When I got asked by Supra, if I wanna go to the UK, to meet the team on their European tour, we were in the middle of our deadline, but I thought, why not? Two days later I found myself in the little DIY Park in Hackney Wick, London, were Ellington, Lizard King and Lucien Clarke chilled. Mellow mood, everybody was super nice. „Hi Niklas, do you want to have a coffee?“ – „Sure. Let’s go.“
Erik, so tell me again, what are you doing in London?
We started the trip in Paris. We spend about seven days there and kicked it with Oscar Candon and some of the local dudes out there, skated some of the old iconic spots out there. Then we took the train over here and we have been here for five days and stay for a couple more and then we are out at Manchester for Go Skate Day.
Allright. What’s the occasion?
Well, this trip is a little bit different from most trips that we do. On this one there is actually less focus on doing demos or signings, or just strictly getting photos for an article. I mean, we are doing that, we had a few small demos that were a little more like skate-jams, we did an autograph signing at Slam. But this one is more focused on spending time and actually in a way documenting the cities that we are going to. It’s a lot more involved then the skate trips we have been on before. Typically what we do is: We set up a demo or a signing in the area we are going to and we go out to skate and get a couple of photos and we’re on to the next location. On this one we are actually spending time in each city, getting to know it a little bit. It’s cool, it’s refreshing for me, because I have been to so many different places around the world and I don’t ever really get to spend that much time with people when I’m on a skate trip. Like yesterday me and Lizard were just walking around London, took cabs around, took the subway and stuff. Lucien introduced me to a lot of people and I know some people here from the past. My friend Louie Slater came down from Sheffield. So yea, it’s been good.
"I think people are tired of the same thing and they want something fresh and new"
What do you think about the skateboarding scene in Europe?
There is a lot of similarities. In every city you go to, you have the same things. People are being inspired by older generations and older spots and new spots that are coming around. The scene just keeps on turning you know, it keeps on going. One of the main differences I see is, you know, when I was in Paris we were interviewing Stephan Laurence and I was talking to him about the Paris scene from the 80’s scene till now and what I have noticed is… A long time ago… You know, nowadays you have teams that go to Paris because they know that there is cool spots and cool people there, but back in the day the scenes didn’t get very much attention and I’ve known that for a long time. Back in the day you would see London in a 411 videomagazine, or you would see someone who made the trip from London out to where I was – Phoenix or San Diego or wherever. You’d see a photo here and there in a magazine or something like that maybe like if some US pro went to that country, but growing up skating 20 years ago in Alaska, I never really knew what the scene was like in Paris or London or Manchester. With the social media and the internet and stuff it’s a little bit more prevalent that you see the scene and the spots and all that.
Do you think the european scene gets more recognition in America right now?
I see what you are saying and it does. It get’s more recognition now, more than it ever got. I think because of the way the internet has exposed things. I can look on Thrasher and theres a part from someone who went up from London you know. The Palace video comes out and I can watch it in the States. It’s immediate. This era definitely gives Europe more exposure. In that regard I guess it has come a long way.
Can american skaters learn something from the euro-guys? Or do you see differences in the way they skate?
It’s just perspective. I think that that’s… You know I’m from Alaska, a very removed area. So in a way I guess I can see that it is a different culture. I think that everybody from another country brings a different perspective of their culture and the way their country brought them up. We can all learn from that. I think it works vice-versa. I can learn from somebody from another country and they can learn a little bit from our ways. There’s certain differences. Obviously the clear ones are: spots are a little rougher, but I think overall, when I skate up to the Southbanks and get the feeling of that community and the people say what’s up and they’re welcoming me to skate in an area where they grew up skating for the past 25 years. That’s a good thing. Maybe it’s not like that at every spot and maybe that is because I’m a pro or they have seen me in a magazine or something like that, but when I skated le Dome in Paris for the past twelve years the people were really welcoming and friendly, but sometimes I skated up to spots in the US when I was a kid and the people weren’t quite as friendly to me. To me, that’s the direction I see skateboarding heading in, or where it has been going. It’s a global community. Someone can skate up to a shop in London and go: „Yo, I’m from Chicago“ or „I’m from New York“ or California or whatever it might be and the welcoming or the attitude is like: „Yea, let’s go skate. Here is where I go, this is what I do, this is the food I eat.“
You have been to Europe a lot of times and you said a lot of nice things about european skaters and the scene, is there anything they should learn or anything they have to catch up to?
No, not really. I don’t think there is anything I have seen where I thought: „That could be changed“, and really I’m in no place to make a call for an area, because I didn’t grow up in that area. I wouldn’t appreciate if somebody came to LA and tell us what we could learn. Everybody has to learn on their own way. In any time that I have been skating it seems like the trends and things are driven from more places globally than they are just from California or New York. It’s kinda coming from everywhere. For example London is driving a lot of trends right now or you go to different parts of Europe, and with the internet and stuff, it’s definitely advancing that. I mean I skate with Lucien and he’s just as good as anybody I ever skated with and he’s one of the coolest dudes I ever met and I met his close group of friends here and they are all welcoming.
