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Denny Pham -

Living the dream

It’s 10:30 p.m. and after stealing some fries from Markus Blessing Denny sits down for this interview on a bench in front of a burger joint in the Spanish spot paradise of Vigo where he went on a spontaneous trip with a couple of friends. The filming for his part has to be finished, with which he will rise to the pro ranks for Flip. That’s what it looks like when you earn your living with skateboarding: always on the road, no regular working hours, and having meals in passing. There are, however, worse things in life. Or on the contrary, there is hardly anything better. In fact, Denny says that this is what he considers “living the dream.”

So you’re finishing your pro part?

Initially, it wasn’t supposed to be my pro part. I just started to stack some footage, stayed in the States from January till December and then it came up at Flip after a while.

Did they decide to turn you pro based on the footage or were they thinking about it before already?

I asked them before about my future on Flip since I’ve been with them for a while now. I visited Jeremy Fox in Huntington and, three weeks later, he said that they don’t put people on the team whom they don’t want to go pro eventually. It’s in their interest to do something together in the long run. I still didn’t fully expect that they were gonna give me a pro board. It took a bit of planning over spring and summer.

Since you’ve asked them about the plans for your future, would you have moved on if they hadn’t had turned you pro?

I was at a point where I really felt like I was in a position to ask, you know? Sometimes you gotta do that because you can’t expect everything to just happen. I think you always gotta be making something happen a bit. A year before I didn’t feel that I was in the position to ask, but this January I was like, “Now or never.” I talked to Willow before and he said that sometimes you just gotta ask. But if they had said no, I would have moved on in skateboarding same as in real life for sure and lived the same lifestyle, I guess, just without my name on a board.

Soloskatemag Denny Sw Bigheel

Switch Frontside Bigspin Heelflip | Photo by Biemer

Is it harder to stay relevant on a US-based brand when you’re from Europe?

Sure, it’s different when you live in Europe because that’s where you’re gonna skate. So you gotta accept to live out of your suitcase and be on the plane a lot. You should definitely take the trip across the pond at least once or twice a year because if you don’t, it’s likely that you’ll be forgotten sooner or later. It helps to stay in contact and have your Insta game on point nowadays.

You have been sponsored for a while now. Did your sponsors’ expectations change over the years?

The way sponsoring works has definitely changed, but I have never felt like any of my sponsors expected more from me than before. It’s more like my own expectations of myself have changed over the years – in a positive way, of course. I’m fortunate enough to know that the brands I ride for trust in me and let me do my thing, and I’m happy to have a good relationship with the brands I ride for and the people behind them, so it’s all chill. Of course, you have brands that want to see their riders in contests a lot, others prefer output on social media. It’s pretty much free marketing and it’s not like the whole team is enriching the companies anymore, but rather every team rider is considered a brand on their own. It’s different compared to how it used to be. Nowadays, the ideal rider brings along everything: contests, Insta, and video projects.

"We had a fun time with Tom Penny digging into his joke box"

Is it harder to stay relevant on a US-based brand when you’re from Europe?

Sure, it’s different when you live in Europe because that’s where you’re gonna skate. So you gotta accept to live out of your suitcase and be on the plane a lot. You should definitely take the trip across the pond at least once or twice a year because if you don’t, it’s likely that you’ll be forgotten sooner or later. It helps to stay in contact and have your Insta game on point nowadays.

You have been sponsored for a while now. Did your sponsors’ expectations change over the years?

The way sponsoring works has definitely changed, but I have never felt like any of my sponsors expected more from me than before. It’s more like my own expectations of myself have changed over the years – in a positive way, of course. I’m fortunate enough to know that the brands I ride for trust in me and let me do my thing, and I’m happy to have a good relationship with the brands I ride for and the people behind them, so it’s all chill. Of course, you have brands that want to see their riders in contests a lot, others prefer output on social media. It’s pretty much free marketing and it’s not like the whole team is enriching the companies anymore, but rather every team rider is considered a brand on their own. It’s different compared to how it used to be. Nowadays, the ideal rider brings along everything: contests, Insta, and video projects.

You work on projects pretty regularly. Do you need to have projects and do you come up with them by yourself?

Sometimes there are requests, but I do things proactive as well. We don’t only plan projects for their own sake, but also because we just want to see each other again. Usually everybody’s busy doing things and what would be better than the chance to go on a skate trip together with your friends? It’s what I consider “living the dream.”

Flip did a Euro tour this summer – how was it to be with the whole team?

I was psyched when they announced it because we haven’t been touring for three years. Several people got hurt or had to go on other tours so we were only six skaters in the van. Tom Penny, Arto Saari, Alex Risvad, Ben Nordberg, David Gonzales, and myself. We had a fun time with Tom Penny digging into his joke box, telling the best stories and he also blessed the streets with so many tricks. Tom is a true magician when it comes to skating. Since it was a demo tour we would be in different city every other day but the street sessions in between and shooting photos with Arto got me more stoked to be honest.

