Flo Mirtain’s ‘En Passant’ interview
After having filmed and edited Flo’s part for Free Skate Mag, I appear to have somehow now also landed myself the task of interviewing him for the aforementioned magazine’s print piece. But what is there still to say about a pro who’s already had countless interviews and articles discussing how obsessed he is with skateboarding (and Coca-Cola) or how his name is constantly getting confused with Flo Marfaing’s? After racking my brain for a bit I landed on the idea of exploring some slightly more serious themes… Basically, two of the most recurring topics to come up during our numerous afternoons spent playing chess (okay there aren’t actually that many but saying you play chess always sounds pretty steez) and smoking joints (yeah we definitely go through a lot more of those than games of chess) are the feeling of growing old and the speed at which time seems to be flying by before our very eyes.
Flo and myself (along with all the other members of our crew) are now in our 30s and have spent the last ten years of our lives skating, travelling and partying together. Needless to say our glorious twenties have flown past worryingly fast, and we’re now facing what one could only describe as ‘un coup de vieux’ (essentially the sudden brutal realisation that one is no longer ‘young’). It’s that feeling you get when you realise skate videos don’t quite have the same effect on you without the names at the beginning of each part and that good old [SV] intro to Dr. Dre’s ‘Keep Their Heads Ringin’. Something that really sinks in when kids at HDV come up to you and say ‘excuse me sir…’ or grumpy civilians ask you ‘are you not too old to be playing with one of those?’ The groupies have now been replaced by girlfriends who are sick and tired of seeing you leave the house to roll around in shit all day, especially as it generally means you’ll be whining about various pains you didn’t even know existed when you return. Your warm ups have now become as painfully slow and difficult as starting up a VX1000, and I’ll spare you the more minor details such as hair loss or putting on weight for no apparent reason… We’re here to talk about skateboarding.
Flo is no longer a rookie in the game. He’s skated for companies of another era, such as Cliché or DVS and turned pro long before body varials and no-complies had made a comeback. Now, at the age of 31, he often finds himself thinking about his future and life post professional skateboarding. Is skateboarding synonymous with eternal youth? How many years of skating do I still have left in me? Am I one day going to be restricted to just doing slappies? This is the kind of internal questioning we attempted to address together, between Sega Mega Drive breaks and zooted games of chess.
Photography in Lyon by Fabien Ponsero
Interview by Guillaume Colucci
Hey Flo! How’s it going? You just got back from a month in Barcelona, was that planned to avoid the lockdown in France?
Yo! Yeah all good, how are you?! I’d actually already planned to be in Barcelona in November as I was meant to meet (Anthony) Claravall and Tiago (Lemos) out there to film this advert for a new NB# shoe, but yeah the timing definitely turned out to be pretty convenient…
What’s it like skating with Tiago? He looks as safe as he is G…
For sure! He definitely is. We’d bumped into each other before but it was the first time I got to properly hang out with him and yeah, the dude is just really nice, really humble, and the skating… It’s honestly insane. It’s like he can do anything he wants but without looking like a robot. You know how with some skaters that can do any trick they want it sometimes gives you the feeling that skating is too easy and you get a bit desensitised? Well with him it’s kind of the opposite, when you watch him skate, he makes you realise just how difficult everything he’s doing is.
Coming back to you, given you probably no longer need a formal introduction, why don’t you start off by telling us if you’ve made any major life changes since your last interview?
Not really… Life goes on you know? I guess I turned 30, which is kind of a big milestone for me.
You’re also the Hélas TM now… Can you tell us a little bit about that role?
Oh yeah! I guess when we were filming the video Steph Khou was taking on quite a lot of different responsibilities at the same time; he was in charge of the production, the video, organising tours, etc. So towards the end he asked me if I’d be down to help out with team stuff, specifically with organising tours. So far I haven’t had too much to do, especially with Covid and stuff this year, but it’s something I’m interested in exploring… It could be useful for after skating you know? It’s good for me to start looking into other things I can do beyond the actual skating itself.
After having spent so much time around all this, seeing how things work, I thought it was maybe a good option for me… It’s like a little warm up for what might come further down the line.
So do you think becoming a TM is the ideal follow up job for pro skaters?
I mean it really depends on the person but I see it as a good way of staying in the mix and being around the world of skateboarding, which I love, whilst doing something a little bit different.
When you were younger, was becoming a professional skater your goal in life or did you have other ambitions?
I’d say it was maybe a distant dream but definitely not a goal! When I was a kid the idea of being pro was something that just felt completely unattainable. After I finished high school I came to Lyon to continue studying and become a schoolteacher. I chose this city because of skating, and I chose to study to become a teacher because I’d have as much free time to skate as when I was studying, same hours, same holidays… Basically ever since I started I’ve always done everything I could to make as much time as possible for it in my life, but the idea of actually doing it as a job was never an option I considered. I guess I just fell into it.
Apparently 30 is meant to be the peak of man’s physical strength. Do you feel in good shape or do you feel like your body is starting to struggle with what you’re putting it through?
