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Mark Suciu - Days of skating, nights of reading

I would say that the majority of skateboarders are having a lot of fun just skating around even if their own potential (just as mine) doesn’t bring handrails or switch flips down stairs anywhere near their realm of possibilities. It doesn’t have to anyway. Then there are those that skate really well and can pretty much do whatever they can imagine. Furthermore, there are those that look really stylish while doing so. With that combination, you are most likely in the world of sponsorship, maybe even a pro. However, there are these few that, in addition to their style and abilities, have this pinch of exceptionality as icing on the cake. There is something within their actions, something so very natural that wasn’t there before and that interprets skateboarding in a new way. Mark Suciu can definitely be counted as one of the latter. His tricks and how he’s doing them, nobody does them like that. On top of that, he is a character that you rarely find in skateboarding. That’s why skateboard enthusiasts altogether bite their nails nervously, in anticipation of new footage. We can already reveal so much: your blood pressure can go back into relaxation mode because there’s gonna be a lot of stuff to see of Mark soon.

Let’s start with your time in Europe. Why did you choose to study in Paris for a semester?

I wanted to be in France. At first, I was considering going to Lyon or Bordeaux, but then it just seemed that Paris was the place to go.

So did you skate République all day or did you focus on studying?

It was a bit of both. I did really focus on studying, but I was skating too – and when I did, I would kind of always end up at République. I don’t really like that spot though. The ledges suck, the ground is a little weird… It’s overrated.

So if you were to compare all the places you’ve lived so far – the Bay Area, Philly, New York, Paris – where did you like it the most?

Well, I like the Bay Area for the weather… San Francisco is a really beautiful city, just in terms of landscape and skating, but a lot has changed because of the tech boom. The hills where I grew up are really green and lush – but, mostly, the light is really boring. I’d say that the light in California is always very monotone. A lot of the time, you are looking at bleached white hillsides. In Philly, you are always looking at bricks and deep green. The sunsets there are insane and beautiful. In New York, the light is bouncing off buildings and bridges and the water. In Paris, it’s kinda gloomy. I love New York and Philly, but in Philly, the community is more tightly knit, so it’s a very different atmosphere than in New York. There’s a constant little rivalry. I inherited that while living in Philly and when I moved up to New York, it was a bit difficult to let it go and to actually love New York.

Do you consider things like the light situation while filming a part?

There is this good story when I was skating a stair set in Princeton: I was doing a switch bigspin heelflip and it took a long time. I did seven until I got one that I liked. The clouds were covering the sun and I sat down, happy and exhausted. Then thirty minutes later, the sun came back out and it was shining right on the stairs. So I knew I had to do it again.

"This is a nice way to be good at skateboarding. I have enough talent to make it fun to just cruise around the city and to ollie a set of stairs and bomb a hill. I don’t need any more than that"

Would you consider yourself a spontaneous skateboarder or does your skateboarding come more from your mind?

Fifty percent of the day is, “I don’t know what I’m going to try until I get to that thing.” Like a flatground trick: you do a trick on a handrail and you are rolling away and something comes to your mind and tells you to do a nollie frontside flip instead of a treflip, you know? I would say that, as a general rule, I skate and learn tricks, and I see what my body is doing. My mind races and gets excited, and I think about all the other things I could do – and then I’ll maybe write it down.

Are you doing trick lists?

Yeah, I guess. I also write down stuff when I’m working on multiple parts at once. I’m working on three parts right now. So I definitely need to be aware that I’ve already done a long smith grind. It’s just a nice thing to know when you come to a spot. Yesterday, I was skating a 15 stair rail and it was like, “You can 50-50 it, you can 5-0 it, and you can probably lipslide it.” Lipslide had been done, so I was like, “Yeah, 5-0!” It added a little confidence to know that I didn’t have a big 5-0 yet, so this would be a great thing for the video part.

Talking about handrails: you’re a man of thought while skateboarding, especially when skating rails is mostly a physical activity and not really something you need your brains for. What is it about skateboarding that catches you?

I don’t know… There are a lot of different facets, but, you know, if I step on my board, I’m happy. I think a big part of it is that this is something that I’m good at, and I take pride in that and it makes me happy to continue to excel. If I were really good at chess, I would want to keep playing chess because that’s what I know and I’m comfortable with – but it’s skateboarding. Obviously, every skater knows how fun it is to bomb a hill. It’s the same thing with a handrail. You said that that part of skating is not much “thought”. Maybe, but I think that even that, which seems to be the most removed from a more thoughtful side of skating, is still so much a battle of mind and body because you are asking yourself to do something very simple and your body or maybe your mind is denying you. Often, I find it’s the mind. Like the handrail I skated yesterday. I knew I had skated similar things, but this one had all these stairs and it was narrow and the ground was not very smooth. Then I would hesitate mentally and become scared. It was like I had two mental narratives going at the same time: the one was pretty quiet and completely confident and the other was like, “Wait, this is crazy!” So when I actually did grind it, it wasn’t hard. There was this small side of my mind that was screaming like it was in a different room or it thought that something else was happening, but it would immediately go away. So it’s a good mental battle.