Soloskatemag Denny Flip

Nollie Backside Heelflip | Photo by Arto Saari

How is it to shoot with him?

When I went to LA for the first time I felt a mixture of motivation and confusion. On the one hand he’s completely focused on his work but then there’s the second you realize that it’s Arto Saari who’s taking the photo while you’re pussying out at the spot. By now it’s really chill with him, he’s always hungry. A hungry, huge giant. So you better get some, before it’s snack time again. [laughs] His aura can be extra motivating. And when you’re struggling, one “Man, you got it!” is enough to really push you.

I feel like you prefer Asian spots over LA or Europe. Is that true?

It keeps on changing. I guess I need the variety because otherwise I’d be treading water. But I’m a fan of Asia for sure. Except for one trip to Japan, I haven’t been there for the past three years since I spent the winters in the States. Between 2011 and 2015 I went across Asia literally every winter. I was a bit fed up but now I really want to go again.

Your Father is from Vietnam. Have you been traveling there as well, seeing your family?

I haven’t visited the family, but it’s high on my agenda. When I was younger, I didn’t really care that much for family life and so on. It was a little bit out of focus because I had a certain relationship to my Father, meaning that I didn’t see him that much. Everything was cool when I did, but since my parents were divorced, I grew up with my Mom. Because I didn’t see him that much, I kinda didn’t have the connection to that part of the family. The lack of communication was too big to think about wanting to visit my family in Vietnam. As I got older, the wish to go back to my roots has gotten bigger. Maybe I’ll make it next spring.

I’d imagine it to be strange to have family on the other side of the planet that you don’t know. Your Dad has a lot of siblings too, doesn’t he?

Yeah, my Dad has seven brothers and one sister. He’s the only one of them who left the country. I have much respect for him because it takes a lot to make that call.

Switch Backside Flip

Soloskatemag Denny Pham Paralax

Switch Backside Flip

You have been in Berlin for a while now. A bunch of people go missing in the party swamp. You seem to manage the balance between skating and partying pretty well, right?

[laughs] Yeah, the Berlin party swamp definitely swallowed one or the other person. I just had enough fun party nights in Berlin so I just like to focus a little more on other things nowadays, but it hasn't always been like that. There were nights after contest qualifications where I got drunk as hell, which, of course, messed with my balance the next day and I wasn’t really able to put a semi-final run together. So now, if I go to Basel to qualify for a contest, it’s obvious that I don’t have to get fucked up for the 1,000th time. But talking about Berlin – of course, you can party non-stop, and it can be fun. I still enjoy it when I go from time to time, I’m just trying to avoid a crazy hangover when I have stuff to do the next day. Also, spending some time with my girl is a good balance and very pleasant after a long day of staring at spots and talking nonsense with Giorgio Armani.

" the second you realize that it’s Arto Saari who’s taking the photo while you’re pussying out at the spot"

You have been in Berlin for a while now. A bunch of people go missing in the party swamp. You seem to manage the balance between skating and partying pretty well, right?

[laughs] Yeah, the Berlin party swamp definitely swallowed one or the other person. I just had enough fun party nights in Berlin so I just like to focus a little more on other things nowadays, but it hasn't always been like that. There were nights after contest qualifications where I got drunk as hell, which, of course, messed with my balance the next day and I wasn’t really able to put a semi-final run together. So now, if I go to Basel to qualify for a contest, it’s obvious that I don’t have to get fucked up for the 1,000th time. But talking about Berlin – of course, you can party non-stop, and it can be fun. I still enjoy it when I go from time to time, I’m just trying to avoid a crazy hangover when I have stuff to do the next day. Also, spending some time with my girl is a good balance and very pleasant after a long day of staring at spots and talking nonsense with Giorgio Armani.

So you’re not one of the guys who get thrown out of Berghain every Monday morning?

No, for some reason that has never happened. In all that time I’ve only tried twice to get into Berghain. The first time I went, it was closed. The second time when Julius Krappe convinced me to go, we got denied for whatever reasons. I guess the bouncers didn’t feel my baggy pants this time. Whatever, I guess third time’s the charm.

Someone told me that you rolled your ankle on tour in Tel Aviv and so you went to a bunch of techno parties instead of skating. At least, do you have some experience with techno clubs?

A little. But yeah, I rolled my ankle on the third day and took a closer look at the scene with Max Pack and Vladik Scholz. They’re big music lovers… Or even experts in that genre, especially Vladik, he knows what he wants. You’re kinda spoiled when you’re living in Berlin. It’s hard to outdo. But there’s one club called Alphabet and we went there three times in five days.

