Oscar Candon’s ‘Abseiling Down’ part (Giddy 13) + his interview from issue 48
What you’re about to dive into is our second attempt at publishing an Oscar Candon piece, with the first one we had lined up for the July/August 2022 issue getting shelved not because he didn’t have enough photos, nor because we couldn’t get the interview together (the conversation we’d recorded definitely felt worthy of print), but because he ended up requesting we cancel it. A first for us, in the however many years we’d been doing the mag.
The pics Oscar was sitting on for the article at the time were incredible by any standards but he also hadn’t shot anything or even really skated in something like 10 months, and for a number of reasons was not in a good place. He was essentially as burnt out on skating as you could possibly be. The fun and spontaneity that’s meant to define what we do had completely been sucked out of it by having to constantly manage the pain in his dodgy ankles and by the responsibility he felt to produce to an always higher standard, for videos that would instantly get lost in the sea of garbage that floods Instagram every day. The skate-boarding landscape no longer looked like it did in the days of Mosaic, and like so many pros entering their thirties with all their eggs in one basket, he was at a crossroads. Or as he put it then so poetically: ‘j’ai le cul entre deux chaises et l’impressions qu’elles sont constament en train de s’écarter’ (‘I’m caught between two stools and it feels like they’re constantly moving apart’). The fear of what would come after his current career path was too great for him to keep his head down and continue filming parts, and whilst reckoning with this transition had landed himself in a pretty dark place.
What are you looking at now then? The story of how he managed to dodge that ticking time bomb, fall back in love with skateboarding, and learn how to do pull-ups from his fingertips in the process.
Interview by Arthur Derrien
Okay, so I listened back to the interview we did last summer, and feel like it could be a good starting point…
Oscar Candon: Oh god ha ha, I’m getting anxious just thinking about it. I was seriously depressed when we did that. But yeah it makes sense to start there I guess… It’s weird because it stems from something that’s really simple but really complicated at the same time.
It basically came down to a few different parts of my life going wrong… I was in the midst of a break-up with my ex-girlfriend and it ended really badly, and then skateboarding was not going well. My ankles were fucked and it felt like I was in constant pain, but also I was putting a really unhealthy amount of pressure on myself. Probably because it was all I had really, and that it was my only source of income… But anyway I was trapped in a spiral of always having to one-up myself, and nothing ever felt good enough. Throw Covid into the mix and the fact that living in Paris wasn’t working out for me at all (for reasons I don’t necessarily want to go into here) and some complicated stuff that was going on with my family…
It was an accumulation of all these things I felt I had no control over, and the only way I knew how to cope was to keep moving forward in exactly the same way as I had forever: skateboarding. It’s hard to say exactly what the straw that broke the camel’s back was, but suddenly I hit a wall.
Since the age of 17, all I’d done was work on video project after video project, travelling, just non-stop moving things along in the same direction without realising that there were lots of other aspects of my life that I’d completely neglected, and this was affecting me a lot more than I’d realised.
I guess there’s that thing as well where as a skater whenever shit’s not going well we feel like at least skating isn’t going anywhere, and that it will always be there to make us feel better. If suddenly it no longer has that power I bet that makes it all even more terrifying…
Yeah exactly. And now being more or less out of this hole, I’m having fun skating again, and even enjoying trying harder stuff that I find challenging and scary, but it had gotten to the point where it was like, okay now it’s my work, and my work is to do the hardest tricks I can. I just couldn’t find pleasure in it in the same way… And I could feel that something wasn’t quite right, that something was missing, but I’d double up and put even more of myself into skateboarding and then trips would go badly, my ankles would be playing up, and my whole world felt like it would be crumbling because it was all I had. Just like how sometimes you feel on top of the world when trips and stuff go well. And I’m sure I’m not the only sponsored skater to go through this but yeah, when we did the interview last time I’d reached a tipping point. I knew I needed to make changes in my life because I really wasn’t well.
I’ve heard other people that skate for a living say that they’ve struggled to accept when things aren’t going well like this because it feels wrong to them to complain because what they were doing was on paper their ‘dream job’. Was there a bit of that too?
Completely. And when I meet people that ask me what I do for a living 99% of the time the reaction is, ‘You’re living off your passion, that’s incredible, you’re so lucky’ putting the whole thing on this pedestal. And it is incredible in so many ways! But having to perform can get in the way of what made it your passion in the first place.
Something you mentioned last time as well was this blurring of the boundaries between work relationships and friendships, and how when you change sponsors you sometimes suddenly no longer spend any time with the people you were really close to.
