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Yaje Popson – The Third Eye

Yeah, what happened to the Workshop was really sad, but in the end, it turned out that the new team has some damn good riders as well, and one of them is Yaje Popson. We thought about doing an interview with him for a while now but somehow didn’t manage to reach out. Then this March, all of a sudden, Instagram showed me that he was in Berlin. So I wrote him a message and it turned out that he was just a ten-minute push away at the Bänke. I came over, and he told me that he was on a spontaneous trip to Europe because of a girl in Gothenburg. We hung out a bit before he went on to shoot some photos but planned to meet again in the evening. He hit me up after skating, saying that he was in a temporary art space that he visits regularly in New York. I didn’t really get what it was when he was telling me about it on the phone but was blown away when I got there. It was a huge open space with free food, free drinks, and a free jazz band flown in from NYC specifically for the occasion. There was also all the stuff you needed for doing artworks, and you could just hang there, create stuff, and have a good time – which we had. Messing around with colors, drinking, chatting about life and whatnot. We shared a lot of thoughts, but after spending just a few hours together, it would be presumptuous to say that I really know this Brazilian-born, whose skateboarding career nearly ended early because of problems with his knees. All I can say is that he’s a very thoughtful and colorful character and definitely one of a kind, and he really likes art. After we drove back, he jumped out of the Uber to find some spots for graffiti to continue painting through the night.

Stefan Schwinghammer

You said it’s some well-known artist that’s doing this here?

It’s Spencer Sweeney.

And they are doing this more regularly now in Berlin as well?

Just this week, and then maybe they’ll do Paris in October. He had a show here, so that’s why they are here.

When you draw, do you always use the same equipment?

I use all kinds of things, mostly acrylics, but the magic is in the mistakes, the unplanned.

So you don’t have one certain style?

Maybe I haven’t found my style yet and that’s why I’m trying all kinds to see what’s comfortable. Providing the environment for nature to work itself, finding the patterns in nature, that’s my favorite – letting God do his thing.

Are you a religious person? A spiritual person?

I don’t find much difference between the words. I don’t follow one thing, but I believe there’s a truth in many. There’s all kinds of cultures and they all have their own way of seeing the infinite. Whatever works for you.

How does that affect your view on life?

I just came to a point in my life where I realized that there was something powerful flowing through us. It’s greater than what we think we are if we don’t get caught up in our individuality. There’s much more than what we are conditioned to believe. The patterns in nature are the same things that are flowing through our veins. Look at this perfect body, this structure, I didn’t create this. Getting to know that which created us is more of what’s been going on. A lot of injury, a lot of loss, in general, life suffering that pushes us closer to God, closer to ourselves. Suffering is grace, it helps us to understand life. A comfortable life may sound good, but it’s a blessing that it isn’t because the hard times are what teach us.

Soloskatemag Yaje Pic1

Switch Polejam 50-50

You talked about your injuries. You also experienced that there is something bigger – because you somehow healed yourself after doctors said they can’t do anything for you. What happened?

I think I was lacking core strength, not only physical. I had to get to my core, get to know who I am. That is symbolic for all aspects of your being. Mental, physical, spiritual, healing is all-encompassing. So as I was, you know, getting to the core of my physical therapy, I was also getting to the core of my emotional therapy and even beyond the predicament…

So you got to know yourself better?

My injury taught me that, my heartbreak taught me that – life in general, good times, bad times. Love and pain are all the same.

You need both, I guess. I was interviewing Takahiro Morita and he was talking about all his injuries and how it affected his skating. He also found a way to always progress in skateboarding without having the possibilities he used to have back in the days. Nowadays, he’s just cruising, but he’s trying to invent this new style for himself.

I think that’s beautiful – skateboarding as an adaptation.

"The magic is in the mistakes, the unplanned."

Have your injuries changed the way you skateboard?

That’s a good point. I think it made me a little more flowing. Even though skateboarding is pretty intense and it gets aggressive, you can’t force things. When you force it, you hurt yourself. So I find myself really receiving more often than… It has definitely made me more subtle and more sensitive to my body. I skate smarter. I can really feel my limitations nowadays and have learned how to fall better because I had to relearn how to walk. My body was so accustomed to skating that I ended up crooked. I had to realign everything, my posture and even my step.

How long did all of that take?

I was away from skating for about three years, and for that whole time I had the opportunity to focus on myself to see what was wrong because I couldn’t skate anymore. That was my favorite thing in life. I had to relook at everything and observe and I could recognize that not only my body was crooked but also my mentality, my thoughts. That was because my thoughts and my movement were one, they were attached. I had to realign even my thinking.

