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Javier Sarmiento – O.G. Barcelona

As far back as 20 years ago, people already rolled to Barcelona in droves, following the call of the spots that were legendary even then – and they still do it to this day. Barca’s spell has remained unbroken and the output produced there is inexhaustible. Even if the city has already filled up shelves with videotapes, only a few of those countless skaters, who cruise through the alleys of the city center, will be remembered in the long run. Javier Sarmiento is definitely one of them – although he’s technically living in the Basque Vitoria. That’s why his current Sk8Mafia board shows him performing a backtail at the MACBA ledge. Impressive footwork that makes even the likes of Lionel Messi look old has also been proven by Jesus Fernandez and Dani Lebron, and furthermore, these three are united by their love for Flamenco and their times in America. That’s why it was clear to Javi that his friends had to be there too when we met in Barca: MACBA, Sants, Flamenco, and the last rays of sunshine before the onset of winter in Central Europe. Here we go, three days with three legends in Barcelona.

Javier, you grew up in the Basque Country which is known for DIY and bowl skating, but you didn’t get into that stuff.

I broke my arm when everyone else was progressing on transition skating. So during that summer, I learned a lot of flip tricks while my friends started dropping the vert ramp, but I always felt freer in the streets for sure.

Since you’re Basque, what do you think about the political discussion about Catalonia wanting its independence from Spain?

I went through a lot in my life in the Basque Country with the terrorists. I live in a ghetto street or whatever you want to call it. I saw a lot of cars exploding, so I’m pretty much over it. Seeing the whole thing happening in Barcelona again feels like I’m reliving the past. They have a unique culture, own language, and people don’t want to lose it, but they don’t have to lose it even though they belong to Spain. The Brits didn’t lose their breakfast when they joined the European Union. People in Catalonia may feel like they’re getting robbed, but if you’re in a privileged place where you make a lot of money, you have to support the others.

"I lived in a ghetto street or whatever you want to call it. I saw a lot of cars exploding."

I just thought it was crazy to see the way the police were beating up old ladies on the day they voted.

Oh yeah, but that’s nothing for me. I saw that so many times in my hometown. Way worse things happened in the Basque Country for nothing. People were getting hit or even going to jail because they drove somebody who’s related to whatever. In the Basque Country, you can go to jail when you burn your garbage because they’re gonna say you’re related to the terrorists. It seems like you can’t be apolitical when you’re from there. There are so many issues around you all the time that you somehow get involved with. There was a time when nobody wanted to talk about political topics because it was such a nonstop thing.

So back to skating, I read in an interview that when you first came to the US, you already were super consistent because you thought in the videos everything would be first try.

I think that happened to other people from Spain who went to the US as well, or even only to a contest where you could see pros skate at, and you were like, “Fuck, they don’t do it first try!” I think it’s fun to stay on your board the whole time tough. Most of my friends who skate tranny stay on their board forever as well. They’re way more consistent than street skaters, so I tried to catch up to them.

Soloskatemag Javi Gif

Javier | Switch Inward Heelflip Tailslide

What is the longest line you ever did?

I remember when I learned all the flip tricks in different variations, I would just do them in long lines on the way back home from the skatepark. I’d just keep on doing tricks till I made it home.

How did you get on Powell back then?

I went through a lot of contests. Not because I liked it, I was bad at school, so I needed to make money to be cool with my parents. When they saw that I’m doing it my way, they didn’t have to tell me what to do or what to study. Through a contest, I met people from Powell and they told me to come to the States. It wasn’t a big thing, because I traveled to so many places when I was younger. I just went to LA and called from the airport, “Hey, I’m here. Can you pick me up?” I didn’t tell them nothing before I came. They were tripping. I knew these twins from Spain who were living in a van next to a skatepark, so I stayed with them for a while, and because we stayed next to the skatepark, we could skate it every night – private sessions with all the skaters from different brands that would come at night. They had a contest there, and I already knew the park and made it in the top ten. I think it was the right moment for me because a lot of people quit the team right before. I was the new guy and they were hyped, but I wasn’t really trying to be sponsored or to be pro. The TM asked me, “So, you want to be pro?” and I was like, “What’s that?” I went back to Spain and they called me a month later and asked if I could come to this contest, and I was like, “No man. I’m not going back.” I just went there for a month, had fun, and they were tripping, “What? You don’t want to go back?”