Yeah because if you’re really motivated, you can essentially spend your whole life travelling and filming! Supra is a good example of this: I spent I don’t even know how many years constantly travelling with Spencer (Hamilton,) Lucien (Clarke), Lizard King, etc. and by the end of it we were all really close. And we’ll text every now and then or whatever, but like I’ve seen Spencer once in the last four years. You form these relationships that then almost completely disappear when you change sponsors, and alongside all this by barely ever being at home (if you do even have a base), so you’ve not really built the same long-lasting connections with close friends in the same ways as most other people do.
And yeah just what you said, when your work is your passion, the people you essentially work with, sometimes even your employers, become your friendship group. And I’ve always been really good friends with my TMs, which is obviously great, but there’s always going to be that risk of what you expect from people in terms of how you’d like your career to evolve getting confused with what you’d expect from them as a friend. It can easily all become really confusing and personal…
Yeah. Plus evolving in a world where people have something to gain from certain friendships, where being around certain skaters or filmers can mean more opportunities for coverage or sponsors or whatever, some of those relationships aren’t necessarily always the healthiest. Whether you’re conscious of it or not.
Yeah exactly. Although sometimes you can see these kinds of people from a mile away.
But also it’s a bit like, can you blame them? I think it’s good to be ambitious, and in a way, it’s normal to gravitate towards people doing things you find exciting. Like if I have the opportunity to skate with a skateboarder I look up to, of course I’m going to take it. When I’m on a Sour trip and I see Gustav (Tønnesen) and all the other guys skating I sometimes stop and think to myself, ‘I’m so hyped I get to be a part of this and witness people skateboarding this well.’
Of course! And it would suck if it wasn’t that way. Letting our shared passion inform who we gravitate towards is normal…
It’s just that this stuff being at play is inevitably going to influence certain friendship dynamics. What were some of the steps you took to get back on your feet?
The main thing I did was not step on my board for a year. I wanted my ankles to get some rest but also figure things out in my head without skateboarding. I don’t think as humans we were designed to just only do one thing… When I was younger I always loved building stuff and I’d done an apprenticeship in carpentry, so I decided to try getting into that again. Basically committing myself to properly investing in other important aspects of my life, in hope that it would take away some of the pressure I was putting on skating, and learning new skills, preparing a potential transition so that financially
I didn’t have to be completely dependent on skating, and just stepping out of that world a bit and meeting new people… It really helped.
Were you seeing a therapist?
I was, but it’s not like seeing a therapist just miraculously sorted me out. It was really good to talk to someone who was knowledgeable, there to listen, and could express how they felt about what I was going through extremely clearly, but it’s not what got me out of the dark hole I was in. I’d say maybe it was more of a crutch, just because it was easier to discuss certain subjects that are sometimes tricky to discuss with your friends, either because it makes them uncomfortable or reignites their own angst…
What’s funny is that the guy I found was pretty tough. It was not a breathing exercise, ‘don’t worry it’s going to be okay…’ kind of situation. Like he didn’t exactly show very much empathy ha ha. It was all very to the point, almost like, ‘Okay I’ve heard you loud and clear, and to me A + B = you’re being a moron and you know very well that this is what you need to do’ ha ha. Not in an aggressive way and it’s not like he was making fun of me, but he was just unbelievably pragmatic, which may not work for everyone but at that point it’s exactly what I needed I think.
What about the move to Biarritz? After having lived in Barcelona and Paris, both big rather hectic skate cities, I bet that did you a world of good.
Yeah but getting to that point wasn’t easy… When you’re stuck on your couch feeling really lost and down it’s so hard to pick a direction. Deciding where you’re going to try to live or what you want to do with your life becomes terrifying, because all you see is all the other possibilities you’d be sacrificing if you were to pick one road to go down. It feels impossible at times but the only way out of it is to really force yourself to try different bits, put out feelers, etc. I’m honestly so lucky that I already had carpentry, which
I knew I could enjoy and that I wouldn’t be completely starting from scratch. It’s what saved me. Because that’s what’s the scariest for a lot of pro skaters when thinking about what comes after, it’s having to completely start from scratch, put their ego aside and be a total beginner at whatever they’re going to launch themselves into, when (often unconsciously) your confidence and your personality are built off you being ‘the expert’ in your domain, and the people around you knowing this. It’s like suddenly when it comes to every-thing else in life you’re learning how to ollie whilst everyone else is already really good.
