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Talking about spots and more with Axel Cruysberghs

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Axel Cruysberghs is one of the best skateboarders from Europe, even if he’s spent the last few years living in California instead of Belgium. It wouldn’t do him justice to limit him to Europe though because he’s officially one of the best skateboarders in the whole world, since he qualified for Tokyo 2020. To him, that doesn’t really matter, especially nowadays. The times of being the “contest kid” are long gone and, being almost 30 years old, he wants to spend his time wisely on video parts and projects he likes – and he’s in the best shape for it. He even rides his bike for a few hours before jumping on the board. No problemo. Could it be that he has Jedi skills like Anakin Skywalker? As long as he doesn’t start wearing black helmet and a cape, it’s all good. For now, he just wears whatever he wants.

Your career started early. What was it like to always be the kid on tours?

It was always really easy. Everybody was so nice and I feel like that helped me in life, being around all these people. When you’re twelve and you hang out with 18-year-old or older people, it’s a really cool feeling. I learned a lot.

I heard you learned to drive when you were 15.

On a Volcom trip to Spain, we took the van to get some food. I had already told the guys that I started driving and Roberto [Aleman] was like, “Alright, get in front.” So I got in the driver’s seat and drove everybody back to the apartment. I was struggling a bit with changing gears, but everybody was like, “You got this!” At least the roads were empty over there cause it was wintertime. Then I pulled into the driveway and our TM saw it from the balcony. He was not happy. We always joke about it, that I did Santa Pola driving school.

You’re in a different phase of your life now and recently you posted that you’ve changed up the pace in 2023 and you’re prioritizing feeling good on your board again. What does that mean?

Before, I would just say yes to every trip. I tried to do everything I could. Versus now, I still like to go on trips, but if it’s a trip that’s not necessarily for me, I’d rather stay home and film here and do the things I really want because that will be more productive. I feel like I’ve been inspired by people that do that. They’re less out there maybe, but they’re productive. Also before, I did all the contests for the Olympics and now I don’t do that anymore. For the last good years I still have, I want to do things the way I want and get the best out of them.

"I feel like Europe is cool now. It definitely wasn’t like that ten years ago."

Since you moved from Europe to California, do you think there is a difference in the spots or how the skating there works?

There’s definitely a different vibe and the spot feels different, too, because a lot of things here are made out of concrete. When I first came here, people preferred you skating spots that had been seen already. It was like a whole thing, that’s how you’d get noticed and so on, but that’s not my type of skating.

What gets you interested in a spot?

Lately, I’m skating more things that are not straightforward. I like when you look at a spot and you don’t even know what you are going to do at first.

Did your move to California also influence your skateboarding?

It helped because you skate with a lot of people that are obviously really good and there are really good spots as well. I learned a lot of things when I came here. I wanted to grind big, long rails or stuff like that, of which we don’t have that many in Europe. It definitely helped my skating. It’s also sunny most of the time. In Belgium, there were maybe a handful of pro skaters and most of them didn’t really live in Belgium. During the week, nobody had time and I was mostly skating by myself, but what makes you improve is skating with people that are better than you.

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Bluntslide to fakie 50-50

Besides the level of skating, is there also a difference in the scene?

I always noticed that what we like in Europe is not necessarily what people like here. People from here didn’t really care about the European thing. I think a lot of that has changed. I feel like Europe is cool now. It definitely wasn’t like that ten years ago. It was a one-way thing.

I heard you watch all the videos out there. What have been your favorites lately?

In 2023, I watched a lot of Bobby De Keyzer because he put out three parts and they were all amazing.

I wouldn’t have guessed that since his skating is quite different from yours.

I feel like you can get inspired by certain skating even though you skate differently. I’m also big on rewatching things, like Jake Johnson’s Mind Field part.

Are you talking about skate videos with Lizzie? Cause she’s not that much into digging deep into videos, right?

She knows some skate videos, but she doesn’t necessarily watch them to be inspired or motivated to skate. I grew up watching skate videos, so that was something new to me. In our daily life, we talk about skateboarding a little bit but not like, “Did you see that part?” We kind of just skate, but there’s not like a crazy conversation about skateboarding; and that's nice, too, because we both skate, but we’re like any other husband and wife at home.

And Lizzie, same as you, has roots in Europe. So you both can switch between continents.

Her dad lives in Finland and Lizzie has a Finnish passport, so it’s easy to stay in Europe as long as we want. This summer, we spent four months there while there was construction work done at our house.

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Boardslide

You’re really popular in your hometown. There’s even a photo of you behind the sauces of your local fries shop. That’s a high level of appreciation.

