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Gabriel Engelke embraces the new

Thanks to skateboarding, this autodidact has been part of my life for more than 15 years. We’ve hung out all over Europe, faced weird situations, enjoyed many moments in unusual places, and all these sessions!!! His energy, creativity, frankness, and commitment to living make this human being special through his unique youth education and eagerness to learn. Nothing is impossible with him. Now, we are grown up men, family caught us, but I am waiting for the next session. Time is flying by and while we’ve had good ones, I am waiting for the next 15 ones cause I am sure it will be even more tasty. Thanks Gabriel for being BEEB! Let’s meet with your tribe somewhere soon.

Juju [Julien Bachelier]

So that’s the interview to go with your retirement part.

Yeah, kind of, but I have too much energy, so there will be another part at some point for sure. A lot has changed though, with waiting for the new kid, no more money from skating, new friends – but now I’m doing the video part. I kind of have a concept because the movie will be named Elliot like my unborn child, and I’m gonna simulate a birth in a funny way.

I’ve never interviewed somebody who was at the end of their professional career. I would like to start at the beginning. How did you start skateboarding?

I come from a tiny village and skateboarding didn’t exist there. When I turned 13, I switched to a school in a bigger town, and there were a few skaters. The first couple of years, my dad didn’t really want to buy me a board. So I was always hanging out with the local skaters and whenever someone got tired, I was jumping on their board. That interest for skateboarding got bigger and bigger. For all of us skaters, it was the only thing that existed. School didn’t matter, girlfriends didn’t matter, nothing mattered. This was the start.

I heard that you spent your childhood in the first Swedish hippie community.

It was in the mid ‘70s when my mother inherited quite a lot of money because she comes from a wealthy family, and against their will, she bought a farm. She invited friends from all over Sweden to live there, and then families started to grow from this hippie community. So I was growing up with four connected families. I had a lot of extra brothers and sisters, and a lot of extra mothers and fathers.

So you grew up there with the other kids, but as soon as you got into skateboarding, you started meeting other people?

It’s always been like that in my life. I’ve been living my separate life outside of the whole family thing. I have three sisters and I’ve made some very different choices compared to them. I had some drive and it pulled me in many directions.

Soloskatemag Gabriel Engelke 2

Flamingo to Gap out

Where do you think your life would’ve been if you had never discovered skateboarding?

I’m pretty sure that I would’ve been influenced a lot more by my father. He would’ve loved for me to study product design or a more manual job because he’s a carpenter, and I love his stuff. I’m doing a lot of manual things. I have carpentry jobs and do furniture for people. I would’ve been something like an interior designer.

You like working with your hands?

I love it! I renovated my apartment for almost two years, and somehow, because I’m such a perfectionist, I just did absolutely everything myself. I totally stressed my body to the max.

Because you were worried that other people wouldn’t do it right?

I invited Steve Forstner, Julian Furones, and a couple of other friends, and they fucked it all up. They helped me on other days, and I’m very thankful for that, but on this day… They went to buy beers – not just six beers, more like twenty –, then they got drunk, started painting each other, and got paint everywhere. I was in distress. I was gonna have my first kid and the apartment was half done and that was the end. I just finished it myself. I’m a little bit like that. Skateboarders are egocentric human beings. We don’t care about much other than just us and our board – but I think it creates this personality. You’re a perfectionist and when you don’t do it yourself, it’s not gonna be done well.

"I totally lost my mind, took all my stuff, and started hitchhiking to Barcelona."

Didn’t that egocentric thing go away over the years?

It goes away when you have a child. You give away all of your free time. The pressure is not gone, but you have to share with this person. With a girlfriend, you can always be an asshole anyway and just keep on doing what you want, but when you get a child, you have some deeper love for this child that you just start to lose your ego. It’s cool. This also carries over to your normal life. You start to realize who you are and how you’re acting in your social life. I’ve never been in that position to be the most amazing skateboarder everyone was looking up to or anything. I’ve always been struggling, working for my skateboarding. To be able to pull off the things I’ve been doing, it’s been hard work. So I don’t think I have this crazy ego that maybe these natural talents have.

