pop shuv tail grabbed the big 5 at Bercy everyone would say it was stinking and I’d get rinsed. If Ishod did it today everyone would say it was the sickest shit ever.
I mean you fucking front blunted El Toro and still skate for a board company called ‘Wasted’, to me that says it all.
I mean yeah but that’s a perfect example though of how I’ve navigated all this: you may not think it’s the coolest company ever but the people that run it are great, the dudes that skate for it are great, they pay me, this part that’s going to come out with Free they are putting money towards paying the filmers… And let’s face it I probably don’t have the talent to skate for Supreme and I’ve spent half of my skateboarding years skating in boardshorts ha ha. Like take that little Mous (Mustapha Salem) kid from Paris: he’s got a banging style, he’s young, he’s surrounded by the right people, the dudes at Nike and Supreme are keeping a close eye on him but not making him do shit he doesn’t want to do… Things are obviously going to go great for him, all he has to do is keep enjoying himself and skating. When I was his age we didn’t have Instagram or barely watched any videos… There was no such thing as chilling in a skate shop, you’d go to the ‘skate shop’ once or twice a month when your board or your shoes were absolutely battered and your dad had agreed to drive you there. The shop where I bought my first board was called SB3 (which stood for skateboard, snowboard and surfboard) and I skated it for two years ha ha. We just had nobody around us telling us how all this worked, what to watch, what to do, what not to do… For so long I just had no idea anyone in skating even cared about how they dressed, I just couldn’t see it. And skating was so expensive that it wouldn’t even cross my mind not to take what I could get… My parents couldn’t afford to buy me a fresh pair of shoes every few weeks you know? The massive green Airwalks I’d get given at the skatepark would get covered in shoe goo, last me months and I’d be perfectly happy with them ha ha. Up until the age of at least 14 I wouldn’t even buy or pick my own clothes. If I needed new trousers my mum would just buy the cheapest ones she could find at a Leclerc (French supermarket) and that was that; I just didn’t care. The first time I went on a little skate trip with Clément Le Gall he brought me some of his old trousers to skate in ha ha.
Now that’s a good friend…
Ha ha I know right! Even when it comes to style (in terms of the actual skating not the clothing)… That whole concept is something I took a long time to realise was important since I wasn’t watching videos. The very few times pros came to my area for demos I wasn’t like ‘wooow these guys are so steez’ I was just confused as to why they weren’t wearing board shorts like the rest of us ha ha. Like I really had to go back and watch all the stuff I’d missed once I realised! And obviously now it’s something I’ve learnt to appreciate and the skaters I enjoy watching have a balance of everything, but for a long time I thought it was just about hard tricks.
What about if someone has a really good style but doesn’t do particularly hard tricks, can you still enjoy that?
I mean it depends… Take Leo Valls, he’ll do loads of powerslides on flat but will bang out a Mach 10 switch flip back tail on a ledge every now and then so I’m down. Or even if the tricks aren’t amazing but the spots are really interesting then I’ll watch it… But if it’s someone in Paris or in a city where we’ve seen the spots a million times, their hair is dyed green in a desperate attempt to get noticed, they put on a fake style and do wallies or rainbow rails all day, I’m going to struggle to watch it. It’s almost like going too far in the opposite direction to everything we’ve just discussed: it’s being so conscious of what’s cool or so influenced by how you’re perceived that there’s no longer anything natural about what you do. Like you know when you guys post a line on Instagram and then do a swipe to a loop of one of the flatground tricks or something? I swear you guys invented that? Anyway when I see people do that to their own footage for instance, I find that a bit ridiculous…
And by no means am I saying what I’m doing is great, far from that, but I guess I’m more into people like Grant (Taylor), Ishod or Daan (van der Linden). Or someone like Suciu who can obviously do anything he wants but will pick the right trick for the spot even if he can do a harder one.
Fuck this went on for waaaay longer than I expected, shall we try to wrap this up?
Yeah I guess… It’s a shame half of it was chatting about contests but what are you going to do? I guess that’s just going to stick to me forever, ha ha.
I mean we did but that is a huge part of your story. I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed about…
I know… And to be honest I’d be lying if I said I’d never enjoyed skating any of them! It’s more just that if it was a choice between only skating contests and only filming parts, shooting interviews, etc. I’d obviously sack off contests. I’m just currently not in a position to do that if I want to keep making a living off skateboarding and that’s something I want to do for as long as possible.