Suciu NG UP BSFLIP Madrid

Backside Nosegrind / Backside Flip

You said that stepping on your board makes you happy, but there was a period when you were kind of “over” skateboarding. What was it exactly that you were over with? Was it the industry side or the pressure to film parts or skateboarding itself?

It wasn’t the industry side, that never really bothered me. It wasn’t pressure. It was just that I didn’t take pride in what I just explained about feeling competent, like, “I’m good at this and I want to continue doing this.” That’s a new idea. Before, I didn’t take pride in it. I just thought, “Yeah, I’m good at this, but I could be good at other things. I don’t want to be tied down by my talent.” I was really interested in figuring out what else I could do with my life. I felt like skateboarding might be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, might seem like it’s fun, and then one day, I’d just realize that I’ve been stuck doing this when I could have been doing other great things. I remember a really beautiful day right in the middle of all that when I was at Love Park and some people were filming and I was considering it too, but then I was like, “Fuck this, I don’t need to film!” I told my friend, “I’m gonna go to the museum.” So I skated down the parkway and that was so much fun! I went to the art museum, looked around for a while, came out, and just ollied the eight stairs, and then cruised down the hill and was thinking, “This is a nice way to be good at skateboarding. I have enough talent to make it fun to just cruise around the city and to ollie a set of stairs and bomb a hill. I don’t need any more than that. It doesn’t need to tie me down. I’m gonna go back to my apartment and study, kill it at school, and then maybe I’ll do other things.” It was never the physical act of skateboarding that I didn’t like. Just…

… that it narrows down the opportunities.

Yeah.

Do you plan on having an academic career, maybe become a professor?

I don’t know. I do want to go back to school for a creative writing MFA [Master of Fine Arts], but I don’t know about becoming a professor. It seems like all my favorite professors, even if it seems like they have a good community, they are all miserable about the way the university is treating them and all the stuff they have to do outside of the classes, the responsibilities and the low pay. I know there are parts of myself that could really feel fulfilled and satisfied by a career in academia, but I’m worried that I’m romanticizing and idealizing it too much. I know that I want to do things with books, but it’s a very hard thing to find a career in that these days.

You are reading a lot, but do you also write?

Yeah! I’ve written for skate magazines here and there, and a friend of mine has an independent publishing brand named “Paradigm”, he’s always putting out books on photography and I’ll do the copy editing and sometimes I write an introduction. So I’m loosely plugged in on that side of writing, and I’m always journaling.

Have you ever thought about writing a book?

I’ve written a bunch of short stories for school, but there is only one or two that I feel like they really came from me instead of the assignment or the deadline. So I don’t really feel like they belong to me… I know that there will be a point when I care so much about every little detail in the story because it will all add up to this one idea of it that I have. That, however, hasn’t happened yet, I haven’t gone fully berserk like I do over skating.

"What I look for in literature is an acknowledgement of the side of my personality that skateboarding doesn’t acknowledge"

A lot of skateboarders are into photography or drawing or music, but not many are drawn to literature. Why is it like that?

Maybe it has to do with the examples that skaters have because skaters have always been drawn to graphics, and painting comes from that. There have always been photographers around. There are definitely a couple of skaters here and there who are into writing, who keep journals the same way I do because that naturally flows from having print magazines. I think these examples have a lot to do with it. The fact that people don’t read that much literature… Maybe it’s just because it’s not directly related to skateboarding. I picked up the taste for literature through school and through my father – and I think skateboarding kind of naturally rebels against those two forces: school and your parents.

What exactly do you look for in literature?

I have deep personal connections to literature because it had opened up a world for me when I was 18, when I was looking at skating. This is when I first started to think that skateboarding maybe wasn't all there is – because I was trying to do things in skating, like make allusions to other skaters, and references and do things in homage. Homages, that’s something skaters do all the time now, but they were doing it back then, like Paul Rodriguez in the City Stars video, it was a homage to Guy Mariano’s part in Video Days. I wanted to do more with those concepts. I wanted to get across this idea of homage with each specific trick referencing another person and putting it all together, but nobody else was picking up on them and I thought skateboarding couldn’t do this. However, that is not the case, it can! I was just doing a bad job. I was reading books and I realized, “This is how it’s done.” They are getting such a large context while doing something very simple: just writing a simple narrative about someone’s life. So what I look for in literature is an acknowledgement of the side of my personality that skateboarding doesn’t acknowledge. Other than that, I look for the craft of the writer: good sentences and good flow. So it’s really technical at the same time, and I love turning things over in my head. When I read a book, I always want to read a review or talk to somebody about it – because if you are talking to someone, you remember different parts.

