[Photos: Ben Colen, Zach Malfa-Kowalski | Interview: Stefan Schwinghammer]
Backside Smithgrind Gap Out | Photo: Colen
Your name has been floating around the skate scene for a while, but what do you think was the important step that got you to where you’re now?
I met Johnny Wilson in 2013 and his videos gained popularity over the internet, so all of us got a bit more recognized. It’s been a while since I’ve just been skating, not working. That’s been my only source of income, it’s kinda like a job now. So I’ve been trying to put out more stuff, but I haven’t even filmed a part since then. I have a bunch of shit I’ve been working on for the 917 video, but I don’t know when that’s coming out. I have clips here and there from the trips we go with Nike or just whatever. I guess since skating became more of a job, people have seen more of me skating.
You have a lot of footage in clips or on Instagram and you somehow also had parts, but it was more like friends videos. Not like back in the days when big videos came out and people had parts in it. What do you think about how footage is produced nowadays?
I think it’s cool. Before all this internet stuff you only knew people from their part they worked hard on. When you see them skate in person, it’s pretty different from what they put out. Now you’re seeing a little bit more natural environment, especially with Johnny’s filming. Most the stuff he puts out is just us how we skate every day, it’s not like trying crazy shit or anything. I mean recently I’ve been wanting to do a classic part. It’s hard for me and I challenge myself, but I always liked that idea of working on something to be proud of and pushing yourself.
When you film for a video part, do you approach it in a different way?
Ah, no. I mean it takes a bit longer. With Johnny you make a video after a few months. If you wanna put something out that you’re hyped on, then it’s gonna be a little harder to get the footage. Most of the clips that you see us skating, not really thinking about how I wanna do this or I wanna go to this spot. It’s kinda like we end up somewhere and we’re filming.
You said in your Transworld interview that you grew up watching The End or Misled Youth. Does that reflect in your skating?
"It’s kinda like we end up somewhere and we’re filming"
When I was a kid, I thought that’s so sick and so far beyond and I’m never gonna achieve that. Now I’m at the point where I want to live up to that kind of skating. That’s the stuff that I thought is really sick and it still is. Flip Sorry – to me, nothing will ever be cooler than that. Those guys did it. It’s a different generation of skating. Now you got Street League and everyone is really good. For me, the best thing to do is not even pay attention or compare, cause technical-wise you’re never gonna be as good as someone else. But I never liked the most technically talented skater. I like watching guys with more power like Jeremy Way, Andrew Reynolds… All the videos I grew up watching definitely inspire me to try harder.
What do you want your skating to be like?
I guess what I think is cool in skating. The people I’ve always been drawn to do things a little bit differently but with a classic undertone. I don’t really like skateboarding trends or new tricks, I like classic tricks with style and power. I just skate how I can skate. I don’t try to skate like other people, I skate like I enjoy it. Cause when you try to skate in an unnatural way, it doesn’t work.
Speaking about trends, you’re skating with some of the hottest crews – Johnny Wilson, Quartersnacks, 917. Did it change your skating when you realized that kids around the world bite that style?
I guess so, I’m aware, but I don’t think about that stuff, cause then it just becomes awkward.
Ollie | Photo: Malfa-Kowalkski
But isn’t it strange to put out videos and then see people skate or dress the same way?
Yeah, it is weird, but kids buy shit because somebody they like rides something. That’s how the whole industry survives. That’s why you’re sponsored, because the company sees that you’re marketable. That’s how it is and that’s fine. I don’t get mad at it, I just think it’s funny.
Is New York too hyped nowadays?
Yeah, I mean a lot of people are moving here and there are so many skateboarders. Skateboarding’s really trendy and you see a lot of people that skated when they were kids, and now they see that it’s cool, with celebrities and the whole fashion thing. So you see all these older guys skating again– that shit’s kind of annoying. But it is kinda cool too because that brings more attention to skating and more possibilities to people like me.
Is it getting harder to do tricks cause whole Manhattan is ABD?
Yeah, it is, but also it’s a mental thing. If you’re here for too long, everything is kinda washed. I don’t think everything’s ABD, there are classic spots, but if you look, there are more spots. It helps when I’m out of town a lot. I come back refreshed and see things new.
It always seems like you’re skating with a crew of 15 people. Isn’t it hard to roll with such a big crew?
That’s how it is every day. It’s hard to get going anywhere. It’s hard to try a trick because you don’t wanna make people wait. For me, trying to film for this part is definitely hard in that circumstance cause trying a trick that is scary takes a lot of focus, which is hard when there’s a lot of people. But all the stuff the people see on the internet is just go-with-the-flow-style skating. Not too serious. I don’t want to try a trick and get mad or get frustrated when I’m with a bunch of people. Some people don’t mind trying stuff that needs a lot of focus with a lot of people. I also do it sometimes, but usually I just wanna have fun and keep skating.
How is skating in the middle of traffic and dealing with all the pedestrians in New York?
"A lot of the companies that were really sick and original when I was growing up just turned to shit"
As far as trying to film, there are a lot of factors that fuck you up. You get kicked out of everywhere, there’s people in the way, there’s some shit going on everywhere. It’s impossible to plan something. I usually prefer not to stress out, I just go with wherever the day takes you and that’s when you get the best stuff. In L.A. you plan cause you have to drive to the trick you have in mind. But in New York it’s not even worth it. There are people that skate like that here, but it’s not fun and not worth it to me.