I read an interesting interview with Kenny Anderson lately and he was talking about kinda the same thing. He was injured and tried to heal himself by thinking positive, eating healthy, exercising, and so on. He said that he became a much healthier person. Not only by being vegan but also by thinking about which kinds of thoughts he allows into his mind. He banned the negative thoughts to prevent stress.

That’s when meditation comes in. Yoga is not only the physical aspect of stretching, but it is originally to prepare the mind. Skateboarding is so related because it’s such a precision, it’s such a focus. Meditation can only help.

"Suffering is grace."

I thought about meditation, but I didn’t really feel the need, and then I realized that skateboarding is kind of my meditation, doing the trick over and over again.

It’s an intimacy with your skateboard. It’s the same kind of intimacy you develop with your breath, with yourself, just sitting in silence. You know how many people can sit in silence for ten minutes? It’s a great way to just get through to your problems and develop your mind, to just sit with your thoughts that you are usually running away from. I catch myself doing the same thing, running away even through skateboarding, but that’s one thing I humbly admit. Why did we get into it in the first place? Because we need it.

Why do you think you need it?

Sometimes I feel so neurotic on my skateboard, trying for hours, stressing out.

Is this trying and falling and freaking out and all not a part of it? You said it yourself, you have to suffer.

Yeah, that’s why skaters are cool because we’re facing all of it, slamming, getting back up. I think it’s a blessing and a curse because we learn to be tough about it, discipline ourselves, we learn to fight for it, for what we love.

Switch Backside Smith Grind

Soloskatemag Yaje Paralax

Switch Backside Smith Grind

Skateboarding teaches you so many things: discipline, not giving up, surpassing your limit. I’m surprised that all these CEOs out there are not skateboarders. Our sort is more attracted to this kind of environment though [pointing around]. So there really is this side of achieving something and getting better, getting more, but there is also the relaxed and artful side of it. These sides are combined in a way…

Because we are naturally activists. Skateboarding is somewhat of a protest. That’s why we get into it. That is the future. This symbiosis of man and machine, to boldly put it. I don’t know how to put it… Play by the rules to break the rules. That’s the next step. That’s the hard pill to swallow. We have more power than we think.

People say that we only use ten percent of our brains [which is a myth I found out afterwards, editor’s note].

That’s hard to believe, right? I do know that we have a third eye and that just needs a quiet awakening, nurturing, breathing.

What is this third eye?

It’s your connection to it all. I’m still developing mine, but I notice that, if you sit for long enough, that thing will start pulsing. Just ask it, anything you want. That’s your connection to the universe, but that might be too much…

"Just sit with your thoughts that you are usually running away from."

Okay, back to art, do you do some board graphics as well? Are you working with the Workshop art department? And what role does Mike Hill play for your art?

That was my favorite part about going pro, making graphics. Nowadays, I’m working for Joe Castrucci. Lately, I have been super happy to collaborate with some of my favorite artists and favorite musicians. That’s been really pushing me. We’re doing a board graphic with Burial, this sick dark house DJ from London, who is my favorite. We’re doing a ten-year anniversary for his album and we’re putting his album cover on an Alien board. It’s a sick collaboration. I want to skate to his music and put it to some black and white footage. That’s my project for now, and I love the personal projects. It’s what drives me.

So you’re into electronic music?

Yeah, that’s something that I laugh about sometimes because I never thought I would be into electronic music. It got to a point where you want to seek something outside of your comfort zone, and as I said, this symbiosis is happening.

Soloskatemag Yaje Pic3

Ollie up Ollie over

Do you step out of your comfort zone skateboarding-wise as well?

I grew up telling myself that I will never skate handrails. So I have been liberating myself from this and jumping on them since I’ve been back. I love rails.

Why did you say that you would never do them?

Maybe it was a fear of getting hurt, but it is liberating. I used to really separate handrail skating, like it was something different, but it is not. It’s the same precision as jumping on a ledge.

You said you came to Berlin and you were looking for temporary spots, that you called “nuggs”. What do you like about them?

I want this part to be just back alleys. Small little East-Coast-looking spots. You know, the spots that no one really skates, the one-trick spots. There’s this thing when it’s almost more about the spot than it is about the trick. Where it never really translates. It’s always much harder for the looks, but the VX looks perfect. Maybe it’s just this era of skateboarding, but it has a very metropolis feel.