I guess if you’re from a really small town and you make it out of the town, people love that. They’re like, “He’s from here!” They also let me design the skate park and I’ve won Sportsman of the Year in the town a couple of times. Also, the only other photo up on the wall at the fries place is from AC/DC when they were here in ’84 or something.

I once went to a falafel place in Antwerp and saw a photo of Ed hanging on the wall.

Really? Damn, that’s cool. Maybe it’s a Belgium thing to hang photos on the wall.

There was another celebrity in Poperinge this summer. Tony Hawk was at your wedding party.

That was pretty crazy because, obviously, he’s Tony Hawk. When he was there, it was crazy to see him walking around. He’s a tall guy, and it feels like in my hometown, everything’s really small, so you could really see him. I was surprised how many people recognized him.

He’s Tony Hawk.

Yeah, I know, but I guess I forgot that he’s really famous.

"I always get tagged on Instagram in Star Wars posts."

I heard Lizzie and you get recognized in California as well.

It happens a lot, yeah. You know when people are looking and they’re not sure if it’s a certain person, but if they see us both, they’re like, “Definitely.”

Who gets recognized more often, you or Lizzie?

For a while, I got recognized a lot from King of the Road because they showed it on TV. However, we both get recognized a lot now.

In your wedding photos, a lot of people commented that you look like Anakin Skywalker.

Yeah, with my shorter hair, people say this all the time and I always get tagged on Instagram in Star Wars posts. People love telling me that I look like Anakin Skywalker. I would be down to be in the movie. If they need me, I’m ready.

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Crooked Grind to 50-50

I realized today that you weren’t even born when Toy Machine started. What are your first memories of the brand?

I got into Toy machine when Good and Evil came out, with Johnny Layton, Billy Marks, and Matt Bennett. I then went back and watched the older videos.

Before Toy Machine, you struggled a bit with board sponsors.

I got on Flip at a really young age. I skated for them for a couple of years, which was really fun because they also had Louie Lopez and Curren Caples on the team and we’re all the same age, so that worked out pretty well. But then I got to an age where Flip was still okay but not my favorite brand anymore. I quit Flip and didn’t have a board sponsor for a couple of years. The Alien Workshop video came out and I really liked it and, at some point, I started getting Workshop boards. But then as I got on – they were doing a European thing –, that was when everybody left. I got a couple board boxes from them and had one ad before it was like: no more Workshop. That’s when I got some boards from Antiz, but I thought I might want to try to go bigger first. I can always come back to Europe. Eventually in 2013, I got an email from Mike Sinclair and Ed, wanting me to ride for Toy Machine. That was insane.

How much influence do you have on your board graphics?

A lot of times, I’m like, “Ed, you’ll do it.” It’s hard for me to be like, “Ed, listen to me.” Sometimes I send him funny photos of things that I like and then he makes a drawing of it and asks me at least a couple of times a year if I have any ideas. But I’m not really a creative person, so I trust him. He’s Ed Templeton.

I guess you have a veto, though.

That’s happened before. Every now and then, there’s a series or a couple of graphics for the team. And it’s happened that I or other people didn’t really like them. Usually, it doesn’t happen with Ed’s graphics but with guest artists. I feel bad if it happens cause this person made these graphics, but it starts like snowballing. One person is not sure, then the other one’s don’t see it either.

"Little kids can skate at the Olympics."

You’ve competed at the Olympics in Tokyo, but you’re not taking part in the qualification this time. Didn’t you like the experience?

I wanted to see if I can qualify for the Olympics. That was my goal. So I started skating the contests you have to skate, collecting the points, and I made it. Then I was like, “Shit, now I have to skate at the Olympics,” which was pretty stressful; and I’m not going to win the Olympics with my kind of skating. What matters there is flipping and turning and stuff. People who watched it told me it was fun to watch that at least somebody was doing something different because all the other people are jumping down the big rail that gives you the most points and I was using the park like it was built to be used. They could have had only the one rail and it would’ve been the same contest. I can look back and know I did what I wanted to do, but I also instantly made the decision that I don’t need to do that again.

Why not?

It’s a lot of work, all the qualifying contests. Each of them takes a week and I’m bored at these events because you just do the same things over and over again. It takes too much time. I’m at a point where I want to film good parts, travel, and have a pretty normal life at home. Little kids can skate at the Olympics. If your heart is in it, that’s important, but my heart was not really in it.

Is it true that you had a heat stroke and you were throwing up five minutes before your run?

Yeah, it was really hot and two days before the contest, I started getting sick. Then I basically lay in bed until they called my name to skate. And then the adrenaline kicked in, I got some energy, and tried to get the best out of the run. If I wasn’t dying that day, I would’ve enjoyed it more, but I still skated okay for being sick.

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Frontside Smithgrind

You also got into another sport. You’re a lot into biking. What do you like about it?

