Kevin & Eva Baekkel

Ollie in to the second bank, Sant Feliu de Llobregat, Spain. Ph. Fabien Ponsero

This interview really threw me off guard. I guess when the idea came up all I really knew about Kevin was that no amount of pints could ever trick my brain into seeing those handrails he’s been skating as ‘spots’, and that he was generally quite a humble, reserved person. I don’t want to say ‘intimidating’ but let’s just say that if he was at a house party blasting Norwegian Black Metal from the laptop, I probably wouldn’t try to sneakily change the tunes to French Hip-Hop. And it’s not even that I’d built up a mental image of what Eva – his mother – might be like, but when she picked up the video call she was in full, super colourful mountain gear, stood on what looked like a ski slope, husband in the background, snow everywhere, just beaming at me. Grinning. She clearly could not be more excited by the prospect of chatting to me about her son for an hour, and once we got going, well there was absolutely no stopping her. I could have just as well not been there asking the questions, I’m sure this interview would have turned out almost exactly the same. I just got served life lesson after life lesson in hands-off parenting, stories of parachute diving in Buenos Aires, charity work in Tanzania and bungee jumping in Cyprus (with an 8-year-old Kevin), plus all kinds of insights into how her son has gotten to where he is today. It was amazing. She could have popped up on my screen wearing her Creature long sleeve, started banging on about her favourite Darkthrone album and the 14-stair double kink she’d spotted down the road and it wouldn’t have topped this.

Interview by Arthur Derrien

Can you maybe start off by telling me a little bit about Hamar, where Kevin grew up?
Eva Bækkel: Kevin actually lived the first three years of his life in Cyprus you know? That’s where we started our family before moving to Hamar in Norway, which is where I’m from. He had a little brother with him and we were expecting a little sister so I said okay, let’s give them a Scandinavian childhood, with four seasons, where they’ll be able to experience things like skiing…

So has skiing and going to the mountains always been a big part of yours and Kevin’s life then?
Yeah, I was the one who took Kevin when he was five for his first snowboard course. We were snowboarding buddies. And I remember at one point one of his friends even asked him, ‘uh… Who’s that lady with you?’ because I was going off the jumps and stuff. I wasn’t doing huge airs or anything but I had to keep up with Kevin! And he was just like, ‘that’s just my babysitter’ ha ha. He didn’t want to admit that I was his mother.

Backside feeble grind, Oslo. Ph. Alex Holm

So is Hamar quite a small town then? Could you tell us a little bit what it was like when he first started getting into skating?
Yes, Hamar has about 30,000 inhabitants and only a very small skatepark, which is funny because Kevin ended up somehow being the Norwegian champion in bowl, but we didn’t have a bowl! The nearest one was a two and half hour drive away!

But before skating he was a football player for a bit, that’s what everyone did in our small town. You know, everyone in his school would join a team… But he was SO SELFISH! It was embarrassing to be a parent ha ha. Just seeing him take the ball, and go through the whole field to score without passing it, over and over again. And of course people would be applauding but then after eight goals some parents would be a bit like, ‘how did you even raise this kid?’ ha ha. But yeah it was obvious that team sports were not his thing…

Also before skateboarding he did some BMXing… He would just jump over everything! So after some time he decided to try a skateboard in the same way as he was doing the BMXing. He did it with this toy store skateboard he had and I remember all the older boys just couldn’t believe how that tiny child could even do all that. And since we could tell this was what he really wanted to do I bought him a proper skateboard, and then that was it. He was trapped in it; it’s all he’d do. Honestly 10 hours a day without stopping! I wouldn’t mind watching him for an hour with a book or something, but 10 hours?! I just couldn’t be there the whole time.

Were you not a bit worried about just leaving him at the skatepark? It sounds like he was really young. 
Well to begin with I was a little… I’d see that some of them would be smoking, and sometimes there was some bad language you know, that sort of thing… So to be honest yeah I did wonder if it was a good environment for a child of that age. He was about nine when he started skating. But I also quickly realised that I couldn’t really make him stop. So I went home, made some homemade pizza, some lemonade, then went back to the skatepark and just started serving everyone. That way I’d get to speak to them all!

Ride-on 50-50, Zaragoza. Ph. Fabien Ponsero

Good strategy!
I mean free food is the best thing you can come to a skatepark with; everybody wants free food! And that’s how I got to know them. They knew that every time Kevin’s mum came it was to bring something for everyone to eat or drink, not to check what they were doing, so they weren’t trying to hide whatever they were smoking in their pocket or whatever. And that was key to me keeping up with Kevin: having this communication with the other young people who were at the park. Kevin also had a phone from very early on… And lots of the other parents said, ‘oh he’s so spoiled that boy’, as this was the early 2000s but it meant that we had an agreement where he could go and skate anywhere he wanted, but he had to send me an SMS every time he changed location… And he did. And since him and the people he was with knew I could show up at any point (with something to eat!), it worked.