So I’ve heard… It’s a weird feeling, like in terms of technique I’ve never felt as good as I’m feeling now, but on the other hand on the purely physical front, I can feel that my body can’t quite keep up in the way that it used to… Especially in terms of stamina and recovery for example… And I have to say it’s a pretty frustrating thing to realise. Like I feel I can do harder stuff than before but it’s also getting more and more difficult for my body to cope with what I’m putting it through.
Have you had to change certain habits? Like are you eating healthier, smoking less, stretching after your sessions, etc.?
I mean I’m trying, slowly. But to be honest I’ve still got a long way to go. As in I know what I should be doing but it doesn’t quite come naturally yet… Like I kind of go through phases. If I get hurt for instance I’m going to do everything I can to get better as soon as possible, which means eating really healthy, drinking lots of water, doing physio, etc., but as soon as I can skate again I’ll stop taking care of myself.
A lot of skaters find other interests when they get older and like many people we know, you’ve gotten into climbing. How did you get into it and what are some of the similarities with skating?
My friend Nikwen got me into it… He’d been doing it loads so one day he convinced me to give it a shot and I was instantly hooked. It’s very similar to skating in a lot of ways… Like you can go do it in a crew but it’s an individual activity and it requires physical effort, but you also have to use your head, it’s actually pretty tricky. And then obviously climbing centres recreate natural spots, similarly to how skateparks do with street spots.
Which activity would you say is harder?
I think when you get to a certain level you can’t really compare the difficulty, but to me picking up skateboarding is a lot more unrewarding in terms of progression; it’s a much longer process.
Do you still use your special calendar? If so could you explain how you use it and why?
Ha ha yeah definitely! It’s a calendar but I’m kind of using it switch. As in I don’t use it to plan anything in advance, but at the end of every day I’ll write down in it what I did in terms of skating. Like if I filmed a trick that day or just skated ‘for fun’, if I got hurt or even if I just chilled that day.
I started doing it about two years ago because sometimes I’d prang out about not being productive enough, sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly. It would help me feel a little bit less guilty on the days where I wouldn’t have it in me to go on a mission and would help me give myself a kick up the ass if I’d clock that I’d not done anything for a little while…
So it’s almost more like a private diary… Do you ever go back and look at previous years to bring back nice memories?
I mean it’s kind of the same process as a private diary but it definitely doesn’t have the same purpose. Like every day when I add something I have a view on the whole month and that’s enough basically… I don’t usually look back at it like that. Although I’m sure I can tell you the last time I fucked my ankle and for exactly how many days I was out for hehe.
You strike me as someone that’s generally quite nostalgic… Like you love playing retro video games, watching old cartoons, films from the ‘90s and 2000s, old skate mags/videos, remembering details from all of the evenings we spent getting pissed on Lyon’s famous boat bars… Would you say you’ve got Peter Pan syndrome a little bit?
I dunno if Peter Pan syndrome is quite the right way to describe how I feel, because it’s not so much becoming an adult that scares me, it’s more the general idea, or feeling even of getting older… And as you said I am very nostalgic and do love remembering moments of my past that felt special, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to relive them. One thing that’s certain though: my current lifestyle is very different from the idea of ‘adulthood’ I was projecting for myself when I was younger.
Do you think this fear is linked to the fact that you skateboard, an activity that for the general public doesn’t really represent maturity or is it more the idea of getting older and closer to death that scares you?
Skateboarding is a part of it for sure… I’ve spent two thirds of my life skating, and even if my tastes have changed my vision of skateboarding has remained exactly the same as when I was a kid. Plus skateboarding still feels like a bit of a bubble that’s in some ways kind of separate from the ‘real world’. Like it’s a way of leaving behind the seriousness, pressures and responsibilities of your life and I think that plays a huge role in this… I think skaters can tend to get really complacent when it comes to existing in that bubble and often have a hard time coming out of it…
I think that’s why it’s so important for me to differentiate skateboarding from ‘the real world’. Like I’m not scared of getting older as a human being, like I have responsibilities that I deal with like a normal adult, what I’m scared of is getting older as a skateboarder and the idea of one day no longer being physically capable of doing what I love.
I mean you just turned 31, do you not think you’ve got quite a few more solid years of professional skating left in you? Like seeing Brandon Turner switch hardflip Wallenberg at 38 or JB still smashing it at 40… Does that not make you feel a bit better about all this?
Oh definitely! That shit gets me so hyped! I’m constantly looking at what people who are a bit older than me are doing ‘cause I know it’s going to reassure me.
And I mean getting older is a recurring subject, true, but it’s also not like I’m losing sleep over it either… I’m just very conscious of time passing.
When you start working on a part everything is calculated in advance, everything you want it to be is mapped out in your head… You even have notes for what tricks you want to do on what spots and how they could be filmed! What difference is there between how you work on a part now and how you did when you were 20? Is it the same approach? The same motivation?