So yeah what really helped me over the past year was working in carpentry again, working with all kinds of people on lots of different projects, learning a lot, and eventually opening my little workshop in Biarritz, which essentially felt like I was slowly building myself a parachute, to not be completely free-falling if skateboarding were to suddenly stop working for me. And obviously, it’s a lot of really physical work, but it’s a parachute I’ve genuinely been enjoying building.
I guess skating and travelling lots also tend to come hand in hand with a lot of drinking and partying, which I know you consciously cut down on a bit, especially then.
And at the same time, you picked up other physical hobbies, like surfing and rock climbing. How did all this stuff fit into this journey?
I mean the main thing here is that as you know after you turn thirty the hangovers feel 10 times worse. I still like to go for drinks and chat shit on the weekends though…
Regarding surfing, I think I can categorically say that I’m over it now, ha ha. It turns everyone into arseholes. As soon as there’s a good wave everyone starts fighting for it and any kind of courtesy goes out the window. It makes me aggressive and I find myself hating everyone I’m in the water with, ha ha. And I’m sure some of the people I’ve dealt with are lovely people on land, I just think it brings out the dormant dickhead in each of us ha ha. I’d much rather go rock climbing where everyone is really calm, polite and friendly. But clearly: having another sport on the side has been really good for me mentally and physically. I’m 30 and feeling the best I’ve ever felt in my body and I know that it’s thanks to that, other than this bloody rolled ankle, ha ha. But yeah, I really encourage skaters to give it a try, it complements skateboarding perfectly as it reinforces your joints, is really good for your core strength…
How’s the ‘beast maker’ program been treating you?
My rock-climbing career is going to take a serious hit with this rolled ankle, so yeah I’ve just been doing this training program where you do pull-ups from your fingertips on tiny holds ha ha. I’ve got fuck all else to do so just trying to stay in shape.
Sounds chill ha ha.
But anyway, coming back to your original question, I think the main thing is that it was really good for me to have an alternative sport where it didn’t feel like I always had to perform. It’s physical, and I really go for it when I’m out there, but if it doesn’t go well it doesn’t matter in the slightest. And that’s amazing for me. We’re all so passionate about skateboarding that it’s easy to hyper-focus on it until we implode. Like honestly a few years ago it got to the point where I’d think of a trick, and before even bothering to try it I’d convince myself that it wasn’t good enough and leave it at that. And before I’d know it, it would be three months since I’d last tried a trick because nothing was hard enough according to this imaginary bar I’d set myself. So you think you’re really ambitious but actually, you aren’t even skating. It’s not viable… And I know there are other dudes, like in Paris even, who go through the same thing.
That just made me think actually: when we had our chat last summer and you were essentially saying you were pretty much done with it all, I remember you going back on it with something along the lines of ‘actually I’d love to still be able to keep doing stuff for Sour, on my own terms, because that’s different’. Why did the idea of still doing stuff for them feel any different from your other responsibilities as a pro skater?
Because their videos and their skating are just too good in my opinion. No matter how over it I’d be, the idea of being in something they’d be making would always feel special for me, and no matter what I’m putting myself through to get a clip, something for Sour would just always feel like it’s worth it. I’ve watched hundreds of skate videos but very few resonate with me in the way theirs do. They’re all so naturally talented, doing the hardest shit, but at the same time, there’s a tasteful simplicity in the way they approach it all, especially in the editing. Not really following any of the current trends… I don’t know, watching Sour videos always makes me feel something. I’ll always want to be a part of it I think.
And I guess this is something you didn’t feel with the other projects you had on at the time?
Yeah… And I really don’t want this to turn into something where I chat shit about Vans because it’s not their fault I was feeling this way back then, and they were nothing but supportive, and continued paying me when I was going through all this and took a long break from skating, which Alex Forbes (Brand Marketing) and Chris Pfanner (Team Manager) know I’m incredibly grateful for. It’s just that these trips with loads of people, lots of drinking, etc., it just wasn’t working for me. But that has to do more with me than them because all the guys on the team smash it on those trips, they work really well for them.
I think part of it is that I’d been on Supra for all these years, where it was a relatively small team, and although the main dudes were nowhere near as big as the main dudes on some of the other major shoe brands, everyone was pretty established, very professional, all knew what they had to do, etc. It was a small but well-oiled machine. And it’s not like getting on Vans felt like a downgrade, because they’re all insane skaters, but I guess suddenly I was around lots of younger really hungry guys, guys that were hungrier than me, whereas with Supra I was used to travelling with Greco, Spencer, Lucien… I guess I just found it hard to find my place. And with everything I was going through, and this feeling of responsibility I had because they paid me well, I struggled to navigate that transition and adapt. I’m sure I could have handled it better, but at the time I just wasn’t able to. And I’m happy that we’ve parted ways on good terms.