How did you make your way after the borrowed boards times?

After the age of 15, I followed my sister’s footsteps. She went to a Waldorf school outside of Stockholm, and right there, I met this really cool skateboarder called Leif [Johansson]. He took me away from the school and straight to the city center. My father got wind of it really fast that I wasn’t going to school, that I was just skating, so he took me back to the countryside. After about another six months, he allowed me to go back again because I really wanted to. So I went back, did my studies well, started skating a lot in Stockholm, and began to meet a lot of skateboarders. I was starting to be a little bit known, and then Riverfarm Family flowed me boards. It was the start of my sponsorship. At one point, I got on Globe, but after Stockholm, I hurt my foot really bad at a competition. That’s the only real injury I had, but it was a shitty one. So I decided to move down to Malaga to rehabilitate.

You went to Malaga just like, “I have to do some rehab”?

After high school, I decided to go with my girlfriend. So we were spending that year there and I ended up meeting some dudes, and my girlfriend was cheating on me with one of them. I totally lost my mind, took all my stuff, and started hitchhiking to Barcelona. I knew that there was a lot of skateboarding going on and I ended up living there for nine months. This was in the early 2000s. I already knew some people and was living with Wieger van Wageningen at some point. I was meeting up with Geoffrey Van Hove from Cliché. I met Hugo Liard, Steve Forstner, and Julian Dykmans. I didn’t start riding for the brand, but I started riding with these people. At that time, they already thought about me being a teammate. They were considering me and Love [Eneroth], and he was way out of my league. He got on the team, so I was just hanging with these people and I really loved Antiz from the very beginning. I even got a tattoo when I was not a local yet. Hugo was drawing this little broken angel with a skateboard and I got it before it became an Antiz logo.

Soloskatemag Gabriel Engelke 3

Backside Boneless

How about your first Antiz trip?

It was “The Big Push.” We started in Scotland and ended up in London. During this trip, there were several heavy stories, but this one is hard to top. We ended up in a discotheque and everybody got smashed. I remember that we didn’t book any hotel rooms during the whole trip and I somehow managed to communicate with Eastpak. They hooked up all the riders with a room that evening. That was the reason we went so heavy on the alcohol. I only remember waking up the day after. I touched my heart because that’s where the car keys were, and I felt this tension, “Fuck, where are the keys?!” They were not there and everyone got pretty damn pissed at me. I was suffering during that day. People started leaving, you know? Anyway, the van… It all started fucked up already. We put the van in the garage, and when everyone went out, we heard this big noise. The van got stuck because of all ten riders getting out. It just got crushed towards the roof. People had to break into the van to get all the stuff and to get out of there. At one point, we called the car rental from Scotland and it was an Indian guy. We asked for an extra pair of keys and he was like “Nooo, no, no, oh no. I told you there is just one set of keys for this van.” When kinda half of the crew left, I kept on calling this discotheque, maybe 150 times, on a Sunday, and suddenly after hours of trying, there was someone picking up. It was the DJ from the day before who picked up his vinyls. I begged him to check the lost and found, and five minutes later, he came back and told me, “The set of keys is really the only thing I found.” My hair was standing up. In my head, I was like, “The guys are gonna kick me off the team. I fucked up absolutely everything. The van was locked up in a garage, I fucked it up, everyone is gonna hate me for the rest of my life.” So I was flying down there and I fucking got the keys. Everybody got in the van and we kept on moving.

And how did you then finally turn pro on Antiz?

It was not a big thing. I think I had my first part for Antiz after that. Normally, you get recognition and then you get your pro board, but they do it the other way around. They give you the board and then you have to serve. “Now get on that fucking board and kill it.”

Nowadays, you get the surprise party and everything is set up.

Yeah, but as I said before, I was never really natural. I kind of always felt like… I think a lot of skateboarders think that way… I didn’t deserve to be a pro, you know? I was never really killing it that hard.

Were you surprised to turn pro?

