The Noah (and Philippe) Mahieu Interview
All photography by Clément Le Gall. Words by Arthur Derrien.
‘It’s funny how it’s gone full circle… I may be the one that put Noah on a skateboard all those years ago but it’s thanks to him that I’ve really gotten back into it. These days if before dinner he’s not put on whatever new part he’s been watching on Thrasher or Free then I’m definitely requesting it!’
That’s Philippe Mahieu, Noah’s dad, who had just been telling me that the two of them had been on a bit of a Max Palmer footage binge recently. Philippe started skating in 1978 in Le Havre, an industrial port city in the north of France, which is also where he bought our young Frankie Hill impersonator here his first skateboard… At the humble age of three! So yeah, we might as well establish right away that we are indeed looking at one of those child prodigy situations where the parent is incredibly supportive of their kid because they share the same passion. BUT, in case the words ‘Max Palmer’ or the photos you have in front of you have not made it obvious already, we are by no means in contest coach/pushy- parenting territory here, and the conversations I had with these two about their relationship didn’t just give me some great insights into why Noah is more interested in grinding corrugated metal walls than chasing medals, they repeatedly melted my tiny heart.
Now the reason I mentioned medals here is because one of the first times I read Noah’s name it was on some sort of early list for the people that might represent France in the Olympics. ‘I didn’t really know that many skaters when I started, so going to contests was a way for me to meet people,’ Noah explained. ‘And to this day some of the people I met going to contests all over France are still my close friends. That’s how I got involved in the whole French Skateboarding Federation thing for a bit… And to be honest when it all started it was really fun, we’d just skate. We even all went on a two-week trip to the States, which at the time was amazing for me! But as it got closer to the Olympics what we’d do would start to look more and more like training. Like they’d be there trying to time us taking runs and stuff – that’s when it stopped making sense for me. I didn’t want to change the way I skated to fit their criteria, that felt ridiculous.’
Now’s probably a good time to point out that Noah just turned 18 and was only 16 when he decided that Olympic glory wasn’t for him, which let’s face it, is pretty fucking nuts. Most kids at that age would give up their right arm for a shot at that kind of fame.
What I also found interesting about all this is that at the time his dad didn’t really understand why he wanted out, so Noah was purely going off his own instinct. ‘Yeah to be completely honest at first when he told me I sort of didn’t get it’ Philippe explained. ‘Obviously I respected and supported his choice but I thought it was a little bit of a shame… But thinking about it now I realise he was completely right. The most important thing in life is doing what truly makes you happy, so if taking part in the Olympics means having to force yourself to skate in a way that doesn’t feel natural, or in a way that you’re not going to enjoy as much, just to please some judges, then it’s not worth it. Noah’s really pleasant to watch skate – and I’m not just saying that because he’s my son (although I may not be the most objective person to talk about it) – and I think that’s in part because you can tell how much he’s enjoying himself. It feels really spontaneous and instinctive; I don’t want that to be taken away from him.’
I think it’s at this point that I started to realise their rather special father/son dynamic wasn’t the way it was solely because they could bond over skateboarding. So I tried to dig a little deeper… ‘My father was always quite strict and direct when it came to telling me what he thought I should do.’ Philippe shared. ‘My grandfather started a storage business on the port of Le Havre, which my father took over, and I’d kind of been conditioned my whole life to take it over myself… My father worked a lot and didn’t really do very much with me when I was younger, and I think me wanting to encourage and support Noah to do all this, without actually telling him what to do was maybe a reaction to that. I didn’t want the same thing with my kids, and I think this has probably played a big part in why I’ve always asked them what they’d prefer rather than just telling them this or that is better. And just to be clear, if it was breakdancing or anything else Noah had gotten into
I would have supported him just the same. It just happens to be skateboarding so I couldn’t have dreamed of better.’
Of course this does absolutely not mean that Noah was in any way spoiled or allowed to do whatever he wanted without any kind of guidance. From a very young age despite it being pretty obvious that Noah could ‘do something’ with skating the deal was always for him to get good grades and get his Baccalauréat, which he did, and if after he graduated he still wanted to give it a proper shot he could, which he is. Conversations are had about saving some of the money he gets paid from his sponsors because it doesn’t last forever, which he does, and apparently Andrew Reynolds’ whole bit on the Nine Club about how it’s up to pro skaters to build their own careers (rather than waiting for sponsors to do it for them) sparked some interesting chats about the importance of being proactive, which again, as this interview demonstrates, he very much is.
The relationship goes both ways though, and I’m not just talking about Noah showing his dad some Rowan Zorilla footage after they’ve watched a Natas part. A few years ago Philippe was hit with a couple of heavy life altering events that essentially put his whole world into perspective. He suddenly realised that although he was happy when he was out skating with his kids, most of his time was spent working his ass off for the family’s storage business and that well, life is short. So he drastically reorganised his life, ceding a lot of his responsibilities at his job and moving to Seignosse in the south west of France, where he’d be able to focus on what really mattered: Noah, his brother Timothé, surfing (which has also always been a big part of his life) and eventually skating again. Because during the few years that preceded this, skateboarding had definitely been on the back burner a little bit, but these days Noah tells me, ‘he’s almost more hyped about going skating than me sometimes!’ At 53 he’s fully back on it, skates with his sons but also has a whole older crew of his own that he’ll go on lunch sessions with, and from the sounds of it is very much living his best life. They even built themselves two gorgeous 15-foot painted slappy curbs right outside the house!
You’re probably wondering where I’m going with all this… Well all that to say that yes, Noah’s incredibly gifted, that’s just a fact, but then again just this morning my explore page fed me footage of a 9-year-old child I’d never heard of kickfip crooked grinding a vert ramp. Everyone’s good these days, that doesn’t mean you’re destined for greatness. But Noah gets it. He’s brave, humble, polite, knows how crucial it is to make the most of his time on planet Earth, and most importantly has been equipped with all the tools to grow up and become the best possible version of himself. We’re just very lucky that it involves looking great on a skateboard rather than doing headspins.