And now you’re on Cons?!
I know right?! Madness ha ha. I somehow snagged myself a nice little deal, I kind of still can’t believe it. They’ve got a big video project focusing on Rémy and Jamie coming out next year that I’ve been asked to be a part of, which I’m really excited about. Plus I have a lot of respect for the people they have on the team both in Europe and in the States. I still have this thing where seeing natural talent in skaters really impresses me, and a lot of those guys are very much like that. I can just sit back and watch some of them skate flat and be mesmerised, it’s just beautiful. In fact, that’s always been how I judge if someone is actually good at skateboarding: watching them skate flat.
I also just feel like I’m finally in a better place, especially with my relationship with skating; it’s a good time to try something new.
Want to tell us about the time you almost died on that mountain? Feel like this thing is starting to get a bit too cheerful.
Ha ha I’m down. It’ll balance out all the other stuff. I’m worried I’m starting to sound like some kind of weird motivational speaker ha ha.
Basically I have a childhood friend called Flo who’s been rock-climbing since he was young, and who decided he wanted to do this 500m climbing route in the Alps with me for his 40th birthday. It’s one of those ones you have to do in stages you know, like how they do it in that Dawn Wall film basically. And I’d done a few multi-pitch climbs like this before and it’s usually pretty straightforward, but you still need to be a little careful.
Anyway, randomly this guy happened to be friends with Gabeeb (Gabriel Engelke) through their kids going to the same school and he decided to invite him to come along too despite him having zero experience in this sort of thing. Obviously Gabeeb’s strong, a bit of an adventurer, and he had come climbing with me a few times before this, but yeah, he’d never done any multi-pitch climbs or anything like this.
So yeah that’s the context in which we set out to The Aravis, in The Alps at the end of September, which is the absolute very end of the rock-climbing season. Like it’s really the cut-off point for when people do this kind of thing because it starts to get a bit cold for it then, there can be a bit of snow, etc., after that it’s Alpinism, which is a whole other thing.
The idea was to get there on the Friday, do the climb on the Saturday and leave on the Sunday, but when I met them at the airport there was a change of plan: the forecast had changed and it was now meant to piss it down both days on the weekend, which means we wouldn’t be able to climb… So it was decided that we’d drive up there straight away and see if it was possible to bosh it out that day: ‘Maybe we can just try to do it quick!’ First mistake ha ha… You don’t try to do 500-metre multi-pitch climbs ‘quick’. Keeping in mind that they’d also flown into Geneva from Barcelona and had landed at 9am ha ha, so they’d been up since who-knows what time, ha ha.
So I drove us to the mountain as quickly as I could, but what we didn’t realise is that once you get there there’s also a three and a half hour hike to get to where you’re meant to start the climb, which we managed to charge through in two hours. It’s worth pointing out that there was only a path for a little bit of this hike, after that there’s a refuge and between the refuge and the start of the climbing route it’s just a sea of rocks, and you use cairns (basically big piles of rocks) to navigate yourself. They’re there so people know where they are going and don’t walk off cliffs basically.
We get to the climbing route around half-one, which is much later than we’d originally planned but obviously decide to try it anyway, telling ourselves that if it gets to 5ish and it looks like we won’t make it we’ll just turn back. Mainly because abseiling down always takes longer than you think and you don’t want it to get dark or you’re fucked.
It’s worth noting that it’s not necessarily the most technical climb, but more that it’s a relatively long and tiring one. Plus there are still a few tricky bits, bits where you get gassed, etc.
Anyway long story short, it’s all going really well, we’re making good progress and we’re all feeling pretty confident we’ll be able to do the whole thing, when at the last stretch before the top (which is where we’d be able to walk safely down to a refuge) there comes a point where Gabeeb just can’t go through, it’s just too technical. We discuss our options, contemplate helping Gabeeb up, but Flo, who’s the most experienced, is also rinsed, and it’s not going to get any easier, so he calls it: we’re going back down. We’re a bit gutted as we can see the top but whatever, it is what it is. As predicted the abseiling down turned out to be a complete nightmare, and it completely fucked us. The rope kept getting stuck, by 8.30pm we still had two thirds of the way to go to get to the bottom, and next thing you know we’re abseiling in the pitch black. By this point we’re already pretty scared, and when we finally make it to the bottom it’s midnight: and it starts pissing it down. Like really pissing it down. You know in Forrest Gump when he says: ‘We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain… and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways,’ that’s literally how it was. We were completely soaked, as if we’d jumped in a swimming pool with our clothes on. Temperature drops to like 2/3 degrees… And it’s a lapies (weathered limestone surface found in karst regions) so it’s just stones everywhere…
…which with the torrential rain probably feels like they’ve all been waxed to fuck.