And so at what point did you start to realise like, ‘okay this might be more than just a normal hobby for him; he’s getting pretty serious about this’?
I don’t know, maybe when he was about 10 or 11? Basically when it started becoming hard to get him to come on our family holidays. Since we’d lived in Cyprus for a few years we’d always go back every summer but after a couple of years he told us, ‘look mum I don’t think I can travel with you guys anymore because it’s always during the high season of skateboard competitions, I just have to stay home!’ So we found a ‘babysitter’ for him…

Backside air, Murcia. Ph. Fabien Ponsero

That’s amazing.
40 degrees and sand beaches for two months? During the high season of skateboarding?! No way, I just can’t do it!’ Ha ha.
I have a kindergarten school in our hometown and one day when we needed teaching assistants I went over to the skatepark and asked if anyone down there was looking for work, and after some interviews and try-outs I ended up hiring two of them. From then on I knew I could trust them and ended up asking if I could hire one of them as a babysitter and to take Kevin around to these competitions. And I told my husband, ‘I pay them their salary to live, they will never screw us up.’ And I just knew Kevin was in the best hands; we were friends! And everyone was going to these same competitions anyway so it’s not like I had to pay them a day rate to babysit, I’d pay for the train ticket and the hotel room and they’d be happy to have Kevin! He’d never ever, ever take a break so he’d bring the best out of everyone.

Wow I love how that worked out.
It’s all about respect and actually communicating with people as human beings rather than judging them. If you actually connect with them and get to know who they really are then relationships like these sometimes last forever!

Backside 50-50, Sant Feliu de Llobregat, Spain. Ph. Fabien Ponsero

Do you think that maybe you yourself being into winter sports might have had something to do with how supportive you’ve been of Kevin’s skateboarding?
Maybe… I’ve always been a bit of an ‘extreme sports’ girl myself. I took my first parachute jump in Paris and after that went on to getting my parachute-jumping certificate in South America. I have about 96 jumps, most of them in Buenos Aires with military equipment because that’s all they had there back then in 1988… But yeah all that to say nothing could take me away from doing that at the time. That’s why I can really feel Kevin’s passion… That adrenalin, that’s what life is all about. After that I also did my dive master education in Cyprus so we all did a lot of bungee jumping, even Kevin…

Wait, so how old was he?!
I don’t know… eight? Basically before he stopped going on holiday with us.
I actually remember when Kevin was still a little baby and we had him in a buggy on the beach thinking, ‘I wonder if we could just attach him really well and stick him on the bungee… A baby on a bungee, that’s never been done!’ ha ha. Luckily I never actually did that but just to say that it’s always been a little bit crazy. But it’s been safe; it’s been fun! You just need that adrenalin in your life!

Ollie in, Barcelona. Ph. Fabien Ponsero

Do you think he ever wished you were more present at his competitions?
No, he’s always never wanted his parents around. We never really went to the competitions because we knew that for him to succeed he needed to concentrate and to be left alone. But one of the few times I went early on I saw some other parents run into the skatepark to tell their child how to make the trick! I remember thinking I was happy to not have to do that and to just read my book on the side… But I did ask him: ‘do you ever wish you had someone that could do that for you? Because I’m sorry but I can’t be that someone.’ And he replied: ‘ah mum please just stay where you are, that’s so crazy…’ He’s always wanted to just be left to do his thing.

When he went to Prague alone for the European finals of the Wild In The Parks though something happened. He was 14 so a Volcom manager picked him up and took care of him for the weekend but then when it ended I got a call from him saying: ‘hey I have to tell you something, I won,’ so I thought ‘oh great!’ but then he went on to say, ‘but mummy I’m looking at my tickets and the ticket you got booked for me is for tomorrow night, not tonight! And everyone’s leaving! How could you do this to me!’ So I just thought shiiiiiit! He was 14! He was not ready to be completely on his own like that when it was not expected… And 14-year-olds can’t just book themselves hotel rooms! We managed to find him somewhere in the end but he was almost in tears, ‘mummy how could you put me in this situation!’ but I just told him, ‘just put the television on a channel that’s not bad for you, don’t leave the room and I’ll cook you your favourite food when you get home, it’s all going to be okay!’ But from that competition he got offered a free ticket to the global Wild In The Parks finals in Arizona the following week!

Did doing all this stuff involve him missing school? How did you feel about that?
Well for Arizona, I went to the school really happy and proud and said: ‘my son just won a ticket to Arizona and is going to take part in the world championships!’ And the response I got was, ‘no he’s not. We’re sorry but he’s missed too many lessons for skateboarding competitions already this year, he has to stay in school.’ They counted the days and it had been 35 days in one year or something like this, so they explained that if we wanted him absent more now the only way was for him to be signed out of the Norwegian school system, because he was only 14 and this was bad for his education. And I just said, ‘give me the papers, I’ll sign him out now!’ So he went! And came 5th, met lots of new people and when he came home I just signed him back and said, ‘well there you go, he probably learnt a whole lot more from that than from a few weeks of school in Hamar.’