I’d say the motivation is the same but the approach is a bit different. When I was younger a lot less thought went into the parts I filmed, things would happen more naturally as it was newer for me, but after a while it becomes harder to come up with new ideas, new spots, new tricks… That’s why I really admire people like Daewon (Song) who are able to reinvent themselves with each part, properly doing that is crazy.
What advice would you give to 20-year-old Flo if you met him?
I’d tell him to make the most of the next ten years.
You’re notorious for being a massive skate nerd; like when people have doubts about an ABD, you’re the person they get in contact with to check…
What are your thoughts on this new generation skaters who sometimes seem completely disinterested in what came before them?
I’m not too sure to be honest… I think sometimes even if they aren’t interested in the history right now, that can always come later. But also there’s so much skating constantly coming out these days that just keeping up with the present is hard enough.
Ever since I started skating I’ve been as passionate about doing the activity as I have been about the whole universe that surrounds it. For me both complement each other, and I’m convinced that it helped me progress, opened me up to new horizons, introduced me to different styles and all that helped shape my own vision and develop my own tastes. But it doesn’t always have to be like that for everyone! Like if you just like the act of skateboarding and don’t give a shit about the rest that’s also cool!
When you were younger, to get recognition you kind of had to film parts or go to contests… Do you ever feel a bit ‘old fashioned’ for still always wanting to focus on filming parts? And do you think that with the role Instagram plays in skateboarding today, it’s easier to come up?
I think our generation, the one that started at the end of the nineties/early 2000s, really value videos and the role they have in our culture. Filming a part, shooting for a mag… It’s what I love doing because it’s what inspired me when I was younger and continues to inspire me today… And sure these things may not quite have the same impact as they used to but I don’t really feel like I’m that ‘old fashioned’ for still focusing on these things. The skate industry is kind of divided into categories and as you said before the main ones were contests, videos and mags, but they’re still here! It’s just that a bunch of new ones have appeared in addition to those…
And honestly, I’m not convinced it actually is easier for kids to come up these days, but it certainly feels like posting your footage on Instagram is a lot more effective. Plus I think it is just what kids prefer to do now… I haven’t met many that are down to save footage for a year and a half to build a part that will then get forgotten as quickly as their previous post… Because that is indeed very frustrating.
And what about ‘YouTube skaters’ (the people that have their own channels that they monetise etc.), what are your thoughts on them?
Right now I don’t really see the point in them to be honest, but if the content is good then why not I guess… So far the only stuff I’ve seen has been ridiculous though.
What about Tik-Tok? Have you finally understood the deal with that one or are you still feeling old/out of the loop?
While we’re on the topic of social media, I know you often read comments and the shit people say about you on the Internet… Are some of the things you read on there more hurtful than others?
I know it’s stupid to pay attention to that stuff, but yeah I do sometimes find myself reading them.And sometimes you don’t always have complete control over how you’re going to be presented in videos. If they show you focusing a board out of the blue with no context, without showing the hours or days of trying the same shit, the slams, the frustration, or any of the external factors that will have messed with your head, you can very easily come across like a bit of a nutter. But the truth is, I’m quite calm and reserved in real life and sometimes I feel like the image of me that’s portrayed in videos doesn’t always reflect what I’m actually like. And yeah sometimes that pisses me off a bit… But also I’m aware that it’s a part of the game and I accept it, plus it can be constructive and can push me to be more careful with the image of myself I’m putting out there. It’s definitely helped me re-evaluate some stuff.
When you see tricks that were illegal back in the day get a pass now, or even become trendy, does it make you feel like skateboarding has become more tolerant?
Yeah completely, but I actually find that really interesting. Sometimes the way someone does a trick will completely change the idea you have of that trick. You can more or less get away with anything these days if you do it well… And tastes evolve you know, there’s tricks I hated as a kid that I love seeing now and that’s probably because I hadn’t seen the right person do one.
We all know that trends tend to go in circular cycles, do you think we’ll see New Era hats, 360 pop shuvits, 8” boards and crook back lips make a comeback in a few years?
I reckon it could happen yeah… But I also feel like skateboarding has become so democratised now that it’s way more common to have lots of kids from the same crew with completely different styles and approaches… It almost feels as if every generation is now represented in one way or another.
Emerica’s Stay Gold is over ten years old, Menikmati over 20 years old; some of the kids with whom we skate at HDV started skating at the same time as Pretty Sweet… Do you have any examples of things like that that suddenly make you feel old?
I’d say the most obvious one is that for ages I was the youngest when I’d go on tours and that now I often end up on trips with kids that are over ten years younger than me.
Alright to finish this off let’s talk a tiny bit about your future… What’s in store for Flo Mirtain? Are you now just going to be dreading the 40s the whole time or you going to try to live in the moment?
Let’s just try to live in the moment til’ we hit 40 and we’ll see how we feel then… We’ll probably end up asking ourselves all these questions all over again… But I hope I’ll still be a part of all this in one way or another!
Ok… Actually one last question: wanna play a game of chess or shall we just smoke a joint?