Is that why you started @nightsofreading?

Oh no, I just did that for myself. I didn’t make it public for a year. I save all the books I read online, but those things don’t save the covers. So I made it to remember the covers and to remember also where I had read them. I’m not putting it up on Instagram to say you should read this or that. I definitely don’t want to give reviews and I really don’t like online book clubs, I think all that shit is really corny. It’s just a bunch of people saying, “I can read better than you.” I think book reading clubs are like competing with cultural capital, but nobody has actually enjoyed the book.

Is it called “Nights of Reading” because that’s what you do?

It’s called “Nights of Reading” because Marcel Proust wrote a book called “Days of Reading” and that’s a book I really liked. I named it “Nights of Reading” because that’s kind of how it is: I go to sleep around three or four, sometimes six. I skate during the day and then I read at night, that's kind of what I was thinking when I came up with the name.

Are you checking out nice bookstores when you’re on tour or do you just order on Amazon?

[laughs] Definitely not on Amazon! When I order online, I use AbeBooks, a used-book marketplace, but I prefer going to bookstores. Right now in my head, there are so many books that I still want to read. My girlfriend and me went to Berlin this summer and I was reading a bunch of German and Austrian authors. I read Günter Grass, who is someone that I meant to read for a long time. I read Max Frisch, he’s Swiss, and then this very controversial guy. He denied the Serbian genocide.

Peter Handke?

Yeah, that’s him! So I read Handke and then Herta Müller. She is someone I always wanted to read because she was born in Romania and then left before the wall fell, which is just what my dad did. So I read this novel that is basically set in Romania and she wrote this from the perspective of a woman. The woman in the novel has a lover named Paul, which is my dad's name, and he would have been exactly the perfect age for the character – but my dad left Romania and the character stayed. So that was mind-blowing.

Do you also binge-watch something on Netflix sometimes?

No, never. I don’t really watch TV shows. If people keep talking about a certain show, I’ll watch one episode to try to figure out what is going to happen and then I'm done. [laughs] I think that if there is so much energy, thought, and genius devoted to making every single episode really suspenseful to make an average viewer want to watch the next one, then other things will be given short shrift, like the ideas behind the plot or the cinematography. I do go to the movies and two or three hours is as much as I can do. With books, I can spend way more time, but it feels like books are less demanding. They are not freaking me out to turn the page.

Suciu Smithgrind 5050 London

Smithgrind to 50-50

I think Russian authors are super demanding though because it's usually huge books and there tend to be a lot of characters that you forget along the way if you don’t read it in one go.

Yeah, for sure! Another point of Russian authors is – if you are reading Dostoevsky or Tolstoy – that it was before TV. A lot of those novels were written as serial novels to be published in the newspaper and they needed them to be suspenseful. That was their TV back then, so they are kind of made in a similar way. It’s funny to look back at them and I don’t feel bad about reading those things now, because they are so bad at getting me to really pay attention like, “Wow, you’re not succeeding, but I wanna keep going anyways.”

Let’s get back to skateboarding. We were already talking about the parts you’re filming. One is called “Verso” and you wrote for the premiere that it is about mirror lines and built like a poem. Can you explain that?

I kinda don’t want to explain any more than I’ve written because it’s a conceptual part that has those elements to it, but that is only a short bit of it and it’s just enough to give it an aesthetic unity. Most of it is just skating. I don’t want to make a conceptual part that drives the viewer away. I just wanted a skate video with a subtle frame. I want people to watch it, knowing that I’ve been thinking about the part, but other than that, I just want to see what people think of it before I explain it.

"There’s no golden ideal book or video part that is alive before the viewer sees it, and then it comes into a hard copy form and it’s already a dead thing"

I always have this Bukowski quote in my head that says, “As the spirit wanes, the form appears.” Do you agree with that?

I guess I disagree. I feel like he’s saying content is spirit and when you finally put things into form, the spirit goes away. I used to really like reading Samuel Beckett because his form, the structure he assigned for his books, was so outlandish that it made sense that when you're writing, a thing is alive, but when you put it into paper, no matter what the form is, it’s gonna kill it. I used to have those thoughts, but now I think, like working on this part, everything just clicked. The form that I found was the true birth of the part that I was trying to put out. Obviously, I had a bunch of footage, enough to put it on the timeline and say, “What are we going to make out of it?” So it was nothing then. Bukowski would probably say that it was everything then. I don’t believe that. There’s no golden ideal book or video part that is alive before the viewer sees it, and then it comes into a hard copy form and it’s already a dead thing. I think it comes alive when you find the right way to express it and the viewer picks it up.