What do you think about all the smaller board companies that popped up in the last years. On the one hand in Europe you have Palace, Magenta, Polar and also in America you have Fucking Awesome, Hockey, Mother, you made your board company…
I think people are tired of the same thing and they want something fresh and new. I started a board company in Arizona when I was 16 years old, because I thought it was something fun to start with my friends. 20 years ago that wasn’t as accepted. People had the goals set on riding for the big companies like Toy Machine or Girl or something like that and my little skateboard company in Arizona wasn’t all that cool. Whereas now with the way social media works and you don’t need to have as much money to promote something it’s a little bit more accepted, because I think that our community feeling has become a little bit more accepted, whereas you want to represent where you came from. Back then you kinda didn’t want to represent as much where you came from. I didn’t really claim Alaska or Arizona, I just wanted to move to California and ride for Toy Machine or Girl or something like that. Whereas now you can start a board company in Arizona where I was from, you can hype it up on social media, you can do your little tour around, you can make your own board graphics and then your local shop and some other shops will buy it. It’s more encouraged now which is awesome, because I think that’s all part of skating man. That’s what keeps it what it is. I believe it’s freshness, it’s newness and not being stagnant and just holding on to old stuff. It’s always regenerating. For us you can’t just have a team of dudes that you had in ’99 and just carry on. You have to have like new dudes, young kids, fresh people that are skating and inspiring and motivating the older and the younger generation.
In Germany, there is a controversy going on about trick-level on the one side and creativeness, artsy style and low impact skating on the other as a factor, because there has been a shift in skating – what do you think about this topic?
Here’s the way I look at it: I look at it as skating as art. Skating is an art form. And whatever medium you choose to do it in, whether it’s skating street, or vert, or pools, or technical, or gnarly, or more creative or whatever. I think that skateboarding as a whole has matured to a level where it is accepted to do a variety of different things. When I first started skating vert was phasing out and street skating was becoming the predominantly popular thing to do. It was only street skating, the vert era was coming to an end. Now, for the next five or ten years it was hard to find a vert photo in a magazine. Nobody wanted to see it. And you didn’t ever see a pool photo. Now you’ve gotten to a level where vert photos can make it in, street skating can make it in and everything gnarly can make it in, something technical can make it in. Tony Alva has a photo in a pool in a magazine. People aren’t as judgmental. It’s not as stereotyped within our own little culture of like: „That’s cool and that’s not cool.“
Would you say skateboarding right now may be at the most interesting point ever?
Yea, I guess so. I guess it’s at the most mature level. Say there is a place for contests skaters, there is a place for somebody like Nyjah, who maybe does his thing and is more on a sports-oriented, professional level of that. Whereas I see him like a soccer player, a pro football player or something. On the other end of the spectrum there can be someone who is more on a creative level and might not even be as good as Nyjah, but can also make his own way by being creative.
"I remember thinking back in the day, when the X-Games became popular: 'Man that’s crazy, now your gonna have a bunch of jocks starting to skate'"
Do you see a problem with Nyjah attracting more people into skateboarding that are more sports-oriented?
No not really, because you got the creative people attracting other creative people too. The thing is that, as we just said, there are small, independent companies popping up. That’s an rebellion to the more mainstream, sports-like company or pro out there. I remember thinking back in the day, when the X-Games became popular: „Man that’s crazy, now your gonna have a bunch of jocks starting to skate“, but it just brought people that were in it for I don’t know how long and stopped skating within a few months. Other people got in it because they saw Tony Hawk on the X-Games, stayed for good, got creative and became the owners of Magenta. I don’t know… Whoever could’ve gotten in it because of that and form their own route. So I don’t see it as a problem. I could see it as a problem, if all the independent, raw companies started going out of business and it was only Street League and the main corporate Companies. If Nike would start to make skateboards or whatever… Then I could see there being a serious issue.
And what about the shoe companies? Your riding for Supra. Do you feel like in the shoe market it is already a problem or it could lead to a problem?
I mean that’s a tough one. These are corporate companies that are involved in skating now. You have Nike and Adidas and Cons and all that. I think it has become very popular and trendy to like corporate companies like that and that’s fine. That’s not my taste, it is what it is. They pay their pros a lot of money or whatever, but I do get frustrated when I see that it’s tough for a company like Emerica or Lakai or Fallen or something where it’s like: those are skater-owned companies. There it becomes an issue and I see that that can be trouble. The trouble is… You know, if Nike pulled the plug on their snowboard program… Let’s say skateboarding isn’t a billion dollar industry for them anymore and they decide to pull the plug on their skate program. Now they have taken out all the skater-owned shoe companies. They have gone out of business and now Nike leaves. What it does is that there will be a reemergence skater-owned companies and that’s the cycle that we all have to go through. It’s the birth and life and death or whatever the fuck it is. We’ll live. We’ll go on. But it is dangerous. It is very dangerous to me, because if they decide the bottom line isn’t there for them anymore, they will pull the plug and that concerns me.
But your not concerned about Supra?
In what manner?
In being able to pay their pros to do tours, to do more signature models…
No, we are doing good. We are out here on a Europe trip, we got ten people with us, we have constantly travelled and gone on trips, payed our pros. It’s been good. But also the model for Supra started in a different way. When we started it eight years ago the foundation of the company was skateboarding, but we sold our shoes to companies outside of skateboarding as well. That helped to keep us in business through hard times, where we can afford to pay the pros and go on trips and do tours and all that. I believe that it’s a shoe company for everybody with the roots of the company in skateboarding.
Thanks for the coffee and the interview, Erik.