Definitely, I’m more or less surprised by everything in my life. I consider myself a very lucky person in many ways. It’s been nice until now. Even getting some boring, stupid work excites me because it’s new – and everything that is new to me, I’m embracing that.

So you like the change?

For sure, and I can’t live that Swedish lifestyle of working one job and having too much security. I’m getting claustrophobic. I need to juggle in between a lot of different things.

"We don’t care about much other than just us and our board…"

It seems like you’re getting really emotional while skating. Are you a person that shows a lot of emotion and passion in general?

I feel like it’s like that. Every subject has a different energy. I’m together with Florence, she’s my French woman. Being together with this kind of person is hard too because she has to fit into this… I mean, we have to share this life. I’m a little bit of a freak. She’s going through hard times with me sometimes when I’m tripping on how she’s eating her cereals. I’m a fucking mental case. Issues, you know, but yeah, I have to admit that I’m making a lot of noise and I’m being really annoying.

But you’re also doing yoga and you meditate.

I have been doing it now for twelve years. It’s been a very nice trip because I’ve gotten to know my body and I’m very physically aware after many years of doing this kind of activity. Four years ago, I started to wake up really early in the morning and I was full of anxiety. I didn’t have a clue why. At some point, I sat down and started meditating. I think it was an instinct to calm myself down because I definitely have some hyperactivity to control. So I think it was a natural way for my body to tell me, “You have to chill.” I’m sure I avoided a lot of injuries and that’s why I can still skate so well at my age – and I’m sure that all these years of stretching and physical training have been great for me. Now I’ve started with martial arts, which is connected to yoga. It’s called Kalaripayattu. We’re swinging long sticks. It’s very powerful.

Gabriel Engelke Hippie Jump Final

Hippie Jump

I could imagine that there are similarities between martial arts and skateboarding. It’s very physical, you can do it alone, you can constantly one-up your limits, etc.

It’s still different because skateboarding is so emotional, and when you do the trick, it’s almost like you don’t understand how it could happen. While you have the same physical experience with martial arts, you’re more in control at the same time. You’re also controlling your body parts in a different way. It’s more symmetrical. Skateboarding is very asymmetrical.

Do you need the struggle?

Lately, the tricks are coming easier. I don’t have time to waste. So when I’m going out, I know that I’m just gonna do it. That helps mentally. A lot of people know that I’m a little clumsy skateboarder sometimes. I always start the session with a gnarly slam. These sessions are normally the good ones because I’m awake straight away, and then I can deal with skateboarding in another way. It hurts, but then you have fun.

You’re a spiritual person, right?

I mean, it comes with yoga and meditation and all these things. It’s not logical for everyone, but I think we are one with everything. We can be spiritually connected to our friends, to our planet, or to the endless universe. To be able to connect with everything that is around you, you have to activate yourself. That’s why I do meditation and that’s spiritual to me. I feel that I’m a part of everything when I’m maintaining this activity. When I’m in total frustration and depression, this is also part of the process. It’s quite schizophrenic in a way. Maybe I’m suffering from a light case of schizophrenia.

Soloskateamg Garbiel Engelke 6

Switch Frontside Flip

Soloskatemag Gabriel Engelke 4

Frontside Ollie to Disaster

Or you just call it life. It has its ups and downs, but there are people who have their plan and they won’t step away from it no matter what. Others are more fluid. What about you?

I was together with my daughter today and I promised her that we would go to the library and she was super happy. On the way there, I met this good friend of mine and he asked if I wanted to get a coffee, and I said, “Sure.” She was in the back of my bike and said, “You told me we are going to the library.” – “Yeah, but you need to understand that we can do more than one thing.” So we got a coffee and then we went to the library. There is no plan.

Thinking about stuff in the future, you’re in a transformation process. More family life, you’re giving away your pro board, so no more money from skateboarding. Where do you plan to go?