So did he actually finish school then?
Yes, he did. He went to school in Hamar until he was 16, but then wanted to finish high school in America.

Backside 5-0, Fredrikstad, Norway. Ph. Alex Holm

Why is that?
Well first I should probably explain that when he was 12 he met David Gravette who was on a tour at a skatepark where Kevin was doing a competition. David Gravette was doing a YouTube interview and said, ‘there is a kid here who is just like me when I was at that age, I don’t know his name but he’s the kid in this t-shirt’ and the person doing the interview introduced them… They talked and David ended up signing him to the European Creature team, that’s where all this started. Just because by accident David saw something in Kevin that reminded him of himself when he was young. That’s why he’s been loyal to Creature since he was 12.

Okay so I’m guessing it made sense for him to go to America to be closer to the Creature guys?
Yes, when he was 16 he got his first invitation to stay with David for a week, and from then on it was just more and more Creature, and more, more Emerica…

I’m really glad he went to high school in LA and that he was able to stay with his friend Jared Cleland in Manhattan Beach….
But actually, just before he left Hamar: do you know how in the US they have challenges you have to accomplish at spring break? We have the same thing in Norway in our high schools; so tasks you have to fulfil to be ‘the great student’. Like ‘swim in this ice cold water’ and you’ll get 10 points or ‘run naked over the bridge in Hamar’ you get 20 points, that sort of thing… Do you know the sort of thing I mean?

Backside 50-50, yank into the bank, Madrid. Ph. Fabien Ponsero

Yeah yeah.
Well someone reached out to me and said, ‘you have to see this high school’s task list, two of them are about Kevin.’ And one of them was kidnap Kevin Bækkell, take his phone, undress him and leave him naked at the top of the mountain and you’ll get 50 points, the other was if you break Kevin Bækkel’s Creature board you get 10 points. So I had to go to the police and tell them: ‘you need to tell them that they are 18 years old and that if they kidnap my son they will go to prison for two years!’ Because that’s what you get for kidnapping someone in Norway. It’s minus 20 degrees there in our country; if he were left up there the risk of him not surviving would have been very high.

Do you think it’s just because he was famous in his town that they were doing this?
Yeah, maybe they were jealous… To be completely honest with you it’s usually ice hockey players that get into these things and it’s just that group mentality: ‘oh he’s doing well, it would be fun to do this’. But student groups have big buses here so it would have been easy for ten boys to just go by the skatepark one day, run in, grab him, put him in the bus and drive him up the mountain! I knew that could happen.

It’s a tradition here to do crazy things like that for this but this was actually hunting down one person, it’s very different from what’s usually done. And they actually went through with one of the challenges! On one occasion whilst Kevin was in Sweden for a competition the indoor skatepark got broken into and all the Creature boards that were in there got broken… But none of the other boards! They were looking for Kevin to break his board but since he wasn’t there they broke all the other Creature boards!

What a bunch of losers…
At least then it made it clear to the police that these ‘games’ can be really harmful and that they needed to put their foot down!
So as you can imagine when Kevin left he said, ‘fuck this town, I’m never coming back…’

And how was high school for him in LA?
He did it online so he could skate all day then and do the homework or whatever in the evenings. But I’d like to say how lucky he was to have Jared Cleland and his family let him stay with them… It was really the second home he needed to grow up into the independent person he is today. I can’t thank them enough.

Boardslide, Oslo. Ph. Alex Holm

And then where did it go from there? Has he just been back and forth between Norway and California since then?
Yes and going on lots of tours whenever he can. He turned 18 when he was out there and that’s when he started doing a lot more…

Do you watch the videos of him that come out?
Yes because that’s how I know he’s okay and still alive! I like seeing everything, but only when it’s already done… I know he’s very good but I’m still his mother…. The few competitions I’ve been to I think my heart would definitely beat a little harder than other people there watching him.

I guess when your son travels so much it must be a good way to keep up with what he’s up to as well… And now that Kevin is older and that you see what he’s doing through the lens of skateboard media, read his interviews, see him in things like the King Of The Road, is there anything about skateboard culture you’ve started to dislike?
No, I like all skateboarders. They have a very special lifestyle that we respect and are happy to see them enjoy. Have a beer, have fun, do whatever you have to do to keep your passion alive, just stay out of trouble. When the police come, run and just keep going.
I even have my own black Creature long sleeve t-shirt that says Kevin Bækkel on it! I ordered it from the United States. It has this thing on the inside… I don’t really know how to describe it… It looks terrible ha ha. But I have it because it’s my son’s! It’s my terrible Creature t-shirt that I’ve only worn once, but I need it! And it will be perfect for Halloween.

Ride-on 50-50, Barcelona. Ph. Fabien Ponsero