Suciu bs5050 pole

Backside 50-50 Polejam

I read on Slap that after the premiere, you went back out trying to film an ender which you didn’t have then. Is that correct?

Well, I’ve been thinking of a trick for the last two years and then I first tried it a year ago. I have been trying it on and off since then, and in the last month or two, I’ve been trying it very exclusively. It’s just a stupid trick, it’s just outside of my potential pretty much – but I keep trying it because this is the whole idea that I would do this trick and I can’t think of any other way to end it. So we gave ourselves the deadline because I thought the pressure would be good and it would make me do the trick, but I didn’t get it. I did two premieres and at both I explained the whole problem and showed the closest I had gotten to the trick, and everybody was like, “Oh shit, you should get it!“

So it will come out when the trick is done?

Yeah, but this week, Justin Albert is here in New York to end it, to just say, “Alright, if we don’t get it this week, let’s put it out without the ender.”

What about the other parts? How did you get into filming three parts at the same time?

Well, because we’ve been working on this ender for almost a year, we had of lot of time to look at the part and say, “Alright, this is good, but this is a duplicate of that trick, so we save it for something else.” So there’s a lot of runoff. Some of the runoff was in the Thunder part earlier this year. That was just footage that I was happy with, but I knew it wouldn’t make it into the part. Even though I’m trying my trick like crazy, the rest of the time I’ve still been productive. So I'm working on another part with Justin and another part with Matt Schleyer, which also makes sense because he filmed half of “Verso”. I’ve also been hanging out with Chris Mulhern quite a bit again and we’ve already got a bunch of footage that could make it into a part later this year.

"Hangover guilt is very real, you know? I can’t deal with that"

That productivity is really impressive, but again, on Slap people are going crazy. The thread is already 22 pages long and everyone is waiting for the part. Do you read stuff like that?

No, no way! [laughs] I stay far away from it. I did maybe when I was 17. I got all bummed out. From that day, I can’t really remember looking up stuff, but they kinda liked me on Slap, so I don’t have to worry about it too much.

Do you sometimes get shit for not being the stoner bro that is just partying and hanging out in the streets?

Oh yeah, definitely! Jake Donnelly is super good at making fun of me about that, or Zander Taketomo. It’s mainly people that I’m actually close to and it’s pretty fun, it’s always been that way.

I can hardly imagine you letting fully loose and going bonkers. So what does it look like when you party?

Ever since I was 18 and started drinking, I was kinda worried that it would make my life seem better than it was. I thought I wouldn’t be as ambitious anymore because I would just go get drunk and everything would be ok. When I did, I had this kind of literary idea, but it’s also just typical masculinity that I would always push myself to drink an extra beer but keep a straight face. I was testing myself. How much can I drink without immediately opening up and telling someone everything about my life. I think some of that is still there when I drink. I don’t totally let myself go. When I get really drunk, like at the New York premiere of “Verso”, I think that I was just saying more shit more honestly than I normally would. Hangover guilt is very real, you know? I can’t deal with that.

To finish this off, I heard some rumors that your dad was one of the guys who invented the auto focus. Is that true?

Yeah, it is, but he never patented it. He was at Berkeley doing tests to make blind people see, along with his group. He made a sort of helmet that had electric stimuli that would link up to electrodes in the brain so they would be able to see for a quick second. Because the brain floats around in your head, you cannot have a perfectly set up link between wires and the electrodes in your brain. It moves around. They gave it up because they didn’t know how to get around that problem and my dad, on his own, did the same thing to a camera. He made a function that was like the vision map of a camera and stopped when there was the most amount of dots, which meant that it was in focus because the camera and the brain are seeing in a similar way. So that was auto focus. In the early ‘70s, photographers were all really professional and photography was not a mass medium like today. So he thought that auto focus was counterintuitive. Because if you pick up a camera and you are serious about it, you want to be able to manipulate the focus. Since he was working for the university, he couldn’t patent it because if he did, the patent would have gone to the university. So he just didn’t and I think, five years later, someone did it for Nikon and now they get the money for the patent – not my dad.

I hope he is not too bummed that it didn’t work out with patenting it.

No, not at all.

Awesome! Well, I could go on for hours talking about books and everything, but I guess we have to end it here. Thank you, Mark!

I had a great time, thank you for the amazing conversation!

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