This is already done. I stopped getting my paychecks except a small one from Carhartt. During the last year, I was not stressing too much, because I had a super good photo gig in Norway – but somehow, I lost everything in the past year. I lost the job, I got turned down a lot in many ways. In order to not fall too deep into a hole, I really have to fight. Here in Spain, it’s not easy to find work, but some beautiful things have come to me. I have this studio, for example. I’m renting it to a couple of people and it is now turning into a photo studio. This will be a little income, and then I also started to shoot real estates. I went for that specifically because it’s a little bit like skating. I just have a light bag and go with my bike. You go to beautiful apartments, shoot all these decorated objects. Additionally I do some carpentry, and everything just happens.

I read that you said you’re not smart enough to earn money with photography.

Now I’m starting to earn money from that. I didn’t see the challenge in just shooting my friends anymore, and at one point, photography was just dying for me. I got my bag stolen when we went on a skate trip to Athens. It contained like 6,000 Euros worth of equipment. It got stolen because I didn’t care enough about photography at that time. So I left photography, but now, I’m picking up the camera again and it seems like things are gonna happen again.

So you think that the camera got stolen because you were not into it anymore?

If you have a camera bag worth 6k, you would not leave it in the back of the car. I’ve always been a little bit like that. Like, I lose my favorite jacket at a party and I’m not suffering from that because I forget it straight away. It’s not that hard with material stuff.

What I find interesting is that you were always in the skate scene and then you started photography, and you can do carpentry, but it seems like you never thought about making a career out of skate photography or building skateparks. You never thought about being involved in skateboarding after giving away the pro status?

No, I somehow always didn’t want to be in that position. I think it would’ve been boring. Skateboarding itself is the only thing I can always continue to do because it is so diverse. It’s technical and involves so many different elements. It never gets boring. It’s at least a little bit the same with photography. It’s a tool and an art form that almost goes with everything.

Talking about photography, the things you do are sometimes a bit outside of the normal skate photography, like the photo series “If you can make it, fake it” or “Floaters.” How did you come up with these ideas?

It always starts with emotions that turn into ideas. I think these photos show people when they are free in some way. It is also a little bit dreamy because it’s something you can only do in your dreams. Whenever I get an idea, I just go for it. A couple of days ago, I was skating a spot and saw these beautiful pink trees at their highest flowering point, and then there was a pink metal wall. I was going home, but I kept on thinking about that. I had to go back there before the flowers fall. Today, I went back and all the flowers have fallen already. I should’ve had my camera with me to take the picture in the moment. It all happens by chance. That’s why it is hard to make money off of it for me because you can’t do a commercial by chance. You can’t have a client that is asking you for a job and you’re like, “We’ll see. Depends on how I feel.” I got to be professional. It’s boring.

You’re actually stepping back from being professional while others try to stretch their career as long as they can. Why did you decide to stop being pro at one point?

I think my life decided that because I got the kid and got into this renovation process and so I just naturally didn’t have time to spend on my board. I was not in the media for a long time. I’m still physically able to pull some stuff off, but I think I just disappeared naturally.

"Skateboarding is so emotional, and when you do the trick, it’s almost like you don’t understand how it could happen."

Is there something you think you’re gonna miss from a pro skater’s life?

Not really, it has been 15 years of doing more or less the same. I think I will never miss it because I lived it and I lived it good. I will always keep an eye on what’s happening in the skateboard world though.

Is there something about your skateboarding career that you’re proud of in particular?

Every part brings one or two tricks that you could not repeat. We went to the Swiss Alps and I ollied over this grass gap into something impossible to land into. It ended up on the cover of Kingpin, Europe’s biggest magazine at that moment. This was something I was proud of. I’m never gonna throw that magazine away.

What will “retirement” look like?

As I told you before, I’m a little bit floaty. I think my future will be a bit more structured. Because if not, my children will have no food on the table. We’d have to live on the street and eat from thrash. No, but it will be more structured, not so many surprises. It will be a little bit boring, but it’s gonna be necessary to pull this one off. One thing will be to get out of the dirty center and get a place where I have a garden and some space. This is where you will see me in five years, in my beautiful garden with my organic growth all around me.