You mentioned your 917 part. When can we see the video?
It was supposed to come out a year ago, I don’t know. My friend Logan [Lara
] is editing it, so probably it will take forever. Or maybe it won’t even happen and I just put out a part. I filmed most of the stuff with Johnny and he sent it to Logan, who picked some stuff that I wouldn’t. It kinda makes me wanna edit it myself. He showed me the timeline and I was like: “Why did you put that in there? Why isn’t that in there?” It’s stupid, it’s stressing out, but I’ve always wanted to put out a part, so I don’t want it to be wack. But also I don’t want it to be a big deal, I kinda wanna do it for myself.
Before 917 you were on Polar. But only for a few months, what happened?
I got on because I’ve met Pontus [Alv
] before and he hit me up and I wasn’t sure, because I didn’t know anyone besides him and I hardly knew him and then it just became weird. We don’t really need to talk about it, but I’m on good terms about it. I love everyone on that team and I like Pontus too, he’s cool. It just wasn’t the right thing at that time, it was too foreign. Communicating through Skype is kinda weird. It could’ve happened in a different way. Then Logan got on 917 and he became the team manager and was like: “You should just ride for 917.” And I was like: “All right.” And that’s when Aidan [Mackey
], Max [Palmer
], and me were all down to do it at once, it felt so natural because it was all my friends. And I knew Alex [Olson
] wasn’t gonna pressure me to do anything I didn’t want and Logan’s the mellowest in terms of doing stuff – as you can see. [laughs
] There’s absolutely no pressure, it’s just like being a skate crew, but there’s boards. It’s pretty funny that people even buy this shit or that there is even a following at all because we haven’t really done shit.
It’s a pretty untraditional board company.
Yeah, it’s like a crew of slackers. But I like that the people like it.
How is Alex Olson as a boss? How is working with him?
I haven’t really worked with him on anything, but he’s cool, I like him. He’s a funny guy. He’s really eager to learn about new things and do shit. He’s really motivated but also pretty scattered. He tries to do a lot of stuff at once. We don’t really talk about much involving the company. He does what he wants to do and I back most of it. It’s all pretty straightforward and normal. It’s not that serious, what I like cause skateboarding’s so weird right now.
Boardslide | Photo: Malfa-Kowalksi
What are the weird things?
I was talking about board companies, and shoe companies are obviously what they are now – the big companies are the shoe companies. But I think the board companies are lacking originality. I’m not saying 917 is bringing anything great, but a lot of the companies that were really sick and original when I was growing up just turned to shit. Not that their team is wack or anything, just the graphics and the whole vibe of a lot of skate brands is just corny and stupid. I guess they have a market to attend. Back in the days skating was so underground they only had to appeal to kids who already got it. Now they’re maybe trying to widen their appeal, but it just looks wack to me.
You said Alex makes most of the stuff himself. You don’t help him with the designs, cause you studied it?
Yeah, but I feel like he just wants to do it and I don’t want to argue with anybody about that kind of shit. [laughs
] It’s like his thing, I just let him do it.
I guess you’re pretty busy anyway. How is skateboarding as a job?
It’s been six months since that’s all I’ve been doing. I got on Nike almost a year ago. Before I was doing odd jobs.
Why didn’t you choose a career in industrial design?
I don’t know, I just hate working for people. I have a problem with authority. After school I had six jobs in six months. I kept getting fired or kept quitting. I hated everything I worked at. That’s something I got to work on I guess. [laughs
] I just got lucky now. I like skating every day, I get to travel places and I like to chill. Three birds with one stone. But you also got to remember to not slack and pile out. With only skating, your brain can turn into mush. I felt like that all summer. I was like: “Damn, I’m fried.” It was all skate and then drink and skate. That’s what happens and then you have to calm down and be normal. You have to find a routine for yourself.
But at least in the 917 van most of the people have a degree and you can have intelligent conversations.
"With only skating, your brain can turn into mush"
I wouldn’t go that far, but no one’s super fried. They’re all my friends and they all have good heads on their shoulders and all went to college. Alex didn’t go to a school, Logan didn’t, they dropped out. It’s a weird thing with skaters on the West Coast, they all drop out. Where I’m from, even the craziest kids in my class wouldn’t drop out, cause my school wouldn’t let you. They just pass you somehow, but on the West Coast from Alex’s generation of skaters I don’t even know who finished high school.
At least it was enough to establish a brand like Bianca Chandôn. I wondered if Bianca is paying the bills for 917 and he’s doing that just for fun?
I think that was the case at first, but now I think 917 did pretty well. But then he got fucked from his partner and for six months he couldn’t make anything and just did legal stuff, trying to get this guy out. It was pretty much almost gonna be over, but he really wanted it not to be, so he spent a lot of his money for a lawyer to save it. Now the boards are back in the stores. But yeah, initially it was Bianca and making the clothing and that funded it and he didn’t really think that the skating will make money. But the first run of 917 stuff did really well. But then the company management was fucked up and it lost a bunch of money because of issues and he had to get this dude out of there and hire someone new.
So, I’m waiting for the video now.
] You might be waiting for a while.
Portrait | Photo: Colen