Soloskatemag Dani Kickflip

Dani Lebron | Kickflip

But then you filmed a video part for them.

The video was called Magic. They flew Preston [P-Stone], whom I knew from contests, and a couple of other guys to my hometown to film. I was like, “What do I do with them?” I didn’t know how to film a video part.

Do you have a good P-Stone story?

Wow, too many. We went to Galicia which is super famous for seafood, and P-Stone went in the ocean to swim, grabbed mussels, went skating all day, drinking all night, and cooked them for breakfast with the hot water from the shower.

How did you get on the Firm then?

I had a good relationship with the whole team on Powell, but I couldn’t speak English back then, and once the Spanish-speaking team manager left, I was completely lost. I started meeting people like Rodrigo TX, Anthony Claravall. Powell would pay my tickets to fly to wherever I wanted to. So I’d been just traveling around the world with Firm guys for one year, but I wasn’t trying to get on the team and they didn’t try to put me on either. I started to skate with them and got more and more tricks. At one point, they were like, “Oh man, you should have a part.” So I’m skating Powell boards in the whole Firm part.

Soloskatemag Manny

Javier | Backside 5-0 Kickflip out

With which guys on Firm did you have the best connection?

With Rodrigo, Ray Barbee, Matt Beach. Lance [Mountain] is super funny. I stayed in the same room with Ray Barbee so many times. We used to stay up late and watch NBA and stuff.

Did you play guitar together as well?

No, I didn’t play guitar at that time.

When did you start?

When I was 25. My mom used to play guitar and there was always one in our house, but I just couldn’t learn it. At one time, I lived with people who played guitar. That’s how you learn.

You play Flamenco. What’s the beauty of it?

I think it’s just like skating or jazz where you can do whatever you feel like within that pattern. It’s like a freestyle, you don’t have to learn a song. I don’t know many songs, but I understand the guitar. Flamenco is about that. You know how to do it, but it’s not set. It can be done in so many different ways, it’s freedom. I liked jazz when I was a kid, but it got to a point where it became so big or so popular that everything started to be set as well. It wasn’t freestyle anymore. Everybody is now trying to learn jazz patterns and maybe people don’t even know how to play if they’re outside of that pattern.

"I remember when I learned all the flip tricks in different variations, I would just do them in long lines on the way back home from the skatepark"

You did the guitar on the hip hop album we just listened to [the new album of Mucho Muchacho, a friend of Javier, editor’s note]. How did that happen?

Completely casual. We were chilling at the studio, they were bored because they tried to find ideas. I started to play with the piano just to fuck around and they had a guitar as well. I started to play it and they just started to record. It was my first time in a studio with the headphones and everything.

It seems like you get into a lot of things without planning. Was there a turning point at which you realized that you can do skateboarding on a professional level?

Not really. I always just do the things for as long as they are fun. Nothing is planned. What I learned from Lance is that people who come up super quick, fall down really quick as well. They only knew a few people that helped them to get to that point and once these guys are gone, they’re completely lost. So you better not fly too high.

How did you continue when the Firm ended?

I was sponsorless for maybe four years. I was still making money from the clothes and the shoes. Usually the board sponsor is super important because you lose the others without it, but I didn’t really care. I traveled so much and then I got on Sk8Mafia by traveling with éS. The first year I got on, they were gonna make this video. I was kinda lost, not really skating much at the time, and then I just had a reason again to have fun, skate, get some tricks. They came here and we had a trip and it was super easy.

When did you come to Barcelona for the first time?