I’ve always been into biking since I was a little kid, but my love for biking kind of got sparked again recently. When I moved here, I didn’t have a bike, and at some point, I just missed it. So I got one and then there was COVID and you couldn’t really do anything else. I always thought America is only for cars, but it’s beautiful to bike here as well. There are a lot of hills, a lot of mountains, the ocean, and you can ride flat. My biking kind of just grew because I was doing it more, got stronger, met new people, and now I have a good balance. I bike a lot during the week and then I skate and I just feel really good. I feel stronger than ever from biking. It helps the skating. I feel like, when you skate, you do the same thing over and over again. Your body’s in a certain position, so you get built a certain way. Biking evens that out. My legs are like concrete now, so I can try a trick over and over again.

I saw on Insta that you went on a bike ride yesterday morning, and in the evening, you skated a backyard pool.

Yeah, I’m in a position now where I can do big rides and skate afterwards, or the other way around. In the beginning, it was hard because you’ll do a big ride and your legs are just like noodles. Now every Wednesday, I get up at 5:30 a.m. and meet up with some guys at 6:30 a.m. We do a couple of climbs and a ride, and I’m back home by 9:30 a.m. Then I shower, second breakfast, and then I go skate. That’s my day.

What kind of rides do you do?

I feel like my normal week is a couple of two-hour rides and maybe one three-hour ride. And every now and then, there are rides organized by a shop or something, like a 200 kilometer ride to climb this mountain and back.

I saw Scuba Steve has a bike crew as well. Are you riding with them?

I was for a while with Scuba, Ryan Flynn, and Louie [Lopez] because we were all at the same pace and just biking up the mountain for the view, bringing some food. But then I wanted to go faster and they kept doing what they were doing. Sometimes we still ride together, but now I bike with some fast guys and try to learn from them.

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Frontside 180

Are you doing races?

No, for me, biking is strictly fun. I’d rather do big rides.

You’re getting sponsored now as well.

Yeah, I ride for Canyon, it’s a German brand. I have a gravel bike and a road bike. They do little events every weekend, test rides with donuts or pizza and I go to these and ride their bikes. That’s kind of it.

How did they find out about you?

At first, I was doing stuff with another bike brand and then somebody that used to work in skateboarding started working for Canyon and hit me up to be an ambassador. There are so many skateboarders that work in biking. I also get bike clothes from Rapha and that person used to skate, too. I feel like every skater fits in with biking. It’s like the same kind of mentality or industry, kind of. You get to see a city or any place, wherever you are, in a very different way. You take other roads, you see spots, you see everything differently, and you end up in the most bizarre places.

You’re also watching Tour de France and things like that.

I’m a big fan of watching it because I know what it takes. It’s like when you watch a part and you see that it’s really special. You mentally and physically have to be very strong to do these things.

Axel Cruysberghs Fifty Rollercoaster 8110 3 Adobe RGB

Frontside 50-50

You’re working on a Vans colorway at the moment. Can you tell me a bit about that?

I’ve been filming and shooting photos with Davy for the past year and that’s kind of it. The colorway itself is a bit hard because obviously everybody already did a black shoe or a blue shoe. I thought about what I can do with a popular shoe like the Old Skool that hasn’t been done yet. At the time, I was hiking a lot, so it’s a hiking-inspired shoe.

You’re on Vans Europe, so it’s not that common to get a colorway. Are there any other differences?

I would think there’s more budget, that’s the main difference. If you produce content with the US team, it’ll go to US magazines, whereas when we do things, it’s mostly in European ones.

The team is super productive as well although it’s known for partying. Are there party stories from you, too?

No, when I go on a trip, I’ll be up early, want to skate all day, and then probably have a couple of drinks in the evening. I want to be okay the next day because it’s insane that you get to travel the world to skate. I would be sad or mad at myself if I didn’t get to go out that day because I was hungover.

I heard you just parted ways with Volcom after being sponsored by them forever.

I skated for Volcom for 17 years and it felt like it was time for the next step. I don’t know what that’s going to be clothing-wise, but for now, I’m happy to just wear what I really want to wear for a while. It’s a First World problem cause you can always get free stuff in skateboarding, but sometimes that comes with a price. You’re like, “Wait, do I really like this or do I like it because it’s a free thing?” I’m 29 now and I’ve been in skateboarding for so long that it’s easy to forget what you actually like. Sometimes you have to take a step back to see what’s next and to take a couple of steps forward because, otherwise, you’re just going to wake up one day, you’re 45 years old, and you’re like, “What happened? I don’t know who I am anymore.” That’s why you need to do something you like, like biking or whatever, and you sometimes need to make big decisions. It’s good for you.

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