Soloskatemag Denny Swbstail

Switch Backside Tailslide flip out | Photo by Florian Hopfensperger

Talking about being unlucky on tour, at one point, you had dengue fever, right?

Yes, and it’s not that pleasant to be frank. It’s also called breakbone fever because it feels like someone’s crushing you… The most unpleasant sickness I have ever had for sure. I got it on Koh Samui where I went for Christmas and New Year’s with Wilko Grüning. At first, I thought I just had a bad night of sleep, but this feeling got worse and worse to a point where I had to interrupt a conversation and just leave. I fell asleep instantly, woke up two hours later and felt like I got run over by a steamroller. I didn’t know what was going on because I didn’t even know anything about the illness and that uncertainty was uncomfortable. I had to go to the hospital. The doctor diagnosed it straight away but he didn’t give me the right pills that are usually prescribed to lower the fever, he just told me that I have it and that I should wait and see for one more night. So I went back to the bungalow – with only one fan in a tropical climate. The second night was even worse. It was December 31 and I entered the hospital again at midnight and told them they need to sign me up for stationary treatment. I had to stay for eight days because they put you on heavy medication. Fever and pain are gone after two days. But your blood levels stay down for like ten days, so you’re super shaky, weak-kneed, and tired. Wilko still had a good time and took care of me like a best friend. He spent his days outside and at night he hung out with me in my private room.

I also heard that you strayed off the road on a motorbike in Asia and had been missing for three days and only got back after some women found and nursed you. What kind of story is that?

I have no idea. Sounds like a tough story, but I don’t know anything about it. Someone probably made that up.

I think Burny told me.

But Burny wasn’t there.

Who was though?

A drunk-ass Alex Mizurov, who did not drink like a champion in his prime. Johannes Schön was with us as well and Maxi Schaible.

Frontside Noseslide

Soloskatemag Denny Fsnose Paralax

Frontside Noseslide

Ah, maybe Maxi told me. What actually happened? You were just gone?

Ah, you know how it is on trips, sometimes you have a skateboarding overdose. Let’s say I made an excursion. I had to take a closer look at the island.

Another story, you found 2,000 Dollars at the airport once.

Actually, it is the follow-up to the dengue fever story because I went on a trip through China with Wilko, Alex Mizurov, Burny, and Patrik Wallner right after. From there, I got a ticket to fly to Berlin and I planned to spend two nights in Bangkok to chill on my way back. When we were waiting for our luggage at the airport in Bangkok I picked up my suitcase and it fell in front of Patrik’s feet and I saw this white envelope on the floor. I was wondering why he didn’t pick it up before, ripped it open, and saw a bunch of green notes and a receipt from a US bank. I thought someone who treats and loses his money like this can’t be in urgent need, and bringing it to the airport information in Thailand wouldn’t bring it back to the owner either – #corruption. I thought that bribing Patrik and Burny with 200 Dollars each and keeping the rest to myself would be the best idea.

I also read in an interview that you like to bring books on a trip. To be honest, I didn’t expect you to be into reading.

I only said that because I wanted to boost my intellect. I actually haven’t read that much lately, but at that time I read a book about the relationship between men and women and why they act the way they do.

Why were you interested in that?

Because I was dating my girl for a while. [laughs] No, but somehow the book got in my hands.

And you thought you finally wanted to understand her?

It’s a quest to find the right answers. Sometimes reading a book is the only option. I found some answers in that book, didn’t finish it, of course. But I’m not really that big of a bookworm.

Soloskatemag Denny Pham

Photo by Dennis Scholz

You’re also part of the Olympic team. How do you feel about that topic?

I look at it from two perspectives. On the one hand, it’s like a second career that exists next to street skating and filming videos – which I personally think is sicker and more fun to look back to. Skating contests is still fun to me though. At the end of the day it’s still fun and it improves my endurance and other skills because you’re always trying to improve. So I decided that I wanted to take the opportunity. I guess if we didn’t get Jürgen [Horrwarth] as a coach, I’d probably have said no. Having someone who knows what he talks about and has some knowledge of the human nature is an advantage for sure. But yeah, skating a contest, getting some prize money from time to time... It’s not too bad.

And what’s up next?

I’m going to Bilbao, checking out the factory of HLC. Flip has started producing its boards for Europe there this year.

So you’re working on your pro board there?

Pretty much. I wanted to try out some shapes.

Do you have an idea of how you want your board to be?

Definitely. I got in contact with the designer and we talked some things through. I gave him input, he drew some stuff. When it comes to size and concave a nice and flat 8.3 for sure but I’m doing a second one as well because I want to keep the original shape of an old Salabanzi board. That’s what I’ve been skating recently, but I still need some change from time to time.

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