Yeah it’s like everything around you is caked in wax and there’s El Toro at every corner ha ha. Because you’re surrounded by cliffs, so you’re walking really slowly too… And it gets to the point where we’re all delirious and can no longer see these cairns that are meant to help us find our way because of the darkness and the conditions, so at 4am, Flo, our leader, tells us we need to find shelter, and we give up. Of course there was not a cave in sight, so we scurried under this rock that barely protected us from the rain or wind, and huddled together under the one survival blanket we had. But obviously it’s freezing, so you’re all on top of each other trying to keep warm, kind of like a pile on after you’ve scored a goal at school, so it’s reaIly uncomfortable and you’re constantly wiggling around, and on one of my wiggles I accidentally ripped our tiny blanket to shreds. That’s the closest we got to really losing it at each other I think, but luckily we always managed to not let stuff escalate because otherwise the whole thing would have been ten times worse. In the end I think I dug a hole for us, thinking it might be warmer, and we gathered some rocks in an attempt to make ‘walls’ to protect us from the wind. None of this worked though obviously, and it’s by far the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. Just hours of going in and out of having fits of shivering… Absolute idiots.
And when you’re moving or looking for cairns or something your mind is distracted, but it’s when you stop and have time to think about what’s going on that it all comes crashing down and you realise how dangerous it is… It was really fucking scary. I’ve never told my parents this one.
Did you guys end up calling for help?
No, we peeled ourselves up when the sun came up and re-attempted to make our way to the refuge, completely delirious and hallucinating by this point. Like I was convinced I saw a goldfish in a puddle at one point… It was ridiculous. We hadn’t eaten since the day before at lunchtime, were completely out of water, licking rocks for moisture… We were a mess; we’d fully lost it, ha ha. Oh and naturally we quickly realised once the sun was up that we’d slept 10 metres away from the cairn we were looking for.
Of course ha ha.
I think at one point when it got a bit lighter we managed to see like three cairns in a row, I burst into tears, and that was it really, ha ha. We knew we were gonna make it.
Yeah it was, although I’d say there was only really 20 minutes or something where I was actually scared for my life. Those two have kids so I could tell the whole thing felt a bit different for them…
I guess at least you guys learnt a good lesson.
Yeah: never try to do something like this ‘quick’.
It’s funny because it kinda comes back to what we were saying earlier a bit. How skaters, being so used to being the experts in what they do, kind of expect to somehow just be experts in everything else. Like, ‘aaaaah I’m sure it’ll be fine, let’s just try it’ is such a skater way of thinking about stuff.
Yeah, skateboarding definitely breeds hot-headed idiots, ha ha. Just thinking back to how we were when we were kids, trying to huck kickflips down ten stairs when we could barely skate, ha ha. That’s going to stick with you. Just the fact that Gabeeb did this with us ha ha…
Okay last one: what’s the best thing about shooting with Clém (Le Gall)?
I’d say how deeply in love with skateboarding he is, as in the physical act of skate-boarding. You just know that when he goes to bed he’s thinking about the slappy trick he’s going to attempt the next day. Like I don’t think there’s anything in the world he enjoys more than learning a trick. And that really rubs off on you, it’s infectious. Because most people don’t feel like that about skateboarding every day, I certainly don’t.
That little part he filmed for his Insta was epic!
Yeah. For that he’d usually get up before everyone and convince someone he’s on a trip with to go film him try this trick he’s got in mind for a few hours! And you can tell some-times he’s more stressed out about the trick that he has to try in the morning than some of the skaters that need to get shit for the article, ha ha. I’ve gone out
on a morning session for him to try something and caught him necking a RedBull in anticipation of his huck ha ha. He loves it.
You and him are a pretty perfect combo given what you were saying earlier about your relationship with skating last year.
Yeah he’s just so genuinely excited by it and it’s so pure… It’s exactly what I want to be around.