I was born here. My father and my mother used to live in Barcelona, but they were originally from the Basque Country and my mom moved back to Vitoria. So I had to come to Barcelona to visit my father. He died when I was younger, but I’d still come to visit his girlfriend. So I’ve always been coming back to Barcelona.

How was it to be in Barcelona when it got really big?

At first, it was really cool. The people weren’t that famous. You would roll around pretty easy. People that would come from the States would feel really comfortable to go to MACBA or the bars without being asked for a photo or an autograph or whatever. After we did the Firm video, we used to hate to go to the skater bars because people knew you and it’s not that comfortable. So I didn’t come here for four or five years. I didn’t want to go through that.

Do you still get that now when you’re in Barcelona?

Sometimes people are like, “Oh man, I just saw Jesus [Fernandez], now you. This is crazy!” I got to the point where I realized that I was the same as a kid.

"All I wanna do is have fun. So it’s cool for me, but it’s not the right place for an up-and-comer"

Who were you mostly stoked on when you were young?

At first, the people with Latin names. Mariano, Paulo Diaz, Mark Gonzales. It was like, “Fuck, we got the same names. We can do it too.”

How was it back in the days with MACBA and Sants?

The roots of Sants go way deeper than MACBA for sure. It’s older and it was bigger for the people from Barcelona. MACBA got popular way later. New kids from the hood started skating there and they didn’t have good relations to the Sants crew. It was separated at different times. There were so many skaters at Sants before MACBA. They were super good.

How did you see the skate scene in Barcelona evolve over the years?

It changed a lot. A lot of people from the US came after the 411 videos came out. It was like an explosion. People from all over the place came and skated and they’d even live here and now they are the locals.

Frontside Flip

Soloskatemag Javier Sarmiento Frontside Flip

Frontside Flip

How has being a kid skating in Barcelona changed when you compare it to back in the days?

I think it’s cooler nowadays. I wish I’d had all the stuff the kids at MACBA have now. Everyone has a camera, they take photos and see all the videos.

Do you think there was less pressure back then?

I think the pressure is higher nowadays because the level of skating is way higher and the production got a lot quicker. People are getting new tricks every day. Before, you could take three years to film a part. They kinda fucked it up for themselves. It’s like going to a factory and there’s a rhythm of production and you want to be the boss and start working faster than everybody else. Our rhythm of production is way too fast. You can’t catch up, but the quality is way more important than the quantity.

There are tons of skaters here all the time, everybody is always filming. Is it hard to skate in a city where so much is happening?

If you want to make your way up in a competitive way to get sponsored, it’s super hard. If you just want to have fun, it’s super good. All I wanna do is have fun, so it’s cool for me, but it’s not the right place for an up-and-comer. You have to be super good to get proper recognition.

You’re also having fun with golfing. When did you start?

I started with Atiba Jefferson. He always had golf clubs in his trunk. We would grab a club and he’d teach me. I was addicted pretty quickly. One time, I had to get acupuncture and the lady was like, “Oh, you get a lot of heavy impact on your body.” I told her that I’ve been skating for a long time and she told me that I needed to get out of that cosmos and do something like yoga. I told her that I just started golfing and she was like, “That’s perfect.” After doing that for a while, you realize how much more relaxed your skating becomes. I advise everyone who skates to golf.

Soloskatemag Jesus Fs180 Nosegrind

Jesus | Frontside 180 Nosegrind

What’s your handicap?

9.9.

That’s pretty good, isn’t it?

I think it’s good. The percentage of golfers who go below ten is not that big, but I’m not that obsessed.

Do you do tournaments?

I won a couple, but it’s not so fun to me. I don’t like to compete. Plus, you have to spend four hours playing, and sometimes you have to be with people you don’t know or you don’t want to be with. I’d rather play some other day with my friends and have fun.

How does it compare to skateboarding when you win a competition? Is there much more prize money?

You can’t make money as an amateur golfer. They give you product or a trophy or a trip, but there’s no money in amateur golfing, and I think it’s good because money fucks a lot of things in life.

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